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American Scene: Newtown officials request public stop giving gifts

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CONNECTICUT

NEWTOWN — Officials in Newtown, Conn., are asking people to stop sending gifts to the grief-stricken community following the deadly school shooting, saying they're deeply grateful but can't handle the donation deluge.

The town's first selectman, police chief and mayor made the request Wednesday through an editor at The Newtown Bee newspaper.

They say since a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators Dec. 14, gifts including artwork, school supplies and blankets have arrived from around the world. They say the small community's ability to process, store and distribute the goods was quickly overwhelmed.

The officials are asking people to temporarily stop sending gifts and instead distribute them locally in memory of the victims. They say once they process the "warehouses full of items," they'll detail the best ways to help.

CALIFORNIA

Beer sales help rebuild16th century monastery

VINA — Monks in a small Northern California town are rebuilding a 16th Century Spanish monastery with help from what may seem like an unlikely source: beer.

The first phase of the building's decades-long restoration project in the Sacramento Valley town of Vina has been completed, with the Chapter House of Ovila now standing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

In the 1930s, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst bought the former Trappist monastery -- the Santa Maria de Ovila -- and imported it from Spain for an estate that was never realized. He had planned to use parts of the church for an indoor swimming pool changing room.

Once that project was scrapped, Hearst donated the monastery's pieces to the city of San Francisco, but the dismantled building sat forgotten in Golden Gate Park for more than 60 years.

The Vina monks eventually convinced the city to let them rebuild it there, and with the help of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in nearby Chico have raised millions to get started.

The brewers created a series of Ovila Abbey ales inspired by Belgian Trappist monks, an order that to this day makes some of the finest beers in the world.

Sierra Nevada Brewing and the monks have raised $7 million over the past 12 years to help with the historic and painstaking reconstruction.

UTAH

Group offers free weapons training for state teachers

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah group is offering free concealed weapons permit training for teachers.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that instructors with the Utah Shooting Sports Council will provide the course for school employees Thursday in West Valley City.

Organizers say the goal is to arm more teachers in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, where 20 children and six educators were killed.

The group says teachers will also learn how to respond to an attack.

Utah and Kansas are the only two states that allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns in a school.

The Utah class has been offered to teachers before, but organizers say there is increased demand after the Dec. 14 Connecticut massacre.

CALIFORNIA

L.A. offers groceries for guns in buyback

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police are offering grocery store gift cards for guns in a buyback program that was moved up in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting.

Long lines of cars have formed Wednesday as people turn in weapons at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and the Van Nuys Masonic Temple.

The anonymous buyback program means weapons can be turned in with no questions asked. Handguns, rifles and shotguns can be exchanged for $100 Ralphs grocery store gift cards. Assault weapons earn a $200 card.

The program, designed to get guns off the streets, usually is held in May. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa decided to do it now in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn.

A buyback in May netted about 1,700 guns.

ILLINOIS

Mob hit man Calabrese dies in federal prison

CHICAGO — Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese Sr., a hit man who strangled victims and then slashed their throats to be sure they were dead, has died in a federal prison in North Carolina, authorities said.

Calabrese, 75, died Tuesday at the Butner Federal Medical Center, said Ed Ross, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Mr. Ross had no information on the cause of death, though Calabrese claimed at his sentencing in 2009 that he suffered from a host of ailments, including an enlarged heart.

"It's very emotional right now because there were two sides to my dad, and I miss the good side," Calabrese's son, Frank Calabrese Jr., told the Chicago Sun-Times. He had helped put his father behind bars by secretly recording him boasting about mob killings.

Calabrese was among five men convicted in September 2007 at the Family Secrets trial, which resulted from a major, multiyear effort by the federal government to weaken the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family calls itself.

The investigation also was aimed at clearing 18 unsolved mob murders dating back to the early 1970s. Calabrese was blamed for many of them and sentenced to life in prison.

PENNSYLVANIA

Ex-Nazi guard who fought deportation dies

PITTSBURGH — A lawyer says a former Nazi concentration camp guard who had been fighting attempts to deport him from the U.S. has died in Pennsylvania.

Attorney Adrian Roe says 88-year-old Anton Geiser died over the weekend and was buried Monday in Hermitage, about 75 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Geiser was born in what is now Croatia. He'd been living in Pennsylvania for more than 50 years but didn't tell his family about the Nazi service until 2004, when the Justice Department began legal proceedings.

Geiser has said he was forced to join the S.S. at the age of 17 in 1942 and that he never killed anyone. But federal prosecutors say his work as a concentration camp guard made him a party to the persecution of countless men, women and children.

OKLAHOMA

4 children reported dead in house fire

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City firefighters say a woman and four children are dead after a blaze at a house on the city's northwest side.

City Fire Department Maj. Tammy McKinney says the children killed in the Wednesday morning fire range in age from 2 to 8 years old. McKinney says a man also is in critical condition.

Ms. McKinney says the home was already engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived just minutes after receiving a call around 6:30 a.m. The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. Mr. McKinney says the home did not have working smoke detectors.

She says the interior of the home about a mile east of Lake Hefner in northwest Oklahoma City appears completely gutted by the fire.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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