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Girl Abducted from School

The Good Samaritan who helped a missing girl (courtesy of Philly.com)

On Monday, an unidentified woman wearing Muslim attire that also covered her face strolled into a West Philadelphia elementary school and abducted a 5-year-old girl.

The abductor signed in and claimed to be the girl’s mother. Under normal circumstances, she would have to visit the main office to show identification and sign out her student. This obviously never happened.

Instead, the unidentified woman went to a classroom and asked for the student by name. The substitute teacher in charge of the class must not have known the proper procedures because she allowed the student to leave. And as far as I know, the little girl never protested because face it, she’s only five.

As soon as the young girl was reported missing, the Pennsylvania State Police issued an Amber Alert and offered a $10,000 reward. They also used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to enlist the public’s help in finding the missing student.

She was found under this slide (courtesy of USA Today)

Early Tuesday morning, Nelson Myers was walking through a local park when he heard someone whimpering and decided to investigate. As he approached the slide on the playground, he could make out a whisper: “Help, help.”

Myers found the young girl wearing only a shirt and hiding under the slide. “When I saw her under the slide, I was shocked,” he told authorities later. The girl also told him that she had “been stolen.”

Although there were no clear signs of injury, the young girl was transported to a local hospital to be examined for possible assault. And to date, her abductor is still at large.

Needless to say, the substitute teacher who released the girl to her abductor will not work for the school system while the investigation is underway and may never work in that county again. And remaining school personnel are currently reviewing the school’s sign out policy to prevent something like this from happening in the future.

As a parent, my absolute worst fear–aside from my child being killed in an accident or dying from some disease–is that he will be abducted. And every day when I drop him off at his elementary school, I’m trusting that he will be safe and protected. So when something like this happens mere weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, it makes me wonder just how safe our schools really are.

Have we learned nothing from Newtown?

Reality Round-Up: Cap Popping Edition

It’s no secret that guns have been all over the news lately.

After the movie theater massacre in Colorado last summer and the more recent elementary school shooting in Connecticut, America is up in arms (pun intended) over gun control, and rightfully so. Our nation has one of the highest rates of firearm-related deaths per capita, so it stands to reason.

Americans just love their guns and seem to like “popping caps” of all shapes and sizes. It’s protected in the Constitution, for goodness sake.

In honor of all the gun control conversations, arguments and battles taking place across our great and well-armed nation, I offer a smattering of news stories that clearly show we have our work cut out for us.

NEWINGTON, CONNECTICUT

Police were called in to control traffic, and prevent customers from filling up the parking lots of other businesses, during a sale at Hoffman's Gun Center in Newington. Gun sales have increased since the Sandy Hook shooting. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer

Visit Hoffman’s for all your assault weapon needs! (courtesy of CBS Connecticut)

When Adam Lanza marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed innocent children in cold blood, it set off a national controversy over semi-automatic weapons, powerful ammunition and extended magazines (clips). So what did Hoffman’s Gun Center & Indoor Shooting Range do?

They ran a special called the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport value pack that included all three of the soon-to-be-banned items. And people came out in droves.

Before 9 a.m. on Friday morning, the Berlin Turnpike was all jammed up as gun supporters came from miles around to purchase the $840 value pack. Included were a Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport semi-automatic rifle, two boxes of .223 ammunition and a 30-shot magazine.

Basically all you would need to wreak some havoc of your own. Sandy Hook Killer Adam Lanza used a weapon similar to the M&P15 during his attack, so we are all aware of the damage it can do.

Maybe it’s just me, but taking the rifle that killed all those children and then arming even more people with it seems like a bad idea. And in the very same state, too!

Carnage from Grand Theft Auto III (courtesy of Rockstar Games)

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Anytime young people bear arms, murder innocent people or take their own lives, it shocks our nation and we all start looking for answers. Inevitably, someone starts blaming video games, which have grown increasingly graphic and violent over the years. Experts will tell you that kids who play these sorts of games are more likely to become violent themselves.

According to Fareed Zakaria of CNN, however, nothing could be further from the truth. And he has plenty of data to back up this claim, too.

In December of last year, The Washington Post focused on ten different countries and compared gun-related murders to video game spending, just to see if some correlation could be found. Presumably, spending would be higher in countries plagued by gun violence, most notably the United States.

What they found was much, much different.

The Post’s study revealed that the Netherlands and South Korea spend more than twice as much on video games per capita as the US. Yet neither of these nations have high gun murder rates. In reality, they are both significantly lower. Even in Japan, where video games and cartoons are among the most graphic in the world, violent crime is virtually non-existent, at least when compared with America.

It’s true. America does have the worst gun violence in the world and we as a nation need to act quickly to stave it off. But blaming video games for our problems with violence? Give me a break.

LOGANVILLE, GEORGIA

Mrs. Herman pumped Paul Ali Slater full of lead (courtesy of Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office)

Magazines that hold large quantities of bullets, sometimes 30 or more, have been at the forefront of the recent gun control debate. But a recent incident in Georgia has many gun supporters claiming these “extended clips” are needed and that innocent people could be at risk if the magazines are banned.

Melinda Herman was home alone with her two 9-year-old children one night when an unknown intruder used a crowbar to break into her house. She immediately grabbed her phone and her .38 revolver and took her kids to hide in the attic, where she called her husband.

As he spoke to her, Donnie Herman used another phone to call 911 and held both phones to his ears. Melinda could hear the intruder rummaging through the house and worried he may try to enter the attic soon. So Donnie offered her some advice.

“Stay in the attic,” he instructed her. “If he opens the door, you shoot him!”

At that moment, the intruder approached the attic door and Melinda took her husband’s advice. She fired all six shots through the door, striking the home invader in the chest and face with five of them. Yet somehow, he still managed to flee.

And there’s the rub.

Staunch gun supporters and gun rights groups are having a heyday with this incident because Melinda fired every round she had and her would-be assailant still lived. What if several criminals had broken into her home last night? How protected would she be after running out of ammunition? Clearly, an extended magazine was needed.

And the conversation continues.

Odds are that we will never see an end to the gun control debate since America will never get rid of all its firearms. The best we can hope is that people will finally put all of their preferences, differences and biases aside and do whatever will save the most lives.

Isn’t that what’s really important anyway?

Teachers Fight Back

These teachers pack a punch (courtesy of Neil Bedi)

The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut generated a lot of talk about gun control, as we all know. There was also some discussion about arming principals and teachers with guns of their own, which to me sounded like a bad idea.

Teachers are liable to snap too, don’t you think? I certainly pushed several of mine to the brink when I was in school.

Fortunately, there are teachers around the country who seem to be doing things right.

In San Antonio, for instance, teachers and administrators took a self-defense course that simulated a shooter invading a classroom. These educators used the martial art of Krav Maga to take the assailant down quickly.

Here’s hoping their students never step out of line. Yikes.

Over in Maryland, former Israeli Special Forces soldier BK Blankchtein is training roughly 20 administrators and teachers to disarm a gunman.

“At some point if a shooter does make his way to a room, it’s not just your life, it’s your life and the lives of 20 other kids. You need to have something you can do,” Blankchtein said. “We can do our part in empowering teachers, making them safer.”

Blankchtein certainly did his part. He provided the entire weekend training, as well as a domestic violence session, for free.

It looks like the lines between teachers and soldiers are blurring, people. Eventually we may have former drill sergeants teaching our kids simply because they have combat training as well as supervisory experience. Stranger things have happened…

Profit from Pain

Nouel Alba

Alba stole money from victims and their families (courtesy of Huffington Post)

I am so glad there are people out there who do the right thing, help and inspire others, and generally give human beings a good name. Because sadly, there are others who make us all look really bad.

37-year-old Nouel Alba from the Bronx is one of the bad ones.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut, Alba decided she would pose as the aunt of one of the young victims, Noah Pozner, and collect donations to fund his funeral. She set up a Facebook page and directed all the ensuing donations to her PayPal account.

Federal authorities caught wind of the scam after CNN’s interview with Alba on December 19th. At that time, she denied everything but inadvertently identified an email that came from her personal account. It seems that was all the feds needed and when they questioned Alba, she lied about the scam.

Alba tried to make Noah a victim twice! (courtesy of NY Daily News)

Alba was arrested last Thursday for lying to federal agents and could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. She was released on $50,000 bond pending her trial.

It takes a special kind of criminal to prey upon people already suffering through a terrible tragedy like the one in Connecticut. And while I’m glad one such loser has been discovered and apprehended, I know there will be more to come. Tragedies like this always bring out the best and the worst in people.

Thankfully, Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein is keeping a close eye on the situation and seems ready to pounce on any would-be scammers out there: “This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to profit from this tragedy by contriving fraudulent schemes that exploit the many victims, their families and individuals who sincerely want to help.”

Good luck, Mr. Fein. Something tells me you’re going to need it…

Santa Gets Suspended

This didn’t happen, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

When are people going to learn that following a tragedy like the recent elementary school shooting in Connecticut, the public is going to be very sensitive to perceived threats. And Facebook posts are no exception.

A high school sophomore at Crawford County High School in Georgia learned this the hard way.

John George III and several friends were planning to dress up like Santa and his elves for school the next day. Why? To surprise their classmates and hand out candy canes.

Unfortunately, this plan would never come to pass.

Overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation, George took to Facebook and posted the following message on his home page: “Students of cchs ur in for a big surprise tomorrow.”

Apparently, proper spelling isn’t part of the Crawford County curriculum.

Someone who saw George’s post found it threatening and called the cops, who investigated and found no need for worry. Nevertheless, principal Mike Campbell was not amused and suspended George pending a school investigation.

Roberta police chief Ben Thomas blew the case wide open once he finally made the obvious connection. “I guess it could have been that, with all the stuff that happened in the elementary school last week, the shootings and all, have people concerned.”

You think?

Should We Arm Teachers?

Texas Governor Rick Perry fires a six-shooter pistol in downtown Fort Worth. Click image to expand.

Texas Governor Rick Perry leading by example (courtesy of Slate.com)

At a tea party event this past Monday, Texas Republican governor and former presidential wannabe Rick Perry said that anyone with a concealed weapon permit should be allowed to carry their guns on public property. This includes school property, too.

“In the state of Texas, with our concealed handgun license, if you have been duly backgrounded and trained and you are a concealed handgun license carrying individual, you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state,” said Perry. He added that teachers with the proper license and training should have “access to weapons in their school.”

Is it me, or does this sound like another accident waiting to happen?

Oddly enough, there is already one school district in Texas that allows teachers to be strapped: the Harrold school district northwest of Dallas. Beginning in 2008, employees officially licensed to carry firearms could do so on school property.

It seems to me that the solution to school gun violence is not to simply add more guns to the equation. Now instead of having a lone gunman walking the hallways, you will have teachers armed to the teeth either waiting in their classrooms to shoot any intruders or searching the school for the culprit. This potentially adds to the number of bullets whizzing by and opens the door for all kinds of accidental shootings, as well.

For me, the best way to prevent massacres like the one in Connecticut is to focus on several specific areas:

Arm The Teachers: Gun Control Petition Finds Its Political Opposite

The new breed of teachers? (courtesy of Inquisitr.com)

First, we must provide schools with the resources they need to keep students safe, like panic buttons, locking and perhaps even bulletproof doors and such. And yes, every school should have some kind of active shooter protocol to follow if they don’t already.

Second, we must train people to report odd, unusual or disturbing behavior the moment they observe it. I don’t care if it’s your son, friend, cousin, uncle, milk man or gas station attendant. If someone acts like they could be a danger to themselves or others, then someone should report them to the authorities. Better safe than sorry, if you ask me.

Finally, we as a nation need to examine very closely how we approach and handle mental illness. More and more people seem to be suffering from some type of disorder these days, and simply prescribing a “magic pill” to solve their problems doesn’t seem very effective. These individuals need more involved and thoughtful treatment, and they also need to be monitored more closely. Granted, this would require more resources, but if it saves lives, then wouldn’t the added cost be worth it?

Sorry for getting on my soapbox, but Governor Perry kind of set me off with his ridiculous notion. I guess this is just another example of why he never became the GOP candidate for president. If he had, then teachers all over the nation would be packing heat!

Connecticut Copycat

Inspired by the Connecticut killer (courtesy of AP)

A day after one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, we have our first “wannabe,” copycat killer.

Yesterday in Cedar Lake, Indiana, police arrested 60-year-old Von Meyer for threatening to kill people at Jane Ball Elementary School, which lies only 1,000 feet from Meyer’s home. They initially responded to a call from Meyer’s wife after her husband threatened to set her on fire once she fell asleep.

After Meyer was arrested and charged, investigators searched his home and found 47 weapons valued at more than $100,000. Many of them were collector’s items. And yes, there was plenty of ammunition, too.

Meyer has now been charged with a string of felonies and misdemeanors, including intimidation, domestic battery and resisting arrest. Authorities contacted the elementary school and heightened security there, but are also holding Meyer without bond until his court hearing.

Although this plot was thwarted and the would-be murderer was apprehended, I fear this won’t be the last copycat we see after the killings in Connecticut. Let’s just hope people do exactly what Meyer’s wife did if they observe strange behavior or receive threats from people they know: pick up the phone and contact the authorities. Better to play it safe than to have more innocent people killed.

A Father’s Worst Nightmare

Tyler in his high school yearbook (courtesy of New Fairfield High School)

Early this morning in New Fairfield, Connecticut, Jeffrey Giuliano was sleeping soundly when his neighbor called in a panic. It was after midnight and she was all alone when she heard a strange noise.

It sounded like someone was trying to break into her house.

Giuliano immediately grabbed his gun and went outside to investigate. He crept quietly through the yard, came around the corner of his neighbor’s house and saw a masked figure standing there. The figure came at him with something shiny in his hand, so Giuliano did what anyone would do in that situation.

He shot the stranger.

The police arrived around one o’clock and found Giuliano sitting on his neighbor’s lawn. They immediately checked the body and discovered a horrible truth: it was Giuliano’s own son, 15-year-old Tyler.

For now, no details are being released because the investigation is still underway. And we may never know what possessed Tyler to dress like a burglar, attempt a break-in next door to his home and attack his own father.

I suppose police could find a diary or speak with a friend who knew Tyler’s plans, but tragedies like this always seem to keep us guessing. The worst thing is that Jeffrey Giuliano may never know the truth. All he knows is that ultimately, he killed his own son. It was an accident, of course, but I doubt that brings him any comfort.

He still killed his own son.

As a father, I worry about my son’s well-being constantly. My mind is always running through worst-case scenarios, potential consequences, preventative measures, possible threats… any parents in the crowd undoubtedly know what I mean.

But to have your worst fears realized? Not only that, but to be responsible, however inadvertently, for your child’s death?

My heart truly goes out to Jeffrey Giuliano. And even though I know he may never forgive himself, I hope he gets answers to his questions soon. Maybe then he will find some peace.

UPDATE (Sept. 29, 2012): It turns out the “shiny object” in Tyler’s hand was indeed a knife. And no one has a clue why Tyler would do this, either, not even his friends from school. The night of this incident, Tyler spent some time talking on Skype and playing Minecraft online with his friend Brett. Around 10 p.m., Tyler excused himself and said he was going to bed. Next thing you know he’s dressed in black, wearing a mask, wielding a knife and breaking into homes. Something had to set him off…

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