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Ex-teacher who allegedly kidnapped teen planned to run to Mexico, prosecutors say

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By Kelly Terez

Siskiyou County Sheriff(YREKA, Calif.) — The former Tennessee teacher who authorities say kidnapped his 15-year-old student then allegedly spent over a month on the run with her had planned to flee to Mexico, federal prosecutors said.

Tad Cummins, 50, a married father and grandfather, went missing with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas on March 13, authorities said. An Amber Alert was issued for Elizabeth, while Cummins was wanted on allegations of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. The duo was found on April 20; the teen was “healthy and unharmed,” authorities said, and Cummins was taken into custody.

Cummins allegedly plotted their getaway from the moment he was suspected of having an improper relationship with the teen, according to a motion filed by federal prosecutors Monday supporting detention for Cummins.

“The logical inference is that the defendant … fled to avoid criminal charges,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Cummins planned to reach the Mexico border and then head to countries further south.

Cummins allegedly obtained a “small watercraft and conducted a test run to cross into Mexico across the water from San Diego,” prosecutors said. “The defendant also considered the feasibility of a land crossing into Mexico.”

Prosecutors claim that in an effort to evade capture, Cummins deliberately left a “misleading note with his wife regarding” which direction he was traveling. Cummins also allegedly altered his appearance, switched license plates twice, disabled the car’s GPS system and used aliases for himself and the teenager, prosecutors said.

Cummins and Elizabeth were found on April 20 at a remote cabin in northern California near the Oregon border after over a month on the run.

Cummins was arrested on a state warrant for aggravated kidnapping and he faces a federal charge of transporting a minor in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. He appeared in federal court in Sacramento, California, Monday, where he did not enter a plea. Cummins is expected to be extradited to Tennessee.

The teenager was found “healthy and unharmed,” authorities said. She has returned to Tennessee and is in a “safe location with family and friends where she is comfortable and resting,” said attorney Jason Whatley, who is representing the Thomas family.

Cummins, who was fired one day after the alleged kidnapping, had allegedly researched teen marriage online, specifically the age of consent, according to law enforcement officials.

One of Elizabeth’s schoolmates reported seeing her and Cummins kiss in his classroom on Jan. 23, according to a school district investigative report, but both denied the claim. A school report from January reads that neither one “admitted to behaving inappropriately towards the other.”

Elizabeth’s father, Anthony Thomas, told ABC News after Elizabeth was found, “She may not be exactly … the person she was because there’s a lot of experiences she’s had.”

“I’m not allowed to ask her about things that happened along the way right now,” he said.

Elizabeth’s father said the family is instead keeping “things positive.”

“I go in there and tell her how much I missed her, how much I love her and how much her dog missed her,” Anthony Thomas said.

“I think she has the determination to really go somewhere in life,” he said. “But right now she really needs a lot of help.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News

      

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New Orleans is latest place in the South knocking down monuments to the Confederacy

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By Kelly Terez

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW ORLEANS) — New Orleans has become the latest place in the South to take down monuments or symbols to the Confederacy.

Workers early Monday dismantled a 35-foot granite obelisk, the Liberty Place monument, which honored whites who tried to defeat a racially integrated government installed in New Orleans after the Civil War. The city will also remove three statues to Confederate military officers in coming days.

“We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu vowed.

New Orleans’ toppling of Confederate monuments is part of a trend that gained speed and momentum after a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, when avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans in a bible-study session.

In the aftermath of the massacre, calls came from both Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina to take down a Confederate battle flag that flew atop the statehouse in Charleston.

South Carolina’s public grappling with symbols of its history sparked calls from activists and politicians around the country to take down Confederate flags and monuments in other places.

Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy and research organization focused on fighting bigotry and discrimination, published a survey in the wake of the Charleston shooting that found more than 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces in the U.S., nearly all of them in the South.

The group asserted in its study that the symbols of the Confederacy can’t be separated from the ideology underlying the Southern states’ defense of slavery after the Civil War.

“There is no doubt among reputable historians that the Confederacy was established upon the premise of white supremacy and that the South fought the Civil War to preserve its slave labor,” the study states.

South Carolina took the Confederate battle flag down from its perch on the statehouse on July 10, 2015, little more than three weeks after the church killings.

Since then, Confederate flags have also been taken down at other locations including the Alabama statehouse, Oklahoma Baptist University and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Souvenir Confederate flags were also taken off the shelves at major retailers like Sears and Walmart and at small gift shops such as at the Civil War Museum of the Western Theater in Kentucky and at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.

Defenders of public displays of Confederate monuments and symbols say they are important markers of history.

Robert Bonner, a 63-year-old who participates in Civil War re-enactments, protested the removal of the Liberty Place monument in New Orleans, telling The Associated Press that the city’s decision to take it down was “terrible.”

“It’s a terrible thing,” Bonner said. “When you start removing the history of the city … you start losing where you came from and where you’ve been.”

Aware of opposition to removing the Liberty Place monument, the workers who took it down did so while it was still dark and wore both masks and bulletproof vests.

Some historians, echoing the view of the Southern Poverty Law Center, say many of the monuments to the Confederacy were put up less to commemorate history than to make a statement after the Civil War against any granting of full rights and political power to former slaves.

“Many of these statues were mounted in the 1890s and during the time of Jim Crow,” when laws enforcing racial separation took hold, said Matt Karp, associate professor of history at Princeton University and author of a book on the legacy of slavery.

“These were political [statements] and not meant to be viewed as neutral symbols” of history, Karp said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News

      

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Arkansas carries out first double execution in U.S. since 2000

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By Daniel Rostas

iStock/supparsorn(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) — Arkansas has executed Marcel Williams, 52, just after 10:30 PM local time on Monday. His was the second execution of the night, making this the first double execution in the country since 2000.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker had halted Williams’ execution while his attorneys argued whether the night’s first execution had gone properly. Williams was sentenced to death for the 1994 rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Rae Errickson after kidnapping her at gunpoint from a gas station in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

The first executed inmate, Jack Jones, was declared dead at 7:20pm local time on Monday, at the state’s Cummins Unit. He was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and murder of 34-year-old bookkeeper Mary Phillips in Bald Knob, Arkansas.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of a lethal injection drug expires. One inmate was put to death last week, though the first three executions were canceled because of court rulings.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News

      

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Video captures moment 4-year-old girl falls out the back of moving van

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By Jeanette Torres

Ryan Ciampoli(HARRISON, Ark.) — Harrowing dash cam video captures the moment a 4-year-old girl fell out of the back of a moving church bus on a state highway in Arkansas.

The footage depicts the small child swinging out from the back door of a church bus on Highway 65 in Harrison, Arkansas, before falling off onto the street as the van briskly drives away.

“I saw it happening and it blew my mind, it’s like I wasn’t even seeing what I was seeing,” Ryan Ciampoli, a volunteer firefighter who witnessed the girl’s fall and called for help, told local ABC News affiliate KHBS-TV of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

“Obviously, you want to leave her laying there, you know, if she’s not in danger, but we’re in the middle of a state highway so I couldn’t leave her just laying there,” Ciampoli added.

Ciampoli said that at first the girl was unconscious, but eventually the “shock kicked in” and she started crying and calling for her mother.

The family of the young girl in the video declined ABC News’ request for comment at this time, but told KHBS-TV that she broke her jaw in the fall and was hospitalized. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Tim Hampton, a pastor at the Christian Life Center Church, told ABC News that the church would not be using the bus again.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News

      

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US astronaut Peggy Whitson breaks American spaceflight record

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By Jeanette Torres

NASA/Bill Ingalls(NEW YORK) — U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, 57, broke the record for the most cumulative time in space by an American astronaut early Monday, streaking past the 534-day record held by Jeff Williams.

The 879-day global record, held by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, still stands.

By the time she returns to Earth in September, Whitson will have spent 666 days in floating above the planet. She hopes she won’t hold the title for long.

“I’m not here because of the record,” Whitson told ABC News’ David Kerley via video teleconference from aboard the International Space Station earlier this month. “I’m definitely here for conducting the science.”

The research she’s doing is “a really important stepping stone” to sending astronauts on even longer missions to Mars — “the sooner the better,” Whitson hopes.

However, “we still have some critical questions to answer,” including the medical complications that come with living in zero gravity, like bone density and muscle constriction, she told Kerley.

“I think the biggest hurdle probably for the human body is going to be the radiation … and probably the easiest solution is to get there faster so that you take less risk along the way,” she said.

Whitson, an Iowa native, is no stranger to shattering records. In 2008, she became the first woman to command the ISS, and just last month — during her eighth spacewalk — Whitson surpassed NASA’s Sunita Williams for the woman with the most cumulative “extra-vehicular activity” time.

Her journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

During re-entry following her second mission in 2008, her Soyuz capsule experienced a technical glitch, sending it hurtling into a violent dive and exposing the crew to forces eight times more powerful than the earth’s gravity for more than a minute.

Nevertheless, her time in space is “one of those rides you hope never ends,” Whitson tweeted Sunday. “I am so grateful for all those who helped me on each of my missions.”

President Trump and first daughter Ivanka Trump are expected to call the ISS from the Oval Office to congratulate Whitson on her achievement Monday morning.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News

      

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