Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Paint helps prove identity in 2001 death at Burger King

It took more than 11 years, but police have finally identified a man who dropped dead in a Burger King on Laskin Road.

His name was Samuel Ray Barnard. He was 58, lived in the 600 block of Hunter Court, and died of natural causes on Oct. 16, 2001, the day he ran into the restaurant carrying no identification and fell on the floor, according to police.

It was a spot of paint that identified him in the end, said Officer Jimmy Barnes, a police spokesman. Detective Kevin Lokey, who works in the department's missing-persons unit, figured it out while going through old files, Barnes said.

Lokey noticed the death investigation report written at the time and a missing-person report filed a few months later by a Virginia Beach landlord both reported paint on the man's clothing.

Lokey discovered that the day Barnard died, he was working as a house painter at a nearby apartment complex. At the time, no one came forward to identify him, and the case remained unsolved.

"That was just good old detective work," Barnes said. "And starting from scratch, reading hundreds of missing-person reports."

Tuesday 5 February 2013


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Brazil nightclub fire claims new victim, death toll at 238

A 20-year-old man died on Tuesday from injuries sustained during a January 27 fire at a nightclub in southern Brazil, bringing the death toll from the disaster to 238 and adding to concerns it may rise further.

The health department for Rio Grande do Sul state, where the Kiss nightclub in the college town of Santa Maria is located, did not give a precise cause for the death at the Santa Rosa hospital in Porto Alegre, the state's capital.

Investigators last week said most of the deaths occurred when victims inhaled toxic fumes, such as cyanide, after a flare lit by a band member ignited soundproofing foam in the ceiling, turning the club into a gas chamber in minutes.

Eighty-one people remain hospitalized in Rio Grande do Sul, including 23 on respirators, the health department said. That is down from 126 people that were hospitalized on Friday.

Authorities fear some survivors may have to return to the hospitals, with potentially fatal consequences, because symptoms for late-onset pneumonia could appear gradually.

The U.S. government shipped cyanide-treatment kits to Brazil over the weekend, though a health official warned the hydroxocobalamin medicine they contained would not address other toxins the victims likely inhaled.

Police last week detained two owners of the club and two band members as they look into safety violations including the use of the flare, which was banned for indoor use, and faulty fire extinguishers, exit signs, and blocked access to the club's only exit.

The four detainees have not been charged, but police have said at minimum they are likely to face manslaughter charges.

The latest victim's name was not revealed at the request of his family.

Tuesday 5 February 2013


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Rewa: Rice mill wall collapse leaves 9 dead, 12 hurt

Nine persons were killed and eighteen others grievously injured after a wall under construction in a warehouse belonging to the brother of a Madhya Pradesh minister collapsed on Monday afternoon.

All persons killed and injured have been identified as labourers and masons engaged in construction of the massive wall. The incident occurred around 3pm in the Jeula area adjoining Rewa town, 511km from here.

According to the district administration, more than a hundred labourers were engaged in the construction work when all on a sudden the entire structure collapsed trapping the masons under the debris. Nine dead bodies were found under the debris.

District collector Shiv Narayan Rupla said that the warehouse belongs to Mahendra Shukla, brother of Madhya Pradesh minister for energy and mining resources Rajendra Shukla.

The minister is an MLA from Rewa assembly constituency and the spot of the incident is part of that area. The injured labourers have been rushed to the district hospital where they are undergoing treatment.

Tuesday 5 February 2012


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The atrocities of the Sinai Desert

The desert is located on the Egyptian Peninsula, spanning to the neighbouring border of Israel. African refugees, fleeing their homelands due to various forms of persecution, offer money to Bedouin guides to take them to the Egypt-Israel border. Corrupt Bedouin guides then lead the refugees, including women and children, to a detention site where they are tortured and held for ransom.

According to Human Rights Watch, the captives are forced to make calls to relatives, instructing them to make the payments in exchange for their lives. During these phone calls the smugglers physically abuse their victims to create a sense of urgency for their relatives. If their family members are unable to provide the ransom, the traffickers threaten to harvest their organs. Details of these events have recently been surfacing with personal testimonials.

According to rights groups, refugees -- from places like Ethiopia, Eritrea or Sudan -- are enslaved and tortured and the women raped if they cannot come up with the large sums of money the Bedouin try to extort from them and their families to smuggle them into Israel.

No Bedouin leaders in the Sinai were willing to speak openly about the organ theft. Tribal leaders said they had only heard rumors.

Hamdy Al-Azazy, head of New Generation Foundation has forensic photographic evidence of corpses with distinctive scars in the abdominal area. All of the photos were taken in a morgue in the Egyptian port town of El Arish.

"The organs are not useful if they're dead," Al-Azazy says. "They drug them first and remove their organs, then leave them to die and dump them in a deep dry well along with hundreds of bodies."

Al-Azazy says he was once taken to a mass burial area where these bodies were later discarded. He says he believes corrupt Egyptian doctors work in concert with the Bedouins. He believes the doctors arrive at the Sinai with mobile hospital units to remove in demand corneas, livers and kidneys.

"Mobile clinics using advanced technology come from a private hospital in Cairo to an area in the deserts of Mid-Sinai and conduct physicals on the Africans before they choose those suitable, then they conduct the operation," Al-Azazy said.

CNN reporters then showed some of the photos of the dead to a forensic expert.

"There are two kinds of scars. One is from a postmortem autopsy and one from surgery," Dr. Fakhry Saleh, the former head of Cairo's forensic department and an expert on the illegal organ trade says. The doctor pointed to a scar that he believes came from an operation that must have been performed shortly before the person died.

Saleh says that the operation was conducted no more than 48 hours before death, indicated by the freshness of the scars. All the scars presented in the photo were in the area of the liver and kidney. "They are good stitches in the area of the liver and the kidney," Saleh said.

"They could open you up, take it out and just let you die. The mafia does not care whether you live or die. When they cut you open, it would be very painful, so they would give you anesthesia," Saleh added.

"Organ trade is the second most profitable trade behind only weapons trade," he said. "It brings in more money than drug dealing and prostitution."

The Sawarka Bedouin tribe, one of the largest in the Sinai, was named by one Bedouin source as being involved in organ thefts. No Bedouin leaders in the Sinai were willing to speak openly about the organ theft. Tribal leaders said they had only heard rumors.

A Sawarka leader said he was aware that people trafficking was going on in Sinai and that in some cases refugees were held in bonded labor and tortured. But he added only rogue elements of his tribe were involved.

While Saleh says he has never heard of organ theft involving African refugees, he says it seems highly probable that the scars on the bodies come from organ removal.

"They could open you up, take it out and just let you die. The mafia does not care whether you live or die. When they cut you open, it would be very painful, so they would give you anesthesia," Saleh later said.

Saleh has done extensive research on the illegal organ business in Egypt, which preys on poor people. The World Health Organization in a recent report called Egypt a regional hub for the trade.

An investigation headed by Saleh found illegal organ trafficking to be one of the most profitable criminal activities.

"Organ trade is the second most profitable trade behind only weapons trade," he said. "It brings in more money than drug dealing and prostitution."

One Bedouin tribal chief did put CNN in touch with a Bedouin who used to be involved in people smuggling and who was close to the organ theft scheme. The source spoke on condition of anonymity but offered insights into the scheme.

"The doctors deal directly with the Sawarka family, and they buy the organs starting from $20,000," the source said in a phone interview.

He offered further details of the logistics required to keep the organs fresh for the transplant into their new owners' bodies: "The doctors come with some sort of mobile fridge where the organs can be stored for six to eight hours and resold in Cairo or elsewhere."

The source claimed doctors from Cairo are involved in the organ theft, a claim that has proved impossible to verify.

"It's like spare parts for cars," the Bedouin, who later agreed to meet one member of the CNN crew in person, said sarcastically toward the end of the interview.

A second Bedouin, who also refused to be identified, later gave a similar account.

The police general in charge of security in Northern Sinai tells CNN that his forces are aware that organ trafficking and theft are going on in their area of operations but that the authorities have not identified who is behind the schemes.

Tuesday 5 February 2012



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Operation Photo Rescue Restores Hurricane Sandy Victims' Photos

Of all the images of Superstorm Sandy's destruction, the ones that linger for Florence Catania are the torn, stained pictures that hung on her walls.

Her mother's decades-old wedding portrait, her own eighth-grade graduation photo, a snapshot that captured her mom on a carefree teenage day, all damaged in a Sandy-sparked fire at Catania's home in suburban Deer Park, N.Y.

But volunteers scattered around the world are about to start digitally mending Catania's personal photos and others battered by Sandy, banding together online to restore items that can't be rebought.

Founded after Hurricane Katrina, a nonprofit network of photographers, graphic artists and hobbyists has repaired more than 9,000 pictures discolored by floods, pockmarked by debris, speckled by mold and otherwise damaged by disasters in recent years. The Sandy project, which started this weekend, promises to be one of Operation Photo Rescue's most expert efforts yet.

"It means a lot to me," Catania said after bringing her photos to the restorers Saturday. "These are irreplaceable."

The restorers began shooting digital copies of the damaged prints with high-resolution professional cameras and specialized no-glare lighting Saturday at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, wearing white gloves to handle the images as though they were museum pieces.

Indeed, a Metropolitan Museum of Art imaging expert and two of the museum's photo conservators were on hand to provide advice, and two of the camera setups had been used to help the Atlanta-based King Center digitize hundreds of thousands of documents associated with Martin Luther King Jr.

After Catania left with her original prints, Operation Photo Rescue veteran Dennis McKeever glued himself to a computer screen, delicately copying snippets of forehead, sections of background, and overlaying them on similar, damaged areas of the wedding photo. Within about a half-hour, the retired computer network engineer had sewn up a sizeable gash in the portrait and was testing settings that might provide more visual data to help clean the apparently sepia-toned image.

"It's a matter of feeling your way through things," said McKeever, who has restored more than 100 photos through the group.

Other digital files would be uploaded to a password-protected website, where Operation Photo Rescue's roughly 3,000 volunteers can choose images they'd like to work on.

It's a painstaking process that can entail both resourcefulness — replacing a missing left foot by duplicating and reversing the right foot, for instance — and research. A volunteer might try to look up a flag in a photo's background to see how it's supposed to appear, as an example.

The average picture takes a few hours of work; some take as long as a week, said Operation Photo Rescue President Margie Hayes, a technical writer-turned-graphic artist. She got involved in the group after 2007 floods in nearby Coffeyville, Kan., about 120 miles from her home in El Dorado, Kan.

The refurbished prints are sent to the owners for free. Film-digitizing company DigMyPics has donated the printmaking and postage; PhotoShelter, a photography site, donates the online space where the images are stored for volunteers to see.

The Sandy effort also entailed other key contributions: three image-capturing stations, provided by Ken Allen Studios, a digital-imaging business, and JPMorgan Chase. The finance giant acquired the equipment to aid the King Center's digitization project and was "excited to provide this technology to enable families in the New York area to salvage family photos that would otherwise have been lost forever," Chief Information Officer Guy Chiarello said in a statement.

Such contributions are key for an organization that had to cut off $25-a-month stipends for some volunteers' Internet service when a grant dried up in 2009. Now it solicits members for donations whenever it mobilizes to a disaster area. Hayes said she raised about $3,000 for the New York trip, and she'd like to find a way to make a similar run to a Sandy-struck area of New Jersey.

Dave Ellis, the photography director at The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va., and Rebecca Sell, who was then a photographer at the paper, launched Operation Photo Rescue in 2006, after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast the previous summer.

The group now counts volunteers in all 50 states and 75 other countries, about 50 to 100 of whom are very active, Hayes said.

It has responded to tornadoes, flash floods and tropical storms around the United States, amassing a gallery of before-and-after images that span generations: a formal childhood portrait, rippled and flecked with dirt. A black-and-white image of a Victorian-style mansion, faded to a hazy peach. A 1970s or '80s wedding photo, so waterlogged it looked as though the couple's faces had been scribbled on with crayons. Someone cradling a dog, the apparently decades-old snapshot splotched with a chemical yellow.

"We're really trying to restore people's family memories and community memories," said Katrin Eismann, an SVA professor. While she co-wrote the book that guides much of the volunteer effort, "Adobe Photoshop Restoration & Retouching," this weekend marked the first time she participated in person.

"If we didn't do it, after a while, those prints are just going to disintegrate."

Tuesday 5 December 2013


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Nigeria: No justice for the dead

Hundreds of fatal police shootings which each year leave families anguished and bereaved are not being investigated effectively because of a failure of the Nigerian justice system, Amnesty International says in a report released today.

Nigeria: No Justice for the Dead illustrates the gaps in the investigation of deaths following police action in Rivers State where basic techniques of crime scene protection and investigation are not applied and autopsies and inquests are either not carried out or are inadequate.

Relatives are often left with no answers about the fate of their family members and rarely receive justice.

Amnesty International believes Rivers State is representative of other Nigerian states where violent deaths at the hands of the police are not investigated adequately.

Medical and legal sources revealed that there is a practice of doctors signing death investigation reports without examining the body properly.

In many cases the identity of the deceased is not known to the police and bodies are registered as “unknown”. Little effort is made by police to identify them.

The lack of investigation in Nigeria means that many of the police officers who appear to have used unlawful lethal force enjoy impunity, seriously undermining human rights protections.

“To have one of your friends or family members killed by the authorities causes terrible anguish, but never to find out the truth of what actually happened to them causes a particular agony for relatives of the victims,” said Lucy Freeman, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

“Many of the victims killed by the police each year may have been unlawfully killed – including in what constitutes extrajudicial executions. Effective and impartial investigations are crucial in determining the truth about human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, and gathering evidence to hold the perpetrators to account.”

Amnesty International found that in most cases of killings at the hands of the police, there was almost no action to hold them to account.

Pastor Ken Neele told Amnesty International that after learning of the shooting of his brother following police action in November 2011, he went to several hospitals in search of his body which he finally traced to Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital in Port Harcourt - the capital of Rivers State.

Pastor Neele was distressed by the disrespectful handling of his brother’s body, which was lying at the bottom of a pile of other bodies. More than a year later, Pastor Neele has still not been able to bury his brother - police have yet to approve the body’s release.

Other families told Amnesty International of their distress at seeing the way in which their relatives were "dumped" in the mortuary.

When an Amnesty International researcher visited Braithwaite they found the mortuary overcrowded with bodies dumped in piles on the verandah or on benches.

While this mortuary has now closed down, reports from a number of sources suggest that most others in Nigeria operate similar practices.

“It is a sad truth that in Nigeria the victims of police brutality and their families rarely receive justice,” said Freeman.

“In spite of the existence of domestic law and international standards requiring the investigation of such deaths, the lack of proper autopsies and inquests mean the perpetrators of these crimes are simply getting away with it.”

Amnesty International is calling on the Federal and State Governments of Nigeria to investigate all violent deaths in Nigeria, to ensure adequate autopsies are carried out by qualified personnel, and to hold those guilty of unlawful killings to account.

Tuesday 5 February 2013


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Microsoft, Israeli researchers develop disaster prediction software

Researchers have created software that predicts when and where disease outbreaks might occur based on two decades of New York Times articles and other online data. The research comes from Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

The system could someday help aid organizations and others be more proactive in tackling disease outbreaks or other problems, says Eric Horvitz, distinguished scientist and codirector at Microsoft Research. “I truly view this as a foreshadowing of what’s to come,” he says. “Eventually this kind of work will start to have an influence on how things go for people.” Horvitz did the research in collaboration with Kira Radinsky, a PhD researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute.

The system provides striking results when tested on historical data. For example, reports of droughts in Angola in 2006 triggered a warning about possible cholera outbreaks in the country, because previous events had taught the system that cholera outbreaks were more likely in years following droughts. A second warning about cholera in Angola was triggered by news reports of large storms in Africa in early 2007; less than a week later, reports appeared that cholera had become established. In similar tests involving forecasts of disease, violence, and a significant numbers of deaths, the system’s warnings were correct between 70 to 90 percent of the time.

Horvitz says the performance is good enough to suggest that a more refined version could be used in real settings, to assist experts at, for example, government aid agencies involved in planning humanitarian response and readiness. “We’ve done some reaching out and plan to do some follow-up work with such people,” says Horvitz.

The system was built using 22 years of New York Times archives, from 1986 to 2007, but it also draws on data from the Web to learn about what leads up to major news events.

“One source we found useful was DBpedia, which is a structured form of the information inside Wikipedia constructed using crowdsourcing,” says Radinsky. “We can understand, or see, the location of the places in the news articles, how much money people earn there, and even information about politics.” Other sources included WordNet, which helps software understand the meaning of words, and OpenCyc, a database of common knowledge.

All this information provides valuable context that’s not available in news article, and which is necessary to figure out general rules for what events precede others. For example, the system could infer connections between events in Rwandan and Angolan cities based on the fact that they are both in Africa, have similar GDPs, and other factors. That approach led the software to conclude that, in predicting cholera outbreaks, it should consider a country or city’s location, proportion of land covered by water, population density, GDP, and whether there had been a drought the year before.

Horvitz and Radinsky are not the first to consider using online news and other data to forecast future events, but they say they make use of more data sources—over 90 in total—which allows their system to be more general-purpose.

There’s already a small market for predictive tools. For example, a startup called Recorded Future makes predictions about future events harvested from forward-looking statements online and other sources, and it includes government intelligence agencies among its customers (see “See the Future With a Search”). Christopher Ahlberg, the company’s CEO and cofounder, says that the new research is “good work” that shows how predictions can be made using hard data, but also notes that turning the prototype system into a product would require further development.

Microsoft doesn’t have plans to commercialize Horvitz and Radinsky’s research as yet, but the project will continue, says Horvitz, who wants to mine more newspaper archives as well as digitized books.

Many things about the world have changed in recent decades, but human nature and many aspects of the environment have stayed the same, Horvitz says, so software may be able to learn patterns from even very old data that can suggest what’s ahead. “I’m personally interested in getting data further back in time,” he says.

Tuesday 5 February 2013


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Bridge collapse victims to get equal compensation

The government will equally compensate the families of 10 people who died in a fatal highway bridge collapse in Henan province, the website of Dahe Daily reported on Monday, citing officials at the rescue headquarters.

The news came after reports emerged quoting relatives of the victims born in rural areas saying they will get 180,000 yuan ($28,800) in compensation, or 220,000 yuan less than their counterparts from urban districts.

The government will apply the same compensation standards to every victim and will comply with the Supreme People's Court's interpretation of compensations for personal injuries, officials at the rescue headquarters said.

A truck overloaded with fireworks exploded and blasted off part of a viaduct about 30 meters above the ground in Mianchi county, Henan province, on Friday morning. Ten people died and 11 were injured.

Officials at the rescue headquarters have released the list with the names of the 10 deceased on Monday, and asked relatives to collect the bodies.

The victims were from Shandong and Jiangsu provinces and also from Henan province.

Monday 5 February 2013


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