Mayor Richard Alcombright, at right at the scene of the crime on Wednesday, said he's been limited in giving out information so as not to jeopardize the investigation.
Update at 11:10 a.m., Sept. 20, 2013: Police are confirming that Depaoli's 2005 Ford Taurus was located in Bennington, Vt. According to the district attorney's office:
"The vehicle was seized Thursday night and was brought back to Berkshire County. Investigators and Crime Scene Techs will be processing the car for possible evidence in connection with the death of Depaoli."
Posted at 7:59 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2013: WTEN & WNYT are reporting Bennington (Vt.) Police and Berkshire County deputies have arrested someone wanted for questioning in the homicide of Ellen Depaoli and have located her car.
The spokesman for the DA's office told us shortly before 7 p.m. he only knew someone had been arrested as a fugitive from justice on a Massachusetts probation violation. Minutes before, District Attorney David Capeless said the investigation was still open.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — An autopsy has confirmed that the death of 84-year-old Ellen Depaoli was a homicide, but officials are witholding the circumstances of her death. Her death is being described as "an isolated incident."
Depaoli's body was found Tuesday night at her home and taken to the chief medical examiner's office in Boston. The autopsy was performed Thursday by Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Anna McDonald.
"This is a very active, ongoing police investigation. Anytime one or our citizens, particularly one of our seniors, is killed, there is cause for concern along with grief," said District Attorney David Capeless in a statement. "However, based upon the information that investigators have developed, we consider this to be an isolated incident and North Adams residents should not be unduly alarmed."
A number of North Adams residents, however, have been alarmed by the slow pace of information being dissiminated to the community and have made their frustration known on Mayor Richard Alcombright's Facebook page and other social media.
A woman who lives on Walker Street wondered on Wednesday why she got a CodeRed message through the city's alert system about the annual downtown block party but not about a slaying just down the street from her home. Others speculated on why they were told there was no "imminent" danger, yet schools in the city initiated security procedures.
"If there is not concern why were the schools locked down. Walker Street has a lot of elderly people and they were not assured very early on in this," wrote one resident on the mayor's wall. "What don't they understand about social media, and immediate alerts????" wrote one of our readers.
Alcombright said he understood the frustrations but was limited in what he could say because of the ongoing investigation.
"I think that folks need to know that I, like all others in a situation like this, follow a chain of command in these situations and when told by the DA and State Police to not communicate ... then I do not communicate," he said in response to questions about the communications with the public.
The CodeRed system — which can be used to send recorded messages or texts to residents who sign up for the free service — was not used because state police and the district attorney's office had instructed him not to release any information.
"To release what I knew would have certainly compromised the work that they were doing which is first and foremost," he wrote. "To release something vague would have, in my opinion, only further fueled the rumor mill and created additional angst."
Alcombright said he has been informed as necessary on the investigation but is not privy to all the details. He had also met with Depaoli's family on Wednesday. The investigation falls under the jurisdiction of public safety officials, he said, describing himself as "part of a team."
"We have to protect the integrity of these processes so we can assure a result," he said Thursday evening. "If I thought for one minute that anyone was in danger, our schools were in danger, I would communicate that in a heartbeat."
The mayor said his focus had been getting assurances in early morning hours Wednesday that it would be safe to send children to school, which was done with some security restrictions. The "lockout" kept the children inside and any visitors outside.
"Public Safety is very important to me and my administration and if for one moment I thought there were any immediate threats out there — you, the entire media, CodeRed, my FB and whatever would have known," he wrote.
When a Facebook post or tweet can reach hundreds, if not thousands, instantly, the ability to keep information — not to mention speculation — at a minimum is difficult to say the least. Especially when there are helicopters overhead and an unknown person or persons possibly on the run (or not).
Pressed Thursday evening about the lack of information being released, Capeless would only respond "it's an open investigation."
The mayor's posts on Facebook have tried to address some of the frustration, and his page has been used to post press releases directly from the district attorney's office. However, Alcombright does plan to review the communications process with his public safety officials and the district attorney's office.
"This was the first 'go around' with this sort of thing for me and I played it completely by the DA's book," he said. "But I will review a procedure for better communication."
More importantly, the mayor said, "we have to let the authorities do what they do to catch the bad guys.
"We owe it to Mrs. Depaoli, we owe it to her family."
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