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Thursday
Mar232017

What it's like to be a young teen caught in an inappropriate teacher-student relationship

monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A desperate nationwide manhunt underway for Tad Cummins, the 50-year-old ex-teacher accused of kidnapping his former student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, but given what’s being alleged, this case doesn’t stand alone.

Thomas has been missing since March 13. There has been speculation over whether Cummins and Thomas were in a romantic relationship together. Cummins, a married father and grandfather, researched teen marriage online, specifically the age of consent, according to law enforcement officials. A schoolmate reported seeing Thomas and Cummins kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a
school district investigative report, but Thomas and Cummins denied the claim.

Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

There’s a grim history of teachers abusing those in their care, turning a “school girl crush” into something sinister. Jenny Kutner experienced firsthand what it's like to be taken advantage of by
a teacher.

Kutner, now 25, was 13 years old when her history teacher Lance Mueller started an inappropriate flirtation with her.

“It struck me as very innocent at the time, which now seems delusional,” she told "Nightline" co-anchor JuJu Chang. “I was very insecure. I had never had a boyfriend, I had never been kissed.”

At the time, Mueller was a 23-year-old teacher at Kutner’s middle school and engaged to be married. Kutner says she was bookish and more concerned with her classes than with cheerleading. So when
Mueller first singled her out, she said she felt “really flattered” and “really special.”

“I felt that he really saw me, which was a feeling that I didn't have often among the teenage boys,” she said. "He felt so mature and I felt that I was so mature for my age."

Despite their 10-year age gap, Mueller spent time with Kutner individually in his truck, eventually coming to her house when her parents weren’t around.

“I can’t remember a moment during a given day in that period when I wasn’t speaking with him except for when I was in class,” Kutner said. “He started using pet names pretty early, always referred
to me as ‘babe’ or ‘baby, ‘sweetheart.’”

Soon, she said, the manipulation escalated.

“He was telling me that we were in a relationship, and he was telling me that he loved me more than his wife,” she said. “He would say that if I ever left him that he might have to kill me because
he couldn’t imagine anyone else being with me or he would have to kill himself for the same reason -- very manipulative things.”

And then, right after her 14th birthday, at which point she was in high school, Kutner said the relationship crossed the line from highly inappropriate to criminal. They got sexual in her bedroom,
again when her parents were away.

“I felt that I was the one asking for this relationship to go further,” she said. “I was the one who wanted him in my bedroom.”

At the time, Kutner said, she blamed herself for instigating their relationship, but now she says she knows better.

“The ‘grooming’ occurs not so that an abuser can propose some sort of sexual behavior, it’s almost so that the victim is the one that suggests it,” she said.

Kutner finally confided in friends about the relationship, who then told her parents. In shock and horror, her parents called the police.

“It was very traumatic,” she said. “At the time, it felt like I was very much choosing to be involved in this. I also knew that he had more of the upper hand in the situation. But either way, it
very much felt that he was pursuing me.”

After lengthy legal proceedings, Mueller pleaded guilty to sexual assault, spent 180 days in jail and was placed on the sex offender registry.

It took Kutner years to accept she was a victim. “I understood rationally, pretty early on, when I was still in high school, but the only thing that made me grasp emotionally what had happened to
me was time,” she said.

Kutner says she now realizes what she endured was classic manipulation and coercion. When it’s a young student and a teacher, who is in the power position, Kutner said she doesn’t believe it’s
possible for the student to give consent and understand the consequences, despite how the teenager may feel at the time.

“Not in a true and meaningful sense, certainly not in a legal sense,” she said.

“While it might feel like you are able to consent to that,” she added, “you're still too young to understand those power dynamics and to understand just how much it does influence your own decision
making that this person is an authority figure ... for years and years throughout your schooling you've been conditioned to listen, to obey, to respect.”

Kutner was one of the lucky ones whose relationship was flagged to her parents. Speaking up in these situations is critical, she said. If bystanders think they witnessed something inappropriate,
perhaps a student spending a lot of extra time around the teacher or the teacher spending time with the student outside of school, then it’s good to raise concerns.

“Your gut will usually tell you that something is just not right,” Kutner said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Mar232017

Israeli-American arrested in connection to bomb threats against Jewish centers

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Jewish man who is a dual Israeli-American citizen has been arrested in Israel in connection with a series of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers and Jewish schools in the United States and other countries, sources told ABC News.

Police believe the man, 19, carried out fake bomb threats in New Zealand, Australia and against scores of Jewish institutions across the U.S.

He also allegedly called in fake bomb threats to two Delta flights at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2015, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The threats grounded the flights while passengers were evacuated and luggage was re-screened.

The suspect was arrested early Thursday morning in his family's home in the southern city of Ashkelon after a months-long investigation that included the FBI and European law enforcement agencies, Rosenfeld said.

Israeli police confiscated several computers, antennas, satellite equipment and other advanced technology. Some of the equipment was allegedly used to "camouflage" the suspect's voice for automated calls, Rosenfeld said. The suspect also allegedly had equipment that allowed him to use many different IP addresses, making it hard to trace him, Rosenfeld added.

According to an official briefed on the investigation, the suspect had been deemed insufficiently mentally stable to be drafted into the Israeli Army.

The suspect's attorney, Galit Bash, told ABC News in a statement, "This is a young man without a criminal record who suffers from serious medical problems from a young age. There is a concern that his medical condition affects his cognitive functions. In light of this, we asked the court to order the young man to undergo a medical examination. The court accepted our arguments and ordered the police to examine the young man's medical condition."

The suspect appeared in an Israeli court Thursday and the judge ruled that his identity would not be released until his next court appearance on March 30.

Police have not commented on the suspect's motives. It is unclear if the suspect will be tried in Israel or the U.S., police said.

Doron Krakow, president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America, said the organization is "troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish Community Centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all – is reportedly Jewish."

He continued, “Emblematic of the strength of JCCs and the important model they represent for acceptance, inclusion, and appreciation for diversity is the remarkable support we have received from communities and community leaders across North America, including civic, political and faith community leaders. Throughout this long running period of concern and disruption that we are hopeful has come to an end, JCCs have had the opportunity to review and assess our security protocols and procedures, and we are confident that JCCs are safer today than ever before."

Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister of public security, said in a statement following reports of the arrest, "I congratulate the Israeli Police on leading a complex international investigation, together with law enforcement agencies from around the world, which led to the arrest of the suspect. We hope that this investigation will help shed light on some of the recent threats against Jewish institutions, which have caused great concern both among Jewish communities and the Israeli government."

The FBI said in a statement, "Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI and we will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the arrest "the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country."

"The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs," Sessions said in a statement. "I commend the FBI and Israeli National Police for their outstanding work on this case.”

Across the U.S. this year there have been five waves of bomb threats at Jewish community centers and Jewish schools. The JCC Association of North America reported 100 incidents this year alone. No bombs were found at any of the locations. The FBI and Justice Department's civil rights division were investigating the incidents.

While the threats were false, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told ABC News earlier this month that the threats created "terror" for the people evacuated from the facilities -- including preschool children, the elderly and teenagers -- as well as their family members.

In a statement Thursday, Greenblatt called the crimes "acts of anti-Semitism."

"These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert," Greenblatt said. "Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern. No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers. JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant."

A former journalist arrested in the U.S. earlier this month was accused of making at least eight threats against JCCs, Jewish schools, a Jewish museum and the Anti-Defamation League. The man was not believed to have been the main suspect behind this year's rash of bomb threats. Law enforcement officials told ABC News the man appeared to take advantage of news coverage of the threats in order to exact revenge on a woman who had ended a romantic relationship.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Mar232017

Man arrested in alleged kidnapping where woman escaped from trunk of moving car

The Birmingham Police Department(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) -- Police arrested and charged a suspect on Wednesday in connection with an alleged Alabama kidnapping that ended when the victim escaped from the trunk of a moving car.

The suspect, Manuel Towns, is charged with the fraudulent use of a credit card, robbery in the first degree and kidnapping in the first degree in connection with the March 14 incident, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

The Birmingham Police Department sent out notice of the arrest via Twitter on Wednesday and posted an image of the suspect.

Towns is currently being held at the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham on $500,000 bail, the office said. It is not clear whether he is represented by an attorney or has entered a plea.

Police said the victim reported walking to her apartment in Birmingham last week when an unknown man approached her with a gun and demanded money.

The victim told police that after she told him she didn't have any money, the man forced her to drive around and later to get into the trunk.

While she was in the trunk, he eventually drove to a gas station and convenience store, where the woman was able to open the trunk and escape, just as the vehicle was starting to pull away, police said. She then ran inside and called 911 for help.

Police circulated an image of the man last week based on the gas station’s surveillance footage and asked for the public’s help in identifying him.

The woman suffered minor injuries when she jumped out of the car, according to ABC News affiliate WBMA in Birmingham.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Mar232017

Woman describes how she survived being stranded in Grand Canyon

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A woman who spent five days stranded in the Grand Canyon described the "true panic" of her harrowing experience in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

"I was panicking and crying and sobbing -- I was a mess," said Amber Vanhecke, 24, about the moment she first realized she was lost without GPS or cell reception.

Originally from Denton, Texas, Vanhecke was sight-seeing by herself near the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon when her GPS instructed her to make a wrong turn, and lead her through increasingly tough terrain.

An experienced Girl Scout and outdoor adventurer, Vanhecke had traveled by herself numerous times before and visited other national parks including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoias and Redwoods.

"I planned out my itinerary, had it posted on Facebook and stuff and off I went with some non-perishables and water," Vanhecke, a college student, said of the spring break trip she'd been planning since January. She left Denton and spent a day in Carlsbad, New Mexico, before driving the rest of the night to the Grand Canyon.

During her drive, she followed her GPS from a highway to a dirt road. But she eventually came across a more primitive road with grass and cacti.

"The problem was, the road wasn't there," she recalled. Vanhecke said that eventually her GPS stopped working entirely and her car ran out of gas.

As it started to get dark and she knew she was lost, Vanhecke started to worry about her spotty cellphone signal and GPS, which eventually stopped working. She was able to briefly get through to a 911 dispatcher in a moment of desperation.

"He said 'what's the nature of your emergency?' and I said 'please help me' because I was panicking and crying and sobbing." But then the call dropped.

"And that was the first moment I felt true panic," she said.

Using her outdoors knowledge, she slept until daylight and re-assessed her situation, but she said that day "no one drove by" past the road she was on.

The second day she made an SOS sign as well as a signal fire hoping that a helicopter or small plane would see her distress signal, both survival skills she said she learned as a girl scout and from movies and television shows.

"I felt very disconnected from just everything and everyone," Vanhecke said.

She initially thought a search party would be sent after her, but it soon became apparent that she might be on her own.

"[A]pparently there was a miscommunication somewhere and no one was looking for me at all," she said.

It dawned on Vanhecke that she would have to take her rescue into her own hands.

"I knew I wouldn't be found unless I did something to signal A, I was in distress, or B, rescue myself," she said.

On her fourth day she hiked toward a road to search for a cell signal and was passed by a large red truck. "I chased them as far as I could," but she said "they didn't hear me and they didn't see me."

"I woke up on the fifth day feeling pretty hopeful," Vanhecke said. Trekking a tiring 11 miles from her car and calling 911 every few minutes, she finally got through to help.

"I immediately stopped where I was because I didn't want to lose it," she said as she attempted to calmly explain her situation and location to authorities. The call cut out and she could not get a signal back out, so she walked back to her car hoping her brief call had this time done enough.

After 119 excruciating hours, a helicopter rescue crew spotted her car and the SOS sign, but Vanhecke was about 20 miles east of it. Fortunately, she had left a note explaining that she was out searching for help and to look for her or wait.

Authorities applauded Vanhecke's ingenuity and her ability to properly implement survival training skills.

"She did a lot of things that helped her survive," said Jonah Nieves, a member of the Air Rescue team with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. "Those notes were clues and those clues led us to where she was."

When the crew eventually found Vanhecke, she was treated for exposure and dehydration, and then transported via helicopter to a trauma center in Flagstaff, Arizona, authorities said.

One day after being rescued, Vanhecke resumed her sightseeing.

"There's this word that really suits me -- it's called Fernweh," Vanhecke said. "It means a longing for places you've never been and that's basically me. It's like wanderlust, but sounds fancier."

When asked how she kept it together, Vanhecke said, "I had stuff to do."

"Besides, I couldn't do that to my sister or my mom or my dad," she said. "I just felt like I had a lot unfinished, but I just wasn't going to give up."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Mar232017

Texas parents charged after leaving infant in parking lot

KTRK(KATY, Texas) — A couple was arrested on Tuesday after their eight-week-old baby boy was left in his car seat on the ground of a busy parking lot in Katy, Texas.

Sarah Shibley, 33, and Gary Collins, 39, were charged with endangering a child, ABC News affiliate KTRK reported Tuesday.

A man found the infant and handed him over to Dee Griffin-Stevens, a mother of three who said she cared for the baby until authorities arrived, the report said.

"I was crying. I was crying because I couldn't believe it was happening," Griffin-Stevens told KTRK. "I'm holding him and I'm thinking, 'Where's your mom?'"

She said the child was alone in the car seat without a bottle or a blanket.

Griffin-Stevens' friend captured the emotional moment on video.

Authorities estimate the baby had been alone for about 45 minutes before the man found him.

Shibley, the baby’s mother, was crying when she was arrested after returning to the scene, according to the KTRK report.

During the couple's first court appearance on Wednesday, a prosecutor said the couple had left the child there by mistake.

"Mrs. Shibley advised she walked out of work with the child in her hand and placed him on the ground. She says she thought Mr. Collins grabbed the child and put him in the vehicle. Apparently, nobody did," the prosecutor said.

The baby is currently in Child Protective Services’ custody until workers can find relatives to care for him.

A CPS spokeswoman described him as a "happy, healthy, chunky baby who looks as if he has been cared for."

Both Shibley and Collins have requested court-appointed attorneys. They are scheduled to appear back in court on Thursday.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Mar232017

Police officer, three other people killed in Wisconsin shooting rampage

iStock/Thinkstock(ROTHSCHILD, Wis.) — Four people including a police officer were killed in Wisconsin Wednesday after a domestic dispute escalated into shootings at three different locations — a bank, a law firm and an apartment complex — and a dramatic standoff between police and the suspect, officials said.

The suspect is in custody, police said.

Around 12:30 p.m., police responded to a "domestic situation" at Marathon Savings Bank in Rothschild. When they arrived, police discovered two people had been shot. The suspect was not there.

Police then received a call about 10 minutes later from the law firm Tlusty, Kennedy and Dirks in nearby Schofield, where the suspect killed one person.

Then at 1:30, another person was killed at an apartment complex in Weston, where the suspect had barricaded himself in an apartment.

After a few hours of negotiations, there was an exchange of gunfire. The suspect was injured and transported to local hospital in an unknown condition.

Nearby schools and a hospital went on lockdown. The lockdowns were later lifted.

At some point during the events, an officer with the Everest Metro Police Department was fatally shot. Everest Metro is a small, 27-officer force that serves Schofield and Weston.

Police did not provide any further details about the office, nor the other victims or suspect.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Stabbing suspect came to New York to 'target black males,' say police

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The fatal stabbing of a 66-year-old man in New York City on Monday night is being investigated as a bias crime, according to police.

Authorities identified the suspect as James Harris Jackson, 28, of Maryland, an Army veteran who'd served in Afghanistan.

Assistant Chief Bill Aubry said during a news conference on Wednesday that Jackson has a deep-seated hatred of black people. Police say he allegedly wrote a manifesto about attacking blacks in New York City.

"It is believed that he was specifically intending to target male blacks for assault," he said. "The reason why he picked New York is because it's the media capital of the world and he wanted to make a statement."

He is in custody and is being charged with murder, police said. Jackson has not yet entered a plea and is expected to be arraigned Wednesday evening.

"Based on statements that he made, the subject, as well as a preliminary review of video, it reveals that the attack on [victim] Timothy Caughman was clearly racially motivated," Aubry said.

Aubry said Jackson arrived from Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday via BoltBus and then stayed at a Midtown hotel from Friday to Monday afternoon. Aubry said video surveillance footage had captured Jackson wandering through the city.

Police said the fatal stabbing occurred around 11:15 p.m. Monday, as Caughman, a can and bottle recycler, was rifling through the trash.

Police said Jackson walked into a police substation in Times Square a little after midnight today, allegedly saying that he was wanted for a murder that had occurred 24 hours earlier.

Knives were found in his possession, police said. Aubry said police had recovered a 26-inch black mini sword, which investigators believe to be the murder weapon. Aubry said that Jackson did not attack anyone else.

Police said Caughman walked more than a block to a police precinct before collapsing. He was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital.

Aubry said that Jackson is still being questioned by police. Aubry said authorities are working to upgrade charges to a possible hate crime or racially motivated crime.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Ex-teacher accused of kidnapping teen believed to have watched TV show about living off the grid: sources

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(NEW YORK) -- A former Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old student is believed to have watched a TV show about living off the grid before the pair disappeared, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

Tad Cummins, 50, is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Thomas on March 13. As the manhunt intensifies, officials say there have been no credible sightings of the duo. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine told ABC News that if the duo isn’t outside the Southeast, they are likely "off the grid" in a rural area.

Three days before the alleged kidnapping, Cummins did online research about his car "to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement," the TBI said Tuesday.

He also researched if his SUV was suitable for camping, law enforcement officials said.

Cummins, a married father and grandfather, researched teen marriage online as well, specifically the age of consent, according to law enforcement officials.

The TBI said that Cummins, who was fired one day after the alleged kidnapping, "may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom [the teen] ... in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her."

One of Thomas' schoolmates had reported seeing Thomas and Cummins kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a school district investigative report, but Thomas and Cummins denied the claim.

Thomas' sister told ABC News that the 15-year-old was bullied in school by students and teachers after the reported kiss and told her "I just have to get away, we have to get away."

"I can't handle this anymore . .. all the teachers, all the kids constantly saying mean things, I can't handle it,’" the sister said.

Cummins is wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. An Amber Alert has been issued for Thomas.

Authorities say Cummins is believed to be armed and that the teen is "in imminent danger."

Authorities said neither Thomas nor Cummins has been in touch with family members.

Cummins' wife, Jill, pleaded with her husband Friday to "come home."

"I had no idea my husband was involved with anything that has led to all this. My heart breaks for the family of Beth Thomas,” she said. “Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this. ... Your family wants their poppy back. Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”

In an interview with ABC News Monday, the teen's father, Anthony Thomas, said he wants his daughter to "please let us know you are all right and please come home to us."

Thomas family attorney Jason Whatley told ABC News that Cummins was "taking advantage” of his student and "manipulating her into leaving with him."

"We are very concerned about the control that he has over her," Whatley said. "We believe that is 100 percent the reason why she is missing at this point. He is the problem, she is not. She’s a child, she’s a victim."

Cummins is described as 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. He may be driving a 2015 silver Nissan Rogue with a Tennessee license plate number 976-ZPT.

Elizabeth Thomas is described as 5-foot-5 and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing leggings and a flannel shirt.

Authorities are asking that anyone with information call 1-800-TBI-FIND and that anyone who sees a car with a Tennessee license plate 976-ZPT call 911. A $1,000 reward is available for information leading to Cummins' arrest.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Feds conducted series of tests to determine credibility of new aviation threat

Purestock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — U.S. authorities became convinced that security measures for certain U.S.-bound flights needed to be boosted only after conducting a series of tests to determine the credibility of new intelligence indicating that ISIS associates were trying to develop explosives-laden electronics that could be smuggled onboard planes, ABC News has learned.

The tests were executed in recent weeks and led authorities to one conclusion: "It can be done," as one source put it.

The Department of Homeland Security ultimately banned all electronics bigger than a cellphone from the cabins of some direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries.

Sources said that the airports affected by the restrictions were not directly named in the most recent threat intelligence gathered by authorities, but those airports were identified through intelligence analysis paired with other government information.

In an interview with ABC News, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned about the "new aviation threat."

"We know that our adversaries, terrorist groups in the United States and outside the United States, seek to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner. That’s one of their highest value targets. And we’re doing everything we can right now to prevent that from happening," Swalwell said Tuesday.

Nearly two years ago, ABC News first reported that an internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of major U.S. airports. Undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News reported. The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Mar222017

California high school student in custody after threatening a Columbine-style shooting attack

iStock/Thinkstock(CHINO, Calif.) — A Southern California high school student was taken into custody on Tuesday for allegedly threatening to carry out a Columbine-style shooting attack.

The 15-year-old Chino High School student from Ontario allegedly made the threats via Twitter, ABC affiliate KABC reported Tuesday, citing the Chino Police Department.

The teenager, whose identity was withheld, allegedly tweeted, "I'm recreating Columbine" and "Chino needs a good shooting," according to a group known as "The Tactical Institute," who saw the messages and reported them to police, the report said.

The comments refer to the 1999 shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado where two students killed 13 people before taking their own lives. The shooting is the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history.

The student is currently being held at a juvenile facility in San Bernardino on suspicion of criminal threats, according to KABC.

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