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France stabbing suspect: ‘I just killed a police officer’

LORI HINNANT, Associated Press
ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press

 

PARIS (AP) — A man who stabbed two police officials to death at their home in a Paris suburb posted a video online confessing to the killings and pledging loyalty to the Islamic State group. The attacker also had a list of other targets, including rappers, journalists, police officers and public officials.

The French president urged heightened security and vigilance after what he said was “incontestably a terrorist act.”

The attack hit the country’s raw nerves after Islamic State attacks in November killed 130 people, and as 90,000 security forces are deployed to protect the European Championship soccer tournament taking place across France for a month.

Islamic State’s Amaq news agency released a video Tuesday showing suspect Larossi Abballa, which appears to be filmed inside the home of the victims as security forces closed in.

“I just killed a police officer and his wife,” he says, adding: “The police are currently surrounding me.”

The video was edited, and the victims do not appear. Neither does the police couple’s 3-year-old son, who survived the attack Monday night in the suburb of Magnanville, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Paris.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Abballa posted the video on Facebook, and that he made the declaration of allegiance to IS in response to the group’s calls to “kill non-believers where they live,” and with their families.

Amaq reported that an IS fighter carried out the attack, and prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said French authorities have “no reason” to doubt the claim.

Abballa stabbed Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42, a police commander in the Paris suburb of Les Mureaux, outside his home late Monday, Molins said. Abballa then went inside and took Salvaing’s partner and 3-year-old son hostage. He killed the woman, who was a police administrator in the suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie, but did not harm the boy, Molins said.

Aballa was killed by police after a three-hour standoff.

Molins said three people — aged 27, 29 and 44 — were detained Tuesday in the investigation. He did not provide any other details.

French President Francois Hollande said after an emergency security meeting Tuesday that it was “incontestably a terrorist act” and that France faces a threat “of a very large scale.”

“France is not the only country concerned (by the terrorist threat), as we have seen, again, in the United States, in Orlando,” he said.

Hollande later said he wants additional security efforts to be deployed and vigilance to be increased to “its highest level.” He didn’t provide details.

Abballa, 25, was from Mantes-la-Jolie and was sentenced in 2013 to three years in prison for recruiting fighters for jihad in Pakistan, according to two police officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named discussing investigations.

A resident of the apartment building where Abballa lived, who did not want to give his name, said police raided it early Tuesday.

Neighborhood resident Henriette Yenge, who lives and works near the building, said she would say hello to Abballa when he went to the mosque around the corner.

“He was a neighborhood kid,” she said. “I was surprised it was him. It’s sad to see things like that.”

Hours before the killing, Abballa went to his neighborhood mosque and prayed so long that mosque employees had to make him leave. Rector Mohamed Droussi said Abballa was reading the Quran for a long time, and was the last one to leave.

“I took the key and I said, ‘we are closing,'” Droussi said.

He said he is concerned about radicalization, and the mosque often addresses the issue, to “ask the youth to stay on the right path.”

A Facebook profile bearing the name Larossi Abballa — which vanished from the internet early Tuesday — showed a photo of a smiling, bearded man. Two recent posts featured videos critical of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The last publicly available post was a mock-up of the European Championship logo, highlighting what the poster said were masonic and occult symbols.

“Some will say we see evil everywhere!” Abballa said in a message posted about 18 hours before the attack.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the police station in Les Mureaux where Salvaing worked. He said more than 100 people seen as potential threats have been arrested in France this year, including in recent weeks.

France, like other countries in Europe, has seen a series of stabbings aimed at police officers or soldiers and carried out by Muslim radicals.

Monday’s attack shook police officers, and Cazeneuve said they would be allowed to take home their service weapons.

“Today every police officer is a target,” Yves Lefebvre of police union Unite SGP Police-FO told The Associated Press. He said attackers are “professionalizing” and can now find police in their homes.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was lit up Monday night in the colors of a rainbow to honor victims of Saturday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed at least 49 people. The gunman declared his allegiance to IS in phone calls to police, but his motives remain unclear.

 

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International Headlines

Russia and Ukraine swap prisoners

 

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and Ukraine has exchanged four prisoners in a move coordinated by their governments.

The swap follows last month’s release of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko after two years in a Russian prison. Savchenko was swapped for two Russians convicted of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

In Tuesday’s exchange, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin pardoned Gennady Afanasyev, who was convicted on charges of sabotage, and Yuri Soloshenko, convicted on espionage charges. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko welcomed them in Kiev after their return.

Ukraine, in its turn, freed two imprisoned pro-Russia Ukrainian journalists from Odessa, Elena Glishchinskaya and Vitaly Didenko. They were flown to Moscow. Glishchinskaya traveled with her newborn baby.

Russia and Ukraine have remained locked in a tug-of-war following Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

 

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International Headlines

Despite defense buildup, NATO also seeks to assure Russia

JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG, Associated Press

 

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO’s chief said Tuesday the alliance is reinforcing its defenses against Russia from the Baltic to the Black Sea, but keeping all possible contacts with Moscow open to avoid any unwarranted escalation of tension.

Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, confirmed previous statements that alliance defense ministers gathered in Brussels for a two-day meeting will back a deployment plan to send four multinational battalions to the Baltic states and Poland. He also said decisions are expected on forming a new multinational unit of ground forces in Romania.

“Defending our territory and protecting our people — that is NATO’s primary responsibility,” Stoltenberg said as he opened the ministers’ first working session Tuesday afternoon.

In a written statement, NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero said, “We will decide to establish a framework ‘brigade’ with a Romanian HQ and a Romanian and Bulgarian battalion — as a framework for training and exercises with other Allies’ units.” The brigade’s strength is expected to be roughly 3,000-5,000.

NATO officials also predicted support for a Romanian proposal for a joint training initiative that focuses on specific operational requirements of the southeastern European region and promotes interoperability of NATO forces through training and exercises.

Additional proposals are also being considered to increase air and naval defenses in the Black Sea, where a Russian naval fleet based at Sevastopol in Crimea is a major player, NATO officials say.

Speaking to reporters before ministers met, Stoltenberg said that even as NATO reacts to what it sees as a potent security threat from a newly resurgent and unfriendly Moscow, “at the same time we convey a very strong message that we don’t seek a confrontation with Russia. We don’t want the new Cold War.”

He said it “is important that we continue to keep channels for political dialogue open, but also military contacts.”

Last month, NATO foreign ministers expressed broad support for convening a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a forum that brings together ambassadors from NATO’s 28 member states and Russia. So far, there has been no public response from the Kremlin.

The defense ministers’ wide-ranging agenda is designed to set the stage for NATO’s summit taking place in roughly three weeks’ time, on July 8-9 in Warsaw. U.S. NATO Ambassador Douglas Lute on Monday called the meeting “the final tuneup” for the alliance before U.S. President Barack Obama and the other leaders meet in Poland.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, ministers are also expected to agree to cooperate more closely with the European Union in security affairs, discuss how to improve NATO cyberdefense, intelligence-sharing and decision-making to face current challenges, and meet with Ukraine’s defense minister.

Without disclosing details, Stoltenberg said “we will establish a framework to deal with threats and challenges from the south” — NATO speak for the Islamic extremist violence that has become widespread in the Middle East and North Africa.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his counterparts from Canada and NATO’s European members are also expected to consider providing AWACS surveillance planes to support the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State organization in Iraq and Syria, discuss how to support countries in the Middle East and North Africa threatened by extremist violence and assess what NATO can do to assist an EU operation attempting to stop people smuggling in the Mediterranean.

 

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International Headlines National Sports West Virginia Sports

Father of Reeva Steenkamp testifies at Pistorius sentencing

CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press

 

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — His voice breaking with emotion, the father of Reeva Steenkamp testified in a South African court on Tuesday that her fatal shooting by boyfriend Oscar Pistorius “devastated” his family and that he thinks of her constantly, even trying to imagine the horrific moment of her death.

“Oscar has to pay for what he did,” said Barry Steenkamp, adding that he would like to talk to the former track star in private at a later stage.

Steenkamp spoke at the sentencing hearing for Pistorius, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in his home in 2013 in a case that transfixed many around the world, partly because of the dramatic fall of a once-acclaimed athlete and the shocking nature of his crime.

Pistorius is currently under house arrest after initially serving one year of a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter for shooting Reeva Steenkamp. But that conviction was overturned last year by an appeals court, which convicted Pistorius of the more serious charge of murder.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, who initially acquitted Pistorius of murder, will decide the new sentence. The hearing is scheduled to run through Friday this week. South Africa has a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for murder, although a judge can reduce that in some circumstances.

Barry Steenkamp gave testimony about the wrenching, personal grief of a distraught father who lost a daughter in a fatal shooting.

“She must have been in so much fear, pain,” Steenkamp said, his hands shaking at times. “That is what I think of all the time.”

Under questioning from Nel, Steenkamp urged Judge Masipa to allow the public to see the graphic photos of his daughter’s wounds that were entered as evidence during Pistorius’ trial but not allowed to be shown to a wider audience. Perhaps, Steenkamp said, people who are “thinking of that type of deed” will hesitate before committing such a violent act if they see the photos.

He said the death of Reeva Steenkamp, a model who was shot multiple times through a toilet cubicle door, contributed to his heart and other health problems and that his wife June grieves just as much as he does despite what he called her “stone-faced” demeanor in public.

“I hear her at night,” Barry Steenkamp said. “I hear her crying. I hear her talking to Reeva.”

He said of his daughter’s death: “It devastated us.”

Sitting in the courtroom, Pistorius looked downward as Steenkamp testified. Afterward, during an adjournment, he sat hunched forward, apparently emotional, as his siblings, Carl and Aimee, sought to comfort him.

Earlier, a pastor and a woman whose son was born without legs testified for Pistorius’ defense.

Pastor Marius Nel said he had been in contact with schools that want the double-amputee Olympian to help disadvantaged children with sports training. The pastor also said he had visited Pistorius after he was jailed for the earlier manslaughter conviction and found him to be a “broken” man.

The testimony reflects an argument by defense lawyer Barry Roux that Pistorius should not go to jail because he can make a valuable contribution to society and would face increasing mental deterioration if he returns to prison.

A nurse at the prison where Pistorius was jailed after his manslaughter conviction later testified for the prosecution about several alleged confrontations with Pistorius over medication and other issues. In one episode, nurse Charlotte Mashabane said, Pistorius got angry because officials came to his cell for a routine check while he was sleeping.

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said he would call his last witness on Wednesday for what he said would be “emotional” testimony.

 

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National News

All bodies removed from club in worst mass shooting in US

JASON DEAREN, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The last of the bodies were slowly removed late Sunday from a popular Orlando gay club after a gunman sprayed the helpless crowd with bullets, killing 49 people and devastating a city famous for family-friendly theme parks.

When the attacker opened fire in the early hours of Sunday morning, it interrupted an evening of drinking, dancing and drag shows at a club known for tolerance for all people.

Authorities say suspect Omar Mateen emerged, carrying an AR-15 and fired relentlessly — 20 rounds, 40, then 50 and more. In such tight quarters, the bullets could hardly miss. He shot at police. He took hostages.

When the gunfire at the Pulse Orlando club finally stopped, 50 people — including Mateen — were dead and dozens critically wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen, who authorities said had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 around the time of the attack, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

“I’ve always felt so safe here for my family, kids. And now, I don’t know,” said Marlon Massey, who lives across the street from the club.

Authorities are wondering if it was an act of terrorism and are probing the background of Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen from Fort Pierce, Florida, who had worked as a security guard. The gunman’s father recalled that his son recently got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami and said that might be related to the assault.

The Islamic State’s radio called Mateen “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America.” Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the IS extremist group, on Monday hailed the attack, saying it targeted a gathering of Christians and gays and that it’s the worst attack on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The broadcast is apparently an opportunistic statement as IS has not officially claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack.

Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and 11 people died at hospitals, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. By Monday morning, families of 24 of the victims had been notified, Dyer said.

Workers removed the bodies four at a time on stretchers out of the club and loaded them into white vans. The action was repeated over and over. The covered bodies were taken to the County Medical Examiner’s office. All were there by 11 p.m., Dyer said.

On Monday morning, officials emphasized that there was no immediate threat to the public and said they didn’t know whether anyone would be charged as part of the investigation.

Jon Alamo had been dancing at the Pulse for hours when he wandered into the club’s main room just in time to see the gunman. “You ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That’s how he was shooting at people,” he said.

“My first thought was, oh my God, I’m going to die,” Alamo said. “I was praying to God that I would live to see another day.”

Pulse patron Eddie Justice texted his mother, Mina: “Mommy I love you. In club they shooting.” About 30 minutes later, hiding in a bathroom, he texted her: “He’s coming. I’m gonna die.”

Justice’s name would eventually be added to the city’s list of those killed in the shooting.

At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.

The previous deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before killing himself.

Mateen’s family was from Afghanistan, and he was born in New York. His family later moved to Florida, authorities said.

A law enforcement official said the gunman made a 911 call from the club in which he professed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation, but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The extremist group did not officially claim responsibility for the attack, but the IS-run Aamaq news agency cited an unnamed source as saying the attack was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.

Even if the attacker supported IS, it was unclear whether the group planned or knew of the attack beforehand.

Mateen was not unknown to law enforcement: In 2013, he made inflammatory comments to co-workers and was interviewed twice, according to FBI agent Ronald Hopper, who called the interviews inconclusive. In 2014, Hopper said, officials found that Mateen had ties to an American suicide bomber, but the agent described the contact as minimal, saying it did not constitute a threat at the time.

Asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had “suggestions that individual has leanings towards that.”

Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In a separate incident, an Indiana man armed with three assault rifles and chemicals used to make explosives was arrested Sunday in Southern California and told police he was headed to a West Hollywood gay pride parade.

The Orlando shooting started about 2 a.m., with more than 300 people inside the Pulse.

“He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance,” said Jackie Smith, who saw two friends next to her get shot. “I just tried to get out of there.”

At 2:09 a.m., Pulse posted on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”

Mateen exchanged gunfire with 14 police officers at the club, and took hostages at one point. In addition to the assault rifle, the shooter also had a handgun and some sort of “suspicious device,” Police Chief John Mina. About 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the remaining club-goers, Mina said.

At first, officers mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to the dead after a bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body, Mayor Dyer said. The robot was sent in after SWAT team members put explosive charges on a wall and an armored vehicle knocked it down in an effort to rescue hostages.

Just before 6 a.m., the Pulse posted an update on its Facebook: “As soon as we have any information, we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”

Authorities were looking into whether the shooter acted alone, according to Danny Banks, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News about his son seeing the men kissing a couple of months ago.

“We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident,” Seddique said. “We are in shock like the whole country.”

Mateen was a security guard with a company called G4S. In a 2012 newsletter, the firm identified him as working in West Palm Beach. In a statement sent Sunday to the Palm Beach Post, the company confirmed that he had been an employee since September 2007. State records show that Mateen had held a firearms license since at least 2011.

President Barack Obama called the shooting an “act of terror” and an “act of hate” targeting a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians. He urged Americans to decide whether this is the kind of “country we want to be.”

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National News

As mass shootings plague US, survivors mourn lack of change

SADIE GURMAN, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — The deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history has people around the world wondering why mass violence keeps happening in America.

For those who have lived through mass shootings, and for the law enforcement officers trying to prevent them, the answer is self-evident.

“Because we allow it,” said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was among 12 killed at Colorado movie theater in July 2012.

The nation began the week mourning the 50 people killed early Sunday when a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Authorities are investigating whether the assault was an act of terrorism, a hate crime, or both. Politicians lamented the violence as tragically familiar despite its staggering scale.

The causes of mass shootings are as disparate as the cases themselves, but those involved in other tragedies couldn’t help but feel the similarities.

President Barack Obama called the latest massacre “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub.

“And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.”

Although the Orlando shooter’s motives, and allegiance to Islamic extremism, aren’t yet clear, the massacre already sparks echoes of last year’s attack on a social services center in San Bernardino, California.

For Ryan Reyes, whose boyfriend was killed in that case, the shootings have less to do with gun control and more to do with highly charged political rhetoric and how people treat each other.

“The issue is American society,” he said. “We are to blame, and the fact that we refuse to accept the fact that we are to blame just makes it worse. It’s what we do to each other that causes these people to get to the point where they feel this is the only option.”

Still, guns get their share of the blame. Laws that allow almost anyone who has not been convicted of a felony to purchase guns have made it as simple as a mouse-click to get weapons and ammunition, Phillips said. That includes semi-automatic rifles like the Orlando gunman’s AR-15, a common denominator in many of the worst recent mass shootings: Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, to name a few.

More frustrating, Phillips said, is that even the most horrifying massacres have provoked little change.

The best chance might have come after a gunman in the Sandy Hook community in Newtown, Connecticut, killed 20 first-graders and six adults at a school, just months after the theater shooting in 2012. Obama dedicated much of the start of his second term to pushing legislation to expand background checks, ban certain assault-style weapons and cap the size of ammunition clips.

That measure collapsed in the Senate, and since then, the political makeup of Congress has made new gun laws appear out of reach. Obama and other proponents of reform have all but quit calling for action after major attacks, shifting instead to simply decrying the fact that they can even happen.

When politicians do succeed at pushing for tighter gun measures, they risk their careers. In Colorado, fresh off the Aurora theater shooting and still healing from the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in which two students killed 13 people and themselves, Democrats in the state Legislature in 2013 muscled through new laws requiring universal background checks and banning magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.

Gun control advocates considered it a victory, until furious gun rights supporters forced from office two state senators who supported the measures.

“We could have done something about this in the years since Columbine, since Sandy Hook,” said Marcus Weaver, who was wounded in the theater shooting and whose friend was killed. “When is enough enough?”

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, disagreed that stricter gun laws are the solution.

“I think there’s other root causes in play,” he said. “I think mental health is a huge issue. One of the motivators is really that ISIS continues to exist, Islamic terror in other forms continues to exist.”

Many mass shooters have been found to have severe psychological problems, including the Colorado theater shooter and the man who tried to assassinate Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011.

For Phillips, the story is the same, each time.

“We have made it so easy in this country, for anyone — any one,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who that person is or what their agenda is.”

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National News

Another night of drinking and dancing, until the shots began

TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
JASON DEAREN, Associated Press
MICHAEL SCHNEIDER, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Jon Alamo was ready for a good time.

The 22-year-old clothing store sales clerk arrived at Pulse in Orlando at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, clad all in blue from his button-down shirt adorned with palm trees to his loafers.

“It was definitely going to be an awesome night,” he said.

Like young people in clubs the world over, Alamo met up with some friends, and then some more friends. He danced in Pulse’s main room, where people swayed to the beat of salsa music. Then Alamo drifted into the club’s two other rooms, which grooved to more of a hip-hop vibe. He remembers hearing Rihanna’s “Work,” one of his favorite songs, and grinding to it on the dance floor.

It was supposed to be just a night of dancing and drinking, of looking good and gleefully partying into the early morning hours. It was Latin night at Pulse, one of Orlando’s top gay venues, and two drag performers were scheduled to perform, one of them a big draw for appearing on a season of the TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

“I was in the zone,” Alamo recalled. “I wasn’t even paying attention — just dancing.”

About three and a half hours after he arrived, the gunshots began. And the first of the 49 victims began to die.

Residents of the Delaney Court condos next door to Pulse first heard the shooting about 2:03 a.m. Marlon Massey was watching the movie “Creed” when he heard “pop, pop, pop!” He checked his phone for the time: The shots went on until 2:05 a.m.

A uniformed Orlando police officer working at the club off-duty had heard gunshots himself and spotted Omar Mateen outside the club. He fired his gun at the 29-year-old security guard from Fort Pierce, Florida, and two other officers quickly joined in. Mateen was not armed lightly: Police said he had an AR-15 assault-type rifle, a handgun and an explosive device.

Undeterred, he re-entered the club.

Inside, those on the dance floor weren’t sure if what they heard was just part of the DJ’s set.

“Everyone was getting on the floor. … I thought it was just part of the music, until I saw fire coming out of his gun,” patron Rose Feba explained to the Orlando Sentinel.

Mina Justice was sound asleep when she received the first text from her son, Eddie Justice, who was in the club.

“Mommy I love you,” the first message said. It was 2:06 a.m.

“In club they shooting.”

It was around this time that Alamo wandered back into the main room.

“He was holding a big weapon,” Alamo said. “He had a white shirt and he was holding the weapon … you ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That’s how he was shooting at people.”

Alamo dashed toward the back of one of the smaller dance rooms, and said people then rushed to an area where two bouncers had knocked down a wooden fence to create an escape route.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die,” Alamo said, his voice very quiet. “I was praying to God that I would live to see another day. I couldn’t believe this was happening.”

At 2:09 a.m., Pulse posted a chilling, hurried message on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”

Brand White and her cousin were on the dance floor in the main room when White’s cousin yelled to her, “B, it’s a guy with a bomb!” Before she knew it, White was hit in the shoulder.

“All of a sudden it just started like a rolling thunder, loud and everything went black,” White wrote in a Facebook message to an Associated Press reporter from his hospital room Sunday. “I think I was trampled.”

She didn’t recall leaving the club, but she remembered the state she was in: “Covered head to toe in blood.”

“I remember screaming and mass chaos,” she wrote. “There were hundreds of people there.”

She made it to the hospital, where she got a blood transfusion. As Sunday wore on, her cousin remained missing.

Brett Rigas and his partner also were dancing in the main room when they heard the crack of gunfire. “About 70 bullets,” Rigas described in a terse Facebook message.

He was shot in the arm and a man next to him was struck in the leg before police entered the room.

“I was behind the bar with four other people under the well. They called out to us and had us run out,” he said.

Rigas saw dead bodies as he barreled out of the club. In the rush to escape, he became separated from his partner, who remained unaccounted for.

Three patrons, including a performer, ran to the nearby home of club regular David “Brock” Cornelius. Cornelius had gone to a different bar Saturday night and wasn’t yet home, but he texted them his garage code and they hid in his house.

Police said a dozen or so other patrons took cover in a restroom.

At 2:39 a.m., Eddie Justice texted his mother from the bathroom, pleading for her to call police:

“Call them mommy

Now.”

He’s coming

I’m gonna die.”

Justice asked her son if anyone was hurt and which bathroom he was in.

“Lots. Yes,” he responded at 2:42 a.m.

The last text she received from Eddie was at 2:50 a.m. His name was later added to the city’s list of those killed in the attack.

“All I heard was gunfire after gunfire,” Brandon Wolf, who was in a restroom hiding, told the Sentinel. “Eventually, I thought you were supposed to run out of ammunition. But it just kept going and going,” he said.

What happened in the three hours after the shooting broke out and the gunman was killed was not immediately clear.

As people lay dying in the club, the shooting developed “into a hostage situation,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said officers initially mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to some of his victims after a bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body. That held paramedics up from entering the club until it was determined the part had fallen out of an exit sign or smoke detector, the mayor said.

The robot was sent in after SWAT team members used explosive charges and an armored vehicle to knock down a wall in an effort to access the club.

About 5 a.m., a decision was made to rescue the remaining club-goers, who authorities said likely were in one of the smaller dance rooms, the Adonis Room. Law enforcement officers used two explosive devices to try to distract the killer and then 11 officers stormed the club and exchanged gunfire with Mateen.

The explosives jolted some Pulse neighbors awake, including Dorian Ackerman, 28, who noted that it was just after 5 a.m.

“I heard a woman screaming,” he said. “It was really terrifying.”

The gunman started firing, hitting an officer who was saved by protective armor.

“That’s when we took him down,” the mayor said.

Categories
National News

As the shootings unfolded, a horror for 1 mother via text

TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mina Justice was sound asleep when she received the first text from her son, Eddie Justice, who was in the gay nightclub when a gunman opened fire, leaving 50 dead and more than 50 wounded.

This is the conversation she had over text message with her 30-year-old son:

“Mommy I love you,” the first message said. It was 2:06 a.m.

“In club they shooting.”

Mina Justice tried calling her 30-year-old son. No answer.

Alarmed and half awake, she tapped out a response.

“U ok”

At 2:07 a.m., he wrote: “Trapp in bathroom.”

Justice asked what club, and he responded: “Pulse. Downtown. Call police.”

Then at 2:08: “I’m gonna die.”

Now wide awake, Justice dialed 911.

She sent a flurry of texts over the next several minutes.

“I’m calling them now.

U still in there

Answer our damn phone

Call them

Call me.”

The 911 dispatcher wanted her to stay on the line. She wondered what kind of danger her son was in. He was normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out. He liked to make everyone laugh. He worked as an accountant and lived in a condo in downtown Orlando.

“Lives in a sky house, like the Jeffersons,” she would say. “He lives rich.”

She knew he was gay and at a club — and all the complications that might entail. Fear surged through her as she waited for his next message.

At 2:39 a.m., he responded:

“Call them mommy

Now.”

He wrote that he was in the bathroom.

“He’s coming

I’m gonna die.”

Justice asked her son if anyone was hurt and which bathroom he was in.

“Lots. Yes,” he responded at 2:42 a.m.

When he didn’t text back, she sent several more messages. Was he with police?

“Text me please,” she wrote.

“No,” he wrote four minutes later. “Still here in bathroom. He has us. They need to come get us.”

At 2:49 a.m., she told him the police were there and to let her know when he saw them.

“Hurry,” he wrote. “He’s in the bathroom with us.”

She asked, “Is the man in the bathroom wit u?”

At 2:50 a.m.: “He’s a terror.”

Then, a final text from her son a minute later: “Yes.”

More than 15 hours after that text, Justice still hasn’t heard from her son. She and a dozen family and friends are at a hotel that has become a staging area for relatives awaiting news. Any news.

“His name has not come up yet and that’s scary. It’s just …” she paused and patted her heart. “It’s just, I got this feeling. I got a bad feeling.”

Categories
National News

Indiana man arrested in California with guns, chemicals

CHRISTOPHER WEBER, Associated Press
ANDREW DALTON, Associated Press

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Police and FBI agents were working to figure out why a man from Indiana had three assault rifles and chemicals used in making explosives in his car some 2,000 miles from home in Southern California, where he told the officers arresting him that he was headed to a gay pride parade.

Santa Monica police and the FBI, which was leading the investigation, were examining the intentions of James Wesley Howell, 20, who told police he was going to LA Pride in West Hollywood, an event that annually draws hundreds of thousands of people. His arrest came just a few hours after at least 50 people were shot and killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, though police said they had found no evidence of a connection between the events.

Howell, of Jeffersonville, was arrested around 5 a.m. after residents called police to report suspicious behavior by a man who parked his white Acura sedan facing the wrong way. When officers arrived they saw an assault rifle sitting in Howell’s passenger seat, Santa Monica police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said.

That prompted them to search the whole car. They found two more assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that could be used to make an explosive device, police said.

Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks initially tweeted that Howell told officers he wanted to “harm” the gay pride event, but she later corrected her statement to say only that Howell said he was going to the parade.

A Facebook page that apparently is Howell’s includes photos of the white Acura he was driving in Santa Monica. The postings are unremarkable. There’s no enmity toward gays or notable political activism. One post says he’s signing a petition to legalize marijuana.

The page’s most recent public post, from June 3, shows a photo comparing an Adolf Hitler quote to one from Hillary Clinton. An anti-Clinton, pro-Bernie Sanders photo was posted in February.

The site said Howell worked as an auditor for a company that makes air filters.

Howell was charged in October in Clark County, Indiana, with pointing a firearm at someone, and with intimidation. He made a deal with prosecutors in April to plead guilty only to the misdemeanor intimidation charge. He was given one-year prison sentence that the judge suspended in favor of strict probation that prohibited him from having weapons.

A friend of Howell’s, 18-year-old Joseph Greeson, said Howell’s parents in Jeffersonville hadn’t seen him for days and that they called Greeson’s parents looking for him. Greeson told the Los Angeles Times that he and Howell are in a car club together and that Howell had a gun collection.

Greeson also said Howell harbored no ill will for gays or lesbians.

The event continued as usual, albeit with increased security. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the arrest at the start of the parade and struck a defiant tone.

“We are here as Angelenos, as the LGBT community and allies,” he said. “And we will not shrink away, we will not be stuck in our homes, we will not go back into our closets. We’re here to march, to celebrate and to mourn.”

Carl Oliver of Los Angeles attends the parade every year. He said he cried after hearing about Orlando, but he never considered not coming.

“This is about love,” he said. “We have to show our love and unity.”

Categories
National Sports

Penguins cap turnaround season with 4th Stanley Cup

JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Back in December, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like a lost team bound to miss the playoffs.

Sidney Crosby and the offense couldn’t score, the offseason acquisitions such as Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino had yet to click and coach Mike Johnston was fired.

Six months to the day after coach Mike Sullivan took over, the Penguins are champions again.

Led by Crosby’s dominant play on both ends of the ice, speed that opponents struggled to match and a rookie goaltender who showed an uncanny ability to bounce back from rare shaky performances, the Penguins won their second title of the Crosby era — seven years to the day after last holding the Cup.

“I have a greater appreciation this time around,” Crosby said. “At a young age, going back-to-back like we did, you just think it’s going to be an annual thing. With the core we have, you think everyone’s going to stay together, the team’s not going to change. But it does. That’s kind of the reality of playing hockey.”

The turnover this season was a major reason for the turnaround in fortunes after six straight years of playoff disappointments.

General manager Jim Rutherford acquired the entire “HBK line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel over the past 12 months, Matt Murray stepped in as goalie when starter Marc-Andre Fleury got hurt and rookies such as Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust delivered clutch playoff performances.

Throw in mainstays such as Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and the Penguins had the right ingredients to win it all.

But it all starts with Crosby, who set up Letang’s game-winner midway through the second period and Patric Hornqvist’s empty-netter that sealed the 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night that gave Pittsburgh its fourth title.

Despite not scoring a goal in the final, Crosby controlled the play with his committed defense, strong performance in the faceoff circle and playmaking ability that earned him the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.

“It places him up there with the greats of the game of all-time,” Sullivan said. “He’s that good in my mind. I’ve said all along here through the course of the playoffs, he’s deserving of the Conn Smythe. His numbers don’t indicate the impact he had on helping this team win, or the impact he had on a game-to-game basis. He was a great leader for our team.”

Three nights after squandering a chance to become the first Pittsburgh team to win a title in front of the home fans in 56 years, the Penguins finished the job on the road just like they did in Minnesota (1991), Chicago (1992) and Detroit (2009) in past title runs.

The championship in Detroit was supposed to be the first of many for a team led by players like Crosby and Malkin. But a series of concussions cost Crosby almost an entire season and a half, and there were those playoff disappointments that included twice blowing 3-1 series leads. There was no second celebration in the Crosby era — until now.

“It’s so hard to win it year after year,” said Lemieux, who won back-to-back titles and Conn Smythe trophies as a player for Pittsburgh. “For them to be able to come through this year and win their second Cup is big. Hopefully there’s a few more for them.”

This didn’t seem as though it would be a season to remember back in early December. But the Penguins found their stride under Sullivan and took off in March.

“Everyone takes that personal, puts the responsibility on their shoulders to be better,” Crosby said. “I think individually and as a group we had high expectations, we knew we needed to be better. I thought we just slowly got better and better.”

Pittsburgh knocked off the New York Rangers in the first round, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington in round two and then rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to beat Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference final.

The Penguins were in control for almost the entire final. They did not trail until Game 5 at home and responded to a strong push from San Jose in the clincher to avoid a decisive seventh game. Pittsburgh held San Jose to just one shot on goal in the first 19 minutes of the third period to preserve the one-goal lead. The Penguins sealed it when Crosby blocked a shot from Marc-Edouard Vlasic that set up Hornqvist’s empty-netter.

“In the playoffs, suddenly we thought we could beat any team,” Malkin said. “We tried to play the same game we played in 2009.”

Logan Couture scored the lone goal for the Sharks, who were making their first trip to the final in their 25-year history. Martin Jones made 24 saves and was San Jose’s best player for the series.

“The end is like hitting a wall,” coach Peter DeBoer said.

While the season ended in disappointment, it also was a bit of a breakthrough for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of a franchise that had been known for playoff collapses, most notably in 2014 when the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round to Los Angeles.

“We thought we had the team, going through the teams we did in the West,” Thornton said. “It’s just tough right now.”