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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Facebook begins tracking non-users around the internet

Company begins displaying cookie warnings for European users after expanding ad network

Facebook will now display ads to web users who are not members of its social network, the company announced Thursday, in a bid to significantly expand its online ad network. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Facebook will use cookies, "like" buttons, and other plug-ins embedded on third-party sites to track members and non-members alike. The company says it will be able to better target non-Facebook users and serve relevant ads to them, though its practices have come under criticism from regulators in Europe over privacy concerns. Facebook began displaying a banner notification at the top of its News Feed for users in Europe today, alerting them to its use of cookies as mandated under an EU directive.
"Publishers and app developers have some users who aren’t Facebook users," Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform, tells the Journal. "We think we can do a better job powering those ads."
"we have a greater opportunity than other companies."
Targeted advertising has become commonplace across the internet, but Facebook believes it can more accurately target non-members using the vast amounts of data it already has on the nearly 1.7 billion people who use the site. The company says it can use that data to make inferences about the behavior of non-members, an approach known as "lookalike" targeting. "Because we have a core audience of over a billion people [on Facebook] who we do understand, we have a greater opportunity than other companies using the same type of mechanism," Bosworth tells the Journal.
Facebook and Google continue to dominate targeted online advertising, as a report from Princeton University showed last week, though Facebook's use of cookies has come under fire from European regulators who say it violates consumer privacy laws. An independent report from the Belgian Privacy Commission last year criticized Facebook for tracking users who had logged out, as well as those who didn't even have an account. (Facebook disputed the report's findings, and attributed the tracking to a bug.) Earlier this year, the French data protection agency ordered the company to allow users to opt-out of sharing their personal data with advertisers, and to better inform non-users that their behavior was being tracked when visiting Facebook pages.
Facebook updated its cookies policy page on Thursday to reflect the changes to its ad network. Users with a Facebook account can opt-out of the ad scheme by adjusting their settings, while non-Facebook members can opt-out through the Digital Advertising Alliance in the US, the Digital Advertising Alliance in Canada, and the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance in Europe.

Serpent-like malware targets your bank account

GozNym stays 'asleep' until you access your money.

If you think you can rely solely on your bank’s internet security to protect you, think again. Researchers at IBM Security have uncovered new malware that targets consumers in order to steal money from their accounts.
“We already know of $4 million that was stolen by this malware,” said Etay Maor, an executive advisor with IBM Security. The worst part: It's still out there.
Maor led the Israel-based team that discovered the malware, which has already been used against undisclosed banks in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
The virus, known as GozNym, is a combination of two pieces of malware — one that infects the computer and the other that waits silently like a serpent until the user visits the website of a financial institution.
“The criminal is sitting on the other end obtaining that info in real time,” Maor said.
What’s really different about this malware, according to Maor, is that it’s hard for researchers to even analyze because hackers doubled the encryption.
“When we first saw it, we were saying something bad is happening here but we’ve never seen this before … there are so many layers, we had to break in just to understand what it was,” said Maor.
It’s also much harder for anti-virus software and other solutions to detect it — leaving the end user completely in the dark.
Consumers' computers typically get infected with GozNym by clicking on links in emails. (Right now, the virus appears to be limited to PCs.) The email might be a message about a security solution or update. If you click the link — you might think nothing happened, but from that point on you are exposed.
Maor and his team believe the hackers behind the new virus are located somewhere in Eastern Europe.
“Don’t get this wrong, we are up against professional programmers … not kids," he said.
While GozNym represents a new level of sophistication, viruses targeting financial institutions are not new.
Just last year, 20 million financial records were stolen by malware, Maor said. While exact losses are hard to tally, by some estimates it could run into the billions of dollars.
Rafe Swan | Getty Images

How to protect yourself

To guard yourself from GozNym and other viruses, do not click on links in any suspicious emails.
Also, keep your operating system and anti-virus software up-to-date. Software providers are in the process of releasing updates that hopefully will disable GozNym.
Another best practice is to avoid reusing passwords as this can let hackers into multiple accounts.
You should also have two ways to check your account balances, such as using paper statements, ATM receipts or a mobile app in addition to online banking.
The criminals behind GozNym are so sophisticated they can change online banking websites to show full balances even after funds have been transferred out.

Catching the criminals

Meanwhile, banks are working to protect consumer accounts.
"The financial services industry takes this very seriously," said Bill Nelson, president and CEO of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a group set up by the industry to share threat information, and which has 7,000 members.
And while banks have tools in place to battle against GozNym, "cybersecurity is a shared responsibility between customers and the banks," according to Doug Johnson, senior vice president for payments and cybersecurity at the American Bankers Association.
Law enforcement would like to bring the criminals to justice.
"The FBI — along with our federal, international and private sector partners — will continue to combat cybercrimes, including those involving malware," a spokeswoman explained in an email.

How to stay safe online: 15 ways to avoid being hacked

Every month or so there is a new hack that affects millions of regular people. Last year it was the TalkTalk hack. In 2016, the LinkedIn leak.
Then there's malicious software, snooping eavesdroppers and small time scammers that are targeting us on a daily basis through phones, Wi-Fi and USB sticks. Staying secure online can feel like crossing a minefield - and is daunting to many of us. But by mastering some simple steps you can drastically improve your online security.

Never use the same password more than once

Many of us are guilty of having had the same password for every account for years and, even worse than that, the most common 25 passwords include "123456", "password", and "abc123". The best way to keep your online accounts - from your internet banking to social media - secure is to never use the same password more than once.
Use the above tips to pick a strong password that people won't be able to guess and run it through a password tester.
Create a different password for each online account that you have and store them in a password manager, such as DashLane, 1Password or LastPass. These services store passwords securely, save time from endlessly typing them out when you log in, and can randomly generate keys for you.
Once you've set up a secure set of account logins make sure you don't share your passwords with anyone.

Check if you've been hacked

have i been pwned web page
Credit: have i been pwned
If you're worried that you might have been hacked or had any of your personal details compromised, it would be wise to change your usernames and passwords immediately. Before coming up with a string of new keys, though, you can use a service such as have i been pwned to find out if you have an account that has been compromised in a data breach.
Enter an email address or username into the search bar and it will tell you if you've been a victim.

Stay up to date

Downloading software updates as and when they're available is a good way to protect yourself. Software updates for computers, phones, tablets, and other devices generally include improved security settings and patches that fix vulnerabilities. This is also true of updates to any apps or programs that you have installed on those devices.
To make sure you receive the updates as soon as they're available you can enable automatic updates on your devices, often by looking in Settings.

Check before you download

Before downloading apps onto your phone or software on your computer do some research - check what it's asking for access to (look for apps permissions in Settings), check an apps' rating in the iOS or Google Play story, read reviews online, and make sure you're downloading the official version.
Internet security: The five worst ever cyber hacks Play! 02:06

Use anti-virus software

If you use a Windows computer you should protect it using anti-virus software, such as AVG or Sophos. Make sure you regularly install the updates and scan for malware.  

Keep it private

Check the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts so that only the people you want to share your information with can see it. You can restrict what others see about you in the Setting sections of your account.
For example, you can make your posts private on Facebook, and restrict what Google can know about you. Use a site like Ghostery to find out what websites are tracking you and easily block them.

Look for the padlock

When using secure online services, such as email, online shopping or banking, and social media, always check there is a padlock symbol in front of the URL, and that the web address begins "https://" before you log in or register. Websites must pass certain security tests to be accredited with the padlock, and the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.

Watch what Wi-Fi you connect to

Make sure your home WiFi is protected with a strong password that only you and your family know. When out and about never use a hotspot that may be unsecured, especially when what you’re doing is personal or private.

Beware of public mobile charging points

It's possible to hack into a smartphone that is charging via USB in a public place, such as an airport, cafe or on public transport. To avoid being a victim, only plug your phone into trusted computers when using a USB cable.

Use encrypted messaging apps

End-to-end encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Telegram protect your privacy by masking the contents of your messages from would-be eavesdroppers.

Be suspicious of your messages

Never open or forward a suspicious looking email, or respond to a social media message from someone you don't know. Watch out for phishing emails and text messages that ask you to log in or provide bank details.
Companies, such as Apple and WhatsApp, and government services will never email or text you to ask you to log into your account, provide bank details or download a program.

Type out web addresses

It's good practice to be suspicious of hyperlinks (particularly shortened links) that come from outside sources, such as unknown senders in an email. If you're asked to log into an account or provide payment details, type out the URL yourself and go directly to the legitimate site to make sure that you're not on a fake site that's designed to look like the official one.

Post in haste, repent at leisure

What goes online stays online so never say anything that could hurt, anger or endanger yourself or someone else.

Log off, log out

Always make sure you log out of your accounts when you’ve finished with them and log off a computer when you’ve finished using it.

Be a clever dater

With hundreds of thousands of us turning to dating apps every day in the quest to meet potential partners, there are a few ways to make sure you don’t put yourself in a compromised position.
Try to avoid disclosing private information when using online dating sites, and take every precaution that profiles you are looking at are genuine. Never be tempted to send or transfer money to people you meet online, however unfortunate their story.

Use your common sense

If an email offer looks too good to be true, the prices on a website are abnormally low or you receive an unsolicited telephone call offering computer support, it's probably a scam.

Life under curfew for American teens: ‘it’s insane, no other country does this’

Around 11 pm, on a temperate Friday last August, Officer Troy Owens was patrolling south-eastern San Diego. Peering through his driver’s side window into the darkness, he scanned the streets until his eyes stopped on the corner of 47th and Market. “Somebody trying to hide from me?” he wondered aloud. “Yup,” he answered, swinging the SUV around, and turning on the flashing lights.
Owens, who has worked for the San Diego police department for nearly 20 years, pulled toward the curb and got out of his car. As he approached, three teenagers slowly slunk out from behind an electrical box: a boy, David, 15, whose identity, along with those of other minors, is being protected, and two girls. Heads hanging, shoulders slouched, they knew they were caught. All three were soon searched, handcuffed, and put in the back of cars for the ride to the command post – a local Boys & Girls Club.
Were the teenagers picked up for using drugs? No. Drinking? No. Had they fled a store without paying for their goods? Hardly. Their crime: being out past curfew.
In San Diego, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be out past 10pm. And, that night, Officer Owens was part of a “curfew sweep”, where teams of officers fan out and enforce the law en masse. The city runs these details roughly once a month in each of its nine districts, sometimes arresting dozens of kids a night. David and his friends said they were just walking home. But that isn’t one of the exceptions – like a school sports game or a job – so Owens read him his Miranda rights.
Conceived as a crime-reduction tactic, curfews were promoted during the “tough on crime” era of the 1990s. In 1996, President Bill Clinton flew out to Monrovia, California – among the first cities to claim curfew success – to publicly endorse the idea at the local high school. From there, they spread like wildfire and remain in place decades later.
From Baltimore, which has one of the strictest curfews in the country, to Denver, where curfew enforcement ramps up every summer, the laws are on the books in hundreds of cities across the US. According to available FBI data, there were 2.6m curfew arrests from 1994 and 2012; that’s an average of roughly 139,000 annually. Philadelphia alone reported 16,079 violations in 2014 – among the highest in the country.
As the curfew laws and arrests proliferated, however, the debate about their impact simmered largely out of view. Congress left curfews unaddressed in pending juvenile justice legislation and, today, the question remains: are they the best approach?
“It’s insane. No other country does this,” said Mike Males, a senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and curfew critic who would like to see the practice come to an end. In his research, he says he hasn’t seen “any evidence” that they’re effective; instead chalking up their use to political expediency. “Curfews became this way of responding that both blamed young people and didn’t affect adults.”
An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) case study of Minneapolis found the city’s curfew to be racially biased – with 56% of curfew charges coming against black youth compared with 17% for their white counterparts, despite the city being majority white. Males says that he’s found a similar pattern nationally. “They’re always racially discriminatory,” he said. “We have not found a single exception to that.”
Tau Baraka owns the Imperial Barbershop just down the road from the Boys & Girls Club. He’s lived here in south-east San Diego for years and views curfew sweeps as part of a broader police assault on the predominantly non-white community. “I worry,” he said, emphasizing that between curfew sweeps and gang enforcement details, “we see our youth being harassed daily.”
Proponents, however, argue that curfews help prevent young people from becoming either perpetrators or victims of nighttime crime. “This is an important way of helping kids stay safe and stay out of trouble,” said San Diego city council member Marti Emerald. “If we can help one child in their struggle then I think that we have to say the program is at least a partial success.”
When they arrived at the command post, police took down David’s name, age and contact information. Two new cadets were in charge of logging his possessions, and putting them in a bag for safekeeping. After Officer Owens filled out a police report, he swapped David’s metal handcuffs for plastic ones and moved him to a chair in the middle of the auditorium. Girls on one side, boys on the other; all waiting for a “responsible adult” to pick them up.
As for punishment, curfew violators are offered a diversion program, upon completion of which their case is dropped. “We try to do a proper assessment of the whole situation,” said Lt Evan Ziegler, with the department’s juvenile administration. When kids come to class, police can also connect them to social services, job training or activities that aim to keep them otherwise engaged.
In the south-eastern division, free diversion classes are held on Tuesday evenings and range from a juvenile judge talking about the court system to corrections officers detailing what life in “the hall” is like. The six-week course finishes with a visit from the coroner, whose slideshow from the morgue paints a grisly picture of the worst-case scenario. Parents are required to attend a separate set of classes, which are held in both English and Spanish.
“At least [the police] got them,” said one mom, as week two of the diversion program let out. Two of her sons were picked up for breaking curfew. “They’re with them. They’re not out there,” she said in support of curfews before rushing off to pick up her other child – a move that alludes to what can often be the complex reality of curfew violations.
Police have stopped three of Michelle Ruiz’s kids. One got a ride home, another was offered diversion and the third was sent to court and fined. “I understand that they’re doing it for our kids’ safety,” said Ruiz. “[But] it makes it harder for us.” She says that multiple jobs, single parenting and a myriad of other challenges can make it difficult to monitor kids’ adherence to curfews or complete subsequent diversion programs. The inconsistency has left Ruiz unsure whether curfews are having a net-positive effect.
Kids in San Diego seem to be conflicted about curfews as well. Even though she’s been caught twice, Ashley, 19, generally endorses the law. “What’s there out after certain times?” she asked, rhetorically. “Trouble.” But, she notes, her interactions with police were far from enjoyable and she still gets stopped sometimes just because she looks underage. “It was really kind of scary to have them treat you like a hardened criminal.”
Brian and his friend Demareé, both 16, are fairly indifferent. They were waiting for the trolley at about 9pm but weren’t nervous about the looming curfew. “I do my best to stay inside,” said Brian. “But, for the most part, no one really cares.” In common refrain, Demareé adds that he hadn’t even known there was a curfew law until he got stopped coming home from a party. Officers let him off with a ride home.
Tonight though, leniency was in short supply. “Happy hunting,” was how commanding officer, Sgt Jay Moser, kicked off the sweep at the Boys & Girls Club. By 10.13pm four kids were under arrest and six more came in throughout the night. That’s an average number, says Moser. Some nights it’s higher – the division record is about 50. Others it’s lower, especially recently. “That’s not a failure,” Lt Ziegler says of the decline in numbers, which is probably a combination of police getting the word out about curfews and kids becoming more savvy at avoiding sweeps. “Basically it means that we’re doing our jobs.”
Bardis Vakili with the ACLU of San Diego questions the premise that curfews, and curfew sweeps, are the best tactic. Calling the approach “very heavy-handed”, he says that it has a lasting effect on kids. “[What is does] is cite them, offer diversion programs that are difficult to complete, and ends up in involvement in the criminal justice system,” he said, suggesting expanded after-hours options for youth instead. At the very least, he would liked to see “a real dialogue” around the topic.
One problem is that analysis of curfews is relatively scant, and opinions often fall in the more emotional realm. “It’s a gut-level sort of response,” said Councilmember Emerald, when asked about her support for the laws. “It’s not real scientific, is it?” The data though, does exist, with the California Criminal Justice Statistics Center (CJSC) keeping detailed statistics stretching from 1980 to 2014.
While officials in San Diego reject the notion of racial bias in the city’s curfew law, a Guardian analysis clearly shows that it has a disproportionate impact on minorities, especially Hispanics. In 2010, Hispanic youth accounted for 59% of all curfew arrests, as opposed to 16% for white youth. Comparatively, census figures for the same year put the city’s population at 28.8% Hispanic and 45.1% white. The data also shows that diversion programs are indeed keeping more kids of all races out of the courts. In 2011, a majority of curfew cases were handled within the department for the first time in decades. That trend has continued, with only about a third of curfew cases going to juvenile probation 2014.
As to whether the curfew actually reduces crime, critical findings like Males’s are often countered with University of California professor Patrick Kline’s research, which concludes that “curfews are effective at reducing both violent and property crimes.” The Voice of San Diego took perhaps the closest look at the situation locally.
A  2012 article challenges the alleged benefits, finding that “neighborhoods without the sweeps have reported greater drops in crime in the last five years than those with them.” Males says that, again, he’s seen a similar, broader, pattern in his research. Noting that between truancy laws and curfews kids could conceivably only be allowed outside for a few hours a day, he says, “the underlying assumption [is] that most youth are criminals.”
For the officers and volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club, however, there’s a palpable sense of accomplishment. Packing up and turning off the lights, they head home for the night with a hope that they’ve helped “just one kid” – even if the public is more skeptical. “What are the results?” asks one agitated patron at the Imperial Barbershop. “When you come over here with a heavy police presence – a military presence – the community deserves to know.” Regardless, with summer vacation on the way, curfew enforcement is soon set to ramp up again across America.

Woman aiming to use dead daughter's eggs to have child 'would fulfil dying wish'

A woman who wants to use her daughter's frozen eggs to give birth to her own grandchild has appealed to leading judges to allow her to carry out the dying wishes of her "much-loved and only child".
The 60-year-old, whose daughter died of cancer in 2011, lost an action at the High Court last year, but is now asking three Court of Appeal judges to rule in her favour.
Her QC, Jenni Richards, told the judges on Wednesday that the woman wants to fulfil her daughter's wishes that her mother should carry a child created from her frozen eggs "and raise that child".
Ms Richards said that if the court did not overturn the High Court's ruling, the "inevitable" consequence would be that the eggs "will simply be allowed to perish".
The woman and her 59-year-old husband are challenging the decision of Mr Justice Ouseley last June to dismiss their case.
During the High Court proceedings, the judge was told that the daughter, who can only be referred to as ''A'' for legal reasons, was desperate to have children and asked her mother to ''carry my babies''.
Her parents, who are referred to as "Mr and Mrs M", launched legal action against an independent regulator's refusal to allow them to take their daughter's eggs to a US fertility treatment clinic to be used with donor sperm.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said the eggs could not be released from storage in London because A did not give her full written consent before she died at the age of 28 of bowel cancer.
Mr Justice Ouseley heard that A would have been ''devastated'' if she had known her eggs could not be used.
But he ruled that the HFEA had been entitled to find the daughter had not given ''the required consent''. He declared there had been no breach of the family's human rights.
He said: ''I must dismiss this claim, though I do so conscious of the additional distress which this will bring to the claimants, whose aim has been to honour their daughter's dying wish for something of her to live on after her untimely death.''
Ms Richards argues that there is "clear evidence" of what A wanted to happen to her eggs after she died, and that "all available evidence" showed she wanted her mother "to have her child after death".
She told Sir James Munby, president of the High Court's family division, sitting in London with Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Burnett, that the regulator's refusal decision was not based on "any matter relating to the age of Mrs M, or family connection, or any child welfare issues".
She said the case was not about "scientific or ethical principles". The decision was based solely on an "evaluation of the evidence relating to A's wishes".
The QC said: "This court has a duty to decide for itself whether the decision strikes a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community as a whole."
The appeal is opposed by the HFEA, which argues that Mr Justice Ouseley "did not err in concluding that the HFEA's decision was lawful".

Court Says Israel Owns Jaffa House Because Arab Family Members Left in 1948

Tells builder’s grandchildren to buy state out – for about $500,000, which they don't have - or prepare to leave.

Fadwa Shaya, the eldest resident of the house.

 About two weeks ago, after a nine-year legal wrangle, a Tel Aviv court ruled that an Arab family that has lived in its Jaffa home for 90 years will not have to pay the state nearly half a million shekels ($130,000) in rent. But the court also ruled that the family would have to buy the state’s stake – 40 percent – of its house to regain ownership.

“We still have to pay a large sum for the right to live in our own home, the house our grandfather built,” a member of the family says.

The large house on the hill on Tziona Tajer Street in Jaffa was built in the 1920s by Salim Khoury Shaya, the spiritual leader of the Christian Arab (Greek Orthodox) community.His seven children were born and raised in the house.

Shortly before the 1948 War of Independence, three of the siblings went to visit relatives in Lebanon, where they got stuck when the war broke out, and they weren’t able to return. The other four siblings – George, Evelyn , Awda and Claire Shaya – remained in their house. Their children are now in their 40s.

In 1950 the siblings who went to Lebanon were declared absentees and Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property took over the house, although the four siblings were still living in it.

Only nine years later, in 1959, did the state recognize the rights of the four siblings in the house. Despite this, the state retained its hold over 40 percent of the property.

 In the 1950s, George Shaya and his siblings claimed in court that before they had left, the other siblings had sold them their stake in the house. The absentee siblings also traveled to Cyprus and signed an affidavit to this effect, but an Israeli court rejected it. In June 1960, the court turned down the siblings’ request to receive full ownership of their house, and in 1963 the Israel Lands Administration received custody of 40 percent of the house. That year, Salim Khoury Shaya died.

George Shaya continued to fight for the house until his death in 1973. His daughter, Mary Kusa, remembers her father always saying that “I don’t want to buy my own house.” She and the other children grew up, married and had families. Some still live in the house.

George’s son Sami says that in the 1990s they tried to buy the state’s stake in the house, but Amidar, the public housing agency that took over its management, refused.

Salim Khoury Shaya’s daughter-in-law, Fadwa, who married his son George, is now the eldest resident of the house, where she has lived since 1947 and where her children and some of her grandchildren grew up.

In 2007 Amidar filed a suit in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, demanding the Shaya families pay some 471,000 shekels as rent, plus linkage and interest, for the past seven years. The sum was based on the rent the land survey deemed the house could fetch on the free market.

The siblings say Jaffa’s rising property values are behind the move.

The state also asked the court to dissolve the partnership and let it sell the house to the highest bidder, which basically meant evacuating the families.

“We feel it’s an injustice,” says Anisa Shaya. “First they show up out of the blue demanding money, and the next minute they want to throw us out on the street. Where is my mother, who has lived in this house since 1947, supposed to go?”

The Shaya family was represented by attorney Hisham Shabaita of the Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic.

He opened his defense speech by citing the Biblical proverb of the poor man’s sheep. “In this suit too, the state is demanding, cynically and without good faith, to dispossess the respondents from their home, which has always been in their ownership,” he wrote.

The court denied the state’s demand for retroactive rent and recognized the families as “protected tenants.” It concluded that the Shaya and Manzur families, who live in the house, should buy out the state’s part in the property.

However, the state’s 40 percent costs an estimated 2 million shekels, which the families say they cannot afford.


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce By Ashley Gilbertson

Noah Pierce’s headstone gives his date of death as July 26, 2007, though his family feels certain he died the night before, when, at age twenty-three, he took a handgun and shot himself in the head. No one is sure what pushed him to it. He said in his suicide note it was impotence—a common side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was “the snowflake that toppled the iceberg,” he wrote. But it could have been the memory of the Iraqi child he crushed under his Bradley. “It must have been a dog,” he told his commanders. It could have been the unarmed man he shot point-blank in the forehead during a house-to-house raid, or the friend he tried madly to gather into a plastic bag after he had been blown to bits by a roadside bomb, or—as the fragments of Noah’s poetry might lead you to believe—it could have been the doctor he killed at a checkpoint.
Noah Pierce
A self-portrait of Noah Pierce in Iraq
Noah Pierce grew up in Sparta, Minnesota, a town of fewer than one thousand on the outskirts of the Quad Cities—Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, and Gilbert—on the Mesabi Iron Range. Discovered on the heels of the Civil War, the range’s ore deposit is the largest in the United States. These were the mines that made the Second Industrial Revolution. Range steel became the tracks of railroads, the wires of suspension bridges, the girders of skyscrapers. It became the weapons and artillery of the World Wars. WELCOME TO MOUNTAIN IRON, THE TACONITE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD reads a sign greeting visitors along the highway. There are so many open pit mines that the cities seem perched on tiny outcrops, overlooking gaping holes ready to engulf them. Around the clock, deep metallic groans come out of the ground, and freight trains barrel through, horns screeching. Blasting takes place so close to people’s houses, residents open their front doors so the pressure doesn’t blow out their windows. Locals are proud of their hardworking, hard-drinking heritage. There are more than twenty bars on Eveleth’s half-mile-long main street. On a typical night last May, when I was there, loudspeakers affixed to lampposts blared John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and Harleys thundered through town. One bar closed early, when a drunk got thrown through the front window.
Right from the start, Noah had seemed ill-equipped for life on the range. He was a quiet, sensitive kid. He kept a tight circle of friends and passed time with them building tree forts and playing army in the woods. Noah’s biological father, Dale Pierce, a deep-sea diver who worked on oil rigs, separated from Noah’s mother shortly after she became pregnant, but Tom Softich, Noah’s stepfather, treated the thin-skinned boy as his own. When Noah turned six, Tommy began taking him hunting, and by thirteen Noah had his own high-powered rifle. For practice, they went rabbit shooting together at a small clearing a mile from their house. It became such a regular place to find Noah that his family and friends began referring to the clearing simply as “the spot.”
When Noah went missing in July 2007, after a harrowing year adjusting to home following two tours in Iraq, police ordered a countywide search. His friend Ryan Nelson thought he might know where to look. When he pulled up to the spot, he immediately recognized Noah’s truck. Inside, Ryan found his friend slumped over the bench seat, his head blown apart, the gun in his right hand. Half a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Special Blend lay on the passenger seat, and beer cans were strewn about. On the dash lay his photo IDs; he had stabbed each photo through the face. And on the floorboard was the scrawled, rambling suicide note. It was his final attempt to explain the horrors he had seen—and committed.
Noah Pierce was not the only veteran wrestling with depression and PTSD. This April, Ira R. Katz, Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer for Mental Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, became embroiled in scandal when a memo surfaced in which he instructed members of his staff to suppress the results of an internal VA investigation into the number of veterans attempting suicide. Based on their surveys and tabulations from the NCHS’s National Death Index and the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, Katz estimated that between 550 and 650 veterans are committing suicide each month. It is possible that the number of suicide deaths among veterans in 2008 alone will double the combined combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. It pains Noah’s family and friends that the Pentagon will never add him—nor the thousands like him—to the official tally of 4,000-plus war dead.
Likewise, PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are excluded from the count of 50,000 severe combat wounds—even though PTSD and TBI often have far greater long-term health effects than bullet wounds or even lost limbs. A recent study by the RAND Corporation found that one in five (approximately 300,000) Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from depression or stress disorders and another 320,000 suffer from TBIs that place them at a higher risk for depression and stress disorders.
Noah’s mother, Cheryl, believes her son’s death could have been avoided had he received counseling. Statistically, veterans outside the VA system are four times more likely to attempt suicide than those within the system. Now Cheryl’s mission is to have a clause inserted into every standard military contract that would require veterans to visit a therapist every two weeks of the first year after a combat deployment. “Soldiers are taught to follow orders,” she told me. “It needs to be mandatory. Noah was an excellent soldier, and if it was mandatory, he would have gone faithfully to every appointment. But it wasn’t.”
Cheryl Softich is a slight, chain-smoking woman of fifty, whose disarmingly direct approach to conversation could easily be mistaken as brusque by an outsider. She sank into the oversize leather couch in her living room, recounting her twelve-hour labor, two days before Christmas 1983. She remembered the blinding pain of each contraction and smiled when she recalled the doctor asking permission for a group of twenty medical students to observe. “As long as you get this baby out of me, I don’t care who watches,” she said. But then Cheryl’s smile faded. “As soon as they put him in my arms, this feeling washed over me, and I knew instantly that I was going to outlive this child. Did not know how or why, but I was going to outlive this child.”
Cheryl Softich
Cheryl Softich
The feeling returned the day, not long after 9/11, that Noah came home with enlistment papers. He was a few months shy of eighteen and needed a parental signature. “He kind of put me between a rock and a hard place,” Cheryl said. “Either sign these papers and show you support me and my decision, or I’m signing them in a couple of months without your support. Well, no child of mine is going off to war thinking I don’t support him. Did I try to talk him out of it? Hell, yes. Did I finally give up trying to talk him out of it? Yes, because it was what he was going to do, so I accepted it, and I was proud of him for his decision.”
Not everybody was as understanding. “When he joined the army, my heart sank,” said Sally Galbraith, a family friend who was virtually a second mother to Cheryl’s children. “I thought, ‘Noah, you’re too sensitive, you’re too caring; how are you ever going to get through this?’”
In June 2002, Noah went to boot camp in Fort Stewart, Georgia, and began regularly writing letters home. He expressed surprise at seeing fellow soldiers break down in tears, homesick and scared, but admitted to feeling a little that way himself. “During practice we had to yell stupid stuff,” Noah wrote in August. “The Drill sergeant would ask, ‘What makes the green grass grow?’ We would yell, ‘blood, blood, blood makes the green grass grow.’”
The Iraq invasion began in March 2003. Noah’s unit—First Platoon, Bravo Battery, First Battalion, Third Air Defense Artillery—was assigned to the front line. He rolled northward in a Bradley Linebacker, a heavily armored infantry track vehicle equipped with surface-to-air Stinger missiles, but Saddam’s army had virtually no helicopters or jets, so Noah’s platoon was changed to infantry and tasked with kicking in doors and searching houses. By early April, American troops had reached Baghdad, and the airwaves were filled with images of Saddam’s statue toppling in Firdos Square and the troops being hailed as conquering heroes.
Noah was outraged. “War is horrible,” he scrawled in enormous letters across the back of the envelope of his first letter home from Iraq. “It fucking sucks here,” he wrote. “It sounds like you guys in the states are for the war. All the soldiers I know including me think it is a bunch of bullshit. We came in and invaded this country and murdered a lot of innocent people. So tell me how we are heros.”
Barely a month into the invasion, Noah already felt beset by the moral ambiguity of house-to-house raids. “I wish I would have been a driver during the war,” he wrote from Baghdad. “They didn’t have to see near as much shit as I had to go through. Plus you never had to shoot people in the drivers hatch. Even the gunner has it better. All they ever shot were vehicles, so they didn’t have to see the affects. Unlike when you shoot someone in the head at point blank range. Did they show that shit on T.V.?” The violation of bursting into someone’s home and the consequences of any errors haunted him. “What would you do if you were forced to clear buildings where they know there are enemy soldiers (keep in mind you’re not infantry and haven’t been trained for it) and you enter a room and you run into a soldier less than 6 inches from the end of your barrel? Plus, he’s on his knees with his hands on his head but you are scared out of your mind. Would you pull the trigger? Say you just shoot out of instinct like hunting, like when you suddenly flush a grouse (dad should know what I mean). Then, after, you realize what you did. Is that considered murder?”
The questions read as oblique confession, and Noah admitted that there were “some things I can’t even get myself to write about.” For some of those things, he had taken photographs—though he was uncertain what he would ever do with the images, whom he could show them to. “I will probably destroy the camera,” he wrote.
His unit was positioned near the airport, close to some of Saddam’s palaces. Noah was impressed by their scale; he liked the palm trees, and he enjoyed the sweet tea. But his unit’s turf was the Abu Ghraib neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad—home to the infamous prison and the last main road before Fallujah, the cradle of the insurgency. One night, Noah’s platoon went out on a mission to guard buildings against looters. While he was in the turret of his Bradley, a van drove toward him and someone started shooting. “I just grabbed my M16 and put it on 3 round burst and led the tracers into the drivers window,” Noah wrote in a letter a few days later. “Right away the van stopped. I just finished the magazine. I watched it for a minute and someone ran around from the passenger side and dragged (I assume the body) into the back seat. I didn’t shoot anymore and just let them leave. The gunner and track commander were asleep in the truck and didn’t wake up so I never mentioned it to anybody. I can’t wait until I get out of here and I hope I never have to do something like this again.”
The letter ended: “It’s definitely been an experience I’ll never forget, hopefully I will be able to forget most of it someday, but I doubt it.”
“Everything good Noah got from Tommy. From me he inherited an overly sensitive heart,” Cheryl said one afternoon, her voice quavering as she spoke. She wanted me to understand that, no matter the terrible things her son may have done, he was a good person. It was his sensitivity—her sensitivity—that burrowed under his skin, that would come to make him edgy and aggressive. By summer 2003, he was suffering constant nightmares and couldn’t sleep. “They are pretty much like the shit I went through,” he wrote his mother, “only my dreams are always weird, so they are kind of fucked up.” To blow off steam, he admitted, he and other members of his platoon had taken to abusing suspects. “Whatever they’d do for stress relief,” Cheryl explained, “hit a prisoner—because you’re so frustrated that you haul him off and slug him—well, Noah did those things along with the rest of them. The difference is, he suffered from it. He felt guilty afterwards.”
But with each passing day in the desert, Noah’s guilt was turning to anger, confusion, and, finally, despair. “I’m so pissed off right now,” he wrote in July. “Beatin’ a sandnigger unconscious would help but we will get in serious trouble if it happens again.” But soon the letters his parents received were stuffed with Iraqi dinars, stolen from civilians his unit had beaten and robbed.
“Well staying here has had one good impact on me,” Noah wrote. “I no longer regret what I did during the war. I have so much hatred in me I could go murder more sandniggers and I would just smile. That goes for almost everyone here. We had sympathy for them after the war but now we have absolutely nothing but hatred for them. We should have killed more during the war. I let all kinds of ‘innocent’ people go when I should have just mowed them down.”
By August, as their deployment drew to a close, Noah’s platoon was under a magnifying glass, so he and some of his friends found a new way to vent—stoning chickens. Close to Noah’s camp, two hens were kept in a hole deep enough that they couldn’t escape. Soldiers regularly pelted the hens with rocks until they were near death. One day, a sergeant caught them. “It was funny as hell,” Noah wrote. “He stood there watching in total disbelief for a good five minutes. Then he asked if we needed to talk to a chaplain. We told him we already talked to a psychiatrist and a chaplain and that it doesn’t help. He continued to watch like we were crazy then told us to quit.” Then, as a casual coda—almost an afterthought—Noah added: “Oh yeah, one of my friends that I do this with accidentally killed a 3 year old kid. He was shooting a SAW (fully automatic machine gun) at a car and a stray bullet caught this kid in the head. Oh well one less motherfucker that won’t grow up and continue this shit. Luckily he is not in any trouble. They are keeping it quiet though. Well fuck this place and I am going to vent some stress on the chickens and hopefully hoadjis later. I love you guys. Love, Noah.”
In September 2003, Noah’s fifteen months were up, and he was sent back to Fort Stewart. He took a two-week leave to go home. Cheryl was enormously proud of her son and told him often. “He’d get mad because he didn’t think there was anything to be proud of.”
“It’s kind of like the devil followed him home and wouldn’t let him be,” Tom Softich told me.
He was standing in ankle-deep water by Lake Vermilion, not far from the Canadian border, where he used to come with Noah to a tiny shack they’d built for hunting and fishing. “He was starting to say Satan had more power than God, right before he shot himself, but I told him that’s not true, it’s only if you let him. Noah was starting to think Satan was in control of everything, and I guess he is, if you let him.”
“I don’t have the answer,” Tommy said, his voice growing softer. “I know I feel that we failed him somehow. Who knows if you could have made a difference or not. I mean Cheryl feels that way more than anybody, being his mother. She probably tried her hardest to get help for him … But you know, everybody comes away feeling like a failure somehow, that you couldn’t, or didn’t, do anything about it.
“I tried to get his mind into other places. I’d do things with him that he liked to do. He didn’t talk about the war a whole lot. He’d talk to me about some of the equipment and stuff, and I’d just talk about hunting and fishing and stuff. Trying to get his mind away from it.”
For the first time in our days together, Tommy’s emotions got the better of him. He rasped an apology before starting to sob.
In February 2005, Noah returned to Iraq. He was assigned to a new unit—Bravo Troop, Fifth Battalion, Seventh Cavalry Regiment—and sent to Balad, a city of 100,000, forty miles north of Baghdad. Insurgent activity was at record levels, and immediately the unit began making contact with their elusive enemy. On one of their first patrols, Noah’s platoon found two IEDs. They disarmed them, arrested a man they suspected was responsible, and used the captured bombs to blow up the suspect’s house.
The carnage on all sides far surpassed anything Noah had seen six months earlier.
Tom Softich
Tom Softich
On February 27, Noah sent an anguished e‑mail home. “Well I had a really bad day mom,” it began. “First I totaled a hoadjies car, but I did that on purpose. but then we had to go back out for a second mission and i ran over a little boy on accident. I was the last vehicle and i ran him over on the left side so my crew didn’t see it. i told them later i must have hit a dog. the kid was between 8-10 years old only. hopefully the family doesn’t try and do anything because the army might think it was weird i total a car and kill a kid in a matter of a couple of hours. i feel really bad but i thought he would get out of my way.”
Noah wrote in his journal about the fear he had of roadside bombs, about friends who’d shot Iraqis and been put on suicide watch (“makes a person not even want to shoot back at a person”), and about his growing sense of isolation. “We have a lot of down time without much to do, so I do a lot of thinking. I have been realizing something. I have never had a true friend.” He kept a small graduation photograph of his sister, Sarah, with him, and would look at it during dark moments. He told her later it kept him alive. At just twenty-one years, Noah felt he could trust almost no one. “Lately I have been thinking I don’t even want to come back alive,” Noah wrote on March 15. “Granted I would never kill myself, but I hate life. If I died here, I would be young and it would be an honorable way to go. Let’s face it, I have no future when I get back.”
Violence in Balad increased, and the unit started losing men. The constant mortar fire coming into their camp killed a soldier, and roadside bombs were exploding virtually every time they crossed the wire. Twice, Noah was riding in the gun turret when they were hit; twice he escaped apparently unharmed. He said privately, however, that he was certain he had some traumatic brain injury—although later, back home, he would skip appointments to test for it, afraid of what they might confirm. “He didn’t want people looking at him like there was something wrong with him,” Cheryl told me. His journal entries and e‑mails home became darker as he struggled with the guilt and anger: “I hate all Iraqis except for the women (most), and the Iraqi national guard. The kids too.”
Noah felt alone, and other soldiers were struggling, too. At the end of April, he had to clear out of his living quarters when a medic became suicidal. “If this shit keeps up I will snap,” he wrote in his journal. “If I do, I’m just going to start killing mother-fuckers. Either Iraqis or soldiers, whatever sets me off. I doubt I will, but this is gonna be a stressful 8 months.”
His next entry is two weeks later: “So far, this has been the worst month of my life. With all this work I have been ready to snap. I don’t know how much I can take. A car pissed me off last night. The fucker kept flashing me and when he pulled off the road I almost ran him over. I changed my mind though, I could have gotten away with killing that mother-fucker though. My transmission was going out and I could have blamed it on that. I am just waiting for a good opportunity though. I am just waiting for the chance where I know people will die. I am not going to swerve at them, but I am not going to avoid it like I have been. The only reason I have avoided it so far is there have been women or kids in the cars coming at me.”
The entry closes, “I am a bad person.”
Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who has worked with combat vets for twenty years and authored two books about PTSD—or psychological and moral injury, as he insists it should be known—told me by phone from his Newton, Massachusetts, office, “It’s titanic pain that these men live with. They don’t feel that they can get that across, in part because they feel they deserve it, and in part because they don’t feel people will understand it.”
“Despair, this word that’s so hard to get our arms around,” he said. “It’s despair that rips people apart [who] feel they’ve become irredeemable.”
I told Dr. Shay about Noah’s experiences in Iraq, in particular the killing, the loss of comrades, the nightmares. He sounded saddened on the phone, but unsurprised. “The flip side of this fellow’s despair was the murderous rages he experienced on his second tour,” he said. “In combat, soldiers become each other’s mothers. The rage, need for revenge, and self-sacrificial commitment toward protecting each other when comrades are killed [are] akin to when a mother’s offspring are put in danger or killed.”
Dr. Shay explained the nightmares and sleeplessness were one of the major issues. “The lack of sleep contributed directly to a loss of control of his own anger, a loss of control of things he felt morally responsible for.”
By July 2005, Cheryl now believes, Noah had become desperate to kill. We were sitting in the kitchen, smoking. Cheryl stood up and went to her bedroom. She rifled through boxes of what looked like documents under the bed. The walls were covered in photographs of her son. An empty bottle of Jagermeister still sat on the desk (“Noah loved Jagbombs,” she told me). His polished Army boots stood at the ready. At last, she found his journal and handed it to me. “On July 4th I went to kill a man that came too close to my truck,” he wrote. Consumed by paranoia and a lust for revenge, Noah assumed the driver had to be a car bomber—and if he wasn’t, he deserved a bullet anyway. “Well, my dumb ass forgot to chamber a round, I got lucky because it was just a stupid driver, and he got lucky from my mistake. I’m pretty pissed about it, I had him dead in my sights. I got to shoot at some other people that day, but missed I guess. We didn’t actually stop to check.”
That month, after writing about another IED attack and his decision to become an alcoholic back home—“If you don’t give a shit about anything, nothing can bother you”—Noah stopped keeping his journal. He wrote letters only occasionally. He seemed to be disappearing into silence and suspicion. Near the end of his deployment, Noah was assigned guard duty at a checkpoint. A man in a car failed to slow down, and Noah killed him. Upon inspection, the murdered man was discovered to be a doctor. “That was the last person that Noah killed,” Cheryl told me, as if unburdening herself of this final secret, but still she defended him. “It was on orders from his commander,” she said, “and Noah shot the man. A nice clean shot.”
Noah took a picture of the grisly scene with his cell phone, made it his wallpaper, uncertain whether it was a trophy or evidence against him. “We saw it,” Cheryl recalled, “and said, ‘You have it in your head, you don’t need to see it every time you open your phone.’ So Tommy threatened he was going to smash the phone or something, and Noah got rid of it. He left his wallet lying around and I went through it one day and I found a note, and the note was written to this doctor. He was apologizing over and over, ‘I am so sorry. I am so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?’ [That] type of thing. I took that note and threw it on the stove and burned it. I figured it was something he didn’t need.”
After his honorable discharge on June 26, 2006, Noah moved back into his basement bedroom, which, in Noah’s absence, Tom had converted into a display room for his antler collection. “He said he didn’t mind,” Tom told me. Noah had always loved the antlers.
For the first week, he seemed happy to be among family and friends, though many said that the light in his eyes had gone. “After that first week,” Cheryl said, “I can honestly say he was nothing but a messed up, confused little boy—man, child, all wrapped into one. Didn’t know—” She paused, gathering herself. “Didn’t know what to do. Couldn’t drive a car really, because driving he was constantly worried about car bombs. You’re not the same after. You’re not the same. He didn’t laugh anymore, he didn’t smile anymore, and if he did, it was phony and it never went to the eyes. He had absolutely no time, no tolerance, no patience for . . .” Cheryl’s voice trailed off.
“Anything,” Sarah finished for her. She lay on the couch, eyes closed, nursing a hangover. From her shoulder, a tattooed portrait of Noah stared out at the room, the dates of his birth and death printed below the neckline of his T-shirt.
Solely to ensure his benefits, Noah attended the army’s mandatory thirty-, sixty-, and ninety-day counseling program—mocked by returning soldiers who fake their way through sessions to keep their records clean. “The veterans lie to the therapists, because they don’t want to appear weak,” Cheryl said. “It’s a stigma. It’s not like if Noah had of come home with his arm blown off. They would have fixed it with an artificial arm, and he would have gone through therapy to learn how to use it and therapy to accept the loss of the arm. And nobody would have looked down on him for that. They would have patted him on the back and told him how proud they were. But once people hear he has PTSD, then he’s a person with leprosy. He’s got a disease and he’s looked down upon and frowned on, and not trustworthy. It’s just not right.”
Noah visited the Veterans Affairs clinic in nearby Hibbing and talked about his nightmares. A therapist prescribed a bottle of Ambien and told him to come back in a couple of months. The sleeping pills didn’t help, and he started drinking more heavily—to sleep at first, then to numb the pain, too. He quit his job as a janitor at Minntac, the US Steel plant where Tommy worked, after some men ridiculed him for having PTSD. Noah pissed into a mop bucket, soaked a cloth in it, and wiped down their lunch table before leaving. He tried attending group counseling to cope with the anger, but found himself in a room of Vietnam vets and had difficulty relating.
Noah’s basement bedroom
“There’s a lot of Vietnam veterans who’ve been suffering a lot of the same stuff for thirty years now,” said Tom, “and he knew some of them, saw the suffering they’re going through, and I think he said, ‘I ain’t gonna deal with this for thirty years.’”
A few months after he returned, Noah became violent. One day, he was sitting with his mother in the living room, chatting, when Sarah walked in. Noah leapt to his feet and threw Sarah across the room. “He would snap and go into another world, his Iraq world,” Cheryl said.
Sarah was sitting in the same living room, listening to her mother talk, her arms crossed and her legs drawn close to her chest. She gazed out a large window overlooking the front yard and some kids playing on the street, as she and Noah had done ten years ago. She hadn’t said much until now.
“I’m feisty and I got right back in his face,” Sarah said. “I wasn’t thinking. All I’m thinking is, ‘Oh my God, my brother just threw me, he’s never done that.’” Their mother split them up, but not before Sarah watched her brother realize what had happened. “It took him a couple of minutes to click that ‘Oh my God, wait a minute, this is my sister.’”
Sarah Softich
Sarah Softich
“I don’t like to tell people that he hit me,” Sarah said, looking back out the window, “because I don’t want people to think that that’s my brother; that was not him. It was him when he got back from Iraq.” She remembered the story Noah told her, how one day he watched his best friend in Iraq blown up by a roadside bomb, how he went around with a plastic bag picking up body parts to send home. “When he left the room, I cried after that. I just cried,” Sarah told me. “I couldn’t even imagine. I wouldn’t even want to.” But even if Sarah felt she understood the source of Noah’s rage, she never understood what set it off.
At the end of November 2006, Noah was sitting on the couch with Sarah, channel surfing, when he attacked her, began to throttle her. “It was just from out of nowhere, I don’t know if it was something on the tv that triggered him,” Sarah said. “I seriously couldn’t breathe because he was choking my life out of me. I mean, I could not breathe, my face was turning blue, and he was beating me with the phone. We had a house phone, a cordless phone, and it was next to me for some reason, and he started hitting me with it. You could see the evil in his eye, you could see it. It was very scary, just straight evil came over his face. It was horrible. When he finally realized what he was doing, that’s when I got up and ran.”
The spot
“The spot”
“I knew at that point,” Sarah said, “when I saw the look in Noah’s eyes after he realized he was choking his sister. At that point, I gave him maybe a year. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know where. My grandmother knew, my mother knew, Noah knew.”
Days later, Sarah came home early from work and found Noah packing his things. He was moving in with his friend Tyler Nuberg, who had a spare room. “I think he was worried he was going to hurt one of us,” Cheryl said. “We were sitting together one day, and out of the blue, matter-of-fact, he said, ‘I could kill every one of you in the house, not give it a second thought, and go to sleep.’”
Noah started working at Tyler’s family business, a kayak factory, and every evening he would sit in his chair next to a mini-fridge full of Michelob Golden Draft Light and listen to music. Almost every night he played a song by the band Smile Empty Soul called “This Is War.” It describes kicking in doors and blowing people’s heads off “for my country.” The song is a favorite among many returning veterans. Noah requested in his suicide note that it be played at his funeral.
At some point, no one is sure when, Noah began to write poems. He’d scribble them down as they came to him—like his dreams—in a notebook or on scraps of paper that were lying around. One month before he died, Noah wrote “Two tours in Iraq” in black marker on a fishing map:
Two tours in Iraq,
was it right?,
was it wrong?,
I don’t know,
My Anger,
destined me to hell,
now I drink,
now I drink & cry,
re-live my life when asleep,
so many dead,
so many killed,
Now I question god,
Is it dis-believe,
or is it fear,
I don’t know,
Don’t want to die,
Don’t want to live,
but should be dead,
I’m already in hell,
Two tours in Iraq.
Cheryl was dropping by Noah’s place virtually every day now, and each time she left his house in tears. He was becoming angrier and would berate her in slurring, drunken tirades. “Noah drank to forget,” Cheryl told me, “and he drank because he hated himself. I think he was trying to drink himself to death, because he wasn’t going to commit suicide. He was going to drink until his liver gave out.” Noah was drinking himself to sleep every night, but the alcohol no longer stopped the nightmares as it once had. His dog, Dazzle, a large black Labrador, licked tears from his face when he awoke in the middle of the night, and then cuddled with him until he could sleep again.
Cheryl’s grief is worsened by the fact she, ironically, can’t dream of Noah. “I want to see my son one more time, just one more time, just one more,” she said, rocking back and forth on the small sofa in the sitting room. She had been crying for the past hour, and now she was at a place beyond tears. Her hands clutched at her neck and face. The pain wasn’t coming from her flesh; it was as though her own skin were adding to her suffering. “I realized I could always see him in a dream.” She struggled to continue. “But for some reason God won’t let me have it. I don’t know if it’s because He knows I’m not emotionally ready for it, or if I will just never dream about my son, ever again. But, every night I ask God, ‘Please, let this be the night Noah is in my dreams, and I remember him.’ Every morning I wake up, and it wasn’t the night.”
“So I go to work and put a fake smile on my face, and everybody tells me how strong I am and how well I’m doing, and how proud they are of me and how they couldn’t be as strong and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And like Noah, it’s all an act.”
In the middle of July 2007, Sarah and Noah had planned to meet for dinner. They were both looking forward to it, but when the afternoon rolled around, Noah was having problems and was already drinking. He sent a text to Cheryl. “Hey mom,” it read, “this aint cool. i’m itching with the need to kill. no, i’m twitching with it.”
Spiral Notebook
A page from Noah’s notebook
Before Cheryl could write back, Sarah called her, crying. She said she couldn’t go out with Noah when he was that way, and Cheryl pleaded with her. “I wasn’t thinking about the times he attacked her,” Cheryl said. “All I knew at that point was my son needed her, and she wasn’t there for him. And, I understand why she chose not to be there, but I was so mad at her, so mad. I was so scared that whole night that Noah was going to kill himself. I pissed Tommy off because I couldn’t sleep. I kept tossing and turning and crying because I just knew Noah was dead, I just knew it. Just knew it.”
Cheryl texted Noah in the morning asking if she could come over, not expecting an answer. He wrote back, “yeah. bring me a pack of cigarettes.” Cheryl arrived at the house, hugged Noah, and began crying. “He swore he wouldn’t kill himself,” Cheryl said. “That gave me a sense of peace. I knew he had problems, but I knew he wasn’t going to kill himself—so there was hope. And that was the time he lied to me.”
On Monday, July 25, 2007, it was already hot when Noah left for the kayak factory. He was in a good mood, and there was nothing strange about his behavior, except that for lunch he had only a beer, Tyler remembered later. Noah left work early, and at about five o’clock, his mother, planning to drop off mail and see her son, drove by his house and the factory looking for his truck. When she couldn’t find it, Cheryl assumed he was at the recruiter’s office. He had been talking about signing up again, but this time, he’d told Sarah, he planned on dying in Iraq.
“It was a quarter to five or so,” Cheryl told me, “and so I pick up the telephone, ‘Hey it’s me, wanna know if you want to have dinner with me, see me, talk to me, but I guess not,’ and I hung up the phone, didn’t tell him I loved him or nothing, just hung up the phone.” Twenty-five minutes later her phone buzzed with a text message from Noah. “I opened it up and it says, ‘i love you guys so much and i’m so sorry.’ I text him back, ‘you are my heart Noah,’ and then I went to call him, and before I could call him Sarah called me. She wanted to know if I’d just got a text message from Noah, and I said, ‘Yes,’ and she started screaming.”
Photo on a cameraphone
Noah’s final self-portrait
Noah was at “the spot”—where he’d practiced his marksmanship at thirteen with Tom and cut school to fish with his friends. He’d parked his old, brick-red Sonoma pickup in the clearing, between a small patch of birch trees and a discarded, upturned boat seat. With his knife he carved FREEDOM ISN’T FREE in the pickup’s dashboard. He took his photo IDs from his wallet and stabbed his face out of each one. He punched the rearview mirror, smashing the glass. It seemed that Noah couldn’t look at himself. But then he took a picture of himself with his cell phone. It would be the last photograph of Noah alive. And it is a portrait of despair: his shirt is off and he looks as though he’s been crying. Between five and six that evening, he sent a message to both Ryan Nelson and Tyler: “bam life’s a bitch i’m out.”
Noah scrawled a suicide note on the back of an NRA pistol-safety certificate, and then started drinking. “Time’s finally up,” he wrote, “I am not a good person, I have done bad things. I have taken lives, now it’s time to take mine.”
Noah put his .38 Special to his right temple, wedged one of his army dog tags between the muzzle and his skin, and pulled the trigger.
On a bright afternoon in May, Tyler took me there. We drove down an old bumpy track, miles from the nearest paved road. He had a Glock 9 mm pistol stuffed down his pants, and the only time he stopped chain-smoking Marlboro Reds was to light a joint. “This is Big Swamp Road, our old stomping grounds,” he said, slowing for a deer that bounded across the road and disappeared into the pine forest. “We’d go into the woods here, cut down trees, even though we weren’t allowed, and strip the pine boughs for Christmas wreaths. We’d fill the truck, like three feet above the roof, and make forty or fifty bucks.”
It’s remote and depressingly desolate. Like most dead-end roads on the Iron Range, locals use it as a dump, and it overlooks a green pit lake at the end of Enterprise Trail—a dirt road near the railroad, colored a rusty shade of red by the ore. But over the years, it took on a special meaning to Noah and his friends. “It was the place we’d go to get away from it all,” Tyler said. They went there to hang out—cutting school, fishing over the cliff, pounding beers, or passing a joint.
Today, Tyler was hoping to run into Ryan, but there was no one there. Still, Tyler had a sense that someone was going to arrive at any moment, or was already there, watching from the silvery thickets of birch trees. “You always have a feeling there’s something watching you when you’re out in the woods,” Tyler said, parking next to a small white cross for Noah. Tyler reached up and carefully took a feather that had been threaded into the cab’s vinyl roof. “It’s from a partridge,” he said. “Actually it’s ruffed grouse, but everyone calls them partridges.” He put the feather next to an American flag on the cross.
Tyler stared at the memorial for a while, smoking. I was beginning to feel uneasy. “The army does good with brainwashing, teaching them to kill, make killers, but then the guys do what they’ve been trained to do, and they come back and the army doesn’t deal with the aftermath,” he said. “And so, I guess this is the aftermath.”
Man attaching a flag to a cross
Tyler Nuberg at “the spot”
A few weeks before Memorial Day, fresh sod finally was laid over the loose dirt covering Noah at the Cavalry Cemetery in Virginia, a small graveyard that crested a gentle hill, opposite the hospital. His mother and sister, who split their time between here and the spot, had finished decorating veterans’ graves with flags. They sat cross-legged on Noah’s plot, quietly talking. In the first months after Noah’s death, Cheryl had gotten interest from Representatives Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Jim Oberstar (D-Minnesota) and Senators Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) in her proposal to mandate counseling for returning veterans. But now months had passed since she had received word from any of them. (None answered requests for interviews.) Sarah ran a fingernail through the etched letters on the headstone: I-r-a-q, she spelled aloud. “It doesn’t need to say anything else,” Cheryl said.
“Have you had the urge to dig?” Sarah asked her mother. “I started one day. God, I’m so glad that the grass is down now. I just wanted to check he was still down there.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Cheryl said, “that I’m so glad the grass is there, otherwise I’d be digging. Just to get to him, just to see him one more time.”

WCP Yvonne Fletcher (R.I.P.)

Yvonne Fletcher, a 25-year-old woman police constable with the Metropolitan Police Service, was shot and killed outside the Libyan People's Bureau in St James's Square in London on 17 April 1984. WPC Fletcher's killer has never been found.
On 19 November 2015, Commander Richard Walton, head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, announced that a Libyan man had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder WPC Yvonne Fletcher three decades ago. The Libyan aged in his 50s was detained in south-east England and is now in custody. He is also suspected of money laundering offences. Two other Libyan nationals - a woman in her 40s and a man in his 30s - were also arrested on Thursday on suspicion of money laundering. The Met is offering a reward of up to £50,000 for information about the killing, as part of a global social media appeal to identify others involved. Commander Walton said:
"The day Yvonne was shot remains one of the saddest and darkest days in the history of British policing. We have never lost our resolve to solve this case and to bring to justice those who conspired to commit this act of murder."[1]


Official Narrative

WPC Yvonne Fletcher's death resulted in an 11-day police siege of the Embassy, from where the fatal shot was fired. The shooting resulted in the expulsion of the Embassy staff and the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya.[2] Fletcher's murder became a major factor in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's decision to allow US President Ronald Reagan to launch the USAF bombing raid on Libya in 1986 from American bases in Britain.[3]

Noisy protests

The Libyan People's Bureau, 5 St James's Square, London
On the day of her death, WPC Fletcher was one of a detachment of thirty officers sent to the Libyan Embassy, known as the People's Bureau and located at 5 St James's in London, to monitor a demonstration by Libyan dissidents opposed to the rule of Muammar Gaddafi. This particular demonstration was organised by the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF), and was in protest at the execution of two students who had criticised Gaddafi in Tripoli.
Gaddafi loyalists at the People's Bureau had warned the police that they intended to mount a counter-demonstration. About 75 protestors arrived by coach from the North of England for the demonstration, and the police kept them and the loyalists apart by the use of crowd control barriers. Loud music was played from the bureau in an apparent attempt to drown out the shouts of the protestors.[4]


The officers with WPC Fletcher at the time included her fiancé PC John Murray,[5] who described what happened:
"Yvonne was the only female officer on duty outside the Embassy and let's not forget she was just over 5 foot tall. We were facing the crowd, our backs towards the Embassy when at about 10:30 hours there was a loud bang. I thought someone had thrown a firework, then I looked to my right and saw Yvonne fall to the ground, after a few seconds I ran over to her, we were only feet apart, she was writhing around in pain, but I did not know what had happened, other officers joined me and I glanced at the crowd as I cradled Yvonne's head, I saw several of the demonstrators on the ground covered in bloodand they were all screaming, then they all scattered.
"Suddenly all went quiet, the Square seemed to be deserted, Yvonne was lying in the road, I was cradling her head and other officers were around us. It was then I realised she had been shot.
"An ambulance arrived and Yvonne was placed in the rear. I went with her, also in the ambulance were several of the most seriously wounded demonstrators. During the journey, Yvonne said to me her tummy was hurting. I used the medic scissors to cut her skirt open, it seemed to relieve the pressure. I said to Yvonne I didn't know what had happened, but don't worry I promise we will get whoever did this, she seemed to smile, I knew she understood.
"At the hospital she was seen immediately and I was placed in another room. I was later told by the doctor that she was being taken for surgery but she should be OK. About 1 hour later I was told she had died."[6]
WPC Fletcher’s hat and four other police officers' helmets were left lying in the Square during the ensuing siege on the Embassy, and images of them were repeatedly shown on British and international television in the days that followed.


Following the shooting, the Embassy was surrounded by armed police for eleven days, in the longest police siege in London's history. Meanwhile, Gaddafi expressed 'disgust' that his diplomats were not being permitted diplomatic immunity, and Libyan soldiers surrounded Britain's Embassy in Tripoli in response.[7]
The UK Government eventually resolved the incident by allowing the Embassy staff to depart the Bureau and then expelling them from the country. Britain then broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.

Subsequent events

At a press conference on 5 April 1999, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was asked (in relation to the Lockerbie breakthrough): "How quickly do you anticipate relations between the UK and Libya to get back to normal?"
Robin Cook replied:
The United Nations sanctions will now be suspended, and after 90 days will be lifted depending on Kofi Annan's support; that will resolve the international sanctions on Libya.
The United Kingdom does of course also have issues of its own bilateral concerns with Libya, notably the case of the murder of WPC Fletcher. We have said that we would wish to address those issues, and we hope to achieve cooperation with Libya in resolving those issues - hopefully with some good reasonable speed now that we have resolved the Lockerbie case.[8]
In July 1999, the Libyan government publicly accepted 'general responsibility' for the murder and agreed to pay compensation to Fletcher's family. This, together with Libya's eventual efforts in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing, opened the way for the normalisation of relations between the two countries.
On 24 February 2004, the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 reported that the new Libyan prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, had claimed that his country was not responsible for her murder (nor for the Lockerbie bombing). Ghanem said that Libya had made the admission and paid compensation in order to bring 'peace' and an end to international sanctions.[9]


The Official Narrative official view that WPC Fletcher was fired upon and killed by someone in the Libyan Embassy has been disputed by a number of experts, including army ballistics officer Lt-Col George Styles and Home Office pathologist, Hugh Thomas. Prime Minister Tony Blair was questioned on this subject by MP Tam Dalyell in Parliament on 24 June 1997. The Guardian of 23 July 1997 reported a parliamentary speech by Dalyell concerned mainly with the Lockerbie bombing, but also referring to Fletcher's murder:
"With the agreement of Queenie Fletcher, her mother, I raised with the Home Office the three remarkable programmes that were made by Fulcrum, and their producer, Richard Bellfield, called Murder In St. James's.[10][11] Television speculation is one thing, but this was rather more than that, because on film was George Styles, the senior ballistics officer in the British Army, who said that, as a ballistics expert, he believed that the WPC could not have been killed from the second floor of the Libyan embassy, as was suggested.

"Also on film was my friend, Hugh Thomas, who talked about the angles at which bullets could enter bodies, and the position of those bodies. Hugh Thomas was, for years, the consultant surgeon of the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, and I suspect he knows more about bullets entering bodies than anybody else in Britain. Above that was Professor Bernard Knight, who, on and off, has been the Home Office pathologist for 25 years. When Bernard Knight gives evidence on film that the official explanation could not be, it is time for an investigation."[12]
Participants who appeared in Channel 4's Dispatches documentary entitled "Murder In St James's" highlighted such issues as the velocity of the bullet and the angle at which it entered Fletcher's body. Lt-Col Styles stated that a high velocity bullet from a Sterling submachine gun would have passed straight through her body at an angle of 15°, and Hugh Thomas rebutted evidence given by Ian West, the pathologist at the inquest, that the 60° angle of entry of the bullet could be explained by Fletcher's turning to the right or left. The film went on to allege that the anti-Gaddafi organisation Al Burkan, which was allegedly funded by the Reagan White House, had obtained a gun from the Hein terrorist group in West Berlin, and used it to kill Fletcher with a single shot from the sixth floor penthouse at 3 St James's Square - the building adjacent to the Embassy. According to the film, the head of Al Burkan, Ragab Zatout, planned to overthrow Gaddafi and seize control of Libya's oil wealth after the severing of diplomatic relations, but his coup attempt on 8 May 1984 was thwarted by the Libyan army. [13]

Murder investigation

Once diplomatic relations had been restored in 1999, officers from the Metropolitan Police went to Libya on a number of occasions to pursue their investigations into her murder.
In June 2007, detectives from Scotland Yard were able to interview the chief Libyan suspect for the first time, following normalisation of political ties with that country.[14] Detectives spent seven weeks in Libya interviewing both witnesses and suspects. Fletcher's mother, Queenie, described these developments as "promising".
In February 2009, Queenie Fletcher suggested that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who at the time was appealing against his conviction for the Lockerbie bombing, should be moved to a prison in Libya, on condition that the Libyan government co-operates with Scotland Yard detectives investigating her daughter’s murder. Mrs Fletcher said:
"I know he is ill and I think he should be returned to a prison in Libya so his family can visit him. The appeal could still go ahead in Scotland, but he could stay in prison in Libya. It’s got to be a fair exchange, so Yvonne’s case can be closed. I’d like the police here to be given permission to interview whoever they’ve got to interview in Libya and see whoever they need to for someone to be brought to trial." [15]
In October 2009 the Daily Telegraph revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service had been told by an independent prosecutor that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute two Libyans. A report from April 2007 concluded that the two men, who are now senior members of the Libyan regime played an "instrumental role" in the killing.[16]
In September 2011, Yvonne's former fiancé John Murray travelled to Libya to find out whether the change of regime there had brought the prospect of justice for WPC Fletcher any closer. Accompanied by BBC reporter Allan Little, Murray went in search of Matouk Mohamed Matouk, who from documents recently recovered from government offices, had been named as a suspect. They spoke to the National Transitional Council's vice-Chairman Abdel Gogha who told them:
"Matouk is wanted for crimes against the Libyan people. This includes the murder of Yvonne Fletcher because it was committed from the Libyan Embassy. It is also a crime against Libyans. He will be prosecuted for this in Libya."[17]

Call for Public Inquiry

On 17 April 2014, marking the 30th anniversary of WPC Yvonne Fletcher's murder, the following petition for a Public Inquiry was announced on Facebook:
This month it will mark the 30th anniversary the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher shot while standing opposite the Libyan embassy in St James's Sq. Diminutive in height, but large on bravery and character, Yvonne Fletcher was only accepted at 5’ 2” in the Met Police because of sheer, irrepressible enthusiasm and commitment. Are our memories so careless and short for someone who paid the ultimate price as a public servant? WPC Fletcher’s memory deserves the proper dignity and respect of a more thorough enquiry into her death. The controversy surrounding discrepancies of evidence and ballistics in particular suggest we have not served her memory well. The case should never have been closed without finding out beyond all shadow of doubt, who was responsible. We must call now for the case to be reopened and a Public Inquiry established. Please sign and share this petition.[18]

Related Documents

TitleImageTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Terminal VelocityFletcher-placque.jpgarticle1997David GuyattPresents evidence that the shots which killed PC Yvonne Fletcher were not fired from the first floor of the Libyan embassy and that other aspects of the official narrative are anomalous. It refers to the work of Joe Vialls.
Yvonne Fletcher - Death in St James
webpage15 January 1996Joe Vialls
Yvonne Fletcher - Death in St James-2
webpage15 January 1996Joe Vialls


  • "PC Yvonne Fletcher shooting: Libyan man arrested in UK"

  • "Fletcher friend's 27-year quest for justice"

  • "Statement by Margaret Thatcher on US bombing of Libya"

  • ISBN 978-0886876784 "Bloody business: an anecdotal history of Scotland Yard" - page=255

  • "Fiancé is witness". BBC News.

  • "Do Not Forget Yvonne Fletcher"

  • "Gaddafi's 'disgust'"

  • "Robin Cook: 'If the two men are innocent they have nothing to fear from Scottish justice'"

  • "PM Ghanem says Libya not responsible" - BBC Radio 4, 24 February 2004

  • "Murder In St James's" 2-part documentary

  • "Murder in St James's" Fulcrum TV trailer

  • "Forensic evidence disputes that Fletcher was killed from second floor of Libyan embassy"

  • "Libya: Exiled Opposition"

  • "Yvonne Fletcher: the net closes in" - The Guardian 24 June 2007

  • "Mum of shot WPC calls for Megrahi swap" - The Sunday Times 1 February 2009

  • "Yvonne Fletcher: Tories demand Government answers over Libyan killers" - The Daily Telegraph 16 October 2009

  • "Fletcher friend's 27-year quest for justice"

  • Facts about "Yvonne Fletcher"
    Born on1959 +
    ConstitutesMurder + and Deep event +
    DescriptionYvonne Fletcher was shot dead while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy on 17 April 1984, cue for the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya. +
    Died on17 April 1984 +
    Display docTypeWikiSpooks Page +
    Display imageFile:Yvonne Fletcher 1.jpg +
    Display lifespan1959 - 17 April 1984 +
    Has fullPageNameYvonne Fletcher +
    Has fullPageNameeYvonne_Fletcher +
    Has imageFile:Yvonne Fletcher 1.jpg +
    Has image2File:Yvonne Fletcher 1.jpg +
    Has objectClassPerson +
    Has objectClass2Person +
    Has revisionSize17,226 +
    Has revisionUserPatrick Haseldine +
    Has wikipediaPagehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Yvonne_Fletcher +
    Has wikipediaPage2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Yvonne_Fletcher +
    Victim ofMurder +


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