Kobe Bryant among 5 dead in helicopter crash in Southern California

KABC(LOS ANGELES) -- Basketball legend Kobe Bryant is among five people who died in a helicopter crash in the wealthy Southern California residential neighborhood of Calabasas, ABC News has confirmed.

There were no survivors in the crash around 10 a.m. local time Sunday, fire officials said in a press conference. None of the other victims have been identified.

The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter crashed under unknown circumstances, a spokesperson from the National Transportation Safety Board told ABC News.

Witnesses who were mountain biking in the area saw the helicopter in distress, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Tony Imbrenda told reporters. It is not known whether the pilot alerted over radio that the aircraft was in distress, Imbrenda said.

It is unclear who the helicopter belonged to or where it originated from and was going to. Firefighters are working on containing the fire that resulted.

Bryant was 41 years old.

He was drafted to the NBA out of high school in 1996 and spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning five NBA championships. He was awarded NBA MVP in 2008 and NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant won gold medals as a member of the U.S. men's basketball team in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

LeBron James surpassed Bryant on the all-time scoring list on Saturday during the Lakers' game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

"I'm happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant -- one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers," James told reporters after the game. "The man got two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It's just crazy."

Bryant tweeted at James congratulating him on beating his record.

Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644

— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020

In 2018, Bryant won an Academy Award for his animated short "Dear Basketball," based on a poem he wrote in 2015 when he announced his retirement.

Bryant told "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts in December 2015 that he wrote a letter to his fans upon retirement because he wanted to show how much they meant to him.

"The letter itself still doesn't do it justice and how important they've been -- how vital they've been in my career," he said. "And I mean, we grew up together. And that's such a beautiful thing."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described Bryant in a statement as a "giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court -- and awed us with his intellect and humility as father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved."

"He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes," Garcetti said. "This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe's entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief."

The NBA Player's Association wrote in a statement that it was "stunned and devastated" by the news of Bryant's death.

"Words cannot express his impact on our Players, the NBA and the game of basketball," the statement read. "This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family."

The Lakers' next game will be against the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday at the Staples Center at 7 p.m. PT.

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Why Georgia teen who left Mexico as a baby was deported

Courtesy Ivon Castillo(WASHINGTON) --  For the most part, Brandon Dali Salinas felt like an American.

The 18-year-old is from the small town of Dalton in Northwest Georgia and has a thick Southern accent. He attended his local church, was a Boy Scout, and helped his mom with a little brother who has asthma. Salinas has lived in the United States for almost 17 years, and all three of his siblings and his now-estranged father are United States citizens.

 Now, he has been deported to Mexico, a country that is completely foreign to him, following an arrest on charges of possessing a small amount of marijuana and lying to police about his age ​last April​. Salinas, who drove without a license in 2018, had violated his probation with this new arrest. But since he was a minor at the time, sheriff’s deputies drove him home to his mother.

Salinas admits he made mistakes. But what for many young Americans would be an arrest with few long-term consequences, Salinas faces a life-altering ordeal thousands of miles away from his family.

“I wouldn’t consider Mexico my home even though I'm from there,” Salinas told ABC News recently. “I wouldn't consider it because I wasn't raised there. I didn't grow up there. I was just born there."

The Trump administration has pushed to arrest more unauthorized immigrants while both eliminating Obama-era rules that prioritize dangerous felons and canceling basic protections for young people like Salinas living in the country without proper documentation. As more and more kids -- who came to the U.S. as young children -- reach adulthood, the recent attempts to close off avenues for resettlement and rehabilitation mean small, unresolved crimes can have dire consequences for them.

“I don’t think he had a care in the world when he was making the mistakes that any kid would make. The problem is that he’s undocumented at the same time,” said Mark Scaggs, a project coordinator for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Speaking to ABC News about his arrests, Salinas said he’s “always regretted it, each and every day -- just knowing that I could have been a better person.”

After he was arrested in April and then released to his mother, Salinas graduated from high school and then celebrated his eighteenth birthday. Thirteen days later, on May 7, the police knocked on his door. They re-arrested him and booked him into jail, charging him with five separate counts, including marijuana possession, lying to authorities ​about his age and violating his probation from the 2018 incident.

He remained in jail for three months. After his mother, Ivon Castillo (who asked that ABC News not use her full name because she feared reprisal from authorities), posted bond for him on Aug. 1, he wasn't immediately released. A month later, he was transferred directly into ICE custody, according to sheriff's department records. He remained in the Folkston, Georgia ICE processing facility for five months.

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office did not return ABC News’ requests for comment about why Salinas was not released on bond or about their broader cooperation policy with ICE.

 Whitfield County, like several other local law enforcement jurisdictions in the southeast, maintains a working agreement with ICE to flag all undocumented persons who are detained by local sheriff's deputies -- no matter how small the offense, according to a local ICE official.

Salinas was one of them.

ICE agreements with law enforcement

President Donald Trump and his administration have strongly encouraged local law enforcement agencies to adopt these “287(g)” agreements with ICE, products of Clinton-era immigration law that make use of local community resources for federal immigration enforcement.

The same types of programs were initially encouraged during the Obama administration when deportations hit record levels. But civil rights groups and big cities across the country started pushing back. Several jurisdictions -- including New York and Los Angeles -- created so-called “sanctuary” policies to limit cooperation between local police and ICE. The Obama administration later reversed course to prioritize the deportation of violent felons with criminal convictions.

“What the Obama administration did was really narrow that net for arrests,” said Randy Capps, research director at the Migration Policy Institute. “That kind of shut down this universal screening model.”

 During his first month in office, President Trump issued an executive order to promote the type of universal screening that currently takes place in counties like Whitfield County, and also to eliminate the Obama-era priority of removing those convicted of violent and other major crimes.

“The percentage of offenses that are serious is very small,” Capps said.

Trump administration officials point to the serious criminals picked up by the 287(g) programs. In budget year 2018, local officials across the country flagged 13 unauthorized immigrants who had been convicted of homicides and 150 convicted for sex offenses, including sexual assault. But smaller offenses like marijuana use and traffic violations are generally more common, resulting in more ICE arrests for those accused of minor crimes.

John Tsoukaris, the acting ICE field office director for the Atlanta region where Salinas was taken into custody, acknowledged that 287(g) programs can result in those who are merely accused of minor crimes getting deported, but noted his agents are required arrest anyone they encounter without proper documentation.

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate to exclude those individuals just because they have minor crimes," Tsoukaris said. “I think you actually have the right under the authority of the law to stop these people from re-offending because they are not supposed to be here and they can be removed.”

“We’re a country of laws and we expect everybody to follow it,” he added.

Charges and convictions for traffic violations, driving under the influence and illegal drug use are the most common infractions seen among those arrested by ICE followed by assault and immigration-related violations, according to the most recent data released by the agency.

DACA no longer an option for many

Simply by living in the United States undocumented, Salinas was committing a civil violation under federal law, thus potentially eligible for deportation.

“I always realized I was different from everybody else,” Salinas said. “I had to limit myself in the things I could do. I was limiting myself -- like I can’t drive a car to take my girlfriend out to eat. Or I couldn’t apply for certain jobs.”

Like a growing number of undocumented teens, he hadn’t applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protection as a child, which would have given him some license to live and work in the U.S. Around the time he would have needed it for driving, college or working, the Trump administration was ending enrollment for new applicants.

Salinas’ mother told ABC News she had hoped for a more permanent solution. She wanted Salinas’ father, a U.S. citizen, to petition for her son’s legal status when he was a young teen. But Salinas’ parents got divorced, they lost contact with his father, and an application was never started.

 The DACA program is now tied up in the courts, but initiating a new application hasn’t been possible since 2017, meaning the number of unprotected, undocumented teens like Salinas will likely grow for the foreseeable future unless the Supreme Court rules to fully reinstate it, or Congress steps in with a more permanent solution. Even if he had gotten into the program, under the Trump administration, undocumented teens have increasingly seen their protections stripped even for minor infractions, meaning a second chance for someone like Salinas is rare.

'Sometimes you don't get second chances'

Castillo told ABC News that her son is a “big mama’s boy” and that they tried to speak every other day while he was detained. She says he was “desperate” to get out.

“I just wanna tell her that I love her,” Salinas told ABC News recently. “And if I could change the past, if I could be a better person in the past, I would. But I can't. And that's what I regret each and every day.”

Since legally becoming an adult, Salinas has spent about two weeks free and 8 months behind bars.

“I want to support my family how they support me,” Salinas said while in custody. “I just -- I’ll be strong for them. I’ve spent a lot of time in here reading the Bible, and it says patience is key.”

Salinas had his first court date with immigration judge Wayne Houser, Jr., an immigration judge, in October 2019. Houser has been an immigration judge in Atlanta since 2002, having spent over 20 years practicing law in Tennessee before then. From 2014-2019, he had a 96% asylum denial rate, according to TRAC Immigration, an independent project from Syracuse University.

According to Fernando Chavez, Salinas’ lawyer, who didn’t start representing him until this month, Houser tends to be harsher on undocumented immigrants.

“He’s known as the guy who denies everything. His bond denial rate might be higher than his asylum denial rate,” said Chavez, referencing Houser’s denial rate.

“And not only that, he moves at such a slow pace in his cases,” Chavez added.

The Department of Justice and Executive Office for Immigration Review don’t comment on judge’s decisions.

 Salinas was scheduled to see Houser a total of three times in the fall of 2019. But he only saw him once.

Then, on Jan. 8, his case number was finally called. Salinas went in front of Houser with no attorney representing him.

According to Salinas, Houser asked him what form of "relief" he wanted, but Salinas didn’t know what that meant.

Salinas’ request for voluntary departure, which would have let him leave the United States on his own terms, was denied by the judge.

As a last attempt, Salinas admitted that he had gone “down the wrong road;” that he had made “bad mistakes and bad decisions;” that he never “wanted to be that person.” He said he told Houser he regretted his decisions, and that he tries to improve himself each and every day.

“I just want to push myself to do better, and I feel like if I could have another opportunity -- just do things right -- I will,” Salinas told ABC News.

According to Salinas, Houser responded “sometimes you don’t get second chances.” Houser went on to order Salinas’ removal from the United States to Mexico. It was just the second time Salinas officially appeared in Houser’s court.

Salinas was deported on Jan. 20, 2020.

“He sounds shocked because he’s in a new place with new people," Castillo told ABC News. "But he sounds happy to be out [of detention].”

According to Castillo, the plan is to have Salinas live with her parents in Torreon, Mexico, despite the fact that he has never met them.

“So I feel like I just gotta have faith that God is gonna get me to the way and just to keep my head up,” Salinas said. “You know, it's not the end of me.”

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Series of storms takes aim at Northwest, heavy rain and mountain snow expected

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A complex storm system brought snow to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes on Saturday, as well as very heavy rain and flash flooding to parts of the Northeast.

Nearly 6 inches of snow was reported in parts of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. In the northeast, nearly 1.5 inches of rain caused flash flooding in parts of Pennsylvania, especially near and around Philadelphia. Over 1 inch of rain was reported near and around the Albany region.

This morning, as the storm system heads into southern Canada, cooler air moving over the Great Lakes is causing some lake effect snow as well as snow squalls.

While all accumulations should remain minor, brief and widely scattered bands of snow could cause brief reduction in visibility, as well as slippery road surfaces.

A series of storms will move into the Northwest bringing several rounds of heavy rain to the coast of Northern California to Washington State. There will also be several waves of mountain snow in the Cascades.

 Locally three to five inches of rain will be possible along the immediate coast through Wednesday. In the mountains, locally one to two feet of snow will be possible in the higher elevations.

Some parts of Washington State, including Seattle, are currently over 130% to as high as 185% of their January precipitation total.

Currently, with rain expected through the end of the month, a couple of spots in the region could end up with one of their wettest January months on record, or it could end up near a record number of rain days for January.

Meanwhile a weak system is moving through the South today and will bring areas of rain to parts of the region. This system quickly moves east and falls apart on Monday.

Another system will arrive in the South on Tuesday and bring a similar area of rain to parts of the Gulf Coast.

All of this could result in a couple inches of rain over the next few days, especially in parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Much of the nation is looking rather quiet which is somewhat notable given the time of year we are in. The next organized weather system looks to be at the end of this week in the eastern U.S. However, it remains unclear what extent a potential system would have.

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Woman kills retired Illinois State trooper, injures 2 others in Chicago-area cigar lounge shooting

iStock(CHICAGO) -- A retired Illinois state trooper was killed and two other troopers, one current and one retired, were injured in a shooting at a Chicago-area cigar lounge Friday night, authorities said.

The woman who police identified as the shooter, Lisa V. McMullan, of Chicago, eventually turned the gun on herself and died at the scene, according to a statement from the Lisle Police Department.

The incident took place at the Humidor Cigar Lounge in Lisle, located about 25 miles west of Chicago.

Surveillance video captured the shooting and showed several people sitting in a room watching television, according to police.

Around 10:13 p.m., McMullan, 51, is seen standing up "without apparent provocation," drawing a handgun and shooting a man in the back of the head, police said.

She then fires several other rounds at two other men before fatally shooting herself, according to police.

The man shot in the back of the head was taken to a local hospital where he died.

Illinois State Police identified him as Gregory Rieves, a 51-year-old retired trooper. He had retired about a year ago and was with the department for 22 years, ISP Director Brendan F. Kelly said.

"Many people thought very fondly of him and many people are very saddened by this terrible violence," Kelly said at a news conference.

The two injured victims were identified as Kaiton Bullock, a 22-year-veteran of the department who was off duty at the time, and Lloyd Graham, a 55-year-old retired trooper.

Both of those officers remain hospitalized in stable condition, according to state police. They are expected to recover.

Kelly said that ISP is not involved in the investigation, meaning that it does not appear the shooting was related to their duties or conduct. Any relationship McMullan may have had to the victims will be investigated by the Lisle Police Department, which is taking lead, according to Kelly.

"This is certainly a painful moment for everyone in the Illinois State Police family," Kelly said.

The Humidor said in a statement on Facebook, "We look at all our customers as family and we ask you to pray for the victim and the speedy healing of the injured." The Lisle location will be closed Saturday, the shop said.

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NYPD cop and fiancee allegedly froze 8-year-old boy with autism to death, police said

iStock(NEW YORK) -- An 8-year-old boy with autism died of hypothermia last week after his NYPD cop dad allegedly placed him inside a freezing cold garage as temperatures dropped well below zero, officials said.

Suffolk County police arrested 40-year-old Michael Valva and his 42-year-old fiancée, Angela Pollina, on Friday for the second-degree murder of Thomas Valva.

Valva called the police on Jan. 17 to report that Thomas fell in the driveway of their home around 9:30 a.m. in Center Morchices, New York, while waiting for the school bus.

The child was taken to Long Island Community Hospital where his "body temperature was at 76 degrees," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said at a press conference on Friday.

"Thomas Valva was subjected to freezing temperatures in the homes, unheated garage, overnight when the outside temperature was 19 degrees," said Hart.

As police investigated Thomas' death, Valva launched an online fundraiser to cover the cost of his son's funeral expenses. The community's donations to the now-defunct fundraiser surpassed Valva's requested $10,000 goal.

Police found that the injuries to Thomas' head and face were inconsistent with Valva's description on the 911 call and there was a history of reports to child protective services.

"Not only did they fail to render any type of meaningful aid, they lied to the police officers, they lied to the EMTs," Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini told reporters on Friday. "This is one of the worse crimes...he died right in front of their eyes."

Suffolk County Judge Edward J. Hennessey ordered both Valva and Pollina held without bail. Their case will be presented to a grand jury and the next court date is on Jan. 29.

Thomas' mother, Justyna Zubko Valva, told News12 Long Island that she begged a family court judge to remove their children from her ex's custody or they were "going to die."

"Every time I kept telling the judge, 'if you're not going to remove the children, they are going to die under his care and custody,'" said Zubko Valva to the station. "There was evidence, hard evidence. Reports filed. Children were telling me too about the abuse."

Valva has two other sons, ages 6 and 10, while Pollina has twin 11-year-old daughters and a 6-year-old daughter.

Sini said the 10-year-old and 8-year-old boys were both on the autism spectrum and were “at times forced to sleep in the garage.”

Valva joined the NYPD in 2005 and, according to online records, he earned $100,000 in 2019. The transit cop has been suspended without pay, the police department said.

If convicted, the couple faces 25 years to life in prison.

The community is expected to hold a vigil for Thomas at Kalers Pond on Sunday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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Friend recounts victim's last moments before Houston explosion

iStock(HOUSTON) -- A deadly explosion that left two people dead and sent shock waves throughout the city was felt by one of the victim's friends, just after they spoke on the phone.

Bobbie, a friend of one of the victims, told ABC Houston station KTRK-TV that the two were on the phone when the victim arrived at the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing just before 4:30 a.m. Friday, when the blast occurred.

"He goes, 'Hey, something is not right.' I'm like why? And he's like, 'I'm here in the parking lot at my job and I just smell something really, really funny'. He goes, 'It smells like gas,'" Bobbie told the station.

She said he then told her another co-worker arrived and the two were going to check out the issue.

"He said, 'I can hear a very loud hissing sound,'" Bobbie said.

Not long after, she said she felt the explosion from her home about five miles away.

Bobbie said she hasn't been able to reach her friend since. She did not name which of the victims was her friend.

Authorities identified the two victims who were killed as Gerardo Castorena and Frank Flores, both employees at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing.

The manufacturing company issued a statement expressing its condolences to the families of the victims, but did not name the two employees who were killed.

"Our hearts go out to the families and businesses impacted by this incident and to our community," the statement read. "At this time, our immediate concern is the safety and well-being of everyone in the area and our employees."

The company was "working diligently" with federal, state and local authorities to investigate the accident, according to the statement.

It was not yet clear exactly what caused the explosion, but Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena noted there was a leak coming from a 2,000-gallon tank of propylene.

Multiple homes and a nearby strip mall also sustained "significant damage" in the blast, which happened around 4:30 a.m. local time on Friday, Pena said at a press conference.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said a multi-agency arson investigation has been launched. He made a point to note that there is no reason to believe it was terror-related or an intentional act.

It is protocol to conduct an investigation and it will look into whether all regulations had been properly followed prior to the explosion, according to Acevedo.

A temporary shelter was set up at 4703 Shadowdale Drive and at least 48 people were sheltering there, according to KTRK-TV.

Acevedo asked for the public to consider offering help and donating to the families who had been affected.

"This is an area where it isn't the most affluent, so my thoughts are with all the individuals, whether they rent or own, that will be potentially displaced," Acevedo said.

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Storm system brings snow from Midwest to Great Lakes

ABC News (NEW YORK) -- A storm system is bringing snow this morning to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes, as well as very heavy rain to much of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Snowfall rates of near 1 inch per hour will be possible in parts of Illinois and Wisconsin this morning. Snowfall could pile up locally 3 to 6 inches through the morning.

As the storm moves east, some of the precipitation moving into the Northeast is changing from rain to an icy mix. Therefore winter weather advisories have been issued from parts of Eastern Pennsylvania to Maine.

While accumulations should remain light due to the rather relatively mild air, some slick spots could be possible this morning and through parts of the weekend -- especially in the higher elevations of the Poconos and Catskills this morning.

Some of the rain is falling at 1 to 2 inches per hour across parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Localized flash flooding will be possible this morning. Further south, there is an isolated potential for a strong to severe storm in parts of eastern North Carolina this morning. This line of heavy rain will move through the entire I-95 corridor.

By mid-day and afternoon, torrential rainfall will be possible, with localized flash flooding. Urban flooding with rainfall totals of 1 to 2 inches are possible today in Philadelphia, New York, Hartford and Boston. A couple of rumbles of thunder will be possible as well.

This storm system clears out on Sunday with only a few snow showers possible near the Great Lakes and in part of the Appalachians.

The Pacific Northwest will also be seeing a series of storms over the next several days. Locally over 5 inches of heavy rain will be possible along the coast from Northern California to Washington. In the higher elevations of the Cascades, up to 2 feet of snow is expected this weekend.

As has been the case much of this winter, there is a lack of prolonged sustained cold air in the forecast. Much of the country is expected to trend near to above average this weekend. Looking ahead into the first days of February, much of the U.S. is looking like it will be trending mild.

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Gold-seated toilet among Frank Sinatra items up for auction

iStock/ChoochartSansong(REPAUPO, N.J.) -- Frank Sinatra fans itching to redecorate may be in luck.

On Sunday, multiple items, including a gold-seated toilet, will go up for auction from the legendary singer's Chairman Executive Suite at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The toilet has an estimated selling price of $1,500 to $2,000.

A tower clock, expected to go for $25,000 to $50,000, and a Yamaha Grand piano, expected to go for $10,000 to $20,000, also are among the nearly 200 household items.

Some of the more modestly priced pieces are a trash can ($30 to $50), an ice bucket ($60 to $120) and 10 miniature swords ($100 to $300).

Live bidding begins Sunday at 10 a.m. and will conclude at 1 p.m. The auction will be held at S7S Auction, located at 62 Repaupo Station Road in Repaupo, New Jersey.

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Pentagon says 34 service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile attack

MivPiv/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon now says 34 American service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) following the Jan. 8 Iranian missile attack on the Al Asad airbase in western Iraq.

Half of the service members have returned to duty, while the remaining 17 service members have been flown to Germany and the United States for further observation.

The updated numbers are a significant increase over last week's disclosure that 11 service members had received treatment for possible Traumatic Brain Injuries.

Initially the Pentagon had said that there were no injuries or fatalities as a result of the Iranian missile attack on the base that is home to 2,000 service members.

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Silver Alert issued for Notre Dame student believed to be in 'extreme danger'

Notre Dame Police Department(NOTRE DAME, Ind.) -- Police are asking for the public's help in finding a University of Notre Dame student who was last seen Tuesday and is believed to be in "extreme danger."

Annrose Jerry, 21, has not been seen since 8:45 p.m. Tuesday at Coleman-Morse Hall on the Notre Dame, Ind., campus, located about 150 miles north of Indianapolis, according to a statement from the university.

University police issued a Silver Alert for her Thursday evening, saying they believe she is "in extreme danger and may require medical assistance."

Police did not immediately respond to ABC News on Friday for more details.

A spokeswoman for the university told ABC News there was no new information on Jerry's disappearance.

She is a senior at Notre Dame and resides on campus, the university said.

Jerry is described as 5'5" with dark hair. She was last seen wearing an ankle-length gray quilted coat over a multi-colored ankle-length skirt or dress.

Anyone with information about her whereabouts is asked to call the Notre Dame Police Department at 574-631-5555.

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Two dead in Houston explosion that destroyed building, caused 'significant' damage to homes

Joey Charpentier/Twitter(HOUSTON) -- The two victims killed in an explosion at a Houston manufacturing facility have been identified, authorities said.

Gerardo Castorena and Frank Flores, both employees at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, were killed in the early-morning blast at the site on Friday, according to the city's police and fire chief.

The manufacturing company issued a statement expressing its condolences to the families of the victims, but did not name the two employees who were killed.

"Our hearts go out to the families and businesses impacted by this incident and to our community," the statement read. "At this time, our immediate concern is the safety and well-being of everyone in the area and our employees."

The company was "working diligently" with federal, state and local authorities to investigate the accident, according to the statement.

It was not yet clear exactly what caused the explosion, but Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena noted there was a leak coming from a 2,000-gallon tank of propylene.

Multiple homes and a nearby strip mall also sustained "significant damage" in the blast, which happened around 4:30 a.m. local time on Friday, Pena said at a press conference.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said a full arson investigation had been launched, but noted that there is no reason to believe it was terror-related or an intentional act. He said it is protocol to conduct an investigation and that it will be handled by multiple agencies to ensure that regulations had been followed prior to the explosion.

Authorities urged residents who felt the blast to search around their homes for debris and body parts. Acevedo warned the public not to touch either if they do find them, but to instead call Houston police.

Drones were also brought in to conduct a grid search and inspect roofs for debris.

Around 18 people checked in at local emergency rooms, complaining of minor injuries from the blast, according to the Houston Fire Department.

The propylene leak has been secured and there are no concerns with air quality at this time, Pena said.

As of Friday afternoon, authorities were waiting for a fire that was sparked by the explosion to burn out before conducting additional searches. Although contained, the fire was not being extinguished manually by firefighters in order to avoid creating a runoff or other hazards, Pena said. ATF was also on the scene assisting.


FIRST LOOK: the neighborhood that saw the worst of the damage backs up to the plant that exploded. Wow. #abc13

— Courtney Fischer (@CourtneyABC13) January 24, 2020


The explosion was so strong that nearby residents between Gessner Road and Steffani Lane in Houston's Westbranch neighborhood reported doors being blown off their hinges, baseboards blown off and storm doors shattered, according to Houston ABC station KTRK-TV. The force of the blast rattled windows for miles around.

Following the explosion, temporary shelters were set up at 4703 Shadowdale Drive. At least 48 people were sheltering there, according to KTRK-TV.

Acevedo asked for the public to consider offering help and donating to the families who had been affected.

"This is an area where it isn't the most affluent, so my thoughts are with all the individuals, whether they rent or own, that will be potentially displaced," Acevedo said.

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New Mexico college student shot during alleged fraternity hazing incident

SWInsider/iStock(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) -- A New Mexico State University student has been accused of shooting a classmate in an alleged hazing incident that resulted in his fraternity's suspension.

Miguel Altamirano was charged with felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly shot Jonathan Sillas in the leg as he pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

Altamirano could face as many as many as three years in prison if convicted as charged, but his attorney, C.J. McEllhinney, says the shooting wasn't intentional. He said the shooting happened as the students were "joking around."

"The evidence in this case is consistent with negligent handling of a firearm and not the crime of aggravated assault," McEllhinney told ABC News on Thursday. "It is not uncommon for the State of New Mexico to overcharge criminal defendants."

He said Altamirano was expelled over the November incident, despite showing intense remorse for his actions.

"My client never intended to hurt anyone and is remorseful that Mr. Sillas was injured," McEllhinney said. This unfortunate incident occurred in the context of a fraternity event."

Sillas, a criminal justice major, said Kappa Sigma fraternity members pulled him aside and ordered him to turn around during an initiation event. He said he was expecting to get hit with a paddle from behind, but he never imagined he'd be shot.

"One of the guys pulled me to the side and he was like, 'We didn't do this to you' and I was like, 'What are you talking about?' and then he told me to turn around," Sillas told ABC affiliate KVIA-TV. "I was just like thinking that they would just hit me with a paddle or something like that. I'm not like too scared about that."

He said he started to panic when he realized that Altamirano had a gun.

"Whenever I turned around, he reaches and he pulled the gun out of the backpack," Sillas said. "I wasn't like watching but I heard him click it and then I started freaking out."

The university suspended Kappa Sigma in December after a month-long investigation. The fraternity is suspended until the fall semester of 2024.

Altamirano is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 19. His attorney said he's "confident" that he will be exonerated on the "serious felony charge."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Black man sues bank alleging racial discrimination for not cashing checks

domnicky/iStock(DETROIT) -- A Michigan man has filed a lawsuit against a Midwest banking chain this week, accusing it of racial profiling, after a teller called the police on him and wrongfully accused him of fraud.

Ironically, Sauntore Thomas was attempting to deposit two large checks that he'd received as part of a workplace racial discrimination settlement with his previous employer when a TCF Bank branch in Livonia, Michigan, refused to accept the checks, saying they weren't legit.

Thomas, a 44-year-old Air Force veteran, said he felt "humiliated" and embarrassed when police arrived about 10 minutes later to investigate the fraud claims. He said he was treated as if he'd done something wrong and he's convinced that the bank assumed the checks were bad because he is black.

"It was embarrassing," Thomas told Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV on Thursday. "If I was white, this wouldn’t be happening."

Thomas' attorney, Deborah Gordon, said he was able to deposit the checks at another bank without a problem and they cleared less than 24 hours later. She said bank employees could have easily verified the check before calling law enforcement.

"My client had very legitimate checks and he had a bank account at this bank," Gordon told ABC News Thursday. "Right away they told him there was an issue with verifying the checks, which makes zero sense because these checks were from a large corporate entity."

"They kept telling him there was an issue of fraud and that's what caused them to call the police. So then I have to ask, 'What is the reason you think there's fraud?'" she added.

Gordon said her client called her as he was being interrogated by two police officers, while others stood guard outside of the bank. She said she called the bank, but the employees were extremely dismissive and denied her request to speak with a manager.

"There's no explanation for that other than the fact that my client is African American and that is my firm belief. They never offered an explanation as to why the police were called and they never offered an explanation that made any sense as to why they thought the checks were fraudulent," Gordon said.

"They did not believe him, they did not believe me, and they made an assumption that a black guy that's in here with these checks -- it's got to be fraud, so let's just call the cops," she added.

She said Thomas was terrified as the officers barked orders at him and he couldn't stop thinking about how dangerous the situation could become if things escalated.

Gordon said a confidentially clause in his settlement with his former employer, Enterprise Leasing Co. of Detroit, prevented her from disclosing the amount of the checks. But TCF Bank told the Detroit Free Press that Thomas presented three checks written from Enterprise that day: one for $59,000, one for $27,000 and one for $13,000.

TCF Bank apologized to Thomas in a statement released Wednesday and admitted that the police should have never been called.

"We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banking center. Local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind," the bank said. "We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash and in this case we were unable to validate the checks presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs."

Gordon said the bank's apology isn't enough. She filed a discrimination lawsuit on Thomas' behalf on Wednesday, referring to the situation as a case of "banking while black," and seeking an undisclosed amount for compensatory and punitive damages.

"It's uncontested that the checks are legitimate. They're a bank. It's their job to verify checks and the fact that they continue to not explain this is unacceptable," she said. "I don't think they were honest with my client and they were just making stuff up. ... I just think they saw this guy, a black guy in jeans, and it's like, 'What was he doing with his money?' That's the only conclusion I think that one can reasonably come to."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Police find missing 13-year-old girl who 'willingly' got into someone's car and never made it to school

Pelham Police Department(PELHAM, Ala.) -- Authorities in Alabama say they have found a 13-year-old girl, who disappeared on her way to school.

Amberly Nicole Flores left her home in Pelham, Alabama, on Tuesday morning to walk to the school bus stop. But she never made it to school, according to the Pelham Police Department.

On Thursday afternoon, Pelham police said they had found Amberly safe at a home in Huntsville, in northern Alabama, about two hours north of Pelham.

WATCH: Police Chief Pat Cheatwood announces Amberly Flores has been found and is safe.

There is still much we don't know right now. Once we have talked with her, we will release additional details, if warranted.

Thank you to everyone who shared our information!#PelhamPD

— Pelham Police Dept (@PelhamPoliceAL) January 23, 2020

"Right now it's a feeling I've never felt in my life, to know that my daughter is alive," her mother, Heather Morrison, told Birmingham ABC affiliate WBMA. "It's something I'll never take for granted again."

Her mother said she was taken to the hospital and she was being interviewed by police.

It's still unclear the details of her disappearance.
Prior to her being found, the girl's parents said it was out of character for their daughter to not show up to school.

"She's very good, a very good girl," her father, Alfredo Flores, told WBMA. "This is the first time she go to school and not come back."

Amberly had last been seen wearing a white jacket with blue jeans and carrying a pink backpack near the Green Park South mobile home park.

Surveillance video from the area showed the girl "willingly" get into a dark Mercedes SUV, police said.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency on Wednesday issued an emergency missing child alert for Amberly.

The 13-year-old is described as a Hispanic girl with black hair and brown eyes. She is just over 5-feet tall and weighs around 115 pounds.

Anyone with information on the case is urged to call 911 or the Pelham Police Department at 205-620-6550.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Annabella Sciorra testifies in Harvey Weinstein trial

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- "Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra took the witness stand on Thursday at Harvey Weinstein's criminal trial and testified in wrenching detail about the night nearly 30 years ago that she said the disgraced Hollywood producer violently raped her at her apartment.

Sciorra's testimony is the first and among the most highly anticipated at a pivotal moment in the #MeToo movement as Weinstein faces rape and sexual assault charges in New York.

Throughout direct examination by prosecutors, the veteran actress, who grew up in Brooklyn, avoided using the mega-producer's name -- referring to him consistently as "the defendant" and positioning herself on the witness stand so that she was partially facing the jury as Weinstein sat over her right shoulder at the defense table.

In perhaps the most chilling moment of the morning's testimony, Sciorra rose and scanned the courtroom after being asked to identify Weinstein. She extended her hand in his direction and described what he was wearing: a black jacket, white shirt and white tie.

Weinstein stared at her and nodded his head as if to say hello. She looked right back at him, but ignored the gesture and returned to her seat, her face set in apparent discomfort.

Six women are expected to testify in the trial, and Weinstein is charged with crimes related to two of them. The rest, including Sciorra, are being called in support of prosecutors' efforts to demonstrate a pattern of sexual predation.

Actress Ellen Barkin sat in the back row of the gallery throughout Sciorra's testimony, as did Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who sat in the front row behind his prosecutors.

Emotional testimony

The actress said she first met Weinstein in at a Los Angeles party in 1990 or 1991, and at the end of the night she said he offered her -- and she accepted -- a ride home to her hotel. Their first encounter was uneventful, she testified. They talked about movies and he told her to send her any good scripts she might come across.

In an effort to help her friend Warren Light and the Naked Angel Theater Company, she sent a script for "The Night We Never Met," which had been written for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, to Weinstein. The producer asked for a reading, so they hosted one, with Sciorra reading for Parker's role as Parker could not make the reading.

Weinstein insisted Sciorra play Parker's part, the actress said, despite Sciorra's protestations.

"He said he would not produce the movie if I was not in it with Matthew. And I -- you know -- felt bad about that because it was specifically written about Sarah Jessica Parker, and I felt bad for my friend Warren Light. So, I agreed to go ahead and be in the movie," Sciorra testified.

The movie was released in the spring of 1993. During the winter of 1993-94, Sciorra was invited to a dinner in New York with Weinstein, actress Uma Thurman and several other individuals. As she got up to leave the dinner around 9:30 p.m., Weinstein offered her a ride to her nearby Gramercy Park apartment.

"I went upstairs and got ready for bed," she said. "I washed my face brushed my teeth and I put on a nightgown."

The white cotton nightgown, she said, was her grandmother's and "had been given to me by my mother's cousin in Italy, because I didn't really have anything of my grandmother's because she died very young."

Without warning, there was a knock at the door, Sciorra said. She assumed it was a neighbor or the building doorman, so she opened it. Weinstein pushed himself inside and began walking through the apartment. She testified that it appeared he was looking to see if anyone else was in the apartment.

"Then he started to unbutton his shirt and I then realized he thought we were going to be having sex," she said.

Sciorra testified that she started backing up, thinking she could make it into her bathroom. With tears running from her eyes in the courthouse, she stood up and clasped her hands above her head to describe the way she claimed Weinstein pinned her down on a bed when she could not reach the bathroom.

"I was punching him, I was kicking him, I was just trying to get him away from me," Sciorra said, crying, but with her hands "locked" by him, she "couldn't fight any more."

At a certain point he stopped, she said, and ejaculated on her leg and nightgown, saying he had "perfect timing." She claimed he then forcibly performed oral sex on her, saying, "This is for you."

"I didn't have very much fight left inside of me at that point. I said, 'No! No!' But I mean, there was not much I could do at that point -- my body shut down. It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake in a way that was very unusual. I didn't really even know what was happening. It was like a seizure or something," Sciorra said.

Afterwards, she said, "The defendant left, he walked out."

Several weeks later, she said she crossed paths with Weinstein in a restaurant.

"I confronted him about what happened in my apartment. I tried to talk to him about what happened. And I told him I woke up and that I had blacked out or fainted, and he said, 'That's what all the nice Catholic girls say.' And then he leaned into me and said, 'This remains between you and I,'" Sciorra said. "It was very menacing -- his eyes were black, and I thought he was going to hit me right there. He was threatening and I was afraid."

After the alleged attack, Sciorra said she resumed her life "to the best of my ability." That included a lot of crying, she said, and "what I now know is called dissociative experiences."

"I spent a lot of time alone, didn't want to see any people. I didn't want to talk about what happened. I disappeared," she said, adding as she choked back tears that she began to drink "a lot" and cut herself also "a lot."

“I had this wall that was -- it was white -- and then I began to paint it like a blood red color with tubes of oil paint," she said. "It was this massive wall. I don’t know what I was thinking. I began to cut myself."

"I bled from my finger and my hands into this masterpiece, and wherever I would put the blood I would take pieces of gold leaf and mark it,” she said, referring to the spots where she would mingle the blood with the red paint on the wall.

Asked why she did this, she paused, and grew emotional.

“I don’t know," she replied. "I didn’t feel good.”


Defense attorney Donna Rotunno cross-examined Sciorra Thursday afternoon. Under her questioning, Sciorra explained why she didn't call the police about the alleged attack.

"At the time, I didn't understand that was rape," she responded.

Sciorra also said under questioning that she had not asked the doorman why he let Weinstein up without announcing him, determined whether there were cameras in the building, determined whether Weinstein signed in downstairs, or complained to the board about someone being let up to her apartment without notice.

"No," Sciorra said, staring back at Rotunno. "I was devastated."

In the course of several hours of often tense cross-examination, Rotunno tried repeatedly to impeach Sciorra’s credibility, with virtually no success.

Each time Rotunno appeared to have laid a rhetorical trap for Sciorra, the actress struck back, turning the tables on the line of questioning and forcing Rotunno to move on.

Sciorra was cross-examined about an incident she’s previously described at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995, where she says Weinstein turned up before dawn at her hotel room door and knocked.

Referring to the alleged attack at her Grammercy Park apartment, Rotunno asked, sarcastically, “You already know you heard a knock at the door and answered it without seeing the other end, didn’t go well correct?”

“Correct,” Sciorra replied.

“And you open the door?”

“Correct,” Sciorra said, explaining that she opened the door to find Weinstein standing in the hallway in nothing but his underwear.

“He’s standing there, and you say you couldn’t get out of the room … Why didn’t you just close the door?”

Sciorra leaned in for emphasis, focused her eyes on Rotunno and said, sharply, “because he was IN my room.”

Sciorra said he ultimately called hotel security, but by the time they arrived, Weinstein was leaving or had just left.

“Did you make any formal complaint to the hotel?”

“No,” Sciorra shot back, holding her gaze on the defense attorney. “He owns the hotel.”

At another point, Sciorra again seemed to catch Rotunno off guard.

Referring to an event where Sciorra and Weinstein ran into each other after the alleged winter 1993-94 rape, Rotunno asked the witness, “When you saw Harvey Weinstein at the Miramax event, did you say to him, ‘You raped me?”

“Yes I did,” Sciorra replied, stopping Rotunno cold for a moment.

In their final bid to impeach Sciorra’s account, the defense played a video clip of Sciorra appearing on “The David Letterman Show,” where Sciorra participated in a comedy sketch in which she claimed her father raised iguanas in the circus.

When the bit ended, Letterman teased Sciorra about the claim she made in the sketch, and she jokingly replied, “I have a bad reputation where I lie.”

On re-direct, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi seemed to mock the defense’s effort with the Letterman clip.

“The tales you were lying about were about your father raising iguanas in the circus?” Illuzzi asked Sciorra.

“Yes,” the actress replied.

“And this is not a circus?” Illuzzi replied.

“No,” Sciorra solemnly replied.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault and is seeking resources, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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