About this story: How we reported ‘The Long Road: To the Gates of New Bethany and Back’
By Rebecca Catalanello, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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on April 02, 2014 at 3:35 PM, updated April 02, 2014 at 9:05 PM
The story of Jennifer Halter’s journey to file a police report alleging child sexual abuse is derived from a combination of firsthand observations, interviews, court documents, and archived news reports.
Reporter Rebecca Catalanello and photojournalist Kathleen Flynn, both of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, spent Dec. 4 to 7, 2013, in Shreveport with Halter and several other women as they set out for the Bienville Parish Sheriff’s Office and New Bethany Home for Girls.
- Wednesday: Halter travels back to New Bethany
- Thursday: A look back at 30 years of New Bethany Home for Girls
- Friday: An experience with a New Bethany runaway still haunts a couple 20 years later; and a former New Bethany resident takes on the mantle of activism.
- Sunday: A rich, multimedia repackaging of the entire series
The opening scene in which Halter boards the plane is based on interviews with Halter and her travel companion, Jeneen Miller of Las Vegas. The details about Halter’s arrival at New Bethany as a 14-year-old girl are based on interviews with Halter. Halter’s mother did not respond to requests to be interviewed about her memory of the event.
Descriptions of the shared memories of New Bethany were based on extensive interviews with — and observations of conversations among — Halter, Joanna Wright, Tara Cummings, Teresa Frye and Simone Jones. Many of these details are also described in court documents, past news accounts, and written accounts by former New Bethany residents.
Scenes at the Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino in Shreveport and the Bienville Parish Sheriff’s Office are based on firsthand observations by Catalanello and Flynn, except for what happened after Halter was called back to talk with a detective. That moment was observed by Jeneen Miller, who accompanied Halter as she gave her statement behind closed doors. Miller later spoke with Catalanello about what happened as Halter was being interviewed.
Details about what Halter says was the first time Mack Ford sexually abused her are based solely on interviews with Halter. She says she gave the same account to Bienville Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators. While the agency and Louisiana State Police confirm they are investigating the claims, neither agency will release details of the report in an ongoing investigation.
The Dec. 6, 2013, scene as the 39-year-old Halter arrived at the gate of the former New Bethany Home for Girls was observed by Catalanello and Flynn. The man who stood down the road did not identify himself to the women, but they all believed it was Ford. After the women left, Flynn and Catalanello approached the man and asked to speak with him, capturing photos, video and audio of the interaction. He declined to be interviewed and referred the journalists to an attorney. Flynn and Catalanello shared audio and photos of the interaction with people who know Ford; they identified the man as Mack Ford.
Neither Ford nor his wife responded to letters sent to the home at 120 Hiser Road. The attorney to whom Ford referred the journalists said he had no knowledge of a current investigation, had not represented New Bethany in decades and did not feel qualified to talk about the allegations.