His cross to bear: carpenter creates memorial for yet another shooting

FILE PHOTO: People pray next to a row of crosses representing each of the victims at a growing memorial site two days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

By Daniel Trotta

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – Volunteers on Monday planted crosses, each representing a fatality in Saturday’s mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, at a shrine to the victims that included “El Paso strong” signs, flowers, candles, bible verses and U.S. and Mexican flags.

Police have not released the names of the victims of the attack, which authorities have called an act of domestic terrorism that appeared to target Hispanics. Hours later, a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people. The attacks injured dozens more.

Greg Zanis of Crosses for Losses, who has been making white, waist-high wooden crosses for victims of tragedies since 1986, provided them for the shrine to the victims near the Walmart store.

“Today is the worst day. I’m going to have to go to Dayton, Ohio, right now. I don’t know how I can handle this day,” Zanis told reporters at the shrine.

Zanis said he has made more than 26,000 crosses since the master carpenter began his one-man mission after finding the body of his father-in-law, who had been shot to death.

In 1999, he erected 13 crosses in Colorado in honor of the victims of the shooting rampage at Columbine High School. Last year he went to Pittsburgh to deliver 11 Stars of David in remembrance of the worshippers shot dead on Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life synagogue, and barely two weeks later to Thousand Oaks, Calif., for the 12 victims of a shooting there, and then to Paradise, Calif., the following month after a wildfire destroyed the town, killing at least 85.

He was even forced into action for a workplace shooting on Feb. 15 in his home town of Aurora, Illinois that killed six.

“These people all don’t think it will happen in their towns, and I was dumb enough to think it wouldn’t happen in mine,” Zanis said.

MEXICAN NATIONALS

At least eight of the victims in the border city of El Paso were Mexican nationals. One funeral home is offering free cremation services for the victims as the city mourned.

At the Walmart shrine, Tony Basco, 61, planted a cross for his partner of 22 years, Margie Reckard, 67, according to the name and age on the cross.

“I’ve been lost. I’m like a puppy run away from its momma. She took care of me,” Basco said. “But my wife, she’d say get up off your rear end and grow up. Because now I’ve got to take care of the bills, take care of the cat.”

Basco was unaware Zanis would be presenting her cross. He just happened to be visiting the site for the first time since the massacre.

“I just wanted to go where she died,” Basco said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. Supreme Court rules for cross-shaped war memorial on public land in Maryland

A concrete cross commemorating servicemen killed in World War One, that is the subject of a religious rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen in Bladensburg, Maryland, U.S., February 11, 2019. Picture taken on February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A 40-foot-tall (12 meters) cross-shaped war memorial standing on public land in Maryland does not represent an impermissible government endorsement of religion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a major decision testing the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

The justices, in a 7-2 decision, overturned a lower court ruling that had declared the so-called Peace Cross in Bladensburg unconstitutional in a legal challenge mounted by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for secular governance. The concrete cross was erected in 1925 as a memorial to troops killed in World War One.

The challengers had argued that the cross violated the Constitution’s so-called Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion and bars governmental actions favoring one religion over another.

The American Humanist Association did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The fractured decision saw two of the court’s liberals, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan, joining the five conservatives in parts of the majority. The ruling made it clear that such a monument in the shape of a Christian cross on public land was permissible but the justices seemed divided over whether other types of religious displays and symbols on government property would be allowed.

Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, wrote for the majority that although the cross is a religious symbol, “its use in the Bladensburg memorial has special significance” because it functions as a war memorial.

“For nearly a century, the Bladensburg cross has expressed the community’s grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifices, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought,” he added.

To tear the cross down now could be seen as an act of hostility against religion, Alito said.

Where the justices differ is on what kinds of other displays, including ones built more recently, would violate the Constitution.

“A newer memorial, erected under different circumstances, would not necessarily be permissible under this approach,” Breyer wrote in a concurring opinion.

Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The Peace Cross was funded privately and built to honor 49 men from Maryland’s Prince George’s County killed in World War One. The property was in private hands when the cross was erected, but is now on land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a governmental agency.

The cross had the backing of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration. The American Legion holds memorial events at the site. Veterans and their relatives have said the monument has no religious meaning despite being in the shape of a cross, calling the lawsuit misguided and hurtful.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

Prayers, tributes in Lockerbie mark 30 years since Pan Am bombing

People gather for the service and wreath-laying at the Memorial Garden in Dryfesdale Cemetery, on the morning of the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which exploded over the Scottish town on December 21, 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew and 11 residents on the ground, in Lockerbie, Scotland, Britain, December 21, 2018. Jane Barlow/Pool via REUTERS

LOCKERBIE, Scotland (Reuters) – A simple wreath-laying and prayer service in Lockerbie on Friday marked 30 years since a jumbo jet was blown up over the small Scottish town, killing 270 people.

Pan Am flight 103 exploded on its way from London to New York a few days before Christmas in 1988, killing all 259 people on board and another 11 on the ground. It is the deadliest ever militant attack in Britain.

Lockerbie, near the English border, with a population of just 4,000 people, has been synonymous with the tragedy ever since.

“Let us find hope and peace for all those who lost loved ones and who still carry the scars of this atrocity,” Jeff Brown, who directed the religious service, told those assembled.

The memorial service at Dryfesdale Cemetery was attended by Lord Lieutenant Fiona Armstrong, who conveyed a personal message from Queen Elizabeth.

“I send my prayers and good wishes to all those who will be marking this solemn anniversary,” she said.

Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was found guilty of the bombing, along with others who were never identified, and was jailed for life in 2001.

Megrahi was later released because he was suffering from cancer. He died in 2012.

(Writing by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison)

One year later, Las Vegas remembers mass shooting that killed 58

White crosses set up for the victims of the Route 91 Harvest music festival mass shooting are pictured in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

(Reuters) – White doves flew overhead, each tagged with a name of the 58 people killed one year ago in the largest mass shooting in modern American history, as loved ones gathered in Las Vegas at a sunrise service on Monday to remember them.

“On October 1st, our city was jolted into darkness,” said Mynda Smith, whose sister Neysa Tonks, a 46-year-old mother of three, was among those gunned down in the massacre that wounded more than 800 at an outdoor country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

“None of us will ever be the same after that night. However, none of us were alone,” she said, recalling the massive response of citizens donating blood, aiding the injured and feeding families stunned by the violence. “We found love that came from so many that were there to help us.”

Gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, fired more than 1,100 rounds from his 32nd-floor hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay on the evening of Oct. 1, 2017, and then killed himself before police stormed his room.

At the daybreak ceremony one year later, friends and family members bowed their heads for 58 seconds of silence before a choral group sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the air was filled with the mournful strains of bagpipes.

MGM Resorts International, which owns the Mandalay Bay and drew criticism for countersuing victims to seek immunity from damage claims, expressed solidarity and sympathy on the first anniversary of the gun violence.

“One year ago, our community suffered an unforgettable act of terror,” MGM Resorts Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Murren said in a statement. “We share the sorrow of those who mourn and continue to search for meaning in events that lie beyond our understanding.”

Paddock used “bump stock” devices to accelerate the rate of fire from his semiautomatic rifles, effectively turning them into machine guns.

The use of bump stocks, which are legal under U.S. law, prompted calls from politicians and gun control activists to ban the devices.

Within days, National Rifle Association leaders urged the U.S. government to review whether bump stocks were legal. Drawing criticism from some NRA members who viewed that call as a betrayal of the powerful gun lobby’s principles, the NRA position also gave political cover to the Trump administration to consider regulating bump stocks.

On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department said it had submitted a proposed ban on bump stocks last week to the Office of Management and Budget for review, part of the legal process required for the regulation to take effect.

President Donald Trump, asked about bump stocks at a news conference on Monday, said his administration was scrambling to ensure the devices would be illegal within a matter of weeks.

“We’re knocking out bump stocks,” Trump said. “Bump stocks are done – I told the NRA.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Dan Trotta and Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Thailand to mark boy soccer team’s dramatic cave rescue with museum

A "Restricted Area" sign is seen in front of the Tham Luang cave complex, after the rescue mission for the 12 boys of the "Wild Boars" soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai construction workers on Thursday began building a museum to commemorate the dramatic cave rescue of a boys’ soccer team in the northern province of Chiang Rai and the death of one of the divers.

The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach went missing on June 23 while exploring the cave complex and were rescued more than two weeks later during a perilous three-day mission by foreign and Thai divers that gripped audiences around the world.

People react as the 12 soccer players and their coach who were rescued from a flooded cave arrive for their news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

People react as the 12 soccer players and their coach who were rescued from a flooded cave arrive for their news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

Work on the museum began after a traditional Buddhist ceremony on Wednesday at the Tham Luang cave, in which authorities asked for the blessing of local spirits.

The museum, which is expected to take about five months and 10 million baht ($300,000) to build, is being funded by a Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Chiang Rai native.

“This place will be very beneficial for our country, as it will commemorate the multinational cooperation and the hero who sacrificed his life. Tourists from around the world will visit this place,” Chalermchai said.

Thai diver Samarn Kunan died after he lost consciousness during a mission to place oxygen tanks deep inside the cave.

A four-meter statue of Samarn, currently being sculpted, will be placed in front of the museum.

The museum will also house a 13-metre-long painting, which features rescuers, including the British divers who first found the boys.

Eleven of the boys have been spending time as Buddhist novices to honor Samarn. On Saturday, they will leave the temple to return to normal life.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Ireland quietly comes to terms with dramatic change after abortion vote

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish people paid homage on Sunday to an Indian immigrant woman whose death inspired a historic vote to repeal Ireland’s strict abortion laws while the Catholic Church rued the outcome saying it showed indifference to its teachings.

In a referendum on Friday, the once deeply Catholic nation voted to scrap a prohibition on abortion by a margin of two-to-one, a landslide victory that astonished campaigners as citizens of every age and background demanded the change they had spent decades fighting for.

The vote overturns a law which, for decades, has forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations that they could not legally have in their own country. “Yes” campaigners had argued that with pills now being bought illegally online abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Hundreds of people on Sunday continued to leave flowers and candles at a large mural in Dublin of Savita Halappanaar, the 31-year-old Indian whose death in 2012 from a septic miscarriage after being refused a termination spurred lawmakers into action.

Katy Gaffney, a 24-year-old baker who traveled home to Dublin from Berlin to vote, stood silently in front of the makeshift memorial crying.

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“I am relieved but devastated that it had to come to this,” she said.

Others, many with tears in their eyes, pinned messages to the wall. One read: “I’m so sorry this happened to you before the country woke up. My vote was for you.” Another: “I’m sorry we let you down. It won’t be in vain.”

“It’s not a high. It’s more of a relief,” said Lynda Cosgrave, a 35-year-old legal associate, wearing the black sweatshirt with ‘Repeal’ in white that become the symbol of the youthful “Yes” campaign.

“I thought when I came in last night it would be jubilant, but it was a bit down. It’s a bit sad. I don’t think we ever thought it would actually happen.”

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of going abroad for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

The government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, will begin drafting legislation in the coming week to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy by the end of the year.

Many lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not try to block the bill.

NEW MILESTONE

The outcome was a new milestone on a path of change for the country of 4.8 million which only legalized divorce by a tiny majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

With the vote making newspaper frontpages across the world, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that “Ireland has once again made history.” He called the vote an essential symbol for women’s freedom.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with ministers and lawmakers in her Conservative party after refusing to back reform of highly restrictive abortion laws in the British province of Northern Ireland which has a 500 km (312 mile) land border with Ireland.

Ireland’s push to liberalize its laws is in contrast to another traditionally Catholic European country, Poland, where the ruling conservative party and still powerful church are seeking to ban most abortions.

In Ireland though, the once all-powerful Catholic Church, which has seen its public influence collapse since the 1980s after a string of child sex abuse scandals, took a back seat throughout the referendum campaign.

In churches across the country on Sunday there was only regret at the outcome.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told parishioners that the church had to “renew its commitment to support life.”

“Many will see the results of Friday’s referendum as an indication that the Catholic Church in Ireland is regarded today by many with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of Irish culture,” Martin said in a homily published by the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick called the result “deeply regrettable and chilling for those of us who voted ‘No’.” He asked those attending mass to pray for healing in Irish society.

Calling on colleagues to move quickly on legislation, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone reminded lawmakers that Irish women would still have to travel across the water to Britain for terminations until they acted.

“Women are leaving the country today,” she told national broadcaster RTE. “We have to be aware of that and have that sense of urgency in order to legislate as soon as possible.”

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

UK PM May joins families to remember Manchester pop concert victims

Painted stones are left in tribute in St Anne's Square on the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, in Manchester, Britain, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May will join Prince William at a memorial service in Manchester on Tuesday to remember the 22 victims of a suicide bombing on a pop concert a year ago, Britain’s deadliest attack for more than a decade.

Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old Briton born to Libyan parents, blew himself up at the end of a show by U.S. singer Ariana Grande at the Manchester Arena in northern England in the deadliest militant attack in Britain for 12 years.

People wearing Ariana Grande sweatshirts look at tributes left in St Anne's Square on the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, in Manchester, Britain, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

People wearing Ariana Grande sweatshirts look at tributes left in St Anne’s Square on the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, in Manchester, Britain, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

His victims included seven children, the youngest aged just eight, while more than 500 were injured.

On Tuesday, an hour-long service of commemoration will be held at Manchester Cathedral, including a nationwide one-minute silence at 1330 GMT, with William meeting some of the bereaved families privately afterwards.

“The targeting of the young and innocent as they enjoyed a care free night out in the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017, was an act of sickening cowardice,” May wrote in an article for the Manchester Evening News newspaper.

“It was designed to strike at the heart of our values and our way of life, in one of our most vibrant cities, with the aim of breaking our resolve and dividing us. It failed.”

In other events, singers from local choirs, including the Manchester Survivors Choir made up of those caught up in the attack, will join together in the city for a mass singalong titled “Manchester Together – With One Voice”.

It echoes a moment when crowds broke into an emotional chorus of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Manchester rock group Oasis after a minute of silent tribute days after the bombing.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, speaks on science and the Industrial Strategy at Jodrell Bank in Macclesfield, Britain May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples/Pool/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, speaks on science and the Industrial Strategy at Jodrell Bank in Macclesfield, Britain May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples/Pool/File Photo

“Thinking of you all today and every day. I love you with all of me and am sending you all of the light and warmth I have to offer on this challenging day,” Grande wrote on Twitter, including a bee emoticon, the symbol of Manchester.

Britain is seeking the extradition of Abedi’s brother Hashem from Libya over the attack, although the authorities do not believe a wider network was involved.

The Manchester bombing was the deadliest of five attacks in Britain last year blamed on militants which killed a total of 36 people.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton)

Six months on, Grenfell fire survivors weep at London memorial

Six months on, Grenfell fire survivors weep at London memorial

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Survivors of a blaze that killed 71 people six months ago in the Grenfell Tower social housing block in west London wept during a multi-faith memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday attended by members of the royal family.

Bereaved relatives held pictures of their loved ones as they commemorated Britain’s deadliest fire since World War Two, a tragedy that has profoundly shocked the nation.

Fire broke out in the middle of the night on June 14 and quickly gutted the 24-storey building, which was home to a multi-ethnic community living in a poor area within one of London’s richest boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea.

The disaster highlighted the area’s extreme disparities in living conditions between rich and poor and fueled a debate over why safety concerns voiced by tower residents before the fire had been ignored.

The service reflected the multi-cultural character of the Grenfell community, with Christian and Muslim prayers and music from Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Western traditions.

It also addressed the anger of many survivors over what they perceive as the neglect of their community before and after the fire. A majority of the hundreds of people displaced by the fire are still staying in hotels because suitable permanent homes have not been provided yet.

“Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to,” Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, told the congregation.

“Today we hold out hope that the public inquiry will get to the truth of all that led up to the fire at Grenfell Tower … and we trust that the truth will bring justice.”

Police are investigating the fire and say charges may be brought against individuals or organizations. A separate public inquiry is under way on the causes of the fire and the authorities’ response.

Mourners pay their respects outside St Paul’s Cathedral after a memorial service in honour of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“REMEMBER ME”

Prime Minister Theresa May, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry were among those attending the service along with bereaved families and firefighters who took part in the rescue effort on the night.

The devastation inside Grenfell Tower was such that it took police and forensic scientists several months to recover and identify all human remains. The final death toll was 53 adults and 18 children.

The service began when a white banner bearing a large green heart emblazoned with the word “Grenfell” was carried through the congregation to the pulpit by a Catholic priest and Muslim cleric from the area around the charred tower.

Later, a young Syrian musician played a mournful tune on the oud, an instrument commonly played in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where many Grenfell residents had ties.

A choir of Muslim schoolgirls performed a song called “Inshallah”, and survivor Nadia Jafari, who escaped from the tower but lost her elderly father Ali, read a poem called “Remember Me” by the 13th century Persian poet and scholar Rumi.

The service also included a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by a Caribbean-style steel band, and a performance of “Somewhere” from the musical “West Side Story.”

Schoolchildren from the Grenfell area scattered green hearts, a symbol of solidarity with the victims and survivors, around the cathedral’s altar.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

Texas church reopens as solemn memorial to shooting victims

Texas church reopens as solemn memorial to shooting victims

By Lisa Maria Garza

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – The modest Texas church where a gunman massacred more than two dozen worshipers last week reopened as a memorial on Sunday, giving the public its first glimpse of the site where one of the most shocking mass shootings in U.S. history unfolded.

Signs of the rampage that officials said took 26 lives and wounded 20 others were muted at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after a weeklong effort to transform its devastated sanctuary into a shrine honoring the deceased.

All the pews, carpets and church equipment had been removed, and the floors were still sticky from fresh coats of paint. The windows were painted over in swirling watercolors.

White, wooden folding chairs were placed in no regular pattern throughout the church, with each marking the precise spot where a victim’s body was found. A single rose, decorated with white ribbon, graced every seat, with the victim’s name written in gold cursive script on its back along with a cross painted in red.

As members of the media were escorted four at a time through the chapel, a recorded voice could be heard reading verses of scripture. Outside, as a steady rain fell, about 100 family members and others waited to pay their respects.

Construction crews worked around the clock for 72 hours to make the church “presentable to those families,” Associate Pastor Mark Collins said.

Earlier, Pastor Frank Pomeroy led a gathering of about 500 in Sunday services held in a tent erected in a muddy athletic field, a short walk from the church.

“We have the freedom to take that building that was attacked, transform it through the love of God and into a memorial to remind everyone so that we will never forget – love never fails,” the pastor said.

Pomeroy was out of town at the time of the attack, but his 14-year-old daughter was among those killed by Devin Kelley, a former U.S. Air Force officer thrown out of the service after his conviction in 2012 for assaulting his wife and stepson. After the massacre, Kelley killed himself.

“The media is amazed that we are not angry, that we are not calling for this or that,” Pomeroy told congregants with an air of defiance mixed with visible grief. “Folks, we have the freedom to choose, and rather than choose darkness, as one young man did that day, I say we choose light.”

The congregation gave thunderous applause. Some waved Bibles in the air. Near the back stood a dozen bikers from a nearby chapter of Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders.

The members of the church will make a decision “in the far future” about whether to demolish the structure, Collins said. Some families have said they never want to step foot in the building again, he said.

In the meantime, it will serve as a memorial open to the public on Monday through Friday. Regular Sunday services will resume in a temporary structure set up somewhere on church property.

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Writing by Jonathan Allen and Frank McGurty; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney)