Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A day of reporting ... Jessie Davis

1:45 p.m. Producers tell me I’m out of the anchor chair until the Jessie Davis case is complete. They want me in the field to help with reporting and to help guide our larger coverage.

2:45 p.m. I head out the door to North Canton to hook up with our reporters in the field and gather details for the evening shows. There are no major leads so far, but the network crews are now in full “panic” mode and are pushing and shoving to interview the same folks we’ve been talking with since the beginning. I call a few old contacts from the Theresa Andrews case just to pick their brains. Eerie parallel.

3:10 p.m. I arrive at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and compare notes with reporter Chris Tye. He tells me that we’ve just learned of a newborn baby dropped on the steps of a home in Apple Creek in Wayne County. Reporter Bill Safos was nearby on a separate story so he begins to track that part of the story. Chris and I start to put together a few different battle plans depending on how the afternoon develops.

3:15 p.m. Sheriff’s deputies tell us that a press conference is set for 5 p.m. Chris and I wonder if this means the new baby has become a major development. We don’t want to get our hopes up, but we realize that whatever comes out of the press conference might toss all our dayside work out the window. They wouldn’t be holding a press conference without a new element right? Maybe not. An FBI officer reportedly told a few reporters that he’d encouraged the deputies to hold daily briefings, regardless of whether there’s a break in the case.

4 p.m. A heavy storm rolls in, so I move inside the Sheriff’s office to stay dry and see what’s going on near the investigators. I run into Whitney Davis, Jessie’s sister, in the hallway and ask her for an interview. She grants me a few minutes and we had a nice chat. I asked her if she or her family have heard anything about the baby in Wayne County and she said that was news to her. I hated saying anything that might get her hopes up prematurely, but I’d also hate myself for holding back information that family members feel they need to know.

4:15 p.m. A producer friend with one of the networks shares a hot rumor that a woman named “Jessie Davis” has checked herself into the Wooster Hospital. Whitney is still a few feet away from me. Should I tell her the rumor? Would I be giving her false hope? I make some calls and keep Whitney in sight but decide there’s no way I’m going to share an unsubstantiated rumor with a relative and risk causing further damage. (Later at the press conference, police shoot the rumor down).

4:30 p.m. Whitney and I are both on cell phones a few feet apart in the lobby of the Sheriff’s office when a deputy approaches her. She had remained in the lobby waiting for her mother and other relatives to arrive. A deputy asks Whitney, “Did your mother bring the garage door opener? We need to get back in there and search some more.” Whitney replies, “I think so. She’ll be here in a second.” Another deputy realizes that I’m a reporter and quickly whisks Whitney behind closed doors to continue the discussion. I believe the deputy’s question means officers are headed back to the Davis’ home on Essex Street in North Canton. Reporter Dave Summers take the tip and runs with it. Sure enough, officers are at the scene going through the house again. Later, at the press conference, deputies deny that the house was searched again today. Not sure how they didn’t communicate on that one.

4:45 p.m. Deputies tell us the 5 p.m. press conference has been pushed back to 6 p.m. Now we know we’ll be carrying it live during the scheduled 6 p.m. newscast. Chris and I make a plan for each of us to deliver a short story at the top of the newscast to fill time until the press conference begins. Chris will talk about the latest on the investigation – including the search of Davis’ home – and I will share a soundbite from Whitney.

5:01 p.m. I sit nearby the row of reporters doing liveshots in their 5 p.m. broadcasts. I just wanted to see if the competition has anything we don’t know about. Fortunately, they don’t.

5:10 p.m. I chat with Phil Trexler of the Akron Beacon Journal and credit him on whipping everyone’s rear ends with his reports over the weekend. We debate whether the baby found in Wayne County will be connected to the case. Phil thinks it’s too coincidental for it not to be. I tell him that several radio stations are reporting that the Wayne County Sheriff is already saying there’s no connection. We both agree that we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

5:25 p.m. The Davis family lawyer appears but isn’t taking any questions. Reporters from TV5 tell him they’re waiting for Jessie’s mother, Patricia, to speak with them live at 5:30 p.m. She’d reportedly agreed to the interview, but she never comes out from behind closed doors with the detectives.

6 p.m. Chris does his live hit with Tim and Romona. They pitch to me just as the investigators walk in for the press conference. I stop talking and turn it over to the cops to see what’s new. After a short statement updating us on the search of Jessie’s boyfriend’s car, they agree to take questions. Rather than call on us as we raise our hands, the investigator lets us just fire away. It was like a stoning in Biblical times. Questions coming from every direction and about different topics. They tell us they’ve acquired Jessie’s cell phone call list but don’t say if it shows anything that’s useful. They also give us a photo from a security camera at a local grocery store. The photo is of Jessie and her 2-year-old son, Blake, about three hours before her last cell phone conversation.

6:12 p.m. The press conference ends and I jump up in front of the camera to talk with Tim and Romona about the photo and other info not covered in the press conference. After my liveshot, reporter Lydia Esparra and I talk about the evening coverage. She plans to head to Apple Creek to get more info on the baby.

6:30 p.m. Chris Tye and I do live hits with the Akron-Canton news and are then told we have to leave the Sheriff’s office and move outside. At 7 p.m., we duplicate those liveshots for Channel 3.

7:05 p.m. Lydia tells me that the plan is indeed for her to head to Apple Creek and that I should head back to the Akron office to put together a story on the press conference and my interview with Whitney for the 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts. I still worry that something major might happen at the Sheriff’s office while Lydia and I are out, but it’s a chance we have to take.

8:10 p.m. Toni Cicone from our news partners at WAKR has been doing a great job hawking this story on the radio side all day. She calls and tips me to a hot rumor that the Stark County Coroner is headed for Mount Pleasant Road on news that a body has been found there. MP Road isn’t too far away from Davis’ home so this could be a major development. Reporter Kristen Anderson was just pulling up to the Akron office when I hung up with Toni. I started Kristen towards the scene but called her back a few minutes later when Toni told me the rumor was a hoax. She’d tracked down the coroner’s office and there was no truth to it. It happens in these cases. Besides, inside I'm really glad it's not true. I really want to see Jessie show up unharmed.

8:50 p.m. Lydia checks in to say that she’s found the house where the infant was abandoned. Great "get" for the news. She’s heading back to the Sheriff’s office to get the video and interview fed via satellite by 11 p.m.

9:05 p.m. The 11 p.m. producer tells me that the NBC station in Dayton wants my story and to cut an outcue saying “2 News On Your Side”. Nothing new. When the Andrews case hit us in 2000, I was doing liveshots and stories for stations as far away as Seattle.

9:20 p.m. I take a quick look at relatives and “experts” discussing the case on Larry King. A source tells me that Good Morning America has a one-on-one for tomorrow morning with Chief Deputy Rick Perez. Guess the local press is now second fiddle.

10 p.m. We go on the air with the Akron-Canton News while keeping tabs on our 10 o’clock competition on 8 and 19. Turns out, they don’t have anything we don’t already know about. So far, so good. We learn there’s a hearing tomorrow in juvenile court about the baby, so we’ll have to be back on our game first thing in the morning.

10:40 p.m. I’m alone in the Akron newsroom, writing my blog. All I can think about is Jessie Davis. She’s become such a "topic" that I hope we’re not losing sight that first and foremost she’s a person. Where is she? What’s happened to her child? Is this baby from Wayne County Jessie’s newborn daughter? Oh God, what has happened here?

It’s almost 11 p.m. of the sixth night of this saga, and we don’t know if we’re any closer to solving this. And somewhere tonight there’s a two-year-old boy closing his eyes who still doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his mother again. I can’t think of any nightmare more devastating than that. Goodnight.

2 comments:

vanillacokehead said...

Eric,

The Jessie Davis story reminds me of a "missing persons" case I covered as a news photographer up in Rochester, NY about 13 years ago. A four-year-old toddler by the name of Kali Ann Poulton disappeared near her home in 1994 and it was one of the most heartbreaking and emotional stories I covered during my short time in TV news.

You can't help but hope and pray and wish that things turn out all right. In the end, it took two years for this case to be resolved. Her body was recovered in August of 1996, shortly after I got out of "the biz" and moved to Seattle. When a good friend and former colleague of mine from another Rochester station told me what happened, I broke down in tears. The colleague was pretty busted up about it as well.

I guess one of the reasons I ended up leaving the TV news biz was because I had a real tough time walking that fine line between human empathy and professional detachment. I miss working in news but realize I'm out for my own good.

Anonymous said...

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