Teen meets American soldier who saved her from Saddam Hussein

Published: Thursday, May 21, 2015 @ 7:10 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 21, 2015 @ 7:10 PM

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A Mill Creek High School student in Gwinnett County says she owes her life, and her graduation, to a stranger she's met only twice: Once as an infant in Iraq and then again Thursday afternoon.  

The year was 1996. Awaz Barwari had found herself on Saddam Hussein's kill list. The U.S. agreed to get her out of Iraq. But as she and her then-baby Lava arrived at the border, Awaz was told she could go, but her baby, whose name wasn't on the list, had to stay behind.  

Then, soldier Greg Peppin took baby Lava in his arms and announced she had a new name.  

"I said, 'My name is Greg, so if the baby's name is Greg it's got to be a relative and that means she can go,'" Peppin said. 

Mom and baby ultimately made it to the Atlanta suburbs where Lava would rise through the Gwinnett County school system.  

Peppin went on to become Vice President of Boeing International.   

The families never saw each other again, but as Lava planned her graduation, she decided she had to track Peppin down. 

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“It was the first story I ever heard. She's always told me about the man who saved my life,” Lava told WSB-TV’s Tony Thomas.

“The day I got Lava's email was one of those signature days that kind of make your life worthwhile,” Peppin said.  

And a reunion 18 years in the making finally happened Thursday between Peppin and “Baby Lava.”  

“I'm happy you tracked me down. I wouldn't miss this for the world,” Peppin told Lava.

At Lava's graduation Thursday night, that man who saved her life planned to be there, too.

"It was worth it… it was! Absolutely," Peppin said.

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Death penalty for some drug dealers part of Trump opioid plan, report says

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 4:44 AM

What You Need To Know: Opioids

President Donald Trump's proposal to fight the nation's growing opioid epidemic reportedly includes pursuing the death penalty for some drug traffickers. 

According to Reuters, Trump will detail his plan – which calls for stronger penalties for dealers, fewer opioid prescriptions, and improvements to drug education and access to treatment – Monday in New Hampshire.

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Andrew Bremberg, Trump's domestic policy director, said the Justice Department "will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it's appropriate under current law," Reuters reported. The death penalty currently can be sought for some drug-related murders, the news service reported.

Read more here or here.

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Austin explosions: 2 men hurt in fourth blast this month

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 3:05 AM
Updated: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 3:05 AM

An Austin police vehicle blocks a road leading to the scene of a possible bombing in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 18, 2018. (Photo: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman)
An Austin police vehicle blocks a road leading to the scene of a possible bombing in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 18, 2018. (Photo: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman)

An explosion tore through a quiet Southwest Austin, Texas, neighborhood Sunday night, sending two men to the hospital with serious injuries and heightening worries that a serial package bomber is targeting the city’s residents.

Shortly before 9 p.m., an explosion rocked a cul-de-sac of well-heeled homes near the Greenbelt just north of the Y in Oak Hill, sparking the closure of several streets and bringing a massive law enforcement contingent of Austin police and FBI agents to the neighborhood. Officers planned to carefully inspect the neighborhood throughout the night for clues and other suspicious objects. Around 11 p.m., police closed an area near Dawn Song Drive to check out a suspicious backpack left near the scene of the explosion.

>> Austin package bombings: Friends remember victims Draylen Mason, Anthony House

Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley urged anyone within a half-mile radius of Dawn Song Drive to stay inside or avoid the area until daylight. At a news conference near the scene, he told reporters that he was not going to take question “because we simply just don’t know anything at this time.”

At 12:30 a.m. Monday, about 15 federal agents were walking side-by-side stretched across Travis County Circle near the entrance to the Travis Country subdivision shining flashlights on the road searching for clues.

At 1:30 a.m., Manley said it was possible that a trip-wire triggered the explosion, a departure from the three prior bombs that were all inside packages. Manley said investigators believe Sunday’s explosion was caused by a bomb and are operating under the assumption that it was connected to the three prior blasts.

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Some neighbors reported they had been told the explosion was the result of a trip wire, but police would not confirm any details of the blast Sunday night.

Two men in their 20s were hospitalized with serious injuries, but officials said later that they were in good condition.

If Sunday’s blast is connected to the three bombs that have killed two Austin residents and injured two others since March 2, it would mark a geographic widening of the bomber’s targets. The first three bombs were east of Interstate 35 and hit black or Hispanic residents. The first two victims, 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason, are connected to two prominent African-American families with ties to an East Austin church and long histories fighting for racial justice and empowerment of the city’s African-American community. The third bomb hit a Latina resident and her mother in Montopolis.

For many worried Austinites, the bombings raised the specter that someone was targeting minority residents and police have said they are probing the family connections between the victims. The race of the victims Sunday night were not released.

‘Quiet community’

Angie Wagner, a Travis Country homeowners association board member who lives in the area of Sunday night’s explosion, said the neighborhood is a quiet, close-knit community.

“This will cause everyone to keep a closer eye on things,” she said. “We just started a community watch program, and they’re about to start their training.”

Russell Reno has lived in the area for about six months. He said a big reason why he chose to move into the neighborhood from Buda was because it was a relaxed and family-oriented.

He said he had heard about explosions in other parts of the city and was perplexed why someone would target his neighborhood.

“There are some sick people in the world,” he said.

It’s not clear if the fourth device was left at someone’s door as in the first three instances.

Police have said that whoever constructed the first three bombs used common household items that can be easily purchased at hardware stores, potentially making efforts to identify the perpetrator more difficult, law enforcement officials said last week.

>> Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say

Federal agents this week have been visiting local stores trying to determine if a customer purchased items that appear suspicious, but have not gained information to lead them to a possible suspect, sources have said.

Even before Sunday night, the bombings had put Austin on edge as it hosted the massive South by Southwest festival. Austin police have responded to about 700 suspicious package calls, and Manley said earlier Sunday that more than 500 federal agents are assisting the Police Department in the investigation, including officials from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities have followed up on 435 leads that led to 236 interviews.

A bomb scare led to the cancellation of a highly anticipated SXSW showcase by the Roots on Saturday night. Later that night, a 26-year-old man was arrested and charged with emailing the threat that led to the concert. Trevor Weldon Ingram faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of making a terroristic threat, but police said they do not think he is connected to the earlier bombings.

>> Man held in SXSW threat ruled out as bomb suspect, police say

On Sunday, police announced a $50,000 increase to the reward offered in exchange for any information leading to the arrest of the bomber behind three recent deadly explosions.

The increase, on top of $15,000 being offered by Gov. Greg Abbott and the $50,000 reward offered by police last week, brings the total reward amount to $115,000.

Police also said that they believe the incidents were intended to send a message and continued to plead for any information from the community.

“We don’t know what the ideology is behind this or what the motive is behind this,” Manley said.

– This article includes reports from Brandon Mulder, Mark D. Wilson, Tony Plohetski, John Bridges and Tom Labinski.

Police Investigating Fatal Package Explosions In Austin

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Tripp Halstead, toddler seriously injured when tree limb fell on him 5 years ago, has died

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 9:54 PM

Georgia Boy Seriously Injured By Tree Limb Five Years Ago Has Died

Tripp Halstead, who was seriously injured more than five years ago when a tree branch fell on him, causing brain damage, died on Thursday.

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Halstead’s father confirmed his passing to WSB-TV in Atlanta.

On Oct. 29, 2012, Stacy Halstead got a call no mother should ever have to receive: A tree limb had fallen on her 2-year-old son Tripp's head during a freak accident at his daycare.

For the Halstead family, life changed in an instant

As the blue-eyed toddler fought for months to survive, people all over the country started to follow along and root for his recovery. 

Just a few months ago, WSB-TV talked with the Halstead family on the five-year anniversary of Tripp's accident.

For more than five yearsWSB-TV followed Tripp as he inspired us all with his progress.

Here's a look back at some of Tripp's journey, as told through the family's Facebook page, Tripp Halstead Updates

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Tripp Halstead memorial: Mourners pay tribute to boy seriously injured by tree limb in 2012

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 3:49 AM

Georgia Boy Seriously Injured By Tree Limb Five Years Ago Has Died

Hundreds turned out Sunday afternoon and evening in Jefferson, Georgia, to remember 7-year-old Tripp Halstead, the North Georgia boy whose fight to recover from a traumatic brain injury more than five years ago was followed by millions around the globe. 

>> Watch the news report here

Tripp died Thursday after a being rushed to the hospital. In 2012, a tree branch struck then-2-year-old Tripp in the head at his Winder day care, and he spent weeks in a coma and 10 months in the hospital. 

>> Tripp Halstead, toddler seriously injured when tree limb fell on him 5 years ago, has died

In a late Saturday post on Facebook, Tripp’s mother Stacy Halstead wrote that she remained in shock about her son’s death

“Thank you for all your prayers and support and I think the world of all of you,” she wrote. “I know [you’re] hurting too. Tripp knew how much he was loved and how many people followed his story. Love you all.”

>> See the post here

Day 2 without my sweet baby. Today was a lot like yesterday. I’m still in shock and on meds and refusing to break down...

Posted by Tripp Halstead Updates on Saturday, March 17, 2018

Delisa Hill of Jefferson was among those who followed Tripp’s journey on Facebook. She only met Tripp once, but she said Tripp inspired people far beyond Jefferson.

>> On MyAJC.com: In-depth coverage of Tripp Halstead

“The whole city just bonded to them really quick,” said Hill, whose grandchildren attended school with Tripp. “It’s a small community and it’s hit this community really hard.”

A visitation for family and friends began at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Jefferson Civic Center, and a half-hour memorial service started at 7 p.m. The family has asked that donations be made in Tripp’s name to the charity of the donor’s choice. 

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To share your condolences on the online guestbook and to read more of our coverage on Tripp Halstead, visit on-ajc.com/Trippfarewell. 

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