Military expert with explosives in airport was in prior incident

AtwaterA military demolitions expert who faces charges in Texas that he tried to bring explosives onto a civilian aircraft was involved in another incident of attempting to transport contraband on an airplane, federal officials said on Tuesday.

Trey Scott Atwater, who completed three military deployments in Afghanistan, is scheduled to be arraigned in district court late Tuesday afternoon, FBI Special Agent Michael Martinez said in a telephone interview from El Paso. Martinez said he could not give any other details except that Atwater would be charged with a felony of trying to bring explosives onto a flight.

Atwater, 30, was arrested Saturday at a security checkpoint at Midland International Airport after explosives in military-grade wrapping were discovered in his luggage. Atwater, who told investigators that he was an explosives expert, said he was surprised to find the explosives, believed to be C-4, in the military bag, which he grabbed to transport children’s items, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for West Texas.

The complaint goes on to state that the Midland incident was Atwater’s second over the holidays.

Atwater, of Hope Mills, N.C., was briefly detained Dec. 24 at the airport in Fayetteville, N.C., when he was flying to his relatives’ home in Midland. Screeners found a military smoke grenade in his bag. The grenade was confiscated, and Atwater was admonished but allowed to continue his trip to Texas, the complaint states.

Atwater’s rank has not been officially released, but the complaint notes that he served with the 7th Special Forces Group and returned to the United States in April after his third deployment in Afghanistan. He is believed to be assigned to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, where special operations forces are located.

According to the complaint, Atwater was stopped at about 9:30 a.m. on New Year’s Eve at the Midland airport by Transportation Safety Administration employees. Atwater was heading to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. In his carry-on luggage was material with military markings showing it was C-4.

Atwater explained that he had not used the bag since returning from Afghanistan, but that it was standard operating procedure to keep two blocks of C-4 in it while on the battlefield. He said he had grabbed the bag, which had been stored in a garage, to carry children’s items on the flight and did not notice any explosives in the main compartment of the bag.

When investigators later asked him about the incident involving the smoke grenade, Atwater acknowledged that it had happened. He said that he had forgotten to mention it in his earlier interview with officials, the complaint states.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Trey Scott Atwater. Credit: Midland County Sheriff's Office


Visitor to 9/11 memorial told police of loaded gun, was arrested

 911 MemorialA Tennessee tourist who says she unwittingly broke New York's weapons laws by visiting the 9/11 memorial with a loaded gun -- legal in her home state -- faces 3 1/2 years behind bars for the error, which came to light when she asked guards where she could store her weapon while touring the memorial.

The Dec. 22 incident underscores the disparity in gun-carrying laws among states; some, like New York, ban the carrying of loaded guns and don't recognize the permits issued in other states for visitors carrying weapons. Opponents of strict gun laws argue that the right to bear arms, as outlined in the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, should take precedence and that it is unfair for people like the tourist, Meredith Graves, to be caught in the middle of different states' regulations.

Local media reports have described Graves as a 39-year-old medical student who was in the area for a job interview and decided to visit the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers with her husband, and her loaded .32-caliber pistol. When she saw the signs reading "No guns allowed," Graves asked a security guard where she could check the loaded weapon in her purse, according to the New York Post.

Graves was arrested on suspicion of carrying a loaded weapon. She could face a minimum of 3 1/2 years in prison. She was freed on bail Wednesday and is due to appear in court in March.

Tennessee's Knoxnews.com said Graves got her permit to carry a loaded gun in August 2008 and that it was due to expire in 2012.

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said prosecuting people like Graves will spur gun advocates to fight harder against restrictions on weapons.

"By prosecuting this woman and seeking 3 1/2 years of jail, we are shooting our own [gun-control] efforts in the foot and giving the rest of the country ammunition," Vallone said, according to the New York Post. "Clearly the laws are too strict here," he added.

But a Tennessee firearms instructor expressed surprise that Graves would not have checked New York's laws before carting her loaded weapon into the city and said it was the responsibility of individuals to check each state's laws before traveling with their weapons.

“There are about 50 different sets of rules. We tell our students to call ahead before they travel with a gun,” David Dukes, the firearms instructor at Gunny's in Maryville, Tenn., told Knoxnews.com. He noted that most states' information is available on the Internet.

Whatever New York's laws might be, the president of the memorial, Joe Daniels, said it should be clear to anyone that loaded weapons would not be permitted at a highly secured site dedicated to the memory of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "It's so obvious -- you shouldn't have to say it," Daniels said.

-- Tina Susman in New York

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Photo: The National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan, shown Thursday, has drawn more than a million visitors since it opened in September. One was a Tennessee woman who was arrested on suspicion of carrying a loaded gun. Credit: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

 


Stories that grabbed us in 2011: Rogues, thieves, porn and more

Arnold_and_Maria
A philandering governor. An inmate, an ex-girlfriend and an accusation of rape. A sprawling hodgepodge of buildings that has neighbors up in arms. And an earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands.

Stories on these topics were the most-read of the year at latimes.com.

But before we get to the headlines that made us cheer, jeer and tear up, take a moment to slap yourself on the back, dear readers. It seems that media pundits are constantly wringing their hands and lamenting the state of long-form journalism, or complaining about the public's seemingly insatiable desire for all things Kardashian. You've proved them wrong.

The stories that were most widely read were largely hard-hitting investigative pieces or breaking news. There wasn't a Kim, Khloe or Kourtney in the bunch.

PHOTOS: The most-viewed stories of 2011

In fact, the single most popular story on latimes.com in 2011 was the disturbing two-part tale of Louis Gonzalez III, a Las Vegas father who found himself facing life behind bars for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child by tying her up in her Simi Valley home, burning her with matches and sexually assaulting her with a wooden hanger.

"One of the most brutal attacks I have ever seen," is the way one Simi Valley law enforcement officer described the crime scene. A dogged Simi Valley detective set out to collect the evidence to support the woman's claim -- that her ex-boyfriend attacked her -- but the evidence would end up pointing to a more surprising conclusion.

Then there was the revelation that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, had separated because she discovered that he had fathered a child with a longtime member of their household.

Readers were also drawn to our extensive coverage of Japan's worst earthquake in recorded history. The temblor occurred March 11, rocking the northeast coast of Japan and triggering a deadly tsunami, the effects of which were felt as far as the Pacific Northwest. In all, more than 15,000 people perished.

Other stories that struck a chord with readers included the tale of Alan Kimble Fahey's homemade, ramshackle labyrinth of buildings that he calls Phonehenge West. Located in Acton, the structure is Fahey's 30-year labor of love. But authorities say it violates practically every building and fire code in the book. And officials are trying to force him to tear it down.

An estimated 15 million poker-playing Americans were affected by this next story: The founders of the three largest online poker sites were indicted on charges including bank fraud and money laundering. Many poker players fretted about the fate of their bettings, and the fate of on-line poker playing. But one of the sites, Full Tilt Poker, defended its business practices and the rights of Americans everywhere to gamble away their hard-earned money. 

Rounding out the rest of our list: the colossal failure of Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, an experimental aircraft capable of traveling at 20 times the speed of sound; a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering California to improve inhumane conditions for state prison inmates; an in-depth look at Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel; and the Los Angeles-based porn industry's shutdown after an adult film performer tested positive for HIV.

But we all know that readers cannot live on news alone. Here's a look at our most-viewed photo galleries of the year.

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: In happier days, newly-elected California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver celebrate at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times


Immigration rights: U.S. launches new hotline for detainees

Detainees
Federal immigration officials Thursday announced the creation of a telephone hotline to ensure that detainees held by local police are informed of their rights.

The toll-free number, (855) 448-6903, will field queries from detainees held by state or local law enforcement agencies if the detainees "believe they may be U.S. citizens or victims of a crime," the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in a statement.

An ICE official in Washington said agency representatives had not been authorized to comment about the hotline but that more information soon would be posted online.

The hotline will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by ICE personnel, according to the statement, with interpreters available in several languages.

"ICE personnel will collect information from the individual and refer it to the relevant ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations field office for immediate action," the statement said.

As part of the new initiative, ICE officials plan to issue a form to all detainees informing them that ICE will assume their custody within 48 hours, according to the statement. The form will be available in English as well as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Vietnamese, the statement said. ICE posted a sample copy of the form online Thursday.

"It also advises individuals that if ICE does not take them into custody within the 48 hours, they should contact the [law enforcement agency] or entity that is holding them to inquire about their release from state or local custody," the statement said.

The hotline comes amid controversy over local law enforcement agencies’ ability to detain people they believe to be illegal immigrants.

Scores of local law enforcement agencies partner with the federal government under the 287(g) program, established in 1996, which deputizes police to turn over suspects or criminals to immigration authorities for possible deportation. Normally, police do not enforce federal law.

ICE has 287(g) agreements with 69 law enforcement agencies in 24 states, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Since January 2006, the program is credited with identifying more than 217,300 potentially removable illegal immigrants, mostly at local jails, according to ICE records. Also under the program, ICE has trained and certified more than 1,500 state and local officials to enforce immigration law, the agency says.

Immigrant rights groups say the program has led to civil rights violations and racial profiling, and such authority has been especially controversial in Arizona. There, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been criticized for what many people call mistreatment of suspected illegal immigrants.

This month, the Justice Department announced it was suspending its 287(g) agreement with Arpaio and his deputies after an investigation found they had pursued a campaign of racial profiling against Latinos, making unlawful arrests and violating civil rights laws in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration.

Separately, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, ended the Maricopa County jail officers' authority to detain people on immigration charges, barring them from holding immigration violators who have not been charged with local crimes.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the new hotline  “a positive development,” but said it was “overdue” and “inadequate.”

“Often people who are subject to ICE detainers have no idea why they are being held,” said Saenz, who is based at the national Latino civil rights group’s Los Angeles headquarters. “This kind of step should have been in place the very first time ICE undertook an expansion of its detainers.”

“ICE needs to focus on fixing the problems up front,” Saenz added, avoiding unconstitutional arrests and monitoring local law enforcement agencies it partners with rather than relying on detainees to report abuses.

“It relies on the individuals being detained to have the courage, knowledge and wherewithal to make a call to the hotline and follow up. They may feel intimidated or unable to adequately navigate their case,” Saenz said.

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 -- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: In this February 2009 file photo, about 200 illegal immigrants are handcuffed and moved within Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's "Tent City" in Phoenix for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press.


'Fast and Furious' death: Slain ATF agent's family speaks out

Fast and Furious weaponsOne year after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in southern Arizona, his family said it believes that if a flawed gun-tracking operation run by federal ATF agents violated any laws, then “those responsible for Fast and Furious should be held criminally liable.”

The comments came Wednesday as a Border Patrol National Honor Guard held a brief ceremony at a cemetery in Flat Rock, Mich., where Terry was raised and is now buried. He was shot late on the night of Dec. 14 last year while his Border Patrol team was working a rugged canyon south of Tucson, and pronounced dead early the next morning. Two firearms recovered at the scene were traced to Operation Fast and Furious.

The operation was run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, part of the Department of Justice, and allowed illegal buyers to purchase firearms with the hope of tracking the weapons to Mexican cartel leaders. But authorities lost track of hundreds of guns, some of which also surfaced later at crime scenes in Mexico.

“We find it incomprehensible that members of ATF and DOJ would embark on such an egregious operation and then try to conceal the link between this failed investigation and Brian’s murder,” his family said in a statement. “Much to our dismay, no one in ATF or DOJ has come forward to accept responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious.”

Terry’s family continues to press for answers, and said, “We now believe that if it can be shown that laws were broken, then all those responsible for Fast and Furious should be held criminally liable.”

In an interview, family spokesman Robert Heyer was asked if the family supports efforts by congressional Republicans to force Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to resign.

“Somebody needs to take responsibility. I don’t know if that’s Holder,” Heyer said. “But there were individuals somewhere in DOJ and ATF that were making daily decisions and knew the risks associated with such a reckless plan. Those decision-makers are the folks that need to be held accountable immediately.”

Holder has insisted that neither he nor his Justice Department were aware of the gun-walking “tactics” in Fast and Furious. At his request, his inspector general is investigating the matter. One person has been charged in the homicide. But the criminal case remains sealed, and it's unclear whether others have been arrested.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he was “adamantly rejecting the suggestion that the FBI would in any way cover up what happened in the tragic killing of Brian Terry.” He testified that there was no third weapon found at the scene, contrary to suggestions by many critics that the FBI is withholding evidence.

“Every available necessary resource has been put on” the case, Mueller said, “and similar investigations where we lose one of our own.”

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-- Richard A. Serrano in Washington, D.C.

Photo: A Jan. 25 photo shows part of a cache of seized weapons displayed at a news conference in Phoenix. Credit: Matt York/Associated Press
 


N.Y. lawmakers ask TSA for passenger advocates at airports

In the wake of claims by an elderly woman that she was strip-searched at John F. Kennedy Airport, two New York lawmakers want to establish passenger advocates at all airports.

At a Sunday news conference, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, where the airport is located, asked the Transportation Security Administration to create the posts to protect passengers. The TSA, in a blog post, insisted that it does not conduct strip searches.

“While the safety and security of our flights is a paramount concern for us, the TSA, and for the American people, an appropriate circumstantial balance is necessary so that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading, and potentially humiliating experience for many of our most vulnerable Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to TSA administrator John Pistole and his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“That is why we are asking TSA to designate a ‘passenger advocate’ at every airport who can be summoned by passengers before events like the ones described above occur. The ‘passenger advocate’ would immediately review whether there are more amicable, yet equally effective, methods for resolving disputes between passengers and agents than what is being proposed by the specific agent handling the security screening at the moment.”

The TSA has already announced that it is planning some form of advocacy service, though details are still under review. “The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) strives to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect,” the agency stated over the weekend.

“TSA has programs in place for the screening of people with all types of disabilities and medical conditions and their associated equipment.”

A week ago, Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Long Island, said she was injured and humiliated when she was strip-searched at JFK Airport. She said she had asked to be patted down instead of going through a body scanner because she was worried the scanner would interfere with her defibrillator. Zimmerman said she was forced to miss her flight and had to take one 2 1/2 hours later.

The Transportation Security Administration insists that no such strip search took place.

“While we regret that the passenger feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case,” the TSA stated.

In addition to the Zimmerman case, the legislators also cited reports involving Ruth Sherman, 88, of Sunrise, Fla., who said she was pulled aside and asked about the visible protrusion from her waist band. The bulge was caused by a colostomy bag.

A third woman, Linda Kallish, of Boynton, Fla., said that she was escorted to a separate room and told to remove her pants after she revealed she was a diabetic with an insulin pump in her leg.

And last June, the daughter of Lena Reppert, 95, reported that TSA agents would not let her mother board a flight from Florida to Detroit because her incontinence pad set off alarms.

“We truly regret these passengers feel they had a bad screening experience,” the TSA said in its blog.

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Video: Lenore Zimmerman recounts her experience at JFK Airport. Credit: Associated Press via YouTube. 


Airport security: Elderly women say TSA agents went much too far

 

The holiday travel season is upon us, and with it apparently come more opportunities for infuriating airport experiences. The latest tales of woe come from two elderly women who say workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City forced them to partially disrobe as they passed through security.

Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Long Beach, N.Y.,  told CBS 2 in New York and other media that she was made to remove her pants Nov. 29 so Transportation Security Administration agents could check the back brace and support belt she wears. Zimmerman had opted out of going through a screening machine.

Zimmerman said that she travels regularly between New York and Florida, where she lives in the winter, and opts for pat-down searches because she does not want to go through electronic screening with her defibrillator. But after the latest pat-down, Zimmerman said, agents went further than they ever had. 

"I said, 'Why are you strip-searching me? Do I look like a terrorist?'" Zimmerman said in the CBS 2 report, adding that the TSA agent did not respond.

Ruth Sherman, 88, of Sunrise, Fla., came forward after hearing Zimmerman's story. She said that while traveling through JFK on Nov. 28, she had to pull down the waist of her pants to show TSA workers her colostomy bag. "This is private for me, you know?" she said, the Associated Press reported. "It's bad enough that I have it."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airports have added increasingly restrictive security measures that often startle those on the receiving end of the seemingly illogical searches. Last June, a woman was forced to remove her 95-year-old mother's adult diaper after TSA agents grew suspicious over the bulk caused by the diaper, the AP reported.

Guns still slip through the cracks, though. 

The TSA says it has introduced new screening methods in time for the holiday travel season, aimed at making the experience less stressful. They include no longer requiring children under 12 to remove their shoes before going through security, and having "casual conversations" with travelers at some airports to determine if they should be sent for more stringent screening.

The agency also points out the challenges its agents face as they try to balance security with comfort for travelers. Among the places security screeners have found contraband or possible weapons: mixed into jars of peanut butter and concealed inside a hollow walking cane.

As for the latest allegations, the TSA denies Zimmerman's allegation of a "strip search" but apologized for her discomfort. It says agents followed procedure in both cases.

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-- Tina Susman in New York

Video: An elderly passenger says TSA security officers went too far. Credit: WPIX


Ex-Colorado sheriff accused of offering meth for sex

SullivanFormer Colorado Sheriff Patrick Sullivan, once named the nation’s sheriff of the year, is in jail after he was arrested in a sting for allegedly attempting to trade methamphetamine for sex with a male customer.

Sullivan, 68, was arrested Tuesday and appeared in court Wednesday in an orange jail uniform, walking with a cane, according to the Associated Press. A judge raised his bail to $500,000 and sent him to the Arapahoe County jail named after him.

Sullivan faces a charge of unlawful distribution, manufacturing, dispensing or sale of a controlled substance. If convicted, he could face up to six years in prison.

Sullivan became sheriff in 1984 and by the time he retired had won praise as a hero in the Denver suburbs. In 1989, he rescued two deputies during a gunman's rampage. He participated in a statewide meth task force in 2000 and a year later was named the country's sheriff of the year.

After he retired, Sullivan worked as director of safety and security for Cherry Creek Schools in 2002, retiring in 2008.

“This isn’t the Pat I know,” Peg Ackerman, a lobbyist for the County Sheriffs of Colorado, told the Associated Press.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, who took over from Sullivan in 2002 and worked as an undersheriff with him beginning in 1997, said the department was shocked and saddened at his arrest.

"This shows that no one is above the law, particularly a current or a former peace officer," Robinson told the Denver Post.

Robinson said Sullivan had an ongoing relationship with the man he was with when arrested as well as other men he had a history of bonding out of local jails. According to 9 News in Denver, the investigation into Sullivan's activities in recent years is ongoing.

Sullivan became the focus of Tuesday's sting after investigators received a tip Oct. 4 from a home in Centennial, Colo., according to an arrest affidavit.

Two confidential informants told investigators that Sullivan was dealing meth but would sell only to those who slept with him.

During the sting, Sullivan allegedly handed someone a bag of meth and had another bag on him when he was searched, both bags weighing less than a gram, according to the affidavit.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Mission, Texas

Photo: Retired Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick Sullivan in a booking mug shot. Sullivan, once the national sheriff of the year, made his first court appearance Wednesday. Credit: Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office/Reuters

 

 


Terror suspect's mother apologizes, thanks N.Y. police for arrest

The mother of a Dominican-born U.S. citizen arrested in connection with an alleged terrorist plot targeting American troops, as well as post offices and police, apologized on Monday to New York City as she expressed shock over her son's arrest.

"I want to apologize to the city. I love the city," 56-year-old Carmen Sosa said as reporters thronged the apartment building in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights neighborhood where she lived with Jose Pimentel. Pimentel, 27, was arrested Saturday afternoon as he was putting the finishing touches on a pipe bomb, according to police.

"I'm very disappointed with what my son was doing. I didn't raise him that way. I feel very bad about the situation," said Sosa, who opened the front door of her apartment to reporters. "I thank the police," added Sosa, who works for a nonprofit organization helping find housing for the mentally ill. "They did what they were supposed to."

According to a five-page criminal complaint, Pimentel had gleaned bomb-making instructions from an online magazine, Inspire, and had been under surveillance for two years. He was driven by anger over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his views became so extreme in recent years that even close friends who shared some of his political views became worried, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news conference Sunday night.

It is unclear when Pimentel converted to Islam, but Kelly said he appeared to have been especially enraged by the Sept. 30 killing by U.S. forces of radical American-born cleric Anwar Awlaki in Yemen. At that point, his bomb-making efforts took on a new urgency, the commissioner said.

But Pimentel's apparent radicalism went unnoticed by his family and by the people who knew him in Hamilton Heights, a heavily Dominican neighborhood on upper Manhattan's West Side where gentrification has yet to take hold. Many of the small-business signs are in Spanish, the language spoken by many of the people walking down the bustling streets.

Pimentel, who has an ex-wife, is believed to have moved in with his mother after returning to Manhattan from Schenectady, N.Y., where he had been for several years. Police said he came back to Manhattan, where he was raised, after his marriage ended. The building where he lived houses a mix of Dominicans and young people studying at nearby City College or Columbia University, such as Sean McKenna.

McKenna, 25, a Columbia graduate student in urban studies, told a reporter that Pimentel was often on the building's stoop smoking and sometimes making small talk with neighbors.

"If I read about a terrorist in New York, I would have been all worried, but knowing the situation, well, it feels amateurish," McKenna said of Pimentel, who is being held without bond. "He was the only person in the building I knew ... and he wasn't talking jihad."

Michael Echevaria, an assistant manager at a Manhattan retail store, said he knew Pimentel from junior high school.

Echevaria said whenever he came back to the neighborhood to visit his grandmother, he would see Pimentel hanging out on the stoop. "I thought that he was either homeless or a drug dealer at this point," said Echevaria, who is also Dominican and who said he worries that Pimentel's arrest could cause New Yorkers to view other Dominicans with suspicion.

"We don't need this," he said.

Pimentel's next court appearance is set for Nov. 25.

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-- Geraldine Baum and Tina Susman in New York


Suspected White House gunman obsessed with Obama, family says

White_House_window
The family of an Idaho man charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama said he had begun acting unusual of late, and spent hours secretly searching on the Internet. But still, they cannot reconcile allegations that he considered Obama the "Antichrist" and wanted him dead.

A criminal complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania said that Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 21, of Idaho Falls knowingly attempted "to kill the president of the United States." If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Ortega-Hernandez allegedly stopped his car outside the White House on Friday night and aimed a high-profile rifle at the building. At least two bullets were fired: One struck the exterior of the presidential mansion, while another cracked an exterior window onto the Obamas' living quarters, above. 

The president and first lady were never in any danger -- they were in California at the time. But it remains unclear whether daughters Sasha and Malia were at home.

Law enforcement officials said in legal documents that some who knew Ortega-Hernandez said he was "preparing for something," and believed that Obama was "the devil" and needed to be "taken care of."

Ortega-Hernandez's mother and sister spoke to the Idaho Falls Post Register on Thursday and said they had noticed that his appearance had changed recently, and he had been acting oddly. He began strictly watching his health, and fighting in mixed martial arts. He also became withdrawn and began growing out his hair and beard. [Access to the full Post Register article requires a paid subscription.]

“That’s what started making me think there was something wrong,” his sister, Yesenia Hernandez, told the newspaper. “I’d ask, ‘Is it for the [MMA] fighting?’ He said, ‘No. I’m just trying something different.’ It was weird. Now, he looks like, I guess, like a terrorist. It’s like he’s trying to play out the part or something.”

They described him as a devoted father. He had his son's name -- Israel -- tattooed on his neck. 

Yet something was off, Yesenia Hernandez told the newspaper. “He’s been acting a little strange lately, just keeping to himself,” she said. “It was just Internet, Internet, totally the Internet all day, every day. It seemed like he was obsessed with something, but no one would ask him. We’d come in, and he would turn off whatever he was looking at. He was always trying to keep it away from us.”

Maria Hernandez, the man's mother, said he never spoke of politics around family, although he sometimes said he was on a mission from God. “We never read too much into that,” Yesenia Hernandez said. “But I guess now, you kind of look at things differently.”

His family reported him missing around Halloween, and hadn't heard from him until the incident this week in Washington. 

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter/renelynch

Photo: Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images


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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


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