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Portfolio Erin McNeill J7450 Reporting

Woman, 49, gets 5 years in statutory rape case Tuesday, June 29, 2010 | 7:01 p.m. CDT BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — A woman who had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison. Melody R. Link, 49, pleaded guilty in March to a charge of second degree statutory rape, a class C felony. Link was arrested in January 2009 following an investigation into her relationship with the teen,according to an earlier Missourian report. During an interview with the Missouri Crimes Unit, the teen admitted he had been sexually involved with Link since August 2008. But Link's attorney, Kay Evans, said during Tuesday's hearing in the 13th Circuit of Boone County that Link's relationship with the teen occurred when he was an adult.

Related Articles Woman arrested on suspicion of statutory rape of 16-year-old boy

Evans said that Link was "not in her right mind" at the time of the sexual relationship as she was coping with the discovery of an affair her husband was having with a co-worker. Link has been diagnosed with and treated for depression, Evans said, and also suffered a stress-related heart attack since her arrest. Noting that Link felt remorseful for her conduct and had suffered greatly, Evans asked that her client be given probation and be allowed to continue treatment with the Missouri Sex Offender Program, which she had already begun. Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Scholz submitted four victim impact statements to Circuit Judge Jodie Asel because the family of the victim was unable to attend. The letters were not read aloud. Asel rejected the defense's request of probation and sentenced Link to five years in prison. She was also recommended for sex offender treatment.

Third Ward councilman to hold Wednesday office hours Wednesday, June 30, 2010 | 7:17 p.m. CDT; updated 7:27 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 30, 2010 BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — City Councilman Gary Kespohl, who was elected to the Third Ward seat in April, plans to hold office hours every Wednesday, according to a city news release. All Third Ward residents and others are invited to share questions, concerns, opinions and ideas. Kespohl's office is located in City Hall at 701 E. Broadway, and office hours are scheduled for 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Shots fired in 500 block of W. Ash Street Thursday, July 1, 2010 | 1:42 p.m. CDT; updated 8:27 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 2, 2010

Officer Kevin Purdy examines a bullet hole on a house in the 500 block of W. Ash Street on Thursday. Three bullet casings were found at the scene.  ¦  DANIEL LONGAR

BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — Police investigated a report of shots fired early Thursday afternoon. The report indicated a residence in the 500 block of W. Ash Street might have been hit. The Columbia Police Department received two calls just after noon Thursday. One caller reported shots had struck a house in the 500 block of W. Ash Street. The other caller reported a car that had been stuck by shots fired in the 500 block of Hickman Avenue. Related Articles Man arrested in KC connected to Columbia shooting TODAY'S QUESTION: What can Columbia do to address gun violence? UPDATE: Several reports of shots fired related, police say

The location of the vehicle at the time it was reportedly shot is unknown. Officers found bullet holes in the side of the residence on Ash, but no one was injured. Three nine-millimeter shell casings were found at the scene.

A red car, the same as one reported in connection with two shootings earlier this week, was reportedly involved, along with a blue SUV. Thursday's shooting is "definitely related" to the earlier shootings, said Jessie Haden, Columbia Police Department Public Information Officer. According to Lt. Tim Moriarity, some of the same names seem to keep coming up. 

University Concert Series's January performance of 'Grease' canceled Thursday, July 1, 2010 | 4:23 p.m. CDT BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — A performance of the musical, "Grease," scheduled as part of MU's University Concert Series has been canceled because of the company's travel schedule, according to a press release from the University Concert Series office. The performance was originally scheduled for Jan. 30, 2011, in Jesse Auditorium. Big jumps in mileage that were not approved by the company resulted in one week of performances being canceled, including MU's date, said Kimberly Earnest, assistant director of the University Concert Series. About 85 tickets have already been sold for the event, and all ticket holders will receive a letter giving exchange and refund options. These options include turning the purchase into a donation, exchanging the ticket for another performance or receiving a refund for the purchase price.

UPDATE: Several reports of shots fired related, police say Thursday, July 1, 2010 | 9:24 p.m. CDT; updated 10:15 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 1, 2010

1. N. Fifth St. and Lyon St. Sunday at 1:30 a.m. Police find .45-caliber shell casings. 2. 800 block of Clinkscales Rd. Sunday at 3:30 a.m. Police find eight .45-caliber shell casings. 3A. N. Fourth St. and Pecan St. Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Police find shell casings similar to those recovered on Sunday.

3B. Range Line St. and Wilkes Blvd. Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Police receive calls reporting that shots are fired. 3C. N. William St. and Hinkson Ave. Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Police receive calls reporting that shots are fired. 4. W. Ash St. and Sanford Ave. Thursday at noon Police find three 9 mm shell casings.  ¦  AARON CHANNON

BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — Several reports of shots fired in the last four days are definitely related, according to Jessie Haden, public information officer for the Columbia Police Department. According to Lt. Tim Moriarity, some of the same details keep coming up during its investigations. Other evidence, as reported by witnesses and police, indicates a relation between the shots as well. • The four separate reports of shots fired fell within a one-and-a-quarter mile radius. The first report, at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, was near the intersection of Fifth and Lyon streets. The second report, two hours later, was in the 800 block of Clinkscales Road, approximately 2 miles away. At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the third report included locations at Hinkson Avenue and William Street and at Range Line Street and Wilkes Boulevard. The final report, just after noon Thursday, was in the 500 block of

Related Articles TODAY'S QUESTION: What can Columbia do to address gun violence? Shots fired in 500 block of W. Ash Street UPDATE: Tuesday shootings could be related to Sunday incidents Shots fired at Hinkson Avenue and William Street

West Ash Street. The latter three locations were all less than a mile from the location of the first report. •A red car, which one witness on Sunday identified as a Pontiac Grand Am, was reportedly involved in each of the four incidents. •Similar shell casings, all .45-caliber, were found at both the Sunday and Tuesday locations. An officer on scene on Thursday identified the three casings recovered as 9 mm.

In relation to the shots fired on Thursday afternoon, Haden said in a news release that Columbia police located the individuals associated with the red vehicle and interviewed them. The news release, sent out Thursday night, also said the blue van used by the second party of shooters was reported stolen earlier in the day. Police have recovered and towed the vehicle. Haden said police have identified the individuals responsible for the shootings but are still working on the whereabouts of them and the vehicles and the drivers. She also said police are still working on finding out more about the shooters' targets. Those with information regarding any of the incidents can call Crime Stoppers at 875-8477 or the Police Department at 874-7652.

Coffee kiosk vendor wanted for Columbia City Hall Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | 6:17 p.m. CDT BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — A request for proposals is set to open Friday for a coffee kiosk vendor in the newly renovated Columbia City Hall. The kiosk will be located in the southwest corner of the lobby on the first floor, and the vendor could provide hot and cold beverages, in addition to baked goods and packaged snacks. Marilyn Starke, purchasing agent for the city of Columbia, said the city has no preference for a local business or a national chain. "We just want a good provider to come in and do coffee and snacks," she said. The deadline for proposals is July 30. Proposals may be submitted in a sealed envelope at the purchasing office or uploaded on the city's e-bidding site.

People For A Taser-Free Columbia adds signatures to petition Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | 6:51 p.m. CDT BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — The anti-Taser use group, People For A Taser-Free Columbia, added more than 900 signatures Tuesday to its petition for a city ordinance that would ban Taser use in the city. Related Articles COLUMN: Anti-Taser group's petition drive helps make Columbia great People For a Taser-Free Columbia present more than 4,000 signatures to city clerk's office Organization plans to present Taser-free petition Tuesday Citizens Police Review Board hears police Taser policy TODAY'S QUESTION: What do you think about the Taser-free proposition? TODAY'S QUESTION: Are you concerned about the financial liability Tasers might pose to the city? UPDATE: City reaches settlement with man shocked with Taser City agrees to settlement with man shocked with Taser COLUMN: Effort to ban Tasers not likely to pass Panel at Hickman discusses safety, effectiveness of Tasers

Despite turning in more than 4,000 signatures to City Clerk Sheela Amin June 2, the petition ended up 494 signatures short because not everyone who signed was a registered voter in Columbia.  The clerk's office notified the organization June 30 of the shortage, said Mary Hussmann, who helped lead the petition. The group has until July 14 to turn in the additional signatures but worked over the weekend and was able to present more than 900 additional signatures Tuesday, Hussmann said. The additional signatures will have to be verified before the process can proceed. If the petition reaches the required 3,667 valid signatures, the proposed ordinance will be presented to the Columbia City Council. If the council passes the ordinance, the ban would go into effect. If the ordinance fails, it would go on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election.

Wells Fargo Financial to close its Columbia branch Thursday, July 8, 2010 | 5:49 p.m. CDT; updated 12:59 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 9, 2010 BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — Wells Fargo Financial will close its Columbia branch at 2703 E. Broadway by early September. Wells Fargo plans to close all of its 638 financial stores nationwide, according to a Wednesday news release. Wells Fargo community banking and home mortgage stores will remain open. A 2008 merger with Wachovia extended Wells Fargo's network of community banking and home mortgage stores, which eliminated the economic viability of a separate network of financial stores, the release said. Wells Fargo will no longer offer non-prime portfolio mortgage loans, also known as subprime loans. These loans, typically for borrowers who have a credit score of 620 or below, are seen as higher-risk for the lending institution and carry higher interest rates. All other loan products will still be offered through the remaining Wells Fargo stores. Clients with existing consumer or commercial loans will continue to be served, according to the company. The Columbia branch, along with 14 others statewide, will close sometime in the next 60 days, said Diana Rodriguez, communications vice president for Wells Fargo Financial. However, she said no specific closing dates have been set. Of the 14,000 people employed by Wells Fargo Financial, 3,800 will lose their jobs. Within 60 days, 2,800 positions will be eliminated. Another 1,000 will be cut within 12 months, and the remainder will be reassigned, according to the release. The Columbia Wells Fargo Financial branch was unable to comment on how many employees will be affected at that location.

Missouri Adoption Heart Gallery hopes to find families for foster children Monday, July 12, 2010 | 6:24 p.m. CDT; updated 6:41 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 12, 2010

Jamila Gray, 17, and her sister, Elianna Gray, 11, play with some rubber bands that Elianna Gray was given as a gift earlier that day Monday July 12. Elianna Gray was officially adopted by Sarah Gray today who had already adopted her older sister Jamila. Jamila was in foster care with Sarah at the age of 12. "We're a permanent family now," said Sarah Gray. The family came to the Daniel Boone Regional Library in order to attend the opening of the Missouri Heart Gallery, which is a traveling exhibit of photos of foster children in Missouri who are in need of adoptive families.  ¦  MICHELLE KANAAR

BY ERIN MCNEILL COLUMBIA — The family of four beamed at the front of the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library on Monday afternoon. Sarah Gray and her children, Jamila, Tyler and Elianna, had a lot to celebrate. Elianna officially became Elianna Gray earlier that morning, her adoption finalized two days after her 11th birthday. “Itʼs awesome that itʼs finalized today, but weʼve been a family for a long time,” her mother, Sarah Gray, said.

When Sarah Gray first became a foster parent, she just wanted to provide a temporary place for children to stay while their parents got the help they needed. She already had her biological son, Tyler, and did not plan to become an adoptive parent. Then she met Jamila. She was 12 years old when she was placed in Grayʼs home five years ago. She legally became a part of the family three years later, when Gray adopted her. When Elianna, Jamilaʼs biological sister, entered the foster care system two years ago, Sarah again opened her heart and her home. “[Elianna] was Jamilaʼs sister, and we all needed to be together,” Gray said. Organizations behind the Missouri Adoption Heart Gallery hope to make more stories like the Gray family's possible. The Heart Gallery is a traveling display of 272 portraits of children in Missouri still waiting for permanent families. The gallery began a tour of the state in late April and, when it ends in November, will have stopped in more than 20 locations. It is set to be on display at the Columbia Public Library through July 19. The idea for the project came from Diane Granito, who was working for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department as a foster and adoptive parent recruiter in 2001. She wanted to create inspiring portraits of older children and sibling groups who were waiting for adoption. This is Missouriʼs fifth year of creating a touring Heart Gallery. The project is headed by the Adoption Exchange and the Childrenʼs Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services. At the opening ceremony for the Columbia stop Monday, Cary Augustine said there are over 9,000 children in the Missouri foster care system. Of those, approximately 1,400 can never return to the homes they left. Augustine is a Boone County associate circuit judge and presiding judge of the family court division for the 13th Judicial Circuit. “Itʼs an opportunity to raise awareness for how many children out there are actually waiting, in the state of Missouri, for their forever family,” said Amanda Atkins, an adoption specialist with the Childrenʼs Division. “A lot of children end up getting adopted each year out of the Heart Gallery,” she said. “So weʼre hoping that we find families for a lot of these kids.” The gallery specifically showcases children between the ages of 6 and 18 who have been waiting a long time for a family. The age group makes up 66 percent of the children in need of adoption in Missouri and is a harder age group to place, according to the projectʼs website. The Adoption Exchange coordinates with the Childrenʼs Division to set up the portrait sessions with photographers across the state who donate their time. Not just a cookie-cutter image of a smiling child in front of a blank background, each portrait highlights the childʼs personality through color and props. Millerʼs Professional Imaging, of Columbia, provided the printing services at a discounted rate.

Anyone who visits the Heart Gallery and becomes interested in adoption, whether itʼs adopting a specific child or just the idea in general, is encouraged to contact the Adoption Exchange. “Already, as we were setting up, they had a lot of pictures marked with ʻfamily in progress,ʼ” Atkins said. “Just from a few weeks of traveling around, people are already calling or going on the website.” Though Sarah Gray did not meet her daughters through the Heart Gallery, she is a proponent of the project. “I think itʼs important to raise awareness for adoptive families and foster parents in our area,” Gray said. “All the international adoptions and celebrity adoptions get so much attention that I think people forget the need locally and the duty we have to take care of the kids in our community.”

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