Mar 24

New England Patriots lend team plane to take Parkland students, families to Washington for March for Our Lives rally

Mario Tama/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The New England Patriots loaned its team plane to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and their families traveling to Washington, D.C., for the March For Our Lives rally.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft reached out to the school to offer the use of the private plane for the cause, parent Meredith Barry told ABC News.

Barry took the luxury flight to D.C. on Thursday from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport alongside her 16-year-old daughter, Isabela Barry, a junior at the school who hid in a closet during the Feb. 14 shooting. Isabela’s best friend, 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, was one of the 17 people who died that day.

Everything about the flight was “amazing,” Barry said, down to the hospitality of the flight crew, who provided “lots of hugs” and “lots of love on that plane yesterday.”

Each seat was like “first class” had a gift and a letter from Kraft in it, Barry said. Food and drinks were served, and a Patriots senior operations manager aboard the flight passed around the team’s Super Bowl LI championship ring for everyone to see, Barry said.

In the letter, Kraft expressed his support for the families on behalf of the Patriots organization.

“In the wake of incredible tragedy, we have hurt for you, mourned with you and been inspired by you,” the letter read. “It is an honor for us to now partner with you as you push for progress.”

Most of the families of victims who were killed or injured were on the flight, Barry said. While being there was “surreal,” Barry described the experience as a “giant family yesterday on that plane.”

“There’s definitely a lot of emotions,” Barry said. “It’s very overwhelming, but you can tell there’s a common goal with everyone here and what we’re trying to do.”

The MSD students who survived the shooting are still “scared,” especially at the onset of venturing into a large crowd, Barry said.

But “they know is this something they have to do, because they need to be heard,” she said.

Roberta Weber, whose 16-year-old daughter, Melanie Weber, and 14-year-old son, Jake Weber, attend MSD, said the students are “passionate about this cause.”

“We will not rest until something is done,” she said. “It cannot go on the way it is now.”

Weber and Melanie took the “wonderful” flight up to D.C. together, where “everybody was so sweet and so kind,” she said.

While the perks did lift their spirits, they were also a staunch reminder as to why they were traveling to the march in the first place.

“It cheers us up a little, but it’s also with a heavy heart,” Weber said. “We would not have any of this if [the shooting] had not happened.”

Barry and Weber’s daughters are traveling on behalf of the newly minted Shine MSD, an organization started by the school’s drama club that aims to provide healing in the community through the arts and help students find a voice through music. Two students wrote a song called “Shine,” which will be performed during the march.

“They’re trying to find a way to speak,” Barry said. “It’s hard to talk. They kind of break down a lot. They’re trying to find ways to heal, but in a positive way.”

Weber’s son, Jake, lost a good friend in the shooting and decided to not attend the march, she said, adding that her children have been dealing with the tragedy in different ways. While Melanie has found her activist voice — even traveling to Tallahassee with other students to demonstrate for gun safety — Jake has been more reclusive with his emotions.

On Sunday, when the activists leave D.C., the Patriots team plane will also be used for their return flight home.

“What the Patriots did and the way they treated everybody was unbelievable,” Barry said.

True to her Floridian roots, Barry typically roots for the Miami Dolphins, she said. But, another team in the NFL’s AFC East may have just wiggled their way into her heart.

“If I could hug every Patriot right now, I would,” she said.

The Patriots did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to attend the March for Our Lives rally, organized by the MSD students in the wake of the shooting that targeted their classmates and teachers.

Students are using the slogan “Never Again” and calling on lawmakers to make schools safer and enact tougher gun laws.

The march will start at noon ET in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

Professional teen race car driver hopes to be a role model like Danica Patrick

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Professional race car driver Aurora Straus put the brakes on her admission to Harvard to pursue her racing career full-time and said she hopes to inspire a new generation of girls.

The 19-year-old from Cold Spring, New York, told Good Morning America that while motorsports have been predominately male, she has already seen a big shift and hopes to “keep pushing forward.”

“The face of the sport has changed a lot in recent years, and a lot of that is due to huge role models like Danica Patrick,” Straus said. “For every one racer or crew member out there that treats me differently because I’m a girl, I’ve met 50 that genuinely care about me, want me to succeed and think of me as a racer before a girl.”

Straus said she was 13 when she got behind the wheel for the first time. She was driving a Mazda Miata with an instructor.

“I almost ran into his rental car,” she said. “But then I went out on track for the first time. And going over 100 miles an hour is the most remarkable feeling, and once you do it, you fall down a rabbit hole and you’re doing that for the rest of your life.”

The young pro will race this weekend in the Pirelli World Challenge in Austin, Texas. One of her heroes had a message for her before she hit the track.

“Hey, Aurora. I’m Danica Patrick, and I just wanted to wish you the best of luck. Don’t forget to dream really, really, really big,” Patrick said in a video message that was played on Good Morning America.

A stunned and excited Straus said, “That’s crazy,” and explained that Patrick was a “huge maverick” in changing the face of motorsports.

“Danica, like other role models out there, they were the reason I got involved in the sport and the reason I was strong enough to keep pushing forward. And my goal is, 10 or 20 years from now, I want to be that Danica to a young girl who doesn’t know if she can make it in the industry,” Straus said.

Straus graduated from Westchester High School last year and deferred her acceptance to Harvard, but said she eventually plans to study English and mechanical engineering at the Ivy League university.

For now, she is taking the driver’s seat and going full speed toward her dreams.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

Scoreboard roundup — 3/22/18

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Here are the scores from Thursday’s sports events:

Miami 15, Houston 7
Detroit 6, Philadelphia 2
San Diego 7, Cleveland 6
Milwaukee 1, Kansas City 0
Colorado 4, Oakland 2
Toronto 5, Pittsburgh 4
Cincinnati 7, Texas 6
Chicago White Sox 3, Arizona 1
L.A. Dodgers 4, L.A. Angels 3

Baltimore 10, Boston 7
N.Y. Yankees 2, Minnesota 1
Tampa Bay 5, Toronto 3
Seattle 5, Texas 4

St. Louis 8, Atlanta 2
N.Y. Mets 12, Washington 5
San Francisco 4, Chicago Cubs 3

Charlotte 140, Memphis 79
Philadelphia 118, Orlando 98
New Orleans 128, L.A. Lakers 125
Houston 100, Detroit 96
Utah 119, Dallas 112
Sacramento 105, Atlanta 90

Philadelphia 4, N.Y. Rangers 3
Carolina 6, Arizona 5
Columbus 4, Florida 0
Tampa Bay 7, N.Y. Islanders 6
Washington 1, Detroit 0
Edmonton 6, Ottawa 2
Toronto 5, Nashville 2
Vancouver 5, Chicago 2
L.A. Kings 7, Colorado 1
San Jose 2, Vegas 1

(7) Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72
Florida St. 75, (8) Gonzaga 60
Kansas St. 61, (18) Kentucky 58
Loyola of Chicago 69, (24) Nevada 68

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

Gunman killed after deadly hostage-taking rampage at French supermarket that ‘seems to be a terrorist act’

iStock/Thinkstock(TREBES, France) — Authorities killed a gunman in southern France Friday after his hostage-taking attack on a supermarket left two other people dead and a police officer injured when he volunteered to exchange places with a captive, officials said.

A female customer and a male employee died after the assailant opened fire inside the Super U market in the small town of Trebes. More than a dozen others were wounded.

The gunman took hostages and barricaded himself in the supermarket for about two hours as police surrounded the building outside, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said at a news conference this afternoon.

Authorities eventually entered the market and fatally shot the suspect, identified as 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim, according to Collomb.

The gunman had earlier hijacked a car in the neighboring town of Carcassonne, killing the driver and injuring a passenger. He then shot at a group of police officers who were jogging together, injuring one of them, before driving to the supermarket in Trebes, according to Collomb.

As the hostage-taking situation unfolded, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said all information suggests the incident “seems to be a terrorist act.”

ISIS later claimed responsibility in a statement via its Amaq News Agency, saying in Arabic that “a soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the attack in Trebes “in response to calls to target the coalition countries.”

Officials hailed what they called the heroic actions of an armed police officer who volunteered to take the place of a hostage inside the supermarket.

The 45-year-old officer apparently left his phone line open during the operation so police could monitor the situation from outside. When authorities heard gunshots on the line, they stormed in and killed the gunman, according to Collomb.

The officer was seriously wounded and is in life-threatening condition, according to French President Emmanuel Macron.

“He saved lives,” Macron told reporters.

 Suspect Lakdim lived in Carcassonne and was known to local police as a petty criminal and small-time drug dealer, Collomb told reporters. Investigators believe he acted alone in today’s alleged attack.

Collomb said the gunman, while holding hostages, demanded that authorities release Salah Abdeslam, the only living suspect and the alleged mastermind in the 2015 terror attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

Investigators are treating today’s incident as terrorism. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened a terrorism investigation.

“We believe that it is indeed a terror attack,” President Macron said earlier at the European Council Summit in Brussels.

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Mar 24

US Navy ship sails near disputed artificial island in the Pacific to challenge Chinese maritime claims

iStock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) — A U.S. Navy destroyer on Friday sailed within 12 miles of a disputed artificial island claimed by China in the South China Sea, according to a U.S. defense official.

The USS Mustin’s passage past Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands is the latest Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) conducted by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea in disputed waters claimed by China.

The U.S. ship also conducted maneuvering operations as it sailed past the artificial island, the defense official said. Mischief Reef is one of seven artificial islands built up by China in recent years to press their territorial claims to the island chain.

The Navy carries out FONOPs around the world to challenge excessive maritime claims made by countries, but the operations directed at claims made by China draw the most attention.

China’s Foreign Ministry in January strongly criticized the FONOP conducted by the destroyer USS Hopper past Scarborough Shoal, west of the Philippines. The Hopper’s passage “violated China’s sovereignty and security interests” and put the safety of Chinese vessels and personnel at risk, a ministry statement said.

The operation carried out by the USS Mustin will likely draw attention to its timing because it comes a day after the Trump administration proposed $60 billion in trade tariffs on China. But the operation may have been coincidental because FONOPs are planned weeks in advance.

“U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea,” Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokeswoman, said in a statement. “All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

“We conduct routine and regular FONOPs as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” she added. “FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements. The United States takes a strong position on protecting the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries and that all maritime claims must comply with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.”

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Mar 24

Driver behind deadly vehicle crash at Travis Air Force Base identified

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The man who drove into Travis Air Force Base in California on Wednesday night has been identified as Hafiz Kazi, 51, according to the FBI special agent in charge, Sean Ragan.

Kazi was from India, a legal permanent resident since 1993 with no connection to the base, Ragan said.

Ragan described him as having generally lived in the San Francisco area for much of that time.

Ragan said there was no known nexus to terrorism at this time.

Multiple sources described Kazi to ABC News as a “nomad” and a “vagabond.”

His vehicle slowly approached the checkpoint at the main gate of Travis on Wednesday evening, two U.S. officials said. At the point where a guard would have checked Kazi’s identification, the vehicle kept moving, and a flash was observed inside the vehicle.

As the vehicle moved slowly through the checkpoint, it fully ignited into flames before coming to a stop on a median, the officials said.

Ragan said five propane tanks were found inside the vehicle, along with three phones, three plastic one-gallon gas cans, several lighters, and a gym bag with personal items.

Authorities extracted a video from one of Kazi’s phones and are analyzing it to try and see if it could help point to a motive for the incident which left the driver dead, and the vehicle charred.

Ragan said the video did not contain material connected to Islamic extremism.

The FBI and the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations are jointly looking into the incident.

“The investigation that we’re doing right now is trying to piece together his life, trying to piece together what led up to this event and attempt to determine why he was there and why he had those items in his vehicle,” Ragan said.

Terrorism and mental health issues are some of the motives being considered, though authorities haven’t ruled anything out, officials said.

Ragan added there was no indication that there is a greater threat to the base or surrounding community.

Located in the San Francisco Bay area, Travis is home to over 14,000 service members and civilians and serves as a major cargo and logistics base to the Pacific.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

Fight between elite Army soldiers leaves one person dead

Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A fight between two elite Army special operations soldiers on Wednesday left one person dead, the Army confirmed to ABC News.

Shortly after 5:30 pm on Wednesday, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a private residence outside of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina after reports of a shooting, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Deputies found the victim, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Leshikar, 33, dead at the scene. According to a senior defense official, Leshikar was a member of the 19th Special Forces Group, a National Guard Green Beret Unit.

A spokesperson for Army Special Operations Command would not confirm the identity of the shooter. But, a senior defense official said he is an active duty soldier belonging to a Special Missions Unit. The Army’s only special mission unit is known as Delta Force.

According to the official, the soldiers had allegedly just returned from a vacation in Florida with their families. Leshikar was kicked out of the house where they were staying in Fayetteville after getting into some kind of altercation.

After Leshikar was let back into the house by a child, he allegedly went after the unidentified soldier with a screwdriver before being shot and killed by that soldier, the official said.

Deputies who arrived on the scene spoke to occupants of the home who were present when the incident occurred, but no charges have been filed, the sheriff’s statement said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

Schlitterbahn water park, ex-employee charged in 10-year-old’s 2016 death on ride

John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The former operations director for Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas, and the water park itself have been charged with manslaughter in the 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on a water slide.

Tyler Austin Miles, 29, was booked into the Wyandotte County Detention Center Friday morning after he turned himself in, jail records show. His bail was set at $50,000.

A lengthy indictment obtained by ABC News names Miles and Schlitterbahn Waterpark of Kansas City, Kansas, as co-defendants. In addition to the manslaughter charges in the death of Caleb Schwab, both Miles and Schlitterbahn were indicted on multiple counts of aggravated battery and aggravated endangering a child.

Schlitterbahn was indicted on one count of interference with law enforcement, concealing evidence, while Miles was indicted on that charge and an additional charge of interference with law enforcement, obstructing official duty.

Schlitterbahn said in a statement Friday that it that was “deeply disappointed to learn any individual is being personally charged for the terrible accident on Verruckt” and added “our review of the facts and circumstances of the accident has never shown any evidence of criminal conduct on the part of anyone.”

Caleb, 10, was killed on Aug. 7, 2016, after something went wrong when the child rode on the park’s 168-foot-tall Verruckt (German for “insane”) water slide. Verruckt was billed as the largest of its kind in the world at the time. It was closed indefinitely following Caleb’s death.

The indictment alleges that Verruckt suffered from a “persistent airborne problem” and underwent a massive redesign in 2014 after testing showed the ride’s rafts had a tendency to fly into the air.

Miles and other Schlitterbahn officials — including John Schooley, lead designer of Verruckt, and Jeff Henry, co-owner of Schlitterbahn — allegedly had direct knowledge that “the redesign failed to eliminate the airborne raft problem” but moved ahead with the ride’s opening nonetheless, according to the indictment.

Henry allegedly came up with the idea for the water slide, rushing the ride to construction despite “a long list of dangerous design flaws,” according to the indictment. He was allegedly motivated by a desire to brag to rival water park owners, the indictment states.

Experts who examined the ride after Caleb’s death found that “Verruckt’s design violated nearly all aspects of the longstanding industry safety standard,” the indictment states, adding that evidence shows Verruckt’s designers and operators knew that the ride “posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death or severe bodily harm.”

Documentation cited in the indictment shows that riders suffered a range of injuries before Caleb’s death, including multiple broken bones and concussions.

Following Caleb’s death, Miles allegedly attempted to cover up reports of complaints of injuries on the ride, the indictment states, even allegedly coaching a lifeguard at the park to lie.

Thanks to Miles’ alleged withholding of information and efforts at a cover-up, the investigation was “delayed by nearly six months,” the indictment states.

Esteban Castaneda told ABC News in 2016 he first heard a “boom” on Schlitterbahn Waterpark’s Verruckt water slide, which is promoted as the world’s tallest.

He then saw a raft come through, and “immediately after the raft … you see a body,” he said.

He said there were two women sitting in the back of the raft with blood on them.

Investigators said Caleb was somehow decapitated on the ride.

Caleb’s parents spoke to ABC News last year. His father, Scott Schwab, said that in the months after the tragedy, the family members, especially the three surviving brothers, soothe themselves by watching videos of Caleb.

“There’s times when it’s like, I can’t look at that right now, and there’s other times when you can’t sleep and you want to look at it,” Schwab said.

Last year, the Schwab family reached a settlement of an undisclosed amount with the park’s owners and the ride’s manufacturer that will go to Caleb’s brothers, attorneys for the family, Mike Rader and Todd Scharnhorst, told ABC News.

Miles was released on bail Friday afternoon.

The statement from the company goes on to say: “The safety of our guests and employees has been at the forefront of our culture throughout our 40 years of operations. Our families enjoy our waterparks and its rides and attractions. We have set the highest bar for safety in our industry.

“Our staff, since we opened Schlitterbahn Kansas City, has demonstrated the highest dedication to safety, from the training of our lifeguards and ride operators, to ensuring all rides have operated in accordance with our strict protocols. Our team has been conscientious and committed to providing visitors to the waterpark a safe and enjoyable experience. We are shocked by any allegations of impropriety or negligence on the part of anyone associated with Verruckt.

“Throughout his employment with us, our operations director, Tyler, demonstrated the highest dedication to safety, from the training of our lifeguards and ride operators, to ensuring all rides have operated in accordance with our strict protocols. He was conscientious and committed to providing visitors to the waterpark a safe and enjoyable experience. Tyler left us in September to accept great opportunity; we were sorry to see him go and wished him well. We stand by him and are shocked by these allegations.”

In a later statement regarding the corporate indictment, Schlitterbahn said: “We’ve reviewed the indictment against Schlitterbahn Kansas City and Tyler Miles and we plan on contesting the allegations. Since the date of the incident we have worked closely with law enforcement; at no time have we withheld evidence; at no time have we altered evidence. The indictment uses quoted statements from a reality TV show that was scripted for dramatic effect that in no way reflects the design and construction of the ride.

“The safety of our Schlitterbahn guests and employees has been at the forefront of our culture throughout our 40 years of operations. Many of us rode Verruckt regularly, as did our children and grandchildren. We have faith in the justice system and are confident that when we finally have an opportunity to defend ourselves, it will be clear that this was an accident. We stand by our team and will fight these charges.”

ABC News could not immediately reach Schooley and Henry.

The Schwab family has not yet commented on Friday’s news.

It’s unclear if any pleas have been entered in the case.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

Atlanta cyberattack a ‘massive inconvenience’ to city, mayor says

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — Atlanta officials are reassuring the public that operations will continue as normal as they deal with a cyberattack on the city’s systems.

While most of the city’s websites are working normally, a number of web pages that customers use to pay bills began to be affected Thursday morning. Access to court information was also affected.

Whoever is behind the attack is asking for a $50,000 ransom.

As the city struggled to contain the spread of the attack, city officials have been forced to take down web pages in other departments and literally unplug city computers. Some city workers aren’t even receiving email.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that her office is working with the FBI.

“We are continuing to work with our federal partners and other stakeholders who continue to advise us on how best to navigate and approach this,” Bottoms said.

City leaders stress that there have been no impacts to police, water service, 911 and Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport. The city, they point out, was built before computers. As a protective measure, Wi-Fi at the airport has been turned off. Security wait time signs and flight information signs may not be accurate as a result, officials cautioned.

The greatest impacts appear to be at municipal court and the city detention center — with computers down, many taken down protectively, city employees are having to manually admit inmates, handle tickets and warrants. The city court currently cannot validate warrants or process ticket payments online or in person.

Customers will not be penalized for late payments, the city said.

The city government isn’t getting specific about who the demands are from, what kind of data has been stolen and what’s being held hostage, but it’s clear that city’s systems have been severely compromised.

Bottoms did not say Friday whether the city planned to pay the $50,000 ransom, but already city council members are promising her millions if she needs to build a new secure system from the ground up. She referenced similar ransom attacks on corporations, and on other government agencies in Colorado and North Carolina.

“What we know is that someone is in our system, and that there is a weakness there,” Bottoms said.

“It is absolutely not what we wanted to have happened in the city of Atlanta. But to the extent that there are changes and upgrades that we need to make to our system, we need to do it now.”

She added: “This is a massive inconvenience to the city.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Mar 24

American family of 4 ‘went to sleep and never woke up,’ cousin says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Four members of an Iowa family were found dead in Mexico after they were reported missing just after midnight Friday.

The bodies of Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41; his wife, Amy Marie Sharp, 38; Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12; and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7, were found at the condominium where they were staying in Tulum, according to the Creston Police Department.

Autopsies are being conducted in Mexico, police said.

According to ABC Des Moines affiliate WOI-TV, the family left for Mexico on March 15 and were expected back in the U.S. on Wednesday.

Amy Sharp’s cousin Jana Weland told ABC News the family flew out of St. Louis and called Amy Sharp’s mom that same day to let her know they had arrived.

It was the family’s second time in Mexico, and their planned activities included meeting up with some friends and going to a water park, Weland said.

But “they never showed up at that water park to meet them,” Weland said.

On Thursday night, the family had a “gut feeling” that something was wrong when they watched for the last flight to St. Louis and they “didn’t hear from them,” Weland said. She added that it was “unusual” that they weren’t posting photos because “last year they shared pictures about every day.”

“I guess we were all kind of hoping for the best — that maybe they were just planning to stay another day,” she said.

ABC affiliate KETV in Omaha reported there were no signs of foul play.

“To my knowledge, they went to sleep and never woke up,” Weland said.

No further details were released by police.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said: “We are able to confirm the deaths of four U.S. citizens in Akumal, Mexico. We extend our sincere condolences to friends and family. Our consulate in Merida is providing consular services. Out of respect for the family during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”

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