2012 audit doesn’t help Heitman family separate fact from rumor in suicide case


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Three years after Alex Heitman’s reported suicide in Cocke County, his parents still can’t separate facts about the case from all the rumors and innuendos swirling around Oak Ridge, where he lived.

By any reasonable measure, Don and Annette Heitman already should have had most of their questions answered. This is especially true considering that last month Alex’s employer, the Oak Ridge School District, released a formerly sealed audit that portrayed him as someone who stole school money for his graduate school expenses. Alex Heitman was the school system’s director of business services.

But the audit’s findings weren’t conclusive enough to explain why Alex Heitman, who had once uncovered other massive theft from the school district a few months prior, would want to kill himself, the Heitmans said.

Don and Annette Heitman

“We don’t know who to believe down there,” said Don Heitman, who lives in Wisconsin with his wife.

“We’ve both been lied to so much. We don’t know if that is just the information that school officials supplied the audit company or if they actually went digging and found the records or checks or whatever to back everything up.”

Their skepticism about anything they hear is understandable.

The Heitmans ask the most obvious question first — why did the school system keep this audit under lock and key for more than two years despite the Heitmans’ public pleas for information?

Then there are the stories they hear through word of mouth and on Facebook, where people say they have new, unconfirmed information that might shed light on the case.

The Heitmans claim that Oak Ridge authorities have denied things about the case that later proved false.

And, of course, there is Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi, who told Tennessee Watchdog things about Alex Heitman that an open records request directly contradicted.

The Heitmans suspect school system officials finally released the 2012 audit about their son to deflect negative publicity they were possibly receiving from Tennessee Watchdog and the British Daily Mail.

“My thought is if Alex did something wrong, with as much publicity as school is now getting, you would have thought they’d have hung that out right away,” Don Heitman said.

“‘Hey, your kid did this. That’s why this happened.’ If he’d have done something terribly wrong then they would have told us just to cover their ass, and we would have dropped it.”

Annette Heitman, meanwhile, said her son wasn’t the reckless type.

MYSTERY: The death of Alex Heitman in Tennessee was quickly ruled a suicide.

“If you were deliberately doing something for personal gain then wouldn’t you be more careful?” she asked.

“In his position, Alex knew better than anybody there what the risks would be.”

Oak Ridge School Superintendent Bruce Borchers did not immediately return two of Tennessee Watchdog’s requests for comment Tuesday.

Tennessee Comptroller spokesman Blake Fontenay, whose office is responsible for all state audits, previously said the audit was sealed because it was an investigative working paper.

But can Fontenay shed more light on what that means and who has the power to decide what audits are and aren’t secret?

Fontenay told Tennessee Watchdog Tuesday that he was still researching the matter.

The Heitmans said school system officials had agreed to help Alex Heitman with his graduate school expenses, although they had no information about any formal contract attesting to that.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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