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Remembering KCUR Reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Kansas City, Mo., a reporter for NPR member station KCUR has died after being struck by a bullet that pierced her home window. Aviva Okeson-Haberman was just 24 years old and a rising star. KCUR's Frank Morris has this remembrance.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Aviva Okeson-Haberman was hit by a bullet fired from outside her apartment in Kansas City's urban core. She was found Friday afternoon, hours after the shooting. There's no apparent motive - possibly just a stray bullet. Police are investigating it as a homicide. Though she was early in her journalism career, she was already making a name for herself. As a college student, she spearheaded an investigation into an elder abuse hotline in Missouri and unearthed the fact that calls to it - thousands of them - were going unanswered. Okeson-Haberman won lots of awards, but her college friend Kyra Haas says she didn't bother to tell even her closest friends about the recognition.

KYRA HAAS: She was my closest friend, and I had a Google alert for her name (crying) because she wouldn't tell me.

MORRIS: During college, Okeson-Haberman interned at KCUR. She made an immediate impression on Maria Carter, then-KCUR news director, who ultimately hired her.

MARIA CARTER, BYLINE: I feel like I've never met a more natural journalist in my life, just in the way that she kind of went about things and her dedication and her interest and curiosity in the world.

MORRIS: At KCUR, she covered some of the biggest topics - corruption in one of the area counties, the inequities of vaccine distribution and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley's push to challenge the outcome of the presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

AVIVA OKESON-HABERMAN: Josh Hawley built his political career around defiance to the mainstream, and that's what he said leading into last week's doomed attempt to toss aside some Electoral College votes for Joe Biden.

MORRIS: Aviva Okeson-Haberman put together an audio diary of area nurses, exhausted after a year of fighting COVID-19. KCUR's current news director Lisa Rodriguez loves her work.

LISA RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: And that piece was one of the most beautiful and emotional pieces of radio that I've listened to. That's the kind of storyteller she was. She brought magic to everything.

MORRIS: Aviva Okeson-Haberman had a challenging childhood. She was raised primarily by her grandparents and spent time in foster care. She also helped raise her two younger sisters. She was about to take a new job at KCUR that would draw on that experience, covering the prison and foster care systems in Kansas. Kansas News Service managing editor Scott Canon has been a journalist for more than four decades, and he hired her for that job.

SCOTT CANON, BYLINE: She was already operating with the savvy and the poise of somebody who had been on the most difficult stories under the most difficult circumstances for decades. And here she was, maybe two years into her professional career. She wasn't just a promising young journalist. She was a fantastic journalist already.

MORRIS: Canon and really anybody who knew Aviva Okeson-Haberman admired her integrity, her drive and her intelligence.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.