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Saturday
Apr222017

Girl Scout troop is 'first single troop' for homeless girls in New York

Courtesy of NYC Council Member Jimmy Van Bramers office(NEW YORK) -- It's what the Girl Scouts of Greater New York is calling a first.

Girl Scout Troop 6000 -- which serves homeless girls and women in New York -- is the first "full single unit...that serves girls in shelters" in the nation, Meridith Maskara, the organization's chief operating officer, told ABC News.

It was created back in February by Giselle Burgess, a homeless woman who serves as a community engagement specialist for Girl Scouts of Greater New York.

She began the troop out of a Sleep Inn, located in Long Island City, Queens, that has been turned into a 10-floor homeless shelter that serves 100 homeless families.

Burgess told the New York Times, who first reported on the troop, that her organization is not only paying for the girls' monthly dues, but they also covered the costs of membership fees and starter kits.

Maskara noted that many times families will be "reassigned within the shelter system. Their family can get moved without notice within the city."

"The troop says [to the girls] although other things in your life won't be consistent, we will be. We'll be your anchor," she added.

Troop 6000 currently has a membership of 23 girls, ranging from kindergarten students to high school students. They meet weekly to organize and execute several community service projects that benefit their community -- from planting seeds in local gardens to learning how to become mentors.

Council Member Van Bramer visited the Long Island City homeless shelter last November to serve Thanksgiving dinner, he told ABC News in a statement.

"Last November, I joined the Girl Scouts of Greater New York to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter for women in Queens. It was there that we dreamed of a Girl Scout troop created specifically for homeless girls," he said in a statement. "With Troop 6000, that dream became a reality.

"I’ve met the members of Troop 6000, who all live in a shelter in my district, and I can tell you that they have big dreams. They are our future engineers, fashion designers, athletes, doctors, activists, and community leaders. With Troop 6000, these girls now have a place to realize these dreams, find stability, make lifelong friends, and discover the strength they have inside to be whoever they want to be. Troop 6000 is just about the most right thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m committed to its expansion all across New York City," Van Bramer concluded.

Girl Scouts of Greater New York already wants to expand the troop, offering their services to more homeless girls in New York.

Maskara said, "There's such a need."

"We're doing what we do best: give girls courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place," she continued. "They’ve really bonded together as a unit, immensely. It’s beautiful to see the transformation."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr222017

Wildfires rage across Florida, destroying homes and displacing thousands

iStock/Thinkstock(NAPLES, Fla.) -- Three separate wildfires raged across parts of Florida on Saturday, burning up homes and forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.

One blaze has burned 5,500 acres and destroyed nine homes in Collier County near Naples as of Saturday morning. Approximately 7,000 homes have been evacuated since Friday night, according to the Collier County Sheriff's Office.

More than 500 public safety professionals are working to contain the fire, assist with evacuations and manage traffic in the area. Just 10 percent of the fire was contained as of 9 a.m. ET Saturday, the sheriff’s office said.

Authorities are strongly urging those in the mandatory evacuation zone to leave as soon as possible. As many as 10 aircraft will fly over the blaze Saturday attempting to drop water on the flames, according to the sheriff's office.

The Caloosahatchee Forestry Center said Saturday there is a 5-mile temporary flight restriction in place around the fire in Collier County.

 

 

In central Florida's Polk County, the entire Indian Lake Estates subdivision, which encompasses some 800 homes and 8,000 lots, is under a mandatory evacuation due to a large wildfire that authorities suspect may have been intentionally set.

"Several structures are on fire. Fire crews need residents to leave the area so firefighters can protect structures," the Polk County Fire Rescue said in a statement on its Facebook page Friday.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter Friday night at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Wales for those displaced by the fires in the Indian Lake Estates.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, authorities had lifted the evacuation order.

"Residents can return home after 4 p.m.," the Polk County Fire Rescue said in a statement on its Facebook page. "There is still smoke and could be flareups, so firefighters and forestry will remain all night. Please drive carefully coming home."

Authorities believe the initial blaze started late afternoon on Friday and has since spread to multiple fires that are burning in the area of Ponce de Leon Road, Magnolia Drive, Red Range Road and Winter Haven Road. Fire officials said several structures have been destroyed but did not specify an exact number.

About 700 acres were ablaze and 60 percent of the fire was contained as of 2 p.m. ET Saturday, officials said.

The cause of the wildfire remains under investigation, but authorities suspect it could be arson. The Florida Forestry Arson Alert Association is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Just last week, firefighters were deployed to the Indian Lake Estates area to extinguish several fires that came dangerously close to nearby homes. Those blazes were deemed "suspicious" by the Florida Forest Service.

"There's no evidence the fires are occurring naturally," Ricky Britt of forest service, said in an April 12 statement. "The cause of the fires needs to be investigated, so investigators will be looking into it."

Meanwhile, a 400-acre brush fire in Lee County has destroyed at least 13 structures in Lehigh Acres near Fort Myers. The fire was 95 percent contained as of 8 a.m. ET Saturday, according to the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center.

Multiple homes, structures and vehicles have been damaged or destroyed in the fire, officials said.

Investigators determined the cause was a discarded cigarette on 19th Street Southwest that grew into a fire that spread 2 miles.

"We were able to find the origin site and, in the middle, found a cigarette," Dale Reisen, an investigator with the Lee County Arson Task Force, said at a press conference Saturday afternoon.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

Missing Tenn. student Elizabeth Thomas is 'resting' after reuniting with her family

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) -- The 15-year-old Tennessee girl who was allegedly kidnapped by her former teacher has been reunited with her family and friends, the family's attorney said in a statement.

Elizabeth Thomas returned to Tennessee on Friday and is currently in a "safe location with family and friends where she is comfortable and resting," said Jason Whatley, who is representing the Thomas family.

The teen was transported home on an aircraft owned by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The agency sent the plane to northern California after Elizabeth was found on Thursday, along with her 50-year-old former teacher, in a remote cabin in Cecilville, a rural, isolated area near the California-Oregon border that has little to no cell service, authorities said.

Mental health experts specializing in trauma are evaluating and treating Elizabeth, Whatley said.

"There is no doubt that she has suffered severe emotional trauma and that her process of recovery is only just beginning," Whatley said. "The family is extremely grateful for the thoughts and prayers of the nation and asks sincerely for those continued prayers as Elizabeth becomes able to process the last 39 days."

Whatley said that after meeting the teen for the first time, he was "taken aback at who she is."

"Elizabeth is a little child," Whatley said. "She could easily pass for 12. The primary photo used and reprinted so many times by law enforcement, the media, and even our office, is inaccurate. She is a little girl in every sense of the word."

Whatley continued, "This was the abduction of an impressionable, little child."

Tad Cummins surrendered to police Thursday morning without incident as he exited the cabin, according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department. He faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, said Lawrence County Attorney General Brent Cooper.

The U.S. State Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee has also filed a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with the intent of having criminal sexual intercourse against Cummins, according to U.S. attorney Jack Smith. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Cummins also faces charges in Siskiyou County for kidnapping and possession of stolen property, according to the sheriff's department. He was expected to be arraigned in California on Friday, but the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department said he was taken into FBI custody and will likely be brought back to Tennessee. The federal warrant provided by the FBI superseded any local charges filed in Tennessee and California.

Elizabeth had been missing since March 13 when she was allegedly kidnapped by Cummins, who had been added to Tennessee's Top 10 Most Wanted list.

After Elizabeth was found, she was described by authorities to be "healthy and unharmed," but they added that the main concern is the state of her emotional and mental well-being.

The family is asking for privacy at this time, Whatley said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

Arizona police questioning person of interest in Phoenix serial shootings that killed 7

Phoenix Police Department(PHOENIX) -- Police in Phoenix are investigating a person of interest in connection with a series of shootings that occurred in 2016 that claimed 7 lives, a law enforcement source told ABC News.

In July, the Phoenix Police Department announced that it was searching for a gunman believed to be responding for a string of shootings, all of which occurred in the same neighborhood.

The same gunman is believed to be responsible for at least nine shooting incidents that killed seven people between March 2016 and June 2016.

The man being questioned by police is already in jail and has not yet been named a suspect, according police.

The first attack occurred on March 17, 2016, when a 16-year-old was shot while walking around 11:30 p.m. The teen survived the shooting.

The majority of the shootings followed a similar pattern.

In July, detectives released a composite sketch of the suspect with the help of a witness. The suspect had been described as a white male in his early 20s with a skinny or lanky build.

It is unclear if the victims were targeted or selected at random.

Authorities are still looking for tips from the public as they continue the investigation. The Phoenix Police Department had offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the suspect's arrest.

“Someone out there knows who did this. We need our community to call us or Silent Witness and help us solve these cases, bring justice to these families and victims and prevent more violence from occurring,” said Phoenix Police Chief Joseph Yahner in July.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

Memphis high school senior class collects more than $80 million in scholarship offers 

Shelby County Schools Newsroom(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- While students across the nation continue to narrow down their college options, Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Tennessee, is already in full-fledged celebration mode with its 2017 senior class so far being offered more than $80 million in college scholarships.

Whitehaven held its annual Academic Signing Day last week to honor the academic success of its senior students, who at the time had been offered more than $65 million in scholarships, with over 40 students each scoring a million dollars in offers.

Labeled as the “Million Dollar Tigers” for their success, Whitehaven students have taken to Twitter to boast of their accomplishments and announce the schools they will be attending this fall.

Among them is Zariah Nolan, who told ABC News that she alone has been offered about $9.6 million in scholarship money, including 17 full-ride offers.

Taking advantage of group application fees like the Common Black College Application, which allows students to apply to any number of 51 historically black colleges and universities at the same time for $35, Nolan, 18, applied to nearly 100 schools across the country before choosing to attend Dillard University in New Orleans.

“My principal always told us you never know where life can take you so apply anywhere just to see,” said the 3.5-GPA student who started applying to college months before her senior year even started.

As one of 55 high schools in Tennessee’s Shelby County school district, Whitehaven has a student population that’s 99 percent African-American, with 78 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, according to U.S. News & World Reports.

With an enrollment of nearly 2,000 students, the Tennessee high school scores high marks in the Memphis metro area when ranked by graduation rates, SAT/ACT scores, Advanced Placement enrollment, state test scores and best teachers, according to data-analyzing website Niche.

Nolan, who will be the first of her three siblings to attend college, credits her mother, godmother and English teacher for helping her attain success.

“I had an English teacher name Ms. Young who attended Duke University and Loyola Marymount University in California and I was like, this woman is all over the place. She is an alumni of Whitehaven High School and she came back to teach before she went off to law school,” Nolan said.

“I used her as a great resource to figure out what I needed to do to get scholarship money and I had her look over my essays. I needed motivation from someone who had done it and she has been there every step of the way.”

Principal Vincent J. Hunter says the breakdown of his team at Whitehaven is unique in that 32 staff members are graduates of the high school.

“It’s really personal for us,” Hunter, who is also a Whitehaven alum, said. “It’s important for us to be our brother’s keeper and we work hard to make sure our kids are prepared for life after graduation.”

His students appear to be far ahead of others when it comes to being offered grant and scholarship money, which averages $7,980 for U.S. students from households with less than $110,000 in yearly income, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Hunter has been principal at Whitehaven since March 2004. In the past five years, the school has gained more than $400 million in academic scholarship offers, including $132 million last year.

“Our principal really loves his students,” senior MacKenzie Walker, 18, said. “He has had several opportunities to be a principal at other schools but he chose to stay at Whitehaven because he truly loves the community.”

Walker, who plans to attend Virginia’s Hampton University in the fall as a broadcast journalism major and Spanish minor, has received a total of $3, 982,708 in scholarship offers, including 17 full-rides.

With the goal to keep its students motivated toward academic success, Whitehaven started a Fortune 500 Club in 2006, mirrored after Fortune magazine’s Fortune 500 list where its vision, mission and credibility is linked to scholarship offers .

“We just want to create a culture where it’s cool to be smart,” principal Hunter said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

Inside the isolated cabin where Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins were found

ABC News(CECILVILLE, Calif.) -- The tiny cabin where authorities found former Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins and his 15-year-old student, Elizabeth Thomas, is nestled in the woods in a remote, mountainous area of inland, northernmost California near the Oregon border.

ABC News traveled to Cecilville and was able to catch a glimpse of the isolated cabin where the pair stayed, although much of the area is cordoned off for the ongoing investigation.

The cabin is situated next to another one that looks identical. Both structures are very small and newly built, according to locals, with fresh wood and metal roofs. ABC News learned the cabins have no electricity or running water.

ABC News also learned that a local man, who goes by the name "Monk," is paying for the development in the area, including the cabins, which are off a side road near a river.

The cabins are located some 200 yards away from a not-fully running "saloon," which houses a working phone, indoor plumbing and electricity for the rural property. ABC News was told that Monk also has a working phone in his personal cabin.

The saloon in Cecilville has a gas pump and a small fridge with water and energy drinks for purchase using the honor system -- a cash box kept inside the fridge.

A few other cabins and run-down homes sparsely scatter the rural property.

Cecilville is a remote area with little to no cell phone service in Siskiyou County. It's located more than two hours away from the nearest town of Yreka, via a windy mountain road, and nearly 2,500 miles away from Elizabeth's home in Tennessee.

Local resident Griffin Barry said in an interview Friday with ABC News' "Good Morning America" that he came across Cummins and Elizabeth at the gas station earlier this week. Cummins told Barry their names were John and Joanna and that the teen was 24. Cummins said they were running out of gas, food and money and they needed a place to stay, Barry told "GMA."

Barry said he paid to fuel up their car, gave them an extra $40 in cash and set them up in the cabin on the property. Cummins and Elizabeth stayed there for two nights, Barry told "GMA."

During that time, Barry said, he didn't talk to the pair much, but he noticed Cummins tried to "keep her away" and "was always dominating the conversation."

After picking up on these "clues" and realizing who they were, Barry said he immediately called 911.

Authorities from the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department confirmed their location early Thursday morning. Deputies set up a perimeter around the cabin and elected to wait until daylight to arrest Cummins as he exited the residence, according to the sheriff's department.

When Cummins exited the cabin around 9:30 a.m. local time, he surrendered without incident and was taken into custody. Cummins told deputies he was armed but not dangerous and said he would fully cooperate. Two loaded handguns were found inside the cabin, according to the sheriff's department.

Cummins, 50, is charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, according to Brent Cooper, the district attorney general for Giles, Lawrence, Maury and Wayne counties in Tennessee.

The U.S. State Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee has also filed a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with intent of having criminal sexual intercourse against Cummins, according to U.S. attorney Jack Smith. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Cummins also faces charges in California's Siskiyou County for kidnapping and possession of stolen property, according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department. Those charges are pending review by Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.

Cummins was in the custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department without bond on Thursday while he awaited extradition to Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department told ABC News that Cummins would be arraigned Friday.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department initially told ABC News that Cummins was expected to be arraigned Friday afternoon. But FBI officials arrived at the sheriff's department Friday morning with a federal warrant to take custody of Cummins, superseding all local charges in Tennessee and possible charges in California. Cummins is now in the custody of the FBI and will likely be brought back to Tennessee.

Elizabeth was safely recovered by law enforcement officers and is expected to be reunited with her family Friday.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

What we know about former Tenn. teacher Tad Cummins' relationship with 15-year-old student Elizabeth Thomas

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation(CULLEOKA, Tenn.) -- After more than a month on the run amid a nationwide manhunt, former Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins was found with his 15-year-old student, Elizabeth Thomas, in far northern California.

Cummins was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. On Friday, the FBI took custody of Cummins under a federal warrant, which supersedes all local charges. The FBI is expected to take him back to Tennessee.

Elizabeth will be reunited with her family in Tennessee Friday.

Here's what is known about the days leading up to her alleged abduction, her time spent on the run with Cummins and how authorities finally located them thousands of miles away.

Jan. 23

One of Elizabeth's schoolmates reported seeing her and Cummins kiss in his classroom at Culleoka Unit School in Culleoka, Tennessee, on Jan. 23. Both denied the claim, but the school district in Maury County decided to investigate the allegation.

Jan. 30

A report from the school district dated Jan. 30 stated that neither Cummins nor Elizabeth "admitted to behaving inappropriately towards the other." Cummins said Elizabeth, a student in his forensics class, is "a really good friend" who sees him "when she needs someone to calm her down." He said he loved his wife and would never cheat on her, the report stated.

The report concluded that it "could not be confirmed" the alleged kiss happened. However, the report said Elizabeth would be removed from Cummins' class and that "Cummins will be reprimanded in regards to his duty to uphold his professional responsibility and behavior."

Feb. 3


The school district wrote a letter to Cummins on Feb. 3, stating that Elizabeth was in the teacher’s classroom that day, which the letter said violated a previous order by the school district.

Feb. 6

The school district wrote another letter to Cummins on Feb. 6, telling him he is suspended without pay immediately "pending an investigation."

An attorney for the Thomas family wrote a letter to the school district superintendent on Feb. 6, claiming that Elizabeth’s father was never alerted by the district about the alleged incident and found out about it on Jan. 31, more than a week after the kiss allegedly happened, when sheriff's deputies called to ask him questions.

The lawyer's letter also suggested the teen was communicating with the teacher through her cellphone. "Upon inspection of her cellphone the two are also having telephone communications," the attorney's letter stated.

March 5

Cummins, a married father and grandfather, researched "teen marriage" online, specifically the age of consent, on March 5, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

March 10

Cummins conducted an online search about his car "to determine if certain features could be tracked by law enforcement," according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

March 13

Elizabeth urgently woke up her sister Sarah on March 13 and made her promise to call the police if she’s not home by 6 p.m. that night.

Sarah later told ABC News that Elizabeth sounded "serious," not happy.

"She's not a serious person," Sarah said.

Elizabeth was seen around 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. local time at a Shoney's restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee, where she is dropped off by a friend, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. She never returned home that night.

Surveillance footage from a gas station near the restaurant appeared to show Cummins at about 8:30 a.m. filling up his silver Nissan Rogue.

Later that same afternoon, a cellphone ping placed the pair in Decatur, Alabama, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

March 14

Cummins was officially fired from his teaching job at Culleoka Unit School.

An Amber Alert was issued for Elizabeth.

March 15

Surveillance cameras at a Walmart in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, captured Cummins and Elizabeth in the store on the afternoon of March 15.

Investigators later obtained and released images from the surveillance footage.

The footage showed the pair entering the Walmart together, where Cummins used cash to buy food. He didn’t buy "anything else of significance," according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

In the video, Cummins has "an altered appearance to darken his hair" and indicated that "Elizabeth may currently have red hair," according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

March 17

Cummins, wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, was added to Tennessee’s 10 most wanted list.

March 28

Brent Cooper, the district attorney general for Giles, Lawrence, Maury and Wayne counties in Tennessee, asked members of the public to share the Amber Alert for Elizabeth with friends and family members in Mexico and Central America, adding that Mexican law enforcement had been notified and "it's possible that's where they are."

Cooper said Cummins "planned this in such a way that he had a 24-hour head start ... easily enough time for him to make it to Mexico."

March 31

A lawyer for Cummins' wife, Jill Cummins, said she had filed for divorce after 31 years of marriage.

"Jill will attempt to move forward with her life," attorney Michael Cox said in a statement provided to ABC News. "Jill continues to pray for the safe return of Elizabeth Thomas and for a peaceful resolution to this ordeal."

April 11

Cooper told ABC News that Cummins is on medication to control his blood pressure and should need a refill. Pharmacists were asked to be on alert for customers who look like Cummins or Elizabeth.

Cooper also told ABC News that Cummins left a note for his wife the morning he vanished. Cooper didn’t provide details on what was in the note, but said it appeared to have been a diversion to throw investigators off the trail.

April 18

Griffin Barry, a resident in far northern California, met Cummins and Elizabeth at a gas station in a very rural area of Cecilville.

Cummins told Barry, who lives on a property that includes the gas station, their names are John and Joanna and that they need money for gas, food and a place to stay.

Barry paid to fuel up their car, gave them an extra $40 in cash and set them up in a nearby cabin on the same property where he resides.

Barry didn't talk much with the pair, he said, but became increasingly suspicious the more he interacts with them.

"The girl wasn't really looking at me or anything and he was always dominating the conversation. That kind of clues people in," Barry later told ABC News' "Good Morning America."

April 19

After realizing who Cummins and Elizabeth really were, Barry called 911 on April 19.

"I had a photo of him that was the Amber Alert and I was like, that’s definitely the guy, and then we saw the car as well and it matched up. Then we called the police right after that," Barry later told "GMA."

Around 11 p.m. local time on April 19, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received a call to its tip line about a possible sighting of the duo, according to the bureau’s public information officer, Josh Devine.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department in northern California, received a similar tip, according to Devine.

Investigators located a Nissan Rogue and were able to confirm through its VIN number that it belonged to Cummins. The car was kept under surveillance for several hours.

April 20

Authorities from the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department located Cummins and Elizabeth at a cabin in a rural area in remote Cecilville, nearly 2,500 miles from Elizabeth’s home in Tennessee.

Authorities were deployed to the location around 2 a.m. local time and deputies set up a perimeter around the cabin. They elected to wait until daylight to arrest Cummins as he exited the residence, according to the sheriff’s department.

Around 9:30 a.m. local time, Cummins exited the cabin and surrendered without incident. He was subsequently placed under arrest. Two loaded handguns were found in the cabin, according to the sheriff's department.

Elizabeth also exited the cabin and was safely recovered by law enforcement officers.

"After we placed them into protective custody, she was laughing, she was crying. She was kind of an emotional roller coaster, as you can imagine," Lieutenant Behr Tharsing of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department later told "GMA."

Cummins was charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor, according to Cooper.

The U.S. State Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee also filed a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with intent of having criminal sexual intercourse against Cummins, according to U.S. attorney Jack Smith. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Cummins also faces charges in California’s Siskiyou County for kidnapping and possession of stolen property, according to the sheriff's department. The charges are pending review by Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.

Cummins was in the custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department without bond, until Friday.

April 21

FBI officials arrived at the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department around 8:30 a.m. local time on April 21 with a federal warrant to take custody of Cummins, superseding all local charges in Tennessee and possible charges in California.

Cummins is in the custody of the FBI and is expected to be taken back to Tennessee.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

Georgia mother sues school district after son dies on a class trip in Belize: 'He was everything to me'

Adell Forbes(NEW YORK) -- One mother from Georgia is taking legal action after her 14-year-old son died while on a class trip to Belize last year, and is warning other parents to "trust no one" when it comes to sending your children on international school trips.

Tomari Jackson, 14, was on a trip with his North Cobb High School Biology class last February in Belize when he died after drowning in a river during a chaperoned excursion.

For the past 14 months, Tomari's mother, Adell Forbes, has been seeking an explanation as to what caused her son's death.

"I dropped him off at the airport ... hours later ... I got a call that he was missing," Forbes told ABC News. "Eventually, someone from the [U.S.] embassy said, 'We recovered his body from 30 feet of water.'"

Forbes continued, "Out of all those people there, how could he have just disappeared into thin air?"

More than a year after her son's death, Forbes received package in the mail that contained a video from a small camera her son had strapped to his head at the time that he died. The U.S. State Department had sent the package of Tomari's belongings to her after receiving it from Monkey Bay Sanctuary, where he was staying at in Belize.

The recording, shot from Tomari's point of view, shows the teen as he rinsed his shoes in the river and walked towards the shore. The video continues to show Tomari swimming, and then appears to show him struggling.

The video also captures classmates and chaperones around Tomari as he was struggling in the water, and depicts him calling out for help -- three times -- to those around him.

The harrowing footage is now the focus of Forbes' lawsuit against the school district and Monkey Bay Sanctuary.

"There were multiple opportunities to save Tomari's life," Forbes said. "In my mind, I'm thinking it takes seconds to extend your hand and pull someone up, so there were multiple opportunities to save him. That's when I realized how deep it was where they were, so it was just mind blowing that that was allowed to happen."

C.K. Hoffler, Forbes' attorney, told ABC News that it was only after the students and the chaperones returned to their bus that they realized Tomari was missing. His body was not recovered by authorities until the next day.

"It took an hour to realize that Tomari, the only African-American boy on that trip, was missing," Hoffler said. "So they must not have been paying attention."

Hoffler added that in the video left behind by Tomari, "the chaperones are in his plain view."

"And they do nothing," Hoffler said. "They should have been watching every single child, and forgive me if I'm angry, but this is unacceptable. My oldest son is the same age as Tomari was ... It's unacceptable, it's inexcusable."

The Cobb County School District told ABC News that they could not comment on the pending litigation.

Forbes told ABC News that "any respect I have for that school is gone."

"Tomari may had been an afterthought to many, but to me he was everything to me, like just the center of my world," she said.

The Monkey Bay Sanctuary told ABC News they "continue to grieve the tragic loss of Tomari Jackson."

"All of us at Monkey Bay and in the local communities where our student guests conduct volunteer service learning projects continue to grieve the tragic loss of Tomari Alijah Jackson, the 14-year old North Cobb High School student who passed due to drowning in Feb 2016 while participating in a study-abroad service learning program," the sanctuary said in a statement to ABC News. "Monkey Bay is an environmental education centre that serves as an Education Abroad hosting facility for schools all over the world. We have been assisting faculty-led programs for the past 23 years, providing students and their leaders access to the natural and cultural diversity Belize offers."

The statement continued, "Our Monkey Bay Crew is very compassionate about our work. We are in good standing with all local licensing and regulatory agencies, and actively maintain and rehearse safety and security procedures on a recurring basis. Immediately following Tomari's accident, Monkey Bay directors reached out and communicated with Tomari's family and witnessed to his mother Adell what had happened at the Sibun River. Matt Miller, Monkey Bay Managing Director, traveled to Atlanta with Tomari's remains to meet with Adell and personally express our collective sorrow for the accident. We also contributed funds to assist with funeral expenses and later visited Tomari's gravesite in Marietta, GA to pay our respects."

The sanctuary also acknowledged in the statement the "compassion and heartfelt sympathy expressed to us by many" since Tomari's death, writing, "These include the North Cobb High School chaperones, the Principal of the high school, the parents of the students enrolled in the school's International Studies Magnet Program, the US Embassy in Belize, the Belize Police Department and Belize Coast Guard, and the Clergy in Belize who have been praying with us continually."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr212017

Arkansas carries out first execution since 2005

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The state of Arkansas carried out its first execution in 12 years on Thursday just before midnight, after a series of rejected appeals that reached all the way up to the Supreme Court cleared the way for 51-year-old Ledell Lee to be put to death by lethal injection.

The execution took place after several last-minute appeals temporarily postponed the execution, which was initially scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that a federal appellate court had "denied all requests from inmate Ledell Lee for a stay of his execution," in a Twitter post at shortly after 9:00 p.m., noting that a temporary stay issued earlier by the Supreme Court remained in place while more appeals were considered.

But after 11:00 p.m., the Supreme Court issued orders denying the outstanding appeal requests, allowing the execution to proceed.

According to on-site reports from ABC station KATV, the Arkansas Department of Corrections said the first drug was administered at 11:44 p.m., and Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m.

Lee was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of Debra Reese, who was beaten to death inside her home. Lee and his attorneys have maintained his innocence in the crime.

The ACLU and the Innocence Project have contributed to Lee's defense. His attorneys appealed for a delay in his execution so evidence from his criminal case could be released for DNA testing.

"Arkansas’s decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence," Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, said in a statement. "While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent."

Arkansas originally planned to carry out a series of eight executions over the span of just 11 days -- an unprecedented number in such a short amount of time -- before one of the drugs it uses in lethal injections expires at the end of the month.

Legal challenges had until Thursday night prevented the state from following through on any of them.

"Tonight the lawful sentence of a jury which has been upheld by the courts through decades of challenges has been carried out," said Attorney General Rutledge in a statement. "I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family."

The Supreme Court played a key role in Thursday's execution. In his first votes since joining the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the conservative majority in denying multiple requests to stay Lee's execution.

"Why these eight? Why now?" Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent. "The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes ... the reason the State decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the ‘use by’ date of the State’s execution drug is about to expire."

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Friday
Apr212017

Oregon man arrested after setting stranger ablaze at Denny's restaurant

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An Oregon man was arrested after police said he poured gasoline on a stranger and then lit him on fire at a Denny's restaurant in Happy Valley, Oregon, ABC affiliate KATU reported on Thursday.

The 24-year old man, identified by police as Deshaun Swanger according to KATU, was arrested shortly before 8 p.m. local time. Police said the suspect poured liquid onto the victim, a 69-year old man who is now in critical condition, and then lobbed a burning object at him. The suspect then fled the scene.

"This just seems like a, a random act of violence," said Sgt. Jason Ritter of the Clackamas County Sheriff's office, according to the KATU report.

The victim was taken a local hospital, where he remained in critical condition as of Thursday, KATU said.

A surveillance tape recorded the suspect walking into the restaurant, and police put out a notice of his description.

He was later apprehended, with the local Clackamas County Sheriff's Office tweeting, "We got him!"


"We are deeply disturbed by the senseless, random act of violence that took place at our franchised-owned Happy Valley restaurant, and our thoughts and prayers are with our guest that was seriously injured," read a statement from a Denny's spokesperson provided to KATU.

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