Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Publisher Held Hostage

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Publisher Held Hostage

Article excerpt

Publisher of Wyoming bi-weekly paper has gun held to his head; Denver Post managing editor helps pursuade woman to surrender

A small-town newspaper publisher in southwest Wyoming got a taste of big-city crime recently when a distraught woman put a gun to his head, held him hostage in his office and demanded he call a major Colorado newspaper to air her problems.

Mike Jensen, publisher of the bi-weekly Uinta County Herald in Evanston, Wyo. (pop. 11,000), was held at gunpoint by a 26-year-old woman for 20 minutes until he and Denver Post managing editor Isabel Spencer persuaded her to surrender to police.

At first I thought it was a joke," the 34-year-old Jensen said. "I thought it was a pellet gun. It didn't take me long to realize she was serious, not because she was holding a pistol between my eyes, but she had a serious, determined look on her face."

The woman, Melody Watson, an Evanston resident, entered the Herald office at about 1:30 on a Friday afternoon carrying a brown paper bag. She asked Jensen's receptionist to see the publisher and was shown in. Watson immediately closed and locked the office door, set the bag on the floor and pulled from it a .22 caliber handgun. She pointed the gun at Jensen's head, her hand shaking.

"From what I remember, she never took the gun off my head," Jensen said.

Jensen made eye-contact with his receptionist who called 911 before Watson ordered all nine staffers out of the building.

Citing mistreatment from the Wyoming media, Watson demanded Jensen call a major Colorado newspaper so she could talk to a reporter.

Watson told Jensen the Wyoming media had "screwed up my life."

She later revealed she had lost a sexual harassment case in which she was the plaintiff in 1989 and claimed she had not been able to find a job or "have a life" since loosing the suit.

Jensen called the Denver Post and asked for editor Neil Westergaard.

I didn't ask for a reporter," he said in an interview from his office. "I figured I'd go to the top. I told his secretary who I was, where I was calling from, that it wasn't a joke, I had a woman pointing a gun at my head, and please get me somebody to talk to!'

Westergaard wasn't in, but Spencer walked by and got wind of the call.

"The secretary said something about a publisher in Wyoming and somebody having a gun" said Spencer.

"I wasn't sure if the publisher had the gun or what the situation was, so I went into my office and picked up the phone."

Jensen, with the gun between his eyes and thoughts of his wife, yet unborn son and one-year-old child racing through his head, put Spencer on a speaker phone. Both proceeded to talk Watson down for the next 20 minutes.

"It was like coming in at the middle of a movie," said Spencer. "And you never know how paranoid the person is. A young woman with a gun on somebody is not your normal young woman. So you're trying to figure out how badly off she is.

"But when she started to say things like my life is over, my life is ruined: that was worrisome. When they say they have nothing to live for, sometimes they try to take other people with them."

Although Spencer couldn't see what was going on, she knew from what she heard that the police were there and would not hesitate to shoot. …

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