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North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Killing Three Muslim University Students

Moments after a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to gunning down three Muslim university students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings in the courtroom Wednesday as victims’ relatives wept openly and a man hurled an expletive at the confessed killer.

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North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Killing 3 Muslim Students

Moments after a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to gunning down three Muslim university students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings in the courtroom Wednesday as victims’ relatives wept openly and a man hurled an expletive at the confessed killer.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, entered the plea to three counts of first-degree murder in a packed Durham courtroom. It came two months after the new district attorney dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case that she said had languished too long.

“I’ve wanted to plead guilty since day one,” Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. The judge said Hicks had agreed as part of his plea bargain to accept three consecutive life sentences without parole. The judge added 64 to 89 months for the crime of discharging a gun into a building.

Police say that in February 2015, Hicks burst into a condo in Chapel Hill owned by 23-year-old Deah Barakat and fatally shot Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha.

At the time of the shootings, Chapel Hill police said Hicks claimed he was provoked by competition over parking spaces at the condo complex. Relatives of the victims said they were targeted because they were Muslim and asked federal authorities to pursue hate-crime charges.

The FBI conducted what it called a “parallel preliminary inquiry” to the homicide investigation to determine whether any federal laws were violated, including hate-crime statutes. The bureau turned over its investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Greensboro in July 2015. Neither that office nor the Justice Department responded immediately to requests for comment Wednesday. Law enforcement officials had said previously that a hate crime would be difficult to prove.

Moments after Hicks’ entered his plea, prosecutor Kendra Montgomery-Blinn played a cellphone video of the slayings as the victims’ parents and siblings watched from the front row. Women wept openly and a young man hurled an expletive at Hicks after watching the video, which was shown on a large pull-down screen and on two flat-screen televisions brought in to give people in the courtroom a better view. The prosecutor also showed a video of Hicks’ confession and a series of still photos portraying happy moments in the victims’ lives.

Montgomery-Blinn said Barakat had turned his phone’s video on to capture an exchange with Hicks, who she said was often seething during his previous encounters with the victims.

The video shows Hicks complaining that Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters are using three parking spaces. When Barakat responds that they’re not taking any more spaces than condo rules allow, Hicks pulls a gun from his holster and fires several times.

The phone drops to the floor inside the front door, the sounds of women screaming can be heard, and then several more shots are heard.

“In 36 seconds, Mr. Hicks executed three people,” Montgomery-Blinn said.

Barakat, a dental student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Yusor Abu-Salha had been married for less than two months, and she had just been accepted to the dental school. Razan had just made the dean’s list in her first semester at North Carolina State University. All three were making plans to visit Turkey during their coming summer break to volunteer in a dental clinic at a camp for Syrian war refugees.

Barakat was shot several times as he stood in his doorway, autopsy results showed. His wife and her sister were shot in the head at close range inside the condo.

Hicks listened attentively as Montgomery-Blinn described him as a man who was watching the American Dream slip away while the victims were pursuing it. She said Hicks’ third marriage was disintegrating and he’d recently quit his job in anger after workers described him as constantly playing computer sniper games.

“The defendant was an angry and bitter man,” Montgomery-Blinn said.

The slain women’s father, psychiatrist Mohammad Abu-Salha, testified to a congressional hearing on hate crimes in April that Hicks had expressed hateful comments about his daughters wearing head scarves in observance of their faith.

“Three beautiful young Americans were brutally murdered and there is no question in our minds that this tragedy was born of bigotry and hate,” Dr. Abu-Salha testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Entrepreneur, contributor, writer, and editor of Sostre News. With a powerful new bi-lingual speaking generation by his side, Sostre News is becoming the preferred site for the latest in Politics, Entertainment, Sports, Culture, Tech, Breaking and World News.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

In the operation, dubbed “Operation Child Protector,” undercover officers posed as 13- and 14-year-old children on social media and online dating apps between July 27 and Aug. 1.

The undercovers made contact with each of the suspects before proposing they meet at a location in Polk County, where they were busted.

In total, the arrests led to 49 felony and two misdemeanor charges. Those arrested were aged 26 to 47. All were from Central Florida except for one 33-year-old man from California.

“What you see on this board … are deviants. Incredible deviants,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference on Tuesday, motioning to photos of the alleged pervs. “They travel from as far away as Clewiston, Florida. One even came from Los Angeles.”

“Much to their chagrin, instead of meeting with young children, they were met by law enforcement officers who were online undercover posing as children.”

Kenneth Javier Aquino, 26, a lifeguard at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World, was arrested while still wearing his Disney polo shirt and swimsuit, according to the sheriff’s office.

Aquino engaged in an online conversation on social media with an officer, posing as a 13-year-old girl, authorities said. He then asked the “girl” to send photos, and sent her an explicit video of himself, police said.

Aquino told officers he is a Navy veteran and has a pregnant girlfriend.

Jonathan McGrew, a 34-year-old custodian at Disney World, was nabbed by an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.

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McGrew allegedly told the “girl” that he wanted her to come over and have sex with him and his girlfriend, 29-year-old Savannah Lawrence, who also works as a custodian at tourist mecca.

McGrew sent her explicit videos of him and Lawrence performing sexual acts on each other, authorities said.

A rep for Disney World didn’t immediately return a message.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

He began experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever and neurological issues, and died in May.

Blood and saliva samples were tested and researchers in April found evidence of the Monkey B virus, also known as the herpes B virus.

Researchers said a male doctor and female nurse who were in close contact with the victim tested negative for the virus.

The Monkey B virus is prevalent among macaque monkeys but infection among humans is extremely rare. Since the virus was identified in 1932, just 50 cases have been reported, with the majority of those in North America. Untreated B virus infections in humans are serious, however, with a fatality rate of about 80 percent.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, and progress to more serious complications such as swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

Laboratory workers and veterinarians in close contact with the animals are most at risk as people typically get infected with the virus if they are bitten or scratched by an infected macaque, or have contact with the monkey’s eyes, nose or mouth.

But the virus is unlikely to mutate in a way that poses a problem to the general population. Just one case of human-to-human transmission of the virus has ever been documented.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

In New York, a dispute over coronavirus-safety precautions is leading to split-screen remembrances Friday, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner. The Pentagon’s observance will be so restricted that not even victims’ families can attend, though small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day.

Trump and Biden are both headed — at different times — to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Trump is speaking at the morning ceremony, the White House said. Biden plans to pay respects there in the afternoon after attending the observance at the 9/11 memorial in New York.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is also due at ground zero — and then at the alternate ceremony a few blocks away.

In short, the anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a health crisis, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, 9/11 families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001, shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

“I know that the heart of America beats on 9/11 and, of course, thinks about that tragic day. I don’t think that people forget,” says Anthoula Katsimatides, who lost her brother John and is now on the board of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.

Friday will mark Trump’s second time observing the 9/11 anniversary at the Flight 93 memorial, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.

The ground zero ceremony in New York has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to speak, though they can attend. Biden did so as vice president in 2010, and Trump as a candidate in 2016.

Though the candidates will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of their focus on Shanksville is hard to ignore: Pennsylvania is a must-win state for both. Trump won it by less than a percentage point in 2016.

Around the country, some communities have canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others are going ahead, sometimes with modifications.

The New York memorial is changing one of its ceremony’s central traditions: having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes.

Thousands of family members are still invited. But they’ll hear a recording of the names from speakers spread around the vast plaza, a plan that memorial leaders felt would avoid close contact at a stage but still allow families to remember their loved ones at the place where they died.

But some victims’ relatives felt the change robbed the observance of its emotional impact. A different 9/11-related group, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, set up its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there’s no reason that people can’t recite names while keeping a safe distance.

The two organizations also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center and evoke its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus-safety concerns for the installation crew. After the Tunnel to Towers Foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chairman, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions that can be accomplished at home.

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