Sharing Johanna’s story with the world

Brittany Senary

Two Plain Dealer reporters share their experience covering tragedy

Johanna Orozco was 18 when her ex-boyfriend shot her in the jaw. The story was covered by two Kent State graduates in The Plain Dealer. The reporters discussed the story yesterday in the First Energy Auditorium and the long process of covering it.

Reporter Rachel Dissell, a Kent State graduate in 2001 and Photographer Gus Chan, a 1980 graduate, worked together to tell Johanna’s story.

Johanna was raped at knifepoint by her then boyfriend, Juan Ruiz, 17. He was arrested and released days later.

Ruiz shot Orozco on the left side of her face and the impact blew off a major portion of her lower jaw. She spent the next six weeks recovering, and Dissell and Chan covered her recovery.

The pair worked on the story for seven months, documenting her surgeries, prom, high school graduation and Ruiz’s trial.

The story ran as a special series called “Johanna: Facing Forward” for the eight days before Juan was sentenced. The series has multimedia presentations such as slide shows, Johanna’s journal entries and podcasts with Johanna’s voice in the background describing the events. The story and multimedia presentations can be see at

Chan said the key to doing this type of story is to gain the subject’s trust.

“It is rare to do a story like this,” Chan said, “but there was the right combination with the subject, reporter and photographer.”

Johanna is now at John Caroll University in Cleveland. Juan was sentenced to 27 years. At the earliest, Juan would be 44 when he is released from prison.

Associate professor Carl Schierhorn remembers Dissell as an aggressive reporter and while she was executive editor of the Stater.

“The piece was gripping,” Schierhorn said. “It helped people understand what a girl in that situation went through.”

Contact College of Communications and Information reporter Brittany Senary at [email protected].

CHECK OUT Johanna’s story at