The red message light on a reporter’s phone can inspire a sense of dread.

Ordinarily, the voice on the other end either wants you to burn in hell or give you a good cussin’ for your most recent contribution to the newspaper.

Wednesday wasn’t one of those days.

A woman named Patsy had left a cryptic message about a “teenager” and what had become of him.

I called her back and after hearing some clues, I zeroed in on an answer.

She was talking about Robert Wayne Rotramel.

Names such as his you never forget. Rotramel was 19 when in 2000,  he strangled his 7-year-old neighbor and raped her 12-year-old friend. I did dozens of stories on him, from his lengthy criminal past as a juvenile to his guilty plea to avoid the death penalty.

Patsy, who had a background in counseling, had wondered about his fate and whether she could have ever helped.

In my line of work, conversations typically end right there, when readers get what they are searching for.

But a funny thing happened with Patsy. She wanted to chat — and not about anything in particular.

Patsy asked me about my job, my family. I asked her age and where she was from.

Her 84-year-old voice was grandmotherly, a tonic as soothing as the first cup of coffee.

She congratulated me on my career. I wished her well, saying she could call back anytime, talk about any thing.

If only all mornings started this way.


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