Review Category : National News

Ghost Ship Warehouse Had Makeshift Stairwell and No Evidence of Smoke Detectors, Officials Say

ABC News(OAKLAND, Calif.) — The California warehouse where a horrific fire left dozens of people dead did not have any evidence of smoke detectors, was equipped with a makeshift stairwell and had no exits on the second floor, officials said Wednesday.

The officials described a terrifying scene that played out as fire ripped through the building, known as the Ghost Ship, on Dec. 2, with people inside the darkened structure overcome by smoke as the building’s only exit was blocked by flames.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said some of those trapped upstairs had just enough time to send final text messages to loved ones. Some of these messages read, “I’m going to die,” and, “I love you,” Kelly said.

The search for bodies in the rubble of the structure, in Oakland concluded Wednesday, with the death toll remaining at 36, police said.

Investigators are still trying to piece together what sparked the blaze, but the fire appears to have started on the first floor, said ATF special agent Jill Snyder. A refrigerator is being examined as a possible point of origin, but has not determined to be the cause, Snyder said.

Investigators are also working to determine if there was criminal liability for the fire and, if so, who was responsible, according to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

The possibility that the fire was arson or intentionally set is not being ruled out, but there is no evidence to support it at this time, Snyder said. There is also no evidence that the warehouse contained smoke detectors, she said.

Officials found 36 victims inside the large warehouse and most were in their 20s and 30s. So far, 35 of them have been identified and 30 families have been notified. A 17-year-old’s name will not be released, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau.

As many as 100 people were at the warehouse for a concert party when what authorities described as an “electrical fire” broke out just before midnight on Dec. 2.

Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said the warehouse appeared to function as a residential building that hosted a makeshift artists’ studio, as well as parties like the one that took place that night. Most of the bodies were found on the second floor, which was accessible by a makeshift stairwell assembled with various materials, according to Reed.

That staircase and another on the second floor led to the first-floor interior of the warehouse and there was no exit to the exterior of the building from the second floor, Snyder said. Occupants were consumed by smoke before they could get out of the building.

Darin Ranelletti, the interim director of the city’s planning and building department, told reporters that the party at the Ghost Ship required a permit, which he said was not obtained. The property is under investigation to determine whether it was used to house people illegally, Ranelletti said.

The power went out inside the building when the fire started and the flames blocked the building’s only exit, making it difficult for people inside to escape, an official briefed on the ongoing investigation told ABC News.

Survivors of the inferno who spoke to ABC News recalled waking up to “smoke and an entire wall of fire” that was so powerful it opened a window, letting in oxygen that apparently intensified the flames.

The Ghost Ship is purportedly run by a married couple, Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison, but the building is owned by Chor Nar Siu Ng, a woman who appeared to have little involvement with its use for artists’ studios and as a performance space for musicians.

“They’re my children. They’re my friends. They’re my family. They’re my loves. They’re my future. What else do I have to say?” Almena told ABC affiliate KGO on Sunday.

Almena also appeared to address the fire in a Facebook post early Saturday morning by saying that what he worked for was destroyed, but he failed to elaborate on what work he put into the warehouse prior to the tragedy.

“Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound … it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope … to be standing now in poverty of self worth,” Almena wrote.

On Tuesday night, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf declared a local state of emergency to facilitate state and federal aid.

On Nov. 14, a city notice shows an “investigation pending” for “illegal interior building structure.” A day prior to that, the building’s owner was notified of a code violation. The records say “a ton of garbage [is] piling up on the property,” including “hazardous” trash.

Oakland police said that officers have responded to numerous calls about the warehouse in the past, but it is unclear how many. It is also unknown whether authorities will hold Almena, Allison or Ng accountable for the deaths in the fire.

The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, according to a press release from the City of Oakland. The city said it received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building this year on Nov. 13. Days later, a city building inspector visited the property on Nov. 17 and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction. The investigation is ongoing, the city said.

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Escaped South Carolina Inmate Wanted in Stabbing of Police Officer

iStock/Thinkstock(MCCORMICK, S.C.) — An inmate serving a life sentence in a South Carolina prison escaped from custody on Wednesday night and is now wanted for questioning in the stabbing of a police officer, according to correctional officials and police.

The inmate, Michael Alan Williamson, escaped from the McCormick Correctional Institution, a medium/maximum level prison, at approximately 8:50 p.m.

He is believed to have traveled to Columbia, where a female police officer was stabbed several times after responding to a shoplifting call at a WalMart just before 10 p.m.

Police now say he is wanted in connection with that assault on the officer, who is in stable condition at a local hospital.

Here is a picture of the suspect accused of assaulting a CPD officer. Still active search for this man.

— Cola Police Dept. SC (@ColumbiaPDSC) December 8, 2016

Williamson, 47, is 5’11” with green eyes and brown hair and weighs about 111 pounds, according to correctional records.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 for armed robbery and was also convicted in 1997 of assault and battery with intent to kill.

Inmate Michael Alan Williamson
CALL TOLL FREE 24 HOURS A DAY AT (877) 349-2130

— SC Dept. Corrections (@SCDCNews) December 8, 2016

Williamson’s prison records show several disciplinary actions for use or possession of unauthorized drugs, smuggling of contraband and other infractions.

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Suspect in Georgia Cop Killing Considered ‘Armed and Very Dangerous’

Georgia Bureau of Investigation(AMERICUS, Ga.) — Some 20 law enforcement agencies worked through the night in Georgia to track down a suspect who allegedly shot two police officers, killing one and leaving another in critical condition.

The shooting happened Wednesday morning at an apartment complex in Americus near the Georgia Southwestern University campus, reports ABC affiliate WSB-TV.

Investigators say Officer Nicholas Smarr of the Americus Police Department and Georgia Southwestern Police Officer Jody Smith were responding to a domestic disturbance call when the suspect, Minguell Lembrick, shot the men.

Officers said Lembrick has been on the run since and is considered to be armed and very dangerous. He was wanted on kidnapping charges prior to Wednesday’s domestic call, police say.

Smarr died shortly afterwards while Smith was airlifted to hospital in Macon.

“We’ve got dozens of officers out from at least 20 agencies that are represented here, and they’re doing searches, road checks and a very aggressive approach,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan told WSB-TV.

“It’s a tragedy beyond words. It’s one of our family members has been taken from us,” said Americus Police Chief Mark Scott.

Nearby Georgia Southwestern University was put on lockdown on Wednesday while investigators searched for Lembrick.

“The suspect in the Americus shooting is still at large; however, Georgia Southwestern academic and administrative buildings have been released,” the university said in an alert on Wednesday night, adding, “Students in residence halls are being asked to stay in their building throughout the night. Campus police will be on alert.”

Police are offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to Lembrick’s arrest.

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Knife-Wielding Student Shot by Officer at Nevada High School in Critical Condition

iStock/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev.) — The Nevada high school student who was shot by a resource officer Wednesday was armed with a knife and was threatening others, which prompted the officer to raise his weapon, police said.

At a press conference Wednesday night, Reno police said the unidentified student at Hug High School was given a warning to drop the knife, but he did not comply. The Washoe County school officer then shot the teen.

Police said the officer provided medical aid to the student until emergency responders arrived. He was then transported to a local hospital, where he is currently in critical condition.

More info: shot fired, one person transported. Can’t confirm person’s ID or other info. RPD will be main investigating agency

— Washoe Schools (@WCSDTweet) December 7, 2016

The school was placed under lockdown following the shooting. Families were asked not to come to the school to pick up their children due to the investigation.

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Charleston Church Shooting Survivor Recounts Watching Her Son Die at Dylann Roof Trial

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, N.C.) — When Dylann Roof opened fire at a church in Charleston last summer, Felicia Sanders clutched her granddaughter tight and told her to play dead.

“I muzzled her face to my body so tight,” she testified in federal court. “I could feel the warm blood flowing on each side of me.”

“I was just waiting on my turn,” she said. “Even if I got shot, I just didn’t want my granddaughter to get shot.”

Amidst the chaos and the bloodshed, her youngest son, Tywanza, stood up and confronted the assailant: “Why are you doing this?” he asked, according to Sanders’ testimony.

“And he told our son, ‘I have to do this because ya’ll raping our women and taking over the world,'” Sanders said. “And that’s when [the gunman] put about five bullets in my son.”

A tearful Sanders then recalled watching her son die.

“We watched him take his last breath,” she said. “I watched my son come into this world, and I watched my son leave this world.”

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners, including Sanders’ son, during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Sanders and her granddaughter survived without physical injury.

Roof, who was 21 at the time, entered the Emanuel AME Church armed and “with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him. The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew his pistol and opened fire.

The 33 federal counts against Roof include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death.

Roof has pleaded not guilty.

He also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.

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One Officer Dead, One Critically Injured After Shooting Near Georgia Southwestern State University

iStock/Thinkstock(AMERICUS, Ga.) — One police officer is dead, and another officer is in critical condition after a shooting near Georgia Southwestern State University today.

The officers — one with the local police department and one with the school — were called to a domestic dispute off campus when they encountered the suspect, said Americus Police Chief Mark Scott.

Americus Police Officer Nicholas Smarr, 25, was dispatched at 9:40 a.m. to the apartment complex — at the same time Georgia Southwestern State University Officer Jodi Smith, who responded as backup, Scott said.

Gunshots were exchanged between the officers and the suspect, 32-year-old Minguel Kennedy Lembrick, and both officers were shot, Scott said.

Smarr died from his injuries, Scott said, while Smith was taken to the hospital in very critical condition, Scott said.

Lembrick is still on the loose and is considered to be armed and dangerous, Scott said.

Police are unsure if Lembrick is still in the area and are following up on tips on where he may be hiding.

The Georgia Southwestern State University campus was placed under lockdown in response to the shooting. People on campus were advised to shelter in place. No students were hurt or endangered, the school said.

Suspect still at large. Please remain sheltered in place.

— Georgia Southwestern (@GaSouthwestern) December 7, 2016

The university campus sits in the center of Americus, so often campus police officers will assist city police, said Mike Tracey, Chief of Police at Georgia Southwestern State University.

The FBI and Georgia Bureau of Investigation are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Lembrick.

Smarr had been with the Americus Police Department since 2012. His body will be taken to Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Macon in the morning, said GBI Director Vernon Keenan.

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Officer Shoots Student at High School in Reno, Officials Say

iStock/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev.) — A resource officer at a Nevada high school shot a student Wednesday, according to the school district.

The Washoe County School District said gunfire from a school district police officer hit a student at Hug High School in Reno. It did not provide any information on the student or what caused the officer to fire his weapon.

The student was transported to the hospital, but the condition was unknown, according to the Reno Police Department.

More info: shot fired, one person transported. Can’t confirm person’s ID or other info. RPD will be main investigating agency

— Washoe Schools (@WCSDTweet) December 7, 2016

The school was placed under lockdown following the shooting. Families were asked not to come to the school to pick up their children due to the investigation.

Further information on the incident was not immediately available.

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Two Juveniles Charged With Aggravated Arson in Deadly Tennessee Wildfires

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the deadly Tennessee wildfires that have killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The teens were taken into custody this morning and are being held at the Sevier County juvenile detention center, said Sevier County District Attorney Jimmy Dunn. Authorities are looking to see if more charges are possible, Dunn said.

They are entitled to have a detention hearing in the next 72 hours, Dunn said. A juvenile court judge will decide if they will be held with bond or without bond. Transferring the teens to adult court is also under consideration, Dunn said.

The juveniles’ identities were not released. They are not from Sevier County but are residents of Tennessee, Dunn said.

Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, offered his condolences to the victims and said the agency is “committed to making sure justice is served with this case.”

Great Smoky Mountain Superintendent Cassius Cash thanked those who responded to the tip line, saying the “information was critical.”

More than 130 people have been injured as a direct result of the fires, according to officials.

Parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most popular of America’s national parks, has been devastated by the fires. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the mountains a “special place” to Tennesseans during a press conference last Friday.

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One Officer Dead, One Injured After Shooting Near College in Georgia

iStock/Thinkstock(AMERICUS, Ga.) — One police officer is dead and another officer is in critical condition after a shooting near Georgia Southwestern State University Wednesday.

The officers — one with the local police department and one with the school — were called to a domestic dispute off campus at 9:30 a.m. when they encountered the suspect, said Americus Police Chief Mark Scott. Both officers were shot on the scene.

The officer who died is with the Americus Police Department, police said. A Georgia Southwestern State University public safety officer was in critical condition.

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Winter Storm Slams North Dakota

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Residents in North Dakota are still digging themselves out of their homes after a severe blizzard swept through the state earlier this week.

Authorities in Minot, North Dakota, issued a travel advisory to community members because of the treacherous weather conditions. The Minot International Airport reopened Wednesday morning after closing for nearly 12 hours because of snow and strong winds, the airport’s director Rick Feltner told ABC News.

Videos of the airport’s runway conditions were posted on Facebook.

“We had a blizzard warning in effect starting Sunday night … and this was on top of about 17 inches of snow we got last week. While the storm didn’t produce a great deal of new snow, the temperatures plummeted and the wind picked up 30-35 miles per hour. In those conditions, visibility is greatly reduced,” said Feltner.

“It was an unusual situation for us to close the airport. We’re usually pretty good at keeping things open here but it was more than we could keep up with this time,” he added.

Roommates Lauren Otradovec and Natasha Harvey live 20 miles north of Minot in Glenburn. On Tuesday morning, they opened the front door to their house to find a second door … of snow.

“I honestly felt claustrophobic. I didn’t want to feel like there was no way out,” Harvey told ABC News. So she attempted to shovel her way out.

“We shoveled our side door and within an hour all the snow had blown back in. We’re at the same point today,” she added.

“There are hardly any trees here and we live in a really small town so the wind is pushing everything to our direction. The first layer on our house is pretty much ice and the snow that keeps blowing is just freezing to that,” she explained.

Harvey hasn’t been able to make it to work for the past two days. “I’m used to this weather but this is crazy,” Harvey said.

The National Weather Service’s wind chill advisory is in effect for most of western North Dakota. The temperature in some areas is expected to feel like 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill.

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