Ignoring public’s right to know

Why did Wirt County officials and the West Virginia State Police withhold information pertaining to the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy stemming from an apparent wagon-related accident?

Sadly, the West Virginia State Police ignored the public’s right to know what was happening in their community, refusing to release any information, citing their catch-all phrase of the incident being “under investigation” even days after the death.

Why? How does the state police’s refusing to release what one would think is public record benefit anyone? How does it benefit the family of the unidentified youth involved in the incident, the church camp where the incident happened, the people of Wirt County or the members of the Rockport religious organization that has ties to the church camp?

Was the gag in place because the youth’s family reportedly had expressed a desire to keep the matter private, as Trooper M.B. Jarvis of the Wirt County detachment said? Since when does an individual have the legal right to control public record? Since when does an individual have the authority to decide what will and/or will not be made known to the public stemming from a public, police investigation?

But, sadly, this is not the first time the state police has decided to ignore the public. Unfortunately it happens more often than not when it comes to state police involvement in any investigation.

Unfortunately it appears to many the state police think they have no responsibility to tell the public anything about any public incident, which is confusing since the state police have a public information officer who is supposed to release information.

The latest incident involved a 14-year-old boy from the Akron, Ohio, area riding in a wagon and somehow falling under its wheels and sustaining severe head injuries. He reportedly was taken by Life Flight from Singing Hills Church Camp on Sonoma Road in Palestine to the Charleston Area Medical Center where he subsequently died.

Why did it take state police five days to divulge that tidbit of information and why is the state police continuing to “honor” the family’s request not to release the boy’s name, yet an obituary notice was published in an Akron newspaper identifying the boy as Andrew Michael Gochenour, who attended the Lords House of Prayer and Coventry Junior High and is survived by parents, Michael and Vanessa Gochenour; two sisters, Jasmine and Alexandra; brother, Gabriel?

The church camp supposedly has ties to the Tri County Worship Center in Rockport, but messages left at the church and for Pastor Everett Snyder were not returned. Why?

Was the fact the incident happened at a church camp the reason state police were being so closed mouth? Was it the religious connection that had state police fearful to even admit there was a death and/or how it happened?

Does the state police think if they withhold information from the public long enough, the public will forget about it?

The state police has an obligation to inform the people of Wood and Wirt counties how such incidents occur, but the state police too often shirk that responsibility. Why?

Contact Jim Smith at jsmith@newsandsentinel.com