Infamous drug lord “El Chapo” is captured by Mexican authorities


Publish date:
Year
2016
Month Day
January 08

In the early hours of January 8, 2016, Mexican authorities apprehend the drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. It was the third time that the law caught up to El Chapo, a figure whose crimes, influence and mystique rival those of Pablo Escobar.

Guzmán became involved in the drug trade as a child, dealing in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamines. He became the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, the wealthiest and most powerful cartel in Mexico. After his arrest in Guatemala in 1993, Guzmán was extradited to Mexico and sentenced to over 20 years in prison. While incarcerated, he continued to run the cartel and lived comfortably, having bribed much of the staff. In 2001, when a Mexican Supreme Court ruling increased the likelihood that he would be extradited to the United States, Guzmán escaped by hiding in a laundry cart – over 70 people, including the director of the prison, have been implicated in his escape.

Guzmán remained at large for over a decade, leading the cartel through a vicious series of conflicts with the government and rival cartels. One of the central conflicts revolved around Guzmán’s bloody and ultimately successful bid for control over the Ciudad Juárez routes that transport drugs into the United States. Guzmán became infamous for his cartel’s extreme violence and its extensive network of tunnels and distribution cells on both sides of the border. It was widely known that the Sinaloa Cartel had a number of informants and agents within the Mexican government, and many in Mexico believed that the government’s war on drugs was actually being waged to eliminate Sinaloa’s rivals.

During this time, Guzmán was understood to be living in the mountainous and sparsely populated Sierra Madre region. He was arrested for a second time in February of 2014 when the Mexican Navy raided a seaside hotel where he had been visiting family. He was placed in a maximum security prison to await trial, but escaped in July of 2015 via an elaborate tunnel nearly one mile long, estimated to have taken over a year and $1 million to build. His escape was a major embarrassment for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, and his recapture became a top priority.

Finally, nearly six months later, an operation involving every law enforcement agency in Mexico resulted in a raid of a house in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Guzmán escaped the house— again through a tunnel—and stole a car, but was captured near the town of Juan José Ríos. It was later revealed that the Mexican government had consulted with the Colombian and American law enforcement agents who tracked down and killed Escobar during the manhunt. In a tacit acknowledgement of its prior missteps, the Mexican government expedited Guzmán to the United States in 2017. He was convicted on a slew of charges and sentenced to life in prison.

Guzmán is currently held at ADX Florence, said to be the most secure prison in the federal penitentiary system, in Colorado. The Mexican Drug War continues, with rivalries within the Sinaloa Cartel and the rise of new cartels contributing to an atmosphere of violence and terror that has persisted even in the absence of the country’s most storied drug lord.

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Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics, is sentenced to prison for sexual assault


Larry Nassar, a former doctor at Michigan State and for USA Gymnastics, is sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual assault on January 24, 2018. Nassar was found guilty of using his position in sports medicine to abuse hundreds of women and girls in one of the most high-profile cases to arise from the #MeToo movement. The scandal resulted not only in his imprisonment, likely for the rest of his life, but also criticism of the institutions that failed to detect and respond to his behavior. In the wake of the revelations, the president of Michigan State and the entire board of USAG resigned, while Nassar’s accusers, which number over 260, received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Nassar began working in sports medicine at a young age and began working as a trainer for the U.S. national gymnastics team in 1986. He later received his doctorate in osteopathic medicine from Michigan State and went on to work at the school’s College of Medicine as well as at the Karolyi Ranch, the Texas training center of the US gymnastics team. It was there that he sexually assaulted gymnast Maggie Nichols during a medical exam during a national team training camp in 2015. After a coach heard Nichols and another athlete discussing Nassar’s examinations, she reported the doctor to USAG. USAG contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation but did not take immediate action against Nassar or notify his university.

Later that year, USAG cut ties with Nassar. A year later, in September 2016, the Indianapolis Star broke the news that two other gymnasts had accused him of sexual abuse, resulting in his firing from Michigan State. In November, Nassar was indicted on the charge of repeatedly abusing an unidentified child, beginning in 1998 when the child was six years old.

From there, the allegations snowballed. Three more athletes went public with their accusations on 60 Minutes in 2017, calling out the “emotionally abusive environment” at national team training camps. More came forward in subsequent interviews or using #MeToo on Twitter. Among the wave of accusers were several who had become household names for winning gold during the Rio 2016 Olympics, including McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles. The involvement of athletes who had so recently been celebrated in the media further boosted the visibility of the Nassar case. All told, over 260 women have alleged that Nassar abused them, in many cases while they were still minors. An FBI raid found more than 37,000 images of child pornography in Nassar’s possession; he pleaded guilty to the possession charge in July of 2017.

The trials for Nassar’s other charges featured multiple days of testimony from his victims. He pled guilty to multiple allegations in Michigan state court, receiving a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison, but will first serve a sentence of 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography.

In addition to Nassar’s convictions, the investigation brought scrutiny on the institutions that employed him. Reporting by the Star and other outlets found that USAG failed to adequately monitor its coaches and had knowingly refused to act on multiple allegations of abuse. At Michigan State, too, the problem proved to extend beyond Nassar. After allegations of repeated failure to investigate claims of assault against members of the football team, three players pled guilty to a lesser charge in a sexual assault case in 2018. The dean of the university’s school of osteopathic medicine, who oversaw Nassar’s clinic, was also charged with groping and possessing nude photos of a student. 

A 2019 congressional report concluded that USAG, the university, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and even the FBI had all dragged their feet, allowing Nassar to continue to see patients as they slowly investigated and coordinated their response to the predicted public outcry. The university reached a settlement of $500 million with Nassar’s victims, the largest ever settlement of its kind, and former president Lou Anna Simon faces felony charges for lying to or misleading law enforcement regarding her knowledge of accusations against Nassar.

The Nassar case made international headlines. Nassar’s behavior and the failure of multiple institutions to protect his victims echoed many similar cases of serial abuse, such as Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University or the decades of abuses committed by film producer Harvey Weinstein. The rapid expansion of the case from a few allegations to literally hundreds of women over multiple decades was a prime example of the power of the #MeToo movement. As with other cases brought to light in the #MeToo era, the Nassar case was both a sorely overdue reckoning with institutional abuse and a reminder that even the most prolific abusers can escape justice for decades.

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World-renowned primatologist Dian Fossey is found murdered in Rwanda


Updated:
Original:
Year
1985
Month Day
December 26

On December 26, 1985, primatologist and conservationist Dr. Dian Fossey is found murdered in her cabin at Karisoke, a research site in the mountains of Rwanda. It is widely believed that she was killed in connection with her lifelong crusade against poaching.

An animal lover from a young age, Fossey began her career as an occupational therapist. She would later credit her work with children for helping her earn the trust of the mountain gorillas she studied. In 1963, she borrowed money in order to finance an extended trip to Africa. Her travels brought her into contact with the archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey and wildlife photographers Alan and Joan Root and introduced her to the work of primatologist Jane Goodall. She published several articles about her travels and returned to the United States, but in 1966 the Leakeys helped her secure funding to study gorillas in the Congo.

Political unrest in the Congo led Fossey to flee the country and set up her camp, Karisoke, in the Rwandan foothills of the Virunga Mountains. There, she studied and interacted extensively with the native gorillas. Fossey eventually received a Ph.D. in zoology from Cambridge University and lectured for several years at Cornell. Her research on gorilla societies greatly enhanced mankind’s understanding of one of its closes evolutionary relatives. Fossey is best known, however, as a fierce opponent of poaching. Park rangers were known to accept bribes, allowing poachers to set up traps and routinely kill gorillas in the national park where Fossey worked. After poachers brutally killed her favorite gorilla, Digit, in 1977, Fossey launched a public and somewhat obsessive crusade to protect gorillas and punish poachers. Fossey destroyed traps and was even known to detain poachers, sometimes physically beating them. She cultivated a reputation among the locals as a practitioner of dark magic in an effort to keep people from harming her gorilla friends.

Her efforts garnered worldwide attention to the anti-poaching cause, but may have led to her death. Though an allegedly jealous fellow researcher was convicted in absentia for her murder in Rwanda, many believe that her killing was revenge for her treatment of poachers. She was buried in a cemetery at Karisoke, alongside Digit and other gorillas killed by poachers. Though she had become reclusive and bitter toward the end of her life, the final entry in her journal was a hopeful one: “When you realize the value of all life, you learn to dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.” The fund she founded, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, carries on her efforts to protect gorillas to this day.

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Tokyo subways are attacked with sarin gas


Year
1995
Month Day
March 20

Several packages of deadly sarin gas are set off in the Tokyo subway system killing twelve people and injuring over 5,000 on March 20, 1995. Sarin gas was invented by the Nazis and is one of the most lethal nerve gases known to man. Tokyo police quickly learned who had planted the chemical weapons and began tracking the terrorists down. Thousands of checkpoints were set up across the nation in the massive dragnet.

The gas attack was instituted by the Aum Shinrikyo (which means Supreme Truth) cult. The Supreme Truth had thousands of followers all over Japan who believed in their doomsday prophecies. Because it claimed the personal assets of new cult members, the Supreme Truth had well over a billion dollars stashed away. Shoko Asahara, a forty-year-old blind man, was the leader of the cult. Asahara had long hair and a long beard, wore bright robes, and oftenmeditated while sittingon satin pillows. His books included claims that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and that he had the ability to travel through time.

Japanese authorities raided the Supreme Truth compounds across the country, but could not find Asahara. At one camp at the base of Mt. Fuji, police found tons of the chemicals used to produce sarin gas. They also found plans to buy nuclear weapons from the Russians. The police eventually located Hideo Murai, one of the cult’s other top leaders, but when he was being taken into custody he was stabbed to death by an assassin who blamed Murai for the poison gas attack.

Shortly after, the police found a hidden basement at the Mt. Fuji compound where other cult leaders were holed up, including Masami Tsuchiya, a chemist who admitted making the sarin gas. Still, Asahara remained at large and the Supreme Truth made four more gas attacks on the subways, injuring hundreds more. Another potential deadly chemical bomb was defused in a subway restroom.The nation’s top police officer was shot by a masked terrorist, adding to the country’s unrest.

Finally on May 16, Asahara was found in yet another secret room of the Mt. Fuji compound and arrested. Along with scores of the other Supreme Truth leaders, Asahara was charged with murder. Their doomsday predictions had finally come true, albeit on a much smaller and more personal scale than they had envisioned.

READ MORE: 5 20th Century Cult Leaders

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Evidence of murder is uncovered in New Mexico

Year
1999
Month Day
March 31

Law enforcement officers in Elephant Butte, New Mexico, began digging for evidence near the mobile home of David Parker Ray and Cynthia Lea Hendy after more evidence came to light about the couple’s activities. On March 22, a twenty-two year old woman was found running naked, except for a padlocked metal collar around her neck, down an unpaved road near Elephant Butte State Park. She told police that Ray and Hendy had abducted her three days earlier in Albuquerque before bringing her to the mobile home where she was raped and tortured.

As police delved deeper into Ray and Hendy’s background they became convinced that the woman was not the only victim. Upon hearing initial news reports, another woman called New Mexico police with her own tale of sexual torture at the hands of the couple. Then, an acquaintance of Hendy told investigators that she had previously spoken about Ray burying people near their home.

The woman escaped when Ray was at his job at the State Park. She got into a scuffle with Hendy and hit her on the back of the head with an ice pick. Hendy pled guilty to being an accomplice and then even more was revealed. Soon David Ray’s daughter Jesse was also charged for her participation in a similar 1996 attack. And the Ray’s friend Dennis Yancy was charged with the murder of a young woman who disappeared from in 1997 from an Elephant Butte bar.

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Teen gunman kills 17, injures 17 at Parkland, Florida high school


Year
2018
Month Day
February 14

On February 14, 2018, an expelled student entered Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others, in what became the deadliest shooting at a high school in United States history.

Dressed in a maroon shirt adorned with the school logo, Nikolas Cruz exited his Uber outside the campus at 2:19 p.m. He approached the school wearing a backpack filled with magazines and carrying a black duffel packed with his legally purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

School staff had been warned after Cruz’s expulsion for “disciplinary reasons” in 2017 that the troubled teen was a risk to student safety. So when a staff member saw him outside, he radioed a “Code Red” to initiate a lockdown of the school. It was too late.

Cruz entered the high school’s Freshman Building, on campus—which was mostly filled with freshman students—at 2:21 p.m. and unpacked his rifle in a stairwell. According to NBC Miami, freshman Chris McKenna, 15, spotted Cruz there and received a chilling warning from the gunman. “You better get out of here. Things are going to start getting messy.” McKenna ran outside, where he spotted Aaron Feis, a coach and school security monitor who took him to the baseball field 500 feet away and turned back to “check it out.”

Cruz exited the stairwell into a first-floor hallway, firing a stream of bullets down the corridor, shattering windows and shooting through doors. In just under two minutes, he murdered 11 people and injured 13 others. He then headed up the stairs. He was on the second floor for less than a minute, firing but hitting no one, before going to the third floor where he killed his last six victims, and injured four more in the final 45 seconds of the attack.

Terrified students ran for their lives. Others remained holed up, hiding in classrooms, closets and bathrooms, desperate to reach their parents. Many began broadcasting the horror on social media through video and live posts.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Cruz left the hallways and went to the faculty lounge, where he set up a bipod—like a tripod on which to rest the gun—reloaded his weapon and began firing, like a sniper, at the fleeing students outside. Only hurricane impact-resistant glass in the windows kept the death toll from growing.

In all, Cruz’s attack lasted less than four minutes and left 17 dead. At 2:28 p.m., just seven minutes after entering the building, he ditched the rifle in another stairwell and left the school, attempting to blend in with the crowd of escaping students. The gunman successfully left the campus, running to a Walmart at 2:50 p.m, stopping at a Subway restaurant to get a drink and eventually heading to McDonalds. He was apprehended shortly thereafter after being spotted by a Broward County police officer.

“He looked like a typical high school student, and for a quick moment I thought, ‘Could this be the person who I need to stop?’” said Officer Michael Leonard in an interview after arresting Cruz.

Broward Sheriff’s deputy school resource officer Scot Peterson, who was assigned to the school that day, would later be accused of retreating during the shooting while victims were still under attack. Peterson was arrested in June 2019 and faced charges of neglect of a child, culpable negligence and perjury.

The devastation felt by the Florida community—once considered the safest city in the state—was immeasurable. Previous school shootings throughout the country had prompted Stoneman Douglas (and other schools) to practice active shooter drills, and the school had employed an armed officer on campus. But it hadn’t been enough to stop the carnage. Chants for “No More Guns!” broke out at candlelight vigils and over a thousand people showed up to funerals in the days after.

Student survivors took to social media to make their anger known, giving interviews and becoming activists for gun safety legislation. One student, David Hogg, went from school newspaper reporter to activist when his plea to legislators in a CNN interview went viral.

Please, take action,” he begged lawmakers.

On March 24, less than six weeks after their lives were shattered by violence, students helped organize the March for Our Lives, a demonstration in support of gun violence prevention. Students across the country were encouraged to stage walkouts, and a rally was held in Washington, D.C. There, anti-gun violence protesters from around the country—some survivors of school shootings, and others whose daily lives were affected by gun violence—celebrities, and other activists, spoke to a crowd of thousands, demanding legislative change.

Three weeks later, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a supporter of the NRA, responded. He signed a bill imposing a 21-year-old legal age requirement for gun purchases and a three-day waiting period on all gun transactions. The law also controversially permitted the arming of some school employees.

Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. 

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One of the “Hillside Stranglers” sentenced to life


Year
1984
Month Day
January 09

Angelo Buono, one of the Hillside Stranglers, is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the rape, torture, and murder of 10 young women in Los Angeles. Buono’s cousin and partner in crime, Kenneth Bianchi, testified against Buono to escape the death penalty.

Buono, a successful auto upholsterer, and Bianchi began their serial crime spree in 1977 when Bianchi moved from New York to live with his cousin. They started talking about how the prostitutes that Buono often brought home would hardly be missed by anyone if they disappeared. Idle speculation quickly led to action and the pair raped and strangled their first victim, Yolanda Washington, on October 17.

Within a month Buono and Bianchi had attacked three other women and developed a trademark method of operation. They picked up the women in their van, drove them back to Buono’s house where they were sexually assaulted in all manners, tortured, and strangled to death. The duo then thoroughly cleaned the bodies before taking and posing them in lascivious positions on hillsides in the Los Angeles area, often near police stations. Thus, they earned the nickname the “Hillside Strangler.” The press assumed that it was the work of one man.

Following the death of the 10th victim in February 1978, the murders suddenly stopped. Buono and Bianchi were no longer getting along, even with their common hobby. Bianchi moved to Washington and applied for a job at the Bellingham Police Department. He didn’t get the job, but became a security guard instead. However, he couldn’t keep his murderous impulses in check and killed two college students. A witness who had seen the two girls with Bianchi came forward and the case was solved.

Bianchi, who had seen the movies Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve many times, suddenly claimed to have multiple personalities. He blamed the murders on “Steve,” one of his alternate personalities. Psychiatrists examining Bianchi quickly dismissed his ruse and Bianchi then confessed to the Hillside Strangler murders, testifying against Buono to avoid the death penalty in Washington.

During his trial, Buono fiercely insisted on his innocence, pointing to the fact that there was no physical evidence tying him to the crimes. Buono’s house was so clean that investigators couldn’t even find Buono’s own fingerprints in the home. But after more than 400 witnesses testified, Buono was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Angelo Buono died from a heart attack on Sept. 21, 2002 at the age of 67. Kenneth Bianchi was denied parole in September 2005 and remains in prison.

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Sandy Hook school shooting


Updated:
Original:
Year
2012
Month Day
December 14

On December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza kills 20 first graders and six school employees before turning a gun on himself. Earlier that day, he killed his mother at the home they shared.

The Sandy Hook shooting was, at the time, the second-deadliest mass shooting in the United States after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, in which a gunman killed 32 students and teachers before committing suicide.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m., 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot through a plate-glass window next to Sandy Hook’s locked front entrance in order to gain access to the school. Hearing the noise, the school principal and school psychologist went to investigate and were shot and killed by Lanza, who was armed with a semiautomatic rifle, two semiautomatic pistols and multiple rounds of ammunition. Lanza also shot and wounded two other Sandy Hook staff members.

He then entered two first-grade classrooms, where he gunned down two teachers and 15 students in one room and two teachers and five students in the other room. The children Lanza murdered, 12 girls and 8 boys, were 6 and 7 years old. Twelve first-graders from the two classrooms survived.

When Lanza heard the police closing in on him, he killed himself in a classroom at approximately 9:40 a.m.

Police soon learned that sometime earlier that morning, before arriving at Sandy Hook, Lanza had shot and killed his 52-year-old mother at their home. She owned the weapons her son used in his deadly rampage.

Investigators determined that Lanza, who had attended Sandy Hook as a boy, acted alone in planning and carrying out the attack, but they were unable to find a motive for his actions or discover why he had targeted Sandy Hook.

In November 2013, the Connecticut State’s Attorney released a report noting that Lanza had “significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others.” However, mental-health professionals who had worked with him “did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior,” according to the report.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, President Barack Obama called for new gun-safety measures; however, his primary legislative goal, expanded background checks for gun buyers, was blocked by the U.S. Senate.

The community of Newtown, which has some 27,000 residents and is located about 45 miles southwest of Connecticut’s capital, Hartford, eventually decided to tear down Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was razed in the fall of 2013; a new school was built on the same site.

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‘El Chapo,’ the world’s most-wanted drug kingpin, is captured in Mexico


Year
2014
Month Day
February 22

On February 22, 2014, one of the world’s most-wanted criminals, Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzmán Loera, head of the Sinaloa cartel, the world’s biggest drug trafficking organization, is arrested in a joint U.S.-Mexican operation in Mazatlán, Mexico, after outrunning law enforcement for more than a decade. Guzmán had been the target of an international hunt since 2001, when he escaped from a Mexican prison where he was serving a 20-year sentence. During his years on the lam, Guzmán’s elusiveness was celebrated in “narcocorridos,” Mexican ballads glorifying the drug trade, while in such places as Chicago, where his cartel supplied the majority of the narcotics sold in the city, he was declared Public Enemy No. 1.

Born into poverty in the 1950s in the western Mexico state of Sinaloa, Guzmán dropped out of school in the third grade. He became involved in the drug trade as a young man, and by the late 1980s had begun to amass power of his own as a trafficker. In 1993, rival drug traffickers tried to murder Guzmán at a Mexican airport but instead killed a Roman Catholic cardinal, whom they mistook for Guzmán, along with six other people. Soon after, Guzmán was arrested in Guatemala then returned to Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years behind bars for drug trafficking, bribery and conspiracy. While locked up in a high-security prison in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Guzmán paid off the staff and continued to run his criminal enterprise from behind bars. Then, in January 2001, he escaped the facility; some accounts claim Guzmán was wheeled out in a laundry cart, while other sources suggest prison officials simply let him walk out.

In the ensuing years, Guzmán hid out in the mountains of Sinaloa and other parts of Mexico and used violence, bribery and a large network of informants to help him remain a fugitive from justice. He would periodically dine out in public, sending his gunmen into a fancy restaurant ahead of him to confiscate the phones of the other patrons, and then returning the devices—and paying for everyone’s meal—after he’d finished eating. All the while, he continued to expand his drug trafficking empire, which grew into the biggest supplier of illegal narcotics in America. The U.S. government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Guzmán’s arrest

The break that ultimately led to Guzmán capture came on February 20, 2014, when law enforcement agents traced a signal from a BlackBerry belonging to one of Guzmán’s bodyguards to the Sinaloa resort city of Mazatlán. The following night, a group of Mexican marines, along with a small assemblage of agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals, gathered in Mazatlán, where they had traced the BlackBerry signal to a condominium building called the Hotel Miramar. In the early hours of February 22, the marines found Guzmán’s armed bodyguard protecting the entrance to one of the apartments at the Miramar. Quickly realizing he was outnumbered, the guard surrendered and the marines stormed the apartment. Inside, they found Guzmán, his wife and young twin daughters and a personal chef and nanny. The drug lord ran into a bathroom only to give himself up moments later. No shots were fired during his arrest.

At the time Guzmán was apprehended, the Sinaloa cartel was believed to be operating in some 50 countries. In the United States, where Guzmán has been named in multiple indictments, Attorney General Eric Holder called the drug lord’s capture a “landmark achievement” and said, “The criminal activity Guzmán allegedly directed contributed to the death and destruction of millions of lives across the globe through drug addiction, violence and corruption.”

Guzmán would not stay incarcerated for very long. On July 11, 2015, he escaped using a tunnel that led from the prison shower—the only place where cameras couldn’t see him—to a construction site about a mile away. El Chapo used a ladder to get down to the tunnel, which was approximately 30 feet underground. He then hustled down the less-than-six-foot-tall and 30 inch-wide tunnel and disappeared within 25 minutes of last being spotted entering the bathroom by security cameras.

After a six-month manhunt, Guzmán was finally captured again in early 2016. After a lengthy court battle, he was extradited to the United States to face a 17-charge indictment. On February 12, 2019, El Chapo was found guilty on all charges. On July 17, 2019, a federal judge in New York City sentenced him to life in prison. 

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Florida teen Trayvon Martin is shot and killed


On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an African American teen walking home from a trip to a convenience store, is fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer patrolling the townhouse community of the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman later claimed to have shot the unarmed 17-year-old out of self-defense during a physical altercation. After police initially opted not to arrest Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, the case sparked protests and ignited national debates about racial profiling and self-defense laws. Zimmerman later was charged with second-degree murder; following a high-profile trial that riveted America, he was acquitted of the charges against him.

On February 26, Martin, a Miami high school student, was in Sanford visiting his father. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, the teen was on his way back to the home of his father’s fiancée, after buying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of juice, when he was spotted by Zimmerman, a 28-year-old insurance-fraud investigator who was captain of the neighborhood patrol at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, which recently had experienced a series of break-ins and burglaries. Zimmerman called the non-emergency line of the Sanford police to report that Martin looked suspicious then ignored a police dispatcher’s advice not to follow the young man. Moments later, gunfire rang out. When officers arrived, Martin was dead at the scene. Zimmerman, who had a bloody nose and cuts on the back of his head, was questioned then released. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, and police chose not to arrest Zimmerman, who claimed to have acted in self-defense.

After Martin’s parents raised concerns about the police investigation into the death of their son, who had no criminal record, the case gained national attention. Protest rallies were held in cities nationwide, including New York City, where on March 21 hundreds of people gathered for the Million Hoodie March and demanded justice for Martin, who many believed Zimmerman had profiled as suspicious and threatening simply because the teen was black. Two days later, President Barack Obama said of the shooting: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” In addition to raising a national debate about race relations, the shooting drew attention to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use lethal force if they fear for their safety and does not require them to retreat from a dangerous situation, even when it’s possible to do so.

On April 11, 2012, following weeks of demonstrations, a special prosecutor appointed by Florida’s governor charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and the case went to trial in June 2013. In court, the prosecution portrayed Zimmerman as a wannabe cop who had profiled Martin as a criminal, chased him down and fought him. Prosecutors also tried to poke holes in Zimmerman’s self-defense claim by pointing to inconsistencies in his statements to the police. Defense attorneys for Zimmerman, who did not take the stand, contended he only shot Martin after the teen attacked him. On July 13, after deliberating for 16 hours over two days, a jury of six women found Zimmerman not guilty.

In November 2013, the city of Sanford announced new rules forbidding volunteers in its neighborhood watch program from carrying guns and pursuing suspects.

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