Two good friends — recent Lincoln High School graduates — were shot and killed in Mexico, where they’d gone to visit family over Christmas, according to friends in Lincoln.
Those friends and family members are still trying to come to grips with what happened Jan. 5, when Jairo Lopez Perez, 18, and Edgar Mora, 19, were apparently shot while in their car after leaving a party in Guanajuato in central Mexico.
“We don’t know exactly why,” said Alondra Quiroz, Mora’s girlfriend and a senior at North Star High School. “It’s really confusing for us. We don’t know.”
Lopez Perez, a 2018 LHS graduate, invited Mora to go to Mexico, where he had family, and the two left Dec. 21, Quiroz said. They arrived a couple of days later and had planned to return Jan. 4, but had a problem with the car that had to be repaired and delayed their return until Jan. 6.
On Jan. 5, Quiroz said, they went to church in the afternoon and to a party that evening. When they got into their car to leave the party, it appears they were ambushed and shot, she said.
“We don’t know if they got the wrong people ... we don’t really know,” said Jacqueline Martinez, who has known Lopez Perez since they were sophomores at Lincoln High. They dated for about a year.
Martinez, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said that although she and Lopez Perez broke up during the holidays, he was still very special to her.
Because of crime and corruption in Mexico, family members are fearful of trying to get answers, she said.
Rev. Ramón Decaen, a pastor at Christo Rey Church, which Lopez Perez and his family attended, said it wouldn’t surprise him if the two Lincoln men were unintended victims of the violence there.
“The violence that is there right now is very devastating to families there getting caught up in the crossfire of gangs and drugs,” he said.
Lopez Perez’s close friends were involved in the charreada, a competitive event similar to rodeo, Martinez said, not anything criminal.
Faith was important to Lopez Perez, she said, and in October he was able to fulfill a longtime dream: to participate in a walk to honor the virgin Mary, a weeklong trek to Mexico City.
“Mexico is very special to him,” she said. “That was his true home.”
Decaen said the church plans to have a memorial service when family members return from Mexico.
Lopez Perez was always respectful and willing to help with projects around the church, he said.
“He was a very hardworking young man,” Decaen said.
Lopez Perez, the youngest of nine children, was born in Lexington and moved back to Mexico for much of his childhood, until his family returned to Lincoln, where he attended Culler Middle School and then Lincoln High, said Martinez.
She met Lopez Perez when they were sophomores in a life sports class; both attended The Career Academy.
“He was in the electrician program his junior and senior year,” she said. “He was really interested in that.”
He’d recently told her he’d considered being an architect but didn’t think he was smart enough to go to school.
“In reality, he was one of the smartest people I know,” she said.
He was an adventurer, she said, and loved travel and had been working for a Canadian pool company that sent him all over the United States to build pools.
Mora, who was born in Idaho, moved to Lincoln with his mom and brother when he was a high school freshman, Quiroz said. He also had family in Mexico, but in a different area than Lopez Perez's family. He attended Lincoln High, played soccer and graduated in 2017.
“Edgar was really outgoing,” said Quiroz, who met him at a quinceañera. “He always made me laugh. He had a smile on his face and he cared for his friends.”
The two young men had become friends in high school and Mora had done some work with the pool company, but had been working construction locally so he could be closer to his mom, she said.
Decaen said he’s been fielding calls at the church from people who knew both young men.
“It’s a hard thing for these young people,” he said. “I prayed with a number of them, have spoken to them and comforted them and walked with them on this.”
Although he didn’t know Mora, he said he got a call from a man who’d worked with him at McDonald’s at one time. He was an older man who’d gone back to work and recalled how Mora had shown him the ropes.
“He was saying he was so thankful that he helped (him) make the transition to working there.”
Quiroz said friends and family are holding a gathering at a local nightclub in honor of the men and collecting donations for the families. Both young men enjoyed having a good time, she said, and the gathering will be at a place they frequented.
The night the young men died, Martinez said she'd gone to mass and prayed for God to watch out for Lopez Perez, the adventure-seeker. She knew he’d be going to parties in Mexico, along with visiting family, and she worried about him.
“He was the most alive person I knew,” she said. “And he had so many dreams he still wanted to accomplish.”
Twenty-year-old Roberto Gonzalez died in a trauma unit at Nebraska Medicine in 2015, shortly after being shot on an Omaha street.
Through tears nearly four years later, his mother, Raquel Salinas, described her son at a news conference Friday as a person with a pure soul who was selfless, loving and funny. He had great people in his life but also bad influences, she said, and left home at the age of 17.
Salinas was at work that Jan. 22 morning when she heard about a shooting and remembered thinking she hoped the victim would make it. Shortly after that she got a call telling her it was her son who had been shot. She headed to the hospital in a blur.
"Once they told me he had passed, it changed my life forever. I have not been the same, nor my family," she said. "It only took one shot to the chest, and that's all that it took."
Salinas was sharing her story at a news conference to talk about a bill (LB174) introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, which would increase state spending on violence and gang activity prevention efforts.
The mother thanked trauma surgeon Dr. Charity Evans and the Dusk to Dawn program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center division of public health for helping her heal, allowing her to talk to at-risk youths, and helping other mothers avoid the tragedy that she had to endure.
“We all continue to be shocked and saddened by instances of violence in our state, and we know the tragic outcomes that happen when we fail to prevent violent incidents in our communities,” Bolz said.
"This is an issue that is literally life and death, and I am proud to be able to bring it for consideration of the Nebraska Legislature."
Bolz said violence continues to affect Nebraska neighborhoods and schools, including her own neighborhood. Last spring, 22-year-old Edgar "E.J." Union Jr., a father of five, was killed near 47th Street and Cooper Avenue in College View, a result of feuding gangs, according to police.
Bolz wants the Legislature to appropriate $1.525 million each fiscal year beginning in 2019-20 to the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice for use by the Office of Violence Prevention.
The programs funded by the Office of Violence Prevention are substantiated by research and expertise, she said. The partnership with UNMC will ensure the programs have the greatest impact possible and that they can be replicated in other areas of the state.
The money would be used to increase grants, develop an annual statewide strategic plan, increase administration, and develop a technical assistance partnership with the University of Nebraska.
"It's time we increase our state's preventative measures against violence," Bolz said.
Office of Violence Prevention projects help reduce street and gang violence, and homicides and injuries caused by firearms. Programs are also aimed at partnerships between law enforcement and schools, after-school programs and data collection on gang prevention.
Lincoln Police Capt. Jason Stille, who has been with the department 21 years, said it seemed anecdotally that gang activity and violence have increased in Lincoln.
"We have found through Operation Tipping Point and similar programs that the education piece, the prevention piece, is every bit as important to cut down on the crime trends and gang activity," Stille said.
Operation Tipping Point identifies youths engaging in at-risk behaviors that could lead to criminal gang affiliation.
Mayor Chris Beutler spoke at the news conference, saying Lincoln has a lower crime rate than other cities its size, due in part to community policing and to collaboration with Lincoln Public Schools.
An outreach coordinator, funded in part by the Office of Violence Prevention, interviews students and families to assess risk factors and directs families to social service resources. The LPD gang unit also receives enhanced training through the funding.
"The Office of Violence Prevention will continue to be a vital part of our success in doing this," Beutler said. "This increased funding proposal greatly impacts in a positive way our ability to reduce crime and to build relationships with youth who may be facing pressures to deviate from a path of success," he said.
Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha is co-sponsoring the bill.
Federal employees received pay stubs with nothing but zeros on them Friday as the effects of the government shutdown hit home, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills.
All told, an estimated 800,000 government workers missed their paychecks for the first time since the shutdown began.
Employees posted pictures of the pay stubs on Twitter and vented their frustration as the standoff over President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall entered its 21st day. This weekend, it will become the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
"I saw the zeros in my pay stub today, and it's a combination of reality setting in and just sadness," air traffic controller Josh Maria told The Associated Press after tweeting a screenshot of his pay stub. "We're America. We can do better than this."
The missed paychecks were just one sign of the mounting toll the shutdown is taking on Americans' daily lives. The Miami airport is closing a terminal this weekend because security screeners have been calling in sick at twice the normal rate. Homebuyers are experiencing delays in getting their loans.
Roughly 420,000 federal employees were deemed essential and are working unpaid. An additional 380,000 are staying home without pay.
Workers are turning to Uber, Lyft and other side gigs to pick up some money in the meantime. In Falls Church, Virginia, outside Washington, a school district was holding a hiring fair for furloughed federal employees interested in working as substitute teachers.
Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, has picked up some work as a handyman, turned to a crowdfunding site to raise some cash and started driving for Lyft after being furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service.
But the side gigs aren't making much difference, and he has been trying to work with his mortgage company to avoid missing a payment.
"Here we are, Day 21, and all three parties cannot even negotiate like adults," he said, describing government workers such as himself as "being pawns for an agenda of a wall. You're not going to put a wall across the Rio Grande, I'm sorry."
Economists at S&P Global said the shutdown has cost the U.S. economy $3.6 billion so far.
The typical federal employee makes $37 an hour, which translates into $1,480 a week, according to Labor Department data. That's nearly $1.2 billion in lost pay each week, when multiplied by 800,000 federal workers.
Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, despite the strong economy and the ultra-low unemployment rate. A Federal Reserve survey in May found that 40 percent of Americans would have to borrow or sell something to make a $400 emergency payment.
Government workers are scaling back spending, canceling trips, applying for unemployment benefits and taking out loans to stay afloat.
Maria, based in Washington, was already in a financially precarious situation because of two cross-country moves in 2018 and the birth of a premature son. The shutdown has made matters much worse.
"I'm just not paying certain bills. Car payments are being delayed, which is going to put a hit on the credit," he said. "Credit card payments are being delayed."
Maria took out a personal loan last week just in case. Now he is pulling his 4-year-old daughter out of day care and telling his 7-year-old son he cannot sign up for extracurricular activities.
Tiauna Guerra, one of 3,750 furloughed IRS workers in Ogden, Utah, said employers don't want to hire her when she explains her situation because they don't want to lose her in a few weeks.
In the meantime, she is taking out a loan to make her car payment, and she and her husband are delaying plans to move out of her parents' house until the shutdown ends.
"We're barely getting by," said Guerra, a mother of two small children. "We are not able to pay a lot of our bills. We're having a hard time trying to buy gas, food."
Most of the government workers received their last paycheck two weeks ago. Around the country, some workers are relying on donations, including launching GoFundMe campaigns. Food pantries have opened up in several locations.
In Massachusetts, a private group has stepped up to ensure that those working at local Coast Guard stations have food and clothing. Don Cox, president of the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, said the nonprofit group has opened up centers at Coast Guard stations in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.
The group is helping feed 500 to 600 families a day during the shutdown, about double the typical demand, Cox said.
"We've been doing this for 10 years. This is my fourth shutdown," Cox said. "I wish the senators and the congressmen weren't taking their paychecks. I'd feel a lot better then."
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado said she would not take her paycheck as long as federal workers were unpaid. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, another Colorado Democrat, said his staff would offer free breakfasts and lunches to unpaid federal workers at his district office in suburban Denver starting Friday.
BARRON, Wis. — A 21-year-old man shot a Wisconsin couple to death at their home in a scheme to kidnap their teenage daughter, then held the girl captive for three months before she managed to escape in an isolated north woods town, authorities said Friday.
Jayme Closs, 13, was skinny, disheveled and wearing shoes too big for her when she approached a stranger and pleaded for help Thursday in the small town of Gordon, where Jake Thomas Patterson lives.
Patterson was apparently out looking for her when he was arrested and jailed on kidnapping and homicide charges, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said.
The news that Jayme was safe set off joy and relief 60 miles away in her hometown of Barron, population 3,300, ending an all-out search that gripped the state, with many people fearing the worst the longer she was missing.
"My legs started to shake. It was awesome. The stress, the relief — it was awesome," Fitzgerald said, describing the moment he learned Jayme had been found.
Jayme told one of the neighbors in Gordon who took her in that she had walked away from a cabin where she had been held captive.
"She said that this person's name was Jake Patterson, 'He killed my parents and took me,'" said another one of the neighbors, Kristin Kasinskas. "She did not talk about why or how. She said she did not know him."
The sheriff said investigators are trying to figure out what happened to Jayme during her captivity and why she was seized, and gave no details on how she escaped except to say Patterson was not home at the time. He said there is no evidence Patterson knew Jayme or her family or had been in contact with her on social media before kidnapping her.
"I know all of you are searching for the answer why any of this happened," Fitzgerald said. "Believe me, so are we."
The sheriff said that he did not know if Jayme had been physically abused but that she was hospitalized overnight for observation and released after an exam. Investigators were still interviewing her, and she was "doing as well as circumstances allow," he said.
Kasinskas called 911 to report the girl had been found after another neighbor out walking her dog encountered Jayme and brought her to Kasinskas' house. Minutes later, Patterson was pulled over by a sheriff's deputy based on a description of his vehicle Jayme provided, authorities said.
He was scheduled for an initial court appearance Monday. It was not immediately known whether the unemployed Patterson had an attorney.
Jayme's grandfather, Robert Naiberg, said he had been praying for months for the call he received about his granddaughter.
"I thought, 'Good for her she escaped,'" he said.
Jayme disappeared from her home near Barron after someone broke in and shot her parents, James and Denise Closs, on Oct. 15. The sheriff said investigators believe Patterson killed them in order to abduct the girl.
Patterson tried to avoid leaving evidence at the scene of the killings, taking such steps as shaving his head beforehand, the sheriff said. A shotgun similar to the one used was recovered from the home where police believe Jayme was held, the sheriff said.
Property records show that the cabin belonged to Patterson's father at the time of Jayme's disappearance.
Patterson had no criminal record, according to the sheriff. He graduated in 2015 from Northwood High School, where he was on the quiz bowl team and was a good student with a "great group of friends," said District Superintendent Jean Serum.
Kasinskas said she taught Patterson science in middle school, but added: "I don't really remember a ton about him."
"He seemed like a quiet kid," she said. "I don't recall anything that would have explained this, by any means."
The woman who first spotted Jayme on Thursday, Jeanne Nutter, said she was walking her dog along a rural road when a disheveled girl called out to her, grabbed her and revealed her name.
"I was terrified, but I didn't want to show her that," Nutter, a social worker who spent years working in child protection, told The Associated Press. "She just yelled, 'Please help me! I don't know where I am! I'm lost!'"
Nutter took her to the home of Peter and Kristin Kasinskas. Jayme was quiet, her emotions "pretty flat," Peter Kasinskas said.
Jayme told the couple she didn't know where she was or anything about Gordon, a town of about 644 people in a heavily forested region where logging is the top industry.
After Jayme vanished, detectives pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and conducted numerous searches. Officials recruited 2,000 volunteers for a huge ground search Oct. 23, but it yielded no clues.
"It was only a few months ago that we as a community gathered to pray for Jayme's safe return at Barron High School," Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said at a news conference. "God has answered those prayers."