The project was kept confidential until it published, and not talking with friends about the emotions brought up from reporting was challenging, Hahamy said. The journalists supported each other through a Slack channel, and editors hosted webinars about the emotional toll of reporting on trauma. McGee said she listened to music or cooked to help herself stay present.
“I kept thinking about the work we were doing and what the bigger picture of telling these stories meant,” Hahamy said. “What it would mean for the families of the boys and girls and children that weren’t able to speak for themselves anymore. Even though it was hard, it’s so much harder for the families that don’t have their child there anymore.”
Being able to find new information about a victim was the most rewarding part of reporting, said McGee, who wrote 19 profiles.
“I wrote about some teenage boys who had died, and the news sources only accounted for their deaths without naming family members or other sources who knew them,” she said. “They died without a trace.”
“Then I’d keep going through social media posts and would find someone who said, ‘This was my cousin,’ and realize he did have someone who cared about him and I can use this as a way to celebrate his life.”
After months of work and a final push to the finish line in The Trace’s Brooklyn newsroom, the project published Feb. 12, along with stories in the Miami Herald and other McClatchy publications that built on the students’ work.
But the reporting’s still not finished; about 90 stories are incomplete because there’s not enough information to know the victim’s name, Hahamy said. Reporters hope that families who don’t see their child’s name on the list will reach out and provide more information so they can do them justice.
Since the project published, family members of victims have reached out to compliment the students on their reporting, Hahamy said. It’s also been shared by presidential candidates and spread across the country.
The response has been “mind-blowing,” but the project’s goal wasn’t political at all, McGee said.
“They’ve died due to gun violence, but we weren’t trying to politicize gun usage,” she said. “It’s purely to talk about these kids and open a discussion about how gun violence affects youth in America.”