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Friday
Aug282015

Virginia Shooter's Ex-Boss Tells of His 'Abrasive' Behavior

iStock/Thinkstock(ROANOKE, Va.) -- Vester Lee Flanagan threatened to hit one of his colleagues when they were on a reporting job years before he fatally shot a reporter and a cameraman this week, his former boss told ABC News.

Dan Dennison, the news director at WDBJ-TV when Flanagan worked there, said that everything was going well with his employment for the first two months after he was hired in March 2012. It wasn’t until May of that year that he had his first run-in with a colleague that happened when Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams at work, was called to report a story in the field with another reporter.

“He allegedly entered the station microwave truck, or live truck, and started screaming and yelling at a reporter and a photographer, or maybe two photographers in the truck,” Dennison told ABC News in his first interview since the shooting on Wednesday.

Dennison learned about the incident after the other staffer, who was not named, told Dennison about the incident but they decided not to file a formal report at the time because they “tried to work things out,” Dennison said.

“We really thought it was a one-time situation at that time,” Dennison said.

Greg Baldwin, who works as the assistant news director at WDBJ and worked at the station at the same time as Flanagan, reiterated that account and said that it served as a warning sign.

“The reporter calls me and she says, ‘You have got to get here now. Bryce has -- we got into an argument and he is in my face. And I, I think he is ready to hit me,’” Baldwin told ABC News.

“That was the first time that we knew that he was violent,” he said.

Dennison said that the “pattern” of complaints relating to his “brusque and abrasive demeanor” came mostly from his colleagues but also from one or two people in the community who he interviewed as part of his job.

Dennison detailed the various meetings they had with Flanagan before he was fired on Feb. 1, 2013, which were echoed in a court filing publicly available as a result of a suit Flanagan later filed against WDBJ. The suit was later dismissed.

The tipping point came when the human resources director presented Flanagan with his severance package.

“He took one look at that and cussed and said, ‘This is B.S.,’” Dennison said.

“As I recall, he slammed his fist down on the table," Dennison said. "It was so loud, people frankly reported that they thought a bomb had gone off."

The situation escalated from there, so much so that they had to call in two police officers to help escort him from the building. Dennison said the officers spent five to ten minutes trying to get him to leave his desk.

“At one point, I was standing maybe five feet away from him up against the wall, and he looked at me and threw a ball cap and a wooden cross at me and said, ‘You're gonna need these,’” Dennison said.

He wasn’t the only one to spark a reaction from Flanagan, Dennison said.

“Adam Ward -- the young man who was killed -- was standing in a back corner of the newsroom, videotaping this for documentation. And Bryce turned around to him at one point and flipped him off and cussed at him,” Dennison said.

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Friday
Aug282015

Owen Labrie Found Not Guilty of Felony Sexual Assault in Prep School Trial

ABC News(CONCORD, N.H.) — Owen Labrie was found not guilty of felony sexual assault in a case at St. Paul's School, a prestigious New Hampshire prep school.

The jury of nine men and three women delivered a not guilty verdict on the felony sexual assault charge on the second day of deliberations. He was found guilty of four misdemeanors for sexual assault and one felony related to a computer charge.

Labrie, now 19, was accused of raping a fellow student in May 2014 at the school in Concord, New Hampshire. He was charged with multiple felonies relating to the encounter and had entered a not-guilty plea.

The alleged victim, whose name is being withheld because of the nature of the crime, testified last week. "I was raped!" she said loudly amid tears. "I was violated in so many ways."

When Labrie took the stand this week, he described their activity, which he said was mutual, but he denied having sex with her.

"It wouldn't have been a good move to have sex with this girl," he recalled thinking at the time when he said he and the alleged victim were making out in a school tower.

Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle said in court that the encounter at the center of the case was part of a "senior salute," a tradition at the prep school. Ruffle said that the "senior salute" practice was largely intended as a way for graduating seniors "to be with someone that they might have wanted to be with throughout" high school, and could include activities like walking to class together or kissing but "it might include a little bit more."

She also said some students believed Labrie and some of his friends had turned the tradition into a competition.


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Friday
Aug282015

Inside On-Air Shooter Vester Flanagan's Sparse Apartment

iStock/Thinkstock(ROANOKE, Va.) -- Photos from inside the apartment of alleged on-air killer Vester Flanagan show his spare living space.

The only hanging decorations were a series of photos from what appeared to be his earlier careers in modeling and television.

His refrigerator was covered in 10 sheets of paper, all pictures of himself. One appeared to be a contact sheet with dozens of headshots.

The apartment images were provided to ABC News by an agency that exclusively represents the syndication of the photos.

The only other colorful decorations in his apartment appeared to be about two dozen tea-light candles. The candles, which all seemed to be previously burned, varied from beige to light pink and red, and were found on the counter in his bathroom.

There are several other partially burned larger candles on the counter, as well.

Barbasol shaving cream and Aim toothpaste were the only noticeable brands near the mirror.

The rest of the apartment was strikingly bare, with no sheets on his bed, nothing on the walls in the living room and few pieces of furniture. The only chair shown near his computer appeared to be a plastic outdoor chair.

Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams when he worked in TV news, allegedly shot and killed two of his former colleagues while they were filming a live interview Wednesday in Moneta, Virginia.

The 41-year-old man was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being chased by Virginia State Police. He died later after being airlifted to a nearby hospital.

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Friday
Aug282015

Pilot Dies Practicing for the New York Air Show

iStock/Thinkstock(GOSHEN, N.Y.) -- A pilot has died after practicing for an air show.

According to a statement from Orange County's Department of Emergency Services, a single-engine aircraft crashed at Stewart International Airport on Friday afternoon, killing the pilot.

The pilot was practicing for the New York Air Show.

Authorities are on the scene of the accident and practice had been cancelled for the rest of Friday, said the statement.

The New York Air Show will still take place on Saturday and Sunday at the airport.

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Friday
Aug282015

Women Who Survived 5 Days in Wilderness: 'We're Too Young to Die'

KGO-TV(SAN FRANCISCO) -- As friends Laura Sherman and Denise Diaz spent five days lost in the northern California wilderness, they said they thought to themselves, "We're too young to die."

"We've got to live to have grandchildren," Sherman, 57, told ABC News on Friday. "We've got to live our lives."

The two women, both moms of one, have been friends for about 10 years, Sherman said.

Last Friday, they were on their way to a hot springs when they found a book about a hike to a lake. "We thought we could go for a day," Sherman said. "We didn't really read the book that carefully. ... We had just picked it up and figured it was a good day hike."

"We just wanted to go in the afternoon and have a quick swim," Diaz, 56, told ABC News, but, "We never found this lake."

Soon, the women were lost.

"Nobody knew we were there," Diaz said. "We were completely unprepared."

The women, who were both in their bathing suits, then spent their first of several nights shivering in the cold, empty wilderness.

"I couldn't sleep at all ... not for fear but just the coldness," Diaz said.

On the second day, "our adrenaline was going," said Sherman, who recalled thinking, "We have got to get out today."

When their water and trail mix ran out, the women said they turned to grasses and berries for food. Diaz said the most challenging parts were the cold and living without water.

By the third day, the women found a creek, "But we couldn't stay there because we needed to find our way out, or people," Sherman said.

Finally, on Tuesday, their fifth day in the wilderness, they saw, "two beautiful cowboys standing at the edge of the meadow on horses," Sherman said. They called out to the men, who then rode off to get help.

"It was such relief," Sherman said.

"I was trying to be really strong," Diaz said of the ordeal. "Every morning we would wake up and say, 'We got to get out of here today.'"

"We were lucky that these cowboys appeared at the same time as us," Diaz said. "They pretty much saved our lives."

"It felt like a mirage," Diaz said.

The women were rescued about 20 miles north of Sonora, California, by a Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department chopper, according to ABC News affiliate KGO-TV. The sheriff's department did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The entire five days, the women had been within a few miles of their car, Sherman said.

"We always had hope that we would get out, but it was pretty daunting," Diaz said.

"There was a moment of ... if no one comes to save us ... we're pretty much doomed," Diaz said.

Neither woman went to the hospital, Diaz said, adding that they both just suffered from dehydration.

"It took a couple of days just to kind of be able to relax and get grounded, but we're both fine," Sherman said, noting she has "a new appreciation for life."

"We're just feeling so grateful to be home and to be back with our families," Sherman said.

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Friday
Aug282015

FAA Approves Use of First-Ever Paper Airplane Drone

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Aviation Administration has approved its first-ever paper airplane drone to fly commercially.

Under FAA requirements, drones may not be operated outside restricted airspace and below 200 feet. However, the FAA’s exemption approval waives those restrictions.

This smartphone-controlled paper airplane -- also known as the PowerUp 3.0 -- has a flight time of 5 to 10 minutes and a range of 180 feet, according to the company.

The company also touts the airplane drone’s success saying that the PowerUp 3.0 stands as the most successful Kickstarter campaign in the flight category. The company says it has also been used and endorsed by NASA scientists.

The petition for exemption for the PowerUp 3.0 was filed by Peter Sachs, a lawyer with a concentration in drone law and pilot who wants to use the paper airplane drone to take aerial videos and photos.

“I intend to operate my UA [Unmanned Aircraft] commercially by conducting aerial photography and videography, both at the request of others and absent anyone’d request, but in either with the intent to create salable art,” Sachs wrote in his letter to the FAA.

The FAA found that granting an exemption would be in the public’s best interest and that good cause exists, as Sachs would be using the drone for aerial data collection.

To date, the FAA has approved over 1,300 drone flights from those seeking to operate unmanned vehicles in commercial airspace.

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Friday
Aug282015

Emmett Till Remembered 60 Years After Brutal Slaying

Scott Olson/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Friday marked 60 years since Chicago teenager Emmett Till was killed at age 14 for apparently whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.

Civil rights activists, relatives of the black teen and other families "victimized by racial violence" -- including the family of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown -- have invited the public to unite for a commemorative weekend in Chicago to remember Till and to continue the legacy of Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley.

"As I travel across the country supporting families who have lost their loved ones through hate crimes, I realized that Mamie lived her life fighting for our youth and fighting for Emmett’s legacy,” Till's cousin Airicka Gordon Taylor, said in a news release. "This is why we have decided to host the Commemoration. This moment is for Mamie and all that she sacrificed. This is for Emmett, the sacrificial lamb whose death changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement."

After her son was brutally killed -- found with a bullet hole in his head, barbed wire wrapped around his neck and a cotton gin fan weighing him down -- Mobley insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago. The shocking image sparked a louder call for civil rights, and Mobley, who died 12 years ago, spent her life working and encouraging young people to challenge injustice after her son was killed.

Though it has been 60 years since Till's killing, his killing still resonates with other families of color in the United States today, including the relatives of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, both black teens who were fatally shot by white men.

Like the men who were charged with killing Till, Martin's and Brown's killers were found not guilty of the crimes with which they were charged.

In September 1955, an all-white, all-male jury in Sumner, Mississippi, acquitted the two white men charged in Till's slaying — J.W. Milam and his half brother, Roy Bryant, the husband of Carolyn Bryant, the woman at whom Till purportedly whistled.

In July of 2013, a Seminole County, Florida, jury acquitted George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who Zimmerman claimed violently confronted him.

During November of last year, a St. Louis County grand jury said they decided not to indict former Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, who Wilson claimed grabbed his gun. This past March, the U.S. Department of Justice also cleared Wilson of civil rights violations in the shooting.

Martin's and Brown's deaths, in addition to others including those of Sandra Bland, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray this year, have sparked protests nationwide for police reform and racial equality. The protests have predominantly been organized and led by the group #BlackLivesMatter, created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tomet.

"Today, 60 years later we still have work to do," Till's other cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. said in the news release. "And our family still stands firmly behind the fight for justice."

The commemoration for Till started Thursday afternoon when a memorial motorcade was held in Chicago and when a wreath laying ceremony was held at Burr Oak Cemetery, where Till's body is buried.

A remembrance dinner will be held Thursday night in addition to a "YOUth EmPOWERment Day" on Satuday and a "Gospel Regeneration" day on Sunday for Till.

See the ABC News broadcast from 2004, when Till's death case was reopened.


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Friday
Aug282015

Virginia On-Air Shooting: Survivor's Harrowing Tale of Facing Down Gunman

Family photo(MONETA, Va.) -- The woman who survived the horrific on-air shooting that left two journalists dead in Virginia earlier this week gave her husband a harrowing account of the fusillade.

Tim Gardner told ABC News that his wife, Vicki, the executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was able to walk to the ambulance herself even though she had a bullet in her back.

Vicki Gardner, who woke up from a medically induced coma Thursday afternoon following her second surgery, told her husband that she could not see the shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan, approaching because of the lights of the camera.

The gunman -- who once worked at WDBJ-7, the same station as the victims -- first targeted reporter Alison Parker, Tim Gardner said, and then turned his attention to cameraman Adam Ward.

“Then he shot three times at my wife, and she was trying to dodge everything,” Tim Gardner said, recalling what his wife had told him. “He missed twice, and then she dove to the ground and curled up in a ball, and that’s when he shot her in the back.”

The gunman continued to pull the trigger but the gun jammed, Tim Gardner said. He eventually left the area.

With Parker and Ward fatally wounded and the gunman gone, Vicki Gardner stood up.

“I don't think she ever felt like she was in danger after she got up and walked to the ambulance after being shot, but she didn't know the extent of her injuries at that point, but the surgeon told me that a couple of centimeters and she wouldn't be walking and a couple of centimeters more and she wouldn't be alive,” Tim Gardner said.

Vicki Gardner had a kidney and part of her colon removed but is expected to make a recovery.

Following her surgeries, Gardner learned more about the scope of the shooting.

“She’s slowly becoming aware of how much attention it’s getting. She’s just … well, she’s just a little torn up about things at the moment,” Tim Gardner said.

Flanagan, who went by the professional name Bryce Williams, sent a text message to a friend “making reference to having done something stupid,” according to a search warrant.

A briefcase with a wig, shawl and three license plates were among the items found inside Flanagan’s car, according to the search warrant. Inside the Chevrolet Sonic, police found a Glock pistol, six ammunition magazines and ammunition for a 9mm weapon.

It was not clear what use items found in the briefcase -- the wig, shawl, a pair of sunglasses, an umbrella, and three different license plates -- were intended for.

Flanagan refused to pull over for authorities on I-66, and when a trooper approached, he was found to have suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound while in the car. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital but died after he arrived there.

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Friday
Aug282015

Surviving National Zoo Panda Cub Is Male

Smithsonian's National Zoo(WASHINGTON) -- The Washington National Zoo revealed the gender of Mei Xiang’s baby panda cub on Friday, and it’s a boy.

Veterinarians at the Giant Panda Habitat performed genetic testing from swabs taken from inside the panda’s mouths.

Genetic testing also revealed the father of the baby panda. Tian Tian, a giant panda from China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong in China, sired the panda.

“I’m happy to say the results were very clear,” said Dr. Robert Fleischer, the head of the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics who performed the genetic testing to determine the sex.

The cub was born last Saturday with a twin sibling, who died Wednesday after struggling with respiratory issues from feeding complications. Results from a necropsy performed on the deceased male cub have not been shared, but zoo veterinarian Dr. Don Neiffer believes the cub died after food material entered the respiratory system.

Giant male pandas can eventually reach a weight of 250 pounds.

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Friday
Aug282015

Will Tropical Storm Erika Strengthen as It Heads Towards Florida?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Tropical Storm Erika is battering the Caribbean with heavy rain but will it become a hurricane as it heads towards Florida?

"[Erika] could strengthen a little bit before it moves inland over the Florida peninsula as we get into late during the weekend and early next week," says Michael Brennan of the National Hurricane Center. "But we're expecting Erika to remain a tropical storm through the five-day forecast period."

As of Friday morning, Erika has maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour.

"It's passed south of Puerto Rico and it's currently located about 165 miles east/southeast of Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic," says Brennan.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued for several Caribbean islands, including the Dominican Republic, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and parts of the Bahamas.

"Our forecast takes the center of Erika across the Dominican Republic and then near the southeastern Bahamas [Friday night} and early Saturday and then after that time, our forecast shows Erika moving near the central and northwestern Bahamas as we go through the weekend," Brennan says.

"We're expecting 4 to 8 inches of rain, with maximum amounts of up 12 inches across portions of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and then spreading through the Bahamas through Saturday," he says.

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