The Voice of West Virginia
When the St. Albans boys basketball team welcomes Hurricane for Friday’s season opener, it will do so nearly one year removed from claiming its first regional championship in 16 seasons.
Unfortunately for the Red Dragons, they never appeared in the 2020 state tournament, with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ending the season before it could be played.
Still, St. Albans has fond memories of last season. The Red Dragons won eight of their final nine games and compiled a 17-8 mark that included a postseason win over Kanawha County rival Capital and a regional final victory at Woodrow Wilson in convincing fashion, 68-53.
However, a senior class of Rodney Toler, Ethan Clay and Braxton Good that was largely responsible for the program’s turnaround over a three-year span, is no longer around. Toler captained the Class AAA second-team all-state last year, while Clay was an honorable mention pick.
“We lost three starters from last year and Ethan Clay and Rodney Toler were four-year starters,” Red Dragons’ coach Bryan England said. “They’re great kids and I owe them a lot for the experiences they gave me at St. Albans.”
Fortunately for England, a strong core of contributors returns this season, helping him keep the bar high as the Red Dragons move to Class AAAA.
This year’s team will also feature three seniors — returning all-state honorable mention pick Jaimelle Claytor, Bones Johnson and Ametrice Hall — in addition to junior Drew Reed, a returning starter and perimeter threat.
Claytor will start for a fourth season, while Johnson has been a major contributor the last two seasons. Hall, a Martinsburg transfer, is also expected to factor into the mix.
“I’m very excited about the guys that we have back,” England said.
Additionally, juniors Jamison McDaniels and Jerrelle Claytor and sophomores Cooper Lane-Sturgill and Michael Hindman got some experience at the varsity level last season.
“Those are guys I’ve coached before that I’m really excited about,” England said.
England is also raving about the program’s newcomers and added, “We have a crew of freshmen that is probably the best freshmen class I’ve ever had.”
Just how much the freshmen contribute remains to be seen.
“We have so much experience back with eight guys that have had varsity time that the (freshmen) are really having to compete,” England said.
England has liked what he’s seen in preseason practices.
“In my time at St. Albans, these are the most competitive practices we’ve had,” he said. “I like that these guys are getting after it. They’re learning about failure in practice, so that’s a good thing.”
England will soon discover much more about his team, which was tied with South Charleston for fourth in the Mountain State Athletic Conference preseason poll.
“I’m very thankful to be able to coach basketball again,” England said. “There was a point in time that we just didn’t know if we were ever going to get back to playing and coaching. We know it’s going to be a year of ups and downs. What we’ve been telling our team is try to control what you can control. We just have to control each day as best we can. I’m excited about St. Albans boys basketball and the prospects for this year.”
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Delegates passed a resolution that would specify that courts have no authority to intervene in impeachment proceedings.
If the full Legislature passes the measure, West Virginia voters could get the responsibility to decide for themselves whether to amend the state Constitution during the 2022 General Election.
“We’re going to send it back to the people who I think, unfortunately, will be less worked up about it than some of us are,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, arguing against passage.
The change amounts to one line:
No court of this state has any authority or jurisdiction, by writ or otherwise, to intercede or intervene in, or interfere with, any impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate conducted hereunder; nor is any judgment rendered by the Senate following a trial of impeachment reviewable by any court of this state.
HOPPY KERCHEVAL: WV Lawmakers Want to Clarify—Impeachment is THEIR Job
In 2018, West Virginia justices were impeached on a range of charges, including lavish spending on office renovations, the use of state vehicles for private travel, approving pay for some senior status judges above the legal limit and failure to hold each other accountable.
A lawsuit by Justice Margaret Workman contended the grounds for impeachment crossed over into the judiciary system’s own constitutional authority. She also contended the Legislature hadn’t precisely followed its own procedures.
Her case went to the state Supreme Court, where a panel of temporary justices decided the matter because the usual state Supreme Court had recused. The substitute Supreme Court ruled to block the impeachment trials of most of the justices.
“We were essentially de-fanged from one of our constitutional responsibilities,” House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, said today while speaking in favor of the resolution.
Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, said he served through that process and wouldn’t take it lightly.
“We need to take back our authority, and I hope it never, ever happens again,” Zatezalo said.
Democrats raised issues about checks and balances. They asked what would happen if a Legislature in the future failed to follow its own rules, impeached purely along party lines or made the broadest possible interpretation of concepts like maladministration.
There would be no possibility of judicial intervention, they said.
“Any hyperpartisan and frivolous impeachment would be A-OK,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.
Capito said impeachments already have high hurdles, with a majority required in the House to impeach and a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict.
If citizens conclude the process has run off the rails, he said, the recourse would lie with voters.
“If they don’t like the decision, they can send us home,” Capito said.
West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections, a community organization focusing on electoral and judicial issues, has described the possible amendment as unnecessary. The organization says the legislative branch already has a power laid out clearly in Article 4 of the state constitution.
Instead, the organization says, this is a power grab.
“HJR 2 would cut loose future impeachment proceedings of the state legislature from all constitutional restraint,” the organization wrote.
“The amendment would make it so that no court in the state could intervene to protect the right to a fair hearing of a public official facing impeachment, no matter how frivolous the charge or constitutionally flawed the process.”
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Jaime Taylor, the Marshall University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs said the state’s trajectory with COVID-19 vaccinations and case totals are behind the university’s announcement that the fall is being planned for a near-normal term with face-to-face courses.
Marshall President Jerome Gilbert and university officials made the announcement on Monday that health and safety and academic committees have been working to develop scenarios and recommendations for the fall term, aimed at ensuring the safety of students and employees.
Taylor said the university wanted to give students as much advance notice as possible to plan decisions for the 2021 fall term.
“With the way things are rolling out in the state of West Virginia with vaccines and the great job the state is doing, we felt comfortable that right now that is our plan. We feel comfortable we should get back to a normal situation this fall,” Taylor told MetroNews.
As of Tuesday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) confirmed a seven-week downward trend of active COVID-19 case numbers continued with 6,692 in the state. That figure had been over 29,000 in early January.
More than 300,000 first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in West Virginia as of Tuesday and the DHHR reported 197,759 people fully vaccinated.
According to Marshall University’s COVID-19 dashboard, 892 faculty and staff have been fully vaccinated as of February 25. 1,364 first doses have been administered as of February 25. A total of 1,793 Marshall employees requested vaccination through the three surveys in December and earlier in February. Taylor said the university is confident every staff member who wants a vaccine will receive on well before the fall.
Since February 16, Marshall has recorded 15 new cases of the virus among students and four among staff.
“As vaccinations become more available and the positivity rate drops, we will move toward resuming pre-pandemic activities and behaviors,” Gilbert said in a release Monday. “I am confident we are seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and I’m ready, like all of us, to return to a level of normalcy in the fall.”
Taylor said there was a small dip in enrollment over the past academic year at Marshall, as the university offered only in-person courses for freshmen and those in lab courses. Synchronous courses, such as Zoom and Team structured, were the main learning outlets for students.
He said the fall plan will be to get back to standard room capacities and may offer a handful of the synchronous courses for the convenience of students.
Taylor said there is a lot of value with in-person courses and the out-of-class experience on campus.
“When they are face to face, I think students feel more comfortable asking questions and raising their hands. Additionally, there are interactions that take place before the class gets started. Students and faculty may meet before or even after class,” Taylor told MetroNews.
In addition to the fall semester announcement, Gilbert announced the university’s spring 2021 commencement ceremony will be an in-person event on Saturday, May 1, at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium with pandemic health and safety precautions in place.
The ceremony will begin at 9 a.m., rain or shine, although in the case of continuing thunderstorms, Sunday, May 2, will serve as the alternate date. To maintain appropriate social distancing, each participating graduate will be provided with four (4) tickets for guests, a release said. Masks will be required for everyone in attendance.
Students planning to participate in the ceremony are asked to review graduation information with their individual academic colleges and to check with the registrar’s office for more information, Marshall said.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Although the sunshine broke through and the skies were blue Tuesday, it was of little comfort to a lot of West Virginians who could only watch as backwaters of a nearby stream continued to creep into their neighborhood and their yard.
The weekend deluge sent smaller streams out of their banks all across West Virginia, but in the subsequent days as those creeks drained away there are bigger issues downstream. The Ohio and Kanawha Rivers carried heavy water which caused many of the smaller tributaries to back up.
“The key is what the Ohio River does,” said Gordon Merry, Cabell County’s Emergency Services Director. “As soon as it crests then the Guyandotte and the Mud River will start to recede.”
Merry said he was aware of a number of homes in his county surrounded by water, but reaching them was a major problem. A lot of roads remained isolated and covered in water on Tuesday.
“The Salt Rock area, we’ve had to do an extensive amount of work getting people out. It came up rather quick and it’s higher than it’s been for a long time,” Merry explained.
Cabell County also had isolated homes in the Ona, Barboursville, and Milton communities as the Mud River left its banks.
Video from Jason Toy on Facebook of his neighborhood in Cabell County.
In Mingo County, the town of Kermit Tuesday was an island unto itself. Mingo County Emergency Services Director Doug Goolsby said they’d been trying to get in for a couple of days, but all roads to the town were blocked.
“Right now that’s the one that’s got us messed up. You can’t gain access to it because the water is still up due to the back water,” he said.
Goolsby said he and other county officials had done some assessment and found in a lot of places although water had gotten in and around homes, there hadn’t been very many where the water had risen into the living quarters. He credited past flood management in which those living in the flood plane had to raise their homes. The practice and regulations, according to him, are starting to pay off in lesser damage amounts.
The city of Williamson installed one gate on the city flood wall as of Tuesday to back off the rising waters of the Tug Fork River.
In Wayne County, Emergency Services Director B.J. Willis and his crew were still trying to close the books on the February ice storms when Mother Nature came calling again.
“We weren’t finished with the ice storm. We still have some residences where the power has still not been restored. The power and phone company had to delay a day or so because they can’t get into some of the areas they need to fix,” Willis explained.
There was high water in the Dunlow community, where he said there were no pressing emergencies, but a lot of people were isolated as water covered access roads to the community. Downstream homes were starting to take on water in the communities of Ceredo and Lavallette along the banks of Twelve Pole Creek as the Ohio River continued to rise.
“Twelve Pole goes south to north and goes into the Ohio River on Route 60 there at Camden Park. There’s still concern for the Ceredo and Lavalette area as the water continues to rise in those areas,” he said.
The Kanawha River crested at Charleston below flood stage, but still at the highest point since 2003. However, the Elk River continued to pour in a huge amount of water and the Coal River continued to be flooded in the Tornado community. The Coal drained its huge volume into the Kanawha as well. The slow flow caused backwater flooding in the community of Poca downstream and covered parts of State Route 62 in Mason County.
City officials in Point Pleasant said three streets in town were closed for flooding Tuesday, but they did not need to install gates in the city’s floodwall. Mayor Brian Billings noted the water coming out of the Kanawha River was considerably higher and faster than the waters coming downstream on the Ohio River from the north.
A full crest on the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers was projected to take several more days. Fortunately, forecasters say we’re in for a dry stretch in West Virginia with no rain in the forecast for the rest of the week.
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Delegates narrowly passed a bill clarifying that a work stoppage or a strike by public employees is unlawful.
It goes back to the Senate, where it already passed, to reconcile some changes made in the House. One change made by delegates was removing a provision that would have canceled extracurricular activities during a strike.
In the House, Democrat after Democrat stood and argued against the bill, saying it’s already reflected by case law and to put it in writing adds insult to injury.
“I think it’s clear what we’re doing right now. We’re poking our fingers in the eye of public educators,” said Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.
The only Republican who spoke in favor of it was House Education Chairman Joe Ellington.
Ellington, R-Mercer, said the bill simply states it’s unlawful for any public employee to strike against the state.
“This is just stating the obvious,” Ellington said.
“It’s not targeting one group or another. It’s just all public employees have the same thing.”
West Virginia has long recognized strikes by public employees as unlawful, but that’s largely been based on interpretations of case law.
“This is already illegal. Our courts have said so. We don’t need to,” Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said today.
The current bill would express that directly in state code: “Public employees in West Virginia have no right, statutory or otherwise, to engage in collective bargaining, mediation or arbitration, and any work stoppage or strike by public employees is hereby declared unlawful.
“Furthermore, any work stoppage or strike by employees of a county board of education poses a serious disruption to the thorough and efficient system of free schools, guaranteed to the children of West Virginia by section one, article XII of the Constitution of West Virginia.”
The bill defines a strike or work stoppage as events when an employee does not report to work as required by contract, does not have leave and is not otherwise prevented from reporting to work by circumstances beyond their control.
The bill also specifies that provisions that normally permit making up time or alternate instruction delivery methods do not apply to work stoppages.
The bill says county school boards should withhold pay for each day a teacher participates in a stoppage.
West Virginia teachers went on strike for nine days in 2018 for better wages and stable health insurance. A two-day strike in 2019 was in response to a broad-ranging education bill with a controversial charter schools provision.
Delegate Ed Evans, a longtime school system employee in his community, said he concluded in 1990 that he had to walk out with other teachers because “I had to. I couldn’t feed my family.”
“Do you think the teachers really won’t continue to strike because of this bill? If it’s bad enough, they’ll do it,” said Evans, D-McDowell.
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(Mike Carey pregame Zoom conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Regardless of what happens over the next two weeks, the WVU women’s basketball team is bound for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. With an 18-4 record and a dozen wins in Big 12 play, Mike Carey’s club could very well climb into a No. 4 seed or even better in the field of 64 with a solid finish to the season.
West Virginia will play at Kansas State Wednesday night and then visit Big 12 regular season champion Baylor on Monday. The conference tournament will follow next weekend in Kansas City.
In the short term, Carey is trying to make sure his team can be at their best physically prior to the NCAA’s. The Mountaineers used just seven players in Saturday’s win at Kansas. Three players have left the program during the season and starting point guard Madisen Smith has missed the last two games with a groin injury. Carey says Smith will not play until the NCAA Tournament.
“We can go 1-1 the next two games or 0-2 and we will finish second or third in the Big 12,” Carey said. “Seeding-wise in the NCAA, it will affect that some. But we need to win. It is a big game on Wednesday. With that being said, I am not just going to practice them for two hours and work them hard because we have no legs right now. We have some illness and we have some injuries. We are looking ‘big picture’ to the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA’s right now.”
The Mountaineers were included in the initial NCAA ‘Top 16 reveal’ earlier this month, but fell out of that list after losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State. WVU also fell two spots to No. 20 in this week’s AP poll.
“Let’s face it, we lose one game on the road and we win a game on the road, and we drop in the AP. It is amazing to me how that happens.
“Those polls don’t win games. You have to go out and win games. That is not our focus, the polls. It is just frustrating once in a while to me.”
In the two games since Smith was injured, WVU’s other two starting guards, Kysre Gondrezick and KK Deans have played 158 of a possible 160 combined minutes. Carey tried to take the temperature of his team on Monday.
“(Yesterday) for example, I did two practice plans. One was if I felt like, let’s push them, and then one I felt like, let’s not push them. And after talking to some of them, I took the one where we were not going to push them.
“You want them to have legs for the game on Wednesday. We might not execute as well but we still have to have energy and legs. As a coach, you have to make that decision.”
If WVU advances to the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament, they will still likely have a week to rest prior to the NCAA Tournament.
“Mentally they can be prepared but physically we have to practice. You have to go through it. You have to put them in situations up and down the floor. Right now, I don’t know if I am willing to put them in those situations getting up and down the floor. We definitely can’t afford anyone else getting hurt. I just can’t run them up and down the floor and expect them to have energy in a game.
“But we will have time after the Big 12 Tournament and we will have time going into the NCAA’s. That’s where we need to be fresh and ready to go.”
In games decided by six points or less this season, the Mountaineers are 5-2. Last year, they lost five games decided within that margin.
“Our mentality is different this year. This year we expect to win those games. Last year, I think some of them expected to lose those games.”
Sophomore forward Esmery Martinez has climbed into the top ten nationally in rebounds per game. Her 24-rebound performance Saturday at Kansas raised her average to twelve boards per game.
“She anticipates missed shots. Your great rebounders do that. They anticipate a shot and get to the other side.
“She is a great rebounder and she is going to get better. She has a bright future.”
The Mountaineers can sweep the regular season series from Kansas State (8-15, 3-13) Wednesday evening. WVU edged the Wildcats 65-56 last month at the Coliseum. Carey’s club ended the game on a 21-0 run after K-State ran a deliberate offense for most of the game.
“They have pretty much gone back to their regular offense. But there are times within a game that they will go back to that,” Carey said. “They could slow it down. They could go man-to-man, zone, triangle-and-two. They are doing a little bit of everything.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than half of the state’s 55 counties are now ‘green’ on the state’s COVID-19 daily alert map.
In new information released by the state Department and Health and Human Resources Tuesday, there were 28 counties in ‘green,’ the lowest category of COVID-19 spread. There haven’t been any counties in ‘red,’ the highest rate of spread, for more than two weeks.
The DHHR did report 136 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. The state’s daily positivity test rate is now 2.35% after more than 7,000 tests recorded Monday.
Just one new death was added Tuesday, a 58-year-old man from Harrison County. There were no new deaths added Monday. Total deaths are now at 2,301 since the pandemic began.
There are now 6,692 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia, the lowest number since Nov. 6, 2020.
Hospitalizations checked in Tuesday at 210, the lowest since there were 209 COVID-19 patients across the state on Oct. 23, 2020.
The DHHR said there have now been 197,759 residents fully vaccinated from COVID-19. More than 103,000 additional residents are waiting on their second shots.
.@WV_DHHR reports as of March 2, 2021, there have been 2,190,037 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 132,184 total cases and 2,301 total deaths. https://t.co/9eY35Ym8zp pic.twitter.com/0S2PUSQbDF
— WV Department of Health & Human Resources • (@WV_DHHR) March 2, 2021
Total cases per county include: Barbour (1,227), Berkeley (9,699), Boone (1,583), Braxton (777), Brooke (2,012), Cabell (7,825), Calhoun (230), Clay (376), Doddridge (467), Fayette (2,677), Gilmer (714), Grant (1,071), Greenbrier (2,434), Hampshire (1,538), Hancock (2,598), Hardy (1,270), Harrison (4,846), Jackson (1,669), Jefferson (3,638), Kanawha (12,134), Lewis (1,042), Lincoln (1,227), Logan (2,704), Marion (3,682), Marshall (3,016), Mason (1,770), McDowell (1,350), Mercer (4,228), Mineral (2,585), Mingo (2,132), Monongalia (8,054), Monroe (951), Morgan (933), Nicholas (1,183), Ohio (3,640), Pendleton (621), Pleasants (803), Pocahontas (596), Preston (2,544), Putnam (4,228), Raleigh (4,717), Randolph (2,395), Ritchie (622), Roane (549), Summers (703), Taylor (1,092), Tucker (503), Tyler (618), Upshur (1,690), Wayne (2,621), Webster (323), Wetzel (1,092), Wirt (360), Wood (7,081), Wyoming (1,744).
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After a 4-3 start to the season, the WVU baseball team has halted team activities for the next seven days due to COVID-19 protocols. The pause is in response to West Virginia being unable to meet the required COVID-19 thresholds, as established by the Big 12 Conference.
West Virginia’s first four home games have been postponed and have not yet been rescheduled. The Mountaineers were originally slated to host Kent State for a three-game weekend series this Friday-Sunday and Marshall on March 9.
The Mountaineers next scheduled game is on March 11 when WVU is set to host Central Michigan for a three-game set. West Virginia won two out of three games this past weekend at Myrtle Beach. Randy Mazey’s club defeated Kennesaw State and Bryant, while falling to the hosts from Coastal Carolina.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Boone County senator was predicting a bill requiring approval from county commissions or other appointing agencies for future regulations from county boards of health would “come back to haunt” West Virginia.
As of Tuesday morning, different versions of SB 12 had been passed out of both the state Senate and state House of Delegates.
“We’re going to end up losing this one, I’m terribly afraid,” Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone), a doctor, told participants in the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia’s virtual “Tobacco-Free Day of Action” on Tuesday.
Advocates on the call said they planned to ask Governor Jim Justice to veto the legislation if it passed.
Senator Majority Leader Tom Takubo (R-Kanawha), a pulmonologist, defended the Senate’s version of the bill.
He previously voted for it.
“I think what you’re going to see in the next short future is a strong rework of our public health system so that we can really strengthen and improve public health across the state of West Virginia,” Sen. Takubo said.
“But for this year, I think this is a fix that is a good compromise and creates local accountability for decisions that are being made.”
Along with support for local smoke-free air regulations, priorities for the those involved in the “Tobacco-Free Day of Action” included increasing tobacco prevention and cessation funding to the recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention level of $27 million.
Delegate Mike Bates (D-Raleigh) said he was working on a proposal that would dedicate a portion of interest from the Rainy Day Fund previously created with tobacco settlement money for cessation and prevention programs.
There were also calls for increases to state tobacco taxes and an equalization of taxes across tobacco and electronic cigarette products.
Sen. Takubo said an increase to the state tax on a pack of cigarettes, possibly taking it from $1.20 to $2.50 per pack, was expected to be part of Governor Justice’s larger proposal to begin to eliminate state personal income taxes.
That plan was not yet available in bill form on Tuesday, Day 21 of the 60-day Regular Session.
“We keep pressing the governor. We’re getting further into the session now. That bill’s going to be a big, big lift and the supporting legislation to go around that, we’ve got to have time,” Takubo said.
On another front, he said Governor Justice “may be overlooking vaping.”
An estimate from the state Department of Health and Human Services indicated 35.7 percent of young people have reported regular use of e-cigarettes.
Sunjit Neginhal, a student at Huntington High School, said he’s seen the effects of vaping on the performance of some of his fellow soccer players.
That inspired him to get involved in efforts to encourage more investments in prevention efforts specifically for young people.
“You can keep on asking the schools. You can keep on asking the students to stop vaping, but if they have no medium or if they have no education to stop, you’re not going to find any solvency for that anywhere,” Neginhal said.
“A lot of times when vaping is brought into the issue, people don’t think that it’s a bad thing when they start vaping.”
Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in West Virginia, according to the Coalition for Tobacco Free West Virginia.
“From a physician’s standpoint, 36 years as an internal medicine doctor in Boone County, there’s no one that I know that says that they’re glad that they started smoking,” Sen. Stollings said.
“We as a Legislature, as leaders in the state, are not doing a good job on those big picture items so I apologize on behalf of a minority that, frankly, has tried.”
SISSONVILLE, W.Va. — A Charleston man is in jail after allegedly shooting and killing his brother Monday night in the Sissonville area.
The Kanawha County Sheriff’s office said Holdon Michael Burdette, 23, of Charleston is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Joshua Burdette, 31 of Charleston.
According to a criminal complaint from Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Kanawha County deputies responded to the incident just before 10 p.m. in the 200 block of Whitetail Lane.
Deputies say Joshua’s father found him with a gunshot wound to the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene with what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds.
The father further told Metro 911 that Joshua and Holdon had been fighting before the shooting happened. The criminal complaint stated that the father informed officers Holdon had recently been treated for mental health concerns.
According to the complaint, deputies found no evidence of anyone else besides Holdon and Joshua being at the home at the time of the incident.
Holdon is currently being held at South Central Regional Jail without bond.
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