Moody Student Investigates Unidentified Bodies

Student Headshot and Houston Chronicle logo

When third year journalism major Cecilia Garzella was presented with the opportunity to work with the Houston Chronicle, she didn’t expect to be looking into unidentified bodies in the state of Texas.

“When he [Professor Christian McDonald] first presented it to me, I was like, ‘Dead bodies?’ Garzella said. “It was very much out of my comfort zone.”

Garzella is working on an investigative project with the Houston Chronicle to create a dataset of unidentified bodies throughout Texas. The project is in the early stages of collecting data, Garzella said. 

“Our reporting has pretty much shown how little information there is about this problem [unidentified bodies],” Garzella said. “It is pretty serious given that so many people die, but they never are identified for one reason or another. It's really tragic for the families who never get that resolution on their loved ones. So it's been a major problem for a while that they've [the Houston Chronicle] has been trying to remedy by having more data.”

Garzella has never worked on an investigative project before. Before working with the Houston Chronicle, she worked as an intern for The Drag Audio Production House and Texas Highways magazine. Doing data journalism with a professional newsroom was a completely new experience for Garzella.

“I didn't know if data was going to be something that I was really interested in,” Garzella said. “But I just wanted to  just try it out and I liked it more than I expected.”

Garzella says she’s grateful to her mentors in this project, Alexandra Kanik and St. John Barned-Smith from the Houston Chronicle.

“They really helped me kind of branch out into a field of reporting that I didn't really have that much experience with or like comfortability with,” Garzella said. “And the fear is always like, when you go into these settings, that your editors are gonna be mean and harsh. But they've been everything but that.”

Garzella is also grateful to Professor McDonald for giving her this opportunity. She hadn’t pictured herself taking on a project like this before.

“He [Professor McDonald] seemed to have confidence in me that I guess I didn't really like having myself at that point. But I guess I wanted to just have an open mind. And I'm really glad I did, because it's been super rewarding.”

So, what’s next for this project? Garzella is hoping to keep working with Chronicle over the summer to continue analyzing the data. 

“The next step is starting to combine and organize the data,” Garzella said. “And then, kind of analyzing it and saying, ‘Okay, where were the big discrepancies?’ … From that point on finding good stories from the data, and then talking to actual people.”

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