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Accused Child Killer's Family Apologizes to Blacks : Race relations: Susan Smith's brother says that his sister's false claim that an African American man kidnaped her sons was a 'terrible misfortune.'

November 09, 1994|ERIC HARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNION, S.C. — The family of accused child killer Susan Smith apologized Tuesday to African Americans for her false claim that a black man kidnaped her two sons.

Smith's brother, Scott Vaughn, called the racial implication of her allegation a "terrible misfortune" and said the family found it disturbing that "anyone would think that this was ever a racial issue."

Smith confessed last week to drowning her children while in a state of depression that nearly caused her to take her own life. A number of black men were picked up for questioning during the nine days that Smith carried out her deception.

Vaughn, in his comments, thanked his black friends who he said have stood by him during the ordeal and added, "Had there been a white man, a purple man, a blue man on that corner that night, that would have been the description that Susan used."

Many African Americans were upset that her allegations had smeared black men, and some townspeople criticized law enforcement officials for taking the claim seriously.

Even so, after Smith family members finished their apology and other comments in an afternoon press conference at the Union County Courthouse, Sheriff Howard Wells told reporters: "I have no apology to make in any decision or any action I took."

"The community at large has never seen this as a racial issue," he said later, away from the cameras. "There have been some individuals, but they were not representative of the community."

Indeed, while some African Americans have described the questioning of black suspects as harassment and said Wells should apologize, many others have praised him for the way in which he handled the case.

From the time 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander Smith were reported missing, Wells said, law enforcement officials focused their efforts on finding them. Arresting the alleged kidnaper was not a priority, he said.

Wells called the family's apology "heartfelt," and said it would "go a long way toward easing the tension and helping us get back to a state of normal function in this county."

Smith's husband, David, was scheduled to speak Tuesday about the murders and his wife's arrest, but was unable to appear because he is still in too much pain, said his father, Charles David Smith.

Before breaking down in tears and being led away by a relative, the elder Smith said, "David's recovering from this tragedy in a very painful way. It's going to haunt him for the rest of his life."

He thanked the public for its overwhelming support expressed by cards, letters and flowers sent from around the nation and from some foreign countries.

Vaughn also expressed his appreciation and said, "I know that many of the people out there feel betrayed, just as my family and David's family feel betrayed. But I want you all to know that me and my family and David's family, we really needed all that you've done. We needed your prayers, and we still need your prayers."

Afterward, one African American resident of Union said no apology was necessary from the family. "It makes me feel good that they apologized, but for me personally it wasn't needed," said Hester Booker. "It's something that happened. Now it's time to try to move on."

Blue and white ribbons in memory of the boys still dot the town. A sign in front of the elementary school that sits at the intersection where Smith had claimed the black gunman commandeered the car says: "God Bless Michael and Alex."

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