Nation & World News

7 Weeks Before World Cup, Rio Is Rocked By Riot

By Mark Memmott on April 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

“A Rio de Janeiro slum erupted in violence late Tuesday following the killing of a popular local figure, with angry residents setting fires and showering homemade explosives and glass bottles onto a busy avenue in the city’s main tourist zone,” The Associated Press writes.

CNN says that “residents from the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela took to the streets of Copacabana after a young male dancer was found dead, state-run Agencia Brasil said. The residents told Brazilian media they blame the police for the death, accusing authorities of mistaking the dancer for a criminal.”

The protests led to at least one other fatality. According to the BBC, “a man was shot dead during the violence on Tuesday night.”

The violence came just seven weeks before the start of soccer’s World Cup, which is being staged in Brazil. The clashes with police were also just a few hundred yards from the venue where Olympic swimming events are due to be held in 2016.

As NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has reported, in advance of those high-profile competitions authorities have been concerned about security and the possibility of protests during the events.

Last November, she noted, gangs of youths swarmed Rio’s tourist beaches, committing mass robberies. “Add to that the possibility of massive protests by an angry public that has had to finance the hugely expensive construction of the stadiums and you have a litany of woes that isn’t showing Brazil in its best light,” she said on All Things Considered.

The AP reminds us that:

“Police began an ambitious security program in 2008 to drive the gangs from such slums and for the first time set up permanent posts. It is part of Rio’s overall security push ahead of the World Cup that begins this June and the Olympics the city will host.

“So far, 37 such ‘police pacification units’ have been created covering an area with a population of 1.5 million people.

“But there have been repeated complaints of heavy-handed police tactics that have ended in the deaths of residents, and that is what set off the latest clashes, residents said. More than two-dozen police face charges from a high-profile case in a different shantytown, when investigators said a local man died while being tortured by police.”

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Government Will Try To Persuade Sherpas To Stay On Everest

By Mark Memmott on April 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

The news from high up the world’s tallest mountain continues to be confusing, with some reports implying that a boycott by Sherpas means there will be no climbs to the summit this year and others indicating that there will still be attempts to reach the top.

Based on what we can glean from various news accounts, it appears that some expeditions have indeed canceled their climbs. But it also seems that at least some of the estimated 400 Sherpas on the mountain may be willing to continue on — meaning there will be summit attempts in coming weeks.

Whether there will or won’t be any expeditions to the summit this year became an issue Friday when an avalanche buried 16 Sherpas who were working to set up ropes and make other preparations for the expeditions that employ them. Thirteen bodies were recovered. The other three Sherpas are missing and presumed dead.

It was the deadliest day ever recorded on Everest.

Other Sherpas began discussing a boycott, both out of respect for those who were killed and to press for better insurance, larger payments to the families of those who were killed and other demands. The Nepalese government agreed to some of the requests, but many of the Sherpas are said to be unhappy with the response.

Here’s some of what’s being reported about the likelihood of expeditions this year:

– “Nepal’s government decided on Wednesday to send a delegation of officials to the base camp of Mount Everest to cool anger among Sherpas over its response to last week’s deadly ice avalanche in which at least 13 guides were killed,” and another three Sherpas remain missing and are presumed dead. (Reuters)

– “Sherpa guides packed up their tents and left Mount Everest’s base camp Wednesday in an unprecedented walkout to honor 16 of their colleagues who were killed last week in the deadliest avalanche ever recorded on the mountain, climbers said. … American climber Ed Marzec, 67, said by phone from the base camp that Sherpas were loading their equipment onto a helicopter that had landed at the camp. … But he said some smaller companies were hoping to go ahead with their climbs, and it was not clear whether all of the approximately 400 Sherpas on the mountain would join the boycott.” (The Associated Press)

– “The [Nepalese] government today decided to send a high-level team, led by a senior official, to the Everest base camp as soon as possible to convince the protesting Sherpas to resume the suspended climbing activities. Notwithstanding the government announcement to meet their demands regarding welfare and relief in the wake of fatal avalanche in the Mount Everest, the mountaineering support staff and guides are still divided over whether to resume the halted expeditions.” (The Himalayan Times)

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Death Toll Rises, Hopes Fade At Site Of Korean Ferry Disaster

By Mark Memmott on April 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

The already slim hope that anyone might still be alive aboard the South Korean ferry that sunk a week ago was all but extinguished Wednesday with the news that divers have found no air pockets in key areas of the ship.

That word came as the number of bodies recovered from the Sewol edged above 150. As of midafternoon Wednesday in South Korea, “152 people had been confirmed dead while 150 others remained missing,” Yonhap News reports. The water where the ship went down just off the southern coast of South Korea is said to be about 160 feet deep.

More than 320 of the estimated 476 people who were on board when the ferry capsized and sank were students from a high school in Ansan, near Seoul, who were traveling to a resort island. Most of the 300 or so people who likely died were teenagers. Officials have said that 174 people were rescued before the ferry flipped over.

According to CNN:

“Divers have found no air pockets on the third and fourth floors of the sunken ferry Sewol, South Korean authorities said Wednesday. … Searchers had been focusing on the third and fourth levels of the five-floor vessel, as they believed many of those still missing were likely to be there. Most passenger bedrooms are on the fourth level of the now upended ship.”

Yonhap News adds that “divers successfully entered a third-deck cafeteria, where most of the students are believed to have been located at the time of the accident …. but did not find anyone, officials said.”

In related news, “authorities have arrested four more crew members from the ferry” the BBC writes. “Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry’s crew survived and prosecutors say the 11 arrested were on the bridge when the ship listed and sank within two hours of distress signals being sent.” It’s been reported that the captain initially told passengers to remain in their cabins or below decks, and didn’t issue an order to evacuate for at least 30 minutes.

Also, police “raided offices of the operator of [the] sunken ferry, its affiliates and a related organization Wednesday as part of a widening probe into the cause of the disaster,” Yonhap News says. “Investigators of the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office raided Cheonghaejin Marine Co, the Sewol’s operator based in the coastal city, just west of Seoul, as well as some 20 offices of its affiliates and a religious group in Seoul believed to be related to the owner family.”

“The focus of the probe will be to see if the owner’s family has accumulated huge wealth by embezzling corporate funds while failing to fulfill its duty of properly managing the companies,” a prosecutor told Yonhap. “Tracing their hidden assets is also needed to pay damages to the victims and their families.”

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Book News: Gabriel García Márquez Left An Unpublished Manuscript

By Annalisa Quinn on April 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Gabriel García Márquez left behind an unpublished manuscript when he died last week at age 87, Cristobal Pera, editorial director of Penguin Random House Mexico, told The Associated Press. Pera added that García Marquez’s family has not yet decided whether to publish it. Meanwhile, the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia published an extract of the work, tentatively titled We’ll See Each Other in August (En agosto nos vemos). In the excerpt, a middle-aged woman named Ana Magdalena Bach has a fling during her annual trip to a tropical island to put flowers on her mother’s grave. She stays at a hotel overlooking a lagoon full of herons. Ana, though she’s married, meets a man at the hotel and begins an affair with him. The excerpt has a strong sense of place — García Márquez’s descriptions are lush with flowers and tropical life – and a ripple of eroticism travels through it, from the touch of perfume Ana puts behind her ear at the beginning of the chapter to the thunderstorm during her encounter with the man from the hotel.
  • David Foster Wallace’s estate and his former publisher have come out in opposition to the making of the forthcoming film The End of the Tour, which is based on Wallace’s conversations with journalist David Lipsky. In a press release, the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust wrote, “This motion picture is loosely based on transcripts from an interview David consented to eighteen years ago for a magazine article about the publication of his novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’ That article was never published and David would never have agreed that those saved transcripts could later be repurposed as the basis of a movie.” It added that “there is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.” Wallace committed suicide in 2008.
  • The Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world, will be awarded to Mexican author Elena Poniatowska on Wednesday in Spain. Previously won by Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz and Gabriel García Márquez among others, the prize is worth 125,000 euros (about $173,000).
  • A previously unpublished story by Shirley Jackson, the writer best known for her story “The Lottery,” is printed in The New Yorker. “The Man in the Woods” is a short, sinister story about a man named Christopher who walks through dark woods to find an isolated house surrounded by trees, “the forest only barely held back by the stone wall, edging as close to it as possible, pushing, as Christopher had felt since the day before, crowding up and embracing the little stone house in horrid possession.”
  • Comedian Megan Amram has a book deal for Science…For Her!, which she calls “a fun, flirty, Cosmopolitan-like textbook that is tailored to you, ladies.” On her website, Amram describes the book as “a science textbook written by a lady (me) for other ladies (you, the Spice Girls, etc.),” and adds that “it has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history: female brains aren’t biologically constructed to understand scientific concepts, and tiny female hands aren’t constructed to turn most textbooks’ large, extra-heavy covers.” Amram’s book may be a parody, but it’s not that all that far from reality: A 2013 book titled Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape combines math tips with advice on “how to attract guys,” and uses handbag shapes to explain quadrilaterals.
  • “You have no legs and your name is alliterative.” “A coachman treats you saucily.” “You are either ruddy, stout, or flint-eyed.” The Toast has some tips for telling whether you are in a Charles Dickens novel. (Full disclosure, I’ve written previously for The Toast.)
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Stowaway Teen May Have Been Trying To Reunite With His Mom

By Mark Memmott on April 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 12:01 pm

The latest word about the teenager who survived a ride Sunday from California to Hawaii in the frigid wheel well of a jet is that he may have hoped to eventually get to Somalia to be with his mother.

Because he’s a juvenile, authorities and news outlets have not named the teen. But Hawaii News Now reports that:

“Family members of the 15-year-old stowaway did not want to talk to news reporters outside their Santa Clara [Calif.] home, but Maui police sources say the boy ran away and was trying to get to Africa. He ended up on a Hawaiian Airlines jet because it was the closest plane to the fence he scaled. He also told police he got confused by the writing on the plane.”

The boy reportedly lived in California with his father and stepmother. His age was originally being reported as 16, but news accounts and authorities have now settled on 15.

According to NBC Bay Area:

“The teen’s former English teacher at [San Jose's] Oak Grove High, Keith Chung, [said] he did not know much about the teen, other than that he had moved to the U.S. from Africa three years ago and that his father was a cab driver.

“Chung said the boy had some recent run-ins in his English-learning class. Those issues, on which Chung did not elaborate, had culminated in a transfer to Santa Clara High. …

“Student Emanuael Golla, 18, told NBC Bay Area that the teen had just transferred to Santa Clara High about five weeks ago. Golla described him as very quiet, someone who kept to himself.”

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News reports that the director of the Mineta San Jose International Airport has “called the unusual security breach involving a teen stowaway who sneaked onto the airfield a ‘very serious’ incident that could spark changes in how the airport protects its passengers.”

There is video evidence, The Associated Press says, indicating the teen scaled a fence and got onto the airport’s tarmac about seven hours before the Hawaiian Airlines flight took off. The wire service adds that:

“While it’s not clear how the teen spent all that time, FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen was sleeping in the plane before the 8 a.m. PDT takeoff. He ‘literally just slept on the plane overnight,’ Simon said.”

The young man was still in Hawaii on Wednesday, according to news reports. Authorities have said they do not plan to charge him with any crime. The AP notes that “Hawaii’s Department of Human Services has said child welfare officials were arranging his safe return to Northern California.”

The wire service also writes that:

“The FAA says about one-quarter of the 105 stowaways who have sneaked aboard flights worldwide since 1947 have survived. Some wheel-well stowaways survived deadly cold and a lack of oxygen because their breathing, heart rate and brain activity slow down.”

We explored that part of the story on Monday in this post: You Can Survive A Flight In A Jet’s Wheel Well, But Probably Won’t.

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‘Object Of Interest’ Found In Search For Malaysian Jet

By Mark Memmott on April 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

After 6 1/2 weeks of false leads and conflicting information about what may have happened to the jet and the 239 people on board, Wednesday’s headlines about the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 need to be viewed with considerable caution:

– ” ‘Object of interest’ found on Western Australian coast.” (CNN.com)

– “MH370 search: Debris washed up on WA coast to be investigated.” (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Even CNN, which continues to report every bit of news about the missing plane, is approaching this latest development with some wariness:

“Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan described the object as appearing to be sheet metal with rivets.

” ‘It’s sufficiently interesting for us to take a look at the photographs,’ he said.

“But Dolan also added strong words of caution: ‘The more we look at it, the less excited we get.’ ”

The Australian government, meanwhile, is circumspect:

“Western Australia Police have attended a report of material washed ashore 10 kilometres east of Augusta and have secured the material.

“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is examining the photographs of the material to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370.

“The ATSB has also provided the photographs to the Malaysian investigation team.

“No further information is available at this time.”

Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. No “Identifiable Writing”:

“The Officer-in-Charge at the Busselton Police Station said an object in their possession, which washed up on a beach at Scott River near Augusta, was eight feet tall, half a metre wide [1.6 feet] and was an alloy type of metal,” Australia’s Busselton-Dunsborough Mail reports. “Senior Sergeant Steve Principe said the person who found the object initially held on to it for a day or two before taking it to the Busselton Regional Airport for inspection. The object was subsequently passed on to the Busselton police who took possession of it on Wednesday. Snr. Sgt. Principe also said the object did not have any identifiable writing on it.”

Augusta is about 200 miles south of Perth.

Resuming our original post, as we’ve said before:

The jet was about one hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early morning hours of March 8 (local time) when it was last heard from. Flight 370 was headed north over the Gulf of Thailand as it approached Vietnamese airspace.

Investigators believe the plane turned west, flew back over the Malay Peninsula, then out over the Indian Ocean before turning south toward Australia. They’re basing those conclusions largely on data collected by a satellite system that received some information from the aircraft. The critical question — why did it turn? — remains unanswered.

Poor weather grounded the aerial search for the jet today. But 12 ships continued the search in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Australia.

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Obama Tours Mudslide Devastation, Pledges Solidarity With Families

By Scott Neuman on April 22nd, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

President Obama, aboard Marine One, took an aerial tour of devastation caused by a massive mudslide a month ago that left at least 41 people dead near the town of Oso, Wash.

The president, who made a stop in the state on his way to Japan for the start of a four-stop visit to Asia, witnessed toppled trees, mud and debris from the March 22 landslide.

“We’re going to be strong right alongside you,” Obama promised the people of Oso on Tuesday.

Later, at a community church in Oso, Obama promised to stick with the families whose lives were devastated when the rain-soaked hillside gave way.

“The whole country’s thinking about you, and we’re going to make sure that we’re there every step of the way as we go through the grieving, the mourning, the recovery,” he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked Obama to declare a major disaster in the state, making it eligible for federal financial aid, including help covering the costs of temporary housing, home repairs and the loss of uninsured property, The Associated Press says.

NPR’s Martin Kaste, reporting from the disaster scene, says the site still resembles a muddy bombing range.

“The great mounds of dirt and broken trees are dwarfed by the 600-foot-tall failed hillside where they came from,” he reports on Morning Edition. “You see wheels sticking out of the mud, in random spots, detached from their cars. There’s a house that looks like it’s been through a trash compactor; National Guardsmen gingerly climb over it, probing the gaps with sticks.”

Kaste says the stretch of Highway 530 that was inundated by mud and debris will take months to clear, and maybe longer to rebuild, according to the state Department of Transportation.

“Alongside the usual yellow ribbons for the slide’s victims, you’re starting to see protest signs, calling for speedier action,” Kaste says.

As The New York Times points out:

“Anger festers about what might have been done better to warn residents, or protect the community from the slide, which killed 41 people and left two still missing. And fear haunts the voices of many people just miles from the impact zone, who now look up at the steep Cascade mountains with different eyes.”

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U.S. Says It’s Monitoring For Possible North Korea Nuclear Test

By Scott Neuman on April 22nd, 2014 | Last updated: April 22, 2014 at 7:02 pm

The United States is urging North Korea to refrain from a new nuclear test amid indications of “heightened activity” at Pyongyang’s Punggye-ri test site.

“We have certainly seen the press reports … regarding possible increased activity in North Korea’s nuclear test site,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We are closely monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula.”

Reuters says:

“South Korean news reports quoted the South Korean government as saying on Tuesday that heightened activity had been detected at North Korea’s underground nuclear test site, indicating possible preparations for another atomic test.

“The reports come just before U.S. President Barack Obama is due in Japan and South Korea, where he will discuss ways to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Obama is due in Tokyo on Wednesday and in Seoul on Friday.”

On 38North.org, a blog that monitors North Korea, analyst Jack Liu writes:

“In the six-week period from early March 2014 until April 19, imagery shows an increase in activities at the Main Support Area. This area was used to manage operations and handle personnel and equipment during preparations at the West Portal area for the February 2013 nuclear detonation …

“Recent press speculation has focused on the possibility of a nuclear detonation during US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Seoul on April 24-25. That may be possible but appears unlikely based on the limited commercial satellite imagery available and observations of past North Korean nuclear tests.”

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Soldier Speaks Up A Decade After Pat Tillman’s Friendly-Fire Death

By Scott Neuman on April 22nd, 2014 | Last updated: April 22, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Ten years after the friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan that killed U.S. Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman, one of the soldiers who mistakenly pulled the trigger says he’s still haunted by demons from the night of April 22, 2004.

Steven Elliott tells NPR’s All Things Considered that on the night of the incident, he could see only “shadowy figures” and had every reason to believe that when his squad leader, Sgt. Greg Baker, opened fire on what turned out to be Tillman’s position, there were no “friendlies” in the area.

“We’d all been firing our weapons at various positions, up to that point, effectively enemy positions,” Elliot tells host Melissa Block. “The sun had been set for roughly 20 minutes, so the lighting conditions were poor to say the least.”

Elliott, an ex-Army Ranger who carried an M240 Bravo machine gunner and was in his first-ever firefight on the night Tillman was killed, spoke publicly for the first time to ESPN recently. By way of background, ESPN writes:

“The events leading up to one of the most infamous friendly-fire deaths in U.S. military history were rife for second-guessing from the start: After an Army Humvee broke down in the mountains, Tillman’s platoon was ordered divided by superiors so that the Humvee could be removed; a local truck driver was hired as the hauler. But the two groups struggled to communicate with each other as they traversed the steep terrain. And the second group soon became caught in a deafening ambush, receiving fire as it maneuvered down a narrow, rocky canyon trail.

“Tillman’s group, which had traveled ahead, scaled a ridgeline to provide assistance to fellow Rangers under attack. But a squad leader, Sgt. Greg Baker, in Elliott’s armored vehicle misidentified an allied Afghan soldier positioned next to Tillman as the enemy and opened fire, killing the Afghan and prompting Elliott and two other Rangers to fire upon what Elliott called shadowy images, later learned to have been Tillman and then-19-year-old Bryan O’Neal.”

Forensic experts have determined that rounds from Elliott’s weapon were probably not the ones that killed Tillman. But that doesn’t change anything, he tells NPR.

He says that on the evening of the incident, he saw his squad leader engage Tillman’s position and followed suit.

“I remember thinking for just a second or two, but what felt like longer — your perception of time in the midst of a firefight can be distorted — that if he’d fired, and without any other information to indicate a friendly position, that I should also fire,” he says.

Tillman’s family was initially told that their son was killed by enemy fire. It was not until more than a month later that they learned the actual details of his death.

Among those who were kept in the dark were Spc. Tillman’s own brother, Kevin, a fellow Ranger in Elliott’s platoon.

Elliott says he and others were instructed by their unit leaders “not to discuss [the incident] with folks outside the unit, and that was mainly because it was still under investigation.

“I was operating on a certain level of naiveté, I believe,” he says. “[I thought] senior leaders were trying to protect the family, and I had no idea they were being deceived at any point.”

Elliott says he felt “very conflicted” about not talking to Kevin Tillman about the tragedy.

“I always felt like I didn’t know what to say to Kevin,” Elliott says. “It felt like something that you just wanted to avoid, and it grieves me to no end that I didn’t make the effort at that time.”

To this day, Elliott, who has struggled with alcoholism, PTSD and divorce, all of which he traces to the friendly-fire episode, says he has never communicated directly with the Tillman family.

“I always felt very conflicted about that,” he tells NPR. “I knew that they were very, just hurt beyond belief … [both in] losing Pat but then in the grief and the confusion of the deception.”

He says he hopes one day to talk to them.

In the meantime, he and his wife reconciled and remarried in 2010. And he’s talked with others who have been in friendly-fire incidents, mostly soldiers who served in Vietnam.

“In some of those conversations, I felt like I was looking in a mirror,” he says, choking up. “I saw the 1,000-yard stare in their eyes, and just the unresolved emptiness and hurt that that brings.”

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45 People Were Shot In Chicago Over The Weekend

By Mark Memmott on April 22nd, 2014 | Last updated: April 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

There are more data to add to Chicago’s well-documented problem with gun violence.

Headlines such as this from the Chicago Sun-Times — “In violent weekend, at least 8 dead, 37 wounded in shootings across Chicago” — set us off in search of news reports after previous weekends.

There’s a rather grim trend. Shootings are on the rise:

– “At least 36 people have been shot, four of them killed … in Chicago violence since Friday.” (NBC Chicago on April 14)

– “27 People Shot In Chicago This Weekend, Including 16-Year-Old In Front Of His Church.” (The Huffington Post’s Black Voices blog, on April 7)

As our colleagues at WBEZ have reported, Chicago’s lawmakers have toughened the city’s gun laws.

But The Daily Beast notes that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says that while his officers have seized 1,500 illegal guns so far this year, “it’s like running on a hamster wheel. … We’re drinking from a fire hose, seizing these guns, and people are back out on the street.”

Part of the explanation for the weekly increase in weekend shootings, authorities say, is the shift from winter to spring that apparently brings out the worst in some people.

Many of the shootings are gang-related, police say. According to the Chicago Tribune, among this past weekend’s incidents was one in which:

“Five children, ranging in age from 11 to 15, were shot by someone who fired from a car shortly after 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the 6600 block of South Michigan Avenue in the Park Manor neighborhood on the South Side, police said.

“The children had been playing at a park near an elementary school and were walking home when a car pulled up and someone asked if they were in a particular gang, family members and police said.

“One relative said they had said they were not in the gang; another said shots rang out before they could answer. The gunman hit four girls and a boy.”

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