Review Category : Top Stories

Buildings Flattened, Cars Tossed But No SeriousOver 200 Indiana Residents Placed in Shelters After Tornado Injuries After Indiana Tornadoes

Ann Johansson/Corbis via Getty Images(KOKOMO, Ind.) — The mayor of Kokomo, Indiana, said he feels “very grateful” this morning after no deaths or serious injuries were reported from a devastating storm and tornado that hit the town Wednesday, flattening buildings and damaging homes.

About 10 to 15 minor injuries were reported, said Howard County Sheriff Steven Rogers, who added that the community was “very blessed” that there were no fatalities.

The storm in Kokomo, about 50 miles north of Indianapolis, piled cars on top of one another and even flattened a Starbucks, where people hid in the coffee shop’s bathroom.

The devastation has forced 220 people to be temporarily placed in shelters, many of whom lived in several large apartment complexes that were heavily damaged, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said Thursday morning.

Tens of thousands of people were left without power, and Goodnight said that a major focus now is working on repairing damaged lines and restoring power.

A tornado took a similar path through this stretch of Kokomo in 2013, officials said.

Thirty-five tornadoes were reported in Indiana and Illinois Wednesday — the one in Kokomo being the strongest, where winds reached 165 miles per hour.

In Crawfordsville, Indiana, about 60 miles southwest of Kokomo, winds reached 111 miles per hour.

The tornadoes will be rated Thursday as the National Weather Service surveys the damage.

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Capybaras Could Become Invasive Species in Florida

Courtesy Elizabeth Congdon(NEW YORK) — Capybaras, giant rodents that are native to South America, may be establishing themselves as an invasive species in Florida, according to Elizabeth Congdon, the only biologist in North America studying the animal.

“Right now, they’re considered exotics — non-native animals that aren’t supposed to be here,” Congdon told ABC News Wednesday. “But if they breed and grow enough to the point that they’re causing damage, they could be considered an invasive species.”

Capybaras were first accidentally introduced to forests in northern Florida after five of them escaped a research facility in the early ’90s, said Congdon, an assistant professor at the Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, who warned about the potential threat of the species at an animal behavior conference earlier this month.

Since then, Congdon said there have been dozens of capybaras sighted over the past few years in a state park near the facility — including about 50 in 2008.

“They’re definitely breeding, and there’s certainly more than 50 of them there by now,” she said.

As long as the capybara population doesn’t grow and stays within the state park’s confines, Congdon said she believes they will not pose a problem. However, they could begin breeding at more rapid rates and start spreading to agricultural areas.

Congdon explained that the dog-sized rodents are “very social” and resilient. They warn each other of predators coming and females work together and actually help nurse each other’s young.

“If they start growing and expanding, they could start eating crops,” she said. “They’re known to eat corn and sugar cane in Brazil. That could cause significant economic damage for the state.”

Congdon and her students will be studying the animals and trying to come up with a population estimate for the next few months, she said.

“At this point, we’re just trying to prevent them from becoming an invasive species, and we don’t necessarily know the solution right now,” she said. “It could be that we have to remove large males or breeding females. It may be possible to fence in the park so they simple can’t escape and control their spread that way.”

The “most extreme solution” would be to kill some of them, Congdon said.

“That’s the question: How do you humanely stop the spread?” she said. “And it’s a fine line for those of us studying these animals. I love them, and they’re my favorite animal in the planet, but at the same time, it may be necessary to remove them from here.”

For now, Congdon said she will be working hard to do more research on the animal and find potential preventive solutions.

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Orlando Hospitals Won’t Bill Pulse Nightclub Massacre Victims

iStock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) — Survivors of the Pulse Nightclub massacre who were treated at two Orlando hospitals will not be billed for their medical care, the facilities announced Wednesday.

Orlando Health, the healthcare network which includes Orlando Regional Medical Center, said in a statement, “Orlando Health has not sent any hospital or medical bills directly to Pulse patients and we don’t intend to pursue reimbursement of medical costs from them.”

Orlando Regional Hospital treated 44 patients of the June 12 terror attack, during which gunman Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people at Pulse Nightclub, one of Orlando’s most popular LGBT venues.

Orlando Health said it is “exploring numerous options to help the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy address immediate and ongoing medical costs. These include state and federal funds, private insurance, victim funds like the One Orlando fund, disability insurance, Florida’s crime victim compensation program, funding sources established for individual victims, means-tested programs like Medicaid, as well as charity care provided by Orlando Health.”

The not-for-profit healthcare network said total unreimbursed costs “could exceed $5 million.”

Florida Hospital, part of the Florida Hospital Healthcare system, treated 12 survivors of the attack. It also said it will not be billing for services, according to ABC Orlando television affiliate WFTV.

“It was incredible to see how our community came together in the wake of the senseless Pulse shooting,” the hospital’s CEO, Daryl Tol, said in a statement. “We hope this gesture can add to the heart and goodwill that defines Orlando.”

Pulse massacre survivor Mario Lopez, 34, who was grazed by a bullet and had fragments explode into his left side, told the Orlando Sentinel he welcomes the announcement since he is uninsured. “I was so worried because I can’t afford any of that,” he told the newspaper, which reported that his seven-hour hospital visit left him with a potential $20,000-bill. “It’s a huge relief.”

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Buildings Flattened, Cars Tossed But No Serious Injuries After Indiana Tornadoes

iStock/Thinkstock(KOKOMO, Ind.) — Multiple tornadoes struck central Indiana Wednesday — damaging homes, leveling buildings and piling cars on top of one another like toys.

Miraculously, state police said late Wednesday that no serious injures had been reported even as tens of thousands of residents had no power. About a dozen people suffered cuts and bruises.

At 3:15 p.m. local time, the National Weather Service urged everyone in the area to take shelter immediately, calling the situation “particularly dangerous.”

Minutes later, the NWS issued warning for a “confirmed large and destructive tornado.”

Tornado hitting Chippendale just south of 26 Kokomo @weatherchannel @shamar_walters

— Amy True (@mama2ninekokomo) August 24, 2016

The tornado blew roofs off of homes and buildings, knocked over trees and even flattened a Starbucks in Kokomo’s Markland Mall, ABC television affiliate WRTV in Indianapolis reported.

Utility companies reported more than 32,000 customers were without power in the state as of Wednesday night.

People who had been hiding in the Starbucks’ bathroom somehow survived with no major injuries.

“It’s crazy. It’s a madhouse,” said Mitchell Carlson, a maintenance technician at the Park Place Apartments in Kokomo. He added that the complex has 16 buildings and “probably eight of them don’t have a roof.”

Despite the violent winds, everyone appeared to have escaped harm. “So, I guess we’re all blessed at the Park Place,” Carlson said.

In addition to the Kokomo twisters, police in Indianapolis spotted at least two funnel clouds close to the ground in the city just south of Interstate 70, but the department had received no reports of damage, according to Officer Jim Gillespie of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

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Two Flights Suffer Bird Strikes Arriving at JFK 2 Hours Apart

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two flights, two hours apart, suffered bird strikes Wednesday morning on arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, officials said.

No humans were injured during the two incidents.

JetBlue Flight 1248 reported striking a bird after landing at 8:30 a.m., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Airbus A320, which typically seats up to 150 passengers, had departed from Los Angeles.

Air traffic control audio indicates that a small bird struck the side of the aircraft upon landing.

JetBlue did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About two hours later, Singapore Airlines Flight 26 hit several birds.

The Airbus jet arriving in New York from Singapore, via Frankfurt, Germany, experienced the collision upon landing, according to an airline statement.

One pilot reported “a big flock of birds just went into the right two engines of that Singapore [Airbus] A380,” according to air traffic control audio.

Officials were forced to close two runways after the incident, according to the audio.

The FAA reported 13,668 bird strikes in the U.S. in 2014, the year for which the most recent statistics are available.

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Multiple Tornadoes Reported in Indiana, Leaving Thousands Without Power

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Multiple tornadoes have been reported striking central Indiana Wednesday — damaging homes, destroying a Starbucks cafe, downing trees and leaving over 60,000 residents without power.

At 3:15 p.m. local time, the National Weather Service urged everyone in the area to take shelter immediately, calling the situation “particularly dangerous.”

A little later, the NWS issued a tornado warning saying a “confirmed large and destructive tornado was about 10 miles east of Kokomo,” or about 40 miles north of Indianapolis.

The tornado blew roofs off of homes and buildings, knocked over trees and even flattened a Starbucks in Kokomo’s Markland Mall, ABC affiliate WRTV in Indianapolis reported.

People who had been hiding in the Starbucks’ bathroom miraculously survived the tornado with no major injuries.

“It’s crazy. It’s a madhouse,” said Mitchell Carlson, a maintenance technician at the Park Place Apartments in Kokomo. He added that the complex has 16 buildings and “probably eight of them don’t have a roof.”

But fortunately, there have not been any reported injuries at the complex, he said. “So, I guess we’re all blessed at the Park Place.”

Though the tornado in Kokomo caused damaged and cut power to thousands of homes and businesses in Howard County, no injuries or deaths have been reported, according to Indiana Department of Homeland Security spokesman John Erickson.

In addition to the Kokomo tornado, the IDHS has been assessing whether another reported tornado touchdown on Indianapolis’ near east side caused any damage, Erickson said. “We’re just asking people to sit tight, especially if there’s a tornado warning in their area, so they can stay as safe as possible.”

Police officers in Indianapolis spotted at least two funnel clouds close to the ground in the city just south of Interstate 70, but the department had received no reports of damage, according to Officer Jim Gillespie of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

The NWS said it had not received any immediate reports of major injuries.

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Millions of Dead Fish Found in New Jersey Creek

WABC-TV(KEANSBURG, N.J.) — Millions of dead fish recently turned up in Waackaack Creek in Keansburg, New Jersey, according to an official with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

The dead fish were all Atlantic menhaden, also known as bunker, NJDEP spokesman Lawrence Hajna told ABC News Wednesday. He said they likely died of suffocation.

The menhaden were probably chased by a predator species — such as striped bass or blue fish — into an inlet, Hajna said.

“From there, the water gets shallower and warmer, and the fish likely became tightly packed,” he explained. “Hemmed in by the shoreline and predators, they used up the dissolved oxygen in the water and basically suffocated.”

Nearby residents have been complaining about the stench coming from the rotting fish, ABC-owned station WABC in New York reported.

However, Hajna said the incident was “nothing extraordinary” and “part of a natural cycle.”

“There’s nothing much we can do except clean up, and that’s what’s been taking place,” he said. “Local governments’ public works crews have been scooping up the fish on the shorelines and also using a vacuum truck to take as many fish from the water they can.”

Hajna added that some fish will naturally sink, decompose and become part of the creek’s nutrient cycle.

“Other crabs and fish will eat them, and it’s all just a part of nature,” he said.

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Virginia Attacker Was ‘Hearing Voices’ but Terrorism Not Ruled Out

Western Virginia Regional Jail(NEW YORK) — Mental illness has emerged as a potential factor in a weekend attack on two strangers in Virginia, even as federal authorities continue to look at whether the knife-wielding assailant may have been inspired by ISIS.

The FBI has been aware of the alleged attacker, 20-year-old Wasil Farooqui of Roanoke, for months, after he traveled to Turkey and tried to enter Syria, where ISIS is recruiting and inspiring sympathizers from around the world, according to sources familiar with the case.

ABC News was told that the FBI is now analyzing Farooqui’s laptop and cellphone, looking for any links to ISIS. It’s unclear whether the FBI has found any such evidence, but federal authorities have yet to take over the entire case, suggesting the FBI so far has not found sufficient reason to take on a bigger role.

One source familiar with the case said Wednesday that authorities are still in the “assessment phase” and not ready to rule anything out.

Nevertheless, Farooqui was “hearing voices” in his head minutes before he allegedly attacked a man and woman at a Roanoke apartment complex, reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” — God is great — as he “cut the male victim’s throat” and stabbed them multiple times, according to witness accounts and newly obtained court documents.

Authorities were looking at whether Farooqui may have been trying to behead his victim, ABC News was told after the attack. But on Tuesday, a Roanoke County Police spokeswoman said her department concluded it “did not appear to be an attempt at a beheading.”

Farooqui left his home Saturday night “to clear his head,” and after parking at the apartment complex about a mile away, the voices in his head told him “that he was stupid [and] they also told him to attack someone,” according to the court documents, citing what Farooqui allegedly later told police.

“He doesn’t know who [his victims] are or why he attacked them,” said an affidavit filed by police as part of the court documents.

Farooqui allegedly followed the couple into their apartment before stabbing them, according to the court documents.

“There was a large amount of blood inside the apartment just inside the door and large amounts of blood outside leaving a trail to where the victims were located,” the affidavit said.

After the attack, an injured Farooqui allegedly went to his father’s tobacco store, and his father brought him to the local hospital — the same hospital where his alleged victims were being treated.

Farooqui was then arrested by police on charges of assault with malicious wounding, and he is being held without bond at the Western Virginia Regional Jail.

The FBI and Roanoke County Police “are working closely on the case … to investigate the nature of the attack,” and the FBI has not “taken over the county’s piece of it,” police spokeswoman Amy Whittaker said Wednesday. “Our detectives continue to investigate, file search warrants, etc.”

FBI Director James Comey has said that many of the “troubled souls” attracted to the ISIS message online suffer from mental illness.

Farooqui is due in court again next week.

His attorney, Sheila Moheb, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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Man Exonerated After Nearly 25 Years Behind Bars for Rape, Murder

WPVI-TV(PHILADELPHIA) — After spending nearly 25 years behind bars for a brutal crime he didn’t commit, Tony Wright is a free man.

The Philadelphia resident was just 20 years old when he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and stabbing of a neighbor more than two decades ago. Wright, now 44, walked out of prison Tuesday with his arms raised in the air. He held hands with his attorneys and members of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization based in New York City.

“Unbelievable, unbelievable, man. Best feeling in the world, man. I never felt like this in my entire life,” Wright told ABC affiliate WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. “We did it, I mean today is our day.”

Lawyers with the Innocent Project secured DNA evidence that showed Wright was not the one who committed the 1991 rape of his neighbor, 77-year-old Louise Talley. Still, the district attorney’s office in Philadelphia decided to take Wright’s case to trial again in 2014. On Tuesday, after deliberating for more than an hour, a jury found him not guilty, acquitting him of the rape and murder.

“We are extremely relieved that this very long nightmare is finally over for Mr. Wright and his family,” Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, said in a statement. “But it’s outrageous that he has been forced to endure a retrial to gain his freedom after DNA testing already proved his innocence.”

“The jury made a finding and the District Attorney’s Office respects their hard work,” Cameron Kline, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer Tuesday.

“The District Attorney’s Office stands by its decision to retry Anthony Wright, based on the totality of the evidence,” Kline said. “The verdict only shows that the jury did not find that his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for further comment.

Wright narrowly escaped the death penalty at his original trial by a 7 to 5 vote of the jury. At the re-trial, DNA tests revealed that the clothing police had alleged was worn by Wright to commit the crime was actually not his and could not have been in his home as authorities had claimed, according to the Innocence Project.

“We are relieved that justice has prevailed and Mr. Wright has been given back his life,” attorney Samuel Silver of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, co-counsel for Wright and board member of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, said in a statement.

Wright’s new-found freedom comes just in time for his 45th birthday this weekend.

“I want to do whatever my granddaughters want to do. I want to do whatever my grandson wants to do,” he told WPVI on Tuesday. “I just want to be grandpa. I just want to be dad.”

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Tulsa Man Charged with Murder, Hate Crime in Death of Lebanese Neighbor

Tulsa County Jail(TULSA, Okla.) — The man who a Tulsa, Oklahoma family said “terrorized” them for years and called them racially offensive names has been charged with murder and a hate crime in the shooting death of 37-year-old Khalid Jabara, according to authorities.

Stanley “Vernon” Majors, 61, was charged with first-degree murder in Jabara’s death and possession of a firearm after a formal conviction of a felony, the Tulsa County District Attorney announced Tuesday. In addition, Majors is accused of misdemeanor malicious intimidation or harassment with specific intent to intimidate and harass because of race, color, religion, ancestry and national origin. He “did threaten to harm” Jabara’s mother, Haifa, and her family, prosecutors said.

Majors was also charged with misdemeanor threatening an act of violence.

In a statement, the family said they “continue to struggle” with the loss of Jabara.

“In charging Majors with a hate crime in addition to first degree murder, the district attorney’s office is making a much-needed and powerful statement that hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, ancestry, and national origin has no place in our society,” the family said.

On Aug. 12, Majors allegedly shot and killed Jabara, the Tulsa Police Department said. Earlier that evening, police had responded to a 911 call made by Jabara, but left the scene after they were “unable to locate any criminal activity,” they said.

“If we knock on the door and [Majors] doesn’t answer, there’s nothing that gives us the opportunity to go into his house,” Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker told ABC News last week.

Police said that there had been “many calls to the area that involved Majors acting aggressively towards his neighbors.” In an interview with ABC News, Jabara’s sister, Victoria Jabara Williams, said Majors increasingly bullied the family by calling them racial slurs, throwing rocks and even running her mother over with a car.

Majors is currently awaiting trial on an assault with a deadly weapon charge involving Haifa Jabara stemming from 2015, according to authorities. He was initially held without bond, but a judge allowed his release three months ago, according to CNN. Majors had pleaded not guilty in that case.

Police said Majors had a protective order against him “that stated that he was supposed to stay a certain number of feet away from the victim’s mother and household.”

“The protective order was issued by the Tulsa County District Courts,” police said. “The Tulsa Police Department does not determine who can live somewhere and who can’t. We would only take action if someone were to violate that protective order.”

The family emigrated to the United States from Lebanon and settled in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, in the 1980s, Williams said.

“We were scared,” Williams told ABC News. “He just terrorized us. He was hateful, just hateful.”

Williams said she believes hate was a motivation in her brother’s murder.

“This was hate driven,” she told ABC News. “Why our family? Why is there so much hate in your heart?”

In a family statement, Williams said that Majors was someone they “continuously brought to law enforcement’s attention.” When Jabara called police the night of his death, he stated that Majors “had a gun” and “was scared for what might happen,” Williams said.

“He repeatedly attacked our ethnicity and perceived religion, making racist comments,” she continued.

Majors is currently being held without bond in a Tulsa County jail, records show. An initial arraignment is scheduled for Wednesday morning, prosecutors said. It is unclear if he has obtained a lawyer.

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