The 21-year-old editor of a Virginia college newspaper is trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of copies of an edition of the paper that school administrators indicated could "trigger" some students.
The Sept. 18 edition of Radford University's The Tartan weekly newspaper featured two tragic stories on the front cover, according to the Washington Post. One reported on the death of the head of school’s criminal-justice department, Steve Tibbetts, 49, who died just two weeks into his post, while the other included a report on the death of freshman student Aris Eduardo Lobo-Perez, who died in a regional jail cell days before the paper's publication after being arrested on a charge of public swearing or intoxication.
On the afternoon of Sept. 18, 1,500 copies of the paper were delivered and distributed across campus. The next morning, however, editor Dylan Lepore discovered that several stands were empty. Noting that the incident was "not normal," Lepore learned that papers at 22 of 32 stands were missing, about 1,000 papers overall. Stands that were not empty were located in buildings that were locked or not easily accessible.
While Lepore hasn't nailed down a culprit yet, administrators at the university expressed concern over the photo accompanying the story about Tibbetts' death, which was provided by his widow and showed him and his daughter smiling and standing underneath a street sign that read "Tibbetts St. Dead End." On the same day the papers disappeared, Lepore, who "thought it was sweet — just a really nice photo of Tibbetts and his daughter," received an invitation to meet with school administrators.
During the meeting the next day, Lepore learned that administrators had received complaints about the photo. They told him the photo was “not the best choice” and that the accompanying stories could “trigger” people.
“I told them people are not going to like everything we publish, and we’re not going to please everyone,” Lepore said. “It’s a hard topic, and it’s unfortunate that it happened, but it’s our obligation to tell these stories.”
In a statement, a representative for the school indicated that "it was noted that, for those grieving, the photo, even if shared with the best of intentions on the part of The Tartan, could have resulted in a range of emotions." During the meeting, administrators offered to sit in on the publication's future meetings to help curate stories. Lepore pushed back, however, cautioning them against establishing a system of prior review for articles, and the meeting ended amicably.
In the following weeks, Lepore and his 19 student reporters have been trying to figure out what happened to the missing papers. He directed his staff not to speculate, adding, "I have no opinion on what happened until I have all the facts." Radford has claimed the university "did not orchestrate and/or participate in the removal of any newspapers" and does not know what happened.
“The administration did not order or remove copies of The Tartan,” a representative said. “The Radford University Police Department is reviewing this matter and seeking to determine any independent involvement by students, faculty, or staff.”
Lepore, who has headed up the paper since his freshman year, has also submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to the school's police department in hopes of obtaining surveillance video of the buildings that house the stands with missing copies.
“I don’t get too emotional,” Lepore said, “but when you put all your blood, sweat, and tears into this, and then someone steals all your newspapers, that kind of hurts.”