REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: EXONERATED FORMER INDIANA STATE TROOPER ACCUSED OF KILLING FAMILY SEEKS DAMAGES

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Attorneys representing former Indiana State Trooper David Camm have filed a lawsuit against former Floyd County Prosecutor Stan Faith, several Indiana State Police detectives, Floyd County and others in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Camm spent 13 years in prison for the Sept. 28, 2000, deaths of his wife Kim, and children Brad and Jill in their Georgetown home. He was acquitted of the murders in October 2013 in Boone County, after being convicted in two previous trials only to have both convictions overturned. He has been exonerated. Camm is asking the court to “award compensatory damages to him and against the defendants, jointly and severally, in an amount to be determined in trial.” He’s also asking for punitive damages and a trial by jury. No dollar amount is listed with the damages sought. He is being represented by the Louisville, Kentucky law firm of Clay Daniel Walton & Adams, PLC.

The 72-page lawsuit says the “series of events constitutes a gross miscarriage of justice that was not the result of innocent or negligent mistakes, but instead was caused by the deliberate, reckless and egregious misconduct of the defendants.” It goes on to state the misconduct and negligence caused Camm to be falsely arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned. Charles Boney is serving a 225-year prison sentence after he was convicted of the Camm family murders in 2005. DNA at the scene later tied Boney to the crimes.

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REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: HIGH SCHOOL LOVE TRIANGLE HAD DEADLY ENDING

rtetreterteJaylen Fryberg (left) fell out with his cousin Andrew (right) for dating a girl he fancied. Just weeks later, Jaylen opened fire in the school cafeteria, shooting Andrew, another cousin, three friends and himself.

School gunman Jaylen Fryberg publicly disowned his cousin for winning the girl he fancied – just weeks before shooting him in the head. The popular 15-year-old shocked the community when he opened fire in Marysville-Pilchuck High School on Friday, killing one of his friends and critically wounding four more, including two relatives. But it has since emerged that Jaylen was left heartbroken over a girl who rebuffed him for the cousin he treated like a brother: Andrew Fryberg. In an ominous indication of the anger that spurred his deadly tirade, Jaylen tweeted last month: ‘Dude. She tells me everything. And now I f***ing HATE you! Your no longer my ‘Brother’!’ Friends say it was a reference to the fact that he was crushing on the girl dating Andrew, who is now fighting for life. The girl has not been officially named.

The boys grew up together in the Native American Tulalip tribe along with Nate Hatch, another brother-like cousin who is fighting for his life after the attack. ‘They’re just three complete buddies, and they couldn’t be closer than three brothers,’ according to Don Hatch, Nate’s grandfather and Andrew’s great uncle. The two other surviving victims have been identified as Jaylen’s friends: Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Gia Soriano.  According to KIRO-TV, Andrew is being treated in Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center for a gunshot wound to the head while Shaylee, who posed in the same photo with Fryberg, is in a ‘very critical’ condition in the Providence Regional Center in Everett. While friends at first could not comprehend why Jaylen, a homecoming prince and football player, unleashed his attack, they all said he had not got over Andrew’s relationship with a girl he fancied. He had also only recently returned to school after being suspended for a fight on a football field – believed to be caused by another playing directing ‘racist comments’ at him.

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The popular schoolboy who was a member of the football and wrestling team shot five people with his ‘father’s gun’, killing one, before turning the gun on himself.  Bella Panjeli, speaking outside a vigil on Friday, said she attended a different school but was friends with one of the female victims, calling her ‘a beautiful girl and so, so sweet.’  She also said Fryberg was in an ongoing dispute with his cousin over the victim’s affections. ‘I heard he asked her out and she rebuffed him and was with his cousin,’ Panjeli said, adding that she learned of the connection after talking to the victim’s family and friends. It was a fight over a girl.’ There were no indications on Fryberg’s social media accounts that he had been planning such a rampage, but on Tuesday he posted his feelings of despondency, apparently over a romantic split, on Twitter. ‘It breaks me… It actually does… I know it seems like I’m sweating it off… But I’m not.. And I never will be able to,’ he wrote.

A friend on Twitter said Jayden was ‘heartbroken’ over a girl and didn’t know what to do. She added that he ‘wasn’t a bad kid’.  A junior has also revealed that he had a brief conversation with Fryberg the morning of the attack. Junior Nathan Heckendorf told CNN that the shooter had just returned to school after being suspended following a fight during football practice.  He said: ‘His final words that he said to me were about the fight. He said ‘It was an act of anger, and an act of aggression and I should have used words’.’   Describing the attack, Jordan Luton told the station: ‘He came up from behind and had a gun in his hand and he fired about eight bullets … They were his friends so it wasn’t just random.’ ‘Then he turned and looked at me and my girlfriend … and kind of gave us a smirk and turned around and then shot more bullets outside,’

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There could have been more victims of the attack, but teacher Megan Silberberger is believed to ran into the room and grabbed Jaylen’s arm before he could fire anymore bullets.  Authorities have also said a cafeteria worker attempted to stop the gunman. Students dived for cover and others fled but as the popular teenager stopped to reload his gun, witnesses told KIRO-TV, Silberberger walked over and grabbed his arm. In a two-second struggle, Fryberg is said to have pointed the gun at her before shooting himself dead. The shocking account suggests Silberger, a first year social services teacher and part-time soccer player, may have prevented a massacre at the Washington school. Nonetheless, hundreds of students, teachers and parents piled into a nearby church tonight for a candlelit vigil as the community reels in shock struggling to cope with the tragic loss of life as four teenagers are treated in hospital.

Erick Cervantes, the first student who called 911 during the attack, told KIRO-TV: ‘I believe [Megan Silberger] is actually the real hero. ‘She’s the one that intercepted him with the gun.  ‘He tried either reloading or tried aiming at her. She tried moving his hand away and he tried shooting and shot himself in the neck. ‘It started off with an argument, but then I looked back and there was just gunshots and just people falling down.  ‘She heard the gunshots first and she came in running through the door, right next to it. ‘It wasn’t [a] wrestle. She just grabbed his arm, and it lasted like two seconds, and I heard another shot.’ That shot, he says, was the one that killed Fryberg. The shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School lasted just two minutes between 10.41am and 10.43am on Friday.

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The horrific attack has left the entire community reeling as friends described Fryberg, a member of the Tulalip Native-American tribe, as a ‘well-respected, great guy’. Authorities are now scrambling to determine a possible cause for the shooting as the four survivors fight for their lives in hospital. Pupils have told news stations Fryberg was suspended from the football team in recent weeks after being involved in a fight over ‘racist’ comments. Others said he had been rejected by a girl.  Last night, Pastor Nik Baumgart told the hundreds who filled the church and spilled out into the parking lot: ‘I hate this tragedy as much as any of you. I hate what’s going on. I hate what we’ve had to see. ‘And I remember all kinds of times when I’ve had the same thoughts that you’ve had about that city, about that situation, about those schools.  ‘Now that’s us. Now that’s my alma mater. Here’s what we’re here to do tonight. It’s simple. It’s honestly overly simple. Love one another. Weep together.’

Fryberg’s tweets had become increasingly ominous in the months leading up to his bloody tirade. Recently he tweeted: ‘Your gonna piss me off… And then some s*** gonna go down and I don’t think you’ll like it…’. His final tweet on Thursday night ominously stated: ‘It won’t last…It’ll never last…’. Just hours later he entered the crowded cafeteria during lunch break with ‘a blank stare’ on his face and walked up behind one table clutching a handgun, witnesses described. According to Cervantes there was an argument before Fryberg launched his attack. Multiple shots were fired, hitting five students. One is said to have died at the scene before Fryberg turned the gun and killed himself.  All four of the victims were taken to Providence Regional Hospital in critical condition. Two were admitted to theater for surgery, while the remaining two were transported to nearby Harborview Medical Center.

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The school has now been closed until November 3 and counselors have been brought in to speak with traumatized witnesses and friends of the victims. Friday night’s football match between Marysville-Pilchuck and Oak Harbor High School was canceled and Oak Harbor announced it would take second place as a gesture. Footage taken of the aftermath showed shaking teenagers being evacuated from the school with their hands in the air so officers could be sure they were not armed. Officers with rifles rushed across the field to check the students for either injuries or weapons before taking them to a local church, where parents were gathered. The school was placed on lockdown at 10.43am Pacific time after students and teachers called 911 about multiple shots fired in the cafeteria. By 11am, a full SWAT team was at the scene.

A male victim being treated at Harborview Medical Center emerged from surgery at 4.30pm Easter time but was still in a serious condition.  Last night, Chief Rik Smith of Marysville Police Department told a press conference FBI agents will work through the night interviewing witnesses to piece together details of the crime. He refused to say Fryberg’s name, adding: ‘I will not perpetuate this cruel act in a place where kids should feel safe. I will not perpetuate that by spending any time on the shooter. ‘Instead I want to focus on the heroic efforts of teacher who quickly moved students to safety and the students who helped each other.’   Herman Williams Jr, chairman of the Tulalip Tribe, also addressed media. He said: ‘I am deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy in our local school district. Our prayers go out to the families and the entire community. ‘Our first priority is to support the families and the children of those involved.

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‘Our community is reeling from this experience, so we ask that the media and the public honor the families and our children in this time of grief. Sadly, we are now experiencing what has become a national trend, which we, as a society, must address. ‘These are our children. They are suffering, and their lives will be forever changed. ‘The fact that tribal members were involved makes it extremely hard to respond to any inquiries until we are aware of all the circumstances. ‘As chairman, I ask everyone to pray for the children and families of those involved.’ A student who spoke to CNN on the phone from inside the school described a grisly scene inside the cafeteria, telling the news outlet: ‘There was blood everywhere.’  According to the unnamed teen, Fryberg was a popular freshman and a member of the Marysville-Pilchuk football team, but he was recently suspended for fighting.  He was also an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, as evidenced by photos posted on his social media accounts.

A few months ago, he shared a picture online showing off a new rifle he had received for his birthday. Earlier this month, the freshman was crowned homecoming prince, but a classmate told CNN that may have been subjected to bullying. Police Commander Robb Lamoureux told reporters authorities believed that the shooter acted alone, but had no immediate word on a motive. However, Jarron Webb, 15, told the Seattle Times Fryberg was angry at a girl for spurning his advance, and that he shot her dead as payback for her rejection.  On the eve of the shooting, Fryberg wrote an ominous final post on Twitter that read: ‘it won’t last…. It’ll never last…. ‘ While Fryberg’s friends and classmates described him as a nice, well-liked boy, his online history paints a somewhat different picture.

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Over the past few months, Fryberg had unleashed a series of foul-mouthed and highly sexualized tweets venting his rage over a breakup. In some messages, the high school freshman expressed a desire to end his life.   ‘F*** it!! Might As Well Die Now,’ the 15-year-old tweeted in June.  Earlier this week, just days before the shooting rampage, Fryberg fired off a cryptic message that read: ‘Alright. You f***ing got me…. That broke me.’ A boy who witnessed the attack said at one point during the shooting, the gunman’s handgun jammed, and the boy used that opportunity to flee the cafeteria. He added that the teenager, whom he described as a ‘nice kid,’ remained silent while squeezing off rounds and had a ‘blank stare’ in his eyes.

Police planned to complete a full investigation in the school by 4am local time.  According to a press conference held at around 3pm Eastern time, officers were still finding groups of students and teachers hiding inside classrooms. ‘I was in my classroom and someone pulled the fire alarm and we thought it was a fire drill and we ran out and they told us to go back in a classroom,; student Cindy Rodriguez, 17, told NBC News. ‘We’re scared.’  Ayn Dietrich, an FBI spokesperson in Seattle, said the agency had personnel on their way to the scene to help authorities with the investigation.  Officials at Marysville-Pilchuk posted a message on the school’s website that read in part: ‘Students who attend MPHS campus are being relocated to the Shoultes Community Church at the corner of 116th and 51st Street. Buses will take students home from there.  ‘Those parents in the area wanting to pick up their child will need to go to the church location and sign out their child out with school administrator or law enforcement. ‘All after-school activities across the district are canceled today.’ Parents were being asked to bring their identification cards in order to pick up their children from the church.   The latest school shooting in the region happened at Seattle Pacific University, where a gunman killed one student and wounded two others on June 5 this year.

 

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: INVOLUNTARY QUARANTINE SURPRISES SOME OFFICIALS

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A mandatory 21-day quarantine imposed by New York and New Jersey on health care workers returning from West Africa caught local and federal officials by surprise and spurred a heated debate on handling the spread of Ebola. The policy of isolating medical personnel and others arriving from Ebola-affected countries zones was abruptly implemented Friday by the governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie. The announcement came one day after a New York doctor who treated patients in Guinea became the first Ebola case diagnosed in the city and the fourth in the United States.

The mandate came as a surprise to the federal Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention in Atlanta, according to a federal official familiar with the situation. “They’re not happy,” the official said of the CDC. “These two governors said, ‘Take this, federal government.’ They’re very worried we won’t be able to get physicians or nurses to go (to countries affected by the Ebola outbreak).” A New York City official called more stringent screening “a real stunner.” “They did this without consulting the city, and that’s not a good thing,” the official said of Cuomo and Christie. “They didn’t let anyone know in advance.” On Saturday, the CDC said that it sets the baseline recommended standards, but state and local officials have the prerogative to set tighter policies. “When it comes to the federal standards set by the CDC, we will consider any measures that we believe have the potential to make the American people safer,” the CDC said in a statement.

The two-state policy was implemented the same day that nurse Kaci Hickox landed at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey after working with Doctors Without Borders in treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox, in an Op-Ed piece in The Dallas Morning News, wrote that she was ordered placed in quarantine at a hospital, where she tested negative in a preliminary test for Ebola. Still, hospital officials told her she must remain under mandatory quarantine for 21 days. Hickox wrote that she was held at the airport and questioned by various health workers after her flight landed about 1 p.m. At first, her temperature — taken with forehead scanner — was 98 degrees. Hours later, her cheeks flushed with anger over being held without explanation, another scanner check recorded her temperature as 101 degrees, she wrote. “I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset,” she wrote.

Hickox eventually got a police escort, sirens blaring, to a hospital, when her temperature was again checked in an outdoor tent. On the oral thermometer, her temperature was recorded as 98.6. And she tested negative for Ebola, she wrote in the Dallas newspaper. A second test by the CDC confirmed the finding. New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett is concerned that the mandatory quarantine will discourage doctors and nurses from volunteering to take care of Ebola patients in West Africa, according to her spokeswoman. “We just want to make sure we don’t inadvertently discourage volunteers who are going to West Africa to help control this epidemic,”said health department spokeswoman Jean Weinberg. The new airport screening procedures require anyone who had direct contact with Ebola patients to remain in quarantine for up to three weeks.

In addition, people with a travel history to the affected regions but with no direct contact with Ebola patients will be “actively monitored … and, if necessary, quarantined,” according to the new policy. “This is not the time to take chances,” Cuomo said Friday. “This adjustment in increasing the screening procedures is necessary. … I think public safety and public health have to be balanced and I think this policy does that.” The new guidelines add to the federal policy requiring all travelers coming to the United States from Ebola-affected areas to be actively monitored for 21 days, starting Monday. Already, such travelers landing at five U.S. airports — New York’s Kennedy, Dulles International, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International, Chicago’s O’Hare International and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta — must go through enhanced screening.

Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, in what health officials call the worst outbreak of the disease in history. Just four Americans — all health care workers — have contracted Ebola. On Friday, the National Institutes of Health said Nina Pham, a Dallas nurse, had been declared free of the Ebola virus. Public health experts say there’s plenty of scientific evidence indicating that there’s very little chance that a random person will get Ebola, unless he or she is in very close contact — close enough to share bodily fluids — with someone who has it.

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New York City health officials updated Ebola patient Dr. Craig Spencer’s condition Saturday night, saying he is “awake and communicating” and “entering the next phase of his illness, as anticipated with the appearance of gastrointestinal symptoms.” The emergency room doctor was admitted to Bellevue Hospital, a specialized Ebola treatment center, on Thursday and tested positive for the virus. His is the first case of the deadly virus diagnosed in the city. Spencer is receiving antiviral medication and plasma, according to a statement issued by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “A large CDC team has been actively involved in advising the Bellevue staff and we are very appreciative of the additional guidance,” the statement read, adding that doctors are also receiving input from Emory University Hospital and the Nebraska Medical Center, two facilities that successfully treated Ebola patients.

Morgan Dixon, Spencer’s fiancée, left Bellevue Saturday night but will remain in quarantine at the Harlem apartment she shares with Spencer. Two of the couple’s friends are also being quarantine as a precaution. The quarantine for Dixon and the two others will be lifted on Nov. 14 after the maximum 21-day Ebola incubation period has passed, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday. Spencer arrived in New York on Oct. 17 after treating Ebola patients in Guinea with the aid group Doctors Without Borders. “The phase ahead will be a tough one. By definition, the days ahead will be tough for Dr. Spencer,” de Blasio said. “His situation will become worse before it gets better,” he added. The mayor spoke after eating lunch at a Greenwich Village restaurant where Spencer ate earlier this week. Also Saturday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams bowled the first frames at the Williamsburg bowling alley Spencer, Dixon and their friends visited a day before he became ill, CBS New York reported.

In his weekly address Saturday, President Obama noted that every American who has been treated for the virus thus far has recovered. “It’s important to remember that of the seven Americans treated so far for Ebola — the five who contracted it in West Africa, plus the two nurses from Dallas — all seven have survived,” he said. “Let me say that again: seven Americans treated; all seven survived.” “Sadly,” a Liberian man treated for the virus in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, “did not survive,” the president said, “and we continue to keep his family in our prayers.” Neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control nor Doctors Without Borders ask health care workers returning from the Ebola hot zone to quarantine themselves, but they do recommend that they self-monitor their temperature at least twice a day. Spencer was complying with that guidance, officials have said. International aid groups have warned that such restrictions could deter health care volunteers from traveling to West Africa.

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People who worked with Spencer described him as the kind of globe-trotting do-gooder who could walk into a small village in Africa and, even though he didn’t know the language, win people over through hugs alone, according to people who worked with him. Even before leaving for Guinea this, the 33-year-old had amassed an ordinary man’s lifetime worth of world travel, much of which was in the service of the poor. In the past three years alone, Spencer, an attending physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, had been to Rwanda to work on an emergency care teaching curriculum, volunteered at a health clinic in Burundi, helped investigate an infectious parasitic disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo and traveled to 32 villages in Indonesia to do a public health survey. “He was never afraid of getting his hands dirty or his feet dirty,” said Dr. Deogratias Niyizonkiza, founder of Village Health Works, the aid group that brought him to Burundi for four months in 2012. “He went into this environment, a country that is truly off the mark, without knowing the language and he would make everyone feel so comfortable. It’s really a daunting task and yet he helped the people immensely,” Niyizonkiza said. “He talked to everyone, including the people working in the lab … Their language was just to hug each other and smile.”

Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo, who was successfully treated after contracting the virus while working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC, said Saturday that Spencer is a hero. In an interview with The Associated Press, Mukpo took issue with those who would criticize the doctor for going out in public after returning from West Africa and said there’s no evidence Spencer exposed anyone in New York to any risk. “Dr. Spencer risked his life to treat and lend a hand to people who have very little ability to take care of this problem themselves,” Mukpo said from his family’s home in Rhode Island. “Before we look at what the implications of this case are, I think we need to honor what he did in West Africa and give him the respect he deserves.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has criticized Spencer, saying he should have stayed home until any danger period for the disease had passed. “Dr. Spencer is a valued fellow and was a volunteer and did great work, but that was a voluntary quarantine situation for 21 days. He’s a doctor and even he didn’t follow the voluntary quarantine, let’s be honest,” Cuomo said. Experts have repeatedly assured the public that there is little chance that Spencer spread the virus prior to developing symptoms, but his case prompted Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday to establish new, stricter guidelines for people returning to the area from Ebola-stricken countries. A nurse who arrived Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport after recently treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone was quarantined at a New Jersey hospital, the first traveler isolated under the new protocols. Kaci Hickox tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary screening, state health officials said Saturday, but she remains in isolation at University Hospital in Newark. Like Spencer, Hickox had been working with Doctors Without Borders.

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In a first-person account given to the Dallas Morning News on Saturday, Hickox sharply criticized the way her case has been handled. “This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me,” Hickox wrote. Under the new protocols for travelers, health officials in New York and New Jersey will establish a risk level by considering the countries that people have visited and their level of possible exposure to Ebola. The patients with the highest level of possible exposure will be automatically quarantined for 21 days at a government-regulated facility. Those with a lower risk will be monitored for temperature and symptoms, Cuomo explained. The governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, has implemented similar guidelines. Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an order Saturday that requires health care workers to self-monitor.

CBS News contributed to this report.

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: DNA RESULTS MATCH TWO GROUPS WHO WENT MISSING IN OKLAHOMA 40 YEARS AGO

missing-vehicle-bodiesThree teens missing from Sayre, Okla., since Nov. 20, 1970: From left: Jimmy Allen Williams, Leah Gail Johnson and Thomas Michael Rios. Police believe they may finally have found the remains of the teens after divers on a training exercise discovered a car containing skeletal remains in Foss Lake.

DNA tests have linked the identities of two different groups of people who went missing in Oklahoma more than 40 years ago. Human remains found last year in a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro matched the descriptions of three teenagers — Jimmy Allen Williams, 16, Leah Gail Johnson, 18, and Thomas Michael Rios, 18, all from Sayre, according to CNN. They went missing in 1970. Johnson was related to legendary Indian chief Sitting Bull, and was considered an Indian princess, according to reports.

Police figured out the possible connection while testing sonar equipment in September 2013 in Foss Lake, which is notorious for being murky. That’s where authorities discovered the Chevrolet Camaro, along with another 1952 model Chevrolet. The remains in the second car matched the genders and ages of three passengers who disappeared in 1969 — John Alva Porter, 69, Cleburn Hammack, 42 and Nora Marie Duncan, 58. DNA tests that came back this week linked the bodies to the people who went missing, the state Medical Examiner’s office said. All the people identified died from drowning, and all the deaths were accidental, according to the office.

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: U.S. GENERAL SAYS NORTH KOREA ‘CAN BUILD’ NUCLEAR WARHEAD

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The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea said on Friday he believes Pyongyang has the capability to build a nuclear warhead that can be mounted on a ballistic missile, but added there were no tests or other evidence it has taken that step. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti said he thought North Korea’s connection with Iran and Pakistan meant it probably had access to the expertise needed to miniaturize and mount an atomic weapon on a missile. “I believe they have the capability to miniaturize a device at this point and they have the technology to potentially deliver what they say they have,” Scaparrotti told a news conference at the Pentagon. “We’ve not seen it tested, and I don’t think as a commander we can afford the luxury of believing perhaps they haven’t gotten there,” he added.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said later that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel shared Scaparrotti’s concerns about North Korea’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, but added the general had not said Pyongyang was able to mount a weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile. “General Scaparrotti said he believes they have the capability to miniaturize,” Kirby said. “That’s not the same thing as saying that they have the capability to mount, test and deliver a nuclear weapon in an ICBM.” No one outside of the inner circle of North Korea’s nuclear program likely knows what advances the country has made. But mastering the step of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead would put Pyongyang far closer to its long-stated goal of acquiring a nuclear deterrent and make a mockery of years of U.N. sanctions aimed at curbing such a program.

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North Korea has conducted three tests of nuclear devices, the most recent in February 2013. But miniaturising the device, so it can be fitted into a delivery system like a bomb or missile, is a technological hurdle that has to be crossed in creating a nuclear weapon. Asked if Pyongyang actually had miniaturised a nuclear device, Scaparrotti said: “I don’t know that.” “What I’m saying is … that I think given their technological capabilities, the time that they’ve been working on this, that they probably have the capabilities to put this together,” he said. Scaparrotti indicated the road-mobile missile launcher and KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile North Korea has paraded publicly were a concern. Despite Pyongyang’s aggressive missile development programme, analysts have been divided on whether the military hardware was functional missile or a mock-up.

Scaparrotti also said there was no indication of political struggle or turmoil in North Korea recently when leader Kim Jong-un disappeared from public view for several weeks. He reappeared in the middle of the October with a limp and a cane, leading to conclusions he had a health issue. “We didn’t see any discernible change that led us to believe there was any instability … during the time that he was gone,” the general said, adding it “looked like very normal functioning of their government in the country at that time.” He said Kim remained in control of an “isolated, authoritative regime that’s willing to use violence and threats of violence to advance its interests.” The 1950-53 Korean war ended in an armistice agreement and the peninsula remains divided between the North and South, which is closely allied with the United States.

North Korea profile

For decades North Korea has been one of the world’s most secretive societies. It is one of the few countries still under nominally communist rule. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have exacerbated its rigidly maintained isolation from the rest of the world. The country emerged in 1948 amid the chaos following the end of World War II. Its history is dominated by its Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who shaped political affairs for almost half a century.

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Artwork in the capital Pyongyang glamorizea life in North Korea

After the Korean War, Kim Il-sung introduced the personal philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which became a guiding light for North Korea’s development. Kim Il-sung died in 1994, but the post of president has been assigned “eternally” to him. Decades of this rigid state-controlled system have led to stagnation and a leadership dependent on the cult of personality. Aid agencies have estimated that up to two million people have died since the mid-1990s because of acute food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement. The country relies on foreign aid to feed millions of its people. The totalitarian state also stands accused of systematic human rights abuses. Reports of torture, public executions, slave labour, and forced abortions and infanticide in prison camps have emerged. Amnesty International estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are held in detention facilities, in which it says that torture is rampant and execution commonplace.

Pyongyang has accused successive South Korean governments of being US “puppets”, but South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s visit in 2000 signalled a thaw in relations. Seoul’s “sunshine policy” towards the North aimed to encourage change through dialogue and aid.

Nuclear tensions

This tentative reaching-out to the world was dealt a blow in 2002 by Pyongyang’s decision to reactivate a nuclear reactor and to expel international inspectors. In October 2006 North Korea said it had successfully tested a nuclear weapon, spreading alarm throughout the region. Since then, intensive diplomatic efforts have aimed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. After years of on-and-off talks, a deal was thrashed out in February 2007 under which Pyongyang agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor in return for aid and diplomatic concessions. But negotiations stalled as North Korea accused its negotiating partners – the US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia – of failing to meet agreed obligations.

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North Korean soldiers keep watch over the Demilitarized Zone between North and South

Tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world increased steadily again from late 2008 onwards, especially after the new South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, ended his predecessor’s “sunshine policy” of rapprochement with the North. In April 2009 North Korea walked out of international talks aimed at ending its nuclear activities. The following month the country carried out its second underground nuclear test and announced that it no longer considered itself bound by the terms of the 1953 truce that ended the war between the two Korea’s.

Tensions reached a new high in spring 2010, when the South accused North Korea of sinking one of its warships, the Cheonan, and cut off all cross-border trade. Pyongyang denied the claims, and in turn severed all ties with Seoul. After the US imposed tough sanctions in August, the North began to make overtures again. It’s then leader, Kim Jong-il, signaled a readiness to resume six-party nuclear talks during a visit to China, and indicated a willingness to accept Southern aid to cope with major flood damage.

Launch

Kim Jong-il’s successor in December 2011, his third son Kim Jong-un, continued the dynastic policy of sending out mixed signals. He agreed to suspend long-range missile tests in order to receive US food aid in February 2012, only to challenge the US and the other frontline states almost immediately by announcing a forthcoming “rocket-launched satellite” for April, to mark Kim Il-Sung’s birthday. This launch failed, but in October 2012 Pyongyang responded to the unveiling of a new missile deal between Seoul and Washington by saying that it had missiles capable of hitting the US mainland. A December satellite launch suggested that North Korea is developing such rocket technology, and brought immediate condemnation from the UN, US, Japan and China.

The following month, immediately after the UN Security Council condemned the launch, North Korea announced that it planned to conduct a third “high-level nuclear test” and rehearse more long-range rocket launches aimed at the US “arch-enemy”. It carried out its threat to perform a third nuclear test in February 2013, and swiftly received another set of UN Security Council sanctions on cash transfers and travel for its diplomats. It test-fired two medium-range Nodong missiles in March 2014, again in violation of UN resolutions. Undaunted, North Korea threatened South Korea and the USA with war and announced that it would restart all facilities at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, including a reactor mothballed in 2007, while also offering to restart talks if UN sanctions are dropped.

The current South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, continues to maintain a tough line towards the Pyongyang regime. North Korea has traditionally enjoyed the support of its powerful neighbour China, but in recent years Chinese leaders appear to have become increasingly frustrated and embarrassed by Pyongyang’s intransigence over its nuclear program and its resolute isolationism in all other areas. North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest standing armies and militarism pervades everyday life. But standards of training, discipline and equipment in the force are reported to be low.

North Korean troops perform during the Arirang festival at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang on 6 October 2005.
The annual Arirang festival in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium consists of vast and elaborately orchestrated mass performances.
The BBC contributed to this report.