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OUR VIEW: Lack of communication leads to distrust in Jones case

No story has rocked this area of the state like the disappearance of Natalie Jones. Jones, a mother of two, has been missing since the Fourth of July, when she sent a text to a friend that said “I made it.” She hasn’t been heard from since. 

Jones’ schizophrenia diagnosis has only amplified the worries of those looking for her. Jones’ disappearance has been featured on Dr. Phil, Nancy Grace, People, and other national shows and websites as her disappearance went national. There was basically no news for three months, but that changed suddenly on Oct. 6. On that night, the Heard County Sheriff’s Office found Jones’ car, and a body was also found inside. The body has not been officially identified as Jones, but the family has told media outlets that it is Natalie. An autopsy is pending for official identification.

After the body was found, a YouTube account, Adventures with Purpose, began detailing what was going on. With more than 7,000 people watching their stream, the men on that video speculated some about the details. Adventures with Purpose looks like it is doing admirable work this year, driving the country to help find missing people. We applaud that work.

But in the video about Natalie, they spoke of information from “confidential informants,” who told them Natalie’s car hadn’t been there the day before and was suddenly moved there after they came to town. They also mentioned the FBI coming to town a couple of times. (Maybe they meant the GBI, who did participate in the investigation.)

We were the first legitimate media outlet on the scene, and immediately worked to get verifiable information on what happened. Unfortunately, the only people talking were the family.

Then, as expected, every statewide media outlet you can think of ended up in Heard County. There were television stations from Atlanta and Columbus there, waiting to either do a live shot or send back information on what was happening.

And yet, with all of the media there, no press conference was held. Generally in high profile cases such as this, local law enforcement will keep the press updated as events unfold, but the HCSO didn’t have anyone stop by to officially speak to the media and discuss what was found or what they were doing. With no press conference, what happened next was easy to see coming.

Many on social media ran with the idea that the car wasn’t there the night before and that it was moved to a wooded area right off the road on the day it was found. Speculation ran wild, with many pointing the fingers at possible suspects.

The next day, Sheriff Ross Henry said it was clear the car had been there a while and wasn’t planted there as many suggested.

“It’s just the world we live in,” Henry told us of the social media rumors.

He’s completely right, as with a case of this magnitude there’s always going to be speculation. But in our opinion, that speculation was largely due to the HCSO’s decision not to talk to the media the night Jones’ car was found. We understand the HCSO is a small sheriff’s office that was working a case that had become a national story, and the scrutiny that comes along with that. We also understand the importance of the work they were doing that night.

However, in just five minutes, someone from HCSO could’ve answered several questions that would’ve likely curtailed much of the speculation. We understand the information available that evening would’ve been limited, but it usually is on scene. But the media could’ve been told that Jones’ car was found, that an unidentified body was inside, and that the car had clearly been there a while. Just those three statements would’ve ended much of the social media rumors swirling around the Internet.

We’re not sure the general public understands or appreciates how open our local police departments are, specifically the LaGrange Police Department and Troup County Sheriff’s Office. Both are reachable in a few seconds and give us information quickly.

Obviously, the most important thing is that Jones’ car was found, and her body was possibly located. It’s not the end anyone wanted, but we do hope this helps provide some closure for a family that has gone through a lot.