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Northam appointee who made derogatory and anti-Catholic statements on social media resigns

A citizen appointee of Gov. Ralph Northam who made derogatory attacks on others and anti-Catholic posts on social media resigned Wednesday following an outcry from Catholics.

Northam on Aug. 16 appointed Gail Gordon Donegan, a Democratic activist from Alexandria, to the 18-member Virginia Council on Women.

A Richmond Times-Dispatch review of her public social media history showed a history of attacks on other people as well as jokes and statements about Catholics. Both of Virginia’s Catholic bishops on Tuesday urged Catholics in the state to call the governor’s office to express concern.

Northam’s office initially defended Donegan, saying that while the governor did not condone her language, she had worked for years on women’s issues in Virginia.

Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s press secretary, confirmed Wednesday that Donegan had resigned from the council.

Donegan did not respond to an email.

Among Donegan’s public posts on Twitter:

  • in 2016, she tweeted to author Cornel West and in 2017 to then Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-10th, of Northern Virginia, calling them “shithead.”
  • in 2017, she tweeted to Radhika Jones, the editor in chief of Vanity Fair, and told her to “F--- off, eat shit, and crawl back to hell.”
  • she made jokes about Catholic priests being pedophiles. In 2010, Donegan wrote: “Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape.”

“Go tell a Catholic they have dirt on their forehead,” she wrote in 2011, with the hashtag #waystooffend

Donegan wrote in 2010: “Saw a bumper sticker: ‘You can’t be both Catholic & Pro-Choice.’ Add: You can be a pedophile though!”

She made a joke about Catholic priests and pedophilia as recently as last year. And her Twitter feed was peppered with often-profane attacks on others.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, who was a reference for Donegan in her application to the Secretary of the Commonwealth for the appointment, tweeted support for her on Wednesday, as did American Atheists, an association in New Jersey.

“It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth will not benefit from the commitment and advocacy of Gail Donegan,” Saslaw said on Twitter. “Her dedication to important issues would have made a great addition to the Virginia Council on Women.”

The atheist association tweeted that Northam should “not let the scandal-rocked, morally bankrupt Catholic Church force out an atheist appointee for telling the truth.”

Virginia’s two Catholic bishops, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, issued a statement Tuesday saying Donegan “has demonstrated a pattern of ridiculing Catholic beliefs and employing stereotypes designed to malign people of faith. Had these comments been directed toward any other group of persons, they would have disqualified her from this role.”

A statement Wednesday from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington called Donegan’s resignation “a welcome development.” Burbidge thanked Catholics who called and emailed the governor’s office.

Publix CEO: Stores in the Richmond area are performing well and 'our brand has resonated well'

The top executive at Publix Super Markets Inc. is pleased with how the Florida-based grocer has performed in the Richmond area since opening stores here beginning two years ago.

“The community has been very receptive, so Richmond is extremely important to Publix Super Markets for our growth and for our company and for our associates and for the community,” said Todd Jones, who has been the company’s CEO since May 2016.

When Publix opened its first Richmond-area store in July 2017 in the Nuckols Place shopping center in western Henrico County, it marked the Lakeland-based retailer’s northernmost location and its first in the company’s seventh state of operation.

The chain opened its 13th area grocery store Wednesday in The Village shopping center at Three Chopt Road and Patterson Avenue and it has plans for at least three more area locations. The retailer also operates a store in the Fredericksburg area with a second planned for that market; and a store in the Williamsburg area.

In a rare interview, Jones said Wednesday that he is happy Publix is opening stores in the Richmond market.

“I think our brand has resonated well,” said Jones, who started as a Publix store clerk in 1980 and rose to the top ranks of the company. He is the first person in the company’s 84-year history to lead the chain outside of the founding Jenkins family.

“We are doing well because of our associates doing the right thing and supporting that brand in the hearts and minds of our customers,” he said.

Publix entered the Richmond market as competition among grocery retailers was intensifying as new players entered the market and current players were expanding.

High-end grocer Wegmans now operates two stores. Super frugal Aldi has 12 area locations. German-based Lidl entered the market in 2017 and now has six area stores. Whole Foods is planning to add a second store.

Publix increased its sales and market share in the 12 months that ended March 31 as it opened new stores, according to the annual grocery market share survey by Food World, a Maryland-based industry publication. The chain moved up two spots to No. 8 with a 4.08% market share.

Walmart is in first place with a 17.24% market share, with Kroger ranked No. 2 with a 16.85% market share, the survey showed.

“Anytime we make a decision to go into a state or to go into a new market, whether it be Richmond or others, we do a lot of due diligence upfront to make sure that we think that our brand will resonate,” Jones said. “We want to get in there and really want to be part of the community and we want to grow in the community.”


Jones was in Richmond to see the new store at The Village shopping center and to present checks to area hunger relief organizations as Publix kicks off September’s Hunger Action Month.

He also worked with about 25 Publix employees to sort food donations at the FeedMore headquarters on Rhoadmiller Street in Richmond on Wednesday morning.

Publix Charities announced that it was donating $5 million to Feeding America-member food banks, schools and other nonprofit organizations supporting pantries, meal programs and other programs in seven states across the Southeast.

Jones presented a $75,000 check to local hunger relief agency FeedMore.

The chain also donated a total of $25,000 to five other nonprofits in Virginia — Armed Services YMCA of the USA ($5,000), Chesterfield Food Bank ($10,000), Colonial Heights Food Pantry ($2,500), Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank ($2,500) and Senior Connections ($5,000).

“We’re celebrating in giving back to the community and back to Feeding America. It is part of the genesis of what Publix Super Markets is all about,” Jones said. “George Jenkins, our founder, always knew that the only way to receive is to give back. It is ingrained in us to give back.”

Publix is the nation’s fifth-largest grocery chain, generating $36.1 billion last year, up 4.4 percent from 2017. It had $2.4 billion in profit last year, up 3.9 percent.

It has more than 200,000 employees at 1,224 stores.


The 47,900-square-foot store at The Village shopping center is a new prototype for Publix.

For instance, it brings together the deli and its Chef’s Selections counter of appetizers, entrees and side dishes and moves it to an island near one of the entrances to the store. At many Publix locations, those areas are separate or along the store’s walls.

The bakery is at the rear corner, on the opposite side of the store from where it typically is.

The store also is testing a program to offer Apron’s Meal Kits, which provide all the necessary ingredients to make the meal with step-by-step instructions. The kits are available only in selected Publix stores and the one at the Village is the only store in the Richmond area to offer them.

It is one of four area Publix locations to offer curbside pickup, where customers can order online and have an employee load the order into the car.

The new store has a side entrance accessible from a walkway that connects to the back parking lot.

A former Martin’s grocery store on that site was demolished last summer so Publix could replace it with one of its own. That former Martin’s was previously a Ukrop’s Super Markets store, which opened in 1994 as a 36,000-square-foot grocery. It was later expanded by taking over a former gift shop next door.


Publix has said it is looking to aggressively grow here and elsewhere in Virginia. The chain has at least three stores under development or under construction in the area.

One store is planned for the Carytown Exchange development on West Cary Street. Work has started on that shopping center, where Publix plans to put a 45,000-square-foot grocery store. No opening date has been set, but the developers of Carytown Exchange plan to have the center open to its first tenants in the first quarter of 2021.

Another Publix is set for Charter Colony Parkway at Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County, where a 74,000-square-foot former Martin’s store has been demolished with plans for a 48,800-square-foot Publix store.

Plans also call for Publix to have a store in the redeveloped Huguenot Village shopping center in Chesterfield.

Mormon church unveils renderings for Henrico temple, Virginia's first

Jacob Alley is excited not to have to go to Washington, D.C. anymore.

Sure, he might still make the occasional trip to see the national landmarks. But he won’t have to keep making the two-hour drive to visit one of his church’s holiest buildings.

Alley and dozens of others were on hand Wednesday night as officials unveiled renderings for Virginia’s first temple for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The temple is slated to be built at 10915 Staples Mill Road in Glen Allen. The closest temple to Richmond is currently in Washington.

“It’ll be close to home,” said Alley, 18, of the new temple. “It looks amazing.”

The new 36,000-square-foot, two-story temple and a 16,000-square-foot meetinghouse is planned to be the state’s first for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Salt Lake City.

Once complete, the temple will serve members of the church in Virginia, eastern West Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. There are about 100,000 members of the church in Virginia, according to the church’s website.

Church President Russell Nelson initially announced plans for the temple in April 2018, and this March formal plans were submitted to the county.

The renderings unveiled Wednesday were met with positive reaction from the church community, with many taking their own pictures to show others.

“Many hours of work and planning have gone into the design for this beautiful temple,” said Brent Roberts, managing director of the church’s special projects department. “We are pleased to share these renderings with church and community members so they can look forward to the completion of this sacred structure and anticipate the blessings it will bring to this area.”

The renderings include a large steeple, columns in the front and a Jeffersonian-type dome that resembles Monticello. The steeple is slated to be capped by a statue of the angel Moroni, an important religious figure and symbol of the church.

Architect Bill Williams said the Virginia aspects of the temple, including interlocking diamond chains and accents of the flowering dogwood, were not by accident.

“We wanted to design it so it feels like Virginia,” he said.

Besides the temple and meetinghouse, a maintenance building and 240 parking spaces also are planned.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — long known as Mormons before the church recently started moving away from the name — consider temples to be the most sacred places in the world. They are open throughout the week and closed on Sundays.

According to ChurchofJesusChrist, a website that follows temple construction, there are 209 temples total and 16 under construction. The church is hoping to break ground on the temple in spring 2020. Construction is expected to take two to three years.

PHOTOS: Renderings of Virginia's first Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple

Caribbean spared major damage, but Hurricane Dorian aims for U.S.

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Richmond man gets 5 years for torturing to death Tommie, the pit bull

A Richmond man who pleaded guilty Wednesday to torturing to death a pit bull named Tommie was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum penalty under the state’s animal cruelty law.

Jyahshua A. Hill, 20, was arrested about three months after Tommie was found about 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 by the Richmond Fire Department in Abner Clay Park, less than a mile from where Hill lived.

The male, brindle dog had been tied to a chain-link fence, doused in lighter fluid and set ablaze. He suffered burns to 40% of his body and died five days later.

“It’s a victory for animal rights activists and Tommie’s memory,” prosecutor Denise Anderson said after the hearing Wednesday.

Richmond Animal Care and Control director Christie Chipps Peters described the case as the worst case of animal cruelty she’s seen in the six years she’s led the city’s shelter. While the severity of the sentence was unexpected, Chipps Peters said she’s thrilled and hopes it sends a strong message to others who might harm animals.

“We’re the voice for the animals,” she said after the hearing. “I think the voice was loud and clear today. I’m hopeful that people might think a little bit differently about things they may want to do in the state of Virginia to animals because we have really robust laws that allow us to prosecute in this manner.

“I’m hopeful that it sends a message that we don’t play around, and that if you hurt an animal, we’ll find you.”

In court, Anderson said Hill’s torture of Tommie was caught on camera from the time Hill left his home in the 1300 block of St. Peter Street in Gilpin Court public housing and walked five blocks to Abner Clay Park.

“He was dragging and jerking the dog by its leash,” Anderson read a summary of the evidence into the court record. “And he was yelling things like, ‘You’ll get yours.’ ”

The video follows Hill to Abner Clay Park, where he poured lighter fluid on the dog and lit it on fire.

“While the defendant fled on foot, the dog ran in circles trying to escape its agony,” Anderson said.

Hill’s fingerprints matched one found on a discarded bottle of lighter fluid that was recovered by investigators. Anderson said posts on his Facebook page showed attempts to sell or get rid of the dog failed.

“This particular case is the epitome of cruelty,” Anderson said after the hearing. “If any case warranted five years, this is it.”

Anderson, whose expertise is in animal cruelty prosecutions, worked along with Kirk Conway, who handles arson cases, for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

Mufeed Said represented Hill, who spoke quietly only when asked questions by Circuit Court Judge Phillip L. Hairston.

Hairston also banned Hill from owning an animal for the rest of his life, and three years of supervision after his release from prison. Animal control officers will periodically check at Hill’s address, once he’s released, that ensure that no pets are living there, Anderson said.

The case sparked outrage and generosity from the public. Chipps Peters said the “world was watching and supporting this case.”

T-shirts emblazoned with the viral hashtag #teamtommie were made. A fund created to cover Tommie’s medical costs — when it became clear that those bills would be surpassed, the fund was used to provide emergency care for other animals in need — topped $25,000. More than 6,000 people signed up to attend a public memorial service for Tommie held at the shelter.

“Justice was served today,” Chipps Peters said. “We don’t often get closure.”

Since Tommie’s case exploded, Chipps Peters said animal control’s calls have doubled. More people than ever are reporting suspected abuse. But still, getting a conviction is rare, she said.

RACC is still looking for leads in two other animal cruelty death cases this year: a 3-year-old pit bull found strangled in a dumpster behind John B. Cary Elementary School near Byrd Park; and a third pit bull that was found shot in the head on the track at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in the East End.

Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. People can also submit a tip through the P3 Tips app for smartphones.

Richmond police 


Family of minor league baseball pitcher slain in Virginia

CHATHAM — Prayer, song and scripture marked the vigil held in memory of three slain relatives of minor league baseball pitcher Blake Bivens.

The vigil was held at The River Church in Danville on Wednesday night. Approximately 50 people scattered among the pews at the church as senior pastor Jackie Poe led those in attendance in prayer for the Bivens and Bernard families.

Poe summoned people to the steps of the altar, and while some people dabbed the tears from their eyes, sniffles and sobs were also audible.

The vigil was held hours after a news conference where Pittsylvania County Sheriff Michael Taylor discussed some of the details of the Tuesday killings.

Matthew Thomas Bernard, the 18-year-old brother-in-law of Blake Bivens, is charged in the deaths of Bivens’ wife, the couple’s toddler son, and Bivens’ mother-in-law.

Bernard was captured naked during a manhunt after police warned of a dangerous gunman on the loose upon finding the bodies Tuesday morning at a home in Keeling.

Taylor identified the dead as Bernard’s mother, 62-year-old Joan Bernard; his sister, 25-year-old Emily Bivens; and his nephew, 14-month-old Cullen Bivens.

Blake Bivens is a 24-year-old pitcher for Alabama’s Montgomery Biscuits, a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“All we can do is kind of put our arms around [Bivens] as an organization, him and his family, and do the best we can,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday.

News of the slayings had prompted the Biscuits to cancel their scheduled doubleheader Tuesday. The team’s CEO and managing owner, Lou DiBella, who is also the president and general managing partner of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, shared a statement, writing that Bivens had “suffered unimaginable loss.”

Investigators still were trying to determine a motive, Sheriff Taylor said at Wednesday’s news conference.

During an intense manhunt Tuesday morning involving up to 100 officers, schools were locked down and a tank and armored vehicle were brought into Keeling, an unincorporated community near the North Carolina border.

Authorities said Bernard emerged naked and unarmed from the woods about four hours later, running past TV cameras to a church parking lot, where he was recorded trying to choke a church caretaker.

An officer unleashed pepper spray and struck Bernard with a baton before he was captured at a barricade with the help of a police dog, officials said.

Bernard banged his head against the cage in a police vehicle after being taken into custody and was taken to a hospital for treatment, Taylor said. He was released and was in jail Wednesday, where he was being kept on suicide watch, Taylor said.

A firearm was “involved in the incident,” said Taylor, who declined to give details about how the victims died.

Jackie Poe, the senior pastor of The River Church in Danville, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Blake Bivens was a longtime member of the church, and that he and Emily would come to services during the baseball offseason.

“He’s a fine young man,” Poe said. “Just a great example of a young man in baseball. And just a good Christian young man.”

“His wife was just a wonderful young lady. Whenever he was [in the] offseason, they would be in church.”

Poe said Bivens’ parents are “just completely shocked and devastated and yet holding on to their faith and trusting in God.”

Poe said of Wednesday’s community prayer gathering, “That’s what we do. And that’s the answer. There are no other answers for a tragedy like this.”

Blake and Emily Bivens married in 2016, according to a post on his Facebook page from Jan. 10.

“I can go on for days about how you have changed me for the better,” he wrote.

On her Facebook page, Emily Bivens described herself as a “lover of Jesus, wife, mama, photographer.”

Bernard was held without bail and faces three counts of first-degree murder and use of a firearm during a felony, according to court documents.

An initial court appearance was scheduled for Thursday morning. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment.

Paperwork for determining Bernard’s bail shows that he was attending community college and working at his parents’ campground.