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Texas Medal of Honor recipients honored at first-ever induction ceremony

Military members and their families filed into a Denton hotel ballroom, where the first-ever induction ceremony of the Texas Veterans Hall of Fame was held Saturday evening.

A total of 20 Medal of Honor recipients from Texas were inducted during the ceremony at SpringHill Suites by Marriott Denton. Retired Master Sgt. Gary Steele, president of the Texas Veterans Hall of Fame, said the event was designed to recognize and honor the service and accomplishments of Texans who served in the military and to include their living relatives.

Steele, a 21-year veteran of the Air Force, said that a component of Saturday’s ceremony and a focus of their organization includes preserving the stories of Texas veterans to educate future generations.

“We wanted to create a hall of fame that would provide a venue to educate the public,” Steele said during the event. “We also wanted to honor and recognize Texas veterans for their service and sacrifice while preserving Texas history.”

Although the organization inducts its members under four separate categories — Valor, Honor, Support and Patriot Medallion — the event on Saturday focused on the Valor component, Steele said. While the Veterans Hall of Fame plans to open the other two categories for consideration next year, he said he could not think of a better fit for the Valor category than Medal of Honor recipients.

Of the 20 inductees who were honored Saturday, the living relatives of six of the inductees were in attendance for the ceremony, Steele said.

Eastland resident Michelle Young, 54, who attended Saturday with her family in honor of her brother, Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith, said she can remember when her brother left for Vietnam but never came back. Although her brother was killed May 8, 1970, she said his actions led to the safety of at least 25 other members of his platoon.

Young said her brother was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, with his medal presented to their mother at the White House by Vice President Spiro Agnew on May 8, 1971. While Keith’s life might have been short, Young said she considers it an honor to carry on his story.

“He is a hero to all of us because he fought for our country,” Young said. “But it’s an honor because we get to represent him now.”

Princeton resident Nadene Murphy, 88, who attended Saturday’s event in honor of her brother, Maj. Audie Murphy, said that she was initially surprised about the ceremony, but thankful that his service was still recognized after more than seven decades. Her brother was awarded the Medal of Honor for valorous actions at Holtzwihr, France, in World War II.

“I think that it’s wonderful that they are remembering him after all these years,” Nadene said of her brother, Audie, who died in 1971.

Toward the end of the event, Texas Hall of Fame Vice President Jere Delano closed the ceremony with a prayer as the colors were retired against the sound of taps — which was led by chaplain Bill Coburn, a member of the Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 920 — echoing throughout the ballroom.

Unbroken: How Denton police helped each other after October shooting

Within an hour after Denton police Officer Urban Rodriguez Jr. was shot just after midnight Oct. 29, every cop on the night shift, whether they were working that night or not, was on duty.

“Some of the officers who showed up had tears in their eyes,” night shift supervisor Sgt. Michael Christian said, “but they were ready to do what needed to be done.”

Other 911 calls didn’t stop. Officers, dispatchers and investigators had to keep responding to them even as they processed what had just happened to their buddy. In a department of 180 sworn officers, word spread as fast as the ambulance carrying him to emergency surgery that Rodriguez had gotten shot twice while on a traffic stop.

The mood in the immediate aftermath, Christian said, was surreal, the feeling one has after finding out a family member was in a bad car crash or after catastrophes nobody really prepares for.

“It’s staring you right in the face,” Christian said.

Police leadership didn’t have to ask officers to come to work, supervisors said in an interview this week with the Denton Record-Chronicle. The motivation, they said, was for Rodriguez and fellow officers, the majority of whom hadn’t ever experienced an officer shooting in their career.

“Since that day, people have stepped up, no matter what,” day shift supervisor Lt. David Mays said. “We help each other. We’ve probably come closer together after this. You don’t know what somebody else is going through, so you just try to make their life as good as you can make it.”

It’s a response that gave Chief Frank Dixon, 900 miles away in Chicago at a conference when Rodriguez was shot, the credibility to say, hours later when he arrived for a news conference, that his department was unbroken by the shooting.

Kara Dry/DRC file photo  

Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon speaks at a press conference regarding a shooting that took place just after midnight Oct. 29 involving Officer Urbano Rodriguez Jr.

As officers showed up for work or to Medical City Denton or to the shooting scene, leaders within the department unfurled a plan aimed at keeping police healthily resilient.

It began with one-on-one conversations with officers, making sure that each was thinking clearly and able to carry on.

“It’s an abnormal event, so you want to reassure them that whatever feelings they’re having is a normal response,” Sgt. Trent Jones said.

Days later, there were debriefings in which officers could talk openly about the nontactical aspects of what happened.

“It’s not about who did what right and who did what wrong,” Jones said. “It helps normalize the process for them. You want them to become resilient.”

Police are expected to control their emotions in these events, just like any calls. But that does not mean they don’t need to unpack what they’re wrestling with when something like this happens, police said Friday.

Jeff Woo/DRC file photo 

Officers from Denton and other agencies arrive and depart at Medical City Denton on Oct. 29.

“You’ve got to have healthy cops,” Jones said. “If they’re not healthy, they’re not solving problems, they’re contributing to them.”

Jones is a member of the department’s peer-support team, the group whose volunteer role it was to assess how officers were doing after the shooting. The team is not here just for shootings; members go through specific training to help manage stress after traumatic or critical events, no matter the case type.

“It’s broken down this concept that you’ve got to be this tough guy or this tough girl, that you’ve got to be hard and calloused,” Christian said.

Jones added, “We’re starting to break the old stereotypes of cops.”

That Rodriguez was critically injured by gunfire is not as significant to some officers as the fact that he was injured at all.

“If he had been stabbed, if he had been run over by a car, if he had been hit with a bat, we’ve got an officer that was injured,” Christian said. “Someone meant him harm and carried that out.”

DRC file photo 

Urban Rodriguez, then an animal control officer, pets William during a walk around the shelter in 2013. Rodriguez was shot twice on Oct. 29 during a traffic stop.

Rodriguez is the first Denton officer to be shot while on duty since 1992.

“Urban went out there to do his job, and he encountered somebody who, without provocation, tried to kill him,” Mays said.

Police say Antwon Pinkston shot Rodriguez. He sits in the Denton County Jail on charges of attempted capital murder of a peace officer and aggravated assault on a public servant.

“That person was a threat to the community at large, it wasn’t just he was a threat to police,” Mays said. “We’re here to stand in that gap and keep everyone else safe. [Rodriguez] did that, and it got him hurt.”

Freezing weather expected early next week

Enjoy the pleasant weather this weekend while you can because freezing temperatures are on their way once again.

A cold front is expected to hit the Dallas Fort-Worth area Monday morning, with temperatures forecast to fall throughout the day before dropping below freezing in the early evening hours.

David Bonnette, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said the cold front will bring rain Monday morning but not to expect any snow.

“There will be some rain in the morning and afternoon hours,” Bonnette said. “But by the time we get below freezing, the precipitation should have stopped.”

Temperatures will fall into the mid 20s through Monday night into Tuesday morning before warming into the upper 30s Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday’s low should fall into the mid 20s as well.

During extended periods of freezing temperatures, Bonnette advised community members to remember the “Four Ps.”

“It’s important to be mindful of your people, pets, pipes and your plants,” Bonnette said. “Take any precautions to protect those items before the freeze occurs.”

Pets should be brought inside while plants and pipes should be wrapped and covered during the freeze.

Bonnette also advised turning off automatic sprinklers to avoid creating a layer of ice on driveways and sidewalks.

Temperatures will rise to the 40s Wednesday and Thursday before another cold front is expected to come through on Friday.

Small Denton neighborhood seeks viable water options as they prepare to lose current service

Residents of the Green Tree Estates neighborhood left a meeting Oct. 29 discussing the future of their water supply with more questions than answers since there was no translator. Now, with LULAC, they’re walking into Monday’s meeting more prepared.

For several decades, Green Tree Estates has been among at least 50 small public water suppliers operated by private businesses in Denton County. State records showed Green Tree and its former owner, W.J. Roddy, faced enforcement actions in the past.

The current owner and operator of the water well, Don Roddy, told the city of Denton and the Green Tree residents he would stop operating the water well on Friday, Nov. 15.

Residents are preparing for the worst but are hoping to leave a meeting with the city Monday discussing the area’s future with more answers and a viable solution.

An agreed order in 2002 detailed the steps Roddy agreed to take to bring his system into compliance. In 2014, another agreed order fined Roddy $2,042 for many of the same problems: failing to test the water for contaminants or disinfectant and failing to have a licensed operator running the system.

This year, state records listed the system as “inactive” and city officials filed a complaint stating that the system continues to meet the definition of a public water supply, particularly since more than 25 people are served by it.

Jeff Woo/DRC  

From a pipe at her family’s home, Ednna Guajardo fills a glass with tap water on Saturday. The family uses several water filters — but even so, this isn’t water they drink.

While many of them use the turbid water for bathing and washing dishes, some with water filters, they aren’t drinking it.

Ednna Guardado is one of the residents living in the small enclave of mobile homes near Pecan Creek Elementary School. She is one of the few renters in the area and lives with her husband and their three daughters.

“Ever since I’ve lived here, the water has always been [dirty],” Guajardo said in Spanish. “In this house, I have a filter [for the water], but we don’t want to move from here because we’re comfortable in this neighborhood. My kids’ school is here.”

Green Tree Estates is in an area that was annexed into city limits in 2013. The initial ordinance for the annexation was adopted in 2011 and outlined specific requirements for extending water service to the area so it can conform with Denton’s requirements.

The Oct. 29 meeting showed Roddy has declined to connect to the city of Denton system since 2013. The city can’t directly connect to customers because all the roads and the well water are privately owned.

Guajardo said she has several filters to try to have clean water in the home. Even so, this isn’t water that they drink. Toward the back of the house, she showed the Denton Record-Chronicle one pipe where the water comes from.

Jeff Woo/DRC  

Ednna Guajardo shows what a water filter looks like after it’s been used to clean her family’s water for a month at their home at Green Tree Estates in southeastern Denton.

She poured some in a glass and it came out a dirty yellow color — the same color of water that she brought to last month’s meeting in a clear bottle.

When she turned the faucet off and then on again, the water came out clearer. She said sometimes the water does come out looking cleaner, but most of the time it’s dirty. She said her daughters have gotten blisters a couple of times as a reaction to the water on their skin.

The residents want to go into Monday’s meeting prepared to speak and hopefully leave with answers. They met Saturday at Guajardo’s house with other neighbors to compile questions they would voice at the meeting.

Guajardo and Lilyan Prado-Carrillo, president of the Denton League of United Latin American Citizens council, have been organizing to prepare for a meeting with the city on Monday. The president of Movimiento Cosecha Denton was at Saturday’s meeting to help, too.

Prado-Carrillo said LULAC is helping to make sure this community, many of them Spanish-speaking, has its needs met as a part of the organization’s mission to protect Latinos in America.

One of the main roles is to translate and disseminate information to the residents. Guajardo said they left the Oct. 29 meeting about their water services with more questions than answers because there was no one to translate for them.

The city will be providing a translator for Monday’s meeting so residents can understand what’s said.

At Saturday’s meeting, Prado-Carrillo and the residents discussed one of the solutions being offered — a central community bathroom in a trailer for the residents.

“I understand the city is trying to do what they can,” Prado-Carrillo said. “The city thinks this is a choice of dignity, but the community says no. They shouldn’t have to bathe their children [in a community bath].”

Homero Saldana, a homeowner in the neighborhood, said the community bathroom is solution for someone who lives alone, but not for someone with a family.

While the adults voiced their frustrations and discussed some of the city’s talking points, their children sat around like any kid at a meeting would. Guajardo said their kids understand what’s going on. She said her daughters — ages 10, 12 and 13 —told one of their teachers their water would be shut off.

The notification residents received falls short of the 120-day notification bracket set by the Texas Public Utilities Commission. But because Roddy told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that some of the 11 connections are illegal, the TCEQ’s position is that illegal connections can be disconnected without notice.

The TCEQ also said if there’s no service agreement or contract with the people receiving water, the owner can turn off the well if they wish to do so. As of mid-August, there are nine connections.

Guardado and Prado-Carrillo went through the neighborhood recently and found that more than 42 people live there, with a few more who come and go. Although they don’t have a contract with Roddy for him to provide water to the residents, at least two residents have proof of paying for water services.

While it’s easier for renters in the area to pack up and move, a majority of the residents there own their homes and their property.

The residents are hoping the city has a viable solution for them at Monday’s meeting. However if there’s nothing, there was talk of starting a fundraiser to get residents 300- to 600-gallon water storage tanks.

“The city said they would provide the water, but [the residents] would still have to lug the storage up the street to where they can get the water,” Prado-Carrillo said.

Monday’s meeting with city representatives will be at 6 p.m. at Pecan Creek Elementary. The Denton City Council is expected to discuss the Green Tree Estates’ water services Tuesday.