Newest case investigator finds heroes an antidote to negativity

I came to the Hero Fund as a case investigator in November 2023 after a 35-year career as a newspaper reporter, the last 20 of which I spent covering the federal courts in addition to other duties.

In that role, I wrote about all the human depravity you could imagine — and maybe some you cannot: even those who would exploit and victimize children and the helpless; so many scammers, fraudsters, and gun-toting drug dealers that they all ran together over the years.

But it was the Tree of Life massacre — a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 that resulted in the deaths of 11 worshipers and injuries to an additional six — that affected me the most. Our paper won the Pulitzer Prize for our coverage and it fell to me to follow the death penalty case of the lone perpetrator for five years, culminating in a soul-searing trial that gave me nightmares despite having covered several other mass shootings in my career and untold numbers of homicides.

My adult children would sometimes say, “Dad thinks everyone is a scumbag.” It was true. It got to the point where I started to ask myself: Are there any good people left in this world?

For anyone afflicted by that mindset, the Hero Fund is an antidote.

I’d known about the organization before and written a story or two on Hero Fund recipients over the years. When it came time to leave journalism — still a noble profession despite the many flaws of its practitioners — I wanted to do something equally noble. I felt the Hero Fund might be a good fit. Instead of writing about the worst of humanity, I would be helping to reward the best. Above all, I wanted to be proud of my workplace and my second career as I head slowly toward my retirement years. I feel good about the organization and what we do. Everyone I tell about this job has the same reaction: “Man, that sounds pretty cool.”

Yes, it is.

The transition has not been without some hiccups. I was surprised at how detailed and meticulous the staff is in preparing reports for the commission. In the world of journalism, you focus on conflict and emotion. Conflict is what drives every good story. But the Hero Fund work reminds me most of Sgt. Joe Friday (yes, I am dating myself): “Just the facts, ma’am.”

I can appreciate that. We’re not rubber-stamping anything here. If you get the Carnegie Medal for Heroism, you’ve done something real and lasting — and we can prove it.

I’m glad to be part of this long-standing effort to honor average people who rise to the occasion when most of us would not.

And I’ve concluded that yes, there are still good people out there.

—Torsten Ove, case investigator