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Local churches seek to step up security

When 25 people were gunned down inside a rural Texas church earlier this month, it became clear to law enforcement and local pastors just how vulnerable these kinds of open buildings are to acts of mass violence.

This week, a pastor who holds a black belt in karate is coming to Box Elder to train church leaders on how to respond to intruders and develop a security plan. 

Organizers say nearly 60 people from churches as far away as North Dakota have signed up to attend the seminar, which will take place Friday and Saturday at Outreach Community Church in Box Elder. The Rev. Barry Young, who will lead the training, is vice president of Church Security Ministries for Strategos International, a Kansas City-based security training and consulting organization.

Interest in the seminar surged after the mass shooting in Texas on Nov. 5, said Box Elder Police Department Lt. Chris Misselt, who is helping organize the event. 

Misselt said he attended a similar seminar in Sioux Falls last year, and after seeing the positive response it received, decided it made sense to offer the training in the Black Hills. 

Attendees are taught how to identify suspicious people, train security teams, lock down a facility and respond to intruders. Having armed people inside a church to protect against an active shooter is also a part of the conversation, Misselt said, but that's a "component not all will opt for." 

Around 80 people attend Outreach Community Church, and some who have concealed-weapons licenses already bring guns to services, said the church's pastor, Ernie Nelson.

"I'm not opposed to it," Nelson said. "Some people are." 

The church decided to review its security measures in fall 2013, after an intoxicated driver crashed into a wall in front of the building. The crash occurred overnight, so no one was at the church, but the incident caused more than $65,000 in damages, Nelson said. 

Outreach Community Church began working with Strategos last year to improve church security and protect property. The mass shooting in Texas reinforced the need to make changes.

"It brought to the forefront that we need to look at the security of the facility," Nelson said. "You can't just take things for granted in the day we live in."

Misselt said churches are already aware of the need to protect against theft and child abuse, but putting into place measures to respond to an intruder "can frankly be a harder sell." 

Since the security seminar was launched in 2008, Strategos has trained over 20,000 church personnel from more than 1,000 churches in the United States and overseas, according to a news release from the Box Elder Police Department. The company also consults with businesses, provides tactical training for law enforcement and offers personal protection for CEOs and VIPs.

The release said the number of violent incidents at churches in the U.S. has increased significantly in the last 20 years.

“The good news is that churches don’t have to compromise on a welcoming environment,” Vaughn Baker, president of Strategos, said in the release. “In fact, training volunteers to be alert can have the effect of making them more engaged with people on every level. It allows pastors to be more relaxed and focused, knowing that a team has security in mind.” 

A spokesman for the company could not be reached for comment. 

The cost of the seminar is $99 for one day or $159 for both days. While the seminar is designed for church leaders, staff and volunteer personnel, it is open to anyone, Nelson said.  

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Custer man's new book shows national parks then and now

After driving more than 50,000 miles and hiking hundreds more while shooting photographs in 24 national parks, Custer-based photographer Paul Horsted has a new book and conflicting emotions.

“I’m encouraged and a little bit worried,” he said.

The encouragement derives from the places in the parks that appear largely unchanged from photographs taken 75 to 150 years ago.

The worry derives from the negative effects of overcrowding. At Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, Horsted said, there is virtually never a time during the day or night without visitors. At Zion National Park, also in Utah, Horsted encountered crowds so large that toilets lacked toilet paper and garbage overflowed from receptacles.

To lessen the environmental impact from hordes of visitors, controversial ideas such as mandatory reservations are being floated at some parks. It's amid that atmosphere of growing concern about overcrowding that Horsted offers up his new book, “Treasures of the National Parks Yesterday & Today.”

The color, large-format, 240-page coffee-table book — available online and in local stores — features 170 pairs of images. Each pair consists of a historical image alongside a modern image taken by Horsted from the same vantage point.

In the book, Horsted described the photo pairs as “a frame of reference against which we can measure the progress of our nation’s stewardship in caring for and protecting these invaluable places.”

The photographs also serve as a reminder of the natural beauty that is preserved by the national parks. Page after page, the book delivers breathtaking views of parks stretching from Maui to Maine. Two national parks in South Dakota, Badlands and Wind Cave, are featured in the book.

Horsted spent four years traveling to the photo locations by air, vehicle and foot. Another year was spent in production with his wife, Camille Riner, who designed the book. She and the couple’s daughter, Anna Marie, traveled to some of the locations with Horsted.

Horsted’s work is part of a genre called “re-photography.” His four previous re-photography books focused on the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park.

He became interested in the genre 15 years ago while examining glass-plate images from George Armstrong Custer’s 1874 expedition into the Black Hills. That expedition became the topic of his first re-photography book. Since then, he has used the sales of each new book to fund his work on the next one (for a future project, he is pondering a book of historical and modern images from throughout South Dakota).

The thrill he gets from “standing in history,” as he described it, has never faded. He hopes his new book will give readers a sense of that thrill, and he hopes they will be inspired to help protect the national parks, even if that means considering controversial ideas.

Those ideas include a first-of-its-kind, year-round reservation system that will be implemented in January at Muir Woods National Monument in California, and reservation systems under consideration at parks including Zion and Arches.

Horsted described such restrictions as painful but potentially necessary.

“The big challenge for us in our national parks is maybe there are too many people in them,” Horsted said. “We all want to go, but there may have to be some limitations.”

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Going once, going twice: STAR Academy up for auction again

A second public auction has been set for a former juvenile detention near Custer after the first attempt at a sale stalled in October.

State officials will hold a public auction at 11 a.m. Jan. 4 in the Custer County Courthouse as they again attempt to find a suitor willing to pay more than $2 million for the 173-acre STAR Academy property, located 5 miles south of Custer. 

On Oct. 18, a public auction beginning at the minimum reserve bid of $2.34 million failed to attract any interest from the three registered bidders in attendance.

In an interview Monday, state School and Public Lands Commissioner Ryan Brunner said the initial bid would still need to be at least $2.34 million.

“We’ll work to sell it to any bidder who will pay minimum appraised price,” Brunner said, explaining that a third party appraised the lot and structure, which was then accepted by the state’s Board of Appraisal in August. Word of mouth and direct marketing, Brunner added, were the main forms his office were utilizing to market the property to potential suitors.

“It’s one thing to sell. It’s another to find somebody that would be a good fit for the area,” Brunner said, mentioning job creation and tax revenue generation as two benefits the sale of the property would contribute to the area.

Though Brunner’s office handles the marketing and auction, the decision to hold another public sale came from the governor’s office. If the auction again ends without a sale, the governor’s office will make the decision to hold another auction or try another route. A commercial lease agreement, lease-purchase agreement, or a contract for deed are three other options that could be pursued if the public auction fails to result in a sale, Brunner said.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature approved a measure to sell the parcel, which includes a scenic, sprawling property with water and sewer systems, 11 residences, a gymnasium, barn, and administrative, housing and maintenance buildings totaling 168,000 square feet. Annually, it costs the state more than $500,000 to maintain the property, according to the governor’s office.

The STAR Academy closed in April 2016. 

Brunner said significant maintenance and repair work would be needed to get the building into working condition, but the cost of those improvements were accounted for in the appraisal price.

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New details emerge in drowning deaths of Tieszen, brother-in-law

State Rep. Craig Tieszen and his brother-in-law encountered high tides and rough seas before they were killed in a kayaking accident off the South Pacific island of Rarotonga last week, according to new information released by authorities Monday. 

Tieszen and Brent Moline were paddling kayaks at the reef off Muri beach during the late morning on Nov. 22 when “both got into difficulty towards the ocean side of the reef,” Cook Islands Police said in a Facebook message to the Journal. 

This occurred at a time of day when the tide was high and the ocean was described as “quite rough,” police said. “By contrast, the lagoon itself was very calm, flat."

A hotel receptionist called police just before 11 a.m. saying their guests were kayaking over the reef and had capsized. A tour boat was sent to the lagoon side of the reef within 15 to 20 minutes, with a police officer and three volunteers conducting a search.

Tieszen, 68, was found and brought to shore where resuscitation attempts continued for several minutes until he was taken to a local hospital. “A number of people worked solidly to try and revive him on the beach," Cook Islands Police said. "He was not responsive."

Moline, 61, was found by a police search-and-rescue zodiac boat working from the ocean side of the reef and taken to a nearby harbor. Both men were pronounced dead shortly before 1 p.m.

“Kayaking over the reef is considered dangerous," police said. "That particular area of the reef is a concentrated source of wave energy (breakers) and tidal activity for the Muri lagoon."

The new information was released late Monday afternoon following an investigation and inquest into the accident on Nov. 23.

Rarotonga is the largest and most populous of the Cook Islands, an archipelago of 15 islands in the central South Pacific.

A Radio New Zealand report quoted Brent Fisher, president of Cook Islands Water Safety, who said the channel linking Muri Lagoon to the ocean is posted for forceful currents.

"We've put signs inside the lagoon, in the water, telling people not to swim or advising them not to take in any water sports in those areas because of that hazard because of the strong currents. So if people keep away from those areas, it's normally no problem," Fisher told RNZ.

Tieszen reportedly tried to rescue Moline after his kayak capsized.

The Cook Islands News reported the deaths of a German couple under similar circumstances off the south coast of Rarotonga in November 2015.

A 50-year-old man and a 43-year-old woman drowned after one fell out of a kayak and the other dove in to help, but both were overcome by high tides and heavy ocean swells near the reef in the Papua passage, the report said.

Services still pending 

Funeral services for both Tieszen and Moline are expected to be announced today.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Gov. Dennis Daugaard said staff was still working out details of memorial plans, including an order for state flags to be flown at half-staff during the day of services for Tieszen, who was in his first term as District 34 state representative after serving in the state Senate from 2009 to 2016.

“We’ve been in contact with the family,” said Kelsey Pritchard, spokesperson for Gov. Daugaard’s office.

In Rapid City, continued outpourings of grief for Tieszen included Rapid City police officers placing black mourning bands over their uniform badges, in a traditional gesture of respect for a fallen officer, according to police spokesman Brendyn Medina.

Before his legislative career, Tieszen served with the police department from 1975 to 2007, and was chief of the department from 2000-2007.

Tieszen and Moline had joined other family members on Rarotonga, located nearly 1,900 miles northeast of Auckland, New Zealand, for a vacation and the wedding of Tieszen’s daughter, Leslie.

The wedding, which was to take place Nov. 22 — the day of the accident — was postponed.