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Grads sent off to life's next chapter

Atchison High School and Maur Hill-Mount Academy sent their graduating seniors off with pomp and circumstance on Saturday.

Local academic leaders spoke with confidence in declaring the of the 108 seniors graduating from AHS and the 65 seniors moving on from MH-MA to be fit for whatever challenge or opportunity might come their way.

“This class just radiates success in it,” said Phil Baniewicz, president and headmaster of Maur Hill-Mount Academy. “The academic level and scholarship amounts they reached were absolutely outstanding ... They just exceeded at about everything and they’re a very special class.”

The Maur Hill-Mount Academy student honorees included salutatorian Rongzhi Zhang, Skylar Clark and Dylan McConnell-Curry, class valedictorians. Clark and McConnell-Curry spoke to their peers alongside guest commencement speaker Billie Ellis, an MH-MA alumnus who has become one of the top-ranked attorneys in the nation in his Texas practice.

MH-MA said its graduating class drew students from six states across the nation and six nations overseas. The crop of Atchison students who graduated later in the day also come from diverse backgrounds.

Raven graduate Zach Schwinn said the day was bittersweet because they know this will most likely be the last they will be together.

“It was truly a bittersweet moment,” Schwinn said. “I think we all felt accomplished in what he have done at MHMA, but at the same time we realized we will be headed our separate ways to start the next chapter of our lives.”

Francesca Lameiro, selected as commencement speaker for the AHS Class of 2019, confessed that upon learning three years ago that her family would move to Atchison from Lisbon, Portugal, she mourned her homeland and feared her destiny. How could a proudly cosmopolitan European ever find a way to be accepted in rural Kansas?

“I was scared,” she said. “I was scared that I would have trouble adapting. But I’ve found such an amazing community here; I’ve made friends that I will keep for life. I’ve had educators that have transformed my views on pretty much everything. I’m so grateful that I did move and that I did have those experiences. I wouldn’t change anything.”

In addition to Lameiro, AHS commencement ceremonies honored president Mason Sass, Vice President Cassidy Grantham, secretary Mya Lacey and treasurer Kaitlyn Hampton.

“I’m just very proud of all the connections that I’ve made in this district,” Lameiro said. “Being able to know that your peers and community leaders listen to you and that you make an impact, for that I am very grateful.”

Lameiro’s academic leadership in the National Honors Society — signifying her status as one of the top 10 percent among all high school graduates in the U.S. — is paralleled by the athletic accomplishments of Kadejah Ross, who excelled in soccer and basketball and is set to play soccer for the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth.

“Playing with my teammates will be what I’ll miss the most,” Ross said. “The feeling of them looking up to me and me being able to rely on them, that’s a unique thing. And my amazing coaches that I’ve had throughout the year, we have a special bond ... There’s a brighter future for me from here.”

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At-risk children | Human trafficking just one concern for runaways
Runaways a difficult problem to solve

ST. JOSEPH, Missouri — The recent death of a 14-year-old boy whose body was found in a burned building in the north side of St. Joseph, Missouri, has turned attention to the issue of runaways in the community.

The St. Joseph Police Department still is investigating that case, which reportedly involved a runaway child. While officers were unwilling to discuss details of that case, they do say runaways are common, with statistics showing that one in seven teens will run away in his or her life.

“They’re probably some of our most at-risk juveniles,” said Jason Strong, a family crimes detective. “We worry about ... a potential for them to be human trafficked. There’s tons of potential for bad things to happen to those children.”

So when faced with a child runaway, what should a parent do?

Strong said parents whose children run away should contact authorities immediately, and a national profile will be made on the endangered child within two hours.

“I would advocate for the FBI Child ID app,” Strong said. “Essentially it’s going to have the information that we’re going to need from a parent if their child is to go missing, and it would include a photograph that they could automatically send that to the communication center in case their child is missing.”

Often, a runaway can be returned home quickly, but as the number of instances of running away rises, so does the difficulty in finding the child.

“Habitual runaways become a very difficult task to deal with,” Strong said. “They obviously don’t want to be found. Oftentimes, their parents have no idea where they’re at, and that makes it even more difficult on us because oftentimes family members and parents are the best source of information that we have of where that juvenile might be. So every time they get caught and then they run away again, it just makes it that much more difficult.”

One way to deal with habitual runaways is to seek outside help through the juvenile office. Linda Meyer, chief juvenile officer of Buchanan County, said juvenile officers will be assigned to runaway cases to help assess the issue and connect the family with counseling.

“The number one thing is cooperation, collaboration with the juvenile officer,” Meyer said.

Meyer said that as long as the juvenile has only been classified as a runaway and has not been delinquent, he or she will not be detained but will be connected with services to help him or her attain a stable home life. She added that support from the runaway’s family is important for such help to be successful.

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Highway 59 closes once again

U.S. Highway 59 in the Rushville, Missouri, closed due to flooding Tuesday afternoon.

“There is no back way from Atchison to Missouri through the Winthrop area,” officials from the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office said. “Please be patient with our deputies. We all want the roads opened as well.”

In Kansas, the Doniphan County Sheriff’s Department began urging travelers to use caution near Columbus Road west of Wathena at around 12:30 p.m. Mud and trees began falling onto the roadway in that area. The road remains open, but caution is encouraged.

Twenty-six miles away in White Cloud mudslides along K-7 Highway caused trees and dirt to cover the roadways. The road was closed as the Kansas Department of Transportation worked to clear the area.

“Rainfall can be a powerful force and can even cause mudslides over highways,” K-Dot officials said. “Our crews are currently hard at work across the state clearing debris, flagging traffic and putting up road-closure barriers as several of our highways are closed due to high water. Please adhere to the road closures and don’t try to drive around them.”

On Tuesday evening, Atchison County saw the renewed closure of River Road north of city limits as waters returned to levels reminiscent of the initial great flood of early April. The renewed closures are reminiscent of the pattern of flooding in 2011, although 59 was blocked through much of the late spring and summer of that year, for more than 100 days.

Authorities said on Tuesday that the renewed closure of Highway 59 came despite concerted efforts to prevent it.

“(The Missouri Department of Transportation) worked furiously to keep it open but Mother Nature won this round,” the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office said.

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Newson pleads to robbery, kidnapping

A participant in a plot to invade and rob an occupied home at gunpoint last summer outside Atchison formally confessed to his involvement and pleaded guilty to three violent felonies on Monday.

Devan T. Newson, 25, is consequently convicted of robbery, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit burglary. Under state law, the robbery conviction is for an aggravated crime because it involved the use of a deadly weapon; the burglary conviction is aggravated because the targeted home had residents inside at the time of the crime, late in the evening on Aug. 29, 2018.

On that evening, Newson persuaded a female acquaintance, who testified against him last November, to pick up two men wearing stocking caps and transport them to a location along John Road, near the crime scene in the 2700 block of Elm Drive outside city limits. The men got out and later returned with a small safe containing cash, having coerced it from victim Gary Myers and his family at gunpoint.

“We have good news on the robbery case,” Myers said in a social media announcement. “(Newson) pleaded guilty! (We) will have sentencing, then we can move on to the last one and we will have closure.”

Newson, appearing before Judge Robert Bednar, reached an agreement via his court-appointed defense counsel, John J. Bryant of Leavenworth, with the office of Atchison County Attorney Sherri Becker, for Newson to plead guilty to the three felonies. As part of the agreement, Becker agreed to support the dismissal of a host of other charges.

Newson affirmed the validity of all evidence presented against him in a Nov. 14, 2018, preliminary court hearing. He acknowledged that the dropped charges may be re-filed at any point in the future if he withdraws his guilty pleas or otherwise is deemed in violation of the plea agreement.

Becker explained that under the grid sentencing guidelines defined in Kansas statute, Newson faces a minimum of 55 months in prison for committing aggravated robbery, a minimum of 55 months in prison for kidnapping and a minimum of 17 months in prison for conspiracy. These penalties could end up running concurrently.

At least, Newson is expected to spend the next five years in prison, and if all minimum penalties are applied consecutively, he will be sentenced to more than 10 years. If the maximum penalties are applied consecutively for each count, Newson would receive a sentence of more than 25 years in prison. Becker estimated that the likely sentence will range between these extremes, though in any event it is Judge Bednar’s decision alone.

Two other men have been charged in the case, Marcell M. Bailey, 20, and Brandon J. Williams, 27. Williams pleaded guilty in the case in December 2018 and is serving a 41-month sentence in state prison. Bailey’s case remains pending amid a competency evaluation; he has been housed at the Atchison County Jail since September 2018.