Thursday, June 21, 2007

Silence says a lot

When it comes to major stories like the disappearance of Jessie Davis, there are some days where it’s what’s NOT said that’s the biggest story. Wednesday was one of those days.

9 a.m. I arrive early at the Akron-Canton Newsroom to get a jump on the day. I tell the producers that I want to run down some sidebar stories on the Theresa Andrews case from 2000 just in case the Davis case ends up being more about the unborn baby. I talk to some folks in Portage County and then head east to run down a few smaller stories. In route, I make a call to Childrens Hospital. I’d like to get an interview with someone there about how they train medical folks to spot stolen or kidnapped kids. In the Andrews case, an alert hotline volunteer notified police after picking up vibes that the woman with Andrews’ baby was not the real mother. Childrens offers up a nursing supervisor for the early afternoon. I would eventually ask an intern from our Akron newsroom to get the interview for me.

9:15 a.m. I call the Clerk of Courts in Canton to see if any charges have been filed in the Davis case. They check the computers and tell me nothing so far. The clerk asks me why I keep calling them. “Won’t police tell you if they make an arrest?” the nice lady asks me. “Yes,” I tell her. “But they file the charges with you first.” I call her every 90 minutes throughout the day. I should probably put her on speed dial.

11 a.m. I learn from another reporter that divers are searching near the sewage plant in Stark County. Speculation is that they’re looking for a body. Another reporter is assigned to check it out, but the dive team folks tell us it’s just a training exercise. The more I think about it, the more I ask myself, “of all the places for divers to train, who the heck chooses the sewage plant?” I hold out my suspicions that they’re actually searching for evidence and told us it’s training to throw us off.

11:45 a.m. I speak with Whitney Davis, Jessie’s sister, by phone. Whitney tells me the family is exhausted from doing so many interviews and plans to hold their own press conference rather than doing one-on-one interviews all day long. At only 20, Whitney has become the family’s media go between. She’s poised and calm beyond her years, and I sense she’s the “rock” the other siblings are leaning on.

Noon We learn that Jessie’s employer, Allstate Insurance in Hudson, plans to hold a company-wide moment of silence in her honor. This sounds like a nice event to show our viewers so I tell the producers I’m heading to Hudson before continuing south to North Canton to follow the investigation. The PR folks at Allstate politely deny our request to come inside and cover the event, but they did let us talk to co-workers outside about how much they miss Jessie. I learn that Jessie’s sister, Jane, also works at the insurance company but she hasn’t been to work since the disappearance. I get a sense that co-workers are really shaken because they just can’t believe that someone they know has been kidnapped.

1 p.m. I learn the Sheriff’s Office plans a 3 p.m. press conference to update everyone on the investigation. My first thought is that this means there’s nothing new to report. If there was a break in the case, the press conference would probably be closer to evening news time. That way officers would have more time to get their information together.

2:45 p.m. I arrive in North Canton in time for the press conference with investigators. The family’s attorney tells me that Whitney and her mother will speak with reporters after the investigators are done.

3 p.m. During the daily stoning of Chief Deputy Rick Perez and the FBI’s Scott Wilson, I ask about the number of tips that have come in. Perez says that 450-500 tips have come in, most of them through the website. That’s a great deal more than the 75-100 he mentioned 22 hours earlier. I follow up and ask if any of the tips include sightings of Jessie. Perez pauses but then acknowledges that some of them did. What’s odd is that he doesn’t complete the answer by saying, “and we’re looking into to all of those tips to see if any of those sightings lead us to Jessie.” My experience is that when police don’t complete the thought the way a normal person would means that they’re not giving validity to the information. In other words, if they’re not putting time into tracking tips of sightings of Jessie can only be because they don’t think she’s alive. That’s my gut reaction. For several days, Perez and other investigators continue to echo how optimistic they are of a happy ending here, yet they don’t support that optimism in the subtle ways you’d expect. There is no mention of any new searches for Jessie. That says a lot.

3:15 p.m. The media assembles outside the Sheriff’s Office to speak with Whitney and her mother. The family is delayed inside as they meet with leaders of a volunteer search crew that’s come to town to help. 90 minutes later, Whitney finally comes outside but without other family members in tow. She agrees to take questions instead of making any statements. Her thoughts are guarded, tired, and well thought. Again, she declines to speak about Bobby Cutts Jr. Over the weekend, Jessie’s family had voiced support for Cutts, but now is remaining mum. Other reporters tell me that they think that the family’s lack of support for Cutts shows they see him as a suspect. That might be true. My gut tells me the family is exhausted and doesn’t see how pointing the finger of suspicion will accomplish anything. Remember, Cutts is the father of Jessie’s 2-year-old son, Blake. So if Jessie’s family points a finger of blame that turns up false, they’ll have a difficult time interacting with him for future years.

4:30 p.m. We learn the FBI is back at Cutts’ home going through everything he owns. Reporter Maureen Kyle heads there to cover the search. Meanwhile, Lydia Esparra heads to Jessie’s neighborhood on a hunch that a new player in the game has emerged. Stay tuned.

5:30 p.m. Anchor Tim White arrives. Tim, Chris Tye, Paul Thomas, and I each prepare our parts to the evening broadcasts. We fight the sun in our eyes and push through each of the shows without any major complications.

6:45 p.m. In a commercial, I grab a camera to get an interview with Tim Dimhoff, a security expert helping to analyze the case. He tells me that all evidence points to a love interest that killed Jessie in a crime of passion. He believes that she’s either “buried deep” or “in the water somewhere.” He can’t say for certain that Cutts will be the one arrested, but calls any other theories of abduction long shots. I walk away depressed. The optimist in me so wants to see a miracle.

7:35 p.m. Tye and I hit the road back to Akron, but each of us senses that we didn’t get the whole story today from investigators. We debate sticking around for the late evening broadcasts in case an arrest comes. We eventually decide that the best thing we can do is get sleep and get ready for whatever Thursday will bring.

11:01 p.m. I watch the top of the late news broadcasts to see carbon copy stories of the four-hour search of Cutts’ home. Bags and bags and more bags of items are taken from the house.

We are now seven days since Davis disappeared and the investigation is focusing on a suspect more than a victim. I’m wondering if anyone in law enforcement is still looking for Jessie? I mean, of course they’re “looking” for her, but did any of them actually use up some shoe leather Wednesday doing so? Or is the true story right in front of our eyes in where investigators are physically spending their time. It’s a hunt for clues to a killer. A hunt to connect a thread, a hair, or a drop of blood that leads to an arrest. What wasn’t said today tells me this is now a recovery operation instead of a rescue.

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