The highlight of today's regular 3 p.m. livestreamed COVID-19 briefing from Dade County was an appearance by Dade Sheriff Ray Cross to give an update on the ongoing child pornography investigation that has focused lively public attention on Dade County High School.
The sheriff could not part with much information, explaining that federal agencies were handling the suspect-interviewing part of the probe--"Understand, we are just assisting in this investigation"--and he acknowledged that today's announcement was partially in response to social media insinuations that local law enforcement wanted the matter swept under the proverbial rug. “I can assure you this is not being swept under the rug,” said Cross. “I want them arrested. I want them in jail, whether it’s state, federal or local prison.”
However, he did not want suspects to walk free because the investigation had been rushed, said Cross, so he and other local law enforcement--Trenton Police Chief Christy Smith also spoke at the briefing--were content to swallow their impatience.
What the sheriff did reveal, both in his statements and in response to reporters' questions--Cross had earlier in the day called a press conference at Trenton City Hall at 3 p.m. but had apparently later decided to combine it with the county's regular livestream, scheduled every day at that hour--was this:
That two suspects had been arrested, not in Dade County, and that these were males in their mid- to late 20s who had been students at Dade High within the last 10 years or so, and that these young men were currently serving in the military.
Cross said he could not reveal where the suspects had been arrested and did not know when they'd left Dade County. He said he did not know that any teachers were involved in any crimes committed, but that if there were any the feds were handling that aspect of the investigation.
The sheriff also seemed anxious to downgrade earlier projections of the scope of the investigation--there were way less than 100 suspects, he said: "Probably less than 50." And he said federal COVID-19 travel restrictions had slowed the investigation.
Chief Smith, coming on second, explained that the feds had brought local law enforcement into the investigation not to bust perps but to identify victims. "We are a small community, so most of the people here know everyone here,” said the chief. The names that had come up, she said, had been familiar. "Some of them were students when my children were in school,” said Chief Smith.
She said the revelations had been "heartbreaking and surprising" and that: "The fact that we are not able to get justice, and get immediate justice, is frustrating to us, but we're grateful the feds are being so thorough."
She said local law enforcement had been asked not to reveal the names of the federal agencies investigating, but at a December press conference Sheriff Cross had named the NCIS, or Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which investigates crimes involving Navy and Marine Corps service members, as might be suggested by the suspects' apparent military status.
Chief Smith and Sheriff Cross said they are always still grateful for any information from the public on possible victims. Their numbers are (his) (706) 657-3233 and (hers) (706) 657-4167. Both the Dade Sheriff's Office and Trenton PD also have Facebook pages through which information may be volunteered.
In other news from the briefing, Dade COVID-19 cases are up to 27 now. However, said Dade County Executive Ted Rumley, who leads these daily briefings, that number presumably includes not just 11 antibody-only tests that Georgia Public Health has since decided shouldn't be included in its Daily Status Report but five false positive tests at Dade Health and Rehab, the nursing home on Sand Mountain.
Rumley had earlier reported the flap at the nursing home: Four staff members and one resident had last week tested positive for the deadly coronavirus. However, said a letter Rumley received Sunday by text from the institution's management, and which he read at the briefing on Tuesday, all five subjects when retested had come up negative. The manager said all five were in isolation until an explanation could be found for the false positives, and promised elucidation as soon as any turned up. Rumley said the nursing home owner, who operates multiple similar establishments regionally, may appear on the daily briefing one day this week to elaborate.
Otherwise: Surrounding counties continue to show new COVID-19 cases. Walker went from 96 to 102 overnight, 44 of those being antibody tests which should be subtracted. Hamilton County in Tennessee went from 601 to 642 cases and is now up to 15 deaths. Jackson in Alabama went from 71 to 73 and DeKalb 228 to 236. Statewide Georgia as of this writing is at 44,421 cases and 1907 deaths.
The statewide death numbers are grim but Rumley reminds viewers at each briefing that the swelling case numbers do have something to do with the new availability of free public health testing. He said at the Tuesday briefing that many Dade residents are availing themselves of the opportunity but that there is never a wait. You can test at the Dade Public Health office, located in the Administrative Building, for no charge and without getting out of your car, six days a week, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday. Call (706) 657-6181 for more information.
Rumley also reminded everyone to vote in the general primary. Early voting is currently going on at the Administrative Building, and Saturday voting is 9 a.m.-4 p.m. this Saturday, the 30th. Whoever you vote for, said the county boss--and he himself is, as it happens, up for reelection this year--get out and do it. “That’s a very critical thing in your life that you should do.” said Rumley.
Finally, he announced that the Veterans Administration representative who used to come to Dade one Wednesday a month, but stopped with the COVID-19 crisis, will resume in July. He will be back in the Administrative Building on the last Wednesday in July.