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Primary-secondary
Gretna crash victims loved dance, cheerleading and soccer

Thursday, authorities released the names of the four Gretna teenagers who died in this week’s horrible car crash. They were active in the school community, putting in the hours on soccer, volleyball or dance teams, and earned the good grades needed to join the National Honor Society.

* * *

Abigail Barth, 16

Abigail Barth

Abigail, who went by Abby, just finished her sophomore year at Gretna High School. She competed on the Gretna High School dance team with Alex Minardi. The dance team “has an Abby and Alex sized hole in our hearts,” their coach wrote on Facebook.

Alexandria Minardi, 15

Alexandria Minardi

Alexandria, who went by Alex, just finished her sophomore year at Gretna High. She is the oldest child of Tonja and John Minardi. She liked to dance. “Her laugh filled a room, her hugs lasted a lifetime, and her eagerness for life filled the hearts of all,” a dance teacher wrote on a GoFundMe page. “Alex excelled in all areas of her young life, including academics and a continued passion for dance.”

Kloe Odermatt, 16

Kloe Odermatt

Kloe, a soon-to-be junior at Gretna High, was a cheerleader who also belonged to the Elite Cheer gym near the Oak View Mall. She had cheered at the gym since she was 3 years old, and coaches said she was funny and fiercely determined to hone her skills as an athlete. Kloe was the middle of three sisters. She was “a beautiful soul … tragically lost way too soon,” according to a PayPal fundraiser organized for the family.

Addisyn K. Pfeifer, 16

Addisyn Pfeifer

Addisyn just finished her sophomore year at Gretna High School, was a member of the National Honor Society and enjoyed playing soccer. She recently started her first job at Timbercreek Pizza and wanted to be a NICU nurse. She is survived by her parents, Justin and Wendy Pfeifer; siblings Aidric, Keely and Keira; and many other relatives. A visitation is Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. with the vigil service at 5 p.m. Her funeral is Monday at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 508 W. Angus Road in Gretna. Memorials can be sent to the family through Roeder Mortuaries.

Did you know one of these girls and want to share a memory that tells us more about their personalities, community and school connections and how they’ll be remembered? Please email rmoring@owh.com.


Articles
'Iran made a very big mistake,' Trump says
U.S. considers response to downing of drone; Iran says it was defending its territory and will take case to U.N.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump declared Thursday that "Iran made a very big mistake" by shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz and gathered top national security officials at the White House to discuss options.

Asked earlier in the day about a U.S. response to the attack, the president said pointedly, "You'll soon find out." But he also suggested that shooting down the drone was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation of the tensions that have led to rising fears of open military conflict.

"I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth," Trump said at the White House. "I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it."

The downing of the huge, unmanned aircraft, which Iran portrayed as a deliberate defense of its territory rather than a mistake, was a stark reminder of the risk of military conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines a "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region.

On Thursday, Iran called the sanctions "economic terrorism," insisted the drone had invaded its airspace and said it was taking its case to the United Nations in an effort to prove that the U.S. was lying about the aircraft being over international waters. It accused the U.S. of "a very dangerous and provocative act."

The drone — which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 — entered Iranian airspace "despite repeated radio warnings" and was shot down by Iran, acting under the U.N. Charter, which allows self-defense action "if an armed attack occurs," Iran's U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said in a letter to the U.N. secretary-general.

Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, appeared to play down the significance of the shoot-down.

He cast it as "a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment." Yet he also said, "This country will not stand for it, that I can tell you."

On Capitol Hill, leaders urged caution to avoid escalation, and some lawmakers insisted that the White House must consult with Congress before taking any actions.

Shortly before Trump spoke, Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Central Command air forces in the region, took a more pointed view of the shootdown.

"This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce," he said. The U.S. has blamed Iran for attacking commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf area.

The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.

The other world powers who remain signed on to the nuclear deal have set a meeting to discuss the U.S. withdrawal and Iran's announced plans to increase its uranium stockpile for June 28, a date far enough in the future to perhaps allow tensions to cool.

Citing Iranian threats, the U.S. recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution.

"We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war," Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised address.

The paramilitary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone at 4:05 a.m. Thursday when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran's Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is about 750 miles southeast of Tehran.

The first U.S. reaction was Trump's Thursday morning tweet of six forceful words: "Iran made a very big mistake."

But later, while meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump said, "I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down."

He said the American drone was unarmed and unmanned and "clearly over international waters." It would have "made a big, big difference" if someone had been inside, he said.

Taking issue with the U.S. version of where the attack occurred, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that his country had retrieved sections of the military drone "in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down." He said, "We don't seek war but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters."

Guastella, the U.S. general, disputed that contention, telling reporters that the aircraft was 21 miles from the nearest Iranian territory and flying at high altitude when it was struck by a surface-toair missile. The U.S. military has not commented on the mission of the remotely piloted aircraft that can fly higher than 10 miles in altitude and stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time.

One U.S. official said there was a second American aircraft in the area that was able to get video and imagery of the drone when it was shot down.

Congressional leaders came to the White House for an hourlong briefing in the Situation Room late Thursday with top national security officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, whom Trump has said he'll nominate as Pentagon chief.

Democratic leaders in particular urged the president to work with U.S. allies.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he told Trump that conflicts have a way of escalating and "we're worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the administration was "engaged in what I would call measured responses."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she didn't think Trump wanted war with Iran and said the American people have "no appetite" for it either. She said Democrats made it clear to Trump at the meeting that White House would need authorization from Congress before launching military action against Iran. She said the U.S. needs to be "strong and strategic" about protecting its interests but "cannot be reckless."

Talking tougher, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Iran a "murderous regime" and said, "If they're itching for a fight they're going to get one."

The senator also focused on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions, saying its leaders have refused to negotiate after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the international agreement to limit Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

Graham said it's imperative that the U.S. clearly tell the Iranians that any attempt to increase uranium enrichment will be seen as a "hostile act against the United States and our allies in Israel and will not go unanswered."

Another factor: This all comes as Trump is launching his reelection campaign. He ran for president promising to bring American troops home from the Middle East and Afghanistan and has repeatedly said he wants to keep America out of "endless wars."


Arts
Rose Theater to open one of the nation's largest youth theater academies, a 'game changer' for Omaha

There’s more interest in classes for kids at the Rose Theater than there is room to accommodate them.

The theater’s education program has grown nearly 10 times bigger over 10 years, said Kori Radloff, Rose marketing and public relations director. More than 800 students were enrolled in about 150 classes and camps in the 2018-19 season.

Rose leaders knew the education program either had to stop growing or find a bigger space.

The solution: They recently signed an 11-year-plus lease on a 27,000-square-foot space in the former Gordmans building at 120th Street and West Center Road.

The space will become The Rose Studios for Youth Artists in March of next year.

“It’s really perfect for us,” said Julie Walker, the theater’s managing director.

Arts education has become a big deal for a number of organizations around the metro area as parents search for meaningful after-school and summer activities for their kids.

Omaha Performing Arts is looking to eventually construct a building on land next to the Holland Center, and officials have said in the past that they were interested in expanding classroom space. The Omaha Community Playhouse restructured its education department in 2016 and renamed it The Henry Fonda Theatre Academy in honor of the legendary Omaha-born actor.

Summer 2019 events: More than 200 things to do in and around Omaha

The Omaha Academy of Ballet moved into a bigger space on high-profile 72nd Street a couple of years ago, not long after the large Omaha Conservatory of Music opened on Cass Street. And groups will hold classes at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center in Council Bluffs when it opens next year.

Rose staffers are working on a renovation plan for the West Center Road building, and construction will begin soon. An industry expert said he thinks it will be one of the biggest facilities of its kind in the country.

“We are completely gutting the inside,” Radloff said.

It now is basically a large open space rimmed by cubicles, but eventually it will hold:

  • Four classrooms dedicated to acting classes and private and group voice lessons, all with professional keyboards.
  • Five full-size studios on the main floor. Features will include floor-to-ceiling mirrors, sprung floors, ballet barres and high-end sound equipment.
  • A separate studio for “Art of Theater Design” classes for students from age 9 up, dealing with sets, costumes, props and, eventually, lighting and sound.
  • A full-size rehearsal studio on the lower level.
  • A 200-seat performance hall for student productions, mini-recitals, concerts and large classes.
  • A public lobby and waiting area for parents and a 100-seat break room for students, including cubbies and coat hooks.

The building, owned by Speedway Properties in Lincoln, had been the corporate headquarters for Gordmans until about 2013, after which it sat vacant for a few years, said Jeanette Weber of Investors Realty, the real estate agent who is handling the transaction. Weber also is a member of the Rose Board of Trustees.

Heafey Hoffmann Dworak & Cutler Mortuary turned a smaller space on the west side of the building into a temporary funeral home after a fire a couple of years ago but vacated the space when its location at 78th Street and West Center Road was rebuilt. The Douglas County Election Commission will move from 114th and Davenport Streets into that space.

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Weber said Speedway gave the Rose a deal on the rent and the Rose is paying for improvements to the structure.

A capital campaign to raise funds for the remodeling project is in the works, said Vic Gutman, an Omaha marketing consultant who is coordinating the effort. He said the goal has not yet been set but he expected it to be between $1.5 and $1.75 million.

He hopes to obtain the funds from only three or four donors and said his goal is to wrap up the campaign by the end of 2019 or early 2020.

When the center opens, the Rose also will continue to offer classes at its theater downtown at 20th and Farnam Streets. Classes that had been conducted for several years in bays at Bel Air Plaza, also at 120th and West Center Road, will be moved across to the new building when it opens. Radloff said the Rose probably would have to hire more instructors as everything shakes out.

There also could be the potential for other groups to rent space in the new building, but Rose leaders don’t plan on that for now.

“This is really for student performers to get their first opportunities onstage,” Radloff said. “This is very much our mission. We’re all about the kids and helping them appreciate theater in all its forms.”

The new center will be among the largest at any children’s theater in the country, said Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, executive director of Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, an umbrella group for theaters serving young people.

“This type of growth sends a strong message to the local community as well as the national theater field about the vital role that the arts can play in the lives of young people,” Chapman said.

Rose artistic director Matthew Gutschick said The Rose Studios for Youth Artists will result in additional opportunities for young people in Omaha theater. Kids who have participated in Rose education programs show up at venues across the city and play an integral role in every Rose production. The theater’s current show, “Matilda the Musical,” showcases the intense instruction they receive in voice, dance and acting.

“Our city will have a world-class facility dedicated solely to the development of youth theater artists. This is a game-changer in theater education,” Gutschick said.

Theater reviews from Betsie Freeman in 2019

Courts
breaking
Sydney Loofe's family, friends helped locate the two people charged in her death

WILBER, Neb. — The persistence of Sydney Loofe’s family and some sleuthing by friends helped to locate the two people accused in her slaying.

Loofe’s mother, Susan, reported her as a missing person, and insisted that it was suspicious, less than 24 hours after Loofe last communicated with friends.

Soon after, a friend of Loofe’s created a fake account on the dating app Tinder, and she persuaded a woman who called herself “Audrey” to share her phone number.

Lincoln police and Saline County deputies eventually tracked that phone number to Bailey Boswell and Aubrey Trail, the pair accused of luring Loofe to her death.

Thursday marked the first day of testimony in the trial of Trail, who could face the death penalty if convicted in Loofe’s November 2017 death and dismemberment. Much of Thursday afternoon’s testimony centered on the effort to identify the woman named Audrey, who agreed to a Tinder date with Loofe.

A good friend of Loofe’s, Brooklyn McCrystal of Lincoln, testified that she set up a fake Tinder account in the hopes of communicating with Audrey.

“I was trying to find Sydney,” McCrystal said, by reaching out to her date.

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Tinder provides only the age and a vague location of those seeking dates, so Audrey was listed as Audrey, 25, 32 miles away. The app also provided a handful of photos of the woman.

McCrystal eventually was able to match with Audrey and convinced her to give McCrystal her phone number. By Nov. 17, only two days after Loofe disappeared, McCrystal was messaging with Audrey.

It took a Saline County deputy, Dillon Semrad, to use the number provided by Audrey to discover her true identity.

The number provided was a “Pinger” phone number — a second phone number added to a smartphone to keep a personal number private — which many people using such dating apps use to mask their true identity. But, Semrad explained, such numbers are linked to real phone numbers, and he was able to link the phone calls with Bailey Boswell using phone tracking technologies.

Earlier Thursday, Susie Loofe, Sydney’s mother, testified that she sensed that her daughter was in trouble when she saw Sydney’s cat.

The prized pet had no water or food when Susie Loofe and her husband arrived at their daughter’s duplex apartment in the Havelock area of Lincoln on Nov. 17, 2017, to investigate. That was less than two days after the last time anyone had heard from Sydney Loofe and the morning after she had been reported missing.

“That’s why we knew something was wrong,” said Sydney’s mother, a Neligh, Nebraska, schoolteacher. “Sydney loved her cat.”

Susie Loofe and a Menard’s supervisor both testified about the struggles Sydney Loofe had with depression.

She had been on medication since graduating from high school in Neligh in 2011 and had told her supervisor two days before she disappeared that she was going to check into a hospital for treatment.

But the supervisor, Leah Shaw, said Loofe was smiling on the afternoon before she went missing and had told her “it was the first day she woke up without crying” in a long time.

Loofe’s mother said Sydney had been very depressed the weekend before, so she and her husband had accompanied their daughter back from Neligh and arranged a doctor’s visit to obtain new medication. The new meds appeared to be working, Susie Loofe said, according to text messages she exchanged with her daughter.

Text messages shown in court Thursday also revealed that the mother was concerned about Sydney’s spending on marijuana. But in a response to a question from Trail’s attorney, Joe Murray, Loofe’s mother said she was unaware of any “sexual practices” of her daughter, and unaware that she had arranged a date with Boswell.

Boswell, now 25, faces trial in October.

Testimony in Trail’s trial was supposed to begin on Wednesday but was postponed, without explanation. Thursday morning Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson revealed that the reason was that Trail — who has had two heart attacks and a stroke in recent months behind bars — had been ill.

On Thursday, Trail, 52, was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair, and sat quietly, listening to the testimony.

He is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Sydney Loofe’s death. He and Boswell lured Loofe to her death using Tinder, according to prosecutors. Trail’s attorneys, as well as Trail himself, dispute that the slaying was premeditated. They say that Loofe was a willing participant in the filming of a sexual fantasy with Trail and two other women and that she was accidentally choked to death.

Loofe’s remains were found on Dec. 4, 2017 — about three weeks after she disappeared — in farm fields and ditches in Clay County, which is about an hour’s drive west of Wilber, where Trail and Boswell had rented an apartment.

Notable crime news of 2019