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Most viewed of the year at Stories 1-7

About this series

Over the past two issues, the Forsyth County News has taken a look back at the top 14 most viewed articles at Up first were stories 8 through 14 in Friday’s edition, with the top seven presented today. For more on each of the news events, as well as related content, explore our website.

FORSYTH COUNTY — Despite what some national pundits would have us believe, those in the news media can’t actually predict what’s going to happen. Like the rest of us, they likely hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

In that vein, 2014 was as unpredictable as most years. A quick scan of the headlines from the Forsyth County News’ most viewed stories offers evidence of that.

With few exceptions, the articles reflect breaking news posted online at as it unfolded.

Join us now as we take a look back at the seventh through first most viewed stories in today’s edition. In Friday’s paper, we presented articles 14 through eight.



7 — Youth ministry intern held on child molestation charges


March 19, 2014


A church youth ministry intern remained in the Forsyth County Detention Center on Wednesday following his arrest on felony counts of child molestation and enticing a child for indecent purposes.

According to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, 28-year-old Sean E. Paul of Dawsonville turned himself in Friday. No bond has been set.

In addition to the two felony counts, he also faces one misdemeanor charge of electronically furnishing obscene material to a minor.

Paul was an intern for the youth minister at First Christian Church on Sawnee Drive in Cumming.

Stan Percival, the lead pastor of the church, said Paul “immediately resigned” from the position, which he had held for less than a year, when confronted with the allegations.

Percival said the church “immediately informed the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office” about the matter and shared information with its congregation Sunday.

According to the sheriff’s office, the alleged victim had become acquainted with Paul through the church.



6 — Man shot by deputy ID'd


June 27, 2014


Authorities are investigating an officer-involved shooting that occurred Thursday afternoon in the area of the Hopewell and Hubbard Town roads.

Robin Regan, a spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, said the incident happened about 4 p.m. when a deputy on patrol came across a suspicious black pickup truck in an undeveloped subdivision.

A man, later identified as 46-year-old Jeffery Todd Nielson of Cumming, emerged from the vehicle with a “lever-action rifle.”

Nielson, whom Regan described as emotionally distraught, reportedly pumped the rifle and then pointed it at the deputy as he approached.

The deputy, whose name has not been released, fired several times before Nielson could, subduing him.

Regan did not know where or how many times Nielson was struck. He said the man was taken by ambulance to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

The severity of his wounds has not been released, but Nielson was in stable condition Friday night and expected to survive, according to the sheriff’s office. It was not immediately clear what charges he would face when released.



5 — Arrest made for shooting of South grad in Dawsonville


Dec. 4, 2014


An arrest has been made in the fatal shooting last month of a former South Forsyth High football standout and father of three.

Dawson County Sheriff's investigators have charged Herman James Seppenfield, 50, of Dawsonville with murder in connection with the death of Brandon Weaver, also of Dawson County.

Weaver, 37, died from shots fired at close range during a fight with Seppenfield in southeastern Dawson on Nov. 22.

The fight on Whitney Place reportedly started when Weaver and another man arrived at the home to confront the people living there.

Sheriff's Capt. Tony Wooten said Weaver's son had been at a birthday party at the home earlier that evening and had called his dad to say he wanted to go home. The child felt uncomfortable about something going on there.

The confrontation escalated and shots were fired. Weaver was hit twice in the chest. He died on the scene. Wooten said alcohol was involved, a factor that has hindered the investigation.

Weaver, a well-known parks and recreation coach who was raised in Forsyth County, is survived by his wife, three young sons and numerous family members and friends throughout many communities.

According to his obituary, Weaver graduated from South Forsyth High School in 1995. Forsyth County News records show he was a member of the newspaper’s 1994 All-County football team as a defensive end.



4 — Charges in fatal crash investigation


June 2, 2014


The driver of pickup truck involved in a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a fellow 17-year-old early Sunday was driving while impaired and was on probation for two incidents involving alcohol this winter, authorities said.

In addition, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office arrested a second teenager Monday in connection with the investigation after it was determined the truck full of teens had just left a large party involving alcohol at a home in a nearby subdivision where no “parental adults” were present.

As of Monday afternoon, the driver of the pickup, Adam Robert Joseph Di Millo of Dawsonville, remained at the Forsyth County Detention Center, where he was taken after being treated for injuries at North Fulton Hospital.

According to the sheriff’s office, Di Millo has been charged with first-degree homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence and underage possession/consumption of alcohol.  

According to the sheriff’s office, the crash occurred about 1:18 a.m. on Kelly Mill Road at Rockingham Run, near Post Road and the Telfair subdivision. It claimed the life of back seat passenger Paul Louis Castell Jr., who also had a Dawsonville address.

According to the Forsyth County school system, Castell was a rising senior at North Forsyth High, where he played lacrosse. Di Millo is a former North student, who left the district this spring.

Di Millo was driving a 2011 Dodge Ram pickup truck east on Kelly Mill when he reportedly lost control after entering a curve at a high rate of speed.  

The rear of the truck hit a telephone pole and Castell, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle, according to the sheriff’s office. He died at the scene.  

Three other male passengers, ages 15, 17 and 18, were taken to North Fulton Hospital with what authorities described as non-life threatening injuries. 



3 — Georgia Southern student from Forsyth found dead


Sept. 15, 2014


An 18-year-old Georgia Southern University student from Forsyth County was found unresponsive Friday at her off-campus apartment and was later pronounced dead, the university announced Monday morning.

Brooke Edwards was a sophomore biology major from Cumming.

"The Georgia Southern family is deeply saddened by this loss and our thoughts and prayers are with the student's family and friends during this difficult time," the university said in a statement. "Counseling services are available for Georgia Southern students."

The Statesboro Police Department is handling the investigation, according to the university, but no further details were immediately available.

Edwards is the second Georgia Southern student from Forsyth to die in the past several weeks.

On Aug. 28, 18-year-old Michael Gatto died of injuries sustained in a beating early that morning at a Statesboro nightclub.

Gatto was a 2014 South Forsyth High graduate who had been at the college 10 days.

A check of Forsyth County News records shows Edwards graduated from North Forsyth High in 2013.



2 — School board nixes snow days


Nov. 14, 2014


A little polar vortex snow or an apocalyptic ice storm will no longer bring Forsyth County students’ school work to a freezing halt, thanks to a new online learning system the district will implement to recover instructional time lost during school closures.

The Forsyth County school system has two inclement weather days set aside for the current school year. They were built into the calendar when it was approved in November 2013. But that’s it. For good.

After those are spent by the fire or playing in the snow, any additional days will be for online learning.

Starting with the 2015-16 school year, Forsyth will be — to the best of officials’ knowledge — the first school system in Georgia to not have any inclement weather days built into its calendars.

Itslearning, the asynchronous — meaning not at the same time — online learning system, saw success in 2013-14 when the district used it after having many snow days, according to Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the district. Many teachers already blend face-to-face and online learning with their students.

Teachers can give lessons, provide supplemental documents and assign homework through the online portal.

Students will receive a five-day window to complete assignments, in case of power outages and to allow them to complete lessons on their own time. They also are asked to respond to one interactive activity a day to ensure they’re not just logging in without engaging.

Students without home Internet access are being identified and will receive “smartspots” and devices.



1 — Courthouse gunman shot, was suing sheriff's office


June 6, 2014


Authorities have identified the heavily armed gunman who shot a veteran sheriff’s deputy in the leg Friday morning outside the Forsyth County Courthouse as 48-year-old Dennis Ronald Marx of Cumming.

Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper said that Marx, who was shot and killed by other deputies, acted alone.

Marx has been referred to as a “sovereign citizen” who was anti-law enforcement and anti-government. Piper couldn’t confirm that, but said Marx was due in court Friday morning on drug and weapons charges.

According to Piper, Marx drove a rented silver Nissan Armada onto the courthouse plaza about 9:57 a.m. and threw out spike strips to hold off law enforcement’s response before beginning a “full frontal assault” on the facility.

“It appeared he was trying to actually drive through the front of the courthouse,” Piper said. “We had a court security deputy who was outside at the time ... it looks like he saw that deputy, swerved toward him to try to run over the deputy and the deputy engaged him.”

The deputy, Daniel Rush, approached Marx, who began firing at him through the window of his sport utility vehicle at the courthouse steps.

Rush, a 30-year veteran of the force, posted on a social media site that he is OK. Piper hailed Rush, who is expected to make a full recovery, as the reason there were no other injuries.

Shortly after the deputy encountered Marx, the county’s SWAT team, which just happened to be nearby, and deputies from the jail and courthouse joined in the firefight.

Marx, who was alone in the vehicle and wearing body armor, was struck several times and died at the scene.

When Marx arrived at the courthouse, he started throwing out gas grenades and smoke grenades, most of which the sheriff said were homemade.

In addition to the explosives, Piper said Marx had assault rifles and several other weapons. The arsenal included CS tear gas and smoke grenades to obscure vision, assault rifles, flex ties and “lots of ammunition.”

The courthouse, Forsyth County Administration Building, Cumming City Hall and surrounding structures were evacuated and later closed for the day. Traffic was rerouted.

Piper went on to note that Marx, who was no stranger to law enforcement, had a home on Lakeside Trail east of Cumming and near Lake Lanier, though he had not been living there for at least 10 days.

Authorities are searching the home.

The Holiday Inn Express on Market Place Boulevard, where Marx was staying, is also considered a crime scene, as is his home.

According to court documents, Marx was suing the sheriff’s office alleging civil rights violations, including excessive force.

He filed an amendment to the complaint on April 2, the inclusion of which a judge denied, alleging that a deputy had set in motion events causing a death in his family.

According to court records, Marx faced many drug-related charges from August 2011, including manufacturing marijuana, possessing a firearm or knife during the commission of a felony and possession with intent to distribute.


(Editor’s note: Several articles from the courthouse shooting coverage ranked among the most viewed of 2014.)