Hannah was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by her parents Kathy and Brad Colton, alongside her brother Tim. As a child, she loved music, playing piano at age 5 and then adding violin, drums, guitar and ukulele. Her creative talents widened as she took to the stage in plays and musicals, and she delighted in show choir performances, having several solos. In high school, she was the president of many organizations, including her senior class.
Hannah attended Duke University where she studied public policy and environmental science. She graduated in 2013, then “dabbled” in video and web design at the Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, North Carolina, before launching her career in public radio at KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska. It was there that she (in her own words) “boarded commercial fishing boats and bush planes in pursuit of stories around Bristol Bay,” alongside reporting “on statewide education issues from a rural perspective.” As Hannah said herself, she “was fortunate to interview Dena’ina elders and youth at the remote and beautiful Lake Clark, chat with bear and beluga hunters, and help cover the two summers’ hubbub in the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery.” Her science reporting, arts reporting and photography garnered recognition in the 2016 Alaska Press Club Awards.
Hannah relocated to Albuquerque that same year, starting at KUNM News as a substitute host.
She bolstered that part-time gig with freelance reporting and hosting for National Native News and Santa Fe’s public radio station, KSFR, where she reported on a broad range of local issues, including a series she co-produced about the ongoing quest for justice on behalf of victims of childhood sexual abuse by clerics within the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Hannah stayed with that story after she became a full-time staff member at KUNM News in 2018, along with other dogged reporting she conducted on public health, education and Albuquerque politics—subjects she continued to cover even after she was promoted to another full-time position as the station’s news director. Hannah shouldered these roles as she and her newsroom covered local ripple effects of mass uprisings for racial justice, a raging pandemic and the 2020 election.
As KUNM reporter, producer and close friend Marisa Demarco said the week we lost Hannah, “She was passionate about equity and racial justice. She fought those fights in the field, in news content and on behalf of her staff. … She well-understood the urgency of this moment, and she gave it her whole heart, working around the clock to cover equity and education, the dangers of the virus for people who are incarcerated, protests and the pandemic’s impacts on people without shelter.”
Hannah was an outdoor enthusiast who enjoyed camping, hiking, backpacking, biking, and rock climbing. She particularly valued these activities for the time spent getting to know and connect with family, friends and strangers, too. Hannah spent many summers leading backpacking trips at Duke and worked as staff at Cottonwood Gulch in New Mexico, helping young adults and teens foster a love of the outdoors and learn more about themselves.
A talented and practiced artist throughout her life, Hannah contributed music, dance, visual art, zines and more to the community, and she was a regular at local shows. She could often be found singing aloud while biking or dancing through the streets of the Wells Park neighborhood where she lived.
Hannah’s fierce curiosity, creativity, compassion and capacity for self-reflection rapidly enamored her to community members in New Mexico. We admired her incisive, adept storytelling and guidance in the newsroom—essential work in a harrowing time. And as collaborators, friends, family members, we all treasured her open mind, her solidarity, her heart full to brimming.