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Mother Seeks Help Finding Daughter; Flu Shots? How About Anthrax?; Capital One Runs "Heroes" Telethon; Church Hill Church Starts Steeple Chase; No Hate Reported Here

Street Talk

Mother Seeks Help Finding Daughter

Every day for four years Laura Beth Brinser would drive to two East End neighborhoods in Church Hill and Fulton Hill to feed stray cats and dogs. She had become attached to the animals that roam not far from her workplace at Foremost Salvage Center on Williamsburg Road.

Her family thinks that's what she was doing right before she disappeared.

Brinser, 38, was reported missing on Sept. 25. She was last seen Friday, Sept. 21, at her apartment at 5860 Westower Drive. Also missing is her black 1993 Plymouth Laser.

Her mother, Betty Brinser, and the rest of her family, pray for her safe return. "Everybody's in turmoil," Brinser says.

Brinser describes her daughter as exceptionally compassionate and trusting. "She has a real devotion to them," Brinser says of her daughter's care for stray animals. "She would never leave those cats. She may leave me and her boyfriend, but not the cats."

Brinser suspects her daughter may have been feeding the cats around the time she vanished. A resident in Fulton Hill who had grown accustomed to seeing Laura every evening just before dark told Brinser she had seen Laura Brinser on Friday.

Brinser knows her daughter's routine and has accompanied her to the site several times. "We all gave her the devil for going down there," Brinser says.

The family feels frozen, Brinser says. They've called the police and every hospital in the area. They've tried retracing Laura Brinser's steps, and they've posted hundreds of fliers. Brinser says her daughter's bank reports no activity in her account.

"It's surreal," says Brinser. "Nobody knows what to do to help her."

Laura Brinser is a white female with blonde hair and blue eyes. She has a light complexion, is 5-foot-3 and weighs about 110 pounds. She was possibly wearing blue-jean overalls with a red shirt.

The family asks that anyone with information about Laura Brinser call the Richmond Police Department Youth and Family Crimes Unit, at (804) 646-6764. — Brandon Walters

Flu Shots? How About Anthrax?

en the leaves start to fall, everybody wants their flu vaccine."

But this season people are worried about more deadly diseases, says Farrell, the director for the Virginia Department of Health's Division of Immunization.

"People are calling in droves wanting to know where they can get anthrax and smallpox vaccinations," he says. Farrell, himself, receives three to five calls a day on the topic. He tells callers again and again that such vaccines aren't available to the general public.

"It may be a dandy idea for all of us to have an anthrax vaccine, but the availability's not there," says Dennis Stanley, wellness center manager at the Short Pump Ukrop's.

Stanley has worked with anthrax experts at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and does his best to field anxious queries from people concerned about bioterrorism — though he's hard-pressed to satisfy customers' curiosity. "They look at you like they want to know everything you know about it," he says.

He does his best to correct misconceptions people get from the Internet, such as the ideas that anthrax vaccines cause severe side effects (major reactions occur in less than 0.2 percent of recipients, according to the CDC) or that oral antibiotics are an effective way to combat the disease.

Stanley says he keeps in touch with the CDC to make sure the information he gives out is accurate, but it's tough to allay fears of bioterrorism when so much is uncertain. "It's on a lot of people's minds," he says.

Did anyone show interest in anthrax or smallpox protection before Sept. 11?

Farrell, of the Health Department, chuckles drily. "That was not a big seller." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

Capital One Runs "Heroes" Telethon

The first question asked by many callers to the Sept. 21 "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon wasn't "How can I donate?" but "Are you famous?"

Viewers hoped to speak to celebrities such as Jack Nicholson, Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler, who answered phones during the nationwide broadcast. But a few dozen famous faces weren't enough to handle 1.5 million calls.

Behind the scenes, legions of Capital One workers sat with phone sets clamped to head from 9 p.m. until after 2:30 a.m. for the enormous fund-raising effort. An estimated 59 million Americans watched the two-hour, commercial-free program, which aired on more than 35 U.S. broadcast and cable networks and 8,000 radio stations.

Capital One volunteered its services for the telethon the Monday before the show, says spokesman Hamilton Holloway, after learning from contacts in television networks that the scheduled call center had backed out.

"They were looking for a new partner," Holloway says. "Someone who could pull that off."

Still, it was a stretch even for the vast credit-card company, he says. On an average day, the company handles 200,000 voice-to-voice phone calls. The telethon brought in 150,000 calls each hour. But Capital One thought it could do it, Holloway says, with the help of partners such as AT&T, MCI WorldCom and Verizon.

Nationwide, telethon volunteers numbered 20,000. Of those, Capital One employees accounted for 7,000 — 3,000 to 4,000 of them in Richmond, Holloway says. And not one was idle that night.

"The first time the phone number appeared on the screen, everybody's heads went down because the phones just lit up," Holloway says.

Many callers asked to speak to actors Brad Pitt or George Clooney, Holloway says. When volunteers told them that wasn't possible, people seemed content to chat with ordinary people instead of celebrities.

Rita Hudgins, a production manager for Capital One who volunteered, remembers a lengthy call when about 20 men in New Jersey passed one phone from hand to hand to make their pledges, "each one trying to outdo the others." One woman told Hudgins she hated telethons. Yet "she gave a thousand, which I thought was pretty incredible."

The funds raised totaled an estimated $150 million. The evening went off without a technological hitch, although Holloway says the effort came close to frying phone circuits in nine states.

And the best answer to the "Are you famous?" question?

A few volunteers opted for "Well, I think I am." — M.S.S.

Church Hill Church Starts Steeple Chase

A half-century later, New Light Baptist Church still looks funny without its steeple.

That's why the Rev. Walter L. Smith Jr., pastor of the Church Hill church, is determined to put it back.

On Oct. 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel ripped through Richmond. Its mighty 125 mph gusts ravaged the city and toppled New Light Baptist's 75-foot spire. The next year, church members tried to drum up funds to replace the steeple, but they never got far.

So for nearly 50 years, the church has been sadly steepleless.

Since Smith became pastor five years ago, he's worked hard to grow his congregation to 350 and raise enough money to fix up the dilapidated church. And now that the $400,000 renovation is complete, Smith thinks it is high time to find a steeple. He just needs the money to do it. He hopes the church can get a grant and he is looking for donors, too.

After all, the church is historically significant. The Italianate church building — originally Trinity United Methodist — was designed by architect Albert L. West and completed in 1859.

New Light bought the Broad Street church in 1947 for $13,000. Smith says it's valued today at $800,000. But the church's value to the community, he adds, is priceless.

And Smith thinks a steeple could help the church become a more visible beacon. "A steeple is a sign of where God is," says Smith, "where people can go to worship."

The new steeple will cost about $100,000 and most likely will be made of Fiberglass and steel.

Smith thinks it will restore some luster to Richmond's skyline.

"It used to be you could be in the West End or South Side and you could see the steeple," he recalls. "It could be seen across the entire city." — B.W.

No Hate Reported Here

Since the recent terrorist attacks, there have been increasing reports of harassment of Muslims around the country.

But not in and around Richmond, according to police.

Since Sept. 11, there have been no reports of hate crimes in Richmond, according to Richmond police. As for other crimes, a police spokeswoman says rates have remained about the same.

In Chesterfield County, police say that a week or so after the attacks, the overall crime rate dropped a bit lower than normal. Now it seems to be back to business as usual.

Chesterfield police have received and checked out several calls of suspicious people, but no arrests were made. A few people have called police to say they've received threatening phone calls or were yelled at by passing cars. But no serious threats, attacks or acts of vandalism were reported.

There have been no hate crimes reported in Hanover County, either. In addition, crime rates in the area have not increased or decreased, officials say.

In Henrico County, police say they have received no reports of hate crimes. They caution, however, that crime rates are difficult to measure accurately over such a short time period. — Dan Wagener

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