Editorial: Police must provide information on troubling deaths

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(File Photo)

Tragedy struck Alexandria twice in the past week. Two local men died unexpectedly: one at the hands of a murderer and the other gunned down after an armed confrontation with police officers.

Both incidents shook the community and left residents with questions. Why did this happen? How did this happen? What could have been done differently?

These questions will linger until the details surrounding the murder of Elmer “Joe” Roehrs and the shooting death of Taft Sellers are made public. And whether that information is ever made public will be up to the men and women of the Alexandria Police Department as well as the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Virginia’s law enforcement officials are notoriously stingy when it comes to releasing information. But city police spokesman Jody Donaldson told the Times he expects to release more information, at least about the circumstances surrounding Sellers’ death, in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic [that the department will release more information],” he said. “We’ll be able to share more as soon as we get the information and the commonwealth’s attorney’s ruling on the shooting.”

While every death is a tragedy, Sellers’ should weigh heavily on the public’s mind. After all, the very officers who were sworn to protect and serve residents shot Sellers. This is not to say officers deserve blame for the incident — or accuse them of wrongdoing — but the public should expect answers.

We learn from our mistakes, and we, as a community, must learn from Sellers’ death. If he forced the officers’ hands, what motivated him to do so? Could the officers have acted differently to diffuse the situation? Were there any missed warning signs in the days leading up to the shooting?

Again, more questions without answers so far. As Donaldson explained, getting a fuller picture will have to wait on criminal and internal investigations, toxicology results, and a review by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

In the meantime, we have to take Donaldson’s word that the department will eventually outline what happened in a quiet apartment complex on the corner of Duke Street and Arell Court earlier this week — and why.

We can wait. We can be patient. But we certainly won’t forget. The answers are too important to let these deaths go by the wayside.