Column from TCU Journalism Workshop 2013

FORT WORTH, Texas – I was five years old when my father was shot in a Houston parking lot. At the time, all I knew was that my dad was in the hospital. Later, my parents told me he had been shot and when I was older my dad told me the story from his point of view.

Out of curiosity, I recently searched court records for the facts of the case.

Public records can be a valuable tool to anyone. Most people though are unaware that they can do this simple search process themselves. Many people are under the impression that only journalists or lawyers can comb through court documents, but anyone can. Public records serve a significant role in our society and now have played a significant role in my personal life as well.

All I knew was the shooter’s first name and the date of the attack. I plugged what I knew into the search engine of the Harris County Court’s website and quickly found the attacker’s full name, arrest record, and prison sentence.

Then I googled the man’s name along with my father’s. I found news articles about the shooting. I found that the shooter had started rapping in prison and has a friend outside the jail running a website for him. The website showed me, for the first time, the face of the man that nearly killed my father.

The search brought a mix of emotions. While I was proud that I had been able to use a skill I was taught as a journalist for my own personal reasons, I was also a little shaken by seeing photographs of the shooter. At the same time it was interesting to be able to learn more about such an important event in my life.

Rather than leaving it up to journalists and lawyers to find information, people should make use of the public records that are available to them. Who knows what you could find?

To see the article as an original post on the Spectrum website, click here

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