Saturday, September 29, 2007

'Shellshocked' in Gulf Breeze

Abby Goodnough bats clean-up on the Roy Atchison story in Saturday's edition of the New York Times, with an assist from Terry Aguayo of Miami and "Mari Krueger from Gulf Breeze, Fla."

The headline for the story is "Town Is Shaken After Prosecutor’s Arrest in a Child-Sex Sting." Oddly, it carries a three day old dateline.

Here's the lede and a snippet of what follows:
To neighbors here, J. D. Roy Atchison was a deft federal prosecutor, an involved father and a devoted volunteer, coaching girls’ softball and basketball teams year in and year out.

His wife is a popular science teacher; his youngest daughter, an honors student who was on her high school homecoming court last year. Their house, with rocking chairs on the porch, oaks in the yard and a wrought-iron fence, is among the prettiest in town.

Butin an instant last week, the community pillar became an object of community loathing. Mr. Atchison, 53, was arrested getting off a plane in Detroit on Sept. 16 and charged with the unthinkable. The authorities there said he was carrying a doll and petroleum jelly, and that he had arranged with an undercover agent to have sex with a 5-year-old girl.

Now Mr. Atchison is awaiting trial in a federal prison in Michigan, and the people of Gulf Breeze, an affluent bayside suburb in the Florida Panhandle, are outraged, baffled and repulsed.

The rest is also pretty much what we've come to expect. Two local lawyers attest to Atchison's professional reputation, which comes down to "a little eccentric, but nothing perverted or weird." Buzz Eddy once again 'scours his memory' for any clues that Atchison was not what he seemed and, again, he comes up empty. The Gulf Breeze police once more report that "no one" locally "has come forward with accusations of abuse" by Atchison in the past.

And two or three previously obscure locals get their allotted 15 words of fame, one of whom uses it to say, "They ought to torch this guy.” Not specified was whether the 'torching' should come before or after the trial.

In other words, Goodnough doesn't uncover anything that wasn't known already and reported elsewhere, except that the Times' chief Florida bureau reporter, who also is the author of "Ms. Moffett's First Year: Becoming a Teacher in America", does add a little about Atchison's teacher-wife:

Around town, praise flowed for Mr. Atchison’s wife, Barbara, who teaches anatomy at Gulf Breeze High School but took a leave of absence after his arrest. She won the town’s teacher-of-the-year award in 2004. Several people said she was as stunned as anyone by the news.

"She’s shellshocked," said Deputy Chief Randle, who went with F.B.I. agents to execute a search warrant on the Atchison home, where they seized at least one computer. "She’s just floored."

Rick Outzen of the weekly Independent News tried just as hard, using similar sources and even his own son (a freshman at Gulf Breeze High) but he came up just as stumped as everyone else.

Either Roy Atchison was a monster nobody ever really knew or something catastrophic recently happened inside his brain. There doesn't seem to be any third explanation.

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