On Friday, Jan. 5, a shooting incident involving a U.S. Forest Service officer and 51-year-old Tyler W. Miller from Kansas closed Oak Creek Canyon for more than five hours.
FBI agents, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Sedona Police Department officers, Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers and Sedona Fire District crews all responded to the scene, making the incident a confusing soup of jurisdictions.
The road is owned by the state, putting it under the jurisdiction of DPS, but the forest is under the joint jurisdiction of the USFS and CCSO. In the end, the FBI took over the investigation because the incident involved a federal employee.
SPD officers and YCSO deputies were only called in to assist outside their jurisdictions, mainly with traffic control, and rolled home as soon as enough officers from other agencies arrived.
The FBI is thorough, but also slow to report details until they are confirmed as irrefutable fact.
Thus, while details are slower in coming than news stories involving local agencies — which is as frustrating to you, our readers, as it is to journalists — we can trust that the FBI will provide details.
Television stations in the Phoenix area clamored to report the story, some with some unconfirmed witnesses on the phone providing sound bites in sometimes conflicting reports. The allure of “being on the news” for 15 minutes of fame brings out all sorts of people.
Readers on social media also repeated some of these third-party claims with “I heard …” or “someone said …” with no links to news stories and no confirmation from official sources. As these claims came in, we called agencies and public information officers to confirm if these statements are indeed true, and the majority, unfortunately, are not.
Reporting unconfirmed statements from alleged witnesses is not only disingenuous, it is reckless to the individuals involved, their families and the first responders working the scene. It also makes it difficult to determine what’s true and what’s merely conjecture from people with no firsthand knowledge of the incident. Additionally, it can harm the integrity of the investigation and make it more difficult to figure out exactly what happened, when, and most importantly, why.
Expecting that law enforcement would issue a formal statement that night, Larson Newspapers photojournalist Jake Green remained on the scene until 8:30 p.m., when officers said no further information would be coming that night.
None of the broadcast stations sent reporters at the scene, meanwhile our phones lit up with requests from those news stations for Green’s photos. But in a day or two, they had all forgotten the story and moved on to other Phoenix area shootings and crime stories that make the 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock broadcasts — 30-minute blood-and-guts spectacles that are monotonous in their nightly repetition.
Meanwhile, John Green from the Hutchinson News in Hutchinson, Kan., called to share information his newspaper was reporting about Miller’s family and asked what additional information we had. CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY.
By all reports from Kansas, Miller was beloved and a respected member of the Hutchinson business community. He was reportedly en route to the Sedona area to attend a spiritual retreat. The family’s statement on their lawyer’s Facebook page has been filled with hundreds of messages remembering the man, offering condolences to his family and asking how this incident played out.
We too want to know how a vehicle accident could lead to a fatal shooting and what precipitated it. We promise to stay on top of the story and report what we know as soon as we know it.
For further updates, keep an eye on our website, our Facebook page and our print edition. As we learn more, you’ll be the first to know.
Christopher Fox Graham
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