Bombing suspects’ family struggles: ‘Just regular kids’

USA TODAY, April 26, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md. — When he first came to America eight years ago, Alvi Tsarni lived with his brother, Anzor Tsarnaev, and his family in a small Cambridge, Mass., apartment. It was there he spent the most time with his nephews, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, who he described as happy young men.

“They were just regular kids,” Alvi Tsarni, 48, said while sitting inside his Montgomery Village, Md., home. “They would go outside and play. They liked music, dancing, playing video games and the Internet.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was very young and played a lot with the children of another nearby Chechnyan family in Cambridge, Tsarni recalled. The brothers didn’t get into trouble, ate whatever their mother cooked, and lived an ordinary life.

Tsarni, who lived with the family for a year, didn’t remember the Tsarnaev brothers and their family as very religious. Tsarni said he never talked about Islam with the father of the two suspected bombers. (more…)

Classmates: Bombing suspect was pot-smoking party boy

USA TODAY, April 25, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

DARTMOUTH, Mass. — Friends and classmates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can’t grasp how the pot-smoking, party boy they knew is the same young man now accused of carrying out a terrorist attack.

Tsarnaev was funny, sarcastic, liked to party and frequently reeked of marijuana, said students in a sophomore residence at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth where the alleged bomber lived.

Several students on Tuesday described a shared shock and disbelief as classmates discovered that Tsarnaev faces federal charges of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. (more…)

Hospital teams in Boston blasts calm in face of terror

USA TODAY, April 19, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

BOSTON — Jessica Sexton shakes and quietly cries as she describes sitting by a severely injured child’s bedside for hours after Monday’s bombing.

A nurse, she was at the marathon cheering on runners when she heard the explosions, rushed to her nearby home and then biked into work at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Like other doctors, and nurses who described being in packed emergency rooms to USA TODAY, Sexton said she kept calm and focused on caring for injured. Days later, however, she and others are starting to process the experience.

“I was just thinking I had to be there,” Sexton said. “It’s something we’re trained for, so you’re focused on patient needs and what you can do to get them through this.”

Her account and others’ illustrate a medical community that, although shocked by the attacks, endured the immense pressure to provide uncompromised care. (more…)

Lawyers: Human trafficking laws may hit some too hard

USA TODAY, March 31, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

Scenario: Police discover a human-trafficking ring. Fifteen people are charged, including the men who physically held the young women captive, the driver of the car who took the victims to clients, and the person who created the advertisements used to sell them.

Is each person equally liable for the crime? Does it matter how much each knew? What was each person’s intent?

As efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States gain momentum, some legal experts say questions like these must be asked as lawmakers draft legislation that could unintentionally lead to wrongful convictions and unfair stigmatization.

Supporters of the laws, however, say strong legislation is critical to fighting the problem. They say that like drug trafficking, human trafficking can involve many players working toward a criminal goal. (more…)

A year after Trayvon Martin death, families reflect

USA TODAY, February 26, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

NEW YORK — Robert Zimmerman wears bulletproof vests when he goes outside his house. He doesn’t greet neighbors or look grocery store cashiers in the eye. Once, angry customers at Starbucks confronted him over one of the nation’s most controversial cases.

Zimmerman is not a suspect, but his brother, George, is the man accused of murdering Trayvon Martin a year ago Feb. 26. Like Trayvon’s family, Zimmerman’s family has been forever changed since the night Trayvon, a teenager whose parents say was racially profiled, was fatally shot in a dark Florida subdivision.

Amid plans for a vigil in memory of Trayvon in New York City, the families of George Zimmerman and Trayvon are speaking as publicly about the case as ever.

“George’s entire family was smeared by proxy,” said Robert Zimmerman, 31, who moved from Virginia to act as a full-time spokesman for his family. “The situation goes from peaceful to anxious, having uttered the Zimmerman name in public.”

Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, 46, continues to be haunted by the moment he identified his son’s dead body. For him, Feb. 26, the day of the shooting, and Feb. 27, the morning he identified his son, mark the worst days of his life.

“I just want to erase those two days,” he said. “No healing has been done inside my heart.” (more…)

Organizer postpones big Pennsylvania gun show

USA TODAY, January 24, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

A decision Thursday to postpone a large Pennsylvania gun show has sparked debate about whether such events are coming under fire in the wake of last month’s Newtown, Conn., shooting massacre.

Reed Exhibitions announced it was postponing the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., which had been scheduled for Feb. 2 to Feb. 10. The change came after Reed banned assault rifles at the show, prompting several exhibitors to boycott.

“In the current climate, we felt that the presence of modern sporting rifles would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests,” the company said in a statement.

Reed Exhibitions plans to reschedule “as the national debate clarifies.” (more…)

Smaller crowd just as excited about second inauguration

USA TODAY, January 21, 2013

By Yamiche Alcindor

WASHINGTON– Thousands spilled into streets before sunrise. People stood shoulder to shoulder in front of jumbo screens. Long lines snaked down Metro station entrances.

The scenes from this year’s inauguration could easily be mistaken for 2009. But fewer people attended this year’s festivities, though the crowds surrounding the Capitol Building seemed just as dense.

“I think there’s a lot more energy and passion behind this inauguration because we understand the struggles and obstacles President Obama had to endure and overcome,” said Carla Campbell-Jackson, as she stood sandwiched between other inaugural goers on the back lawn of the Capitol. (more…)

More than 400 new laws take effect Tuesday

USA TODAY, December 29, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

In 2013 in Illinois, motorcyclists will be able to “proceed through a red light if the light fails to change.” In Kentucky, releasing feral or wild hogs into the wild will be prohibited. And in Florida, swamp buggies will not legally be considered motor vehicles.

On Jan. 1, as crowds of people toast to a new year, more than 400 news laws across the country will take effect — and possibly improve life for some.

“The laws that state governments deal with are really the laws that impact people on a daily basis,” said Jon Kuhl, a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks the bills. “Whether amending or updating laws or enacting brand new legislation, it was an active year.” (more…)

Funerals, sadness, and haunting memories for Newtown

USA TODAY, December 20, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

NEWTOWN, Conn. — The magnitude of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre continued to bear down on this small town Wednesday as eight families held services for victims.

Across Newtown and surrounding areas, makeshift memorials grew and police lights, dark hearses, and long funeral processions — now a familiar sight —passed through town for a third straight day. Police also continued to dig into what led to the tragedy.

Near Sandy Hook Elementary, Gene Rosen, 69, recalled the victims and the time he spent with six children who he believes witnessed the murder of their teacher, Victoria Soto.

“Two boys started crying furiously and saying ‘We can’t go back to school, we can’t go back to school — our teacher is gone,’ ” said Rosen who brought the children inside his home after finding them on his front lawn shortly Friday morning. “I was so overwhelmed I could not take in what they were saying.” (more…)

Threat darkens reopening of schools in Newtown

USA TODAY, December 19, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Sadness met sirens Tuesday as hundreds of students for the first time since last week’s shooting returned to schools patrolled by police cars and families held memorial services for four victims.

Throughout the day, schoolbuses, students and hearses with dozens of police cruisers and motorcycle escorts made their way through the small town’s crowded streets. Residents, faced with a day of mourning and an attempt to return to some sort of normalcy, expressed sorrow, anger, and an interest in seeing change.

“I don’t think we’re going to have much class today,” said Newtown High School sophomore Tate Schwab, 15 . “I know a lot of people who are nervous to be back in school. A lot of people don’t want to be here. They feel like it’s wrong.” (more…)

Heroism no surprise to those who knew slain principal

USA TODAY, December 15, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

NEWTOWN, Conn. — News that Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung confronted the gunman during the Friday rampage at her school didn’t surprise her former neighbors in nearby Woodbury.

Town officials say Hochsprung, who died in the shootings at the school, was killed while lunging at the gunman as she tried to overtake him.

“I would expect her to jump right into the chaos,” said neighbor Judith Neukam. “I think she would have felt responsible for it and she would have taken that responsibility.” (more…)