Moody Student Dives Into Investigative Journalism

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Moody Student Dives Into Investigative Journalism

While the sweltering heat of the summer bore down on cities and communities across Texas, senior journalism major Cecilia Garzella pored through open records requests to build a dataset of unidentified bodies.

“I feel like it's not really talked about a lot. It's kind of just brushed under the rug, but it affects a ton of people,” Garzella said.

Garzella has been working with the Houston Chronicle reporters and editors since the spring semester, filing requests and following endless leads to build a complete database of unidentified bodies across the state.

“[This summer] We really kind of narrowed down the focus of the story, I would say, which is pretty much focusing on how, like, there's such a lack of funding and resources to investigate these different cold cases and unidentified cases,” Garzella said. 

Garzella said that the majority of her summer duties were analyzing and organizing more than 300 open records requests and other information they gathered in the reporting process. Next in the project comes teasing out details and telling the stories of people that don’t have their own voice.

“What is this like telling us? And what can we do with this?’” Garzella said.

Garzella worked with the Chronicle’s data developer Alexandra Kanik and reporter St. John Barned-Smith to explore numerous cases and share stories of families that lost loved ones without the closure of knowing what happened to them. 

“It's so much more about actual people,” Kanik said. “It's about some of the most vulnerable people that I think you will ever find. There's nobody who can even speak for these people because they're unidentified.”

Garzella added that her work with the Chronicle widened her perspective on future careers and opportunities.

“I would definitely say going forward in terms of maybe positions or roles I want to pursue in the future, [this project] definitely opened me up to maybe doing this more, kind of, investigative reporting or different kinds of journalism that I kind of ruled out before.”

The Chronicle plans to publish the project by the end of the year.

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