COLUMBIA - As 2019 comes to an end, take a look back at the biggest stories that defined the year in Columbia and mid-Missouri.
Crime in Columbia
COLUMBIA - 2019 saw record-breaking violence in the city of Columbia, with five homicides in the month of September.
The victims included Nadria Wright, 18, E’quan Spain, 19, Antonio Houston, 36, Danielle Marine, 33, and James Hickem, 23.
Families and friends were left to grapple with the sudden loss. Reverend James Gray, a pastor at Second Missionary Baptist Church, has met with many of the victims’ families and said he feels their pain.
“As a pastor, it’s been double trouble because you have to deal with all the different personalities not understanding how to get families and young people through this,” he said.
Some community members feel Columbia has changed because of the events of September. Mary Ratliff, president of the Columbia chapter of the NAACP, said the city feels “different.”
“We’re seeing something that we’re not used to seeing,” she said. “It was very disappointing and disheartening to have this kind of thing in our community.”
Gray has been working with some of the victims’ families to have their voices heard. He and Shaunda Hamilton, mother of 18-year-old victim Nadria Wright, started an organization known as the Boone County Community Against Violence. The goal of the organization is to give families the opportunity to tell their stories, spread awareness and teach people how to respond during violent situations.
“I want us to be able to go to rotary clubs, all the clubs, and say ‘This is a mom, let her tell you her story,’” Gray said.
Ratliff said the NAACP is also having meetings and facilitating conversations between community members, clergy and police. She said people need to unite to solve this problem.
“We’re going to work with the community to do everything we can to identify those people who are committing those crimes,” Ratliff said. “So that they will know that we’re not going to protect them.”
Natalie Sopyla, KOMU 8 Reporter
Columbia Regional Airport's bumpy year
COLUMBIA - The Columbia Regional Airport had a bumpy start to the year.
JEFFERSON CITY - Seven months after a devastating EF-3 tornado, the people of Jefferson City are looking toward the future.
Natile Walker, a mother of four, lost her house during the May 22 storm.
"Maybe a week after the tornado I went back to work, and I sat in my car after I got off work because I didn't know where I was going to go afterwards,” she said. “And I had never felt that feeling before."
But the Walkers weren't alone in their struggle. Natile and her husband, John, applied for a Habitat for Humanity home after friends tagged them in a Facebook post advertising an available house.
Multiple other families went through the application process with them, but Habitat for Humanity ultimately chose the Walkers to move in.
"The way all of it kind of happened is still amazing to me, but then it's not because I know how God works,” Natile said. “But it's been a blessing, this house."
Jefferson City mayor Carrie Tergin said she’s proud of how the community came together in the wake of the tornado.
"It takes a very long term process to recover from something like this, and we are in that long term recovering-rebuilding stage right now,” Tergin said. “And we will be for quite some time."
Seven months later, Walker said she hopes people are finally able to find some good out of the damage left behind by the tornado.
"We have been extremely blessed, and I know there's other people out there that have been blessed,” Walker said. “If they really sit back and look at the situation, they'll find a blessing."
Leo Rocha, KOMU 8 Reporter
Missing woman found 13 years later
COLUMBIA - 2019 brought new developments in the 2006 murder case of Megan Shultz, a Columbia woman reported missing by her then husband, Keith Comfort, on Aug. 5, 2006.
Almost exactly thirteen years later, on Aug. 4 2019, Comfort turned himself into the Lake Geneva Police Department in southeast Wisconsin. He told police that in 2006, he murdered Shultz and dumped her body into a dumpster.
After his confession, the Columbia Police Department and the city’s utility workers went to the Peabody Road landfill to dig through more than 10 years of trash. They spent eight days searching for her body, eventually finding her remains on September 18.
“We all have families and we felt that we had a duty and responsibility to try to find Megan and bring her home to her family," Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said.
Debra Shultz, Megan’s mother, told KOMU 8 News this a prayer answered.
"I'm still in shock," she said. "It's like 'Oh my God, my baby will get to come home.'"
Dan Sorrell, Assistant Director of the City of Columbia Utilities Department, explained in a news conference the grueling conditions the workers had to endure.
“The greatest challenge we had was the temperature and trying to get people from overheating,” Sorrell said. “We ran into sharp objects and some generally unpleasant materials."
In a Facebook post, the city of Columbia thanked the workers for their “dedication.”
City spokesperson Steve Sapp said this is still an open investigation.
Megan’s mother told KOMU 8 News she is hoping to have a service for Megan once she receives the body.
Stephanie Lachance, KOMU 8 Reporter