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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:

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

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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Orange County

OC man shoots boyfriend, SoCal police chase his U-Haul, SWAT ending

He was transported to the Orange County Jail and booked for attempted murder and other charges related to the pursuit

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Courtesy of the Garden Grove Police Department

GARDEN GROVE – An Anaheim man has been charged with attempted murder after shooting his boyfriend and then leading multiple Southern California police agencies in a multi-county high-speed pursuit in a U-Haul truck that ended with a SWAT team removing the suspect from the vehicle.

According to the Garden Grove Police Department, Ali Samoodi, 51, shot the unidentified male victim that he was in a relationship with at about 2:45 a.m and then fled the scene in the 5300 block of Santa Barbara Avenue, Garden Grove, in a U-Haul truck.

The victim was taken to hospital suffering from a gunshot wound to his head and remains in critical condition.

In the press release, the Garden Grove Police Department (GGPD) noted that the vehicle was tracked to Menifee where officers from Menifee Police Department attempted a traffic stop.

“The suspect failed to stop and led Menifee Police Department, Riverside County Sheriffs and the California Highway Patrol on a high speed pursuit for approximately 33 miles,” the GGPD release said.

Police say that after “multiple traffic collisions” that left the U-Haul “no longer operable,” Samoodi stopped his vehicle near the 10 Freeway and Cedar Avenue in Bloomington, where he refused to get out creating a stand-off situation.

“SWAT from the Riverside County Sheriffs responded and took the suspect into custody a short time later. The suspect did not sustain any injuries and was transported back to the Garden Grove Police Department,” the press statement continued.

He was transported to the Orange County Jail and booked for attempted murder and other charges related to the pursuit.

The investigation is ongoing and any witnesses are asked to contact Garden Grove Police Detective Terra Ramirez at 714-741-5839

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Orange County

Costa Mesa Police seek public’s help in locating man assaulting women

Young films his attacks, presumably to post them for the enjoyment of other incels. He reportedly calls his vehicle his “rape van”

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

COSTA MESA – The Costa Mesa Police Department is seeking information on the whereabouts of a wanted suspect, Johnny Young.

Young, a self-described involuntary celibate (incel), is wanted in connection to several hate crimes. Young has confronted several females outside of bars in Costa Mesa using vulgar and explicit language. These confrontations have led to him assaulting several people. He is known to drive a Chevy cargo van with a green stripe.

Anyone with information is asked to contact [email protected] or 714-754-4908

Incel is commonly defined as:
A person who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility towards those who are sexually active.

Costa Mesa Police Department

From KCBS Los Angeles: Costa Mesa police searching for man who pepper sprayed 2 women:

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Orange County

Dangerous & violent Orange County teen criminal back in custody

Souzer was arrested Sunday according to Santa Ana police although details of his arrest were not immediately known

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Graphic/Santa Ana Police Department

SANTA ANA – 18-year-old Ike Nicholas Souzer, an Orange County resident described as “extremely dangerous and violent” by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is back in custody after absconding and at large after being released on electronic monitoring to a Santa Ana halfway house from the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange earlier this week.

Souzer was arrested Sunday according to Santa Ana police although details of his arrest were not immediately known.

Souzer was convicted of voluntary manslaughter after he stabbed his mother, Barbara Scheuer-Souzer, 47, in Garden Grove on May 4, 2017 when he was 13.

KTLA reported that before she died, Scheuer-Souzer who had been stabbed multiple times in the stomach, had identified her son as the attacker.

In addition to other charges, he was convicted in December of attacking three correctional officers and was ordered to wear an electronic monitor for the remainder of his sentence which was set to expire on July 9, 2023.

Ike Souzer mugshot via Orange County District Attorney’s Office
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Orange County

Orange County DA warns “extremely dangerous & violent criminal” is loose

He is considered to be “extremely dangerous and violent- If you see him, you are urged not to approach him and to call 911 immediately

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Ike Souzer mugshot via Orange County District Attorney’s Office

SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office is warning the public about an extremely dangerous and violent criminal who is now at large after being released on electronic monitoring to a Santa Ana halfway house from the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange.

18-year-old Ike Souzer was convicted of voluntary manslaughter after he stabbed his mother, Barbara Scheuer-Souzer, 47, in Garden Grove on May 4, 2017 when he was 13.

In addition to other charges, he was convicted in December of attacking three correctional officers and was ordered to wear an electronic monitor for the remainder of his sentence which was set to expire on July 9, 2023.

KTLA reported that before she died, Scheuer-Souzer who had been stabbed multiple times in the stomach, had identified her son as the attacker.

He is considered to be “extremely dangerous and violent,” the D.A.’s office said. If you see him, you are urged not to approach him and to call 911 immediately.

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Orange County

QAnon adherents/anti-LGBTQ+ extremists protest outside of Disneyland

Ben Collins who covers disinformation, extremism and the internet for NBC News & Ezra Kaplan, an NBC News producer live tweeted the protest

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Sean Feucht with bullhorn leads protest at Disneyland (Screenshot via Ezra Kaplan/Twitter)

ANAHEIM – A noisy crowd of approximately 100 protestors gathered outside of the IHOP located at 1560 South Harbor Blvd. opposite Disneyland Wednesday afternoon carrying signs voicing their anger over the Disney media conglomerate’s stance on the rash of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, in particular Florida’s recently enacted ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.

Sean Feucht, the former worship/musical artist at the Bethel charismatic megachurch in Redding, California and the founder of the Let Us Worship group led Wednesday’s protest. Feucht and his followers have been in Southern California the past two weeks protesting against the Disney Company.

Just this past week, Feucht with several dozen supporters protested outside the headquarters of the Walt Disney Company in Burbank.  A week prior they had staged a moving protest a week earlier, marching up and down Santa Monica Boulevard and along North Robertson Blvd. in the heart of West Hollywood’s LGBTQ+ Rainbow District in front of its nightclubs, bars, shops, and restaurants that cater to a predominantly LGBTQ+ clientele. They carried drums they beat, so-called ‘Jesus’ flags and chanted.

Journalist Ben Collins who covers disinformation, extremism and the internet for NBC News live tweeted the protest along with Ezra Kaplan, an NBC News producer.

A spokesperson for the Walt Disney Company declined to comment on the protest. Last month the company released a statement regarding the Florida legislation:

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

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