Family of hero soldier killed in Iraq says Eagle~Tribune Reporter had to be thrown out of wake and funeral as well
By: Tom Duggan – August, 2008
Slain soldier, Army Pfc. Alex Jimenez was captured by Al Qaeda and had been missing for 15 months before his remains were finally found in Iraq.
“As hard as it was for the Jimenez family,” said Jim Wareing spokesman for the Jimenez and Duran Family “someone tipped off the Eagle Tribune that Alex had been found before the family was notified.”
“And when we arrived to deliver the devastating news to Andy (Alex’s father who lives in Lawrence), the Tribune was already in the house, snapping pictures as the family was told, breaking down in tears. It was total exploitation of this family who had been through so much. We were horrified by the picture they ran on the front page the next day. It was such an invasion of privacy,” he said in a somber tone.
The mother of Alex Jimenez, Maria Del Rosario Duran, told the Valley Patriot in an exclusive interview that she was very hurt by the disrespect she and her family endured at the hands of the Eagle Tribune.
“First, what happened to Andy (Alex’s father) was not right. They came to the house and took [a] picture during private time for the family. I wasn’t there, so you should talk to him,” she said, “but I know he was very sad about that and it should not have happened.”
“We were crying together and trying to grieve,” said Andy, Jr., Alex’s brother. “I don’t know why they were there, just to get a picture of us crying and embarrass us in their newspaper? It was such disrespect [sic]’” he said.
But, Wareing, who runs New England Caring for our Military, a volunteer organization to help soldiers and their families, said that the invasion of privacy the Jimenez family endured at the hands of the Eagle Tribune was just beginning.
Wareing and Lawrence’s Veteran’s services director Francisco Urena were partners in planning the massive funeral for the military hero. Urena was in charge of the military aspect of the services and Wareing was in charge of the funeral services, scheduling, and media relations.
The Jimenez family made their wishes well known to the Eagle Tribune, Wareing said, when they got wind that the newspaper was going to publish the location of where Alex’s body was being flown in to before the funeral.
“I got wind that, not only was the Tribune going to publish that he was being flown into Hanscom, but that they were planning to have a reporter in the procession from Lawrence to the base. So I called Sheryl Rock (Eagle Tribune Editor) and told her that we were purposefully not releasing the location where his body was being flown in to because both Maria and Andy (Alex’s mom and dad) wanted the family to have some privacy. They were clearly told the media was not welcome and that we didn’t want the location published to avoid any problems.”
But Wareing said he was screamed at by the Tribune’s editor who told him to mind his own business and stop telling her how to do her job. “The next day it was in the Tribune that Alex was being flown into Hanscom and I can’t tell you how upset the rest of the family was. So, when the procession began I made sure to check and make sure there were no reporters’ cars following or trying to sneak into the parade of cars going to Hanscom,” he explained. “I even had a conversation with Yadira (the Eagle Tribune reporter). I personally told her not to come to the base; that this was a private event.”
“It was a very sad Friday morning. I had to take this family to pick up their dead son who had served his country in Iraq. I was aggravated that I had to take so many precautions to make sure their privacy was protected from the local newspaper who thought nothing of invading their home and snapping pictures of them while they were being notified, but it was my job and I was just glad that they didn’t have to deal with any more intrusions.”
Wareing said the procession included two limos with the family inside as well as Lawrence Police motorcycle cops and two police auxiliary police cars that were joined by other departments and state police as they made their way from Lawrence to Hanscom.
“When we arrived at Hanscom Air Force Base, they waived us in and we proceeded to the hanger area where I explained the procedure of what was going to happen next and, within a few minutes, I saw Yadira Betances from the Eagle Tribune right there on the base. I was fuming. All I could think about is that Alex’s family is having one of the worst days of their lives and at the time they need privacy the most, on a military base no less, they are being stalked by this woman who keeps telling us she is a friend of the family but keeps acting like a vulture.”
“The Tribune was clear on the instruction. Clear instructions were given to everyone in the motorcade as well. Maria and Andy did not want any press at the base. We didn’t even want the press to publish where the body was being flown into. But there she was. She snuck on the base against the wishes of the family.”
Wareing says that only Alex’s mother had the legal right to remove the Trib reporter from the military base “since she was the legal next of kin.”
“She said she didn’t want her (Betances) there,” Wareing continued, tears welling up in his eyes and his voice shaking. “She had to take time from grieving with her family to order the MP’s to throw a Trib reporter off the base. I can’t even tell you the pain this woman caused. My heart was breaking for them as it was, but to have to deal with this on top of what was happening was just unspeakable.”
Alex’s mother said that she didn’t see Betances on the base, but that her son noticed her getting out of a police car and was so upset. “They (military personnel) asked if we wanted her to be there and we all said no. Father, brothers, everyone in the family agreed before that there would be no reporters and we all wanted her to leave. She is not a friend when she disrespects the body like that; when she disrespects our wishes like that,” she said through her son Andy who interpreted.
Wareing said that he was puzzled as to how a reporter from the Eagle Tribune could have snuck onto a secure military base to either snap pictures or take notes, so he began to ask those in the motorcade. “One of the auxiliary police officers finally admitted that Chief Romero had ordered him to take her in his police cruiser before the motorcade began. I didn’t think I had to search all the police cars before we left, but apparently Chief Romero is in bed with them and I suspect, though I can’t prove it yet, that Romero was the one who tipped them off about Alex’s body being found before the family even knew. That does explain why Trib reporters were in the Jimenez house before the notification was made.”
Thrown out of Wake and Funeral
But Wareing said the harassment of the Jimenez family didn’t end there. “On the day of the wake, Yadira came into the church and immediately confronts me for throwing her off the base. She was swearing and yelling at me right in the middle of the church saying she is a friend of the family and she ‘deserves’ to be there. She was crying and she was all upset, so I explained to her again that it was Maria who had her thrown off the base and, if she was really a friend of the family, she would be there for them, not as a reporter.
That’s when, Wareing says, the reporter threatened to “destroy” him.
“She yelled, ‘You are finished! You are through! You are ruined. You’re done. I work for the Eagle Tribune!’”
“I told her she obviously had no respect for the Jimenez family, and you are no friend of Alex. You are just one of the slime reporter that people hate. You can’t pretend you’re a friend to someone and then start acting like a reporter. If you are a reporter more than you are a friend, we don’t want you here.”
Wareing said she was then thrown out of the wake, but started crying and begging to talk to Alex’s father so she could get back in. “This woman had no shame at all, she was going to do whatever it took to get a story and worm her way back in, but I think Andy felt bad at that point and just didn’t want any more incidents so the family said that if she wanted to stay as a friend and promised not to do any reporting she could come back in.”
Within half an hour Betances was seen by family members trying to interview one of Alex’s former colleagues and then disappeared with the colleague outside the church.
“So we went outside to see her with a pen and notepad outside the church, interviewing the woman she only had access to because she was let back in the church to grieve with the family. Alex’s brother Andy had his cell phone with him that has a camera built in, so he took a picture of her so we could show the rest of the family that this woman was playing everyone to get her story.”
“I lost so much respect for the Tribune, and I know it goes back to the editors. This was not some rogue reporter doing something she wasn’t supposed to do. She was doing what her editors wanted her to do: sneak around, violate the privacy of Alex’s friends and family, and get the story by any means possible … no matter who they hurt.”
More dishonor at hero’s funeral
Wareing says it would have been bad enough if their problems with the Tribune had ended there. But, on the day of the funeral for the hero soldier, Pfc. Alex Jimenez, Betances showed up again.
“The day of the funeral, she was in church before I was. She must have gotten there really early. I walked in and was talking to father Jorge about the funeral and there was Yadira Betances interviewing people inside the church. Inside the church!” he repeated incredulously. “It was a public event at that point so, as disgusted as I was, I had no plans on asking her to leave. We just wanted to get though this day without anymore problems,” he recalled.
“So, I tried to get her attention, just to ask her not to interview anyone inside the church, but she walked away when she saw me coming. You know, she had the nerve to go and sit in the front row like she was a family member just to try and get information? I tried to be cordial to her, but she became disruptive and had to be thrown out of the church by the military public affairs officers in the church.”
Wareing said he originally planned on letting the incident go once the funeral was over and he had no intention on going public with his story, but he had second thoughts when he realized “more heroes from the Merrimack Valley are in harms way right now as we speak and, God forbid, one of those men and women lose their lives.
I don’t want this to happen to the next Alex Jimenez. If the Eagle Tribune gets away with this and they are not exposed, I am horrified to think of how they will treat the next military family in their time of grief.”
Wareing is best known for his activism in supporting military families and sending care packages to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has spent thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to pay for postage and items needed by our military personnel overseas. Wareing said that he is contemplating leaving the organization he started four years ago, called New England Caring for Our Miltary, because of the threats he received by the tribune.
“What I plan to do is turn over New England Caring for Our Military (NECFOM) to someone else, because of the personal threats I received from the Tribune. I know how they operate and how they treat people they don’t like. They dig up anything they can, true or not, to humiliate you in the community, and I just don’t think I’m ready for that. I am a human being and I have faults like everyone else and as long as I am affiliated with NECFOM, I know that every time we do something in public it gives them a chance to throw rocks at me.”
Wareing says the final insult came when he saw the picture on the front page of the Eagle Tribune the day after the funeral showing the casket inside the church. “We told them they could take pictures in the church but not during the mass. Do you think they could have at least respected the family’s wishes after everything they had been through? No way. I got calls from military people in Washington the next day before I even had a chance to see the paper.
They were very upset because they thought I had arranged for the paper to take pictures during the mass. I just can’t tell you how traumatic this whole situation was even without the Tribune’s harassment of the family.
It was even more tragic that while Andy and Maria were preparing to bury their son they had to keep being interrupted with this foolishness, so the Trib can try to win another Pulitzer by exploiting the family of a dead soldier.”
Tom Duggan is the president of Valley Patriot, Inc., a former Lawrence School Committeeman, and hosts the Paying Attention! Radio Program on WCAP, 980AM, every Saturday afternoon from noon-2pm. You can email your comments to Tdugjr@aol.com .
All pictures and material are (C) copyright, Valley Patriot, Inc., 2008