From record-breaking flooding, to the retirement of a beloved television personality, to discovering a body in a freezer — 2019 has been quite the year for the Four States. Here are your biggest stories of the year!
Two Teens Rescued After Being Swept Away by Flood Waters
On Monday, May 20, Olivia Rogers, 18, and Mason Corl, 17, were both swept away by the raging currents of Turkey Creek. Corl was found alive in the water at 12:20 am, approximately 45 minutes after his car was swept away. Rogers was rescued nearly eight hours later, after emergency teams responded to a 911 call from a resident. She pulled nearly two miles away from where she originally went missing.
“I was bear hugging the tree for hours. And there were so many times where I was like, ‘I can’t hold on any longer, I just have to let go,'” Rogers explained to Gretchen Bolander in an interview later that week. “But I feel like God just gave me the strength, and he was like, ‘You can do this. I’m going to protect you,’”
May 22, 2019 Tornado — Carl Junction, MO
On the anniversary of the May 22 tornado that hit Joplin nearly a decade ago, an EF-3 tornado tore through Carl Junction, affecting nearly 440 homes. Some residents, like Kenneth Robertson, were left homeless after the storm touched down in town. Robertson called his survival of the storm a “nothing short of a miracle” after he and his daughter rode out the storm in the family’s bathtub, and only walked away with a few scratches.
The tornado occurred less than 24 hours after Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency for the Show-Me State due to previous storms.
Six months later, the city reported issuing more than 400 building permits, and are continuing progress on repairing the damage left behind.
Spring and Summer Flooding
Areas all around the Four States were impacted by the series of heavy rainfall in 2019 — many of which were left submerged in flood water.
In May, Northeast Oklahoma experienced several spurts of rainfall, leaving many areas, including parts of Miami, underwater. Flooding was so severe in the Sooner State that Governor Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency, and later that week, Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell was in town to help assess the damage.
In Missouri, parts of Newton and McDonald Counties were completely underwater, with Neosho announcing more than 30 water rescues on Sunday, June 23 alone. In October, the city announced plans to file for a Community Development Block Grant to assist affected residents with land buyouts and relocation.
The flooding carried over into McDonald County, sweeping an Anderson woman away in the flood current. Search crews recovered the body of Linda Denise Kuykendall on Saturday after nearly a week of non-stop searching.
Liberal, Mo. Arson Cases
The city of Liberal saw two series of arson cases across the area spanning from June to September. The first series was of four fires set in late June and early July, with authorities later arresting Zachary Workman, 18, and Thomas Ingram, 25. But, the second series consisted of six fires — the old Liberal High School, a school bus barn, three vacant homes and a shed. Ingram was also arrested in connection to this series, along with Nathan Jones, 24.
Body Discovered in Freezer
On November 7, authorities responded to structure fire at 2605 South New Hampshire in Joplin, later deeming that someone burglarized the house and then set it on fire. While conducting the investigation, information was released regarding a deceased person inside a neighboring house. The owner of the neighboring house, Barbara Watters, would not answer the door, so police later issued a search warrant that night.
After discovering the body of Watter’s husband, Paul Barton, 67, inside a deep freezer at the foot of her bed, police later arrested her and she is facing charges of corpse abandonment. An autopsy revealed that Barton’s body was kept in the freezer for nearly a year after he died on December 30, 2018.
20 Years Later: Busick Deemed Competent to Stand Trial in 1999 Cold Case
Monday, December 30th marked 20 years since the disappearance of two Welch, Okla. teenagers — Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman. The two were celebrating Freeman’s birthday along with Freeman’s parents, Danny and Kathy. Traces of Danny and Kathy’s ashes were discovered within those of the family’s mobile home, but the girls’ bodies have never been found. A candlelight vigil was held Monday night to honor the memory of the girls along with instilling hope in the community that the remains are still out there.
As for the investigation, authorities are moving forward with the trial of Ronnie Dean Busick, who was recently deemed competent to stand trial in the 1999 cold case. The case was put at a standstill towards the end of 2018, when a judge ordered a mental evaluation of Busick. The next hearing in the case is set for February 2020.
Tobacco 21 Policies
Several cities in the Four States raised the legal age to buy tobacco within their city limits, commonly know across the nation as “Tobacco 21.” These ordinances change the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21, with cities including Parsons, Carl Junction, and Joplin all adopting the policy.
And, on December 20th, President Trump signed a piece of legislation that raised the national age to 21 — sending the America into 2020 with a universal age for purchasing tobacco and nicotine products.
Joplin City Manager Resigns
On March 3, the City of Joplin announced the immediate resignation of city manager Sam Anselm after a closed city council session. Although the city didn’t release the reason why Anselm resigned, mayor Gary Shaw did address Anselm in a statement, saying:
“We would like to thank Sam for his leadership over the last eight years and recognize his efforts in leading the City of Joplin in its recovery effort since the 2011 tornado. Joplin has been recognized across the nation because of its excellent recovery and how it has rebuilt, and Sam has helped lead us through this recovery each step of the way. We wish Sam and his family the very best in their next chapter.”Joplin Mayor Gary Shaw, March 2019
Joplin Health Department director Dan Pekarek has since assumed the role of interim city manager, with the city council finalizing a list of candidates to fill the vacant position.
Mumps in McDonald County
In September, two cases of mumps were confirmed in McDonald County School District, leaving school leaders to urge parents to keep their children updated on the MMR vaccine. However, that wouldn’t stop the outbreak of nearly a dozen cases in the school district two months later.
“We’ve been going to neighborhoods, doing door-to-door vaccines,” explained Elsia Mustain with the McDonald County Health Department in a November interview. The county has administered more than 400 vaccinations, but officials still urge anyone who is experiencing symptoms to stay home from school for at least five days.
Joplin Globe Editor Passes Away
This year, the Joplin community mourned the loss of Carol Stark, the executive editor of the Joplin Globe. She began her career in 1977 at 17 years old, and built a career in journalism that lasted a lifetime. Stark was 61
Carol Parker Retires
After more than 45 years on air, our very own Carol Parker celebrated her retirement in September, celebrating with new and old friends on Living Well.
Her career on air began back in 1973 as co-anchor of the noon news with Ted Easley, and since then, Parker has hosted hundreds of guests on her Tasty Tuesday show and Cooking with Carol segment on Living Well.