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Teen Has Been Missing Since June


A 13-year-old girl has been missing since June and Naugatuck police are asking for help to find her.

On June 10, Arael Laboy was reported missing to West Haven Police. The family recently moved from West Haven to Naugatuck and has not had contact with her.

She was last seen with her family at a karate studio on The Boston Post Road in West Haven, police said.

She told her father that she needed to use the bathroom and never returned.

The family notified the Naugatuck school system that the girl was missing and the school advised the family to also notify Naugatuck police, police said.

Laboy is 5-feet-4 and weighs 130 pounds. She has brown eyes and long black hair.

Anyone with information on Laboy should call Naugatuck Police department at (203) 729-5221


Photo Credit: Naugatuck police

Owner of Thin Florida Dog Arrested on Unrelated Charges


A man who was under scrutiny for his rail-thin dog this week was arrested by Fort Lauderdale Police Thursday – but the charges have nothing to do with his pet.

D'Anthony Davis, 23, was arrested on outstanding warrants out of Polk County after the animal rights group that focused attention on his Doberman Pinscher found the warrants and gave them to Fort Lauderdale Police.

The pet’s other owner, Sherene Walker, 22 – who police identified as Davis’ girlfriend – was also arrested Thursday on charges unrelated to the dog, according to her arrest affidavit. The dog, which is named Duchess, has been temporarily turned over to animal control.

A photo of Duchess that was posted on Facebook by 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida went viral earlier this week, leading group members to demonstrate outside Davis and Walker’s home on the 1600 block of Northeast 17th Ave. on Tuesday. They said the dog was emaciated and tethered at the house.

Police detectives and a Broward County Animal Control specialist investigated their claims Wednesday morning and found no signs of neglect or abuse, police said. They found the dog untethered in the backyard. Animal control said the dog was underweight because of hookworm, but otherwise did not appear to be in poor health.

Outraged by the police response, the animal rights group did a little digging.

"We had spent all night, Carol and I and a few other wonderful people, researching,” said Amy Roman, the president and founder of 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida.

She said they found out that there were warrants for Davis’ arrest in Polk County and gave the information to detectives. He was wanted on several warrants on charges including resisting an officer without violence and trespassing, according to Fort Lauderdale Police.

Davis was also given new charges of resisting an officer without violence because he pulled away from police, and with violating a domestic violence injunction order because he was staying at the home with Walker, his arrest affidavit said.

Walker faces charges of disorderly conduct, resisting an officer without violence, contributing to the delinquency of a child and aggravated child abuse for her actions at the home Thursday, police said in her arrest affidavit. She said she did not know Davis’ whereabouts and said she was alone in the home, though he was found inside a bedroom, police said. When police began to walk towards the bedroom Walker pushed an officer, while holding her daughter who is less than one year old in her arm, and several times she used the child to block the officers’ path by turning the child toward them, the affidavit said.

The child has been taken into the custody of the Department of Children and Families, police said. Duchess has been temporarily turned over to animal control. It wasn’t immediately known whether Davis or Walker have attorneys.

Davis said Wednesday that the whole ordeal involving Duchess was a misunderstanding.

"I take care of my dog," he said. "I had dogs all my life. My parents taught me to take care of stuff I have ... I wouldn't neglect the dog, because I think that's unfair to the dog."

But Roman said of their arrests, “It just shows their character, it is related, it’s character of who they are. They can say it’s unrelated all they want.”

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Photo Credit: Broward Sheriff's Office

Twerking Students' Records Cleared


The San Diego area high school students punished for participating in a now-infamous twerking video have had their records cleared.

NBC 7: Students Suspended Over Twerking Video

San Diego Unified School District agreed to erase any record of discipline related to the incident including the sexual harassment charges of any student suspended for producing the controversial video.

The video, created recently by students in a media class at Scripps Ranch High School, shows teenaged girls twerking or popping their hips in a suggestive dance.

Thirty-two students danced and one student used school property to videotape the group outside class. On April 30, the school suspended all involved.

A confidential settlement was reached between the school district and parents Thursday.

Parents appealed the decision by SRHS Principal Ann Menna to suspend the students and ban some of them from prom, graduation and other school activities.

Attorney Ruth Hargrove represents three of the young women involved.  One of her clients was on the verge of having to reveal her record after being granted a scholarship.

She's relieved the suspension will no longer jeopardize students' college applications -- as the matter would have appeared on the widely used "common application."

Many parents defended the students’ actions with some dismissing the video as high school antics and others explaining that their daughters thought they were helping a classmate with a school project.

In May, SDUSD board trustees voted not to intervene saying disciplinary action is left up to the individual school, not the district.

Hargrove said there seemed to be a shift in the district's perspective that led to an agreement.

A district spokesperson would not comment in detail about this, just saying a mutual agreement was reached and that students should be mindful of what they post online.

The seniors involved were able to go to prom and walk in the graduation ceremony despite earlier threats from school administrators.

The Scripps Ranch HS student handbook specifically outlines its sexual harassment policy prohibiting “verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature made by someone from or in the educational setting.”


Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego

Crash on I-91 South in New Haven


Traffic is building on Interstate 91 South in New Haven after a crash involving a tractor-trailer and a multiple cars.

Three of four lanes of I-91 South are closed at exit 4 New Haven, according to State Police Troop.

Whether there are injuries is not known.


Photo Credit: Connecticut DOT Traffic Cams

Fire Destroys New London Building


Fire destroyed a building on Elm Street in New London that housed a glass company as well as a contracting company.

No one was inside when the fire broke out at 103 Elm Street around 5 a.m. on Friday, according to officials, and no injuries are reported.  

Bert Brouillier, owner of Cathedral Stained Glass, found out about the fire when an employee called him to say the shop was on fire.

He rushed over to the building and found that decades of work was destroyed in minutes.

"My merchandise, files, photographs, contracts," he said.

Fire officials said it took crews 30 minutes to knock the fire down

"When they got here, it was fully involved. And the flames were shooting through the roof and out through the front door," Fire Marshal Calvin Darrow, of the New London Fire Department, said.

Power had to be shut down to building and the utility company is working to restore it.

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, Brouillier plans to resume his business when he can.

"It'll just take me a little while. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll get back on my feet and keep on going," he said.

This photo is from Ramon Chaparro, a nearby resident.


Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Suspect in Torrington Sex Assault Case Pleads Guilty


One of the four Torrington High School football players arrested in connection with a sexual assault case has pleaded guilty and will serve nine months in prison.

Joan Toribio, 18, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended after nine months, and will be on probation for 10 years. 

Toribio was charged with sex assaults of two 13-year-old Torrington Middle School students.

He will undergo a sex offender evaluation and cannot have any contact with victim or her family. 

Four teens were charged in the case, which rocked the community.

One victim was threatened through social media, which forced school administrators to send out a letter to parents warning that students could be suspended, or even expelled, for cyber bullying.

In the wake of the arrests, there were allegations of cyber-bullying aimed at a victim. The superintendent warned that inappropriate comments made against a student or staff member could lead to punishment, including possible expulsion.

Edgar Gonzalez, 18, is also accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in January and will appear in court today.

Gonzalez's lawyer, J. Patten Brown III, has said the allegations against his client appear to involve consensual, but statutorily illegal, sex.

A 17-year-old Torrington High School student and a 17-year-old football player were also charged. 

Woman Cleaned Cop's Horse Manure Voluntarily: Police


A woman in a video posted to the Internet showing her cleaning up the manure for a Fort Lauderdale Police officer's horse said she volunteered to do it.

In the video, the  woman is shown scooping up the manure into a plastic bag on the sidewalk on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard as three officers sit atop their horses nearby, in the video posted to YouTube by the Broward New Times Thursday.

"I was like, 'Oh my God,' that cop is going to let this horse s---t everywhere. So, I was upset about it. So, I stormed across the street and I was like, 'Officer, what are you going to do with all this horse poop?' 'He was like, well, I was going to scoop it up and I was like, let me do it for you,'" said Shannon Marie.

The video (below) shows the woman, wearing a tank top, jean shorts and flip-flops, cleaning the poop as passersby stare and a man standing next to the horses films the woman.

At one point, the officer appears to be directing the woman, pointing at the pile as she is bent over cleaning.

But Fort Lauderdale Police said Friday that the woman volunteered to clean the manure for the officer. They said the woman was talking to the officer when the horse did its business and the woman, who said she used to have horses of her own, said she didn't mind cleaning up the mess. And a restaurant employee, who wants to remain anonymous, vouches for that.

The employee said the woman was sitting at the bar having some drinks, and she volunteered to go over and clean it up.

"Why would you do that? Cause poop doesn't bother me to be honest. I'm a nurse and it just doesn't bother me and I live horses," she said.

According to the Fort Lauderdale Police website, their mounted unit was formed in 1983.


Photo Credit: Getty Images

Burglary Suspect Flees, Runs Into Woman's House Naked: Deputies


A man was caught with his pants down after he ran naked into a nearby South Florida house following an attempted robbery, officials said.

Deputies were called to the 1100 block of Hamptons Boulevard in North Lauderdale after a witness saw two men walk out of a home with a 50-inch television, according to a Broward County arrest report.

Authorities were able to catch up with one of the men, 21-year-old Zane Thompson-Henry, but the other man, 21-year-old Patrick James, ran away, the report said.

As James fled, an officer grabbed onto his clothing to try and stop him, causing James' pants to fall down, officials said. In order to get away, James took off his shirt and pants, and he fled the area with no clothes on, the report said.

He then ran into a nearby house where the door happened to be open, officials said. He made a hand gesture to be quiet to the two women who were talking inside and ducked behind the kitchen cabinets, according to the arrest report.

Deputies arrested him at the woman's house. He was charged with grand theft, burglary of an occupied residence, resisting an officer without violence and violation of his community control. He was being held without bond in the Broward County Main Jail as of Friday.

Thompson-Henry was charged with grand theft, burglary and resisting an officer without violence. He was being held on $4,600 bond at the Broward County Mail Jail as of Friday.

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Photo Credit: Broward Sheriff's Office

Manchester Manhunt


Police are looking for two white men in their 30s, one of whom they say has a gun and might be suicidal. They believe the second person is his friend. Cheney Tech, East Catholic, and Vurbanck Elementary were locked down this afternoon following the initial report.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Woman Loses $50,000 in Online Dating Scam: Deputies


A 66-year-old Florida woman lost $50,000 after a person she met on a dating site scammed her into sending funds for a supposed building project, officials said.

The Ocala woman developed an online relationship with the suspect via a popular dating site, said a news release from the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

According to authorities, the suspect's pitch was this: “I’m a contractor who is in the process of building a bridge in Malaysia and I need money to start the project.”

Now, officials are reminding seniors to watch out for online scams. The sheriff's office is hosting a "Be Scam Smart" workshop as part of Operation S.A.F.E. (Stop Adult Financial Exploitation) at 10 a.m. on Oct. 16th. Registration begins at 9 a.m. at the Marion County Sheriff's Office at 3300 NW 10th Street in Ocala.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

New Fairfield Man Killed While Serving in Afghanistan


A 22-year-old New Fairfield man was killed in the line of duty while serving with New York's Air National Guard in Afghanistan.

Todd James “T.J.” Lobraico died this week. His family was notified this morning, town officials said.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Lobraico died from wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Lobraico grew up in Sherman and was a 2008 graduate of New Fairfield High School. He was a four-year member of the Future Business Leaders of America and worked with the Rebel Press, according to the school superintendent.

High school teacher Chris Welter described Lobraico as kind and compassionate.

"It was this compassion and sense of honor and duty that led him to proudly serve his country," Welter said in a statement. "Our community and our country have lost an amazing young man."

His stepmother, Diane Lobraico, was the assistant tax collector in New Fairfield until earlier this summer, according to the office of the First Selectman.

His father, also named Todd, is an officer with the Stamford Police Department.

“I am heartbroken for the family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” said New Fairfield First Selectman, Susan Chapman, in a statement. 

Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Connecticut.

"This loss reminds us of the dangers faced by our men and women stationed overseas. We should all be grateful for their service and sacrifices to our country," Malloy said in a statement.

While in high school, Lobraico participated in several charitable causes, according to FBLA advisor Joe Gargano.

A candlelight vigil for Lobraico will take place in New Fairfield on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., just prior to the town's 9/11 remembrance ceremony, according to town officials.

Community members from both Sherman and New Fairfield are invited to attend.

Photo Credit: Facebook

Man Sentenced in Calif. Suitcase Murder


The mother of a slain California woman who was strangled and stuffed in a suitcase blasted her daughter's convicted killer on Friday, saying she feels “so much hate” for the man and wishes he would suffer the same way her daughter did.

“I dream about my girl all the time,” Judith Brauer, the mother of Christine Stewart, said during Friday's sentencing hearing for Joseph David Dorsey. “I keep thinking she’s still going to come home.

“My heart is destroyed. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my daughter because she was stuck in a suitcase for three days," she added.

Dorsey, 29, was sentenced to serve 56 years to life in state prison for killing Stewart, a woman he once dated, and stuffing her body in a suitcase before leaving it in a motel.

The Lake Elsinore man was convicted of first degree murder in June.

The case began Aug. 6, 2012, when police received a report that Stewart had gone missing.

Investigators learned that Dorsey had checked into a room at a Best Western in Poway, but never checked out.

So motel employees took possession of property he left behind, including a 3-foot by 18-inch rolling suitcase with the 5-foot-2 body inside, police said.

Dorsey and Stewart were dating at the time of the slaying and he killed her at his Lake Elsinore apartment before heading to Poway, officials said.

Dorsey, who is an American citizen, was arrested at Rosarito Beach, Mexico, on Oct. 23, 2012. 

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Just-Married Couple Rappels Down 19-Story Hotel


A just-married bride slowly rappelled down the side of a downtown Miami hotel after her wedding atop the building Friday, stopping at times so a photographer could take pictures of her as she made the descent.

Rebecca Shackelford sped up along the bottom portion of the building and reached the ground just before 6:40 p.m.

Her husband, Carlos Gato, made his way down the JW Marriott Marquis Miami at a much faster clip.

He said beforehand, "I think that after this we can get through anything, because I was so impressed that when I asked her, I originally thought that she was going to put up a little bit of a fight for me, saying, ‘No, no, I don’t want to do that.’ But it was immediately ‘Yes, yes, that’s a great idea. So I’m like, that’s awesome.”

The couple, the winners of a social media contest tied to the Miami Children’s Initiative “Over the Edge” fundraiser, are among hundreds of South Floridians rappelling 19 stories down the hotel at 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way on Friday and Saturday.

The wedding was scheduled for 5 p.m. on the hotel’s 19th-floor pool deck, publicist Julia Wakefield said. It ran late, however.

“And then after the wedding is over, the couple will exchange a kiss and then rappel down,” she said.

The couple, who won the “Wed Over the Edge” contest, were greeted by friends and family on the ground.

This is the second year the rappelling fundraiser has been held for the Miami Children’s Initiative, a nonprofit group that works to improve Liberty City and break the cycle of poverty “by investing in the potential of every child.”

“Based on the success of our first ‘Over the Edge’ event last year, we are receiving tremendous interest in this year’s event and we expect to have an even higher turnout,” said Cecilia Gutierrez-Abety, the organization’s managing director, in a news release. “It is inspiring to see so many South Floridians ready to literally go ‘over the edge’ for Liberty City’s children – truly a testament to the importance of our mission.”

One of the community leaders who will rappel is Miami-Dade Superintdent of Schools Alberto Carvalho, who was due to make his descent after the wedding.

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Photo Credit: NBC 6 South Florida

UPS Driver Rescues Woman in Burning Pickup


A driver used a fire extinguisher from his UPS delivery truck to put out flames on a woman involved in a fiery wreck Friday on the 60 Freeway in the Mira Loma area east of Los Angeles. 

Three people were injured when the driver of a Lexus CT200 slammed into the back of the stalled pickup on the eastbound side of the Riverside County freeway, triggering an explosion and fire that trapped a passenger in the pickup.

UPS driver Lawrence Sanchez slowed his truck as he approached the stalled pickup. Moments later, the black Lexus collided with the pickup.

"As soon as I started to slow down, the little Lexus rear-ended the truck and it caught on fire," Sanchez said.

The Lexus careened off the pickup and into a wall on the side of the freeway. Sanchez pulled to the side of the road and stopped behind the Lexus, shielding it and the injured driver from oncoming traffic with his delivery truck.

He then noticed a woman trapped inside the burning pickup.

"As the flames got bigger, I got my fire extinguisher from my truck," Sanchez said. "Some other good Samaritans had tried to pull the door, but they could not get it open. There's only so much you can do when it's that hot."

Sanchez started spraying the pickup, beating back the flames and allowing the woman to escape.

"When she got out, her whole head was on fire, so I sprayed the fire extinguisher at her face to put out the flames," Sanchez said. "My fire extinguisher wasn't very big, so I did the best I could.

"It was horrific. The most horrific thing I've seen in 30 years of driving (for UPS)."

The female passenger in the pickup was hospitalized with what authorities described as "major" injuries. The Lexus driver and pickup driver suffered moderate injuries, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

A medical emergency crew in a helicopter landed on the freeway to transport at least one victim.

When told he was a hero, Sanchez replied, "These CHP guys do it every day -- they're the heroes."

The eastbound freeway was closed near Country Village Road and Pedley Road. The freeway reopened at about 11:45 a.m.    

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West Nile Virus Found in 20 Town, EEE Identiifed in 3


Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) have been identified around the state, and the Dept. of Public Health has released a list of the 20 affected towns.

Since June 27, mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile have been discovered in the following towns:

  • Branford
  • Bridgeport
  • Darien
  • East Haven
  • Fairfield
  • Glastonbury
  • Greenwich
  • Groton
  • Manchester
  • New Haven
  • Norwalk
  • Plainfield
  • Stafford
  • Stamford
  • Stratford
  • Voluntown
  • Wallingford
  • Waterford
  • Westport

This season, the most infected mosquitoes are concentrated in the Glastonbury area and in coastal towns from Greenwich to Branford, according to the Dept. of Public Health.

Human cases of West Nile have been reported in Stamford and Stratford. So far, only two people have been affected.

The affected Stratford resident is between 60 and 69 years old and was diagnosed in the last week of July.

The Stamford resident is between 80 and 89 years old and was diagnosed in the third week of August.

Both patients are recovering, according to the Dept. of Public Health.

Officials warn that infected mosquitoes will likely survive through the end of the month, and that the highest risk for contracting West Nile is from early August to mid-September.

Mosquitoes testing positive for EEE have been found in Hampton, Plainfield and Voluntown

In August, several areas of the Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown were closed while officials from the state Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection sprayed insecticide.

Parts of the forest will remain closed until at least Monday, according to the state DEEP.

No human cases of EEE have been reported in Connecticut this summer. The disease can be deadly if contracted, according to the Dept. of Public Health.

Officials say the best way to protect yourself against infection is to minimize the amount of time spent outdoors, especially at dawn and dusk, and to wear bug spray and long clothing when you do go outside.

For more information about the diseases and how to protect yourself, visit the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program website.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

“Arrest Me… I Burned Him Alive”


A man is in critical condition after his girlfriend burned him with cooking oil at a Hartford apartment Friday morning, according to police.

Police responded to 116 South Street after Julia Rivera, 47, called police and said she burned her boyfriend to death, according to the police report.

He's still alive, but remains in critical condition, police said.

“Arrest me. I did it. I burned him alive,” Rivera told officers who showed up at her house to investigate, according to police.

Officers arrived to discover a crime scene, but no victim. They handcuffed Rivera and put her in a cruiser.

The man had run off before police arrived. They found him, alive, at 18 South Street suffering from second-degree burns over 70 percent of his body.

The victim has not been officially identified, but neighbors say his name was Gilbert.

He was taken to the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital.

Rivera was arrested and charged with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, violation of a protective order and disorderly conduct.

She was taken to Hartford Hospital for chest pains, police said.

Rivera is being held on $200,000

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut/Hartford Police

Newtown Must Turn Over Adam Lanza's School Records


A Connecticut judge has ordered Newtown to comply with a subpoena from the state child advocate’s office and turn over the school records of 20-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting suspect Adam Lanza.

Lanza shot himself after killing 26 students and educators at the elementary school the morning of Dec. 14.

Newtown never questioned the validity of the subpoena, originally sent in March, but asked for a judge to become involved. According to the child advocate's office, the judge confirmed Friday that Newtown must hand over the requested documents.

Officials from the Office of the Child Advocate said they hope to have the records in their possession by early next week.

The record request is part of an investigation into Lanza’s background by the Child Fatality Review Panel, which reviews the untimely deaths of children. The panel has already obtained some of Lanza’s school and hospital records.

The Office of the Child Advocate said the records will not be made public.


Photo Credit: AP

Westport Church Being Repaired After Serious Fire


Workers in coveralls and a large dumpster full of debris are the first signs of progress at Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport.

"Right now, they’re doing the environmental cleanup, getting everything out so it’s a safe, clear environment," said Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton, the pastor at Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The inside of the church and the buildings attached were severely damaged in a Nov. 2011 fire. The church was immediately closed, and repairs have been slow to start.

"A church building is more that a just worship space for a congregation," said congregation member Craig Patton. "It’s also a place were meetings take place, 12-step organizations, boy scout troops, all types of people come in. There was a nursery school that was displaced."

The church is now working to restore and enhance the building so those programs will once again be able to use its space.

"We’re adding on the third floor a brand new youth room that didn’t exist before. We’re making a more open and gracious welcome center because our back entrance is now really our front entrance because of our parking lot, and we’re opening up the fellowship hall," said Rev. Buttrick Patton.

To celebrate the renovations, congregation is coming together on Sunday for an official groundbreaking ceremony.

"I’m calling it a ground blessing because we’re blessing the space and the construction and the workers and looking ahead to see this completely back up and open," said Rev. Buttrick Patton.

The goal is to have the church reopen by late fall 2014.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Syria and Chemical Weapons: What You Need to Know


The numbers behind Syria's civil war are staggering: Well over 100,000 people have died, according to the United Nations. More than 6 million, nearly a third of Syria's population, have been forced from their homes. Two million, half of them children, have fled Syria entirely.

The war's human toll is still rising as the war drags on, two and a half years after it began, and the world's allegiances have been divvied up between the hodgepodge of rebel groups and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The U.S., United Kingdom, France, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states have sided with the rebels, while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah support Assad's regime.

Now, that regime stands accused by the West of unleashing chemical weapons to kill its own people — but the West is split on whether to intervene.

President Barack Obama, who last year called the use of chemical weapons a "red line," wants Congress to authorize a military strike on Syria. But the memory of the U.S. invasion of Iraq a decade ago, based on faulty intelligence of phantom weapons of mass destruction, looms large.

But who is Assad, whom U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has put in a league with Adolf Hitler, and who are the rebels fighting him? What began this war, and why is it still raging? Why are we talking about chemical weapons, and why might we intervene?

And how, exactly, did we get to this point?

Behind the Assad Dynasty

Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad. Hafez had himself come to lead Syria with a 1970 coup, installing a regime during which he would systematically shore up his own power. But while Bashar is the scion of an autocrat who brutally ruled for three decades, he became the heir apparent only by accident.

Hafez modernized Syria in some respects, and his relentless secularism was popular with religious minorities. But he also ruled with an iron fist, crushing dissent, notably after the Muslim Brotherhood rose to prominence in 1979. (His 1982 siege in the restive city of Hama killed thousands.) Hafez had groomed his charismatic son Basil to succeed him, but his plans were dashed when Basil died in a car crash in 1994.

Bashar, then a fledgling eye doctor living in London, was their father's Plan B.

After he took power on his father's death in 2000, he assumed a position atop a power structure his late father had carefully orchestrated, while his more hardline brother Maher took a post heading two elite military regiments. Bashar, along with his wife Asma, a London-raised and Vogue-profiled former JPMorgan stockbroker, appeared set to herald in a new era of a more modern, less repressive Syria.

That all changed when the nascent Arab Spring arrived in Syria in early 2011.

Arab Spring and Beyond: Syria's Civil War

When Arab Spring protests began to ripple across the region early in 2011, Syria was a relative latecomer — in large part due to its strict security measures. The country had been under emergency law for decades, the entire duration of both Assads' regimes.

But under the surface, there was certainly discontent: Economic woes and unemployment plagued the country, exacerbated by a drought that had sent out-of-work farmers into already-struggling cities, and in the capital Damascus, even the relatively well-off Syrians resented the regime's political repression.

Small-scale protests broke out in Syria in early 2011, soon after unrest began roiling its neighbors, but it was the violent crackdown that March in the city of Daraa that began to trigger broader unrest. Demonstrators called for reforms — and Assad promised some, recognizing the need for conciliatory gestures. (Arab Spring protests had just forced Egypt's long-ensconced Hosni Mubarak from power.) He lifted the emergency law, fulfilling one of the protesters' key demands, but his harsh crackdowns continued. So did the unrest.

Days later, after deadly clashes, army tanks rolled into Daraa. Amid the siege, some troops defected, refusing to fire on civilians. Unrest spread, and as it did, the crackdowns grew harsher, defections more widespread.

What started as popular Arab Spring discontent by protesters calling for reforms gradually became a full-fledged civil war. By fall of 2012, the fighting had spread to Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and to Damascus, the seat of Assad's power. The country was being carved up into a patchwork of swaths controlled variously by regime forces or rebel fighters.

Soon, Assad's regime and rebels began to accuse one another of having used chemical weapons.

The Rebels: Who They Are

Syria's rebel fighters are hardly a unified front. Rather, they are a myriad collection of disparate groups, many of them at odds with each other, who happen to be fighting a common enemy: Assad.

The U.S. has resisted arming the rebels, for fear weapons could fall into terrorists' hands or otherwise empower the forces' more brutal elements. Many onlookers, including Kerry, fear that scenario could become more likely as foreign terrorists head to Syria, hoping to exploit its ongoing crisis.

Of the scores of rebel factions, here are some of the major players:

  • Free Syrian Army. This mainstream, moderate rebel army, formed by Syrian regime army defectors in 2011, has fought Assad's forces with traditional battles and guerilla tactics — notably in last year's bombing of the regime's security agency's headquarters in Damascus, which killed several top defense officials. The FSA has grown as more soldiers defect from Assad's army, but it faces internal divisions and is far outgunned by regime forces.
  • Syrian Liberation Front. This moderate Islamist coalition of brigades is the second-largest organization of rebel fighters in Syria after the FSA and gets much of its funding from the Saudis, according to the Center for American Progress. The SLF has criticized the FSA's top brass — in exile in Turkey — for being too removed from the conflict on the ground, while it is also at odds with more fundamentalist Islamist rebel groups.
  • Nusra Front. This al-Qaida-linked jihadist group wants to bring a Sunni Islamist state to Syria, though it makes more populist appeals to ordinary Muslims. As one of Syria's best-organized rebel groups, Nusra Front has alarmed the West with its rhetoric and, recently, its attack on a Christian village; the U.S. has branded it a terrorist organization. The FSA has distanced itself from Nusra, though it has also fought alongside it at times.
  • Syrian Islamic Front. This coalition of a dozen other Salafist extremist groups comprises the other most powerful extremist Islamist militant force in Syria. The best-known and perhaps fastest-growing under its umbrella is Ahrar al-Sham, which prides itself on its Syrian origins. 

Still other rebel fighters have separate aims of their own — the ethnic Kurdish militias, for instance, seeking to protect Kurdish identity and independence — while plenty of others are fighting the Assad regime while unaligned with one of the more formal rebel groups. (A helpful breakdown is here.)

What We Know About Chemical Weapons...

Accusations by both the Syrian rebels and the Assad regime of chemical weapons use ramped up in March, but it wasn't until June that the U.S. said it had confirmed that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons. Meanwhile the West pressed Assad to let in U.N. weapons inspectors, and eventually he did, for a very limited inspection.

On August 21, while the U.N. team was in Syria, an apparent gas attack outside Damascus left an estimated hundreds of civilians dead. The Assad regime agreed four days later to grant the U.N. team access to that site. The team, now out of Syria, is still wrapping up its probe.

The U.S. said it knows beyond a reasonable doubt that Assad ordered an August 21 chemical weapons attack that it said killed 1,429 civilians. An unclassified intelligence report elaborated on that claim, but the U.S. has released no hard evidence to corroborate it.

French intelligence also indicated an attack by Assad, but its findings differed and put the death toll lower. Like U.S. intel, the French report was accompanied by little concrete evidence. A leading Syrian opposition group also estimated the death toll much lower, at just over 500 dead.

Assad dismissed all such accusations in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, challenging the U.S. and France to provide proof he launched a chemical weapons attack.

...And What We Don't Know

For now, the circumstances and death toll of the apparent attack remain unclear. The intelligence disparities, as well as the lack of unclassified substantiating evidence, have evoked still-fresh memories of the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and all the purportedly "slam-dunk" intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein's regime there had weapons of mass destruction.

In Syria, the U.S. and its allies generally agree that only Assad would have been capable of launching the August 21 attack; only Russia has blamed the rebels. But the U.S. and its allies can't agree on a motive for why Assad might have done it.

Intelligence officials told the Associated Press that the intelligence linking the Assad regime to the attack was "no slam-dunk," and the specificity of the U.S. report's claims, particularly its death toll estimate of 1,429, are being eyed skeptically. "Put simply, there is no way in hell the U.S. intelligence community could credibly have made an estimate this exact," former senior defense official Anthony Cordesman wrote of that number.

But as the world awaits the results of the U.N. investigation, there is frustratingly little information from Syria about the apparent attack, largely because of how dangerous Syria is for journalists and how off-limits it is to foreign ones.

For now, there is little for the U.S. and Syrians to do but wait — for Obama to wrangle Congress into voting for a military strike, for other Western allies to support it, for the U.N. team of chemical weapons investigators to finish its probe and for something, anything, to break the stalemate into which Syria's civil war has fallen.

Photo Credit: AP

Crashes Cause Traffic Nightmare on I-91


An accident on Interstate 91 southbound near exit 37 in Windsor hsa been cleared following a motorcycle crash, according to the state Dept. of Transportation.

The details of the accident and any injuries sustained are unknown at this time.

I-91 was a mess in Windsor all afternoon following several accidents on the north- and southbound sides.

The highway recently has reopened at exit 40 going southbound and exit 44 going northbound. Three separate accidents led to heavy traffic and lane closures.

Earlier today, two multi-vehicle crashes on the northbound side closed the left lane between exit 44 and exit 42, according to state police. There has been no word on injuries sustained in either crash.

A major crash shut down the southbound side at exit 40 earlier this afternoon, according to police.

Four cars were involved and two flipped over on the southbound side. Police said mutliple people were injured, but that the injuries were not serious.

LifeStar was called and later cancelled, officials said.

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