By LSU Manship School News Service
Nine students from LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and the
Southern University Law Center won a national investigative reporting prize this week for
stories re-examining the shooting deaths of two Southern students by a sheriff’s deputy in 1972.
The prize–for the best investigative work in 2022 by students at large universities–was awarded
by Investigative Reporters & Editors, the largest organization of professional investigative
reporters and editors.
The four-part series, published last fall, was based on dozens of interviews and nearly 2,700
pages of previously undisclosed FBI documents. It prompted Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards
to apologize to the families of the victims on behalf of the state.
Edwards said he was six years old when the shooting happened and that all he knew about it
came from reading the stories by “a group at LSU who actually did the cold case investigation
and have been working on this to educate people.”
The series examined the protests that led to the confrontation on Southern’s campus, re-created
the day of the shooting and showed how the FBI narrowed its search to several sheriff’s deputies
but could not prove which one fired the fatal shot. It also looked how at how the deaths still
haunt the families, the former protest leaders and the Black community as a whole.
Seven Manship School students and two Southern law students were named in the IRE award.
The team included Manship graduate student Drew Hawkins and six Manship undergraduates:
Claire Sullivan, Maria Pham, Shelly Kleinpeter, Annalise Vidrine, Allison Allsop and Alex
Tirado. Pham produced moving videos to accompany each story.
Southern Law students Brittany Dunn and Adrian Dubose, who graduated from the Manship
School in 2021, also provided crucial reporting, including interviews with family members,
protest leaders and law-enforcement officials.
Four other LSU students–Olivia Varden, Ayatt Hemeida, Cayli Pham and Brea
Rougeau–assisted in the research.
The students worked on the project for 10 months, with funding provided over the summer by
the Data-Driven Reporting Project created by Google News and Northwestern University’s
Medill School. Each of the stories was published by 20 to 25 news outlets.
“Researching these stories was an incredible experience for all the students,” said Christopher
Drew, who led the project as the Manship School’s Fred Jones Greer Jr. endowed chair. “The
LSU and Southern students worked seamlessly to digest the new material in the FBI documents
and talk to just about every key participant who is still alive.”
The series was produced by the LSU Cold Case Project, which Drew runs with adjunct instructor
Stanley Nelson, who has written two books on unresolved killings from the civil rights era.
Southern law professor Angela Allen-Bell also played a key role.
The Southern stories and videos are available at lsucoldcaseproject.com. The LSU Cold Case
Project began in 2009, and the website contains other stories and more than 175,000 pages of
FBI documents that students have gathered on a variety of cases.
Over the last three years, students also have been honored for stories on the killing of four Black
men in Monroe in 1960 and on the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the only armed Black
resistance group in Louisiana during the 1960s.