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Non-binary camp counselors enrage parents of Los Alamitos fifth-graders

“It’s awful that children had to even experience this in fifth-grade camp […] If I was aware of it I would have kept my children home”

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Screenshot via KTLA

LOS ALAMITOS – A three-day overnight science camp for fifth-grade girls in the San Bernardino Mountains near Running Springs has erupted in controversy after a group of parents found out that non-binary counselors slept in the same cabins.

A group of parents of students at Weaver Elementary School in Los Alamitos are upset with the Los Alamitos Unified School District after their children informed them that “biologically male counselors,” who use they/them pronouns, were sleeping in the same cabins as the girls.

KTLA 5 reported that one parent Rachel Sandoval, said: “I contacted the school and asked them if they were able to confirm that there was not a man actually sleeping in the same cabin as the girls. They were not able to confirm that.”

“No parent should feel the way I feel after knowing what could have happened to my daughter,” another parent Suzy Johnson, told KTLA.

The parents told the station that they weren’t alleging that a crime was committed just that the omission of the policy of the camp was not disclosed. Speaking with KTLA, Emmi Teige, the assistant director of Camp Pali said, “Per California law, we place staff in cabins they identify with.”

Screenshot via KTLA

“It’s awful that children had to even experience this in fifth-grade camp,” Johnson told KTLA. “If I was aware of it and I had initialed something saying this was going to be done at this outdoor science camp, I would have kept my children home.”

The Los Alamitos Unified School District has had LGBTQ+ issues escalate previous to this incident. Tensions ran high in the Los Alamitos Unified School District after parents learned that a teacher at Oak Middle School at the start of the school year asked his students to let him know what their preferred pronouns are during classes. 

One of the parents who is organizing a recall petition for the school board implied that the teacher was acting in a deviant manner. “[The teacher] had been asking students to share their gender identification and gender preference and not be scared to do that, but you could see it as a certain way of communicating with children,” Robert Aguilar said to Spectrum News outside a school board meeting. “However, there are parents that believe that is not the place for a science teacher. There was some concern, ‘Why would an adult man be asking minor children under the age of 14 about their sexuality?’”

The battle over the use of pronouns in the Los Alamitos Unified School District is reflective of controversies in thousands of school districts across the United States over the past 14 months, driven in part by severe disagreements over requirements for face masks and vaccinations to battles over the rights of Transgender students.

A spokesperson for the district told KTLA the district takes all complaints and concerns seriously and is currently investigating.

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Orange County

Accused killer of gay U of Penn student found competent for trial

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Blaze Bernstein (Center) with his parents Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Bernstein in this undated photo (Courtesy of the Bernstein family)

SANTA ANA – The accused killer of Blaze Bernstein, 19, a gay Jewish University of Pennsylvania student brutally stabbed to death four years ago has been found competent to stand trial Assistant Orange County Public Defender Ken Morrison told a Superior Court judge on Friday morning.

Samuel Lincoln Woodward of Newport Beach, who was 21 at the time of the murder, had the criminal court proceedings first procedurally delayed and then again after his previous defense lawyer raised the issue over his mental competency.

On Nov. 9, 2018, Woodward had entered a plea of not guilty to murder  in Orange County Superior Court. Judge Kimberly Menninger denied bail, saying she thought Woodward posed a danger to the community after seeing troves of evidence linking Woodward to anti-gay, anti-Semitic messages and propaganda from the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, which apparently reveled in Bernstein’s brutal murder.

“I love this,” one member wrote of the killing, according to copies of the online chats obtained by ProPublica, which exposed Woodward’s involvement with Atomwaffen on Jan. 26. “Sam did something stupid,” wrote one member. “Not that the faggot kike didn’t deserve to die. Just simply not worth a life in prison for.”

Many of Bernstein and Woodward’s classmates from their former Orange County high school thought it was odd that the two were together because, Bernstein’s best friend Raiah Rofsky told CBS News “48 Hours,” Woodward “was literally known as being a crazy, homophobic, racist guy.”

Woodward’s social media post showing him giving a Nazi salute (Screenshot/CBS News 48 Hours)

The Orange County Register reported Friday two mental health experts who evaluated Woodward — one chosen by the defense, the other by the prosecution — determined that Woodward is competent to stand trial. 

The Register noted that the reports from the mental health experts who evaluated Woodward were filed under seal, and their contents were not discussed during the brief hearing on Friday morning. For a defendant to be considered competent to stand trial, they must be capable of understanding the proceedings and able to assist with their own defense.

A previous defense attorney in mid-July raised unspecified concerns about Woodward’s mental competency. The competency decision was delayed in early-September after Woodward refused to meet with one of the experts assigned to evaluate him. It isn’t clear whether such a meeting ultimately took place before the experts submitted their reports to the court.

Bernstein, 19, a brilliant gay Jewish University of Pennsylvania student was home for the holidays and disappeared January 2, 2018. His body, with 20 stab wounds to the face and neck, was discovered in a shallow Borrego Park grave a week later. DNA evidence led authorities to Woodward, Bernstein’s Orange County high school classmate, who was arrested on Jan. 12. Bernstein’s blood found was in Woodward’s car.

When Orange County investigators first went to meet with him, Woodward was apparently cooperative, telling them and Blaze’s parents “that he and Blaze went to Borrego Park to hang out.” According to Woodward, after awhile Blaze walked down a path alone and disappeared into the brush. Later OC investigators say that Woodward claimed Bernstein tried to kiss him while they both sat in a car at Borrego Park and then he told investigators that he pushed Bernstein away.

Prosecutors allege that Woodward actually stabbed Bernstein to death and buried him in the dirt at the edge of of the park, where the body was discovered six days later.

A pretrial hearing was set for Jan. 27 , 2023 and a date for the jury trial has not yet been scheduled.

After their son’s murder, Gideon and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein established a scholarship fund for foster care and at risk kids at Blaze’s former Orange County high school.

Additional Los Angeles Blade archival reporting from Karen Ocamb

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Orange County

Orange County gay teen has had it with homophobia

Lauren & Nathan Jones said they hope their son’s story give more people voices & show “no one should ever have to go through this alone”

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Landon Jones/Instagram

LAKE FOREST, Ca. – An openly gay senior at El Toro High School in this wealthy conservative enclave of Orange County has had it with homophobia, especially when it appears at his front door, literally. Earlier this month 18-year-old Landon Jones posted video captured from his family’s ring.com surveillance camera that displayed the homophobic abuse that occurred, which has now gone viral.

In the TikTok post Jones says “I have been called ‘faggot’ countless times at school, and it literally doesn’t bother me at all,” but he adds, “The fact that they came to my house does.”

In his Instagram post, Jones noted; “a group of boys from @eltorohs most of them being on the @eltoro_football team have repeatedly harassed me and called me slurs. i usually don’t let these things bother me, in fact i laugh because they say they hate me yet continue to go out of their way to give me their attention. but last night i was visited by one of these kids at my house. my family and i are angry. we are done.”

An Orange County sheriff’s spokesperson told NBC News that a school resource officer at El Toro High School was able to speak to “individuals that may or may not have been involved in this incident” or “possibly have knowledge of the incident.” The officer said the person who walked up to the Jones home hasn’t been identified, adding that the “investigation remains ongoing.” 

While Jones still attends El Toro High School, he transitioned to virtual schooling at the start of the school year because of “bullying and a rough experience with the school,” he told NBC News.

In addition to the incident at his home, Jones in the same TikTok post also shared a homophobic bullying incident at a Starbucks near his home. Jones told NBC News that he decided to share both incidents on TikTok, where he has nearly 700,000 followers, because “I’m sick of being silent about it. So I finally spoke up.”

A spokesperson for the school district said the “unconscionable acts committed against Landon Jones do not reflect the feelings or values of Saddleback Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) and El Toro High School (ETHS).”

“ETHS and SVUSD administration, together with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), immediately launched a comprehensive investigation to uncover the facts of the incidents,” Wendie Hauschild, the director of communications and administrative services for the school district, said in an email to NBC.

“We can confirm that the person seen in the surveillance video of the incident that took place at a private home is not a student in SVUSD. Due to the confidentiality that we are required by law to uphold for our students, as well as other minors, SVUSD is unable to share further information regarding the results of the investigation. SVUSD remains steadfast in its commitment to create inclusive, supportive, and safe environments for all students on our campuses.”

The TikTok video has generated more than 1.3 million views and over 11,000 comments including some celebrities and social media influencers. Jones, reflecting on the outpouring of positivity said, “One of the last things that I had expected was the amount of support from the community that I would have gotten.”

@allclearforlandon #lgbt #fyp #hatecrime ♬ original sound – Landon Jones

His parents, Lauren and Nathan told NBC they hope their son’s story will give more people voices and show “that no one should ever have to go through this alone.”

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Orange County

Teen inspires his community recovering after horrific accident

The 17-year-old Trabuco Hills High School senior said that his focus is to get up and walk, run and be active again as soon as possible

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Screenshot/YouTube KTLA 5

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Ca. – The summer between year 11 and year 12 is often marked by a flurry of activities many in anticipation of the final year of high school for most young people. But for 17-year-old Cruz Melendez, his senior summer was spent recovering from at least 16 operations including amputation of his right foot after a horrific accident.

KTLA 5’s John Fenoglio reported Saturday that after the 88 days spent in CHOC Children’s Hospital in Mission Viejo as a result of being seriously injured when he was hit head-on by another vehicle at the intersection of Antonio Parkway at Tijeras Creek Road in Rancho Santa Margarita, the teenager was discharged to go home.

According to KTLA, the driver of the other vehicle was killed in the crash. Their passenger, as well as Cruz, were hospitalized with serious injuries.

Cruz’s mom, Rahnee Melendez, described the moment she realized something was wrong on that May night.

“When I got a call at 2 a.m., I just knew, I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I didn’t even answer the phone. I just went straight to his room and he was not there.”

Speaking with KTLA, the 17-year-old Trabuco Hills High School senior said that his focus is to get up and walk, run and be active again as soon as possible expressing thanks for all of the support he’s received while in hospital.

“I am just so grateful for my friends and family. Everyone else who has reached out and giving me donations and stuff. It’s just amazing.”

The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help with the costs of Cruz’s medical treatment and rehabilitation. To read more, click here.

KTLA 5’s John Fenoglio reports:

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Orange County

Right-wing news anchor delivers obscenity-laden homophobic rant

“Guess what I came home to be greeted with? This fucking bullshit. [points to Rainbow Pride flag] What the hell is that?”

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Alison Steinberg (Screenshot/Twitter-Ron Filipkowski)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Ca. – Alison Steinberg, an anchor and contributor for right-wing extremist media outlet One America News, launched into an obscenity-laden rant captured in a now viral video over an LGBTQ+ Pride flag flying in the beachfront business district of Huntington Beach commemorating Pride Month.

Steinberg had originally posted her video to her Instagram account but it was later removed.

In the rant Steinberg is heard saying: “And guess what I came home to be greeted with? This fucking bullshit. [points to Rainbow Pride flag] What the hell is that? Huntington Beach is the town of good old-fashioned hard-working American people, much less human. People who worked all through the COVID lockdown. Yes, that’s right. Huntington Beach never shut down through any of the COVID nonsense fuckery. And now we’re peddling this garbage?”

“What the hell is this? The only flag that should be up there is that American flag. This is a disgrace to our city and it should be taken down immediately. Whoever the hell is running this town needs to be fired. Make America great again. Make Huntington Beach great.”

Ron Filipkowski, a defense lawyer and former Assistant United States Attorney had captured the video and uploaded it to his Twitter account where many of his 402.9K followers retweeted it:

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Orange County

Mass shooting at a church in Orange County- 1 dead, 4 wounded

Deputies were dispatched to a scene of a shooting in the 24000 block of El Toro Road at around 2 p.m Sunday

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Screenshot/KABC 7 News LA

LAGUNA WOOD – Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies were dispatched to a scene of shooting at 1:26 p.m. at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in the 24000 block of El Toro Road Sunday afternoon.

The Orange County officials on scene confirmed that one person was killed and four others were critically wounded during the incident, one other individual also suffered minor injuries.

UPDATED SUNDAY: Churchgoers stopped and hogtied the shooter, described as an Asian male in his 60s, preventing further carnage. “That group of churchgoers displayed what we believe is exceptional heroism … and bravery,” Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told reporters.

UPDATED MONDAY: Orange County sheriff’s officials have identified David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas as the suspect in Sunday’s shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church. Chou was arrested Sunday and is being held in lieu of $1-million, jail records show.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said he was booked on one count of murder and five counts attempted murder. But authorities are still trying to determine the motive for the shooting, which left one churchgoer dead and five others injured.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Chou appeared to be motivated by political hatred of the Taiwanese community, Orange County sheriff’s officials said. While investigators provided few details, they said their investigation suggests the deadly attack was a “politically motivated hate crime” carried out by David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas.

“Based on preliminary information in the investigation, it is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” Sheriff Don Barnes said.

Another man who saw the attack Sunday at Geneva Presbyterian Church told the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets that a pastor struck the gunman with a chair while he was reloading, giving others a chance to tackle and hogtie the suspect. The shooting marred what was meant to be a special occasion: The pastor had just returned from two years in Taiwan

According to the OCSD on Twitter: “Deputies are responding to reports of a shooting at a church on the 24000 block of El Toro Road in Laguna Woods. Multiple victims have been shot. More details to follow, PIO en route. We have detained one person and have recovered a weapon that may be involved.

The Orange County Fire Department tweeted “Our FF/PM’s are on scene and treating and transporting multiple patients. Updates will follow.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office released a statement Sunday afternoon that said it was monitoring the shooting and working closely with local law enforcement.

“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the statement read.

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Orange County

Alleged sexual assault of male footballer at Catholic H.S. by teammates

The allegation follows months of controversy over an alleged hazing scandal involving the football program at the elite private high school

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Mater Dei High School/Facebook

SANTA ANA – Details in the alleged sexual assault of a teen football player at Mater Dei High School were published Monday by the Los Angeles Times. According to the paper, the incident occurred two weeks after the student started attending the private school in Santa Ana.

The Times reported that last August in a locker room at Mater Dei, several football players forced a teammate to the floor and exposed their genitals, according to a Santa Ana Police Department document. They held him down as one player “began humping” him from behind, through his pants.

The incident allegedly happened in late August, two weeks after the student started school at Mater Dei, home to one of the country’s most celebrated high school football programs. He wasn’t physically hurt, but the episode left him suffering from anxiety, police said in the document. He left Mater Dei shortly afterward.

The allegation follows months of controversy over an alleged hazing scandal involving the football program at the elite private high school.

Read the full LA Times story here.

From KTLA:

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