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Team earns national award for news in Brittany Smith case [The Roanoke Times, Va.]
[June 11, 2011]

Team earns national award for news in Brittany Smith case [The Roanoke Times, Va.]

(Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 11--The public information team that kept the country abreast of breaking news in the Brittany Smith abduction case has won a national award for its work.

The Public Relations Society of America presented the Roanoke County public information office its highest honor -- the Silver Anvil Award -- for its work in keeping the public aware and involved in safely locating Brittany.

Brittany became the object of a national Amber Alert campaign once law enforcement authorities discovered she was missing after her mother's body was found at the family home Dec. 6.

A co-worker discovered Tina Smith's body two days after Smith failed to show up for work.

Jeffrey Scott Easley, now 33, who had been living with the family since October, was presumed to have abducted the then-12-year-old Brittany.

The Amber Alert was issued immediately, and police and Brittany Smith's family appealed through the news media for information about her. Police then discovered a surveillance video from the Salem Walmart that showed Brittany and Easley leaving the store at 8:35 p.m. Dec. 3, which they said they believed was after Tina Smith's slaying.

The hunt ended Dec. 10 when a San Francisco store clerk who had seen a wanted poster recognized Easley and Brittany, who were panhandling outside a grocery store.

Teresa Hamilton Hall, Roanoke County's public information director, was assigned to help guide the police department's public relations effort. She was joined by colleague Gray Craig, the county's Web content manager, and Penny Lloyd, formerly of the public information office, as well as Corrine Geller with the Virginia State Police in a round-the-clock effort to try to find the missing child.

Their award, one of several intended to recognize best public relations practices in a number of areas, was in the category of "Crisis Communications, Government." The county's entry was titled "Finding Brittany: How Training and Experience Influenced the Search for an Abducted Child." Hall, on her way home from accepting the award with Craig in New York, emailed Friday that "while we don't know why our submission was chosen, we suspect it was for the speed in which we gained national media attention and our use of social media." Roanoke County police Lt. Chuck Mason, head of criminal investigations, said Friday, "I don't think there's any question that the media strategy is the element of the investigation most responsible for locating Easley and Brittany Smith as fast as that was done." Just last month, the county public information office was awarded a Commonwealth Award from the Richmond Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

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