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Sharing Shain Gandee’s last story

COLUMN

The Parthenon

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013

Updated: Thursday, April 4, 2013 23:04


Life can change in the flash of a second.

One minute, a 21 year old local kid with his life ahead of him, enjoying his moment of fame as the star of a reality TV show, is greeting fans who have driven miles upon miles to see him, and 24 hours later he is dead.

I experienced this dramatic swing of the pendulum as a reporter for The Parthenon.

Early Saturday morning, I was rushing to get ready to meet Shain Gandee, my favorite character on the show “BUCKWILD.” As a fan of the MTV show based in West Virginia, I was excited about meeting Gandee, who is known on the show as “Gandee Candy.” I tried to remember to keep my best reporting face on as I drove deep into the hills of southern Ohio. Upon arriving at Gandee’s General Store in rural Crown City, Ohio, I was greeted by Shain’s cousin, Ashley, who owned the store, which was celebrating its grand opening. Soon, I was introduced to many members on the extended Gandee family.

I was pleasantly surprised at the family feeling I got just walking around the premises, which was about 20 minutes north of Proctorville, Ohio.

As an avid watcher of the show, I was also excited to meet Gandee’s dad, Dale. I was quickly taken with his good sense of humor and heartwarming laugh.  

Not liking interviews, he referred me to his daughter and Gandee’s older sister, Shalena. I interviewed Shalena over a couple hot dogs, in the company of both mamaws.  

Gandee’s fame was weird for Shalena, who said she found it interesting to see girls freaking out over him. “Shain is Shain,” she said. “He’s been the same way since he was three.”  

She also said Shain’s appearance would be good publicity for the show’s next season and the family-owned Gandee Candy Co.

I was outside taking pictures when I heard the rip-roaring sound that could only be Shain Gandee pulling up in his 1984 Ford Bronco, the same truck he would later die in.  I would be lying if said I was not a little nervous. What can I say? I’m a fan.  In person, Gandee sounded and acted just like he did on the show.  Family greeted him with excitement, and fans waited with anticipation. Gandee put on a Gandee Candy zip-up and sat down at a wooden table under a white tent.  

I was quickly taken aback with how genuine Gandee was. He was just a good old, country boy. I took pictures under the tent and interviewed him between autographs and pictures.  It was his first time in Crown City and he said he was eager to get on the trails he passed by.  As everyone who watches the show knows, Gandee’s favorite pastime is driving his Bronco on backwoods trails in the mountain sport known as “muddin.”

We talked about what he was doing there and joked about how many trucks he would go through next season.  As we spoke, his mamaw cut in line to get her grandson’s autograph on the sleeve of her tan jacket. She made sure he wrote “I love you” and she stole a kiss on the cheek.

Before leaving, I got the chance to act as a fan and get my picture taken with him.

Twenty-four hours later, back home in Proctorville, I sat at my iPad and wrote about what would be the last public event Gandee would ever attend.  Then on Monday, I went to the Marshall University campus and grabbed enough copies of that day’s edition of The Parthenon for the owner of the store, Ashley, and for my own archives.

Around noon, my internship boss sent me a text message with the news that Gandee was missing.  I did not believe him at first, thinking it might be an April Fool’s Day joke. But it was no joke.

Within an hour, authorities confirmed Gandee, his uncle and a friend had been found dead in rural Kanawha County, in the very same Bronco he had triumphantly ridden Saturday into Crown City.

During the next few hours, as text messages about Gandee flooded my iPhone, I gathered everything I had from that last day in Crown City and listened again to Gandee’s last interview.

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