TIME Crime

Nationwide Homicide Spike Hits Small Connecticut Capital City

Hartford has already seen as many murders as it did all of last year

The murder of a 25-year old Hartford man over the weekend was the Connecticut city’s 20th murder this year, making this year already more deadly than last year as homicide rates spike across the country.

The incident in Hartford could indicate that a crime uptick sweeping larger cities is hitting smaller ones, too. Hartford saw only 19 homicides last year, but that was a low point in the city’s crime rate in recent years. According to police statistics, there were 33 murders in all of 2009, 27 murders in 2011, and 23 murders in 2013.

“Our police department continues to work with State and Federal partners in an effort to identify these criminals before they act, without concern for life, with the goal of preventing these most violent crimes,” Mayor Pedro Segarra said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can within our means to identify potential correlations that may assist our policing efforts. Even with a commitment of significant resources and partnerships across all levels of government, our community needs to continue to come together as government cannot address this issue alone.”

The nationwide uptick has prompted police chiefs from all over the country—including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia—to gather Monday in Washington to discuss tactics for stemming the bloodshed.

In larger cities, murders are noticeably on the rise. Baltimore is seeing an unprecedented spike in shootings, especially since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in May.

Forty-five people were killed there in July, making it Baltimore’s deadliest month since 1972, even though the city has 275,000 fewer people than it did back then. Police say 191 people have been killed in Baltimore so far in 2015, and 116 of them were killed between May and July—the highest of any three-month period in records kept since 1970, the Baltimore Sun reports. And 2015 is also the first year that has seen two months with more than 40 killings.

Washington, D.C., is also seeing a spike in violent crime, with 84 homicides so far this year, putting 2015 on track to be the most deadly year since 2008. And in Chicago, murders and shootings have gone up, even as overall crime has gone down—there were 10 more murders in July than last year. Violent crime in Los Angeles is up more than 20%, even as the homicide rate in the city drops by almost 7%, according to the Los Angeles Times.

TIME Crime

Louisiana Shooter Was Disturbed but Politically Ambitious

He ran for office but dropped out after he was caught stealing his opponent's signs

Long before he opened fire in a crowded Louisiana movie theater this week, John “Rusty” Houser had a history of erratic behavior that scared his family—but he also had a strong interest in local politics, running for office in Georgia in the 1990s in an attempt to follow in his father’s footsteps.

People who knew Houser over the past two decades described a man who at times seemed untethered. He was easily excitable and passionate about political issues, and often highly critical of the local government. He also suffered from bipolar disorder and had a dark and unpredictable streak, leading many who knew him to be wary of him.

On Thursday, Houser stood up at a showing of Trainwreck in Lafayette, La. and, giving no explanation, fired 13 shots, killing two people and injuring nine others, before turning the gun on himself. He was living out of a motel for the months leading up to the shooting, and police described him as a lone drifter.

According to court documents, in 2008 his family got a protective order against him, citing mental illness and “various acts of family violence” (a domestic abuse complaint was filed in 2005). His wife, schoolteacher Kellie Houser, was so worried that she removed all the guns from their home and had him temporarily committed to a mental hospital. They later divorced, and he’s been estranged from his family since.

But things weren’t always this way. In the 1990s, Houser was an aspiring city politician in Columbus, Ga., hoping to follow in his father Rembert Houser’s footsteps. He was a fixture at community meetings in Columbus, now a town of about 200,000, and quick to weigh in on whatever topics were on the agenda.

“He did interviews, he ran for office, his dad was an elected official,” local Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters, who was then mayor of Columbus, told TIME. “I think he looked at himself as kind of a citizen’s watchdog, where he kind of kept an eye on government to make sure everything was done correctly.”

Peters added, “He didn’t trust government—he was always questioning everything we do.”

Houser dabbled in real estate development and owned two short-lived local bars, according to a now-deleted LinkedIn page with his name and photo. In 1996, he ran as a Republican for tax commissioner, mostly on the legacy of his father, who had previously held the office, as first reported by the Ledger-Enquirer. “He ran on his father’s name,” said Lula Huff, who won that election and is still serving as Columbus tax commissioner. “It didn’t matter what subject matter he discussed, it would always come back to ‘I’m the son of Rembert Houser.'”

Still, there were flashes of disturbed behavior. Houser was arrested for arson in 1989 or 1990, police said, one of several things that prevented him from being approved for a pistol license in 2006. (Police said late Friday that he bought the gun used legally at a pawn shop in Alabama last year, and that he visited the theater more than once before the shooting). Huff said she never received any threats during the campaign, but “citizens of the community told me to be cautious.”

Houser eventually dropped out of the 1996 race after he was caught removing Huff’s campaign signs from other people’s yards, Huff said. “Wherever I placed yard signs, he physically removed them,” she said. “When he was caught in the act by a police officer, he had more than 25 in his possession.”

Patti Meadows, a tax clerk who works in Huff’s office, knew Houser from when she worked for his father. The younger Houser would occasionally give her then-13-year-old son Darrick rides to church, and would frequently employ him to do odd jobs around the parish. But often Darrick would make up an excuse to avoid working with Houser. “He would come home and say ‘Rusty was not himself today,'” Meadows told TIME. “My son would tell him he had more homework” in order to go home.

Peters, the former mayor, said Houser seemed mentally unstable at times, but he remained ambitious.

“He talked fast, he moved fast, it was hard to keep him focused,” Peters recalled. “He just seemed like he had not found his niche. He was always searching for that niche and he wanted to be involved, he wanted to be in the forefront.”

TIME Crime

Everything We Know About the Lafayette Movie Theater Shooter

Police call him "kind of a drifter"

The man who opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Lafayette, La. Thursday night had a history of erratic and violent behavior, prompting his family to request a protective order against him several years ago.

John Russel Houser, 59, also known as “Rusty” killed two people and himself and injured nine others when he fired his handgun at least 13 times at a showing of Trainwreck, the Amy Schumer comedy.

In a press conference Friday, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said Houser was “kind of a drifter” who had been living in a motel since the beginning of July and apparently did not have close ties to the city, according to NOLA.com. Originally from Phenix City, Ala., Houser was estranged from his family. His only connection to Lafayette was a dead uncle who lived there years ago.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, Houser’s family asked for a temporary protective order against him in 2008, because of his “extreme erratic behavior” and “ominous as well as disturbing statements.” The documents say that Houser had committed “various acts of family violence” and that his wife, Kellie Houser, was so worried that she “removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.” The documents also note that Houser has a history of bipolar disorder.

Authorities announced at a press conference Friday that Houser had had numerous other brushes with the law, but was never formally charged with a serious crime. He was arrested for arson in 1989 or 1990, and his wife filed a domestic violence complaint against him in 2005, but he was never formally arrested. In 2014, he allegedly destroyed his own house after he sold it to another man– when the new owner attempted to evict Houser from the property, he “booby trapped” the home, preparing for an enormous gas fire. The police also confirmed Houser’s long history of mental illness.

Houser shot himself in the theater Thursday night as he saw police officers approach, but had apparently intended to escape the scene—Craft said police found wigs and other disguises in his motel room, and that Houser had switched his license plates in an apparent attempt to evade capture. He had a small criminal record, but hadn’t run into trouble with the law in the past decade or so (he had previously been arrested for arson and selling alcohol to a minor).

Witnesses said Houser did not appear agitated, and did not say anything during the shooting that would indicate a motive. “He wasn’t erratic or nervous. Just walking down the aisle randomly firing,” Josh Doggett, who was at the movie with his fiancee, told NBC.

There is a Tea Party Nation page registered under Houser’s name, The Daily Beast reports. The page was registered by a person with his name in 2013, although the Tea Party Nation page spelled the name as “John Russell Houser,” instead of “John Russel Houser,” the spelling the police gave. That person also listed his hometown as Phenix City, Ala.

A LinkedIn page registered in Houser’s name and carrying his picture shows a checkered professional history. According to the page, Houser dabbled in real estate development, and owned two bars: Peachtree Pub in Columbus, Ga. from 1979-1980, and Rusty’s Buckhead Pub in Lagrange, Ga. from 1998-2000. He also appeared several times as a guest on a radio show in 1993, but host Doug Kellet posted on Facebook that he doesn’t remember him.

TIME career

Working Women Are Planning More, Which is Why Some Are Freezing Their Eggs

If egg-freezing is Plan B, women need a Plan C

Women seem to have gotten the message that if we want to have both professional success and a family, we better plan it out. That’s the point of a New York Times piece this week that concluded that millennial women are leaning away from “leaning in” and instead scheduling family phases into their career plans.

MORE: The Truth About Freezing Your Eggs

Here’s how the Times’s Claire Cain Miller puts it:

You might call them the planning generation: Their approach is less all or nothing — climb the career ladder or stay home with children — and more give and take …“They’re anticipating that in some way they’re going to have to dial down or integrate their career and their life,” said Caroline Ghosn, chief executive of Levo, an online professional network focused on millennial women. “This reality is something that people are a lot more transparent and open about.”

When you’ve grown up with as many conflicting messages about work and family as millennials have, that kind of attitude makes sense. We’ve been thoroughly disabused of the notion that having both a thriving career and a family at the same time is easy–or even possible– and so the natural reaction is to stagger them; first one, then the other. In most cases, women choose to focus on their career first and family later. But that’s a tricky gamble, because fertility declines with age.

That’s where egg-freezing comes in. For a generation of women who tend to be more practical about plotting their career and family trajectories, egg-freezing is marketed as the best way to do just that. With a frozen egg, they’re told, they could easily start a family throughout their 40’s. Fertility marketers call it an “insurance policy” that can help women smash the biological clock.

That’s an idea with obvious appeal to young women. “It gets into all the mixed messages that women are constantly told. Like “you can have it all, you can’t have it all.” With dating: first it’s like ‘don’t settle,’ then it’s like ‘marry him already,’” says Eileen, a 28-year old who works in education, is considering freezing her eggs when she can afford it. “Everyone’s like ‘do this, do that’ and it feels like you’re never getting the truth about what you can do and what you can have.” (Eileen asked that her full name not be used, because of the personal nature of this fertility decision.)

Jen Statsky, a 29-year old TV writer, says she’d consider egg-freezing just to give herself more flexibility. “I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with my career and I’m happy with where I am at 29, but there’s so much I want to do. I enjoy my life the way it is right now,” she says. “And theoretically I can’t see being ready for a child before the age of 35 or 36. I would push it to 50 if I could.”

Eileen feels like anticipating a family could keep her from making a radical career switch at this stage of her life. “If I were to start a new career in this point in my life, of course as a female you’re always thinking: how would that work out, how would I get years under my belt without leaving the workforce?’”

Dilemmas like these, combined with recent technological advances, have led to a surge in procedures. Since 2009, egg freezing’s popularity has increased more than tenfold, and fertility marketers are predicting that by 2018, more than 70,000 women will be freezing their eggs. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine lifted the “experimental” label from the procedure in 2012, after the quick-freeze vitrification method was developed (scientists discovered that quick-freezing eggs worked much better than slow-freezing them.)

If you want to know more about egg-freezing, check out our recent magazine feature on the topic here.

There’s just one problem with using egg-freezing to help plan the perfect career trajectory: it doesn’t necessarily work that well. Although egg-freezing is marketed to anxious women as an “insurance policy,” there are not yet any major studies about success rates. And initial numbers obtained exclusively by TIME suggest that in 2012 and 2013, only 24% of egg thaws resulted in a live birth.

So if women are using egg-freezing to plan their perfect careers, they need a plan B.



TIME North Dakota

North Dakota’s Strict Abortion Ban Overturned

Jack Dalrymple
Mark Humphrey—AP North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple asks a question during a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee at the National Governors Association convention on July 12, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

The last abortion clinic in the state can stay open

A federal appeals court has struck down North Dakota’s ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, invalidating one of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country and allowing the state’s sole abortion clinic to remain open.

In 2013, North Dakota passed a ban on abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks in some cases. The law was passed specifically to test the constitutional limits of abortion rights—when he signed it, North Dakota Gov Jack Dalrymple called it “a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” and noted he expected legal challenges. Before the most recent appeal, the law had already been deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2014. The most recent federal appeals court decision permanently blocks the law, but the state can still appeal to the Supreme Court.

The law was first blocked in 2013, which allowed North Dakota’s last abortion clinic, Red River Women’s Clinic, to remain open throughout the whole legal battle.

“No woman should ever have to fear her constitutional rights could disappear overnight by virtue of where she lives,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the Eighth Circuit also struck down Alabama’s 12-week abortion ban. And in June, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a law in Texas that would force more than half the state’s abortion clinics to close.



Sandra Bland’s Not the First Black Woman to Experience Police Violence

What about Natasha McKenna, Janisha Fonville, and Tanisha Anderson?

Sandra Bland was found dead in a jail cell, apparently by suicide, after her arrest during a traffic stop. Now she’s joining a long list of now-familiar names of black people whose deaths have ignited a movement for change: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott. Until recently, that list of much-repeated names included few women.

Last week was the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police officers, while next month is the anniversary of Mike Brown’s. And as the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues its push for social justice, a counter-narrative is emerging. Some women within the movement are accusing the media and even their own peers of focusing on violence against black men, but ignoring police violence against black women. When footage of Bland’s violent (and possibly illegal) arrest was released Tuesday, she emerged as the both the latest example of how black people experience police violence, and a powerful reminder that the violence is not only directed at black men.

Bland, originally from Illinois, was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Prairie View, Texas and arrested after refusing to put out her cigarette. A newly released police dashcam video of Bland’s arrest shows her repeatedly demanding to know why she’s being arrested, and ends with her screaming, “you just slammed my head into the ground.” Three days after her July 10th arrest, Bland was found hanged to death in her cell. Officials say she hung herself with a plastic bag, and video released from jail cameras appears to show no activity outside her cell for the 90 minutes around her death. But her family claims she would never kill herself — especially since she was about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University. Investigators from the Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating her death as if it was a homicide.

The issue was bubbling even before the release of the footage. Over the weekend, protestors chanting #SayHerName at a Netroots Nation conference demanded Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley address questions of racial inequality and police violence. #SayHerName is a corollary to #BlackLivesMatter– it’s about reminding America that black women can also be victims of police violence.

Organizers say the it’s the media, not the movement, that focuses on the deaths of black men. “I often hear reporters say: ‘this movement is because black men have been killed at the hands of law enforcement,’ but we’ve never said that,” says Patrisse Marie Cullors, director of truth and reinvestment at Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and one of the three black women who originally founded #BlackLivesMatter. “That’s never how we characterized this movement.”

Last Friday, the African American Policy Forum released a stunning report shedding light on black women who have been killed by police. “When you ask people to name victims of police brutality, for the most part nobody will give you a woman’s name,” says Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School who co-authored the report. But if black women’s stories have been ignored, that’s ultimately a failure of media coverage– so perhaps the best way to combat that is by telling some of their stories:

Natasha McKenna: McKenna died after she was tased by police while she was shackled in a Virginia jail in February. McKenna, who had a 7-year old daughter and suffered from schizophrenia, had allegedly punched a cop in January and was jailed on charges of assaulting a police officer (she was originally held in a mental health facility, then transferred to County Jail.) She was kept in jail for over a week as officials tried to get her the mental health care she needed, but they ultimately realized they would have to move her to a different jurisdiction in order to get her psychiatric care. According to incident reports obtained by the Washington Post, McKenna became agitated after jailers handcuffed her to prepare her for the move, and started yelling “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me.” It took response team 20 minutes to subdue McKenna, according to the report, and they shackled her legs and hands behind her back and put a spit mask on her face. When they still couldn’t get her under control (even though McKenna was only about 130 lbs,) they tased her multiple times with a stun gun. Her heart stopped, and she died in the hospital five days later. Her mother took photos of her body, which showed black eyes, bruises, and a missing or amputated finger.

Janisha Fonville: Fonville was shot and killed in March when Charlotte, NC police officers responded to a domestic dispute between Fonville and her girlfriend of two years. Her girlfriend says she had warned the officers that Fonville had a knife and might hurt herself. Officers came into a darkened room and fired shots when Fonville took one step towards them. Later, Charlotte police said Fonville was holding a 6-8 inch knife, and had lunged at the officers after being ordered to drop her weapon. Fonville’s girlfriend said she did not have the knife in her hands and was at least six feet away from the police. When the lights came on, Fonville was shot in the head and neck. The officer who fired the shots had been involved in two previous shootings, the Charlotte Observer reports. He won’t be charged in Fonsville’s death.

Tanisha Anderson: Cleveland woman Tanisha Anderson, 37, died last November after police restrained her in a prone position. Her family called the police after Anderson, who suffered from bipolar disorder, started behaving erratically– they hoped police would take her to a mental health facility. After she broke out of the police cruiser, officers retrained her on the ground in a prone position, which led to her death. According to the AAPF report, Anderson’s family was not allowed to approach her or comfort her as she lay dying in the cold outside her home. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.



TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Says Hogwarts is Free

No loans for Harry or Ron

J.K. Rowling tweeted Friday that Hogwarts is tuition-free because the Ministry of Magic pays for all magical education expenses.

The tweet was prompted by a Mic piece that estimated it would cost more than $43,000 per year for Harry Potter and his friends to go to Hogwarts, if you included the cost of wands, robes, and cauldrons. Over seven years of magical training, that adds up to more than $300,000.

But when asked about the cost, J.K. Rowling clarified that actually, magical education is free.

When Mic tweeted back at her that Muggles should follow the Ministry’s lead, Rowling heartily agreed.

TIME 2016 Election

Donald Trump is Dominating Facebook Chatter in Iowa

FREDERIC J. BROWN—AFP/Getty Images Donald Trump gestures while speaking surrounded by people whose families were victims of illegal immigrants on July 10, 2015 while meeting with the press at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (FREDERIC J. BROWN--AFP/Getty Images)

But we can't tell whether those mentions are positive or negative

Donald Trump is monopolizing the conversation in Iowa, at least on social media.

According to data from Facebook, Trump’s name has appeared in over 200,000 Facebook interactions between 66,000 people in the early-voting state in the last week. That’s more than double the interactions of the next-most-talked about candidate, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who was the subject of 86,000 interactions between 31,000 people.

Trump also dominated the Facebook conversation compared to his Republican rivals. The next-most-talked-about GOP hopeful is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, with 37,000 interactions among 14,000 people. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s name came up 23,000 among 12,000 people. Facebook measured the data between July 10 and July 16, just among Iowa voters.

Facebook has no way to know whether the mentions of Trump are positive or negative, and social media buzz does not necessarily translate into votes. And since computer algorithms are notoriously bad at distinguishing between sarcasm and sincerity, it’s hard to know whether the flood of Facebook mentions means Trump is being widely praised or widely mocked. As the 2016 presidential campaign swings into gear, campaigns and data analysis firms are looking for ways to reliably interpret this flood of data and use it to target potential voters, Reuters reports.


TIME Television

Obama Will Go on The Daily Show Before Jon Stewart Leaves

Obama on 'The Daily Show' in 2012

The last Stewart-Obama interview will be July 21

President Obama will appear on The Daily Show before Jon Stewart turns over the desk to Trevor Noah.

Obama will make his seventh and final appearance on Tuesday, July 21, just a few weeks before Stewart’s last show on Thursday, August 6. He’s already appeared twice during his presidency and four times before he was elected. Obama’s first appearance on The Daily Show was in 2005.

Stewart’s last show will be August 6, and South African comic Trevor Noah will take the reins September 28. Noah joined the show in 2014 as a contributor.


TIME Crime

Detroit Mom Who Killed Her 2 Kids and Stuffed Them in Freezer Gets Life in Prison

Mitchelle Blair during a custody hearing in Detroit on June 4, 2015.
Clarence Tabb Jr.—AP Mitchelle Blair during a custody hearing in Detroit on June 4, 2015.

She admitted to killing her 13-year old daughter and 9-year old son

A Detroit mom who killed two of her kids and stuffed their bodies in a freezer has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Mitchelle Blair pled guilty to the murders of her 13-year old daughter Stoni and 9-year old son Steven, and told the court she killed them because she believed they had sexually abused one of her younger children.

She told the court she “definitely meant to kill” Stoni, but murdered Steven by accident. “If I had killed Steven intentionally I definitely would be proud to say I did, but I didn’t,” she said in court last month. “I don’t feel no emotion for the death of them demons.”

The judge told Blair she “imposed the death penalty” on her own children according to the Detroit News.

The children had likely been killed in 2012 or 2013, but their bodies were found in March while bailiffs were evicting Blair and her two surviving children from their Detroit home. The kids were home-schooled, which is one reason why their deaths went undiscovered for so years, according to the Detroit News. Prosecutors say neither of the surviving children were sexually abused.

Blair expressed no remorse during her sentencing hearing Friday. “As horrendous as everyone thinks I am, that’s fine. But I’m the only one not lying about anything,” she said according to NBC.

[Detroit News]


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