KCUR Reporter And Beloved Colleague Aviva Okeson-Haberman Dies At 24
Aviva joined KCUR in 2019, impressing her colleagues with her work ethic and strength of purpose.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman, an accomplished KCUR reporter known for her thoughtful, aggressive and compassionate reporting, has died after suffering a gunshot wound in her Kansas City apartment. She was 24.
The killing appeared to be the result of a bullet that pierced one of the windows of her first-floor apartment in the Santa Fe neighborhood. She was discovered there in the 2900 block of Lockridge Avenue on Friday afternoon by a colleague who had gone to check on her after she’d failed to respond to messages throughout the day.
She was an especially beloved friend and colleague just beginning what promised to be a brilliant career. We, at KCUR, join her family and friends in mourning her passing.
Hours before she was shot, she’d been looking at an apartment in Lawrence. She was moving into a new role covering social issues and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service, a statewide reporting partnership based at KCUR.
Her application for that position hinted at the passion she brought to her craft.
“Social services is a tough beat, but I’m a tough reporter,” she wrote. “I’ll ask the hard questions, dig into the data and spend time building trust with sources. It’s what’s required to provide an unflinching look at how state government affects those entrusted to its care.”
Aviva had already demonstrated outstanding reporting skills. She joined KCUR in June 2019 as the Missouri politics and government reporter, having interned at the station a year earlier and impressed the newsroom with her work ethic, diligence, conscientiousness and eagerness to learn.
Above all, she was sweet, kind and gracious, giving little hint of the strength of purpose that made her such a skilled and tough reporter.
“Aviva was brilliant,” KCUR news director Lisa Rodriguez said. “Even as an intern, her approach to storytelling and her ability to hold those in power accountable paralleled many a veteran reporter. She was quiet, which made it all the more satisfying to hear her challenge politicians and hold her ground, even when people in positions of great power tried to belittle her.”
In her nearly two years at KCUR, Aviva covered a host of issues, ranging from corruption in Clay County and medical marijuana to the conflicting pandemic restrictions in differing Kansas City area cities and inequities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
She had a particular interest in the foster care system, which she planned to focus on as a reporter for the Kansas News Service. Her interest was anything but abstract. She herself was in foster care for several years as an adolescent.
While in high school in Springfield, Missouri, she was a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club, supervising up to 20 children ranging in age from 5 to 12 and helping them with their reading and math skills. She also volunteered for the Food Recovery Network, transporting restaurant food to the Salvation Army.
Scott Canon, managing editor of the Kansas News Service, said he recruited her for the job because her seriousness was as obvious as her empathy for the people she covered.
“She cared deeply about children in foster care and she also wanted to do the most thorough possible job understanding the state’s prison and its juvenile justice system,” Canon said. “She was brimming with ideas for stories that she thought just might improve the lives of people who were up against the worst circumstances.”
Aviva graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in 2019. While there, she garnered fistfuls of awards, including the Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting for her investigation of Missouri’s elder abuse hotline. It was the sort of story that reporters with decades more experience would have admired and envied.
The hotline had been set up to collect reports of abuse and neglect of the elderly and people with disabilities. She and another reporter she worked with discovered that thousands of calls to the hotline went unanswered. Their reporting prompted an investigation by the Missouri attorney general.
While at Mizzou, Aviva also oversaw more than 40 students who produced weekly shows for the student-run TV station, MUTV.
After graduating, she worked as a reporter for nearly a year at KBIA, the University of Missouri-licensed public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. Two of her feature stories aired on Here & Now, a public radio magazine program carried by more than 450 public radio stations across the country.
“Her instincts as a journalist were spot-on. Aviva knew when something was amiss and was unrelenting in her pursuit of the truth,” Rodriguez said. “I learned so much from her. Earlier this year, I turned down a pitch she had for a series — an audio diary of nurses fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines. Eventually, she wore me down and we agreed to one story.
"That piece was one of the most beautiful and emotional pieces of radio I’ve listened to. It brought me to tears each time I listened to it. That was just the kind of storyteller she was — she brought magic to everything.”
Peggy Lowe, a longtime newspaper reporter and now an investigative reporter at KCUR, called Aviva “one of the brightest, hardest-working reporters I’ve known.”
“She had such a head for investigatory work — getting and analyzing data and digging until all of her many questions were answered,” Lowe said. “That her incredible promise is gone is devastating.”
After she was found unconscious in her apartment, Aviva was transported to Truman Medical Centers, where the nurses and chaplain learned about her audio diary of the nurses fighting COVID.
“That made the nurses love her last night, even though she wasn’t conscious,” said Lowe, who was the reporter who found her unconscious at her apartment and went to the hospital to be with her.
Kansas City police are investigating the shooting that led to Aviva's death.
Homicides in Kansas City have increased in the last few years, mostly due to gun violence. Five gunshot victims were taken to Truman Medical Centers the night Aviva was admitted, according to Chaplain Debra Sapp-Yarwood.
Aviva's colleagues will miss not just her brilliant reporting but her quiet and slyly mischievous character. Journalists tend to be rough around the edges but Aviva was the rare reporter whom everyone loved.
“I’m heartbroken that I won’t have another opportunity to make her a pizza while we sat in my backyard talking about life,” Rodriguez said. “I’m heartbroken I won’t hear another story pitch or work through another hours-long edit. I will miss her so much.”
Aviva is survived by her mother and father, her two younger sisters and her maternal grandparents.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.