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Tuesday
May162017

New York City music teacher arrested for alleged sex trafficking of minors

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The founder of a New York City music school for children was arrested Tuesday morning on federal charges alleging he had sex with teen girls and tried to arrange sexual contact with girls as young as 8 years old, authorities said.

Federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations showed up at the Queens home of Oliver Sohngen, owner of the Long Island City Academy of Music, who faces an eight-count federal complaint alleging he engaged in sex trafficking of a minor and other offenses, according to law enforcement sources and the criminal complaint.

Sohngen, whose Facebook page says he is originally from Germany and that he studied at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, allegedly used a pimp to arrange sexual encounters with girls 8 to 17 years old.

The criminal complaint alleges he had sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl, and tried to purchase sexual encounters with others ages 8 to 17.

“Sohngen appears to have exchanged text messages with an individual for the purpose of purchasing commercial sex acts with minor girls ranging in age from 8 to 17,” Special Agent Miguel Collazo of Homeland Security Investigations said in the complaint. “Moreover, on at least two occasions, Sohngen engaged in various forms of sexual contact with 15- and 17-year-old girls, both times arranged” by the same individual.

Sometime between late 2015 and early 2016, the complaint alleges, Sohngen was talking by phone to an undercover New York City police officer pretending to be a 15-year-old girl. He allegedly tried to arrange to meet her for “oral sex and other sexual contact.”

Investigators learned of Sohngen after the pimp whom he is alleged to have contacted was arrested in November 2013, according to the federal complaint. A search of the pimp’s phone allegedly revealed contact information for Sohngen. The complaint also said two teens identified Sohngen as having paid to have sexual contact with them.

Sohngen is due to appear today in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan for an initial hearing. It’s not immediately clear whether he has a defense attorney representing him yet.

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Tuesday
May162017

Penn State students' preliminary hearings pushed back to June in hazing death case

John Greim/Getty Images(STATE COLLEGE, Penn.) -- Preliminary hearings for the 18 Pennsylvania State University students charged in connection with the death of Timothy Piazza have been pushed back to June.

The preliminary hearings initially set for Wednesday, May 17, will now take place on Monday, June 12, the Centre County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday.

Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore and pledge at Beta Theta Pi fraternity, died on Feb. 4, after he fell down the stairs during a pledge ceremony at the house on the night of Feb. 2. Fraternity members did not call 911 until the morning of Feb. 3, about 12 hours after Piazza's fall, according to a report on the grand jury's investigation. Piazza's death was the "direct result of traumatic brain injuries," according to the forensic pathologist.

Eighteen Penn State students are facing charges: eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; and six for evidence tampering. The Beta Theta Pi fraternity, which has since been barred from Penn State, is facing charges such as involuntary manslaughter and hazing.

The Piazzas plan to sue "all of those responsible for the death of Tim, including the fraternity members, the fraternity, as well as Penn State," the family's attorney, Tom Kline, told ABC News.

"I think the individuals involved clearly bear the most responsibility," Piazza's father, Jim Piazza, told "Good Morning America" on Monday. "If you read the timeline of what happened, they set out to feed these guys lethal amounts of alcohol from the outset. There was intent there right from the beginning."

"This was occurring right underneath the noses of Penn State officials," he said. "There was a task force that was empaneled a few years earlier that did nothing to stop this. The problem was widespread. The problem was endemic at Penn State. They looked away."

Tim Piazza's mother, Evelyn Piazza, said, "I don't understand how they could be so heartless and inhumane."

Penn State officials have acknowledged that alcohol on campus is a "serious challenge" and that fraternity houses are especially hard to control because they are privately owned.

After Tim Piazza's death, the university added restrictions for all Greek organizations and put a hold on the graduation of students charged in his death. It published a new “frequently asked questions” website last week, launched alcohol-education programs and promised, "We will not rest until we solve this problem."

All defendants have been preliminarily arraigned, but none have entered pleas.

Defense attorney William Brennan, whose client is facing one count of reckless endangerment, told ABC News last week, “The facts of this case are troubling and tragic, and we’ll do everything we can to defend this charge."

“My client has -- and this is not to be misinterpreted as acceptance of responsibility or admitting culpability -- my client has tremendous human compassion and empathy for the family of the deceased, for the deceased himself. This was an unspeakable tragedy,” Brennan added. “Having said that, it is my position that there is no criminality on the part of my client."

“It’s heartbreaking. If this case doesn’t draw emotion and tug on your heart strings or bring a tear to your eye, you’re inhuman,” Brennan added. “I commend the DA's office in the pragmatic way that they handled the charging process here, because hundreds of people were at the frat house."

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Tuesday
May162017

Coast Guard searching for plane that vanished near Bahamas

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for a plane that went missing just east of the Bahamas with four on board after it failed to arrive in Florida.

The twin-engine turboprop MU-2B, manufactured by Mitsubishi, departed Puerto Rico around 11 a.m. Monday and was scheduled to arrive in Titusville, Florida, according to the Coast Guard.

Believed to be on board are Jennifer Blumin and Nathan Ulrich from New York, and Blumin's 4-year-old and 10-year-old sons, according to the Coast Guard.

At 2:10 p.m., air traffic controllers in Miami reported the plane was approximately 37 miles east of Eleuthera in the Bahamas when radar and radio contact was lost.

In the search for the aircraft are a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules, MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and a Cutter.

Customs and Border Patrol and Royal Bahamas Defense Force are assisting the Coast Guard in the search.

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Tuesday
May162017

What we know about the fiery NJ plane crash that killed two

iStock/Thinkstock(TETERBORO, N.J.) -- Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will spend Tuesday gathering facts about Monday afternoon's fiery crash of a Learjet just outside New Jersey's Teterboro Airport that killed both people on board.

The cause of the crash is unclear, although some details about the event have begun to surface.

The plane departed Philadelphia International Airport at 3:04 p.m. Monday before crashing at 3:30 p.m. just a quarter of a mile away from Teterboro Airport while on final approach, according to transportation authorities and data from FlightAware.com.

The jet crashed into three buildings, causing fire damage at two of them, police said. Thirteen cars were also damaged.

No one on the ground was hurt. Fire and large plumes of black smoke were seen at the crash site.

One witness told ABC News: "It skidded after it hit the top of a building and then skidded into the building adjacent to it, blowing up cars and anything in its path."
 
Air-traffic control audio suggests the flight was progressing smoothly until just before the crash. No mayday call appears to have been placed, and then just 37 seconds after the pilot's last recorded communication with air traffic control, another pilot informs the tower, "A Learjet just crashed."

At the time of the crash, weather reports in the area indicated winds of 17 mph with gusts up to 36 mph, a temperature of 66 degrees and 10 miles of visibility. Scattered clouds were reported at 4,500 feet.

While the Learjet 35, equipped with two jet engines, is certified to hold up to 10 people, local authorities say only two were on board, presumably the pilot and co-pilot. They have not yet been identified.

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Monday
May152017

Ninth Circuit questions Trump's statements on Muslims

ABC News(SEATTLE) -- A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle Monday pressed attorneys for the Trump administration and the State of Hawaii on whether President Donald Trump’s statements, both as a candidate and as president, render his revised travel ban unconstitutional, and whether Trump has disavowed his call for a “Muslim ban.”

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall asked the appeals court to reverse U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson’s March 16 order that blocked the president’s second travel ban just hours before it was to go into effect -- a ruling the president called an “unprecedented judicial overreach” that made America “look weak.”

The revised travel ban that Trump signed on March 6 would block the entry of foreign nationals from six majority-Muslim countries for 90 days, with exceptions for permanent U.S. residents and current visa holders, and suspend the admission of refugees for 120 days.

“How is a court to know if, in fact, it's a Muslim ban in the guise of national security justification?” Judge Ronald M. Gould asked Wall. “That’s the nub of the case,” Wall responded, having argued that “the order on its face has nothing to do with religion and the operation doesn’t distinguish on the basis of religion.”

But Neal Katyal -- the attorney for the State of Hawaii and Dr. Ismail Elshikh, a Hawaii-based imam -- said that “context matters,” recounting Trump’s most controversial statements. “Starting in December 2015, when [Trump] called for a, quote, total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Katyal said.

“A few months later, 'I think Islam hates us. We can't allow people coming into this country who have this hate of the United States.' Then a few months later, my opponent 'would admit tens of thousands of refugees from the Mideast who would try to take over our children and convince them how wonderful Islam is,'” said Katyal.

After Wall argued that only post-election “official capacity statements” should be looked at, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins questioned whether Trump has ever disavowed his campaign statements about Muslims. “Has he ever stood up and said, 'I said before I wanted to ban all members of the Islamic faith from entering the United States of America, I was wrong'?” Hawkins probed.

Wall said that yes, Trump has disavowed certain statements. “Over time the president clarified that what he was talking about were Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that shelter or sponsor them,” said Wall, adding that “what he wanted to do was increase the vetting procedures.”

Katyal disputed Walls’ answer, arguing that “when he issued both executive orders, he left on his [campaign] website that very statement about the complete and total shutdown of Muslims, a statement that happened to disappear moments before the Fourth Circuit argument last week.”

Katyal drew comparisons to President George W. Bush who “said after September 11th, the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is about. Islam is peace.” With Trump “we get, quote, Islam hates us,” Katyal said.

But the judges also acknowledged the importance of deferring to the president on matters of foreign affairs. Judge Michael Daly Hawkins reminded Katyal of a filing he wrote in favor of former President Barack Obama’s immigration plan in which he argued that the president has power to “balance a broad range” of foreign policy and other considerations.

“It's not clear [Wall] responded as effectively as he might have to the panel's invite,” noted Peter Margulies, a national security law professor at Roger Williams University School of Law. “Wall seemed invested in a sweeping view of executive power that the panel might find was a bridge too far.”

"In general, I'd say both advocates were excellent,” said Kate Shaw, an associate professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York, and an ABC News contributor. “I'd give the edge to Hawaii coming out of the argument, but the judges asked tough questions of both sides, so this felt like a hard one to call."

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard similar legal arguments last week in a separate case challenging the revised travel ban. Because federal courts in both Hawaii and Maryland have imposed nationwide preliminary injunctions blocking portions of the travel ban, the administration would have to win in both appellate courts for the entire travel ban to move forward. Eventually, these cases will likely be consolidated and decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Monday
May152017

Girl wears First Communion dress made from mom's wedding gown

iStock/Thinkstock(LIMA, Ohio) --  Lily Whittaker's First Communion dress may have been the typical white color, but it was far from average.

The dress was made from the wedding gown that Lily’s mother, Quinn Whittaker, wore, which was made by her grandmother, Suzanne Kelley.

Whittaker, of Lima, Ohio, said she started to panic a few weeks before Lily’s May 7th First Communion when she realized she did not yet have a dress for her daughter, or much time to shop. She was nine months pregnant at the time.

When she saw her own wedding dress hanging in her 8-year-old daughter’s closet, she said she had a stroke of inspiration.

“I’ve kept it in her closet and I never got it preserved or anything,” said Whittaker, who will celebrate her tenth wedding anniversary in July. “Originally, I thought my mom would make a christening gown with it but that didn’t happen because we have a family gown.”

Whittaker’s mom, Suzanne Kelley, also of Lima, happens to be a seamstress in her spare time. She creates handmade items like prom dresses and princess dresses for her three children and nine grandchildren, including Lily.

Kelley, who could not be reached, was preparing for a trip to Florida, but did not hesitate when her daughter asked her to take on the dressmaking challenge.

“She didn’t have any qualms about it,” Whittaker said. “I will say that she did say, ‘Are you sure want to do this? Because once I start we can’t go back.’”

Lily gave her grandmother the guidelines that she wanted her dress to be “flowy” and “princess like.” Whittaker and Kelley then found a combination of patterns they liked and Kelley quickly created her granddaughter's dream First Communion gown.

Lily Whittaker, 8, of Lima, Ohio, wore a First Communion dress made from her mother's wedding gown.
The only parts that remain of Whittaker’s wedding gown are now the very top and the very bottom sections of the dress.

“My mom held it up and said, ‘This is what left,’” Whittaker recalled. “I had a little pang of, ‘Oh this is sad,’ but when I saw the finished product on Lily it made me feel good because it looked beautiful.”
Lily received many compliments on her unique dress, during what Whittaker described as an "emotional" First Communion celebration.

“She is our oldest, so watching her go through that sacrament was in and of itself great. But then seeing her in that dress, it was emotional,” Whittaker said. “We were so proud of her, too.”

Kelley returned home from her trip in time to watch her granddaughter receive the sacrament in the wedding gown she’d previously helped her daughter select.

"She’s just the best grandmother and is so willing to do these types of things and puts her heart and passion into whatever it is she does," Whittaker said about her mom.

The scraps from Whittaker’s wedding dress will probably see a second life in a few years at the First Communion of her middle child, 5-year-old Jack.

“He’ll be getting a tie made out of mom’s wedding dress,” Whittaker said.

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Monday
May152017

Learjet crashes on approach to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey; Two dead

iStock/Thinkstock(CARLSTADT, N.J.) -- Two crewmembers are dead after a small plane crashed this afternoon in an industrial area in the northern New Jersey town of Carlstadt, police say.

The Federal Aviation Administration said a Learjet 35 that was en route from Philadelphia International Airport to New Jersey's Teterboro Airport crashed at 3:30 p.m. while on approach to Runway 1 at Teterboro.

Fire officials confirmed in a press conference Monday that two industrial buildings caught fire as a result of the plane crash and that everyone in those buildings has been safely evacuated and accounted for. So far, there are no reported injuries from anyone on the ground.

The plane, which is certified for 10 seats, left Philadelphia at 3:04 p.m. local time.

The plane went down in a residential area about a quarter of a mile from the airport, the FAA said.

Air traffic control audio suggests the flight was progressing smoothly until just before the crash. No mayday call appears to have been placed, and just 37 seconds after the pilot's last recorded communication with air traffic control, another pilot informs the tower, "a Learjet just crashed."

Video on Twitter showed smoke billowing across the sky.

Teterboro Airport has been closed and the FAA responded to the scene.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

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Monday
May152017

Baton Rouge high school quarterback gunned down ahead of graduation

iStock/Thinkstock(BATON ROUGE, La.) -- Police have no suspects and no motive in the deadly shooting of an 18-year-old high school quarterback in Baton Rouge, police said.

Bryant Lee, the "intelligent, hard-working, focused, fun-loving" football quarterback at McKinley Senior High School, died after he was shot around 1:50 a.m. local time Saturday, the Baton Rouge Police Department and high school principal said.

The shooting was near Baton Rouge's Southern University, an area where, "for the most part, it's relatively safe," Baton Rouge police spokesman Don Coppola told ABC News.

As police investigate, this Baton Rouge high school is mourning its football leader who was also a "dedicated scholar."

"The entire faculty and staff at McKinley Senior High School wish to express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Bryant Lee," McKinley Senior High School Principal Herman Brister said in a statement.

"Bryant was an 18-year old dedicated scholar who put his academics above his job as the leader of our football team," Brister said. "Students and teachers alike will remember Bryant as intelligent, hard-working, focused, fun-loving and as having a great sense of humor. As a student he was concerned about his grades, as an athlete he played tough and gave it all he had. One of the characteristics coaches loved about him is that he was coachable. He was respected by his coaches and teammates."

"It is hard to gauge the impact a young man like Bryant may have had in this world had he fulfilled his plans to attend college and carried his great attitude with him into his future endeavors," Brister said. "As we strive to complete the 2016-2017 school year, we at McKinley High School will give our students and teachers support in dealing with the tragic death of Bryant Lee, and will focus on encouraging our students to live in a way that honors his memory."

A balloon release will take place Tuesday and the district is planning for a recognition to take place during Wednesday’s graduation ceremony, a district spokesperson told ABC News.

East Baton Rouge Parish School System said in a statement, "As a school district, we will work to support the students and faculty of the school by providing counseling and support through this difficult period."

Police said Lee was also shot on Nov. 22, 2016, and suffered nonlife-threatening injuries. The gunshots were believed to have been from a passing car and no arrests were made, police said.

As the investigation into Lee's death continues, Coppola said, "We are asking for any assistance from the public" and asking that "anyone that has any information to come forward and do the right thing, and let us know what may have been seen or heard prior to the shooting."

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Monday
May152017

Two critically injured after bus overturns on I-95 in Maryland

Susquehanna Hose Co.(BALTIMORE) -- A student and a teacher are critically injured after a charter bus carrying 26 eighth-graders overturned on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore, Maryland, Monday morning, causing massive traffic delays.

The local fire department, Susquehanna Hose Co., said the one adult and one child were taken via helicopter to hospitals after the accident on the southbound side of I-95 at Exit 89.

Everyone else on board -- 25 children from Charles W. Henry School, a teacher, a parent chaperone and a driver -- were taken via ambulances to hospitals, officials said.

Maryland State Police said the cause of the crash isn't known but that "a passenger car was apparently involved in some way" and the driver is being interviewed.

The accident closed both sides of the interstate but both lanes have since reopened.

According to local fire officials, the children and chaperones were part of a caravan of buses heading from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., for Monday's law enforcement officers' memorial service. On the other buses were police cadets who helped first responders get patients off the bus and get help, according to fire officials. 

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Monday
May152017

Penn State student's family plans new lawsuit after his death

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The family of Timothy Piazza, the 19-year-old Penn State University fraternity pledge who died after a night of alleged drinking and hazing, plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the university as well as fraternity members and the fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.

"I think the individuals involved clearly bear the most responsibility," father Jim Piazza said Monday on ABC News' Good Morning America. "If you read the timeline of what happened, they set out to feed these guys lethal amounts of alcohol from the outset. There was intent there right from the beginning."

"They intended to bring these gentlemen to alcohol-poisoning levels right from the outset," he said. "At the end of the day, this was planned and orchestrated and I think they all need to be held accountable."

Piazza, a sophomore and pledge at Penn State's Beta Theta Pi fraternity, died on Feb. 4 following a fall on the night of Feb. 2. Fraternity members did not call 911 until the morning of Feb. 3, about 12 hours after Piazza's fall, according to a report on the grand jury's investigation.

Piazza's death "was the direct result of traumatic brain injuries," according to the forensic pathologist, and 18 Penn State students are facing charges: eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; and six for evidence tampering.

"I don’t know where their conscience was, where the voice in the back of their head was saying, ‘He’s hurt. I gotta do the right thing,'" said Piazza's mother, Evelyn Piazza. "I don’t understand how they could be so heartless and inhumane."

All the criminal defendants in the case have been preliminarily arraigned but none have entered pleas.

Defense attorney William Brennan, whose client is facing one count of reckless endangerment, told ABC News last week, “I take this as seriously as if it were first-degree felony.”

“The facts of this case are troubling and tragic and we’ll do everything we can to defend this charge,” he said. “I empathize with the family of the deceased, I empathize with the family of those who are charged.”

“My client has -- and this is not to be misinterpreted as acceptance of responsibility or admitting culpability -- my client has tremendous human compassion and empathy for the family of the deceased, for the deceased himself. This was an unspeakable tragedy,” Brennan added. “Having said that, it is my position that there is no criminality on the part of my client.

“It’s heartbreaking. If this case doesn’t draw emotion and tug on your heartstrings or bring a tear to your eye, you’re inhuman,” he said. “I commend the [District Attorney's] office in the pragmatic way that they handled the charging process here because hundreds of people were at the frat house.”

“I would encourage people to remember that our system of jurisprudence provides a scenario where you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty,” he continued. “My client, while presumed innocent and proclaiming innocence, has tremendous compassion for the deceased and his family.”

The Piazzas plan to sue "all of those responsible for the death of Tim, including the fraternity members, the fraternity, as well as Penn State," the family's attorney, Tom Kline, told ABC News.

"This was occurring right underneath the noses of Penn State officials," Kline told ABC News. "There was a task force that was empaneled a few years earlier that did nothing to stop this. The problem was widespread. The problem was endemic at Penn State. They looked away."

Penn State officials have acknowledged that alcohol on campus is a "serious challenge" and that fraternity houses are especially hard to control because they are privately owned.

After Piazza's death, the university added new restrictions for all Greek organizations and put a hold on the graduation of students charged in Piazza's death. It also published a new "Frequently Asked Questions" web page last week, launched new alcohol-education programs and promised that "we will not rest until we solve this problem."

Jim Piazza said Penn State needs to "step up" to make "significant changes," saying "the rest of the country is watching."

"We’ve received cards and letters from hundreds of people that we don’t know asking us to stick with this, hold people accountable and to be the advocate to change and that’s what we’re here to do," he said. "I don’t have all the answers right now but I’m certainly willing to work with Penn State. We’ve offered to do that."

He added, "They need to put in a lot of policies and procedures that will eliminate alcohol in the fraternities. They should not be hazing at all. It’s a crime. They should not be providing alcohol to minors. It’s a crime. They’ve turned a blind eye to it, but that time is over."

Penn State said in a statement Monday that university administrators have "communicated frequently" with the Piazzas since their son's death.

"Our hearts go out to the family. This is heart-wrenching for the family, and our entire community," the statement read. "Penn State has initiated aggressive enforcement, education and monitoring measures to address these issues, and will continue. Some were taken in consultation with the family, which is appropriate."

The statement continued: "Our actions will continue, and represent our ongoing commitment to drive change in tackling binge drinking at universities. The University has extensive education and enforcement policies, please visit Penn State Update. Of note, while Penn State has one of the most aggressive student misconduct policies in the country, and its off-campus policy pertaining to misconduct remains the most vigorous in the Big Ten, it is complicated by the fact that fraternities at Penn State, and other universities, are independent from the University, which is why we must work together. All parents and families, and Penn State want students to have a safe college experience, and we will not rest in our efforts until this problem is curbed."

"Senior Penn State administrators have communicated frequently with the Piazzas since Tim's tragic death, and have given careful consideration to the family's needs and wishes throughout this deeply troubling time as the search for answers to this national problem continues," it added.

The Beta Theta Pi fraternity -- which has since been barred from Penn State -- is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing.

Piazza's brother, Mike Piazza, said he warned his younger brother to "keep his wits about him" if he decided to pledge with a fraternity.

"I had advised him to just be cautious," Mike Piazza said on GMA. "I knew that it was something that I necessarily didn’t feel that I fit in with so I was concerned that maybe he wouldn’t really find his place there, so I just advised him to keep his wits about him, but ultimately do whatever he felt comfortable with."

When asked the best way to serve Piazza's memory, Evelyn Piazza replied, "To save other people's lives.

"That's all we have at this point," added her husband, Jim Piazza.

Jim Piazza said the family plans to be "the advocate" for other families with children preparing to enter college.

"Tim Piazza is not just our son anymore," he said. "He represents everyone’s son and daughter that is looking to go to college and potentially get involved in Greek life."

The family has started a foundation, The Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation, Inc., in their son's memory. Money raised by the foundation will provide scholarships to Piazza's high school alma mater, where he played football.

The foundation will also "help those who are in need of prosthetic devices," a reflection of Piazza's career ambition to attend graduate school and develop "state-of-the-art prosthetic devices" for people in need, according to the foundation's website.

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