Man kills Alabama bus driver, holds child hostage underground
by Lateef Mungin
A gunman boarded a school bus in Alabama, killed the driver, took a 6-year-old boy hostage and hours later was still holding him in an underground bunker, police said.
The incident started Tuesday afternoon and continued Wednesday morning with authorities still desperately trying to free the young child.
Late in the evening Tuesday, the man had the child in some sort of underground bunker or storm shelter, and authorities were communicating with him through a PVC pipe, CNN affiliate WSFA reported.
"We will continue to work diligently through the night in an effort to bring closure to this incident as quickly as possible," the Dale County Sheriff's Department said late Tuesday.
Adding to the tension was the fact that the child needs medication that has to be taken daily, CNN affiliate WDHN reported.
Overnight, authorities were able to send the child's medication down the pipe into the bunker and also determine that the boy had not been physically harmed, WDHN reported.
The incident started at about 3:40 p.m. (4:40 p.m. ET) near a church in Midland City, Alabama, in the southeastern corner of the state.
Michael Senn, a local pastor, told WSFA that he spoke to several students who had been on the bus.
He said a girl described the shooter getting aboard.
"He told most of them to get off the bus," Senn related. "And then he grabbed a little boy and shot the bus driver four times." The driver's body was removed from the bus early Wednesday, WDHN reported.
Mike Creel, the suspect's neighbor, said he also talked to some of the children who escaped the bus. It was a terrifying scene, Creel told the affiliate.
The suspect initially demanded two children, Creel told WSFA.
"The one child he got ahold of actually fainted," said Creel. "That was the reason he was able to grab him. And now he is hidden in his homemade bomb shelter."
Creel said the suspect had been living in the area for about two years and began building the shelter right when he moved in.
Authorities have not released the name of the suspected gunman.
Early in the morning, local authorities allowed the FBI to take the lead in the hostage situation, WDHN reported.
Ohio Innocence Project helped free Prade
LONDON -- The Ohio Innocence Project has received over 6,000 letters and calls from inmates proclaiming their freedom.
Of those, this non-profit team of attorneys and law students based at the University of Cincinnati has taken just 24 cases to court for post-conviction DNA testing.
And of those 24 cases, 15 convictions have been overturned by by the DNA testing. Many of the rest of the cases are still pending.
The Innocence Project started 20 years ago and came to Ohio in 2003.
Staff Attorney Carrie Wood says Doug Prade's case, which they took up in 2004, is one of the longest ongoing cases for the OIP.
"Why the state spent eight years litigating it, spending tax payer money when DNA testing was going to be provided pro bono, there is no good answer to that question," Wood said.
She says the attorneys with the Ohio Innocence Project will have to continue working with Prade, now that prosecutors have appealed his release.
If the court upholds his innocence, Prade could be entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation for his 15 years spent in prison.
"There should never be an innocent person in prison and our criminal justice system unfortunately has flaws," Wood said.
She says it is the objective of the Ohio Innocence Project to expose those flaws, for the sake of the person behind bars, and for the betterment of the justice system.
L.A. Homeless Count Needs Your Help
by Ashley Riegle
Under dimly lit streetlights and the distant glare of every major U.S. bank in downtown Los Angeles, hundreds of adults wait for food in the rain on crowded, filthy streets. Some are sick, others are veterans, many are mentally ill.
Categorically, they are homeless.
L.A. County has the largest number of homeless people in the country, with the vast majority largest numbers living in Metro and South L.A. Of the more than 51,000 estimated homeless people currently residing in L.A., a staggering 40% -- nearly 20,000 homeless people -- reside on the streets or in shelters in these areas, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).
From Jan. 29-31, L.A. will hold the fifth biannual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, the largest homeless count in the nation. Within each geographic area of L.A., the census will attempt to register homeless individuals in terms of gender, race, age and marital status. It will also aim to determine the number of homeless residents living with severe mental illness, disabilities, drug dependency and/or HIV, as well as veterans, survivors of domestic abuse and homeless families.
“The more information we have, the more we can do,” said Jerry Hittleman, director of policy and planning for LAHSA, which organizes the count.
The count is a necessary measure for LAHSA and other homeless advocacy organizations to continue receiving funding and resources from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Aside from collecting sheer numbers, the census will aim to uncover shifts in trends of the homeless population, with South L.A. being a distinct focus of the count.
South L.A. has increasingly become a hub for many at-risk groups of homeless individuals. Findings from the 2011 L.A. Homeless Count revealed that 37% of unaccompanied homeless youth (persons 18 and under) and 33% of homeless family members (individuals with relatives also living on the streets) were living in South L.A.
“Homeless youth in South L.A. are often the product of the neighborhood: the foster care system, problems coming out of prison, youth detention centers. Others come from broken homes, single family homes,” said Hittleman.
There is also the stark reality of joblessness in South L.A. which is approximately 16% compared to 9.5% for the greater city. In southern parts of South L.A., it can be as high as 25%, for African American males as high as 35%.
South L.A. encompasses a total of 28 neighborhoods, from historic South Central in the north to Watts and Athens in the south, Crenshaw and West Adams in the west to Florence Graham in the east. With increased development in Downtown L.A., many local advocates believe that homeless populations in South L.A. are growing as a result.
Grace Weltman is a case manager for LAHSA covering South L.A. Weltman pointed to the high number of child welfare cases as a key factor that contributes to the high levels of homeless in the region.
“About 55% of child welfare cases in L.A. occur in communities in South L.A. These kids often end up on probation or having severe mental health issues. We also see many children from the foster care system who turn eighteen and find themselves suddenly without a home,” said Weltman.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas oversees a district that encompasses both Metro and South L.A., the greatest number of homeless persons in any supervisorial district. Ridley-Thomas recently issued a public call-to-action encouraging L.A. residents to participate in the 2013 Homeless Count. He is expected to be volunteering in the count in his district this week.
Some homeless advocates questioned the effectiveness of the count. Mel Tillekeratne, the chief organizer of Monday Night Mission, a grassroots volunteer organization that helps feed homeless people living on and around Skid Row, noted that the count was taking place during the winter.
“It's cold, and because of that many homeless people disperse", argued Tillekeratne. “Tonight we served food to a couple hundred people. In June or July, the number would be double that. If they want an accurate number, it should be held at a different time.”
While some neighborhoods have high numbers of volunteers registered for the 2013 L.A. Homeless Count, many areas in South L.A. including neighborhoods around USC remain in desperate need of help.
“These people are human beings. They deserve better than this,” said Tillekeratne.
To learn more about the 2013 L.A. Homeless Count and volunteer, visit: http://www.theywillcountyou.org
To learn more about Monday Night Mission and volunteer, visit: http://www.mondaynightmission.org