Whitney Houston memorials spring up at N.J. school, church

Whitney houston church
Outside the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, the flag flew at half-staff in the icy wind as Principal Henry W. Hamilton remembered the gangly 15-year-old who lived up the road, and who excitedly showed off her modeling portfolio one afternoon in 1978.

Back then, before the red brick school had been renamed for the future pop queen, Hamilton didn’t expect Whitney Houston to become a star.

 Houston died Saturday in Beverly Hills of undetermined causes. 

“She was in the choir and the chorus. She used to sing at church. But I didn’t expect she’d become a great singer –- the greatest singer in the world,” said Hamilton, who acknowledges he missed the explosive talent that developed in the young girl as she made her way through the halls of this school in suburban New Jersey, where her first classroom, No. 6, is just to the right of the main entrance.

Hamilton isn’t usually at school on Sunday. But after his phone began ringing on Saturday evening with news of Houston’s death, he knew this would not be a normal day for anyone who knew Houston as a child, or who had seen her sing at the New Hope Baptist Church in neighboring Newark.

“Her start was a beautiful, innocent thing,” said Hassan Munford, who attended the school now named for Houston and who grew up in the same neighborhood.

“I remember when she first made it, she brought a red drop-top and drove it down Dodd Street,” Munford said with a smile as he left flowers outside the school.

“You always have your controversies,” he said of Houston’s well-publicized struggle with drugs and her turbulent relationship with ex-husband Bobby Brown. “But at the end of the day, the influence she had on the community –- on the kids and aspiring musicians and singers –- far outweighs the controversy.”

Throughout the day, fans came bearing flowers, candles and heart-shaped balloons to the school and the church, which shares a nondescript street with an auto shop and a tavern and which, on this frigid February morning, was the only building with any hint of life or color.

Parishioners and fans, bundled up in fur coats, down jackets or flimsy sweaters too thin to block the cold, began arriving at the church before dawn for a morning memorial and kept coming throughout the day for additional services.

“Our hearts are very heavy today,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he headed into the church to address the third and last service of the day. “The suddenness of it all … we’re just traumatized.”

Every seat was filled inside the 112-year-old church, where Houston sang as a teenager and where her mother, Cissy Houston, and cousin Dionne Warwick also were regulars in the choir.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Houston “a true New Jersey treasure.” 

Hamilton has been principal of the Whitney E. Houston school for 40 years, since the days when it was called the Franklin School. It was renamed for Houston in 1997.

His office is decorated with pictures that include photographs of him and Houston over the decades.

When his phone rang Saturday night and a nephew told him Houston had died, Hamilton initially did not believe it. But it’s never easy to accept when one of your pupils dies, he said.

“It’s hurtful. Sometimes we say, ‘Is there something we could have done to save that youngster?’ ” said Hamilton, admitting that there is only so much the school can do once pupils move on.

"Once she left here, we felt she was on the right path,” he said. “The things that happened later ... that’s show biz. Unfortunately, some survive and some don’t.”


Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark


Motorcycle-only checkpoints rev up controversy in Congress

Victim of O.J. Simpson Vegas robbery accused of shoplifting

--Tina Susman in East Orange, N.J. 

Photo:  At New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where Whitney Houston began her career as a child, a memorial to the singer grew. She died Saturday in Beverly Hills. Credit:  John W. Ferguson / Getty Images 



Love and empathy for Whitney Houston in Newark

New Hope Baptist Church

As an icy wind sliced the air outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., Donna Thorn stuffed another bouquet of flowers between the iron bars of the church gate.

On the surface, Thorn, a short woman in sweatpants and a wool cap, didn't appear to have much in common with Whitney Houston, who as a child sang gospel in the red brick church. On Saturday, Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel room. Thorn's eyes filled with tears and her voice shook as she described her own struggle with drugs and the empathy she had for the dead pop star, who went through the same thing.

The cause of Houston's death has not been determined and an autopsy is planned.

PHOTOS: Stars react

"If you was never an addict you don't know what it's like to struggle and stay clean ... to hit rock-bottom," said Thorn, recalling her own battle to get off drugs as she grew up on the gritty streets of Newark, where Houston was born 48 years ago.

It was "that fast-track life in L.A." that surely did not help Houston, said Thorn, who echoed other parishioners and fans Sunday as they lamented the premature loss of a Newark native who achieved stardom but whose roots remained deeply planted in the area.

"It's a big loss for us here," said Thorn, noting that the city has been "cleaned up" but still battles high crime and depressed neighborhoods. "She came from my hometown, she made it out of Newark, and she was on top of the world."

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those who attended the Sunday service at the church. "Our hearts are heavy today," he said before going in. "The suddenness of it all. ... We're just traumatized."

Continue reading »

Gay marriage foes vow to take Washington measure to voters

 Gov. Chris Gregoire embraces Rep. Jamie Pedersen after the state House voted to legalize gay marriage in Washington state.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to announce Thursday when she will sign a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Meantime, foes of the concept were making plans to try to overturn it at the ballot box. 

The state House passed the bill Wednesday, 55 to 43, and the state Senate passed it last week, 28 to 21.

Gregoire, who has made no secret of her support for the legislation, is expected to sign it sometime next week. She watched the House vote from the wings with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray, the Associated Press reported. 

In a statement afterward, the governor called the vote "a major step toward completing a long and important journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Two Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill.

One of them, Rep. Maureen Walsh, said during debate: "Someone made the comment that this is not about equality. Well, yes it is about equality.

"My daughter came out of the closet a couple of years ago. I thought I would agonize about that," the Seattle Times quoted Walsh as saying. "But nothing is different. She's still a fabulous human being and she's met a person that she loves very much and someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid. I hope that's what I can do." 

Three Democrats voted against the legislation, which will make the state the seventh to permit same-sex marriage. It is already legal in six states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia.

But even before the Legislature had voted, opponents were making plans to overturn the measure at the ballot box. They have until June 6 to submit at least 120,577 signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot. If they succeed, the law would not take effect pending results of the vote. A simple majority would decide whether to retain the law, the Seattle Times reported.

If foes fail to gather enough signatures, same-sex couples could begin to wed in June. 

Stephen Pidgeon, a lawyer from Everett, Wash., is one of the leaders of the opposition. He reportedly is planning a parallel effort to define marriage as between a man and a woman, which would need to gather about double the number of signatures -- 241,153 -- by July 6 to put it on the ballot. The other potential ballot measure would repeal a law, which requires fewer signatures.

"We have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm about the initiative," Pidgeon told Reuters last week. "People are gearing up, and we're going to move ahead strongly, and I believe quickly. We already have hundreds of churches that have already pledged thousands of signatures."

The National Organization for Marriage was also expected to join the effort to overturn the measure. On its website Wednesday night, the group posted a news alert: 

"BREAKING NEWS: WA State House Passes SSM 55-43. Get Ready for a Referendum" 


Josh Powell: Finger-pointing at dispatcher, social worker

Gay marriage: Prop. 8 ruling cheered, but U.S. impact not clear

Indiana stage collapse: Company, fair commission, union are fined

-- Ricardo Lopez and Connie Stewart 

Photo: Gov. Chris Gregoire, left, embraces state Rep. Jamie Pedersen after the House voted to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state Wednesday. Gregoire is expected to sign the bill next week. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Deputies sent to Josh Powell's house 8 minutes after 911 call

Powell boys memorial
Nearly eight minutes passed before a 911 dispatcher sent sheriff's deputies to Josh Powell's home in Graham, Wash., where he was killing his children, emergency call logs showed Wednesday night.

Tapes of the conversation Sunday between a social worker and a 911 call center were released earlier in the day. They showed the social worker trying to stay calm but seeming to grow increasingly frustrated as the person on the other end of the phone repeatedly asked for details about who she was, why she was at the house, what kind of car she was driving, and finally told her a deputy would be sent when one was free.

“They have to respond to emergency, life-threatening situations first,” the call center worker said.

“This could be life-threatening!” the social worker interjected. “He went to court Wednesday and he didn’t get the kids back, and I’m — I’m afraid for their lives.”

The social worker was delivering the children for what was to have been a court-ordered supervised visit. Powell, a person of interest in his wife Susan's 2009 disappearance, let the boys in but barred the social worker. He had lost custody in September.

The Associated Press obtained the call logs Wednesday night under a public records request. Nearly eight minutes elapsed from the time the social worker made the first 911 call until deputies were dispatched, the AP reported, and it took another 14 minutes for the deputies to arrive.

The 911 call lasted nearly seven minutes. The logs show deputies were sent about a minute after the call ended.

According to the logs, the social worker called from her cellphone at 12:08 p.m. Five minutes later, the man who took her call transferred the information to a dispatcher, who alerted two deputies about 2 1/2 minutes later, at 12:16, the AP reported. They arrived at 12:30, when the house was engulfed in flames.

Authorities say Powell had splashed gasoline around the house and ignited it. He had also attacked the children with a hatchet. 

At one point, the social worker tells the call center that she can hear the children crying. 

Earlier Wednesday, Pierce County Sheriff’s Det. Ed Troyer raised questions about how the first of two 911 calls was handled; the second was from the social worker to the fire department. “Our concern is the etiquette and lack of manners. It doesn’t have to be that way, right?” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. 

But he said the protracted call, handled by an independent call service center, did not delay dispatch of a patrol car, which arrived before the fire department did. Some of the confusion, he added, was due to the fact that the social worker at first did not know Powell’s street address.

The independent call center that handles 911 calls for Pierce County, the Law Enforcement Support Agency, issued a statement Wednesday night. Director Tom Orr offered condolences to the family and expressed shock at "the deliberate, heinous and evil actions of Josh Powell."   

"All of us at LESA take our citizens’ safety very seriously and we have begun a full investigation of how these calls were handled," Orr said. "We know that seconds count and we are committed to providing the fastest response possible." 

It was moments after the first 911 call that the social worker called again. The house was in flames. This time, she was put through to the fire department.

“There’s two little boys in the house. They’re 5 and 7, and there’s an adult man. ... He blew up the house and the kids!” she said, speaking calmly but urgently.

“And you think he might have done it intentionally?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes,” she replied.


Grandparents of 2 dead boys saw ominous signs in Josh Powell

Josh Powell inferno: Finger-pointing at dispatcher, social worker 


Jerry Sandusky: Bail and jury issues on agenda in sex-abuse case

-- Kim Murphy in Seattle and Connie Stewart 

Photo: Alex Ramirez, 17, brings a balloon to a growing memorial to Charlie and Braden Powell on Tuesday at Carson Elementary School in Puyallup, Wash., where Charlie attended school. Credit: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press




Powell sons had 'chop injury,' autopsy report says

Josh Powell and his two young sons died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the Pierce County medical examiner’s office said Monday night, but the boys apparently were injured before their death.

Powell, a person of interest in his wife Susan's 2009 disappearance from their Utah home, is believed to have set his rented house in Graham, Wash., afire just after his children arrived for what was to have been a supervised visit Sunday afternoon.

He let the boys in but barred the social worker, and as she called authorities to say she'd smelled gas, the home erupted into flames.

But the medical examiner's report seemed to indicate that the children had been subdued before or during the blaze. The younger boy, 5-year-old Braden, had  a “chop injury” to his head and neck, and his brother Charles, 7, had a similar injury to the neck, the autopsy report said. 

A medical examiner’s spokeswoman refused to elaborate on the injuries or what could have caused them.

But Pierce County Sheriff's Det. Ed Troyer said investigators found a hatchet they believe was used on the boys.

"We found a small hatchet in the same room with the bodies," he told the Los Angeles Times. 

Susan Powell, then 28 and a stockbroker, vanished in December 2009. Josh Powell said he'd taken the children into the desert for an impromptu camping trip during a snowstorm and, when he returned, Susan was gone. 

[This post has been updated to reflect the comment from Pierce County Sheriff's Det. Ed Troyer.]


Josh Powell gave away children's books and toys before fatal fire 

Susan Powell's son drew picture of his mother in trunk of car


Does M.I.A. owe an apology?

-- Kim Murphy in Seattle



Washington state Senate approves gay marriage

Washington state gay marriage vote
As supporters packed the public galleries, the Washington state Senate passed legislation Wednesday night that would legalize gay marriage. 

The margin was 28 to 21 -- three more votes than required. The bill now goes to the state House, where it is expected to pass. 

Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she will sign it into law, the Associated Press reported. That would make Washington the seventh state to approve gay marriage. 

"The citizens of Washington state have come to understand that lesbian and gay families are their neighbors and their friends," said Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, the bill's primary sponsor. "Marriage is how society says you are a family, the way the community knows a couple loves each other." 

A conservative Democrat, Sen. Brian Hatfield, told the AP in a statement that he'd agonized over the issue. 

“This is a measure that has emotionally torn at me as I have wrestled with my choice,” he said, noting that he had spent months in thought and prayer. He decided that although private citizens can oppose gay marriage, he as a legislator cannot because it would be discrimination. 

However, Hatfield offered an amendment to put gay marriage to a public referendum. "Let's trust the people," the Seattle Times quoted him as saying. "If you support his bill ... let the voters have the final say."

An opponent, Republican Sen. Mike Padden, said, "If ever there was an issue that needs to be referred to the people, this is it."

The amendment failed, 26 to 23. 

The Senate did approve a series of amendments intended to clarify religious exemptions to the legislation.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. 


Demi Moore collapse: What is nitrous oxide?

Why the national anthem is so darn hard to sing

Scientists take bite of 'alien' space cloud that encompasses us

-- Connie Stewart 

Photo: Rep. Laurie Jinkins, right, with constituent Marcy Kulland, waves from one Senate gallery across to the other Wednesday night before the state Senate passed legislation that would legalize gay marriage in Washington. The bill now goes to the House. The governor has said she will sign it. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press



Washington Monument to get $7.5-million donation for repairs


Washington Monument to get $7.5-million donation for repairs

A billionaire reportedly will donate $7.5 million to restore the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday night that philanthropist David Rubenstein's gift will be announced Thursday.

Congress appropriated $7.5 million for the monument's repairs, with a matching amount to be raised privately. Rubenstein's gift delivers it all at once. 

The iconic obelisk cracked in August during a magnitude 5.8 earthquake centered in Virginia. Cracks are visible on the outside, including one near the top that is 4 feet long and up to an inch wide, and the monument leaks when it rains.

Engineers rappelled down its sides to assess the damage and found that it was repairable.

Finished in 1884, the monument is one of the capital's most popular tourist attractions, but it has been closed since the Aug. 23 temblor. Normally it gets about 1,700 visitors a day.

Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group private equity firm, said he wanted the monument to reopen as soon as possible. 



TSA apology? Two elderly women were screened improperly

Wisconsin recall: The Web casts an electronic eye on proceedings 

Snow wimps: Seattle is shut down by the first real snow of the season

-- Connie Stewart 

Photo:  Scaffolding is erected around the Washington Monument on the National Mall in October. The monument is to undergo repairs after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake damaged it in August. Credit: Andrew Cutraro / Agence France-Presse

Mormons say U.S. is ready for a president of their faith


Call it the Mitt Moment, the Mormon Moment -- by whatever name, this would seem to be a pretty good time to be a Mormon in America. And it is, according to a survey of American Mormons being released Thursday, even though many church members say they still face discrimination and hostility.

Mormons are generally more satisfied with their lives and communities than most Americans, and a majority believe that America is ready to elect a Mormon president, says the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey provides a snapshot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the formal name — at a time when one of its members, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, could become the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party. 

Most of the survey’s findings are unsurprising. Mormons are far more conservative than the public at large (66% vs. 37%), and far more likely to be Republican or Republican-leaning (74% vs. 45%). They are staunch social conservatives, with strong majorities opposed to homosexuality and abortion. And they like Romney, who has an 86% favorable rating among his co-religionists. (President Obama, by contrast, is viewed favorably by 25% of Mormons, exactly half his rating among the public at large.)

Even before Romney won Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, there was talk of this being a Mormon Moment, in part based on the popularity of “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway and “Big Love” on TV. Given that “Big Love” was about a breakaway polygamist sect, this wasn’t all good news — and the survey found that Mormons believe they are portrayed badly by the entertainment industry.

“One of the key questions we really had going into the survey was, 'How are Mormons themselves responding to and experiencing this Mormon Moment that we seem to be in?’ ” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew. “It paints kind of a mixed picture.”

“On the one hand, we find lots of Mormons telling us they feel like their religion is misunderstood, lots of Mormons who think they’re discriminated against, lots of Mormons who say they don’t think Mormonism is part of mainstream American society,” Smith said. “At the same time, there’s a flip side to this -- we see a high level of optimism or satisfaction in their own lives.”

Smith said Pew found a similar dichotomy among American Muslims in a recent survey. He also said he was struck by the paradoxical relationship between Mormons and white evangelical Christians. The two groups have a great deal in common: political conservatism, social conservatism, very high rates of religious commitment.

“Despite those commonalities, there’s clearly tension between these groups,” Smith said. Half of those surveyed said evangelicals were unfriendly to Mormons –- a finding that may be fairly accurate, given that an earlier Pew survey found that 47% of evangelicals said Mormons were not Christians.

For all that, the survey reflected an overall sense of optimism, with 63% of Mormons saying the American public is becoming more accepting of their church, and 56% saying they believe the country is ready for a Mormon president.

The survey was the most extensive ever conducted of American Mormons, according to Allison Pond, deputy editor of the editorial page at the church-owned Deseret News in Salt Lake City and an advisor to Pew on the poll. She said the results largely confirmed what was already known about Mormon beliefs.

Pond said she found it particularly gratifying to see that 86% of respondents said they found polygamy to be morally offensive.

“I’m hopeful that that statistic will start to get some play,” she said. “I think that can tone down a lot of the conversation” about polygamy.

Multiple marriage was condoned in the early days of the Latter-day Saints, but has been prohibited by church doctrine since the late 19th century. Despite that, it still is widely associated in the public mind with the Mormon Church.

Pew surveyed 1,019 self-identified Mormons between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.


Doomsday Clock edges toward midnight

John 3:16 message delivered by Tim Tebow's arm

What's in a name? Maybe Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-bop-bop

-- Mitchell Landsberg 

Photo: Mitt Romney addresses supporters in Columbia, S.C., on Wednesday. Credit: C. Aluka Berry / The State/MCT 

Mt. Rainier park ranger shot to death; suspect sought

A Mt. Rainier park ranger in Washington state was shot to death after a traffic stop Sunday and the Ranger-bloggunman remained at large, officials said. He was believed to be carrying an assault rifle. 

The National Park Service said it had closed the park indefinitely. 

"It's really not safe right now," park spokeswoman Lee Taylor told the Seattle Times. "We've got a guy on the loose with a gun and he's obviously willing to use it." 

Another park spokesman, Kevin Bacher, told the news media that the ranger was Margaret Anderson, 34, who was married and had two young children.

Bacher said the suspect had been stopped by another ranger about 10:11 a.m. but fled in his vehicle, the News Tribune of Seattle-Tacoma reported. Anderson encountered the suspect at a roadblock and was shot shortly before 11 a.m., he said.  

Taylor said Anderson had pulled her car across the road to set up the roadblock. When the suspect arrived, Taylor said, "he just jumped out and shot her."

Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff, told the Associated Press that about 100 people were hunkered down in lodges and cabins in the park and had been asked to stay put lest they get in the line of fire. 

"We do have a very hot and dangerous situation," he said.


MGM Grand casino plans to retire its lions

2011 stories that grabbed our interest: Rogues, porn, more

Flag burning at Occupy Charlotte creates divide among members

-- Connie Stewart

Photo: Ranger Margaret Anderson. Credit: Mt. Rainier National Park



Texas Judge William Adams suspended over beating video

Texas Judge William Adams suspended over beating video

The Texas Supreme Court suspended an Aransas County judge whose daughter secretly videotaped him whipping her with a belt when she was a teenager, the Associated Press reported Tuesday night.

Court-at-law Judge William Adams was suspended immediately with pay while the State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigates his behavior. His duties included hearing child-abuse cases. 

Adams' now 23-year-old daughter, Hillary, made the video in 2004 and uploaded it to YouTube in late October. It has generated more than 6 million page views and 150,000 comments -- most of them condemning his conduct. 

In the video, Adams curses at his daughter, then 16, and uses a belt to whip her 17 times for illegally downloading music and games.

Adams told local media recently that the beating was "not as bad as it looks on tape" and added: "In my mind, I haven't done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing." He said his daughter posted the video because he was taking away her Mercedes. 

But Hillary Adams told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show that she had released the video because "the disputes and the harassment were escalating, and finally it was just the straw that broke the camel's back." She added: "I told him I had the video and he brushed it off. ... He didn't seem to think anything of it, and basically dared me to post it."

She told Lauer that she had set up the video camera on her dresser to capture the discipline that routinely occurred in the household.

"It did happen regularly," she said. "I waited seven years [to release it] because back then I was still a minor and living under his roof, and releasing it then, I don't know what would have happened to me, my mother, my little sister. So waiting until today, seven years later, has allowed me pull away and distance myself from the consequences."

Her parents have since divorced, and her mother has custody of her 10-year-old sister. William Adams is fighting a court order that requires him to get permission from his ex-wife before visiting the younger girl. 


Video of Texas judge whipping daughter goes viral 


Oregon governor declares moratorium on death penalty 

Wildfire at Great Dismal Swamp extinguished after several months 

--Connie Stewart 

Photo: Judge William Adams returns after a lunch recess at the Aransas County Courthouse in Rockport, Texas, on Monday. He is fighting for visitation with his 10-year-old daughter after a temporary restraining order was issued, barring him from visiting the girl without permission from her mother, his ex-wife, Hallie Adams. The restraining order was issued following the October posting of a 2004 video on YouTube showing Adams beating his older daughter, Hillary Adams. Credit: Michael Zamora / Corpus Christi Caller-Times / Associated Press 



Recommended on Facebook

Your Hosts

Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

In Case You Missed It...