Review Category : National News

Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev Denies Hazing Allegations

ABC/ Ida Mae Astute(NEW YORK) — Miss America winner Kira Kazantsev, who spoke during the pageant about protecting women from domestic violence, is this morning denying allegations that she harshly hazed members of her college sorority.

“They are not true,” Kazantsev, 23, said Tuesday on Good Morning America of claims from an unnamed source on the website Jezebel that under her supervision, “Pledges in the incoming class were called names, berated for their perceived physical flaws and imperfections, and made to perform physical tasks to the point of bruising and exhaustion …” and that she “made the recruits’ lives ‘a living hell.'”

“I’m incredibly hurt that someone has said these things,” said Kazantsev, a former Miss New York and former member of Alpha Phi at Hofstra University.

Kazantsev, a trilingual honors student who served as Alpha Phi’s new member educator and recruitment committee president, did not deny that she was involved in hazing while at the university.

“All I can do is sit here and be honest and share that, yes, I was involved under the broad definition of hazing at some point but never ever in a million years what this is claiming to hold,” she said of the Jezebel report.

The report, which appeared on the website on Monday, also claimed that Kazantsev was kicked out of Alpha Phi, allegedly for exceptionally harsh hazing.

Kazantsev said on GMA that she was asked to leave the sorority in her senior year but that the conflict came over an email in which a joke she wrote was, she says, misconstrued.

“I was asked by a New Member Educator when I was a senior to reach out to the alumni base to have an event of sorts,” Kazantsev explained. “In the email I basically made a joke and that was taken out of context and forwarded to the national office.”

When asked what the joke was, Kazantsev replied, “That we would make the evening scary for the pledges when that never came to fruition and none of those things that I’ve been accused of ever happened or were ever intended to happen.”

The Miss America winner says the hazing tasks she participated in while at Hofstra were “menial,” and included things like reciting information and spending sleepless nights crafting.

“I was hazed,” she said. “I was kind of brought up through the organization thinking that’s appropriate behavior when, clearly, I’m two years removed from the organization today and I understand that that’s just not true.”

“I came in as an impressionable freshman,” Kazantsev added. “Everybody wants to be part of something. At the time, unfortunately, that was just the culture of the university.”

In a statement to ABC News, the Alpha Phi International confirmed that Kazantsev was no longer a member of the organization. The statement said the organization could not comment on details related to membership status changes.

The Miss America organization said in a statement to Jezebel that Kazantsev has been “fully transparent with the Miss America organization about her termination from the Alpha Phi sorority.”

Kazantsev wowed judges with her unique rendition of “Happy,” which she sung while sitting cross-legged on the stage and banging a red plastic cup to the music. With her win, she became the third consecutive contestant from New York to win the Miss America crown.

Though Kazantsev brought a platform of domestic violence against women to Miss America, the pageant winner says she now plans to also speak out about her own hazing experience during her year-long reign.

“I think now that obviously this is all out in the open and I think it’s very important for me to address it,” Kazantsev said. “I’m going to take this negative and turn it into a positive.”

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Fox Attacks Second-Grader on Connecticut Playground

ABC News(EAST WINDSOR, Conn.) — A Connecticut community is on high alert after a fox attacked people on an elementary school playground, biting at least four people, including a second-grade boy.

The fox on the run outside Broad Brook Elementary School in East Windsor Monday attacked 7-year-old Evan Witzke during an outdoor gym class.

Physical education teacher Elissa Daniele was teaching class around 11:30 a.m. when she noticed the fox sneak out of the woods and latch on to her student. She risked her own safety for the students and ripped the animal off him. Once Daniele was able to corral the fox, she wrapped a neck brace around its mouth to prevent it from biting. She then trapped it under a recycling bin.

“It was trying to gnaw at his wrists and ankles,” Daniele told ABC News. “I knew I had to pin the fox down to get it away from my student to keep my student safe.”

Daniele and a staffer were also bitten. It’s unclear whether the fox is rabid.

Authorities believe the same fox also attacked nearby resident Danielle Bopko earlier that day while she was on her way to breakfast to celebrate getting engaged less than 24 hours before coming face-to-face with the animal.

“I have never experienced an animal that when you scare it, it keeps coming back and coming back, it almost came in the house and I kicked it,” Bopko told ABC News affiliate WTNH-TV in New Haven.

All four victims have been treated for rabies as a precaution and are expected to make full recoveries.

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Ravens Owner Denies Charges in ESPN Report

Rob Carr/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti Monday refuted accusations made by ESPN’s Outside the Lines that the team knew former running back Ray Rice had struck his then-fiancee inside a hotel elevators hours after it happened last Feb. 15.

Among the other points raised in the ESPN story was that Bisciotti and the Ravens front office pressured NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to only penalize Rice with a two-game suspension, which the owner denied.

After the video of Rice punching Janay Palmer surfaced two weeks ago, the Ravens cut Rice from the team and Goodell boosted the penalty from two games to an indefinite suspension, which the former Raven is now appealing.

Meanwhile, Bisciotti said he made a huge mistake by not attempting to see the fateful surveillance video earlier, admitting to reporters, “I lacked a whole lot of interest. Zero desire to see that tape.”

As for why he didn’t kick Rice off the team when the first video showed her collapsed on the floor after the elevators doors had opened, Bisciotti also conceded, “I’m not that good. I’m not that honorable I guess. I was not prepared to take the worst-case punishment against somebody I have loving feelings for.”

Meanwhile, the owner speculated about why he felt the ESPN story was filled with inaccuracies, saying, “It’s Ray’s attorney, it’s Ray’s agent, and it’s Ray’s friends, and you know, they are building a case for reinstatement and the best way to build a case for reinstatement, is to make everyone else look like they’re lying.”

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How Other Survivalists Eluded Police Capture

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Pennsylvania man accused of shooting two state troopers and slipping away into the woods is the latest fugitive survivalist to dodge capture by fleeing into the wilderness and surviving on the land.

It sometimes takes years to find fugitives who are accomplished outdoorsmen.

Convicted murderer Eric Rudolph famously evaded authorities for five years while hiding out in North Carolina mountains before he was captured in 2003. Cherokee County Sheriff Keith Lovin remembers the day Rudolph, charged with the 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta and another blast at an Alabama abortion clinic, was cornered outside a grocery store in Murphy.

“He could have been foraging for supplies,” Lovin said. “That’s part of being a survivalist — taking advantage of what resources you have and knowing where to look for them.”

Rudolph, who is serving a life sentence, survived by sleeping in abandoned houses and summer homes.

“We have a lot of summer homes that are vacant for a good amount of time, and a lot of homes that are for sale,” Lovin said. “You can go in and get out of the weather for a day or two — particularly if that home is out of the way.”

Lovin suspects the situation is similar in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, where a massive manhunt is under way for suspect Eric Frein, accused of ambushing two state troopers at the Blooming Grove police barracks on Sept. 12, killing one officer and critically injuring another.

But he points out that Rudolph’s situation was unique because he believes the criminal got help while he was on the lam.

“While it is one thing to be able to go into the wild and live off land and camp, it’s entirely different when you have associates or friends who are willing to assist you,” Lovin said.

Other residents of the southern mountain town might have offered food or help unknowingly, thinking Rudolph was “a homeless person, or someone down on his luck,” Lovin added.

Last year, police arrested Troy James Knapp, known as the “Mountain Man,” in the woods in Utah, where he had lived on the run for six years, sleeping in a tent and killing wild animals for food.

Knapp was wanted for a string of cabin burglaries around Sevier County. He survived the cold winters by breaking into snowbound homes and sleeping in the owners’ beds while they were away, authorities said, sometimes leaving behind threatening notes, like “Get off my mountain,” and one time a message to police: “Gonna put you in the ground.”

He drank their whiskey and stole their guns before retreating to the woods with high-end camping gear. Knapp, 46, pleaded guilty in June under an agreement that will likely put him in prison until 2024.

Yet another fugitive who lived off the land while running from police is Jason McVean, accused with two other men of killing a Colorado police officer in 1998. His remains were found in 2007 in southeastern Utah, along with a bulletproof vest, camouflage backpack, pipe bombs, an AK-47 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

The bodies of his alleged accomplices, Alan Pilon and Robert Mason, were found years earlier.

And Robert Fisher, an Arizona man accused of murdering his family before setting their home on fire, has been missing ever since his alleged crime in 2001. The FBI for a while considered that sightings of a man who turned out to be Knapp might be Fisher, described by authorities as a survivalist and skilled hunter and outdoorsman.

There have been many reported sightings of Fisher, but he hasn’t been found.

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Long-Lost High School Sweethearts Marry 63 Years Later

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Some love stories move slower than others — like 63 years slow. That’s how long it took for high school sweethearts Marcella and Johnny Vick — who live in Arkansas — to tie the knot.

The two first met in 1950 at a ballgame and dated for a year before drifting apart.

Marcella, 79, went on to marry for 39 years and have three daughters. Vick, 80, married another woman with whom he had two daughters and two sons.

Both of their spouses passed away, and after reconnecting a few years back at an area reunion, the Vicks went on an official date this past June.

“We spent the day together, and we’ve gone from there and picked up where we left off when we were teenagers,” Marcella told ABC News. “I think at the very beginning we realized when we saw each other that we cared very much for each other. At our age now we were kind of hesitant at first but we realized a few weeks in that we were in love and wanted to get married.”

And so they did on Saturday in front of family and friends who all created pages for a big family scrapbook.

“It was wonderful! We didn’t really know his family, but we asked everybody to do a scrapbook page and have pictures of themselves and their family and some information about each other,” Sheila McCall, Marcella’s daughter, told ABC News. “We stored that all around the reception hall so everybody could see something about the others.”

It was a total family affair, with McCall’s son performing the ceremony and her granddaughter singing Rod Stewart’s “Have I Told You Lately.” Both Johnny and Marcella’s high school friends were in attendance.

McCall remembers hearing about Johnny her entire life.

“Mom had a wooden box that she had from the days when she was a teenager, and his name was in that box. She wrote in it in pencil. I’ve seen his name and heard about him my whole life,” she said. “This has all been a whirlwind! They’re acting like teenagers and so in love. Obviously they had a great connection even back then, and all they did was renew it.”

The nuptials were also a long time coming for Johnny, who told ABC News that though he and Marcella never tried to get in touch over the years, he “always thought she was kind of special.”

Marcella credits a shared background to their special bond.

“I think we value the same things in life. We both go to church, and he’s got a family he’s very close to and I have a family I’m very close to, and those are the things I value in him more than anything,” she said.

Johnny and Marcella plan to split their time between their two houses.

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Wife of Man Charged in Son’s ‘Hot Car’ Death Passed Polygraph: Sources

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Leanna Harris, the wife of the Georgia man indicted after his toddler son died in a hot car this summer, has passed a lie detector test, sources have told ABC News.

Justin Ross Harris is accused of leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, in his vehicle on June 18 “with malice aforethought” and causing the boy “cruel and excessive physical pain,” according to an indictment earlier this month.

Officials have said Harris wanted to live a child-free life. Harris has pleaded not guilty.

Cooper’s mother, Leanna Harris, has not been charged in her son’s death, and in an interview that aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America Monday, her friend, Angie Bond, came to her defense, saying she had nothing to hide.

“She had absolutely nothing to do with the accident at all,” Bond told ABC News’ Amy Robach.

When Robach asked Bond what she wanted people to know about Leanna Harris, she replied: “That she loves her little boy desperately, and she misses her little boy desperately. And that will never change. That she stands by her husband.”

Although Leanna Harris had not been charged, her behavior had been questioned by authorities. A detective has testified in court that she displayed no reaction when she was notified that her son had died. The detective also testified that employees at the day care center said that when Leanna Harris went to pick up her son and was told her husband hadn’t dropped Cooper off that morning, she said her husband “must have left him in the car.”

The officer also said he overheard a phone call between Leanna Harris and her distraught mother in which the mother asked her daughter why she wasn’t crying. Her daughter replied: “I must be in shock.”

Leanna Harris has been present at her husband’s court appearances and has described him as a loving father who wouldn’t knowingly hurt their son.

Bond agreed that Justin Ross Harris was devoted to his son.

“He absolutely adored Cooper,” Bond said. “He was a very hands-on father — always playing with him.”

Speculation ran rampant over reports that Leanna had asked her husband after his arrest: “Did you say too much?”

Bond says there’s an easy explanation for that.

“Knowing Ross it was, in my mind, all it was she was just saying, ‘Did you run your mouth? Did you make yourself look guilty? Did you talk so much that you made yourself look guilty?’ Because he is most definitely a talker,” Bond said.

Harris was indicted earlier this month on charges accusing him of deliberately leaving Cooper in a hot car that was parked outside of the Home Depot where he worked. Cooper spent nearly seven hours in the car on the 90-degree day and died there, all while his father was at work and sexting multiple women, police allege.

The last few months have been hard on the Harris’ marriage, Bond said.

“It’s been difficult. It’s been rocky,” Bond said “But through it all, they always wanted to work through things…”

Bond also said her friend has never expressed doubt about her husband’s actions or anger over what happened.

“Not doubt. And not anger over the accident,” Bond said, adding: “She knows how much Ross loves Cooper.”

Police have said that just days before his son’s death, Justin Ross Harris watched videos warning of the dangers of leaving children inside hot cars.

When Robach asked Bond how she reacted to that allegation, Bond said her friend’s husband was a curious man.

“The Ross that I know is always on the computer, always searching for new things, always checking things out,” she said. “And if these things are true, it’s in my opinion it would be something that he saw and he just kind of clicked on a link, or he heard about it and was curious about it.”

Justin Ross Harris has been charged with malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first and second degree, criminal attempt to commit a felony and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.

He could face the death penalty if he’s convicted. Bond said his wife is prepared for that.

“There are some things that she can’t think too much on and focus too much on,” Bond said when Robach asked her how her friend was coping with that knowledge. “And when she starts, that’s when she start — the anxiety starts, the — just the intense fear. And so we just, kind of, try to take it one day at a time.”

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Hannah Graham Searchers Return to Jesse Matthew’s Apartment

Charlottesville Police Department(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — A new warrant was issued Monday to carry out a second search of the apartment belonging to a man who police say was the last person to be seen with missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.

Charlottesville police carrying out the search were seen Monday at the apartment of Jesse Matthew.

Matthew, 32, has been described by Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo as the last person who was seen with Graham, an 18-year-old sophomore at the school who vanished more than a week ago.

Matthew is not charged in connection with Graham’s disappearance, but after speeding away from a police station on Sunday, cops issued a warrant for his arrest for dangerous driving.

According to public records, Matthew was involved in 22 incidents between 1999 and 2007, the majority of which were related to some kind of traffic violations ranging from failure to wear a seatbelt to failure to yield or obey stop signs. He was found guilty in six of those incidents, guilty in absentia in nine cases, prepaid dismissal in five, not guilty or acquitted in one and got an undetermined verdict in another.

Matthew’s car, a burnt orange 1998 Chrysler coupe, has been seized by police. Police have also previously searched Matthew’s apartment and served a search warrant for his phone.

The last images of Graham were caught on store surveillance cameras, which police said show the student with Matthew, described by police as being 6-foot-2, 270 pounds and with dreadlocks. Graham and a man police say was Matthew were recorded by surveillance cameras as they entered and left two establishments.

“I believe Jesse Matthew was the last person she was seen with Hannah before she vanished off the face of the Earth because it’s been a week and we can’t find her,” Longo said.

The chief has reiterated that police are not calling Matthew a suspect, just someone who could have useful information about what happened to Graham.

Matthew has updated his Facebook profile and replaced his profile picture with a blacked-out square. There are no other personal posts on the page.

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Ferguson-Inspired Course Teaches Cops to ‘Win with the Media’

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) — A media relations course citing the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, as a “case study” is being offered for St. Louis law enforcement.

The “continuing education” course, called “Officer-Involved Shooting — You Can Win With The Media,” is scheduled for Oct. 24 through the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy.

A flier for the course touts the benefits of understanding how to deal with media when it comes to fielding questions about officer-involved shootings.

“In addition to the Ferguson case study, this fast-paced class is jam-packed with the essential strategies and tactics, skills and techniques that will help you WIN WITH THE MEDIA! It is practical training, not theoretical,” the flier reads.

The police academy holds similar media relations courses as part of its ongoing education offerings “pretty much annually,” Lt. Matt O’Niell told ABC News.

The updated course overview, however, notes a number of recent shootings, including “Managing the Media When Things Get Ugly (think Ferguson)” and ‘”Managing the Media in a Crisis (including lessons learned from the Newton, CT school shooting).”

The timing of the course and the repeated mentions of the handling of the Ferguson case come as no coincidence, O’Niell said. “It had a lot to do with it,” he said.

“We make mistakes all the time. We learn from our mistakes,” O’Niell said. “Obviously, there’s a community relations issue and this plays into it.”

The course will be taught by public relations consultant Rick Rosenthal, who is contracted out by the police academy for the day-long event that will include up to 80 participants.

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Second Michael Dunn Murder Trial Begins in Florida

iStock/Thinkstock(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — A second trial for loud-music shooter Michael Dunn begins Monday in Florida.

Back in February, jurors found the Florida software developer, who was accused of shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis to death after he asked the teen and his friends to turn down their music, guilty of attempted murder and firing a gun into a car. But they could not agree on whether Dunn was guilty of murder.

Dunn maintains he feared for his life the night of Nov. 23, 2012, when he opened fire on the teens in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot.

He will be retried on a first-degree murder charge in Davis’ death.

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Second Michael Dunn Murder Trial Begins in Florida

iStock/Thinkstock(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — A second trial for loud-music shooter Michael Dunn begins Monday in Florida.

Back in February, jurors found the Florida software developer, who was accused of shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis to death after he asked the teen and his friends to turn down their music, guilty of attempted murder and firing a gun into a car. But they could not agree on whether Dunn was guilty of murder.

Dunn maintains he feared for his life the night of Nov. 23, 2012, when he opened fire on the teens in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot.

He will be retried on a first-degree murder charge in Davis’ death.

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