1. Annual march fights for 'love, compassion and respect'

On the area’s fifth recognized Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Day, Shayne Cook, a registered member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, came close to tears while describing how his niece was killed.

“My niece was born with an absent father, and in our culture it’s all about kinship, so I stepped in as father,” Cook said. “She loved being a little girl, being a little princess.”

Aleeya Mya Cook was nine days past her second birthday in 2012 when her biological father, Mario Contreras, punched her 19 times in the head, killing her.

Cook and his youngest sister, Shannon Marie Cook-Sine, who was also the child’s mother, struggled through years of a disbelieving community, half bent on saying the child’s killer was innocent, half demanding justice. Contreras wasn’t arrested for nearly a year after the girl's death.

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More from The Forum's C.S. Hagen

More stories on the Fourth Annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's march

2. 1 hospital visit, many bills? Here's why

An array of past-due medical bills are pictured in this photo illustration. (Jeremy Fugleberg/Forum News Service)
An array of past-due medical bills are pictured in this photo illustration. (Jeremy Fugleberg/Forum News Service)

You go to the hospital, then the bills pour in. Not just from the hospital, but from several other companies.

Wait a minute, you ask: Didn't I just visit the hospital once? Why am I getting so many different bills?

We here at Forum News Service have heard this question over and over. So we reached out to Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health for answers on how billing works, how you can know which bill to pay and with whom you should speak if you need help.

More from Forum News Service's Jeremy Fugleberg

3. State finds serious violations at Minn. day care tied to infant death

The license of a rural Brainerd day care, where an infant was found unresponsive and later died in November 2019, is now indefinitely suspended after the state found serious violations.

The licensing action issued Wednesday, Feb. 12, by the Minnesota Department of Human Services comes three months after the death of 9-month-old Zander Kenneth Miller of Crosby. Zander was found unresponsive in a crib Nov. 12, 2019, at Country Bumpkin Daycare, a home day care located in Crow Wing Township.

Crow Wing County sheriff’s deputies and first responders answered the call and assisted with lifesaving measures. The infant was pronounced dead at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd a short time later.

According to the order, Zander was placed down to sleep with a sippy cup and a blanket, which represented a failure to follow risk requirements for sudden unexpected infant death and a finding of maltreatment of a minor by neglect. When the infant was found unresponsive, the blanket was around his neck. Zander’s autopsy determined the cause of his death was asphyxia.

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4. Karlstad, Minn., musician nominated for 2 Midwest CMA awards

Dariann Leigh of Karlstad, Minn. will be at the Midwest CMA Awards in Medina, awaiting the results on two nominations: New Artist of the Year and Music Video of the Year for her song “Give Me a Minute”. (WDAY)
Dariann Leigh of Karlstad, Minn. will be at the Midwest CMA Awards in Medina, awaiting the results on two nominations: New Artist of the Year and Music Video of the Year for her song “Give Me a Minute”. (WDAY)

Twenty-year-old Dariann Leigh of Karlstad, Minn., has been singing and writing songs for as long as she can remember.

“It’s your emotion. It’s your soul,” Leigh said. “No matter if you’re writing it or just listening to it, it’s solely where people can relate to it.”

Now her dedication and passion is paying off.

On Sunday, Feb. 16, Leigh will be at the Midwest CMA Awards in Medina, awaiting the results on two nominations: New Artist of the Year and Music Video of the Year for her song “Give Me a Minute”.

Watch the story from WDAY's Sarah Rudlang

5. Can you help find the faces of 30 WWII heroes from ND & Minnesota?

Ask retired elementary school music teacher Becky Melhus to talk about some of her World War II veteran friends, and she’s bound to tear up.

“I just can’t help it. I get a little emotional talking about them,” she said.

Melhus, who taught in both Mayville, N.D. and East Grand Forks, Minn., is channeling that love of veterans into an important project, morphing from teacher to amateur detective on the lookout for photos of gone — but not forgotten — soldiers.

“How could I not?” she said. “It’s just something I had to do.”

To understand what is driving this soft-spoken music teacher and others like her, you have to go back nearly 75 years to a country 4,000 miles away.

Read more from The Forum's Tracy Briggs