Then the alleged vandal got caught by the Selinsgrove police. But the police wouldn’t tell Hilde who it was. Even though she was being bombarded with media requests for interviews, she stayed on the story. And in the end, she got her man.
Much of the world met Hilde earlier this month after the “True Crime” blog detailed her coverage of a tragic slaying in her town, the response that coverage elicited from people who didn’t think a 9-year-old should be covering homicide, and the reply video she promptly posted, both reading the criticisms and leaning into the camera and telling her critics, “If you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computer and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”
Hilde’s pluck, intelligence, and maybe even her name — the old newspaper movie “His Girl Friday” featured a fast-talking woman reporter named Hildy Johnson — enraptured a lot of people, including so many media outlets that Hilde’s father, former New York Daily News reporter Matthew Lysiak, had to turn off the phone. But the family, including her videographer sister Isabel, 12, eventually made trips to New York for Hilde to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and Gretchen Carlson’s show on Fox News, plus she did a third TV interview by remote with CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and she also wrote a first-person account for the Guardian. Paid subscriptions for the monthly print edition of the Orange Street News soared from 100 to 600 and her website’s page views topped 600,000.
“It’s weird being interviewed,” Hilde said Thursday of her national TV appearances, “because I’m usually the one interviewing other people.” What do her friends think about all the media attention? “I think they think it’s pretty cool,” she said. She wasn’t too focused on subscriptions or page views or any of that. “I’m just focused on the news.”
What is she working on now? “You’re going to have to find out in the next issue,” Hilde said, refusing to disclose her projects like a seasoned pro. Sources close to the Orange Street News say it may be related to the homicide she covered earlier this month, which involved a beloved school teacher and his wife of 50 years.
Her father, who lightly edits Hilde’s copy and then types it on to the website after Hilde turns in her handwritten copy, said the media attention didn’t seem to affect her much. “She doesn’t remember a lot of the things,” Matthew Lysiak said. “The New York things were fun because she got to see her friends,” since the family lived there until 2012. “She remembers the food in the ‘Green Room’ [before TV appearances]. She’s 9. But she wanted to get back. She was still on the vandal story.”
The vandalism story was a near obsession for Hilde, her father said, and she had been chronicling incidents such as defaced tombstones, stolen street lights and then more recently the destruction of planters around the town. And on April 2, the day of the homicide, she was at the Selinsgrove police station, from which a force of four officers and a chief serve a population of about 5,400. Hilde was trying to confirm that “the Selinsgrove vandal” had been nabbed. Chief Thomas Garlock told Hilde that an officer had spotted a planter destruction in process and charged someone, but he didn’t have more time to talk because he was off to something big. That was the homicide.
Hilde filed her story about the vandal’s arrest (headline: BREAKING: VANDAL ARRESTED!!), then biked over to Ninth Street and began reporting in the neighborhood about the homicide. Her sister came over and shot some video of Hilde outside the crime scene, and Hilde posted her story long before the rest of the local media.
Even with the side trips to New York to appear on network television, Hilde tenaciously pursued the vandal story. Who got arrested? What were the charges? And the Selinsgrove police wouldn’t tell her. On April 11, nine days after the bust, Hilde wrote that “The Orange Street News has repeatedly asked the Selinsgrove police station for information about who was arrested but the police either won’t answer the door or won’t answer the question.” She and Isabel posted a video in which she went to the police station and pressed the buzzer, but no one answered.
Finally on the 10th day, the police issued a press release addressed to Hilde, her father said, naming a 21-year-old student from nearby Susquehanna University and charging him with criminal mischief. Hilde ran with it.
Then came the really big break: she got an interview with the suspect. “He actually emailed me,” Hilde said. “He probably wanted to apologize for vandalizing Selinsgrove.” She agreed to meet him at a cafe in town.
“It was weird,” Hilde said. “I don’t know. It was just really weird. First of all, he says he’s only been vandalizing the one time. It’s strange meeting the Selinsgrove vandal.”
The student asked her to take his name off the Orange Street News website. “I told him if he gave me a full and honest interview,” Hilde said, “I would consider taking his name out and letting him stay anonymous.”
She is thoroughly skeptical of his claim that this was his only act, telling him, “And do you recall on April 2nd there hasn’t been any vandalism at the Commons? Why would we believe you haven’t been doing this for months?” The man was adamant he only committed the one act. Hilde posted the interview Thursday, and removed the student’s name.
Marvin Rudnitsky, the borough council president, said in an email, “I think the community appreciates her efforts and in fact takes some pride that one of their own is recognized beyond our small town. I get a kick out of seeing her riding her little bike around town on the lookout for stories.” He said she appears at council meetings and he always treats her respectfully.
“As far as the murder she investigated,” Rudnitsky wrote, “just blocks from her own home, there are some conflicting opinions about the appropriateness of a 9-year-old investigating a murder (a domestic homicide). In my opinion, that’s a matter between Ms. Lysiak and her mom and dad.”
Her parents are fine with her pursuing crime reporting, and she is being home-schooled this year to give her more time to devote to her journalism. “I’m going to keep covering news,” she said plainly, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world.