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Serbia’s NATO ambassador leaps to death

Shocked friends say Branislav Milinkovic did not appear distraught before he plunged to his death.

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Serbia’s ambassador to NATO was chatting and joking with colleagues in a parking garage at Brussels Airport when he suddenly strolled to a barrier, climbed over and flung himself to the ground below, a diplomat said.

By the time his shocked colleagues reached him, Branislav Milinkovic was dead.

His motives are a mystery. Three diplomats who knew Milinkovic said he did not appear distraught in the hours leading up to his death Tuesday night. He seemed to be going about his regular business, picking up an arriving delegation of six Serbian officials who were due to hold talks with NATO, the alliance that went to war with his country just 13 years ago.

A former author and activist opposed to the authoritarian regime of Serbia’s former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, he was a respected diplomat and leading intellectual, officials said.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details, said they knew of no circumstances — private or professional — that would have prompted him to take his own life.

One of the diplomats described the death to The Associated Press, saying she had spoken to a member of the delegation who had witnessed the leap from the 8- to 10-meter-high (26- to 33-foot-high) platform.

The diplomats all spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted by foreign service regulations to speak publicly to the press.

Speaking in Brussels, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that “Belgian police are investigating, but it’s obviously a suicide. It’s hard to figure out the motives or causes.”

The death cast a pall on the second day of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. Officials said they were shocked by the news of the death of a very popular and well-liked ambassador.

"NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was deeply saddened by the tragic death of the Serbian ambassador," alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said. "Milinkovic was a highly respected representative of his country and will be missed at NATO headquarters."

During the 1990s, Milinkovic was active in the opposition to Milosevic. After he was ousted in 2000, Milinkovic was appointed Serbia’s ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, or OSCE, in Vienna.

He was transferred to NATO as Serbia’s special representative in 2004. Serbia is not a member of the military alliance, but Milinkovic was named ambassador after Belgrade joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, which groups neutral states.

The move to join the NATO program had angered Serbian nationalists who are now in power. They have pledged the nation will never join because of its 1999 bombing campaign, during which it forced Milosevic’s forces to withdraw from Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo.

James Holmes: Inmate’s strange tale of “confession” and suicide efforts

Steven Unruh is having a hard time convincing anyone that he spent hours talking to Aurora theater shootings suspect James Holmes shortly after his arrest last July. Jail officials say there’s no way that Unruh could have had that kind of access. Yet certain elements of the story — which includes a description that resembles the headbanging routine that sent Holmes to the hospital last week — have been attracting attention from law enforcement and even families of the shooting victims.

What Unruh can prove is that he was booked into the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office Detention Facility on drug and theft charges at 6:44 p.m. on July 19 — just hours before the attack in Aurora at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises that left twelve dead and dozens wounded. Unruh says he was still in the booking area when officers brought in Holmes, whose head was initially covered with a hood. Although Holmes was put into a cell by himself, Unruh says inmates in the area are able to communicate by shouting through a small gap in the cell doors, which move back and forth on rails.

Unruh says he began talking to Holmes, explaining how poorly child killers are received in prison. Jail staff quickly covered the window in Holmes’ cell door with a tarp, but Unruh says he heard him pounding on the wall with his fists — and then running, slamming his body and his head into the wall. (Unruh described this action in an interview that took place several days before Holmes reportedly engaged in similar headbanging last week.)

But Unruh insists the sporadic conversation continued even after Holmes was moved to another cell in the area. He says that Holmes told him “he felt like he was in a video game" during the shooting, that "he wasn’t on his meds" and "nobody would help him." He says Holmes also mentioned NLP — presumably, neuro-linguistic programming, a much-scorned and outmoded approach to psychotherapy — and claimed to have been "programmed" to kill (Delta programming) by an evil therapist.

"When he got out to his car, he wasn’t programmed no more,” Unruh says. “It sounded kind of crazy. He was trying to run it by me, basically.”

Unruh has a phone number that he says Holmes asked him to call. (The number connects to the cell phone of a bereavement counselor, who says she has no acquaintance with Holmes or Unruh.) He has a form that indicates James Holmes tried to send him a letter, but it was rejected by jail authorities. (Knight says he has no record of any letter sent by Holmes to Unruh, intercepted or otherwise.) He claims to have received messages from Holmes via other inmates since that night, but he admits he doesn’t know if the sender was actually Holmes.

Still, Unruh’s story seems to have drawn interest in one unlikely quarter. He says Holmes told him he “walked up and down the aisles” of the theater three times before he opened fire, and that detail, if true, might have some bearing on the pending litigation by victims’ families against the theater chain. Unruh has paperwork indicating that he’s been in communication with at least one family member on that point.

Unruh’s story may well prove to be nonsense. Whether it’s his nonsense or Holmes’s own, the lack of answers in the Aurora tragedy has some people looking for whatever answers can be found.