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By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Speaking for the first time publicly about the explosives he and his brother set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon two years ago, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apologized for the bombings and to the victims of the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11.

“I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering I caused, for the damage I have done — the irreparable damage,” he said.

In a slight voice and apparently racked by nerves ahead of his formal sentencing, Tsarnaev thanked his defense team and praised the survivors and relatives who spoke in the courtroom earlier “with strength, with patience, with dignity.”

“They told how horrendous this was,” he acknowledged.

Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated two pressure-cooker bombs at the race’s finish line in April 2013, killing three and wounding more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed days later in a massive manhunt for the bombing suspects. Tsarnaev told investigators days after the bombing that they were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs and that the attack was in retaliation for the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday’s remarks were a departure from Tsarnaev’s behavior during his trial and even earlier in the day, when he showed no emotion during heart-wrenching testimony from victims and the exhibition of the photographs and videos from the bombing. He did not testify.

“I also asked Allah to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family and I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy upon victims and their families,” Tsarnaev said, noting his own Muslim faith.

In emotional remarks earlier Wednesday, victims of the bombing talked about the lasting damage they suffered.

Tsarnaev, referred to only as “the defendant” by victim after victim, remained still throughout. He gave no sign that he was listening as runners and spectators spoke of invisible injuries and the horror of learning that loved ones were grievously wounded.

One woman confessed to remaining too afraid to sleep, but went on to say she had forgiven Tsarnaev.

Other victims expressed anger. Elizabeth Bourgault, who ran in the race, told those gathered: “The defendant will now die for what he did. Whatever God the defendant believes in will not welcome him.”

A prosecutor had to help hold up Liz Norton, whose two children were gravely wounded. “Who could harbor so much evil and so much hate?” she asked Tsarnaev.
Jennifer Maybury, whose nephew lost both legs, told him: “That day changed the course of an entire family.”

A federal jury voted last month that Tsarnaev, 21, a Russian immigrant, should be put to death. On Wednesday, a judge formally sentenced Tsarnaev to six death sentences and 10 terms of life in prison without parole.

In the federal court system, there is an automatic appeal of the verdict and death sentence. But Tsarnaev will soon be moved to a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he will become the youngest inmate waiting to be put to death.

The last federal execution was carried out 12 years ago when Louis Jones Jr., a decorated Army soldier, was put to death for kidnapping and killing a female enlistee.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AFP Photo

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.