2013 is now officially at its halfway point and the important events just continue to happen at a steady pace! We encourage you to post in the comments what you think was the most important event of the year thus far. In any case, among the most important news stories of just the past month are the following items included on this edition in our popular series of the top 10 important world news stories of each month of the year.
10. Engineering and Natural Disasters
Among the worst natural disasters and one with a global impact were a series of floods that occurred, particularly in North America and Europe. Since 19 June 2013, Alberta, Canada experienced heavy rainfall that triggered catastrophic flooding described by the provincial government as the worst in Alberta’s history. The disaster has resulted in at least four people confirmed dead as a direct result of the flooding, over 100,000 people displaced throughout the region, and damage from the flood costing between C$ 3–5 billion. At the same time, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland have been deluged by heavy rains since May 2013 that have resulted in at least twenty-four deaths. Unfortunately, these devastating floods were not the only catastrophes of the past month.
The United States of America has experienced a series of natural and man-made disasters since the month began. First, As many as 10 people were believed to be trapped in the rubble of a building that collapsed on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 in Philadelphia, city Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. The four-story building collapsed in Philadelphia’s Center City area, WPVI reported. Rescue efforts were underway to free eight to ten people reported trapped after the collapse. An arrest warrant was issued for a crane operator in connection with the deadly building collapse. The warrant was issued on charges that include involuntary manslaughter, the source said, identifying the man as a crane operator who was helping tear down a building when a wall collapsed on a thrift store. Six people died and 13 were injured when a wall of a building being torn down collapsed onto a thrift store, Mayor Michael Nutter said. Sean Benschop, the 42-year-old crane operator wanted on involuntary manslaughter and other charges, turned himself in, Philadelphia police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said.
Then on Saturday, 22 June 2013, a pilot and a wing walker were killed when a stunt plane crashed and exploded into flames at Dayton, Ohio air show, authorities said.
Finally, on Sunday, 30 June 2013, eighteen to nineteen firefighters died battling Arizona wildfire, according to Wade Ward of the Prescott Fire Department. President Barack Obama called the deaths of nineteen firefighters in Arizona heartbreaking and said “our thoughts and prayers go out” to their families. Obama said his administration was ready to help in any way necessary in the investigation. The firefighters died Sunday while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire northwest of Phoenix during the deadliest day for firefighters since the 9/11 attacks and the deadliest wildland fire since 1933, according to the U.S. National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Twenty-five firefighters died then when a blaze burned in light chaparral near Griffith Park, California.
9. More American Shootings
The man police say went on a shooting rampage in California had suffered mental health issues, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.
A gunman opened fire near Southern California’s Santa Monica College leaving several victims down, reportedly including the shooter, police said. Four people were being treated at UCLA Medical Center, a hospital spokesman said. Officials earlier said a suspect was in custody. Authorities continued to search for a possible second shooter, Officer Vince Ramirez said.
As many as six people — plus the suspected gunman – ultimately died in a series of incidents in Santa Monica, California, Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said. Firefighters found at least two bodies in a burning house where the suspect is believed to have started his rampage, Seabrooks said. The violence ended with the suspect dead in the library of Santa Monica College. A “person of interest” was also in custody, Seabrooks said.
Police later revised the number of people killed in the shooting rampage to four and said they were the victims of a lone gunman. A fifth victim in the shootings later died. Marcela Franco, 26, died from wounds suffered when she was shot, along with her father, in an SUV near Santa Monica College, the college president and a family relative said. Marcela Franco’s father, Carlos Navarro Franco, was killed in the shooting.
The gunman died on the campus of Santa Monica College after being shot by police. Authorities earlier had said the gunman had killed six people. Sgt. Richard Lewis of the Santa Monica Police Department added that five people were injured, one is in critical condition and one is in serious but stable condition. The “person of interest” who was taken into custody was later released and is not a suspect, he said. The gunman’s rampage began at a home in Santa Monica, leaving two dead inside. He carjacked a woman and fired at a public bus. It all ended when police shot him dead at Santa Monica College, a mile from the house.
On Friday, 21 June 2013, four people, including three inside a Walmart, were shot by a gunman in Greenville, North Carolina, according to Mayor Allen Thomas. The suspect was injured while exchanging gunfire with a police officer in a shopping center parking lot, the mayor said.
In other American shooting news, a judge accepted suspect James Holmes’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in deadly July 20th Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting. Finally, Four people were shot and killed at a St. Louis, Missouri, business, police said.
With regards to another previous shooting, a jury of six women have been selected to hear the George Zimmerman second-degree murder case. Four alternates are now being selected. Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch captain, faces trial in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. He says he shot the teenager in self-defense. Opening statements in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman are to start Monday, Judge Debra Nelson said Thursday, 20 June 2013. Thursday afternoon, a jury of six women was chosen. In addition to the six women, four alternates — two women, two men — also will hear testimony, although audio experts will not testify on screams heard in the background in a 911 call in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, the judge ruled.
8. Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes and Nadal and Williams won the French Open
In top sporting news of June, Palace Malice won the 145th Belmont Stakes, the Miami Heat beat Indiana Pacers 99-76 to advance to NBA Finals for third straight year, and Rafael Nadal of Spain made history by winning his eighth French Open championship, the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles at one event. Nadal defeated countryman David Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Nadal reached the final after a dramatic semifinal victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Meanwhile, American Serena Williams defeated defending champion Maria Sharapova to win her second French Open championship. With Williams’s 6-4, 6-4 victory, she extended her winning streak to 31 matches. Williams now holds 16 Grand Slam singles titles. She won her first French Open title eleven years ago. Mid-month, British golfer Justin Rose won 113th US Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, finishing 1 over par for the tournament. The Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 103-100 to tie NBA Finals at 3-3. The Decisive Game 7 took place in Miami. The Miami Heat won their second straight NBA championship, with a 95-88 victory over San Antonio in Game 7. It is the third championship for the Heat. Chicago Blackhawks beat Boston Bruins 3-2 to win the NHL Stanley Cup in six games. Chicago won the series 4-2. Finally, Florida aerialist Nik Wallenda successfully completed a quarter-mile tightrope walk near Grand Canyon.
Oh, and in non-sporting races, Longtime Democratic Representative Edward Markey won U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry. The 20-term Democratic congressman faced off against Republican businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez. Markey will serve out the remaining year and a half of the term of longtime Democratic Senator Kerry, who stepped down this year to become U.S. secretary of state.
7. Six Major Deaths
Senator Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat who had served five terms in the United States Senate since 1982 and was the chamber’s last surviving World War II veteran, died Monday, 3 June 2013 of viral pneumonia, his office announced. Lautenberg, 89, missed key Senate votes late last year during a weeks-long absence due to a cold that turned into what he called a “severe case of bronchitis with fluid in the chest.” He announced in a statement in February 2013 he would not seek re-election in 2014. New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie set a special election for 16 October 2013 to replace Lautenberg. A primary will be held on 13 August 2013. At a news conference, Christie said he will name an interim senator to serve until the special election. He told reporters he did not think it was right for someone to serve on an interim basis until November 2014. Christie named his state’s attorney general to hold the seat of the late Lautenberg until the special election. New Jersey Attorney General Jeff Chiesa is a Republican. Chiesa graduated from the University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America’s law school. He will serve temporarily until a new senator is elected. Chiesa will not run in the special election. “To have this chance to continue to serve in public life is a wonderful opportunity for everybody,” Chiesa said at a news conference with Christie.
Actress Jean Stapleton, who won three Emmys for her role as Archie Bunker’s wife in the groundbreaking 1970s TV sitcom All in the Family, died, her son said Saturday, 1 June 2013. She was 90. Stapleton was also an accomplished stage actress who had many television roles during her career, but her breakout role was as Edith Bunker, the kind-hearted foil to husband Archie, played by Carroll O’Connor. He died in 2001.
Esther Williams, whose success as a competitive swimmer propelled her to Hollywood stardom in the 1940s and ’50s, died at age 91. Williams’s spokesman announced her passing. According to her official website, Williams made her film debut opposite Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy’s Double Life in 1942. Soon afterward, she starred in Bathing Beauty, Hollywood’s first swimming movie, her website says, which created a new genre perfectly suited to Williams’s beauty and athletic skills. According to the website, Williams — as a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club swim team — by age 16 had earned three national championships in both the breaststroke and freestyle.
In other notable June 2013 deaths, Richard Ramirez, a mass murderer and serial rapist known as the “Night Stalker” for his 1984-1985 crime spree in California, died of natural causes, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said. The death row inmate, 53, died at Marin General Hospital north of San Francisco, the department said. Ramirez was convicted in 1985 of 13 murders — 11 in Southern California and two others in the San Francisco area — along with five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. Ramirez, a professed “satanist,” was dubbed the “Night Stalker” for his preference of breaking into houses in the wee hours of the morning.
On Wednesday, 19 June 2013 two tragic deaths occurred. First, Vince Flynn, author of political thriller novels, dies at age 47 after a two-year battle with prostate cancer, his publisher said in a statement. Second, James Gandolfini, 51, who won three Emmys for his portrayal of Tony Soprano on The Sopranos died, according to HBO. He died of a possible heart attack while on vacation in Rome. HBO issued this statement: “We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us.” Gandolfini was to have appeared at the Taormina Film Fest in Sicily this week, the festival said.
6. Two key U.S. senators and the president defended the NSA’s phone surveillance, saying it has been going on for years and it has produced results.
Terrorists “will come after us if they can, and the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence to understand that a plot has been hatched and to get there before they get to us,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who chairs the Senate intelligence committee. “It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, vice chairman of the committee. The National Security Agency’s data surveillance programs discussed in recent media reports “help us prevent terrorist attacks,” President Barack Obama added in San Jose, California. He added that “modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration … without looking at content” are worth the result. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama said in his first public remarks on the controversy. “What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They’re not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content, but by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify certain leads that” might help authorities disrupt potential terrorist plans. Obama said the programs are not secret in the respect that “every member of Congress has been briefed” on the phone data program, and the relevant intelligence committees have been briefed on all the programs.
The Guardian newspaper has named Edward Snowden, 29, as the source who leaked material from the National Security Agency. His identity is being revealed at his request, the paper reported Sunday on its website. He is a former technical assistant for the CIA and has worked at the NSA for the past four years as an employee of various outside contractors, the paper reported. The Guardian disclosed a secret order from a U.S. intelligence court that required Verizon Business Network Services to give telephone records detailing the time, location and telephone numbers involved in domestic calls. The Washington Post and the Guardian disclosed the existence of PRISM, reporting that the program allows NSA analysts to extract details of customer activities — including “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents” and other materials — from computers at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet firms.
Federal prosecutors reportedly filed charges against NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden and asked Hong Kong to detain him. Edward Snowden was charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person, according to criminal complaint unsealed Friday, 21 June 2013 in the U.S. District for Eastern District of Virginia. Snowden has admitted to leaking top-secret details of U.S. surveillance programs. At the time of the leaks he held a top-secret clearance as an employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. The United States is seeking to extradite former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden from Hong Kong and contacted authorities there, a senior administration official said Saturday, 22 June 2013.
Snowden left Hong Kong on Sunday, 23 June 2013 on his own accord for a third country “through a lawful and normal channel,” the Hong Kong government said. Snowden arrived in Moscow, WikiLeaks said in a Twitter post on Sunday. The organization has said it helped Snowden leave Hong Kong, but it has not revealed what country could be his final destination. He took off with the help of WikiLeaks, which assisted with his “political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers (and) safe exit from Hong Kong,” the group said on Twitter. Snowden has asked for asylum in Ecuador, the South American country’s foreign ministry announced Sunday. Snowden’s story took a dramatic turn Sunday when he flew from Hong Kong to Moscow, aided by the international anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The United States is asking Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela not to let in Snowden, who leaked information about NSA surveillance programs. The United States also is asking those countries to expel him if they do admit him, the official said. The United States also revoked Snowden’s passport, a source confirmed to Fox News. NSA leaker Edward Snowden is in the transit zone at the international airport in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. “He is a transit passenger in the transit zone and is still there now,” Putin said. “Mr. Snowden is a free man. The sooner he selects his final destination point, the better both for us and for himself.” Putin said Snowden’s arrival in Russia was “completely unexpected.” President Barack Obama said the United States is going to use “well-established” channels to resolve the situation of Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker evading U.S. authorities, but the president, speaking at a press conference in Senegal, said, “I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Meanwhile, Snowden, thought to be stuck in transit limbo at Moscow airport, reportedly is asking for asylum in Russia to avoid extradition to the US.