By: Joe Strupp
Missing reporter Ward L. Sanderson of the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. contacted a longtime friend via e-mail today to let her know he was all right and had left town because he had quit his job. He contended that he did not know his departure had sparked national news coverage, and promised to contact his paper.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” the e-mail to Chantel Pemberton of Panama City, Fla. stated in part.
At mid-afternoon, Detective R.T. Lee of Newport News police told E&P that Sanderson, who had been missing for two weeks, had just called the Daily Press and said he was in Richmond and would not be returning to work. “He left a voice message,” he said.
Later, Sanderson responded to an e-mail from E&P: “I didn’t know I was ‘missing’ until today, when I read it in my e-mail. I just moved to Richmond this month.” He said the “job and area [Newport News] did not work out for me.
“I didn’t formally resign but I was certain my bosses knew I was leaving. I contacted them immediately today upon hearing about the story.” He said that during the past two weeks he “even got a lift from a policeman when I couldn’t find a correct street, and I told them my name and where I was going. I’ve also told some friends I had moved.
“I’m sorry for any trouble this has caused; it was certainly not intentional. I apologize to any friends who were concerned and authorities whose time was spent on this.”
Sanderson, 35, has been missing since May 31, when he last showed up for work at the paper, where he covers military affairs. Editors filed a missing person’s report on him June 3 and published a story about his disappearance Tuesday.
Pemberton, who provided the e-mail to E&P, said she has known Sanderson, whom she described as a former boyfriend, since the two were in their late teens in Spokane, Wash. She said she heard about his disappearance from a Virginia-area friend and e-mailed Sanderson Tuesday night.
She received a response this morning, to which she replied with questions about why Sanderson had not come forward following all of the attention he had gotten. “I didn’t know I was in the news until today. I’ll call the newspaper and sort this whole thing out,” his reply to Pemberton said in part.
Pemberton said she had received no further e-mails from Sanderson and had no idea from where he had been e-mailing. An e-mail sent to the same address by E&P has not received a response.
“I have only talked to him every once in a while” in the past few years, Pemberton told E&P. “I’m confused as heck. He was the poster child for responsibility. It is really weird to me that he would do this.”
Editor Ernie Gates of the Daily Press could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. In his e-mails, Sanderson referred to “ethical issues. ”
Asked about this aspect, Detective Lee said managers at the newspaper had told him about “some dispute over policies about weekend rotation, but I don’t know anything more about it. Whatever reasons he chose to leave are between him and the Daily Press.”
The original missing person story, which was covered by E&P and picked up by Associated Press and several other Virginia papers, apparently sparked action Tuesday, with the paper receiving two significant tips. One came from a convenience store clerk outside of Richmond, about 75 miles from Newport News, who said she encountered Sanderson at 4:30 a.m. last Wednesday.
The other had him sighted on Monday, June 6 at a real estate office in Williamsburg.
Since Sanderson’s disappearance, speculation about why he dropped out of sight has grown. He sparked more concern when police found his car parked at a local bank, with the keys dropped in a night deposit box, along with a note saying he did not need the car anymore.
Someone, perhaps Sanderson himself, also mailed his Daily Press employee identification card back to the paper, with no explanation. Gates has said Sanderson showed no signs of troubled behavior.