National News

Subscribe To This Feed

Clarendon County Fire Department(GREELEYVILLE, S.C.) — A historically black church in South Carolina with a history of being targeted caught fire Tuesday night and investigators were trying to determine the cause, according to officials and reports.

Officials said investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on scene at Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, but the cause was not clear. State and federal authorities are involved with the investigation.

The church was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995 and President Clinton spoke at the dedication of the newly rebuilt church the next year.

The fire comes amid heightened fears about church burnings in the wake of the massacre of nine people at the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Sources familiar with the investiation say a preliminary assessment so far does not point to a criminal act as the cause of the fire. A more conclusive assessment and analysis will be provided once forensic examiners are able to complete their investigation.

At this point, said one senior federal official briefed on the investigation, it is “not arson at this point.”

But as the fire continued to smolder overnight, the cause remained a mystery. It was unclear if there were injuries or how much damage was done.

On Tuesday, federal officials said a string of five church fires in the South appeared not to be racially motivated or related, although some were deemed to be arson.

The ATF, which issued the statement, said that the investigation was in the preliminary stages.

"We are in the early stages of these investigations, but at this time we have no reason to believe these fires are racially motivated or related," the statement said of the fires, which have occurred in the past nine days.


ABC US News | World News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Andy Wolfe/Released(NEW YORK) -- The makers of one of the most expensive weapons programs in history went on the defensive Wednesday, saying a recent report on the F-35 fighter jet’s failures in old-school dogfighting against a decades-old, much cheaper legacy fighter “does not tell the whole story.”

The report in question, posted on the national security news website War Is Boring, was based on an internal five-page brief in which an F-35 test pilot wrote a scathing criticism of the next-generation jet’s abilities in a January dogfight with an F-16, one of the planes the F-35 is designed to replace. Essentially, the pilot reportedly wrote, the F-35 was no match for the F-16 in close-up, high maneuvering fighting -- whether the F-35 was trying to get the F-16 in its sights or trying to evade the F-16’s mock weapons.

“The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage,” the test pilot reportedly wrote. “There were not compelling reasons to fight in this region.”

Wednesday morning, the Pentagon’s F-35 Program Office did what the actual $138 million jet apparently couldn't: fight back.

In an email to reporters, Joe DellaVedova, a spokesperson for the F-35 office, attempted to provide context in defense of the fighter jets. First, DellaVedova wrote, the F-35 in the demonstration was only designed for “flight sciences” and was “not equipped with a number of items” that the jets currently coming off the production line have. For instance, it didn’t have the sensors that “allow the F-35 to see its enemy long before it knows the F-35 is in the area.”

He said that the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 didn’t have the stealth coating that regular F-35s have, making them “virtually invisible to radar,” and the test jet wasn’t equipped with “the weapons or software that allow the F-35 to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.” (According to War Is Boring, the test pilot complained the size of the helmet made it too hard to see behind the plane.)

But none of DellaVedova’s comments directly address the central claim in the War Is Boring report -- that the plane isn’t good at maneuvering in close-up dogfighting -- likely because DellaVedova said it isn’t really designed to be.

“The F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot and kill its enemy from long distances, not necessarily in visual ‘dogfighting’ situations,” he said.

The F-35 is also primarily designed to attack targets on the ground. It’s the duty of the F-35’s next-generation counterpart, the F-22 Raptor -- which had its own share of dogfighting difficulties -- to take on other fighter jets in the air.

Still, DellaVedova said in a follow-up email to ABC News that the test pilot’s report is “the beginning of what engineers and software designers may need to address in the future.”

“As the F-35 is still in the midst of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, much work is on-going to improve the capabilities and deliver them to the warfighter,” DellaVedova said. “The F-35 of today is not what the F-35 will be in the coming years.”

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, with each jet costing around $138 million and the entire program running up to $339 billion -- well over an estimated $1 trillion in operational costs over the next 50 years. It’s also woefully behind schedule; the first planes were supposed to have gone operational three years ago.

Despite DellaVedova’s comment about intense testing still being done, the Marine Corps, one of the F-35’s customers, expects to field its first aircraft this summer.

ABC News requested additional context about the F-35’s dogfighting capabilities in the form of the For Official Use Only (FOUO) report on which the War Is Boring report was based. DellaVedova declined.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Patrick Thornton was at the beach with his family, swimming in the water, when he felt a tug at his foot.

That tug happened to be a 5-foot shark.

The 47-year-old was attacked Friday in the shallow waters of Avon Beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, one of six shark attacks on North Carolina beaches in June. The Charlotte, North Carolina, resident fought back.

“It took a pretty big chunk out of my right leg, so I started punching the shark, and then it grabbed my back and must have bit me in the back,” Thornton said.

Thornton managed to get the shark off of him. His niece and nephew, located nearby, made it to shore. But his son Jack stayed in the water, paralyzed with fear.

“I ran over and grabbed Jack, and as I was bringing him to the shore, the shark came and bit me again in the back, and this time he bit me really, really hard,” Thornton said.

Thornton says he punched the shark again. Finally, it swam off.

Once onshore, Thornton was rushed to the hospital, suffering wounds to his right leg and deep punctures in his back.

If a shark attacks, experts say, you should use whatever you can to fight back.

Thornton is now home and recovering. He says it might be a little while before he visits the beach again.

“I will probably spend more time in the mountains,” he said.


ABC US News | World News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions(NEW YORK) -- A fervent dream became reality Tuesday for ballerina Misty Copeland as she became the first black female principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

It is one of the highest honors for a performer.

"I'm just so honored, so extremely honored," Copeland said Tuesday during a news conference. "My dream has been ABT [American Ballet Theatre] since I was 13. ... Now I feel like I can breathe."

Copeland, 32, who calls herself an "unlikely ballerina," was born in Missouri and grew up in poverty in the Los Angeles area with her five siblings and single mother. She never had the traditional classical ballet training that begins in childhood. She began dancing in gym socks on a basketball court at the age of 13, when an instructor took notice and encouraged her to seek formal training.

Fans learned the story behind the ballet powerhouse when she appeared in an Under Armour sportswear ad as a narrator read a typical rejection letter that Copeland had received.

In August 2014, she shared with ABC News some of the negative comments she'd encountered.

"I'm black. We [blacks] don't exist in the ballet world. I'm too muscular. I'm too short. My bust is too big," she said then.

But Copeland said she never let those insults sway her.

Within two years of beginning ballet, she was winning dance competitions. And just four years after that first class, Copeland landed a spot with the American Ballet Theatre, one of the most prestigious companies in the world.

"It's just been a very long road," Copeland said Tuesday. "It has not been an overnight sensation, not at all. It's been 13, 14 years of extremely hard work."

In 2007, Copeland made history by becoming the third black female soloist at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2014, she released a memoir titled Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.

This year, Time magazine put her on its cover but many wondered whether Copeland, a soloist at ABT for eight years, would ever make the leap to principal dancer.

On June 24, Copeland made her New York debut in the role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House. She said Tuesday that her path to becoming a principal ballerina had been a long one but it was just the beginning.

"I'm just excited to continue to do the roles that I've gotten to do this season -- and do more -- and to continue to grow as an artist and hopefully see more brown dancers come into the company in my lifetime," she said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A report commissioner by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a part of the Justice Department, found that multiple shortcomings on the part of law enforcement contributed to the violent riots in Ferguson, Missouri last year.

The report has been disseminated to certain agencies, but the final version won't be released for a few weeks. The draft version of the report, obtained by ABC News, included 42 findings related to law enforcement's reaction to the initial protests.

Among the findings were that inconsistent training and different policing philosophies contributed to poor incident command and management, that the Ferguson Police Department and the St. Louis County Police Department used only immediate tactical responses do to the mistaken belief that riots would be "short-lived," and that use of canine units "unnecessarily [incited] fear and anger among amassing crowds."

The report also cited military-style uniforms, equipment, weapons and armored vehicles used by law enforcement that "produced a negative public reaction."

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Evan F. Sisley/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Federal investigators say they have no reason to believe that a series of church fires in the South were racially motivated or related, according to a statement from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The fires came amid heightened tensions caused by the racially charged massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina church that left nine people, including a pastor, dead and an uproar over the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina statehouse.

On their Facebook page, the ATF said that it has special agents and certified fire investigators at the five different scenes: Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church, Tallahassee, FL, Fruitland Presbyterian Church, Memphis, TN, Glover Grove Baptist Church, SC, Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, SC and God’s Power Church of Christ, Macon, GA.

"We are in the early stages of these investigations, but at this time we have no reason to believe these fires are racially motivated or related," the statement said of the fires, which have occurred in the past nine days.

At the end of the post, they included a picture of a church fire that occurred in January, but they did not include any details about the location of that particular fire.

At least two of the five churches highlighted by the FBI -- Briar Creek Road and God’s Power Church of Christ -- have already been ruled arson.

The cause for the other three remains under investigation.

Another church, the Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina was on fire Tuesday night. That church was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Authorities in upstate New York spent three weeks searching for escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat. Jon Chodat(MALONE, N.Y.) -- Escaped prisoner David Sweat told investigators he was almost discovered twice during the three weeks authorities were searching the woods of upstate New York for him and fellow inmate Richard Matt -- including one time that police walked right by him as he hid in a hunting tree stand, officials said.

In the first close-call, Sweat told investigators both he and Matt were hiding near a cabin when three people came to check on it, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told ABC News Tuesday.

The people were discussing whether they should stay at the cabin or leave and Sweat said he and Matt were close enough to hear their conversation, Wylie said.

Sweat told the investigators he and Matt stayed hidden until the three people left, according to the DA.

The second instance happened within the past week, after Sweat and Matt separated, Sweat allegedly told investigators.

Sweat claimed he was hiding in a hunting tree stand when an officer walked past him, Wylie said.

Investigators were interviewing Sweat to better understand how the men escaped June 6 from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, and how they were able to avoid police for so long.

Sources briefed on the matter told ABC News Tuesday that interviews with Sweat have concluded for now.

According to Wylie, Sweat was advised of his Miranda rights. "He knows he has a right to an attorney, he knows he doesn't have to talk to authorities," he said. It was not clear if Sweat has a lawyer.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sweat split up from Matt days before their captures, because he felt like "Matt was slowing him down."

Sweat is recovering at Albany Medical Center after he was apprehended, shot and wounded Sunday in the area of Constable, New York, about 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border.

His condition was listed as fair Tuesday. He is expected to remain at the hospital "for at least a few days" before he is moved to a maximum-security prison, sources said.

Matt, meanwhile, was shot and killed Friday in Elephant's Head, New York, about 16 miles south of where Sweat was found, police said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Andrew Burton/Getty Images(DANNEMORA, N.Y.) — Twelve Clinton Correctional Facility employees, including the superintendent, were placed on administrative leave as a part of the ongoing review into the escape of two inmates from its maximum security prison in Dannemora, New York.

Three members of the Clinton Correctional Facility's Executive Team and nine security staff employees are on administrative leave, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in a statement Tuesday.

The three executives placed on leave are Superintendent Steven Racette, Deputy Superintendent for Security Stephen Brown and First Deputy Superintendent Donald Quinn, a source briefed on the matter confirmed to ABC News.

James O'Gorman, the state's assistant commissioner for Correctional Facilities, will oversee the prison as a "new leadership team transitions this week," the statement said.

The review and investigations are ongoing, the statement said.

The manhunt for the two prisoners, David Sweat and Richard Matt, began June 6, when the men, both convicted murderers, broke out of their cells and escaped from the facility.

Matt was shot and killed by authorities Friday in Elephant's Head, New York.

Sweat was shot and wounded by police Sunday near Constable, New York, and is in serious condition at Albany Medical Center.

Two prison employees have been charged in connection with the escape.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Homeowners forced to evacuate recently because of a rapidly moving wildfire in Washington state returned Tuesday to find that the blaze had burned so hot that few of their belongings remained or were even recognizable.

"[It] looks like a war zone," Diane Reed told ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV. "I've never seen anything like it ... To just sit back and think, I don't even have a fork or a plate or clothing -- just your basic things that we all take for granted. It's just gone."

The grass fire started Sunday on a remote hillside outside of Wenatchee, Washington.

Fueled by triple-digit temperatures -- Wenatchee had a record high of 109 on Sunday -- as well as strong winds, the blaze exploded, making its way quickly into residential and commercial areas, outpacing firefighting teams. Thousands of residents were told to leave their homes as firefighting teams went door-to-door.

Rainfall provided some relief Monday but in the end, at least 24 homes were reportedly burned to the ground and four businesses were destroyed. Nearly 3,000 acres were scorched.

Vern and Julie Smith said they barely had time to react to evacuation orders before the fires reached their property. Their home was lost to the blaze Monday.

"You grab your family, kids and our animals," Julie Smith told KOMO-TV. "We stayed with friends across the Wenatchee River and watched this area burn all night."

Julie Smith said, though, that not all was lost.

"What made our house a home was our love and what we've done together," she said.

On Tuesday, a scorched hillside remained as well as the some of the hoses left behind by firefighters.

Wenatchee, a town with a population of 30,000, suffered a double whammy. As fire ripped through neighborhoods and burning embers ignited several large businesses downtown, nearly half the city was ordered to shelter in place after an industrial fire and ammonia leak released a dangerous smoke plume.

Strike teams continued to pounce on hotspots Tuesday around the city but many residents said they worried that the worst may not be behind them.

"I think the worst is over, but you have to be vigilant," one resident said.

No residents were injured in the wildfire. Fire officials were still investigating the cause.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Trampoline parks are increasingly popular, with scores of them springing up across the country in recent years, but the industry’s rise has been met with concerns from safety advocates.

Trampoline parks -- venues featuring fixtures that allow you to jump and bounce -- initially appeared during the 1960s, a fad that re-emerged in recent years as the economy improved and people pursued alternative sporting options. While only a handful of parks existed in 2009, at least 345 were in operation at the close of last year, according to the International Association of Trampoline Parks, or IATP.

Nearly 100,000 trampoline-related injuries occur each year: 83,665 in 2013 and 94,900 in 2012, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Additionally, 22 trampoline-related deaths occurred between 2000 and 2009, according to the CPSC.

Courtney Cleveland, who was injured at a trampoline park, fractured part of her spine and was told it could have been much worse.

“You’re very lucky,” the Virginia mom said the doctor told her. “If you fractured C-7 [vertebrae], you could be paralyzed in the foam pit.”

Most jump parks require visitors to sign liability waivers acknowledging the risks, including serious injury and death. But there are no federal regulations for trampoline parks, and only two states, Arizona and Michigan, have specific safety laws on the books.

Tom Paper, president of the trampoline safety advocacy group Think Before You Bounce, wants to see more regulation of the parks.

“There is a dangerous situation out there for consumers,” Paper said. “We’ve proven it with data, and yet nothing is happening.”

The indoor jump park industry argues that there is risk involved in every sport and physical activity.

For now, the industry is regulating itself, with many parks following voluntary safety guidelines, said Jeff Platt, chairman of the International Association of Trampoline Parks.

“The indoor trampoline park industry is really proactive in working together in a collective group to write a set of standards, as well as being proactive with legislators,” Platt said.

Think Before You Bounce suggests that people who visit trampoline parks follow these guidelines:

  • No more than one person on a trampoline at the same time
  • Keep small and large jumpers on different trampoline courts
  • Never allow children age 6 or younger on a trampoline

Many trampoline-related injuries are caused by collisions involving multiple people being on a trampoline at the same time, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Authorities also note somersaults and stunts as a risk, because people can be injured or paralyzed if they land improperly on their head or neck.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — A former member of the University of Virginia men’s swimming team filed a lawsuit against five teammates, claiming he feared for his life because their hazing was so extreme.

Anthony Marcantonio, 19, left the team over what he claims was horrific hazing.

“Systemic, threatening, degrading, humiliating and violent hazing” by upperclassmen cost him his swim career at the university, according to Marcantonio’s lawsuit, which was filed June 22 in federal court in Charlottesville.

The suit claims the upperclassmen berated and assaulted Marcantonio and other new team members in August 2014, during a period known as “Welcome Week.” One of the new team members allegedly sustained an eye injury during the activities, and allegedly told by one of the upperclassmen to lie if questioned about the injury, according to the lawsuit.

“They threatened him with sexual violence of a very awful variety,” attorney John Markham said. “They were locked into a bathroom and told to drink vast quantities of alcohol. They were imprisoned in the bathroom.”

The team’s head coach, Auggie Busch, questioned Marcantonio after learning of the alleged hazing, according to the lawsuit, but the documents allege that when teammates found out, they saw Marcantonio as “a rat,” and “from that time forward, [the] plaintiff’s swim career at UVA was ruined.”

After the alleged hazing was reported, UVA suspended the upper classmen for the rest of the semester, and none of them ever rejoined the team, with two transferring to different schools, according to the university.

One of the parents of the upperclassmen told ABC News on behalf of all the defendants that they have not yet been served so they can’t comment on the suit.

“These issues are not new,” the parent, requesting anonymity, said. “They were internally investigated by the University of Virginia and handled appropriately.”

The university told ABC News in a statement that it investigated the allegations and “took prompt action to provide support service to the affected students.”

The lawsuit is seeking damages of more than $75,000, but the exact amount has not been disclosed. Marcantonio’s attorney says the suit is intended to prevent hazing and ensure student-athletes never have to live in fear.

Marcantonio has since transferred to Northwestern University and joined the men’s swimming team there.


ABC US News | World News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

New York State Police(ALBANY, N.Y.) — Escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat listened to reports about their manhunt on a radio and also had marijuana during their weeks on the run, Sweat told authorities in a lengthy interview, a state police source told ABC News.

Sweat is recovering at Albany Medical Center after he was shot and wounded Sunday in the area of Constable, New York, about 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border. Matt, meanwhile, was shot and killed Friday in Elephant’s Head in upstate New York, police said.

Investigators have been interviewing Sweat to better understand how the men escaped June 6 from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, and how they were able to avoid capture for so long. His condition has been upgraded to “fair.”

More than 1,000 officers were involved in the search for the prisoners.

The two men split up last week, after Sweat believed “Matt was slowing him down,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Matt later spent some time in a previously unknown camper in Franklin County, an official confirmed Monday.

Jon Chodat, who lives just down the road, told ABC News the camper that sheltered Matt, 48, from the elements has probably been there since 1997, and has likely been abandoned for many years.

"He was the only one that was here," Chodat said of Matt. "Because Sweat took off the other way."

Cuomo called the escape "an extraordinary situation in many ways."

"If you were writing a movie plot, they would say this was overdone," he said to reporters Sunday evening.

Sweat had been serving life without parole in the killing of a sheriff's deputy, and Matt had been serving 25 years to life for the killing of his former boss.


ABC US News | World News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A man who was exonerated after spending nearly 30 years on death row in Louisiana died just over a year after his release.

Glenn Ford died Monday after a battle with lung cancer. He was 65.

Ford was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 but was exonerated in March 2014.

Ford would have still been on death row if not for a confidential informant who told police in 2013 that someone else confessed to him about the murder that Ford was accused of committing.

Lawyer and friend William Most told ABC News Ford was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer several months after being released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Most said that it quickly progressed to stage 4 and spread to his bones.

"He was a really inspirational person and ... I'd even heard that he inspired people that had no connection to him," Most told ABC News.

Ford was featured on ABC News’ Nightline in April and agreed to meet with the prosecutor who put him behind bars, who wrote an open apology letter after Ford was exonerated. But Ford said at the time that he was unable to forgive him.

When he left prison in 2014, Most said Ford, then 64, only had $20 to his name. He had been living in a home provided by Resurrection after Exoneration, a group dedicated to helping prison exonerees.

Ford was involved in three lawsuits at the time of his death, two federal suits for which Most was representing him and one state suit. The federal suits were for compensation for his wrongful imprisonment and inadequate health treatment, and the state suit was a separate compensation suit.

Though he never married, the suit will continue and his children could stand to benefit from any rewards from the court, Most said.

Ford had several children, many of whom live in California, and more than 10 grandchildren at the time of his death. Most said Ford was able to visit California since being released from prison and one of his sons came to Louisiana to see him before he died.

Though they were located in the same prison and overlapped by several decades, Ford was not a member of the Angola Three, a group of three prisoners who were put in solitary confinement ranging from 29 to 43 years.

Ford spent 29 years, three months and five days in solitary confinement in the prison, Most said in a news release confirming Ford's death.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(MANKATO, Minn.) — A boy around six years of age hopped into a medevac helicopter that was on display at a Minnesota air show on Monday, and managed to get it started, causing a panic and two minor injuries.  

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the enthusiastic attendee of the Minnesota Air Spectacular at the Mankato Regional Airport jumped into the Mayo Clinic's unoccupied Eurocopter EC145, and accidentally started the helo's rotors.

The resulting prop wash toppled a fabric sun shade into spectators, leading to two minor injuries, as a crew member jumped into the craft to shut it down and get the child out.

Eyewitness Agro Gushwa, a ticket taker at the show, shot the scene with his cellphone. He told the paper that once the pint-sized pilot was taken out of the helicopter, he was, "crying really bad," and, "ran to his father, who gave him a hug and told him it was OK..."

Air show Director Mark Knoff tell the paper that a Federal Aviation Administration official who was on hand to monitor the air show was informed about the "unfortunate incident," and a federal investigation is underway as to how the potentially deadly situation could have happened.  


ABC US News | World News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Subscribe To This Feed

Three Apponequet Regional High School students, Mollykate Rodenbush, Brittany Tainsh, and Michaela Arguin (from left), received a handwritten reply from Whitey Bulger after writing to him for a history contest on leadership. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)(BOSTON) -- When three Massachusetts high school students wrote to notorious Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, they didn't expect a response, let alone an in-depth letter in which he told them his life "was wasted."

Mollykate Rodenbush, Brittany Tainsh and Michaela Arguin, now rising seniors at Apponequet Regional High School in Lakeville, Massachusetts, selected Bulger as the topic of their website for the National History Day competition earlier this year.

The theme was leadership and legacy, and the group wanted to "choose a theme that's going to stand out and stick with the judges," Mollykate, 17, told ABC News Monday. A few teachers recommended they look at a local figure, like Bulger, who has a decades-long criminal history in Massachusetts.

Bulger was convicted of murdering 11 people, extortion, money laundering and weapons charges in 2013, after a trial that came nearly twenty years after he went on the run after being tipped off to a pending federal indictment by a corrupt FBI agent. Police found cash secreted in the walls of Bulger's Santa Monica hideout, where he and his longtime companion spent 14 years living a life on the lam.

Bulger was second only to Osama Bin Laden on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

He's now in federal prison in Florida.

"We were trying to think out of the box. Take an unconventional route and do something no one else does," Mollykate said, citing George Washington and President Obama as popular choices. Instead, they wanted to "showcase someone that's a terrible person, she said, and "show that his heinous crimes ... his infamous and notorious reputation has impacted our society and the legal system."

"We tied Whitey Bulger into the leadership and legacy theme by showing him as the leader of organized crime," Mollykate said.

So the students decided to go right to the source. Mollykate said they were all on the same page about reaching out to Bulger himself for comment on his legacy.

"We didn't think there would be a consequence," she said. "The worst thing would be [if] he wouldn't reply. ... [I] definitely wasn't expecting a return from him at all."

The students contacted Bulger in February, Mollykate said, and within days, Bulger wrote a response.

The letter reads:

"I'm sorry but I can't help you with your school project -- There are many people more deserving of your time and interests. I'm a myth created by the media to help them generate Revenue and to hurt a relation because they didn't appreciate his independence and daring to support an agenda they opposed.

May I suggest you and Molly create a website about the heroic service men of Mass. that are patients in, for instance, Walter Reed Veteran Hospital -- good men isolated from society due to war wounds -- life for some in pain and loneliness -- hearing from school girls that care would do wonders for their morale recovery.

Don't waste your time on such as I -- we are society's lower, best forgotten, not looked to for advice on 'Leadership'. I'm a 9th grade dropout from school and took the wrong road -- my brother 5 years younger applied himself in school and worked hard and spent 40 years in Mass State House and retired and was the President of Mass Senate in State House for second term and President of U. Mass after Retirement. Had 9 children all college graduates 4 lawyers among them. A Better Man than I.

My life was wasted and spent foolishly, brought shame suffering on my parents and siblings and will end soon -- Advice is a cheap commodity some seek it from me about crime -- I know only one thing for sure -- If you want to make crime pay -- 'Go to Law School.'"

The letter was "very shocking," Michaela, 17, told ABC News Monday, and "a lot different than what we expected it to be."

"We were expecting a lot more arrogance," said Brittany, 17. "And not really [him] acknowledging his wrongdoings throughout his life."

Brittany said she was surprised to "hear him almost say sorry about hurting his family."

Michaela added, "We just wanted to find out what he thought his legacy and voice was. And even though he didn't answer that directly, he helped us more than we could ever imagine."

While the girls did not place at the state competition, they won two special awards for best use of primary sources and best project on Massachusetts history, Mollykate said.


ABC US News | World News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



KJC Kennel Club



   

 




JET

2007-2009

"Always in our Heart! "

LinkedUpRadio Envisionwise Web Services