Military Reporter Missing in Virginia, Hunt On, Police Baffled

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By: Joe Strupp

Ward L. Sanderson, a military reporter for the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., has been missing from work for two weeks, the newspaper has disclosed. Its staff has searched for him, distributed fliers and notified police. The few clues that have surfaced — he turned in his car to a local bank, for example — have only added to the mystery, according to the paper.

Sanderson, 35, started working at the Daily Press in March, coming from the military newspaper Stars & Stripes in Germany. While there he made several trips to Iraq over the past five years, and was in Baghdad as recently as last fall. He shared an award for “distinguished reporting” from the Military Reporters & Editors group last year for a study on troop morale in Iraq.

He last came to work at the Daily Press on May 31, Editor Ernie Gates said. Editors became concerned after he missed an assignment to cover a military conference in Norfolk and didn’t return phone messages on June 2.

Newport News police investigators are looking at the possibility of suicide, but also believe Sanderson may have just wanted to drop out of sight. “It is strange activity, which gives you concern about suicide,” Lou Thurston, a police spokesman, told E&P today. “But we have found no note or anyone who knows him saying he has ever mentioned suicide. Does he just want to get away for a while?”

Thurston could not explain why police did not search his apartment until June 10, a week after the Daily Press reported him missing on June 3. “I don?t know why the lag time,” he said. “I can’t answer that.”

Investigators also were looking into the possibility of some kind of postwar stress stemming from Sanderson’s time in Iraq, but had found nothing to report. “They have and will backtrack,” Thurston said about the officers working the case. “If he had been in Iraq, it may be post-traumatic stress. But if he just wants to be missing, we have to honor his wishes.” He added that the disappearance doesn’t appear to be criminal-related.

“We didn’t see any behavior when Ward was here that indicated that he was in any distress,” Gates said, in a story in the paper. “In our reporting since, we’ve heard reasons to think he was disoriented. And that has given us another level of worry.” The newspaper has called on police to do more to find him.

Sanderson was last seen by a fellow reporter walking near Fort Eustis on June 4. Three days earlier military police there briefly detained him when they found him walking on or near the military base. Thurston, the police spokesman, said, “At the time he told military police he had parked his vehicle at a bank parking lot because he no longer needed it.”

Daily Press colleagues have interviewed former co-workers, called hospitals and searched in wooded areas near the reporter’s home.

“We’ve applied a lot of the tools we have,” said Gates. “Some of the tools we don’t have, we wish the police would apply. For example, they could track down his car and his credit card.”

Thurston believes kidnapping was unlikely since Sanderson has been seen several times since his initial disappearance. “Kidnapping would be a little bit out there,” he told E&P.

Police also have checked Sanderson’s bank accounts and found no activity since he was listed as missing, and no large withdrawals just before he dropped out of sight. “They also got into his apartment and found little if any information,” he said.

Sanderson’s 1997 BMW convertible was found in the parking lot of a local bank, with the keys left in a night deposit box and a note that explained he was “turning it back over to the bank,” Thurston said. He believed it was the same bank that held a loan on the car.

“The police went to the bank to check on his accounts and they gave them the information about the car,” Thurston said. He also said someone had mailed Sanderson’s work identification card to the Daily Press, but without a note. “Did he mail it back, or did someone mail it for him?” Thurston said. “We do not know.”

Sanderson is unmarried with his only known relative a brother in Washington State, whom Thurston described as estranged.

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