Myspace Doesn't End At Death


When Kamelia Sepasi found her 14-year-old daughter, Sasha, hanging dead from a belt inside her closet, she had no idea her daughter’s tragic death was the result of a deadly new “game” that continues to grow in popularity with school children throughout the United States.

Sasha , who died Fri., Oct. 21 at her home in Tarzana, was a freshman honors student at Viewpoint School in Calabasas.

“(She) was a very deep, sensitive, emotional, loving, generous, bright kid,” Sepasi said. “She had such a big heart, and she had such a big soul . . . She was interested . . . in school, in art, in politics.”

Memorial services for the girl were held at Temple Judea in Tarzana. She was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Sepasi had no reason to suspect her daughter—a published poet, a gifted artist and a talented athlete—was experimenting with the new Russian roulette of the 21st century. According to experts, many parents and school administrators have no idea about the new phenomenon and its potentially fatal consequences.

Known as the the “choking game,” it involves children, mostly young teens, who try to asphyxiate themselves in order to achieve the “high” they feel after blood and oxygen rush back to the brain. Often, youngsters choke themselves until they lose consciousness.

Sepasi said she found out from Sasha’s friends that the teen had played the game before. Sepasi believes, however, this was the first time Sasha ever played the game alone.

According to Julie Rosenbluth, a director with the New York-based American Council for Drug Education, the reports of children dying from this game have recently begun to pour into her office from across the nation. It’s so new, in fact, that Rosenbluth said she has not seen any national studies that show in which parts of the country the game is most popular.

What Rosenbluth does know, however, is that many of the youngsters participating in the dangerous act are typically “good kids,” like Sasha, who wouldn’t normally use drugs or alcohol.

“They do it because they don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” Rosenbluth said. “It’s not drugs, it’s not alcohol.” Rosenbluth said the youngsters are choking themselves for the “natural high.”

Even for veteran school administrators like Viewpoint School’s Headmaster Robert Dworkoski, the choking game has only recently come to light.

Dworkoski said the school hosted an assembly addressing “hazardous behaviors” a week before Sasha’s death. In a statement issued by the Viewpoint, school officials said, “Viewpoint’s teachers and counselors have been consoling and counseling the school’s grieving students. The school will continue to provide programs to address these compelling issues with the students.”

Although other death-defying games played by young people have been around for many years, Rosenbluth said she can only guess as to why there’s a sudden surge in the asphyxiation deaths.

Rosenbluth said either the

nternet is helping spread the deadly game or the media is reporting on it more.

She said the reason for the ris

ng death toll might be because more youngsters are playing the game alone. Because there is no one nearby to stop the asphyxiation once the child loses consciousness, more young teens are dying.

“They are essentially hanging themselves accidentally,” Rosenbluth said. “All they have is the gravity of their bodies to pull down and no way to release the pressure.”

This is exactly what happened to Sasha, said her mother.

Because youngsters are hanging themselves—albeit unintentionally—many coroners list the cause of death as suicide. For parents such as Sepasi, the coroner’s assessment only adds insult to injury.

Sepasi said Sasha was sitting on the floor when her family found her. The belt, Sepasi said, was fixed no more than six feet off the ground. The mother is certain her daughter’s death was unintentional.

“Nobody can hang themselves from something their (own) height,” Sepasi said. “Nobody hangs themself sitting down.”

Sepasi said her daughter had planned to go jogging that night with a local neighbor, not typical for a teen contemplating suicide.

According to Sepasi, Sasha was athletic—just one of the areas in which she excelled.

Although young, Sasha was already a successful painter, her mother said. One of her paintings hangs at the Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles.

Sasha was also a poet. A short poem she wrote was published about four years ago. It read: “The flower moves gently from dawn till noon across the glowing lake adoring its petals.”

Sasha is survived by her mother, her father, Robert Sepasi, and her sister Sunny, 13.


It was going to be Carly Elise Seavers' first Christmas away from home, and she couldn't stand it.
Seavers, 22, packed up her things last Tuesday and headed out of Provo, Utah, where she worked as an aide at a school for troubled teenagers. She drove 10 hours straight, heading right for her family's house in Elk Grove.

Seavers never made it home. Something went wrong as she approached the Laguna Boulevard exit on southbound Highway 99, just a mile from her home.

"It sounded like she dropped the phone," said her boyfriend, Ryan Hale, who had been chatting with Seavers on her cell phone. "I called back every two minutes for about an hour until a lady picked up and told me Carly was in the emergency room."
She went in and out of cardiac arrest over the next few hours and died the next morning. Seavers had no history of serious illness, her family said, and the Sacramento County Coroner's Office has yet to determine a cause.

But her death left her family bereft just days before Christmas. They hadn't known she was coming - she'd hoped to surprise them, mailing her gifts home ahead of time to maintain the ruse.

"It's as if there was something in her that knew she needed to be with her family to pass away," said her father, Scott Seavers.

"It felt like a divine intervention. She could have died in Nevada or Utah. But she died here."

Carly Seavers was raised in Elk Grove, graduating from Las Flores High School in 2001. Like the rest of her family, she was a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She took Scripture classes before school, and she had often talked about going on a mission to bring others into her faith.

Soon after high school, Seavers went to Provo and took a job as a counselor with Especially for Youth, a summer program for Mormon teens.

"She really loved people who were struggling to find themselves," said Hale, 26, who met Seavers when she returned to Especially for Youth last summer. "The kids were drawn to her. She knew how to get straight to who a person really is."

Seavers took a job with the Provo Canyon School last fall. She loved music - she often borrowed her father's guitar or plunked out tunes on the family's upright piano - and she harbored hopes of becoming a globe-trotting photojournalist for National Geographic. But what she wanted most of all was to be a mother, her family said. She was considering spending her life with her boyfriend.

"Carly said, 'If he doesn't make a move by Christmas, I'm going to take matters into my own hands,'" her father said.

But Seavers didn't make it to Christmas. Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, she told her boyfriend that her car was locked in heavy traffic.

She lost consciousness, and her car slowly crept forward, catching the attention of a California Highway Patrol officer who was tending to a different accident. An ambulance already on the scene took her to Methodist Hospital, where she died about 5 a.m. Wednesday, her family said.

Christmas was quiet this year for the Seavers family, a large, tight-knit group. They still turned on the string of colored lights around their house on Christmas Eve. "She would have been mad if we didn't," her father said. But they didn't open the presents under the tree until 1 p.m.

Seavers got her father a keychain and helped buy her sister Kelly a pair of green Converse high-top shoes. For her mother, Leah, she bought a biography of Joseph Smith, the founder of their church.

Seavers' Christmas present from her family is still waiting for her in Provo: a light-red Ovation guitar, sent last week.

In addition to her parents, Seavers leaves behind five siblings: Christopher, 26; Benjamin, 24; Katie, 20; Kelly, 18; and Andrew, 16.


Four students at two Petaluma high schools were killed Tuesday when their car was broadsided by a truck on the outskirts of town.

Belle and Sciutto were among hundreds of students and teachers who hugged, wept and consoled each other in the wake of what, for most of them, is the worst tragedy in their lives.

"They were awesome people," Belle, a Casa Grande senior, said as she fought back tears. "They were the best friends you could have."

"Even people who didn't know them are crying," Sciutto added.

The accident happened at about 4:10 p.m. Tuesday at a T intersection where East Washington Street meets Adobe Road on the outskirts of Petaluma.

Adobe Road is a two-lane county road running past farms, dairies and a few vineyards. As Highway 101 has grown more jammed, Adobe Road has become more popular with commuters. Many believe that has contributed to a large increase in the number of accidents on rural back roads in Marin and Sonoma counties, including Adobe.

Six students were traveling east on East Washington Street in a 1996 Ford Taurus driven by Adrianna DeLaTorre, 18, of Petaluma. DeLaTorre was making a left turn onto Adobe Road, apparently on her way to drop off her friend, Christina Ramirez, 19, at her Rohnert Park home before going Christmas shopping.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Wayne Ziese said DeLaTorre pulled directly in front of a southbound delivery truck driven by Jonathan Dougherty, 26, of Acampo, which slammed into the side of her car.

"They pulled right in front of it and took the full force of the impact," Ziese said. "Witnesses have relayed that there was nothing he could do."

The crash killed DeLaTorre and Ramirez, both seniors at San Antonio High School, a continuation school in Petaluma, and Greg Kubeck, 16, and Cajo Phelan, 17, of Petaluma, both juniors at Casa Grande.

Michaela Jones, 16, of Petaluma was rushed to Petaluma Valley Hospital with serious injuries, and Adrianna's brother, Miguel DeLaTorre, a 17-year-old junior at Casa Grande, was taken to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where he was listed Wednesday evening in fair condition.

Dougherty was not seriously hurt.

There is no evidence that DeLaTorre ran the stop sign or that Dougherty was driving faster than the 55 mph speed limit and, Ziese said, there were no obvious signs of drug or alcohol use.

It is not clear whether DeLaTorre's car stalled, whether she didn't see the truck or whether she was distracted in some way, Ziese said. Investigators are putting together a 24-hour profile of DeLaTorre to determine what factors might have contributed to the crash, such as lack of sleep or health problems.


Memorial Site

You'd never guess from the photos that she was a tomboy.

Yet her brother says she loved roughhousing, kicking up mud playing backyard football and racing him and a nephew on a four-wheeler.

And for as long as he can remember, Michelle Grayshaw always kept a camera in her purse.

He said she didn't want to miss anything.

But for the ambitious 21-year-old woman, who said she wanted to be as pretty as the girls in the fashion magazines, being photographed was a thrill.

``For good or bad, she loved it,'' Joshua Grayshaw said as he laid out the color photos of his sister on the shiny top of a coffee shop table. ``She was in front of the camera as much as she could be.''

Michelle Grayshaw smiled up at her 23-year-old brother from the signposts of her childhood: on holidays, with friends, all done up for a high school dance.

For her family, the candids have become little monuments in the all-too-short life of a small-town girl.

Early in the morning of Dec. 10, a state trooper spotted her crumpled 2003 Chevy Cavalier just beyond a four-way stop on a tree-lined road that had been well-traveled by her and her friends -- an old stomping ground between Medina and Brunswick.

White powder from the air bags was still floating inside the car when the patrolman got there -- but it was already too late.

Life had suddenly ended for her and two friends, Brian Gerspacher and Brent Birth.

And investigators still don't know what caused it.

But they were not the only lives lost in the wreckage that morning.

For the last three years, Grayshaw had become known to many as Jasmine Grey, a popular adult model who sold explicit photos, videos and online chats to a growing following on the World Wide Web.

Many of those images now remain in the electronic ether as a kind of memorial. Photos on her personal site have been replaced by hundreds of messages of sympathy from all over the world.

Though some took issue with her choice, Grayshaw loved her work and never hid it from friends and family.

``It didn't bother her too much,'' her brother said. ``I mean, she was doing what she wanted to do. She was trying to better her life.''

Cyber-centerfolds like Grayshaw are the technological granddaughters of Bettie Page -- the famous 1950s pinup who posed nude for amateur photographers in groups called camera clubs.

Page thought her photos and movies would lead to a traditional acting or modeling career. Instead, she made little money for her efforts, which have retained a cult following today.

The autonomy provided by cheap computers, digital cameras and the Internet has revived the adult photography business. Photographers, from home hobbyist to veteran professional, recognize the potential for nearly universal distribution.

Some models see adult work as a quick way to finance a mainstream business or pay for college. Others find it a steppingstone into the hard-core adult film industry.

In online interviews, Grayshaw often said she dreamt of someday opening her own spa.

In the 18 months before she died, her Web site was making a profit, she had ended a relationship with a longtime boyfriend, moved in with her brother and started to look over college catalogs. Around the same time, she took another stage name to shoot adult soft-core and damsel-in-distress videos.

Since her career abruptly ended last month, those who knew her are left to wonder what path her future might have taken.


Sydney security guard Karen Brown will stand trial for the shooting murder of a man who bashed and robbed her.

Brown, 42, was on Friday ordered to face a NSW Supreme Court trial for the murder of 25-year-old William Aquilina outside the Moorebank Hotel on July 26 last year.

The Rooty Hill security guard claimed she was provoked by Mr Aquilina, who allegedly bashed her over the back of the head with knuckledusters before robbing her of $45,000.

Brown's lawyer Tony Bellanto, QC, said there had been a "quick and seamless flow of events" and it was a matter of seconds in which she lost her self-control.

But the prosecution argued Brown had "two distinct phases to gather herself", from the time she yelled at him to stop to when he got in the car, where he was shot.

Liverpool Local Court Magistrate Tony Marsden on Friday found while there may be a "strong case" of provocation, a jury would likely reject it as a defence.

Mr Marsden said the knuckledusters, which were produced as an exhibit during the committal hearing, served as "a powerful and physical reminder ... of the vicious nature of the weapon and its undoubted capacity to inflict serious injury".

However, such evidence would not necessarily lead to a finding of provocation or impact upon the prospect of conviction, he said.

"I'm satisfied that there's a reasonable prospect that a reasonable jury properly instructed would reject provocation," Mr Marsden told the court.

"I'm of the opinion having regard to all the evidence that there's a reasonable prospect that a reasonable jury properly instructed would convict the accused of the charge of murder."

Outside court, Brown said she'd expected the result but was "just really disappointed".

When asked whether she believed her legal team could clear her of the charge, she said: "I hope so, I really hope so".

Her husband, George Muratore, who trained his wife as a security guard, added: "When all the facts come out then the findings will show Karen did exactly as she was trained to - arrest a potentially lethal situation".

Mr Bellanto said the committal hearing was only the initial stage of the process.

"We're disappointed of course but ... we look forward to a trial when all the evidence will come out and we believe justice will prevail," Mr Bellanto told reporters.

Brown's father, Brian Brown, also expressed his confidence in the system.

"It's been a tough time for Karen but she's a strong girl," he said.

"We're not at all concerned about how this case is going to go. She'll get the right decision."

Brown was earlier this year granted access to $34,000 of the $107,000 she made selling her story to Channel 7 and The Sunday Telegraph to fund her legal defence.

Her bail was continued and she will stand trial on a date to be fixed.


The University has temporarily suspended the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity's activities pending an investigation into the death of Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath, an 18-year-old business freshman and Lambda who was found dead at the fraternity house Saturday afternoon.

"UT is conducting an administrative investigation into the circumstances around Jack's death," Dean of Students Teresa Brett said Tuesday. "Pending the results of that investigation, Lambda must cease their activities as an organization."

Brett said that if Lambda is found to have violated the rules and policies of the University, the penalties could range from probation to cancellation of their student organization status. If specific individuals are found to be responsible, Brett said they would be referred to student judiciary services.

Phoummarath had been a full-fledged member of the fraternity for about a week before he died. Lambda officers and members refused to comment.

In an effort to give Phoummarath's friends a chance to grieve, Jester Center staff members displayed a large banner in the dorm's common area yesterday titled "We Remember Jack," which was filled with dozens of student signatures and messages of support, many of which were streaked with tears.

"It's a difficult time of the year for everyone, with the stress of the holidays and final exams," said Jester Housing Coordinator Christa Sandelier, who was in charge of the banner Tuesday. "I just hope that the message of Jack's death isn't forgotten when everyone comes back in January."

Phoummarath's brother, John, said his family is coping with the loss as best they can.

"We're hanging in there," he said.


Jeff Pierson has hard questions for Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup. Why was his son portrayed as a "violent hoodlum" after being shot to death outside a youth club downtown?

Why did Tucson police give his son's girlfriend the impression that 27-year-old Ray Darrin Pierson "deserved to be dead" when they spoke with her outside Skrappy's nightclub?

And why, the grieving Tempe father asks, did he learn of his son's death through media reports and not directly from Tucson police?

These are the questions that Pierson, 52, asks in a letter penned to Walkup on Dec. 20.

The pain Jeff Pierson feels over the loss of his son is made greater by feeling that he is miscast in death.

"What I've read and what I've heard from his friends and those who were there just doesn't reconcile - nor does it reconcile with what I know of my son," Pierson said. "I don't believe what I've read in the newspapers, and I don't believe, necessarily, what I've heard."

There's not much police or reporters can do to ease the sense of loss and shock that accompanies a homicide, but leaving questions unanswered falls far short of that goal.

News reports focused on Darrin Pierson's affiliation with a group called FSU, which stands for "Friends Stand United" or an alternate phrase that refers to making a mess of things and can't be published here.

He also was part of "Team Loco," a Phoenix-area group started by friends with shared interest in extreme sports.

"I don't know anything about FSU," his father said. "Team Loco was started by a neighborhood friend as sort of an extreme sport clothing group. I think it's expanded to something more. It's a big group of young people, and I know a few of them. I can't imagine it being anything to do with harming other people."

But as a Team Loco member known as "Hairy Darrin," Pierson shared an interest in hard-core metal concerts with so-called "crews" of FSU members, who are known for instigating brawls at concerts in many U.S. cities.

Tucson police were unfamiliar with that trend, but say that's what led to his death Dec. 7.

Pierson died after being shot during a melee that broke out at the "Street Brutality Tour" concert at Skrappy's, 210 E. Broadway.

Police have released few details of what led to the shooting, but alleged witness accounts on numerous Web blogs indicate Pierson either was threatening a man with a machete or hammer, or trying to disarm him when he was shot.

The shooter's name has not been released. Police said he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Assistant Police Chief John Leavitt said detectives are still sorting through some 50 witness accounts before taking the case to the Pima County Attorney's Office for possible charges against the man who pulled the trigger.

Leavitt said the investigation indicates he likely was killed in self-defense, which is why Pierson's girlfriend might have felt he was vilified by police.

"We presented the facts as we knew them to the girlfriend," Leavitt said. "They are the same facts we will present to the county attorney. If she inferred from that that we felt he 'had it coming,' that's her inference."

While police were still investigating the crime, a friend of Pierson's notified Pierson's mother of the shooting about two hours before police made a call. Pierson's mother and father are divorced.

"Notification comes only after we are absolutely positive what we're dealing with," Leavitt said. "In a day of cell phones, it's not unusual to have somebody contact the parents before we do."

Jeff Pierson, who is divorced from Darrin's mother, said he was first contacted by a mayoral aide yesterday, three weeks after his son's death.

The letter he sent to Walkup came with a program from Darrin's funeral, a glossy brochure rich with snapshots from the life of the son he had buried three days earlier.

"I've enclosed copies of the program from Darrin's memorial service and ask that you have them distributed to the officers involved that night. I would like them to see him from another perspective," he wrote.

The question Pierson didn't ask in his letter is the hardest.

"I just want to know why my son died," Pierson said. "That's what I want to know."

Walkup wrote a letter in return, expressing sympathy and promising to get the answers Pierson seeks.

It's unlikely the mayor or anyone else can answer all the questions.


Josh Reif had the kind of smile that made others smile in return - and it’s one of the things his many friends say they will miss most about him.

The 17-year-old Waukesha West High School senior, son of John and Mary Reif, died Tuesday night at Children’s Hospital, Wauwatosa, where he had been taken after the car he was trying to remove from the back of a tow truck fell on him at his place of employment in Brookfield.

"He was always smiling," said Logan Dralle, a West junior, one of about 25 friends and classmates who gathered at the Reif home Wednesday night to share their memories of Josh.

"He could always make you laugh," Sam Reese, a West senior said. Reese’s comment brought a round of smiles and chuckles as each of Reif’s friends remembered a time when Josh did just that for them.

He was also the kind of kid who, on his own birthday, treated his friends to dinner and ice cream afterwards, several said.

The driveway leading to the Reif home was full of pickup trucks and the living room floor was covered with dozens of pairs of teenagers’ shoes as friends dropped by Wednesday night.

Mary Reif said about 50 of her son’s friends had spent some time at the home, where many of them had gathered in the good times, times of pizzas and bonfires in the yard.

"The kids all hung out here, and today it was amazing how many came over," she said Wednesday night. "The living room and basement were packed and there wasn’t an inch left in the house that wasn’t filled with Josh’s friends.

"I think having them all here has helped us tremendously," she said. "We’re numb, but they are helping."

Reif excelled at automotive mechanics, and when asked how many of his friends had their cars worked on by him, a forest of hands shot up.

"Josh fixed my truck," Reese said. "He fixed it a lot."

On Halloween, Reif worked on Kayla Schlei’s car.

"He let me drive his truck around to do errands while he fixed mine," she said.

Schlei, a senior at Waukesha South High School, has another tender memory of Josh’s thoughtfulness - one captured in glossy color - a photo of them taken May 21 at the West High School prom.

"He wore pink to match my dress," she said, passing around the picture of a broadly smiling Reif, looking dashing in a dark suit and raspberry pink vest and tie, and Schlei in a long, pink gown.

Reif was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed "big boy toys like four-wheelers and mud," said Jim Clark, who graduated from West last year but was a buddy of Reif for the past several years.

"He was always getting his truck stuck in the mud," Clark said.

In a phone interview, Zach Olson, who met Reif about 10 years ago when they were neighbors, said he loved dirt bikes, fishing and hunting.

"Josh was an all-around great guy," he said.

Tom Sacharski, game bird manager at Wern Valley Hunting Club, where Reif and his father were members, said the young man sometimes helped out at the pheasant-hunting club during the summer months.

"He was a nice, good kid," Sacharski said. "He and his Dad had a great time hunting here together."

One of Reif’s ambitions was to be an auto mechanic, Zach Olson said.

"He really knew his car stuff," Olson said. "He’d be rattling off all this stuff about cars and I’d have to ask him to stop and explain it to me," he said with a laugh.

Reif, who planned on attending Waukesha County Technical College to study auto repair, worked for the past nine months at Dennis’ Service Center in Brookfield.

"I talked to him on the phone Sunday night," Olson said. "We just talked guy stuff and then we each said, ‘Take it easy and see you later.’"


A 16-year-old Mira Costa High School student known for her vivacity and kindness was killed instantly when the car she was driving crashed into a power-line pole on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, just blocks away from her house.

Casie Hyde and her 19-year-old boyfriend, Mike Archuletta, were on their way home after a fast-food run when Casie apparently lost control of her BMW just before 11 p.m. Friday, said her mother, Kelli Rigby-Hyde.

"Either she was trying to call me or she had just called me almost at the time that it happened," Rigby-Hyde said Saturday. "My phone rang a few times. I picked it up and I could just hear muffled sounds and moaning."

Casie was pronounced dead at the scene, said Redondo Beach police Sgt. Jim Banach. Archuletta was taken to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he remains in critical condition.

Banach said the cause of the crash is still under investigation. Rain-slicked roadways may have been a factor, and a witness also reported seeing a truck near Casie's car at the time of the crash, he said.

On Saturday, the young couple's friends and family gathered at the scene of the accident in the 2400 block of Manhattan Beach Boulevard, just west of Inglewood Avenue. Flowers, candles, balloons and signs surrounded the pole at the site.

Liana Wilson, Casie's best friend since third grade, said that just hours before the accident Archuletta had given Casie a promise ring, a symbol of commitment to their more than 2-year-long relationship.

"He was her first love," Liana said. "They broke up four or five times over the years, but it was always unconditional love."

Archuletta, a 2004 Mira Costa graduate and star basketball player, attended El Camino College last year and had recently transferred to a community college in Santa Barbara, Liana said.

Friends and relatives described Casie, a junior at the Manhattan Beach school, as outgoing, the "life of the party," a soccer player, a beach lover and a good student who wanted to attend USC and dreamed of becoming a lawyer.

"She was one of those people who always does the right thing -- no matter what happens, no matter if it doesn't make her 'cool,' " Liana said.

Rigby-Hyde said Casie, her only child, was a "creative, very giving person" who volunteered at a clinic for abused children and beach cleanups.

"She was a great kid. A great young woman," she said. "She'll be missed and in our hearts forever. I don't know how we'll ever recover from this loss."

Veronica Mendez, Casie's co-worker at Pancho's restaurant in Manhattan Beach, said they had finished their hostess shift together at 9:30 p.m. Friday, less than two hours before the crash.

"She showed us her ring," Mendez said Saturday, standing by candles and a sign for Casie at the hostess stand. "It was simple -- little diamonds, it looked like. It was really nice."

In recent weeks, Casie had been gearing up to play in Mira Costa's powder-puff football game, scheduled for Wednesday, said Natasha Perazzolo, 16.

"She was so excited -- she would chuck the ball at me," Natasha said. "She wanted to do it so bad. ... She definitely didn't deserve this."


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