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Relatives ask who's to blame

Woman approached with horrible news while we were on air

From Anderson Cooper
CNN

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world. Anderson Cooper reports on the mine tragedy tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Roby and Cooper
Lynette Roby and her children approach Anderson Cooper with news of the dead miners.

RELATED

DEADLY MINE ACCIDENTS

  • 2001: Explosions at a Jim Walter Resources Inc. mine in Brookwood, Alabama, kill 13 people.
  • 1992: A blast at a Southmountain Coal Co. mine in Norton, Virginia, kills eight.
  • 1989: An explosion at a Pyro Mining Co. mine in Wheatcroft, Kentucky, kills 10.
  • 1986: A coal pile collapses at Consolidation Coal Co.'s mine in Fairview, West Virginia, killing five.
  • 1984: A fire at Emery Mining Corp.'s mine in Orangeville, Utah, kills 27.
  • SAGO, West Virginia (CNN) -- Just hours after news spread that 12 miners had been found alive, something wasn't right.

    A distraught woman, Lynette Roby, came out of the darkness and approached us with her kids while we were on air. It was a little before 3 a.m.

    There was this horror in Roby's eyes and this stunned outrage. She said 12 miners were dead, not alive. She said they had all been terribly misled. She was confused and angry and hurt and scared.

    It was such a terrible moment.

    I had spoken to her and her kids earlier in the night. She lives near the Baptist church where all the families had gathered. She hadn't wanted to come down and be part of the story when it was a tragedy because she didn't have any family members involved.

    When she heard the bell ringing around midnight, she wanted to have her kids become part of history. At that time, reports were that 12 miners were alive.

    But later, she found herself inside the church when she heard the terrible news. She was worried about her and her kids' safety, so she ran out of the church.

    As with everyone we had talked to, you do double- and triple-takes. Everyone we talked to last night and early this morning, we quizzed them. Who did you hear this from? Where were you?

    I asked those questions of her. At first, I wondered if maybe she misheard something. We were very limited at that point. The media had been pushed back from the church. She was the first person to come out and say this. I was quizzing her pretty hard. Then I started quizzing her kids about it, just to make sure they were backing up what she said.

    Not long after she showed up, we had a reporter confirm some of her information. Then it was another 20 minutes before we heard from the mining company.

    When Roby first approached us, we could hear shouting at the church. It was another five or 10 minutes before many more people came out of the church. People were furious. They didn't want to talk to anyone.

    They wanted no media. They were just furious. Some of them rolled down their windows as they drove past. They wanted to know which officials were to blame and why the mining company didn't tell them sooner.

    The head of International Coal Group, the mining company, admits now he wished he had come forward immediately. At 12:30 a.m., they got the word that more miners had died, but held onto it.

    They were caught up in the hope. They thought maybe they were alive. They didn't want to put contrary information out there.

    What the family members are saying now is: Why didn't you at least come forward and say we are getting conflicting reports? Frankly, people would have been disappointed, but they wouldn't have been as horrified or felt as betrayed as they do now.

    For those of us in the media, I'm not sure what we could have done to keep this news from spreading like it did.

    When you have the governor of the state giving you the thumbs-up, a congresswoman talking about this on air, hundreds of relatives and family members jubilant, some of who received calls from mining officials, it's tough to ignore what they're saying.

    There is only so much you can do short of seeing firsthand who is alive and who isn't. We made requests to have access to the rescue operation, but they were denied.

    At some point, you have to rely on officials and the people you come in contact with. We had more reporters on this story and in more places than anyone else -- Randi Kaye, Joe Johns, Sanjay Gupta interviewing the doctor.

    We now know company officials had information they chose to withhold. At the very least, we know there was conflicting information in their hands. They chose to withhold that information.

    The bottom line is that there are 12 families in mourning today. That is what this story is about. It is easy to get caught up in the drama of the moment and the horrible roller coaster of emotions.

    There need to be investigations about what happened in the mine. And there will be.

    But today there are 12 families in this small town feeling great loss and sadness. That is the important story here.

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