CHARLESTON, W. Va. (CN) - A mother whose four children were killed in a house fire claims West Virginia's largest newspaper defamed her by reporting that she had left the children home alone with a space heater while she went out to a club.
In fact, Linda Bohanna says in her lawsuit against the Daily Gazette Co., she was at home and was badly burned trying to rescue her children.
In her complaint in Kanawha County Court, Bohanna claims The Charleston Gazette defamed her in a story headlined "I Want Family to Mean Something."
The April 18, 2011 story was about Junora Walton, "a purported owner and operator of Walton & Breckenridge Chapel of Faith Funeral Home," of Charleston, according to the complaint.
Bohanna claims the Gazette defamed her in this excerpt from the story: "'Less than a month after she [Ms. Walton] started [in the funeral home business], four young children were burned to death in a fire. Their mother had left them alone in the house with a space heater while she went out with friends to a club.'
"The above-referenced article further reported that the subject of the newspaper article, Junora Walton, also claimed, 'The mother, who Walton said was being shunned by the community for leaving her children alone to go clubbing, found support in Walton. 'Did I want to smack her around? You bet I did. But I didn't. I told her "I'm not supposed to judge you." And I was there for her. Compassionate." (Brackets as in complaint.)
Bohanna claims the article referred to her, and her four children who were burned to death in September 1984.
"Contrary to the referenced statement in the April 18, 2011 newspaper article ... Linda Bohanna was home at the time of the fire, and she was badly injured in the course of trying to rescue her children," the complaint states. "This fact was known, or should have been known, to the defendant Daily Gazette Co., as the same true facts were published in the defendant's newspaper at the time of the tragedy."
Bohanna claims the article expose her to "hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because the referenced statements charge the plaintiff Linda Bohanna with neglect and child endangerment resulting in the children's deaths."
The Charleston Gazette's circulation is about 40,000 daily and 68,000 on Sunday.
Bohanna seeks punitive damages for defamation, outrage and emotional distress. She says she expects to incur medical expenses as well, from the Gazette's "extreme and outrageous conduct."
She is represented by Kevin Burgess, with Hamilton, Burgess, Young & Pollard, of Fayetteville, W.Va.