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Christmas
centerpiece featured
Easton's Frosty the Snowman caper begins after thieves steal 18-foot inflatable decoration

EASTON — At 2:35 a.m. on Dec. 28, three trespassers pulled up outside Qlarant’s office building in a four-door pickup truck. They planned to steal the company’s 18-foot inflatable Frosty the Snowman, a beloved Christmas decoration in Easton for the past four years.

The Chevy Crew cab-truck swung by the building once, rumbling down Brooks Drive, then circled back from Marlboro Avenue. Two adult male passengers clambered out, and the vehicle drove off down the road.

The thieves quickly got to work. After uprooting multiple stakes that anchored the deflated snowman to the ground, they pulled the extension cord and an electric fan all the way to the street as their ride whipped back around one final time.

The snowman was tossed into the back of the truck as the crew piled inside and headed off toward St. Michaels. The operation to steal Frosty the Snowman took just under five minutes.

The word was out a few hours later, when the maintenance employee that takes care of Frosty arrived. He informed Richie Gains, the director of facilities, at 8 a.m. Gains called Easton Police right away, worried about the whereabouts of Qlarant’s company friend.

“Why?” he asked. “Why would someone want to take down a blow up Christmas ornament at 2:30 in the morning?”

Qlarant, a data science and solutions company, is now offering a $500 reward for the safe return of their beloved Frosty The Snowman. Those with any information are encouraged to contact: 443-746-4491.

“That is how much he means to our business,” said Deb Keller, the vice president of human resources at Qlarant. “We would love any tips. In the event a big Frosty shows up in someone’s yard tonight — that wasn’t there before — give us a call.”

The Easton Police confirmed an active investigation into the incident, but said they do not have any current leads or motives for the theft. There were no other incidents like it over the holiday weekend in the area.

Keller said she “personally viewed the tape and they did not look like teenagers,” calling them “good-sized gentleman.” While the motive is unclear, Keller said they arrived and stole the lovable decoration without any hesitation.

“Frosty was targeted,” she said. “No one sat there and (suddenly) got the idea to do it. They planned and prepared to take Frosty away. There were some grinches out there that came after our Frosty.”

The Frosty the Snowman inflatable, based off the iconic Christmas character, has been a town staple since 2016, blowing up and reaching his tremendous heights every year after Thanksgiving. The snowman stays up, perched just behind the Qlarant company sign, until after the new year.

Every night at 8:30, the snowman, which sits on an electronic fan, deflates. Then, at 7 a.m., Frosty inflates again for the day.

This year, Frosty was deflated over the entire holiday weekend because of high winds and storm warnings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That gave thieves an easier time to execute the theft.

“He was staked down with ropes and cable,” said Gains, the director of facilities, the department that oversees Frosty the Snowman every year. “We had big wires and ropes pounded in, but you can grab the rope and wiggle it out. They took it down and had it in the truck in about two-and-a-half minutes.”

Employees at Qlarant were simply shocked by the news this morning.

“We’re sad,” said Keller, but she speculates that Frosty can’t stay in hiding for too long. “Our Frosty has certain distinguishing qualities. He has a pink flower in his hat, a two-foot long candy cane, and he’s smoking a corn cob pipe.”

Gains pointed to the fact they drove toward St. Michaels, guessing that one of them must live there or at Tilghman Island — which would narrow the list of suspects.

“I’m trying to figure it out,” he added. “My thoughts are (the suspects) had to be familiar with it. They had to know it was deflated and lying on the ground.”

Even if Frosty the Snowman is never found and the perpetrators evade responsibility, the crime will not stop Qlarent from “supporting the community.” Everyone loved Frosty, he said, and the blow-up decoration brought joy to the town.

Another Frosty will be up for the holidays next year, of course. Still, employees hope the company’s true Frosty The Snowman returns.

”We miss him,” said Gains. “He was a good friend.”


A member of the vaccination team at a nursing home holds a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Berlin, Germany, on Sunday, Dec. 27. The first shipments of coronavirus vaccines developed by BioNTech and Pfizer have arrived across the European Union. Authorities started to vaccinate the most vulnerable people in a coordinated effort on Sunday.


National
AP
Bomber to neighbor: The world is 'never going to forget me'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It seemed like a friendly chat between neighbors. Only after a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville on Christmas morning could Rick Laude grasp the sinister meaning behind his neighbor’s smiling remark that the city and the rest of the world would never forget him.

Laude told The Associated Press on Monday that he was speechless when he learned that authorities identified his 63-year-old neighbor, Anthony Quinn Warner, as the man suspected of detonating a bomb that killed himself, injured three other people and damaged dozens of buildings.

Laude said he saw Warner standing at his mailbox less than a week before Christmas and pulled over in his car to talk. After asking how Warner’s elderly mother was doing, Laude said he casually asked, “Is Santa going to bring you anything good for Christmas?”

Warner smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, Nashville and the world is never going to forget me,” Laude recalled.

Laude said he didn’t think much of the remark and thought Warner only meant that “something good” was going to happen for him financially.

“Nothing about this guy raised any red flags,” Laude said. “He was just quiet.”

Warner left behind clues that suggest he planned the bombing and intended to kill himself, but a clear motive remains elusive.

“We hope to get an answer. Sometimes, it’s just not possible,” David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said Monday in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “The best way to find motive is to talk to the individual. We will not be able to do that in this case.”

Investigators are analyzing Warner’s belongings collected during the investigation, including a computer and a portable storage drive, and continue to interview witnesses as they try to identify a motive for the explosion, a law enforcement official said. A review of his financial transactions also uncovered purchases of potential bomb-making components, the official said.

Warner had recently given away a vehicle and told the person he gave it to that he had been diagnosed with cancer, though it is unclear whether he indeed had cancer, the official said. Investigators used some items collected from the vehicle, including a hat and gloves, to match Warner’s DNA and DNA was taken from one of his family members, the official said.

The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Warner also apparently gave away his home in Antioch, a Nashville suburb, to a Los Angeles woman a month before the bombing. A property record dated Nov. 25 indicates Warner transferred the home to the woman in exchange for no money after living there for decades. The woman’s signature is not on that document.

Warner had worked as a computer consultant for Nashville real estate agent Steve Fridrich, who told the AP in a text message that Warner had said he was retiring earlier this month.

Officials said Warner had not been on their radar before Christmas. A law enforcement report released Monday showed that Warner’s only arrest was for a 1978 marijuana-related charge.

“It does appear that the intent was more destruction than death, but again that’s all still speculation at this point as we continue in our investigation with all our partners,” Rausch added.

Furthermore, officials have not provided insight into why Warner selected the particular location for the bombing, which damaged an AT&T building and continued to wreak havoc on cellphone service and police and hospital communications in several Southern states as the company worked to restore service.

Forensic analysts were reviewing evidence from the blast site to try to identify the components of the explosives as well as information from the U.S. Bomb Data Center for intelligence and investigative leads, according to a law enforcement official who said investigators were examining Warner’s digital footprint and financial history.

The official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, said federal agents were examining a number of potential leads and pursuing several theories, including the possibility that the AT&T building was targeted.

Doug Korneski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis field office, said Sunday that officials were looking at any and all motives and were interviewing acquaintances of Warner’s to try to determine what may have motivated him.

The bombing took place early on a holiday morning well before downtown streets were bustling with activity. Police were responding to a report of shots fired when they encountered the RV blaring a recorded warning that a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes. Then, for reasons that may never be known, the audio switched to a recording of Petula Clark’s 1964 hit “Downtown” shortly before the blast.

In addition to the DNA found at the blast site, investigators from the Tennessee Highway Patrol were able to link the vehicle identification number recovered from the wreckage to an RV registered to Warner, officials said.

“We’re still following leads, but right now there is no indication that any other persons were involved,” Korneski said. “We’ve reviewed hours of security video surrounding the recreation vehicle. We saw no other people involved.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday called the bombing “a reminder of the destructive power an individual or a small group can muster and the need for continued vigilance across the board.”

President Donald Trump hasn’t publicly commented on the explosion but has spoken to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and offered resources and support, according to the governor’s office.

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Balsamo reported from Washington, and Lavoie from Richmond, Virginia. Associated Press journalists Scott Stroud and Mark Humphrey in Nashville, Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, Eric Tucker in Washington and Alexandra Jaffe in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.


Emergency_notice
breaking centerpiece
House backs Trump on $2,000 COVID stimulus checks

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure Monday increasing COVID stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 per person.

The House approved the measure 275 to 134.

All but two House Democrats and 44 House Republicans upped the COVID relief checks. Most House Republicans opposed the measure.

The $2,000 amount has the support of President Donald Trump as well as some of his most ardent political foes including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“The House and the President are in agreement: we must deliver $2,000 checks to American families struggling this Holiday Season,” Pelosi said in a statement.

The measure now moves to the U.S. Senate where it needs to muster support from enough Republicans to pass.

Trump argues the $600 per person COVID checks were insufficient considering the economic pain many American families have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump signed the $2.3 trillion federal spending plan on Sunday night that included $900 billion in COVID relief. The $600 relief checks are part of that bill. The move averted a potential federal government shutdown.

In addition to the $2,000 checks, Trump is still pushing for Congress to repeal Section 230 which offers sweeping legal protections for social media titans such as Twitter, Facebook and Google.


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