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A trespassing sign has seen better days Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, near Kimberly.

Law enforcement, school officials vigilant after gun threats, parents worried

BURLEY — Continued school gun violence threats Wednesday in Mini-Cassia kept law enforcement and school officials wary and parents feeling scared.

Some parents were taking students out of school or keeping them home after a series of threats towards Minidoka County and Cassia County schools was shared on social media this week.

Minidoka County Sheriff Eric Snarr said a message that said someone would shoot up all the schools in Minidoka County at 3:15 p.m. on Feb. 21 prompted the sheriff’s office, Rupert Police Department and Heyburn Police Department to step up their presence at all the schools in the county.

The threat came on the heels of other threatening messages shared on social media on the night of Feb. 20 and on Monday, Feb. 19.

“I have no credible sources that lead me to think this is a credible threat,” Snarr said. “But we take all statements and threats very seriously.”

Snarr said his office is investigating all leads, and if they can prove a crime was committed in the county, even if the suspect is a juvenile, they will be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.

Layla Gomez, mother of three children ages 7, 9 and 10 did not send her children to school on Feb. 21 after seeing information in the news about the threats and seeing social media posts discussing the issue.

“I’m going to keep them home until something is done,” Gomez said. “I have to feel confident that if I send them to school they will come home.”

Gomez said she did not receive notification of the threats from the school district.

“I didn’t receive any notification on either threat,” Gomez said. “And yet I got texts about snow closures and when they were canceling school because of the girls’ basketball games. But something as serious as a shooting threat — there was no text.”

Minidoka County School District Superintendent Ken Cox said the notification problem was due in part to timing of the threat and the notification system that was used.

“It was a big problem for us,” Cox said.

The issue has prompted the district to start to scrutinize the policies and procedures for the use of the parent notification system.

Cox asked the school administrators prior to 8 a.m. to send out text notifications on Wednesday but some schools did not send them out until later. Not all parents are signed up for the texts.

An all-call notification system is also in place that reaches every parent of a child, but it was not used, Cox said.

The school district is also working to improve its communication with law enforcement and with the Cassia County School District in the future.

Gomez said the school shootings happening across the country are having an effect on children. After the Florida shooting Gomez’s 9-year-old son asked her if she was afraid of them getting shot.

“They see this stuff on T.V.,” she said. “I don’t know if this stuff that is happening here is real or not but you keep them safe no matter what.”

Gomez said her nieces attend high school in Mini-Cassia and are terrified to go to school.

“This is causing a lot of anxiety,” she said.

Cox said the district doesn’t have definitive attendance numbers yet but over the past two days student absenteeism at the middle schools and high school may reach in the hundreds. Student absenteeism on Tuesday or Wednesday will be excused but absenteeism during the rest of the week will not, Cox said.

“It’s always a parent’s decision whether to send their child to school or not,” he said.

Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward said Feb. 21 in a press release that the department is working with multiple agencies to investigate the threats.

He said law enforcement presence is also increased at Cassia County schools.

“The sheriff’s office is urging our community to be mindful of what you are posting or re-posting in regards to this highly emotional issue,” he wrote.

Cassia County School District reported a message found on the evening of Feb. 20 that came from an anonymous account that mentioned both Minidoka County and Cassia County schools.

“I’m going to keep them home until something is done. I have to feel confident that if I send them to school they will come home.” Layla Gomez,
mother of three

From trash to gas — work is nearly complete on the plant to turn south-central Idaho garbage into energy

BURLEY — As early as May, southern Idaho’s landfill could start producing enough energy to power 2,500 homes.

Milner Butte Landfill, southwest of Burley, is regulated for landfill gas emissions. The solid waste district has to burn the gases produced within the landfill by millions of tons of decomposing garbage 365 days a year, 24-7.

But Southern Idaho Solid Waste Executive Director Josh Bartlome realized a way the region could capitalize on what he thinks of as a natural resource. Using two Siemens locomotive engines to convert landfill gas to energy, the landfill can sell that power to keep its tipping fees low for years to come.

“We pride ourselves on the $16 per ton tipping fee,” Bartlome said. “It’s really important to the district to keep those costs low.”

The landfill gas-to-energy facility should be up and running in the first two weeks of May, he said, generating 2.6 megawatts of power.

The Milner Butte Landfill is a regional landfill serving seven counties. It took in about 240,000 tons of garbage in the past year, Bartlome said. And in some ways, it’s like a living organism, producing gases.


Executive Director Josh Bartlome gives a tour of the nearly completed gas-to-energy plant on Friday at Milner Butte Landfill southwest of Burley.

“This thing’s huge — it has a life of its own,” Landfill Gas Specialist Brent Dozier said. “Landfills of this size are required to continuously monitor for emissions, primarily methane.”

Methane is produced by organic material that’s thrown away, starting at about six weeks and peaking in the first six to 18 months. That trash will still produce methane for another 40 to 60 years.

But instead of burning that methane, why not use it? Bartlome asked.

“We look at this as a natural resource,” he said. “It’s an asset to us.”

Landfill gas can be liquefied or condensed to power equipment, but the solid waste district didn’t have the necessary infrastructure in place. What it did have was piping.

Pipes built into the Milner Butte Landfill are used to push gas to a flare so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere. Monitoring wells help keep gas concentrations at 50 percent methane, 40 percent carbon dioxide and 10 percent other gases — an optimal mix for the most efficient burning.

The district has been required to control its landfill emissions for about eight years.

“We’re deconstructing 99.8 percent of everything that’s coming through,” Bartlome said.

When the $7.5 million landfill gas-to-energy project comes online, pipes will move the gas to a system where it’s cleared of particulates and moisture before going to two generators. The deconstruction rate will drop slightly, but technically, the solid waste district has to deconstruct just 93 percent of those gases.

Southern Idaho Solid Waste is just putting the finishing touches on the power facility. A swamp cooling system will help the engines run more efficiently to send energy to the transformers, and from there to the power grid.


Landfill Gas Specialist Brent Dozier takes a gas reading from a monitoring well Friday at Milner Butte Landfill southwest of Burley.

Idaho Power Co. has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement beginning in October, but that start date can be moved up. The district’s state-issued emissions permit will also allow it to add one more generator and product up to 5 megawatts of power in the next five years, Bartlome said. That would be enough to power 5,000 homes.

Southern Idaho Solid Waste estimates that in the next 20 years, the facility will gross $36 million in revenue, netting about a third of that after costs of operations and inflation. The revenue it generates will be used to pay for the facility itself, and then to keep costs at the landfill from increasing.

Once up and running, the landfill gas-to-energy facility will have a viewing room open to Scouts, schools and other community groups interested in learning about the project. Bartlome hopes this will help to shed the stigma around landfills.

“It is a dirty industry, and we are dealing with garbage,” Bartlome said. “But it’s everybody’s garbage.”

Police: Man attacked near Twin Falls Subaru dealership

TWIN FALLS — Police are investigating an attack on a man near the Twin Falls Subaru dealership.

Just before 8 p.m. Wednesday, a man was walking in the 700 block of Falls Avenue when he was attacked by a person or people, said Lt. Terry Thueson.

It’s unclear if a weapon was used, but police said the man had a head injury and was taken to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center by ambulance. He was conscious when taken to the hospital, police said.

Police were still investigating late Wednesday, including looking for any surveillance of the area. Officers were gathered inside the Subaru dealership office and placed crime-scene tape around the perimeter of the dealership.

Thueson urged people to be alert and aware of their surroundings.

Police encourage anyone with information to call 208-735-4357.

Police: Twin Falls man injured 4-month-old son, blames toddler

TWIN FALLS — A man has been charged with felony injury to a child after being accused of suffocating his 4-month-old son, police say.

On the evening of Dec. 8, the infant and his 2-year-old sister were in the care of their father, Zachary Blake Burton, 28, of Twin Falls, according to court documents. The children’s mother returned home from a friend’s house the following morning to find the infant had a swollen lip and eye, a scratch on his face and petechiae — red blotches from broken capillaries — on his face and neck, marks she said were not there the day before.

The baby’s parents took him to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, where a nurse practitioner suspected the petechiae was caused by asphyxiation. The hospital notified police and Children at Risk Evaluation Services.

The mother told police Burton called her via video chat early that morning to show her marks on the baby’s face. Burton told her the baby’s cry woke him and that he found their toddler on top of the baby.

When questioned, Burton told the officer the baby was asleep in a bassinet when he went to bed, but woke up crying during the night. The father said he changed his diaper and gave him a bottle, then put him in bed with him and the toddler, the report said. Burton said the baby’s “loud, piercing cry” woke him up again and he saw the toddler’s hands near the baby’s face. He told the officer the toddler would not let go of her brother and he had to pick her up to remove her.

Burton also told the officer he saw dried blood on the baby’s clothing and a small cut on his lip, police said in the report. The officer asked Burton what he thought happened and Burton said he thought the toddler “climbed over him and tripped on (the baby) and he thinks (the baby) was suffocated.”

Dr. Jennifer Jorgensen with St. Luke’s CARES program argued that the baby’s injuries couldn’t have been caused by the toddler, the police report said. Jorgensen described pattern marks on the side of the baby’s face and said the inside of the baby’s upper lip was cut and the inside of his bottom lip was bruised “as if something had put a significant amount of pressure on his lips to cause these injuries.” The petechiae on the baby’s face is common in people who have been suffocated, Jorgensen told police.

Burton was arraigned on the charge Tuesday and is in custody on a $200,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for March 2. In July, Burton pleaded guilty to a separate case of felony assault or battery.


A screen shot of a threat on social media on Tuesday evening towards Minidoka County and Cassia County schools.

Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker  

Billy Graham at a press conference in New York in 2005.

Angry teens swarm into Florida Capitol, demand new gun laws

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A week after a shooter slaughtered 17 people in a Florida high school, thousands of protesters, including many angry teenagers, swarmed into the state Capitol on Wednesday, calling for changes to gun laws, a ban on assault-type weapons and improved care for the mentally ill.

The normally staid Florida Statehouse filled with students, among them more than 100 survivors of the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, on the edge of the Everglades. They held signs, chanted slogans and burst into lawmakers’ offices demanding to be heard.

The teens were welcomed into the gun-friendly halls of power, but the students’ top goal — a ban on assault-style rifles such as the weapon used in the massacre — was taken off the table a day earlier, although more limited measures are still possible.

Many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said they would oppose in future elections any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.

“We’ve spoke to only a few legislators and ... the most we’ve gotten out of them is, ‘We’ll keep you in our thoughts. You are so strong. You are so powerful,’” said Delaney Tarr, a senior at the high school. “We know what we want. We want gun reform. We want commonsense gun laws. ... We want change.”

She added: “We’ve had enough of thoughts and prayers. If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago. So this is to every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the NRA. We are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you, demanding that you take action.”

Outside the building, the crowd burst into chants of “Vote them out!” as speakers called for the removal of Republican lawmakers who refuse to address gun control issues. One sign read, “Remember the men who value the NRA over children’s lives” and then listed Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation. Other signs said, “Kill the NRA, not our kids” and “These kids are braver than the GOP.”

About 30 people left an anti-gun rally outside Florida’s Old Capitol and began a sit-in protest at the office of four House Republican leaders, demanding a conversation about gun legislation.

“They’re not speaking to us right now. We only asked for five minutes and so we’re just sitting until they speak,” Tyrah Williams, a 15-year-old sophomore at Leon High School, which is within walking distance of the Capitol.

In Washington, students and parents delivered emotional appeals to President Donald Trump to act on school safety and guns. The president promised to be “very strong on background checks,” adding that “we’re going to do plenty of other things.”

And at a news conference Wednesday, Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel ordered all deputies who qualify to begin carrying rifles on school grounds. The rifles will be locked in patrol cars when not in use until the agency secures gun lockers and lockers, he said.

“We need to be able to defeat any threat that comes into campus,” Israel said.

The sheriff said the school superintendent fully supported his decision.

Stoneman Douglas’ school resource officer was carrying a weapon when the shooting happened last week, but did not discharge his firearm. It’s unclear what role he played in the shooting. The sheriff said those details are still being investigated.

At a town hall held by CNN in Sunrise, Florida, on Wednesday night, thousands of angry students, teachers and parents booed Republican Sen. Marco Rubio when he indicated that he would not support an assault-weapons ban and applauded Dem. Rep. Bill Nelson when he pushed Rubio to work on a bill that they both could support. They also booed a spokeswoman from the NRA when she said the answer was not to ban weapons but to ensure they stay out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Meanwhile, in a wave of demonstrations reaching from Arizona to Maine, students at dozens of U.S. high schools walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence and honor the victims of last week’s deadly shooting in Florida.

The protests spread from school to school as students shared plans for their demonstrations over social media. Many lasted 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed one week earlier at Stoneman Douglas.

Hundreds of students from Maryland schools left class to rally at the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds more filed out of their schools in cities from Chicago to Pittsburgh to Austin, Texas, often at the lunch hour.

The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons.

“How is it possible that this boy that we all knew was clearly disturbed was able to get an assault rifle, military grade, and come to our school and try to kill us?” one 16-year-old student asked the president of the state Senate, Joe Negron.

Negron did not answer directly. “That’s an issue that we’re reviewing,” he said.

When another lawmaker said he supported raising the age to buy assault-style weapons to 21 from 18, the students broke into applause.