<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - National & International News]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/national-international http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:25:44 -0500 Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:25:44 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[2 Dead in New Hampshire Circus Tent Collapse]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 21:40:56 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/lancaster+photo+credit+sebastian+fuentes.jpg

Two people died and at least 22 others were injured when a circus tent collapsed at the Lancaster Fairgrounds on Monday, New Hampshire State Police said.

Initially, 250 people were trapped under the tent. State police say the other impacted individuals made it out safe.

Gov. Maggie Hassan tweeted that state officials are working to assist with the incident and “will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Emergency responders, Lancaster police, and state police are on scene.

Further details regarding the incident were not immediately known.

A storm with powerful winds moved through the area Monday night as severe thunderstorm warnings were issued by the National Weather Service across New England.

Stay with necn and necn.com as this story develops. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Sebastian Fuentes
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<![CDATA[Man Who Decapitated Wife Was 'Trying to Get the Evil Out']]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 22:32:44 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mugshot13.jpg

As grim new details emerged on Monday about the Arizona man accused of decapitating his wife, officials released a video of Kenneth Wakefield's first court appearance in which he appeared to interrupt the proceedings with a startling shriek, NBC News reported.

Wakefield, 43, told police that he beheaded his wife, Trina Heisch, 49, because "he was trying to get the evil out of" her, according to a court document released Monday.

Police discovered Heisch's body in the couple's blood-soaked apartment on July 25, after a neighbor called 911. Officers also found several bloody knives in the apartment, the document says, and "Trina had multiple stab wounds to her torso along with defensive wounds to her hands and arms."

Photo Credit: Phoenix Police
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<![CDATA[Disabled Students Shackled for Misbehaving: Lawsuit]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 21:26:50 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/string_out_2-00_01_01_06-still001_0_6843b418d66cd65d609c00e14ac56b8d.nbcnews-ux-600-480.jpg

A sheriff's deputy in Kentucky illegally shackled two disabled children in a school after they misbehaved, a lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court claims, NBC News reported

Video posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the children, showed one of the encounters, which involved an 8-year-old boy and a sheriff's deputy who was working as a resource officer at Latonia Elementary School, just south of Cincinnati.

The boy, who is identified in the lawsuit as S.R. and has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to the complaint, was sent to the vice principal's office in November 2013 after experiencing "disability-related difficulties complying" with his teacher.

Video footage from the office shows the deputy, Kevin Sumner, placing the boy's hands behind his back and handcuffing his biceps.

The lawsuit, which names Sumner and the Kenton County Sheriff's Office as defendants, is requesting policy changes and unspecified damages.

Pat Morgan, chief deputy with the Kenton County Sheriff, declined to discuss specifics of the suit, saying he had only just learned of it. "We're going to talk to our attorney," he told NBC News. 

Photo Credit: ACLU]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Wildfires Displace Thousands]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 20:49:36 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rocky-fire-new-2015.jpg

The Rocky Fire racing across Northern California had burned 62,000 acres and was 12 percent contained by Monday morning, according to Cal Fire

At least two dozen homes were destroyed over the past few days, and more than 13,000 people were urged to flee.

The wildfire swelled over the weekend, blazing through 26,000 additional acres since Saturday night, according to Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.  The fire broke out on July 29 and forced several evacuations and was threatening about 6,300 homes and structures.

Monday afternoon, the fire jumped Highway 20 at Walker Ridge, sparking another 50-acre brush fire.

The blaze, located southeast of Clearlake in Lake, Yolo and Colusa Counties, is one of 21 large fires – many sparked by lightning strikes – raging across California, and made much more challenging to fight because of the yearslong drought that has dried out the state.

According to Cal Fire, the Rocky Fire has gutted 24 homes and 26 outbuildings, and forced hundreds to evacuate the area.

"There's a lot of old growth-type vegetation and four years of drought to dry it all out,'' said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It was ready to go.''

The fire was burning in the Lower Lake area, about 100 miles north of San Francisco and 10 miles from Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake entirely within California and a popular spot for boaters and campers. Fire officials said no homes around the lake were threatened.

Evacuated residents were amazed at how quickly the flames spread.

"I'm overwhelmed,'' Donna McDonald, of Clear Lake, said at a high school that had been turned into a shelter. "I was very happy at one point when I saw no smoke at all. Then all of a sudden it just flared up real big again.''

Check here for evacuations and road closures.


Crews battled 20 other wildfires in California – some sparked by lightning – though none as big as the Rocky Fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Getty
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<![CDATA['Easy Transition': Older Pets Become Instant Companions ]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 22:09:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Captain_Reynolds.jpg

Alba and Steven King never thought of adopting a cat — they'd always wanted a dog — so it certainly never crossed their mind to adopt an older feline companion.

But when they went to a New York City shelter in November to check on a sick stray they had brought in a few days earlier, they ended up taking home a 10-year-old cat who meowed his way into their hearts.

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“When we walked in the room where there was a wall of cages, he came over to the door of his cage and was meowing at us”, Alba King, 27, said of the cat. “He was the only one trying to get our attention." 

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The couple felt an immediate connection with Andrew, whom they renamed Captain Reynolds after a character in a TV series “Firefly,” and knew their apartment in Queens allowed the pets. But when King found out the cat was 10, she immediately called her mom and brother to get their opinion on adopting an older cat.

“The first thing they said to me was ‘why are you getting an old pet?’ That’s what everyone said to me,” she said.

King worried, too, that Captain Reynolds might get sick soon and die next year. But the staff at Animal Care Centers of NYC in Brooklyn put her at ease and explained that a cat’s life expectancy is 15 to 20 years.

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“I looked at him and then I realized that kittens are a lot of work, they are very playful and they change when they grow up, whereas with Captain Reynolds, what I was seeing is what I was getting,” said King.

Animal shelters across the U.S. are filled with healthy older dogs and cats in need of a home. Animal care professional urge those thinking about picking up a pet from a local shelter to not look past older cats and dogs because they need families, too. 

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“Unfortunately, the older animals and seniors are often overlooked because people are excited to adopt puppies and kittens,” said Jessica Vaccaro, adoption manager at Animal Care Centers of NYC, which takes in more than 30,000 animals each year. “We hope to encourage people to come and see these wonderful, mature animals-- animals that are often already trained, often used to living in a household.”

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Adopting an older pet is as practical as it is gratifying, experts say. There are fewer surprises with older pets because you’ll know their full-grown size, personality and grooming needs. They are often already trained and calmer than youngsters.

Older dogs are not necessarily “problem dogs” — they can end up at the shelter for a number of reasons, including their owner going through a job loss or move. 

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Elizabeth Hendrix, 67, of Manhattan, had been considering adopting a dog when her granddaughter sent her a photo of 13-year-old Max, a 91-pound Swiss mountain mix who ended up at the Animal Care Centers of NYC in Harlem because his owner was unable to care for him. Hendrix went to meet Max in mid-July and brought him home the same day after he refused to go back in his cage at the shelter.

“He had a very sad look in his eyes, like 'why am I here?'” said Hendrix, who already has a 3-year-old terrier mix named Molly. “I couldn’t see him being euthanized; he needed to live out his final days as comfortable and as loved as possible.”

Hendrix said the benefit of adopting an older pet is that “they already have all their little problems out of the day: they’re already trained, house broken, they don’t chew things up."

"The main thing is they just need to be loved,” she added.

She said less than one week after the adoption, Max became her instant companion. He follows her everywhere she goes.

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Not all senior pets are so lucky when it comes to finding home. Cherie Wachter, vice president of marketing at the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida, said puppies and kittens there get adopted very quickly, but older pets linger in the shelter for weeks.

In early June, she had two 7-year-old-dogs, a little dog named Nacho and a shepherd mix named Roxy, available for adoption. She said they lived in the same household and are very attached, so they’d have to be adopted together. No one had expressed any interest at that time, even though they are potty trained.

Wachter said people looking for pets often don’t realize how much work and patience little puppies require. 

"I wish more people opened up their hearts and homes to mature pets,” she said.

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Emily Huetson, animal welfare director at On Angel’s Wings in Crystal Lake, Illinois, also finds that older pets are a better fit for many families. She said qualities more typical of older animals, such as a calm demeanor and less destructive nature, often come up when the shelter asks potential puppy owners what qualities they are looking for in a pet.

"What they want is the qualities we have in our 8-year-old dogs," Huetson said.

She said the shelter encourages families with young children and seniors to adopt older pets since they are already trained. In addition to providing information about the dog's personality and history, she encourages families and children to meet and interact with the seniors pets. 

"They just kind of sit there with sad eyes,"  said Huetson. "They don’t know why they're in the cage."

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Many potential pet owners are worried that adopting an older pet can mean high vet bills, but experts say that is not always the case. Sometimes a shelter will have medical records that can help owners make an informed decision about possible health issues. Either way, experts recommend a full vet visit -- including a geriatric workup -- soon after the adoption is complete. 

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King learned that Captain Reynolds was allergic to some foods, so he’s on a special diet now that does cost a little more every month. He also had to have 16 of his teeth taken out because he spent so many years as a street cat without dental care and is now left with only one fang. King discussed the potential costs of teeth extraction with a vet and, since it wasn't a life-threatening condition, she was able to save up for a few months to cover the $373 bill. She said a kitten “could’ve grown up to have the same problems just maybe a little later.”

At Operation Kindness in Carrollton, Texas, a permanent foster care program eliminates concerns over vet bills. Anyone who adopts an older pet form the shelter can return there to get medical care for their pet for free, according to CEO Jim Hanophy.

“That takes worry off the table for some people,” he said. “People underestimate the length of time an animal can live. If an animal is healthy when they are 12 they will probably be healthy till the end."

For King, Captain Reynolds’ age is just a number and she said from now on she’ll  adopt older pets.

“It was such an easy transition,” King said. "He’s just really relaxed, he’ll take a nap on a couch, he’ll take a nap on a windowsill. I didn’t have to turn my life upside down to have a companion.”

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<![CDATA[7 Dead in Legionnaires' Outbreak]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 23:51:24 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/meeting+overlay+legionnaires.jpg

Three more people have died of Legionnaires' disease in the Bronx in an outbreak that has claimed seven lives in total and hospitalized more than 60 people, the New York City Health Department said Monday, as hundreds of residents met with health experts and state and city officials at a town hall meeting to get answers.

Eighty-one cases of the disease, a severe, often lethal, form of pneumonia spread through the air, have been reported in the south Bronx since July 10, city officials said. That's 23 new cases since Friday, when 57 cases were announced. The seven patients who died had underlying health conditions, authorities said.

As word of new deaths spread, Bronx residents packed a town hall meeting at the Bronx Museum of the Arts to hear what state, city and local officials, as well as health experts, had to say about the deadly outbreak.

"We are not at a level of panic, but anxiety is really high," Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said at the meeting.

Lines were out the door and at least 75 people had to stand outside because there was no room inside. Many were concerned about the growing number of dead. They also wanted to know what's being done to stop the spread of the disease.

"There's more questions than answers to this disease that's going around," South Bronx resident Renita Henry said. "I'm scared, yes, because it's right in my backyard."

Three people were released from the hospital Monday, bringing the total number of people discharged up to 28, according to the Health Department.

Officials announced the death of a fourth person on Saturday in what the Health Department described as an "unusual" spike in the disease in the Bronx. The news came as two more Bronx buildings tested positive for the Legionella bacteria.

A Verizon office building at 117 E. 167th St. was the fourth location to test positive, according to Verizon spokesman John Bonomo. Streamline Plastic Co. at 2590 Park Ave. was the fifth location to test positive. Since the announcement, remediation and removal of the contaminants have been completed at both locations, officials said Monday. Verizon said that it would perform checks on all cooling systems at all its facilities in the Bronx.

"Over the weekend we did remediation, we decontaminated and everything got cleaned up today," Streamline Plastic Co. President Joe Bartner said, adding that the company looks to be back in operation on Tuesday.

The cases have been reported primarily in High Bridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point and Mott Haven since July 10, the Health Department said.

Legionnaires' disease is caused by exposure to the bacteria Legionella; in most cases, people are exposed to the bacteria by inhaling contaminated aerosols from cooling towers, hot tubs, showers and faucets or drinking water.

Twenty-two buildings have been visited as "disease detectives" hunt for the source of the outbreak, the city said Friday. Seventeen of those buildings have cooling towers -- five of those tested positive for Legionella, including one at Lincoln Hospital; one at Concourse Plaza, a shopping plaza; and one at the Opera House Hotel.

"Whatever's in the atmosphere gets pulled into the cooling tower, so there's a lot more dirt and debris and areas that organisms can grow in," Pete Stempkowski, of Clarity Water Technologies, said.

In addition to the Verizon location and plastic company, remediation has also been completed at the other three locations that tested positive: Lincoln Hospital, Concourse Plaza and the Opera House Hotel. The Department of Health said it resampled all sites Monday and would sample them again on Tuesday to make sure that the remediation was successful.

"The reason we sampled those towers is because those are the ones closest to where the people are getting sick," Dr. Jay Varma, of the Health Department, said. "We know with this disease it's not going to be from a cooling tower that's 10 miles away." 

Mayor de Blasio and Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said at a briefing Thursday there was no evidence of contamination within Lincoln Hospital, and though the hospital confirmed it is treating patients with the disease, Bassett said no one -- neither patients nor employees -- contracted it at the facility.

Since the cases are widely dispersed — as in they're not clustered in one or two buildings —authorities do not believe the outbreak is connected to any contaminated drinking water, Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said at a news briefing Thursday.

"The water supply in the south Bronx remains entirely safe. We don't know the source of this outbreak, but in recent months we have seen outbreaks associated with cooling towers and that's why we're focusing on them," Bassett said. "We're testing every cooling tower we can find in the area."

Both de Blasio and Bassett stressed there was no concern for alarm.

"People have to understand that this is a disease that can be treated -- and can be treated well if caught early," de Blasio said Thursday. "The exception can be with folks who are already unfortunately suffering from health challenges, particularly immune system challenges. But for the vast majority of New Yorkers, if they were even exposed, this can be addressed very well and very quickly so long as they seek medical treatment."

Legionnaires' disease usually sets in two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and has symptoms similar to pneumonia, including shortness of breath, high fever, chills and chest pains. People with Legionnaires' also experience appetite loss, confusion, fatigue and muscle aches.

It cannot be spread person-to-person and those at highest risk for contracting the illness include the elderly, cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung or immune system disease and those receiving immunosuppressive drugs. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

The Health Department urges anyone with symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

An outbreak last hit the Bronx in December. Between then and January, 12 people in Co-op City contracted the potentially deadly disease. Officials said a contaminated cooling tower was likely linked to at least 75 percent of those cases. No one died in that outbreak.

<![CDATA[Ex-Officer Who Killed Michael Brown: Ferguson Not Racist]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:40:26 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/141124-darren-wilson-2250.jpg

The former police officer whose killing of Michael Brown sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri, a year ago, says he hasn't read the U.S. Justice Department's report detailing the city's systemic racism and has no plan to, according to a profile of him in the New Yorker, NBC News reported.

"I don't have any desire," Darren Wilson told the magazine. "I'm not going to keep living in the past about what Ferguson did. It's out of my control."

The article is the first in-depth look at Wilson's life since the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting, for which he was exonerated of criminal wrongdoing but remains the target of a wrongful death lawsuit. It marks his first public remarks since last November, when he was interviewed by ABC News.

Wilson, 29, declined to talk about his shooting of Brown, citing the pending lawsuit. He repeated what he told ABC, saying: "I did my job that day."

Wilson also said that he saw instances of biased policing in Ferguson, but denied it was systemic.

Photo Credit: St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Mom Killed Dad, Daughter: Police]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 11:31:18 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Cheyanne-Jessie-thumb.jpg

A central Florida woman is set to appear in court Monday after authorities say she shot and stabbed her father and 6-year-old daughter and left their bodies in plastic bins in her landlord's shed.

According to a report from NBC affiliate WFLA, 25-year-old Cheyanne Jessie, of Lakeland, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of tampering with evidence in death of her father, 50-year-old Mark Weekly, and her 6-year-old daughter, Meredith Jessie.

Weekly and the girl were last seen on July 18th at his Lakeland home. According to reports, Meredith was left in her grandfather's care. The two were reported missing Saturday by a family member.

In a press conference Sunday, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said Jessie killed her daughter over concerns that the child would interfere with her relationship with her boyfriend.

Authorities have not determined the motive behind the killing of her father.

Neighbors told WFLA that Jessie would often complain about her daughter's behavior, but said that the child did not have issue while in the care of her grandfather.

Deputies say that after Jessie murdered her father and daughter, she watched an episode of the television show "Criminal Minds" which gave her the idea to get rid of the bodies by stuffing them in plastic bins. Jessie then moved the bodies to her landlord's shed in the yard.

The decomposing bodies were discovered Sunday.

Jessie remains at the Polk County Jail. It is not known if she has hired an attorney.

Photo Credit: Polk County Sheriff's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Ty Warner Creates Cecil the Lion Beanie Baby]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 17:18:56 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cecil+the+lion+beanie+baby.jpg

The company that makes Beanie Babies has created a new one in the memory of Cecil the lion, who was killed in Zimbabwe earlier this month.

"Hopefully, this special Beanie Baby will raise awareness for animal conservation and give comfort to all saddened by the loss of Cecil," Ty Warner, owner of the Beanie Baby company, said.

Ty Inc., which is based in Oak Brook, Ill., created the Cecil the Lion Beanie Baby following public outcry nationwide about the poaching of the beloved lion. Cecil the lion was killed July 1 after hunters allegedly lured the lion out of Hwange National Park and to his death. Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, is accused of shooting Cecil to death with a crossbow.

Reports later surfaced that another Zimbabwean lion named Jericho, Cecil's companion, was also shot to death, but wildlife authorities in the country dismissed the reports and released a photograph showing that Jericho was still alive.

WildCRU, Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, will receive 100 percent of the profits from the original sale, according to a statement from Ty Inc.

The research unit was tracking Cecil's movements in Zimbabwe before his death.

The Cecil Beanie Baby will be available at the end of September at specialty retail stores worldwide for approximate $5.99, according to a Ty Inc. spokesperson.

<![CDATA[Special Olympics Athlete Found]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 22:41:56 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/165*120/08-03-2015-missing-special-olympics-athlete-1.jpg

A Special Olympics athlete who was reported missing at Los Angeles International Airport was found Monday afternoon in Inglewood after he wandered away from his Ivory Coast teammates.

Shion Isimel, a table tennis competitor who has a mild form of autism, was with the country's delegation at about 6:30 a.m. near the Delta Air Lines ticketing area before they became separated. The 15-year-old French-speaking athlete was wearing black sunglasses and an orange shirt with "Special Olympics" written on the back.

The delegation arrived at LAX Monday morning, preparing for their return flight home to the West Africa nation after the World Games, which wrapped up Sunday with the closing ceremony. Isimel was seen on security camera video wandering away from the group of about 10 at the ticketing area.

He was then seen near 96th Street and Sepulveda Boulevard, just northeast of the airport terminals. Search teams were looking in parking structures, taxi lots, a bus depot and nearby restaurants, according to airport police.

Someone saw Isimel about six miles from the airport, laying on the front lawn in the 600 block of East Hyde Park Boulevard in Inglewood Monday afternoon, and notified the Inglewood Police Department, LAPD Commander Dennis Kato said.

When Inglewood police arrived, they found him sleeping on the grass and recognized the colorful Special Olympics lanyard around his neck, Kato said.

The teen was reported missing the same morning that an Albanian Special Olympics athlete who disappeared Saturday was found hundreds of miles from Los Angeles in Hayward. The 44-year-old man walked into a police station Monday morning after he disappeared Saturday from near the USC campus.

World Games officials and police were attempting to determine how the man traveled to the Alameda County community. He was in good health, police said.

NBC4's Angie Crouch contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: LA Airport PD
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<![CDATA[University of Illinois Named Top Party School in U.S.]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 16:19:26 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/college+students+drinking.jpg

The University of Illinois has claimed a new top ranking, but not for its academics.

The Princeton Review named the university in Urbana-Champaign as the top party school in the country in its annual guide released Monday. The university also ranked high in other party-related categories, including "lots of beer" (No. 5), "lots of hard liquor" (No. 3) and "lots of Greek life" (No. 2).

Not all of the school's top rankings were related to partying, however. The University of Illinois also earned top spots in career services (No. 20), athletic facilities (No. 3) and "greenness" (No. 24).

This is the first year the University of Illinois claimed top party school status, but it has been in the top five many times before. Last year, the university ranked at No. 5, and in 2013, it came in at No. 3.

Perhaps the most famous party event involving university students is the annual "Unofficial" St. Patrick's Day celebration. Two years ago, Champaign Police issued 271 tickets during the event, most of them for underage drinking or public possession of alcohol. In addition, nearly 30 people were transported to hospitals by ambulance, and 15 people were taken to the county jail.

Meanwhile, Wheaton College in suburban Wheaton turned up on the "stone-cold sober" list at No. 3. This is a step down from last year when the college ranked No. 2 on the "sober" list.

The top party schools after the University of Illinois are the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bucknell University, Syracuse University, the University of California in Santa Barbara, West Virginia University, the University of Georgia, Tulane University and Colgate University.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Most Latinos Have Negative View of Trump: Poll]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 07:17:00 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TLMD-donald-trump-nbc-vod.jpg

Three in four Latinos have a negative view of Donald Trump and more than half judged his comments about Mexican immigrants as racist, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll.

Seventy-five percent of 250 Latinos polled viewed the GOP presidential candidate negatively, with 61 percent describing their views as "very negative." Just 13 percent had a positive view.

Trump has said that Latinos "love" him despite his comments that Mexico was sending rapists and criminals to the U.S.

Trump leads the field of Republican presidential candidates, with 19 percent support, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The poll of Latinos' views was conducted from July 26 to 30 and has a margin of error of 6.2 percent.

Photo Credit: NBC]]>
<![CDATA[Barnacles Could Provide Clues to Where Jet Crashed]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 08:32:20 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-482270318.jpg

The 16-month mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may soon be solved, and barnacles encrusted on a piece of plane debris that washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion may provide the missing piece of the puzzle.

Malaysia said on Sunday that the piece of debris, a wing surface known as flaperon, had been identified as being from a Boeing 777, the same model as the missing Malaysian plane.

Investigators in France are expected to determine whether the piece came from MH370 or not by Wednesday. MH370 is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, about 2,300 miles away from Reunion.

"Barnacle shells... can tell us valuable information about the water conditions under which they were formed," said Ryan Pearson, a PhD student at Australia's Griffith University who is studying the shell chemistry of barnacles to determine migration patterns of endangered loggerhead turtles. 

<![CDATA[Defendant Killed Outside Mississippi Courthouse]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 11:21:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/crime-stock-police-scene-tape.jpg

A man fatally shot a defendant waiting in a small courtyard outside a criminal courthouse in Canton, Mississippi, Monday morning, NBC News reported.

The suspect was arrested after shooting the defendant in the chest, the Madison County sheriff said.

It was not clear what the motive for the shooting was, the sheriff and Madison County district attorney said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[13-Year-Old Girl Breaks Pelvis, Another Hurt in Tube Crash]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 23:51:55 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Boat-LI-Sound-Crash-0802.jpg

Two 13-year-old girls were hospitalized, one with a broken pelvis, after the water tube they were being pulled on in the Long Island Sound Sunday smashed into the side of a 69-foot yacht, throwing them face down into the water, authorities say. 

Police say the girls were on a two-person tube being pulled by a Nautica rubberized ribber tender, which is a smaller, inflatable motorized boat, off Jennings Beach in Connecticut's Fairfield County around 4:30 p.m.

Minutes into the ride, their tube slammed into the side of the yacht and they were flung, unconscious, according to police, into the water. People aboard the yacht, including the father of one of the victims, jumped into the water to rescue the two girls and brought them onto the bigger boat.

A chilling 911 call documents the fear and panic of the people on board the yacht.

"We're in the water -- someplace, where are we, Connecticut? The kids hit the boat, they were tubing and she's unconscious," the panicked caller tells the 911 operator, according to the call obtained by NBC 4 New York.

As the 911 caller tries to assess the situation and the location of the boat, the female caller fumbles around for words then clarifies, "Two kids unconscious, there's two unconscious kids."

The girls were still unconscious when the Fairfield Police Marine Unit responded to the emergency call, authorities say.

The teenagers remained in the hospital Monday. One of the girls is walking, while the other is recovering from a broken pelvis. The full extent of their injuries remains unknown but they were conscious Monday.

One of the girls is from Long Island; the other is from North Carolina, authorities said.

The yacht owner was driving the boat that was pulling them on the tube, authorities said; the smaller boat goes with the larger yacht, which is registered in Miami. The yacht owner is from Long Island. Details on his identity weren't clear, but he appears to be related to the two victims, officials said.

Authorities say alcohol is not believed to have been involved in the accident and no charges have been filed.

Last year, a 16-year-old high school student died and another suffered a serious leg injury after they fell while tubing on Long Island Sound and were hit by the boat towing them.

Police said that the driver of the boat was properly licensed with a boating safety certificate and described the scene as a "tragic accident." Alcohol did not appear to be a factor, according to police.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Missing Special Olympics Athlete Found 350 Miles North of Los Angeles]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:37:53 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/186*120/Missing+Athlete.JPG

A Special Olympics athlete from Albania was found hundreds of miles from where he was last seen near the University of Southern California campus.

Andi Gusmari, 44, was last seen Saturday night around 8:30 p.m. He was found at about 1:30 a.m. Monday when he walked into a Hayward police station.

The Alameda County community is about 350 miles north of Los Angeles. Details on how he traveled to Hayward as the 2015 World Games drew to a close were not immediately available.

"We don't know how he got there," said Jeff Carr, Chief Operating Officer of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. "That's a question that everyone has."

"Our understanding is he was in good health. He was not injured, he was hungry."

Police tried to communicate with Gusmari through an Albanian interpretor, but were unable to gain much more information about the curcumstances behind his arrival at the police station, said Sgt. Ruben Pola of Hayward Police Department.

Gusmari told police he was happy to be at the station and had been looking for a police department before he made it to the Hayward police station.

Los Angeles police were working to reunite him with a Special Olympics delegation. Gusmari will return to Los Angeles before a flight back to Albania.

A Special Olympics spokesperson confirmed an official for the European group will travel to Northern California to escort Gusmari back to LAX. Gusmari would be taken directly back to Europe from LAX to get him home as soon as possible.

The man's family was notified early Monday that he was located, Carr said.

Authorities had asked for the public's help in locating the man. Gusmari does not speak English and has a speech impediment, but does respond to his name, LAPD Officer Jack Richter said.

Richter said Gusmari, who was in the bowling competition, was at a festival at USC with his delegation Saturday and got separated from his group when he went to the restroom. He wasn't identified as missing until coaches realized he was not back at bed check.

The Albanian team was scheduled to fly out of the U.S. at 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

NBC4's Kate Larsen contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Texas AG Booked, Indictments to be Unsealed ]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 23:14:10 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/paxton-suv.jpg

The state's top lawyer, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, surrendered to law enforcement at the Collin County Jail Monday morning after being indicted last week on three felonies.

Paxton's attorney, Joe Kendall, released the following statement Monday afternoon:  

"Attorney General Ken Paxton will plead not guilty to these accusations and he will demand a trial by jury. He is looking forward to the opportunity to tell his side of the story in the courtroom of Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher, who was appointed to the case after Judge Chris Oldner’s recusal on July 29. Judge Gallagher has given instructions to make no further public comments or publicly speculate on events. Attorney General Paxton and I intend to comply with Judge Gallagher’s instructions. In the meantime, the Attorney General is returning to Austin to focus on his work on behalf of the citizens of Texas." 

NBC 5's Scott Gordon was the first to report the indictments and that they would be unsealed at noon Monday.

Paxton surrendered to law enforcement and was booked into the Collin County Jail at about 10:30 a.m. Monday, NBC 5's Scott Gordon reported, and he left about an hour later.

The general's surrender came about an hour before opponents called for his resignation at a rally outside the Collin County Courthouse and about 90 minutes before the indictments were unsealed.

"Under the circumstances, which include the fact that he is our top lawyer for the state, he needs to resign," said Carol Donovan of the Dallas County Democratic Party. "Though he is innocent until proven guilty, he's now trying to go forward to enforce the laws, and yet he's been accused and indicted, in fact, of not obeying the law."

“I think everybody is waiting," said Democratic Representative Chris Turner, from District 101. "I think people, whether they are supporters of General Paxton or they have questions like I do, I think people want to hear from him, want to understand his side of the story, why he is facing these criminal charges and assurance he can continue to do his job as our Attorney General. He has a very important job he was selected to do. Whether he has the focus and time and energy to do that job right now I think is in question.”

Paxton faces three felony charges. One of the counts is for soliciting clients for investment deals without being registered as a broker. He admitted the violation and paid a $1,000 fine to the Texas Securities Board.

The other two charges accuse Paxton of steering investors to pour more than $600,000 into a McKinney company called Servergy, which claims to have invented a cutting-edge computer server.

Servergy’s new top executive, Lance Smith, who took over in September 2014, acknowledged the company did give Paxton 100,000 shares, which was worth $100,000, for no money down.

“He did do advisement work for the company in the past,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, that was a situation that happened prior to my becoming CEO.”

Servergy’s founder and previous CEO, Bill Mapp, no longer runs the company on a day-to-day basis although he remains an investor, Smith said.

The company now markets itself as an online data storage service and is making money, he said.

“The company is not a fraud,” Smith said.

"No question, we are troubled," said Republican state Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas.

Though Republicans admit the charges are troubling, they are reserving judgment.

"I think most Republicans like myself remain steadfastly supportive of General Paxton and we'll see how it plays out," said Villalba.

“Everyone is entitled to due process under the law," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "As a former judge, I recognize this is the first step in a lengthy process and will respect that process as it moves forward.”

"It is important to recognize that an indictment is not a conviction," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. "Under our Constitution, every person is innocent until proven guilty. I am confident our judicial system will weigh all the facts and applicable law with a blind eye for justice and Ken Paxton, like anyone else, will be afforded his day in court."

"I don't think he should step down," said Jonathan Neerman, former Dallas County Republican Party Chairman. "I think he's innocent until proven guilty. And I don't think this will affect the day to day workings of the Attorney General's office."

“I don’t think he should step down. I think he has done a great job since he got in in January," Republican Representative Matt Krause, from District 93, said in a statement. "I think he can still continue to do a great job, even with this indictment, and again an indictment is not a conviction. He has not been convicted of doing anything wrong. I don’t think he will step down, and I think he will continue to do the job he is supposed to do as AG."

NBC 5's Scott Gordon and Julie Fine contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[1 Missing After Silo Collapses at Northern Virginia Quarry]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 19:01:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/2015-08-03_0756.jpg

A 19-year-old worker remains missing hours after a silo collapsed at a Northern Virginia quarry, spilling tons of debris Monday morning.

Rescuers have been unable to get inside the silo to search for the man because the 70- to 80-foot structure may be unstable. Hours after the collapse, rescuers continued to wait for equipment needed to stabilize the silo.

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The missing miner has been on the job at Luck Stone Leesburg Quarry in Loudoun County for less than a year. He was unloading material from the silo into a truck early Monday when the silo "split," plant managers said.

Emergency crews responded to the quarry in the 21200 block of Luck Lane in Ashburn around 6:30 a.m.

Crews tried to find the worker, using vacuum trucks to clear debris, but operations paused around 9 a.m. so the structure could be assessed for instability.

"Our hope [is] that we could find this gentleman in some type of void area, but at this time, we don't even know if there [are] any void areas," said Loudoun County Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief Keith Johnson.

Teams have been using listening devices, K-9s and cadaver dogs but have not detected anything.

"Everybody's very concerned, yes," said Lewis Murphy of Luck Stone. "We're very close-knit; we work a lot of hours here together, and we're a family away from home."

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The silo contained mineral filler, a fine, dust-like subtance used in asphalt. A full silo of mineral filler weighs 150 tons, but plant managers say they're not sure if it was full. The silo gets emptied every morning.

"We typically will empty it by truck, and this morning, the side of the silo split open, ruptured, and the material discharged out onto the ground," Murphy said.

The miner was with two or three other workers at the time of the collapse. Those workers were able to give search teams some type of idea where he may be.

The missing man's father is at the scene.

Multiple agencies are conducting the search, including Loudoun County Fire & Rescue and Fairfax Fire & Rescue. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy will investigate with Virginia Occupational Safety and Health.

Plant managers and Loudoun County Fire & Rescue said they do not know what caused the silo to collapse. Federal investigators are looking into that.

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<![CDATA[Former British PM Was Accused of Sex Abuse]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 10:34:27 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/edward+heath.JPG

Edward Heath, a former British prime minister, was accused of sex abuse involving children in the 1990's, the country's police watchdog said on Monday, NBC News reported.  

Heath died in 2005 and was never prosecuted. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating whether the local police in Wiltshire took any steps in reviewing the claims made against Heath.

Heath served as prime minister from 1970 to 1974. The commission is seeking to identify any witnesses or victims who support the allegations. 

A retired senior officer reportedly made the sex abuse allegations.  

<![CDATA[Support Roles for Dogs Go Beyond Helping the Blind]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 11:15:57 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/therapyAnimal-lead-GettyImages-453338427.jpg

When Ken Altenburger lost his sight due to complications from diabetes, he began to rely on a cane to assist him with getting around. Eventually, he decided it was time to get a guide dog.

That dog gave him more confidence than he had as an exclusive cane user. Another perk, he found, was that he enjoyed the companionship. 

“You don’t feel so alone,” said Altenburger, who now works for the nonprofit that matched him with all three of the dogs he has used over nearly two decades. 

That nonprofit, the California-based Guide Dogs for the Blind, has been training dogs to help people affected by vision loss for 70 years. Altenburger, who was matched with his latest dog, Jabari, earlier this year, is one of more than 2,000 sight-impaired people currently using dogs trained by the school. 

But it's not just the blind that trained dogs are helping these days. Service dogs now assist those who are deaf, those who are prone to seizures and even children with autism, along with many other jobs. Beyond those roles, dogs are being used to comfort grieving families at funeral homes, calm traumatized witnesses in courts and lower stress levels of law students going through final exams. One nonprofit, Puppies Behind Bars, recruits prisoners to train dogs to help wounded war veterans. 

“Dogs have a unique ability to sense when people are in need,” said Lutheran Church Charities President Tim Hetzner, whose group began using comfort dogs as part of its disaster response work after Hurricane Katrina. “Dogs show unconditional love. .... When people pet a dog, it lowers their blood pressure, they feel more relaxed and they feel more comfortable discussing what’s going on, particularly in crisis situations.”

While dogs have assisted their owners, both with and without disabilities, for centuries, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the concept of a service dog was commonly accepted.

Guide dogs assisted many German soldiers who lost their sight in World War I and The Seeing Eye, the oldest operating guide dog school in the world, was founded in New Jersey 1929. But the expanded concept of a “service dog” was not formally established until the latter half of the century, due to the work of former special education teacher Bonnie Bergin.

Bergin’s intent when developing the service dog concept was to help people with mobility issues, such as quadriplegics. The animals have several characteristics that make them a good fit for helping people, she said. 

“Dogs seek dyadic relationships, meaning they seek partnership with one other being,” said Bergin, who, in addition to starting her own canine studies institute, helped officials work service dog protections into federal law. “It fits their psychological drive. They love working. It gives them a purpose.”

The skills and benefits service dogs can bring to a situation go beyond loving their companions and work, experts say. John Moon, director of client programs and community engagement at Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, said that dogs offer unique benefits to people with hearing loss.

“If you remove that [hearing] device, say to take a shower, then you’re more vulnerable than at any other time of day,” said Moon, whose organization trains black and yellow Labrador retrievers, including some potential candidates from local shelters. “The dog can hear a knock on the door, can hear the tea kettle go off.”

The know-how to alert the owner to things that matter -- and ignore sounds or other stimuli that don't -- must be taught. Service dogs undergo a disciplined training regimen to prepare them for the responsibilities ahead. Wrangler, a service-dog-in-training who is sharing his journey with NBC's "Today" show, is going through a 16-month program with the New York-based Guiding Eyes for the Blind that includes quarterly "Walk and Talk" evaluations and field trips to introduce him to public transportation and crowded city squares. 

"As part of Wrangler's socialization and journey to become a guide dog, it is important for him to experience new places, sights, sounds and experiences on a regular basis," handler Saxon Eastman told TODAY.com.

Even with a structured program and set goals, the guiding philosophy behind training is often simple. Bergin, who founded the Bergin Institute of Canine Studies in California, an accredited institution that offers associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in canine studies, got her start training dogs in the 1970s using the same teaching methods she used when educating children. 

“Dogs are very similar to humans,” she said. “Positive methods are the best way.” 

While emotional-support dogs, commonly known as comfort or therapy dogs, are not considered service dogs and are not protected under the ADA, proponents say they can also make a big difference in the lives of those they aid. 

The Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Comfort Dog ministry, for example, uses about 90 golden retrievers in nearly two dozen states, to assist people in need. 

Each golden retriever in the LCC program has its own Facebook page, Twitter profile, email address and business cards. Hetzner said people often communicate through the dogs’ social media as if they are human counselors, and LCC staff can assist clients directly that way. Children, in particular, are more willing to talk to a dog than a person when they are distressed, such as when a classmate has taken his or her own life.

The helping effect dogs can have on children was also confirmed by Vicki Murphy, chief advancement officer and director of transitional youth services at Casa Pacifica Centers for Children & Families, which serves abused, neglected and emotionally and behaviorally challenged youth.

Children who would normally not talk to clinicians would start opening up due to the dogs’ presence, she said. Children with reading difficulties would start reading to the dogs. When one dog had open-heart surgery, the children learned responsibility by holding a fundraiser to cover the cost, and the possibility of him not making it led to conversations about life and death.

“These kiddos have already experienced so much loss,” Murphy noted.

Casa Pacifica uses Newfoundland dogs, because they are “so large and loving."

"The kids get a real sense of being able to hug something. And they’ll hug you back," Murphy said. “Every child should experience joy at least one time a day.”

Photo Credit: File/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Two New Mexico Churches Rocked by Explosions]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 08:13:56 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/crime-stock-police-scene-tape-car-2.jpg

Back-to-back explosions within a half-hour of each other rattled two churches in a New Mexico town Sunday morning, police said. 

No one was injured in either explosion, and damage to each church was "relatively minor," according to a statement from the Las Cruces Police Department.

A mailbox was blasted at Calvary Baptist Church in Las Cruces, about 50 miles from the Mexico border, around 8 a.m. local time, the police statement said. Police were then called to Holy Cross Catholic Church, about three miles away, where an explosive device had gone off in a trash can near the entrance of the church, according to police.

The churches remained closed Sunday afternoon while multiple law enforcement agencies investigated the blasts, according to police. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[1 Dead, Many Injured After Tent Collapses at Family Festival]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 20:37:01 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/wood+dale+tent+collapse.jpg

One person died and several others were injured after a tent collapsed at a suburban Chicago festival during Sunday's severe weather.

The incident happened at about 2:40 p.m. at Wood Dale Prairie Fest, which took place near Wood Dale Junior High, as 60 mph winds and large hail pounded the area.

"We were trying to squeeze in (the tent) so we didn't get hit by hail," an 11-year-old witness told NBC Chicago. "There was the tent, and it just flew and it crashed over."

The victim who died was identified by the DuPage County coroner as Steven Nincic, a 35-year-old father of two from Wood Dale.

"He worked 2 a.m. to 3 p.m. everyday," said Nincic's neighbor Matt Carolo. "Good guy."

In addition to the fatality, more than a dozen others were taken to area hospitals and several were treated and released on the scene, according to the Wood Dale Police Department. All of the victims were between the ages of 20 and 60.

A Wood Dale Police officer and a city official were among the nearly 20 injured, according to authorities. Most of the injuries were said to be minor, but three people suffered critical wounds, police said. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased, and we are also praying for all those who were injured or affected by this tragedy," Wood Dale Mayor Nunzio Pulice said in a statement.

Officials said they are investigating whether the tent was properly secured. 

Wood Dale Prairie Fest is a four-day festival organized "to encourage community involvement and togetherness." The festival was held July 30 to Aug. 2.

The remainder of the festival was cancelled following the incident along with the town's National Night Out scheduled for Tuesday. 

Photo Credit: Susan Malinski]]>
<![CDATA[Officials Name 2nd American Lion Killer]]> Sun, 02 Aug 2015 22:23:08 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_463227356214.jpg

Cecil wasn't the first lion illegally hunted by an American doctor this year, authorities in Zimbabwe said on Sunday. 

A Pennsylvania cancer doctor and bow hunter Jan Seski is accused of killing another lion in April, wildlife officials allege. 

Officials say Seski's local-based guide "hunted without a quota and a permit."

The guide was arrested and officials say he's cooperating. Seski did not answer calls from NBC News.

Seski has not been accused of committing a crime and it is unclear whether Zimbabwe authorities will seek to extradite him.

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<![CDATA[Idaho Hunter Speaks Out on Her 'Kill' Photos]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 08:27:22 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-482297280CECIL8315.jpg

As outrage pours in over the death of Cecil the lion, an Idaho hunter has been posting pictures on her Facebook page of various kills she made recently during a legal hunt in South Africa. 

Sabrina Corgatelli, a senior accountant for Idaho State University, has attracted hundreds of negative comments over a photo that shows her with a dead giraffe.

"To me it's not just killing an animal; it's the hunt,'' she told "Today" on Monday. "Everybody just thinks we're cold-hearted killers, and it's not that. There is a connection with the animal, and just because we hunt them doesn't mean we don't have a respect for them. Giraffes are very dangerous animals. They could hurt you seriously very quickly." 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Cops Save Dog Left in Hot Car for More Than 1 Hour: NYPD]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 16:00:44 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dog+rescued+thumb.jpg

The NYPD is urging residents not to leave their pets inside their cars during these dog days of summer after officers rescued a pup from a hot car in Queens.

The dog was left alone in a hot car for about an hour in the 112th precinct, the department tweeted Sunday. The back windows were slightly open and the rear of the car was in the shade, police say, but cops still had to rescue the pop. 

They were able to enter the vehicle without breaking anything and pulled the animal to safety.

The precinct then tweeted a warning to residents that reads: “That’s no way to treat your best friend.”

Police say the 39-year-old woman who left the dog in the car was issued a summons.

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<![CDATA[70-Year-Old Man Knocks Out Roommates' Attacker With Butt of Rifle]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 07:52:46 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/150801-man-saves-roommate.jpg

A 70-year-old man stopped a brutal assault against his disabled and elderly roommates in the Antelope Valley on Saturday night by hitting the attacker with the butt of a rifle, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies said.

The alleged assailant, 36-year-old John Tutson, is an acquaintance of the roommates' and was knocked unconscious by Benjamin Monarque, according to deputies.

"I went up there and I just — bam! — hit him," Monarque said.

Tutson allegedly forced his way into the Littlerock home cursing and challenging the residents to fight him, deputies said. When a 55-year-old woman in the home, who was in a wheelchair, told him to leave, Tutson allegedly threw her off her wheelchair by pulling her hair.

After taking off his clothes, Tutson allegedly assaulted the 80-year-old man, Alfonso Mancillas, and placed him in a chokehold.

"He got me in a chokehold and he wouldn't let go," Mancillas said. "And my friend came out with a rifle and he told me I'm gonna shoot you if you don't let go."

Monarque then hit Tutson on the head with the butt of the rifle, knocking him unconscious, according to deputies.

Deputies said Tutson was an acquaintance of the roommates and had borrowed tools from the home earlier in the day to work on his vehicle. He was treated at a nearby hospital and later arrested, deputies said.

<![CDATA[Despite Latino Pope, U.S. Hispanics Drawn to Evangelicalism]]> Tue, 28 Jul 2015 06:34:54 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/lamb22.jpg

Despite growing up in the Catholic Church and attending parochial school, Gladys Verdejo said that for years her faith didn't extend much beyond attending Sunday Mass.

But an invitation to a worship service at the Lamb's Church of Nazarene in New York City seven years ago changed that. 

"I fell in love," said Verdejo, who was born in Puerto Rico, of her experience visiting an evangelical church. 

On a recent Sunday at the Lamb’s Church, Verdejo was among a large number of Latino congregants worshipping to gospel songs in Spanish. When the Rev. Gabriel Salguero took to the pulpit, he began his sermon with a fiery message: “Education is power! Ignorance is slavery!”

According to Verdejo, it was this message of empowerment and a direct connection to the gospel she felt she was lacking in the Catholic Church. “I feel more comfortable and at home here. I have a lot to learn still, but it's great,” she said.

Shifting Denomination

As millions of Catholics throughout the country await Pope Francis’s first U.S. visit this September, the steady movement of Hispanics, like Gladys Verdejo, away from the Catholic Church underscores a dilemma for the church: Despite efforts to attract and retain U.S. Latinos through expansion of lay ministry positions and support for immigration reform, many Hispanics continue to convert to an evangelical church or abandon their faith altogether.

The pope is expected to speak about immigrant rights at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia later this fall. In a nod to U.S. Hispanic Catholics — who comprise 17 percent of the population and 38 percent of U.S. Catholics — the pope will also offer a historic canonization Mass in Spanish for the Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who established mission churches in California. 

Addressing Latinos in Spanish “will be an unquestioned acknowledgment of the importance of Latino communities and Latino Catholics in the United States,” said Professor Luis Fraga, director of the Institute for Latino Studies and professor of Transformative Latino Leadership at the University of Notre Dame.

After the pope's 2013 inauguration, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, presumed the evangelical church's success in drawing in U.S. Latinos would diminish.  

“We [Latino Evangelicals] expected Pope Francis to, in a very measurable manner, slow down the exodus from Catholicism to Evangelicals in Latin America and here in America. But guess what? He’s not slowing down the exodus,” he said.

In fact, Pew Research Center polling from last year notes that among Latinos between 30 to 49, “the net movement has been away from Catholicism and toward both evangelical Protestantism and no religious affiliation.”

"I Experienced the Presence of God"

After the service at the Lamb’s Church of Nazarene in Manhattan, Katira Castro de Lopez, 34, of Queens, New York, chatted with parishioners as her two children played.

Born in Puerto Rico and baptized in the Catholic Church, Castro de Lopez said she was a teenager when she first visited an evangelical church.

“I experienced the presence of God. It was tangible. I’ve never experienced that feeling in my life ever before,” she said.

The Catholic Church has experienced a net loss of members for decades, and evangelical Protestantism has woven its way into Latino immigrant communities since the 1940s. While the greater part of Latinos in the U.S. still belong to the Catholic Church, the Pew data show that this majority continues to shrink as evangelical Protestant and unaffiliated groups rise among U.S. Latinos. According to the research, nearly one-quarter of U.S. Latinos are now former Catholics.

Evangelical Community-Building

Rodriguez’s Sacramento-based organization, which encompasses over 40,000 member-churches representing millions of Latino Evangelicals, is the largest Latino Christian organization in the country. Rodriguez said intense community-building efforts continue to draw Hispanics to the evangelical church.

“You’re Salvadoran; we prepare your food and we sing your songs. You’re Mexican; we sing your music at church. You don’t have to abandon your culture when you come to our parish,” Rodriguez said.

The church isn’t just offering cultural affirmation. Rodriguez said it’s a message of personal and spiritual empowerment, including a message of financial prosperity, that’s attracting an increasing number of Latino immigrants who have experienced poverty.

“We validate the American dream. The Catholic Church is very ambiguous — almost silent, if not antagonistic — to the idea that America does represent social economic vertical mobility,” Rodriguez said.

Penance and Power

Rodriguez said the evangelical church’s inclusion of spiritual, social, and financial empowerment in gospel teachings resonates with Latino churchgoers.

Among the ways the evangelical church empowers, said Rodriguez, is by mobilizing congregants around social and political movements, and by using its leverage to persuade Congress on immigration reform.

For its part, the Catholic Church has worked to empower U.S. Latinos for decades, Luis Fraga said. One successful way, he said, is the Church continues to affirm its Latino base is by expanding the appointment of Latino deacons.

“There is an explicit attempt to appoint individuals who have language knowledge, cultural capital, life experience directly related to Latino communities, and give them very important roles in ministering to Hispanic communities,” he said.

Fraga added that Catholic social charities, local parishes and organizations like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the Church’s domestic anti-poverty program which works to address immigration reform and assist low-income communities — have been highly responsive to the needs of immigrant communities. Initiatives by Latino dioceses across the U.S. are anchoring the Catholic Church, according to Fraga.

“The growth in the Catholic Church — at least the slowing of the decline — of strong Catholic congregants is directly related to the increased presence of Latino immigrant communities,” he said.

Mar Muñoz-Visoso, executive director of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes the Catholic Church’s efforts to minister to Hispanic communities as all-embracing.

“We have close to 5,000 parishes in the United States that do have some kind of ministry for Hispanic immigrants,” she said.

Muñoz-Visoso also said that 47 percent of lay ministry positions in the U.S., including youth ministers, parish managers, and religious educators, are filled by Latinos.

“[T]here is something very impressive there because it really means that we’re preparing the next generation of Latinos for the Church,” she said.

On Immigration

As trends in American Christianity continue to indicate a decline in membership, both Catholic and evangelical church leaders agree the future of Catholic and evangelical churches alike are intimately linked to Latinos in the U.S.

Rodriguez said for the better part of a decade he has been putting pressure on conservatives in Congress as well as assuaging the concerns that he said many white Evangelicals have about comprehensive immigration reform. “You need to support immigration reform because if not, you’re actually deporting the very future of your church,” he said.

Echoing the official views of the Catholic church, Muñoz-Visoso describes the Catholic church’s approach to immigration reform as comprehensive. “There has to be a grassroots movement to make sure that human dignity is respected, that due process is respected, and to understand the root causes of immigration,” she said.

Pope Francis has been vocal about the plight of immigrants worldwide. In a message for the 2014 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he addressed the need for thorough reform. “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more,” he wrote.

Pope Francis is expected to address immigration in a speech in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families. The event's theme is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”

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<![CDATA[Wildfires Continue to Ravage Drought-Stricken California]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 17:04:13 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/thumb-04-GettyImages-482739104.jpg A massive wildfire west of Sacramento, fueled by brittle brush and timber parched by a historic drought, has scorched nearly 60,000 acres and forced nearly 12,000 to evacuate, officials said Monday morning.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Greek Stock Market Tumbles After Reopening]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 05:16:30 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_168322850076.jpg

The Athens stock exchange plunged nearly 23 percent after it reopened Monday for the first time in five weeks.

Traders were expecting volatility on the first day back since June, when capital controls on Greek banks forced the market to close amid questions about the country's financial fate. Greek banks opened on July 20 after Greece and its lenders came to an 11th hour bailout agreement that prevented it from leaving the euro zone.

Though some bailout details are still being worked out, the country is deemed stable enough for the stock market to reopen with some restrictions. 

<![CDATA[Phoenix Man Charged With Decapitating His Wife]]> Sun, 02 Aug 2015 18:34:44 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mugshot13.jpg

A Phoenix man who is suspected of decapitating his wife and mutilating himself last week has been charged with first-degree murder, police said. 

Authorities called the scene of the murder "absolutely horrific." Kenneth Wakefield, 43, is suspected of killing his wife, Trina Heisch, 49, and leaving her body with two dead dogs inside the bedroom closet of their apartment. 

Officers found the couple's room covered in blood Saturday morning. Wakefield appeared to have stabbed himself multiple times in the chest and was missing part of his left arm along with one of his eyes. 

Photo Credit: Phoenix Police]]>
<![CDATA['Crazy Out Here': Pleas to Mayor After Deadly Weekend in NYC]]> Mon, 03 Aug 2015 11:21:01 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/gun+violence+brooklyn.jpg

After a dramatic weekend of gun violence in New York City that left three people dead and 16 others wounded, community leaders are calling on Mayor de Blasio to step up and crack down on shootings plaguing the city's streets. The mayor responded Sunday night, saying the NYPD would beef up patrols in high crime neighborhoods.

Nearly 20 people were shot in seven shootings since Friday. Two people were killed and 11 wounded on Sunday. On Saturday, one person was killed and five others were wounded in gun violence.

A 24-year-old man was killed in a shooting in Canarsie late Friday. Early Sunday, a 20-year-old man was shot to death in a playground in the Soundview section of the Bronx. A short time later on Sunday, a 46-year-old man was killed in Fort Greene. And then in East New York, nine people were shot at a family house party.

Late Sunday afternoon, community leaders demanded de Blasio do more to end the violence. At a Brooklyn Borough Hall rally, Tony Herbert, a community advocate, said that de Blasio has ignored his coalition of parents and clergy, who want to put thousands of volunteers in neighborhoods where violence is prevalent to mentor at-risk young people.

"Where's our mayor?" Herbert, a community advocate, said at Brooklyn Borough Hall. "Why are you not out here denouncing what's going on in our community. We've been fighting for an opportunity to sit down with you to give you a plan, so that you can actually act with us on this."

Community leaders say they would specifically like the city to use emergency funds to finance the many organizations out in the neighborhoods trying to end the violence.

"NYC is in crisis due to gun violence," Herbert said.

Tommy Holliday, who says he works with Herbert, said Sunday that the NYPD shouldn't have gotten rid of the stop-and-frisk police tactic.

"Police should have kept stop-and-frisk, because it's crazy out here," Holliday said. "They should bring it back because it's getting worse and worse." 

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said Sunday evening that he's launching a week-long gun violence awareness campaign. An open casket and provocative imagery will be placed outside Borough Hall as part of the campaign, his office said.

Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, a Democrat represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn, was with anti-gun violence advocates at a vigil in Canarsie Sunday evening for Donnell Smith, who was killed in a shooting there Friday. Smith's family was expected to be at the vigil.

In a statement Sunday, de Blasio's press secretary, Karen Hinton, said that the mayor and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton are adding officers to high crime areas as part of the summer's "All Out" effort, including the precincts where this weekend's shootings occurred.

"The mayor takes very seriously each incident and has directed NYPD to beef up its presence in these areas," Hinton said. "Overall crime is going down, but Mayor de Blasio will continue to be diligent about preventing crime and locking up criminals."

On a radio show Sunday, Bratton said that overall crime is down in the city.

"The state of the city is actually very good," Bratton said. "Crime numbers are looking good overall. We've had an overall decrease of five to six percent in crime." 

But according to NYPD crime statistics, before Sunday's party shooting there was a 120 percent increase in shooting victims in the 75th precinct, which covers East New York, compared to last year.

The nine people who were shot in East New York are expected to survive their injuries.

Gunfire erupted just after 2 a.m. Sunday in East New York at an all-day party at a house near the intersection of Stanley Avenue and Crescent Street.

At least 13 people were taken to area hospitals, according to a spokesperson at the Fire Department of New York. Those who weren't shot were being treated for cuts and bruises.

"They like to throw parties, there's nothing wrong with that," one neighbor said. "Except sometimes they allow other people off the street to come in, and the problem with that is you don't know what they're bringing with them."

There was no information about a motive for the shootings and the shooter or shooters were still on the loose. Police found a BMW sedan with the rear door open and what appeared to be bloody hand prints on the car's grill.

Around the same time, police responded to a report of a shooting in Fort Greene and found the body of a 46-year-old man in a courtyard across from the Walt Whitman Houses on North Oxford Walk.

The victim, whose identity wasn't disclosed by police, had sustained multiple gunshot wounds.