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Board says cops right in withholding rape information

November 03, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Most members of the Washington County Board of Education agree with a police decision to withhold for two days information about a sexual assault at a local high school.

cont. from front page

Hagerstown City Police waited until a suspect was in custody, more than 48 hours after the assault at North Hagerstown High School, to release information.

Police said making the information public sooner might have prompted the culprit to flee and compromised the investigation.

Some parents were concerned that the person who assaulted the student was at large for two days without their knowledge. Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and two City Council members said Tuesday the news should have come sooner.

"The school should have notified (the parents) on Tuesday," said Bruchey, whose child attends the school where the assault occurred. One council member, Alfred W. Boyer, defended the police for keeping the assault quiet.

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Several School Board members said they have mixed feelings about the situation but only one disagreed with how it was handled.

"I think parents should have been notified sooner," said board member B. Marie Byers.

A warning would have helped parents protect their children in case the culprit struck again, she said.

Shortly after 5:15 p.m. on Oct. 25, a man approached a 14-year-old girl at North Hagerstown High School and asked her to help him find his daughter. He then forced her into an empty room and assaulted her at knifepoint.

Principal Dave Reeder notified key staff members but waited until after an arrest was made to send a note home to parents. School officials said they deferred to police judgment and the wishes of the victim's parents.

"I feel like the principals did their utmost to protect the students," said School Board member Mary Wilfong. "There's no way to regulate every incident that happens. I really feel Mr. Reeder, the principals and police did their best for everyone concerned."

"I have empathy for those parents who said they didn't know," said board member Herbert Hardin. "But without a report from staff, I don't want to second-guess them. It's hard to make a call without knowing all the information."

Paul Bailey, vice president of the board, said the situation is a two-sided coin and he sees the value of keeping information secret to make an arrest.

"I'm not so sure under the circumstances I would have done it any differently," he said.

Board member Doris Nipps said Reeder acted appropriately by cooperating with police. Board President Edwin Hayes agreed. "As it turned out, I think it was a correct decision," he said.

If the school had notified parents and the girl's assailant fled, the school would have been criticized, he said.

"There's just no winning in this whole thing. We just have to do what we think is right and pray it's the right decision," Hayes said.

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