Former Fox29 reporter turns his camera on Philly’s missing | Helen Ubiñas
Philadelphia's missing persons are a focus of a new web show.
The woman on the radio pleaded with listeners to help her family find their missing loved one.
They had gone to multiple media outlets for help, she cried, but none was interested.
Listening in his car that November 2016 day was Sergio Cruel. A reporter for Fox29's Chasing News team, Cruel didn't usually have his radio playing during the drive into work, but he had that day.
And he couldn't shake the woman's cries.
When he got to work, he told producers he had a story to chase.
Andrew Berry, a young father of four from Northeast Philadelphia, had been missing for 11 days by the time Cruel met with the family. Berry wasn't picking up his phone. He had missed the birth of his youngest child, who had been born premature while he was gone. He had seemingly vanished.
Cruel went to the Frankford Avenue neighborhood where Berry was last seen. He sat with Berry's distraught wife. "I just know this is not him," Tracy Zeigler cried. "I know he wouldn't just walk away from us."
Cruel, 27, hoped the segment that aired in Philly and affiliate stations in New York and New Jersey would lead to answers. Ideally, to Berry, alive and well. It was viewed 1.9 million times and shared more than 10,000 times.
But about a week later, two days before Thanksgiving, Berry's body was found. He had been shot multiple times.
It wasn't the result anyone had hoped for, but it inspired Cruel to continue to highlight other missing persons cases that struggled to get attention.
And everyone knew which those were. In the original segment, another reporter on the TMZ-style show nailed it during their on-camera discussion of the case:
"You know what would have gotten a lot more media attention?" he asks his colleagues. "If he were a young, blonde, she …"
Some of his colleagues groaned, but there are plenty of examples to prove he was absolutely right. There's even a name for it: missing white woman syndrome. And that disparity drove Cruel's desire to tell their stories.
Even when there seemed to be less interest, Cruel would report the stories in his free time and post them online.
Last year the show was rebranded. Cruel had to figure out his next move. Once again, it was Berry's story that helped him decide what that would be.
This month Cruel launched Deeper Than Journalism, a weekly web show that focuses on stories about the Philly area's missing persons. Until the project gets some financial backing, this is a labor of love for Cruel, a Philly native who attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Temple University. Helping him are college buddies with full-time jobs who are currently being paid in gratitude.
Two years after Berry's unsolved death, his mother, Gynon Berry-Forrest, said she's still struggling with the loss of her son. The family hopes his death will be solved one day.
But she's forever grateful for the attention that Cruel brought to her son's disappearance, and she hopes his new show will get other families the attention their missing loved ones deserve.
"They figured he was a young black man who had kids and was in and out with the trouble, so it wasn't of big interest. A stereotypical black man, so no one wanted to listen to us," she said. "We were brushed aside. No one put in the effort the way Sergio did. He paid attention and realized this was real. Even though it didn't turn out how we hoped, we were heard because of him."
The first Deeper Than Journalism episode, which was posted Oct. 3, is dedicated to Berry. It includes a recap of the case and a commitment by Cruel to continue to pursue these cases.
"Andrew's story is just one of many individuals who have gone missing," Cruel tells the viewers.
"Help me help these families."