Editorial: Guess what I just heard?

Originally appeared in Silent News, November 2000.

By the time I got out of bed on the morning of Sept. 28, I had five e-mails waiting to tell me about Eric Plunkett’s tragic murder the day before. By noon, I heard that he was murdered by six girls. Then I heard that he was murdered because he was getting ready to notify officials about a fellow student who had raped six girls. By the time police arrested the main suspect, Thomas Minch, I heard that Plunkett was bludgeoned to death by a sledgehammer by a frenzied Minch, who was angry over a breakup. The person who told me this even argued with me, saying I didn’t have my facts straight (even though I had already gotten the official report).

In truth, the weapon used was a chair, and Minch was released almost immediately due to insufficient evidence.

People constantly expressed shock, anger, disbelief, and sadness in the Plunkett death. Yet, almost every one of them became angry at Minch as soon as he was arrested. Suspects are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Minch was immediately cast as the guilty party, even though he was only a suspect.

Fellow students and people who knew Minch said one of two things: ”I can’t believe he’d do anything like this,” or, “That was so sick of him to do this.”

Can you imagine? Minch is forever ruined by this experience. He comes from a deaf family in New Hampshire. Can you imagine how difficult this is for the family, especially within the close-knit deaf community? How difficult it is for the people who attended camp with Minch? How difficult it is for classmates of Minch from both The Learning Center and Gallaudet? How difficult it is for Eric Plunkett’s family (who has astounded me with their positive attitudes throughout this tragedy)?

I’ve seen how a rush to judge someone can affect a family. Some years ago, a classmate of mine was arrested by the FBI in a sting for selling pornography over the Internet. He was quickly labeled by both the local media and the deaf community as a sick and deranged person. This was a guy I had grown up with and shared so much with. His family, also a deaf family, was immediately bombarded with either anger or support. Later, it was found that he was indeed innocent. However, no matter what, even today he is talked about behind his back. His whole family is still talked about by people. I see people signing in hushed signs whenever one of the family members walks by. I have seen the pain this guy has gone through for someone else’s mistake. All for the sake of gossip.

Many deaf leaders are also victims of the curse of gossip. No matter what and no matter how honest they may be, deaf leaders are always talked about. Why?

More often than not, it’s the work of a very few people. One deaf leader screws up, they all get stereotyped. There are certainly a few deaf leaders or directors who have set precedents for future directors or leaders. I’ve worked at an agency where the deaf director was the most dishonest person I had ever worked with, and quite arrogant in his beliefs that he wouldn’t get caught (he did).

Rumors are just incredible. They destroy relationships, destroy confidence and trust, and sadly, too often, destroy lives. They also cause unnecessary harm.

When I was a sophomore at Gallaudet, I went on spring break to Cancun with 15 others. One of our group members got killed in a freak jeep accident. When I arrived at school from Cancun, I walked up to my room and went straight to the TTY to call my mother and let her know of what had happened. The very minute I sat down to start dialing, my doorbell flashed. It was the girl (actually, she was nearly 40, so I suppose I should say she was a woman) from next door, saying with wide eyes, “I heard your group killed someone!” This was literally four minutes after I had arrived and two minutes after I had set down my suitcase. How in the world did she hear so fast? And how in the world did she have the guts to come to my door and say that? Needless to say, I rudely slammed the door in her face and called my mother.  She never spoke to me after that.

So, what to do?

When you hear rumors about people, check your facts. Ask the people, and if you don’t feel comfortable asking them—then it’s really none of your business, anyway. Or here’s a radical idea: ignore them. You’ll sleep better at night. I promise.

Copyrighted material. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

Related posts:

Comments Closed