A hot car, a forgotten baby and a faith angle

“Wow!”

That was the teaser by a Facebook friend who posted a news story out of Alabama.

Sufficiently intrigued, I clicked the link. I should have grabbed a tissue first.

At first glance, the heartwrenching story by AL.com/The Birmingham News shows no sign of a religion angle. It just seems like a really sad story from the police beat. In fact, a public safety reporter named Carol Robinson wrote it.

The lede:

Katie Luong is inconsolable.

She knows people blame her for leaving her 11-month-old daughter to die in a sweltering SUV. But no one — not one single person — blames her more than she blames herself.

“I want to tell everybody that I wish I was in that car seat, not her,” the weeping 31-year-old mother told AL.com/The Birmingham News today. “If I had to die for her to live, I would have done that.”

Gabriella Gi-Ny Luong, known to family members as Ella, was discovered by her mother about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, still strapped in her car seat in the locked Lexus parked outside the family’s Genesis Nail Spa. The temperature outside was about 90 degrees; inside the car it was roughly 127 degrees, authorities said.

Ella was unresponsive. Efforts, first by a nearby business owner and then paramedics, to revive her were unsuccessful. They rushed her to Children’s of Alabama hospital anyway, where the staff pronounced her dead a short time later.

What a tragedy! It’s one that brings to mind “Fatal Distraction,” the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story by the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten. If you’ve never read that piece, it might change your perspective on parents who endure this nightmare of their own making.

But why does the Alabama story merit GetReligion treatment? Because we point out holy ghosts in secular news reporting. In this case, though, I found no such ghosts. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus.

Instead, the reporter lets religion — and words such as God, prayer and faith — unfold naturally in the story:

Married for almost 10 years, the young couple tried for years to conceive. Success came only after their church family – the Vietnamese congregation at North Shelby Baptist Church – joined in collective prayer for conception for the couple.

They received the good news that Luong was pregnant one Thanksgiving. She had just graduated from UAB with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and they decided on the name Gabriella, after the archangel Gabriel.

“I asked God for this baby,” Luong said. “She was our gift from God.”

The couple also opened their Homewood business about the same time of their daughter’s birth, again choosing a biblical name. The long-awaited baby changed their lives. Though they were already active in their church, they became more so, to the point that Luong’s husband started seminary.

“Our story is all about God,” Luong said.

After a bit more on the faith angle, the story ends this way:

Instead of throwing the best-ever birthday party Sunday, the parents will bury their only child. The grieving mother said she can’t even comprehend a life without Ella. She prays her faith will sustain her. “Without God, I am nothing,” she said.

Pastor Murphy knows her pain, to some extent. His own daughter drowned 14 years ago while on a mission trip in Mexico. “I know what it’s like for a child to die,” Murphy said. “Little Ella is with the Lord in Heaven.”

Murphy said no one can undo what happened Wednesday. “There’s no rewind, it’s not a dream,” he said. “It’s reality.”

“She’s beating herself up about it and I can’t take that away either,” the pastor said. “There was certainly no malice.”

Murphy, friends and family are praying for understanding. “When you hear just a few details, you can judge quickly but it’s different when you know someone’s heart and hear their hurt,” he said. “It was a tragic thing that happened. A human tragedy.”

Alas, religion is a key part of this story. Kudos to AL.com and The Birmingham News for recognizing that. Instead of ignoring the faith angle, this story reports on it respectfully and clearly.

The result: an outstanding albeit heartbreaking piece of journalism.

Image via Shutterstock

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • All4Life

    That is painful to read!

  • FW Ken

    We have one of these tragedies in north Texas almost every summer. Never have I seen a religion angle covered, unless it’s routine genetic religious talk. This was beautiful coverage of true Christian charity.

  • Tim Hoskins

    That Washington Post article is one of the best, most touching pieces of journalism I have ever read. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Religion or not, nothing can change the fact that the parent was an idiot.


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