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New Orleans PD probes 34-year-old disappearance of toddler after fatal house fire 

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 6:24 PM

Police Probe Disappearance Of Toddler After Fatal House Fire

Police in New Orleans have opened an investigation into the 1984 disappearance of a 3-year-old girl who vanished in the immediate aftermath of a house fire that killed two of her brothers. 

Investigators opened a missing person case on Remona Brown this week, nearly 34 years after she disappeared. Investigators released a photo of the girl at age 3, along with a composite photo aged to show what Remona might look like today at age 37, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported

An official missing person report has been filed by one of Remona’s sisters, Simona Brown, the newspaper said. No missing person report was filed on the girl at the time of the fire and her disappearance. 

The new search comes eight months after a three-part investigative series by WWL-TV in New Orleans, which looked at the initial probe into the little girl’s whereabouts. 

The news station reported that Remona was one of 10 siblings sleeping in their Algiers home early on the morning of March 6, 1984, which was Mardi Gras that year in the Crescent City. Two of Remona’s sisters and her mother, Johnnie Mae Brown, recently recalled the fire that killed Aubrey Brown Jr., 4, and Kevin Brown, 2. 

“I didn’t hear nothing. I didn’t smell nothing. When I raised up, I saw the fire,” Pam Nickerson, who was 14 when her sister vanished, told WWL-TV

Several of the children were asleep in the dining room, near a furnace, while Aubrey and Kevin slept on a couch in the living room, the family said. Remona and her eldest brother, Joseph Brown, slept separately in two bedrooms of the three-bedroom house. 

Johnnie Mae Brown told the news station that she and her husband were able to jump to safety through their bedroom window after Nickerson alerted the family to the flames. The couple was also able to help Joseph climb out of the window of the boys’ bedroom.

Nickerson helped the children in the dining room escape the fast-moving blaze, but neither she nor her parents could get to the boys sleeping in the living room. Nickerson and another sister, Simona Brown, who was 6 at the time of the fire, fought back tears as they remembered hearing their baby brothers screaming for help.

“All you could hear was, ‘Mom! Dad! Help me, please,’” Simona recalled, according to WWL-TV

Firefighters later found the boys’ burned bodies huddled together, Aubrey holding onto Kevin as though he was trying to protect him from the flames, the news station reported

Investigators found a third set of bones the afternoon of the fire that they initially believed to be Remona’s. They learned the next day, however, that the bones were those of an animal.

“Immediate orders were to return to the scene and bring all the resources I had available to me,” retired New Orleans police Capt. Harry Mendoza, an arson investigator who worked the fire, told WWL-TV. “To do excavation of the scene to determine where that child’s body was.”

Despite four exhaustive searches by firefighters and police officers and additional searches by the Browns, Remona’s body was never found. 

In Mendoza’s supplemental report on the fire, one of the only pieces of the investigative file to survive Hurricane Katrina, the detective wrote that he consulted with a funeral home director to determine if the girl’s body could have been completely incinerated. What he learned was that it would take flames between 1,800 degrees and 2,800 degrees more than two hours to incinerate an adult body. 

Even then, recognizable bone fragments would remain. 

Mendoza and other fire experts contacted recently by WWL-TV agreed. 

“It’s really inconceivable to think that, in a house fire, all that existed of a human being, even a child between the ages of 3 and 4, would be completely consumed by that fire,” said Brant Thompson, deputy fire marshal for the State of Louisiana. 

In addition, firefighters who worked the scene had the blaze under control within 30 minutes of arrival. 

And Simona Brown offered a bombshell claim, one she has given since just days after the fire. She told WWL-TV that she remembers seeing her little sister outside after the survivors escaped the blaze. 

“My little sister Remona, she was with us. She was with us. And this car pulled up,” Simona said. “A bronze-looking old Cadillac just pulled up. An old black man and an old white lady offering to help us out. They’ll watch her for us. I was, like, ‘OK, cool.’ So when (Remona) got in, that was it. Gone.”

Family and neighbors said they do not remember an interracial couple living in the neighborhood in 1984. During Mardi Gras season, however, thousands of visitors pour into New Orleans to participate in the revelry. 

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Simona is the only one of the seven remaining siblings who claims to have seen Remona after the fire. She told the news station that, in her grief over her two brothers who were killed, she never told police about what she saw. 

The children’s maternal grandmother, Dorothy Nickerson, said that, although she never saw Remona again, she believes that the little girl called her a few days after the fire. 

“It’s been so long, but I know. I have a sharp mind,” Dorothy Nickerson said

The grandmother, now 90 years old, said the child on the other end of the line used the name Al, which was Remona’s nickname. Nickerson said as she tried to get the girl to tell her where she was, the phone went dead.

It sounded like someone took the receiver from the girl and hung it up, she said. 

“She didn’t know my phone number,” Nickerson told the news station. “Somebody must have dialed it for her.”

The family believes that person may have obtained Nickerson’s phone number from the newspaper, which published the number three days after the fire so those who wished to help the family could reach them. 

Dorothy Nickerson said she told her daughter about the phone call, but neither woman told police about it. Johnnie Mae Brown said her mind “just wasn’t right or something,” and she admitted seeking psychiatric help in the aftermath of her sons’ deaths and her daughter’s disappearance. 

Mendoza said he was never told about Simona Brown’s claim that she saw her sister being abducted, or about Nickerson’s mysterious phone call, WWL-TV reported. He said if he had been notified, he would have investigated the allegations. 

“I can assure you, I would’ve pursued it. From a professional perspective. From a human perspective,” Mendoza said

Mendoza’s report on the fire indicates that, after a week of officials trying to find Remona, the investigator visited her family and told her parents they could file a missing person report. It was never done. 

Now 66, Johnnie Mae Brown is fighting cancer that she recently learned has spread in her body. She prays for closure before her death.

“If I could just see her before, oh God,” Brown told WWL-TV. “Before God call on me, oh well, that would be so wonderful.”

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Man shot, killed with children in car in possible case of road rage

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 9:14 AM

A man was shot and killed early Thursday in a possible case of road rage in Georgia, police said.

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Investigators were at the entrance of the Brighton Village subdivision in Dekalb County on Thursday morning, where the man’s body was found in a car after at least three shots were fired.

The DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office was at the scene, Lt. Mark Lavigne said.

According to police, the victim’s two children and two other adults were in the car at the time of the fatal 4 a.m. shooting.

One of the adults in the car was the victim’s wife, WSBTV reported

The victim’s relation to the other adult in the car was not immediately known.

No one else was injured.

It was not immediately clear whether the incident was related to a pair of random shootings that injured two drivers in southwest Atlanta earlier Thursday.

>> On AJC.com: 2 drivers shot in separate incidents just miles apart

“We will definitely be looking into that,” Lavigne said.

Police continued to investigate the shooting Thursday.

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Man accused of beating wife, an online exhibitionist, to death with absinthe bottle

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 7:01 PM

William Jeffrey
William Jeffrey "Jeff" West(Shelby County Jail)

An Alabama man charged with killing his wife, whose slaying last month unveiled her double life as an online exhibitionist, is accused of beating her to death with a bottle of absinthe, court records show.

The partially-clothed body of Kathleen Dawn “Kat” West, 42, of Calera, was discovered lying in the road in front of her home just after 5 a.m. on Jan. 18, Calera Police Chief Sean Lemley said in a Thursday news conference. She lived there with her husband, William Jeffrey West, and their 12-year-old daughter. 

Jeff West, 44, was arrested Thursday and charged with murder. According to Shelby County Jail records, he was being held Friday in lieu of $500,000 bond. 

The couple’s daughter was not home when her mother was killed.

Lemley said Thursday that Jeff West was the department’s chief suspect from the beginning of the investigation, though Kat West’s “online professional activities” warranted investigators’ attention. 

He declined to specify what evidence pointed them toward her husband. 

“Let me say this. We are still restricted, very restricted, on what information that can be given out,” Lemley said. “The case is still under investigation, even though we have made an arrest. But, the case has to go to trial as well.”

The West murder case has shone a national spotlight on small-town Calera, due mainly to the more salacious details of Kat West’s life. Though she described herself on social media as a full-time stay-at-home wife and mother, she operated a subscription-only adult website where she went by the name “Kitty Kat West.” The public page boasted a suggestive photo and promised users that, for a monthly $15.99 subscription fee, they could get more risqué material beyond the paywall. 

Her Twitter account, also listed under her stage name, directs viewers to the paid adult website, as well. Kat West’s bio on the adult site, which was still live as of Friday, described the site, in part, as “hundreds of pics of ALL me, having some naughty fun.”

In the days immediately following the slaying, Kat West’s mother, Nancy Martin, wrote on Facebook that it seemed “impossible for the extreme sadness and grief we feel (over) the loss of our beautiful daughter, Kat, to ever diminish.” She described her daughter as a “cherished wife to Jeff” and a loving mother to their own young daughter. 

A fundraiser in Kat West’s name was established, but quickly ended as the case became more public. 

On Jan. 24, Martin changed her profile picture to one of her daughter and son-in-law. It remained there as of Friday afternoon. 

See Calera Police Chief Sean Lemley’s news conference, recorded by WBRC in Birmingham, below. 

Lemley said that investigators interviewed many witnesses in the case, as well as collecting a lot of evidence that needed to be processed. Four detectives were assigned to the case, two of them full-time. 

“Evidence takes time to process,” the police chief said. “And we have to wait on that evidence to come in so we can connect all the dots.”

Detectives were awaiting analysis on a final piece of evidence from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. That final report was issued on Tuesday and, after a thorough review by the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, a warrant was issued for Jeff West’s arrest, the chief said. 

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“We know exactly what happened, for the most part, on this case.” Lemley said. “I mean, we can’t tell you verbatim what was being said one way or the other, but we know what happened that night. We do have evidence to support that.”

The chief credited neighboring Shelby County law enforcement agencies, state agencies and the FBI with assisting in the investigation. 

Lemley again declined to go into detail about the evidence, but Jeff West’s arrest warrant, obtained by AL.com, indicates that Kat West was killed with a bottle of Lucid Absinthe. An autopsy found that the victim died of blunt force trauma to the head. 

The court documents state that, when a 19-year-old neighbor left for work Jan. 18, she found Kat West face-down on the ground in nothing but a sports bra, her body half in the roadway and half in the yard of the home across the street. A cellphone was found nearby, along with a green liquor bottle. 

Lucid Absinthe is sold in green bottles. 

TV news magazine Inside Edition on Jan. 25 aired surveillance footage from R&R Wine and Liquor, in Calera, that shows Kat West, just about eight hours before she was killed, walk into the liquor store with a man who appears to be her husband. In the video, the couple looks happy and playful.

“They came in (and) it looked like they were on their date night,” store clerk Stacey Oglesby told Inside Edition.

The couple bought two things that night: Lucid Absinthe and Jameson Irish Whiskey, Oglesby said. 

Lemley said it was not completely clear what could have happened between the couple’s visit to the liquor store, when they appeared happy, and when Kat West was bludgeoned to death. 

“It’s a domestic. Unfortunately, domestics turn bad pretty quickly,” Lemley said. “Anything can trigger it.” 

Jeff West, a military veteran, works as an unsworn police officer at Birmingham Southern College, AL.com reported. Officials at the school said they are in the process of terminating his employment. 

As of Thursday, Jeff West had not admitted involvement in the crime, Lemley said. 

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President Donald Trump admits to trying to hide his bald spot

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 11:14 PM

U.S. President Donald Trump jokes about covering his bald spot while addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference.
 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump jokes about covering his bald spot while addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Over the years, much has been speculated about President Donald Trump’s hair, but he’s never admitted to having a reason for choosing his particular hairstyle other than the fact that it’s the way he “likes it.” However, on Friday, that all changed when he finally admitted to having a bald spot — and trying to hide it.

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“Oh, I try like hell to hide the bald spot, folks. I work at it,” he told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland. “It doesn’t look bad. Hey, we are hanging in, we are hanging in, we are hanging in there. Right? Together, we are hanging in.”

Trump’s honest take on his hair came after a video of him boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Feb. 2 revealed a bald spot on the back of his head when his signature mane was whipped by the gusty wind.

Trump’s hair has been a topic of conversation for years, and he has often talked about it himself. In a much-maligned interview on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” the late-night host was allowed to mess up then-candidate Trump’s hair to prove that it was real.

Trump has also made it clear multiple times that he doesn’t wear a wig or a “rug” as he’s called it. “As everybody knows, but the haters and losers refuse to acknowledge, I do not wear a ‘wig.’ My hair may not be perfect, but it’s mine,” he once wrote on Twitter.

“I do not wear a rug. My hair is 100 percent mine. No animals have been harmed in the creation of my hairstyle,” the former businessman quipped in his book, “Trump: How to Get Rich.”

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FDA approves blood test that can detect concussions 

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 10:58 PM

Maxime Chanot #4 of New York City FC holds his head after a clash of heads form a corner kick during the New York City FC Vs San Jose Earthquakes regular season MLS game at Yankee Stadium on April 1, 2017 in New York City. 
Tim Clayton - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
Maxime Chanot #4 of New York City FC holds his head after a clash of heads form a corner kick during the New York City FC Vs San Jose Earthquakes regular season MLS game at Yankee Stadium on April 1, 2017 in New York City. (Tim Clayton - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a breakthrough blood test that can help detect concussions in adults.

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The blood test, also known as the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator Test, works by measuring UCH-L1 and GFAP, both proteins released from the brain into the blood, within 12 hours of a head injury.

It can be administered as soon as 15 minutes after the injury, but results take a few hours to produce.

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According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injury is a “serious public health problem in the United States.” In 2013 alone, there were about 2.8 million visits to emergency rooms for traumatic brain injury-related conditions. Of these, nearly 50,000 people died.

TBI is typically caused by a blow or bump to the head, or a by a head injury that disrupts the brain’s normal functioning. It can range from mild to severe. About 75 percent of TBIs that occur each year are assessed as mild TBIs or concussions. 

>> Related: Spit test could diagnose concussion in kids, study says

Most patients with traumatic brain injury undergo a neurological exam, followed by a CT scan.

For their research, the FDA evaluated data on 1,947 individual blood samples from adults with suspected mild TBI or concussion and reviewed the product’s performance by comparing blood test results with CT scan results.

They found the blood test was 97.5 percent as effective in detecting concussion and 99.6 perfect as effective in ruling out the injury.

The test also costs as little as one-tenth as much as a CT scan.

» RELATED: Which high school sports have the most concussions? 

"A blood test that accurately, reliably and consistently detects the presence of brain proteins that appear in the blood after a brain injury is a major advance," Dr. David Dodick, a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology who specializes in sports medicine and neurology, told CNN. Dodick was not involved in the study.

One of the challenges of diagnosing concussions is that the injury’s symptoms can occur at various times. For some, they appear instantly. Others may not experience symptoms for hours or even days.

» RELATED: Football players under 12 at high risk of brain injury, study finds

Symptoms also vary from person to person. Some may experience light or noise sensitivity, or may lose balance.

“This is something that has been a long time coming,” Col. Dallas Hack, who was director of the Army’s Combat Casualty Care Research Program from 2008 to 2014 and is now retired, told the New York Times. 

“The concept originally was that we would have something that medical personnel in the field would be able to use to assess whether somebody who had received a head injury needed a higher level of care,” Hack said.

» RELATED: Youth football called ‘child abuse’

But Dodick told CNN that researchers still need to better understand when brains have fully healed from trauma and how the protein biomarkers may actually affect prognosis. Additionally, it’s unclear whether or not the new test can determine subconcussive blows, hits to the head that don’t always cause symptoms but do cause brain injury. 

Subconcussive or repeat blows are believed to lead to the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Over time, that damage may lead to personality changes, mood disorders and other behavioral issues.

"These occur much more often than actual concussions, especially in certain collision and contact sports,” Dodick told CNN.

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