Posted by: mollyrossiter | January 30, 2009

How does this happen?

I was more than a little alarmed — disturbed — this week by a story I read online from Detroit. (A bit of a warning: the link will take you to the story, which includes somber details and graphic images.)

A reporter there had gotten a telephone call from a man who said his friend found a dead body in an elevator shaft in an abandoned building. The body, the caller said, was encased in ice up to about mid-calf, and his feet and part of his legs were sticking out of the ice.

Did the caller or his friend call police? No, they didn’t want to get in trouble. In fact, the two were with a group of urban explorers who were playing hockey on the ice in the elevator shaft. Not only did they not call police, they continued on with their game.

A bit more investigating and interviewing and the reporter learned that the body had been there about a month — several homeless men had seen it but not reported it. Some thought it was a dummy.

I was appalled at reading the story, first because no one had the sense or decency to report finding a dead body and then by the casual tone they all seemed to exhibit. This body lying under inches of ice was a human being — someone’s son, brother, nephew, cousin. Yet there he lay, cast aside and ignored like the boxes and pillows and debris that surrounded him.

Then I realized that the world this man died in is not and maybe never was like my world. In my world people are upset, maybe even frightened, at the thought of finding a dead body. To find one in such a way would create sadness for the stranger, first for dying in such a manner and then for not having been missed.

But the world that surrounded this man in death was one in which survival was a struggle, not a given. For the people living in this world, passing each day and evening and waking up to do it again is often nothing short of a miracle. Rather than report the body, the homeless men around him had more important things to worry about, like staying warm and finding food.

Is this where we are? Could a homeless person’s body lay in ice for weeks here, in Eastern Iowa, without being reported? I like to think not. I like to think that we are a more compassionate society and would report the discovery.

I like to think we’d care.



  1. Equally appalling in this story, of course, is the lack of response by authorities once the body was reported. Endemic lassitude.

  2. Also appalling is that there are worlds like this where people have to live. Maybe another question is “what is the response to seeing WORLDS like this?”

    Molly–I just discovered your blog. I will come back again!

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