tony gonzalez journalist
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Online portfolio and blog by Tony Gonzalez, family issues reporter for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. I married my high school sweetheart, Katie, a designer and bookbinder. I like juggling, maps, baseball, and bullmastiffs.

Two years at The Tennessean, July 2011 to present. Three years reporting and editing at The News Virginian, 2008 to 2011. Editor of college and high school newspapers. Internships at The Star Tribune, The Detroit News, and The Toledo Free Press. Chips Quinn Scholar 2007.

Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors 2012 statewide Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting, as well as the Freedom of Information award, for Department of Children's Services project.

Gannett company-wide award 2012 for Watchdog Journalism

Associated Press Managing Editors 2010 International Perspective First Place for "The Borders Within," as well as Public Service Honorable Mention for investigation into troubled children's psychiatric hospital

2009 and 2010 winner, with staff, of the Virginia Press Association's highest award: the Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service.

Virginia Press Association 2008, 2009, and 2010 awards for crime, investigative, breaking news, and feature writing

2011 Robert Novak Fellow

Michigan Collegiate Press Association "Journalist of the Year" 2008

Chips Quinn Scholar, Class of 2007

Civil Rights Project DCS project
Borders Within Multimedia
Monday, November 07, 2011
Neglected in first years of life, girl opens heart to new family
By Tony Gonzalez
The Tennesssean

WILSON COUNTY — Sitting cross-legged in the back laundry room of her family’s farmhouse, 13-year-old Dani Lierow let her father tie her shoes. As Bernie looped the laces, she tilted her head and stared intently into his face.

Then she reached a hand up and touched his speckled gray beard.

The gesture, exploratory and affectionate, might be commonplace in many homes. But it was never expected in theirs.

“That was one of the things they never thought she’d do,” Bernie said. “Get close to somebody.”

When he and his wife, Diane, first met Dani in foster care in Florida in 2006, she still wore diapers even though she was 8 years old. She hit and bit herself and never made eye contact.

It had been a year since police rescued her from a tiny, roach-infested room in Florida. She had survived her first seven years confined there by her birth mother, cut off from other human contact.

Damaged and badly delayed in her development, Dani drew national attention after a Pulitzer Prize-winning story in the St. Petersburg Times thrust her unique challenges and adoption onto the national stage. Everyone from Oprah to Anderson Cooper came calling. Those who heard her story were inspired to cry, to adopt and to take a more vigilant approach toward neglected children.

Soon after Bernie, Diane and their biological son, William, adopted her into their family, the drama moved to Middle Tennessee, where the Lierows had lived before they moved to Florida. They restored a 1920s farmhouse at the eastern edge of Wilson County. They found a summer camp, a horse stable and other programs to help meet Dani’s needs.

Read the full story at

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