I Witnessed a Murder. Is It Wrong to Write About It?

The Ethicist replies.

Recently, I rented a private office in a co-working space so I could work on personal writing projects. About two weeks into my tenure, I heard screams. When I went to investigate, I saw a man beating someone savagely with a metal pipe. I ran to my office, called 911 and then returned, only to see the man walking in my direction. I ran back to my office and hid until the police arrived. The victim — she was the office manager — was rushed to the hospital, where she was declared dead. The story that emerged is that the man, a fellow client who had been living in his office, was being evicted by the office manager.

Because I'm a writer, it's not surprising that a number of my friends — writers and nonwriters alike — have asked whether I am writing about this story. Yet, from the beginning, I have struggled to even talk about what I witnessed. I do not want to dine out on it.

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It feels unseemly to me, if not outright wrong, to take advantage of my very accidental connection to this murder and its victim. I am troubled by the idea of viewing another woman's death as "material." What are the ethics of writing about what is, at heart, someone else's tragedy?

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