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A Difference is Being Made in Afghanistan

Sally Goodrich, a mother who lost her son in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center on the September 11 attacks, had an opportunity to see the Afghan school being built with money she raised in the U.S.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Sally Goodrich, whose son died in the Sept. 11 attacks, kept a grip on her grief as she surveyed the foundations of the Afghan school being built with money she raised in the United States.

But the 59-year-old, who lost her son in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, has been overwhelmed more than once as she surveyed the striking landscape of mountains and plains where al-Qaida honed its plot.

"How could it possibly have come from a place of such reverence and tranquility?" she told The Associated Press in the Afghan capital this week, the thought bringing fresh tears and a determined smile.

Goodrich, a native of Bennington, Vt., and an administrator for schools in nearby North Adams, Mass., has helped raise about $180,000 for the new girl’s school in Surkh Abat, about 30 miles south of Kabul, in Logar province.

On Wednesday, she visited the site in a fertile valley edged by jagged mountains. Teachers and pupils gave her jewelry and a penholder made of colored beads. Later, they sang songs of welcome.

"All I had to do was maintain my composure, which was the most I could do," Goodrich said in an interview in a government guesthouse in Kabul, wearing a black headscarf even indoors out of respect for the country’s deep-rooted Islamic customs.

A childhood friend of Peter Goodrich, Sally’s son, wrote to Sally and Don Goodrich about the poor state of schools where he was stationed in Afghanistan.  What started as an effort to raise money for supplies turned into a much larger mission.  Supplies were sent to another school in Logar run out of a private home, but the Goodriches and others decided that Afghan children needed more than just supplies. 

Local churches, schools and family friends helped raise the funds for the school, paying some into a memorial foundation. Some of the money also came from compensation paid to families of the victims of the 2001 attacks.

The site for the new school was identified with the help of an Afghan deputy interior minister who once worked as an assistant to David Edwards, a professor at Williams College, in Williamstown, Mass., who also is involved in the project.

Haji Malik, the 60-year-old foreman of the construction site, said the people from seven nearby villages were delighted about the new school and the generosity of the "kind foreign lady."

"I condemn what happened on Sept. 11," Malik said as about 20 men heaved chunks of stone onto the foundations and smothered them in cement. "We are all part of humanity, we are all brothers, even if we have different religions."

One laborer, Ghulam Dastagir, said his three small daughters jumped up and down for joy when they heard about the school, which will serve elementary and middle grades.

Bibi Hawa, a 10-year-old girl minding four cows nearby, said she also would like to come to the school, "but my father won’t let me," suggesting conservative Muslim traditions would deprive some local children of a chance for education.

Sally Goodrich said her visit was heartwarming and that the 10 female teachers had made clear their sympathy for her loss.

"You see it in they eyes, that they understand suffering," she said.

Sally and her husband plan to return to see the first classes in the completed building, which will fall around the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. 

Truly this story transcends politics and all of the critical fingerpointing we have seen since September 11.  Girls, who just 4-5 years ago would never have had an opportunity to go to school, will be attending a brand new school built because of the generous outpouring of Americans - those who were greatly impacted by the attacks that were planned on the very soil the school’s foundation now stands. 

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Domestic Strangulation Gets Probation

Nebraska has a new law that went into effect in Mid-April that classifies domestic strangulation as a Class 4 Felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. 

The first conviction has made its way through the court system (emphasis mine): 

LA VISTA, Neb.  What may be Nebraska’s first felony strangulation conviction has made its way through the courts, but the victim’s family isn’t happy with the outcome. The new classification of domestic strangulation as a crime is punishable by up to five years in prison, but Daniel Chumley, of La Vista, got probation. The victim’s family believes the system let them down, but the Sarpy County Attorney feels differently. 

Memorial weekend 2004, Tiffany Johnson’s ex-boyfriend, Daniel Chumley, showed up at her apartment and strangled her with his hands.  "She was choked, basically, to unconsciousness," said Christi Adams, Johnson’s mother.  Chumley ran and hid at his mother’s house. He staged a four-hour standoff with police, which ended when tear gas finally forced him out.

Adams said her daughter lives in fear of Chumley. When Chumley pleaded guilty to a felony charge under Nebraska’s new strangulation statute she had hoped he would be sentenced to one to three years in prison.  "So, it was quite a shock when she got a phone call on the morning of sentencing that there was a possibility this judge would give him probation," said Adams.

Chumley was not sentenced to one to three years; he received probation, even though he’s in jail now for violating DUI probation.  Sarpy County District Judge William Zastera sentenced Chumley to 30 months probation. He must refrain from alcohol use and complete an inpatient treatment program. Zastera declined to comment on the case.

Chief Deputy Sarpy County Attorney Tricia Freeman, who helped draft the strangulation legislation, said without the new felony law, Chumley may have gotten off on a misdemeanor.  Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov believes the system worked.  "A felony conviction is a serious condition," said Polikov. "It’s a defendant who’s going to have to jump through some significant hoops. And if he doesn’t, I’m sure he’ll do time."

I certainly appreciate the fact that this case didn’t turn out to bring with it a misdemeanor offense, but instead of writing a law to segment this type of crime out from others, I think it would have been a more valuable effort to strengthen the law to charge these types of criminals more heavily, more aligned with attempted murder, not merely assault.  I’m finding it hard to understand why strangling someone to unconsciousness wouldn’t be considered attempted murder, carrying with it a much stronger penalty.  It seems to be that laws are written to err on the side of the criminal with the questionable behavior versus protecting the victim.  This man should be serving time in a facility, not on probation.