This article from the Hays, Kansas, paper reports on a prayer service commemorating the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that befell the town of Portis and the Grace Brethren Church there:
Community looks for closure as trial nears
By RYAN CHRISTNER
PORTIS — At a prayer service Wednesday inside Grace Brethren Church, friends of Jeffery Scott Noel said it was difficult to believe that it had been one year since his death.
For this tiny rural town about 9 miles north of Osborne, whose estimated population in 2007 was just more than 100 residents, the shocking news of Noel’s murder last March was inconceivable and tremendously painful.
Found by his wife, Carol, the 55-year-old Noel suffered a fatal gunshot wound during an apparent burglary of his home.
The disturbing memory of that day, however, was just an afterthought, as community members gathered under a theme of love.
“This past year has been an expression of love toward the Noel family and toward each other in our community as we try to respond to this senseless act,” Pastor Dave Sarver said during the service. “I think it’s a great privilege to be able to go to the Lord tonight and thank him for the love that has been pouring out of this community, toward the Noel family and toward each other.
“The love that God has for us is everlasting,” he said. “Can you understand that what he wants us to practice and experience in this life toward one another is something that will last forever, something that Scott is enjoying right now, just like we’re enjoying it?”
Between the many prayers, hymns and readings of Scripture, some in attendance elected to share their stories of Noel and the effect he had on their lives.
“I could talk all night about Scott,” Osborne resident Bo French said. “Like everybody in here, every day you’re talking about something and it never fails, his name comes up at the beginning of the conversation. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since our lives were turned upside down.”
French continued to say he and Noel shared a love for track and field and told of how, together, they qualified a group of Osborne High School girls for the state track meet in 2007 who went on to win the state championship.
Noel, he recalled, said there was no way he would miss the state track meet the next year. “Then it happens,” he said. “March 25, 2008, the first full week of track practice. Somebody cut Scott’s promise short.”
While Noel’s wife was not in attendance, a personal message from her was read to the audience.
“Words can’t begin to express our sincere appreciation to everyone for your continued prayers, calls, visits and cards to encourage us through this difficult first year,” Carol Noel wrote in the note. “I tried to focus on the blessings in my life instead of drowning in my sorrows. I continued to pray that good will come out of this evil.”
Carol ended her message by praying that Kenneth Eugene Wilson, the Salina man who was arrested in August in relation to the case, confesses to her husband’s murder.
In addition to the first-degree murder charge, Wilson, whose trial is scheduled for May 11 to 22 in Osborne County court, is charged with burglary, aggravated burglary and criminal possession of a firearm.
If convicted of murder, Wilson faces the possibility of life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $500,000.
Both burglary charges carry possible sentence lengths of 31 to 136 months in prison and fines up to $300,000, while the firearm charge could add an additional seven- to 23-month prison term and $100,000 fine.
While having lived in Portis for only two years, Sarver said he’s seen a lot more interaction between members of the community since Noel’s death.
“There’s just been a real coming together of the believers in the community,” he said following the service, “a real understanding of the brevity of life and the certainty of eternity.”
The progression of Noel’s case has seemed to bring some closure to his family, Sarver said, but it isn’t over yet.
“It’s been one year and all the sorrows have not gone away, probably haven’t even lessened,” he said. “And the trial is still to come.”
Until the case is officially closed, the best residents can do is continue to pray “all responsible will be brought to justice,” as Carol Noel wrote in her message.
“I know he’s not here in flesh, but I know he’s always here amongst us and is with us,” French said of Noel.