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2017 was a year of heartbreak and hope — The Daily Leader looks back at the top stories of the past 12 months

Editor’s note: The year of 2017 was full of celebration and heartache, joy and sorrow. Below is a sampling of some of the year’s top read stories. They are in no particular order.

Suspect Willie Cory Godbolt charged with eight counts of first-degree, capital murder

A Lincoln County Justice Court judge denied bail for a Bogue Chitto man accused of killing eight people in a weekend shooting spree.

The first court appearance for Willie Cory Godbolt, 35, of Bogue Chitto, was held May 30 in Copiah County Justice Court in Gallman. The hearing was moved to Copiah County due to safety concerns, officials said.

Godbolt was charged with one count of capital murder and seven counts of first degree murder.

The capital murder charge is for the death of deputy William Durr, 36. The first degree murder charges are for the deaths of Barbara Mitchell, 55, her daughter, Tocarra May, 35, and Mitchell’s sister Brenda May, 53, all of Bogue Chitto; Austin Edwards, 11, and his cousin, Jordan Blackwell, 17, of Brookhaven; Ferral Burage, 45, and Sheila Burage, 46, of Brookhaven.

The court documents detailing the charges against Godbolt state that he knew Durr was a law enforcement officer when he killed him.

‘Snow’ much fun — Children of all ages enjoy the wintry weather all across county

Shane Coley didn’t have a chance to build a snowman Dec. 8.

His daughters quickly ripped off the camo cap Dad placed on top of the mounded snow person and proclaimed her to be Frostina the snow woman.

For the youngest, it was the first time to see the white stuff, which fell in abundance at their Loyd Star home. Mom Kim Coley, a secretary at Loyd Star Elementary, woke 3-year-old Brooklyn Claire Coley up at 5:30 a.m. to see the the powdery whiteness blanketing their yard.

Brooklyn Claire — just like teenagers at Mississippi School of the Arts and in neighborhoods all over Lincoln County — wanted to play. Her sisters, 11-year-old Atleigh Anding and 15-year-old Madisyn King, quickly joined Brooklyn outside for snowball fights. Of course, in between snow battles, they taught her how to make snow angels, too.

Meteorologists said Lincoln County received 4 to 6 inches of snow Dec. 8. Coley said she figures they got at least 5 inches.

That’s a record as far as Coley is concerned, who proclaimed it the most she’d seen fall in her 40 years in Loyd Star.

Boil-water advisory for Brookhaven has been lifted

A week after samples of Brookhaven’s drinking water showed the presence of E. coli and coliform bacteria, a boil-water advisory issued by the Mississippi State Department of Health was lifted Jan. 18.

“All clear,” Mayor Joe Cox said at lunchtime Jan. 18 even while restaurants connected to the city’s lines continued to serve customers bottled water and store-bought ice.

About 12,500 customers have been under the state’s advisory since the morning of Jan. 12 after the bacteria was found in routine samples Jan. 11.  That accounts for about 4,800 households and businesses, Cox said.

The state required two days of clear samples before the advisory could be lifted. City workers collected samples at 24 sites throughout the city each day Brookhaven was under the advisory. Samples taken Jan. 16 came back negative for E. coli. Less than 24 hours after Jan. 17’s samples were delivered to the state health department in Jackson, the city got the all clear.

Many residents have complained to members of the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen that they didn’t know about the advisory, or that they were told by city employees it was for only a 30-block area of the city east of South First Street.

Parents, teachers bully board: Group interrupts school board meeting

What started out as a routine meeting of the Lincoln County School Board Feb. 21, quickly turned into chaos and emotional pleas as a group of about 20 parents, teachers and residents faced off against the board and demanded to be heard.

The men and women who walked into the meeting lined the walls, circling the board members who had just celebrated at a Mardi Gras-themed reception in the board room for School Board Appreciation Month.

The crowd remained silent through the agenda discussion, which was mostly consent agenda items and the docket of claims. However, at one point during the discussion, resident Melissa Posey interrupted the meeting to ask, “How can you guys decide anything when you have corruption on the board?”

It was when the board discussed having a work session in coming months to discuss the Loyd Star football field, a need for school nurses and 5- and 10-year plans for the district, that the  group began to get vocal.

Board member Johnny Hart told the group that if they were not on the agenda, they were not allowed to interrupt the board while they were conducting school business. Requests to be placed on the agenda should be made three days in advance, he said.

“We’re going to be heard,” Posey said.

Board President Kay Coon called for an executive session to discuss personnel matters, and asked the public and school district employees to leave the room.

Posey said she and other others would not leave and said it’s not fair that the board can “make decisions about people’s lives” in closed-door meetings.

Assistant Superintendent Letha Presley asked Superintendent Mickey Myers to step into his office to discuss a matter.

When Myers and Presley returned, Myers said he believed most of the people there were concerned about the accusations against Loyd Star Assistant Principal Billy Vaughn concerning a Twitter account he created that showed pornographic images and videos. Vaughn was placed on administrative leave with pay Feb. 3 by Myers while the account was investigated by Mississippi Department of Education and forensic experts, Myers said.

However, the group’s spokesmen said they were more concerned about recent posts on a Facebook page called “Restore Humanity, Ethics and Peace at Loyd Star.”

The majority of the posts are from Posey, who created the public group Feb. 17. It includes video of audio recordings allegedly made of private conversations between Loyd Star Principal Robin Case and others in Case’s office.

Posey said in a post that the audio was “obtained legally and without prejudice.”

Legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden visited Brookhaven

Coach Bobby Bowden is the fourth winningest coach of all time in college football. But even after 57 years of coaching, Bowden’s heart is not wrapped up in football. It’s consumed by a passion for Jesus.

Bowden spoke April 13 at the nearly sold-out “Banquet with Bowden” hosted by the Lincoln County Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The event’s focus was to promote the ministry and honor those who work with coaches and student athletes. With a new leadership board over the past 14 months and a new District 7 area representative in Chris Huffman, Lincoln County FCA is working to bring Christ to every athlete, coach and their families in the area.

Bowden, through his testimony, is a big part of that.

For years, Bowden has made no secret of his love for God and his desire to bring other people to know him. His main goal today is “the same thing: just getting the word out.”

Bowden, now 87 years old, may not walk as fast or stand as straight as he did in his heyday, but he is still a noticeable presence in any room. He takes advantage of his notoriety to speak to anyone he can.

“I try to tell them about Jesus,” he said.

He doesn’t know of any better avenue to do that than through FCA.

“I look at so many young boys who have parents who don’t get them to church,” said Bowden. “Where else are they going to hear it? FCA.”Sammie Smith, a former Florida State running back who was coached by Bowden, drove three-and-one-half hours from Florida to be a part of the program.

Man gets 65 years

in attempted murder

of deputy

A Bogue Chitto man who pleaded guilty March 28 to attempted murder of two Lincoln County deputies following a 2015 shootout was sentenced to 65 years in prison Monday in Lincoln County Circuit Court.

Circuit Judge Michael Taylor gave Christopher Leigh Hamilton a lesser sentence than the maximum allowed. Hamilton could have received anything short of a life sentence on each of the two counts.

When Hamilton was led into the courtroom by the jailer and a corrections officer, he was met and led to the podium by his attorney Ivan Burghard.

Taylor said more than 14 minutes of video of the gunfight at 421 River Road Drive were viewed in chambers with Burghard and District Attorney Dee Bates present, and admitted that video into evidence, along with medical records from the defense and the pre-sentencing investigation report, which included photos taken at the scene of the crime.

Deputy Ian Smith testified Monday that in the process of attempting to serve a felony warrant, the defendant became agitated. He refused to be restrained and verbally threatened the officers even to the point of saying specifically to more than one of them by name “that they would die today,” Smith said.

He said Hamilton fired on them first with a handgun then retrieved an assault rifle from his truck and shot first at Smith, who returned fire as he sought cover. “It was clear he had no regard for anyone’s safety,” Smith said. “I believe he was a danger to himself and anyone around the community at that point.”

EF-1 hit Lincoln County but NWS issued no warning

Heather Aleman’s trailer was shaking.

She was startled awake at 1:13 a.m. April 3 thinking a train was hitting her mobile home on Oakwood Lane near Loyd Star Attendance Center.

“I woke up and all of a sudden I heard this sound and it sounded light a freight train,” she said. “My trailer started shaking and I thought it was going to blow over.”

At daylight she saw a tree down about 500 feet from her home. “It was completely snapped,” she said. Her neighbor’s power pole was broken.

Aleman knows now it was an EF-1 tornado, which the National Weather Service said cut a wide a path more than 17 miles long. It started in Franklin County near the line and headed northeast through Lincoln County, skirting the northern area of Brookhaven.

The NWS never issued a tornado warning, which means the city also didn’t sound its tornado warning sirens.The EF-1 had maximum winds of 110 mph. A storm on March 30 brought with it straight-line winds of 80 to 90 mph, toppling trees and damaging homes. Two homes were destroyed and one 11-year-old girl was bruised when the ceiling collapsed on her while she slept in the top bunk of her bed.

Kenneth Collins elected Brookhaven police chief

Brookhaven Police Lt. Kenneth Collins speaks softly and carries a big smile.

But the man who will be the next chief of police is not one the bad guys should cross. He can go from friendly to fierce in a heartbeat when the situation calls for it.

Collins will be sworn in as chief June 29.

He defeated Republican Jason Gaskin in the general election Tuesday, receiving nearly 59 percent of the vote.

He’d already beat Ward 1 Alderman Randy Belcher and Collins’ boss, Police Chief Bobby Bell, in the Democratic primaries in May.

Collins, 53, has spent 28 years with the Brookhaven PD and three years with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. He spent eight years in the 155th Infantry of the Army National Guard, training as a machine gunner and a transport truck driver.

This was his first time to run for police chief.

‘She was bold and beautiful’; teammates remember Brittney Hill

“I am my sister’s keeper.”

That’s the motto of the Ole Brook Lady Panthers. It’s also what’s painted in blue on a red banner the team plans to hang up today at Brookhaven High School where the student body, teachers and staff will be wearing red in memory of junior Brittney Hill. Hill died April 14 in a two-vehicle accident.

The 18-year-old was on her way to the Panther prom at the Brookhaven Building.

Her team gathered in the softball locker room April 17 to make posters and prepare for their game against West Lincoln. Rain took away their chance to play the Lady Bears and postponed a balloon release they’d planned in honor of Hill. They’ll release the balloons before their home game April 20, which is also Senior Night.

“She was one of a kind for sure,” said teammate Maddie Thompson, a junior. “Her smile. She could turn your whole day around just by saying one word to you.”

Lawrence County sheriff said he thinks accused killer is still in the area

The sheriff of Lawrence County asked the public for help to locate Tony Wilson, who is suspected of shooting a retired teacher in the back before setting the house on fire over a land dispute in the Jayess community.

Henry Peavey was shot to death Dec. 19 at his late mother’s house.

Wilson, 56, of Frog Ridge Road, is also accused of beating Peavey’s wife, Kathryn, at the Peaveys’ home less than a half mile away and then burning it with her inside.

Wilson fled after his girlfriend called Sheriff Lessie Butler and told him Wilson had shot Peavey, beat his wife and set their home on fire.