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Young thespians 'Reach for the Stars'

COAL TOWNSHIP — A crowd of over 100 people packed the Wayside Inn banquet room Thursday evening for a special presentation of 1950’s music and dancing from a special group of 12 young people, seven boys and five girls. The program, presented by A&B Children’s Theater and featuring a number of solo and group acts all by special needs participants, was well received from the audience who showed their approval in the end with a standing ovation.

The idea for the wonderful show came from musical director Patty Zablosky, who runs a local music studio in Trevorton.

“Jesse Kissinger, a young special needs boy who is one of my students, was singing ‘Flying Purple People Eaters’ at my studio and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be a great idea to give not only him but others like him an opportunity to perform before a live audience?” said Zablosky, who also played the keyboards during the show.

While the program was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., the parking lot was already full long before that. Inside hundreds of guests crowded the banquet room, sitting at their tables and waiting for the young performers to take center stage.

“The title of tonight’s show is ‘Reach for the Stars.’ It’s our first year for this type of event and we’re really looking forward to it,” said director Megan Baumgartner.

In watching the show, it was readily apparent that the young participants had practiced long and hard on their singing and dance moves. They performed a total of 8 songs — 4 solos and 4 group numbers.

Chase Hogarty kicked off the program with his own special rendition of Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” while doing his best to get the crowd involved.

The next number was “16 Tons” which the boys performed as a group, dressed up as coal miners with soot-blackened faces, mining helmets and pick axes.

Following that act, “The Peppermint Twist” was performed by Byron Noll-Long and involved some choreography from both he and the rest of the group.

The “Lollipop” song performed by the group’s five girls was next and involved a number of large lollipops as props along with a few more slick dance moves.

Soloist Gabrielle Marrone then sang “Once Upon a Dream,” followed by the evening’s signature moment when Kissinger, dressed as a one-eyed flying “Purple People Eater,” ran throughout the room pretending to eat members of the audience who were seated at various tables while the famous song was sung by the rest of the group.

The outfits worn by the performers were the handiwork of Kim Noll and Jane Zak, who donated her talents for costume design which included high school sweaters and dresses for the girls, Grease varsity jackets for the boys, and a leather Elvis jacket.

Speaking of Elvis, he was next to take the stage, played by young Mario Ouardi, who held a guitar while singing “All Shook Up,” much to the delight of the crowd.

“I worked on this routine for about five weeks and really enjoy performing,” said Ouardi.

The closing number sung by the group was “Stand By Me.”

In addition to those mentioned, other performers included Ahmed Abdou, Grace Carpenter, Rachel Kertsetter, Ashley Knoebel and Zakary Zanella.

“All of these participants are very excited to be here tonight and always give a hundred percent,” assistant director Liz Stevens said.

Others who contributed to the show were scenery creator Hannah Yucha and assistants to the cast, Alicia Lahr and Jennifer Yucha.

“I’m always happy to be dancing,” said Ryan Stimer who is a student and band member at Southern Columbia Area.

“I just want to eat, I’m starving,” said Amy Kistler, who also indicated that she’d like to become an actress.

Based upon Thursday evening’s performance, she may someday get that opportunity.


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Coal Region Cruise kicks off Halloween this weekend

SHAMOKIN — The Coal Region Cruise is bringing an eerie, spell-binding Halloween event to downtown Shamokin with a costume cruise Saturday and a trunk-or-treat on Sunday.

The two-night event is a way for cruise organizers to give back to the community and provide something not just for the adults, but for the kids, according to Mark Rebuck. A downtown cleanup is also scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday in the municipal parking lot.

Rebuck took over the reigns of organizing the cruise earlier this year and successfully attracted over 100 vehicles to the family friendly event in August. Working closely with city officials and the Shamokin Police Department, the cruise went smoothly and along with administrators and editors, Rebuck began immediately planning the Halloween event.

The community is welcome to cruise through town from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday and are encouraged to dress their best for Halloween.

Handcrafted trophies made of license plates will be handed out in 16 different categories, including best costume and two best choice awards handed out by Mayor John Brown and Police Chief Darwin Tobias III.

Since August, Rebuck said they have been working hard on cutting old license plates to attach to plaques, especially his wife, Michele Rebuck.

Administrators and editors, including Rebuck and his wife, Gilbert Petraskie, Barry Kehler, Doug Bell, Pam Marose and Vanessa Kehler will be on the west end of town for the judging and will stop their favorites for awards. Rebuck is hoping to get pictures of the winners in front of The Ale House, 147 E. Independence St.

There will be 250 can koozies handed out to the crowd and to make sure kids aren’t left out, Rebuck said sponsors helped with the purchase of gift cards that will be handed to costumed children.

Random cruisers will also be chosen for a prize of car cleaning supplies, all donated by Lens Automotives, NAPA, Advanced Auto and AutoZone.

Just as with the August cruise, Rebuck worked closely with city officials and the police department to attempt to make the event as safe and fun as possible. Police will be patrolling throughout town to make sure cruisers follow traffic laws and don’t dirty the streets by doing burnouts.

Cruisers are encouraged to return to downtown Shamokin from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday and fill their trunks with scares and candy for trunk or treaters. Decorating trunks for the event isn’t necessary, but adds an extra element of Halloween fun to the event.

So far over 100 participants have said they’ll be attending on Facebook, with another 300 interested. Rebuck is hoping word of mouth helps bring in volunteers to help with the event.

The popularity of trunk or treats have grown in recent years, and Rebuck said cruise organizers wanted to bring one to the downtown area for kids to enjoy. Cooperation with the city has been “terrific” he said.

The city has agreed to block off Independence Street at Rock Street to Liberty Street, but may extend to Orange Street is there is overflow. The municipal parking lot will also be home to many of the themed trunks handing out candy.

Food and refreshments will be available to all trunk or treaters as well.

Trunk or treat is about the kids, but parents will have the opportunity to win something special for themselves. Just Us Few Motorcycle Club will be selling raffle tickets on Sunday for the chance to win a 2003 Anniversary Low Rider motorcycle, which will be on display.

Rebuck encourages everyone to come out and enjoy themselves. “Have a good time and it’s keep it safe and make it great and continue it year after year.”


Tim Zyla / TIM ZYLA/STAFF PHOTO  

Lourdes Regional’s DaniRae Renno keeps the ball in play during a match against Lehighton Thursday in Coal Township.


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Captured fugitive's parents speak out about son

MCADOO — Shawn Christy is not an anti-government nor an anti-law enforcement radical, his parents said in a recent wide-ranging interview.

And is he not politically motivated, they insist.

So, who is Shawn Christy?

And why did the 26-year-old McAdoo man threaten President Donald Trump and lead authorities on a multi-state, 95-day manhunt?

Karen and Craig Christy say Shawn asked the government for assistance after a 2017 incident, and when he didn’t get a response, he acted out.

“His back was to the wall,” Craig said.

Craig and Karen say Shawn used his keyboard to vent his frustrations via social media to Trump and other elected officials over the injustice he perceived from local public officials.

The threats he allegedly posted led to a federal indictment against him in June.

But before he was a fugitive, Shawn Christy was a “simple man,” something his parents say got lost in the barrage of news stories and public opinions that flooded social media accounts as the story of his flight unfolded.

That flight apparently crossed six state lines, the U.S.-Canadian border and involved multiple suspected break-ins and vehicle thefts.

It began June 20 when police say they attempted his arrest on a bench warrant for a 2017 aggravated assault case in McAdoo, a probation violation in Northampton County and the threats he made online against Trump, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and police. It culminated 440 miles to the west on Sept. 21 with his apprehension near an Ohio stream bed.

It all leaves many unanswered questions — for the public and his parents.

The reasons

Craig Christy said the manhunt and recent threats would have never happened if someone responded to complaints he and Shawn filed last year against a former McAdoo mayor and borough police.

The complaints stem from a March 15, 2017, confrontation between Shawn and then-mayor Stephan Holly over snow removal. It ended with Shawn facing four felony counts of aggravated assault and two misdemeanors for simple assault after borough police say he swung a “large” stick at Holly.

Shawn and Craig were later also charged with harassment after numerous phone calls were placed to McAdoo and nearby Kline Township police regarding the pending case.

Holly was not charged, though Shawn and his family believe he should have been. They also believe video surveillance of the incident was edited. Those complaints were never acted on in Schuylkill County, and attempts for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General to intervene also received no response, Craig said. An attempt to get comment from the Schuylkill County District Attorney’s office for this story went unanswered.

Shawn, who claimed there was a conspiracy to set him up, was facing years in prison for the case and he felt he had no option but to sound off on Facebook, Craig said.

“Keep it up Morganelli, I promise I’ll put a bullet in your head as soon as I put one in the head of President Donald J. Trump,” read one post.

“Your (sic) a dead man...Lets (sic) play,” another threat in the four-count indictment read. The indictment states the target of that threat was a person only identified as “J.M.”

Why he targeted Trump and Morganelli remains a mystery, his parents say.

Craig said Shawn had dealings in Northampton County over a $25 tax Shawn refused to pay because he felt the bill was issued erroneously. When he was told his wages would be garnished, he lashed out at the county tax collector on March 13, 2017, threatening to blow the office up and shoot the tax collector, Craig said. The outburst resulted in a jail stay followed by probation.

He first found trouble eight years ago under somewhat similar circumstances. In September 2010, the Standard-Speaker interviewed the Christy family surrounding a protection from abuse order that then-Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin took out against him. Shawn believed he was receiving phone messages from Palin.

Shawn said he reached out to Palin, then-President Barack Obama and then-Sen. John McCain for help, When he didn’t get a response, he allegedly began sending threats thinking it would get attention and answers.

Shawn got attention, via the protection from abuse order that Palin requested. She said he continually contacted her after he was told to stop and even after the PFA was issued. In her defense for the order, Palin said that Shawn visited her home state, she feared him and claimed he was delusional. Craig said Shawn had a full psychiatric evaluation in July 2009 and wasn’t declared to be delusional.

Shawn claimed she had a sexting relationship with him. Both Shawn and Craig were arrested in Allentown on federal charges in 2011 for making the hundreds of harassing phone calls to the offices of Palin’s attorney. They pleaded guilty in federal court to one felony each for making the calls and were sentenced to time served plus five years probation.

Craig calls Shawn’s history of trouble a cycle of injustice that began with the PFA. All Shawn wanted was to be treated with the same fairness of others, Craig said.

“And all he’s asking for is the law to work both ways. Not to have selective law. Why should these people be able to get justice and he can’t?” Craig questioned.

His criminal history is a strike against him, Craig said. It will likely count against him in sentencing on the threats.

“When you’re a felon, you’re a felon for life,” Craig said.

Shawn longed to find steady work, get married and have his own family. But his criminal history became a barrier, Craig said.

He planned on becoming a gunsmith, but his criminal history prevents him from owning or possessing guns. Karen said she can’t place him on her car insurance policy because of his past.

The injustices Shawn spoke of online got the attention of Celia Harris of Idaho in 2009. She sympathized, claiming she dealt with her own injustices. Harris offered her opinion on Shawn in a phone interview with the Standard-Speaker. She never met Shawn, but through messaging over the years, said he’s a “very intelligent” person who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as she does because of the way they feel sabotaged. Craig said he was never diagnosed with the disorder but he doesn’t argue that Shawn may have PTSD.

Harris said that during times when most would cower, Shawn stood tall and, though he made “idle” threats, he never acted on them. She worries about obstacles he’ll confront as a felon facing a new case in the court system.

Under the cover

“He’s very elusive,” Deputy Robert Clark, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force said in August.

Behind the evasive man, known mostly through news accounts and memes on social media, is another side, his parents say. Karen spoke tenderly of her child, a neat person who cleaned up after himself and their family cats and pet bird. Their only child, he was independent and educated through a traditional home school program until Karen noticed he was bored with the curriculum and found a student-directed home schooling method to challenge him.

Shawn was born in a hospital in Voorhees Township., New Jersey, but raised in Maple Shade, New Jersey, about a 20-minute drive away.

Growing up in Maple Shade, he found playmates and instant socialization with a daycare facility next door to his home, his parents said. When the family moved to Pennsylvania in 2006, du to the cost of living, he began to make friends in his teenage years while they lived in Butler Township.

As a child, Shawn enjoyed Christmas and holiday lights. He even won a prize in Maple Shade for decorating the family doghouse. Later, he came to realize that people spend a lot of money on things they don’t need, while others starve, Karen said. That revelation changed Shawn. He began to live a more primitive existence, reflected in his family’s McAdoo home, void of decoration, save a Native American wolf tapestry hanging from the living room wall. The family bought the home in McAdoo in 2007.

All of Shawn’s personal possessions can fit in his backpack, which his parents believe he lost during the Maryland leg of the manhunt, Karen said.

“He has very little other things,” Craig said.

He practices Native American beliefs and embodies the characteristics noted in one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most popular songs, “Simple Man,” Craig added.

Shawn isn’t afraid of hard work. Craig said he cleaned tanks for the fracking industry in Bradford County, climbing into the vessels before removing muck inside them for hours. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be covered in dirt at day’s end.

He can be compassionate, Karen said. Without being asked, Shawn fixed a neighbor’s door a few years back after she fell in her home and a rescue attempt involved the door being broken down. Craig said Shawn wants to protect people, and, though he may do things in an unorthodox way, he isn’t a bad person.

Karen watched him plow through book after book for fun while growing up, and Craig often taught him wilderness survival skills.

Shawn built his first debris hut at age 10, a moment his parents captured in a picture displayed in their living room. The hut was made with sticks and leaves and natural debris. Shawn knows how to live off the land, though he’s accused of break-ins involving theft of food while on the lam.

The manhunt endured as for so long because of survival skills Shawn honed over his life, they said.

Shawn practiced his wilderness skills as an adult on his own in other states — including Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana, his parents said. He worked for a casino in Bozeman, Montana, and even offered Montana Public Radio an interview as they worked on a story about the homeless in 2017, Karen said.

In the woods is where he feels at peace, his parents said. That’s where he was when law enforcement came to his family’s door on rear South Harrison Street in June to arrest him, they said. Craig said Shawn’s attorney in the matter told him he didn’t need to appear in court, so Shawn went into the woods.

“That’s how he did so good out there,” Craig said.

He never returned home. Instead, law enforcement officials say he hid while they searched.

His parents believe Shawn was playing tag with law enforcement as he crossed state lines on the run as his story circulated nationwide.

Though they uncovered some information from phone conversations with Shawn after his arrest and sparse information gleaned from the two Facebook postings and a Facebook message Shawn wrote two weeks prior to his capture, Karen said she and Craig don’t know many answers regarding his flight.

They still have many questions for Shawn, like why did he return to the U.S. from Canada, where they say he visited a native reservation. Shawn’s great-grandfather was part Mohawk, but that’s his only known connection. Craig said he actually went to Montreal and Quebec, too, before coming back stateside.

“We don’t know all the answers,” Karen said.

Craig said he and Karen designed a “soft surrender” plan at their home early in the search and offered to help officers find him. The Christys went searching for him and came frustratingly close to him a few times, finding camps, footprints and clothing he left behind, Craig said. They wanted him to surrender and warned sympathizers not to assist him evading law enforcement.

After his arrest, Shawn spoke to his parents from the jailhouse phone, saying he moved mostly during the night and they believe he had access to multiple cellphones while on the run. While hiding in the woods, he likely took cover in thick vegetation to conceal himself. Craig said Shawn cried often while on the run, if not for the isolation and homesickness, for the physical toll it took on his body resulting in a knee injury and two teeth that need to be pulled, according to Craig.

Craig said he initially turned Shawn into authorities when he saw the threatening Facebook posts about Trump on his page, but assumed a few law enforcement officers would simply come to the home and talk to him. Instead, he said, they showed up with a search warrant and a large police presence. The Christys thought the search was overblown, claiming their home was smashed, two family cats were injured and another was killed when the arrest warrant was served.

Though labeled as a threat by police, Karen and Craig don’t believe Shawn would hurt anyone or act on the statements he allegedly made. He allegedly was in another state during the manhunt on Aug. 2, when Trump spoke at Mohegan Sun Area to support U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta’s Senate campaign in Wilkes-Barre Twp., about 30 miles north of Christy’s home. Craig said guns allegedly taken by Shawn on the run were used to hunt game for food.

Shawn’s story was covered at first only by local media, but as it endured through three months, made national news with coverage on CNN, Reuters, Newsweek and the Washington Post. He amassed 4,500 followers on a Facebook page that calls him a “political prisoner” and has a GoFundMe page for his legal expenses. Shawn was the subject of social media memes and other parodies which Karen and Craig said helped ease the stress, especially when witnessing the death threats made against their son while on the run.

At times, Craig said, the reason for Shawn’s actions seemed overshadowed or dismissed in the mainstream media and, like many people accused of a crime, he got dehumanized in the court of public opinion.

“Shawn was just your average every day guy who was forced to act out because of the injustice against him,” he said.

He awaits transfer to Pennsylvania where he will answer charges against him.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2y96Mv7

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Information from: Standard-Speaker, http://www.standardspeaker.com


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House approves bill for public safety facility closure

HARRISBURG — A bipartisan proposal was approved Thursday by the House of Representatives that would provide a standardized process as to how public safety facilities, including state prisons and state police barracks, are closed in the future.

Senators David G. Argall (R-29), Lisa Baker (R-20), Michele Brooks (R-50), Wayne Fontana (D-42) and John Yudichak (D-14) sponsored Senate Bill 748, which would establish the Public Safety Facilities Act, in response to recent state prison closures over the last few years that were undertaken with little or no input from the communities that were affected.

In 2017, the Wolf Administration sought to close down at least one state prison out of a potential five prisons from communities across the state, including SCI-Frackville, SCI-Mercer, SCI-Pittsburgh, SCI-Retreat and SCI-Waymart. In 2015, Gov. Tom Corbett and Secretary John Wetzel closed two state prisons — SCI-Cresson and SCI-Greensburg.

The five legislators convened a bipartisan hearing to learn about the process of how a state prison is closed, noting the shock to the communities that were notified in the 11th hour of a possible closure.

“We worked together in a bipartisan way to ensure that any future decision when it comes to potentially closing state prisons or state police barracks goes through a process that is open and transparent,” a statement from the bill sponsors said. “These institutions provide jobs to the community that are vital to local economies. It is troubling that these decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of Pennsylvanians can be made overnight. Senate Bill 748 will make it a deliberate process if the state chooses to close down any more facilities.”

The bill establishes a minimum of seven months’ notice. Under the bill, the state must notify state and local stakeholders, including local lawmakers, at least three months prior to a planned facility closure announcement. The agency seeking the closure must thoroughly review any local implications of the planned closure as well as hold a public hearing in the county where the facility is located. The agency must provide a written report detailing the recommendations to the governor and leaders in the General Assembly.

If all criteria are met, a public safety facility may close no sooner than four months from the announcement.

“Transparency is key and this bill will ensure there is a better process moving forward,” the senators added. “We are grateful for the input and support for this legislation of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, who represent the thousands of state corrections officers at our 24 state prisons.”

The legislation will head to the Senate for a concurrence vote then to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.