CENTENNIAL, Colorado | DMN – A gunman opened fire at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, on Friday, critically wounding one student. That suspected gunman was later found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Another student was injured in the attack, although authorities said it was unclear if it was from gunfire. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said the student was targeting a teacher. He said he entered the school just after 12:30 p.m. with a shotgun and identified the teacher he was targeting. The student victim who was shot confronted the shooter at that point.
A 15- or 16-year-old student, who was in the immediate area of the gunman, was transported to the hospital in serious condition. The second victim who was shot was also transported to the hospital but with minor injuries. Police SWAT teams swarmed the school, which is at the corner of South University Boulevard and Dry Creek Road in Centennial. Bomb squads were also called to the scene. The shooting began about 12:30 p.m. ”I was scared and shaking,” one student said. She said she heard, “bang, bang, bang” and by the third shot she was on the ground.
Students said they hid in the corners of dark classrooms until they were led out of classrooms. Adam Jones, whose sister goes to high school, said students are still locked in rooms about an hour after the shooting began and were “very scared.” A teacher wrote in a text message from inside the school: “lockdown-super scary.” Nick Herzog, a senior at Arapahoe High School, stayed home from school because he was sick. He said he learned about the shooting after getting messages from friends in other schools asking if he was ok. Herzog then started texting his friends at the school to find out what was happening. ”A lot of them are scared,” Herzog said. “One of my friends was right next to someone who got shot and she’s really shaken up. They are really scared and they want to get out.”
Students were leaving Arapahoe High School in groups, escorted by police, following the shooting situation. “We are slowly and methodically clearing the school and ensuring all of our students are safe,” Robinson said. “They were safer inside their locked schoolroom classes than they would have been had we allowed them to exit, and that was part of our strategy and part of our protocol.” Parent Julie Kellogg was driving by Arapahoe High School when she saw police rush to the campus. Kellogg said she frantically began calling and texting her children at the school but did not hear back. She said she knows they are OK now but the situation was horrifying.
“The shooter started off in the front office and last I heard he was in the library,” Kellogg said, describing what she heard from employees and students who were evacuating the campus. “It was actually the most frightening thing I’ve ever been through. ”I would have never expected my reaction to be what it was,” Kellogg said. “I immediately went into panic, broke down. I didn’t know what to think and I didn’t even know what happened but it I knew it was bad. You could tell it was bad.” The manager of a Subway across the street from the high school said Friday afternoon that the area is swamped with police cars and ambulance and fire trucks. She wasn’t aware of what was happening at the school. An employee at the King Soopers in the shopping center also said there were many students at the scene.
“We saw some kids running on the south side of our parking lot,” a secretary with the school said. Becky O’Guin, a spokeswoman with South Metro Fire Rescue, said firefighters were called out to the school at 12:30 p.m. on reports of a fire. ”We’re on the scene with fire units and medics,” O’Guin said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also had agents on scene. Police believe the suspect acted alone, and there are no other threats at this time. There are about 2,000 students at Arapahoe High School. The school is just eight miles away from Columbine High School, the site of another tragic shooting that left 13 dead in 1999.
CENTENNIAL, Colorado | DMN – A gunman opened fire at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, on Friday, sending hundreds of terrified students running to safety. Law enforcement sources say the shooter is dead from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Students who fled the school said at least two students were shot by another student in the cafeteria, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The FOX-TV affiliate in Denver is reporting that emergency scanner traffic indicated there was an active shooter and a fire at the Centennial area high school, and that at least one student had been critically injured.
Paramedics had been called to the scene and a rush of police officers swarmed the school, which is located at the intersection of South University Boulevard and East Dry Creek Road. Twitter activity indicated that victims from the shooting were being taken to Littleton Adventist Hospital. KMGH-TV reported that that the shooter appeared to be down inside the school as of 1:30 p.m., and that SWAT teams were slowly but surely evacuating all students who were still inside the school at that time. A shopping center across the street was swarming with police cars and evacuated students.
There are also reports of a fire at the school, 2201 E. Dry Creek Road, Centennial. The manager of a Subway across the street from the high school said Friday afternoon that the area is swamped with police cars and ambulance and fire trucks. She wasn’t aware of what was happening at the school. An employee at the King Soopers in the shopping center also said there were many students at the scene. Nearby Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church School is on lockdown. ”We saw some kids running on the south side of our parking lot,” a secretary with the school said.
All schools in the Douglas County School District are on “lockout” status. No one is allowed into schools. Law enforcement has increased patrols in the Douglas County area. Becky O’Guin, a spokeswoman with South Metro Fire Rescue, said firefighters were called out to the school at 12:30 p.m. on reports of a fire. ”We’re on the scene with fire units and medics,” O’Guin said. Witnesses say that more than 20 police vehicles at the school. Another witness told KMGH-TV that she saw police in riot gear at the scene. ”I was scared and shaking,” one student said. She said she heard, “bang, bang, bang” and by the third shot she was on the ground.
Students said they hid in the corners of dark classrooms until they were led out of classrooms. Adam Jones, whose sister goes to high school, said students are still locked in rooms about an hour after the shooting began and were “very scared.” A teacher wrote in a text message from inside the school: “lockdown-super scary.”
Arapahoe High School is in Centennial, Colorado. (GOOGLE EARTH)
CENTENNIAL, Colorado | DMN — URGENT — Two people are reported injured in what police are calling an “active shooter incident” at Arapaphoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. There are also reports of a fire at the school. No one is in custody at this time. The identity of the victims is not being released at this time. Arapahoe High School is a part of Littleton Public Schools. There are 70 different classrooms in the high school which covers a 254,000-square-foot area. There are 2,229 students that attend the high school. The school was built in 1964. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson has confirmed that there is a shooting and he believes there are two victims and that the suspect is inside the school.
Barry Grissom, United States Attorney.
WICHITA, Kansas | DMN — A Kansas man has been arrested while attempting to drive explosives into the state’s largest and busiest airport early Friday morning in a mass suicide bombing. Terry Lowen, a former employee of Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, “spent months developing a plan to use his access card to the airport to drive explosive devices into the terminal,” U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said at a press conference. The 58-year-old identified as a former aviation technician planned to “die in the explosion as a martyr” said Grissom.
Lowen allegedly studied the airport’s layout, took photos of various access points and researched flight schedules to determine when there would be the most passengers. All of the explosives were inert, said Grissom, who assured that no one was ever in danger. The arrest around 5:50 a.m. is the result of a six-month investigation into the former employee’s intention for mass murder, said Grissom.
Almost everyday, at least a couple of times a week, we are seeing stories from across the country where teachers have been arrested for engaging in sex with one or more of their students. In the realm of what is acceptable in this country, we seem to have drawn a pretty clear line. Teachers, in a position of authority over their pupils, are prohibited from bedding them. While this is pretty much standard policy, sentences for teachers and how the justice system handles these cases varies tremendously from state to state with men treated more harshly than women.
A pedophile teacher who replaced Bin Laden on the FBI’s most wanted list after spending five years on the run faces decades in prison after pleading guilty to filming children in school bathrooms. Eric Justin Toth, 31, now faces up to 30 years in jail after years of abuse which was only uncovered after a school camera that had been in his possession was found to have child pornography on it. A tip off from a tourist eventually lead to his arrest in Nicaragua earlier this year, where he traveled using a fake passport, and was found living under an assumed name with fake credit cards.
According to his plea bargain he now faces between 22 and 30 years behind bars. Appearing in court he answered simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions asked of him, except for correcting the age of one of his victims. His behavior was discovered after a school camera was found to have child pornography on it, but In fact Toth had been taking sinister videos of children for years, across several different states. Court documents revealed that in 2005 Toth had taken pictures and video of a sleeping camper on a school trip in Wisconsin, and two years later filmed himself abusing a prepubescent boy. He also installed hidden cameras in the bathroom of Beauvoir School, Washington, where he worked as a third grade teacher. That camera captured footage of 15 children aged under 10. ’Eric Toth is every parent’s worst nightmare: a serial predator who took advantage of his position as a camp counselor and a teacher to sexually exploit children in his care,’ U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said in a statement. After the camera was found to contain child porn, Toth was taken off campus by security, but fled before police could apprehend him. He then moved across states, living in Texas and Arizona before finally settling in Nicaragua.
At one point his car was found at Minnesota airport containing an apparent suicide note and a flash drive with images of child pornography on it, suggesting he kept up his sick fantasies while on the run. Toth was placed on to the FBI’s Most wanted list following the death of Osama Bin Laden and the eventual publicity lead to a civilian tip-off that he was living abroad. Toth pleaded guilty to producing child pornography, identity theft and misusing a Social Security number. His attorney did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
When Erica DePalo walked out of a New Jersey courthouse last spring having admitted to a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old English student, she will likely leave a parole enrollee. No jail time. And no community service. Instead, DePalo will lose her teaching license and she’ll be forced to register under Megan’s Law, under the terms of a plea deal reached in February with prosecutors. Critics have called the punishment for the former Essex County teacher of the year too lenient and reflective of a double standard that disproportionately penalizes men for similar relationships with students.An analysis of 97 cases in New Jersey over the past decade reveals significant disparities: Men are on average sent to jail in more cases and receive longer sentences.
The data about 72 men and 25 women also shows:
•Male defendants went to prison in 54 percent of cases compared with 44 percent of cases for female defendants;
•Men averaged 2.4 years in prison compared with 1.6 years in prison for women, or 50 percent more time;
•Ninety-three of the 97 cases ended in plea deals;
Forty-seven cases ended in noncustodial sentences, which typically involved pre-trial intervention programs or probation.
There are various reasons for the disparities in these cases, experts say, including the perception that girls and women need to be protected and are more vulnerable than their male counterparts, the availability of evidence, and the willingness of the student to participate in the prosecution. ”There’s a general societal disposition that does continue to treat women as the gentler sex, so typically the threshold for sending women to prison is higher,” said Martin Horn, director of the New York State Sentencing Commission and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
All cases studied involve teachers, substitute teachers, coaches or school personnel who admitted to, or were convicted of, engaging in sexual relationships with students connected to their school. ”Juries and judges sort of make a consideration about how exploitative the crime is and how predatory the perpetrator is,” Horn said. “The system is supposed to make discriminations or make distinctions between individuals based on their perceived levels of culpability.” Most of the 97 cases analyzed were described in reports as consensual in nature (though not in the eyes of the law). In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16, but a person in a supervisory role, such as a teacher, can be guilty of sexual offenses even if a student is 16 or 17.
In another case, Matthew Hirschfelder, a former choir teacher at Hoquiam High School in Washington state, had sex in his office with a student days before she graduated. Then 33, he was charged with first degree sexual misconduct with a minor, even though the student was 18 at the time. It raises some questions – especially, whether a high school student can ever meaningfully consent to sex with a teacher — deserves a bit more consideration.
The age of consent in Washington is 16, but a statute outlaws a few specific sexual relationships, including between a teacher and a “minor” student who is “at least sixteen years old.” In an appeal, Hirschfelder argued that the statute was meant to criminalize sexual misconduct between teachers and students who are aged 16 and 17 (i.e. over the age of consent but under the age of 18). This week, however, the State Supreme Court ruled that legislators had originally intended to outlaw teachers having sex with students under 21 (the age cap for high school enrollment).
The court’s decision reads, “That the legislature saw fit to criminalize sex between school employees and high school students — even those who reach the age of majority while registered as students — is a policy choice that recognizes the special position of trust and authority teachers hold over their students.” The ruling essentially recasts all registered students between the age of 16 and 21 as incapable of consenting to sex, at least when it comes to school employees. Many states where the age of consent is 16 have similar laws. In a teacher-student sex case in Pennsylvania, a judge ruled:
A high school student who is assigned to a teacher’s class does not have the capacity to welcome that teacher’s physical sexual conduct. Under these circumstances, the teacher’s conduct is deemed unwelcomed. Unwelcome sexual conduct constitutes a sexually hostile educational environment, a form of sexual harassment. And sexual harassment constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex.
Of course, teacher-student sex is a controversial topic even with students over the age of 21, and many colleges have banned hot-for-teacher hookups. We don’t legislate those relationships from the outside, though, because we’re talking about legal, consenting adults. Things get messier when looking at cases like Hirschfelder’s. If we draw the line at high school graduation, as opposed to at a student’s 18th birthday, it means that a teacher having sex with a 20-year-old high school student could be outlawed, even though someone of the same age could legally engage in a sexual relationship with a teacher if they were in college. It’s easy enough to understand the frustration of the dissenting judge in this case, who wrote that the majority opinion “does not, ultimately make sense.”
Mary Jo Rapini wrote for the Houston Chronicle that to understand why a female teacher would become sexually involved with one of her students you have to understand what is going on in their head. Most of these women appear as vibrant, normal, healthy adult women, but they may feel like teenagers themselves inside. Many of them have arrested emotional development, and they giggle and carry on very much as a teenager. What is odder is they choose one aspect of the student they focus on, and they idealize that aspect into being one of honesty, integrity, honorable and pure or innocent from the jadedness of the outside world. Soon they see this teenager as forty or thirty-five (depending on their age), and themselves very similar in age and in love. In psychology, this is frequently seen and is called counter-transference. The teacher focuses on one aspect of the child and idealizes it romantically; she then projects that on to her distorted reality. No one else realistically sees what the teacher has created in her mind. It becomes so bizarre that soon the teacher is planning her married life with kids after her student finishes high school.
An important aspect of all of these types of relationship is we hear about the sex part because that ultimately leads to the arrest of the teacher. However, long before the sex is the emotional relationship. The grooming, the meeting up, the numerous texts, the cute hand written love letters, and the sleepless nights that are talked about before and after school. If an intervention is made at this time, you possibly could end the relationship getting help for the child and taking legal action against the teacher. The emotional part isn’t usually caught and the reasons are many. First of all, the child usually doesn’t say anything. They may be afraid for their grade, or they may like the extra attention or they may feel guilty and/or fearful. Secondly, parents may not be alerted to it, because they may brush it off with thoughts that the teacher’s extra attention is in an effort to help their child. Lastly, if other kids do hear about it, they usually feel confused, concerned with who to tell, and often times said they didn’t believe it.
Our teens and tweens’ lives revolve around school. For the most part, females working in the school are mentors for our children, and help our children become successful well-adjusted adults. When sexual abuse happens to any child it is horrendous, but when it happens at school with a teacher the end result can be tragic. As parents, there are signs that can alert you to something going on with your child. As with all things, it begins with open discussion, both talking and listening to your child. You cannot begin a conversation about sexual boundaries if you aren’t engaged with your child on a day-to-day basis. Keep communication open and talk frequently to your child about their school life.
I cover stories, so often, that are about just how low human beings can sink. Human depravity knows no bounds at times. It seems limitless. Every time I think I have seen it all…I soon realize that I have not. Of all of the places I have visited in my life, no place was as solemn and moving as the Dachau Concentration Camp outside of Munich. I spent two years in Europe in fact I lived in an old Luftwaffe barracks at Aviano Air Base in Italy. I can still remember, vividly, my visit to Dachau, the concentration camp outside Munich in 1983. In front of this young airman stood a whipping table and crop used to beat prisoners. I recall walking down a trail passing gas chambers that, somehow, were never used at Dachau. At the end of the walk…a crematorium and lush, well manicured grounds that are a mass grave for thousands of unknown victims. It was then and is today frozen in my mind that evil does indeed exist even though it’s hard to fully comprehend.
Authorities in Germany have opened a probe into a Nazi concentration camp S.S. guard who kept a photo scrapbook of his time at Dachau where he admitted he ‘had fun.’ Identified only as Horst P., now aged 87, he was a guard at the camp outside Munich between 1943 and the end of the war. Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps, the blueprint for brutality at all other such places in the Third Reich and some 36,000 people were murdered there between 1933 and 1945. Horst P., who lives in Berlin, was reported to the local prosecutor by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel as a probably war criminal after receiving information about him from camp survivors. He lives in the Gruenau section of Berlin with a female partner 14 years younger than him and has a photo collage of himself in an S.S. uniform in Dachau.
Over the photos are inscribed the words ‘Mein Kampf’ – meaning My Struggle, the title of his one time Fuehrer Adolf Hitler’s rabid anti-Semitic autobiography. He told the Bild newspaper in Germany; ‘Yes, I wanted to go into the S.S. It was explained to me that it would be fun.’ Bild commented: ‘When he talks about his time in Dachau, it sounded like it was.’ Horst P. went on: ‘We were together with the prisoners each day. They were like colleagues. With some I even played cards. I ate the same things. There was even a certain camaraderie.’ But he says nothing about extermination or murder, or the hideous medical experiments carried out on prisoners by air force doctors who wanted to test the human body’s reaction to freezing water in a bid to saved downed pilots in the English Channel during the Battle of Britain.
He only added unrepentantly: ‘If a criminal made trouble I reported him. Then he was taken away and went into the special prison. Sometimes I never saw him again. But I never asked questions because I didn’t want it to appear that I had something to do with them.’ He added: ‘If one was so stupid not to obey, then you can no longer help him. I did not want to help them. I wanted to live.’ It is understood that eyewitnesses have placed him at beatings and executions in Dachau. A whipping stool, where prisoners were often flogged to death, is one of the exhibits still on display in the camp to this day. Between 1933 and 1945, more than 200,000 people from 38 countries were held at Dachau and at least 30,000 people were killed, starved or died of disease.
Few dispute that right-wing extremist parties are undemocratic. But proving their unconstitutionality is a touchy issue and makes instituting a political ban difficult. The NPD currently holds seats in two state parliaments: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony, both in eastern Germany, but nothing in the national parliament. Interior ministers from all 16 German states have agreed to begin the process to ban the National Democratic Party (NPD). But it’s likely to prove a long process. And it’s one that failed once before. A majority in the German parliament has voted against pursuing a ban on the far-right NPD. The government says the party must be fought politically, and that it’s clear the NPD will never enjoy popular support in Germany.
WASHINGTON, D.C. | DMN — A retired FBI agent missing for seven years after disappearing in Iran was on an unauthorized mission for the CIA, according to an explosive new report on Thursday that contradicted the official explanation that he was on private business. A years-long investigation by the Associated Press alleged in extensive detail that Robert Levinson, who disappeared from an Iranian island resort in 2007, had been involved in an extraordinarily unusual intelligence operation initiated by three CIA analysts who did not officially have the power to launch such operations. It is unclear if Levinson, a father of seven children who would now be 65 years old, is still alive.
In response to the AP story, his family said the US could have done more to find him and bring him home. ”Bob is a courageous man who has dedicated himself, including risking his own life, in service to the US government. But the US government has failed to make saving this good man’s life the priority it should be,” the family said. ”There are those in the US government who have done their duty in their efforts to find Bob, but there are those who have not. It is time for the US government to step up and take care of one of its own. After nearly seven years, our family should not be struggling to get through each day without this wonderful, caring, man that we love so much.”
The US government has repeatedly and publicly denied that Levinson was in Iran on behalf of any government agency. As recently as 26 November, the White House issued a statement acknowledging Levinson as one of the “longest-held Americans in history”, reiterating a commitment to bring him home, and imploring the aid of Iran. That statement, issued by White House press secretary Jay Carney, said Levinson went missing on “a business trip”. But in its report, the AP said that the US government paid $2.5m to Levinson’s family to forestall a lawsuit that would have likely resulted in details of the arrangement between Levinson and the agency coming to light.
The Associated Press said it established Levinson’s CIA connections in 2010 but held off publication three times at the request of the government, evidently out of concern that Levinson’s life would be placed in jeopardy. The AP explained in a statement that efforts to find Levinson have for years come up empty. “In the absence of any solid information about Levinson’s whereabouts, it has been impossible to judge whether publication would put him at risk,” said AP vice-president and executive editor Kathleen Carroll, who called the publication of the piece a “difficult decision”. She added: “With no more leads to follow, we have concluded that the importance of the story justifies publication.”
Christopher White, a CIA spokesman, neither confirmed nor denied Levinson’s affiliation with the agency. “We have no comment on any purported affiliation between Mr Levinson and the US government. The US government remains committed to bringing him home safely to his family.” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden issued a statement criticizing the AP for publishing its story, but was similarly silent about Levinson’s relationship with the CIA. “Without commenting on any purported affiliation between Mr Levinson and the US government, the White House and others in the US government strongly urged the AP not to run this story out of concern for Mr Levinson’s life,” she said. “We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home. The investigation into Mr Levinson’s disappearance continues, and we all remain committed to finding him and bringing him home safely to his family.”
According to the Associated Press, Levinson was brought on to a contract by the CIA in 2006, owing to his expertise in tracking illicit funds after a 28-year career at the FBI and with the Drug Enforcement Agency. His contract was with CIA analysts, who are not authorized to conduct intelligence operations. Yet Levinson, who had been a private investigator since retiring from government work, preferred to gather intelligence, and did so in several Latin American countries for the CIA while being paid by a friend there, Anne Jablonski, evidently to conceal the extent of Levinson’s intelligence work. Levinson told Jablonski in 2007 that he was investigating corruption in the Iranian government – information that could be valuable for the CIA – and would travel to the region to meet with a contact.
On 8 March, he travelled to Kish Island, off the Iranian coast, to meet the contact, Dawud Salahuddin. Levinson checked out of a hotel the following day and disappeared. “I have been held here for three and a half years. I am not in very good health,” Levinson stated in his only known proof-of-life video, made in 2010 and reportedly traced to an internet cafe in Pakistan. “I need the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three and a half years.” According to the AP, the CIA initially and mistakenly told the FBI, Congress and the Bush administration that Levinson was not a CIA asset. Only when a friend of Levinson, former federal prosecutor David McGee, went through Levinson’s communications and alerted the Senate intelligence committee did the abductee’s relationship with the CIA become clearer.
The AP reported that following an internal investigation, the CIA in 2008 pushed Jablonski, a colleague and their boss into early resignations and retirements, and internally disciplined seven others. It created stricter rules for analysts’ dealings with outsiders, reflecting the impact Levinson’s case had – in secret. It is unclear if the CIA referred any criminal charges for those involved in the Levinson case to the Justice Department. The then CIA deputy director Stephen Kappes was tasked with explaining the extent of Levinson’s involvement with the CIA in closed-door Senate hearings. Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Senate intelligence committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, said there would be no statement on the Levinson case on Thursday.
The AP explained that because investigators’ leads to Levinson had run dry, the public interest in revealing what it called the “serious mistakes and improper actions” that led to his disappearance compelled them to publish. Tim Weiner, author of the acclaimed CIA history “Legacy of Ashes,” said Levinson’s case was “yet another case of carelessness at a cost of human life in the name of human intelligence.” The CIA’s congressional oversight committees did not have immediate comment Levinson’s family have sent up a website, helpboblevinson.com, to raise awareness. The website hosts the proof-of-life tape, in which Levinson implores the US government: “Please help me get home. Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something.”
Two days before the anniversary of the Newtown massacre, grieving families from around the country filled the Washington National Cathedral on Thursday to plead that loved ones lost to gun violence won’t go forgotten, and that the country will find a way to curtail the illegal use of firearms. One by one, many of those relatives stepped forward to tell their stories: the father of a man killed in the July 2012 attack in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater; the father of a teacher killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012; a 15-year-old boy whose older sister was gunned down on a Chicago street; the father of a man shot as he dined with his wife in San Diego; a Hartford, Conn. pastor whose son was killed in the city where he preached.
“Those who’ve gathered here today show me that my family is not standing alone,” the 15-year-old, Anthony Hardmond, said, holding his sister Ashley’s photo aloft. He concluded, as the others did, with the promise: “I will remember.” The audience responded: “We will remember.” Today…America remembers. We pause. Not for arguing or political bickering but out of respect…we pause. While we stop to remember the lives of the 20 children and six adults gunned down a year ago Saturday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the families still grieving for their lost loved ones say Dec. 14 will be no different for them.
“In all honesty, it’s just another day. It’s just another day without Dylan. There’s no need to mark it because every day we miss him,” said Nicole Hockley of her 6-year-old son. “I think the rest of the country and people feel that the one-year mark has some significance. But it’s another passage of time. It doesn’t change anything.” Hockley sat down several weeks ago with NBC’s Kate Snow along with two other families to discuss how they have coped with their loss in the past year. They also talked about efforts to direct their grief and anger into various advocacy efforts in honor of the Newtown, Conn., victims who were killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who took his own life at the school.
For these families, time has become elastic. Some days stretch for an eternity. Others pass by in a blink. “Time doesn’t really seem to follow one day after another at the moment,” said Hockley, who takes time to talk to her son every day. “It feels so many times like he’s still just there around the corner. You know, and I can see him where he should be in the house. And so to think that it’s almost a year since I’ve held him, it’s no time at all.” For Mark and Jackie Barden, every day of healing also reminds them of how long ago they lost their 7-year-old son. Thanksgiving and especially Halloween were difficult for them.
“With every minute that passes, we’re a minute farther away from our life with our little Daniel. That’s hard to deal with,” Mark Barden said. He recalled how Daniel got up early the morning of the shooting to send off his older brother to school with a hug and kiss. Instead of going back to bed afterward, he told his dad he would rather cuddle. Jackie Barden said that’s what her son was known for. “I really miss his cuddles. He was really affectionate,” she said, recalling how he especially liked to lay in bed with his books. “He would just wrap his whole body around you. I miss reading to him. I haven’t read a book out loud since.”
The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for Erica Lafferty, whose mother was Dawn Hochsprung. The Sandy Hook Elementary School principal died while trying to stop the gunman. “Honestly, it has been probably the worst and best year of my entire life,” she said. In July, she got married in a beautifully orchestrated wedding her mother had helped plan. Everything went off without a hitch, she said. “Exactly how she would want it. We got married at the house that she had just built on the land that my whole family grew up on,” she said. “I wore the dress that we picked out. I wore the shoes that she would’ve made fun of me for wearing, to no end. I had my hair how she wanted it. And it was a perfect day. She would have loved it.”
Mark Barden, pictured with Daniel, said every day of healing reminds them of how long ago they lost their son. (TODAY)
Lafferty said she is certain she felt her mother’s presence at the ceremony. “She gave me a beautiful gust of wind on a very hot day,” she said with a laugh. “She was absolutely there.” In the months following the shooting, most of the families became advocates for changes in gun control law. They hope to change the tenor of the conversation on gun violence through the organization, Sandy Hook Promise. They also honored their loves ones through the creation of charitable organizations, all of which can be found on MySandyHookFamily.org. Hockley and her husband created Dylan’s Wings of Change to help children with special needs, like their son, who had autism.
“He was a flapper. When he would get excited, he would flap really strenuously. And it was just his way of showing happiness and excitement,” she said. ” And I asked him once, “Why do you flap?” And he said, ‘Cause I’m a beautiful butterfly.’ And that just stuck with me and my husband.” While more than a dozen states have passed tougher gun laws since the Newtown shootings, Congress has not. That frustrates Hockley, who, among other things, lobbied for lower capacity magazine clips. “There have been so many mass shooting and individual shootings. That is completely unacceptable. It’s a public health epidemic,” she said. “It saddens to me to know that this still going on and that other parents are having to go through what I’m going through. And that another mass shooting is bound to happen.”
Dylan Hockley, who was killed in the Newtown, Conn. shootings, has inspired Dylan’s Wings of Change, to help kids with special needs. (TODAY)
The Bardens took action after their other two children, James and Natalie, kept asking them questions about why and how such violence could occur. ”We didn’t have any answer,” Mark Barden said. “And James said, ‘I just hope this never happens to any other family ever again.’ We had the option to do nothing, or to do something. And then when you think of it like that, we didn’t have any options.” Lafferty, who began working with Mayors Against Illegal Guns last April, calls the organization her therapy. Before she began helping the group, she lacked purpose. “Now I have something to fight for. I have something that gives me meaning back. And I need that. I need meaning. I need something to drive me because I don’t have my mom’s force, literally, in my ear every single day saying, “OK, kid, it’s time to, you know, do this or try this,” she said.
Lafferty said what she misses about her mom varies upon the day. “Well, today it would probably be how warm her hands always were. Yesterday probably would’ve been how tiny she always felt when I hugged her. On really sad days probably her contagious laugh,” she said. Many families of the victims will observe the one-year mark of the Sandy Hook shooting out of town, even though most news outlets have agreed to respect the wishes of Newtown residents and stay away on the anniversary. Lafferty suggested supporters wanting to note the day instead mark it with 26 acts of random kindness. “Just be nice to each other, you know?” she said. “If everyone just did one nice thing for one person every single day, how much more good would there be? How much less bad?” “It’s hard to feel like we’re healing or healed. I still feel like we’re still trying to come to terms with that this really happened,” said Mark Barden. “I still find myself trying to will this all into a dream, trying to wish it was not real.”
Analysts are pouring over information from North Korea after the very public execution of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle Jang Sung Taek. First, some perspective. North Korea is, perhaps, the most tightly controlled nation on the planet, not only in terms of being a monolithic dictatorship but also in what is released by it’s state controlled media. A couple of things are very clear to most people looking at the latest news. Kim Jong-Un is definitely consolidating his power. The fact that this is being done very publicly on the world stage is meant to send a message. It is possible that Jang Sung Taek was attempting a coup.
The North Korean regime has made clear that it will ruthlessly punish anyone who challenges leader Kim Jong Eun. Jang’s execution comes just four days after his public arrest during a meeting of the full Politburo of the Party Central Committee on December 8th for allegedly being an “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factionalist.” Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that during the trial Jang admitted that he had thought about launching a coup, and that the target had been Kim Jong Eun. The station also published an image of Jang at the trial with his hands bound. “Jang’s followers called him ‘Comrade Number One’ and even went so far as to disobey orders from the Party,” it declared.
Analysts spoken to by Daily North Korea (NK) say that North Korea has given maximum publicity to each and every one of Jang’s alleged crimes in order to build up the justification for attacking him. At the same time, by demonstrating what kind of end is in store for those who challenge Kim Jong Eun, the regime appears keen to quell any potential sources of unrest before they begin. That some of the charges against Jang are arbitrary and false only raises the tension further. They add that Kim Jong Eun was worried about Jang’s growing authority as de facto second-in-command, and his very public fall and execution as an “anti-Party element” highlights Kim Jong Eun’s strong leadership. They believe that Jang’s execution will lead to the continuation of Kim Jong Eun’s “politics of fear” for some time to come.
“With this public trial, the regime is generating an extreme sense of fear in regular citizens, Party, military and administrative cadres, and those currently abroad. They are telling them not to act rashly,” one North Korea expert who requested anonymity told Daily NK. “Kim Jong Eun is saying that he will swiftly remove any factions that threaten his power to eliminate future trouble, and block any challenges to the establishment of the one-man leadership system.” According to Lee Su Seok, a researcher with the National Security Strategy Institute, “The public manner in which Jang was arrested, sentenced to death and then executed was intended to highlight that a normal judicial process exists in North Korea. Jang’s execution is aimed at his supporters and those among the population who felt an affinity with him, to ensure the legitimacy of his execution.” Looking ahead to the future, Yi predicted, “Kim will strengthen his hold on power through more bloodletting.”
However, another view has it that this incident, occurring just two years after Kim Jong Eun took power, is evidence of unrest in the country and fissures in North Korea’s surveillance and control system. In short, the incident could mean that there could be trouble in Kim’s construction of a “monolithic system” in the wake of Jang’s execution. “Jang’s sudden execution shows that the Kim regime has not yet gained total control over the country,” said Lee. “The merciless and very public execution of his uncle is his attempt to strike fear into the hearts of those who stand in his way.” “This whole string of recent events gives us a glimpse of the fissures that have surfaced in the North Korean regime since the death of Kim Jong Il and its loss of durability over the same period,” said the unnamed expert. “Kim Jong Eun’s attempt to construct a dictatorship through the politics of fear could bear fruit in the short term; however, in the long-term he will be unable to justify it, and that could lead to criticism and the crumbling of the dictatorship.”
News of Jang Sung Taek’s execution has been met with mixed responses from ordinary North Koreans, one of Daily NK’s sources has revealed. The source, located in North Korea’s Yangkang Province, told Daily NK on the 13th that, “Word of the execution is spreading rapidly throughout the country. Most people are openly critical of Jang, saying, ‘He got the punishment he deserved,’ and, ‘How could he be so traitorous after receiving the love of the General (Kim Jong Il)?’” However, she went on, “Their eyes and way of speaking seem to tell you that they don’t really believe what they are saying.” On the other hand, “Older people in their 50s and 60s think ‘his wife (Kim Kyong Hui) surely would have fainted after hearing the news [of the execution].’ Some people think they went too far with the arrest and execution, saying that ‘no matter what he did, he was the aunt’s husband; did they really have to arrest him in front of everyone?’”
The source reported that there is criticism too of Kim Kyong Hui’s perceived indifference to the execution of her husband. “It came to this; surely his aunt will not re-enter politics now.” “She was a woman who eliminated her husband, how can she show her face now? The authorities would not have gone as far as executing him if she had stood her ground,” some have gone as far as to claim. “The Jang Sung Taek incident has made people uneasy, and since it overlaps with the mourning period for the General [Kim Jong Il died on December 17th, 2011, so commemorative events are expected to take place next week] we all know that we must take the utmost care over what we say,” the source continued. “But the news about Jang Sung Taek is also so shocking that people are talking about it.” Finally, “The auditors have been at Hyesan Customs House since last night, so trade has been suspended. This could be something to do with the Jang purge, it’s unclear. An order also came down to workplaces, People’s Units, and Women’s Union groups to get rid of the floating population, so the trains are completely empty, too.”
The unusual and public purge is problematic and is a sign of major problems in North Korea other wise the purge would have been done quietly as has happened many times before. This purge is a public admission that there is resistance to the Kim regime. Being open about it lets the world know that there is opposition but more importantly it has shown the North Korean people that these elements exist. Observers inside North Korea say that the improvement of peoples lives has been a Kim priority since coming to power. The country is currently experiencing a construction boom not since in the last 25 years. Existing houses are being upgraded and new ones are being built. Also noteworthy, construction is taking place across the country and is not centered in Pyongyang. At any rate, things are not as they seem right now in North Korea most analysts agree and now is the time to really be paying attention.
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Take one part Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” two parts Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and an even larger measure of guesswork and North Korea’s latest political drama could seem like a Cold War thriller. FULL STORY | NORTH KOREA IS CHINA’S PROBLEM | YOUNG KIM HERE TO STAY
Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year on December 11.
December 11th, 2013
05:58 PM ET
By Ben Wedeman, CNN
ROME (CNN) – When the black smoke gushed from the chimney in the Sistine Chapel, we ran, along with thousands of others, up the Via della Conciliazione to Saint Peter’s Square to hear the announcement. We waited around 45 minutes, then heard the name “Bergoglio”
“Who?” was my first reaction. I looked around in confusion. CNN Rome cameraman Alessandro Gentile shrugged his shoulders, as did producer Livia Borghese. Others around us, with the exception of an older English woman, who must have been an amateur Vaticanista, were equally mystified.
In the nine months since that night in March, we’ve come to know Jorge Bergoglio, otherwise known as Pope Francis. He keeps us busy almost every day, with his latest pronouncement, his latest gestures, large and small. I have a pile of books about Francis on my desk. The Google news alert I set up months ago for “Pope Francis” now fills up my e-mail box, exceeding other alerts for Italy, Rome, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Israel, Iran, etc. I regularly listen to podcasts about Francis on my phone.
December 11th, 2013
08:15 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – First he won the Internet. Then he won Facebook. Now, Pope Francis has won Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013.
“He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing,” Time said in announcing the award on Wednesday. ”The septuagenarian superstar is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.”
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Time’s announcement came as no surprise.
“It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press has been attributed to one who proclaims spiritual, religious and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favor of peace and greater justice,” Lombardi said.
“With regard to the Pope, for his part, he does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the Gospel and the love of God for all. If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is content. If this nomination as ‘Person of the Year’ means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad,” Lombardi continued.
In honor of Time’s award, here are the year’s top stories about Pope Francis:
Isaac Hunter, the son of a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama, died Tuesday in Florida, police say.
December 10th, 2013
11:03 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – The son of a Florida megachurch pastor who is close to President Barack Obama has died, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to local police.
Isaac Hunter, 36, died Tuesday, according to Northland and Summit churches, two Orlando-area congregations with deep ties to his family.
Altamonte Springs Police Department spokesman Robert C. Pelton said officers responded to a call to check on the well-being of Hunter at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday. They found him dead, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Pelton said. The investigation is ongoing, and no foul play is suspected, he added.
Hunter is the son of Joel Hunter, an evangelical who has been a spiritual adviser to Obama since his 2008 presidential campaign. The president and the pastor speak nearly once a week, and Joel Hunter was an adviser to the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Isaac Hunter and his wife, Rhonda, were going through a divorce, according to Florida court records. Hunter resigned as senior pastor of Summit Church in 2012 after acknowledging a three-year affair with a member of the church staff.
A Ten Commandments monument erected outside the Oklahoma state Capitol.
December 9th, 2013
01:46 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – Lots of lawmakers have been accused of devilish behavior, but Oklahoma’s state capitol may become the first to actually have a monument to Satan.
If a New York-based group called the Temple of Satan gets its way, a statue of the Evil One would sit next to the recently erected 10 Commandments monument on state capitol grounds.
“They said they wanted to be open to different monuments,” said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Temple of Satan, “and this seems like a perfect place to put that to the test.”
Greaves and some legal experts say the Constitution is clear: the government can’t endorse one particular religion. So, if a state capitol has a monument to one faith, it must allow monuments to others as well.
December 7th, 2013
09:16 AM ET
Opinion by Mark Schacter, special to CNN
(CNN) – I don’t believe in a divine presence, nor do I subscribe to any organized religion.
And that, perhaps oddly, is why I am drawn to the mystery of faith.
With the wonderment of an outsider, I try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible (to me, at least) pull that faith exerts over so many people’s lives.
As a photographer approaching this mystery, I am confronted by what might seem like a contradiction: Photographs capture what can be seen, and yet faith is often invisible.
Pope Francis delivers a prayer from the window of his apartment at the Vatican on November 17.
December 5th, 2013
01:33 PM ET
By Hada Messia, CNN
Rome (CNN)–Pope Francis is creating a commission to prevent the abuse of minors and to support victims of abuse, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley announced Thursday in Rome.
The new commission is expected to tell church officials to collaborate with civil authorities and report cases of abuse, O’Malley said.
But he also said that the church has focused on the judicial aspect of sexual abuse in the past, and that Pope Francis now wants to focus on the pastoral side, and caring for victims.
Mexican Archbishop, Norberto Rivera Carrera has called on parishioners to report extortion to authorities.
December 4th, 2013
11:56 AM ET
By Rafael Romo and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
(CNN) – The threatening calls reportedly came one after the other to Mexico’s main Catholic seminary.
Callers, claiming to be from one of the country’s feared drug cartels, offered an ominous warning: Pay up if you value the safety of your priests.
“They called several times. They identified themselves as the Familia Michoacana, but who knows?” Cardinal Norberto Rivera, archbishop of Mexico City, revealed at a Mass this week. “I spoke with the authorities. We made the appropriate report. Because they wanted us to pay. Because if not, they would kill one of us. They wanted to extort 60,000 pesos ($4,600).”
Reports of extortion have become increasingly common as drug cartels expand their reach in Mexico. But public denouncements of such attempts are rare.
December 3rd, 2013
02:11 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN)– If St. Peter ever needs help at the Pearly Gates, his successor Pope Francis may be the perfect man for the job.
The popular pontiff was once a bouncer at a nightclub in his native Argentina, Francis told Catholics at a church outside Rome earlier this week.
He has also swept floors and run tests in a chemical laboratory, the Pope said, in revelations sure to boost his image as a “pope of the people.” And, as leader of the Jesuit community in Argentina, he woke at 5:30 a.m. to do the priests’ laundry, according to author Christopher Lowney.
READ MORE: When Pope Francis was put on laundry duty
Francis didn’t offer details about his career as a bouncer, according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, or what connection his velvet-rope experience might have to his current job as Vicar of Christ and head of the Roman Catholic Church.
December 2nd, 2013
11:29 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – Pope Francis: Successor to St. Peter … the people’s pontiff … Marxist?
That’s what conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh suggests, calling the Pope’s latest document “pure Marxism.”
Limbaugh blasted the pontiff on Wednesday, a day after Francis released “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), a 50,000-word statement that calls for church reform and castigates elements of modern capitalism.
Limbaugh’s segment, now online and entitled ”It’s Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is (Unless It’s a Deliberate Mistranslation By Leftists),” takes direct aim at the pope’s economic views, calling them “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.”
The Vatican issued the English translation of “Evangelii,” which is known officially as an apostolic exhortation and unofficially as a pep talk to the worlds 1.5 billion Catholics.
Francis – the first pope ever to hail from Latin America, where he worked on behalf of the poor in his native Argentina – warned in “Evangelii” that the “idolatry of money” would lead to a “new tyranny.”
December 1st, 2013
09:37 AM ET
Opinion by Kerry Egan, special to CNN
(CNN)– I got pulled over on my way to work recently. I was late and I was speeding, but when the officer saw the hospice ID around my neck, with the word “chaplain” all in capital letters, she gave me just a warning.
“You’re an angel,” she said. “Anybody who takes care of the dying must be an angel.”
Because I’m a hospice chaplain, I hear that pretty frequently. I can guarantee you I’m not an angel. I’m a flawed and struggling human, and I deserved that ticket. I also don’t take care of the dying, not really.
Because I have many patients, I usually only get to visit each patient twice a month, maybe once a week. In rare cases, I’ll visit daily, but only for an hour or so. It’s the dying person’s family that truly takes care of him or her.
While hospice aides, nurses, social workers, and chaplains go into the homes of patients to offer support, education, and help, they cannot be there 24 hours a day, and they don’t do the bulk of the caregiving.