FBI admits mishandling tip about accused Florida gunman

Mourners leave the funeral for Alyssa Aldaheff, 14, one of the victims of the school shooting, in North Fort Lauderdale, Florida, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday said it mishandled a January tip that the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people in Florida had guns and the potential to carry out a school shooting.

A person close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz called an FBI tip line on Jan. 5 to report concerns about him, the FBI said in a statement.

(For a graphic on Florida school shooting click http://tmsnrt.rs/2nX8ECo)

“The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” it said.

The tip appeared unrelated to a previously reported YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI has acknowledged getting that tip as well but failing to connect it to Cruz, who is accused of carrying out the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday with an AR-15-style assault rifle.

“Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,” the FBI said in its statement. “The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami field office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken. We have determined that these protocols were not followed.”

The second-deadliest shooting at a public school in U.S. history also raised concerns about potential failures in school security and stirred the ongoing U.S. debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“We are still investigating the facts,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the statement. “We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.”

Leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump have linked mental illness to Wednesday’s violence, suggesting that it was the public’s responsibility to warn officials of such dangers.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” Trump said in a Thursday tweet. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Cruz, who had been expelled from the school where he allegedly staged his attack for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, made a brief court appearance on Thursday and was ordered held without bond.

“He’s a broken human being,” his lawyer, public defender Melissa McNeill, told reporters. “He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful.”

Wednesday’s shooting ranks as the greatest loss of life from school gun violence since the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first-graders and six adult educators dead.

News of the FBI’s mishandling of the last month’s tip about Cruz came as families of the 17 victims began to bury their dead. The first two funerals were for Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, a high school athlete and Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior who had been headed to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

Brian Gately, a friend of the Alhadeff family, said he attended Alyssa’s funeral and that the synagogue was so packed he had to stand in the rear.

“There was just really a lot of sadness in there,” Gately, a 51-year-old financial adviser who lives in Parkland said. The burial became more emotional, he added, saying, “People were yelling, ‘No, no.’ Kids were yelling, ‘No, no.'”

Trump tweeted on Friday morning that he would leave for Florida later in the day to meet people whose “lives had been totally shattered” by the shooting.

 

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

Reuters report on Myanmar massacre brings calls for independent probe

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017.

(Reuters) – A Reuters investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar prompted a demand from Washington for a credible probe into the bloodshed there and calls for the release of two journalists who were arrested while working on the report.

The special report, published overnight, lays out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from Inn Din village in Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbors and soldiers.

“As with other, previous reports of mass graves, this report highlights the ongoing and urgent need for Burmese authorities to cooperate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“Such an investigation would help provide a more comprehensive picture of what happened, clarify the identities of the victims, identify those responsible for human rights abuses and violations, and advance efforts for justice and accountability,” she said.

The Reuters report drew on interviews with Buddhists who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims in what they said was a frenzy of violence triggered when Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts last August.

The account marked the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel in arson and killings in the north of Rakhine state that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide.

In the story, Myanmar said its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by insurgents.

Asked about the evidence Reuters had uncovered about the massacre, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said on Thursday, before publication of the report: “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.”

If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said.

There was no comment from the government following the publication of the report.

“A TURNING POINT”

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border of western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August.

British Labour Party lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan told BBC’s Newsnight that the Reuters report was consistent with accounts she had heard while working as a doctor at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh last year.

“We’ve been bystanders to a genocide,” she said. “This evidence marks a turning point because, for the first time since this all started to unfold in August, we have heard from the perpetrators themselves.”

She said that, as well as an international probe, there needed to be a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Human Rights Watch said Myanmar’s military leaders should be held accountable in an international court for alleged crimes against the Rohingya population.

“As more evidence comes out about the pre-planning and intent of the Myanmar armed forces to wipe out Rohingya villages and their inhabitants, the international community … needs to focus on how to hold the country’s military leaders accountable,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

Campaign group Fortify Rights also called for an independent investigation.

“The international community needs to stop stalling and do what’s necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible before evidence is tainted or lost, memories fade, and more people suffer,” said the group’s chief executive Matthew Smith.

United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said in a tweet: “During the reporting of this article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Myanmar police. They remain held & must absolutely be released.”

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights investigator for Myanmar who has been barred from visiting the Rohingya areas, echoed that call and added in a tweet: “Independent & credible investigation needed to get to the bottom of the Inn Din massacre.”

Police arrested two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine and have accused them of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. They are in prison while a court decides if they should be charged under the colonial-era act.

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

Family sues retailer for sale of gun used in Texas church massacre

Crosses are seen placed at a memorial in memory of the victims killed in the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – The family of a woman and two children killed when a gunman opened fire in a rural Texas church has sued the store that sold the assault rifle used in the deadliest mass murder in the state’s history, lawyers said on Friday.

The lawsuit filed this week in a state district court in San Antonio seeks at least $25 million from Academy Sports Outdoors, accusing it of being negligent in allowing the sale of the Ruger AR-556 used to kill 26 people at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church on Nov. 5.

The retailer was not immediately available for comment and has previously told media it conducted all the required background checks.

The suit was brought by relatives of Joann Ward, who was fatally shot along with her daughters Emily Garcia and Brooke Ward.

The lawsuit claims that when the gunman, Devin Kelley, purchased the weapon in a San Antonio store, he entered an address in Colorado Springs on the federal Firearms Transaction Record form that needs to be completed before a firearm can be sold.

He obtained the weapon in Texas but it should have been sent to his Colorado residence, where he had been stationed with the U.S. Air Force, the lawsuit said.

“The Ruger should have never been placed in Kelley’s hands in Texas,” Houston Attorney Jason Webster, lead attorney on the case, said in a statement.

Kelley had a court-martial conviction for assault, which should have permanently disqualified him from legally obtaining a gun.

But the Air Force has acknowledged it failed to enter Kelley’s 2012 domestic violence offense into a U.S. government database used by licensed gun dealers for conducting background checks on firearms purchasers.

Another family, several of whose members were killed in the shooting, has filed a negligence claim against the U.S. Air Force over its failure to enter the name into the database.

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Fear and faith: Church security scrutinized after Texas massacre

Fear and faith: Church security scrutinized after Texas massacre

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garza

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – After one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings unfolded on their doorstep, pastors and parishioners around the tiny Texas hamlet of Sutherland Springs have begun asking whether guns have a rightful place inside their houses of worship.

It is a debate that is echoing across the United States as security experts and some politicians ask churches to consider a wide range of enhanced measures to thwart tragedies like Sunday’s deadly rampage at the First Baptist Church.

Barbara Burdette, who knew the 26 people killed in the massacre and as well as the 20 wounded, is ready to see her church hire armed security, or allow congregants to carry their own concealed firearms for self-defense.

“God is our protector,” said Burdette, 62, “but I do still think that we need to have people with conceal carry.”

Her pastor at the First Baptist Church of La Vernia, a one-story brick sanctuary 7 miles from the shooting scene, said the issue of guns in church requires a delicate balance between providing safety instead of fear.

Arming parishioners is not the only option. At the historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white gunman killed nine at a June 2015 bible study session, uniformed police officers now attend regular worship services.

“It’s part of our new normal,” said Reverend Eric Manning at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, by phone. He said the church also created in-house security, as have most black churches in the region.

Muslim and Jewish institutions for years have added security measures to address the threat of violence and hate crimes. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stresses the importance of security cameras, strong doors and clearing brush away from buildings so attackers have no place to hide.

A law enforcement vehicle prominently parked in front of a house of worship is also a strong deterrent to crime, said Claude Pichard, director of Training Force USA, which worked with churches across the country to improve security after the Charleston shooting.

The question of enabling, or even encouraging, parishioners to shoot back is a discussion particularly important to communities where guns are a part of life, such as rural Texas.

In Sutherland Springs, the shooter was confronted as he left the church by a resident who shot and wounded him.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Fox News that churches should consider whether they wanted parishioners to be armed as a way of preventing another tragedy.

His state allows for the concealed carrying of handguns by licensed owners. It is not clear exactly how First Baptist Church, where the shooting occurred, addressed gun issues.

A sheriff in Williamson County, Texas, a two-hour drive from the massacre, expects to discuss arming parishioners at a church security summit he is organizing in the wake of the attack. He said churches have a responsibility to ensure that responding officers can distinguish a protector from the assailant.

“What are you doing to make sure we don’t have a friendly on friendly fire?” said Sheriff Robert Chody by phone.

New Life Church, a congregation of 10,000 people in Colorado Springs, Colorado, requires churchgoers to leave their guns in their vehicles, a decade after it was the scene of a deadly shooting that killed two. A parishioner trained in church security used a firearm to wound the shooter, preventing greater carnage, said pastor Brady Boyd.

“Pastors are now waking up to this reality that we are not living in Mayberry anymore,” he said, referring to the fictitious North Carolina hometown on the “Andy Griffith Show,” a long-running 1960s television comedy.

He pointed out that no church could have security in place to withstand an attack by a military-trained shooter using an assault rifle, the scenario that unfolded this weekend in Texas.

About 10 miles from the shooting, Floresville Christian Fellowship Pastor Bennie Herrera said he needed to re-examine security but knows there is only so much that can be done.

“We will not be gripped by fear,” he said. “Faith will rise up and we will come together,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Writing and additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Detroit; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)

Gunman kills 26 in rural Texas church during Sunday service

By Lisa Maria Garza

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – A man with an assault rifle killed at least 26 people and wounded 20 in a rural Texas church during Sunday services, adding the name of Sutherland Springs to the litany of American communities shattered by mass shootings.

The massacre, which media reports say was carried out by a man thrown out of the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child, is likely to renew questions about why someone with a history of violence could amass an arsenal of lethal weaponry.

The lone gunman, dressed in black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, drove up to the white-steepled First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and started firing inside. He kept shooting once he entered, killing or wounding victims ranging in age from five to 72 years, police told a news conference.

The area around a site of a mass shooting is taped out in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017, in this picture obtained via social media.

The area around a site of a mass shooting is taped out in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017, in this picture obtained via social media. MAX MASSEY/ KSAT 12/via REUTERS

President Donald Trump told reporters the shooting was due to a “mental health problem” and wasn’t “a guns situation.” He was speaking during an official visit to Japan.

Among the dead was the 14-year-old daughter of church Pastor Frank Pomeroy, the family told several television stations. One couple, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, told the Washington Post they lost eight extended family members, including their pregnant granddaughter-in-law and three of her children.

The gunman was later found dead, apparently of a gunshot wound, after he fled the scene.

“We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a news conference. “The tragedy of course is worsened by the fact that it occurred in a church, a place of worship.”

About 40 miles (65 km) east of San Antonio in Wilson County, Sutherland Springs has fewer than 400 residents.

“This would never be expected in a little county like (this),” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told CNN.

A local resident with a rifle fired at the suspect as he left the church. The gunman dropped his Ruger assault weapon and fled in his vehicle, said Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

A man told San Antonio television station KSAT he was driving near the church when the resident who had opened fire on the gunman approached his truck and urged him to give chase.

“He said that we had to get him (the gunman), and so that’s what I did,” Johnnie Langendorff, the driver of the truck, told KSAT. He added they reached speeds of 95 miles (153 km/h) per hour during the chase, while he was on the phone with emergency dispatchers.

Soon afterward, the suspect crashed the vehicle near the border of a neighboring county and was found dead inside with a cache of weapons. It was not immediately clear if he killed himself or was hit when the resident fired at him outside the church, authorities said.

The suspect’s identity was not disclosed by authorities, but law enforcement officials who asked not to be named said he was Devin Patrick Kelley, described as a white, 26-year-old man, the New York Times and other media reported.

“We don’t think he had any connection to this church,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CNN. “We have no motive.”

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackett gives an update during a news conference at the Stockdale Community Center following a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs that left many dead and injured in Stockdale, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackett gives an update during a news conference at the Stockdale Community Center following a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs that left many dead and injured in Stockdale, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

‘I HIT THE DECK’

The massacre came weeks after a sniper killed 58 people in Las Vegas. It was the deadliest attack in modern U.S. history and rekindled a years-long national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend of mass shootings.

In rural areas like Sutherland Springs, gun ownership is a part of life and the state’s Republican leaders for years have balked at campaigns for gun control, arguing that more firearms among responsible owners make the state safer.

Jeff Forrest, a 36-year-old military veteran who lives a block away from the church, said what sounded like high-caliber, semi-automatic gunfire triggered memories of his four combat deployments with the Marine Corps.

“I was on the porch, I heard 10 rounds go off and then my ears just started ringing,” Forrest said. “I hit the deck and I just lay there.”

To honor the victims, Trump ordered flags on all federal buildings to be flown at half staff.

In Japan during the first leg of a 12-day Asian trip, the president said preliminary reports indicated the shooter was “deranged.”

“This isn’t a guns situation, I mean we could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it,” Trump said. “But fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise … it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level.”

The First Baptist Church is one of two houses of worship in Sutherland Springs, which also has two gas stations and a Dollar General store.

The white-painted, one-story church features a small steeple and a single front door. On Sunday, the Lone Star flag of Texas was flying alongside the U.S. flag and a third, unidentified banner.

Inside, there is a small raised platform on which members sang worship songs to guitar music and the pastor delivered a weekly sermon, according to videos posted on YouTube. In one of the clips, a few dozen people, including young children, can be seen sitting in the wooden pews.

It was not clear how many worshipers were inside when Sunday’s shooting occurred.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE

Online records show a man named Devin Patrick Kelley lived in New Braunfels, Texas, about 35 miles (56 km) north of Sutherland Springs.

The U.S. Air Force said Kelley served in its Logistics Readiness unit at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge in 2014.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child, and given a bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

Kelley’s Facebook page has been deleted, but cached photos show a profile picture where he appeared with two small children. He also posted a photo of what appeared to be an assault rifle, writing a post that read: “She’s a bad bitch.”

Sunday’s shooting occurred on the eighth anniversary of the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in central Texas. A U.S. Army Medical Corps psychiatrist convicted of the killings is awaiting execution.

In 2015, a white gunman killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman was sentenced to death for the racially motivated attack.

In September, a gunman killed a woman in the parking lot of a Tennessee church and wounded six worshipers inside.

 

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Phil Stewart in Washington, and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; writing by Frank McGurty; editing by Mark Heinrich)

 

Lone gunman kills 58, injures hundreds, in Las Vegas concert attack

A man holds a white rose outside a police perimeter near the scene of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Alexandria Sage

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – A 64-year-old man armed with multiple machine guns strafed an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas from a high-rise hotel window on Sunday, slaughtering at least 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history before killing himself.

The barrage of gunfire from a 32nd-floor window of the Mandalay Bay hotel into a crowd of 22,000 people lasted several minutes, sparking panic as throngs of music fans desperately cowered on the open ground, hemmed in by fellow concertgoers, while others at the edge tried to flee.

More than 500 people were injured – some by gunfire, some trampled – in the pandemonium adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip as police scrambled to locate the assailant.

Police on Monday identified the gunman as Stephen Paddock, who lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada. They said they believed he acted alone and did not know why he attacked the crowd. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the massacre, but U.S. officials said there was no evidence of that.

The preliminary death toll, which officials said could rise, surpassed last year’s massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a gunman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The dead in Las Vegas included a nurse, a government employee and an off-duty police officer.

Shocked survivors, some with blood on their clothing, wandered streets, where the flashing lights of the city’s gaudy casinos blended with those of emergency vehicles.

Police said Paddock had no criminal record. The gunman killed himself before police entered the hotel room from where he was firing, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath.”

Federal officials said there was no evidence to link Paddock to militant organizations.

“We have determined to this point no connection with an international terrorist group,” Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) field office in Las Vegas, told reporters.

U.S. officials discounted the claim of responsibility for the attack made by Islamic State in a statement.

“We advise caution on jumping to conclusions before the facts are in,” CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said in an email.

MULTIPLE MACHINE GUNS

Lombardo said there were more than 10 rifles in the room where Paddock killed himself. His arsenal included multiple machine guns, according to a law enforcement official.

The site of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting is seen outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The site of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting is seen outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

U.S. law largely bans machine guns.

Police found several more weapons at Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Las Vegas, Mesquite police spokesman Quinn Averett told reporters.

The shooting, just the latest in a string that have played out across the United States over recent years, sparked a renewed outcry from some lawmakers about the pervasiveness of guns in the United States, but was unlikely to prompt action in Congress.

Efforts to pass tougher federal gun laws failed following a number of mass shootings, including the 2012 massacre of 26 young children and educators in Newtown, Connecticut, and the June attack on Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game.

Nevada has some of the nation’s most permissive gun laws. It does not require firearm owners to obtain licenses or register their guns.

House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, on Monday called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to create a select committee on gun violence.

“Congress has a moral duty to address this horrific and heartbreaking epidemic,” Pelosi wrote.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms, and gun-rights advocates staunchly defend that provision. U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has been outspoken about his support of the Second Amendment.

The White House said on Monday it was too soon after the Las Vegas attack to consider new gun control policies.

“Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost,” presidential spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said at a news briefing. “It would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place last night.”

Trump said he would travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet with victims, their family members and first responders.

“It was an act of pure evil,” said Trump, who later led a moment of silence at the White House in honor of the victims.

The suspected shooter’s brother, Eric Paddock, said the family was stunned by the news.

“We’re horrified. We’re bewildered, and our condolences go out to the victims,” Eric Paddock said in a phone interview, his voice trembling. “We have no idea in the world.”

He said his brother belonged to no political or religious organizations, and had no history of mental illness. Their father had been a bank robber who for a time was listed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list of fugitives.

Two broken windows are seen at The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and a cross atop a church next to the concert grounds near the scene of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Two broken windows are seen at The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and a cross atop a church next to the concert grounds near the scene of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

‘JUST KEPT GOING ON’

Video of the attack showed panicked crowds fleeing as sustained rapid gunfire ripped through the area as the shooter fired from a distance of around 1,050 feet (320 m).

“People were just dropping to the ground. It just kept going on,” said Steve Smith, a 45-year-old visitor from Phoenix, Arizona. He said the gunfire went on for an extended period of time.

“Probably 100 shots at a time,” Smith said. “It would sound like it was reloading and then it would go again.”

Las Vegas’s casinos, nightclubs and shopping draw some 3.5 million visitors from around the world each year and the area was packed with visitors when the shooting broke out shortly after 10 p.m. local time (0400 GMT).

Shares of MGM Resorts International, which owns the Mandalay Bay, fell 5.58 percent on Monday to $30.77 a share.

Mike McGarry, a financial adviser from Philadelphia, was at the concert when he heard hundreds of shots ring out.

“It was crazy – I laid on top of the kids. They’re 20. I’m 53. I lived a good life,” McGarry said. The back of his shirt bore footmarks, after people ran over him in the panicked crowd.

 

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Chris Michaud and Frank McGurty in New York, Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Ali Abdelaty in Cairo and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool, Jonathan Oatis and Andrew Hay)

 

Aurora, Colorado marks five-year anniversary of theater massacre

Lt. Jad Lanigan of the Aurora police department looks over crosses for those killed in the Aurora theater shooting, at a vigil on the 5-year anniversary of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

AURORA, Col. (Reuters) – A somber crowd marked the fifth anniversary early on Thursday of a shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 people dead and 70 injured.

About 100 family and community members and friends gathered outside Aurora’s city hall to remember the victims and first responders with a solemn candlelight vigil and procession. Many wept softly as they released white balloons into the night sky or wrote tributes on small wooden crosses.

“The thing I see after five years is the resilience of this community,” said Aurora Police Department’s Jad Lanigan, who was the incident commander at the scene of the July 20, 2012 shooting. “In Colorado we’ve had our fair share of tragedies but we always bounce back.”

Some 400 exuberant moviegoers had packed into the Century 16 movie theater in the Denver suburb for a midnight screening of Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” that quickly turned to horror when a gunman opened fire on the crowd.

Twelve moviegoers were killed and 70 others either wounded by gunfire or injured fleeing the theater.

The 7/20 Memorial Foundation, a group of survivors, victims and their families, sponsored Thursday’s event. The organization is raising funds to build a permanent memorial to the tragedy.

“We are part of a family, we never have to say anything about it. It’s just there,” said Jansen Young, whose boyfriend Jonathan Bunk was killed protecting her during the shooting.

A moment of silence was observed at 12:38 a.m., the time at which James Holmes sprayed the crowded theater with bullets. He later surrendered to police in the theater parking lot.

The then-24-year-old California native pleaded not guilty of murder charges by reason of insanity in April 2015. A jury convicted him on all counts and he is currently serving his multiple life sentences at an undisclosed prison.

George Brauchler, the district attorney who prosecuted Holmes, said in an interview before the event that his thoughts are often with the victims and their families.

Brauchler also said the police officers who responded to the theater saved many lives when they grabbed mortally wounded victims and turned their patrol cars into makeshift ambulances.

“I still see those guys and they are changed forever — much like Aurora itself,” he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman, additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Charleston church shooter pleads guilty to state murder counts

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The white supremacist sentenced to death in federal court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina pleaded guilty to separate state murder charges on Monday.

Dylann Roof, 23, was charged in state court with murdering nine African-American parishioners as they closed their eyes in prayer at a Bible study session.

Roof agreed to plead guilty in state court under a deal with prosecutors after being convicted of 33 federal crimes, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion resulting in death. In January, a jury found he deserved the death penalty.

Pleading guilty to the state charges allows for Roof’s transfer to death row and spares survivors and relatives of the victims a second round of courtroom testimony detailing his rampage on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

He will receive a sentence of life in prison on the state charges, which include attempted murder of three survivors of the shooting, solicitor Scarlett Wilson said last month. State prosecutors abandoned efforts to seek a second death penalty.

Roof was ordered into the custody of U.S. Marshals last week. He has been held at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County awaiting his state trial.

Standing shackled in a striped prison jumpsuit beside his attorney, Roof on Monday told the court he understood he would serve life in prison without eligibility for parole. He waived his right to any appeal.

He is expected to be transferred to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, that holds male death-row prisoners, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that monitors U.S. capital punishment.

Since 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated, 76 defendants in the United States have been sentenced to death and three prisoners have been executed, according to the center’s website.

Roof becomes the 62nd current federal death row inmate, and appeals in such cases can take a decade or more, the center’s executive director, Robert Dunham, said in a telephone interview.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Matthew Lewis)

South Carolina church shooter’s friend to serve time for lying, silence

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The South Carolina man who suspected his friend Dylann Roof was to blame for the June 2015 massacre at a historic black church but did not immediately call police and told others to stay silent was sentenced on Tuesday to more than two years in prison.

Joey Meek, 22, told authorities Roof revealed his plot during a cocaine and vodka-fueled night about a week before the shooting, which was one of several racially charged shootings in recent years that reopened debate about race relations and gun control laws in the United States.

Roof, who is white, told Meek he wanted to start a race war by killing black people at a church, court records show.

But after Roof opened fire during a Bible study meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, slaying nine parishioners, Meek, who is also white, did not promptly report what he knew, prosecutors said.

With Roof on the run, Meek also instructed others not to contact police and later denied to federal agents that he had knowledge of Roof’s plans.

“He knew who it was,” U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston said before sentencing Meek to 27 months in prison. “He put his own interests ahead of the known dangers to the community.”

Prosecutors had sought a stiffer penalty than the 27 to 33 months federal sentencing guidelines called for. Meek was the only other person charged in the shooting. He pleaded guilty in April 2016 to charges of concealing knowledge of the crime and lying to investigators. He agreed to cooperate.

Meek was not called to testify at his childhood friend’s trial. Roof was sentenced to death in January after being convicted of 33 charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion resulting in death.

The government argued law enforcement could have tried to prevent Roof’s attack had Meek alerted them.

Meek’s lawyer Deborah Barbier said in court papers that her client, who had a ninth-grade education and history of mental health and substance abuse problems, should not be treated as though he was guilty of Roof’s crimes.

Gergel, who oversaw Roof’s trial, said Meek’s criminal behavior did not begin until after the shooting.

With about a dozen members of the victims’ families in court, Meek read a statement expressing his remorse for not taking Roof more seriously.

“I didn’t believe he could do something so awful and cruel,” he said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Andrew Hay and Grant McCool)

San Bernardino massacre yields second immigration fraud conviction

Memorial for San Bernardino victims

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Russian-born wife of the California man accused of supplying guns used by another couple who killed 14 people in San Bernardino pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal immigration fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Mariya Chernykh, 26, became the second person convicted in an immigration fraud scheme linked to the December 2015 massacre by Syed Rizwan Farook and his Pakistani-born wife, Tashfeen Malik, who authorities said were inspired by Islamic extremism.

The man she admitted paying to marry her, Enrique Marquez Jr., is charged with furnishing two assault rifles used in the shooting rampage by Farook, a U.S. native of Pakistani descent, and Malik, whom he married in 2014 in Saudi Arabia.

The couple were killed in a gunfight with police four hours after the massacre.

Marquez also is accused of having plotted with Farook to stage similar shooting attacks in the suburbs east of Los Angeles in 2011 and 2012 that were never carried out. He is scheduled to go on trial on Sept. 26.

Farook’s brother, Syed Raheel Farook, 31, pled guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit fraud earlier this month, admitting that he lied on immigration forms that paved the way for Chernykh, his wife’s sister, to engage in a fraudulent marriage to Marquez.

Chernykh, a Russian citizen, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy, perjury and making false statements, and now faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine when she is sentenced in November, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. Her would-be brother-in-law, Raheel Farook, could receive up to five years in prison.

His wife, Tatiana Farook, a third defendant in the immigration fraud case, is slated to go on trial in March.

The slaying of Rizwan’s Farook’s co-workers at a holiday office party on Dec. 2, 20015, ranks as one of the deadliest attacks by Islamist militants in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.

In addition to acknowledging in court on Thursday that she falsified immigration documents and paid Marquez to participate in the sham marriage, Chernykh admitted making false statements to federal investigators in the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino attack, authorities said.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler)