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Thursday
Sep012011

Jere Melo Fort Bragg Murder: Father Says Son May Have Killed Before

Mendocino County Sheriff's Office(FORT BRAGG, Calif.) -- The father of a man suspected of killing a popular city councilman in Fort Bragg, Calif., told ABC News his son may have murdered someone else in August, just months after he said the legal system ignored concerns about his son's behavior.

Aaron Bassler, 35, is currently suspected of killing city councilman and former Fort Bragg Mayor Jere Melo while Melo patrolled forestland on a private timber company adjacent to California's Noyo River. Aaron Bassler, who is believed to be schizophrenic, was tending two small opium poppy fields when he allegedly shot Melo with a rifle, according to police.

In the past, "he never really did anything violent but you could feel the potential there," said his 59-year-old father, James Bassler. "We were all pretty scared of him, that he might go over the edge."

When Bassler heard property manager Matthew Coleman had died of a gunshot wound about 15 miles away near Westport, Calif., where his ex-wife had recently dropped off their son, he connected the dots.

His ex-wife, Bassler said, had tried to help their son in the only way she knew how, especially after Aaron Bassler crashed his car into a school tennis court during a drunk driving accident six months ago that resulted in his car and license being taken away.

"A few months back she was able to acquire food stamps for him," Bassler said, explaining his son had given up growing marijuana several years ago and didn't appear to have any other source of income.

"If he called her up -- she gave him rides. I believe she dropped him off up in Westport area [prior to the Aug. 11 shooting]," Bassler said.

As of right now, police haven't yet determined if Aaron Bassler shot Coleman, too.

"We're waiting for our evidence to tell us if that's related," Mendocino County Sheriff spokesman Kurt Smallcomb told ABC News Thursday.

In the meantime, officers assisted by several groups including the National Guard and FBI continue to conduct ground and aerial searches, but Aaron Bassler has so far managed to elude investigators.

James Bassler says his son knows the woods very well. He said his son had been living in the forest for four months after getting evicted from a Fort Bragg cabin owned by his grandmother, who died recently and left the property to somebody else.

Jere Melo's death shook the small coastal town of Fort Bragg, with a population of 7,000.

Melo, who had been investigating reports of a marijuana farm on the day he was shot, was accompanied by a co-worker who managed to escape and call police on his cellphone.

Police sent a SWAT team to the rural, rugged area but did not find Bassler, who was last seen with a high-caliber rifle and is considered armed and dangerous.

Melo's memorial service is planned for Sept. 10 at the high school Timberwolf Stadium he helped build. It's considered by many to be one of his greatest accomplishments while in public office. He is survived by his wife and two adult children.

"I learned what schizophrenia was...way, way too late," Bassler said. "I'm so frustrated with the system, I'm telling you this didn't have to happen."

Bassler told ABC News both he and his daughter had called the jail after his son had gotten arrested for drunk driving half a year ago, and had also written letters to his public defender and the sheriff's office, begging for him to get help. He reportedly received no answer.

The sheriff's office was not immediately available for comment.

It wasn't the first time he said his family had tried to get law enforcement officials to pay attention to Aaron Bassler's mental health.

"He has a long, long rap sheet," Bassler said.

About two and half years ago, Bassler said, his son caused a bomb scare at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco after leaving packages "with strange drawings and writings," described by the San Francisco Chronicle as "drawings of red stars and writings that referred to the 'Martian military.'"

At one point within the past year, after confronting his son about a cooking fire that could have spread to other people's homes, "he just blew up and threatened to take my life, and he just snapped into a real angry, scary mood," Bassler said, explaining his son's erratic behavior had been so commonplace that all of the odd and frightening moments had blended together, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly when each episode happened. Now, Bassler is hoping his son -- who was a "normal child" until he started exhibiting erratic behavior at age 19 -- will eventually get the help he needs, with the assistance of investigators.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Confessed Killer Sent Emails to Victim's Family 'from Africa'

Christopher Smith, shown here in an undated photo, was murdered in June 2010. (Orange County Sheriff's Office)(LOS ANGELES) -- A California businessman who didn't want to pay his partner $1 million killed the partner instead and then posed as the victim to send the man's family emails claiming he had gone to Africa, police said.

Although the suspect has confessed to the killing, he is refusing to tell investigators what happened to the victim's body, authorities said.

Christopher Smith and Edward Shin were business partners who founded an advertising company together called 800xchange. A falling out between the two led to an agreement that Shin, 33, would buy out Smith's portion of the company for $1 million.

"Rather than paying $1 million, he killed him," Jim Amormino, the director of media relations for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, told ABCNews.com. "The motive was purely financial gain."

Shin, a husband and father of three, was arrested on Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport as he was boarding a flight to Canada.

A second man, Kenny Roy Kraft, was arrested on Monday as an accessory in the murder. Kraft was Shin's driver and personal assistant. He confessed to assisting Shin in disposing Smith's car, clothing and other personal belongings, but has pleaded not guilty, according to an Orange County news release.

In a six-hour interview with authorities, Shin revealed that he killed Smith, 32, in June 2010. For the next seven months, Shin pretended to be a traveling Smith in emails sent to his family in Oregon.

Before Smith, Shin had been involved with similar financial schemes, police said.

Last year, Shin was convicted of embezzlement in relation to a company in Riverside County. He was on probation and ordered to pay $700,000, according to police.

Another man who claimed to be a prior victim and business partner of Shin's attended the first part of his arraignment this week.

The man, who would only be identified as "Brian," spoke exclusively with ABC News' Los Angeles affiliate, KABC. He claimed that Shin stole up to $500,000 from him after they became partners in a mortgage business called Residential Finance America in 2003.

"Brian" said he came to court for "closure," since he could not afford to go after Shin himself.

"He doesn't care about anybody but himself," Brian told KABC. "He lived off of our money until we found out and when I confronted him, he basically just disappeared on us."

"I'm thankful that…I can make money again," Brian said. "Someone's lost far greater than what we lost."

Shin's arraignment is set to continue on Sept. 28. He is facing life in prison and could receive the death penalty.

Smith was an avid outdoorsman and adventurer. His bio on his company's website said, "Having been a former professional wakeboarder, Smith now spends most of his time in the big pond, the Pacific Ocean, where he can surf the best waves that California has to offer. He also enjoys sky diving, road cycling and is a well versed amateur astronomer."

Smith's family could not be reached for comment but said the following in a statement, according to the Orange County Register: "The past year has been an otherworldly time spent overwhelmed with misinformation and uncertainty. As the truth behind events is revealed, we ask for privacy as we cope with the surge of emotions and begin to grieve."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

US Condemns WikiLeaks' Latest Document Dump

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- WikiLeaks informed the U.S. State Department it was about to release a massive dump of classified cables -- over 125,000 in the past week -- but representatives of the agency wants to make known its not working with the group. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement Thursday the release is "irresponsible, reckless, and frankly dangerous."

Nuland said the anti-secrecy group ignored requests not to publish the confidential diplomatic cables.

When the first batch of cables was published last November, the State Department and media organizations helped ensure the documents were stripped of information that could identify sources like human rights activists and informants that could put them in danger. However, there are examples where names of sources have appeared in the documents released in the past week, and the entire unredacted cache was made available by the UK’s Guardian.

Earlier this week Nuland said that the U.S. has taken steps to help certain individuals that might be in danger, but would not elaborate.

“We remain concerned about these illegal disclosures and about concerns and risks to individuals. We continue to carefully monitor what becomes public and to take steps to mitigate the damage to national security and to assist those who may be harmed by these illegal disclosures to the extent that we can,” she said on Tuesday.

Here’s Nuland’s statement from Thursday in full:

Wikileaks did advise us of the impending release of information and of its intention to continue to release classified documents.  We have made clear our views and concerns about illegally disclosed classified information and the continuing risk to individuals and national security  that such releases cause.  Wikileaks has, however, ignored our requests not to release or disseminate any U.S. documents it may possess and has continued its well-established pattern of irresponsible, reckless, and frankly dangerous actions.  We are not cooperating with them.


Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Ouch! Boy Won't Get $50,000 Prize for Lucky Hockey Shot

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- The 11-year-old boy who wowed hockey fans by hitting a puck through a tiny slot in a board 89 feet away has lost the $50,000 jackpot attached to the miracle shot.

The company that insured the charity event, Odds on Promotions, said that 11-year-old Nate Smith isn’t eligible to take home the $50,000 because the raffle ticket that allowed him to take the hockey shot was in his twin brother’s name.

The honesty of the twin boys’ father is what led the event organizers to realize that Nate had posed as his twin brother Nick when he made the shot.

“I called into the organizers. We told them that Nate made the shot. We did the right thing,” Pat Smith told ABC News on Aug. 15. “I just think that honesty is more important than any prize or money you could get.”

The twins had hoped to use the money for their college savings and to donate funds to their local hockey association, Smith said.

Nate made the lucky shot at a celebrity fundraiser hockey game in Faribult, Minn., on Aug. 11. He took aim from the center ice and fired the puck 89 feet straight in a goal which measured a mere three and a half inches. The puck is three inches wide.

The promoters say they will donate some money to charity instead of forking over the check.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Katia Becomes Second Hurricane of 2011 Atlantic Season

NOAA/National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center(MIAMI) -- Katia, which earlier this week was named a tropical storm off the West African coast, has picked up enough strength to become the second hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season.

The storm developed into a category 1 hurricane Wednesday night with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.  It is currently more than 1,000 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving west/northwest at 20 miles per hour.

Hurricane Katia is projected to steer clear of the Caribbean Islands and could pick up considerable strength by the week's end.

"We are expecting strengthening over the next couple of days and it could become a major hurricane or category 3 strength by the weekend," says Hurricane Specialist Daniel Brown at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

But, as Brown says, "it's a little too early to know whether or not it could threaten the United States."

Another system, however, could pose a threat to the southeastern region of the country.  The National Hurricane Center says "a large area of cloudiness and thunderstorms over the eastern Gulf of Mexico" could develop into a tropical depression.  The system also has a 60 percent chance of developing into what would be Tropical Storm Lee in the next two days, the hurricane center said on Thursday.

Should this system strengthen, it could bring heavy rain to New Orleans and northern Florida over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

9/11, Remembrance and Renewal: The New Ground Zero

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ten years after it became known as Ground Zero, the 16-acre World Trade Center site shows signs of life instead of death.

“There are oak trees, swamp white oak trees,” describes Lynn Rasic, the senior vice president of the 9/11 Memorial.

Hundreds of them, in fact, including one known as the "Survivor Tree," which, Rasic says, "was located on the World Trade Center on 9/11."  The tree stands as a symbol of hope and renewal at the center of the new 9/11 Memorial.

The site also features two waterfalls, positioned around the original footprints of the Twin Towers, that flow into pools around which are etched the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“They are based off of groupings, largely determined by where people worked, when they died and who they were with,” Rasic says, explaining how the victims' names are categorized. 

She says the waterfalls also can also capture rainbows as the sun shines through them.

The 9/11 Memorial will open on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, while the main skyscraper -- One World Trade Center -- nears completion. 

“The building was so laden with emotion, but in the end there is sort of no right way to remember what happened, but we have an obligation to remember,” Rasic says.

One World Trade Center is expected to be completed in 2013.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Suspicious Package at Illinois' Scott AFB; Three Treated at Hospital

Scott [dot] AF [dot] mil/Karen Petitt(SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.) -- Three people were hospitalized Wednesday after they developed “rash-like” symptoms while handling a suspicious package in the mail room at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

A spokesman for the base said the individuals have been treated and released.  Parts of the base, which is located about 25 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri, remain under evacuation as a precaution.

“Scott AFB emergency responders are well-trained professionals who provided immediate response.  They are working diligently to render the area safe and investigating the source of the package,” Col. Mike Hornitschek said in a statement.

The three servicemembers were transported to Memorial Hospital for “possible chemical exposure.”  Another 13 people are being decontaminated on site.  Those treated on site have also been released.

Base officials say they still do not know what the package contained, but said it is being currently tested.  A spokesman was unable to describe its contents but said there is “no immediate threat to the community.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Warren Jeffs Has History of Self-Inflicting Harm in Jail

TRENT NELSON/AFP/Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- Warren Jeffs' condition at a Texas prison hospital has improved from critical to serious, but that might not stop the polygamist sect leader from inflicting further illness and injury on himself in the future, according to one Jeffs expert.

"I don't think Warren wants to be alive," said Sam Brower, author of the Jeffs biography Prophet's Prey.  "He's going to continue to be a problem for Texas authorities."

Jeffs, 55, was hospitalized Sunday for illness at least partly related to his refusal to eat and drink, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Monday.  Jeffs told guards he had stopped eating since his conviction of sexual assault of minors earlier this month, she said.

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was sentenced to life in prison for the assaults on two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he claimed were his spiritual wives.

Lyons disputed earlier reports that Jeffs was in a coma, but confirmed that he had been sedated.  Jeffs was transferred from a public hospital, where he was taken when he was in critical condition, to a prison medical center Tuesday.

The sect leader has caused harm to himself while incarcerated before, including fasting, banging his head against a wall, trying to hang himself with his pajamas, and kneeling for such long periods of time that he developed hernias on his knees.

While serving time in the Washington County jail, he tried to hang himself and threw himself against cell walls headfirst.  He was also hospitalized for dehydration and depression, according to court documents.

In 2009, he was temporarily force-fed while in an Arizona jail.  Officials put a feeding tube into his nose and would strap him to his bed so that he could not kneel any longer, according to Brower.  Blood from where the feeding tube was removed was visible in photos from when Jeffs was moved from Arizona to Utah, Brower said.

"He's setting himself up to be a martyr.  He doesn't want his followers to know he's trying to kill himself, so if he calls it fasting, his followers can say he was on a fast and God took him," Brower said.

Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said that Jeffs would remain at the prison hospital until he could return to Texas state prison in Palestine.  He is scheduled to go on trial again in October for charges of bigamy, which could carry a 99 year sentence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Fallen Navy SEAL’s Loyal Dog Gets a New Home

Hawkeye shown here next to his fallen master and Navy SEAL's casket. Courtesy: Lisa Pembleton/Facebook(RICKFORD, Iowa) -- Hawkeye, the loyal Labrador retriever who refused to leave his best friend and fallen Navy SEAL’s side, is going to a good home.

Navy SEAL Petty Officer Jon Tumilson, 35, was killed Aug. 6 in Afghanistan, after his Chinook was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade -- an attack that took the lives of 30 Americans, many of them members of the elite SEAL Team Six that captured and killed Osama Bin Laden.

At his Aug. 19 funeral in his hometown of Rockford, Iowa, Hawkeye had lain down by his coffin, refusing to budge.  Tumilson’s cousin Lisa Pembleton snapped a shot of the heart-wrenching scene, which promptly went viral online, touching Americans across the nation.

The Daily Mail reports that Hawkeye will be going to one of Tumilson’s good friends, Scott Nichols, who took care of him whenever Tumilson was deployed.

According to various news reports, Hawkeye may commemorate his master and all those fallen at an Iowa Hawkeyes game, by leading the college football players onto the field at one of two home games in November.

There is a Facebook page devoted to the memory of Tumilson, now filled with comments on the unbreakable bond between the two best friends.

“My heart is so heavy and filled with sadness,” wrote Michelle Praetorius Ovens.  “Thank you Jon for you service and ultimate sacrifice, you and all of the men that perished that day are true American Heroes.  I pray for comfort for your family and friends during this terribly difficult time."

“The picture of your beloved Hawkeye lying by your casket puts a lump in my throat and brings tears to my eyes," she went on to say.  "RIP and thank you again for your service.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug312011

Disaster Relief Funding: Parties Spar Over FEMA Appropriations

Damage from flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene is seen near the Irving gas station at the junction of Route 4 and Route 100 in Killington, Vermont on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Despite preliminary damage estimates for Hurricane Irene ranking in the billions of dollars, additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency could get caught up in the gridlock of partisan budget battles.

A Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday that it is “highly unlikely” Congress will reach an agreement on supplemental appropriations for the agency in the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, the “natural place for additional disaster relief funding.”

Instead, the aide said that any disaster relief funding will likely be attached to the stopgap funding bill that must pass through Congress by the end of September. Unless, that is, by some miracle both houses of Congress pass all of their appropriations bills -- a legislative long shot.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said earlier this week that any additional disaster funding would have to be offset by spending cuts -- a position that could be a tough sell for congressional Democrats.

“Are House Republicans willing to shut down the federal government in order to satisfy their demands for offsets on disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Irene?” asked the aide, who did not want to be identified.

FEMA announced last weekend that the agency had less than $800 million in its bank account, forcing it to halt long-term projects such as rebuilding roads and schools in order to focus on the immediate needs of Hurricane Irene victims.

“We are going to find the money. We’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so,” Cantor said on Fox News Monday.

Cantor’s comments were met with harsh criticism from the White House and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who noted that emergency supplemental appropriations were “historically the way disaster relief funding has been handled.”

In June the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would give FEMA an additional $1 billion for this fiscal year and increase the agency’s funds by $700 million for fiscal year 2012. The bill reduces grants for clean-energy vehicles in order to make up for the additional disaster relief funds -- a move the Democrat-controlled Senate does not support and has not passed.

With Republicans’ renewed insistence on balancing any additional FEMA funding with equal spending cuts, there is little chance Congress will reach a compromise and appropriate additional funds before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Any supplemental disaster funds will then have to be tucked into the next continuing budget resolution, which Congress will have to pass before Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

Despite this lack of congressional appropriations, federal officials insist FEMA will meet the needs of all disaster victims, including those from Hurricane Irene, those from floods earlier this year along the Mississippi River Valley, and those from tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama.

“We’re going to make sure that we respond as quickly and effectively as possible,” President Obama said Monday. “And we’re going to keep it up as long as hurricane season continues.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio