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My year with the Parsonses

Note: This column will be full of sarcasm. If you are easily offended, perhaps this is not the column for you.

Looking back on my 300 level journalism class on the campus of the University of South Carolina, I don’t recall the professor ever mentioning I might have to stalk people.
I had all of these ideas of what a reporter did, and chasing people never entered my mind.
But in the past year I’ve spent hours (no lie) tracking Casey and Sandy Parsons and their extended family. The story came to me in early August 2013. Actually, I think it was Aug. 5, according to the email I received the day a missing/endangered poster was released with Erica Lynn Parsons’ name on it.
I’ve learned how her family didn’t report her missing until her adoptive brother spoke to law enforcement. The Parsonses have since that time been thrust into the media spotlight and have not left. I guess you could say I’m part of the reason why.
In a recent conversation with the couple’s attorney, Carlyle Sherrill, about this past year, he used one word to describe his experience — surreal. I am in complete agreement that this whole year has been surreal.
The year has been filled with staking out their home when they lived on Miller Chapel Road. It’s also been about rushing to get video or a comment from them after their child custody hearings. The couple’s youngest two children were placed with relatives early in the investigation into Erica’s disappearance.
Then other family members have been a part of this story, including Casey’s parents, James and Shirley Stone; Sandy’s parents, Janet and William Parsons; and Erica’s biological mother, Carolyn Parsons.
The community has tried to figure things out through news accounts, and believe me, trying to explain the enigma that is the Parsonses will give you a headache. There are so many pieces to this story and at one point, every day there was a new piece revealed.
Let’s not forget the interview they did with Dr. Phil McGraw, who then gave Sandy Parsons a lie detector test. I can’t forget the kitchen fire in their house, the neighbors who’d never seen Erica before and the many searches of property they owned.
And a week ago, the couple were arrested on a 76-count indictment for tax fraud, mail fraud and other serious charges.
I’ve joked that I’m “stalking” the Parsonses. Perhaps that’s a strange way to put it, but sometimes I do feel as though I’m lying in wait for them to come out of the courthouse or some other building so that I can record or question their next move.
According to the dictionary, I’m pursuing or approaching stealthily. I do draw the line at harassing.
I hope they don’t feel I’ve harassed them. I try to be polite in my requests for interviews and fair in my coverage. It’s a southern thang. I was raised to be polite.
The Post, and I’m sure many television reporters, get the unfortunate moniker of vulture. I’ve been called a vulture, ambulance chaser, paparazzi, and my favorite — “ruiner of lives.”
But might I remind you, the crime page is one of the first people read. It’s usually found on 2A, if you were wondering. The crime page online gets just under 60,000 views a month. So someone must want to know about the people I write about. Those people I tend to write about happen to commit crimes, allegedly.
Just for the record, I do not chase ambulances. Actually there’s a scanner in the newsroom and I just drive directly to the location. I am also not a freelance photographer who is in pursuit of a celebrity.
I received an email from a woman whose boyfriend was arrested and charged after driving intoxicated and found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana. She asked me at the end of the email why don’t I go ruin someone else’s life?
I received a Facebook message from a young girl who crashed into a building days after getting her driver’s license. She said I ruined her life, too.
I don’t mean to make light of this young man or teenager’s situation or that of anyone I write about. The people I write about are charged, some with pretty serious crimes. So, call me a vulture or say I ruined someone’s life, but the reason that road was shut down was because someone drove intoxicated and crashed into a car (that actually has happened). Or the reason why there’s thick, heavy smoke in the air is because a house burned down.
The things that happen in the world — good or bad — you know about because of some reporter. Vulture or not, that is what I do — inform.
For the record, just because I’m writing about someone who has been charged with a crime doesn’t mean I have a personal vendetta against them to ruin their lives. No one tells meteorologist Al Conklin he ruined their lives because it rained that day.
Did I really ruin your life? Or did the decisions you made have a role in the final outcome? Just a thought.
I imagine I’ll be stealthily in pursuit of the Parsonses for sometime to come. I hope not. Like many in the community, I pray there is an end to this madness.
I think Carolyn Parsons said it best — I hope and pray that Erica comes home alive, and if she doesn’t, I pray she finds peace.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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