Mizzou grad wins ‘King of the Jungle’

The 6-foot blood python lunged at Kelly Diedring’s legs, attempting to strike the animal care specialist. Diedring hopped back while still grasping the aggressive snake and successfully avoided the jaws of the python — all the while explaining its features and behaviors on camera.

This scene from the Dec. 1 episode of Animal Planet’s first reality show, “King of the Jungle,” was one of many that impressed the judges so much that “Queen of the Jungle” might have been a more fitting title for the show.

Lane to seek seat on school board

Henry Lane will once again run for a seat on the Columbia Board of Education and plans to file the paperwork this morning to make his sixth candidacy official.

Lane said in a news release that his primary concerns are quality of education, financial management of the district, school property taxes and the $22.5 million bond issue that district officials are preparing to place on the April ballot.

Searching for home

John Hauck Von Braun shares a room with 10 other men. He sleeps in a bed that is a foot shorter than his 6-foot-7-inch frame. He has a curfew at night, and his phone calls are limited.

But the 55-year-old could not be more thankful for his place of residency, New Life Evangelical Center. “My life would probably be over if it wasn’t for this shelter,” he said.

A safe haven

Some have been abused, some neglected. Some arrive at their new home unable to read and unable to function in the outside world. They come to Missouri Girls Town because it’s a safe place where they can begin to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced and learn the skills they need to make their lives a success.

Elizabeth — the state requested that her real name not be printed — came to Girls Town because she began having problems with her family. She grew apart from her mother as she became more independent. She maintains a relationship with her mother, stepfather and siblings who live in Columbia, but her parents share custody with the state of Missouri. For the past four years, Elizabeth has lived at a Girls Town facility, attending high school at North Callaway.

A dream revisited

An empty hallway lit by fluorescent lights cuts through the ninth floor of St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Nurses in brightly colored scrubs pass frequently through the hall, sliding into one room, then another. This is the place 4-year-old Tim Grant called home for about four months, including Christmas, last year.

Tim is living with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that affects nerve cells. The disease is most often found in the adrenal glands, above the kidneys or behind the eye.

Beating the odds

Cancer hasn’t stopped Josephine Kelly, it just sidelined her for a while.

“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Kelly said while looking at a notebook that logged her surgery and chemotherapy. “It was a sad time for me.”

Fostering family values

Robert Selsor knows he looks like Santa Claus. He used to play the jolly old elf for the Salvation Army around Christmas, and he said his appearance is instantly comforting to children whether or not he’s in full costume.

“The little ones know,” he said. “They see me and know that it’s OK, that I won’t hurt them.”

A mother’s love

The car swerved, rolled on the passenger side and dragged along the guardrail. When help reached 21-year-old Warren Thompson, his 6-foot-3-inch body was crammed down into the leg area of the passenger seat.

Thompson, who had caught a ride home from work, didn’t know he was getting into a car with a person who had been drinking and smoking marijuana.

Holiday mailing rush hits high gear

Count Cindy Bolles among the busiest people in town today.

Bolles, supervisor of customer service at the Columbia Post Office, said that historically the lines of people waiting to ship holiday packages and gifts are longest the second Monday before Christmas.

Analysts take notice of lower UM credit rating

It has become a familiar scenario: Faced with mounting budget deficits, state legislators cut funding for higher education, forcing colleges and universities to raise tuition.

While educators, parents, students and policymakers have been watching it happen for several years now, agencies that determine the credit rating of institutions like the University of Missouri system are beginning to take notice, as well.

Concealed in ‘spider hole,’ dictator didn’t put up fight

ADWAR, Iraq — When darkness fell, the Americans moved into position, 600 of them, from infantrymen to elite special forces. Their target: two houses in this rural village of orange, lemon and palm groves. Someone big was inside, they were told.

But when they struck, they found nothing.

Silent surrender

TIKRIT, Iraq — U.S. soldiers tracked a scruffy and haggard Saddam Hussein to a dirt hole at a farmhouse near his hometown, capturing the elusive dictator without firing a shot and unleashing euphoria Sunday among Iraqis and the U.S.-led forces who have hunted him for more than eight months.

The arrest of the president who bent this country to his will for three decades set off cascades of celebratory gunfire throughout Baghdad, the capital, and delivered the coalition its most significant victory at a time when the fruitless hunt for weapons of mass destruction and an evermore tenacious insurgency had eroded support in the U.S. public for the mission.

Media bias feeds two-party system

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U.S. expects insurgency to continue

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The capture of Saddam Hussein, eight months on the run and found hiding in a hole beneath a two-room mud house near his hometown, was unlikely to destroy the anti-U.S. guerrilla insurgency, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday.

Saddam was captured Saturday night in Adwar, a village 10 miles from Tikrit. By early Sunday, only hours before news of his capture was announced in Baghdad, a massive blast killed at least 17 Iraqis, mostly policemen, and injured 33 at a district police office in Khaldiya, a town west of Baghdad.

U.S. still deciding Saddam’s fate; public trial a possibility

BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. officials said they still haven’t decided what to do with Saddam Hussein now that he’s been captured, but one option is putting him before a special tribunal established just days ago. Iraq’s Governing Council said Saddam would face public trial in Iraq.

Iraq’s interim government established a special tribunal Wednesday to try top members of Saddam’s government for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the time, they said Saddam could be tried in absentia.

Capture could silence Bush’s political rivals

WASHINGTON — When national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told President Bush before dawn Sunday that Saddam Hussein had indeed been captured, she was delivering news that was good for the U.S. leader in a multitude of ways.

It will help Bush with a U.S. public increasingly skeptical of his Iraq strategy, and it will at least temporarily silence his Democratic rivals. It might also help calm the roiled Iraqi people, many of whom have been unwilling to embrace a new government as long as Saddam was at large.

Athletic center set to open in January

“It looks amazing,” William Johnson said as he watched his two children, Matthew and Scott, run around the soccer field. “These indoor soccer fields are going to allow the kids to play even in the winter.”

On Sunday, the public got its first glimpse of the two soccer fields located inside the new Missouri Athletic Center. The center is a subsidiary of Wilson’s Total Fitness, which bought the Woodrail Tennis Center and converted it into the MAC.

Winter, a season of wet woes

‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” That has been my mantra since the last leaf fell from the tree in my front yard. I dream of sitting by a roaring fire, sipping hot cocoa and reading a novel as the snow gently, but steadily, falls outside my picture window. I love snow. I love watching it blanket the ground. I love to gaze outside after the storm has passed and see how the world has been transformed into a winter wonderland.

Reality check! I love the romantic notion of snow, but getting out in it is another matter. When my kids were younger, I had no time to sit by a fire; snow meant school was out for the day. Of course, they all wanted to go out and play in the stuff, which took nearly an hour of preparation. Once they were dressed in the usual sweater and jeans, we began the ordeal of putting on the rubber boots. Every year, at least one kid had grown two sizes and I had to wedge his chubby feet into the galoshes. One year, the only pair I could find to fit my son were pink. He fought me, but I finally convinced him that no one would notice once his feet were buried in the snow. Next came the coat, and I secured the neck with a scarf. Then the gloves, of which I never seemed to have matching pairs. And I always ended up with one odd glove that didn’t have a mate. Each child got two — even if the gloves didn’t match.

Celebrating community

Minutes before 6 p.m., Connie Barner announces to about 50 people gathered at the American Legion, Post 424, in downtown Hartsburg, “Get your coats on!”

Bells at the two churches in town ring together as people trickle out of the single-story Legion hall and congregate in the street. They slowly form a three-quarter moon around a 12-foot-high tree between the Hartsburg Cycle Depot and The Itching Post bar.

Fostering oneness

Between 52nd Street and Paseo Boulevard and 54th Street and Charlotte, Kerry Hollander grew up in a Catholic neighborhood in Kansas City — though her life and home were centered around Judaism, and the synagogue was just 20 blocks away.

Hollander’s sense of Jewish identity began in the bottom level of a two-bedroom duplex that housed six people. There, her childhood consisted of Jewish rituals, Friday night Sabbath dinners and Hebrew school — the beginnings of a life cycle permeated by Judaism.