New Zealand digs graves as mosque massacre toll rises to 50

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Anguished relatives were anxiously waiting Sunday for authorities to release the remains of those who were killed in massacres at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, while authorities announced the death toll from the racist attacks had risen to 50.

Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours. But two days after the worst terrorist attack in the country’s modern history, relatives remained unsure when they would be able to bury their loved ones.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were working with pathologists and coroners to release the bodies as soon as they could.

“We have to be absolutely clear on the cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen,” he said. “But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs. So we are doing that as quickly and as sensitively as possible.”

Police said they had released a preliminary list of the victims to families, which has helped give closure to some relatives who were waiting for any news.

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Irish pride, and dash of politics, at St Patrick’s Parade

NEW YORK — A new, troublesome topic hovered over the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York this year: Britain’s failed Brexit deal with the European Union that could squeeze Ireland’s economy.

But nothing could put a damper on the largest American celebration of Irish heritage on Saturday, with tens of thousands of marchers following a painted green line up Fifth Avenue for the six-hour procession.

Kevin Coughlan, a 27-year-old spectator wearing pants with four-leaf clovers, captured both the New York celebration and the political near-catastrophe overseas, where he still has plenty of family — in Ireland.

“I’ve always been so proud to be an Irish-American, and that’s what today is about; it’s more than just one big party, it’s about celebrating our freedom,” said the Hoboken, New Jersey, resident.

His mood darkened when he turned to Brexit, which “is definitely something we’re all worried about, especially my family,” he said. “I mean, we’re all sort of just waiting for the shoe to drop to see what this means for the Irish economy.”

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Stories of the victims of the New Zealand mosque attack

An attack on a New Zealand mosque took the lives of 50 worshippers Friday and left dozens more wounded when a white supremacist opened fire and live-streamed the shootings. Here are the stories of some of those killed and wounded.

THE DEAD

HUSNA AHMED

Farid Ahmed refuses to turn his back on his adopted home, despite losing his 45-year-old wife, Husna Ahmed, in the Al Noor mosque attack. They had split up to go to the bathroom when it happened.

The gunman livestreamed the massacre on the internet, and Ahmed later saw a video of his wife being shot. A police officer confirmed she died.

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Once sanctuaries, houses of worship struggle with security

DETROIT — A rabbi who packs a gun. A church installing security cameras. A police car protecting a mosque.

Houses of worship have traditionally been places of refuge where strangers are welcome. But high-profile attacks in recent years on an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, a synagogue in Pittsburgh and now mosques in New Zealand have made many worshippers and their prayer leaders rethink how protected sanctuaries really are.

“People are fearful for their lives, for their houses of worship, for the sanctuary of this mosque and other places of worship like the synagogues and African-American churches that are being attacked. People are concerned,” said Imam Mohannad Hakeem while attending Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Detroit.

He spoke after a horrifying attack in New Zealand left 50 people dead at two mosques during midday prayers. A 28-year-old Australian is the main suspect and called himself in a manifesto a white nationalist out to avenge attacks in Europe by Muslims.

History shows sanctuaries are not immune from violence, as illustrated by bombings at African-American churches during the Civil Rights era. And in countries struggling with sectarian violence, attacks on houses of worship are much more frequent. But for countries at peace, the attacks are much rarer.

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O’Rourke: Being white male doesn’t put me at disadvantage

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Saturday that being a white man in a 2020 Democratic field that’s so deeply diverse won’t be a hindrance because his gender and race have given him inherent advantages for years.

While he’d spoken before about his gender and race, O’Rourke had largely dodged campaign-trail questions about whether his party would go for a white man in a year when a historic number of women and minorities are running to deny President Donald Trump a second term.

“I would never begin by saying that it’s a disadvantage at all,” O’Rourke told reporters in a parking lot in Waterloo, after giving a speech at the campaign kickoff for state Senate candidate Eric Giddens. “As a white man who has had privileges that others could not depend on or take for granted, I’ve clearly had advantages over the course of my life.”

The former Texas congressman was making a series of stops in Iowa, the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process. Also campaigning Saturday were Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Vice President Joe Biden.

O’Rourke called recognizing and understand that and “doing everything I can to ensure that there is opportunity, and the possibility for advancement and advantage for everyone,” a big part of the campaign he’s running.

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Grieving families given earth from Ethiopian crash site

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Grieving family members of victims of the Ethiopian air disaster are being given sacks of earth to bury in place of the remains of their loved ones.

Officials have begun delivering bags of earth to family members of the 157 victims of the crash instead of the remains of their loved ones because the identification process is going to take such a long time.

Families are being given a 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) sack of scorched earth taken from the crash sites, members of two different families told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid any possible government reprisal. An Ethiopian government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters also confirmed the deliveries of soil.

“The soil came as it became impossible to identify bodies and hand over remains to family members,” one family member said. “We will not rest until we are given the real body or body parts of our loved ones.”

Forensic DNA work has begun on identifying the remains but it may take six months to identify the victims, because the body parts are in small pieces. However, authorities say they will issue death certificates within two weeks. The victims of the crash came from 35 countries.

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Rescues, evacuations as floodwaters breach levees in Midwest

OMAHA, Neb. — Authorities were using boats and large vehicles on Saturday to rescue and evacuate residents in parts of the Midwest where a recent deluge of rainwater and snowmelt was sent pouring over frozen ground, overwhelming creeks and rivers, and killing at least one person.

The scramble to move people out of harm’s way was expected to subside going into the new week, as rivers and creeks in flooded eastern Nebraska and western Iowa were expected to crest Saturday and Sunday. That left officials downstream looking to prepare for likely flooding.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson had already met with emergency management team members Friday to review and update flood-response plans, and the Missouri Highway Patrol was preparing additional equipment and putting swift water rescue personnel on standby. The Missouri National Guard also temporarily relocated the 139th Airlift Wing’s C-130s from Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph as a precaution.

The National Weather Service said the Missouri River at St. Joseph reached nearly 26 feet on Saturday, about a foot below what’s considered major flooding at the northwest Missouri city. But it’s expected to crest Wednesday or Thursday at 29.3 feet — more than two feet above major flooding level.

Evacuation efforts in eastern Nebraska and some spots in western Iowa on Saturday were hampered by reports of levee breaches and washouts of bridges and roads, including part of Nebraska Highway 92, leading in and out of southwest Omaha. Authorities confirmed that a bridge on that highway that crosses the Elkhorn River had been washed out Saturday. In Fremont, west of Omaha, the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office issued a mandatory evacuation for some residents after floodwaters broke through a levee along the Platte River. And in Mills County, Iowa, authorities ordered people in some rural areas to evacuate after the Missouri River overtopped levees.

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Suspect arrested in murder of reputed mob boss

NEW YORK — A 24-year-old man was arrested Saturday in the shooting death of the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family, New York City police said.

Anthony Comello was arrested in New Jersey in the death of Francesco Cali on Wednesday in front of his Staten Island home, said Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, who stressed that the investigation is in its early stages.

“There are multiple, multiple angles that we are exploring,” Shea said at a news conference at police headquarters. “Was the person paid to do it? Were others conspiring to do this crime?”

The 53-year-old Cali, a native of Sicily, was shot to death by a gunman who may have crashed his truck into Cali’s car to lure him outside. Shea said Cali was shot 10 times.

Shea said police have recovered the truck but have not recovered the gun used in the murder.

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Scandal lays bare stress of elite college admissions process

SAN FRANCISCO — With dreams of UCLA for her daughter, single mother Donna Balancia chose a high-rent apartment to get her into Beverly Hills High School, which she hoped would give her the best shot at the college of her choice.

Once there, she’d bring her daughter to the UCLA tennis court to practice, hoping she would be noticed by the coach. Her daughter excelled as a varsity athlete in tennis and lacrosse and earned a 3.9 GPA. But in the end, the teen’s SAT scores were too low for UCLA or the University of Southern California.

“I did some crazy things, but nothing illegal,” Balancia said.

The national college admissions bribery scandal that broke this week laid bare the stress, and sometimes, desperation that many families experience when their children are going through the ultra-competitive process of seeking admission to the nation’s top colleges.

The man at the center of the bribery scandal, disgraced college consultant William “Rick” Singer, is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to pay off corrupt athletic coaches and standardized test administrators to help get clients’ children into elite colleges.

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It’s a boy! April the Giraffe gives birth again

ALBANY, N.Y. — April the Giraffe gave birth once again in front of an enthralled YouTube audience on Saturday.

More than 300,000 watched live as April gave birth to a healthy male calf at around 12:45 p.m., the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York said.

Park officials say the newborn giraffe was on its feet by 1:27 p.m., and nursing by 1:51 p.m.

“Success! With an average 15-month gestation, we are thankful to have a healthy calf on the ground, nursing and bonding with mom,” animal park owner Jordan Patch said. “With wild giraffe numbers plummeting annually, every calf born counts.”

April drew more than 232 million YouTube live views during a seven-week period in 2017 before she gave birth to Tajiri That came as a surprise for the small zoo 130 miles (209 kilometers) northwest of New York City.

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