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Police seeking witness in W.Va. teacher's slaying

November 19, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLESTOWN - Police are now saying that a "primary suspect" who they were looking for in the shooting death of a Charles Town teacher is a material witness.

Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said Monday that investigators want to talk to the person because they believe the witness may be able to identify "associates" of teacher Jeffrey L. Rowland or identify people who may have been responsible for his death.

Boober declined to say whether the witness is considered a suspect in the slaying.

On Sunday, Boober referred to the person as a "primary suspect" and said the person disappeared after Rowland was shot to death Thursday night just off the C&O Towpath near Sandy Hook.

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On Monday, police in Jefferson and Washington counties talked to people who might have been able to provide information helpful to the investigation, Boober said.

Some of the leads did not pan out.

"We thought this would be clear-cut, but it's got some complications that have set in," Boober said.

"On these cases, you get a lot of leads that don't turn out to be helpful. However, you have to follow every bit of information," Boober said.

Also on Monday, Washington County Sheriff's deputies were interviewing a woman who told police she saw Rowland at a 7-Eleven store east of Charles Town last Thursday, the day Rowland was killed.

The woman - who claims she saw Rowland at about 6:15 p.m. Thursday at the 7-Eleven at the intersection of W.Va. 115 and Jefferson Avenue - told investigators it appeared Rowland was waiting for someone.

Boober said police are still trying to determine Rowland's whereabouts last Thursday between the time he left work at Wright Denny Intermediate School about 4:30 p.m. and the time he was killed, estimated to be before midnight.

Rowland, 43, was found by a jogger Friday morning at the Weverton access, which is near the parking area at the end of Keep Tryst Road in the Sandy Hook area.

He was shot once in the neck and probably died at the scene, Boober said.

Boober believes robbery was a likely motive for slaying, adding that Rowland's wallet was missing from the scene.

As the investigation enters its fifth day, Washington County investigators are continuing to interview people, gather clues and fill in the gaps between the time the victim left his school Thursday and when his body was found the next morning by a jogger.

"We went back to the crime scene Monday and collected additional evidence," said Investigator Greg Alton of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Alton also said he has been able to interview a person who reportedly saw Rowland at a convenience store around 6 p.m. Thursday. While not revealing the substance of that interview, he said it was helping him build his case.

At Wright Denny Monday, where Rowland taught for 22 years, operations were calm, said Principal William Willingham.

A Crisis Intervention Team arrived at the school about 8 a.m. to help students and staff members who may be having trouble coping with the teacher's death, Willingham said.

Willingham said although he is sure some students asked counselors questions about Rowland, everyone seemed to be handling the news well.

Although Wright Denny students were not told about Rowland's death before classes let out for the weekend on Friday, some knew about it when they arrived Monday, Willingham said.

A substitute teacher took Rowland's place in his classroom Monday, Willingham said.

Rowland taught fourth grade at Wright Denny and instructed three groups of students, Willingham said.

Rowland taught reading and math to the three groups and he taught the rest of the fourth-grade subjects in his homeroom class, said Willingham, adding that Rowland regularly interacted with 75 students.

It seemed to be a normal day at the school as administrators worked in the main office and a few students walked through the hallways.

Outside, the flag was lowered to half-staff and two black ribbons adorned pillars on the front of the school, which is on West Congress Street in Charles Town.

Wright Denny will be closed today to allow teachers to attend Rowland's funeral at 11 a.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church in Charles Town.

Rowland was known by many teachers in the area, and Willingham said he expects all the school's teachers to attend the funeral.

"This is an older staff and we have been together for a good number of years," Willingham said.

Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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