Colorado prosecutors set to charge man for murdering family

FILE PHOTO - Chrisopher Watts, 33, arrested on suspicion of murdering his pregnant wife and two young daughters, in Frederick, Colorado, U.S., is shown in this handout photo provided August 16, 2018. Weld County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – Colorado prosecutors said they plan to formally file murder charges on Monday against a man accused of killing his pregnant wife and their two young daughters, days after he told police they went missing and pleaded on TV for their safe return.

Christopher Watts, 33, has been held without bond in the Weld County jail since his arrest last week for the murders of his pregnant wife Shanann Watts, 34 and two daughters, Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4.

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke will formally file charges against Watts on Monday and seek the release of an arrest affidavit, which has been under seal, that lays out details of the crime, his spokeswoman Krista Henery said in a telephone interview.

Shannan Watts and the children were reported missing on Tuesday from their home in Frederick, about 30 miles (50 km) north of Denver.

Watts said in an interview with Denver 7 on Tuesday that he was torn up inside about his family going missing and pleaded for their return.

“I just want them to come back,” Watts told TV station Denver 7. “My kids are my life. Those smiles light up my life. I want everybody to just come home.”

The next day he was arrested.

On Thursday authorities said they had discovered the bodies of his wife and daughters on a property owned by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., where Watts worked.

Neither Watts, nor his court-appointed attorney, have commented on the incident since his arrest.

Authorities have not confirmed local media reports that Watts confessed to killing his family, and that he strangled the two girls and stuffed their bodies inside oil barrels.

The case has drawn national media attention to the town of Frederick, a former mining town of 13,000.

Standing outside the Rock Solid Saloon in downtown Frederick, David Huston shook his head in disbelief at the murders.

“I just can’t imagine what circumstances would cause somebody to get to that point,” said the 35-year-old maintenance worker at a manufacturing plant, and the father of two.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Jon Herskovitz)

In U.S. prisons, tablets open window to the outside world

Inmate Steven Goff connects his JPay tablet device to a kiosk inside the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Diana Kruzman

RAHWAY, N.J. (Reuters) – Marvin Worthy, confined to a New Jersey state prison since 2004, cannot watch his son play basketball or visit him in college. But for the past three years, a tablet computer has kept their relationship alive.

Eight years after Apple introduced the iPad, specially designed tablets are reaching thousands of prisoners in state and county lock-ups around the United States. In the last year alone, at least 19 states have made tablets available to inmates, saying they reduce violence while providing education and job training.

“We talk about school, what he does every day,” said Worthy, 37, who is serving the last 13 years of his sentence in East Jersey State Prison in Rahway. A picture of his son on prom night glowed on the small screen in his hands.

The tablets, which are tamper-proof and unable to access the internet, allow inmates to exchange emails with people on an approved list of contacts. But some advocacy groups say their charges are too high and fear they may be used to replace family visits.

“Having tablets to help people in prisons use email and technology is a good thing,” said Caroline Hsu, an attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project. “But I’m worried about these services being considered replacements and not additions.”

In some states including Colorado, New York and Virginia, companies provide the tablets for free. But in all cases, inmates have to pay for the services they use, which include email, video calls, and downloads of games, music, movies and books from a limited selection. They can also file prison grievances, access a law library or take job training courses.

All messages are limited in length and screened for security to prevent any unauthorized contact with the outside world.

Inmate Ignacio Rodriguez shows his JPay tablet device inside the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Inmate Ignacio Rodriguez shows his JPay tablet device inside the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Two of the big players in the field are Global Tel Link (GTL), a tablet provider based in Reston, Virginia, and Dallas-based Securus Technologies and its JPay unit, which have long sold other prison services such as pay-phone calls and money transfers.

The privately-owned companies design their own tablets and software and sell them to inmates or facilities through contracts with correctional departments.

JPay and GTL told Reuters they factor in the high cost of creating a closed network for emails when setting prices. They said they do not encourage facilities to cut in-person education, visits or physical mail.

‘CAPTIVE CONSUMER BASE’

About 30 states say they offer tablets to all prisoners, along with numerous county jails. Many say the computers keep inmates occupied, lowering the risk of fighting, while email and video-calling cuts the cost of hiring staff to sort mail or screen visitors.

Tablets are especially useful for inmates whose families are unable to travel to see them, said Brian Peters, a vice president at GTL. And family contact reduces the chance inmates will commit crimes after being released, according to studies from the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice.

But because many states sign exclusive contracts with one company, tablet providers can freely set prices.

Inmate Ignacio Rodriguez poses while using his JPay tablet device inside the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Inmate Ignacio Rodriguez poses while using his JPay tablet device inside the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“These vendors have specialized in making money off of people in prison and their families,” said Hsu. “They have a literally captive consumer base.”

She said New York’s contract with JPay, which will provide tablets for some 50,000 prisoners, does not allow prisoners to send free or confidential emails to attorneys. JPay confirmed that was correct.

Each email costs 40 to 50 cents to send, as much as five hours of work for New York inmates, according to 2017 data from the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

“This is just a means to monetize human contact,” said Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that campaigns on behalf of prisoner rights.

Ignacio Rodriguez, 32, who has been incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison since 2014, said he had to choose “between writing emails and purchasing food or other essentials from the commissary.”

“At times the cost can be a burden,” he said.

(Reporting by Diana Kruzman, Editing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O’Brien)

Texas school shooter ‘nonemotional,’ lawyer says as motive sought

Christian Cardenas 10, helps Jaydon Johnson 8, light a candle during a vigil for the victims of a shooting at Santa Fe High School that left several dead and injured in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Pu Ying Huang

By Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – The 17-year-old student charged with killing 10 people when he opened fire in an art class at his Houston-area high school appeared “weirdly nonemotional” on the morning after the rampage, one of his lawyers said on Saturday.

The teenager, identified by law enforcement as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, has been charged with capital murder and is being held without bail in Santa Fe, Texas, where authorities said he went on a shooting spree shortly before 8 a.m. CDT on Friday.

In addition to 10 fatalities, the gunman wounded at least 13 people, with two of them in critical condition. One of those in critical condition was one of the two school resource officers who engaged the shooter before his surrender.

For graphic on the timeline of major mass shootings in the United States since 2007 click https://tmsnrt.rs/2LfKug6

Nicholas Poehl, one of two lawyers hired by the suspect’s parents to represent him, told Reuters he had spent a total of one hour with Pagourtzis on Friday night and Saturday morning.

“He’s very emotional and weirdly nonemotional,” the attorney said when asked to describe his client’s state of mind. “There are aspects of it he understands and there are aspects he doesn’t understand.”

As the shooting unfolded, Pagourtzis spared people he liked so he could have his side of the story told, a charging document showed.

While authorities have given no indication why he apparently targeted the art class, a mother of one of the victims told the Los Angeles Times that her daughter, Shana Fisher, 16, had rejected four months of aggressive advances from Pagourtzis.

Fisher finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, the newspaper quoted her mother Sadie Rodriguez as writing in a private message to the Times.

“A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn’t like,” she said. “Shana being the first one.”

Rodriguez did not say how she knew her daughter was the first victim, according to the newspaper.

Rodriguez could not independently be reached for comment.

FAMILY OF SHOOTER SPEAKS

Pagourtzis’ family said in a statement they were “saddened and dismayed” by the shooting and “as shocked as anyone else” by the events. They said they are cooperating with authorities.

“While we remain mostly in the dark about the specifics of (Friday’s) tragedy, what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love,” the family said.

Investigators had seen a photo of a T-shirt that read “Born to Kill” on the suspect’s Facebook page and authorities were examining his journal, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters, but there were no outward signs he had been planning an attack.

Pagourtzis waived his right to remain silent and made a statement to authorities admitting to the shooting, according to an affidavit ahead of his arrest.

Asked if Pagourtzis had provided authorities with information about the shootings, Poehl said: “Honestly because of his emotional state, I don’t have a lot on that.”

Candles line a table during a vigil held at the Texas First Bank after a shooting left several people dead at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Trish Badger

Candles line a table during a vigil held at the Texas First Bank after a shooting left several people dead at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Trish Badger

STUDENTS RETRIEVE BELONGINGS

Santa Fe High School, southeast of Houston, became the scene of the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school in modern history, joining a long list of campuses where students and faculty have fallen victim to gunfire.

The Texas rampage again stoked the country’s long-running debate over gun ownership, three months after a student-led gun control movement emerged from a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 teens and educators dead.

Students and faculty, bussed on to campus in small groups, were allowed to enter the high school on Saturday to retrieve belongings, though investigators closed off part of the grounds. Police kept reporters about 100 yards (91 meters) away.

All schools in the Santa Fe school district will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday, officials said.

In a letter to parents dated Friday but posted on the district’s website on Saturday, Superintendent Leigh Wall said eight of the dead were students and two were teachers. Authorities had earlier said that nine students and one teacher were killed.

National Football League star J.J. Watt, who plays defensive end for the Houston Texans, said he will pay for the funerals of the deceased, local media reported.

“Absolutely horrific,” he tweeted about the shooting.

Aziz Shaikh (L), father of Sabika Aziz Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student, who was killed with others when a gunman attacked Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., comforts a relative in Karachi, Pakistan May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Aziz Shaikh (L), father of Sabika Aziz Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student, who was killed with others when a gunman attacked Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., comforts a relative in Karachi, Pakistan May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

‘QUIET LONER’ IN A TRENCH COAT

Classmates at the school of some 1,460 students described Pagourtzis as a quiet loner who played on the football team. On Friday, they said he wore a trench coat to school on a day when temperatures topped 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

Texas’ governor told reporters that Pagourtzis obtained firearms from his father, who had likely acquired them legally, and also left behind explosive devices.

Abbott said Pagourtzis wanted to commit suicide, citing the suspect’s journals, but did not have the courage to do so.

Some aspects of the shooting had echoes of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The two teenaged killers in that incident wore trench coats, used shotguns and planted improvised explosives, killing 10 before committing suicide themselves.

It was the second mass shooting in Texas in less than seven months. A man armed with an assault rifle shot dead 26 people during Sunday prayers at a rural church last November.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Writing by Frank McGurty; editing by Daniel Wallis, Matthew Lewis and G Crosse)

Christian family shot dead in southwestern Pakistan

Christian cross-

By Gul Yousafzai

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Four members of a Christian family were gunned down in southwestern Pakistan on Monday, police said, in the latest attack on the minority community.

The family was traveling in a rickshaw when armed men on a motorcycle intercepted them and opened fire in Quetta city, the capital of Baluchistan province.

A woman was rushed to hospital. Her father and three cousins were killed.

“It appears to have been a targeted attack,” provincial police official Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters. “It was an act of terrorism.”

The attack comes a day after Pakistan’s Christian community celebrated Easter on Sunday. Around 2 percent of Pakistan’s population are Christians.

Minority religious festivals are a security concern in the majority Sunni Muslim country where there have been a number of high casualty attacks on Christians and Shi’ite Muslims.

Baluchistan, a region bordering Iran as well as Afghanistan, is plagued by violence by Sunni Islamist sectarian groups linked to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Islamic State. It also has an indigenous ethnic Baloch insurgency fighting against central government.

In December, a week before Christmas, two suicide bombers stormed a packed Christian church in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 10 people and wounding up to 56, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

The family killed on Monday had come to visit relatives in Quetta’s Shahzaman road area, where a large number of the city’s Christian community lives.

Rome’s ancient Colosseum was lit in red for an evening in February in solidarity with persecuted Christians, particularly Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who has been living on death row in Pakistan since 2010, when she was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam.

(Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Alison Williams)

Mass killer, cult leader Charles Manson dies at 83

Charles Manson during a 1989 interview.

By Diane Bartz and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Charles Manson, the wild-eyed cult leader who orchestrated a string of gruesome killings in Southern California by his “family” of young followers, shattering the peace-and-love ethos of the late 1960s, died on Sunday, prison officials said. He was 83.

Manson died of natural causes Sunday evening at a Kern County hospital, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement. It gave no further details of the circumstances surrounding his death.

He had been serving a life sentence at the nearby Corcoran State Prison for ordering the murders of nine people, including actress Sharon Tate.

Long after Manson had largely faded from headlines, he loomed large as a symbol of the terror he unleashed in the summer of 1969.

“The very name Manson has become a metaphor for evil,” the late Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Manson, told the Los Angeles Times in 1994.

A recent photograph showed the gray-bearded killer’s face still bearing the scar of a swastika he carved into his forehead decades earlier.

Manson became one of the 20th century’s most notorious criminals when he directed his mostly young, female followers to murder seven people in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war.

 

GRAFFITI WITH VICTIMS’ BLOOD

Tate, aged 26 and eight months pregnant, was stabbed 16 times in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 1969, by members of Manson’s cult at the rented hillside house she shared with her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski, in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.

Four friends of the celebrity couple, including coffee heiress Abigail Folger and hairstylist Jay Sebring, were also stabbed or shot to death that night by Manson followers, who scrawled the word “Pig” in blood on the home’s front door before leaving. Polanski was away in Europe at the time.

The following night, members of Manson’s group stabbed grocery owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary to death, using their blood to write, “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” – a misspelled reference to the Beatles song “Helter Skelter” – on the walls and refrigerator door.

Although Manson did not personally kill any of the seven victims, he was found guilty of ordering their murders.

He was later convicted of ordering the murders of music teacher Gary Hinman, stabbed to death in July 1969, and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea, stabbed and bludgeoned that August.

Manson was sentenced to death for the Tate-LaBianca murders, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court abolished capital punishment in the state in 1972.

Born Charles Milles Maddox on Nov. 12, 1934, in Cincinnati to a 16-year-old girl, Manson spent much of his youth shuttled between relatives and juvenile detention halls. By age 13, he had been convicted of armed robbery.

Newly paroled from prison in 1967, he began attracting members of his “family” in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, which had become a haven for the hippie youth culture.

The group moved with his followers to the Los Angeles area, eventually settling at Spahn Ranch, site of an outdoor movie location used for Western films and TV shows. Communal sex and drug use were a way of life as Manson became a messiah to the runaways, outcasts and criminals drawn by his charisma, intimidation and twisted spiritualism.

One follower told authorities she had seen Manson bring a bird back to life by breathing on it. Another said he could see and hear everything she did and said.

Manson aspired to be a rock star, and through one of his followers befriended Dennis Wilson, drummer of the Beach Boys, who would go on base their 1969 song “Never Learn Not to Love” on a Manson composition.

Wilson introduced Manson to music producer Terry Melcher, who later snubbed him. Melcher, along with his then-girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, had previously rented the Benedict Canyon house.

The brutality of the killings stunned the nation.

“There was a lot of fear,” Bugliosi, author of the chilling book about the murders, “Helter Skelter,” told the Times in 1994. “The words printed in blood made it especially frightening for the Hollywood crowd.”

 

SENSATIONAL TRIAL

Denied his request to represent himself during his 9-1/2 month trial, Manson showed up in court with an “X” carved into his forehead, and would later alter it into a swastika.

Co-defendants Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel cut “X”s in their foreheads, shaved their scalps, sang Manson-written songs and giggled through chilling testimony.

At one point, Manson tried to leap over the defense table at the judge, snarling: “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off.” The judge began carrying a gun afterward.

Manson ultimately was brought down by his followers. Atkins told two inmates about the Tate-LaBianca murders while she was jailed in an unrelated killing, then testified to a grand jury before recanting. Prosecutors then persuaded another follower, Linda Kasabian, to testify against the rest of the group in exchange for immunity.

Convicted along with Manson, his three co-defendants, Atkins, Van Houten and Krenwinkel, also had their death sentences reduced to life terms.

Manson long maintained his innocence, telling Rolling Stone magazine that follower Charles “Tex” Watson was responsible for the Tate-LaBianca killings. Watson was tried separately and is serving a life term for his role in those killings.

Still, Manson seemed resigned to a life of incarceration, ceasing to even attend his parole review hearings after 1997.

“What would I want out for?” he said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This beats an old folks home.”

In April 2012, Manson was quoted by parole officials as having told a prison psychologist the previous fall: “I have put five people in the grave. I’ve been in prison most of my life. I’m a very dangerous man.”

 

(Writing by Diane Bartz, Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Diane Craft and Nick Macfie)

 

Freeport evacuating Indonesian mine worker families after shootings

Freeport evacuating Indonesian mine worker families after shootings

TIMIKA, Indonesia (Reuters) – U.S. miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc is evacuating spouses and children of workers from its giant Indonesian copper mine after a string of shootings in the area raised security concerns.

The move follows efforts by Indonesian authorities on Friday to evacuate villages near Freeport’s Grasberg mine in the eastern province of Papua that authorities said had been occupied by armed separatists.

Since August at least 12 people have been injured and two police officers have been killed by gunmen with suspected links to separatist rebels.

Freeport has asked family and household members of its employees to prepare over the weekend for a temporary relocation from the mining town of Tembagapura, about 10 km (6.2 miles) from Grasberg, company sources said. Workers have been asked to stay behind and maintain their work schedule, they said.

Details of the evacuation or the number of people impacted were not immediately clear. Shots were fired at a light vehicle and two large mining trucks were set on fire at Grasberg on Saturday, one of the sources said. The sources declined to be named as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Freeport in a statement on Saturday confirmed the evacuation plan and said it will be carried out immediately.

“We are working closely with government and law enforcement to ensure the safety of our people and those in the communities we support, and to bring about the return of peace and stability as soon as possible,” it said.

Grasberg is the world’s second-largest copper mine by volume.

The separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM) says it is at war with Indonesian authorities and wants to “destroy” Freeport in an effort to gain sovereignty for the region.

TPN-OPM has claimed responsibility for the shootings but denies police allegations it took civilian hostages.

(Reporting by Sam Wanda in TIMIKA; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy and Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

In grieving Texas town, faith sustains those left behind

A member of the media walks inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

By Tim Reid

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – Joe Holcombe and his wife, Claryce, lost eight members of their family in the Texas church shooting last Sunday, including their son, grandchildren, a pregnant granddaughter-in-law and a great- granddaughter who was still a toddler. But they are serene.

Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“It’s just not a problem to us,” said Holcombe, 86, adding that he and 84-year-old Claryce believe their dead family members are now alive again in heaven.

“We know exactly where the family is, and it’s not going to be long until we’ll both be there,” he said. “And we’re really sort of looking forward to it.”

Chairs and roses show where Joann and Brooke Ward and others were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

Chairs and roses show where Joann and Brooke Ward and others were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Holcombes were upbeat and full of good humor during a telephone interview, and they are not an exception in this deeply evangelical part of Texas.

What is so striking about relatives and friends of the 26 victims of the church shooting in tiny Sutherland Springs is that they all believe good will come from this act of evil and that their loved ones are now safe for eternity, and breathing again, with God.

Psychologists say such deep faith can help families deal with such a ghastly event. Even so, they warn that leaning too heavily on one’s religious beliefs can stunt the natural grieving period and result in post-traumatic stress later.

A cross with a crown of thorns and a Bible open to the book of Proverbs are seen at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

A cross with a crown of thorns and a Bible open to the book of Proverbs are seen at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“I can see potentially it could be some form of denial, a delayed traumatic reaction, and if you don’t have some kind of negative feelings, it can catch up with you,” said clinical psychologist and trauma expert Bethany Brand.

Gina Hassan, a psychologist in northern California, said Sutherland Spring’s faith was invaluable in the wake of the shooting, “but if it’s relied upon in a rigid way, then it’s going to be a problem down the line and come back to bite you later on.”

Local veterinarian George Hill, a relative of the Holcombes, said an evangelical belief in Christ was the only way to deal with such a tragedy.

“We haven’t lost hope,” he said. “They are not gone. They are just gone ahead. And we know we’ll see them again.”

He expressed faith that evil would not prevail. “It looks like evil won, but it didn’t,” he said. “Good is going to win.”

Pastor Mike Clements of the First Baptist Church in Floresville, a small city 14 miles from Sutherland Springs, is officiating over the funeral services for the extended Holcombe family on Wednesday.

The dead include Bryan Holcombe, Joe and Claryce Holcombe’s son, and his wife Karla. Their son Danny Holcombe was killed as well, along with his 18-month-old daughter, Noah. Crystal Holcombe, who was 18 weeks pregnant, was Bryan and Karla Holcombe’s daughter-in-law.

Also shot and killed were Emily, Megan and Greg Hill, three children from Crystal’s first marriage, which had ended with her husband’s death.

Under Texas law, Crystal’s unborn child is also being counted as a victim, making a death toll of nine for the family.

People in Sutherland Springs are truly grieving, Clements said. But evangelicals accept Christ into their lives in a very real way, and because of that, their faith is incredibly liberating, especially at a time of such great tragedy.

Most fundamentally, he said, they believe people who have accepted Christ will go to heaven.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Clements said over lunch near his church. “There is nothing better than heaven when you are a believer.”

 

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Von Ahn)

 

U.S. mainland Puerto Ricans anguished, unable to reach loved ones

Evelyn Carrillo, 24, (L) and Deserie Rivera, 34, pose for a photo at Café Borinquen, the Puerto Rican restaurant where they work in Plantation, Florida, U.S., September 21, 2017. Photo taken September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bernie Woodall

By Bernie Woodall and Stephanie Kelly

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla./NEW YORK (Reuters) – Deserie Rivera is having difficulty sleeping at night, unable to get through to Puerto Rico to find out if her mother is safe after Hurricane Maria struck.

Rivera, a 34-year-old waitress at a Puerto Rican restaurant in the southern Florida city of Sunrise, says that she knows that she is not alone. She has many friends who also cannot reach their loved ones on the devastated island.

“I just want to hear their voices. I want to know they are OK,” Rivera said on Friday morning, desperate after three days to get word about her mother, Noemi Vazquez, 57, and the rest of her family in Vega Alta, on the hard-hit northern part of the island, where six people were confirmed dead by Friday morning.

The day after the Category 4 hurricane struck on Wednesday, more than 95 percent of wireless cell sites were not working on island, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said. [nL2N1M2214] And nearly no one had electricity.

The communications breakdown has been painful for many of 5.17 million people living in the United States who identify as Puerto Ricans, a community that outnumbers the 3.4 million who live on the island.

Puerto Ricans live throughout the mainland United States. The New York area including New Jersey has one of the oldest communities, but in recent years, more than a third of islanders moving to the mainland have settled in Florida, a Pew Research study found.

Jorge Ortiz, the 55-year-old owner of Café Borinquen in Plantation, Florida, where Rivera works, said he feared that number of confirmed deaths will grow once communications return and roadways are cleared of downed trees and power lines.

Ortiz is one of several owners of Puerto Rican restaurants in southern Florida who have said they will collect goods to ship to Puerto Rico, part of a grassroots effort to aid those remaining on the island.

“We will keep collecting for as long as it takes, and that may be a long time,” said Ortiz.

What little Rivera has learned from Vega Alta is not all that reassuring.

“My mom’s neighbors were able to send someone I know a text message when they had just enough signal for that but not enough for a phone call,” said Rivera. “They said that they are OK, so I guess my mom is, too. But I don’t know.”

By Friday morning, some communications had been restored.

Lizette Colon, who lives in New York, was finally able to get in contact with her brother Friday morning. She said that others around her still have not heard from family members.

“It’s so emotional,” Colon said, crying. “I just want people here not to forget us.”

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)