At the end of each year, it is not uncommon for news publications to gather their staff and poll the community as to what they believe is the top story of the year, whether locally or nationally.
However, in 2020 it’s hard for anyone to dispute that the top news story – both locally and nationally – was the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus weaved itself into almost every facet of our lives in 2020 – where we shop; how we shop; how we visit with loved ones or not visit; how our children attended, or not attended, school; how our local government agencies and boards met together; how and where we worked, or didn’t work; how we said goodbye; how and where we prayed.
The pandemic is far from gone and will continue to affect lives well into 2021, albeit now with the hope that vaccinations currently being administered throughout the state and country will soon bring this journey to an end.
The first COVID-19 headline on the Hotty Toddy News website appeared on Jan. 30, 2020, after the University of Mississippi announced that all university-related travel to China was under a UM travel restriction until further notice.
Known then as the Wuhan coronavirus, or nCov, there were 8,200 cases worldwide and only five cases in the U.S.
More cases would continue to pop up around the country over the next several weeks, but it was on March 11 that the Mississippi State Department of Health announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Mississippi. By March 19, Lafayette County had its first positive case.
The city of Oxford and Lafayette County closed city and government facilities, dining rooms and most nonessential businesses. Restaurants could offer pick-up or delivery options.
On March 19, Gov. Tate Reeves closed all public schools; however, online and distance learning were quickly offered at all K-12 schools and the university through the end of the semester.
In April, Lafayette County had two residents die from the virus. Mask mandates were issued in the city, and eventually, in Lafayette County. The mask mandates are still in effect as of Dec. 31 by the order of the governor.
Events like the Double Decker Arts Festival were canceled or changed to be held online. Shelter-at-home ordinances were issued locally and around the state.
In May, businesses were slowly allowed to reopen. By the summer, life in Oxford had regained a slight sense of normalcy. Dining rooms were allowed to reopen with strict mandates in place. People returned to work, and some students returned to school while others continued with online classes with both Oxford and Lafayette County school districts continuing to offer parents a choice between the two.
The fall semester looked different than most years at the University of Mississippi. Many classes remained online. There was no tailgating in the Grove, and the football team played in a stadium that was only 25% full.
Earlier this month, a vaccine for COVID-19 was approved, and the MSDH has started giving shots according to its vaccination plan; however, the vaccination is not expected to be available to the general public for a few more months.
As of Dec. 31, there have been 213,055 cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi with 4,747 deaths. Lafayette County has had 4,224 cases and 81 deaths from COVID-19 complications.
While COVID-19 rocked Oxford and the world around us, other news continued to happen in the LOU community in 2020.
On May 15, the U.S. Marshal’s Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force pulled over Hunter Carlstrom of Arkansas in an attempt to arrest him on a warrant for a murder that occurred in Arkansas earlier in the month. Carlstrom pulled out a gun and shot local U.S. Marshal Bob Dickerson. Carlstrom was killed by police officers. Dickerson was severely injured but made a full recovery. Hundreds of law enforcement officers from around the state came to Oxford the day Dickerson was released from the hospital for a “Hero’s Parade.”
Later in the year, Oxford police officers were also involved in a police shooting, leading to the death of Kenneth Dale Miller, 47, of Oxford who was shot and killed after he pointed a gun at the officers who responded to the Mark condominium complex on Dec. 9 for a domestic violence call. After police knocked on Miller’s door, Miller locked himself inside the apartment.
Negotiators talked to Miller for over an hour to attempt a peaceful resolution; however, at 9:50 p.m. Miller went onto his balcony with the shotgun began shouting at the officers and pointing his gun at them. The case has been handed over to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.
But it was the police-involved death of George Floyd Jr. on May 25 in Minneapolis that would shake the country, leading to riots and rallies all over the U.S.
Floyd was killed during an arrest by police officers in Minneapolis. In Oxford, several peaceful rallies were held on the Square, and meetings focusing on racism and police brutality on Zoom among community leaders led to the city of Oxford forming a new Commission on Police Transparency in July.
In July, the Confederate statue that has sat in front of the Lyceum Circle since 1906 was moved to the Confederate cemetery, also located on the campus. The Institutions of Higher Learning approved the university’s request in June to relocate the statue.
Shortly after the statue was moved on campus, several protests were held to remove the Confederate statue that sits on the south side of the Lafayette County Courthouse on the Square. The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors voted not to remove the statue in August. Protesters in favor of removing the statue still gather at the Lafayette County Chancery Building before each Board meeting calling for the statue’s removal.
In September, the DEA, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi, the Oxford Police Department and the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department issued a joint warning on a number of recent drug overdoses and deaths in north Mississippi that have been linked to several street drugs that contain the highly potent and deadly drug fentanyl. In Lafayette County, there were 11 overdoses and three deaths tied to counterfeit pills containing fentanyl in 2020.
Local law enforcement agencies investigated the murders of four local people in 2020.
In July, Willie Ike Harris, 68, shot and killed Jeanette Johnson, 50, and her daughter Brianna Johnson, 20 at their Highway 32 E home.
Assisting the Yalobusha Sheriff’s Department, special response teams from the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office and the Oxford Police Department responded to try to negotiate with Harris until the Mississippi Highway Patrol SWAT could arrive.
After a five-hour standoff with police, Harris turned the gun on himself.
On Sept. 4, an Oxford man was arrested and charged with shooting and killing his wife, Marisha Golden Ward. According to the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department, Sherard Ward, 33, of Oxford was charged with Golden’s murder. He is being held at the Lafayette County Detention Center.
In November, eight men were arrested following the shooting death of Frank James Davis Jr., 22, of Grenada at Highland Square apartments.
Markel Alexander Gleaton, 22, of Pope, Maurice Dates, 22, of Charleston and Richard Bernard McGee, 31, of Oxford, were charged with capital murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Caryale Dajuan Dogan, 29, of Charleston, Antonious Quintez Kimble, 21, of Charleston and a 17-year-old male were charged with armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Jacob Emend Woods, 18, of Oxford and Ajalon Jeffery Reed, 22, of Holcomb were charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Lafayette County saw record numbers at the polls for the November general election with a 71% voter turnout. The country elected a new president, Joe Biden, and the state re-elected Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith and Trent Kelly. Voters also chose a new state flag and showed overwhelming support for medical marijuana.
Locally, Kenneth Drewrey was elected as constable; Lola Pearson and Laura Antonow as election commissioners; and Jamie Anderson and Kathy Babb Worley were elected to serve on the Lafayette County School Board.
The news in 2020 wasn’t all bad. From the opening of new businesses to a family being reunited with their beloved fur baby, there were headlines that brought a smile or two to members of the LOU community. On Friday, read about some of the more positive moments of 2020 on HottyToddy.com.