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All hands on deck

Posted: August 31, 2012 5:43 p.m.
Updated: September 3, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Among journalists, there are those stories that show you what you’re made of. They challenge you, maybe even drive you crazy as you try to figure out just what the heck is going on. But they also teach you, not just about the craft of journalism, but about yourself.

The Freddie Grant case is one of those.

We, like everyone else in the Midlands, followed the story of Gabrielle “Gabbiee” Swainson’s disappearance when it first broke, wondering whether she would be found. I was especially touched by the news because I used to live a scant two blocks from where she and her mother live. It’s a neighborhood called North Crossing, just outside the Summit near the Village at Sandhills. My wife and I lived there, on a different street, when we first got engaged and married.

A few days after Gabbiee disappeared, we got a tip that a house had been searched in Elgin in connection with the case, but that it was possible nothing might come of it. We then learned that law enforcement -- a lot of it -- went back to that home several days after that. Even then, we didn’t know what to expect when Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced he would be holding a press conference the next morning.

Needless to say, when he announced the arrest of a 52-year-old man living on Kelly Street in the town of Elgin, Kershaw County, we were taken a bit off guard.

We rallied, however, immediately focusing on the Kershaw County side of the story. It was all hands on deck.
In taking over the editor’s chair here at the C-I, I quickly found myself with a relatively young news staff. I say “young” in terms of both age and experience regardless of age.

There are six of us in the newsroom, all of us are involved in covering this story while still handling our regular beats and responsibilities.

Half of our news team is under 30. One staffer is fresh out of college, two others graduated in May 2011. We also have a working mom turned first-time journalist. Then there’s yours truly, and, yes, Sports Editor Tom Didato, too.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the relative freshness of this team, we have brought you what I believe is unique coverage of on of the year’s most important stories in our community.

Major kudos have to go to staff reporters Miciah Bennett and Denise Schnese. For three days last week (and into this week as well), they worked together to bring you the latest in what I call the Kershaw County connections to the Freddie Grant case.

It became quickly evident to them that this was turning in to an even bigger than anyone first thought when Lott and Elgin Police Chief Harold Brown began talking about not only the search for Gabbiee but how Grant might be tied to the disappearance of 28-year-old Adrianna Laster. They pieced together the facts from two law enforcement agencies, creating a single, cohesive narrative about Grant’s possible activities.

Another day went by and another bombshell dropped: Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews announced that Grant is a person of interest in the October 2011 murder of an Elgin man, Daniel Lee Wood. Miciah and Denise quickly realized lived right across the street from Grant at one time. They also realized his murder took place just one month after Laster disappeared.

Could they be connected? That’s the question law enforcement is still trying to answer. So are we.

While Miciah is keeping in touch with Lott’s staff, it’s her and Denise’s contacts with Matthews and Brown -- people they keep in touch with nearly every day because of the C-I’s position in the community -- that has really made telling the “case file” side of this story better.

But they’ve gone beyond that. Miciah’s interview Friday with a pastor who knew Grant gave us all a little extra insight to the man behind bars. Her desire to find the “other” parts of the story is a passion I hope never gets quenched. Denise’s instincts for questioning certain things has led us to uncover a few things we might otherwise not have.
Watch out for these two as you continue to follow our coverage. They are are quickly becoming a journalistic dynamic duo the likes of which Kershaw Count has not seen before.

In case you didn’t know, Localife Editor Tenell Felder is the person who puts together our front and most of our inside pages. While she’s still learning, the simple fact that she’s doing that work has allowed me to oversee our coverage of this still-evolving story. And I’ll give you a little heads up: she has an idea for a story about this case that falls into the slice-of-life category no one else has touched on yet.

Assistant Editor Michael Ulmer, while not intimately working on the story, is also helping me in ways behind the scenes that I could not do without at a time like this. Even Tom has been using his sports contacts in an effort to reach out to segments of the community we might not have thought of.

It truly has been all hands on deck, a true team effort, and it shows.

I’ve said it before many, many times, but I never tire of pointing it out: we are your hometown newspaper, and that includes Elgin. We live and work in this community. We care, and that’s why we’re always going to be able to bring you perspectives on stories like this no one else can, or even want to do.

So, thanks to this “young” team -- you’re doing a great job and I know the community we serve thanks you for it.

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