Woman in Alabama brings Christmas to nearly 200 families affected by Harvey

Courtney Adams(HOUSTON) -- A woman in Alabama is helping bring Christmas to nearly 200 families in the Harvey-stricken Houston area through a holiday adoption group she started on Facebook.

Courtney Adams, 33, watched in despair from thousands of miles away in Auburn as parts of her hometown of Kingwood, Texas, flooded when Hurricane Harvey struck southeastern Texas in August.

Adams, a mother of three, said she felt “helpless” in the moment and relied on prayer to figure out how she could help.

She started a Facebook group, Holidays for Harvey, with the idea of matching people from across the country with families in need in the Houston area.

“I sat down and created a group on Facebook and I just started sharing it,” Adams said. “People started joining and asking for help and people started offering to help and give back.”

One of the first people to volunteer was Lori Martin, a mother of three from Pennsylvania who is friends with Adams but did not have a direct connection to Houston.

Martin and her family volunteered to provide Christmas for a husband and wife and their 17-year-old daughter whose home was hit hard by Harvey.

“The mom said she and her husband wanted nothing and they just wanted a nice day for their daughter,” said Martin, who purchased gift cards for the teen and is surprising her parents with gifts too. “I wrapped everything that I got individually because there is something special about opening a present on Christmas morning.”

Rachel Nicholson and her family will have presents to open on Christmas morning too, thanks to Adams.

Nicholson, a childhood friend of Adams’, gave birth to her third son just days before Harvey hit.

She and her newborn and two young sons had to be evacuated by boat as the first floor of their home flooded.

Nicholson and her family have been living in a rental home, relying on their savings, until their home is rebuilt.

“All of our money is going back into our house and the last thing you think about is presents,” said Nicholson. “Our boys deserve a Christmas and a home and not being displaced. I don’t want what happened to affect their memories of Christmas.”

Adams took Nicholson’s sons’ Christmas wish lists and had the gifts delivered to the family’s door.

“Now we have the presents under the tree thanks to Courtney,” Nicholson said. “She has been an angel and has orchestrated a movement. She really has.”

Adams was aided in her Christmas movement by two friends in Auburn who volunteered their time to help. Together, the three women have arranged Christmas for 188 families in the Houston area, totaling 620 kids and 1,045 family members.

Robinn Graves’ family includes five of those 620 kids.

Graves, her husband and their five children were evacuated from their Porter, Texas, home in a rescue truck when water began to overtake the home's first floor.

They got back into their house a few days after Harvey struck, and have been living in a construction zone ever since, with all their time and money going toward rebuilding.

“We have lots of Christmas traditions and we’ve had to cut back on what we can do, both financially and time wise,” said Graves. “We’ve had to spend all our time on the house and it’s taken a lot away from our family and the kids.”

Graves’ family was matched with a woman in New Jersey who is providing Christmas gifts for all five kids, ranging in age from 17 to 2.

The woman told her boyfriend and her daughter that she only wanted money for Christmas so that she could donate to charity, according to Graves.

“A couple of weeks ago they sent us a pre-lit Christmas tree,” said Graves. “That was our first sign of hope, that tree and the lights.”

Graves provided her kids’ wish lists -- which included practical items like a lamp and books for the older kids and a broom for the 2-year-old, who watches her parents clean the house -- and the presents are due to arrive next week.

“Without her, Christmas would have been over in a minute,” Graves said. “And we’ve connected on a personal level because we know how we’re a blessing to each other. She’s blessed because she’s able to help and we’re blessed to have her help.”

Adams said Graves and her donor have accomplished exactly what she set out to do.

“I wanted the families to know that we do love you guys, we know you’re still out there and that the rebuilding process hasn’t even begun for some,” she said. “They’re still trying to find normalcy and Christmas was just my foot in the door to get that.”

She continued, "To see the families that are supported and to hear how something so simple can bring so much to them, it’s just a good reminder that less is more. It’s all about the relationships we make as opposed to the stuff we think we need to make us happy."

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Florida soccer coach who ran off with teen faces sex charge

Columbia Couty(NEW YORK) -- The former assistant high school soccer coach who allegedly ran off with a Florida teen was hit with a charge of sexual activity with a minor Friday, according to ABC News affiliate WJXT.

Rian Rodriguez, 27, who made his first appearance before a judge via closed circuit video in Columbia County criminal court, already was facing the felony charge of interfering with custody of a child for allegedly taking 17-year-old Caitlyn Frisina from home for a week without her parents’ permission.

The circumstances surrounding the additional charge were not immediately clear. Rodriguez was held on $125,000 bond.

Frisina was returned safely to her parents after a state trooper in Syracuse, New York spotted Rodriguez behind the wheel of the car they were last spotted in.

Rodriguez, who worked as an assistant coach for the victim's father at Fort White High School, was then extradited to Florida.

At the time of the reunion, the teen's mother, Scarlet Frisina, told ABC News that the family was trying to "work through things."

"Ward and I and Caitlyn are very tired, worn out, in fact, physically and emotionally, and we feel that: she's home, she's OK, we're seeking counseling to help us work through things," she said. “We are incredibly grateful for all of the coverage and assistance everyone offered during this very trying time."

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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Penn State officials showed a 'shocking apathy' to drinking, grand jury report finds

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A grand jury's report following the drinking death of a Pennsylvania State University student says school officials showed "a shocking apathy" to a dangerous pattern of hazing and excessive alcohol consumption cultivated by fraternity life on campus.

The report, released Friday by a Pennsylvania district attorney, recommends a number of changes that Penn State should undertake in the wake of the Feb. 4 death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza.

"The system didn't protect Tim and didn't protect others," Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said at a press conference. "Tim didn't have to die."

A Penn State spokesperson did not immediately have a comment when reached by ABC News.

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Former NXIVM member says she was invited into a secret sorority, then branded

ABC News.(NEW YORK) -- One night this past March, Sarah Edmondson says she was one of five women summoned to a house outside Albany, New York.

She was there to willingly participate in a strange initiation ritual led by a woman who she said told everyone to take off their clothes and put on blindfolds.

“[She] led us in blindfolded and sat us in a semicircle… buck naked, no clothes, on a sheepskin rug,” Edmondson said. “Could that be any weirder?”

“And we were all, ‘My goodness, what’s going on here? This is so weird,’” she added.

Edmondson told ABC News and in a complaint to the New York State Department of Health that she thought they were going to get a tattoo, but then, as she said in our interview, they found out she and the other women were going to be branded.

“It was a horror movie,” she said. “It was the most inhumane, horrific way to treat anybody. But the most horrific thing is that it’s women doing it to women.”

Edmondson said each of the women would lie down naked and then was branded with a cauterizing device, without any anesthesia. When it was her turn, Edmondson said the pain felt “worse than childbirth.”

Watch the full story on ABC News "20/20" TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET

NXIVM is a secretive self-help organization based in Albany that was founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman. It touts itself as a “professional coaching company” and its website says it offers “Executive Success Programs,” or “ESP,” in New York, California, Canada , Mexico and elsewhere.

NXIVM hosts five-day and 16-day seminars it calls “Intensives,” which some former members said was like group therapy sessions that ran for as long as 14 hours a day for 16 days.

Former members who spoke with ABC News said Raniere is very protective of his teachings and requires participants to sign confidentiality agreements.

“Everyone signed it,” Edmondson said. “And if you didn't sign it, you couldn't take the curriculum.”

Edmondson is a wife and mother living in Vancouver with a successful career working in film, television and voiceover for 20 years, including starring in the TV series, “Continuum,” and doing the voiceover work for the cartoon series, “My Little Pony.”

She said she signed up for her first five-day seminar in 2005 when she was 27.

“I left my five-day, my initial training as if a veil had been lifted,” she said. “And I could see things more clearly in my life.”

After attending NXIVM seminars for more than a decade, Edmondson said she was approached about an opportunity to join a secret sorority. Then one night, Edmondson said she and four other women, one by one, submitted to being branded by a woman named Dr. Danielle Roberts.

“The [first] woman on the table screamed out in pain, twisted and turned and yelled,” Edmondson said. “And the woman I was with, holding her legs down, we looked at each other and we just wept.”

ABC News approached Dr. Roberts at a wellness expo in New York City for this report and she said she had no comment. An attorney for Dr. Roberts told ABC News these allegations are “unfounded.”

In her complaint to New York State Department of Health, Edmondson said she was told the brand was a Latin symbol but then said she realized it included the letters “K” and “R,” which she took to be the initials for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere.

“I lost it when I figured that out,” Edmondson said. “I am not cattle. I’m not owned by Keith.”

Raniere did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment. In a letter posted on the NXIVM website, Raniere said, “There is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals.” Raniere said the secret sorority is “not part of NXIVM and… I am not associated with the group.” The letter also said, “Our experts … say members of the sorority are thriving, healthy, happy, better off, and haven’t been coerced.” When ABC News requested comment from Nancy Salzman, she referred us to this letter.

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Man convicted of murdering Christa Worthington speaks out: 'I'm not guilty of anything'

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Chris McCowen, the man who was convicted of raping and murdering Christa Worthington, is speaking out about being at the center of what was then the biggest case to hit the Cape in decades.

“There's a lot of speculation on the exact timeline of when she was killed,” McCowen told ABC News “20/20.” “I’m not guilty of anything ... this is a nightmare for me.”

Worthington, a 46-year-old fashion writer and single mother, was found stabbed to death in her seaside cottage in Truro, Massachusetts, on Jan. 6, 2002, with her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ava, by her side, unharmed. The case earned national attention after authorities made a controversial move to ask every man in the community to voluntarily submit a DNA sample prior to making an arrest.

McCowen, who worked as a garbage man on the Cape and had Worthington’s home on his trash route, didn’t testify at his 2006 trial, but was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and aggravated burglary in connection with Worthington’s death.

He was given three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, but has long maintained his innocence.

Since his conviction, McCowen has had one appeal and three motions for a new trial denied. Now, armed with a new defense attorney, McCowen is hoping to get new evidence that could warrant a new trial and overturn his conviction.

“At this point, Chris wants to get his story out there,” his current attorney, Gary Pelletier told “20/20.” “Chris wants to explain. Chris regrets not testifying.”

McCowen told “20/20” he knew Worthington from his trash route, and that her trash pick-up day was on Thursdays – a detail that was confirmed by the owner of the trash collection company McCowen worked for at the time.

“Being a garbage man, you know, I get to go by everybody’s houses and, you know, get to talk to them briefly,” McCowen said. Worthington was found dead on a Sunday, but that previous Thursday, McCowen said he was coming by her house for trash pick-up and she asked him about getting rid of her Christmas tree.

“She asked me to come in the house and to look at her Christmas tree,” he said.

After she invited him in, McCowen said then “one thing led to another.”

“It just like it was just a mutual thing between two people, I guess,” he said. “We started kissing. Then we ... ended up having, having sex.”

McCowen said he had sex with Worthington just that one time. Her body was found three days later, but he insists he didn’t kill her. The prosecution maintains to this day that the evidence against McCowen, and him alone, was "overwhelming."

During trial, prosecutors presented forensic evidence that showed a match between McCowen’s DNA and DNA found on Worthington’s body, as well as statements McCowen made during a six-hour interview with two investigators after his arrest, who said McCowen kept changing his story from saying that he never knew Worthington, to saying he went over to her house and had sex with her, to saying he and a friend beat her up after a night of heavy drinking.

At trial, McCowen’s former attorney Bob George argued that McCowen was poorly educated with low intelligence, so he wasn’t able to understand what was happening after his arrest and was only telling police what he thought they wanted to hear, that McCowen wasn't sober at the time of the six-hour police interview and that the interview was not recorded, only summarized by an investigator in a 27-page report, so it was impossible to know exactly what was said.

McCowen told "20/20" that he didn’t remember talking with police nor what he told them during the six-hour interview because he was under the influence of Percocet, cocaine and marijuana at the time.

“They [police] kept on switching everything up,” McCowen said. “I was so intoxicated off of all of them drugs that I really didn't know what the hell was going on.”

During his statements to police after his arrest, McCowen had said he and his friend Jeremy Frazier had gone over to Worthington’s house after a night of drinking. At one point, McCowen claimed Frazier had killed her.

McCowen said he didn’t remember ever going over to Worthington’s house with Frazier. When asked why he named Frazier as her killer, McCowen told “20/20,” “That’s what they [police] said that I did. I didn’t do that.”

Frazier testified for the prosecution at McCowen’s trial that he was at an underage club called The Juice Bar with his friend Shawn Mulvey and McCowen for a rap contest on Jan. 4, 2002, the Friday before Worthington's body was found.

Just like in his interview with police, Frazier said they left the bar and went to a party, where a fight broke out and everyone was kicked out. Frazier said he and Mulvey then went to Mulvey's father’s house and were there the rest of the night. Frazier said he didn't know what happened to McCowen.

McCowen told “20/20” that after leaving The Juice Bar, he went to the party but then “went straight home” afterwards.

Frazier denied having any involvement with Worthington’s death and denied going to her house with McCowen on the night in question. Police believed Frazier, and also believed that McCowen went over to Worthington's house by himself.

Today, having spent the past 11 years behind bars, McCowen said he was optimistic that his current attorney will be successful in getting him a new trial.

“I don’t deserve to be in [prison],” he said.

This article is part of an investigative series by "20/20" and ABC Radio looking into the murder of Christa Worthington and the trial and conviction of Christopher McCowen. Watch the two-hour "20/20" documentary, "A Killing on the Cape," HERE and the six-part podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and under the "Listen" tab on the ABC News app.

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Pennsylvania cousins plead not guilty in alleged murders of 4 men

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cosmo DiNardo and Sean Kratz, two cousins charged in the brutal murder of four men in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in July entered not guilty pleas during their arraignment on Thursday.

The 20-year-old men face charges of criminal homicide, abuse of corpse, robbery and conspiracy after the shooting deaths of 19-year-old Dean Finocchiaro, 22-year-old Mark Sturgis, 21-year-old Tom Meo and 19-year-old Jimi Patrick, whose bodies were found buried on a Solebury, Pennsylvania, farm after a five-day search in July.

According to a press release from the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, DiNardo faces four counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of Patrick, Finocchiaro, Meo and Sturgis, while Kratz has only been charged in the deaths of Finocchiaro, Meo and Sturgis.

Both men remain imprisoned without bail. DiNardo is being held at the Bucks County Correctional Facility, while Kratz is at the Northampton County Prison.

DiNardo confessed to killing the four men as part of a plea deal in July that would allow him to avoid the death penalty. Kratz did not agree to a plea deal.

Prosecutors said that DiNardo’s not guilty plea on Thursday was a procedural decision that would afford him the option to stop cooperating with the investigation in order to maintain his innocence, according to Philadelphia ABC affiliate WPVI. He is still cooperating with police, WPVI said.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub filed paperwork this week reserving the right to seek the death penalty against the young men. While Weintraub maintained that he will honor the deal struck between him and DiNardo to avoid the death penalty, he said, “if additional evidence is uncovered, or if he wishes to go to trial, we will be prepared and we will at that time seek the death penalty.”

The initial agreement made between Weintraub and DiNardo called for the suspect’s admission of guilt, full cooperation in the ongoing investigation and leading authorities to the location of Patrick’s body, which was still missing at the time.

DiNardo faces additional felony charges of theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and illegal possession of firearms, which he was prohibited from using due to previously being involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment center.

Family members of the slain young men expressed their anguish to WPVI on Thursday.

“You get angry, you get sad, you are reliving it over and over,” Mark Potash, Sturgis' father, said.

“The day of reckoning is coming ... and the family looks forward to that day,” Finocchiaro family attorney Tom Kline said.

When asked by WPVI reporters if he had anything to say, Dinardo simply said, "I'm sorry."

The trial date for Dinardo and Kratz has yet to be confirmed, the case will be prosecuted by First Assistant District Attorney Gregg D. Shore and Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler.

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More snow on the way for the East Coast, Great Lakes

ABC News.(NEW YORK) -- Two storm systems will bring snow from the Great Lakes to the Northeast Friday into this weekend.

One storm system will bring more snow Friday from Minnesota to Michigan and into western New York and Pennsylvania, where a lake effect snow warning has been issued.

Also, a coastal storm system will move from the mid-Atlantic to southern New England coast Friday afternoon into the evening bringing a swath of accumulating snow from Washington, D.C. to New York City and into Boston.

Up to 3 inches of snow could fall from the mid-Atlantic states to southeastern New England. Up to 14 inches of snow is possible from a lake effect snow band in western New York and Pennsylvania. Also, a general area of 1 to 3 inches of snow is expected from Minnesota to Michigan.

Cold weather will linger through Sunday, especially in the Northeast.

The coldest wind chills will be found in the Northeast and New England on Saturday morning, when some readings will be below zero.

Gusty winds for California

• A dry area of low pressure will be moving through California later today into Saturday brining more gusty winds to the area!

Wind advisories, fire weather watches and red flag warnings stretch from the Mexican border to Northern California.

Late Friday through this weekend, winds will gust from 20 to 30 mph, with localized gusts near 50 mph possible.

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Unconscious man on subway tracks rescued in frantic effort, video shows

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Dramatic cellphone video captured a frantic effort on Thursday to rescue a man lying unconscious on subway tracks in New York as a train approached.

The video, obtained by ABC station WABC, shows terrified commuters on the Avenue H station platform in Brooklyn yelling for the man to "wake up" and for an approaching Q train to stop.

The commuters scream, "Sir, please, wake up! Sir? Sir, wake up!"

The subway train heeded the warnings and stopped, allowing commuters to go down onto the tracks and lift the man up onto the platform.

The woman who took the video, Liliana Vicente, was among the group of people who pulled the man to safety. She said she was panicked and frightened of what could have happened if the train hadn't stopped.

"I thought the train was going over him, I started crying," Vicente told WABC in an interview Thursday night. "I was so scared."

Ultimately, Vicente said, it was rewarding to see people help save a stranger's life.

"I think there are still kind people here in this world," she told WABC.

The man was later transported to a local hospital in serious condition, according to WABC. It's unclear what caused him to fall on the tracks.

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Grandma, granddaughter graduate from college together

DigitalVision/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- They may have been born almost four decades apart, but this grandmother and granddaughter are now part of the same graduating class at Chicago State University.

Belinda Berry, 62, and Karea Berry, 25, both walked across the stage on Thursday to accept their diplomas. And they're not done with their education either -- both plan to attend graduate school.

"It was never planned, we both enrolled in school and we didn't know we were going to finish together because I was full-time and she was part-time, and it just worked out that way," Karea told Chicago ABC station WLS.

Both graduated with bachelor's degrees, but Belinda managed to do so at the top of her class in business.

"She graduated with a 3.8 GPA and health issues during her last two semesters and so for her to come out on top even more than me is amazing, so she is my inspiration," Karea said.

Karea didn't do so bad for herself either, though. She earned a degree in criminal justice and will start working toward her master's in mental health counseling at CSU next year.

CSU said it has now held 361 graduations in its existence and this is the first time a grandmother and granddaughter have graduated in the same class.

Belinda says she plans to eventually open her own fashion boutique

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Firefighter dies while battling Thomas fire in California

iStock/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Authorities identified him as Cory Iverson, 32, of Escondido, California, and said he had a 2-year-old daughter and his wife, Ashley, is currently pregnant.

He was an eight-year-veteran for Cal Fire.

Tony Mecham of Cal Fire San Diego said he had "very limited" details on how he died, but said he was "outside the fire engine" at the time of the accident. Mecham said Iverson and his five-firefighter strike team were engaged with a very active part of the fire near Fillmore, California, when the accident occurred.

"... [P]lease join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions," Pimlott said.

"Anne and I are saddened by Engineer Cory Iverson’s tragic death," California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement, also passing along the condolence of his wife. "His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten."

As many as six wildfires were blazing through California's arid landscape last week. The Thomas fire, the largest of them, began as a 50-acre brush fire in the foothills of Santa Paula on Dec. 4, officials said.

The Thomas fire was 35 percent contained by Thursday evening after burning through about 249,5000 acres. A total of 8,300 fire personnel are battling the Thomas fire, which is currently threatening at least 18,000 structures, according to Cal Fire. Chief Todd Durum from Cal Fire said the fire had cost $82 million so far.

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