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Scared or prepared? Shootings put schools on edge

Scott Vanover doesn’t need any reminders of the potential for school violence.

His office at DeKalb High School, a building nestled among cornfields and rural routes in Buchanan County, is located just across the hall from a classroom where two students, 12-year-old Nathan Faris and 13-year-old Timothy Perrin, died in a shooting three decades ago.

At the time, the violent death of two students in a quiet rural school garnered little national attention. It was 12 years before the Columbine massacre, but today things are different, with active-shooter training becoming a common feature. In some parts of the country, parents are even shopping for bulletproof backpacks.

Vanover, a Buchanan County Sheriff’s deputy and resource officer at the DeKalb school, knows some students and faculty may be on edge after two deadly shootings last weekend, though neither occurred in a school setting. He tries to strike a balance between being prepared and remaining calm.

“We’re not trying to scare anybody,” he said. “We want people to be aware of their surroundings. We want them to be prepared if something happens, so it’s second nature.

“It’s the unprepared people who suffer in these types of events,” he added.

Buchanan County assigns at least one resource officer to all of the schools outside the city limits, as well as Bessie Ellison Elementary in the St. Joseph School District. At most of those schools, active-shooter training is as common a feature as curriculum review and room decorations in the week leading up to the first day of class.

The preferred option is always to run to safety, but law enforcement instructs teachers how to hide and barricade a room if necessary and how to fight off an attacker as an absolute last resort.

“We want them to be mentally prepared to survive that situation and use whatever means it takes,” Vanover said.

Schools are looking at other safety measures, in addition to training. The St. Joseph School District expects to have two additional school resource officers in place at the start of 2020, as well as ongoing upgrades to building entrances and surveillance systems. All classrooms are in the process of getting phone access.

In some cases, parents are taking safety measures into their own hands.

Following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, some stores have reported increased demand for bulletproof backpacks, which are meant to be used as a shield in the event of an attack. The backpacks cost as much as $200, a steep price when considering a student might be better off running for the exit rather than stopping and looking for a backpack.

“You know, I’ve seen instances where specialty stores are selling items such as backpacks, jackets, binders,” Vanover said. “I think most of that stuff is real cost-prohibitive at this point. I think as time goes on you’ll see prices for that type of item decline.”

The bulletproof backpacks are available online and in some Kansas City stores.

Vanover said he wouldn’t rule out that type of technology in the future as parents and schools become more safety-conscious. A lot has changed, he said, in the days since he became a school resource officer.

He had first worked for the St. Joseph Police Department and amassed years of SWAT team and tactical training experience. He didn’t think it was a good fit for the schools.

“I came to find out that’s the kind of people they want in this position,” he said.

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Persistence helps Civil War soldier get headstone

Paris Richey lived the last 40 years of his life in St. Joseph. He belonged to the Custer Post of a fraternal organization called the Grand Army of the Republic.

His eligibility for this group came from his service in the Civil War, a private in the 4th Iowa Cavalry.

Despite the three years of sacrifice for the Union cause, his grave in Mt. Auburn Cemetery has since 1919 been a simple brick that notes his name and date of death.

A relative, along with others in St. Joseph, want to do something about that.

Debbie Cline of St. Joseph, the great-granddaughter of Richey, had known little about the cavalryman before hearing about him from her uncle and aunt, Thomas and Pat Richey.

The search for his grave offered a surprise.

“There was supposed to be some kind of marker there,” she said. “It turned out to be a brick, but it had been covered over by soil and grass.”

This didn’t seem quite fitting, and a friend who volunteers for the Northwest Missouri Genealogical Society had a suggestion. Why not contact John Grimes?

Grimes, a retired Marine, has made a specialty of researching cemeteries and getting veterans the grave markers they earned as members of the military.

Last year, he secured military tombstones for two area men, killed in France during World War I, and arranged for a formal memorial service at Camden Point Cemetery.

A St. Joseph man, Grimes said he recognized this arrangement, a temporary stone that became permanent, for whatever reason.

“They cast a brick with the guy’s name on it, and they stuck that in as a temporary marker,” he said.

This ran up against a Veterans Administration definition for what constitutes a gravestone. Cline, with Grimes helping compile information about Richey’s service record, sent a request for a military tombstone to the VA.

“I signed it and sent it in, and we were denied. They said it was already marked,” she said, adding. “They were very courteous about it.”

Still, it didn’t seem right. Enter Jeff Redel, a family service coordinator for Meierhoffer Funeral Home & Crematory in St. Joseph.

“My father was a veteran in the Korean War,” Redel said, later noting. “I’m a flag-hugger.”

So Redel made another run at it. On April 17, he wrote a letter to the VA that read, in part: “The brick placed on Private Richey’s grave was placed as a temporary marker only. It was used to hold the location only until a proper headstone was completed and installed.”

He sent it without a lot of certainty the earlier decision would be overturned. To his delight, it was.

“I guess I worded it right,” Redel said. “I was super happy that they accepted the application.”

Not only that, the tombstone, of familiar white marble with its identification of Richey’s cavalry company and his birth and death dates, has arrived in St. Joseph. A graveside service, with full military honors, is being planned for Sept. 6, Richey’s birthdate, at Mt. Auburn.

Todd Meierhoffer said his family’s funeral home has long been involved in respectful farewells for those who served in the military, and he praised all involved for the persistence it took to get this headstone.

“That’s the story, the teamwork,” Meierhoffer said. “And for a gentleman buried in 1919 now to have his grave marked, that’s a real testament.”

Grimes complimented Redel for making a compelling case to the VA. “The letter that Mr. Redel sent pushed it in the right direction,” the Marine veteran said. “He did extra work to get this. He deserves a lot of credit.”

Cline credited both Grimes and Redel for their work, adding that she thought her great-grandfather would soon be properly honored.

“I’m proud to have him in my family,” she said.

A GoFundMe site has been established to help pay for the placement of Paris Richey’s headstone and its ongoing care. The website can be accessed at:

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The flood continues along the Missouri River

After being above flood stage for most of 2019, the Missouri River looks to remain high into fall.

The river set a historic crest in March and it has remained in flood stage ever since. Saturday night, the Missouri sat at roughly 17.5 feet in St. Joseph, which is well shy of the 32.12-foot crest from earlier this year.

Outside of a recent crest of 29 feet in May, the river has been inching down ever since, but still remaining above the flood stage of 17 feet.

“We should see the river continue to slowly subside,” said Spencer Mell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill. “However, with those single events that could possibly happen — especially as we get into September and October where we do have a secondary wet season — so we may not be completely out of the woods yet.”

Forecasters said after a wet spring things began to dry out across the southern Missouri River basin, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case upstream. While our historic crests came from a historic amount of spring rain that fell coupled with a healthy pack of snow upstream, the river has remained high because of an increased amount of summer rainfall to the north of St. Joseph.

“Although we have been drier here locally since the middle of June, they did continue to see pretty heavy rainfall across Nebraska and the Dakotas,” Mell said. “That has kept the river at a higher level.”

Despite the river’s volatility, there isn’t a great fear that the Missouri will return to major flooding, which starts at 27 feet.

“It’s pretty flat right now and we expect that to continue for at least next week or two,” said Mell. “Additional rainfall is expected over the next week across the Missouri River basin, so we could see minor rises but I’m not expecting major rises.”

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A man admired in and out of the ring

They were larger than life inside the wrestling ring at the smoke-filled City Auditorium on Friday nights in St. Joseph.

The old wrestlers still were larger than life as they filed into the Price Funeral Home in Maryville on Wednesday to lay one of their own to rest. Harley Race was a mentor to many of these men and an innovator in the ring as well.

Harley Leland Race, was a Quitman, Missouri, native and a popular wrestler known as “Handsome Harley,’”

“The King” and “The Greatest Wrestler on God’s Green Earth” died on Aug. 1 at 76 years of age.

Race was entered in the World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and Missouri Sports Wrestling halls of fame. He also held many wrestling titles.

After retiring form the ring, Race opened a professional wrestling academy in Eldon, Missouri.

The funeral home was packed with family, friends and fans coming to pay their respects to a man admired by many in and out of the ring.

The minister spoke of heaven and the songs “One Day at a Time” and “Amazing Grace” were played.

Pro wrestlers Ric Flair and Ted DiBiase gave testimonies to a man they saw as a mentor. They shared stores of his toughness and how his colorful style of wrestling changed the whole sport.

They talked about how Race survived a car wreck and the doctors said he would never walk again, let alone wrestle. He did both.

“He was a man’s man,” said DiBiase.

What began as a rainy morning ended up a sunny afternoon, with stories and memories of Race bringing smiles to mourning faces.

The procession to the Quitman Cemetery, 15 miles away, was long and solemn. Traffic stopped for what seemed like hours.

Just as Race in life made people stop and look with his flamboyant attire and innovative wrestling style, people stopped and looked again in awe as the procession rode past, taking their hero back home.