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Friday
Feb232018

At least three killed in small plane crash in rural Indiana

iStock/Thinkstock(ROSSVILLE, Ind.) -- There were no survivors of a small plane crash in rural Indiana on Thursday night.

Indiana State Police told Indianapolis ABC affiliate WRTV that at least three people died in the crash.

The Cessna 441 plane left from Eagle Creek Airport in Indianapolis at 7:21 p.m. before crashing in a field north of Rossville, Indiana, on its way to Green Bay, Wisconsin, just 18 minutes later, according to WRTV.

"Unfortunately, when officers responded to the area near 500 West and 500 South in a field, they did find a plane that did crash. And, unfortunately at this time, there are fatalities, “Indiana Police Sgt. Tony Slocum said. "We believe there are no survivors in this crash."

Rossville is in rural Carroll County, about 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were expected to be on the scene of the crash on Friday, WRTV reported.

No one on the ground was injured.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb232018

Construction of interim Pulse memorial begins next week

onePULSE Foundation (ORLANDO) -- Construction begins Monday in Orlando on an interim memorial to pay tribute to the 49 people who were killed 20 months ago during a shooting massacre at Pulse nightclub, a popular LGBT venue in the city's downtown, the onePULSE Foundation announced Thursday.

"As we move to create a permanent memorial and museum to honor the 49 precious lives that were taken, we also know the importance of ensuring the families, survivors, first responders and the community continue to have a place to reflect on what happened here," onePULSE Foundation Executive Director Barbara Poma said in a statement.

Poma continued, "The interim memorial will provide areas to leave messages, and will include seating, shade, lighting and trees -- creating a meaningful and inviting space while planning is underway."

The onePULSE Foundation is a nonprofit organization incorporated to manage the design and construction of a permanent museum and memorial dedicated to the Pulse tragedy.

Forty-nine people were killed, and more than 100 others were injured on June 12, 2016, when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire on the nightclub. The federal trial for Mateen's wife, Noor Salman, begins March 1. She faces charges of aiding a former terrorist organization and obstruction of justice.

As part of the process of creating the interim memorial, the onePULSE Foundation will work with the Orange County Regional History Center to collect and conserve all of the artifacts, works of art, messages and other memorial items left at the site. Families and survivors have been invited to take home any personal items and messages they left at the site. Orange County Regional History Center staff will collect the remaining items on Feb. 25.

Pam Schwartz, chief curator of the Orange County Regional History Center, said in a statement that June 12, 2016, was "an historic day in Orlando’s history, and we are dedicated to ensuring that the lives taken, all those affected and the outpouring of public support are not forgotten."

Schwartz added, "We will use the utmost care and sensitivity in preserving the items that were so lovingly created and placed here; they will be integral as the onePULSE Foundation plans the museum.”

The onePULSE Foundation reviewed and approved the interim design.

The onePULSE Foundation explained in a statement that "the iconic Pulse sign will be enhanced but not removed. A new fence will be placed around the perimeter of the nightclub itself, which will remain standing until the permanent memorial and museum designs are selected. Much of the labor involved will be completed off-site, and new elements will be installed at the site with minimal impact on the surrounding community."

Work on the project is expected to last approximately 60 days and should end in late April, according to the foundation.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Three nursing-home staffers charged in death of WWII veteran 

ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) --  Three staff members at a Georgia senior-care facility have been indicted on charges that their actions not only caused the death of a resident in their care, but that they also tried to cover up his death.

On Tuesday, almost four years to the day that James Dempsey, 89, of Woodstock, Georgia, died, former nurses Wanda Nuckles and Loyce Pickquet Agyeman as well as aide Mable L. Turner were charged in connection with his 2014 death.

According to police records, in January 2014, Dempsey, a World War II Navy veteran, entered the Northeast Atlanta Rehabilitation Center in Brookhaven, Georgia. His family told Brookhaven police that he had been having liver problems and was undergoing dialysis treatment at the center.

Relatives told ABC affiliate WSB-TV in 2015 that when he expressed concerns about staying at the center overnight, they installed a hidden camera in his room.

After Dempsey's death, his family took the camera home and said they felt "shock" when they watched footage from that day.

"Video surveillance shows the patient suffering in respiratory distress and repeatedly calling out for help. Soon after his distress calls, the victim became unresponsive. The indictment alleges the Defendants, in varying degrees, failed to provide timely and necessary medical assistance, ultimately resulting in Mr. Dempsey's death," the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office said in a news release Wednesday.

The District Attorney's Office said video surveillance of the Feb. 27, 2014 incident was made public in November 2017, after the family filed a civil lawsuit against the center, alleging "wrongful death" and "negligence." The civil suit was settled but the footage prompted a joint investigation between the DA's office and law enforcement.

In the video revealed during a deposition in the civil suit, Dempsey can be seen lying in his hospital bed, gasping for air and calling for help six times.

According to the indictment, on Feb. 27, 2014, Agyeman "failed to call 911" when Dempsey complained about his heart, despite medical instructions in his chart stating that he should be sent to a hospital in the event of chest pain.

It also said that Agyeman and Nuckles had "started performing two-person cardiopulmonary resuscitation approximately one hour" after he'd become unresponsive, "to create the false impression that they were trying to save James Dempsey’s life."

In a 2015 sworn deposition, Nuckles said the staff had administered CPR immediately.

Nuckles of Buford, Georgia, is charged with depriving an elder person of essential services. Turman of College Park, Georgia, faces a charge of neglect to an elder person. And, Agyeman of Snellville, Georgia, is charged with felony murder and neglect to an elder person. Each woman also faces a charge of concealing the death of another.

Grand jury warrants were issued for each woman's arrest, the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office said.

Both Nuckles and Agyeman voluntarily surrendered their licenses in September 2017, according to the state board.

Nuckles told ABC News that she has no comment on what happened and that her lawyer would not allow her to say anything to the media. ABC News was not able to reach Turman or Agyeman. The company that runs the nursing home did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

None of the women have entered a plea at this time. A trial date has not been set.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Man who plotted his family's murder will not be executed, governor says

Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  The governor of Texas decided Thursday to spare the life of a convicted killer who carried out a plot to kill his parents and his brother.

About 40 minutes before the scheduled execution, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would grant clemency to 38-year-old Thomas "Bart" Whitaker. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a rare recommendation, voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of the "lesser penalty" of commuting Whitaker's death sentence to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

“In just over three years as governor, I have allowed 30 executions. I have not granted a commutation of a death sentence until now," Abbott said in a statement. “The murders of Mr. Whitaker’s mother and brother are reprehensible. The crime deserves severe punishment for the criminals who killed them. The recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and my action on it, ensures Mr. Whitaker will never be released from prison."

Bart Whitaker was convicted of capital murder for the shooting deaths of his mother, Tricia Whitaker, and his younger brother, Kevin Whitaker, in an attack he devised at the family's Sugar Land, Texas, home in December 2003. Bart's father, Kent Whitaker, was also shot during the attack, but survived.

Kent Whitaker said he has forgiven his son and became his most outspoken advocate.

"I love him. He's my son," Kent Whitaker told 20/20. "I don't want to see him executed at the hands of Texas in the name of justice when there's a better justice available."

On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a rare recommendation, voted unanimously in favor of the "lesser penalty" of commuting Whitaker's death sentence to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutor Fred Felcman, who was also the original prosecutor in the case, told ABC's Houston station KTRK-TV on Tuesday that he was disappointed by the parole board's recommendation.

"I guess the 12 jurors' opinion means nothing to the parole board," Felcman said.

20/20 sat down with Kent Whitaker awhile he awaited the board’s decision on his son’s fate. He said that Bart has learned Spanish in prison and was teaching some inmates English, while helping others earn their high school diplomas.

"I have seen such change in him," Kent Whitaker said of his son. "He's been incarcerated for 11 years. That's 4,000 days. He's done a lot of work himself and he's struggled hard to try to find out what it was that went wrong in his mind."

"There's a mental illness issue here that we still don't quite understand," the father added. "But he has learned how to recognize the danger points and to work around them. I want the opportunity to spend years watching him grow. And there's so much that he can do."

Kent Whitaker said he recognizes the horrible crime his son committed, saying, "I live with it every day... and nobody's denying it."

"Forgiveness is absolutely critical if you want to heal from your loss," he continued. "It is the only way that you can get the bitterness out, and the bitterness is going to stay there and it's going to affect your relationships in ways that you can't even see or recognize. But it's going to negatively affect them. I was able to forgive on the night of the shootings."

On Dec. 10, 2003, Bart Whitaker announced to his family that he had finished his final exams at Sam Houston State University and would be graduating. To honor his achievement, his parents presented him with a Rolex watch. That night, the family went to a popular Cajun restaurant to celebrate.

Photos taken from that night show Bart smiling for the camera, but he told 20/20 in a 2009 interview that he knew at that moment that an intruder had entered their home and was waiting for their return. If everything went according to his plan, his brother, mother and father would all be dead within minutes.

"I don't really know a better term for how I was feeling [that night], other than I was on auto-pilot. I wasn't even aware of myself," Bart Whitaker told 20/20 in 2009.

"I wanted them dead," he added. "It was my idea."

When the family arrived home, Bart, knowing what awaited his family inside, ran down the driveway, saying he needed to grab his cell phone out of his car. Kevin Whitaker, 19, was the first one to open the door and was shot in the chest, then his mother followed and was also shot.

Next, his father was wounded, too -- he was shot through the right chest and arm, breaking his humerus bone.

Bart said he then ran into the house and pretended to try and catch the shooter. They wrestled a bit and then Bart was shot in the arm to make him appear to be a victim.

"It was to distance me from the guilt," he told 20/20 in 2009. "But also I think on an internal level it was me realizing that there was no way that I could come out of this physically unscathed."

Kevin and Tricia both died from their gunshot wounds. Kent and Bart both survived. Investigators would later discover that Bart had never graduated Sam Houston State University and was still listed as a freshman on academic probation.

When they were released from the hospital, Bart moved back home to be with his father, where they spent time together reading the Bible.

The investigation made little progress, until a man named Adam Hipp walked into the Sugar Land police station and introduced himself as a former friend of Bart Whitaker's. Hipp told police Bart had hatched a second, previously unknown murder plot that was aborted at the last minute, but Hipp claimed Whitaker had asked him to be the shooter.

Another break in the case came in August 2005, when a man named Steven Champagne, who was Bart’s former co-worker and neighbor, went to police and confessed to assisting in the crime and provided the entire story of what happened on that December 2003 night.

Champagne told investigators that Bart had set up the crime and lured his family to dinner to celebrate his fake graduation from college. As the Whitakers celebrated, Champagne said he watched from a car in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, Bart's roommate, Chris Brashear, hid in Bart's SUV outside the Whitaker home. Champagne told police Brashear entered the house with the key and disabled the alarm with the code Bart had given him. Champagne said he followed the family home and parked on a nearby street and waited.

"[Brashear] said Bart's brother had walked in first," Champagne recalled in his confession. "And, when Chris shot him, he said before he shot him he thought he smiled. And then Chris shot his mom and then shot Bart's dad .... And then, he acted like he wrestled around with Bart and shot Bart."

A minute later, as he told cops, Brashear joined him in the car and they fled the scene.

"Bart said his family was worth a lot of money," Champagne said, explaining his motivation. "He said he would give us some money -- I mean millions of dollars."

He also told police that he and Brashear had thrown a bag full of evidence off of a bridge into a nearby lake. A police dive team later found a soggy duffel bag full of decomposing evidence. Though the bag had spent two years at the bottom of the lake, detectives were able to obtain a DNA profile of Brashear on the mouth of a water bottle. The bag also contained Bart Whitaker’s cell phone.

In March 2007, a jury convicted Bart Whitaker of the capital murder of his mother and his younger brother, and he was sentenced to death. The shooter, Brashear, received life in prison without parole. The getaway driver, Champagne, was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the plot.

 Since then, Kent Whitaker has gotten remarried and has devoted his time to spreading his message of forgiveness as well as fighting to prevent his son’s execution. Kent wrote a book, "Murder by Family," in which he tracks the pain, tears and faith that carried him through it all.

"I think that justice would be the opportunity to spend his life helping others and allowing me the opportunity to walk that road with him," Kent Whitaker said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Student says Nikolas Cruz threatened to 'kill' him, sent photo of guns

ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) --  Six months before Nikolas Cruz allegedly gunned down former classmates and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, he apparently texted a photo of an assault rifle, among a slew of other weapons, to a student he repeatedly threatened to kill.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News Wednesday night, Enea Sabadini said it was the one time he did not report Cruz to school officials, despite a tirade of threats and insults from him via social media. Sabadini said he didn’t take Cruz’s messages seriously at the time.

"If I was able to go back, I would have gone and reported him to police and told my mother about it," Sabadini told ABC News.

Sabadini, who plays high school rugby, said his first interaction with Cruz occurred in August 2016. Cruz sent him direct messages on Instagram saying to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, whom Sabadini had just started dating.

At that time, Sabadini hadn’t met Cruz in person and didn’t respond to his messages.

"I was confused why, because I hadn’t had any prior problems with this person," he said. "At first, I didn’t answer back at all."

Sabadini said Cruz’s ex-girlfriend told him to ignore the messages, even though they included racial slurs, threats of murder and even of Cruz feeling depressed.

"you know how f------ mad iam (sic) at you," Cruz wrote in one message. "you took my ex i been depressed."

Still, she said Cruz was “misunderstood.” But, according to Sabadini, she added that he had been “violent and abusive” toward her.

Then one morning, a week or two after school started that year, Cruz approached Sabadini at the school to apologize.

"I think he knew where I sat with my friends in the mornings, so as I was walking toward my usual area, he pulled me aside to apologize," Sabadini said. "I accepted his apology and everything was cool."

Just days later, Cruz again sent hostile messages to Sabadini and threatened some of his friends.

Sabadini, who said he was "confused" by Cruz’s hostility, chose not to respond to the messages again. But he and his friends reported the incident to school officials.

It was unclear whether Cruz was ever disciplined for those messages.

Then, one day after school when Sabadini was leaving school with friends, they noticed Cruz was following closely behind. A brief confrontation between Cruz and Sabadini ensued, in which Cruz yelled at Sabadini to stop talking to his ex-girlfriend.

"We almost get into a fight, but I decide it’s not worth it and I walk away," Sabadini said.

Suddenly, Cruz starts running toward Sabadini with pencils in each of his hands, holding them like daggers, “in a stabbing stance,” Sabadini said.

Sabadini took off running and Cruz chased him down the street, Sabadini said. He eventually outran Cruz and reported the incident to school officials, he said.

Another day at school, Cruz started a fight with Sabadini during lunch. The fight was captured on cell phone video and led to the brief suspension of both students.

"I don’t know why he came up behind me and decided to fight me that day," Sabadini told ABC News. "I was tired of all the things he had been doing to me and my friends."

 Sabadini said Cruz continued to send him threatening messages for a few weeks afterward and would occasionally give him the middle finger at school during lunch. The harassment finally stopped only when Cruz was expelled in December 2016, but "out of the blue" in the early morning hours of Aug. 17, 2017, the messaging attacks resumed, Sabadini said.

Eventually, the harassment stopped completely -– until the early morning hours of Aug. 17, the following summer.

In screenshots of the series of Instagram direct messages provided to ABC News, Cruz apparently curses at Sabadini, uses a slew of derogatory insults and threatens multiple times to "kill" him.

"You underground hispanic wall jumper ill (sic) will f------ destroy you," Cruz writes to Sabadini, who is Italian and African American.

After sending the image of guns laid out on his bed, Cruz writes: "Don’t f--- with me!!!!!"

 In further direct messages to Sabadini, Cruz says he "stole my ex" and that she meant "everything to me." Cruz writes that he’s been "depressed" and "drinking" ever since, and all he can think about is "hurting" Sabadini.

This time, Sabadini responds to Cruz’s messages, saying he and the girl "broke up" in December 2016. But Cruz continues to threaten him.

"you have no idea what iam (sic) capable of," Cruz writes.

"Iam (sic) going to f-----g kill you."

"Iam (sic) going to watch ypu (sic) bleed.”

Sabadini responds, "F—-- off I’m trying to watch YouTube."

Cruz writes, "I will kill you !!!!!"

"I am going to shoot you dead."

Most of Sabadini’s responses appear nonchalant with a sarcastic tone. He writes, "Hey man you should take a cold shower to calm down, I here (sic) they are refreshing."

Sabadini told ABC News he didn’t take Cruz’s threats seriously at the time. Cruz had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School unspecified disciplinary reasons, authorities said.

"I did not really think much because he was no longer going to our school," Sabadini said. "I just thought nothing of it at the time."

 Months later, on Feb. 14, Cruz allegedly opened fire inside the school, killing 17 people and wounding dozens of others, with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle authorities say he legally purchased a year ago.

When Sabadini heard there was an active shooter on campus, he said he and his friends immediately knew it was Cruz.

"I wasn’t surprised," he told ABC News.

He added that everyone who had interacted with him knew that "if anything was really to happen at the school, like a shooting, that he probably was the only one with enough hate to do so."

Sabadini said he personally knew three of the students who were killed, and that he feels lucky to be alive.

Cruz was arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the aftermath of the attack.

The Instagram account associated with Cruz that directly messaged Sabadini appears to have been taken down.

Sabadini’s mother, Mayi Sabadini, told ABC News she believes it’s important for her son to share his story.

"Even though Nikolas wanted to kill my son, I believe he’s the 18th victim. His life is over, too. He is obviously very, very troubled," she told ABC News in a separate interview.

Mayi Sabadini became emotional when talking about the loss and suffering of so many families, and said she can’t believe her son was sucked in by Cruz's obsession and rage over the ex-girlfriend.

"Kids have to tell their parents about any threat, every single threat. We know that now," she said. "There are many other troubled, sick kids like Nikolas at other schools. I feel very lucky my son is alive."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Suspect in Florida school massacre questioned in November over shooting threat

Mike Stocker-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The suspected gunman in the Florida school massacre was questioned by a police officer in November after a woman he was living with at the time called 911 to report he had threatened to use a gun on her 22-year-old son, according to records obtained by ABC News.

The report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is just the latest in a string of red flags concerning Nikolas Cruz' volatility that law enforcement, school officials and mental health experts were notified of prior the Valentine's Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead, including 14 students.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s offense report from Nov. 29 shows that a woman who initially took Cruz in after his mother's death in November, called 911 to complain that Cruz had gotten into an altercation with her son in her Lantana, Florida, home and threatened to get a gun and come back.

“[He] bought a gun from Dicks last week and is now going to pick it up,” the woman told a 911 dispatcher, according to a log of the call contained in the report.

“[He] bought tons of ammo…[and] has used a gun against [people] before,” the dispatcher’s log states. “He has put the gun to others heads in the past.”

While the name of the 911 caller was redacted in the report, ABC News has learned that, at the time, Cruz was living with Rocxanne Deschamps, a family friend who took him and his younger brother in after their 68-year-old adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, contracted pneumonia and died on Nov. 1.

After police arrived at Deschamps' home just after 3 p.m., her son told an officer that he had gotten into a physical altercation with Cruz, who became “upset and began punching walls and breaking items inside the home.”

The son said Cruz punched him in the left side of his jaw as he attempted to calm Cruz down, according to the report. He told the officer he punched Cruz back in "self-defense" and attempted to restrain him before Cruz bolted from the residence, the report says.

The officer found Cruz in a nearby park and described the 19-year-old as being “nervous and calm," according to the report. Cruz told the officer he had become upset and punched a wall after losing a picture of his late mother.

“He said he was sorry for losing his temper,” according to the officer’s report.

There were no references to guns in the officer’s narrative, but the dispatch notes indicate that Cruz told police there were guns inside the home.

Ultimately, the son told police he did not want Cruz arrested and signed a "refusal to prosecute" form, according to the officer's report. But the son expressed that he wanted Cruz to leave the residence until he calmed down, according to the report.

He said Cruz "has been going through a lot with his loss” and he “did not want him to go to jail” the report states.

The officer’s report concludes that the son and Cruz hugged to reconcile their differences, and the case was cleared with no arrest or charges filed.

Cruz moved out of Deschamps' home around the time of the altercation and went to live with James and Kimberly Snead, the parents of a friend.

In an earlier police report obtained by ABC News, officers were called to Deschamps' residence on Nov. 24 by her son, who claimed Cruz had possibly hidden a gun in the back yard. There is no indication in the report that a gun was found and the incident was declared "domestic unfounded," according to the document

In documents filed in Broward County probate court the day after the Feb. 14 mass shooting, Deschamps' attorney, Audra Simovitch, petitioned to have Deschamps appointed a personal representative of Lynda Cruz's estate, claiming an interest in the estate "as a family friend ... who is caring for a 50% minor beneficiary," meaning Cruz's younger brother.

Simovitch declined to comment on the probate motion. But in a court document filed Thursday, she asked a judge to allow her to see Cruz in jail and that she was retained by Cruz on Dec. 13 to represent him in the probate matter. Deschamps also signed the retainer agreement and was named as the "proposed personal representative" for Cruz and his brother, according to the document.

The Sneads claimed that Nikolas Cruz told them he stood to inherit in a few years at least $800,000 from his deceased parents' estates, the couple's attorney, Jim Lewis, told ABC News. Cruz's adoptive father, Roger Cruz, died in 2004 at the age of 67.

As investigators dig into Cruz's background, more and more instances have emerged in which state and federal officials had been in contact with Cruz or were alerted of his violent behavior prior to the mass shooting.

The growing list of warning signs either detailed by public statements from officials or public records, includes an admission by the FBI that a tip it received on Jan. 5 warning that Cruz might be planning a "school shooting" and detailing his guns, was not passed on to its Miami field office and was never investigated.

Records show the Broward County Sheriff's Office also received 39 calls for service in the last few years regarding Cruz for a variety of disturbance complaints, including fighting with his mother. In a police report from Sept. 28, 2016, a therapist who went on one of the calls cleared Cruz, concluding he was “no threat to anyone or himself.”

A report in August 2016 by the Florida Department of Children and Family shows the agency investigated a Snapchat post in which Cruz was seen cutting his arms and was told by Cruz that he "plans to go out and buy a gun." The agency determined Cruz "to be stable enough not to be hospitalized," according to the DCF report. DCF said in a statement it "relies on the expertise of mental health professionals and law enforcement and these records show that DCF took the steps to involve these partners in investigating this alleged abuse."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Same-sex couple allegedly told they don't 'mirror the holy family' and denied chance to be foster parents

ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- A Texas same-sex couple has sued the federal government, alleging they were denied the chance to be foster parents to a refugee child because they do not “mirror the holy family.”

According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday, married couple Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin expressed their interest in February 2017 in fostering a refugee child to an official with the Catholic Charities of Fort Worth (CCFW). The group is an affiliate of the United States Conference of Bishops, which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contracts for some of its federal child welfare duties.

The lawsuit alleges that during a phone conversation with Donna Springer, chair of the executive committee of CCFW’s board of directors, they were told that foster parents must “mirror the holy family,” and they would not “qualify” to foster a child.

“We were both completely shocked,” Marouf told ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.

“It was hurtful in realizing there was no overcoming that barrier,” Esplin added.

The lawsuit says the couple also asked if any of the refugee children in the program might be lesbian or gay and were told that none of the 700 children served by the program are members of the LGBT community.

Marouf immediately reported to the Office of Refugee Resettlement via email that CCFW had discriminated against her and her wife, the complaint says, but she did not receive a response for nearly two months. The couple claims they haven't received any further communication from them since, leading to this week’s lawsuit.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and HHS are named in the lawsuit.

HHS told ABC News, “We do not comment on pending litigation.” The USCCB has not immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth denies to the Dallas Morning News that the couple ever spoke with Springer — saying she "never had any contact with the couple" — but acknowledged the then-director of child welfare services talked to them over the phone. The organization also denied allegations in the lawsuit that the couple was told the agency did not have any LGBT kids among the refugee children in its care at the time.

"We do not screen or otherwise ask the children we serve to self-identify if they are LGBT," said Katelin Cortney, Catholic Charities Fort Worth's communications director told the local news outlet. "We train our foster families to accept children from all cultures and walks of life so they can be as prepared as possible to welcome someone new into their home."

The couple hopes the lawsuit will allow them to apply to be foster parents to a refugee child, as well as prevent sexual orientation-based discrimination against other prospective parents, according to the lawsuit.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Missing CDC employee left work sick 10 days ago, hasn't been seen since, police say

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- Police are asking the public for help finding a missing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee who went home sick 10 days ago and hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Timothy Cunningham, 35, went to work on Feb. 12 and left sick, the Atlanta Police Department said. Cunningham, who studied at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, works as an epidemic intelligence service officer and has been sent to respond to public health emergencies including the Ebola virus and the Zika virus, according to the CDC.

Police said it's unusual for Cunningham not to contact his family.

Cunningham's parents said they found his phone, wallet, car and keys, as well as his dog, at his home, reported ABC affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta.

"It's not the type of news you want to hear," his father, Terrell Cunningham, said, reported WSB. "Thirty-five years old, but always your child.

"This is an appeal to the public," Terrell Cunningham added. "We're seeking your help in bringing Tim back safe."

The CDC did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Anyone with information is urged to call 911 or the Atlanta Police Homicide/Adult Missing Persons Unit at 404-546-4235.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

After school shooting, breaking down the conspiracy theories facing Parkland students

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The students of Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School have had to spend the past week grieving and burying their friends and school staff who were shot during the mass shooting on Feb. 14.

They've also had to endure accusations that their subsequent movement is part of a larger gun-hating conspiracy.

In the days following the shooting, when the teenage students were regularly making television appearances and recounting their experiences during the shooting, some naysayers online started raising questions about the students and how polished they appeared.

Some questioned if the students actually attended the school, or if they were actors shipped to the site of the tragedy afterward at the behest of a shadow organization or Democratic groups.

Another strain of the conspiracy theories cited one of the students' father's former position at the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an indication that the students' calls for gun reform were part of an effort to distract from the agency's failures in preventing the shooting.

Student David Hogg and his father, appearing together on CNN, have since denied the claim.

"I am not an actor in any sense way shape or form," Hogg told CNN.

"I'm not a crisis actor. I'm somebody who had to witness this and live through this and continue to have to do that. It's unbelievable to me that these people are even saying this," he said.

One Twitter user who raised some of these questions was Kambree Kawahine Koa, who identifies herself on Twitter as a political news contributor and has written opinion articles for the conservative news site The Daily Caller.

"It’s quite interesting that the children survivors haven’t even buried their friends, grieve, get over shock but have had the time to plan for a march, come up with a creative hashtag, get their story to all media outlets all in such a short amount time..... Democrats have planned this all. This is what they have done for decades. They think we are stupid in how they operate but actually them using children as pawns will BACKFIRE in Nov like it did in 2016. Game over," she wrote in two tweets on Feb. 18, adding the hashtag for the event that the students are spearheading, #MarchForOurLives.

Her tweets have been retweeted thousands of times.

Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who has been a vocal supporter of President Trump, tweeted a similar accusation on Feb. 20, pointing to liberal billionaire George Soros as the alleged mastermind.

"The well ORGANIZED effort by Florida school students demanding gun control has GEORGE SOROS’ FINGERPRINTS all over it. It is similar to how he hijacked and exploited black people’s emotion regarding police use of force incidents into the COP HATING Black Lives Matter movement," he wrote in a tweet that included a picture of Soros and destructive demonstrators standing on a car.

The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also showed some virtual support for the conspiracy theories, liking two tweets with links to stories promoting the conspiracy theories about Hogg allegedly speaking out to deflect attention from the FBI's failures.

One government official has lost his job after suggesting that the teenagers are part of a conspiracy. Benjamin Kelly, who was an aide of a Florida state representative, told a Tampa Bay Times reporter that two of the most outspoken students, Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, "are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen," according to a screen grab of the email that was shared by the reporter.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Kelly was first put on leave and then fired.

ABC News' efforts to reach Kelly Thursday were not immediately successful. The Tampa Bay Times reported Kelly released a statement on Twitter before making his account private, reportedly saying he "made a mistake" and "I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland."

The conspiracy theories were picked up dark corners of the web, including on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. At the end of a lengthy post detailing the various aspects of the conspiracy theories, the site's creator, Andrew Anglin, reached his conclusion.

"The most likely thing that has happened, in my view, is that this shooting happened, various lobbies were ready to use it for their own purposes, they picked out the kids who were best suited to play the roles they needed them to play and got them together and coached them for the show we are now witnessing play out across television," he wrote.

The mounting online conspiracies prompted some, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, to speak out against the accusations. 

"Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency," Rubio tweeted.

And the students themselves have continued to deny that they are so-called "crisis actors."

"If you had seen me in our school's production of Fiddler on the Roof, you would know that nobody would pay me to act for anything," student Cameron Kasky told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

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Thursday
Feb222018

'Avid gun owner' documents ease of buying AR-15 in Facebook post to 'shine a flashlight'

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The “avid” gun-owning South Carolina man who posted a video documenting his step-by-step purchase of a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle wanted the world to see how easy it is for the sake of transparency, he told ABC News today, a week after the deadly shooting at a Florida high school with a similar weapon.

“Just trying to shine a flashlight,” Coley Brown said today of gun purchases in his home state. “If you have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t mind having a little light shed on what you’re doing.”

After deadly Parkland shooting, deputies will now carry AR-15 rifles on school grounds, sheriff says

Brown, 49, posted the video on his Facebook page Feb. 16, detailing his transaction with a seller he found on a private Facebook group. He “didn’t get a receipt, nobody checked my driver’s license, nothing,” he said on the video.

Brown, who calls himself as pro-gun as someone can be, has a concealed weapons permit, he told ABC News. He has been hunting since he was a teenager, he added, and has a teenage son who hunts deer and ducks.

Brown is always troubled by school shootings, he said, but this one, in which 17 people died, really resonated with him because he has kids in high school.

Brown starts the video by finding a Facebook group with people looking to sell weapons. After picking the one he wanted, he sent a private Facebook message to the seller, before negotiating the price.

South Carolina gun laws state that “a resident of any state may purchase rifles and shotguns in this state if the resident conforms to applicable provisions of statutes and regulations of this state, the United States, and of the state in which the person resides.”

Facebook prohibits the actual purchase, sale or trade of firearms on its pages so Brown and the seller had to discuss price in a private Facebook message.

In less than 20 hours, Brown found the gun he wanted, negotiated with the seller and drove to meet the person and purchase the AR-15 with over 30 rounds of ammo.

Brown said his goals in posting the condensed video were to share the facts about gun purchases in his state and provide people with as much information as he could.

“I just wanted to show the truth,” Brown told ABC News. “I just saw all this misinformation on how to acquire a gun and what the laws are on guns.”

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