Monday, February 11, 2013

Hadiya's mom: State of the Union will be 'bittersweet'

Scott Olson / Getty Images
Cleopatra Cowley, arriving with her son Nathaniel for the wake of her 15-year-old daughter Hadiya Pendleton.

It's an invitation she wishes she had no reason to accept.

The mother of Chicago gun-violence victim Hadiya Pendleton will be in the audience for Tuesday night's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. — and she is expecting a flood of mixed emotions.

"It's bittersweet," Cleopatra Cowley said after she and her husband landed in Washington on Monday evening. “Because it’s as a result of losing my daughter, but it’s also exciting to have an opportunity like this.”

Her presence in the House of Representatives chamber as President Obama delivers his annual address to the country will be a poignant reminder of the toll of gun violence in America.

Cowley — who was invited as a guest of the first lady, according to White House aides — said she will be listening to the speech with an open mind.

“I really just want to hear what he has to say,” she said. “Then I can formulate my opinion.”

Cowley’s 15-year-old daughter was shot dead two weeks ago while hanging out with friends in a park near school, just days after she returned from Washington, where her marching band competed for a chance to be in President Obama's inauguration parade.

Police believe Hadiya was the innocent victim of a gang member who mistakenly thought the teens were rivals on his turf.

The majorette quickly became a figure in the national debate over guns and a symbol of Chicago's stubborn murder rate. Chicago police announced Monday night that were charging two young men with murder in connection with the shooting.

The First Lady was among hundreds at her funeral Saturday, which was attended by hundreds of people, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“That was amazing,” Cowley said.

“My daughter really wanted to perform directly in front of the president and first lady and didn’t have the opportunity. Having the first lady at her homegoing was like Hadiya having an opportunity to perform because of all the friends and family who gave feedback about her.”

She said she also appreciated Michelle Obama’s low-profile at the funeral.

“She didn’t have a desire to have it be about her. She wanted to attend as a mom,” Cowley said.

Before the State of the Union, Cowley and her husband, Nate Pendleton, will attend a hearing on gun safety called by Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, who spoke about Hadiya during an earlier hearing the day after her death.


‘Flashpoint: Guns in America’: An NBC News special report

How to watch the State of the Union with NBC News

Two charged with murder in Hadiya Pendleton shooting

Chicago Police Department
Kenneth Williams (left) and Michael Ward (right) were charged Monday in the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton
Two suspects have been charged in last month’s shooting death of a 15-year-old Chicago girl who performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, police announced Monday night.
Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, each face one count of first-degree murder for the death of Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot two weeks ago in a park near her school, just days after returning from Washington, D.C., officials said.
Ward was the shooter and confessed to police that Hadiya was not the intended target, police said. The shooting was allegedly meant to be a retaliation for Williams, who was shot last year.
Reached by phone Monday evening, Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley, said she was “ecstatic” about the arrests and urged for the young  men to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“Look at what they've done to me and my family. We put so much work into raising my daughter. We had hopes. My son no longer has a big sister. They deserve to feel something that is remotely comparable,” Cowley told NBC News. “But my daughter is dead and even if they are rotting in jail, they will still be alive.”
Chicago police superintendent Gerry McCarthy called Hadiya’s family “rocks in supporting us in this investigation.” During the press conference he said he hopes the high-profile murder will lead to meaningful change in the city’s gun law.
He also stressed that it wasn't tips from the community that led to the arrests, but rather relentless detective work.
“This was one of the most methodical, practical investigations that I can remember,” said McCarthy.
Since her death, Hadiya has become one of the faces of the Obama administration’s efforts to reform the nation’s gun laws. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the teenager’s funeral Saturday, and Cowley has been invited to attended Tuesday’s State of the Union.
“My baby deserves a revolution and I pray that what happened her to her will have an impact,” she said.

Chicago police announce the arrest, and charges, against two men in the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton. Police also confirm that the shooter mistook the teens for gang members.

Investigators: Explosives found in hostage bunker; kidnapper shot first

A tent covers the bunker where where a 5-year-old child was rescued by law enforcement after being held for nearly a week. FBI agents placed the blue tent over the bunker to protect evidence below.
Federal investigators late Tuesday revealed that they have found explosives in the bunker where a 5-year-old Alabama boy was held hostage for nearly a week -- and that the kidnapper was killed only after opening fire first himself.
According to a law enforcement source close to the investigation, two explosives -- one inside the bunker and one in the ventilation pipe -- were found at the scene.
The source said four members of the rescue team approached the bunker's hatch Monday, where the captor, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, was expecting a delivery.
He had received food and other items intended for the boy in previous days. This time, however, the team opened the hatch and dropped a "distractionary device" -- more commonly known as a flashbang.
Dykes was disoriented, but managed to fire off one shot.
The rescue team fired back -- shooting Dykes dead -- and saved the boy.
A law enforcement source close to the investigation confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday that federal agents had practiced their intricate rescue plans not far from where the kidnapper, Dykes, held the little boy.
Before storming the underground shelter where Dykes held the boy on Monday, the agents built a mock bunker nearby where they prepared over the prior six days, according to a law enforcement official close to the investigation.

FBI agents and Dale County negotiators used this pipe to communicate with Jimmy Dykes.
Police had been in regular contact with Dykes since he took the young boy, identified only as Ethan, into the homemade bunker last Tuesday. Authorities passed medicine and toys including a red Hot Wheels car to the boy, who is said to have Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and talked to Dykes through a PVC pipe that ran from the bunker into the yard.
Dykes had been reported to have electric heaters and blankets in his bunker, as well as electricity. But hope for a peaceful end to the standoff came to an end when negotiators began to fear that Dykes might pose an immediate threat to the young boy.
“Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Richardson said at a press conference after the standoff ended. “At this point, FBI agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.”
During a news conference with Alabama school officials, Donny Bynum, superintendent of Dale County Schools, says, "We have a long way to go. We have a healing process that we as a community must go through.'
Law enforcement officials have said they even managed to sneak a camera into the roughly 8 feet by 6 feet bunker where Dykes holed up, but have declined to say how.
“It’s a technique we may want to use again, so we’re not being specific,” an official told NBC News.
The final rush to bring Ethan to safety began suddenly on Monday afternoon.
Neighbor Byron Martin heard a boom that “made me jump off the ground.” Local paper the Dothan Eagle reported two loud blasts after 3 p.m.
It seems the bang was the first – and most audible – sign to people in the area that Ethan’s ordeal was close to an end. The flashbang explosive gave the FBI time to breach the bunker through a door at the top at 3:12 p.m. The boy emerged unharmed, according to officials.
The source said that law enforcement officials were still searching Dykes’ 1.5 acre property in the rural Alabama community for explosives on Tuesday afternoon. Neighbors had described Dykes in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping as a paranoid Navy veteran who had beaten at least one neighborhood pet to death.
And why Dykes decided to storm a school bus and take a hostage in the first place remained unclear to investigators. Dykes missed a court appearance on a menacing charge on Wednesday morning, the day after the kidnapping. Officials have not commented on whether that court appearance may have motivated Dykes.

Hostage suspect was loner, missed court appearance

“There are a variety of events that may have led to this,” the law enforcement source close to the investigation told NBC on Tuesday. “But they are very complex.”
NBC News can now confirm that Dykes asked negotiators to allow a TV reporter to interview him. A law enforcement source said while that request is an indication of Dykes' thirst for attention, the motive for the kidnapping is more complex, and officials will continue to investigate.
President Obama offered his thanks to the FBI on Monday night.
“This evening, the President called FBI director Robert Mueller to compliment him for the role federal law enforcement officers played in resolving the hostage situation in Alabama today,” a White House official said in a statement. “The President praised the exceptional coordination between state, local, and federal partners, and thanked all the law enforcement officials involved during the nearly week long ordeal for their roles in the successful rescue of the child.”
The young boy was “laughing, joking, playing, eating,” said Agent Richardson Monday. “He’s very brave, he’s very lucky. His success story is that he got out and he’d doing great.”

'Greatest birthday' for boy rescued from Alabama bunker by FBI

“If I could, I would do cartwheels all the way down the road,” Debra Cook, the boy’s aunt, told Good Morning America. “I was ecstatic.”
Ethan will celebrate his sixth birthday on Wednesday. Dale County School District officials have said that they are planning a celebration of Ethan’s birthday and the life of slain bus driver Charles Albert Poland, Jr. for another date.

EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Marco Rubio outlines his immigration reform plan

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla), sat with NBCLatino and Telemundo ‘s José Díaz-Balart to discuss the details of his immigration reform plan. Rubio explains that through his proposal undocumented immigrants will receive work visas and be in the country legally and his plan will include a path to citizenship.


Fmr. Sen. Hagel Testifies at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Confirmation Hearing: Part 3 (right-click to copy direct link)

Fmr. Sen. Hagel Testifies at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Confirmation Hearing: Part 2 (right-click to copy direct link)

Fmr. Sen. Hagel Testifies at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Confirmation Hearing - Part 1 (right-click to copy direct link)

Washington, DC
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The Senate Armed Services Committee completed its confirmation hearing for former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R) to be the next Defense Secretary. The committee now must schedulea vote on the Hagel nomination.
For over eight hours, Hagel fielded questions on statements that he made in the past on everything from gays in the military to the Iraq troop surge.
Sen. Hagel served two terms as a Nebraska Senator. While in Congress, he served on the Committee on Foreign Relations. He voted in favor of the Iraq war before later opposing continued U.S. involvement.  He was a Sergeant in the Army and served in Vietnam.
The White House remains confident that he will be confirmed, but so far only one Republican, Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, has come out in support of Hagel with many Republicans publicly expressing concern or outright opposition the nomination.
The current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is retiring upon Sen. Hagel's confirmation.
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 6:23pm (ET)

Anderson Cooper Townhall - Guns Under Fire


Published on Feb 1, 2013
Anderson Cooper Townhall debate, George Washington University, Washington DC, Jan 31, 2013

Guests with a wide range of opinions were invited to share their perspectives when Anderson Cooper convened a town hall in Washington to discuss the current and future state of gun laws in America.
Judging by the audience reaction at George Washington University, the conversation was impassioned but respectful. Although there were disagreements, everyone benefited from hearing both sides and getting to the crux of the issues.
The topics included personal safety, mental health, the culture of violence, politics, background checks, banning certain types of guns, second amendment rights, and much more. The program was enriched by the activists and experts, and also by people who told their personal stories.
The next day Anderson, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jeffrey Toobin and producer Jack Gray met again via Google+ Hangout to answer your questions and address the points you made on social media.

Anderson Cooper Q & A after "Guns under fire" town hall
(4 people)
Anderson Cooper 360's profile photo
Sanjay Gupta's profile photoJack Gray's profile photoJeffrey Toobin's profile photo

Dale StantonFeb 2, 2013

How many murders happen at gun ranges?
How many people shoot other people at gun ranges?
How many gun crimes happen at gun ranges?
If guns and gun ownership are the problem, it must be rampant.
Gun possession is legal at gun ranges.
Cowards bent on killing attack those who can't resist. Doesn't matter if it's schools, theatres or churches. It's a fact of criminal life.

Criminals prey on those who (they think) can't defend themselves. They don't pick their victims by emotion. They use facts. Neither should their crimes be countered with emotion, rather with facts. It will only make it worse - as has been proven over the years. Making people helpless targets has never worked and never will. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

Ernest SzotsFeb 2, 2013 (edited)

Sure, while you and your friend Piers Morgan tout the lowered gun deaths, you do everything to avoid the fact that other violent crimes go up tremendously. Just like in Chicago, where they have some of the strictest gun laws and worst crime rates. Unlike places like Arizona, less gun laws, less crime. You talk about facts? Those are them. You, +Peter van der Linden, keep framing the argument as some hyper paranoid protection from tyranny issue because it's more favorable to you. Then have the nerve to project that onto Dale. Of course, these facts and the reports almost daily of good people defending themselves with guns from thugs are annoying little truths so you parade around using emotion, projection and deflection to make your argument. At this point I'm not even sure your not just a troll having a good time. A real argument on gun control is a lost cause when you look at the facts but your attempt is pathetic beyond words. I've destroyed your house of cards at every turn and all you do is come back with some more idiocy. This is why they say never argue with a fool. 

Sean CorradoFeb 2, 2013
+Peter van der Linden The argument that "reducing guns reduces gun violence" is an irrelevant conclusion. The argument should be: "Will reducing guns reduce violence (by gun or other means)?" Would reducing guns reduce murder (by guns or other means)? Also, would the tradeoff in reducing individual liberties be worth the result? What if the results were minimal. A pretty good video regarding crime statistics can be found on YouTube's Amidst the Noise channel (see "Choose Your Own Crime Stats"). It would seem that England/Wales has 3.5 times the violent crime rate than the U.S. but the U.S. has 3.5 times more murders than  England/Wales for that same period. Approximately 68% of all murders in 2011 were caused by a firearm of some sort. So, we could make the claim that if all guns were banned, we would have only had a murder rate of 1.5/100,000 (pretty comparable to England/Wales rate of 1.3/100,000). This would be faulty logic. I am pre-supposing that all the murders in England/Wales were committed without the use of firearms. Plus, that is also falling under the assumption that if guns were banned (let's say they didn't exist AT ALL), would that still reduce the U.S.'s murder rate to 1.5/100,000? I doubt it. Additionally, there are far more factors that affect the murder rate than just the availability of guns. Why, for example has the violent crime rate steadily dropped from 2001 to 2011 years while gun ownership during that same time has remained fairly constant, peaking at 50% in 1991 and bottoming at 40% in 1997 according to Gallup polling (

Miss Millennium: Beyoncé

This is the hottest woman of the past thirteen years

February 2013
See Beyoncé's GQ photo shoot

Beyoncé is ready to receive you now. From the chair where she's sitting, in the conference room of her sleek office suite in midtown Manhattan, at a round table elegantly laden with fine china, crisp cloth napkins, and take-out sushi from Nobu, she could toss some edamame over her shoulder and hit her sixteen

Grammys, each wall-mounted in its own Plexiglas box. She is luminous, with that perfect smile and smooth coffee skin that shines under a blondish topknot and bangs. 
Today she's showing none of the bodaciously thick, hush-your-mouth body that's on display onstage, in her videos, and on these pages. This is Business Beyoncé, hypercomposed Beyoncé—fashionable, elegant, in charge. She's wearing the handiwork of no fewer than seven designers, among them Givenchy (the golden pin at her neck), Day Birger et Mikkelsen (her dainty gray-pink petal-collar blouse), Christian Louboutin (her pink five-inch studded heels), and Isabel Marant (her floral pants). She does not get up—a video camera has already been aimed at her face and turned on—so you greet her as you sit down. You have an agreed-upon window of time. Maybe a little more, if she finds you amusing.

You're here to talk about her big post-baby comeback (Blue Ivy, her daughter with Jay-Z, is a year old), which Beyoncé is marking in classic Beyoncé fashion: with a Hydra-headed pop-cultural blitzkrieg. This month, two weeks after she headlines the halftime show at Super Bowl XLVII, she will premiere an HBO "documentary"—more like a visual autobiography—about herself and her family that she financed, directed, produced, narrated, and stars in. This is a woman, after all, who's sold 75 million albums, just signed a $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi (her flawless visage will festoon actual cans of soda), and will soon embark on a world tour to promote her fifth solo album, as yet untitled, due out as early as April. Who wouldn't want to know how she gets the job done?

"I worked so hard during my childhood to meet this goal: By the time I was 30 years old, I could do what I want," she says. "I've reached that. I feel very fortunate to be in that position. But I've sacrificed a lot of things, and I've worked harder than probably anyone I know, at least in the music industry. So I just have to remind myself that I deserve it."

Anytime she wants to remind herself of all that work—or almost anything else that's ever happened in her life—all she has to do is walk down the hall. There, across from the narrow conference room in which you are interviewing her, is another long, narrow room that contains the official Beyoncé archive, a temperature-controlled digital-storage facility that contains virtually every existing photograph of her, starting with the very first frames taken of Destiny's Child, the '90s girl group she once fronted; every interview she's ever done; every video of every show she's ever performed; every diary entry she's ever recorded while looking into the unblinking eye of her laptop.

"Stop pretending that I have it all together," she tells herself in a particularly revealing video clip, looking straight into the camera. "If I'm scared, be scared, allow it, release it, move on. I think I need to go listen to 'Make Love to Me' and make love to my husband."

Beyoncé's inner sanctum also contains thousands of hours of private footage, compiled by a "visual director" Beyoncé employs who has shot practically her every waking moment, up to sixteen hours a day, since 2005. In this footage, Beyoncé wears her hair up, down, with bangs, and without. In full makeup and makeup-free, she can be found shaking her famous ass onstage, lounging in her dressing room, singing Coldplay's "Yellow" to Jay-Z over an intimate dinner, and rolling over sleepy-eyed in bed. This digital database, modeled loosely on NBC's library, is a work in progress—the labeling, date-stamping, and cross-referencing has been under way for two years, and it'll be several months before that process is complete. But already, blinking lights signal that the product that is Beyoncé is safe and sound and ready to be summoned— and monetized—at the push of a button.

And this room—she calls it her "crazy archive"—is a key part of that, she will explain, so, "you know, I can always say, 'I want that interview I did for GQ,' and we can find it." And indeed, she will be able to find it, because the room in which you are sitting is rigged with a camera and microphone that is capturing not just her every utterance but yours as well. These are the ground rules: Before you get to see Beyoncé, you must first agree to live forever in her archive, too. 

It stands to reason that when a girl owns her every likeness, as Beyoncé does, it can make her even more determined to be perfect. (Beyoncé isn't just selling Beyoncé's music, of course; she's selling her iconic stature: a careful melding of the aspirational and the unattainable.) So when she's on tour, every night she heads back to her hotel room with a DVD of the show she's just performed. Before going to sleep, she watches that show, critiquing herself, her dancers, her cameramen. The next morning, everyone receives pages of notes.

But Wait, What About Her Music?
A few words from Beyoncé on her upcoming album, for which she's already recorded about fifty songs.—A.W

On her collaborators: "I've been working with Pharrell and Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and Dream. We all started in the '90s, when R&B was the most important genre, and we all kind of want that back: the feeling that music gave us."

On songwriting: "I used to start with lyrics and then I'd find tracks—often it was something I had in my head, and it just so happened to go with the melody. Now I write with other writers. It starts with the title or the concept of what I'm trying to say, and then I'll go into the booth and sing my idea. Then we work together to layer on."

On the album's influences: "Mostly R&B. I always have my Prince and rock/soul influences. There's a bit of D'Angelo, some '60s doo-wop. And Aretha and Diana Ross."

On her inspirations: "Even the silliest little thing that you hear on the radio, it comes from something deeper. 'Bootylicious' was funny, but it came from people saying that I had gained weight and me being like, 'I'm a southern woman, and this is how southern women are.' My motivation is always to express something or to heal from something or to laugh and rejoice about something."

"One of the reasons I connect to the Super Bowl is that I approach my shows like an athlete," she says now. "You know how they sit down and watch whoever they're going to play and study themselves? That's how I treat this. I watch my performances, and I wish I could just enjoy them, but I see the light that was late. I see, 'Oh God, that hair did not work.' Or 'I should never do that again.' I try to perfect myself. I want to grow, and I'm always eager for new information."

She loves being onstage, she says, because it is the one time her inner critic goes silent. "I love my job, but it's more than that: I need it," she says. "Because before I gave birth, it was the only time in my life, all throughout my life, that I was lost." She means this in a good way: When her brain turns off, it is, frankly, a relief. After drilling herself, repeating every move so many times, locking them in, she can then afford not to think. "It's like a blackout. When I'm onstage, I don't know what the crap happens. I am gone."

Solange, Beyoncé's little sister (and an increasingly famous singer in her own right), says it has always been this way: "I have very, very early-on memories of her rehearsing on her own in her room. I specifically remember her taking a line out of a song or a routine and just doing it over and over and over again until it was perfect and it was strong. At age 10, when everybody else was ready to say, 'Okay, I'm tired, let's take a break,' she wanted to continue—to ace it and overcome it."

It's hard to believe it, given what Beyoncé grew up to be, but as a girl she was shy. These days, she says that Sasha Fierce, the lusty alter ego—part smolder, part fury—that she invented in her first solo video (2003's "Crazy in Love") to coax herself out of her own shell, has been fully integrated into her personality. Part girl next door, part mistress of the universe, Beyoncé now exudes a hip-thrusting sensuality that can be a little...intimidating. She's hot, no doubt, but her eminence, her independence, and her ambition make some label her cool to the touch. Her allure lies in the crux of that tension—on the meridian between wanting her unabashedly curvaceous body and knowing that she's probably right when she says, to borrow from her song "Bootylicious," that you really aren't ready for all that jelly.

Back in the day, the thing that made her fiercest was protecting her younger sibling. Solange recalls how Beyoncé defended her when they were teens. "I can't tell you how many times in junior high school, how many boys and girls can say Beyoncé came and threatened to put some hands on them if they bothered me," Solange says with a laugh. Beyoncé says she harnessed that same temper to bolster her nerve and fuel her work. "I used to like when people made me mad," she says in the HBO documentary, remembering her suburban Texas childhood, which was shaped (some would say cut short) by her determination to be a star. "I'm like, 'Please piss me off before the performance.' I used to use everything." As Jay-Z rapped of Beyoncé at the beginning of her 2006 hit "Déjà Vu," "She about to steam. Stand back."

"You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don't make as much money as men do. I don't understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat?" she says in her film, which begins with her 2011 decision to sever her business relationship with her father. "I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous."

Now she says, "You know, when I was writing the Destiny's Child songs, it was a big thing to be that young and taking control. And the label at the time didn't know that we were going to be that successful, so they gave us all control. And I got used to it. It is my goal in life to be that example. And I think it will, hopefully, trickle down, and more artists will see that. Because it only makes sense. It's only fair."

There ain't no use being hot as fish grease, she seems to understand, if someone else wields the spatula and holds the keys to the cash register. But if you can harness your own power and put it to your own use? Well, then there are no limits. That's what the video camera is all about: owning your own brand, your own face, your own body. Only then, to borrow another Beyoncé lyric, can girls rule the world. And make no mistake, fellas: Queen Bey is comfortable on her throne.

"I now know that, yes, I am powerful," she says. "I'm more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand."

Amy Wallace is a GQ correspondent.

Missing Mom of 2 Found Dead in Turkey May Have Had Sinister Motives

Posted by Lindsay Mannering
on February 6, 2013 at 5:34 PM
istanbulWhat was the New York City mom of two doing in Istanbul, Turkey? The case surrounding Sarai Sierra is getting more and more interesting as more and more details emerge. She went missing on January 22, was found dead on February 2, and now investigators believe she was hanging around a "criminal element" in Istanbul and had a consensual affair with a man in Turkey whom she had previously met online.
Cops say that her husband, a bus driver, and her brother have been cooperative with the case, but noted there's a difference between that and "helpful." Her family still insists she travelled abroad alone, despite being very low on funds, to indulge her love of photography, but no one's so sure that's actually the whole story anymore.

It's also been uncovered that Sierra took short trips to Munich and Amsterdam before ending up back in Istanbul on January 19.
The FBI is on site investigating her murder and her possible criminal involvement with drug trafficking because when a mother with little disposable income leaves her husband and her young children behind to take an expensive trip to an exotic location to shoot some graffiti, then winds up murdered by a blow to the head, some eyebrows are going to be raised.
And that friend who bailed on Sierra at the "last minute"? Maggie Rodriguez spoke to the Post and said Sierra was aware during the early stages of planning the trip that she wouldn't be able to join her.
The stories are starting to unravel and things aren't quite as they seem. Hopefully, for the sake of Sierra's children, the truth will be uncovered.
What do you think of this story?

Photo via kivnac nis/Flickr

Bill to help Newtown police faces obstacles

Published 7:25 pm, Saturday, February 2, 2013
NEWTOWN -- The town's police officers are becoming increasingly frustrated by state lawmakers' lack of progress on a proposal to extend worker's compensation benefits to first responders affected by the murders of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The issue has become further complicated, one legislator said, because unions representing firefighters and teachers as well as some other first responders also want to be covered.

Several police union members expressed their dismay at a meeting Wednesday evening, said Eric Brown, who represents Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"The longer it goes, the more anxious people get," Brown said. "There is not a lot of faith in politicians in general, and there is a sense they are dragging their feet."

Within a few weeks of the Dec. 14 shootings, legislation was introduced in the General Assembly that would have provided benefits to all first responders, paid or volunteer, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from exposure to events during the performance of their duties. Currently, only police officers unable to work after facing serious injury or deadly force from another person are eligible for those benefits.

But the bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, the co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, has run into a series of obstacles.

It has been referred to another legislative committee, which is expected to make extensive revisions before it comes up for a vote.

"It's become more complicated than just going forward with a simple bill," Dargan said.

One problem is that worker's compensation is basically an insurance policy and can't be made retroactive, meaning that even if the law was changed first responders traumatized by the Newtown tragedy wouldn't receive payments.

But also, Dargan noted, representative of several other groups, including those involved in the Sandy Hook shooting and others who may respond to future incidents, wanted to make sure their members would be covered.

Among them were the Connecticut State Police troopers and supervisors unions, volunteer and uniformed fire services, and teachers, including the Newtown Federation of Teachers.

Although volunteer firefighters don't receive compensation from the towns where they serve, PTSD could prevent them from working at their regular jobs, Dargan said.

"It really has an impact on more than one group, so it gets sticky," said Rep. Jan Giegler, R-Danbury, a member of the public safety committee.

The proposal also is opposed by groups like the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns, which are concerned about its fiscal impact.

Newtown police union officials have said about a dozen officers were affected by the shooting, including six who were among the first responders at the school.

So far, one officer hasn't returned to work, but others have yet to feel the full impact of the what they saw and experienced, Brown said.

The union and the town have reached an agreement that will give officers partial pay supplemented by their remaining sick time if they can't work, Brown said.

"But funding is limited, and the time is approaching when more will need it," Brown said. "They've been running on adrenaline. We're six weeks out and the enormity is staring to hit them."

Meanwhile, he said, "People are staring to wonder whether they are going to be able to pay the mortgage or pay the tuition bill."

Because the issue is one involving labor, the bill has been referred to the Labor and Public Employees Committee, but legislators have yet to consider it, Giegler said.

"Nobody says they don't deserve it. It's just a matter of how it will be handled," she said.

"We need to do something for these individuals," Dargan said. "We may end up doing something specific to Newtown."

Reliving Horror and Faint Hope at Massacre Site

Karrsten Moran for The New York Times

Early responders at Sandy Hook Elementary included, from left: Lt. Christopher Vanghele, Officer Jason Flynn, Officer Leonard Penna, Detective Jason Frank and Officer William Chapman.
NEWTOWN, Conn. — The gunfire ended; it was so quiet they could hear the broken glass and bullet casings scraping under their boots. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. The officers turned down their radios; they did not want to give away their positions if there was still a gunman present.

They found the two women first, their bodies lying on the lobby floor. Now they knew it was real. But nothing, no amount of training, could prepare them for what they found next, inside those two classrooms.

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, as a gunman, in the space of minutes, killed 20 first graders and 6 adults.

Officer McGowan was among seven Newtown officers who recently sat down to share their accounts of that day. Some spoke for the first time, providing the fullest account yet of the scene as officers responded to one of the worst school massacres in United States history, one that has inflamed the national debate over gun control.

It is an account filled with ghastly moments and details, and a few faint instances of hope. One child had a slight pulse, but did not survive. Another was found bloody but unhurt, amid her dead classmates. Teachers were so protective of their students that they had to be coaxed by officers before opening doors. And the officers themselves, many of them fathers, instinctively used their most soothing Daddy voices to guide terrified children to safety.

The stories also reveal the deep stress that lingers for officers who, until Dec. 14, had focused their energies on maintaining order in a low-crime corner of suburbia. Some can barely sleep. Little things can set off tears: a television show, a child’s laughter, even the piles of gifts the Police Department received from across the country.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

Officer William Chapman was in the Newtown police station along with Officer McGowan and others when the first reports of shots and breaking glass came in early on the day of the massacre. The school was more than two miles away. They traveled up Route 25, then right onto Church Hill Road. “We drove as fast as we’ve ever driven,” Officer McGowan said.

They made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard.

“I got out of the car and grabbed my rifle and it stopped for second,” Officer Chapman said. “But then we heard more popping. You could tell it was rifle fire. And it was up so close, it sounded like it was coming from outside. So we were all looking around for someone to shoot back at.”

As the officers converged on the building, the gunfire stopped again. Officers Chapman and Scott Smith made their way to the front entrance. It was here, only minutes earlier, that a rail-thin 20-year-old named Adam Lanza, armed with a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine, two semiautomatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, had blasted his way through the glass.

Leonard Penna, a school resource officer who had raced to the scene from his office at the Newtown Middle School, entered the school with Sgt. Aaron Bahamonde and Lt. Christopher Vanghele, through a side door that leads to the boiler room, he said. Officer McGowan and two other officers entered through a locked rear door. One of them knocked out the glass with his rifle butt so the rest of the officers could get in.

The halls were familiar to Officer McGowan. He attended the school as a child. But now, they were eerily silent.

“The teachers were doing a phenomenal job keeping their kids quiet,” Officer Chapman said.

The officers turned their radios down. They entered the front lobby and saw the first bodies, those of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, they would later learn, and Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist.

“You saw them lifeless, laying down,” Officer Penna recalled. “For a split second, your mind says could this be a mock crime scene, could this be fake, but in the next split second, you’re saying, there is no way. This is real.”

The officers went from room to room, urgently hunting for the killer before he could do more harm.

They found a wounded staff member in one room, made sure her co-workers were applying proper first aid and moved on.

As Officers Chapman and Smith approached the second classroom in the hallway on their left, they spotted a rifle on the floor. Inside, they found the gunman, Adam Lanza, dead by his own hand, along with the bodies of several children and other adults.

The officers searched the room for any other gunmen, then began searching for signs of life among the children. One little girl had a pulse and was breathing. Officer Chapman cradled her in his arms and ran with her outside, to an ambulance. Officer Chapman, a parent himself, tried to comfort her. “You’re safe now; your parents love you,” he recalled saying. She did not survive.

Most of the bodies were found in the classroom next door, where, Detective Frank recalled, “the teacher had them huddled up like a mother hen — simple as that, in a corner.”

Officer Penna, who was the first officer to enter the second room, found a girl standing alone amid the bodies. She appeared to be in shock, and was covered in blood, but had not been injured. He, not knowing the gunman had been found, told her to stay put.

He ran into the next classroom and saw the dead gunman, with Officers Chapman and Smith standing nearby. State troopers and other officers were now flooding in. Officer Penna returned to the second classroom, his rifle slung around his chest, grabbed the uninjured girl by the arm and ran with her out to a triage area set up in the parking lot.

With state troopers coming in, the officers began to evacuate the children who were still behind locked doors. But many of the teachers, seeking to protect their students and following their own training, refused to open up.

“We’re kicking the doors, yelling ‘Police! Police!’ ” Officer McGowan said. “We were ripping our badges off and putting them up to the window.”

Detective Frank, who had been off duty and rushed to the scene so quickly that he had to borrow a gun from a colleague once he arrived, remembers ripping the handle off one of the doors, “just trying to get through.”

As the children emerged, the officers tried to reassure them. “Everything is fine now,” they said, even as they stayed alert for a possible second gunman. “Everybody hold hands, close your eyes,” they told the children.

Some officers formed a human curtain around the bodies of Ms. Hochsprung and Ms. Sherlach, to shield the children from the sight as they filed past. Others blocked the doorways of the two classrooms.

As the scene settled that day, officers standing guard outside warned newly arriving colleagues not to go in if they had children. Detective Joe Joudy, one of the senior members of the force, spotted Officer Chapman walking back to the building, covered in blood. “I was a mess, and he looks at me and says, ‘They’ve got to get you guys out of here,’ ” Officer Chapman said.

Newtown’s three-man detective squad, which also included Dan McAnaspie, would spend much of the next week working with the State Police to collect and inventory every bit of evidence from the crime scene.

“Words can’t describe how horrible it was,” said Detective Joudy, who has been with the department for 27 years.

As he left the building that day, Officer Tom Bean, who had also been off duty when he rushed to the scene, realized he had not told his wife where he was. He fumbled for his phone in the parking lot, and called her. “That’s when I broke down in tears, crying,” he said.

More than a month later, the officers continue to feel the pain of that day. Some spoke reluctantly, not wanting to compare their torment with the agony of the families of the children and adult victims. But they also worried about their ability to do their jobs, as they continue to suffer. They said they omitted some details out of sensitivity to the victims, and to protect the investigation as it continued.

At least one person, Officer Bean, said he has already received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he had been unable to return to work since the shootings, and had needed medication to sleep.

The officers and their union are reaching out to state lawmakers, hoping to expand workers’ compensation benefits to include those who witness horrific violence.

“Our concern from the beginning has been the effects of PTSD,” said Eric Brown, a lawyer for the union that represents the Newtown police. “We estimate it is probably going to be 12 to 15 Newtown officers who are going to be dealing with that, for the remainder of their careers, we imagine, from what we’ve been told by professionals who deal with PTSD.”

For Detective Frank, who spent days sequestered in the school, meticulously collecting evidence, the images keep recurring — and not just of the children. The monster-truck backpack he found that was identical to his 6-year-old’s. The Christmas ornaments that sat unfinished, drying on the windowsill.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “These kids will never take those ornaments home to their parents.”

Hero Newtown Cops Reveal Staggering Details of Sandy Hook Tragedy

Posted by Jeanne Sager
on January 29, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Long before the cops from Newtown, Connecticut decided to speak with The New York Times about the horrors they discovered inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, they were heroes. These were the men who ran toward gunfire to rescue children from a madman. And today we are learning just what it was they ran into.

Of the seven police officers who opened up to the Times were several who had never before spoken to the press. Their stories are hard to read, but even harder to turn away from because they represent all at once true horror and true heroism in America.

These police officers, many of them parents, were faced with what many of us couldn't bear to watch from the safety of our own homes, cuddled up with our own kids. But unlike us, they had to face it. They had to act.

Not only did they, but as these details related by the Newtown officers show, it was with true grace:

1. As the surviving children were led out of the building, officers created a human curtain around the dead bodies of Principal Dawn Hochsprung and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach, while others blocked the doors of classrooms filled with dead bodies, so the survivors would be spared the sight.

2. Officers found a little girl with a faint pulse in one room. Rushed outside to an ambulance, the girl was told, "You’re safe now; your parents love you," by Officer William Chapman, who'd cradled her in his arms and ran her out of the school. The little girl did not survive.

3. When School Resource Officer Leonard Penna entered one room, he found that all the children inside were dead. All, that is, but one. Covered in blood, the girl was shocked but unhurt. As soon as he was sure the gunman was dead, he ran the little girl out of the building, straight to a triage area.

4. As more police arrived on the scene, early responders warned officers who had children to back down rather than making them live through the horrors.

5. As Detective Jason Frank collected evidence, he was faced with the same monster truck backpack his 6-year-old carries, and unfinished Christmas ornaments drying on a windowsill that will never be carried home to parents.

There is more, much more, from the officers who have spent the past six weeks struggling to make sense of a national tragedy. Each details is hard to bear, and even harder to imagine living through. But these officers did it, and every day since, they've been reliving it.

What would you say to these officers if you could?

Anderson Cooper Receives Package From Suspected Killer Christopher Dorner

As the search continues for ex-cop Christopher Dorner, who is suspected of killing three people, Anderson Cooper has revealed he received a package in the mail from the former Los Angeles police officer.
"In addition to posting his manifesto online, suspect Christopher Dorner also reached out to me directly," Cooper said Thursday on his CNN show, AC360. "He mailed a parcel to my office that arrived on the first of the month."
Anderson CooperCooper said that when his assistant opened it, he found a hand-labeled DVD, along with a note that read, in part, "I never lied," apparently in reference to Dorner's 2009 firing from the LAPD.
Jason Merritt/WireImage
Christopher Dorner namechecks several celebrities in manifesto

Cooper added the package also included a bullet-riddled coin wrapped in duct tape with a handwritten inscription that read, "Thanks, but no thanks, Will Bratton." The coin, a souvenir medallion from former LAPD Chief William Bratton, is often handed out as a keepsake.
The editorial staff of AC360 and CNN management were subsequently made aware of the package and alerted law enforcement.
Cooper also talked about Dorner on his daytime program, Anderson Live, on Friday.
"It's very strange. It's a very strange feeling," he said. "He had mentioned me. This man, Dorner, had written a lengthy manifesto on his Faceboook page naming a number of reporters and he mentioned me. He said I should stop interrupting guests. He had a little advice for me, but he was, in general, complimentary, but he clearly had a message that he wanted to get out to reporters. I am sure he sent [packages] to other people as well. I am just the only one maybe who knows about it."

Outgoing DOD boss Panetta extends some benefits to same-sex spouses, partners of gay troops

Departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta extended Monday a list of benefits — all previously denied by the Pentagon — to the same-sex spouses of service members as well as to the unmarried partners of gay troops.

The perks, automatically available to heterosexual military spouses, will include hospital child care services, hospital visits, and the issuing of military ID cards, which will give same-sex spouses and partners access to on-base commissaries, movie theaters and gyms. The policy changes will go into effect once training on the new rules is completed, Panetta said.

While advocates for gay and lesbian service members and their families hailed Panetta’s policy switch as “substantive” and “encouraging,” the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still blocks the DOD from enacting more than 85 other benefits now provided to heterosexual military spouses and their children — most notably medical and dental care, housing allowances, and death benefits.

Also, as NBC News reported Feb. 4, that same federal law mandates that when a gay service member is killed in combat, military officials must first notify that troop’s blood family, not their same-sex spouse or partner, as is normally the course of action.

Panetta said DOMA is “now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court — and he offered his first clear signal that the Pentagon wants that law overturned.

“There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law,” Panetta said. “While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families."

Same-sex advocates have been pushing the DOD to extend full benefits to the spouses and partners of all U.S. service members since the repeal 17 months of ago of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which prohibited gay troops from revealing their sexual orientation.

“At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy.” Panetta said. “It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country ...

“Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation. Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation. Related:

Wayne LaPierre Responds to President Obama's Inaugural Address


 Sorry this took so long to post, finding the video was not easy, the actual speech was a fluke, and the graph was cool.

Published on Jan 23, 2013
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre delivers a response to President Obama's inaugural address from the 56th Annual Weatherby Foundation International Hunting and Conservation Award Dinner.

Thank you for that kind introduction. And thank you for your warm welcome.

Yesterday in his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama quoted the Declaration of Independence and he talked about "unalienable rights." I would argue that his words make a mockery of both.

I'd like to talk to you about one line near the end of Barack Obama's speech where he said, quote "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle." Let me quote the president again: "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle."

So what is this "absolutism" the president attacks? And what are the so-called "principles" that he wants us to settle for instead?

Obama wants to turn the idea of "absolutism" into a dirty word, just another word for "extremism." He wants you to accept the idea of "principles" as he sees fit to define them. It's a way of redefining words so that common sense is turned upside-down and nobody knows the difference.

Think about it. As families, when we're broke and all our credit cards are maxed out, we're forced to tighten our belts.

continue below:

***POLL: CNN/Time Poll: Fifty-five percent of Americans favor stricter gun laws***

Do you favor or oppose stricter gun control laws?

Favor 55%

Oppose 44%

No opinion 1%

Source: CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International
Date conducted: 1/14/2013 - 1/15/2013
Sample: 814 adult Americans
Margin of error: +/- 3.5% pts
The CNN Polling Center displays data from polling organizations that use CNN-approved   polling methodology as well as some that do not. The asterisk symbol * indicates that   the poll or polling organization does not meet CNN's methodological standards.   A CNN Poll of Polls is calculated using at least three polls that use CNN-approved methodology.   The Congressional Ballot polling data was provided by


But when the government is broke and our bond rating is tumbling and the president wants more new social programs, borrowing more money is supposed to be "principled." And anybody who questions that is a no-good "absolutist" — Obama code for extremist.

We as gun owners face the same kind of false ultimatum. We're told that to stop insane killers, we must accept less freedom — less than the criminal class and political class keep for themselves.

We're told that limits on magazine capacity or bans on 100-year-old firearms technology — bans that only affect lawful people — will somehow make us safer.

We're told that wanting the same technology that the criminals and our leaders keep for themselves is a form of "absolutism" and that accepting less freedom and protection for ourselves is the only "principled" way to live.

Think about what that means. Barack Obama is saying that the only "principled" way to make children safe is to make lawful citizens less safe and violent criminals more safe.

Criminals couldn't care less about Barack Obama's so-called "principles"! They don't have principles — that's why they're criminals.

Obama wants you to believe that putting the federal government in the middle of every firearm transaction — except those between criminals — will somehow make us safer.

That means forcing law-abiding people to fork over excessive fees to exercise their rights. Forcing parents to fill out forms to leave a family heirloom to a loved one — standing in line and filling out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork, just so a grandfather can give a grandson a Christmas gift. He wants to put every private, personal transaction under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry.

There are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners — to tax them or take them. And to anyone who says that's excessive, Barack Obama says you're an "absolutist."

He doesn't understand you. He doesn't agree with the freedoms you cherish. If the only way he can force you to give 'em up is through scorn and ridicule, he's more than willing to do it — even as he claims the moral high ground.

He said it yesterday! In the very same sentence that Obama talked about "absolutism" versus "principle," he also scolded his critics for "name-calling," as he called it.

He's more than willing to demonize his opponents, silence his critics and slur the NRA — in the words of Senator Charles Schumer, as an "extremist fringe group." And look at how he demonizes Republicans in Congress.

When Barack Obama says, "we cannot mistake absolutism for principle," what he's saying is that precision and clarity and exactness in language and law should be abandoned in favor of his nebulous, undefined "principles."

I've got news for the president. Absolutes do exist. Words do have specific meaning, in language and in law. It's the basis of all civilization. It's why our laws are written down: So the "letter of the law" carries the force of the law.

That's why our Bill of Rights was written into law, to ensure the fundamental freedoms of a minority could never be denied by a majority. Those are the principles we call unalienable rights.

Without those absolutes, without those protections, democracy decays into nothing more than two wolves and one lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. I urge our president to use caution when attacking clearly defined "absolutes" in favor of his "principles."

Mister President, just because you wish words meant something other than what they mean, you don't have the right to define them any way you want. Because when words can mean anything, they mean nothing.

When "absolutes" are abandoned for "principles," the U.S. Constitution becomes a blank slate for anyone's graffiti and our rights and freedoms are defaced.

Words do have meaning, Mister President. And those meanings are absolute, especially when it comes to our Bill of Rights.

Don't take it from me. Take it from former Democratic U.S. Senator and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Fifty years ago, after he had been appointed to the Supreme Court by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, liberal Justice Hugo Black said, and I quote: "There are 'absolutes' in our Bill of Rights, and they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant and meant their prohibitions to be 'absolutes.'" End quote.

Let me read that again. "There are 'absolutes' in our Bill of Rights, and they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant and meant their prohibitions to be 'absolutes.'"

Justice Black understood the danger of self-appointed arbiters of what "freedom" really means — like President Barack Obama — who want to redefine freedom, whittle away freedom and infringe upon the freedoms that we the people reserve to ourselves.

They're God-given freedoms. They belong to us as our birthright. No government ever gave them to us and no government can ever take them away.

Mister President, you may not like that. You may wish it were some other way. But you can't argue that it isn't true.

In that, the American people are, and will always remain, utterly absolute! We are not people to be trivialized, marginalized or demonized as unreasonable. We're not children who need to be parented or misguided "bitter clingers" to guns and religion.

We get up every day, we work hard to pay our taxes, we cherish our families and we care about their safety. We believe in living honorably, and living within our means.

We believe we deserve, and have every right to, the same level of freedom that our government leaders keep for themselves, and the same capabilities and same technologies that criminals use to prey upon us and our families. That means we believe in our right to defend ourselves and our families with semi-automatic technology.

We believe that if neither the criminal nor the political class is limited by magazine capacity, we shouldn't be limited in our capacity either.

We believe in our country. We believe in our Bill of Rights. And we believe in our Second Amendment, all of our Second Amendment. Because we believe in the freedom and safety that it, and it alone, guarantees absolutely.

Mister President, you might think that calling us "absolutists" is a clever way of "name-calling" without using names. But if that is "absolutist," then we are as "absolutist" as the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution ... and we're proud of it!

Thank you very much!