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First Felonies

By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 2000

Nearly once a day in February a child 11 or younger was charged with a felony in Tampa Bay.

Some were arrested for flashing a knife or other sort of weapon. Others, including some with emotional problems, were violently reacting to teachers. Some situations became so scary to the school employees that they called the police.

What else could they do? That's the dilemma teachers, parents and other education professionals face.

To show what led to the drastic act of arresting a very young child, the St. Petersburg Times has documented one month of arrests and charges against children in Tampa Bay.

This is a record of every child under 12 in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties charged with a felony in February. It does not include misdemeanors. There were no felony arrests of children under 12 in Pasco County that month.

Most of the information in this report is based on records provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice and seven local law enforcement agencies. The law requires felony arrest records to remain open to the public, even for juveniles.

In some cases, school officials and families contributed additional information.

However, many juvenile records are confidential by law, making it difficult to learn the outcome of cases. In some instances, the charges likely were dismissed or changed. In many cases, children are put in "diversion" programs that could require the child to perform community service and the families to pay restitution for the offense.

FEB. 2: No time for time outs

TAMPA -- In the "time-out room" at Dorothy Thomas School -- a school for severely emotionally disturbed and emotionally handicapped children -- an 11-year-old boy banged on the walls and door.

When a teacher opened the door, the boy hit her right forearm, "causing a large red mark approximately 6 inches in diameter," a police report states.

He was arrested and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center on a charge of battery on a school employee.

* * *

PLANT CITY -- In a second-grade classroom at Knights Elementary School, a 9-year-old girl made a disturbing comment: A classmate had said he was going to bring a knife to school to hurt someone.

That same afternoon, another student told his teacher he had seen a 9-year-old boy drop a knife and put it back in his pocket.

The teacher took away the knife, which had a 2-inch blade. Officers could not locate the boy during the day, but found him at home at 10 that night. They arrested him on a charge of possession of a weapon on school property and took him to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

* * *

TAMPA -- A 9-year-old boy in a class for the "educable mentally handicapped" was stomping his feet on the floor and having trouble settling down. He put on his jacket and bookbag, then stood up as though it were time to go.

His teacher asked him to sit down. The fourth-grader punched her under the eye. He was charged with battery on a school employee, and the case was referred to the state attorney's office for investigation. His father says the boy was told to enter a diversion program, do community service and write essays. But he said his son's cerebral palsy prevented him from completing those duties. He's not sure where the case stands now.

* * *

TAMPA -- An 11-year-old boy was among a group of six kids accused of throwing rocks at a school bus as it passed by Dowdell Middle School. He was charged with throwing a deadly missile. The others were 12 and 13.

FEB. 3: Where did you get $8?

TAMPA -- A mother and father were already wondering where their 11-year-old daughter had gotten $8 when a police officer came to visit their house northwest of the Tampa city limits.With her parents present, an officer read the girl her rights, then asked her what she knew about a recent burglary.

Before she answered the question, her mother produced a red wooden jewelry box. Was this one of the stolen items? the mother asked. It was. The mother explained that the girl had lied about where it came from, so it was taken away, just like the $8.

By then the girl admitted to having burglarized two homes. She said she climbed into a window and wiped her fingerprints off with her shirt. She led the officers to her bedroom, showing them a stolen CD player, binoculars, red gloves and a keybox. She also admitted to stealing a gold ring but said she lost it. Then girl was arrested on four counts of burglary and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

* * *

TAMPA -- He stood in line for his school breakfast at Palm River Elementary School, threatening to hurt the other students around him.

So a teacher for the severely emotionally disturbed put the 11-year-old boy in a restraint called a "one person control." He kicked and threatened to bite her. The teacher and another employee then used another restraint called the "two-elbow control" and escorted him to an "isolation room."

They searched his pockets and found a Swiss Army knife. As the school official pulled it out, the boy said "he was going to use it to kill himself," according to a police report.Officers took the boy to the Children's Crisis Center, an emergency mental health facility. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and battery on a school official.

FEB. 4: Violence in the lunch line

LARGO -- Standing in the lunch line at Southern Oak Elementary School, an 11- year-old boy allegedly made an off-color comment to a 10-year-old girl. He Shut up, the girl said. The boy pushed her, she pushed back, and before long the boy had the girl in a headlock. He rammed her headfirst into a wall.

The girl was taken to the emergency room and treated for a concussion. The boy later complained that the girl had been teasing him.

He was charged with aggravated battery, and his case was referred to the state attorney's office for further investigation. In the meantime, the school changed class assignments so the boy and girl would not come in contact.

* * *

TAMPA -- The crime was brutal and vicious: A 6-year-old girl was raped. And news of the accused attacker was just as shocking. He was 8.

The girl was playing in the back yard of her grandmother's house, when a boy she knew came up and pushed her face down on the ground, police said.

The girl told Tampa police the boy pulled down her pants and assaulted her with his "property part" -- her words for his penis.

She yelled "stop!" and screamed "get off!"

But it wasn't until her cousin heard the noise and came into the back yard that the boy got up and left, according to police reports.

The day after this incident was the day of Tampa's Gasparilla Parade. The girl's aunt noticed she was walking as though she had been hurt. The aunt "asked her what was wrong and she told her that her butt hurts," according to a police report.

A medical exam later concluded she had been assaulted. The girl explained that the boy had "pushed her down behind her grandmother's house and messed with her."

She had a simple explanation for why she had not told anyone what happened. "I was scared," she said.

The aunt called police.

* * *

TAMPA -- An assistant principal at Progress Village Middle School found a pair of brass knuckles hidden inside an 11-year-old student's sock. The boy was arrested on a charge of possession of a weapon on school property and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. Ordered to perform community service, he later helped clean up a park close to his house, his stepfather said.

FEB. 5: Hitting the streets for info

ST. PETERSBURG -- When a 58-year-old woman discovered broken windows in the shed behind her house north of Lake Maggiore, and three missing bicycles, she walked the neighborhood to see what the local kids knew. Then she called police.

A 10-year-old boy was arrested on a burglary charge. His case was referred to the State Attorney's office for further investigation.

FEB. 8: Knife in the classroom

OLDSMAR -- A teacher's aide at Oldsmar Elementary accused a student of having a knife and the 11-year-old boy was sent to the principal's office.

He denied it. But then the teacher's aide and another student found a knife with a black plastic handle and a broken serrated blade. The boy allegedly ditched it in a mulch pile near the classroom door.

"When he saw the knife, he started crying and admitted it was his," a police report states.

A Pinellas Campus Police officer read the boy his rights. He was released to his mother and charged with of possession of a weapon on school property.

* * *

OLDSMAR -- At the same school, Principal David Schmitt heard about another boy with another knife.

Schmitt threatened to call police. So the boy reluctantly came to Schmitt's office, kicking two doors along the way. The boy was either 9 or 10 (police reports differ).

Do you have a knife? Schmitt asked.

The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a "Leatherman," a one-piece contraption that usually includes a knife, pliers, screwdriver and other tools. He said he brought it to school because "a kid was threatening to jump him at the bus stop."

An officer read the boy his rights and took a written confession. He was charged with possession of a weapon on school property and released to his father.

* * *

LARGO -- A 10-year-old boy wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey sat in his classroom at Fuguitt Elementary School, squeezing clay with his fingers. The boy, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and placed in a class for the emotionally handicapped, was playing with clay to help him work through his anger.

When the boy refused to explain to his teacher what was troubling him, she said she would have to call his mother instead of sending him to his usual after-school program.

"If you call my mom, I will break the window," the boy said, a report states. Then he allegedly grabbed a metal pole used to pull down classroom maps, swung it and hit his teacher in the arm. She had no visible marks but later told an officer it still hurt.

A teacher's assistant restrained the boy, and later said that in the process, "my foot did brush his eye."

An officer arrested the boy on a charge of aggravated battery and took him to the Juvenile Assessment Center. His case was referred to the state attorney's office.

* * *

TAMPA -- Some sort of argument had been simmering between a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. They were in a program called "alternative to out of school suspension," at Bryan Alternative School. The girl had been provoking the boy for a week, their teacher said.

On this afternoon, the boy confronted the girl and threatened to stab her with a pencil. A classmate who watched the incident later wrote to describe it:

(The girl) went and go to put up her book and he stabbed her in her arm. And (the girl) punched him and went to her seat and she pulled up her arm sleeve and the blood was dripping. So we told (a teacher) and she didn't do nothing. But the other teacher did something so the other teacher got an officer. And the officer got that boy.

The boy was charged with aggravated battery and went through a pre-trial diversion program.

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- A 10-year-old boy standing at the bicycle area at Fairmont Park Elementary School was visibly upset, yelling and flailing his arms.

A teacher came by and started asking him questions about whether he had hit another student. He ended up pushing a different teacher "in the chest area." She fell back onto the bike rack. The officer wrote that there were "no noticeable scratches or bruises on her arm. She told me that she did not seek any medical attention" but that she did want to press charges against the boy. The boy was charged with battery on a school employee.

FEB. 9: 4-feet-4 and full of fire

PINELLAS PARK -- A 9-year-old boy had been taken off the school bus for kicking and spitting at other students. Teacher Paula Stevens was trying to restrain the boy, who was 4-feet-4 and weighed 110 pounds, according to records. But he broke free and started swinging at people at Pinellas Park Elementary School.

He went up to a physical education teacher, Nancy Briner, and punched her in the hip. A behavioral specialist came and restrained the boy.

An officer told the boy he was going to be placed under arrest, but the child ran away. Eventually he was "brought down by this unit and placed in handcuffs (double-locked)," a report says.

But after the officer put the 9-year-old in the back of his cruiser, the boy got a hand free. He beat and scratched a side window and threatened to break it.

The officer took the boy out of the cruiser, handcuffed him again, and drove him to the Juvenile Assessment Center. He was charged with battery on a school employee.

The boy was scheduled to meet with the state attorney's office about the case. Final charges and disposition are not known.

* * *

TAMPA -- The 10-year-old boy was mad. He had bought a pickle that day, but a teacher at Shaw Elementary told him he was misbehaving and took it away. Later, at snack time, he threw cookies at another teacher, Maryellen Heuer, hitting her in the head. He went into a tantrum, kicking his feet.

Heuer told the boy he needed to go to the office. When he refused three times, she took the boy by the arm, and he "began punching wildly at the victim, striking her about the face."

Her face was bleeding as she restrained the boy and took him the rest of the way to the office. She had a scratch from the bridge of her nose to a point under her left eye, and a bruise was forming.

An officer later discovered the boy had a quarter-inch scratch at the left corner of his mouth and a 3-to-4-inch scratch on the back of his neck, according to the police report. Heuer said recently she was unaware of those scratches and had never been asked about them. She did say the boy was involved in an altercation earlier in the day.

The boy was arrested on a charge of battery on a school employee and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. Heuer said a judge ordered the boy to attend a program for juvenile offenders. She later received a letter of apology from the boy, on the program's letterhead. But in apparent confusion, he apologized for a different crime: taking a bicycle out of someone's yard.

FEB. 10: A history of violence

TAMPA -- The teacher was trying to get a group of students to line up and walk to another classroom, but one first-grader wouldn't do it.

So the teacher, Michaelle Blamey of Sulphur Springs Elementary School, went up to the 7-year-old boy and told him again to get in line. When he didn't, she clutched his hand "to assist him out of the way.'

The boy scratched her right hand. Blamey escorted him to the classroom, where he punched her in the arm. He later told an officer he hit and scratched his teacher because she was hurting his hand.

Blamey -- who was pregnant -- said she wanted to press charges against the boy. The investigating officer wrote that "I observed no visible injuries to the victim and she refused medical treatment.'

The school principal told police that the 7-year-old had "numerous discipline problems at school, that involved violence," which school officials had been unsuccessful at stopping.After contacting the state attorney, the boy was arrested on a charge of battery on a school employee.

* * *

TAMPA -- A student came to a teacher at Carrollwood Elementary School with upsetting news: a boy has a knife in his bookbag.

So the 8-year-old boy was called to his teacher's desk, where he dutifully poured out the contents of his bag. The teacher saw a handle sticking out of a school binder.

It turned out to be a butcher's knife.

The boy was arrested on a charge of possessing a weapon on school property, and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center, but he "was refused admittance per Col. Parrish due to his age."

The officer also declined to interview the boy, citing his age.

FEB. 13: The burning bed

TAMPA -- Using a cigarette lighter, a 9-year-old boy lit a mattress that a 7-year-old boy was sleeping on. The 7-year-old suffered burns on his right hand and arm. The relationship between the boys was unclear, but both have the same home address. The 9-year-old was charged with aggravated battery.

FEB. 14: Lashing out in class

TAMPA -- It was 9:15 on Monday morning, and a 10-year-old boy at Lomax Elementary School in the College Hill neighborhood was already in trouble for screaming at a physical education teacher.

Kena McDaniels Harris, a teacher's aide, grabbed him by the arm. The boy "turned and hit the victim once on her r/arm, causing no injuries," according to a police report.

Although the investigating officer noted that "I didn't observe any visible injuries on the victim," the officer added that Harris wanted to prosecute. So the officer handcuffed the boy and took him to the Juvenile Assessment Center. He was charged with battery on a school employee.

FEB. 16: A 'fascination' with knives

OLDSMAR -- Once again, a boy was accused of bringing a knife to Oldsmar Elementary. It was the same 9- or 10-year-old boy who had been accused eight days earlier.

So an officer came to the school again. The boy, who was waiting in the principal's office, ran away when he saw the officer.

But they later found the boy in his classroom. This time, the officer arrested the boy and took him to the Pinellas Juvenile Assess-ment Center on a charge of possession of a weapon on school property.

The boy's father later said that "he didn't know what (the boy's) problem is with his fascination with knives," according to a police report.

* * *

TAMPA -- According to his teacher, a 10-year-old boy had been causing problems all day, even throwing pieces of cement at her and disrupting class. At one point he was rummaging through the class closet. The teacher, Eliza Ross, realized the boy was going through her purse.

Then he threw a "plastic bag filled with orange juice," striking her in the chest.

The boy denied looking through his teacher's purse, but admitted to an officer that he threw the orange juice because he was mad at her.

Ross said it was not the boy's first violent incident, and she wished to prosecute.The boy's mother agreed with her son's arrest. She said that "her son had a mental problem, and she has difficulty in controlling him. (The mother) requested that her son be arrested, to help the child.'

The boy was arrested on a charge of battery on a school employee and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

FEB. 18: 'He likes to set fires'

ST. PETERSBURG -- He was upset when his mom said he couldn't ride his bicycle. So the 10-year-old boy, wearing a blue Lion King T-shirt, stormed into the white, wood-frame, detached garage that sits behind their house. He found a lighter, flicked it and lit a paper bag, which he threw on top of a pile of clothes. Then the garage caught fire. He ran out.

Once an officer arrived, the boy admitted setting the fire. His mother said he had set one in his bedroom in 1998. She said "her son needs help because he likes to set fires," according to a police report.

He was arrested on a charge of arson and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. His case was referred to the State Attorney's Office for investigation.

* * *

TAMPA -- A 9-year-old boy hit his teacher, knocking the lens from the 49-year-old man's glasses. As the teacher bent to pick up the lens, the boy kicked him in the left hip, and then kicked him again. The teacher and student were at Dorothy Thomas School for emotionally disturbed children. The boy was charged with battery on a school official.

FEB. 19: 5- and 6-year-old burglars

ST. PETERSBURG -- Burglars had broken through a front-door screen to get inside the house.Inside, officers took in the scene: A computer monitor knocked off its stand. Christmas ornaments smashed and strewn across the floor. A smoke detector inside the toilet.

Inside an attached apartment, officers discovered a wooden coffee table with a glass top, smashed.

Neighbors saw two suspects. They were brothers, one 5, one 6. When officers interviewed them, both admitted breaking into the homes, and each blamed the other for breaking things.Because of a language barrier, officers were unable to conduct "a complete interview" with this Asian family.

Both boys were charged with two counts of burglary. Their case was referred to the state attorney for further investigation.

FEB. 20: Children's Home vandalism

TAMPA -- Inside the Children's Home Inc., a residential treatment center for abused and neglected children, an 11-year-old boy and his 13-year-old friend sprayed fire extinguishers all through a cottage. Then they ran into the gym. An adult counselor detained the 11-year-old, but his friend came up and started swinging a golf club.

Another counselor ran to prevent the boy from slamming the counselor with the golf club. She wrote in a statement that she "held (the 13-year-old) against the wall and removed the golf clubs from him."

Both boys were arrested, and the 11-year-old was charged with "preventing or obstructing extinguishment of a fire."

FEB. 22: 'Extremely disruptive' rider

PINELLAS PARK -- At the end of the day, after the school buses had left Richard L. Sanders Exceptional Center, one bus circled back and returned.

The bus driver told a Campus Police officer that a 7-year-old boy was being "extremely disruptive."

The boy came off the bus and started screaming at an aide. The officer tried to calm him down, but nothing seemed to work.

Then the boy walked up to an assistant principal "and kicked her in the left shin, causing her pain." The officer approached the 7-year-old, who "turned around and kicked me in the leg."

Because the boy's mother was unable to pick him up, he was arrested on a charge of battery on a school employee and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. The officer wrote that the boy "has become a safety issue" at the school and has been warned previously that he could be arrested.

* * *

THONOTOSASSA -- It was time for a class picture in an emotionally handicapped class at Thonotosassa Elementary, and everyone was in position outside when an 11-year-old student called another a "faggot." The other boy called back: "Fat boy!"

The 11-year-old hit the other boy, and his teacher pulled him away. "He turned around and hit me on both forearms," she wrote in a statement. He denied it. In a separate incident, the student hit a teacher's aide and later said "So what, I'll do it again," according to a police report. He was arrested on two counts of battery on a school official and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

FEB. 23: Steak knife in the lunch bag

LARGO -- A 10-year-old boy was swinging his lunch bag in the cafeteria at Southern Oak Elementary when a steak knife fell out onto the floor.

After an officer had the boy sign a paper saying he understood his Miranda rights, the 10-year-old student said, explained: "I brought the knife from home to cut the crust off my sandwich."

The boy was charged with possession of a weapon on school property and his case was referred to the state attorney's office for further investigation. In the meantime, the boy was suspended for two days.

FEB. 24: The bike burglar

GULFPORT -- An 11-year-old boy asked a friend of his foster mother's if he could borrow a dollar.

The friend, a 47-year-old woman, said no. Soon after, she saw him climb over a fence and steal her mountain bike. She yelled at him, but he ignored her. Gulfport police Officer William F. Wasoba read the child his rights. The boy denied knowing anything about it, but when Wasoba said he had been witnessed, the boy admitted to taking the bicycle.

The boy was arrested and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. He was charged with burglary.

FEB. 25: The loot: CDs and Pokemon

LARGO -- When neighbors noticed two children walking into a house and leaving with something in their hands, they called police.

It didn't take sheriff's deputies long to find the suspects, an 11-year-old girl with shoulder-length blond hair, and a 10-year-old boy wearing bright yellow pants. They both had visited the house near the downtown area previously to play with a friend.

Detective Randall M. Jones read both children their rights. The boy admitted he had stolen boxes of Pokemon cards out of the home. The girl admitted to taking a CD player and a CD by rap artist Puff Daddy.

Both children were arrested on burglary charges. Both had a previous charge, and both were held five days in the Juvenile Detention Center, their mother says. She considered the punishment appropriate. A judge ordered the two to attend school, obey their mother's rules, write letters of apology and pay $50 each to a victims' fund, the mother said.

* * *

TAMPA -- It began with a boy who showed a handful of Pokemon cards to some buddies. It ended with charges of armed robbery and aggravated battery against 11-year-olds.

Late in the afternoon, the boy with the Pokemon cards, who was 12, walked to Putt-Putt Golf & Games on Busch Boulevard and met three friends. Two of the 11-year-old friends lived at Haynes Services, a group foster home, but had recently run away.

According to one account, the 12-year-old boy with the Pokemon cards started saying "bad things' about everyone else's mothers.

So one of the boys grabbed the 12-year-old's head from behind and punched him. Another boy grabbed a stick and hit the boy, causing "a small abrasion on the center of his lower back."

Afterward, the boys let the 12-year-old boy go, but one of the runaways took his Pokemon cards.

One of the 11-year-old boys was charged with armed robbery and another was charged with aggravated battery. They were arrested and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

FEB. 26: Too late to be shopping

PINELLAS PARK -- A Pinellas Park Police officer wondered why a 10-year-old boy was walking down 70th Avenue N at 10 p.m., pushing a shopping cart.

The officer came up to the boy, and saw his cart contained two car stereo speakers.

First the boy said he was taking the speakers to a friend. He changed his story a few times and began to cry. Eventually he said he had gotten the speakers from two other children, and that he had been given $10 to take the speakers somewhere for them.

The officer took him to his mother. He was charged with burglary and his case was referred to the state attorney for investigation.

FEB. 27: Days later, another charge

LARGO -- Two days after his arrest on a burglary charge, fire broke out in the bedroom of the 10-year-old boy who had taken the Pokemon cards from his friends' house. (See Feb. 25).

He admitted to an inspector he set the fire. The boy said he lit a plastic bag and thought the fire went out. So he went to the living room to watch television.

Minutes later, an 18-year-old sister noticed smoke wafting out of his bedroom. She said her brother had a habit of setting small fires, but this was the first he lit inside the house.

His mother was asleep when the fire broke out. The blaze melted a computer monitor and window blinds, and caused smoke damage. Police charged him with arson and took him to the Juvenile Assessment Center. His case was referred to the State Attorney's Office. His mother says he was ordered once again to obey home rules and stay in school, and told to keep taking his medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and attend therapy sessions.

* * *

TAMPA -- A 17-year-old expectant mother was lying on the bed with her 11-year-old cousin, when the younger girl kicked her in the stomach. The mother said it scared her, because of the baby. The younger girl knew her cousin was four months pregnant, according to police reports.

The 17-year-old refused medical treatment, and an officer saw "no visible signs of injury." After the officer read the 11-year-old girl her rights, she claimed she "accidentally kicked the victim in the stomach," according to a police report. The girl was charged with aggravated battery. The 17-year-old said in a telephone interview that her cousin had spent the night in a detention center, and later wrote a letter of apology.

* * *

ST. PETERSBURG -- A 72-year-old retired woman came home from Walgreens around lunchtime.She was surprised to find two boys, 10 and 11, inside her yellow house. But the boys explained themselves: They had heard noises in her house, and came inside to find out what the matter was.

Then the 11-year-old handed the woman a gold necklace that belonged to her. He had an explanation for this too: He found it outside.

Both boys lived at a nearby foster home. The 11-year-old had been arrested three days earlier for stealing a bicycle. (See Feb. 24).

When police arrived, both boys had more explanations. The 10-year-old said they had gone to the house to see if the woman's 6-year-old grandson could play. Then his friend suggested they go inside to look for money. The 11-year-old described it this way: He waited outside while his friend went in and stole the necklace. But then he admitted taking it himself.

The two boys were arrested on burglary charges and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

FEB. 28: Lewd and lascivious act

TARPON SPRINGS -- At Tarpon Springs Elementary, a 10-year-old boy pulled down his shorts on the basketball court, exposing himself. An arrest report says he grabbed his penis and said "look here" to two other students. He was charged with a lewd and lascivious act.

FEB. 29: Getting out of line

TAMPA -- At the Dorothy Thomas School, an 8-year-old boy refused to get into the line for physical education class. His teacher Donia Robinson later wrote a statement about what happened:

He refused to line up and cussed and threatened two of the smaller children. The class lined up and (the boy) still refused to join the line. Ms. Mathews and I were escorting him to the (time-out room) he refused to walk so we put him on the ground. He started fighting and Ms. Mathews got his legs. I had one hand by the wrist, he grabbed me by the neck with the other hand and choked me. I got scared and bit his finger to make him let go of my neck. It was reflex action to make him let go of my neck.

The police officer who came to investigate said the teacher had "a slight reddish bruise to her throat."

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