Just a few questions

You know, sometimes we put out a newspaper, and even for those of us in the office, it raises more questions than answers. It’s kind of one of the problems with journalism these days—and, let’s be honest here—journalism since journalism began.

Last week, in our cover story, “The Dispossessed,” we told Walter Smith’s horrifying story of escape from the burning Mizpah Hotel. We know that Smith was only seeing things from one filter, the eyes of a man faced with impending death by fire, so we can only take his testimony with a grain of salt. But since the story ran, people have come out of the woodwork, to thank us for our story, or to add their own little tidbit to the bigger picture.

Now there’s an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agency investigation, and more police investigations than can be counted. Here’s the fact: No investigative group is inclined to help the media, particularly times when there is an open investigation.

That’s OK, we’re just bringing some stuff up now, so no one will be surprised when it’s time to start returning phone calls. Anyway, here are some quick questions for which you, we and the fencepost would like the answers:

First: Is it true that 28-year-enlisted soldier Walter Smith is not receiving his veteran’s retirement benefits because of some federal government snafu? Is there no one out there who could have helped him in three years?

Second: Several people have claimed that it took longer than the three minutes the Reno Fire Department claimed to respond to the fire, even though the fire station is directly across the street to the east from the Mizpah Hotel. What was the true response time and how was it measured? From the first alarm or the first 9-1-1 dispatch?

Walter Smith claimed that police had been to the Mizpah Hotel earlier that day for a disturbance involving Valerie Moore. Valerie Moore was on parole for a murder that occurred some 19 years ago. If it’s true that police interviewed Moore hours before she allegedly placed a mattress over Max Birch’s door and lit it afire, why wasn’t she in police custody?

Walter Smith also said that Valerie Moore had been 86’d from the hotel weeks before. If she’d been kicked out, what were the circumstances of her being removed from the hotel, and why had she been allowed back in?

Smith claimed the fire flew through the hallways so quickly because there were mattresses and box springs being stored in the hallways. That information has been supported by too many witnesses to suspect some kind of mass hypnosis. How long were the mattresses there, and why were they permitted to stay?

The Mizpah Hotel had been undergoing a large renovation over several months. The work was obvious to anyone who drove by. There were new restaurants and businesses in the building.

Were building permits applied for? If none were, did investigators examine the changes that were made to the interior of the building—the evidence of which was obvious from the exterior? If there were investigations or inspections conducted, why were there mattresses allowed to stay stored in the hallways for weeks, particularly in a building that was built before the days when sprinklers were required?

Again, these questions have arisen just because of rumors about the events that horrible Halloween three weeks ago. But answers that must be supplied before those who almost died or who lost everything will feel that justice has been done.