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W&L Journalism Student Interviews Mother of Slain Dallas Police Officer

Washington and Lee journalism major Rachel Stone ’17 recently found herself reporting on one of this summer’s most heartbreaking stories. As an intern at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, she was assigned to interview the mother of Lorne Ahrens, one of five police officers shot and killed in Dallas on July 7.

“Obviously, I had never done any type of article where I had to speak to a grieving family member, let alone the mother — and in such a tragic, hateful killing,” Stone said.

Stone, who has served as the cops reporter for the Rockbridge Report and interned last summer at The Roanoke Times, is technically a business reporting intern for the Observer. But since the newspaper’s night-cops reporter had left for The Washington Post, she said, interns have been taking turns filling in on the shift.

Stone was working the night-cops desk on July 11, when editors found out that Ahrens’ mother, Charleen Sonner, lives in Charlotte. She thought she might do a phone interview with Ahrens’ half-brother, who also lives there, but she ended up talking to Sonner instead.

“I have never done anything like this, so I really tried to plan out all of my questions ahead of time and write out the kind of phrasing that I wanted,” Stone said.

The additional preparation helped, but it did not make the interview easy. Stone said she had a heart-wrenching conversation with Sonner, who lost her husband more than 20 years ago and lost one of her three sons about 10 years ago, only to now lose another child.

Stone asked questions, but her instinct was to stay mostly silent while Sonner told stories about her son. “She reiterated on more than one occasion how proud she was of her son.”

“I was brought to tears several times during the conversation,” Stone said, “but I tried not to let her hear that.”

The only story she has covered that comes close to the Ahrens story in terms of emotion, she said, was the 2013 drunk-driving crash that killed one W&L student, injured two others, and sent the driver to prison. She does not relish the possibility of covering more such stories in her career.

Nevertheless, she said, she received a great deal of support and positive feedback from fellow interns and employees at the Observer, and she appreciated the opportunity to “tell readers what this man was truly like.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity because I’m always open to new experiences,” she said, “and I think that’s what an internship is all about.”

Read Rachel’s story at online >