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International Headlines

Obama at Hiroshima: ‘Death fell from the sky’

NANCY BENAC, Associated Press
FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

 

HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) — Barack Obama on Friday paid tribute to the “silent cry” of the 140,000 people killed by the world’s first atomic bomb attack and sought to renew attention in his unfulfilled vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.

“Death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama said, after laying a wreath, closing his eyes and briefly bowing his head before an arched monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park that honors those killed on Aug. 6, 1945, when U.S. forces dropped the bomb that ushered in the nuclear age. The bombing, Obama said, “demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”

Obama did not apologize, instead offering, in a carefully choreographed display, a reflection on the horrors of war and his hope that Hiroshima would be remembered as the beginning of a “moral awakening.” As he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood near an iconic bombed-out domed building, Obama acknowledged the devastating toll of war and urged the world to do better.

“We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell … we listen to a silent cry,” Obama said.

A second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima, killed 70,000 more.

Obama also sought to look forward to the day when there was less danger of nuclear war. He received a Nobel Peace Prize early on in his presidency for his anti-nuclear agenda but has since seen uneven progress.

“We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them,” Obama said of nuclear weapons.

Following the remarks, Abe called Obama’s visit courageous and long-awaited. He said it would help the suffering of survivors and echoed the anti-nuclear sentiments.

“At any place in world, this tragedy must not be repeated again,” Abe said.

The visit presented a diplomatic tightrope for a U.S. president trying to make history without ripping open old wounds.

Critics believe Obama’s mere presence in Hiroshima will be viewed as an apology for what they see as a justified attack. But he has also drawn praise from those who see it as a long overdue gesture for two allies ready to bury a troubled past.

Obama’s remarks showed a careful awareness of the sensitivities. He included both South Koreans and American prisoners of war in recounting the death toll at Hiroshima — a nod to advocates for both groups that publicly warned the president not to forget their dead.

Obama spoke broadly of the brutality of the war that begat the bombing, but did not assign blame.

After his remarks, he met with two survivors, but his remarks to the aging men were out of ear shot of reporters.

At one point, Obama could be seen laughing and smiling with 91-year-old Sunao Tsuboi, and he embraced Shigeaki Mori, 79, in a hug. But mostly, Obama just listened the men as they spoke through an interpreter.

The visit was meant to demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, and Obama and Abe took each step together. The men walked along a tree-lined path, past an eternal flame, toward a river that flows by the domed building that many associate with Hiroshima.

They went to the lobby of the peace museum to sign the guest book: “?We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama wrote, according to the White House.

The president’s call for a nuclear-free world was a far cry from the optimistic rallying cry he delivered as young, newly elected president. Obama did not employ his campaign slogan — “Yes, we can” — as he did in a speech in Prague in 2009. Instead, the president hoped for the “courage to escape the logic of fear” and spoke of diligent, incremental steps.

“We may not realize this goal in my lifetime but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe,” he said. “We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles.”

Obama touched down in Hiroshima after completing talks with world leaders at an international summit in Shima, Japan.

Those who come to ground zero at Hiroshima speak of its emotional impact, of the searing imagery of the exposed steel beams on the iconic A-bomb dome. The skeletal remains of the exhibition hall have become an international symbol of peace and a place for prayer.

Bomb survivor Kinuyo Ikegami, 82, paid her own respects at the cenotaph on Friday morning, well before Obama arrived, lighting incense and chanting a prayer.

Tears ran down her face as she described the immediate aftermath of the bomb.

“I could hear schoolchildren screaming: ‘Help me! Help me!'” she said. “It was too pitiful, too horrible. Even now it fills me with emotion.”

Han Jeong-soon, the 58-year-old daughter of a Korean survivor, was also at the park Friday.

“The suffering, such as illness, gets carried on over the generations — that is what I want President Obama to know,” she said. “I want him to understand our sufferings.”

Obama’s visit is a moment 71 years in the making. Other American presidents considered coming, but the politics were still too sensitive, the emotions too raw. Jimmy Carter visited as a former president in 1984.

 

Categories
National Sports

The last tackle powder puff football game avoids the sack

TERRY SPENCER, Associated Press

 

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — The senior and junior girls at Florida’s Jupiter High School scoffed when administrators, fearing for their safety, canceled a 50-year tradition — what may be the nation’s last tackle powder puff football game. The girls say they don’t need protection — many have already had sports injuries — and are willing to take the risk.

Lexus Sheridan cracked her cheekbone playing lacrosse. Line drives in softball hit Haley Osborne in the face, twice. Brianna Hockman broke three fingers playing flag football and Caitlyn McLoughlin cracked her hip bone playing volleyball. Caitlin Walsh rides horses, knowing her sport carries the risk of spinal injury, or even death.

Every fall, they see male football players hobbling through hallways with broken bones and other injuries, but no school official would dare stop them from playing.

“Why do they not care that the guys get hurt, but they care about the girls?” said Lindsay Leicht, an 18-year-old senior.

So the girls went to work and saved their game, which is now expected to draw a large and loud crowd to their high school stadium Friday night.

They convinced the Jupiter Town Council to take over as sponsors, borrowed helmets and pads from a local youth league, bought liability insurance ($470, donated by one player’s dad, covers both squads for up to $2 million) and agreed to the town’s requirement that they go through weeks of practice and conditioning drills.

They were willing to do about anything to keep their alma mater from becoming just one more of the thousands of American high schools that play flag powder puff, a no-contact version in which girls stop opponents by pulling flags off their belts, rather than wrestling them to the ground.

They found an easy ally in Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska.

He coached his class’s girls — his future wife played on the opposing team one year — when he played football at Jupiter High in the 1980s. He didn’t want to lose the excitement and sense of tradition the tackle game brings to the suburb of 60,000 in Palm Beach County.

The annual game usually fills the high school stadium, something the boys’ team rarely does. It is traditionally accompanied by pep rallies featuring boys in drag and a freshmen vs. sophomore tug-of-war, although these elements were lost this year because of the original cancellation.

Wodraska said the town commission takes the risk of injury as seriously as the school board did, but thinks it can be mitigated.

“My colleagues agreed that if the girls go through safety procedures and the girls and parents are willing to acknowledge the risk, then we can host the game,” he said.

At practice this week, 16 senior girls ran drills with enthusiasm and occasional cursing in the humid Florida heat. They practiced tackling and blocking as their coaches, boys from the varsity squad, badgered them to stay low and keep their feet moving. The girls ran plays, razzed players for their flubs, and cheered Megan Mendoza, a weightlifter, when she won the one-on-one blocking tournament.

It looked and sounded like a miniature boys’ practice, with some notable exceptions: The players braided each other’s hair to help stuff it under helmets. They talked about boyfriends. One admitted to another that she had pulled up on a hit, saying “I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“This game brings us all together,” said Megan McDowell, 18. “I have never felt so close to all these people.”

The school’s withdrawal of support also could affect next year’s boys’ team. Hockman, the junior girl who broke fingers playing flag, has signed up, saying she wants to prove that girls can play football right alongside the boys.

“I’m not as good as some of them, but I put in just as much work,” she said.

 

Categories
National Sports

In disarray in December, resilient Pittsburgh in Cup Final

WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

 

PITTSBURGH (AP) — During his first day on the job in mid-December, Mike Sullivan looked around the Pittsburgh Penguins’ dressing room and saw a couple of MVPs, a handful of All-Stars and millionaires in abundance.

He also saw a group languishing in the bottom of the Eastern Conference. No life. No momentum. And — at the time, it seemed — little hope for a quick fix.

“I said, ‘I think we have great players,'” Sullivan said. “Our challenge is to make a great team.”

Five months later, the collection of seemingly mismatched parts Sullivan inherited has evolved into a juggernaut. The Penguins skate. They shoot. They defend. Then they skate and shoot and play defense some more. Sullivan calls it “playing the right way,” a system that when working properly can suffocate opponents the way Pittsburgh did in a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.

“They were on top of us pretty good,” Lightning forward Brian Boyle said.

And they didn’t let up. The Penguins outshot the Lightning 39-17 while winning a Game 7 on home ice for the first time in 21 years, receiving a pair of goals from rookie Bryan Rust and sweeping bodies out of 22-year-old goaltender Matt Murray’s crease.

The team criticized for being too reliant on stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during six fruitless springs since that giddy June night in Detroit in 2009 in which the Penguins won the franchise’s third Cup is suddenly deep, resilient and surging as it prepares to face Western Conference champion San Jose in Game 1 of the Cup Final on Monday night.

“I know there’s a lot of stories that surround this group, but the greatest story of all is the group itself,” Sullivan said.

One that has spent the last six weeks evening scores in a sense. The Penguins took out the New York Rangers in five games to open the postseason, knocked out Presidents’ Trophy winners Washington in six and withstood the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning by wearing Tampa Bay down.

“I think throughout the playoffs, we’ve played different styles, different teams and been able to adjust and get to our game,” Crosby said. “The biggest challenge is ahead of us.”

Maybe, but maybe not. The Penguins spent the better part of 18 months in a funk after losing to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2014, a series in which they blew a 3-1 lead, a meltdown that cost general manager Ray Shero and popular coach Dan Bylsma their jobs. Jim Rutherford took over in the front office and hired professorial Mike Johnston, whose acumen as a tactician failed to generate much enthusiasm on his star-laden roster.

Mired near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division in December, Rutherford brought in Sullivan, who spent a decade as a grind-it-out center and an extended period as John Tortorella’s top lieutenant in New York and Vancouver. Sullivan cut through the noise and challenged his players to become accountable to each other. He played no favorites while going over video, calling out mistakes regardless of status.

The turning point may have come on New Year’s Eve in Detroit. The Penguins trailed 2-0 after the first period, any minimal steps of progress made with Sullivan on the bench suddenly gone.

“We were mad,” forward Patric Hornqvist said earlier this month.

And the Penguins went out and played like it. Displaying an urgency it often lacked under Johnston, Pittsburgh poured in five goals over the final 40 minutes to win going away. The Penguins reached .500 with a romp over the New York Islanders two days later and took off, fueled by Crosby’s resurgence and a series of moves designed to put an emphasis on speed. Rutherford acquired smooth skating Trevor Daley and tireless Carl Hagelin in trades and called up forwards Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Rust permanently.

“I think the young kids are bringing the energy and the enthusiasm,” Sullivan said. “The older guys have been great mentors for these kids.”

It helps that the kids can play. Rust was so pumped before Game 7 he scrapped his pregame nap because he couldn’t keep his eyes closed, instead staring at the ceiling and imagining the possibilities. Yet even he didn’t imagine this, scoring twice — and nearly completing a hat trick — while skating alongside Malkin and Chris Kunitz.

Heady territory for a guy who began the year simply hoping he’d survive the final cuts of training camp.

“I was hoping to make an impact here and I guess this is how it happened,” Rust said with a laugh.

Ditto Murray, who began the season in the AHL and found himself elevated to No. 1 when Marc-Andre Fleury sustained a concussion on March 31. The 22-year-old has been in net for 11 of Pittsburgh’s 12 playoff wins and didn’t pout when Sullivan briefly went back to Fleury in Game 5 against the Lightning in part because Sullivan made it explicitly clear it wasn’t a benching so much as a chance to get a look at Fleury after a lengthy absence.

When Fleury struggled late in a 3-2 loss, Sullivan went back to Murray, who responded by helping Pittsburgh to the league’s biggest stage.

Sullivan’s transparency kept Murray engaged. Now Pittsburgh will spend the weekend preparing for the franchise’s fifth — and by far most unlikely — Cup appearance.

“We’re not finished yet,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to re-energize and get ready for the next round. That’s the most important one of all.”

 

Categories
National Sports

Defending champion Warriors stave off elimination, beat OKC

JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer

 

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — “We ain’t going home! We’re not going home!” Stephen Curry screamed at the top of his lungs.

No, his Golden State Warriors are going back to Oklahoma City, after keeping their title reign and the winningest season in NBA history alive for at least one more game.

Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to fire up Golden State’s raucous crowd, and the defending champions staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

“We just did what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to win at home,” Curry said. “We know what we still have to do going forward. … We knew if we didn’t win we were going home. There’s no other motivation you need.”

For all the speculation about the current state of Curry’s beat-up body — that troublesome ankle, sore knee or tender elbow — he did it all.

“I thought he looked like 91 percent,” coach Steve Kerr cracked. “He came out and played a really good game. That’s all I can tell you. He’s going to compete every night. He had an excellent night and helped us get it done.”

Led by Curry, the Warriors looked like their old winning selves again.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

“None of us want to go home,” Thompson said. “We’re having too much fun out there.”

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and first championship since moving from Seattle.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

“We have to take that game and travel,” Curry said of keeping momentum.

Durant’s 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter and hit more big shots late, but the Thunder didn’t go away easily.

“I liked our will, I liked our fight,” Kerr said. “We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games.”

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook’s 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period with an 8-0 burst.

“We didn’t shoot a particularly good percentage when we got into the lane and got into the deep paint,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We had our opportunities.”

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. After struggling the past two games, Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds a day after receiving some encouraging words from Kobe Bryant on the phone.

“We really relied on the entire team tonight, which is when we’re at our best,” Curry said.

Kerr figured his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they’re the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

He wasn’t surprised to see this team respond so well.

“We played with great desperation,” Kerr said. “I knew how we would play. This is a championship team.”

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

“Their bench came in and made shots, made plays for them,” Durant said. “We know we’re going home. We can’t relax.”

Golden State made 31 of 34 free throws.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise’s playoff scoring list.

“That’s who he is, that’s what he’s done, and that’s what’s made him a very good player,” Donovan said.

TIP-INS

Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in ’12. … Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State’s one after the first. … Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. … The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. … Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. … The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with “Sager Strong” T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers.

 

Categories
National News

Cave escape: Rushing water, sucking mud and pitch black

CLAIRE GALOFARO, Associated Press
BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press

 

HORSE CAVE, Ky. (AP) — Gary Russell was a mile deep in a Kentucky cave, leading a group of geology students on a five-hour tour, when he turned a corner and saw water rushing by where water wasn’t supposed to be.

He had no way to communicate with the outside world Thursday afternoon. He had no idea that a flash flood was pouring through the cave’s passages toward them, or that dozens of rescuers were already gathering at the entrance to begin a perilous hours-long journey to rescue them.

All he knew was that water wasn’t supposed to be this deep in the cave and that meant trouble.

Russell and his group were among 19 people who escaped the flooded Hidden River Cave. They navigated neck-deep water, rushing currents and mud so thick it sucked off the police chief’s boot. It was pitch black.

“It was shooting waterfalls out of the ceiling. The walls were thundering, there was so much water moving through it,” said David Foster, the executive director of the American Cave Museum at Horse Cave and a guide for 30 years, who rushed into the darkness to help with the rescue. “You just don’t know what Mother Nature is capable of. There’s only so much cave, and there’s way more water.”

The group that spent more than six hours inside the cave included Clemson University students, four tour guides and two police officers who got trapped when they tried to rescue the group, Kentucky State Police Trooper B.J. Eaton said.

There was no communication between the stranded cavers and the more than 150 emergency personnel at the scene. Authorities didn’t know exactly where the missing cavers were underground, and the only light the group had came from headlamps they wore.

Heavy rains began pouring down hours after the group ventured inside, Foster said. The storm hit earlier and harder than expected, and Foster grew so worried that he decided to call authorities and trek inside to get them.

The cavers were a group of college students from Clemson University in South Carolina on a field trip to explore the water system in the cave. Russell led four of them on what was supposed to be a five-hour trip beginning at 10 a.m., and another guide had a dozen. Until Russell noticed the water, they were unaware of the rising waters threatening to block the cave’s entrance, which is the lowest point and first to flood.

Hidden River Cave begins at a sinkhole, 150-feet deep, in the center of downtown Horse Cave. It has two subterranean rivers that flow more than 100 feet below ground.

As Russell tried to lead his group out, the mist grew so thick it kept fogging up one student’s glasses. He could barely see and kept stumbling.

“Just imagine going hiking in the mountains at night during a rainstorm and a mudslide,” Russell said. “That’s what this feels like. The water was so loud, it was like a jetliner; it was roaring.”

Russell and his group were surprised to find the rescuers at the cave’s mouth. But the other guide’s group was still unaccounted for.

Foster and Police Chief Sean Henry began working their way deeper into the cave. The water was waist high in places and rising. There’s only one way out, and they knew they’d have to come back out the way they came in. At one point, Henry said he saw the water closing in behind him and wondered if he’d ever leave. He held his flashlight in one hand and radio in the other, though his radio stopped picking up a signal shortly after they entered.

They could hear nothing over the roar of the water. Foster started to doubt he’d come down the right passage. He said anxiety built like a rock in his stomach. Then they heard it: “We’re here. We’re OK!” The students had shouted after seeing their flashlights.

The way out was the most precarious, when they had to wade and swim through high water, Foster said. But they all made it through. They emerged about 4:30 p.m. Everyone lost was accounted for and uninjured.

“When they came out of the cave, they were neck-deep in water,” Hart County Emergency Management Director Kerry McDaniel said.

“I’ve never been more happy to see the sunlight,” Foster said. “It’s such a good feeling when you get around the corner and you see the light, and you know you’re going to make it out. What a relief.”

 

Categories
National News

National Spelling Bee ends in its unlikeliest tie to date

BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press

 

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — If not for his high-pitched voice, there would be no way to peg Nihar Janga as the youngest-ever winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 11-year-old breezed up to the microphone with confidence, and most of his words, he knew right away. He looked like the strongest speller onstage, stronger even than his eventual co-champion, 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar, a blue-chip speller whose older brother hoisted the trophy two years ago.

At his best, Nihar turned the tables on bee pronouncer Jacques Bailly by shouting out the definitions of his words as soon as they were announced.

“Biniou,” Bailly said.

“Is this the Breton bagpipe?” Nihar said.

After the crowd quieted, Bailly asked Nihar if he wanted the word used in a sentence. Nihar just shook his head.

But Nihar wasn’t perfect, and he stumbled at just the wrong time — or perhaps the right time. Twice, Jairam missed a word, giving Nihar a chance to seal the title. Both times, Nihar followed up with his own flub. After each nailed his final two words, Nihar, from Austin, Texas, and Jairam, from Painted Post, New York, were declared co-champions. It was the third year in a row that the bee ended in a tie.

Bee organizers insisted they’d be OK with another tie, but they changed the rules to make it less likely. Instead of a pre-determined list of 25 “championship words” for the final three spellers, the bee instead forced the top three to go through up to 25 rounds. And the difficulty of the words could be adjusted as necessary.

Third-place finisher Snehaa Kumar of Folsom, California, bowed out in the first championship round. Nihar and Jairam had to spell 24 words apiece before it was over.

Nihar and Jairam have grown close over the past year, communicating mostly online. They chatted while others were spelling, high-fived after their words and embraced after they won. The timing of Nihar’s misses was almost too perfect to believe, and Nihar denied afterward that he misspelled on purpose. He said he just didn’t know the words.

“I wanted to win, but at the same time, I felt really bad for Jairam,” he said.

Both were inspired by their favorite athletes. As the confetti fell, Nihar crossed his arms in homage to Dez Bryant’s touchdown celebrations. The Dallas Cowboys receiver responded with a congratulatory tweet.

Jairam, whose dad takes him to play golf when he’s had enough spelling practice, channeled his favorite player, Jordan Spieth.

“When he hits a bad shot, he always bounces back, on the next shot or the next hole,” Jairam said. “When I missed those two words, I didn’t let them get to my head, and I just focused on the next word.”

It was the second straight year that a sibling of a past champion won the bee. Jairam’s brother, Sriram, was a 2014 co-champion. Sriram, too, got a reprieve when his co-champion Ansun Sujoe missed a chance at the solo title.

“Deja vu,” Sriram said. “I thought it was over, because Nihar is so strong, such a great speller.”

The words were as tricked-up as ever. Because the best spellers become fluent in Latin and Greek roots, the bee went to words from languages with less infiltration into English, including Afrikaans, Danish, Irish Gaelic, Maori and Mayan.

Jairam’s winning word was Feldenkrais, which is derived from a trademark and means a system of body movements intended to ease tension. Niram won with gesellschaft, which means a mechanistic type of social relationship.

Among the words they got right: Kjeldahl, Hohenzollern, juamave, groenedael, zindiq and euchologion.

Each receives $45,000 in cash and prizes. Snehaa takes home $20,000 for finishing third, and Sylvie Lamontagne of Lakewood, Colorado, got $10,000 for fourth place. Snehaa and Sylvie are 13-year-old eighth-graders who have exhausted their bee eligibility.

Nihar was in his first bee and would have had three more years of eligibility, but he can’t compete again since he won. This was the 89th bee, and while Scripps’ records from early years are incomplete, the youngest known champion was Wendy Guey, who won 20 years ago at age 12. The last to win in his first attempt was Pratyush Buddiga in 2002.

Nihar said he didn’t feel pressure to become the youngest winner for two reasons. First, he never expected to win. Second, most of the crowd’s attention was on an even younger speller: 6-year-old Akash Vukoti.

“He did pretty good for a first-grader,” Nihar said. “He’s going to go places.”

Nihar and Jairam’s parents are immigrants from south India, continuing a remarkable run of success for Indian-American spellers that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.” The bee has produced Indian-American champions for nine straight years and 14 out of the last 19.

Both, too, want to be doctors: Jairam hopes to study medicine at Harvard, and Nihar aspires to be a neurosurgeon.

In the meantime, Sriram will have to find a new way to one-up his baby brother.

“We do definitely have our verbal fights, not physical,” Sriram said. “Now, I don’t have that edge over him to say, ‘Oh, at least I’ve won the spelling bee.'”

 

Categories
National News

Rapper facing charges in T.I. concert shooting

JAKE PEARSON, Associated Press
STEPHANIE SIEK, Associated Press

 

NEW YORK (AP) — Fists were flying and then bullets inside a crowded New York City concert venue where four people were shot, one fatally, and now a rapper who police say was seen on surveillance footage firing a gun is facing attempted murder and weapons charges.

Roland Collins, who goes by the stage name Troy Ave, was arrested Thursday, a day after the deadly shooting at Irving Plaza, where hip-hop artist T.I. was set to perform. Police said a fistfight had broken out in a performers’ lounge at the venue.

The man who died, 33-year-old Ronald McPhatter, was a member of Collins’ entourage and had been there to provide security, according to his family. Collins, 30, suffered a gunshot wound to the leg, police said.

An 8-second video clip released by police shows the gunman bursting through the door of a VIP room in apparent pursuit of another man, who flees off-screen.

As concertgoers huddle under a counter and clutch each other, the gunman, who appears to be limping, stops and scans the room for a moment with his eyes. Then, he spots something, raises his gun and fires.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene.

“Everyone was hysterical, I was having a panic attack during the shooting, and the woman next to me was covering my mouth with her hand to try to get me to stop screaming,” said Liv Hoffman, 19.

There were nearly 1,000 people in the venue when the shooting began. One of the victims, Christopher Vinson, 34, was shot in the chest on the venue’s ground level after a bullet traveled through the floor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. Another bystander, Maggie Heckstall, 26, was shot in the leg, authorities said.

The exact circumstances of what prompted the fight were still under investigation.

In an interview with WCBS radio, Police Commissioner William Bratton blamed the shootings on “the crazy world of the so-called rap artists who are basically thugs that basically celebrate the violence that they live all their lives.”

That prompted an angry response from McPhatter’s relatives and a city lawmaker, who derided the comments as insensitive and divisive.

“When white people are doing this violence, I don’t hear the same language being used,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat who said he had worked on anti-violence initiatives with McPhatter and his older brother, Shanduke McPhatter, a former gang member.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said afterward he believed Bratton was “talking out of frustration.”

Collins was in custody and couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. It was unclear if he had an attorney. A message left at a phone number listed for him wasn’t immediately returned.

Shanduke McPhatter said his brother “got too much into” the glamour of the hip-hop scene, and it landed him Wednesday night in an environment where alcohol flowed freely and trouble broke out.

 

Categories
National News

Baylor looks to rebuild after report on sex assaults

JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press

 

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Baylor University will be looking to rebuild its reputation and perhaps its football program after an outside review found administrators mishandled allegations of sexual assault and the team ran with an attitude that it was above the rules.

The largest Baptist school in the U.S. took the first steps Thursday when regents demoted high-profile President Ken Starr, a former prosecutor who investigated the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, and fired football coach Art Briles, who turned the football program from a laughing stock into a Big 12 powerhouse.

But that may not end the scrutiny.

More fallout could be coming if the report by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton attracts the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, the NCAA or even criminal prosecutors.

Briles and the university are also still defendants in a federal civil lawsuit filed by a woman who says the school was casually indifferent to her pleas when she was assaulted in 2012. And the question remains whether Baylor will fire more coaches and staff in the coming days.

The report didn’t identify specific cases the school is accused of mishandling. But two football players have been convicted of sexual assault since 2014, and in the past year, there have been multiple reports of other assaults and women who said the school did nothing to help.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Baylor regents chairman Richard Willis said. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve better.”

The review found that under Starr, school administrators discouraged students from reporting or participating in student conduct reviews of sexual assault complaints and even contributed to or accommodated a “hostile” environment against the alleged victims.

In one case, the actions of administrators “constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault,” the report said.

University leadership was also slow to enact federally required student conduct processes, and administrators failed to identify and eliminate the hostile environment toward victims.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces anti-gender discrimination regulations at universities, said Baylor had taken steps to satisfy federal requirements.

But the agency said it “will not hesitate to investigate if necessary and if we receive a complaint within our jurisdiction.”

As for potential NCAA violations, Willis said regents had contacted college sport’s governing body “to initially discuss potential infractions.” He did not elaborate.

While critical of Baylor administrators, the most egregious faults the report found were with Briles’ football program.

Coaches and athletics administrators ran their own improper investigations into rape claims, and in some cases chose not to report the allegations to an administrator outside of athletics, the report said.

By running their own “untrained” investigations and meeting directly with a complainant, football staff “improperly discredited” complainants’ claims and “denied them a right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation,” it said.

At times, football coaches and staff took steps to divert cases from student conduct or criminal procedures, acting in ways that “reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules,” the report said.

Briles did not respond to requests for comment. His daughter, Staley Lebby, called Briles’ ouster a “media witch hunt” and said her father is a “man of incredible character” in a Facebook post.

For Starr, whose dogged investigation of Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Lewinsky eventually led to Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, it is a stunning fall.

He is out of the operational leadership of the university but gets to stay at Baylor with the title chancellor while teaching in the law school.

In a statement, Starr apologized to “those victims who were not treated with the care, concern, and support they deserve.”

He insisted he didn’t learn about the problems until fall 2015 and launched investigations as soon as he did. Starr initiated the Pepper Hamilton report that ultimately forced him out.

“Despite these dark days, I remain resolved to join hands with the Baylor family to continue to build the University as we carry out its distinct mission in Christian higher education. May God grant us grace, mercy, and peace,” Starr said.

 

Categories
National News

Online dance craze sweeps police departments across US

AMANDA LEE MYERS, Associated Press

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In an online sensation, police officers across the U.S. are dancing an updated version of the running man to a catchy 1990s hip hop song in videos that have included professional sports mascots, cheerleading squads and at least one explosion.

The videos, set to “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJ’s, began in early May after police in New Zealand issued the Running Man Challenge to the New York Police Department. The meme started with two teenagers in New Jersey and became viral after college basketball teams picked it up.

The police videos posted on the Internet have been steadily getting more elaborate and more popular, with even some police chiefs joining in.

Los Angeles officers filmed themselves dancing inside the Dodgers baseball stadium and at a popular hiking spot in the shadow of the Hollywood sign. Detroit officers did their dance after spilling out of a heavy-duty SWAT truck in front of a General Motors building, and Miami’s men and women in blue threw in some salsa moves to Gloria Estefan’s “Conga.”

The videos are about more than officers cutting loose. They come as police departments across the U.S. are facing increased scrutiny and public criticism in the wake of a series of officer-involved deaths of young, unarmed black people.

Many departments have been working to become more community-friendly and improve their image. That includes turning to the power of social media.

“Across this nation, there’s a lot of anti-police rhetoric,” Detroit police Chief James Craig told reporters this week. “Do you believe this might have a profound impact on reducing that? I mean, you talk about how many shares so far? People like it, they appreciate it, and this is a move in the right direction.”

In his department’s video, one of the most popular with seven million views since Tuesday, Craig busted moves underneath the city’s iconic Joe Louis fist. In a move parodying a mic drop, Craig then dropped a police belt and challenged Chicago, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, Ohio. He has also challenged New York and Los Angeles, indicating their videos aren’t good enough.

Police departments are smart to take on the challenge, said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor and a leading authority on American pop culture.

“This is a rhetorical act of public relations. No question about it,” he said. “Having the police force, uniformed police especially, smiling and dancing with people within the context of these communities, is certainly a positive message.

“It’s what a Coca Cola ad does, what a propaganda film does, what a public relations campaign does — try to make us think differently about something,” he said.

The videos have drawn criticism from some who question the use of police resources. Mostly, the response has been positive.

“Just when I thought my faith in the police was over,” Los Angeles resident Trayvon Walker commented on the LAPD’s video. “They do a video like this that puts a smile on my face and makes me look at them and say, ‘They’re not so bad of people after all.'”

As a young, black man, Walker said he has experienced police discrimination and his view of officers has eroded in recent years. But he said the video reminded him that there are plenty of good cops.

“It doesn’t change my perception of the police, but I do think more of them in the community doing positive things will lead to more positive outcomes,” the 29-year-old court clerk said in a phone interview. “To be able to see LAPD, or just police in general, doing something that is good for our community — it’s pleasant to see.”

 

Categories
Entertainment Headlines

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum buys artist’s rarely seen 1926 work

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in New Mexico now owns a rarely seen painting by the artist who helped usher in American modernism.

The museum in Santa Fe recently bought “The Barns, Lake George” for $3.3 million. The 1926 painting portrays rustic barns that overlooked the shores of Lake George, New York.

It has been in a private collection since 1946 and has only been shown publicly once in the last 50 years.

The museum bought the artwork with the profits from selling other O’Keeffe paintings two years ago.

The painting will be displayed in the museum in the coming months.

The Wisconsin-born O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe in 1986.