Magazine article Law & Order

The Nightmare-in-Noble Wakeup Call

Magazine article Law & Order

The Nightmare-in-Noble Wakeup Call

Article excerpt

MEDIA RELATIONS

The Nightmare In Noble." began with an anonymous phone call to the EPA's Atlanta office in February and led to the discovery of 339 decomposing bodies, lying around the property of the Tri-State Crematory. The bodies had been sent for cremation, but were dumped around the 16-acre property. They were found in mass graves, in storage sheds or lying out on the ground, where some had been for as long as five years. So far only 142 bodies have been identified.

Although the numbers of reporters in cases like this are higher, the secrets to successful media relations are the same things professional law enforcement executives should be doing day-to-day anyway.

Walker County, GA Sheriff Steve Wilson kept in mind they were not dealing with a natural disaster scene, such as a hurricane or tornado, but a crime scene. They had clear responsibilities to preserve the evidence and protect the integrity of the investigation. They also felt an overriding obligation to keep families informed and communicated with them often, beginning on day two, as the scope of the incident came into focus. The sheriff's department kept in mind that the families were victims, too. The best thing Wilson believes he did was to hold daily briefings with the families, to give them the latest information before it was given to the media.

The media were an essential part of this case, since the authorities really had no idea who the bodies were. The media spread the word of what had been found and families who had loved ones sent to the crematory flocked to the command post.

To help control the crush from the media, Wilson set up some ground rules. First, no questions until all the speakers at the briefings had finished their statements. Second, no interrupting. Experience has shown that in emotional cases like this one, it helps to restate that civility and professionalism are required. …

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