Monday, 29 June 2015

30 more human trafficking victims buried today

The remains of 30 human trafficking victims believed to be Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, found at Bukit Wang Burma, Wang Kelian last month, were buried at a cemetery in Kampung Tualang today.

Kedah Islamic Religious Department (JAIK) director Datuk Noh Dahya said 28 of the victims were men who were buried en masse in a grave, while the bodies of two women were laid to rest in an adjacent grave.

The burial started at 3.50am and ended at 5.30am, he added.

He said there were still 55 remains of human trafficking victims undergoing post mortems at the Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital, with 40 of them expected to be buried next week.

Last week, JAIK buried 21 bodies of human trafficking victims which were found in Wang Kelian.

The burial was carried out by JAIK and the National Security Council with the assistance of local villagers, the police and members of the Kedah Rohingya Welfare Association.

Monday 28 June 2015

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Connecticut: When a loved one goes missing, there are no easy answers

When someone goes missing in Connecticut, how hard police work to find the person can depend on which agency gets the case, officials say.

“Some will go all out; some will just take a report. It’s the luck of the draw,” said New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski, who heads up a task force investigating the disappearance and murders of seven people whose remains were found in New Britain in 2007 and a few months ago. “The extent of the investigation depends on who you get.”

In a second interview, Preleski clarified those comments, saying, “To some extent, that’s true of anything in life.” He admitted there was no easy answer, but agreed that creating a less fragmented approach to investigating missing persons is “something we should think about.”

How missing persons cases are handled has come into sharper focus in recent weeks after New Britain police unearthed the remains of four more victims of a presumed serial killer. Those bodies, buried behind a strip mall on Hartford Road, joined three other sets of remains discovered in the same patch of woods in 2007.

All seven people disappeared in 2003, which has raised questions about why it took nearly 12 years to find and identify them all.

During those years, the families of some of the victims sought help from police in finding their loved ones, but say they got few answers.

Sources have named William Devin Howell as the suspected killer. He’s currently in jail, serving a 15-year sentence on a manslaughter conviction handed down in 2005 for what at that time was the presumed death of one of the missing victims, Nilsa Arizmendi.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane concedes there’s often no easy way to form a unified unit to investigate missing persons cases, but said police should at least review state policy changes from 2011 that include clearly defined steps departments should take when they get a missing persons case.

“Room for improvement”

“Clearly, there is room for improvement,” Kane said. “But we don’t want to set up a process where we are spending so much time screening cases that we have no time to investigate them. We took a good look at this in 2011 and we made some good progress, but we really haven’t taken a second look at it.”

Howell, a drifter from the South, was in this area in 2003, when the seven people disappeared.

The remains of three of the victims, Mary Jane Menard, Joyvaline Martinez and Diane Cusack, were discovered in 2007. The remains of Arizmendi, Melanie Ruth Camilini, Danny Lee Whistnant and Marilyn Gonzales were found at the same location.

All disappeared in 2003 and it took until just this spring to finally find all of their remains and to identify them because of errors made several years ago at the state crime lab, officials have said.

The lab sought and obtained a federal grant to start a cold case unit in part because of the New Britain serial killer case, said Dr. Guy Vallaro. It also has a missing persons unit which works with police departments and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to identify remains and gather DNA samples from families of missing persons.

The investigation took a new turn last week as members of the serial killer task force went to Hampton, Va., to search a house where Howell once lived. That search included digging up the yard to search for human remains, but nothing was found, officials said.

Until the victims were recently identified, they were among more than 1,000 cold cases in the state, including missing persons, cases that haven’t had a good lead in years.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) lists 168 missing persons in Connecticut. The number may not be accurate since police are not required to use NamUs, which can be viewed by the public, and often instead list missing persons on state and national data banks only available to law enforcement.

The techniques used to investigate vary from agency to agency. New Britain police will use “cold case cards” distributed to prison inmates in the hope they may have gleaned some information during their prison stints. They are the only playing cards inmates are allowed to use and each features a different cold case.

“Good police work must be applied to every missing persons case,” New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said. “Any good detective will not just look within the confines of their municipality.”

There are several specialized units within the state that deal with missing persons and cold cases, but their participation in a case often depends entirely on whether the local police department in charge of the case asks for help.

Ultimately, Wardwell said, good training and good information from families are some of the best investigative tools officers need when investigating a missing person. “Law enforcement must review every missing persons case as if the missing person is in danger,” he said. “The vast majority are not. Some are runaway juveniles who are endangered because they are on the streets. In most cases, they turn up.”

“The best thing a family can do is be honest with police,” Wardwell said. “We need to know their habits, where they might get drugs, who they hang out with, where they hang out. It’s not a time to worry about snitching, folks need to be focused on the person’s safety.”

Local police can also call on the state’s Missing Persons Unit for assistance.

“We are more than willing to help any agency,” said Sgt. Matthew Gunsalus, who supervises the unit. “We will help facilitate anything that they need.” Formed in 2012, the unit has three detectives working on 12 missing persons cases and 18 unidentified human remains cases. It works with local agencies and have staff assigned to the New Britain Serial Killer Task Force, Gunsalus said.

As part of its statutory responsibilities created in a 2011 change in state law, the unit sends out Amber Alerts for missing children and Silver Alerts for missing adults over 18 who are considered disabled or have mental health issues or are over the age of 65.

It routinely contacts national clearinghouses, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Both have databases that can be seen by the public as well as law enforcement.

State database

It also enters information on missing persons into the state database, which connects with the National Crime Information Center, which can be accessed only by law enforcement personnel.

Gunsalus said his unit does not handle cases outside the jurisdiction of the state police unless asked. He said he could not say how many missing persons there were in Connecticut without consulting his agency’s legal affairs department.

Kristin Sasinouski, technical leader at the state forensic lab DNA unit, said there’s a “discordance” between the number of DNA samples submitted to CODIS and NamUs. Many times, a person is listed as missing on NamUs but family members have not been asked to submit a DNA sample. Sasinouski’s goal is to urge family members who are missing a loved one to submit known samples to the laboratory for DNA testing.

Although Sasinouski heads the state lab’s missing persons unit, she does not have access to the NCIC database and does not know how many Connecticut missing persons are listed in that database.

The collection of DNA from family members is vital to the process, Sasinouski said. “As samples from missing persons and their relatives and/or unidentified remains are processed at the laboratory, they are uploaded into CODIS, where they search at both the State and National level against other missing persons-type cases,” she said. “This allows identifications to be made all across the country as well as within our own state.”

To search NamUs or find out more info on how to supply missing persons info to NamUs, use these links: or

Monday 29 June 2015

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Year after building collapse in Moulivakkam, scars remain to haunt city

A partially constructed 11-storey building, certified as unsafe, stands testimony to one of the worst building tragedy the city has witnessed a year ago with the loss of more than 60 lives.

On June 28, 2014, a multi-storey building under construction on Kundrathur Main Road collapsed after a downpour. “It was a black Saturday, one that all of us want to forget,” says a resident of Rajarajan Nagar in Moulivakkam.

A year has passed since the tragedy happened but the scars still remain even as Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) is trying to amend development regulations and ensure that such incidents don’t recur.

According to CREDAI’s national chairman for Best Practices T Chitty Babu, the incident was a wake-up call for developers as well as authorities. “It resulted in responsibilities being fixed on every individual be it builder, developer, buyer or regulator. The whole system got tightened,” he said.

Exactly a year later, the flat owners stand helpless and exhausted. It has been a tough year for these middle-class Chennaiites, one that they spent paying hefty sums for a dead investment. It also brought the retirement savings and salaries of many to a pile of rubble.

The incident left 61 construction workers from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha dead. A total of 27 workers were rescued after week-long operations by various agencies including National Disaster Response Force from Arakkonam.

Journalists who rushed to Ground Zero at Moulivakkam on the day of collapse, were struck with utter disbelief. “When I first received the news alert around 4:30 pm, I thought that it was a fatal accident due to wall collapse. Even the Fire Services Department didn’t know the magnitude of the tragedy that had struck,” recounted J Santosh. After confirming the incident, Santosh rushed to the spot from the Vepery office, braving the heavy rain and traffic jam.

At the other end of the city, photojournalist Albin Mathew, one of the first mediapersons to reach the spot, said that the front entrance to the building complex was cordoned off as there were rumours that the second building had tilted and might collapse. “When I reached there around 6:30 pm, there were only policemen at the site, trying to rescue the workers stuck under the rubble. They were joined by a few other contract labourers, who were not skilled for this. The rescue operations became organised only after the NDRF men reached at 9:30 pm with their specialised equipment,” recounted Albin.

Relatives of those trapped under the rubble were shocked and in grief. Many of them hailed from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and the language barrier complicated the problem, added Santosh.

There were persons alive under the rubble, making themselves heard through a tiny opening. Santosh watched as the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services officers communicated with those under the rubble, passing a bottle of water first and later breaking the concrete pieces one-by-one to pull them out. “Every time someone alive was pulled out, there was a collective loud cheer by those watching. It boosted the morale of those engaged in rescue operations,” recalled Santosh, who had perched himself on the terrace of another house to get a bird’s eye view of the rescue operations.

A number of bodies pulled out from the rubble, were shifted to the Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC) in Porur. Martin Louis, a photojournalist assigned to cover a function in IIT-Madras, recalled missing a number of calls as his phone was inside his bag due to the rains. “When we came to know, we rushed to SRMC. There was some confusion there as another accident had taken place on the highway and bodies were coming from there as well. For a while, nobody understood if the injured and dead were from Moulivakkam or the highway accident,” Martin said. He was accompanied by reporter Pradeep Kumar, who said, “The mood at the hospital was one of high anxiety and tension. Everytime an ambulance came in, relatives of the labourers would rush to check if it was their kin, and if he or she was alive or dead.”

Monday 29 June 2015

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Orange County's deadliest air disaster occurred 50 years ago

The deadliest air disaster in Orange County history occurred 50 years ago this month.

In the early morning of June 25, 1965, an Air Force C-135 Stratolifter with 72 Marines and 12 crew members took off from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and crashed into a nearby mountain.

Here's a retrospective from The Times' reporting:

Death was instantaneous for all aboard as the huge jet disintegrated in flames on a grass-covered hillside a mile wide.

A Marine spokesman said the aircraft should have climbed more rapidly after taking off from the 380-foot-elevation runway and also banked to the left toward the ocean.

Officials said the airport tower lost contact with the plane immediately after giving clearance for takeoff at 1:45 a.m. and then lost radar contact.

On the plane were 70 enlisted men from the 2nd Replacement Company, Staging Battalion, Camp Pendleton, who were being transferred to the 3rd Marine Division at Okinawa. Under normal replacement procedures, the 70 had been recruited from all over the country.

Some members of the 3rd Marine Division were fighting in Vietnam.

Two other Marines were "hitchhiking" a ride, Camp Pendleton reported.

It took more than four hours to find the crash site because fog and drizzle obscured the mountains.

At 6 a.m., Chief Warrant Officer John W. Andre, 46, and a four-man crew spotted the crashed plane from a helicopter on the fourth search flight of the early morning.

"At first I thought there were survivors shining flashlights at us," Andre said. "Then we got closer and saw they were little grass fires."

Andre maneuvered low enough to drop off a medical officer, Navy Lt. L. B. Frenger, and a crewman, Sgt. Bill Hastings.

"As soon as we looked," Hastings said, "we could tell there was no one left.

"Even rabbits were dead."

By late afternoon, all 84 bodies had been removed or located in hard-to-reach areas. The Orange County coroner's staff had identified many through dog tags and fingerprints and were trying to identify others.

At Camp Pendleton, 20 miles to the south, 1,400 men from the replacement company were assigned to call their next of kin from a mobile telephone trailer to report that they weren't aboard the ill-fated plane.

The crash was debated frequently during the long battle over whether to turn El Toro, which was closed by the Pentagon in the 1990s, into a civilian airport.

Airport foes argued that the crash showed it was unsafe for commercial jets.

In 2000, airport critics aired a cable television spot with footage of the crash.

Some former El Toro commanders slammed the ad, noting the crash was caused by pilot error and not, as the ad suggests, by an unsafe northern runway. They accused the anti-airport forces of "capitalizing on pain and human suffering just to make a political point."

The spot shows body bags being hauled into a helicopter after what remains the county's worst aviation disaster.

The ad's creators argued it was a public service because it showed the danger of turning El Toro into an airport, a plan that was eventually scrapped.

On Saturday, officials gathered to remember those who died in 1965.

Eagle Scout Jordan Fourcher, 15, created an interactive memorial kiosk at a park at the old base. It features a metal base engraved with the names of the victims and an interactive touch screen with biographical information about the men.

Monday 29 June 2015

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