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Ribbons honor Addy Grae

Her favorite color was pink.

And by all accounts, she was an angel on Earth.

Addy Grae Bateman, 4, died after a house fire last Thursday morning.

Friends of the girl’s parents – Townsend Bateman and Krystal Fischer -- decided on Saturday morning that they could help honor Addy Grae’s memory by placing pink bows at their homes and businesses, Angie Martin-Eisdon said.

“We’d like to let them know that we’re thinking about them,” she said.

She along with Lisa Poole-Hall and Meagan Roberts reached out to Addy Grae’s family about their idea and received their blessing to go along with the plan.

“She was just a spitting image of her mother,” Martin-Eisdon said.

“She was just the sweetest child with the sweetest demeanor,” she added. “She just loved everybody. She was an angel herself.”

Martin-Eisdon said Addy Grae’s mother, “Has been a really good friend to me and I want to do for her.”

The three ladies launched an effort on social media to ask members of the community to display pink bows on trees, mailboxes or other areas near their homes and businesses so Addy Grae’s family will know the community is surrounding them with their thoughts and prayers.

Six businesses are offering free pink bows to individuals who wish to display one to honor the memory of Addy Grae Bateman.

Pink bows are available at the following locations: The Garden Gate Florist at 1692 Carolina Avenue, House of Pizza at 1375 Sims Street, Studio Nails at 1970 Carolina Avenue, Salon Indigo at 870 Holly Street, Devin’s Flowers at 1940 Saint Matthews Road and Corbett’s Flowers at 1521 Middleton Street.

Last Thursday, Addy Grae, her mother and brother, Fischer, were inside of their home at 934 Green Street when an accidental fire started in the kitchen.

Firefighters arrived at the residence by 12:34 a.m., just four minutes after dispatchers received a 911 call about the fire.

Addy Grae’s mother and brother were able to make it to safety.

Her mother is no longer in the hospital, but received treatment for burns. Addy Grae’s brother received outpatient treatment for smoke inhalation.

Addy Grae Bateman’s funeral service will be private and held at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Bull Swamp Baptist Church. Burial will follow in Riverside Cemetery in North.

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Search for missing Branchville man continues; family says ransom call made after disappearance

The family of 37-year-old Hiram Eugene “Sport” Johnson wants answers, but mostly it wants him returned home safely.

Johnson’s friends and family launched a search for him at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

They gathered at his Hardwick Street home in Branchville. He was last seen there on Friday, Nov. 23 getting into a black Ford, which sped away with him in the rear seat.

“The car was seen speeding off from here and that’s the last we saw,” said one of his sisters, Kenyetta Washington of North Carolina.

She returned to Branchville to be with her family and comfort her parents during their time of uncertainty.

She and her family aren’t doing well, she said. “We don’t have any answers. Nothing.”

Washington said that what is even more troubling is that someone made a ransom call on the day her brother went missing.

Their cousin, Angel Bruce, said the caller used Johnson’s phone to place the call to one of his neighbors.

The neighbor said that the caller demanded $25,000 from Johnson’s brother or they’d kill Johnson.

Bruce and other family members said police aren’t calling Johnson’s disappearance a kidnapping because he willingly got into the vehicle before it sped away.

Before starting the search on Saturday, Johnson’s friends and family joined hands as Washington led them in a prayer.

“We ask that Hiram be brought home safe, God,” she prayed.

She also called on God to provide strength and peace to their family.

Before the search got underway, Washington said that she and her family are, “hoping for the best and trying to prepare for the worst.”

An hour-long search took place in an area just a few yards off U.S. Highway 78, parallel to a set of railroad tracks.

Family members said the suspected vehicle was seen near an abandoned church in the area.

The search began quietly, with about a dozen or so family and friends peering into a wooded area near the train tracks.

A few family members called out, “Hiram!”

Their voices carried down the road and around a parked train, but there was no response from their missing loved one.

After the search didn’t yield any clues and the rain started to fall, part of the search group decided to leave the area and place flyers in other places that may help lead to the location of their loved one.

Johnson is a black male who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs approximately 170 pounds and has a low faded haircut, according to Washington.

He has a long scar on the back of his head with a tattoo below. The tattoo says “AR-15, 11-02-00” and beneath that is an outline resembling an AR-15 firearm.

Bruce said the scar is from surgery Johnson received after he was shot in the head during an incident 18 years ago.

Johnson was shot by a member of the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office during a covert operation stemming from a stolen weapons investigation.

The OCSO Taskforce and Criminal Investigations Division had been conducting surveillance at the old Branchville Elementary School ballfield on Lockett Street, just a couple of blocks from Johnson’s home.

As the undercover operation unfolded, officers moved in on two people on Nov. 2, 2000. For an undisclosed reason, shots were fired by members of the sheriff’s office team.

Johnson, who was 19 at the time, was shot in the head by officers.

A helicopter took Johnson from the scene and to a hospital for treatment of his wounds.

Even at 37, Johnson is prone to having seizures and takes medication to treat it.

He’s been without his medication since he’s been missing, his family said.

He was last seen wearing a white shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers, Washington said.

On Monday, Branchville Police Chief Randy Clark said the search for Johnson is ongoing.

He said he couldn’t comment any further about Johnson’s case, since the investigation in active.

The S.C. Law Enforcement Division is also investigating Johnson’s disappearance, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.

According to a Branchville Police Department incident report, someone found one of Johnson’s cell phones in the road in front of the Citgo gas station at 210 Dorange Road on Friday.

Anyone with information on Johnson’s whereabouts is asked to call the Branchville Police Department at 803-274-8820, Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC or SLED’s Low Country Regional Office at 843-782-3822. Callers don’t have to provide their names.

Addy Grae Bateman

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Orangeburg County woman, teen robbed in home; suspect in custody after manhunt

An extensive manhunt led to the capture of a man accused of robbing an Orangeburg County family in its home, including kidnapping and armed robbery, according to Sheriff Leroy Ravenell.

“This has been a nightmare for this family,” Ravenell said. “They were burglarized twice and threatened with a firearm at least once – and in their own home.”

Marshal Spence Meeks, 20, of Lexington County has been charged with two counts of first-degree burglary, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, two counts of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime, two counts of kidnapping, two counts of petit larceny and one count of malicious injury to real property.

Meeks was taken into custody Sunday night following a weekend manhunt conducted by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the U.S. Marshals Service.

During a court hearing on Monday, bond was deferred to a circuit court judge at a later date.

The Crystal Springs Road man had been sought since Orangeburg County Sheriff’s investigators developed him as the suspect in a pair of Orangeburg County burglaries.

On Nov. 24, an Orangeburg County woman told investigators that around 7:15 a.m. she went into her kitchen where she spotted a man inside the home brandishing a handgun.

While pointing a weapon at the woman and her teenage daughter, the gunman demanded her purse. He took financial transaction cards as well as some jewelry and prescription drugs.

The woman later called investigators back to say someone had broken into her former residence. A big screen TV was missing.

During Monday’s hearing, the homeowner told the court that a weapon was pointed at her daughter.

“That is beyond devastating,” she said.

Ravenell said the motive behind the burglaries is believed to be theft.

The sheriff thanked the U.S. Marshals, SLED, and Lexington County for their help in bringing in Meeks.

“You can see the urgency behind the large manhunt being that this suspect pointed a weapon at two innocent victims who hadn’t harmed him in any way,” Ravenell said. “But he threatens her with a firearm for what? A little change from her purse and a debit card.”

Investigator Steven Thompson is leading the ongoing investigation.

Hiram Johnson

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Cold, rain headed this way; wintry weather forecast for north; outlook may change

A cold, rainy weekend is being forecast for The T&D Region. Forecasters are not ruling out the possibility that some wintry precipitation could land north of the area.

The National Weather Service on Monday was forecasting a rainy cold weekend with highs in the middle 40s both Saturday and Sunday for the Orangeburg area.

Things could get interesting overnight Saturday and Sunday as lows will be around 35 Sunday morning with an 80 percent chance of rain. There is a 50 percent of rain Sunday night with a low of 33 Monday morning.

Models indicate The T&D Region will see cold rain, but a mix of wintry precipitation is forecast near the North Carolina border. Forecasts are expected to change as the event draws closer.

A National Weather Service statement says, "a farther south track with a strong upper system would indicate a threat of winter precipitation even in the Central Savannah River Area."

"Based on the ensemble guidance at this time, we believe the threat of significant winter precipitation during the Saturday to Monday timeframe is about 30 percent in Lancaster County in the north to just 5 to 10 percent farther south in the Columbia to Augusta area," the NWS states.

Early forecasts have the wintry precipitation line reaching as far south as Newberry and Winnsboro.