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5 days ago · by · 0 comments

Seventy Arrested At Georgia House Party For Less Than Oz of Marijuana

 

 

Cartersville, Georgia police are facing criticism after arresting 70 people at a house party in an Atlanta suburb after no one would claim ownership of a stash of marijuana that totaled less than an ounce. Partygoers say police entered the home without permission or a warrant, and arrested everyone inside when they couldn’t determine the owner of the less than an ounce of marijuana they seized.

Cartersville police responded to a “shots fired” call around 2:18 AM on New Year’s Eve at the Morgan Square apartments on Cain Drive. Someone from the apartment complex called 911 to report the noise from the party, drawing police to the site of the party, just blocks from the apartment complex. Partygoers allege that the sounds were fireworks, not gunfire and that while police were checking things out-they smelled marijuana in the front yard. They say police didn’t have a warrant at that point but they said two officers entered the home anyway.

Deja Heard had rented the home where the party was held through Air BnB to celebrate her 21st birthday by having a “Christmas Lingerie Party”. Flyers for the party said “Party Alert. East Atlanta Santa’s 21st Sexy Christmas Lingerie Pajama Party” and advertised a cover for drinks, Jell-O shots, “drunk/strip Twister” and beer pong.

Those arrested ranged in age from 15 to 31 years old and some remained in jail 2 days after the arrest- causing them to lose their jobs. Jail records showed that 63 of the 70 arrestees had all been processed with a single count of marijuana possession under one ounce. Some parents of those arrested have cried foul at the arrests, claiming that if the incident happened in Atlanta, the attendees would’ve walked away with a $75 ticket.

Several of those arrested, now called “the Cartersville 70” on social media, have given interviews to local media outlets saying they fear they will have a criminal record. Austen Davis told a reporter “I was told we were just being detained; one of the officers said we’re putting you in a van to keep y’all warm.” Others say they were verbally abused during their arrest. Along with the attorneys representing the young people arrested, the NAACP is now involved.

The Georgia chapter of the NAACP said most of the drug charges should be dropped because officers didn’t have the right to search the home. “We believe, based on what we know from the police report and independent witnesses and video, that there was a violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights,” The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of property. The NAACP contends that the house and those attending the party were unlawfully searched and that citations could have been issued, rather than arresting the party-goers.

In a news release, police said they obtained a warrant and found two stolen guns, marijuana individually packaged and several smoking devices throughout most of the first-floor rooms. Individually packaged suspected cocaine and cocaine-related paraphernalia were also located upon initial contact with multiple subjects, the release said. According to Cartersville Police Lt. M.E. Betttikofer, the police investigation is presently ongoing.

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6 days ago · by · 0 comments

Denver Gunmen Kills One, Wounds Six

 

 

 

 

A gunman in Denver, Colorado used a rifle to fire at least 100 rounds in an “ambush-style attack” at police who were responding to a disturbance. The suspect, Iraq veteran Matthew Riehl, shot and killed Sheriff Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, and injured four other officers and two civilians.  The gunman used a rifle and fired at least 100 rounds. The gunman, a 37-year-old former soldier and lawyer, was killed in a shootout with SWAT officers.

Douglas County Deputies were called to the apartment in the Copper Canyon Apartment Complex at 3 a.m. on a report of a verbal disturbance between two males.  Riehl’s roommate told the four officers that arrived that the suspect was acting bizarre and might be having a mental breakdown.   Deputies cleared the scene at 3:40 a.m. and left because no crime had been committed.  Officers were called back to the scene at 5:14 a.m. on a domestic disturbance call and all four officers were there by 5:35 a.m.  Riehl’s roommate returned to the apartment, gave deputies a key and permission to enter the apartment but left before the gunman opened fire at 5:56 a.m.

After the officers entered the suspect’s apartment, they found that he had barricaded himself inside a bedroom.  The officers talked with Riehl through the door and determined it to be a mental health call.  In the officers body cam footage Parrish is heard saying “It’s deputy Parrish, DougCo Sheriff’s Office.” “Hey, Matt, it’s Zack. Yes we can help you. I’m with the sheriff’s office. Right here man. We can talk out here. I just want to make sure you’re OK.”  Deputies talked to Riehl and tried to help him until 5:35 a.m.  Parrish is then heard  “He’s going through a manic episode,” “We’re going to take him for an M1.”  M1 stands for a mental health hold.

Between 5:35 a.m. and 5:57 a.m. deputies were developing a plan to get medical and mental health aid to Riehl, until he opened fire.  All the officers were wearing bulletproof vests but were struck in unprotected parts of their bodies.  During a news conference, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said all four officers went down within seconds of each other.  Deputy Zackari Parrish was shot several times and the wounded officers tried to pull him out but were unable to because of their injuries.  The wounded deputies then crawled away while other officers responded to the shots fired call.

SWAT team members entered the apartment at 7:30 a.m. and exchanged gunfire with the gunman.  The gunman was killed and another officer was wounded by the suspect.   Riehl’s roommate was not injured and has been cooperating with investigators.  The injured deputies are Michael Doyle, 28; Taylor Davis, 30; and Jeff Pelle, 32. Castle Rock police officer Thomas O’Donnell, 41, was also wounded. All were listed in stable condition at area hospitals.  Two people in adjacent apartments were also wounded, but their injuries were not life-threatening.

During the press conference, Sheriff Spurlock said Riehl was an Iraq war veteran that at one time worked as a lawyer in Rawlins, Wyoming.  He had no criminal history but was well known to law enforcement.   Spurlock said Riehl has posted a number of anti-law-enforcement videos on YouTube and other social media.   Deputy Parrish, who had been a deputy for about 7 months, was rushed to the Littleton hospital but he had suffered mortal wounds.  A motorcade of officers from various police agencies accompanied the fallen officer from the hospital to the coroner’s office.  Parrish is survived by a wife and two young daughters.

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3 weeks ago · by · 600 comments

Investigative Reports Prompt Puerto Rico To Review All Deaths After Maria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing mounting evidence that Puerto Rico has vastly undercounted the number of people who died because of Hurricane Maria, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló ordered that every death on the island since the devastating storm be reviewed.  Officials will look review all deaths attributed to natural causes after the hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 20 and knocked out power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans and to their hospitals and clinics.

Roselló made the order to the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, which is the island’s vital statistics bureau, and to the Department of Public Safety following the investigative media reports on the death toll and after residents claiming deaths of their loved ones were caused by Maria.  The governor also said he’d create an expert panel to review the island’s death certification process.

The Puerto Rican government has put the official death toll at 64 but several investigations have revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died.   The prolonged blackout hampered critical medical treatment for some of the island’s most vulnerable patients, including many who were bedridden or dependent on dialysis or respirators. But if they died as a result, the storm’s role in their deaths may have gone officially unrecorded.

Several news organizations, including The New York Times, conducted independent analyses and found that the number of deaths traceable to the storm was far higher than the official count.  The Times’s review, based on daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau, found that 1,052 more people than usual had died across the island in the 42 days after Maria struck. The analysis compared daily figures for 2017 with an average of figures for the corresponding days in 2015 and 2016.

The leading causes of death on the island in September were diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Puerto Rican government data show.  There was a sharp 50 percent spike in the number of recorded deaths from sepsis, a complication of severe infection that can be tied to delayed medical care or poor living conditions.    Reports emerged of people being unable to use oxygen and dialysis equipment, unable to refrigerate insulin, evacuated from hospitals that lost emergency power and other problems.

Reviewing the circumstances surrounding each death will require interviewing family members and doctors who signed death certificates to find out if, for example, a heart attack might have been brought on by stress from the hurricane, or might have been fatal because an ambulance could not get through debris-blocked streets in time to help.

The governor’s announcement comes as the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico reported that nearly three months since the storm, 45 people are still listed as missing and efforts by Puerto Rico’s police to locate them have been minimal or almost nonexistent.    Parts of the island are still without power leaving many to celebrate Christmas in the dark.   The power grid is only operating at 70 percent of capacity and officials say power won’t be fully restored until the end of May.

 

 

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3 weeks ago · by · 109 comments

Amtrak Train Derails In Washington State

 

 

 

Officials say three people are confirmed dead and 70 injured in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train that plummeted off an overpass in Washington state.  Part of the train was left dangling over a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont at the height of the Monday morning commute.   The high-speed passenger train was on a trip from Seattle to Portland when it derailed.  Federal investigators say the Amtrak train was traveling at 80 miles per hour when it barreled off the tracks in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. The accident sent some of the train’s cars tumbling onto the highway below.

The train, identified by Amtrak as the high-speed Train 501 from Seattle to Portland, was carrying 77 passengers and seven crew members when it derailed just after 7:30 a.m. local time.   All but one of its cars and engines jumped the tracks and at least one fell to the roadway below.  Multiple vehicles on the roadway below were struck by train cars that left the train tracks.   Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency to aid the response to the crash, which also clogged one of the state’s busiest roadways, used by some 60,000 people every day.

Amtrak Cascades trains began using a faster, more direct route that day, making this its inaugural trip.  Previously, it used to snake along the edge of Puget Sound, which was a slower route but began running on tracks known as the Point Defiance Bypass, which are owned by the Sound Transit agency. The Washington State Department of Transportation says the Federal Railroad Administration funded and reviewed recent upgrades to the tracks. All told, the project’s budget was nearly $181 million.

The change in route was met with criticism from some residents in the area after it was announced. Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson even predicted a deadly accident.   “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens” Anderson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s too early to tell what caused the derailment and that its investigators would spend a week or more scouring the wreckage for clues. Ahead of the crash, the mayor of the city of Lakewood raised safety concerns about the new rail line, predicting earlier this month it could lead to multiple deaths. The train was not utilizing positive train control—a technology mandated by Congress, but rarely operating in Amtrak trains—which could have prevented the crash.

 

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4 weeks ago · by · 2 comments

New York City Bombing Attack

 

 

 

New York City police have identified the suspect in the bombing attack in a Midtown Manhattan subway station that took place during the busy Monday morning commute.  The accused attacker was identified as 27-year-old Brooklyn resident and Bangladeshi immigrant Akayed Ullah.  Ullah was carrying a pipe bomb strapped to his body with Velcro and zip ties whe he detonated it in a tunnel connecting the busy Port Authority and Times Square terminals.   Five people were treated for minor injuries at area hospitals, while the suspect was said to be seriously injured.

Investigators have been pouring over surveillance footage of the area.  Ullah was first spotted on a security camera as he climbed the subway station stairs to the 18th Avenue F. train platform in Brooklyn at 6:25 a.m.  He then switched to the A train at Jay St./MetroTech stop in Brooklyn before exiting the train at the Port Authority Bus Terminal stop in Manhattan.

The blast detonated around 7:20 a.m. in an underground walkway connecting two subway lines beneath the Port Authority Bus Terminal, near Times Square, which accommodates 220,000 passenger trips a day.  Surveillance footage shows commuters walking through a tunnel when a burst of smoke erupts into the hallway, quickly filling it.  Commuters flinch and take cover, and when the smoke clears, an injured man, Ullah, can be seen lying on the ground in the hallway.

Law enforcement officials say Ullah was inspired to set off a bomb in retaliation for U.S. attacks against ISIS in Syria.  He faces five federal terrorism-related charges and three state terrorism-related charges after he allegedly detonated the homemade device made of a battery, wires, metal screws and a Christmas tree lightbulb during the busy morning commute.  According to Department of Homeland Security, Ullah is a Bangladeshi immigrant who has been living in the United States since 2011 on an F43 family immigrant visa.  He is a legal permanent resident living in Brooklyn and has no criminal record in the United States.

According to a federal complaint, Ullah admitted to investigators that he built and detonated the device and said he was inspired to do so by ISIS.  He said that he was prepared to die and told investigators he was motivated in part by pro-ISIS Christmas attack propaganda circulated about a month ago online with an image of Santa Claus over Times Square.  Investigators recovered a passport in his name with a handwritten message: “O America, die in your rage.”  Investigators say Ullah’s ISIS radicalization began in 2014 and he began researching how to build improvised explosive devices about a year ago.  He began collecting the necessary items to make the device two to three weeks ago, and built the bomb in his home a week ago.

According to law enforcement officials, Ullah had two homemade devices with him but they did not elaborate on the second device.  Andrew Cuomo said in an interview that the device was an amateur, “effectively low-tech device” that partially detonated.  The explosive chemical ignited, but the pipe itself did not explode, lessening its impact.  Cuomo added “Fortunately for us, the bomb partially detonated, he did detonate it, but it did not fully have the effect that he was hoping for.”

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1 month ago · by · 826 comments

NBC Fires Matt Lauer After Sexual Misconduct Allegations

 

In the latest of accusations of inappropriate behavior, longtime NBC “Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer has been fired after he was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.  Several women have stepped forward to accuse Matt Lauer of sexual harassment or sexual assault.  NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said, “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”

Various news sources have reported that Lauer once gave a sex toy to a colleague along with a note about how he wanted to use it on her.   Lauer is also accused of exposing himself to a colleague and reprimanding her when she rejected his advances.  The New York Times reported that one former NBC employee was summoned by Lauer to his office in 2001 where he allegedly locked the door and sexually assaulted her.

Lauer, 59, who co-anchored the Today Show for more than 20 years, offered an apology,  “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions.  Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.  Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort.  It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”

It has been reported that there are as many as eight accusers, though they have asked to remain anonymous.  Several accusers have said they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears.  NBC has denied this telling NBC News “current NBC News management was never made aware.”

An NBC spokesperson confirmed Lauer will not receive a payout for the rest of his contract.  Lauer, who had just signed a contract last year that would keep him in the anchor chair through 2018, had a contract worth a reported $20 million.  After firing Lauer, NBC News’ human resources department said they’re now sifting through Lauer’s emails in an effort to bring more justice to any colleagues who may have suffered in silence.  NBC News president Noah Oppenheim promised swift action against anyone who may have known about sexually inappropriate behavior and didn’t report it.

Lauer’s first wife, Nancy Alspaugh, whom he was married to from 1981 to 1989, said she was shocked by the longtime “Today” host’s firing amid sexual misconduct claims, and she said called him one week ago to let him know she had been approached by a reporter working on an exposé about him.  Alspaugh said the accusations against Lauer are shocking and out of character.  “I think, for the people that really know him and really love him and they want to get the good stuff out. I want to get out the fact that he made a contribution to my nonprofit, that he helped me when my husband died.  The selfless, giving part of him, which people tend to forget whenever this kind of a situation comes up. He would give you the shirt off his back if you really needed it. He did that for everybody. From the lowest person on set to, you know, the highest powers. “

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1 month ago · by · 557 comments

North Korea Fires Missile Capable of Hitting Anywhere In US

 

 

North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, its first missile launch in two months.    North Korea media claims the successfully tested missile topped with a “super-large heavy warhead,” is capable of striking the US mainland.  The country’s state media made the announcement hours after leader Kim Jong Un ordered the 3 a.m. launch of the Hwasong-15 missile, which reached the highest altitude ever recorded by a North Korean missile.

North Korea news agencies called its new missile “the most powerful ICBM” and said it “meets the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system development.  After the launch, Kim said North Korea had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.” North Korea has been working on its’ missile “re-entry” technology to one day have a warhead able to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.  This ICBM would be able to hit any city within the U.S. if a warhead is able to survive re-entry.

The missile reached an altitude of 2,800 miles, before landing in the Sea of Japan.  U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it was the furthest missile launch by North Korea to date and demonstrates that North Korea has the ability to hit “everywhere in the world.”  Defense Secretary Mattis added “North Korea is continuing to build missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world as it continues to endanger world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said “With each launch, North Korean officials are advancing their capability and they are making it clear that they can hold the entire U.S. at risk.  They are steadily moving on and we’re not responding in kind.”   He added, “It is incredibly serious partly because Kim Jong Un is very serious about what he says and what he says is that he wants to hold the entire United States at risk with his missiles, with nuclear weapons, and we have seen him actually deliver on what he says he wants to do.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and ambassadors from Japan and South Korea, requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. security council following the launch.  Haley said if war comes as a result of further acts of “aggression” like the latest launch “make no mistake the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed”.  Haley says the Trump administration warned North Korea that its future is in the hands of its leaders and the choice was theirs. With Tuesday’s launch, she said, Kim’s regime made a choice “and with this choice comes a critical choice for the rest of the world”.  She called on all countries to cut all ties to North Korea.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that US President Trump was briefed on the launch while it was still in the air.  President Trump told reporters that the missile launch “is a situation that we will handle,” and added the U.S. will “take care of it.” Trump later said in a tweet that he had spoken with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, about “the provocative actions of North Korea”, and promised: “Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!”

As nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continue to escalate, Hawaii is preparing to test its early warning system aimed at warning residents about a nuclear attack. The test, slated for Friday, will be the first time Hawaii has deployed the warning system since the 1990s, after the Cold War ended.

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2 months ago · by · 189 comments

Keystone Pipeline Oil Leak

 

A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.  Crews shut down the pipeline within minutes of discovering an irregularity and officials are investigating the cause of the leak, which occurred about three miles southeast of the town of Amherst.  The spill has been controlled, the company said, with no further environmental impacts observed and no threat to public safety.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said  “ This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota.  In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday.  “It is a below-ground pipeline, but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass,” Walsh said. “It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination.”  “There were no initial reports of the oil spill affecting waterways, water systems or wildlife” he said.

According to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website, this is the third pipeline spill in the state this year. Another 84 gallons of crude oil leaked from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in Spink County  in April.  That pipeline, which runs through both Dakotas and two other states, drew fierce resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, the tribe’s allies and environmentalists.

The leak comes just days before Nebraska officials announce a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a sister project, can move forward.  The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles, from Hardisty, Alberta, east into Manitoba and then south to Texas, according to TransCanada. The pipeline transports crude oil from Canada.  The sections of pipeline affected stretch from Hardisty to Cushing, Oklahoma, and to Wood River, Illinois.

The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from Hardisty to Steele City, Nebraska, would complete the proposed system by cutting through Montana and South Dakota.  TransCanada said it was working with state and federal agencies.  “The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available,” the company said.  Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the spill shows the new pipeline in Nebraska should not be approved.

In March, the Trump administration officially issued a permit that approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid hefty opposition from environmental groups, who argued the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands, which pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. Tar sands oil is also much thicker and stickier than traditional oil, significantly complicating cleanup efforts. Since it’s thicker, it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials to allow it to be transported in pipelines.

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2 months ago · by · 9 comments

26 Killed In Texas Church Shooting

 

 

A gunman in Texas opened fire Sunday morning church service in the small town of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding at least 20 others. Witnesses say a man dressed in black wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest began firing outside the church before entering the building, shooting dozens of people inside.  The suspected shooter has been identified as a 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas.  Kelley was found dead in his car shortly after the shooting.

Survivors of the attack said they heard what sounded like firecrackers outside the church and realized someone was shooting at the tiny wood-frame building.  Congregants began screaming and dropped to the floor after getting hit.  The gunman then entered the church and shot the people in charge of the camera and audio of the service.  He quickly moved down the center aisle shooting congregants.  The shooting stopped, leaving worshippers to think it was over but the gunman entered the church again yelling “Everybody die!” as he checked each aisle for more victims, including babies who cried out amid the chaos, shooting helpless families at point blank range.

Stephen Willeford, who had run out of his house near the church barefoot, shot at Kelley, hitting him twice and forcing him to flee.  Willeford, ran toward a truck that was stopped at the stop sign outside the church and quickly told the driver, Johnnie Langendorff what had transpired.  The two followed Kelley in the truck for 11 miles at speeds reaching 90 mph before Kelley lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a ditch.  Willeford and Langendorff kept a safe distance while Willeford aimed his rifle at Kelley’s car and Langendorff directed the police to the location of the shooter.  Authorities believe Kelley shot himself in the head shortly after the crash.  Authorities also said Kelley appears to have carried out the massacre because of a domestic dispute he had with a former mother-in-law, who was a member of the First Baptist Church but was not present on Sunday.

Kelley enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010 but was court-martialed for assaulting his then wife, Tessa and his stepson-who suffered a fractured skull during the assault.  Kelley was demoted and underwent a year-long imprisonment where he once escaped from a psychiatric hospital, threatened to kill his superiors in the U.S. Air Force and tried to smuggle firearms onto his base.  His first wife divorced him during his confinement and he received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, a dismissal that usually precludes ex-servicemen from buying firearms.   The Air Force has admitted it failed to report Kelley’s domestic violence court-martial to a federal database, which would have prohibited Kelley from legally buying the rifle that he used in the shooting.

Kelley married his second wife, Danielle Shields in 2014 but they became estranged sometime in 2016. Kelley had sent threatening text messages to Shields mother, Michelle who was a member of the church but was not present during the shooting.  Authorities say nearly half of those shot in the church were children and many were from the same families.  Those killed in the shooting were Michelle Shields mother, Lula Woicinski White, 71; Robert Scott Marshall and his wife, Karen, both 56, Peggy Lynn Warden, 56; Keith Allen Braden, 62; Robert and Shani Corrigan, both 51; Dennis Johnson, 77 and his wife Sara, 68; Haley Krueger, 16, Tara McNulty, 33; Ricardo Rodriguez, 64, and his wife Therese, 66; Annabelle Pomeroy, 14; Joann Ward, 30; Emily Ward, 7; Brooke Ward, 5; Bryan Holcombe, 60; Karla Holcombe, 58; Marc Daniel Holcombe, 36; Noah Holcombe, 17 months; Greg Holcombe, 13; Emily Holcomb, 11; Megan Holcombe, 9; Crystal Holcombe, 36 and her unborn child Carlin.

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3 months ago · by · 127 comments

Red Cross Downsizing in Afghanistan

 

 

After more than three decades of medical work by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan, it’s pulling most of its staff out of Afghanistan after a string of attacks on its employees.  The decision came after seven ICRC employees were killed in a series of attacks this year.  On December 19 2016,  ICRC employee Juan Carlos was abducted as he travelled from Mazar-e Sharif to Kunduz and held hostage for a month.  In February 2017, six Red Cross employees were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in northern Jowzjan province. Two others were abducted and later released.

Last month, Red Cross physiotherapist Lorena Enebral Perez was killed by a patient in Mazar-e Sharif.  Perez helped people who had lost limbs or had other forms of disability, learn to stand, walk or feed themselves again.  She was targeted by one of the patients, a man who had suffered polio as a child and had been coming to the rehabilitation center for 19 years, ever since he was two years old. He shot her with a gun he had concealed in his wheelchair.

The ICRC country head said the “painful decision” meant people in the north would no longer get help they needed.  She said they would not leave Afghanistan but they have to limit the risks faced by its staff as threats continue.  “After internal discussions with our highest level at the headquarters, we have reached the conclusion that we have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence and activities, and in particular in the north of Afghanistan.”

The ICRC’s operation in Afghanistan is the their fourth largest worldwide, with about 1,800 staff offering medical assistance, helping disabled people and visiting inmates in jail as well as enabling them to keep in contact with their families.  In some areas, particularly in the north, the ICRC is the only international group offering such services.  Many other humanitarian organizations have pulled out of Afghanistan in recent years as Taliban and Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks.

Head of delegation, Monica Zanarelli, announced the reduction. “After 30 years of continuous presence in the country, we are reducing our presence and operations.”  She went on to say that it’s hard to say whether they are being specifically targeted or if these are random attacks that they have suffered.

The ICRC is laying off staff and closing two of its offices, in Faryab and Kunduz provinces, while its sub-delegation in Mazar-e Sharif will be “seriously downsized.”  Those three ICRC offices cover nine provinces in the north and north west of Afghanistan. Activities run out of the Mazar office will now be limited to the ICRC’s Re-establishing Family Links program (tracing separate family members, facilitating phone calls to detainees and arranging family visits) and cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.   The orthopedics center in Mazar, which treats those who have lost arms and legs and need prosthetic limbs as well as those with other disabilities, will remain open for now, but the ICRC is looking for others to run it. All other activities out of Mazar will be stopped, including the ICRC’s assistance programs.

Most international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, have already modified their operations to try to protect staff while continuing to reach the most vulnerable. The ICRC has a reputation for neutrality and service built up over decades but has had to accept that it can no longer work safely in parts of Afghanistan.  Many believe it is a sign of just how brutal the conflict in Afghanistan has become.

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