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These were the biggest stories in Forsyth County in 2019
Photo by Unsplash/Staff illustration

It was a beautiful, hard, wild year in Forsyth County in 2019, filled with so many incredible stories that someone could write a book about it.

In January, the country learned of a Forsyth County 21-year-old man who allegedly planned to attack federal buildings in Washington D.C., including the White House.

In April, Amanda Amburgy, a 24-year-old flight attendant who graduated from West Forsyth High School, comforted an anxious autistic boy during a flight, and the story went viral on social media.

In June, a family came home from vacation and heard the sounds of a newborn baby in the nearby woods. That’s how “Baby India” was found.

In September, the body of 21-year-old Hannah Bender was found in North Forsyth, kicking off investigations and arrests that reached Pittsburgh.

In November, the heartwarming and improbable story of Kadisha Montanez finding her long-lost daughter in a Nicaraguan orphanage led to national television appearances.

While those stories captured the nation's attention, even if for the briefest of moments, many more stories played out locally that had an impact on residents.

The Forsyth County News staff selected the top 10 stories of 2019. Here they are, in no particular order.

“Baby India”

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The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office released dash cam video from the night a newborn infant was discovered abandoned in the woods in south Forsyth.

On a stormy night in early June, an hours-old newborn girl was discovered abandoned along an isolated stretch of roadway in southeast Forsyth.

Found wrapped inside a plastic grocery bag, the girl was rushed to a nearby hospital by awestruck first responders and was later named “India.”

The girl’s discovery, called “an act of God” by authorities, prompted nationwide attention to Forsyth County, as thousands of people across the nation sent their love, support and prayers to the child and the deputies that found her.

No clues about why the child was abandoned or the identity of her parents was ever found.

Local resident arrested for alleged terror plot against White House

Hasher Taheb
Hasher Taheb mug shots, March 10, 2015, left, and April 28, 2015, right

A 21-year-old man from Forsyth County was arrested by the FBI in January, charged with allegedly planning to use explosives to attack federal buildings in the Washington D.C. area.

Hasher Jallal Taheb, a graduate of Forsyth Central High School, was charged following an alleged attempt to purchase weapons, including semi-automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices, a shoulder-fired anti-armor weapon and hand grenades, at a meeting with two undercover FBI agents.

According to officials, Taheb planned to use the weapons to attack the Washington Monument, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and a specific synagogue in Washington D.C. Taheb was later ordered to remain in custody while his case proceeds, and in February, Taheb plead not guilty to the charges that have been filed against him. This case is still pending in United States District Court. 

Deputy dies during training

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Forsyth County Sheriff's Office deputies carry the casket of Deputy Spencer Englett during a funeral service on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, at Winds of Peace Fellowship Church in Dawsonville. - photo by Ben Hendren

In April, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Spencer Englett suffered a traumatic medical event and died while attending a training academy in North Georgia.

Authorities said that the 29-year-old law enforcement officer suddenly collapsed during his first day of training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Pickens County and was rushed to Piedmont Mountainside Medical Center in Jasper, but was unable to be revived by medical staff and first responders.

Englett had served with the sheriff’s office since May 1, 2017. He had previously worked for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and was newly married.

Law enforcement officers from all over Georgia traveled to Winds of Peace Fellowship Church in Dawsonville later in April for Englett’s funeral.

Halcyon opens

Visitors walk the grounds of Halcyon, the mixed-use development in south Forsyth County that made its public debut on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. - photo by Ben Hendren

After years of anticipation, Halcyon, a mixed-use development off Ronald Reagan Parkway in south Forsyth, opened on Wednesday, Sept. 18 to the excitement of those looking for new places to eat, shop and more.

About nine retailers, boutiques and restaurants opened their doors to customers on Halcyon's opening day, and nearly two dozen more have either opened or announced they would be coming to the development since.

The 135-acre, $370 million project just over the Forsyth County line is the county's live-work-play answer to Avalon in north Fulton County with its connection to the Big Creek Greenway; Market Hall with a variety of eateries; 300,000 square feet of office space; 665 homes and townhomes; two hotels; and several community gathering spaces.

50,000 students in Forsyth County schools 

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Midway Elementary School welcomed students and families for the first day of the 2019-20 school year on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. - photo by Brian Paglia

In 2019, the Forsyth County school system announced that it had reached the milestone of more than 50,000 enrolled students for the 2019-20 school year.

According to school officials, student enrollment has grown by more than 50% since 2009.

During the past year, the school system has kicked off several major projects to cope with the booming student growth, including East Forsyth High School, Hendricks Middle School, Poole’s Mill Elementary School and the FOCAL Center/Academies for Creative Education, all of which had groundbreakings in 2019.

Cumming hires new police chief

Chief David Marsh
After 15 years at the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, David Marsh has been hired as Chief of Police for Cumming Police Department. Officials say that Marsh will bring a fresh and progressive approach to the department. - photo by Ben Hendren

David Marsh was sworn-in in July as the new chief of the Cumming Police Department, replacing former Chief Casey Tatum, who had held the position since 2012.

Marsh, a 2003 graduate of Auburn University, worked with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office from 2004 until accepting the position over the summer, where he spent time in the patrol, narcotics and criminal investigation divisions, worked as part of a DEA task force and held administrative roles such as training and internal affairs.

Body of Hannah Bender found

Hannah Bender
Without Hannah, cousin David Chambers said he wouldn't be the person he is today. -photo courtesy David Chambers

In late September, the body of 21-year-old Hannah Bender was found in a shallow grave off Parks Road in north Forsyth, nearly a week since she had been reported missing.

Since then, Austin Stryker, 24, Isaac Huff, 18, Dylan Reid, 19, have been indicted on a host of charges related to Bender’s death, including murder, aggravated assault and battery, concealing the death of another and violation of the state’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Jerry Harper, 78, was also indicted, although his indictment does not include a murder or aggravated assault charge.

The discovery of Bender’s body sparked a statewide manhunt for Stryker, who after several weeks on the run surrendered to authorities in Pittsburgh on Oct. 1. Six others, including Huff, Reid and Harper, were arrested by authorities in Lumpkin and Dawson counties during the investigation.

Sources close to the investigation claim that they now believe the murder may have happened in Dawson County, before the suspects disposed of the body in Forsyth County and planted evidence at a campsite in Lumpkin County in an attempt to throw off investigators.

County mourns 2 kids who died in house fire

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Shaun (left) and Morgan Noe were killed in a house fire on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Several GoFundMe campaigns have been started to support the family. (Photo courtesy GoFundMe)

In October, two children were found dead after an overnight fire in their home on Apple Valley Court off Pilgrim Mill Road.

Authorities said that Shaun Noe, 12, and Morgan Noe, 9, were found upstairs in the home in a bedroom and no foul play was suspected. The home was found to not have working smoke alarms.

Development threatens low-income senior housing

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The Orchard Apartments is a low-income senior community with small complexes off Meadow Drive and Orchard Circle in Cumming. The one- and two-bedroom single-story apartments have been one of the only reliable sources of affordable housing for low-income seniors in the city since their construction in 1981 and 1985. - photo by Brian Paglia

Residents living in the Orchard Apartments, a low-income senior community complex off Meadow Drive and Orchard Circle in Cumming, learned earlier this year that the land the complex sits on would be sold for the development of Mashburn Village, a 63-acre proposed development between Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Atlanta Highway designed by the Alpharetta-based firm Wakefield Beasley & Associates.

In May, residents were informed by management that the Mashburn Family Trust, which owns the apartments and property, had decided not to sell the complexes and they would not be part of the development.

The apartments have been one of the only reliable sources of affordable housing for low-income seniors in the city since their construction in 1981 and 1985 by Dr. Marcus Mashburn Jr., a one-time prominent physician and civic leader.

Mother, daughter reunited after 10 years

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In 2009 Kadisha Montanez’s 5-year-old daughter Cinthya was abducted by her father. With the help of a nun at an orphanage in Nicaragua, their family was reunited this week for the first time in over a decade. - photo by Ben Hendren

Forsyth County woman Kadisha Montanez was reunited with her daughter Cinthya in October, 10 years after the girl had been abducted by her father.

For more than a decade, the mother and daughter were separated, until a friendly nun helped Cinthya find her mother on Facebook and Kadisha discovered that her daughter had been living in Nicaraguan orphanages for years.

After discovering her daughter’s fate, Kadisha jumped on a plane to Nicaragua, won custody of her daughter and brought the now 15-year-old home to see her family for the first time in a decade.