In western France, a village remembers D-Day’s ‘secret massacre’

A general view shows remains of the former church at the memorial of Graignes, in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Richard Lough

GRAIGNES, France (Reuters) – The lost U.S. paratrooper tapped on the door of the Rigault family’s farmhouse in Normandy, France in the early hours of June 6, 1944, miles south of his intended drop zone and soaking from his landing in the surrounding marshland.

After four years under German occupation, 12-year-old Marthe Rigault, awoken by the roar of aircraft overhead, watched as her parents warmed the foreign soldier with a flask of coffee.

By dawn, dozens of men from the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment had hunkered down on the Rigault farm outside the village of Graignes. As they did, the distant boom of heavy artillery carried inland as allied forces invaded Europe on the Normandy beaches to drive the Nazis from France.

“They said, ‘Don’t be afraid, we’re you’re friends, the Tommies,'” Rigault, now 86, recalled. “We thought we’d been liberated. We were overjoyed. We didn’t know it that morning, but it would be a month before Graignes was set free.”

Some 170 paratroopers had been involved in one of the worst misdrops of any airborne unit on D-Day. Separated from their comrades in German-occupied territory, the troops dug in.

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The inhabitants of Graignes were swift to help, feeding the U.S. troops, relaying intelligence and retrieving their equipment from the marshland. The village would pay a heavy price for offering assistance. It would lead to what they now call the “secret massacre” of D-Day.

“For two or three days, my father, sister and I, and others too, rowed out with the soldiers to recover their munitions and parachutes from the marshes,” Rigault said.

The Americans converted the village boys school into a command center, mined access roads and turned the belfry of Graignes’ 12th century church into an observation post.

Only the church bell tower stands today, a memorial to the U.S. soldiers and civilians killed during the battle for Graignes. The Germans launched their assault on June 11, as Marthe Rigault and her elder sister, Odette, attended mass.

“A woman ran in and told us to hide because the Germans were nearby,” said Rigault. Panic swept through the nave as gunfire erupted outside.

REVENGE

The village has invited both U.S. and German troops to attend a dinner to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings and the battle for Graignes. President Donald Trump will attend a ceremony at a nearby U.S. war cemetery to honor his country’s forces who took part in the D-Day landings.

In Graignes, the U.S. paratrooopers were outnumbered and outgunned.

For nine hours, Rigault sat huddled with her sister against the church’s stone walls as wounded soldiers and civilians were brought in. As dusk fell and their defenses crumbled, the American soldiers were forced to retreat from Graignes.

The Germans were brutal in their reprisals against the village, Rigault recalled.

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses holding a copy of a photograph taken couple of weeks after the D-Day and showing herself among relatives and U.S. soldiers as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Marthe Rigault, 87 years old, from Graignes in the Normandy region poses holding a copy of a photograph taken couple of weeks after the D-Day and showing herself among relatives and U.S. soldiers as she attends an interview with Reuters in Graignes, France May 15, 2019. Picture taken May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The village priest, Father Albert Leblastier, and a Franciscan priest were shot dead and their bodies burned. Homesteads were torched. The maimed paratroopers left behind were split into two groups: some were marched down the road and executed, others were “thrown into the marshes and bayoneted,” Rigault recalled. “We weren’t allowed to pull them out for several days.”

For four decades, Rigault had no news of the U.S. troops she had helped, although word of the villagers’ bravery reached Washington.

Rigault treasures a battered certificate signed by Dwight Eisenhower, in his capacity as the commanding U.S. general in Europe, on behalf of the U.S. president expressing thanks to her father, Gustave, for helping the paratroopers.

Then, in 1984, a small number of U.S. soldiers whose lives had been saved by the villagers returned to Graignes.

“It was tough for them to come back because they felt that in some way they had abandoned the villagers, left them to face the Germans’ revenge,” said Denis Small, mayor of Graignes for the past 22 years. “But the village received them for the liberators that they were.”

Two years later, in 1986, the U.S. government recognized Rigault for her courage in aiding the troops as a young girl with an Award for Distinguished Civilian Service.

Graignes was liberated from the Germans on July 12, 1944.

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Doves, heartbreak and hope on 20th anniversary of Columbine High massacre

A man looks at a line of crosses commemorating those killed in the Columbine High School shooting on the 20th anniversary of the attack in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) – A week-long series of events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre culminated on Saturday with a remembrance ceremony celebrating the lives of the 13 victims slain in the rampage.

On April 20, 1999, two Columbine students, just three weeks shy of graduation, stormed the suburban Denver school armed with shotguns and semiautomatic weapons, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.

Addressing hundreds of people gathered at Saturday’s service in a park next to the school, Dawn Anna, mother of slain student Lauren Townsend, spoke on behalf of all the families of the victims about their sense of loss.

“Our hearts have huge holes in them, but our hearts are bigger than they were 20 years ago,” Anna said.

Patrick Ireland, whose fall out of a school library window into the arms of firefighters, which became one of the iconic images of the massacre, spoke of his long physical and emotional recovery.

“You’re a victim only if you allow yourself to become one,” Ireland said.

Thirteen doves were released at the end of the ceremony.

For the relatives of those killed, April 20 evokes a mix of emotions from sorrow and anguish to fond memories of loved ones.

Betty Shoels, the aunt of murdered student Isaiah Shoels, said her 18-year-old nephew was a fun-loving athlete who was always smiling, despite feeling out of place as one of the school’s few African-American students.

“What I miss most is his laugh,” Shoels told Reuters. ”He was just a great kid who loved to joke.”

This year’s remembrances were marred this week when a Florida teenager, who authorities said was “obsessed” with Columbine, traveled to Colorado where she died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.

Evan Todd was a sophomore at Columbine two decades ago when he was wounded in the school library, where 10 of the students were killed. He said whenever he hears of school shootings or other tragedies somehow linked to Columbine, it reminds him that he was “part of something so gruesome and so public.”

He often recalls his football teammate Matt Kechter, who was shot dead just a few feet away from him.

“Sometimes I wonder what Matt would be doing now, what is life would be like,” said Todd, 35, who is the father of a one-year-old son.

He credits his family and Christian faith for getting him through the months following the tragedy.

“I’m just thankful that I survived,” he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Connecticut school evacuated for bomb threat on sixth anniversary of massacre

FILE PHOTO: The sign for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School at the end of the drive leading to the school is pictured in Newtown, Connecticut, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – A bomb threat prompted the evacuation of a Connecticut elementary school on the site of the deadliest public-school shooting in U.S. history on Friday, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, police said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 26 children and educators were killed in 2012, received a threatening phone call around 9 a.m. EST, said police Lieutenant Aaron Bahamonde.

“It was a bomb threat over the phone,” Bahamonde said. About 400 people were evacuated, he said. No bomb was found.

Bahamonde said the threat was unrelated to a Thursday incident in which hundreds of schools, businesses and buildings across the United States and Canada receive email bomb threats demanding payment in cryptocurrency. Authorities dismissed those threats as a hoax.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a 21-year-old gunman killed 20 young children and six educators at Sandy Hook before taking his own life. The building where the massacre took place was torn down, and Sandy Hook students now attend classes in a new facility.

The mass shooting inflamed the long-running U.S. debate on gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States has experienced a string of deadly mass shootings since that attack, including one at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February that left 17 people dead.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Turkey calls for ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib, Russia opposes

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran, Iran September 7, 2018. Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

(Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for a ceasefire in the rebel-held region of Idlib in northwest Syria on Friday and said an anticipated government assault on insurgents there could result in a massacre.

But Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Moscow opposed a truce, and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani said Syria must regain control over all its territory.

The three presidents, whose countries’ are key foreign players in Syria’s long civil war, were speaking at a summit in Tehran aimed at charting a way to end the conflict.

The situation in Idlib, the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold, is an immediate issue as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, prepare for what could be the conflict’s last decisive battle.

The United Nations has warned a full-scale assault could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

But as the leaders gathered in Tehran, Russian and Syrian government warplanes hit rebel-held parts of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.

Their discussions in Tehran mark a crucial point in a seven-year-old war which has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.

Erdogan called on Putin and Rouhani to agree to a ceasefire in Idlib, saying such an accord would be a “victory” of their summit. Turkey could no longer take in any more refugees from any new assault in Idlib, he said.

However, Putin responded that he opposed a ceasefire because Nusra Front and Islamic State militants located there were not part of peace talks. Syria should regain control of all its territory, he said.

“The fact is that there are no representatives of the armed opposition here around this table. And more still, there are no representatives of Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS or the Syrian army,” Putin said.

“I think in general the Turkish president is right. It would be good. But I can’t speak for them, and even more so can’t talk for terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS that they will stop shooting or stop using drones with bombs.”

FINAL MAJOR BATTLE

Rouhani also said the battle in Syria would continue until militants were pushed out of the whole country, especially in Idlib, but he added that any military operations should avoid hurting civilians.

He called on all militants in Syria to disarm and seek a peaceful end to the conflict.

“The fight against terrorism in Idlib is an indispensable part of the mission to return peace and stability to Syria, but this fight should not harm civilians and lead to a “scorched-earth” policy,” Rouhani said.

Erdogan also said Turkey no longer had the capacity to take in any more refugees from Syria should the government offensive in Idlib go ahead. Turkey has accepted 3.5 million refugees from Syria since the start of the war in 2011.

“Whatever reason there is an attack that has been made or will be made will result in disaster, massacre and humanitarian drama,” he said. “Millions will be coming to Turkey’s borders because they have nowhere to go. Turkey has filled its capacity to host refugees.”

The Assad government was not directly represented at the summit, nor was the United States or other Western powers.

Widely abhorred internationality for the brutal conduct of the war, Assad has largely reclaimed most of Syrian territory though much of it is ravaged.

As the conflict approaches its endgame, Iran, Turkey and Russia are seeking to safeguard their own interests after investing heavily militarily and diplomatically in Syria.

Meanwhile, the fate of Idlib hung in the balance.

“The battle for Idlib is going to be the final major battle,” said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told Reuters before the summit.

“It will be waged irrespective of civilian casualties, even though they will make an effort to minimize it.”

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Dominic Evans in Istanbul, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Multiple fatalities in shooting at video game tournament in Florida

The Landing - Jacksonville, Florida

By Suzannah Gonzales and Devika Krishna Kumar

(Reuters) – A shooter killed four people and wounded at least 10 others on Sunday at a video game tournament that was being streamed online from a restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida, local media said citing police sources.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said a suspect was dead at the scene. “Searches are being conducted,” it said on Twitter.

Emergency crews and law enforcement flooded into The Jacksonville Landing, a waterfront dining, entertainment, and shopping site in the city’s downtown.

The shooting took place during a regional qualifier for the Madden 19 online game tournament at the GLHF Game Bar inside a Chicago Pizza restaurant, according to the venue’s website.

It was livestreaming the tournament when several shots rang out, according to video of the stream shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the gunfire and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

One Twitter user, Drini Gjoka, said he was in the tournament and was shot in the thumb.

“Worst day of my life,” Gjoka wrote on Twitter. “I will never take anything for granted ever again. Life can be cut short in a second.”

The Los Angeles Times reported the shooter was a gamer who was competing in the tournament and lost. Citing messages from another player in the room, the Times said the gunman appeared to target several victims before killing himself. Reuters could not immediately confirm that account of events.

The Florida shooting occurs amid a debate about U.S. gun laws that was given fresh impetus by the massacre in February of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Two years ago a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

The sheriff’s office said many people were transported to the hospital, and its deputies were finding many people hiding in locked areas at The Landing.

“We ask you to stay calm, stay where you are hiding. SWAT is doing a methodical search,” it said on Twitter. “We will get to you. Please don’t come running out.”

A spokesman for Jacksonville’s Memorial Hospital, Peter Moberg, said it was treating three victims, all of whom were in stable condition.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who is challenging longtime Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in November’s election, said he had offered to provide local authorities with any state resources they might need.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were coordinating with local authorities to provide assistance.

President Donald Trump has been briefed and is monitoring the situation in Jacksonville, the White House said.

Reacting to news of the shooting during the tournament involving its video game, Madden 19 maker Electronic Arts Inc said it was working with authorities to gather facts.

“This is a horrible situation, and our deepest sympathies go out to all involved,” the company said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales, Devika Krishna Kumar and Maria Caspani; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Chris Reese)

Teen gunman who killed 10 at Texas school planned suicide: governor

Police keep a roadblock on a main road to Santa Fe High School where police found explosives after an early morning shool shooting that left several people dead in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Trish Badger

By Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – Texas officials charged a 17-year-old student with murder in the shooting of 10 people, including fellow pupils, at his high school on Friday in an attack similar to the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this year.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting is shown in this booking photo at the Galveston County Jail, released by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. Courtesy Galveston County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

Students said a gunman, identified by law enforcement as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, opened fire in a classroom at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, and that they fled in panic after seeing classmates wounded and a fire alarm triggered a full evacuation. Ten people were hurt in the attack, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

It was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office identified Pagourtzis and said he had been charged with capital murder in a post on its Facebook page. More charges could follow.

Speaking to reporters before the teen was identified, Abbott told reporters that the suspect had used a shotgun and a .38 revolver taken from his father in the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school.

“Not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting,” Abbott said, citing a police review of the suspect’s journals. “He didn’t have the courage to commit suicide.”

Two other people are in custody, Abbott said.

Investigators are talking to the suspect, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said.

Abbott said that investigators had seen a T-shirt on the suspect’s Facebook page that read “Born to Kill.”

Explosive devices had also been found at the school, located about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston, and off campus, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted.

Police were searching two homes and a vehicle linked to the suspect, where they have found multiple homemade explosive devices, Abbott said.

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff’s Office/via REUTERS

‘THE GUY BEHIND ME WAS DEAD’

Courtney Marshall, a 15-year-old freshman at the school, said the gunman came into her art class shooting.

“I wanted to take care of my friends, but I knew I had to get out of there,” Marshall said, saying that she saw at least one person hit. “I knew the guy behind me was dead.”

Orlando Gonzalez said that his 16-year-old son Keaton, fled the attack, but one of his friends was shot and wounded.

“I was really worried, I didn’t know what was going on … I almost couldn’t drive,” Gonzalez said. “I just imagine what he’s going through … He’s still scared.”

The school has some 1,462 students, according to federal education data.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre “absolutely horrific.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

 

At least eight dead, explosives found in Texas school shooting: sheriff

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

By Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – At least eight people died in a shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school on Friday and police searching the building said they had taken into custody a student suspected of the attack and found explosives in the school building.

The sound of gunshots tore through the air at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, witnesses told local media, and live TV images showed lines of students evacuating the building while heavily armed police responded to the scene.

The incident was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that eight to 10 people, both students and adults, died in the incident at the school about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston.

“There is one person, a suspect, in custody and a second possible person of interest that is detained and being questioned,” Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Explosive devices had also been found at the school and off campus, Gonzalez tweeted. “Law enforcement is in the process of rendering them safe. School has been evacuated.”

The suspect is a 17-year-old male, a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told Reuters.

At least nine people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, hospital officials said. The conditions of those people was not immediately clear. Gonzalez said a police officer was also being treated for injuries.

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 a.m. local time (1245 GMT) and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

‘WE ALL TOOK OFF’

A male student, who did not identify himself, described fleeing the scene in an interview with CBS affiliate KHOU.

“Three shots that I heard, so we all took off in the back and I tried to get into the trees, I didn’t want to be in sight. I heard four more shots, and then we jumped the fence to somebody’s house,” the student said.

Another sophomore, Dakota Shrader, told Fox 26 TV her 17-year-old girlfriend told her by phone that she was wounded but was recovering in a hospital. “My friend got injured,” said an emotional Shrader. “Her leg, she got shot in the leg.”

Dr. David Marshall, chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said that the hospital was treating at least three patients – two adults and one person under 18. He said it was not immediately clear if that child was a student.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre heartbreaking.

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

Waffle House shooting shows pitfalls in patchwork of U.S. gun laws

FILE PHOTO: Metro Davidson County Police inspect the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – When Travis Reinking’s semi-automatic rifle was confiscated after his attempt to enter the White House last year, he simply moved from Illinois to nearby Tennessee where signs of mental illness are no bar to gun ownership.

How and when Reinking’s father returned the AR-15-style weapon and other firearms to his 29-year-old son, accused of shooting dead four people and wounding four at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee remain unclear.

Confusing as well are the myriad of U.S. state gun laws that can make it difficult to stop crimes like Sunday’s mass shooting.

The U.S. federal system leaves it up to states to set most gun laws. Less than half of U.S. states require background checks before private sales, and only a small number require “universal checks” for all purchases, including at gun shows.

Virginia has improved mental health reporting after a 2007 college campus massacre but has no laws requiring firearms to be registered. Alaska, with the highest state rate of gun deaths per capita, does not allow firearms to be registered. Most states let residents carry firearms in public, and all states permit the carrying of concealed weapons in some form.

The assault on Sunday is the latest mass killing to stoke a fierce debate that pits gun control proponents against gun rights advocates who defend constitutional rights to own guns.

The debate has sharpened since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That massacre prompted an upsurge of teenage gun control activism, including a nationwide student walkout on April 20, two days before the Nashville shooting.

The discussion has aired demands for national laws that would provide uniformity, including regulations on the transport of guns from state to state, as with the Reinking case.

“We need to have national laws that protect against these over-the-border kinds of transfers,” said Illinois state Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who is sponsoring “red flag” legislation to let family members request the seizure of firearms from relatives facing mental health problems.

MENTAL ILLNESS

The variety of ways that gun laws address mental illness has prompted concern. A study by Mother Jones magazine showed that in 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental health problems before the killings.

Reinking himself has a troubled past. He believed that pop singer Taylor Swift was stalking him and threatened to kill himself, according to police records.

The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful gun-rights lobbying organization, says it supports legislation to ensure records of those judged mentally incompetent or “involuntarily committed to mental institutions” be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks.

“The NRA will support any reasonable step to fix America’s broken mental health system without intruding on the constitutional rights of Americans,” the group says on its website.

That support stops short of legislation like Willis’ red flag bill with its “insinuation that gun ownership makes you a danger to yourself or others,” the group said last month.

Illinois is unusual in giving law enforcement the right to revoke a gun license and take away guns from persons if their mental health appears to pose a danger. In Tennessee, like most states, police can only seize guns if a person is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility and judged a danger. Even then, the owner can keep their firearms.

In Reinking’s case, Illinois state police revoked his gun license, and his firearms were transferred to his father after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him last year for being in a restricted area near the White House.

Authorities have not disclosed whether his father gave him back his guns in Illinois, where it would likely be a crime, or in Tennessee, where it would not.

The U.S. Congress has not passed any substantive national gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, due in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups.

Yet some gun-control advocates see steady movement towards uniform gun laws through actions at the state level.

“Our movement is chipping away and convincing lawmakers that they should be voting for public safety,” said Jonas Oransky deputy legal director of gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

For example, after the Waffle House shooting, Tennessee lawmakers drafted legislation to make it illegal to buy or possess a gun if a person had been subject to “suspension, revocation or confiscation” in another state.

For Illinois lawmaker Willis, it is too little too late.

“All the red flags were there. They followed all the gun laws in Illinois,” she said. “Until we have national laws to restrict this, it’s not going to stop.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

How the families of 10 massacred Rohingya fled Myanmar

Rehana Khatun, whose husband Nur Mohammed was among 10 Rohingya men killed by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist villagers on September 2, 2017, poses for a picture with her child at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 25, 2018. Picture taken March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

By Andrew R.C. Marshall

KUTUPALONG REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Rehana Khatun dreamed her husband came home. He appeared without warning in their village in western Myanmar, outside their handsome wooden house shaded by mango trees. “He didn’t say anything,” she said. “He was only there for a few seconds, and then he was gone.” Then Rehana Khatun woke up.

She woke up in a shack of ragged tarpaulin on a dusty hillside in Bangladesh. Her husband, Nur Mohammed, is never coming home. He was one of 10 Rohingya Muslim men massacred last September by Myanmar soldiers and Rakhine Buddhists at the coastal village of Inn Din.

Rehana Khatun’s handsome wooden house is gone, too. So is everything in it. The Rohingya homes in Inn Din were burned to the ground, and what was once a close-knit community, with generations of history in Myanmar, is now scattered across the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh.

A Reuters investigation in February revealed what happened to the 10 Rohingya men. On September 1, soldiers snatched them from a large group of Rohingya villagers detained by a beach near Inn Din. The next morning, according to eyewitnesses, the men were shot by the soldiers or hacked to death by their Rakhine Buddhist neighbors. Their bodies were dumped in a shallow grave.

The relatives the 10 men left behind that afternoon wouldn’t learn of the killings for many months – in some cases, not until Reuters reporters tracked them down in the refugee camps and told them what had happened. The survivors waited by the beach with rising anxiety and dread as the sun set and the men didn’t return.

This is their story. Three of them fled Inn Din while heavily pregnant. All trekked north in monsoon rain through forests and fields. Drenched and terrified, they dodged military patrols and saw villages abandoned or burning. Some saw dead bodies. They walked for days with little food or water.

They were not alone. Inn Din’s families joined nearly 700,000 Rohingya escaping a crackdown by the Myanmar military, launched after attacks by Rohingya militants on August 25. The United Nations called it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” which Myanmar has denied.

On Tuesday, the military said it had sentenced seven soldiers to long prison terms for their role in the Inn Din massacre. Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told Reuters the move was a “very positive step” that showed the military “won’t give impunity for those who have violated the rules of engagement.” Myanmar, he said, doesn’t allow systematic human rights abuses.

Reuters was able to corroborate many but not all details of the personal accounts in this story.

The Rohingya streamed north until they reached the banks of the Naf River. On its far shore lay Bangladesh, and safety. Many Inn Din women gave boatmen their jewelry to pay for the crossing; others begged and fought their way on board. They made the perilous crossing at night, vomiting with sickness and fear.

Now in Bangladesh, they struggle to piece together their lives without husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Seven months have passed since the massacre, but the grief of Inn Din’s survivors remains raw. One mother told Reuters her story, then fainted.

Like Rehana Khatun, they all say they dream constantly about the dead. Some dreams are bittersweet – a husband coming home, a son praying in the mosque – and some are nightmares. One woman says she sees her husband clutching a stomach wound, blood oozing through his fingers.

Daytime brings little relief. They all remember, with tormenting clarity, the day the soldiers took their men away.

“ALLAH SAVED ME”

Abdul Amin still wonders why he was spared.

Soldiers had arrived at Inn Din on August 27 and started torching the houses of Rohingya residents with the help of police and Rakhine villagers. Amin, 19, said he and his family sought refuge in a nearby forest with more than a hundred other Rohingya.

Four days later, as Inn Din burned and the sound of gunfire crackled through the trees, they made a dash for the beach, where hundreds of villagers gathered in the hope of escaping the military crackdown. Then the soldiers appeared, said Amin, and ordered them to squat with their heads down.

Amin crouched next to his mother, Nurasha, who threw her scarf over his head. The soldiers ignored Amin, perhaps mistaking him for a woman, but dragged away his brother Shaker Ahmed. “I don’t know why they chose him and not me,” Amin said. “Allah saved me.”

The soldiers, according to Amin and other witnesses, said they were taking the men away for a “meeting.” Their distraught families waited by the beach in vain. As night fell, they returned to the forest where, in the coming days, they made the decision that haunts many of them still: to save themselves and their families by fleeing to Bangladesh – and leaving the captive men behind.

Abdu Shakur waited five days for the soldiers to release his son Rashid Ahmed, 18. By then, most Rohingya had set out for Bangladesh and the forest felt lonely and exposed. Abdu Shakur said he wanted to leave, too, but his wife, Subiya Hatu, refused.

“I won’t go without my son,” she said.

“You must come with me,” he said. “If we stay here, they’ll kill us all.” They had three younger children to bring to safety, he told her. Rashid was their oldest, a bright boy who loved to study; he would surely be released soon and follow them. He didn’t. Rashid was one of the 10 killed in the Inn Din massacre.

“We did the right thing,” says Abdu Shakur today, in a shack in the Kutupalong camp. “I feel terrible, but we had to leave that place.” As he spoke, his wife sat behind him and sobbed into her headscarf.

“DAY OF JUDGMENT”

By now, the northward exodus was gathering pace. The Rohingya walked in large groups, sometimes thousands strong, stretching in ragged columns along the wild Rakhine coastline. At night, the men stood guard while women and children rested beneath scraps of tarpaulin. Rain often made sleep impossible.

Amid this desperate throng was Shaker Ahmed’s wife, Rahama Khatun, who was seven months pregnant, and their eight children, aged one to 18. Like many Rohingya, they had escaped Inn Din with little more than the clothes they wore. “We brought nothing from the house, not even a single plate,” she said.

They survived the journey by drinking from streams and scrounging food from other refugees. Rahama said she heaved herself along slippery paths as quickly as she could. She was scared about the health of her unborn child, but terrified of getting left behind.

Rahama’s legs swelled up so much that she couldn’t walk. “My children carried me on their shoulders. They said, ‘We’ve lost our father. We don’t want to lose you.'” Then they reached the beach at Na Khaung To, and a new ordeal began.

Na Khaung To sits on the Myanmar side of the Naf River. Bangladesh is about 6 km (4 miles) away. For Rohingya from Inn Din and other coastal villages, Na Khaung To was the main crossing point.

It was also a bottleneck. There were many Bangladeshi fishing boats to smuggle Rohingya across the river, but getting on board depended on the money or valuables the refugees could muster and the mercy of the boatmen. Some were stranded at Na Khaung To for weeks.

The beach was teeming with sick, hungry and exhausted people, recalled Nurjan, whose son Nur Mohammed was one of the 10 men killed at Inn Din. “Everyone was desperate,” Nurjan said. “All you could see was heads in every direction. It was like the Day of Judgment.”

CROSSING THE NAF

Bangladesh was perhaps a two-hour ride across calm estuarine waters. But the boatmen wanted to avoid any Bangladesh navy or border guard vessels that might be patrolling the river. So they set off at night, taking a more circuitous route through open ocean. Most boats were overloaded. Some sank in the choppy water, drowning dozens of people.

The boatmen charged about 8,000 taka (about $100) per person. Some women paid with their earrings and nose-rings. Others, like Abdu Shakur, promised to reimburse the boatman upon reaching Bangladesh with money borrowed from relatives there.

He and his wife, Subiya Hatu, who had argued over leaving their oldest son behind at Inn Din, set sail for Bangladesh. Another boat of refugees sailed along nearby. Both vessels were heaving with passengers, many of them children.

In deeper water, Abdu Shakur watched with horror as the other boat began to capsize, spilling its passengers into the waves. “We could hear people crying for help,” he said. “It was impossible to rescue them. Our boat would have sunk, too.”

Abdu Shakur and his family made it safely to Bangladesh. So did the other families bereaved by the Inn Din massacre. During the crossing, some realized they would never see their men again, or Myanmar.

Shuna Khatu wept on the boat. She felt she already knew what the military had done to her husband, Habizu. She was pregnant with their third child. “They killed my husband. They burned my house. They destroyed our village,” she said. “I knew I’d never go back.”

THE ONLY PHOTO

Two months later, in a city-sized refugee camp in Bangladesh, Shuna Khatu gave birth to a boy. She called him Mohammed Sadek.

Rahama Khatun, who fled Myanmar on the shoulders of her older children while seven months pregnant, also had a son. His name is Sadikur Rahman.

The two women were close neighbors in Inn Din. They now live about a mile apart in Kutupalong-Balukhali, a so-called “mega-camp” of about 600,000 souls. Both survive on twice-a-month rations of rice, lentils and cooking oil. They live in flimsy, mud-floored shacks of bamboo and plastic that the coming monsoon could blow or wash away.

It was here, as the families struggled to rebuild their lives, that they learned their men were dead. Some heard the news from Reuters reporters who had tracked them down. Others saw the Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre or the photos that accompanied it.

Two of those photos showed the men kneeling with their hands behind their backs or necks. A third showed the men’s bodies in a mass grave. The photos were obtained by Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested in December while investigating the Inn Din massacre. The two face charges, and potentially 14-year jail sentences, under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

Rahama Khatun cropped her husband’s image from one of the photos and laminated it. This image of him kneeling before his captors is the only one she has. Every other family photo was burned along with their home at Inn Din.

For the Rohingya crisis in graphics, click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/MYANMAR-ROHINGYA/010051VC46K/index.html

(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall. Edited by Peter Hirschberg.)

Judge denies motion to drop case against widow of Orlando gunman

FILE PHOTO: Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. on June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – A judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against the widow of the gunman in the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, saying that the gunman’s father’s work an FBI informant was not relevant to the case.

Over the weekend, prosecutors disclosed that Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique, had worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before his son carried out the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016.

In opening their case, lawyers for Mateen’s widow, Noor Salman, argued that the judge should dismiss the charges against her or declare a mistrial because prosecutors had failed to reveal the FBI’s relationship to Mateen’s father and other evidence related to him beforehand.

Salman, 31, is accused of helping her husband carry out surveillance of possible attack sites and doing nothing to stop him. Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent who claimed allegiance to a member of the Islamic State militant group, was killed by police after more than three hours in the Pulse nightclub.

An FBI agent on Monday testified that years before Mateen carried out the attack, the agency considered using him as an informant, like his father.

Those discussions took place while the FBI was investigating comments made by the younger Mateen about overseas links to militants, Special Agent Juvenal Martin said in federal court in Orlando. That investigation closed without charges, he said.

Martin did not say why the FBI decided against enlisting Omar Mateen as an informant.

Salman’s attorneys say that the disclosure by prosecutors that Seddique Mateen had been an informant from January 2005 to June 2016 violated a Supreme Court ruling barring prosecutors from withholding evidence.

After resting their case, prosecutors said agents probing the nightclub rampage found receipts of money transfers made from the United States to Turkey and Afghanistan made by the elder Mateen. An active investigation was under way, they said.

If the defense had known about the transfers, it would have investigated whether Seddique Mateen was involved in the attack or had prior knowledge of it, Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Salman, said in the motion to dismiss.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Byron said, “It is not clear whether the purpose of the transfers was illegal.”

He said the omission of any evidence related to Seddique Mateen had no bearing on the culpability of Salman.

Salman faces possible life in prison if convicted on charges of aiding her husband in the attack and obstructing an investigation.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Additional reporting and writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)