Statue of Liberty to Close for Yearlong Renovation Project

Medioimages/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- Those planning to visit the Statue of Liberty should do so before the end of October.  The National Park Service is closing the popular New York tourist attraction for a year-long renovation project that will cost $27.25 million.

The statue was last closed following the Sept. 11 attacks for safety reasons, but the National Park Service re-opened the monument, with the exception of the crown, three years later.  In 2009, the crown was re-opened to tourists in limited numbers.  At its re-opening, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar promised upgrades would be made to the monument to make it more safe and accessible.

On Wednesday, Secretary Salazar announced plans to make good on his promise for Lady Liberty's makeover project.

"With today's announcement, we are taking a major step in bringing a 19th-century icon into the 21st-century," Salazar said Wednesday.

The renovations, to be completed by the Joseph A. Natoli Construction Corporation of Pine Brook, N.J., will include new stairways within the monument, updates to mechanical and electrical systems, new elevators and bathrooms and increased access for visitors.

The Statue of Liberty will remain open to the public through Oct. 28, the 125th anniversary of the monument's dedication.  Work on the statue will begin Oct. 29.  The National Park Service says Liberty Island will remain open to visitors for the duration of the renovation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


At Ramadan Dinner, Obama Honors Muslim Americans Lost On 9/11

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- At an Iftar dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan Wednesday night, President Obama honored the Muslim Americans lost on 9/11 and spoke about the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the attacks, saying, “We must be the America that goes forward as one family.”
“This year and every year, we must ask ourselves:  How do we honor these patriots -- those who died and those who served?  In this season of remembrance, the answer is the same as it was 10 Septembers ago.  We must be the America they lived for and the America they died for, the America they sacrificed for,” Obama said.
“An America that doesn’t simply tolerate people of different backgrounds and beliefs, but an America where we are enriched by our diversity.  An America where we treat one another with respect and with dignity,” he said. “Put simply, we must be the America that goes forward as one family, like generations before us, pulling together in times of trial, staying true to our core values and emerging even stronger.  This is who we are and this is who we must always be.”
The president, who noted that many “proud and patriotic Muslim Americans” were lost in the attacks, told family members of 9/11 victims present at Wednesday's dinner that their loved ones “live on in the love of their families and a nation that will never forget.”
“Like so many faiths, Islam has always been part of our American family, and Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life.  This has been especially true over the past 10 years,” Obama said.
The president highlighted the many Muslim Americans that safeguard communities across the country and work to protect the nation. “Make no mistake, Muslim Americans help to keep us safe,” he said.
Wednesday's event marked Obama’s third Iftar dinner at the White House, celebrating the break of fasting during the month of Ramadan. The president joked at the top of his remarks that he would be brief because “this year Ramadan is entirely in August. That means the days are long, the weather is hot, and you are hungry.”
Also among the roughly 100 guests in the State Dining Room were 32 ambassadors, two professional football players and the first Muslim elected to serve in Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
“Ramadan is a time of reflection and a time of devotion.  It’s an occasion to join with family and friends in celebration of a faith known for its diversity and a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human beings.  So to you and your families, Ramadan Kareem,” Obama said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Possible Explosive Device on Gas Pipeline Investigated in Oklahoma

Shane Bevel/Bloomberg via Getty Images(OKEMAH, Okla.) -- Authorities are investigating a possible explosive device which was attached to a gas pipe along an Oklahoma highway, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

The device, which a spokesperson for the Okfuskee County Sheriff's Office told ABC News was "the real thing," was discovered Wednesday morning by an official with Oklahoma's native Muscogee (Creek) Nation outside the small town of Okemah and reported to the sheriff's office.

Bomb technicians from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol along with several agents of the FBI and the sheriff's office responded to the report and were able to remove the device from the pipeline to examine it at an "inert" location, FBI spokesperson Clay Simmonds told ABC News.

"They are currently examining the device and, should it turn out to be a legitimate explosive device, they will render it safe," Simmonds said.

Simmonds described the device as small pipe bomb-like, about one foot by one foot with visible wires and a timing device. While the device is still under careful investigation, Simmonds said that the initial impression by investigators was that it could have only done limited, if any, damage to the pipeline.

A highway that runs parallel to the gas pipe has been closed off and is expected to stay closed until the device has been rendered harmless and investigators sweep for a possible second device, Simmonds said.

Simmonds said there are no suspects at this early stage, but the plan is to start that investigation in earnest once the area is safe.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NASA Misuses $1.4 Million in Tax Dollars for Employee Education

PRNewsWire/NASA(WASHINGTON) -- The Office of the Inspector General has found that NASA misused $1.4 million in tax money by reimbursing dozens of its employees who pursued degrees outside NASA's established programs, sometimes at questionable for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix (the subject of an ABC News 2010 investigation) and Strayer University.

In an audit released Wednesday, the OIG said that many NASA employees routinely circumvented the agency's established programs, for which employees could receive reimbursement, and instead were paid for degrees earned outside NASA's formal programs.

The OIG identified 57 employees at headquarters and at four NASA Centers -- Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Flight Center, and Langley Research Center -- who were either pursuing or who have obtained academic degrees outside NASA's programs at a cost of $1.4 million. For 18 of those 57 employees, NASA paid more than $30,000 per employee for academic courses, with one employee receiving more than $60,000, according to the audit.

The OIG said it was not clear what benefit NASA received for its $1.4 million investment in academic courses for these employees.

Examples of the types of degrees specific employees undertook independently of NASA's formal programs included:

  • A secretary at headquarters pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration at Strayer University at a cost to NASA of $37,025.
  • A secretary at Johnson Space Center pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Phoenix at a cost to NASA of $13,770.
  • A program analyst at Kennedy obtained a master's degree in human resources management at Webster University at a cost to NASA of $15,705.

Although NASA did not respond directly to ABC News' request for comment on the OIG audit, NASA's Office of Human Capital Management responded within the report itself: "NASA should only fund academic training that is in alignment with the mission of the agency...and will coordinate with the Center Training Offices to establish a more comprehensive policy that will incorporate all academic training requests into the agency's academic training approval process."

The full report can be found on the OIG's website under "Reading Room."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Warren Jeffs' Niece to ABC News: Uncle 'Needed To Be In Prison'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The niece of polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs said Wednesday that she is pleased that her testimony about how her uncle molested her helped send him to prison for life.

"I feel a lot stronger now that I've put the man that needed to be put in prison in prison," Jerusha Jeffs told ABC News.

Jerusha's testimony against her uncle revealed for the first time that she too was sexually assaulted by Jeffs, the leader of a radical polygamist sect of Mormonism known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

Jerusha, who grew up in the FLDS church, revealed in court for the first time that Jeffs raped her when she was a 7-year-old, second-grade student in the Utah elementary school where he served as principal.

"Warren told me to come sit on his lap and I didn't know why," she tearfully recalled to ABC News. "He said, 'You're a special girl' and that he would help me to go heaven. And he had a certain way of making me feel like I was special and he told me I'll go to heaven if I, for sure, just don't tell anybody."

A Texas jury found Jeffs guilty Aug. 4 of forcing two teenage girls into "spiritual marriage," and fathering a child with one of them when she was 15.

He was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 45 years. Jeffs, 55, must serve at least 35 years of a life sentence on one of the child-sex charges, and at least 10 years on the other.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fugitive Siblings Captured after High-Speed Chase

FBI(PUEBLO, Colo.) -- All three members of the Dougherty Gang have been captured south of Pueblo, Colo., following a high speed chase that topped 100 mph and was punctuated by gunshots, according to police and the FBI.

The short-lived cross-country manhunt came to an abrupt end Wednesday when their car crashed while being pursued by police.

The allegedly heavily-armed gang consists of stripper Lee Grace E. Dougherty, 29, and her two brother, Ryan, 21, and half-brother Dylan Dougherty Stanley, 26. They had been on the run for more than a week after allegedly firing at Florida police officer who tried to make a traffic stop, and then later reportedly robbing a Georgia bank.

Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor told ABC's Tampa affiliate WFTS that speeds exceeded 100 mph during the 20 mile chase. He said that shots were fired during the pursuit.

Two of the siblings were immediately captured after the crash. The third attempted to flee on foot, but was quickly apprehended not far from the crash site, according to WFTS.

Police say one suspect was injured, but have not released which Dougherty it was or their present condition.

"We enlisted the help of State Patrol. We had a short, high-speed chase," Taylor told ABC's radio affiliate KHOW. "The car subsequently crashed."

The trio had disappeared until they were spotted Tuesday afternoon in Colorado buying camping supplies, authorities said. They were seen at an REI sporting goods store in Colorado Springs, cops say.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lawyer for Suspect in Aruba Missing Woman Case: 'No Proof'

Comstock/Thinkstock(FREDERICK, Md.) -- The attorney for a man being held in Aruba for the disappearance at sea of Robyn Gardner claimed Wednesday that there is no evidence that his client committed murder.

Gary Giordano, 50, is being held as a suspect in the disappearance of Gardner, 35, of Frederick, Md., who vanished in the same Aruba town where another American woman, Natalee Holloway, disappeared six years ago.

Giordano and Gardner traveled together to Aruba July 31, according to Aruba police.

Giordano has claimed that the two went snorkeling together around 6 p.m. on Aug. 2, but Giordano returned back to shore amid rough currents and realized Gardner had not returned to shore with him. He alerted Aruba police who searched the area with ships, helicopters and divers, but did not find any sign of Gardner.

Giordano was arrested Friday as he attempted to board a flight to the U.S., police said.

"They suspect murder but there's no proof, to my knowledge," said Michael Lopez, Giordano's attorney in Aruba. "I don't see any proof. There's no proof and no motive."

The Natalee Holloway Resource Center, a foundation started after Holloway's disappearance, has been offering help to Gardner's boyfriend, Richard Forester.

"It strikes a chord close to home because that's where my nightmare began, the day I got the call in 2005," Beth Holloway, mother of Natalee, told ABC News. "We want to be a first responder to these families, we want to be there to help them."

Maryland court documents show that a Gary Giordano there has a criminal record, including two orders of protection taken out by women that claimed he was violent. One was taken out by his ex-wife during their divorce proceedings.

Two women who say they dated Giordano told ABC News that he was terrifying, and another woman said Giordano stalked her.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Casey Anthony a No-Show at Caylee's Birthday Memorial

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Amidst a sea of violet balloons, hundreds gathered to commemorate what would have been Caylee Anthony's sixth birthday. Among the gatherers, stood the people who perhaps knew her best: Caylee's grandparents, George and Cindy Anthony.

They mingled, murmuring words of thanks and appreciation Tuesday evening as the densely packed crowd clamored for hugs and a chance to show their support. They gathered at the site where Caylee's skeletal remains were found three years ago.

Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, remains in hiding following her acquittal of murder charges in Caylee's death.

For the elder Anthonys, the grief is still fresh.

"It's hard to come down here," said George Anthony, sobbing. "It's hard."

The crowd marched together, some hand in hand. They said a prayer and, in unison, released a torrent of balloons into the sky. Cindy Anthony released a butterfly, a symbol, she said, for Caylee. As they marched back, Cindy and George Anthony shared a hug and the crowd broke into the birthday song.

The site at which they gathered is soon to turn into a memorial for the slain toddler.

A non-profit organization, Bring Kids Home, just released the design for the planned Caylee Anthony Project. The project will be a walkway near the site where Caylee's remains were found and is estimated to cost $200,000. They are asking for $25,000 in public donations and are continually seeking partners to help alleviate costs. All workers are volunteers, and none of the money goes towards salaries.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Why Haven't Names of 30 Fallen US Soldiers Been Released?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The names of the 30 Americans killed in this weekend’s deadly helicopter crash in Afghanistan have still not been publicly released by the Pentagon as is standard practice.

Delays in these kinds of announcements are to be expected as the Defense Department has to abide by a law that requires 24 hours to have passed following next of kin notifications before the names can be released publicly.  This was passed by Congress as a protective measure to give families enough time to grieve without having to worry about media interviews.

Though it is Defense Department policy to release the names of all servicemembers who have died while deployed in the War on Terror, in this case, Defense officials say the names have not been released yet because no decision has been made about whether it would be prudent to release the names.

It appears some officials in the Special Operations community are opposed to the names being made public.  A defense official says some of the arguments they have made to the Defense Department involve ensuring the safety of family members of the special operations forces killed in the crash.

Twenty-five of the 30 servicemembers killed in Saturday’s crash were from the special operations community and most of the Navy SEALS killed were members of the elite SEAL Team 6 that participated in the Osama bin Laden raid last May.

Though SEALs killed in the crash did not participate in the bin Laden raid, there is concern that their families -- or potentially other Team 6 members -- might become potential targets.

The irony is that despite an official release of names by the Defense Department, the majority of the names have already appeared in local news outlets as family and friends react to the loss of a loved one.

And even though releasing the names of the fallen is Defense Department policy, a Defense Secretary can change policy or make an exemption as needed.

Defense officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been presented with arguments about the pros and cons of making the names public.  It will be interesting to see if Panetta decides to follow the current policy or heed the concerns of special operations commanders.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Arab State Comes to Aid of Joplin, Missouri Students

Julie Denesha/Getty Images(JOPLIN, Mo.) -- Help can come from the least-expected places, as teens from tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri have found out.

Though still battered from the monster twister last May that left more than 150 people dead and a third of the town in ruins, Joplin High School will be session in just a few weeks.  Classes for freshmen and sophomores will be held inside an abandoned school building that wasn't leveled, while the upperclassmen are being moved to a former big-box store near the local mall.

Juniors and seniors might complain about the new surroundings but they certainly won't be able to gripe about the study aids they'll receive -- courtesy of a $1 million gift made by the United Arab Emirates.

Each student will receive a new Apple notebook computer to help with their lessons.  The UAE made the cash donation for that purpose after learning how the tornado devastated the Joplin school system.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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