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Still Haunted After a Case Goes Cold

The aftermath was different for each of her sons. Devin was so young, only 5 at the time of the killing, the shadow of his father s death just beginning to penetrate him.

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Shamel, the oldest son, 18 then, cradled memories of his superdad. He replayed his first recollection of his father, when he gave him candy. Shamel clamped up and took to bad habits. I was young and dumb, he said. I got high and I got drunk.

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Michael, who was 11, suffered recurring dreams. That night. Watching TV. Hearing gunshots. Rushing to the front porch. Seeing his father lying dead on the street.

He closed down and lost himself in basketball, which he had played with his father. When I played, my father was there, he said. I pretty much played sunup to sunset.

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For Ms. Gowins-Sowells, life became thin. She found herself getting testy. When her sons acted up, she wanted to hit them. Then she scolded herself, they re grieving, that s what it is.

She had to stop abiding the past, which had nothing left for her. New York, where the center of her life had gone missing, felt stifling. She needed to be someplace else.

The refuge she chose was Florence, S.C. Relatives lived there, but no jobs presented themselves. One day, while visiting a friend in Kentucky, she found work selling cellphones and settled in the town of Radcliff. After a while, she switched to an administrative position at a medical clinic.

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Lonely years ground by. Shamel disliked the transition. He returned to New York, started working at Popeyes and stayed with his aunt. Eventually he found a girlfriend, and they moved to Pennsylvania.

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That the killer was free filled Ms. Gowins-Sowells s mind with illogical possibilities. She worried that a friend of hers or even her sons might somehow become friends with the killer, unaware of what he had done. These unwilled thoughts haunted her.

Though she accepted a couple of dates, there was no magic and she backed away from romance.

She lost herself in her imagination. She wrote two romance novels, titillating stories, that she self-published. She conceived movie scripts. It diverted her, kept bad thoughts from slinking back into her head.

She sensed she was nearing the point of editing the killing from her life. Then one day she walked into a Walmart and spotted a man with dreadlocks. She got chills. She walked out.

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She knew to keep busy. She decided to start an organization that would conduct workshops to help survivors of unsolved killings, especially parents raising children of victims, people with jumbled lives like hers having trouble accepting that no one would pay. She named it the Keyz Organization[7] (her shorthand for caring eyes ). Figuring a big city would have a need, she moved to Atlanta. But she couldn t get funding.

Her life kept folding itself into that long ago July night. Wherever she went, she looked for the Honda. For the killer. Who knows, maybe he came to Florence. To Radcliff. To Atlanta. Made no sense, but this was how her mind now operated, rebelling against sense.

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She dearly wanted facts, some sequence that would make a coherent narrative of a Brooklyn night and would explain why she no longer had a husband.

She could do her workshops wherever she lived. Early last year, she decided it was time to return home and look for answers.

Photo Still Haunted After A Case Goes Cold Mr. Sowells and Ms. Gowins-Sowells with their children, Shamel, standing; Devin, on lap; and Michael circa 1997.

The lead detective on the case worked out of the 75th Police Precinct in Brooklyn. She had not spoken to him in years: Mark Brooks. Unable to get him on the phone, she went to the precinct.

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Detective Brooks had worked a lot of homicides in 32 years on the police force. Unsolved homicide cases are never closed, no matter how cold they get. A year or so ago, he had gone to Puerto Rico and made an arrest in a Brooklyn killing from 1989.

The detective told Ms. Gowins-Sowells that he remembered the case like yesterday. Remembered the immovable heat of the night. Remembered her sons and their tears. He had a good memory for cases.

But all he could give her were just smattered details.

Later, in an interview, Detective Brooks said that he spoke to more than five witnesses, and that they said a dispute over a parking space led to the killing. Within the first week, he said, he decided the case was going nowhere. Several months later, he revisited it and nothing new was there. Then you go on to the next one, he said.

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Ms. Gowins-Sowells had heard other theories, something circulated on the street, that it might have been a hit, that money was owed or drugs were involved. And that her brother, Kennedy Gowins, known as Leroy, was somehow connected. And that her husband had introduced her brother to a next-door neighbor, that the neighbor had been killed in the Bronx a year after her husband was.

A hit? Her husband? This version puzzled her and left her deeply unsettled. Was this the truth she was seeking?

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For sure there was turbulence in her family. Leroy Gowins had been living in Utica, N.Y., but he would come around. He had done time for drug possession but said he had abandoned that and was selling T-shirts and hats. Two days before her husband was killed, he had been shot in the head while being robbed in Utica. He survived but lost his sight. The police there had asked him if he knew anything about the Sowells killing and he said he didn t. He now lives in Brooklyn.

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Ms. Gowins-Sowells asked to see the police file on her husband but got nowhere.

She made call after call to the police, sensing they were uninterested. Once, without meaning to be clever, she even asked: When does it get to the point where I m harassing the police? I don t want to get to that point.

She found out nothing more. The case stood still.

On a recent weekday afternoon Ms. Gowins-Sowells lounged on a bench in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, a good place to clear her head. She basked in the unsparing sun, the sky bright as silver. Her heart unexpectedly had been giving her trouble and she had to be hospitalized, found herself in a partial coma, but now she was on the mend.

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She has a round, pleasant face and a mellifluous voice. Her light laugh comes easily on the right subjects. She cries readily when conversation switches to her dead husband.

In her reconfigured life, it had been hard getting her footing. Until she could afford her own place, she had been staying with relatives, and then with a good friend who lives alone in Far Rockaway, Queens, who said she should move in with her.

Michael, now 28, is working as a shift leader at a gas station in Chambersburg, Pa. He still has nightmares, especially on his father s birthday and the day of his death. He replays fond memories: The other day I was telling one of my brothers I remember he was always cleaning. We d wake up, it could be 7 a.m., and he would have breakfast cooking and he would have cleaned the house and he would even have a room or two painted.

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Shamel, now 35, works repairing iPhones in Carlisle, Pa. He thinks of his father all the time. He taught me the value of family, he said. He taught me how to handle money. You don t buy things you want. You buy things you need. I can t see myself buying $350 sneakers. I like paying bills. I check the mailbox to see if I ve got any bills. When I pay a bill, I feel happy.

He doesn t fixate on the killing and its lack of resolution. I ve moved on, he said. My mom needs closure. I don t. That s why I don t talk about it with her. When she brings it up, I try to change the subject.

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Devin, the youngest, is 21, a senior at the University of Kentucky.

For 16 years, Ms. Gowins-Sowells has lived without her husband. She was 32 when he was killed, and now she is 49. She has not remarried. She had gone on a grand total of three dates, love proving elusive. I don t mind dating, she said, but there are all these knuckleheads. I m not picky, but I want someone who I can hold an intelligent conversation with.

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References

  1. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  7. ^ Keyz Organization (www.facebook.com)
  8. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  9. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  10. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  11. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  12. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  13. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  14. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  15. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  16. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)

‘Confused’ Traveler Charged With Trespassing After Wandering Past …

A man has been arrested in connection with a security breach that set off an evacuation of a busy terminal at LaGuardia Airport earlier this week, officials said Thursday. The man, identified as Phani Kumar Varanasi, voluntarily turned himself in after authorities tracked him down at his brother’s home in Secaucus, New Jersey. Varanasi, who lives in India but flew in from Detroit, told police that he was “confused about where he was supposed to pick up his luggage,” according to a Port Authority spokesperson. Surveillance video from the scene[1] allegedly shows Varanasi leisurely strolling past a TSA agent stationed at a security checkpoint. Varanasi then spent 5 minutes in the “sterile area” before returning the way he came, the Port Authority representative said. The breach trigged a full evacuation of LaGuardia’s Terminal B, though “nothing dangerous” was found in the sweep, according to a TSA statement.

The TSA also noted that “appropriate action will be taken” against their employee, but did not divulge further specifics.

Following the incident, Long Island Congressman Peter King demanded a full explanation for the breach, which he called “extremely serious.”

“It could have been an incidental mistake, but we have zero margin of error at this time” King said. “We saw what happened in Manchester and other incidents around the world; we just can’t let our guard down.”

Varanasi was charged late last night with criminal trespassing. He is expected to appear in a Queens court on Thursday afternoon.

References

  1. ^ video from the scene (www.nydailynews.com)

Arrest Made In LaGuardia Airport Security Breach « CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police arrested a man Thursday in a security breach[1] earlier this week at LaGuardia Airport s busy central terminal.

As CBS2 s Tony Aiello reported, the man Pano Kumar Varanasi was charged with criminal trespass. Varanasi, 41, had been visiting family in New Jersey from India. Police said they were able to track Varanasi to his brother s home in New Jersey. He came back to the airport voluntarily and was arrested, WCBS 880 s Marla Diamond reported. On Tuesday night, Varanasi allegedly caused a security breach apparently unintentionally. He walked into the Terminal B secure area through an exit right past a Transportation Security Administration agent who was supposed to stop him but did not.

Surveillance video shows the agent looking on.

He has a bulge under his sweatshirt which clearly causes serious concern, said security expert Anthony Roman. For a critical checkpoint like this, it s just unforgivable. According to the TSA, the guard on duty at the time is facing disciplinary action and may lose her job. This wasn t the only slip-up in the chain of events Tuesday, CBS2 s Magdalena Doris reported. Sources said there was a delay in getting this critical information to Port Authority police, who determined the terminal had to be cleared, searched for bombs and each passenger rescreened.

Port Authority police issued an alert for officers to be on the look out for Varanasi and scoured surveillance video which helped them match the man with an airplane ticket, Doris reported. They determined Varanasi was a passenger from India in the area to visit family and that he was confused as he walked through the exit, Doris said. Police said Varanasi is cooperating with the investigation. The breach raises serious concern and Roman says it could serve as an example for terrorists of what works.

It is just as useful for terror cells planning attacks to observe weak points in that fashion as it is to run dry runs themselves, he said.

People at the airport Thursday were disappointed in the situation.

It s terrible see something like this because you don t know their intentions, said Zach Fritzhand. And it just goes to show that you never know what the person to your left or right s going to do.

If his job is to keep people from passing through and someone passed through, yeah, that s an issue, said Quentin Hardy. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) issued a letter to the TSA demanding an explanation of what happened on behalf of the Homeland Security committee, calling the security breach extremely serious.

We saw what happened in Manchester, King said. We have to constantly be on our guard, and this was a breach that has to be explained and corrected. King said terrorists could easily take advantage of a lax security situation.

We have to have ironclad security, because ISIS is probing; they re looking. They will see an incident like this, by the way, and try to take advantage of it, he said.

Late Thursday, Varanasi s wife and sister-in-law were at Queens Criminal Court waiting for his arraignment. They declined comment. Varanasi is described as cooperative with police. He told investigators he got confused after flying to LaGuardia from Detroit, and didn t realize he was breaching security. The incident comes as the TSA is testing stricter policies at 10 airports nationwide, now asking passengers to remove items like food, paper and electronics bigger than a cell phone from their carry-ons into a separate bin.

Airport security expert Marshall McClain warns the process will cause back-ups and won t likely act as a deterrent.

To truly have something to deter, you re still going to have to have armed police officers to do that rather than worrying about whether people have too many papers in their luggage, he said. The TSA has not yet extended that pilot program to airports in the New York area. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump s proposed budget eliminates funding for TSA agents at airport exit lanes. Many in Congress said they will fight to keep that $77 million in the budget.

References

  1. ^ in a security breach (newyork.cbslocal.com)
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