Coral Gables students feared ‘shoot up threat’ left in boy’s restroom

There was fear at Coral Gables Senior High School this week, after students found a note inside the boy’s bathroom with a threat that someone was going to “shoot up the school” on Friday.  

After reporting the note to administrators, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ detectives investigated the threat and deemed it “non-credible” Wednesday, according to Coral Gables officials.  

“We continue investigating every incident that comes in,” the city’s statement said. 

Students began sharing the note on social media Tuesday, six days after Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle to kill 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Some students claimed their teachers had threatened to issue a school discipline referral if they continued to disseminate the threat. Silvia Lerma was among the students who used the hash tag “See Something Say Something” to protest the threat of punishment. 

“Stick to your right and freedom of speech,” she wrote to Gabriela Morales, who alleged she had been threatened with punishment for warning her friends. “We can’t allow this things to stay secret or secluded. Talk to your parents or any family members for support. Thank you for not being silent.”

Michael Marquez, 20, a Miami-Dade College sophomore who graduated from Coral Gables Senior High School in 2015, was alarmed when he learned about the threat and the students’ dilemma. He and his two friends, Matias Lopez, 18, a senior at MCA Academy in Coconut Grove, and Arman Kremer, 17, a senior at Mast Academy in Key Biscayne, organized a Friday afternoon protest in downtown Miami.

Dozens responded and marched from Bayfront Park to the Freedom Tower where they chanted calls to action and messages of solidarity with the “Never Again” movement.

“When I found out about the threat, I was upset,” said Marquez, who belongs to the Coral Gables Senior High School class of 2015. “We really needed to do something. Everyone is scared, but this isn’t a time to sit around in fear.”

UN vote on Syria ceasefire pushed to Saturday

After multiple delays, the United Nations Security Council has pushed its vote on a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to noon on Saturday.

The Security Council’s 15 members were unable to reach an agreement on draft text and delayed the vote three times on Friday before putting it off for yet another day.

Security Council President Mansour Al-Otaibi said members were “very close” to closing the gaps, but didn’t elaborate on the main point of disagreement.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was clear in blaming Russia for the lack of action.

“Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitarian access in Syria. How many more people will die before the The Security Council agrees to take up this vote?” Haley tweeted.

More than 400 people have been killed since Sunday in the relentless bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, an enclave near the capital Damascus.

Around 400,000 people are in hiding as the suburb crumbles around them after being pounded with shells, mortars and bombs dropped by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces since Sunday night.

Most of the dead are women, children and the elderly, Dr. Fayez Orabi, head of the enclave’s health department, told CNN in a series of WhatsApp messages.

“It’s difficult to have a precise count because of the internet and communications are weak and the shelling and bombing are 24 hours,” Orabi said. “During writing this message to you more than 20 rockets have fell around us,” he added.

The UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also estimated that around 400 people have been killed, including 95 children and 61 women.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Russia is ready to vote for a ceasefire resolution but that the United States and its allies won’t provide guarantees that militants in Syria will observe it, according to Russia’s state-run RT outlet.

“For now, they refuse to accept an amendment which will place responsibility on them to ensure that the militants give clear guarantees to stop the shelling,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Sweden’s ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog, said he too was frustrated by the delays but that members are working really hard to find “a meaningful but consensual resolution.”

“I am extremely frustrated with the fact that the Security Council, that we have not been able to adopt a resolution to try to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Yes, I’m very frustrated with that,” Skoog said.

“I think we all agree that there needs to be a ceasefire,” he said. “That has to be urgent, immediately. There’s still some discussions on exactly how to define that. That’s what we’re working on.”

Human Rights Watch called for immediate action. “Other countries should send a clear message to Syria’s chief enabler, Russia, that it needs to end its efforts to block the Security Council from taking action to stop these atrocities,” said Lama Fakih, the campaign group’s deputy Middle East director.

Transcript of call to FBI warning Nikolas Cruz was going to ‘explode’

Jan. 5, 2018 Caller: “Okay I was just figuring I guess I was talking to the operator and, and she transferred me. Like I said to her. I don’t know how to go about this, but on the Instagram account I have a, I wouldn’ say he is — by blood but I would consider him —. He is only 18, but he ‘s got the mental capacity of a 12 to a 14 year old. His mother just passed away on the first of November. He’s got Instagram accounts. He started off saying he wanted to kill himself, so what I did was I called the Parkland, which is where he lives. Parkland Police Department and I spoke to officer —-. I didn’t hear anything and you know myh — I left it. I gave him all the information I had, and then just recently, now he has switched it to he wants to kill people, and then he put that on his Instagram and about two days later he took it off … I am afraid that something is going to happen, because he doesn’t have the mental capacity. He can’t, he is so outraged if someone talks to him about certain things, and he had pulled a rifle on his mother before she had passed away because she wanted to get money to  to — and the whole other problem is that — and he is 18 and his mother’s life insurance policy is coming and he is going to receive $25,000 from that and then at 21, 24 and up to 30 he is receiving $25,000 every year after that from a wrongful death suit that the mother had on the father, so he went out and he took money out of his mother’s account. I don’t know how he got the debit card, but he did, and he took money. This is after she passed away, and he took the money out, the social security money out, and he took it and he bought all these rifles and ammunition and he posted pictures of them on Instagram and the family that, you know, distant cousin and myself are very concerned about this because I just want someone to know about this, so they can look into it. If they think it’s something worth going into, fine. If not, I just know I have a clear conscience if he takes off and just starts shooting places up. 

Sens.: Embattled company plagiarized bid for Puerto Rico hot meal contract

The company that failed to deliver nearly all of the hot meals it promised to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria plagiarized the bid that won it the $156 million contract from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a letter penned by three senators this week.

Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Gary Peters of Michigan say that Tribute Contracting LLC — which lost its contract in October after just 20 days because it had delivered only 50,000 of the 30 million meals promised — lifted paragraphs from two other companies related to logistics and delivery. The senators sent the letter through their spots on the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, on which McCaskill is the top Democrat.

According to the letter dated Thursday to FEMA administrator Brock Long, Tribute had no experience in delivery contracts of this scale, and a history of canceled federal contracts that were smaller than the one in Puerto Rico. The senators also accuse Tribute of lying about its relationship with a logistics company.

“Unfortunately, this contract seems to be further evidence of systematic weakness in FEMA’s contracting process,” the letter says, citing another government contract that was canceled for failure to deliver emergency tarps in November. “FEMA’s decision to award a $156 million contract to Tribute underscores this concern, and raises additional questions about FEMA’s contract award process.”

The senators are asking FEMA to provide answers by March 15 about how Tribute won this contract, and how the company was vetted.

“I have no idea why this contract was ever awarded, but FEMA should move immediately to bar this company from ever getting another federal dollar,” McCaskill said.

When asked to respond to the plagiarism accusations, in a written statement to CNN, Tiffany Brown, the owner of Tribute Contracting LLC told CNN, “The language in the Delivery Plan was used in previous FEMA Blanket Purchase Agreements for Hygiene Kits for Homeless Shelters. It is not industry standard to cite all sales language in a proposal, but I will do so in the future.”

“Troublingly, FEMA does not appear to have verified many of the representations made in Tribute’s proposal,” the senators’ letter states. “We are concerned that without proper policies and procedures in place to evaluate prospective contractors’ capacity, we will see disaster relief fail unnecessarily at the expense of both taxpayers and hurricane survivors.”

FEMA Communications Director William Booher says FEMA received the letter from the committee Thursday and is currently reviewing its contents. FEMA would not directly answer CNN’s questions about plagiarism but said the agency is currently working to address the senators’ questions regarding the issue.

“I’ve conducted oversight on billions of dollars in federal contracts, but I’ve never seen something this bizarre in a contract proposal,” McCaskill said. “FEMA agreed to spend over $150 million on a contract proposal that reads like an internet scam email—and the government needs to give us answers about what it’s doing to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure hurricane survivors are getting the resources they need.”

In February, CNN reported that Tribute owner Brown said she had past “challenges with government contracts” because of “financial resources, and lack of support.” She blamed her failure to deliver the hot meals on FEMA’s inability to pay her in time.

Her company is registered as a one-employee company with an annual revenue of $1,000 on the government’s Federal Procurement Data System, but Brown said that is out of date.

Brown denied that she was awarded the contract through any “hookups” with FEMA.

“I got it because I had a very good proposal and understanding of what was needed,” she told CNN.

According to the government research website InsideGov, Tribute Contracting has worked on 21 government contracts worth $1.27 million between fiscal years 2007 and 2016.

Expressing frustration, Brown, in a statement Friday, says she is asking the senators to stop using Tribute Contracting “as a way to address concerns with FEMA.”

She added, “The issue with FEMA is not how they choose their vendors; it is their inability to provide support while in the contracts.” She declined to comment further, saying her company is in litigation with the federal government.

Similar concerns about how FEMA vetted Tribute were raised in February by Congressman Elijah Cummings and Stacey Plaskett, the congressional delegate from the US Virgin Islands. They asked the House Oversight Committee to investigate.

In the fall, a little-known energy firm called Whitefish Energy, based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, made headlines for winning a $300 million contract to help restore Puerto Rico’s electrical power. That remains under investigation.

Elevator issues cause major problem for Aventura assisted living facility

Imperial Club touts itself to be “Aventura’s finest independent and assisted-living rental retirement community.”

Nearly 200 residents live in the 14-floor tower. Administrators told the “Leave it to Layron” team that the majority of Imperial’s residents are 80 or older — some have reached the centenarian club.

“Exceptional” was how Maurice Cohen, 95, described the staff. He said he’s fairly new to the building.

His response changed when asked about the building’s elevator service.  

“Terrible. (It’s) very inconvenient for the patients,” he said. 

The staff started posting signs and notices late last year, urging those in “urgent need of an elevator” to call the front desk.  Another notice that was posted advised that the smaller of the building’s two elevators could only take people up.

In December, the facility’s director penned a letter to residents, letting them know that a “software issue” was to blame for one of the elevator’s breakdowns. The letter noted thousands of dollars had been spent to make needed repairs, and that more would be spent to ensure the “best possible elevator service.”

Lidia Lechtman’s 94-year-old mother moved into Imperial Club in June.  

“She came here because several of her friends are here,” Lechtman said. 

One of those friends is Beile Axelrod’s 97-year-old mother, who has lived at Imperial Club for seven years.

Axelrod said her mother had been happy at the facility before the elevator issues began.

“I don’t want something to be done after someone is seriously hurt,” she said.

Axelrod contacted the “Leave it to Layron” team after firefighters were called to the building one January weekend.  

She and her cousin got stuck in one of the elevators while visiting Axelrod’s mother.

Ceci Berenthal was trying to get up to her aunt’s floor when the elevator stopped. She said crews used a crowbar to pry open the doors so that she and her cousin could get out.

“Could you imagine somebody in a wheelchair or a walker?” she asked. 

Lechtman, Axelrod and Berenthal all called for the same thing: new elevators.

“We need to set their minds at ease,” Axelrod said. 

When Local 10 News reporter Layron Livingston spoke with Imperial Club’s on-site executive director, he was told both elevators were back “up and running” the day after firefighters freed Axelrod and Berenthal from inside.

“It was very sad and challenging that this elevator stopped midfloor,” said Blake Vail, president of Triad Senior Living.

Triad is Imperial Club’s management company.  

“We’re always going to err on the abundance of caution and safety,” Vail said. 

A representative with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration said the agency has an ongoing investigation. 

Complaints about the elevator breakdowns prompted the agency to  perform inspections as recently as September and December. “Deficiencies” were cited during both visits.    

Vail said the goal is to make sure that Imperial Club had two well-running, safe elevators because one has to work while the other is being replaced. The next step, he said, will be modification and replacement.

He said hundreds of thousands of dollars has been paid to two companies to get the elevators working properly.

“This isn’t a lack of care. This is not a lack of resources,” Vail said. 

Vail said crews will work overnight to minimize the impact on residents. He said rental credits will also be given to residents during elevator service interruptions.

But making a 30-year-old elevator new again is not an overnight job.

“We’re sorry for this inconvenience to our residents, and we believe we’ve done all we can to minimize it,” Vail said. 

School shootings’ survivors offer support to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students

Ashlee Betts understands a lot of the emotions some of the students and teachers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are feeling about a week after the shooting that left 17 dead.When Ashlee was only 12 years old, she was shot by a school sh…