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Laurel tragedy was top story of 2022

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HARTINGTON — One of the most gruesome crimes ever committed in Cedar County is the unanimous pick as the top news story here in 2022.

On Aug, 4, 2022 the bodies of four Laurel residents were found in their homes, which were also started on fire in an apparent attempt to hide the crimes.

Jason A. Jones, 42, faces four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson and a number of weapons charges in the deaths of his neighbors, Michele Shankles-Ebeling, 53, and Gene Twiford, 86, Janet Twiford, 85, and Dana Twiford, 55.

The Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team arrested Jones at his home at 206 Elm Laurel during the pre-dawn hours Friday morning. The SWAT team made entry and located Jones in a bedroom. He was taken into custody without incident, however, Jones had serious burns over a large part of his body. He was taken by emergency medical helicopter to CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln for treatment; his injuries are considered serious.

First responders were called to 209 Elm Laurel around 3 a.m., Thursday, to the report of an explosion and house fire, finding Shankles-Ebeling deceased. About five hours later, local law enforcement on scene noticed smoke coming from a home a few blocks away at 503 Elm St.

Gene Twiford, Janet Twiford and Dana Twiford were found to be deceased at the home.

All of the victims were found with what appeared to be gunshot wounds.

The biggest crime story of the century was followed by one of the biggest weather stories since the dawning of the new century 23 years ago.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric report published in September labeled the Nebaska drought as the third driest year ever recorded here.

The NOAA report noted the United States as a whole recorded its third hottest meteorological summer on record in 2022.

For meteorological summer (June 1 through Aug. 31), the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 73.9 degrees F — 2.5 degrees above average — ranking as the third-hottest summer in 128 years.

Major construction projects at Hartington's two schools were named as the third biggest story here in 2022.

The Hartington-Newcastle Public School Board approved plans to add six new classrooms and a new gymnasium to the south side of Hartington Elementary School.

Early projections estimated a total construction cost of $6.9 million for the addition to the building, which was originally constructed in 1973.

Supt. A.J. Johnson said the addition is needed because of increasing enrollment and over-crowded facilities.

'We're just bursting at the seams right now,' Johnson said.

Cedar Catholic also launched a fund-raising campaign to pay for a new wrestling facility. The program's new home is now on the south side of the Msgr. Werner Activity Center parking lot.

The school explored every possible location for the new facility and found it to be the best fit and most cost-efficient.

The new 7,000-square-foot metal building houses an 84-foot-by-42-foot wrestling floor that will accommodate high school wrestling as well as the youth program. The high school wrestling program has been a co-op activity with Hartington- Newcastle High School since 2008 and the privately-sponsored “League of Heroes” youth program is open to students in surrounding areas.

The new annex also features a 15-foot-by-26foot golf practice room, locker rooms, a small office, and a storage area for football and lawn equipment.

Thirty new parking spaces were also built to accommodate all activities.

The total project was expected to be around $600,000.

The next biggest story here in 2022 involves the Omaha Archdiocese decision to address the three major obstacles its facing today — declining rural population, declining church attendance and a scarcity of priests. After a lengthy study it was decided to group several Catholic parishes together, which will all be served by one or two priests, instead of having a priest in each community as has been the policy in the past.

Under the new plan, Holy Trinity Catholic Church will have just two Masses per weekend, while several other area churches will have a greatly reduced number of weekend Masses or none at all.

The seven Catholic parishes that will be aligned into one combined parish grouping will have two priests to conduct church services and preside over weddings and funerals.

The parishes in the new Family C group include: Holy Trinity, Hartington; St. Michael, Coleridge; St. Peter, Newcastle; St. Joseph, Ponca; St. Jane Francis, Randolph; St. Mary of the Seven Dolors, Osmond; and St. Paul, Plainview.

Of the seven parishes, Holy Trinity has the largest congregation, and thus will get both a 6 p.m. Saturday evening Mass and a 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning Mass. St. Joseph in Ponca will have Mass at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. The other two northern-tier churches — Coleridge and Newcastle — would no longer have weekend Mass said at those churches.

School sports and extra curriculars occupy the next three slots on the Top 10 list.

Cedar Catholic senior Carson Noecker won the Class C State cross country meet in Kearney last October, making him the only Nebraska boy to ever win four straight state titles. The accomplishment is the sixth biggest news story of the year here.

Rounding out the Top 10 stories of the year were Hartington-Newcastle’s State One Act title in seventh place and Cedar Catholic’s State volleyball title in eighth place. The city and county elections were the ninth biggest story of the year, while the Cedar County Fair’s record attendance was the 10th biggest Hartington area story in 2022.