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Bergdahl Homecoming Party Canceled, As Joy Turns To Worry


When the prisoner exchange that would free Bowe Bergdahl was first announced, people in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho were thrilled. The Idaho Mountain Express, the town's newspaper, put it this way, people erupted with joy and relief. The editorial with those words went on to describe how that tone quickly shifted as questions emerged from the deal behind the release and why Bergdahl had left his platoon in the first place. And now the town of Hailey has officially canceled a celebration of Bergdahl's homecoming. Jeff Gunter is police chief of the Hailey Police Department. Jeff Gunter, welcome to the program.

JEFF GUNTER: Thank you.

CORNISH: For many years - many years, this community has had ribbons up and has been, obviously, anxious about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's return. What has it been like to have this backlash to it and this controversy instead?

GUNTER: Saturday, when the news broke that he was released, it was euphoric around here. Everybody was going around honking their horns and, you know, putting up - changing their signs to bring back Bowe - to Bowe's back, Bowe's been freed. And everybody's happy. Then the - all this other news, later on, come out. And, you know, nationally, we've been getting bombarded with the e-mails.

CORNISH: Now, the organizers of the event that was to be titled, "Bowe Is Back" - when they released the information that they were going to cancel the event, they cited public safety concerns. Can you talk about what those concerns were?

GUNTER: The media characterized it as a hero's welcome event, and that wasn't the intent. It was a welcome back event for the Bergdahls and Bowe. And, you know, yesterday, about noon, the event organizers came into my office and said, this event is growing beyond what we can control. We need to cancel the event. And we had planned on approximately 4,500 people showing up. And we estimated those numbers could easily double, if not triple. And our venue wasn't big enough to hold that many people, you know? And then there's other costs associated with security and extra bathrooms - stuff like that. So it just grew to a capacity of more than we can handle. So we just - we agreed with canceling the event.

CORNISH: What has this been like for you personally?

GUNTER: I've known the Bergdahls. They've been a part of my community - big part of my life. And, you know, it's been - it's been hard to deal with. I mean, we've been on this roller coaster - emotional roller coaster - since he went missing. And then there's some news, no news, then maybe not so good news. And then, all of a sudden, it's a big high on Saturday when he's been released. And, you know, it's just kind of a downer with all of the negativity nationwide without any due process taken place yet.

CORNISH: And at this point, what do you see as your role - as a friend of the family and as police chief?

GUNTER: As police chief, my role is to maintain public safety no matter what may occur down the road. As a friend, I'm still a supporter of Bob and Jani and Bowe. You know, I'm there for them if they need me.

CORNISH: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

GUNTER: You bet.

CORNISH: Jeff Gunter is the police chief in Hailey, Idaho, the hometown of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.