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Freed Hostage Peter Theo Curtis Arrives Back in United States


Nancy Curtis Speaks with ABC's Amy Robach. Photo Credit: ABC News(BOSTON) -- American writer and journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was held captive for nearly two years by Syrian militants believed to be allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, returned to the United States Tuesday, two days after his captors released him, his family said.

Curtis, 45, flew from Tel Aviv, arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport late Tuesday afternoon, and then flew on to Logan International Airport in Boston, where he met his mother, Nancy Curtis, according to a statement from his family.

"I have been so touched and moved, beyond all words, by the people who have come up to me today -- strangers on the airplane, the flight attendants and, most of all, my family to say welcome home," Theo Curtis said, according to the statement.

He also thanked the "U.S. officials who have worked on my case" and the government of Qatar.

His mother said she was "overwhelmed" to have her son home.

"I am overwhelmed with relief that this day has come and my son is standing beside me," Nancy Curtis said. "But this is a sober occasion because of the events of the past week. My heart goes out to the other families who are suffering."

He had been held for 22 months by Syrian terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusrah, a different terror group than the ISIS extremists who beheaded U.S. photojournalist James Foley.

Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Al Rafid village, located in the Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel, Sunday evening, 6:40 p.m. local time, according to the United Nations. He received a medical checkup before he was given to U.S. officials. After he was freed, Nancy Curtis said she got the chance to briefly speak with him on the phone.

Curtis' return home comes as U.S. officials say they are closing in on the ISIS executioner who killed Foley. Prior to his death, Foley had been held hostage by ISIS for two years.

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Hurricanes on Both Coasts Bring Dangerous Surf


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are primed to make their closest approaches to the continental United States this week, and while they aren't expected to make landfall, they could still bring choppy surf and dangerous waters.

Hurricane Marie is currently a category 2 hurricane with max sustained winds at 100 mph, and will be no direct threat to land as it moves out to sea in the Eastern Pacific. However, the storm will likely bring large waves and rip currents to the Southern California coast from 800 miles offshore.

Breakers could reach 10 to over 15 feet for south/southeast-facing beaches in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with high surf also possible for the Santa Barbara south coast. Swells are expected to peak Tuesday and Wednesday, with some subsiding Thursday into Friday. Minor coastal flooding, beach erosion, and structural damage are all possible as well.

On the other side of the country, Hurricane Cristobal is making its way across the open Atlantic Ocean. It will directly impact the United States, but will bring another type of danger this week – strong and frequent rip currents.

Cristobal is projected to travel north and then make a northeasterly turn, gaining some strength. Bermuda is under a Tropical Storm Watch, and although it will not get a direct hit, it could see Tropical Storm conditions this week, with winds over 40 mph and rainfall up to 6 inches.

Swells generated by Cristobal will reach the East Coast in the form of breakers and cause rough surf and dangerous rip currents from Florida to Maine. From Florida to the Carolinas surfers and beach-goers need to be aware of life-threatening conditions in the water through Wednesday. Then, from Virginia to NJ and up into the New England coast, people should take caution through Friday.

Luckily, waters on both coasts should calm down just in time for Labor Day weekend.

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Alleged Serial Stowaway Marilyn Hartman Arrested for Third Time this Month


iStock/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- Alleged repeat stowaway Marilyn Hartman was arrested Tuesday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on a criminal trespass charge, according to police.

It was the third time the 62-year-old, who has a history of trying to board planes without a ticket, has been arrested this month.

Airport employees recognized Hartman loitering around 11:30 a.m. in terminal 4 near the baggage claim area, according to Phoenix police, who said she was not in possession of a ticket.

The arrest came after Hartman was caught on Aug. 14 trying to enter a Sky Harbor security checkpoint without a ticket. Hartman was let go with a warning at the time and was removed from airport property, police said.

Phoenix police said they were requesting Hartman undergo a mental health evaluation.

Hartman was arrested earlier this month on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after she flew on a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to Los Angeles without a ticket, authorities said.

Several days after she was released from police custody, Hartman was seen scouting terminals for about an hour at Los Angeles International Airport, according to airport police. She was arrested and charged with violating the terms of her probation, which included staying out of airports unless she had a ticket to fly.

Hartman was released from a Los Angeles jail earlier this month because of overcrowding, according to ABC News' Los Angeles station, KABC.

While she has an extensive history of trying to board planes, Hartman's arrest earlier this month was the first time she successfully was able to fly without a ticket, authorities said.

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Gun Range Instructor Accidentally Shot and Killed While Showing Weapon to Child


iStock/Thinkstock(MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz.) -- An Arizona gun instructor was shot and killed Monday while showing a nine-year-old girl how to use an automatic Uzi.

Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to a hospital from the Bullets and Burgers outdoor gun range in White Hills, Arizona, about 25 miles south of Las Vegas,

Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe said that after demonstrating single shots, Vacca let the girl fire the Uzi as fully automatic. However, the gun recoiled, lifting the girl's shoulder, which resulted in Vacca suffering a fatal bullet wound to the head.

Neither the girl nor her parents, who were also at the firing range were injured. The family is from New Jersey.

Calling it a tragic accident, McCabe remarked, "The child is of course in everybody's thoughts because she's only nine years old and the parents have got to have some terrible feelings as well. But the truth of the matter is it was a tragic accident and our heart goes out to everyone."

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Kindergartener Goes to School with Loaded Gun in Backpack


iStock/Thinkstock(ALIQUIPPA, Pa.) -- A five-year-old reportedly brought a loaded handgun to school in a backpack.

A teacher at the school in Aliquippa -- a town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- found the small revolver in a kindergartner's bag.

The school called police and no injuries were reported.

The school sent letters home to parents saying the gun was never visible to any student. Police said no one handled the gun and it is not believed he intended to hurt anyone.

Police are investigating how the gun ended up in the bag, and whether to file charges.

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Feds Say Two Men Robbed, Killed Violinist at Her Home in the Middle of the Day


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A New York City violinist who was at her summer home was brutally murdered when two men knocked on her door and attempted to rob her, federal authorities said.

Mary Whitaker, 61, was a musician who played on Broadway, toured with Barbara Streisand, was a member of the Westchester Philharmonic, and spent her summers playing for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, according to the Philharmonic.

She was at her summer home in Westfield, N.Y., when the incident occurred, according to federal documents.

Two homeless men, Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford, approached her home in the early morning hours of Aug. 20 with the intent to rob her, according to the criminal complaint. Sanford told police that Conklin wanted to rob a homeowner so he could buy drugs and "live like a rock star," the criminal complaint says.

In a chilling series of events, Sanford allegedly knocked on Whitaker's door and asked to the use phone because he had run out of gas. When she said yes, Conklin emerged from hiding and allegedly pointed a rifle at her, authorities said.

"This is a robbery. Don't make this any worse than it is," Conklin said, according to the complaint.

Whitaker screamed, prompting Conklin to allegedly fire a round from the rifle that hit Whitaker in the torso, authorities said.

Whitaker then grabbed the rifle and struggled with Conklin for it, another shot was fired and hit Whitaker in the leg. Whitaker fell backward, hitting her head against the garage door, and Sanford dragged her inside the garage, authorities said.

The pair then robbed Whitaker's home, taking her keys, credit cards, cell phone and checkbook, while Conklin ordered Sanford to finish killing Whitaker with a knife, according to authorities.

They then took off in her Chrysler P.T. Cruiser and drove back to Pennsylvania, where they used the credit cards and cell phone, which allowed police to track them.

Friends of Whitaker's found her body in the garage and called police, who quickly tracked the pair. Sanford provided much of the information in the account to detectives.

Both Conklin and Sanford are now charged with stealing the car, unlawfully using the firearms, and illegally transporting commerce over state lines, which are the crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction. A local grand jury in Westfield will consider the murder charges.

Conklin and Sanford both entered pleas of not guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y., and are being represented by public defenders. Their detention hearings are set for Thursday morning.


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Late Summer Brings Extreme and Dangerous Heat Across the Country


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It may be late August, but parts of the country are just now experiencing their hottest stretch of weather this year.

Indianapolis hit 90 degrees on Monday afternoon, their first of the year. Typically, Indianapolis would record fourteen 90-degree days throughout the year. This is also the latest date that Indianapolis has recorded their first 90 degree day.

Tuesday also marks the seventh consecutive day that St. Louis has been under an excessive heat warning -- with heat indices values forecasted to reach to 110 degrees. On Monday, St. Louis topped out at 100 degrees, which was one degree from tying a 71-year record and the first time the city hit the triple digits this year. Interesting to note for St. Louis is that on average they experience their last 100-degree reading of the year on August 17, this year it was a week later.

While not many record high temperatures have been recorded, the humidity has been oppressive making this heat dangerous. The heat index is the temperature it feels like once relative humidity is factored in. Over the weekend, reports of heat indices exceeded 120 degrees in parts of the Florida panhandle. Monday’s heat index values also soared past 110 degrees in parts of the Midwest.

The Northeast is getting a taste of the heat that has been spread across much of the south and Midwest over the last week. Afternoon temperatures Tuesday will reach the upper 80s for New York City, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

By Wednesday, temperatures will peak for the east topping out around 90 degrees. The forecasted high of 91 degrees in New York City for Wednesday will only be the 5th such day this year. An average year would see temperatures at or above 90 degrees on nearly 15 days.

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Flight Diverted After Passengers Feud over Reclining Seat


iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- A $22 product designed to protect the most sacred of things when flying –- personal space -– led to an unscheduled landing in Chicago during a flight from Newark to Denver.

Two passengers aboard the diverted United Airlines flight got into a heated argument Sunday after a male passenger used the product, the Knee Defender, to prevent the woman in the row in front from reclining her seat.

The man, who was not identified, placed the Knee Defender's brackets on his tray table attached to the back of the seat in front of him, 11B.

The woman seated in 11B became angry when she couldn't recline her seat and reportedly threw a cup of water in the man's face.

Both passengers were seated in United's Economy Plus section, which gives you extra legroom for an extra fee.

A United Airlines spokesperson confirmed to ABC News the flight was diverted due to the argument and that both passengers were removed from the plane and not allowed to reboard when the plane continued to Denver.

Neither of the passengers was arrested, airport and law enforcement officials with knowledge of the incident confirmed to ABC News.

The man who invented the Knee Defender, Ira Goldman, says that he created the device for exactly the opposite reason of what happened on the United flight.

"Knee Defenders aren't about getting more space," Goldman told ABC News. "They're about stopping something from moving and hitting you."

"It starts the conversation before there's a problem," he said. "This has been on a market for 11 years next month. [It’s] never happened before."

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Poem Carried By Fallen Marine Stolen from Family


iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The family of a U.S. Marine, who was killed in Afghanistan last year, is heartbroken after a thief stole the only remaining memento he had with him when he was killed: a poem.

Lance Cpl. Matthew Rodriguez, of Fairhaven, Mass., was deployed to Afghanistan last fall and was killed by an IED in December, just two and a half months after he got there, his mother Lisa Rodriguez told ABC News on Tuesday.

On his person when he was killed was a laminated poem his fiance, Julia Tapper, had written to him.

The poem vanished when Tapper's purse was stolen Sunday in New Bedford.

"The first thing you think of is your checkbook and that type of thing, but then the things you can't replace which, two of the most important things were a poem she had written to him that he had laminated and carried with him and it was on him when he was killed in Afghanistan, and his iPhone. Unfortunately we had not backed up all his photos and music, his messages to her, all those things that aren’t useful to anyone else, but are very meaningful to her and us," Rodriguez said Tuesday.

Tapper told ABC News affiliate WCVB in Boston that the poem was the single thing that still connects her most to Rodriguez.

"That's what he had when he was leaving. It connects me the most to him and makes me smile for him and me," Tapper told WCVB."He would say that poem was encouraging and positive, and that's what he was."

"He kept it with him and read it, it gave him confidence and comfort," Rodriguez said. "I can't believe somebody would do that in the middle of the day."

The family is hoping that someone will find the poem and return it to them.

"When they're deployed out on omissions, and he was a combat engineer, you can't carry stuff with you, it all stays back at base and there are only a few things you have on your person. He had four or five items on his person and those things are precious," Rodriguez said.


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911 Dispatcher Disciplined for Not Helping Baby Locked in Hot Car


iStock/Thinkstock(TAMPA, Fla.) --  A Florida police dispatcher will be disciplined for not offering help to a frantic mother whose toddler son had locked himself inside her broiling car, officials said on Tuesday.

Shana Dees had just left a Tampa drug store on Saturday when she strapped her 10-month-old son in the backseat of the car and shut the door, she told WFTS, ABC's Tampa Bay affiliate. She quickly realized baby Jack, who often plays with her keys, had them in his hands – but it was too late. He hit a button that locked the doors, trapping himself inside the car on a day the temperature reached 95 degrees.

Dees, whose purse was also locked inside the car, used a stranger's cell phone to call 911, she said.

"Can somebody come out and open the door? I don't even know if that is something you guys do," she says in the 911 recording, obtained by ABC News.

The dispatcher wasn't very helpful.

"They won't be able to try to gain access [to the] car unless the child is in some kind of distress, and, well, by that point they may just smash your windows."

Dees watched as her son turned red and began to sweat, she told WFTS.

The Tampa Police Department says the dispatcher handled the situation poorly.

"He is going to be disciplined," Andrea Davis, a police spokesperson, told ABC News. "He should have been more aggressive and asked location."

Davis pointed out that the dispatcher did not refuse to send an officer to the scene. Dees ended the call, she said.

Eight minutes later, an off-duty police officer noticed Dees panicking and called 911 again, according to the local report.

He explained that Dees was told police wouldn't help, and a dispatcher told him that information was wrong and that police would help, according to a recording of that phone call.

Another bystander eventually helped Dees break the window and free Jack.

The police department says the investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, the dispatcher is on administrative duty instead of answering 911 calls, Davis said.

An average of 38 children die in hot cars every year, according to KidsAndCars.org.

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Earthquake Clean-Up Continues in Northern California


ABC News(NAPA, Calif.) -- Many Northern Californians spent Monday cleaning up, 24 hours after the Napa Valley region suffered it strongest earthquake in 25 years.

Damage from the 6.0 earthquake could reach $4 billion, according to Kinetic Analysis Corp., a company that studies catastrophe risk, while insurance payouts will probably total $1 billion.

A state of emergency remains in effect following the temblor, which struck about 3:20 a.m. local time Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them.

The jolt injured more than 200 people, buckled roads and damaged historic buildings in the heart of the state’s wine country. A 13-year-old was critically injured by a crumbling fireplace.

Approximately 49 buildings in Napa were red-tagged, meaning they're not safe to be inhabited, while 100 others were yellow-tagged so they might be eventually approved to reenter.

The earthquake was the largest one to shake the Bay Area since the 1989 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake that killed 63 people and caused $20 billion worth of damage.

Since Sunday's earthquake, dozens of aftershocks have followed -- including a 3.9-magnitude one on Tuesday -- but should lessen in intensity as the week progresses.

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Desperate Search for Student Who Never Arrived for College


iStock/Thinkstock(MISSOULA, Mont.) -- Lucius Robbi packed his car a week ago and set out from Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, heading for Missoula, Montana, to start his junior year of college. But the California resident never made it to the University of Montana’s campus.

Friends, family and volunteers are desperately searching across the vast mountain wilderness for any sign of the 21-year-old.

His father, Marc Robbi, said it’s not like his son to go missing.

“We’re very, very worried at this point,” Marc Robbi said.

Lucius Robbi is a skilled outdoorsman who worked summers as a rafting guide. Relatives say he planned to explore on his return trip to college, even bringing along two orange kayaks.

Volunteers scouring through gas station surveillance footage spotted what appears to be Robbi’s green 1997 Subaru Legacy in Garden Valley, Idaho. His cell phone was picked up in the nearby town of Lowman.

From there, the trail goes cold.

Search parties are pouring over maps, calling for more planes and helicopters, hoping someone spots the bright orange kayaks that they hope will lead them to Robbi.

His mother, Tina Glaessner, is holding out hope that her son is okay.

“If anyone can survive out there for seven days, he can do it,” she said.

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Four Reported Dead in Ohio Plane Crash


iStock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- A plane crashed on takeoff in northern Ohio Monday, killing four people, police told ABC News affiliate WEWS.

The plane was taking off at about 10 p.m. from Cuyahoga County Airport when the accident happened. Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Brant Zemelka told WEWS that it appears the plane lost power.

After that, it “just nose-dived into the ground and caught fire,” Zemelka said.

Neighbors also reported the plane sounding like it was having trouble before the crash.

Mark Gerald yelled for his son to call 911 then ran toward the wreckage -- but then the fuel tank exploded.

“I got up really as close as I can, but it was just too hot, too involved,” Gerald said. “There was nothing I could do.


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Great White Shark Spotting Shuts Down Massachusetts Beach


Ralph A. Clevenger/Fuse/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Swimmers at an East Coast beach faced a scare Monday after a great white shark was spotted about 75 yards offshore.

The shark shut down Duxbury Beach in Massachusetts, sending swimmers out of the water.

A police helicopter spotted the great white -- estimated 12 to 14-feet long -- just outside the buoys for swimmers.

“When it is that close to the coast, we’d rather be safe than sorry,” Massachusetts State Police Trooper Dustin Fitch said.

Monday’s shark sighting follows other shark sightings off of Cape Cod during the past week.

Shark sightings are up this summer, and concern is heightened as beachgoers flock to the coasts during a busy vacation weekend and the ensuing Labor Day weekend.

Those sharks are being tracked by the non-profit OCEARCH, with the sharks represented on an online map with orange and blue dots.

According to OCEARCH, five shark sightings have been recorded in the past 24 hours along the United States’ eastern coastline, and another shark was spotted in the Gulf of Mexico.


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Soldier Dies After Shooting Self at Fort Lee in Virginia


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(FORT LEE, Va.) -- A soldier who shot herself Monday at the Fort Lee Army Base in Virginia, prompting a temporary shutdown, has died, authorities said.

The female soldier, who was not identified, was pronounced dead at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, according to a news release issued by Fort Lee.

The soldier had walked into the four-story Combined Arms Support Command Headquarters building at 9 a.m., officials said, and then turned the weapon on herself and fired one shot.

The base was temporarily placed on lockdown before it was lifted a short time later. A statement posted on Fort Lee's Facebook page said "the law enforcement event is over."

The building where the shooting took place is the headquarters of CASCOM, which lists its mission as to "design, develop, and integrate sustainment capabilities into warfighting requirements, foster innovation, and lead change for the future force," according to its website.

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