In August, I will celebrate an anniversary of sorts as I enter my 26th year of reporting the news for the Daily American Republic.
Gone is the green, rookie reporter I once was, who entered the newsroom so long ago and was sent to Greenville within my first hour to cover an assignment at the school there.
In her place today is the seasoned reporter I’ve become. I can’t even begin to count the number of stories I’ve written or the photographs I’ve taken, but each one has molded me into the reporter I am.
I’ve seen and experienced a lot in the last 25 years … no two days have ever been the same as every story, even the hundreds of drug busts I’ve written about, are different.
Some stories still stand out even years later.
I vividly recall what took place on the first Saturday in September 1994.
For whatever reason, I had stopped in the office that afternoon and was there when the scanner squawked about a “body in the Blue Hole.”
The Blue Hole, I would find out, was a deeper section of Black River just outside of Poplar Bluff.
My editor, Stan Berry, told me to grab a camera. I’m not sure whether it was because I was a girl, a rookie or just because he didn’t want to miss out on the action, but Stan accompanied me to the river that day.
Sure enough, we arrived to see a body just below the water’s surface. Deputies were everywhere, both on the bank and in a boat.
The next thing I know, I hear one of the deputies say, “Where’s that little girlie from the newspaper?”
The deputy uttered that question just moments after he dropped the department’s camera in the bottom of the boat. With their camera now in pieces, I was asked to take photographs of the body.
And, I did. I took photos of a gunshot wound – both the entrance and its exit, as well as the abrasions on the man’s head and his tattoos as his identity was unknown at the time. He later was identified as being from South Carolina, and his murder remains unsolved.
As Stan and I were driving away that day, I still remember what he said as he voiced pride in the fact I hadn’t “tossed my cookies.”
Also vivid in my mind all these years later is a telephone call I received at about 3 a.m. Half asleep, I heard the caller identify himself as being from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department and then say, “They’re digging up the body.”
This statement jerked me awake as the caller reassured me that I had heard correctly.
Although there wasn’t much I could do that time of morning, come daylight I was en route with a photographer to the scene at Patterson. I still remember standing among the pine trees as investigators removed the woman’s body. She had been killed and buried more than a year earlier by her husband and his “other wife.”
Other memories are more heart wrenching, even today.
The emotions I felt interviewing a Poplar Bluff police officer, whose wife and young daughter had died in a house fire, still remain. We shared tears as the officer, who had been the first to arrive on the scene of the fire, talked about carrying on without his family.
It was a tough story to write, but one that needed to be told.
As were the stories written in the aftermath of the tragic helicopter crash that killed Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. David May.
May and a civilian photographer were killed on a stormy afternoon after having spent much of the day photographing and videotaping the law enforcement torch run for Special Olympics in Southeast Missouri.
May’s death is one I won’t soon forget because that same morning, while at Troop E Headquarters, he asked if I wanted to fly with him that day. As I joked with May, little did I know in less than eight hours later he would be dead.
During my career, I also have reported on events that have gone down in the record books, including historic flooding in Butler, Carter and Ripley counties. I also was among the hundreds of local, state and national reporters who covered then President George Bush’s visit to Poplar Bluff in September 2004. An estimated crowd of about 26,000 and 33,000 people attended the rally.
That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and every other person who attended.
Just as the community rallied to bring Bush to Poplar Bluff by signing a petition, the community also rallied to support the Poplar Bluff and Butler County fire departments as they battled an August 2016 fire that destroyed a historic downtown building on Vine Street that had housed two businesses and six apartments.
Volunteers brought cases of water and food as firefighters battled the fire for more than 12 hours. With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees that day and high humidity, four city firefighters went to the hospital for dehydration and heat-related issues.
The building now is gone, but the spirit of what happened that day lives on, as was evidenced when Poplar Bluff firefighters again had to battle another fire in extreme conditions last summer.
The fire this time was a South 11th Street commercial building housing two businesses and storage units.
With heat indexes reaching nearly 105 degrees, seven firefighters were overcome by heat while battling the blaze and received intravenous fluids at the scene.
Many in the community again stepped up, dropping off cases of water and Gatorade as the firefighters battled the fire and heat.
And, again, I was there, taking notes and interviewing the victims and firefighters.
It’s what I do, and what I will continue to do.