The horrific death of two young children, Lucia and Leo Krim, allegedly murdered by their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, in New York City is a deeply unsettling story for any family who’s ever had, or contemplated hiring, someone outside of the family to help with childcare. But just as the story raises what are sure to be long-running conversations about background checks for caregivers, mental-health issues for nannies separated from their own families, and the culture of hiring outside help, the reporting of the story itself is revealing. Though the Krim family has, understandably, not yet spoken to the press, and Ortega remains hospitalized as a result of her apparent attempt to commit suicide, the adult Krims’ digital lives—and Ortega’s lack of one—are already shaping how they both will be viewed by the public as more concrete details of the case become clear.
Some of these details are minor. The New York Times tracked down the adult Krims’ LinkedIn profiles to find out that Kevin Krim worked for CNBC and that Marina Krim had worked for an importer before becoming a stay-at-home mother.
Other findings were less about raw information, and more an attempt to extrapolate what Mrs. Krim must be feeling in the absence of a statement from her, or even before she was able to speak at all. It’s meant to be, and is, awful to read a quotation from an excerpt of a blog entry Mrs. Krim wrote about her youngest child in the Times story: “He’s obsessed with collecting acorns he finds ‘on the floor,’ he loves riding ‘the school bus’ and he happily plays by himself for long periods of time. Here he has set up his kitchen in the living room and is ‘making bacon’ (not sure where he learned the word ‘bacon’).” The New York Post story about the case went on at great length about the photos Krim posted, noting: “The blog is filled with pictures and videos of the Krims’ adorable children — picking pumpkins, playing outside phone booths and sleeping next to their toys.” Fox News blared the headline “New York mother in nanny horror kept detailed family blog,” as if details about the Krim children’s feelings about their Crocs would actually advance our understanding of why they died.
I understand the rush to get emotional color into a story, and for reporters eager to keep readers engaged, a victim’s online presence can make it easier to get those details without having to approach or wait for victims who may be unable or unwilling to speak about their experiences. But excerpts from Krim’s blog, including details of a trip that included a visit to the nanny’s family, or details from her sister’s wedding website seem simultaneously inadequate and macabre. Knowing that Mrs. Krim found her son delightful doesn’t actually capture the magnitude of her loss. And her public narrative of her family life doesn’t seem likely to provide much substantive evidence of missed warning signs or contributing factors to an inexplicable event.
And just as this rummaging through the Krim family’s once-innocuous digital record provides the sense that the family is knowable, relatable, particularly pitiable, the lack of a digital trail left behind by Ms. Ortega has served to make her seem mysterious. The rapidly expanding New York Times story on the killings, to which 10 reporters have contributed thus far, includes the detail that “Outside Ms. Ortega’s apartment, a woman could be heard through the closed door wailing, ‘Por qué dios mio, por qué?’ ” It was a door they presumably approached precisely because Ms. Ortega didn’t leave much of a digital record behind: the Times noted “The official said it appeared that she did not own a computer and was not particularly ‘tech savvy.’ ” As was the case with James Holmes, the man accused of a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater this summer, people who don’t leave substantial documentation of their lives online increasingly are treated like enigmas, a phenomenon that’s intensified when they commit terrible crimes.
Because we know some details about the Krims’ lives, they are sympathetic figures: we can interpret the stories they told about themselves, rather than projecting our best or worst suspicions onto them. But in the absence of concrete details about Ortega’s personality, or a version of herself she offered up to the world, it becomes easier to imagine her as a monster, rather than to try to understand whatever mental illness, stress from separation from her own family, or perceived grievances might have contributed to the crimes she’s accuesd of committing. If we’re going to have conversations about how to keep children safer or about the culture of nannying, these are important questions to try and answer, but harder ones to track down offline in the immediate aftermath of a terrible crime.
The true story, of who Yoselyn Ortega is and how she might have reached the terrible decision to kill two of the Krim children and to attempt suicide, lies somewhere in between the cries coming from behind a physical door and the sunny document of family life Mrs. Krim shared online. But the coverage of this dreadful story is a reflection of a more significant dividing line: If you live your life online, you’re explicable and relatable. And if not, for reasons of preferences or economics, you remain mysterious if by your own or others’ bad acts, you should end up in the public eye.