When Las Vegas Sun reporter Jackie Valley covered the funeral of 38-year-old Yadira Martinez and her 10-year-old daughter Karla, she didn’t know that it would lead to a 9-month project documenting the surviving family members’ journey through grief.
During the night of April 14, 2012, an intruder came into the Martinez’ home, sexually assaulted both Yadira and Karla, and murdered them with a hammer. Husband and father Arturo was also beaten with the hammer, but his injuries were not fatal.
The Long Road to Recovery
After reporting the breaking news story, Valley kept thinking about the family. She expressed interest to a friend of the family in speaking with Arturo Martinez, who eventually agreed to let Valley bear witness to their post-traumatic lives.
“Grace Through Grief,” a 7-part series documented Martinez and his two sons Cristopher and Alejandro’s slow recovery from senseless violence and loss.
“I wanted to be a fly on the wall in their lives,” said Valley. She asked Leila Navidi, whom she considered the Sun’s most talented photojournalist, to accompany her on the project. “We were always together,” Valley said. “We made all difficult decisions together.”
Martinez expressed to Valley that he needed someone to talk to besides a doctor or therapist. “Leila and I were those people for him,” she said.
While Martinez opened up to these reporters, the communication was far from easy. “Arturo had such bad injuries,” said Valley. “He was [re]learning to talk,” she said. “The Spanish was coming back faster than the English.” Neither Valley nor Navidi are fluent in Spanish.
Valley says they needed Arturo to talk about some extremely sensitive issues and painful memories in excruciating detail. “In order for readers to care about it, we had to tell everything,” said Valley.
"It was Our Baby"
Valley and Navidi spent one or two days a week with the Martinez family, interviewing, photographing, and attending birthday celebrations and holidays with them. When interviewing the children, they steered clear of any questions relating to the events that happened on the day their mother and sister were killed.
Navidi chose to photograph in black and white to convey the seriousness of the subject. Capturing intimate moments was sometimes a challenge for her. “We both sort of took it very slowly,” she said. “Things only go the pace that the subject wants it to go. [You] want to get all these moments, but you don’t want to break the trust of your subject.”
“Grace Through Grief” was not just a reporting assignment for Valley. “It was our baby,” she said. “It was the most meaningful in so many ways; I was honored to get to work with the Martinez family.”
After reading the story, many people wanted to help. Some reached out to Martinez with gifts and kind words. The project also led to donations to the family and to help pay for Cristopher and Alejandro to go to school.
The team also won a Dart Journalism Award for the project.
Both Valley and Navidi have kept in contact with Martinez, who is now remarried. Valley, who has dinner with the family every few months, says that it’s important to get close to people. “We’re all human,” Valley said.
Navidi says her big takeaway from the project was also personal. She said she learned “from Arturo that anything can happen; take every moment and love the people around you.”
Bryan Clay was arrested and charged with 10 counts, including murder with use of a deadly weapon, and sexual assault of a minor under fourteen years of age with use of a deadly weapon. The state intends to seek the death penalty. Clay’s trial is on June 29, 2015.
Photos courtesy of the Las Vegas Sun