United Methodist Church congregations in Nebraska have become bucket brigades in their efforts to help Houston residents and others in the Texas Gulf clean up after Hurricane Harvey.
Churches from Auburn, Norfolk, Waverly, Lincoln and Omaha have sent cleaning kits in 5-gallon buckets, called flood buckets, to the United Methodist district office off 33rd and Superior streets, said spokesman Todd Seifert.
Nearly 860 buckets filled the hallways outside Seifert's office Tuesday.
"We probably don’t want the fire marshal to walk in,” Seifert joked.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. of the Great Plains Conference challenged the 1,008 congregations throughout Kansas and Nebraska to assemble 5,000 flood buckets to help those affected by Harvey.
A truck will pick up the buckets from Lincoln later this week, but church officials expect this to be an ongoing effort as Floridians clean up from Hurricane Irma in the coming weeks, Seifert said.
"The reality is we’re going to help to collect these buckets for weeks, if not months."
On Tuesday, utility crews from Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus helped restore power in Tallahassee, Florida, as other public power crews from Omaha and York continued their voyage to Florida, where several million homes and businesses remained without electricity.
Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force 1 members still didn't have a mission Tuesday morning and remained staged at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, awaiting further instruction from federal and state emergency management officials.
Since arriving Saturday evening, the 80-member team has used its downtime to train and run logistics ahead of potential Hurricane Irma relief missions.
"Our logistics folks have planned different routes in southern Florida four or five different times," Task Force leader Jim Bopp said.
The Lincoln-based task force will remain there until it is assigned a mission in Florida or somewhere else in the region, or is sent home.
Other, similar task forces have been put to work in the Florida Keys and Jacksonville areas, said Nebraska Task Force 1 member Brad Thavenet.
Florida already had eight of its own search and rescue task forces before federal officials dispatched more teams like Nebraska's to aid Irma relief efforts, Thavenet said.
Bopp said the crews of Lincoln, Omaha and Papillion firefighters are making good use of their downtime but are still itching to help.
University of Nebraska students enrolled as recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should stay put for the time being, the university said in recent statements.
The Trump administration last week announced its plans to phase out the DACA program by ending the permit renewal process allowing young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to apply for protections from deportation.
The decision to end the program was coupled with a message for Congress to pass the so-called Dream Act that would enact the program legislatively rather than through executive action.
Only about two dozen of the 26,000 students enrolled at UNL are believed to be DACA recipients.
But NU leaders, including UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, have urged those students to stay put as Congress reconvened following the August recess and as several court challenges have been filed against the Trump administration’s decision to draw the program to a close.
“The message to anyone attending the university who is a DACA recipient is this: You are welcome here and we want you to be successful,” Green wrote in a message to the UNL campus. “Our advice is to continue attending classes as you normally would and to begin exploring the resources available to you."
Green’s message, similar to one given by NU President Hank Bounds, as well as University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor Jeff Gold, pointed to a set of frequently asked questions regarding the DACA program and NU:
* Students whose applications expire before March 5, 2018, are being advised to contact an immigration attorney “to review their specific case and determine if they should renew their DACA permit."
* NU students who have DACA permits “should be cautious about traveling abroad” during the six-month grace period, while anyone outside the country was being encouraged to return as soon as possible while their work permit was still valid.
While the Department of Homeland Security said it will honor the work permits granted through DACA until the end of the grace period, NU advised students that their re-admission into the U.S. was discretionary to Customs and Border Control.
The university doesn’t ask students for information related to their immigration status, and NU Board of Regents policy stipulates any student shall be admitted “without regard to individual characteristics other than qualifications for admission, academic performance, and conduct in accord with University policies and rules and laws applicable to student conduct.”
NU said any DACA recipients recognized as resident students won’t see any change in their tuition bill. The Nebraska Legislature in 2006 passed a law to provide in-state tuition rates to children brought into the country illegally.
The FAQ points to several services, both for academic, personal and mental counseling, as well as for legal consultation, for DACA recipients attending NU.
As of Monday, Charlie Foster, UNL assistant to the vice chancellor for student affairs, said it didn’t appear any students had come forward seeking services just yet.
Employees were told not to give legal advice to students, but rather to direct them to an immigration attorney, including the Nebraska College of Law’s Immigration Clinic.
Kevin Ruser, a clinical professor who oversees the college’s legal clinics, said a “walk-in advice only” clinic is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It’s aimed at answering these kind of questions,” Ruser said. “Our immigration clinic students will meet with them and let them know what their options are.”
Ruser added the clinic was open to all DACA recipients, not just UNL students.
Planting one Chuck Taylor shoe against the red oak, Ally Beard tightened her grip and pulled, throwing her hips skyward until she was horizontal a few feet off the ground.
Then it was all hard work — finding the right pull, step, pull, step, pull, step rhythm until she reached the first checkpoint: a branch about 8 feet off the ground.
From there, it was relatively smooth sailing as Beard grabbed hold of higher branches to reposition herself before pull-stepping again all the way into the tree’s canopy.
Assisting Beard on the ground below, Mark Noark, a manager of recruiting and training at The Davey Tree Expert Company and a judge of international tree climbing competitions, told the sophomore from Gretna to stop for a minute and look around.
"Doesn't it give you a different perspective up there at 15 or 20 feet?” Noark called up to Beard. "Just wait until you get to 80, 110 or 140 feet in the air. It gets really, really interesting when you get up over 200 feet."
Back on the ground, Beard said using a rope system to climb the East Campus tree the way an arborist or ecologist might “was way different” than her experiences rock climbing.
“You have to coordinate your arms and feet to pull your body up,” she said. “It’s not a natural way of climbing.”
The demonstration was a peek into a program currently unavailable at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, even as it exists as a land grant university with an expansive Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the state where Arbor Day was founded.
Eric North, an assistant professor of practice within the School of Natural Resources, has been tasked with creating a regional and community forestry program, capable of training everyone from urban arborists to conservationists to scale trees safely and efficiently.
“I’m trying to coin the term ‘Treehuskers,’” he said. “This was the tree planting state, so we’re trying to bring that back.”
North, who is working in a position funded through the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the School of Natural Resources, said faculty are busy designing courses and curriculum to create the degree program.
Wednesday’s exercise was designed in part to introduce students, most of them fishery and wildlife majors, to the possibilities of the new program, as well as to the careers available for those who master the ropes.
Nebraska will need trained arborists as the emerald ash borer continues to spread across the state, North said, while Lincoln and Omaha seek experienced arborists or consultants to help them manage the hundreds of thousands of trees maintained by those cities.
North said his former students have also gone on to careers with the U.S. Forestry Service, or at construction firms that seek to build projects with minimal impact on existing trees and landscapes.
Noark, who was a longtime foreman for the Ohio-based Davey Tree Expert Company, told the class of roughly 20 students his work took him all over the U.S. to complete projects that regularly topped six figures in cost.
The hands-on experiences will continue next semester as UNL students learn planting, pruning and diagnosing tree problems on an East Campus grove that will double as a learning lab — as well as a recruiting tool.
“If we could just name the major, it would be ‘People in trees,’” North said. “That’s really what urban forestry and horticulture is about, the human-tree interaction and teaching people how to work with both.”
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist says he is fed up with partisan bickering, and believes the people of Nebraska are, too.
And so, in announcing he is running for governor of Nebraska, he said he would also give up party affiliation and register Wednesday afternoon in Omaha as a nonpartisan. It's the first time he has changed his party registration from Republican during his public life, he noted at a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda.
Krist, 60, will work in the next four months to gather the 5,000 signatures needed to create a new party to get on the 2018 ballot, he said.
Without a party affiliation, funding for his campaign could be a challenge. But Krist said a campaign doesn't have to be a billion-dollar event.
He has already begun receiving donations, he said, and promises of funding.
"I don't think that raising money is going to be easy, but I will do it by taking the time and visiting with folks around the state," he said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts spent around $7.5 million in his 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
Krist said party affiliation was the smallest part of the message he wanted to convey Wednesday.
"Nebraskans are looking for independent and effective leadership," Krist said. "We believe I am the right person to answer the call and return us to the nonpartisan traditions that made Nebraska great."
He will embark on a listening tour of the state, probably beginning before the end of the month. Krist, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is a pilot and plans to fly around the state to campaign.
His decision to run has grown out of his observations from his seat in the nonpartisan Legislature for the past nine years, and the changes he has seen there, led by partisanship from the governor's office.
What pushed his decision to run was the budget debate in the 2017 session of the Legislature, he said. That budget could have been balanced in a lot of ways without taking money from Medicaid service provider rates and aid for people with developmental disabilities.
"The Legislature was once a nonpartisan body, but that’s not the case today," he said. "Now we have less conversation, less debate and more of the party highway or no way. It’s counter to everything we need to do right now. I believe the emphasis should be on working together.”
Krist said he has watched Ricketts, a Republican, personally bankroll challengers to senators who don’t vote with him right down the line.
Krist was appointed by Republican Gov. Dave Heineman in 2009, but soon showed his independent streak, parting ways with the governor on a number of votes.
He has been criticized by the Republican Party on a number of those issues. On Wednesday, state GOP Executive Director Kenny Zoeller was at the Rotunda with a press release that thumped Krist for flip-flopping on what he believes and for not being able to choose a party for the ballot.
Krist said that in his time in the Legislature he has always presented what he thought was good for the 1.9 million people across the state of Nebraska and the 40,000 he represented in District 10, and never brought party politics into it.
"So they can call me a flip-flopper all they want to. But this is the first time I've changed my party politic, even though they tried to kick me out on a couple of occasions," he said. "I can't say that enough. Let me foot stomp that one."
The state Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb had a much different response to Krist's announcement.
Krist's run for governor is good for democracy, she said.
"Nebraska has one-party rule right now. Democrats and independents are part of the fabric of our state and deserve a seat at the table for making decisions that impact our families," she said. "More ideas, beyond the dominant party in our state, are needed to grow the good life for all Nebraskans.”
Krist said his No. 1 priority as governor would be to focus on finding nonpartisan solutions to reduce property taxes for Nebraskans, while assuring adequate education funding.
He will also commit to fixing the problems in Nebraska's prison systems.
"I understand the overtime issues that have plagued our corrections officers. I understand the overcrowding issue. I understand that the time for talk is over," Krist said.
If elected, he said, he will declare an emergency to address prison crowding at 160 percent of capacity, with a number of them at a much higher percentage.
"Our prisons have become the No. 1 public safety issue in Nebraska and the time to act is past. The time to act is now," he said.
His campaign will focus on his conservative belief that government is too big, he said.
"We are committed to making our state government more efficient, hard working for all Nebraskans," he said. "And we must do so without harming the most fragile members of our society."
In balancing his duties in the Legislature with running for a major state office, Krist said he will not shirk any of his legislative responsibilities, which end in 2018 due to term limits. He had a good example in U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer in 2012, he said.
"She didn't skip a beat. She continued to drive toward those issues that needed to be solved. She introduced bills. She talked about bills. I intend to do the same thing," he said.
Ricketts' 2018 campaign manager, Jessica Flanagain, said until Krist successfully creates his own party, and has ballot access for the primary election, the Ricketts campaign would not comment on his candidacy.
At his announcement were Krist's wife, Peggy, his daughter Courtney, 33, son Justin, 35, daughter-in-law Aura, brother Jim Krist and sister Katie Malmberg.
They read the diary when they were girls growing up in Stockholm.
The words of their great-great-grandmother, Augusta Soderholm, who died when she was 28 but had lived like royalty, traveling and chasing off suitors.
“All these guys who proposed to her and she thought they were stupid,” says Sara Azzam, the older of the two Swedish sisters. “She wrote about boyfriends and going to balls and what to wear.”
Back in the '70s, the sisters turned the copied pages, as exciting and tragic as a Jane Austen novel.
Then Sara moved to Nebraska to go to college. She stayed and married and raised four kids and had a career as a scientist at Celerion. Her sister, Kerstin Melin, still lives in Stockholm.
Next week, they will meet there and set off on Part 2 of “Augusta’s Journey,” dressed in 1847-era chic.
“This has kind of taken over my life,” Sara says from her East Campus living room, surrounded by petticoats and shawls, ball gowns and bonnets.
Sara is 63 and semi-retired. Her childhood interest in the diaries was renewed a decade ago, when she began to research her ancestor’s suitors and travels with the help of a 21st century invention called the internet.
“It was so interesting and I thought, you know, we should just redo that trip (Augusta took) to Germany.”
Her sister agreed.
And: “She thought it would be interesting to do it as an historical re-enactment.”
Think Chautauqua without a bandstand.
Think Civil War battle portrayals with civility.
Think old cotton nightgowns and lace-trimmed night caps, hat boxes and parasols in the overhead bin on airplanes.
“We decided to make the clothing and one thing led to another, it became almost addictive,” Sara says, explaining the historical research, the many trips to thrift stores, the hours ripping apart and stitching together, the proper way to starch a petticoat. (Dip it in a bath of cornstarch and water and hang to dry.)
On Tuesday, she was still deciding which dress to wear to retrace the back-to-nature segment of Augusta’s long-ago trip. A topic she’d also pondered previously in her blog: “How wonderful it will be to hike in Saxon Switzerland National Park, in a dress with several layers of petticoats.”
Indeed, she had a rough idea. The sisters had embarked on a test run in May, Part 1 of Augusta’s Journey, tracing a route their ancestor had taken through the canals of Sweden as a 23-year-old. “We wanted to see, does it work to travel this way?”
And it did.
“You experience things really differently when you’re walking with these wide dresses,” Sara says. “You start watching your language, you talk more softly. It’s almost like you’re in a movie, but it’s your movie.”
Speaking of movies, Kerstin’s son shot a video as they left port aboard the M/S Juno — the world’s oldest registered cruise ship — and sailed away with their lace kerchiefs waving, catching the eyes of perplexed fellow travelers.
That was one of three standard reactions to their getups, Sara said.
Some people were curious and asked what was going on, she said. (Were they filming a scene for a movie?) Some avoided eye contact. (If I don’t look, maybe they will go away.)
“And there are lots of tourists to Sweden,” Sara said, “who think this is just how we dress in Sweden.”
A newspaper caught up with them during their voyage and published a feature story.
And the sisters are keeping their own not-so-private diaries — blogs and Instagram and a Facebook page written in English and Swedish, filled with 19th century art and literary links and photos of finished ball gowns.
For their upcoming tour of Germany, they’ll travel by steam engine passenger trains and steamer — although they’ll start out from Stockholm Central Station with the morning commuters, looking like the Bronte sisters in Skechers.
Their two-week route is set. A boutique hotel in Lubeck with a family tie. A few days in Berlin and a visit to the opera (thus the ball gowns), followed by Dresden and a national park in the south. They’ll head to Prague before boarding the train back to Hamburg and home.
Augusta died of tuberculosis in 1855, six years after she first wrote about coughing up blood in her diary.
By then, she’d said “I do” to one of her many suitors and left behind a grieving husband and a 1-year-old daughter named Gerda.
Gerda married an Army officer and had six children. One of her daughters — Eva — gave birth to a boy named Pontus who became the father of two smart and curious girls named Sara and Kerstin, who set out to “understand the life of a young, wealthy, Swedish girl in the mid-1800s.”
From her living room in Lincoln, Sara the scientist holds up a pair of lacy white gloves a friend crocheted for her.
A woman who helped a Davey man fix a flat tire Sunday may have foiled a suspected summer-long burglary spree.
Suspicious about why Travis Duffek's SUV was stuck in her driveway west of Lincoln, Jana Hollist secretly photographed the SUV and an attached trailer while helping Duffek with the tire, said Capt. Ben Houchin of the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office.
Hollist later discovered piles of items left outside on her property and other belongings missing from her sheds, and called the sheriff's office.
Deputy Amy Lesan and Sgt. Scott Gaston used information Hollist provided to trace Duffek to his home at 5550 Mill Road, where investigators found a trove of stolen items, possibly tied to up to 30 area theft and burglary cases, Houchin said.
In their Tuesday morning search, Lancaster County sheriff's deputies recovered trailers, mowers, construction tools and other equipment valued at upward of $50,000.
"One of the trailers hadn't even been reported stolen yet," Houchin said.
Five chainsaws found on Duffek's property had been reported stolen from a deputy sheriff's house nearby.
So far, the findings have cleared six Lancaster County thefts, burglaries and thefts from auto and two trailer thefts reported to Lincoln police, the captain said.
Investigators are still trying to trace the roughly 200 items back to their owners and are looking into who else might have been involved.
They found the items inside Duffek's home, garage, shed and pole shed, and arrested him when he arrived during the search, Houchin said.
Investigators believe Duffek was stealing the items to support a drug habit, and that his crime spree started at the beginning of summer, Houchin said.
Prosecutors Thursday charged the 32-year-old with six felonies, including two counts of burglary and three theft by unlawful taking charges.
Duffek appeared in court Thursday afternoon, and a judge set his bond at $70,000.
At the end of her visit to four Nebraska schools Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said it is in the hands of states and local communities to come up with innovative ways to offer school choice to parents.
“I’m an advocate for parents and children to be able to choose the right setting for them. It’s really up to the states and communities to decide what that looks like,” DeVos said in answer to a high school journalist’s question about whether she would push for charter schools in the state.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt and Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel both stressed that Nebraska already offers school choice and did not want to see state or federal funding diverted from public schools.
"Nebraska is a choice state. Students can attend any school they want to — and do," said Joel, adding that state funds go where the kids go. "That fosters competition."
DeVos deflected questions about school funding, but both Joel and Blomstedt said they were encouraged that she seemed to indicate her administration would not push charters or other privatization efforts in Nebraska.
“I don’t believe necessarily we need something coming from the federal level to tell us how to design the system, and I don’t think that’s what Secretary DeVos messaged to us," Blomstedt said. "I think actually it was, ‘It is your system’ and that she’s not here to tell us it ought to be charter or voucher or anything.”
Protesters and other public school advocates weren't convinced.
An estimated 200 people gathered across the street from the Lincoln Children's Zoo to protest her visit, and a pro-public schools group and the Nebraska State Education Association held a rally Thursday afternoon to make the case against charter schools.
“I hope she left with an appreciation for the quality education that can go on in all public schools that do not have to deal with the distractions and funding drains of charter schools and voucher schemes,” said Jenni Benson, president of the state teachers union.
The pro-school choice group Educate Nebraska weighed in, too, saying it looked forward to expanding the examples of school choice DeVos saw Wednesday and Thursday through public, public charter and private schools — so all students have the same opportunity.
For Thursday's DeVos visit, many students at the LPS zoo school wore T-shirts made by two seniors who offered them to any student who wanted to wear them as a respectful way to express their views.
“We’re here to show we like public schools and we want to make sure (zoo school) stays a public school,” said freshman Lexie Massing.
Many of the students' T-shirts were decorated with artwork, quotes and other sayings, including those promoting acceptance of all gender and sexual identities.
Kierstan Brutus, who was in the senior research class DeVos visited, said students at the zoo school are proud to be at a place where “people are allowed to be who they are.”
DeVos visited four schools Wednesday and Thursday: Midland University’s Omaha campus, the privately funded Nelson Mandela Elementary School in Omaha, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Lincoln and the LPS science focus program at the Children’s Zoo.
At the zoo school, she talked with a student who let her pet a lizard while he explained the work he did with them.
She asked students what they liked about the zoo school, what they’d change is they could and how long they’d been there.
Students shared their research projects, and said they liked the smaller environment — about 100 students attend the 20-year-old program — because teachers know them and understand how they learn. They liked being able to pursue their passions, they said, including several students who changed their focus once they delved into their studies. They also liked being able to create portfolios to showcase what they’ve learned, rather than taking final exams.
Senior Nico Lozano said he liked the opportunity to do real research.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “It’s frickin’ research. We’re doing science, not just learning about science.”
DeVos met with students over lunch and spoke with them during a roundtable discussion that was closed to the media.
Senior Ava Gagner attended the roundtable and said the discussion was similar to an exchange in the classroom. DeVos asked students to talk about their school and why they liked it, but didn’t take questions.
Gagner said she wished they’d had a chance to ask DeVos about her positions on education policy — including her intention to rescind Obama-era guidance on sexual assault enforcement on college campuses and her views on school privatization. Gagner also would have asked why she chose to come to Nebraska.
“I wish I could know how open-minded she is about things,” Gagner said.
DeVos began her day at St. Mary’s, across from the state capitol, where she read Dr. Seuss’ “The Places You’ll Go” to a kindergarten class, then visited a seventh-grade math class that started with a scripture lesson and turned to strategies to do well on the ACT.
Her visit, part of a tour of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana, is billed as an avenue to "Rethink School."
"We are going to continue to encourage and really push states, not in a top-down, heavy-handed way but in an encouraging way, highlighting the things we've seen and experienced and learned on this trip," DeVos said.
Zoo school senior Annika Novotny said it was nice to be able to show off their school.
“I think our school did a really great job showing her how great a public school can be,” she said.
It appears that Garth Brooks will play five concerts at Pinnacle Bank Arena next month.
That’s how things shook out after tickets for the country superstar’s Lincoln concerts became available at 10 a.m Friday. While initially advertised as a single show on Saturday, Oct. 21, a second show was added just as tickets went on sale, a third about five minutes later and, within 20 minutes, the fourth and fifth shows were added.
“It was an exciting, pretty intense hour there,” said arena manager Tom Lorenz, who was on the phone with Brooks’ management and Ticketmaster through the ticket-buying, show-adding rush.
There was no predetermined target for the number of shows that Brooks would play in Lincoln. And it is possible, although unlikely, that a sixth show could be added later if the five shows currently posted sell out.
Assuming a capacity of 12,000 for each concert, ticket sales for Garth's run in Lincoln should approach 60,000. All tickets are $74.98, including fees, no matter where your seat is located.
Brooks played six shows in Omaha in May 2015, selling 95,000 tickets, eclipsing the Nebraska ticket sales record he set in 1997 when he had five concerts at the Devaney Sports Center and sold 66,661 tickets.
That said, all involved are happy with the five-show run that will begin Friday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m.
“It’s really difficult when you come into the market to determine exactly what it will do beforehand,” Lorenz said. “We’re very happy to do five shows with pretty high numbers for each show.”
The other four shows will be on Oct. 21 and 22 -- at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each day.
Doubling up the shows on weekend days allows more time for arena crews to clean and make other preparations for the second show.
Importantly, parking will cycle out, providing places for those coming for the second show that wouldn’t be available with two back-to-back shows on the same night.
Tickets remain available for all five Brooks shows, although some are closing in on selling out. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com or by calling 866-448-7849 (automated) or 800-745-3000.
For in-person ticket sales, the arena box office will open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
TECUMSEH — Justin Busch crumpled over at the defense table when he heard the sentence — 30 to 50 years — for starting fires at the prison north of town during a Mother’s Day riot in 2015.
“Thirty years, that’s his life,” his father said as he walked out of the Johnson County courtroom.
Minutes earlier, Jeff Busch had offered a harsh critique of issues at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, asking that his son not be used as a fall guy for systemic problems at the prison that continue to go unfixed.
“It’s still the same facility that’s still having the same issues,” he told Johnson County District Judge Ricky Scheiner. “They’re still having problems.”
His son is housed at the Lincoln Correctional Center now.
Justin Busch, who earlier pleaded no contest to first-degree arson in the case, said he knows he made some bad choices, but he’s not a bad person.
"I know I have to take responsibility for my actions. And I started those fires. And I did wrong. ... But I didn’t kill nobody. I had nothing to do with those deaths,” he said, referring to Shon Collins and Donald Peacock, who were found beaten to death after the riot, presumably at the hands of fellow inmates.
More than two years later, no one has been charged for the killings.
Schreiner said he didn’t hold Busch, 26, responsible for the deaths, but Busch had created an environment among the inmates that allowed the killings to happen.
“Mr. Busch, this was a serious event, and you were a major player,” he said.
Schreiner seemed bothered by Busch giving two versions of why he had done it. He told a probation officer he started the fires so inmates could get out of the yard and not be shot. But Busch earlier told investigators that he burned the doors and windows so he could “get at those people,” meaning prison staff, public servants who work to keep citizens safe from people like Busch, the judge said.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for what you did, none whatsoever,” Schreiner said before handing down the sentence, which could be interpreted as a message to other inmates.
Johnson County Attorney Rick Smith had asked for a lengthy sentence, but stopped short of suggesting a specific number.
“To say that Mr. Busch’s actions were part of that Mother’s Day riot seems to kind of undersell his actions,” he said.
Busch started fires to windows and doorways that gave inmates access to parts of the prison where they had no business being, the prosecutor said.
Smith said the fires caused significant damage to state property (the Department of Correctional Services said it cost millions of dollars to reopen the housing unit) and seriously endangered the health of inmates and staff.
“Those fires created chaos in an already chaotic situation,” Smith said, adding that they prolonged and exacerbated the riot.
At the time, Busch was serving an 18- to 24-year sentence for robbery and gun charges out of Douglas and Sarpy counties.
Defense attorney Lee Timan asked for a sentence with a low bottom number and high top number that would allow Busch the opportunity to "earn his freedom” by proving himself on parole.
Busch wasn’t the only one who had set fires that day, he said, and he didn’t intend to harm anyone.
“The intent, of course, was to draw light and attention to the major concerns that he had with Tecumseh State Correctional Institution,” Timan said.
Busch stopped and let out a sigh as he walked through the courtroom gate in chains, with two prison guards around him.
In the hallway, he doubled over as if about to collapse.
“Oh my God,” he cried out, and he could be heard yelling in an office where he was taken to talk to his lawyer.
A federal judge in Nebraska sent an Arizona man to prison for 10 years Friday for getting stopped on Interstate 80 just outside of Lincoln last year with more than 18 pounds of methamphetamine in a duffel bag in the trunk.
Adrian German Vasquez, 23, of Nogales, also was caught at a border crossing in Arizona four months earlier with nearly 100 pounds of marijuana in bricks hidden in the seats, doors and spare tire compartment.
U.S. District Judge John Gerrard sentenced him to prison in both cases and gave him five years on supervised release.
Vasquez pleaded guilty in June to possession with intent to deliver more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, plus conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to deliver marijuana.
Around 1 a.m. Aug. 9, 2016, a Nebraska State Patrol trooper pulled over Vasquez for speeding and learned he was wanted in Arizona on a parole violation.
The trooper asked to search the rental car, which was registered to someone else, and found a bag with less than an ounce of marijuana between the driver’s seat and the center console.
In the trunk, the trooper found a duffel bag with 19 bags of meth, and Vasquez later admitted he was taking it to Minnesota.
At the plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Klein said on April 18, 2016, Vasquez was stopped at a border crossing near Tombstone, Arizona, in a Kia Optima that had just under 44 kilos (96 pounds) of marijuana.
On Friday, Vasquez said he is from a border town and had started running with the wrong crowd, but he was ready to rebuild.
Gerrard said Vasquez's distribution problems are all related to his "use of drugs and your perceived need for quick easy money. ... You're learning a steep lesson at an early age."
Concerned parents, retired teachers and advocates for sexual assault victims gathered outside the Lincoln Children's Zoo on Thursday, all energized by their shared opposition to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Helping organize the protest as a concerned parent, Lou Braatz handed out signs with pictures of scientists, artists, musicians, social activists and political figures, among them Mozart, Golda Meir, Harriet Tubman and Freddie Mercury.
“While we’re having this great national conversation about symbolism and statues, why not have statues of people we should be teaching about and honoring?” Braatz said.
Why organize? Braatz said he holds educators in high esteem and worries about the effects of budget cuts on the public school system — what he calls the greatest infrastructure investment Americans can make.
Ahead of DeVos' visit to Lincoln's zoo school, Deb Levitov shot off a Facebook message Wednesday to the more than 800 members of Suit Up-Nebraska, a spinoff of the online community Pantsuit Nation that supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
“I think the biggest concern is DeVos is very in favor of charter and independent schools, which siphons money away from public schools,” Levitov said, adding she was glad to have the education secretary visit Nebraska to see the quality of the state’s public education system.
Nearby, two women held signs pointing to a statement made by DeVos last week of her plans to rescind an Obama administration directive requiring broader responses to reports of campus sexual assault under Title IX.
Alexis Lipson, who described herself as a victim of sexual assault who now helps others as a victim advocate, said Title IX protections weren't there for her when she was in college.
“The changes the Obama administration made helped survivors feel like they were actually supported and not terrified to come forward,” Lipson said.
By 2 p.m., about 200 protesters stretched along A Street, many of them holding signs.
Despite the heat, Pat Etherton, a retired teacher at Belmont Elementary School and Park Middle School, made her statement by dressing as the beloved Dr. Seuss character from “The Cat in the Hat.”
Etherton said any push for “choice in schools” didn’t make sense, especially coming on a visit to the LPS science focus program.
“We have all these alternatives, we have all these choices in Nebraska,” she said.
On Friday, Rebecca Harbison got up before sunrise, fixed a pastry, steeped some tea and watched as a spacecraft that had beamed data and images for 14 years from 900 million miles away disintegrated into the atmosphere of the ringed planet.
Saturn -- thanks to her years spent researching it -- had become her favorite planet. Aside from Earth, of course.
Unlike the trove of photos and information that the Cassini spacecraft provided about Saturn and its moons and famed rings -- possibly the result of a moon ripped to shreds by tidal forces -- there wasn’t much to see during its final moments, billed by NASA as its grand finale.
“It was surprisingly quick,” said Harbison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant astronomy professor. “It entered the atmosphere, lasted a minute or two, and the signal cut.”
To Harbison, it felt a bit like the conclusion of a chapter. She has for years analyzed data collected from the Cassini spacecraft’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), which her thesis adviser at Cornell University, Phillip Nicholson, headed. The team of researchers focused on the particles that form Saturn’s rings, down to the dust.
“The rings are one of the closest examples of what astronomers call a debris disk, a collection of solid bodies orbiting a primary,” she said during a 2014 presentation at UNL, where she completed her undergraduate work, prior to accepting a position in the astronomy department.
"It has some very different properties than a proto-planetary disk, but it still lets us tests our general models of how disks work in a place where we can take a nice close-up picture so we check to understand what's going on. In fact, some observations done by Cassini of ring phenomena have provided insight into such things as planet formation.”
The Cassini spacecraft launched in 1997, reached Saturn in 2004 and transmitted information about the planet and its moons for well past the low-end estimate of four years that engineers expected it to operate. It collected 635 GBs of data during its 294 orbits of Saturn, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It took 453,048 images during its travels. According to NASA, 3,948 scientific papers have been published with an assist from Cassini.
The papers that Harbison and fellow researchers worked on focused primarily on the data beamed from Saturn our way. As for the images, “We just liked looking at them,” she said.
Celebrated on Friday for discovering six moons and two oceans upon its massive moons, Titan and Enceladus, which many scientists believe should be targeted for life-seeking future missions, Cassini also allowed researchers to study some of the smallest details of the planet nine times Earth's size. But to look at the individual ring particles surrounding Saturn, Harbison couldn’t bank on Cassini’s camera, as high resolution as it was, to focus in and press click. She instead used data collected from the spacecraft’s spectrometer when it photographed the sun.
Imagine the flecks of dust revealed in the darkness above a movie theater audience when the projector begins to beam scenes onto the movie screen, Harbison said. The particles scatter the light and become visible to the eye. Cassini was able to ID individual particles in Saturn’s rings in a similar manner, Harbison said.
“From Earth we can’t see the sun shine through the rings,” said Harbison, 33. “But Cassini was zipping around there.”
Soon after graduating with a Ph.D. in planetary astronomy, she wrote for Cornell’s department of astronomy about how Cassini's collection of data helped her.
“By measuring the difference between the amount of light in the whole image and the amount that came from looking directly at the sun, I could determine how small the smallest pieces of ice had to be in several different parts of the rings,” she wrote. "I ended up learning that the smallest particles in the C ring (the innermost of the main rings) are 4 millimeters in size; the particles in the inner and middle parts of the A ring (the outermost of the main rings) are smaller than a millimeter.”
She talked on the phone before heading to teach an astronomy class on Friday, which would be the first time that she talked to her students after Cassini’s mission concluded.
She planned to tell her students: “As far as the death of a spacecraft is a success, this is a success."
A little over a decade ago, a Journal Star reporter walked into the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s English department offices in search of a grad student in the throes of a painstaking writing project, someone whose process could enlighten readers on untold hours that go into mining a life for a story. The reporter (Brian Christopherson) found his writer, Kelly Grey Carlisle.
At the time, she’d recently earned an award for an essay about the tragicomic abnormalities of her childhood, ones that felt normal enough to her growing up. The tragic part happened early. Her mother had died when she was three weeks old, the result of a car crash, she was initially told. But that story soon unraveled.
Her grandfather, who she’d lived with in Los Angeles on a long-decommissioned World War II Coast Guard cutter that’d provided support at D-Day and ran an adult video shop, was one of the initial purveyors of that lie. Eventually, he admitted to his young granddaughter that her mother was not in a car wreck. She was murdered — possibly by one of the most infamous serial killers in Los Angeles history. The story felt different to Carlisle, then 8 or so, than the yarns he’d tell about bellying up to the bar with John Wayne. It felt true.
Ten years ago, Carlisle was in search of more information about her mother’s death and about her family history. She was finding time away from class and work as managing editor of the Prairie Schooner to write passages of what she hoped would become her memoir alone at night inside St. Mark’s Episcopal. She was also fantasizing every now and then about what it’d be like to talk to Oprah Winfrey about her book.
This week, Carlisle, now an associate English professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, emailed some former UNL colleagues who’d indulged in those Oprah dreams with her — “Does Dr. Oz count?”
On Wednesday, Carlisle sat for an interview in New York that will air on a future “Dr. Oz” episode, in which she discusses the memoir she was in the early stages of writing 10 years ago, “We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir” (Sourcebooks). A few hours before that interview, she thought a thought she never imagined thinking: “I have to polish my shoes before I talk to Dr. Oz.”
And Friday, she will be back in Lincoln at Indigo Bridge to read passages from “We Are All Shipwrecks” at the independent Haymarket book shop, 701 P St., Suite 102, starting at 7 p.m.
Carlisle said that she saved a single copy of the article about her writing process in a portfolio with all the research she conducted for “Shipwrecks,” a collection that contains notes, photographs and reports she was able to examine during correspondence with two Los Angeles Police Department detectives over the course of her research into her mother’s death.
It also contains the death certificate of her mother, Michelle Grey, which lists the immediate cause of death as “manual strangulation.”
Carlisle learned her mother was living with three other people at a Hollywood motel. On the night of her death in late 1976, she left her newborn daughter in the room and went “next door to turn a trick to help pay the rent because they did not have enough money,” according to the police report. She was never seen alive again, and her death remains unsolved.
Her death by strangulation predated by about 10 months the first known victim of the infamous Hillside Stranglers, a pair of killers who at first targeted prostitutes.
Carlisle said her grandfather told her when she was a child that the Hillside Stranglers had been suspects in her mother’s death. She told “Shelf Awareness” that the book she hid from her family was “Two of a Kind,” a salacious retelling of the serial killers’ crimes.
“When a passage was hard to read, I clapped the book shut and tossed it onto the shelf as if it had burnt me,” she wrote in “Shipwrecks.” “I’d pick up again a few weeks later.”
In the years since she finished her studies at UNL, Carlisle learned more and more details about the crime, and her mother and biological father, who she never met but discovered was in and out of jail before vanishing while out on parole. He’s presumed dead. Both, she said, were “addicted to pills and doing stupid stuff to survive.”
She also explored the experiences she had living with surviving family, including her grandfather, Richard, and his second wife, Marylin. Much of that time was spent on the aforementioned boat with six cats and a harbor full of derelicts who she remembers mostly as kind to her. She chronicles the good and bad of a peculiar adolescence.
It comes with a reading group guide, which features questions that hint at the complexity included in the story: “Richard seems to be full of contradictions, sending Kelly to an expensive French school while also running a porn business. Overall, how would you describe Richard’s character?”
There’s another question in which readers are asked what advice they’d give the high school-aged version of Carlisle.
Here’s a question for Carlisle herself: What advice would you give the 30-year-old who was beginning her memoir at UNL some 10 years ago?
“I would think just to have faith and to remember that big projects are finished one little piece at a time,” Carlisle said. “Time feels like the enemy when you’re a young writer, but it may not be. It may be your best friend.”
T.J. Roe didn't call the police after his skateboard was stolen late last month.
He thought: What can they do? And don't they have bigger crimes to solve?
He didn't think: In 10 days, Tony Hawk will contact me and offer to take care of it.
But that was before Roe, a 37-year-old designer in Lincoln, wrote a letter to his thief and posted it on bulletin boards around downtown.
And before someone else took a picture of the flyer and put it on Reddit, where Hawk, the world's most famous skateboarder, and 83,000 other people read it and reacted to it, making it the website's top post earlier this week.
“I appreciate that you didn’t smash any windows when you broke into my vehicle and tried to cut my battery out of the engine,” Roe wrote. “But I couldn’t care less about that; because you took my skateboard.”
He titled his letter: “I hope you enjoy my skateboard.”
The thief apparently hadn’t. The board reappeared Thursday, two weeks after it vanished.
But while it was gone, Roe realized the skateboard had been more than just a skateboard. The Powell Ripper had carried him through high school in Grand Island, college in Lincoln and a decade in Southern California. It was also carrying memories he could never replace.
“I wanted to tell them they took something that really meant a lot to me,” he said. “I wanted to get something down that expressed it.”
At first, though, Roe didn't even know it was gone. He'd left his home near 24th and Vine streets Aug. 31 and discovered someone had gone through his van, trying to steal the battery and taking a bowler hat and his eclipse goggles.
But he had to get to the Zoo Bar to help friends shoot a video, so he didn't linger, and he didn't check the rear of the van where he kept his board.
The fear struck a couple of days later. “I thought, 'Wait a minute, where's my skateboard?'”
He checked the back. It wasn't there.
“I felt all the things. I felt really numb. I felt angry, but there’s no point in being super angry about it. If someone stole it, they have real problems. Either they have nothing financially, or they have nothing emotionally.”
Roe stewed for a few days, thinking about what he’d lost. He'd trashed other boards, but this one had survived. He'd bought it with wages he earned at Burger King in Grand Island. He'd covered the deck with Pantera lyrics — “Floods” — one night in the bedroom of his friend Joe Boye.
The two had skated together, listened to metal together, worked fast food together.
They went to a funeral together, too, when Joe’s younger brother Noah was killed in Iraq in 2004. Roe was living in California when Joe, who had also served in Iraq and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, died five years later.
Roe would skate to the end of the pier at Venice Beach to watch the sunset, the lyrics he’d scrawled on the board at his friend’s house beneath his feet.
He poured this all out in the letter to his thief. “Unless you can appreciate all of that as much as I do, then maybe you should bring it back.”
He didn’t intend to go viral. But after a coffee shop employee posted the flyer to Reddit on Tuesday, the clicks started piling up. Roe tried to keep up with the comments, but more than 3,000 people had left messages by Wednesday morning.
Many were sympathetic, and many told stories about loss and meaning and memories.
Roe was surprised. “I assume Reddit or the internet in general is going to tear you apart, but there were so many really nice, supportive comments.”
Including this one from Tony Hawk: “I'm sorry to hear about your loss, and I hope the thief somehow sees your heartfelt message.”
The skateboarding legend then contacted him directly, pledging to replace the stolen board. Late Wednesday, he sent Roe a photo of the skateboard — from his own Birdhouse brand — he planned to ship to Lincoln.
Roe was still shocked that the letter to his thief had been answered by his childhood idol.
He said: “The flyer, in my mind, was the end. The flyer was a eulogy. This doesn’t seem real. It’s replacing a lot of emotions with some weirder emotions.”
And he said: “Inside, I’ve reached the capacity of emotion on the thing.”
No, he hadn’t.
Thursday afternoon, he headed outside and spotted his old board waiting for him, slipped under the side of the van. It didn’t seem any more damaged than it had been.
“I’m still numb,” he said. “It’s still going to take days to figure this out.”
He’s not sure when it was returned; the van hadn’t moved since 10 p.m. Wednesday. And he wasn’t sure if Hawk’s offer still stood. But now he knows how to get in touch with his idol.
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln thinks changes in contacts between jailed parents and their children could help stressed families.
An estimated 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent in jail or prison. In Nebraska, about 41,000 children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their childhood. According to Voices for Children in Nebraska, the state has one of the highest rates in the country.
A study resolution (LR198) introduced by Pansing Brooks is looking at the impact on children and families of having nearly 9,000 people — many of them parents — in Nebraska jails and prisons. In the state prisons, 66 percent of female inmates are parents, and 65 percent of the male prisoners.
The study includes examining jail visitation and phone call policies for parents and their children, opportunities in sentencing and placement to ease the physical and emotional trauma children experience, and child-friendly visitation policies in prisons.
Julia Tse, policy coordinator with Voices for Children in Nebraska, told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Friday that in talking to young people, parents and grandparents, it became clear that decades of "tough on crime" policies have negatively impacted children, often pushing them into the justice system later, too.
The loss of physical contact of such a key figure can permanently damage relationships. Visitation policies are not child-friendly, nor do they contribute to parent-child bonding, Tse said.
There's no opportunity for parents to interact with their children in a way that leads to positive development and bonding, she said, other than a few parenting classes and parent-child programs in the men's and women's prisons.
For example, physical contact is limited to a single kiss and hug at the beginning and end of each visit for anyone age 4 and older. Those 3 and under can remain on their parent's lap during the visit.
"A 4- or 5-year old is not going to understand that it's a rule why mom or dad is not touching them," Tse said.
Those children may think the parent likes the younger sibling more, she said.
"I think we know that we're talking about love," Pansing Brooks said, "and withholding of love does not lead to rehabilitation of a criminal. So I don't understand what's happening."
The ACLU of Nebraska pointed out that some county jail inmates can pay as much as $20 to make a 15-minute phone call to their children. The state prisons charge only 19 cents to make that 15-minute call. In some counties, inmates must also pay extra fees for having an account, adding funds to an account or for billing.
"High call rates have real-life impacts on the parents and the children, since the average length of stay for a county jail prisoner is 55 days," the ACLU said in written testimony.
The stressful experience of having a parent in jail may go so far as to affect a child's brain and adversely impact development, mental and physical health, Tse said. And it could lead to risk-taking behaviors.
Nearly all men and women in prisons and jails will be released at some point, she said, and Nebraska must not fail to support parents in taking up their roles when they get out, she said.
Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick said the solution should include more than just the Department of Correctional Services, but also schools, child welfare, behavioral health and parole agencies and programs.
Koebernick also noted that nearly all of the approximate 345 female inmates reside in York, which is not where the vast majority are from, and the distance to their home communities is a barrier to family visits.
About one-third of women in the prison are from the Omaha area, which has about 20 prison beds for women who could qualify for work detail or work release. But the department has said it is going to convert those to beds for men when it opens additional beds for women in Lincoln in 2019.
"This will make it even more difficult for those women to build positive relationships with their children as they transition back to their home community," he said. "I would definitely encourage the department to rethink this decision."
Other recommendations from those testifying included:
* Increase minimum age for physical contact during visits;
*Create child-friendly physical spaces and allow for natural, age-appropriate interactions, including games, toys, books;
* Reduce barriers to visiting and contact, such as transportation assistance, allowing parents to have prison placements closer to home and reducing cost of phone calls in county jails;
* Provide training for correctional staff in interacting with children and communicating with family members;