By Stan Bush
WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4)– Reporters working a sleepy weekend shift in mid-August knew the story would be tragic. A woman in Westminster, hit by a train. They could not know at the time was how close it would hit home.
It was Aug. 13, 2016 when 20-year-old Amanda Kirchner was hit and killed by a freight train while walking to her job at Target. Police reports indicated that Kirchner, who was taking a shortcut along the tracks, was wearing noise-cancelling headphones and never heard the horn from the locomotive trying to warn her.
Kirchner, who had moved out of her parent’s home just 10 days earlier, is the stepdaughter of CBS4 photojournalist Mark Neitro.
Mark and Sue Neitro were having lunch at a barbeque restaurant when a neighbor called them and said there was an emergency. They didn’t know what to expect until they arrived home with police officers and a victim’s advocate waiting at their front door.
“I didn’t know what to think. I mean what do you think when you have all these people sitting at your front door waiting for you and they took us inside and said Amanda had passed,” says Neitro.
The couple then had to tell Ashley Kirchner, Amanda’s father. Neitro calls it the toughest conversation of his life.
“After that everything just fell away,” says Kirchner.
“Telling my son that his sister, his best friend had died, that was the worst,” adds Neitro who says the emotions from that day are still raw.
“We just sat there for a long time, just the four of us, just crying.”
In the months after Amanda’s death, Neitro, a CBS4 employee for more than a decade, decided he wanted to leverage his social media accounts, more than 17,000 twitter followers, to raise awareness about distracted headphone use. Inspired by the success of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” he launched the campaign #OneEarOut on twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; using memes of people listening to headphones with only one ear to get across the message.
“My biggest thing for me is to share Amanda with the world,” says Neitro. “It is to share what happened to her so it doesn’t happen to somebody else.”
Neitro and Kirchner are curating the site and trying to grow the movement, hoping for more members to join including major social media influencers like athletes, actors, and musicians. They’re speaking at local schools about the issue and partnering with a company making headphones that are more user safe. Neitro says the campaign is not anti-headphone, but is intended to promote using headphones with caution.
“It’s just about enjoying music when it’s safe. It’s not safe listening to noise cancelling headphones when you’re walking down the street,” says Neitro.
Amanda’s father says promoting the campaign has help the family grieve.
“Right now the glue is one ear out which is her voice and that’s what keeps us going,” says Kirchner.
Neitro and Kirchner says the campaign boils down to a conversation between parents and their children about safe headphone use. It’s a conversation they said they had repeatedly with Amanda, but they say it’s a conversation that needs to resonate.
“Don’t give up is what it says… to every parent out there you don’t give up on what’s important for your children.”