Review Category : National News

Church Fires: ATF Has No Reason to Believe They’re Racially Motivated or Related

Evan F. Sisley/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Federal investigators say they have no reason to believe that a series of church fires in the South were racially motivated or related, according to a statement from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The fires came amid heightened tensions caused by the racially charged massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina church that left nine people, including a pastor, dead and an uproar over the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina statehouse.

On their Facebook page, the ATF said that it has special agents and certified fire investigators at the five different scenes: Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church, Tallahassee, FL, Fruitland Presbyterian Church, Memphis, TN, Glover Grove Baptist Church, SC, Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, SC and God’s Power Church of Christ, Macon, GA.

“We are in the early stages of these investigations, but at this time we have no reason to believe these fires are racially motivated or related,” the statement said of the fires, which have occurred in the past nine days.

At the end of the post, they included a picture of a church fire that occurred in January, but they did not include any details about the location of that particular fire.

At least two of the five churches highlighted by the FBI — Briar Creek Road and God’s Power Church of Christ — have already been ruled arson.

The cause for the other three remains under investigation.

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David Sweat Claims He Was Almost Caught Twice During 3-Week Manhunt

Authorities in upstate New York spent three weeks searching for escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat. Jon Chodat(MALONE, N.Y.) — Escaped prisoner David Sweat told investigators he was almost discovered twice during the three weeks authorities were searching the woods of upstate New York for him and fellow inmate Richard Matt — including one time that police walked right by him as he hid in a hunting tree stand, officials said.

In the first close-call, Sweat told investigators both he and Matt were hiding near a cabin when three people came to check on it, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told ABC News Tuesday.

The people were discussing whether they should stay at the cabin or leave and Sweat said he and Matt were close enough to hear their conversation, Wylie said.

Sweat told the investigators he and Matt stayed hidden until the three people left, according to the DA.

The second instance happened within the past week, after Sweat and Matt separated, Sweat allegedly told investigators.

Sweat claimed he was hiding in a hunting tree stand when an officer walked past him, Wylie said.

Investigators were interviewing Sweat to better understand how the men escaped June 6 from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, and how they were able to avoid police for so long.

Sources briefed on the matter told ABC News Tuesday that interviews with Sweat have concluded for now.

According to Wylie, Sweat was advised of his Miranda rights. “He knows he has a right to an attorney, he knows he doesn’t have to talk to authorities,” he said. It was not clear if Sweat has a lawyer.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sweat split up from Matt days before their captures, because he felt like “Matt was slowing him down.”

Sweat is recovering at Albany Medical Center after he was apprehended, shot and wounded Sunday in the area of Constable, New York, about 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border.

His condition was listed as fair Tuesday. He is expected to remain at the hospital “for at least a few days” before he is moved to a maximum-security prison, sources said.

Matt, meanwhile, was shot and killed Friday in Elephant’s Head, New York, about 16 miles south of where Sweat was found, police said.

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Residents Return to ‘War Zone’ After Wildfire Engulfs Homes

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — Homeowners forced to evacuate recently because of a rapidly moving wildfire in Washington state returned Tuesday to find that the blaze had burned so hot that few of their belongings remained or were even recognizable.

“[It] looks like a war zone,” Diane Reed told ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV. “I’ve never seen anything like it … To just sit back and think, I don’t even have a fork or a plate or clothing — just your basic things that we all take for granted. It’s just gone.”

The grass fire started Sunday on a remote hillside outside of Wenatchee, Washington.

Fueled by triple-digit temperatures — Wenatchee had a record high of 109 on Sunday — as well as strong winds, the blaze exploded, making its way quickly into residential and commercial areas, outpacing firefighting teams. Thousands of residents were told to leave their homes as firefighting teams went door-to-door.

Rainfall provided some relief Monday but in the end, at least 24 homes were reportedly burned to the ground and four businesses were destroyed. Nearly 3,000 acres were scorched.

Vern and Julie Smith said they barely had time to react to evacuation orders before the fires reached their property. Their home was lost to the blaze Monday.

“You grab your family, kids and our animals,” Julie Smith told KOMO-TV. “We stayed with friends across the Wenatchee River and watched this area burn all night.”

Julie Smith said, though, that not all was lost.

“What made our house a home was our love and what we’ve done together,” she said.

On Tuesday, a scorched hillside remained as well as the some of the hoses left behind by firefighters.

Wenatchee, a town with a population of 30,000, suffered a double whammy. As fire ripped through neighborhoods and burning embers ignited several large businesses downtown, nearly half the city was ordered to shelter in place after an industrial fire and ammonia leak released a dangerous smoke plume.

Strike teams continued to pounce on hotspots Tuesday around the city but many residents said they worried that the worst may not be behind them.

“I think the worst is over, but you have to be vigilant,” one resident said.

No residents were injured in the wildfire. Fire officials were still investigating the cause.

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Residents Return to ‘War Zone’ After Wildfire Engulfs Homes

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — Homeowners forced to evacuate recently because of a rapidly moving wildfire in Washington state returned Tuesday to find that the blaze had burned so hot that few of their belongings remained or were even recognizable.

“[It] looks like a war zone,” Diane Reed told ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV. “I’ve never seen anything like it … To just sit back and think, I don’t even have a fork or a plate or clothing — just your basic things that we all take for granted. It’s just gone.”

The grass fire started Sunday on a remote hillside outside of Wenatchee, Washington.

Fueled by triple-digit temperatures — Wenatchee had a record high of 109 on Sunday — as well as strong winds, the blaze exploded, making its way quickly into residential and commercial areas, outpacing firefighting teams. Thousands of residents were told to leave their homes as firefighting teams went door-to-door.

Rainfall provided some relief Monday but in the end, at least 24 homes were reportedly burned to the ground and four businesses were destroyed. Nearly 3,000 acres were scorched.

Vern and Julie Smith said they barely had time to react to evacuation orders before the fires reached their property. Their home was lost to the blaze Monday.

“You grab your family, kids and our animals,” Julie Smith told KOMO-TV. “We stayed with friends across the Wenatchee River and watched this area burn all night.”

Julie Smith said, though, that not all was lost.

“What made our house a home was our love and what we’ve done together,” she said.

On Tuesday, a scorched hillside remained as well as the some of the hoses left behind by firefighters.

Wenatchee, a town with a population of 30,000, suffered a double whammy. As fire ripped through neighborhoods and burning embers ignited several large businesses downtown, nearly half the city was ordered to shelter in place after an industrial fire and ammonia leak released a dangerous smoke plume.

Strike teams continued to pounce on hotspots Tuesday around the city but many residents said they worried that the worst may not be behind them.

“I think the worst is over, but you have to be vigilant,” one resident said.

No residents were injured in the wildfire. Fire officials were still investigating the cause.

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Residents Return to ‘War Zone’ After Wildfire Engulfs Homes

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — Homeowners forced to evacuate recently because of a rapidly moving wildfire in Washington state returned Tuesday to find that the blaze had burned so hot that few of their belongings remained or were even recognizable.

“[It] looks like a war zone,” Diane Reed told ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV. “I’ve never seen anything like it … To just sit back and think, I don’t even have a fork or a plate or clothing — just your basic things that we all take for granted. It’s just gone.”

The grass fire started Sunday on a remote hillside outside of Wenatchee, Washington.

Fueled by triple-digit temperatures — Wenatchee had a record high of 109 on Sunday — as well as strong winds, the blaze exploded, making its way quickly into residential and commercial areas, outpacing firefighting teams. Thousands of residents were told to leave their homes as firefighting teams went door-to-door.

Rainfall provided some relief Monday but in the end, at least 24 homes were reportedly burned to the ground and four businesses were destroyed. Nearly 3,000 acres were scorched.

Vern and Julie Smith said they barely had time to react to evacuation orders before the fires reached their property. Their home was lost to the blaze Monday.

“You grab your family, kids and our animals,” Julie Smith told KOMO-TV. “We stayed with friends across the Wenatchee River and watched this area burn all night.”

Julie Smith said, though, that not all was lost.

“What made our house a home was our love and what we’ve done together,” she said.

On Tuesday, a scorched hillside remained as well as the some of the hoses left behind by firefighters.

Wenatchee, a town with a population of 30,000, suffered a double whammy. As fire ripped through neighborhoods and burning embers ignited several large businesses downtown, nearly half the city was ordered to shelter in place after an industrial fire and ammonia leak released a dangerous smoke plume.

Strike teams continued to pounce on hotspots Tuesday around the city but many residents said they worried that the worst may not be behind them.

“I think the worst is over, but you have to be vigilant,” one resident said.

No residents were injured in the wildfire. Fire officials were still investigating the cause.

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Exonerated Prisoner Dies After Nearly 30 Years in Solitary Confinement

ABC News(NEW YORK) — A man who was exonerated after spending nearly 30 years on death row in Louisiana died just over a year after his release.

Glenn Ford died Monday after a battle with lung cancer. He was 65.

Ford was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 but was exonerated in March 2014.

Ford would have still been on death row if not for a confidential informant who told police in 2013 that someone else confessed to him about the murder that Ford was accused of committing.

Lawyer and friend William Most told ABC News Ford was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer several months after being released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Most said that it quickly progressed to stage 4 and spread to his bones.

“He was a really inspirational person and … I’d even heard that he inspired people that had no connection to him,” Most told ABC News.

Ford was featured on ABC News’ Nightline in April and agreed to meet with the prosecutor who put him behind bars, who wrote an open apology letter after Ford was exonerated. But Ford said at the time that he was unable to forgive him.

When he left prison in 2014, Most said Ford, then 64, only had $20 to his name. He had been living in a home provided by Resurrection after Exoneration, a group dedicated to helping prison exonerees.

Ford was involved in three lawsuits at the time of his death, two federal suits for which Most was representing him and one state suit. The federal suits were for compensation for his wrongful imprisonment and inadequate health treatment, and the state suit was a separate compensation suit.

Though he never married, the suit will continue and his children could stand to benefit from any rewards from the court, Most said.

Ford had several children, many of whom live in California, and more than 10 grandchildren at the time of his death. Most said Ford was able to visit California since being released from prison and one of his sons came to Louisiana to see him before he died.

Though they were located in the same prison and overlapped by several decades, Ford was not a member of the Angola Three, a group of three prisoners who were put in solitary confinement ranging from 29 to 43 years.

Ford spent 29 years, three months and five days in solitary confinement in the prison, Most said in a news release confirming Ford’s death.

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Former UVA Swim Team Member Alleges ‘Humiliating and Violent’ Hazing in Lawsuit

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — A former member of the University of Virginia men’s swimming team filed a lawsuit against five teammates, claiming he feared for his life because their hazing was so extreme.

Anthony Marcantonio, 19, left the team over what he claims was horrific hazing.

“Systemic, threatening, degrading, humiliating and violent hazing” by upperclassmen cost him his swim career at the university, according to Marcantonio’s lawsuit, which was filed June 22 in federal court in Charlottesville.

The suit claims the upperclassmen berated and assaulted Marcantonio and other new team members in August 2014, during a period known as “Welcome Week.” One of the new team members allegedly sustained an eye injury during the activities, and allegedly told by one of the upperclassmen to lie if questioned about the injury, according to the lawsuit.

“They threatened him with sexual violence of a very awful variety,” attorney John Markham said. “They were locked into a bathroom and told to drink vast quantities of alcohol. They were imprisoned in the bathroom.”

The team’s head coach, Auggie Busch, questioned Marcantonio after learning of the alleged hazing, according to the lawsuit, but the documents allege that when teammates found out, they saw Marcantonio as “a rat,” and “from that time forward, [the] plaintiff’s swim career at UVA was ruined.”

After the alleged hazing was reported, UVA suspended the upper classmen for the rest of the semester, and none of them ever rejoined the team, with two transferring to different schools, according to the university.

One of the parents of the upperclassmen told ABC News on behalf of all the defendants that they have not yet been served so they can’t comment on the suit.

“These issues are not new,” the parent, requesting anonymity, said. “They were internally investigated by the University of Virginia and handled appropriately.”

The university told ABC News in a statement that it investigated the allegations and “took prompt action to provide support service to the affected students.”

The lawsuit is seeking damages of more than $75,000, but the exact amount has not been disclosed. Marcantonio’s attorney says the suit is intended to prevent hazing and ensure student-athletes never have to live in fear.

Marcantonio has since transferred to Northwestern University and joined the men’s swimming team there.

ABC US News | World News

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Fly Boy: Kid Starts Up Unattended Chopper at Air Show

iStock/Thinkstock(MANKATO, Minn.) — A boy around six years of age hopped into a medevac helicopter that was on display at a Minnesota air show on Monday, and managed to get it started, causing a panic and two minor injuries.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the enthusiastic attendee of the Minnesota Air Spectacular at the Mankato Regional Airport jumped into the Mayo Clinic’s unoccupied Eurocopter EC145, and accidentally started the helo’s rotors.

The resulting prop wash toppled a fabric sun shade into spectators, leading to two minor injuries, as a crew member jumped into the craft to shut it down and get the child out.

Eyewitness Agro Gushwa, a ticket taker at the show, shot the scene with his cellphone. He told the paper that once the pint-sized pilot was taken out of the helicopter, he was, “crying really bad,” and, “ran to his father, who gave him a hug and told him it was OK…”

Air show Director Mark Knoff tell the paper that a Federal Aviation Administration official who was on hand to monitor the air show was informed about the “unfortunate incident,” and a federal investigation is underway as to how the potentially deadly situation could have happened.

ABC US News | World News

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Escaped Prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat Listened to Radio Reports About Manhunt

New York State Police(ALBANY, N.Y.) — Escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat listened to reports about their manhunt on a radio and also had marijuana during their weeks on the run, Sweat told authorities in a lengthy interview, a state police source told ABC News.

Sweat is recovering at Albany Medical Center after he was shot and wounded Sunday in the area of Constable, New York, about 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border. Matt, meanwhile, was shot and killed Friday in Elephant’s Head in upstate New York, police said.

Investigators have been interviewing Sweat to better understand how the men escaped June 6 from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, and how they were able to avoid capture for so long. His condition has been upgraded to “serious.”

More than 1,000 officers were involved in the search for the prisoners.

The two men split up last week, after Sweat believed “Matt was slowing him down,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Matt later spent some time in a previously unknown camper in Franklin County, an official confirmed Monday.

Jon Chodat, who lives just down the road, told ABC News the camper that sheltered Matt, 48, from the elements has probably been there since 1997, and has likely been abandoned for many years.

“He was the only one that was here,” Chodat said of Matt. “Because Sweat took off the other way.”

Cuomo called the escape “an extraordinary situation in many ways.”

“If you were writing a movie plot, they would say this was overdone,” he said to reporters Sunday evening.

Sweat had been serving life without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy, and Matt had been serving 25 years to life for the killing of his former boss.

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Whitey Bulger Writes Contrite Letter to Teens, Says His Life Was ‘Spent Foolishly’

Three Apponequet Regional High School students, Mollykate Rodenbush, Brittany Tainsh, and Michaela Arguin (from left), received a handwritten reply from Whitey Bulger after writing to him for a history contest on leadership. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)(BOSTON) — When three Massachusetts high school students wrote to notorious Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, they didn’t expect a response, let alone an in-depth letter in which he told them his life “was wasted.”

Mollykate Rodenbush, Brittany Tainsh and Michaela Arguin, now rising seniors at Apponequet Regional High School in Lakeville, Massachusetts, selected Bulger as the topic of their website for the National History Day competition earlier this year.

The theme was leadership and legacy, and the group wanted to “choose a theme that’s going to stand out and stick with the judges,” Mollykate, 17, told ABC News Monday. A few teachers recommended they look at a local figure, like Bulger, who has a decades-long criminal history in Massachusetts.

Bulger was convicted of murdering 11 people, extortion, money laundering and weapons charges in 2013, after a trial that came nearly twenty years after he went on the run after being tipped off to a pending federal indictment by a corrupt FBI agent. Police found cash secreted in the walls of Bulger’s Santa Monica hideout, where he and his longtime companion spent 14 years living a life on the lam.

Bulger was second only to Osama Bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

He’s now in federal prison in Florida.

“We were trying to think out of the box. Take an unconventional route and do something no one else does,” Mollykate said, citing George Washington and President Obama as popular choices. Instead, they wanted to “showcase someone that’s a terrible person, she said, and “show that his heinous crimes … his infamous and notorious reputation has impacted our society and the legal system.”

“We tied Whitey Bulger into the leadership and legacy theme by showing him as the leader of organized crime,” Mollykate said.

So the students decided to go right to the source. Mollykate said they were all on the same page about reaching out to Bulger himself for comment on his legacy.

“We didn’t think there would be a consequence,” she said. “The worst thing would be [if] he wouldn’t reply. … [I] definitely wasn’t expecting a return from him at all.”

The students contacted Bulger in February, Mollykate said, and within days, Bulger wrote a response.

The letter reads:

“I’m sorry but I can’t help you with your school project — There are many people more deserving of your time and interests. I’m a myth created by the media to help them generate Revenue and to hurt a relation because they didn’t appreciate his independence and daring to support an agenda they opposed.

May I suggest you and Molly create a website about the heroic service men of Mass. that are patients in, for instance, Walter Reed Veteran Hospital — good men isolated from society due to war wounds — life for some in pain and loneliness — hearing from school girls that care would do wonders for their morale + recovery.

Don’t waste your time on such as I — we are society’s lower, best forgotten, not looked to for advice on ‘Leadership’. I’m a 9th grade dropout from school and took the wrong road — my brother 5 years younger applied himself in school and worked hard and spent 40 years in Mass State House and retired and was the President of Mass Senate in State House for second term and President of U. Mass after Retirement. Had 9 children all college graduates + 4 lawyers among them. A Better Man than I.

My life was wasted and spent foolishly, brought shame + suffering on my parents and siblings and will end soon — Advice is a cheap commodity some seek it from me about crime — I know only one thing for sure — If you want to make crime pay — ‘Go to Law School.'”

The letter was “very shocking,” Michaela, 17, told ABC News Monday, and “a lot different than what we expected it to be.”

“We were expecting a lot more arrogance,” said Brittany, 17. “And not really [him] acknowledging his wrongdoings throughout his life.”

Brittany said she was surprised to “hear him almost say sorry about hurting his family.”

Michaela added, “We just wanted to find out what he thought his legacy and voice was. And even though he didn’t answer that directly, he helped us more than we could ever imagine.”

While the girls did not place at the state competition, they won two special awards for best use of primary sources and best project on Massachusetts history, Mollykate said.

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