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I’ve been a cheerleader. A corporate executive. A Barbie Doll. A sportscaster. A soap opera vixen. A sideline reporter. A Playboy cover model. A Diamond Diva. A red-carpet correspondent. An investigative journalist. A disrupter.
I made Dennis Rodman cry. I’ve interviewed three presidents and hundreds of athletes. I costarred in a viral video that has one billion views. I sued the New England Patriots–and won. I tracked down a murderer. I was hit by a car. I butted heads with Barbara Walters. I even played myself in a movie starring Brad Pitt.
During her career in sports broadcasting, Guerrero covered Super Bowls, Worlds Series, NBA Finals, and interviewed sports superstars. From the outside it seemed glamourous, but often she was miserable, told to smile more, argue less, and show a lot of leg and cleavage. Colleagues would joke—sometimes on national TV—that she clinched big interviews because of sexual acts rather than talent. She made a mistake on air during the opening game on Monday Night Football that cost her her sportscasting career… and almost her life.
Fast forward a few years, and Guerrero has achieved phenomenal success as Inside Edition's Chief Investigative Correspondent. Her stories have led to arrests, changed federal legislation and policies at Fortune 500 companies, and helped shine a light on crime, scams, child abuse, and even cold case murders. And in the last decade alone, she has won over thirty-five national journalism honors and awards.
Today, Guerrero is bombarded with emails and direct messages from people of every generation who all want to know the same thing: “How are you so brave? How can I be brave too?” Women dealing with husbands, friends, in-laws, co-workers, and bosses ask for the courage to request raises, be taken seriously at meetings, and stand up to abusive spouses. Teens and pre-teens ask for advice on dealing with bullies, teachers, and parents. Warrior—filled with the incisive stories of failure, struggles, challenges, perseverance, and finally, success—is her answer.
Justice for Juliette
As Dustin Chauncey waited to hear his verdict, he turned around and scanned the crowded courtroom until his eyes landed on me. He knew who I was—we’d met when he thought he’d gotten away with murder and I’d stuck my microphone in his car window to let him know he hadn’t. A shiver raced through me as I returned his glare—it was like staring into the eyes of the devil. But I didn’t look away.
I was part of the reason he’d been arrested and charged with the murder of two-year-old Juliette Geurts. For more than six years, he’d escaped justice. In a few minutes, he’d finally receive it.
As Inside Edition’s chief investigative correspondent for more than a decade, I’ve covered hundreds of stories—consumer scams, crooked politicians, corrupt televangelists, rapists and predators, child, women, elder, and animal abuse, and, well, the list goes on.
But I’d never solved a murder.
It began two years earlier when I received a message on Facebook from Monica Hall, Juliette’s aunt. She’d grown frustrated with the incompetent police investigation of her niece’s death and had reached out to the media for help. But her pleas to the networks, the cable news stations, and television personalities such as Dr. Phil and Nancy Grace had gone unanswered. It had been four years since Juliette had died, and I was her last resort. She begged me to look into it.
“It’s been years of hell for our family. I don’t know where else to turn,” she wrote.
In the early morning of July 11, 2008, Juliette had been brutally beaten in her home just a few feet from her identical twin sister, Jaelyn. Juliette had suffered a lacerated liver from a kick to the stomach as well as cerebral hemorrhaging and a badly bruised lung. Even her crib had been broken during the assault. Yet none of the three adults—two men and Juliette’s mother—who had been in the tiny ranch-style house that evening drinking rum and smoking weed had been arrested. The murder had not only remained unsolved, it had barely been investigated. Worse, the cops had bungled every aspect of it.
It had taken five days after the toddler’s murder for the cops to seal the home as a crime scene. It was a year before her clothes were sent to a crime lab. The police never separated the suspects before they interviewed them—so they had time to coordinate their stories. The cops never charged anyone, even though they called Juliette’s death a homicide. And when the principal witnesses and/or suspects left the state, law enforcement threw up its hands and just moved on. The more I read, the more furious I became. This was a little girl who had never had a chance, even in death. Juliette’s aunt had been leading a petition drive that would compel a grand jury to be convened and a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate the unsolved crime. But Juliette’s story needed national attention to help Monica garner the necessary signatures.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this tiny victim whose horrible death had been treated so callously by law enforcement.
“I have to look into this,” I said to Bob Read, the senior producer for our investigative unit.
He told me what I already knew. “You have nothing to go on. There’s no one to interview. There’s no one to confront. The suspects have disappeared. There are no leads. This case is cold. What could we do that law enforcement couldn’t?”
I wasn’t sure yet. But I told him I’d like to meet and interview Monica and see where the story would lead. When Charles Lachman, our executive producer, gave it the green light, I headed to Gering, the remote town in Nebraska where Juliette had lived and died. I met with Monica, and we toured the home where Juliette had been killed. Then Monica played me the tape recording of her conversation with Doug Warner, the district attorney handling the case.
“I hope for Juliette’s sake you will find justice for her,” Monica pleaded.
I could hear the anger in the DA’s voice when he replied, “Don’t give me that ‘for Juliette.’ Do you know how many dead babies I’ve worked on?”
This recording was impossible to listen to without becoming emotional. As Monica and I talked about that awful conversation, about the sloppy investigation, and about the beautiful little girl who had been known as the louder, more rambunctious twin, my eyes welled with tears.
* * *
This is a book about bravery. I decided to write it because every day I receive messages from viewers asking me how I’m able to fearlessly investigate and interview bad guys. They want to know where my courage comes from. And my answer contradicts everything journalists have been taught. But I’m not a typical journalist—I was never trained in a traditional newsroom. I didn’t receive a journalism degree. I didn’t even finish college.
My route to journalism has been unconventional. I’ve been a cheerleader. A corporate executive. A Barbie doll. A sportscaster. A soap-opera vixen. A sideline reporter. A Playboy cover model. A Diamond Diva. A red-carpet correspondent. An investigative journalist. A disrupter. I made Dennis Rodman cry. I interviewed three presidents and hundreds of professional athletes in dozens of locker rooms throughout the country. I costarred in a viral video that has one billion views. I sued the New England Patriots—and won. I tracked down a murderer. I butted heads with Barbara Walters. I even played myself in a movie starring Brad Pitt.
But my proudest moments come from helping people find closure and seeking out justice.
My bravery stems from pain. I feel the victims’ pain so acutely that I absorb their sorrow, rage, and frustration. Little Juliette was not another “dead baby.” I felt as though she were my niece too. Monica’s despair and anger were my despair and anger. I connect easily with survivors, no matter who they are and what they’ve gone through. Once that happens, I’m filled with empathy.
Empathy is what makes me brave.
Where does my empathy come from? I’ve been building it brick by brick during my lifetime. When I was a little girl, my parents—Dad, a social worker; and Mom, a Chilean immigrant—taught me compassion for others by taking me to homeless shelters and nursing homes. Then, when my mom died when I was eight, I was overwhelmed by a pain so fierce that it has helped me understand others’ pain. When I became an actor, I was trained to channel the suffering, rage, and love that my characters possessed into my performance. And then when I was older, I endured harassment and abuse that led me into severe depression and suicidal thoughts. When I hear about someone’s pain, I not only absorb their suffering, I remember my own.
I’m often approached by people who tell me they love my confrontational style. I race into dangerous situations, armed only with a microphone, and I demand accountability from those who hurt others. I’ve been struck by cars. I’ve had knives and guns pointed at me. I’ve been punched, pushed, kicked, and stalked, and I’ve received death threats.
But there are some who criticize me, saying a journalist shouldn’t show emotion or take sides in a story. They’ll tell me that I’m doing it wrong, that I’m not “objective.” I reject the idea of being blindly unbiased. There are bad guys and good guys. A monster is a monster.
“I’ll help you find justice for baby Juliette,” I told Monica.
My producer, my cameraman, and I were relentless. We marched into the district attorney’s office while he hid from us. I confronted Mel Griggs, the Gering police chief.
“Why has it taken so long to find the person responsible for her murder? There were only three adults in the house that night.”
He paused for a long time. He stuttered and stammered. “That’s true, and we have evidence that they were there, but none of them are talking.”
It was infuriating that the police chief believed he’d done enough. We launched our own investigation, tracking down the trio’s friends, acquaintances, former neighbors, and past landlords. We found the bars they frequented, the places where they’d worked, and the apartments where they’d lived. There were tons of dead ends. But we were obsessed with finding answers. We’d investigate other stories and then slip away for a day or so to work on some element of this one. Bob patiently allowed us to piggyback our trips.
Finally, after months of chasing leads, we discovered where the three suspects were living: Charyse Geurts, the mom, had moved outside Green Bay, Wisconsin, while her ex-boyfriend Dustin Chauncey (who wasn’t the twins’ father) and the third adult, Brandon Townsend, had relocated to separate towns in Colorado.
We found the apartment building where Charyse lived. When she returned from a night shift, I raced up to her car as she opened the door. I wedged my body in between her and the open door. If she decided to drive off, she’d have to take me with her.
“Get out of my face,” she yelled.
But getting in faces is what I’m known for. Although I race up to my subject and pepper them with questions, I’m completely calm. My blood pressure doesn’t go up. I don’t breathe heavily. In sports they call it being “in the zone”—everything moves in slow motion, and you envision the outcome before it happens.
When I was promoted to chief investigative correspondent, Charles, my executive producer, said he saw me as a victim’s avenger. I love that description. There’s nothing more satisfying than demanding accountability on behalf of a victim. I never know how someone will react—they might tell me the truth or lie or run or push or kick me or my embattled, unflappable cameraman. But we’re never going to settle for a “No comment.”
I knelt in front of Charyse and asked her if she had killed her daughter.
“No!” She claimed she had taken a sleeping pill that night and didn’t remember anything.
“Do you feel responsible for your daughter’s death?”
“What mother wouldn’t feel responsible?” she said, sobbing. “I don’t want to talk anymore.”
Most journalists would wrap it up there—she’d given me a “No comment.” It really was enough for a good story. But it wasn’t enough for the people who loved Juliette and were demanding justice for her. I continued to pepper Charyse with questions.
“Why did you run? Why aren’t you helping police?”
Charyse sobbed harder. I wasn’t buying it.
“Did Dustin kill Juliette?”
She paused and sighed deeply as though she knew the jig was up.
“Yeah, I believe that he did.”
Oh, my God, she just pointed the finger at her ex-lover!
Next, we found Brandon Townsend, who said, “I think Dustin went in there in the middle of the night and beat her too hard.”
This was astounding. I wasn’t some cop in an interrogation room wearing down a victim after hours of questioning—I was a reporter with a microphone. I had two witnesses throwing Dustin Chauncey under the bus. Townsend admitted on camera that Dustin had beaten the baby before.
We finally tracked down Dustin outside a suburban home near Denver. Since Juliette’s murder, he’d been arrested a dozen times for everything from theft to violent assaults. As we approached him, I thought he might have a gun or a knife on him. When Dustin spotted us, he jumped in a car and sped off. My crew and I raced to our car and chased him through traffic. When Dustin’s beater careened through a busy intersection, he was pulled over by a police officer. As soon as the cop finished writing a ticket, I rushed over to the open passenger window and thrust my microphone at Dustin.
“Did you hurt Juliette Geurts?”
He spit out his words. “No, I didn’t. You guys can speak to my lawyer because I’m done. No comment.”
“What do you have to say to Juliette’s family?”
“I will speak to them on my own time. I’m done. Thank you.”
As he sped off, I shouted one last question: “Did you kill Juliette Geurts?”
* * *
When we aired the first of our three stories, Monica was able to collect nearly two thousand signatures—more than double what was needed to convene a grand jury. There were rallies and marches for Juliette. There were signs demanding justice for the toddler on store windows and street corners. Messages about Juliette were scrawled on car windows.
With new evidence, such as DNA from Juliette’s clothing and testimony from Brandon Townsend that had not been previously gathered, the grand jury was able to obtain an indictment. Dustin was charged with intentional child abuse resulting in death.
During the three-day trial, the evidence presented was truly horrific. Juliette’s injuries were so severe that she must have suffered an excruciatingly painful death. DNA analysis of her clothing revealed that Dustin’s semen was on it. The prosecution posited that Juliette had climbed out of her crib and gone into her mother’s bedroom while Charyse and Dustin had been having sex. Juliette’s crying had enraged Dustin. He had kicked and punched the baby before throwing her back into the crib.
The jury returned a guilty verdict in a little over an hour.
I was sitting in a row next to the family. They were grasping hands in nervous anticipation. Monica was near enough that I could hear her and other family members quietly weeping. As the verdict was read, the family gasped. When the court was dismissed, everyone spilled out into the hallway, embracing and sobbing. I was a journalist, but as I watched this unfold, I felt like a member of Juliette’s extended family.
“Thank you for listening to me,” Monica said as we hugged. “We did it! And we couldn’t have done it without you and your team.”
A few minutes later, I stood outside the courthouse, reporting on the latest development in Juliette’s story (the final chapter would come when Dustin was sentenced to eighty years to life). Later that night, when I returned to my hotel, I sobbed as the enormity of the day hit me.
I’d tracked down a monster and helped put him behind bars.
This was the most gratifying moment of my career—and my life.
You Are a Warrior
At bedtime, when I was a little girl, I’d pull the top off my mother’s lipstick and stare at the color. Metallic gold was her signature shade. She’d wear it to the market or a party or just around the house. I’d imagine her puckering her lips and applying it. Then I’d kiss the lipstick and tuck the tube under my pillow.
I was eight years old when Mom died. What she thought was a bad sore throat turned out to be stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Right after Christmas, my parents told my little brother, Richard, and me that Mom was sick and had to have surgery. She might lose her hair, and she’d probably stay in her room for a while, they said.
Six weeks later, she was gone.
I remember that moment like it was yesterday. My dad gently roused us from sleep early on Valentine’s Day.
“Your mother’s in heaven with God. She’s no longer in pain.”
While Richard sobbed, I sat on my bunk bed and stared at my dad, not really understanding his words. I didn’t yet realize that this was the most devastating moment of my life. It took me years to comprehend that my mother was really gone. I’d fantasize that she was away on a trip or on some secret mission. I’d even pretend she’d been kidnapped. Once her ransom was paid, she’d return to me. Of course she’d come back. Everyone had a mom. How could you grow up without one? It seemed impossible.
Every child believes their mother is beautiful. But even as a little girl, I knew there was something different about the way people would stare at my mom. With her full lips, high cheekbones, dark eyes, olive skin, and long brown hair, she stood out from all the other moms in the neighborhood. People would stop her on the street and say, “You look like Sophia Loren.” I’d hold her hand and look up at these strange faces staring at her. I had an urge to protect her from everyone who gazed her way.
But Mom didn’t really need my protection or anyone else’s. I had this epiphany when I was seven and we were returning a purchase at Pier 1 Imports. Even though Mom was fluent in English, she was self-conscious about her heavy accent. The cashier had trouble understanding what my mom was saying. A line formed behind us. I could hear a woman mumbling under her breath as the minutes ticked away.
“Why don’t you go back to Mexico,” the woman complained, loudly enough for the entire line to hear.
The store became silent. I stood behind my mother and watched her back stiffen. She suddenly seemed much taller than her five-foot-three frame. She swung her head, and her long, shiny hair whipped around. Then she glared at the woman.
“I’m from Chile, not Mexico. That’s not even the same continent, you ignorant woman!”
The woman’s jaw dropped. She put her head down and didn’t say another word.
Mom and I never spoke about what had happened. And maybe if she had lived beyond her twenty-nine years, the incident would have been just one of many stories about my fierce mom. But this moment has become how I remember my mom—beautiful, strong, and larger than life. She wouldn’t let anyone insult her or her family. As we walked out of the store, I was overcome with pride for this woman whom I would lose in less than a year.
When she was sixteen, my mom moved from Santiago, Chile, to Chicago with her parents and four younger siblings. Her dad, Raul Guerrero, was a tailor who designed uniforms for bellmen, pilots, and the Salvation Army. Family legend has it that he sewed a costume for one of the Beatles when they were in Chicago for the Yellow Submarine tour.
My dad tells me that shortly after the Guerreros arrived, everyone at their local church was buzzing about the oldest Guerrero daughter. She was this exotic beauty bursting with talent. She always clinched the leads in the church’s musicals and dramas. My dad would steal glances at her during church services. But he never imagined she’d notice him. When he finally got the nerve to ask her out, he was shocked when she said yes. By the end of their first date, they were in love. At that time, my mom spoke very little English, and my dad knew zero Spanish. “We spoke the language of love,” Dad likes to tell me. They married a year later. Mom was twenty—my dad, twenty-five.
During the day, Dad went to The University of Chicago for his master’s in social service administration. At night, he drove a city bus. They lived in a tiny studio apartment about a block from Chicago’s Wrigley Field and slept in a Murphy bed that folded up against the wall. Their apartment was so small that when they pulled the bed down, they couldn’t open the front door. When I was born, I slept in a dresser drawer lined with towels. My dad describes it as a wonderful but difficult time.
When I was five, we moved to San Diego, where my dad served as director of social services for the Salvation Army. My mom ran the food distribution center there. We lived in a tiny two-bedroom house next to an abandoned lot at the end of a cul-de-sac. My mother would speak her native language only when she was on the phone with her siblings. She insisted we speak English. But as much as she wanted me to fully embrace being American, she also wanted me to be aware of my culture.
“Do you hear the jungle drums, Lisita? Remember, you’re a Latina too.” She’d turn on the record player and we’d dance around the living room to Chilean music as well as the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, and her favorite, Roberta Flack. “You dance like a Latina,” she’d say, laughing. “Always remember, you’re a Guerrero.” She’d explain to me that her last name, Guerrero, was Spanish for warrior.
“Lisita, don’t forget, you are a warrior.”
I’d nod and smile. I was part of a bloodline of brave and strong people. I loved being a warrior. It was like having a superpower Mom and I secretly shared.
After Mom died, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling like a warrior again. I felt sad, scared, and lonely. I was also very angry. I was angry at God for taking my mom. I was angry at how unfair life was—why did everyone have a mom but me? I was angry that my brother and I were the kids whom people looked at with pity. And I was angry at Mom. Why had she left us? Why hadn’t she said goodbye? Why hadn’t she written me a letter? I searched her bedroom for a hidden note. I wanted some final message from her to tell me what to do, what to become. But there was nothing. I swiped her lipstick off the dresser and her pillowcase off the bed as keepsakes.
“Your mom didn’t want to say goodbye to you. She was convinced she was going to get better,” my dad explained years later. As much as I couldn’t believe she’d leave me, Mom couldn’t believe it either.
After the funeral, relatives volunteered to raise us. They said we could move to Chicago and live with one of their families, at least for a while. After all, my dad was devastated and in shock. At Christmastime, we were a happy family celebrating the holidays. Six weeks later, we were shattered. Dad was thirty-four and a widower with two small children. But Dad wouldn’t hear of anyone taking us from him. “Absolutely not. These are my kids, and I’m going to raise them.”
I remember eating a lot of McDonald’s, Burger King, and pizza. Dad cooked us fried-egg sandwiches—that was the extent of his culinary skill. While he may not have been the best chef, he was the greatest, most loving dad. He was there for every recital, every play, every softball game. Occasionally, he’d hire a live-in housekeeper so he could get his work done. But Richard and I didn’t want anyone else taking care of us. We wouldn’t listen to these women, and we wouldn’t eat their cooking (we’d rather have McDonald’s anyway). If they spent the night, we’d put frogs in their beds. We were little monsters. Most of these women ran out after a few days. After three housekeepers quit, my dad gave up.
I adored my dad. He was my hero, and I wanted to be just like him. Since Dad loved sports, I did too. He’d spend a few hours on the weekends watching football, baseball, or basketball. I’d jump on the couch, cuddle with him, and watch the games. I liked all sports, but I especially loved football. It was fast, physical, and brutal. I’d ask Dad to explain every detail. Yes, I was that annoying kid who had hundreds of questions about everything—scoring, positions, strategy. I think Dad spent more time explaining the game than actually watching it. We’d read the sports pages and discuss the latest news. As I became more proficient in the game, he’d quiz me on football facts. “What’s the latest quarterback controversy?” “Name all the starting quarterbacks in the AFC.” When he had friends over, they’d be amazed that this little girl knew more about football than they did.
After the games, we’d go outside and toss a football. Dad spent hours teaching me how to throw a perfect spiral. A few years after Mom died, we’d moved to a house that overlooked Qualcomm Stadium (then known as Jack Murphy Stadium), the home of the San Diego Chargers. Their quarterback, Dan Fouts, quickly became my favorite player, and I begged Dad for a number 14 jersey. We could hear the crowds cheering during the games.
“When I grow up, I’m going to be the Chargers’ starting quarterback,” I told my dad.
“Keep practicing,” he’d say.
When I look back at school photos, it’s pretty obvious that there were no female influences in my life. My hair looks like I chopped it myself—which I did. When it came to fashion, I was completely clueless. Before school started each year, Dad would take us shopping for bargain clothes at Mervyn’s department store. I’d try on outfits and ask Dad’s opinion. It never dawned on me that my color-blind dad might not be the best fashion consultant. I’d show up for school in clothes with colors and patterns that clashed. I’d mix stripes and plaids. With my glasses, braces, and hair that looked like it had been through a blender, I was a walking billboard for fashion don’ts.
As I got older, the loss of my mother felt bigger. I knew I was missing something crucial that everyone else had and took for granted. My brother and I would play hooky the Friday before Mother’s Day. We didn’t want to sit in the classroom while kids made crafts and cards for their moms. Dad always planned something fun to keep our minds off such holidays. Still, it was hard to forget that everyone we knew was celebrating something we couldn’t.
- "In a revealing new memoir, the journalist, former NFL cheerleader, and sportscaster details the sexist bullying that almost broke her--and how she reclaimed her life."—People
- "Shakespeare famously asked 'What’s in a name?' In the case of Lisa Guerrero, the answer is, 'Everything you need to know about her.' For a woman whose last name translates to 'warrior,' Lisa Guerrero has had to fight for everything she has achieved. Blessed with incredible beauty, Lisa has often been dismissed by others and had to prove she belonged—whether on the sidelines covering the NFL or working as a fearless correspondent for Inside Edition. Despite great loss as a young girl, Lisa’s personal story is a roadmap for anyone who has big dreams—and only needs to believe in themself to achieve them."—Deborah Norville, NYT Best-Selling Author & Anchor of Inside Edition
- "Lisa Guerrero is exactly what her last name means in Spanish, a warrior who inspires us to push forward. The book, Warrior, is a true journey of a tenacious woman who learned to find her voice and strength through painful experiences that no one knew she was enduring. Racism, sexism, misogyny, bullying, vicious criticism, rejection, and a broken marriage are everything Lisa Guerrero has experienced in her career as a Latina, sports journalist, investigative correspondent, and actress. It's a miracle that she is still standing today. I could not put down this book because every chapter brought another sports legend or powerful entertainer and a harsh lesson learned. I recommend Lisa's book to anyone who has questioned their role in their profession and personal life and even whether they should still exist in this world. Warrior will leave you inspired and empowered to take on the world."—Rebecca Aguilar, Emmy award-winning reporter, SPJ President (2021-2022), Founder of Latinas in Journalism, and Founder of Wise Latinas Linked
“Having spent many nights standing shoulder to shoulder in the trenches with Lisa Guerrero as she fought to overcome stereotypes and become a trusted connection for sports fans everywhere, I can confirm that, indeed, Warrior is the perfect title for this book. Even amid the glares and grumblings of some of the most celebrated sports figures in the world, Lisa never backed down, never gave in, never stopped pushing for the truth. Her story is one of unwavering resilience and uncommon dignity, and I am proud to be even a small part of it.”
—Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times columnist and panelist on ESPN’s Around the Horn
"Much like its author, Warrior is disarmingly candid, unapologetically honest. Courage, oft-celebrated as a trait, is actually a choice we make. Lisa's odyssey is the story of what one person is able to achieve when she chooses to be brave."
—John Walters, Sports Illustrated
- “This book is a juicy page-turner. Lisa does a great job illustrating that, in any industry, women have to work harder and fight for their own agency. She is a true girl’s girl and a champion of women.”—Kathy Griffin, New York Times bestselling author, Emmy- and Grammy-award winning comedian
- "Guerrero writes with a frank candidness, and her deep convictions are evident on every page. The author’s fans are in for a treat."—Publisher's Weekly
- "...an essential read. [Guerrero's] storytelling is exquisite and emotional."—Library Journal
- On Sale
- Jan 24, 2023
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Hachette Books