Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, a Highland Hospital nurse in Oakland, and her husband this week ended their fight to remain in the U.S. after federal immigration authorities denied a last-ditch plea to stay.
Maria, her husband Eusebio Sanchez, and their 12-year-old son, Jesus, boarded a flight at San Francisco International Airport for Mexico City less than an hour before afederal deportation order expired late Wednesday for the couple — leaving behind their three daughters, two of them adults and one a teenager.
Sanchez spent her last day in the U.S. doing somewhat routine things: She took her daughter, Elizabeth, 16, to her first day of school as a sophomore and she went to the bank.
But she did some out-of-the-ordinary things, too: She granted power of attorney to her eldest daughter, Vianney, 23. She packed her belongings. And she put her nursing uniforms into a storage box.
“I’m sorry I won’t be there to serve them anymore,” she said of her patients in the oncology and cardiology unit of Highland Hospital, Alameda County’s trauma center. “But one day I will be back, that’s for sure.”
The couple came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, settling in Oakland in 1994. Maria graduated from Holy Names University with a nursing degree while raising their children. Eusebio worked in construction and eventually became a truck driver.
The couple have no criminal records, and have been undocumented during their time in the U.S. Vianney is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while their three younger kids are U.S. citizens.
“Fighting an immigration case when you are a Mexican is really three times as difficult as it is other communities,” Maria said as she tried to hold back tears. “It doesn’t matter how hard you work. It doesn’t matter what you do.”
Under the Obama administration, the couple received two stays, along with legal work visas, to remain in the U.S. But when they applied for another stay in May 2017, federal immigration officials limited it to 90 days — after which they would be deported.
The family was hoping for a reprieve with the help of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But on Tuesday afternoon, Feinstein called to tell them that federal immigration agents had denied their request for another stay, the senator’s office said.
“All possible avenues to delay their departure have been denied by the Trump administration in what I believe is an act utterly devoid of humanity,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This is a travesty, plain and simple, and evidence that Donald Trump’s immigration policy is nothing more than a hateful deportation program targeting law-abiding families. It’s shameful and stands against the very ideals upon which this country was founded.”
In a statement to KQED from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Western Region, the agency confirmed the denial. But ICE added that it gave the couple enough time “to get their personal affairs in order and make preparations for their departure.”
Sanchez said she and her husband prepared their three daughters for life without them in the U.S.: Vianney, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, will be the legal guardian of Elizabeth as she finishes high school. Their middle daughter, Melin, 21, will stay to finish her last year at UC Santa Cruz.
In Maria’s last hours before flying to Mexico City, Elizabeth came home from her first day of school. She sat on the couch next to her mom and rested her head on her mom’s shoulder.
Donald Trump’s Views On Race Should Be No Surprise
A child is not guilty of their fathers sins nor is the father guilty of their children’s sins. Yet most of us know from life’s experiences that way to often a child will follow in many, if not all, of their parents ways of living and of their thoughts and flaws. Way to many children who grew up in a family where the parents are present, or even step parents, the children very often tend to emulate their examples. Way to many boys who lived in a home where the Dad physically beat their Mom grow up to beat their wives and girlfriends. Way to many girls grow up to look for a ‘dangerous’ man, like their Dad. Way to many children who are sexually abused as a child grow up to do the same thing to their kids. A lot of kids who grow up in a home with an alcoholic parent become one themselves just as they do if drugs are in the home, they end up being users themselves. When a child grows up in a home where they see that their parent or parents are liars and thieves the child tends to think that same way of life is okay, after all, Dad does it. When you grow up in a home where the parent teaches a child to crave power over other people through any means necessary, many kids do follow the lead they are given. When you are taught to ‘never, ever’ apologize to anyone for any thing, you tend to grow up aloof and cold to other people’s feelings. When you grow up in a home where your Dad was at least at one time a leader in the local (in this case, New York City) KKK, should anyone be surprised that a child would garner a twisted sense of morals and ideas? Donald Trump’s Dad was arrested at least twice in NYC for leading violent KKK marches. So, should it be a shock that our President acts and believes the way that he does?
Boko Haram militants have released 82 schoolgirls out of a group of more than 200 who they kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014, officials said on Saturday.
The girls were released through negotiations with the government, one official said, asking not to be named.
A military source said the girls were currently in Banki near the Cameroon border for medical checks before being airlifted to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
The kidnapping was one of the high-profile incidents of Boko Haram’s insurgency, now in its eighth year and with little sign of ending. About 220 were abducted from their school in a night-time attack.
More than 20 girls were released last October in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Others have escaped or been rescued, but 195 were believed to be still in captivity prior to this release.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said last month the government was in talks to secure the release of the remaining captives.
Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases have been neglected.
The militants have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million during their insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.
Despite the army saying the insurgency is on the run, large parts of the northeast, particularly in Borno state, remain under threat from the militants, and suicide bombings and gun attacks have increased in the region since the end of the rainy season late last year.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah, Tife Owolabi, Ahmed Kingimi and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson)
Video footage from the city showed residents crying over a list of missing children, along with their ages, pinned to a family welfare centre.
“We have lost a baby, who has gone missing,” one resident told reporters. “A little baby, we can’t find him anywhere.”
President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of emergency in the region and flew in to oversee the rescue effort.
“We will do everything possible to help,” he said. “It breaks my heart.”
A senior UN official in Colombia, Martin Santiago, blamed climate change, saying it had caused “tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects” in the region.
Others said deforestation has also played a role. “When the basins are deforested, they break down. It is as if we remove the protection for avoiding landslides,” said Adriana Soto, a Colombian conservationist and former environment minister.
The Colombian Air Force is bringing supplies to the area as the search operation continues.
With no running water in Mocoa, one resident told El Tiempo newspaper that they had been collecting rainwater. Power lines are also out across the area.
Photos posted to social media by the air force showed some patients being evacuated by air.
“Our heroes will remain in the tragedy zone until the emergency is over,” the army’s statement said.
Colombia’s director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit told the AFP news agency that a third of the region’s expected monthly rain fell during one night.
Although rainfall is abundant in the area, this downpour was unusually heavy and caused rivers to burst their banks.
The overflow then picked up mud and debris, creating a cascade.
Video footage of the aftermath showed currents so strong that abandoned lorries were propelled through the flooded streets.
Local resident Mario Usale, 42, told Reuters he was searching for his father-in-law.
“My mother-in-law was also missing, but we found her alive 2km (1.25 miles) away. She has head injuries, but she was conscious,” he said.
Landslides have struck the region several times in recent months.
In November, nine people died in the town of El Tambo, about 140km (90 miles) from Mocoa, during a landslide that followed heavy rain.
I was born into a poor mostly all white hard-working, low-income, sweatshop factories class of people. Most are very good people who were just trying to survive at more than a week to week clip. Most of those parents back in those days did at least a fair job raising their kids. Now almost all of their children are in their 30’s or 40’s and they are in a financial life pushed upon them by others. I’m just sitting down to have a powwow with you, if you care to read my thoughts. Most articles I write I do so with the intent of getting my readers to expand their own thoughts. Some do not like what I write, I do not ever expect everyone to agree with me and my thoughts. But if I can once in a while bring a better light to a subject, that’s all I am trying to do.
Here I am going to speak with you about how it is America’s local politicians who are ruining the financial lives of the very people who voted them into office. I guess it is global human issue, Politicians always need more money to pay their bills each month than what they have in the bank. Each year they increase the value all of the local properties 3,4,5,10,20%–basically, whatever the City Council thinks it can get away with. Even when the Politicians work together and use those tax revenues for the soul good of the tax payers in projects like road upkeep, new sewage lines and consistent trash pickup. Yet it is the property owners who are taking a financial hit. Now all people who rent any property have to pay more each month, each year, for a property that in most cases didn’t change any from the year before. Now people and the Government have more money to borrow and to spend, which keeps raising the prices of everything, not just land. But then again it is now a reality that there are many millions of people who have been priced out of the ‘Housing Market’. If you buy a house to be a rental income house and your payment on your loan is $1,000.00 per month what would a monthly rental payment have to be to make that investment worth the owner’s time? I’m guessing the local economy dictates what the logical price will be. Now let’s say you bought the property and you are going to ask $1,300.00 rent. Trouble is, in most economies here in America housing cost which is triggered by local politicians greed/need for more revenue has become beyond the reach of millions within the working class. Shouldn’t any given city, county, state be required to have minimum wage laws that matched up with what the cost level is of the ‘poverty line’. It should not be legal anywhere for a person to work a 40 hour week and not make enough money to get ‘up to’ the Poverty Line. The Poverty Line should be the minimum wage…I’m just saying, I think that is fair.
The Stock Market, there is so much I could say about this world-wide scam. Think about these facts for a moment, then you will see why I am not a fan of this system of things.There is always speculation which of course feeds the fires of higher profits. When two companies merge the value of their stock tends to go up because you know that pretty soon they will downsize their staff and fewer employees to have to pay wages and benefits to equals more profits to the stockholders. When a company that is on the stock market closes its factory in Tennessee and moves it to Mexico for the cheaper ‘costs per unit’, the value of the company/stock value goes way up, even though all of those hundreds of families in America lost their income. When companies do this it is all about profits, period! When a company closes up its factories in the U.S. to move it to China or Vietnam is there ever a case when these new toys now made in China cost so much less for the consumer back here in America? NO, you keep the same high prices and the profits go to the stockholders and the bonuses to the B.O.D.. Who loses out? The American worker. By no means are these problems singular to the U.S., these issues exist everywhere there are politicians with too much power, and a Stock Market. Yes the few can get very wealthy, but the vast majority stay broke, just think of the addicted gambler, living in Vegas! A few for a while see the bright sunshine, but almost all will spend almost all of their time, just trying to survive.
There is something sickening about a case the Supreme Court just heard about a boy with autism and what level of public education he — and other students with disabilities — deserve.
Here’s some background: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law requiring public schools to provide children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.” Students in special education get “individualized education programs, or IEPs, or blueprints that spell out supports and goals for each child. The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that IEPs must lay out plans that provide some educational benefit, but it didn’t set a benefit standard, and lower courts have been divided over what it should be. Some have required a substantial — or “meaningful” educational benefit — while others require only a de minimis — or anywhere above trivial — educational benefit.
Now the Supreme Court — which held a hearing in the case Wednesday — is being asked to decide on a standard, which is essentially the same as deciding whether the United States really cares about providing all students a free and appropriate public education, and whether it is wholly committed to helping families that have children with disabilities.
These are the facts of the court case, which could affect millions of children with disabilities and the public schools they attend:
A boy named Drew was diagnosed with autism at age 2, affecting his cognitive functioning, language and reading skills, and his social and adaptive abilities. From preschool through fourth grade, he received special education services in schools in Colorado’s Douglas County district.
By fourth grade, his parents saw his behavior get increasingly worse. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which got involved in this case, said fourth grade was “especially rocky.”
Drew exhibited multiple behaviors that inhibited his ability to access learning in the classroom. In the past, he has climbed over furniture and other students, hit things, screamed, ran away from school, and twice removed his clothing and gone to the bathroom on the floor of the classroom.
Drew’s parents said that although they saw some progress in Drew, it was minimal, so they pulled him from the public school system and placed him in a private school that used interventions that experts consider effective for many children with autism. Reports about his progress under an intervention called ABA were very positive, with “great” behavioral gains that led to an ability to pay more attention in class, complete math and verbal skills work and interact with peers and teachers.
Under the federal law called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents can seek tuition reimbursement from the school district and can win if several conditions are met. One of them is that their son wasn’t getting enough “educational benefit” from the public schools. Drew’s parents applied for reimbursement — arguing that the public district had not provided him with a free and appropriate public education. They were denied by the school system. That started a trek through the courts, leading to the Supreme Court, which is reviewing a 2015 decision by the 10th Circuit, which upheld the school system’s decision, using a very low standard for educational progress.
What is enough educational benefit? That’s what the Supreme Court is being asked to consider, and that, when you think about it, is where this case gets ugly.
Remember that we are talking about young people with disabilities — some of them so severe that a child might, for example, have the intellectual capacity of a 6-month-old, or have frequent disruptive seizures — and their families, some of whom have daily burdens that others can’t begin to imagine.
So is minimal educational benefit enough? You may not know exactly what “minimal” is, buy by definition, you wouldn’t want that to be the standard for your child. Is “some” benefit — which courts have said means progress that is barely above trivial — enough for your child — or somebody else’s? Or do students with disabilities deserve a standard requiring “meaningful” benefit and if so, what does “meaningful” mean? Should the standard be “appropriate”? During the Wednesday hearing, nine different standards were mentioned in the proceedings within a half-hour period.
Should children with any disability be at the mercy of a standard that depends on the federal appellate jurisdiction in which his school district is located?
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The Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed to be dissatisfied with the 10th Circuit’s ruling that public schools can meet IDEA requirements by providing an education to students with disabilities that is more than trivial, but there was no seeming direction indicated about what standard they do think makes sense.
In the IDEA legislation, Congress set a maximum target for the federal contribution to special education spending equal to 40 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities. Thus, if the program were “fully funded,” the states would receive their maximum grants, calculated at 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure (APPE) times the number of children with disabilities served in the school year 2004-2005, adjusted for population changes. Under the act, the count of children with disabilities cannot exceed 12 percent of the state’s total school population.
For FY 2014, IDEA federal funding covered 16 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities, less than in FY 2008 when federal funding covered 17 percent of the cost and well below FY 2009 when additional funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act covered 33 percent of the cost. IDEA Part B “full funding” for FY 2014 would have amounted to approximately $28.65 billion, or roughly $17.17 billion more than was actually appropriated. The shortfall in IDEA funding has been assumed by the states and local school districts.
Yet there is something chilling about some of the debate about this issue. The debate is being played out in legalese — there’s lots of talk about “procedure” — in the world of words rather than people. As Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in Wednesday’s hearing: “What is frustrating about this case and this statute is we have a blizzard of words.”
A blizzard of words that seem to fly right over the actual people being affected. As Gary Mayerson, a civil rights lawyer and board member of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, said in this article by my colleague Emma Brown: “I can’t even believe that this is really a question for the court to wrestle with.”
(TWO MONTHS AGO MY 33 YR OLD NEPHEW DIED FROM THIS IN SCRANTON SO THIS STORY HAS PERSONAL MEANING TO ME)
JAN 9 2017, 11:08 AM ET
Wilkes-Barre Faces Heroin Scourge Turning It Into ‘the Most Unhappy Place in America’
‘Dropping Like Flies’: Heroin Epidemic Takes Hold of PA County 7:36
For William Lisman, the longtime Luzerne County coroner, the first sign of the coming plague appeared in the hills of northeastern Pennsylvania in November 2015.
A 27-year-old woman from one of the mountain towns surrounding Wilkes-Barre was found dead in her family home.
Lisman suspected a drug overdose. She was young. She had been healthy. There were no obvious signs of trauma. And heroin abuse had been on the rise in recent years.
“When a person dies of an overdose, the lungs fill with fluid,” he said. “The victims essentially drown in their own fluids.”
Because autopsies are expensive and time-consuming, many coroners faced with cases like these do toxicological tests designed to pick up traces of known drugs to determine the cause of death. But the first test Lisman administered came back negative. So did the second.
So Lisman listed the cause of death as undetermined.
Several days later, a 34-year-old man was found dead in a sleeping bag in the nearby city of Hazleton.
Once again, Lisman suspected a fatal drug overdose. Once again, the tox tests came back negative. And once again, he listed the cause of death as undetermined.
“I remember when it started because it was budget time and they were about to cut my budget,” he said, with a wry chuckle. “At that point the doctor I had been consulting with (about these two cases) told me, ‘Bill, there is something going on here’.”
Like many coroners in smaller counties, Lisman is not a doctor. But he knows about death. A third-generation Wilkes-Barre resident, he and his family ran a funeral home that buried several generations of city residents. He reached out to fellow coroners in neighboring counties to see if they had similar cases.
They had. And the answer was fentanyl, a powerful painkiller the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says is 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin, packs 50 to 100 times more punch than morphine, and can be manufactured easily by illegal drug mills. This was the same drug that killed Prince last April.
“I started hearing about fentanyl and how drug dealers were cutting heroin with it,” he said.
Lisman said he had the toxicological tests “tweaked” to detect the presence of fentanyl and “after that, the drug overdoses here skyrocketed.”
Facing a crisis, Lisman called the local newspaper, The Times Leader, last May and sounded the alarm.
“I knew I wasn’t going to stop people from using, but I wanted people to know what they were using,” he said. “This stuff can kill them.”
And it has.
The deadly math in Wilkes-Barre
Last year there were 137 fatal drug overdoses — more than half of them the result of heroin laced with fentanyl — in a county of just 318,000 people.
That death rate is four times higher than New York City.
“Twenty years ago, we might have 12 deaths we determined to be drug deaths,” Lisman said. “This year we are on track for 150 deaths…By our standards, it’s off the charts.”
There have been so many fatal drug overdoses that Lisman, who uses an examination room in the basement of a local hospital to do autopsies, said he has had to “finagle space to put all the bodies.”
“I have only room for two in my cooler,” he said. “There’s room for just 10 more in the hospital’s other cooler.”
The victims reflect the demographics of the county — they’re mostly white, often lower to middle-income, Lisman said.
“Age wise, we are across the spectrum, from 20’s to the 70’s,” he said. “We see everyone from the guy in the flophouse to the hard-working guys or gals who find relief in drugs.”
Also, while heroin users in the past relied on needles, “the vast majority now is being snorted,” said Lisman. “A user doesn’t have to go through the process of injecting now. It makes it easier to use.”
A big part of the reason Wilkes-Barre is grappling with a drug problem, Lisman said, is because this city of 41,000 is just a two-hour drive from Philadelphia and from New York City. Interstates 80 and 81 converge just south of the city.
A packet of heroin that sells for $5 in the Bronx can fetch double that in Wilkes-Barre, Lisman said. And if it’s cut with fentanyl, the profit quadruples along with the danger to the users.
“Heroin definitely has its hold on this area,” said Cathy Ryzner, a certified recovery specialist at the Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services in Wilkes-Barre. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Every time you look in the newspaper and you see somebody died young and at home, you know. You know.”
Christopher Emmett buried his 23-year-old son, Christopher Jr., in August, although in his case it was due to a lethal mixture of morphine and codeine.
“Every time I hear of somebody dying it’s always with the fentanyl mixed with it, it’s never somebody that just did heroin and died from doing heroin,” he said.
From boom town to boarded-up storefronts
The plague hit Wilkes-Barre as the proud county seat on the Susquehanna River was struggling to reverse decades of decay.
Once a thriving city of 80,000, Wilkes-Barre was built by coal and manufacturing barons who erected stately homes and public edifices like the stunning Luzerne County Court House and the 14-story Luzerne National Bank Building in Public Square. Thousands of Italian, Polish and Irish immigrants poured into the city to work in the mines and toil in the garment factories.
But the city lost half its population when the anthracite coal mines died in the 1950s and the good manufacturing jobs began vanishing. And in 1972, Hurricane Agnes delivered a body blow to the local economy when it flooded downtown with nine feet of water.
After that, Wilkes-Barre became a city of abandoned buildings and boarded-up store fronts as the remaining residents struggled to find their footing in an economy where the main employers were now government agencies, the local colleges and hospitals.
The recession in 2008 hit Wilkes-Barre — long a Democratic bastion — hard. And when Barack Obama was running for president, hopeful residents voted for him in droves and did so again when he ran for reelection in 2012. But while the rest of the country rebounded, this Rust Belt city and the rest of the county, including Vice President Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, were slow to recover.
Many jobs returned, but not many were the good-paying kind that could support a middle-class life. And those who opted to stay in Wilkes-Barre became disappointed and resentful.
“They want the jobs they had before, not the jobs that are available now,” said Kathy Bozinski , the marketing and communications chief at the United Way of Wyoming Valley. “A lot of good things happened during the Obama Administration, but a lot of the things the folks here were hoping for just didn’t happen.”
In November, Luzerne County voted for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton, handing the Republican a narrow but shocking victory that helped propel him to the White House.
“I hate to use the cliché, but there are a lot of angry white guys in the region who 20 years ago were making decent money ,” Bozinski said. “Now they are struggling to pay the mortgage and have a good life. There is a lot of frustration.”
Mary Wallace, who is Lisman’s office administrator, said for many people leaving Wilkes-Barre for a better life somewhere else is not an option.
“It’s hard for people who have been here for generations, whose families are buried here, to pick up and move even if they might be better off somewhere else,” she said. “This is their home.”
The most unhappy place in the United States
Two years ago, a pair of researchers — one from Harvard, the other from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada — concluded that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area was the most unhappy place in the U.S.
They reached their conclusion after wading through the results of telephone polls conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2005 and 2009, including answers to the question, “How satisfied are you with your life?”
Lisman, whose four grown children did not return to the Wilkes-Barre after finishing college, agreed that they live in a depressed community.
“We have a lot of people who are unhappy with life,” he said. “People using drugs are looking to escape.”
For Lisman, the heroin plague “is a symptom of the way people here feel and have felt for years.”
“I don’t have an answer for opiate addiction,” he said, his smile fading fast. “The pain and suffering that it has caused is unbelievable. It is eating away at the core of society.”
Cathy Ryzner, a certified recovery specialist at Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services, said the people she sees are dealing with a host of demons beyond the economic, everything from sexual abuse and broken homes to being raised in households where drinking and drug-taking runs rampant. She’s seen people who get hooked on prescription drugs make the move to heroin.
“But I can’t just blame the doctors,” she said. “It’s a little bit of economics, little bit of hardship, little bit of being raised like that.”
Drugs like heroin, she said, “makes all your problems melt away.”
“It masks any kind of hurt, any kind of feeling…after three days of doing opiates you are addicted,” she said. “You don’t even know you’re getting caught up.”
And Ryzner would know. She was a drug addict for three decades and has been clean for 10 years.
Death by drug overdose “just not natural”
It was against this backdrop that the heroin plague hit the region.
Coroner Lisman, whose dad was once the mayor of Wilkes-Barre, said that at first he made a point of personally going to the scenes when a suspected fatal overdose was reported. No more.
“Now it’s become so routine,” said Lisman, who has gone back to dispatching his deputies to do the grim work of taking the bodies to the morgue.
But Lisman says he is very much aware of what this plague is doing to his hometown and admits it has left him shaken.
“I was raised in an apartment above a funeral home….death never scared me,” he said.
What bothers him, he said, is the resignation he has seen in the victims’ families ones who react “almost with relief.”
“It bothers me that somebody’s life could reach a point that death could be a positive thing,” he said.
This from a man who has comforted thousands of people over the years whose loved ones died of natural causes, sometimes after enduring years of pain.
“Death by drug overdose is different,” he said. “That’s just not natural.”
One case in particular still haunts him. The police had gotten a 911 call and arrived to find a young couple in their 30s dead in bed from “a hot load of heroin while their 5-year-old son was watching TV and eating Cheerios,” Lisman said. “He knew enough to call the police for help.”
Death behind closed doors
The heroin plague in Wilkes-Barre is largely hidden with death taking drug abusers behind closed doors.
“You don’t see junkies on the street,” said Bozinski, who was previously an Emmy Award-winning TV and radio reporter. “This happens behind closed doors. In bedrooms and basements.”
But the effects ripple across the city and touch everyone.
“Everywhere you go you hear, ‘Did you see the story about that one in the paper? Was that another drug overdose?” said Wallace. “That’s what everyone here is talking about.”
The toll is not just psychic. Crime is up, police report, especially petty thefts and break-ins by drug abusers looking for money to score a fix. And the dealers are almost always out-of-towners.
“They’re not racist,” Bozinski said of Wilkes-Barre’s residents. “Yes, some white guys blame people from outside for bringing drugs here. But there’s also the acknowledgement that there is a market for it here.”
“We’re behind the times,” said 42-year-old Paul Smith, who was born and raised in the city — and who buried his former partner Jeremy three weeks earlier after he died of a heroin overdose. “A lot of the problems that were happening in other places are now happening here.”
Sitting in a local bar called Hun’s Café 99 and nursing a beer and a basket of chicken wings , Smith said Jeremy didn’t know what he was dealing with when he started snorting heroin.
“It’s been a very hard thing,” he said. “I spent a lot of time helping him to get clean. It was a very hard reality. And it was very hard to find services to help him.”
Smith said people in Wilkes-Barre turn to drugs because they are already depressed about their lives, depressed that they have to work two or three jobs to get by.
“That’s why people went for Trump,” said Smith, who runs a limo service, owns real estate — and admits to voting for the Manhattan mogul as well. “People are so sick of other people doing better.”
Sitting beside Smith was 28-year-old John Sabatelli. He agreed that it was ignorance of dangerous new variety of heroin that was fueling the crisis. He recalled being surprised when he discovered that a couple at the warehouse where he works was getting high on heroin in the bathroom.
“It’s surprising in that you don’t know who is going to do it,” he said.
Grieving dad Christopher Emmett said drugs have got a death grip on his community. He said his doomed son started smoking pot at age 13 and quickly graduated to harder drugs. He said Christopher Jr. was in and out of rehab – and so were most of his friends.
“It is really an epidemic,” Emmett said. “We went to 14 funerals of my son’s friends who died of addiction in just one year. They’re dropping like flies, every day.”
Emmett’s wife, Patricia, burst into tears at the thought of spending Christmas without her son. And as she cried, her boy’s ashes sat in an urn on a shelf in the living room.
“There ain’t no Christmas,” she said, bitterly.
A proud town fights on
Wilkes-Barre may be down now but it is far from defeated. In Public Square, new restaurants like Franklin’s have opened to serve the young professionals who have moved downtown to live in loft apartments in some of the vintage buildings.
Older establishments like the Café Toscana were bustling with diners on a Tuesday night. And so was the brand new Chick-fil-A, which is located on the first floor of dorm that King’s College built right on the square in an attempt to make students part of the city’s revival.
Just outside downtown loomed the rotting hulks of long-abandoned factories. But higher up in the hills, Christmas lights twinkled on many of the modest-but-clearly kept up homes and the streets bustled with families going about the business of everyday life.
Over at the ornate county courthouse, which dates back to 1909 and which was built at a time when the future of Wilkes-Barre seemed bright, a chorus of fourth graders from a school across the river in Larksville filed into the central hall to perform a medley of Christmas carols.
Watching them was the grandmother of one of the 11-year-old, a chubby, brown-haired boy with untied gym shoes. His face creased into an angelic smile when he spotted his grandma.
“I am scared for him,” said the grandmother, who declined to give her name. “I have family that got hooked on drugs. I don’t want that to happen to him.”
Asked why the area has been so ravaged by drugs, she shook her head. “I don’t know, maybe because they’re so easy to get,” she said.
The children’s music teacher, Joseph James, said so far his kids “are completely sheltered” from the heroin crisis unfolding around them.
Last week in court, Jamal Mansour, 64, pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder charges, and his attorney reaffirmed the same reason for the shooting: A mere accident.
This despite new evidence entered into court that Mansour was caught on video loading his revolver at a gas station the day before the shooting.
Tahani Mansour, 27, was shot twice in the head, allegedly by her own father while she slept.
That adds yet another layer to the case. Not only did Mansour shoot his 27-year-old daughter, Tahani, three times in the head at close range, once from just one foot away, while she lie helpless in her bed at 1:15 a.m., but he should have known his gun was loaded, prosecutors said.
The prosecution is not buying the “accident” theory, saying the video of him loading his gun the day before proves he had a “calculated plan.”
Prosecutor Michael O’Shea has described the killing as an assassination carried out “execution style,” but he refuses to say what could have motivated Mansour, leading some to suggest that it was an honor killing.
But the defendant’s attorney, Angelo Lenardo, took issue with that, saying the mere suggestion was “racist and offensive.”
To decipher a motive, the prosecutors may need to consult an expert on Shariah law, which guides Muslim fathers in family matters.
Mansour is a Muslim who migrated to the United States in the 1978 from Jordan. And, according to experts on Islamic law, his execution-style killing of his adult daughter bears the hallmarks of an Islamic honor killing.
Tahani had recently traveled alone on a business trip to Las Vegas against her father’s wishes. They’d reportedly had an argument about that trip.
“Mr. Mansour might have assimilated to Western culture sufficiently to shave his beard and wear jeans but not to accept his daughter behaving like Western girls,” said Daniel Akbari, a former top Shariah lawyer in Iran and author of “Honor Killing: A Professional’s Guide to Sexual Relations and Ghayra Violence from the Islamic Sources.”
Tahani Mansour was educated and successful. She received a doctor of pharmacy degree from Northeast Ohio Medical University in 2013, worked as a clinical pharmacist for University Hospitals and taught at the University of Findlay and the medical school, according to her LinkedIn account.
Yet she still lived at home under her father’s protection, a totally Islamic thing to do for even a grown adult woman.
Tahani Mansour was the youngest of six children.
Tahani’s brother called 9-1-1 for help at 1:15 a.m. He told the operator his father just shot his sister in her room at the family’s home on Vine Court.
This is how a portion of the 9-1-1 call went:
Operator: “Go ahead sir.” Caller: “Yes, my sister has been shot. Please send an ambulance, please.” Operator: “OK, where has she been shot at?” Caller: “In her room.” Operator: “OK. Did she shoot herself? Did you see who shot her?” Caller: “No, my father shot her.”
Dr. Joan Horvath told Fox 8 in Cleveland that the family lived on the street for years but kept to themselves. Other neighbors said the same thing.
“I understand that they have children. I have never seen the children. I would not recognize them. I’ve seen the father cutting the grass and occasionally the mother puttering with flowers, but I have never seen the children,” said Horvath. “The thought to me, of a father shooting a daughter, who is normally the apple of a father’s eye, is so heartbreaking. What drove him to that. What are the dynamics of that family that made him feel that the only way to stop something is to shoot his daughter?”
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