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pinkout(West Plains) – The West Plains High School soccer, softball and football teams, along with the Zizzer cheerleading squad, recently raised money for the Ozarks Medical Center Foundation, and presented a check for $2,061.

The money was raised in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and will go to support programs and patients of the OMC Cancer Treatment Center. The athletic teams raised funds during home soccer and football games and through a silent auction held during Zizzer Pink Out Week in late October.

The funds will be used to help patients undergoing cancer treatment with expenses such as travel to get to treatment and medication costs or will be used for capital needs, such as new equipment for the OMC Cancer Treatment Center.

christmas(Springfield) – Santa may have fewer Missouri-grown trees to stow his presents under this year, with the latest Census of Agriculture showing the number of Christmas tree farms in Missouri declining from 196 in 2002 to 131 in 2007 and then 105 in 2012.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, those 105 Missouri Christmas tree farms in 2012 had sales of $1,146,000 for 32,810 trees which ranks Missouri 16th in the nation for total sales.

However, the United States Census of Agriculture shows the number of acres devoted to growing Christmas trees in Missouri has also been in decline: 3,775 acres in 2002, to 1,596 acres in 2007 and then 1,324 acres in 2012. Oregon is the top Christmas tree state, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, with 1,517 farms on 53,605 acres. North Carolina was second with 1,370 farms on 40,352 acres and Pennsylvania third with1,360 farms on 31, 577 acres.

The Missouri Christmas Tree Association lists two member farms in southwest Missouri: Charity Keith who owns Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm in Southwest City and Gary Maggard, owner of Maggard Tree Farm in Cabool.

Demand for trees has sagged in recent years. Meanwhile, prices for farm grown trees have not gone up, but the cost of growing them has, which means it is harder to make money. As a result, many growers have turned their tree farms into agritourism opportunities that include holiday photo ops, hot chocolate, petting zoos and other family friendly activities.

According to a National Christmas Tree Association poll, consumers bought more than 33.02 million real trees in 2013, up from 24.5 million in 2012. The purchase of artificial trees also rose between 2012 and 2013 from 10.9 million to 14.7 million.

Of the real trees purchased, NCTA said 85 percent were pre-cut and 14 percent came from cut-your-own farms. The remaining 1 percent didn’t offer an answer in the poll.

(Mountain Home)- Join the Baxter County Public Library Foundation at the Ante Up for the Library Texas Hold’em Tournament Saturday, January 24, at Big Creek Golf and Country Club.

A $100 donation to the Library Foundation provides participants with all the chips required for play or a table of 6 is $500. The donation includes lunch and participants must be 21 years old or older to play.

Registration begins at 11AM on January 18, lunch will start at 11:30AM and play begins at 1PM, with prizes awarded throughout the day. All proceeds benefit the Baxter County Public Library Foundation. Purchase tickets at the Library or register on-line at www.baxlib.org.

MSHPlogo(Jefferson City) – 31 Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers will graduate from the Patrol’s Law Enforcement Academy on Friday, December 19.

The ceremony is scheduled for 10 AM in the Academy gymnasium. The 99th Recruit Class reported to the Academy on July 1, and the new troopers will report for duty in their assigned troops on January 5.

Governor Jay Nixon will address the class and Chief Jon Belmar, St. Louis County Police Department, will give the keynote address during the December 19, graduation ceremony.

Part of the 99th Recruit Class is Tyler D. Pond of West Plains who will be joining Troop G in Willow Springs to cover Southern Howell & Oregon Counties.

msu50(West Plains)- Missouri State University-West Plains’ dedication to community service has earned it a place on the prestigious 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

The recognition, awarded annually by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) since 2006, is given to colleges and universities across the country that set an example in community service and makes service learning opportunities a priority for students. This year, 766 higher education institutions were named to the honor roll. It is the first year Missouri State-West Plains has been recognized.

To receive the recognition, colleges and universities must detail their commitment to community service by demonstrating how it is incorporated into the institutional culture. Institutions are evaluated on such factors as the scope and innovation of projects, level of student participation, incentives for serving, and the variety of service-learning opportunities provided, as well as the impact on the community.

University officials pointed to the campus’ recent Operation 50K initiative, the community service component of the William and Virginia Darr Honors Program, and the Faculty Senate’s service learning committee as some of the examples of how community service has become an integral part of the educational process.

Established in 1993, the CNCS is a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its core programs – Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Social Innovation Fund – and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve. As the nation’s largest grantmaker for service and volunteering, CNCS plays a critical role in strengthening America’s nonprofit sector and addressing our nation’s challenges through service.

(West Plains)- The West Plains Schools Board of Education will be meeting for a regular session meeting at 5PM on Tuesday, December 16, at the West Plains Middle School.

The board will move to immediately go into a closed session until the regular session meeting comes to order at 6PM.

In previous business the board will receive the academic update, the SCCC Accreditation final update, the strategic planning update, and the board candidate filing update.

In new business the board will hear a “Project Lead the Way” proposal, the first readings of the 2015-2016 high school course offerings and the MSU-WP culinary arts partnership MOU. The board will also listen to a community assessment consultant proposal, the capital improvement update, the finance update and the Superintendent’s report.

The board will adjourn back into the executive session following the adjournment of the regular session.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Gov. Jay Nixon is backing a bonding package to pay for repairs to Missouri’s century-old Capitol building and other government and university facilities.

Nixon got a firsthand look at some of the needed repairs Monday. He walked through the mud underneath the Capitol’s driveway and used his fingers to snap off one of the many skinny stalactites that have formed from water leaks.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a measure authorizing up to $600 million of bonds for repairs or renovations at state facilities and college campuses. But little has been done with that, because not many specific projects were included in a separate budget bill passed by lawmakers.

Nixon wants lawmakers to approve a bonding project list during the 2015 session.

(West Plains) – One person suffered minor injuries Monday morning after a three-vehicle accident at the intersection of Highway 63 and Preacher Roe Blvd. in West Plains.

The accident happened just after 6:30 AM, when the southbound vehicle driven by 48-year-old Julian Snethern of West Plains struck a northbound vehicle driven by 47-year-old Dell Cupp of West Plains, who was turning to go south on Preacher Roe. Cupp’s vehicle then hit a third vehicle that was sitting at the intersection.

All three drivers refused medical treatment, however a police department report states that Snethern had visible, non-disabling injuries. Cupp was ticketed for failure to yield after the accident.

by Kristen Gelineau
Associated Press

An injured hostage is wheeled to an ambulance after shots were fired during  a cafe  siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. New South Wales state police would not say what was happening inside the cafe or whether hostages were being held. But television footage shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

An injured hostage is wheeled to an ambulance after shots were fired during a cafe siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. New South Wales state police would not say what was happening inside the cafe or whether hostages were being held. But television footage shot through the cafe’s windows showed several people with their arms in the air. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

(Sydney) (AP) – Amid a barrage of gunfire, police stormed a cafe in the heart of Sydney early Tuesday to end a 16-hour hostage siege by an Iranian-born gunman. Police said three people were killed – the gunman and two of the hostages – and four others were wounded.

Police raided the Lindt Chocolat Cafe after they heard a number of gunshots from inside, said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.

“They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn’t enter, there would have been many more lives lost,” he said.

The gunman was identified as Man Haron Monis, who once was prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan.

Scipione wouldn’t say whether the two hostages who were killed – a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman – were caught in crossfire, or shot by the gunman. Among the four wounded was a police officer shot in the face.

“Until we were involved in this emergency action, we believe that no one had been injured. That changed. We changed our tactic,” he said, adding that there had been a total of 17 hostages taken in the cafe when the siege began.

The standoff ended when a loud bang was heard from the cafe and five people ran out. Shortly after, police swooped in, amid heavy gunfire, shouts and flashes. A police bomb disposal robot also was sent into the building, but no explosives were found.

Police said an investigation is underway because police were involved in an incident in which people died.

Local media identified the gunman as 50-year-old Monis, and a police official confirmed his identity. Under department rules, officials do not identify themselves unless speaking at a formal news conference.

Monis has long been on officials’ radar. Last year, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for using the postal service to send what a judge called “grossly offensive” letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009.

At the time, Monis said his letters were “flowers of advice,” adding: “Always, I stand behind my beliefs.”

He was later charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He has been out on bail on the charges.

“This is a one-off random individual. It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged goods individual who’s done something outrageous,” his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Conditsis said.

The siege began around 9:45 a.m. in Martin Place, a plaza in Sydney’s financial and shopping district that is packed with holiday shoppers this time of year. Many of those inside the cafe would have been taken captive as they stopped in for their morning coffees.

Hundreds of police blanketed the city as streets were closed and offices evacuated. The public was told to stay away from Martin Place, site of the state premier’s office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away, and the landmark Sydney Opera House also is nearby.

Throughout the day, several people were seen with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the window of the cafe, with two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.

The Shahada translates as “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.” It is considered the first of Islam’s five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.

Channel 10 news said it received a video in which a hostage in the cafe had relayed the gunman’s demands. The station said police requested they not broadcast it, and Scipione separately asked all media that might be contacted by the gunman to urge him instead to talk to police.

A number of Australian Muslim groups condemned the hostage-taking in a joint statement and said the flag’s inscription was a “testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals.”

In a show of solidarity, many Australians offered on Twitter to accompany people dressed in Muslim clothes who were afraid of a backlash from the cafe siege. The hashtag (hash)IllRideWithYou was used more than 90,000 times by late Monday evening.

Seven Network television news staff watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.

The gunman could be seen pacing back and forth past the cafe’s windows. Reporter Chris Reason said the man carried what appeared to be a pump-action shotgun, was unshaven and wore a white shirt and a black cap.

Some of the hostages were forced up against the windows.

“The gunman seems to be sort of rotating these people through these positions on the windows with their hands and faces up against the glass,” Reason said in a report from the vantage point. “One woman we’ve counted was there for at least two hours – an extraordinary, agonizing time for her surely having to stand on her feet for that long.”

“When we saw that rush of escapees, we could see from up here in this vantage point the gunman got extremely agitated as he realized those five had got out. He started screaming orders at the people, the hostages who remain behind,” he added.

Reason later reported that staff brought food from a kitchen at the rear of the cafe and the hostages were fed.

As night set in, the lights inside the cafe were switched off. Armed police guarding the area outside fitted their helmets with green-glowing night goggles.

“This is a very disturbing incident,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.”

Lindt Australia thanked the public for its support.

“We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families,” the company wrote in a Facebook post.

Australia’s government raised the country’s terror warning level in September in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State group. Counterterror law enforcement teams later conducted dozens of raids and made several arrests in Australia’s three largest cities – Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. One man arrested during a series of raids in Sydney was charged with conspiring with an Islamic State leader in Syria to behead a random person in downtown Sydney.

The Islamic State group, which now holds a third of Syria and Iraq, has threatened Australia in the past. In September, Islamic State group spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued an audio message urging so-called “lone wolf” attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia. Al-Adnani told Muslims to kill all “disbelievers,” whether they be civilians or soldiers.

One terrorism expert said the situation appeared to be that of a “lone wolf” making his own demands, rather than an attack orchestrated by a foreign jihadist group.

“There haven’t been statements from overseas linking this to extremist groups outside the country – that is quite positive,” said Charles Knight, lecturer in the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at Australia’s Macquarie University. “The individual or individuals involved didn’t kill early, which is part of the pattern of some recent international attacks. … It seems to be shifting more into the model of a traditional hostage situation, rather than the sort of brutal attacks we’ve seen overseas.”

Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

(Mountain Home) – The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a fatality accident that occurred Sunday morning.

A river guide on the Norfork River called 911 around 7:30 AM Sunday morning to report he had found where a truck had run off County Road 63 at Norfork and was overturned in the water. Deputies and emergency medical/rescue personnel were dispatched and found a pick-up truck in the river, along with the body of 28-year-old Brandon Wolf under the vehicle.

Investigators say they believe the vehicle had been heading westbound on CR 63, left the roadway, went down an embankment and then overturned.

Officials say the accident is still under investigation.