The Voice of West Virginia
Today on MetroNews This Morning:
–Hoax calls of active shooters in a dozen West Virginia schools are under investigation
–A Kanawha County jury today deliberates the fate of a teenager charged with murdering his family
–A report identifies numerous mistakes in the handling of mob boss Whitey Bulger,killed in a West Virginia federal prison
–In Sports, WVU and Marshall basketball win and Judah Price is the MetroNews Player of the Year in HS football.
BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — A TikTok user released a video over the weekend reportedly showing the arrest of one or more people in Morgan County Saturday after an incident Dec. 3 at the Troubadour Lounge.
The video, just over 5 minutes in length, showed a tense exchange among deputies and at least two men. The video is now unavailable on the platform.
Morgan County Sheriff KC Bohrer says, “I have requested an investigation into the matter by an independent agency to be totally transparent and through.”
He says the issue will be ” thoroughly and impartially investigated” and asked for patience during the investigation. “As in any investigation it takes time to gather all the facts.”
Sheriff Bohrer confirmed his officers were wearing body cameras.
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On the morning of October 30, 2018, the notorious Boston mobster and FBI informant Whitey Bulger was found beaten to death in his cell at the federal prison in Hazelton, West Virginia. Bulger, 89 years old, ailing and in a wheelchair, had been at the prison just twelve hours.
But he never should have been there at all.
A sweeping report by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General determined that “staff and management performance failures; bureaucratic incompetence; and flawed, confusing, and insufficient policies and procedures” by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) led to Bulger’s death.
Notably, the report determined there was no “malicious intent” on the part of the BOP. However, there were failures at every level.
Bulger was transferred from FCI Coleman in Florida to Hazelton, even though Bulger’s serious health issues required that he be held at a facility capable of providing the appropriate medical treatment. Hazelton could not, but the BOP downgraded Bulger’s medical classification because he was a troublemaker at Coleman, had threatened staff and they wanted to get rid of him.
At least 100 BOP employees knew of the pending transfer and that word quickly spread among the Hazelton inmates. Bulger, along with being an organized crime leader and murderer, had also been an FBI informant. He had enemies, and the widespread knowledge of the transfer put Bulger at greater risk of harm.
The investigators concluded that Bulger’s “health, his notoriety and history as an FBI informant, and the record of violence among inmates” at Hazelton made his transfer to the prison unusual. “This knowledge among Hazelton inmates subjected Bulger, due to his history, to enhanced risk of imminent harm.”
Once at Hazelton, witnesses say he was treated like “any other inmate” and placed in the general prison population. That is suspicious because he was not like every other inmate and clearly a target for retribution. At Coleman, he was separated from other inmates. Notably, a Hazelton unit manager volunteered to take Bulger in his unit.
Bulger lasted exactly one night. Video surveillance shows that the following morning, two individuals entered Bulger’s cell at 6:16 a.m. and emerged seven minutes later. About two hours later, a correctional officer discovered Bulger unresponsive with “visible injuries to his head and face.” He was pronounced dead a short time later. He had been severely beaten with a padlock.
In August, three men, who were all in Hazelton at the time, were accused in Bulger’s death. Fotios Geas, 55, Paul J DeCologero, 48 and Sean McKinnon, 36, were all charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, according to the Justice Department. They are awaiting trial.
Whitey Bulger is not a sympathetic figure. He was a violent and ruthless mobster who spent his life inflicting pain on others. No tears should be shed over his death. However, the larger issues here are the multiple failures within the federal Bureau of Prisons that put Bulger in a position to be murdered.
The inspector general’s report concludes no one within BOP set Bulger up. Perhaps the simplest explanation is the most logical—serious failures in both job performance and management. But the specific details in the report do raise questions about how a particular chain of events conspired to lead to Whitey Bulger’s murder.
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(Highlights by Teran Malone)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Navy’s Austin Benigni converted a conventional three-point play with 14:18 remaining in Wednesday’s game at West Virginia, the Midshipmen found themselves trailing 54-49 for their smallest deficit since 8-5.
From that point on, however, it was all Mountaineers, who began to pull away after making three 3-pointers in a span of 1:07 that allowed them to stretch the lead to 67-54 on the way to an 85-64 victory at the WVU Coliseum.
“It was good just to bounce back from Xavier and give us a little bit more confidence,” said forward Tre Mitchell, who scored a team-high 19 points in the win. “At the same time, it goes back to us executing and taking a team we know we’re supposed to beat and putting them away. We were up [almost] 20 in the first half and let it get down to [five] and that’s something we have to eliminate completely. We can’t let them get back in the game and give them confidence.”
The first meeting between the two teams in 50 years came on the 81st anniversary of Pearl Harbor and Military Appreciation Night in Morgantown.
“On a day like this, when so many West Virginians lost their lives in Pearl Harbor, it’s great to get Navy in here to where we can give a lot of gratitude to the people who really gave their lives to us,” Huggins said. “I wish we could’ve brought them all in. That would’ve been terrific, but it’s kind of impossible.”
West Virginia (7-2) executed at a high level offensively against a 2-3 zone defense for much of the matchup and finished shooting 55 percent (32 of 58).
“We prepared for the zone,” Mitchell said. “We knew we were going to see a good bit of it. We have our plays against zone and if we run them, they’re efficient and they work.”
Huggins wasn’t as optimistic regarding what his team displayed offensively against the zone.
“Nobody will know what we were doing,” he said. “That’s for damn sure. Everything we’re supposed to run, we didn’t run. I guess they knew that in the back of their heads and said, ‘Why run the stuff we won’t run against anybody else?’ [Navy coach] Ed DeChellis does a fantastic job and they play really hard. It was good for our guys to play against somebody that plays that hard.”
Navy (5-4) also had its way offensively for much of the outing, including a 15-of-27 shooting performance over the first half.
Still, WVU carried a 48-38 lead into halftime, though the advantage was 36-18 before the Midshipmen outscored the Mountaineers 20-12 over the final 7 minutes of the half.
West Virginia led 54-42 early in the second half after Kedrian Johnson scored from close range. Benigni then went on a personal 7-0 run that featured a pair of jumpers and the conventional three-point play, which was predicated off a drive to the basket and a finish over Erik Stevenson, who was whistled for the foul.
“They’re long and athletic and they change your shots,” DeChellis said. “They’re a good basketball team and obviously well-coached by coach Huggins. I’m proud of our kids. I’m disappointed in the outcome, but I’m proud of the effort and the energy we put into this thing.”
Although WVU scored the next four points, Navy’s Sean Yoder connected on a triple that made it 58-52 with 12:55 left.
A key stretch ensued immediately after that featured a Johnson 3-pointer which upped WVU’s lead to nine. Although Nate Allison scored inside in response, Joe Toussaint canned a triple to stretch the Mountaineers’ advantage to 64-54. Following Yoder’s miss, Mitchell connected from beyond the arc for a 13-point lead with 10:57 to play.
“At some point in time, we had to get a stop and get it turned,” Huggins said. “That just happened to be the time.”
Navy never got the deficit inside 11 the rest of the way, and a triple from freshman Josiah Harris ignited a 7-0 spurt that allowed the Mountaineers to lead 74-56 following Harris’ two free throws at the 7:28 mark.
“Jojo is getting so much better,” Huggins said. “For a freshman he gets a lot of done. For anybody he gets a lot done.”
West Virginia had the hot hand from the get go and made 14-of-19 field-goal attempts through the first 13 minutes to lead 36-18 after a Mitchell jumper.
The advantage was still comfortable at 45-28 after Kobe Johnson scored in the paint, but the Midshipmen controlled the final 3:04 of the half starting with Patrick Dorsey’s triple that cut their deficit to 14.
Benigni scored four points on separate buckets within 17 seconds and Dorsey wrapped up the first-half scoring with a triple that allowed the visitors to trail by 10 at the intermission.
“It starts with the guards. We have to keep the bigs inside. They’re bigs. They don’t really belong on the perimeter,” Kedrian Johnson said. “We have to help them out by staying in front of people. That’s all it really comes down to is keeping the guards in front of you.”
Mitchell made 8-of-12 shots to go with six rebounds. He did a wealth of damage from the high post area against the zone.
“The more versatile I am, the more valuable I am,” Mitchell said. “I want to be able to do everything on the court at a very high level. That’s how I see the game.”
Stevenson followed with 13 and had a team-high seven boards to go with five assists. Toussaint was steady off the bench and recorded 12 points and five boards. He shared team-high assist honors with Kedrian Johnson as the point guards had seven apiece. Johnson also added 11 points in the victory.
Benigni led all players with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Yoder added 10 to give Navy a second double-figure scorer in its third straight loss.
West Virginia held a commanding 38-23 rebounding advantage and registered a season-high 22 assists in the victory.
“It’s not our offense. It’s our defense,” Stevenson said. “We have to get so much better defensively on the ball and with our rotations. We mentally know what to do. It’s about going out there and doing it.”
(Bob Huggins postgame press conference)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The man who made the fake active shooter call to Kanawha County Metro 911 identified himself as Alex Edwards.
That call and more than a dozen others to other 911 centers in West Virginia sent fear throughout high school communities.
“There’s an active shooter at South Charleston High School,” the caller said at around 8 a.m. Wednesday. “He came into the classroom and shot the students.”
The call seemed to have more of a digital quality.
He said it happened in No. 100 biology classroom.
The call lasted about 2:30. He said the shooter had an AR 15 and had shot 17 students.
By the end of morning rush hour, more than a dozen counties had reported similar calls.
“We received multiple calls in multiple counties. I’ve lost count, it was either eight or nine counties in West Virginia for an active shooter situation. I want to emphasize though, none of these calls were credible,” said West Virginia Deputy Homeland Security Director Rob Cunningham.
A press release from the Department of Homeland Security indicates the calls were made to 9-1-1 centers in Barbour, Cabell, Harrison, Ohio, Kanawha, Marion, Mercer, Monongalia, Raleigh, Taylor, Wirt, and Wood counties.
Among the schools getting the calls where the reports indicated shootings were Huntington High School, South Charleston High, Robert C. Byrd, East Fairmont, Morgantown High School and others including Washington High School in Jefferson County. None was accurate, but police could take no chances.
“We’ve take every single precaution possible. What we set out to do this past summer with the school safety plan and initiative has come to fruition and it’s working,” Cunningham said on MetroNews “Talkline.”
The response was quick from police throughout the area when the South Charleston call came in including South Charleston police, state police troopers, sheriff’s deputies, Charleston police and others.
The call reported to Kanawha County Metro 911 at around 8 a.m. said there was an active shooter with a black AR-15 and some students had been injured. The school building was quickly searched and the report determined to be false.
Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle said every available unit in his county was moving full speed with lights and sirens on to Huntington High School until the all clear sounded.
“Immediately upon discovering it was hoax in Cabell, we pulled resources out of Huntington High and shifted them to other area, just in case it was a diversion and we had it covered,” Zerkle said.
Rob Cunningham, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, provides the latest on several school shooting reports. Are these credible calls? He joins @HoppyKercheval. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nm85Y pic.twitter.com/KxD41xl8jY
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) December 7, 2022
Jim Smith is the director of MECCA 911 in Monongalia County where the call came into their center about Morgantown High School. He said the call came moments after they had learned Marion County 9-1-1 had received a report of an active shooter at East Fairmont High School.
“We have found these calls have been going on throughout the state. Kanawha County, Cabell County, Barbour County and Harrison County have all received calls this morning of active shooters at one of their high schools,” said Smith.
“With the advisement of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and Marion County homeland security, very quickly through their efforts and investigation the credible threat moved to a code green,” said Donna Hage, superintendent of Marion County Schools.
An investigation into the reports is underway. Most investigators believe all of the calls and reports are linked together, possibly by the same person or people.
“Law enforcement is investigating it. It seems like they’re similar type threats with a lot of the same verbiage. That would indicate to me it’s probably one or a few people making these calls,” Cunningham said.
Thank you to all WV Law Enforcement who responded to these hoax threats today. Our Law Enforcement is 100% committed to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of all West Virginia students and communities. https://t.co/ZSwnOmzffR
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) December 7, 2022
Cunningham said West Virginia is not unique to what has happened. According to him there have been similar mass calls of active shooters in other states even earlier this week. An investigation into the case is underway and Prevention Resources Officers are on high alert at all schools in the state today.
Cunningham suggested anyone tied to the school system should download the “See Send” App onto their mobile phone. West Virginia bought into the system which enables people to communicate directly with law enforcement about any criminal activity tied to their local school system.
MetroNews reporter Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A pair of Democrat county commission presidents who actively opposed Amendment 2 in November expressed gratitude for their combined public efforts in Monongalia County Wednesday.
Amendment 2 would have allowed state lawmakers to repeal property taxes on vehicles, business machinery, equipment and inventory. Counties would no longer have had a direct revenue stream and would have to rely on state lawmakers for their annual budgets.
Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said he became a vocal statewide opponent during a conference in January when Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Eric Tarr was unable to provide the plan for counties to maintain their revenue.
Bloom said in the months leading up to the election he hosted many informational events in the northern part of the state while Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper conducted similar events in the southern portion of the state.
Wednesday, Carper attended the regular meeting of the Monongalia County Commission to reinforce the importance of working together to engage the public.
“I want to sincerely thank your commission for standing up and doing what was right,” Carper said. “It really was a profile in courage and the fact that it was defeated by voters in your county two-to-one proves you right.”
Bloom and Carper said just a promise or trust was not enough when hundreds of millions dollars of tax revenue that supports vital services for constituents weighs in the balance. Carper said when statewide policies and ideas are proposed it is their practice to look beyond their budget and borders.
“The Kanawha County Commission has consistently refused to support any legislation that hurts any other county, we just don’t do it,” Carper said. “Big or small, it doesn’t make any difference to us because we believe we’re all in this together and it is a privilege to be here.”
Bloom said his attempts to get the plan to make counties whole if Amendment 2 passed was never clear. In fact, Bloom said questions at different times leading up to the November election received incomplete or inconsistent answers.
Bloom added several major economic development announcements bring thousands of jobs to the state were announced diluting the argument that property taxes limited economic opportunities.
“This proposal really benefited out-of-state companies,” Carper said. “I don’t know if you had Walmart or Kroger say they were going to move if you don’t do this. They did not come to me.”
During the meeting, Commissioner Sikora said they were willing to work with state lawmakers for tax relief. Carper added state lawmakers passed the amendment with little fanfare during the last legislative session when some coronavirus restrictions were in place.
“You’ve got to be part of the conversation to do that, and you are not part of this conversation,” Carper said. “This was done down in the legislature when it was closed due to COVID and they did the Constitutional amendments.”
Both commissioners said record surpluses should and could be allocated to some form of tax relief, but a solid plan will be required. But, situations like the EMS/volunteer funding and pay issues within state agencies should be addressed first.
“Something can be done for relief from the inventory tax,” Carper said. ” But, it needs to be a solvable problem where you don’t just trust somebody five or ten years from now to pay for something.”
Statewide about 68% of West Virginia voters were opposed to Amendment 2.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha County jury will resume deliberations Thursday morning in the execution-style shooting deaths of four family members.
The 12-member panel deliberated the fate Gavin Smith for approximately two and a half hours Wednesday before breaking for the evening.
Smith, 18, killed his mother, step-father and two younger brothers in their Elkview area home on Dec. 9, 2020. He faces the rest of his life in prison if convicted of murder.
Defense attorney John Sullivan told the jury during closing arguments that Smith was acting out because he was mistreated by his parents.
“Gavin shot his family. He killed all four of the people in his household and so the question only is of intent,” Sullivan said in his closing argument.
Sullivan told the jury Smith didn’t act with malice.
Kanawha County Chief Assistance Prosecutor Don Morris countered. He told the jury Sullivan didn’t’ give them the full definition of malice.
“Malice is a cruel act toward another,” Morris said. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ask yourself is it a cruel act to put a gun toward your own mother’s head and blow her brains out while she’s sleeping? Is it a cruel act to put a gun against your stepfather’s head who had a cpap mask on and is sleeping and put a bullet through his brain? Is it a cruel act to put a bullet through the back of your 12-year-old brother’s head? Is it a cruel act to murder your 3-year-old baby brother?”
The jury could find Smith not guilty of all charges or guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Smith did not testify in his own defense.
The bodies of Risa Mae Saunders, 39, his stepfather Daniel Dale Long, 37, and his brothers Gage Ripley, 12, and Jameson Long, 3, all died in their Cemetery Road home. They were shot on Dec. 9, 2020, their bodies were found on Dec. 13.
The state rested its case Wednesday morning after calling its final witness, state Medical Examiner Dr. Allen Mock, to the witness stand. Mock described to the jury how each family member died. He said they all were shot in the head on Dec. 9, 2020.
“She was shot in the back of the head with at a close range by an assailant and that’s a homicide,” Mock said regarding Smith’s mother.
Mock said there’s “no way” either victim could’ve survived.
“When I say ‘no possible way,’ these are injuries that even if they occurred in the hospital, the chances of living a meaningful life afterwards is nearly zero,” he said.
During cross examination, defense attorney John Sullivan asked Mock about Risa Saunders and Daniel Long’s underlying health conditions. Mock said they were overweight and had heart problems.
“He was quite ill from a cardiovascular standpoint,” Mock said of Long. “He was six feet tall weighing over 400 pounds.”
The state also called Brian Clemmons, a former DNA analyst for the State Police Forensic Lab, and Kent Cochran, a firearm and tool mark examiner with State Police.
Defense attorneys called their first witness late Wednesday morning. Deputy K.A. Cooper with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office testified Smith had run away from home before the murders and that his step-father reported it to police. Smith was later found at his great-grandfather’s home.
“There was an extensive history there for the amount of runaways,” Cooper said.
Smith, who was 16 at the time of the shootings, told deputies that he was “overwhelmed” because he was home-schooled and his parents made him take care of his young brother, who was 2 years old at the time, Cooper testified.
Cooper said Smith also mentioned his parents kept padlocks on the inside back door and refrigerator; however, Smith did not say whether or not he was being abused at home.
On Tuesday, Smith’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca Walker, 19, testified Smith’s parents did not allow them to be together, so she encouraged him on a video call to kill his family. Walker is currently serving a 10-year prison term for hiding Smith from the police after the murders.
MetroNews reporter Carrie Hodousek contributed to this story.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Several members of the public and members of the WVU Reserve Officers’ Training Corps gathered to remember the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Oglebay Plaza at the site of the mast of U.S.S. West Virginia on WVU’s downtown campus Wednesday afternoon.
The Colorado Class Battleship named after the Mountain State was moored on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 when the Japanese hit her with two bombs and seven torpedoes, 106 sailors were killed in the attack.
The ceremony included remarks from Brigadier General Hope Rampy, director of Military Personnel Management at the Pentagon and a 21-gun salute.
WVU ROTC Command Sargent Major (CSM), Marshall Lowman said the ceremony was not just for soldiers, sailors and airmen killed at Pearl Harbor, but all conflicts.
“I think it’s a day to look back and remember,” Lowman, a junior at WVU, said. “Not only those who served and sadly died at Pearl Harbor, but anyone who served and died.”
WVU ROTC Cadet 1st Class Anne Melton said it was for those killed in that unprovoked attack and to remember the importance of that day in history.
“It’s very important for future generations and my generation to continue to commemorate the fallen on this very tragic day,” Melton said.
Melton, a sophomore, has wanted to serve in the military her entire life and when she learned WVU could help her make that dream come true in the Air Force she enrolled.
“I have always wanted to serve in the United States military and as soon as I found out WVU had Air Force ROTC- that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.
Melton was the last person at the ceremony to ring the bell from the U.S.S. West Virginia at the Wednesday ceremony.
“It was heartfelt, words can’t describe the way I felt,” she said. “Feeling the vibration off the bell ringing it, and being the last one to ring the bell was a great honor.”
Lowman said he has always wanted to join the US Army and wants to fly, Lowman believes the ROTC path is the best way to reach that goal.
“I think it was really moving,” he said. “It really helped me to further appreciate what this day means to so many people.”
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The e-cigarette manufacturer Juul has reached settlements covering more than 5,000 cases with nearly 10,000 plaintiffs following three years of legal fights over how the company’s marketing appealed to youths.
Juul did not reveal an amount, but a portion of the national settlement money will come to West Virginia schools to support programs that fight nicotine addiction.
“The school boards will be able to reimburse themselves for prevention treatment and, most importantly, the expenditures they’ve had to lay out for these monitors they’ve had to put in school bathrooms,” said Charleston attorney Rusty Webb, who represented 20 school systems in West Virginia.
“It would also allow them to do abatement in the future, which would allow the schools that haven’t put the monitors in their school bathrooms and their buses monies to do so.”
Plaintiffs in a multidistrict case contended that Juul Labs, Inc. marketed its products in a manner designed to attract minors with flavors like mango, mint and creme brulee.
They also alleged that the marketing misrepresents or omits that Juul products are more potent and addictive than cigarettes.
“They marketed to teenagers and children with the really cool commercials and the flavored e-cigarettes — and they purposefully marketed to them,” Webb said.
Settlements include compensation for people with nicotine addiction and other health problems, as well as reimbursement for people who purchased Juul products.
Local governments like school districts, cities, counties and tribal government will get resources to fight nicotine addiction among youth as part of the multidistrict litigation.
Choosing whether to participate in the settlement rests with each governmental entity, including likely authorization from its governing body.
The amount that each governmental entity receives will be based on a final allocation framework recommended by the court-appointed Special Master.
The framework will include factors such as population and litigation risk, among other considerations.
Critics have described both explicit and subtle efforts to appeal to youth since Juul went on the market in 2015.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources released a report in Jan. 2020 called West Virginia Youth and Vaping: A Dangerous Combination. DHHR referred to the rise in vaping use as “alarming” and a problem that could affect brain and social development.
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James Bailey, who has been a top lawyer in the executive and legislative branches of state government, has been named the new secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
His appointment is effective today.
Bailey has served as acting secretary of the Commerce department since July 2022, following the retirement of Ed Gaunch. Gov. Jim Justice announced his appointment as secretary today.
“James Bailey has spent his career in public service, and his passion for serving West Virginians is exactly the trait I look for in my Cabinet members,” Justice stated in the announcement. “I have all the confidence in the world that he will do a tremendous job as our new Secretary of Commerce.”
The Department of Commerce includes : Division of Forestry, Division of Labor, Division of Natural Resources, Geological & Economic Survey, Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, WorkForce WV, and The Division of Rehabilitation Services.
Previously, Bailey had served as the deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce since August 2021. At the same time, he also served as general counsel for the departments of Commerce, Tourism, and Economic Development until his appointment as acting secretary.
“I look forward to serving the governor and state in this new role,” Bailey stated in the announcement. “We will continue the wonderful momentum we have generated under the leadership of Gov. Justice. It is an honor to be chosen to continue the outstanding work of Secretary Ed Gaunch and the team here at the Department of Commerce.”
Bailey previously served as senior counsel for policy and legislation for Governor Justice. He also served as counsel to the president of the West Virginia Senate, committee counsel to the West Virginia Senate and as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Kanawha County.
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