The Feather Publishing newsroom was busy Sunday, Aug. 20. That’s the day that the Toll and Squirrel fires broke out in quick succession prompting the evacuation of Oakland Camp. Staff writer Victoria Metcalf was on scene photographing firefighters as they battled the blaze, and editor Debra Moore was in the office working with the Forest Service and the sheriff to post the latest information on the newspapers’ website, plumasnews.com.
But always on and in the background was the crackling of the scanner. There was the usual chatter pertaining to which fire engines and crews were arriving and where they were being deployed, but then these words broke through: “Suspect, white Toyota …” Then more fire chatter as more resources arrived on scene. And then again, “Suspect, white Toyota.” Was it related? Was this the arson suspect that law enforcement had been seeking or was it a suspect in an unrelated event?
A quick call to Sheriff Greg Hagwood confirmed that it was indeed an arson suspect and he was in custody. American Valley could breath a collective sigh of relief — or could they? And that’s the debate that has been raging on social media ever since Jeffery Cameron Schmid’s arrest was made public.
This is an ongoing investigation and all involved are being tightlipped; they have to be. They don’t want to do or say anything that would compromise the case. But Schmid wouldn’t have been arrested unless the authorities were convinced that they had the right man. U.S. Forest Service investigators and local investigators from the Sheriff’s Office have been carefully gathering and processing evidence for weeks. It’s been a painstaking process.
Ultimately it was a sheriff’s investigator’s astute eye that pointed toward Schmid. The fact that he was a local man — a Quincy High graduate who worked at the mill and who has family here — no doubt weighed heavily on investigators, and we are sure that it made law enforcement hyper vigilant in waiting to make the arrest only when they were absolutely sure. Their efforts and the trail of evidence will be made public as this case goes through the legal process — whether it’s here in Quincy in Plumas County Superior Court or more likely in federal court.
Yes, as many on social media are posting, Schmid is innocent until proven guilty. He will have his day in court and evidence will be presented and a verdict will be rendered. Until that happens let’s do our best to be respectful of Schimd’s family and friends, and of law enforcement personnel who had a difficult job to do and did it well. Quincy and American Valley residents have endured a month of hell, as one fire after another broke out throughout August. While some were quickly extinguished, others forced evacuations and threatened lives and structures. During that time, the community pulled together, united against the common enemy — fire; now is not the time to become divisive.