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Headlines for Friday, October 8, 2021


Kansas High School Choir Director Charged in Child Sex Case

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say a high school choir director in Overland Park has been charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a child and two counts of breach of privacy. The Johnson County District Attorney's Office says it charged 45-year-old Joseph Martin Heidesch on Thursday following his arrest Wednesday morning. Investigators say the Saint Thomas Aquinas High School choir director was found with images of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Officials also say he used a hidden camera to secretly record two victims as they were undressing. Investigators say the incidents happened between 2019 through September of this year. The school says Heidesch has been placed on administrative leave.


Kansas Legislative Committee Recommends More Medical Exams for Kids in Foster Care  

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — State lawmakers hope that collecting more information and requiring additional medical examinations could help keep children safe in the Kansas foster care system. The recommendations are from a committee studying ways the state can improve the system.  Democratic State Representative Jarrod Ousley, of Merriam, says the state should start tracking gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity when children in state care die.  Ousley says collecting that information will help the state find trends in suicide or other child deaths. Republican Senator Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg, says the state should require more physical examinations when abuse is suspected. She hopes that could lead to doctors finding hidden injuries as a result of child abuse. Lawmakers will consider the committee’s recommendations when they return to Topeka in January.  


Wichita Schools Closed After Water Main Break, Boil Advisory

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Wichita is under a water boil order after a large water main break, leading area schools to close and prompting residents to make a run on bottled water. The city ordered the boil advisory Thursday afternoon, affecting its nearly 400,000 residents and some surrounding communities, following the break of a 42-inch main on Wichita's north side. Mayor Brandon Whipple asked residents not to hoard bottled water, but many area store shelves were wiped out of water by late Thursday. The advisory is to remain in effect until testing shows the city's water is safe. Officials hope to be able to lift the order at some point this weekend.


Vaccinated Kansas Congressman Tells Lawrence Crowd He Won't Support Vaccination Mandates

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) - Kansas Congressman Jake LaTurner told a crowd in Lawrence that although he and his family are vaccinated against COVID-19, he believes vaccination is a personal choice and that he “never has and never will” support vaccine mandates.  The Republican represents the state's 2nd Congressional District, which includes Lawrence. LaTurner spoke Thursday to a group at the Lawrence Public Library.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that LaTurner also discussed his views on illegal immigration, efforts in Congress to balance the federal budget and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. La Turner said the people who broke the law that day should be held accountable.


Masks Touted as Kansas Reports Fewer School COVID Outbreaks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Health officials are frustrated that many school boards remain reluctant to adopt mask mandates, even though most COVID-19 outbreaks in Kansas schools are occurring in districts without such requirements. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported this week that Kansas has 68 active school clusters, down from 79 a week ago. Those clusters are connected to 596 cases, one hospitalization and one death. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that of those active outbreaks, only 29% were in districts that reported having a mask requirement. Only about 20% of school districts report requiring masks for most or all of their students. Those districts educate about 63% of the state’s student population.


Inmates Spend More Time in Cells Because of Staff Shortages

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials say staffing shortages have gotten so bad at one of the largest prisons in Kansas that inmates are spending more time confined to their cells. Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson Carol Pitts said in an email that staffing is a problem across the prison system but that the “greatest challenge” is at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. The result is more cell time and less access to programs and activities. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the prison population decreased during the pandemic, and the agency has closed some housing units to reduce staff needs. The agency also has increased recruiting efforts.


Police: 2nd Lawrence Homicide Suspect Arrested in Tennessee

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Police in Lawrence say U.S. Marshals have arrested a second suspect in the fatal shooting last month of a Wichita man near the University of Kansas campus. Police say 19-year-old Andrel Darnell Spates Jr., of Lawrence, was arrested Wednesday in Tennessee. Police say Spates is expected to be extradited to Kansas in the coming days. Spates' arrest is the second in the September 8 shooting death of 21-year-old Christian Willis. On September 17, police arrested 18-year-old Javier Isidro Romero, who was later charged with first-degree murder and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell.


Kansas Man Arrested in Death of 67-Year-Old Mother

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man has been arrested in the killing of his 67-year-old mother who was found dead at her Wichita area trailer home. The Wichita Eagle reports that 42-year-old Kyle Romey was booked into jail Wednesday night on suspicion of first-degree murder in the death of Denyce Briet. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 bond. Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said Thursday that deputies found Briet dead on the floor of the trailer after receiving a 911 call requesting a welfare check. Easter said it wasn’t clear what led up to the killing but told reporters that Romey had a history of arguments and violence with his family.


New Search Announced for Bodies of Long-Missing Oklahoma Girls

PICHER, Okla. (AP) — Authorities have announced a new search for the bodies of two northeast Oklahoma girls missing since 1999. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Craig County District Attorney Investigator Gary Stansill say investigators will search a cellar Friday on vacant land in the former town of Picher where a suspect in the girls' disappearance lived at the time. The search is for the remains of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, who were 16 when they disappeared from Freeman's home near Welch on December 30, 1999. Freeman's parents were found dead in the burned rubble of the home and Ronnie Busick, of Wichita, pleaded guilty to an accessory to murder charge in the case in August.


Audit: Cybersecurity Weak for Many Kansas School Districts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new legislative audit says that many Kansas school districts aren’t taking basic steps to protect their computer systems and the privacy of sensitive information collected about students. The report released this week by the Legislature’s auditing agency based its conclusions on a survey sent to the state’s 286 local school districts, with 147, or 51% responding. The audit said that more than a quarter of the school districts surveyed didn’t have antivirus software on all computers. The auditors said that only 34% of districts said they scanned computers for vulnerabilities at least once a month, while 35% said they never did it.


"Critical Race Theory" an Issue in Local Kansas School Board Elections

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KPR) - State education leaders say critical race theory is not taught in Kansas schools, but it’s still becoming an issue in some local school board races this year. Conservative candidates are vowing to fight controversial teaching methods regarding racism.  And those candidates are getting support from powerful national groups. Sharon Iorio is former dean of the College of Education at Wichita State University. She says these types of controversies in local school board races take the focus away from actual, serious issues in education,  “That’s a problem,” Iorio said,  “because it moves us toward national issues, and sometimes hot-button issues like critical race theory and mask-wearing.”  Kansas education leaders say critical race theory is not part of the state’s current academic standards. But candidates are raising the issue anyway and some have support from powerful national groups. Critical race theory is the idea that racism and discrimination are ingrained in public policy.


Kansas County GOP Chair Accused of Forced Kissing Resigns

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The Republican Party chair for the most populous county in Kansas has resigned following disclosure of an accusation that he forcibly kissed another local GOP leader at an anti-abortion group’s fundraiser this summer. The Kansas City Star reported that Fabian Shepard’s decision to step down as the GOP’s Johnson County chair was confirmed Thursday by the county party’s vice chair and the Kansas Republican Party’s executive director. Wyandotte County GOP Vice Chair Stephanie Cashion said earlier this week that she filed a battery complaint with Bonner Springs police accusing Shepard of kissing twice her without her permission at an August 20 Kansans for Life event. He has denied the allegation.


Solemn Ceremony Aims to Remember Victims of Lynching in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition will conduct a special Soil Collection Ceremony Saturday under the Kansas River bridge, on the south bank of the Kansas River, near Lawrence City Hall. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. The public is invited to witness the event, which includes the filling of glass jars with soil from where three Black men - Isaac King, George Robertson and Pete Vinegar - were lynched from the bridge on June 10, 1882.  This soil was collected by the Coalition earlier in September and has been drying to prepare it for placement in jars that will become a permanent memorial at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a national lynching memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Speakers on Saturday will include retired Pastor, Rev. Verdell Taylor Jr, of St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church. Representatives of the Lawrence Black community will fill the jars with soil, some of which will be sent to Watkins Museum of History. The ceremony can be accessed by driving along the gravel road on the north side of 6th and Kentucky. Signs will be posted, and limited parking is available. Social distancing and masking guidelines will be in place. (Read more.)


Catholic Bishops Urge Missouri Leaders to End Executions

UNDATED, (AP) - Leaders of the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Missouri are urging state leaders to end the use of the death penalty, after a convicted killer of three was executed despite a request for clemency from the pope. Ernest Johnson was executed Tuesday, the first Missouri execution in 16 months and the seventh in the U.S. this year. Johnson killed three people in Columbia in 1994. On Wednesday, a statement signed by St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James Johnston Jr., Jefferson City Bishop Shawn McKnight and Springfield-Cape Girardeau Bishop Edward Rice expressed disappointment with the decision to allow Johnson’s execution.


2 More Southwest Missouri Women Charged in Riot at U.S. Capitol

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Two more women from southwest Missouri have been charged with participating in the riot at the U.S. Capitol in January. The federal case against Springfield residents Cara Hentschel and Mahailya Pryer was unsealed this week. They are charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds; and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the capitol building. Court documents say a tipster directed investigators to Hentschel’s Facebook page where she had posted photos of her and Pryer at the Capitol on the day of the riot.


Blood Donations Urgently Needed; American Red Cross Reports Worst Blood Shortage Since 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The American Red Cross is experiencing an emergency blood shortage, the worst in six years. A sharp drop in blood donor turnout has contributed to the lowest post-summer blood inventory level since 2015.  In some areas, the blood inventory is less than a day's supply. Donors of all blood types are needed, but especially those with type O blood.  The blood shortage is now so severe that the Red Cross is giving away prizes to those who donate. Those who give blood soon could get a limited-edition, football-inspired Red Cross T-shirt, free haircut coupons from Sport Clips and a coupon for a free Zaxby’s® chicken Sandwich or other freebies.  Learn more at

A blood drive is underway in Lawrence today (FRI) at Immanuel Lutheran Church (2104 Bob Billings Parkway). Blood donations can be made from 9 am to 2 pm, but an appointment is necessary.

Find a list of area blood drives


Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita to Require Employee Vaccinations

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Spirit AeroSystems will require all employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by December 8th. Spirit is the 2nd largest private employer in Kansas. The aerospace manufacturer told employees in a memo that the mandate applies to all the company’s U.S. employees. Spirit says it must follow a directive from President Joe Biden that applies to contractors who do work for the federal government. Spirit is involved in several U.S. defense programs. Workers who are not vaccinated by December 8th will be terminated. There will be exemptions for people who can’t get vaccinated because of medical conditions or religious beliefs.  


Mass COVID Vaccination Site to Open in Springfield

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A mass COVID-19 vaccination site will soon open in Springfield as vaccine mandates and boosters have increased the number of people seeking a shot.  Jon Mooney, assistant director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said that 500 people a day will be vaccinated a day at the site after it opens Monday in a space that once housed a Gordmans and Toys “R” Us store. It’s not just that more people must get the vaccine to keep their jobs or that boosters are now available for a group that includes frontline medical workers and those with immune system issues. Part of the demand also is expected to come from parents. Pfizer has submitted research on the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds.


Housing Forecast for Kansas Looks Good... for Sellers

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - A new housing report says that Kansas will continue to be a seller’s market into 2022. This week, the Wichita State University Center for Real Estate released reports on home sales for the state and several metro areas.  The report predicts high demand and limited supply will continue in the Kansas housing market. Kansas home prices are expected to increase by as much as 10.5% by the end of this year.  Prices may fall in the years to come as more single-family home permits are approved in the state.   


Forecast: Kansas Economic Recovery Will Be Slow but Wages Will Rise

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas will continue its slow economic recovery from the pandemic in 2022. That’s according to Wichita State economist Jeremy Hill, while addressing the annual Economic Outlook Conference in Wichita. Hill says employment in Kansas is expected to grow about 1%. But he expects continued growth in worker’s wages due to a tight labor market. Hill says wages for Kansas workers will be about 8% higher next year than they were before the pandemic, and he says the service sector will add the most jobs next year, mostly in the leisure and hospitality industry.


Big 12 Joins SEC in Letting Schools Set Athlete Compensation

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Big 12 says it will allow its schools to decide the amount of benefits to give athletes each academic year. The decision follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling related to caps on compensation. It also follows a similar decision last month by the Southeastern Conference. The Supreme Court ruling meant that the NCAA could not ban schools from offering additional education-related benefits to Division I football and basketball players. That left it up to individual conferences to set limits if they choose. The Big 12 is using the legal maximum of $5,980 per athlete as a benefits ceiling.


These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today

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