It has been a year since the News-Press in this space proposed a healing of the acute pain for many that a terribly unfortunate episode in Falls Church’s history caused. On the eve of a hotly-contested F.C. City Council election, we wrote in our editorial in the Oct. 25, 2015 edition of the News-Press urging that “redemption, reconciliation and healing” prevail.
Concerning the guilty plea and conviction on child sexual abuse charges of Michael Gardner, local Democratic Party activist and husband of former Mayor Robin Gardner now serving a lengthy sentence, we wrote, “There is no doubt that the crimes for which Gardner recently took a guilty plea were heinous and monstrous,” noting, “Prominent local citizens, including our editor, who were willing to comply with a request (for letters to the court—ed.) not to question the verdict, but to provide an expression of Christian charity, to seek a redemptive rather than a vindictive outcome overall,” did so with “absolutely no ill intent toward the victims and their families.”
We wrote, “Clearly the letters deeply hurt the families of the victims,” which led to expressions of “deep and heartfelt remorse in the past week, our editor sharing that remorse,” even as “angry parents of one of the girls who were victims in the case…stirred strong (and legitimate) emotions in defense of their daughter.”
Voters in the subsequent election followed the lead of the News-Press which editorialized that, “In this intelligent and largely-reasonable community cooler heads might prevail,” and elected the three News-Press-endorsed City Council candidates.
Now, around the community, red “We Support the Girls” yard signs are still displayed, a painful reminder of that episode, evidence that more healing in this community is needed, especially in the context of a few who may continue to use the unhappy episode in pursuit of political advantage.
In our case, when Gardner was first arrested, our editor wrote, “There are no winners in a terrible situation like this…My sincere prayers are for the comfort and healing of his family, his victims, the entire Falls Church community, and also for him…But without a doubt, if indeed a horrible crime, or crimes, have been committed, then justice must be served.”
Our editor was resolute that coverage of the trial be in the spirit of journalistic integrity, the independent pursuit of facts and fairness that some erroneously interpreted as bias. He hired an outside freelance writer to cover the trial to better ensure this.
In his letter to the court upon Gardner’s eventual guilty plea, our editor did not question the court’s decision, nor the length of the sentence, but only recounted how Gardner had “represented himself” as a citizen in the community. Actually, in their 25 years, as most know, he and the News-Press have been unrelenting champions for the youth and the schools of Falls Church.
We all support the girls. May the healing continue.