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State police ask for help in Childs/Metzler case, say new leads have been pursued

Investigators on Wednesday renewed a call for help finding the slayer of two Virginia Tech students, speaking at a media event called on the 11th anniversary of the deaths of Heidi Lynn Childs and David Lee Metzler.

“Search your hearts, pick up that telephone or get online and make that call,” Special Agent W.S. Mitchell of the Virginia State Police said Wednesday at the state police’s division headquarters in Salem. “For the sake of justice, for Heidi and David, for the sake of their parents.”

The plea echoed those made last year when the unsolved case reached the decade mark and investigators announced they were making a fresh start. At a 2019 news conference, the parents of Metzler and Childs asked that anyone with information about the case speak to a revamped task force involving an array of federal, state and local of law enforcement agencies.

The state police became the lead agency in an effort to sift back through evidence collected over years, and to turn up something new.

On Wednesday, Mitchell said a “plethora of information” had been brought in during the past year. A state police statement released ahead of the media event said officers followed about 50 new leads that came in after last year’s news conference.

Flanked by representatives of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshal’s Service, Mitchell declined to describe the new leads but said that officers think there is more to be found. Investigators think there still are people who know something about the students’ deaths but have not talked to police, he said.

Mitchell made his appeal in personal terms, at one point saying “you know who you are” about the people that police think have yet to speak. He declined to say if investigators are looking at specific witnesses in the case.

“We beseech you to come forward. … You know that you have information. Don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Come forward,“ Mitchell said.

Childs, 18, of Bedford County, and Metzler, 19, from Campbell County, were shot to death on Aug. 26, 2009, in the Caldwell Fields parking lot of the Jefferson National Forest in Montgomery County. A couple who had met through their church youth group in high school, then began dating in college, both were starting their sophomore years at Tech when they were killed.

They were shot between 8:25 p.m. and 10 p.m., Wednesday’s state police statement said. Metzler’s guitar, which he had brought to play that night, was still in his navy 1992 Toyota Camry. Childs’ purse, credit cards, Tech ID and lanyard, camera and cellphone were gone and are still missing, state police said.

Their bodies were found the next morning by a man walking his dogs.

In 2012, police said the students were shot with a .30-30 rifle and that there was DNA evidence in the case.

In Wednesday’s statement, Mitchell thanked people who have come forward in the past 12 months with what he called “critical information.”

“We have been able to advance this case like never before,” Mitchell said in the statement. “But, there are still those living in Montgomery County who have information related to this case and I want to appeal to them to please come forward and help us find justice for Heidi, David and their families. It’s been 11 years. Now is the time to do what’s right.”

Information about the case has been posted at and tips can be received there as well. Tips also can be phoned to (540) 375-9589, state police said. There is a $100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

Health official: COVID-19 daily numbers may not reflect what is happening today

Throughout the spring and much of the summer, COVID-19 case counts ticked up one or two at a time in Floyd County, reaching 33 by Aug. 1.

But midway through the month, they began to pile up and over the course of a couple of days and spiked to 109 before slowing to a trickle. Another surge came in reporting data Wednesday when the Virginia Department of Health reported 14 more cases, bringing the county’s total to 139.

There isn’t a way to look at the day’s numbers and know whether there are outbreaks in places or clusters in families and friends, or if there is wider transmission occurring in the rural mountainous county. Nor is there a way to know when the infections occurred.

Dr. Noelle Bissell, director of the New River Health District, offered no details during a Tuesday news conference.

“We had some outbreaks in Floyd that were well contained and well controlled,” Bissell said. She said there was no reason to discuss them further.

“We didn’t feel they presented a risk to public health,” she said. “By the time those numbers hit the dashboard, they had been investigated. We’ve already done our risk assessment and implemented containment and mitigation strategies.”

Bissell said watching the Virginia Department of Health’s dashboard is helpful for spotting trends, but people don’t realize that if they see 20 cases added in one day, the infections might have been discovered over four or five days and not just the previous 24-hour reporting period.

The state’s system has variables that the local health districts can’t control. Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Molly O’Dell has tried to get data corrected for the Roanoke and Alleghany health districts, where she is leading the pandemic response. There have been issues surrounding reporting by one large lab that had not been putting in addresses for patients, and even when addresses are entered by ZIP code, a case can end up assigned to the wrong locality and later have to be corrected on the dashboard. O’Dell said they’ve also run into a technology glitch.

She thinks most of the problems have been figured out, but as of Tuesday, her case count for Roanoke was nearly 200 higher than the state’s dashboard. Roanoke County’s actual case count is about 100 higher than the state shows, and Salem’s is about 50 lower.

O’Dell holds a weekly news briefing to talk not just about the numbers but about the trends she sees in how the disease is spreading. Over 20-plus weeks, she’s chronicled how the virus went from affecting mostly elderly residents of long-term care facilities, to hitting construction sites and restaurants, to disproportionately affecting Latinos, to coming home with Myrtle Beach vacationers, and now arriving with college students. She’s talked about investigations, contact tracing, testing, helping schools plan and businesses contain the virus.

And she’s repeated the take-home message: Wear face coverings, keep your distance, wash your hands.

This week, Bissell joined O’Dell’s media call to discuss what is happening in the New River Valley. She said that her department is attempting to engage everyone in the community with its Be Committed Be Well campaign, and that it isn’t as important to talk about case counts and outbreaks and daily reports.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, which can generate a lot of fear. People feel they need to know where those cases are, who those cases are. When in fact, it’s here and we know it’s here,” Bissell said. “We know how it spreads and we know the measures that are protective of everyone else. We need to focus on that message.”

Bissell said she cringes when she hears of people making decisions or assumptions about the daily numbers. What is more important, she said, is for those who engage in riskier behavior to keep away from those who do not, especially those who are vulnerable to becoming very ill or dying from the disease.

The cases in Floyd have caused two deaths and six hospitalizations.

Radford, too, has seen a surge in cases this month as students returned to the Radford University campus, and on Wednesday another 35 were added to the city’s total, bringing the cumulative count to 223. Bissell said most of the people have had mild illnesses. There have been three hospitalizations and no deaths among the Radford cases.

Bissell could not say what percentage of the Radford cases were in students.

“I don’t have the numbers, and I don’t think we need to disclose the numbers because it doesn’t change the messaging. It doesn’t change the public health measures we need to address.”

Mountain Valley asks FERC for more time to complete pipeline

Held up for nearly a year by lawsuits, suspended permits and a stop-work order, the Mountain Valley Pipeline is bidding for more time.

The company building the interstate pipeline asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late Tuesday to extend by two years a key approval that will otherwise expire in six weeks.

When FERC determined on Oct. 13, 2017, that there was a public need for the natural gas that will flow through the transmission line, it granted Mountain Valley a three-year certificate for a project the company said would only take a year to build.

But multiple legal challenges by opponents — who say burrowing a massive pipeline through Southwest Virginia will scar the landscape, pollute the water and kill endangered fish and bats — led courts to set aside three key sets of federal permits.

Mountain Valley has said it hopes to have the permits restored in time to complete the 303-mile pipeline by early next year.

But “due to the uncertainty regarding the timing of these permits and the outcome of any subsequent legal challenge, Mountain Valley asserts that a two-year extension is necessary and proper,” Matthew Eggerding, assistant general counsel for the company, wrote in the Aug. 25 letter to FERC.

Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox said Wednesday that the company still expects to complete work on schedule but requested the extension “out of an abundance of caution.”

Construction is 92% completed, Eggerding wrote in his letter, and would have been done by now had it not been for the legal challenges.

Pipeline opponents question whether the $5.7 billion project is as far along as Mountain Valley contends. “They are saying that to essentially reassure investors and FERC,” said Russell Chisholm, co-chair of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, a coalition formed to fight the project.

Trenches for the 42-inch diameter pipe have not yet been dug in large stretches of Giles and Roanoke counties, where construction crews must navigate some of the steepest slopes they will encounter.

Questions also remain about the complicated task of burying the pipe under streams and wetlands, Chisholm said. Permits allowing Mountain Valley to cross nearly 1,000 water bodies have been suspended, and a more time-consuming approval process may be required to complete the largely unfinished work.

In its letter to FERC, Mountain Valley painted a different picture.

Vegetation has been planted over the buried pipe and final restoration work is completed on 155 miles of the 303-mile route the pipeline will take through West Virginia and Virginia, the company said.

Pipe segments have been placed in open trenches, welded together and covered with dirt along about 253 miles, the letter stated. By those measurements, about 80% of the pipeline construction is done, Cox said.

But the 92% figure includes other work — such as the construction of three compressor stations in West Virginia that will create the high pressure needed to transport the gas, and three interconnects to route it to different pipelines — that has been fully completed.

“Mountain Valley remains committed to bringing this important infrastructure project into service to meet public demand across the region for affordable, domestic natural gas,” Cox wrote in an email.

That demand has increased with last month’s cancellation of a similar project through Central Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley says.

While opponents say more natural gas is not needed as the country turns to renewable energy, they also point to the environmental damage caused by construction so far. Before FERC issued a stop-work order in October 2019, Mountain Valley had violated erosion and sediment control regulations more than 300 times in Virginia, the state asserted in a lawsuit that was settled for $2.15 million.

Many residents who had their land seized for the project told regulators that the mountains were too steep to build on.

“If FERC won’t listen to every landowner they dragged through eminent domain and every resident who tried to warn them,” Chisholm wrote in an email, “they might pay attention to the pipeline builders themselves and stop digging before the hole they are in collapses completely.”

That was a reference to a lawsuit filed this month by one of Mountain Valley’s contractors, who said delays in construction had cost it about $104 million.

While Mountain Valley wrote in its letter that litigious opponents were to blame for slowing down the project, others argue that the company’s wounds were self-inflicted.

“MVP claims it is a victim of lawsuits and lost permits, and should therefore be able to change the rules once again,” Georgia Haverty, whose Giles County property will be cut in half by the pipeline, wrote in a letter to FERC urging it to deny the requested extension.

“Had MVP been competent and honest, you know and I know this pipeline would have been completed on time and on budget,” she wrote. “MVP is neither of these things.”

GOP convention defends police as racial tension rises anew

WASHINGTON — Republicans aggressively defended law enforcement on the third night of their convention, as the nation faced renewed tensions following the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin that sparked protests in a state that could decide the fall election.

Vice President Mike Pence, the evening’s featured speaker, seized on the national reckoning over racial injustice to argue that Democratic leaders are allowing lawlessness to prevail in cities from coast to coast. He and others described cities wracked by violence, though protests in most locations have been largely peaceful.

“The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with African American neighbors to improve the quality of life in our cities and towns,” he said in remarks released before his appearance. He also assailed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for saying there is an “implicit bias” against minorities and “systemic racism” in the U.S.

“The hard truth is ... you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Pence said.

Pence saiad people in the path of Hurricane Laura should heed warnings about the strength of the storm and he pledged the Trump administration’s help.

He said, “Stay safe and know that we’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Pence spoke at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, as he “humbly” accepted the GOP’s nomination for vice president. It was not clear until just before he took the stage that he would address the looming Category 4 hurricane.

Meanwhile, the steady image Republicans were aiming to portray of President Donald Trump at the convention was running into a turbulent outside reality: the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the potentially catastrophic hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast, wildfires that have ravaged huge areas of California and the still-raging coronavirus pandemic that is killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.

The convergence of health, economic, environmental and social emergencies is increasing the pressure on Trump, as he looks to reshape the contours of his lagging campaign against former Vice President Biden with Election Day just 10 weeks off and early voting beginning much sooner.

The convention lineup also included speakers who have been at odds with the Black Lives Matter movement, including a St. Louis couple who brandished guns and a Kentucky attorney general who has not yet filed charges in the death of a woman killed by police.

But the program Wednesday night had no major headline speaker beside the vice president and few boldface names.

And it lacked some of the production elements that had made previous nights memorable, including slickly produced videos and surprise announcements, such as an unexpected presidential pardon and a citizenship ceremony.

Not that the proceedings lacked tough talk.

“From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs,” South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem said. “People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people that can’t — good, hard-working Americans —are left to fend for themselves.”

Adding another controversial element, late Wednesday the NBA postponed three playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for their game following the shooting of Blake.

That was a few hours before Pence was to speak from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where an 1814 battle inspired the National Anthem.

Trump has strongly criticized athletes who kneel rather than stand during the anthem in protest of racial injustice.

Adding to the sense of convention uncertainty, a speaker was abruptly pulled from the lineup. The Trump campaign confirmed that Robert Unanue, the president and CEO of Goya Foods, would not be speaking Wednesday night, citing a “logistical problem.” Unanue’s appearance at the White House earlier this month and his praise of Trump sparked a boycott movement of his company’s products.

Organizers on Tuesday had pulled another featured speaker, “Angel Mom” Mary Ann Mendoza after she directed her Twitter followers to a series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial messages hours before her pre-recorded segment was to air.

Wednesday night’s lineup was expected to include Clarence Henderson, who participated in the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins for what Trump’s team said would be a discussion of “peaceful protest” and the president’s record of trying to help Black Americans.

“These achievements demonstrate that Donald Trump truly cares about black lives,” Henderson was expected to say. “His policies show his heart. He has done more for black Americans in four years than Joe Biden has done in 50.”

Convention speakers were also reinforcing Trump’s law-and-order message, warning that electing Biden would lead to violence in American cities spilling into the suburbs.

Trump on Wednesday tweeted about sending federal agents to Kenosha to help quell unrest, and the Justice Department said it was sending in the FBI and federal marshals.

Trump’s campaign believes his aggressive response will help him with suburban women voters who may be concerned by the protests — though it may only deepen his deficit with Black voters.

Michael McHale, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations, told the convention, “The violence and bloodshed we are seeing in these and other cities isn’t happening by chance. It’s the direct result of refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities. Joe Biden has turned his candidacy over to the far-left, anti-law enforcement radicals.”

And Burgess Owens, a former NFL player now running for Congress in Utah, said, “This November, we stand at a crossroads. Mobs torch our cities while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism that my father fought against in World War II.”

While the Democrats’ convention last week included musical performances and celebrity guests, Trump’s on Wednesday become little more than a series of speeches, delivered one after the next.

The night included remarks from the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as well as several administration officials including departing counselor Kellyanne Conway, the manager of Trump’s 2016 general election campaign, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

“This is the man I know and the president we need,” said Conway, a week before she is to leave the White House.

“He picks the toughest fights and tackles the most complex problems. He has stood by me, and he will stand up for you,” she said.