Category Archives: U.S.

U.S. News, National

Michael Phelps coming out of retirement, to compete in Arena Grand Prix

By Tashauna Thompson

PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Michael Phelps will be coming out of retirement this month and will compete in the upcoming Arena Grand Prix, event organizers announced Monday.

USA Swimming said Phelps, 28, will be swimming competitively for the first time since winning six medals – four of them gold – at the 2012 London Olympic Games. He will be competing along with other swimming stars such as Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky.

Phelps first announced his retirement just before the 2012 games. According to USA TODAY, Phelps’ longtime coach, Bow Bowman, said he and Phelps decided months ago on competing in the Arena Grand Prix, which is taking place in Mesa, Arizona, from April 24 through April 26.

“As of today, I definitely expect him to swim,” Bowman told USA TODAY on Monday after USA Swimming announced Phelps’ participation. The 22-time Olympic medalist was entered in the 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle events.

Phelps’ participation in Mesa is expected to be his first step towards competing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He rejoined the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s drug testing pool last year and regained his eligibility for competition in March.

“We’re looking forward to it. I think it’ll be great for the sport to have Michael compete again,” Bowman was quoted as saying by USA TODAY. “We really don’t have any expectations for what might happen. We just want to have some fun with it and see how it goes.”

Russian aircraft buzzes U.S. Navy ship in Black Sea in “provocative” act

By Tashauna Thompson

WASHINGTON, DC (BNO NEWS) — A Russian attack aircraft repeatedly flew near a U.S. Navy ship in international waters in the Black Sea over the weekend, the Pentagon said on Monday, describing it as an act that was both “unprofessional and provocative.”

The incident occurred on Saturday when the USS Donald Cook was conducting routine operations in the western area of the Black Sea when the Russian Su-24 Fencer jet made numerous close-range, low-altitude passes near the ship.

The close-range passes ended without further incident after a dozen passes were made in approximately 90 minutes. According to officials, the Russian aircraft did not respond to multiple radio queries and warnings made by the Donald Cook crew.

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the Cook was never under any threat as the aircraft appeared to be unarmed. “She’s [the Cook] more than capable of defending herself, but it was unprofessional and provocative behavior,” she said.

The USS Donald Cook was en-route to the Romanian port city of Constanta for routine operations when Saturday’s incident occurred. According to officials, the navy ship has since reached the port to continue its mission.

“This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with international protocols and previous agreements of a professional interaction between our militaries,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren was quoted as saying by Fox News.

Russia has received intense criticism and sanctions from the international community for its role in the crisis in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea. Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull Russian troops back from the Ukrainian border and lower tensions in the region.

Russia was believed to have a range of troops massing along the border with eastern Ukraine under the guise of military exercises, leading to speculation that Russia planned further intervention in eastern Ukraine. “It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans,” Obama said in an interview.

Dutch police arrest teen over threatening tweet to American Airlines

ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS (BNO NEWS) — A Dutch teenager was arrested in Rotterdam on Monday afternoon after she tweeted a terrorist threat at American Airlines that quickly went viral online, police officials said. It was not immediately known what charges she could face.

The tweet, sent out on Sunday afternoon, was picked up by Dutch police as part of their regular investigation into threatening messages on the social networking website Twitter. It was not on the request of American Airlines or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States, a police spokeswoman said.

During the course of the investigation, the person behind the Twitter account was identified as a 14-year-old girl from Rotterdam, after which she went to a police station and was taken into custody for making a “false report.” It was not immediately clear if the girl would face criminal charges.

In the tweet, which quickly went viral, the girl claimed to be a member of al-Qaeda and said she would do “something really big” in June, though she quickly said it was a joke when American Airlines responded. The American airline lost two of its aircraft on September 11, 2001, when 19 al-Qaeda terrorists carried out an unprecedented attack on the United States, killing nearly 3,000 people.

“Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye,” the girl, identifying herself only as Sarah, said in Sunday’s tweet. Soon after, American Airlines responded in their own tweet: “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”

“omfg I was kidding. … I’m so sorry I’m scared now … I was joking and it was my friend not me, take her IP address not mine. … I was kidding pls don’t I’m just a girl pls … and I’m not from Afghanistan,” the girl said in subsequent tweets, later adding: “I’m just a fangirl pls I don’t have evil thoughts and plus I’m a white girl.”

It is not the first time Dutch police have arrested someone for making threats on Twitter. A 17-year-old boy was arrested in Rotterdam in April 2011 after threatening to carry out a mass shooting, saying he was going to “outdo” a gunman who had shot dead six people at a shopping mall hours earlier. Dutch police also arrested a 17-year-old girl in February 2011 after she tweeted she was planning to bomb her school.

Utah woman arrested after 7 babies found dead in garage

PLEASANT GROVE, UTAH (BNO NEWS) — A U.S. woman has been arrested on six counts of murder after police discovered the bodies of seven infants at her home in northern Utah, authorities said on Sunday. It is believed the infants, including one thought to be stillborn, were born over a 10-year period.

The grisly discovery was made on Saturday when police were called to a residence in Pleasant Grove, a city southeast of Salt Lake City, after a report of a deceased infant. Officers responded to the residence and observed the body of a newborn infant that appeared to be a full term, police said.

“A search warrant was obtained for the residence and during the execution of the warrant, officers discovered six additional infant bodies. Each infant was found packaged in separate containers,” said Captain Michael Roberts of the Pleasant Grove Police Department.

Roberts said investigators believe that 39-year-old Megan Huntsman gave birth to the infants over a 10 year period before killing six of them. He did not say how the infants were killed or whether anyone had been aware of the woman’s pregnancies. The seventh infant is believed to have been stillborn.

“The female was booked into the Utah County Jail on six counts of murder,” Roberts added. He said the initial call of a deceased infant came from Huntsman’s ex who was helping family members clean out the garage when they found a suspicious box with a “pungent smell,” leading to the discovery.

10 dead, dozens injured in California bus crash

By Tashauna Thompson

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA (BNO NEWS) — A truck collided head-on with a charter bus transporting high school students in northern California on late Thursday afternoon, killing 10 people and injuring at least 30 others, authorities confirmed on Friday.

The accident occurred at 5:40 p.m. local time Thursday when a FedEx truck collided with a charter bus on Interstate 5 near Orland, according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The charter bus, which was carrying 44 prospective students for Humboldt State University, was en-route to the school’s spring preview event that was scheduled for Friday.

Upon arrival at the scene, emergency responders found the bus fully engulfed in flames.

Authorities confirmed nine people were killed at the scene of the crash, including the drivers of both the bus and the FedEx truck. A tenth victim who was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento later died of his or her injuries, CHP said.

The last of the deceased was removed from the scene on Friday morning. Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said positive identification of the deceased may be difficult due to the nature of the sustained burn injuries, prompting the request of medical and dental records.

A total of 31 victims were transported to seven different hospitals in the area with injuries varying from critical to moderate. Witnesses said one of the victims was on fire when he or she fled the bus and was transported to a local hospital with severe burns.

The northbound side of Interstate 5 was closed immediately after Friday’s accident. Emergency responders also set up a mass casualty triage along the southbound side of the freeway to provide immediate care.

Bruce Carpenter, Commander of the CHP’s Willows area, thanked all emergency workers for their prompt response to the incident. “This really was a group effort, there were so many agencies involved, we all worked very well together and the scene was handled very well,” he said.

Investigators believe the FedEx big rig driver may have tried to avoid a Nissan Altima – which was also involved in the crash – when it came in contact with the bus. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived at the scene on Friday morning to investigate the cause of the accident alongside CHP.

FedEx Corp. Chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith said he learned “with great sadness” of the accident involving a FedEx Freight vehicle. “First and foremost, I want to express my deepest personal sympathies and the condolences of over 300,000 other FedEx team members to everyone involved in this accident, including the families of the students and others who lost their lives and those who were injured and the families and friends of the FedEx Freight driver who died in the crash,” he said.

Smith added: “It will take some time to fully understand exactly how this accident occurred and why. In the meantime, I want everyone to know that we at FedEx are committed to providing every resource necessary to assist investigators in their efforts to understand what happened.”

The vehicles involved in the incident were removed on Friday as officials continued processing any remaining evidence left at the scene. The southbound lanes of Interstate 5 reopened on Friday while the northbound lanes remained closed, though they were expected to reopen later in the day.

Two other buses that were also transporting students to Humboldt State University were not involved in the accident and made it safely to HSU. The school said it sent its deepest condolences to the friends and families of those affected, adding: “We are doing everything possible to provide support and assistance.”

Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) said 19 students from 16 schools were on the bus tour to Humboldt State University. “At this time, we know that there have been 10 fatalities, including five students. However, we do not know if those students attended LAUSD schools,” Deasy said. “Students from throughout Southern California were participating.”

U.S. prosecutor’s father rescued days after kidnapping in North Carolina

By Heidi Pullyard

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA (BNO NEWS) — A North Carolina man whose daughter has prosecuted gang members and drug cases was rescued in Atlanta on late Wednesday, days after he was kidnapped from his home in an “elaborate kidnapping plot” to make demands in favor of an inmate.

Frank Arthur Janssen, 63, was kidnapped from his home in Wake Forest, North Carolina, last Saturday and taken to Atlanta where he was held in an apartment with “very dangerous people,” the FBI said. The group then sent specific demands to Janssen’s family that would have been for the benefit of inmate Kelvin Melton at the Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina.

“Melton was previously prosecuted by Frank Janssen’s daughter who is an assistant district attorney in Wake County, North Carolina,” said FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch. “Melton was convicted and is currently serving a state sentence of life without parole.”

Janssen was rescued by an elite FBI team at a New Town Circle apartment building in Southeast Atlanta at approximately 11:55 p.m. local time on Wednesday. “When the circumstances and time to move in were determined appropriate, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team rescued Mister Janssen,” Lynch said.

Lynch said Janssen was receiving medical care on Wednesday afternoon, though it was not immediately clear why and if the medical treatment was the result of injuries sustained during the kidnapping or rescue. “Both Janssen and his family have remained strong and focused throughout this ordeal. They ask for privacy at this time,” she said.

Five people were arrested after Wednesday’s rescue and are facing federal charges. They were identified as 21-year-old Jenna Paulin Martin, 30-year-old Tiana Maynard who is also known as “Tiana Brooks,” 20-year-old Jevante Price who is also known as “Flame,” Michael Montreal Gooden who is also known as “Hot,” and 29-year-old Clifton James Roberts.

The investigation is still ongoing and numerous law enforcement agencies are on the case, Lynch said.

U.S. discount franchise Family Dollar to cut jobs, close 370 stores

By Heidi Pullyard

MATTHEWS, NORTH CAROLINA (BNO NEWS) — The discount store franchise Family Dollar will cut jobs and close approximately 370 underperforming stores across the United States due to a decrease in sales, the company announced on Thursday.

Net sales of Family Dollar Stores for the second quarter of fiscal year 2014 were $ 2.7 billion, compared to $ 2.9 billion in net sales during the same period last year. Diluted shares have decreased too, with a drop from $ 1.21 to $ 0.80.

“Our second quarter results did not meet our expectations,” said Family Dollar Stores, Inc. Chairman and CEO Howard R. Levine.

According to the company, one of the main reasons for the financial decline in 2014 is the unusually harsh winter weather across the United States. “Like many retailers, our second quarter results were significantly impacted by severe winter weather, which resulted in numerous store closings, disrupted merchandise deliveries and higher than expected utility and store maintenance expenses,” Levine said.

To improve the discount store’s performance, the company plans to decrease prices on approximately 1,000 basic items, close an estimated 370 underperforming stores, and reduce the overall work force. “We are not satisfied with our results, and we hold ourselves accountable for improving our performance,” said Levine.

The workforce reductions and store closures are expected to cost an estimated $ 85 million to $ 95 million during the second half of fiscal year 2014. This will eventually translate into $ 40 million to $ 45 million of annualized operating profit benefit, according to the company’s expectations.

It was not immediately known how many employees would be laid off.

“As the environment remains challenging, we are adjusting our growth plans to ensure that we are allocating resources to initiatives with the highest potential for value creation,” Levine added. He said he is confident these changes will enable improvement in the company’s execution and deliver higher shareholder returns.

Family Dollar has been around for 54 years and is described as “providing value and convenience to customers in easy-to-shop neighborhood locations.” They are located in urban and rural environments across 46 states with currently around 8,000 stores, employing about 50,000 people.

Texas executes Mexican national in defiance of world court ruling

HUNTSVILLE, TEXAS (BNO NEWS) — A Mexican national convicted of rape and murder was executed in Texas on late Wednesday despite a 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that found he had been improperly denied representation from Mexico after his arrest, officials said.

Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, 44, was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. local time on Wednesday at Huntsville Unit in Walker County, Texas. The execution by lethal injection took place after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, a federal appeals court, and the U.S. Supreme Court all refused to stop the execution.

The execution is controversial because the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 2004 that the United States had failed to provide consular notification and access to 51 Mexican nationals, including Hernandez, as is required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations which was signed by the United States decades ago.

Three other Mexican nationals also covered by the ICJ’s Avena judgment have previously been executed in the United States, leading the world court to issue a ruling that the United States had violated the treaty and the court’s own orders. One of those previously executed was Edgar Arias Tamayo, who was executed in Texas on January 22 despite appeals from both the Mexican and U.S. governments.

After Tamayo’s execution, the U.S. government said it had urged Texas to delay the execution to review Tamayo’s conviction and sentence. “The United States compliance with our international obligations under Avena is critical to our ability to ensure consular access and assistance for our own citizens who are arrested or detained by foreign governments, as well as to maintain cooperation from foreign governments on a broad range of law enforcement and other issues,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in January.

Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it condemned Wednesday’s execution of Hernandez, calling it a “clear violation” of the ICJ ruling more than a decade ago. It said it “strongly protested” the U.S. government’s “failure” to halt the execution in Texas, adding that the United States was obliged to review and reconsider the conviction and death sentence of Hernandez.

“The Mexican government expresses its deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Hernandez-Llanas and will continue to provide them with consular assistance during this process,” the ministry said. “The Mexican government again urges the U.S. to take effective action to prevent the state of Texas, or any other, from carrying out the execution of any Mexican nationals in contempt of the Avena judgment and in breach of its international obligations.”

Hernandez was convicted of killing a former university professor who had hired him to help with renovations on his home. Hernandez broke into the man’s residence on the night of October 15, 1997, and beat him to death with a metal bar, after which he tied up the victim’s wife and raped her repeatedly.

Speaking in the death chamber moments before Wednesday’s execution, Hernandez indicated he had no remorse for his actions. “I’m happy and I would like to say on behalf of my family, I love y’all,” he said. “I am happy. I look into my family’s eyes, and I see sadness. Don’t be sad, I’m happy. I am sorry for what I have done. Be mindful that I am happy till the end.”

Later in his statement, however, Hernandez added: “God is the only witness that knows what happened that night. I, Ramiro Hernandez, say this with lots of love to young people: listen to your parents, please. Live your life to the fullest, you only live your life once. … I say this with a lot of love and happiness. I have no pain and no guilt. All I have is love. Love will win.”

Lawyers for Hernandez had argued that he was mentally impaired and rejected “faulty” testimony from psychologists at trial. Wednesday’s execution raised the number of people executed in the United States so far this year to 16, six of them in Texas.

Teen arrested after stabbing 24 at Pennsylvania high school

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA (BNO NEWS) — A teenage boy armed with two knives went on a stabbing spree at a Pennsylvania high school on Wednesday morning, injuring more than 20 people in one of the worst such incidents in the United States in recent years, authorities said.

The 16-year-old student, identified in court documents as Alex Hribal, attacked 23 students and an adult security guard at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville – about 20 miles (32.9 kilometers) from Pittsburgh on early Wednesday. He was placed under arrest by an on-site officer before authorities arrived at the scene.

The incident was first called in by a Franklin Regional High School resource officer on the Murrysville Police radio at 7:13 a.m. local time. All Murrysville units were dispatched to respond to the scene, where authorities found multiple victims lying in the grassy area outside of the building.

Police Chief Thomas Seefield said that once he entered the building, he was met in the first floor hallway by the male security guard who suffered a stab wound to his stomach. Nearby, the school resource officer had the suspect in custody after Hribal was tackled by a school principle.

Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and attended to those injured. Four of the 23 students were seriously wounded and in critical condition. “We are praying and hoping the best of the victims,” Seefield said. The suspect himself was also treated for injuries to his hand.

Eight of the victims were taken to Forbes Regional Hospital, where Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Rubino said there was a pattern in the victims’ wounds. “Most of them were to the right lower abdomen and the right flank and that created some of the criticality of their wounds,” he explained.

Franklin Regional School District Superintendant Dr. Gennaro Piriano said the school community will continue to work in cooperation with local law enforcement in the coming days. “The actions and response of our staff, students, and law enforcement officers saved many lives,” Piriano said.

The motive for Wednesday’s stabbing spree was not immediately known. Franklin Regional High School will remain closed for the next several days as authorities continue to investigate. Elementary and middle schools in the district are expected to reopen on Thursday.

‘Games of Thrones’ renewed for two more seasons

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (BNO NEWS) — The popular HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones” has been renewed for a fifth and sixth season, the premium cable network announced on Tuesday, two days after the series’ season four debut scored the highest number of viewers yet.

The series, which premiered in April 2011 and follows several noble families and individuals in their fight for control of the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, has received widespread acclaim from critics though it is controversial for its use of nudity, sex and graphic depictions of violence. The series received numerous awards and nominations during its first three years.

“Games of Thrones is a phenomenon like no other,” HBO Programming President Michael Lombardo said on Tuesday as he announced – as expected – that the popular series will have at least two more seasons. “David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with their talented collaborators, continue to surpass themselves, and we look forward to more of their dazzling storytelling.”

“Two Swords,” the fourth season premiere episode that aired on Sunday, has received much praise from critics and fans alike, being hailed by some as the “best television show ever.” The episode was watched by about 6.6 million viewers, causing the HBO Go service to crash and making it HBO’s most-watched program since the finale of “The Sopranos” in 2007.

But in part because of HBO’s limited reach, fans from around the world have turned to unauthorized websites to download a copy of the episode, setting a new piracy record in just hours, according to piracy news website TorrentFreak. It said the episode had been downloaded by more than 1 million people within the first 12 hours, with millions more expected to download the episode throughout the coming weeks.

“Games of Thrones” is based on the bestselling fantasy book series by George R.R. Martin.