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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Koreas begin reunions of separated families

Thursday, 20 February 2014 02:50 Published in National News
   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades are tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again.
   About 80 elderly South Koreans traveled Thursday through falling snow with their families to North Korea's Diamond Mountain to reunite with relatives they hadn't seen since the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul says about 180 North Koreans were expected.
   South Korean TV showed elderly women in traditional hanbok dresses talking and hugging at the resort. Stooped men wiped away tears with their handkerchiefs. Another old man was wheeled into the meeting room on a stretcher, a blue blanket wrapped tightly around him.
   More reunions are planned through Tuesday. This round of reunions, the first since 2010, comes amid a North Korean charm offensive.
   LAUREL, Miss. (AP) — The second floor of an activity center at a rural church in Mississippi collapsed during an evening youth service, sending about 70 people tumbling and leaving at least 15 people hurt, the church's pastor and authorities said.
   None of the injuries appeared life-threatening though a 16-year-old girl was taken to a hospital in Hattiesburg with a possible head injury after the floor collapse Wednesday evening, authorities said. The hospital told The Associated Press it had no information to release, while authorities said at least 15 others taken to hospitals had since been released.
   Pastor Tommy Davis at Freedom Baptist Church in Myrick told The Chronicle in Laurel that the floor at the activity center collapsed during a Wednesday evening youth service.
   "In the middle of the student service, the floor — which is a second-story floor — gave way, causing about 70 students to fall," Davis said. "But it's got to be said that no one was seriously injured, no one was trapped. God's hand was certainly taking care of the kids who were in that building."
   Spokeswoman Linda Gavin at the South Central Regional Medical Center, said at least 15 young people were treated there and all later released. She said the 16-year-old girl was taken to a Hattiesburg hospital with a possible head injury.
   Students said the collapse came unexpectedly while the service was under way.
   "We heard a huge rumble and the floor collapsed and people collapsed with it," said one 18-year-old female student.
   Witnesses said youngsters in the 7th to 12th grades were in the youth center for an evening service, adding most had cuts, scrapes, bruises and possibly some with broken bones.
   Dozens of those in the collapse were treated at the scene and released as worried relatives stood by amid the flashing lights of ambulances and emergency vehicles.
   Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge said the drop was about 12 feet in the floor collapse.
   Dispatcher Amanda Lofton at the Jones County Sheriff's Office told AP early Thursday she had no additional information to release and that authorities had no preliminary report on what caused the floor collapse.
   ST. LOUIS (AP) — Neighbors watched in horror as a 10-year-old southwest Missouri girl was snatched off the street just blocks from her home.
   Some had spotted a man in a gold Ford Ranger pickup truck driving down the road in Springfield several times before taking off with the girl, investigators said. The residents even called 911 to report the truck's license number.
   But the vehicle moved too quickly. And Hailey Owens was gone.
   Now prosecutors have charged Craig Michael Wood with first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action. In filing the charges Wednesday, they alleged that the 45-year-old middle school football coach and teacher's aide abducted Hailey as she walked home from a friend's house Tuesday.
   A probable cause statement said the fourth-grader's body was found stuffed in two trash bags inside plastic storage containers in the basement of Wood's Springfield home. She had been shot in the head, according to Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson.
   The basement floor was still damp from bleach, according to the probable cause statement.
   Authorities won't officially confirm that the body is Hailey's until after an autopsy, but Springfield Police Paul Williams said "we have a high degree of confidence" in the preliminary identification, which indicates that it is the girl.
   According to the probable cause statement, resident Michelle Edwards told police she and her husband were in their garage when saw a pickup truck approach the girl, who was holding a cellphone. She said the driver asked the girl for directions before he grabbed her with one hand and threw her into the truck "like a rag doll."
   Another resident, Ricky Riggins, told the Springfield News-Leader that he chased the fleeing pickup in his car after a neighbor tried to pull the girl away.
   "I couldn't keep up," Riggins said. "He was probably five to six cars ahead of me. ... It was so fast."
   Wood was inside a truck parked outside his home when police arrested him Tuesday night. The probable cause statement said he was holding a roll of duct tape when officers arrived.
   The truck is registered to Wood's father, Jim Wood, who told police he loaned the vehicle to his son. The father, who lives in nearby Ash Grove, declined an interview request from The Associated Press.
   He and the girl apparently didn't know each other. Hailey attended Westport Elementary School; Wood worked at Pleasant View School.
   "There's no connection that we've been able to determine at this time between the victim and the suspect," Williams said.
   Springfield school officials said Wood is a seventh-grade football coach and teacher's aide who supervises in-school suspensions at Pleasant View, which has students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
   Norm Ridder, the Springfield district's superintendent, said in a statement Wednesday that Wood began working for the district in August 1998. He said Wood has been suspended since his arrest.
   Wood was initially hired as a temporary employee who worked as a substitute teacher before he was hired full time in 2006, school district spokeswoman Teresa Bledsoe said later Wednesday. He has coached football at Pleasant View since 1998 and was also an assistant boys' basketball coach.
   "He met all of our qualifications for employment," Bledsoe said, noting that the Springfield district has a more rigorous background check requirement than state law, with an additional screening designed to detect substantiated allegations of child abuse or neglect as well as any past criminal violations.
   Online court records show Wood had little criminal history. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 1990 in Greene County and was fined $100. Wood also was convicted in 2001 for illegal taking of wildlife, a misdemeanor.
   Williams said police have no idea of a motive for the killing. He said Wood has not talked to investigators since his arrest.
   Joe Bridges, a local music promoter who organized a candlelight vigil for Hailey scheduled for Saturday, told The Associated Press that residents in the city of 162,000 are collectively mourning the child's abduction and death.
   "The community is walking around right now with a very heavy heart," said Bridges, who described himself as a distant relative of Hailey but said he didn't know her well. "Everybody is just speechless."

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