Sad But True Story

April 11, 1996

I was actually on the Today show via remote camera from the front of my store, invited to be on Montel Williams, and was given Jane Pauley’s home phone number so I could call her and be interviewed.

Every local newscaster from the Cape to Boston came to my store and I was quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country.

All at the expense of a little seven year old’s life. Her name was Jess Hathaway. Her parents, who were divorced, encouraged her to be the youngest pilot to cross the country and her plane crashed killing her, her father and her instructor.

Jess, her brother Josh, and their mom, Lisa, had lived in my town for a few years and were at my store every day. I owned a health food store. My father and I got to know them well.

Lisa, the mom, lived an alternative life style. She home taught her children, they didn’t have toys and Lisa was severely ridiculed by the press for the life they led. Rumors flew like wildfire.

There was so much stuff about them in the news that was total fabrication. It taught me to never believe what you hear in the news. There was a picture of me in one of the Boston papers with the caption “Joan **** weeps as she hears the news” Well, I wasn’t weeping at the time the photo was taken. It was just a bad photo. Though I did cry when I first heard the news.

My sister worked at the local newspaper at the time and gave my name to someone from the Associated Press. Little did she know that within an hour, every form of media would show up at my little store.

One newspaper said that Lisa and her children squatted in a rundown shack in our town. They quoted a policeman as saying that. The truth was they rented a cute little brand new house just down the street. I had been there. It was clean, the kids were happy. They did quite well without Walmart toys. Time magazine said they lived a vegetarian lifestyle as if that made them all crazy.

I remember when Jess and her brother came in the store so excited because they had planted a garden and begged me to come over after work to see it. Of course I did and praised their wonderful work. I lent them books about astronomy. I always gave them any food I could rather than throw it away. One newspaper said they begged for food. So untrue. They never asked for anything.

The two kids had a paper route and their mom let them keep the money. They saved some, bought themselves treats at the store, bought books. One magazine said their mother forced them to do the paper route and give her the money. The kids were so proud of their paper route. They were young at the time. Jess was probably 5 and Josh 7. Their mom always went with them. They were always together.

That’s why I ended up on the Today show, to straighten out some of the rumors. I refused to go on any other show. I didn’t want to make a mockery out of their lives.

It happened almost 12 years ago. I have recently seen Josh who is in college. Both kids were so smart. Probably because in the evenings they didn’t sit in front of the TV. Lisa would read to them or they would listen to music and dance or they would craft stuff. During the day they were always out on their bicycles with their mom. You couldn’t miss them. All three bikes had big flags on the back of them so cars couldn’t miss seeing them.

My father loved it when the kids came in because they were so talkative and friendly and funny. Lisa, the mom, was definitely a different kind of person, but she wasn’t the “Bizarre Mom” Time magazine said she was.

I finally called the local newspaper and asked if they would print a true article about her and they did.

I’m not here to judge the parents. Would I have let my children fly at that age? I doubt it. The one thing I do know is that Lisa was a good mother and loved her children and they led happy lives. Those children never felt deprived because they didn’t have a TV or Walmart toys.

Keep in mind, when they crashed the instructor was sitting right next to Jess with his hands on his own controls. It was his decision to fly the plane with extra weight on it during a sudden heavy rainstorm, which is why the plane crashed. But somehow Lisa got blamed, just because she was different.



11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy
    Jan 31, 2008 @ 11:22:43

    I still think about this family. When I mention them to people I’m always surprised they’ve forgotten all about it, or barely remember it at all. How could anyone forget this awful thing?


  2. moonbeammcqueen
    Jan 31, 2008 @ 14:10:22

    I remember this. I never felt so much that the mom was weird as just feeling bad that everyone was heaping blame on her when she’d just lost her child. I also recall that she took it all very well, and said something to the effect that she was glad that her daughter had been doing something that she loved when she died. The media jumped ALL over that comment!

    How lucky you were to have known them all. They sound like great people. Do you know how the mom’s doing? Do you ever speak to her?

    Great post, Joan.


  3. joanharvest
    Jan 31, 2008 @ 14:18:59

    Lisa is doing fine because she is a survivor. I haven’t spoken to her in a couple of years. Deep down inside she was horrified, as any mother would be, but she didn’t want to show that side of herself. She also had two other children to think about and be strong for. She showed up at my store the day it happened because she had flown on ahead to meet the plane when it landed in Falmouth. I think she felt lost and didn’t know where else to go. Unfortunately, the media made it seem like she showed up just to be in the news when really she came to be with people who cared for her.


  4. David
    Jan 31, 2008 @ 19:23:08

    Thanks for this post joanharvest. I’m one of those people Wendy mentioned, I barely remember this event. But I understand well the tragedy of sudden death and how it plays out in the community. How the survivors become objects of much talk by people who barely know them … good talk and bad. I wonder how those things they sort of held against Lisa a decade ago would play in today’s media theatre. Not that it really matters, since the media theatre is probably the reason that I don’t remember this much. A certain numbness began to set in, some time in the 90s, not because of all the horrific events, but because of the media’s constantly lurid portrayals and simplistic summations. From the NTSB’s report (almost a year later) on this accident:

    The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the
    probable cause of this accident was the pilot in command’s improper decision to take off into deteriorating weather conditions (including turbulence, gusty winds, and an advancing thunderstorm and associated precipitation) when the airplane was overweight and when the density altitude was higher than he was accustomed to, resulting in a stall caused by failure to maintain airspeed. Contributing to the pilot in command’s decision to take off was a desire to adhere to an overly ambitious itinerary, in part, because of media commitments.


  5. Little Miss
    Jan 31, 2008 @ 23:00:09

    This story is just horrible, but heartwarming at the same time. Horrible for the way the media is now and how they treated this mother who lost her child. I can’t even imagine how horrifying it would be to lose a child, let alone one so young. And to compound that with having to stay strong for siblings, the media feasting on your misfortune…

    Thank you for this post, Joan. I only vaguely recall the event, and I’m not sure I paid much attention to it when it happened. I’ve long since ignored the media, most of the time. It reminds me of the phrase in a Don Henley song “Is the head dead yet?” He was so right on. Now, I love DVRs because I can turn the news on long enough to hear the traffic, weather, and sports, and skip all the rest.


  6. Little Miss
    Jan 31, 2008 @ 23:03:38

    Oh, and why did I say it was heartwarming? Because of how you described this mother’s love for her children. I think she may have had the right idea.


  7. joanharvest
    Feb 01, 2008 @ 10:52:52

    I don’t know why I even felt the need to write about this. I guess it has been cooped up somewhere in my head and this blogging business is such a good way to let things out. I’ve never kept a journal and this, for me is like keeping a journal, only you let people read it. I’ve always been an open book anyway. Also I held so much anger towards the media for the way they treated and outright lied about this poor woman.


  8. David
    Feb 01, 2008 @ 20:24:40

    Good work Joan!


  9. betme
    Feb 02, 2008 @ 08:50:57

    Thank you Joan. You touched a soft spot in my heart with this post. It bothers me to no end to hear people ridicule those who are obviously in so much pain. this is a time when we need to shower them with love and understanding.

    Thank you for standing up for the family! May we all be so brave and noble when a friend needs us.


  10. Tom Haberberger
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 15:20:46

    Thank you for using my video to use on your page. I was driving on the highway the morning this crash happened. For a long time, every time I heard this song, I thought about young Jess and her family. After I became a father, and my son showed an interest in motorcycles at the age of 3, I thought a lot about how lives can be changed forever in just a second.

    This video is a tribute for any individual who takes a chance, or as some people call a risk, to put their fears behind them and do what they truly love to do. We can all be proud of Jessica and her family for putting up with all the media BS for so long. Hopefully people can see the positive in all of this tragedy, and not blame anybody for what happened on the morning of April 11th, 1996. Thank you for standing up for Lisa and her family, it was really a disgusting tactic that the media used just to sell more magazines and news articles. If you haven’t yet, I would strongly suggest Lisa’s e book…..Will You All Rise. Very well written, and when I was done reading it, I had learned more about Jessica.

    Here are a couple more videos of about the same pictures, just with a different song, and one of my son riding his motorcycle.


  11. mrssnell
    Jul 19, 2009 @ 22:38:27

    Joan, from time to time I get the opportunity to poke around in your archives, and landed here tonight.

    I love your sense of no-bullshit. I so do. And thank you for standing up for this family and for caring enough about Jess’s death, her family’s life and all the total crap that the media passed on, to write about it. Even after all these years.


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