Review Category : Top Stories

Meet Akash, the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s Youngest Contestant

Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — Akash Vukoti of San Angelo, Texas, may be the youngest contestant — and the first first-grader — ever to reach the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but he was in it to win it.

“I knew all the words they gave, not just to me but to every speller,” Akash said Wednesday after his first appearance on the big stage. “My goal actually is to get to the finals.”

This year, the 6-year-old joined 284 other children to compete in the national spelling bee for a trophy and $40,000 in cash, among other prizes. Akash would strike out later Wednesday when he misspelled the word “bacteriolytic.” A tweet from the National Spelling bee Twitter account confirmed the misspelling.

#speller238 Akash Vukoti spelled the word ‘bacteriolytic’ incorrectly #spellingbee

— NationalSpellingBee (@ScrippsBee) May 25, 2016

Earlier Wednesday, Akash walked on the stage, adjusted the microphone and correctly spelled “inviscate.”

At the age of 2, he’d already participated in his first spelling bee. He said he practiced daily with his parents and teachers.

“It takes lots of studying time to win up your bee,” Akash told ABC News. “I prepare with a dictionary.”

Akash said that when he wasn’t prepping for spelling bees, he enjoys playing in the park and swimming in pools.

And thanks to his appearances on the Steve Harvey Show, as well as Harvey’s talent show, Little Big Shots, thanks to his spelling skills, he’s changed his mind on what he wants to be when he grows up.

He said he’s opted not be an astronaut and wants to be an actor instead.

The Spelling Bee finals air Thursday.

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One Dead, Three Injured After Shooting at NYC Venue Where T.I. Scheduled to Perform

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Four people were shot — one fatally — at New York City’s Webster Hall Wednesday night, prior to rapper T.I. taking the stage, NYPD have confirmed.

The gunfire erupted at 10:15 p.m. inside Irving Plaza, located just east of Manhattan’s Union Square. T.I. was inside the venue but he was not performing. There were two performers on the stage at the time of the shooting, NYPD Chief of Manhattan Detectives William Aubry said at a press conference Thursday night.

Aubry said three males and one female were shot. One of the males was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Hospital. Two of those shot were transported to Bellevue Hospital, while the other was transported to NYU Medical Center.

It was unclear how many people were inside Irving Plaza at the time.

Aubry said NYPD have no description of the suspects, and no one in custody, although police are recovering ballistic evidence.

There were security guards at the venue, and metal detectors at the entrance.

Irving Plaza could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Suspect in Arizona Highway Shootings Identified and Charged

Arizona Department of Public Safety(PHOENIX) — A man who allegedly shot at passing cars while driving the wrong way on a highway — leaving a trail of havoc, including a vehicle that caught fire — was arrested and charged Wednesday, according to police.

The suspect was identified as 36-year-old James David Walker of San Tan Valley in Phoenix, according to Department of Public Safety Public Information Officer Damon Cecil. He was booked into a downtown Phoenix jail on charges of aggravated assault, attempted homicide, armed robbery, theft of means of transportation and possession of dangerous drugs, police said. Additional charges are pending.

Multiple police agencies, including DPS and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, responded to reports of someone shooting at passing cars on Highway 87 near Gilbert, Arizona, Tuesday night.

A total of six cars — with 13 people inside — were hit, including a trooper whose vehicle was shot several times. One person was “grazed” by a bullet to the head, but refused medical treatment.

A second person was shot in the leg and drove to a casino for help. That person’s injury is considered to be non-life-threatening. The remaining people were not injured.

Cecil said one of the cars that was shot caught fire because of the gunfire.

The suspect then drove to a convenience store and allegedly carjacked a vehicle. He then fled north on State Route 87.

“This was an active-shooter situation,” Cecil said.

The Mesa Police Department air unit found vehicle the suspect had allegedly stolen and then abandoned in the desert near milepost 201, Cecil said. The suspect was found roughly a quarter-mile away in the fetal position.

Authorities said the suspect was alive when he was captured, but not responsive and not listening to commands. A K-9 was released and bit the suspect, who was eventually taken into custody.

He suffered a minor injury and was taken to a hospital for treatment, officials said.

No officers or troopers were injured.

Cecil said “multiple rifles,” including a semi-automatic AR-15, were found by the suspect’s vehicle, along with ammunition and body armor.

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Study Looks at Veterans Most at Risk for Suicide Attempts

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Suicide remains a substantial problem among veterans with rising rates in the past decade and higher rates than the general population, according to researchers.

A new study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, looks at a large group of veterans and active service members to help determine timing and other factors that put them at higher risk and ways to help combat the problem.

“Deployment context is important in identifying SA [suicide attempt] risk among Army-enlisted soldiers,” the authors wrote in the study. “A life/career history perspective can assist in identifying high-risk segments of a population based on factors such as timing, environmental context and individual characteristics.”

Researchers from several institutions including the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Harvard Medical School, and the University of California-San Diego examined data from 163,178 enlisted soldiers. Of those, 9,650 had attempted suicide during the study period between 2004 to 2009.

The authors found some surprising results including the fact that enlisted soldiers, who had never been deployed, accounted for 61.1 percent of the enlisted soldiers who attempted suicide.

Among these soldiers, the risk for suicide attempt was highest when they reached their second month of service. Those who were deployed were at highest risk six months into deployment. For those who had previously deployed and returned home, five months after getting back home was their highest risk time.

The most likely soldiers to attempt suicide were women, who had received a mental health diagnosis in the past month. Those who screen positive for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were also at high risk for a suicide attempt if they had been deployed previously.

Dr. David Rudd, a clinical psychologist focused on veteran issues and the President of the University of Memphis, told ABC News said the findings showed how soldiers often show signs of distress early into their service.

“Individuals who have difficulty have it early in their service,” said Rudd. “It speaks to significant vulnerability when they come into service.”

Rudd said the fact that suicides rates are at high levels even in people who have not seen combat suggests that officials should focus on improving screening measures before service to identify people unable to cope with the stressors of a military job.

“It raises a tougher question,” Rudd said. “Are they really suited for military experience? We need better screening, the question is how do you do it effectively for numbers that large. Clearly self report screening is not doing that effectively.”

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States Sue Obama Administration Over Transgender Bathroom Directive

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Eleven states have filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging the government’s directive that allows transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identities.

Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia, along with one Texas and one Arizona school district, have signed the 32-page lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in a federal court in Dallas, names the Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Education Secretary John King, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other top U.S. officials as defendants. It accuses the Obama administration of violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

It also accuses the Obama administration of transforming “workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”

On May 13, the Department of Justice and Department of Education released a letter arguing that schools that receive public funding are expected to comply with Title IX, which prohibits “sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance.”

The lawsuit addresses the letter, claiming it foists a “new version of federal law on more than 100,000 elementary and secondary schools that receive federal funding.”

“The new rules, regulations, guidance and interpretations described herein go so far beyond any reasonable reading of the relevant Congressional text such that the new rules, regulations, guidance and interpretations functionally exercise lawmaking power reserved only to Congress,” the lawsuit states.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed via Twitter Wednesday that his state will challenge the White House’s directive.

“Texas will sue to stop Obama’s transgender directive to schools,” the tweet read.

The directive from the U.S. Justice and Education Departments is part of an escalation in legal actions taken after the Justice Department and North Carolina sued one another over a state law that requires transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate.

Proponents of Obama’s directive view it as an important step in protecting the civil rights of transgender people, while detractors allege that it harms women and children.

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Formerly Homeless Girl Graduates College While Caring for Brothers

Courtesy Bianca Jeannot(NEW YORK) — Many people talk about beating the odds, but one awe-inspiring young woman from the Bronx has truly proven what it really means to come out on top with the weight of the world on one’s shoulders.

The road toward graduating cum laude on Tuesday with a bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate in forensic science was an arduous one for Bianca Jeannot, 22, and not just because of the academic challenges. The College of New Rochelle graduate says she held down four jobs while also helping take care of her two older brothers.

Paul Santons, 34, was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease some 11 years ago and is currently on dialysis, while Michael Jeannot, 26, has Down syndrome and requires supervision. The siblings and their mother bounced around homeless shelters and family homes before settling in a government-funded apartment. When their mother died in 2012, Bianca became the family’s primary breadwinner at just 18.

So how did she do it?

“I don’t know,” Bianca told ABC News. “I can only seek to go forward. I never had the luxury to stop moving.

“It’s not much of a burden,” she added. “It’s a weight that I’m willing to carry and I’ve learned to adjust.”

Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts gave the commencement address at the graduation ceremony for the 900 graduates, making mention of Bianca’s inspiring journey from tragedy to triumph.

“She hugged me,” a beaming Bianca said. “She told me I was so inspirational.”

“Although we’ve suffered, and although we’ve gone through a lot, it’s made me who I am, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she continued. “If I can do it, it means that it’s meant for me.”

On campus, no one knew much about Bianca’s life unless she spoke about it because she never missed a beat, according to Professor Daniel Smith.

“She is one of the most energetic, creative, vibrant, intelligent students I’ve ever had….” Smith told ABC-owned station WABC. “She is going to have a really bright and wonderful future.”

Bianca found time, somehow, to be involved in student government and several other organizations. She was the founder and president of an anime club that won two awards from the student association for presenting the best events on campus. Bianca also wrote for various campus publications and was the editor-in-chief of a literary and arts magazine called Phoenix.

All of this, she did while maintaining a 3.8 GPA that won her several scholarships, including one that allowed her to study abroad in Europe for three weeks.

Bianca loves animals and hopes to pursue a career in animal welfare.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and family, and my partner, Amanda,” Bianca said.

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National Spelling Bee’s Best Moments

AbleStock.com/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — This year, 285 precocious kids ages 6 to 15 will compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the trophy and $40,000 in cash, among other prizes.

The finals, airing Thursday on ESPN, have historically been a source of great entertainment and fierce orthographic competition. Here is a look back at some of the most buzzworthy moments in spelling bee history and a look at where these standout contestants are now.

1997: Rebecca Sealfon Spelling “Euonym”

Who could forget the pure excitement of 13-year-old Rebecca Sealfon, who even before she officially became the 1997 champion, shouted the six letters of “euonym”(a name well suited to a person, place or thing), her excitement growing with each letter. She spelled the word correctly and was declared the champion.

Sealfon could not immediately be reached for comment, but a few years ago she told New York Public Radio that she attended Princeton University for her undergraduate degree and then earned two masters degrees from Duke University and Columbia University.

2004: Akshay Buddiga Spelling “Alopecoid”

There was drama onstage in 2004 when Akshay Buddiga fainted, recovered and jumped back to his feet, spelling “alopecoid” (foxlike) perfectly. Buddiga did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment, and has kept mostly out of the national spotlight. The video of Buddiga fainting shows the pressure that some of these kids are under and has garnered more than 180,000 views on YouTube.

2007: Kennyi Aouad Spelling “Sardoodledom”

Kennyi Aouad could not control his laughter when he was asked to spell the entertaining noun “sardoodledom” (melodrama). The laughter proved contagious, and soon he had everyone in the crowd laughing with him.

Aouad told ABC News today that being in the spelling bee “inspired a drive to compete and do my best.” He is now a chemistry major at Carleton College in Minnesota.

2008: Sameer Mishra Spelling “Numnah”

Sameer Mishra’s reaction upon hearing what he thought was “numnuts” entertained the crowd, as did his relief when he realized it was actually “numnah”(a felt or sheepskin pad placed between a horse’s back and the saddle to prevent chafing).

Mishra, who just graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and statistics, told ABC News that the spelling bee taught him a lot not just in spelling but also in life. “One of the big things I took away from that was that if you set a goal, you can achieve that goal.” He said the work ethic required to compete in the bee proved very valuable later in life.

He competed nationally four years in a row. He said, “My last year, I would just go through the entire dictionary and find words that I didn’t know and write them down and make my own dictionary.”

The attention after winning in 2008 helped Mishra to come out of his shell.

“You had a lot of people at the grocery store and in your town who just want to talk to you, and you have to figure out how to talk to people,” he said. “I was a shy, bookish type of kid. All that attention was pretty incredible.”

Mishra will be back at the spelling bee this year, live-tweeting the event.

2009: Andrew Lay Spelling “Negus”

The anxiety of Andrew Lay, 12 at the time, was palpable when he was asked to spell “negus” (a king, used as a title of the sovereign of Ethiopia).

Lay, cringing and sounding it out, and seemed to surprise everyone, including himself, when he spelled the word correctly. Lay did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment, but video of the North Carolina native’s stint in the spelling bee, and his joyful surprise upon spelling “negus” correctly, has gone viral, gaining over 20 million views on YouTube.

2013: Arvind Mahankali Winning the Bee

After two consecutive third-place finishes, Arvind Mahankali took home the championship after spelling “knaidel,” a type of Jewish dumpling. Mahankali remained calm and collected as confetti rained down on him, showing no outward signs of emotion. Mahankali is still in high school, and his family did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. He told ABC News’ Good Morning America in 2013, “At that time it didn’t register that I’d won,” explaining why he did not seem to show any excitement as the confetti rained down around him.

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Mysterious Letter Revives Interest in Man’s 40-Year Disappearance

ABCNews.com(FORT KENT, Maine) — Nearly 40 years after Bernard Ross disappeared from his Maine home, his parents received a mysterious letter about him, renewing police interest in his missing person’s case.

The letter about Bernard Ross Jr., who was 18 when he disappeared in 1977 after leaving the family’s home in Fort Kent, arrived at the parents’ home “a couple of months ago,” according to The Portland Press Herald.

The police brought the story to the public hoping that press attention might coax the author of the correspondence to contact police.

The letter to Ross’ parents referenced a report about Ross published in a paper called The Kennebec Journal.

Maine State Police Lt. Troy Gardner said authorities are not releasing the contents of the letter, and that the family is going through a wide range of emotions after being in touch with police throughout the years.

As for whether the letter is authentic, Gardner told ABC News Wednesday, “That’s the question. We don’t know if it’s a hoax. If it is a hoax, it’s just a terrible thing to do to a family.”

A page detailing information about Ross on “The Charley Project,” an independently run non-profit website devoted to locating missing persons, says he was last seen on Realty Road in Ashland, Maine.

He was “despondent at the time of his disappearance,” the project says.

Meaghan Good, who runs The Charley Project website as a volunteer, told ABC News that the details in her report were cobbled together from a confluence of sources, including The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private nonprofit, tips found on Websleuths, a web-forum devoted to amateur crime solving, and old newspaper clippings from the Daily Bangor News, a paper focused on rural Maine.

She claimed her site has helped families locate missing people in the past, including a man who disappeared from New Mexico in 2004.

ABC News has been unable to reach the parents.

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FBI Director Deplores ‘Peculiar Indifference’ to Rising US Murders

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In unusually frank terms, FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday indicted Americans across the country for the “peculiar indifference” he says they’ve shown to what’s happening in many cities across the country, where “parents are afraid to let their kids play outside, where good education is an uphill battle, and the street corners are becoming a war zone.”

“Something is happening in America,” with “cities that have nothing in common with each other experiencing [an] uptick” in violence, Comey said at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, an icon of the civil rights movement.

“A whole lot more people are dying,” and “too many people” will continue to die in the years ahead. “We have to talk about it now,” Comey said as part of the annual Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s conference, this year titled “Race and Law Enforcement: It’s More Than Just Black and White.”

So far this year, 216 people have been slain in Chicago alone, and more than 70 have been killed in Las Vegas, Comey noted.

“And I can tell you this, people are not dying on Chicago’s Miracle Mile. Homicides are not up along the Las Vegas strip,” he said.

Comey said that when most Americans can drive around and “escape” the “cities within cities” suffering such spikes in violence, everyday citizens “so often show the peculiar indifference to something that is not immediately part of their reality.”

“We are all guilty of that,” he said, insisting that despite this indifference, “It is our problem. Not just the police, not just teachers or city council members or community leaders, but everyday citizens.”

Comey said it’s hard to pinpoint a single cause for the uptick in violence, but he said among a likely “combination of factors” is a growing “disconnect between communities and law enforcement.”

As he has before, he called on both sides to “understand and stare at four hard truths”: the civil-rights record of law enforcement in past eras is “not pretty;” “research points to the existence of unconscious bias in nearly all of us;” “something can happen to people in law enforcement,” whereby years of police work in high-crime areas “can lead to mental shortcuts, to assumptions, all of which can tear us apart;” “and, last, we have to understand the truth that the problems we face are greater than the divide between law enforcement and the communities we serve.”

Comey also urged both sides to see things from the each other’s perspective.

“For those of us in law enforcement … we have to work to imagine what it is like to be a law-abiding young man of color walking home from the library late at night and encountering one of us in law enforcement. How does he feel? How does he see us? We have to understand what it’s like to be a citizen who might worry that calling police will make things worse, who might actually fear us,” Comey said.

Meanwhile, “citizens really need to see and imagine what police officers see through the windshields of their cars. What they feel as they approach a car with tinted windows during a late-night car stop. … They need to feel an officer’s heart race as she walks up to a door answering a domestic disturbance call, not knowing what she might encounter on the other side of that door. They need to see officers who are quietly and professionally helping the most vulnerable members of this community,” he said.

Comey added: “The truth is, the cops are not the root cause of our problems in so many of America’s neighborhoods, and a whole lot of people don’t want to talk about that because it’s so hard, the problems are so complicated and difficult. … [The problems] are about education and employment and opportunity and communities and safe streets and drug treatment and families and role models. It’s about … finding opportunities that most of us just take for granted, so that those young men never become part of a police officer’s life experience.”

During his remarks Wednesday, Comey did not reference the “viral video effect” — or so-called “Ferguson effect” — that he has cited elsewhere in recent weeks as a possible factor in recent spikes of violence.

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Romanian Hacker ‘Guccifer’ Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The notorious Romanian hacker known as Guccifer has pleaded guilty in federal court to two hacking-related charges, according to prosecutors.

Guccifer, whose name is Marcel Lehel Lazar, 44, allegedly hacked into emails and social media accounts and released the personal information of numerous high-profile victims.

His alleged victims include former Secretary of State Colin Powell and family members of former President George W. Bush.

In a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday, prosecutors said Guccifer hacked into the computers and social media accounts of about 100 Americans.

He ultimately pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer and one count of aggravated identity theft. He could face up to seven years in prison, and he will be sentenced in September.

Earlier this month, Lazar made headlines when he said he had hacked into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but officials remain skeptical of his claims.

In 2014, he was indicted on charges of wire fraud, unauthorized access to a protected computer, aggravated identity theft, cyberstalking and obstruction of justice, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Lazar hacked accounts of a “family member of two former U.S. presidents, a former U.S. Cabinet member, a former member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former presidential adviser,” the press release states.

“After gaining unauthorized access to their email and social media accounts, Lazar publicly released his victims’ private email correspondence, medical and financial information, and personal photographs,” according to the press release.

Lazar initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against him on April 14, but a change-of-plea hearing was scheduled last week, according to court records.

In March, his extradition from Romania was approved, and he made his initial court appearance on U.S. soil on April 1. “Mr. Lazar violated the privacy of his victims and thought he could hide behind the anonymity of the Internet,” Dana J. Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement at the time of his extradition.

His court-appointed attorney, Shannon Quill, declined to comment on his case, citing office policy.

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