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Updated: 1 hour 47 min ago

Officials: Tennessee teen kidnapped by father in 2019 may be held captive in Florida

2 hours 42 min ago

Officials say a teen who was kidnapped by her father in 2019 is potentially being held in Florida.

According to the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office in Tennessee, 17-year-old Daphne Westbrook was kidnapped by her father, John Oliver Westbrook in Oct. 2019.

Officials said she never came back after a weekend visit with her father in Chattanooga. Her dogs, Fern and Strawberry, were also missing.

Courtesy: Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office

“We believe Daphne is being held against her will, unable to communicate with the outside world,” the district attorney’s office said. “Our investigation shows she is endangered both physically and mentally, and is routinely being drugged and/or kept drunk to incapacitate her.”

Officials said John Westbrook is an “IT expert specializing in security, block chain technology, and bitcoin.”

“He is communicating in a way that’s almost impossible to trace, which makes it extremely difficult for investigators to generate significant leads in this case,” officials said in a statement. “We know he is earning money contracting with small businesses to do computer security work.”

Fox 13 reports that officials believe John Westbrook may have sought shelter with a relative near Tampa, possibly his sister Starla Westbrook who lives in Sebring.

Officials said Starla is refusing to cooperate with investigators and recently worked at a Ross store. They also added that she uses the name Sharlena Peters on Facebook and YouTube.

Hamilton County authorities said John may have altered his appearance, along with Daphne’s, and might be using hair dye and fake teeth.

“Daphne has not been allowed to attend school or visit a doctor and is being deprived of medication,” authorities added. “She is in increasingly at serious risk of physical and emotional danger and we need your help to find her.”

Anyone who may have spotted Daphne, John or her dogs is asked to call the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office at 1-423-209-7425. Tips can also be submitted to FindingDaphne@hcdatn.org.

FDOH reports over 5,900 cases of COVID-19 on Friday

3 hours 1 min ago

There have now been more than 1.93 million reported cases of the coronavirus in Florida, with 31,522 deaths.

As of 2:30 p.m. Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 1,936,207 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, an increase of 5,975 from Thursday’s update.

The state also reported a single-day increase of 135 deaths.

There are now 417,447 total confirmed cases in Miami-Dade County and 198,387 total cases in Broward.

The total number of cases in Palm Beach County has now reached 122,709, and 5,958 total cases have been reported in Monroe County.

Health officials reported 80,632 hospital admissions statewide.

For a full breakdown of the cases in Florida, click here.

Jeep boss says it may might drop Cherokee name

3 hours 25 min ago

(CNN) — Jeep’s new boss says the company is open to dropping the name “Cherokee” from its vehicles in response to objections from the Cherokee Nation.

The company is engaged in talks with officials from the Native American tribe, according to Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, the recently merged automaker that includes the Jeep brand. Tavares made the comment in an interview with the Wall Street Journal and his comments were confirmed by the company.

“We are ready to go to any point, up to the point where we decide with the appropriate people and with no intermediaries,” he said when asked about dropping the name. “At this stage, I don’t know if there is a real problem. But if there is one, well, of course we will solve it.”

The objections to the name were raised by Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

“I think we’re in a day and age in this country where it’s time for both corporations and team sports to retire the use of Native American names, images and mascots from their products, team jerseys and sports in general,” he said in a statement last month.

The Grand Cherokee is one of the best-selling models any of Stellantis’ brands in terms of global sales. It is No. 2 in the company’s US sales, behind only the Ram pickup, and the Cherokee is No. 4 in US sales. The Cherokee name was first used on a Jeep SUV in 1974, and has been in use by Jeep on either the Cherokee or Grand Cherokee ever since.

The discussion around the Cherokee name comes as many sports teams and companies are rethinking logos that rely on racist or stereotypical representations of minorities.

The Washington Football team last summer dropped its “Redskins” name, and the Cleveland Indians baseball team followed suit a few months later. Land O’ Lakes butter last year removed an image of a Native American woman from its label. Other food brands including “Aunt Jemima,” have also begun rebranding amid a national reckoning over institutional racism.

Twitter is testing an ‘undo’ option after sending tweets

4 hours 14 min ago

(CNN) — Twitter is working on a feature that could offer users a short window of time to rethink posting a tweet even after they hit send.

The company confirmed to CNN Business on Friday it is testing an undo option that would potentially let users retract or correct a tweet before it’s officially posted on the platform.

The feature was discovered by Jane Manchun Wong, an app developer who has a strong track record of uncovering new tools on social networks before they’re released. Wong posted a GIF on Twitter that shows a blue “undo” bar appearing beneath the words “Your Tweet was sent.” (It’s possible the feature could change before it formally rolls out — if it ever does.)

https://twitter.com/wongmjane/status/1367704041942179841

It’s not quite the edit button users have long requested, but it’s a step toward helping users proactively catch errors and slow down before sending impulse tweets.

The feature is reminiscent of Gmail’s existing recall tool, which allows users up to 30 seconds to retract sending an email.

Last year, Twitter told investors it was mulling a subscription service and was evaluating exclusive options for paying users, including an “undo send” feature. At the time, the company said it asked users in a survey to evaluate which options were most or least important to them.

“Over the course of this year, you’ll see us test subscription products in public,” the company’s investor relations’ Twitter account teased earlier this week. “You’ll hear more about them. And hopefully, you’ll see some of these products roll out as well.”

Last month, Twitter said it is exploring other subscription opportunities, such as a way for users to become paid subscribers to Twitter accounts they like to receive additional content such as exclusive announcements and newsletters. The company has also set an ambitious goal to double its annual revenue by the end of 2023.

Prince Philip transferred back to private hospital

4 hours 49 min ago

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip has been transferred from a specialist cardiac hospital to a private facility to continue his recovery after a heart procedure, Buckingham Palace said Friday.

The palace said the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II underwent a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew’s Hospital on Wednesday.

He was moved to King Edward VII’s hospital on Friday and is “expected to remain in hospital for continuing treatment for a number of days,” the palace said.

Philip was admitted to the private London hospital on Feb. 16, where he was treated for an infection. On Monday he was transferred to the specialized cardiac care hospital.

Philip’s illness is not believed to be related to the coronavirus. Both Philip and the monarch received COVID-19 vaccinations in January and chose to publicize the fact in order to encourage others to also take the vaccine.

Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, retired in 2017 and rarely appears in public. Before his hospitalization, he had been isolating at Windsor Castle, west of London, with the queen.

Although he enjoyed good health well into old age, Philip has had heart issues in the past. In 2011, he was rushed to a hospital by helicopter after suffering chest pains and was treated for a blocked coronary artery.

The longest-serving royal consort in British history, Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947. He and the queen have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

His illness comes as the royal family braces for the broadcast on Sunday of an interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

Meghan and husband Prince Harry quit royal duties last year and moved to California, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.

Woman dies after shooting in Hialeah neighborhood

5 hours 1 min ago

A woman has died following a shooting in Hialeah.

Hialeah Police were dispatched to a residence along the 600 block of East 40th Street at around 7 a.m., Friday.

When officers arrived, they found a 40-year-old woman’s body, who had been struck with several bullets.

Police believe the suspected shooter could be the ex-partner of the victim. They said the shooter fled in a dark gray 2018 Toyota Camry sedan.

The body has since been removed from the residence and taken away from the scene.

If you have any information on this fatal shooting, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $3,000 reward.

Please check back on WSVN.com and 7News for more details on this developing story.

Florida couple charged after child found dead, 2 others found malnourished

5 hours 5 min ago

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say a Florida couple is facing charges ranging from manslaughter to child neglect involving three children, one of whom died last year.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says 33-year-old Ashley Ferguson and 34-year-old Matthew Ferguson were arrested Thursday. She is charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child and two counts of child neglect. He faces three counts of child neglect.

It wasn’t immediately clear if they have lawyers to represent them.

The case began in July 2020, when deputies were sent to a Clearwater home to investigate a report of an unresponsive child. That child was pronounced dead at the home.

Fox 13 reports that the other children could not speak and their legs were so weak they could barely walk. The children were deprived of nutrition, medical treatment and parental care.

The couple was booked into the Pinellas County jail. Ashley Ferguson was being held without bail. Matthew Ferguson was being held in lieu of $40,000 bail.

Pollo Tropical offering $3.05 tropichops on Friday in honor of 305 Day

6 hours 40 min ago

Pollo Tropical is offering a big discount on one of their staple dishes in honor of 305 Day.

To celebrate 305 Day, the restaurant is offering regular-sized chicken or shrimp tropichops for $3.05.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pollo Tropical® (@pollotropical)

The deal is only valid on Friday, March 5th (3-05) and customers have to use the promotional code CTCMIA305.

The offer is valid in-store, online or through the MyPollo app.

Pollo Tropical is not the only restaurant celebrating 305 Day.

Night Owl Cookies also announced several Miami-inspired cookies available on Friday.

Police respond to reported suspicious package in downtown Miami

6 hours 48 min ago

Police have responded to a reported suspicious package in downtown Miami.

City of Miami Police were dispatched to the area of Biscayne Boulevard and East Flagler Street at around 10:30 a.m., Friday.

https://twitter.com/MiamiPD/status/1367863003341848578?s=20

Officers have closed the southbound lanes of Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast Second Avenue and Southeast First Avenue until further notice.

Police said the closures may affect Miami-Dade Transit operations in the area.

Drivers are asked to seek an alternate route.

Please check back on WSVN.com and 7News for more details on this developing story.

Crews respond to partial roof collapse at Rickards Middle School in Oakland Park

7 hours 16 min ago

Crews have responded to a partial ceiling collapse at a middle school in Oakland Park.

Fire Rescue responded to the scene at Rickards Middle School, Friday morning.

According to the school district, the roof of the school’s media center was under construction and no students or staff were inside the media center at the time of the incident.

“Before 10 o’ clock this morning, the principal of Rickards Middle was in his office when he heard a noise which was followed by a subsequent noise,” said Keyla Concepcion with Broward County Public Schools. “When he went out to investigate and see where the noise was coming from, that’s where he realized that the media center, which is currently under construction, the roof collapsed. Fortunately, no student or faculty members were inside the media center. Everyone has been evacuated to Northeast High School next door.”

There were 184 students and 55 faculty members in the building at the time, but they all made it out safely. There was also a construction crew on the campus at the time of the collapse.

According to fire rescue crews, 13 people complained of minor ailments such as headaches, nausea and anxiety. Five of them were taken to Holy Cross Hospital.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Chief Stephen Krivjanik said they sent dogs inside to ensure no one was trapped in the rubble.

“Luckily, through our search and our primaries and the great attentiveness of the school principal and their staff, they were able to evacuate everybody, get all the construction people out, so everyone was accounted for, but just to be sure, we always do routinely another secondary search, we also brought a dog in to search the entire school to make sure no one was in there and also a drone to check to make sure there was no one on the roof that maybe got hurt during the collapse,” Krivjanik said.

He said further, “Once that’s all been complete, which it has been complete, we can absolutely confirm that there were no injuries inside the school, no one trapped. Everyone got evacuated correctly and is accounted for correctly.”

7News spoke with some parents who went to pick up their children.

“My son called me and said that the roof had collapsed at the school and he was scared, so he said he had to crawl through some hole to get to the roof to be able to leave the school, so I’m not sure what’s going on,” one parent said. “I panicked. I left the house right away with no purse, no nothing. I’m just hoping that everything’s OK.”

Cellphone footage showed the roof completely caved in. Concrete, electrical wires and pipes were seen thrown down in a pile on the media center’s floor.

Students and staff were immediately evacuated to Northeast High School as a precaution. Parents who want to pick their children up from Northeast High School may do so.

Fortunately, e-learning is already in place, so administrators may decide to continue e-learning into next week or until they come up with a plan for students who opted for in-person learning.

No injuries have been reported, and the district said they are investigating the cause of the collapse.

Nicklaus Children’s hospital offers COVID-19 vaccine to people ages 16 to 21 with medical conditions

7 hours 29 min ago

Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami has announced they will provide Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to children and young adults with medical conditions at risk for serious illness if they contract the virus.

Starting on Monday, vaccine appointments can be requested on the hospital’s website for those between the ages of 16 and 21 with a doctor’s note.

“Nicklaus Children’s is committed to our mission of prioritizing the children and young adults of our community and beyond,” said Matthew A. Love, the President and CEO of Nicklaus Children’s Health System, the parent organization of the hospital. “While most children are only mildly affected by COVID-19, those with complex conditions may be at risk of severe illness if they contract the virus. We are honored to be able to offer the vaccine to support the care of vulnerable children in Florida.”

The hospital said those being treated for one or more of the following conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are eligible to receive the vaccine:

  • Asthma (moderate to severe)
  • Cancer
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes (type 1 or 2)
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions
  • Hypertension
  • Immunocompromised conditions
  • Liver disease
  • Neurologic conditions
  • Obesity
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Thalassemia

The hospital received an additional allotment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which allowed them to offer the shot to more people. As of Friday, the hospital has vaccinated 500 eligible patients.

Those older than 21 and under the medical care of a pediatrician or pediatric specialist are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, hospital officials said.

Disney is closing 60 stores in the US and Canada

7 hours 46 min ago

(CNN) — The Disney Store, once a mall mainstay, is drastically reducing the number of locations it has in the United States and Canada.

Disney said it’s closing at least 60 stores in North America, amounting to about 35% of its locations in the region. Moving forward, Disney is placing a larger emphasis on its e-commerce business rather than its brick-and-mortar footprint.

“While consumer behavior has shifted toward online shopping, the global pandemic has changed what consumers expect from a retailer,” said Stephanie Young, president of Disney’s consumer products, games and publishing unit, in a press release.

Disney said that it’s focusing on making its shopDisney platform a more “seamless” and “personalized” experience. That online revamp will be “complemented by greater integration with Disney Parks apps and social media platforms.”

Covid-19 has spurred more people to move their shopping habits online. Research firm eMarketer recently said e-commerce sales across the world grew nearly 28% in 2020, surpassing $4 trillion.

Fans can still buy Mickey merchandise at theme park stores, third-party retailers and Disney shop-in-shops. In 2019, Target opened mini-Disney stores in 25 of its locations.

Disney, which didn’t release a list of stores that will close, has about 300 locations worldwide. It had nearly 800 locations globally at its peak in 1999.

Former police chief is facing charges over fires authorities say were linked to people he had disagreements with

9 hours 5 min ago

(CNN) — A former Maryland police chief is facing multiple arson and attempted murder charges in connection with 11 fires spanning from 2011 to 2020, according to a news release from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.

Authorities determined the homes, garages and vehicles that were set on fire were all connected to people with whom David M. Crawford had previous disagreements, according to the release.

“The victims include a former City of Laurel official, three former law enforcement officials including a former City of Laurel Police Chief, two relatives, two of Crawford’s former physicians, and a resident in his neighborhood,” the release said.

Crawford, 69, was arrested Wednesday, according to the release. He is being held without bond, according to Howard County Police Chief Lisa Myers

Crawford last served as a law enforcement official in 2010, when he resigned as the chief of the City of Laurel Police Department, the release said. Before that, Crawford was the chief of the District Heights Police Department and a major with Prince George’s County police, it added.

The 11 fires took place in several Maryland counties, including Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Howard County and Frederick County, and had previously been investigated separately.

A 12th fire, in Charles County, is still under investigation and Crawford is a suspect in the case, the release said. No charges have so far been filed.

Robert Bonsib, Crawford’s lawyer, told CNN Thursday that “Dave Crawford has a long history of serving his community as a police officer for a large local department and then as Chief of Police for a municipal department. The allegations in the criminal complaint are inconsistent with his long history of public service.”

 

How investigators tied the incidents together

 

In each case where surveillance video was discovered, the arsonist’s identity was hidden, the release said, oftentimes by a hooded sweatshirt drawn tightly around their face.

The arsonist also had a pattern of using gallon gasoline jugs and a stick wrapped in cloth to set the fires. And all of the fires were set at night, the release said.

And in several cases, there were similar vehicle descriptions: a silver sedan.

The big break in the case came after the last-known fire, in 2020, when investigators discovered a link between the victims, and found out they had been in disagreements with Crawford, the release said.

The attempted murder charges stem from the fact that in several cases, there were clear signs the victims and their families were inside their homes at the time Crawford set the fires.

In January, investigators executed a search warrant at Crawford’s home and found “several critical items of evidence,” the release said, including a target list of the known victims that linked him to the fires.

Night Owl Cookies unveils specialty cookies for 305 Day

9 hours 15 min ago

South Florida favorite Night Owl Cookies has unveiled some specialty cookies for 305 Day.

On Friday, the popular bakery showed off some Miami-inspired cookies, including the Cafecito Cookie, the Croqueta Cookie, the Jupiña Cookie and the Pasteli-Dough Cookie.

The Cafecito Cookie is infused with Perla Coffee and decorated with a cafecito cup filled with dulce de leche.

Night Owl’s Croqueta Cookie is filled with chocolate chips, stuffed with ham croquetas from Dos Croquetas and topped with sea salt.

One refreshing cookie is the Jupiña Cookie, and it comes with candied pineapples and glazed with the classic Jupiña soda.

Lastly, the Pasteli-Dough Cookie is stuffed with cream cheese and guava marmalade paired with the bakery’s signature cookie dough.

Customers can get all four Miami-inspired cookies as part of a limited edition box called the Miami Series. The box costs around $20, and they are only available on Friday.

Local leaders urge spring breakers to social distance, wear masks as crowds grow

9 hours 36 min ago

As the race to vaccinate picks up speed, a big worry to local leaders are the crowds that come with the spring break season.

Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale are cities where spring breakers usually flock to, and local leaders are urging visitors and residents to be safe.

“If everyone follows the rules and stays 6 feet away from each other, wears their masks in the bars, things like that can definitely keep from spreading it,” said resident Yann Meyjonade.

Last weekend, beaches were crowded, and the crowds are expected to grow this coming weekend.

In Miami Beach, officials are restricting the beaches normal open hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and sidewalk cafes will close at midnight. No inflatable devices, tents, tables, loud music or coolers are allowed on the beach.

In Fort Lauderdale, no Lyfts or Ubers are allowed along A1A, which is usually congested during spring break. No alcohol is allowed on the beach, as well.

Signage has been put up in hotspot areas to remind people to follow the rules that have been in place for almost a year. These include maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.

Some residents said the crowds are significantly smaller in 2021 compared to past years.

“Not near the number of people this year as it was last year,” said resident Roy Moore.

Miami-Dade County has a curfew in effect for spring break, and it starts at midnight and runs until 6 a.m.

Broward County officials debated implementing a curfew, but decided against it. They said, however, if any business or restaurant breaks the rules put in place, they are at risk of being shut down.

At least 1 killed in rollover crash in Hollywood; Hollywood Boulevard closed in both directions

9 hours 52 min ago

At least one person has died following a rollover crash, forcing the closure of all lanes on a major Hollywood roadway.

The crash happened along the 3000 block of Hollywood Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95, at around 6 a.m., Friday.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers have confirmed the crash is fatal. A traffic camera in the area captured extensive damage to at least two vehicles involved in the crash.

https://twitter.com/FHPPalmBeach/status/1367815131942502402?s=20

Authorities have shut down both the westbound and eastbound lanes of Hollywood Boulevard at I-95 while they work the crash scene. They have also shut down parts of the I-95 off-ramps to prevent drivers from heading westbound on Hollywood Boulevard.

Drivers are asked to seek an alternate route.

7News has reached out to police for more information on the crash.

Please check back on WSVN.com and 7News for more details on this developing story.

Pope arrives in Iraq to rally Christians despite pandemic

10 hours 7 min ago

BAGHDAD (AP) — Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit.

The pope, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress. But health measures appeared lax inside the airport despite the country’s worsening coronavirus outbreak.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said Iraqis were eager to welcome Francis’ “message of peace and tolerance” and described the visit as a historic meeting between the “minaret and the bells.” Among the highlights of the three-day visit is Francis’ private meeting Saturday with the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered figure in Iraq and beyond.

Francis’ plane touched down at Baghdad’s airport just before 2 p.m. local time (1100 GMT). A red carpet was rolled out on the tarmac in Baghdad’s international airport with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on hand to greet him. Francis was visibly limping in a sign his sciatica, which has flared and forced him to cancel events recently, was possibly bothering him.

A largely unmasked choir sang songs as both pope and premier made their way to a welcome area in the airport. People wandered around without masks, and the pope and the prime minister took theirs off as they sat down for their first meeting — seated less than two meters (yards) apart — and later stood next to each other shaking hands and chatting.

The pope later rolled down the window and waved to some of the hundreds of people who gathered along the airport road to watch his motorcade pass. The airport road was the scene of regular attacks in the chaotic years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Iraqis were keen to welcome him and the global attention his visit will bring, with billboards depicting Francis with the slogan “We are all Brothers.”

The government is eager to show off the relative security it has achieved after years of wars and militant attacks that nevertheless continue even today. Francis and the Vatican delegation are relying on Iraqi security forces to protect them, including with the expected first use of an armored car for the popemobile-loving pontiff.

Francis is breaking his year-long COVID-19 lockdown to refocus the world’s attention on a largely neglected people whose northern Christian communities, which date from the time of Christ, were largely emptied during the violent Islamic State reign from 2014-2017.

For the pope, who has often traveled to places where Christians are a persecuted minority, Iraq’s beleaguered Christians are the epitome of the “martyred church” that he has admired ever since he was a young Jesuit seeking to be a missionary in Asia.

In Iraq, Francis is seeking to not only honor its martyrs but deliver a message of reconciliation and fraternity. The few Christians who remain in Iraq harbor a lingering mistrust of their Muslim neighbors and face structural discrimination long predating both IS and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that plunged the country into chaos.

“The Pope’s visit is to support the Christians in Iraq to stay, and to say that they are not forgotten,” the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Luis Sako, told reporters in Baghdad this week. The aim of Francis’ visit, he said, is to encourage them to “hold onto hope.”

The visit comes as Iraq is seeing a new spike in coronavirus infections, with most new cases traced to the highly contagious variant first identified in Britain. The 84-year-old pope, the Vatican delegation and travelling media have been vaccinated; most Iraqis have not.

The Vatican and Iraqi authorities have downplayed the threat of the virus and insisted that social distancing, crowd control and other health care measures will be enforced. The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said this week the important thing is for Iraqis to know that the pope came to Iraq as an “act of love.”

“I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat ‘you are all brothers,’” Francis said in a video-message to the Iraqi people on the eve of his visit. “I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity, animated by the desire to pray together and walk together, also with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions.”

Christians once constituted a sizeable minority in Iraq but their numbers began dwindling after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. They fell further when IS militants in 2014 swept through traditionally Christian towns across the Nineveh plains. Their extremist brand of Islam forced residents to flee to the neighboring Kurdish region or further afield.

Few have returned, and those who have found their homes and churches destroyed.

Returnees have had to contend with more struggles. Many cannot find work and blame discriminatory practices in the public sector, Iraq’s largest employer. Since 2003, public jobs have been mostly controlled by majority Shiite political elites, leaving Christians feeling marginalized.

While hard numbers are hard to come by, there were an estimated 1.4 million Christians in Iraq in 2003. Today the number is believed to be around 250,000.

During his visit, Francis will pray in the Baghdad church that was the site of one of the worst massacres of Christians, the 2010 attack by Islamic militants that left 58 people dead. He will honor the dead in a Mosul square surrounded by shells of destroyed churches and meet with the small Christian community that returned to Qaraqosh. He will bless their church, which was used as a firing range by IS.

The Vatican and the pope have frequently insisted on the need to preserve Iraq’s ancient Christian communities and create the security, economic and social conditions for those who have left to return. But that hasn’t necessarily translated into reality.

“I am the only priest in Mosul. Every Sunday I hold mass at 9 a.m., and only around 70 people attend,” said the Rev. Raed Adil Kelo, parish priest of the Church of the Annunciation in the onetime de-facto IS capital.

Before 2003, the Christian population was 50,000, he said. It had dwindled to 2,000 before IS overran northern Iraq.

He doesn’t expect more to return, but he said Francis’ visit would have immeasurable importance for those who stayed.

“This visit will bring peace to Iraq” he said.

World’s first space hotel scheduled to open in 2027

10 hours 44 min ago

(CNN) — If you’re daydreaming of future travels while stuck at home during the pandemic, why fantasize about the beaches of Bali or the canals of Venice when vacationing in space could be in your future?

Back in 2019, Californian company the Gateway Foundation released plans for a cruise ship-style hotel that could one day float above the Earth’s atmosphere.

Then called the Von Braun Station, this futuristic concept — comprised of 24 modules connected by elevator shafts that make up a rotating wheel orbiting the Earth — was scheduled to be fully operational by 2027.

Fast forward a couple years and the hotel has a new name — Voyager Station — and it’s set to be built by Orbital Assembly Corporation, a new construction company run by former pilot John Blincow, who also heads up the Gateway Foundation.

In a recent interview with CNN Travel, Blincow explained there had been some Covid-related delays, but construction on the space hotel is expected to begin in 2026, and a sojourn in space could be a reality by 2027.

“We’re trying to make the public realize that this golden age of space travel is just around the corner. It’s coming. It’s coming fast,” said Blincow.

 

A hotel like no other

 

Renderings of what the hotel might look like suggest an interior not dissimilar to a luxury Earth-bound hotel, just with some pretty specatcular out-of-this-world views.

When the initial designs premiered a couple years ago, Tim Alatorre, senior design architect at Orbital Assembly Corporation told CNN Travel the hotel’s aesthetic was a direct response to the Stanley Kubrick movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” — which he called “almost a blueprint of what not to do.”

“I think the goal of Stanley Kubrick was to highlight the divide between technology and humanity and so, purposefully, he made the stations and the ships very sterile and clean and alien.”

Instead, Alatorre and his team want to bring a slice of earth to space via warm suites and chic bars and restaurants. Guests might be in space, but they can still enjoy regular beds and showers.

That’s not to say the hotel will ignore the novelty of being in space altogether. There are plans to serve traditional “space food” — like freeze dried ice cream — in the hotel’s restaurant.

Plus there will be recreational activities on offer that “highlight the fact that you’re able to do things that you can’t do on Earth,” according to Alatorre.

“Because of the weightlessness and the reduced gravity, you’ll be able to jump higher, be able to lift things, be able to run in ways that you can’t on Earth.”

 

How does it work?

 

So how exactly would the physics of a space hotel work?

Alatorre told CNN Travel that the rotating wheel would work to create a simulated gravity.

“The station rotates, pushing the contents of the station out to the perimeter of the station, much in the way that you can spin a bucket of water — the water pushes out into the bucket and stays in place,” he said.

Near the center of the station there’s no artificial gravity, Alatorre explained, but as you move down the outside of the station, the feeling of gravity increases.

The hotel’s original name was chosen because the concept was inspired by 60-year-old designs from Wernher von Braun, an aerospace engineer who pioneered rocket technology, first in Germany and later in the US.

While living in Germany, von Braun was involved in the Nazi rocket development program, so naming the space hotel after him was a controversial choice.

This was partly why the name’s been changed, Blincow told CNN Travel.

“The station is not really about him. It’s based on his design, and we like his contributions towards science and space,” Blincow said. “But you know, Voyager Station is so much more than that. It is the stuff in the future. And we want a name that doesn’t have those attachments to it.”

Space tourism is becoming an increasingly hot topic, and there are several companies trying to make it happen — from Virgin Galactic to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

SpaceX’s StarShip system could help get Voyager Station off the ground.

“We cannot call SpaceX our partner, but in the future we look forward to working with them,” Blincow told a recent live event promoting Orbital Assembly, advising viewers to “hang tight.”

For now, the space hotel isn’t advertising a room rate, but expect it to come with a pretty hefty price tag attached.

Virgin Galactic, for example, plans to launch passengers into sub-orbital space at $250,000 per person, per trip.

However the team behind Voyager Station have said they’re hoping to eventually make a stay at the hotel equivalent to “a trip on a cruise or a trip to Disneyland.”

 

“Starship culture”

 

While Voyager Station is perhaps the flashiest of Orbital’s designs, it’s actually just one facet of their space ambitions.

The team is also hoping to build research stations, and spark space tourism and commerce opportunities.

“We’re designing the tools and machines right now that can build these structures very quickly,” Blincow told CNN Travel.

The team imagine government or private companies might use modules for training crews “heading to Mars, the Moon and beyond,” as Alatorre outlined at the 2021 live event.

The next stage in getting the Voyager Station off the ground is bringing more investors into the mix, and continuing with tests on the ground.

The eventual goal, as Alatorre put it back in 2019, is “to create a starship culture where people are going to space, and living in space, and working in space and they want to be in space. And we believe that there’s a demand for that.”

Prosecutors: Officer was on Floyd’s neck for about 9 minutes

11 hours 19 min ago

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As the trial approaches for a white Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, prosecutors are putting the time Derek Chauvin’s knee was on the Black man’s neck at about nine minutes.

The time has fluctuated before. It was recorded as 8 minutes, 46 seconds in an initial criminal complaint — a figure that became symbolic to many in the weeks after Floyd’s death — before a math error was corrected to make it 7:46. But filings since then, citing time-stamped police body-camera video, now make it at least nine minutes.

The fact that the figure has evolved probably won’t matter at Chauvin’s trial, which begins Monday with jury selection. One former prosecutor says it’s common for such details to be fine-tuned as prosecutors build a case. A support group for victims of police violence says the discrepancies won’t have any impact.

“He was obviously on there enough time to think about what he was doing. He heard the man pleading that he couldn’t breathe,” said Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. “If it was two minutes or if it was five minutes or if it was 10 minutes, he was fully aware … Once he said, ‘I cannot breathe’ … he was supposed to remove his knee.”

Floyd died May 25. He had been handcuffed and was pleading that he couldn’t breathe, but Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after he stopped moving and speaking.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and are scheduled for trial in August.

The narrative in the initial complaint filed May 29 by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says Chauvin held his knee to Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. But the time stamps cited in that charging document indicate it was actually 7 minutes, 46 seconds.

The Associated Press began asking about the error the day after the initial charges were filed, but prosecutors repeatedly declined to address it. The 8:46 detail was repeated in an amended complaint filed days later by the Attorney General’s Office.

In the weeks that followed Floyd’s death, some demonstrators staged “die-ins” that lasted 8 minutes, 46 seconds, some lawmakers knelt for that amount of time in the U.S. Senate, and mourners at a memorial service for Floyd stood in silence for 8:46 to reflect on the final moments of his life.

In mid-June, prosecutors acknowledged the one-minute error, but said it would have no impact on the case.

Documents filed by prosecutors in September and October changed the timing yet again. These documents contain the most detailed picture of what happened, citing time stamps from Lane, Keung and Thao’s body camera videos.

The documents don’t list an exact time for when Chauvin began kneeling on Floyd, but instead provide a narrative for when Floyd was first pressed to the ground. Time stamps on video from Lane’s body camera — recorded in 24-hour-clock format — show that began at some point from 20:19:14 to 20:19:45, meaning from 14 to 45 seconds after 8:19 p.m.

But the documents cite a clear moment when Chauvin removed his knee, when a stretcher was ready to take Floyd away. Lane’s body camera time-stamp read 20:28:45.

This means Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for at least nine minutes flat, but possibly for as long as 9 minutes, 31 seconds. Documents filed by prosecutors characterize the timing as “approximately nine minutes,” though in at least one document it is characterized as “more than nine minutes and twenty seconds.”

John Stiles, the spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the length of time of Chauvin’s restraint will be evidence presented at trial. He declined further comment.

Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota who is not connected to this case, said it’s normal for prosecutors to fine-tune details as they build a case and that the length of Chauvin’s restraint won’t become essential until a prosecutor presents it to the jury.

But at trial, he said, the timing will become extremely relevant as both sides argue about Floyd’s cause of death. Heffelfinger also said it points to Chauvin’s state of mind and can be used by prosecutors to show willfulness, and that Chauvin had Floyd under his control and held his position for too long.

“You can see from the bystander video, Chauvin had Floyd under control for that entire period,” Heffelfinger said. “He didn’t need to have his knee to the neck in order to maintain that … control.”

Man dressed as Amazon driver swipes package from Wilton Manors home, is stopped by homeowner

Thu, 2021-03-04 22:58

A Wilton Manors homeowner is speaking out after a crook apparently disguised as an Amazon delivery driver was caught on surveillance video pretending to drop off an envelope before taking off with a package, but this theft has an unexpected twist.

At first, the homeowner, who asked not to be identified or show his face on camera, thought the impostor’s actions could have been an error.

“We thought, ‘Oh, this is a mistake. Like, he took it by mistake,'” he said.

However, security footage of the Feb. 22 incident possibly suggests otherwise.

A man seen wearing what appears to be an Amazon vest is seen getting out of a white van and walking to the front door of the home, located near Northeast 20th Street while carrying an envelope.

Moments later, he reaches the front porch, but he does not drop off the envelope. Instead, he is seen walking away with a package that, the homeowner said, had been left by another driver moments earlier.

“He was actually taking away the packages. He was not delivering anything,” said the homeowner.

The homeowner said a FedEx driver had dropped off a box. Moments later, the homeowner’s husband pulled into the home.

“My husband came home; he sees the package at the front door,” he said.

But as he was parking around back, the white van stopped outside the residence.

“The guy has a package in his hands, then he gets down like he’s going to deliver it. He looks through our mailbox, takes a package that’s right there. You’ll see it’s a black and white type of package, I guess I would say,” said the homeowner. “Then he reaches down to the ground and grabs the package that the FedEx truck just delivered.”

The homeowner said his husband took notice.

“My husband comes back around. He sees the package is no longer there,” he said.

The homeowner said his husband checked the doorbell camera video, saw what happened and went around to the front of the home to see if the man and his vehicle were still there, and they were.

“He was able to confront him, ‘Hey, you just  took our package. What’s going on?'” said the homeowner. “The guy looked a little dumbfounded that it was really happening.”

The van driver ended up handing the package over.

Now police are wondering if the man was simply following the FedEx truck, looking for an opportunity.

“He had the little scanner. He looked very legit,” said the homeowner. “Even if it’s a dollar or a cent, you never want your package to get stolen.”

Inside the box, the homeowner said, was clothing that he had purchased online.

A spokesperson for Amazon said the van driver captured on the homeowner’s doorbell camera does not match the driver who was working in this area at the time of the incident.

If you have any information on this incident or recognize the van driver, call Wilton Manors Police or Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $3,000 reward.