'I'm gonna die': Universal Orlando caricature artist describes horror of stabbing

This article published in The Orlando Sentinel on Aug. 24, 2017.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

Glenn Ferguson was sure he was going to die by the hands of a former co-worker, surrounded by people who came to Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure park on New Year’s Day 2016. He was not going to survive, he said. He was certain of it.

“I’m gonna die,” said Ferguson, a caricature artist at the park, taking the witness stand Wednesday in the former co-worker’s trial. “Nobody’s gonna help me. I’m gonna die, and everybody’s gonna watch.”

Fredrick Torres, 35, is charged with attempted first-degree murder, accused of stabbing Ferguson with scissors. The attack was captured on video. His defense attorneys are arguing that it was not premeditated, but committed spontaneously because Torres was upset. He shook his head during parts of Ferguson’s testimony but did not speak.

The attack left Ferguson with a stutter, bouts of shaking and a long surgical scar that stretches back from his left temple. The blades of the scissors went 5 inches into his skull and reached 3 inches into his brain, he said.

His service dog, Gracie, sat with him on the witness stand and climbed into his lap so he could hug her.

Ferguson’s original plan for that day was to watch football at a friend’s house, he said. But on Dec. 29, 2015, Torres showed up for his shift a few hours late and acted rude and dismissive when Ferguson talked to him about it, he said Wednesday.

The owner of the caricaturing business where the two worked, Anthony Fasen, said he emailed Torres the afternoon of Dec. 31. Torres wasn’t officially fired, but he was no longer on the schedule and his future shifts were canceled, Fasen said. He emailed a human resources employee at Universal to ask for Torres’ ID card to be deactivated.

Ferguson was opening the booth when he saw Torres walking up and said he felt “a little anxious.”

Ferguson called Fasen, who then called Torres. As the call went on, Torres seemed to get angrier, Fasen said.

“I’m going to kill your No. 1 artist,” Torres said, according to Fasen. “I’m gonna slit his throat.”

Ferguson couldn’t hear what Torres was saying, but he could hear his tone, he said. Torres got off the phone and walked back to the caricature stand.

“Well, I’m fired,” he said, according to Ferguson.

Ferguson said he tried to calm him down. But Torres was not listening, he said.

“If I’m fired,” he said, according to Ferguson, “you call Tony and figure this out, or you call 911.”

Torres went into his artist’s toolbox and grabbed a pair of scissors, which he held carefully. “Like a dagger,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson grabbed his phone to try to call Fasen and started walking away. Torres came after him, he said.

“He started running after me, and I started getting really terrified. I can’t outrun him; he’s a marathon runner,” Ferguson said. “What do I do? How can I get myself out of this situation?”

He fled, looking for a place to get away — a security guard, anyone who could help him — he said. Torres chased him.

Ferguson found a security guard, who apparently thought he and Torres were kidding around and did not immediately stop Torres. Only after another Universal employee approached him and said she thought the fight was real did he walk over and stand between them.

They stood there for a few minutes, surrounded by park-goers, with Torres staring Ferguson down. The security guard looked down at his radio for a moment.

“He just pounced, and [was] pushing and shoving repeatedly, as fast as he could move his arm,” Ferguson said, miming a series of forceful punches.

A prosecutor played cellphone video of the attack filmed by a park-goer. Ferguson winced, covering his ears, as the jury heard carnival music and saw Ferguson being pummeled.

Closing arguments and jury deliberations are expected Thursday.

Kissimmee police shooting suspect: 'I have done a bad thing'

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on Aug. 21, 2017.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

About an hour after investigators say he shot two Kissimmee police officers, Everett Glenn Miller was sitting at a Kissimmee bar.

Miller, 45, had been acting suspiciously and would not leave, a manager at Roscoe’s Bar & Packaging told Osceola County deputy sheriffs. He matched the description of the man who had pulled the trigger, according to documents.

As six deputies and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper tried to remove him, Miller cursed at them and insisted he “didn’t do anything,” records show.

“I'm innocent,” he yelled. “I didn't do it, I'm a veteran.”

A 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol fell from the back of his waistband, and deputies found a Derringer .22-caliber revolver in his front pocket.

Later that night, when a detective adjusted his handcuffs in an interview room at Kissimmee police headquarters, Miller’s demeanor had changed.

“Everett began to cry, said he did not want to live and pleaded with me to kill him,” Detective Cpl. Charles Hess wrote in an arrest report. Hess told him that nobody at the station was going to kill him and asked why he would say that.

“I have done a bad thing,” Miller said.

Miller is accused of shooting and killing Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard. The officers will have joint funeral services on Thursday.

Miller, who spent 21 years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, has no previous criminal record in Florida but had recently been involuntarily hospitalized under the Baker Act, which is used for people having mental health crises and are deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Friends and family say they saw a significant change in Miller within the past five months.

At some point, he changed his name on Facebook to Malik Mohammad Ali and started making bizarre posts about police, race and politics.

One of those posts put him on the radar of the Orlando Police Department. An internal memo released Monday shows that the agency’s intelligence unit warned colleagues about Miller on July 14 because of threats he made on a Facebook live video that was posted three days after he was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold.

"If this cop comes out with his gun, I’m going to shoot me a cop," Miller said in the video, according to police. "No cop is going to get Glen Miller today … kill whitey."

In the memo, officers noted that Miller was a Marine Corps veteran who had access to weapons. Orlando police notified the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, but law enforcement agencies in Kissimmee and Osceola County were not told because he had an Orange County address.

Court records released Monday provide more details about what led up to the shooting and Miller’s arrest, though unanswered questions remain.

At 9:28 p.m., Baxter told dispatch that he was talking to three men near Palmway and Cypress streets, records show. He soon asked for a supervisor’s help. A short video from a witness showed Miller arguing with Baxter, and saying he was not driving so there was no reason to stop him, records show.

About 20 minutes later, Howard told dispatch he was on scene — the final radio transmission from either of them.

At 9:52 p.m., neighbors called 911 saying they were watching TV in their home when they heard three gunshots, records show. They dropped to the ground, then slowly looked outside and saw a man in a black baseball cap get into a sedan and drive off, records show. Then they saw the two officers lying in the street.

More officers rushed to the scene and tried to resuscitate Baxter and Howard, records show. Baxter was pronounced dead that night, and Howard was taken off life support the following afternoon.

Miller ended up at Roscoe’s, where an old friend saw him “acting crazy, saying he just shot two cops,” Hess wrote in his report. The friend called Miller’s sister and asked her to pick him up, but she had her children with her and could not come to Roscoe’s, she later told police.

Miller is being held without bail in the Osceola County Jail.

Gov. Rick Scott on Saturday signed an executive order taking the case away from Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who in March said she would not seek the death penalty for anyone. Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King will now oversee the prosecution, along with 26 other cases from Orange and Osceola counties that Scott transferred to him.

Mother of slain Lake County inmate gets his belongings 6 weeks after death

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on July 22, 2017.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

CLERMONT — For six weeks, Susie Boone said she called officials at the Lake Correctional Institution, trying to get the personal effects of her son, Adonis Boone, who was killed inside the prison in June 8.

And Thursday she got them — some clothes, toiletries, and dozens of letters and hand-written papers inside a white sack.

“It just feels great” to hold his things, Boone said, keeping her composure as she flipped through pages of rap lyrics and short stories he wrote. “But I’ll never see my child again, you know?”

Less than a week after an Orlando Sentinel reporter asked the Department of Corrections about Adonis Boone’s belongings, a Lake Correctional Institution official told Boone she could come from her home in Tampa to the prison and pick up his things, she said.

She had already received his body and held a funeral in June.

Adonis Boone, 27, is one of two inmates at the prison whose deaths were ruled homicides this year. The other is Jose Gregory Villegas, 39, also of Tampa, who was killed March 28. Little information has been released in either case because both investigations are still active, according to the Department of Correction and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is investigating the deaths.

Susie Boone has not been told how her son was killed except that it was a stabbing and no one has been charged in his death.

Department of Corrections records show four homicides in all of Florida’s correctional institutions in 2016 and six in 2015. Between 2001 and 2014, the deaths of 76 Florida inmates were considered homicides, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study. That’s about six homicides per 100,000 inmates, the same as the national rate.

Adonis Boone was convicted in 2015 of drug possession, carrying a concealed weapon, unarmed robbery and battery. He was set to leave prison in late 2018.

In the parking lot outside the prison, his mother stood at the rear passenger’s side of her four-door sedan and began pulling her son’s things out of the plastic sack: A gray sweatshirt; prison-issued bottles of off-brand shampoo and hair gel; issues of Rolling Stone and Fortune magazines; a family photo album; a bible.

She took out letters she had sent him, with print-outs of words in Swahili he likely wanted to work into the rap lyrics he was writing and clemency paperwork he asked her to send but did not fill out.

“If he was alive and well and I was going through this stuff I’d be yelling at him, ‘didn't I tell you to get your stuff organized?’ ” Boone said.

On one of her visits to the prison, Boone’s son told her he wrote a song about her. That’s one of the things she’s been thinking about in the six weeks since he died, she said. She couldn’t find the lyrics in the parking lot — there were too many papers to dig through.

“I can’t wait to get home and — hopefully I find the one for me,” she said.

Boone has many lingering questions about her son’s death, she said. No one has told her how it happened, what lead to it, or who was responsible for it.

“I’m still gonna call them,” she said. “So I know they don’t think that’s the last of us.”

Pulse victims live on in beauty salon

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 6, 2017.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez is everywhere in his family’s Central Florida Parkway salon. He’s in the furniture he chose, the model he styled in photos hanging in the front windows, the magenta-and-lime drawing of his eyes that hangs on the back wall.

But he’s also absent — not walking out of the back room with his hair tools, not planning parties with his longtime partner, Luis Conde, not swiping colorful eye shadows onto clients to make them feel beautiful.

In the year since Rivera and Conde were killed in the Pulse nightclub, Rivera’s mother and sister have been running the business without him.

“To open the salon was not easy,” said Rivera’s older sister, Jessica Silva. “This is his dream; this is what he lived for. So opening again without him, it’s like we’re missing something. It’s incomplete.”

Until last June, Alta Peluquería D’Magazine Salón was on East Osceola Parkway in Kissimmee. But coming back to that space was hard for Rivera’s mother, Angelita Velázquez, who worked with him side-by-side five days a week. She kept looking toward the back as if she expected him to come out of an office, Silva said. They couldn’t reopen there, but they couldn’t just give up, either.

“We’re not closing. We’re not shutting off his dreams,” Silva said. “We’re just continuing it.”

They found another space, at 2132 Central Florida Parkway, between John Young Parkway and Orange Blossom Trail, and reopened as D’Magazine by Juan P Salon in December, on Conde’s birthday. The furniture, the photos and the clients Rivera and Conde had cultivated came with them.

On a recent Friday morning, before the weekend rush, Velázquez took client Tania Mercader of Orlando — a friend of Rivera and Conde — to a sink in the back of the salon, where she rinsed her chestnut-colored hair. Then she sat Mercader down in the first chair near the door, facing away from the mirror and the photo of Rivera and Conde in dapper suits and sunglasses, and started blowing out her hair with a round brush.

Silva sat on the other side of the salon with her 12-year-old son, who had just graduated from elementary school that morning.

“Sexy!” Silva called across the room. They laughed. Velázquez switched to a hair-straightening iron and went over Mercader’s hair, smoothing it section by section.

Silva dug into a makeup kit at the next station and pulled out some powder and a shiny nude-colored lip gloss. She swiped the gloss onto Mercader’s lips, just for an extra boost.

They act as if they’re under a watchful eye: A family friend created a rectangular canvas with Rivera’s eyes in bright magenta and green, which hangs at the back of the salon. Those eyes follow everyone around the salon, both to support them and to make sure they’re doing everything right, Silva joked.

“He’s just taking care of us,” Silva said. “So we have to do things exactly how he wanted because he’s watching every single day.”

Rivera and Conde met at a club in Puerto Rico. They decided to move to Florida spontaneously, just for a change, Silva said.

“They had the perfect relationship,” Silva said. “They got along so, so, so well.”

Conde was “el niño adulto,” the grown-up child, Silva said — goofier, more spontaneous.

Rivera was the more serious one, “the one that had the big dreams,” Silva said.

“They never harmed anyone. They were the most gentle men, and they had the best hearts,” Silva said.

Silva said she’s not sure what they’ll do to mark the one-year observance of Pulse on Monday. They might stay home and ask loved ones to stop by, she said.

Rivera and Conde used to throw big parties for their friends and loved ones. They planned them for months, with themes like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Avatar.”

Their families and friends haven’t thrown a big party like that since they’ve been gone.

“We want to plan parties,” Silva said. “Maybe not this year, maybe not next year. But síeverything has to continue.”

Civil citations gain popularity as alternative to arresting minors

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on Nov. 30, 2016.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

Orlando Police Chief John Mina remembers getting into a fight at school when he was young. He got an in-school suspension, he said, and learned not to do it again.

Now, a similar scuffle or other youthful indiscretion can leave minors with arrest records. But if the crime is not severe and the minor takes responsibility, law enforcement officers can write civil citations instead, leaving children and teens without arrest records.

"Our police officers, all of us, we didn't get into law enforcement to arrest kids," Mina said at a news conference presented Wednesday by the League of Women Voters' Orange County chapter, which has been championing the cause of civil citations for about two years.

The number of juvenile arrests in Florida and in Orange County has declined, but Orange County led the state in the number of juvenile arrests made in three of the past four years, beating much more populous counties, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

During those years, law enforcement officers in the county also arrested more children between the ages of 5 and 12 than officers in any other county, according to the Ninth Circuit Public Defender's Office.

The DJJ now has a policy that citations should be preferred over arrests for juveniles.

The Orlando Police Department gave citations in 38 percent of eligible cases in the 12-month period that ended in June, a marked increase from 4 percent the year before. The Orange County Sheriff's Office went from 24 percent to 31 percent during the same time period. But the statewide average in the past fiscal year was 51 percent, and in Miami-Dade County, that rate was 94 percent.

"We think our law enforcement officers on the street believe arrests are good and they show discipline to children, and they're a life-changing event," Public Defender Bob Wesley said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, the life-changing event is that a kid who is arrested is more likely to offend [again]."

Orange County has other systems in place to deal with juvenile offenders, such as pretrial diversion programs that let minors avoid criminal convictions after an arrest. But those may not have the same effect.

In the past year, law enforcement departments in Orange County have been trying to give out more citations in place of arrests. Proponents of civil citations argue that when used for first-time offenders of low-level crimes, they lower recidivism, save money and let minors go on with their lives without the burden of a criminal record.

The DJJ said minors who receive citations have only a 5 percent recidivism rate, less than the roughly 9 percent of minors who are arrested and put into pretrial diversion programs.

Officials can only estimate how much money the program would save if used more widely, because cases vary. A minor who goes to trial and is then sent to a detention facility will have a more expensive case than one whose charges are resolved by pretrial diversion.

Dewey Caruthers of the St. Petersburg think tank Caruthers Institute said that by his calculations, giving 100 percent of eligible minors civil citations would have saved Orange County between $1.3 million and $4.1 million from October 2015 to September 2016.

The citations are not issued for major violent felonies, nor are they given for crimes involving gangs. Instead, they are handed to minors caught shoplifting, vandalizing property, drinking a beer or getting into a schoolyard fight with no serious injuries.

Officers have guidelines outlining the circumstances in which they can give citations instead of making arrests. If minors are eligible for a citation, it's up to the arresting officers to decide whether to arrest them.

To get a citation, minors must admit what they did and take responsibility for their actions. The victim of the crime, whether it's a classmate who was shoved or a business owner whose property was stolen, has to agree that a civil citation would be more appropriate than an arrest.

The case then goes to the State Attorney's Office, where prosecutors talk to the minors and their parents about community service and other programs, such as anger management for a child who gets into fights or an alcohol dependency program for a teenager caught drinking. The minors may have to pay restitution or write a letter to apologize.

The Clerk of Courts does not keep a record of the case, and no criminal record will show up in future background checks.

But the kids can still be connected with social services and other resources, said Capt. Ron Chapman of the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

"I've been in this business for several decades now. When I started, it was 'take them home to their mom, leave them.' There was no real follow-up on anything," he said.

Besides those at Pulse nightclub, 64 homicides reported this year in Orange County

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 27, 2016.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

It's June 16, four days after the Pulse nightclub massacre, and 16-year-old Teryus Garmon is standing in an Orange County driveway with a friend.

A dark-colored car full of people passes by. Someone inside pulls a gun and shoots, killing Teryus and his friend, 18-year-old Lee Nelson.

Excluding the 49 people killed at Pulse, they were Orange County's 60th and 61st homicide victims in a tally that now numbers 64, putting the county on a pace to equal or surpass the record of 123 homicides in 2008. If the Pulse victims are included, the 2016 homicide number now stands at 113 — 100 of whom died from gunfire.

Teryus' mother, Catresia Delane, said her friends and neighbors have been supportive of her family, sending their love and coming out for a candlelight vigil. But her son's death underscores the area's violence, even without the June 12 mass shooting.

"I understand why the Pulse thing is under so much news coverage because it was such a large event, you know, with so many people," Delane said. "But there's so much going on in Orlando, you can't keep up with everything anyway. I mean, every time you turn on the news there's two or three shootings."

The homicide total for this year includes unincorporated Orange County, the city of Orlando and smaller municipalities. Fifty-one of the non-Pulse victims were killed with guns, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of law-enforcement and medical-examiner records.

In comparison, Hillsborough County, which has a population slightly larger than Orange County's, has seen 41 homicides, 31 of them gun-related. Miami-Dade County, with roughly twice as many residents, has had 103 homicides, 79 of them involving guns.

"This is a very unique situation, the Pulse," said Orlando Commissioner Samuel Ings. "…It's difficult to compare because not everyone, like this particular suspect, is just going out to do harm inside of the club and hold people hostage. This is just pure hate and terror that he was causing in the name of his group that he pledged his allegiance to."

The number of non-Pulse homicides within Orlando city limits through Monday has more than doubled compared with the same period in 2015, Ings pointed out, from nine to 19.

"It's so hard to try to figure out how to stop events like this," he said.

Teryus' mother came to his viewing Friday wearing a white T-shirt with his photo printed on it. She knew she had to be there for one of her daughters, who collapsed in tears as she approached the room where Teryus lay in an open casket.

Teryus, the middle child in a family of five siblings, had just finished his freshman year at Evans High School and was excited to no longer be one of the younger kids in school, his mother said.

He liked playing football and the video game Call of Duty, she said. He liked making everyone in the room laugh. He liked playfully calling his mother, asking if she'd cooked dinner that night.

"I don't want to hear the stereotypes of him being another little thug kid hanging out in the streets, because that wasn't him," Delane said. "…He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that's it. The neighborhood where everything happened at — their grandmother's lived in that neighborhood for 15 years. So they know the kids in the neighborhood and everything. It's just, I don't know. I just don't know how that happened."

Deputies have not made any arrests in the killings of Teryus and Nelson. While they wait for updates, his family members are trying to adjust to life without him.

"Certain things, I guess it takes a while to get used to," Delane said. "Not calling their name or including them in whatever you've got going on."

Joy, then fear at Orlando's Pulse nightclub

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 13, 2016.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

Brandon Wolf didn't really want to go out Saturday night, but a friend convinced him. So he showed up at the Pulse Orlando nightclub on South Orange Avenue with three friends, hoping to have a fun night.

It was Latin Night, and the club was full of couples and friends who were dancing and talking.

Closing time neared, and Wolf and one of his friends were in the bathroom. That's where they started hearing gunshots. Maybe 20 of them.

"And then we heard them get closer," he said. "So we had to run."

2:02 a.m.

A uniformed Orlando police officer working at the club off-duty first heard gunshots. Omar Mateen was outside with an AR-15, a handgun and an explosive device.

The officer fired at him, police said. Two more officers showed up and opened fire.

Mateen fired back, and walked back into Pulse, trapping dozens of people inside.

2:09 a.m.

A message was posted onto Pulse Orlando's Facebook page: "Everyone get out of pulse and keep running."

Wolf and his friend hid in the bathroom. Then they heard the gun shots getting closer and decided they had to run.

"All I heard was gunfire after gunfire," Wolf said. "Eventually, I thought you were supposed to run out of ammunition. But it just kept going and going."

Ivory Mcneal was in the club's patio area when he started hearing the shots.

"People were running everywhere. Gunshots were going off. People were ducking," Mcneal said.

In the three hours that followed, more than 100 law enforcement officers gathered near the club to assess the situation and wait. People were still inside, calling 911 from a bathroom, wanting to be rescued.

5 a.m.

Police decided to go in.

They drove an armored vehicle through a wall, breaking their way in. They threw two Distraction Devices, which released loud bangs and bright lights.

Mateen shot at the officers who came into the club. One of the bullets he fired hit an officer's Kevlar helmet – which likely saved his life.

The officers opened fire. Mateen fell to the ground, dead.

Thirty people were rescued from the club alive, police said. But another 39 people were found dead inside the club, and another two people died outside.

Just after 5 a.m., Brandon Wolf was in a 7-11 parking lot at Orange Avenue and Gore Street. He ran out safely with the friend he was in the club's bathroom with. A third friend was seen being hoisted onto a gurney, injured.

But the fourth, Drew Leinonen, was still missing.

Wolf had called Drew's mother, Christine Leinonen, who got out of bed and started driving from Lakeland. She pulled into the parking lot, got out of the car, and ran toward Wolf.

They embraced and cried.

7 a.m.

At a press conference, Orlando Police Chief John Mina declined to say exactly how many people were killed. But, he said, the number was at least 20. And another 42 people were hospitalized.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks called the shooting an act of terrorism. Officials said the shooter may have been motivated by Islamic extremism.

"Any time that we have potentially dozens of victims in any of our communities, I think we do qualify that as terrorist activity," he said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer called the shooting a "horrific crime."

"Many lives were lost, and many more individuals were impacted by witnessing the crime," he said. "…We are a strong, resilient community. Tonight, we had a crime that will have a lasting effect on our community."

10:30 a.m.

Law enforcement officials counted the casualties: 50 people dead, 53 injured.

"Our focus is going to be on identifying the victims and notifying the families," Dyer said.

Imam Tariq Rasheed of the Islamic Center of Orlando condemned the attack.

"No religious tradition can ever justify nor condone such ruthless and senseless acts of violence," he said. "Our prayers and condolences go out to the family and loved ones of the victims."

Navy grad's cold-case homicide remains unsolved 30 years later

This article was published in The Orlando Sentinel on May 22, 2015.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

When she was growing up on the outskirts of Stillwater, Minn., Pamela Cahanes' parents taught her to be trusting.

She was raised away from the city, in a town with fewer than 10,000 people on the bank of the St. Croix River. Her parents, Louis and Alice Cahanes, ran a dairy farm.

Cahanes was the seventh of eight children: six girls, two boys.

She spent a lot of her time with family: playing softball with her father on Sundays, riding bicycles and doing what she could to help with the farm.

But by 1984, the 25-year-old Cahanes wanted something more.

She had moved about 20 miles away to the city of St. Paul and was working for a publishing company. But it wasn't quite enough.

"She wanted something different," said her brother, 59-year-old Doug Cahanes, who lives in Stillwater. "She wanted a change. I think she wanted to see some of the world, and I think she thought she could do that by joining the Navy."

The timing seemed right: She had just broken up with her boyfriend and was feeling stagnant.

Still, she was a bit hesitant about her decision to enlist.

"She said, 'Mom and dad are not going to like this,'" said her sister Eileen Bergmann, 65, of Lake Elmo, Minn. "I said, 'You have to do what you want to do, not what mom and dad want you to do. If there's something you want to pursue, you go for it.'"

Her parents accepted her decision.

"I don't think they were worried about her being killed," Bergmann said. "They just didn't want to be separated from her."

In late May 1984, Cahanes said goodbye to her family. Her mother drove her to the airport, and she flew 1,300 miles southeast to the Orlando Naval Training Center in what is now Baldwin Park.

But two days after she graduated from boot camp, her adventure was cut short.

The morning of Aug. 5, 1984, Cahanes was found dead in Sanford.

In the 30 years since, her case has remained unsolved. Her father died not knowing who was responsible for his daughter's death.

Her now 96-year-old mother, her siblings and the investigators who have been poring over old files for decades want to see the case solved.

Crime scene

It was just after 7 a.m. Aug. 5, 1984, when a passing driver spotted Cahanes' body in the overgrown grass.

She was facedown, knees folded, in the side yard of a vacant home on what is now the corner of Riverview Avenue and West First Street in Sanford.

Cahanes was wearing only her underwear.

Her white uniform pants lay crumpled inches away. Her white belt and black shoes were also there, near the short-sleeved white uniform shirt with her name in block letters.

Her bra was found three days later about 200 feet from where her body was found. Inside was a prescription-pill bottle containing a paper towel but no pills.

Cahanes was strangled to death, badly beaten and covered in scratches.

But she was not robbed, said Seminole County Sheriff's Office Investigator Bob Jaynes, who has been on the case since the mid-1990s.

All her shopping bags from the previous day lay around her. Nothing was missing, from the $445 in traveler's checks to a pair of tweezers.

"Everything was accounted for," Jaynes said. "The receipt was there; all the items were within the bag."

There was some evidence that investigators could not find the origins of:

•A speck of blue cellophane on her right shoulder and a pubic hair on her left.

•A semen stain on her underwear, which matched the DNA profile of scrapings found under her fingernails.

•Yellow carpet fibers clinging to the waistband of her pants.

Investigators zeroed in on a man who hung around the base hitting on recruits, but his DNA was not a match when investigators tested it years later.

Today, there are no real suspects.

"She could have been killed in the Winter Park or Orlando area or on the Navy base, I don't know," Jaynes said. "Or just transported over there and dumped. What the attraction was, what the connection is ... when I find the guy, I'll find out."

Boot camp

At boot camp, most of the women in Cahanes' class were younger than she. Many were just out of high school, away from home for the first time.

The schedule was rigorous.

"It's a hard way at first, but it's a great way to become independent, and then have support, financially, emotionally, of the people that you're with," said Marsha Litwin, who graduated boot camp with Cahanes but does not remember her well.

Recruits woke up at 5 a.m.

"I just remember the lights being flipped on, and you've got 15 minutes to be on the line," Litwin said.

After inspection, where petty officers expected clean uniforms and impeccably made bunks, they had a hot breakfast of bacon and watery eggs.

Their days were filled with exercise drills and classes where they learned about ships and naval history.

The only free time came in the evenings, when recruits often chatted, smoked cigarettes or slept. For Cahanes, this time was spent singing with the Blue Jackets choral group and writing letters home.

Sherri Onorati also graduated with Cahanes but has only a vague memory of her.

Onorati does remember graduation weekend — the first break in their boot-camp routine. They had a curfew, but some sneaked out to Club Mariner in civilian clothing, she said.

"For me and a lot my friends, it was the first time that we drank or had been exposed to that kind of stuff," Onorati said.

Two of Onorati's photos from graduation weekend show Cahanes in a white uniform with a black-and-white cap, her arms around other women in her class. She's grinning.

Detailed timeline

Jaynes and other investigators have assembled a timeline of the day before Cahanes was killed using time-stamped receipts found at the crime scene and witness interviews.

But one of the case details Jaynes continues to investigate is this: Who was the man Cahanes was seen with the day before she was killed?

In 1984, investigators said the man was probably involved with the Navy or boot camp in some way, since recruits had almost no free time to meet people off-base.

In a letter she wrote her mother Aug. 1, Cahanes said she liked two men in her brother company: Vasques Gonzales and Allen Williams.

The two men do not appear in the Navy's records, Jaynes said.

Investigators have no idea who these men Cahanes mentions in the letter might be. Jaynes said the men might not be suspects. They just have never been able to track them down.

But what investigators do know is roughly how Cahanes spent her last hours alive.

Witnesses reported seeing Cahanes in Orlando Fashion Square mall on East Colonial Drive between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

At 3:18 p.m., she bought makeup and toiletries at a Kmart near Fashion Square mall. A witness told police a man was with her. The two seemed friendly. They got into a car and drove off.

Cahanes and a man were in front of the Navy base on Main Street between 6:30 and 7 p.m., witnesses told investigators.

They were together at Club Mariner, a bar at the base, sometime between 6 and 8 p.m., according to witnesses.

At some point that evening, Cahanes left the club.

At 1:09 a.m., it appears Cahanes or someone she was with bought takeout at a Chinese restaurant. A receipt for about $4 found at the crime scene did not list a business name, Jaynes said. But a takeout container was found nearby.

Cahanes ate some vegetables, her autopsy showed. It was her last meal.

By sunrise, she was dead.

Since the death

The Seminole County Sheriff's Office and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have now spent three decades on the case.

In recent years, Jaynes has been running the DNA found on Cahanes through every database he can access. He's yet to get a positive hit.

Across from his desk at the Seminole County sheriff's headquarters, Jaynes has a printed-out photo of Cahanes. She's in uniform in front of an American flag, smiling.

"The mother's getting elderly, you know. I'd really like to solve this thing," Jaynes said.

Cahanes was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Her father, a World War II veteran, was buried in the same cemetery in 2001.

The family is still hoping for answers. But whoever killed her has gone three decades without being found.

"And who knows," Doug Cahanes said. "The person might be deceased by now too, for as long as it's been."

Two who aided Marathon victims meet again in Dorchester

This article was published in The Boston Globe's metro section on May 20, 2013.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

Larry Hittinger and Michael Ward first encountered each other in the chaotic aftermath of the Marathon bombings, when they helped a young, injured boy and carried him to EMTs.

In the month since, Hittinger, an ironworker from Melrose whose formal medical training ended with a first aid class 35 years ago, said he hadn’t talked to anyone who, like him, ran toward the explosions to help.

“I always wondered who the other people were,” Hittinger said. “I always wondered who was there, who helped.”

At a Dorchester event to raise money for victims of the Bombing on Sunday, Hittinger officially met Ward, a Massport fire lieutenant and EMT from Charlestown.

A friend pointed out Ward to Hittinger, who realized he was looking at the man who was next to him in a widely circulated photo in which the two are helping to carry a young, injured boy covered in a white cloth after the bombing.

Hittinger and Ward spoke for about an hour Sunday. Together, they tried to piece together what happened in the minutes after two bombs exploded on Boylston Street on April 15, killing three and injuring more than 260.

When the first bomb exploded, Ward had just found a spot near a barrier close to Fairfield and Boylston streets and was cheering for runners. Hittinger had just finished a meal at Atlantic Fish Co., next to the location of the second bomb.

Both men said they were afraid a third bomb could explode. Hittinger said he ran down Boylston Street, checking manhole covers to see if any looked like they were recently moved, perhaps to plant a bomb. Then they turned to the victims, who were bleeding, burnt, covered in soot, and terrified. “You couldn’t tell if [victims] were black or white, you couldn’t tell if [victims] were boy or girl,” Hittinger said.

Ward made a decision. “I thought, I could die here, but I’m not leaving these people,” he said.

Ward said he saw Hittinger, calm and focused, and assumed he was a police detective.

“I thought you were in public safety or something,” Ward said. “The way you reacted, your head was very deliberate.”

Hittinger stayed with the injured boy they carried in the photo, and Ward helped other victims. Ward said he would like to meet more of the victims he saw and helped, but that he wouldn’t want to be a bother.

Ward and Hittinger exchanged contact information and hugged. “God bless what you did,” Ward said. “I’ve been looking for you. You saved a lot of people that day.”

 

Next: Bat fan visits Boston to learn about disease

Bat fan visits Boston to learn about disease

This article was published in The Boston Globe's metro section on Dec. 9. 2012. 

By Gal Tziperman Lotan

They took a few minutes to emerge from their sleeping nooks, but the moment the ruwenzori longhaired fruit bats started swooping back and forth in their Franklin Park Zoo habitat Saturday morning, 8-year-old Miriam Parrucci lit up.

Miri, a third-grader from Havertown, Pa., has loved bats since her mother read her “Stellaluna,” a book about a bat who raised by birds, when she was a year old.

And she has worried about bats since she read an article in her second-grade class about white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by fungus that is devastating hibernating bats in North America.

“It’s a fungus that lives in caves, and it affects bats that hibernate,” she said Saturday. “Bats are my favorite animals, and they are going to be extinct.”

Her parents, Lynn and Paul, drove Miri and her 13-year-old brother, John, to Boston on Friday so Miri could visit the Kunz Bat Lab at Boston University, where researchers are studying the fungus. They also stopped at the zoo to see live bats, which the lab does not keep.

Ann Froschauer, national white-nose syndrome communications leader for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said she heard about Miri’s love of bats and organized the visit to encourage her interest and maybe help her become a bat biologist, which Miri said she wants to be when she grows up.

“White-nose syndrome is kind of hard to understand, it’s complicated,” Froschauer said. “The fact that she was already interested in bats and she kind of gets the disease means she’s already ahead.”

The ruwenzori longhaired fruit bats that Miri saw are native to eastern Africa and are not affected by white-nose syndrome. But the fungus has seriously affected seven bat species and nearly devastated the little brown bat, which was common in New England. Before the fungus spread, the little brown bat population had been steadily increasing for two to three decades, said Alison Robbins, director of a master’s in conservation medicine program at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

White-nose syndrome has been found in 19 US states and four Canadian provinces since 2006 , killing about 5.5 million bats, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

White-nose syndrome causes insectivorous hibernating bats to wake up in midwinter and go looking for food. The bats fly outside, sometimes during the day, which is abnormal, to find food and water, said Robbins. Most of the bats die of starvation or dehydration because there are fewer insects for them to eat in winter.

“Nobody knows what effects losing the bats in New England will have on our ecosystem,” Robbins said. “Bats certainly eat lots and lots of insects, they eat about twice their body weight every night.”

The geomyces destructans fungus may have come to the United States from Europe, where local species have white fungus growing on their faces and wings.

Studying the syndrome is difficult. Breeding little brown bats in captivity, where researchers and veterinarians could monitor for the fungus, is often futile.

“As far as I know, there are no captive colonies of little brown bats that breed in captivity,” Robbins said. “We just don’t know enough about their nutritional needs, and their diets in captivity are very limited.”

But researchers are working on other ways to help the bats.

At Tufts, researchers are considering treating bats with antifungal medication before they go into hibernation for the winter, Robbins said.

Other wildlife veterinarians and biologists build artificial caves near bat colonies, hoping the animals will move to a home that is not infected, or study whether the caves where bats hibernate can be kept clear of the fungus.

In New England, “we have been living with 90 percent fewer bats in the last three or four years, since 2009,” she said. “It’s a real tragedy.”

At the Kunz Bat Lab, Miri and John danced in front of thermal cameras that bat ecologist Nathan Fuller set up for a demonstration. They rubbed their feet on the floor to create hot spots and stuck their tongues out to see how warm they are.

Fuller uses thermal cameras, which sense heat rather than light, to study bats’ collective movements in large groups and the impact the syndrome has on little brown bats’ wings.

“There’s no way you can see bats at night without help,” he said, removing a camera from its plastic case. “It’s really hard work . . . but it’s fun, because you get to see bats in their natural environment with their natural behaviors, not manipulated at all.”

Fuller played a thermal imaging video of bats circling Frio Cave outside Uvalde, Texas, and explained how he attaches radio transmitters to bats so he can track them with a small battery-operated airplane.

Fuller and Froschauer then took the Parruccis to a teaching lab in the Metcalf Center for Science and Engineering and showed them bat specimens.

For the first time, Miri got to touch a bat.

She held a female cave myotis bat on her flat palm and patted its back with a finger, admiring the bat’s fur and feet.

“I think I’m gonna name her Zombie, because she’s dead,” she said.

Next: Cambridge Food Inspectors Alone In Lacking Power To Fine