Monday, September 24, 2007

The Man Nobody Knew

Sunday's Miami Herald has one of the better written pieces we've seen about Assistant U.S. Attorney Roy Atchison's arrest on federal charges related to crossing state lines in an attempt to have sex with a 5 year old. Reporter Mary Ellen Klas was in the area several days late last week, trying to find the story that lies behind the story.

She knows what that story is: Who was this guy, really?

Aptly, her article begins with an almost lyrical passage describing the "picture perfect" exterior of the Atchisons' Gulf Breeze home. It could stand as a metaphor of the man's seemingly picture perfect life -- until last week.
The courtly colonial house with its wraparound porch and fishing boat in the back is perfectly situated in this close-knit beach town.

Twenty years ago, John D. Roy Atchison, a young prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office, picked this idyllic spot a block from the beach to build a home and raise a family. He fished in Pensacola Bay, coached girls basketball and softball, and dedicated himself to the community sports association just blocks from their home, while his wife, Barbara, taught honors science classes at Gulf Breeze High.

In contrast, the criminal charges Atchison now faces, as Klas writes, "paint a portrait of a man nobody in this small town even recognizes." Just as the house itself is now tightly shuttered against prying eyes.

In the end, Ms. Klas seems to have wound up as mystified as friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other locals are. Nothing she uncovered in Atchison's prior life even remotely hints at someone capable of committing the acts for which he has been indicted. As it appears -- for now, at least -- no one else can find any past signs or forewarnings of what was to come, either.

Writes Klas:
It's not unusual for there to be more issues other than the chat room,'' said Macomb County Sheriff Mark A. Hackel in Detroit. Among them, he said, is the possibility there may be child victims and involvement with child pornography.

That possibility has racked the Gulf Breeze town of 5,800 with worry and doubt.

''I've gone back mentally and reviewed everything we've done,'' said Buz Eddy, Gulf Breeze's city manager whose office is lined with team photos of his daughter's sports, including teams Atchison coached.

'If he would have called and said, `I'm taking a bunch of girls fishing in Destin for the weekend, can your daughter go?' I wouldn't have had any hesitation,'' said Eddy. "We've never seen anything like this from Roy, particularly from his demeanor and his profession. Shock isn't a strong enough word.''

Police have assured the community that no one has come forward to allege abuse by Atchison. The Gulf Breeze Sports Association, of which Atchison served as president until Monday, offered similar assurances.

The reporter did find some small evidence of newly expressed community hostility toward the once-respected Assistant U.S. Attorney who is now sitting in a Michigan jail under suicide watch.

Since news of the arrest, Atchison's well-kept house on Shoreline Drive has been egged by high-schoolers. His wife, a popular teacher who recently won teacher-of-the-year honors, has taken a leave of absence. His youngest daughter, a senior at Gulf Breeze High, has not returned to school all week.

And, of course, net-thugs can be found on countless message boards volunteering to personally dismember the defendant even before he is tried and convicted.

Everyone here is acutely aware, as city manager Buzz Eddy told the Northwest Florida Daily News, that with investigations continuing "someone" could "come forward with an accusation tomorrow." Or not. There simply is no way to know.

But local support for the family of the Assistant U.S. Attorney remains strong. Last week, Gulf Breeze High seniors hung a large sympathy banner, or perhaps more accurately it could be described as a solidarity banner, inside the school. And almost everyone else in Gulf Breeze, sensibly, is reserving judgment until all of the facts are known.

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