His story influenced countless young scientists and his inventions changed life as we know it. The attempt on his life earlier this year shocked billions, but his recovery after the loss of his family and co-workers was an inspiration. Eric Oeming had returned home and was going back to work soon. Lahaina had survived the turmoil and everything was going back to normal. At least that’s what everyone had thought. Now, many are speculating that Oeming’s injuries are worse than first reported and a company lockdown on photographers and journalists is not doing anything to quash the rumors.
The Veilcorp bombing on May 4th dominated the news and Ben Drakes’ confession to the crime 3 days later had many wondering if more attacks were on the way. During this time of worry, Eric Oeming’s struggle to survive his traumatic brain injury became a riveting story for many. His discharge from the hospital less than a month later gave many hope, especially here on the island. He returned to his home for rehab, and the public waited for a glimpse at how his recovery was going or a statement from the man himself. Unfortunately, that never came. When it was announced that he would be returning to the Lahaina lab on September 27, his late daughter’s birthday, many assumed we would finally get a glimpse of the famous scientists. Instead, the company is now fighting lawsuits about travel restrictions and rumors about its founder.
A week before Oeming’s return to work, media personnel planning on veiling to Lahaina found their tickets cancelled. The company claimed it was due to security concerns releasing a statement which read in part: “Due to the high profile nature of Dr. Oeming’s return to duties at our Lahaina facility, we are implementing a travel freeze during a 7 day block around the 27th of September. We apologize for any inconvenience this freeze may cause, and thank you in advance for your understanding.”
The late notice left little time to make other arrangements and many found it impossible to be on the island for his public return. The few photographers and media outlets able to cover the event found themselves locked out too. Veilcorp banned journalists on any of the company’s properties and refused to allow pictures to be taken. Local law enforcement were accused of harassing the media as well. A well known photographer was jailed for causing a public disturbance after she refused to stop taking pictures of Oeming’s estate.
No media was allowed on site yesterday when Oeming was said to have returned to work. The company did release a statement that his research had renewed; but it was a second statement yesterday that grabbed the headlines. The company had decided to permanently ban all journalists and photographers from veil travel to Lahaina. In addition they claimed they had the right to examine and review any and all devices brought by visitors in order to, “curb the persistent and dogged attempts of some to invade Dr. Oeming’s privacy during this important time in his recovery.”
Rich Palakiko of the Hawaiian Press Club is one of many who have filed suit this morning against the company over the ban and the new policy.
“Veil travel is so ubiquitous now that we argue it has become functionally impossible to get to some locations any other way. Veilcorp shouldn’t have the right to decide who gets to travel and who doesn’t. As long as people aren’t committing a crime they should be allowed to freely move about. It is important for people to be informed. Aside from just basic public interest, Veilcorp shareholders have a right to know about Eric Oeming’s status. To say that his health and state of mind has no bearing on the company is ridiculous. In addition, we believe that Veilcorp has no right to go through vacation photos, play lists, or ceremplant files looking for anything the company doesn’t like. Veilcorp is big but it’s not the government and doesn’t get to make the rules. We still have a free press in this country and our citizens have a right to privacy despite what the company thinks.”
Veilcorp spokesperson and acting COO Lisa Hunt agrees with one of Palakiko’s points saying,
“Rich is right. Veilcorp is not the government. As such we have no obligation to allow anything or anybody to use our technology. The media is free to travel by plane, boat, or swim as they wish. We are not restricting them from Lahaina, we’re just keeping them from veiling here. If you don’t want to allow a screener to look through your pictures, we encourage you to not use our service. This was not a decision that we made lightly. It has became apparent that certain media organizations had trouble respecting boundaries and agreements. Less than a year ago Eric Oeming lived through a vicious attack that the media was happy to capitalize on and, some say, catalyze in the first place. We intend on doing everything we can to facilitate and protect his continued recovery. This case will be quickly laughed out of court.”
Experts say that as distasteful as it may seem to some, Hunt is probably right. The Veilcorp ban will likely stand, but it has only added fuel to the fire. It has been almost 5 months since Oeming has made a public appearance. Rumors that he’s lost some of his mental faculties and that he is suffering from a deep depression continue to make the headlines. Unless Dr. Oeming gives an interview soon, these rumors are likely to grow whether or not the travel ban is upheld.