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Friday
Aug102018

People donate millions of frequent flyer miles to help reunite families after professor's viral tweet

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A viral tweet has inspired people to donate millions of frequent flyer miles to help reunite separated immigrant families.

Non-profit organizations have been working to reunite hundreds of children and parents who were separated from each other at the U.S.-Mexico border. This week, they got a little bit of help from University of Michigan Law School professor Beth Wilensky.

On Aug. 6, Wilensky tweeted: "My husband travels a lot. Downside: he's gone a lot. Upside: frequent flyer miles. We just used some to fly a 3-yr-old and his dad, who had been separated at the border, from Michigan (where the son had been taken) to their extended family. DM me if you have miles to donate."

The tweet has since been retweeted more than 32,000 times, liked more than 139,000 times, and most importantly, inspired people to donate millions of miles to nonprofits such as Miles4Migrants and Michigan Support Circle.

"I saw a request for miles to help those affected by the family separation policy, and responded that we had miles to donate," Wilensky told ABC News via email of how she got involved.

Wilensky said she tweeted her call to action after Michigan Support Circle posted on its Facebook page that they still needed miles to help families.

"I interact with a lot of attorneys on Twitter, and thought some of them might have miles to donate," Wilensky explained. "I never expected this level of reaction and enthusiasm, but I am thrilled to help bring attention and support to these wonderful groups."

Prior to this week, Miles4Migrants, a nonprofit organization working to reunite separated families, had received 3.1 million miles and points to reunite families, according to Andy Freedman, the group's co-founder.

After Wilensky's tweet, Miles4Migrants received more than double that amount, Freedman said.

"Our total since Monday is about to hit 7 million -- more than doubling the miles we've used since we started," Freedman, 39, told ABC News via email.

As the average domestic flight is around 20,000 miles, the 7 million frequent flyer miles the organization has received could help them fly at least 340 people, Freedman said. He added that the average donation has been around 30,000 miles.

Freedman said that based on people's responses to those stories, he knows "that there are so many people out there who are trying to make an impact. They see what's happening to families separated in our own country and are looking for tangible ways to get involved."

Since he and his co-founders started Miles4Migrants in 2016, the volunteer-run organization has managed to help 157 people with flights, Freedman said, the majority of them refugees and families from the Middle East and Africa. The group is now working with other non-profits at the border to help put donated miles to use immediately, he added.

"For the U.S. cases, there are still hundreds of families that need to be reunited. We are eager to help. Globally, there are thousands of families that need our help," Freedman added. "Our mission expands well beyond the current crisis at home."

Some flights have fees of about $75 per person for flights booked within 21 days of departure, which are waived for donors with airline status, Miles4Migrants co-founder Nick Ruiz explained.

"So, if a last-minute flight costs around $300 per person, we could fly a family of four for 50,000 miles, as opposed to a cash price of $1,200," Ruiz told ABC News via email.

Freedman said that Wilensky's tweet has definitely helped make those goals a reality, calling the number of miles donated so far "incredible."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug102018

DNA links Nevada prisoner to multiple 1984 cold case murders, including 3 family members, authorities say

State of Nevada Department of Corrections(CARSON CITY, Nev.) -- Authorities have used DNA to link four cold case murders from 1984 in Colorado to a man already serving time for attempted murder and deadly assault charges in Nevada.

Prosecutors from Arphahoe and Jefferson Counties as well as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director John Camper announced Friday that investigators used DNA matching to connect four brutal murders in the state -- including a home invasion that left three family members dead -- to 57-year-old Alexander Christoper Ewing, who is currently in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Authorities were able to obtain DNA from Ewing after a change to a Nevada state law that previously prohibited it, Camper said in a news conference.

On Jan. 10, 1984, a man entered the home of 50-year-old Patricia Louise Smith in Lakewood, Colorado, and sexually assaulted and bludgeoned her to death, The Denver Post reported.

Six days later, a man armed with a hammer and a knife entered the Aurora home of Bruce and Debra Bennett and bludgeoned the entire family, killing three members, according to The Post.

The killer also sliced Bruce Bennett's neck, raped Debra Bennett and the couple's 7-year-old daughter, Melissa Bennett, The Post reported. The couple's youngest daughter, 3-year-old Vanessa, was beaten in the head and face but survived. Bruce Bennett's mother, Connie Bennett, stumbled upon the gruesome scene the next day and found her granddaughter alive, according to The Post.

The family had just celebrated Melissa Bennett's birthday, The Post reported.

DNA evidence from the scene of the Bennett case was first uploaded into a database in 2001, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said. Almost a decade later, in 2010, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was able to develop a DNA profile from Smith's murder and found that it matched the DNA in the Bennett case, Brauchler said.

A few weeks ago, the state of Nevada uploaded Ewing's DNA to the FBI's national database, and a match with the Smith and Bennett cases came the next day, Camper said.

Smith faces three counts of felony murder and two counts of violent crime in Jefferson County in connection with Smith's death, Jefferson County District Attorney Pete Weir said Friday. Formal charges are expected to be filed next week.

"Justice has been delayed, but justice is not going to be denied," Weir said, adding that it's possible that Ewing could face the death penalty in Smith's murder.

Former Arapahoe County District Attorney Jim Peters had obtained an arrest warrant for a John Doe in the Bennetts' murder cases based on the DNA, charging the unknown killer with 18 counts related to the massacre, including six counts of first-degree murder, Brauchler said. It is unclear when authorities will reach a resolution in the Bennett case, Brauchler said.

The prosecutors will file paperwork asking Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to extradite Ewing from Nevada.

The state of Colorado is urging all states to pass laws to obtain DNA from incarcerated inmates to help solve cold cases, authorities said.

"Every state has unsolved cases," Brauchler said. "... Do this for the victims that have gaping holes of crimes that have not been solved."

Ewing is already serving a 40-year prison term in Nevada for two counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a daily weapon, according to The Post.

Several months after the Colorado murders, Ewing entered a home in Kingman, Arizona, through an open door and attacked a man nearly to death with a 20-pound boulder, The Post reported.

Ewing was later arrested by Kingman police on charges of attempted murder, and on Aug. 9, 1984, while being transferred for a trial hearing, he escaped the jail van when it stopped at a gas station for a restroom break, according to The Post.

Ewing then ran into a K-Mart and changed clothes and later that night entered a home in Henderson, Nevada, armed with an ax handle and attacked the couple living there, The Post reported.

Ewing was eventually captured two days later after a massive helicopter and foot search, according to The Post. He was convicted by the 8th District Court in Las Vegas in 1985 and is being housed at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, prison records show.

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Friday
Aug102018

Rare $100,000 cello used to score 'Star Wars' soundtrack stolen

San Diego Crime Stoppers (SAN DIEGO) -- A rare cello worth $100,000 that was used in the soundtrack of the "Star Wars" films has been stolen from a hotel room in San Diego.

The cello belongs to John Walz, the principal cellist of the LA Opera Orchestra, who returned after a dinner on Thursday night to find everything from his room gone, including his beloved instrument.

Walz told ABC News the cello was custom-made for him by famed violin-maker Mario Miralles. He took it around the world for various performances and gigs, including while he was working with composer John Williams on the score of the three most recent "Star Wars" films -- "Solo: A Star Wars Story," "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" and "Rogue One."

"Every musician's instrument is special to them," he said of his loss.

"You spend a great deal of time finding just the right instrument for you. You spend hours and hours a day with it in your hands and making music with it. In the end, it becomes a part of you," he added.

Many custom-made instruments by well-known ateliers are treated like works of art and valued at hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, Walz said.

The sale of a rare, one-of-a-kind item such as a cello would attract attention and make it difficult for burglars to find a buyer, Ken Impellizeri, detective sergeant of the San Diego Police Department, told ABC News.

"There's nothing you can really do with it," he noted.

Impellizeri said police had contacted the California Pawnbrokers Association and were monitoring websites such as Craigslist.

Police have asked the public for assistance on finding those responsible for the burglary. Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for anyone with leads.

Walz said he was in San Diego to teach at the Bravo! International Music Academy.

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Friday
Aug102018

Man named William Shakespeare convicted of murder for 'cold-blooded' shooting outside barbershop

Google, 2017(BOSTON) -- A man who shares a name with the Bard was convicted of a "brazen daytime murder" in Boston committed while the victim's 4-year-old son sat nearby.

William Shakespeare shot and killed Marcus Hall, 31, in broad daylight outside the Hair It Is barbershop in Boston on June 14, 2016, while his son was getting a haircut inside, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley stated in a press release Friday.

The men had a "tense verbal exchange" in the parking lot before the shooting, Conley said. Shakespeare then left the scene and returned a short time later using a "circuitous route through back yards and wooded areas."

When Shakespeare returned, he shot Hall in a second confrontation, causing "fatal injuries," Conley said. Hall was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Boston Police Department.

After the killing, Shakespeare fled to New York City, and the Boston Police Department's fugitive unit and U.S. Marshals arrested him in the Bronx in January 2017, according to police.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted Shakespeare Friday of first-degree murder after a six-day testimony, Conley said. Shakespeare was also convicted of unlawfully carrying the gun he used to kill Hall.

Conley described the murder as a "cold-blooded and vicious shooting."

"This was a day long awaited by Mr. Hall’s loved ones," Conley said. "The grief and trauma to his family and community lingers even now, but I hope they can take some satisfaction knowing that justice was done."

Shakespeare will be sentenced on Monday.

ABC News could not immediate reach Shakespeare's defense attorney, James Greenberg, for comment.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug102018

Ahead of Charlottesville anniversary, Heather Heyer's mom urges people to 'think about what she was here for' 

ABC News(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- The spot where counter protester Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed down a street during the Charlottesville protest last year has become an unlikely space of refuge for her mother.

"This is where I feel a connection to Heather," Susan Bro said while visiting that area on 4th Street, now renamed "Honorary Heather Heyer Way," with ABC News' Eva Pilgrim.

Bro noted that Heyer "is with me all the time" but "this is where she was taken from me."

"Sometimes I come in the evening ... to sort of commune with the energy that's here," she said.

Bro is speaking out ahead of the upcoming anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Heyer, 32, was killed on Aug. 12.

Events are slated to be held in Charlottesville this weekend. Law enforcement officials have already released public guidelines and the governor of Virginia has already called for a state of emergency to be in place.

"Maybe we're in a little bit of overkill with the police state coming, maybe not. It is what it is," Bro said.

"I'm moving forward and we're trying to make the world a better place. Either get on board or get out of the way," she said.

In an interview for ABC News' "Start Here" podcast, Bro said that she has turned to activism instead of "dwelling in hate or anger."

"I think if we don't focus on fixing the issues that caused this in the first place, the racial divide in our country, then we're going to be right back at Charlottesville in no time flat," Bro told "Start Here."

The heartbroken mom said she's spoken to "hundreds of thousands of people" about how to address these issues, adding that she was surprised by the number of people who were determined to take a stand when they heard stories about her daughter.

"I've had conversations with many people that I've never met, who've simply listened to something that I've said, or read about Heather's life, or heard about what's going on, and they say they're standing up and speaking out now."

Ahead of the anniversary of Heyer's death this weekend, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, in declaring the state of emergency, asked Virginians to "make alternative plans to engaging with planned demonstrations of hate."

There are small memorial events planned in Charlottesville, but police in Washington, D.C., are preparing for any fallout from a planned "Unite the Right" parade and rally.

Bro said she believes any counter-protesters will be "a little more wary and cautious" after seeing what happened last year in Charlottesville, but she insisted that ignoring white nationalist groups is not the answer.

They “crave silence or violence,” she said.

Instead, she’s calling for loud, non-violent resistance.

"If we ignore them, they think they have won because they have had the ... playing field all to themselves. If we give them violence, they believe they have won because they have pushed your buttons and maybe taken out a few."

This story is featured in Friday's edition of the ABC News "Start Here" podcast.

"Start Here" is a daily ABC News podcast hosted by Brad Mielke featuring original reporting on stories that are driving the national conversation. Listen for FREE on the ABC News app, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or iHeartRadio. Ask Alexa: Play Start Here, or add the "Start Here" skill to your Flash Briefing.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug102018

Record heat scorches the West as Northeast prepares to get soaked

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Heading into the weekend, gusty winds of 30 to 40 mph from California into Montana could exacerbate wildfires and lead to more record-high temperatures.

More fire and heat warnings have been issued across the region.

Temperatures are expected to dip slightly over the next few days after the Pacific Northwest has seen one of its hottest stretches on record. California may be a tiny bit cooler as well.

 A storm system and cold front are combining to produce what could be a very soggy weekend for the Northeast.

Low pressure moving in from the West will stall, bringing lots of moisture, including heavy rain along the Interstate-95 corridor. Some areas could see as much as 4 inches.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug102018

California governor declares state of emergency as fires threaten thousands of homes

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for two counties near Los Angeles Thursday night, as the nearby Holy wildfire exploded in size.

The Holy Fire is just one of 13 large wildfires currently burning across California, five of which remain under 50 percent contained. Altogether, the various blazes have scorched more than 671,000 acres, destroyed or damaged over 2,000 structures and have forced thousands of residents from their homes.

The massive Holy fire, which ignited in Southern California's Cleveland National Forest Monday afternoon, has spread rapidly and nearing Orange and Riverside counties. The fast-moving fire had burned an area of more than 18,000 acres by Friday morning and was only 5 percent contained, officials said.

Throngs of firefighters are on the front lines battling the blaze, using fire engines, helicopters and bulldozers. Mandatory evacuations were still in effect for various communities Friday morning.

The official cause of the Holy Fire is still under investigation, but a man, Forrest Gordon Clark, is accused of setting the fire in Cleveland National Forest's Trabuco Canyon.

The Orange County Fire Authority arrested Clark on Wednesday on suspicion of felony arson. The 51-year-old Trabuco Canyon resident was scheduled to be arraigned Friday on the following charges: one felony count each of aggravated arson of five or more inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest, criminal threats; two felony counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer; and a sentencing enhancement for arson burning multiple structures.

Clark is being held on $1 million bail and faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

No major injuries linked to the Holy Fire have been reported, but the Carr Fire in Northern California has been blamed for the deaths of at least eight people, officials said.

The "mechanical failure of a vehicle" ignited the Carr Fire in Whiskeytown on July 23, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames ripped through northwest Shasta County then spread southeast for days, with little containment, as it swept across the Sacramento River and roared toward the city limits of Redding, which is home to 92,000 people.

By Friday morning, the blaze had burned an are of more than 181,000 acres in Shasta and Trinity counties. Some 1,600 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed by the Carr Fire, while hundreds of others have been damaged.

Gusty winds, high temperatures and dry vegetation have spurred fire growth. But thousands of firefighters who have been continuously battling the Carr Fire have made progress in recent days. The blaze was at a containment of 51 percent Friday morning, officials said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Aug102018

Heather Heyer's mom warns against ceding ground to white nationalists

Andrew Shurtleff-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A year after Heather Heyer was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, her mother, Susan Bro, has turned to activism instead of "dwelling in hate or anger."

"I think if we don't focus on fixing the issues that caused this in the first place, the racial divide in our country, then we're going to be right back at Charlottesville in no time flat," Susan Bro told ABC News' "Start Here" podcast.

Bro said she's spoken to "hundreds of thousands of people" about how to address these issues, adding that she was surprised by the amount of people who were determined to take a stand when they heard stories about her daughter.

"I've had conversations with many people that I've never met, who've simply listened to something that I've said, or read about Heather's life, or heard about what's going on, and they say they're standing up and speaking out now."

 On Aug. 12, 2017, Heyer, 32, was killed when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters who were demonstrating against a Unite the Right rally spurred by Charlottesville's plan to remove a Confederate statue from a local park.

Bro told "Start Here" she often visits that area on 4th Street, now renamed "Honorary Heather Heyer Way," where visitors leave messages like, "No Place for Hate" and "Gone, But Not Forgotten."

"I often go down there on my own in the evenings sometimes," she said. "Or just to stop and read the messages that people have left, and kind of absorb Heather's energy, the energy of people who have written on the walls of the street there. There's always a box of chalk available for people to write with."

 Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Heyer's death this weekend, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and asked Virginians to "make alternative plans to engaging with planned demonstrations of hate."

There are small memorial events planned in Charlottesville, but police in Washington, D.C., are preparing for any fallout from a planned Unite the Right parade and rally.

Bro said she believes any counterprotesters will be "a little more wary and cautious" after seeing what happened last year in Charlottesville, but she insisted that ignoring white nationalist groups is not the answer, saying they “crave silence or violence.” Instead, she’s calling for loud, non-violent resistance.

"If we ignore them, they think they have won because they have had the...playing field all to themselves. If we give them violence, they believe they have won because they have pushed your buttons and maybe taken out a few."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug092018

Teen pushed from bridge speaks out from hospital

KATU(VANCOUVER, Wash) -- The 16-year-old girl who said her friend pushed her off a bridge into a river spoke out Thursday from a hospital in Vancouver, Washington.

Jordan Holgerson suffered five broken ribs and lung injury after she was pushed of the Moulton Falls Bridge on the Lewis River outside Vancouver, a suburb of Portland, Oregon.

Surveillance camera footage shows the girl was standing on a bridge ledge and was pushed off by another girl standing behind.

Holgerson said she initially wanted to jump off the bridge after she saw a friend do it, ABC News’s affiliate KATU reported.

“I went to the top of the bridge and my other – my friend ... she came up to the bridge with me,” Holgerson she told KATU as she described the moments leading up to the push. “And so, she was counting down, but I didn’t think anything of it. And I was like, ‘No, don’t count down, like, I won’t go if you count down. I’m not ready.’ And then, she pushed me.”

Holgerson told KATU she didn’t feel any pain but adrenaline hit her after she was pushed in the water.

“And then an EMT that was off-duty helped me onto the rocks and just a whole bunch of people surrounding me were helping me, calming me down,” Holgerson said.

“In the air I was trying to push myself forward, so I could be like straight up and down that make my head hit first but that definitely did not work,” she told KATU during the interview at the hospital.

Talking from a hospital to KATU, in a chair surrounding by her friends, Holgerson advised those who are at precarious heights to be alert.

“If it's that high just make sure that you know what you are doing,” she said.

Even though Holgerson expects it to be six weeks before her pain subsides and six months before she can participate in sports, she told KATU that she is grateful to be alive.

“I am happy to be OK,” she said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Aug092018

Stanford swimmer Brock Turner has appeal and request for new trial denied 

ABC News(STANFORD, Calif.) -- The Stanford swimmer whose light sentence after a sexual assault conviction had both his appeal and request for a new trial denied.

The latest legal step in the controversial case of Brock Turner came Wednesday when his appeal to have his convictions overturned was rejected by a California appeallate court on Wednesday.

In an earlier hearing about the appeal, Turner's attorney argued that since his client was clothed during the assault, Turner participated in "outercourse" rather than intercourse.

The latest decision rejecting the appeal, which was written by a panel of three judges, affirms the decision to convict Turner on three counts: sexual penetration of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and assault with intent to commit rape. The decision details Turner's arguments against each conviction, along with the rebuttals from the appellate judges.

On the count of assault with intent to commit rape, the judges note that two graduate students saw the assault happening and helped secure Turner as he allegedly tried to flee the scene.

"While it is true that defendant did not expose himself, he was interrupted. Jurors reasonably could have inferred from the evidence described above that, if the graduate students had not stopped defendant, he would have exposed himself and raped Jane 1," the decision states.

According to the appellate decision, Turner and his attorneys argued that his convictions are "supported by insufficient evidence," but the appellate court found "that argument lacks merit."

The case stems from a sexual assault that happened after a fraternity party in January 2015, when Turner was a 19-year-old freshman at the prestigious university and the victim, identified only as Jane Doe, was a 22-year-old recent college graduate who went to the party with friends.

Turner was convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting the woman, who shared her story in court, detailing how she was unconscious and had no memory of much of the night.

Turner was sentenced to six months in jail, prompting outrage over what was widely-seen as a far lighter sentence than the multi-year term he could have faced for such a conviction.

The judge in the original trial, Judge Aaron Persky was recalled by voters in June, with much of the support for his removal stemming from his decision in the Turner case.

Turner ended up serving three months in jail and was released in September 2016.

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