Rumors slow probe of flag desecration

Staff writers

What some feared could turn into a violent confrontation has been canceled, but public anger churned by on online campaign over flag desecration at a Peabody cemetery is delaying investigation of the case, Sheriff Rob Craft said Monday.

Craft told the county commission that citizens his officers have been interviewing since the desecration Memorial Day weekend at Prairie Lawn Cemetery have become uncooperative because of fear of public anger generated by the online campaign.

Although local media have been prudent in their reporting, Craft said, several out-of-county media outlets spread the Internet rumors without ever contacting the sheriff’s office to check on their veracity.

Commission Chairman Randy Dallke said law enforcement should have been proactive in dispelling rumors.

However, Craft said that because the investigation is ongoing, what information can be made public is severely limited, and he doesn’t want to spend more time discussing the investigation than working on it.

Last week, Craft played a significant role in canceling a protest, scheduled for today, by convincing a National Guard sergeant who had started an e-mail campaign urging the protest that he had been misinformed.

Sgt. Kevin Linscheid of Peabody, a trucker who has served in the Balkans and Iraq, heard about the desecration, read about it and the investigation in the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, and obtained additional information from “some people — I don’t remember now who they were,” he said.

The stories left him furious. He was particularly concerned with a rumor, which has turned out to be false, that police would not charge those involved even though they knew who they were.

“I was so angry,” he said. “I really wasn’t clear-headed. I love the flag and my country and I was furious that something like this would take place here at a time to honor soldiers. I probably should have done more checking, but I was in a state of outrage.”

Linscheid, who has lived in Peabody for several years, decided to encourage people to come to Peabody to show the community and local youngsters how people from all over and all walks of life felt about vandalizing the American flag.

He created an e-mail June 7 to rouse patriotic ire and spread the word about the rally nationwide.

Soon, people from all over the country were familiar with the flag desecration, which was mentioned in inflamed messages on numerous postings.

The Gazette-Bulletin received numerous e-mails seeking confirmation of this story — from people in Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Iowa, as well as many Kansas communities.

Linscheid had heard, and reported in his e-mails, that the vandals had destroyed “nine to 20 flags.” The actual number of flags involved was nine. Three of them were shredded. The rest were torn down.

Linscheid also was told, and reported, that the vandals had not just torn the flags but also had urinated on them. This was completely false, Craft said.

Linscheid also had heard and reported that the perpetrators were teenagers, about 12 of them, all from “prominent families,” and that “the next day they ran all around town and bragged about what they had done.”

Much of this proved to be false, too. Sheriff’s deputies have been attempting to identify the vandals since the incident. Craft said last week that he expected to make his report to the county attorney soon. Only then could charges be filed.

Linscheid’s e-mails targeted Peabody officials for inaction on the matter, but the cemetery is located outside the city limits, so Marion County Sheriff’s Department has been handling the investigation. By June 13, some “inconsistencies” had been pointed out to Linscheid. He e-mailed his contacts with retractions, asking them to pass them along as they had the original e-mail. However, his second e-mail has been slow to circulate.

Kansas American Legion Riders issued a statement to chapters across the state that “investigation … has revealed that this gathering is not in the best interest of the American Legion and/or the ALR. It has been recommended that the ALR not attend any such gathering in Peabody.”

“Kevin and I talked at length,” Craft said, on June 16. “Of course, I couldn’t reveal any information about the investigation, but I did assure him that we are not about to give up on it. The Marion County Sheriff’s Department has a commitment to the investigation.

“I told him I was unhappy about the flags, too. I’m a vet, and I hate to see things like that happen to the flag of our country.

“I also went over the untrue parts of his accusations and tried to explain how that gave Peabody and Marion County a black eye. Trying to undo the story now that it is all over the Internet is like dumping a pillow-full of feathers off a mountain. No matter how long or hard you try, you will never get them all back.”

Linscheid contacted Craft again Thursday morning and said he was considering calling off the rally. He said he became wary of some of the Internet comments from people who were planning to attend. He told Craft he didn’t want any violence but wasn’t sure it could be contained.

Craft and Linscheid met at Santa Fe Park in Peabody for an interview with a Wichita television reporter, which ran as the lead story on the station’s 10 p.m. newscast Thursday but neglected to mention that facts had been misreported.

A Wichita newspaper also covered the developments in the lead story of its Friday editions; it did report the inconsistencies in the original e-mails.

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