I never knew Kiely Rodni, but in a way we all knew her; in a way we all are her. Like many longtime locals who grew up here, I, too, attended the occasional high school party near Prosser and Boca reservoirs. I, too, grew up thinking this town was a safety bubble where nothing could ever go too seriously wrong. I, too, dreamt of life beyond our small town and made plans for my future — just like Kiely, who finished high school early and dreamt of studying music in college.
Like most of the community, I, too, have been shaken to my core by not only Kiely’s disappearance and death but also the spirals of mysterious uncertainty and the overwhelming commentary that continues to build online.
I am a new reporter for Moonshine Ink. This summer has been my first as an official local journalist, and reporting on Kiely has taught me lessons in the trade that nothing in my many journalism classes prepared me for. Nothing prepares you to report on tragedies that hit so close to home, especially when home is here, the small, extremely close-knit town of Truckee and North Tahoe. I am a reporter — your reporter — and I, too, am hurting.
During the first week of searching for Kiely, at the first-ever press conference I’d attended as “The Press,” I stood near where Lindsey Rodni-Nieman, Kiely’s mother, was sitting. I could feel the hurt radiating off of her. It was spilling out of her desperately-hopeful-yet-heartbroken eyes. I turned to Juliana Demarest, Moonshine Ink’s primary reporter on the case, and said, “That’s her mother, isn’t it?” Juliana glanced at her, then back at me, somberly. We both knew it was.
After the press conference, which offered “no new updates at this time,” I sat in my parked car outside of the recreation center where the press conference was held. I sat typing away to inform the public of what was going on, mostly passing along the pleas for information and clues that authorities thought could lead them to Kiely’s whereabouts.
I posted the updates and videos from the press conference to Moonshine Ink’s social media platforms. At the time I did not realize just how much attention those posts would get, and I quickly watched hundreds of comments pour in — comments that reflected many opinions, speculations, judgments, and heartache.
In my car that day, I closed my eyes and imagined a day when I would be able to report that Kiely had been found safe. I pictured her mom’s heartbroken eyes filling with relief as she knew her daughter was coming home. Of course, that day I had dreamt of would never come to be.
The media came from far and wide to report on the mysterious case of a missing beautiful 16-year-old girl who disappeared from a wild high school party in small-town California. The story made for movie-like headlines globally, but for us, it was our story, our home, our community, and our hearts breaking.
As we all await answers to why and how this tragedy happened, I encourage us all to remember that this is us we are talking about, our own community, our neighbors, and our daughter. As we chatter about our curiosities and opinions and leave comments on online platforms, remember who will see them and who is hurting the most.
~ Kyra Mattson is Moonshine Ink’s digital content reporter. She grew up in North Lake Tahoe and went on to graduate from Marymount Manhattan College. Before returning home to Lake Tahoe where she now resides, she spent time living in New York, London, Paris, and Hawaii. Kyra now spends her time enjoying Tahoe’s beautiful outdoors with loved ones.