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Multiple losses in the CPS community are being grieved for this week


Columbia Public Schools has lost three of its own within the last week after the deaths of an elementary school teacher, a student of Rock Bridge High School, and a recent 2020 graduate of Battle High School.

Early Friday morning, the Boone County Sheriff's Office confirmed a homicide in the 4300 block of Santa Barbara Drive. Dennis C. Darks was pronounced dead after the incident.

Darks was a 2020 graduate of Battle High School. A close friend, Tierra Robinson, said Darks was a person that stayed to himself and she believes the Dark's death didn't come from any wrongdoings on his part.

Robinson said she was on the phone with Darks about 20 minutes prior to getting the news last night that he was shot.

"That was my best friend. There wasn't one day that we went without talking to each other. This is the worst pain I have ever been in," said Robinson.

Ashley Wegner was a teacher at Alpha Hart Elementary. Wegner died Thursday night in a single-vehicle rollover crash on Rangeline Road.

Leslie Kavanaugh said her three sons all attended Alpha Hart and Wegner was a special person to her family and her son Boston's favorite teacher.

"My son has a disability, he has ADHD and Ashley never taught him any different," said Kavanaugh. She said Wegner was a teacher that always knew the positive things to say and never pointed out the negatives surrounding his disability.

Another death in the community occurred Sunday evening. Gabryel W. Hopper a 16-year-old Rock Bridge High School student was killed in another single-vehicle rollover crash on East Vemers Ford Road.

Michelle Baumstark with CPS shared an email sent to staff from Superintendent Peter Stiepleman Friday morning after the death of Wegner. "As we enter the weekend, please take a moment to hug the ones who are dear to you. Tell them you love them," wrote Stiepleman.

Kavanaugh said CPS has offered counseling to students Friday and again when summer school starts up. She said she works for the Boone County Children's Division and she knows a lot of people in the community are going to need some extra support because Wegner was such an amazing person.

Brian Leer with Boone County Sheriff's Office said, "there have been too many killings in the county and the department is doing everything it can to find justice for the victims and their families.

Robinson said that the crime has been so bad in parts of Columbia that she is scared for her own life and she also doesn't feel comfortable walking down the street with her 1-year-old daughter.

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Chanel Porter

Chanel joined ABC 17 News in January 2021 after graduating from Penn State University. She enjoys traveling and a daily iced coffee.


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