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Dozens Killed in Stampede at Religious Gathering in Israel

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More than 150 people were injured in what officials say is one of the country’s deadliest civilian disasters.

What We Know:

  • The stampede occurred in the northern Israeli town of Mount Meron. Thousands gathered in the town to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a festival celebrating a second-century Jewish rabbi. The festival draws thousands every year, where attendees dance and light bonfires. The festival was the first large religious gathering since the country lifted covid restrictions.
  • According to NPR, at around 1 a.m. Friday local time, participants in an area of the festival began pushing through a slippery staircase. All of a sudden, several people fell to the floor and began piling atop each other. Witnesses say in the packed corridor, several people were trampled or asphyxiated in the chaos.

  • Local media estimated the number of people at this year’s festival to be almost 100,000. Rescue officials placed the death toll at 45, with five U.S. citizens being among those killed. Authorities struggled to identify the dead, with many families rushing to bury their loved ones before the start of Sabbath on Friday.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the tragedy as a “huge disaster” while visiting the scene. Netanyahu declared Sunday a national day of mourning in response. Paramedics told reporters of first-aid being administered en-masse after the stampede. Kalanit Taub, a first responder, said, “I saw 20-plus CPRs ongoing at the same time.”
  • Investigators are still determining a cause for the stampede. One man said, “Everyone was crammed on top of each other and no one understood why.” He saw police blocking the passageway and shouted, “people are dying in there.” Dozens of ambulances and helicopters were called to the scene to transport the many injured.

Many world leaders offered their condolences to the nation, including Queen Elizabeth II and President Joe Biden, who called the loss of life “heartbreaking.”

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Faith

Georgia Religious Leaders Call for Boycott of Home Depot over Silence on Voting Laws

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Several Georgia religious leaders, such as Bishop Reginal Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal churches, Reverend Lee May of the Transforming Faith Church, and Rev. Timothy McDonald III, the African American ministers’ founder Leadership Council, are asking for a nationwide boycott of Home Depot. They said they did not like the company’s unwillingness to meet them and listen to their concerns over Senate Bill 202.

What We Know:

  • The boycott call came on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony from Stacey Abrams and others at a hearing partially focused on the new bill. Since Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 202 into law in March, many activists have asked corporations to oppose the legislation. Once Kemp approved SB 202, faith leaders began boycotting Georgia-based companies.
  • Jackson, the leader of this movement, initially promoted barring Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. However, he relented after having conversations with officials at the businesses. Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey denounced SB 202 on CNBC, stating it was “unacceptable” and “a step backward.” Delta Airlines also released a statement in which they affirmed: “that full and equal access to voting is a fundamental right for all citizens.” However, Jackson claims he has repeatedly contacted Home Depot executives, but nobody has answered him.
  • The heads of the religious associations stood outside a Home Depot in Decatur when they mentioned this. They criticized the store for not rejecting the bill after it was passed by Kemp while also scorning it for refusing to meet with the faith administrators.

“We stand here collectively representing over 1,000 churches here in Georgia alone — 1,000 churches, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of parishioners or members…We stand here collectively together to launch this boycott,” declared May.

  • McDonald referenced the store’s mission; it was a “business of building homes” and “tearing down democracy,” he said. “Teach our dollars some sense,” chanted McDonald and the crowd. ABC News reported that the coalition has four specific requests of Home Depot. May states these demands are to speak out “publically and specifically” against SB 202; to oppose any other limiting voting provisions under consideration in other states; to support federal legislation that expands voter access and also restricts voter suppression; and to back any efforts, including “investing in litigation,” to stop SB 202 and similar bills. Before announcing their claims, May informed ABC the coalition is “fluid in this boycott.”
  • McDonald also warned of an expansion in the embargo. He stated there might be phases two, three, and four. Without saying too much, he explained they might protest on their property, block their driveways, and enter their store. It was up to Home Depot as to how far the group would take it.
  • Home Depot spokesperson Sarah Gorman told NBC News that the company chose to continue underscoring its statement that all elections should be accessible, fair, secure, and support broad voter participation. She also said the business would keep ensuring its associates all across the U.S. have information and resources to vote. Gorman raised the example of Home Depot donating 9,200 plexiglass dividers to Georgia polling stations. She also mentioned that the company “promoted voter participation” via internal programs.

This movement does not phase Gov. Brian Kemp. He criticized the boycott on Twitter, claiming “the left” will go to any extreme to “cancel” people who do not share the same political agenda. In a news conference on Tuesday, he noted the protest would hurt Georgians. He said it targets the livelihoods of employees and their families. Finally, he announced he would support Home Depot. Nonetheless, the religious leaders will continue to fight for their congregations’ right to vote. They will also demand other leaders fight for their people as well.

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Faith

Suicide Bomber Targets Palm Sunday Mass in Indonesia; at Least 20 Injured

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Two attackers targeted a packed Roman Catholic cathedral during a Palm Sunday Mass on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, injuring at least 20 people.

What We Know:

  • In the South Sulawesi province’s capital, known as Makassar, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral experienced an attack believed to be carried out by members of a militant network that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group known as the Jemaah Islamiyah. 
  • Last Sunday, at around 10:30 a.m., a group of churchgoers were walking out of the Catholic church, while others were coming in for the next service marking the beginning of the Holy Week before Easter when the blast occurred. Wilhelmus Tulak, a Catholic priest who was leading the Mass, told reporters that a loud bang shocked his congregation. 
  •  Security guards were questioning two motorists who wanted to enter the church when one of them detonated his explosives and died near the entrance of the church. The incident wounded a number of guards and churchgoers. National Police spokesperson Argo Yuwono said at a news conference about the suicide-bombing that police were still trying to identify the two attackers.
  • Roughly 64 suspects have been detained by Indonesia’s counterterrorism squad, known as Densus 88, in several parts across the Muslim-majority country. The apprehensions followed a tipoff about possible attacks against police and places of worship. Indonesia has been on high alert since the arrest of Aris Sumarsono, the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, in December.
This is Indonesia’s first major attack since May of 2018, when two families carried out a number of suicide bombings on churches in the city of Surabaya, killing a dozen people.

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Crime

After Oklahoma Pastor’s Murder, Wife and Alleged Accomplice in Love Triangle Arrested

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The Ada Police Department has arrested Kristie Dawnell Evans and her accomplice, Kahlil Square, just days after pastor David Charles Evans was shot dead.

What We Know:

  • Evans initially claimed that an intruder had entered the couple’s home and shot her husband. Authorities announced on Friday that she had lied and admitted to being involved in the murder. Her confession came after police revealed that they had security footage of the other suspect’s vehicle parked outside of the home address on numerous occasions. Neighbors reported that they had seen Kahlil Square’s white mustang over at their house for several days.
  • Square and Mrs. Evans had an intimate relationship, which originally included David as well. Kristie reportedly told authorities during questioning that she and her husband had been sexually involved with 26-year-old Square in events leading up to the incident. The trio first met a few months ago at a Super 8 motel for a threesome, and afterward, Kristie and Square carried on with an affair in secret. After some time, she asked Square to shoot her husband, David, in their home with his own gun.
  • Kristie fell pressure to security footage that implicated Square and confessed to authorities that she arranged for Square to come over and murder David. She gave him her husband’s gun and waited in the living room while he shot her husband. After the shooting, Kristie called the Ada Police Department at around 1 a.m, and when they arrived, David was found severely injured and was eventually pronounced dead at the scene.
  • As for motive, Kristie complained to both Square and authorities that David was allegedly a controlling and verbally abusive individual. David was the pastor at Harmony Church Ada and had just returned home from a mission trip to Mexico. The couple has three adult children together, and there have not been any statements from them as of yet. Kristie Dawnell Evans and Kahlil Square were both charged with first-degree murder on Thursday.

There are currently no witnesses that can back up Kristie’s claims of abuse from her husband.

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