Thursday, November 03, 2011
Ten years have passed since of death of former Diamond Superintendent Greg Smith
It doesn't seem like it, but it was 10 years ago on Halloween that two events shook Diamond, where I was in my third year of teaching creative writing at the middle school.
On that day, Superintendent of Schools Greg Smith disappeared and the bank was robbed. The first clue I had that anything was going on came close to the end of sixth hour when Principal Mark Mayo came to the trailer where I was teaching and said there would be an assembly in the gymnasium seventh hour, giving me no details as to what the topic would be.
When we gathered the next hour, we were told that Dr. Smith had disappeared and that the bank had been robbed. Children who normally walked home were told to take a different route if they passed the bank since the area was still cordoned off. The annual downtown parade of elementary students in their Halloween costumes had already been canceled.
At first, media reports seemed to link the two events, though later it turned out there was no connection at all. Dr. Smith's body was found the following week, in his car at the bottom of a pond just outside the Diamond city limits. Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges eventually ruled that Dr. Smith committed suicide.
In one of my classes, we discussed the situation and I was surprised by the vehemence of the opinions students had about the behavior of the media during the whole situation. They were particularly disturbed by the way Dr. Smith's widow was treated and the scope of the questions with which she was bombarded. Almost 100 percent of the students thought the media should leave the woman alone.
The student comments got me thinking about writing a book, which I eventually did, not publishing it until 2005 when I had left the Diamond School District and was teaching at South Middle School in Joplin. Small Town News was a fictionalized version of those events. The focus is on the media, as seen through the eyes of a student, a high school junior named Tiffany Everett who has a one-week internship with one of the three local television stations.
Within the 196 pages of the book, the way the media handles news in a small town was scrutinized though the actions of the high school junior, her teacher, the television reporter to whom she is assigned, and the editor of the town's newspaper.
I will always appreciate Dr. Smith hiring me for my first teaching job and for all of the help he gave me when I was reporter covering the Webb City and Sarcoxie school districts.
It seems hard to believe 10 years have already passed.