WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday vowed to hold accountable anyone who was responsible for last year’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, whether they were physically there or not.
In a speech to Justice Department employees, Garland said prosecutors remained “committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law.”
His remarks come just shy of the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Capitol and as the Justice Department has faced increased pressure from some Democrats to focus more on actions that may have inspired the thousands of pro-Trump rioters to storm the building.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Garland said in his speech. “The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last.”
The investigation into the attack on the Capitol is the largest in the Justice Department’s history. So far, more than 700 people have been arrested and 350 others are still being sought by the FBI, including 250 of whom are accused of assaulting police officers.
Two East Texas men are among those charged in the riots. Ryan Taylor Nichols, 31, of Longview, and Alex Harkrider, 34, of Carthage, were indicted on charges related to the events on Jan. 6.
Nichols remains in a Washington D.C. jail facing five felonies and three misdemeanor charges connected to the riots. This past month, a federal judge denied pretrial release for Nichols. Judge Thomas F. Hogan raised concerns that in post-riot Facebook videos and posts, Nichols referred to the event as the second American revolution and said he stands for violence.
In April, Hogan ordered Harkrider released on house arrest pending trial. Harkrider has since successfully petitioned to have his GPS monitor removed and been allowed twice to assist with disaster relief efforts outside of Texas.
Garland on Wednesday also detailed the serious assaults on law enforcement officers, describing in detail how officers were beaten and shocked with stun guns. During January’s riot, one officer was beaten and shocked with a stun gun repeatedly until he had a heart attack; another was foaming at the mouth and screaming for help as rioters crushed him between two doors and bashed him in the head with his own weapon.
“Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice,” Garland said.
As Longview ISD students and staff headed back to class this week after winter break, they were met with a yellow alert from the district’s new color-coded system related to virus infection levels.
It was the first time the new system displayed a yellow level, which tells stakeholders throughout the district that COVID-19 infections are beginning to rise and that caution should be taken to stop a potential outbreak.
The Longview ISD Board of Trustees at its Dec. 13 meeting approved the system, which uses the colors green, yellow, orange and red to represent different levels of infection in the district with related protocols in response to those levels. Green is the lowest level of infection and red is the highest.
According to a chart describing the color-coded system, all staff and volunteers in Head Start classrooms must by fully vaccinated by Jan. 31.
The district on Monday morning sent an email to parents and guardians alerting them of the elevated infection level.
“A yellow alert indicates that district and campus infection levels are beginning to rise,” the statement said. “Gregg County has experienced a rise in cases by 16.7%. The number of infections may not be at an alarming level, but caution should be taken to stop a potential outbreak.”
The statement said mask-wearing is “highly” recommended but not required. “Respiratory etiquette,” however, is “strongly required,” and masks are required at the East Texas Montessori Prep Academy due to a federal requirement for Head Start.
Following the district and campus protocols for a yellow-level infection alert, outside visitors are also limited to five per hour, and crowded indoor spaces might require social distancing.
Assistant Superintendent Dennis Williams said in a statement early in the week that district officials continue to recommend staff, students and community members wear masks and follow guidelines in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students Wednesday in Alison Campbell’s fourth-grade English language arts class at Hudson PEP Elementary School were a mixed bag when it came to masks. More of the students went without Wednesday morning.
Ten-year-old Adileigh Reardon wore a gray mask with flowers on it during the class. Silas Gilbert, also 10, sported a black cloth mask. Most of their classmates went without masks at the time.
With the district’s color-coded system, orange means different campuses have various infection levels. With an orange alert, students and staff should check campus websites for any protocol changes or updates. According to a chart describing the system, masks are required on district buses during an orange alert.
A red alert means district and campus infection levels are “beginning to rise at an alarming rate and are sustaining an uptick. At red, the highest level, mask-wearing is mandated “especially if in indoor spaces.” Handwashing and sanitation are required, and outside visitors will be limited to in-person parent conference meetings only.
Longview ISD implemented a mask mandate on Aug. 23 for all campuses as cases started increasing after students returned from summer break.
The mandate caused mixed feelings in parents. The district also was among districts across the state that became targets of lawsuits by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which sought to prevent school districts from enforcing the mask requirements.
On Nov. 20, Longview ISD lifted its mask mandate due to an ongoing decline of COVID-19 cases in the district and surrounding community.
Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox, has said the district’s priority is the well-being of students, staff and the Longview community during the pandemic and that the district will continue to emphasized safety as students return from winter break.
“The safety and well-being of our students, employees, and community is our absolute top priority, and we will remain vigilant in making data-based decisions for the children and employees in our care. We have been monitoring cases and recoveries in Longview from the very beginning of this pandemic to today, and we will continue to do so,” Wilcox said.
According to the Texas Tribune, Longview is like many other school districts across the state that opted opted to power through omicron, staying on course with plans to reopen after the holiday break with in-person classes even as Texas reported a record share of positive tests.
On Wednesday afternoon, Longview ISD’s COVID-19 data showed the district had 12 active student cases and six active cases in staff. Since the start of the school year, the district has had 549 total cases.
The Northeast Texas Public Health District released its most recent report of COVID-19 data for the region on Monday. The report showed Gregg County’s seven-day rolling rate of infection had jumped 206% since Thursday, going from 16.71 to 51.29 new cases. The jump placed the county, and five others among NET Health’s seven-county region, at a “substantial” level of community spread, which represents “large scale, uncontrolled community transmission.”
To view the full chart about Longview ISD’s color-coded infection alert system, go to bit.ly/3DV9e7y.
A Longview baby was a New Year’s wish come true for his mother.
Debanier Horton rubbed her stomach, nine months into her pregnancy and whispered to her baby, telling him she wished he’d arrive on New Year’s Day. Although it ended up being a “total surprise,” Michael Dion Horton Jr., who is named after his father and nicknamed “MJ,” must have heard his mother and did exactly what she requested. He came into the world at 2:24 a.m. Jan. 1 at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview.
Horton said she was not expecting to have her baby until Jan. 8, but she had a gut feeling he would be born on New Year’s Day.
“I just had that feeling, and he came ... He really surprised me and shocked me. He sure did listen,” Horton said.
MJ, born at 6 pounds and 10 ounces, was such a surprise that as soon as Horton arrived at the hospital, it was time to push. She said all five to six nurses in the room with her were so helpful.
Though Horton had gone through labor three times before baby MJ, she said this was the first time she gave birth completely naturally. Since MJ was such a surprise, by the time Horton arrived at the hospital, there was no time for numbing medicines. She depended on the staff and those around her for support.
“They were very good with me,” she said of the hospital staff.
Over at UT Health Jacksonville, another mother welcomed her baby to the world, this time a few days later than anticipated.
Due to COVID-19 spreading through the country and in the East Texas community, Jacksonville resident Paulina Arredondo knew she wanted to spend her pregnancy at home most of the time, while also taking care of her three little ones. Unfortunately, the virus still made its way into the lives of her family, and after Christmas Eve Arredondo began feeling sick.
After learning she had COVID, a scheduled C-section for Jan. 30 was no longer a possibility. Her doctor informed her it was too risky for her and the staff to go ahead with the procedure.
“With the symptoms I was having, I was feeling weak. The doctor said there was a possibility of complications, making it through childbirth,” Arredondo said.
The procedure was canceled and Arredondo’s family would have to await the arrival of the baby.
“It was a different experience than my other three pregnancies,” Arredondo said. “I was scared because they said I could get even more sick. I was afraid because the doctor said there were risks, and there was the possibility of the baby deciding to come during those days. I didn’t have any strength.”
During the time Arredondo was sick, she kept busy and decided she wasn’t going to stay in bed. She cleaned her home, disinfected everything, walked around inside, and pleaded to her baby not to arrive just yet.
“I asked her not to rush because I didn’t feel good. I would tell my husband, ‘I hope she doesn’t arrive, I feel too weak and to recover, I don’t have strength,’” Arredondo said.
Thankfully, her baby waited.
As one of the first babies born in 2022 in the East Texas area, Sophia Paulina Alvarez was born at 12:19 p.m. Monday. Sophia was born healthy, weighing 7 pounds and 12 ounces.
“When she was born, I was just hoping she was OK and didn’t have any COVID symptoms,” Arredondo said. “That was the first thing I thought about. After I heard her cry, the (hospital staff) said she was OK. We found she looked like my 4-year-old daughter.”
Baby girl Sophia has three siblings, one brother and two sisters. Although Arredondo can see herself having one more child, she said the pandemic has changed some plans. She said she might wait four to five years to make that decision.
“I think everyone’s plans have changed. Right now I can say yes, but if COVID continues and we keep getting sick, I don’t think it will be easy,” she said.
Blood centers in East Texas are calling for donations as a “critical” shortage puts patient care in the region at risk.
According to Carter BloodCare’s website, the blood center is in critical need of blood types O+, O- A-, B+, B- and platelet donations.
“We’ve been on a critical low, and as of (Tuesday), we have less than a one-day supply… We’re not collecting enough to meet tomorrow’s needs. We’re out, we need people to come out and donate,” said Clinton McCoy, director of mobile recruitment and regional operations. McCoy organizes community blood drives and handles the distribution of blood to partners for Carter BloodCare in East Texas.
McCoy said there is not enough blood supply for the people who currently need blood transfusions, which means the area would be in trouble if something like a mass accident occurred. With January being National Blood Donor Month, blood centers across the area are emphasizing the need for residents to donate blood or host a blood drive.
“In all honesty, ever since the pandemic hit, we’ve been in a blood shortage ... Right now, doctors and patients have to have that conversation of, ‘Who is going to receive the unit of blood that we have on our shelves?’ It breaks my heart just to think we have to have those conversations. It shouldn’t be like that,” McCoy said.
According to McCoy, Carter BloodCare supplies blood for transfusions at all hospitals in East Texas. That means the blood stays local.
“Whether you’re donating in Paris, Jacksonville, Palestine, Marshall, wherever we’re running to, the hospitals in all of East Texas order their blood from our production and distribution here in Tyler,” McCoy said.
During National Blood Donor Month, the nonprofit blood center is urging donors to give blood at least twice in 2022 to save the lives of those within the community.
McCoy recommends donating blood at least once every season, and added if everyone donated two to three times a year, shortages would be rare. Others can donate four to five times a year.
About 40 to 50% of the population is eligible to donate blood. Donors must feel well and healthy, weigh at least 110 pounds and be at least 16 years old.
Those donating can expect the process to take about 45 minutes to an hour, McCoy said. It is recommended to eat a meal before donating, as well as to drink plenty of fluids.
“If everybody came out and donated on schedule, the first impact is, we would (almost) never have blood shortages,” said McCoy, who called donating “part of his community service in life.”
Having different kinds of blood also is important, McCoy said. Sometimes the donor pool is not what hospitals needs.
He noted the difference between donating at a place like Carter BloodCare compared to plasma centers, which often collect to make pharmaceutical medications that are vital to treatment with autoimmune diseases. Blood centers in need take units of blood, plasma and platelets and turn it into transfusion medicine directly at hospitals.
“Blood is a big part of … making life-saving surgeries possible. Heart surgeries, brain surgeries, a lot of that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have a ready and available supply of blood,” McCoy said. “It would be such a relief to know if a family member is going to the hospital because of a car wreck today, I don’t have to worry if there’s not enough blood to keep them alive.”
Chase Bank of Tyler is hosting a two-location blood drive Friday — 9 a.m. to noon at 100 Independence Place in Tyler and 2 to 6 p.m. at 6825 S. Broadway in the parking lot on the Carter BloodCare bus. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Shelly Ensminger at (903) 561-0894.
To encourage blood donations, Carter BloodCare is hosting a car giveaway. Anyone who donates with the service at least once is automatically entered. The new Chevy Spark giveaway ends on Friday, and those who donate will receive a free T-shirt.
For more information or to schedule a donation, visit CarterBloodCare.org, or call or text 800-366-2834.