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The week at a glance ... United States

United States

Los AngelesSuicide sparks teacher outrage: The city’s teachers union this week called for a boycott of the Los Angeles Times, claiming its publication of individual teacher rankings drove fifth-grade teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., 39, to suicide. Ruelas’ body was found beneath a remote bridge this week, and union official Matthew Taylor said despondency over being ranked a “less effective” teacher was a contributing factor in his death. The Times offered condolences, but said “parents and the public have a right to judge the data.” L.A. schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines and teachers say the rankings, based partly on students’ standardized test scores, don’t give a fair or complete picture of teachers like Ruelas, who helped problem kids in a poor, gang-plagued, and mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

AustinStudent goes on shooting spree: A quiet math major with excellent grades pulled on a dark ski mask and began spraying the University of Texas campus with bullets from an assault rifle this week, before killing himself. Colton Tooley, a sophomore described as “brilliant,” “meticulous,” and “respectful,” suddenly appeared on a campus street with an AK-47, and fired at least six shots toward a church and into the air. It was unclear, police said, if he actually shot at anyone, and no one was hurt. When police arrived, Tooley ran into a library, where he turned the weapon on himself. A relative said the family was shocked, describing Tooley as “a very smart guy” who “wouldn’t or couldn’t hurt a fly.” In 1966, the same campus was the scene of one of the nation’s worst mass shootings, when Charles Whitman shot and killed 16 people and wounded nearly three dozen.

Wisconsin and MinnesotaFloods swamp Midwest: Heavy rains deluged the Upper Midwest last week, flooding already swamped towns and displacing hundreds of residents. The rising Wisconsin River turned one neighborhood in rural Caledonia, Wis., into a virtual island. Hundreds of homes in the small towns of Owatonna, Minn., and Arcadia, Wis., were evacuated as floodwaters from smaller rivers surged through main thoroughfares. The Mississippi River was also about 4 feet above normal levels. Exhausted emergency personnel worked around the clock to deal with the flooding, and prison inmates were put to work sandbagging structures. In Northfield, Minn., officials and volunteers used nets and their hands to capture more than 100 large fish, including hefty carp, that were swimming down a sidewalk. 

Jarratt, Va.Woman executed: Virginia executed 41-year-old Teresa Lewis last week, despite pleas to spare her on the grounds that she was mentally deficient. She was the first female to be executed in the U.S. in five years. Lewis was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the 2002 contract killing of her husband and stepson, after she plotted to collect a $250,000 life insurance policy. Her case drew widespread protests because a test revealed Lewis’ IQ to be 72—just two points above the standard cutoff for the mentally retarded, who cannot be executed. Her co-conspirators, who actually did the killing, were sentenced to life terms. Defense attorneys said that the co-conspirators had talked Lewis into the murder plot, quoting one of them as telling friends, “From the moment I met her I knew she was someone who could be easily manipulated.”

AtlantaPastor faces sex charges: The pastor of an African-American megachurch who has long condemned homosexuality was embroiled in scandal this week, after four men—all former members of his church—accused him of luring them into sex when they were teenagers. Bishop Eddie Long, head of the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, was slapped with four lawsuits by former congregants who said he’d enticed them into secretive relationships, rewarding their complicity with cars, trips, and jewelry. From his pulpit last Sunday, Long, 57, made an ambiguous defense, saying, “I am not the man that’s being portrayed on the television,” and, “I want you to know that I am not a perfect man, but this thing I’m going to fight.” One of his accusers, Jamal Parris, said Long had been like a father to him, and that his sexualizing their relationship “hurt worse than anything I ever felt in my life.”

FloridaGay adoption ban struck down: A law banning adoptions by gay men and women was declared unconstitutional last week by a Florida appeals court. The three-judge panel found “no rational justification” for the 1977 law, which automatically excludes gays and lesbians from the pool of prospective parents, while allowing case-by-case reviews for candidates with histories of abusing or neglecting children. The court said the state provided no evidence to support the assertion that heterosexuals are better parental role models, and that all the evidence indicated that gays can be excellent parents. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who’d supported the ban before he left the Republican Party to run for Senate as an independent, said the statute would no longer be enforced and that the ruling marked “a great day for children.”

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