Gainesville braces for worst as white nationalist speech nears

In less than 24 hours, white nationalist Richard Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida, and his scheduled appearance is already the talk of the campus.

Law enforcement in Gainesville said they are preparing for the worst.

“Yes, we are planned for things to erupt, civil unrest, violence things of that nature,” Sgt. Chris Sims of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said.

Sims said he hopes law enforcement doesn’t have to use those plans, but after the deadly events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August they aren’t taking any chances.

“We got our back,” Sims said. “We’re here to protect you.” 

Students gathered to pray ahead of the speech and some left campus altogether out of concern over violence. 

The presence of law enforcement on campus was obvious, and so was the message from students that Spencer is not welcome.

“I’m worried about what’s going to happen,” Bryana Tianga, a student who is from Pembroke Pines, said.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday, giving the county access to resources, including the national guard, should things escalate.

“My goal is everybody be safe. We have the First Amendment, everybody has their First Amendment rights but we’re not going to tolerate any violence,” Scott said.

And law enforcement from across the state is already in place, ready to help.

“I know that agencies from South Florida are sending help, Broward Sheriff’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol they’re all coming up here,” Tianga said.

Tianga said both of her parents work for the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Miami-Dade police and BSO have sent resources to Gainesville.

For those who do attend the event, or show up to protest – the university has posted a banner listing the many items that aren’t allowed in the area, which include masks, tobacco and water bottles.

Some students are planning on protesting the speech. 

“Personally I feel angry that the university is allowing this man to speak,” Wallace Mazon, a student, said. “We have a white supremacist, neo-Nazi coming here to spread an ideology of hate.” 

The university is spending an estimated $500,000 on security for the event. 

“The costs are high, but what cost do you put on a human life or injuries,” said Janine Sikes, assistant vice president for public affairs at the university.

 

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‘Shaky Bandit,’ arrested after crash on Alligator Alley, turns out to be Weston man

The FBI has captured the “Shaky Bandit” responsible for a series of robberies in South Florida.

Brandon Venditti, 22, of Weston, was arrested Tuesday after a car crash along Alligator Alley. 

Venditti was arrested after a bank robbery that took place about 5 p.m. in Collier County. He faces federal bank robbery charges.

After the robbery, Collier County deputies, Florida Highway Patrol troopers and FBI agents located a car that was identified as a possible getaway vehicle used in the robbery and a chase ensued, the FBI said.

Venditti eventually crashed the vehicle around mile marker 91 and surrendered, the FBI said. He was not hurt in the incident, and no shots were fired.

Another person in the car was also arrested and placed into state custody, the FBI said.

Venditti is suspected of robbing at least nine banks in South Florida. He is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday.

Anyone with any information is urged to call the FBI at 754-703-2000 or Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. 

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Extra security in place ahead of white nationalist’s speech at University of Florida

Extra security was in place at the University of Florida on Tuesday as officials prepare for a speech that will be given Thursday by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Some buildings on campus will be closed during the speech, and many at the university are spreading messages of love ahead of Spencer’s visit.

“I don’t want to run into anybody with any hateful comments or things like that,” Amber Smith, a student, said. “I’m worried about that probably most.”

Smith, a Hollywood resident, said she’s not going to class Thursday and is staying with friends off campus to be safe.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in case it is needed.

Spencer reacted to Scott’s move by taking to Twitter and posting that “Hurricane Ricardo is expected to hit Gainesville Thursday.” 

“Speech that is inherently violent, that calls for violence, that calls for ethnic cleansing is not something that should be protected,” Chad Chavira, a student, said.

Chavira is part of the group No Nazis at UF, which has signs posted throughout campus opposing the speech. 

He said Spencer’s rhetoric is dangerous.

Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, was set to speak at a Unite the Right rally, which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. That rally ended in violent protests and one woman was killed when a white supremacist drove into a crowd of protesters.

Spencer’s event at UF comes after the university initially denied his request in September over security concerns.

“Their grounds on denying it was a safety issue,” Chavira said. “And so I don’t know where that safety issue went as far as we’re concerned there’s still the same safety issue.” 

Smith also weighed in on the visit.

“Everybody has a right to say what they want to say. Doesn’t mean that their viewpoint is correct,” she said. 

BREAKING: Hurricane Ricardo expected to hit Gainsville this Thursday. pic.twitter.com/85eDCcnvdZ

— Richard ☝🏻Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) October 16, 2017

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Remains of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson return to Miami

The body of Sgt. La David Johnson, the soldier from Miami Gardens who was working with an elite U.S. Army Special Forces unit when he died in northwestern Africa, returned to South Florida about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. 

President Donald Trump spoke to his wife, Myeshia Johnson for about 5 minutes. Rep. Frederica Wilson said Trump told the distraught widow Johnson “knew what he was signing up for…but when it happens it hurts anyway.”

“Yes, he said it,” Wilson said. “It’s so insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn’t have said it.” 

Johnson’s family — including his 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter — were at the Miami International Airport waiting for the Delta Airlines flight that was bringing the casket with his remains. The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department welcomed him with a water salute. 

The widow, who is expecting their third baby in January, leaned over the U.S. flag that was draping his casket. Her pregnant belly was shaking as she sobbed uncontrollably. Their daughter stood next to her stoically. Their toddler waited in the arms of a relative.

There was silence. Local politicians, police officers and firefighters lined up to honor him for his service and for the efforts and discipline that got the former Walmart employee to defy all odds as a 25-year-old member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The procession traveled from Miami-Dade to Broward County. After moving eastbound on State Road 112, northbound traffic was closed on Interstate 95. Police officers and firefighters saluted their American hero. Some held their hands on their chest and there were tears. The procession arrived at the Fred Hunters Funeral Home in Hollywood about 6:25 p.m.

His body will remain there until a public viewing from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, and a funeral service from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, at the Christ The Rock Church, 11000 Stirling Rd., in Cooper City. The internment will be a the Hollywood Memorial Gardens, 3001 N. 72 St.

Johnson was fighting alongside Green Berets when he died. The group, which included a Nigerien patrol, didn’t have U.S. overhead armed air cover when Islamic militants ambushed them Oct. 4 near the Niger border with Mali.  

Johnson was left behind when French forces’ helicopters scrambled to evacuate the soldiers, and it took nearly two days for Nigerien forces to find his body in the desert of the landlocked nation, according to the U.S. Africa Command

His “Bush Hog formation was made better because of Johnson’s faithful service, and we are focused on caring for the Johnson family during this difficult period,” Lt. Col. David Painter, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, said in a statement.

The U.S. military held a return of remains ceremony when Johnson’s body arrived at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Oct. 7, while President Donald Trump was playing golf with Sen. Lindsey Graham. 

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, was at Miami International Airport when Johnson’s body arrived Tuesday. She said she wanted to know why the chain of command failed to anticipate “even the possibility of an ambush” and equip Johnson to fight against militants affiliated with ISIS.

Johnson’s awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Bade, the Driver and Mechanic Badge and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge. He also participated in operations with the Canadian Armed Forces and received Canadian Parachutist Wings.

Johnson, who was affectionately known as “Tee” at Miami Carol City Senior High School, was formerly known by thousands on social media as the “Wheelie King 305.” He graduated from ATI Career Training Center. And he was also a member of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentorship program Wilson founded in 1993. 

She said other members of the program were mourning Johnson’s death at the hands of ISIS-affiliated militants. 

“It is unwise to underestimate under any circumstances their bloodthirsty and deadly force … We need to know the truth and we need to know it now,” Wilson said in a statement. 

When enemy fighters attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns Oct. 4, Johnson and the others were in unarmored pickup trucks, according to a U.S. official who talked to CNN.  After he was left behind, Johnson was able to activate his military beacon, but the U.S. military couldn’t track him before the signal faded, according to a U.S. officials who talked to NBC News.  

According to officials with the Department of Defense the other three victims of the attack were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

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A spate of deadly disasters for elderly

Recent wildfires in California and hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico have put a spotlight on vulnerable seniors — including a number of deaths that authorities have said were preventable.

“The bulk of them are in their 70s and 80s, so there is that commonality,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said of the first wildfire victims to be identified during a press conference Thursday.

The majority were found in their homes, reduced to “ashes and bones,” Giordano said. Several were identified using medical implants, such as a hip replacement, with unique serial numbers.

On Sunday, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office identified four more victims of the fires, all over the age of 70.

Over a dozen residents of a Florida nursing home died in the month after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning.

Just weeks later, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, some were trapped in homes and shelters, unable to get the crucial medical care they needed.

The elderly have died disproportionately in disasters around the world, including a 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, a 2003 heat wave across Europe and a 1995 earthquake in Japan, according to a United Nations report.

Experts continue to grapple with how best to protect the elderly, who face difficulties evacuating from disasters, more health issues on average and perhaps even a greater share of the psychological impact.

“You can’t always predict an emergency event,” making preparedness key for seniors, said Ashley Chambers, communications director for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

To evacuate or not

Many adults can’t easily evacuate — some because they don’t drive, others because they are physically unable, according to research.

And some people refuse to evacuate in the first place.

“Some seniors don’t want to leave a home that they’ve been in all their lives, because the future may be uncertain,” said Vicki Eichstaedt, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross.

Others feel they might be better off remaining in a facility that has the means to take care of them.

“This is a very nice, sturdy concrete building,” Herbert Dreisbach, a 94-year-old resident of a nursing home in Jacksonville, Florida, told CNN before Hurricane Irma. “It’s still better than being at a facility that would not be properly prepared to take care of us.”

“Not all residents … should be evacuated,” Lisa Brown, a psychology professor and director of the Trauma Program at Palo Alto University, previously told CNN.

Brown, who is also Dreisbach’s daughter, showed in past research that nursing home residents with dementia had an increased risk of death in the months following a 2008 hurricane if they had evacuated.

“Those who can safely shelter in place may fare much better than those who are physically evacuated,” Brown said. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all, is the main point.”

Eichstaedt, who called from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where there is a makeshift shelter, said that many seniors refuse to evacuate because they have pets, which may be their only companions.

“It may be the only connection they have to their old life,” Eichstaedt said.

The fairgrounds were equipped with a pet-friendly shelter, with veterinarians to take care of sick and aging pets, too. “That’s been a blessing for many seniors,” she said.

A matter of health

In emergency situations, once-manageable health conditions, like diabetes or an infection, can quickly spiral out of control.

CNN previously told the story of Josefina Alvarez, 62, who escaped to a shelter outside of San Juan before Hurricane Maria. She remained stuck there for nearly two weeks before doctors were finally able to treat an abscess that could have turned into a life-threatening infection.

“Nobody is taking care of us,” Alvarez said at the time.

About three out of every four Americans 65 and older have multiple chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and obesity, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, nearly half of those who died were 75 or older — despite making up less than 6% of the state’s population, according to one study. While most of these deaths were drownings or injuries, 11% were caused by heart conditions.

Before Hurricane Irma, nursing homes in Florida stocked up on supplies, and pharmacies issued early refills of medications for people in evacuation zones.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents 81% of the state’s nursing centers, instructed each facility to prepare seven to 10 days of medication, oxygen and other medical necessities for each resident, according to spokesperson Kristen Knapp. The association does not represent the Hollywood facility where multiple residents died last month.

Even without a health issue, age can take its toll on the body.

An average healthy person can survive 100 hours without water if they’re not becoming dehydrated because of injury or temperatures, according to Dr. Paul Auerbach, a professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University who worked with rescue teams after earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti. They can even survive two or three weeks without food.

But for the elderly and infants, that time period can be much shorter, he previously told CNN.

Older adults are also more sensitive to extreme temperatures, making them more susceptible to heat stress and hypothermia, according to the CDC.

The exact causes of death of the Florida nursing home residents have not been announced, but a number of the 141 residents who were evacuated were treated for heat-related issues.

In Sonoma, Eichstaedt said that seniors with difficulties breathing or respiratory problems have been affected by “smoke and ash in the air.” Even younger and healthier people are wearing masks to avoid the worst air pollution on record for Northern California.

“It’s a big concern,” said Eichstaedt.

In the aftermath

For many people, a disaster often continues long after the fires have been put out or the flooding has receded.

The shelter in Sonoma is only a temporary fix, Eichstaedt said. Many displaced seniors will need assistance getting back home — if they still have a home to go back to.

Seniors may also be more susceptible to scams that happen after a disaster, said Chambers, including unlicensed contractors or people posing as assistance organizations.

“Our senior population is very trusting, and we want to make sure they know what to watch out for,” she said.

Even years after a disaster, some research has suggested that senior survivors are more likely to develop PTSD and other mental health problems — shown in a study of survivors of a 2008 earthquake in China.

“One of the things that we notice is the emotional frailty of many seniors,” Eichstaedt said, “particularly when they face the unknown.”

The prevalence of PTSD in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi rose from 15% a few months after Katrina to 21% a year later, found a 2008 study. In that study, however, the highest increases were seen among those aged 40 to 59.

In addition, older adults face a number of stresses that healthy, able-bodied people might not, such as fear of losing their independence or financial stability, according to FEMA.

For seniors who are also low-income, it’s an “extra level of concern,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of American Association of Retired Persons Foundation.

Many seniors also deal with social isolation, which has long been flagged as a risk factor for mortality.

Marsh Ryerson, whose foundation launched an initiative last year to combat loneliness and isolation among seniors, said that people don’t always think to reach out to elders in their communities while they’re rushing to prepare for an upcoming disaster.

“Check on your neighbors,” she said. “In times of disasters, or often in everyday living, older adults who are vulnerable can often be invisible, and they may not always ask for the help that they need.”

Vendetta Craig, whose 87-year-old mother was among the survivors of the Florida nursing home, had some choice words about how the deaths at Hollywood Hills reflected society’s treatment of seniors.

“We throw away our elderly,” she said at a press conference in September. “That’s my mother.”

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A spate of deadly disasters for elderly

Recent wildfires in California and hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico have put a spotlight on vulnerable seniors — including a number of deaths that authorities have said were preventable.

“The bulk of them are in their 70s and 80s, so there is that commonality,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said of the first wildfire victims to be identified during a press conference Thursday.

The majority were found in their homes, reduced to “ashes and bones,” Giordano said. Several were identified using medical implants, such as a hip replacement, with unique serial numbers.

On Sunday, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office identified four more victims of the fires, all over the age of 70.

Over a dozen residents of a Florida nursing home died in the month after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning.

Just weeks later, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, some were trapped in homes and shelters, unable to get the crucial medical care they needed.

The elderly have died disproportionately in disasters around the world, including a 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, a 2003 heat wave across Europe and a 1995 earthquake in Japan, according to a United Nations report.

Experts continue to grapple with how best to protect the elderly, who face difficulties evacuating from disasters, more health issues on average and perhaps even a greater share of the psychological impact.

“You can’t always predict an emergency event,” making preparedness key for seniors, said Ashley Chambers, communications director for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

To evacuate or not

Many adults can’t easily evacuate — some because they don’t drive, others because they are physically unable, according to research.

And some people refuse to evacuate in the first place.

“Some seniors don’t want to leave a home that they’ve been in all their lives, because the future may be uncertain,” said Vicki Eichstaedt, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross.

Others feel they might be better off remaining in a facility that has the means to take care of them.

“This is a very nice, sturdy concrete building,” Herbert Dreisbach, a 94-year-old resident of a nursing home in Jacksonville, Florida, told CNN before Hurricane Irma. “It’s still better than being at a facility that would not be properly prepared to take care of us.”

“Not all residents … should be evacuated,” Lisa Brown, a psychology professor and director of the Trauma Program at Palo Alto University, previously told CNN.

Brown, who is also Dreisbach’s daughter, showed in past research that nursing home residents with dementia had an increased risk of death in the months following a 2008 hurricane if they had evacuated.

“Those who can safely shelter in place may fare much better than those who are physically evacuated,” Brown said. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all, is the main point.”

Eichstaedt, who called from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where there is a makeshift shelter, said that many seniors refuse to evacuate because they have pets, which may be their only companions.

“It may be the only connection they have to their old life,” Eichstaedt said.

The fairgrounds were equipped with a pet-friendly shelter, with veterinarians to take care of sick and aging pets, too. “That’s been a blessing for many seniors,” she said.

A matter of health

In emergency situations, once-manageable health conditions, like diabetes or an infection, can quickly spiral out of control.

CNN previously told the story of Josefina Alvarez, 62, who escaped to a shelter outside of San Juan before Hurricane Maria. She remained stuck there for nearly two weeks before doctors were finally able to treat an abscess that could have turned into a life-threatening infection.

“Nobody is taking care of us,” Alvarez said at the time.

About three out of every four Americans 65 and older have multiple chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and obesity, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, nearly half of those who died were 75 or older — despite making up less than 6% of the state’s population, according to one study. While most of these deaths were drownings or injuries, 11% were caused by heart conditions.

Before Hurricane Irma, nursing homes in Florida stocked up on supplies, and pharmacies issued early refills of medications for people in evacuation zones.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents 81% of the state’s nursing centers, instructed each facility to prepare seven to 10 days of medication, oxygen and other medical necessities for each resident, according to spokesperson Kristen Knapp. The association does not represent the Hollywood facility where multiple residents died last month.

Even without a health issue, age can take its toll on the body.

An average healthy person can survive 100 hours without water if they’re not becoming dehydrated because of injury or temperatures, according to Dr. Paul Auerbach, a professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University who worked with rescue teams after earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti. They can even survive two or three weeks without food.

But for the elderly and infants, that time period can be much shorter, he previously told CNN.

Older adults are also more sensitive to extreme temperatures, making them more susceptible to heat stress and hypothermia, according to the CDC.

The exact causes of death of the Florida nursing home residents have not been announced, but a number of the 141 residents who were evacuated were treated for heat-related issues.

In Sonoma, Eichstaedt said that seniors with difficulties breathing or respiratory problems have been affected by “smoke and ash in the air.” Even younger and healthier people are wearing masks to avoid the worst air pollution on record for Northern California.

“It’s a big concern,” said Eichstaedt.

In the aftermath

For many people, a disaster often continues long after the fires have been put out or the flooding has receded.

The shelter in Sonoma is only a temporary fix, Eichstaedt said. Many displaced seniors will need assistance getting back home — if they still have a home to go back to.

Seniors may also be more susceptible to scams that happen after a disaster, said Chambers, including unlicensed contractors or people posing as assistance organizations.

“Our senior population is very trusting, and we want to make sure they know what to watch out for,” she said.

Even years after a disaster, some research has suggested that senior survivors are more likely to develop PTSD and other mental health problems — shown in a study of survivors of a 2008 earthquake in China.

“One of the things that we notice is the emotional frailty of many seniors,” Eichstaedt said, “particularly when they face the unknown.”

The prevalence of PTSD in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi rose from 15% a few months after Katrina to 21% a year later, found a 2008 study. In that study, however, the highest increases were seen among those aged 40 to 59.

In addition, older adults face a number of stresses that healthy, able-bodied people might not, such as fear of losing their independence or financial stability, according to FEMA.

For seniors who are also low-income, it’s an “extra level of concern,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of American Association of Retired Persons Foundation.

Many seniors also deal with social isolation, which has long been flagged as a risk factor for mortality.

Marsh Ryerson, whose foundation launched an initiative last year to combat loneliness and isolation among seniors, said that people don’t always think to reach out to elders in their communities while they’re rushing to prepare for an upcoming disaster.

“Check on your neighbors,” she said. “In times of disasters, or often in everyday living, older adults who are vulnerable can often be invisible, and they may not always ask for the help that they need.”

Vendetta Craig, whose 87-year-old mother was among the survivors of the Florida nursing home, had some choice words about how the deaths at Hollywood Hills reflected society’s treatment of seniors.

“We throw away our elderly,” she said at a press conference in September. “That’s my mother.”

Follow this story