Combating human trafficking in southeast Missouri proves a complex issue


There’s frustration in Missouri over how human trafficking is being addressed.

Back in April of 2017, Attorney General Josh Hawley put together a task force, but the solution may not be so simple.

Poplar Bluff Police Chief Danny Whiteley answered the call when Missouri’s Attorney General asked for his help to combat human trafficking in the state.

“Which is nothing short of modern-day slavery, and the investigations need to start coming forth,” Whiteley said.

Whiteley said the task force is taking the issue seriously.

“I wouldn’t want to get into any detail about what we may or may not have going on in needless to say our geographical area, but all over the state this is being looked at. I can assure you that,” Whiteley said.

“I lost my job. It broke my heart,” said Jacquie Castañeda who was a caseworker for SEMO Rescue and Restore since 2014.

The organization was based out of East Prairie and Kennett.

They were headed by UMOS Inc, which is backed by The International Institute of St. Louis, and solely focused on combating human trafficking in Southeast Missouri.

She said they lost their funding in July.

“Down in The Bootheel there’s nothing, and it really bothers me. There’s so many people that we trained, and we tried to teach them about things, but there’s so many more that we need to reach,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda hopes Hawley’s task force is up to the task and would love to be a help.

“I want to do whatever I can to stop human trafficking. I may not be able to stop it everywhere, but I can do my part,” Castañeda said.

More than anything, she wants to be back in the field combatting the issue head-on.

“What we need is funding, Castañeda said. “I mean, there is no funding in southeast Missouri that I know about that can continue to help us continue the work to get the word out.”

Attorney General Hawley’s office said they are still deciding on the next date for the task force to meet.

A Representative with UMOS, Inc. said they are disappointed they can no longer provide outreach services to the region.

Device at Poplar Bluff medical center allows parents of stillborn babies to say goodbye

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) – Original Post

In Butler County, Missouri parents of stillborn babies now have the chance for a little extra time to say goodbye.

It’s all thanks to an unlikely friendship after one woman’s loss.

“I was looking for birdhouses for my backyard,” said Lou Ellen Goin.

Goin turned to Facebook, but when she found the one she was looking for she saw something that made her curious.

“It said selling birdhouses for cuddle cot. A cuddle cot? What is that?” Goin said.

On the other end of the ad was Wanda Hillis who gave birth to her stillborn son in 2015.

“Even when I put it up there I was going – this is not going to work. This is so silly. She said that she wanted to help, and that her husband owned the funeral home, and she wanted to help us,” Hillis said.

It’s a new device the women donated to Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center in honor of Wanda’s son.

The device was donated to PBRMC on November 17.

The way the Cuddle Cot works is it uses a cooling device that sends cold air through a tube into the bassinet and preserves the baby for 16 to 18 days, and it gives parents a chance to say goodbye.

“When a baby is born a baby depreciates so fast. So much more quickly than an adult,” Goin said.

“If we would have had that cot he could have stayed in the cot. I could have stayed there until the funeral home came and got him,” Hillis said.

Goin said– to see families like Wanda’s go through this is heartbreaking.

“You always want to do something to help them, and when this came along I was like – wow. We can help them,” Goin said.

“I would have had a funeral instead of meeting at the graveside. I would have gotten to see him that one last time,” Hillis said.

Hillis said she hopes her son in heaven can see that his death has a purpose.

“I want him to know that he’s going to do so many good things for so many babies and families. I hope he’s proud of us. I hope he’s so proud of us,” Hillis said.

Now the women are on a mission to get a cuddle cot in hospitals throughout The Heartland.

“I would love it if there was one in everywhere around us. It would just mean everything in the world,” Hillis said.

“I’m so grateful the birdhouse brought us together,” Goin said.

Each Cuddle Cot costs around $3,000 dollars, and there are only around 300 in hospitals across The United States.

If you would like to donate please deliver or mail a check to:

Cuddle Cot Fund
c/o ?The Bank of Missouri
1465 N. Westwood Blvd.
Poplar Bluff, Mo. 63901

Acting Mississippi Co. Sheriff takes aim at making sex offenders compliant


The new acting sheriff in Mississippi County is taking on their sex offender list in an effort to keep track of pedophiles and reduce the number of victims.

Acting Sheriff Branden Kaid said when he looked at his county’s sex offender registry – he was shocked.

“85% of them were not in compliance when we started looking into it,” Kaid said.

The county has around 14,000 residents and over 100 sex offenders.

“Once an offender has committed an offense they’re given a set of rules and I’m basically just trying to make sure they follow those rules,” Kaid said.

Kaid said many offenders were confused by changing laws and updates to requirements.

He wants to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“We’ve also made several arrests and we have about a dozen arrests pending for violations right now,” Kaid said.

“It’s not exaggerated – ever. It’s completely under-reported. It’s a huge problem,” said Marsha Keene-Hutchason, executive director at Susanna Wesley in Charleston.

Keene-Hutchason said holding offenders accountable is incredibly important and will help keep assaults down.

“We see the same names pop up over and over and over. Sex offenders don’t have one victim. They have many many many victims. Sometimes that they’re never held accountable for,” Keene-Hutchason said.

“We’re just trying to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Kaid said.

Acting Sheriff Kaid said he wants victims to know that they should feel safe about coming forward.

“They’re not alone. There’s a lot of victims that are out there. Hopefully, we can make sure they get justice, and quite possibly help avoid someone else going through the same thing,” Kaid said.

Sheriff Kaid said he’s appointed a deputy specifically to track down offenders and make sure they are following the law.

Kaid said he is focused on all aspects of policing and keeping the public safe and hopes to get everyone in compliance soon.

MSHP: Suspect arrested in Cape Girardeau Co. hit-and-run


Authorities have made an arrest in a deadly hit-and-run crash in Cape Girardeau County.

According to Sgt. Clark Parrott with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, officers got a tip regarding a vehicle they were searching for.

It was found in North Stoddard County. They have arrested 21-year-old Brent A. Wondel.

Wondel has been charged with a felony of leaving the scene of a motor vehicle fatality.

He is being held at the Cape Girardeau County Jail

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, it happened on Route AB just west of County Road 219 Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 9:56 p.m.

Troopers said a scooter driven by 31-year-old Bryan Kinder of Marble Hill was struck from behind.

The scooter went off the road and Kinder and his passenger, Vickie Williams, 33, of Scott City, were thrown from it.

Both Kinder and Williams were taken by ambulance to Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau.

According to the highway patrol, Williams was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Kinder reportedly has minor injuries.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol asked for the public’s help in locating a 2005-2007 white Chevrolet truck. The truck had damage to the front right portion of the grille and possibly to the hood.

Man finds hope helping people in Sikeston recover from storm damage

SIKESTON, MO (KFVS) – Original Post

A Sikeston non-profit is helping others get back on their feet, but a year-and-a-half ago, the agency was the one that needed help.

A storm came through and destroyed much of their building.

Mission Missouri lives by the motto ‘The Face of Recovery.’

Executive director Jane Pfefferkorn said after the storm it means much more.

“The fact that it did not harm anyone, because we had residents living here, that was amazing. It could have been so much worse,” Pfefferkorn said.

Back in May of 2016 Pfefferkorn said a late night storm left them at a loss.

“Parts were laying out in the yard. Water poured in for really weeks until we were really able to get the damage repaired,” Pfefferkorn said.

She said the$100,000 dollars worth of damage was overwhelming.

“It was really God sending certain people that have the talents that we needed that we did not have in place before the storm happened,” Pfefferkorn said.

Someone like David West who said he ended up at Mission Missouri after a paperwork error.

“It was in disarray when I walked in. It was like okay I’m back in chaos, but it was good chaos for me, because it helped me along the way to give back to where in the past I’d been taking all along,” West said.

West worked in construction.

He’s also been to prison six times, and went to treatment more than 40 times.

“The ceilings and the walls were pretty much gone. So, we had to start with just the cover-up of the roof, and then working on the inside,” West said.

The work gave West a mission in life, and Pfefferkorn gave him a job as house manager.

“Finally. That I was really achieving something with my life, and not tearing it apart,” West said.

But – that achievement went even farther – when David West Jr. got out of prison and started his life over with his dad by his side.

“He gives me strength and help, and I’m glad to see him working hard for this place because it shows that it inspires him,” West Jr. said.

David Jr. said it’s great to see The Mission rebuilt, but it’s a fresh start for him and his dad as well.

“It looks a lot brighter now. I have a lot of good moments with him now that I never had before,” West Jr. said.

If you know someone who needs assistance anywhere in the state of Missouri you can contact Mission Missouri, and they can help you find a number of resources.

Poplar Bluff family hopes to inspire others after son’s heart transplant

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) – Original Post

A little boy from Poplar Bluff is the new face of organ donation in Missouri.

When we first met Liam Gregory two years ago he was getting an emergency heart transplant.

Now his face will be on billboards and buses spreading the message about pediatric transplants.

“He is so strong, and if he wants to do something he does it,” said his dad Laramy Gregory.

And good luck keeping up with him.

Liam Gregory is almost four, which is a birthday his parents worried he would never see.

“Something horrible happened to our family, and it was tragic, and my whole life did change. I thought it was going to be for the worst,” said Liam’s mom Jessica Gregory.

Before Liam’s second birthday he had a stroke, and that’s when doctors realized – he had an enlarged heart.

Then almost two years ago he got a heart transplant on Christmas day.

His parents call it a miracle.

“He had a stroke. He has another human being’s heart beating inside of him, and he’s out playing. It is so heartwarming. I love it,” Laramy Gregory said.

Liam’s parents said a Botox injection treatment helped him improve.

“Liam was running like nothing had ever happened to his foot at all, and I just bawled my eyes out like a baby,” Jessica Gregory said.

Now that he is doing so much better his parents are sharing his story as the face of Cardinal Glennon Hosptial’s pediatric transplant program.

“So, if somebody would sign up because of Liam, and either get an organ or give one – I mean, it’s just amazing to me to think about it,” said Laramy Gregory.

His parents said they hope as Liam grows he finds a calling to help others just like him.

“Liam has a reason he is here. There is a reason that God brought him back, and brought him back to us. I think his reason is to help save other people. That’s what it seems like,” Laramy Gregory said.

That reason is clear for everyone to see as they drive by.

Last Christmas Liam’s parents wrote a letter to his donor family.

They tell me they haven’t heard back, but will continue to write them every year, so they know what an important gift they gave their whole family.

Van Buren in need of donations after flood destroys Christmas decorations

VAN BUREN, MO (KFVS) – Original Post

While many people are focused on Thanksgiving coming up, the town of Van Buren is scrambling to get ready for Christmas after The Spring Food destroyed all of their decorations.

Van Buren’s annual Festival of Lights is held on December 1 this year in The Courthouse Square.

“To drive through town is not what it used to be, and we need it back,” said event organizer Emily Sellinger.

All of the Christmas lights, ornaments, wreathes and trimmings stored in the courthouse – washed away.

“They were stored inside the building, and then six foot of water inside the courthouse. Flooded everything. All of our wreaths.. everything that we had that we planned on using this year got ruined,” said presiding Carter County Co missioner Don Black.

The Festival of Lights could go dark this year.

“It was very upsetting. We worked very hard last year. With all the time and energy put into it to know that all the lights were gone, and everything’s going to have to be redone is just – it’s going to be a struggle, but I think we can do it,” said volunteer Nickie Rymer.

Event organizers said they need your help to bring a light to Downtown Van Buren.

“We need lights. It is the festival of lights, so the more lights the better. Last year as we decorated we heard over and over as more people became involved that it was like a Hallmark Movie, and I really feel that, and we could use it this year especially for our flood ravaged town,” Sellinger said.

“We don’t have a budget to do this. The county does not have any funds to donate to this, so it’s going to be strictly donations,” Black said.

Which is what they say the Christmas spirit is all about.

“The joy on their face. The hot chocolate in their hands. The Santa visits…,” Sellinger said.

“Everybody lost so much. It seems like Christmas is just a new day. It gives you a lot of hope,” Black said.

Hope for this Christmas and many more to come.

“We want people here to be able to come back to town and feel the love again. We are a small community, and the flood can’t take that away from us,” Sellinger said.

If you would like to give Christmas lights or decorations please send donations or items to P.O. Box 517, Van Buren, MO. 63965

The event is free and expected to draw over 1,000 people.

AG Hawley to investigate MO rape kit backlog, local officials react


Missouri’s attorney general says his office will audit a reported backlog of the state’s unprocessed rape kits.

Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office says according to national statistics, one in six women will face an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.

“Rape kits provide a powerful tool for identifying and prosecuting potential sex criminals. But both in Missouri and across the country, thousands of rape kits go untested, hamstringing law enforcement efforts to prosecute offenders,” Hawley said. “Every rape kit that goes untested means a rapist who remains on the streets, able to attack again, and a survivor who is denied justice. This is unacceptable. Our investigation will determine the scope of the problem in Missouri, the agencies responsible, and the ways we can implement reform.”

Local officials say ending the backlog is an excellent idea, but it may not be as easy as it seems.

“It takes a long time to get anything back from the crime lab in Missouri,” said Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver

Oliver says when it takes months for results it can be hard for victims, and harmful to their case.

“They’re going through these depositions and really being re-victimized,”Oliver said. “If we had that DNA evidence many of them would plead guilty, because that makes some of these cases slam dunk cases.”

But Oliver says sometimes it could take up to 8 months to get results.

In Sikeston, Sergeant Jon Broom says they don’t have long waits, but you never know who’s on the street.

“We may have made an arrest in a case, and have submitted a DNA sample, and there could be a sexual assault kit or DNA evidence that’s sitting in a crime lab or a police station somewhere that’s not been submitted,” Sergeant Broom said.

Oliver says – it’s not an easy problem to solve.

“I think it’s going to take funding, and I think that you can say we’re going to end the backlog of rape kits, but you’re taking those analysts off something else,” Oliver said.
However, both believe it needs to be done.

“It would make our state safer in the fact that we would be able to take people off the streets that are committing sexual assaults and serious felonies, and things like that,” Sergeant Broom said.

“If you can’t get rape kits done in a timely manner what can you get done in a timely manner? That’s one of the most important pieces of evidence that they need to get done,” Oliver said.

Hawley says his office will be doing audits to find out where the backups are in the state, but did not give a time line on when it would be completed.

Man arrested in connection to Butler Co. death investigation; remains found 2 years later

BUTLER COUNTY, MO (KFVS) – Original Post

The remains of Edward Goodwin were believed to have been found on Thursday, November 2, 2017, two years after the man went missing in June of 2015.

A man was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the investigation.

According to Butler County Sheriff Mark Dobbs, Rickey Hurt is being held on a $300,000 cash only bond.

Dobbs said they went to serve a warrant at Hurt’s home and he was found hiding in a back bedroom.

According to Dobbs, Goodwin’s remains were found in a lake on a property off County Road 572 in Butler County.

Only 40 percent of his remains were recovered and investigators are working to uncover the rest that were submerged in mud and brush.

Sheriff Dobbs said his team has been working to search after excavating the lake and sitting through of thick mud.

Goodwin’s remains were sent to a medical examiner in Farmington, Missouri. They were able to determine the bones are from a male around Goodwin’s same age and height.

Goodwin’s mother, Connie, reported him missing on June 27, 2015.

The remains will be sent to The University of Texas use mitochondrial DNA testing to confirm 100 percent that this is Goodwin, but Dobbs is confident it is Goodwin’s remains.

A man was taken into custody in October 2015 by Shannon County deputies on charges stemming from Goodwin’s disappearance. However, those charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.

No cause of death has been determined at this time, but Dobbs believes Goodwin may have been shot. The sheriff said their information is that Goodwin was probably led to a rural area, beaten and killed.

STUDY: Premature birth rates up across The U.S. for second year in row


According to a new report by the March of Dimes premature birth rates are up across the nation and in The Heartland.

One mom in Cape Girardeau County is a mom to two preemies in the last two years.

“She is independent and rambunctious. Super smart. And Link is gaining motivation every day,” said mom Samantha Matthews.

Matthews is a proud mom who’s road to motherhood hasn’t been easy.

“Link has a little bit of the developmental delays for the preemie part of things, but he has grown stronger and stronger since he was born,” Matthews said.

Matthews has a genetic disorder, called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), that causes her liver to fail during pregnancy.

Which means both her children Nyla and Link came early.

“Every time I would go home my heart would break a little because I knew I had to go home without them,” Matthews said.

A new report from The March of Dimes shows premature birth rates across the U.S are up for the second year in a row.

In Missouri – rates rose from 10 to 10.2 percent.

“There’s more drug use, there’s more poverty, there’s more baseline poor health, and those things will all contribute to the premature birth rates,” said Dr. Karlyle Christian – Ritter, Chief of Neonatology at St. Francis Medical Center.

Dr. Christian-Ritter says in Southeast Missouri – that number could be much higher.

The most recent date from Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services shows some counties had rates of up to nearly 20 percent from 2007 to 2011.

“As the obesity rates go up, the gestational diabetes rates goes up, so all of these things, all of these medical issues that we seem to have increasing rates of are going to contribute,” Dr. Christian-Ritter said.

Doctor Christian Ritter says even with those factors there will always be special cases like Nyla and Link.

“We’re not having any more kids, though, because it was way too traumatizing. We’re done with the NICU stays, we’re done with high risk pregnancies that could put me out of work, but these two were most definitely worth it,” Matthews said.

According to Dr. Christian-Ritter premature birth is defined as any baby born at less than 37 weeks.