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Gangs strangle Haiti’s capital as deaths, kidnappings soar

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Gangs strangle Haiti’s capital as deaths, kidnappings soar

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — It was about 6 a.m. when Venique Moïse flung open the door of her house and saw dozens of people running — their children in one hand and scant belongings in the other — as gunfire intensified.

Minutes later, she joined the crowd with her own three kids and fled as fires burned nearby, collapsing homes. Over the coming hours and days, the bodies of nearly 200 men, women and children — shot, burned or mutilated with machetes by warring gangs — were found in that part of Haiti’s capital.

“That Sunday, when the war started, I felt that I was going to die,” Moïse said.

Gangs are fighting each other and seizing territory in the capital of Port-au-Prince with a new intensity and brutality. The violence has horrified many who feel the country is swiftly unraveling as it tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the United Nations prepares to debate the future of its longtime presence in Haiti.

Experts say the scale and duration of gang clashes, the power criminals wield and the amount of territory they control has reached levels not seen before.

Gangs have forced schools, businesses and hospitals to close as they raid new neighborhoods, seize control of the main roads connecting the capital to the rest of the country and kidnap victims daily, including eight Turkish citizens still held captive, authorities say.

Gangs also are recruiting more children than before, arming them with heavy weapons and forming temporary alliances with other gangs in attempts to take over more territory for economic and political gain ahead of the country’s general elections, said Jaime Vigil Recinos, the United Nations’ police commissioner in Haiti.

“It’s astonishing,” he told The Associated Press, noting that gang clashes are becoming protracted, ruthless affairs. “We are talking about something that Haiti hasn’t experienced before.”

At least 92 civilians and 96 suspected gang members were killed between April 24 and May 16, with another 113 injured, 12 missing and 49 kidnapped for ransom, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The office warned that the actual number of people killed “may be much higher.”

Gangs also gang-raped children as young as 10 and set fire to at least a dozen homes, forcing some 9,000 people to flee and seek temporary shelter in churches, public parks and shuttered schools, U.N. officials said.

Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network said some victims were decapitated while others were thrown into wells and latrines. Gangs posted pictures of the gruesome scenes on social media to further terrorize people. The network said that most women and girls were raped before being killed.

“Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti,” Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a May 17 statement.

Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti, told the AP that one growing concern is the lack of access to basic things like water, food and medicine because people remain trapped in certain areas while gangs continue to fight, noting that malnutrition is on the rise, affecting 1 in 5 children in the Cité Soleil neighborhood alone.

“We are really seeing a strangulation of Port-au-Prince,” he said, adding that UNICEF has been forced to use a helicopter and now a boat to try to reach those most in need.

Staff at hospitals and clinics report they’re being stretched thin, with Doctors Without Borders noting that it treated nearly 100 people for gunshot wounds from April 24 to May 7, forcing the aid group to reopen a clinic in Cité Soleil it had closed in early April because of the violence.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry has remained largely quiet amid the escalating gang violence, while Frantz Elbé, Haiti’s new police chief, said dozens of gang members have been arrested and another 94 killed in clashes with police since he took over the department six months ago. Nearly 5,000 suspects have been accused of crimes including murder and kidnapping, Elbé said.

“I am going to continue to track down the criminals,” he pledged in a May 9 news conference, adding that Haiti’s understaffed and under-resourced police department of roughly 11,000 officers for a country of more than 11 million people was receiving training and equipment from the international community.

At least 48 killings were reported in the neighborhood of Butte Boyer, which Edna Noël Marie fled with her husband and three children when gunfire erupted in late April.

The 44-year-old is sleeping on the concrete floor of a crowded shelter with no mattresses in increasingly unhygienic conditions while her children stay at a friend’s home.

“It’s not big enough to shelter all of us,” she explained, adding that she fears gangs will recruit her two sons and rape her daughter. “These people have no remorse, and society doesn’t really care. … There is no civil protection. There are no authorities. Police are here today, and they’re going to be gone tomorrow.”

About 1,700 schools have shuttered amid the spike in gang violence, leaving more than half a million children without an education, with the directors of some schools unable to keep paying gangs to ensure students’ safety, the U.N. said. Efforts are underway to set up an FM radio station dedicated to broadcasting classes, Maes said.

“It’s very saddening for us that children who are willing to learn and teachers willing to teach cannot do so because they feel unsafe,” he said.

The ongoing violence and kidnappings have prompted hundreds of Haitians to flee their country, often a deadly move. At least 11 Haitians died and 36 others were rescued when their human smuggling boat overturned near Puerto Rico this month. Dozens of others have died at sea in recent months.

Another concern is the lack of housing not only for the estimated 9,000 families recently forced to flee their homes, but also for the estimated 20,000 others displaced last year who are still living in overcrowded, dirty government shelters. At the same time, the country is struggling to help roughly 20,000 Haitians the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has deported in recent months amid sharp criticism.

As police try to contain the gang violence, AP journalists visited the Butte Boyer neighborhood, where the smell of charred homes and decaying bodies spread for several blocks. Dogs gnawed on victims’ remains.

Several walls and gates were scrawled with “400 Mawozo,” a testament to the presence of a gang believed to have kidnapped the Turkish citizens in early May and 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group last year, demanding $1 million in ransom and holding most for two months.

Nailed to a wooden post, a picture of a man killed during the recent gang violence flapped in the wind. The sign underneath read, “Thanks to the government of my country.”

It was once a quiet neighborhood that Lucitha Gason, 48, knows she won’t return to again. She was getting ready for church when the explosion of gunfire in late April forced her to abandon her home. She’s been staying at a shuttered school, but the owner recently demanded that she and dozens of other Haitians find another place to sleep.

Gason is now trying to figure out where to go since she can’t afford to leave the country.

“We can’t count on the government. We can’t count on organizations. They’re all making promises that aren’t coming through,” she said. “Here in Haiti, you really have to depend on yourself and what you can do for yourself. There’s no such thing as what the country can do for you.”

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Sept. 1 trial status hearing scheduled for teen in killing of Chippewa Falls girl, 10

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Iliana (Lily) Peters family photo

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin teenager accused of killing a 10-year-old girl will find out in September whether he will stand trial.

Chippewa County Circuit Judge Benjamin Lane on Friday scheduled a Sept. 1 preliminary hearing for the 14-year-old boy, identified in court documents as C.T.P.-B. That’s the step in the criminal justice process where a judge determines if enough evidence exists to bind a defendant over for trial.

The body of Iliana (Lily) Peters, 10, was found in the woods near her aunt’s house in Chippewa Falls, Wis., on April 25, 2022, the day after her father reported her missing. (Courtesy of the Chippewa Falls Police Department)

The boy was charged in adult court on April 27 with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree sexual assault of a child under age 13 in connection with the killing of Iliana Peters, who was known as Lily. Anyone who is at least 10 years old and is accused of first- or second-degree homicide is considered an adult in Wisconsin’s court system.

Lily disappeared on the night of April 24 as she was riding her bike home from her aunt’s house in Chippewa Falls, according to the criminal complaint. Searchers found her body in the woods the next morning.

The boy told investigators that he was riding his hoverboard alongside Lily on a trail and he intended to sexually assault and kill her, according to the complaint.

He asked Lily to leave the trail and explore the woods with him. According to the complaint, he told investigators that once they were off the trail, he punched her, hit her with a stick and strangled her before he sexually assaulted her body.

The boy’s attorney, Michael Cohen, told Lane on Friday that he was upset that someone posted a video online that included recordings of police communications in the moments Lily’s body was found and that characterized the boy as a “little monster.” Cohen alleged that someone in law enforcement leaked confidential information to the poster and demanded the judge issue a gag order. He didn’t specify against whom, though.

Lane asked Cohen for the link to the video and stated that anyone with access to investigatory materials should keep them confidential and their release could jeopardize the boy’s right to a fair trial.

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Sainted & Tainted: Half of my summer is gone because you didn’t yield

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Sainted & Tainted: Half of my summer is gone because you didn’t yield

Tainted & Sainted

Tainted: June 3, between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. at Johnson Parkway and Sixth Street. The male driver in a black pickup didn’t yield to me and crossed into the bike path where I fell under the bike to avoid hitting your truck. All you did was sit in the truck and say you’re sorry. You left as soon as I got off the street. Half of my summer is gone because of this.

Tainted: Whoever designed this bike path. Hardly anyone stops at the stop sign. Just stop at the corner. Many close calls to me and I’ve told all to stop. Maybe put a yield sign or stop signs on the west side of Johnson. They don’t know how to yield.

Sainted: To the one driver who asked if I was OK. Much appreciated. Felt fine at the time but did break my elbow.

Barb Anderson, St. Paul

 

Tainted

I think It would be desirable if those responsible for the St. Paul skyway system could maintain uniform hours for the operation of the system.

They have posted operating hours indicating a close of 11 p.m., but this is contradicted by one posting indicating a 12 p.m. closing. The reality is that neither apply as I discovered this past Saturday when returning to my apartment from a downtown restaurant.

The location in the general vicinity (east) of the Subway operation was closed at 10 p.m. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect uniform operating hours to be observed.

Roger A. Godin, St. Paul

 

Sainted

An incredible Sainted to Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater. I had surgery this past Tuesday and had never been there before. The care I received was phenomenal. The staff was incredible and compassionate.

I was on the first floor and it was like a party when they came in for vitals, etc. Kelly always referred me to as The Boss. Thank you for such kindness and for helping me through such a painful surgery. And an even bigger shout out to my personal paramedics Shawna S. and Mary F.  Thank you both so much for everything. I’d be lost without you.

Laura McGinn, St. Paul

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ASK IRA: Could another Heat run at Kevin Durant be in the cards?

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ASK IRA: Could another Heat run at Kevin Durant be in the cards?

Q: Ira, we’ve been burned by Kevin Durant before. We can’t be fooled into fool’s gold again. – Ian.

A: Look, this whole Brooklyn Nets-will-implode storyline is so bizarre, so speculative, so seemingly preposterous that perspective needs to be toned down all around on the possibilities of both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant departing. But to your question, this also is an opportunity to address the notion of the Heat being “burned” when coming up short in free agency, including when Pat Riley and Micky Arison traveled to the Hamptons in an attempt to woo Kevin Durant during 2016 free agency. It was the same narrative when the Heat “came up short” with Gordon Hayward (and even to a degree the supposed previous “failure” to nab Kyrie). Being mentioned in such speculation means your franchise has earned the respect of players and agents. That is a good thing. The Heat get into the room (unless it’s LeBron’s Las Vegas suite). And if Kevin Durant does attempt to work his way elsewhere, they likely will be back in the room.

Q: Nikola Jovic seems a bit slow footed when I watch his clips. I’d like to see him get serious playing time in Sioux Falls, so he can adjust to the NBA speed. – James.

A: But I’m not sure the G League game, which can be helter skelter at times, is the preferred tempo, either. This could be more along the lines of Omer Yurtseven’s rookie season with the Heat, where it will be mostly developmental, with some as-needed time as warranted/merited. Remember, Nikola Jovic will become the youngest Heat player ever to appear in a game in the franchise’s 35 seasons. That has to be about patience, for more than just foot speed.

Q: Ira, you listed players the Heat passed on to get Nikola Jovic. Who would you have preferred? – Anthony.

A: So basically you’re asking me to trump my preference in the moment at the 2020 draft for Desmond Bane? I’m not sure there is anyone in that category this year. But of those selected after Nikola Jovic (who I think can turn into an inspired choice), I do believe that Patrick Baldwin’s skillset could still yield something special and was curious about E.J. Liddell as a Heat fit. But I don’t believe there is a reason for second guessing when you’re talking about No. 27.

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