Review Category : Top Stories

Man Posing as UPS Delivery Driver, 3 Others Wanted in Violent Robbery, Police Say

ABC News(HOUSTON) — A man who posed as a UPS delivery driver and three others are wanted in a violent robbery, caught in part on camera, according to Houston police.

The robbery occurred on Nov. 22 around 8:40 p.m. local time at a residence on Willers Way in Houston, Texas, police said. A surveillance camera outside the home captured part of the incident, according to police.

In the surveillance footage, one suspect — clad in a UPS jacket and brown baseball cap, and carrying a package — is seen approaching the door to the residence. Police said the man rang the doorbell, claiming he needed a signature for the package.

After the homeowner opens the door, the surveillance footage appears to show the man forcing his way into the home. Three other suspects brandishing guns and wearing hoodies or masks then appear and also enter the home.

Upon entering, police said the suspects assaulted a man inside the residence with a pistol. At some point during the struggle, a shot was fired, though no one was struck, police said.

The man was later transported to a local hospital for severe neck and head injuries, police said. Two women inside the house were able to grab two small children and lock themselves in closets to stay safe, according to police.

The suspects stole several pieces of jewelry and collectible firearms before fleeing the scene in a getaway car, police said.

Authorities are cautioning homeowners in the area to not open the door if they don’t recognize their regular delivery person.

The Houston Police Department is working with UPS in the investigation, according to local ABC-owned station KTRK-TV.

“We’re still trying to understand how the suspect gained access to that jacket. UPS is fully cooperating,” Houston Police Department Sgt. Tony Mora told KTRK-TV on Friday. “Their full-time employees are the ones who are normally issued that jacket.”

In a statement, UPS said it was aware of the incident in Houston and added that it is “cooperating with law enforcement as they are leading the investigation.”

“We appreciate the public’s trust extended to our delivery personnel and hope the perpetrator is quickly apprehended and [brought] to justice,” UPS said.

The company also offered advice: “If consumers are concerned about the identity of UPS personnel, they should ask to see a photo I.D. Consumers can also direct that the parcel be left at the door without a signature required. Residents do not have to sign for a delivery unless they specifically ordered that the delivery be made with ‘signature required.’

“Further, UPS offers online services including UPS My Choice, which provides email alerts on the delivery status and time frame for the delivery. Shipments also can be routed to a local UPS Access Point location if the consumer prefers to pick up the parcel at a nearby neighborhood UPS Store or other participating retailer, rather than having it delivered at their residence.”

Anyone with information on the incident is urged to contact the HPD Robbery Division at 713-308-0700.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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‘Nothing Short of a Miracle’: Tennessee Family ‘Stunned’ to Discover Home Untouched by Wildfires

Courtesy Abigail Terrazzino and Jeremy Terrazzino(GATLINBURG, Tenn.) — Amid news of death and destruction in Gatlinburg, Tennessee — one of the hardest hit areas by the wildfires this week — is one family’s story of hope.

Jeremy Terrazzino and his wife, Abigail Terrazzino, live in a neighborhood in Gatlinburg called Chalet Village.

When flames consumed their neighborhood Monday evening, they said they were fortuitously nearly a thousand miles away in New Jersey, visiting family as part of an extended Thanksgiving holiday.

Upon hearing news of the blaze, they immediately drove back to Tennessee, the couple told ABC News Friday. However, they had not been able to check in on their home until this morning, when officials allowed homeowners and renters back into the city to assess their properties.

Jeremy Terrazzino said what his family found was “nothing short of a miracle.”

“We didn’t know what to expect on the drive up to the mountain to our home,” he said. “All along the way we saw mansions, houses — all completely gone.”

But upon turning onto their road, Jeremy Terrazzino said he and his wife were “stunned” to discover that their home was left untouched by wildfires.

“It was a pretty moving experience,” he said. “You could see the ground and land was charred all the way up to the base of our house, but it just stopped right there.”

Jeremy Terrazzino added that discovering his home was spared from the fires wan’t the only miracle his family experienced this week.

He said that his parents — who stayed behind when he and his wife went to New Jersey during the past weekend — narrowly escaped the wildfires.

When he called to check in on them on Monday evening he said, “My mom was crying, saying she loved us and wasn’t sure if they were going to make it.”

Jeremy Terrazzino said that his parents — Joseph Terrazzino and Patricia Terrazzino — immediately got in their car and tried to drive down the mountain, but the fire had spread so fast and “completely blocked” them from getting down onto the main road below.

“I was obviously really scared,” he said. “I kept remembering this one saying that became my mantra, ‘Let your faith be bigger than your fear.'”

Joseph Terrazzino and Patricia Terrazzino eventually stopped in the parking lot of a clubhouse near the base of the mountain, their son said.

“There weren’t a lot of trees in the area and there was a pool there,” he said, “so they parked there — along with a few other cars — and rode the fire out.”

A fire rescue crew was able to help get them out early the following morning, Jeremy Terrazzino said.

“It’s been crazy, unbelievable,” he said. “We know that unfortunately, a few people didn’t make it and a lot of houses were lost as well. It’s heartbreaking and we send our deepest condolences and sympathies.”

Jeremy Terrazzino said he and his family are currently staying in a cabin and will be “playing it by ear,” in terms of next steps.

“It’ll certainly take some time to rebuild the whole community,” he said.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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22-Year-Old Woman Pulled Alive from Rubble in Sioux Falls Building Collapse

Sioux Falls Fire Department(SIOUX FALLS, S.D.) — A 22-year-old woman was pulled alive from the rubble of a building that collapsed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, according to local reports.

Around 10:30 a.m. local time, the Sioux Falls Fire Department posted a photo showing the collapsed building, saying firefighters were working “as rapidly and safely as possible” to locate two people trapped in the debris.

Three hours later, firefighters rescued the woman from the pile of rubble, ABC News affiliate KSFY-TV reported. The woman was wearing only a T-shirt as temperatures hovered around 32 degrees, but authorities said she was doing well, according to KSFY-TV.

After finding the woman, firefighters announced on Twitter that they were continuing to search for the second victim. The woman was an occupant of the building, while the second victim is a construction worker, KSFY-TV reported.

Rescue efforts need to be methodical, as there are additional structural issues. Safety for rescuers and the public is top priority.

— Sioux Falls Fire (@SiouxFallsFire) December 2, 2016

The fire department said the building collapsed due to a construction-related incident and that the structure was still at risk. Power was shut down in the downtown area where the building was located. A photo posted to Twitter showed the firefighter carrying a husky that was pulled out of the rubble. The dog was rescued minutes before the woman was found, police said.

— Sioux Falls Fire (@SiouxFallsFire) December 2, 2016

The building had been vacant since September and was slated to reopen as a drug store next spring, KSFY-TV reported.

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Michael Slager Murder Trial: Jury Breaks for Weekend Without Verdict

Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images(NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Jury deliberations in the state murder trial of former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager, who was arrested for the shooting death of an unarmed black man, will resume Monday.

The jury said they were deadlocked twice Friday afternoon, and after the second time, they requested additional explanation of the law in an attempt to reach a unanimous decision. Ultimately, the jury ended up breaking for the weekend without a verdict.

Earlier Friday afternoon, the jury sent three notes to the judge, indicating their divisions and that specifically there was a single holdout.

The holdup comes at the end of Slager’s high-profile state murder trial. Slager, who is white, was accused of killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston while Slager was an officer with the city’s police department. Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight.

Slager had pleaded not guilty to murder. But as the trial concluded this week, the jury was also allowed to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News. The voluntary manslaughter charge was requested by the prosecution and the judge allowed it based on testimony he heard during the trial.

“The court must let the jury decide if the force used was reasonable,” Judge Clifton Newman said. “That’s the essence of the case.”

Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Jury Has Yet to Reach Verdict in Michael Slager Murder Trial

Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images(NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Two days into jury deliberations in the state murder trial of former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager, who was arrested for the shooting death of an unarmed black man, the jury has yet to reach a verdict.

The jury said they were deadlocked twice Friday afternoon and after the second time requested additional explanation of the law in an attempt to reach a unanimous decision.

Earlier Friday afternoon, the jury sent three notes to the judge, indicating their divisions and that specifically there was a single hold out.

The holdup comes at the end of Slager’s high-profile state murder trial. Slager, who is white, was accused of killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston while Slager was an officer with the city’s police department. Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight.

Slager had pleaded not guilty to murder. But as the trial concluded this week, the jury was also allowed to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News. The voluntary manslaughter charge was requested by the prosecution and the judge allowed it based on testimony he heard during the trial.

“The court must let the jury decide if the force used was reasonable,” Judge Clifton Newman said. “That’s the essence of the case.”

Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.

This story is developing. Please check back for more updates.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Sherri Papini: Inside the California Mom’s Mysterious Disappearance and the Search for Her Alleged Abductors

Courtesy of Keith Papini(REDDING, Calif.) — On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Sherri Papini, a 34-year-old mother of two, went out for a jog in the family’s Redding, California, neighborhood, and mysteriously vanished.

“I remember everything about that day,” her husband, Keith Papini, told ABC News’ 20/20 in an exclusive interview.

That day began like any other for the Papini family. It was about 6:50 a.m. when Keith said he was on his way out the door to head to his job as an audio-video specialist. Sherri was checking on their 2-year-old daughter, Violet, when Keith said he met her at the door, gave her a hug and kiss, and left for work.

That was the last time he saw Sherri before she would be allegedly kidnapped and held captive for the next 22 days.

The Moment Keith Knew Something Was Wrong

When Keith returned home from work that evening, he said he was expecting to have his wife, daughter and 4-year-old son, Tyler, greet him at the door, but only found unsettling silence inside the house.

“I looked in different rooms and couldn’t find anyone,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Maybe they’re outside,’ and I looked around outside … but at the time I thought, ‘Huh, I’m sure they’re all together.’ I had no reason to believe otherwise.”

Keith said he opened up the “Find My iPhone” feature on his iPhone to search for Sherri’s iPhone and see if he could find her location. It showed Sherri’s phone was near their mailbox, about a mile away from the house. At first, Keith said he thought maybe she had taken the kids for a walk to get the mail.

“I got in the car and immediately drove down the end of our mailbox, and was anticipating I would see her walking,” he said.

But his wife and their kids were nowhere to be seen. Keith said he called his mother and asked her if she had spoken to Sherri. When she told him no, he called the kids’ day care.

“The first thing I said was, ‘What time did Sherri pick up the kids today?’” Keith said. “And she said, ‘The kids are here.’ It was like, ‘Something is wrong, there is something wrong right now.’”

Frantic, Keith started driving around, scouring their area around their property. He went back to the mailbox where the “Find My iPhone” feature had first pinpointed Sherri’s phone.

“It did not take me long [to find it]. It was right off the road,” he said.

Next to her phone, Keith found Sherri’s headphones, which he said were tangled with strands of her blond hair.

“If she would have lost her phone driving home one day and she had put it on the roof of her car one day and drove off, you know OK, I could see that happening,” he said. “But her car was at home and the kids were at school. I knew something was wrong.”

Keith went into full crisis mode and dialed 911. Within hours, deputies launched a search for Sherri, and over the next several days, more than 100 people volunteered to help.

“People would see me and start crying and give me hugs … total strangers,” Keith said.

Telling The Children That Their Mom Was Missing

Keith said he spent many sleepless nights caring for his family and searching for his wife.

“I was just worried about her health,” he said. “Are they feeding her? Is she hot? Is she cold? Just little horrible things that I would go through.”

In searching for his wife, he admits there were times of immense despair.

“There was a moment where we were heading back after we did a few mile search and we look up and we start to see birds circling,” Keith said. “And I went to my knees and I thought, ‘Am I really hiking out here to look for my wife and I don’t want to find her right now, but I do want to find her’ … that was a tough one for me that day.”

As he was dealing with the agony of losing his wife, Keith said he still had to care for their two kids, and his family and friends came to the rescue to help keep them entertained and happy. But after a couple of days, Keith couldn’t hide the fact that Sherri was missing from Tyler.

“I told him I had something important to tell him and he jumped on the couch and he knew something was up and said, ‘Dad, you can tell me anything,’” Keith said, through tears. “For a little 4-year-old to say that I wasn’t prepared for that.

“And I just said, ‘Son, mommy went running and she didn’t come home and we’re all looking for her right now,” he continued. “And we just held each other … and I said, ‘We’re going to find her and we’re going to get her back.’”

One day, Keith said he found Tyler standing in front of Sherri’s picture.

“He was just standing there and he had his left hand on her face,” he said. “He was just staring at her … and he just, you know, tears in his eyes with his hands on her face.”

At this time, Keith, his family and friends were growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in his wife’s missing persons case.

“I was very upset. I wanted more involvement with everybody … I wanted every law enforcement agency out there,” he said. “I wanted Marines, the Army … I wanted everything of course. I’m going to do everything I can to find my wife.”

Sherri’s older sister, Sheila Koester, who is seven months pregnant, says she focused on protecting Keith, and making sure he ate and was taking care of himself.

“I think Keith and I supported each other,” she said. “He made sure that I stayed in the house and wasn’t traipsing through fields, going through places, because he knows I probably would have been doing that.”

The Search for Sherri and Suspects

Although any husband would be a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, Koester said she knew he had nothing to do with it. The family knew Sherri as “super mom” and Keith was a wonderful husband, she said.

“You would hope that your child or your daughter would find someone so loving, so dedicated to their spouse,” she said.

To ease any doubt, Keith consented to taking an hours-long polygraph test.

“They asked me multiple questions. He said, ‘These things you have to pass with a 100 percent. You can’t get 99.’ To me, I was like, ‘No, problem. Let’s hurry this up and get this over with,’” recalled Keith.

It took at least nine days before police cleared Keith of any suspicion.

“We were going through investigating hundreds of tips, looking at cell phone data,” Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told 20/20.

Bosenko said they followed up on more than 400 tips, none of which led them to Sherri.

“The investigators had basically been working three weeks straight, nonstop — pouring their heart and souls into this investigation. But so far, no viable leads,” said Bosenko.

“I don’t think I ever lost hope, but it was eating away at me big time,” Keith said. “Did I do everything I could? Yes or no? I just wanted to make sure I checked ‘yeah’ on every single thing.”

The Papini family started a GoFundMe account, and they raised nearly $50,000 in donations. Then, Keith took a chance with a man named Cameron Gamble, who said he represented an anonymous donor.

Gamble, who calls himself an international kidnapping ransom consultant, and the anonymous donor set up a website and offered a large cash ransom.

“One of the big things was finding a creative way to get her story out there bigger,” Gamble told 20/20.

Like Keith, Gamble was convinced that Sherri had been abducted. He was also confident that Keith wasn’t involved, and that Sherri didn’t walk way voluntarily.

Though investigators did not support Gamble’s involvement, Keith said he was willing to do anything to get Sherri home.

“For me, I was going to do everything I could to get my wife back, and if this was going to work, I was going to try it,” Keith said.

On Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, Gamble posted a video online informing Sherri’s alleged captors that the ransom was “off the table” and calling for the public to find Sherri in exchange for a hefty reward.

“I wanted to make it so tempting that the abductor’s own mother would have turned him in,” Gamble said.

The Day Keith Learned His Wife Had Been Found Alive

The next day, before dawn, Keith missed a phone call on his cell phone from a number he didn’t recognize.

“Immediately after that, my home phone rang,” Keith said. “It was my wife screaming in the background, yelling my name, and a CHP [California High Patrol] officer that seemed somewhat confused at the moment, like, ‘What is going on?’… [the officer] said, ‘I need you to be calm. I need you to be calm.’ … I already know it’s her. I can tell her voice.”

At first, Keith said he didn’t know what happening, whether his wife was hurt or not. He could only hear her screaming.

“I get the phone and, [I said], ‘Oh my God, honey.’ And of course she’s screaming,” Keith said. “It’s very emotional. And, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you, Oh my God, you’re here. You’re back. Where are you?’ And then the phone gets taken away from her. Like, super quick.”

Getting that phone call and hearing his wife screaming made him feel “very mixed emotion[s],” Keith said.

“I’m panicked but I’m happy because at this point this is the first time I’ve heard her voice,” he added. “I know she’s alive.”

Soon after getting the call, Keith said he told the couple’s two children their mother had been found. He said he told their 4-year-old son first.

“I sat him down, and I was on my knees and he was standing up,” Keith said. “And I said, ‘You know what, buddy? I found mom,’ and he got the biggest grin.’”

He then told their 2-year-old daughter. “I wanted to do it one by one,” Keith said.

After learning that his wife was found alive, Keith raced to the hospital where she was taken over two hours away. He said at first he was not allowed into the hospital, but when he was, he raced to see her.

“I just wanted to hold her. And we just had her. We just embraced each other and cried together. And I mean, I was so happy, though. I mean — how do you explain it? You’re upset and everything at what happened, but you’re happy. She’s here,” Keith said.

Keith said Sherri’s face was very badly beaten and that her long, blond hair had been chopped off to above her shoulders. Sherri also lost almost 15 percent of her body weight.

“The bruises were just intense. The bumps from, you know, being hit and kicked and whatever else. Her nose, so dark and yellow,” Keith said. “It made me sick that there [are] people out there that could do something like this.”

When Sheila saw her sister for the first time at the hospital, she said she was as battered as Keith described.

“It was amazing to see her but it was hard to see her in the condition that she was in,” she said. “But it was just amazing to see her alive and talking and saying our names. It was the best present that I could have ever received from anyone.”

Sherri hasn’t spoken publicly yet about how she got to the highway where she was found or how she was freed from her captors. The story of her release comes solely from her account to police and to her husband.

According to Keith, Sherri was bound with a chain around her waist inside a vehicle with her alleged captors. Keith said his wife told him that at some point her alleged captors stopped the vehicle on a road.

“They opened the door. She doesn’t know because she had a bag over her head. They cut something to free her of her restraint that was holding her into the vehicle and then pushed her out of the vehicle,” Keith said.

According to Keith, Sherri said her captors then drove away.

“Sherri obviously has one free hand that still has some kind of, something like a hose clamp if you will, and then took obviously the bag off of her head,” Keith said. “She, at this point, has no idea where she’s at, and gets up and basically tries to find help, runs to a house that didn’t have any lights on, and didn’t look what she said was very inviting, looked scary, and obviously if you could imagine her state of mind at this point.”

Keith continued, “There was a junkyard or some kind of yard or something like that that she tried to get into and a big dog started barking and scared her, and then she went and familiarized herself with where she was at by standing in the overpass and noticed I-5 symbols and she knew that I-5 North is where we live. Anything past our house, you’re up in Mount Shasta area.”

Keith said Sherri saw lights and ran to another building. When she could not get into that building, Keith said, Sherri then ran to the freeway.

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, Keith said Sherri attempted to flag passing motorists on the highway.

Alison Sutton happened to be driving down I-5 North when she saw Sherri.

“I saw a woman frantically waving what looked like a shirt up and down, trying to flag somebody down. I was started to see her. It was dark and she pretty much just came out of nowhere,” Sutton told “20/20.” “If I had swerved to the right at least a little bit, I would have hit her with my car. She had, like, a wide-eyed, panicked kind of look. I figured if she was willing to risk being hit by a car trying to get somebody’s attention that she must really need some help.”

Sutton said she pulled off the highway and called 911. Dozens of other drivers also called 911 on Sherri’s behalf.

Keith said that Sherri was trying to flag people down for an extended amount of time and that several people drove past her without stopping.

“She screams so much. She said she was coughing up blood from the screaming, trying to get somebody to stop,” Keith said. “Again, just another sign of how my wife is: She’s saying, ‘Well, maybe people aren’t stopping because I have a chain. It looks like I broke out of prison.’ So she tried to tuck in her chain under her clothes.”

Rescue workers raced to the scene, which was 150 miles away from the Papinis’ Redding home. Sherri was disoriented from 22 days in captivity and didn’t know what time or what day it was, Keith said.

“She thought it was late that night, so when the paramedics finally were talking to her, they were the first people to tell her, ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ It just blew her mind and then she’s like, ‘Oh, it’s Thanksgiving night?’ And they said, ‘No, it’s Thanksgiving morning,’” Keith said.

Where the Case Stands Today and How the Papini Family Is Healing

Authorities are still hunting for the alleged kidnappers. Based on Sherri’s description of her alleged captors, Sheriff Bosenko told ABC News that authorities are searching for two Hispanic female adults armed with a gun and driving a dark SUV.

One suspect, the younger of the two, was described as having long curly hair and a thick accent, pierced ears and thin eyebrows, Bosenko said, while the other woman, the older one, was described as having straight black hair with some grays and thick eyebrows. Police artists are now working on a composite sketch.

Keith said he is focused on what is next for his family’s healing.

“You would expect that I want to get these people … and then your mind goes into a place that it shouldn’t and I think most people are doing that,” Keith said. “Clearly, I want justice but right now I’m just happy that my wife is back. I don’t have to raise my kids without her.”

Even in the midst of the gratitude he feels, Keith said he knows his wife’s road to recovery won’t be easy.

“When lights are off, when doors shut, when she hears certain sounds, I mean it’s something that I don’t know how to deal with and we’ll need somebody who can help her through that from a professional standpoint,” Keith said. “I’m sure I’m going to have to reach out for something for some of my feelings as well. It’s not just a long road. It’s something we’re never going to forget.”

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Tenn. Woman Recounts Her Narrow Escape from Wildfires: ‘Flames Started Shooting Out From All Around’

WATE-TV(GATLINBURG, Tenn.) — From her hospital bed, Debbie Brooks recounted her narrow escape from the wildfires that destroyed her home and devastated her Tennessee community.

The Gatlinburg, Tennessee, resident spoke to ABC affiliate WATE-TV on Thursday in her room at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in the city of Knoxville.

“I don’t think anybody down below knew how bad it was up above,” Brooks told WATE-TV of the blaze that consumed her home Monday evening.

“Flames started shooting out from all around,” she said. “And then the storage room ceiling collapsed, and the main beam of the house came through it.”

Brooks said she immediately grabbed her dog and two cats before sprinting to her car.

“Put it in gear in reverse and just slammed through the garage doors,” she said.

In a panic, Brooks flipped the car, WATE-TV reported.

Brooks said that she then called 911, but she claimed the operator who responded told her no one could get to her.

“I said, ‘That’s nice for you to say, but I’m going to die if somebody doesn’t get up here,'” Brooks told WATE-TV.

The Sevier County Emergency Management Agency did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Brooks told WATE-TV that she waited for help for five hours. During that time, she was was pelted by golf ball-sized embers in the air.

“It was like being involved in a meteor shower,” she said. Brooks added that she tried to shield her pets and suffered third-degree burns to her arms as a result.

However, Brooks’ dog named Jelli somehow got away. When police arrived, they told Brooks she had to leave her dog behind, WATE-TV reported.

The Gatlinburg Police Department could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brooks lamented the loss of her dog to WATE-TV, saying through tears that it was “my responsibility to take care of her, and I didn’t live up to my responsibility.”

She added that Jelli was “the sweetest dog.”

Despite the pain of losing her beloved pet, her home and personal belongings, Brooks said she was incredibly thankful for the support and help she has received. She noted that several hospital staff members donated much-needed clothes to her.

“I think we’re all going to rebuild, and we’re going to be closer than ever,” she said.

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Death Toll in Tennessee Wildfires Rises to 13

iStock/Thinkstock(GATLINBURG, Tenn.) — A total of 13 deaths have now been confirmed in the massive wildfires that have devastated eastern Tennessee’s Sevier County, officials said Friday.

The fires, described as the state’s largest in 100 years, are believed to be human-caused, authorities said.

Twelve of the victims died as a direct result of the firestorm, and one victim died of a heart attack while trying to escape a blaze, officials said at a news conference Friday morning. The briefing was held in Gatlinburg — one the worst-hit cities in Sevier County.

“It certainly is distressing and saddening to all of us, and we are extending our sympathy to all the families that are involved,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said. “I can’t describe you the feeling that we have over this tragedy, and, especially, the loss of lives.”

The identifies of six of the 13 deceased have been confirmed, Waters said. He emphasized that authorities want to make sure they are “absolutely certain” that they are accurate on the names of the deceased and that their immediate families have been informed before releasing such information to the public.

Five victims were identified at Friday morning’s news conference. Officials withheld releasing the name of the positively identified sixth person because their immediate relatives had not yet been notified.

The names released this morning are:

  • John Teglar, 71, and Janet Teglar, 70 — who had been visiting from Canada
  • Jon Summers, 61, and Janet Summers, 60 — who had been visiting from Memphis, Tennessee
  • May Vance, 75, a Gatlinburg, Tennessee, resident who died from heart attack related to smoke inhalation

At least 85 other people have been injured as a direct result of the fires, and more than 1,000 structures have been severely damaged or destroyed, according to Waters.

Officials believe that 90 percent of the affected areas in the county will have undergone a preliminary search by Friday evening, Waters said. He added that “we hope and pray” the death toll does not climb.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is continuing to follow up on leads to locate reported missing persons, Waters said. Anyone who wants to report a missing person, or knows of a missing person who has been found, is urged to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.

Homeowners and renters in Gatlinburg have also finally been allowed to go into the city to check on their properties as of Friday morning, Waters said. He added that officials hope to have Gatlinburg open to the public by Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Property owners can also check on the condition of their properties via an interactive map at, Waters said. He added that it was important to note that the map will be gradually updated, so owners should check back frequently throughout the weekend.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker also attended the news conference Friday morning.

Haslam said he has received calls of support “from almost every governor in the country,” as well as from President Obama, President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

“We all love these mountains,” Haslam said. “It’s a special place.”

Alexander said though the fire was “terrifying and impressive,” the community’s and nation’s response to it “is even more impressive.”

“My heart breaks for the families who’ve lost loved ones and homes, but I know you’ll be back because east Tennesseans are strong, tough and resilient,” he said.

Corker acknowledged that having 13 lives lost was “an incredible tragedy,” but he said he also wanted to give his “hats off” to the first responders and volunteers.

Towards the end of the news conference, a few reporters got into a heated exchange with officials. The reporters questioned if people in the area were given early enough notice to evacuate.

Officials noted that an evacuation alert was sent out to mobile phones in the area around 9:04 p.m. Monday, though power outages made some notifications difficult to send.

One official noted that if some people did not receive the alert sent out then, “of course we’re unsatisfied.”

Waters then said that they would not get into “Monday morning quarterbacking” from out-of-towners and ended the news conference.

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Mayor Talks About Losing Home, Business to Deadly Wildfires in Tennessee

iStock/Thinkstock(GATLINBURG, Tenn.) — The mayor of a small mountain town in eastern Tennessee is among those who lost their homes and businesses in deadly wildfires that have scorched the state.

In an emotional interview with local ABC affiliate WATE-TV on Thursday, Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner talked about how his family and the community have been trying to cope with the loss and devastation. The wildfires engulfed Werner’s house, which he built himself, along with all seven buildings of the condominium business he owns.

“We lost our home, we lost our business,” Werner told WATE. “I call it a huge bump in the road. But our family’s safe, everybody’s healthy, we all love each other.”

The father of seven said his children and wife have been the cornerstone of his support system. Werner, who visited a shelter on Thursday, said he has also kept his focus on helping Gatlinburg residents who have lost everything.

“We just came from the shelter over here and just had a chance to tell people, you know, ‘Don’t worry.’ Like my mama used to tell me, ‘Everything’s going to be OK,'” the mayor told WATE. “So I think that’s how I’m getting through this, is focusing more on others than myself because so many other people are in the same boat.”

Werner fought back tears when describing the tight-knit community of Gatlinburg, a popular resort area, and the resilience of its residents.

“The people of this area, it’s like a family,” he told WATE. “There’s people that bend over backward. I get emotional when people ask me what I can do for you because, you know, we’re fine. You know, we’re going to be OK. We’ve had friends open their house to us. We’ve had so many people offer places where we can live. But I’m just thankful that we’re here to be able to try to help everybody; that’s our goal.”

Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle also lost her home in the fires, according to WATE.

Officials said at a press conference Tuesday that some 150 structures were damaged or destroyed in all of Sevier County, which encompasses Gatlinburg.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has called the wildfires the state’s largest in 100 years.

The blazes, which officials believe were “human-caused,” have burned more than 17,100 acres of land in eastern Tennessee, killing at least 11 people and injuring 80 others. All of the fires were extinguished as of Thursday afternoon, though officials said a few “hot spots” remain.

“People were basically running for their lives,” Werner said at a press conference Tuesday.

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One Man Arrested in Fatal Bourbon Street Shooting

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW ORLEANS) — A 20-year-old has been arrested in connection with the shooting in New Orleans’ French Quarter last Sunday morning that killed one and injured nine, local officials announced Friday morning, as they urged the public to help them find a second suspect.

At a press conference Friday morning, New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that 20-year-old Jordan Clay has been identified as one of two men allegedly involved in the deadly shooting.

Police said Friday that they believe Clay and another man were in a dispute, then met on Bourbon Street, where the shooting happened.

Clay has been arrested for second-degree murder, officials announced Friday morning. He is being held in St. Martin Parish and will be extradited to New Orleans, they said. It’s unclear whether Clay has obtained a lawyer.

Meanwhile, police are looking for the second suspect, the man that Clay met. That man’s name has not been released. Authorities are urging anyone with information about what happened on Bourbon Street early Sunday to come forward.

The deceased victim, who was caught in the crossfire, was 25-year-old Demontris Toliver, of Baton Rouge. His father spoke at Friday morning’s news conference, saying his son was a triplet and urging his other children to stay strong through the family tragedy.

Police said Clay and the other suspect were not from New Orleans and were in town visiting on a weekend that had a major public event: the Bayou Classic — an annual college football game between the Grambling State University Tigers and the Southern University Jaguars. The game took place Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, about two miles from where the shooting took place.

Landrieu tweeted Friday morning, “All options are on the table to increase security in NOLA especially in the French Quarter during major public events. … We are constantly exploring all options to increase safety and security for our citizens.”

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