by Joe Jaszewski
Freelance phototgrapher, Getty Images
Sacramento, CA

Maybe it's that people are sick of the war. Maybe it's that the story has a soap-opera quality. Maybe it's that news directors and editors need some juicy domestic news to fill space with.

For whatever reason, the news media, including myself, was out in force for the latest development in the Laci Peterson story in Modesto, CA on April 15th. Peterson, 8 months pregnant at the time, disappeared on Christmas Eve and hasn't been seen since. Her husband, Scott, who was not a suspect at the time, claims that he was fishing near the Berkeley Marina at the time of her disappearance. On April 14th, badly decomposed bodies of a pregnant woman and an infant were found washed up on shore just a mile from the marina.

Early Tuesday morning I got the call from Getty Images: go to Modesto. Details to follow. Without a clue where I was going exactly, I took Highway 99 south toward the sleepy central California town 75 miles from Sacramento. My main directive was to find the Peterson house in a Modesto neighborhood and photograph neighbors and concerned residents stopping by.

Brandi Dessayer helps her daughter Danielle Dessayer, age 3, place a stuffed animal outside of the home of Laci and Scott Peterson in Modesto, CA on April 15, 2002.
(Photo © Joe Jaszewski / Getty Images)

A news photographer tapes a mother and her children walking through the Modesto, CA neighborhood of Laci and Scott Peterson.
(Photo © Joe Jaszewski / Getty Images)

On the way down, I spotted a KXTV-10 (ABC) satellite truck. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but I bet they knew where they were going. Sure enough, they led me to the Police station, already surrounded by a forest of raised masts, tripods, reflectors, and talking heads. There, a CNN producer generously took out his map and showed me the route to the Peterson's house, just a short drive away.

At the house, I met San Francisco Chronicle photographer Carlos Gonzalez and AP stringer Noah Berger. Naturally, we were in stakeout mode as there was no activity at the home or on the quiet street. A San Jose Mercury-News reporter shared with me the location of Laci Peterson's family's home in the area. It was 11:30am, and the police press conference wasn't until 4. That left four hours to hang out, complain with the other photographers, and wait for nothing to happen.

Photographers jostle for position at the Laci Peterson press conference in Modesto, CA on April 15th.
(© Joe Jaszewski / Getty Images)

Stepping over cables, sliding between video cameras and ducking TV lights, I made my way into the Modesto Police station press conference room. It was clearly unequipped for the 25 video cameras, 11 still photographers and bevy of radio, print and TV reporters on hand. It was a mess.

The big news of the day, as we were to find out from detective Doug Ridenour, was that it would be anywhere between a few days and a few weeks until they found out the identity of the two bodies found washed up near the bay.

No, they didn't know where Scott Peterson was. The family issued a brief statement via a spokesperson. That was it.

A couple days later, the bodies were identified as that of Laci and her son. Scott Peterson was arrested. The images I made a few days earlier were rendered irrelevant. As they should be.

Joe Jaszewski



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