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Shoppers wait in bitter cold for pre-Black Friday deals in Queensbury

QUEENSBURY — Below-freezing temperatures and Thanksgiving meals didn’t keep shoppers from lining up outside of J.C. Penney and Target before 2 p.m. Thursday to get some Christmas shopping done.

J.C. Penney at Aviation Mall was one of the earliest stores in the region to open on Thanksgiving Day, and General Manager Mike Tast expected people to line up by around 1:30 p.m.

They did.

A line grew, snaking its way around the sidewalk. Most shoppers said they were looking to buy an air fryer for $4.99.

That’s what Elaine Jones of Hudson Falls wanted to get. With her was Heather Keith, also of Hudson Falls, and while Jones would get the cooking appliance, Keith was headed to the jewelry department to get a new ring. Her diamond fell out of her old ring and it was going to cost $500 to replace.

Once they got their deals, the two were headed to a Thanksgiving meal at a relative’s house.

Also near the front of the line was Ross Vrooman, who was on a shopping trip for his grandchildren’s Christmas presents.

“Hopefully I don’t get knocked down by that grandmother over there,” he said, pointing toward a woman at the front of the line.

He got the line of shivering people laughing.

Standing in line outside J.C. Penney is turning into a tradition for Michael Anello of Saranac Lake. His family, who lives locally, has more of a Thanksgiving lunch, he said. Then he hits up Aviation Mall before heading to Walmart. Anello was also going to purchase an air fryer.

Belinda Davenport was feeling a bit shocked by the cold temperatures as she stood in line with Amber Davenport and Hailey Yarbrough. The three are visiting from South Carolina and Belinda said that when they left, they still had the air conditioning going.

“We’re still in summer mode,” she said, laughing.

Shopping was something for them to do to get them out of the way, she joked, as other family was cooking.

A few stores down, about seven people waited outside at 2:20 p.m. for Target’s 5 p.m. opening. A few sat in beach chairs with blankets draped over their entire bodies, declining to pop out for an interview.

Stella Gangsaa, of Queensbury, was second in line waiting.

When asked why, she said, “for my kids — basically what I do everything for.”

She was specifically on the hunt for a Nintendo Switch. The rest of her family was back home getting ready for a Thanksgiving meal. Her husband had been sitting with her, but he got too cold, she said.

Fire evacuees do their best on a sad Thanksgiving

CHICO, Calif. — Patty Rough lost her Paradise home and most of her belongings in the Camp Fire, and she had no place to cook a family meal on Thanksgiving.

But she and her husband are safe, and she was still able to spend the holiday with her children over plates of turkey, cranberry sauce and pie at a feast for thousands of people put on by volunteers.

She's sad about everything she lost but realizes that others have far less.

"Today we're grateful; I don't know about happy," she said, tearing up as she sat next to her son and across from her daughter. " 'Happy' Thanksgiving is kind of a weird thing at the moment."

Rough is among the thousands of people whose homes burned down when the deadly wildfire ripped through Paradise and surrounding communities. At least 84 people died, and more than 13,000 homes were destroyed.

The blaze was 95 percent contained Thursday, two weeks after it began. Rain that fell Wednesday night and started again Thursday afternoon aided the firefight but complicated the search for human remains in the debris left by the blaze.

Wet, windy, cold conditions were making it hard for workers to see and move.

It wasn't a normal Thanksgiving for any of the evacuees or workers.

Matt Berger, a member of a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team from Orange County, said he and his colleagues are trying not to "get too wrapped up in the fact that we're not at home for the holidays."

"It's just another work day for us — trying to bring some closure to some of the families that are missing their loved ones," he said, standing in the cold outside a Paradise store that didn't burn down.

Volunteers tried to bring a dose of normalcy to the difficult time. The Washington-based nonprofit World Central Kitchen cooked 15,000 meals, teaming up with Chico-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., the local university and the town of Paradise to serve them.

Celebrity chefs Jose Andres, who started World Central Kitchen, and Guy Fieri cooked and stopped for selfies with fans while reflecting on the tragedy that brought them there.

"This is going to be a year we're never going to forget," Andres said.

Eduardo Garcia was happy for a warm meal and a place to spend the day. He sat alone at a long table but said he enjoyed the sense of company the gathering in an auditorium at California State University, Chico provided. Years ago, Garcia helped build the auditorium, plastering the outside walls.

He lost the Paradise home where he lived, and his immediate family is in Hawaii. For now, he's living with a friend in Chico.

"I don't have anywhere else to go," he said. "Even though I'm not with my family, you can feel good around other people who are in the same situation."

Outside the Paradise area, scores of people opened their houses to strangers to provide a more intimate Thanksgiving.

Rachael Anderson hosted a displaced mom and daughter at her home in Redding, about an hour and a half from Paradise. Anderson knows what it's like to live in a community devastated by flames: A massive wildfire swept through Redding last summer.

She didn't lose her home, and she now wants to share it for the day with Athenia Dunham and her 15-year-old daughter, Natalie.

"They've lost their home, their traditions, whatever it is that they do. I just want to give them a little piece of home," Anderson said. "That's what Thanksgiving's about; it's not just about your blood family — it's about giving thanks and helping each other."

Faun and Danny O'Neel were hosting three families at their home in the Sacramento-area city of Folsom.

Faun O'Neel's parents and grandparents lost their homes in a Calaveras County fire several years ago, so she said opening hers to others was a "no-brainer."

Thanksgiving at a stranger's house may not be what her guests initially expected, but O'Neel hopes it can provide some calm in a trying time.

"A few hours of normalcy," she said. "Where they can laugh and enjoy other peoples' company without thinking about what they just lived through and what is in front of them."

Results of computer analyses awaited in Queensbury 'bomb threat' case

QUEENSBURY — The case against a Queensbury man who was accused of sending email threats to Warren County and Queensbury schools has been delayed as authorities await results of computer analyses.

Darrell S. Royce, 47, faces two felony counts of making a terroristic threat for May 11, 2017 threats that resulted in the county Municipal Center closing for half a day and Queensbury schools being evacuated.

The charges stemmed from threats that were sent through the county website and a school website threatening to blow up buildings. The verbiage of the threat was not released, but Warren County sheriff’s officers said it was apparent by the timing and wording that they came from the same person.

He is accused of writing the phrase “tic toc” and referencing targeting children in the messages, but police said he would not speak with investigators so his motive was unclear. Royce had been involved in earlier interactions with the county Department of Social Services, but authorities have not detailed that interaction.

Sheriff’s officers said computer Internet Protocol information led to his arrest. Searches of the school campus and Municipal Center turned up no explosives or threatening material.

Royce has pleaded not guilty, and was scheduled to appear in Warren County Court on Wednesday for what the court calendar listed as a “possible plea.”

The case was postponed, though, with a conference instead scheduled for Jan. 2 before Warren County Judge John Hall.

Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone said his office is waiting to discuss with Royce’s counsel the results of reviews of the computer information that led to Royce being charged. He said it was unclear whether the case would be resolved without a trial. No trial date has been set.

Royce turned down a plea deal offer earlier this year that would result in a six-month sentence in Warren County Jail, 5 years of probation and $14,000 in restitution for the lost work time that occurred when Warren County employees were sent home while the Municipal Center was searched.

Royce’s lawyer, Martin McGuinness, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Royce is free pending further court action in the case.

He faces up to 4-2/3 to 14 years in state prison if convicted of both charges.


Trump's rails against court, migrants in call to troops

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump used a Thanksgiving Day call to troops deployed overseas to pat himself on the back and air grievances about the courts, trade and migrants heading to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump’s call, made from his opulent private Mar-a-Lago club, struck an unusually political tone as he spoke with members of all five branches of the military to wish them happy holidays.

“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said of judges who have blocked his attempts to overhaul U.S. immigration law, as he linked his efforts to secure the border with military missions overseas.

Trump later threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico for an undisclosed period of time if his administration determines Mexico has lost “control” on its side.

Also, Trump demanded “some common sense” from America’s judges and directed his ire at a liberal-leaning appeals court. He professed respect for Chief Justice John Roberts, with whom he is engaged in a startling public dispute over the independence of the judiciary, yet shrugged off the Republican appointee as someone who “can say what he wants.”

The call was a uniquely Trump blend of boasting, peppered questions and off-the-cuff observations as his comments veered from venting about slights to praising troops — “You really are our heroes,” he said — as club waiters worked to set Thanksgiving dinner tables on the outdoor terrace behind him. And it was yet another show of how Trump has dramatically transformed the presidency, erasing the traditional divisions between domestic policy and military matters and efforts to keep the troops clear of politics.

“You probably see over the news what’s happening on our southern border,” Trump told one Air Force brigadier general stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, adding: “I don’t have to even ask you. I know what you want to do, you want to make sure that you know who we’re letting in.”

Trump also continued to rail against the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which he said has become “a big thorn in our side.”

“It’s a terrible thing,” he said, when judges “tell you how to protect your border. It’s a disgrace.”

Later, Trump asked a U.S. Coast Guard commander about trade, which he noted was “a very big subject” for him personally.

“We’ve been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals,” Trump told the commander, who sheepishly replied that, “We don’t see any issues in terms of trade right now.”

And throughout, Trump was sure to congratulate himself, telling the officers that the country is doing exceptionally well on his watch.

“I hope that you’ll take solace in knowing that all of the American families you hold so close to your heart are all doing well,” he said. “The nation’s doing well economically, better than anybody in the world.” He later told reporters “nobody’s done more for the military than me.”

Indeed, asked what he was thankful for this Thanksgiving, Trump cited his “great family,” as well as himself.

“I made a tremendous difference in this country,” he said. “This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office and you wouldn’t believe it and when you see it, we’ve gotten so much stronger people don’t even believe it.”

But Trump continued to warn about the situation on the southern border as he took questions from reporters, pointing to the caravans of Central American migrants that have been making their way toward the U.S. and warning that, “If we find that it gets to a level where we lose control or people are going to start getting hurt, we’re going to close entry into the country for a period of time until we get it under control.”

He said he had the authority to do so by executive order and claimed he’d already used it earlier this week. “Two days ago, we closed the border. We actually just closed it, said nobody’s coming in because it was just out of control.”

By no means did he seal the border with Mexico. Officials did shut down one port of entry, San Ysidro, in California, for several hours early Monday morning to bolster security because of concerns about a potential influx of migrant caravan members.

Trump’s border threat came days after a federal judge put the administration’s attempts to overhaul asylum rules on hold.

Trump probably could close the entire southern border by order, at least temporarily, invoking national security powers.

Trump began his Thanksgiving Day by asserting on Twitter that courts should defer to his administration and law enforcement on border security because judges “know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe.”

The president later told reporters that law enforcers and military service members he has sent to the U.S.-Mexico border “can’t believe the decisions that are being made by these judges.”

Trump has gone after federal judges before who have ruled against him, but the current dustup is the first time that Roberts, the leader of the federal judiciary, has offered even a hint of criticism of the president.

Roberts issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday defending judicial independence and contradicting Trump’s claim that judges are partisans allied with the party of the president who nominated them.