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GUNMAN IN NAVY YARD RAMPAGE WAS HEARING VOICES

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 10:55 Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — The former Navy reservist who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard had been hearing voices and was being treated for mental illness in the weeks before the shooting rampage, but was not stripped of his security clearance, officials said Tuesday.

Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old information technology employee with a defense contractor, used a valid pass to get into the highly secured installation Monday morning and started firing inside a building, the FBI said. He was killed in a gun battle with police.

The motive for the mass shooting — the deadliest on a military installation in the U.S. since the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 — was a mystery, investigators said.

U.S. law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that there was no known connection to terrorism and that investigators have found no manifesto or other writings suggesting a political or religious motive.

Alexis had been suffering a host of serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and had been hearing voices in his head, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal investigation was still going on.

He had been treated since August by Veterans Affairs, the officials said.

The Navy had not declared him mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.

The assault is likely to raise more questions about the adequacy of the background checks done on contract employees and others who are issued security clearances — an issue that came up most recently with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, an IT employee with a government contractor.

In the hours after the Navy Yard attack, a profile of Alexis began coming into focus.

A Buddhist convert who had also had flare-ups of rage, Alexis, a black man who grew up in New York City and whose last known address was in Fort Worth, Texas, complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination. He also had run-ins with the law over shootings in 2004 and 2010 in Texas and Seattle, and was ticketed for disorderly conduct after being thrown out of a metro Atlanta nightclub in 2008.

Alexis' bouts of insubordination, disorderly conduct and being absent from work without authorization prompted the Navy to grant him an early — but honorable — discharge in 2011 after nearly four years as a full-time reservist, authorities said. During his service, he repaired aircraft electrical systems at Fort Worth.

In addition to those killed at the Navy Yard attack, eight people were hurt, including three who were shot and wounded, authorities. Those three were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. They were all expected to survive.

The dead ranged in age from 46 to 73, officials said. A number of the victims were civilian employees and contractors, rather than active-duty military personnel.

Those killed included: Michael Arnold, 59, a Navy veteran and avid pilot who was building a light airplane at his home; Sylvia Frasier, 53, who worked in computer security; Kathleen Gaarde, 63, a financial analyst; and Frank Kohler, 50, a former president of the Rotary Club in Lexington Park, Md., who proudly reigned as "King Oyster" at the region's annual seafood festival.

Monday's onslaught at a single building at the Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation's capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol. It put all of Washington on edge.

"This is a horrific tragedy," Mayor Vincent Gray said.

Alexis carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene, according to two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

The AR-15 is the same type of rifle used in last year's shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults. The weapon was also used in the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 70.

For much of the day Monday, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the shooting was the work of a lone gunman, and the lockdown around the area was eased.

"We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American "patriots." He promised to make sure "whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible."

The FBI took charge of the investigation.

The attack came four years after Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in what he said was an effort to save the lives of Muslims overseas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.

At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an employee with The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.

Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI's field office in Washington, said Alexis had access to the Navy Yard as a defense contractor and used a valid pass.

The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling, 41-acre labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors, and employees have to produce their IDs at doors and gates. More than 18,000 people work there.

The rampage took place at Building 197, the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work at headquarters, many of them civilians.

Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.

Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.

"It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running," Ward said.

__ Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Jesse Holland, Stacy A. Anderson, Brian Witte and Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.

WHY IS FRANCE PUSHING SO HARD ON SYRIA?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 10:53 Published in National News
CREIL, France (AP) — In a secretive compound north of Paris, colored blips and blotches on a computer-screen map of Damascus depict an armored vehicle at a highway, tanks, a blown-up building in a suburban field. An unusual glimpse at France's military intelligence headquarters demonstrates how closely the French are watching what's happening in Syria — and how involved the French government is in ending Syria's civil war.

As French President Francois Hollande keeps up the threat of military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, he isn't just acting as President Barack Obama's poodle, as some critics maintain. France, Syria's onetime colonial ruler and a country eager to maintain its place as a military and diplomatic power, has plenty of reasons to be out front on Syria.

HISTORY

The Middle Eastern country took its current shape as a French mandate after being chiseled out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as did neighboring Lebanon, and French is spoken by many in both countries. France has particularly close ties to Lebanon and wants to prevent it from being sucked further into Syria's chaos.

The ties to the region also make Syria a particularly attractive place for homegrown French extremists. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said this month that about 110 citizens or residents of France have joined up with jihadist fighters in Syria — about half the total number from European Union countries. French authorities fear they will return home to carry out terrorism.

Also, fear of chemical weapons runs deep in France, which is why France has hardened its line since the Aug. 21 attack in which the U.S. and some allies believe Assad's regime used sarin gas against Syrian citizens. Many French people have ancestors who faced mustard gas in World War I, as chemical weapons scarred public consciousness for the first time.

INDEPENDENCE AND INTELLIGENCE

Dating back to the presidency of Gen. Charles de Gaulle in the midst of the Cold War, France has long sought to show it makes military decisions independently. A nuclear power, it has also built up one of the world's more robust intelligence machines, in part to show that it doesn't just rely on the United States for information.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tried to drive home that point to a small group of journalists invited to the headquarters of DRM, France's military intelligence agency, in Creil north of Paris, and taken inside the high-security computer nerve center where images are beamed down from France's Helios and Pleaides satellites. The message was aimed mostly at domestic audiences, who are disillusioned with Hollande and wary of an intervention in Syria.

Screens bore labels of Damascus, the Syrian capital; a nuclear facility at Bushehr, Iran; and Gao, Mali — in the vast desert zone that was controlled by al-Qaida-linked Islamic radicals until French troops ousted them this year.

The images from Damascus appeared to date from late August, and military officers in the image-monitoring center quietly acknowledged that tracking movements of chemical weapons in Syria was difficult by satellite. The DRM also collects intelligence from human sources and through electronic monitoring.

A high-ranking officer with the 13th RDP special forces regiment explained how French troops parachuted secretly into Mali — not showering for days beforehand because dogs can smell soap. Another showed a fake cinder block with a camera inside that could be planted near the suspected hideout of enemy fighters. A bogus stone made of plastic resin about the size of a volleyball hid a GPS beacon inside, to help with targeting. Defense Ministry escorts said the officers' names could not be used for security reasons.

THE MALI MODEL OF MILITARY MUSCLE

France's intervention in Mali has emboldened the government on other overseas operations. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was largely ousted from northern Mali. Only seven French soldiers died in the months-long intervention, while French officials say hundreds of militants were killed. The operation paved the way for elections generally seen as legitimate.

The Mali intervention offered France "an assertion of French military capabilities outside of an operation dominated by the U.S.," said Marc Pierini, a Frenchman who served 35 years as a European Union diplomat, including four years as its ambassador to Syria at the start of Assad's tenure.

SOLE STRENGTH IN EUROPE?

After Britain's parliament blocked any potential British military participation in a Syria strike earlier this month, France stood alone as the European country most willing to wield the military threat alongside the United States against Assad's regime.

From a military standpoint, "none of the other European countries are needed," Pierini said. "The only European country that has Tomahawks is the U.K. — it's paralyzed politically — so the next best thing is the French Scalp," an airplane-fired cruise missile.

Former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said France also wants to give more teeth to the EU.

"The other Europeans are not in the mindset of 'Europe power,' but one of 'Big Switzerland' — that's to say an isolationist, pacifist evolution," and want to avoid "all foreign dramas and intervene as little as possible," he said in a phone interview.

Not so France.

WANTING TO BE HEARD

A permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France is often seen as a fading, if not already faded, power. Hollande wants to counter that, and is using France's vast diplomatic network to do so.

It's also propelled by a French Revolution-era belief in universal values of human rights, which has played a role in French military interventions from Bosnia to Afghanistan. An exception was Iraq a decade ago, when then-President Jacques Chirac opposed the U.S.-led operation in Iraq, saying it wasn't justified.

"C'est la France, Monsieur!" said Pierini, referring to France's impulse to intervene. "It's in part the issue of principle."

Added Vedrine, the former foreign minister: "The question is not, 'Do we side up with the United States?' It is, 'Can we let this massacre happen without reacting?'"

EXTREME BINGE DRINKING NOT UNCOMMON IN HIGH SCHOOL

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 10:48 Published in Health & Fitness
CHICAGO (AP) -- Almost 1 in 10 U.S. high school seniors have engaged in recent extreme binge drinking - downing at least 10 drinks at a rate that barely budged over six years, according to a government-funded report.

Less severe binge drinking, consuming five or more drinks in a row, has mostly declined in recent years among teens. But for high school seniors, the 2011 rate for 10 drinks in a row - 9.6 percent - was down only slightly from 2005.

The most extreme level - 15 or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks - didn't change from 2005 to 2011. Almost 6 percent of high school seniors reported recently drinking that amount.

The number of seniors engaging in the most extreme drinking "is really concerning because they're most at risk for the really severe consequences," including reckless driving, car accidents and alcohol poisoning, said lead researcher Megan Patrick of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Extreme binge drinking may be a behavior that's "more entrenched" among some teens, and thus harder to change, Patrick said.

The new report is an analysis of survey results that the university does for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's based on classroom questionnaires given to more than 16,000 high school seniors; a question on extreme binge drinking was added in 2005.

Whites and males were the most likely to engage in all levels of binge drinking, the report found. Students with more educated parents had higher rates of binge drinking than other kids, but lower rates of extreme binge drinking.

Extreme binge drinking was most common in rural areas and the Midwest and least common in the West.

The report was published online Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

Young adults generally have higher levels of extreme drinking; a 2012 survey by the same group found that more than 1 in 4 people aged 19 to 30 had recently consumed at least 10 drinks in a row and more than 1 in 10 had at least 15 drinks in a row.

A journal editorial says the new report may help explain why hospitalizations for alcohol and drug overdoses among teens and young adults have increased in recent years despite ongoing declines in less severe binge drinking.

In the early 1980s, before all states made 21 the minimum legal drinking age, more than 40 percent of high school seniors said they had recently downed more than five drinks in a row, according to data cited in the editorial.

The 5-plus binge drinking rate steadily declined in more recent years for seniors, to 22 percent in 2011, although it was 24 percent in 2012, according to a previous report from the survey group. The new report has slightly different percentages because it is based on a subgroup of previous surveys. Survey results for 2012 on extreme binge drinking among seniors haven't been published yet.

--- Online: Journal: HTTP://JAMAPEDIATRICS.COM

Monitoring the Future: HTTP://WWW.MONITORINGTHEFUTURE.ORG
--- AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/LINDSEYTANNER © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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