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Writing and Reporting by Jenna Duncan

Police arrest suspect after standoff in Revere

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Published July 13, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B2

After a nearly five-hour standoff, police entered a Revere home where a suspected armed robber known as the Backstreet Bandit was staying and arrested him last night after finding the man hiding in the attic, police said.

Rolando Gala, 29, of Boston was taken into custody after the standoff, said James Guido, the police incident commander on scene. The standoff began when Revere police tried to serve an arrest warrant on Gala at 68 Dale St. earlier yesterday.

Malden police had obtained a warrant for Gala in connection with the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force in the robbery of Brookline Bank at 196 Commercial St. in Malden, officials said in a statement. He is suspected in other recent robberies in the area, they said.

Police tried to enter the two-story home at 4:30 p.m., when Gala would not surrender and said he had a weapon, according to Guido. Other units were then called in.

Revere, Everett, and Malden police accompanied by Boston FBI and SWAT teams were on hand trying to coax Gala to come out.

The Revere Special Operations Unit, firing pepper spray, finally entered the home. Gala initially could not be located, but he was found in the attic, Guido said. Gala was arrested at approximately 9:15 p.m. without incident.

Gala has acquired the nickname Backstreet Bandit from the FBI after a string of robberies last year in which officials believed the robber’s fedora and button-down shirts resembled the clothing worn by the popular 1990s boy band, the Backstreet Boys.

A neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she was at the scene yesterday for more than three hours. At one point, she estimated several hundred people had gathered. She also said that she saw multiple police dogs and that authorities shot gas into the home.

It was not immediately clear last night what Gala was doing at that home. He was turned over to Malden police last night.

“You might see an ambulance or fire truck, but you hardly ever see cops,’’ the neighbor said in describing the neighborhood.

George Rotondo, a Revere city councilor since 2003, said the area is normally a quiet one. “This is a desperate act by a desperate man,’’ he said.

When the Brookline Bank was robbed in June, the bandit reportedly demanded money from the bank teller and fled on foot. At his arrest in 2010, Gala had been accused of three robberies in Revere, Saugus, and Malden. No weapon was said to be involved in the robberites, and no one was injured.

Globe correspondent Derek Anderson contributed to this report.

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July 13, 2011 at 9:44 am

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Tears mark closing of Roxbury elementary school

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Published June 29, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B3

Staff and students shared tears yesterday on the last day at Roxbury’s Emerson Elementary, one of the Boston public schools that is closing before next school year.

“It’s heartbreaking to me, because I’m leaving our community,” said Betty Constantino, a teacher at the school for all 24 years of her career. “It’s frustrating, because it’s a great school and nobody has realized that.”

The school caters to students from Cape Verde, and teachers have even traveled to the island to understand their students’ origins.

Because most students have similar ethnic backgrounds, the school provides a sense of community, Constantino said, and a place for former students to visit.

“We have a lot of students that come back to visit us every year, and now they’ll have nowhere to go,” she said.

Principal Vivian Swoboda coordinated a luncheon for the teachers and staff yesterday, where they reflected on their time at the school.

While Constantino expects to go to Umana School in East Boston, she said she wishes that Emerson Elementary School did not have to close.

“The principal seems lovely, and I’m excited to go there, but I would have spent my whole career at Emerson,” she said.

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June 29, 2011 at 10:23 am

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Mother appeals for return of precious stolen phone

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Published June 23, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B2

The Melansons went to Riverside Cemetery in Fairhaven to plant gerbera daisies around infant Emma’s grave, in advance of the June 30 first anniversary of her death. They came away with what they consider another insurmountable loss.

As they were cleaning the grave and planting the flowers Sunday evening, Father’s Day, they saw a man near their car, with the passenger door open. He ran away, and they soon realized that Samantha Melanson’s cellphone, containing some of the only photos of her daughter’s five hours of life, was missing.

Police arrested the suspect, Shaun Davis, 26, Tuesday night near his home in New Bedford. After his arraignment yesterday, authorities called on the public to help find the missing cellphone.

Family members are less concerned with Davis’s arrest, said Cathy Melanson, Emma’s grandmother. . They just want the memory card from the phone, which contains pictures that were not duplicated, Melanson said.

“There’s just some pictures on there that on [Samantha’s] sad days she would just look through,” she said. “It’s always a memory and a thought of what would have been. June 30 is right around the corner, and right now is just a very bad time for the family.”

After the family spotted the man by the car, Samantha Melanson yelled at him, Cathy Melanson said. The man turned and fled, and Samantha gave chase.

“The victim followed after him, while her mother drove down the side street where they encountered him,” said Fairhaven Police Sergeant Kevin Kobza. “He denied all knowledge of what they were talking about, and he ran off.”

The man, who once lived near the cemetery, was identified by a former neighbor and was arrested Tuesday about 10 p.m. by Fairhaven detectives, Kobza said.

“It’s the whole timing of the thing,” Cathy Melanson said. “We just want the memory card back, we don’t even care about the cellphone.”

Davis was arraigned in New Bedford yesterday, charged with larceny over $250, breaking and entering into a motor vehicle, and an attempt to commit a felony, Kobza said. He was being held on $5,000 cash bail.

Investigators asked that anyone with information on the cellphone call Fairhaven Police at 508-997-7421.

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June 23, 2011 at 10:19 am

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Attleboro neighbors agog as bear hangs out in backyard tree

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Published June 21, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B2

A young black bear was spotted several times in Attleboro last weekend, causing a scene when it clung to a tree in a residential area Sunday evening for about two hours.

The bear was in a tree behind a home on Lamb Street, onlookers said, where several police officers and a Capron Park Zoo official tried to control the animal as neighbors gathered to watch.

“There were easily over 100 people on the street, maybe 50 to 75 feet away from the bear,” said Bill Jones, who owns the house next door. “That in itself was very scary to me and my wife because” there were very young children in the crowd.

Around 9:30 p.m., Massachusetts Environmental Police were called to the area, spokesman Reginald Zimmerman said yesterday. The environmental police officers ordered the crowd to back away and had local police turn off their lights – and the bear left soon after through Jones’s yard.

“No more than five minutes after that happened, we could hear branches cracking and we could see the shadow of the bear coming down the tree,” Jones said. The bear then climbed over Jones’s fence and ran across the street into a wooded area.

The bear had been spotted several times over the weekend, Zimmerman said, but did not cause any problems. The appearance follows a string of black bear sightings over the past month in areas including Wayland, Framingham, and Weston, but this is not unusual, he said.

“Basically, what happens is around this time [of year] moms kick [the cubs] out of the dens, and they go out in search for food and wander until they can find their own territory,” Zimmerman said.


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June 21, 2011 at 10:17 am

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Inmate work program saves towns money

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Published on June 10, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B4

Inmates at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica saved the town of Belmont more than $7,000 on Wednesday by spending the day cleaning and repainting the town pool in exchange for some time away from their cells.

In the Community Work Program, groups of six or seven inmates who are ending their nonviolent sentences work on projects such as snow shoveling and graffiti removal, and since January they have saved municipalities in Middlesex County roughly half a million dollars, Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian said.

“As a former legislator, I see this as a form of local aid,” said Koutoujian, who spent nearly a decade as a state representative. “It’s very important to the municipalities.”

This summer, the crews, which are always monitored by a corrections officer, will work in communities throughout the county on projects such as tree removal and painting public buildings and offices.

The program is mutually beneficial, Koutoujian said, because municipalities get services they need for free and it helps transition inmates that are close to their release dates.

“It prepares them for reentry into the workforce,” he said. “It’s better if they’re in the work-a-day rhythm rather than sitting in a jail cell all day long.”

The feedback for the program has been positive, Koutoujian said. At least once a week, he receives a letter or phone call from a town manager or local official saying how valuable the program is to their town.

“They would rather do something with their day than sit in a jail cell,” he said. “We never have any problems with these inmates – they are motivated and productive.”

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June 10, 2011 at 10:16 am

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Couple holds on to hope — and their beloved horse

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Published on June 8, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B3

As the weather in Brimfield worsened last Wednesday, Joann Kass and Steven Bush released their four horses from the barn behind their house, then took shelter in their cellar.

“Their instinct is better than ours when it comes for survival,” said Bush, 58. “All we were thinking of was don’t let anything happen to the horses.”

After the storm passed, one of the animals – Cajun, a 9-year-old Paint – was found severely injured.

But after lifesaving surgery Thursday evening at the Tufts Hospital for Large Animals, the horse is in stable condition and is expected to be discharged soon.

Cajun’s survival is a bright spot for a couple who lost their house, cars, and barn when the twisters pummeled the region.

When they were able to exit the cellar after the storm passed, the couple sized up the destruction, then immediately hunted for the horses.

Kass saw the herd leader, XXX Mouse, standing over Dakota and knew that Dakota had died. Soon they found the other two horses, Cajun and Dragonfly.

Dragonfly sustained some scratches, but Cajun was severely injured. Blood dripped down his rear right leg, where a stick still protruded.

Bush immediately began cutting through the fallen trees and debris blocking the driveway, and Kass called their veterinarian, Dr. Paula Orcutt.

“It was very sad that the horse was dead, but you had to take care of the one that was alive,” Bush said. “We didn’t give anything else much thought: The house can be rebuilt. We can buy cars again, and we can buy more hay. But with Cajun, that’s a living, breathing thing, and he can’t be replaced.”

Orcutt was able to reach Cajun at around 1 a.m. Thursday, remove the stick from his leg, and bandage him the best she could.

More than a dozen people gathered later that morning to finish clearing the driveway, and the Animal Rescue League of Boston took Cajun to the Tufts hospital, in North Grafton.

Thomas Jenei, clinical assistant professor of large-animal surgery, gave Cajun his initial evaluation. He said he found the lowest joint in the horse’s foot was damaged and filled with debris.

Bush said doctors gave Cajun a 50-50 chance of survival.

“They’ve lost so much they really wanted to do everything they could to get him through this, so he could return to being a happy, healthy member of their family again,” Jenei said.

The couple decided to go through with the two-hour surgery, but left before the operation.

“We both were in tears, because we didn’t know if we were going to lose another horse or not,” Bush said.

The next morning, the hospital called and reported Cajun was in stable condition after the surgery and seemed to be in good spirits. The couple was updated again Saturday and told that he was eating again.

Gradually, Cajun began putting weight on his leg again, and yesterday doctors said they expected he would be discharged in about a week.

While specialists continue to work with Cajun, Bush and Kass are planning to rebuild their home and trying to find temporary stables to bring their horses back on the property, where they are living in a trailer.

Orcutt waived her fee for the on-site care, and drug distributor JA Webster has committed to pay for the drugs used in Cajun’s care.

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June 8, 2011 at 10:12 am

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Rose Haddad, 111; her zest for life inspired generations

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Published June 4, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B10

Escorted by a daughter and two grown grandchildren, Rose Haddad ventured from Natick to Orlando to celebrate her 90th birthday.

She rode roller coasters at Disney World and toured the Kennedy Space Center.

“When we walked through Disney World, she refused to have a wheelchair – it was at the point I needed the wheelchair,” said granddaughter RoseMarie Stamboulides of Ashland. “She didn’t want any special treatment because she didn’t consider herself old, and she had the mind-set that as long as she acted and thought young, she was.”

Mrs. Haddad, a devoted mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother who may have been the country’s oldest Arab-American, died April 29 at Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick after a period of declining health. She was 111.

Mrs. Haddad was born Ramza Homsy in Damascus in 1900, and moved to the United States with her family as a child.

The family quickly settled in Natick, and she became a member of the Church of St. John of Damascus, where she was active for the rest of her life.

“What’s interesting is she was older than the church; it was built in 1907,” said grandson Richard Nawfel of Waltham. “There was a lot more to her than just the church, but she dedicated a good part of her life to it.”

She married John Haddad, who knew her family and its four sisters, but was most attracted to Rose, her granddaughter said.

“She would tell us, `Of course he was going to pick me,”‘ Stamboulides said.

The pair lived in Natick, starting a home on East Central Street on a large property that was full of life: a few animals, two gardens, and seven children.

“There were always people, food, and music,” Nawfel said. “From the way I heard it described [it] was always … a house full of people. In terms of possessions, most had very little, but they had each other. And that’s the theme that is pretty clear.”

She was known for her Arabic dishes and pastries. When her children and grandchildren asked to learn her craft, she said she had no written recipes; she would explain the dish by saying “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” in Arabic.

“If one thing defined her home besides herself and her own personality, it was food – food and people,” Nawfel said.

Though Mrs. Haddad loved her home, she left for extended periods, twice to travel back to the Middle East. She regaled her grandchildren with stories of her travels to her native Syria and destinations such as Jerusalem. She told of large festivals, concerts, and vivid scenery.

In 1965, five years after her husband died, she obtained a driver’s license and bought a car. She began working at Leonard Morse Hospital, prepping instruments for surgeons.

“For her to enter the workforce was a big thing,” her grandson said. “She had her own car and went to work like everyone else for the first time. It was part of this theme – independence. Her independence was her strength.”

As her children grew, they integrated her into their new lives. For family occasions, from graduations to basketball games to going out to dinner, the reservation for the family often included Mrs. Haddad. As a result, Stamboulides and Nawfel were close with their grandmother.

Mrs. Haddad taught her grandson Arabic because he was interested in learning her heritage and language.

“We kind of had our own half-English, half-Arabic conversations, and it seemed to bridge the generations,” he said. “I understood her like there was not that difference in generations.”

When college basketball’s March Madness came, Nawfel would have Mrs. Haddad fill out a bracket; and Stamboulides would invite her to her Mary Kay makeup parties.

“It was things like that that we would engage her in, and she loved that, and I almost think that’s what kept her young,” Stamboulides said.

Nawfel said that when people asked him her secret for long life, he explained she had none, aside from her smile and eight glasses of water a day. She simply enjoyed life, he said.

“She had tragedies happen to her, whether it was sickness, hardships, or anything else; she always seemed to have this strong will to survive and maintain her quality of life,” he said. “I think it had a lot to do with [seeing] a lot of changes in America over 100 years, and people. She was somebody who could adapt, but at the same time, she maintained her traditional values.”

In 2000, Senator Edward M. Kennedy presented her with a centenarian award at the John F. Kennedy Library.

In addition to her grandson and granddaughter, Mrs. Haddad leaves a daughter, Jamila Nawfel of Waterville, Maine; three sons, George of Somerdale, N.J., Mitchell of Natick, and Alfred of Arlington; 19 other grandchildren; 34 great-grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the Church of St. John of Damascus in Dedham.

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June 4, 2011 at 10:10 am

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Raynham honors a hero killed in Afghanistan in ’06

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Published May 31, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B3

Townspeople dedicated a signpost in the center of Raynham yesterday to honor Sergeant First Class Jared Monti, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006.

Monti’s father said Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and about 200 residents gathered outside of the First Congregational Church on South Main Street for an hourlong dedication ceremony that paid tribute to the 1994 Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School graduate, appropriately held on Memorial Day.

The townspeople and Raynham Veterans’ Services made arrangements for the monument, which displays Monti’s name, the phrase “Fallen Heroes,” and the Medal of Honor. The sign sits at the intersection of four main streets.

“The pride that they had in doing it was just fantastic,” said his father, Paul Monti.

Monti was killed in June 2006 when he attempted to rescue a wounded comrade during a firefight in Afghanistan, on his fifth tour of duty during his 12-year military career. In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts.

Since then, his father has organized events through the SFC Jared C. Monti Memorial Scholarship Fund. Because the Raynham signpost and ceremony were efforts of the town, Paul Monti found yesterday’s events especially touching. “That was a really emotional part, and the real heartwarming part because this little town has adopted my son as their own,” he said.

Also yesterday, a plaque at City Hall Plaza in Brockton was dedicated to Army Captain Anthony Palermo Jr., who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

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May 31, 2011 at 10:08 am

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Dog missing from shelter is found after police get a tip

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Published May 26, 2011 in The Boston Globe, page B2

A 9-year-old Shih Tzu has been returned to the MSPCA-Angell facility after it was allegedly taken Sunday afternoon, officials said.

A staff member noticed the dog, Bella, was missing Sunday afternoon and reported her stolen to Boston police, spokesman Rob Halpin said in a statement.

A visitor who was at the facility in Jamaica Plain on Sunday called and reported having seen a woman with a dog fitting Bella’s description in her bag, said Amanda Kennedy, director of the center’s Animal Care and Adoption Center.

With the help of the tip and surveillance video, police were able to identify a suspect.

Boston and Malden police went to the woman’s house in Malden and found Bella. The investigation is ongoing, and no additional details have been released.

Kennedy said Bella was in stable condition when she was returned.

“We’re just so thrilled to have her back,” she said. “She seems happy to be back.”

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May 26, 2011 at 10:06 am

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Mass. 7th-grader competes in National Geographic Bee

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Published May 25, 2011 in The Boston Globe MetroDesk Blog

Plainville seventh-grader Karthik Karnik competed in the final round of the National Geographic Bee today against nine other geography whizzes from across the country.

While he didn’t finish in the top three, Karnik, 13, was among the seven other finalists who won $500 in the contest, which was held in Washington, D.C., and moderated by “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek.

The top three won college scholarships of $25,000, $15,000, and $10,000. The top finisher was Tine Valencic, 13, of Texas, who will also get a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Karnik had won the title of 2011 Massachusetts National Geographic Bee Champion earlier this year.

The contest is scheduled to air over four nights beginning June 13 at 6:30 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel, the company said in a statement.

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May 25, 2011 at 11:05 am