WATERLOO – Plastic stars dangle on fishing line from a tree on Ray “Sherman” Hill’s lawn, making up a family tree of his loved ones who have passed on.
“There’s my dad, my mom, sister. They all died of natural causes,” he said, pointing to the stars closer to the winter-bare trunk. He then reaches for a star bearing the name “Mikaela” in cursive script on the tree’s outer branches.
“My daughter’s is different. She was murdered,” he said.
Six months after the shooting death of his daughter, Hill is still looking for answers.
Police said someone fired into the bedroom window of Mikaela Bond Hill’s rented Hope Avenue home in the early morning hours of June 3. Bond’s boyfriend and her three children were in the house, but she was the only one hit by the gunfire.
One of the bullets struck her head. Two other rounds passed over her and struck a wall behind. Bond, 22, was pronounced dead a short time later at UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital.
Outside the window, police found spent shell casings in the grass next to a toy lawn mower. Evidence was collected and sent for testing, but no arrests have been made.
Hill said police are keeping him out of the loop on any developments.
“It seems like no one is giving her the attention that she needs,” Hill said. “What’s going on? I’m her father.”
He said he heard rumors the gunman may have been after someone else, and he learned elsewhere police found drugs, guns and cash in the Hope Avenue home where Bond lived. He questioned why no one was arrested for the contraband in the house.
Police say the investigation into Bond’s death isn’t closed.
“We are still working on it. I just interviewed somebody a week ago on it. We continue to follow up on things that come in, but we only have what we can get from our witnesses. If we get new leads, we follow up on those,” said Investigator Jeff Tyler, who is working the case.
Even so, Tyler said police can’t always share every bit of information they gather in an investigation. He said there are often details only the perpetrator would know, and if those details get out it can jeopardize the investigation.
“We don’t like to give out all of the details so that if someone does come forward with information, and they say they know it because this person told me this, we can match that up with something only the suspect would know,” he said.
Bond wasn’t the only one to lose her life to crime last year. An unofficial count shows Waterloo police responded to five other homicides in 2016 — the city usually sees between three and six annually in recent years.
One was a murder-suicide in January 2017. That same month, 55-year-old Denelius Nesby was shot and killed on Logan Avenue. A month after Bond’s death, in July, 4-year-old Jaheem Harris was found unconscious at his Mullan Avenue apartment and later died of blunt trauma. Also in July, Fredrick Dewayne Webber, 33, was shot and killed while riding in a vehicle on Center Street. Then in December, 39-year-old Cedric Craft was shot when someone broke into his Courtland Street home, and he later died.
Police made a murder arrest in the child’s death, but no arrests have been made in the slayings of Nesby, Webber and Craft (police also arrested a man on a homicide-by-vehicle charge in an August crash that killed a 7 month old).
Authorities say a big problem in solving crimes is people who know what happened but refuse to come forward.
“It’s a lack of cooperation. … It’s the snitching mentality that is stopping people from telling,” Tyler said.
“This was an innocent victim here that was inside of her house, and she was shot, and it could happen to anybody. We are definitely looking for answers, and if anybody has information and they aren’t coming forward with it, we urge them to come forward,” Tyler said.
Meanwhile, Hill is getting by.
“It was hard. It was the first Christmas I ain’t been with my child,” Hill said.
He said she would come over to his home and bring her kids to eat and hang out.
“She knew dad was going to barbecue or cook up something in the kitchen, and she’d say what she wanted. She’d come over here and sit around, we’d crack jokes, and now that’s all gone,” Hill said.
Anyone with information on Bond’s death or on other homicides is asked to call the Waterloo Police Department at (319) 291-4340 ext 7 or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be left at www.cvcrimestop.com or sent with TipSoft or by texting the word CEDAR plus the information to CRIMES (274637).
CHARLES CITY — On July 7, Jeannie Westby and her husband, Pete, received a call from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
For their family it was good news: A liver was available for Jeannie’s daughter, 15-year-old Faith, whose own liver was starting to fail. The price, however, was that it would be the liver of 15-year-old Logan Luft, a Charles City teen who died from injuries sustained in an ATV accident July 4.
The Westbys were flown that day to Rochester from Pelican Rapids, Minn., and Faith underwent surgery for the liver replacement. It was successful, but Jeannie was initially overcome with mixed emotions.
“I think as a recipient, you’re not prepared for how thankful and how sad you are,” she said. “It took me a while to work through the fact there’s a set of parents that don’t have their child.”
Now, however, the Lufts and Westbys have become good friends, according to Wendy Luft, Logan’s mother. The Westbys plan to visit Charles City on Jan. 29, and see much of the community where Logan thrived and was well-respected.
The connection between Logan and Faith was apparent right away, Wendy said. She added despite Logan’s death, it was important to focus on the positive aspect of the liver donation.
“It’s hard for her (Jeannie) to think Logan’s loss was for their gain,” she said. “But like I told her, Logan passed away no matter what. ... The fact he gets to live on is a gift for us.”
Both Wendy and Jeannie said they’re noticed similarities in the Pelican Rapids and Charles City areas — they’re tight-knit communities that have been extremely supportive, given the circumstances surrounding Logan and Faith.
Faith has spent much of her life at Mayo Clinic, as she suffers from Kabuki syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes several medical complications involving growth delays, intellectual disability and other symptoms.
Initially, Logan’s liver was intended for a 3-year-old boy or girl, Wendy said. But after more tests, doctors determined the organ would be more suitable for someone around Faith’s age, 15.
Jeannie said Faith was put on a active donor list for a liver sometime in April, after doctors revealed she scored a 30 out of 40 on the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease scale. A score of 40 indicates the highest need for an organ.
Then, at 3:40 p.m. July 7, the Westbys got the call a liver was available. Faith was in surgery between 7 to 7:30 p.m. that night.
When Wendy found out Faith was the liver recipient, she admitted there was uncertainty — how would their personalities mesh? Would they be friendly?
Those doubts quickly disappeared, however, when the two families met at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester on Dec. 30.
“Instantly, you could tell we would be friends and relatives forever,” Wendy said. “We are really, really blessed; (Faith) is just a little dolly.”
Jeannie said the community support in Pelican Rapids — a town of just under 2,500 — for Faith has been overwhelming.
“She is like a celebrity in town,” she said. “She is just so loved. ... Her class has been so kind and caring. Everybody that has known her has been so nice. ... She has people praying for her that haven’t prayed in years.”
She added she expects much of the same when the Westbys visit Charles City later this month.
“I think she is from a very similar community we are from, there’s a unity that is so exciting to go and be a part of that,” Jeannie said. “We have a huge family in Pelican Rapids, and I feel we’re going to have that in Charles City, too ... the more people in our lives, the better.”
DES MOINES — New state laws and spending will be crafted over the next four months as legislators convene for the 2018 session of the Iowa Legislature on Monday.
Here are a half-dozen key issues facing lawmakers as they begin their work.
Enacting tax cuts remains one of the top priorities for Statehouse Republicans who gained unfettered lawmaking control after the 2016 election. Senate President Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Federal tax reform has provided the state with some extra revenue: an estimated $106 million in the budget crafted this session, plus another $138 million in the ensuing budget year.
Top Republicans say that extra money should go back to taxpayers, although Rep. Pat Grassley, who leads the House’s budget committee, cautioned against treating the windfall like the state has “won the lottery.”
Republicans have given few details about what their tax reform plan will look like, but they promise a plan is coming.
“In my opinion, this won’t be a successful session unless we have a significant tax bill get accomplished,” said Bill Dix, leader of the Senate Republicans.
One key challenge facing Republicans hoping for tax cuts is a tight state budget. According to numbers produced by Grassley, there is little new money for the next budget, and most of that has already been spoken for in automatic increases and department requests.
Democrats say they are willing to support tax cuts, but not at the expense of busting the state budget or if the proposal benefits the wealthy more than middle-class and low-income workers.
“Their tax packages that we have seen in the past have not been beneficial to everyday Iowans,” said Janet Petersen, leader of the Senate Democrats. “With the budget our state is facing, knowing that all of us will be coming back and Republicans will have to fix the budget mess we’re in, it seems like this is not a wise time to be cutting taxes when they’re busy cutting essential services that Iowans count on and our public education system.”
Revenue continues to increase, but at a rate lower than projected the past few years. As a result, for a second consecutive year the governor and state lawmakers must make spending cuts in the middle of the budget year.
More than $30 million in adjustments must be made to the current budget, which runs through June 30.
And the state is already on the hook for more than $100 million to repay reserve account funds used to close a budget hole in the previous year.
“I’m expecting another tight year,” said Charles Schneider, a Republican who leads the Senate budget committee.
Few issues are more polarizing than the privatized management of the state’s $4.7 billion Medicaid program for low-income Iowans and those with severe disabilities. Providers have complained they are not being reimbursed sufficiently or in a timely fashion, and patients and caregivers say some services have been reduced or eliminated.
Republican leaders, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, said last week they are open to legislative solutions to improve the managed care program. But Reynolds remains steadfast the program should not return to state management.
“We’ve made mistakes. The rollout was not perfect. But it’s the right thing to do,” Reynolds said. “While mistakes have been made, I believe we can work with the Legislature and I look forward to working with the Legislature.”
Medicaid reimbursement also figures into mental health care access, another issue Statehouse leaders hope to address during the session.
“The problem is that in many areas in the state, there are no services in the community to support their needs,” said Rep. David Heaton, who leads the House’s health care budget committee. “There’s no housing, there’s no community services available.”
The governor and a panel of lawmakers during the interim conducted separate examinations into how to address opioid addiction, a growing issue in Iowa. During the session, they will consider such measures as requiring physicians and prescribers to check a database to prevent addicts from getting painkillers from multiple places and a Good Samaritan law that protects anyone who seeks help for an addict in crisis.
Another budget year likely means a small increase in funding for public K-through-12 school districts, if any increase at all.
K-12 public school funding increased by 3 percent or more just six times in the first 38 years under the state’s current funding formula; it has increased by that much only once in the past eight years.
Despite that, Iowa is bucking a national trend: Only three states increased public school funding by a higher rate between 2008 and 2015, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Last year’s increase was 1.1 percent; this year’s may be in the same ballpark, or lower.
“We’re hearing everything from a 0 to 2 percent increase. I’m anticipating more toward the zero end because of what we’re dealing with the budget,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City who serves on the House education committee.
Legislators have spent the past few sessions trying to find new or redirected funding for programs and projects designed to improve the quality of the state’s rivers and lakes. Iowa is one of the biggest contributors of pollutants flowing down the Mississippi River and killing marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Senate and House each approved their own proposals in 2017, and leaders last week pitched their chamber’s as the best. Whether the two sides, both Republican-led, can agree on a compromise remains to be seen. And Reynolds, also a Republican, said she does not plan to express which proposal she prefers.
The Senate version would have appropriated $744 million split among several pots for water quality, nutrient reduction and water and wastewater treatment, while the House plan called for $513 million and included a bonding feature designed to expand funding opportunities.
Boosting the credentials of Iowa’s workers remains a top priority for Reynolds and legislative leaders as they continue their efforts to address the state’s skills gap: half of the jobs in Iowa require “middle skills,” but only a third of workers possess those skills, according to a 2012 state report.
Reynolds continues to promote her Future Ready Iowa program, which has the goal of 70 percent of the state’s workforce having post-high school education or training by 2025. She hopes to propose new funding for the program to support grants and apprenticeships, and promote more partnerships between educational institutions and businesses in need of workers.
The governor’s goal has bipartisan support among lawmakers, although the parties must find common ground in supporting programs designed to achieve the goal.
“One of the things that Iowans are asking for is the ability to help them move their skill set up to the next level, to be able to build their career and increase their earning capacity for themselves and their families,” Petersen said.
DES MOINES — Despite the high-minded rhetoric of state government leaders, the 2018 session of the Iowa Legislature is shaping up to be one long campaign rally.
Given the political climate nationally and in Iowa, Democrats see the session opening Monday as a way of energizing their base ahead of the November election.
“We’re going to be very aggressive. We’re going to be very outspoken on what we think is bad policy and bad for the people of Iowa,” predicted House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown.
Majority Republicans, beset by low presidential approval ratings and the fact the president’s party nearly always loses seats in midterms, plan to stick to their game plan to “move Iowa forward, to grow Iowa’s economy, protect Iowa taxpayers, deliver the core services that Iowans count on, but doing it in a responsible way,” according to House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights.
In the wake of the divisive 2017 session — the first under GOP control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office in two decades — the chances seem slim for the parties to find much common ground.
This session may be more about what happened in 2017 than pursuing ambitious new policies, said Chris Larimer, who teaches political science at the University of Northern Iowa.
After pushing through major parts of their agenda in 2017, Republicans will be content “simply to work around the edges,” Larimer predicted. Democrats likely will use the session to protest changes Republicans made last year to collective bargaining, workers’ compensation, family planning funding and other Democratic priorities.
Even in areas where the parties seem to share priorities — expanding access to mental health services, for example — Larimer expects gains will be difficult if Democrats blame the problem on former Gov. Terry Branstad’s closure of two mental health institutions.
But election-year politics could work in favor of small victories on shared priorities.
Republicans made good on several campaign promises last year, which could mean a “somewhat less active legislative session” with lawmakers this time pushing fewer measures, said Tim Hagle, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa.
“State legislators who aren’t in safe districts might be a bit more cautious about legislation that might appear more controversial in their districts,” he said.
If maintaining control of the Legislature and governor’s office is their priority, Republicans will walk a fine line between continuing their agenda “and not doing anything too controversial,” Larimer added.
Given the controversy Republicans created in 2017, it might be too late to prevent a “blue wave” as voters express buyers’ remorse in the 2018 election, according to Smith.
He predicts voters will put Democrats in control of the Iowa House, now controlled 58-41 by Republicans with one vacancy in a heavlity Republican district.
Of course, it’s not only control of the Legislature at stake in 2018. Gov. Kim Reynolds will be seeking election to her first full term, too.
Given that Iowans have been “quite favorable” to GOP gubernatorial candidates, Larimer thinks Reynolds is in a good spot for both the Republican primary and general election.
“What you may see is Governor Reynolds pursuing a conservative agenda” that should help her fend off primary challengers Ron Corbett of Cedar Rapids and Steven Ray of Boone, “but also taking positions on a few issues that create some distance between her administration and the president’s,” Larimer said.
Although Iowa voters didn’t share the Democratic Party’s dislike for Branstad, Hagle said Reynolds needs to demonstrate her ability as a leader and not “just a fill-in for Branstad.”
In her favor, Iowa’s economy continues to grow — slowly — and unemployment is so low employers report difficulty filling jobs. Political scientists say a good economy favors incumbents.
While Iowa hasn’t been as divided along party lines as some other places, Hagle said “the sharp uptick in bitter partisanship at the national level will likely affect us here as well.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, doubts nationalizing the election will work for Democrats in Iowa.
“It’s all local,” she said, adding: “To be clear, we’re going to hold the House.”
It’s not just Democrats Upmeyer and other Republicans need to fear, according to Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines.
“I can tell you, in my tenure in Legislature, I have never seen people as energized as I have, really since the start of last session,” said Petersen, who was elected to the Legislature in 2000. “I hear from a lot of independent and Republicans who are frustrated as well.”
Upmeyer, a lawmaker since 2003, understands “people get frustrated if they’re not on the same side as the president, but I think this is very early to predict a wave.”