Faith and city leaders in Kinston plead for peace after three shootings in one week
KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Residents of Kinston are shaken by three separate shootings in the first week of July. It sparked the city’s mayor and police chief to turn to faith to put an end to the violence.
“The Bible says, ‘When two or three are gathered, I will be in your midst,’” recited pastor Merwyn Smith. He stood on the steps of city hall calling for prayer and action.
Joined by the mayor and the chief of police, faith leaders asked the community to help them put an end to senseless gun violence.
“And a lot of times they think, ‘Okay, now I can get away with more.’ So, it’s important for citizens to speak up, take back their community,” said Police Chief Jenee Spencer. “Say, ‘We’re not going to allow this, and if I see you doing something wrong, I’m going to tell on it because I want you out of my community. If you are not a good citizen, then you don’t have to be here.’”
The police department is ramping up its Police Community Action Team once again. The force was disbanded to bulk up patrol staff, but the need is back.
The faith leaders say there are more tools a person can use to cope.
“You know, in these stressful times, we’ve got to learn how to depend on things like prayer and meditation that will bring us to a place of peace, an inward peace,” said Jumping Run Church pastor Anthony Lawson.
Those who gathered say that peace needs to be balanced with proactivity.
“We don’t ever want it to be the norm. We don’t ever want to be numb to gun violence,” said Mayor Don Hardy. “We must take action, affirmative action, by coming together.”
For those with their hands on the trigger, Hardy has a message.
“Think about every action, everything that you do. And think about the consequences of your actions because it’s a no-win situation,” warned Hardy. “Because the family loses their loved one from their home, and the other loved one is in the ground, dead.”
Though not all of the shootings in Kinston earlier this month were found to be gang-related, they are considered targeted violence. All three investigations are ongoing.
Leaders now hope their plea will bring the city back to what it once was.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Gov. Cooper tackled issues with access to reproductive care alongside Planned Parenthood leadership in Raleigh Wednesday.
But with the closest Planned Parenthood locations anywhere from 50 to 100 miles away from Eastern Carolina, women face even more hurdles to receive that care.
Given that abortion, regardless of medical necessity, is still legal in our state until fetal viability, there are a few options for women seeking that care.
Medications can be prescribed at up to 10 weeks gestation. There is also a surgical abortion where a suction removes the pregnant tissue from the uterus.
With high gas prices and the 20-week ban lingering over their heads, women in the East are looking at even more challenges.
“Clients come to us, and they don’t have any insurance, and it’s really, really hard to get in anywhere if you have no insurance,” Melissa Radomicki said. “You’re going to be charged a ridiculous amount of money for a very minimal service.”
Radomicki works with victims of abuse at the Onslow Women’s Center. When she has to tell them how far they need to travel to get to an abortion clinic, she notices their discouragement.
They have to travel anywhere from 50 to 100 miles to a clinic, like Planned Parenthood, before they can find a medical provider to perform the procedures.
"As far as getting clients to those places, which is another hurdle because a lot of our clients don’t have transportation, or they can’t afford the gas prices right now...” Radomicki explained. “We do work with them to try to mitigate those barriers if abortion is the option that they want to go with.”
Cooper spoke at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh to address those hurdles for women across the state and signed an executive order protecting providers from prosecution by other states for performing abortion procedures.
“This order can help us make sure patients can get the care they need in North Carolina, even if they come from out of state,” Cooper said. “Politicians should not be in that exam room with a patient and her doctor.”
Still, advocates at the Onslow Women’s Center have a wish list of their own.
“I’d love to see some more low-income clinics. I’d love to see some more women’s centered clinics,” Radomicki said. “I think that’s another issue with healthcare in general, is that there’s not a lot of representation.”
According to data from the state Center for Health Statistics, more than 30,000 abortions were reported in our state in 2020, which is an increase of 5% from the year before.
KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) - A group of well practiced dancers meet every Tuesday in Kinston to keep their legs moving and their romances marching to the beat.
The Kinston Seniors Dance was held at the Galaxy of Sports skating rink on West Vernon Avenue. With a soundtrack provided by the Carolina Dreamers, single and married folks were invited to twist the night away.
“With COVID and gas prices, it’s been a little slacked, but for the last two or three weeks, we are gaining back and tonight’s the biggest night we’ve had in, what, six months maybe,” said Patsy Pittman, the dance’s organizer. More than 80 people came to dance.
Each Tuesday, the doors open at 7:00 p.m. and the dance floor closes at 10:00 p.m.
For people like Laura Grant-- 102 years young and an available dance partner at the club for 30 years-- picking a favorite step does not come easily.
“I don’t know. I dance with Gilbert. We used to go all the way around the band and the place,” said Grant. “I love the boys!”
They’ve lost much of the group to COVID.
“It’s sad, but we have new people coming in so our job is never ending,” said Pittman.
The event encourages people of all dance skill levels to participate, and along with the smooth dancing comes free-flowing conversation.
Grant says her favorite thing about the dance club is that it gives her something to look forward to.
The senior dance is sponsored by the city’s parks and recreation department but is 100% self-funded. A different band performs every week.
Rep. Murphy responds to deleted tweet reading ‘No one forces anyone to have sex’
N.C. (WITN) - U.S. Congressman Greg Murphy is receiving backlash for a tweet he sent and then deleted a few hours later.
The tweet read: “No one forces anyone to have sex” and was sent just days after the overturning of Roe v. Wade removed the federal protection of abortions.
WITN reached out to the congressman, who denied an on-camera interview, but gave the following statement:
“Sex is a term I’ve always used when dealing with consensual action. Intercourse when forced or nonconsensual is assault or rape, and that is abhorrent. I deleted the tweet when I noticed it was being misinterpreted or misconstrued. I regret any confusion this has caused.”
Murphy’s upcoming challenger at the voting polls responded to the deleted tweet and Murphy’s explanation.
“I am in agreeance that sometimes things can be misconstrued, but as a woman, I personally refuse to step back,” Barbara Gaskins, North Carolina 3rd District candidate said.
One victim advocate in Pitt County says the tweet could cause sexual assault survivors to be more fearful and keep them from coming forward.
“It just makes a person who has been victimized say, ‘well, if there are people out here who don’t believe that rape is real or forced sex is real, then why would I even come forward?” Deborah Sheppard said.
Sheppard not only works with victims of abuse daily, but she also has a special connection to their struggle. “I am a survivor of abuse, so I do understand the fear of speaking up.”
She also shared a message for anyone feeling that intense fear.
“It’s easier to say this than for someone to do it, so just be patient with yourself and know that there are people out here that will help you when you’re ready.”
There are national and local resources available for survivors of rape and sexual assault. In Pitt County, Sheppard’s team makes sure victims understand their rights and then they help them cope with the consequences of the crime, and work through some of the paperwork for court proceedings and compensation.
In Greenville alone, 27 rapes were reported in 2020, a 35% increase from the year before.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673. That number offers 24-hour confidential support to victims.
PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - The Pitt County Shelter Buddies Reading Program kicked off Tuesday with about 15 kids signed up to read to dogs experiencing stress in their kennels.
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon this summer, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., kids are invited to bring a parent, a few books, and all the puppy cuddles they can muster to the shelter.
“The dog that I’m reading to over here is Heidi,” said one volunteer. “It makes me feel very special that I get to come here and pick which ones I get to read to.”
The benefits aren’t just for those with four legs. A University of California, Davis study found that literacy improved by 12% in school-aged children when they joined an animal therapy reading program.
For one Pitt County family, the volunteer hour gave them a chance to connect with not only the pups, but also with cherished family memories.
“These used to be mommy’s before they were mine,” 9-year-old Amelie Henry said while she thumbed through pages. “Puss in Boots is falling apart, which is why we needed to put the spine back together.”
It was a touching moment for Henry’s mom.
“About half of the collection that I have in my third-grade classroom and that Amelie has in her library came from books that I had as a child,” Marina Henry said. “When the flood came from Hurricane Floyd, we lost almost everything. My mom said. ‘Wait, let’s check up here.’ We went up in the crawl space and the books were fine.”
While their pages may be worn, the stories are stronger in Amelie’s hands.
“It makes those books all the more special, for them to have survived through some of the most traumatic things that we as adults have been through,” said mom.
The mother and daughter plan on coming back to read to more dogs throughout the summer.
A link to the sign-up can be found here. The program will run through August 26th.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - City Council leaders are moving forward with a project in Greenville that will change the price of visiting the Uptown Greenville area.
During the public comment period, direct addresses to the council showed some people disagreed with what was on the table.
“It’s unfair and it has created a sense of fear for loss of business once it is enforced,” said Jana Palmiter, an employee of Starlight Café on 5th Street.
In a 4-1 vote, with Will Bell not in attendance and Marion Blackburn in opposition, the plan was approved.
From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., parking on the street of the Uptown district will be free for the first hour and one dollar an hour after that for up to three hours.
In surface lots during those times, the first hour is free and each hour after that is 75 cents.
For residents and workers of the Uptown area, there are a few options when it comes to leasing a parking spot.
Those who live Uptown can pay $70.00 a month for a reserved space or $50.00 a month for unreserved space.
Business owners and employees will pay $20.00 a month per driver.
The leasing rates are a stark year over jump of 220% for workers and 700% for residents with an E-tag permit.
“Now, it’s not the $75.00 for the blanket E-tag,” said Deputy City Manager Michael Cowin, “This is still much more affordable to lease Uptown and live Uptown than they would see in a private lot.”
The pricing still has opposition.
“The city of Greenville claims to support and be an area where small businesses thrive,” said Palmiter. “Please consider the effects in the small businesses downtown and the hundreds of employees who depend on them for their livelihood, such as myself.”
Even with that kind of opposition, the plan will take effect next year.
Applications for residential leases and employer permits will be open in November 2022.
The new rates will begin for street and surface lot parking in January 2023.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - For more than 300,000 children in Eastern Carolina, school lunch is a necessity to get the nutrient-filled meals they need.
With the school year over, some families may be struggling to provide.
But in Greenville, the Salvation Army has partnered with the Food Bank to fill that gap, and all kids have to do is show up.
“Being fed, being full, and being nourished is not a privilege,” said volunteer Barcey Godwin. “It’s a basic human right.”
Until August 26, families can visit the Salvation Army on S. Memorial Dr. for a free meal for kids 18 years old and under every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Each day the menu is something different.
“Nachos and cheese, some milk, some vegetables and a banana,” said Anna Rossi in between bites. “It was really good.”
For the volunteers, going without food is a struggle that hits close to home.
“If they’re anything like me growing up, school food is the only food you have,” said Godwin.
It’s difficult for parents to keep everything from their children, no matter how hard they try.
Another volunteer, Matt Johnson, recalls growing up with his mom, who had to provide for two kids on one salary.
“I know she hit the food bank several times when I was growing up, probably more than I realized,” said Johnson.
At the end of June, millions of families are expecting the COVID free school lunch program to expire, but food insecurity is nothing new to the East.
“I’m 25 years old. I remember when I was 5 being hungry and there was no COVID 20 years ago,” said Godwin.
On Tuesday, a group of bipartisan lawmakers announced a bill that would extend the food program through the summer.
Amongst those spearheading the effort is republican senator Virginia Foxx from North Carolina’s fifth district.
But the extension has not yet been approved.
To have come through that hardship and make it out to the other side, volunteers are hoping to change the story for the next generation of kids.
“Maybe you’re eating toast because that’s all you’ve got is a loaf of bread and a toaster, but to be able to give people a chance at a relatively balanced meal, it’s definitely something I was interested in trying to do,” said Johnson.
If you are fortunate to not be experiencing food insecurity, volunteers say there is still something you can do to help: get the word out about the program.
In the first two days of the program, they have given away just 15-percent of the lunches they have available.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - It is soon to be the final showdown on the diamond for Little League players in Greenville, and we now know the two teams on their way to the City Championship series.
The winners of Monday night’s North State and Tar Heel championship games continue on to the final round at Stallings Stadium on Elm Street.
Ross Orthodontics took a 6-5 victory for the North State League over C & C Stoneworks.
They will take on Truist, who bested RE/MAX with a 4-2 win, representing the Tar Heel League.
Whether the players come out victorious or not, they know the value of good sportsmanship.
“It’ll be a hard one, I mean, everybody’s good,” said Bruce Tyndall, a second baseman in this year’s league. “RE/MAX is pretty good. Truist is good, C and C and Ross. I’m probably going to go with a Tar Heel team.”
For other players, this year’s losses mean the end of their little league careers.
“It’s also sad if you’re a 12,” said Charlie Kemble who played his last season as a catcher. “I was sad yesterday, but today is regular.”
While the playoff games have been a single-elimination tournament, the City Championship will be a series of best two-out-of-three.
The first match-up is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
Eastern Carolinians navigate heat & high gas prices as summer officially arrives
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Tuesday marks the longest day of the year and the official start of summer, but with gas prices in Eastern Carolina flirting with $5 a gallon, plans are shifting for motorists.
The Summer Solstice means people are looking at more than 14 and a half hours of daylight, the most seen this year. The amount of sunlight means people have a lot of time to work with this summer, but increased inflation means quite another thing for families and their plans.
After Juneteenth and Father’s Day, drivers are hoping for another special day, a gas tax holiday. The day would look like an 18.3 cent discount per gallon when people go to fill up. However, it would require congressional action, and lawmakers aren’t yet jumping into motion.
President Biden is also considering a gas rebate card system as part of the operation. The administration’s course of action should be laid out later this week.
Until then, drivers in the East are working with what they have.
“As you see right now, I’ve got a load,” driver Malyle Braxton says. “It’s more than $85 to fill up every other day because I ride all day. Shoot, it’s been hot since April. Heat, heat! You better have a hat or something.”
The heat has been something Eastern Carolinians have been dealing with for months now, as Braxton alludes to.
Congressional Democrats have not been quick to back the president on the gas tax holiday, saying that the legislation would not provide much relief, particularly if retailers raise their base price per gallon in response.
PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - For the tenants of the Pitt County Animal Shelter, life hasn’t always been a catwalk, but with the completion of a year-long renovation project, the kennel doors are wide open for business.
“As the community grows, so does the population,” said shelter director Chad Singleton. “There’s an overpopulation in North Carolina as a whole and in Pitt County.”
The animal shelter was operating under decreased capacity, limiting the number of surrenders they could take, but now there is something to bark about.
The shelter is celebrating a grand re-opening with more space and new equipment to better care for Pitt County’s four-legged citizens.
“The best part, for me, is the community cat room because people come in, they sit down, they can play with the kittens, they can stay there an hour,” said shelter employee Morgan Alderman. “It’s more likely to help them adopt a kitten versus seeing them in a cage.”
More kennel space, new meeting rooms, and industrial laundry all make up parts of the new and improved shelter operations, but animal advocates say this shouldn’t be a cat or dog’s home.
"The reality is that although we have a lot of resources for the community, the shelter itself is probably one of the last places that you would want to bring an animal because of the stress that the dogs undergo when they come here," said Singleton.
For the public, the shelter has a message.
“The best thing that the public can do is spay and neuter their animals,” said Alderman. “That is the most important thing because if you don’t, a cat will have anywhere from 6 to 10 kittens and if you have three of those cats, how many kittens are you going to have?”
Also, consider making room for one of these shelter animals to find their fur-ever home in your heart.
You can find a list of animals available for adoption here.
Every story you see here is written, filmed, edited, fronted, and day-turned by Maddie. As an MMJ with WITN, she really does it all!