Stop it with ‘Virginia wins ugly.’ The truth is, Virginia can win it all.

Stop it with ‘Virginia wins ugly.’ The truth is, Virginia can win it all.

Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers committed just five turnovers in their victory at Duke. (Rob Kinnan/USA Today Sports)

DURHAM, N.C. — What we know now, for sure, is what we might have suspected before tipoff Saturday afternoon on Cameron Indoor Stadium: There are no limits to what the men’s basketball team from Virginia can accomplish this spring. That guarantees nothing, of course, and there could be a night when a shot doesn’t fall or a call goes the wrong way. But man, watch these Cavaliers play defense as if their dinner and dessert depended on it, and it doesn’t take much to dream a bit.

The last time Virginia won at Cameron Indoor Stadium, precisely zero of the current Cavs had been born, and Coach Tony Bennett was finishing out the last of his three on-again, off-again seasons as an NBA guard. That was 1995.

And now we have this: a Virginia team that came to Duke with a better record (19-1 vs. 18-2) and a higher ranking (second vs. fourth), and still was an underdog.

Presenting Cavaliers 65, Blue Devils 63.

“As everybody will tell you,” Bennett said, “it’s one conference game in the middle part of the year.”

No, Tony. Not everyone will tell you that. I won’t tell you that. What I’ll tell you: If your team can win at this place against this team, it can win on any court against anybody — in any month, be it March or (yikes) April. Your team can be a joy to watch, too, and this was not a win at Georgia Tech or Wake Forest. This Duke team has lottery-style talent falling out of its shorts.

“My guys played their hearts out,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

And Virginia still won.

So we can, and should, chalk this up to Bennett’s coaching, because in preparation, in execution, in in-game adjustments, he is clearly a star. He has a habit, whether it’s on a made bucket or a missed shot, to point to the defensive end of the court, to make sure his team gets back.

But by this point, in his ninth season in Charlottesville, that is the Cavaliers’ way of life. It is their oxygen. In Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils boast at least four players who could score 20 in a given game. Duke’s average output before facing Virginia: 91.7 points per game, best in the country.

And yet on Saturday at halftime, Duke had managed just 22 points, had committed eight turnovers, had clanked all seven of its three-pointers.

“We weren’t perfect defensively,” Bennett said, and he’s right. But that also gives you a sense of what the standards are.

About talent: Duke, by this point in the program’s arc, is the same as Kentucky. Players come for a couple semesters, then they depart for the NBA regardless of whether they hung a banner or laid an egg. Allen is a senior, but other than that, only three Duke minutes Saturday went to non-freshmen. Another similar (better?) class will roll into Cameron next year. So the expectations remain, even if the faces are rarely the same.

The Cavaliers, they hear that stuff, and they don’t disagree with the assessment of, say, Bagley’s ability. How could you, when he went for 30 points and 14 rebounds, when he leads the ACC in both scoring and rebounding?

Still.

“We’re talented, too,” Virginia senior Devon Hall said. “Just like they are.”

There’s an edge to that answer, for sure. Because the Cavaliers are so disciplined — they turned the ball over just five times Saturday — and because they are defined by defense, it’s easy to dismiss them as a product of Bennett’s system. That has to be true, to a certain extent.

But stop telling them they win because of how they’re coached, not who they are. Stop telling them they win — don’t say it — ugly.

“It definitely gets, not under our skin, but it’s annoying,” said sophomore guard Kyle Guy, who led four Cavs in double figures with 17 points, who hit a massive three-pointer with just more than three minutes to go, and who iced the game by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with six seconds left. “An ugly win is a win.”

This wasn’t one of those. In the first half, Virginia’s offense picked apart Duke’s man-to-man defense — clearly the Blue Devils’ weakness — to the point which Krzyzewski had to switch to zone for almost the entirety of the second half. For years, the Blue Devils’ signature move, when a run is rolling and Cameron is rocking, is to slap the floor — annoying an entire nation, except those in blue. The signal: Everybody guard your guy. Here comes a stop.

Saturday, after Duke had eliminated all of what had been a 13-point Virginia lead, Allen went back on defense, slapped the floor — and dropped into that zone.

“It was a good move on their part,” Bennett said of the zone.

Sure. It’s what a team full of freshmen has to do to survive. But it’s worth pointing out that at no point did Virginia have to morph its defense. Eight more Duke turnovers followed in the second half. The Cavs played their man.

“I was a freshman once,” Guy said, “and you’re not really prepared for this pressure that we put on the ball.”

So halfway through the ACC season, Virginia is 9-0 in conference with a three-game lead. But this isn’t uncharted territory. The Cavaliers were a No. 1 seed in 2014, a No. 2 in 2015, a No. 1 in 2016. Their critics will say that despite that success, Bennett’s teams have only once advanced past the Sweet 16 and have not reached the Final Four. Not yet.

“We can be as good as we want to be,” Guy said.

Bennett would second that notion. But he is, too, of the belief that such success is fragile, that a win at Duke is followed by a home game against Louisville, and couldn’t the Cavs lose that one?

But he also, clearly, likes his team. Before the season, Duke was ranked first nationally, Virginia not ranked at all. But why place limits or labels on what the Cavs can do if they keep developing like they have these last three months?

“Can we just keep that idea of our unity, our synergy, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts?” Bennett said. “I think that’s so big. Because we have really good parts. And there’s talent, and I don’t think our players sometimes get enough credit for their talent. But there is a synergy or a chemistry that when they’re right, it’s even better.”

Saturday afternoon, when Bagley scored a meaningless bucket just as the horn sounded, a Cameron crowd that had been jacked up only 10 minutes earlier melted into murmurs.

And then a funny thing happened: The Cavaliers, they didn’t stream onto the floor. They didn’t tackle each other. They didn’t have to be calmed down and regain their decorum.

No, there were some hugs and high-fives. But then the Virginia men’s basketball team fell into the handshake line and congratulated Duke on a fiery, fun game.

This is a team that knew what happened Saturday was possible. This is a team that knows the next two months are filled with even greater possibilities. Let the mind wander. There are no limits.

For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.

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Virginia keeps rolling with a 61-36 win over shorthanded Clemson

Virginia keeps rolling with a 61-36 win over shorthanded Clemson

Virginia center Jack Salt battles for a loose ball against Clemson. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The second-ranked Virginia men’s basketball team overcame a ragged first half to rally for a 61-36 win against No. 18 Clemson on Tuesday night, leaving the Cavaliers as the lone unbeaten school in ACC play.

In permitting its fewest points this season, Virginia claimed an 11th consecutive victory to match the program’s longest winning streak since 2015-16. The Cavaliers beat a ranked opponent for the second time and upended the Tigers for the seventh straight time.

Redshirt senior guard Devon Hall led Virginia (19-1, 8-0 ) with 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting . Backcourt mate Kyle Guy added 12 points in yet another lopsided result for a team that was unranked at the start of the season and next faces No. 4 Duke in Durham, N.C., on Saturday.

“I thought in the second half that was some of the best defense we played,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “They had a couple of careless turnovers on their part, and we turned them into points. It was physical. They kind of punched us in the face a little bit in the first half, and we were a little sped up and stretched out. We then righted the ship and played some of our better defense.”

The game turned handily in Virginia’s favor thanks to an 18-2 barrage in the second half. Starting guard Ty Jerome made two three-pointers in the decisive surge, with his second growing the lead to 48-29 with 8:16 left.

Virginia removed virtually any suspense despite being without Isaiah Wilkins. The senior starting forward left the court for the locker room with roughly 15 minutes to play to have his back examined before emerging to watch the rest of the game from the bench.

Bennett indicated Wilkins could have re-entered had the outcome been in jeopardy.

Wilkins’s teammates made his idle time enjoyable, bumping the lead to 52-29 with 6:48 to play on reserve guard Nigel Johnson’s acrobatic layup between two defenders. On the previous possession, Hall got deep into the lane for a floater over multiple defenders.

The Cavaliers collected 14 steals, their most this season, forced Clemson (16-4, 5-3) into 19 turnovers and held a 25-8 advantage in points off turnovers. The Tigers shot 32 percent, including 3 for 20 (15 percent) from three-point range and went nearly eight minutes in the second half without scoring.

Clemson’s point total was its lowest this season by 24 and the lowest in series history.

“He said it was a real blue-collar game. I’m not going to use the full phrase,” Jerome said, referring to Bennett’s halftime message. “It was a blue-collar game, so we need to roll up our sleeves and just fight it out, be physical, be who we are. A lot of times at this point in the year teams start slipping a little bit in the things they do best, so we wanted to turn the screws back just a little bit.”

In the midst of one of its best seasons this decade, Clemson entered seeking its first road win against a ranked opponent. The Tigers already had secured a victory over then-No. 18 Miami, 72-63, at Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 13 on their way to climbing into a tie for third place in the ACC with Duke.

The most recent triumph for Clemson — which achieved its highest ranking since Jan. 18, 2010, when it was No. 17 — came at a significant cost. During the second half of Saturday’s 67-58 win against Notre Dame, Tigers starting forward Donte Grantham tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a non-contact play.

Grantham is out for the rest of the season, forcing Clemson to play without its second-leading scorer and rebounder.

Freshman Aamir Simms started in place of Grantham against Virginia. The four-star recruit had not played more than eight minutes in a conference game this season until coming in for Grantham after the injury and finishing with five points in 14 minutes against the Fighting Irish.

Simms was not much of a factor early in the first half Tuesday as Virginia scored the first seven points of the game. Clemson responded with 11 in a row, and the Cavaliers regrouped themselves with another seven consecutive points capped by Hall’s three-pointer for a 14-11 lead.

The half of runs continued when Clemson scored the next nine, compelling Bennett to call a timeout.

The stoppage allowed Virginia to settle in again, even without Jerome, who missed much of the half with two fouls. The Cavaliers closed with an 11-0 push for a 27-23 halftime lead behind four points each during that time from Hall and redshirt junior center Jack Salt.

“We lost some momentum there at the end of the first half offensively, and I think we really tried to do too many one-on-one things in the second half, just got away from being who we were,” Tigers Coach Brad Brownell said. The Cavaliers “finally made a couple shots, and when they have a lead like that, you’re really in trouble.”

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No. 2 Virginia shuts down Georgia Tech, wins 9th straight

No. 2 Virginia shuts down Georgia Tech, wins 9th straight

ATLANTA (AP) De’Andre Hunter scored 17 points and No. 2 Virginia won its ninth straight game, 64-48 over Georgia Tech on Thursday night.

It was another defensive masterpiece by the Cavaliers (17-1, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who limited Georgia Tech to 40.5 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.

Virginia snapped a four-game winning streak for the Yellow Jackets (10-8, 3-2).

After making the first basket of the game, Georgia Tech quickly got an idea of what kind of night it would be. The Jackets missed their next eight shots and turned it over four times before Josh Okogie finally broke a nearly eight-minute scoreless drought with a dunk.

Virginia led 28-19 at halftime, and Georgia Tech never got any closer the rest of the way.

Tadric Jackson led Georgia Tech with 14 points. No one else was in double figures.

SAINT MARY’S 74, NO. 13 GONZAGA 71

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Jock Landale had 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Saint Mary’s beat Gonzaga to take sole possession of first place in the West Coast Conference.

Rui Hachimura came off the bench to score 23 points for Gonzaga (16-4, 6-1 WCC), which suffered a rare home loss.

Calvin Hermanson added 16 points for the Gaels (18-2, 7-0), who won their 13th straight.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have won the past nine WCC tournament titles, with Gonzaga claiming seven. The Gaels were the preseason pick by league coaches to win the conference this season.

Landale’s layup put Saint Mary’s up 72-70 with 1:06 left.

Zach Norvell Jr. hit a free throw for Gonzaga with 41 seconds left to cut Saint Mary’s lead to one, and then Landale broke free and scored on a layup with 15 seconds left that turned out to be the game’s final points.

NEBRASKA 72, NO. 23 MICHIGAN 52

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – James Palmer Jr. scored 19 points, Isaiah Roby had a career-high 14 and Nebraska got its first win over Michigan since joining the Big Ten.

Nebraska (14-7, 5-3), which needed Palmer’s 3-pointer to beat last-place Illinois 64-63 on Monday, led 32-21 at the half and never let Michigan get closer than 10 points in the last 17 minutes.

Michigan (16-5, 5-3), which had won nine of its last 10, suffered its most lopsided loss of the season and had a season-low for points. Charles Matthews had 15 points for the Wolverines, who shot 37.5 percent from the floor and a season-low 22.2 percent (4 of 18) on 3-pointers.

The Wolverines had come in 8-0 against the Huskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011-12, and they had won 10 straight in the series.

St. Mary’s knocks off No. 13 Gonzaga 74-71 for 13th consecutive win

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Status quo or changing of guard? KU-West Virginia could offer early hint

Entering this week’s games, there have been 260 weekly polls since the 2004-05 basketball season. Kansas wasn’t the highest-ranked Big 12 team in 97 of them.

So, for the previous 13 1/2 years, people who cast an Associated Press top 25 ballot from the preseason poll in November until the final ranking after the conference tournaments believed there was a better team in the league than the Jayhawks.

Who’s to argue the perception? Kansas has lost games, played poorly, and in some years not owned the best NCAA Tournament seed among Big 12 programs.

But the one thing the Jayhawks haven’t done since that season is lose a Big 12 championship, 13 and counting.

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The quest for No. 14 reaches a high-profile test on Monday, when Kansas visits West Virginia. These are the teams picked to finish first and second — KU coach Bill Self, who couldn’t vote for his own team, picked the Mountaineers in his preseason poll — and teams that finished first and second in league play over the past two seasons.

Based on early returns, the Mountaineers have taken a step forward, climbing as high as second in the polls and amassing a 15-game winning streak before Saturday’s loss at Texas Tech.

With a combination of experience and talent, Bob Huggins appears to have his best Big 12 team. We’d be talking about guard Jevon Carter as the early favorite for Big 12 player of the year if Oklahoma freshman Trae Young wasn’t the early leader for national player of the year, although the first round went to Carter, who held Young to an 8-for-22 shooting game in the Mountaineers’ victory over the Sooners on Jan. 6.

This is a tough and smart West Virginia team that pressures its opponents like no other. Because of the short turnaround time, Kansas spent time in the middle of last week working on inbounds plays against Mountaineers pressure.

And even though Kansas, which starts four guards, would seem well-equipped to handle the relentless West Virginia defensive attack, Self warned otherwise. After all, Kansas visited Morgantown the last four years with the player who would become the nation’s best by his senior season, point guard Frank Mason.

“Frank handles it better than the (current) four guys combined almost and we’ve had problems,” Self said.

The Jayhawks have lost four straight in Morgantown, the previous two by double digits. Andrew Wiggins scored a freshman school-record 41 and Kansas lost there. No Big 12 team has a longer winning streak on its home floor against Self’s Jayhawks than West Virginia.

If West Virginia is as good as or better than projected, how about the Jayhawks?

They’re coming off a week in which they sweated out home victories over two teams — Iowa State and Kansas State — that aren’t ranked. A week earlier, Texas Tech became the first team to never trail a Self-coached team at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas’ lack of interior depth has been its biggest issue. The debut of Silvio De Sousa on Saturday was a welcome moment, but it could be weeks before he contributes productive minutes. No telling when or if freshman Billy Preston will appear in a game as the examination of his car ownership continues.

Meanwhile, West Virginia junior forward Esa Ahmad returned from a season-long suspension in Saturday’s loss at Texas Tech and scored 18 points.

The Mountaineers would have taken the league lead and perhaps command of the Big 12 with a triumph in Lubbock. As it is, West Virginia stands tied atop the standings with Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma at 4-1.

Weeks remain in a league that’s shaping up as the most competitive in college hoops. Monday marks the 26th game in conference play this season and the ninth between two ranked teams. The winner will make a statement about the status quo or a changing of the guard.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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Judge rejects request for new vote in Virginia House race

Judge rejects request for new vote in Virginia House race

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A Republican won a Virginia state House of Delegates race so close that its outcome was determined by pulling his name out of a ceramic bowl Thursday. (Jan. 4)

Media: Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A federal judge on Friday rejected a request for a new election that might have forced a 50-50 split in Virginia’s House of Delegates, calling ballot mistakes cited by Democrats a "garden-variety" problem that doesn’t merit federal intervention.

Democrats had hoped a new election in the 28th District would provide an opportunity for an even split in the chamber, which is now on track to be controlled by a 51-49 GOP majority.

Democrats cited state election officials who said 147 voters received the wrong ballot before Republican Bob Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by only 73 votes.

It is the second defeat in as many days for Democrats. On Thursday, election officials broke a tie vote in another House district by drawing names from a bowl, and picking the Republican.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said Friday that legal precedent bars federal courts from intervening in state elections on the basis of "garden-variety irregularities." He ruled that the misassignment of a few hundred voters in a district where more than 20,000 people cast ballots does not rise to a level requiring federal intervention.

Ellis also said the errors appear to be innocent, with "no claim of a great claim of a conspiracy to dilute these votes or do anything nefarious."

Friday’s ruling at U.S. District Court in Alexandria does not end the matter entirely. Ellis did not dismiss the case outright. Instead, he rejected a request for a preliminary injunction that would have ordered a new election.

He could still theoretically order a special election after hearing additional evidence, though he said Friday that "it’s going to take much more than I’ve seen" so far.

The plaintiffs — voters backed by a law firm aligned with Democrats — also could appeal Ellis’ ruling. Their lawyer, Bruce Spiva, said he would review appeal options with his clients.

It is the second time Ellis has rejected a request to intervene in the race. Last month he rejected a request to issue a temporary restraining order that would have barred state elections officials from certifying Thomas as the winner. In both rulings, Ellis said he was leery of interjecting federal courts into a state elections process.

Coming into the November elections, Republicans held a massive 66-34 majority in the House. But a Democratic wave, fueled by antipathy to President Donald Trump, pushed Democrat Ralph Northam to a larger-than-expected victory in the gubernatorial race and flipped 15 House seats to from Republicans to Democrats.

So, far, though, Democrats have not been successful in flipping a 16th seat that would create a 50-50 split in the chamber and force a power-sharing agreement. On Thursday, Democrat Shelly Simonds lost a drawing in a tied race in a Newport news District, giving Republican David Yancey a victory. Simonds still has the option of seeking a second recount in that race, though.

The 28th District is based primarily in Stafford County but also includes a few precincts in the city of Fredericksburg. The Fredericksburg precincts tilted heavily toward Cole.

The district is currently represented by House Speaker Bill Howell, a Republican who opted not to seek re-election.

A recount in the 28th District shrunk Thomas’ lead from 82 votes to 73. The bigger issue, though, was the discovery that numerous voters were assigned to the wrong district and thus given the wrong ballots.

Edgardo Cortes, head of the state Department of Elections, said in an affidavit that 86 voters who showed up on Election Day should have been given ballots for the Cole-Thomas race but instead received ballots for other House districts. Another 61 voters who should have been assigned to other districts cast ballots in the Cole-Thomas race, and there is no way to segregate those ballots from all the others that were cast.

Local elections officials who opposed ordering a special election said they have acted in good faith and that a new election is not warranted. "An election has got to have a beginning and an end," said their attorney, Michael Matheson.

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Joan Renee Cook vanished after going on a late-night walk in Salem, Virginia

Joan Renee Cook vanished after going on a late-night walk in Salem, Virginia

Mike and Joan Renee Cook had a tumultuous marriage.

“They were never happy,” Joan’s sister Carol Huffman Byer told Dateline. “It was more of a comfort thing for both of them.”

The couple lived in Salem, Virginia with their young daughter, Ashlyn. But in 2007, Mike moved to Des Moines, Iowa to find a job, with plans for Joan and Ashlyn to join him once he was settled.

Meanwhile, though, Joan was also settling down, herself. She’d gotten a new job – and a new man. According to Carol, just three months after moving to Des Moines, Mike found out about Joan’s new relationship and moved back to Salem.

Joan Renee Cook

Carol told Dateline that’s when Mike and Joan’s rocky relationship took a turn for the worse. She says Mike started stalking Joan and her new boyfriend.

“Mike had done a couple of things,” Carol said. “He’d sit outside their work and wait to watch them come out. She says one weekend she saw him putting nails behind her tires.

“I confronted him on it and he said, ‘It was just a stupid thing I did’,” Carol said. She added, however, that, to her knowledge, her brother-in-law never made specific threats or showed violence.

By the end of 2009, Carol says Joan was living with her new boyfriend.

“Which wasn’t right – she knew our feelings on it,” Carol told Dateline. “She eventually wanted to get a divorce from Mike, but she couldn’t afford it at the time.”

Joan’s new boyfriend had a daughter, and had visitation with her every other weekend; on those weekends, Joan would stay with Mike and Ashlyn at the family home where they still lived.

On January 24, 2010, during one of those weekend stays, everything changed. Carol says it was cold that night and raining — certainly not ideal weather for a late-night walk around the neighborhood to see a friend.

Carol says Mike told her that the evening Joan left had been a completely normal night.

The Roanoke County Police Department did not respond to Dateline’s request for comment by publication time, but they told NBC affiliate WSLS that Joan left her home around 11 o’clock that night. Authorities say their last trace of the 44-year-old was a text from her phone to the friend she was allegedly going to see the night she vanished. The text was sent around 5:00 a.m. on January 25 – just six hours after she was last seen – and simply read: “I love you.”

Carol found out about Joan’s disappearance when Joan’s work called a few days later and said her sister hadn’t shown up for a couple of shifts.

“I was not able to get in touch with her,” Carol told Dateline. “I talked to her husband and he said the last time he’d seen her was on the night of the 24th when she had set off on foot for her friend’s house.”

Carol said Mike told her he hadn’t reported Joan missing yet, because he figured she was still around somewhere – she had been living with her new boyfriend, so Mike wouldn’t see her every day anyway.

The Roanoke County Police told WSLS Mike then reported Joan missing, and the investigation began.

“The police department used cadaver dogs in the front and back yard [of their home],” Carol told Dateline. “There was no blood evidence anywhere. Just – poof! She was gone.”

Carol told Dateline the police ruled out Joan’s new boyfriend as a suspect, because he was out of town with his daughter that weekend.

Carol said Mike has told police he and his wife weren’t arguing the night Joan vanished, and in Ashlyn’s interview with authorities, the then-7-year-old told police she didn’t hear anything loud or out of the ordinary in the house that night. Carol, though, believes Mike knows more than he’s saying.

“I truly think something happened between the two of them,” Carol told Dateline. And as the last person to have seen Joan, “he is the only one who knows anything.”

Police also believe someone close to the family knows what happened. While nobody has been charged in connection with Joan’s disappearance, now retired Roanoke County Police Department Commander David McMillan told WSLS in 2015 that he was optimistic about her case being solved.

"With witnesses time usually helps us, because they have time to think about it — to learn more and then make decisions to come forward," Commander McMillan told WSLS.

Carol said Joan’s daughter Ashlyn lived with her for a few months following Joan’s disappearance, but she and her dad Mike have since moved back to Des Moines, Iowa.

“[My family has] a slight relationship with Mike, only because of Ashlyn,” Carol told Dateline. “We can talk on the phone.”

Joan’s disappearance has caused pain for many of her family members.

“The ordeal caused my mother to have a mental breakdown. It’s been rough on her,” Carol said. “And our dad passed away about a year and a few months ago, so we’d like to have her home — to put her beside him.”

“Our biggest desire is justice,” Carol added.

Joan Renee Cook is described as being 5’6” tall and weighing 120 lbs. Both of her ears are pierced and she has two known tattoos: a frog on her lower middle back and a string of flowers around one ankle. For more on Joan’s case, visit the Find Joan Renee Cook Facebook page. If you have any information on Joan Renee Cook’s disappearance, please call the Roanoke County Police Department at 540-562-3265.

Meghan Markle celebrates her first Christmas with the royal family

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