‘Multiple victims’ reported in shooting in Maryland

Pol;ice on scene at work place shooting. Active shooter

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Several people were shot on Thursday in Perryman, Maryland, near an Army facility, and residents were asked to avoid the area, according to authorities.

“The situation is still fluid,” the Harford County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter, adding that officers were dispatched to the incident shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).

Agents from the Baltimore offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI were also responding, the agencies said.

Perryman is 34 miles (55 km) northeast of Baltimore. The area of the reported shooting includes a church and a business district, and is near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army facility.

Details of the shooting were still largely unknown around 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT).

A witness told NBC’s affiliate in Baltimore that the shooting occurred in a warehouse and that 20 to 30 officers, as well as ambulances, responded to the scene.

“They’re telling that there is an active shooter,” said the witness, whom the station identified as a man named Bo who did not want to provide his last name.

Governor Larry Hogan said his office was “closely monitoring the horrific shooting.”

“Our prayers are with all those impacted, including our first responders,” Hogan wrote on Twitter. “The State stands ready to offer any support.”

The shooting occurred a day after a man shot and wounded four people, including a police officer, at a Pennsylvania court building before he was killed by police, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Federal agents found fetuses in body broker’s warehouse

Arthur Rathburn is pictured at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S. in November 1988.

By John Shiffman and Brian Grow

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal agents discovered four preserved fetuses in the Detroit warehouse of a man who sold human body parts, confidential photographs reviewed by Reuters show.

The fetuses were found during a December 2013 raid of businessman Arthur Rathburn’s warehouse. The fetuses, which appear to have been in their second trimester, were submerged in a liquid that included human brain tissue.

Rathburn, a former body broker, is accused of defrauding customers by sending them diseased body parts. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for January.

How Rathburn acquired the fetuses and what he intended to do with them is unclear. Rathburn’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment, and neither the indictment nor other documents made public in his case mention the fetuses.

“This needs to be reviewed,” said U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who recently chaired a special U.S. House committee on the use of fetal tissue.

Blackburn recoiled when a Reuters reporter showed her some of the photographs, taken by government officials involved in the raid.

In four of the photos, a crime scene investigator in a hazmat suit uses forceps to lift a different fetus from the brownish liquid. In three other photos, a marker that includes a government evidence identification number lies beside a fetus.

“The actions depicted in these photos are an insult to human dignity,” said U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. A Republican from Virginia, Goodlatte said that if individuals “violate federal laws and traffic in body parts of unborn children for monetary gain,” they should be “held accountable.”

Blackburn said the discoveries in Rathburn’s warehouse raise questions about the practices of body brokers across America. Such brokers take cadavers donated to science, dismember them and sell them for parts, typically for use in medical research and education. The multimillion-dollar industry has been built largely on the poor, who donate their bodies in return for a free cremation of leftover body parts.

The buying and selling of cadavers and other body parts — with the exception of organs used in transplants — is legal and virtually unregulated in America. But trading in fetal tissue violates U.S. law.

In most states, including Michigan, public health authorities are not required to regularly inspect body broker facilities. As a result, it’s impossible to know whether body brokers who deal in adult donors are acquiring and profiting from fetuses.

Blackburn’s call for action came in response to a Reuters series that exposed abuses in the human body trade and what Blackburn called “lax oversight” and “lax enforcement” of the industry.

Photos from inside Rathburn’s warehouse offered a stark example of government failures to police the industry. They include images of rotting human heads, some floating face up in a plastic cooler. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been investigating Rathburn and other body brokers, declined to comment.

Blackburn said she found other Reuters stories about the body trade disturbing.

As part of the news agency’s examination of the industry, for example, a Reuters reporter was able to purchase two human heads and a cervical spine from Restore Life USA, a broker based in Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee. The deals were struck after just a few emails, at a cost of $900 plus shipping.

“It is sickening” how easily Restore Life sold the parts to Reuters, Blackburn said.

Told of Blackburn’s concerns, Restore Life owner James Byrd said his company has “invited her to tour our facility and to review the policy and procedures we have in place.”

(Shiffman reported from Washington. Grow reported from Atlanta. Edited by Blake Morrison.)

Oakland city workers visited warehouse, did not flag fire hazard

A firefighter watches from the roof at the scene of the fatal warehouse fire in Oakland, California, U.S.

By Heather Somerville, Kristina Cooke and Dan Levine

(Reuters) – In the two years leading up to the fire at an Oakland, California warehouse that killed 36 people at a dance party late last week, city officials had entered the building on numerous occasions and had multiple opportunities to see that residents were illegally living there in hazardous conditions.

The Oakland Police Department received dozens of complaints about the warehouse, and went inside at least half a dozen times, according to police reports and accounts from former tenants and visitors.

Neighbors and former tenants also say city fire officials were in the building at least twice.

Those who spent time in the artists’ cooperative known as the “Ghost Ship,” say that potential code violations would have been apparent to anyone entering the building, which was not permitted for residence.

Living quarters with narrow, winding halls were built from scrap materials, including highly flammable wooden pallets. Nails were exposed, plumbing improvised and a makeshift stairway to the second floor was extremely hazardous, they say.

“If you opened the door and stepped even three feet inside it would be grossly apparent to anyone that it wasn’t just being used as a warehouse or a workspace,” said former Ghost Ship neighbor Ben Acevedo, 45, who estimates he made about 60 calls to police about the property over 16 months to report noise, blight and illegal occupancy.

On Wednesday, amid questions about why the city did not act to shut down the warehouse, an Oakland official said that code enforcement personnel had not entered the building in 30 years.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she did not know the last time fire inspectors had gone inside. She did not mention police visits, but said the city would launch a new effort “to clarify the responsibility of city employees to properly report any observations of dangerous living conditions or illegal events.”


The Ghost Ship collective was founded by Derick Ion Almena, who leased the warehouse and lived in it with his wife and three children, as well as artists to whom he rented space.

Fights, raucous parties and complaints about thefts drew police to the scene numerous times during the collective’s tenancy. Almena did not responded to several requests for comment.

In January 2015, officers responding to reports of a fight went inside the warehouse, attempted to locate “a stolen cellphone,” and “canvassed the area and the building for the suspect,” according to a police report. Court records show that two children were present.

A person who was there at the time, but declined to be named for fear of retribution, said the officers’ search took them into parts of the building where people were clearly residing, including the bathroom and shower area as well as the kitchen, which was full of food and dishes.

The previous year, tenants Adriana Sparkuhl and her boyfriend reported a robbery at the warehouse to police, records show. Sparkuhl, now 31, says the report stemmed from a dispute with Almena when she and her boyfriend moved out.

Sparkuhl said she also told the officers that people, including Almena’s three children, were living in the warehouse illegally and that the police said they would pay the Ghost Ship a visit. She does not know whether they did.

In July 2014, about a month after Sparkuhl filed her report, police entered the foyer of the warehouse while investigating a homicide at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant across the street, according to a resident at the time.

From where they stood, the officers would have seen the kitchen area and at least one RV, said then-resident Brad Evans, 21. Police asked Almena’s three children whether they lived there, Evans recalled, and the children responded that they did.

Former resident Shelley Mack, 58, said she called police to escort her from the building when she moved out in February 2015.

“They saw everything,” Mack said, adding that she told them about the illegal residents. “I told them everything they needed to know. They didn’t have to guess.”


Oakland police have not responded to Reuters’ request for the call log of service requests to the Ghost Ship. City officials have not yet released fire inspection reports also requested by Reuters, citing a delay due to a criminal investigation of the fire by the district attorney’s office.

Barry Donelan, the president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association said it was “ludicrous” to expect rank-and-file police officers to report building code violations.

“Are you familiar with the crime in Oakland? These guys are going from call to call and now we are responsible for code enforcement too?” he asked.

NBC Bay Area reported citing sources that there was no record of a fire inspection at the Ghost Ship over the last decade.

At least one resident and also a neighbor, however, recalled visits by fire officials to the warehouse.

Ghost Ship resident Libby Physh said a fire official visited the building twice when she lived there during the summer and fall of 2014. She said the fire official saw “how much building was going on” inside the warehouse and wanted to ensure there were clearly marked exits. Otherwise, Physh said, he “did not say anything negative” about the space.

Danielle Boudreaux, a neighbor and one-time friend of Almena and his wife, said that Almena told her around January 2015 that a fire official had recently visited the warehouse and “was breathing down” his neck.

“If you get all these complaints for the same address you’d think they’d take it more seriously, would make it a priority,” said Acevedo, the former neighbor.

(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner; editing by Sue Horton, G Crosse)

California fire death toll rises to 33 in grim search through warehouse

Firefighters finding victims of California fire

By Rory Carroll

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – A grim search for victims of a devastating fire that ripped through a converted warehouse in Oakland, California during a dance party entered a third day on Monday, with the list of 33 known deaths expected to grow.

The blaze, which erupted about 11:30 p.m. on Friday (0730 GMT on Saturday), ranks as the deadliest in the United States since 100 people perished in a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire.

As criminal investigators joined recovery efforts at the charred ruin, just east of San Francisco, firefighters found the remains of nearly three dozen victims at the weekend as they searched the debris-filled shell of the two-story converted warehouse being used by an artists’ collective.

The cause of the fire was still undetermined, officials said. Arson is not suspected but investigators are checking whether the building, often used for music performances, had a history of code violations.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office activated its criminal investigation team at the fire scene. A representative of the prosecutor’s office is monitoring the recovery process, she said, adding she was not authorized to say if a criminal probe was under way.

The mayor said the city’s first priority was finding the victims and supporting their families, adding, “We have delivered the unacceptable and horrific news of losing a loved one to seven of our families.”

The warehouse, which served as a base for the Ghost Ship Artists Collective, was one of many converted lofts in the city’s Fruitvale district, a mostly Latino area where rents are generally lower than in the rest of Oakland.

By Sunday evening, only 35 to 40 percent of the building had been searched, said Sergeant Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials are still unsure how many people were in the building at the time.

woman placing flowers at memorial

A woman places flowers at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a fire in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S. December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam


Recovery teams had yet to search an unspecified number of mobile homes parked on the first floor, Kelly said, illustrating the scope of the task. He said people appeared to have been living in them.

The building was designated for use as a warehouse only, according to the city, which was aware of reports that people were living there, although no permits had been issued.

The recovery operation was delayed for hours as the roof collapsed and the second story fell onto the first in spots, making it unsafe to enter.

The effort has proceeded slowly due to mountains of debris, with victims apparently scattered throughout the unstable structure.

“We’re finding victims in every quadrant of the warehouse,” Kelly said. “We’re finding victims where we least expect them.”

Exhaustion and the wide scale of the disaster were taking an emotional toll on crews who had been working around the clock since the fire broke out.

With many victims burned beyond recognition, families were asked to preserve items that might contain their DNA to aid identification.

After notifying their families, the Alameda County coroner released the names of seven victims who had been positively identified:

– Cash Askew, 22, Oakland, Calif.

– David Clines, 35, Oakland, Calif.

– Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, Coronado, Calif.

– Sara Hoda, 30, Walnut Creek, Calif.

– Travis Hough, 35, Oakland, Calif.

– Donna Kellogg, 32, Oakland, Calif.

– Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, Hayward, Calif.

Some of the victims were aged 17 or younger, although most were in their 20s and 30s, officials said. Some were from elsewhere in the United States and abroad.

One of the dead was the son of a sheriff’s deputy, Kelly said, adding, “This tragedy has hit very close to home.”

Chris Nechodom, 30, said he was on the ground floor of the building when he saw flames race across the ceiling. As he fled, he heard a loud noise and saw a plume of thick black smoke.

“It blew out maybe 10 feet out of the entrance. After that, I saw a few more people crawl out.” Nechodom said he was unsure how many people had been inside.

Two friends embrace at memorial for California warehouse victims

Rachel Saxer (L) embraces friend La Tron at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a fatal warehouse fire in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S. December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam


Photos of the ‘Ghost Ship’ venue posted online showed a space filled with an elaborate array of musical instruments, religious statues and antiques. Furnished with a mix of overstuffed sofas and colorful carpets, the site featured a maze of side rooms and nooks.

“The whole place was built like you are going to set up for a fire,” said Matt Hummel, 46, who twice visited the space before the fire and had helped renovate other warehouse spaces for artists.

The party took place on the second floor of the building, which appeared to have only two exits, officials said. There was no evidence of smoke detectors or sprinklers.

The city said it had received complaints about “blight” and construction without permits and opened an investigation. An inspector verified the “blight” complaint after observing piles of debris outside, but failed to gain access to verify the construction complaint.

Schaaf told reporters she did not know why inspectors were unable to get into the building, but she was putting together a team of city employees “to gather every piece of information.”

(Additional reporting by Tim McLaughlin in Chicago and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Nine dead, many missing, in California party fire

Firefighters exit a warehouse where a fire broke out during an electronic dance party late Friday evening, resulting in at least nine deaths and many unaccounted for in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S

By Peter Henderson

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – At least nine people were dead and about 25 were unaccounted for after a massive fire broke out during a late-night party in a warehouse in Oakland, California, the city’s fire chief said on Saturday.

Fire officials were still trying to determine how the blaze started at about 11:30 p.m. on Friday, said Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed.

The roof of the two-story warehouse in the city’s Fruitvale district collapsed during the fire, complicating efforts to recover bodies, she told a press briefing.

Officials did not know if any of the 25 missing people were among the nine confirmed victims.

“There is a large majority of that building that has not been searched,” Deloach-Reed said during a press briefing.

“We are hoping that the number nine is what there is and that there are no more,” the fire chief said, referring to the number of known fatalities.

A charred wall is seen outside a warehouse after a fire broke out during an electronic dance party late Friday evening, resulting in at least nine deaths and many unaccounted for in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S.

A charred wall is seen outside a warehouse after a fire broke out during an electronic dance party late Friday evening, resulting in at least nine deaths and many unaccounted for in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S. December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Deloach-Reed said some of those who were missing may have brought themselves to the hospital or elsewhere. She said she did not know how many people were at the party.

The warehouse housed units where people lived and worked – makeshift artist studios carved out with partitions, the fire chief said. “A flea market of items” were inside, she said.

A Facebook event page showed 176 people planned to attend the party, which featured a performance by the electronic music act Golden Donna. The page, which listed 355 others as interested in going, carried posts from people who were either missing or accounted for.

Video footage posted on social media showed the structure engulfed in flames and encircled by fire vehicles pumping water into the building.

“It’s going to hit the city, it’s going to hit our organization,” Reed said. “It’s just going to be hard on everyone.”

(Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Alistair Bell)