Charleston church shooting

Year
2015
Month Day
June 17

On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooter took the lives of nine African American people at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre at a historic black church deeply shook a nation already jaded by frequent gun violence and heralded the return of violent white nationalism in America.

Among the victims was the activist and state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s senior pastor. Carrying on Emanuel AME’s legacy as a center of civil rights organizing, Pinckney was a vocal advocate for police accountability who had made national headlines for his response to the murder of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Charleston the previous April. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, joined Pinckney and members of his congregation for a Bible study session on the night of June 17, before drawing a gun, telling the others that African Americans were “taking over the country,” and opening fire. According to one survivor, Roof tried to shoot himself but had run out of ammunition and fled instead. He was arrested the following morning in North Carolina and, after an investigation and trial that brought to light his radicalization and intense white supremacist beliefs, sentenced to death.

Mass shootings were common in the United States by 2015, but the Charleston massacre was a clear act of white supremacist violence that came as the nation slowly realized its racism problem was getting worse, not better. Then-president Barack Obama, who knew Pinckney, delivered the eulogy at his funeral, leading the assembly in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

The next several years would be marked by more horrific white nationalist violence in America, including the murder of Heather Heyer during a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and a 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue that claimed eleven lives.

READ MORE: Charleston’s Emanuel 9 Memorial: Balancing Education With Healing

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


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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


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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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Former Liberian president Charles Taylor found guilty of war crimes

Year
2012
Month Day
April 26

On April 26, 2012, former Liberian president Charles Taylor is found guilty of abetting horrific war crimes, including rape and mutilation in Sierra Leone.

His conviction was the first for war crimes by a former head of state in an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II. Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting a notoriously brutal rebel force who murdered, raped, forced sexual slavery, built a child army and mined diamonds to pay for guns.

Taylor’s road to war crimes started after he escaped a U.S. jail, where he was waiting to be extradited for embezzlement. Taylor made it from his jail cell to Libya, where he started the militia group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). With his newly formed militia, he overthrew the regime of Samuel Doe in 1989. The upheaval plunged the country into a 14-year bloody civil war. By the end, 200,000 were killed in the fighting and more than half of the population became refugees.

After a peace deal was made to end the civil war, Taylor was elected Liberia’s president until he was forced out in 2003. During his reign, Taylor is said to have meddled in another civil war raging in Sierra Leone. Witnesses said he sold guns to, and arranged attacks for, rebel groups in exchange for blood diamonds. However, Taylor wasn’t just aiding a rebellion. He was also perpetuating horrific brutality. Over 50,000 were killed, and thousands more were mutilated in the more than a decade long civil war. The rebels were known to amputate limbs, rape women, enslave survivors of their attacks and force boys into child armies.

Taylor denied the accusations, but once put on trial in 2006, 115 witnesses, including victims of rape and mutilation, testified against him. Radio and telephone intercepts used in the case also revealed direct communication between him and the rebels.

Taylor is serving out his 50-year sentence in a prison in the United Kingdom.

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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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Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph agrees to plead guilty

Year
2005
Month Day
April 08

Eric Rudolph agrees to plead guilty to a series of bombings, including the fatal bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, in order to avoid the death penalty. He later cited his anti-abortion and anti-homosexual views as motivation for the bombings. 

Eric Robert Rudolph was born September 19, 1966, in Merritt Island, Florida. He served a brief stint in the U.S. Army and later supported himself by working as a carpenter. On July 27, 1996, a 40-pound pipe bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, killing one woman and injuring over 100 people. A security guard named Richard Jewell was initially considered the prime suspect in the case. Then, on January 16, 1997, two bombs went off at an Atlanta-area medical clinic that performed abortions, injuring seven people. In February of that same year, a bomb detonated at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, injuring four people. On January 29, 1998, a bomb exploded at a Birmingham, Alabama, women’s health clinic, killing a security guard and critically injuring a nurse.

Rudolph became a suspect in the Birmingham bombing after witnesses reported spotting his pickup truck near the clinic before the bomb went off. Authorities then launched a massive manhunt in North Carolina, where he was spotted stocking up on supplies. In February 1998, Rudolph was officially charged as a suspect in the Birmingham bombing. In March 1998, Rudolph’s brother Daniel cut off his hand to protest what he saw as the mistreatment of Eric by the F.B.I and the media. In May of that same year, Eric Rudolph was named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and a $1 million reward was offered for his capture. In July, a North Carolina health food store owner reported that Rudolph had taken six months’ of food and supplies from him, leaving $500 in exchange.

READ MORE: Why the Hunt for the Real Atlanta Bomber Took Nearly 7 Years

In October 1998, Rudolph was officially charged in the three Atlanta bombings. He continued to elude authorities, who believed he was hiding in the Appalachian wilderness and possibly getting assistance from supporters in the region. Then, on May 31, 2003, after over five years as a fugitive, Rudolph was arrested by a rookie police officer who found him digging through a grocery store Dumpster in Murphy, North Carolina. On April 8, 2005, just weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin, the Department of Justice announced that Rudolph would plead guilty to the charges against him in all four bombings. He was later sentenced to four life terms without parole and in August 2005 was sent to the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

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Mail bomb injures Yale professor

Year
1993
Month Day
June 24

On June 24, 1993, Yale University computer science professor David Gelernter is seriously injured while opening his mail when a padded envelope explodes in his hands. The attack just came two days after a University of California geneticist was injured by a similar bomb and was the latest in a string of bombings since 1978 that authorities believed to be related.

In the aftermath of the attack on Gelernter, various federal departments established the UNABOM Task Force, which launched an intensive search for the so-called “Unabomber.” The bombings, along with 14 others since 1978 that killed 3 people and injured 23 others, were eventually linked to Theodore John Kaczynski, a former mathematician from Chicago. Kaczynski won a scholarship to study mathematics at Harvard University at age 16. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, he became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Although celebrated as a brilliant mathematician, he suffered from persistent social and emotional problems, and in 1969 abruptly ended his promising career. Disillusioned with the world around him, he tried to buy land in the Canadian wilderness but in 1971 settled for a 1.4-acre plot near his brother’s home in Montana.

READ MORE: Why the Unabomber Evaded Arrest for 17 Years

For the next 25 years, Kaczynski lived as a hermit, occasionally working odd jobs and traveling but mostly living off his land. He developed a philosophy of radical environmentalism and militant opposition to modern technology, and tried to get academic essays on the subjects published. It was the rejection of one of his papers by two Chicago-area universities in 1978 that may have prompted him to manufacture and deliver his first mail bomb.

The package was addressed to the University of Illinois from Northwestern University, but was returned to Northwestern, where a security guard was seriously wounded while opening the suspicious package. In 1979, Kaczynski struck again at Northwestern, injuring a student at the Technological Institute. Later that year, his third bomb exploded on an American Airlines flight, causing injuries from smoke inhalation. In 1980, a bomb mailed to the home of Percy Wood, the president of United Airlines, injured Wood when he tried to open it. As Kaczynski seemed to be targeting universities and airlines, federal investigators began calling their suspect the Unabomber, an acronym of sorts for university, airline and bomber.

From 1981 to 1985, there were seven more bombs, four at universities, one at a professor’s home, one at the Boeing Company in Auburn, Washington and one at a computer store in Sacramento. Six people were injured, and in 1985 the owner of the computer store was killed–the Unabomber’s first murder. In 1987, a woman saw a man wearing aviator glasses and a hooded sweatshirt placing what turned out to be a bomb outside a computer store in Salt Lake City. The sketch of the suspect that emerged became the first representation of the Unabomber, and Kaczynski, fearing capture, halted his terrorist campaign for six years, until the bombings of June 1993. In 1994, another mail bomb killed an advertising executive at his home in New Jersey. In April 1995, a bomb killed the president of a timber-industry lobbying group.

This was to be the Unabomber’s final attack. With the help of Kaczynski’s older brother David, FBI agents gathered evidence against him and on April 3, 1996, arrested him in a remote Montana cabin. On May 4, 1998, Kaczynski was sentenced to four life terms in prison after pleading guilty in order to escape the death penalty.

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Martha Stewart indicted for securities fraud and obstruction of justice

Year
2003
Month Day
June 04

For domestic guru and media mogul Martha Stewart, known for her “good things” tips and tricks, things turn very badly when a federal grand jury serves her and her former stock broker a nine-count indictment, including charges of obstruction of justice, securities fraud, conspiracy and making false statements.

Stewart, CEO and chairwoman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., and her former Merrill Lynch broker, Peter Bacanavic, were handed the indictments following an investigation of her sale of ImClone Systems stock. Bacanavic was charged with obstruction, conspiracy, making false statements and perjury.

Then 61-year-old Stewart resigned almost immediately from her position once the charges were made (she stayed on the board and as chief creative officer). But she and Bacanavic both pleaded not guilty to the indictments brought by former Manhattan U.S. Attorney and future FBI Director James Comey.

Prosecutors charged that in 2001 Stewart was tipped off by Bacanovic that ImClone’s stock was going to drop after the company’s owner received inside information that the Food and Drug Administration was going to decline to review an application for the company’s cancer drug. Stewart shed her nearly 4,000 ImClone shares—worth $230,000—one day before the FDA decision was announced.

At trial, a federal jury found Stewart, who maintained her innocence, guilty of conspiracy, obstruction and two counts of lying to federal investigators (a securities fraud charge was dismissed) on March 5, 2004. Bacanavic was found guilty on four of his five charges.

An appeal for a new trial was denied, and Stewart was sentenced to five months at a West Virginia minimum-security federal prison. She served out the sentence in 2004, and then served five months of house arrest and two years of probation. Stewart resigned from her company’s board, keeping the title of founding editorial director. 

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