The accused rapist is an 18-year-old star football player who was suspended from school Monday, more than four months after the incident and after playing three games into the season. Last week, he led the sports section of the newspaper with his late-game heroics that won the game.
But Friday morning, his team felt frustration and anger after its own reputation took an emotional punch in the gut when news of the incident broke and made the spotlight because of the accused's stardom and amid accusations of special treatment.
Team parents and boosters are upset because of the story's timing on the day of a rivalry game and because headlines of a single individual's actions affected the entire team.
Parents of other children are frightened and/or angry because they want to know why a known rape suspect, who police say confessed his crime, was allowed into school with their children without warning.
Concerned relatives and friends involved in the case want to know why a young man, whom his young victim in the past apparently idolized, was allowed to still play football and make headlines as the hero as if nothing ever happened on that infamous night in April.
One law enforcement leader said there is no policy for informing school officials when police have arrested a sex crime suspect and he is freed on bond, because he is innocent until proven guilty.
Another said such policy
Repeated attempts to report on the school's policies for such situations were first met with rudeness and the question of why we should even ask.
Readers of this newspaper accused it of sensationalizing the story by running it on the front page and billing it as a star football player gone bad. They accused the paper of insensitivity to the community and the team on which the accused played.
Other readers accused this newspaper of hiding the story until it finally ran because the paper did not want to get its hands dirty or not lose the ability to report in its sports pages about a local rising star who scored touchdowns. They accused the paper of insensitivity to the victim.
And, oh yes, the victim.
A small girl who lost her virginity to an overpowering and apparently angry man who, as medical tests indicated, forcibly and painfully raped her. Even if the confessed teen is somehow proven innocent, somebody most certainly raped this girl.
Friday morning, I found myself in the middle of all this storm, dealing with people angry about hidden agendas, angry about a team reputation tarnished, angry about the negative image cast on the community, angry about story cover-ups, angry about police and school policies or lack thereof, angry about their children exposed to an accused rapist, angry about stardom allowing special privileges, angry about how this young man's reputation may be ruined without even a conviction, angry about the newspaper reporting the story or, for being so slow to finally report it, and just plain angry.
I have to ask.
Does anyone give a damn about the girl?
It is hard for many people to feel sympathy, let alone encouragement, for the young man accused of raping her, but if that is the case and he is indeed guilty, what does all this bode for his life?
One can only hope that this young and promising 18-year-old — promising because they all are at 18 — can be just as tough and elusive in learning from his mistakes in life, and that he can score come-from-behind game winners in the real world, just as he did in football.
If he can, this kid someday might be a hero once again. He might be the difference that turns someone else's life around. He might be the living example of what it means to let down a family, a team or a community, and perhaps he can climb out from under that mountain of pressure to be a real man who tells others, "There are consequences for our actions. I was wrong. I made someone else suffer, and that is a crime. Don't lose control and make the mistake I did."
No one, including confused 18-year-olds, enjoys being a victim.
But for now, one thing is for certain: There can be no denials or sweeping things under the rug.
If he did the crime, he should be punished, and that punishment likely already is being felt in the terms of his mounting sacrifices. But then, the victim also made sacrifices, didn't she?
This young man needs help. Guilty or innocent, he needs help.
His story should not stop with this sad and disgraceful and hurtful chapter.
And the newspaper?
Just how did it decide this story was worthy of the front page? Why did it run the photo of him in his team football uniform instead of a suit or classroom picture? If the story had to run, why didn't it run deep inside the paper? Did the editors even consider in the slightest bit what this story would do to the victim, the accused, the team, the school, or the community?
The editors gave much thought, discussion and deliberation to this story.
Every single factor previously mentioned in this column were carefully considered.
This newspaper's duty is to report the story. That it did. Refusing to report the story just because the accused is a big star, or because the newspaper is too scared to upset its readers, or because it would be easier to leave it alone ... none of this was ever a factor. The story must be reported.
If you're a parent...
Why the front page? Why the team uniform photo?
That is answered by the fact that many of our most upset callers lay claim that this young man was getting special privileges from the school, team and this newspaper because of his stardom status; that he was indeed a growing public figure, albeit a young one, because of his recent headlines of sports glory and therefore a major story of interest most readers would want to find; and the football team photo was used because that was his connection to the glory and debate of whether he did or didn't receive special privilege.
Our reporter worked diligently, making numerous efforts, to find out school and law enforcement policy about such incidents and whether the school knowingly allowed him to play after learning of his arrest and freedom tied to a $10,000 bond.
During early reporting on this story:
No one would tell us if the schools are limited in their actions until proof of guilt.
No one would tell us whether the school has zero-tolerence policies for extra-circular activities.
No one would tell us if the parents or teachers were informed a suspected sex offender sat in the classroom.
What does all that mean, besides the fact that the newspaper needs to continue asking these questions until it finds the right person or people who will answer?
It means we have on our hands a much larger debate that involves many, many more children, parents, coaches and players.
Should or shouldn't the police notify school officials when a suspected rapist roams the halls?
Should or shouldn't schools inform teachers and possibly parents, or say nothing until a conviction?
That, readers, was the final factor considered for putting this story on the front page.
Some of you may have seen it as a worst nightmare come true on rivalry day.
Some of you may have seen it as insensitive and sensationalism to sell papers, despite our awareness that we would upset more readers than please them, let alone our caring less about any advantage in selling a few more copies at only 50 cents a copy.
We see it as taking your hurtful remarks and vocal criticism and understanding it is a painful part of doing our duty.
There was a story to be told.
We told it.
It is a story that goes far, far beyond the initial pain and suffering of the immediate victims involved.
We put it on Page 1.
Oh yes, the girl.
I can only imagine the thoughts that could be running through her head this morning.
"Am I the cause of all this anger?"
"Is it my fault?"
"Why do they care more about him than me?"
"Will anyone ever love me? Will I ever be able to date? Will anyone help me?"
On a personal note, I'm a praying man. That may not always come through, and I'm quite aware some of you are offended by that and others doubt it, but I am, and I mention it only to say this: I'll be praying for the young man. I'll be praying for our community, for the way I do my job, and for everyone involved in this mess.
But especially, young lady, wherever you are, I'll be praying for you.
I can't say that in a news story or an editorial, but I can in a personal column.
And I hope you understand that you are important, more important than any of these other things the rest of us are fussing about, and whether this newspaper did horrible injustice or provide leadership on a serious issue.
But talk about the problems exposed in all of this, we will do.
It concerns all of us.
Including, 13-year-old girls who most certainly are not forgotten.
Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M. 87499; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.