Blog Posts by Holly Bailey

  • ‘The Kill Team’ examines moral dilemmas facing young soldiers at war

    Three years ago, the U.S. was stunned by a horrific story that emerged from the front lines of the war in Afghanistan: Several members of an Army platoon had killed at least three unarmed Afghan civilians, apparently for sport. The soldiers referred to themselves as ‘the Kill Team”—a nickname that seemed tailor-made for television news, which devoted hours of coverage to the case.

    Dan Krauss, a San Francisco-based filmmaker who was nominated for an Academy Award for his debut documentary, “The Death of Kevin Carter,” was captivated by the case and, in particular, one of the soldiers under arrest: Adam Winfield, who was described by the Army as both a whistle-blower and a murderer.

    “I wondered how he could be both of those things,” Krauss recalled in an interview with Yahoo News. His quest to answer that question is the basis of his latest film, “The Kill Team,” which is playing at Tribeca Film Festival in New York this week and premieres at the San Francisco Film Festival on Friday.

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  • Residents return to homes near Texas explosion site but uncertainty reigns

    Officers talk to residents before clearing them to return to their homes in West Texas (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

    WEST, Texas—For the second day in a row, more than 100 displaced residents here lined up to gain access to their homes near the site of Wednesday’s deadly fertilizer explosion that killed 14 and injured at least 200.

    City officials began allowing residents in homes farthest away from the center of the blast site late Saturday, but imposed a strict curfew, permitting people to only enter the site between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Residents have the option of staying in their homes if they aren’t heavily damaged, but most of the area remains without power or running water. The explosion leveled a five-square block area of town, destroying dozens of homes, a nursing home and an apartment building adjacent to the plant.

    On Sunday morning, a time when most residents would be in church, dozens of cars snaked through town, as residents who didn’t make it inside the blast area on Saturday returned in hopes of seeing their homes for the first time.

    “You don’t know what to expect,” said Joanne Nors, who was cooking dinner at her home a few blocks from the plant when the explosion happened on Wednesday night. She and her husband fled their home and have been staying with relatives ever since.

    State and local officials have warned residents that the city is unlikely to get back to normal anytime soon. “This is going to be a very long process,” Mayor Tommy Muska said Saturday.

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  • Residents allowed to return to homes near Texas explosion site

    An aerial view of the explosion site in West, Texas (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    WEST, Texas—Residents displaced by a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant here will be allowed to return to their homes for the first time since Wednesday’s blast.

    Steve Vanek, a West City Council member, announced residents will be escorted to their homes within the five-block blast site beginning Saturday but will only be allowed into the area between 7am and 7pm daily.

    The decision came just hours after fears of another explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant site, where officials say leaking gas tanks damaged by Wednesday’s blast have been fueling small fires at the site.

    On Saturday morning, local residents living just outside the perimeter of the five-block area closed off since Wednesday explosion reported that police asked them to clear back. Investigators combing the ruins as part of the search and recovery process were pulled away from the site for a brief time, the West Mayor’s office confirmed.

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  • 20 years since Waco raid, explosion at nearby fertilizer plant invokes memories

    The Branch Davidian compound outside Waco explodes in a burst of flames April 19, 1993 (Shelly Katz/Getty Images)

    WEST, Texas—Wednesday’s deadly blast at a fertilizer plant here that left at least 14 dead and injured more than 160 came just days before the anniversary of another fiery explosion in Central Texas that captivated the world.

    Twenty years ago this week, on April 19, 1993, a federal raid on a cult compound in nearby Waco ended when the building exploded into a massive fireball that left nearly 80 people dead, including more than a dozen children.

    Federal agents had raided the site known as Mount Carmel after a 51-day standoff with a religious group called the Branch Davidians. The group was headed by a charismatic leader, David Koresh, whom federal officials believed was illegally stockpiling guns and other weapons.

    For some, Wednesday’s plant explosion just 20 miles north of Waco immediately brought back memories of the raid deadly fire, which still traumatizes the community two decades later.

    “Of course, people thought about it,” a man named Mike, who declined to give his last name, said Friday as he wandered past a boarded-up storefront in downtown West, where the fertilizer blast was so intense it shattered windows. “You don’t see crazy things like fire and explosions happen around here very often. Of course, that would come to mind.”

    But many in the Waco vicinity have tried to put the Branch Davidian raid well out of their memory—in part because the date of the fatal fire—April 19—has become something of an unofficial holiday for people with anti-government sentiments.

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  • ‘Bending Steel’ explores the lost art of the old time Coney Island strongman

    Bending Steel Official Movie Trailer from Bending Steel Movie on Vimeo.

    New York is a city fueled by eccentric personalities, but when Dave Carroll encountered his neighbor Chris Schoeck in the basement of their apartment building in Queens two years ago, it was an experience that was more than a little unusual.

    Carroll’s dog, Gizmo, had escaped down a hallway, attracted by the sound of clanging metal. When Carroll turned the corner, he found Schoeck, a shy man of slight build, standing in a storage space surrounded by piles of what Carroll described as “bizarre objects.” There were bent nails, hammers and horseshoes and chains hanging from the wall. In one corner, there was a stack of phonebooks torn completely in half.

    “I found it kind of startling, to be honest,” Carroll recalled in a recent interview. “I had run into Chris before in the elevator and around the building, and he had already seemed to me to be an odd guy. He didn’t look you in the eye and didn’t really talk.”

    Weirded out, Carroll greeted Schoeck, grabbed his dog and “quickly walked away.” But Carroll couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d seen. Two weeks later, he returned to the basement and sought out his odd neighbor. “What’s going on with the metal?” Carroll asked him.

    The answer was surprising: Schoeck told him he was bending steel and other objects in hopes of becoming a strongman like the old vaudeville performers at Coney Island back in the late 1880s.

    That chance encounter is the basis of “Bending Steel,” a documentary directed by Carroll about Schoeck’s attempts to master unusual feats of strength. The film, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on Saturday and plays throughout next week, examines the obscure art form of being an old time strongman, which lives on even as such entertainers at Coney Island have largely disappeared.

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  • Officials find two more bodies at site of Texas fertilizer plant explosion

    A home near the West Fertilizer plant smolders Thursday (Erich Schlegal/Getty Images)

    WEST, Texas—Investigators recovered two more bodies from the site of a massive fertilizer plant explosion on Friday, bringing the official death toll of Wednesday’s blast to 14 people.

    At the same time, Mayor Tommy Muska discounted Sen. John Cornyn’s declaration earlier Friday that at least 60 residents remain unaccounted for after the blast. Speaking at a press conference with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Muska and other local officials described that number as an “informal” list largely compiled of reports by out-of-town relatives who haven’t yet made contact with relatives displaced by the blast.

    “There are people who do not have a home,” Muska said. “They are living either in a hotel, they are living with Mama down the road (or) with their brother. The cousin from Dallas doesn’t know that. If they have a land line and they don’t have a cell phone, you’re not going to know where those people are.”

    McLennen County Judge Scott Felton said the city was hopeful it would be able to “eliminate 99 percent” of the people on the missing persons list. He added that it's possible that nobody is missing.

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  • Texas town residents look for normalcy after deadly fertilizer plant explosion

    A man lowers a flag to half-staff in downtown West, Texas. ( Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

    WEST, Texas--If there’s one absolute truth in life, it’s that very few things can stop a little old lady from getting her hair done. Not ill health—and, it turns out, not even a deadly explosion.

    On Wednesday a fire and subsequent explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant here leveled five city blocks, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 160. Some 60 people remain unaccounted for, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said on Friday. At least 150 homes and buildings—including a nursing home and an elementary school—were damaged or destroyed.

    But on Friday morning at the Headquarters Beauty Salon on Main Street, Dorothy Kucera was holding court as she does most Fridays from under the blow dryer chair. Her short wet hair had just been freshened with a brunette rinse and wrapped in tiny curlers. And as the dryer purred, she and five other ladies in the salon gossiped about what was going on in town—only this week, the topic was a little more serious.

    Kucera’s home is just blocks from the plant. She and her husband, Jerry, had just eaten dinner when the fire broke out. When she saw the flames, she called to her husband, who had been washing dishes, to come outside and look at the huge fire which was rapidly expanding.

    “I said, ‘Jerry, you’ve gotta see this,’” she recalled to a rapt audience at the salon on Friday, including a pair of stylists and a tiny elderly woman, whose blueish-gray hair was being unwrapped from curlers.

    Kucera said her husband, who uses a walker, at first didn’t want to come out and instead was peering out a window above their kitchen sink. But he did after she insisted—and within seconds, the plant exploded, sending up a plume of smoke she likened to something she’d seen in photos of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    “That thing just blew,” she said, matter-of factly. The windows in her house shattered, and the force caused her garage door to buckle, preventing her from getting access to her car to escape. She added that if her husband had been still standing at the kitchen window, he would have been seriously injured “because it was just right there.”

    Soon they were evacuated and moved to a local hotel, where they’ve been staying since the explosion. They haven’t been allowed to go back to their house, Kucera said, "And I don't know when we will."

    As she spoke about that night, she occasionally paused to update the gaggle on what was happening with other friends. “Barbara’s windows are all blown out,” she said, at one point. And then she spoke of those whom she had heard were dead, whispering their names.

    “Nobody knows for sure, but people are talking, and we’ll know soon enough,” Kucera said. “This is a small town.”

    Indeed, in a town of less than 3,000 people, everybody knows somebody who was killed or injured or displaced. And many residents are trying to figure out how to cope.

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  • News conference on Boston Marathon bombings canceled

    Law enforcement officers race into Boston's federal courthouse after a bomb threat. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

    BOSTON—The FBI postponed and then ultimately canceled a planned 5 p.m. ET news conference about updates in the investigation of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.

    A Boston Police Department spokesman made the announcement to more than 100 reporters already gathered at the Westin Hotel near Copley Square where Gov. Deval Patrick and other state and federal officials had been expected to speak.

    A spokesman for the FBI's Boston office had said officials hoped to reschedule the news conference for later Wednesday night. Shortly after 7:15 p.m., the Boston Police announced the FBI would make a "brief statement" to the press at 8 p.m. ET. But less than 15 minutes later, the police backtracked and said the news conference was canceled. A FBI spokesman did not respond to an immediate request for comment.

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  • 8-year-old marathon victim’s mother, sister severely injured

    Martin Richard (Reuters/Handout)BOSTON—One victim of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon has been identified: 8-year-old Martin Richard of nearby Dorchester, who was attending the race with his family.

    His mother, Denise, and his 6-year-old sister, Jane, were severely injured. Richard's father, Bill, was hit in the leg by fragments of the bomb, while his older brother escaped serious injury.

    Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, who has known the family for 25 years, told Yahoo News that Bill Richard, who had run the marathon in the past but skipped this year because of injury, had taken his family to watch the race.

    The family had gone to get ice cream and then returned to watch runners along Boylston Street when they witnessed the first blast, according to Lynch. He said they immediately tried to move off the sidewalk into the street in an attempt to get away from buildings out of fear of another blast.

    That was when the second bomb struck, killing Martin Richard and severely injuring his mother and sister.

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  • Witnesses describe ‘terrifying’ scene after blasts at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON—Arlene Caruso had just cheered on her husband as he ran past the 25-mile mark of Monday’s Boston Marathon when she saw a flash followed by a loud boom a few blocks down Boylston Street near the finish line.

    “At first, we thought, ‘Wow, there’s a celebration canon,” recalled Caruso, who was standing with her brother and sister-in-law along the sidelines. “But then there was another boom, and then I realized, ‘Oh no.’”

    According to Caruso, the scene immediately erupted into chaos: people were screaming and shoving and running in all directions. To her horror, she realized that the last time she had seen her husband was as he was running into the area in between the two blast zones.

    Caruso immediately began pushing her way toward the finish line to find her husband—but she recalled, “It was like swimming upstream.”

    All she could think about was whether her husband was safe. “It was terrifying. It was really scary,” Caruso said, as she stood inside the lobby of the Marriott Hotel near Copley Square Monday night, just blocks from the two bombs erupted, killing three and injuring more than 130. “All I could think about was, ‘Where was he?’”

    About fifteen minutes later, she received a text from her husband, alerting her that he was safely back at their hotel. But as she recalled to a reporter, the period of time between the blasts and hearing from her husband had felt “forever.” As she stood in line Monday night at a hotel computer trying to print out her family’s boarding passes for their flight back to Pennsylvania Tuesday, she said in a shaky voice that all she wanted to do was go home.

    “What happened here was just unimaginable,” she said.

    And that was largely the mood at the Marriott, where hundreds of runners along with their family and friends were staying. Inside the lobby, dozens of race participants, many still dressed in their official blue and yellow Boston Marathon shirts or jackets, wandered around dazed—trying to make sense of what had happened earlier Monday. Others warily eyed the front door, where more than a dozen Boston police officers, dressed in head-to-toe combat gear, stood guard outside in what looked like a war zone.

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