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National News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joey Charpentier/Twitter(HOUSTON) -- Two people were killed in a gas explosion at a manufacturing warehouse that sent shock waves across northwest Houston early Friday morning, authorities said.

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

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

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

Drones are being brought in to conduct a grid search and inspect roofs for debris or body parts.

The explosion appeared to come from a 2,000 gallon tank of propylene that was leaking, according to Pena.

He said the leak has been secured and there are no concerns with air quality at this time.

Authorities are waiting for a fire that was sparked by the explosion to burn out before conducting their primary and secondary searches.

The fire is contained, but firefighters are not extinguishing it themselves with water to avoid creating a runoff or other hazards, according to Pena.

FIRST LOOK: the neighborhood that saw the worst of the damage backs up to the plant that exploded. Wow. #abc13 pic.twitter.com/HKU8733ERA

— Courtney Fischer (@CourtneyABC13) January 24, 2020

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

Temporary shelters were set up at 4703 Shadowdale Drive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to everyone who shared our information!#PelhamPD pic.twitter.com/RP70yeeMyT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional testimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-examination


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Correct,” Sciorra replied.

“And you open the door?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” the actress replied.

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

“No,” Sciorra solemnly replied.

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


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CatLane/iStock(WESTERVILLE, Ohio) -- Girl Scouts aren't just knocking on doors any longer to sell cookies -- they are getting more creative.

Amory Vargo is well on her way to meeting her goal of selling 2,020 boxes of cookies and earning a free week at Girl Scout camp thanks to her video cover of Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" to help sell her cookies.

The 9-year-old from Westerville, Ohio, is about halfway to her goal her mom, Samantha Vargo, told "Good Morning America."

Amory makes a video to sell cookies each year, she said, but this year's has been the most successful. It has over 100,000 views on YouTube so far.

"She's a really creative kid," Vargo said. "The video allows her to showcase that while selling cookies.

Amory got her start in Girl Scouts as a Daisy and made her way up to being a Brownie. Now, she's a junior. Her mom said Girl Scouts has been a wonderful experience.

"She's built friendships with wonderful kids and has had great experiences, like zip lining, she might not have otherwise had. And the service projects, she just can't get enough."

Her "Truth Hurts" cover took about two weeks to create, her mom said. Originally. Amory was going to go with "Old Town Road" but couldn't quite get the lyrics to work.

The Lizzo choice, her mom said, "is really fun and playful. She loved putting her spin on it."

Amory loves all the positive comments on her video., her mom said. You can track her progress here.

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MicroStockHub/iStock(GRANTSVILLE, Utah) -- The first mass shooting in the country this year was allegedly carried out by a 16-year-old, who skipped school to kill each of his family members as they returned home, prosecutors said.

Colin Jeffrey "CJ" Haynie is being charged as an adult for killing his mother and his three siblings as well as for the attempted killing of his father, said Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead.

Haynie provided brief details to police when he was taken into custody on Jan. 17 at a local hospital.

Authorities were able to gather details about the incident that shocked the Grantsville, Utah, community through witness interviews and his father's statements. The murders were the first in the town -- where the population is 11,568, according to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau -- in almost 20 years, officials said.

"The defendant stated that he had killed his mother first at about 1 p.m. He then stated that he killed the others as they returned home," said Broadhead at a press conference on Wednesday.

Consuelo Alejandra Haynie picked up her 12-year-old daughter Maylan from school that day and were gunned down when they walked inside the house. The 52-year-old mom's son allegedly used a handgun to shoot them in the head, necks and/or upper bodies, Broadhead said.

An hour passed as Colin Haynie sat in their home when 15-year-old Alexis came home from school. Officials said he shot his sister in the head and upper body between 2 p.m. and 5:17 p.m. when 14-year-old Matthew arrived at the house.

Colin Haynie allegedly killed his younger brother execution style with a single bullet to the head, the prosecutor said.

His father was shot in the leg when he returned home around 6:15 p.m. before struggling with his son and ripping the gun out of his hands, prosecutors said.

Colin Haynie told investigators at the hospital that his son allegedly told him that "his mother and other siblings were dead and that his intention was to kill everyone in the house except himself."

An online fundraiser for the father's medical costs and funeral expenses surpassed its goal of $100,000 as of Thursday afternoon. Official funeral arrangements have not been announced.

The juvenile suspect has been charged with four counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder and five counts of felony discharge of a firearm in Third District Court in Tooele County.

The maximum penalty for aggravated murder is life in prison without parole.

The investigation is still ongoing, authorities said.

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WTNH-TV(NEW CANAAN, Conn.) -- A Connecticut man charged with his estranged wife's murder was harshly criticized by a judge who said he violated the terms of his $6 million bond by stopping at a makeshift memorial for his presumed-dead spouse and removing items his lawyer said were meant to taunt him.

Fotis Dulos had his work-release privileges revoked and was ordered to remain under strict house arrest after Judge Gary White on Thursday ruled Dulos shouldn't have visited the memorial, which had been placed near his home by supporters of his wife, Jennifer.

White issued a stern warning to Dulos that if he violates the conditions of his release again, his bond will double to $12 million.

"What he did was stupid. Don't do it again," White said during a hearing in Stamford/Norwalk Superior Court.

Under the new conditions of his bond, Dulos is confined to his home in Farmington, Connecticut, and must continue to wear an electronic GPS ankle bracelet. He previously had been permitted to leave his home for work or to shop for groceries.

Richard Colangelo, the Stamford/Norwalk State's Attorney, filed a motion earlier this week accusing Dulos of breaking the conditions set for his bond.

"This is in violation of the terms of his release," Colangelo argued in his motion.

Following the court hearing, Dulos' attorney, Norm Pattis, said the items Dulos removed from the memorial were placed there to taunt his client.

"We have been following various web pages ostensibly devoted to supporters of Jennifer. They are encouraging people to place items outside of his home. I'm not sure what that's about. It might be harassment in any other context," Pattis told reporters, as Dulos stood silently next to him outside the courthouse.

"I remind the supporters that Jennifer is missing. She may be presumed dead as far as they're concerned. We've yet to see persuasive evidence of that," Pattis said.

Dulos was arrested and charged on Jan. 7 with murder, capital murder and kidnapping in the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos, the mother of his five children. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Fotis Dulos' girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, also was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Kent Mahwinney, an attorney and a friend of Fotis Dulos, also has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Jennifer Dulos, 50, went missing May 24 amid the former couple's contentious custody battle.

Investigators allege Jennifer Dulos was killed inside her own home and garage in New Canaan, Connecticut. Her body was never found.

State police have alleged in court papers that Fotis Dulos was "lying in wait" for Jennifer Dulos at her home and a violent assault took place in the garage, where bloodstains were found.

Authorities allege Jennifer Dulos was killed at her home May 24 between 8:05 a.m. and 10:25 a.m., after she returned from taking her children to school, according to an arrest warrant.

On the day of her disappearance, surveillance footage showed someone in a hoodie riding a bike toward Jennifer Dulos' home. The bike was later found in the trash.

Police claim Fotis Dulos bound Jennifer Dulos with zip ties, put her inside her own car and cleaned the garage, according to an arrest warrant.

The medical examiner categorized the incident as "homicide of violence" that would "likely include some combination of traumatic, blunt-force injuries such as a bludgeoning/beating, and/or sharp-force injuries such as a stabbing/slashing," according to Troconis' arrest warrant.

During Thursday's hearing, Pattis waived Fotis Dulos' right to a probable cause hearing, saying his client seeks a speedy trial.

"We are confident in our odds at trial because we know what we know," Pattis told reporters after the hearing. "The state is trying to put together a case that Mr. Dulos is responsible for that murder, or for that disappearance, and we take the position there is insufficient evidence to conclude that she's even dead."

Pattis said he hopes the trial would begin as early as September, but conceded he's worried about the public perception of his client.

"But there are 12 good people who we don't yet know and that will be the jurors in this case," Pattis said. "When we have the jury and we have an orderly courtroom proceeding by people committed to deciding this case by the rule of law, we are extremely confident in our odds."

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krblokhin/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A wide-ranging domestic terrorism investigation of the "The Base," which authorities say is a neo-Nazi group, has culminated in the arrests of seven alleged members last week and has provided extensive new details about the inside operations of an organization that allegedly advocates for a "violent insurgency" to overthrow the U.S. government.

The investigation comes amid an increased focus on domestic terrorism and white supremacy in the United States and fear that such groups are joining forces with like-minded individuals overseas. And it came to light in the context of a controversial Richmond, Virginia gun rally where three alleged members of The Base plotted to attack police officers and civilians.

According to a review of court documents released in cases out of Maryland, Georgia and Wisconsin over the past week, investigators believe the group was founded “in or around July 2018” by white nationalists who look to promote and plot acts of violence with an overarching goal of inciting a race war to create “a white ethno-state.”

“Members of The Base communicate with each other through online platforms and encrypted online messaging applications and chat rooms,” FBI special agent Jessica Krueger wrote in an affidavit filed in a Wisconsin District Court last week. “In these communications, they have discussed, among other things, acts of violence against minorities (including African Americans and Jewish Americans), Base military training camps, and ways to make improvised explosive devices.”

Three alleged members of the group were arrested in Maryland and Delaware on federal gun and immigration charges. Three others were arrested in Georgia on state gang charges and conspiracy to commit murder. Another man was arrested in Wisconsin and charged with conspiracy to vandalize a synagogue.

According to a court filing Tuesday in Maryland, The Base’s leaders are “particularly interested in applicants with military and explosives backgrounds.”

“Applicants submit an application form, which includes questions regarding the applicant’s current associations with white supremacist organizations; the applicant’s military, science, and engineering experiences and training; and the applicant’s race and gender,” the filing said.

It’s not entirely clear, based on the court filings, how many followers the group has -- though investigators have identified what they say is a clear leadership structure and found that members had divided into several separate “regional chapters.”

For instance, one such chapter in Wisconsin is identified as the “Great Lakes cell,” whose members organized an armed training session after passing out recruitment fliers at Marquette University in July of last year, according to the court filings.

“The Base cells have a significant degree of autonomy regarding their activities, and criminal conduct is typically not centrally coordinated in order to foster “plausible deniability” among those not directly involved,” an FBI affidavit said.

The FBI says it gained access to The Base’s encrypted online messaging application in July 2019, when an undercover agent participated in an online vetting interview and then personally met with members of the group in Georgia.

For months, according to the FBI, the agent continued meeting and participating in weapons training exercises with three members of The Base, who were arrested on state charges last week after the agent revealed their alleged plot to assassinate two members of the radical group ‘Antifa.’

From those interactions and The Base’s online messaging, investigators say they believe members participated in such training exercises in preparation for “The Boogaloo,” a moniker that, according to the authorities, the group’s members use to “describe the collapse of the United States and subsequent race war.”

One alleged member of the group arrested last week, former Canadian army reservist Patrik Mathews, had allegedly invoked "The Boogaloo" in connection to an attack the group planned to conduct on a pro-gun rights rally that occurred in Richmond over the weekend, according to the FBI.

“You want to create f----- some instability, while the Virginia situation is happening, make other things happen, derail some rail lines… like shut down the highways… you know, you can kick off the economic collapse of the U.S. within a week, after the boog starts,” Mathews said in a conversation federal agents say was recorded in his Delaware residence.

During a so-called ‘sneak-and-peek’ search of his residence prior to Mathews’ arrest, agents took pictures of items used to assemble assault rifles, “go-bags” with military-supplies like ‘Meals-Ready-To-Eat’ (MREs), and found several videos of Mathews in a gas-mask where he discussed killing people “in furtherance of the movement,” according to an FBI affidavit

“If you are not getting physically fit, if you are not getting armed, if you do not acquiring weapons, ammunition, and training right… now, then you should be preparing to do what needs to be done,” Mathews said in one video, according to FBI documents. “Derail some [sic] trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies.”

A magistrate judge in Maryland ordered Mathews to remain in detention pending his trial, in which he has not yet entered a plea on federal gun and immigration charges, related to an alleged illegal entry into the U.S.

At a hearing Wednesday, Matthews' lawyer defended his client.

“One man’s domestic terrorist can be another man’s exercise of his First Amendment rights,” said the lawyer, Joseph Balter.

“This is a very dangerous person, espousing very dangerous beliefs,” the judge said Wednesday.

According to authorities, Mathews’ alleged involvement in The Base, after they say he entered the country illegally in August of last year, underscores their concerns that its influence stretches well beyond the U.S.

According to court filings, investigators say the group has been “building” a coalition “within the United States and abroad” and specifically mentioned members communicating with individuals in the United Kingdom and at least one member who discussed traveling to Ukraine, “to fight with nationalists there.”

Just last week, the Justice Department’s top terrorism coordinator said that the threat facing the U.S. from potential domestic terrorists is shifting in nature and becoming an increasingly transnational issue, with law enforcement seeing more Americans engaging and finding inspiration from overseas right-wing extremist groups -- in some cases even traveling abroad to meet with their members.

"This issue in many respects has become transnational in nature," DOJ’s counsel for domestic terrorism Thomas Brzozowski said during an event at George Washington University. "Some folks cite one another, others gain or gather support from another, use the same contacts and techniques without any demonstrable connection that would constitute conspiracy or things of that nature.”

Brzozowski specifically pointed to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, whose members have traveled to train with right-wing groups in Ukraine and eastern Europe. According to prosecutors, some Atomwaffen members have also joined ranks with The Base.

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Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Fragrance Foundation(NEW YORK) -- Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of the L Brands retail empire, who in 2019 accused disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein of misappropriating “vast sums” of his personal fortune more than a decade earlier, has so far refused to reveal the full scope of that alleged multimillion-dollar theft.

In a letter sent to his foundation in August after Epstein was arrested in New York City on sex trafficking charges, Wexner disclosed that a $46 million donation in 2008 from Epstein, who served as Wexner’s personal financial advisor for more than 15 years, to a foundation run by Wexner’s wife Abigail represented only “a portion” of the funds that he recovered from Epstein.

In response to a series of questions from ABC News, however, a spokesperson for Wexner not only declined to specify the amount of money Epstein is believed to have misappropriated but also declined to comment on whether that alleged misappropriation was ever reported to the authorities.

“The foundation letter is the extent of our comments on this subject,” the spokesperson told ABC News.

The relationship between Wexner and Epstein, who died in prison last year after being indicted on sex trafficking charges, is the subject of the latest episode of ABC News’ “Truth and Lies: Jeffrey Epstein,” an eight-part podcast focusing on Epstein and the women who survived his crimes.

Wexner, 82, built some of the most recognizable clothing brands in the world, including the lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret, and he became fabulously wealthy in the process, with Forbes listing his current net worth as about $4.5 billion.

He met Epstein in the mid-1980s, according to the aforementioned letter to his foundation, through “friends who vouched for and recommended him as a knowledgeable financial professional,” and Epstein ultimately “took over managing [Wexner’s] personal finances.”

“Epstein created his own mythology that he only wanted to work with billionaires,” said Bob Fitrakis, who has covered Wexner for many years as the editor of the independent newspaper Columbus Free Press. “And here was an actual billionaire.”

Wexner trusted Epstein so completely that, in July 1991, Wexner gave Epstein power of attorney over his personal fortune, which as Wexner acknowledged in his letter, gave Epstein “wide latitude” to act on behalf of one of the richest men in the world.

In the ensuing years, Epstein became increasingly involved in Wexner’s personal ventures. Epstein’s signature appears on real estate documents, tax filings and corporation records for Wexner’s personal holdings throughout the next decade.

And as Wexner’s empire grew, so too did Epstein’s. He began to purchase luxury property all over the world, including a ten-thousand square foot house adjacent to Wexner’s estate in New Albany, Ohio, for about $3.5 million.

Epstein soon added one of New York City’s largest private residences to his portfolio, though his path to ownership was a somewhat strange and circuitous one that also ran through Wexner.

According to property records, Wexner purchased the property -- a palatial mansion located at 9 East 71st St. on Manhattan’s Upper East Side -- through a company he owned in 1989. But Epstein told The New York Times in 1996 that "Les never spent more than two months there” and boasted that he had acquired the property. According to a spokesperson, however, Wexner "never resided at the residence" and didn’t sell his stake in the company that owned the property to a company controlled by Epstein until 1998.

“I mean, regardless of who owns this remarkable property … to the naked eye, it's Epstein who is benefiting from living there, who's hosting people, throwing parties, not shy about letting people know that he owns it,” said Roddy Boyd, founder of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation and an ABC News contributor. “So it's obvious that he accrued all the benefits of the property from this relationship.”

But perhaps the most mysterious financial entanglement between Wexner and Epstein is scattered across thousands of pages of S.E.C. filings and other records identified by criminologist and ABC News contributor Tom Volscho and reviewed by financial investigative journalist and ABC News contributor Boyd.

Volscho and Boyd found nearly a dozen trusts -- with names like Health and Science Interests, Arts Interests and Community Interests -- connected to Wexner that listed Epstein as trustee and received large gifts of stock in Wexner’s company, The Limited. These trusts may help explain how Epstein’s wealth grew so quickly.

Records show that between 1991 and 2006, Epstein oversaw the sale, mostly through the New York Stock Exchange, of more than $1.3 billion of company stock held by these trusts, representing a vast pool of cash largely controlled by Epstein.

Much of the money was certainly used for charitable purposes, but according to Volscho and Boyd, a potential pattern appears to emerge, one in which Epstein liquidates large amount of stock on behalf of these trusts and then, shortly after, makes large purchases for himself, including homes, planes, even a private island.

“With power of attorney, I believe that Epstein probably converted some of Mr. Wexner's assets into his own uses,” Volscho said. “So we can say that the timing is there. And it's unclear exactly, without having access to a private bank statement, how that happens.”

Wexner claims to have cut ties with Epstein after learning about the missing money in 2007 amid the first federal investigation into Epstein’s sexual crimes. Wexner maintains that he had no knowledge of Epstein’s sexual predation prior to that investigation. According to CNBC, Wexner turned over documents to authorities following Epstein’s arrest last year.

Epstein certainly used his connection to Wexner to enrich himself, but at least two women have said he also used it to facilitate attempts at abuse.

A pair of aspiring models have both publicly described disturbing encounters with Epstein, having being lured into a private meeting with him after he portrayed himself as a talent scout for Wexner’s flagship brand, Victoria’s Secret.

In an interview with ABC News, Alicia Arden said she met Epstein at a hotel in Santa Monica, California, in 1997, believing that Epstein could help get her photo in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. When she arrived at his hotel room, Arden said, Epstein groped her.

“He was putting his hands on my hips and my buttocks and saying, ‘Let me manhandle you,” Arden told ABC News. “So I got extremely terrified of that.”

Arden left the hotel room and later filed a report of sexual battery with the Santa Monica Police Department, one of the earliest known reports against Epstein for abusive behavior. The police, however, do not appear to have pursued the matter.

ABC News reached out to the Santa Monica Police Department about Arden’s case, but did not receive a response.

Elisabetta Tai told a similar story to New York Post last year. In 2004, she said, her booking agent set up a meeting with Epstein at his Upper East Side mansion, and she visited Epstein’s home under the impression that he was in “charge of Victoria’s Secret” and could get her into the company’s catalog.

While at Epstein’s home, Tai told the Post, Epstein stripped naked and handed her a vibrator. She threw it at his head, she said, and then left.

L Brands has since told Business Insider that it hired an outside law firm to review Epstein’s relationship with the company, but they do not believe he was ever an employee or authorized representative of the company.

But when ABC News reached out to L Brands, asking whether Epstein ever served as talent scout for Victoria’s Secret, the company did not respond to a request for comment.

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TriciaDaniel/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration moves to remove Obama-era clean water protections intended to protect rivers, streams, wetlands and other bodies of water from pollution and runoff from industrial facilities and agriculture on Thursday, finalizing one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign promises to farmers.

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers altered the definition of what is covered under federal clean water protections as a "Water of the United States," or WOTUS, replacing the broader language put in place under former President Barack Obama. The updated rule will replace protections that are currently only in effect in some states, but have faced multiple legal challenges.

Under the EPA's new rules, the federal government will no longer protect streams that only flow during some parts of the year or after heavy rain, or wetlands that are not connected to larger bodies of water.

The Trump administration will, however, still maintain federal protections for navigable waters such as major rivers and lakes and any tributaries and wetlands that flow directly into them.

"Today, thanks to our new rule, our nation's farmers, ranchers, developers, manufacturers and other landowners can refocus on providing the food, shelter and other commodities that Americans rely on every day instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys and consultants to determine whether waters on their own land fall under the control of the federal government," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on a call with reporters.

But advocates for the broader protections argue that seasonal streams and wetlands can play a big role in controlling flooding and that removing protections could jeopardize that -- or allow more pollution to flow downstream when it rains.

Farmers, ranchers, and developers have long complained that the protections impose too many rules on areas that weren't major bodies of water. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt frequently called it government overreach to regulate a dry pond or creek bed as a "water of the United States."

Last weekend the president called the old regulation "ridiculous" and "disastrous" and said it took away farmers' property rights but that the administration's new policy would only benefit farmers, ranchers, and other industries.

"This rule gave bureaucrats virtually unlimited authority to regulate stock tanks, drainage ditches, and isolated ponds as navigable waterways and navigable water," Trump said in remarks to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention on Sunday. "You believe that? Sometimes, you'd have a puddle -- a little puddle, and they'd consider that a lake."

He added, "As long as I'm president, government will never micromanage America's farmers. You're going to micromanage your own farm, and that's the way it should be."

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall praised the new rule in a statement, saying it would help farmers understand and follow clean water rules.

A group of scientific advisors to the EPA analyzed the rule as being "in conflict with established science" and said the change would actually "decreases protections for our nation's waters."

Administration officials said they did consider science on the relationship between bodies of water in drafting the rule, but said they are also constrained by limited legal authority.

Critics of the change cited their analysis, saying the Trump administration is ignoring the impact of seasonal streams that still have a tangible impact downstream in the event of heavy rain or flooding that may wash dirt, debris or pollution into rivers or lakes that provide drinking water or support wildlife.

One of the biggest concerns is that fertilizer and pollution from agriculture could be released into areas that will no longer be protected under the new rule. Heavy rain events could also send any pollution downstream into larger bodies of water, affecting sources of drinking water or adding to toxic algae blooms.

The EPA's own analysis found that in some regions the change will mean the vast majority of streams and wetlands are no longer federally protected. In the Rio Grande Valley, for example, the EPA says 85% to 91% of stream miles are ephemeral and would no longer be protected -- and 34% to 62% of all wetland acres are non-abutting wetlands and would no longer be covered by the rule.

But the agency says there is not enough data to evaluate what percent of streams or wetlands around the country would be impacted by the change.

"This is the first time that an administration has taken a step to dramatically reduce the scope, and by dramatically reduce we're talking about potentially half of wetlands that were historically protected and up to 60% of historically protected stream miles," Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told ABC News.

The Trump administration argues that many states already have water protection rules in place that are stronger than the federal regulations and that the issue is better left to states to oversee in the best way for that area.

But Murphy said that relying on states to protect these areas will result in a patchwork of different laws and will further strain resources for states already struggling to keep up with water protections from agricultural pollution and stormwater runoff.

"A lot of those incentives and tools for states and EPA to clean those up will be gone so those pollution problems are almost certain to get worse," he said.

He said the rule could also impact wildlife that rely on streams or wetlands for breeding or as a source of clean water, including duck or fish breeding areas that supply populations for hunting and fishing.

Environmental groups called the new rule one of the worst environmental rollbacks under Trump and said they plan to file legal challenges to the new rule. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, now president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

She added, "So much for the `crystal clear' water President Trump promised."

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Mohave County Sheriff's Office(LITTLEFIELD, Ariz.) -- A Utah man was arrested in Arizona when he got caught with nearly $3.7 million worth of drugs in his car, authorities said.

Logan Lewis Pederson, 30, of Sandy had four different substances on him that tested positive for methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and THC, according to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

Officers found the drugs during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 near Beaver Dam and Littlefield, authorities said.

Pederson "would not make eye contact with deputies and appeared extremely nervous" so authorities asked for a K-9 to assist, according to authorities. The K-9 alerted officials to the presence of narcotics.

In his car was 66 pounds of a liquid substance in jugs that tested positive for methamphetamine, six bricks of a white powdery substance that tested positive for cocaine, 2.2 pounds worth of a substance that tested positive for MDMA and 1,000 packages of candy-infused THC products, according to the sheriff's office, who said the estimated street value was $3,696,720.

Pederson was charged with six felonies: dangerous drug possession, dangerous drug possession for sale, transportation of dangerous drugs, narcotic drug possession, narcotic drug possession for sale and transportation of narcotic drugs.

He is being held at Mohave County Adult Detention Facility on $300,000 bail, online records show. It was not immediately clear if Pederson had obtained legal representation.

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ErikAgar/iStock(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- The number of monarch butterflies wintering in California remains at a critically low level, according to a new study.

The total number of monarchs observed this year during The Xerces Society Thanksgiving count was 29,418, according a press release issued Thursday by the nonprofit, which focuses on conserving invertebrates.

While that number is slightly higher than the 2018-2019 count -- which saw an all-time low of 27,218 -- the organization warned that this year's numbers "are no better."

This year's results came amid a greater survey effort and more volunteers visiting more sites, according to the nonprofit.

"We had hoped that the western monarch population would have rebounded at least modestly, but unfortunately it has not," Emma Pelton, the Xerces Society’s western monarch lead, said in a statement.

In 1997 there were more than 1.2 million monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast.

Pelton said the silver lining was that the population didn't shrink any further.

"We can take heart that it's not too late to act," she said.

For decades, monarch butterflies in the West have been in decline because of loss of habitat, including destruction of their California wintering sites and loss of milkweed for caterpillars and flowering resources to fuel migration.

At least 21 wintering sites in California have been "significantly damaged or destroyed" by the construction of housing developments and cutting down of trees, according to The Xerces Society.

Monarch butterflies return to the same sites, often the same trees, every fall for wintering.

Climate change has also been a factor in changing the biodiversity in California. Lowering carbon footprints and adopting nature-based climate solutions for pollinators and other wildlife are needed, environmentalists say.

The Xerxes Society urged lawmakers on both a state and federal level to address the issue.

"We must protect all remaining overwintering sites in order to save our monarchs," Sarina Jepsen, director of the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species and Aquatics Program, said.

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