Norway is set to review a series of controversial child protection decisions involving a prominent expert convicted of downloading hundreds of thousands of images of child sex abuse.
For years the psychiatrist played a key role in recommendations on children being taken into care.
He was given nearly two years in jail by an Oslo court in April.
The decision to review his cases follows a public debate sparked by a BBC investigation.
One family, whose two youngest children were kept in foster care following an intervention by the child psychiatrist, has already been reunited in the past few weeks following a court judgement. The Arnesens’ story featured in the BBC investigation.
Norway’s child protection agency, Barnevernet, has come under attack from some parents and child welfare professionals who say it often takes children into care without adequate justification.
Child protection expert who worked across Norway
The 56-year-old psychiatrist, who is not being named to protect his children, had admitted downloading nearly 200,000 pictures and more than 12,000 videos showing the sexual abuse or sexualisation of children.
The court heard that some images appeared to show infants being raped by adult men.
The psychiatrist, who is appealing against his sentence, said he had been viewing the material for 20 years.
During that time the psychiatrist was appointed to the prestigious 14-member Child Expert Commission, which oversees childcare recommendations throughout Norway. He has also been employed as an expert by various local authorities across the country.
His professional licence to work has been withdrawn but the Board of Health Supervision said after his conviction that they would not be re-examining previous cases he was involved in – despite calls from some parents to do so.
How did Norway respond to scandal?
In June, the children and equality ministry told the BBC it could not comment on the case, and declined a request for an interview.
Now, after considering its “handling of this case during the summer”, it has called on local authorities to look into the psychiatrist’s past cases, and told the health supervision board to work out how that can be done with the involvement of parents. The case raised several issues that had not been previously assessed, it told the BBC.
Borge Tomter, head of child welfare on the health supervision board, said: “I think we are going to assess every case if possible.” But he added he did not yet know how many cases there were.
The psychiatrist himself said 10 years ago that he had been employed as an expert assessor in between 50 and 75 child protection cases.
The Child Expert Commission, in which he was involved more recently, reviews some 750 welfare recommendations every year. The head of the commission, Katrin Koch, told the BBC in July that she had looked into some of his reports and found no cause for concern.
The ministry said no authority had “a complete overview” of the number of cases and “this challenge” was part of the review.
Family’s five-year battle against authority
Inez Arnesen, a mother of eight and local politician from Tonsberg in southern Norway, whose two youngest children were returned to her in August after five years in care, welcomed plans for a review but said: “It has to be done by someone from outside the system who can look at each case with fresh eyes.”
She questioned how parents could take part in the review when most Norwegians did not know the name of the psychiatrist concerned.
Four of her children were put into foster care in 2013 following allegations that she had used physical force on her children, which is outlawed in Norway.
Three years later, a criminal court acquitted her of the charges. Two of her children were then returned – but the youngest two were not. That followed criticism by the now-disgraced psychiatrist of a report recommending that they be allowed to return home.
But last month, the family successfully argued that in light of the psychiatrist’s conviction, that criticism should now be disregarded.
Now her son Christian, 11, and daughter Vendela, aged 12, are gradually readjusting to life with their parents.
“We didn’t cross the finish line when we won,” Inez says. “We still have to get family dynamics back and we have to co-operate with the Child Protection Service. They had my head on the block for five years. I’m willing to cooperate with them, but it’s strange.”
Another mother, Cecilie, whose daughter is in care following a recommendation co-authored by the disgraced psychiatrist, praised the decision to hold a review.
But she said: “I’m not very hopeful. They want people to see that they are doing something, but they are not eager to do it.”
Following the BBC documentary Norway’s Silent Scandal, which examined the implications of the psychiatrist’s conviction, Children’s Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland was criticised by a series of prominent child welfare professionals for failing to defend the system publicly.
In an interview earlier this month she said: “To have the care for a child taken away must be one of the most desperate things a parent can experience.”
But she added: “Where a conflict arises between the interests of the child and the parents, we shall be on the child’s side. On this point I won’t give an inch.”
It was the beginning of just another day in one of the world’s most murderous places.
Cristian Sabino was sitting on a plastic chair by this beach resort’s central market when a gunman walked up and shot him five times. As the 22-year-old dropped to the ground, the assailant fired a final bullet to the head and walked away.
Six more people would be killed that day in Acapulco, including a cabdriver who was hacked to pieces. Death is so much part of the landscape that once police cordoned off the area around Mr. Sabino’s body, some patrons at a nearby rotisserie chicken restaurant stayed to finish their meals.
Acapulco’s days as a tourist resort with a touch of Hollywood glamour seem long ago. In a city of 800,000, 953 people were violently killed last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands put together.
There were more than 900 murders in Acapulco last year. Violence is so pervasive in this city, once a premier Mexican tourist destination, that criminology has become a thriving new profession. Photo/Video: Jake Nicol/The Wall Street Journal
It’s not just Mexico. There is a murder crisis across much of Latin America and the Caribbean, which today is the world’s most violent region. Every day, more than 400 people are murdered there, a yearly tally of about 145,000 dead.
Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.
The 2016 tally in China, according to the U.N.: 8,634. For the entire European Union: 5,351. The United States: 17,250.
Violent deaths by firearms in 2016
(per 100,000 people)
and Middle East
Note: Deaths resulted from Forces of nature, conflict and terrorism, and executions and police conflict are not included in the calculations.
Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington
Crime slows development and spurs migration to the U.S. Violence costs Latin America 3% of annual economic output, on average, twice the level of developed countries, according to a 2016 study by the Inter-American Development Bank. The price tag for crime, which the bank put at between $115 billion and $261 billion, is comparable to the total regional spending on infrastructure, or the income of the poorest third of Latin Americans.
In recent years, growing numbers of families from Central America, including women and children, have fled to the U.S. because of horrific violence. Gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 enforce a reign of terror, dictating even where people can go to school or get medical care. El Salvador’s murder rate of 83 per 100,000 people in 2016—the world’s highest—was nearly 17 times that of the U.S.
A new study by Vanderbilt University shows that the strongest factor in predicting whether someone emigrates from Honduras and El Salvador isn’t age, gender or economic situation, but whether they had been victimized by crime multiple times in the past year. A World Bank study found that nearly a quarter of children in one Honduran municipality suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to violence.
At the Acapulco morgue, bodies pile up faster than workers can process them. The morning after Mr. Sabino’s murder, there were already three new victims lying on gurneys awaiting autopsy. A few feet away, 356 bodies that remain unclaimed or unidentified were stuffed into five refrigeration units. The smell of death hung in the air.
A resident of Acapulco’s Primero de Mayo neighborhood eats breakfast while Mexican soldiers and police guard a severed head left on the street.
“We never catch up,” says Ben Yehuda Martínez, the top forensic official for the state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located. “While we’re trying to clear the first set of bodies, another set of bodies arrives.”
Just this week, Mr. Martínez’s counterpart in the state of Jalisco was fired after it emerged that two trailer trucks filled with more than 150 cadavers each were roaming Mexico’s second-largest city of Guadalajara for days because the local morgue was too full. Officials admitted the trucks contained corpses after neighbors complained of the smell and dripping blood.
Mr. Martínez, 60, has seen it all. His very first case as a young forensic specialist in the nearby city of Iguala was the 1997 autopsy of two doctors who had botched a plastic surgery operation, accidentally killing drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Their bodies, encased in cement, were found on the side of the Mexico City-to-Acapulco highway. Mr. Martínez’s verdict: They were both asphyxiated with a tourniquet.
Mr. Martínez says he hasn’t ever become used to seeing children killed. “Before, criminals never killed kids. But now I do autopsies on 7- or 8-year-olds,” he says. He teaches chemistry and biology at a local college. “I’ve had the shock of having to autopsy quite a few of my former students.”
Up to 10% of the cadavers that arrive are never claimed. No one files a police report or bothers to pick up the body. Other times, there is no way to identify a corpse: “We sometimes get only a leg or a head to work with,” he says.
Latin America accounts for 43 of the 50 most murderous cities, including the entire top 10, according to the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that focuses on violence. South Africa and the U.S.—where St. Louis ranks No. 19—are the only countries outside Latin America that crack the top 50.
Mexican soldiers and police guard a severed head which was left as a message between rival drug cartels.
At current murder rates, if you live in Acapulco (or Caracas, Venezuela, or San Salvador) for 70 years, there is a roughly 1-in-10 chance you will get murdered.
Between 2000 and 2017, roughly 2.5 million people were murdered in Latin America and the Caribbean, as if Chicago were wiped out. That compares with about 900,000 killed in the armed conflicts of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, according to U.N. figures and estimates by groups like Iraq Body Count.
During that same period, all the world’s terrorist attacks killed 243,000 people, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database.
“Large swaths of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela are experiencing a war in all but name,” says Robert Muggah, head of the Igarapé Institute.
The vast majority of victims and perpetrators are young men, killed mostly by gunshot. A vital Twitter feed in Rio de Janeiro is “Onde Tem Tiroteo,” or “Where’s the Shootout?” which tells motorists which parts of the city to avoid. Some recent entries: “A grenade was thrown on the pedestrian bridge near Zuzu Angel Tunnel.” “Shots on 2nd Street in Rocinha, police base under shooting attack.”
Shockingly, 1,379 babies under one year of age died violently in Brazil between 2000 and 2015, according to government statistics. Nearly 30,000 victims in Brazil were over 60 years old.
Gabriela Victoria’s daughter Erica was kidnapped and murdered by long-time acquaintances from her Acapulco neighborhood.
Six-year-old Elias Victoria with a photo of his older sister Erica.
Mexico’s murder tally may be underreported because many victims are tossed into unmarked graves, burned or put through sugar-cane grinders. In Tijuana, Santiago Meza confessed to dissolving more than 300 people in acid for a local cartel, earning the nickname “Pozolero,” or soup maker. The state of Coahuila, once under the control of the hyperviolent Zetas drug cartel, holds some 103,000 bone fragments belonging to unidentified bodies.
The sheer number of the missing could outnumber better-known cases of “disappeared” in Latin America’s sometimes bloody history, including Argentina’s Dirty War against leftists in the late 1970s.
Mexico has become a nation of unmarked graves where a small army of grieving mothers financed by bake sales search for their missing children. Their technology: They hire construction workers to hammer steel rods 6 feet into the ground, and then sniff the ends. If it smells of death, then it’s probably an unmarked grave. The government gives little support.
“It’s an interminable search,” says Guadalupe Contreras, one such searcher. “Today you find 20. Tomorrow, they bury another 20 somewhere else.” This month, the state of Veracruz discovered a mass grave with 168 skulls.
While murder rates are falling in most of the world, in Latin America the number of murders has grown about 3.7% a year since 2000, three times faster than the population, according to the Igarapé Institute. The region’s murder rate, at about 24 per 100,000 right now, will hit 35 per 100,000 by 2030 if the trend isn’t reversed.
Crime affects everyday life. About half of respondents in Latin America said they stopped going out at night, while more than 1-in-10 said they had moved due to the fear of violence, according to a survey from the U.N. Considering Latin America’s population, that’s more than 62 million people who felt the need to change homes.
Once the party spot of choice for the wealthy and famous, Acapulco has descended into disrepair and despair.
How did it get this bad?
Latin America was colonized violently and had bloody wars of independence. It has the world’s biggest gap between rich and poor, fueling resentment. Large parts of the economy are “informal,” street markets and family-run businesses that operate outside government control and pay no taxes, creating a culture of skirting the law. It has powerful groups of organized crime like Mexican drug cartels, and weak states riddled with corruption.
Demographics play a role: Latin America has more young people than most other regions, making for too many young men chasing too few quality jobs. And it has weak educational systems. Only 27% of Brazilians aged 25 or older have completed high school, according to government figures.
Much of Latin America also urbanized rapidly without services such as schooling and policing, creating belts of excluded groups around cities. Migration may have made matters worse. The percentage of single-parent homes in Mexico and Central America has grown rapidly over the past 20 years.
Latin America is also awash in guns, most of them held illegally. Nearly 78% of murders in Central America between 2000 and 2015 were caused by guns, compared with a global average of 32%, according to the Igarapé Institute. (In the U.S., it is around 73%.)
Latin America’s share of global population and homicides
Source: Igarape Institute
These factors create vicious cycles. Laura Chioda, a researcher at the World Bank, found that as many as 40% of young people in Honduras suffer from some form of depression due to the violence. “Now, imagine them at school,” she asks. “Can you teach calculus to someone with that level of trauma?” Many drop out and join the informal economy, where they won’t have a salary, training or career prospects. “Once there, they find this parallel structure of crime that provides jobs, services and an identity,” she says.
Marcelo Bergman, a sociologist who runs the Latin America Violence Research Center in Buenos Aires, thinks the informal economy plays a role. He says much of rising income at a time of economic growth among the region’s poor since 2000 went to consumption in the informal economy, creating more demand for stolen car parts, knockoff clothing and pirated movies. That gave more power to the mafias that supply them.
Latin America’s powerful mafias come from two accidents of geography: One is sitting next to the world’s biggest market for illegal drugs, the U.S., and the other is being the only region in the world to grow the coca plant, the main ingredient in cocaine, which remains among the world’s most profitable drugs. Organized crime accounts for about two-thirds of Mexico’s murders, experts say.
Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations on the night of Sept. 15 were marred when gunmen dressed as mariachi singers entered the city’s fabled Garibaldi plaza and gunned down five people, allegedly in a dispute over local drug sales.
Organized crime doesn’t explain all the violence, however. In Colombia, for instance, it accounts for anywhere from a quarter to half of crimes, government officials estimate. Latin America also has high rates of interpersonal and family violence. Colombian officials say the most murderous day of every year in Colombia is Mother’s Day, when revelers get drunk. Next on the list: New Year’s and Christmas.
Mexican state police stop cars to search for firearms after cartel members fired on a taxi stop.
Latin America wasn’t always the most murderous region in the world. In the 1950s, Singapore and Caracas had very similar murder rates, between 6 to 10 per 100,000 residents, according to Manuel Eisner, who studies historical levels of violence at the Violence Research Centre in Cambridge, U.K.
At the time, Singapore suffered from gangs, prostitution, drug trafficking and corruption. But after independence in 1962, authoritarian Lee Kwan Yew enforced rule of law, boosted education, and created a culture of working hard and achievement, and ensured social integration. “It wasn’t all coercion—there was a caring element,” says Mr. Eisner.
Nowadays, Singapore’s murder rate is 0.4 per 100,000 residents. In Caracas, the government doesn’t bother to count. The nongovernmental Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates the country’s murder rate is roughly 110 per 100,000—about 34,000 a year.
Not all of Latin America has this problem. Chile’s murder rate of 3.6 per 100,000 sits well below the U.S. The state of Yucatán in Mexico has a similarly low murder rate. Even within cities, crime is concentrated: Half of all crime in Bogotá, Colombia, takes place in just 2% of the city. That makes good policing crucial to lowering violence.
But with some exceptions such as Chile, and increasingly Colombia, Latin America has largely failed to build strong legal institutions. Less than 20% of homicides in the region are solved. In Mexico, the figure is below 10%. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, the country’s version of the FBI, investigated more than 600 murder cases linked to organized crime in the past eight years. It won a guilty verdict in just two. That kind of impunity literally means that you can get away with murder.
When impunity is high, people take justice into their own hands. In mid-May, locals in the town of Miravalle in southern Mexico grabbed three men accused of holding up an elderly woman and burned them alive. No arrests were made in the case, state officials say.
A 10-year study of murder cases in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte found that police investigations lasted an average of 500 days, the average trial lasted 10 years and in a quarter of the cases the statute of limitations ran out—allowing the suspect to go free. Some 7% of suspects were slain before their sentence was handed out, in many cases by families of victims tired of waiting for justice.
Latin American prisons, the most overcrowded in the world, breed violence. Wardens have little control. The murder rate in Latin American prisons is 16 per 100,000—by far the world’s highest, according to U.N. figures. In two of the most chaotic prison systems—in Venezuela and Brazil—hundreds of prisoners die in gang fights each year and warlord inmates run vast drug-trafficking outfits that, on the outside, control swaths of territory.
The prison system is so weak that Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was allowed to build his own jail in the early 1990s, and Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped twice from a maximum-security prison.
The spread of democracy in the 1990s across the region has had a perverse effect. Authoritarian states have an easier time controlling organized crime and violence. Many parts of Latin America got democracy before the rule of law; parts of Asia got the rule of law without democracy. Cuba, the hemisphere’s lone communist state, has a homicide rate estimated at about 4 per 100,000 residents.
Democracy in places such as Mexico disrupted existing arrangements between governments and organized crime that allowed for a pax mafiosa, says Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexican violence researcher. State governors would allow drug gangs to ferry narcotics to the U.S. in exchange for money and a promise to keep violence in check, not sell drugs near schools and reinvest some of the profits locally. The marketplace for votes upset those arrangements.
“None of these governors had bothered to build capable police forces because they relied on these arrangements,” he says. “But when the arrangements broke apart, they didn’t have any way to control the violence.”
In many ways, Acapulco is a perfect metaphor for Latin America’s broader failures. It is a place of stunning beauty spoiled by the same factors that fuel violence across the region: inequality, rapid and unplanned urbanization, lack of good institutions from education to police, deeply rooted corruption and an anything-goes attitude to the law.
Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne were regulars here during the resort’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. Two American presidents—John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton—made it their honeymoon destination. Later on, for more daring tourists, Acapulco was the place they could do what they couldn’t back home. Marijuana and cocaine were easily available at discos and from taxi drivers, and prostitution thrived, with brothels sitting just a block from the main strip.
“Acapulco was a place where tourists were allowed to do anything. So it’s not that surprising that locals also began to view the place as a city where there were no rules,” says Elisabet Sabartes, a Spanish journalist who is writing a book on the city’s violence. During the four years she has lived there, five acquaintances have been murdered.
A mural depicting a more prosperous time in Acapulco at a now-empty beach.
As the drug war escalated, the tourist-dependent economy of Acapulco quickly declined and many large construction projects were left unfinished or abandoned.
Despite opium fields in the nearby mountains, violence here only took off in 2006, when the drug gang that controlled Guerrero split into two rival groups. It got worse in 2011, when Mexican marines killed kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva, prompting further splits. Nowadays, more than two dozen rival gangs fight for control of the city’s criminal market.
Many no longer have the clout to carry out big drug deals, so they turn to other activities such as extortion. Practically every business in Acapulco pays. Father Jesus Mendoza, a priest, says some of his colleagues get extorted, and gangs have stolen church bells from some parishes to sell for the copper. The effect on business has been predictably bad. No new hotel has been built in more than a decade.
“The only thriving businesses around here are funeral homes,” says Laura Caballero, the head of a shopkeeper association. She closed her eight shops along the city’s main beachfront avenue three years ago due to monthly extortion demands that reached $800 per store. She says several fellow shopkeepers who refused to pay were killed.
The police have been incapable of stopping the violence. In 2014, most members of Acapulco’s police force were given a battery of tests to see if they were honest, including psychological profiles and lie-detector tests. Some 700 out of 1,100 failed.
When the Acapulco mayor at the time tried to fire the cops who failed, the entire police force walked off the job for 11 months. He backtracked. During the walkout, crime actually fell slightly. Scores of police who failed the test are still on the job, say security experts and former policemen.
In 2014, Mexico was outraged when local police in Iguala, another city in the same state, handed over 43 college kids to a drug gang, who are believed to have incinerated the teens. Most experts think the students accidentally commandeered a passenger bus that had heroin on it heading for the U.S., and police, in the pay of a local drug gang, thought the kids belonged to a rival cartel.
Acapulco’s police chief, Max Sedano, failed his recent lie-detector test, according to a local opposition-party congressman, Ricardo Mejia. Mr. Sedano, who remains in his post, told local journalists he didn’t know if he failed the test. The tests, usually done by federal officials, are confidential, and by law only the municipalities can fire their own officials. Mr. Sedano declined to be interviewed for this article.
“It’s not right that the police here aren’t in charge. The cartels are in charge,” says a 17-year veteran of Acapulco’s police force who quit in disgust last year.
Lesly Mariana Reyes sits on her mother Penelope’s childhood bed on a visit to see her grandmother. Penelope disappeared without a trace after a shift at her work as a manager of a local bank.
Fliers and family pictures of Penelope Elizabeth Reyes.
There is a saying in Acapulco: If you want to be an old cop, look the other way.
In the hours after Mr. Sabino was murdered in Acapulco’s market recently, a local detective turned up, wearing a crocodile-skin belt and dark glasses. He asked no questions of witnesses. After the body was picked up by a forensic team, the detective left.
The violence in Acapulco has created a dystopia where social norms have broken down. Growing numbers of children drop out of school. Fewer go to church. Many hit men and teens worship La Santa Muerte, the cult of death represented by a grim reaper. A less toxic version is St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Mr. Sabino’s body had a tattoo of St. Jude, according to the autopsy report.
Perhaps the most notorious crime in Acapulco in recent years was the kidnap and murder of at least 10 teenagers by a gang of students who attended a local university. The gang targeted acquaintances, including classmates and friends from high school. One gang member had his own girlfriend abducted and killed. Members of the gang, after collecting ransom money and still killing their hostages, would even go to their victims’ funerals and mourn with the parents.
“What kinds of people do these things?” asked Elsa Ceballos, whose 19-year-old son was strangled by the kidnap gang.
At an Acapulco criminology college called Centro Forense, nearly every student in a ballistics class raises their hand when asked if they have been affected by violence. Conin Pascual’s father was killed. Luis Rodríguez’s cousin, a cabdriver, was hacked to pieces.
Carlos Kevin, 19, saw his first dead bodies at age 13, when he arrived at his middle school and there were two mangled bodies on the street.
“There are no cops in our neighborhoods and when there is a killing, they don’t want to investigate,” said Anitxa Gutierrez, who was 14 when a shootout left bullet holes in her family’s living room.
Santiago García, an eighth-grade teacher, says he tries to teach the students values in a society where social norms are breaking down. He also teaches them boxing so they can manage their anger.
Santiago García teaches his students boxing to give them an outlet for their frustrations.
“In the past, when kids got a failing grade, parents would ask how they could help. Now, I’ve had parents threaten to kill me or hire a hit man if I don’t pass their children,” he says.
Mr. García says between 30 and 40 kids didn’t return for this school year, in large part because their parents were threatened, a family member had already been killed, or the kids were being forced by gangs to sell drugs at the school. In many cases, the families simply left Acapulco.
Across the street from Mr. García’s middle school stands a pink house that was used by a gang to hold hostages. One day, during school hours, it was raided by marines, who pulled out several human remains. On another recent morning, a sixth-grader entered school crying, saying he had just found his uncle’s dead body outside the school gates.
“We ask the kids, where do you see yourselves in 20 years, and some say, ‘Carrying an AK-47!’ ” says Mr. García. Locals share videos of killings posted by local gangs. One recent video showed a teen being sliced open and his beating heart taken out.
Javier Morlett is an Acapulco native who knows the city better than anyone. His father was mayor in the 1960s and Mr. Morlett ran both the city’s airport and port at various stages in his career. In 2012, his 21-year-old daughter, who was studying at Mexico’s leading public university in Mexico City, was abducted. After an agonizing two-year search, he found her remains. The crime was never solved.
“I don’t think we can solve this,” he says of the violence. “This place was paradise, but we’ve turned it into an inferno.”
Historically an area where wealthy Americans would have their yachts repaired, Playa Manzanillo has now become known for the bodies that wash up on its shores, victims of Mexico’s drug violence.
In two instances, “school officials did not follow the requirements of Florida statute or federal laws governing students with disabilities”
Following the Parkland shooting that left 17 people dead, the Broward County School District commissioned an independent review. The review, conducted by the Collaborative Educational Network of Tallahassee, found that the shooter was inappropriately denied special needs accommodations at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In the year leading up to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killer Nikolas Cruz was stripped of the therapeutic services disabled students need, leaving him to navigate his schooling as a regular student despite mounds of evidence that he wasn’t.
When he asked to return to a special education campus, school officials fumbled his request.
Those conclusions were revealed Friday in a consultant’s report commissioned by the Broward public school system. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ordered that the report be released publicly, but with nearly two-thirds of the content blacked out.
The school district said the alterations were needed to comply with the shooter’s privacy rights, but the method the district used to conceal the text failed. The blacked-out text became visible when pasted into another computer file.
The consultant found two specific instances of failure by the school officials.
The Sun Sentinel continues:
Without directly criticizing the schools, the consultant, the Collaborative Educational Network of Tallahassee, recommended that the district reconsider how cases like Cruz’s are handled. The recommendations suggest that Cruz could have been offered more help in his final two years in high school, leading up to the Feb. 14 shooting.
Whether that would have changed the outcome is impossible to know.
The consultant found that the district largely followed the laws, providing special education to the shooter starting when he was 3 years old and had already been kicked out of day care. But “two specific instances were identified,” the report says, where school officials did not follow the requirements of Florida statute or federal laws governing students with disabilities.
— School officials misstated Cruz’s options when he was faced with being removed from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School his junior year, leading him to refuse special education services.
— When Cruz asked to return to the therapeutic environment of Cross Creek School for special education students, the district “did not follow through,” the report reveals.
The school’s misstatement regarding Cruz’s options resulted in his having no special needs care for over year before his deadly rampage. Even classified as a general admission student, however, he should have had access to school counseling and related mental health services.
School officials misstated Cruz’s options when he was faced with removal from the Florida high school his junior, which led him to refuse special education services, according to the report.
When Cruz was asked to return to the therapeutic environment of Cross Creek School for special education students, the district “did not follow through,” the report said.
“Upon entering the room and seeing the Cross Creek representatives, the student immediately became upset and verbally aggressive. He refused to sit at the table, angrily repeating that he would not go back to Cross Creek and that he wanted only to stay at Stoneman. He intended to graduate from the school,” the report said, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
. . . Three days after he was forced by the district to withdraw from Stoneman Douglas High, he purchased an AR-15 rifle. Then, a year after his ejection from the school, he returned for the mass shooting.
The district treated him “like a general education student” for his final two years, but even those students should have access to counseling and mental health services, the report said.
The shooter’s attorneys call the report an attempt to “whitewash” the failings of the school and of the school district.
Fox News continues:
But Cruz’s attorneys called the report a “whitewash” commissioned by the district to absolve it of responsibility for its handling of Cruz’s psychological problems, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
“I think that the report is an attempt by the school board to absolve itself of any liability or responsibility for all the missed opportunities that they had in this matter,” said Gordon Weekes, the chief assistant public defender.
One of Minnesota’s most violent and infamous sex offenders — who has admitted to raping more than 60 women and who has quickly re-offended every time he’s been previously released from prison — is set to go free yet again, after more than 30 years behind bars.
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request by the state’s Department of Human Services to review the case of Thomas Ray Duvall, a serial rapist who admitted to brutally raping dozens of teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s.
The court’s ruling comes two months after the state Court of Appeals ruled Duvall should be allowed to be released into the community — under supervision — after spending three decades behind bars, the Star Tribune reported.
The ruling ends a five-year legal battle over Duvall’s future. The case set off a political firestorm over Minnesota’s civil commitment system, which confines sex offenders indefinitely after their prison terms ends.
“I am honestly so devastated, I have no words at this moment,” a family member of one of Duvall’s victims told FOX9 after the court’s ruling. “We are terrified. The public needs to know how dangerous Duvall is.”
Duvall, now 63, committed his first known sexual assault in 1975, when he and two other males raped a 17-year-old girl. He re-offended three years later when he picked up a 17-year-old girl at the State Fair, promised to drive her home, and instead raped her.
Within months of his release from prison for that crime, he attempted to force another woman into his car and threatened her with a knife, the Star Tribune reported.
Over the next decade, Duvall was arrested – and released – multiple times for raping several other teenagers, including a 14-year-old and 15-year-old in 1982.
Duvall was finally sentenced to his current term, 20 years in prison, after he was nabbed for raping a 17-year-old girl inside a Brooklyn Park apartment — just 12 days after his release from jail in 1987. According to the Star Tribune, Duvall talked his way into the apartment a day after Christmas, bound the teenager with an electric cord and then repeatedly raped her for more than three hours while hitting her with a hammer.
In 1991, Duvall was civilly committed as a psychopathic personality and sent to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Duvall was diagnosed as a sexual sadist and has admitted to more than 60 victims, the Star Tribune reported.
In June 2015, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ruled the state’s sex offender program was unconstitutional, calling it a “punitive system” that violates offenders’ rights to due process. Frank’s ruling was later overturned by a higher court, but signified a shift among specialists to be more willing to support offenders’ petitions for conditional release.
The Star Tribune reported that, before Frank’s ruling, only three sex offenders had been discharged from the program in its 20-year history. Since then, the number has risen to 26.
At a trial last spring, Duvall testified he had earned his right to a provisional discharge and had learned to control his violent sexual fantasies.
At the same trial, three outside evaluators testified that Duvall should not be released from the program, arguing he remains fixated on deviant and violent sexual thoughts despite treatment. One of the evaluators, forensic psychologist Dr. James Alsdurf, described Duvall as “obsessed with sex – most of it violent,” the Star Tribune reported.
Meanwhile, the program’s own staff described Duvall as a model detainee who was committed to his treatment program – testimony the appeals court panel heavily relied on when saying he should be released into the community — despite acknowledging that Duvall still has a risk of reoffending, given his violent history.
Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said in statement that she opposed Duvall’s release “out of a deep concern for public safety.”
The Star Tribune reported Duvall is expected to be released to a secure group home in the Twin Cities this fall. If he violates any of the more than two dozen conditions of his plan, the sex offender program can revoke his discharge and place him back in confinement.
Ask anyone who has worked in some of America’s failing public schools and nearly all of them will tell you the same thing: The biggest problem isn’t the quality of the teachers. It’s the behavior of the kids; angry, disruptive, disrespectful kids whose behavior is out of control. This is true not only in the poor schools in the inner cities, but in schools in the largely white rural parts of the US as well. The kids themselves are only partly to blame — students, after all, are what adults make them.
One kid called me an “Urkel-looking motherf–ker.” That part was the kid’s fault (or maybe that of his parents). But what happened next wasn’t. I called the hall monitor and had him taken to the principal’s office. But soon after, he came back into my class with a note that read, “Okay to return to class.” There was no apology, no detention, no one called at home. He didn’t have to write a letter explaining why he’d erupted so angrily, and he most certainly wasn’t suspended.
This was the fault of the adults in the school. In the course of a generation, this behavior from kids — coupled with either no reaction or an overreaction by adults — has gotten worse.
It wasn’t always thus.
After a particularly difficult day, a teacher who had also attended the school as a teenager remarked to me, “This school was always tough, but we used to fight each other; [now] they fight the teacher.”
What happened between the time that teacher (and I) were kids to now to mark such a dramatic shift? I spent a year trying to unlock that mystery.
One culprit is the United Nations, and the notion of children’s rights.
My first encounter with the idea of children’s rights was at a middle school where the students were so unruly that at least a half-dozen teachers had quit from exhaustion, including the one for whom I was substituting. A group of kids was roughhousing and cursing as others were trying to complete work. Because of one student’s foul language and because he’d launched an eraser in my general direction, I threatened to hold him in for recess — a punishment teachers have been doling out to kids since recess was invented.
But he and his friends, none more than 5 feet tall, told me that I couldn’t do that because they “have a right to play.” Having schooled me to their satisfaction, they promptly went back to swinging from the rafters and ignoring anything else I said that day.
I thought it was a joke until the assistant principal reprimanded me when I tried to make good on my threat.
An international treaty called the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was adopted in 1989, defined the notion of what a child is and is not entitled to. It would become the most ratified treaty in UN history. The treaty is smart and wise in many ways, insisting that children have a right to shelter and the right to be protected in war. My favorite part states that children have a right to a name. That’s both beautiful and sad: Imagine what it must be like to be a child and have never been given a name.
But it doesn’t end there.
The UN treaty insists that young people be given the right to freedom of speech and the right to practice their own religion or no religion as they see fit. (I shudder to think what would have happened had I told my preacher father that I had a right not to go to church when he was dragging me out of bed on Sunday mornings.)
Maybe you think that 30-year international law — which, by the way, the US never ratified — has had no impact on America’s public schools. Think again. Article 31 says, “State Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child.” There it is: the right to play. Schools have taken it upon themselves to spread to these students that they have inalienable right to play, even when they misbehave — and the kids have taken it up with gusto.
Legislators in California have been trying to pass a children’s rights bill similar to the UN treaty, enshrining at the state level what Congress refused to do 30 years ago.
In another instance, I tried to send a kid to the office for being disruptive. Surely that wasn’t outlawed? Wrong again. An administrator chastised me that they don’t allow teachers to send disruptive students to the office. Instead, they “let the students decide when they want to take a break,” because, according to her, sending students to the office takes away the student’s autonomy.
The policy was specific to that school, not a politically organized desire to follow the convention, but the effect was powerful nonetheless — and poorly reasoned. Since when has a middle-schooler who is having the time of his life with his friends and ignoring everything a teacher says, suddenly stopped and thought, “You know what, let me step outside on a break and then go back in and focus on the homework I didn’t do last night”?
I don’t want to overstate the issue. There are more factors at play than just a UN charter — including the rise of charter schools and the elimination of basic forms of discipline like detention and suspension.
The adolescent chaos that comes from economically depressed communities has many sources. We are all rightly horrified by the extreme punishments meted out to students by aggressive adults: a kid thrown to the ground by a cop simply because she refused to surrender her phone, another kid put in juvenile detention for four days because of a dress-code violation. But going too far in the other direction — allowing kids greater freedoms without thinking of the unintended consequences — makes them into adults before they are ready to think and behave as adults.
This is surely what led former dean of Harvard Law School Martha Minow to write that “advocates of children’s rights use the same rights . . . to place them in the same legal category as adults.” Turning kids into adults in this way, and allowing them to behave however they choose without reasonable consequences for those actions, turns children into slaves of their impulses. This is the opposite of freedom.
The FBI is tracking a mere handful of Castro spies in Miami, and El Niuyortain is making a big deal out of it.
Yes, a whopping number of 5 Cuban exiles with connections to Castro, Inc. — who are very proud of their pro-Castro activism– have been “targeted” by FBI agents.
As one might expect, El Niuyortain is shining a bright light on this FBI investigation as a nefarious human rights abuse by the Trump administration.
Thank God, dear Mildred, that the New York Times is paying much more attention to these human rights abuses in the U.S. than on all those fake claims of human rights abuses in the socialist utopia of Cuba!
From You-Know-Who, Babalu’s favorite news outlet:
The F.B.I. Is Quietly Contacting Cubans in Florida, Raising Old Alarm Bells
Julio V. Ruiz, a 71-year-old retired psychiatrist with a long history of participating in talks with the Cuban government, tried to ignore the persistent knocking at his door by two strangers when they showed up uninvited one afternoon last week.
The rapping on the door went on for 15 minutes. It was the F.B.I.
“Everyone tells you not to speak to them and to call your lawyer,” Dr. Ruiz said. “But you get scared. I was measured in what I said, and gave them a brief history of Cuba going back to the 19th century.”
At least five Cuban-Americans in Miami, including Dr. Ruiz, who have opposed a trade embargo with Cuba and promoted better relations with the communist government in Havana, said they received surprise visits in the past week from federal agents.
The law enforcement representatives were vague about their intentions, gave only their first names, and asked questions that seemed intended to learn about contacts with Cuban diplomats, Dr. Ruiz said…
… Those contacted were among a large group of exiles who came to the United States as children in the early 1960s, fleeing the Castro dictatorship. As adults, they supported engaging with the Cuban government, even when doing so was deeply unpopular in South Florida and often caused them to be ostracized…
… Some of those contacted said they feared that they were being targeted as part of President Trump’s moves to curtail travel to Cuba and roll back new openings with Havana that had been enacted by the Obama administration…
.. “I think it borders on harassment, because it isn’t illegal to talk about stuff with the embassy of the country where you were born,” said Elena Freyre, 70, president of ForNorm, a foundation that promotes the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana. “And it’s kind of weird to have the F.B.I. asking questions about that.”
One New Jersey charter school’s decision to turn away students on the first day of classes for seemingly minor dress code violations has outraged many, both within and beyond the school community.
On August 27, reportedly “half” of the high schoolers enrolled at Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark were dismissed upon arrival for their first day of classes for being out of uniform, NJ.com reports.
As the students proceeded to gather at a nearby park, local basketball coach Ma’at Mys spotted the group and paused the youth basketball camp he was running to investigate what happened.
“Marion P Thomas locked their doors to students who don’t have belts or all black shoes,” Mys wrote in a Facebook post with footage he captured at the time of conversations between himself and the Thomas students. “This is how charter schools help high risk children. If you have a child at the school, reach out to them.”
The clip has since gone viral with over 121,000 views and sparked great debate on the social platform.
While some Facebook commenters voiced support for the teens’ dismissal over the uniform abuses, others were furious that the students were refused entry – on the first day of classes – and were effectively locked out of the building.
Meanwhile, Interim Chief School Administrator Misha Simmonds told NJ.com that parents were immediately contacted if their child had been dismissed, and that school officials soon acknowledged that “turning students away wasn’t the best approach for student safety.”
School administrators issued a letter next day that did not apologize for the incident but explained the logic behind the controversial decision.
“Since its inception, Marion P. Thomas Charter School has had a uniform policy. The policy is intended to help our school promote a more effective learning environment, foster school unity and bridge socioeconomic differences between children. Wearing a uniform teaches students appropriate dress and decorum in school, helps to improve student conduct and discipline and prepares them for their future workplace,” the statement read.
“Our high school team wanted to ensure our students complied with this policy, for all of the reasons aforementioned. Their best intentions led to some students being asked to return home. We have communicated with our families who were impacted by this decision.
“While we realize school policies are important, we recognize that our students’ well-being is our utmost importance. Therefore, we have implemented a process that will not compromise the safety of our high school students.”
Moving forward, the Thomas school has launched a fundraiser to gather regulation uniforms, footwear and accessories to “stock an emergency closet for our students.” In addition, Thomas students have been provided black tape to conceal any white detailing on their school shoes, Yahoo Lifestyle reports.
A new White House aide knows the Cuban role in destabilizing the region.
The crisis in Venezuela threatens to destabilize the Western Hemisphere but doing something about it requires addressing the support from Cuba that is keeping strongman Nicolás Maduro in power despite his overwhelming unpopularity. Ditto for Daniel Ortega, whose government has been killing fellow Nicaraguans.
One man who understands the Cuban role is Mauricio Claver-Carone, who will soon join the Trump White House as senior director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The media call Mr. Claver-Carone a “hard-liner” on Cuba and a staunch defender of the U.S. trade embargo, which is true.
But as the son of a Cuban exile, the 43-year-old Mr. Claver-Carone is also a Catholic University-educated lawyer who has spent years fighting for human rights in Cuba. As the editor of the blog Capitol Hill Cubans, he showed a sophisticated understanding of how Cuba uses intimidation and propaganda to attack democracy in the hemisphere. Mr. Claver-Carone has extensive experience working with other countries as a senior adviser for international affairs at the U.S. Treasury and acting U.S. executive director at the International Monetary Fund.
The world has stood by as more than 2.3 million Venezuelans suffering under socialist deprivation have been forced to flee their collapsing country. Mr. Claver-Carone’s arrival is a sign that the White House is serious about addressing the root cause of the problem.
Two youths in Colombia reportedly committed suicide in late August as the sick “Momo suicide challenge” continues to spread worldwide.
A 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy took their own lives, within just 48 hours of each other, according to local radio outlet Caracol. The deaths happened in the municipality of Barbosa, in the north west part of the Colombian area of Santander, according to the Daily Mail.
Local media, including RCN Radio, reported the teen boy likely knew the younger girl and passed the game to her, before killing himself. A mere 48 hours later, the 12-year-old girl was found hanged.
Police seized the children’s phones, which were said to have messages linking them to the Momo suicide game.
“Apparently, they practiced this game through WhatsApp and it invited the young people to hurt themselves,” government secretary Janier Landono said. “The game has different challenges and the suicide is at the end.”
The reported deaths are the first to be linked to the game in Colombia, which is thought to have originated on a Facebook group page. Police in Argentina are investigating whether “Momo” is linked to the suicide of a 12-year-old girl in the district of Escobar, which occurred last month.
WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News.
The vile “Momo suicide game” has been garnering attention after it began spreading on WhatsApp, prompting police warnings. If players fail to complete the challenges in the game, they receive threatening messages from an avatar dubbed Momo, a bird-like woman with eyes protruding out of her head, who says the user will be cursed with an “evil spell.”
There is also a Momo doll created by Japanese doll artist Midori Hayashi, though Hayashi has nothing to do with the vulgar video game.
“Momo” is a viral challenge that asks people to add a contact via WhatsApp. The user is then urged to commit self-harm or suicide. The “game” has fueled comparisons to the sinister “Blue Whale challenge” that led to reports of suicides in Russia and the U.S, as well as the online fictional character of “Slender Man.” In 2014, two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin attempted to kill a classmate in an attempt to please the horror character.
Last month, the “Momo” game made its way into the popular “Minecraft” video game, which prompted Microsoft to clamp down on it.