The story of ‘Baby Kevin’

babykevinAbout a year ago I read a story by Sheryl James, formerly with the St. Pete Times, who wrote about a baby thrown in a dumpster and left for dead in a local suburb. The story covered the child’s recovery and the court case that ensued after authorities found his birth mother. You can read Sheryl’s story here.

Shery’s story went on to win the Pulizter for features. And when I read it, I latched onto a bit about another abandoned infant found in Naples in 1988. I spent about a year periodically digging until I found the boy. He’s 27 now, and the story I wrote for Sunday’s Mother’s Day edition details his own abandonment and adoption.

It’s probably the piece I’m most proud of from the past year or so. And the family was great to work with. Check out the story here.

Photos by Luke Franke and Calvin Mattheis.

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Students delve into 30-year cold case

I heard about students from our local university going up to help a sheriff’s office in another county crack a 30-year-old cold case. Six students in a forensic anthropology class at Florida Gulf Coast University went to Martin County to help authorities unearth the remains of two unidentified infants.

One of the children is Baby Moses, a child who was thrown into the river and drowned the day he was born. Authorities later buried the child in an unmarked grave. When the case was reopened this fall, detectives decided they needed to exhume Baby Moses to collect potential DNA evidence.

The story I got to write took a look at the cold case itself as well as the graduate program at FGCU. What these students do is so neat and to be able to practice it first hand as a student is even cooler. I’m really happy with how this centerpiece turned out.

Transgender preteen faces hurdles

I spent a few months with photographer Dania Maxwell checking in on a Lehigh Acres family whose daughter just started attending school as a girl. We wrote about Dee-Vyne Valentine’s transition from Dante Valentine and explored what the future will look like for this young girl, who also has learning disabilities.

I hope we’ve brought some awareness to the issue locally and that by publishing a story like this, we can pave the way as a society for other girls like Dee.

Dee-Vyne "Dee" Valentine, 11, plays in the backyard of her home on October 18, 2014, in Lehigh Acres, Fla. "Judge(s) should make rulings about letting me in the girlsÕ locker room and the girlsÕ bathroom because I'm a girl," Dee said. Photo by Dania Maxwell

Dee-Vyne “Dee” Valentine, 11, plays in the backyard of her home on October 18, 2014, in Lehigh Acres, Fla. “Judge(s) should make rulings about letting me in the girls’ locker room and the girls’ bathroom because I’m a girl,” Dee said. Photo by Dania Maxwell

 

Swamp Boys

A story I worked on for a few months with photographer Scott McIntyre recently ran in the Naples Daily News. We had the story behind a paywall but I’m posting it now that it’s free.

We followed a kid in a juvenile detention program as he completed his stay and returned to his life on the east coast of Florida. The story looks at how he completed the Swamp Boys program and transitioned into real life as an adult. The story and photos got a lot of play in the paper when it ran one Sunday in January. Enjoy.

Jan. 4, 2015 front page.

Jan. 4, 2015 front page.

Shiny new videos

We’ve made some upgrades in recent weeks to the morning video segment I do. We’ve branded the clip, calling it the Daily Scoop, and moved from filming in the newsroom to filming in our video studio. We’ve also added graphics and a new logo. I think the overall effect is that I look a lot more professional. Plus I got that swanky new hair cut. Watch out TV reporters. I’m comin’ for ya.

Man shoots neighbor

Last week, I wrote four front-page stories about the shooting death of a Naples man following a 10-year feud with his neighbors.

The first story after his death outlined the rising problems between the two families using public records and accounts from others on the street.

The next day, I caught a lucky break when the victim’s daughter told me during a phone interview that the woman who would later be charged in her father’s death had returned to her home after a brief stint in jail. We drove to the scene in time to see the woman Baker Acted into custody. She was later charged in the murder as well.

The next day, the man’s widow broke her silence in a statement and we obtained documents showing she had filed for another restraining order.

All week, I chipped away at a Sunday story looking at what people can do if they’re having serious problems with their neighbors and which area agencies can help.

I’ve covered a few killings in Naples since starting the morning shift, but this has garnered the most interest.

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Latest clips

I recently spent about eight hours with photographer Dania Maxwell visiting with employees of 24-hour establishments following a rash of armed robberies at Waffle Houses in Lee County.

The employees we talked to recounted the nights they were robbed at gunpoint and talked about how they were scared to return to work. The story ran A1 Sunday above the fold and I had some good feedback about the writing specifically.

Another recent highlight is my story about alligator activity in the county. As the weathe warms up, these reptiles start wandering and calls from scared residents start pouring in.

In other crime news, I’ve written about the arrest of an accused child abuser, a teacher accused of having sex with a student, a low-income RV park that’s making its residents leave, and a woman caught living in a storage unit with a young child.

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Another major award

Our newspaper recently started a monthly award in which staffers from any department are nominated by their peers and vetted by editors before winning cash prizes. I was one of three winners for my work in December, and I won a shiny $100 gift card. Let the shopping begin.

Here are a few headlines that were mentioned as part of my coverage.

1) Two Marco Islanders were each retrieving something from home when they collided in a fatal crash.

2) The father of a man arrested after shooting up a bar told me his son was likely mentally ill. I wrote about how law enforcement tracked him down in another state after he fled.

3) An accused killer and his accomplice were tracked to Wyoming where they were found stranded on the side of the road in a truck with no gas. I reached out to local authorities there and a small town newspaper editor to paint a picture of the area where they were found.

4) This one was a double byline with fellow reporter Jessica Lipscomb. I talked to neighbors of a man who shot another person on their street and admitted the crime to his father the same day.

That’s just a few of the more than 30 December bylines I had. It was a busy month.

Recent highlights

I can’t believe I’m about to wrap up another year at the Naples Daily News. I started in August 2011 and already 2013 is slipping away.

Here are a few recent clips from the last month. Again, we’ve got that paywall, but you’ll get the idea.

1) A brief encounter with U.S. Congressman Trey Radel at his rehab facility the day after local political leaders called for his resigation.

2) A daughter reels from the loss of her 91-year-old mother who was killed in a car crash a block from her home. The other driver is facing charges of reckless driving and vehicular homicide.

3) Friends of a college student jailed on murder charges speak out after a drug deal goes wrong.

4) Wannabe Santa gets jammed in the chimney then sent to jail after trying to break into a Naples home.

5) A Kentucky artist spends three weeks in Big Cypress National Preserve through a residency program.

6) A few vignettes about locals who are part of national statistics that show the popularity of tattoos is increasing.

Recent centerpieces

Here’s a sampling of some weekend work. The first was a Saturday centerpiece for a new series I suggested called Dispatches. It’s an occasional feature the reporting staff will do on relatively small stories in the community. It’s a chance for us to take a more literary approach to our writing. I’m happy with my first piece about a woman who opened a thrift store in a last-ditch effort to stay out of foreclosure.

The next two pieces were live assignments, which I tried to write with a more creative lead. I covered the opening of a community garden and a volunteer day at the local YMCA, which was damaged in a major fire last month. Our paywall won’t let you read those stellar leads, but if you’re curious you can zoom in on the pics!

Saturday A!

Sunday A3

Saturday A3