By Tim Whyte
This is going to be a tough Christmas for a lot of people in the Santa Clarita Valley. And as much as I love this season, I’ve been finding myself distracted by just how awful this past fall has been for so many people.
About two dozen families lost their homes in the Tick Fire. We’ve had a spate of traffic fatalities. And, of course, the Nov. 14 shooting at Saugus High School left an indelible mark on many lives, and the community as a whole.
It’s been… a lot. In a relatively short amount of time.
It reminds me of an exchange I had with one of our former reporters, more than 20 years ago. She was a veteran journalist, and tough as nails. She covered the cops and fire beat as well as anyone I’ve ever seen on that beat.
We’d had a horrific run of traffic fatalities involving teenagers. She was our go-to person for those stories. It seemed like it was one after another, after another.
And then another. The call went out on the radio scanner. As was usual, I expected her to roll out to it.
“Can you send someone else on this one?” she asked, her voice cracking uncharacteristically.
“Sure,” I said. “Why?”
“Because if I have to do one more story on a dead kid right now, I think I’m going to lose it.”
She meant it. We sent someone else.
And I realized, in that moment, that these stories take a toll on us, too. Journalists have a reputation for being a pretty jaded lot, and it’s not entirely undeserved. But we’re only human, and when you have a number of days filled with real-life tales of death and destruction, it affects you.
I don’t roll out to too many crash or crime scenes these days. My role is more of a newsroom traffic director than being the one who’s in the field. And of course I am not walking directly in the shoes of those who have been most impacted. All of it still sticks in my mind, though.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the victims of this fall’s fires, crashes and the shooting, and their families and friends. I can only imagine what it’s like being in their shoes. It’s been consuming a lot of my thoughts as the holidays approached.
And then I was inspired by one of them.
I don’t know Cindy Muehlberger. Her daughter, Gracie, was one of the two innocent victims killed in the Saugus shooting. We got word a little over a week ago that Cindy was instrumental in organizing a special Christmas caroling excursion in a neighborhood off Newhall Ranch Road.
They called it “Caroling with Gracie,” and Cindy and a group of good friends went caroling, to deliver the spirit of the season to neighbors, collect canned goods to benefit needy local high school kids, and to honor her “Sweet Pea,” Gracie.
We sent a reporter and a photographer, and the photog came back with a really nice shot of Cindy, flanked by her fellow carolers, all wearing red “Caroling with Gracie” T-shirts, and bringing a little Christmas Light to the community.
Our story quoted some of the participants, who described their purpose that night — to honor their memories of Gracie, to help those in need, and revel in the community’s resilience.
“Gracie loved performing and she used to go caroling with her friends, so I think that is why Cindy wanted to do this to remember her by,” said Bridget Fryer, a friend of Cindy’s.
And this, from Vix Lyttle, another friend of Cindy’s: “Gracie is clearly out here caroling with us today.”
The reporter said she got the impression that Cindy would rather not be interviewed, so she respected that, as she should have. I don’t blame Cindy one bit. As much as we would have loved to include her thoughts in our story, she’s under no obligation to provide them. I think, in her position, I’d be in the fetal position and not come out of it until Easter — much less singing Christmas carols to bring joy to others.
Thank you, to Cindy Muehlberger, for bringing such a selfless display of peace and love to the community at a time when you didn’t have to, and at a time when we all can use some peace and love.
What a gift that was.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: