Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 27, 2013

Day care parents seek answers

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Worried parents filled a courtroom Tuesday morning at the Mercer County Courthouse Annex to learn more about an investigation into a day care worker charged with 150 counts of possessing and receiving child pornography.

Lindsey Bowling, 29, of Princeton was arrested Nov. 22. He was an employee at Lil Camper Dependable Child Care in Princeton. Concerned parents met with Sheriff Don Meadows, Detective Cpl. Steve Sommers, Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler, Sgt. M.D. Clemons of the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police, and Executive Director Shiloh Woodard with Child Protect of West Virginia.

Sommers told parents the investigation involving Bowling’s computer would take several months to complete. He said he has so far found only “commercially available” child pornography and not anything with Bowling’s picture, but the case is ongoing.

“This investigation is going to take time,” Sommers said. “Just about everyone involved with this investigation are parents, and we sympathize with the fact you want to know immediately, and I wish we could give you the answer; but we can’t. It’s a high technology crime, and it takes a lot of technology to investigate it.”

A large amount of material must be located in Bowling’s computer and examined, he said. Several parents at the meeting said Bowling always had a laptop computer at the day care center.

“It could be months until I can get the computer and everything that was on the computer back to me,” Sommers said. “I have to personally go through that file by file by file, so it may take two or three months to get the forensics back, and it may take me two or three months just to go through it. That’s pictures and video. If it’s an hour video, I have to watch for an hour. If there are a thousand photos, I have to view a thousand photos.”

Sheriff Meadows quickly assured parents that investigations of any complaints of children being abused would not take months to address.

“Let’s get something clear here,” Meadows said. “He’s talking about his pornography thing. It takes two or three months. We’re talking about if your child’s been touched inappropriately, I want everybody to understand it’s not going to take two months for somebody to do something on it. We’re going to get on it right now.”

“There may be some pictures in (the computer) on your kids or there might not be anything in there on your kids. It may be that he showed something to your kids or he touched them inappropriately; but let’s not go out of here thinking if something is reported about your kid, nothing’s going to be done in two months. It will be done in two days. Somebody’s going to work on it within two days to see what’s there,” Meadows said.

Sitler said there is currently no evidence to suggest any children at Lil Camper were involved in the case. Parents who suspect any of their children may show signs of mistreatment should communicate their concerns to law enforcement for investigations.

Several parents asked why the day care center has not been shut down. Clemons told the audience that the Institutional Investigative Unit, which handles complaints about day care centers, foster homes, and other institutions had been notified.

“I contacted them and made a referral,” Clemons said.

Child Protect, an independent nonprofit agency, cooperates with law enforcement and provides qualified forensic evaluation and treatment referral services at no charge to victims, Sitler said.

Woodard of Child Protect described how an investigation would be conducted if a parent feels one is necessary.

“If your child says something to you, if you have concerns about behavior or just something’s not right, obviously we want you to contact our office to have you come in,” Woodard said. “The process of the forensic interview is videotaped at our office. When we conduct forensic interviews, it’s in a very child-friendly room where the kids can draw. We have spinning chairs – kids love it. The reason that we videotape the process is so there is a record of all the questions the interviewer asked the child, so there is a record of what the child told the interviewer.”

The video is made so the child will not have to keep repeating his or her story, Woodard said. The interview results are confidential; they are made available to investigators and the county prosecutor’s office.

Parents stay in a waiting room while the interview is being conducted.

They meet with Child Protect personnel after the session is over.

“You leave the office with as much information as we can give you,” Woodard said. “As much information as we can release to you, we will.”

Woodard advised parents not to quiz their children before a forensic interview; to do so could influence the results, she said.

“Feel free to call the Child Protect office and we’ll do the best we can to walk you through that,” Woodard said of the process.

Child Protect is located at 206 Center Street in Princeton. The number is 304-425-2710 or childprotect@frontier.net.

Clemons can be contacted at the Child Protect telephone number or at melissa.d.clemons@wvsp.gov

Sommers can be reached at ssommers@wvmcs.org.

Some parents declined to comment after the meeting. Others said the meeting helped answer some questions.

“For me, it did,” said Angela Roberson, 34, of Princeton. She was concerned that her 11-year-old daughter was in Bowling’s computer, but learning the material found so far was commercial pornography was helpful. Her two children no longer attend the day care center.

“It helped to hear what they’re working on,” said Jaime Rodenbarger, 35, of Princeton. She had three children at the center, but they have been withdrawn from it.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com