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Riley kids meet the Burwell kids, and it's love at first quintuplets

On a wintry afternoon, Vickie Neilly’s first-grade class stares at an image of a largely empty yard 170 miles northwest of Riley Elementary School, trying to get the attention of a very round goat in the corner of the screen.

With the webcam’s microphone on, they coordinate their efforts.

“1-2-3 ... Hi, Blue!"

Blue is oblivious, either because the cold makes the webcam technology sluggish or because she’s more intent on the hay she’s munching at her home in Burwell.

The first-graders are undeterred. They know these goats, especially the ones not in the picture at the moment, and their teacher tells them that Riley — the baby goat named for their school — often comes running when her owners call her name.

They try that, in unison.

GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star 

First-grade students in Vickie Neilly's class at Riley Elementary check the live video camera feed of Neilly's brother's goats in Burwell.

Riley doesn’t appear, but that’s OK, because the webcam will be there tomorrow and they can check in on a rarity in the world of goats: a mommy who gave birth to quintuplets.

That happens once in every 10,000 births, which nobody in Burwell or Riley Elementary knew until it happened Jan. 22 under the watchful eye of 14 first-graders who are learning about life cycles in real time.

The story of how the kids in Lincoln got to know the kids in Burwell starts with their teacher, who grew up in the Sandhills town and whose brother — and his goats — still live there.

“I’m fortunate to have a brother that farms and is a techie,” Neilly said.

Jerome Zulkoski has been raising goats since he and his family returned to Burwell about five years ago. He’s a telephone and internet technician by day and decided last year to install webcams so he could check on his pregnant goats at work and without having to trudge outside at night.

Then he suggested maybe his sister’s class might like to watch the kids, too.

Neilly thought her brothers’ kids (the furry kind) would be a perfect vehicle to teach her kids (the nonfurry kind) about life cycles — one of the topics covered in first grade these days.

“This has been a great experience because it's right here in Nebraska,” Neilly said. “Most kids haven’t been on a farm.”

They love seeing the newborn babies, want to know what they eat and where they sleep. They’ve gotten to know the Zulkoskis' cat and dog — and the adult goats, including Blue. Last year, they also got to check on the chickens laying eggs.

This year, Zulkoski has 27 goats, 23 of whom were pregnant a couple of weeks ago. On Jan. 22, when he checked in, one of the does had given birth to a kid. When the Riley first-graders checked in, the same goat had given birth to three. Two more would follow. They are all females.

“I honestly didn’t think too much of it,” Zulkoski said. “Then I got to talking to people who said that’s pretty unheard of.” They did some research and found out just how rare — and they couldn’t find any instances of quintuplets of the same sex.

Because it's so unusual, each of Riley’s three first-grade classes got to name one. They chose the white ones, and voted on names, narrowing them down, vote by vote.

There’s Lulu (which means pearl), Miracle and Snow White. Neilly named a fourth one Riley, after their school. Zulkoski named the fifth Callie, because of her calico coloring.

The Zulkoskis — who now have another 20 new babies — will keep some, give some to 4-Hers and sell others.

The students at Riley will keep watching from afar. 

Neilly uses other webcams to watch animals in Africa and at the San Diego Zoo, but something about the connection to Nebraska and her family is special.

The experience offers lots of lessons, those directly tied to the curriculum — learning the long O sound in doe, for instance — but broader ones, too.

Last year, one of Neilly’s students, an English language learner who rarely spoke in class, loved those goats. She’d grab the microphone and yell "Hi, Blue!"

“She found her voice,” Neilly said.

And this year, Lulu and Snow White and Miracle and Callie and Riley have injected a little fun into a busy first-grade year.

“I hope this is what the kids will remember,” she said.


Prosecutors reportedly probing Enquirer

NEW YORK — The National Enquirer's alleged attempt to blackmail Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with intimate photos could get the tabloid's parent company and top editors in deep legal trouble and reopen them to prosecution for paying hush money to a Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump.

Federal prosecutors are looking at whether the Enquirer's feud with Bezos violated a cooperation and non-prosecution agreement that recently spared the gossip sheet from charges in the hush-money case, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday.

The clash between the world's richest man and America's most aggressive supermarket tabloid spilled into public view late Thursday when Bezos accused it of threatening to print photos of him and the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

He said the Enquirer made two demands: Stop investigating how the publication recently obtained private messages that Bezos and his girlfriend had exchanged. And publicly declare that the Enquirer's coverage of Bezos was not politically motivated.

Enquirer owner American Media Inc. said Friday that its board of directors ordered a prompt and thorough investigation and will take "whatever appropriate action is necessary." Earlier in the day, the company said it "acted lawfully" while reporting the story and engaged in "good-faith negotiations" with Bezos.

In recent months, the Trump-friendly tabloid acknowledged secretly assisting Trump's White House campaign by paying $150,000 to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump. The company then buried the story until after the 2016 election.

Trump's longtime personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty last year to charges that included helping to broker that transaction.

Federal prosecutors considered the payment an illegal corporate contribution to Trump's campaign. In September, though, AMI reached an agreement with federal authorities that spared it from prosecution.

It promised in the agreement not to break any laws. The deal also required the continuing cooperation of top AMI executives, including CEO David Pecker and Enquirer editor Dylan Howard.

Now, federal prosecutors in New York are looking at whether AMI violated those terms, the people familiar with the matter said. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

A violation of the agreement could lead to criminal charges over the McDougal payments. And the resulting court proceedings could lay bare details of the gossip sheet's cozy relationship with the president.

The Enquirer and top executives could also be subject to state and federal extortion and coercion charges and prosecution under New York City's revenge porn law, passed last year, which bans even the threat of sharing intimate photographs, legal experts said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan declined to comment.

Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn lawyer representing revenge-porn and sex-crime victims, said Bezos' account laid out a clear case of criminal coercion.

The Enquirer has "weaponized journalism and made it into this bartering, brokering thing where it's like, 'If I can blackmail you with the threat — I'll expose this unless you've got something better,'" Goldberg said.

It is a federal crime to threaten to injure someone's reputation in exchange for money or a "thing of value," though federal courts haven't made it clear whether a public statement, such as the one demanded by AMI, could be considered something of value. Bezos said the Enquirer did not demand money.

Former New York federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers said prosecutors are probably weighing the pros and cons of keeping the cooperation agreement in place.

The agreement secures Pecker's testimony in any future cases stemming from the hush-money payments, while winning a criminal case over the Bezos matter would be far from clear-cut, Rodgers said. The company could say it was relying on the advice of its counsel or even cite First Amendment protections, she said.

The Bezos camp has suggested the Enquirer's coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics. Trump himself has criticized Bezos on Twitter over his ownership of The Washington Post and Amazon.

Bezos' extramarital affair became public when the Enquirer ran a Jan. 9 story about him and Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor who is also married. Bezos then hired private investigators to find out how the tabloid got texts and photos the two exchanged.

Bezos' personal investigators, led by his security consultant, Gavin de Becker, have been focusing on Sanchez's brother, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Michael Sanchez is his sister's manager, a Trump supporter and an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Carter Page.

Sanchez did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a tweet, he said de Becker "spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories."

Bezos detailed his blackmail allegations in an extraordinary blog post. The intimate photos at issue include a "below the belt selfie" of Bezos and several revealing photos of Sanchez, according to emails Bezos released of his exchanges with AMI.

"Of course I don't want personal photos published, but I also won't participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption," Bezos said in explaining his decision to go public. "I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out."


Crime-and-courts
editor's pick
Convicted Omaha killer arrested two weeks after escape from Lincoln prison

Anthony Gafford

A Nebraska murderer who walked away from his prison work-release job in Lincoln two weeks ago was living on the streets in Las Vegas before U.S. marshals arrested him there Thursday night, according to an agency news release.

Interviews with his associates and analysis of Anthony Gafford's habits and past prison visitors helped the Metro Fugitive Task Force in Lincoln lead the Marshals Service in Las Vegas to him, said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal William W. Iverson, who oversees the task force.

Gafford was contacted on the street in eastern Las Vegas and taken into custody by marshals and Las Vegas police without incident, he said.

The 40-year-old is serving a 30- to 50-year prison sentence for fatally shooting Jacque Holbert in September 1997. Prison records say Gafford’s scheduled release date is Dec. 11, 2022.

He had been on parole twice, a Nebraska prisons spokeswoman said, but had it revoked. Another parole hearing was scheduled for April.

Gafford has been at the Community Corrections Center-Lincoln, a minimum-security prison where inmates have work-release assignments and sleep in dormitory settings.

At the end of 2018, the prison's population averaged nearly 480 inmates. After being assigned there and working a job under prison staff supervision, inmates can look for a job in the Lincoln area, according to prison staff.

Once they get a work-release job, inmates are responsible for their own transportation to and from work and must adhere to a pre-approved schedule, are responsible for their own clothing and personal items, and must pay $12 a day for room and board, according to the prison's website.

In Gafford's case, he left the prison at about 6 a.m. Jan. 26, the day he absconded.

He clocked out of his job at Smithfield Foods just before 3:30 p.m. and never returned, being put on escape status nearly five hours later.

Corrections officials initially notified law enforcement, but no formal public notices were given by the department for three days.

Prisons officials said they followed policy in disseminating news of the escape, but Corrections Director Scott Frakes said his department is rethinking its policies.

Gafford remains at the Clark County jail, pending his extradition to Nebraska.

Charged with escape in Lancaster County Court, Gafford faces up to four years in prison.


VictoriaAyotte / Courtesy photo 

Anthony Gafford