Posts by Jason Sickles, Yahoo

  • Katrina anniversary brings tears, gratitude to tiny Mississippi town

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 4 days ago

    That feeling of being snubbed only got worse when Hurricane Katrina hit 10 years ago Saturday.

    “Every time you seen it on the news, it was ‘New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans,” said O.J. Mitchell, a Pearlington native. “They never mention the gulf shore.”

    While the narrative for New Orleans after a decade has become one of rebirth and renewal, the same cannot be said for this small border town that saw just as much devastation. Many here acknowledge that Pearlington may physically never be the same, but townspeople say one unexpected positive note is that the unity required for the recovery also broke a longstanding racial divide.

    The Gulf Coast hamlet 40 miles east of New Orleans was Katrina’s ground zero. The eye of the storm pushed a 30-foot-wall of water up the Pearl River, nearly wiping out the town, which pre-Katrina had a population of about 1,700 . Almost every home was reduced to rubble or deluged by water and mud.

    With attention and resources going to more densely populated areas, it took search-and-rescue teams and relief organizations several days to reach Pearlington. Some residents slept in tents for six months before being issued FEMA trailers.



  • Reporting Hurricane Katrina: How covering the story swept journalists into the drama

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 5 days ago

    NEW ORLEANS — Journalists are observers. We are trained to help others by reporting stories, not by becoming part of them. Hurricane Katrina, however, tested those boundaries for many of us.

    A decade ago, I was a producer for the CBS Evening News when the worst natural disaster in modern U.S. history changed New Orleans forever.

    [PHOTOS: Reporter’s personal images from covering Hurricane Katrina]

    I rode out the Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, storm downtown in the Superdome — the city's “shelter of last resort" — with some 10,000 New Orleanians and 500 national guardsmen. A day later, we witnessed widespread looting as floodwaters rose. By Wednesday, I was navigating a maze of suffering souls marooned on a bridge near the Superdome.

    It was more than I could bear.

    “Sorry to bother,” said Kim, then 52. “May I use your phone?”

    Smith was on the street outside the Kims’ hotel by the time I arrived.



  • Hurricane Katrina forced their church from New Orleans, but a congregation’s remarkable journey kept them together in Texas

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 9 days ago

    In the wee hours of Aug. 28, 2005, New Orleans native June Lemon grabbed her church phone directory and hastily dialed more than 50 households with an urgent message.

    “Pack your clothes for three days, not more than three days, one bag per person,” Lemon said, then told them to be at the church no later than 8 a.m.

    A Category 5 tropical cyclone was set to hit New Orleans in less than 24 hours. Anxiety spread. Would Hurricane Katrina be the “big one” that flood-prone New Orleans had forever dreaded?

    “People were panicking,” says Willie Monnet, Lemon’s longtime pastor.

    Monnet, 63, started the non-denominational Smoking for Jesus Ministry (the unique name is intended to show that the group is “red hot for the Lord”) in 1996 on the city’s rough-and-tumble east side.

    Many families in his congregation of more than 200 didn’t own cars or have money to evacuate, so the church pooled resources and fled New Orleans — together. “Because we were a family,” Monnet says.

    The eleventh-hour decision saved lives and changed the entire congregation’s course in ways that, even 10 years later, still seem beyond belief for many in the community.


  • State of emergency issued following Ferguson anniversary violence

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 23 days ago

    ST. LOUIS — A day of remembrance for Michael Brown quickly turned violent late Sunday when police shot a man they said had opened fire on them in Ferguson, Mo., close to where demonstrators gathered.

    The shooter, identified as 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr. of St. Louis, remains in critical condition, according to St. Louis County police. On Monday afternoon, prosecutors issued 10 charges against Harris — including four counts of first-degree assault on a police officer.

    Tyrone Harris Sr., the alleged shooter’s father, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his son and Brown, who was fatally shot by former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, “were real close.”

    Three hours after the police-involved shooting, two more teens were wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting as they walked near a memorial honoring Brown.

     “Chief Belmar shall exercise all powers and duties necessary to preserve order, prevent crimes, and protect the life and property of our citizens,” County Executive Steve Stenger wrote.


  • What it’s like to be a black cop in Ferguson

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 24 days ago

    “He was really overqualified for the job,” recalls Ferguson police Sgt. Harry Dilworth, a member of the hiring committee. But Dilworth, Ferguson’s most senior African-American officer, knew minority candidates for the department were rare, especially those with Kirkwood’s credentials.

    “It was a no-brainer,” Dilworth says. “He got the job.”

    It’s been one year since this once-obscure St. Louis suburb became a flash point in the national debate about police tactics against African-Americans following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer. The controversial killing prompted a wave of national soul-searching and activism that is still going on today. And it’s been no less transformational for the black members of Ferguson’s embattled police department.

    Kirkwood — the last African-American patrolman hired by Ferguson, and one of just four black officers on the 55-member force a year ago — is now gone. He recently resigned, just shy of his third anniversary, a casualty of the city’s new fame as a national symbol of racial strife.

  • Theater shooting verdict: James Holmes sentenced to life in prison

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 26 days ago

    Three years and 19 days after a heavily armed gunman terrorized a packed Denver-area movie theater, a Colorado jury has reached a decision on the shooter’s fate. James Holmes, who was found guilty last month of killing 12 moviegoers and injuring 70 others, received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The case experienced numerous delays, largely due to legal battles surrounding the gunman’s mental illness.

    Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour read the verdict shortly after 5 p.m. MT / 7 p.m. ET. Below is analysis from Yahoo News national reporter Jason Sickles, who has covered the tragedy since July 2012.

  • Live updates: Jury keeps Colorado theater shooter death penalty option on table

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    The jury has decided to keep the death penalty as an option for the Colorado theater shooter. Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour announced the decision Monday afternoon.

    In Phase 2 of the sentencing, jurors were asked to decide if James Holmes’ mental illness and lack of a criminal record outweighed the heinousness of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.

    With the jury deciding unanimously that mitigating factors didn’t offset the rampage, sentencing moves to a third and final stage that will begin Tuesday at 10 a.m. MT time.

    In Phase 3, survivors of the shooting and relatives of the deceased will have an opportunity to tell the jury about how the rampage has impacted their lives.

  • James Holmes’ revealing courtroom behavior during the Colorado theater shooting trial

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    As James Holmes watched his father being cross-examined on the witness stand Wednesday, the convicted Colorado theater shooter reverted to what has become his routine during many of the trial’s more contentious moments: He swiveled.

    The conspicuous behavior, almost a tic, has become a hallmark of sorts. From his seat at the defense table, Holmes begins to methodically swivel back and forth in his black office chair.

    Robert Holmes was testifying in an effort to sway the jury vote for a life sentence instead of the death penalty for his son.

    The defendant’s swivel was steady as Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler quizzed the elder Holmes about the arsenal his son amassed in the months before he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater on July 20, 2012, killing 12 people.

    Ten minutes later, Holmes sat slouched and motionless as the video depositions of old family friends and acquaintances were played in court.

    When the adjustments occur is key, much like the actions of a poker player who changes physical demeanor at pivotal moments.

  • Lafayette theater gunman spent weeks before rampage drinking beer at a motel pool

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    LAFAYETTE, La. — The gunman who opened fire on Lafayette moviegoers before killing himself spent the final weeks of his life drinking and tanning poolside at a pay-by-the-week motel.

    “The only thing he ever done was lay his ass at the pool and drink them cold beers,” said a man who helps run a Motel 6 where John “Rusty” Houser had been staying.

    The worker spoke to Yahoo News, but asked that his name not be published because he is not authorized to talk for the company.

    “We’re trying to clean it up, and then this happens,” he said of the previously crime-riddled motel. “It don’t make us look too good.”

    Houser’s stay at the motel since early July was apparently uneventful — aside from the 59-year-old’s penchant for wearing a bright-yellow Speedo bathing suit while at the pool.

    “ I told him, ‘If I catch you down here again like that, I'm going to run you plum outta here,” the man said.

    He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” as he hustled back to Room 218 to put on more clothing, the worker said. “He was very nice to everybody.”

    “He was like a kitten,” the man said in a thick Cajun accent. “I don’t understand it, I really don’t. It’s still got me bloated today.”

    “For free!” the man added.

  • Colorado shooting verdict: James Holmes guilty in movie theater massacre

    Jason Sickles, Yahoo at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    CENTENNIAL, Colo. — “We the jury find the defendant, James Eagan Holmes, guilty.”

    The first murder conviction read by Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour Thursday evoked a whimper and several tissue-muffled sobs.

    Those sitting on the packed right side of Courtroom 201 — either survivors of the July 20, 2012, Colorado movie theater shooting rampage or loved ones of those killed — tried to heed the judge’s request to keep their emotions in check, but this day was a long time in the making.

    “As soon as you heard the first guilty, we knew all the dominoes were about to fall,” said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was slain.

    “Yes, yes,” mouthed a tearful Sandy Phillips when it was confirmed that Holmes was guilty of murdering her 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi.

    Joshua Nowlan, his walking cane hanging on his courtroom seat, brandished a smile and nodded in agreement that Holmes was guilty of attempted murder for shooting him in the leg.

    After the hearing, dozens of the shooting victims and families of the slain congregated in the courthouse parking lot. Some celebrated, others cried — finding relief after their toil for justice.