7 Dead in Texas Shooting Spree

 

 

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A gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others on Saturday in the city of Odessa in western Texas.  Police have identified the gunman as 36-year-old Seth Ator and say he went on the rampage just hours after he was fired from his trucking job. Police say the massacre began after an officer pulled Ator over for failing to use a turn signal. He then reportedly opened fire using an AR-15-style weapon before speeding away. Soon after, he began shooting randomly at residents and motorists as he drove between the cities of Odessa and Midland.

During a press conference the day after the shooting, FBI special agent Christopher Combs identified the shooter and gave more details into the timeline of the shooting.  Combs said that Ator showed up to work enraged and was then fired from his job at Journey Oilfield Services.  Police say the firing led to both him and his employer calling the cops on each other because they were having a disagreement over the firing.  By the time police arrived to calm down the situation, the soon-to-be mass killer was gone.  Combs said 15 minutes later, Ator made a second call to the FBI national tip line.  “It was frankly rambling statements about some of the atrocities he felt he had gone through. He did not make a threat during that phone call. He ended that phone call. After that phone call, we initiated all of our law enforcement procedures trying to figure out who he was, where he was. Unfortunately, it was only 15 minutes before the trooper was engaged.”

The shooting spree began on Aug. 31st at 3:17 p.m. during a traffic stop on Interstate 20, where a Texas state trooper was shot while attempting to stop a Honda over a failure to signal a left turn.  Ator continued into Odessa, Texas, and shot another person on the Interstate.  In Odessa, he abandoned the Honda, hijacked a United States Postal Service truck, killing the postal worker and continued to drive and shoot people before police cornered him in a movie theater parking lot.  Ator was killed in the shootout with police in the parking lot of a Cinergy movie theater.  Ator killed seven people, ranging in age from 15 to 57.  Twenty-two others were hospitalized for injuries.  Among the injured are three police: a Texas state trooper, a Midland police officer, and an Odessa police officer. The youngest victim is a wounded 17-month-old child who is expected to recover.

The shooting spree lasted roughly an hour, with the gunmen shooting people at random as they walked through their front yards, walked through parking lots and went about their day.  Police say the gunmen drove in no particular pattern, doubling back from Odessa to Midland, spraying people with bullets as he drove.  During the frenzied hour, dispatchers and officers guided EMT to a growing number of locations as the calls kept coming in.  Ator’s vehicle switch only added to the confusion as the police in both communities scrambling to head to the scene of each call in hopes of stopping the shooter.  At one point during the chaos, officers believed they had two shooters due to the vehicle switch and multiple locations and officers requested that the Midland area be shut down immediately.

On September 1, the FBI said it was executing a search warrant at the suspect’s house, located about 20 minutes west of Odessa. Authorities say Ator lived alone, except for a small dog, in western Ector County in a metal shack that lacked electricity, plumbing, a floor and even furniture.  Police say in January 2014, Ator failed a national criminal background check when he tried to purchase a gun.  The system flagged him as ineligible because of a prior local court determination that he was mentally unfit.  According to law enforcement officials, Ator subsequently bought the gun used in the shooting via a private sale, without having to go through a background check.

A neighbor said that well before his killing spree he had yelled at her while carrying a big rifle. She also said he sometimes shot animals from his roof, about which she had complained to police, but they never responded to her complaint.  Police never visited Ator’s home because they couldn’t find the property on GPS maps.  Another neighbor said that her family had lived near Ator for the past five months and were afraid of him, due to his nighttime rabbit shooting and banging on their door early one morning.

All seven victims from the shooting have now been identified: 29-year-old Mary Granados, the postal worker who was killed when the gunman hijacked her postal truck; 57-year-old Rodolfo Arco was shot on his way home from work; 30-year-old Kameron brown was an army vet who served in Afghanistan; 40-year-old Joe Griffith, a resident in Odessa; 25-year-old Edwin Peregrino, a graduate of Perryton High School; 35-year-old Raul Garcia of El Paso and 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez who was shot outside of a car dealership.

 

 

 

 

 

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34 Dead in California Diving Boat Fire

 

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The U.S. Coast Guard has recovered all but one body after a commercial diving boat named the Conception, caught fire in the early hours of Monday morning off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in Southern California. The only survivors were five crew members of the 75-foot vessel who were sleeping on or above deck.  All 33 passengers and one crew member sleeping below deck at the time of the fire were killed in horrific disaster.  Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

The boat and company, Truth Aquatics Inc., are well-known in the tight-knit Southern California diving community, which is now reeling from the horrific maritime tragedy that killed teenagers, families, veteran divers, and one crew member, who were wrapping up a three-day scuba diving trip.  Divers were inspecting the ship’s wreckage with plans to raise it from the ocean floor, but that process may be complicated by forecast high winds in the coming days.

The surviving crew members told a harrowing story of their frantic attempts to save the passengers trapped below deck in a bunk room already engulfed in flames.  One member of the crew told of hearing a noise from his bunk on the wheelhouse deck of the Conception and that when he opened the door of the wheelhouse, he saw flames erupting from the galley area but never heard smoke alarms.  He told investigators he tried to get down a ladder but flames had engulfed the ladder.

Scrambling, the other crew members jumped from the bridge of the boat to the main deck. One person broke their leg doing so. They then rushed to the galley’s double doors to try and reach the passengers below, but the fire was already too intense.

At around 3:15 a.m., the captain made a frantic mayday call to authorities, telling them that the boat was engulfed, 33 people couldn’t escape, and “there’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board.”  At that point, due to heat, flames, and smoke, the crew had to jump from the boat.  Two crew members swam to the back of the Conception to get the inflatable skiff, then collected the others and made it to a nearby fishing boat, the Grape Escape.

Shirley Hansen, owner of the Grape Escape, said that she and her husband awoke at 3:30 a.m. to “horrific pounding” and a group of distraught, wet men, some injured and just in their underwear.  Once on the Hansen’s boat, the men tried to call 911 for rescue and two crew members then took the dinghy boat back to the Conception to try and rescue any survivors but there were none.  The Hansen’s said you could hear explosions from the engulfed diving boat every couple of minutes.

Officials have been looking at the dive boat’s maintenance and inspection records, which the Coast Guard said were up to date, and trying to understand if the 34 victims who had been sleeping in rows of narrow bunks even had a chance to escape.  Officials are using advanced DNA technology to identify the victims.  None of the names of the dead, who ranged in age from 17 to 60, have been publicly released by authorities but friends and family have confirmed who was on the boat.  Among the victims were a family of five, a teacher and his daughter, and a diving instructor and marine biologist.

 

5th Death Linked to Vaping

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Five deaths in the US have been linked to vaping as health officials continue to grapple with the dangers of e-cigarette use and the exact cause of the deaths.  All five died after developing a severe lung illness that is believed to be linked to vaping.  The exact cause of the deaths and the dangers of vaping still remain unclear but are being investigated on both the federal and state level.

More than 450 possible cases of respiratory illnesses have been reported in 33 states after use of e-cigarette products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The average age of those with the illness is 19, which is not surprising considering of the almost 10 million vapers in the US, nearly half of those are under 35, with 18-24-year-olds the most regular users.

Those who have suffered from the lung illness reported experiencing coughing, chest pain or shortness of breath before their health deteriorated to the point of respiratory failure and they needed to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory failure is where your body either can’t break down oxygen, produce carbon dioxide, or both. The result is that your lungs stop working and breathing becomes difficult.  Other reported symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Many victims have ended up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents the oxygen people’s bodies need to function from circulating in the bloodstream.

Those affected used a number of different devices from vaporizers to smaller e-cigarettes and a variety of different brands of liquids and cartridges.  Health officials recently said many cases involved products that contained THC, the mind-altering substance in marijuana.  The FDA has now collected over 120 samples to test for different chemicals, including nicotine, cannabinoids, additives and pesticides.

They also recently identified a common contaminant in some of the cannabis products used by patients across the country — an oil derived from vitamin E.  It remains unclear whether this is the cause or one of the causes of the illnesses.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement that advised against using electronic cigarettes while it investigates the issue.   The agency also said people should stop buying vaporizers, cartridges and liquids off the street or modifying vaping products bought legally.

New York Health officials have focusing their investigation on Vitamin E acetate after they found high levels of it in nearly all of the cannabis-containing vapes tested.  At least one vape containing both cannabis and vitamin E has been linked to every patient who submitted products for testing, the New York health department said.  Vitamin E isn’t known to be harmful if ingested as a vitamin supplement, but it could be dangerous if inhaled because of its “oil-like” properties. It has not been approved as an additive for New York’s medical marijuana program.

Federal health officials are warning that vitamin E is likely only one piece of the puzzle. The CDC is running its own tests on more than 100 samples for vitamin E, pesticides, opioids, poisons and other toxins.  “No one substance or compound, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all the samples tested,” Zeller said. “The samples we’re continuing to evaluate show a mix of results.”

Authorities In 3 States Make Arrests After Threats of Mass Shootings

 

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Authorities in three states say they made arrests that prevented three mass shootings.  In the wake of the latest mass shootings in California and Texas, authorities are on high alert to any potential threats of violence and have been diligently investigating any reports of potential shooters.  The arrests have been made after authorities received tips, prompting investigations and ultimately, the arrests of three men in Connecticut, Florida and Ohio.

In Connecticut, 22-year-old Brandon Wagshol was arrested after authorities said he had expressed interest in committing a mass shooting on Facebook, according to a statement from the FBI and the Norwalk Police Department.  He faces four charges of illegal possession of large capacity magazines and is being held on a $250,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court September 6.  According to the statement, authorities received a tip that Wagshol was trying to buy large capacity rifle magazines from out of state.  As the FBI and the Norwalk Police Department were investigating the tip, they discovered Wagshol was trying to build his own rifle and had allegedly posted on Facebook about his interest in committing a mass shooting, the statement said.

Authorities executed a search warrant at his home and found multiple weapons, including a handgun, a rifle and rifle scope with a laser, numerous rounds of ammunition, body armor, a ballistic helmet and other tactical gear.  Police say some of the weapons were registered to Wagshol’s father but he had access to them.

In Daytona Beach, FL, Tristan Scott Wix, 25, was arrested after his ex-girlfriend alerted authorities that he sent her a series of disturbing texts in which he allegedly threatened to commit a mass shooting, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.   In the messages, Wix said he wanted to open fire on a large crowd of people.  One message allegedly read “A good 100 kills would be nice.”  According to the sheriff’s office, Wix already had a location in mind, “A school is a weak target.. I’d be more likely to open fire on a large crowd of people from over 3 miles away.. I’d wanna break a world record for longest confirmed kill ever,” another message read, according to the sheriff’s office.  Wix wrote that he wanted to die and “have fun doing it,” authorities said.  Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood said they had recovered a .22-caliber hunting rifle and 400 rounds of ammo in Wix’s apartment. Wix had initially told investigators he did not own any firearms but that he was fascinated with mass shootings, the sheriff’s office said.  Wix was being held without bond Sunday at the Volusia County Branch Jail.

In Ohio, 20-year-old James Patrick Reardon was arrested for allegedly threatening to carry out a shooting at a Youngstown Jewish community center.  An Instagram account belonging to Reardon shared a video that showed a man firing a gun.  The post — which was shown to an officer out on an unrelated call — tagged the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown.  It’s unclear whether the man shooting the gun was Reardon or someone else.  A search warrant was executed and authorities found a cache of weapons and ammunition.  Reardon was arrested without incident and booked into the Mahoning County Jail on one count of telecommunications harassment and one count of aggravated menacing.

Facebook Paid Contractors To Transcribe User’s Messages

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Facebook has been added to the list of tech firms who’ve paused their audio transcriptions over privacy concerns.  Earlier this year, it was revealed that Amazon, Apple and Google similarly hired thousands of workers to listen to users’ recorded audio.  Amazon saw received backlash for allowing contractors to manually review Alexa recordings without express user permission, forcing the company to add an opt-out to its Echo devices. Google also faced heat for allowing human review of audio data, along with Apple, which used contractors to listen to seemingly private Siri recordings. Microsoft also listened to some Skype calls made through the company’s app translation feature.

In a statement, Facebook said the practice was aimed at improving its artificial intelligence transcription service, but that the company had “paused human review of audio more than a week ago in the wake of worries about other companies’ transcription policies.”  The data was anonymized and came solely from people who’d volunteered for transcriptions, Facebook added.

Facebook’s data privacy policy doesn’t make clear that human beings might monitor content.  According to its support page, if even one person in your chat has consented to Facebook transcribing the conversation, any audio in the thread would have been translated, regardless of who sent it.  Nowhere in their terms of service does it indicate that humans would be reviewing the audio.

The social media giant reportedly paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe audio clips shared by users in private messages. News outlets report that the practice rattled the contract workers, who were often subjected to vulgar and intrusive recordings and were not told whose conversations they were transcribing or why.  Contractors from TaskUs reportedly weren’t told where the audio came from or why they were transcribing it. That led some of the workers to believe their work was “unethical,” especially when some of the conversations included vulgar material.  The company added that the audio snippets were anonymized before being listened to by the workers.

Facebook users concerned with privacy violations should opt out of this feature.  According to Facebook’s instructions: Click the Messenger app button, open a conversation and tap the name on top. Once you’re in the “Chat Details” menu, tap “Automatic Voice to Text” on or off for this chat only.

Last month, the U.S. government issued an unprecedented fine against Facebook as part of a settlement that requires the tech giant to pay $5 billion and submit to significant federal oversight of its business practices.  That decision came after a year of massive privacy mishaps, charging that the company deceived its users and “undermined” choices they made to protect their data

Sixteen months after opening its investigation, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that Facebook had repeatedly misled its 2.2 billion users. The agency argued that the social-networking company was not upfront about the ways app developers, advertisers and others gained access to users’ personal data — from the content they “liked” to the phone numbers they stored — in a breach of Facebook’s previous promise to improve its privacy protections online.

 

 

Investigation Launched After Epstein Suicide

 

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Federal investigators are probing the death of 66-year-old accused serial sex abuser and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein after he was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell of an apparent suicide by hanging around 6:30 AM.  Epstein’s death came less than 24 hours after hundreds of pages of court documents were unsealed with testimonies from former employees and new details of sexual abuse committed by Epstein, which also implicated a number of well-known politicians and others in the public eye.  Epstein was facing sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which carried jail sentences of up to 45 years.

Others implicated include former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor; Prince Andrew; and “a well-known Prime Minister.”  Many have denied the allegations.  Prosecutors say he lured dozens of underage girls into giving him erotic massages and engaging in other sexual acts in the early 2000s at his mansions in New York City and Palm Beach, Fla.  The girls were paid hundreds of dollars in cash for the encounters and, once recruited, were asked to return to his homes several times, where they were abused again, the indictment against him said.

Epstein was reportedly unsupervised in his cell despite being put on suicide watch on July 23rd after he was found unconscious with marks on his neck.  Six days later, prison officials determined he was no longer a threat to himself and returned him to a cell in a special housing unit known as 9 South.  He was supposed to have been housed with a cellmate and to have been monitored every half-hour by the two guards who patrolled the wing.

The night before he was found dead, however, he had been left alone after his cellmate was transferred. The two employees assigned to guard him had not checked on him for about three hours before he was discovered.  The two prison guards were suspended and a warden temporarily reassigned from MCC amid widespread reports that 30-minute checks, required within Epstein’s unit, were not carried out properly.  Officials said the employees, who have been placed on leave, were sleeping for some or all of that time.  One guard was working a fifth straight day of overtime shifts, it was reported, while another was forced to work mandatory overtime that night.

Guards at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center had been forced to work overtime to make up for the staffing shortages, according to the union representing the prison guards.  Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals said in a statement that a hiring freeze has left thousands of staff vacancies across the Bureau of Prisons, creating “dangerous conditions” for both staff and inmates.  The remaining officers are regularly forced to work 70- and 80-hour work weeks, Mr. Young said.

The Department of Justice has launched an investigation into how Epstein was able to die in New York’s highly secure Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).  Attorney General William Barr said officials have uncovered “serious irregularities” at the jail, which has housed other high-profile detainees such as Mexican drug baron El Chapo and fraudster Bernie Madoff.  Barr has also promised that Epstein will continue to be investigated in order to bring to justice any other possible conspirators.

Two Missing BC Teens Considered Murder Suspect

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Two British Columbia teenagers previously considered to be missing are now suspects in the murder of a young couple and the death of an unidentified man in northern B.C.  Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, were last spotted in northern Saskatchewan and police believe they are the run.  McLeod is described as 6’4”, approximately 169 pounds, with dark brown hair and facial hair and brown eyes.  Schmegelsky is described as 6’4”, approximately 169 pounds, with sandy brown hair.   The police issued a warning to the public not to approach McLeod and Schmegelsky, saying they are considered dangerous.

Police initially investigated the disappearance of McLeod and Schmegelsky as missing cases. But they say there’s now evidence to consider them suspects in the three murders.  Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, a young couple on a 3 week road trip through Canada to Alaska were found shot dead on the side of a road in a remote section of the Alaska Highway.  Police believe they were killed sometime between July 14 and July 15.

Deese’s brother said that the couple met while his sister was working at a hostel in Croatia. He called their relationship “the most perfect love story.”  He said Deese and Fowler were both experienced travelers and took precautions while visiting other countries.  “For something like that to happen, it must have really been something because these are two people that have traveled around the world and were not, were not people to get caught off guard.”

Just days later, the burned-out truck belonging to the two teens was found on Highway 37 near Dease Lake in northern B.C. The body of an unknown man was found nearby.   Police released a sketch of the unidentified deceased man in the hopes the public would be able to help identify him.  He’s been described as between the age of 50 and 60 with a heavy build, grey hair, and a beard. The man would have been between 5’8” and 5’10” tall.

Another burned-out vehicle was found abandoned near Bird. It was not clear if this vehicle was linked to McLeod and Schmegelsky in any way but police believe the two may be switching out vehicles.  Port Alberni’s Mayor says the small town where the teens’ are from has been greatly impacted by the developing situation.  “We are a small community, and whether you know the boys or the community, everyone is connected in one way or another,” Mayor Sharie Minions.  “It’s definitely challenging, it has far reaching impacts for sure.”

McLeod and Schmegelsky are described as lifelong friends who were former employees at a local Walmart.  They were believed to be traveling while looking for work but had dropped out of contact for several days before the first bodies were found.  The police named them as suspects in the murders during a press conference but did not release any additional information about McLeod or Schmegelsky, citing the ongoing nature of the investigations.

Former RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter German said McLeod and Schmegelsky’s fast progression from missing persons to suspects shows the impressive speed of the ongoing investigation.  “I don’t think anyone would have expected this turn of events but I think that says something that the police are ahead of the game on this one.”  The former commissioner said investigators would have reasonable suspicion and enough evidence to publically name the teens as suspects.  “They’ve obviously got forensics or witness identification of some sort that point to these two individuals. That’s not to assume guilt at all,” he said.