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Anthony Wahl 

Janesville Craig’s Caleb Scoville attempts a layup during their non-conference game at home against Milwaukee Hamilton on Friday, Dec. 27.


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Reporters share their favorite stories of 2019

Reporters interview hundreds of people and write dozens of stories in a year’s time.

Some are drudgery; others are a delight.

Some become favorites they’ll never forget.

Here are some articles Gazette reporters chose as favorites from 2019:

Jonah Beleckis

Submitted photo 

A car at the scene of a police-involved shooting Feb. 24, 2016, in the parking lot of Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge in East Troy.

Headline:Before driver in fatal police shooting is sent to prison, grieving families pray together”

Date published: May 31.

Synopsis: Jose Lara drove in the seat next to where Christopher Davis died. But members of the Davis family in a moment of “beauty and humanity” forgave Lara and prayed with him and his family before he went to prison.

Reporter’s thoughts: Courtrooms are intentionally divided—prosecutors and victims on one side, defendants and their lawyers on the other. Sometimes guards have to stand in the way to make sure emotional crowds don’t mix.

But at this sentencing over the shooting death of 21-year-old Christopher Davis, Jose Lara—the driver of the car a sheriff’s deputy shot into—walked to the other side to embrace and pray with a grieving mother and brother. The grief, the grace, the forgiveness. I will never forget this moment and am more human for having been present for it.

Catherine W. Idzerda

awahl / By Anthony Wahl awahl@gazettextra.com 

Gazette reporter Catherine Idzerda tries her hand at a few cold-weather science experiments. Here, Idzerda throws a cup of boiling water into the frigid wind, causing some of the water to instantly vaporize.

Headline:Subzero science: Frigid weather offers opportunity for experiments”

Date published: Jan. 30.

Synopsis: I went outside and tested all the cold weather experiments journalists do when it gets really cold.

Reporter’s thoughts: Since the first printing press was invented, editors have been sending reporters out in extreme weather to discover if an egg will really fry on a sidewalk or if you can use a frozen banana as a hammer.

Last January, when the area was experiencing record low temperatures, Gazette Editor Sid Schwartz sent me out behind the building to pour molasses, make maple syrup candy in the snow and to hammer stuff with a banana. None of it went well, and readers learned that maple syrup candy made at a loading dock tastes like automobile exhaust.

You’re welcome.

Neil Johnson

Anthony Wahl 

Tom Fong, owner of the Cozy Inn restaurant in Janesville, is the son of Fang Lang, known later in life as Wing Sun Fong, one of six Chinese survivors of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Although Fong knew his father survived a shipwreck, his father never told him it was the Titanic.

Headline:Janesville man shares untold story of his father, a Titanic survivor”

Date published: Sept. 22.

Synopsis: A Janesville man shared with The Gazette the untold story of his father, Wing Sun Fong, one of six Chinese men who research and a new documentary film now shows survived and were rescued from the 1912 wreck of the Titanic.

Reporter’s thoughts: I’m usually not fond of writing news features that examine U.S. or world history. This story was different. What are the chances a reporter would bump into a local man whose father was the last living man pulled from the icy ocean waters after the wreck of the Titanic? I calculate them at 1 in about 7.5 billion.

Tom Fong is best known for his egg rolls at the locally renowned Cozy Inn Chinese restaurant in downtown Janesville. During an interview for an earlier business story, Fong dropped a mind-blowing tidbit on me: He told me that acclaimed documentary filmmakers had confirmed that his father—listed in the ship’s manifest as Fang Lang—was one of just a few Chinese nationals rescued from the doomed Titanic, although the Chinese men’s survival had been erased from history for nearly a century.

Fong’s never-before-told story of his dad’s survival is equal parts dazzling, poignant and galactically unlikely. And it taught me that any time a source says, “I thought you’d come in here to interview me about something else,” I should pull out my notebook again and ask: “What is it that I should have asked you?”

Anna Marie Lux

Submitted photo 

The U.S. Army’s Caisson Platoon passes through the McClellan Gate in May 2015 as it carries Maj. Jackie Lee Stewart to his burial place in Section 55 of Arlington National Cemetery. Babe, a caisson horse for 19 years before retiring, is in the lead team without a rider.

Headline:Caisson platoon horse retires to loving Beloit home”

Date published: May 26.

Synopsis: Rural Beloit resident Jolie Larsen adopted a horse named Babe from the Caisson Platoon, which provides mounted escorts for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

Reporter’s thoughts: The story was among my favorite in 2019 because of Larsen’s intimate connection to Babe, which she did not know at first.

During the competitive adoption process, Larsen learned the 22-year-old horse honored America’s fallen by participating in more than 7,600 funerals.

When Larsen discovered Babe was one of the lead horses that took part in her father’s funeral at Arlington, she was overwhelmed with emotion.

As Larsen said: “What are the odds I would have a chance to adopt a horse that pulled my dad to his final resting place.”

Sometimes the connections we make in life end up being far more powerful and far more meaningful than we ever expected.

Ashley McCallum

Angela Major 

Cole Fuller’s mother, Robyn Hansen, sits next to a statue and flowers she and her husband, Steve Wilson, have in their yard as a memorial to her son.

Headline: “‘A total failure:’ Family believes lack of mental health resources contributed to Milton teen’s death”

Date published: June 30.

Synopsis: The family of Cole Fuller shares why they think the Rock County Human Services Department failed Cole, ultimately leading to Cole’s death by suicide.

Reporter’s thoughts: As a reporter, there are some stories you hate to have to write.

I hate the fact Cole Fuller is dead. But I love that his family used the tragedy to help others.

The emotion, candor and love I saw when I spoke to Cole’s family can’t be compared to anything I have ever experienced. Jeff Fuller and Steve Wilson realized how important it was to talk about what happened to Cole. They did not take a tragedy, package it in a box and hide it from the world.

They did what was incredibly difficult—talked to a reporter and laughed and cried and grieved as they told me who Cole was and why they were so incredibly angry at how suicide is treated in society.

Writing this story and the ones that followed made me think a lot about my own mental health and the people in this world who mean the most to me.

I urge anyone who is struggling with mental health challenges to seek professional help and not be ashamed. We all need a little or a lot of help sometimes.

Benjamin Pierce

Angela Major 

Kelsey Pacetti is president of the UW-Whitewater chapter of Active Minds, which works to start conversations about mental health through events, discussions and meetings.

Headline:UW-Whitewater, UW System increase focus on mental health”

Date published: Oct. 28.

Synopsis: As knowledge and concern about college students’ mental health grow, colleges across the state are trying to increase services.

Reporter’s thoughts: I lost someone I love to suicide in August. Lillia was passionate about being kind and helping others. Writing this story was painful, but it also gave me hope that there are services available to people who continue to grapple with mental health issues.

Being able to spread awareness and hope with this story gave me a chance to make a difference. Lillia was a beautiful person with an even more beautiful soul, and this story allowed me to commemorate her and spread her lifelong message of hope and love.

Frank Schultz

Submitted photo 

U.S. Marine Cpl. Harry Warren Schneider of rural Janesville is shown with the helicopter for which he was crew chief in Vietnam. He died there in 1968.

Headline:Half a century later, family grieves, takes pride in man who served in Vietnam”

Date published: March 26.

Synopsis: This is the follow-up to a 2018 article in which I told of a woman who tracked down the family of a U.S. Marine with whom she corresponded before his death in the Vietnam War.

Reporter’s thoughts: This is about the family and H. Warren Schneider, who grew up in the town of La Prairie and went on to become a crew chief on a Huey helicopter. Schneider and his crew were shot down while trying to help pinned-down Marines in 1968. This story is about the Schneider family’s journey in discovering what exactly happened and how Warren’s death still deeply affects them all these years later.

This one is about healing and wounds that never heal. It still makes me cry.


Anthony Wahl 

Gazette reporter Catherine Idzerda attempts a few cold-weather science experiments Wednesday behind the Bliss Communications building in Janesville. Here, Idzerda throws a cup of boiling water into the subzero air, causing some of the water to instantly vaporize.


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Census Bureau among employers looking to hire at January job fair

JANESVILLE

The Rock County Job Center’s hiring fair Jan. 9 will be the first major, publicly hosted job fair of the new year.

And according to fliers the job center has circulated on social media, more than two dozen employers representing a range of local industries plan to attend.

The fair comes at a time when Rock County’s unemployment rate stands at 3.2%, according to state data. That’s historically low, and it’s evidence of a continued labor shortage that has made life difficult for companies who need to hire workers.

Yet January job fairs are important for hiring agencies, in part because of a temporary influx of newly unemployed people who have been cut loose from seasonal work, such as holiday jobs at retail stores.

One agency planning to attend the job fair—the U.S. Census Bureau—said it hopes the event can help net some of the 1,200 workers still needed in Rock County to conduct the 2020 Census.

U.S. Census Bureau spokesman Bob Giblin said the bureau relies on job fairs to find qualified applicants age 18 and older to staff thousands of temporary jobs.

And like any other company or agency that’s trying to hire, the bureau is also dealing with a labor pool that’s far smaller than it was in post-recession 2010, when the last 10-year census was taken.

“During periods of fairly high unemployment, like in 2010, there are a lot more applicants,” Giblin said. “Right now in Wisconsin, there is a very, very low unemployment rate. It’s tougher getting applicants right now. It’s a very challenging year for recruiting.”

The temporary census-takers the bureau hires will begin training in March, and their work in door-to-door census gathering runs from April through July.

Giblin said the Census Bureau encourages people to apply for jobs in advance of the job fairs the agency attends. Because the labor pool is so small, he said the bureau will key on people who are wrapping up seasonal jobs in retail, but there’s another demographic that’s also attractive.

“Along with students, retirees and veterans, we’re keying on farming families,” Giblin said. “Some of them may be kind of looking for extra income to round things out.”

This time around, the bureau is offering extra incentives, including flexible hours, work assignments in Rock County and significantly higher pay than during the last census.

Across Wisconsin, temporary census-takers will be paid $17 to $24 an hour for training and for data-gathering work.

Most census-takers in Rock County will earn $18 an hour, he said.


Austin Montgomery/APG 

Tom Schroeder marks measurements on a piece of wood that will be turned into salt and pepper shakers at his shop in Beloit.


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SEALs described alleged Gallagher war crimes to investigators

SAN DIEGO

Navy SEALs who were never called to testify in the war crimes trial of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher told naval criminal investigators about behavior they witnessed, including the alleged stabbing of a wounded Islamic State fighter that led to murder charges against Gallagher.

The two SEALs were granted immunity to testify in the trial this past summer, but were never called to the stand.

Their interviews with criminal investigators will be available for streaming Friday on Hulu, on “The Weekly” from The New York Times. It will be broadcast on FX on Sunday.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted the SEAL interviews more than a year before the San Diego court-martial of Gallagher, who was charged and acquitted of several war crimes, including murder.

The SEALs described how their chief seemed to love killing, how he targeted women and children and boasted that “burqas were flying.”

The footage provides revealing insights of the men who worked with Gallagher and turned him in. They have never spoken publicly about the case, which has divided the elite fighting force known for its secrecy.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator 1st Class Craig Miller says about Gallagher in one interview.

“The guy was toxic,” Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Virens, a sniper, says in another.

Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, says, “You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving.”

The material also includes thousands of text messages that the SEALs sent to one another about Gallagher’s case and video from a SEAL’s helmet camera that shows Gallagher approach a barely conscious captive—a teenage Islamic State fighter—in May 2017. The camera then shuts off.

One of the SEALs—Petty Officer 2nd Class Ivan Villanueva—told investigators he witnessed the alleged stabbing of a wounded Islamic State fighter that led to murder charges against Gallagher.

“I saw it happen,” Villanueva says during his interview.

The Navy has never explained why Villanueva was not called to testify at Gallagher’s court-martial and did not respond to inquiries Thursday.

The case created a national firestorm as President Donald Trump intervened again and again on Gallagher’s behalf—and culminated this week with a visit by Gallagher and his wife, Andrea, with Trump and first lady Melania Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Trump and other supporters say “warfighters” don’t need their actions questioned by bureaucrats in the military.

While the accounts of the witnesses aren’t new——hearing those accounts from the witnesses themselves is. The episode, titled “The Gallagher Effect,” presents these SEALs’ stories in their own words and voices, framing their actions as courageously going against the traditional brotherhood of the Navy SEALs.

In separate interviews, the SEALs tell NCIS agents that Gallagher behaved like a “psychopath” during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, Iraq, where the platoon took on Islamic State. One by one, his men tell NCIS that their platoon served as Gallagher’s “personal sniper escort” and that the chief was “medal chasing.”

They also describe his actions during the deployment as war crimes.

“I saw Eddie take a shot at probably a 12-year-old kid,” one says.

Three SEALs tell investigators they saw Gallagher stab a wounded Islamic State fighter in the neck.

These interviews led to the murder charges against Gallagher in 2019—charges the SEAL denied. He was found not guilty in July of murdering the wounded fighter and shooting civilians.

Gallagher says his men made up the accusations because they were unhappy with his leadership style.

In a written statement sent via his attorney, Gallagher said: “My first reaction to seeing the videos was surprise and disgust that they would make up blatant lies about me, but I quickly realized that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment. Soon after I got to the brig at Miramar, one of these guys came to visit me and apologize for what they did but that they had to stick with the fake stories or be charged with making false statements.”

Gallagher’s attorney, Tim Parlatore, told the Union-Tribune in an interview Thursday that there was nothing new in the videos and predicted The New York Times would edit and cherry-pick which parts of the statements to air.

“You’re never going to understand these interviews without a trained criminal investigator looking at it,” Parlatore said. “Those videos were so helpful to me—they gave me a road map to acquittal.”

According to Parlatore, the full videos revealed flawed NCIS interrogations that were key to his trial preparation.

“No question, these videos demonstrate all of the failings of the investigation,” Parlatore said. “They were fantastic—very rarely in a case do you have something as great as these videos to help you prepare.”

One witness in the videos is Scott, who, along with Gallagher, was treating the wounded Islamic State fighter’s injuries after he was injured in an airstrike. Part of the medical treatment involved inserting a breathing tube into the man to treat what witnesses said was “blast lung.”

Scott told NCIS in his interview that he saw Gallagher stab the fighter multiple times and that he remained with the man until he died. At trial, however, Scott told a different version of his story—one in which he says he killed the fighter after Gallagher stabbed him just once.


Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 28, 2019

Stephen “Steve” Behl

Cindy Marie Gerstner

Gloria Margaret Haroldson

Bertram H. Klein

Carol A. Krueger

Mitzie K. McCulloch

Virginia “Ginny” Paulsen

Ervin J. Stadelman

Tarron R. Turner