Area 51 raid morphs into pre-dawn celebration outside secretive U.S. base

By Lisa Richwine

RACHEL, Nev. (Reuters) – A call to “storm” the secretive U.S. military base in the Nevada desert known as Area 51 attracted several dozen revelers to a heavily guarded entrance early Friday, but most did not attempt to enter the site, long rumored to house secrets about extraterrestrial life.

A festive scene emerged around 3 a.m. PT (1000 GMT) on Friday, the date and time a Facebook user had jokingly invited people to run into the base on foot to “see them aliens.” Among the UFO enthusiasts and curiosity seekers, one man wore an orange space suit and some sported tin foil hats and alien masks. A sign in the gathering read “Free E.T. from the government.”

“A bunch of random people in weird costumes standing outside of a government base, why would you want to miss that?” said a YouTube personality who goes by the name Atozy. “That’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

One young woman ducked under a protective gate and was briefly detained by authorities and released. Others stayed outside the perimeter, according to law enforcement officials keeping watch over the crowd.

“They’re just here to see what’s going on,” said Sergeant Orlando Guerra of the Nevada Department of Public Safety Investigation Division. “They’re here to have fun.”

The U.S. Air Force had issued a stern warning to the public not to trespass into Area 51, which it said is used to test aircraft and train personnel.

Jason Strand, 23, said he traveled from Utah to the rural Nevada site as part of a group of nine friends to take in the scene. He said he was not inclined to dart into Area 51.

“We’re came out here to see the dumb people make a run for it,” he said.

Area 51 had long been shrouded in mystery, stoking conspiracy theories that it housed the remnants of a flying saucer and the bodies of its alien crew from a supposed unidentified flying object crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

The U.S. government did not confirm the base existed until 2013, when it released CIA archives saying the site was used to test top-secret spy planes.

The documents, however, did not end suspicion about space aliens there.

Area 51 sits about 12 miles (19 km) from Rachel, Nevada, a tiny outpost north of Las Vegas that is hosting a music festival to entertain any UFO hunters or others heading to the region. Some residents had urged the public to stay away because they worried the town of 50 year-round residents would be overwhelmed with unruly tourists.

As of early Friday, a few hundred campsites had been set up by visitors outside the Little A’Le’Inn, an alien-themed motel and restaurant that is Rachel’s only business.

“I’m relieved it’s here,” said Connie West, co-owner of the inn, who had scrambled to set up a campground, bring in portable toilets and otherwise support the influx of visitors. “It’s happening. There was no stopping it.”

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Omar Younis and Jim Urquhart; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Dozens of CEOs call on Senate to tackle gun violence: reports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than 100 chief executives of some of the nation’s most well-known companies on Thursday called on the U.S. Senate to take action to tackle gun violence, including expanding background checks and strengthening so-called red flag laws, according to media reports.

In a letter to lawmakers, 145 company heads urged meaningful action following a string of mass shootings across the United States that have most recently left communities reeling in Texas, Ohio, Nevada and South Carolina.

“Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,” the letter to the Republican-led U.S. Senate said, according to the New York Times, which first reported the correspondence.

Those signing the missive include the heads of Gap Inc, Levi Strauss & Co, and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. They also included Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Uber Technologies Inc, Twitter Inc, and Amalgamated Bank, among others.

“We are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” they said, according to the Times. The Washington Post also reported the letter.

Lawmakers have struggled to address gun violence after the 2012 killing of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut stoked the debate over gun control in America.

More mass shootings followed, including at a church in South Carolina, a music festival in Las Vegas and a high school in Florida. This summer, shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas – including in a Walmart – sparked fresh debate.

Walmart Inc and other stores have since called on patrons not to openly carry firearms in their stores, prompting protests from opponents who object to curbing gun rights.

The U.S. House of Representatives, led by Democrats, quickly took up measures addressing gun violence as lawmakers returned to Washington this week. These include three bills that seek to remove guns from people deemed a risk, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and prohibit people convicted of violent hate crime misdemeanors from possessing firearms.

The Senate, led by President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, has so far stayed on the sidelines, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looking to the White House for guidance.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they wanted to revive a failed 2013 bill to close loopholes in the law requiring gun sale background checks, but it remained unclear whether Trump would support it.

Polls have shown that nearly half of all Americans expect another mass shooting to happen soon in the United States.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

California utility to cut power to 27,000 customers to reduce wildfire risk

FILE PHOTO: A lineman from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) works on a power line near a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Utility PG&E Corp planned to proactively shut off power on Saturday to 27,000 customers in Northern California due to an increased risk of wildfires, officials said.

The shut down would begin at 9 p.m. local time in and around the Sierra Foothills, an area spanning parts of Butte, Yuba, Nevada, El Dorado and Placer counties northeast of San Francisco and near the border with Nevada, the utility said on Twitter.

The area includes portions of Paradise, the town that was destroyed by November’s deadly wildfire known as the Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people.

PG&E said this year it would significantly expand the practice of shutting off power to communities at risk of wildfire when conditions demand it, despite objections from some consumer advocates who said such disruptions can harm vulnerable people such as those who need electricity for medical equipment.

PG&E has been in touch with people in the affected areas who rely on power for their medical equipment, Adam Pasion, a spokesman for the utility, said in a phone interview.

“We certainly recognize the risk and are only doing this in the most extreme circumstances we feel that we need to,” Pasion said.

Earlier on Saturday, the utility shut down power to around 1,600 customers just north of San Francisco, in Napa, Solano and Yolo counties, also due to the risk of wildfires after forecasters said a combination of strong winds, dry conditions and warm temperatures raised the fire danger.

But conditions improved, allowing the utility to begin restoring power to those customers, Pasion said.

The utility sought bankruptcy protection in January after facing billions of dollars in liabilities stemming from the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in modern times.

State investigators concluded that PG&E’s power lines caused the fire, which leveled nearly 19,000 homes and other structures and caused some $16.5 billion in losses.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Gregorio and Christopher Cushing)

Prime wildfire weather is sweeping across western U.S.

The Sierra Hotshots, from the Sierra National Forest, are responding on the front lines of the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite in this US Forest Service photo from California, U.S. released on social media on July 22, 2018. Courtesy USDA/US Forest Service, Sierrra Hotshots/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Brutally hot temperatures, fierce winds and arid conditions will sweep across the U.S. West on Wednesday, and the weather may contribute to an already deadly wildfire season.

Temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C), winds gusting up to 50 miles (80 km) per hour and humidity levels in the teens are in the forecast for many parts of Oregon, California, Arizona and Nevada on Wednesday and into Thursday, the National Weather Service said in a series of advisories.

The service warned that the weather could lead to more of the fires in the region, which have killed nine firefighters and destroyed more than 2,500 homes.

One of the largest, the Ferguson Fire, forced the Yosemite Valley and other parts of Yosemite National Park to close on Wednesday as smoke filled the air in the popular tourist destination.

The Ferguson Fire, which has been burning since July 13 and has claimed the life of one firefighter, had charred about 37,795 acres (15,295 hectares) to the south and west of the park. It was 26 percent contained as of Tuesday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The park’s Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Mariposa Grove are to be closed at least through Sunday by the fire operations, the National Park Service said.

More than 3,400 personnel using 16 helicopters and 59 bulldozers have been battling the blaze, which has caused six injuries and led to evacuations in parts of the region.

In all, 73 major wildfires are burning in the United States in an area of about 700,000 acres. Most are in western states, with blazes also in central Texas and Wisconsin, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

As of July 24, wildfires had burned through 3.94 million acres this year, above the 10-year average for the same calendar period of 3.54 million acres, it said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)

Special Report: In the market for human bodies, almost anyone can sell the dead

A coffin, mops and coolers used to transport body parts lie in an abandoned courtyard outside a warehouse once shared by a funeral home and the body broker Southern Nevada Donor Services in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. July 19, 2016. REUTERS/John Shiffman

By Brian Grow and John Shiffman

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The company stacked brochures in funeral parlors around Sin City. On the cover: a couple clasping hands. Above the image, a promise: “Providing Options in Your Time of Need.”

The company, Southern Nevada Donor Services, offered grieving families a way to eliminate expensive funeral costs: free cremation in exchange for donating a loved one’s body to “advance medical studies.”

Outside Southern Nevada’s suburban warehouse, the circumstances were far from comforting. In the fall of 2015, neighboring tenants began complaining about a mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a Dumpster. That December, local health records show, someone contacted authorities to report odd activity in the courtyard.

Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun.

As the man sprayed the remains, “bits of tissue and blood were washed into the gutters,” a state health report said. The stream weaved past storefronts and pooled across the street near a technical school.

Southern Nevada, the inspectors learned, was a so-called body broker, a company that acquires dead bodies, dissects them and sells the parts for profit to medical researchers, training organizations and other buyers. The torso on the gurney was being prepared for just such a sale.

Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science. In fact, many are also unwittingly contributing to commerce, their bodies traded as raw material in a largely unregulated national market.

Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.

“The current state of affairs is a free-for-all,” said Angela McArthur, who directs the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School and formerly chaired her state’s anatomical donation commission. “We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago,” she said, referring to the 19th-century practice of obtaining cadavers in ways that violated the dignity of the dead.

“I don’t know if I can state this strongly enough,” McArthur said. “What they are doing is profiting from the sale of humans.”

The industry’s business model hinges on access to a large supply of free bodies, which often come from the poor. In return for a body, brokers typically cremate a portion of the donor at no charge. By offering free cremation, some deathcare industry veterans say, brokers appeal to low-income families at their most vulnerable. Many have drained their savings paying for a loved one’s medical treatment and can’t afford a traditional funeral.

“People who have financial means get the chance to have the moral, ethical and spiritual debates about which method to choose,” said Dawn Vander Kolk, an Illinois hospice social worker. “But if they don’t have money, they may end up with the option of last resort: body donation.”

Few rules mean few consequences when bodies are mistreated. In the Southern Nevada case, officials found they could do little more than issue a minor pollution citation to one of the workers involved. Southern Nevada operator Joe Collazo, who wasn’t cited, said he regretted the incident. He said the industry would benefit from oversight that offers peace of mind to donors, brokers and researchers.

“To be honest with you, I think there should be regulation,” said Collazo. “There’s too much gray area.”

“BIG MARKET FOR DEAD BODIES”

Donated bodies play an essential role in medical education, training and research. Cadavers and body parts are used to train medical students, doctors, nurses and dentists. Surgeons say no mannequin or computer simulation can replicate the tactile response and emotional experience of practicing on human body parts. Paramedics, for example, use human heads and torsos to learn how to insert breathing tubes.

Researchers rely on donated human body parts to develop new surgical instruments, techniques and implants; and to develop new medicines and treatments for diseases.

“The need for human bodies is absolutely vital,” said Chicago doctor Armand Krikorian, past president of the American Federation for Medical Research. He cited a recent potential cure for Type 1 diabetes developed by studying pancreases from body donors. “It’s a kind of treatment that would have never come to light if we did not have whole-body donation.”

Despite the industry’s critically important role in medicine, no national registry of body brokers exists. Many can operate in near anonymity, quietly making deals to obtain cadavers and sell the parts.

“There is a big market for dead bodies,” said Ray Madoff, a Boston College Law School professor who studies how U.S. laws treat the dead. “We know very little about who is acquiring these bodies and what they are doing with them.”

In most states, anyone can legally purchase body parts. As an upcoming story will detail, a Tennessee broker sold Reuters a cervical spine and two human heads after just a few email exchanges.

Through interviews and public records, Reuters identified Southern Nevada and 33 other body brokers active across America during the past five years. Twenty-five of the 34 body brokers were for-profit corporations; the rest were nonprofits. In three years alone, one for-profit broker earned at least $12.5 million stemming from the body part business, an upcoming Reuters report will show.

Because only four states closely track donations and sales, the breadth of the market for body parts remains unknown. But data obtained under public record laws from those states – New York, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida – provide a snapshot. Reuters calculated that from 2011 through 2015, private brokers received at least 50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts.

Permits from Florida and Virginia offer a glimpse of how some of those parts were used: A 2013 shipment to a Florida orthopedic training seminar included 27 shoulders. A 2015 shipment to a session on carpal tunnel syndrome in Virginia included five arms.

As with other commodities, prices for bodies and body parts fluctuate with market conditions. Generally, a broker can sell a donated human body for about $3,000 to $5,000, though prices sometime top $10,000. But a broker will typically divide a cadaver into six parts to meet customer needs. Internal documents from seven brokers show a range of prices for body parts: $3,575 for a torso with legs; $500 for a head; $350 for a foot; $300 for a spine.

Body brokers also have become intertwined with the American funeral industry. Reuters identified 62 funeral operators that have struck mutually beneficial business arrangements with brokers. The funeral homes provide brokers access to potential donors. In return, the brokers pay morticians referral fees, ranging from $300 to $1,430, according to broker ledgers and court records.

These payments generate income for morticians from families who might not be able to otherwise afford even simple cremation. But such relationships raise potential conflicts of interest by creating an incentive for funeral homes to encourage grieving relatives to consider body donation, sometimes without fully understanding what might happen to the remains.

“Some funeral home directors are saying, ‘Cremation isn’t paying the bills anymore, so let me see if I can help people harvest body parts,’” said Steve Palmer, an Arizona mortician who serves on the National Funeral Directors Association’s policy board. “I just think families who donate loved ones would have second thoughts if they knew that.”

Some morticians have made body donation part of their own businesses. In Oklahoma, two funeral home owners invested $650,000 in a startup body broker firm. In Colorado, a family operating a funeral home ran a company that dissected and distributed body parts from the same building.

When a body is donated, few states provide rules governing dismemberment or use, or offer any rights to a donor’s next of kin. Bodies and parts can be bought, sold and leased, again and again. As a result, it can be difficult to track what becomes of the bodies of donors, let alone ensure that they are handled with dignity.

In 2004, a federal health panel unsuccessfully called on the U.S. government to regulate the industry. Since then, more than 2,357 body parts obtained by brokers from at least 1,638 people have been misused, abused or desecrated across America, Reuters found.

The count, based on a review of court, police, bankruptcy and internal broker records, is almost certainly understated, given the lack of oversight. It includes instances in which bodies were used without donor or next-of-kin consent; donors were misled about how bodies would be used; bodies were dismembered by chainsaws instead of medical instruments; body parts were stored in such unsanitary conditions that they decomposed; or bodies were discarded in medical waste incinerators instead of being properly cremated.

Most brokers employ a distinctive language to describe what they do and how they make money. They call human remains “tissue,” not body parts, for example. And they detest the term “body brokers.” They prefer to be known as “non-transplant tissue banks.”

Most also insist they don’t “sell” body parts but instead only charge “fees” for services. Such characterizations, however, are contradicted by other documents Reuters reviewed, including court filings in which brokers clearly attach monetary value to donated remains.

A lien filed by one body broker against another cited as collateral “all tissue inventory owned by or in the possession of debtor.” In bankruptcy filings, brokers have claimed body parts as assets. One debtor included as property not only cabinets, desks and computers, but also spines, heads and other body parts. The bankrupt broker valued the human remains at $160,900.

“There are no real rules,” said Thomas Champney, a University of Miami anatomy professor who teaches bioethics. “This is the ultimate gift people have given, and we really need to respect that.”

Last December, Reuters reported that more than 20 bodies donated to an Arizona broker were used in U.S. Army blast experiments – without the consent of the deceased or next of kin. Some donors or their families had explicitly noted an objection to military experiments on consent forms. Family members learned of the 2012 and 2013 experiments not from the Army but from a Reuters reporter who obtained records about what happened.

In another case, Detroit body broker Arthur Rathburn is scheduled to stand trial in January for fraud, accused of supplying unsuspecting doctors with body parts infected with hepatitis and HIV for use in training seminars. U.S. officials cited the case as an example of their commitment to protect the public. But Reuters found that, despite warning signs, state and federal officials failed to rein in Rathburn for more than a decade, allowing him to continue to acquire hundreds of body parts and rent them out for profit. He has pleaded not guilty.

Given the number of body brokers that currently operate in America, academics and others familiar with the industry say regular inspections of facilities and reviews of donor consent forms wouldn’t place a big burden on government.

“This isn’t reinventing the wheel,” said Christina Strong, a New Jersey lawyer who co-wrote a set of standards that most states largely adopted for the organ transplant industry. “It would not be a stretch to envision a uniform state law which requires that those who recover, distribute and use human bodies adhere to uniform standards of transparency, traceability and authorization.”

But without consistent laws or a clear oversight authority – local, state or national – “nobody is accounting for anything,” said Todd Olson, an anatomy and structural biology professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Nobody is watching. We regulate heads of lettuce in this country more than we regulate heads of bodies.”

“RAW MATERIALS FOR FREE”

Body brokers range in size from small, family-operated endeavors to national firms with offices in several states. Brokers also vary in expertise.

Garland Shreves, who founded Phoenix broker Research for Life in 2009, said he invested more than $2 million in quality-control procedures and medical equipment, including $265,000 on an X-ray machine to scan cadavers for surgical implants.

But other brokers have launched their businesses for less than $100,000, internal corporate records and interviews show. Often, the largest capital expenses are a cargo van and a set of freezers. Some brokers have saved money by using chainsaws to carve up the dead instead of more expensive surgical saws.

“You have people who want to do it in a pretty half-assed way,” Shreves said. “I have really grown to dislike the business.”

Brokers can also reduce expenses by forgoing the meticulous quality control procedures and sophisticated training called for by a national accreditation organization, the American Association of Tissue Banks.

In Honolulu, police were called twice to storage facilities leased by body broker Bryan Avery in 2011 and 2012. Each time, they found decomposing human remains. Both times, police concluded that Avery committed no crimes because no state law applied.

Steven Labrash, who directs University of Hawaii’s body donation program, said the Avery case illustrates the need for laws to protect donors.

“Everybody knows that what he did was unethical and wrong,” Labrash said of Avery. “But did he break any laws? Not the way they are written today.”

Avery defended how he ran his business and said the incidents were the result of misunderstandings. He said he is now raising capital for a new company, Hawaii BioSkills, which he said will use body parts to train surgeons.

“I’m all for oversight, and companies that are doing this need to be transparent,” Avery said. “As long as it doesn’t infringe upon the flow of business, that’s fine.”

Walt Mitchell, a Phoenix businessman involved in the startup of three brokers, said one reason the industry attracts entrepreneurs is that businesses can profit handsomely from selling a donated product.

“If you can’t make a business when you’re getting raw materials for free,” Mitchell said, “you’re dumb as a box of rocks.”

Even so, a third of the 34 brokers Reuters identified went bankrupt or failed to pay their taxes, according to court filings. When failing businesses in the industry cut corners to save money, the consequences for the families of donors can be emotionally wrenching.

“THE LAST SELFLESS THING”

Harold Dillard worked with his brother resurfacing bathtubs and kitchen countertops in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after Thanksgiving in 2009.

“He was 56 years young, active, healthy, had a great life, and one night – bam!” said his daughter, Farrah Fasold. “He wanted to do the last selfless thing he could do before he died, and so he donated his body.”

As her father lay dying, Fasold said, employees from Albuquerque broker Bio Care visited father and daughter, and made a heartfelt pitch: The generous gift of his body to science would benefit medical students, doctors and researchers. Fasold said Bio Care cited several sample possibilities, including that her father’s body might be used to train surgeons on knee replacement techniques.

Fasold’s view of Bio Care soon changed. It took weeks longer than promised to receive what she was told were her father’s cremated remains. Once she received them, she suspected they were not his ashes because they looked like sand. She was correct.

In April 2010, Fasold was told by authorities that her father’s head was among body parts discovered at a medical incinerator. She also learned – for the first time, she said – that Bio Care was in the business of selling body parts.

“I was completely hysterical,” she said. “We would have never have signed up if they had ever said anything about selling body parts – no way. That’s not what my dad wanted at all.”

Inside Bio Care’s warehouse, authorities said they found at least 127 body parts belonging to 45 people.

“All of the bodies appeared to have been dismembered by a coarse cutting instrument, such as a chainsaw,” a police detective wrote in an affidavit.

Bio Care owner Paul Montano was charged with fraud. According to the police affidavit, Montano denied abusing bodies and told detectives that he ran Bio Care with “five volunteer employees,” including his father. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors later withdrew the charge against Montano because they said they could not prove deception or any other crime. No other state law regulated the handling of donated bodies or protected the next of kin.

Confused and outraged, Fasold spoke by phone with Kari Brandenburg, then the district attorney in Bernalillo County. Fasold recorded a portion of the call.

“What happened was horrible, but New Mexico law is silent on this kind of activity,” Brandenburg told Fasold. The prosecutor said that, although Montano was perhaps “the worst businessman in the world,” his failures were due in part to deals that fell through.

“So,” Fasold replied, “because other people reneged on their agreements, it’s OK for him to go ahead and chop up my dad’s body and have it incinerated?”

“No, it’s not OK,” the prosecutor replied. “But it doesn’t make it a crime. There’s no criminal law that says this is wrong.”

In a recent interview, Brandenburg said that she, too, was frustrated to find that no law protects people like Fasold and her father. “It was outrageous,” the former prosecutor said. “These families were devastated and injured in a deep way.”

Authorities ultimately recovered the other body parts of Fasold’s father and returned them to her for proper cremation. Some had been found in tubs at the incinerator and some at the Bio Care facility.

Fasold said in an interview she is surprised that the law hasn’t been changed to protect relatives.

“They could have done something long ago, passed new laws,” she said of the body broker industry. “It’s just so shady and devious.”

LUCRATIVE PARTNERSHIP

Partnerships between body brokers and funeral homes can sometimes yield sizeable businesses.

In 2009, Oklahoma funeral home owners Darin Corbett and Hal Ezzell invested $650,000 for a 50 percent stake in a company created by former executives of a large Phoenix-based body broker, court records show. According to an investor prospectus reviewed by Reuters, the new firm’s five-year revenue forecast was $13.8 million based on 2,100 donated bodies.

“Darin and I felt like we had, through our funeral home ties, the ability, if we wanted, to encourage donors,” Ezzell said in an interview.

The Norman, Oklahoma firm, United Tissue Network, converted to nonprofit status in 2012 to comply with a change in state law. But a for-profit company co-owned by Ezzell, Corbett and United Tissue President David Breedlove is paid to provide management services, leased equipment and loans. In 2015, for example, their nonprofit paid their for-profit $412,000 for services, tax records show.

Ezzell and Corbett said they are passive investors. But, Corbett added, “we suggest families consider (United Tissue) first because they are local and time delay is critical,” obliquely referring to the fact that bodies decompose quickly.

The nonprofit United Tissue also has supplied donated human remains to Breedlove’s for-profit company, Anatomical Innovations. That company sold authentic human skulls, elbows, livers and eyeballs, among other body parts. Online, it advertised free shipping on purchases over $125. After inquiries from Reuters, Breedlove closed Anatomical Innovations.

Breedlove said consent forms signed by United Tissue donors permitted the dissection and transfer of body parts to for-profit entities, including the one he owned. The forms allow United Tissue, at its “sole discretion,” to use a body as deemed necessary “to facilitate the gift.”

“Our consents are pretty clear about what the anatomical uses may be,” he said.

According to Oklahoma state filings obtained under public records laws, United Tissue has grown steadily. From 2012 through 2016, United Tissue received 3,542 bodies. Almost half were referred by funeral homes. Ezzell said that last year, no more than 10 percent came from mortuaries owned by Corbett or him.

During that five-year period, the records show, United Tissue distributed 17,956 body parts to clients. Supply has sometimes exceeded demand. In late 2015, the broker sent an email in which it offered customers a price break to help move surplus arms, pelvises and shoulders.

“I wanted to let you know of a few specimens we have an overstock that we are trying to place before the end of the year,” United Tissue Executive Director Alyssa Harrison wrote to a bone research organization. “We are offering these as a discounted fee for December.”

Harrison said in an interview that while she always respects the dead, she has a duty to sustain the operation.

“It is a product, a very precious product,” she said. “I still have to make enough money to pay my employees and keep our doors open. Yes, it is human tissue, but there is still a market value.”

THE FROZEN TORSO

The 2015 incident outside Las Vegas involving the frozen torso was also the product of a partnership between a body broker and a funeral home.

Both the broker, Southern Nevada Donor Services, and the funeral home, Valley Cremation and Burial, were struggling financially. Valley agreed to allow Southern Nevada to dissect and prepare cadavers and body parts at its funeral home. The remains and related paperwork would be kept at Valley’s warehouse in the suburban industrial park, a few miles away.

Southern Nevada’s owner, Joe Collazo, had a decade’s experience selling body parts. Court records show he also served nearly two years in prison in the late 1990s for forgery. And a former employer once accused him in a lawsuit of stealing donated body parts valued at $75,000 and selling them to a customer in Turkey.

Collazo said his forgery conviction is irrelevant and the theft allegation untrue. His business followed industry best practices, he said, and served an important public service to the medical community.

Local and state officials reported that they found other troubling signs, beyond the torso, at the storage facility. These included a bloody, motorized saw typically used by construction workers, and moldy body parts inside an unplugged freezer.

Valley is no longer in business, and the owner died, according to state records. Southern Nevada also dissolved – in a trail of debt and desecrated body parts.

Seven months after health officials inspected the place, the courtyard remained littered with empty coolers bearing Southern Nevada’s initials. Nearby stood a rusted kiln, a pair of filthy mops and a gunmetal gray coffin, broiling in the desert sun.

The only person charged in the incident was Gary Derischebourg, a funeral home employee who said his duties included helping prepare body parts for Collazo. Derischebourg said he was too busy to defrost the torso, so he asked an unemployed friend to do it. Derischebourg pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor pollution citation for the stream of water that contained human tissue.

Someone, he said, needed to take responsibility. “I’m a stand-up guy,” he said.

As for the defrosted torso? Collazo said he rented it to a group of surgeons, then had it cremated.

Today, Collazo is a manager at a car dealership. Derischebourg drives for Uber.

(Reported by Brian Grow and John Shiffman; Additional reporting by Adam DeRose, Elizabeth Culliford, Mir Ubaid and Sophia Kunthara; Edited by Blake Morrison.)

Las Vegas police say no delay in massacre response

Las Vegas police say no delay in massacre response

(Reuters) – Las Vegas police presented a third version on Friday of the timeline of events for the Las Vegas gunman who killed 58 people and himself, saying they responded immediately to the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who oversees the Las Vegas police department, told reporters that gunman Stephen Paddock shot at Mandalay Bay hotel security guard Jesus Campos outside his room on Oct. 1 at about the same time he opened fire on the more than 20,000 concertgoers at an outdoor venue.

Previously, police said that Paddock shot Campos six minutes before he started firing on the crowd, raising questions as to whether police and hotel security could have acted faster to prevent casualties in the attack.

“Nobody is attempting to hide anything. The dynamics and the size of the investigation require us to go through voluminous amounts of information in order to draw an accurate picture,” Lombardo said of the changing timeline.

The police account is similar to one given on Thursday by the hotel operator MGM Resorts International <MGM.N>, which said in a statement that Paddock opened fire on Campos and the crowd at the same time or within 40 seconds.

Campos was shot in the leg when Paddock strafed the hallway with about 200 bullets, police said.

Paddock, who placed cameras in the hotel hallway to monitor activity, also injured 546 people before killing himself. No motive for the attack has been made public.

The third timeline could affect claims brought by some victims that depend on the hotel’s allegedly delayed response after Campos was shot. One attorney told Reuters MGM may have acted quickly but questioned whether “reasonable precautions” were in place.

Most of the wounded have been discharged from hospitals, but 45 were still hospitalized, some with critical injuries, Lombardo said.

Lombardo said law enforcement had acted heroically on the night of the attack and that he was angered by the criticism his department has received over its investigation.

“In the public space, the word incompetence has been brought forward and I am absolutely offended with that characterization,” he said.

Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas Federal Bureau of Investigation office, said there was no information Paddock was a member of an extremist group. Rouse added the FBI has hundreds of agents on the case working with local law enforcement.

“Nothing will be overlooked. We have made significant progress,” Rouse said. Neither Lombardo nor Rouse took questions.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas and Cynthia Osterman)

Las Vegas gunman fired on guard and crowd at about same time: MGM

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

By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) – The owner of the hotel where a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history on Thursday provided a new version of the timeline, suggesting there was no time for hotel staff to warn police.

Stephen Paddock opened fire on Mandalay Bay hotel security guard Jesus Campos and the crowd attending an outdoor concert nearby at the same time, or within 40 seconds of each other, MGM Resorts International <MGM.N> said in a statement.

Police have still not determined a motive for the shooting.

MGM’s account differed from the updated timeline Las Vegas police provided on Monday, when they said Campos had been shot six minutes before Paddock opened fire on the crowd from his 32nd-floor suite and killed 58 people on Oct. 1. MGM said on Tuesday the revised police timeline might not be accurate.

A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spokesman, Officer Larry Hadfield, said the police would have no immediate comment on the hotel’s latest statement. The Las Vegas office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation could not immediately be reached for comment.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who oversees the Las Vegas police department, on Wednesday defended the speed of the police response in an interview with the Las Vegas CBS television affiliate.

“No matter what that timeline was, the response was as quick as possible. I don’t think the response could have been any faster,” Lombardo said in a video posted on the station’s LasVegasNow.com website.

The revised timeline police provided on Monday raised new questions, including why Paddock ceased firing on concert-goers once he began, and whether hotel security and police coordinated as well as first believed.

MGM said the 9:59 p.m. time that police said is when Campos was shot was derived from a hotel report created manually after the fact without the benefit of information the hotel now has.

“We are now confident that the time stated in this report is not accurate,” MGM said. “We know that shots were being fired at the festival lot at the same time as, or within 40 seconds after, the time Jesus Campos first reported that shots were fired over the radio.”

Las Vegas police officers were with armed hotel security officers in the building when Campos, who was checking an open-door alarm also on the 32nd floor, first reported that shots were fired over the radio, MGM said. Both groups immediately responded to the 32nd floor.

The police have said they assembled a SWAT team and burst into Paddock’s room to find him dead 81 minutes after the shooting began.

“We will continue to work with law enforcement as we have from the first moments of this tragedy as they work toward developing an accurate timeline,” MGM said.

MGM’s new timeline is a blow to lawyers representing some of the victims, whose claims depend heavily on the hotel’s allegedly delayed response following the shooting of Campos. A lawsuit filed in Nevada state court on Tuesday on behalf of a California woman injured in the shooting alleged the hotel acted negligently by responding too late.

Neama Rahmani, a Los Angeles lawyer representing some of the victims, said in an email on Thursday that MGM may have acted quickly, “but the question of whether reasonable precautions were in place remains.”

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Writing by Ben Klayman,; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

Las Vegas police chief says response to gunman came ‘as quick as possible’

FILE PHOTO - Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo responds to a question during a media briefing at the Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 3, 2017. Aaron Rouse, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas Division, looks on at right. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

(Reuters) – Las Vegas police are getting closer to finding an explanation for why a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the city’s police chief said on Wednesday, as he defended the speed of the department’s response to the massacre.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who oversees the police department, told the Las Vegas CBS television affiliate in an interview that police officials were not trying to cover anything up a day after revising the timeline for the shooting.

The revision on Monday showed hotel security was aware of a gunman six minutes before he started firing into a crowd of more than 20,000 people, killing 58. The revised timeline raised new questions, including why gunman Stephen Paddock ceased firing on concertgoers once he began, and whether hotel security and police coordinated as well as first believed.

“No matter what that timeline was, the response was as quick as possible. I don’t think the response could have been any faster,” Lombardo said in a video posted on the station’s LasVegasNow.com website.

Paddock, 64, injured hundreds of people attending a music festival in a hail of bullets fired from the windows of his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. He then shot himself to death before police stormed his room.

Lombardo on Monday said Paddock shot a hotel security guard Jesus Campos, who was checking on an open-door fire alarm on the same floor, six minutes before beginning to fire on the crowd.

Officials initially said Paddock, who had placed hidden cameras outside the room to monitor activity, first fired into the concert and then stopped shooting after strafing the hotel hallway through the doorway of his room when Campos was apparently detected by the gunman.

Earlier police accounts also said a wounded Campos helped direct police to the room occupied by Paddock, who by then had quit firing on concertgoers. Lombardo originally said police officers reached the 32nd floor within 12 minutes of the first reports of the attack.

“We will have a pretty good assessment of the reasons why, but it is going to take time,” he said, adding “there are going to be questions that will never be answered.”

Las Vegas police officials were not immediately available for comment.

MGM Resorts International <MGM.N>, which owns the Mandalay Bay, questioned the latest chronology from police, saying in a statement on Tuesday that it may not be accurate.

ABC News reported on Wednesday the gunman’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, has been put on a U.S. government watch list that will notify authorities if she attempts to leave the country on a commercial airline flight.

Danley, 62, has been called a “person of interest” in the case. Her lawyer said she had no inkling of Paddock’s plans.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by G Crosse)

New timeline in Vegas shooting raises questions on police response

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

By Tim Reid and Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Las Vegas police faced new questions on Tuesday over their response to last week’s deadly mass shooting, after releasing a revised chronology in which the gunman shot a security officer before, not after, opening fire from his high-rise hotel window.

The updated timeline for the bloodiest case of gun violence in recent U.S. history raised new uncertainty over why Stephen Paddock ceased firing on concertgoers once he began, and whether hotel security and police coordinated as well as first believed.

Aden Ocampo-Gomez, spokesman of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, declined to comment on the revised chronology, saying the agency would discuss the implications later.

Paddock, 64, killed 58 people and injured hundreds in a hail of bullets from his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, overlooking a music festival, and then shot himself to death before police could storm his room.

Nine days later, his motive remains a mystery.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who oversees the police department, on Monday said Paddock shot a hotel security guard six minutes before beginning to fire on the crowd. By coincidence, the security officer, Jesus Campos, had been sent to check an open-door alarm on the same floor.

Officials initially said Paddock began raining gunfire onto the concert first, then stopped shooting after strafing the 32nd-floor hallway through the doorway of his room, when Campos was apparently detected via security cameras the gunman had set up outside his suite.

Earlier police accounts said a wounded Campos helped direct police to the room occupied by Paddock, who had quit firing on concertgoers by then. Lombardo originally said police officers reached the 32nd floor within 12 minutes of the first reports of the attack.

That sequence of events was changed in Monday’s new timeline issued by Lombardo.

“What we have learned is (the security guard) was encountered by the suspect prior to his shooting to the outside world,” Lombardo said.

Lombardo did not address whether the mass shooting could have been prevented, or halted sooner, based on the new chronology, but said it remained unclear why Paddock stopped firing on the concert when he did.

In an active shooter situation, response time can be as fast as three minutes, said Sid Heal, a retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department commander and tactical expert.

He questioned why it took police as long as it did to reach the room, if hotel security had called them immediately.

“Someone needs to account for those minutes,” he added.

Nevada Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison acknowledged to CNN on Tuesday that Paddock did not stop firing because of the guard, Jesus Campos, as had been assumed initially.

Campos immediately alerted the hotel’s in-house security team after he was shot at 9:59 p.m., six minutes before Paddock first opened fire on the concert, according to Lombardo.

But police were not aware Campos had been shot until they met him in the hallway, Lombardo said on Monday. The sheriff has estimated the time of their rendezvous at 10:18 p.m., three minutes after Paddock had stopped firing.

Rather than storm Paddock’s suite immediately, police paused to assemble their SWAT team and burst into his room to find him dead 81 minutes after the shooting began, according to the original account.

Protocol for Las Vegas hotels and casinos is to barricade the corridor where a shooting takes place and wait for police to arrive, said David Shepherd, a security expert who advises Las Vegas police and who ran the security team at the Venetian hotel on the Vegas Strip for eight years.

Police are trained to wait and negotiate with a shooter, rather than storm the room immediately, he said. Initial reports of multiple shooters at several hotels that night would also have confused police, he added.

“One of the biggest priorities is not to lose the life of a police officer,” Shepherd said by telephone. “So in those six minutes, it is highly unlikely police would have stormed that room.”

Police and security officers acted as quickly as possible in the circumstances, said David Hickey, the president of the union that represents Campos, based on what he had heard.

Officials with MGM Resorts International, which owns the Mandalay Bay, questioned the latest chronology from police.

“We cannot be certain about the most recent timeline that has been communicated publicly, and we believe what is currently being expressed may not be accurate,” the company said in a statement late on Tuesday.

A hat rests on flowers in a makeshift memorial during a vigil marking the one-week anniversary of the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S. October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

A hat rests on flowers in a makeshift memorial during a vigil marking the one-week anniversary of the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S. October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

(Reporting by Tim Reid, Alex Dobuzinskis and Keith Coffman; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by David Gregorio and Clarence Fernandez)

Las Vegas gunman fired on security guard before mass shooting

The "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign is surrounded by flowers and items, left after the October 1 mass shooting, in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S. October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The Las Vegas gunman opened fire on a security guard six minutes before he rained down bullets on a crowd and killed 58 people, officials said on Monday in a change to the timeline of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The shooter, Stephen Paddock, 64, was seen on numerous occasions in Las Vegas without any person accompanying him and he gambled the night before the shooting, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said at a news conference. He killed himself after the attack.

“This individual purposely hid his actions leading up to this event, and it is difficult for us to find the answers,” said Lombardo, who said he was frustrated with the speed of the investigation.

Paddock sprayed an outdoor concert with bursts of gunfire from high above in a Las Vegas hotel window on Oct. 1, killing 58 and wounding hundreds more, before shooting himself.

“In coordination with the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit, a comprehensive picture is being drawn as to the suspect’s mental state and currently we do not believe there is one particular event in the suspect’s life for us to key on,” Lombardo said.

There is no indication anyone other than Paddock fired on the crowd, Lombardo said, adding investigators are talking to family members and the girlfriend of the gunman.

Paddock shot and wounded a security guard who came to his floor at the Mandalay Bay hotel to investigate an open door down near Paddock’s suite, Lombardo said, providing new details on what occurred immediately before the mass shooting.

The security guard, Jesus Campos, was struck in the leg as the gunman, from behind his door, shot into the hallway on the 32nd floor. Paddock apparently detected Campos via surveillance cameras he set up outside his hotel suite, police have said.

Paddock shot the guard at 9:59 p.m. local time, Lombardo said, shortly before raining down bullets on the Route 91 Harvest festival in an attack that began at 10:05 p.m. and lasted 10 minutes.

Police officers found Campos when they arrived on the floor.

Paddock had a document in the room with him that contained numbers, Lombardo said, adding he could not immediately say what purpose the figures served.

Las Vegas police officer David Newton told CBS News program “60 Minutes” on Sunday that he entered the room and saw a note on the shooter’s nightstand with numbers that appeared to be designed to help his aim.

It was unclear why Paddock stopped firing at the crowd, suggesting he may have initially planned to escape, Lombardo said.

He shot at jet fuel tanks at McCarran International Airport and had protective gear in the hotel suite and explosives in his parked car, Lombardo said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax in New York and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jonathan Oatis)