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Greenwood pastors calling for 90-day cease-fire

A Greenwood-based ministerial organization is asking for a summer cease-fire, hoping the agreement will give spiritual leaders time to intercede before another trigger is pulled.

“Ultimately, our prayer is that we can figure out the root of the problem, and there is a problem in Greenwood,” said Mt. Olive Baptist Church Rev. Adrian Wideman, president of the Pastors and Ministers Fellowship of Greenwood and Vicinity. “Everybody is searching for the answers, but we haven’t found it yet, and the only way to do that is to pull back the layers through communication and dialogue with those who are truly on the streets.”

The organization has developed a three-pronged approach they hope will reach its goal of easing tensions and avoiding yet more bloodshed:

Setting up a private meeting between clergy, community members and law enforcement to glean information about pending homicides or upcoming shootings, without fear of arrest or reprisal.

A “spiritual summit” focusing on single parents, poverty-stricken neighborhoods and other challenge areas that can foster lawlessness.

An immediate 90-day cease-fire from “all gangs, territories and communities” to allow for the fellowship’s work.

“We can no longer sit idly by without a sincere plan of action to help our city and our community come together and help find a solution to end the suffering of the victims and their families,” Wideman wrote in a news release announcing the fellowship’s plans.

The platform comes as law enforcement officials are investigating the shooting deaths of four young men between this month and July 2018.

Michael Butler, pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in McCormick and former Greenwood city assistant police chief, ended a 33-year law enforcement career in 2006.

Butler views much of the work ahead as a “family conversation” to be held away from the public eye — one that will require honesty, faith and a commitment toward future harmony.

“Being clergy, we understand we have to love one another and that’s a lot of what’s missing in our community, is love and ultimately respect for one another. There’s always been differing of opinions and there always will be, but we need to learn to handle it in a different way,” Butler said. “There’s a lot more positive young people in our community there are those involved in this negativity, and they’re not supporting it, they’re not a part of it, they don’t want it. But what tends to happen in times like these is we tend to put a lot of our focus in the negative and don’t accentuate the positive.”

Wideman said the multi-tiered strategy will be followed a more comprehensive action plan.

“My concern now is the people that we really need to talk to won’t come to meetings or our churches, because of fear that what they know could hurt them, so we want to meet with them outside the press and outside the public,” he said. “We’re just using the Pastors and Ministers Fellowship as a means to an end. We’re not trying to get them to join our church or even come to church but we want them to understand, ‘We care about you as much as you should care about yourselves.’ There’s no ulterior motive.”

Butler attended a May 30 prayer vigil organized by Greenwood County Council member Edith Childs, where religious leaders from various faiths gathered to prayer over the community. Events like that are important, he said, but need to be accompanied with human interaction.

“We got a lot of work to do, but we want to just help in any way we can to help people learn some problem-solving skills and some conflict resolution skills. The victim is not just the person that is laying on the ground, but all the families on both sides of the issue because even when a person is arrested, that doesn’t end it, so it’s a much bigger problem than some people see,” he said. “A lot of parents are doing all that they can, but out all the good they do, sometimes our children are being raised in the same house, being fed and clothed by the same people, and they take a different path because they have choices, and all choices lead to consequences.”


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From Kuwait to the cow: Army dad surprises kids at Greenwood eatery

Amber Cook began to worry after her father, Matthew, didn’t return her Twitter messages or texts during the past two days. She had a lot to talk about, with a wedding planned in July.

But on Tuesday, Cook’s apprehension melted into pure joy after Matthew surprised her and four of his other children at Chick-fil-A in Greenwood, revealing himself to be the man inside the cow costume to hugs and cries of happiness from his family.

Cook, 40, has been in Kuwait since January. A staff sergeant attached to the U.S. Army Central Noncommissioned Officers Academy, he’s on leave through Father’s Day before returning stateside in November.

He wanted to make the most of every moment he can spend with his children, and catching them off guard at one of their favorite restaurants was a great start, he said.

The Greenwood native joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996, and has been in the Army since 2007. He planned the reunion carefully, avoiding any contact with his children to keep the secret — a challenge, since they’re so close to one another.

“This is the most wonderful moment, being able to surprise my kids and seeing their reaction,” Cook said. “They had no clue.”

Amber said the most recent memory she had of her and Matthew together was just before he left, when he inspected her car.

“I just want him to be here for when I finally get married,” she said, with Matthew dressed up and waving to patrons just over her shoulder. “I’m very proud of my dad.”

So too is Amber’s younger brother, Amarion.

“He’s a sweet, kind-hearted father, and he do a lot for us,” the 10-year-old said. “When he’s home, he takes us out places and I’m proud of my dad, because he works so hard.”

A hero to his 5-year-old daughter, Aria Harrison, as well, she wrapped herself around him and asked to feel his muscles.


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Abbeville special election heads to a recount

ABBEVILLE — First there was a runoff. Now, there will be a recount.

According to unofficial tallies, Louise Aikens edged Bartavia Hill in a special election to fill the City Council seat vacated when Hill’s father, Gus Wilson, died earlier this year.

But the race was so close — Aikens won by a single vote — that Abbeville County’s Voter Registrations and Elections Board will have to conduct a recount before the vote is certified on Friday.

“There’s a 99.9% chance it’s not gonna change, but by law we’re gonna do a recount,” said Kim London, the county’s registration and elections director. State law mandates a recount for contests within a 1% margin.

The special election was called after Wilson, the longest-serving member in the council’s history, died in March. The election went to a runoff after Aikens, Hill, and a third candidate, Phil Rosenberg, failed to earn more than 50% of the vote May 28.

Aikens, formerly the victims’ advocate for the Abbeville Police Department, said before the election that she wanted to continue in her role as an advocate, this time for her constituents in District 1.

“It all refers back to my being an advocate — I want to be an advocate for this district, to serve the people,” Aikens said. “I didn’t only just serve my victims, but I served all of the citizens that came to me. … There were things that people were needing and (they) didn’t know how to reach out or get the information.”

Since her retirement in 2014, Aikens has been working as a substitute teacher for Abbeville County School District and a volunteer at Abbeville Area Medical Center. She is a member of the St. James AME Church and a member of the board of the United Christian Ministries of Abbeville County.

Hill, an independent case manager contracted by the state of South Carolina, said that her years spent talking about city business — policies and procedures, ordinances and resolutions — with her father on Tuesday nights after city council meetings have prepared her for the role.

Neither candidate was available for comment Tuesday night.

Of the district’s 403 registered voters, 117 cast ballots on Tuesday. Aikens received 59 votes while Hill garnered 58.


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Troy VFD dedicates new truck to former Chief Sydney Russell

Troy’s firefighters paid homage Tuesday to their founding chief, Sydney Russell, by dedicating their newest tanker truck to the man who served 36 years as the department’s head.

The new, 3,000-gallon tanker was on display at an open house celebration Tuesday. The side features an updated painting of the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil whirling around while carrying buckets of water, something that was iconic of the original truck, nicknamed “Taz.”

A black plaque at the corner of the body toward the truck’s cabin reads “dedicated to the memory of Chief Sydney ‘Rut’ Russell.”

Russell was one of the founders of the station — a pioneer among Greenwood County’s early firefighters who saw the need to create a county fire service and put in the work to get it established.

“Rut spent 35 years as the former chief,” said current Chief Adam McCoy. “We just thought it would be an honor to him to dedicate it to him.”

The 1976 truck this newest truck was replacing was in use for 43 years; longer than Russell was chief. The new one was paid for by a FEMA grant that Assistant Chief Aaron Walker applied for last June, which he said he did with the help of fellow firefighter Franklin Cloninger.

Sara Russell, the former chief’s widow, was front and center when the department made its dedication. She said her husband had an undying love for the fire service, driven by a need to help people.

“This really means a lot to me,” she said. “Much, much more than I can say.”