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Homicides in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties in 2024

The Border Belt Independent is tracking homicides in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties in southeastern North Carolina. The map will be updated each week using information from local law enforcement agencies and media reports. Click on the pins within the map for details. Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties typically record violent crime rates that exceed statewide figures. When asked what contributes to the …Read more Continue reading Homicides in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties in 2024

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Despite efforts, Robeson County ranks last for traffic deaths. What needs to happen?

By Rachel Baldauf rachelbaldauf@borderbelt.org  The N.C. Department of Transportation had an idea in 2018 to reduce traffic deaths in Robeson County, which has ranked the worst in the state for traffic safety for the past 20 years.  The goal was to assemble a task force of community leaders to brainstorm solutions to traffic problems and educate drivers on how to stay safe on the roads. …Read more Continue reading Despite efforts, Robeson County ranks last for traffic deaths. What needs to happen?

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AmeriCorps volunteers build new home for Columbus County family affected by hurricanes

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org  The thwacking of nail guns against wooden beams and the buzzing of a power saw cutting down planks created a cacophony of construction.  Just off a dirt road outside the Columbus County town of Cerro Gordo, a group of young people built the foundation for what will soon become a tiny home. They worked on the project for three weeks as …Read more Continue reading AmeriCorps volunteers build new home for Columbus County family affected by hurricanes

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Border Belt People: Jessica Cory brings awareness to Lumbee literature

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Jessica Cory, a lecturer at Appalachian State University, grew up hearing about the Lumbee tribe from her mother-in-law, who grew up in Robeson County. These stories inspired her to write about the significance of tribal history. The Border Belt Independent spoke with Cory about her writing and her interest in the Lumbee tribe. Q. When did you become interested in writing …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People: Jessica Cory brings awareness to Lumbee literature

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How a man charged with murder was released on bond and shot two Robeson County deputies

By Rachel Baldauf rachelbaldauf@borderbelt.org Robeson County sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Walters had an uneasy feeling as he and his partner set out to arrest a suspect who was out on bond and cut off his ankle monitor.  “It was just pretty much like a sixth sense,” said Walters, who has worked for the sheriff’s office since 2020 but was marking his one-year anniversary on patrol that …Read more Continue reading How a man charged with murder was released on bond and shot two Robeson County deputies

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Here are some economic development projects to watch for in NC’s Border Belt

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org  From a glass company to an IT service firm, the past two years have brought several major economic development announcements in rural southeastern North Carolina. There’s more on the way, local officials say. The Border Belt region — Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties — has announced more than $255 million in economic investment totaling 1,115 jobs since 2022, according to …Read more Continue reading Here are some economic development projects to watch for in NC’s Border Belt

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Border Belt People: Ashley Lomboy brings Western science, Indigenous culture together

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Ashley Lomboy of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe took an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) from a young age. This fascination led her to become a Global Information Security Manager at Corning Optical Fiber and Cable, and later, founder of the Waccamaw Siouan STEM Studio. The Border Belt Independent spoke with Lomboy about her many accomplishments and how she …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People: Ashley Lomboy brings Western science, Indigenous culture together

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Helping the homeless in Robeson County

By Sarah Nagem sarahnagem@borderbelt.org Tina Bowen maneuvered “Miss Dorothy,” a 30-foot utility truck she converted to a mobile laundry unit, into the parking lot of CrossWay church in Pembroke.  The thrum of the engine stirred Michael Locklear, who was huddled under a sleeping bag next to the church, bracing himself against the cold. Temperatures dipped into the low 20s the night before and were still …Read more Continue reading Helping the homeless in Robeson County

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One of North Carolina’s poorest cities wants to crack down on panhandling

By Sarah Nagem sarahnagem@borderbelt.org Holt Moore, the attorney for Lumberton, said City Hall gets phone calls almost daily from residents complaining about panhandlers in street medians and parking lots.  In one incident, Moore said, someone asking for money tried to open a driver’s door.  Now Lumberton, the largest municipality in Robeson County and one of the poorest cities in North Carolina, wants to strengthen its …Read more Continue reading One of North Carolina’s poorest cities wants to crack down on panhandling

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Southeastern North Carolina counties will be the last to transition to eCourts

By Rachel Baldauf rachelbaldauf@borderbelt.org Counties in southeastern North Carolina will not transition to the eCourts digital record management system until 2025, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Mecklenburg and Wake counties transitioned last year to the $100 million eCourts system. The state has announced plans to expand the program to 44 more counties within the next year. But nearly …Read more Continue reading Southeastern North Carolina counties will be the last to transition to eCourts

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Homeowners in NC’s Border Belt would pay much more for insurance under new proposal

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org Homeowners in southeastern North Carolina would have to pay substantially more for insurance under a new proposal. The North Carolina Rate Bureau last week proposed an average statewide increase of 42.2% for homeowners’ insurance. In Bladen, Columbus and Robeson counties, the proposed increase is higher. Get the Border Belt Independent’s weekly newsletter. Columbus County would see the highest increase at 63%, …Read more Continue reading Homeowners in NC’s Border Belt would pay much more for insurance under new proposal

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Border Belt People: Greg Martin retires after 25 years as Bladen manager

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Bladen County Manager Greg Martin, who has been working in local government for almost 30 years, is retiring. He first worked in local government starting in early 1996.  The Border Belt Independent spoke with Martin about his time in the position and his decision to retire. Q. What was your upbringing and journey to being county manager of Bladen County? Are …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People: Greg Martin retires after 25 years as Bladen manager

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What the Trillium merger means for Medicaid recipients in NC’s Border Belt

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org  Mental health services for people enrolled in Medicaid in much of southeastern North Carolina will soon be consolidated following a merger approved by the state.  Trillium Health Resources will manage mental health care, substance misuse treatment and disability services for many low-income residents in 46 counties — including Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland — when it merges with Eastpointe and Sandhills …Read more Continue reading What the Trillium merger means for Medicaid recipients in NC’s Border Belt

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Partners in Ministry helps kids become ‘change agents’ in their communities

By Rachel Baldauf rachelbaldauf@borderbelt.org The hallways of Partners in Ministry’s building in Laurinburg are covered in inspirational sayings: “Put first things first.” “Begin with the end in mind.” When Executive Director Melba McCallum first dreamed the idea for the nonprofit in 2003, she couldn’t have known all that it would grow to become. Today, the group runs an afterschool program for about 300 students, provides …Read more Continue reading Partners in Ministry helps kids become ‘change agents’ in their communities

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Construction firm must pay after off-duty deputy injured in Robeson County, court rules

By Rachel Baldauf rachelbaldauf@borderbelt.org Robeson County sheriff’s deputy Stephen Matthew Lassiter was off duty but directing traffic at a construction site on Interstate 95 north of St. Pauls just after midnight on March 28, 2019, when he was hit by a pick-up truck.  A month later, when Lassiter filed for workers’ compensation benefits, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and Truesdell, the construction company managing the …Read more Continue reading Construction firm must pay after off-duty deputy injured in Robeson County, court rules

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Robeson County schools join lawsuit against social media giants

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org The Robeson County school district has joined a lawsuit against social media giants, claiming the companies are intentionally addictive and negatively impact students’ mental health. Public Schools of Robeson County is one of 12 districts in North Carolina and 200 across the country to join the lawsuit against Meta, Google, ByteDance, and Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat. Other N.C. districts include …Read more Continue reading Robeson County schools join lawsuit against social media giants

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Here’s who is running for Congress and the NC legislature in the Border Belt in 2024

By Ben Rappaport  benrappaport@borderbelt.org  Several candidates have filed for state and federal races in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties for the 2024 election.    Republicans have maintained firm control of North Carolina’s Border Belt region in recent elections and will look to keep up the momentum.  Many incumbents in the region want to keep their seats, including Republican Congressman David Rouzer, Republican state Sen. Danny …Read more Continue reading Here’s who is running for Congress and the NC legislature in the Border Belt in 2024

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Border Belt People Q&A with Greg Bacot: ‘So many opportunities in the world’

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Greg Bacot, a 1985 graduate of UNC Pembroke, established the Lacy and Alice Bacot Higher Education Scholarship at the university to honor his parents in 2018. On Oct. 20, Bacot, 62, announced a $1.2 million planned gift that would enhance the scholarship. The Border Belt Independent spoke with Bacot about his time spent at UNCP and his reasoning behind establishing the …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People Q&A with Greg Bacot: ‘So many opportunities in the world’

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Race, equality and alliances: The story behind Lumberton’s contentious election

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org A slate of political hopefuls wanted to shake up the Lumberton City Council in last month’s contentious election that highlighted issues of race and equality in the Robeson County town.  Voters, however, opted to stick with the status quo. They re-elected Mayor Bruce Davis and three incumbent council members. In another district, voters rejected the only candidate on the ballot — Erich …Read more Continue reading Race, equality and alliances: The story behind Lumberton’s contentious election

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Border Belt People Q&A: Murchison’s cleats honor twin brother’s bout with cancer

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org  Larrell Murchison, 26, was born and raised in Elizabethtown playing football from a very young age alongside his twin brother, Farrell. Today, Larrell plays defensive end for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. On Dec. 3, Murchison wore customized cleats for the Rams’ matchup against the Cleveland Browns to raise awareness and represent the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation. The Border Belt Independent …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People Q&A: Murchison’s cleats honor twin brother’s bout with cancer

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Medicaid expansion starts Dec. 1 in NC. Here’s how Border Belt counties are preparing

By Rachel Baldauf rachelbaldauf@borderbelt.org Medicaid expansion will begin in North Carolina on Dec. 1, opening the door for hundreds of thousands of people who were previously ineligible to enroll. The Scotland Health Care System in Laurinburg wants to be prepared. The hospital now has three on-site employees dedicated to helping people through the sign-up process, and staff members are compiling a list of patients who …Read more Continue reading Medicaid expansion starts Dec. 1 in NC. Here’s how Border Belt counties are preparing

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Border Belt People: A Q&A with Paul Valenti, historian and Lumber River diver

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Paul Valenti, 69, works as the chief water plant operator in Lumberton, but he is also well known for being a historian and scuba diver. Born and raised in Lumberton, Valenti has explored the Lumber River, finding many historical artifacts from megalodon shark teeth to an 1,100-year-old canoe. The Border Belt Independent spoke with Valenti about his experience as a diver …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People: A Q&A with Paul Valenti, historian and Lumber River diver

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Clouds over Columbus County

By Carli Brosseau and Sarah Nagem This story is co-published by The Assembly and the Border Belt Independent. Not three months after Bill Rogers accepted an appointment as Columbus County sheriff, he received a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury in Raleigh.  At the center of the investigation was his predecessor as the county’s top law enforcement officer, Jody Greene. Rogers had known …Read more Continue reading Clouds over Columbus County

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New Whiteville councilman brings youthful energy to aging county

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org  The average age of the Whiteville City Council is set to decrease in December with the swearing-in of 31-year-old Joshua Harris. He was one of three candidates in Whiteville District 1 who were under 32 years old. The former Columbus County sheriff’s deputy and Whiteville police officer was the top vote-getter in this year’s Whiteville municipal elections, garnering 223 votes. Second …Read more Continue reading New Whiteville councilman brings youthful energy to aging county

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NC county still reeling from sheriff’s racist comments is dealt another blow 

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org A school board member in rural North Carolina who was convicted of assaulting a Black town employee during an encounter in which she was also accused of using a racial slur said Monday she will remain on the board but step down as chairperson.   Kandle Rogers, who has served on the Whiteville City Schools Board of Education for years, was found …Read more Continue reading NC county still reeling from sheriff’s racist comments is dealt another blow 

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Jobs are scarce – but hope isn’t – in this Robeson County town

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org  Calling Aiesha Wilkinson’s move to Robeson County a struggle would be an understatement. She’s lived in the county for just five months, and she’s already gone through three jobs. Wilkinson said she was recently fired from her job at a manufacturing facility because she couldn’t reliably get to work on time due to transportation issues. She doesn’t own a car, and …Read more Continue reading Jobs are scarce – but hope isn’t – in this Robeson County town

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Border Belt People: Q&A with Nancy Fields, director of the Museum of the Southeast American Indian

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Nancy Strickland Fields serves as director and curator of the Museum of the Southeast American Indian located on UNC Pembroke’s campus, working for the museum since 2017. As director and curator, Fields, 50, makes sure the public is made aware of the history, art, and culture of Native Americans in their own communities. The Border Belt Independent asked Fields about her …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People: Q&A with Nancy Fields, director of the Museum of the Southeast American Indian

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Tar Heel Bus Tour makes stop at The News Reporter, Border Belt Independent

By Justin Smith Publisher, The News Reporter A Carolina blue bus filled with more than three dozen faculty members and senior administrators from UNC Chapel Hill stopped at The News Reporter Wednesday to learn about community journalism. The group, joined by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, was part of the multi-day Tar Heel Bus Tour, which sends one bus on a westward route from Chapel Hill and …Read more Continue reading Tar Heel Bus Tour makes stop at The News Reporter, Border Belt Independent

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Border Belt People: A Q&A with former Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guard Edward Tatum

By Kerria Weaver kerriaweaver@borderbelt.org Edward Tatum of Elizabethtown served in one of the nation’s most prestigious military units, the Old Guard, as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va. The Old Guard assists with funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is the oldest active-duty unit in the Army, founded in 1784. Its …Read more Continue reading Border Belt People: A Q&A with former Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guard Edward Tatum

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Columbus County school board adopts local Parents’ Bill of Rights

By Ben Rappaport benrappaport@borderbelt.org  The Columbus County school board on Monday adopted a localized version of the so-called Parents’ Bill of Rights that limits instruction about the LGBTQ+ community and requires teachers to notify parents when students want to change pronouns.  The move, which had unanimous support from the school board, follows the passage of Senate Bill 49, a controversial measure that became law when …Read more Continue reading Columbus County school board adopts local Parents’ Bill of Rights

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NC charter school group tweaks controversial hair policy. Parents say it’s not enough

By Ivey Schofield iveyschofield@borderbelt.org A charter school group in southeastern North Carolina agreed Thursday to tweak its controversial hair policy for boys, but parents say the change is not enough.   Classical Charter Schools of America, which enrolls 2,500 students in grades K-8 at schools in Leland, Southport, Wilmington and Whiteville, has faced pushback since administrators told families in March that boys must cut their long …Read more Continue reading NC charter school group tweaks controversial hair policy. Parents say it’s not enough

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Inflation pinches this Columbus crab shack

By Ivey Schofield iveyschofield@borderbelt.org At 18, De’Maya Berry started selling seafood from home to earn money before pursuing graduate school. At 26, she has expanded, turning her dream into a restaurant in southeastern North Carolina.  Maya’s Crab Shack, located in the eastern Columbus County community of Riegelwood, serves crab legs, shrimp and grits, lobster tails and more – offerings that locals say aren’t available within …Read more Continue reading Inflation pinches this Columbus crab shack

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Journalists hear that people want better access to local news and more stories that focus on solutions

A group of Border Belt-area residents and UNC Pembroke students told journalists Thursday evening that reliable news is hard to come by. Organizers say the forum helped them understand how people get their news, what the barriers are, and what types of stories people want. “To extend better service to communities, news organizations first need to spend time listening to people, understanding their habits, and …Read more Continue reading Journalists hear that people want better access to local news and more stories that focus on solutions

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North Carolina’s Border Belt lags behind in COVID booster shots. Here’s what to know 

Counties in North Carolina’s Border Belt have among the lowest rates in the state for COVID-19 booster shots, which health officials say are crucial in combating the virus.  In Robeson County, 19% of the population has received a vaccine booster or additional shot, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s the second lowest percentage in the state, behind neighboring Hoke County.  …Read more Continue reading North Carolina’s Border Belt lags behind in COVID booster shots. Here’s what to know 

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Subscribe to our free newsletter and never miss a story

By Les High Publisher There’s a line from the Apple TV series Ted Lasso in which Ted is told: “The truth will set you free, but first, it will really piss you off.”  The truth, however, is hard to come by today. That’s one of the reasons why we founded the Border Belt Independent in May, and why we need your continued support. Newsrooms like …Read more Continue reading Subscribe to our free newsletter and never miss a story

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Coalition hopes to coordinate efforts to combat opioid crisis in Columbus County 

By Henry Hawthorne IV While overdoses underscore the opioid crisis in Columbus County, county leaders still have a long way to go to understand the core causes and provide effective prevention programs, says Lauren Cole. “The first two weeks of April we had 14 overdoses at Columbus Regional,” Cole said. “One mother overdosed and left three preschool children sitting in the emergency room. No one …Read more Continue reading Coalition hopes to coordinate efforts to combat opioid crisis in Columbus County