Note: Personal email addresses, phone numbers, information identifying the victim and some names have been redacted. Otherwise these emails are unedited.
Subject: Howard Wheeler Homestead Heritage
Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2011 18:07
From: Howard Wheeler <****@mailsw.com>
Hello Mr. Teter, I left a voice message for you earlier today concerning your invitation to clarify the facts surrounding the accused suspect in the child abuse case reported on last week. After consideration and numerous phone calls we have recieved [sic] from people who know us, we do want to accept the offer and would like to know whether I should come to the station or do you want to send someone here? It will only take a minute to make a clarifying statement, which will not include any criticism of the station’s decision to air the report, though we do feel it was wrong. You can call me at your earliest convenience at ***-***-**** or email me at ****@mailsw.com. I will not necessarily see my email immediately but will check it regularly.
Subject: further contact over story involving Homestead Heritage
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2011 16:58
From: Howard Wheeler <****@mailsw.com>
I have not received a reply to either my phone message or email to you concerning my appearing on your station. I had left the messages to let you know that I had wanted to accept your invitation to clarify some inaccuracies in your broadcast where we were prominently identified with a case of sexual abuse of a child. I could add many other details to what we have already discussed. But since it has been 10 days since our conversation at the station and a week since I emailed and phoned you, I thought it best to simply go back over our previous communication and, to the best of my remembrance, renew in your mind what has already transpired. As you know, I had called the station immediately after the six o’clock news broadcast and talked to a man who I believe identified himself as Brad (I am not sure). I asked him if I could talk to you or to Ken Musgrave, but he said he was the only person available at the station. I expressed to him our grief over the ******-year-old victim having been identified on the broadcast (when we met at the station the next morning, you acknowledged that your news team should not have done that). I also corrected for him the misinformation in the broadcast that identified the accused as living at Homestead Heritage and being a member of our church. Brad (?) said he would make sure your news team received the information. After my call, the 10 o’clock broadcast did drop the specific identification of the child but changed nothing about the accused’s connection to our community except adding in a rather awkward statement that he “either was or is” a member of Homestead Heritage. I guess in a roundabout way this was some admission they really didn’t know the facts of the story, and yet he was nonetheless identified as being with Homestead Heritage.
We have grown very familiar with these detractors’ behaviors and motives. One of these people had already filed a false child abuse claim against one of our families (a claim fully investigated and then totally repudiated by the Child Protective Services).
I told you the next morning at the station that the main reason the news team sought to bring us into the story was because someone on the news team had been contacted by one or more members of a core group of people set on doing anything that they could to smear our community’s reputation. We have grown very familiar with these detractors’ behaviors and motives. One of these people had already filed a false child abuse claim against one of our families (a claim fully investigated and then totally repudiated by the Child Protective Services). This individual had harassed us repeatedly with threats and cursing and been caught in multiple lies. When I told you about this group of detractors, you replied that your news team had only reported what they had gotten from the sheriff’s office. Though that may have indeed been what you had been told, it simply was not true. As I said, nothing in the facts reported by the sheriff’s office even mentioned us. We have verified this with the sheriff’s office and by obtaining the public records about the case. I again told you that we knew where the information came from. While you may not have known it at the time of our conversation, by now you probably have discovered that what I said was true. As I explained in our conversation, the accused in this case had turned himself in over a month before the story appeared on your station. The report of his arrest had appeared in the Waco newspaper and online well over a month before your story. At the time of your reporting the story, there had been no change in the status of the accused, such as an arraignment, which would have renewed the story and perhaps again made it “newsworthy.” Yet just one day after we received word from our detractors that they had just learned of his arrest, the story suddenly appeared on your station making direct connection between the accused and our community. Again, at the time of our conversation, I assumed that you personally did not know any of this. I therefore accepted, and am still willing to accept, as your own honest perspective your contention that your news team’s source was the sheriff’s department. But again, it seems you must now know the true sources of your story and that the sheriff’s department only confirmed what your reporter already had heard.
I then asked you why no one contacted us, given that the editorial decision had been made to prominently link us to the crime. During the six o’clock news, for example, four different references were made to our community, including the opening and closing remarks and an on-screen graphic stating the accused “lived at Homestead Heritage.” The latter reference was a statement that could only be interpreted by the average viewer as reporting the accused was living at Homestead Heritage when he was arrested rather than the reality that it had been over eight years since he had lived here. Except for two sentences in the middle of the report, the entire story involved painting a picture of the accused man’s relationship to our community. By our count, adding up the time either the anchor was speaking about us or the time the on-screen graphic was announcing to viewers that the accused “lived at Homestead Heritage,” a total of 30 seconds of the entire piece’s 38 seconds, or over 75% of the story, involved our community. I also mentioned to you how unusual it was in the first place to have reported the religious affiliation of a criminal suspect. In fact, your news team reported on another man in the same broadcast who had sexually abused an eight-year-old girl without mentioning his religious affiliation. You responded to my questions as to why no one had called us by telling me that you had been told that someone on your news team had contacted us prior to the broadcast, and we had allegedly refused to comment. You brought this claim up at least three times in defense of your station’s decision to link us to the crime. Each time, as you know, I clearly told you that no one had called anyone in our community and that it would then seem whoever told you that story was apparently attempting to cover a rather blatant misstep in common journalistic practices. You did finally qualify your response by saying that you had at least been given the “impression” that someone had called. You twice told me that you would find out who at the station had told you they had called us and then get back to me. As you will remember, as I got up to leave after what I believed to have been an open, yet sober, conversation with you, I again asked if you would please get back to me about the resolution to what, in my mind, had to have been a deliberate misstatement of the facts by whoever had endeavored to give you the “impression” that we had been contacted. Perhaps you’ve been out of town or for some other reason have not been able to resolve this issue. I hold this as a real possibility. But I believe this is one important issue that demonstrates that this story was not a mere “reporting of the facts” but a story with subplot. It is a story designed by someone to fit the plotline we have repeatedly heard from the core group of detractors I told you about.
I did not in our conversation, nor do I now, question your integrity. I had no idea whether you were at all aware of the connection between your news team and this group of detractors driven by their own agenda. As I explained more to you, you admitted that in the past your station (as have all) had been used by people with axes to grind. You told me that the least you could do would be to learn what is behind the information given you and learn the lesson sufficiently so as not to be used again.
I invited you to come out to our café and talk at length about the twist to your newscast that our detractors had introduced as well as the larger issue of familial breakdown that we discussed. You even said that we have a story that needs to be told.
You asked me if I thought that this sort of crime was actually more prevalent in modern society or now simply more reported. I told you that though it indeed may be more reported, it seemed clear that our modern culture of “release” had fostered an epidemic of sexual abuse crimes. I invited you to come out to our café and talk at length about the twist to your newscast that our detractors had introduced as well as the larger issue of familial breakdown that we discussed. You even said that we have a story that needs to be told. When you asked if we wanted to be interviewed on the story, I told you that we would consider that and weigh it against the potential downside that a response from us could simply keep the whole issue going in the public eye. You agreed that our concern was valid. After I left the station, a number of us from our community then discussed among ourselves the possibility of a response. Over the next two days we received many phone calls and visits from viewers expressing their ardent displeasure at what they saw as the inappropriate linking of us to the crime in the broadcast. We therefore decided to accept your offer to make a brief statement. Immediately after the weekend, I contacted you by phone and email telling you of our decision. But now, a week later, we have received no reply.
As an aside, subsequent to our visit I also received a phone call from ******, who said she wanted all of us in the community to know she had nothing to do with giving the station the information linking the community to the news story. She said that after my conversation with you at the station that she was told that I, while never mentioning her by name, had clearly implicated her. I assured her of the truth that I had not implied that she was the informant. I specifically told you that not everyone who had left our community was antagonistic toward us but rather a core group of detractors. Though we may not know all who are involved, we do in fact believe we know some of the specific people who have gained the ear of your news team. I did tell you that we knew one member of your news team was close friends with someone who had left our community, not specifying who that someone was because I had no idea that you would have known her at all. If I had known that you actually knew ******, I would have said her name. But I did mention that I did not believe that the person I referred to was a part of this core group of detractors.
“We are now left with not only a single victim but rather hundreds of innocent children in our community who, through no fault of their own or of their parents or of their community, are now subject to whisperings and innuendoes by people who barely know us that their families are not private refuges of love amid a cold, exploitive world but instead “secret” compounds hiding heinous acts from public scrutiny.
This story was supposed to be about criminal abuse against an innocent victim. Yet your news team carelessly reported the crime, even identifying the victim to her neighbors, and allowed themselves to be pulled into the agenda of people whom we have indeed put out of our community, some for moral problems and all for conduct unbecoming to anyone naming the name of Christ. So we are now left with not only a single victim but rather hundreds of innocent children in our community who, through no fault of their own or of their parents or of their community, are now subject to whisperings and innuendoes by people who barely know us that their families are not private refuges of love amid a cold, exploitive world but instead “secret” compounds hiding heinous acts from public scrutiny. We are deeply concerned for the victim in this particular case and have taken on the responsibility to financially and emotionally care for her and her family. This now fatherless household will not fall onto welfare rolls. But we are equally concerned about the careless and thoughtless exploitation of the mass media by a small group of detractors who care nothing about the victim in this case or the damage they have done to hundreds of others.
You may not be aware that our community has a very active jail ministry, involvement with state-wide drug rehabilitation programs, an inner-city mission and have over the years taken in a number of mothers and children from fatherless families. In the thirty-eight years of our community, we have encountered this type of crime on a few other rare occasions. In each case, the perpetrators came from these types of dysfunctional backgrounds, having been exposed as young children to pornography, and in the case of one individual was even himself abused grossly as a child (this particular man’s family was so infected by his crimes that three of his children became subsequently misled into forms of sexual misconduct, though not the particular crime of their father). We realize we put our own reputation at risk in reaching out to those damaged by these kinds of circumstances. But we do not apologize for our outreach ministry, for Jesus has commissioned us and told us it is not the well who need a physician, but the sick. Jesus Himself was greatly criticized for “eating with sinners.” But aside from these few cases of people who would not follow our guidelines and fell into these crimes, we have cases too numerous to count of changed lives, redeemed from tragically dysfunctional backgrounds, who have now become testimonies to the powerful love of Jesus. Come out and meet some of them. We have our share of doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, university professors, stockbrokers, IT specialists, nurses, former school superintendents and other professionals whose lives have perhaps never been scarred by drugs, crime or immorality. But we also have former drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals and people from broken, abusive homes. We have refugees from civil wars in Africa and the religious oppression in communist-block countries of Eastern Europe, people from South America, Mexico, Canada, Israel and Europe, as well as northern, southern, eastern and western sections of the U.S. Yet no matter what background, all of our members have experienced the transforming and empowering encounter with the living God and now gratefully yield their lives to live in accord with the will of the resurrected Christ. These people are not merely forgiven of their past but have overcome it and are no longer bound by it.
“The scriptures tell us that Jesus in His crucifixion was counted among the criminals, so I suppose we should expect no better. But it still is not right to have done so with our community, any more than it was right two thousand years ago what they did to Jesus.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus in His crucifixion was counted among the criminals, so I suppose we should expect no better. But it still is not right to have done so with our community, any more than it was right two thousand years ago what they did to Jesus. The only pertinent connection between us and this case, and between us and the other couple of similar cases our detractors have told your news team about (one of which actually involved someone who was never a member of our church, though his mother and sister were), is that it was the ministry of this community that exposed the crime and had them brought to law enforcement. You can ask the Sheriff to confirm this. If your station felt it so necessary to bring us into this story, how different it would have been to have reported the true situation: a man, who because of troubling behavior had already had his membership withdrawn by our community a year before, had been subsequently exposed by the ministry of our church and then, to end the hurt he had caused his family, determined to turn himself in to law enforcement. That storyline has a little different flavor to it from the one reported. You can email me back at ****@mailsw.com if you feel I have failed to remember anything correctly or to arrange for us to get together to talk further.