WUFT News

‘The Hunt’ Suspect Megan Everett Captured In Florida

By on August 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: August 3, 2015 at 4:53 pm

By Catherine E. Shoichet

Megan Elizabeth Everett, 23, was arrested by law enforcement officials in Palatka for kidnapping her 3-year-old daughter, Lilly Abigail Baumann. Courtesy of CNN

(CNN) — Megan Everett, a Florida mom who’s accused of kidnapping her daughter, is behind bars, a day after CNN’s “The Hunt with John Walsh” told her story.

A landlady who saw the show Sunday night called in a tip when she recognized the mother and daughter were tenants in a rental property she owns south of Palatka, Florida, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said.

That led deputies to the home, where they spotted the mother and daughter inside.

Putnam County Sheriff’s deputies and special agents from the FBI arrested the 23-year-old mother. She’s been booked into the Putnam County Jail on charges of kidnapping, interference with custody and concealing a minor contrary to court order. She’ll be extradited to Broward County, Florida, where there’s a warrant for her arrest, the FBI said.

Everett’s daughter, 3-year-old Lilly Abigail Baumann, was recovered unharmed and is in protective custody, authorities said.

Everett’s arrest comes more than a year after she left behind a note at the home of her boyfriend, telling him she’d fled with her daughter: “Dear C, If I let them take her and vaccinate her and brainwash her, I wouldn’t be doing what’s right. I cannot let a judge tell me how my daughter should be raised. We will miss you, but I had to leave. I know she will be safer and happier with my family and I. Love, Meg and Lilly.”

The girl’s father, Robert Baumann, told CNN he’d been searching for his daughter ever since, and was worried about what would happen if his daughter needed medical assistance.

“I think if something was to happen to my daughter, I don’t think Megan’s going to go and seek medical attention,” he said. “I don’t think she’s going to do anything to help the child.”

“I want my daughter to be found,” he said. “I want my daughter to be safe.”

CNN’s Sean Redlitz, Rebecca Kutler and Shimon Prokupecz contributed to this report.

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August 3, 2015: News In 90

By on August 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: August 3, 2015 at 3:38 pm


Ryan Roberts produced this update.

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Physics Bus Rolls Into Gainesville To Spark Creativity and Science

By on August 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: August 3, 2015 at 2:18 pm
Physics Bus Gainesville has hosted events around the area to connect people with science. “It supports our mission to make science accessible to everyone and to bridge the gap,” said Medina.

Physics Bus Gainesville hosts events around the area to connect people with science. “It supports our mission to make science accessible to everyone and to bridge the gap,” said Amber Medina, co-director of education for Physics Bus Gainesville.  Jessica Pereda / WUFT

The big blue bus rolling through the backroads of North Central Florida isn’t just transporting students.

It’s changing lives with science.

On one side of the bus’ interior, energy races up the length of two contacting wires making a Jacob’s Ladder.  On the other, a tube made of plastic contains a tornado. And if the sun is just right, a plastic TV screen can heat the sidewalk enough to bake cookies on it.

Physics Bus Gainesville rolled into town this spring to pique interest in physics. The non-profit organization targets children of all ages, but adults are also encouraged to partake in experiments. Hair dryers, microwaves and old projector TVs became instruments to teach onlookers about the basic theories of physics.

Co-director of the Physics Bus, 23-year-old Amber Medina, said the main job of the bus is to engage and spark creativity in whomever steps onto the bright blue bus.

“Our mission is to support sustainability, creativity, community and science,” Medina said. “Science is not just like, five dudes in a room with a lab coat, you know, staring at a beaker.”

Alachua County had a 49 percent passing rate last year in science for students in the 8th grade, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Jamie Aulton, a teacher at W. A. Metcalfe Elementary School, invited the Physics Bus to the school to perform science demonstrations to the students in June.

“I get really excited because with science in public schools. There’s not enough hands-on resources,” she said.

Medina said Physic Bus’ first attempt to branch out was in the Hawthorne area, but hopefully the bus will soon be able to go around smaller towns in North Central Florida, like High Springs and Waldo.

“There’s not a lot of money for museums in these small towns, so that what we’re here for,” Medina said, “It supports our mission to make science accessible to everyone and to bridge the gap.”

During the Physics Bus pop-up event in downtown Gainesville earlier this summer, co-director Chris Discenza, a Ph.D.  student at the University of Florida, used a plastic tube and a stereo to show how sound waves can make plastic beads dance.

The homemade materials are designed to be relatable and easy to understand so that a professor, student or even a child can teach others, Discenza said.

“I feel like a kid learning stuff from another kid is gonna be a bit better than me explaining and using big words, which I try not to do,” he said.

“Physics is this really scary word that people associate with equations and letters they’ve never seen,” Medina said, “They don’t really know the technical words they need to use to describe things.”

Erik Herman, Chris Discenza and Kip Perkins founded the organization in 2003 after helping with science demonstrations while they attended the University of Arizona.

Herman said the group recognized how science could be intimidating and tried to find a way to remedy that.

“We kind of needed a play area to kind of express ourselves using physics in a fun and creative way,” he said.

An Indiegogo campaign allowed Herman to raise more than $6,000 to buy two buses. One stayed in Ithaca, New York, and one was brought to Gainesville when he heard his co-founder, Discenza, was attending UF.

Medina joined shortly afterward as co-director of the Gainesville initiative.

Discenza recognized how Gainesville and surrounding areas would benefit from another science resource in the area.

One of Physics Bus’ missions is to inspire curiosity in the community. But it’s struggling to fuel the bus when its only source of income is what the two directors put into the project out of their own pockets.

The non-profit is waiting on a grant from the American Physical Society  for $9,000. But the grant won’t take them a long way, Medina said.

The directors hope to continue with their mission regardless of the financial outlook.

“We just want to get kids to build things and spark some creativity when they walk on the bus,” Medina said.

 

They have plans to connect with robotics clubs in public schools and tour surrounding rural areas where science is less readily available, according to Medina. The first step toward this is building awareness.

Chase Floyd, 12, played with the blender bike and the old tv screen that works as a lens at the pop-up event in downtown Gainesville. The first-time visitor to the Physics Bus said he was excited to try out the exhibits and see how they worked.

“I don’t know, I think it’s really cool,” he said.

Floyd runs his finger over the plasma globe to control the forks of crackling energy inside the glass sphere. He calls his brother, Joseph Floyd, 10, to try out the device.

“The value is in the everyday. It’s seeing something greater than what’s in front of you,” Medina said. “(The children) just instantly know there is more to the world than what is right in front of your face.”

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Flooding Forces Dixie County Residents From Homes

By on August 2nd, 2015 | Last updated: August 4, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Steinhatchee and Cross City are two communities known for their appeal to water enthusiasts all over the state, but on Saturday it was too much of a good thing.

In less than 24 hours, seven inches of rain accumulated in Cross City and 10 to 12 inches were reported to have fallen in far western sections of Dixie County. As of Sunday afternoon, Dixie County emergency crews have already rescued seven people from the flood waters near Cross City, including an entire family from their home.

A shelter has been set up at Trail Rider’s Club in Cross City for people forced to leave their homes.

Emergency Management Division Chief Scott Garner says 45 homes have been flooded and 30 to 35 roads are impassable.

“Our roads and grounds have been saturated for the past month of constant rain, and this was just a large amount of water that we couldn’t handle,” Garner added.

Three different types of flooding have occurred or are ongoing in Dixie and Taylor Counties. The most serious is flash flooding, where rapid rises in water from nearby creeks and streams can flood roads and homes with little warning.

The National Weather Service in Tallahassee warned residents Saturday evening that intense rainfall rates could submerge cars and homes, and that’s just what many woke up to by Sunday morning.

“An inland flooding event such as this is really a ‘no notice’ event. We’re responding to it like a tropical storm,” Garner said. “We haven’t had this issue in the past with non-tropical systems.”

The runoff from all of this water is also likely to cause significant flooding along the Steinhatchee River, with the National Weather Service predicting a crest more than three feet above flood stage on Monday.

At this level, numerous homes in the Ancient Oaks and Cooey Island neighborhoods will be flooded and many roads impassable.  Minor flooding could also occur along the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers in the coming days, especially if additional heavy rain falls.

The third type of flooding that has been advised to watch out for is coastal flooding. A strong wind over the shallow waters of the northeast Gulf of Mexico has resulted in a sea level rise of up to two feet above normal, which could cause minor flooding at times of high tide along the Nature Coast until this weather disturbance dissipates or moves away.

Meteorologist Jeff Huffman says a stalled front and weak area of low pressure is to blame for the flooding, and that something like this can happen anywhere in the state.

“It doesn’t have to be a tropical storm or hurricane to cause this type of flooding. Residents of Pasco County got it last weekend, and until this front moves away, the risk of flooding could continue across parts of the state.”

Katie Moore, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, says there may be some good news in the forecast over the coming days.

“We’re expecting the current rain to subside this evening, and it should be drier for a couple of days after that. However, going into next weekend, another frontal system coming in from the northwest could stall out, resulting in a similar situation to what we’re dealing with today.”

The UF Weather Team and WUFT News will continue monitoring the situation along Florida’s Nature Coast and provide updates on WUFT-FM and WRUF-TV. If you see flooding and can safely report it, please use #WeatherTogether on social media or email it to news@wuft.org.

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New iPhone App Aims To Prevent Big Cat Abuse

By on August 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 31, 2015 at 4:06 pm

As she tries to settle into her new sanctuary, Nikita’s amber-colored eyes still show the history of abuse the 14-year-old African lioness has endured throughout her life.

Scars cover her elbows from years of being chained to a concrete floor. She was originally rescued during a drug bust at a crack house. Big Cat Rescue, one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world, nursed her back to health with years of therapy and care.

Tiger Selfie, a newly launched iPhone application, is attempting to educate people about the abuse big cats like Nikita suffer at the expense of entertainment. The app enables users to insert images of different types of tigers into their personal photographs. The pictures can immediately be shared via email, Twitter and Instagram.

Wildlife activists believe tiger selfies encourage people to take-in cubs at a young age, and they grow up to be neglected, mistreated and abandoned.

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, believes Tiger Selfie will help the nonprofit disseminate their mission statement.  

“Our mission is to end the trade in big cats, and the number one reason there are so many big cats being abused in horrible ways is because people will pay to have their picture taken with a cub,” Baskin said. “So if we can stop that, we can stop 99 percent of the abuse.”

Studies of two roadside zoos, Tiger Safari and Natural Bridge Zoo, revealed tiger cubs exploited for photographic opportunities were treated inhumanely, according to The Humane Society. The mistreatment includes underfeeding, physical discipline and over handling.

There are other exhibitions within the entertainment industry that mistreat and profit off of tiger cubs, according to a report found on Big Cat’s website.

Screenshot of Tiger Selfie app.

Screenshot of Tiger Selfie app.

Another case showed 90 tigers were found dead and dozens more starved and barely alive after being left behind by a cub handling exhibitor who operated a breeding facility in California, according to the report.

“Now you don’t have to be rich enough to fly to Thailand to get your photo with a drugged tiger,” according to the app. “You don’t have to be stupid enough to jump into a cage with a tiger. And you don’t have to know a crazy recluse who lives in a cabin with lots of explosives and happens to have a tiger.”

Screenshot of Tiger Selfie app.

Chris Wilson, who created Tiger Selfie, said the app’s purpose is to discourage people from paying to get their picture taken with live tiger cubs. He hopes it will stop those who own cubs from breeding and keeping them in unhealthy conditions.

A loophole in Florida’s ban on Class I wildlife, classified by their ability to harm humans, allows individuals with a USDA license to keep exotic animals, Baskin said. Licenses can be obtained by completing an application and paying a $40 fee.

Big Cat Rescue has proposed a bill designed to end the private possession of big cats since 2011. They plan to reintroduce the bill in 2015 with Republican and Democratic sponsors. The proposed bill would allow people who possess Class I wild animals to keep them until they die of natural causes, but cannot buy or breed more.

“None of the exotic cats in private possession serve any conservation purpose,” according to the Big Cat Rescue.  “In fact, the legal trade in these animals in the U.S. provides a smokescreen for illegal poaching and trade.”

Big Cats In The Entertainment Industry

Big cats used for photo opportunities are usually severely drugged and kept in unhealthy conditions while the entertainment industry tells visitors they are trained to be docile, according to one green planet.

“Don’t support it,” said Susan Bass, director of public relations for Big Cat Rescue. “You’re giving them more money to breed more cats.”

Bass said the cats are often discarded as backyard animals, put on the illegal black market or used to breed more cats for pictures.

Bengali, a male Bengal tiger, walks towards the gate of his enclosure as he waits to be transported to another location in the sanctuary. When he originally arrived at Big Cat Rescue shortly after retiring from being used as a circus act, they were told he could kill someone because he was so confrontational. He is said to be much happier now because of his improved surroundings.

Bengali, a male Bengal tiger, walks towards the gate of his enclosure as he waits to be transported to another location in the sanctuary. When he originally arrived at Big Cat Rescue shortly after retiring from being used as a circus act, they were told he could kill someone because he was so confrontational. He is said to be much happier now because of his improved surroundings. Komal Junejo / WUFT

“There are some people out there who don’t understand that when you are paying to get your picture taken with a cub, you are sentencing that cub to a lifetime of misery,” Baskin said.

Four-month-old lion cub Mangus was kept on a liquid-only diet so he would stay small for photographs with visitors. The circus also removed his claws and canine teeth to prevent him from harming visitors.

Baskin said cubs are fed an unnatural diet because they can only be used in the entertainment industry for a few weeks. Once the cubs are 12-weeks-old, their futures are uncertain.

“After the 12-week window, and they’re too large for people to hold and take pictures with, what happens to them? Nobody really knows,” Bass said. “Nobody really keeps track.”

Tigers are then often left with nowhere to go or end up in brutal conditions, such as the one Nikita was found in.

“None of the tigers are going back to the wild, none of them serve any conservation value,” said Baskin. “It’s all because people pay to have their picture taken with a cub.”

The Sanctuary & The Selfie App

Big Cat Rescue is a 67-acre facility in Tampa, Fla., and houses more than 80 lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other cat species.

The staff was originally hesitant to support Tiger Selfie.

They feared viewers would see the images and want to play with real tiger cubs, and tiger cub pimps could potentially use it against the non-profit organization if the rescue endorsed the app.

After speaking to Baskin, Wilson updated the app to send a stronger message. The tiger selfie appears briefly before the animated GIF dissolves into a message expressing the wrongfulness of taking photographs with wild animals for entertainment purposes.

The new version was made available on July 23.

Fifty percent of proceeds from purchasing the app, which costs 99 cents, will go to wildlife sanctuaries like Big Cat Rescue.

“The idea is to have a picture with a tiger without actually paying someone to have your picture taken with a real tiger,” Wilson said.

He hopes Tiger Selfie will discourage people from paying breeders for photographs, and benefit sanctuaries instead.

“A lot of times what happens is that they’ll kill the mother and take the cub and keep it in captivity for entertainment purposes,” Wilson said. “If the money goes away, there’s really no reason for them to do that.”

Baskin hopes the app will reach people who think tiger selfies are cool and turn them into advocates, or as she calls them “advocats” for change.

“Once they get the message that the cubs end up being abused their whole lives, no one that really loves tigers is going to participate in this trade,” Baskin said.

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UF Zeta Beta Tau Members Speak Out After Conduct Hearings

By on July 31st, 2015 | Last updated: July 31, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Four months ago, the University of Florida’s chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity returned from their Panama City Beach spring retreat shrouded in allegations of misconduct towards veterans.

Accusations, investigations and apologies flew back and forth until the issue became muddled enough that ZBT national office leaders issued a gag order on the members of UF’s ZBT chapter.

Don’t talk about it, they said. Don’t get into even more trouble. We’ll handle it.

Now, with the UF investigations and formal police investigations finally finished, ZBT members are speaking out, and they’re not very happy with the way things were handled.

“To me it was just a normal spring formal, and then we got caught up in this hurricane of outrage,” said former ZBT member Brett Musser, a former executive board member of the fraternity. “I didn’t even know they [the veterans] were there until the second day.”

According to Musser, about 100 UF ZBT brothers were on the trip, accompanied by dates. The Laketown Wharf Resort had nearly reached its capacity, which included nearly 60 veterans from the Warrior Beach Retreat centered in Panama City Beach. The beaches were crowded with other college students on their own spring breaks. Musser, 23, said the excited student environment probably irritated veterans, and it would be easy to assign blame from all of the students to one source.

The first – and only verified – incident occurred when a ZBT brother popped open a champagne bottle on a balcony and spilled some on a veteran’s wife. Two other students were inside the room sleeping.  Though the incident was resolved with an apology, those three students were expelled from the chapter before it was suspended from the university.

“It made it seem like those were the three that spit on people,” Musser said. “Why those people? They were the first ones in the police report. Easy. Easy buckets.”

The aftermath of the retreat brought a storm of criticism down on ZBT and UF as a whole. The chapter was suspended indefinitely and all members were asked to leave the house. Student conduct hearings and other investigations slowly got underway. But damage to public opinion had already been done.

James Newman, a recent ZBT alumnus who served this year as the executive board’s student advisor, spent much time after the retreat doing damage control.

“From the moment these allegations came out, I watched a huge part of the University of Florida campus, I watched the majority of representatives for ZBT chapters, turn on this chapter like that,” Newman said, snapping his fingers. “The first thing we had to do was remove the letters from our cars. Stop wearing our letters around campus.”

Newman said he watched kids have panic attacks, drop out for the semester and miss their exams. Some were assaulted, others harassed. Many received detailed death threats.

“The worst part of it all was they couldn’t defend themselves because they were on a no-contact order from nationals,” Newman said. “It was disheartening to say the least.”

Musser and Newman agree that ZBT nationals could have handled the situation better.

The student conduct hearing decided that ZBT was responsible for violating sections of Student Conduct Code 4(i) of public intoxication, code 4(a)(i) of causing physical or other harm to another person and code 4(b) of obscene behavior involving public exposure of sexual organs.

ZBT accepted the public intoxication charge but is expected to appeal the following two. The fraternity will be suspended for a year, after which they are required to perform 200 hours of community service, fundraise and implement educational programs about veterans’ affairs if they are to be reinstated.

“On the physical harm one, the totality of the evidence was that two people bumped shoulders in a hallway,” said Lee Teichner, an attorney who helped a fraternity member prepare for the trial. “If that’s harmful conduct then the students at the University of Florida better be careful rushing to class.”

Teichner, a UF law school graduate, has a son who was a former member of ZBT.

“They didn’t act respectfully to their own students,” said Teichner about UF. “They addressed their own public appearance at the sacrifice of a lot of kids.”

Analysis of the student conduct hearings, UF reports and police reports coincides with the students’ claims of innocence.

A letter from Associate Dean of Students Chris Loschiavo says “while it was a relief to learn that UF members did not engage in some of the most publicized behaviors, the behavior of the chapter is still not what UF expects of its students at any time.”

UF’s ZBT chapter was already on probation when the spring formal incidents allegedly occurred, which is another reason for their suspension. ZBT Nationals said in a statement to WUFT News that they agreed with UF’s decisions and would work towards reinstatement in the future.

Linda Cope, the president and founder of the Warrior Beach Retreat and vocal critic of the fraternity’s behavior, was contacted but declined to comment on proceedings on the record.

Many ZBT members, disheartened by the entire ordeal, have disaffiliated with ZBT to join another fraternity. Dozens of others have reportedly moved into the same floor of an apartment complex together.

“Through all of this I watched them stick together — and they’re still together,” said Newman. “They may not have letters, but they’re still brothers. Every one of them.”

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July 31, 2015: Afternoon News in 90

By and on July 31st, 2015 | Last updated: July 31, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Sara Varela produced this update.

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Babe Ruth Softball World Series Expected To Boost Local Economy

By on July 31st, 2015 | Last updated: July 31, 2015 at 3:13 pm

The sounds of cleats hitting the pavement and bats clinking against softballs will fill Alachua County for the next few days as it hosts the Babe Ruth League World Series.

Hal Brady Recreation Complex will host the 12-U (twelve and under) teams for the fourth time in five years. The 8-U, 10-U and 14-U will play in Champions Park for the first time.

This is the first time the 8, 10 and 14-year-old age groups are competing in the World Series.

Brad Carman, Newberry’s Parks and Recreation Department director, said Newberry decided to host the tournament because of the possible economic impact. He estimates tournament attendees will spend about $10 million at local businesses. 

Champions Park concession stands use groceries from local stores like Hitchcock’s Markets to support smaller businesses , Carman said.

Revenue generated at the stands throughout the tournament will be used for future park projects.

“We want to use the money for ball field improvements and programs for the girls,” said Erik Braggs, a parent volunteer and local Santa Fe Babe Ruth 12U team coach.

Rob Connor, national commissioner for the Babe Ruth League, said participants booked about 4,300 room-nights at Alachua County hotels for the tournament.

“The economic impact for Alachua County is pretty substantial with the amount of teams we’re bringing in,” he said.

Joe Jacobs, New Jersey’s Sparta Softball 12-U team manager, and his team are staying at the Best Western off Northwest 39th Avenue in Gainesville.

Jacobs, a first-time attendee, said so far he has been impressed with the tournament’s location.

“It’s very accommodating and everything’s easy to get to.” he said.  “It’s very well set up.”

Sixty-one teams will compete in various tournament styles beginning today, with the championship games being played on Aug. 4.

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Tallahassee Homeless Ordinance Creates Conversation In Gainesville

By on July 31st, 2015 | Last updated: July 31, 2015 at 2:50 pm
 Construction continues on Bo Diddley Community Plaza, a once population spot for homeless downtown. The city of Gainesville will work collaboratively to amend the issue.

Construction continues on Bo Diddley Community Plaza, a once popular spot for homeless downtown. Some officials in Gainesville hope to work collaboratively to amend the concerns raised about homelessness in public spaces. Elizabeth Brown / WUFT

Tallahassee recently introduced an ordinance regarding stricter repercussions for actions and behaviors of the homeless in parks and public spaces.

The ordinance, discussed at a public hearing on June 24, would make it illegal for people to sleep on park benches, sleep in the park when it is closed, or make and display signs

The ordinance is titled “Providing for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Providing for Authority to Issue Trespass Warnings in City Parks.”

Barbara Graves, the recording secretary for the Tallahassee City Commission, said the issue has not been voted on yet and will be discussed at a later meeting.

With Gainesville having a sizable homeless population, city officials would like to create a less punitive solution.

Stacy Scott, public defender for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, said Mayor Ed Braddy contacted her about finding a more collaborative way to solve issues of homelessness in Gainesville.

She doesn’t expect an ordinance for Gainesville soon, and she doesn’t believe it is the best way to go about the problem.

Scott is concerned with the homeless being targeted and thinks there needs to be a compassionate solution. She wants to assemble a group of people who will work on making sure people don’t have to sleep outside.

But, she also understands business owners’ concerns.

Cory Lineback, owner and manager of The Gelato Company, said sometimes people will panhandle or disturb his customers who dine outside.

He has given hungry homeless people free sandwiches, he said. As a business owner, however, he wants to make sure his customers feel comfortable.

Lineback said his main goal is to ensure his restaurant is an inviting environment, and sometimes the homeless population is an issue. With the reconstruction of Bo Diddley Community Plaza, he thinks stricter rules should be in place.

“We’re not cold-hearted people,” he said. “But it’s a common sense issue.”

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CAIR Florida Files Lawsuit Against “Muslim-Free” Gun Store

By on July 31st, 2015 | Last updated: July 31, 2015 at 4:29 pm
Chris Martin holds his Navy Discharge papers while standing outside Florida Gun Supply. The business cancelled it's week gun training class.

Chris Martin holds his Navy discharge papers while standing outside Florida Gun Supply. The business cancelled it’s weekly gun training class. Komal Junejo / WUFT News

On Wednesday morning, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against Florida Gun Supply in Inverness.

Andy Hallinan, 28, owner of the gun store, cancelled his weekly gun training class Tuesday when a Muslim war veteran, who served during Desert Storm, planned to attend.

Chris Martin, 48, a former Navy medic, registered for the weekly gun-training course at Florida Gun Supply. He traveled almost 2,500 miles from Riverside, CA, paid for several bus rides, a plane ticket, a hotel room and a rental car.

Hallinan said he previously agreed to allow American-Muslims customers if they told him they had served the country and didn’t believe in the caliphate or in killing non-believers.

Hassan Shibly, chief exective director of CAIR Florida, said, “American Muslims have a right to browse and purchase guns, take classes on gun safety and shoot guns at a range without having to be profiled and discriminated.”

Martin converted to Islam in 1996 after being honorably discharged from the Navy. He carried his discharge papers with him to the gun store as proof.

When he arrived wearing an “I love Islam” shirt, he stood alone in a deserted parking lot—the store was closed.

Florida Gun Supply

“Shariah Free Zone” signs are seen in the windows of Florida Gun Supply. No one affiliated with CAIR is allowed to enter the store.

Signs hung in the store window that read: “ANYONE AFFILIATED WITH CAIR IS NOT ALLOWED ON OUR PROPERTY. WE WILL CONSIDER YOU TRESPASSING. SHARIAH FREE ZONE.”

Because his name doesn’t sound Muslim, Martin said he planned to show up to the class to see how Hallinan would react. He wanted to know whether he would be turned away because of his dark hair and long beard.

He said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives came to his hotel before the class to tell him Hallinan had closed his store for the night. They had been following Martin to monitor the situation since he arrived in Inverness.

Kevin Richardson, ATF spokesperson, said the gun store owner, and all other federal firearms licensees, are expected to comply with both federal and states laws.

“That includes laws against discrimination,” Richardson said.

He said the ATF cannot tell a business when to open or close, or a citizen where or where not to go.

Martin said Hallinan avoided any possible legal consequences of turning away a Muslim by shutting down the store. He said he wasn’t looking for conflict and would have left peacefully if asked.

Martin comes from Irish, Italian, Native American and Mexican roots.

“Nobody has to like my religion, nobody has to like me,” he said. “But that right is there. I’ve fought for that right and others have fought for that right.”

Florida Gun Supply initially posted a video to Facebook after five U.S military personnel were shot in Chattanooga. Hallinan stood in front of a confederate flag and declared his business a “Muslim-free zone.”

Shibly said the video hurt him because he believes America is built on the idea of freedom of religion, freedom of speech. He said he would be just as horrified to hear about a Jewish-free zone, a Catholic-free zone, a white-free zone or a black-free zone.

Due to the controversy surrounding the video, Hallinan employed men with AK-47s to stand guard outside his store.

“The reason we are creating a Muslim-free-zone is because I am not going to hand a gun to someone I feel wants to exterminate me and my family,” Hallinan said.

Shibly said Hallinan should realize his actions have an effect on Muslim families.

“As an American-Muslim it’s deeply saddening, especially for my children, for them to hear that there are certain places they are not welcome simply because of their faith,” Shibly said. “That’s un-American.”

Last Saturday, Hallinan cancelled plans to learn about the Quran and do a certified training with Shibly.

“When Andy declared his store Muslim-free, I invited him to come and get to know the American-Muslim community, his fellow Americans, his doctors, his engineers, his taxi cab drivers,” Shibly said. “Then he faced a lot of backlash.”

But Shibly said the most troubling part of the Hallinan’s rhetoric was the flow of anti-Muslim sentiment it created.

His page was flooded with a lot of support of people welcoming a Muslim-Free Zone, and even advocating violence against law-abiding American-Muslims,” he said. “It’s very reminiscent of the same hate other minorities have faced before.”

Readers left anti-Semitic comments on the Facebook page such as:  “Muslims should not be able to enter the U.S.,” “they should have their computers and cell phones searched” and “the government has a plan to reshape the country into a ‘devil’s playground’.”

They asked what the business is doing to keep citizens safe from those who gun people down in churches under the banner of the Confederate flag and why Muslims are pinpointed when white extremists have committed crimes like the Lafayette and Charleston shootings.

Shibly said only a small group of Americans feel this way, but that group is very vocal.

“What’s so scary about the anti-Muslim industry is that it has incited violence against those perceived to be Muslim,” Shibly said. “We have many of our brothers and sisters in the Indian community and the Sikh community that have all been targeted.”

“That’s why Islamophobia really is so dangerous,” he said.

Hallinan said he is not advocating mistreatment toward Muslims. He doesn’t want to see violence because he doesn’t believe that is the correct method for handling the issue.

Hallinan said he has the authority as a gun dealer to do business with whomever he wants.

“Unfortunately there’s a bit of a double standard,” Shibly said. “A white-American Christian male can commit a horrible act of terrorism like the mass shootings we fought in Charleston or more recently Lafayette, but people know that those criminals represent nobody but themselves. However, when someone who happens to be Muslim commits a similar act or act of terrorism, people tend to blame the entire Islamic community.”

Hallinan said he has no problem turning people away regardless whether they are Muslim. He said he turns two to three people away per week if their actions or demeanor make him uncomfortable.

“I have no problem with denial of service based on an individual, but you can’t make a blanket statement saying Muslims not welcome, blacks not welcome, Christians not welcome, whites not welcome,” said Jeff Berman of Inverness, Fla., who served as an army veteran following September 11. “He knows he’s protected under his first amendment rights so he can make any ‘claims’ he wants, but once he discriminates based on religion, race or color that goes out the window.”

Berman said Muslim support, both locally and nationally, helped his unit earn the valorous unit citation.

CAIR previously called the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate federal rights issues. They filed the lawsuit on the grounds that Florida Gun Supply may not discriminate or segregate against anyone based upon religion, according to the complaint. 

“Nothing is more un-American than violating U.S. laws that are meant to protect the principles outlining the constitution,” Shibly said. “That’s not what America is about. We cannot allow our enemies to divide us and turn us against each other using terrorism, fear and bigotry.”

Reporter Maggie Lorenz contributed to this story. 

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