Monday, September 12, 2005

esmie chronicles: jacob's ladder, part 1

Jacob's never gotten involved in social or political activism. Never put a campaign sign on his front lawn. Never even written a letter to an elected official.

But that all changed a couple of weeks ago, when he turned on the TV news and learned that a 16-year-old girl from suburban Johnson County was in jail, charged with the brutal murder of her mother.

"I got sucked in," he tells me.

Turns out his kids knew the girl, Esmie Tseng. They'd gone to summer camp with her, and they'd chatted from time to time online. He's never met her.

He spent three hours that night reading Esmie's blog entries, hundreds of them, dating back to 2002, when she was twelve years old. And he felt, I would venture to say, some of the same feelings I felt when I read and saved all of the blog entries several days later.

"It was a scream for help," he says of her writing.

The story haunted him. He lost sleep over it, especially when he watched the news on the following Monday and learned that the district attorney for his and Esmie's county planned to charge her with first degree murder, and as an adult.

Again, his first thought was like mine. It didn't seem fair.

Which is interesting, because I sense that he stands a bit to the right of me on justice issues.

I've only talked with Jacob briefly, over the phone, but the impression I have is of a fairly typical Johnson Countian. Mid-forties. Wife. Kids. Good job. Nice house. Your basic law-and-order type.

He told me he lays down the law for his kids, and that when OJ was declared innocent he thought, Oh my God! This is not right!

Initially, he hadn't planned on getting involved in Esmie's case, certainly not as a sort of digital point man for a group of perhaps 20 adults who call themselves "Friends of Esmie."

But then he opened up the Kansas City Star one day and read a letter that nudged him into action...

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