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Wednesday
Aug082018

Reward for missing Iowa student goes up again, which an expert says could help

Facebook(BROOKLYN, Iowa) --  The reward for information in the case of missing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts has reached a new high.

The reward fund, run through Crimestoppers of Central Iowa, is now $312,997 as of noon on Wednesday, Aug. 8.

Greg Willey, the vice president of public relations for Crimestoppers of Central Iowa, told ABC News that the increasing reward is not the only way that the group has played a role in helping draw attention to the case.

About 760 tips about Tibbetts' case have been communicated, either through calls to Crimestoppers or by using their web or app services since the group became involved in the case on July 28, according to Willey.

All of those tips about Tibbetts, who disappeared after going for a jog on July 18, were passed along to law enforcement, he said.

The power of a hefty reward for information leading to the resolution of a case is not something to be triffled with, said Brad Garrett, an ABC News contributor and former FBI profiler and hostage negotiator.

Garrett said he's worked on cases both at home and abroad where a high reward has prompted people to turn in information.

"Having a larger amount can potentially help you because it may be enough to motivate someone who has a connection to the bad guy," Garrett said.

Garrett said the tipster "may even feel conflicted a little bit because they're actully providing information on someone they know or they might be related to... [but] if you throw $280,000 at somebody they can overcome either their guilt or the feeling of feeling conflicted."

"The higher amount of money has a greater potential likelihood to getting someone closer [to the suspect] that can give you specific information," he said.

That said, rewards can sometimes be "a double-edged sword," prompting a flood of sometimes unhelpful leads.

"You get a lot of worthless leads -- people just trying to insert themselves into a case, either to get attention or give you a lead that is basically worthless, but in their mind thinking that you'll pay them," he said.

Chris Allen, the chief of the FBI's investigative publicity unit, said it's hard to know what the highest payout was for a successful tip because "tipsters aren't often identified and the amount they get is usually a part of a negotiation with the rewarding agency."

To his knowledge, the highest reward for a domestic case was that of the infamous mob boss Whitey Bulger, who Allen said had a $2 million reward attached to his case.

While he wouldn't comment directly on the nearly $313,000 reward that is being offered for Tibbetts' case, Allen did note that it's "very unusual" for the reward for anyone on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list to be over $100,000.

"A reward helps to draw attention to a case and it helps motivate people to pay attention to it and if they have information, motivate them to share it with law enforcement," Allen said.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Video of the confession by accused Parkland school shooter released

Broward County State Attorney's Office(PARKLAND, Fla.) -- Video has been released of the confession by Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 students and teachers on Valentine's Day at a Florida high school.

In the heavily redacted video released Wednesday by prosecutors, Cruz, wearing a hospital gown and pants, can be seen entering an interrogation room with officers. The uniformed officers shackle his left ankle to the floor and remove his handcuffs.

For a period of time, Cruz is left alone in the room. He can be seen holding his head in his hands and then pointing to his head with his hand, simulating a handgun, and firing. He makes the same gesture, pointing into his mouth and again at his chest. He then punches himself repeatedly.

John Curcio, a Broward Sheriff's Office detective, eventually enters the room and sits across from Cruz. He asks him a few questions such as his name and date of birth.

"I'm the last guy you're gonna have to talk to," he tells Cruz. "What's happened has happened but now, me and you, we've gotta kind of communicate so I can hear you. ... You gotta relax."

He then leaves to get Cruz some water. When Curcio returns, he begins his questioning.

On Monday, ABC News obtained court documents that included a 217-page partial transcript of what Cruz allegedly told police after the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In the transcript, he said he felt "worthless" and repeatedly indicated that he wanted to die. He admitted to carrying out the shooting and questioned why detectives had not killed him, according to court documents.

"I want to die. At the end, you are nothing but worthless, dude," he mumbles to himself, according to the documents. "You deserve to die."  

Cruz also described a so-called demon in his head.

"I hear demons. ... A voice, demon voice," he said, adding that the voice had told him to hurt people on the night before the shooting. "The voice is, is in me. ... To me, it's me and then my bad side. ... It's a voice. The voice is in here and then it's me, it's just regular me, just trying to be a good person."

At one point, according to the transcript, Curcio asks Cruz about why he didn't seek professional help.

"You could have stopped the demon by getting a prescription for marijuana. You could have stopped the demon by getting a prescription for Xanax. ... You could have stopped the demon any time you want. You didn't want to stop the demon," Curcio said. "Why didn't you want to stop the demon?"

"I don't like the demon," Cruz said. "I don't like the demon. ... I'm scared of him. ... Why wouldn't he protect me, man?"

He ends the interrogation and requests an attorney. In the released video, he can be seen crying, burying his face in his lap and scraping at his right arm after the detective leaves. Curcio returns and handcuffs Cruz behind his back.

Later, according to the transcript, Zachary Cruz, Cruz's brother, enters the room along with Curcio.

"People think you're a monster now," Zachary Cruz tells Cruz. "Why did you do this?"

"I'm sorry, dude," Cruz says. "I love you."

On Feb. 14, Cruz took an Uber to the school, allegedly opened fire on students and staff and then slipped away from the campus by blending in with other students who were trying to escape, police said. He was later apprehended.

Prosecutors released the video Wednesday in response to a court order after news organizations including ABC sued under Florida's public records law.

He is charged with 17 counts of murder. Authorities have yet to release details on why the former Marjory Stoneman student allegedly stormed into the school with an AR-15. A judge entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf during his arraignment in March.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Man found with 11 children on filthy New Mexico compound was training them to commit school shootings, prosecutors say

Taos County Sheriffs Office(AMALIA, N.M.) -- The man who was arrested on a filthy New Mexico compound with 11 abused children was training the children to commit school shootings, according to court documents obtained by ABC News.

The documents allege that 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj was conducting weapons training at the property in Amalia, near the Colorado border. A foster parent of one of the 11 children allegedly stated to law enforcement that Wahhaj had "trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings," according to a criminal complaint.

Law enforcement was aware of a short-distance shooting range that had been installed at the compound, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Wahhaj was heavily armed with an AR-15, semiautomatic rifle, five 30-round magazines and four handguns last week when sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant and swarmed the property to look for him and his young son, whom authorities believe was kidnapped by Wahhaj.

Prosecutors filed the documents Wednesday and asked that Wahhaj be held without bail because he "has proven to be a danger to the community."

"Should the defendant be released from custody, there is a substantial likelihood defendant may commit new crimes due to his planning and preparation for future school shootings," the criminal complaint read.

Wahhaj did not enter a plea when he appeared in court Wednesday afternoon. A judge ruled that he be held until a no bond hearing takes place within the next five days.

The 11 children, who "looked like third-world country refugees" and were wearing rags for clothes, were found on the compound last week, as were five adults, Hogrefe said.

All five adults -- including Wahhaj, another adult male and three adult women -- have been arrested and charged with 11 counts of felony child abuse, Hogrefe said. Wahhaj was also charged with child abduction, while the other adult male, Lucas Morten, was charged with harboring a fugitive, Hogrefe said.

The four other adults also appeared in court Wednesday. Morton and two of the women pleaded not guilty, while a third woman did not enter a plea.

The remains of a young boy were found on Monday on an "inner portion" of the compound, Hogrefe said. The remains have not yet been identified, and Wahhaj is under investigation in the death of the child.

The three female adults would only provide names of themselves and the children, but would not give any information as to the whereabouts of the child, except to say that "he is not my son and I (we) am not allowed to talk about him," court documents alleged.

Wahhaj "intentionally or recklessly" placed a child "in a situation that may endanger life or health," according to the criminal complaint. This environment allegedly included "no food, clean water, leaking propane gas, filthy conditions, hazardous wood and broken glass, no hygiene or medical care," the complaint states.

"Trip hazards, wood with nails sticking up, broken glass, bottles, and open trenches littered the property," court documents said.

The "makeshift property" is surrounded by tires and an earthen beam and lacks electricity and running water, Hogrefe said.

Wahhaj was found to be "in control of the property," according to the complaint.

The three adult women are believed to be the mothers of all 11 children, Hogrefe said.

"These children were hungry, they were thirsty, they were filthy," Hogrefe said. They are now being cared for by the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department.

"It's obvious to me that they were brainwashed and feel great intimidation from the men that were in control of this facility," Hogrefe said of the women and children.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Cincinnati police officer on 'restricted duty' after allegedly tasing 11-year-old girl

WCPO/ABC News(CINCINNATI) -- A Cincinnati police officer was placed on “restricted duty” after allegedly shocking an 11-year-old girl with a stun gun at a local grocery store, authorities said.

The officer responded to the store Monday to investigate “several female juveniles allegedly stealing items from the store,” a statement from police said.

After telling the group to stop, one of the girls continued to walk away. That is when the officer, who was not named, fired the stun gun and struck the teen in her back.

“When the Officer approached one of the juveniles she ignored the Officer and continued to walk away, ignoring several commands to stop,” the statement read. “The Officer deployed his Taser striking the eleven year old in the back.”

“We are extremely concerned when force is used by one of our officers on a child of this age,” Cincinnati police chief Eliot Isaac said in the statement. He added the department will undertake a “very thorough review” of its use of force policies on juveniles in the wake of the incident.

According to the Cincinnati Police Department’s use of force policy, “the TASER is designed for self-defense or to temporarily immobilize a subject who is actively resisting arrest.”

The Kroger Company called the incident an “isolated situation” in a statement to ABC News.

“We want to understand what happened, why it happened, and we are assisting local law enforcement with their investigation,” the company said.

Donna Gowdy, the mother of the girl, told ABC-affiliate WCPO her daughter, who was treated and released from a local hospital, is still in pain from the incident.

“If you can't handle an 11-year-old child, then you really need to get off the police force," she told WCPO. "You here to protect these kids."

The girl is expected to appear at Hamilton County Juvenile Court at an undetermined date to face theft and obstructing official business charges, police said.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Scientists are racing against time to save Scarlet, an ailing, 3-year-old killer whale that has gone missing

KOMO/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Scientists and researchers are in a race against time, struggling to save an ailing 3-year-old killer whale named Scarlet which has gone missing.

The youngest of the group, the southern resident killer whale that's known to marine scientists as J50 hasn’t been seen for days, and even before she vanished, experts were worried about her deteriorating health.

"It is very possible that she has succumbed at this point and that we may never see her again," Teri Rowles, marine mammal health and stranding coordinator for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, told journalists during a press phone briefing Tuesday.

Scarlet is the youngest southern resident killer whale among a group of 75 that feed in the waters off of Alaska and northern California, but when scientists were last able to evaluate her condition, she was underweight and had an infection, Rowles said during the press call.

NOAA and the Center for Whale Research cite multiple factors threatening the killer whales, including a diminishing Chinook salmon population -- which is their preferred fish -- as well as increased pollution, water traffic, and increased noise -- which stresses out the whales and interferes their ability to reproduce.

There are now only 75 southern resident killer whales that live in the waters along the U.S. west coast from Alaska to California, according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research. Those numbers have remained stagnant, Balcomb said. Rather than producing their average six to nine offspring per year, the group of 75 has not produced any offspring in the last three years.

That changed in late July, when a female member of the group -- known as J35, or Tahlequah -- gave birth to a calf, but the baby whale only lived for 30 minutes. In a remarkable demonstration of maternal affection viewed around the world, 30-year-old Tahlequah, went into mourning, sometimes carrying the dead baby calf on her back for hundreds of miles over the course of at least 10 days.

NOAA has a plan to try and nurse Scarlet back to health, but it’s a complicated one that depends on her condition.

NOAA Fisheries and partner organizations are exploring options ranging from no intervention to providing medical treatment, potentially delivered inside a live Chinook salmon -- which would then be fed to Scarlet. This tactic has never before been attempted in the wild, NOAA fisheries experts wrote on the agency's website.

Experts might also have to inject Scarlet with either a dart gun or a pole that contains antibiotics and other medications, or feed the whale's medicine to the live Chinook salmon and then release the salmon near Scarlet in hopes that she would eat the fish.

“What they're working on this morning...to determine which method they're going to use, [is] based on the dose that they have configured for her,” Rowles told ABC News on Tuesday.

Part of the challenge of using the pole would be that marine mammal experts would have to be in very close proximity to the animal.

“That requires a closer approach,” Rowles said of the pole option.

Rowles said that while the research boats are out in the water searching for Scarlet, they have to keep a distance at least 200 yards to make sure that they don’t further stress the sick, young whale or other whales.

If they choose to use medicated fish as part of the treatment plan, the boat containing the Chinook salmon will be placed in front of J50, Rolwes said.

“The fish would be distributed into the water in front of her,” she said.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Virginia governor declares state of emergency for 1-year anniversary of Charlottesville protests

ABCNews.com(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the city of Charlottesville have declared a state of emergency ahead of the one-year anniversary of the violent Unite the Right rally.

Last year, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when she was struck by a car that had plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters. Two Virginia State troopers ewre also killed as a result of the violent events on Aug. 11, 2017, according to a press release from Northam's office.

Multiple events are planned in the Charlottesville area from Friday through Sunday to mark the anniversary of the rally, Northam's office said.

Northam asked residents to "make alternative plans to engaging with planned demonstrations of hate."

"Virginia continues to mourn the three Virginians who lost their lives in the course of the demonstrations a year ago," Northam said. "We hope the anniversary of those events passes peacefully."

Resources from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health and Virginia National Guard will be present in Charlottesville over the weekend. The declaration will also allocate $2 million to pay for the response, according to the governor's office.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Trapped for days beneath an overturned truck, missing Idaho man found alive

Idaho Falls Fire Department(IDAHO FALLS, Idaho) -- A young man who had been missing for several days was found alive beneath an overturned truck in the foothills of Idaho this week, authorities said.

Firefighters and law enforcement officials were dispatched to a remote area southeast of Idaho Falls on Monday night, after receiving a 911 call about the discovery of a rolled-over pick-up truck about a half mile off a road. The 911 caller had been searching for the 21-year-old male driver who had been missing for "several days," according to a joint press release from the Idaho Falls Fire Department and the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities said the three-quarter ton vehicle had rolled down a ravine and landed on its side in a small, narrow stream bed. The driver, whose name has not been released, was partially ejected during the accident and pinned to the ground beneath the truck for days.

The man was conscious and talking to rescuers when they arrived on scene just before 8 p.m. local time, authorities said.

The road above the overturned vehicle was too narrow for larger fire engines, so a smaller rescue truck had to be sent to the scene. There was also no cell phone service and radio communication was limited in the remote area, authorities said.

Rescuers used heavy extrication equipment, as well as large airbags that were inflated under the truck, to get the man out. He was treated by medics at the scene and then flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in stable condition.

His vehicle was removed from the ravine using a large boom truck, authorities said.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Lender threatens to take dog back after saying woman was only leasing him

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Max has been a part of the Cittadino family for two years. The Long Island natives took the golden retriever on trips, played with him in the park and went for daily walks.

And then, the company that financed the purchase of the pup threatened to repossess him.

The family's run-in with pet leasing -- an option increasingly coming under government scrutiny -- started innocently enough. Max's owner, Danielle Cittadino, and her sons decided to take a look at the dogs at the local pet store Shake-A-Paw.

"To be honest with you, we really were not there to buy a dog, we were just going for a visit, take the boys, let's go visit the dog store and Max, doing his playful thing, was up there, saying 'Pet me, pet me, pet me,'" Cittadino told "Good Morning America." "And that's when they said, 'Would like to go in a room with him?' And I was like, 'I know how that's gonna end up.' But we did and we fell in love right there."

Cittadino says she couldn't afford to buy the dog outright from the seller 23 months ago, so she signed up for a leasing plan with Wags Lending.

"It was offered to us, well you can finance, so my husband and I discussed it for a moment and said, 'OK, if my credit is good, run it, and we'll go from there,'" Cittadino said. "It happened to work out. We were approved. ... I forget the total dollar amount, I believe it was maybe $2,500 and the first payment was paid there, on the spot, and then it would be consecutive 23 payments after that."

"Did I know it was a lease before I signed it? Absolutely not," she added. "I was told I was financing. There was no mention of a lease."

But the document she signed, which she acknowledges she didn't read closely enough at the time.

"There's wording in the paperwork that you are financing 'X' amount of dollars, although the top of the paperwork does say, 'This is important information about your lease' -- which to me financing versus a lease are two different animals, so to speak, no pun intended," she said.

Cittadino says she paid the first 23 installments of $145.19 on time and without issue. But now she is balking after the lender asked for a final payment of $338.07. The final cost would be over $1,000 more than the in-store price.

Wags Lending did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

The Federal Trade Commission warned consumers against just such an issue last November.

"You sign an agreement to make payments toward ownership -- or so you think," the government agency wrote on its website. "You may unintentionally sign up to make costly, extended lease-to-own payments that add up to about twice the list price of the pet. As you’re paying over what could be years, the company still owns your pet. When the lease is up, you may have to pay additional costs to actually own it."

Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, told "GMA" the state is moving to ban the practice of pet leasing. So far, California and Nevada are the only two states to do so, but it's likely to happen soon in New York. The State Assembly and Senate have passed the bill, and it's only awaiting a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Danielle Cittadino said she didnt realize what she was getting into when she signed a payment agreement for her dog, Max.

"People get caught up in this and they don't realize what they are signing because of falling in love with the puppy, and so we just have to be cognizant of that. People need to recognize this and ask the questions," Post said.

"We're hoping that when this bill comes before Gov. Cuomo he signs it, because it's a really important piece of legislation that will protect animals and protect consumers," Post added.

In the meantime, Cittadino is off the hook for her final payment. Shake-A-Paw told ABC News that it will make the final payment so Max won't have to go anywhere.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Multistate manhunt for 2 men wanted in ambush attack on New Jersey police

WPVI-TV(CAMDEN, N.J.) -- Members of federal and local law enforcement agencies across different states have teamed up to hunt for two men after two New Jersey police officers were ambushed and shot on Tuesday.

The two officers were wearing plain clothes and sitting at a red light in Camden when one man approached them, Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said.

The suspect then fired 10 to 25 shots into the vehicle, police said.

The unidentified male then fled in a white van with bullet holes on the driver's side, police said.

"The officers were ambushed," Dan Keashen, a spokesperson for the Camden County Police Department, told ABC News. "They were not engaged in an operation at the time and it was completely unprovoked."

Keashen said the two officers were transported to a hospital by a fellow officer, and were taken into the trauma unit immediately. They are now in stable condition and police are hopeful they will be released from hospital soon.

One officer, a man, was shot twice in the arm, while the other, a woman, was hit in the hand, according to ABC affiliate WPVI-TV.

Authorities are looking for two male suspects in connection to the shooting, WPVI-TV reported. The van may be occupied by two men wearing dark shirts and blue jeans, investigators said.

Among the agencies that have joined in the investigation into the shooting are the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) task force and regional agencies, including the New Jersey State Police and the Philadelphia police.

Police said one of the officers was able to return fire, but it was unclear if the suspect was hit.

Police stations across the country were celebrating National Night Out on Tuesday, a night intended to bring officers closer to the community through meet and greets and neighborhood activities.

Camden has struggled economically for years, and has a high crime rate as well. In 2012, the city had the highest rate of violent crime in the country, according to FBI data. However, the city has seen strides in recent years. After 67 murders in 2012, there were just 23 in 2017, its lowest number since 1988, according to NJ.com.

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Wednesday
Aug082018

Rick Gates concludes his testimony against his former boss Paul Manafort

The Washington Post/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Rick Gates, the former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, wrapped up his eight-hour long testimony today against his former boss Paul Manafort, who is on trial in federal court in Virginia on bank and tax fraud charges.

Manafort is accused of evading taxes on $60 million earned in overseas lobbying and consulting work for a Russian-backed Ukrainian political party. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

During a relatively brief cross-examination Wednesday morning, Manafort's lead attorney Kevin Downing alleged that Gates had a total of four extra-marital affairs, including the one Manafort's defense team had previously described as a part of Gate's "secret" life.

Before Gates could respond, prosecutors objected on the grounds of relevance, and after a meeting at the judge's bench, the claim was never mentioned again.

On Tuesday, Gates had acknowledged from the witness stand that he used money embezzled from Manafort to finance a London apartment he used to engage in an extra-marital affair. Defense attorneys contend that Gates embezzled about $3 million from Manafort.

Throughout his three-day testimony, Gates described his part in shielding millions of dollars in more a dozen offshore accounts from United States tax collectors. Gates said he did so at Manafort's direction, and also admitted to embezzling "several hundred thousand" dollars from Manafort.

Asked if he told Manafort about the relationship in London 10 years ago, Gates said he had, and added that Manafort was supportive and that he didn’t fire him for it.

The defense on Wednesday also asked Gates about an interview he sat for with officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014. Gates testified that he had disclosed offshore accounts in Cyprus and the Grenadines during the interviews.

When asked if Manafort was truthful with the FBI, Gates answered, "To the best of my recollection, yes."

Special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres moved swiftly through his cross-examination of Gates on Wednesday morning. Andres asked Gates whether the government had ever charged him with embezzling, and Gates said no.

Andres also asked Gates whether Manafort had ever confronted him about the embezzlement, some of it through padded expense invoices, and Gates also said no.

Andres then asked Gates "who paid for those [expense reports] ultimately?"

"The Ukrainian businessmen," Gates responded, implying that Manafort did not pay for the expenses Gates submitted to Manafort, but that the Ukrainian businessmen reimbursed him for the fraudulent expense reports he submitted.

Gates was then asked questions about his pre-trial preparation sessions with the special counsel. Asked if he was ever "told how to answer" questions during the trial, Gates said he wasn't.

"The only answer I was told was to tell the truth."

Gates also testified that he faced consequences if he lied before the jury. Andres asked

"If you lie here today and those charges are brought again -- would you have a defense to that?", Andres asked.

"No," Gates replied.

"As you sit here today, is there any doubt in your mind that if you lie, the special counsel will rip up your plea agreement?" Andres continued.

"No there is not," Gates answered.

Next up on the stand is an FBI accountant, whose testimony is expected to last about two hours.

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