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Final Coast Guard El Faro report: “This is a call to action for the entire maritime community”
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Final Coast Guard El Faro report: “This is a call to action for the entire maritime community”

Final Coast Guard El Faro report: “This is a call to action for the entire maritime community”
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Final Coast Guard El Faro report: “This is a call to action for the entire maritime community”

More than two years after the Jacksonville cargo ship El Faro sank in Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 people on board, the Coast Guard Commandant has released his orders on what should and will change to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again.

This past October, the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation that probed the sinking released its Report of Investigation, detailing dozens of recommendations they compiled through their two year investigation, which included holding three two-week hearing sessions in Jacksonville. Since then, the Commandant has been reviewing the ROI, and he has now issued a Final Action Memo. That FAM details what the Commandant concurs with, what he will order, and what he disputes from the MBI’s findings.

“The loss of El Faro and its crew members was tragic and preventable. The Coast Guard will take appropriate action on all that we have learned from this investigation,” says Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft. 

FULL COVERAGE:  The sinking of El Faro

Zukunft approved the findings of fact, analysis, and conclusions detailed in the ROI.  It found the primary cause of the sinking was the decision to navigate the ship too close to the path of Hurricane Joaquin, although the Captain’s attorney has disputed this conclusion. Contributing factors to the sinking outlined in the FAM include the operating company, TOTE Services, having an ineffective safety management system; the ship’s surveyor, the American Bureau of Shipping, failing to uncover and resolve longstanding deficiencies; and the Coast Guard itself failing to adequately oversee third party inspections, including not sustaining the policy framework and proficiency.

“This casualty did not occur due to a lack of standards or requirements; rather it was the result of poor seamanship compounded by failure of the safety framework that should have triggered a series of corrective actions that likely would have prevented it,” the FAM says.

Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Admiral John Nadeau will lead the efforts in response to the Commandant’s directives- with some of the orders falling under the purview of the Coast Guard and able to be implemented in themselves, but others requiring organized partnerships and even international cooperation.

“The Coast Guard takes the implementation of the safety recommendations in the Commandant’s Final Action Memo very seriously and is committed to providing sustainable policy, oversight, and accountability both internally and externally,” Nadeau says.

“This is a call to action for the entire maritime community. TOTE, ABS, and the Coast Guard must learn and more with a sense of urgency. This tragic story points to the need for a strong and enduring commitment at all elements of the safety framework,” the FAM says.

This is separate from the NTSB’s investigation, which recently concluded with the issuance of dozens of safety recommendations. The NTSB can only issue and lobby for the recommendations, but cannot order actual change.

Monitoring and alarms

The Commandant concurs with the MBI recommendation to require high water audio and visual alarms on new and existing multi-hold cargo ships. To achieve this, they will pursue domestic regulation and work with the International Maritime Organization on expanding the Safety of Life at Sea regulation.

The MBI recommended watertight closures have open/close indicators visible on the bridge. The FAM says existing regulations require that for most such fixtures, but there is no defined list of “watertight” openings for vessels built before 1992. As such, the Coast Guard is recommending companies identify those openings.

An area where the Commandant says the Coast Guard doesn’t object- but will not necessarily require- is the recommendation to have closed circuit television cameras installed in unmanned spaces, allowing monitoring from the bridge. The Commandant says high water alarms as recommended and existing fire detection requirements give sufficient early warning.

The focus on monitoring and alarm systems comes because of the sequence of flooding that’s believed to have transpired on El Faro. Water is believed to have gotten in to a cargo area through an open scuttle- which should have been closed. From there, investigators believe cargo may have been able to break loose on the now-wet deck, and may have hit a fire system on board, leading to more flooding. Water also is believed to have gotten on board through vents that were open- with conflicting guidance for the crew on whether those vent openings should have been open as vents are required, or closed as watertight and weathertight openings. With the vent openings, the Commandant agrees that dual purpose closures can be confusing and impractical, but he’s calling on the company to ensure crew is aware of those conflicts. While the FAM doesn’t conclude whether the fire pump piping was damaged by cargo in this case, the Coast Guard will consider requiring more protection for these types of “vital systems”.

AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain describes ‘marine emergency’ in final shore side communication

The flooding and significant list, followed by an overcorrection that resulted in a more substantial list to the other side, ultimately is believed to have led to a loss of suction in the lube oil system, which led to a loss of propulsion. The MBI raised concerns about the operating limitations of these systems- specifically that suction was lost at that list on that specific side of the ship. The Commandant says the Coast Guard will publish a “Marine Safety Alert” to let maritime operators know about the MBI’s findings about the lube oil sump, but added that there is no “compelling evidence” to suggest testing and design standards need to be revised.

The Commandant did not concur with a recommendation which would have required vessels keep electronic records for areas like bridge and engine room logs, and periodically transmit those logs to the shore during their voyage. Through the hearing process, MBI investigators noted that they didn’t have some information- including crew work/rest hours- because the ship’s logs were lost with the vessel.

The MBI also sought to require a company have onboard and shore side tracking for incremental weight changes. This recommendation largely comes from the MBI’s findings that work was being done on El Faro to convert her to the Alaskan trade, but that work was not being factored in to ship calculations. The FAM says the preferred way to track incremental weight changes is a deadweight survey, and they will recommend that is done when a ship undergoes a stability test, although the Commandant notes that proposal has been put forward twice before, without success.

Safety equipment and Search and Rescue

The NTSB called on new regulations to require enclosed lifeboats on all vessels in their recommendations. The MBI put forward a similar call, wanting the Commandant to work toward eliminating open top gravity launched lifeboats for US ships. The FAM says the Commandant supports phasing out open lifeboats and supports proposals to achieve that, but stops short of saying he will work to require it for existing vessels. On existing vessels with open lifeboats, the Coast Guard is initiating a “concentrated inspection campaign” to make sure the lifeboats are in “serviceable condition”.

There’s no evidence El Faro’s lifeboats ever launched, and investigators largely don’t believe the crew would have been able to survive in the conditions they faced, but they believe the best chance the crew could have had would have been in enclosed lifeboats. El Faro’s lifeboat systems also had work done just ahead of her final departure, and testimony during the hearing showed that work wasn’t properly surveyed.

The MBI recommended that Voyage Data Recorders- or the ship’s black box- be installed in a “float-free” arrangement, which would allow it to break free of the wreckage at the time of a sinking. The MBI further recommends the VDR have an EPIRB, or locating beacon. It took two missions to locate El Faro’s VDR and a third to recover it from the ocean floor, where it was still affixed to the wreckage.

DETAILS: El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder captures audio ahead of sinking

The Commandant acknowledged that, while the requirement for a ship to have a VDR was retroactive, guidelines like having a float-free arrangement were neither mandatory nor retroactive. The Commandant says he will propose to the International Maritime Organization that new VDR installations be required to be float-free and have location indicators. There is no mention of any retroactive requirement.

The MBI further recommended VDRs capture communications on internal ship telephone systems or other two-way communications. The Commandant says the Coast Guard will propose to IMO that additional data sources be captured by the VDR. Investigators believe having that additional audio captured by the VDR can help paint a more complete picture of what is happening on board.

During the MBI’s investigation, it became clear that locating beacons- or Self-Locating Datum Marker Buoys- being used at the time were not effective- the FAM says their success rate was 30%-50%. Since then, those buoys have been taken out of service and replaced with a newer version that the FAM says has a 92% success rate. The MBI recommendation, therefore, that these buoys be evaluated for their reliability has already taken place, although the Coast Guard says it will continue to work with manufacturers about improving functionality and reliability. The Commandant has also identified several products they may acquire to better mark and track floating objects that can’t be immediately recovered during search and rescue.

The Coast Guard is also working with organizations developing domestic and international standards on how to integrate distress signaling and location technology in personal lifesaving appliances, like personal floatation devices.

Only one set of remains was ever found during search and rescue operations after El Faro’s sinking, but none were recovered. Had the Coast Guard immediately recovered the remains, they would have had to return to land immediately. Instead, they put a beacon with the remains and went to check a report of a possible person in the water waving. They didn’t find anything during that search, and the beacon left with the remains malfunctioned, and the remains could not be located again.

Safety management

There was testimony during the MBI hearings that it was difficult to truly anonymously report any issues on a ship while at sea, because email capabilities were on the bridge and the Captain gave permission for use of the phone. The Commandant says there are already systems in place that allow for anonymous reporting of safety issues, if all levels are properly implemented. Therefore, he agreed with the intent of a recommendation to develop a shipboard emergency alert system for anonymous reporting, but cited the rules, regulations, and protections already in place.

The Coast Guard is going to issue new guidance on development, implementation, and verification of a ship’s Safety Management System, dealing specifically with assessing risk, developing contingency plans for emergency situations, and other areas. The FAM says the company is responsible for developing the SMS, but the Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring compliance with International Safety Management code.

In the SMS, the Coast Guard will also specifically look for damage control information that’s required of newer vessels but was not retroactive. The Commandant also concurred with a recommendation to update policies dealing with the approval of stability software.

The Commandant is putting the responsibility for the accuracy of any cargo loading and securing software that’s used on the company, to ensure it’s consistent with a ship’s Loading Manual and- if one exists- Cargo Securing Manual.

The MBI had also recommended civil penalty action against TOTE Services, El Faro’s operator, over four alleged violations including failure to comply with work/rest standards and a lack of safety training and orientation for the Polish riding gang that was on board. The Commandant concurs with the recommendation.

“The investigation has determined that there is evidence that TSI may have committed multiple violations of law or regulation. As such, the alleged violations identified in this recommendation will be referred to the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspections, Jacksonville for investigation and enforcement action, as appropriate,” the FAM says.

On the Coast Guard side, the Commandant is directing a review of their policies for making and documenting a “major conversion” determination. When work on a ship is determined to be a “major conversion”, it generally leads to more modern standards- like for safety systems- being put on the vessel. Investigators determined that work done on El Faro around 2005-06 should have been a “major conversion”, even though that initial ruling from the Coast Guard was overturned on appeal. Had that determination been made, it likely would have led to the ship being required to update to new, enclosed lifeboats, among other things.

Training and inspections

El Faro was surveyed under the Alternate Compliance Program- a special protocol that allows an Alternate Classification Society to perform inspections and other activities on behalf of the Coast Guard. El Faro’s surveyor was the American Bureau of Shipping, which does the lion’s share of the work under this program that is still used on commercial vessels to this day. The MBI recommended the Coast Guard increase oversight and attendance for certifications and audits, after hearing during testimony that there was a lack of oversight and communication among the entities involved. The Commandant says “rather than arbitrarily increasing oversight frequency”, they will determine attendance based on risk and data.

El Faro was set to be put on an increased protocol at the time of her sinking, because of a cluster of recent issues. After El Faro’s sinking, the Coast Guard’s advanced inspectors did a concentrated inspection effort on some of the most at-risk vessels, and that resulted in several vessels getting no-sail orders and others being scrapped.

The Coast Guard will also establish an auditing process, and begin publishing an annual report on domestic vessel compliance, to include no-sail orders and ACS performance statistics.

“The Coast Guard must, and will, establish a risk-based and enduring policy framework that is simpler to execute and enables more robust oversight of delegated functions,” the FAM says.

Training for ACS surveyors is another question. The Coast Guard says they will establish a procedure to assess the effectiveness of ACS surveyor training programs and will ensure inadequacies are immediately addressed. 

Under ACP, any issues that aren’t addressed in the various rules and regulations governing the entities involved are detailed in what’s called US Supplements. 

“As additional ACS’s were authorized to participate in ACP, inconsistency between the supplements of the various ACSs, multiple versions of the same supplement, and the lack of consistent reviews/updates has led to an anthology of supplements that have created more confusion than clarity,” the FAM says.

While the MBI recommended eliminating the use of Supplements, The Commandant says the Coast Guard will work with the ACSs to create a single Supplement, focused mainly on critical systems.

GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew

The Commandant is also ordering the Coast Guard upgrade and enhance its Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement system, which documents deficiencies on a vessel. The upgrade will better allow for capturing, tracking, and analyzing important data about deficiencies.

The Coast Guard identified two areas in their training for mariners which they will work to improve, as a result of this investigation. Both deal with policy guidance for maritime training schools, with one dealing with management level training in advanced meteorology and the other with operational level training in meteorology.  The Coast Guard is also now expanding and enhancing training and qualifications to ensure Sector Commanders and designees can deal with their responsibilities.

The Commandant says the Coast Guard has already acted on another recommendation- creating a steam plant inspection training program. They’re also now establishing an Advanced Journeyman Inspector course to give training on ACP inspections and related areas. Third parties, like ACS surveyors, will be allowed to attend these courses as space allows.

Additionally, the Coast Guard is now considering how to monitor global performance of the US fleet and ACSs. While the MBI recommended establishing a Third Party Oversight National Center of Expertise or Third Party Oversight Office at Coast Guard headquarters, the Commandant said only that they’re considering the available options.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • A Florida woman and her grown son were indicted Wednesday in the killings of her husband and sister that took place 25 years ago in New Jersey, according to authorities. Dolores Mejia Connors Morgan, 66, and Ted Connors, 47, both of Del Ray Beach, are each charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the 1994 slaying of Ana F. Mejia, 24, and the 1995 killing of 51-year-old Nicholas William Connors, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in a news release. Both killings took place in the victims’ homes in Long Branch, a beachside city about an hour east of Trenton. A third person, Jose Carrero, 48, of Jackson Township, New Jersey, was also charged with murder in both homicides, Gramiccioni said. Carrero, who, like Morgan and Ted Connors, was arrested Jan. 10, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of second-degree conspiracy to commit murder in a plea deal with prosecutors. Media reports at the time of the killings indicated that Mejia considered her sister and brother-in-law her parents. An obituary that ran in the Asbury Park Press under the name Ana Mejia-Jimenez listed them as her mother and father, and Ted Connors as her brother. Mejia was found dead Dec. 8, 1994, in the bedroom of the apartment she shared with her boyfriend and her two young children, Gramiccioni said. “Mejia was stabbed multiple times and had a white powdery substance rubbed on her face when she was found. Her children were found safe within the residence,” the prosecutor said in a news release. Investigators initially believed it was cocaine that had been smeared on Mejia’s face, including inside her nose. According to NJ.com, however, the white powder found around Mejia’s nose and mouth was determined to be baby formula. Mejia had been stabbed 23 times and news reports at the time indicated her body was mutilated. Raw HTML blockedit “Six months later, on May 14, 1995, Long Branch police officers were dispatched to the Van Dyke Place home of Nicholas Connors, 51,” the news release said. “There, authorities found Nicholas Connors on a sofa, deceased after multiple gunshot wounds to the head.” Morgan, then 42, was the person who found him dead, NJ.com said. Two of the couple’s children, ages 13 and 12, were home but slept through the shooting. “By habit, he would wait for her to come home before going to bed,” then-Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye told the Asbury Park Press in 1995. “She found him on the couch, and there was blood all about.” Gramiccioni said last week that Carrero admitted conspiring with Morgan and Ted Connors “to kill Mejia in retaliation for what they believed were her actions to tip off law enforcement officers about the illegal activities of her boyfriend.” An Asbury Park Press article published in 1994 indicated that Mejia was slain a week after her boyfriend was arrested on drug charges. Raw HTML blockedit NJ.com reported Carrero said in court that Morgan feared her sister, who was allegedly working as a confidential police informant, would also tip detectives off about her illegal activities. She determined Mejia had to die, he indicated. Carrero told the court that he met with Morgan, who said she would pay him to help with the killing, and Ted Connors in the kitchen of the Connors home in 1994 to plan the hit on Mejia. He said he and Ted Connors planned to go to a party together the night of the crime to establish an alibi, NJ.com reported. He said he and Ted Connors left the party and parked down the street from Mejia’s house so no one would see Connors’ vehicle, the news site reported. They went to the house and Mejia opened the door for him and her nephew before returning to her bedroom. Carrero said he covered Mejia’s face with a pillow while Ted Connors stabbed her because he “didn’t want to see her” as she died, NJ.com said. After the murder, the pair returned to the party to maintain their alibi, Carrero said. “Carrero also admitted to conspiring with Ted Connors and Connors’ mother, Delores Morgan (then known as Delores Connors) to kill Nicholas Connors. Nicholas Connors was the adopted father of Ted and then-husband of Delores,” Gramiccioni said last week. Nicholas Connors “was killed in a successful effort to collect on a life insurance policy,” Gramiccioni’s news release indicated. NJ.com reported that Carrero said in court that he, Morgan and Ted Connors again sat at the kitchen table of the family’s home to plot out the husband and father’s killing. He said Ted Connors obtained a gun and Morgan went to work that night so she would not be home when her husband was slain. Carrero said he and Ted Connors again parked down the street from the house before walking to a side door and slicing the screen to make it look like a break-in. When they went inside, Carrero said he could hear a television in the next room. He said he remained in the kitchen while Ted Connors went in and shot his father, the news site reported. When he heard a second shot, he fled and ran to the car, with Ted Connors a couple of steps behind him, NJ.com said. News reports at the time indicated investigators almost immediately suspected the killings of Mejia and Nicholas Connors were related. Carrero said he was never paid outright for the crimes but Morgan loaned him cash at one point and he didn’t pay it back. He also lived at the family’s house for a while, rent-free, until Morgan kicked him out, the news site reported. As part of his plea deal, Carrero has agreed to testify against both of his codefendants. Gramiccioni said in exchange for his testimony, prosecutors would recommend consecutive sentences of five to 10 years in state prison for each of the two charges to which he pleaded guilty. The prosecutor said investigations into the Mejia and Nicholas Connors killings were launched back in 1994 and 1995 but the cases went cold. “Additional evidence recently uncovered by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Cold Case Unit and Long Branch Police Department resulted in charges being signed against the three defendants on Jan. 10, 2020,” Gramiccioni said. NJ.com reported last month that proof of the insurance payout Morgan received following her husband’s killing was part of the new evidence. An affidavit obtained by the site did not give the amount of the insurance payment she received. Cold case detectives also found that both the men accused in the crimes had confessed their alleged involvement to multiple friends. “The information given to (the friends) by Ted Connors and Jose Carrero is supported and proven to be true based on additional information discovered and confirmed in the current review of the file and additional investigation conducted over the last two years,” the affidavit read, according to NJ.com. The investigators also recently uncovered a transcript of a recorded conversation Ted Connors had with a friend about the crimes in 1995. Police re-interviewed one of the witnesses and obtained a new statement from him a couple of months ago, the affidavit said. Carrero’s sentencing was scheduled for June 5, but prosecutors told NJ.com it would not take place until he had testified against Morgan and Ted Connors. Both mother and son remain jailed without bond in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution.
  • A local man linked to the death of a woman has been sentenced for another crime. Action News Jax has been digging into Corey Binderim’s since he was named a person of interest in Susan Mauldin’s disappearance in November.  Corey Binderim pleaded guilty to uttering charges, a third-degree felony, for a counterfeit check.  Binderim was told he needed to pay Vystar Credit Union $5,000 in restitution.  Action News Jax has been following this story for months.  In October, 65-year-old Susan Mauldin disappeared from her home in Clay County Binderim had been hired to do some work for her at her house, but when he didn’t complete the job she asked for her money back.  Binderim was charged with her murder after her remains were found earlier this month by the FBI in a Georgia landfill after sifting through 7,000 tons of trash.  Judge Adrian Soud sentenced Binderim to 86 days in jail in Duval County on uttering charges.  He was given credit for that much time served already.  Now he’s waiting to be moved to Clay County to face more serious charges.  “You will be transported from the Duval County jail to the sheriff’s office in custody in Clay County to answer for the charges in Clay County. You will be held in the Clay County jail until further order of the court in clay county, do you understand that?” Judge Adrian Soud said.  We’ve reached out to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the state attorney’s office to find out when Binderim is expected to leave Duval County.
  • Charles ‘Corky’ Rogers, a former football coach for The Bolles School, has died, Action News Jax has learned. He was a graduate of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, where he was a three-sport star playing on the 1960 state champion football team and 1961 state baseball championship team.  He played for Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech and briefly for Don Shula with the Baltimore Colts. He coached at Lee and won 10 straight district titles from 1977-1986. He took over as coach at The Bolles School in 1989 and won seven state titles with two runner-up finishes. Among Florida coaches with more than 300 wins, Rogers is the only coach with fewer than 100 losses.  He amassed more high school football victories than any other coach in Florida.  “As legendary as they come, and was always very gracious to me and my family ... prayers up for the Rogers family ... RIP to a High School Icon,” Action Sports Jax’s Dan Hicken said in a tweet.  Rogers was 76.
  • Derrick Marks Jr.’s mother said he was hurting, mourning a best friend gunned down outside a central Alabama barbershop Tuesday. “I know you forever with me until we meet again,” Marks wrote on his Facebook page about three hours after Delquan McNeily, 21, was killed. Marks, 25, of Birmingham, decided to meet some friends to play video games and take his mind off his friend’s slaying. Minutes after leaving his home, Marks was also cut down by a bullet, AL.com reported. He died a short time later at St. Vincent’s East Hospital. “We never got a chance to see him,’’ Catrina Carey said of her son’s body. “I’m devastated. I haven’t eaten. I haven’t slept. I haven’t put my eyes on him.” The spate of violence began around 1:40 p.m. Tuesday when gunfire broke out outside Corey’s Barber Shop in Center Point, AL.com said. McNeily was found dead near the doorway of the business. David Agee, deputy chief of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said the preliminary investigation indicated a group of men were arguing outside the barber shop, which AL.com reported is located in a heavily-populated commercial area. Witnesses from nearby businesses reported hearing at least five or six gunshots and seeing a vehicle speed away. “We don’t know what the argument was about, but weapons were drawn and a man was shot, and he is dead,” Agee said at the scene. AL.com reported that investigators determined McNeily and another man were arguing when a third person came out of the barber shop and opened fire, striking the victim. He was pronounced dead at 1:50 p.m. Marks was among the grief-stricken family and friends who gathered outside the barrier of police tape cordoning off the shop that afternoon, Carey told the news site. “They were best friends,’’ Carey said of McNeily and her son. “He used to be at my home all the time. They were very close. He was very sweet. He was the one in the bunch that never talked. He was on the timid side.” Carey said she saw her son when he came home from the crime scene in Center Point. Concerned about the violence and about how upset Marks was, she begged him to stay in that night. “I said, ‘Just don’t go back out. I don’t know what’s going on. Please just stay in the house,‘” Carey told AL.com. Marks got a phone call, however, and was soon packing up his gaming console to take with him to the Hunter Ridge Apartments in nearby Irondale, where he and friends planned to play for cash. He walked out the door around 6 p.m. and within 15 minutes, he had been fatally wounded. Carey told AL.com a bullet that struck Marks in the leg traveled internally to his heart, killing him. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 7:13 p.m., less than six hours after his best friend’s official time of death. The shootings took place about 6 miles apart. Irondale police officials told the news site Marks was found sitting in a vehicle in the apartment complex’s parking lot, which was littered with about three dozen shell casings. Investigators do not believe he was in the vehicle when he was shot. Carey said she believes her son may have been ambushed by someone who knew he was bringing cash to the apartment. She said she believes the two shootings in such a short time span are a coincidence. “In my heart, I don’t feel like one had anything to do with the other,” she told AL.com. Carey said she was still trying to comprehend both her son and his best friend being killed. “There’s so much violence in the neighborhood. We trying to talk to the kids, and the teens, and the young men, but the violence has just taken over,” she said. Carey said she will always remember the creative side of her son, who worked in refrigeration but dreamed of being a rapper. Marks had some success on the local rap scene under the stage name ABM Brazi. She urged the person who shot her son to surrender to police. “Whoever did it, especially if it was a friend, turn yourself in. You really hurt a lot of people,” Carey said, according to the news site. “I forgive you and I hope God blesses you, but I want justice served.”
  • Five teens accused of gunning down a 16-year-old girl during a botched marijuana robbery were caught on a doorbell camera arriving at and leaving the girl’s home, police and the victim’s family said. The teens have been charged with capital murder in the death of Madison Harris, 16, of Biloxi. According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, the suspects have been identified as Yakeshia Blackmon, 17; Willow Blackmon, 15; Jarvis Jermaine Cook, 17; Jasmine Joy-Sade Kelley, 15; and Jaquez Devonte Porter, 17. All five teens are being charged as adults in the homicide. The Sun Herald reported that Cook, who was already free on bond in connection with an aggravated assault case out of Gulfport, was ordered held without bail. The remaining four suspects were initially being held in lieu of $1 million bond. A judge on Wednesday revoked their bail at the request of Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Herman Cox, the newspaper said. Biloxi police officers responded just before 2 p.m. Monday to a home on Rustwood Drive, where a caller told a 911 dispatcher a teen girl was having a “medical episode,” according to the Sun Herald. First responders found Harris, who had been shot in the hip area. Harris was taken to Merit Health Hospital, where authorities said she died during surgery. The caller, identified as Paultavius White, told detectives he was visiting Harris when the Blackmon sisters arrived with two teen boys and tried to rob Harris. According to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Sun Herald, White said he, Harris and Kelley were in a back bedroom when the two boys came to a window and pointed a gun at Harris, demanded she open it. White told investigators he recognized the boy with the gun as a teen nicknamed “Teflon,” the affidavit said. “Teflon” was later identified as Porter. The window was broken and would not open all the way, White told police. The Blackmon sisters entered the house, and then the bedroom, and Porter handed the gun to Yakeshia Blackmon, White said. White told detectives he grabbed Yakeshia Blackmon to take the gun from her and that it fired during the struggle. The bullet struck Harris in the hip. The affidavit said a Ring doorbell camera on the home caught footage of the Blackmon sisters, Cook and Porter entering the house. The footage showed them running out in separate directions after the shooting, with White chasing after them, the Sun Herald reported. James Waldeck, the fiancé of Harris’ grandmother, described the footage for WLOX in Biloxi. Waldeck told the news station Harris was at the home with White, who was a good friend of hers, while her father was in the backyard, raking leaves. She and her father, Stuart Harris, had lived there with her grandmother, Susan Richards, and Waldeck for about four years, following her parents’ divorce. “One girl came in, I saw on the Ring doorbell, about a half hour before,” Waldeck said. “And then, according to my Ring doorbell, four of them charged in an unlocked door here at the carport. And within a matter of 10 seconds, the shooting and screaming, and then them running out the door being chased by Paul, her friend, and then her dad.” White told authorities he believed Kelley, the youngest of the group, had set Harris up to be robbed by the sisters, the affidavit said. Detectives wrote that surveillance footage and neighbors indicated a red sedan with front-end damage had fled the scene just after the shooting, the newspaper said. Officers canvassing the neighborhood found a red Toyota Camry matching that description about 3 miles from the home, with Cook and another person inside. That person has not been charged in the case. The Blackmon sisters were arrested at their home across the street from the house where Harris was killed, the newspaper reported. A crew with WLOX was there covering the shooting when the girls were handcuffed and taken away. Detectives wrote in the affidavit that all five teens admitted to participating in the botched robbery, the Sun Herald reported. Their stories appeared to match what White told police. Waldeck told the news station Harris was friends with some of the teens accused of killing her. “They were in our house -- I thought as friends -- a number of different times, yes,” Waldeck said. “They just lived two or three houses down and across the street.” Waldeck said the friendly relationship changed after he and the other residents of his home suspected the teens broke in about two weeks before the shooting. “Of course, the police were called and we were pressing charges against that first crime, and we’re afraid this may have been retaliation against us reporting their crime,” Waldeck told WLOX. His interview with the news station may explain why the window didn’t open all the way when the teens were trying to get in to rob Harris. “We screwed the window shut so they couldn’t get in there,” Waldeck said. “We put deadbolts on the doors so that they had to be locked with a key to get in or out, but the carport door was unlocked and that’s where they made their way in.” Due to their ages, none of the teens are eligible for the death penalty if convicted of capital murder, the Sun Herald said. They would instead serve sentences of life in prison without parole. Waldeck said he believes the teens meant to kill Harris, who he described as “a beautiful young lady, completely innocent of all these things that have happened to her.” “She loved her music and she loved her friends,” Waldeck said. “She had a big laugh and always enjoyed herself, wherever she was.” Harris’ cousin, Peyton Harris, described the slain girl as being like an older sister. “She was always there for me and my cousins,” the teen said. “You know, she did nothing to deserve this, and I don’t know why this happened to her.” Waldeck said Harris loved her family, which included two brothers, a half sister and two stepbrothers. “She was a sweet girl who didn’t hurt anyone,” Waldeck told the news station.

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