Review Category : National News

Freed American Thanks ‘Brave, Determined’ People Who Fought for His Release

ABC News (BOSTON) — Freed writer Peter Theo Curtis has spoken out for the first time Wednesday since being released by Syrian militants, thanking the “brave determined and big-hearted people” who helped save him.

In a brief news conference held down the road from his mother’s home in Massachusetts, Curtis said how “total strangers” have been coming up to him and telling him how grateful they are for his release.

“I suddenly remember how good the American people are and what kindness they have in their hearts,” he said.

“I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf,” he added. “I am overwhelmed by emotion.”

Curtis, 45, was held for nearly two years and his release came just days after militant group ISIS executed fellow American journalist James Foley. Al-Nusra’s decision to release Curtis was seen by many as a move to distance themselves from ISIS as no ransom money was reportedly handed over as part of the deal.

He did not go into any details about his time in captivity, but appeared eager to move forward.

“I have to bond with my mother and my family now,” he said before adding that he will not be giving any further statements in the near future.

The writer was released by Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra this past Sunday. He arrived back in the United States on Tuesday night.

His flight from Tel Aviv, Israel arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Tuesday evening but he was reunited with relatives — including his mother Nancy — when he flew from there home to Boston.

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Two Men Abducted, Drowned in Philadelphia River, Third Man Escapes, Police Say

iStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) — The bodies of two men, who had been bound, were found Wednesday dumped in a Philadelphia river and a third man was repeatedly stabbed but narrowly escaped the abductors believed to be responsible for the double homicide, police said.

The survivor, a 20-year-old man, was taken off the street by four or five men early Wednesday morning and thrown into the back of a van, police said.

He was then stabbed about nine times, in the torso and legs, Philadelphia police said, and his hands were tied behind his back with duct tape while his ankles were bound as well. Duct tape was also placed over his mouth, and once in the van, he realized there were two other people in the van who had also been bound, police said.

All three were taken to the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park, where they were thrown into the water, police said, noting that the two other people were tethered to some kind of weight and drowned in five to 10 feet of water.

The 20-year-old was able to get out of the water, even though his legs and arms were still partially bound, and made it to a nearby road where he screamed at passing cars, triggering some drivers to call 911, police said.

The bodies were found just before 4 a.m., police said.

The victim told police he did not know the other two people in the van, nor did he know his kidnappers.

The man is in stable condition at Hahnemann University Hospital, police said.

Police declined to give the location where the man was abducted, but noted there are security cameras in the area and that they hope the abduction was captured on video.

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Two Men Abducted, Drowned in Philadelphia River, Third Man Escapes, Police Say

iStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) — The bodies of two men, who had been bound, were found Wednesday dumped in a Philadelphia river and a third man was repeatedly stabbed but narrowly escaped the abductors believed to be responsible for the double homicide, police said.

The survivor, a 20-year-old man, was taken off the street by four or five men early Wednesday morning and thrown into the back of a van, police said.

He was then stabbed about nine times, in the torso and legs, Philadelphia police said, and his hands were tied behind his back with duct tape while his ankles were bound as well. Duct tape was also placed over his mouth, and once in the van, he realized there were two other people in the van who had also been bound, police said.

All three were taken to the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park, where they were thrown into the water, police said, noting that the two other people were tethered to some kind of weight and drowned in five to 10 feet of water.

The 20-year-old was able to get out of the water, even though his legs and arms were still partially bound, and made it to a nearby road where he screamed at passing cars, triggering some drivers to call 911, police said.

The bodies were found just before 4 a.m., police said.

The victim told police he did not know the other two people in the van, nor did he know his kidnappers.

The man is in stable condition at Hahnemann University Hospital, police said.

Police declined to give the location where the man was abducted, but noted there are security cameras in the area and that they hope the abduction was captured on video.

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Freed Hostage Peter Theo Curtis Arrives Back in United States

Nancy Curtis Speaks with ABC’s Amy Robach. Photo Credit: ABC News(BOSTON) — American writer and journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was held captive for nearly two years by Syrian militants believed to be allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, returned to the United States Tuesday, two days after his captors released him, his family said.

Curtis, 45, flew from Tel Aviv, arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport late Tuesday afternoon, and then flew on to Logan International Airport in Boston, where he met his mother, Nancy Curtis, according to a statement from his family.

“I have been so touched and moved, beyond all words, by the people who have come up to me today — strangers on the airplane, the flight attendants and, most of all, my family to say welcome home,” Theo Curtis said, according to the statement.

He also thanked the “U.S. officials who have worked on my case” and the government of Qatar.

His mother said she was “overwhelmed” to have her son home.

“I am overwhelmed with relief that this day has come and my son is standing beside me,” Nancy Curtis said. “But this is a sober occasion because of the events of the past week. My heart goes out to the other families who are suffering.”

He had been held for 22 months by Syrian terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusrah, a different terror group than the ISIS extremists who beheaded U.S. photojournalist James Foley.

Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Al Rafid village, located in the Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel, Sunday evening, 6:40 p.m. local time, according to the United Nations. He received a medical checkup before he was given to U.S. officials. After he was freed, Nancy Curtis said she got the chance to briefly speak with him on the phone.

Curtis’ return home comes as U.S. officials say they are closing in on the ISIS executioner who killed Foley. Prior to his death, Foley had been held hostage by ISIS for two years.

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Gun Range Instructor Accidentally Shot and Killed While Showing Weapon to Child

iStock/Thinkstock(MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz.) — Police in Mohave County, Arizona, say a gun range shooting instructor was accidentally shot and killed Monday while showing a 9-year-old girl how to use an automatic Uzi.

According to Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe, Charles Vacca, an instructor at the Last Stop gun range, “let the girl fire it as fully automatic at which time the recoil made her lose control. The weapon raised up towards her left shoulder and shot the instructor in the head.”

Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The girl and her parents, who were with her, were not injured.

McCabe says the business was licensed to rent automatic weapons, but the girl was taken by surprise with the gun’s recoil.

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Kindergartener Goes to School with Loaded Gun in Backpack

iStock/Thinkstock(ALIQUIPPA, Pa.) — A five-year-old reportedly brought a loaded handgun to school in a backpack.

A teacher at the school in Aliquippa — a town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — found the small revolver in a kindergartner’s bag.

The school called police and no injuries were reported.

The school sent letters home to parents saying the gun was never visible to any student. Police said no one handled the gun and it is not believed he intended to hurt anyone.

Police are investigating how the gun ended up in the bag, and whether to file charges.

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Feds Say Two Men Robbed, Killed Violinist at Her Home in the Middle of the Day

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A New York City violinist who was at her summer home was brutally murdered when two men knocked on her door and attempted to rob her, federal authorities said.

Mary Whitaker, 61, was a musician who played on Broadway, toured with Barbara Streisand, was a member of the Westchester Philharmonic, and spent her summers playing for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, according to the Philharmonic.

She was at her summer home in Westfield, N.Y., when the incident occurred, according to federal documents.

Two homeless men, Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford, approached her home in the early morning hours of Aug. 20 with the intent to rob her, according to the criminal complaint. Sanford told police that Conklin wanted to rob a homeowner so he could buy drugs and “live like a rock star,” the criminal complaint says.

In a chilling series of events, Sanford allegedly knocked on Whitaker’s door and asked to the use phone because he had run out of gas. When she said yes, Conklin emerged from hiding and allegedly pointed a rifle at her, authorities said.

“This is a robbery. Don’t make this any worse than it is,” Conklin said, according to the complaint.

Whitaker screamed, prompting Conklin to allegedly fire a round from the rifle that hit Whitaker in the torso, authorities said.

Whitaker then grabbed the rifle and struggled with Conklin for it, another shot was fired and hit Whitaker in the leg. Whitaker fell backward, hitting her head against the garage door, and Sanford dragged her inside the garage, authorities said.

The pair then robbed Whitaker’s home, taking her keys, credit cards, cell phone and checkbook, while Conklin ordered Sanford to finish killing Whitaker with a knife, according to authorities.

They then took off in her Chrysler P.T. Cruiser and drove back to Pennsylvania, where they used the credit cards and cell phone, which allowed police to track them.

Friends of Whitaker’s found her body in the garage and called police, who quickly tracked the pair. Sanford provided much of the information in the account to detectives.

Both Conklin and Sanford are now charged with stealing the car, unlawfully using the firearms, and illegally transporting commerce over state lines, which are the crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction. A local grand jury in Westfield will consider the murder charges.

Conklin and Sanford both entered pleas of not guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y., and are being represented by public defenders. Their detention hearings are set for Thursday morning.

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Late Summer Brings Extreme and Dangerous Heat Across the Country

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It may be late August, but parts of the country are just now experiencing their hottest stretch of weather this year.

Indianapolis hit 90 degrees on Monday afternoon, their first of the year. Typically, Indianapolis would record fourteen 90-degree days throughout the year. This is also the latest date that Indianapolis has recorded their first 90 degree day.

Tuesday also marks the seventh consecutive day that St. Louis has been under an excessive heat warning — with heat indices values forecasted to reach to 110 degrees. On Monday, St. Louis topped out at 100 degrees, which was one degree from tying a 71-year record and the first time the city hit the triple digits this year. Interesting to note for St. Louis is that on average they experience their last 100-degree reading of the year on August 17, this year it was a week later.

While not many record high temperatures have been recorded, the humidity has been oppressive making this heat dangerous. The heat index is the temperature it feels like once relative humidity is factored in. Over the weekend, reports of heat indices exceeded 120 degrees in parts of the Florida panhandle. Monday’s heat index values also soared past 110 degrees in parts of the Midwest.

The Northeast is getting a taste of the heat that has been spread across much of the south and Midwest over the last week. Afternoon temperatures Tuesday will reach the upper 80s for New York City, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

By Wednesday, temperatures will peak for the east topping out around 90 degrees. The forecasted high of 91 degrees in New York City for Wednesday will only be the 5th such day this year. An average year would see temperatures at or above 90 degrees on nearly 15 days.

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911 Dispatcher Disciplined for Not Helping Baby Locked in Hot Car

iStock/Thinkstock(TAMPA, Fla.) — A Florida police dispatcher will be disciplined for not offering help to a frantic mother whose toddler son had locked himself inside her broiling car, officials said on Tuesday.

Shana Dees had just left a Tampa drug store on Saturday when she strapped her 10-month-old son in the backseat of the car and shut the door, she told WFTS, ABC’s Tampa Bay affiliate. She quickly realized baby Jack, who often plays with her keys, had them in his hands – but it was too late. He hit a button that locked the doors, trapping himself inside the car on a day the temperature reached 95 degrees.

Dees, whose purse was also locked inside the car, used a stranger’s cell phone to call 911, she said.

“Can somebody come out and open the door? I don’t even know if that is something you guys do,” she says in the 911 recording, obtained by ABC News.

The dispatcher wasn’t very helpful.

“They won’t be able to try to gain access [to the] car unless the child is in some kind of distress, and, well, by that point they may just smash your windows.”

Dees watched as her son turned red and began to sweat, she told WFTS.

The Tampa Police Department says the dispatcher handled the situation poorly.

“He is going to be disciplined,” Andrea Davis, a police spokesperson, told ABC News. “He should have been more aggressive and asked location.”

Davis pointed out that the dispatcher did not refuse to send an officer to the scene. Dees ended the call, she said.

Eight minutes later, an off-duty police officer noticed Dees panicking and called 911 again, according to the local report.

He explained that Dees was told police wouldn’t help, and a dispatcher told him that information was wrong and that police would help, according to a recording of that phone call.

Another bystander eventually helped Dees break the window and free Jack.

The police department says the investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, the dispatcher is on administrative duty instead of answering 911 calls, Davis said.

An average of 38 children die in hot cars every year, according to KidsAndCars.org.

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Poem Carried By Fallen Marine Stolen from Family

iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) — The family of a U.S. Marine, who was killed in Afghanistan last year, is heartbroken after a thief stole the only remaining memento he had with him when he was killed: a poem.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Rodriguez, of Fairhaven, Mass., was deployed to Afghanistan last fall and was killed by an IED in December, just two and a half months after he got there, his mother Lisa Rodriguez told ABC News on Tuesday.

On his person when he was killed was a laminated poem his fiance, Julia Tapper, had written to him.

The poem vanished when Tapper’s purse was stolen Sunday in New Bedford.

“The first thing you think of is your checkbook and that type of thing, but then the things you can’t replace which, two of the most important things were a poem she had written to him that he had laminated and carried with him and it was on him when he was killed in Afghanistan, and his iPhone. Unfortunately we had not backed up all his photos and music, his messages to her, all those things that aren’t useful to anyone else, but are very meaningful to her and us,” Rodriguez said Tuesday.

Tapper told ABC News affiliate WCVB in Boston that the poem was the single thing that still connects her most to Rodriguez.

“That’s what he had when he was leaving. It connects me the most to him and makes me smile for him and me,” Tapper told WCVB.”He would say that poem was encouraging and positive, and that’s what he was.”

“He kept it with him and read it, it gave him confidence and comfort,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t believe somebody would do that in the middle of the day.”

The family is hoping that someone will find the poem and return it to them.

“When they’re deployed out on omissions, and he was a combat engineer, you can’t carry stuff with you, it all stays back at base and there are only a few things you have on your person. He had four or five items on his person and those things are precious,” Rodriguez said.

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