By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian
This month, there have been two very exciting days in the newsroom.
The first started late on a Thursday afternoon. On Feb. 7, I was finishing up work at about 4 p.m., sorting through the things I had to get done before I left for the day and making a mental list of all the things I had to do after work.
My office phone rang and I looked at the caller ID. An out-of-state number popped up. Calls like that are usually vendors trying to sell us a new column or comic strip or a PR agency calling to see if we’d received a press release for an event happening in Virginia — not West Virginia.
But I answered the call anyway.
Come to find out, it was a Tampa, Fla., television station calling for more information on a breaking news story.
The reporter asked if I was familiar with a 1974 murder case at a park.
“Which park?” I asked.
“Wind .... wind something, let me check my notes ...” he started.
“... Windmill Park,” I finished for him.
It had been on my mind all week anyway. It’s the kind of case that haunts a community, an unsolved murder with no resolution for 38 years. Three very young adults lost their lives in a gruesome way, and police never had the opportunity to bring charges against the people they believed responsible. I found out earlier in the week that the young couple killed had a daughter who was just about 6 months old at the time of the murder. It bothered me that there was a woman out there pretty close to my age who never knew her parents and who never knew who was responsible for ripping them from her life in infancy.
The Tampa reporter told me an arrest had been made in the case, and he’d be more than happy to send me a release from the U.S. Marshals Service if I’d send him a background story.
No problem, I told him, because we actually wrote a story about the case in September during our “Marion County’s Most Notorious Crimes” series. Come to find out, the investigation and the surveillance of the suspect began in September.
That’s when it began. I found Debbie Wilson, who had written the September article, forwarded her the press release, and it was on.
We broke the story online and had hourly updates all night. We tracked down as much information as we could. Debbie interviewed police sources, current and retired. We interviewed newspaper employees, current and retired, who remembered the case.
When an update was ready to post, we’d have another to read and edit. City Editor Nicole Fields and I became so familiar with the story, we could probably still recite it by heart. We pulled apart the front page and redesigned it to accommodate the biggest news we’d seen as a community in years.
The staff was busy interviewing and reporting — and being interviewed. The Florida metro newspapers and TV stations were calling us for information for their stories and sourcing us.
For a day that was supposed to end at about 5 p.m., I left the office close to midnight. It was certainly an exciting night — the kind where everyone works together like a well-oiled machine fueled on adrenaline and pizza.
And last week, we had another very exciting day — our Gift of Love food drive event. We formed a partnership with Fantasia Broadcasting and secured a live remote on WRLF. By 8:30 a.m., we were setting up for the live remote and getting ready to send our publisher Chuck Jessup on the roof to get some attention for the good cause.
Before the day even started, we’d raised more than our set goal of $5,000 to purchase food at Shop ’n Save to donate to 11 county food pantries. But Chuck said he would stay on the roof until another $2,500 was collected. And when we hit that goal, Chuck stayed up there, waving his signs and bringing a lot of attention.
In addition to the great radio coverage, WDTV and WBOY came out and covered our event. And they weren’t the only ones who came. The public streamed in all day, bringing bags of cans and goods and donation checks. It was great to see so many old friends and to make new ones. John Veasey and I were constantly on our feet, unloading cars, taking monetary donations to the front office, running to grab something.
It was cold, too. While the day was sunny and bright, if you hung outside for seven hours, it was pretty cold.
When the day was done, the community brought in seven pallets of food and more than $14,000.
Seven hours in the newsroom, working the Windmill Park case. Seven hours working the Gift of Love food drive.
I can tell you that I’ll remember both days for many, many years. But honestly, the latter was more fulfilling. Sure, it’s exciting to see some movement in a cold-case murder after four decades, but it doesn’t touch the feeling of watching a community rally together to feed the hungry among us. Not even close.
My Press Pass is a twice monthly column written by Managing Editor Misty Poe to explain the news gathering process and editorial decisions made at the Times West Virginian. If there are any specific questions you’d like to see addressed, you may contact her at email@example.com.