Top news stories of 2018: Murder, industry, education, weather make headlines

Published 12:11 am Sunday, December 30, 2018

Retaliatory gang murders, new industries, the closing of a long-established school and a fire at a historic building are just some of the top news stories that changed the face of the Miss-Lou in 2018.

Below is a recap of some of the top stories from our community in 2018:

Murder rate

Email newsletter signup

Natchez and Adams County have had 14 murders so far in 2018, surpassing recent years’ murder totals, officials said.

Adams County, outside of the Natchez city limits, has had two murders and the city of Natchez has had 12 in 2018.

Law enforcement officials said many of the murders are believed to have been retaliatory killings between rival neighborhood gangs of young people.

After the most recent murder, which occurred Dec. 17 on West Stiers Lane, approximately 150 people gathered together in a community-wide prayer service to pray for an end to the cycle of violence.

City and county officials also have bound together, launching a campaign directed at residents to “say something if you see something” by reporting crimes and potential crimes to authorities.

Trinity closes

At the end of last school year, in early May, Trinity Episcopal Day School closed its doors permanently after 47 years of operation, educating people in the Miss-Lou.

The announcement came in a January 2018 letter from school board members who said the difficult decision was made due to dwindling enrollment.

Current and former students and faculty gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of Trinity Episcopal Day School in late April before the school closed its doors forever.

Dog fighting law strengthened

In March, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill and Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law, a measure strengthening the state’s dog-fighting law.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, championed the measure after a dog-fighting ring uncovered gruesome animal cruelty in Adams County in November 2017.

Mississippi ’s dog-fighting law at the time, Dearing said, was woefully inadequate — both for deterring future dogfighting ringleaders and for punishing offenders.

The new legislation Bryant signed adds two years of jail time to first offense dogfighting convictions and introduces stiffer penalties for second and following offenses.

Mississippi’s former dogfighting penalty is a felony charge with a maximum three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The new law raises the maximum first-offender sentence to five years and includes second and subsequent offender charges.

On second conviction, an offender would be fined between $5,000 and $10,000 and a maximum of 10 years in prison.


In 2018, Miss-Lou economic development officials announced some industrial projects that had been months and years in the making had come to fruition.

The projects are expected to bring more than 350 jobs combined to the area, once the operations are up and in full swing.

The first announcement, which came in April, was that Syrah Resources, a Melbourne, Australia, company would locate a graphite processing facility in Vidalia.

The $25 million project is expected bring more than 50 jobs to the Miss-Lou, including 25 new direct jobs with an average salary of $60,000.

The Concordia Parish plant will produce graphite anode materials for batteries in electric vehicles and other products. Syrah is now located in the parish’s former rubber recycling plant, a 50,000 square-foot industrial building located near the Vidalia Port.

As the market grows, company officials said the number of employees could expand to more than 150.

The second major industry announcement came in July when Vidalia Denim was announced to be the industrial prospect known as Project Blue that Miss-Lou economic leaders had been courting for two years.

Vidalia Denim purchased the 900,000 square-foot former Fruit of the Loom facility from the Town of Vidalia and the company is in the process transforming the building into a cotton mill that will take raw cotton and turn it into denim fabric to be sold to blue jeans manufacturers.

The project expects to have a $9 million payroll and eventually to employ 300 people.


On Nov. 1, two confirmed tornadoes touched down in Natchez and Adams County, damaging houses and felling trees throughout the area.

Emergency responders, law officers and citizens rallied their efforts to assist those impacted by severe storms and tornadoes that tore through parts of the Miss-Lou early Thursday morning.

The series of storms spread throughout the southwest area of Mississippi and killed one person in Claiborne County, an Alcorn State University student in a weather-related automobile accident.

National Weather Service workers from Jackson determined at least two tornadoes touched down in Natchez and Adams County on Nov. 1.

Senior forecaster Brad Bryant said NWS investigated the tornadoes, which touched down near Morgantown and Sibley just after 2 a.m. Nov. 1.

Across the Mississippi River, Concordia Parish was affected by the weather as well, including a mobile home that was overturned. The occupants were rescued without severe injuries.

Concordia Parish Sheriff ’s Office deputies said most of the damage appeared to have extended northward from Monterey through Jonesville and Wildsville, where houses were damaged and businesses had roofs blown off.

Prentiss Club Building

The historic Prentiss Club building suffered significant damage in a Sept. 2 fire that sent smoke throughout downtown Natchez and brought residents out to watch firefighters battle the blaze.

Firefighters fought the fire for approximately 4 hours but remained on the scene throughout the day. By the time the fire was extinguished approximately 40 to 50 percent of the building was damaged, fire officials said, including the roof that was a total loss.

Shreveport residents, Fred and Melinda Kent, had purchased the building in June and were nearing completion on a renovation to transform the building into a museum and a venue for hosting events.

The Kents initially said they planned to rebuild the Prentiss Club Building but later in November donated the building to the Historic Natchez Foundation, which plans to restore parts of the building and hold it for redevelopment, officials said.

ACCS State Championship football

In November, Adams County Christian School brought home the school’s first state football championship in 36 years, and the school took a hard route in earning the distinction.

ACCS started the season off strong with seven wins under the team’s belt, then the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools ruled one of the team’s players ineligible due to a technicality associated with a change of residence.

The team soldiered on, however, winning every game thereafter, making it into the playoffs and eventually beating Indianola Academy 29-17 at Jackson Academy to claim the MAIS Class AAA State Championship on Nov. 17.

Mississippi River bridge reopens

After more than a year of construction to repair the pin and link system on the Natchez-Vidalia bridge spanning the Mississippi River, the bridge reopened the two westbound lanes to traffic on July 28.

The overall project cost approximately $27 million and was finished well ahead of the April 2019 deadline.

At the time of the bridge reopening both Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said they were excited about the project’s completion.

Craft noted the bridge being reopened would be beneficial to Syrah Technologies and Vidalia Denim.

Grennell said it woulds make life easier for residents.

“The period of inconvenience was a small sacrifice for citizens to pay in order to have something that’s going to be there for many, many years to come,” Grennell said.

A new circuit court judge

On Dec. 27, Debra Blackwell was sworn in as the new District 6-2 Circuit Court Judge after winning the seat in the general election.

Blackwell is the only local candidate to take on a new position, replacing former Circuit Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson, who retired after serving 24 years.

None of the other local races on the general election ballots in 2018 were contested in Adams County.

Troop deployment

In February, members of 155th Armored Brigade in Natchez were notified that they would be deployed for one year to serve most of their time in Kuwait.

Troops departed Feb. 11 for training at Camp Shelby before leaving Natchez on March 28 for more training at Fort Bliss, Texas, before heading overseas in June.

In May, authorities said a soldier who died during training at Ft. Bliss was a member of the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

Duke Gilmore died May 12 during pre-mobilization training at Fort Bliss in Texas. He was laid to rest May 20 in his hometown, Bastrop, Louisiana, officials said.

The rest of the 155th Armored Brigade members are expected to return in March.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you have a top local story of 2018 you would like to tell us about? If so, send it to us as a letter to the editor or a Top of the Morning submission to