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Friday, April 18, 2014

Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too

Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too 

AP Photo
FILE - This March 23, 2014 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama walking with her daughters Malia, left, and Sasha, right, as they visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China in Beijing. When President Barack Obama travels abroad, getting just the leader of the free world doesn’t seem to be enough. Countries want the first lady, too. But Michelle Obama won’t join her husband when he heads to Asia next week and her absence is likely to sting, especially in Japan. It’s the first of four countries on Obama’s travel schedule and the only one welcoming him on an official state visit.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When President Barack Obama travels abroad, sometimes it's not enough for just the leader of the free world to show up. People in other countries want the first lady, too.

But Michelle Obama won't join her husband when he heads to Asia next week, and her absence is likely to sting, especially in image-conscious Japan. It's the first of four countries on Obama's travel schedule and one of two that are welcoming him with official state visits.

"If Madame Obama could have come, it would have been better. But the most important thing is that President Obama accepted this is a state visit," said Matake Kamiya, a professor of international relations at the National Defense University in Yokosuka, near Tokyo. "From an expert point of view, it's sort of worrisome why Madame Obama isn't coming."

The fact that Mrs. Obama recently spent a week in China with her mother, Marian Robinson, and daughters Malia and Sasha also is sure to be noted in Japan, a close U.S. ally and China rival. But the first lady's communications director, Maria Cristina Gonzalez Noguera, said it was not expected that Mrs. Obama would join the president on a return trip to Asia so soon, having returned less than a month ago.

"When it comes to international travel, the first lady has always chosen her trips based on what's best for her family," Noguera said in an emailed statement.

The last U.S. first lady who did not join her husband on a state visit to Japan was Gerald Ford's wife, Betty. Ford became the first sitting American president to visit Japan when he arrived in November 1974, a few months after he took over the office from Richard M. Nixon.

Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to Laura Bush, said having the president's wife on his overseas trips is always welcomed - by both the White House and the host country - because she can carry out a different type of diplomacy.

"They can focus on different things and, between the two of them, really spread a lot of goodwill," said McBride, who heads a first ladies' project at American University.

When Mrs. Obama does travel with the president, she often gets as much - and occasionally more - local media coverage.

Last year in Northern Ireland, where Obama and other major world leaders gathered for an international summit, she was "the Obama" who got top billing in the local newspaper. The front page of the Belfast Telegraph featured a head-to-toe photograph of Mrs. Obama with the headline, "How Michelle (and a bit of trouble with her fringe) stole the show." The headline referred to the first lady's debut of her longer bangs that swept in front of her eyes during a speech to students.

Obama and the summit host, British Prime Minister David Cameron, made the front page, too, but in separate and smaller photos.

Mrs. Obama's China visit last month was partly seen as making up for her not accompanying the president to California last year for the visit by President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan. The meeting fell days before Sasha's 12th birthday, and Mrs. Obama's office said at the time that she stayed back in Washington to be with family.

In public, Beijing muted its hurt feelings over Mrs. Obama's absence in California. But deep disappointment was registered in some Chinese mainstream and social media.

Many Chinese had looked forward to comparing Peng, an unusually visible and fashionable Chinese first lady, to her glamorous and high-profile American counterpart. Peng holds the rank of major general in the People's Liberation Army and was a popular singer on state television.

Mrs. Obama made up for her absence in California with a well-received, widely reported visit to three Chinese cities last month. She jumped rope, dabbled in tai-chi, walked a section of the Great Wall with her daughters, fed pandas, met with Xi and ate dinner with Peng.

Mrs. Obama's comments about the free flow of information, however, did not make it into official China state news reports.

The Japanese are putting a good face on Obama's upcoming solo stop, noting that his stay will be short. One high-level Japanese government official chalked up the first lady's absence to a new "American style" of travel. The official was not authorized to discuss by name details of Obama's trip before the White House announced them and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Mrs. Obama's most recent overseas trip with her husband came last summer, when they visited three African countries with their daughters, shortly after their stops in Northern Ireland and Germany. Since then, the president has traveled without her to Sweden, Russia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Saudi Arabia.


Captain of sunken South Korean ferry arrested

Captain of sunken South Korean ferry arrested 

AP Photo
South Korean navy personnel try to install buoys to mark the sunken passenger ship Sewol in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, South Korea, Friday, April 18, 2014. Rescuers scrambled to find hundreds of ferry passengers still missing Friday and feared dead, as fresh questions emerged about whether quicker action by the captain of the doomed ship could have saved lives.
 
MOKPO, South Korea (AP) -- The captain of a sunken South Korean ferry was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, as investigators looked into whether his evacuation order came too late to save lives. Two crew members were also arrested, a prosecutor said.


The disaster three days ago left more than 270 people missing and at least 29 people dead.

As the last bit of the sunken ferry's hull slipped Friday beneath the murky water off southern South Korea, there was a new victim: a vice principal of the high school whose students were among the passengers was found hanged, an apparent suicide.

The Sewol had left the northwestern port of Incheon on Tuesday on an overnight journey to the holiday island of Jeju in the south with 476 people aboard, including 323 students from Danwon High School in Ansan. It capsized within hours of the crew making a distress call to the shore a little before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Only its dark blue keel jutted out over the surface. But by Friday night, even that had disappeared, and rescuers set two giant beige buoys to mark the area. Navy divers attached underwater air bags to the 6,852-ton ferry to prevent it from sinking deeper, the Defense Ministry said.

The coast guard said divers began pumping air into the ship to try to sustain any survivors.

Strong currents and rain made it difficult to get inside the ferry. Divers worked in shifts to try to get into the vessel, where most of the passengers were believed to have been trapped when it sank, coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in said.

Investigators said the accident came at a point where the ship had to make a turn, and prosecutor Park Jae-eok said investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn that was so sharp that it caused the vessel to list.

The sharp turn came between 8:48 a.m. and 8:49 a.m., but it's not known whether it was done voluntarily or because of some external factor, said Nam Jae-heon, a spokesman for the Maritime Ministry.
Another angle being probed is the role of the captain, 68-year-old Lee Joon-seok.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said Lee was detained early Saturday, along with the two crew members. Lee faces five charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Yang said earlier that Lee was not on the bridge when the ferry was passing through an area with many islands clustered closely together, something he said is required by law so the captain can help a mate make a turn. The captain also abandoned people in need of help and rescue, he said.

"The captain escaped before the passengers," Yang said.

Two crewmembers on the bridge of the ferry - a 25-year-old woman and a 55-year-old helmsman - also failed to reduce speed near the islands and conducted a sharp turn, Yang said. They also did not carry out necessary measures to save lives, he said.

Another focus of the investigation is that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives.
Police said the vice principal who was found hanged from a tree on Jindo, an island near the sunken ship where survivors have been housed, had been rescued from the ferry.

Identified as Kang Min-kyu, he was the leader of the students traveling on a school excursion. In his suicide note, Kang said he felt guilty for surviving and wanted to take responsibility for what happened because he had led the trip, according to police.

He asked that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered where the ferry went down.

With only 174 survivors from the 476 aboard and the chances of survival becoming slimmer by the hour, it was shaping up to be one of South Korea's worst disasters, made all the more heartbreaking by the likely loss of so many young people, aged 16 or 17.

The toll rose to 29 after the body of a woman was recovered, authorities said early Saturday.

The country's last major ferry disaster was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.

A transcript of a ship-to-shore radio exchange and interviews by The Associated Press showed the captain delayed the evacuation for half an hour after a South Korean transportation official told the ship it might have to evacuate.

The recommendation by the unidentified official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center came at 9 a.m., just five minutes after a distress call by the Sewol. In the exchange, the Sewol crewmember says: "Currently the body of the ship has listed to the left. The containers have listed as well."

The Jeju VTS officer responds: "OK. Any loss of human life or injuries?" The ship's answer is: "It's impossible to check right now. The body of the ship has tilted, and it's impossible to move."

The VTS officer then says: "Yes, OK. Please wear life jackets and prepare as the people might have to abandon ship."

"It's hard for people to move," replies the crew member on the radio.

Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry, told the AP that the first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were as the crew tried to control the ship.

About 30 minutes later, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn't sure if, in the confusion and chaos on the bridge, the order was relayed to the passengers. Several survivors told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.

Lee, the captain, made a brief, videotaped appearance with his face hidden by a gray hoodie. "I am really sorry and deeply ashamed," Lee said. "I don't know what to say."

Three vessels with cranes arrived at the accident site to prepare to salvage the ferry. But they will not hoist the ship before getting approval from family members of those still believed inside because the lifting could endanger any survivors, said a coast guard officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

On Jindo, angry and distraught relatives watched the rescue attempts. Some held a Buddhist prayer ritual, crying and praying for their relatives.

"I want to jump into the water with them," said Park Geum-san, 59, the great-aunt of a missing student, Park Ye-ji. "My loved one is under the water and it's raining. Anger is not enough."

Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd, in Incheon, the operator of the ferry, added more cabin rooms to three floors after its 2012 purchase of the ship, which was built in Japan in 1994, an official at the private Korean Register of Shipping told the AP.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was still under investigation, said the extension work between October 2012 and February 2013 increased the Sewol's weight by 187 tons and added enough room for 117 more people. The Sewol had a capacity of 921 when it sank.

As is common in South Korea, the ship's owner paid for a safety check by the Korean Register of Shipping, which found that the Sewol passed all safety tests, including whether it could stabilize in the event of tilting, the official said.

Prosecutors raided and seized materials and documents from the ship's operator, as well as six companies that had conducted safety checks, revamped the ship, or loaded container boxes, a sign that investigators will likely examine the ship's addition of rooms and how containers were loaded.
 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jury convicts husband in Iraqi woman's death

Jury convicts husband in Iraqi woman's death 


EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) -- An Iraqi immigrant was convicted Thursday of bludgeoning his wife to death in a case that initially was considered a hate crime because a note found next to her body said: "This is my country, go back to yours, you terrorist."

Kassim Alhimidi, 49, shook his head from side to side and wagged a finger as jurors were polled, then chaos erupted in the courtroom when his oldest son stood and shouted obscenities. The son proclaimed his father's innocence before several deputies wrestled him out of the courtroom.

Alhimidi turned to the son and yelled in Arabic "God knows, and I attest to God, that I am not the killer. I am innocent."

Another son also shouted in his father's defense, while the victim's mother said Alhimidi deserved worse, according to the official court translator, Nahla David.

Superior Court Judge William McGrath and the jury cleared the courtroom during the outbursts. After a brief recess, the judge returned and scheduled sentencing for May 15.

Alhimidi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the murder of his 32-year-old wife, Shaima Alawadi, at their house in El Cajon, home to one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi immigrants in the U.S.

Prosecutors argued Alhimidi lied to police about his troubled marriage and apologized to his wife as she lay dying in a hospital. Defense lawyers said Alhimidi loved his wife, that he was not a violent man, and that he returned from Iraq after burying his wife there.

The couple's eldest daughter, then 17, found her mother in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor of their suburban San Diego home in March 2012, her body tangled in a computer cord and desk chair. She had multiple skull fractures from blunt force and died two days after the attack. A sliding glass door was shattered.

No murder weapon was found, but investigators said Alawadi, a strict Muslim, was apparently beaten with a tire iron.

Local and federal investigators suspected a hate crime until lab tests determined the threatening note was a photocopy - possibly of a note found outside the family home a week earlier by one of the couple's five children.

Prosecutors told the San Diego County jury during a two-week trial that Alhimidi was distraught over his wife's plans to leave him and had urged his children and relatives to get her to stay. Detectives found documents in Alawadi's car indicating she planned to seek a divorce, and the eldest daughter, Fatima, told investigators that her mother wanted to move to Texas to be with her sister.

After the attack, Alhimidi went to the hospital, touched his wife as she lay unconscious in bed, and apologized to her, prosecutor Kurt Mechals said. An uncle of the children who was present told authorities that Alhimidi then turned to him and said that if his wife woke up, she might try to say that he had attacked her.

The prosecutor read jurors computer messages that the woman had sent to relatives that said: "I do not love him" and "I cannot stand him."

"The relationship was in the tank. It was bad," Mechals told jurors.

The defense argued Alhimidi had no motive for killing his wife and that he loved her dearly. Attorneys said he could have stayed in Iraq after her burial but returned to the U.S. and cooperated with police until he was arrested nearly eight months after the killing.

"This man has never once raised a hand to Shaima," attorney Richard Berkon Jr. told the jury.

Alhimidi gave contradictory statements to police right after the attack because he was afraid he would be blamed for a killing he didn't commit, attorney Douglas Gilliland said.

As for the uncle who said Alhimidi confessed, Gilliland said the man always disliked his client and cultural misunderstandings clouded the truth. Muslims often apologize to loved ones who are dying for all the things that they did or didn't do for them in their lives, he said.

Alawadi left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising. She lived in Saudi Arabian refugee camps before coming to the U.S., Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, Mich., said after she was killed. Then-Iraq President Saddam Hussein's troops hanged Alawadi's uncle.

The family moved to the Detroit area and later to San Diego.

The jury deliberated less than two days before delivering a verdict that split the family. Alawadi's mother, Rehima Alhussanwi, said she was convinced Alhimidi was the killer.

"In Iraq, normally if he kills her he is supposed to be killed in the same way," she told reporters through David, the translator.

The eldest daughter, Fatima, declined to speak with reporters but her attorney, Ron Rockwell, said she felt "outraged and utterly betrayed" that the defense suggested during the trial that she may have been involved in the killing.

"Although we love our father, we also hate what we believe he did," Fatima said in a statement read by her attorney.

Alhimidi, who did not testify at trial, turned to one of his sons as he was escorted from the courtroom and asked that he seek international support to clear him of wrongdoing, according to the translator. "This was a hate crime," he said.


Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87

Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87

AP Photo
ALTERNATIVE CROP OF XLAT301 - FILE - This undated file photo of Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seen in an unknown location. Marquez died Thursday April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. Garcia Marquez's magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality.
  
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez crafted intoxicating fiction from the fatalism, fantasy, cruelty and heroics of the world that set his mind churning as a child growing up on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

One of the most revered and influential writers of his generation, he brought Latin America's charm and maddening contradictions to life in the minds of millions and became the best-known practitioner of "magical realism," a blending of fantastic elements into portrayals of daily life that made the extraordinary seem almost routine.

In his works, clouds of yellow butterflies precede a forbidden lover's arrival. A heroic liberator of nations dies alone, destitute and far from home. "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," as one of his short stories is called, is spotted in a muddy courtyard.

Garcia Marquez's own epic story ended Thursday, at age 87, with his death at his home in southern Mexico City, according to two people close to the family who spoke on condition of anonymity out of respect for the family's privacy.

Known to millions simply as "Gabo," Garcia Marquez was widely seen as the Spanish language's most popular writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century. His extraordinary literary celebrity spawned comparisons with Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

His flamboyant and melancholy works - among them "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," "Love in the Time of Cholera" and "Autumn of the Patriarch" - outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible. The epic 1967 novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.

With writers including Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, Garcia Marquez was also an early practitioner of the literary nonfiction that would become known as New Journalism. He became an elder statesman of Latin American journalism, with magisterial works of narrative non-fiction that included the "Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor," the tale of a seaman lost on a life raft for 10 days. He was also a scion of the region's left.

Shorter pieces dealt with subjects including Venezuela's larger-than-life president, Hugo Chavez, while the book "News of a Kidnapping" vividly portrayed how cocaine traffickers led by Pablo Escobar had shred the social and moral fabric of his native Colombia, kidnapping members of its elite. In 1994, Garcia Marquez founded the Iberoamerican Foundation for New Journalism, which offers training and competitions to raise the standard of narrative and investigative journalism across Latin America.

But for so many inside and outside the region, it was his novels that became synonymous with Latin America itself.

When he accepted the Nobel prize in 1982, Garcia Marquez described the region as a "source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable."

Gerald Martin, Garcia Marquez's semi-official biographer, told The Associated Press that "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was "the first novel in which Latin Americans recognized themselves, that defined them, celebrated their passion, their intensity, their spirituality and superstition, their grand propensity for failure."
The Spanish Royal Academy, the arbiter of the language, celebrated the novel's 40th anniversary with a special edition. It had only done so for just one other book, Cervantes' "Don Quijote."

Like many Latin American writers, Garcia Marquez transcended the world of letters. He became a hero to the Latin American left as an early ally of Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and a critic of Washington's interventions from Vietnam to Chile. His affable visage, set off by a white mustache and bushy grey eyebrows, was instantly recognizable. Unable to receive a U.S. visa for years due to his politics, he was nonetheless courted by presidents and kings. He counted Bill Clinton and Francois Mitterrand among his presidential friends.

Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, a small Colombian town near the Caribbean coast on March 6, 1927. He was the eldest of the 11 children of Luisa Santiaga Marquez and Gabriel Elijio Garcia, a telegraphist and a wandering homeopathic pharmacist who fathered at least four children outside of his marriage.

Just after their first son was born, his parents left him with his maternal grandparents and moved to Barranquilla, where Garcia Marquez's father opened the first of a series of homeopathic pharmacies that would invariably fail, leaving them barely able to make ends meet.

Garcia Marquez was raised for 10 years by his grandmother and his grandfather, a retired colonel who fought in the devastating 1,000-Day War that hastened Colombia's loss of the Panamanian isthmus.
His grandparents' tales would provide grist for Garcia Marquez's fiction and Aracataca became the model for Macondo, the village surrounded by banana plantations at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains where "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is set.

"I have often been told by the family that I started recounting things, stories and so on, almost since I was born," Garcia Marquez once told an interviewer. "Ever since I could speak."

Garcia Marquez's parents continued to have children, and barely made ends meet. Their first-born son was sent to a state-run boarding school just outside Bogota where he became a star student and voracious reader, favoring Hemingway, Faulkner, Dostoevsky and Kafka.

Garcia Marquez published his first piece of fiction as a student in 1947, mailing a short story to the newspaper El Espectador after its literary editor wrote that "Colombia's younger generation has nothing to offer in the way of good literature anymore."

His father insisted he study law but he dropped out, bored, and dedicated himself to journalism. The pay was atrocious and Garcia Marquez recalled his mother visiting him in Bogota and commenting in horror at his bedraggled appearance that: "I thought you were a beggar."

Garcia Marquez wrote in 1955 about a sailor, washed off the deck of a Colombian warship during a storm, who reappeared weeks later at the village church where his family was offering a Mass for his soul.

"The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor" uncovered that the destroyer was carrying cargo, the cargo was contraband, and the vessel was overloaded. The authorities didn't like it," Garcia Marquez recalled.

Several months later, while he was in Europe, dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla's government closed El Espectador.

In exile, he toured the Soviet-controlled east, he moved to Rome in 1955 to study cinema, a lifelong love. Then he moved to Paris, where he lived among intellectuals and artists exiled from the many Latin American dictatorships of the day.

Garcia Marquez returned to Colombia in 1958 to marry Mercedes Barcha, a neighbor from childhood days. They had two sons, Rodrigo, a film director, and Gonzalo, a graphic designer.

Garcia Marquez's writing was constantly informed by his leftist political views, themselves forged in large part by a 1928 military massacre near Aracataca of banana workers striking against the United Fruit Company, which later became Chiquita. He was also greatly influenced by the assassination two decades later of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a galvanizing leftist presidential candidate.

The killing would set off the "Bogotazo," a weeklong riot that destroyed the center of Colombia's capital and which Castro, a visiting student activist, also lived through.

Garcia Marquez would sign on to the young Cuban revolution as a journalist, working in Bogota and Havana for its news agency Prensa Latina, then later as the agency's correspondent in New York.

Garcia Marquez wrote the epic "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in 18 months, living first off loans from friends and then by having his wife pawn their things, starting with the car and furniture.

By the time he finished writing in September 1966, their belongings had dwindled to an electric heater, a blender and a hairdryer. His wife then pawned those remaining items so that he could mail the manuscript to a publisher in Argentina.

"I never made a copy - that was the only one there was," he recalled.

When Garcia Marquez came home from the post office, his wife looked around and said, "We have no furniture left, we have nothing. We owe $5,000."

She need not have worried; all 8,000 copies of the first run sold out in a week.

President Clinton himself recalled in an AP interview in 2007 reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude" while in law school and not being able to put it down, not even during classes.

"I realized this man had imagined something that seemed like a fantasy but was profoundly true and profoundly wise," he said.

Garcia Marquez remained loyal to Castro even as other intellectuals lost patience with the Cuban leader's intolerance for dissent. The U.S. writer Susan Sontag accused Garcia Marquez in 2005 of complicity by association in Cuban human rights violations. But others defended him, saying Garcia Marquez had persuaded Castro to help secure freedom for political prisoners.

Garcia Marquez's politics caused the United States to deny him entry visas for years. After a 1981 run-in with Colombia's government in which he was accused of sympathizing with M-19 rebels and sending money to a Venezuelan guerrilla group, he moved to Mexico City, where he lived most of the time for the rest of this life.

A bon vivant with an impish personality, Garcia Marquez was a gracious host who would animatedly recount long stories to guests, and occasionally unleash a quick temper when he felt slighted or misrepresented by the press.

Martin, the biographer, said the writer's penchant for embellishment often extended to his recounting of stories from his own life.

From childhood on, wrote Martin, "Garcia Marquez would have trouble with other people's questioning of his veracity."

Garcia Marquez turned down offers of diplomatic posts and spurned attempts to draft him to run for Colombia's presidency, though he did get involved in behind-the-scenes peace mediation efforts between Colombia's government and leftist rebels.

In 1998, already in his 70s, Garcia Marquez fulfilled a lifelong dream, buying a majority interest in the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio with money from his Nobel award.

"I'm a journalist. I've always been a journalist," he told the AP at the time. "My books couldn't have been written if I weren't a journalist because all the material was taken from reality."

Before falling ill with lymphatic cancer in June 1999, the author contributed prodigiously to the magazine, including one article that denounced what he considered the unfair political persecution of Clinton for sexual adventures.

Garcia Marquez's memory began to fail as he entered his 80s, friends said. His last book, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores," was published in 2004.

He is survived by his wife, his two sons, Rodrigo, a film director, and Gonzalo, a graphic designer, seven brothers and sisters and one half-sister.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sub makes 2nd dive to search for Malaysian plane

Sub makes 2nd dive to search for Malaysian plane 

AP Photo
Relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines 370 walk out from a video-conference with Malaysian officials in protest at the difficulties of communications in Beijing, China, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. A robotic submarine looking for the lost Malaysian jet continued its second seabed search on Wednesday as up to 14 planes were to take to the skies for some of the final sweeps of the Indian Ocean for floating debris from the ill-fated airliner.

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- As a robotic submarine dived into the ocean to look for lost Flight 370, angry Chinese relatives stormed out of a teleconference meeting Wednesday to protest the Malaysian government for not addressing them in person.

The Bluefin 21 sub surfaced early for the second time in as many missions, this time after experiencing technical difficulties. It was sent back into the water after its data were downloaded but there's been no sign of the plane, according to the search coordinator.

As the search continued, more than 100 relatives of Chinese passengers on the plane walked out of a teleconference meeting with senior Malaysian officials, an act of defiance over a lack of contact with that country's government and for taking so long to respond to their demands.

The family members had gathered in a meeting room at a Beijing hotel where Malaysia Airlines had provided lodging and food. But they stood and filed out shortly before the call with Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, and others as it was about to start.

"These video conference meetings often don't work, the sound stops and it's constantly disrupted. Is that how we are going to communicate?" said Jiang Hui, one of the family members, after the walkout. "Do they need to waste our time in such a way?"

Jiang said the Malaysian government had not met demands the relatives had presented to them weeks ago in Malaysia - an apology for the way they've handled the matter along with meetings with the Malaysian government and airline officials. They also have requested to sit down with executives from Boeing and Rolls-Royce, the manufacturer of the plane and its engines.

The Boeing 777 vanished March 8 with 239 people on board while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing. Radar and satellite data show it flew far off-course for an unknown reason and would have run out of fuel over the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.

A ship-towed device detected four signals underwater that are believed to have come from the airliner's black boxes shortly before the beacons' batteries died. The sounds helped narrow the search area to the waters where the Bluefin 21 is now operating.

The U.S. Navy's unmanned sub cut short its first mission on Monday because it exceeded its maximum operating depth of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet). Searchers moved it away from the deepest waters before redeploying the sub to scan the seabed with sonar to map a potential debris field.

On the ocean surface, up to 14 planes and 11 ships were searching a 62,000-square-kilometer (24,000-square-mile) patch of sea about 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth on Wednesday. The surface search is expected to end soon as not a single piece of debris connected to the plane has been found.

Investigators are also waiting on test results from an oil slick found about 5,500 meters (3.4 miles) from where the underwater sounds were detected.

In addition to finding the plane itself, investigators want to recover the black boxes in hopes the cockpit voice and flight data recorders contain answers to why the plane lost communications and flew so far off-course before disappearing.


New SAT: What will those questions look like?

New SAT: What will those questions look like? 



AP Photo
Graphic shows difference between new and old SAT college entrance exam;; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Calculate the foreign exchange rate a vacationing American would pay in India. 

Estimate from a random sample the number of 18- to 34-year olds who voted for a candidate. These are sample questions from the newly redesigned SAT, which aims for more real-world applications and analysis from students.

The College Board released the sample test questions on Wednesday, offering clues to how the revised college entrance exam, taken last year by 1.7 million students, will look when it rolls out in 2016.

One of the biggest changes is that relatively obscure vocabulary words such as "punctilious" and "lachrymose" are unlikely to appear on the test. Test takers will see words more likely to be used in classrooms or in the workplace, like "synthesis."

Instead of a wide range, the math section will concentrate on areas that "matter most for college and career readiness and success," the College Board said.

The essay section is becoming optional. And it now will require a student to read a passage and explain how the author constructed an argument instead of offering the student's own point of view on a specific issue.

Other changes to the SAT, first announced by the College Board last month, include making a computer-based version of the test an option, getting rid of the extra penalty for wrong answers, limiting the use of calculators to select sections and returning to a 1,600-point scale.

Another expectation: Each test will include a passage from the U.S. founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, or conversations they've inspired, the College Board has said.

To highlight that, one sample question released was adapted from a 1974 speech by Rep. Barbara Jordan, D-Texas, during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon. Test takers must answer questions that best describe Jordan's stance and the main rhetorical effect of a part of the passage.

In the sample question pertaining to the U.S. traveler in India, the test taker must first determine what foreign 
exchange rate the traveler paid. Then, calculate charges on a prepaid card compared to a Traveler card.

In the sample question related to a political candidate, the test taker must first determine from a table which age group had the greatest number of people reporting they had voted. Then, compare the table to another survey to determine which of four statements about voter turnout is correct.

Cynthia Schmeiser, the College Board's chief of assessment, told reporters that reasoning is still an important component of the SAT, but it will be done in "applied contexts." She said there will be commonalities between the redesigned SAT and the Common Core standards being rolled out in most states, which emphasize critical thinking in English and math in the K-12 setting.

"What we're doing here is trying to distinguish the SAT in many important ways from the current SAT and frankly from other admissions exams to provide the why and the what are the fewer more important things that students need in order to be ready for college and to succeed in college," Schmeiser said.

The College Board said the sample questions are in draft form and subject to change.

"It is our goal that every student who takes the test will be well informed and will know exactly what to expect on the day of the test," Schmeiser and College Board President David Coleman said in a letter posted online.

The SAT was last upgraded in 2005, when analogy questions were removed and the essay portion was added.

Once the predominant college admissions exam, the SAT has been overtaken in popularity by the ACT.

The ACT, which already offers an optional essay, announced last year that it would begin making computer-based testing available. It said Monday that about 4,000 high school students had taken a digital version of the ACT two days earlier as part of a pilot.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Supremacist faces murder charges in Kansas deaths

Supremacist faces murder charges in Kansas deaths 

AP Photo
Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, appears at his arraignment in New Century, Kan., Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Cross is being charged for shootings that left three people dead at two Jewish community sites in suburban Kansas City on April 13. At right is Michelle Durrett, attorney with the public defender's office.


OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) -- A white supremacist charged in shootings that left three people dead at two Jewish community sites in suburban Kansas City was brought into a video conference room in a wheelchair Tuesday to make his first court appearance.

Wearing a dark, sleeveless anti-suicide smock, Frazier Glenn Cross stood under his own power to face the camera, crossing his arms and speaking only when answering routine questions from the judge in a Johnson County courtroom several miles away. He requested a court-appointed lawyer.

A Johnson County Sheriff's Office spokesman declined to say Tuesday why Cross was in a wheelchair. Prosecutors declined to answer questions about Cross' health Monday.

The 73-year-old is being held on $10 million bond and his next court appearance is scheduled for April 24.

Physician William Lewis Corporon, 69, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, were shot and killed outside of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. Both were Methodist. Moments later, Terri LaManno, a 53-year-old Catholic occupational therapist and mother of two, was gunned down outside Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement complex where she was visiting her mother.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said specific details about actions that led to the charges against Cross are contained in an affidavit, which under Kansas law is not considered public information. The criminal complaint released Tuesday describes the charges and includes a list of witnesses, but nothing else.

In Kansas, one of the narrow circumstances in which capital murder cases are pursued includes the intentional killing of more than one person in "the same act or transaction or in two or more acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a common scheme or course of conduct."

In this case, a single charge was applied to the deaths of Corporon and his grandson because the deaths occurred in a very short period of time as part of the same act, prosecutors said. LaManno's death doesn't meet the standard for capital murder, Howe said, but he would not provide details or evidence to explain.

Federal prosecutors say there's enough evidence to warrant putting the case before a grand jury as a hate crime, but U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Tuesday that federal charges were likely a week or more away. Cross' state case would have to be resolved before he could be moved to a federal trial.

"Our system is more nimble, we can move a little bit quicker than the federal system. ... This isn't about retribution, this is about seeking justice," Howe said.

Cross is a Vietnam War veteran from southwest Missouri who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in his native North Carolina and later the White Patriot Party.

Cross shouted "heil Hitler" at television cameras as he was arrested after Sunday's killings, which shocked the city on the eve of Passover and refocused attention on the nation's problem with race-related violence.

The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights made a presentation on white supremacists at the Jewish Community Center in August, the Kansas City, Mo.-based group's vice president Devin Burghart said. That discussion included a description of Cross as an example of dangerous anti-Semitic figures in the region.

It wasn't clear what, if any, steps were taken by the center to act on the information. Annette Fish, director of the "Day of Discovery" event during which the presentation was given, said she did not attend that session - one of 30 offered in what she called an educational program for the Jewish community.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that monitors the activities of known white supremacists, says Cross also went by the name Frazier Glenn Miller. During the early 1980s, Cross was "one of the more notorious white supremacists in the U.S.," according to the Anti-Defamation League.

He was the target of a nationwide manhunt in 1987, and federal agents tracked him and three other men to a rural Missouri home stocked with hand grenades and automatic weapons. He was indicted on weapons charges and accused of plotting robberies and the assassination of the law center's founder. He served three years in federal prison.

Cross also ran for the U.S. House in 2006 and the U.S. Senate in 2010 in Missouri, each time espousing a white-power platform.
 

New York police end Muslim surveillance program

New York police end Muslim surveillance program 

AP Photo
FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2013, file photo, visitors socialize after a Jumu'ah prayer service outside the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge and mosque in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The New York Police Department targeted the mosque as a part of a terrorism enterprise investigation beginning in 2003, spying on it for years. On Tuesday, April 15, 2014, the NYPD confirmed that it has disbanded the special unit that operated that surveillance program

NEW YORK (AP) -- A special New York Police Department unit that sparked controversy by tracking the daily lives of Muslims in an effort to detect terror threats has been disbanded, police officials said Tuesday.


NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed that detectives assigned to the unit had been transferred to other duties within the department's Intelligence Division.

An ongoing review of the division by new Police Commissioner William Bratton found that the same information collected by the unit could be better collected through direct contact with community groups, officials said.

In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, called the move "a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys."

The Demographics Unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and cataloged Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.

After a series of stories by The Associated Press detailing the extent of the NYPD's surveillance of Muslims, two civil rights lawsuits were filed challenging the activities as unconstitutional because they focused on people's religion, national origin and race.

Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had defended the surveillance tactics, saying officers observed legal guidelines while attempting to create an early warning system for terrorism. But in a deposition made public in 2012, an NYPD chief testified that the unit's work had never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation in the previous six years.

Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she was among a group of advocates at a private meeting last week with police brass at which the department's new intelligence chief, John Miller, first indicated the unit - renamed the Zone Assessment Unit - wasn't viable. She applauded the decision but said there's still concern about the police use of informants to infiltrate mosques without specific evidence of crime.

"This was definitely a part of the big puzzle that we're trying to get dismantled," Sarsour said. But, she added, "This doesn't necessarily prove to us yet that these very problematic practices are going to end."

Another person at the meeting, Fahd Ahmed, legal and policy director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, called the decision "a small step." He questioned what had happened to the information gathered by the unit.

"The concern wasn't just about the fact that this data was being collected secretly - it was about the fact that this data was being collected at all," he said.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman hailed the decision, saying police-community relations took a blow from the unit's broad surveillance of all Muslims, not just people suspected 
of wrongdoing.

"We hope this means an end to the dragnet approach to policing that has been so harmful to police-community relations and a commitment to going after criminal suspicion, rather than innocent New Yorkers," said Lieberman, whose organization is involved in lawsuits over the practice.

In Washington, 34 members of Congress had demanded a federal investigation into the NYPD's actions. Attorney General Eric Holder said he was disturbed by reports about the operations, and the Department of Justice said it was reviewing complaints received from Muslims and their supporters.

The AP's reporting also prompted an investigation by the CIA's inspector general. That internal inquiry concluded that the CIA, which is prohibited from domestic spying, hadn't broken any laws, but it criticized the agency for allowing an officer assigned to the NYPD to operate without sufficient supervision.

The NYPD's decision to disband the unit was first reported in The New York Times.
 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

AP Photo
A Kansas State Trooper stands near the location of a shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan., Sunday, April 13, 2014.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) -- A man in his 70s opened fire Sunday outside of a Jewish community center and nearby retirement community, killing three people, authorities said.


Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said at a news conference Sunday evening that a person who had been reported to be in critical condition earlier was among three killed in the attacks, which apparently occurred minutes apart.

"Today is a sad and very tragic day," Douglass said. "As you might imagine we are only three hours into this investigation. There's a lot of innuendo and a lot of assertions going around. There is really very little hardcore information."

Shots were fired behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in a parking lot about 1 p.m., Douglass said. One male died at the scene, another male died at a hospital. The gunman then fled and opened fire at nearby Village Shalom, killing a female, before later being arrested near an elementary school. Two other people were shot at, but the gunfire missed them, Douglass said.

Douglass said it was too early in the investigation to determine if the shootings were hate crimes. The Jewish festival of Passover begins Monday.

"We know it was a vicious act of violence, and we know obviously it was at two Jewish facilities. One might make that assumption," Douglass said.

He described the suspect as a white man in his 70s who is not from Kansas. He said the suspect is being held at the Johnson County Detention Center, but did not provide further information.

"We have no indication he knew the victims," Douglass said, adding that the suspect was not known to Kansas City-area authorities before the shootings. Douglass said a shotgun was used, and investigators were trying to determine whether a handgun and assault-style rifle also were involved.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park posted on its Facebook page Sunday afternoon that a "shooting incident" happened near its White Theater entrance.

"Everyone participating in JCC programming has been released to their homes," the center posted later Sunday.

There was a heavy police presence at the campus, which spans several acres in an affluent area of Johnson County, Kan. Police had also taped off the entrance to Village Shalom on Sunday afternoon, and several patrol cars and a crime scene unit van were parked in front.

St. Louis resident Kristy Straeb, 47, said her sister-in-law Stacie Ventimiglia was at the center's pool with a friend and four little girls under the age of 7 for a swimming lesson, which ended about 12:45 p.m. Straeb said they decided at the last minute to get the girls showered.

"They had just gotten the four babies naked, and somebody yelled into the family locker room, `We have an active shooter situation. You need to get safe,'" Straeb said.

The women got into a cubby area and were "ready to push the little girls into 4 empty lockers," Straeb said. She noted that the women and their children were not harmed and left the center about 2:45 p.m. Sunday.

Auditions for the KC SuperStar competition were scheduled to be held Sunday at the Jewish Community Center. On Sunday afternoon, the website for KC SuperStar, which is a singing competition for high school students, said the auditions were cancelled.
 

2-Week Easter Television Event

2-Week Easter Television Event


















Saturday, April 12, 2014

With no new signals, Aussie PM sees long jet hunt

With no new signals, Aussie PM sees long jet hunt

AP Photo
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Beijing, China Saturday, April 12, 2014. Abbott told Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on Friday that he was confident signals heard by an Australian ship towing a U.S. Navy device that detects flight recorder pings are coming from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Officials believe the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- A day after expressing optimism about the hunt for the missing Malaysian jet, Australia's leader warned Saturday that the massive search would likely continue "for a long time."


"No one should underestimate the difficulties of the task still ahead of us," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in Beijing, on the last day of his China trip.

Abbott appeared to couch his comments from a day earlier, when he met in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping to brief him on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which was carrying 239 people - most of them Chinese - when it disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

After analyzing satellite data, officials believe the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast.

Abbott said Friday that he was "very confident" signals heard by an Australian ship towing a U.S. Navy device that detects flight recorder pings were coming from the missing Boeing 777's black boxes.

He continued to express this belief Saturday, but with no new underwater signals detected in the past few days and electronic transmissions from the black boxes fading fast, Abbott said the job of finding the plane remained arduous. Recovering the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders is essential for investigators to try to piece together what happened to Flight MH370.

We have "very considerably narrowed down the search area, but trying to locate anything 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) beneath the surface of the ocean about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from land is a massive, massive task, and it is likely to continue for a long time to come," Abbott said.

"There's still a lot more work to be done and I don't want anyone to think that we are certain of success, or that success, should it come, is going to happen in the next week or even month. There's a lot of difficulty and a lot of uncertainty left in this," he said.

In Malaysia, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Saturday refuted a front-page report in a local newspaper, the New Strait Times, that a signal from the mobile phone of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid was picked up by a telecommunications tower near the Malaysian city of Penang shortly before the plane disappeared from radar. The newspaper report said the signal ended abruptly before contact was established.

Hishammuddin, who is also the acting transport minister, told the Malaysian national news agency Bernama that he should have been aware of the phone call earlier, but that wasn't the case.

"I cannot comment (on the newspaper report) because if it is true, we would have known about it much earlier," Hishammuddin said after praying at a mosque in southern Jofor state, according to Bernama.

He added that it was irresponsible for anyone to take the opportunity to make "baseless" reports.

In the southern Indian Ocean, search crews are scrambling because the batteries powering the flight recorders' locator beacons last only about a month, and that window has already passed. Finding the devices after the batteries die will be extremely difficult due to the extreme depth of the water in the search area.
Two sounds heard a week ago by the Australian ship Ocean Shield, which was towing the ping locator, were determined to be consistent with the signals emitted from the two black boxes. Two more pings were detected in the same general area Tuesday.

"Given that the signal from the black box is rapidly fading, what we are now doing is trying to get as many detections as we can so that we can narrow the search area down to as small an area as possible," Abbott said.

The underwater search zone is currently a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) patch of the seabed, about the size of Los Angeles.

The searchers want to pinpoint the exact location of the source of the sounds - or as close as they can get - and then send down a robotic submersible to look for wreckage. But the sub will not be deployed until officials are confident that no other electronic signals are present.

The Bluefin 21 submersible takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator, and will need about six weeks to two months to canvass the current underwater zone. The signals are also coming from 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) below the surface, which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive. The search coordination center has said it is considering options in case a deeper-diving sub is needed.

The surface area to be searched for floating debris has been narrowed to 41,393 square kilometers (15,982 square miles) of ocean extending from about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth. Up to 10 planes and 14 ships were searching Saturday.
 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

MARKEIFF & MARCUS MORRIS TWINS PLAYMAKERS OF THE YEAR!

Markieff and Marcus Morris Twins- Suns:  The Ready-Made Forward Playmakers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Obama offers solace to nation at Fort Hood

Obama offers solace to nation at Fort Hood 
 

AP Photo
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive for a memorial ceremony, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at Fort Hood Texas, for those killed there in a shooting last week. President Barack Obama is reprising his role as chief comforter as he returns once again to a grief-stricken corner of America to mourn with the families of those killed last week at Fort Hood and offer solace to the nation.

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- President Barack Obama returned to the grieving Army post Wednesday where he first took on the job as the nation's comforter five years ago, mourning with families and uniformed comrades of those killed during last week's Fort Hood shooting spree. "We somehow bear what seems unbearable," he declared.


It was yet another sad observance for a president who has had to deliver words of consolation across the country many times. At Fort Hood, the ceremony was made more poignant as a remembrance for soldiers who didn't die in wars abroad but in the safety of their own compound.

"They were members of a generation that has borne the burden of our security for more than a decade of war," Obama said on a breezy, sun washed day in central Texas.

Three soldiers died and 16 others were wounded in the rampage last Wednesday by another soldier, who killed himself.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived late Wednesday morning at Fort Hood, where the camouflage fatigues of troops standing to salute his passing motorcade almost blended in with a patch of desert-like terrain. Flags were lowered to half-staff at the sprawling Army post, where Obama met with victims' relatives before offering his public condolences.

The memorial took place at the same spot where Obama eulogized victims of another mass shooting in 2009.

Three battle crosses, helmet-topped rifles above combat boots, stood in front of the speakers' platform, representing the three soldiers shot and killed - Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez, Sgt. Timothy Owens, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson.

Officials say they died following a shooting rampage by Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, who took his own life. Four of those shot remain in hospitals, officials said.

Obama praised Ferguson for keeping the gunman from pushing into a room where others could have been killed. "Danny held the door shut, saving the lives of others while sacrificing his own," he said. Owens was known for counseling fellow soldiers, the president said, and "gave his life walking toward the gunman, trying to calm him down."

Obama was the only speaker to mention that four soldiers were lost, including Lopez. As the president finished an address in which he repeated the phrase "love never ends," one soldier in the audience brushed away tears. The president exited the stage with his head down.

Fort Hood is a major post from which troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. As Obama has wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing troops back from the warzone, it seemed all the more jarring to have their sense of safety upended at their home base.

"It hurts. It hurts in the middle of the night. It hurts in the middle of the day. It hurts in the middle of your stomach. It hurts to lose someone you love," Chaplain Col. Goff said, following the president's address. "The reason it hurts so much is because we love so much."

Toward the end of the ceremony, soldiers stood for a roll call. The fallen soldiers' names were bellowed out by a sergeant three times. After no answer, in accordance with military tradition, their names were stricken from the roll. A line of seven soldiers pointed their rifles to the sky and shot three times. A solemn trumpeter played taps.

Time and again, Obama has been called on find ways to give meaning to senseless death. Tucson, Ariz. Aurora, Colo., Newtown, Conn., Boston, the Washington Navy Yard - communities now synonymous with tragedy. And now Fort Hood - for a second improbable time.

Adding complexity to the president's response were questions about whether Lopez's wartime service precipitated his actions. Although Lopez did a short stint in Iraq in 2011 and said he suffered a traumatic brain injury, Fort Hood officials have said his mental condition was not a "direct participating factor" in the shooting. Still, the 34-year-old was undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety while being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, base officials said.

"We must honor these men by doing more to care for our fellow Americans living with mental illness, civilian and military," Obama said. "Today four American soldiers are gone. Four Army families are devastated. As commander in chief, I'm determined that we will continue to step up our efforts to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver to them the care that they need and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help."

For Obama, who tried unsuccessfully to turn the school tragedy of Newtown into a call for new gun controls, the Fort Hood shooting was less about pledging new policies than it was to simply do more with the tools in hand.

"In our open society, in advanced bases like this, we can never eliminate every risk, but as a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties," he said. "As a military, we must continue to do everything in our power to secure our facilities and spare others this pain."

In attendance were members of the Texas congressional delegation, including Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also attended. The military brass included Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Secretary John McHugh, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's top commander.

To be sure, Obama is not the first president called on to help Americans in their grief. Ronald Reagan had the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Bill Clinton had Oklahoma City and George W. Bush had 9/11, to say nothing of the wars that American troops have fought overseas.

Those close to Obama say he sees his role after a tragedy as fulfilling a ministerial function for the nation. Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser and longtime friend, said although it's painful for Obama, he understands the importance for the president to show leadership, empathy and strength in times of crisis, and for him to spend time with each family member affected.

"It's hard because it's deeply personal for him," Jarrett said in an interview. "He identifies as a father, as a husband, as a son, as a family member."
 

Teen stabs 22 at Pittsburgh-area high school

Teen stabs 22 at Pittsburgh-area high school

AP Photo
Alex Hribal, the suspect in the multiple stabbings at the Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pa., is escorted by police to a district magistrate to be arraigned on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Export, Pa. Authorities say Hribal has been charged after allegedly stabbing and slashing at least 19 people including students in the crowded halls of his suburban Pittsburgh high school Wednesday
  
MURRYSVILLE, Pa. (AP) -- Flailing away with two kitchen knives, a 16-year-old boy with a "blank expression" stabbed and slashed 21 students and a security guard in the crowded halls of his suburban Pittsburgh high school Wednesday before an assistant principal tackled him.

At least five students were critically wounded, including a boy whose liver was pierced by a knife thrust that narrowly missed his heart and aorta, doctors said. Others also suffered deep abdominal puncture wounds.

The rampage - which came after decades in which U.S. schools geared much of their emergency planning toward mass shootings, not stabbings - set off a screaming stampede, left blood on the floor and walls, and brought teachers rushing to help the victims.

Police shed little light on the motive.

The suspect, Alex Hribal, was taken into custody and treated for a minor hand wound, then was brought into court in shackles and a hospital gown and charged with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault. He was jailed without bail, and authorities said he would be prosecuted as an adult.
At the brief hearing, District Attorney John Peck said that after he was seized, Hribal made comments suggesting he wanted to die.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey described him as a good student who got along with others, and asked for a psychiatric examination.

The attack unfolded in the morning just minutes before the start of classes at 1,200-student Franklin Regional High School, in an upper-middle-class area 15 miles east of Pittsburgh.

It was over in about five minutes, during which the boy ran wildly down about 200 feet of hallway, slashing away with knives 8 to 10 inches long, police said.

Nate Moore, 15, said he saw the boy tackle and knife a freshman. He said he going to try to break it up when the boy got up and slashed Moore's face, opening a wound that required 11 stitches.

"It was really fast. It felt like he hit me with a wet rag because I felt the blood splash on my face. It spurted up on my forehead," Moore said.

The attacker "had the same expression on his face that he has every day, which was the freakiest part," he said. "He wasn't saying anything. He didn't have any anger on his face. It was just a blank expression."

Assistant Principal Sam King finally tackled the boy and disarmed him, and a Murrysville police officer who is regularly assigned to the school handcuffed him, police said.

King's son told The Associated Press that his father was treated at a hospital, though authorities said he was not knifed.

"He says he's OK. He's a tough cookie and sometimes hides things, but I believe he's OK," Zack King said. He added: "I'm proud of him."

In addition to the 22 stabbed or slashed, two people suffered other injuries, authorities said. The security guard, who was wounded after intervening early in the melee, was not seriously hurt.

"There are a number of heroes in this day. Many of them are students," Gov. Tom Corbett said during a visit to the stricken town. "Students who stayed with their friends and didn't leave their friends."

As for what set off the attack, Murrysville Police Chief Thomas Seefeld said investigators were looking into reports of a threatening phone call between the suspect and another student the night before. Seefeld didn't specify whether the suspect received or made the call.

The FBI went to the boy's house, where authorities planned to confiscate and search his computer.

"They are a very, very nice family. A great family. We never saw anything out of the ordinary," said John Kukalis, a next-door neighbor for about 13 years.

His wife, Sonya Kukalis, said: "It should be an eye-opener for everybody. Everyone always thinks it's the other neighborhood, the other town. We need to be kinder and show compassion to more people. 

Something must have been going on for him to do this."

While several bloody stabbing rampages at schools in China have made headlines in the past few years, schools in the U.S. have concentrated their emergency preparations on mass shootings.

Nevertheless, there have been at least two major stabbing attacks at U.S. schools over the past year, one at a community college in Texas last April that wounded at least 14 people, and another, also in Texas, that killed a 17-year-old student and injured three others at a high school in September.

On Wednesday, Mia Meixner, 16, said the rampage touched off a "stampede of kids" yelling, "Run! Get out of here! Someone has a knife!"

The boy had a "blank look," she said. "He was just kind of looking like he always does, not smiling, not scowling or frowning."

Meixner and Moore called the attacker a shy boy who largely kept to himself, but they said he was not an outcast and they had no reason to think he might be violent.

"He was never mean to anyone, and I never saw people be mean to him," Meixner said. "I never saw him with a particular group of friends."

Michael Float, 18, said he had just gotten to school when he saw "blood all over the floor" and smeared on the wall near the main entrance. Then he saw a wounded student.

"He had his shirt pulled up and he was screaming, `Help! Help!'" Float said. "He had a stab wound right at the top right of his stomach, blood pouring down."

Float said he saw a teacher applying pressure to another student's wound.

About five minutes elapsed between the time the campus police officer summoned help over the radio at 7:13 a.m. and the boy was disarmed, the police chief said.

Someone, possibly a student, pulled a fire alarm during the attack, Seefeld said. Although that created chaos, the police chief said, it emptied out the school more quickly, and "that was a good thing that that was done."

Also, a girl with "an amazing amount of composure" applied pressure to a schoolmate's wounds and probably kept the victim from bleeding to death, said Dr. Mark Rubino at Forbes Regional Medical Center.

Public safety and school officials said an emergency plan worked as well as could be expected. The district conducted an emergency exercise three months ago and a full-scale drill about a year ago.

"We haven't lost a life, and I think that's what we have to keep in mind," said county public safety spokesman Dan Stevens.

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