National News

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A North Carolina man has pleaded guilty to threatening to burn down a Black church in Virginia days after one of the church’s leaders took part in a vigil for George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minnesota.

John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, entered the plea Wednesday, nearly two months after he was arrested on charges related to his alleged threat, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a news release.

Authorities said Bareswill, who lived in Catawba, North Carolina, also made racist remarks when he called the Baptist church in Virginia Beach to make the threats in June. He could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison during his hearing in November, the release said.

Floyd died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes as he pleaded for air. His death sparked global demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

It is not immediately clear if Bareswill had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Demonstrators held a vigil in North Carolina to demand justice for a Black man who died days after his arrest following the release of body camera videos that showed the man struggling with guards and yelling he couldn’t breathe as they restrained him.

More than 70 participants used their phones as flashlights and sang songs during the vigil for John Neville in Winston-Salem Wednesday night, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Neville's son, Tremaine Stubbs, spoke to the crowd about parts of the footage released on Wednesday that showed Neville, calling for this mother. “There is no reason that a grown man should be calling for his mama when she is no longer with us,” Stubbs said. “I can’t breathe man," he added. "My daddy is gone for no reason.”

His father died at a hospital of a brain injury on Dec. 4, three days after his arrest on a warrant accusing him of assaulting a woman. The struggle with the guards happened while he was booked in Forsyth County jail. Five former jail officers and a nurse were charged last month with involuntary manslaughter in his death.

“White supremacy continues to have its way in this city, in this state, in this country and in this world,” Terrance Hawkins, an activist in the city, said. “We want justice, and we want it now.”

Hawkins said he was disturbed it took the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office months to bring charges in Neville’s death and to release the jail video. A Black Lives Matter chapter in the city had called for the video’s release for months, but Neville’s family opposed making the footage public until last week.

The group apologized to the family last week for not respecting their initial wishes.


One person died and five others are missing after their boats capsized in floodwaters in South Korea on Thursday following incessant torrential rains, officials said.

One of the boats was stuck in a wire near a dam in Chuncheon, just northeast of Seoul. Two other boats rushed to help but all three were overturned, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

A total of eight people were aboard the three boats, one of them a police boat. One person was declared dead at a hospital, two were rescued and five others are unaccounted for, fire officials said.

Also Thursday, the state-run Han River Flood Control Office issued a flood alert near a key river bridge in Seoul, the first such advisory since 2011.

Agency officials said parts of highways along the river have been closed and many riverside public parks flooded. The rainfall stopped near the Han River bridge on Thursday afternoon but the flood alert remains in effect, according to the agency.

Much of South Korea have been hit by days of heavy rains since Saturday.

Earlier Thursday, the safety ministry said in a report that 16 people died and 11 others were listed as missing in landslides, floods and other incidents. It said the figures didn’t include those involved in the Chuncheon dam incident.


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A group of University of Utah police officers made inappropriate comments about explicit photos of a student who had submitted the pictures as evidence in an extortion case shortly before her shooting death, an investigation found Wednesday.

Utah's Department of Public Safety opened an investigation after the Salt Lake Tribune unearthed allegations that an officer had shown off the images of 21-year-old track athlete Lauren McCluskey before her 2018 slaying.

Her shooting death at the hands of a man she had briefly dated has roiled the institution and raised serious questions about how it handled her repeated reports that the man was harassing her before her death, including extorting her with the images she had sent him when they were involved.

University officials have acknowledged mistakes and made changes to policies and procedures. But they maintained that there's no evidence her death could have been prevented.

An attorney for Officer Miguel Deras has previously denied bragging about the photos. He did show them during a routine briefing, but only to ask how they should be handled and stored and did not make inappropriate comments, his attorney Jeremy Jones said.

“From my client’s recollection, he never participated in that. He showed the photos in briefing, he didn’t ‘smoke and joke’ about the photos at any time,” he said.

The probe found no evidence Deras inappropriately downloaded or electronically transferred the photos. He now works for another department in the city of Logan, Utah. Officials there could not immediately be reached for comment.

University of Utah police Chief Rodney Chatman, who is new to the role, did not name Deras specifically but said he's disappointed in the “small group” of officers who commented about the pictures around the time of a shift-change briefing, and those who did not report the comments.

“It is inexcusable for any law enforcement officer to discuss photos or information provided by a victim outside of clear and legitimate law enforcement reasons,” he said. Chatman said he would pursue action against individual officers, but he said the exact discipline will be confidential.

McCluskey's parents, Jill and Matt, criticized the university for being dishonest and failing to take responsibility for their daughter's death.

“We now call for the University of Utah to redo its incomplete and disingenuous investigation and for an independent review of the facts surrounding Lauren’s murder and the University’s failure to respond to her pleas for help,” the parents said in a statement.

McCluskey had contacted university police more than 20 times before her death to report harassment by a man she had dated, Melvin Shawn Rowland.

Her family says in a lawsuit that those reports were not taken seriously by campus police, who should have quickly discovered he was a registered sex offender on parole who had been lying to her about his name, age and history. Instead, he fatally shot her with a borrowed gun on campus and later killed himself.


DENVER (AP) — Five people were found dead Wednesday after an early morning fire destroyed a suburban Denver home — a blaze authorities said they suspect was intentionally set. Three people escaped the fire by jumping from the home's second floor.

Investigators believe the victims were a toddler, an older child and three adults, Denver Fire Department Capt. Greg Pixley said. Their bodies were discovered after firefighters extinguished the fire, which was first reported by a Denver police officer at 2:40 a.m., Pixley said.

The three survivors were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, Denver police spokesman Jay Casillas said.

Pixley spoke outside the charred house in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, a relatively new development of tightly packed homes near Denver International Airport.

A police officer attempting to rescue people on the first floor was pushed back by the fire’s heat, and it appears that those who died were all on the first floor, he said.

Police are investigating the fire along with firefighters because there are indications that it was arson, said Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for Denver police. He would not elaborate on the evidence because he said he did not want to compromise the investigation.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was assisting the investigation, ATF spokesman Matthew Deasaro said. The ATF frequently assists agencies in arson investigations.

“This is a devastating time for Denver and this community. Our heart and our prayers go out to this community,” Pixley said.

Abou Djibril, who said he was a relative of the victims, told The Denver Post the people who died were members of a family that had immigrated from Senegal. Another friend, Ousmane Ndiaye, told the newspaper the father was an engineer with Kiewit, a construction and engineering firm. An email sent to Kiewit for comment wasn't immediately returned.

Amadou Ba, a friend of the father, stood outside the charred home with a group of other men from West Africa “to bring my respect for the people who passed away” and to support the family and the community.

“He was a very good guy. ... He liked to help everybody, help the community and do a lot of things for everybody,” Ba said of the father.

Ba said he is working with officials in Senegal and raising money to send the bodies back to the West African country.

“It's tradition because everybody wants to see their family come back home,” he said.

Neighbor Maria Mendoza said she was awakened by noise and someone screaming, “Get the baby out! Get the baby out!” at 2:40 a.m. She ran to a window and saw flames and plumes of smoke rising from the home just down the street.

“I awoke my husband, and he ran outside to see if he could help but there was nothing he could do. The fire was too big,” Mendoza said.

Firefighters arrived moments later.

“It all happened so fast, less than 10 minutes. These are big houses but they're all made of wood,” Mendoza said, holding back tears. “May God and the community help this family.”

Mendoza said she didn't know the family but would wave or say “Hi” whenever she saw the children. She said the neighborhood was built about two years ago.

Investigators erected a white tent outside the nearly destroyed home, its frame blackened in stark contrast to neighboring beige houses with neatly manicured lawns.


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An attorney for one of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd argues his client only handled crowd control.

Defense attorney Robert Paule filed a memo Wednesday supporting his earlier motion to dismiss charges against Tou Thao for lack of probable cause. The memo said Thao had his back to what was going on as Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee to the neck of Floyd, a handcuffed Black man. Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes on May 25 even after Floyd pleaded for air.

According to the memo, Thao offered a hobble restraint to the other three officers, but they refused it. The memo also argues Chauvin was using a non-deadly, Minneapolis Police Department-approved neck restraint, and that Thao and the other three officers “had been repeatedly trained to use neck restraints.”

After the other officers refused his offer of a hobble restraint, Thao “immediately turned his attention to crowd control” and kept his back to Floyd and the other officers for the majority of the remainder of the arrest, the memo said.

“When Officer Thao turned his back to Mr. Floyd and the three other officers for the last time, Mr. Floyd was still alive and breathing,” the memo said. “Officer Thao did nothing to aid in the commission of a crime.”

Thao never placed his hands on Floyd, according to the memo, and asked about the status of an ambulance, radioing police dispatch to hurry up the response.

An attorney for another former officer, Thomas Lane, also plans to argue that charges against his client should be dismissed.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Thao, Lane and another officer, J. Kueng, are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired.

Their next court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 11.


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee businessman who was flying a plane that crashed in Georgia in 2018 likely lost control after becoming disoriented in cloudy weather after taking off, a National Transportation Safety Board report said.

Wei Chen and three passengers were killed in the December 2018 plane crash in Atlanta. Chen was a Memphis resident and CEO of Sunshine Enterprise Inc., which distributes Chinese construction and industrial equipment.

An experienced pilot who flew around the world in a single-engine airplane in 2011, Chen was at the controls of the Cessna 560 jet when it crashed on its way from Atlanta's Fulton County Airport to Millington-Memphis Airport.

The NTSB report released in July said the plane took off in cloudy conditions and the pilot was using the aircraft's instruments to fly.

The plane increased its rate of climb from about 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) per minute to 9,600 feet (2,926 meters) per minute before the plane slowed to about 86 miles per hour (138 kilometers per hour).

The plane then descended in a right turn and made an inverted roll before hitting the ground near some trees about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the airport, the report said.

The report issued a probable cause finding that the pilot “became spatially disoriented after entering the cloud layer, which resulted in the airplane’s high rate of climb, rapid loss of airspeed, and a likely aerodynamic stall.”

“The steep descending right turn, the airplane’s roll to an inverted attitude, and the high-energy impact are also consistent with a loss of control due to spatial disorientation,” the report said.

Also killed in the crash were passengers John Chen, Bruce Pelynio and Danielle Robinson. No injuries on the ground were reported.


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Body camera videos from a North Carolina jail show a man who died days after his arrest struggling with guards to get up from where he lay on the floor, calling out for his mother and yelling “I can't breathe!” more than 20 times as they restrained him.

The videos released Wednesday show the moments last December when John Neville, 56, was told by a nurse in the Forsyth County jail in Winston-Salem that he had a seizure. Neville died at a local hospital of a brain injury on Dec. 4, three days after his arrest on a warrant accusing him of assaulting a female.

Five former jail officers and a nurse were charged in July with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death.

Body camera video from one of the guards shows the nurse wearing blue surgical gloves kneeling next to Neville, who initially appears to be unresponsive. The nurse repeatedly tells him, “You're OK,” and asks if he can talk to her.

“Are you ready to come out of it now?” she asks. “It looks like you had a seizure.”

A guard explains that he is having a medical problem and tells him to calm down. He fights to get up and yells expletives, crying “Let me up, let me up. ... Help me. Help me.” At one point, he yells, “Mama, mama!”

A group of four of five guards flips him over to his stomach and cuffs his hands behind his back as he continues to struggle. They put a white mesh hood over his head, stand him up, walk him through a door and strap him into a restraining chair as he moans and breathes heavily.

A guard then pushes him in the chair down several corridors before the roughly 19-minute body camera video ends.

In the second video, which is nearly 26 minutes long, Neville is moved into a small cell. As he is being transferred, Neville yells, “Help me, somebody!” A guard tells him he's had a medical episode and he needs to calm down.

Once in the cell, the five officers remove Neville from the chair and lay him on a mattress. He yells, “I can't breathe!” and “Please let me go!” He shouted that he couldn't breathe at least 25 more times before one guard uses bolt cutters to remove the handcuffs that a key had broken off in.

At one point, a guard acknowledges that the handcuffs belong to him. “That's coming out of your paycheck,” another guard responds.

Soon, Neville stops yelling, and while officers ask him if he's OK, no response can be heard on the video. After that, his legs are folded onto his back and he is locked in the room. The officers back out.

The last scene shows the nurse standing at the window and looking at Neville. In a faint voice, the nurse appears to suggest that Neville wasn't breathing. The guards reenter the cell and the nurse checks on Neville, who lets out an groan. The nurse applies her stethoscope, then tells the guards “I can't hear a heart rate” and says Neville has to be rolled on his back to be treated. She requests an defibrillator and performs CPR on him.

Neville suffered a brain injury because his heart stopped beating, which deprived his brain of oxygen, according to an autopsy report, which also said he asphyxiated while being restrained.

Mike Grace, an attorney for the Neville family, said the video evoked tears.

“I didn’t know Mr. Neville before his death, and I wept,” Grace said. “My partner didn’t know him, and my partner is a 45-year-old white man and he wept. I wept like a baby.”

Grace said there have been others who didn’t see a problem with the way Neville was treated, but he said it’s that kind of insensitivity that led to his death.

“It was a very definite lack of respect for human dignity, for human life, especially a Black human life in jail,” he said.

Grace described Neville’s death as one of commission, not of omission.

“The video won’t show anyone kicking Mr. Neville or hitting Mr. Neville or actively attacking him,” he said. “They just didn’t give a damn about him, and I don’t know which is worse. It was a life, according to the coroner, that he shouldn’t have died. Didn’t have to die.”

On Tuesday, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough apologized to Neville's family during a news conference for the man's death, saying he too cried after seeing the video. He said Neville's death has led to changes in training involving medical care providers, and that he would name a portion of the jail for Neville.


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Attorneys for a man who killed five people at a Maryland newspaper argued Wednesday that a psychologist retained by prosecutors should not be able to testify about his observations of the man's jail cell or interviews with jail personnel when jurors consider whether he's not criminally responsible due to his mental health.

Prosecutors contended the arguments are groundless.

Judge Laura Ripken has set aside pretrial hearings in the case of Jarrod Ramos, who pleaded guilty last year to killing five at the Capital Gazette newspaper in 2018. Lawyers are now arguing over what jurors will hear in the second phase of the trial to determine whether Ramos is not criminally responsible — Maryland's version of an insanity defense.

Dr. Gregory Saathoff, who was retained by prosecutors, interviewed employees beginning in October at the detention center where Ramos has been held. Saathoff also looked into Ramos’ cell when he wasn't present.

Matthew Connell, one of Ramos' lawyers, argued that the psychologist's observations of the cell amounted to “a warrantless search,” which neither Ramos nor his attorneys knew about it.

“We are claiming that his cell was searched,” Connell said.

David Russell, a prosecutor in the case, contended that simply looking through a window does not constitute a search.

“This is a question of someone looking through a window from a place they have a lawful vantage point to be in," Russell said.

Connell also argued that his client's rights were violated when Saathoff interviewed 35 personnel at the detention center without the knowledge of Ramos or his attorneys.

“In addition, your honor, medical personnel disclosed confidential information that never should have been disclosed about Mr. Ramos, and we believe that that is a due process violation as well," Connell said. "For all of these reasons, we are asking the court to suppress Dr. Saathoff’s evaluation.”

But Russell said Saathoff asked basic questions about everyday interactions — such as details about transporting Ramos to and from court — that did not rise to the level of requiring an attorney to be present under the law.

Several of the employees testified in court Wednesday, and more were scheduled to be called Thursday. Ripken has set aside three days of hearings, including Thursday and Tuesday of next week.

“I'll let both sides argue, and at the conclusion I'll make a ruling, and I will address all of the issues that both sides have raised,” Ripken said.

The case, which includes videotaped evidence of Ramos shooting his way through the newspaper, is more than two years old. The second phase of the trial is now scheduled for December. The case has been repeatedly delayed, most recently because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The case has three groups of mental health experts.

Dr. Sameer Patel, a psychiatrist with the state Health Department, has conducted a mental health evaluation of Ramos. The evaluation has not been made public, but Ripken said in court in October that Patel found Ramos to be legally sane.

Defense attorneys have retained their own mental health experts, and they are arguing Ramos should not be held criminally responsible because of mental illness.

Ripken has denied a request by prosecutors to conduct a separate evaluation of Ramos. However, the judge ruled the state could prepare its own case in various ways, including challenging the defense experts’ findings and reports.

Ramos pleaded guilty in October to all 23 counts against him for killing John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith.

The 40-year-old had a well-documented history of harassing the Capital Gazette’s journalists. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011. The defamation suit was dismissed as groundless, and Ramos railed against staff at the newspaper in profanity-laced tweets.

If Ramos were found not criminally responsible, he would be committed to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital instead of prison.


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man sold the 1957 Chevy pickup he drove for 44 years for $75, the same price he paid decades ago.

Bob Sportal of Prinsburg handed over the key last month to the grandson of the man he bought the truck from, KARE-TV reported.

Sportal was in his early 20s when he bought the rusty pickup from a retiring farmer. He drove the truck to work every day at a local grain elevator until he retired five years ago.

Sportal kept driving the truck but decided to sell it to Tom Leenstra, grandson of the late John VanDerVeen, who originally sold the truck to Sportal.

“It’s like riding with my Grandpa again,” Leenstra said.

The truck has taken on antique value, but Sportal decided to sell it for what he paid for it.

“It’s going in the family, so that’s the most important thing,” Sportal said.


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Three teenagers fleeing police while carrying a semiautomatic gun in a backpack jumped a wall at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, but probably didn't know that's where they were, authorities said Wednesday.

Palm Beach Police spokesman Michael Ogrodnick said the 15-year-old boys were arrested shortly after they entered the grounds of the resort Friday and dumped the backpack, which contained a mini AK-47 with a loaded 14-round magazine.

He said the three are lucky that neither the president nor any family members were there, because Secret Service agents might have shot them. The club is closed for the summer.

“They had no idea where they were,” Ogrodnick said.

According to a police report, a Palm Beach officer spotted the teens sitting in a parked car early Friday morning about 2 miles (3 kilometers) north of Mar-a-Lago. When he turned on his overhead lights, the car sped south toward Mar-a-Lago.

As they approached the club, the teens spotted a second officer who was conducting an unrelated traffic stop and abruptly stopped the car, probably thinking it was a roadblock set up to catch them, Ogrodnick said.

The three bolted, jumped Mar-a-Lago's nearby wall and hid on the resort's grounds. Officers surrounded the club and a helicopter and police dog were used to help find them. Ogrodnick said they never tried to get inside any of the resort's buildings.

He said the three said they didn't own the AK-47 but had found it.

The teens are charged with trespassing with a firearm, burglary with a firearm and resisting arrest without violence. They are being held at a juvenile detention facility while prosecutors decide whether to charge them as adults.

Mar-a-Lago has been the scene of several intrusions since Trump became president in 2017.

On Jan. 31, a Connecticut opera singer fleeing police in a rented SUV crashed through a checkpoint outside of Mar-a-Lago, drawing gunfire from Secret Service agents and officers. She was not hurt. Hannah Roemhild has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

On Jan. 5, just hours after Trump and his family had left the club following a two-week vacation, a Florida man who had been dishonorably discharged from the Marines for sex offenses was arrested after he got past two checkpoints. Authorities said Brandon M. Magnan had falsely identified himself as part of the president’s helicopter crew.

In March 2019, Chinese national Yujing Zhang gained access to Mar-a-Lago while carrying a laptop, phones and other electronic gear. That led to initial speculation that the 33-year-old businesswoman from Shanghai might be a spy, but she was never charged with espionage. Text messages she exchanged with a trip organizer indicated she was a fan of the president and wanted to meet him or his family to discuss possible deals.

Zhang was found guilty of trespassing and lying to Secret Service agents and was sentenced in November to time served.

In December, the club’s security officers confronted another Chinese national, Jing Lu, 56, for trespassing and told her to leave, but she returned to take photos. Lu was charged with loitering and resisting an officer without violence after taking photos by entering a service entrance.

On Thanksgiving weekend 2018, a University of Wisconsin student visiting the area with his parents walked into Mar-a-Lago by mingling with a group that was entering. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.


ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged 11 alleged members of the MS-13 street gang with sex trafficking and other charges after they say a 13-year-old runaway was repeatedly beaten with a baseball bat and forced into prostitution in northern Virginia.

Charges were unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria. A 48-page FBI affidavit says the 13-year-old girl ran away from a group home in Fairfax in August 2018 with a 16-year-old friend who was connected to MS-13.

A child trafficking task force found the 13-year-old girl nearly two months later at an apartment in Mount Rainier, Maryland.

The girl told authorities that she was twice beaten on her backside and legs 26 times with a baseball bat — once as an initiation to the gang, and once as a punishment for talking to rival gang members and allegedly stealing from fellow gang members.

The girl reported that she could barely walk after the beatings and still suffers pain.

The affidavit states that multiple gang members had sex with her, and that the gang prostituted her on multiple occasions in northern Virginia and Maryland.

Court records indicate 10 of the defendants were arrested Tuesday and made initial appearances, in which a magistrate ordered that they have attorneys appointed on their behalf and they be held pending a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger, whose office is prosecuting the case, was scheduled to hold a news conference about the charges Tuesday afternoon.


SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) — A special prosecutor will decide whether a central Missouri sheriff's deputy will be charged in the shooting death of a woman he had stopped for a traffic violation.

The deputy shot Hannah Fizer on June 13 in Sedalia. He told investigators she had a gun and threatened to kill him but the Missouri State Highway Patrol said no gun was found in the car.

The patrol delivered its report on the shooting to Pettis County Prosecutor Phillip Sawyer last week and he announced Tuesday that he had asked for a special prosecutor so the families involved and the county will know the death was investigated by someone with no ties to “the jurisdiction that I serve,” The Kansas City Star reported.

Stephen Sokoloff, general counsel for the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, was appointed to the case. Sawyer said he expected it to take some time for Sokoloff to review the case.

Fizer's friends and family say she was driving to work at the time of the shooting. They have questioned the deputy's version of events, saying Fizer did not own a gun and was not a violent person.


The aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital of Beirut shows a shattered city covered in dust and debris.

The blast sent a mushroom cloud into the sky, killed more than 100 people and injured thousands, with more bodies probably buried in the rubble. The explosion carved out a crater that filled with seawater, as if the sea had taken a bite out of the port and swallowed buildings.

In the remnants of one toppled structure, Lebanese soldiers searched for survivors, one of them lifting an ax high above his head to cut through the pile of broken masonry.

Elsewhere, a man was pulled from the rubble on a stretcher as a rescuer laid a hand on his forehead.

A photo of a damaged hospital room offered a chilling scene. The blast covered beds in shards of glass and smashed equipment. Reddish-brown streaks seen on a footboard and a wall looked like blood.

From high above the ground, a drone image showed a cluster of towering silos that were half destroyed. The tall, cylinder-shaped structures were blown apart, spilling grain into huge heaps. Now the towers resemble an ancient ruin rising from a pile of sand.


ST. JOHNS, Mich. (AP) — A couple who came under attack for displaying the Norwegian flag outside their mid-Michigan inn because some observers mistook it for a Confederate flag have found another way to show their Scandinavian pride.

Greg and Kjersten Offenbecker, who own The Nordic Pineapple in St. Johns, outside Lansing, took Norway's flag down last month after being accused of promoting racism, the Lansing State Journal reported.

They are replacing it with a vimple, a type of long, pennant-shaped flag that can be seen displaying various designs across Scandinavia. The Offenbecker’s vimple will have the colors of the Norwegian flag — a red background with a blue cross superimposed on a white cross — in a nod to Kjersten Offenbecker’s grandfather who was born in Norway.

The colors of the Norwegian flag are similar to the Confederate flag, but the patterns and symbols are different. The Confederate flag is red with a blue “X” containing white stars.

After they removed the Norwegian flag last month, people around the globe contacted them and urged them to put it back up, Kjersten Offenbecker said. Many suggested different ways to display the flag. Someone in Norway suggested a vimple, which isn't an official national flag.

Offenbecker said they are often displayed as an alternative to Norway's flag, which traditionally is only displayed during certain times of the day.

“Apparently, when you drive through the countryside this is what you see,” she said.

“When you look at it, it has the feel of the Norwegian flag,” she added. “I’m sure we’ll get a lot of questions about what it is but no one will ever make a judgment about it that’s incorrect.”


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A lawsuit accuses an elite private school in Utah of mishandling a 2017 sexual assault allegation from a student with disabilities who endured bullying from classmates, including a reenactment of the rape during a school assembly.

Administrators at Waterford School held a meeting with the rest of her class where they shared details of the off-campus allegations and would not help the 17-year-old girl enforce a protective order against her classmate, according to the lawsuit seeking $10 million in damages.

“I don’t want anybody else who goes to Waterford to be hurt in the same way I was hurt,” Tabitha Bell, now 20, said in a interview Monday from her home in California.

The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Bell said she wanted to share her story publicly to help other students who are assaulted and fellow students with disabilities.

Waterford officials say they “categorically disagree” with her allegations. Head of School Andrew Menke said Tuesday that staffers do not discriminate based on disability or other factors.

“The accusations leveled in this suit are inflammatory and not an accurate representation of how the school supported this student through five years of attendance,” he said in a statement. “We take seriously the well-being of each student and have an environment, where respect and inclusion make possible the deepest forms of intellectual, emotional, and character growth.”

School officials declined to comment on the details of Bell's allegations in the lawsuit she filed Friday. She reported the rape allegations to police, but prosecutors initially declined to file charges because she “failed to say or physically manifest any lack of consent at this time, other than not actively participating,” prosecutors said in a letter obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Bell said she froze in fear when the boy who had been her friend began assaulting her, a response reported by many sexual assault victims. She said her disability, moreover, makes her largely unable to physically fight. Bell has a rare form of muscular dystrophy that affects her strength and balance, making it harder for her to do things like walk on her own.

The Utah attorney general is now reviewing the case after Bell helped advocate for a change to state law last year. Her lawsuit does not name the classmate she accused of assaulting her.

When her family decided to enroll her in 2014 at the $25,000-a-year private school in Sandy, near Salt Lake City, administrators promised to accommodate her disability.

That didn’t happen, Bell said in the lawsuit. Instead, her classmates were asked to carry her up and down stairs she couldn’t navigate — even when there were relatively simple alternatives, like a more accessible entrance to the stage at a choir performance. In that case, the director thought allowing her to enter and leave in a different spot from the other students would “ruin the look” of the performance, the lawsuit claims.

“It was definitely humiliating ... having my peers carry me around, look at me like I’m this sickly student,” she said. “I try to be as self-sufficient as I can be, and all I was asking for was normal, small accommodations.”

She also alleges a Waterford teacher accused her of faking her disability and another asked her to do things like moving desks that caused her to fall and get a concussion.

Things “went from bad to worse" after Bell reported an off-campus rape by a classmate in November 2017, her senior year, the lawsuit says. She obtained a protective order, but school officials said they couldn’t restrict the boy from campus even after he graduated a month after she reported the allegations.

Two of the boy’s friends reenacted the assault at a school assembly in December 2017, Bell said, and she heard her classmates in the audience laughing before the principal stopped it. She alleges administrators didn’t do enough to stop the bullying, instead offering her an early graduation plan, saying it would make other students “more comfortable,” the lawsuit says.

Still, she had some support among a few friends as the #MeToo movement took off nationwide, Bell said. Then, in February 2018, administrators called a meeting of the senior class to which she was not invited, according to the lawsuit. Officials discussed details of her claims and told students not to speak with her, the lawsuit says. After that, she said her friends stopped sitting with her and dropped out of a fundraiser she was organizing.

Still, she finished her senior year, graduated and is now attending the University of California, Berkeley. She’s studying to be a pediatric trauma psychologist, hoping she can give back and speak out on behalf of sexual assault victims and people with disabilities.

“I want to be able to allow all these experiences to actually do something good,” she said. “I want to be able to give that voice.”


Fireworks and ammonium nitrate appear to have been the fuel that ignited a massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, experts and videos of the blast suggest.

The scale of the damage — from the epicenter of the explosion at the port of Beirut to the windows blown out kilometers (miles) away — resembles other blasts involving the chemical compound commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer.

But the compound itself typically doesn't detonate on its own and requires another ignition source. That likely came from a fire that engulfed what initially appeared to be fireworks that were stored at the port.

Online videos of the disaster's initial moments show sparks and lights inside the smoke rising from the blaze, just prior to the massive blast. That likely indicates that fireworks were involved, said Boaz Hayoun, owner of the Tamar Group, an Israeli firm that works closely with the Israeli government on safety and certification issues involving explosives.

“Before the big explosion, you can see in the center of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles," Hayoun told The Associated Press. "This is very specific behavior of fireworks, the visuals, the sounds and the transformation from a slow burn to a massive explosion.”

Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, offered a similar assessment.

“It looks like an accident,” Lewis told the AP. “First, there was a fire preceding the explosion, which is not an attack. And some of the videos show munitions what I could call popcorning, exploding like ’pop, pop, pop, pop.’”

He added that “it’s very common to see fires detonate explosives."

“If you have a fire raging next to something explosive, and you don’t put it out, it blows up," he said.

The white cloud that accompanied the massive blast appeared to be a condensation cloud, often common in massive explosions in humid conditions that can follow the shock waves of an explosion, Lewis said.

Orange clouds also followed the blast, likely from toxic nitrogen dioxide gas that's released after an explosion involving nitrates.

Experts typically determine the power of the blast by measuring the crater left behind, which appeared massive in aerial footage shot on Wednesday morning by the AP.

The Beirut blast, based on the crater and glass windows being blown out a distance away, exploded with the force equivalent to detonating at least 2.2 kilotons of TNT, said Sim Tack, an analyst and weapons expert at the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor.

But Hayoun, the Israeli expert, said he estimated the force of the blast to be about 1 kiloton of TNT. He based his figure on the amount of ammonium nitrate that were reported, but said “we need to be careful with specific statements” due to still incomplete information available.

What initially started the fire at the port remains unclear. Beirut was sunny before Tuesday's explosion, with a daily high of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi, in comments to a local TV station, made no mention of ignited fireworks but said it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. That amount could cause the explosive force seen in the blast Tuesday, Tack said.

Based on the timeline and the size of the cargo, that ship could be the MV Rhosus. The ship was initially seized in Beirut in 2013 when it entered the port due to technical problems, according to lawyers involved in the case. It came from the nation of Georgia, and had been bound for Mozambique.

“Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port’s warehouses," the lawyers wrote in a 2015 article published by “The vessel and cargo remain to date in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal.”

It remains unclear what conditions the ammonium nitrate had been stored in — or why tons of an explosive chemical compound had been left there for years. Lebanon already was on the brink of collapse amid a severe economic crisis that has ignited mass protests in recent months.

The devastation surrounding the port resembled other ammonium nitrate explosions, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and a 1947 ship explosion that struck Texas City, Texas.

It also is unclear what conditions a possible shipment of fireworks at the port had been stored in. Fireworks are very common in Lebanon, used to celebrate religious occasions and weddings.

While military explosives are generally safe to transport, common “cheap pyrotechnics” made in China are often of very low quality and can ignite very easily, especially in hot weather, said Hayoun, the Israeli explosives expert.

The “end result,” he added is that “hundreds of tons of energetic materials” were detonated to create a explosion of this magnitude.

“It started definitely with fireworks,” he said.


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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A video of an Orlando woman cursing and shouting racial slurs at Black landscapers as they finished up a job at her neighbor's house has gone viral.

Brandon Cordova told the Orlando Sentinel that he and his crew were almost done with their shift last Thursday when the woman approached two of his coworkers. Cordova said he pulled out his cellphone and started filming. He later posted the video on Facebook.

The woman approached twins Antonio and Antione Harris, a foreman and supervisor with A Cut Above The Rest Landscaping, respectively.

Cordova said she didn't tell the crew what she was upset about before her rant began.

”She was in my coworkers’ face ... just going off. ... She was trying to say all those hateful things, and they weren’t even being bothered — they were joking around. The more they were joking around, the more she got mad,” Cordova said.

In the video, the woman hurled racial slurs at the Harris brothers, who are Black.

“We tried to calm her down,” Antonio Harris told the Orlando Sentinel. Added his brother, “The more we tried to calm her down, the more irate she got.”

As she got closer, one twin touched the other — warning “corona(virus)” — before they stepped back.

In the video, one of the twins wished the woman “a blessed day," before walking toward their truck.

They said the woman's behavior surprised them.

“We don’t look at color,” Antonio Harris told the newspaper. “Me and my twin brother are mixed … we are African-American, but at the same time, this wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve dealt with (racism), this is the most extreme time that we’ve dealt with it.”

While a neighbor encouraged them to report the incident to police, neither Cordova nor the Harris twins said they filed a report.

“I hope that the message isn’t, ‘Look at this crazy lady’ or something to inspire more hate. It’s more to show that there’s people that think this way that are outdated. ... If you just ignore them in the end, what are they going to do to you?” Cordova said.

The Harris brothers said their boss is “distraught” after seeing the video, and has been supportive.

Antione Harris said he was “shocked” the video went viral. But he and his brother do not consider their actions noteworthy.

“We ain’t looking to get nothing out of this, we ain’t trying to blow up on the mainstream,” Antonio Harris said. “We’re just simple guys who go to work every day, doing 9 to 5, and try to make the best out of it, even with the COVID going on. ... I think we did do the right thing. … We didn’t need anybody to see it.”


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