Editorial: Let’s put the rumors to rest

Rumors posted on social media sites and water cooler chatter may be intriguing, but they won’t make it into this newspaper unless our reporters are able to verify them from reliable sources willing to talk to us on the record.

We bring this up because of all the hurtful rumors swirling around about an alleged assault on Dec. 19 on an activities bus carrying Strasburg High School’s boys varsity and junior varsity basketball teams and their coaches.

We have interviewed officials in this case, including the commonwealth’s attorney, the county sheriff, the Strasburg police chief and the school division’s superintendent. They have been guarded and have provided very little information to the public. Facts that we have been told by these officials include:

• Six juveniles have been charged with assault or battery by mob.
• There is video evidence of the incident.
• There were adults on the bus.
• The boys’ basketball program has been suspended indefinitely.

We have interviewed two lawyers representing individuals who were on the bus, and we’ve talked to coaches who were not on the bus about the boys’ basketball season. We’ve also reported on a gathering in front of the Strasburg High School’s Ram statue where students and residents prayed for the team, the coaches and the community.

The charges against the students are very serious and have caused an uproar in the community. This story has gone national — news of bullying and hazing incidents continue to make news around the country despite schools’ efforts to prevent them.

We understand why we’re not getting all of the details – juveniles are involved and the school and police must follow certain procedures while investigating cases like this. But we won’t stop asking questions, such as who reported the alleged incident, why it took several weeks to report it to police and if any adults knew about it before it was reported.

We have not been informed about what actually occurred during the alleged assault, nor who the victim is.  We do not know why police first mentioned that the incident involved an alleged sexual assault, but later the students were charged with assault or battery by mob. We’ve heard and read the rumors about what happened, but we won’t report them without being able to name a source.

The Sheriff’s Office has not released the names of the juveniles charged, and that’s standard procedure – they’re all under 18, though three of them are 17 and just months away from that age when they would be considered – and charged – as adults.

The school division and police have been proactive and taken this incident seriously. The school division’s superintendent told us this week that “more than 75 interviews and over 400 hours of review” have been conducted and that they are wrapping up their investigation.

The six teens who have been accused of assault or battery by mob are scheduled to appear before a judge today in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. What happens there may not be reported either – juvenile court is usually wrapped in secrecy to protect the child – but we hope that authorities understand that this situation has caused much anger and anguish in the community and will offer some information to the public.

The school administration has not released any information about the status of the school employees on the bus that night – and that’s standard procedure. Personnel matters are discussed in closed sessions at School Board meetings.

The status of the boys’ basketball team and the coaches are on the minds of many in Strasburg.  Some area residents may bring their concerns to the School Board meeting tonight.  They may not get answers about school personnel,  but answers by the adminstration to questions about changes in the basketball program and adult supervision on school activities buses may go far in restoring some calm to this community in pain.

Linda Ash is editor of the Northern Virginia Daily. Contact her at lash@nvdaily.com

 

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