October 31, 2017

8 Dead 11 Injured in Truck Terror Attack in New York City

 The terrorist truck came to a stop after crashing into the school bus.

The pickup truck crashed into another vehicle after striking bicyclists and pedestrians, and the driver got out wielding what police later said were “imitation” guns. The driver was shot by police before being taken into custody, the New York City Police Department said in a posting on its Twitter account. 
The federal government was treating it as a terrorist attack, two U.S. government officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 
A police spokesman posted a photo showing a white pickup truck on the bike path with its front end mangled and the hood crumpled. The truck was adorned with logos of the Home Depot hardware store chain. 
Mangled and flattened bicycles littered the bike path, which runs parallel to the West Side Highway on the western edge of Manhattan along the Hudson River. 
One witness, John Williams, a 22-year-old student, told reporters at the scene that he heard about five gunshots before seeing a large man with curly hair being taken into custody.

“He seemed very calm,” Williams said. “He was not putting up a fight.” 
The police have not confirmed any gunfire besides shots fired by officers.

 A witness told ABC Channel 7 that he saw a white pick-up truck drive south on the bike path at full speed and hit several people. The witness, who was identified only as Eugene, said bodies were lying outside Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s elite public schools. 
A video apparently filmed at the scene and circulated online showed scattered bikes on the bike path and at least two people lying on the ground.  Both U.S. President Donald President and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had been briefed about the incident, their offices said. The office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the governor was heading to the scene.

The Terrorist 29 yr Old from Uzbekistan, living in Tampa, Florida. He was shot in the stomach by Police. He is in surgery right now, expected to live.
The suspect is reported to have screamed "Allahu Akbar" after the crash, and that is a key reason authorities are looking at terrorism as a possible motive, sources said.
The deadly incident began at about 3:05 p.m., when the vehicle -- a Home Depot rental truck, according to the company -- entered the West Street pedestrian and bike path north of Chambers Street, hitting multiple people on the path, leaving some dead and "numerous people injured," New York City police said.
Six of the deceased victims were pronounced dead at the scene; two more died at a nearby hospital. Police said 11 were wounded with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Anna Driver, Dan Trotta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by //Reuters...adamfoxie

The Rainbow with the American Flag Will be Displayed Permanently in a Michigan City

The Rainbow Flag flies beneath the American flag at the Stonewall National Monument, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in New York. The Rainbow Flag, an international symbol of LGBT liberation and pride, was flown for the first time at the monument. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) 

I thought this small step deserved a mention because it is only a beginning representing a community full of heroes and heroines that have shown the world not only how to die but more importantly how to live and this is only a few years since the revolution of StoneWall. Adam

The City of Ferndale has become one of the first government municipalities in the United States to officially and permanently display the LGBT Pride flag in its city council chambers.

According to a news release issued by the city in Metro Detroit, the "historic" move was approved by Mayor Dave Coulter and city council on Oct. 23.

"Our motto in Ferndale is 'Good Neighbors,' and we interpret that to include the diversity of our residents and guests and the benefits of inclusive decision-making," Coulter said in a statement. "My fellow Council members and I strive to act in ways reflective of Ferndale's shared values."  

Ferndale was recently recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly communities in America. 

These are the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in Michigan
Three Michigan cities received perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's report identifying the most LGBTQ-friendly communities in the United States.

A short ceremony honoring key Ferndale LGBT community leaders, past, and present was held on Monday, city officials said. 

"I hope our residents will see this as an opportunity to once again embrace the differences in all our 'good neighbors'," Coulter said.

"In doing so, I believe we will see that the flag represents more than LGBT rights. The rainbow of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple--representing life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, and spirit--stand as vibrant symbols of hope for the entire community. As mayor, I can think of no better symbol of the power of unity and what our town stands for than the values symbolized in this flag."

Detroit News

Trump's Anti Transgender Military Order is Blocked by Federal Judge

A federal judge on Monday partially blocked enforcement of key provisions of President Donald Trump's memorandum banning transgender people serving in the military.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked provisions of the memorandum concerning the enlistment and retention of transgender military service members, holding that the plaintiffs "have established that they will be injured by these directives, due both to the inherent inequality they impose, and the risk of discharge and denial of accession that they engender. "

The judge also blasted Trump's initial abrupt announcement via Twitter that came "without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans."

In partially granting a preliminary injunction pending appeal, the judge said the plaintiffs -- current and aspiring service members who are transgender -- are "likely to succeed" on their due process claims. 

The judge said that the effect of her order was to "revert to the status quo" that existed before the memo that was issued August 25. The memo indefinitely extended a prohibition against transgender individuals entering the military and it required the military to authorize, by no later than March 23, 2018, the discharge of transgender service members. 

Trump administration lawyers had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was premature because the Pentagon is currently studying how to implement the President's directive and no action would be taken until after the policy review is completed.

They also argued that "federal courts owe the utmost deference to the political branches in the field of national defense and military affairs, both because the Constitution commits military decisions exclusively to those branches and because courts have less competence to second-guess military decision making."

But Kollar-Kotelly, of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, declined to wait, ruling that even though the policy was still subject to review, the government's arguments "wither away under scrutiny."

"The Memorandum unequivocally directs the military to prohibit indefinitely the accession of transgender individuals and to authorize their discharge," she wrote, "this decision has already been made."  

Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said, "we disagree with the court's ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps."

Ehrsam added: "Plaintiffs' lawsuit challenging military service requirements is premature for many reasons, including that the Defense Department is actively reviewing such service requirements, as the President ordered, and because none of the Plaintiffs have established that they will be impacted by current policies on military service." 

Kollar-Kotelly also had harsh words for the administration, highlighting the "unusual circumstances surrounding the President's announcement" of the ban that initially came in a July 26 tweet and the fact that the "reasons given to them do not appear to be supported by any facts."

In her 76-page opinion, she actually posted a screen grab of the President's tweets on the subject.

"After Consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," read one July 26 tweet.
Sessions says civil rights law doesn't protect transgender workers

And Kollar-Kotelly said that the President's decision was not supported by the facts.
"All of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military, in this case, were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions, and judgment of the military itself," she wrote.

Shannon Minter, a plaintiffs' lawyer and legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the ruling "a complete victory for our plaintiffs and all transgender service members who are now once again able to serve on equal terms and without the threat of being discharged."

"Although this ruling is very preliminary, it's significant in at least two respects," said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst, and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. "First, it is based on the judge's conclusion that the Constitution in some way limits the government's ability to discriminate against transgendered individuals. Second, it once again recognizes that the President's words (and tweets) have consequences, especially when those words are turned into official policy."

By Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter

Washington CNN

Kevin Spacey Comes Out as Gay and Sex Predator All in One Tweet

 Anthony Rapp and Kevin Spacey (REX/Shutterstock)
Every gay person and most straights have known about Spacey's sexual orientation. We have always been disappointed when so many times in the past he has bold face lied pretending everyone was stupid except him. What we didn't know about him as a 'chickenhawk' or sex predator for younger men. It seems easy to these men of power to try to get sexually what they can't get voluntarily except by people that look like them. It is so offensive that he comes out both as a sex predator and gay man. What a timing! I will say this is only the tip of the iceberg. There has to be more coming out of that old stuffy closet. This guy is been successful in the business for a long time and there have been a lot of younger actors passing under that bridge. He has never helped the gay community only hurt it by denying the obvious and kept being embarrassed by what he is. A shameful behavior for younger men growing up and pondering when to come out. I always gave him credit for being a good actor but always dislike seeing him on the screen most of the time. I guess I know why now.

Kevin Spacey apologized and came out as gay in a statement after the actor was accused of sexual advances on an underage actor. 

Harvey Weinstein: What You Need to Know
Over the last week, a deluge of allegations have come out against the Hollywood producer, ending with him getting fired from own company
"I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago," Spacey wrote. "But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years."

Spacey's statement arrived after Buzzfeed published an account of the 1986 encounter as remembered by actor Anthony Rapp, who has appeared in Rent, Dazed and Confused and currently stars on Star Trek: Discovery.

Rapp, who was 14 and a child actor on Broadway at the time, said he attended a party at fellow Broadway actor Spacey's Manhattan apartment; as the party ended, Rapp – who became bored and ended up just watching television alone in Spacey's bedroom – was approached and then thrown atop the bed by Spacey, he told Buzzfeed.

"He was trying to seduce me," Rapp said. "I don't know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually."

After pushing Spacey off of him, Rapp ran into the bathroom before making his way to the front door. "He followed me to the front door of the apartment, and as I opened the door to leave, he was leaning on the front door[frame]," Rapp said. "And he was like, 'Are you sure you wanna go?' I said, 'Yes, good night,' and then I did leave."

Although Rapp initially put the incident behind him, the ascension of Spacey, who would go on to find Hollywood success soon after, haunted Rapp, as seeing Spacey on the big screen and award shows would always bring back his memories of that encounter.

While Rapp often told his friends, fellow colleagues and – in one case – another publication about what happened with Spacey, the accusations took on additional weight in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations. 

Not long after Buzzfeed published Rapp's account of the incident, Spacey issued a long Twitter statement that both apologized for his actions and – after decades of rumors, non-committal confirmations and a refusal to discuss his private life – revealed that he is gay.

"This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life," Spacey wrote. "I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man."

Spacey concluded, "I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior."

Rapp added on Twitter Sunday night, "I came forward with my story, standing on the shoulders of the many courageous women and men who have been speaking out to shine a light and hopefully make a difference, as they have done for me. Everything I wanted to say about my experience is in that article, and I have no further comment about it at this time."

Rolling Stones

 “I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear his story,” Spacey said in a statement posted on his Twitter account late Sunday night. “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”
In the same statement, Spacey also came out as gay.
“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life,” Spacey’s statement continued. “I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closes to me know, in my life, I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic relationships with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
Kevin Spacey

 Anthony Rapp


“He picked me up a like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold. But I don’t, like, squirm away initially, because I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then he lays down on top of me,” Rapp explained. “He was trying to seduce me… I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.” Rapp quickly left the apartment, he says, and didn’t tell anybody about Spacey’s behavior.
There’s a long and ugly history to the notion that there is some sort of relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia—and Spacey’s conflation of the two is as distressing as it is infuriating. Members of the LGBT+ community have had to face the misconception that they’re more likely to be abusers time and time again, whether in debates over gender neutral bathrooms or when trying to become parents through adoption. For years, homophobes have played up to the wrongheaded and pernicious belief that gay men somehow pose a danger to young people, and this notion has played into discussions of the child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
As one user on Facebook remarked, Spacey’s statement is a “grotesque setback” for the community: “The journey towards genuine equality is still a long way off, so kudos Spacey for making it just a bit longer & harder, and further blurring the very distinct lines between homosexuality & pedophilia.”Whether intentional or not, Spacey’s apology implies that his sexuality offers an explanation for his behavior. But the LGBT+ community is united in saying: Whatever your sexuality, making sexual advances on a 14-year-old is wrong.

Flip-thump Up Trump

I see this as poetic justice. The caravan of an unpopular president going by to his gulf coarse on the dime of a bicyclist. Even though unexpected the cyclist recognizes right away what is going on and reacts. The caravan after passing this taxpayer had to slow down to make a turn and the bicyclist had a chance to stick the finger as far as it will go. adamfoxie

The departure of President Trump’s motorcade from his Sterling, Va., golf club on Saturday afternoon was chronicled as dutifully and minutely as the retreat of some great army.

The president left Trump National Golf Club at 3:12 p.m. after spending the day there on the edge of the Potomac River.

A thick column of black SUVs escorted Trump past two pedestrians, a Guardian reporter wrote in a pool report — “one of whom gave a thumb down the sign.”

“Then it overtook a female cyclist, wearing a white top and cycling helmet, who responded by giving the middle finger.”

The cyclist was photographed for posterity. So was an “IMPEACH” sign held aloft outside the golf club that day.

On Twitter, Voice of America reporter Steve Herman offered his account as an eyewitness to the following events:

“The cyclist flipped off @POTUS a second time when the motorcade halted at the traffic light,” he wrote. “No, we do not know her name.”

Nor does anyone know if Trump, behind bulletproof windows, had seen either of the cyclist’s streetside salutes.

But with knowns and unknowns thus established, the world set about interpreting a middle finger’s significance.

Newsweek wrote, perhaps speculatively, that “to flip off the president of the United States” seemed to be the cyclist’s single-minded goal.

[People can’t stop being inspired by this fake clip of a little girl insulting Trump]

The Guardian avoided analysis. The Reddit commenter zablyzibly did not: “Some heroes wear bike helmets.”

Accused of polluting the record of a motorcade’s passage with details that were not, really, news, Herman defended himself. “The cyclist’s act has certainly generated an emotional reaction among many,” he wrote.

We’ll go him one better. That fleeting, vulgar indignity to the world’s most powerful person was not just news, but a historical tradition.

The Washington Post

October 30, 2017

Right Group Confirms Russian Gay Pop Star Killed By Chechnya Crack Down

 Russian pop star Zelim Bakaev (right) pictured with Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov Facebook / ZELIMBAKAEV 

In mid-October, a gay Russian man became the first to officially accuse authorities in Chechnya of jailing and beating him as part of a broad crackdown on LGBT people.

Maxim Lapunov said during a news conference that unidentified people detained him on a street in the Russian region’s provincial capital, Grozny, in March and drove him to a detention facility.
Lapunov's story came almost ten full days before a leading Russian human rights group announced it “seriously fears” that Zelimkhan Bakayev, 26, a gay pop star, was killed as part of Chechnya’s deadly crackdown. According to the Guardian, Bakayev went missing in August when he left his home in Moscow to visit the capital, Grozny, for his sister’s wedding. 

“When a person disappears and the police force refuse to investigate his disappearance, we have serious fears for the life of that person,” Oleg Orlov, from Memorial, Russia’s oldest civil rights group, told AFP on Friday. 

Lapunov's chilling account of guards beating him with sticks during the nearly two weeks he was kept in custody and forcing him and his partner, who also was detained and beaten, to fight each other add weight to the concerns surrounding Bakayev.
Keep updated: Sign up to our newsletter 

“Day after day, they were telling me how precisely they want to kill me,” he said.
Lapunov is the first person to file a complaint with Russian authorities over a wave of arrests of gay people earlier this year that human rights defenders and media outlets say have taken place under Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Lapunov said other people in the same detention facility were tortured and beaten for being gay. He was let go after he signed a statement acknowledging he was gay and was told he would be killed if he talked about his time in detention, he said.

Lapunov, a resident of the Omsk region in Siberia, had a job in Chechnya.
“When I would fall, they would give me a break and then force me to stand up and continue for several more rounds,” he said of the beatings he received.

“When I was leaving Chechnya I could barely walk,” he said.

Human rights group say more than 100 gay men were arrested and subjected to beatings and torture during the spring, and some of them were killed. Other victims have spoken about the crackdown without revealing their identities.

“I keep having nightmares about what I went through there,” Lapunov said. “Those cries moans and prays for mercy has left an imprint.”
The crackdown has drawn international opprobrium. Some foreign leaders have raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I want justice, I hope it will come,” Lapunov said. “I don’t want to feel unprotected in my own country so that anyone from Chechnya could come after me and kill me at any moment.”
Igor Kalyapin, the head of the Committee against Torture, a Russian NGO that provided legal assistance to Lapunov, said the Russian investigative agency has dragged its feet on launching a probe based on his testimony even though Russia’s human rights commissioner followed the case.
Kadyrov and other officials in Chechnya have denied any crackdown on gay people.

The Kremlin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two devastating separatist wars, effectively allowing him to run the mostly Muslim region in the North Caucasus mountains like his personal fiefdom.

Kadyrov has enforced strict Islamic rules in Chechnya, relying on his feared security forces to stifle any dissent.

“There has been no official investigation into the hunt for gays that saw extrajudicial detentions and torture of dozens of people during the spring,” Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, said. “And the persecution of gays has continued on a smaller scale.”

LGBT activists said Chechen authorities have handed over some detainees to relatives along with demands that they are punished. Homosexuality is taboo in Chechnya, and most people there are prejudiced against gay people.

Activist Igor Kochetkov said his group has collected information about 15 detainees who have been missing since they were handed over to relatives and been missing since then.
“They provoke people to kill their relatives,” Kochetkov said.

Gay Concentration Camps in Russia and Neo Nazis in Florida-Next: Where You Are

Maxim Lapunov spoke out about Chechnya’s “gay concentration camps.”
This week a courageous young man named Maxim Lapunov, 30, came forward in Moscow to detail his experiences of torture at the hands of Chechen authorities, in what have become known as Chechnya’s “gay concentration camps.” 

I'm not sure why reports are still putting concentration camps in inverted commas. We already know that they exist, that since April 2017 at least 100 gay men have been arrested and many killed in the Russian region. Lapunov himself was brutally tortured in one of these detention centers for twelve days.
Two men he didn't know bundled him into a car earlier this year and took him to a cell that was already blood soaked. Then the beatings began. “They burst in every 10 or 15 minutes shouting that I was gay and they would kill me,” he told the press conference arranged by human rights activists last week. 
“Then they beat me with a stick for a long time. In the legs, ribs, buttocks, and back. When I started to fall, they pulled me up and carried on. Every day they assured me they would kill me, and told me how.”
At night he couldn't sleep due to all the terrifying screams he heard from nearby cells. When he was finally released he couldn't walk for days. Every night they had brought in a new captive he said, and every night a new torture session began. 
Because Lapunov was an ethnic Russian he was assured by Chechen authorities that he would not be beaten as badly as native Chechens. They did not electrocute him with wires as they did their own countrymen. Instead, they forced him to watch other detainees being beaten and bloodied.
Human rights groups have detailed the cases of at least 15 detainees who “were released to their relatives and have since disappeared without a trace,” raising the suspicion of “honor killings” by their own families. Kill them before we do, they are reportedly told.
Meanwhile, Russia’s independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta has published a list of the names of 27 men, executed in a single night in Grozny on January 25, 2017.
Because Russian authorities have reportedly made no serious attempt to investigate these charges, Lapunov made the decision to come forward last week, putting a face to the allegations. He is risking his own life to do this. But he feels he had no choice but to go public. This year, for the first time since Nazi Germany, people on the European continent are being targeted for extermination based on their sexuality alone.
One survivor of a camp located at a former military base in Argun claimed he was tortured and interrogated by the Chechen officials themselves. They had used a hookup app on his phone to lure him into their trap, then they tried to use his contacts to identify and arrest his contacts.If this sounds a page from the Nazi playbook, that's because it is.
In the 1930s, when fascists began to target out-groups for detention, torture, and extermination, many people told themselves they were not directly affected. Yes, the wider atmosphere was being poisoned by their propaganda, but they did not anticipate that the doses would be slowly increased until they resulted in millions dead.
If we keep looking the other way when fascists arrive in our public squares with their burning Tiki Torches, they can assume we no longer oppose them so vehemently, they can even assume we may secretly share some of their aims.
Sadly we don't even need to look overseas now to recognize the growing threat. Last week three neo-Nazi's were charged with attempted homicide here in the United States after they shot at protesters outside an event hosted by white supremacist Richard Spencer at Florida State University. Flyer campaigns by fascist groups have become more common across the country this year. Now they march without hoods or masks. They clearly believe their time has come. So the time has come for us all to decide what we stand for too. If we thought we'd still have a little longer to figure it out that's too bad. If we thought we weren't directly threatened by the forces that are gathering around the globe that's too bad too. We are all of us threatened by the global resurgence of fascism. The moment is here. Now.
This simple truth needs to be remembered: fascism is an inherently violent ideology. It does not seek to live in peace with its neighbors because it will not. What it wants is to remove, first by threats and intimidation, then by violence or extermination, all threats to its total dominance. Today they are targeting the most vulnerable. That's how all of this starts. Tomorrow it will be you.

Iconic Musician Songwriter Marc Almond Says "I hate the LGBT thing"

October 29, 2017

Puerto Rico Cremates Hundreds of its Dead Few Cemeteries Still Standing

More than a month ago, Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico leaving the island with extensive damage. In addition to the physical destruction seen throughout the U.S. territory, 51 people lost their lives as a result of the storm, according to the official death toll from Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety. But, the actual number of deaths may be much higher.

Since September 20—when the Category 4 storm made landfall on Puerto Rico—911 bodies were cremated on the island, BuzzFeed reports. But, none of those deaths were caused by the hurricane, Karixia Ortiz Serrano, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, told BuzzFeed. Rather, they were all deemed “natural deaths.”

After hearing of the report, David Begnaud, a CBS News Correspondent who has extensively been covering issues related to the storm, reached out to public safety officials who were able to confirm the number of cremations and explain the process. 

“By law, the Bureau of Forensic Science must authorize all the cremation requests of the family members of the deceased. During the process, several documents are analyzed: the death summary, the death certificate, the ballot, the medical summary or document that certifies or gives evidence of the cause of death, and the form that the family completes for requesting a cremation. This form also establishes if the family member agrees or doesn’t agree with the circumstance of the death. In that sense, the 911 authorizations of cremations during the previously established period are of natural deaths at the time of specific evaluation and there was no suspicion that would stop the requested process,” according to the statement obtained by Begnaud.

In a video posted to Twitter on Saturday morning, Begnaud explains that he plans to investigate how the 911 deaths compared to previous time frames. It may not be an unusually high number, according to an analysis reported by The Washington Post. But, it still doesn’t explain whether the deaths were hurricane-related or not.

“The reality is we probably will never know,” Joe Trainor of the University of Delaware’s Disaster Recovery Center, told The Washington Post.

The reports come shortly after President Donald Trump compared the death tolls of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Katrina, which caused severe damage in the Gulf Coast in 2005 and killed more than 1,800 people. At the time of Trump's comments, the official death toll was 16.

“Every death is a horror," Trump said during a meeting in San Juan, "but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous -- hundreds and hundreds of people that died  and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering ... no one has ever seen anything like this."



AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico — Funeral directors and crematoriums are being permitted by the Puerto Rican government to burn the bodies of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria — without those people being counted in the official death toll.
The result is a massive loophole likely suppressing the official death count, which has become a major indicator of how the federal government’s relief efforts are going because President Trump himself made it one.
During Trump’s photo-op visit to the US territory — whose residents are US citizens — three weeks ago, he boasted that the death toll was just 16. It doubled by the time he returned to Washington that same day. The death toll is now at 51, a figure widely contradicted by what funeral homes, crematoriums, and hospitals on the ground tell BuzzFeed News.
Then, last week, when asked how he would rate the White House’s response to the crisis, Trump said, "I’d say it was a 10.” More than a month after the storm made landfall on Sept. 20, 2.6 million people are without power, at least 875,000 people don’t have access to running water, and 66% of the island still doesn’t have cell service.
Trump added, “I’d say it was probably the most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels, and even when you talk about lives saved.” Meanwhile, two US representatives and 13 senators recently wrote letters to the acting head of homeland security requesting investigations into the death toll.
Last week, BuzzFeed News visited 10 funeral homes and crematoriums in two Puerto Rican municipalities on the territory’s western coast, Aguadilla and Mayagüez, at least two hours away from the bustling San Juan. The findings include:
  • Communication between the central institute certifying official hurricane deaths, called the Institute of Forensic Sciences, and funeral homes or crematoriums appears to be fully broken, with each side waiting for the other to take action.
  • The central institute is also giving crematoriums permission to burn bodies of potential hurricane victims — which is happening more because it is cheaper and logistically easier as families rebuild their lives — without examining them first, which means they are not being counted in the official death toll.
  • Disaster experts say this lack of a transparent and consistent approach to counting deaths means the toll is likely inaccurate.
  • And experts also say an inaccurate official death toll potentially cheats families out of FEMA relief funds and could hurt how future disasters are handled.
The funeral home and crematorium directors told BuzzFeed News that they had received dozens of bodies of people who died of hurricane-related causes — just the cases from these two municipalities would potentially more than double the death toll if they were included. The Forensic Institute permitted the bodies of at least 42 potential hurricane victims to be burned, according to one crematorium director.
Puerto Rico’s safety department says the funeral and crematorium directors should send any potential hurricane-related victims to the institute before they’re burned — but admit they haven’t actually officially communicated that to them.
John Mutter, a professor of earth sciences and public affairs at Columbia University who studied how the death count was handled after Hurricane Katrina, said Puerto Rico’s procedures seem to be “deliberately trying to keep the numbers low,” which he called “unconscionable.” Other experts called it a failure of bureaucracy.
The White House and the office of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Asked directly if the number of hurricane-related deaths in Puerto Rico is being undercounted, a spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety dodged, saying, “We can’t infer or reach any assumptions or inferences. If there really are cases like this, they have to present them to the authorities.”
But, at this point, many of those bodies have been burned to ash. “I never expected all of this”
In Aguadilla, a municipality of around 60,000, the official death toll currently counts three fatalities from the hurricane: one person who drowned in flooding, one person who fell off his roof while trying to repair hurricane damage, and one person who died of a bone infection.
But staff at the only crematorium in the municipality, Crem del Caribe, said they were given permission by the forensic institute to cremate at least 42 bodies of other people who had died as a result of the hurricane. That included people who died due to a lack of oxygen supply, failure of dialysis and oxygen machines because of the lack of electricity, and people who died of heart attacks. (Seventy-five percent of the island still has no power, and questions are being raised about the firm contracted to fix it.)   
 The majority of those cases came from funeral homes in the area, like Vitin Alvarez, 68, who died a week after the hurricane made landfall.
"I’m still trying to adjust to life without him."

Alvarez had Alzheimer’s disease, and his death certificate states his primary cause of death was respiratory failure. His wife, Blanca Alvarez, 63, told BuzzFeed News he died because she couldn’t get gasoline to power the generator he needed for his oxygen machine. There’s no mention of the lack of electricity on his certificate.
“It’s so difficult to get gasoline. And there wasn’t a way to communicate with anyone,” Alvarez told BuzzFeed News outside her home in Aguadilla.

Blanca Alvarez outside her home in Aguadilla.
Nidhi Prakash / BuzzFeed News
Blanca Alvarez outside her home in Aguadilla.
Alvarez cremated her husband because of financial concerns and because she was overwhelmed handling basic things like finding food and water after the hurricane. He was the first person in the Alvarez family ever to be cremated instead of buried.
“We were always together. I’m still trying to adjust to life without him,” said Alvarez. “I never expected all of this to be happening at the same time.”
Several funeral directors told BuzzFeed News they’re seeing an increase in cremations over burials after the hurricane, in part because it’s less expensive and requires less planning as people rebuild. They had already seen an uptick in the number of cremations as a result of the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, they said, but said the numbers have increased even more in Maria’s aftermath. The cremation cost Alvarez $1,300, she said. One funeral home director said burial services cost between $4,000 and $12,000 in Aguadilla.
She said her husband had life insurance but she’s still waiting for the payout. Alvarez wasn’t aware that FEMA has a disaster funeral assistance program “to help with the cost of unexpected and uninsured expenses associated with the death of an immediate family member when attributed to an event that is declared to be a major disaster or emergency.” FEMA did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Nidhi Prakash / BuzzFeed News

A cemetery in Aguadilla.

A confusing process

The Puerto Rican government has said that the island’s Institute of Forensic Sciences, in San Juan, must examine and certify the bodies of any hurricane-related deaths before they are counted in the official death toll. When the region isn’t dealing with a disaster, the bodies of people who killed themselves, suffered a suspicious death, or were possible victims of a crime are sent to the institute for investigation.
The spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, Karixia Ortiz Serrano, acting as spokesperson for the institute, told BuzzFeed News that the institute does not have guidelines for which hurricane-related deaths to add to the official death toll and which to keep off, and said they’re making decisions on a “case-by-case” basis.
“There are no specific categories, but they look at the situation,” interview family members, “analyze it, and come to their decision — and everything has to be scientifically-based,” she said.
Here’s where things go awry.
The public safety department says it’s the responsibility of funeral homes, crematoriums, and hospitals to notify and send or bring bodies to the forensic institute if they’re possible hurricane-related deaths.
But all 10 funeral homes and crematorium directors BuzzFeed News spoke to said they haven’t received any specific guidance on what they’re supposed to do with the bodies of people who died as a result of the hurricane. Ortiz confirmed to BuzzFeed News that no official guidance was sent to funeral homes and crematoriums, many of which take in bodies that don’t need to go to the hospital first.
Ortiz says the directors of the facilities should know better. “They know that the place that they do all the scientific investigations is at the institute,” she said. “The funeral homes are in constant communication with the institute because they’re the ones that bring the bodies and take them back.”
Still, cremating a body requires written approval from the forensic institute — which has the option to ask for the bodies to be sent to San Juan for examination before they’re burned. But the funeral and crematorium directors who spoke to BuzzFeed News said the institute has given them permission to cremate dozens of bodies of people who died of hurricane-related causes, and were not asked to send them to the institute.
Asked specifically about this, Ortiz reiterated it’s on crematoriums and funeral homes to communicate with the forensic institute if they think a death should be examined for inclusion on the death toll.
We have heard,” that possible hurricane victim were being cremated without examination, Ortiz said. “We aren’t saying that they’re totally true or totally false. But what we are saying is, if you have a case like that, send us all the information to be able to look at it” before cremation. 

“Natural causes”

Many funeral directors have conflicting definitions of what counts as a hurricane-related death and what doesn’t.
Some funeral directors classified cardiac and respiratory failure after the hurricane as death by “natural causes” only. Others said they consider those hurricane-related because they happened as a result of the conditions created by the Maria: a lack of food, water, electricity, and fuel. (The official death toll does include people who had heart attacks, took their own life, and who died for lack of oxygen and electricity for dialysis machines.)
Experts said this goes back to a lack of guidance from the public safety department.
“If you wanted to make the count as small as possible that’s the way to go about it.”
“If you wanted to make the count as small as possible that’s the way to go about it,” Mutter, the Columbia professor, said about lack of uniform procedure and communication about certifying hurricane-related deaths. “Because somebody’s sitting there saying, this is a disaster death, this one is not.”
Mutter said that based on Puerto Rico’s poverty level and the strength of the storm, he would have expected the death toll to be in the hundreds by now.
“In fact there’s a lot of deaths that come from the exacerbation of preexisting conditions by the trauma of the disaster event. And they are normally counted. They ended up being counted in Katrina. They are considered disaster deaths. If you take them out you get a small number,” he said.
A review of the funeral homes and crematoriums BuzzFeed News visited shows the discrepancies.
Monica Rodriguez, of Funeraria Soto Rodriguez, said her funeral home has received six bodies since the hurricane. Of those, four came from senior homes — their death certificates say they died of cardiac arrests. Another was a quadriplegic man who died of an infection after arriving at a hospital too late to be treated effectively, and another was a dialysis patient who died in their home when their machine failed. Two of the six were cremated, Rodriguez said.

"They didn’t have air-conditioning. It’s possible they didn’t have enough oxygen."

Here’s her definition of a hurricane-related death: “You can’t exactly say these people died because of the hurricane, because they were old people or they already had health conditions,” she said, adding that in general, death certificates don’t necessarily account for the conditions in which someone died.
But she also said she believed the conditions created by the hurricane lead to these deaths.
“I can tell you that we had four deaths of elderly people who were in senior homes. They didn’t have air-conditioning. It’s possible they didn’t have enough oxygen. I’m telling you about the conditions that were caused by the hurricane, not causes of death as they’re written” by doctors on death certificates, Rodriguez said. At the Javariz funeral home in Aguadilla, 19 bodies have come in since the hurricane. Of those, most died during the hurricane or because of conditions created by the hurricane, said director Tomas Javariz. Thirteen were cremated.
Javariz considers two who died by suicide, five due to a lack of oxygen, one from an organ failure, and 11 attributed to cardiac or respiratory arrest as hurricane-related deaths.
He sent the two who died by suicide to the forensic institute — standard practice for suicide cases — but he said he didn’t send the others because the institute never asked for hurricane-related deaths. The institute gave him permission to cremate them.
Another funeral home in Aguadilla, Funeraria San Antonio, received six bodies since the hurricane. Those included one of the three counted in Aguadilla’s official death toll — a man who fell off his roof while trying to repair it — whose body was examined by the forensic institute in San Juan. Another died of cancer and the rest died of “natural causes,” an employee at the funeral home said, which included cardiac and respiratory arrests. Funeraria Hernandez-Rivera, the fourth funeral home in the region, received 15 bodies since the hurricane, including five or six heart attacks, according to funeral director Raul Hernandez-Rivera. He also said that he didn’t believe those cases could be counted as hurricane-related because they didn’t involve people drowning or dying while trying to repair hurricane damage.
The institute gave him permission to cremate 8 of the 15 bodies. He sent one to the institute — the body of a woman who was bedridden and drowned during the hurricane — and she is counted in the official death toll.
In the nearby municipality of Mayagüez, there were no hurricane-related deaths, according to the official toll. That’s at odds with the number of cases received by local funeral homes.

Lynette Matos and Javier Granell of Funeraria Fernandez.
Nidhi Prakash / BuzzFeed News
Lynette Matos and Javier Granell of Funeraria Fernandez.
Funeraria Fernandez received 13 bodies since the hurricane. They said at least six of those people died because of a lack of oxygen supply, and one died because of a dialysis machine not working, in addition to several heart attacks. Nine of those were cremated. Five were sent to the forensic institute for examination. None have been included in the death toll.
Another, Mayagüez Memorial, received 42 bodies since the hurricane, 10 of which were cremated with the forensic institute’s permission without an examination, according to a staff member there.
“There were some that had to be the result of the hurricane,” said the staff member, who asked not to be named.
Funeraria Martell received 39 bodies since the hurricane — 16 were cremated with permission from the institute without examination.
“I would say that almost all of them were [related to the hurricane],”said Germarie Hernandez, the funeral director. She said she received 10 cases from Hospital Perrea and three from the Centro Medico Mayagüez, all from the intensive care units. The other 26 cases came from private homes or senior homes. Mario Tama / Getty Images

“That is a failure of government”

The lack of guidelines for creating an official death toll is a recurring problem after large-scale disasters in the US, according to experts, who say there is no federal standard because local coroners and governments have jurisdiction over counting and certifying deaths.
After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA organized teams of mortuary experts through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — known as Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams or DMORT — to assist the state of Louisiana in counting storm-related deaths. (Puerto Rico’s safety department said they have 40 DMORT personnel assisting the Institute of Forensic Sciences in San Juan.)
During Katrina, FEMA also contracted Kenyon International, a private company that specializes in recovering and identifying remains after disasters. The company has not been contacted by federal agencies or the Puerto Rican government for relief on the island, they told BuzzFeed News. FEMA did not respond to a request for comment.
“One of the things I advise governments to do is … come up with and put out guidance on what is the time period, the definition, the cause, manner, and mechanism [for counting deaths],” said Robert Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International, which also assisted authorities after 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Grenfell Tower fire in London.
He said instructions should be clear for funeral homes on what the actions and reporting requirements are in cases like Maria.
“What we want to be able to do is clearly identify what was the human cost in this event and make it easier,” he said. “In the absences of leadership or guidance, people are going to take action. The dead can’t just sit.”
"It’s just bureaucracy at its worst.”

 He said the current lack of transparency and communication with those handling burials and cremations across the island means the count is less likely to be accurate.
“That is a failure of government. That is part of the responsibility,” he said, adding that having accurate death toll data can be used to help governments prepare better for future disasters. For example, “We have one generator— it needs to go to location A and not location B.”
“Short of having really clear guidance issued then you leave the decision up to each individual funeral director, doctor,” he said. “I’d love to say that it’s an intentional cover-up but it’s just bureaucracy at its worst.”
The forensic institute has heard from some funeral directors who said they had cases of hurricane deaths that had not been examined by the institute before burial or cremation, Ortiz said.
“There were a few situations like this, and when [the director of the forensic institute] asked for information and specific data, and when she looked at the cases … it turned out that they were just rumors, or that they couldn’t be substantiated.”
Ortiz could not provide details about how many funeral directors had raised such concerns with the institute, or the details about the investigations that lead the institute to believe that they were “just rumors.” But the institute is open to investigating any case that’s specifically brought to them, she said.
“If it’s a rumor they don’t register them,” she said.
Jensen said the Puerto Rican government’s process is not consistent with a scientific approach.
“Scientifically based is great but the thing about science is it has to be repeated given the same conditions and everyone has to be able to repeat it given the same parameters,” he said. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said three weeks ago that he had conducted a survey of the island’s hospitals and medical centers to update the death toll. The Department of Public Safety, when asked about the survey, said they will do them “periodically” but couldn’t say when. They said the government is in contact with hospitals but that there are communication difficulties that make it hard to do another survey.
Jensen said that after six months or a year, families will begin to think about the deaths of their loved ones in the context of this crisis — and whether they could have been eligible for more financial support through insurance policies if their loved ones’ deaths had been classified differently. One clear area they could have lost financial resources, he said, was in receiving federal grants through FEMA to assist with emergency funeral costs.
“Here’s where it has an impact. It has an impact for different insurance policies, it has an impact on families,” he said, adding that in at least one other large-scale disaster Kenyon has worked on, families hired forensic experts months later to determine whether they had a legal case that first responders were at fault in their family members’ deaths.
“In a national disaster you’re one of however many and everyone is focused on food, water, life support,” he said, “and that makes it just a little bit harder for the families of the dead because it feels like their life didn’t matter.” 

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