So far the social media trail left behind by Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has offered only the barest hints that could connect him to a terrible act of terror. Indeed, his Twitter account – which he continued using after the bombings – is mostly notable for how ordinary it is.
Under the user name "jmaster1," Tsarnaev "liked" a photo of Shamil Basayev, a warlord in Chechnya who claimed to be the mastermind behind the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, in which 40 terrorists and 130 civilians were killed when Russian special forces pumped an unknown chemical agent into the building.
He also "liked" another pro-Chechnya image that included a string of hashtags: #FreeChechenia #Jihad #Jannah #ALLAH #Jesus and #God.
"If I were an investigator right now, obviously the platform he deleted matters the most," said Juliette Kayyem, a CNN terrorism analyst.
On one hand, such online activity is hardly damning. "Likes" don't make a terrorist.
Yet the deleted Instagram account adds to the impression that Tsarnaev used certain corners of the Internet to carve out a more Chechen persona for himself online than he did in daily life.
His Twitter account, @J_tsar, appeared to mirror his outward life most closely, with Tsarnaev engaging in the stream of random banter that drives the microblogging site. Though he did quote from an Islamic cleric and obliquely reference the Boston bombing on his Twitter feed, most tweets talk about homework, hip-hop music, or his favorite TV shows.
It is on the Russian social networking site VKontakte that a slightly different Tsarnaev begins to emerge. For the most part, the portrait is still benign, with Tsarnaev spending the most time discussing his favorite soccer club, Chechnya's FC Terek Grozny. He even wrote some posts in the Chechen language and included a joke: “ 'A car goes by with a Chechen, a Dagestani and an Ingush inside. Question: who is driving?' Answer: 'The police.' ”
But through VK, Tsarnaev might have gained a somewhat warped view of Chechnya – a place he had never been, writes Slate's Mike Walker.
"Whatever Chechnya Dzhokhar came to know through VK was not wholly representative of the region. The majority of ethnic Chechen youth of Dzhokhar’s generation will probably harbor anti-Russian views and have especially negative thoughts about United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, which has taken a hard stance against Chechen independence.... However, Chechnya is a decently stable place today: Regular airline flights come and go, soccer matches are held, new construction is undertaken."
"Part of the anti-Russian views on the part of young Chechens are probably a combination of the legacy of war and simply being young and angry," he adds. "Those who grew up outside of the region, though, may be captivated by a romanticized extremism and maybe more inclined to actually carry something out."
Given what is already known about Tsarnaev's online habits, it seems unlikely that authorities will find a smoking gun on Instagram – Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, who is also a suspect in the bombing case, posted much more radical content than did Dzhokhar.
But with Dzhokhar reportedly talking to authorities less now that he has been read his rights, and with Tamerlan dead, authorities will surely look everywhere for possible clues.
Like many World War II veterans, after he returned home, Alan Wood didn't talk much about his role at Iwo Jima.
Wood had recovered the famous Iwo Jima flag from a salvage depot at Pearl Harbor, and brought it aboard the Navy vessel LST-779, where he was a communications officer, according to the Pasadena Star News. His ship was among some 450 that had amassed for the 1945 US assault on the key Pacific island.
"I was on the ship when a young Marine came along," he explained in the newsletter. "He was dusty, dirty and battle-worn, and even though he couldn't have been more than 18 or 19, he looked like an old man.
" 'Do you have a flag?' he asked me. 'Yes,' I said, 'What for?' He said something like, 'Don't worry, you won't regret it.' "
The US military decided they need to take the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. It was to be a critical refueling stop for US aircraft in the assault on Okinawa, Japan. But the Japanese had some 20,000 soldiers dug in – literally in tunnels crisscrossing the island.
While the battle for Iwo Jima took 36 days to complete, after just four days, a group of US Marines was sent to the 556-foot summit to plant a US flag. According to the US Navy Department Library, some 40 men from 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, led by 1st Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, raised the flag on Feb. 23, 1945.
"At 10:20 a.m., the flag was hoisted on a steel pipe above the island. This symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the battle-weary fighting men below, and struck a further mental blow against the island's defenders," according to the official Navy history.
Three hours later, a second patrol was ordered to replace the flag with a bigger one. Some reports say it was to make the flag more visible, others say that an officer wanted the first flag as a souvenir.
That's where Alan Wood's flag was raised. And this was the now famous flag raising which was captured on film by Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal. His iconic photo earned him the 1945 Pulitzer Prize, and that image later became the basis for a monument in Washington D.C., near Arlington National Cemetery.
The two flags are now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va.
The US Senate approved legislation late Thursday that would end furloughs for air traffic controllers and avoid potential delays for millions of air travelers. The House votes on the bill Friday morning and is expected to pass it, say lawmakers.
The Senate bill, which passed unanimously, allows the Federal Aviation Administration to transfer $253 million from other FAA programs to its operations account, to "prevent reduced operations and staffing" through Sept. 30, the end of the government's fiscal year.
“I am so happy that we were able to work together across the aisle in a bipartisan way to solve this problem,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, who co-authored the legislation. “It’s nice to know when we work together we really can solve problems.”
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The furloughs of air traffic controllers stems from the “sequester,” the $85 billion in congressionally mandated automatic spending cuts that went into effect March 1. The FAA's share of that cut is $637 million.
As a result, the FAA reduced the work schedules of its nearly 47,000 employees, including 15,000 air traffic controllers, and thousands of air traffic supervisors, managers, and technicians who monitor and repair equipment in airport control towers. Employees are furloughed one day every two weeks, which results in a 10 percent cut in hours and pay, the FAA said.
For air travelers on Wednesday, 863 flights were delayed because of “employee furloughs due to sequestration,” the FAA said in a statement. An additional 2,132 flights were delayed because of weather and other factors.
"It will be good news for America's traveling public if Congress spares them these unnecessary delays,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement late Thursday. "But ultimately, this is no more than a temporary band-aid that fails to address the overarching threat to our economy posed by the sequester's mindless across the board cuts.”
Restoring air traffic controllers to full staffing would cost more than $200 million, plus another $50 million to keep open smaller air traffic towers that the FAA has proposed closing, policymakers estimate.
Sen. Mark Udall (D) of Colorado said he is “very confident” that the bill will pass the GOP-controlled House. "I know the House and its leadership in both caucuses will understand the importance of doing this for our economy," he said in a conference call late Thursday, reported The Wall Street Journal.
During a House hearing on Wednesday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the staff furloughs were an unavoidable consequence of the sequester, though Republican lawmakers have said the FAA could have handled the budget cuts differently.
"How come you didn't tell us about this beforehand, the sequester, impact on the layoffs, the furloughs? Not a word. Not a breath," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky asked Mr. Huerta at the hearing.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said he is glad the bill excludes tax increases.
“Republicans have long said that the way to address these issues is through smarter cuts – not tax hikes or phony savings. And that’s what this legislation does,” Don Stewart, spokesman for Senator McConnell, told Politico.
– Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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The 22-year old philosophy major had been missing since March 15.
On Thursday a body found two days earlier in the water at a Providence, R.I., park by the university crew team was identified as that of Tripathi.
Identified by dental records, the body was described by Providence Police Cmdr. Thomas Oates as having been in the water for "some time."
But before that, the burden on Tripathi’s family – and on many Indian Americans – was frightening.
He had left behind his cell phone and a note that apparently didn’t say much, writes Amy Davidson in the New Yorker. “But [it] was enough to remind his family of what they already knew: that he had suffered from depression, that they wanted him to come home, that they would do nothing but embrace him if he did.”
For hours – until brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were identified as the prime suspects in the Boston bombing – the Tripathi family agonized about what they knew to be wildly erroneous information posted about Sunil.
“What followed … was horrifying for those of us living away from our country of origin,” writes Shivangi Misra in Mint, an Indian business newspaper published collaboratively with the Wall Street Journal. “With each passing tweet, the chorus to establish Tripathi’s guilt grew. And with it, grew the fear of retribution that the Indian community in the US would likely face in the coming days.”
On Monday, Reddit general manager Erik Martin apologized for the "dangerous speculation" that "spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties."
In a blog post, reported by USA Today, Mr. Martin specifically apologized to the Tripathi family "for the pain they have had to endure."
"The Reddit staff and the millions of people on Reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened," he said. "We all need to look at what happened and make sure that in the future we do everything we can to help and not hinder crisis situations.”
The shoot-from-the-lip nature of social media continued after Tripathi’s body had been found and identified.
“Alas! An Indian killed by hyper nationalist racists in the US for mistaken identity,” one Facebook poster wrote, only to acknowledge some time later when the true circumstances of Tripathi’s death had been pointed out – by another Facebook poster – that “I should have been more circumspect.”
Brown University President Christina Paxson sent a message to the campus community Thursday saying Tripathi – the brother of two Brown graduates – would be remembered for his "gentle demeanor and generous spirit," the Associated Press reports. She described him as an accomplished saxophonist and a "serious, thoughtful, intellectually curious student and a brilliant writer."
In the statement Thursday, the family asked for their privacy to be respected and urged the public to “exercise caution and treat human lives with delicacy.”
“This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too,’’ the family wrote. “Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”
Firefighters extinguished a massive fire in Alabama Thursday after explosions went off aboard two fuel barges overnight, critically injuring three people. The cause of the explosion is not immediately clear, but it appears to be accidental, fire officials said.
Vapors from unrefined gasoline had built up in the fuel barges, which were empty at the time of the explosion, US Coast Guard Lt. Mike Clausen told WALA Fox10 in Mobile, Ala., Thursday morning. A spark entered one of the barges, igniting the vapors and creating the first explosion. The force of the explosion caused the second boat to catch on fire, he said.
Mobile Fire-Rescue officials and the Coast Guard are waiting for the wreckage to cool before inspecting the barges to pinpoint where the spark originated.
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The initial explosion occurred at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, but firefighters allowed the fire to burn overnight after six other explosions went off during the night, Mobile Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Huffman said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
The barges, owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, were being cleaned at an Oil Recovery Co. facility on the Mobile River, said Kirby spokesman Greg Beuerman. The three injured individuals are workers at Oil Recovery, according to authorities.
The port is just east of downtown Mobile, where residents felt the heat from the explosions.
"It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red," Alan Waugh, manager of the Ft. Conde Inn, told the Associated Press. "We could smell something in the air; we didn't know if it was gas or smoke."
He saw the explosion from his second-floor balcony and found black soot on his face when he went inside.
"We thought it was an earthquake or something," Amanda Hobbs told AL.com, as she and a friend watched the barges burn from across the river. "I have never felt anything like that."
Nearly 500 employees living onboard the Carnival Triumph were evacuated because the cruise ship is docked across the river from the explosion, Mr. Huffman of Mobile Fire-Rescue said. It is undergoing repairs after an engine fire caused the ship to break down two months ago in the Gulf of Mexico, stranding passengers for several days.
Mobile Fire Chief Steve Dean told AL.com that the fire would not spread to nearby industrial properties, and residents were warned to stay away from the riverfront. The Coast Guard created a one-mile perimeter around the explosion, shutting sections of the shipping channel Thursday.
US Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega said the explosions occurred in a ship channel near the George C. Wallace Tunnel, which carries interstate traffic under the Mobile River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The tunnels are still open and operating.
– Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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The sensational and sometimes grisly trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell reached an important point Wednesday when Dr. Gosnell’s defense team declined to call any witnesses – including the defendant himself.
Closing arguments in the trial, now in its sixth week, are scheduled to be heard next Monday, after which the controversial case goes to the jury.
Gosnell faces the death penalty if he is convicted in the deaths of four newborns. Prosecutors allege that the infants were born alive and viable during late-term abortions. Gosnell is also charged in the 2009 overdose death of a Nepalese refugee who overdosed on sedatives while awaiting an abortion.
Gosnell is also charged with racketeering, performing illegal abortions, and failing to counsel women 24 hours before a procedure.
Gosnell had been charged in the deaths of seven children, but on Tuesday Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart ruled that prosecutors over the past month failed to make a case on three of the seven first-degree murder counts, involving aborted babies known as Baby B, Baby C, and Baby G.
Former employees called by the prosecution testified that Gosnell relied on untrained, unlicensed staff to sedate and monitor women as they waited for abortions – many of them beyond the 24-week limit under Pennsylvania law. Three workers have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder charges, admitting they helped medicate the adult victim or had a hand in killing infants born alive.
They told jurors that Gosnell had taught them the technique, and said they trusted that it was legal. At least one, though, admits she grew so concerned about conditions at the clinic that she took pictures of the outdated equipment, messy rooms, and stacked specimen jars containing the remains of aborted babies.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon has maintained that none of the infants was killed, reports CNN. Rather, he said, they were already deceased as a result of Gosnell previously administering the drug digoxin, which can cause abortion.
In what is likely a preview of his closing arguments, Mr. McMahon said, "There is not one piece – not one – of objective, scientific evidence that anyone was born alive.”
The only employee to go on trial with Gosnell, unlicensed physician Eileen O'Neill, is charged with theft for allegedly practicing medicine without a license. Her attorney called character witnesses to testify, but rested her case Wednesday without calling Ms. O’Neill to the witness stand.
Antiabortion activists say the case hints at widespread problems.
"This is a very dramatic case compared to what happens in some other clinics," Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of the antiabortion group Americans United for Life, told NPR. "But in all honesty, it doesn't completely surprise us because we've been trying to get attention to low-grade conditions in abortion clinics across the country for many, many years."
"The fact that we regulate veterinary clinics and beauty parlors more than you do abortion clinics in this country, that's inexcusable," says Ms. Yoest. "And what it leads to is this kind of situation with Gosnell."
Abortion-rights advocates, on the other hand, see the Gosnell case – horrible as it is – as an argument for more publicly-supported facilities and services, especially for low-income women of the type drawn to Gosnell’s lower prices.
Carole Joffe, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in reproductive health, says a new Pennsylvania law passed in the wake of the Gosnell revelations has resulted in many abortion clinics that were providing perfectly safe care having to shut their doors.
"Pennsylvania used to have 22 facilities; now they have 13," she told NPR. "The city of Pittsburgh used to have four clinics, now they're down to two."
• This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday dropped the charges against a Mississippi man accused of sending poisonous letters to President Obama and two other government officials, as the FBI inspected the home of a second suspect.
Officials did not cite specific reasons for dropping criminal charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, a part-time Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Miss., but a court document said the “ongoing investigation has revealed new information,” reported The New York Times. A pretrial hearing in the case against him, which was under way, was canceled.
The FBI had testified Monday that no physical evidence of ricin or ricin-making materials had been found in Mr. Curtis’s residence or vehicle. Last week, letters addressed to Mr. Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi, and a county judge in Mississippi, Sadie Holland, tested positive for ricin, a deadly biological toxin made from castor beans.
“I thought they said rice and I said, 'I don't even eat rice,' “ Curtis said at a press conference after his release, referring to investigators’ questions. He added, “I respect President Obama. I love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other US official.”
Since Curtis's arrest on April 17, his attorneys said their client did not send the letters and suggested that he was being framed. Defense attorney Hal Neilson said they gave a list of Curtis’s potential enemies to authorities.
J. Everett Dutschke, whose house and property the FBI searched Tuesday, is on the list.
“Dutschke came up,” Mr. Neilson told the Associated Press. “[The prosecutors] took it and ran with it. I could not tell you if he's the man or he's not the man, but there was something there they wanted to look into.”
The two men had a confrontation in 2010 when Mr. Dutschke threatened to sue Curtis for claiming to belong to Mensa, a group for people with high IQs, the Associated Press reported.
Dutschke has not been arrested, and no charges have been filed against him. The FBI did not comment on what agents found in Dutschke’s home Tuesday evening, but Dutschke told the Associated Press that the FBI had already searched his home last week.
“I don't know how much more of this I can take,” he said Tuesday.
Dutschke, a martial arts instructor and a one-time candidate for Mississippi’s House of Representatives, has faced previous allegations of child molestation, Roll Call reported. A possible motive for Dutschke to allegedly target Judge Holland, who received one of the ricin-laced letters last week, is that her son, Democratic Rep. Daniel Holland, defeated Dutschke in the 2007 state election.
"I'm a patriotic American," Dutschke told the Associated Press. "I don't have any grudges against anybody. I did not send the letters."
Law enforcement authorities investigated a possible fourth ricin letter attack, after a military base near Washington, D.C., went on alert during routine mail screening Tuesday.
The Defense Intelligence Agency said no suspicious letters were found at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, even though Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said that ricin had been detected, Reuters reported.
The DIA said the FBI will conduct further tests, describing the investigation as “ongoing.”
– Material from Associated Press was used in this report.
Bowing to pressure from flight attendants and members of Congress, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it would delay implementation of new rules scheduled to take effect on Thursday that would have let passengers carry small knives and some sporting equipment onto airplanes.
TSA Administrator John Pistole sent word of the change in an e-mail to employees on Monday. Politico Pro obtained a copy of the message, which came after Mr. Pistole met with his Aviation Security Advisory Committee.
The agency later posted a brief statement on its website: “In order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), which includes representatives from the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts, and other stakeholders, TSA will temporarily delay implementation of changes to the Prohibited Items List, originally scheduled to go into effect April 25.”
The agency did not link the change to the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, instead saying that the move “will enable TSA to incorporate the [advisory panel's] feedback about the changes to the Prohibited Items List and continue workforce training."
But critics of the loosened rules did make such a link. Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told USA Today that "[i]n the wake of the terrorist bombing in Boston last week ... now is not the time to weaken transportation security.”
Ms. Nelson added that "[f]light attendants are breathing a sigh of relief that the weapons that led to the deadliest attack on US soil in our nation's history will not be allowed in the aircraft cabin this week."
The Associated Press quoted the flight attendants’ group as saying in a statement, “all knives should be banned from planes permanently.”
Pistole had announced the new regulations on March 5, saying they would allow airport security screeners to focus on items posing greater risks. The TSA proposal would have allowed passengers to carry knives with blades that were 2.36 inches long or less and less than half an inch wide through security checkpoints. Passengers also would have been allowed to carry on two golf clubs, hockey sticks, billiard cues, and toy plastic bats.
In addition to flight attendants, some members of Congress also criticized the TSA proposals. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey gathered 30 cosponsors for a bill to overrule the TSA. And some 133 House members signed a letter to Pistole asking him to change the policy, Politico reported. House Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson (D) of Mississippi, who spearheaded the letter-writing effort, told Politico that “a knife 2.36 inches long is a weapon.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, who opposed TSA’s plan, said the agency’s reversal was an admission “that permitting knives on planes is a bad idea.” He told the AP that he favored a permanent ban.
In a breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by the Monitor on March 26, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the new TSA policy on knives, while acknowledging the rollout could have been handled better.
“I think frankly it is the right decision from a security standpoint. We're trying to prevent a bomb from getting on a plane. And if you are talking about a small knife, there are already things on a plane that somebody can convert into a small, sharp object. From a security standpoint it is the right decision,” said Secretary Napolitano, whose department includes the TSA.
But she added, “Where we could have done better quite frankly was a little more legislative and public outreach before we announced the decision. Try to give it a softer landing as it were.”
Federal authorities acknowledged that they have found little physical evidence to support their case against a Mississippi man who has been charged with sending poison-laced letters to President Obama and two other public officials.
Paul Kevin Curtis, a resident of Corinth, Miss., remains in custody after his April 17 arrest on federal charges of using the mail to threaten the life of the president and to injure others. A pretrial hearing to assess the evidence against Mr. Curtis enters its third day Tuesday, as prosecutors are expected to introduce evidence about the suspect’s mental state.
But defense attorney Christi McCoy said she hopes the charges will be dropped because investigators have not produced hard evidence linking Curtis to the attempted poisoning.
"The searches are concluded, not one single shred of evidence was found to indicate Kevin could have done this," Ms. McCoy told reporters after Monday's hearing.
An FBI agent testified Monday that investigators have found no traces of ricin or devices used to make it in Curtis’s home or vehicle. The FBI also did not find ricin-related searches on the suspect’s computer, the Associated Press reported.
"There was no apparent ricin, castor beans or any material there that could be used for the manufacturing, like a blender or something," FBI Agent Brandon Grant testified at the hearing.
Mr. Grant said that Curtis could have thrown away equipment used to make ricin, and that the agency is doing a deeper analysis of his computer. And despite the lack of physical evidence against Curtis, Grant said he is still the primary suspect.
“Given the right mindset and the Internet and the acquisition of material, other people could be involved. However, given information right now, we believe we have the right individual," he said.
The strongest evidence against Curtis is previous antigovernment writings and that he shares the same initials, K.C., that were used in the sign-off phrase in the letters: "I am KC and I approve this message."
Senator Wicker's staff identified Curtis’s name from among a list of the senator’s constituents who had written the office before who also had the initials K.C. The FBI is still trying to figure out exactly where the letters originated from based on postal service processing codes, but the letters each had a Memphis, Tenn., postmark. There is no DNA evidence from the envelopes or stamps because they were all self-adhesive, Grant said in court Monday. The envelopes also lack fingerprints.
But the letters do refer to a book that Curtis self-published. The book, titled “Missing Pieces,” accuses the federal government of secretly selling human organs.
The Los Angeles Times reported that, on the day he was arrested, Curtis posted an unusual comment to his Facebook profile: "I'm on the hidden front lines of a secret war. A war that is making billions of dollars for corrupt mafia related organizations and people. (bone, tissue, organ, body parts harvesting black market) when we lay our loved ones to rest.”
Defense attorney McCoy said evidence based on online writings is not enough to convict her client, and because his writings are available online, it’s possible he is being framed.
"He is the perfect scapegoat, the perfect patsy, and it’s really sad because at first everybody’s like, you know, he’s kind of crazy, maybe he did it,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “But as the searches continued, there’s just nothing on this guy. Nothing on his computers, in his car, in his house.”
– Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Prices of existing homes in the United States rose 12 percent in March from the same month last year, as the real estate market continues to bounce back, providing much-needed help to the nation’s economy.
A key factor in housing’s recovery is strong demand from major corporate investors, who see profit in the combination of still-depressed real estate prices, near-record-low interest rates, and strong demand for rental housing. The Washington Post reported Monday that institutional investors are bidding on hundreds of homes each day and account for as much as 70 percent of sales in some Florida markets.
The National Association of Realtors says that the median price of homes sold in March, buoyed by strong demand, was $184,300, 11.8 percent higher than in March 2012. The March price increase is the biggest since November 2005.
The pace of sales activity in March actually slipped a bit, declining 0.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis to 4.92 million. But the rate of sales in March was still 10.3 percent faster than March 2012. Existing home sales have now been above year-earlier levels for 21 consecutive months.
In a statement, National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun said there is more demand than supply in the housing market.
"Buyer traffic is 25 percent above a year ago when we were already seeing notable gains in shopping activity," he said. "In the same time frame housing inventories have trended much lower, which is continuing to pressure home prices."
“Investors – including some big Wall Street players – are leading the way,” the paper wrote. The Journal added that the phenomenon of strong investor participation is not without risk. “Their role is noteworthy given that flippers and speculators were blamed for helping to inflate the housing bubble of the past decade."
It is difficult to precisely measure the role of corporate investors. One proxy is those who buy homes in cash. The latest figures from the Realtors Association showed that all-cash sales of existing homes in March were 30 percent of transactions, down from 32 percent in February. By comparison, DataQuick MDA, a real estate research firm, told the Post that absentee buyers accounted for 31.4 percent of recent southern California sales – versus an average of less than 17 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Last year, investor Warren Buffett told CNBC: “If I had a way of buying a couple hundred thousand single-family homes I would load up on them. It is a very attractive asset class right now. I could buy them at distressed prices and find renters.”
Major investors have taken his advice. Blackstone has acquired a portfolio of 20,000 rental homes worth $3 billion, the firm told The Washington Post. Colony Capital told the paper it has spent more than $1 billion on 8,000 homes in seven states.