Courts & Crime

Lisa Irwin's family feels strain of media scrutiny

He can’t sleep. He has trouble focusing his thoughts or quieting roiling emotions after each news story about his missing granddaughter.

And baby Lisa Irwin’s first birthday looms five days away.

“That’s gonna be the oh-my-God moment,” said David Netz Jr., weeping. “I can’t even imagine what that day will be like. What will we do? How will we get through that? I don’t even know how to ask Debbie and Jeremy what we should do or how to help them through that.”

Since the mystifying Oct. 4 disappearance of the 10-month-old, much of the nation has been introduced to her parents, Debbie Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, as the latest breathless, blow-by-blow, cable-crime-case sensation.

The coverage has been anything but favorable to his daughter Debbie. The family’s attorneys will no longer allow interviews with her or Irwin.

“Most of my family says, ‘Trust nobody.’ But it’s making things get even worse, I think,” Netz says. So he and a couple other members of the extended family are speaking out, helping The Kansas City Star pull together some of the threads of Deborah Lee Netz Bradley’s life of 25 years.

Netz shifts easily from streaming tears to fist-clenching anger — against the media, the police and others who disbelieve his daughter in the disappearance of her baby.

“People are judging whether Debbie’s crying enough, or if she’s crying too much, or if her lip curls up in some body language secret, or if Jeremy doesn’t show enough emotion.”

Another deep sigh.

“This whole thing is insanity times 10.”

Netz, 48, acknowledges the troubles in the family tree, the frays in the bonds. Alcoholism. Estrangement. Divorce. Untimely death.

Debbie’s mother left him more than once. And his daughter moved out of his house the first time as an angry 16-year-old. Still, he says, the two stayed connected, with visits at least once a week.

It feels like the whole world is judging his daughter without knowing anything about her, he says. He’s pained by Web postings that range from vitriol to know-it-all opinions by armchair sleuths.

Added to that is the media encampment at the family’s homes in the Northland.

“My God, Debbie and Jeremy can’t even relax and smoke on the back porch without seeing hidden cameras popping out of brush. It’s horrible.”

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