Story and photos by Georgia Geen | Graphics by Pedro Coronado

Harley Peterson and the car he was driving when he encountered the so-called “Beltway snipers” on Interstate 95 in fall 2002

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — After 27 years in the Navy, Harley Peterson couldn’t help but evaluate a passing car as he would an unfamiliar ship cruising past his own off the coast of Vietnam or in the Atlantic.

On a late October night in 2002, a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice caught his attention. Its direction was north, presumably headed back to New Jersey, which the license plate flagged as the driver’s home state.

The two guys in the Chevy probably are heading home after visiting family down south, thought Peterson…

By Kathleen Shaw and Corrine Fizer

Young plants grow in a greenhouse for safe keeping until they can be planted outside in the Kroger Community Kitchen Garden. Photo by Kathleen Shaw.

Lettuce, turnips and beets — oh my! Vegetables and flowers sprout side by side in a bountiful garden in Northside Richmond. But the harvest is not going to a grocery store or market stand. Instead, all of the crops will be donated to local food banks so low-income communities have access to fresh foods.

The Kroger Community Kitchen Garden, situated within Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, is a major contributor to Feed More, the parent organization for food banks and other agencies fighting hunger in 34 counties and cities in Central Virginia.

In the past, food banks relied on nonperishable donations…

By Rosemarie O’Connor

RICHMOND — “Oh my God, I’m going to die.”

On March 19, 2018, Margrietta Nickens was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Over the next five months, she had six cycles of chemo. After that, she had surgery to remove the cancerous tissue from her breast.

“When you’re diagnosed with something as devastating as cancer,” Nickens said, “you look at it as a death sentence.”

Nickens is one of thousands of people diagnosed with cancer in Virginia. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be over 45,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the commonwealth in 2019. …

By Arianna Coghill and Kaytlin Nickens

Last fall, Tanca McCargo, a Chesterfield native, found out she was expecting her second child. McCargo, who already had a 3-year-old boy, discovered early on that her second pregnancy would be different. Her complications began when she experienced light bleeding.

“The morning after scheduling an appointment with my OB-GYN, I passed an actual blood clot,” McCargo said.

She was sent to the emergency room for a transvaginal ultrasound, which allowed doctors to examine her reproductive organs. They found that McCargo’s pregnancy was ectopic: Her fertilized egg had attached to her fallopian tubes instead of to her uterus.

By Madison Manske and Alexandra Zernik

The Mattaponi Indian Museum | Photo by Alexandra Zernik of VCU Capital News Service

WEST POINT, Va. — Along Mattaponi Reservation Circle, the one-street loop that the Mattaponi Indian tribe call home, Jack Custalow owns and operates the Mattaponi Indian Museum, which was built by his grandfather, Chief O.T. Custalow.

“Everybody wants Indians to be acknowledged and respected,” Jack Custalow said.

Until 1950, the museum was in Chief Custalow’s house. Now it occupies its own building and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1–4 p.m. …

By Adrian Teran-Tapia

RICHMOND — As graduation season approaches, over 720 high school seniors enrolled in the city’s public schools this year hope to change the declining trend that is Richmond’s on-time graduation rate.

Richmond Public Schools have been under the spotlight after coming in last in on-time graduation rates in the state in 2018 and second to last in 2017.

Of the RPS Class of 2018, data shows, 75.4% graduated within four years. That was down from nearly 84% in 2015.

At the same time, statewide graduation rates have been increasing — from 89.9 percent in 2014 to 91.6 percent last year.

By Katja Timm

Virginia hospitals are monitoring painkiller prescriptions more closely and taking other steps to curb the opioid epidemic, and the efforts may be paying off: Drug overdoses in Virginia have dropped for the first time in six years.

In 2016, the opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency in Virginia. Fatal opioid overdoses increased steadily from 572 in 2012 to 1,230 in 2017. Last year, however, the number of deaths dipped, to 1,213, according to preliminary statistics released this week by the Virginia Department of Health.

The decrease coincided with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

By Georgia Geen

Abbie Arevalo-Herrera, a Honduran woman fleeing domestic violence. She has taken refuge in a Richmond church. Photographer: Carlos Bernate

RICHMOND — The first thing Abbie Arevalo Herrera is going to do when she eventually leaves sanctuary is thank God.

“He’s the one who’s allowed me to have this experience, and I feel like I’m learning a lot, things I never imagined,” Arevalo Herrera said in Spanish.

And then, she said with a pause, she’s going to the beach with her children. She finished the sentence with laughter and a smile in the basement of the Richmond church where she has lived in sanctuary since last June, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that survivors of domestic violence no longer…

By Jayla Marie McNeill and Ben Burstein

Virginia recorded more than 200 hate crimes in 2017 — up nearly 50% from the previous year, according to the latest data from the Virginia State Police.

That surge, along with the neo-Nazi rally that left a counterprotester dead in Charlottesville two years ago, prompted state Attorney General Mark Herring to propose legislation to address the problem. However, all of the bills died in this year’s General Assembly.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation…

By Saffeya Ahmed

Vandals spray-painted 19 swastikas on the walls of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia last October. A young woman leaving a mosque with her friends in Sterling, Virginia, after nightly prayers in the summer of 2017 was raped and killed. Someone scrawled “F*** God & Allah” across a Farmville mosque in October 2017. Later that year, a Fairfax teacher pulled off a Muslim student’s hijab in front of her class.

“These events aren’t isolated,” said Samuel J. West, a doctoral student of social psychology and neuroscience at Virginia Commonwealth University. …

Capital News Service

VCU journalism students covering state government, politics and other news in Virginia. More about us at

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