Difficult call: Elkins paper explains photo decision

An editorial from The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va. — In the newspaper business, every day offers unique challenges. Whether it is as basic as gathering the news and taking photographs or choosing story placement on Page 1, much planning and thought goes into producing each edition.

Tuesday, though, offered an unusual test as the city dealt with a tragedy seldom seen in this sleepy and quiet town.

A shooting broke the pre-dawn silence, leaving one man dead, another on the run from justice and citizens weary of leaving their homes.

Law enforcement officials – including representatives from the Elkins Police Department, Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and the West Virginia State Police – responded at the Elkins Depot Welcome Center, the scene of the crime.

Reporters and photographers from The Inter-Mountain later arrived and worked with officials to release information to the public as quickly as possible.

By 9:30 a.m., the newspaper was circulating a photo of the alleged shooter – Derrick W. Adamson – on our website. Elkins officials, including Mayor Van Broughton and Police Chief C.D. Cross, continuously kept The Inter-Mountain updated about developments, which we immediately passed along to the public in real time.

The true conundrum came later in the day when editors met to plan Wednesday’s front page. The Inter-Mountain’s news-gathering team returned from the scene with extensive information, including photographs of the victim – Donovan Nicholson – before his body had been covered at the site of the homicide. He was exposed to the public in that fashion for hours near the entrance to the welcome center and on the boarding platform to the train that has become our community’s gateway to tourism.

Further, this act of violence occurred yards from Town Square, in the center of the downtown business district, and on property owned by the Randolph County Development Authority.

We cannot recall a more public venue of criminal activity in The Inter-Mountain’s 100-plus year publication history – with, perhaps, the exception being the lynching that occurred nearly as many years ago in city park.

Hours and hours of debate went into the decision to publish today’s front-page photograph of Nicholson’s uncovered body. There, alone and desolate his silhouette against the newly dedicated benches at the depot made a significant statement: Violent crime has reached our doorsteps, quite literally. It cannot be ignored, and to do so would be a disservice to Nicholson, his family and his memory.

While this newspaper does not often publish graphic pictures, we ultimately came to the conclusion that doing so in this instance would send a clear and decisive message about the true magnitude of this crime and the very public venue where it occurred.

Seemingly random shootings are becoming all-to-frequent, and they are getting closer to the city’s core. Tuesday’s homicide is not an isolated gun-related event. Two shootings occurred Feb. 17 on 11th Street. One involved gunshots being fired at a vehicle containing a young mother and her 2-year-old daughter. At least one bullet pierced the car seat, narrowly missing the toddler. Gun-related crimes such as these appear to be are on the rise and drug crimes seem to be following suit.

Even though all alleged shooters in both Tuesday’s and the Feb. 17 incidents have been apprehended, this event illustrates we simply no longer live in the Mayberryesque city we’ve enjoyed in years past.

Another reminder is a figurative bullet Elkins dodged when, on Feb. 18, a suspect was arrested for allegedly wanting to bomb the Jennings Randolph Federal Center, which houses the federal courthouse and post office. In addition, the suspect’s arrest thwarted his plot to take up a sniper position to shoot down first responders to the bomb’s detonation and subsequent aftermath, as well as bombing the Mountain State Forest Festival.

Thankfully, law enforcement officials were extremely quick to act in all instances.

Still, we must remain vigilant so events like Tuesday’s homicide do not become commonplace and shatter the tranquil and calm to which we have become accustomed. We certainly do not want to see another family go through a tribulation as difficult and heartwrenching as this.

To the Nicholson family, you have our heartfelt prayers and condolences. To law enforcement and public officials, you have our respect and praise. To readers, you have our explanation for publishing the photo on today’s front page. And we hope we have your support for bringing to you what we understand is very difficult news, indeed.

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