McCurtain County reporter: 'They're not going to silence me'
By ERIN CHRISTY
IDABEL, Okla. (KJRH) — The Oklahoma reporter who exposed alleged racist comments by McCurtain County officials is speaking out for the first time.
Chris Willingham writes for the McCurtain Gazette-News. After publishing 43 articles alleging potential corruption and mishandling of evidence within the McCurtain County Sheriff's Office — including the now-infamous audio recording of county officials discussing lynching and murder — the Gazette-News is finally online to showcase them all.
"My Dad is pretty old-school," Wilingham said, referring to newspaper publisher Bruce Willingham. "He likes people to hold the paper in their hands and read it."
The Willinghams began fearing for their lives ahead of the release of the explosive audio recordings. Bruce Willingham wrote an editorial titled, "A good, long run."
"This seemed very real; it didn't feel like a joke; it wasn't a one-off comment of 'Let's go kill that guy,'" Chris Willingham said. "This was planning. It seemed to be planning."
The public outside of McCurtain County can now articles that include allegations of tainted homicide evidence, questionable promotions, and a lack of investigating cases, like the mysterious death of Alyssa Walker-Donaldson in Hochatown.
"There was 150 people assembled in Hochatown saying, 'We're here. We're ready to go search. Where do we go look?' And they have no figurehead to lead them," Chris Willingham said. "You would think the sheriff or at least a deputy would be there to say, 'Let's start here,' and they didn't have that."
According to the article, a group of volunteer citizens discovered her body submerged in a lake.
"Throughout my investigation, I have found a number of things that oftentimes i just felt like I was screaming into the wind with these articles, and I would just go, 'Here's another one; I hope someone will listen,'" Chris Willingham said, adding is is grateful for support from the Idabel Police Department to feel safe.
He plans to just keep doing his job.
"They've tried to intimidate me and my family and retaliate against us; they've spread horrible lies about me," Willingham said. "They can keep doing that. They can do whatever they want, but they're not going to silence me."