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How 'Operation Gratitude' became a nationwide intensive 'care' campaign

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Jason Nathanson/ABC(LOS ANGELES) — The day after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, then-46-year-old Carolyn Blashek tried to enlist in the military.

“I just thought, ‘We’re at war,'” Blashek recalled, telling ABC Radio she was thinking about her teenagers at the time.

“I want to be the one to serve,” she explained. “I don’t want it to fall on their shoulders.”

She had no military experience, and she said no branch wanted her. She was told she was too old, so she searched for volunteer opportunities and could only find one: The Bob Hope USO at LAX, located at Los Angeles International Airport, where military members preparing to ship out or returning home could have access to phones, computers, bathrooms and food.

After a year and a half of feeling like she was making a tiny bit of difference, Blashek was brought to tears by one service member who came in asking for a chaplain.

“He was on emergency leave to bury his mother,” she said. “His wife had left him, and his only child had died as an infant.

“He had no one in his life,” she continued. “And he said to me, ‘For the first time in my 20-year career, I’m going back to a war. I know I’m not going to make it home this time, but it doesn’t matter because no one would care.'”

Blashek says she tried to help him, but she wasn’t sure she actually did.

When he left, she fell apart.

“I just was sobbing, thinking, ‘You know, I have to do more than just serve hot dogs,'” she said.

While trying to figure out what more she could do, she remembered that she used to send her kids care packages when they would go away to summer camp on the East Coast. Like a bolt of lightning, she thought, “Why not send care packages to military members?”

And that’s how Operation Gratitude was born.

Originally headquartered in her home in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, Blashek set about collecting snacks, games, toiletries — anything she thought would give some comfort to someone far from home in a war zone. She also included a personalized letter in each care package, thanking the recipient for his or her service.

But in those first few post-9/11 years of terrorism and anthrax scares, you couldn’t send a package to the front lines without addressing it to someone serving. And that was an issue.

“I didn’t know anybody in the military,” she said. “So that became another journey of trying to collect names and addresses.”

Quickly though, and at a time when things didn’t yet go viral, word spread. Blashek was flooded with not only names, but donations of sunscreen and socks and other supplies.

She said her living room was packed to the rafters with boxes, but she wasn’t allowed to send just anything.

“No alcohol,” she said. “No pork products because most of these packages were going into majority Muslim countries. No overtly religious materials. And no pornography.”

One day she heard about a shipment of sunscreen someone had donated, just sitting at an armory near her home. So she showed up and knocked on the door. It wasn’t long before she moved her whole operation from her house to the armory and started recruiting volunteers to help stuff boxes.

Now, Operation Gratitude is a non-profit company with a chief executive officer (CEO) and a couple dozen employees, which to date has sent more than 2.1 million packages to military members, their families and veterans.

“We all assume that everybody’s got a family and loved ones that send them letters and packages,” Vietnam veteran Bob Donavan said at a recent Operation Gratitude volunteer day.

“It’s not so. They really don’t.”

And when service members get those Operation Gratitude packages, he said there’s one thing that’s more important that the snacks and socks.

“When you get that letter, and I can tell you from speaking to a lot of people that have come back out of the combat zones, it’s either in their breast pocket over their heart, or in their helmet. That’s how much that little letter means,” he added.

Operation Gratitude has since expanded their scope, now sending packages domestically to first responders as well as deployed military members.

There are such volunteer days all over the country, where hundreds of people donate their time, stuffing boxes, stuffing bears for military children and coming together.

People of all economic backgrounds, races, “and most significantly, of all political viewpoints,” said Blashek.

“From the far left to the far right, and everybody is joined in common cause to say thank you.”

This story will be featured in ABC Radio’s three-hour special, “America Gives Thanks,” airing on ABC Radio affiliates across the country on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 22.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


New Jersey mansion fire being probed as quadruple homicide

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WABC(COLTS NECK, N.J.) — A blaze that ripped through a New Jersey mansion and killed four people, including two children, is being investigated as a homicide, according to law enforcement sources.

Paul Caneiro, the brother of Keith Caneiro who was found dead along with his family in their Colts Neck mansion, was arrested and taken into custody on charges stemming from another suspicious fire at his home early Tuesday, according to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

Paul Caneiro, 51, allegedly used gasoline to ignite the blaze at his home on Tilton Avenue in Ocean Township around 5:20 a.m. Tuesday while his wife and two daughters were inside, according to an arrest warrant obtained by ABC News.

The warrant alleges Paul Caneiro “purposely or knowingly” set the fire at his home. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured in the fire.

Asked at a news conference Tuesday night whether the two fires are connected, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said, “That remains to be seen, but that is an option or an angle that we continue to pursue.”

Investigators believe that all four people found dead at the Caneiro family mansion in Colts Neck were the victims of homicide, an official briefed on the probe told ABC News.

Firefighters responded to reports of a fire at the mansion on Willow Brook Road in Colts Neck around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Fire investigators quickly discovered evidence of arson.

A male body was found at the front of the home, police said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. The bodies of the other adult and two children were found badly burned inside, police added.

Paul Caneiro was booked at the Monmouth County Jail on suspicion of aggravated arson in connection with the Ocean Township fire, sheriff’s officials said.

Keith Caneiro was the founder and chief executive officer of Square One, a technology services consulting firm in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


FBI turns to hunters' deer cameras for help in search for kidnapped 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar

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FBI(LUMBERTON, N.C.) — Authorities are asking North Carolina deer hunters for help in the ongoing, weeks-long search to find kidnapped 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar.

Hania was kidnapped just before 7 a.m. local time on Nov. 5 outside her home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton, a city in Robeson County, according to police.

She had grabbed her aunt’s car keys that morning so she could turn on the vehicle before school. That’s when a witness saw a man clad in all black with a yellow bandanna over his face approach the girl and force her into the green, 2003 Ford Expedition, police said.

The suspect then drove away in the family’s SUV with Hania inside, police said. The stolen vehicle was located several miles away on Quincey Drive three days later, but Hania was nowhere to be found.

Investigators have been seeking surveillance footage from anyone who lives or owns a business on or near Quincey Drive. They have now expanded their plea to local hunters who have deer cameras in Robeson County and have any footage between Nov. 5 and 8.

“It is vitally important we find every piece of video that may help us determine the exact movements of the stolen SUV from Rosewood Mobile Home Park to Quincey Drive where it was found on November 8,” FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement Tuesday. “Let us determine whether or not the footage you have can provide us with any investigative clues.”

Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to track down a man who was seen in surveillance footage walking in the neighborhood on the morning when Hania was abducted. The three videos, which the FBI released earlier this month, show the unidentified man wearing light-colored shoes, a light-colored shirt and a hoodie.

The man is not considered a suspect or person of interest at this time. Rather, he’s someone authorities “want to speak with” because he may be able to help investigators narrow down a timeline of Hania’s kidnapping, according to FBI supervisor Andy de la Rocha.

So far, investigators said there’s no indication to believe Hania isn’t alive.

The FBI, which last week named Hania’s disappearance its “Most Wanted: Case of the Week,” is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information on the case. The state of North Carolina is also offering a $5,000, bringing the total possible reward amount to $30,000.

Hania is described as a Hispanic girl who is 5 feet tall and weighs about 125 pounds, according to the FBI. She has black hair and brown eyes and was last seen wearing a blue shirt with flowers and blue jeans.

Authorities have set up a special tip line that anyone can call if they have information to help investigators find Hania: (910) 272-5871.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


Kansas commissioner resigns after bizarre 'master race' remarks

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Leavenworth County Board of County Commissioners(KANSAS CITY, Kan.) — A white Kansas county commissioner has resigned after coming under fire for telling an African-American consultant at a public meeting that he was “part of the master race.”

Louis Klemp, 80, resigned Tuesday from the Leavenworth County Board of Commissioners, writing in a letter that “I regret my recent comment.”

Klemp’s resignation letter was read during a commission meeting on Tuesday and was immediately accepted by the board.

“Mr. Klemp has done the right thing,” Commissioner Doug Smith said during the meeting. “This is a good example that the choice of words does matter. I hope the young lady involved will accept our apology and will not hesitate to help Leavenworth County on future projects.”

During a public meeting on Nov. 13, Triveece Penelton, a consultant for VIREO Planning Associates in Kansas City, was making a presentation to the board of commissioners about community engagement on a potential development of rural land in Tonganoxie, Kansas.

In a video of the meeting, posted on the Leavenworth County Board of Commissioners’ YouTube channel, Klemp expressed his displeasure with a plan to develop the land as residential. He said he favored an industrial development that would return revenue to the county.

Speaking directly to Penelton, Klemp said, “I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you because we’re part of the master race. You know you got a gap in your teeth. You’re the masters. Don’t ever forget that.”

Klemp did not explain what he meant by the comment.

In his resignation letter, Klemp said his comment was “misinterpreted” and that he was trying to find common ground with Penelton by pointing out they both had gaps in their teeth.

“My attempts at identifying a similarity, space between our teeth, with the presenter were well-meaning,” he wrote in his letter.

The term “master race” stems from Nazi terminology, often describing Adolf Hitler’s belief in a superior Aryan race.

But Klemp said in his letter that his use of the phrase was “definitely not racially motivated.” He also said he contacted Penelton to extend “my regret and support.”

Klemp’s controversial comment immediately sparked a backlash and prompted Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer to demand his resignation.

“Racial and discriminative language have no place in our society, and most especially when spoken by someone holding a public office,” Colyer said in a statement. “The inappropriate remarks made by Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of the county which he represents.”

The Leavenworth City Commission held a special meeting on Thursday and issued a statement condemning Klemp’s remark and asked that he apologize and step down.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


Avenatti, girlfriend were fighting about money before alleged domestic violence occurred: Court docs

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By Leighton Schneider

Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels, was allegedly berating his girlfriend about money before an alleged physical altercation in the couple’s Southern California home occurred last week, according to court documents file by the ex-girlfriend.

Mareli Miniutti, a 24-year-old actress in Los Angeles who says she was in a relationship with Avenatti for more than a year, was granted a temporary restraining order in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday. When asked if the allegations aren’t true, Avenatti told ABC News’ Tom Llamas via text Tuesday afternoon, “I am completely innocent and am anxious for all of the evidence to be disclosed – the video tapes, the Instagram posts, the physical evidence, all of it. I did nothing wrong and certainly did not commit any crime.”

Miniutti alleges in the court filing that she and Avenatti were in the master bedroom on Nov. 13 when they began arguing about money.

Avenatti, 47, allegedly told Miniutti, that she was “ungrateful,” calling her a “f—— b—-,” the court document stated.

Miniutti then went to the guest bedroom to sleep, and Avenatti allegedly followed her, approached her in a “threatening manner” before “forcefully hitting” her in the face with pillows, she wrote in her filing.
“He then said words to the effect of, ‘Do not disrespect me. You don’t get to sleep in my house tonight,'” Miniutti wrote.

Avenatti then allegedly grabbed her wrist, attempting to pull her out of bed, but he slipped and lost his grip, according to her statements filed with the court. When Miniutti attempted to send a text to a friend, he then allegedly grabbed the phone and screamed, “This is my phone!” and put it in his pocket.

“At all times, he remained very close to me such that I was afraid for my safety,” Miniutti wrote.
After Miniutti “screamed for help towards the nearby window,” Avenatti allegedly grabbed her arm, dragged her out of bed onto the floor and through the front door into the public hallway, she said, adding that she suffered scratches to her side and leg.

When Miniutti rang a neighbor’s doorbell, Avenatti allegedly yelled at her and pulled her back into the apartment, she said. He then allegedly blocked the door with his body to prevent her from leaving.

Avenatti then followed Miniutti as she ran back into the guest room, according to Miniutti’s court filing

She put on pants but “did not have time to put on shoes,” and was able to get around Avenatti, running toward the main elevator. When Avenatti followed her, she pressed the call button for the service elevator, and he allegedly then entered the service elevator with her again, court documents stated.
During the ride down to the lobby, Avenatti allegedly begged, “Don’t do this, Mareli, don’t involve them,” her filing stated.

Miniutti then spoke to building security and called a friend to pick her up, she said. The next day, she returned to the apartment to pack her belongings, she wrote. Avenatti allegedly came home briefly during that time, but he left after Miniutti informed him that police were at the building, according to the order.

Police told Miniutti later that day that Avenatti had been arrested.

A letter sent to the LAPD on behalf of Avenatti’s attorneys, and obtained by ABC News, detailed efforts by private investigators to interview staff and view security camera footage from the building where the alleged incident took place.

According to the letter from Avenatti’s defense team, there was no evidence that Avenatti was physically violent with Miniutti.

While the apartment complex contained multiple security cameras, at no point do they “show force, violence or offensive touching of Ms. Miniutti by Mr. Avenatti,” the letter obtained by ABC News stated.
This included video footage in the reception area, elevators, leasing office and foyer of the building, the letter said.

While cameras did capture Avenatti and Miniutti together the night of the alleged incident, the videos, according to the document, “conclusively demonstrate that Mr. Avenatti was calm and collected at all relevant times.” the letter stated.

According to the letter, both a security guard and building concierge, who spoke with investigators hired by Avenatti’s attorneys, did not witness Avenatti “use any force or violence against Ms. Miniutti, nor engage in any act of disrespectful or angry touching, nor make any threats, or even any threatening gestures, towards her.”

Miniutti’s attorney, Michael Bachner, told ABC News that she “stands by the accuracy of her statements to the LAPD.”

“The suggestions contained in Mr. Avenatti’s counsel’s letter to the LAPD are vindictive, demonstrably contrary to the evidence, and unworthy of further reply,” Bachner wrote.

Miniutti wrote in her filing that she is afraid that Avenatti may “harass” and “cause harm” to her as a result of the events that allegedly occurred on Nov. 13. She also said that Avenatti “has a history of being very verbally abusive and financially controlling towards” her, has “vehemently opposed” to her desire to “earn a living outside of Hollywood,” and has “made promises” to take care of her “financially and sometimes fails to follow through,” according to the court document.

The temporary restraining order request included photos showing what appeared to be bruises on Miniutti’s hands and leg. The request was granted on Monday and remains in force until a hearing on Dec. 10. A request to seal the case to avoid a media circus and national scrutiny was denied, as was a request for Avenatti to return an iPhone to Miniutti.

The order instructed Avenatti to refrain from harassing, threatening, striking or stalking Miniutti. He is also barred from contacting her or coming within 100 yards of her, her job, her home or her vehicle.
After he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence with injuries last week, Avenatti maintained that he has “never struck a woman.” He has not been formally charged with a crime, and the Los Angeles Police Department had not sent the case over to prosecutors for a determination on whether to file formal charges as …read more

Source:: National News


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