Fox 4 Morning News meteorologist Don Harman died on Tuesday, and when the cause of death was ruled a suicide, his colleagues at the Kansas City station found themselves reeling from the shock of his loss, struggling to remain professional as viewer condolences and questions came pouring in.
Award-Winning, Beloved Newscaster
Don Harman, 41, was Fox 4's most popular newscaster, and was part of a team whose broadcasts have been No. 1 in Kansas City, Mo. for much of the past decade.
He was a member of the American Meteorologist Society (AMS), was awarded both the AMS and Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM) Seals of Approval, was nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for his work as a newscaster.
An active member of the community, he won the Missouri Broadcast Award for educational children's reports as Doppler Don back in his early days as a weatherman. A charity has since been formed in his honor.
But the beloved meteorologist's life was cut short on Nov. 29 when the Marietta, Ohio native committed suicide in his South Kansas City home. He was found by his wife, Monica Johns, and it was quickly evident that the beloved meteorologist had taken his own life.
Fox 4's WDAF had initially planned to hold off announcing Harman's death on air. His fellow newscasters had been trying to reach his 79-year-old father, Gordon, before making Don Harman's death public.
Unfortunately, Gordon Harman was traveling, and unreachable by phone. In the 18 hours it took WDAF to contact him, news of Harman's passing had already leaked. Social networks and local blogs picked up the story, and phones began ringing with news stations and viewers calling to confirm his death.
The long wait to make their grief public, the news that Harman had committed suicide, and the flood of viewer questions that followed the news' leak, all compounded the shock and grief the popular weatherman's fellow newscasters were feeling.
For that reason, as emails and thousands of Facebook comments took over the station's page, Fox 4 decided to note viewers' reactions to Don Harman's death -- but not report the actual suicide.
We know a lot of you out there have questions about what's going on, Mark Alford, a close friend of Harman's, read in a statment at 4:45 am on Nov. 30. We do appreciate your concerns. We consider you our friends.
We do ask you, though, to remember that family comes first, co-anchor Loren Halifax added. And we are honoring that.
That statement was repeated during Fox 4's morning coverage. At noon on Nov. 30, WDAF's Kathy Quinn released a second statement finally confirming Harman's tragic death.
To all of us, Don was like family and the news comes as a great shock to all the people he worked with at Fox 4, she said.
News Station Made Tough Call
Many fans of Don Harman, including those who joined in the local and national outpouring of emotion following the meteorologist's death, were thrown by Fox 4's decision not to announce his passing, especially once the news had been leaked.
WDAF was one of the last news stations to report to death of their own newscaster, something that rubbed some Facebook and Twitter commenters the wrong way.
Robert Steele, however, who teaches journalism ethics at Indiana's DePauw University, says that Fox 4 made the tougher, moral call, and that their decision was understandable. It can be challenging finding that balance between reporting the truth, which is a journalistic obligation, and minimizing harm, which is a professional obligation.
At some point, however, it's very difficult to hold back on the story about this person who is very much a public figure, Steele told the Star.
The WDAF staff has since released a full statement on Don Harman's death, mourning the tragedy of his passing and honoring him for his commitment to Kansas City news.
Don wasn't just our meteorologist, the statement read. He was a part of our family and we loved him. Words cannot express how deeply he will be missed.
Other Stations Offer Condolences
In the aftermath of Don Harman's confirmed suicide, other news stations and former colleagues are also expressing their condolences, whether through social media, the airwaves or in person.
Thinking about our friends @ Fox4KC as they deal with the incredible loss of Don Harman, KSHB investigative reporter Ryan Kath tweeted on Nov. 30. Thoughts & prayers for his family.
Local rival stations KCTV, KMBC and NBC Action News have also released statements on the meteorologist's death with their coverage of Don Harman's suicide, praising the newscaster for his sense of humor and his love of all things weather.
KMBC-TV's Bryan Busby, who had been close friends with Don Harman since the 1990s, also offered a perspective of Harman's life and work, and how the two combined on-air.
The difficulty in this job is to have that good blend of left-brain, right-brain, Busby said Nov. 30. We're scientists, we're geeks, we know math. So to have a meteorologist who also has that personality, someone who can make you smile, is a rare quality. And Don had both.
Remembering Don Harman
Below, watch a video tribute by his colleagues at Fox 4 of Don Harman's best moments as a WDAF meteorologist: