MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Remembering those who have died in the world's deadliest Ebola outbreak, Liberia's president opened one of the country's largest Ebola treatment centers in Monrovia on Friday amid hopes that the disease is finally on the decline in this West African country.
American and U.N. officials as well as Cuban doctors were among the crowd as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf opened the treatment center, which is set up to hold 200 patients and can eventually treat as many as 300. With the opening of the center, an Ebola treatment unit at JFK Medical Center has been closed. Many people with other diseases had been nervous about going to the nation's largest referral hospital, and officials hope they will now come back.
The opening of the center, built out of white plastic sheeting with USAID written across it, comes as fewer people are showing up for treatment at various centers. Officials are not sure how to interpret that. Some believe it's a sign that the Ebola outbreak is finally on the wane in Liberia.
"It is heartening to see that we are finally perhaps catching up with that boulder if not in front of it. It was rolling down the hill at a speed that we were never going to catch, we thought, two months ago, but we're starting to make progress," said U.S. Ambassador Deborah Malac.
Others believe Sirleaf's order that the bodies of Ebola victims in the capital be cremated has led to people with symptoms hiding at home, because cremation violates traditions.
Doctors Without Borders, known as MSF, said that as of Tuesday there were around 80 patients in its 250-bed facility.
"MSF teams are looking into the reasons for this; a widespread aversion to the government's mandatory cremation policy, poor ambulance and referral systems, changes in behavior, and other factors may play a role," the aid group said.
Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, who heads the government's Ebola response, told The Associated Press the JFK Ebola medical team and a team of Cuban doctors will be in charge of the new center, located in Congo Town in eastern Monrovia.
The World Health Organization said this week that the rate of infection in Liberia appears to be falling but warned that the response effort must be kept up or the trend could be reversed.
The international community's response was late and figures were mostly wrong, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He said he is concerned about the "huge discrepancy" between announcements and the situation on the ground in the Ebola-affected countries.
More than 13,700 people have been sickened by the disease, and nearly 5,000 have died. The outbreak has hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea hardest and all three countries have resorted to extraordinary measures to combat it.
Sierra Leone has had a state of emergency in place for three months that bans public gatherings and, at one point, the entire country was locked down for three days to seek out hidden cases. There have been rumors that the emergency measures would be lifted, but Attorney General and Justice Minister Franklyn Bai Kargbo told AP on Friday that they are still in force. By law, they can last for 12 months and parliament put no time limit on them, he said.
While the disease is beginning to let up in some of Sierra Leone's eastern districts, infections are continuing in the capital and surrounding areas.
Despite some signs of hope in Liberia, many officials warn that the fight cannot be let up. Sirleaf said the memory of sick and dying people with no place to go is still too fresh.
"We can all imagine those early days when journalists .. went into the streets and into the communities and took those pictures that were put on all the television screens all over the world of the dying, the sick, the dead who could not be picked up on time," she said.
Despite those dark days, Liberia health workers fought on, she said
"To our health workers," she said, "we owe you a lot for the courage you continue to bring forth."
Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Shocked and offended by explicit questions, some U.S. servicemen and women are complaining about a new sexual-assault survey that hundreds of thousands have been asked to complete.
The survey is conducted every two years. But this year's version, developed by the Rand Corp., is unusually detailed, including graphically personal questions on sexual acts.
Some military members told The Associated Press that they were surprised and upset by the questions, and some even said they felt re-victimized by the blunt language. None of them would speak publicly by name, but Pentagon officials confirmed they had received complaints that the questions were "intrusive" and "invasive."
The Defense Department said it made the survey much more explicit and detailed this year in order to get more accurate results as the military struggles to reduce its sexual assaults while also encouraging victims to come forward to get help.
The survey questions, which were obtained by The Associated Press, ask about any unwanted sexual experiences or contact, and include very specific wording about men's and women's body parts or other objects, and kinds of contact or penetration.
Here is a sample question, one of a series of 11 graphic questions out of 34. Some are even more detailed:
"Before 9/18/2013, had anyone made you insert an object or body part into someone's mouth, vagina or anus when you did not want to and did not consent?"
"We've had a number of complaints," said Jill Loftus, director of the Navy's sexual assault prevention program. "I've heard second- and third-hand that there are a number of women, officers and enlisted, who have gotten to the point where they've read the questions and they've stopped taking the survey. They found them to be either offensive or too intrusive — 'intrusive, invasive' — those are the words they used."
About 560,000 active duty, National Guard and Reserve members were invited to fill out the questionnaire — about five times the number the survey was sent to two years ago. Officials will not say how many responses they have received so far.
Early last year, a report on the 2012 anonymous survey results set off a furor when it estimated that 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted or subjected to unwanted sexual contact. Exasperated members of Congress complained that the Defense Department wasn't doing enough to combat sexual assault and tried, largely unsuccessfully, to force changes in the Pentagon's legal and command procedures.
In addition to the Rand questions, Loftus said the Navy sends its own survey to sailors and Marines that doesn't get as specific. She added, "We think we've done a very good job of trying to make people aware of what sexual assault is."
But Rand analysts say the more detailed questions are necessary. So does Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon's sexual-assault prevention office.
"This is a crime of a very graphic nature," Galbreath said. "For us to improve our understanding, it sometimes requires asking tough questions."
He said the Defense Department hired Rand to develop and conduct the survey this year, based on new direction from Congress that the effort be fully independent of the Pentagon. He was aware of the complaints but said that the more succinct the questions are, the more accurate the results will be.
"Research has told us, if I ask someone, 'Have you ever been raped?' they will say, 'No,'" Galbreath said. "If I ask that same person, 'Have you ever been forced to engage in sexual activity against your will?' they might say 'Yes.' It's because of the loaded terms like rape and sexual assault, that it's not very clear to a lot of people what we may be asking about."
The survey begins with questions about sexual harassment, asking about jokes, "sexual gestures or sexual body movements," requests to take or share sexually suggestive pictures or videos or efforts to establish "an unwanted romantic or sexual relationship."
Kristie Gore, one of the project leaders at Rand, said participants were told they could skip questions they found upsetting, or simply not take the survey. In the end, she said, Rand received a "relatively small" number of complaints.
She said research suggests that "the discomfort from being asked about prior trauma in a confidential survey is temporary and that such questions cause no additional long-term harm to previously traumatized persons."
Andrew Morral, the other project leader, said the questions were based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"If you don't use precise language to describe different types of sexual assault and harassment, people define those terms for themselves in different ways, which leads to ambiguous results," he said.
The report on the 2012 survey, which was released early last year, showed sexual assault incidents rose from about 19,000 in the 2010 survey to 26,000.
Those totals far outdistance the number of sexual assaults that are actually reported by members of the military.
According to the latest report, the number of sexual assaults jumped by 50 percent last year as the military worked to get more victims to come forward.
Over the past two years, the military services have tried to increase awareness. Phone numbers and contact information for sexual assault prevention officers are plastered across military bases, including inside the doors of bathroom stalls. And top military officers have traveled to bases around the world speaking on the issue.
In the 2012 anonymous survey, about 6.8 percent of women who answered said they were assaulted and 1.2 percent of men. There are vastly more men in the military; so by the raw numbers, a bit more than 12,000 women said they were assaulted, compared with nearly 14,000 men.
MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) — Authorities are investigating a possible police connection to the killing of three U.S. citizens visiting their father in Mexico who were found shot to death along with a Mexican friend more than two weeks after going missing.
Parents of the three siblings, whose bodies were identified Thursday, have said witnesses reported they were seized by men dressed in police gear calling themselves "Hercules," a tactical security unit in the violent border city of Matamoros wracked by cartel infighting. Nine of the unit's 40 officers are being questioned, Tamaulipas state Attorney General Ismael Quintanilla Acosta said.
It would be the third recent case of alleged abuse and killings by Mexican security forces.
The country is already convulsed by the case of 43 students from a teachers college in the southern state of Guerrero, their disappearance blamed on a mayor and police working with a drug cartel. Fifty-six people are under arrest, including dozens of police officers.
In a separate case in June, soldiers killed 22 suspected gang members in Mexico state, then altered the scene and intimidated witnesses to hide the fact that most of the dead were executed after they surrendered, a National Commission on Human Rights report said last week. Three soldiers face murder charges.
"We will apply the full force of the law and zero tolerance," Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantu said of the latest case, lamenting the death of the three Americans and a Mexican citizen, even though their identities had yet to be confirmed by DNA.
Presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez declined to comment when asked about the newest case. The U.S. Embassy said it was aware of the reports but had no information to share "due to privacy considerations."
The father of the three Americans, Pedro Alvarado, identified his children from photographs of the bodies showing tattoos, Quintanilla told Radio Formula. Clothing found with the bodies also matched that of Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26, and her brothers, Alex, 22, and Jose Angel, 21, who disappeared Oct. 13 along with Jose Guadalupe Castaneda Benitez, Erica Alvarado's 32-year-old boyfriend.
Each was shot in the head and the bodies were burned, most likely from lying in the hot sun for so long, Quintanilla said.
Tamaulipas authorities said it could take 24 to 48 hours for DNA tests to further confirm that the bodies were those of the Alvarado siblings, who were last seen in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros, about to return home to Progreso, Texas.
"They were good kids," said an aunt, Nohemi Gonzalez. "I don't know why they did that to them."
The three siblings shared their mother's modest brick home on a quiet street in Progreso less than three miles from the border. Erica, who has four children between the ages of 3 and 9, had been scheduled to begin studying next month to become a nursing assistant.
Brothers Jose Angel and Alex had been set to make their annual pilgrimage to Missouri as migrant farm workers more than a week ago, Gonzalez said. When they weren't on the road, they divided their time between their mother's house in Texas and their father's in Mexico.
On Sunday, Oct. 12, Erica drove her black Jeep Cherokee across the border to El Control. She dropped it at her father's house and went to visit with her boyfriend.
Her mother, Raquel Alvarado, had told her to be back in Progreso by early Monday morning, because Raquel had to work and Erica's kids had to get to school. Raquel put the kids to bed Sunday night and awoke at 4 a.m. to see Erica was not home. She began calling her daughter's cellphone and continued through the morning. "I'm always worried about her when she goes over there," the mother said.
Around 1 p.m., she reached her former husband. He told her Erica had called her brothers and asked them to bring her Jeep to a roadside restaurant under a bridge near El Control where she was eating with her boyfriend. One brother drove her Jeep and the other drove his Chevrolet Tahoe because they all planned to return to Progreso from there.
According to Raquel Alvarado, witnesses told family members that the brothers arrived around 12:30 p.m. and saw members of the police unit called Hercules pushing their sister and Castaneda and hitting Erica. When the brothers intervened, the police took all four of them, along with their vehicles. The witnesses said the armed men identified themselves as members of the Hercules unit and warned against intervening.
The Alvarados say they later found their children's cars at an import car lot belonging to Luis Alfredo Biasi, Matamoros director of social services. Quintanilla could not confirm that. Biasi did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Mayor Leticia Salazar officially introduced Hercules in September as a group with particular skills to confront crime in high-risk operations, according to a press release.
City Clerk Joe Mariano Vega, who was identified in the release as the group's commander, said in an interview earlier this year that Hercules was comprised of former marines and soldiers who policed hot zones for crime in the city's neighborhoods.
Neither Salazar nor the city's spokeswoman returned messages seeking comment.
Quintanilla said he saw no reason so far to interview Salazar or Biasi in the Alvarado case.
MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — Onlookers shouted "Are you sorry?" and "Why did you do it?" as a gaunt and battered-looking Eric Frein — the survivalist suspected in the ambush slaying of a Pennsylvania state trooper — was led from court Friday, the morning after his capture ended a grueling seven-week manhunt.
Frein, 31, had a bloody gash on the bridge of his nose and a scrape over his left eye as he answered a judge's yes-or-no questions and listened to the complaint detailing the Sept. 12 attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass outside their state police barracks.
Frein did not have a lawyer and was not asked to enter a plea to first-degree murder and other charges, including possession of two pipe bombs discovered during the manhunt. He remained jailed without bail. A preliminary hearing was set for Nov. 12.
Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, who said he would seek the death penalty, told reporters that Frein's capture Thursday evening brought a measure of comfort to the region after an "unimaginable loss of unspeakable proportions."
"We have now started to find the answers that the community desired in this case," Tonkin said.
State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said troopers had interviewed Frein, but Bivens would not disclose what he told them or discuss a possible motive. Authorities have said Frein had expressed anti-law enforcement views online and to people who knew him.
Frein's capture in an abandoned airplane hangar ended a 48-day dragnet that involved hundreds of law officers. They fanned out across the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, searching through impenetrable woods and forbidding caves, schools and vacation homes.
In the end, Frein was captured without a shot, surrendering meekly around dusk to a team of U.S. marshals who stumbled across him some 30 miles from the barracks where he allegedly opened fire. He knelt and put his hands up when he was caught, authorities said.
Authorities placed Frein in Dickson's handcuffs and put him in Dickson's squad car for the ride back to the Blooming Grove barracks.
Frein's capture, Bivens said, "was not the result of a tip or a sighting. This was a result of ongoing pressure put on Frein by law enforcement."
Asked about Frein's wounds, Bivens said that there was no struggle with law enforcement and that Frein got hurt while he was on the run.
Bivens put the cost of the manhunt at about $10 million.
The quiet takedown of Frein ended weeks of tension and turmoil in the area, as authorities at times closed schools, canceled football games and church services and blockaded roads. Residents grew weary of hearing helicopters, while small businesses suffered mounting losses. At times, residents were ordered to stay indoors or were prevented from reaching their homes.
With Frein's capture, plans for trick-or-treating in Barrett Township were back on.
"We as a town think the kids have gone through enough," said Ralph Megliola, chairman of the township board of supervisors.
Joe Fagan, 56, of Milford, was the first in line to enter the courtroom Friday.
"To be honest, I just wanted to see what evil looked like," he said. "He had zero emotion."
State police said they didn't know whether Frein, who was unarmed but had high-powered weaponry nearby, had been using the hangar as a shelter during his seven weeks on the run. They found him wearing camouflage pants and a dark hooded sweatshirt.
"He did not just give up because he was tired," state police Commissioner Frank Noonan said. "He gave up because he was caught."
Bivens said that Frein broke into cabins and other structures for food and shelter while on the run, and that there was no evidence anyone helped him.
Dickson's family, as well as Douglass and his family, expressed "relief and gratitude" over Frein's arrest, Noonan said.
Police said they linked Frein to the ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene.
Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at the barracks as well as Frein's driver's license, camouflage face paint, two empty rifle cases and military gear.
Helen Blackmore, who lives in nearby Cresco, was ready for things to back to normal.
"It was very crazy here. The helicopters were out all the time. Nobody was sleeping," she said. "We're very relieved."
MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) — Virgin Galactic has reported an unspecified problem during a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket.
The company tweeted Friday morning that SpaceShipTwo was flying under rocket power and then tweeted that it had "experienced an in-flight anomaly." The tweet said more information would be forthcoming.
Kern County Fire Department reports it is heading to a location in the Mojave Desert. California Highway Patrol Officer Darlena Dotson says the agency is responding to a report of a crash in the Cantil area.
SpaceShipTwo has been under development at Mojave Air and Spaceport in the desert northeast of Los Angeles.
SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by a specially designed jet and then released before igniting its rocket for suborbital thrill ride into space and then a return to Earth as a glider.