Backpacks, buses and bikes: Tips for eliminating school injuries

The start of a new school year is an excellent time to review precautions families can take to keep their children safe, both inside and outside the classroom. Without proper attention to basic safety measures, school can become a hazardous environment.

In researching this article, it was alarming to learn that a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found “80 percent of elementary school children visited the school nurse for an injury-related complaint.”

While it was reassuring to hear incidents resulting in the death of a student are rare the CDC says, “Approximately four million children and adolescents are injured at school per year in non-life threatening accidents.”

This figure does not include, minor falls, cuts and abrasions commonly treated during the school day and not reported to the nurse. Injuries at school are most likely to occur on playgrounds (particularly on climbing equipment), on athletic fields, and in gymnasiums.

Although transportation accidents on buses and bikes, as well traffic related incidents walking to and from school continue to pose a grave threat to students, there are other less obvious dangers to the health of youngsters.

According to the National Safety Council, injuries and strains caused by carrying over-stuffed, heavy backpacks are on the increase.

The health issues caused by improper use of a backpack are insidious. The damage to the back and spine can begin long before the child’s discomfort from pain sends an alert.

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 7,300 backpack-related injuries annually treated by hospitals and doctors. Injuries include bruises, sprains and strains to the back and shoulder and fractures.” It is estimates twice as many injuries go unreported and untreated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, “a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight. This figure may vary however, depending on the child’s body strength and fitness.”

There is also a visual first line of defense against backpack injury. Kid’s Health medical advisor, Dr. Steven Dowshen says parents who observe the following signs should take a closer look at whether their child’s backpack is too heavy:

•Changes in posture when wearing the backpack.

•Struggling to get the backpack on

or off.

•Leaning forward to carry the backpack.

•Reports of pain when wearing the backpack.

•Red marks or bruises on the shoulders

Dr. Dowshen advises parents that, “If the child has back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs it should be brought to the attention of the pediatrician.”

“A heavy backpack forces the wearer to bend forward,” says the National Safety Council. “Encourage kids to use their locker or desk frequently throughout the day instead of carrying the entire days’ worth of books in the backpack.

Make sure kids don’t tote unnecessary items— laptops, cell phones and video games can add extra pounds to a pack.

They should only carry those items that are required for the day and remove articles that can be left at home each night.

Even though it might not look as “cool” it is recommended that students, “Wear both straps. Use of one strap shifts the weight to one side, causing muscle spasms and lower back pain. By wearing two shoulder straps, the weight of the backpack is better distributed. When organizing the contents of the backpack, distribute the weight evenly. Place the heaviest items on the bottom to keep the weight off of the shoulders and maintain better posture.

Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. The size of the backpack should match the size of the child. It is also important to pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and allow free movement of the arms.”

Finally, remind your child to always use proper lifting techniques— “bend at the knees and use the legs to lift the backpack, placing one shoulder strap on at a time.”

Next week: Bus and bike safety.

Jayne Matthews Hospon writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”

Freed from the bondage of drug addiction

This is Part II of a series about Rev. Milton E. Williams, Pastor of New Life Evangelical Baptist Church and the church’s Turning Point Clinic located in East Baltimore.

Penny Wooten was afraid she was going to die. The Baltimore native had a $1500 per week drug habit. “And that was a bad week,” added Wooten. According to Wooten, she did “anything necessary” to feed her addiction, including prostituting, stealing, and lying. “I had been through several attempts at recovery, but wasn’t successful,” recalled Wooten. “I would get clean but couldn’t stay clean. After more than 20 years of chasing drugs, I was just tired. I didn’t want to die in addiction, but it was starting to look that way.”

Today, Wooten, 49, has been drug-free for 10 years. She no longer has cravings for the heroin, crack cocaine, and marijuana that controlled her life. Wooten said she was able to “overcome” her drug addiction thanks to Turning Point Clinic.

Operated by New Life Evangelical Baptist Church located at 2401 E. North Ave., Turning Point Clinic is a faith-based substance abuse clinic. Turning Point Clinic currently has approximately 1,800 patients with 39 licensed and certified clinicians. According to Rev. Milton E. Williams, Pastor of New Life Evangelical Baptist Church, Turning Point is the largest methadone clinic under one roof in Maryland.

“I had gotten high, but saw a newspaper about a spiritual, faith-based methadone program,” recalled Wooten. “I took the newspaper home and read it. My mother used to tell me ‘you need God,’ so I thought this program sounded like something I needed. However, the article did not include a phone number, and I didn’t know how to get in touch with them.”

She continued, “Two weeks had passed since I read the article. I was living in West Baltimore, but had gone over to East Baltimore to cop some drugs. I looked up and saw a big sign on a building that said Turning Point Clinic. I got the number and started calling them relentlessly. I called them every day, and even sent them faxes. I was persistent, and determined that I was going to get in.”

Wooten’s persistence paid off. She was admitted to the clinic, which recently admitted its 5,000th patient.

“I was the ninth person to come into the clinic when it opened,” recalled Wooten. “I was very persistent because I knew I was going to die or kill myself if I didn’t get help.”

The goal of Turning Point Clinic is to provide substance abuse treatment for heroin addicts and assist them in recovering from their addiction, and begin to lead normal, productive lives. The clinic provides medication-assisted treatment for addicts, thereby reducing the rate of crime in the neighborhoods it serves.

“Turning Point Clinic had some of the best counselors I have ever met in any program,” said Wooten. “They were just as hardcore as I was. I couldn’t lie or get over on them. Some of them were former addicts who had been 30 years clean, and they knew all the tricks I knew, and they were not having it. I needed that type of structure and stability. They knew what to say and what to do to get the job done, and they were serious about what they were doing.”

The mission of Turning Point Clinic is to restore the quality of life to individuals, families and communities who are affected by drug abuse and drug dependence through the provision of treatment and support services. The clinic’s core values include religion and spirituality, which the program stresses in all areas of life, particularly in successful and lasting recovery from drug addiction.

“In the other programs, we can’t talk about God, but in this program, we can,” said Wooten. “We were all familiar with God, and not a ‘higher power’ as they referred to in the other programs. Turning Point Clinic let me know that I could attain and maintain being drug-free only through Christ Jesus. I would need to submit and surrender, and Turning Point Clinic taught me how to do all of those things.”

She added, “Having a church upstairs in the building also helped. Because of my addiction, I didn’t feel comfortable going to my own church. When I heard Rev. Williams preach, I was so impressed, and they showed me so much love. I said, ‘Wow, these people are real.’ I was calm and relaxed, and no longer sick and running around trying to get my fix. I was finally able to listen to what was being said to me. Now, my ears and mind were open, because I was no longer getting high.”

She added, “So many who have come through Turning Point Clinic have walked the same path I have walked. It’s not just me. There are many others who have the same testimony I have. There is something special in that place, and it’s God.”

For more information about Turning Point Clinic, call 410-675-2113 extension 226.

This series will continue with more of Wooten’s story, and more of the work being done by Turning Point Clinic.

Chef “G” Garvin partners with Allstate to highlight community heroes

— Chef Gerry “G” Garvin grew up in a large, single-parent family. The celebrity chef, restaurateur and TV personality recalls how people would help his mother during tough times. Garvin has never forgotten his humble beginnings. Through his One Bite Foundation, Garvin inspires children in the Culinary Arts, and addresses issues such as child obesity, domestic violence, homelessness, and hunger. Garvin has also teamed up with Allstate for its Give It Up for Good Campaign.

The national campaign was launched by Allstate in 2013, and spotlights “Champions for Good,” whose remarkable good deeds often go unnoticed. The insurance giant has joined forces with Garvin to help spread the word about Give It Up for Good, and to encourage individuals to submit stories, tweets, videos, and pictures of the good things that are happening in their communities.

“It’s a great partnership and we are looking to find people doing great work in their community,” said Garvin. “I am all about community. The ultimate goal is to make sure people are identified through their good work, to make sure that good work continues, and to make sure their good work is acknowledged.”

Garvin’s own good work also includes Chef G. Garvin’s Culinary Boot Camp, a mentoring program designed to teach and encourage healthy habits.

“When I was growing up, there were many people who helped my family,” recalled Chef Garvin. “I want to return the favor, and provide resources to those in need as much as I can. That includes clothes, cash, or just making sure someone has a place to sleep. I am very much involved, and this is very important to me.”

Chef Garvin started his culinary career in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia at the Ritz Carlton-Downtown, as the youngest line cook in the gourmet dining room.

He went on to open his signature restaurant, G Garvin’s, where he continued to cater to and host high profile dinners for individuals such as Former President Bill Clinton and actress Halle Berry.

Garvin is now in the homes of millions though TV One’s Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin. His increasing popularity earned him his second series on the same network entitled G. Garvin: The Road Tour. Eventually, Food Networks’ Cooking Channel tapped him to host the series, Road Trip with G Garvin. This show is currently in its second season.

Chef Garvin’s new Travel Channel show Underground BBQ Challenge launched July 15, 2014, and pits neighborhood vs. neighborhood to find America’s most extreme grill masters.

Garvin shared his story of how his ‘hot’ cooking career got started.

“I started working in my mother’s kitchen when I was young, and realized it was something I loved doing,” said Garvin. “I also have four sisters. I fell in love with cooking at a young age and realized it was something I wanted to do.”

He added, “I never thought cooking would take me around the world, to The White House, and cooking for so many people. However, I also have an ambition to accomplish more. It is a constant goal of mine to be a better chef, father and friend.”

Chef Garvin said he would do all that he could to encourage individuals to share their stories with Allstate. “Allstate’s Give It Up for Good Campaign is very important,” said Garvin. “We encourage and want people to be a part of it. We want to hear their stories.”

One of Allstate’s Champions for Good is based in Baltimore. Lydell Henry was recently honored for his ongoing commitment to his community with a special trophy presentation at Gate A, just outside of M&T Bank Stadium. Henry was honored on Thursday, August 7, 2014 during a surprise trophy presentation prior to a Ravens’ pre-season Ravens game.

Henry founded Beat the Streets, an after-school program that combines amateur wrestling, character development and tutoring for Baltimore’s youth. Henry attended the game with fellow Beat the Streets representatives and a number of the children who have been mentored through the program.

This Labor Day, Henry will attend the Allstate Tom Joyner Family Reunion in Orlando as a special guest alongside his fellow Champions For Good.

To submit stories about someone making a difference in your community or for more information, visit Allstate.com/GiveItUpForGood

Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken keeps on fighting

— Many people don’t know the trials and tribulations that a lot of players in the NFL go through. Usually we just see the end result and not the path they had to travel to become an NFL player. Certain stories teach a lesson; that lesson is to never stop trying. The way that Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken keeps on fighting is a great example of persistence.

The Ravens recently released the list of players that will be cut in order to trim their roster down to the mandatory 75-player limit. Getting released was something Aiken has experienced in the past. This time, he was not among the players that were released and is very likely to survive the next roster cuts. This means he could land a spot on the Ravens active 53-man roster.

He had a productive college career at Central Florida where he racked up 121 receptions for 1,924 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jah Reed was one of his teammates at Central Florida and is once again a teammate, this time as a fellow Raven. His NFL career got off to a rocky start as he bounced around a few practice squads and only appeared in three games since 2011.

Aiken was originally signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2011 but got caught up in a numbers game and didn’t make the Bills roster. He then signed with the Chicago Bears as a member of their practice squad in October 2012. His time with the Bears was short lived. The Bears released Aiken a month later.

The next stop for Aiken was the New England Patriots in November of 2012 when he joined the practice squad and then was promoted to the active roster. The Patriots released him in August of 2013. Aiken then spent some time on the Ravens practice squad but is now poised to earn a roster spot.

This preseason is do or die and Aiken knows it. “To me, my back is against the wall,” Aiken said. “There’s no more practice squad eligibility. It’s the 53 or that’s it. I’ve never looked at myself as a practice squad guy or carried myself like that.”

Knowing what was at stake, Aiken took a more aggressive approach to the off-season. He put in extra work, and according to his coaches, it is shows. At a recent press conference head coach John Harbaugh said Aiken’s work has been paying off. “He’s really shown a lot in the last few days, so we’ll see if he can sustain it.”

Offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak raved about how big and explosive Aiken is. Aiken says he is reaping the rewards of doing Pilates, hot yoga, getting extra massages and eating right during the off season.

“This off season I attacked it way differently than I ever have since I’ve been in the league,” Aiken said. “I spent a little extra money to make sure that I had everything in place. That’s just growing up.”

The Ravens have given Aiken the

opportunity to work with the first team offense at times in practice. He has been very consistent and has caught everything with his hands. They have featured him in a lot of their red zone focus.

Aiken is very good at beating the jam at the line of scrimmage and getting into his route quickly, which is key to the quick passing game that Kubiak is working hard to establish in the red zone. Aiken has been used on a good amount of slant routes and has made his presence felt in the mid- range passing game. He remains level headed despite all of the talk about his impressive performance during camp.

“I’m confident, but I’m not looking that far ahead,” Aiken said of making the 53-man roster. “I’m enjoying the ride. I’m just happy I can wake up and play the game I love.”

This year looks like the season that Aiken will finally get to stick with a team and make their roster. He will get one more opportunity to show what he can do when the Ravens play the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, August 28th. Be sure to tune in and watch him make his case!

Blacks rarely seek help for stress, mental health issues

Stress wreaks havoc on the mind and body. Until now, it has not been clear exactly how stress influences disease and health, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said they have found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response.

“Prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol, which regulates the inflammatory response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone,” said Sheldon Cohen, a professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and

Social Sciences.

Cortisol counts as a steroid hormone that’s activated in the body when there’s a prevalence of stress. “Inflammation is partly regulated by the cortisol and when cortisol isn’t allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control,” Cohen said.

Health officials say when it comes to stress, no group has more anxiety than African Americans. More than ever, blacks are facing a reduction in income, a lack of adequate employment, housing discrimination and other issues that can trigger mental health problems.

Also, those in the African American and other minority communities are less likely to access care for mental health issues because of the stigma that surrounds depression, a lack of self-esteem and other problems, according to Sophie Clark, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Washington, D.C.

Researchers say major depression has been discovered to be the single largest cause of disability in the world and despite that fact it routinely goes unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated.

“Mental health issues are more [common] than most people realize,” Clark said. “The stigma surrounding mental health issues affect everyone, but it has a greater impact in communities of color.”

At least 10,000 Baltimore residents suffer from mental health issues, according to figures obtained from NAMI. Officials say African Americans should not wait for assistance and they also must take the initiative in letting their physicians and loved ones know if they’re experiencing mental health problems.

Dr. Kisha Davis, director of community outreach for the Casey Health Institute, an integrative medicine center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, says blacks tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals.

“The care providers they seek may not be aware of an important aspect of the person’s life,” Davis said.

In a study produced in July by the medical journal, General Hospital Psychiatry, researchers found that blacks with depression and another chronic medical condition, often don’t receive the proper mental health treatment.

Those who do seek treatment for depression are likely to receive medications from a primary care provider and are less likely to get care from specialized mental health providers, said the study authors at Carnegie Mellon.

Consequently, those patients rarely receive the standard mental health care that’s recommended in the guidelines provided by the American Psychiatric Association. “People who have depression are more likely to develop other diseases and vice versa,” said Amma A. Agvemang, one of the study’s authors.

“We found depression treatment below par for minorities, even those with

co-morbid diabetes or hypertension. Having a mental illness makes both more complex to treat, and the rate of obtaining depression treatment remains low for this population,” Agvemang said.

Health care experts also remain adamant that many of the problems associated with mental illness can be traced back to stress. Regardless of race or background, all would do well to avoid stress.

“The immune system’s ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease,” Cohen said. “When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people.”

Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center hosts American Red Cross blood drive

— Donating blood is a simple thing that can make a big difference in the lives of others. Nearly 44,000 blood donations are needed each and every day to meet the needs of accident victims, cancer patients and children with blood disorders. These patients and countless others rely on blood products for survival.

Make a difference in someone’s life by participating in Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s blood drive, scheduled for September 9-11, 2014, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Francis X. Knott Conference Center. Every participant will receive a meal coupon, parking pass and special gift from the Medical Center. More importantly, participants will take pride in knowing they saved up to three lives!

You can make twice the difference by scheduling a double red cell blood donation. During a double red cell donation, a machine separates the red blood cells from other blood components and returns the remaining components back to the donor. By doing this, the machine is able to double the amount of red cells it would normally collect in a standard blood donation. Donors are actually donating two units of blood, instead of one, and saving twice the number of lives!

For more information or to schedule a life-saving donation, call 410-550-0289.

Indie Soul Fashion: ‘Wear It Out Wednesdays’ returns in the fall

The Baltimore Times and Indie Soul are happy to announce that one of the most talked about fashion events of 2013 is back for the fall in 2014: Wear It Wednesdays.

Mark your calendars for September 17th, October 15th and November 5th. The tentative time will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. but that could change, so make sure to check the website: www.wearitoutbaltimore.com for all the news and events pertaining to fashion for the Baltimore area.

The goal of this event is to support local talent, not only designers and models, but hair stylists, make-up artists, photographers and musicians. This fall’s “Wear It Out Wednesdays” will take place at Nancy located at 131 W. North Avenue in Baltimore City.

“Wear It Out Wednesdays” will feature two local designers; hair stylists and makeup artists; a performance from a local artist; a signature cocktail and most importantly, a chance to network so make sure you bring your business cards.

If you want to be part of this event, call: 443-508-8126 or 410-205-5414.

ABC TV adds people of color to fall lineup

The fall TV season is quickly approaching and over the next few weeks, Indie Soul, will spotlight networks and shows aimed specifically at the African American community; this week ABC TV:

Black-ish: (Premieres September 24th at 9:30 p.m.) Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson) has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), four kids and a colonial home in the ‘burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family? With a little help from his dad (Laurence Fishburne), Dre sets out to establish a sense of cultural identity for his family that honors their past while embracing the future. black-ish stars Anthony Anderson as Dre; Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow; Yara Shahidi as Zoey; Marcus Scribner as Andre Jr.; Miles Brown as Jack; Marsai Martin as Diane; and Laurence Fishburne as Pops.

“How to Get Away with Murder:”(Premiers Thursday, September 25th 10 p.m. The brilliant, charismatic and seductive Professor Annalise Keating gets entangled with four law students from her class “How to Get Away with Murder.” Little do they know that they will have to apply what they have learned to real life, in this masterful, sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller. Starring: Viola Davis and Aja Naomi; produced by Shonda Rhimes (Scandal).

ABC has also added shows that feature an ensemble cast which includes African-Americans in co-starring roles: SELFIE(Comedy) and American Crime(Drama). The network boasts the most diverse programming when it comes to the major networks because not only do we see more African Americans in leading roles or co-starring roles, this year’s fall line-up of shows also features Mexican-Americans (Cristela) and Asian-Americans (Fresh off the Boat).

For more information visit the www.abc.go.com; Check our Facebook page for a behind the scenes look at “How to Get Away with Murder” and “black-ish.”

Next week’s Indie Soul will have more on the fall 2014 television schedule.

Former Baltimore student receives CVS Caremark Charitable Trust Scholarship

When she was a little girl growing up in Guyana, former Maryland resident Tiffany Murray watched with wonder as her grandmother prepared traditional plant-based remedies to treat an aunt who had polio. She remembers imitating her grandmother’s behavior, grinding Hibiscus flowers to make medicine for her dolls.

“Witnessing the healing process fascinated me,” she said. “Like my grandmother, I wanted to be a healer, and I envisioned myself one day helping to cure people around the world.”

Years later, what Murray envisioned would become a reality.

Murray is enrolled at Touro College of Pharmacy (Class of ’15) in New York City, and this year her outstanding accomplishments there have earned her a CVS Caremark Charitable Trust Pharmacy Scholarship. The grant is awarded to future promising pharmacists as they complete their education.

Dr. Zvi Loewy, interim dean of the pharmacy school, and Dr. Maureen Sullivan, chair of the Dept. of Pharmacy Practice, presented the award to Murray. “I am delighted that Tiffany was awarded a scholarship from CVS Caremark,” said Dr. Loewy. “The CVS scholarship recognizes the contributions that Tiffany has made to student pharmacy organizations and her community involvement.”

At Touro, Murray became chapter president of the American Pharmacist Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) where she was involved in several community outreach projects, including Operation Immunization, Generation Rx, Women as the Face of AIDS Summit Health Fair, and the YMCA Emblem Health Fair.

Murray said she valued her experiences with Operation Immunization and the Generation Rx programs in particular, “because I learned the importance of the pharmacist’s role within the community” and that she is not someone who works “just behind the counter.”

At Operation Immunization, students and members collaborated with local pharmacies to educate patients on the importance of being immunized— urging parents to update their children’s immunization records and distributing educational materials about immunizations within New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. Residents also received flu shots and were counseled on their blood pressure readings.

Generation Rx is a program at the Touro College Chapter of the APhA-ASP that is dedicated to educating high school students about prescription drug abuse through interactive presentations, educational literature and feedback from participants about the program’s effectiveness.

Murray lived in Silver Spring, Maryland from the age of 13. After high school, she enrolled at Stevenson University at the Owings Mills campus in Baltimore, where she received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. At Stevenson, she says, her education and experiences “were extremely gratifying,” and equipped her “with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in my post graduate education.”

Murray says she has “a plethora of great memories,” about living in Baltimore, including the campus’s close proximity to the Baltimore Ravens training camp. “A lot of students like me would visit the camp to watch the players train,” said Murray.

Baltimore was also a hub for food and culture for Murray. “Down the hill from the dormitories was a Bonefish Grill restaurant, which, from my perspective, has one of the best crab cakes in Baltimore.” She enjoyed visiting the Baltimore Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Museum of Art, and area nightlife. “I still recall attending The Comedy Factory, which was a great way to unwind with friends especially after an intense school week. I had a lot of great memories living in Baltimore; it is certainly a multifaceted city with a diverse culture,” she said.

While living in Maryland, Murray also volunteered at the outpatient pharmacy at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, while working at a CVS pharmacy.

Murray said she enrolled at Touro because its unique, four-year program, which couples two years of classroom with two years of hands-on clinical experience and strong public health emphasis, “will tremendously assist me in my professional practice.”

After she graduates, Murray says she plans to pursue a career in retail pharmacy and hopes to be “a caring and vigilant pharmacist who looks out for the best interest of my clients.” Ultimately, she says her goal is to make a difference back in Guyana by opening her own pharmacy there, one that will “provide the best consulting services for communities in need.”

Douglas McAuthur McCain: From American kid to jihadi in Syria

He was a basketball-loving kid from the Midwest who turned into a jihadi fighting for terrorists in Syria.

Exactly what spurred Douglas McAuthur McCain’s metamorphosis remains murky. But while his radicalization and death have stunned loved ones back home, his actions abroad have raised fears that other Americans may follow suit.

Here’s what we know about the 33-year-old man who died while fighting for ISIS, the radical militant group that has captured swaths of Iraq and Syria and spawned major concerns in the United States:

He grew up in Minnesota

McCain grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of New Hope, his friend Isaac Chase said.

The two lived in the same New Hope apartment building and became fast friends.

“When I first moved here, I didn’t know anyone, so I went to the park and I would see him and his brother and a bunch of other people playing basketball, and he asked me if I wanted to play,” Chase said.

“We just hung out pretty much from 10 o’clock in the morning all the way until nighttime. We’d just play basketball and talk. … He was an older guy that I looked up to. He was actually a good dude.”

Chase described McCain as a nice, quiet young man, but one who was looking for purpose in life.

When Chase joined the Air Force in 2007 and served in Iraq, McCain was impressed that his friend was making something of his life and wanted to do the same, Chase said.

But after learning that McCain died while fighting for ISIS, which is trying to rule an Islamic state across Iraq and Syria, his friend was bewildered.

“It just hurts a little bit knowing that if he was over there and I was over there at the same time, we would’ve been going against each other,” Chase said. “That’s what hurts the most because he was a good person, and I just don’t understand why anyone would do anything to the U.S.”

His family is stunned, too

McCain’s transformation to a jihadi left his family “devastated” and “just as surprised as the country,” said his uncle Ken McCain, who lives in Minnesota.

Chase described McCain’s mother and father as good parents. He said the mother attended church regularly, and the father is deceased.

McCain converted from Christianity to Islam several years ago, his uncle said.

He described the nephew he knew as “a good person, loved his family, loved his mother, loved his faith” — the latter being a reference to the Christianity he practiced before his conversion.

The family wasn’t alarmed by his conversion. But McCain’s Facebook posts sympathetic to ISIS got relatives’ attention, the uncle said.

He said they last heard from McCain several months ago, when he said he was traveling to Turkey.

His cousin insists he’s not a terrorist

McCain’s cousin Kenyata McCain said she can’t believe allegations that her cousin is linked to a terrorist group.

“We’re from Chicago. We grew up in Minnesota. He’s not a terrorist — that’s crazy,” she told CNN affiliate KARE.

“His religion was very important to him, but those people — the ISIS people — they don’t represent what my cousin’s beliefs are or were at all.”

Kenyata McCain wondered if her cousin may have gotten caught up in the wrong crowd.

“Why was he in Syria? … What kind of people was he hanging around? I feel like maybe it was the people he was hanging out with because that’s not who he is. He’s not ISIS,” she said.

He had run-ins with the law back home

McCain had been arrested several times in Minnesota since 2000, according to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

The alleged offenses included disorderly conduct, speeding, driving after revocation, theft by swindle and giving an officer false information.

The U.S. government had been monitoring him

McCain is the first American known to have been killed while fighting for ISIS.

U.S. counterterrorism investigators had been looking into his activities for some time before his death, a U.S. official said.

The official said McCain was on a list of Americans who are believed to have joined militant groups and who would be stopped and subjected to additional scrutiny if he traveled.

Chase said he can’t understand how McCain could have joined terrorist ranks.

“It don’t make no sense. The Doug I know is a good person, and I wouldn’t even think that he would do anything like that.”

CNN’s Sonia Moghe, Tony Marco, Brian Todd, Melanie Whitley and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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