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Sherita Johnson prepares her Lucky Ducks Liberty Fall Festival booth and prizes before festivities begin Friday, Sept. 27, on the downtown Liberty Square.

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Smithville mourns loss of officer Madrid-Evans

Blaize Madrid-Evans

SMITHVILLE — Like many across the Kansas City metro area, people in Smithville are mourning the loss of Blaize Madrid-Evans, a 2018 Smithville High School graduate and new Independence Police officer who lost his life in the line of duty last week.

On Sept. 15, after only 18 days on patrol and two months after graduating from the police academy, Madrid-Evans was shot during an exchange of gun fire with a man being sought for violating parole on a firearm conviction. Accompanied by his field training officer, Madrid-Evans was responding around noon to a residence in the 2440 block of South Northern Boulevard in Independence at the time of the shooting.

Cody Harrison, the suspect in the fatal shooting, was previously arrested by Kansas Police with a handgun Sept. 2. According to police and court reports, in accordance with state law, Harrison was released after 24 hours. As of Monday, Sept. 20, he had yet to be charged in that incident. However, the convicted felon does face other charges from other incidents including burglary and stealing.

Dan Ulledahl, a Smithville alderman and owner of Chop’s BBQ in downtown Smithville, remembers Madrid-Evans as hardworking and a “good kid we lost way too young.”

“He was very smart, very intelligent. He thought a lot about what he wanted to do and where he wanted to do it and went,” said the city leader and business owner.

Madrid-Evans worked in Ulledahl’s restaurant between 2017 and 2018, first as kitchen help, then as a server after learning all there was to know in the kitchen.

When he was old enough, Madrid-Evans couldn’t resist the call to serve his community further, and he joined the military, said Ulledahl.

“But even after that, he did come back and worked here a while before starting his EMT training and starting his career,” said the restaurant owner.

Ulledahl said Madrid-Evans was selfless and a “hero” who was passionate about his career.

“He was working as an EMT during COVID. We talked about that and he said it was rough, but he still wanted to do more in the community,” Ulledahl said. “… We need to give all our young people and our people support in what they want to do and make sure everybody is trying to keep them safe.”

“Blaize was an amazing kid and he was always kind and caring,” Mindy Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the Smithville School District, told Kansas City reporters. “He had a genuine heart. It is a loss to our community. It is a loss to law enforcement as a whole.”

“So kind. That’s what really stood out to me is just his kindness,” Smithville High School Counselor Jennifer Robinson told Kansas City reporters.

Stacey Sapp, Smithville High School’s bookkeeper, met Madrid-Evans as sponsor of the Interact Club, which is under the umbrella of Rotary Club.

“... The nursing home was by far Blaize’s most favorite service opportunity,” she said.

Sapp’s memories of Madrid-Evans include a young man who was kind, thoughtful, and generous.

He wouldn’t hesitate to help a fellow student or another person. He enjoyed community service, outreach and generally serving his student body and community. He was a wonderful leader and a wonderful friend,” Sapp said. “I have no doubt his impact would have been far-reaching in the years to come. This is a great loss to his family, to his friends, to his brothers in blue and to the entire Independence and Smithville communities.”

For English teacher Alex Houck, Madrid-Evans always did his best.

“He wasn’t competitive with others, he was competitive with himself. He didn’t have to be the best writer in my English class, he had to be the best writer he could be. I realize now after I’ve reread his essays this week that he wanted to be the best person so he could help others in their time of need,” Houck said.

Social studies teacher Katy Minnix had the late police officer as a junior in civics and his senior year for psychology.

“Both classes happened to be first thing in the morning! He was always one of the first in the classroom, often with a cup of coffee, and his positive energy was extraordinary for a high schooler at 7:45 in the morning,” she said. “In psychology especially, Blaize would ask a lot of great questions. I think he just really liked people and wanted to understand them better.”

After the young officer’s death, an outpouring of support from around Smithville and elsewhere in the metro began to pour in. Madrid-Evans was honored with a flyover and moment of silence at the Smithville football game Friday, Sept. 17. He was also honored at games elsewhere, including a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium.

Even in death, the young man with a servant’s heart continues helping others.

According to Independence Police, Madrid-Evans helped save the life of another officer by donating a kidney.

“Officer Madrid-Evans was an organ donor, and Springfield Police Department officer Mark Priebe, who was severely injured in the line of duty in 2020, needed a new kidney. The two were a match,” states an Independence Police release.

“I am forever grateful to officer Madrid-Evans and his family for providing this direct donation,” Priebe said. “I truly believe God had his hand in this and it’s been difficult to comprehend why I am allowed to continue to live, and this young, brand new officer had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. I hope that I can honor him and his family by the way I live my life.”

“Sept. 18th was National Thank A Police Officer Day. It was also the day that Mark was the recipient of a new kidney,” said Priebe’s wife, Heather Priebe. “… Mark has once again been given a second chance, thanks to a member of our thin blue line family. We hope we have the opportunity to meet officer Madrid-Evans’ family in the near future and we pray for them as they navigate through the days ahead.”

In addition to his parents, Madrid-Evans leaves a fiancée. To help the Madrid-Evans family, fundraisers across the region have been ongoing, including a police fraternal order cornhole tournament and Kansas City Police T-shirt sale. In addition, Price Chopper stores throughout the metro, including the one off U.S. Highway 169 in Smithville, will begin accepting donations starting Friday, Sept. 24. The grocery chain said 100% of the money collected will go to Madrid-Evans’ family.

“Our deepest condolences go to the Madrid-Evans family,” said Casie Broker, chief marketing officer for Price Chopper. “We are saddened by this tragic event and ask the KC community to help us support officer Madrid-Evan’s family.”

Blaize Madrid-Evans, front right, plays bingo with seniors as part of his Interact Club volunteerism while he was a student at Smithville High School.

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Kearney teacher faces sexual misconduct charge

Bryant Hummel

KEARNEY — Teacher Bryant Hummel has been charged with misdemeanor sexual misconduct following accusations that he exposed himself to two Kearney students last school year.

Kearney School District Communications Director Ray Weikal said Wednesday, Sept. 22, the district was aware of the charge now filed against Hummel, that he was placed on administrative leave and not allowed on school property.

“The safety of students is always our top priority. KSD takes all student concerns and allegations seriously, investigates them pursuant to district policies, and fully cooperates with state agencies and law enforcement,” said Weikal in a statement.

District leaders were initially made aware of allegations involving a Kearney School District staff member and students in April. These allegations were also circulating on social media. The name of the staff member was not released by the district. The social media allegations included reports of a high school teacher, who was also a coach, being escorted off school property by law enforcement.

At that time, Kearney Police Public Information Officer John Stewart told the Courier-Tribune no arrests had been made and he could not “confirm or deny there’s an investigation ongoing.”

This week, district leadership told the Courier-Tribune when it learned of allegations against Hummel in the spring, it launched an internal investigation and alerted local police.

Hummel has been a math teacher and defensive line football and assistant girls wrestling coach in Kearney for several years. Hummel was replaced as a high school coach this summer, but remained under teaching contract. While he was still working with students this school year, according to school board President Mark Kelly, it was not in the same teaching capacity as in prior school years.

Kelly told the Courier-Tribune the internal investigation, standard for any allegations of possible wrongdoing, was unable to gather the same information as police obtained.

“Generally, a teacher is put on administrative leave and then an investigation takes place to see if you can substantiate the allegations,” he said. “But, obviously, a school district doesn’t have the same rights or abilities to investigate that a police force does or sheriff’s department. So, we’re limited to what we are provided as we investigate that. Certainly, I can tell you that the police found more than what we were able to obtain.”

According to the probable cause statement, the criminal investigation began in the spring after a school district administrator learned of accusations that Hummel exposed himself to two students and alerted police.

The two students told investigators the incident happened after school when they were being assisted with homework in Hummel’s classroom.

“Hummel did tell them if they told anyone, it would jeopardize their grades ...,” states the probable cause statement written by Kearney Police Sgt. Ron McEntire after interviews with the students.

The probable cause statement also alleges Hummel later video called the students while exposing himself and asked them to expose themselves to him. Hummel is also accused of asking the students to come to his residence when he was home alone.

Based on information contained in the probable cause statement, district leaders have reopened its internal investigation.

"Kearney School District officials previously investigated allegations against Bryant Hummel pursuant to Board of Education policy. That investigation was conducted to the full extent allowed under the law for public school districts in Missouri," states the release. "Based on the information released in Clay County’s probable cause statement, we are reopening our investigation into the allegations."

A court date for Hummel is scheduled for Oct. 25.

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No foul play found in death of 3 in Glenaire

GLENAIRE — Clay County Sheriff’s Office has determined the death of three relatives found dead in a Glenaire home this summer was not the result of foul play.

Deputies first responded to the scene to conduct a welfare check about 1 p.m. July 21 at the residence in the 400 block of Wherritt Lane, after a neighbor reported not seeing one of the residents for some time. Deputies located 66-year-old Roger Wilfong, his 67-year-old sister Mary Wilfong and their 99-year-old mother Virginia King deceased inside. They also found a deceased dog.

“The house was secure and deputies had to force entry. All three deceased family members were located seated in the living room and appeared to have been there for some time,” states a sheriff’s office press release.

According to the sheriff’s office, the investigation determined Roger was the caretaker for his mother and sister.

“They both had extensive health issues and could not move about the home without his assistance. An autopsy determined Roger Wilfong died from choking on food, most likely on June 21,” states the release. “Autopsy results stated Mary Wilfong and Virginia King died from undetermined causes, but there was no evidence of foul play or drugs or alcohol.”

The investigation revealed that without Roger’s care, Mary and King were unable to access the food, water, medication and sanitation they needed, which may have contributed to their deaths the following month.

“Investigators also determined the air conditioning may not have been working. The temperatures in the month between when Roger Wilfong died on June 21 and when the bodies were discovered on July 21 were well into the 90s on multiple occasions, which also could have contributed to the deaths of Mary Wilfong and Virginia King,” states the sheriff’s office release.

A veterinarian who conducted a necropsy on the dog stated the animal was too decomposed to determine the cause of death. Investigators found food in the home for the dog, but no water. The dog was located deceased next to a bathroom toilet.

More on this developing story will be released as details become available.

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Chalk art contest added to Liberty Fall Festival

LIBERTY — Shawn Garland, owner and artist at The Artisan Market, 118 N. Main St., Suite B in Liberty, has been helping with the Liberty Fall Festival Committee and found out some spaces won’t have vendors this week so she hatched a plan. She will be coordinating a chalk art contest.

The event begins when booths open at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 24.

Garland said she wants to have two age groups competing in the chalk art contest. First is the 12 and under group, and the second is designed for those 12 and older.

“We have (Historic Downtown Liberty Inc.) gift certificates in the value of $50 for second place and $100 for first in the older division,” Garland said. “The younger set can win gift certificates: $50 for second and $100 for first to Orange Easel.” Orange Easel School of Art, 249 W. Mill St., Suite 107, is an art studio for creative kids.

“We will have a tent in front of the market,” Garland said of the chalk art contest. “When participants come to us, we can get them registered and give them their own numbered blank square. I am estimating we will have around 20 spaces for those 12 and older. Those under 12, I am guessing there will be around 10 spaces. So it’s going to be a first-come, first-serve registration.”

The theme for the chalk art contest is fall.

“We are looking for designs that best exemplifies the theme of fall, plus creativity and craftsmanship,” Garland said. “We also want to see family appropriate artwork.”

The artwork can be done between 11 a.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, when judging begins.

Garland’s new intern, Claire Manuel, is a Liberty High School senior and is involved with the school district Network 53 program. Several of the art students from the high school will be aiding participants with the chalk art contest.

Learn more about this weekend’s Liberty Fall Festival in the guide inserted into this edition of the newspaper. It includes a schedule of events and other details.