National Archives Unveil 3,000 Civil War Docs Transcribed by Walt Whitman

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- To mark the 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War, the National Archives unveiled nearly 3,000 Civil War-related documents and records transcribed by one of America’s most revered authors and poets -- Walt Whitman.

Best known for writing “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman transcribed these documents while working as a government clerk in Washington, D.C. in the decade following the Civil War.  Whitman worked as a clerk for the Army Paymaster's office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Attorney General's office.  Ralph Waldo Emerson first helped Whitman obtain his clerkship by recommending him on literary and patriotic grounds.

Though the documents unveiled Tuesday do not contain Whitman’s original thoughts, they provide insight into Whitman’s post-war writing and thinking.  

“We’ve tended to think of Whitman in two ways during the Civil War as the person who was attentively visiting these soldiers and as this great poet of the Civil War, and people don’t think about the third life he had going on in Washington, D.C.,” Price said.  “It’s the life the city directory records as his fundamental life.  It’s the life that funded the other two lives.”

The documents previously sat hidden in the National Archives until Whitman scholar Kenneth Price, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, uncovered them over the past three years.

Price became familiar with Whitman’s handwriting while editing his previously unedited poetry manuscripts in 2000.   Few of the records contain Whitman’s signature of “W.W,” but Price said the meticulous handwriting matched that of Whitman’s.

The documents and records released Tuesday cover a variety of topics from the post-Civil War era -- from the trial of Jefferson Davis to railroad expansion to the West to concerns about polygamy and Mormons in Utah.  Another document displayed Tuesday was a letter Whitman wrote under the name of President Andrew Johnson, including his signature which Whitman penned.

The Whitman documents will continue to live at the National Archives and will be digitally published at the Walt Whitman Archive online.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Michelle Obama and Jill Biden Team Up to Honor Military Families

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Pulling the weight of the administration out Tuesday in full force -- with speeches from President Obama, Vice President Biden, first lady Michelle Obama, and second lady Jill Biden, the administration launched a national public awareness campaign to honor and support the nation’s military families.

Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are spearheading the effort and will travel for two days across the country to speak in various communities and businesses about the campaign.

“We’re hitting the road.  Yes, Michelle and Jill on a road trip,” Mrs. Obama said from the East Room of the White House. “I think Jill is going to drive.  We’re going to be traveling throughout the country, celebrating the service of military families and the communities, and nonprofits and businesses and folks who support those families every day.”

The initiative, called Joining Forces, teams up with the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan institution focused on national security -- and will be guided by an advisory board, including retired General Stanley McChrystal and Patty Shinseki, the wife of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“Today, my administration is working to implement nearly 50 specific commitments to improve the lives of military families -- everything from protecting families from financial scams to improving education for military kids and spouses, to stepping up our fight to end homelessness among veterans,” President Obama touted. “ And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m not going to be satisfied until we meet these commitments.”

As part of the effort the administration will bring together some of the nation’s well-known names and brands to help.

NASCAR, Walmart and Major League Baseball will be creating public service announcements featuring Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, among others to bring awareness to the military families needs and talents.

In employment the initiative will aim to help connect military spouses and veterans to new jobs to advance their careers. In education, the initiative will help military children thrive in the classroom and make it easier for military spouses to continue their education. There’s also an emphasis on mental health and wellness, hoping to “remind the nation” of the support that veteran and military families need.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Fiancee of Slain Giffords Aide Presses Obama to Ban Assault Clips

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Kelly O’Brien, the fiancée of slain Rep. Gabrielle Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman, is teaming up with the Brady Campaign, an advocacy group for stricter gun laws, to announce a TV ad Tuesday urging President Obama to ban assault clips like the one used to kill her husband.

O’Brien has been an outspoken advocate for a ban on assault clips since her fiancée was murdered at a Giffords rally in January.  Zimmerman was shot and killed by one of 32 bullets fired from the extended capacity clip of deranged gunman Jared Lee Loughner in a Tucson, Arizona Safeway grocery store parking lot.  Five others were killed in that shooting and 13 people were injured.

The 30-second ad shows a man at a shooting range firing a handgun with an extended clip.

“A magazine that allows a gun to fire 32 shots in 16 seconds is only good for one thing: killing a lot of people, fast,” a deep voice narrates.  “And that’s something we can live without.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), whose husband was murdered on the New York commuter rail, have introduced legislation to ban extended clips on assault weapons.  The two lawmakers along with O’Brien and representatives from the Brady Campaign will be on hand at a Capitol Hill news conference on Tuesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Strippers in Class? La Salle University Professor Jack Rappaport Suspended

Comstock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- A La Salle University professor, Jack Rappaport, has been suspended for allegedly hiring strippers to give lap dances at an extra-credit seminar on business ethics.

Rappaport was in the front of the classroom and three bikini-clad and miniskirted women were on top of him giving him a lap dance, according to Brad Bernardino, a sophomore at La Salle who attended the March 21 session. At various other times, Bernardino added, the strippers gave willing students lap dances, and a PowerPoint presentation related to business ethics ran in the background.

Officials at La Salle University, a Catholic university in Philadelphia, said they were "very concerned" about the allegations and have "launched a full-scale investigation into what took place and who was responsible."

"Until the investigation has been completed," the university said in a written statement, "it would be unfair to those involved to disclose any further information, let alone suspicions or allegations. While the university is proceeding as quickly as possible, we recognize the importance of guarding against a rush to judgment in this situation."

The 57-year-old Rappaport's seminar reportedly cost each student $150 to attend and earned the students extra credit in Rappaport's business class.

Rappaport's biography on the La Salle University website says he has been an assistant professor of business management there since 1979.

"I try to enrich my teaching by using interesting real life applications such as the use of the horse race betting market in the teaching of statistics," Rappaport writes on his personal page.

Emails and calls to Rappaport by ABC News were not returned Tuesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Black Students 'Sold' at Mock Slave Auction

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(NORFOLK, Va.) -- Trying to bring a Civil War lesson to life, history teacher Jessica Boyle turned her Norfolk, Va., fourth-grade classroom into a slave auction April 1. Black and mixed-race students at Sewells Point Elementary School, who make up 40 percent of the class, were separated from the rest of the students and auctioned as part of an instructional unit on the Civil War.

School Principal Mary Wrushen became aware of the simulation when the school received two parent complaints. "Why is it uneasy? Because I'm an African-American. I could imagine being in school and basically made fun of in front of everybody," Jacole Graves, parent of a Sewells Point student, told ABC affiliate WFTV 9.

"Parents contacted the school principal to indicate their concerns about the lesson, and that prompted the principal to investigate and issue the attached letter to all parents in the classroom," said Norfolk Public Schools spokeswoman Karen Tanner.

The Norfolk Public School curriculum, which follows the standards set by the Virginia Department of Education, promotes integrating visual and oral text presentations. But Boyle's mock Civil War slave auction was not part of the approved curriculum.

"There are policies in place to prevent inappropriate lesson plans," said Norfolk Public Schools spokeswoman Elizabeth Mather. "The teacher in this case did not present the lesson plan to the principal for review."

"Although her actions were well intended to meet the instructional objectives, the activity presented was inappropriate for the students," Wrushen wrote in a letter to parents.

Boyle's attempt to dramatize a lesson on slavery and the Civil War was perhaps related to the fact that Sewells Point Elementary was named for one of Virginia's earliest Civil War battles, the Battle of Sewells Point, in 1861.

Wrushen said, however, that "the lesson could have been thought through more carefully as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation."

"The school district does not condone this type of lesson in any way," said Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Richard Bentley. "It was wrong. It was outside the boundaries of the curriculum and appropriate instructional practices."

Jessica Boyle has been with the Norfolk Public Schools for six years, but this was her first mock slave auction. Boyle's employment status is considered "a personnel issue," according to Mather.

The Norfolk County Schools has drawn previous attention for other lessons too. Earlier this year, students were told to write a discipline essay inspired by a movie about the mafia. Last year, a guidance counselor handed out fetus dolls to illustrate an anti-abortion rights stance.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mother's Decaying Corpse Found in Houston Home, Twin Sons Face Felony Murder Charges

Comstock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Two male twins who allegedly spent three months living alongside the corpse of their 89-year-old mother sit in jail Tuesday facing felony murder charges. Her decaying body was found Monday face-down in the entryway of the Houston home they shared.

Edward and Edwin Berndt, 49-year-old twins, reported that their mother, Sybil Berndt, died Jan. 13, three days after she endured a fall after interrupting the duo as they watched football. Edwin and Edward allegedly left their mother lying on the floor because they said they couldn't pay for medical treatment. Their mother was conscious and could speak for the first day after the fall, according to court documents.

But she did not receive medical attention, food or water, and died, according to police. Edwin Berndt told police he remembered the day his mother died, because it was one day after her 89th birthday, according to the court documents.

The brothers said they didn't call police because they were afraid they'd go to jail and "didn't have the money to bury her," according the court documents. But police said they found Berndt's bank statements in the home showing account balances of about $700,000.

A police officer was dispatched to the family home Monday, following a call from a neighbor who reported that Sybil Berndt had not been seen since January. That's when the officer found the body.

Edwin Berndt answered the door when the police officer arrived and initially told the officer everything was fine and police were not needed, according to court documents. He then allowed the officer to enter the house, and his mother's corpse was visible in an "extended state of decomposition," according to police, who described the house's condition as "deplorable" and smelling terribly. Court documents also stated that bugs were found around the body, which was naked except for a nightgown pulled up under the arms.

"I've never seen a scene like this in 17 years," Houston Police homicide investigator J.R. Johnston told KHOU Monday night from the scene. "As to why, at this point it's a big unknown."

The twins are due in 339th Criminal Count in Houston Wednesday and have not yet been assigned an attorney.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Cinderella' Story of Child Abuse?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(FORT PIERCE, Fla.) -- A stepmother accused of forcing her 12-year-old stepdaughter to live in squalor outdoors and do countless hours of chores, while the girl's younger half-sisters were allowed to play and sleep in beds, has been charged with child abuse in a case that neighbors have compared to Cinderella.

Joanna Moreno, 31, and her husband Juan Moreno, 34, were arrested Saturday in Fort Pierce, Fla., following a domestic disturbance call that ultimately led police to learn about the girl's plight.

The girl, whom police have not identified because of her age, was not allowed to use the bathroom inside the house. She was forced to use an outdoor shower and a makeshift latrine that reeked of urine and feces, according to a police arrest report. At night she was allowed to come indoors, but forced to "sleep on the floor in one of the bedrooms. She is not allowed to use the bed or have any sheets or blankets."

According to police, the girl was routinely physically and emotionally abused by her stepmother, who would hit and slap her.

The girl's two younger half-sisters, aged 8 and 10, however, were clean, allowed to play and sleep in beds, according to police.

The couple was arrested Saturday by St. Lucie County sheriff deputies. Juan Moreno immediately posted bond. Joanna Moreno was held while immigration officials ran a background check. She posted a $9,005 bond, received from a bail bondsman, on Monday.

Neither of the parents have appeared in court, entered a plea, or obtained legal counsel.

All three children have been placed in protective custody, according to police.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Marine Battalion Returns Home After Bloody Afghan Deployment

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(PENDLETON, Calif.) -- The Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines have begun to come home to Camp Pendleton after an intense eight month tour in Afghanistan that top Pentagon officials say will rank their battles among the legends of Marine lore.

Referred to as the 3-5, the 950-man Marine battalion experienced some of the highest casualty rates ever experienced by an American combat unit in the war in Afghanistan with 25 dead and 140 wounded. The casualties included more than a dozen amputees.

One of the fatalities was 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who is the personal military aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The general was the highest ranking officer to lose a child in Afghanistan.

There were happy reunions at Camp Pendleton Monday night as the first wave of 250 Marines returned home from a tour that garnered them praise for their heroism after a long tough fight.

The unit began its bloody tour in October when it took over control of Sangin district from British forces that had also taken significant casualties during their deployments in what had long been a Taliban stronghold.

The Marines were given the tough task of pushing out beyond the town center to broaden the security zone for local residents. They faced heavy combat almost instantly and the unit's increasingly high casualty rates last fall raised concern among top Pentagon officials. By January, Marine commanders were praising the 3-5 Marines for their heroism and battlefield successes that had pushed Taliban forces out of the district.

As the unit's losses mounted during their deployment, military medical personnel said they were surprised by the unit's mental health resiliency and said they didn't find higher combat stress levels.

In an effort to reduce the effects of possible Post Traumatic Stress back home, more mental health professionals have been brought to Camp Pendleton to help the unit and their families. Furthermore, the unit has been ordered to be kept as intact as possible for three months so that the Marines can decompress together. While an Army combat battalion saw 27 fatalities during a 15-month tour, no other unit has faced such high casualty rates in a tour that was half that length.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mom Found Guilty of Attempted Murder in Autistic Son's Death

Comstock/Thinkstock(LAWRENCE, Mass.) -- A Lawrence, Mass. Superior Court jury found Kristen A. LaBrie guilty of attempted murder Tuesday for withholding chemotherapy medications from her autistic son, who died of leukemia in 2009.

Prosecutors in the case argued that LaBrie committed murder by withholding potentially lifesaving medications for her nine-year-old son, Jeremy Fraser. The defense admitted that LaBrie knowingly withheld her son's medications, but said she did so only because of their painful side effects.

LaBrie, 37, had earlier been charged with child endangerment. A grand jury returned the more serious indictment Friday.

LaBrie faces up to 40 years in prison.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Long Island Serial Killer: Victims' Families Find Comfort in One Another

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Each time investigators discover another set of bones on a stretch of New York beaches believed to be the dumping ground for a serial killer, the families of the killer's victims are struck by fresh grief and reach out to each other for solace.

"Every time they find more, it's like it starts the whole tragedy all over again.  It's like we find out it's our own child that they found over again," said Lorraine Ela, the mother of murder victim Megan Waterman.

That ritual was carried out again Monday when investigators discovered a skull and another set of remains near the Long Island beach, bringing the total number of possible victims to 10.

Ela's 22-year-old daughter disappeared last June and her body was discovered in December.  As the investigation continues, Ela said that she sends Facebook messages to other victims' relatives daily and has developed a strong bond with them.

"They're like family.  We're like one big family," she said.

As a sign of solidarity, several of the relatives have used the photos of the four victims identified so far -- Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amanda Costello and Melissa Barthelemy -- as their profile pictures on Facebook.

All of the families will gather in June when Ela has organized a memorial for the victims on the same Long Island beaches that investigators are now scouring for more bodies and clues.  The memorial will be held on the day her daughter disappeared, June 11.  Her daughter left behind a four-year-old daughter.

"I wanted to go where they found my daughter to pay my respects and say my final goodbye to her.  Part of me doesn't feel closure until I can go down there and say my goodbye down there.  I owe that to my daughter and all the other women," Ela said.

Suffolk County police, who are being assisted by Nassau County cops as well as state police and the FBI, have been tight lipped about the investigation.  ABC News has learned that at least one of the victims died by "homicidal asphyxiation," which could mean strangulation or being smothered.

Investigators also are not clear whether one killer is responsible for all of the bodies being found or whether the area is a burial ground for a serial killer and that other murders have been dumped there as well.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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