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NFL Announces Changes to Personal Conduct Policy Following Outcry Over Ray Rice Suspension


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The National Football League announced a change to its personal conduct policy following outcry regarding a controversial suspension for one of its players.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games in connection with a video that surfaced earlier this year in which he allegedly struck his now-wife, Janay, and knocked her unconscious during an altercation at an Atlantic City, N.J. casino. The outcry that the suspension, issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, was too light was fierce and immediate.

Goodell initially defended the decision, pointing out that the length of the suspension matched the NFL's existing policy.

Still, on Thursday, the commissioner sent a letter and an accompanying memo to each NFL team owner outlining changes to that very policy. Most notably, any player in violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will be subject to a suspension of six games for a first offense, with possible consideration for "mitigating factors," and a lifetime ban for a second offense.

Goodell's letter discusses "respect" and "the integrity of the game." He notes that the steps taken Thursday "are based on a clear, simple principle: domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances."

In addition to the altered suspension policy, team personnel will be expected to undergo comprehensive training to help "understand and identify risk factors associated with domestic violence." Goodell also called upon expansion of the NFL's existing college, high school and youth football programs.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said that the announcement alone was not enough. The  league, he said, "must match words with actions." While he applauded Goodell's action, Blumenthal said that "the real work begins" now in hopes of solving the problem of domestic violence.

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F-15 Pilot Killed in Virginia Crash


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(STAUNTON, Va.) -- The pilot whose fighter jet crashed in the mountains of Virginia on Wednesday was killed in the crash, it was confirmed Thursday by military officials.

The pilot and jet were under the Massachusetts Air National Guard and were en route to Louisiana when the plane crashed. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called it "a very sad day for the Guard and for Massachusetts." He also offered condolences to the family of the pilot, who was not identified, as well as the rest of the Massachusetts National Guard.

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Church Puts God and Sex Together on Billboard


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WILKES-BARRE, Pa.) -- A Pennsylvania church is marking its first anniversary with a controversial billboard that proclaims God loves sex.

The billboard was placed along a major highway running through Wilkes-Barre, Pa., by Restored Church, a non-denominational worship center opened in September of last year by two friends who met as college roommates.

The billboard, according to one of the church’s founders, is meant to draw attention to the church’s new sermon series launching next month that will focus on sex and the Song of Solomon from the Bible.

“If the culture can be so bold, I think the church can be so bold and speak directly on the subject and be up front about it,” Restoration Pastor Dan Nichols told ABC affiliate WNEP.

The billboard was first highlighted by a tweet from the church’s account on Aug. 27. It is scheduled to remain up for the next four weeks, according to WNEP.

 

The billboard is up! pic.twitter.com/ZYkTjsXvLL

— Restored Church (@restored_church) August 27, 2014



Restored Church currently has a congregation of around 100 people, Nichols told WNEP. The church’s mission, according to its website, is to “…Communicate the good news of Jesus with our lives in order to reach the lost and aggressively develop committed followers of Jesus.”

The church’s bold display of its message led one pastor from another church to write a letter to the editor in a local newspaper criticizing the billboard for being misleading, according to WNEP.

Tim Walker, Nichols’ college roommate and fellow pastor at the church, told WNEP the criticism is not dissuading them from talking about sex and marriage.

“We really put a lot of thought into this,” Walker said.

Calls placed to the church for comment were not returned as of this writing.

 

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Navy SEAL Who Planned Bin Laden Raid Retires, Will Take Over University of Texas System


FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images(TAMPA, Fla.) -- Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who planned the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, gave up his control of Special Operations Commands on Thursday.

The transfer was completed at a change of command ceremony. McRaven will take over the University of Texas system. In July, it was announced that he would take the position of chancellor of the university system after the last chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, announced his resignation.

McRaven gave a commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin, the school where his military career began as a member of the university's Naval ROTC unit.

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Jazz Musician Arrested in Wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Death Takes Plea Deal in Drug Case


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- One man arrested as part of a drug investigation in the wake of the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman accepted a plea deal on Thursday.

Robert Vineberg, a jazz musician, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a class C felony. Vineberg was promised that he would be sentenced to five years of probation and 25 days of community service. He must continue his drug treatment program.

Vineberg will also give up over $1,200 that police found in his home.

The musician will be sentenced on Oct. 14.

He was not linked directly to Hoffman's death.

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Woman Dies at Burning Man Festival in Nevada Desert


iStock/Thinkstock(LAS VEGAS) -- A woman has died at this year's Burning Man, a weeklong art festival in the Nevada desert.

Authorities say 29-year-old Alicia Louise Cipicchio, from Jackson, Wyoming, fell under a bus early Thursday morning and was killed.

Organizers say this is the first death at the festival in seven years.

The festival, which takes place in the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada, will continue as planned.

Cipicchio's death remains under investigation.

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Marie and Cristobal: Two Storms and Lots of Questions


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As we enter the most active part of the hurricane season in the Atlantic, we have our eyes on both coasts: Tropical Storm Marie in the Pacific and Hurricane Cristobal in the Atlantic.

In the past 24 hours, ABC News' Ginger Zee has fielded some frequently asked questions and wanted to share:

One question:

 

@Ginger_Zee Hurricanes are supposed to be in alphabetical order. How did we go from #CHRISTOBAL to #MARIE ? @GMA #GMA

— Col. Tim (@OriginalColTim) August 27, 2014

 

Ginger Zee's Answer: It does, but each ocean has its own list. The Pacific is already through to "M" and the Atlantic is now on "C".

Another question: I thought hurricanes were called typhoons if they are in the Pacific?

Ginger Zee's Answer: Not in the eastern Pacific. A hurricane is a typhoon is a cyclone -- just called different things in different parts of the world.

 

Why can't #gingerzee say #Cristobal?She is still putting the accent in the wrong syllable. @GMA #annoyingthingspeoplesay

— Tim Ochipa (@timnoles) August 27, 2014

 

Follow NOAA's guide to pronouncing hurricane names here.

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Video Captures Colorado Cops Swarming in 'Swatting' Prank


iStock/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- Police in Colorado are searching for the 911 caller who caused SWAT teams to swarm an unsuspecting video game player in a dangerous hoax called “swatting.”

Online live-streaming video showed officers bursting into a Littleton, Colorado, video game company on Wednesday with guns drawn. Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens said the threat seemed credible.

“The caller stated that he had just shot multiple people,” Stephen said.

Officers thought they had an active-shooter situation, so they set up a perimeter, evacuated businesses and locked down nearby schools.

The reality of the situation quickly emerged. The people had been targeted in a disturbing prank, something often done by video gamers to get SWAT teams racing to the homes of their opponents.

It’s becoming so common that Jordon Mathewson -- the person victimized in Wednesday’s incident -- told other players he knew exactly what was happening. Fellow players watched the incident unfold on Twitch, a site where anonymous spectators can watch games played in real-time.

“It could have been any one of the thousands of people that were watching,” Mathewson said. “They really like the anonymity of being online and being able to get away with stuff, and they like to test that sometimes.”

The prank caller’s identity is still unknown. Police are investigating and are taking the situation seriously.

“This is not a game. It’s not an online game,” Stephens said. “We have real guns, real bullets and there’s a potential there for some tragedy.”


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Video of Possible UFO Recorded by Pennsylvania Woman


iStock/Thinkstock(LOWER PAXTON TOWNSHIP, Pa.) -- A Pennsylvania woman who captured what she insists was an unidentified flying object on her cell phone camera says she is “scared to death now.”

A couple police officers also say they saw the UFO that night.

Stephanie Wilkerson says she was relaxing on her porch in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania, Monday night when she spotted an object in the night sky.

“I thought it was a plane until I realized it wasn’t moving,” Wilkerson told ABC News. “I watched it for about 20 minutes and I started noticing it changing colors.”

Wilkerson grabbed her cell phone to record the mysterious object and also called her neighbor over to verify what she was seeing.

“He went and got his binoculars because he first thought it was a planet,” Wilkerson said. “Then he said, ‘No, it changed yellow. That is not a planet.’”

Wilkerson also called 911 but when an officer arrived at her home, even he could not explain the mysterious objects in the sky.

“He went there and apparently he saw them too so he called his sergeant and his corporal to come and verify what he was seeing,” said Lower Paxton Township Police Lt. Gary Seefeldt.

Authorities contacted both the local airport and the National Guard training center, but neither had records of any flight activity that night.

Wilkerson says she saw the mysterious lights again Wednesday night and a neighbor reports seeing the UFO last week as well, she said.

“For me to see that, I am now a believer in UFOs,” Wilkerson said.


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USC Football Player Admits He Lied About Injury, Pool Rescue


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Southern California cornerback Josh Shaw told school officials that he lied about how he suffered his ankle injuries over the weekend, according to a statement released by the school. He has been suspended indefinitely from all team activities by the university.

Shaw initially claimed he was injured after leaping from the second story of an apartment complex to save his 7-year-old nephew, who was struggling in the pool.

“We are extremely disappointed in Josh,” USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian said in a statement.  “He let us all down. As I have said, nothing in his background led us to doubt him when he told us of his injuries, nor did anything after our initial vetting of his story.

“I appreciate that Josh has now admitted that he lied and has apologized. Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this. I hope that he will not be defined by this incident, and that the Trojan Family will accept his apology and support him.”

USC did not release details on how Shaw injured himself.


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Kid Booted Out of Preschool After Mom's Facebook Rant


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(CALLAHAN, Fla.) -- A negative post on Facebook got Ashley Habat's four-year-old son kicked out of a Callahan, Florida, preschool.

Habat says the controversy started when she found out that it was picture day at Sonshine Christian Academy after the fact, although the school said that a notice was included in her son's folder days earlier.

Somewhat incensed, Habat wrote on Facebook, "Why is it that every single day there is something new I dislikes [sic] about Will's school?," thinking only her friends would see it.

Not just her friends, it turned out. Habat received a letter of her son's dismissal from the school that read in part, "You utilized social media to call into question not only the integrity but the intelligence of our staff.  These actions are also consistent with sowing discord which is spoken of in the handbook you signed."

Habat remains perplexed although she did find another preschool and is considering legal action against Sonshine Christian Academy.

However, her indignation is being met with some anger from other Facebook users who feel Habat should just keep quiet and accept the dismissal.

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"Cops" Crew Member Killed in Police Shootout with Robbery Suspect


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) -- A crew member working on the television show Cops was killed on Tuesday night when Omaha police fired at a robbery suspect.

Police say the shooting occurred after officers responded to a robbery at a fast food restaurant. The crew member was identified by Langley Productions as Bryce Dion.

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said Wednesday that Dion "paid the ultimate price for his service to provide the footage of the real-life dangers that law enforcement officers face on a daily basis."

Both Dion and the suspect were taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Tuesday night, where they were later pronounced dead.


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Sister of Alleged Boston Marathon Bombers Arrested for Bomb Threat


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The sister of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly threatening a Harlem woman.

According to the New York Police Department, Aliana Tsarnaeva, who lives in North Bergen, New Jersey, allegedly called the victim on Monday, saying, "I have people that can go over there and put a bomb on you." The NYPD believes that the alleged victim is the mother of Tsarnaeva's boyfriend's child.

Tsarnaeva was charged with aggravated harassment. She will have to appear in court on Sept. 30.

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One Midwest High School, Two American Terrorists


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- With the news that an American was among those killed recently while fighting on the side of the terror group ISIS in Syria came the revelation that he was classmates and close friends with another U.S. citizen who died in battle alongside a different anti-American extremist group on a different front line five years before.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, a 33-year-old rapper, was identified by the White House Tuesday as having been killed in the bloody conflict in Syria. The Free Syrian Army, an opposition group that fights the government of President Bashar al-Assad as well as competing rebel groups, claimed on social media McCain had been fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a brutal al-Qaeda breakaway organization.

A public records search traced McCain’s youth back to the Twin Cities in Minnesota and to Robbinsdale Cooper High School, which is the same school attended in the same time period by Troy Kastigar. Kastigar’s image appeared in news reports around the world in 2009 after he was killed fighting with a jihadist group in Somalia, this one an al-Qaeda affiliate called al-Shabab.

Prior to both their fatal trips halfway across the world, McCain and Kastigar briefly shared an address after high school, records show, and news reports Wednesday said the two were close friends.

David Brom, who was principal at the high school when the young men attended, told ABC News there was “no indication whatsoever that these two students would eventually end up fighting for al-Shabab or ISIS.”

“We never would’ve guessed that,” he said, after acknowledging that he didn’t personally remember the students after 15 years. “It was a pretty normal high school. We had pretty normal kids….I can only think it was influences beyond the high school, certainly beyond our community.”

Kastigar reportedly traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab in 2008. After he was killed in fighting, al-Shabab featured their American recruit in a martyrdom video in which Kastigar urges his fellow Americans to join him in his holy war.

“If you guys only knew how much fun we have over here – This is the real Disneyland,” a bearded Kastigar says. “Come here and join us.”

McCain posted Kastigar’s photo on his Facebook page after his death, saying he believes his friend to be in paradise.

Public records and other social media posts do not indicate McCain ever traveled to Somalia, but five years after Kastigar’s death, he did follow in his friend’s doomed footsteps by joining a militant jihadi group. He appears to have traveled to Syria earlier this year after tweeting about being eager to join his brothers. He retweeted another ISIS supporter who said, “It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS.”

“It’s remarkable that two terrorists from one high school,” said Richard Clarke, former White House counter-terrorism advisor and ABC News consultant. “The appeal of jihad is it gives them purpose. It gives them a way out of a life that’s going nowhere. It gives them a higher calling.”

News of McCain’s death emerged a day before the mother of an American journalist who's a hostage by ISIS pleaded directly to ISIS’s leader for mercy.

“I want what every mother wants, to live to see their children’s children,” Shirley Sotloff says in the video.

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Military Jet Crashes in Virginia


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(STAUNTON, Va.) -- A military jet en route to Louisiana crashed near Staunton on Wednesday.

A U.S. Department of Defense official confirmed that the plane, an F-15, had originated from the Massachusetts National Guard. No injuries were reported on the ground, though the condition of the pilot was not immediately clear.

Virginia State Police worked Wednesday morning to reach the crash site, which they said was near the side of a mountain. Smoke coming from the side of the mountain was what tipped off officials to the crash site.

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