published Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Gordon Lee High School secretary accused of stealing money given in honor of student killed

A Gordon Lee Memorial High School secretary is being accused of stealing some of the money given in honor of a student killed last year in a car accident.

Lorrie Edwards, 42, was charged with theft by taking following an extensive police investigation after money disappeared from a school safe, Chickamauga police Chief Micheal Haney said.

Of the $2,010 stolen, $1,200 was for a scholarship fund in honor of Jordan Queen, officials said.

Queen, a 17-year-old junior, crashed his truck on Nov. 9 when he was driving home from wrestling practice. After his death, students and faculty members sold shirts to raise money for the memorial fund that will be awarded to a student as a scholarship.

"Everyone has been devastated by his loss and the loss of this money," Chickamauga City Schools Superintendent Melody Day said.

Edwards said Wednesday she is being falsely accused but declined to comment further.

"I'm just being accused of something I haven't done," she said.

Edwards resigned during the police investigation, Day said. She had worked for the school system for three years in various jobs before becoming the secretary.

"She was a very good employee," Day said.

Two other employees resigned around the same time, Haney said, but he wouldn't speculate on why they quit.

Queen's mother, Suzanne, said she has known Edwards for years. She said she can't understand why anyone would steal from the memorial fund for her son.

"It's one thing to steal from the living," Suzanne Queen said in an email, "but to take money that has been designated to a dead child's memorial fund is the lowest."

Since the theft was discovered, students have collected more money to reimburse the fund, Day said.

High school Principal Clay Crowder called Chickamauga police in November to report money missing from a safe that was in a closet in the front office, an incident report shows.

On Nov. 15, the bookkeeper had placed bank bags containing checks and cash in the safe and locked it, the report states. The principal was in the room when the safe was locked, and he then locked the door leading to the waiting area.

The bookkeeper unlocked the safe at 6 a.m. Nov. 16 to remove her items, the report states. Between 6 and 8 a.m., a teacher asked Edwards to retrieve his money bag from the safe and she brought it to him, the report states.

When the teacher returned to his classroom, he noticed the money bag contained only checks, no cash, the report shows. The teacher asked the bookkeeper if she had removed $1,060 in cash, but the bookkeeper said she hadn't made any deposits to the bank, according to the report.

Employees found that cash had been taken from four more bags, for a total of $2,010.

Only four people had a key to the safe: Crowder, the assistant principal, the bookkeeper and Edwards, the report states. Edwards was the only one of the four who didn't have a key to the door into the waiting area, according to the report.

Warrants were taken out against Edwards on Jan. 6, Haney said. She turned herself in four days later.

Crowder didn't return calls seeking comment.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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