“A cry that pierced the heavens…”

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Parkland families unite in grief as it emerges the FBI missed key warnings about alleged shooter’s instability

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It was a sound that cut to the core, the wail of a mother who had paced the floor and prayed for her missing child to be delivered back to her but who went home with her arms empty and her heart broken.

“It was a cry that pierced the heavens,” said Rabbi Moshe Rabin, recalling the moment he stood with Lori Alhadeff as officers broke the news that her daughter, Alyssa, 14, was among those killed inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The pain of America’s latest mass shooting deepened last night when the FBI revealed that it had failed to act on a tip-off received six weeks ago that the gunman may have been preparing a mass slaughter.

“It was a heart-wrenching experience,” said the rabbi, who waited with parents into the early hours after the Valentine’s Day massacre as investigators walked the school’s bullet-gouged hallways with photographs of the missing, matching names and faces to corpses.

“We tried to comfort and counsel them and hope for a miracle. I went to three regional hospitals looking for a child, hoping that maybe somebody made it,” the rabbi said. “Then that moment comes that you prayed would not. At that point you hug them and you cry with them. What else is there?”

Alyssa and another student, Meadow Pollack, 18, were laid to rest yesterday, the first of 17 funerals after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The FBI said that on January 5 “a person close to Nikolas Cruz” had called the agency’s tip-off line to report concerns over the 19-year-old former student. “The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behaviour and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.” The statement continued: “Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken. We have determined that these protocols were not followed . . . no further investigation was conducted.”

Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said: “We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened. It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly. We have spoken to victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.”

Rick Scott, the state’s Republican governor, called on Mr Wray to resign last night. “The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,” he said.

The information compounded the shock of a community that has spent three days asking how and why Cruz had been able legally to buy a .223-calibre AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle despite his known mental health problems, a litany of run-ins with law enforcement and public boasts that he aspired to be a killer. Grieving friends and families called for better protections for schools and a reform of gun laws. “I just saw my daughter, cold as can be, shot in the heart, shot in the head, shot in the hand. Dead,” Mrs Alhadeff told reporters yesterday.

“My child is dead and I can’t help her but I can help all those other kids at Stoneman Douglas High School and all the other kids in America and around the world. We have to protect our children, we have to fight for them.”

One teenager, Lewis Mizen, joined the school three years ago after moving from Coventry. “I have friends who have been killed, I have friends who have been shot” he told BBC Midlands. “How can this be real? This is the school I go to.”

Officials said that the school building where the shooting occurred would be torn down and replaced.

Last night President Trump and his wife, Melania, visited victims in hospital and met police officers who responded to the shooting. “What a great job you’ve done,” Mr Trump said. “I hope you get credit for it because believe me, you deserve it.”

Police logs revealed that officers had been summoned to the house where Cruz lived with his mother, Lynda, until her death in November, 39 times to deal with “disturbances” including violent behaviour, burglary and theft.

Cruz was expelled from Stoneman Douglas last year but was dropped off there by an Uber driver at 2.19pm on Wednesday, wearing a backpack and carrying the AR-15 in a black bag. As Cruz unpacked his gun in the lavatories, he turned to a student and said: “You’d better get out of here. Things are going to start getting messy.”

He fired about 150 rounds, wreaking carnage in halls and classrooms, before laying down his weapon and fleeing, blending in with students who were running from the school. In his backpack were 120 unused rounds. He headed on foot to a Walmart, where he stopped for a drink before walking to a McDonald’s. He was caught on a residential street.

At a sunset vigil held at a local park, people cheered their support for calls to action then wept as the names of the victims were read aloud. Some held up signs saying “Enough is enough”.

One person shouted that instead of cracking down on guns, the law should allow more to be carried in schools, for defence. The crowd raised their candles high and chanted resolutely over the top of him, their voices rising: “No more guns. No more guns.”

Hundreds of handwritten notes paid tribute to the deceased. “Fly high,” said one for Meadow Pollack. “Gina was the brightest person I’ve ever met,” read another, addressed to Gina Montalto, 14. “Dance your heart out up there, we’re going to miss you,” read a note in memory of Jaime Guttenberg, 14.

Scott Israel, the Broward county sheriff who lost a close friend in the shooting, confronted dignitaries, including Mr Scott, with a call to tighten gun controls or face defeat at the polls.

Among the crowd of several thousand stood white wooden crosses, one for each victim.

“My coach, my friend, a man loved by many. An American hero,” said a sign propped against a photograph of Aaron Feis, the school’s assistant football coach, who placed himself between his students and Cruz’s bullets.

The tragedy has galvanised the school’s 3,000 student community. Carolina Garcia, 19, said: “Preventing this from happening again is common sense, it’s not political.We have to hope and work for a better tomorrow.”

 

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Hiding in plain sight?

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Liberian restaurant’s “friendly” server is not who he claims to be, lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by human rights organisation claims.

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Secrets of the Deep: Blue Planet 2

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They are among the deep ocean’s most bizarre phenomena – forbidding kill-zones created over the course of millions of years where only the most foolhardy of creatures dare to venture.

Now astonishing footage shot by a crew from the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 thousands of feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico has captured the moment that an eel staged a near-suicidal dive into a brine pool, a peculiar undersea lake so lethal in its salinity that it acts as an instant pickling jar to all that touch it.

“We weren’t expecting too much when we got down there but this was a revelation . . . truly extraordinary,” said Captain Buck Taylor, a submarine pilot who spent hundreds of hours exploring some of Earth’s most eerie and hostile waters for tonight’s episode, The Deep.

The second instalment of the eight-part series, The Deep takes viewers on an epic 50-minute journey beyond the twilight zone – the middle layer of the world’s oceans – and into the midnight zone, a place of perpetual darkness, crushing pressure and merciless chill two-thirds of a mile below the surface.

It is Earth’s last frontier; the sea covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, yet less than 5% of it has been explored. “We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the deepest parts of our seas,” says Sir David Attenborough, 91, who presents the series. “There’s life here, but not as we know it.”

Brine lakes date to the Jurassic era, formed from thick sub-surface salt deposits and dissolved methane. So intensely saline is their content – between five and eight times that of the surrounding seawater — that they cannot mingle with the ocean.

Their margins teem with life — mussels that can live for a century, shrimp and crab feeding nonchalantly. But within their briny depths is the detritus of death — embalmed corpses of those that got too close.

As the team filmed from the submersible, they were stunned to see a cut-throat eel wriggle from the shadows and plunge into the brine lake, as if being swallowed into a black hole. Seconds later, it shoots back out like a torpedo, its body twisting and turning as it goes into toxic shock, contorted by spasms so extreme that it ties itself in knots in a grotesque spectacle.

“It’s total silence, everyone just concentrating on what they’re seeing on the monitors from the sub’s camera. But when it’s over, it’s ‘Oh my God, what did I just see there?’” says Cpt Taylor, 46, speaking aboard the MV Alucia, a 56-metre (183ft) research superyacht that was Blue Planet 2’s floating expedition base.

The ship, to which this newspaper was granted exclusive access during a stopover in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is owned by American hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist Ray Dalio. It is one of only three ships in the world equipped with two submarines – Nadir and Deep Rover, state-of-the-art vessels fitted with powerful lighting and sophisticated high-definition cameras. Its mission is to pursue and promote greater understanding of the ocean through scientific research and visual storytelling.

Within 48 hours of filming the brine lake, the rubber hoses on the submersible had corroded from the salt, necessitating a total overhaul and replacement. Before filming voracious humboldt squid 800 metres (2,624ft) down in the Pacific, the crew had to bind the sub’s exterior ductwork with tape.

“That type of squid, they are so ferocious. We had to protect all the exposed cables and hoses – if they wanted to, they could rip that right off,” said Cpt Taylor.

Filmed off the coast of Chile, the squid sequence is an unprecedented expose of the ruthless aggression with which the species hunts, capturing on camera for the very first time several hundred of them chasing down bioluminescent lantern fish en masse.

At one point, a squid lunges at the sub’s camera, enveloping its lens with its tentacles loaded with powerful suckers. Another sequence shows the creatures sparring over prey, one of them ultimately turning its attentions instead to seizing a more substantial supper – a rival squid – in a surprise act of cannibalism.

“We’ve seen things that have astonished us. This was one,” said James Honeyborne, the executive producer. “This is a portrait of the deep like we’ve never seen before.”

Other sights included six-gilled sharks feasting on of flesh from a 30-tonne whale carcass – a meal that will set them up for as long as a year before they need to eat again, and “zombie worms” that tunnel into the whale’s bones by releasing acid, in order to feed on the last of the nutrients.

There is a fish – the Pacific barreleye — that has a transparent head to give itself a clear view of predators that may be lurking above, and a cockeyed squid, with one eye that squints upwards and one that peers downwards to keep a lookout. Fangtooth – the midnight zone’s most savage fish – has pressure sensors all over its body to detect movement around it.

Orla Doherty, producer on The Deep, spent more than 500 hours on six submarine dives for the episode, a highlight of which was a voyage to a 50-metre diameter mud volcano at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where all of a sudden giant bubbles of methane the size of basketballs began erupting around her and the crew, trailing sediment behind them like a space rocket trails fire and smoke.

“It’s like being in a sci-fi movie. You’re immersed into this crazy world, like being sat on the surface of another planet – it was so dramatic, we christened it the War of the Worlds. We were sitting there with our mouths on the floor,” she recalls.

One of the key features of the submersibles is their domed cockpits made of acrylic seven inches thick — a departure from traditional portholes, lending greater visibility. “It’s like being in a giant, see-through Fabergé egg,” said Cpt Taylor. “You can be in this eight-tonne vehicle filming a crab the size of your fingernail and still see the individual hairs on its legs.”

As the sub descends, it literally shrinks under the extremities of pressure, which at 1,000 metres (3,280ft) is akin to having eight jumbo jets piled on top of it. Inside the dome, one hears the creaking and groaning of the structure. “It talks to you and reminds you you’re going deeper,” says Cpt Taylor.

Blue Planet also pulled off the first ever manned dive in Antarctica to reach 1,000m depth. On Antarctic dives, icebergs ranging from the size of a small car to the size of Hyde Park collided above them, sending shockwaves through the water. “You feel it more than you hear it. It actually shakes the sub. . . it sends this huge shudder through the vehicle,” says Cpt Taylor.

The Alucia has no home port, crisscrossing the world’s oceans on a constant mission to reveal secrets of the deep. Scientific sensors on its hull are switched on permanently so that wherever it goes, it is gathering and relaying data to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, such as sea surface temperatures and the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.

The crew’s experience at sea through the years – Cpt Taylor, for example, spent 14 years in the British Royal Navy as a mine clearance diver before moving into research and exploration – has brought them to the stark realisation that environmental catastrophe is unfolding.

In Antarctica, warming sea temperatures are bringing some usually deep-dwelling species, such as king crabs, into shallower waters. “They’d never been seen 2,000 metres but we witnessed them shallower than 1,000 metres – that’s worrying,” says Cpt Taylor.

Elsewhere, he says, “it’s sad going down to 1,000 metres and knowing you’re the first person to ever eyeball that spot and then all of a sudden you see plastic bottles, tin cans . . . One of the saddest places was the Gulf of Mexico because we saw all the amazing things with brine pools and methane vents but we also saw the destruction from oil leaks and damage to deep sea corals.”

Vince Pieribone, head scientist of the Alucia, said: “The way the ocean’s being destroyed, it’s breathtaking and terrible . . . films like this more than anything help us bring that message to the audience. If people don’t get that soon, it really is going to be hard . . . It’s what drives us, to make this unknown visible.”

Coming 16 years after the first Blue Planet series, Blue Planet 2 aims to galvanise new generations.

Mr Pieribone said: “Knowing that out there there’s a child or a young person watching . . . that’s the next generation inspired. The number of people around the world that say to me ‘I’m now a marine biologist because of the Blue Planet’ – that puts real fire in your belly to get this right.”

Hurricane Harvey

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While residents scrambled to flee floods in Texas, Gary Saurage had no choice but to stay behind and care for the 350 alligators and crocodiles that depended on him.

“I couldn’t just get on a rescue helicopter and leave, or put them on there with me. I had to stay and fight the fight for these guys,” said Mr Saurage, owner of Gator Country rescue centre in Beaumont. “My home, my things: underwater. Everything we have: gone. But I have a responsibility to keep my animals contained. I couldn’t give up.” The 15-acre visitor attraction, which provides a home to “nuisance” reptiles that would otherwise have been destroyed after being discovered in residential and public areas, is in a low-lying area and was quickly flooded when Hurricane Harvey swept through last week. The storm devastated the fishing town of Rockport, where it made landfall as a hurricane, and inundated communities such as Beaumont, home to 118,000 people, by swelling streams, rivers and bayous with record amounts of rain.

The death toll stands at 50, including a six-month-old baby swept from its parents’ arms by floodwaters in New Waverly, north of Houston. President Trump and his wife Melania visited victims in Houston and in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Saturday. More than 400,000 people have registered for federal aid.

Forecasters are keeping a close eye on another hurricane, Irma, that is heading westwards across the Atlantic, though it is too early to determine whether it will make landfall, or where.

“It’s been a war zone here. I’ve never seen devastation like this,” said Mr Saurage, 48, who watched in despair as the water rose to less than a foot from the top of his alligators’ pens last week. “A few more inches, they could be swimming out.”

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He and his crew gathered up non- native Nile crocodiles and the smaller creatures that could be secured such as venomous snakes and moved them to higher ground.

His two celebrity alligators — Big Al, measuring 13ft 4in, and Big Tex, at 13ft 11in the largest nuisance alligator captured alive in the US — were also at risk. Using ropes and a lot of muscle, Mr Saurage’s team wrangled them into trucks.

“We have a 35ft travel trailer that we use to take animals to shows and it has a lock-in section, so I put Big Tex in that part. I put him in through a big door at the back and locked it,” said Mr Saurage. “But there’s another door in front that leads into the living compartment. I guess he got tired of being in there so he bust off all the bolts, broke the door off its hinges, and went right on through.”

The 900lb alligator was found on a bed, in a nook 6ft above the floor of the motorhome. “He threw everything off the bed and made himself at home,” said Mr Saurage. “I didn’t argue.”

Surrounded by water, Mr Saurage and his team have been keeping an eye on the rest of the alligators around the clock. “It’s so tiring. Every night we patrol — two boats going round the entire park looking for anything that’s got out. Alligator eyes are reflective at night, so we see them real easy,” he said.

He estimates that up to six million alligator eggs may have been destroyed across Texas and Louisiana; a loss that will affect the population for years to come.

His property was cut off to all but boat access, but local residents have pushed through the floodwaters to bring spoilt meat from their waterlogged refrigerators to feed the reptiles. Mr Saurage said: “Pork chops, rib-eye steaks, lamb cutlets — those alligators are sure eating good.”