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State & Regional
In southwest Ga., towns and lives still damaged from Hurricane Michael
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In southwest Ga., towns and lives still damaged from Hurricane Michael

In southwest Ga., towns and lives still damaged from Hurricane Michael
Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Hurricane Michael survivors in Colquitt, Ga. John Edward Wells with wife Marianne Wells and their granddaughter Maddie. (Joshua Sharpe/joshua.sharpe@ajc.com)

In southwest Ga., towns and lives still damaged from Hurricane Michael

Southwest Georgia isn’t just hurt after Hurricane Michael — it’s changed.

A month after the storm struck on Oct. 11, residents are still living in hotels and seeking help to repair homes battered by mighty oaks and pines in the pounding 115 mph winds. People are trying to move on, though many must lead different lives in the bruised landscapes of Colquitt, Bainbridge, Blakely and Donalsonville, where they can hardly open their eyes without seeing something broken.

“This is not something people are going to get over in a few months or a few years,” said Miller County volunteer firefighter and farmer John Edward Wells, who is among the storm’s victims. It’s “life-changing.”

State legislators will convene Tuesday for a special session to, among other things, consider $270 million in funding for the recovery, much of it for removal of debris, which is still piled in giant mounds on roadsides all over the region.

Hurricane Michael killed more than 20 people, including one in Georgia — 11-year-old Sarah Radney, who died when the wind skipped off Lake Seminole and threw a metal post into her grandparents’ house.

Georgia farmers lost an estimated nearly $3 billion in ruined crops, including peanuts, pecans and cotton. The damage to homes was slow to be quantified, but vast.

More than 30,000 residents who had property damage, Wells included, have requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some 70,000 Georgians, Wells also included, have also filed residential and agricultural insurance claims. The USDA announced Monday it was offering food stamps for residents who normally aren’t eligible.

FEMA has opened help centers across a 20-county region declared a disaster zone by President Donald Trump, offering help with temporary housing, home repairs and replacing damaged property. In recent days, long lines were still forming at supply centers stocked with food, cleaning products, bottled water and the blue tarps seen atop more cracked roofs than anyone could ever count.

Though hurricanes tend to be judged in casualties, people across southwest Georgia know much of the impact is also more subtle, felt in small moments when they think of the memories tied up in a home now destroyed, or when they see their child despondent, or when they look around and realize their town is just different.

Destruction spreads

On the night of the storm, Wells, 61, was at the all-volunteer fire department, where he’s the assistant chief, in Colquitt. Like all the other towns in the region, the city is an old agricultural community. Outside of the rustic downtown it’s sparsely populated, with long lonely swaths of piney woods and farms speckled with houses and mobile homes.

Wells’ wife, family and more than 100 others sought shelter inside Colquitt’s First Baptist Church — thought to be the strongest structure in town. During the height of the storm, Wells recalls feeling stunned as he watched a carport tumbling, fast, toward the church until it suddenly got caught on a power line and stopped. As the winds howled, the steeple tore off, crashing into someone’s truck. Despite the scares, the big brick church kept everyone inside safe.

After the storm passed, Wells helped rescue residents trapped in their homes before he climbed in his pickup truck and drove through the blacked-out county to check on his place. He saw a massive red oak that had somehow lived long enough to grow more than 3 feet wide had finally found reason to fall — on his home, smashing through the roof and the brick walls. It destroyed a full third of the home, where he and his wife who died of cancer had raised their kids, where he now lived with his new wife.

Tears welled in his eyes.

‘Can’t believe that storm did this’

The next morning, daylight revealed devastation all over southwest Georgia, where most counties have poverty rates of between 20 and 40 percent — more than double the state average. With power out for days and in many cases nearly two weeks, residents took cold showers if they could find a place with water, and ate freeze-dried emergency meal kits delivered by National Guard troops.

Even now, when the debris has at least been removed from roads, the damage can’t be ignored.

At the Dairy Queen in Blakely, even if you treat yourself to a dipped cone, you’ll still look out the front window and see ancient pecan trees toppled against the sky, which seems endless with so much of the woods gone. If you’re Tamika Smith, a mother of three young daughters, you stand in the living room of your mobile home and see a hole big as a golf cart in the ceiling, and, in the yard, your girls can see their trampoline busted under a tree, accompanied by the neighbor kids’ busted trampoline.

Smith and about everyone she knows in Blakely have been relying on FEMA and other agencies for weeks for groceries, help with home repairs and untying the myriad other knots the storm tied for them in the days when they couldn’t work. This week, FEMA announced it was partnering with the state to hire residents in various positions to assist with relief efforts.

As stressful as the recovery has been for adults, it has been bewildering for children. Smith sees it in her 14-year-old, the oldest of the three girls.

“I see her staring at the ceiling every day — every day,” the mom said. “She looks up at it and says she just can’t believe that storm did this.”

Helping and asking for help

Renee Spence, a perpetual volunteer who wears a cross around her neck, agreed to manage a supply center stocked by FEMA and other agencies in Colquitt.

Her husband Toby, a Desert Storm veteran, said he felt taken back to Kuwait by the “war zone” Hurricane Michael left behind in Miller County. But the Spences felt lucky because their house stood up well. They’ve seen people still living in trailers crushed by trees. Everywhere they turn, they see neighbors who haven’t been able to return to normal for one reason or another.

The wife pulled out a log book at the supply center, showing more than 100 people have come by most days for canned goods, soap, bottled water.

“We went through the shock of what happened,” she said, suddenly stopping as tears formed, glistening on her eye shadow. “Now everybody’s adjusting.”

Outside, several dozen were in line.

A lot of people around here don’t like to ask for help, but a time comes for everyone.

Trauma continues

Generally speaking, Wells said he feels like a blessed man.

But he gets overwhelmed sometimes at the house, which is on a road lined with snapped pines, huge timber forests that were as good as money in the bank until Hurricane Michael. Wells lost 75 acres of pines he planned to harvest for his retirement.

The red oak crushed two bedrooms and their contents: beds, family pictures, trinkets, diplomas, Bibles. The home is where so many memories of Wells’ late wife are grounded, for him and especially their grown daughters, who feel like she’s a little more gone now. She died of colon cancer in 2005.

“I’d say this is probably the second worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Wells said in the front yard.

His wife Marianne walked over with their baby granddaughter, Maddie, who wore a big blue bow on her head and seemed to be smiling.

The couple, who are living at Marianne’s daughter’s place, talked about how fortunate they are to live in a small town where everyone lends a hand. They’re trying to remember to be thankful.

Wells extended a finger to Maddie’s face and smiled, cooing.


HOW TO HELP

FEMA encourages residents who want to help southwest Georgia residents to go through Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

• To make a financial donation, you can find a list of charities working in the area at gavoad.communityos.org.

• To offer goods, visit nvoad.org or contact the American Red Cross at offersdesk@redcross.org.

• To donate labor, contact one of the nonprofits on VOAD’s list directly or go through VOAD at nvoad.org.

In other news: 

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In southwest Ga., towns and lives still damaged from Hurricane Michael

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  • A California girl managed to avoid a man following her in a car as she walked through a Vacaville neighborhood by hiding behind a parked truck. >> Read more trending news  Home surveillance video captured the incident, which happened earlier this month, and shows the girl being followed by a dark colored Pontiac driven by an adult man. The girl is clearly trying to avoid the man as he repeatedly turns around and tries to approach her. Vacaville police Capt. Matt Lydon said when the girl first noticed she was being followed, she walked to a different neighborhood and the driver followed.  Trending: Children find their lost puppy hanging from noose in woods behind home “As she walked into the adjacent neighborhood, she saw the Pontiac again,” Lydon said, according to KRON-TV. “She hid behind a parked truck on the street as the male went up and down the street a couple of times attempting to get her attention and attempting to have a conversation with her.” The video shows the girl hide behind the truck as the car repeatedly drives by, backs up and stops as the driver tries to engage in a conversation with her. >> Trending: Opossum found living in 7-year-old’s bedroom for 3 days before parents find it  When the car appears to drive off, the girl takes off running. Police are hoping someone may be able to help identify the driver and the car.
  • Nine explosions hit multiple churches, hotels and other locations in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 300 people and injuring hundreds more, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. >> Read more trending news  The victims included at least four Americans, State Department officials said Monday. Here are the latest updates:  Update 11:30 p.m. EDT April 23: Police said the death toll in the Easter attacks has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58. The prime minister warned on Tuesday that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large. Update 1 p.m. EDT April 23: Sunday’s bombings claimed the lives of 45 children, officials with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund said Tuesday in a statement. “Many children have lost one or both parents, and countless children have witnessed shocking and senseless violence,” UNICEF officials said. More than 320 people were killed and 500 injured in the bombings. Update 7:11 a.m. EDT April 23: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the deadly Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, the Guardian and the Washington Post are reporting. The group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made a series of unsupported claims of responsibility. Update 5:55 a.m. EDT April 23: Sri Lankan officials said the death toll from Sunday’s bombings has risen to 321, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The news came as Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the attacks were “carried out in retaliation” for the deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand last month, according to The Associated Press. So far, at least 40 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, authorities said. Meanwhile, the country observed a day of mourning, including a three-minute moment of silence Tuesday morning. Mass burials also were held in Negombo, the Guardian reported. Officials have declared a state of emergency in Sri Lanka, giving military officials “enhanced war-time powers,” the AP reported. Authorities also are facing criticism amid reports that a top police official sent a letter April 11 to four security agencies warning that terror group National Towheed Jamaar was planning suicide bombings at churches, the AP reported. Update 9:45 p.m. EDT April 22: Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, issued a statement in response to the bombings.  “Today as a nation we mourn the senseless loss of innocent lives this past Easter Sunday. I would like to thank the military and police forces, the medical personnel and all those who have worked bravely and tirelessly without concern for their own safety, to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. It is imperative  that we remain unified as Sri Lankans in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.” A three-minute moment of silence for the victims of the explosions will be held at 8:30 a.m. local time, according to BBC reporter Azzam Ameen. Update 8 p.m. EDT April 22: The two Australians who officials said had been killed in the explosions have been identified by a family member. Sudesh Kolonne told Australian Broadcasting Corp. his wife, Manik Suriaaratchi, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexendria were killed in an attack in Negombo, which is north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Kolonne said he was outside when the explosion happened. “I heard a huge noise and I jumped into the church and I saw that my wife and my daughter were on the floor,” he said. “I just saw my daughter on the floor and I tried to lift her up, (but) she was already dead. And (then) exactly the same… next my wife is there.” Kolonne said he and his family moved from Melbourne to Sri Lanka in 2014 when his wife started a consultancy business.  “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “We used to go to that church every Sunday. We never expected this.” Update 4:50 p.m. EDT April 22: A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed to The AP that the agency is providing assistance with the investigation into the bombings. She would not provide specifics. Update 3:50 p.m. EDT April 22: In an email to parents, officials at Sidwell Friends, a private school in the Washington-area, confirmed one of their students was killed in Sunday’s bombings, The Washington Post reported. School officials identified the student as Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, a fifth-grade boy who had been on leave in Sri Lanka for the last year, according to the Post. “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year,” school officials said in the letter. “We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School.” State Department officials said earlier Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s attacks. Officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had also been killed in the bombings. Update 3 p.m. EDT April 22: Officials with the U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that at least four Americans were among the nearly 300 people killed in Sunday’s bombings in Sri Lanka. The department said that in addition to those killed, several others were seriously injured. Officials gave no details about the identities of the victims, citing privacy concerns. Earlier Monday, officials with the English education management company Pearson confirmed that one of the company’s Denver-based employees had been killed in the bombings. Pearson CEO John Fallon said Dieter Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel in Sri Lanka for a business trip. Update 2:10 p.m. EDT April 22: President Donald Trump said he spoke Monday to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after a series of bomb attacks in the country. In a tweet, Trump said he told Wickremesinghe “the United States stands by him and his country in the fight against terrorism.” “(I) also expressed condolences on behalf of myself and the People of the United States,” Trump wrote. Earlier Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed the government would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Update 1:50 p.m. EDT April 22: Sri Lankan President Maithrpala Sirisena declared April 23 a national day of mourning in a statement obtained Monday by The Associated Press. In the statement, Sirisena said he planned to meet with foreign diplomats to seek international assistance. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier Monday that the U.S. would provide “all possible assistance” to help in the investigation. Officials said nearly 40 foreign tourists from 11 countries were killed in Sunday’s attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.  Update 11:20 a.m. EDT April 22: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday mourned the victims of Sunday’s bomb attacks in Sri Lanka and promised the government would provide “all possible assistance” to Americans and Sri Lankans alike. Related: Sri Lanka attacks: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? “We urge that any evil-doers be brought to justice expeditiously and America is prepared to support that,” he Pompeo said. “We also stand with the millions of Sri Lankas who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please.” Pompeo confirmed that Americans were among those killed in Sunday’s attack, though he didn’t specify the number of American victims. “It’s heartbreaking that a country which has strived so hard for peace in recent years has been targeted by these terrorists,” he said. Related: Sri Lanka attack: Danish billionaire loses three of his four children in bombings Update 9:50 am. EDT April 22: A Denver man has been identified as one of the nearly 300 people killed Sunday in bombings in Sri Lanka, his employer confirmed Monday. Dieter Kowalski worked as senior leader of the operation technical services team for Pearson, an education management company. Though the company is based in England, Kowalski worked in Pearson’s Denver office, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.  “Colleagues who knew Dieter well talk about how much fun he was to be around, how big-hearted and full-spirited he was,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement shared with company employees and posted Monday on LinkedIn. “They tell of a man to whom we could give our ugliest and most challenging of engineering problems, knowing full well that he would jump straight in and help us figure it out. Dieter, they tell me, was never happier than cheer-leading for our customers and our company and inspiring people in the best way he knew how – by helping them to fix things and doing it with joy, happiness and grace.” Fallon said Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel Sunday for a business trip. Update 7:55 a.m. EDT April 22: Three children of Anders Holch Povlsen, who owns Bestseller clothing, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. The 46-year-old Danish billionaire, who is also the largest shareholder in ASOS, and his family were on vacation in Sri Lanka, the AP reported. Authorities said 39 foreigners were among the 290 people killed in Sunday’s attacks.  Meanwhile, a vehicle parked near St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the churches that was bombed Sunday, exploded Monday as police tried to defuse three bombs inside, according to the AP. At least 87 bomb detonators have been found in Colombo, officials said. Police have detained at least 24 suspects in connection with Sunday’s bombings. Update 5:15 a.m. EDT April 22:  Government officials said the National Thowheed, a Sri Lankan militant group, was responsible for Sunday’s deadly attacks, the Guardian is reporting. However, a government spokesman said an “international network” helped the attackers. Seven suicide bombers caused six of the nine explosions Sunday, a forensic analyst told The Associated Press. Authorities also said a second Chinese citizen and two Australian citizens were among those killed in Sunday’s attacks. So far, the dead include citizens of the United States, India, Britain, China, Australia, Japan and Portugal, the AP reported. Meanwhile, a Sri Lanka military official said crews defused a homemade pipe bomb discovered late Sunday on a road to the airport outside Colombo, the AP reported. Update 12:10 a.m. EDT April 22: The death toll in the bombings has increased to 290 and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. Among those killed are five Indians, who were identified in tweets from India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, The AP reported. China and Portugal also said they lost citizens, and the U.S. said “several” Americans were also killed in the bombings. The AP reported Sri Lankan officials said they would examine reports that intelligence failed to heed or detect warnings of a possible suicide attack.  “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence,” Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said in a tweet, according to The AP. “Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”  Update 9:50 p.m. EDT April 21: Japan has confirmed at least one citizen death and four injuries from the bombings. The country has issued a safety warning to Japanese people in the country, telling them to avoid mosques, churches and public places like clubs, malls and government offices, The AP reported. Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka and sent his condolences to victims of the explosions. He also said Japan was committed to “combating terrorism.” Update 5:40 p.m. EDT April 21: The Associated Press reported that, according to internet censorship monitoring group NetBlocks, social media has been blocked across the country after the attacks. Most services, including YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have been temporarily blacked out to curb false information spread, according to Sri Lankan officials. According to NetBlocks, such blackouts are usually ineffective. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Sri Lanka shuts down social media in wake of Easter attacks “We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms,” Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said in a statement to The AP. “People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.” Update 3:28 p.m. EDT April 21: Police have 13 suspects in custody, impounded a vehicle they believed was used by suspects and located a safe house used by the attackers.  Related: Photos: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens No one has claimed responsibility for what Sri Lankan officials have described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Update 9:28 a.m. EDT April 21: Police have so far arrested three people in connection to the blasts, The Guardian reported. A motive for the bombings is still unclear, investigators said.  Update 8:46 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 207 people were killed and 450 hurt in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Officials said eight blasts targeted three churches, three hotels, a guesthouse and an area near a Dematagoda overpass, the AP reported. Authorities reportedly have arrested seven people in connection with the incidents. Update 8:07 a.m. EDT April 21: Sri Lankan officials say at least 190 people, including at least 27 foreigners and two police officers, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the eight explosions, which rocked at least three churches and three hotels, as well as a guesthouse, officials said. Update 7:35 a.m. EDT April 21: President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to the Sri Lankan people Sunday morning. “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka,” Trump tweeted. “We stand ready to help!” Update 7:19 a.m. EDT April 21: Hours after explosions at Sri Lankan churches and hotels left dozens dead and hundreds more injured, Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his annual Easter message at the Vatican. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Pope denounces attacks during Easter blessing “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community (of Sri Lanka), wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” Francis told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, according to Vatican News. He later added: “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished, and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.” Every year after leading Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report:  Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Britney Spears appeared on Instagram on Tuesday evening to tell her fans that “all is well.” >> Read more trending news In the very brief Instagram video, Spears checked in, saying she “just needed time to deal,” but promised that she would be back very soon. “I wanted to say hi, because things that are being said have just gotten out of control!!! Wow!!! There’s rumors, death threats to my family and my team, and just so many things crazy things being said. I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear. These fake emails everywhere were crafted by Sam Lutfi years ago... I did not write them. He was pretending to be me and communicating with my team with a fake email address. My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment 🌸🌸🌸 You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want! Your love and dedication is amazing, but what I need right now is a little bit of privacy to deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way. If you could do that, I would be forever grateful. Love you” Earlier this month, Spears checked herself into a mental health facility as her father, Jamie Spears, continues to have health issues, according to TMZ. The celebrity news site reported that, according to unnamed sources, the singer has been distressed over her father’s illness, which the site claims is not getting better. In January, Spears announced that she was putting her planned Las Vegas residency — and the rest of her career — on hold for the sake of her father. The 37-year-old Spears has sons aged 13 and 12. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Children as old as 12, and even 13, may find themselves back in car booster seats under new legislation signed into law by Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee. >> Read more trending news  The new law updates children’s car seat regulations, requiring all children under 4 feet, 9 inches tall to ride in car booster seats.  According to House Bill 1012, children are required to sit in booster seats in vehicles “until the vehicle lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly, typically when the child is between the ages of eight and twelve years of age, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or must be properly secured with the motor vehicle's safety belt properly adjusted and fastened around the child's body.” The new law also requires all children under 13 to ride in the back seat and requires children under 2 to ride in rear-facing car seats. “Children aged 2 to 4 can be forward-facing in a car seat until they reach the specifications for a booster seat,” according to the new law. >> Trending: Opossum found living in 7-year-old’s bedroom for 3 days before parents find it  People in violation of the law can be ticketed.
  • An Ohio 9-year-old boy performing in drag at a Lancaster bar prompted an Ohio lawmaker to introduce a bill to expand the definition of child endangerment. State Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, introduced House Bill 180 to prohibit a performance in a bar where a child simulates sexual activity. The business could lose its liquor license and the parent could face misdemeanor criminal charges, if the bill becomes law. >> Read more trending news “Given our heightened focus on human trafficking and the role money plays in trafficking children, I knew I had to take action to make sure this activity does not occur again,” Schaffer said. “We can do better to protect innocent children and we must do better.” Related: Video of the boy’s performance Jacob Measley has been performing as Miss Mae Hem for several months, according to The (Toledo) Blade. His performance includes cartwheels, high kicks, splits and dancing in costume. He got interested in drag queens while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality TV show, with his mom, Jerri Measley, The Blade reported. She could not be reached for comment on this story. Video of a Dec. 1, 2018 performance at JD Hendersons bar in Lancaster led to complaints and an investigation by Lancaster police and state agencies, said Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler. No law violations were found, he said. After the investigations ended, a “social media outbreak” occurred when a website purporting to be the city of Lancaster made it sound like it was an ongoing issue, Scheffler said. “It was all dead, gone, over. Investigation found no violations. Then someone anonymously on this site posted inaccurate information.” The posting led to threats of violence and demands to close the bar from people across the country, the mayor said. “It got really nasty.”
  • A Georgia woman has pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing her husband and four children, and stabbing a fifth child, who survived, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office said. >> Read more trending news Isabel Martinez, 35, entered guilty pleas to five counts of murder, one count of aggravated assault and one count of cruelty to children Tuesday. Martinez's defense attorney, Don Geary, said she pleaded guilty, but mentally ill. Martinez called 911 on July 6, 2017. When paramedics arrived at her Loganville home, they found Martinez with her wrists slashed. Martinez’s husband, Martin Romero, 33, was found stabbed to death, along with 10-year-old Isabela Martinez, 2-year-old Axel Romero, 7-year-old Dacota Romero and 4-year-old Dillan Martin-Romero. Diana Romero, then age 9, was found with stab wounds, but survived. Diana Romero told a DFCS worker that Martinez began stabbing the children first; when Martin Romero tried to stop her, Martinez stabbed him, according to a DFCS report. Martinez was not crying or screaming as she killed her family members, and told Diana Romero that she was “going to the sky to see Jesus,” Diana Romero told a DFCS worker. Martinez confessed to the killings in the following hours and was arrested, according to the DA’s office. Later, she claimed a “family friend” committed the stabbings in her Loganville home, but she did not give police the name of that alleged friend.  The Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office declined to seek the death penalty in this case in part due to Martinez’s “apparent mental issues,” District Attorney Danny Porter said in 2018. Family and neighbors said Martinez was depressed in the weeks before she killed her family. Her father had died and Martinez was unable to attend the funeral in Mexico. She worried that he would go to hell because he practiced witchcraft, her brother-in-law, Orlando Romero, told the AJC. She told a Department of Family and Child services worker after her arrest that she felt a “devil-like spirit” was trying to take her children when they were playing in the ocean near Savannah shortly before the killings.  Martinez was sentenced to five life sentences with the possibility of parole plus 21 years after entering her plea Tuesday, according to the DA’s office.