One of the highest points on Isle Royale is at the top of Mount Ojibway, a flattened crest above the trees where eagles nest, winds buffet and wild blueberries grow.
From there, you can see all the way to Canada — it’s closer than Michigan — and watch the laughing white caps of Lake Superior pound the rocky shores in every direction.
It’s from way up there that Rolf Peterson listens for signs of life.
Getting there isn’t easy, but even at 64 years old, Peterson barely breaks a sweat despite the terrain. He has made this trek so many times he recognizes individual trees and juneberry bushes.
“You see that radio tower way over there?” he asks, pointing to a steel structure, small and hazy in the distance.
He chuckles with compassion. “It’s actually farther away than it looks.”
Under the canopy of aspen trees and balsam fir, the trail he follows is little more than a rough-hewn path of jagged boulders and exposed roots, the red soil packed hard by the countless footfalls of nature lovers and adventure seekers who visit the island every year.
When the trail breaks above the tree line, he climbs the 50 steps to the top of the radio tower.
He pulls from his 40-year-old backpack a receiver and two small antennas. He slowly swings the antennas left to right, waiting for a sound, listening for something other than static.
It has been more than a month since he has picked up the ping – the sign that Isabelle or Pip, the two radio-collared wolves on the island, are nearby.
He knows they’re not dead. Not yet, at least. He, more than anyone else, would know.
For more than 40 years, he has spent every summer on the island with his wife, Candy, in a cabin with no running water as the chief researcher on a world-renown study through Michigan Technological University called the Wolf-Moose Project.
Now in its 55th year, it’s the longest running study of its kind in the world, and it could happen only at Isle Royale.
The island park is the only place on the entire planet where a major predator and a major ungulate — a fancy biologist’s term for things like deer, elk and moose — live together without the interference of some other species.
Peterson turns the antenna in another direction.
Several minutes pass.
All he hears is silence.
There are only eight adult wolves left on Isle Royale, and they have little to say.
This story won the 2014 Sigma Delta Chi award for Feature Reporting and the 2014 Herbert Spencer Award for Best Writing by the Michigan Press Association. Read the entire series in the Lansing State Journal here.
PHOTO CREDITS: Rod Sanford, Lansing State Journal; Wolf Moose Project
Between 1932 and 1933, an estimated 4 million Ukrainians died from starvation in what is now widely accepted as a premeditated famine perpetrated by the Soviet Union.
Nina Grigg survived it.
But the famine -- the hunger -- was just the beginning of a journey that would take her to a slave labor camp in Nazi Germany before finding family and freedom in America.
"I don't know why God let me live through so much," she says. "But he did. This life, it is a blessing."
This story won First Prize for writing for the Gannett Corporation in 2014. Readthe entire
Jacob Atem thought it was over when they asked for his identification.
It was a few days before Christmas, and he and thousands of other displaced civilians had been hiding inside a United Nations compound in South Sudan to escape growing violence between government and rebel forces.
Food and water were scarce. Outside the U.N. walls were 15,000 armed rebels and a worsening conflict that threatened to plunge the world's youngest nation back into civil war.
But now, on Dec. 21, there was a plane, a way out.
Hope bloomed as Atem waited in line to board. The flight would take him to South Sudan's capital, Juba. From there, he would fly to Rwanda where his pregnant wife, Linda, waited for him.
But then a rebel carrying an automatic weapon began asking for passports. This wasn't good. Atem is Dinka, one of two major ethnic groups in South Sudan. The rebels outside the U.N. compound were from the rival tribe, Nuer.
Atem handed over his passport reluctantly, fearing what would happen if he refused.
"Are you Dinka?" the rebel asked.
Atem said yes. There was no point in lying.
"You're not leaving," he recalled the man saying. "If you get on the plane, we will shoot it down."
More than two decades after escaping civil war in Sudan, after wandering for years in the African bush with thousands of other young men later dubbed "Lost Boys," Atem feared his struggle had accomplished nothing.
He had survived the murder of his parents, the kidnapping of his sister, a lion attack, a river swimming with crocodiles, unrelenting heat and hunger.
He had eventually found refuge in America, in the warm embrace of a family in Webberville. He learned to speak English, earned his bachelor's degree at Spring Arbor University, his master's degree at Michigan State. He'd found love and life.
Then he'd returned to his home country during a brief moment of peace to help his people by opening a health clinic.
But as he looked at the end of the gun now pointed in his direction, he suddenly wondered if he had ever really escaped.
The unending violence in Sudan was going to kill him after all.
This story won a 2014 Amy Foundation Award for reporting on faith. You can read the entire story in USA TODAY here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lansing State Journal, Reuters
The Netherlands, 2007 -- Sometimes, it seemed to Piet van Schuppen that it must be where all of history began, the little five-mile circle of Holland where he lived.
He spent his free time with a metal detector, exploring the meadows and fields around his home near Andelst, a village in the Dutch province of Gelderland.
His collection of treasures stretched back as far as civilization, from tiny relics of the Bronze Age to ancient Roman coins and hand grenades from World War I.
Sometimes he gave the treasures to the people who own the land where he found them, but often he felt a duty to do more than that. Such was the case when his metal detector began to ping alongside a country road.
Twenty centimeters beneath the surface, long buried and forgotten, van Schuppen found a single military dog tag. It was in pieces, rusted and broken from the weight of its own history.
It was not the first set of dog tags he'd found and probably would not be the last, but it was poignant all the same.
The Dutch people celebrate the day the Americans came to help end Adolf Hitler's grip on Holland during World War II, he said. His parents had been part of the Dutch resistance that fought against the German occupiers.
"My father, he didn't want to work for the Germans," recalled van Schuppen, 66. "They went underground. My mother had to deliver messages to the groups. She had a bicycle with no rubber on the wheels."
This was not just a piece of metal, he said.
He gathered the delicate artifacts and carried them home. He brushed them off and reassembled them, carefully piecing them together on a bed of red felt.
A name became clear.
Phillip A. Nichols
ST JOHNS, MI — Eighteen months ago, police in St. Johns arrived at a small upstairs apartment to check on a fourth-grader who hadn’t been seen in weeks. They made an unthinkable discovery.
Her decaying corpse was found in bed beneath a layer of blankets, her body naked but for a pair of socks and a urine-soaked T-shirt between her legs. The quest to figure out what happened to her would haunt school officials, baffle investigators and leave a painful scar on a small community that hugs its kids — even the ones it barely knows.
This is Vienna Parker’s story.
Part One: 'I know she's dead.'
Part Two: 'She said she'd be OK'
Part Three: 'I never worried that she was in danger'
Part Four: 'I have to live with the guilt ...'
MACKINAC ISLAND – In a fenced paddock on a small hill, more than a dozen horses wait and stare as if they know their turn is coming.
It's raining and cold, the island caught in a bitter front unusual even for October.
The horses paw the muddy ground and charge each other in play and anticipation. The weather makes them feisty. Or maybe it's the promise of a long lazy winter with nothing to do.
Dale Peterson, manager of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, checks his watch and nods at his crew.
He urges visitors to stand back. These horses might be friendly and used to people, but they're also huge — muscular and powerful from six-day-a-week jobs hauling tourists and all their stuff up and down hills.
Peterson connects the first team and leads them from the pasture to wait for the rest.
Employees wander out from the office and the barn to watch.
A passing carriage of tourists stops to honor the moment as a year-rounder slows her bike with a smile.
Some salute. Some clap. Some even start to cry.
Because it always feels like something special has ended when the horses of Mackinac leave for the winter.
Read the full story here.
There are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States.
Tashmica Torok is one of them.
This is a story of bravery.
Read it here.
DANSVILLE - It was October 1984. Inside the Wooden Nickel Saloon, 50 or more people jostled for a place to sit for the best view of the televisions.
A little dot of a town on the southern edge of Ingham County, it was unheard of for Hollywood to pay attention to anything that happened here. But on this night, the town's dirty laundry was about to be aired on NBC, and no one wanted to miss it.
Little did they know that a movie about a crime in their small town would make waves far beyond the cornfields cradling its borders, but advocates say that's exactly what happened.
"The Burning Bed" told the story of Francine Hughes, a local woman who, seven years earlier, had been acquitted of murder after she poured gasoline around her sleeping ex-husband, James "Mickey" Hughes, and set him on fire.
Her trial was one of the most sensational in Ingham County's history. It revealed more than 12 years of abuse in the Hughes household, a case of such brutal spousal violence that it quickly became the rallying point for a growing movement to change domestic violence laws.
Read the story here.
In one photo, the one she wears as a locket around her neck, her son is a grinning, chubby-cheeked toddler.
In the others, the ones she discovered in a lockbox after he died, he is a shrinking skeleton.
Growing more and more gaunt with every self-portrait until the sharp points of ribs and collarbone poke visibly, painfully against skin. Until the place where there was once a six-pack of abs becomes nothing but a hollowed-out space. Until his full head of hair grows thin and patchy with baldness. Until the boy who once stood with athletic pride is hunched, barely possessing the strength to hold the camera.
Okemos' Susan Barry cries as she reveals each photo.
"Why would he do this?" she asks. "Why would he take these pictures of himself and then hide them?"
Then she answers her own question.
"He wanted me to find these. He was telling me, 'Help people, Mom. Because no one could help me.' "
Now, two years after his death, his mother is on a mission to share her son's words and tragic journey to help the victims of eating disorders we rarely hear about - boys.
Read the full story here.