NYC terror attack victim’s parents to sue city

NYC terror attack victim’s parents to sue city

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Darren Drake’s parents, James and Barbara Drake, speak about their son who was one of eight people who died in the Oct. 31 terror attack in New York City. Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com

NEW MILFORD, N.J. — The parents of a New Milford man killed in the New York City terrorist attack on Halloween intend to sue the city and multiple departments citing an unsafe environment that contributed to the attack.

Darren Drake, 32, was one of eight people killed Oct. 31, when authorities say Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbekistan immigrant from Paterson, N.J., sped down a bike path in lower Manhattan in a truck he rented from The Home Depot. He allegedly knocked down pedestrians and cyclists, including Drake, before ramming a school bus.

Also Tuesday, Saipov was charged in Manhattan federal court with providing material support to the Islamic State group, along with eight counts of murder and 12 counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering. Numerous counts carry a potential penalty of death.

More: NYC terror attack: ‘We’re vulnerable,’ experts say

More: NYC terror attack victim’s father: ‘To be angry is useless’

Drake’s parents, James and Barbara, are seeking monetary damages from the City of New York and its Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Transportation, and the Hudson River Park Trust. 

According to the notice to sue issued Tuesday by attorney Rosemarie Arnold, representing the Drake family, the agencies being sued were “grossly negligent” in the operation of the bike path. 

Officials responsible for the path did not recognize vehicles had “easy access” to the path and did not install barriers that could have blocked entry, according to the intent to sue document.

“All of the above entities were instrumental in creating and constructing the bike path, which should have been free and clear of vehicular traffic,” Arnold stated in an email to The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record. “All of the above mentioned entities were aware that vehicles regularly either mistakenly or purposefully used the bike path but did nothing to curtail that problem. The terrorist, who did a test run of his terror mission, knew in advance that he would have unfettered access to the plaintiff and other victims.” 

Messages left for the New York City Comptroller’s Office, which handles claims for and against the city, were not immediately returned. 

A 2003 graduate of New Milford High School, Drake lived most of his life in the borough. He was pursuing a second master’s degree in technology management from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and was a program manager for Moody’s Analytics at the World Trade Center.

“Darren was a highly educated, well-loved, successful 32-year-old man who was a happy, positive person who used biking as a means to stay healthy in mind and body,” Arnold stated. “His parents are heartbroken, especially since this terrible tragedy was completely preventable.”

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A message left for James Drake on Tuesday night was not returned.

Darren Drake rode his bike on the lower Manhattan path every day to stay slim, Arnold said. On the morning of the attack he spoke to his mother and was “cranky” because he was too busy at work to take his ride that day, Arnold continued. However, one of his appointments canceled and he was able to ride his bike for an hour — the same time as the attack. 

Barriers were credited with preventing more fatalities and injuries when a car plowed into pedestrians in Times Square in May. 

The New York State Department of Transportation recommends bollards for paths shared by cyclists and pedestrians.

“Unauthorized motor vehicles are banned from bicycle or shared-use paths,” the state’s design guide says. “Barriers should be provided.”

However, the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials calls them “ineffective” and says they may hinder access by emergency vehicles and cause serious injuries to cyclists who strike them.

Follow Joshua Jongsma on Twitter: @jongsmjoon

 

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TripAdvisor’s business practices under review by FTC as more travelers say their warnings of rapes, injuries were blocked

TripAdvisor’s business practices under review by FTC as more travelers say their warnings of rapes, injuries were blocked

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The Federal Trade Commision is apparently investigating travel recommendation website, TripAdvisor for removing reviews that involved assault and rape at resorts on it’s site. Buzz60

Dawn Allison didn’t know when she went to the ladies’ room at Rams Head Tavern south of Baltimore that just two days earlier a woman had found a hidden camera on the floor near the toilet and gave it to police.  

Allison and her family had been to the restaurant several times, celebrating Mother’s Day and other family occasions. She never dreamed anybody would be spying on her while she was using the bathroom.

She found out through a newspaper story a few weeks later that the owner of the restaurant — a well-known businessman in the community — had been charged with six counts of secretly videotaping women with their pants down. 

“The first thing I wanted to do was to make sure this was on TripAdvisor warning people of what was going on,” said Burgess Allison, her husband. “I posted a short blurb that basically said, ‘Oh my goodness, this guy is running a Peeping Tom camera.’ ”

► No bad reviews: TripAdvisor removed Mexico resorts warnings, tourists say
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► Full coverage: Mexico resorts blackouts investigation

Within a day, the post was deleted.

An email from TripAdvisor to the Allisons, who share a TripAdvisor account, said it didn’t meet the website’s guidelines.

Until then, the Allisons, a couple in their mid-60s who now live in North Carolina but used to live closer to the restaurant, had been frequent TripAdvisor contributors.

The company’s refusal to post what the Allisons considered important safety information soured their enthusiasm for the site and sparked a three-year battle that concluded last week when TripAdvisor published their post — albeit on a forum page for the state of Maryland, rather than as a review attached to the restaurant where diners would be more likely to see it.

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Here’s what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discovered about TripAdvisor’s vacation service. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

An investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, published Nov. 1, revealed that TripAdvisor had deleted reports of rapes, blackouts and other injuries and deaths among travelers vacationing in Mexico.

Since then, dozens more people who have traveled around the world have told the Journal Sentinel that TripAdvisor silenced their reports of disturbing, sometimes terrifying experiences.  

The Federal Trade Commission is now looking into TripAdvisor’s business practices, according to a letter sent Friday to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who had urged the agency to take action.

“The Commission has a strong interest in protecting consumer confidence in the online marketplace, including the robust online market for hotel and travel,” wrote Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairwoman of the FTC. “When consumers are unable to post honest reviews about a business, it can harm other consumers whose abilities to make well-informed purchase decisions are hindered and harm businesses that work hard to earn positive reviews.”

► Mysterious death: A Mexican vacation and now a family’s endless questions
► More blackouts: Tourists suspect they were given tainted alcohol

On Monday, the president of the International Hotel & Restaurant Association in Geneva, Switzerland, told the Journal Sentinel his organization might come up with its own system of punishment for hotels and other establishments where serious injuries and deaths take place. 

On Tuesday, a lawyer in Texas representing the family of the Wisconsin woman who drowned in January under mysterious circumstances at a resort pool in Mexico, said he has received about 30 calls in the past couple of weeks from people who had their negative posts deleted by TripAdvisor. 

Aside from uncovering how TripAdvisor had deleted negative posts, deeming them hearsay, “off-topic” or in violation of “family friendly” guidelines, the Journal Sentinel investigation found the website’s policies and practices keep consumers in the dark in a multitude of ways. 

Users have no way to know how many negative reviews TripAdvisor withheld, how many true, troubling experiences never get told.

And it’s difficult for site users to realize that much of what appears on their screens has been specifically selected and crafted to encourage them to spend.

Secret algorithms determine which hotels and resorts appear when consumers search. Some hotels pay TripAdvisor when travelers click on their links; some pay commissions when tourists book or travel.

An untold number of TripAdvisor users have been granted special privileges, including the ability to delete forum posts. But the company won’t disclose how those users are selected. 

The $1.5 billion online travel website’s initial public response has been swift, rolling out a new warning system that marks resorts where safety concerns have been reported in the media. The company has promised to make other changes aimed at making it easier for travelers to share their troubling experiences.

► Justice thwarted: Blackout victims at Mexico resorts have little hope of redress
► Q&A: What we know about Mexico resort blackouts and tainted alcohol

In one case, the Journal Sentinel described how TripAdvisor repeatedly deleted a post from a Dallas woman who warned of dangers at a resort in Mexico in 2010 where she had been raped by a man in a security guard uniform. A TripAdvisor spokesman said the post was rejected because it violated the company’s “family friendly” guidelines.

Two days after that Journal Sentinel investigation was published Nov. 3, TripAdvisor co-founder and chief executive Steve Kaufer, assured the world the company’s policy had changed in recent years. 

“Over time TripAdvisor has updated this policy to allow more descriptive reviews on the site about first-hand accounts of serious incidents like rape or assault,“ Kaufer wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “When we were made aware that this user’s post had been removed, we republished it in line with our current policy.”

Kaufer’s statement contradicts the experience a travel writer from Russia had after she tried to post a review describing how she was raped this year at knifepoint by a housekeeper at the upscale, exclusive Six Senses Zil Pasyon in Seychelles, an island off the east coast of Africa.

In June and again in July, she tried to caution other travelers using TripAdvisor. Despite the criminal charges of sexual assault filed against the man, her attempts at posting her experience on TripAdvisor failed. 

“I was looking for TripAdvisor people in Russia to give them my documentation,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be published because her son and parents don’t know what happened. “There was nobody to connect with and ask why they didn’t publish it. I write letters to general mail. I got nothing back.”
 
The Journal Sentinel confirmed her report through legal documents and with interviews. The man’s trial is scheduled for next month.

A spokesman for Bangkok-based Six Senses said in an email that the resort is cooperating with the investigation.

“We are eager to hear the ruling in this case and look forward to setting the record straight as there are great discrepancies in the claimant’s account,” the spokesman said.

► Want more? Help support journalism like Mexico blackouts investigation
► Form: Tell us your Mexico resort blackout experience

TripAdvisor did not initially publish the woman’s review because she didn’t respond to a verification email and then tried to post from a different email address, the company’s spokesman said. 

It did publish the woman’s review Nov. 1 — the day the Journal Sentinel published its investigation.

Among the changes TripAdvisor has promised is to provide users with more specific information when their reviews and forum posts are rejected.

Many people told the Journal Sentinel that TripAdvisor had deemed their posts to contain hearsay, but the emails notifying them that their posts would not be published did not explain what language in their reviews violated the guidelines.

In addition, the company has vowed to better train moderators to be more consistent in how they apply the guidelines.

As for the new program that flags hotels and establishments where health, safety and discrimination issues have been publicized in the media, the company has issued four to date — all resorts in Mexico where travelers reported sexual assaults, blackouts and deaths to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

► Caution: State Department warns tourists about Mexico resorts
► Data: State Department numbers on Mexico resort deaths don’t tell full story

An internal committee decides which places will get the “badges” — which the company tentatively plans to keep posted for three months, according to TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt. It’s unclear exactly how the decisions are made. 

The company will focus on places where there have been credible media reports of problems and where owners, employees or contractors are responsible, rather than guests, Hoyt said.

For example, the case of Erin Andrews, a TV sportscaster and co-host of Dancing with the Stars, who was secretly videotaped by a stalker while she was naked in a hotel room wouldn’t qualify, he said.

“So if Harvey Weinstein attacks somebody in a hotel room, that’s not something we’d badge,” Hoyt said. “It’s not something the hotel has under its control.” 

Andrews sued the owners and managing company of the Nashville Marriott, saying they could have prevented the incident. They should have told her that a man requested the hotel room next to hers, the lawsuit argued. Last year, a jury awarded her $55 million and found the hotel to be partially to blame.

If any resort needs a warning badge, it’s the Grand Oasis in Cancun, according to Maureen Webster of Woburn, Mass., and Karen Smith of Bradenton, Fla. 

The two women have been trying for years to caution travelers about staying there. Both of their adult sons drowned six years apart under suspicious circumstances at the resort’s pool.

A young woman drowned there in 2012 as well, and Mexican news reports indicate an employee of the hotel was murdered while working there. Travelers have also told the Journal Sentinel they blacked out after drinking small amounts of alcohol there in recent months.

► A pledge: Mexico says it will act on tainted alcohol at resorts
► New worry: Travelers warned about meth-laced soda in Mexico

Webster and Smith were blocked from reporting their sons’ deaths on TripAdvisor because they weren’t traveling with them. TripAdvisor considered their comments hearsay.

“It’s not hearsay that my son died at this resort,” Smith said. “It’s not hearsay that the resort refused our phone calls and emails and would not help us get any information, whatsoever.”

Representatives of Spain-based Oasis Hotels & Resorts did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. 

Smith was encouraged in early November when she tried again to post on TripAdvisor. She had heard about the company’s new policies and the chief executive’s stated commitment to ensuring information about safety is easily shared.

“Stay away,” she wrote. “My son tragically died while vacationing here. He drowned in waist-high water in the late afternoon after consuming a few drinks at the swim-up bar. … No one from the resort would speak with us.”

She received an email from TripAdvisor the next day: “Your review of Grand Oasis Cancun has been published!”

Success, at last, she thought.

Four days later, the post was deleted.

Hoyt said reviews are meant to be first-hand accounts of travelers’ stays at the various properties.

Those rules have been in place for years, he said. The families can post their comments in the forum section but not as a review tied to a specific hotel.

But the company is striving to improve its policies, Hoyt said.

“We’re always looking to make enhancements,” he said. “There’s not a person who doesn’t feel for these families who lost a child.

► Underplayed: Senator says State Department minimizing Mexico resort risks
► Call for action: Senators demand more of State Department on tainted alcohol

“It’s something we’re grappling with and talking about.” 

Nor has TripAdvisor slapped a badge on Rams Head Tavern. 

Prosecutors alleged the owner, Kyle Muehlhauser, was secretly recording women pulling down their pants and sitting on the toilets in three different bathrooms over three years. Muehlhauser pleaded guilty in 2015 to two counts of visual surveillance with prurient intent. 

When the Allisons initially tried to post information about the restaurant, they were told it violated TripAdvisor’s “family friendly” guidelines. The Allisons edited the post to remove the “Peeping Tom” language.

TripAdvisor then said they were posting in the wrong place. 

A TripAdvisor representative told them to post it instead in a forum for Savage Mill, Md., where the restaurant was located. No such forum existed.

When the Allisons tried again, the TripAdvisor representative said, they were too late. It had been more than a year since they were at the restaurant. 

► Crackdown: Mexican authorities seize illicit alcohol at resorts
► From the experts: Tips for avoiding tainted alcohol in Mexico

Ultimately, the secret videotaping of guests was not the type of information TripAdvisor wanted to publish, the Allisons concluded from email they received in August 2015.

“As I stated before — TripAdvisor is not a news agency. If we were to allow all members to report all crimes, accidents, deaths, or injuries sustained in any destination, it would be impossible for our members to locate information that is actually travel-related and relevant to that destination,” a TripAdvisor staff member and moderator identified only as Jane wrote in an Aug. 26, 2015, email.

Vivek Krishnamurthy, an instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, said most user-review sites have issues with how they are moderated. From inadequate staffing to training and culture, problems persist.

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► Hidden fees: Premature baby held in Mexican hospital until bill was paid

A federal law passed in 1996 called the Communications Decency Act provided a broad shield of immunity to online companies that re-publish content from elsewhere. TripAdvisor is protected under section 230 of the act when reviewers say negative things about hotels and establishments, according to Krishnamurthy.

He believes the “badge” system is a good way of hedging against some of the risk of being held liable for injuries to travelers or to the hotels and restaurants that get bashed by bad reviews.  

“Once you start playing with the content, it becomes trickier,” said Krishnamurthy, also of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. “The more you go down the road of becoming an e-commerce site with reviews, the protections start to look shakier.

“There are lots of unanswered questions here,” he said. “We’re just at the beginning of seeing these kinds of suits emerge.” 

Follow Raquel Rutledge on Twitter: @raquelrutledge

 

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Temporary protected status: Why Haitians are being kicked out

Temporary protected status: Why Haitians are being kicked out

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The Trump administration said Monday it is ending a temporary residency permit program that has allowed almost 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States since a 2010 powerful earthquake shook the Caribbean nation. Time

Almost 60,000 Haitians face removal from the United States because the Trump administration has determined a temporary residency program prompted by the devastating 2010 earthquake is no longer needed.

Haitians living in the U.S. under “temporary protected status” have until July 2019 to gain a different, legal immigration status or leave, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said.

What is temporary protected status?

Temporary protected status is offered to legal U.S. residents and undocumented immigrants when war, natural disaster or other “extraordinary” conditions temporarily make return to their native country unsafe. The foreign nationals can obtain work documents, but the status does not “lead to lawful, permanent resident status.”

Do immigrants from other countries have the status?

Immigrants from 10 nations legally reside in the United States under the designation. Other countries include El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Nepal and Yemen.

Has the Trump administration ended the status for other nations?

Duke announced two weeks ago that the program affecting thousands of Nicaraguans in the U.S. would end in January 2019. The status for Sudan ended in September and goes into effect next year.

More: Trump administration to send Haiti earthquake victims home in 2019

More: Trump administration to end protected immigration status for Nicaraguans

What happened in Haiti that resulted in the status?

The magnitude-7.0 earthquake that rocked the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation in 2010 killed more than 200,000, left hundreds of thousands more Haitians homeless and destroyed most of the tiny island nation’s infrastructure. The Obama administration granted the status, which has continued to be extended.

Why has the status ended for Haiti?

Duke says the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97%. “Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens,” she said in a statement Monday. “Haiti has also demonstrated a commitment to adequately prepare for when the country’s TPS designation is terminated.”

Contributing: Aamer Madhani

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More remains of U.S. soldier found in Niger after widow questioned whether coffin was empty

More remains of U.S. soldier found in Niger after widow questioned whether coffin was empty

Additional remains of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in a firefight with Islamic State-linked militants last month, have been found in Niger, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

A joint U.S.-Africa Command military investigation team discovered the remains Nov. 12 at the site where Johnson’s body was recovered following the Oct. 4 attack in the West African nation, the Pentagon said in a statement. The remains were later confirmed as those of Johnson, 25, a married father of two children.

Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, told ABC shortly after the incident, that officials prevented her from seeing her husband’s body.

“I need to see him, so I will know that is my husband,” she said during the October interview. “They won’t show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband’s body from head to toe and they won’t let me see anything. I don’t know what’s in that box, it could be empty for all I know.” 

Johnson, like many others, has questions about actually happened in Niger. She said she’s suspicious that it took the military 48 hours to find her husband, and doesn’t understand why she was prevented from seeing his body. 

No other details on the discovery of additional remans were released.

President Trump was criticized for his delayed public response to the deaths and for claims that other presidents declined to call families of soldiers killed in action.

Then came a controversy over his call to Johnson’s widow. Trump denied telling Johnson’s widow that her husband knew “what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts.” Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., said she overheard the comment during a conversation over speakerphone Trump had with Myeshia Johnson, who later confirmed the claim.

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The Washington Post reports villagers said U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s body was found with his wrists bound and a wound at the back of his head. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

The Pentagon statement said the investigation continues into the deaths of the four soldiers — Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. Officials said the group was attacked by dozens of extremists armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Johnson was initially declared missing when French helicopters evacuated the bodies of the other soldiers. Nigerian military personnel recovered his body two days later. The soldiers were part of an operation to train local forces to combat the Boko Haram terror group, which has ties to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the troops had not expected to encounter enemy forces. The investigation will try to resolve questions, including whether the troops had adequate weapons and training, he said.

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Bought by a marijuana company, small California town on way to becoming pot mecca

Bought by a marijuana company, small California town on way to becoming pot mecca

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American Green, a cannabis investment firm, has made an offer to buy a small town in the Mojave Desert.

NIPTON, Calif. — A cannabis company’s audacious plan to turn this remote settlement into a marijuana mecca is taking shape.

New signs mark the town’s borders on the one road in. Fresh gravel lies in the parking lot outside the tiny store. And workers are installing a small pond, the first of many envisioned for the site.

American Green, which bought the town and surrounding land for $5 million this summer, has also renovated the small café and has big plans to dramatically expand lodging options, which today consist of scattered RVs, a few canvas tents and a handful of hotel rooms.

The only thing missing right now is the marijuana.

“You guys have the marijuana here?” called out Toby Armstrong, 62, as she pulled up to the Nipton Store recently. “I heard about you on the news.”

Unfortunately for Armstrong, for the next few months there’s no legal recreational marijuana for sale in Nipton or anywhere else in California. People with medical marijuana cards can get pot from a dispensary, but Nipton doesn’t have any of those either.

Armstrong, who had been staying about an hour’s drive away in Las Vegas, drove to Nipton after hearing news reports about American Green’s plans. A retired long-haul truck driver, Armstrong says she hasn’t tried marijuana for decades — truckers are subject to random drug tests — but is curious now that it’s more widely acceptable and her body is broken down from long hours behind the wheel.

Armstrong said she doesn’t trust drug companies and thought maybe a little pot could help her old bones as she drives the country in her conversion van, looking for warm weather and new friends.

“I’m not interested in being stoned for the rest of my life, but I sure could use a little pain relief,” she said.

Smoking a cigarette outside the store, Nipton’s de facto mayor, Jim Eslinger, explained the company’s plans to Armstrong as orange-vested surveyors located underground utilities in preparation for expansion. The town’s population has fluctuated between six and 16 residents, but has risen to 25 as American Green’s purchase brought international attention.

The company wants to create a self-sustaining marijuana mecca where public pot smoking is welcome and entrepreneurs are encouraged, not saddled with regulations by skeptical government officials. Plans call for an outdoor smoking lounge and hookah bar, restaurants and a microbrewery, a “medical academy” and a wellness spa.

Founded in 2009, American Green is one of the few publicly traded cannabis companies in the United States, and sells age-verifying marijuana vending machines and products made solely with non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) extracts, which users say can provide pain relief without getting you high. One of the first Nipton-made products American Green hopes to offer is CBD-infused water from the town’s aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert.

The town is changing almost daily, said Stephen Shearin, who is managing the project for American Green.

“It’s really a combination of modernizing some things, returning other things to the way they were, and bringing in our own touches,” he said.

Shearin said the company hopes to restore postal service and bring in a bank, along with supporting marijuana-related businesses like cultivators and glassblowers, in addition to hosting marijuana stores when they become legal next year.

“This isn’t an 80-ace development of condos. People have been living there for 130 years,” he said “We’re evolving the town into the future.”

Eslinger, an eight-year resident who stumbled upon the area while helping a friend search for a mythical underground river of gold, said he always envisioned retiring to Amsterdam, where he could smoke a little marijuana for pain relief while watching the world go by. Instead, the retired trucker found his place amid the quiet of Nipton.

He said he’s not worried about the changes American Green is making because it fits largely with his own dream.

“Amsterdam was my idea of heaven, and it looks like it might be coming here to me, right in the middle of nowhere, “ he said. “So far, all American Green has done is put a smile on this town’s face.” 

Follow Trevor Hughes on Twitter: @TrevorHughes

 

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JFK files: Controversy surrounding CIA counterspy chief fed assassination conspiracies

JFK files: Controversy surrounding CIA counterspy chief fed assassination conspiracies

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The National Archives released over 2,800 records on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The once-classified records have fascinated researchers and fueled conspiracy theorists for decades. USA TODAY

The CIA delayed responding to requests for information about its longtime counter-espionage chief, James Angleton, as it tried to minimize the disclosure of his activities related to Soviet defectors and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, newly released documents show. 

“Don’t answer his initial request any sooner than necessary,” said a May 31, 1979, internal CIA memo about a Freedom of Information Act request from author David Martin, who is now a CBS News correspondent. “When we do, deny release of any of the information, maintaining it is still classified and involves protection of sources and methods.”

Martin was seeking information about the agency’s handling of Yuri Nosenko, a former KGB agent who defected to the United States in 1964. Angleton and some of his colleagues in the CIA and FBI considered Nosenko a possible double agent.

The CIA memo was one of dozens about Angleton included in the 13,213 files released last week by the National Archives. They show the concerns and frustrations about the work Angleton did during his CIA tenure and the difficulty investigators had in getting access to his files at the agency.

Angleton was the agency’s main conduit of information to the Warren Commission, the seven-member panel appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the assassination. Angleton did not tell the commission about the CIA’s involvement in attempts to overthrow or kill Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro, which factored into later conspiracy theories.

Acknowledged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s life in the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1962, support for Castro and contacts with Cuban and Soviet diplomats in Mexico City dominated the CIA’s interest in Oswald and Angleton’s attention.

Angleton’s treatment of Nosenko, a former KGB agent, dominated many documents in the JFK files. Nosenko told his U.S. intelligence handlers that the KGB had no connection with Oswald, whom Soviet intelligence officials considered unstable.

However, Angleton placed more faith in the words of another defector, Anatoly Golitsyn, who claimed Nosenko was a fake. The CIA interrogated Nosenko for three years in the 1960s, often subjecting him to harsh treatment, before concluding in 1969 that he was legitimate.

“As more and more of the details of his thirty-year-old spy career have emerged, it has become clear that Angleton’s legacy at the CIA was a uniquely disastrous one,” wrote Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination.

Documents revealed last week by the National Archives include:

• A Dec. 18, 1997, letter from the Assassination Records Review Board, the agency responsible for the JFK documents, to the CIA that complained about the agency’s delays in providing information about key files, including the fate of Angleton’s vast records.

 “Because of the perceived controversy surrounding the disposition of Angleton’s files, the Review Board believes it prudent to obtain a clear understanding of the types of files that he maintained and their ultimate disposition,” the letter said.

• Several memos related to the fate of a manuscript of a novel written by Winston Scott, the longtime CIA station chief in Mexico City, where Oswald traveled in September 1963 in an attempt to get visas to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. 

When Scott died, Angleton appeared at his home and took copies of the manuscript, as well as other personal effects, with him. “The manuscript contains some dramatic inaccuracies about Lee Harvey Oswald’s visit to Mexico City,” said an Oct. 6, 1978, memo by CIA official S.D. Breckenridge.

Breckenridge’s memo quotes John Horton, a CIA official who worked with Scott, saying that Scott “had gone to seed” and told war stories about battles he had not fought.

Who is Angleton?

James Jesus Angleton ran the CIA’s counterintelligence division from 1954 to 1975. The son of an American father and a Mexican mother, Angleton went to Yale University and Harvard Law School and served in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, during World War II.

After the CIA’s creation in 1947, he joined the agency and became head of the counterespionage unit in 1954, where he remained until 1975.

A chain-smoking and hard-drinking obsessive, Angleton held great sway inside the CIA for decades, enabled in part by his friendship with Richard Helms, the former head of covert operations and later the CIA director from 1966 to 1973. 

During a Senate investigation led by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, Angleton acknowledged multiple cases in which the CIA violated its charter by conducting operations on U.S. soil, including illegally opening the mail of U.S. citizens.

Angleton also said the CIA asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to conduct surreptitious break-ins into the homes and offices of suspects, so-called “black bag jobs.” 

The arrest and subsequent escape to the Soviet Union of British intelligence operative Kim Philby, a longtime Soviet spy, burned Angleton, who had been one of Philby’s closest friends in U.S. intelligence. He became intensely suspicious of Soviet defectors, believing them plants aimed at planting false information and destabilizing the CIA.

Latest records release

The Angleton documents and others were released under the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which Oct. 26 as the final deadline to release them. Almost 2,900 files were released that day, while some others were kept secret because of requests from the CIA and FBI, which feared their release would compromise national security. 

Last Thursday, 13,213 files were released. Many had been released previously, and the latest batch contained information that had previously been censored.

More: JFK files: CIA started to disavow knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald within hours of killing

More: JFK files: Here are the most interesting records on Kennedy assassination, annotated

More: JFK files: Feds release 2,800 secret records; Trump withholds others due to national security concerns

 

 

 

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Opioid epidemic is tragically personal for public health expert

Opioid epidemic is tragically personal for public health expert

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Deborah Thompson is a legislative liaison for the Iowa Department of Public Health and her husband died last year from a heroin overdose. Rodney White/The Register

DES MOINES — Deborah Thompson is usually the person Iowa legislators rely on for dispassionate facts and figures on public health issues. This week, in a meeting about the danger of opioid addiction, the prominent Iowa Department of Public Health staffer sat at the end of a conference table and offered something deeper.

“Today would have been my seventh wedding anniversary,” she told legislators. “And so I felt compelled to speak to you all about this issue, because I have a unique perspective on it. My husband, Joe Thompson, passed away from an accidental heroin overdose September 2016. He left me and his 1-year-old son, Lincoln.”

The legislators all know Deborah Thompson, who has been a steady presence at the Statehouse for 13 years. She is the health department’s legislative liaison, whose job is to help state leaders understand public health problems and possible solutions.

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Thompson, 35, has attended countless meetings about the national epidemic of addiction to opioids, including pain pills and heroin. After many of those meetings, she would quietly go home and try to help her husband deal with the problem.

Few people at the Statehouse realized how personal the opioid discussions were for Thompson. That changed with her testimony late Monday afternoon.

Thompson addressed a six-member committee of senators and representatives, whose goal is to propose legislation to help prevent opioid abuse and treat addiction. They’re considering options such as requiring doctors to check a registry of previous prescriptions before ordering pain pills for patients. The panel also is looking for ways to expand and improve treatment services.

In her surprise testimony, Deborah Thompson spoke in a calm voice, reading from notes on her smartphone and urging the legislators to really see how addiction can drag down anyone.

She recounted how her husband came from a loving family, starred as an Indianola High School wrestler, earned a Grand View University degree and built a strong marriage. But he suffered lingering pain from a serious car accident in 2004. His longtime doctor “wanted to treat his pain with a fire hose instead of a garden hose — that was the exact quote,” she said.

The doctor didn’t mean to harm his patient, she said. But the heavy doses of pain pills he prescribed sparked her husband’s overwhelming addiction to narcotic drugs.

Deborah Thompson told legislators how her husband “doctor-shopped,” going to multiple clinics to obtain prescriptions. He also used his job at United Parcel Service to steal packages shipped from “pill mill” pharmacies in Florida. When prescription pills weren’t available, he turned to street drugs, including heroin.

At times, Joe Thompson got on top of his addiction for significant stretches of time. His wife said he did well for more than two years on Suboxone, a narcotic medication that can help people stop taking heroin and pain pills without suffering terrible withdrawal symptoms. The Suboxone was provided by UCS Healthcare, a Des Moines agency that practices what is known as “medication assisted treatment,” combining such medicine with counseling. 

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But then Joe Thompson went to another treatment center, where counselors insist on abstinence from all drugs, including Suboxone and methadone, his wife said. The counselors at the new center said being on Suboxone or methadone was just like being on heroin, which Deborah Thompson now thinks is absurd. Without the medication, Joe Thompson’s cravings rekindled, and he was soon using heroin again.

He disappeared after relapsing in September 2016. Deborah Thompson tracked his cellphone to a parking lot near a bike trail on Des Moines’ north side. She and his mother went there and found him in his car. They called for an ambulance, whose crew smashed a car window to get to him. She remembers watching an emergency medical technician feeling for a pulse, then looking at a colleague and shaking his head. 

An autopsy confirmed Joe Thompson overdosed on heroin. The medical examiner told his wife he’d apparently bought a particularly powerful version of the drug that had recently hit Des Moines’ streets. 

“All of the days of Joe’s life, even the worst ones, were worth living,” Thompson told legislators. She recounted how after two previous overdoses, rescuers used an antidote called naloxone to revive him. She noted that skeptics sometimes claim naloxone is a waste of money, because it just postpones addicts’ deaths. In her husband’s case, that’s arguably true, she said. But, she said, “he was able to see his son walk for the first time and talk for the first time. And he attended Lincoln’s first birthday party, where he saw many of his friends and family for the last time. It was a great day.”

Three hundred people showed up for his funeral, she said. “He was loved,” she said. “… People loved him even when he didn’t love himself.”

Deborah Thompson said she hesitated to speak so publicly, because she didn’t want legislators to think her personal tragedy would color her advice on what they should do on the issue. She wasn’t sure she would take the microphone until after the hearing started. But she decided that telling her family’s story could help counter the stigma many people feel toward those struggling with addictions. 

She realizes now that even she and her husband sometimes looked down on other people experiencing what he was going through. Even when he relapsed, she believed he wouldn’t actually die from his drug use. “I just thought it was going to be different with us. I just never, never expected that to be how our story ended,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “I just didn’t feel like that’s how it was supposed to go.”

In contrast, Thompson recalled how sympathetic people were when her mother showed odd behaviors after she developed a brain tumor several years ago. Everyone understood the symptoms were caused by a physical problem in the brain. Addiction should be seen the same way, she said.

“I know it’s a disease, because I know Joe would have never chosen to leave Lincoln and I,” she told legislators Monday. “He loved the life he had with us. It’s a disease. It’s not a choice.”

After she was done speaking, legislators applauded her courage and vowed to take action. Rep. Charles Isenhart, D-Dubuque, noted many other Iowa families share Thompson’s experience with addiction, but often keep it quiet. “I think people would be surprised by how many people in this building have been touched by this, including legislators,” he said.

Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, who is one of the panel’s leaders, has pledged not to back down in attempts to strengthen Iowa’s opioid laws. After the hearing, he walked over to Thompson, took her hand and thanked her for having the courage to testify so personally. “You’re something else,” he said. 

Follow Tony Leys on Twitter: @tonyleys

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‘It’s basically a powder keg right now’: University of Florida braces for Richard Spencer speech

‘It’s basically a powder keg right now’: University of Florida braces for Richard Spencer speech

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White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak Thursday in Florida, his first speech since the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the clock ticked closer to white nationalist Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida, the campus was on edge amid concerns over potential violence between supporters and counterprotesters.

Students and faculty expressed fear and worry about Spencer’s Thursday appearance and the increased security presence.

“The students are scared, especially our students who are from minority communities,” said Vincent Adejumo, a lecturer in African-American studies. “Many of them have already left town. Parents have great concern.

“It’s basically a powder keg right now.”

Sophomore Rachel Guttman said her Jewish sorority advised its members against wearing their letters on Thursday. “Honestly, everyone’s kind of scared right now and we don’t know what to expect,” she said.

But there were signs of a unifying response and a desire to rebut hate speech and racism.

Painted sheets hang from the facades of fraternities and sororities at the University of Florida repeating “Love not hate #TogetherUF.”

Ahead of the speech, No Nazi UF hosted a teach-in Tuesday night with students, faculty and staff discussing the ideology Spencer espouses and the campus response to it.

Across the street from the 2,000-acre university, Florida Highway Patrol vehicles clogged the parking lot of the Hilton UF Conference Center Hotel and dozens of officers worked to secure the area.

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In August, Spencer helped organize a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where Heather Heyer was killed by a car driven into demonstrators protesting the rally.

 

UF, the state’s second-largest university with more than 52,000 students, initially denied Spencer’s request to speak here in September, but in a letter to the UF community, president Kent Fuchs said the First Amendment required the university to allow the event.

The National Policy Institute, which Spencer runs, paid $10,564 to rent the 1,700-seat Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. No UF organization invited Spencer, the university said.

UF said it and law enforcement agencies will spend more than $500,000 on security for the event. At the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday.

Barricades went up Tuesday along the road to the Phillips Center, in the southwestern part of campus. The city will close part of 34th Street, the main road along the western edge of UF, and restrict traffic in the area around the center.

The security presence prompted a mixed response.

“It’s comforting to know that they’re there,” sophomore Tyler Kaplan. “If something were to happen, we’re the most prepared.”

Added freshman Sabrina Faks, “If anything, it’s kind of scary that they had to hire $500,000 worth of more security.”

The combination of the police presence and the state of emergency “gives off the feeling that something major is going to happen,” Adejumo said.

Fuchs has advised students to ignore the event while encouraging them to challenge Spencer’s “message of hate and racism.”

But that message is particularly harmful for certain groups on campus, Adejumo said.

“Many of these students, they’ve never seen anything like this ever,” Adejumo said. “So to say to just ignore it, you can’t just ignore it. I think that’s the wrong signal and message that the university is signaling to the students. Many of the students are from subjugated groups and you can’t just ignore the oppression that you’re feeling.”

Kaplan said his Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, has sent in a national representative “to watch over us” and that the fraternity asked university police for extra security.

In a letter he wrote to the community earlier this month, Fuchs encouraged members of the UF community to speak up for the values of the university.

“Make it clear that messages of hate on our campus are contrary to those values,” he said.

In addition to signs hung from fraternities and sororities, the #TogetherUF campaign is distributing “Gators Not Haters” T-shirts.

The Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center planned a “good deed marathon” for Thursday.

No Nazi UF started a change.org petition that had more than 3,500 supporters Wednesday morning calling for UF to prevent Spencer from speaking, and it has encouraged the peaceful protest of Spencer’s speech.

Florida does not plan to cancel classes on Thursday, though some buildings around the Phillips Center will be closed. Some students such as Guttman are still deciding whether they’ll leave campus before Spencer’s speech.

“I don’t feel unsafe,” Guttman said. “I just feel unsure of what could happen with an event like this.”

Follow Rachel Axon on Twitter: @RachelAxon

 

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Las Vegas shooting: Amid chaos ‘we had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys’

Las Vegas shooting: Amid chaos ‘we had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys’

LAS VEGAS — On any other day, during any other emergency, Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen would tell bystanders to remain calm, stick around and let investigators do their jobs.

Oct. 1, 2017, was not that day.

Klassen arrived at the Route 91 Harvest music festival minutes after a hailstorm of bullets leveled dozens in the crowd of more than 20,000 people. Many were dying or already dead. And the rest, Klassen understood immediately, needed to get out.

“I was not telling everybody, ‘Stay here, help’s on the way,’” Klassen said in a Thursday interview. “I was saying, ‘Get the hell out of here. Go! If you can run, if you can carry, if you can get out, go.’”

Las Vegas shooting: Click here for complete USA TODAY NETWORK coverage

First responders from Clark County Fire spoke publicly Thursday to recount their roles in the most deadly mass shooting in modern American history. While many said they leaned on their professional training, they also spoke of swift improvisation — by themselves and others — in a moment of bedlam.

Belts became tourniquets, folding tables became stretchers, and trucks became ambulances.

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Firefighters from the Clark County Fire Department talk about the chaos and moments of heroism they experienced while responding to the mass shooting on Las Vegas Boulevard. USA TODAY

“There wasn’t a whole lot of direction out there,” Klassen said. “It was just people being good people.”

Assistant Fire Chief Troy Tuke was on his way to be a hospital liaison that night when his marked vehicle was flagged down by people in a pickup truck. Two in the truck bed had been shot, so Tuke offered to be their escort to get the patients to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Klassen said he was mobbed by concertgoers as soon as he drove up to the scene in his fire department vehicle. They banged on the hood of his car and begged for transport for their friend, their wife, their brother.

“I did not know when I was going over there what I was going to run into, which was Armageddon,” he said. “It was just running, screaming, crying, bleeding, carrying, shouting, corpses, panic.”

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Klassen knew he couldn’t transport anyone in his vehicle but told them he had a first-aid kit in the back.

“I’ll pop my back lid, grab what you need, do what you need to do,” he said.

Klassen’s role that evening was that of a director. He took over the east division of the venue, coordinating which areas, and people needed the most immediate ambulance and EMS services.

But he also went off-script and assumed a leadership role with non-employees. So many concert attendees from across the country approached him. They said, “I’m from New York. … I’m from California. … I’m a fireman. … I’m an EMT. … What can I do? How can I help?”

“To the point, it was like, ‘Just go find somebody that needs help and help them,’” Klassen said. “’Just go be nice to somebody. Help somebody who needs your help.’”

They did. Everywhere he looked, Klassen watched fellow citizens rescue one another. Six men shouldered a folding table they’d made into a makeshift stretcher. Others uprooted barricades to carry their patients. Klassen witnessed no fewer than three pickup trucks leaving the scene with CPR in progress in the truck’s bed.

To his knowledge, Klassen said, these people weren’t first responders. They were, as Klassen put it, “normal people.”

“But they were good normal people,” he said. “I saw the most amazing acts of beauty and just powerful things out there that night.”

Clark County Fire Department Chief Greg Cassell addressed reporters Thursday morning and underscored the preparations his and other local fire departments had undergone to train for such a scenario.

For years, its personnel worked as part of a fusion center with local law enforcement. They ran drills in schools, malls, hotels and hospitals — enclosed spaces where mass shootings have historically occurred. But they never planned on the type of open-air, scattered scenario they faced Sunday night.

The victims fled to airport property, hotels and streets sometimes several blocks away, their accounts and locations confusing 911 operators as to whether a shooter struck elsewhere.

Still, Cassell said, fire and ambulance teams applied their training and equipment accordingly. More than 200 patients were transported to area hospitals by fire and EMS crews, he said.

He lauded the department’s partnership with police in an incident command system — an operation that designates one or two people in charge to limit confusion.

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“This unified incident command saved lives,” Cassell said. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the fact that we were standing toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, with police officers to integrate our response was critical.”

Travis Haldeman, a fire engineer for Clark County Fire Department, was off-duty that night, attending the country festival with his wife, Haley, and friends.

Like everyone, the couple thought the initial burst of gunfire had been firecrackers. The gravity of the situation registered by the second round.

The two hopped over a metal barrier that was about 10 feet away to try and take cover. It was then that they decided to separate: Haley Haldeman would run to the nearby Tropicana resort, and Travis Haldeman would stay back to help the wounded.

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A motion graphic explaining how the events unfolded when Stephen Paddock opened fire from his hotel room on concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Ramon Padilla, Janet Loehrke George Petras, Jim Sergent USA TODAY

But the gunfire started again as soon as the two separated, so Haley Haldeman ducked for the nearest shelter in view — a small stage set up in the middle of the venue for a camera. She and an Anaheim firefighter and his wife would soon make a break for it, at last making it into the employee entrance of the Tropicana.

Meanwhile, Travis Haldeman went back over the barrier and assessed the carnage. Several people were already dead; others were pouring blood.

A man shot in the leg caught Haldeman’s eye. Someone had given the man a T-shirt to soak the blood, but it failed to control the bleeding. So Haldeman removed his belt, cinched it around the man’s leg, threw him on his back and took off toward the medical tent.

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As he ran, Haldeman said, about three bullets skipped across the pavement no more than 10 feet ahead of him.

Haldeman dropped off the injured man at the medical tent and went back for two hurt women who had caught his eye. One had been shot in the hip and couldn’t walk, the other in the shoulder. He carried the one with the hip injury back to the medical tent, while the other held onto his shirt.

Back at the medical tent, he and others went to work. They started IVs, bandaged up wounds, tightened tourniquets.

“We kind of all had our own few patients we were tending to,” he said.

One of his patients was an 18-year-old woman who had been shot in the lower back and was having trouble moving her legs. Travis tried to keep her calm and under control when, out of nowhere, her father appeared.

Her father was an off-duty metro officer who had come to assist the injured. He had no idea one would be his daughter, Haldeman said.

“It really speaks to how … big a city Las Vegas is, but really it’s just such a small community,” he said. “What are the odds of her father showing up in that medical team?”

The off-duty officer left for but a moment and reappeared carrying a backboard. The men loaded his daughter in the back of a pickup truck, and Haldeman sat by her side all the way to the hospital.

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While there, Haldeman rediscovered the man shot in the leg whom he helped get to safety. He then took the effort to help the man reach his family.

Other first responders’ had difficulty doing what they aimed to do.

Interstate 15 shut down while Tuke was trying to escort the truck carrying several gunshot victims to the hospital. When they turned a corner to reroute, the caravan got stuck in traffic. One of the patients died en route to the hospital.

Tuke said he had to leave the patients in the care of law enforcement and return to the chaos.

“Which is tough,” he said. “[But] there was really nothing to do for her.”

Still, the first responders interviewed said they were proud to be of some help that horrific night and proud to be part of the Las Vegas community.

“We had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys,” Klassen said. “That’s pretty good odds. I’ll take those odds.”

Follow Megan Cassidy on Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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Las Vegas survivors have been through hell. And it’s not over.

Las Vegas survivors have been through hell. And it’s not over.

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From their hospital beds, survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting describe being shot, heroes, and fighting to survive. USA TODAY

Now is about the time you’ve got Las Vegas fatigue. For the sake of your sanity, you turn your attention to other things, lighter things.

Now is about the time survivors of that attack are beginning to feel the shock subside and an onslaught of emotions — anguish, grief, guilt  — take over.

“There’s national recognition and solidarity around these big events, (but) that sense of attention and care and compassion seems to fade with the next news cycle,” said Seth Gillihan, a psychologist and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder researcher. “The country pretty quickly returns to its baseline.”

But survivors can’t return to their baseline. Those who escaped the bullets can go home, and the injured will leave the hospital, but they can’t go back to the lives they had.

“The world they knew before it happened is profoundly changed,” Gillihan said. “They’re probably going to have a different way of seeing the world, they may have a different way of seeing themselves, they may be critical of themselves for how they reacted during the event.”

Las Vegas survivors have been thrust onto a new trajectory, one that will feel worse before it gets better. They are joining an unfortunate fellowship of those who’ve endured trauma — but one that can at least provide guidance down this too well-trodden path.

This is how it starts

I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” said Megan O’Donnell Clements, a 33-year-old mom who ran when Stephen Paddock’s gunfire rang out Sunday.

I am just numb right now,” said Justin Zimmerman, who hit the ground.

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Survivor of the mass shooting at Las Vegas, Heather Melton, of Tennessee, is crediting her husband for her survival. Her 29-year-old husband, Sonny, ultimately died of his injuries after shielding his wife from the barrage of bullets. (Oct. 4) AP

If you’ve watched interviews with the Las Vegas survivors, you might be amazed by their poise, but those who’ve dealt with trauma personally or professionally say this is what the initial aftershock looks like: numbness. 

“If I’m being quite frank, the shock part was probably the easiest,” said Brandon Wolf, who survived the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 in Orlando in June 2016. “I was almost machine-like in preparing for the funerals, in talking to the media and politicians. The despair hadn’t set in yet.”

People react this way because they’ve experienced “more than the nervous system can process at once,” Gillihan said.

“Most people who’ve gone through something this horrifying will have symptoms that look like PTSD initially. It’s only when they continue to linger that a diagnosis would be given,” Gillihan said.

Though rates of PTSD vary depending on the trauma, Gillihan said he would expect a “high percentage” to experience it in this case. 

“Survivors of sexual assault, for example, the majority will develop PTSD, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case for this as well,” Gillihan said.

While a mass shooting is obviously different from sexual assault or a natural disaster or combat, “we have one stress system and so it responds to different things in common ways,” Gillihan said. Part of the reason he would expect high rates has to do with the “interpersonal” nature of this attack.

“It’s something that was so unpredictable, senseless and intentional … when it’s done by a person, not a natural event, it adds another layer of trauma.”

This is how it persists

Whether or not a trauma survivor is diagnosed with PTSD, they may share a number of these feelings and experiences after the fact:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being easily startled
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks or replaying the memory on a loop
  • Survivor’s guilt (“I thought maybe if I hadn’t asked my friends along, they might still be there,” Wolf said.)
  • Strong emotions: Fear, anxiety, anger, sadness
  • Not trusting the world, feeling unsafe and hyper vigilant

“I was really, really confident as a person before June 12. I didn’t struggle with crowded spaces, I was always the life of the party,” Wolf said.

Now, that is lost. “I immediately look for an exit when I’m in a crowded room. I get a tight chest if I’m in a space I can’t find a way out of. Sometimes I’m more afraid to sleep than I am to be awake because the things I dream about are really scary,” he said. “And you don’t know what to do. You seek therapy, you talk to people about it, but it’s like you’re trapped in your own mind.”

Knowing this, experiencing this, Wolf said, is why his “heart breaks” for the Las Vegas survivors. Just as he described a number of situations that “set him off,” Vegas survivors may experience similar triggers, Gillihan said, including:

  • Large crowds (Avoiding crowds is “almost a universal response” after trauma, Gillihan said.)
  • Concerts
  • News reports on violence or disasters (“It’s not tragedy porn anymore, it’s too painful,” Wolf said.)
  • Loud noises, such as a car backfiring
  • Gun shots on TV shows and movies

But survivors won’t need a trigger to have the memory.

“Part of the haunting quality of PTSD is that these memories live with us,” Gillihan said. “The memory can come up uninvited without any obvious triggers and these memories will just run through as your mind tries to process and make sense of them.”

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This is how it heals

On April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman lost the lower portion of his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. In the years since, he has learned to compartmentalize.

“Sometimes I have nightmares and wake up to explosions, but it hasn’t been like that for a while,” Bauman told USA TODAY last year. “I want to show people you can overcome a tragedy.”

Even people with severe PTSD see dramatic improvement with treatment, Gillihan said. “No one has to suffer forever.”

However, survivors should know there’s a “process to what’s unfolding” and it doesn’t move in a straight line, psychologists say.

“How they’re feeling now won’t be how they always feel … it will change over time. It’s not static the way we respond to these things,” Gillihan said. “We can get frustrated with ourselves: ‘I should’ve moved on, there must be something wrong with me.’ But it’s important to give ourselves space, treat ourselves gently.”

That necessary space can be encroached upon, both psychologists and survivors note, when people who didn’t experience the tragedy have imagined deadlines of when someone should be “over it.”

“There’s a lot of things they say when you go through something like this — ‘life gets better,’ ‘you’re so lucky to be here’ … but the one I probably hate the most is ‘if you need anything, I’m here.’ The reason I don’t like that particular phrase is it’s not accurate,” Wolf said. “I was that person. But it never fails that life moves on, we go back to work, we go back to living our lives, the news covers something else and we stop checking in on those people … but that’s when they need it the most.”

Wolf believes the “time limit” outsiders place on healing focuses on the physical, when “it’s so much harder to deal with the haunting insomnia, the nightmares, the mood swings.” He recalled attending the GLAAD awards after Pulse with a friend who had been visibly injured in the attack.

“This woman walked up to me and said, ‘You have no idea how lucky you are to be standing next to such strength.’ And I turned and I saw my friend with his crutches and his boot. And she said, ‘That is a hero right there.'” Later that night, Wolf went back to his hotel room and cried. “Will she still see him as a hero once that boot is off but he cries himself to sleep at night? … People don’t know what it means to survive.”

But Wolf did find help through a mental health specialist and finding a good “coping mechanism” — in his case, activism and outreach.

“The thing that made me feel most at peace is finding my community … they are the ones who understood me,” Wolf said. “And they are the ones who made me survive.”

And Wolf has a message for Las Vegas survivors:

“You are not alone. As much as you’re going to want to feel alone and as easy at it will be to isolate yourself and wonder why not you — you’re not alone. And the only way it’s going to get better … is if you’re not ashamed to ask for help.” 

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An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Here is an explanation of the definition and the symptoms of PTSD. USA TODAY

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