Shahla Farzan | KCUR

Shahla Farzan

Shahla Farzan is a general assignment reporter and weekend newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes most recently from KBBI Public Radio in Homer, Alaska, where she covered issues ranging from permafrost thaw to disputes over prayer in public meetings. A science nerd to the core, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. She has also worked as an intern at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and a podcaster for BirdNote. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, combing flea markets for tchotchkes, and curling up with a good book. 

Elsie McGrath is an unlikely renegade.

For much of her life, the 81-year-old tried to avoid confrontation and follow the rules.

But that changed in 2007, when she became an ordained priest — and in doing so, broke one of the most fundamental rules in Roman Catholicism.

"This was definitely not part of the plan," McGrath said, of her ordination. "This was what the spirit within me was leading me to."

She was excommunicated along with fellow priest Rose Marie Hudson and Bishop Patricia Fresen, who ordained the two at a synagogue in St. Louis.

Floodwaters carved a path of devastation through the Midwest this year — and carried hundreds of storage tanks downstream to Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is collecting these orphaned containers, which range in size from small buckets to 500,000-gallon tanks. Many contain hazardous materials, including diesel fuel, pesticides and ammonia gas.

Most of the containers have washed up along the banks of the Missouri River in the northwest corner of the state, said DNR environmental scientist Stephen McLane.

Frogs and toads need water to breed — and this year, they had a lot of it. 

Months of springtime flooding created near-perfect breeding conditions along the Missouri River, causing a surge in frog and toad populations. For biologists, the population boom has been a rare opportunity to collect information on these animals.

When Lisa and Dan Macheca bought a century-old Methodist church in St. Louis back in 2004, they didn't think much about the cost of heating the place.

Then the first heating bill arrived: $5,000 for a single month.

"I felt like crying," Lisa Macheca said. "Like, 'Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?' "

Destini Hutson spent much of her childhood picturing what life would be like when her dad came home.

Over time, her plans turned to the practical: teach him how to use an iPhone, help him find a job, go to Chick-fil-A together.

“‘It’s a lot that you’re going to have to learn,’” Hutson told her dad, Donald, who went to prison in 1997 when she was still a baby.

Those plans came to a halt last September, when Donald Hutson died of a drug overdose at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific. He’s one of more than 430 inmates who have overdosed in state prisons since May 2017, according to internal data from the Missouri Department of Corrections. While there are many ways drugs are smuggled into prisons, DOC employees say internal corruption is a key part of the problem.

At the edge of an open lot in St. Charles, tiny blades of grass are beginning to sprout.

A neighborhood once stood here — but the homes are long gone.

They were among the more than 5,100 homes demolished in Missouri since 1990 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s voluntary buyout program, which removes buildings from flood-prone land. After the homes are demolished, local governments are responsible for ensuring that no one rebuilds on the properties.

Missouri has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the nation.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rank Missouri sixth in U.S. for gun death rate, including intentional and accidental shootings. The CDC reports 1,307 Missourians died from gunshot wounds in 2017, an increase over the previous year.

When it comes to vaccinating adolescents, Missouri ranks among the worst in the nation.

The report from the nonprofit United Health Foundation ranks Missouri 48th in the U.S. for overall adolescent vaccinations. Doctors say the pattern may be linked to a more widespread trend of “vaccine hesitancy” among parents in the U.S.

Josh Davis likes to name his pigs after flowers: Petunia, Iris, Violet and Daisy.

That’s not the only thing that sets him apart as a hog farmer.

For the past three years, Davis and his wife, Alicia, have been raising one of the rarest pig breeds in the world on their farm in Pocahontas, Illinois. The American mulefoot hog was a popular breed in the Midwest in the early 1900s, but now, there are only a few hundred left. The Davises are among a small group of farmers hoping to revive the breed by putting it back on the menu.

A new, tiny resident will now greet visitors to the St. Louis Zoo Primate House.

Princess Buttercup, a female mongoose lemur, is the first of her species to be born and reared successfully at the zoo. The critically endangered lemur species, which is found only on Madagascar, is the focus of a national cooperative breeding program intended to build a healthy population in captivity.