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Jurors convict Aubrey Trail of first-degree murder after less than three hours of deliberation

WILBER, Neb. — After hearing three weeks of sometimes-grisly testimony and viewing nearly 500 pieces of evidence, a jury took less than three hours on Wednesday to render a verdict in Aubrey Trail’s murder trial.

Guilty — of both first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the slaying and dismemberment of Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe.

Trail, a 52-year-old ex-convict, stared ahead as the verdicts were read. A second, short trial to determine whether the first-degree murder count qualifies for the death penalty will begin here Thursday morning.

A woman sitting with the Loofe family buried her head in her husband’s chest and cried as the twin guilty verdicts were read. Loofe’s mother and sister both wiped tears as they walked out of the ornate, wood-paneled courtroom.

Loofe’s father, George Loofe, said earlier that his family would have no comment because they still face a second trial in her death, that of Trail’s girlfriend, Bailey Boswell.

Boswell, 25, is also charged with first-degree murder, as well as improper disposal of human remains. She is scheduled to face trial in October, though her attorney has said he is seeking to move the trial out of Saline County because of the heavy publicity about the case.

Trail pleaded guilty to improper disposal of human remains just before the start of the trial.

It will go down as one of the most sensational, and sad, murder cases in state history, involving talk of witchcraft, killing someone to “gain powers” and the death and dismemberment of a young woman seeking a friend over the Internet.

Loofe, who was described as struggling with depression, money troubles and a job that she didn’t like at a Lincoln Menards store, had gone on the Internet dating app Tinder. There she met someone named “Audrey,” who was actually Boswell, and set up a date for Nov. 14, 2017, during which the two drove around Lincoln and smoked pot.

The next night, they arranged a second date. But Loofe, a native of Neligh, Nebraska, never came home, and prosecutors maintained that she was a victim of a conspiracy by Trail and Boswell to lure a young woman via social media for torture and death.

There was no sign of Loofe until Dec. 4, 2017, despite extensive searches by the FBI and state and local law enforcement. Her remains were found over two days, in 13 pieces, wrapped in black plastic bags, tossed like “trash,” prosecutors said, along little-traveled gravel roads about an hour west of Wilber.

“The two of them were planning, scheming and lusting after, desiring a murder for months. That’s what we have here,” said one of the prosecutors, Mike Guinan of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, in his closing arguments.

Guinan and other prosecutors, as well as Trail’s court-appointed attorneys, declined comment following the verdict, which came with surprising speed.

The jury of six men and six women was given the case at 3:53 p.m., and had to pick a foreman before beginning their deliberations. Jurors also were delivered supper before informing Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson at 6:33 p.m. that they had reached a verdict.

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“It was absolutely right,” said Bobbi Greenwood of Wilber, as she sat with a group at Wilber’s Foxhole Tavern.

“May he rot in hell,” said other members of the group as they toasted the guilty verdicts.

Few people in Wilber knew of Trail and Boswell or their activities, according to Greenwood, before they were named as “persons of interest” shortly after Loofe was reported missing on Nov. 16, 2017.

“He spilled out a story about witchcraft and then gave a whole new story (when he testified),” she said. “They had to know he was full of it.”

Trail and Boswell took to Facebook to proclaim their innocence before they were apprehended at a motel in Branson, Missouri, on Nov. 30, 2017.

That began a long string of interviews of Trail by investigators. The story told by Trail, who has spent time in prison for both forgery and passing bad checks, evolved over time, from not being involved, to taking responsibility for Loofe’s death, though maintaining that it was an accident during the filming of a sexual fantasy involving choking and two unidentified women.

But on Tuesday Trail took the stand, just over two weeks after apparently attempting suicide by slashing his neck in front of the jury. Over three hours, Trail told a new story: That there was no sexual fantasy, no other women, just him and Boswell, engaging in consensual “rough sex” with Loofe that involved choking that went too far. He alone, he said, should be held responsible, because Boswell was just having sex.

Guinan, during his closing arguments, urged jurors to use their common sense and reject Trail’s ever-changing “stories” of what happened. He is a “con man,” the prosecutor said, who kept changing his story when provided new evidence by investigators.

“This clearly was not a sexual fantasy gone wrong, but a premeditated murder gone right,” Guinan told jurors. “This was a case about a planned abduction to kill.”

Three women who had lived and traveled with Trail and Boswell before the pair met Loofe testified that there was frequent talk of killing, either as a witchcraft ritual, to right a wrong, or just for sexual gratification.

But one of Trail’s court-appointed attorneys told jurors that the talk about witchcraft and killing were pure “fantasy” and was linked to a Stephen King horror book, “Doctor Sleep,” that references witches breathing the “last breath” of someone.

Joe Murray, the defense attorney, told jurors that the state had failed to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Loofe’s murder was premeditated. He said what happened better fit the definition of involuntary manslaughter — a much lower crime of accidental murder that doesn’t come with the possibility of the death penalty.

Murray said that an expert on dismemberment had ruled out a hack saw purchased by Trail and Boswell before Loofe’s death as the saw used to dismember the body. Yet prosecutors, he said, insisted that it was the tool.

“You can’t make stuff up,” Murray said. “They’re doing the same thing they’re accusing Aubrey Trail of doing — making stuff up.”

Later, Guinan argued that the expert had found that a thin-bladed saw with 24 teeth per inch was used to saw up the body — the same number of teeth on the hack saw purchased by Trail and Boswell on Nov. 15, hours before Boswell and Loofe’s second date. The saw was never found, and the prosecutor suggested that it was disposed of because it was used in the dismemberment.

Guinan displayed a slide show, with one segment titled “the Perfect Crime Solved,” to the jury to refresh the jury’s memory of the long list of witnesses and evidence.

He said that when Loofe agreed to meet Boswell for a second date, it was the “poignant moment” in the case.

“At that moment, when Sydney Loofe stepped into (Boswell’s) car, her fate was sealed … she was dead,” Guinan said.

He said Loofe was most likely “pounced upon” and killed and dismembered almost immediately by Trail and Boswell after she arrived at their basement apartment in Wilber at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 15.

But Murray disputed that. He said forensic experts testified that there was a lack of blood because the body was dismembered several hours or days after Loofe was killed.

He also said that Trail’s lack of planning about what to do with the body illustrated that there was no “plan” to kill Loofe.

Trail and Boswell, according to testimony during the trial, meandered across the Midlands after disposing of the body, traveling to Council Bluffs, then Grand Island and Kearney, then to Iowa, and eventually to Branson, Missouri, where they were apprehended.

“Does common sense tell you there was a plan? Of course it doesn’t,” he said. “No plan. No premeditation. There’s reasonable doubt.”

After rendering their guilty verdicts, the jury was sequestered overnight at a motel prior to the short trial on Thursday. It will focus on whether aggravating circumstances — such as the heinous nature of a crime — would qualify the case for the death sentence.

If the jury finds that Trail qualifies, three judges would be appointed to hold another hearing on whether any mitigating factors exist to outweigh the aggravators. The judges would then sentence Trail to death or life in prison, the only two options for first-degree murder.

Nebraska Medicine, UNMC launch plan to shorten wait times for psychiatric services

With long wait times the norm for new behavioral health patients — three months isn’t unusual, according to one doctor — Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center have launched a plan to improve access.

The plan, launched July 1, calls for returning most patients — once they’re stable — to their primary care providers for ongoing care, freeing more appointment slots for new patients.

David Cates, Nebraska Medicine’s behavioral health director, said limited access to psychiatric providers is a regional and national problem.

Behind the access crunch are a number of converging trends.

Behavioral health providers are clustered in urban areas, leaving rural areas underserved, particularly in Nebraska, said Dr. Howard Liu, chairman of UNMC’s psychiatry department. And that workforce is aging, with more than half of providers in Nebraska now over age 50 and retiring faster in some cases than they can be replaced.

At the same time, the stigma around seeking behavioral health care has lessened somewhat, he said. Not only is there a greater understanding of such behavioral health problems, today’s younger generation — Generation Z — also is more likely to have access to such care than earlier generations and at the same time to report a greater number of poor mental health days.

On top of that, Cates said, is the way providers practice — and the problem the new plan is specifically designed to address. Providers typically follow patients indefinitely, leaving few openings available for new patients. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, some 92% of outpatient psychiatry visits at Nebraska Medicine were return ones.

“We tend to keep patients forever,” Cates said.

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The plan calls for new patients to come via referrals from their primary care provider, with some exceptions.

After an evaluation, patients will follow one of two tracks. Those on a consultation track will go through several more visits and, once stable, be referred back to their primary care provider for ongoing management.

Those with more persistent or severe conditions, such as psychotic disorders or conditions requiring frequent lab monitoring of medications, will stay on a continuity track under the care of psychiatrists or psychiatric advanced practice providers, all of whom can prescribe medications.

The difference between the two tracks will come down to the complexity of the patient’s condition, including stability and history, rather than the diagnosis itself.

But Cates said the team that developed the plan believes that a significant number of patients can be transferred back to primary care providers.

“That’s where we hope to increase access for Nebraska Medicine and the wider community,” he said.

Neither patients nor providers on the consultation track will be cut loose entirely, however. Providers will receive guidance, including recommendations regarding changes they can make in case of side effects or medications they can add if symptoms worsen. Primary care providers can contact psychiatry department providers via a pager for matters requiring urgent attention, or message them through the health system’s electronic health record system for more routine follow-ups. They also can refer patients back to the psychiatry department at any time.

Dr. Thomas Tape, a Nebraska Medicine physician, said he sees the new system as a good thing.

“There is a workforce shortage in psychiatry, so it’s really hard for us to get timely psychiatric advice,” he said. “It’s not unusual for patients to be told it’s a three-month wait or more to get an opening in the psychiatric clinic.”

Tape said he had a similar arrangement with a former psychiatrist and recommended it to Liu. It’s also similar to the relationships primary care providers have with a number of specialists who manage chronic diseases. If he has a patient who’s having difficulty controlling blood sugars, for instance, the patient might see an endocrinologist once or twice and then come back to him for ongoing management.

“It’s making the best use of everyone’s expertise ... in a situation where there aren’t enough mental health (care) providers to go around,” Tape said.

In Nebraska, 88 of the state’s 93 counties met the federal criteria for a Mental Health Professions Shortage Areas designation in 2018, and 32 lacked a behavioral health provider of any kind. Nearly one in five Nebraskans has a mental illness.

A number of partners are working on the problem. The state saw a nearly 15% increase in its behavioral health workforce between 2010 and 2016, according to a 2018 report compiled by the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska. The center was established by the Nebraska Legislature in 2009 to increase residents’ access to behavioral health care by bolstering that workforce. Liu is the center’s former director.

The biggest gains, he said, have come in the number of psychiatric nurse practitioners, who can prescribe medications.

Liu said the new plan follows a concept known as population health, which is focused on treating the health of a community rather than that of individual members. Providers can either go deep and treat a few patients for 25 or 30 years — and those with serious illnesses will still need that — or go wide and see many more for a few visits before sending them back to primary care providers.

“For the great majority, we think we can go wide, rather than deep,” he said, noting that most systems are moving in that direction.

There are a number of models. Nebraska Medicine, for instance, also has behavioral health providers embedded in primary care clinics. Those providers can provide therapy, but they typically can’t prescribe medications.

But Cates said all of the models are focused on supporting primary care providers’ efforts to provide behavioral health care. “Overall,” he said, “they are excited about the prospect of being able to get their patients seen more quickly.”

17 rare and unusual health stories out of Omaha

Presidential candidate's Omaha visit sparked violence — and trouble for Central High's 'idolized rebel'

Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a segregationist, got a hostile crowd and plenty of publicity when he came to Omaha in March 1968. According to multiple accounts, a white officer and black protester exchanged words at Wallace's Civic Auditorium appearance on March 4. The cop knocked the protester down and when the teenager attempted to retaliate, police swarmed the demonstrators with billy clubs and mace.

When the movie ended, the real show began.

The bearded black barber in a tight white T-shirt stepped to the podium and addressed a packed dining hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Ernie Chambers wasted no time.

He called Christians hypocrites. Attacked the Omaha Public Schools for physically abusing black students. Blasted politicians for corruption and indifference. While white UNL students sit in class and wonder about their next date, Chambers said, blacks worry about their families.

“Negroes have been put in a position with no alternative but to fight back,” Chambers said. “I am for fighting back.”

It was Monday night, Feb. 5, 1968. Halfway around the world, the Viet Cong attacked Army and Marine battalions in the ancient capital of Hue. Saigon streets crackled with machine-gun fire. The Tet Offensive, a series of bloody attacks on South Vietnam, entered its second week.

In Lincoln that day, Southeast High School named 23-year-old Frank Solich its new football coach. And that night, a few hundred NU students squeezed into the Selleck dining hall to watch “A Time for Burning.”

The Oscar-nominated documentary featured an Omaha pastor’s attempt to build bridges between his all-white church, Augustana Lutheran, and the black community. The Rev. James Youngdahl’s movement failed and his church forced his resignation.

One of the opening scenes captured Chambers in his Spencer Street barbershop lecturing the pastor.

“I can’t solve the problem. You guys pull the strings that close schools. You guys throw the bombs that keep our kids restricted to the ghetto. You guys write up the restrictive covenants that keep us out of houses. So it’s up to you to talk to your brothers and your sisters and persuade them that they have a responsibility. We’ve assumed ours for over 400 years. And we’re tired of this kind of stuff now.’”

When the lights turned on at Selleck, Chambers engaged a diverse audience, challenging white college kids to confront their prejudice. Some cheered him. Some mocked him.

“This is just a lark, a show for you,” the 30-year-old Chambers said, “but it gives me a chance to show how little I think of you.”

Down the hall, a 30-year-old white assistant football coach supervised athletic study hall. Tom Osborne was in charge of academics, monitoring GPAs and making sure 150 football players passed 24 credit hours.

“It was an uncomfortable position,” Osborne recalled. “I was the one guy and I was always dreading that somehow I would mess up and I’d have to go see Bob Devaney and tell him one of his best players was ineligible.”

At about 9 p.m., Osborne headed out through the dining hall and saw the congregation. He intended to keep walking until he heard the man up front criticize Devaney for the way he handled black players, dozens of whom were listening.

Osborne stopped.

“It just caught me by surprise. Some of the things I was hearing didn’t square with my observation. … If there was anybody who didn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body, it was Bob Devaney.”

Osborne raised his hand and spoke up. And Chambers didn’t back down. “They got into it,” said Mike Green, former Husker running back.

Then Green’s buddy got pulled into the fray. Dick Davis, a 1965 North High grad, had helped reverse the trend of North Omaha blacks rejecting the Huskers.

Ernie cut Davis’ hair, but Dick had no beef with Nebraska. That same month, Devaney had helped Davis’ fiancée get an apartment after discrimination undercut her application.

So Osborne called on Davis to share his experience. To Chambers, that was putting a young black player on the spot. Leave him out of this. In the end, Davis said nothing.

Over the next 50 years, two of the most influential men in Nebraska history — as different as the hair on their heads — argued publicly about all kinds of issues, from Jarvis Redwine’s demotion (1980) to student-athlete stipends (1985). In 1993, they debated pornography laws. Chambers asked Osborne if he’d ever seen the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. “Before I quit reading Sports Illustrated, yes,” Osborne said.

As they aged, they became more cordial. But that night at Selleck? Not so much. Their exchange foreshadowed the bigger conflicts of 1968, when people — black and white — stood up and declared what they believed, consequences be damned. And every once in a while, a black athlete found himself in the middle of the madness.

“That was the first time I’d ever seen Ernie,” Osborne said. “Didn’t even know who he was.”

The football coach listened a few more minutes, then headed out into the quiet winter night. A more hostile foe was coming Chambers’ way.

* * *

George Wallace stepped off his private plane to the soothing notes of “Dixie.” If the band had been all he heard, the former Alabama governor might have felt welcome. He wasn’t.

“Wallace, Go Home!”

“Sock it to me, Black Power!”

How many men could’ve attracted 1,500 people to Eppley Airfield on Sunday afternoon, March 3, 1968? Muhammad Ali? Doubtful. The Beatles? Maybe. But few inspired such love and loathing as America’s chief spokesman for segregation.

As Wallace shook hands with his fans, protesters chanted “We shall overcome.” A foe heaved at him a partly burned Confederate flag — it missed. Inside the terminal, Wallace — a mere 5-foot-7 — addressed the media, promising to take guns from bad guys and give them to good guys; shift the tax burden from the poor to the rich; repeal open housing laws; and win Vietnam by freeing generals to fight. He denied that he was racist.

“You have had more lack of tranquility in your own state than we have had in our state,” Wallace said.

There was enough anger to go around. That same week, “CBS Evening News” anchor Walter Cronkite closed his Vietnam report with a declaration that America should give up the fight and come home.

The bipartisan Kerner Commission released its much-anticipated report examining the causes of the 1967 urban riots. The report, immediately controversial, focused its critique on the majority.

“What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto,” the commission concluded. “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

North Omahans didn’t have time to argue about 1967. They focused on the ’68 presidential election.

In mid-February, Wallace’s Nebraska supporters launched a third political party so they could vote for him in the May 14 presidential primary. To get the required 750 signatures, Wallace scheduled a March 4 speech at the Civic Auditorium, less than a mile from North Omaha’s front door.

“Can you imagine how we felt as black folks?” activist Rodney Wead said.

A showdown loomed. But first Wallace paid a visit to Omaha University, where a few hundred students (mostly opponents) met him in the parking lot with signs: “Burn Bigot Burn,” “Let me go to jail and Wallace go to hell,” “When will the Civil War end?”

Wallace spoke to a political science class for 30 minutes as police officers kept protesters at bay.

“The average man is sick and tired of people who talk about free speech but don’t want you to speak,” he said. “If I were president … and some anarchist lies down in front of my automobile, it will be the last automobile he ever lies down in front of.”

Professor Richard Marvel’s students shared Wallace’s version of the truth: that America had lost its way not because it was changing too slowly, but too fast. They responded with a sound you don’t often hear in a college classroom.


* * *

Four miles east on the hill overlooking downtown, Nebraska’s best high school basketball team prepared for a state championship run. Omaha Central rolled through winter with just one loss, captivating crowds and inspiring a nickname from The World-Herald’s Don Lee.

“The Rhythm Boys.”

“We were the talk of the town,” Willie Frazier said.

Central’s first all-black starting lineup honed its game at Bryant Center, the Boys Club and Kountze Park. The Eagles could dribble, pass and shoot, but what made them special was their anchor, a 6-foot-7 free spirit.

Dwaine Dillard.

On Feb. 16, 1968, No. 1 Central hosted No. 2 Creighton Prep at Norris Junior High. The gym reached 3,200 capacity almost two hours before the 8 p.m. tip. Central “bombed Creighton Prep out of sight,” The World-Herald’s Paul LeBar wrote, thanks mainly to Dillard’s dominance.

The big guy averaged 23 points and 21 boards, his numbers frequently leaping off the sports page:

» 34 points, 30 rebounds, 10 blocks and four steals against Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.

» 32 points and 25 rebounds against Bryan.

Dillard blocked shots, LeBar wrote, “as if he were swatting flies.”

“No one could stop him,” former Central teammate Alvin Mitchell said.

Except distractions.

Dillard was born to a 16-year-old student at South High. His father went off to the Army and eventually left the picture.

Dillard bounced from city to city, including a short stint as a foster child, before spending most of grade school next to Marlin Briscoe in the South Omaha projects. In high school, his grandma — a Swift packinghouse worker — moved him to North Omaha, 24th and Sprague.

Dillard, often the class clown, made fast friends (and girlfriends) with a magnetic personality. He could spring into a handstand and walk around the gym upside down.

“You don’t see many 6-7 guys doing that,” Central assistant Jim Martin said.

Dillard found mischief everywhere. At his most innocent, he piggybacked on a 5-7 teammate, ripped his hand open dunking in pre-game warmups, sneaked out of a bowling alley without paying for his food — sticking his buddies with the bill — and drowned his stomach with sugar.

One day before practice, Dillard came walking down the hallway drinking from a paper cup.

Free Pepsi, he said.

Dillard and his teammates emptied the fountain pop machine, only to find out it was intended for a parents event.

“You guys have really done it,” his coach said.

Dillard’s antics weren’t always harmless. By star athlete standards, he spent too much time smoking, drinking and gambling in South Omaha pool halls. During the 1966 unrest, police arrested him for breaking into a TV repair shop and department store — charges were dropped.

“Dwaine was always doing something,” Mitchell said.

* * *

The Eagles finished Monday afternoon basketball practice as the sun set over their century-old high school. A beautiful 65-degree night.

One block down the hill, protesters arrived in front of the Civic Auditorium for the Wallace speech, carrying signs like “White Fascism” and “Wallaceness is Lawlessness.” They ranged from black teens to white priests and nuns.

Organizers ushered most of the 500 protesters to the balcony. But police officers led a group of about 20 — mostly young and black — to the best seats in the house, the arena floor right in front of the podium. A strategic move by Wallace, Nebraska Gov. Norbert Tiemann later said.

The Civic Auditorium’s northern half was closed off by curtains, leaving 5,400 people for 3,400 seats — 2,400 in the balcony and 1,000 on the floor. The atmosphere felt like a prize fight — cramped, hot and hostile. Protesters punctuated the Pledge of Allegiance with shouts — “With liberty and justice for all!” During the national anthem, stink bombs filled the auditorium.

Wallace backers, many of whom wore straw hats, passed plastic buckets like church offering plates, collecting cash for the campaign. Wallace protesters cut the cables from the platform to TV cameras. They heckled speakers.

“Every catcall,” said the Rev. Henry Bucklew, a Wallace ally from Mississippi, “is worth 10 signatures for Governor Wallace.”

When the candidate finally came to the microphone after 9 p.m., protesters in front of the podium — now 40 to 50 — shouted over him, throwing signs and sticks.

“These are the kind of folks the people in this country are sick and tired of,” Wallace shouted. He spoke for about 10 minutes before police closed in on the protesters. That’s when tensions exploded.

According to multiple accounts, a white officer and a black protester exchanged words. The cop knocked him down and when the teenager attempted to retaliate, police swarmed the demonstrators with billy clubs and mace.

“They kicked my butt,” said Wead, who wears a scar near his eye 50 years later.

Some fought back, others turned and tried to escape down a long center aisle — a gantlet in enemy territory. Wallace supporters swung folding chairs. One officer hit a young black man as a Wallace supporter held him. Two white men kicked a black girl. Violence spilled into the street, where protesters busted car windshields.

Within five minutes, the arena calmed and Wallace continued his 45-minute speech.

“My prayer tonight is that God bless all people — black and white — and that our system, under attack by those with not many votes but an abundance of influence, be saved.”

When he finished, Wallace got a standing ovation and more than 2,000 signatures — his third party was official.

The Rev. Bucklew: “Nebraska places the name of George C. Wallace on the ballot. … Never before in any state or city has success come any quicker. No longer can Alabama claim George Wallace. He belongs to America.”

Wallace hurried out to a waiting car, leaving behind a night of mayhem.

“Why?” a black teenager said in the auditorium lobby, sobbing. “Why?!” she screamed at a policeman. “Why?” she said to a black man holding a handkerchief to a gash on his head.

Then the girl saw a group of white people passing by and spat at their feet.

* * *

Protesters retreated up North 24th Street, and by 10:30 p.m., about 200 people had gathered at 24th and Lake. They threw rocks and bottles at cars and storefront windows, targeting white-owned businesses.

When an 18-year-old white man stopped at the traffic light, a rioter heaved a brick at his head, putting the stranger in the hospital. A group of young blacks pulled a 52-year-old white man from his pickup truck and beat him into critical condition.

Police reinforced their ranks. At 12:15 a.m., a 23-year-old off-duty officer, who worked the Wallace convention downtown, responded to a radio call at Crosstown Loan and Pawn, where rioters had broken the front window and torn apart the security bars.

James Abbott entered the pawn shop with his 12-gauge riot gun — prohibited for an off-duty officer — and waited in the dark. Just before 3 a.m., 16-year-old Howard Stevenson crawled through a broken window and, according to the officer, began opening a sliding-glass door for other intruders.

From 33 feet, Abbott pulled the trigger. The blast nearly ripped Stevenson’s body in half.

Anger didn’t end at sunrise. Thousands of OPS students skipped Tuesday classes after erroneous reports that schools were closed. Those who did attend didn’t stay long.

At Horace Mann Junior High — 97 percent black — students staged a walkout at 10:04 a.m, many gathering on the Kountze Park basketball courts, where their heroes played pickup games. A few middle schoolers broke more than 50 windows and set ablaze two bushes.

Who showed up to keep the peace? The most militant black man of all, Ernie Chambers.

“How in the world are people like me going to help you if you do something like this?” he told the crowd as windows shattered behind him.

Chambers pointed to TV cameras recording the scene.

“You are putting on a show for the crackers. They are going to make it look like you are a bunch of thugs. Don’t let them make a show out of you.”

In the 72 hours after George Wallace, North Omaha didn’t burn like it did in July 1966. The National Guard didn’t march down 24th Street at 1 a.m. So why did the 1968 disturbances set off such a panic? Because of what happened in broad daylight, specifically in schools.

A Molotov cocktail exploded in a North High hallway. Tech students threw rocks at Cuming Street traffic. Central students engaged in fights and walkouts. Horace Mann students tried to break into Lothrop and Saratoga Schools during classes.

Absentees exceeded 60 percent at Tech, Central and North the rest of the week. Panic gripped white suburban students who worried that blacks might attack — many families left the city until tensions cooled. Ten white mothers visited the Mayor’s Office demanding more security at North High. “We want protection and until we get it our children aren’t going back to school.”

On streets, blacks attacked whites with pop bottles, tire irons and razors. Two blocks east of North High — at 2:30 p.m. — a 15-year-old white girl brandished a shotgun and charged at 30 blacks. Her sister stepped in and stopped a potential massacre.

Gun sales in early March tripled from the year before. J.C. Penney alone sold 255 more rifles and shotguns that week. Pistol registrations quadrupled. When a new Kmart store opened at 71st and Ames, 10 handguns sold in the first few hours. “Customers weren’t buying them for target practice,” a spokesman said.

Mayor Sorensen, the man who defended blacks during the 1966 riot, even lecturing U.S. senators in Washington about conditions in the ghetto, switched sides.

He blistered protesters for harassing “Mr. Wallace.” He defended officers’ “superb” response at the Civic. He criticized the Kerner Commission, blaming “a very small group of minority citizens who apparently feel that progress will come through the type of antagonism reflected at the Auditorium.”

The protests angered Omahans. “Many people are truly disturbed and I confess I am one of them,” Sorensen said.

Gov. Tiemann had a different take on Wallace, saying his visit was “like throwing gasoline on a fire.” Wallace set the stage for a confrontation. Police should’ve put all demonstrators in the balcony or escorted them out before Wallace took the mic, he said.

Tiemann prompted swift backlash from constituents when he called Wallace “that nut from Alabama.”

By week’s end, the damage included 44 cars, 32 buildings, 17 injuries and 55 arrests, including the Rev. John McCaslin of Holy Family Church, a white priest who advocated Black Power.

“There was a real thin line between right and wrong,” Alvin Mitchell said.

But one teenager became the face of the 1968 disturbances — forever synonymous with George Wallace.

Late Tuesday night, 26 hours after Wallace fled Omaha, three white police officers stopped a car at 19th and Sprague and arrested six black males — ages 16-26 — for possession of flammable liquid-filled bottles. Molotov cocktails.

Dwaine Dillard was in the front seat.

* * *

The flame flickered inside for a long time before that night.

High school standouts Johnny Rodgers and Ernie Britt had little interest in politics or protests. But Dillard was more socially conscious. Certainly more rebellious. Like Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali, he seemed to believe that black athletes could (and should) champion the cause of black freedom.

“We were chasing girls,” Rodgers said. “He was chasing civil rights. And girls.”

When Dillard listened to Ernie Chambers’ speeches, he felt inspiration and anger. Maybe he felt invincible, too.

The night of Wallace’s speech, Dillard occupied the street outside the Civic Auditorium. The next day, standing in a Central High stairwell landing, he lighted a match and dropped it in a trash can. He threw a hamburger bun at a music instructor before walking out of class. He joined an after-school fistfight when he should’ve been lacing up for practice.

Tuesday night, March 5, Dillard played basketball at Bryant Center until 11 p.m., as he often did. His buddies, including Rodgers and Britt, headed home — the state tournament was 48 hours away.

But Dillard got in Nathaniel Goodwin’s blue ’66 Rambler. An hour later, he saw the flashing lights. His mom and minister picked him up Wednesday morning from police headquarters. Chambers was there, too, vowing to keep Dillard in line.

His face appeared on the front page of the Wednesday afternoon World-Herald. Local newscasts featured his arrest. Even Cronkite covered the unrest.

Dillard said he was just getting a ride home. His friends said the police lied about the explosives and roughed them up. But he’d lost control of his reputation — and his version of the truth. As World-Herald sports columnist Wally Provost wrote:

“Dillard was not just another boy in trouble. He was a Symbol. To some people he was an accused criminal who should be dealt with firmly and promptly. He symbolized all that they feared from lawlessness. To another faction he was a school athletic hero, perhaps even an idolized rebel. Considering the extreme emotions of the city, this was a hot one; anybody who touched it could expect to get burned.”

As Dillard stirred public debate, Mayor Sorensen stewed over the next big event at the Civic Auditorium: the state Class A boys basketball state tournament. It had moved from Lincoln to Omaha in 1965. But Sorensen feared that returning to the source of unrest would invite more protests and more violence.

The Nebraska School Activities Association agreed and moved Class A to Lincoln. Central would play Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to minimize chances of violence.

Would the state’s best player be in uniform? Coach Warren Marquiss, in his last season before retirement and his last chance to win Central’s first state championship since 1912, argued Dillard should be eligible — you can’t punish a student before a fair trial. The superintendent and principal deferred to his judgment.

The decision didn’t satisfy angry strangers who called Marquiss’ home so often that the coach disconnected his phone.

Wednesday night, as he should’ve been completing his game plan, Marquiss looked out his window at 2802 N. 69th St. and saw an image straight out of Alabama: two homemade crosses burning in the front yard.

Water extinguished the flames. The grass wore the scars.

* * *

Central was in good spirits when it reached Pershing Auditorium, despite a defection.

One of Dillard’s teammates quit the team that morning, refusing to travel to Lincoln. His own personal protest against Wallace and the tournament move.

Then Marquiss announced that Dillard would miss the opener too. He’d violated a team rule, the coach said.

The Eagles strongly considered a boycott. In the locker room, they actually voted not to play before Marquiss called their bluff. “Get out there!”

The State Patrol and Lincoln police were on riot alert. More than a dozen helmeted policemen, including a dog, ringed the courts at Pershing Auditorium and the NU Coliseum, where Tech was playing at the same time. More officers stood high in the bleachers.

They had a quiet morning. Only 1,000 fans showed up, few of them black. Central rolled North Platte, 70-51.

Dillard returned for the Friday morning semifinal against Boys Town, recording 23 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks in an overtime win. At the NU Coliseum, Tech lost to Lincoln Northeast and Ernie Britt lost his cool, shoving an official after his fifth foul. Bob Devaney came out of the stands to calm him down.

Saturday morning presented a state championship rematch — Northeast beat Central in 1967. About 7,000 fans squeezed into the Coliseum, crowding the floor so tightly that officials allowed players to straddle the boundaries when inbounding the ball.

Pressure squeezed shooters, too. Central scored just 19 first-half points, but held a one-point lead. Then Northeast got hot. Dillard’s 22 points and 17 rebounds couldn’t overcome Central’s 10-for-20 at the foul line. The Rhythm Boys never found their rhythm.

Lincoln Northeast 54, Omaha Central 50.

Marquiss blamed five days of chaos. “We were emotionally drained.” Dillard, on his 19th birthday, handled defeat with class. But neither Central nor North Omaha inspired sympathy.

In Sunday’s Journal and Star, Lincoln columnist Hal Brown wrote this: “If the Omaha Negroes responsible for the Monday night troubles in their city had been able to show the restraint under stress that was shown by the Central Negro cagers, the Class A competition would have been played in Omaha Saturday night instead of in Lincoln Saturday morning.”

Here’s the other way to look at it: What if Wallace hadn’t come at all?

He never returned to Nebraska and received only 1% of votes in the May primary.

Police exonerated James Abbott, the cop who killed Howard Stevenson inside Crosstown Loan. Coincidentally, the two had attended the mayor’s 1966 youth camp, designed to improve relationships between police and black youth.

Nathaniel Goodwin, the driver of the ’66 Rambler, was convicted of possession of an explosive and sentenced to 1-3 years in jail. McCaslin left his position as director of the Catholic Social Action Office, but continued preaching.

And Dillard? Just like 1966, his charge was dropped. But he wore the scars. College scholarship opportunities dwindled. He landed at Eastern Michigan for one year, then returned to Omaha and never played college basketball again.

The Baltimore Bullets saw his potential and drafted him in the fifth round in 1972. It didn’t work out. He joined the Washington Generals before earning a one-year promotion to the Harlem Globetrotters. He played three ABA games with the Utah Stars. But he never found a home in basketball.

Like Fred Hare, Dillard carried the burden of “what if” the rest of his life. “He was so bitter about basketball,” his wife, Carolee, told author Steve Marantz in his book about the ’68 Eagles, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central.”

“He didn’t want to talk much about it. He thought he should have gone further.”

In 2008, Dillard died of pancreatic cancer. He was 59. His name still carries weight in the North Omaha barbershops and cafes. But the lessons are still fuzzy.

Alvin Mitchell, Dillard’s old teammate and a North Omaha pastor, reflects on a moment when moral compasses spun so fast you couldn’t see straight, when the pressure to stand and shout felt overwhelming, when kids didn’t see a future past the present. In the midst of chaos, Mitchell said, you have to stop and ask yourself, “Who will lead me?”

In March 1968, that question strained even the strongest coaches, politicians, ministers, cops and civil rights leaders.

For an 18-year-old basketball star, the line between right and wrong all but disappeared.

Next up: Red-hot Summer

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. affected all of North Omaha's star athletes, and Bob Gibson harnessed his rage to produce one of the most dominant seasons in Major League history. But back home, Gibson's neighborhood struggled to recover from a series of gut punches.

Click here to read Part 9 of the "24th & Glory" series.

Angered by assassinations of black heroes, Bob Gibson became the most dominant force in sports

Photos: Scenes of North Omaha