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Scenery Hill resident finds bank check 10 miles from explosion

James Dudt, mechanical engineer and part-time farmer, shifted his analytical mind into overdrive and still couldn’t formulate an answer.

Dudt was on his Scenery Hill property, where he and his neighbor, Randy Matthews, raise beef cattle. It was Wednesday evening, the twilight of a sunny, calm day, when the two men were preparing to remove Dudt’s tractor from mud.

Matthews saw something in the hayfield, got off his tractor and picked up a small paper. It was a canceled check from 1990, clean and intact, bearing the signature of Deborah A. Braden – apparently the woman whose North Franklin Township house had been blown apart by a gas explosion a few hours earlier.

Braden, who was exiting her home, miraculously received only minor injuries. She was one of five people treated at hospitals following the 3:50 p.m. blast at 100 Park Lane.

A number of nearby residences were damaged and debris was scattered across a wide area, some a mile or so away, by an explosion for which Columbia Gas has assumed responsibility.

The Dudt farm, however, is about 10 miles to the east, off Route 40. Ten hilly miles. On a bright, virtually windless day, it appears proof of a 29-year-old financial record – without a speck of dirt – somehow fluttered onto the property.

(Dudt sent a photo of the check via email to an Observer-Reporter news staffer. The author of that check, in 1990, had a different address from 100 Park Lane. For privacy reasons, the newspaper decided against publishing the photo. Braden could not be reached for comment.)

James Dudt works at Karpinski Engineering in Southpointe, where he heard about the explosion. Little did he realize he might soon have a link to the horrific incident.

As details of the explosion – including the homeowner’s name – became public, and after Dudt looked at the immaculately filled-out check, he went online, did a Whitepages search and found the name of the author, who was listed as residing at 100 Park Lane, Washington, Pa. (The explosion victim is the only Pennsylvanian listed, specifically, on Whitepages as Deborah A. Braden.)

“I thought someone was playing a prank,” said Dudt, father of four boys age 7 and younger. “I thought maybe it came from someone burning leaves or came floating up from the valley.

“I checked the address, saw what it was and thought, ‘This is unbelievable. Now it makes sense.’ But it doesn’t make sense.”

The circumstances didn’t make sense to Myranda Fullerton, either. She is a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Moon Township. Fullerton checked records from Wednesday and said wind levels were low, although a light item like a single slip of paper is more likely to be lifted up.

“I don’t know how I can speak to that,” Fullerton said. “It must have been one forceful explosion – obviously.”

Dudt marvels over what he and Matthews found.

“The check is in perfect shape,” he said. “It looks like someone had it in a closet all these years and it ends up in hayfield.”

Individuals who find property that may belong to the victim of the house explosion may take those items to Washington City Hall, 55 W. Maiden St.


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Government, faith leaders urge action after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton

Government leaders are calling for action following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.

The shootings left 30 people dead and about 50 wounded as of Monday afternoon, according to the Associated Press, and the carnage prompted exhortations from both of Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators to adopt legislation designed to reduce gun violence.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., renewed his call to expand background checks to all commercial firearm sales. In 2013, Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., proposed expanding background checks for all commercial gun sales while not requiring background checks for gun transfers between family members and explicitly reaffirming prohibition of a national gun registry.

The proposal would have made it unlawful for anyone other than licensed dealers, manufacturers or importers to transfer guns at gun shows or via Internet sales.

But the proposal failed in the Senate, and Toomey said Sunday that “it’s time for Congress to act to help keep our communities safer.”

“The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton are the latest, horrific examples of the violent scourge that is gripping America,” Toomey said. “The perpetrators of these murders are cowards. We must do more to keep guns out of the hands of psychopaths.”

Toomey said he also agreed with a bipartisan “red flag” measure backed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would allow families and law enforcement to get a court order to keep guns away from individuals deemed dangerous.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., joined fellow Democrats in demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., call the Senate back into Washington, D.C., this week to debate and vote on universal background check legislation that was passed by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives in February.

“Enough. We don’t have to live like this,” Casey said Monday. “Politicians who refuse to take action to reduce gun violence are complicit in this carnage.”

The measure that passed the House in February would establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between unlicensed individuals, prohibiting a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. The prohibition would not apply to certain firearm transfers, such as a gift between spouses.

Casey also alluded to the hateful ideology that seems to have motivated the alleged assailant behind the El Paso shooting. Federal authorities have indicated that they are handling the shooting as a domestic terrorism case after the emergence of a racist, anti-immigrant screed that the assailant appears to have posted online shortly before the shooting, according to the Associated Press.

Casey also noted testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that “a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

Casey condemned President Donald Trump for “white nationalist rhetoric” and “engag(ing) in racism,” and called on Trump to condemn white nationalism and pledge an all-out government effort to confront white nationalist terrorism.

In an address on the mass shootings Monday, Trump said, “Hate has no place in America.”

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said.

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters Township, said Monday that his thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the victims’ families, and the people of El Paso and Dayton.

“I also want to thank the incredibly brave law enforcement officers who quickly responded to these tragedies,” Reschenthaler said. “Racism, white nationalism, and extremist violence have no place in our society, and our nation must work together to stop this radicalization.”

Gov. Tom Wolf repeated his call for federal and state action Monday, urging McConnell to reconvene the U.S. Senate immediately to consider the House’s background check legislation and demanding that the state House and Senate tackle gun access reform.

“In Pennsylvania, as long as it is a private sale, any person can still buy an assault rifle to commit a mass shooting without a background check,” Wolf said. “We still don’t have a ‘red flag’ law that could get these weapons away from someone who was known to be dangerous. These are just two of many bills that exist right now to reduce violence. All of these bills have been stalled for too long.”

The area’s two Roman Catholic diocesan bishops also weighed in on the shootings.

Diocese of Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic on Sunday touted continuing to work “toward the day when wrong is overcome by charity.”

“May the souls of the departed rest in peace and their families find consolation in God’s love,” Malesic said. “May those who are wounded recover swiftly and completely. Let us pray, from the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”

Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said the nation has grieved “over and over and over” for the victims of mass shootings but added that prayers must also lead to actions that will address the causes of those crimes.

“Among those steps are limiting civilian access to high capacity weapons and magazines, addressing online sites that encourage violence, improving access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence and working to overcome the racism that contributes to some of these crimes,” Zubik said. “The victims of these shootings will be in my prayers – as will those who hold the power to help prevent these massacres.”

As of Monday, there have been 255 mass shootings in the United States in 217 days in 2019, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as incidents where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter.


Alan Olson/For the Observer-Reporter

The house on Caldwell Street in McMechen, W.Va., has served as a home to the Mamula family for decades, but for many visitors to the city, its past as Charles Manson’s childhood home makes it a dark tourist destination.


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Vigil planed for E. Washington man killed in Dayton shooting

Nicholas P. Cumer never let on to his friends if there was something troubling him.

The East Washington man who was killed early Sunday in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, always showed his wide smile and caring demeanor to his classmates at Washington High School, said Joe Phillips, president of the school’s class of 2012.

“If anything was going on in his life, no one would have known,” Phillips said Monday, when his classmates were planning a vigil in Cumer’s honor at their high school in the coming weeks.

“You knew he cared about you,” said Phillips, who now lives in Ligonier and coaches football at St. Vincent College.

Cumer’s high school was still trying to come to terms with the much-respected 25-year-old man’s murder.

“Nick was an athlete, involved in the band, prom king and a kindhearted person who was well respected by his peers, teachers and administration of the Washington School District,” district superintendent James Konrad said.

“He positively impacted the lives of everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him, he added.

Cumer was among nine killed and 27 injured when Connor Betts, 24, of Bellbrook, Ohio, opened fire shortly after 1 a.m. on Ned Peppers Bar in Dayton’s historic Oregon District. Betts, who was wearing armor at the time, was shot and killed by police at the scene.

Cumer was in Dayton at the time finishing an internship that was related to his graduate studies in cancer care at St. Francis University in Loretto. He had just been offered a full-time job where he was interning at Maple Tree Cancer Alliance.

Haylea Ellis, who was a couple of years behind Cumer at Wash High, said he was close friends with her family.

“He was one of the best,” Ellis said. “He was never sad, never miserable. He always put you in a good mood and smiled.”

St. Francis will celebrate a Mass in Cumer’s honor at 7 p.m. today in Immaculate Conception Chapel on campus, university spokeswoman Marie Young said.

Phillips said his classmates want to get permission from Cumer’s parents, Ron and Vicky Grove Cumer, before they firm up a date for the vigil. It likely will be held on an upcoming Saturday, he said.

A crowdsourcing fundraiser has been set up by Cumer’s friends to support his family.

It can be found at this link: https://fundly.com/nicholas-cumer-fundraiser.


Courtesy of Christopher Sprowls Photography

Visitors to the “Destination Moon” exhibit have their photo taken with Command Module Columbia during its loan to the Senator John Heinz History Center.