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Candlelight vigil held for young boy who drowned


More than 100 people gathered at a candlelight vigil Tuesday to comfort a grieving mother and to celebrate the life of a young boy who drowned Sunday in a floodwater detention pond.

The memorial service, which took place behind Costa Mariposa Apartment Homes, the apartment complex where Xavion Young, 7, apparently wandered into a nearby pond while feeding a goose, attracted both people who knew his family and those who didn’t.

“I’m just here mother to mother,” said Kimberly Fletcher, who attended the vigil with her three young children. “I don’t know the family, but just as a person, as a mother, I know something like this has to be extremely hard. We’re going to help her get through this, that’s why I’m here — for support.”

Reecey DeRouen, Young’s mother, was surrounded by relatives and friends during the vigil, all of them hugging her, holding her up and praying while Young’s favorite song played over a loudspeaker.

“We ask you Lord Jesus to continue to be everything we need you to be,” a relative prayed. “We are here celebrating a life; family is very important and we ask you to let it be our safe haven, Lord.”

Meanwhile, attendees lifted their candles in the air and on the count of seven released dozens of balloons into the air.

“He was my baby cousin, he was a son, he was family,” a family member said. “We’re a strong family, and we come together for anything.”

Earlier on Tuesday, police confirmed that the body found near Costa Mariposa Apartment Homes was that of Young, who had been missing since Sunday.

Three anglers found the body about 6 p.m. Monday, Texas City Police Chief Joe Stanton said during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Volunteers and law enforcement officers had searched the pond, which is about 7 feet deep, earlier that day with sonar equipment and a dragnet, but debris had hindered their efforts, he said.

It wasn’t until the body began to float later in the afternoon that the fishermen discovered it, he said.

Drowning was determined to be the cause of death, Stanton said.

Foul play isn’t suspected and the death is believed to have been an accident, Stanton said. Child Protective Services officials were investigating the incident according to its standard procedure, he said.

The 1-acre detention pond, on the northeast side of Costa Mariposa Apartment Homes, 7555 Medical Center Drive, where Young and his mother, DeRouen, were at the time, is separated from the complex by a gate and is on apartment property.

Police are investigating whether the pond is in compliance with Texas City rules, Stanton said, noting that such ponds aren’t required to be fenced off.

“We have recovered video and we’re going through that,” he said, referring to security video taken by apartment complex managers. “This is just a tragic accident. We want to go back and take a look just to see how he got out.”

DeRouen told police that Young usually fed bread to a goose through the gate that separated the pond and the apartment, but wasn’t allowed to go to the pond by himself.

Young went missing when DeRouen had left him by himself while she went to the restroom, police said.

Galveston boosting police presence after robbery spike


Abdal Khan stepped outside of a Broadway Chevron gas station where he works for a smoke break.

In the predawn hours of a Monday morning, he didn’t see any danger in stepping out of his glass-lined booth for a few minutes.

As he went back inside, a man approached him from behind and put a gun to his head. He ordered Khan behind the counter.

“He pulled a gun on my head,” Khan said. “He hit me in my gut.” The man demanded whatever cash Khan had and then made him look away as he collected the money.

There was only one thought running through Khan’s head: “He’s going to kill me now.”

A shot never came, and the man, who had at least one other person with him, fled.

Khan is one of the latest people in Galveston to be a victim of a robbery. Since December, there have been 14 robberies in the city, according to the Galveston Police Department.

While police say there’s nothing definitive connecting the crimes, there have been some similarities — two or more masked men enter a building and demand cash; they act quickly and are out of the building within three or four minutes, before police can arrive.

The robberies have put people’s lives in danger. Last week, masked men fired two shots inside the La Michoacana Meat Market, 3301 Broadway, during a robbery just after 9 a.m.

The bullets left cracks in the plastic signs that display the market’s lunch menu, although no one was injured. That shooting prompted a manhunt in the streets around the store but resulted in no immediate arrests.

On Dec. 28, a woman was shot in the chest inside La Cazuela Cocina, 1508 39th St., during an afternoon robbery. She survived, and the next day police arrested two teenagers in connection with the robbery and shooting.

On Tuesday, police announced they had charged Rodrick Harbin Jr., 22, of Galveston, with aggravated robbery in connection with a December holdup at D’Ambra Meat Market & Grocery, 1728 Ave. N.

Investigators were looking for another man in connection with that robbery, and were pursuing leads in other recent robberies, police said.

Despite the frequency and similarities in the recent string of robberies, investigators don’t believe all were the work of the same people or group, said Galveston Police Department spokesman Xavier Hancock.

“At this point, there’s no connection between them,” Hancock said. “It may be that one spawns the next.”

Despite the spike, Hancock said there were fewer reported robberies in 2018 than there were in 2017.

In response to the robberies, the police department has increased the number of officers on street patrol in the hopes of deterring more people from preying on local businesses, Hancock said.

“We’re being more visible to hopefully prevent any more of these from happening,” Hancock said.

That’s a bit of a relief for store owners and employees who have been victimized in recent weeks and said the robberies were an unusual and worrying trend.

“The way it’s gone in the past two months, it’s unusual,” said Mohammad Ahan, the owner of Moe’s Corner Store, 1902 23rd St. “To me, it’s people that are out of Galveston that come, that do what they want to do and then quickly run to where you can’t catch them.”

The store, which has been open seven years, had never been robbed before two men masked men walked in on the evening of Jan. 2. Ahan’s brother was the only employee at the store at the time.

After other stores in Galveston were targeted, Ahan and his brother talked about what to do if armed robbers came into their store.

They agreed to do what the robbers said, let them take what they want and don’t put up a fight, he said. Better to lose money than to lose their lives, he said.

“Unfortunately, this is a bad thing for the image of the city,” Ahan said. “We’re OK physically, but it hurts.”

Trump pleads on TV for wall money; Dems say he 'stokes fear'


In a somber televised plea, President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night, blaming illegal immigration for what he called a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and framing the debate over the partial government shutdown in stark terms. “This is a choice between right and wrong,” he declared.

Democrats in response accused Trump of appealing to “fear, not facts” and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.

The back-to-back remarks by Trump and Democratic leaders appeared unlikely to do much to break the logjam that has left large swaths of the government closed. Three weeks into the shutdown, the strain was starting to show with hundreds of thousands of federal workers on track to miss paychecks this week.

Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for spending some $5.7 billion for a border wall on both security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid the extended shutdown.

Trump, who will visit the Mexican border in person on Thursday, invited the Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him on Wednesday, saying it was “immoral” for “politicians to do nothing.” He claimed they could resolve the standoff in “45 minutes,” but previous meetings have led to no agreement as Trump insists on the wall that was his signature promise in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Shifting between empathetic appeals and the dark immigration rhetoric that was a trademark of his presidential campaign, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”

Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said.

Schumer said Trump “just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”

Overall, Trump largely restated his case for the wall without offering concessions or new ideas on how to resolve the standoff that has kept large swaths of the government closed for the past 18 days. Speaking in solemn tones from behind the Resolute Desk, he painted a dire picture of killings and drug deaths he argues come from unchecked illegal immigration.

Trump ticked off a string of statistics and claims to make his case that there is a crisis at the border, but a number of his statements were misleading, such as saying the new trade deal with Mexico would pay for the wall, or suggesting through gruesome examples that immigrants are more likely to commit crime.

Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.

Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: “I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible.”

The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the billions he’s requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night.

With his use of a formal White House speech instead of his favored Twitter blasts, Trump embraced the ceremonial trappings of his office as he tries to exit a political quagmire of his own making. For weeks he has dug in on a signature campaign promise to his base voters, the pledge to build an impregnable “beautiful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The partial government shutdown reached its 18th day, making the closure the second-longest in history. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay, and government disruptions are hitting home with everyday Americans.

Trump was nearly halfway through his 9-minute address before he mentioned the wall, describing it as a request from law enforcement rather than his longstanding political pledge. He also suggested that his proposal to build the wall from steel, rather than concrete, was a concession to Democrats.

Trump sought to put the blame on Democrats for the standoff, saying they “will not fund border security.” In fact, House Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security. And Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

Seeking to keep up pressure on Trump and the Republicans, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week to reopen some federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds. The administration says it will act on its own to ensure the refunds.

Ahead of the speech, the White House sought to shore up GOP support on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of Republicans have been expressing unease with the extended shutdown. Vice President Mike Pence met privately with House Republicans, urging them to “stand strong” and insisting the White House wants to negotiate, according to people familiar with the conversation.

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4 picked behind closed doors; who is anybody's guess


Commissioners during a special meeting on Tuesday narrowed the search for a new police chief and a new city administrator down to two candidates for each position.

Commissioners during an hour-long executive session hammered out who they wanted to conduct interviews with for the positions. They started with a list of seven names — three for police chief and four for city administrator — before the executive session and emerged afterward with two for each job.

Interviews with the final four candidates will be scheduled in the coming weeks, Mayor Dorothy Childress said. The city is aiming to have a police chief hired sometime in February, she said. No specific timeline has been set for the city administrator position.

Before the executive session, Childress announced the names of all the candidates that a search committee, formed in August, had handed over to commissioners in December.

The three candidates for the police chief position were Wilmon Smith, Donald Rhodes and Landis Garrison.

The four candidates for city administrator were Jonathan Batt, Marie Gelles, Larry Kuciemba and Harold Emrich.

Childress and other commissioners refused to name the finalists they settled on during the executive session, or give additional details such as where those people work and live.

“I don’t know if I can name them, there will be two finalists for each position and we plan to interview all of them, but if we release names and information and they should say ‘I’m not interested’ might put us in a bind,” Commissioner Monica Cantrell said.

“The same goes for their current positions — if we release where they live, they might not want their current employers to know they’re looking for new employment.”

The Texas Public Information Act requires most public organizations, including cities, to disclose the names and other resume information of people applying for government jobs. The Daily News on Monday filed a request under that law for the information, but the city didn’t comply with the law on that request.

The city has been looking for people to fill the two positions since this summer, after commissioners re-created the city administrator position, which was originally closed in the ‘90s, and Childress fired John Hamm, who had been police chief. The search committee formed to create a list of potential candidates was tightlipped about who they landed on, as were commissioners.

Officials repeatedly declined to release the names of the candidates until the meeting today.

When asked why the city hadn’t responded to a record request from The Daily News that asked for the names of the candidates, City Secretary Lucy Dieringer said she hadn’t known the names were public record until the city’s attorney told her they were on Monday night.

Island neighborhood seeks to ban short-term rentals


Residents of Adler Circle secured an initial victory Tuesday when the planning commission approved a request to recommend a zoning change that would ban all new short-term rentals in the neighborhood of about 50 houses.

The Galveston City Council must approve the request before it becomes official.

At issue was one short-term rental property in Adler Circle residents say has generated much ire and frustration, including noise complaints, cars parked on the grass and bottles in the yard.

The neighborhood, on south 53rd Street near Seawall Boulevard, is home to many older people who prefer peace and quiet, residents said.

Resident Marcy Hanson lives next door to the rental property, she said.

“I’m the one picking up all the beer bottles and the broken glass and the one who’s kept awake all night long by the drunks in the yard,” Hanson said. “This is out of place.”

That property will be allowed to remain a short-term rental property unless it stops serving that use for more than 365 days.

Rental property owner Bob Clark, who traveled from his Missouri home to attend the meeting, never intended for the property to become a party house, he said.

Clark is trying to make changes because he doesn’t want his property to be a problem for residents, he said.

“We’re going to be looking at our management company,” Clark said. “We’ve put in some noise detectors.”

The neighbors do have an informal homeowners association, but requesting a zoning change was preferable, residents said.

Formalized homeowners associations aren’t as common east of 61st Street or in older parts of the city, planning department Assistant Director Catherine Gorman said.

“The establishment and ongoing administration of an HOA can be burdensome,” Gorman said.

While not closed off with a gate, Adler Circle is surrounded by a fence that keeps the neighborhood relatively secluded.

Adler Circle’s request follows similar moves made by some other island neighborhoods. Cedar Lawn neighborhood also bans vacation rental properties and is similarly secluded. Colony Park also bans the rentals.

A neighborhood can request such a zoning change by a petition of 75 percent of the property owners, according to changes made during a 2015 land development regulation revision.

While short-term rentals bring more visitors to the island, they’re not appropriate everywhere, said Mary Branum, president of the Short Term Rental Owners Association of Galveston.

“We all should respect residents’ wishes,” Branum said. “We are a tourist destination, but there’s also the rights of the local residents and in given areas.”

These rights were up for debate two years ago, when some state legislators considered measures that would take away cities’ ability to restrict vacation rentals, she said.

“As of today, I have not heard any rumblings,” Branum said. “It doesn’t appear to be on the front-burner as it was in the past.”

A draft agenda of legislative priorities from the Galveston Park Board of Trustees specifically supports maintaining local ability to regulate the short-term rental industry, according to park board documents.

The park board manages island tourism efforts.

In 2017, a bill that would have banned a city’s ability to restrict short-term rentals made it past the state Senate but was never voted on by the House.

The residents of Adler Circle must still bring their request before the city council for final approval, which will likely go on the Jan. 24 agenda.

Dorothy Childress