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Monday
May222017

St. Louis 6-year-old calls for an end to violence in viral Facebook post

Courtesy Leanndra Cheatham(ST. LOUIS) -- A poignant Facebook video is racking up views with its message of peace.

The messenger is "Lil J," a 6-year-old boy who asks people to "stop killing each other" in the video that was posted by his mother, Leanndra Cheatham, one week ago.

Since that time, the video, which Cheatham told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was her son Jeffrey's reaction to the drive-by-shooting death of her cousin, has received 80,000 views.

"I'm really serious," the boy says before mentioning the drive-by-shooting. "Because I'm really scared to die. And, I'm really scared for my family to die."

Cheatham calls the video a "PSA" in her post, and its message is in part a request for older people to pay attention to the impact violence has on children.

"I'm a kid," the boy says at one point. "I'm not supposed to be knowing about all this stuff. I'm not supposed to be knowing about all these guns."

Jeffery also passes along a message of faith in the video.

"God is my weapon," he says to the camera.

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Monday
May222017

FBI investigating whether UMD stabbing was 'hate-based'

University of Maryland Police Department(COLLEGE PARK, Md.) -- Federal investigators are trying to determine whether the weekend stabbing of a black college student in Maryland was racially motivated, authorities said Sunday.

Sean Urbanski, a 22-year-old University of Maryland student, has been charged with first and second-degree assault in the stabbing death of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, authorities said.

Police called the attack random and "totally unprovoked.”

The university’s police department said it asked the FBI to assist in the investigation after it discovered that Urbanski, who is white, belonged to a racist Facebook group called "Alt-Reich."

“New information obtained today from witnesses and other sources has led law enforcement officials to consider a hate-bias motive in this case,” University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said in a statement Sunday. “To ensure a comprehensive investigation, UMPD today asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide technical and forensic expertise, which it agreed to do.“

Urbanski is being held without bond, according to police. He is due in court next month.

Collins, a student at Bowie State University, was visiting the UMD campus when he was stabbed in the chest by a man who he apparently did not know, according to police.

Collins was set to graduate on Tuesday and he had recently commissioned in the U.S. Army as second lieutenant, officials said.

Collins was waiting for an Uber with friends at around 3 a.m. when Urbanski allegedly approached him, screaming, according to officials.

Urbanski reportedly told the victim to "step left if you know what's best for you," according to police. Collins replied with "no" before Urbanski stabbed allegedly him once in the chest, authorities said.

College Park Police Chief David Mitchell said the attack has caused some students, particularly “students of color,” to fear for their safety on the campus.

"We’re seeing tension here. We’re doing our best to combat that,” said Mitchell while speaking at a press conference on Sunday. “We love our freedom and we are not giving it up.”

When asked if the university had previous knowledge of the hate group’s existence on campus, Mitchell stated that there is “a fine line here between criminal misconduct and first amendment free speech.” He said the university is looking into other students who may be involved with the Facebook group and their involvement on campus.

Officials said that they do not know yet if any drugs were in the suspect’s system but said they would seek to find out.

University of Maryland President Loh said the school has substantially increased visible patrols, on and off campus, but he said that is not enough.

"We must all do more to nurture a climate -- on campus and beyond -- where we stand against hate, we fight against hate crimes, and we reaffirm the values that define us a university and as a democracy,” he said. “We all grieve together for a promising life ended far too early."

A vigil is scheduled for Collins on Monday evening at Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland.

“It is a tragic loss to see our national treasure, in the form of Lt. Collins, taken away from us in this manner,” FBI spokesman Gordon Johnson said at a press conference Sunday.

People who knew Collins described him as a "good young man" who was excited about his future.

Collins’ pastor, Darryl Godlock, said the victim’s family is taking the loss hard.

"The family is just devastated,” Godlock told ABC’s Washington, D.C. affiliate WJLA-TV on Sunday. "[T]his young man’s career was ready to excel."

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Sunday
May212017

Notre Dame students walk out on Mike Pence during commencement speech

ABCNews.com(NOTRE DAME, Ind.) -- A group of graduating seniors from the University of Notre Dame turned their backs on their own graduation ceremony in protest of Vice President Mike Pence, who gave their commencement address there on Sunday.

The protests, which were organized by a student activist group at Notre Dame called We Stand For, were staged in response to "marginalized people affected by Pence's politics," according to a Facebook post published by the group last week, which urged students to join them in the walk out.

"We invite all students, faculty, and families who will be attending the Commencement ceremony to walk out with us as we take back our graduation and show our dissatisfaction with the University's selection of Mike Pence as honored speaker,” the group wrote. "We also will walk out in dignity and solidarity with all marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation."

Video of the protest shows students leaving the facility without any signs of disruption. Many of them were wearing rainbow colored accessories in solidarity with LGBTQ politics.

 

 

The speech marked a homecoming of sorts for Pence, who served as the governor of Indiana while many of the students who graduated Sunday were attending school there.

Aside from those who walked out on him, Pence was greeted warmly by the students, some of whom booed the protesters.

The vice president used the opportunity of the speech to advocate for free speech on college campuses, and criticize what he called "administration-sanctioned political correctness."

“While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness — all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech,” he said in the address.

He called the atmosphere of policing speech "destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge."

The vice president has received harsh criticism from LGBTQ activists, who view him as an opponent of their agenda. Pence is seen by some as a proponent of so-called gay conversion therapy, a highly controversial process of attempting to alter a person's sexual preference, sometimes through physical abuse, that has been banned in multiple states.

As a candidate for Congress in the 1990s, Pence’s campaign website included a statement that fueled the belief that he was in support of conversion therapies for gay youths.

“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” the website said, under a header reading, “The Pence agenda.”

Asked about the campaign language, a spokesman for Pence told ABC News that Pence was calling for federal funds to “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices” and said "any assertion that Vice President-elect Pence supported or advocated for conversion therapy is patently false and is a mischaracterization of language from a 16-year old campaign website."

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump let stand an Obama-era order protecting the rights of some LGBT workers, and was widely regarded as being more accepting of LGBTQ issues than his running mate.

Pence told ABC News in the wake of that decision that he sided with Trump.

“I think throughout the campaign, President Trump made it clear that discrimination would have no place in our administration,” Pence told ABC News in a "This Week" interview that aired in February, responding to the potential for misalignment on issues of sexuality in the administration. “He was the very first Republican nominee to mention the LGBTQ community at our Republican National Convention and was applauded for it. And I was there applauding with him.”

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Sunday
May212017

Veteran claims to have sought treatment prior to driving into Times Square crowd

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Richard Rojas, the 26-year-old Navy veteran who rammed his car into a crowd in New York's Times Square last week, killing an 18-year-old woman and injuring 20 others, claims that he reached out to a mental health counselor prior to taking his fateful drive.

“He said he’d call me on Monday," Rojas told the New York Post in a jailhouse interview while speaking about his attempts to seek counselling. "Monday hasn’t come yet.”

Shortly before noon on Thursday, Rojas, a resident of the Bronx, was driving south on 7th Avenue when he slowed down and allowed traffic to pass. He then made a U-turn at 42nd Street, accelerated and started to strike down pedestrians, according to police.

He accelerated and continued driving until he crashed at 45th Street, the NYPD said. After Rojas crashed, he exited the vehicle.

“I wanted to kill them,” he said of his victims, according to prosecutors.

Kenya Bradix, 47, a Planet Hollywood door supervisor, tackled Rojas and helped hold him until police arrived, Bradix told ABC News.

Court records said Rojas was observed with “glassy eyes, slurred speech, and was unsteady on his feet.”

He had smoked pot laced with PCP before the incident, Rojas told police. Authorities later confirmed that he had the drug in his system at the time.

The Post, which interviewed Rojas from New York’s Riker's Island jail complex, described him as being "weepy" while discussing his attempts to seek help.

“I was trying to get help,” Rojas told the Post. “I wanted to fix my life. I wanted to get a job, get a girlfriend.”

Rojas is expected to return to court on May 24.

He was arraigned Friday on charges of murder, attempted murder and aggravated vehicular homicide.

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Saturday
May202017

Firefighters rescue little boy’s card for deceased mom in heaven

iStock/Thinkstock(LAKEWOOD, Colo.) -- Thanks to a group of firefighters, one boy was able to retrieve a balloon and an attached note that he sent up to "heaven" for his mom.

"It meant so much to us, and we're so thankful and grateful for everything they do," the boy's father, Jess, of Lakewood, Colorado, told ABC News. "They protect the community and go out of their way to help out even when it's not a big thing, so we're just deeply appreciative."

Seven-year-old Evan's mom, Kellie, died in February 2014. Since then, Evan and his father, who asked that ABC News not share their last name, have been writing cards to her and sending them up in the sky.

This Mother's Day, Evan and Jess attached their note to a balloon and released it in the backyard, but it got tangled in a tree.

On Wednesday, Jess wrote to West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, asking them to rescue the balloon for his son.

"We reached back out to [him] and said, 'Absolutely, we'll come and help you,' " Chief Steve Aseltine told ABC News. “We sent a tower ladder apparatus, which has four personnel. An opportunity to take their bad situation and make it better, we would jump on it. The firefighters -- they were ecstatic to go and help."

On May 17, the firefighters surprised Evan at home as soon as he got out of school.

"The firemen went out of their way to make him feel very special," Jess said of his son. "They let him in the truck and hung out with him afterward, and that was great."

Evan now hopes to resend the balloon to his mom in a "big field with no trees in sight," Jess said.

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Saturday
May202017

State of emergency declared in Indiana county due to flash flooding

Washington County Indiana Sheriffs Department(NEW YORK) -- Officials in a southern Indiana county declared a state of emergency Friday after flash flooding prompted first responders to rescue residents from high water.

Some businesses and homes are under almost 20 feet of water, and multiple structures have water damage, according to the Salem Fire Department.

"Flash flooding occurs very quickly and can cause a lot of damage," says ABC News meteorologist Brittany Borer. "People can be trapped in homes or vehicles which is a very dangerous situation. Rainfall totals of up to 2 inches can be expected through Sunday."

 Salem, the county seat of Washington County, was hardest hit. The city is located less than an hour northwest of Louisville, Kentucky.

Some residents evacuated after officials announced a voluntary evacuation of the county.

The fire department said it conducted "dozens" of water rescues between roughly 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. There were no injuries or fatalities.

"The City of Salem and Washington Co., is currently under a state of emergency please stay home do not get out to 'sight see;' there are multiple emergency service crews working in multiple locations," the Salem Fire Department wrote on its Facebook page.


Multiple roads in and out of Salem were closed, the fire department said.

"It just rained and rained and rained, and next thing you know, this is what you got," Salem mayor told ABC affiliate WHAS in Louisville. "It's a heartbreaking situation, but we will get through it."

In addition to Washington County, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for all or parts of Jefferson, Clark and Scott counties.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin told WHAS that the city of Seymour, north of Salem, had downtown street flooding.

Power outages have also been reported, and officials estimate there is millions of dollars in damage, according to WHAS.

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Friday
May192017

Anthony Weiner pleads guilty in sexting case and must register as sex offender; Huma Abedin files for divorce

Andrew Burton/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former New York congressman and estranged husband of top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, tearfully admitted Friday to a federal judge that he sent obscene material to a 15-year-old high school student in North Carolina, the same day Abedin filed for divorce from him.

Weiner, who turned himself into the FBI, pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to a single count of transferring obscene material to a minor. This afternoon a court official confirmed that Abedin filed for divorce after seven years of marriage. The divorce is uncontested.

Weiner agreed to surrender his iPhone as part of the plea agreement and he must register as a sex offender.

In an emotional statement Friday, Weiner said he "compulsively sought attention from women," engaging many of them in sexual and non-sexual conversations. He said his behavior started when he entered Congress and it continued through the first six months of 2016.

"These destructive impulses brought great devastation to my family and friends, and destroyed my life's dream of public service," he said.

Weiner admitted to sharing explicit images with the 15-year-old and encouraging her to engage in sexually explicit conduct; he said he knew his behavior was "as morally wrong as it was unlawful."

Weiner said last fall is when he "came to grips for the first time with the depths of my sickness" and entered "intensive treatment."

"I have a sickness," Weiner said, "but I do not have an excuse."

Weiner also apologized to the teenage girl.

Weiner agreed to serve 21 to 27 months in prison but he will be released on $150,000 bond. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 8.

Weiner's attorney, Arlo Devlin-Brown, said in a statement that the former politician "accepted full responsibility for the inappropriate, sexually explicit communications he engaged in early last year. He apologized, offered no excuses, and made a commitment to make amends."

"As reflected in the plea agreement, the resolution on terms far less severe than could have been sought reflect 'the specific circumstances of the offense conduct in this case,' which did not feature aggravating factors often present in cases of this kind," Devlin-Brown said. "Mr. Weiner will not be addressing this matter beyond his statement this morning in Court, and remains focused on his recovery.”

The emails that prompted the FBI to reopen its review of Clinton’s private email server days before the 2016 presidential election emerged from the 2016 federal investigation into whether Weiner sent explicit messages to to that underage girl in North Carolina.

During that federal investigation, at least one device used by Weiner and Abedin was discovered. Abedin was among a tight-knit group that had an email address on Clinton’s private server.

Abedin announced her separation from Weiner in August 2016. The two married in 2010, and in June 2011 Weiner resigned from Congress, a month after the release of an explicit photo of him that he inadvertently posted on his Twitter account. At the time, Abedin was pregnant their son, who was born in December 2011. Weiner ran for mayor of New York City in 2013 during which a similar sexting scandal unfolded.

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Friday
May192017

Superintendent: No link between bullying and 8-year-old Gabriel Taye's suicide 

Courtesy Cornelia Reynolds(CINCINNATI) -- The superintendent of a Cincinnati public school district is disputing claims that 8-year-old Gabriel Taye was bullied at school before he hanged himself at home.

In a recent interview with ABC News affiliate WCPO-TV, Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent Mary Ronan rejected a family attorney’s claim that surveillance video captures Gabriel being bullied in a school bathroom.

“That is a falsehood. When you look at the video, we see no link between bullying and the suicide. If you look at the video — and we have, frame by frame — it appears the young man fainted,” Ronan told WCPO-TV on Thursday.

Cincinnati Public Schools released on May 12 the surveillance video recorded Jan. 24 outside a boys' bathroom at Carson School. The blurry and choppy footage shows Gabriel walking into the bathroom around the 13-minute mark. As he enters the restroom, Gabriel appears to shake another child’s hand and then falls to the floor.

Gabriel was unconscious for several minutes, his feet visible from the hallway surveillance camera. Students are seen entering and leaving the restroom, with some stopping to look at Gabriel and nudge him.

Finally, a child summons a school staff member to the restroom, who attends to Gabriel.

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Gabriel's mother, Cornelia Reynolds, took him to the hospital for vomiting that evening and kept him home from school the following day. He returned to school on Jan. 26.

That evening, two days after the alleged incident in the restroom, Gabriel hanged himself in a bedroom of his home. His mother found him, police said.

Months after the young boy's death, Ronan is disturbed by what she says is the ongoing fallout from the incident and the family's accusation that Gabriel's death was due to bullying.

The superintendent said other boys who were in the restroom at the time are “traumatized” because they think they “caused his death.”

“Now, what I'm having to do is provide mental health services for the other three or four 8-year-olds in the bathroom with Gabriel because somehow now they think that they caused his death. So, now we've traumatized another three or four children who are at-risk,” Ronan told WCPO-TV.

She went on, “So, this whole situation is so tragic — to have lost a child — and now children for the rest of their lives may need therapy because of what they've been unfairly accused of and these are children with no disciplinary record who just happened to be walking into the bathroom when he collapsed.”

When contacted by ABC News for comment Friday, the superintendent reaffirmed her remarks as told to WCPO-TV and added that Gabriel told the school nurse when she arrived on scene that he had fainted.

"He never said he was bullied," Ronan told ABC News.

Ronan reiterated her concern for the other children in the video, some of whom she said have been "harshly criticized by people who do not know them or all the facts."

ABC News also reached out to Cincinnati Public Schools’ public affairs office for additional comment Friday but did not immediately hear back.

Gabriel’s death was initially ruled a suicide in January by the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office. On May 12, a spokesperson for the coroner’s office told ABC News the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death will be re-examined based on the newly-released surveillance video as well as a police detective’s analysis.

The Cincinnati Police Department has not filed charges in the case.

"On Jan. 26, 2017, the Cincinnati Police Department conducted an investigation into the death of Gabriel Taye. In light of the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office statement that they have reopened this death investigation, the Cincinnati Police Department does not believe it would be appropriate to comment at this time. Any questions regarding this matter should be directed to the Hamilton County Coroner's Office,” the Cincinnati Police Department told ABC News in a statement on May 12.

Cincinnati Public Schools released a statement upon releasing the video, saying "the allegations portrayed in the media," regarding Gabriel being bullied, aren't supported by the footage.

“Our hearts are broken by the loss of this child, and our thoughts are with his parents and extended family. He was an outstanding young man, and this is a great loss for his family and our school community, the statement said. “In an effort to be completely transparent, we are releasing the video that was reviewed as part of an investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department. As all are aware, no charges resulted from that investigation. We have uploaded the video, in its entirety, blurring out faces of the students who appear to protect their privacy. We ask that you review the video, in its entirety. It is our firm position that the allegations portrayed in the media are not supported by the video."

In a statement to ABC News on May 12, Reynolds called her son a "shining light to everyone who knew him and loved him.”

"We miss him desperately and suffer every day. His life was not only stolen from him, but from those of us who expected to watch him grow up and enjoy life. If I could, I would give anything to have him back. I feel he was cheated. I feel robbed. My only child, my best friend and my first true love isn't here with us physically but I know he's here in spirit," the mother said in the statement.

Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the boy’s family, said Gabriel’s mother had not been told of the alleged incident in the boys' bathroom. Reynolds had been told her son had fainted, according to Branch.

"There needs to be a lot more response in that school to what is going on and the parents need to know what's going on. I think that's a very big component," Branch told WCPO-TV on May 11.

Carla Leader, another attorney for the family, said it’s unclear from the video whether Gabriel hit his head on the wall or the floor and if that ultimately knocked him out. Leader said the footage shows other students pointing at Gabriel, laughing and kicking him before a school staff member revives the boy.

"Gabe comes in and reaches out to shake his hand and gets pulled to the ground and he lays there unconscious for about seven-and-a-half minutes," Leader told WCPO-TV on May 11.

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Friday
May192017

Police find body of missing Cornell University student Aalaap Narasipura

Cornell University Police(ITHACA, N.Y.) — Police say they have found the body of a 20-year-old Cornell University student who had been missing for more than two days.

Authorities recovered a body from the area of Fall Creek, just upstream from Ithaca Falls, New York, on Friday morning and later confirmed the deceased's identity as 20-year-old Aalaap Narasipura, according to the Cornell University Police Department.

The circumstances of Narasipura’s death remain under investigation, but police said they don't suspect any foul play.

Narasipura was last seen in Sage Hall on Cornell’s campus Wednesday morning between 2 and 3 a.m. ET, according to the Cornell University Police Department.

State and local authorities from multiple agencies searched Narasipura’s residence, academic spaces and regular routes of travel as well as adjacent natural areas and gorges around the Ivy League university. They did not find any evidence of his whereabouts until coming across his body in Fall Creek on Friday morning, police said.

Earlier in the week, police had released a photo and description of Narasipura in hopes that members of the public could provide any leads.

"We are actively searching for Cornell student Aalaap Narasipura. We are in regular contact with his family, and we are dedicating significant resources to the search process and coordinating with local and state agencies," Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life at Cornell, said in a statement Thursday. "We are all hopeful for a positive outcome, and I know you will join me in keeping Aalaap and his family and friends in our thoughts right now."
 
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Friday
May192017

Tornado survivor gets hospital reunion with lost dogs

iStock/Thinkstock(EAU CLAIRE, Wisc.) -- A Wisconsin man thought he lost much more than his home when a tornado touched down on Tuesday.

Ron Belcher says he was knocked out from the violent storm and woke up to find everything gone, including his two dogs.

“They’re like my kids,” Belcher told WQOW-TV, the ABC affiliate in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Two important bundles of fur, Cocoa the Husky and Taz the Pomeranian, were missing from Belcher’s life while he recuperated from his injuries at Lakeview Medical Hospital.

All of that changed on Thursday when nurse Ciara Rockow, who spent her free time trying to locate Belcher’s pets, found them at a local animal hospital.

Belcher was later surprised at his bedside with the best get-well present: Cocoa and Taz.

“This is God’s gift, that’s what keeps me moving no matter how many bad things happen,” the grinning dog owner said.

According to hospital staff, Belcher’s recovery is expected to last another six to eight weeks.

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