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Latest from Veronica Waters

    Surrounded by family members, 58-year-old Jimmy Meders was told Thursday afternoon his bid for clemency was granted -- six hours shy of his scheduled execution. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles announced Thursday it was commuting his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Christian Boone , Meders became the sixth inmate to be granted clemency in Georgia since 2002 and the first in nearly six years. For more on the story, WSB’s Veronica Waters spoke with one of Jimmy Meders’ lawyers, Mike Admirand, staff attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, as well as WSB Radio senior legal analyst Ron Carlson, and Steve Hayes, spokesman for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. >>LISTEN TO VERONICA WATERS’ FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW.
  • I started hating coming home. When you start hating where you live, it's time to go.'  Today, Melissa Thompson loves where she lives: an immaculate three-bedroom home decorated in greys and jewel tones, with a long front porch and a spacious backyard that's the perfect place for cookouts and her granddaughter's games, and a neighbor who not only greeted her with a pound cake when she moved in, but cut low trees between their houses--without permission--just so she could keep an eye on the happenings next door.  But in 2015, Thompson was a 45-year-old, living in a two-bedroom apartment with her son and granddaughter; the young girl alternately slept in a room with her dad or her grandmother. She had lost both her parents within months of each other; the grief ripped most of her family apart to the point where some were not on speaking terms with others. >>LISTEN TO VERONICA WATERS’ FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW. She spiraled into depression, eating emotionally and gaining weight and worrying her doctor. Thompson was sick of apartment life and neighbors who didn't seem to care about the property where they lived when she applied, and was approved, to become a homeowner with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.  'I knew financially, I couldn't afford a house the traditional way,' says Thompson. 'And what I mean by that: Where can you get a house with no interest built from the ground up? So I went through the program and I got approved.'  Atlanta Habitat for Humanity offers qualified applicants the opportunity to build and buy a quality, affordable, energy-efficient home in select neighborhoods with a 30-year, zero-interest mortgage. So armed with the organization's financial and home education classes, her savings, and backed by hundreds of volunteer hours of what Atlanta Habitat calls her 'sweat equity,' Thompson plunged ahead. She was thrilled to learn that her her home's sponsor was Clark Howard, the consumer guru whose advice she and her late mom always follow and whose other Atlanta Habitat home builds she admits 'stalking' during the process, dreaming about what could be hers one day, how she'd decorate, what color appliances she wanted.  'He's the number-one people want as their sponsor,' she confides.  The acceptance into Atlanta Habitat's program also gave her hope and permission to dream. She set goals and began taking care of herself again and looking forward to the future.  In January of 2016, Thompson began building her home alongside volunteers. She remembers pounding in the first nail of what would be her three-bedroom, two-bath ranch home--or at least, trying to--and her son laughing at her attempt.  'You put the first nail into your foundation at the warehouse,' Thompson explains. 'Simple job! Just nail it, just tap.  'I missed the entire nail and everything. And he said, 'You had one job to do, Mom! One job!'' she laughs. 'You start, you build, you paint. The only thing I didn't do to my house was the insulation. That's itchy.'  For eight Saturdays that winter, Thompson and various teams of volunteers worked on the house; the only weather that stops construction is dangerously hard rainstorms. And every day on her way home from work, Thompson would drive by her lot, park, and marvel at the way the house was coming along.  As it turns out, Howard's sponsorship made for special bonuses in the house.  'I had Clark. With him, I got an additional dishwasher, and garbage disposal, and ceiling fans in the bedrooms, and mattresses. Different perks. And that's something he got his sponsors to do, which was awesome!  'When I say he's highly sought, it's like, 'I gotta time it because he builds in January! I want him!'' Thompson laughs. 'Trust me, he is. And he was a joy. Every Saturday he was out here with us, in the cold, too, and I enjoyed it.'  Through all that, she says, she was delighted to know that Clark Howard is the same person in person that he appears to be on TV. A friend who was one of the volunteers on her home asked excitedly, 'Do you think it'll be possible if I ask him some questions?' It was. Clark answered every one of her friend's queries. She was sad that her mom was no longer around to meet him.  While Atlanta Habitat also rehabs homes and provides repairs for some, Thompson says she wouldn't have traded the new-construction experience for the world.  'It's the longest eight weeks of your life, to a person who's ready to move in! But it's so worth it,' Thompson says.  When Dedication Day came, Thompson was excited and happy. She spent the first night in her new home without any bed covers, which she'd forgotten to buy. But waking up in the chilly new home of her own was worth it, she says, as she listened to the creaks and cracks of the new home settling. She walked around and gazed at everything, grateful, because 'I really never thought I'd be able to afford a home.' Asked to compare that joyful feeling to something else, she says it was equal only to 'the day I had my son.' Melissa Thompson can't say enough good things about Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.  'I speak highly of it because it is a good program. It helps a lot of people to have a home. I know it's a lot of people out there who probably feel like I felt: 'Couldn't afford a home.' And you can. You really can,' says Thompson. She says people don't always know what Habitat has to offer.  'They think you're getting this little basic house and then when they come in my house, they're blown away. I'm like, 'What did you think I was getting?!' I got a three-bedroom, two-bath house with yard. Now I've got two girlfriends applying for the program.'  She believes that she would still be able to meet her house payment even if her job circumstances took a turn for the worse, and she credits the program for that.  'Thirty years seems like a long time, but it's 30 years that I can pay my mortgage,' she says. Thompson loves Atlanta Habitat so much that she says if she comes into money, she's going to sponsor builds herself. She's already convinced the higher-ups at her job to sponsor one.  While her ranch home's walls can't talk, she has a story about each one, remembering the people who helped put them up and paint them along the way.  'When I say I love my house, I really love my house,' says Thompson. 'It's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for it. I sit out there on that porch and one day if you're riding by, you might see me out there. I sit out on the porch and we have the grill going and we just have a good time.'  Thompson was healthier, bringing her family together again, hosting a holiday dinner late that year. Her doctor was once again happy when she went for checkups. Today, nearly four years later, she describes herself as 'at peace.'  'That's why I say Habitat saved me,' Thompson says. 'And I truly believe that.' This year, Howard is building three houses with Atlanta Habitat, starting Jan. 16. The homes will be built in Sylvan Hills alongside three home-buyers and hundreds of volunteers over the next eight Saturdays.
  • 'Tis the season to be bawly. At photographer Jeff Roffman's Atlanta studio, tots' temper tantrums don't elicit lectures; they elicit laughs. Asher Powell, 1, sat stoically on Santa Clause's lap for the first part of his photo session. But as his face began to crumple, and he began to pout and cry, the adults gathered around watching smiled and chorused happily, 'There we go!' Roffman's camera snapped away. Asher gazed alternatively up at Santa and over at his parents, as someone fed his dog peanut butter to get the pose just so. After the photo session was over, Asher's mom and dad said they were happy. 'Captured the real Asher. He's not always happy all the time,' said Joey Powell. He says the crying photos are the 'quintessential Jeff Roffman thing.'  'Everybody was all excited about his crying,' said Elizabeth Powell. 'I just wanted to run over and grab him!' 'Was it hard?' WSB's Veronica Waters asked. 'Yes! Especially when he was making the sad little face at the end,' Powell replied. 'But we got some good smiles.' 'Makes for good photos,' Joey Powell said.    Stephanie Boyea calls it 'the truth of parenting. It's not all fun and games,' she laughs, a perspective repeated by several parents talking to a reporter about why these crying photos are so in demand. Lindsey Torrens says she's been dealing with the terrible twos with son Chase, so she admits to being disappointed--and 'completely shocked'--when he sat happily for his photos without one tear. 'After a certain age it's just smiles, so it's good to get those crying moments, that toddler face. Exactly what every mom deals with all the time,' she laughs. Roffman never expected kids-crying-with-Santa photos to become such a hot trend. When he began his Santa sessions, he thought it was a disaster when 'the kids screamed bloody murder. But the parents loved the crying photos.  'Over the couple of years that we were posting on social media, we were getting the reaction from the crying ones more than the laughing ones,' Roffman says. 'At some point I just said, 'You know what? I'm just going to take a leap of faith and put in the crying ones.' And that's when things really took off.' There were millions of clicks on the photos, and parents clamored to get an appointment at his Poncey-Highland studio. It's mostly the children between one and three years old, says Roffman, who will get weepy. Like Roffman, Santa tells WSB that it tugs at his heartstrings to see the kids cry. 'Yeah, I've welled up a couple of times,' Santa says. 'But the children, they'll be fine within a moment or two and then we're high-fiving each other.' Santa retired from Lockheed-Martin in February, and says he felt he had a calling to do this, so he grew his snow-white hair and beard long and ended up working joyfully in Roffman's studio.  'It just amazes me that I'm a native Atlantan who aspired to be a Phipps Plaza Santa, and now Phipps Plaza parents are bringing their kids to see me!'  Now, parents ask to be on Roffman's 'Naughty List,' a compilation he posts about every two weeks of the best runners and pouty faces.  Atlanta photographer Jeff Roffman details why his photos of kids crying with Santa are so dynamic 'When they get on the Naughty List, it's like they won the lottery. And it's fun to see how they play on the kids' emotions [on their family Christmas cards]. When they have siblings, they have one kid that's nice, and one that's naughty. I love the ones they send and the kid's crying their heads off and they write 'Joy' at the bottom.” Listen to Roffman’s breakdown of what separates him from your standard mall Santa photo op by clicking the link below. It's not unusual for children to cry when placed on the lap of a bearded stranger in red and white, but Roffman says the way he takes the pictures--the lens, distance, and perspective--adds something different and dynamic to the piece of Americana that seemed relegated to far-away shots of kids with mall Santas. Forget 'You better not cry, I'm telling you why.' Parents hoping for a pout from their well-behaved babies even pretend to walk out, saying, 'Bye,' and are disappointed when the kids stay all smiles, waving back happily. Before and after the photos sessions, kids and families can enjoy warm and cold drinks--cocoa for kids, beer and mimosas for adults--and activities, including a snow pit and a long cookie decorating table. The decor changes from year to year, taking months to prepare. And Roffman reveals that the studio bought about 26,000 cookies this year.  Roffman tells the parents disappointed over a non-crier that if their kid happens to fall in the snow pit while playing or gets otherwise tantrumy while there, to bring them back over immediately and plop them in Santa's lap so they can capture the picture. Parents do. Jetrin Carlton, 1, didn't need any help. He wailed for long minutes in his photo session. 'It was awesome,' said his mom, Ashley Carlton. 'I mean, your heart feels a little pitter-patter because they're upset, but you know that the memories will be forever, and he'll laugh about it when he is older. 'It's easier when you're right there and you can get him,' she added. Jet's dad, Vor, was proud of his son's performance and looks forward to the photos of the 19-month-old dashing away from Santa as Roffman's camera lens aims upward at the boy's outstretched arms. 'Oh, it was glorious!' he says. 'The crying? It was all I asked for. The more tears, runny nose? Perfect.' Roffman's three-minute sessions sell out within minutes, a year in advance. Sometimes kids surprise him and their parents. One even proudly held up both middle fingers for his photos. Six years in, Roffman says, he finally got a first. 'I've always had a single-bubble booger. And this year, I mean it was like magic. The kid was so happy and just had the largest two booger bubbles in their nose. I got such accolades on that on Facebook.'  Roffman says he takes about 30,000 photos a day during Santa season. 'We probably saw about 7,000 kids this year,' he says. 'So I've had a lot of therapy.'  Roffman is available at 404-437-7437 or jeffroffman.com.
  • Let's not turn Cyber Monday into Porch Pirate Tuesday.' That's the advice from Marietta Police spokesman Chuck McPhilamy, as the first weekday shopping day after Black Friday was expected to ring up more than $9 billion in online sales, according to Adobe Analytics.McPhilamy is urging buyers to send incoming packages to places other than their homes, if no one will be available to immediately bring them inside and out of a thief's reach. He also suggests that buyers request delivery verification through signatures.'Our goal is to make sure that you ship safe,' says McPhilamy. 'Ship it to someone that will be able to be there to sign for it.' Having something delivered to a neighbor who works from home could be convenient for some. Other options include having a package sent to your workplace, to the Post Office, or to a shipping store or distribution hub for you to pick up later.Signature deliveries can cost extra money, and other options may give buyers a bit of an extra commute, but McPhilamy says it's worth it to keep your packages out of crooks' hands.'All of these are items that might cost a dollar or two more for the package, because it's slowing down the driver and requiring a little more time.But the value of that is worth its weight in gold.
  • For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to gather 'round the table with family. A soldier from Atlanta is one of the many military members who has to celebrate far from home and family this year.  'You have a different type of a family here,' says Army Specialist Zachary Taylor.  Taylor, an aircraft powerplant repairer with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, spends his duty hours rebuilding engines on Apache, Blackhawk, and Chinook helicopters. In the military for 2.5 years now, he's already on his second overseas deployment--and his second Thanksgiving away from home.  >>LISTEN TO VERONICA WATERS’ FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW. A Soldier of the 3rd Infantry Division, with its home base at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, Taylor spent a year in Korea from 2018-19. Then, he shipped out again in early October--right after his wedding. He's now in Illesheim, Germany.  'Even though it's hard being away from home, it's something you gotta do for the bigger picture,' Taylor tells WSB.  As proud as Taylor is to serve his nation, this Thanksgiving is different. Not only does he miss the traditional feast and warm fun of his close-knit family, now, he's a newlywed.  'We're learning to love each other from a distance,' he says, talking about the frequent video calls he and his wife, Jessica Kettell, share. Kettell is an ICU nurse at Grady Memorial Hospital.  For Spec. Taylor, missing his family is easily the hardest part of being away from home. He and his fellow soldiers are all going through the same thing, he says, and though they all empathize with one another, it takes time to build personal relationships.  'It's a camaraderie-type of a family,' says Taylor, 'people that come from all different places of the world that you don't really know, but the only thing that you really have in common is your line of work and what you're going through together. You have to build off of that versus knowing someone your entire life.'  The 2010 graduate of Chapel Hill High School in Douglasville says the military helps with that in the way they help soldiers celebrate. The Army plans a huge Thanksgiving feast, with games and fun touches ranging from cake decorating to cornhole contests to charades. It's good, Taylor says, yet nothing compares to being home: being with family; being able to get in your car and drive somewhere; being treated to a really good home-cooked meal and the love shared with it. 'Being in the military, you're connected because you have to be connected. It's a different type of love,' he says.  In 2018, the wide-ranging menu for troops overseas and on the border included more than 60,000 pounds of turkey, some 34 tons of shrimp, more than 81,000 pies and 19,000 cakes, and nearly 8,000 gallons of eggnog. Traditionally, Army commanders serve junior personnel during the Thanksgiving feast by dishing up dinner.  'Seeing your superiors and stuff like that, you're seeing them more on a personal level than professional level,' says Taylor. 'So it's nice to have that type of experience during the holidays of, 'Hey, we all wear the same uniform at the end of the day. Regardless of what your rank is, we're all in this together, and we're all family.''  On the phone in his XO's office, 27-year-old nearly swoons when describing the missed, tasty tradition making him the most homesick over the holiday.  'Ahhh, man. That would have to be my mother's stuffing that she makes. It's always just perfect with the turkey and everything that goes together with it. It's almost as good as Christmas dinner,' he laughs. 'The smell of the cookies. She always goes through baking tons of different types of cookies around this time of year and it's just absolutely wonderful. The smell of it, the aura that you get with it is completely seasonal and probably the thing I miss the most.'  Taylor is thankful for family, who stay connected to him even though he's six hours ahead and almost 4,800 miles away; and friends, who help the new husband keep the romance going in his absence in the home, by delivering flowers to his new wife. He says Kettell has been working long hours in hopes of being able to flying to Germany during the Christmas holiday season, and she's already excited about seeing the vibrant markets. He's looking forward to what he's heard will be a beautiful winter near Illesheim, and hoping for a white Christmas so he can snowboard.  'She's going to be the best Christmas present I could ask for, coming over here,' says Spec. Taylor.
  • An outraged and heartbroken mother has seen video of her son banging on the door, calling for help, and then dying in the Rockdale County, GA jail after being locked up for nine days for misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Atlanta attorney Mawuli Davis says an anonymous whistleblower sent them video of Shali Tilson’s final eight hours alive in a solitary confinement cell, one without a bed, toilet, or running water.  A lawsuit in the 22-year-old’s death contends he died in March 2018 of blood clots in his lungs caused by dehydration.  It names Rockdale County, Sheriff Eric Levett and several deputies and has been amended to include details from the videos.  Tilson had been arrested as he was in the midst of a mental health crisis on March 3, Davis says, for allegedly trying to kick in a stranger’s door on Lakeview Drive. An incident report says Tilson was rambling, yelling profanities, and pacing back and forth.  He wriggled out of handcuffs the first time Rockdale County deputies tried to put him in the patrol car.  He was labeled “disruptive” and the lawsuit says Tilson was placed on “suicide watch” at the jail, which is meant to segregate mentally ill inmates into solitary confinement. Tilson lost more than 20 pounds during his nine days in custody and despite being on suicide watch, no doctor ever saw him, the lawsuit alleges. Tynesha Tilson tells WSB she felt as if she had to watch the video so she would know what her son went through in his final hours.   “He went through torture and agony,” she says, explaining that she wanted the video released so other people could see what her son endured. The video, while without audio, captures Tilson's desperate pleas for help and show him repeatedly pressing a call button that was not operational, trying to climb the door, and banging on the door before collapsing to the floor. Even though Sheriff's Department policy required him to be checked every 15 minutes, he lay motionless on the floor of his cell for more than two hours before jailers discovered him.  “We want the world to know what happened to Shali Tilson,” says attorney Harold Spence, “A young man who died naked, alone, afraid.” The cell remained brightly lit for 24 hours a day, says attorney Davis, who points out trash littering the floor of Tilson’s otherwise barren cell.  “The grate in the middle of the floor was where he was supposed to defecate and urinate,” says Davis.   On the day Tilson died, the lawsuit says, deputies pushed a food tray into Tilson’s cell at 4 p.m. and he pushed the broken buzzer 45 minutes later. He sat against the wall of his cell at 5 p.m. and lost consciousness minutes later. No one checked on Tilson from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. His mother says that was the hardest part to see. “When I watched Shali sit down on the floor and his back up against the door, and his head slump,” Mrs. Tilson says, her voice cracking.  “I watched his head slump and I watched him sit there in that same position for over three hours, I think it was?  “I watched my son take his last breath on video.”  Mrs. Tilson says the sheriff and the jailers should lose their jobs.  “They need to be in prison. They need to pay for this,” she says. The Rockdale County sheriff’s office declined to address the updated allegations specifically, when contacted, but a lawyer representing the county, the sheriff, and others named in the suit replied to an e-mail seeking comment. “In an effort to preserve the integrity of the judicial process and avoid any potential to bias jurors who may be asked to decide the case in the future, it is the policy of our office to avoid commenting on the substance of pending litigation against our clients. My clients have all filed motions to dismiss the federal lawsuit, and those motions remain pending,” attorney Jason Waymire tells WSB in a written statement. As lawyers played video clips for reporters on Wednesday, Mrs. Tilson and one of Shali’s sisters, Diamond, wept.  Shali’s mother excoriated the Rockdale County District Attorney Alisha Johnson, whom she contends has seen the video, too, for not taking action against the jailers.   “They treated my son worse than an animal! And you want to tell me what she saw, nobody’s being held accountable?” she said angrily. During an internal investigation, jail supervisor Sgt. Dan Lang admitted to falsifying the suicide watch logs to show the mandatory 15-minute checks. The next time anyone actually checked on Tilson was around 8:25 p.m., according to the lawsuit.  Davis points out that Lang is the same deputy who had been under investigation for taking guns from the agency’s evidence room and selling them to pawn shops for cash. He was transferred to the jail after that. “You can’t trust him with property, but you’ll put the lives of human beings under his care,” Davis says. “What kind of decision is that?”  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation examined the circumstances surrounding Tilson’s death and turned over its files to a district attorney who has convened a special grand jury to investigate Tilson’s death, Davis said. The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages and attorney’s fees. Davis contends someone should be held criminally responsible for Tilson’s death.   “This was essentially a death chamber. That’s what this amounts to.  A death chamber,” says Davis.
  • America's education gap is not just between white and black—it is between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ and a startling example of it is in Atlanta.  In a district of about 52,000 students, there is a lot to celebrate.  >>LISTEN TO VERONICA WATERS’ FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW. Once rocked by a cheating scandal, Atlanta Public Schools have seen graduation rates jump more than 20 points to 80 percent in the past five years.  “The struggle is real. The lift is intense,” says Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen.  Still, Dr. Carstarphen tells The Atlanta Journal Constitution Editorial Board, more work is left to do—and socioeconomics matter.  “The last Census data said that the average white family made $167,087 a year [in median income], compared to the average black family [at $23,803],” Carstarphen says.  That income inequality exacerbates the achievement gap traditionally cataloged between white and non-white students, and it shows in test results. Take literacy, for example--the simple ability to read, write, and engage with language in meaningful communication.  The 2019 Georgia Milestones test assessment of English Language Arts finds students’ proficiency rate under 40%. The stunning gap between black and white students is almost 60 percent. Eighty percent of white students in APS are proficient and above; the number is 25.3 percent for black students—and the district is majority black.  “When you start pulling back poverty; when you pull back race, there’s the gap,' says Carstarphen. 'And we’ve closed the gap over five years. We’ve been chipping away at it, closing it, but that still means it’s sitting at 58.8 percent.”  The statistics showing improving ELA proficiency in APS indicates that Atlanta could be bucking the national trend in that area when it comes to the widening achievement gap. But the gap is staggering.  In fact, white students in APS are beating the nation, while their black classmates are lagging behind. The more affluent the family, the larger the academic achievement gap.  'White kids are 2.9 grade levels ahead of the average in America,' says Carstarphen. 'Our black kids are 1.5 [behind]. But when you take APS black kids and APS white kids and put them side by side, that means the gap in grade levels is [almost] 4.5 grade levels.'  Carstarphen explains that the academic achievement gap is closely tied to inequity—not just in Atlanta, but nationwide.  “It is a sobering statement about the state of affairs for black and brown kids, compared to non-minority kids in America,” Carstarphen says.  Richer parents have more time and money to invest in their children, exposing them to more academically-enriching vocabularies and experiences. Atlanta's is a district where millionaire families live just a few miles from those in poverty, and the superintendent notes the stark differences.  “When you’re in the neighborhoods, walking, and I mean you’re in it, the living conditions for our kids and housing is appalling,” Carstarphen says, adding, “The mobility is like 30-40 percent; people chasing low rents, just trying to make ends meet.  “Food deserts is another piece to it. They don’t have access to transportation.”  Carstarphen points out that three of the poorest schools in Georgia are all in Atlanta: Boyd Elementary, Thomasville Heights, and Fain Elementary.  “It is why we didn’t close Thomasville Heights,” Carstarphen explains. “If I closed it and sent them somewhere else, those families would never see their kids.  “Never have an opportunity to go to PTA meetings and be involved in the school.”  Carstarphen believes the answer lies--in part--in investing in the communities themselves, not in a neighborhood already overflowing with development. She questions why tax abatements are given to developers who sometimes admit that they'll go ahead with a project whether they get the tax break or not, when the project in in question is, say, another fancy hotel in an area that already has five or 10 of them--while other neighborhoods saddled with low wages and few job opportunities sit untapped.  “Over here in south Atlanta, where we know there are no jobs, no investment, very little at best,” Carstarphen says, “We want to try to shift some of the resources to the very families who make up the majority of Atlanta Public Schools; the communities where they live. Get them a grocery store, help them with housing, get some job development down there. Maybe some transportation?”  Community investment creates opportunity, capital, resources, and training in disadvantaged and under-served communities. It is a way to start breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. The superintendent recalls hearing a high-profile company in a development meeting discussing a potential opportunity for 5,000 jobs; she says there are 5,000 parents in Atlanta who would need them. Those worlds will never meet at this rate, she says, because kids and their families need the education and training to step into better-paying jobs.  'You have to be literate enough to at least learn the job,' she states.  That could go a long way for families in Atlanta, which is the most unequal city in America when it comes to income disparity.  Carstarphen says, 'The question that Atlanta has to ask itself, whether you're sitting in a school bus, on the school board, or in one of these board rooms: Do we have the moral courage to do the right thing for black kids, poor kids--and even white kids could be doing better in Atlanta--but for all of our kids? Are we willing to do that?'  For her part, Carstarphen looks forward to staying in Atlanta, if the school board renews her contract which is up in June 2020. The superintendent and the board this year have been working on policy to right years of 'historic inequity' in APS.  'I'm committed. I want to see the job through for a city that I love.
  • Shaye Marie Sauers Kilby has a butterfly tattooed on her hip.  'I had it done after my scoliosis surgery,' she says, 'And my mom was like, 'You want a tattoo after all you've been through? That's weird.'”  'It's a good memory,' smiles Shaye Marie.  She's looking at a photo of herself as a toddler, cropped from a larger picture showing her being held by former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski.  The butterfly on the flyer, which was the model for the one on her hip, is the logo of the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, founded by Shaye's parents, Sheila and Rick Sauers, in 1983. Their daughter had been diagnosed at Egleston with medullablastoma, a malignant brain tumor on the cerebellum, in 1980 when she was just five months old. The prognosis was grim: Shaye was given just a 2% chance of living another six months. The Sauerses dug into medical books and sought out advice and support, but there wasn't a lot of it at that time--so the BTFC was born. It was a place where parents going through the same thing with their children could find support, information, and advice. The BTFC grew into a source that provided financial assistance for those families in the southeast. Bartkowski spent time as a spokesperson for the foundation. In the meantime, Shaye was surviving. Photos show her blonde-eyed and smiling, whether posing in a studio or beaming from a hospital bed. She doesn't have much memory at all of her cancer fight, seemingly having purposely blocked it out, and is learning a lot of her own story now, as a 39-year-old adult.  'I wanted to find out how it feels to be about to hit the big four-oh, knowing that as a baby, your parents were told, 'This little girl is not going to make it,'' asks WSB's Veronica Waters.  'I would say pretty freaking awesome,' Shaye Marie says.  Shaye says her sense of humor helps define her, and says her father taught her to laugh, even as a baby. As a child, she idolized comedienne and actress Gilda Radner, who fought cancer herself, and rehearsed Radner's routines to amuse herself and emulate Gilda's positivity.  She's a two-time cancer survivor.  'The cancer came back again when I was [9] as bone cancer, from the radiation,' she says. 'The radiation that I was given at the time they don't even give a child today. It was cobalt radiation, which was the highest dose they could ever give a child.' She says she's actually just now learning her history--having blocked most of it out as a child, not wanting to hear her mom talk about it as a teen, not wanting to feel different than the other kids her age, wanting to fit in with everybody else. In the past year, she's started combing through two big binders that document her medical history.  She remembers only snippets which she says are like scenes from a silent movie: “terrifying” spinal taps; a stay in the ICU; nicknaming the staffers who sometimes drew her blood as 'vampires;' the MRIs that she said 'sounded like a bad rock & roll concert,' in which her mom Sheila would sometimes get fussed at for grabbing Shaye's hand and tracing the phrase, 'Love you more' with her fingertip in her daughter's hand, wiggling her in the machine.  That's Shaye Marie's second tattoo, inked inside a bracelet on her left wrist. She loves that one, and says it shows 'pure determination. It shows somebody that can beat the odds of anything. I consider this not part of a bracelet, but like a lifeline.' She doesn't cover that one up any longer, the way she did at her 2015 wedding.  Shaye Marie says she's learning who she is now, and is no longer blocking it out; she's proud of what she came through.  She tells WSB that the idea for the BTFC was broached in the very same room at Emory where she would meet her future husband, Darren Kilby, decades later in a brain injury group meeting.  'Did you know when you met Darren that he was the one, right then?' Veronica asks.  'Pretty much when I asked him out, yes!' Shaye Marie laughs.   She estimates they dated perhaps six months before getting engaged, both all too aware of the importance of seizing the moment. Darren had suffered a brain injury from a head-on collision, but Shaye says they were seeing a lot of people pass on.  'We just knew that time goes by so fast, and we were losing every survivor that was around my time zone, especially...with the Brain Tumor Foundation there were a lot of my friends that were dying. He and I were both like, we need to do something,' says Shaye.  The night they were carting cupcakes in to celebrate the news of their engagement with their support group, Shaye Marie's sense of humor was on full display. She giggles as she recalls saying, 'I don't remember if I told our brain injury group we're engaged or not. Well, it doesn't really matter because we're all brain-injured and none of us are going to remember if we say it again!'  Shaye had several surgeries and hospitalizations, including two bouts of spinal meningitis. One snippet of memory involves her parents saying that one of her shunts had infiltrated her heart. She says a doctor doing an exploratory surgery used a hanger to get it out.  'My mom and dad both remember the doctor coming out with the coat hanger with my shunt on it,' she demonstrates, holding up her arm. 'It was like a fishing rod. He was so excited.'  She had a scoliosis surgery at 15, in which she had two rods implanted in her back.  'I'm a lot of fun to take through the metal detector,' she jokes.  She also deals with the autoimmune disease lupus and has endured some balance and coordination problems as a result of what she calls her harsh, but lifesaving medical treatment as a child. Her adult life includes regular doctor's visits and check-ins for one thing or another. But she doesn't let any of it faze her. In fact, she makes clear that hope is in her blood.  'I actually have the blood type of B positive,' she smiles.  Shaye Marie now volunteers multiple days a week at the hospital which helped save her life, saying it was God's calling that brought her to donate her time at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.  'Hope gives you the strength to move on. Hope gives you the ability to go through everyday life. You always hope things will get better. You always hope that if you you're ill, you'll get better. It's a very powerful word, and without it, you'd be lost,' says Shaye Marie.  'Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is a wonderful place to be. They saved my life almost 40 years ago. Parents, I know are scared; I've seen parents that are unbelievably scared when they come through the emergency room when they walk as fast as they can I know that they are wondering what's wrong with their child. I think kids are in the best place they can be. This place is absolutely wonderful. I've had the best number of doctors and people that have helped me along the way. I just think it's a wonderful place to give people hope that there is hope.”
  • The man shot after trying to defuse a road rage incident is alive and hospitalized as the search for his shooter continues. The dust-up took place Monday morning, July 22, near the intersection of Rockbridge Road and South Indian Creek Drive around 8:15. The victim was actually a pedestrian bystander who stepped in to try to calm down the occupants in each of the vehicles. 'One of the vehicles drove off and turned around and came back. A passenger in that vehicle got out and fired several shots at the victim, striking him in the head. That vehicle then fled the scene,' says DeKalb County Police Sgt. Jacques Spencer.
  • Technology helped track a prolific thief in Sandy Springs. Police believe Matthew Robert Brown, 34, may have unknown numbers of identity theft victims nationwide. On July 9, a Ring doorbell camera recorded video of a porch pirate tiptoeing away with someone's package from a neighborhood near Peachtree Dunwoody Road. Another resident's package was stolen from a house a little over a mile away. The thief could be seen getting into a light-colored SUV and driving away.  The neighborhood had installed a Flock Safety tag reader camera, which captured the suspect’s vehicle and tag number.  Sandy Springs Police Sgt. Sam Worsham says police paired that information to have the Flock system send officers an alert if that license plate was captured on another camera. Days later, it was. Officers responded to an alert from a city Flock camera that the SUV was driving near Roswell Road and pulled Brown over on July 15. Brown gave police a phony ID, says Worsham. Officers figured out who he was, though, and found that he had outstanding warrants in Atlanta and in Fulton County for identify theft, fraud, and burglary.  'We did find in the vehicle eight credit cards with different names, 17 piece of mail with different names, drugs in the car,' says Worsham. 'We currently have him booked in Fulton County Jail on 34 warrants.' They had no way of immediately knowing that Brown was the person they'd been hunting in connection with a big ID theft case out of Michigan back in April. Sandy Springs Police were contacted then by an American Express investigator who said a customer's credit card had been stolen and used online to buy a $59,000 piece of artwork that was shipped to an address in the city. 'The person had used a false name to obtain an apartment, and at the time that the officers and detectives started to catch up with him, had already been evicted,' Worsham says.  An eagle-eyed investigator noticed that the name used to buy the SUV that Brown--the suspected package thief--was driving was the same as the name police had been given in the April probe. 'Officer Hunt noticed that the name was the same and put two and two together and said, 'Oh, this guy's kind of running an identity theft ring,'' Worsham says.  A search warrant at Brown's last known residence revealed a treasure trove of potential stolen identities. 'We have boxes and boxes of mail, [and] several possible credit cards in other people's name,' says Worsham. 'We are anticipating more and more victims coming forward and saying that they were also a victim of Mr. Brown's and that they've had their identities stolen and used.' Worsham says investigators would likely have caught up with Brown anyway, but that the camera technology gave them a big break--not only giving them a look at the suspect but at his vehicle--and helped it happen sooner. 'Using the camera system and the license plate readers, it's kind of a force multiplier. It's sort of like electronic surveillance,' says Worsham, who adds that criminals may be less likely to strike if they suspect their actions may be captured on video in many different places. 'It's very helpful to us. It benefits the neighborhoods. It's kind of a good all-around technology. It may actually in the future begin to prevent crime because people know, 'I'm going to get caught.'' 
  • Veronica  Waters

    Reporter

    Veronica Waters is an anchor and reporter for News/Talk WSB. She is also the staff expert on legal affairs and the courts. In 2007, the Radio-Television News Directors Association named Waters' series on "Snaring Internet Predators" best in the region with an Edward R. Murrow award for Investigative Reporting.She has been honored by several professional organizations for news and sports feature reporting, and was named in 2003 as the Atlanta Press Club's Radio Journalist of the Year. Waters has covered an assortment of high-profile cases from Mayor Bill Campbell's corruption trial to the murder trials of activist-turned imam Jamil Al-Amin and of former DeKalb County, GA Sheriff Sidney Dorsey.She served as the station's correspondent for the murder trial of accused "Black Widow" Lynn Turner, and the death penalty case of double murderer Stacey Humphreys. One of the biggest legal cases in Atlanta history involved the notorious Gold Club racketeering trial. Waters covered this unfolding drama not only for WSB Radio and radio stations throughout America, but also for a worldwide audience on BBC Radio. Waters joined WSB in 1997 as an anchor and reporter. She began her journalism career at the Southern Urban Network and Mississippi Network in Jackson, MS. Waters attended Alcorn State University and Mississippi State University, and enjoys cheering for the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

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  • For four days, authorities had been tirelessly combing through country backroads and woodlines across three Middle Georgia counties in hopes of finding a missing Fort Valley State University student. On Tuesday, deputies stumbled across her car’s detached bumper 150 feet off a two-lane Crawford County road. Next to it, partially hidden under an assortment of sticks, was the young woman’s body. DeMarcus Little, the boyfriend of 23-year-old Anitra Lashay Gunn, was arrested late Tuesday and named a person of interest in her death by police. “I think it’s pretty common sense who our person of interest is,” Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon after discovering the body. “It’s the boyfriend. We’ve talked to him three times.” Little was charged with criminal damage to property, but he does not face charges in connection with her death. Fort Valley police added that more charges could be forthcoming. The investigation began after Gunn, who graduated from Westlake High School in south Fulton County, stopped returning her family’s and friend’s calls and texts Friday morning. The last person she spoke to was her father, Christopher Gunn, who called to wish his daughter, a senior agriculture major, a happy Valentine’s Day. Since she rarely went hours without messaging them, her family immediately became worried. A search of Gunn’s apartment initially found no sign of forced entry, but further investigation revealed that her windows had been smashed, police said. RELATED: Search for missing college student from Fulton County enters another day Her friend, India King, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she would never leave her cat and dog alone without food. “(These are) all red flags that make us more concerned on her whereabouts,” King said in a message Monday as the search continued. Gunn’s case is eerily similar to the October disappearance of Clark Atlanta University student Alexis Crawford. Crawford, 21, was a senior and lived in an off-campus apartment. Family members became alarmed when they were unable to reach her. A week after her family reported her missing, Crawford’s body was found in a DeKalb County park. Her roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend were charged with murder. Jordyn Jones, 22, and Barron Brantley, 21, both remain in the Fulton County jail. Peach County deputies’ first break in Gunn’s case was the discovery of her damaged Chevrolet Cruze that was left abandoned at a house off Belle Street. That’s about 4 miles from where the car’s bumper and her body were discovered. Her cellphone is still missing. The sheriff said shrubbery that was found in the front grill of her car led them to search nearby roads in Crawford, Peach and Taylor counties.  “They’ve been riding here for two days, going down any roadway they could get a car down or truck down,” Deese said of the search. “Like I said, we’d leave no stone unturned, but this was basically just pot luck.” The discovery of her body about 3 p.m. Tuesday raised several questions, which the sheriff pondered out loud. “We’re not saying it is a homicide, but the car shows up in Fort Valley,” he said. “It didn't show up by itself. She couldn’t have driven it there herself.” Deese did not provide further details about what was discussed during interviews with Little.  The sheriff previously said that Gunn was last seen at her boyfriend’s house about 3 a.m. Friday after the couple visited a Waffle House in nearby Byron about an hour earlier. Deese said her vehicle’s bumper was not damaged when they stopped for late-night grub. Her body was turned over to the GBI, which will perform the autopsy. No timeline for the autopsy’s completion was released. The investigation into her death is ongoing, and anyone with information is asked to contact the Fort Valley Police Department at 478-825-3384 or Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 877-682-7463 or 478-742-2330. — Staff writer Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.
  • Singer Harry Styles was unharmed after being robbed at knifepoint Friday night in London, authorities said. Styles, 26, the former One Direction band member, released “Fine Line,” his second solo album in December. He was approached by a man with a knife who “demanded cash,” E! News reported. London police officials confirmed they were investigating a knifepoint robbery in the Hampstead area of London, the BBC reported. Police said no arrests had been made and that an investigation was ongoing, the network reported. Earlier Friday, Styles stopped by “The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show” to cover Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” New Musical Express reported.
  • Ricky Leo Davis, who was convicted nearly 15 years ago of the murder of a newspaper columnist, has become the first California inmate to be exonerated by genetic genealogy, the same technology that identified the alleged Golden State Killer in April 2018. Davis, 54, was released Thursday from the El Dorado County Jail in Placerville after the same DNA evidence that proved he did not kill his housemate, Jane Anker Hylton, in July 1985, pointed to another man as the killer. Hylton, a 54-year-old mother and columnist for the Foothills Times, was stabbed 29 times and suffered a bite mark on her left shoulder, according to authorities. Saliva from that bite mark would ultimately solve the case. Davis, who was convicted in the 20-year-old case in August 2005, is the second inmate in U.S. history to be freed using genetic genealogy, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Simply put, Ricky Leo Davis did not kill Jane Hylton,” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said. Pierson announced the latest development in Davis’ case during a news conference Thursday. He also announced the arrest of the new suspect, who the Sacramento Bee identified as 51-year-old Michael Eric Green. CBS Sacramento reported Green was arrested outside his Roseville home, where neighbors said he’d spent much of his life living with and caring for his parents. Green was one of three young men Hylton’s then-13-year-old daughter told investigators she’d met in a park the night her mother was slain. She identified the boys by first names only: Calvin, Michael and a third boy named either Steve or Brian. Green, who was a juvenile when Hylton was killed, was arrested Tuesday in Placer County. He was booked Friday into the El Dorado County Jail on a murder charge, according to jail records. Pierson said the other two boys Hylton’s daughter named the morning her mother’s body was discovered have also been tracked down. One has since died and the other is cooperating with the investigation. The prosecutor said the new developments in the murder case were “two of the most dramatic extremes” he’d experienced in his 28 years on the job. “On one hand, a person, Ricky Davis, was falsely accused, brought to trial, convicted and has spent the last 15-some years in custody for a crime that I can tell you, in all confidence, he did not commit,” the prosecutor said. “It’s not a matter of we don’t have sufficient evidence to move forward on it or to proceed to a new trial. “In all confidence, he did not commit this crime. He is not responsible.” A brutal crime Davis, who was 20 when Hylton, 54, was killed, called police shortly after midnight July 7, 1985, after he and his girlfriend at the time, Connie Dahl, found Hylton’s body in the home they had just begun sharing, according to the Northern California Innocence Project. The home, located in El Dorado Hills, belonged to Davis’ grandmother, who the day before had allowed Hylton, who was her employee, and Hylton’s daughter to move in because the columnist was having marital trouble. “Davis and Dahl told detectives they had gone to a party the night before and returned home at 3:30 a.m., where they found Hylton’s daughter waiting outside,” the organization’s synopsis of Davis’ case reads. “She told them that she had gone out with a group of boys that night and was afraid her mother would be upset with her for being out too late. The three entered the house together. “Davis saw blood in the hallway outside the master bedroom and found Hylton’s body on the bed. Davis and Dahl immediately called 911 to report the crime.” Hylton’s estranged husband was cleared of the crime and the case eventually went cold. Fourteen years later, in November 1999, cold case detectives with the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office reopened the investigation and brought in Dahl for questioning. “The detectives interrogated Dahl four times over the next 18 months using techniques known to increase the chances of false confessions,” the case synopsis says. “Dahl ultimately changed her story for police and implicated Davis as the killer. She also implicated herself in the crime, telling the police that she bit the victim during the attack.” In addition, Dahl claimed Hylton’s daughter helped the couple move her mother’s body. Based nearly entirely on Dahl’s new claims, Davis was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, the synopsis states. Dahl, meanwhile, received a sentence of a year in county jail for her purported role in the crime. The Northern California Innocence Project became involved in Davis’ case in 2006, opening its own investigation into Hylton’s murder. With the cooperation of Pierson’s office, Davis’ attorneys sought DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene, including the victim’s nightgown and scrapings taken from under her fingernails. The testing found a man’s DNA on the nightgown in the area of the bite mark, the synopsis says. DNA found under the victim’s fingernails matched the sample from nightgown. “The test results excluded Davis, Dahl and Hylton’s daughter as the sources of the DNA,” according to the case synopsis. “The unknown male DNA profile found on the nightgown indicated that Dahl did not bite the victim, contrary to her testimony at trial.” Innocence Project attorneys went to court with the new evidence, successfully arguing in 2018 that the evidence would have likely resulted in a different outcome at Davis’ trial. Davis’ conviction was overturned on April 15, 2019, but prosecutors initially intended to retry him for Hylton’s slaying. Instead, Pierson’s office teamed up with the Sacramento County Crime Lab to use genetic genealogy to trace the unknown DNA to potential family members who had submitted their own genetic profiles to public websites. The process led detectives and prosecutors to Green. ‘Aggressive confession-driven interrogation tactics’ Pierson on Thursday highlighted the interrogation tactics he said led to Davis’ arrest and conviction more than two decades after Hylton was killed. In a court hearing at which Davis was officially set free, the prosecutor described Dahl’s questioning by two now-retired investigators as “aggressive, confession-driven interrogation.” In a snippet of Dahl’s interrogation transcript shared by Pierson’s office via video, a detective urged her to be the first to talk in the case. “So the train is coming through right now and, in my experience in law enforcement, the first one to jump on the bandwagon always gets the, always gets the easiest ride,” the unnamed detective said. “Right,” Dahl responded. Watch a video about the Jane Hylton case below. Editor’s note: The video contains crime scene footage that may be too graphic for some viewers. The detective then brought up the bite mark on the victim’s left shoulder. “…whether Ricky brings it on you or you bring it on somebody else, have you ever been the type of person that, during a fight, you know, whether you scratch, hit, punch, have you ever bitten someone? Do you ever bite?” the detective asked. “I’ve bitten some,” Dahl responded. “I’ve bitten a couple of times. Yeah.” The next snippet shows Dahl saying she didn’t know if she’d bitten Hylton. “I don’t know if … I don’t believe that I have it in me to help do this,” she said. Eventually, Dahl confessed to biting Hylton and said Davis killed her. Dahl died in 2014, the Bee reported. Watch Thursday’s news conference announcing Ricky Davis’ exoneration below. According to the newspaper, which covered Davis’ hearing Thursday, Pierson told El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Melekian that the DNA evidence exonerating Davis led his office to go over the murder case again as though it had never been solved instead of trying to prove Davis was the killer. When Melekian turned toward Davis a short time later, he declared him “factually innocent.” Davis and his attorneys were emotional following the hearing, the Bee reported. One Innocence Project lawyer, Melissa O’Connell, thanked Davis for his “tremendous strength and resilience, and never giving up hope,” the newspaper said. Davis, who emerged from the jail shortly after 3 p.m., walked into a crowd of about two dozen family members and Innocence Project staff. They hugged him and welcomed him back into the outside world. “God bless the Innocence Project,” Davis said as he held up a T-shirt from the organization. Both his own lawyers and Pierson said Davis will likely be financially compensated for the time he wrongfully spent in prison. According to The Associated Press, that compensation, under California law, would equal $750,000, or $140 for each day he spent behind bars. Pierson talked after the fact about meeting face-to-face with Davis a few nights before his release. “It’s an interesting conversation, to meet with someone as a prosecutor and realize that this person has, in fact, been falsely accused, convicted and incarcerated,” Pierson said. “He said a number of things. He knew that we had made a commitment that we would follow up on it.” He said Davis referenced the amount of time it had taken to free him since the DNA evidence first indicated his innocence in 2014. “I had to tell him, in all candor, if this investigation had moved forward years ago, the technology did not exist, the techniques did not exist that were employed in this case to unwind it the way that we were able to do it now,” Pierson said. “I wish it had occurred sooner, that we could have gotten him out of custody sooner. The practical reality is it’s only been the past year and a half, two years that genetic genealogy to identify someone in these circumstances has been in existence.” O’Connell said she and her colleagues believed in Davis’ innocence since they took on the case, both because of his own claims and what they believe were coercive interrogation methods. She said it was amazing how composed Davis remained in court Thursday. “I asked him, ‘Did you ever think this day would come?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’” O’Connell said. “He never gave up hope, and he trusted that the system would undo this wrongful conviction.” Watch Pierson and O’Connell discuss Thursday’s developments below, courtesy of the Bee. © 2020 © 2020 Cox Media Group
  • A California man is accused of entering a home, where the residents said he was making scrambled eggs and eating flan while not wearing pants, authorities said. Carl Cimino, 61, of Desert Hot Springs, was booked into the Riverside County Jail on a charge of residential burglary Tuesday morning, according to arrest records. According to police, three people woke up at their home around 7:30 a.m. and heard banging and yelling in the kitchen. They found Cimino making scrambled eggs with bologna and ranch dressing and eating flan, The Desert Sun reported. According to deputies, Cimino was not wearing pants and refused to leave the residence, the newspaper reported. Deputies finally were able to remove Cimino after using a police service dog, according to the arrest report. Cimino was placed on a gurney and removed from the home by paramedics, according to The Desert Sun. According to jail records, Cimino was free on bail after being arrested Jan. 23 on a drug-related accusation, the newspaper reported. The home’s residents said they were not hurt and there was no damage. They believe Cimino entered the home through an unlocked door, according to The Desert Sun.
  • Nearly all the employees at Orlando’s religious theme park, Holy Land Experience, will lose their jobs this spring. A document sent to the city of Orlando on Monday shows that the theme park will lay off all its staff involved in its stage shows. The move comes after the park announced it will be “shifting the focus of the park away from entertainment and theatrical productions to focus on the Biblical Museum.” Park officials said the layoffs will take effect April 18. In total, according to the Federal Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification document sent to the city of Orlando, 118 jobs will be eliminated. The restructuring comes as a result of a “corporate wide ministry reorganization,” according to documents filed with the city.
  • A man with a metal detector made an explosive discovery when he found a live mortar from World War II Monday. Police said the munition was a remnant from when the area was used as a training ground during the war. The bomb squad determined the mortar was too unstable to be moved so it was detonated near where it was found. “The blast was heard from a distance, which caused alarm for many residents,” Lebanon police said on social media. “We appreciate everyone’s concerns and phone calls.” Authorities searched the area for more mortars before deeming it safe.