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Syria: Key Updates on a Chaotic War


The civil war in Syria has grown more complicated since the United Nations General Assembly opened last month.

The five-year-old conflict began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests, fueling the growth of ISIS and creating a confusing array of alliances and a refugee crisis.

The turbulence is likely to continue since Russia sent warplanes into the country on Wednesday, giving the U.S. and its allies only an hour's notice. President Vladimir Putin told the U.N. earlier this week to back Assad in order to defeat ISIS. 

The U.S. and its allies have not relented in their attempts to weaken ISIS through airstrikes on the terror group's positions in Syria and Iraq.

Despite all this effort, ISIS continues to grow, with an alleged 30,000 new recruits in the last year, and the U.S. is questioning whether Russian airstrikes are in fact targeting ISIS. Nearly 4 million migrants have fled Syria, with UN officials saying there's no end in sight for the humanitarian crisis.

Photo Credit: AP

Portrait of Oregon Gunman Emerges; Family 'Shocked'


Family members of the man who went on a deadly shooting rampage at a rural Oregon college told NBC4 that they were in shock and didn't understand why he resorted to violence.

The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, opened fire inside a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon Thursday, killing at least nine people before dying in a shootout with police, authorities said. One survivor said he demanded his victims state their religion before he started shooting.

"I don't know what to say," one family member said in an interview Thursday night from Tarzana, in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. "I'm shaking right now. He was a nice guy. He put everyone before himself. It doesn't sound right because he wanted everyone to be happy."

His father, Ian Mercer, told reporters gathered outside his Tarzana home where he and his wife live, said he was "just as shocked as anybody else," but declined to answer questions.

Former neighbors of the shooter who used to live in Torrance, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, said they instantly recognized him from the photo he posted on social media posing with a weapon.

"Yeah, that's him," Derrick McClendon said. "Stayed in number 9, him and his mom."

They recall Mercer and his mom shared a downstairs unit, then moved to Oregon about four years ago.

"Everyday I'd come home from school," Bryan Clay said. "I'd see Chris, shaved head, combat boots, camo pants and a plain brown or white shirt. He kept to himself, really didn't say much.

"He would really just walk really fast, avoid anybody who came towards him."

Those who remember him said Mercer was mild-mannered and not known to own guns.

"It's just sad to see that people just go out and kill people for no reason," Paul Rogers said.

The Daily Breeze reported that the Mercer graduated from Switzer Learning Center in Torrance in 2009. The newspaper cited records indicating that he lived with his mother in a ground-floor apartment in Torrance from 2011 to 2013.

An online search of the suspect's name points to a MySpace account referencing Torrance and bearing a photo of a man with a shaved head, with what appears to be the barrel of a rifle visible alongside him.

Elsewhere on the account are images of masked gunmen and praise for the Irish Republican Army, the outlawed paramilitary group committed to overthrowing Northern Ireland and its links with Britain.

An online search using the terms "Chris Mercer Torrance" turns up a whitepages.com entry for Chris Harper-Mercer, showing a cellphone number with a 310 area code and a land line number with a 541 area code, which covers most of Oregon.

It also listed an address for an apartment in Winchester, Oregon, which is about four miles north of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, where the shooting took place about 10:30 a.m.

A neighbor in Oregon, Bronte Harte, told The Associated Press that Mercer "seemed really unfriendly" and would "sit by himself in the dark in the balcony with this little light."

Harte said a woman she believed to be Mercer's mother also lived upstairs and was "crying her eyes out" Thursday.

The suspect was killed when police engaged him in a shootout, but it was unclear if he was fatally wounded by officers.

The shooting left seven other people wounded, according to authorities.

Authorities shed no light on his motive and said they were investigating.

Jorge Diaz, Kate Larsen and NBC4 Wire Services contributed to this report.

Water Restored After Main Break Causes Geyser in Hartford


A water main break shot water into the air on New Britain Avenue in Hartford on Thursday afternoon.

The intersection of New Britain and Newfield avenues in Hartford flooded right around 5 p.m., though vehicles were still getting by.

An NBC Connecticut crew at the scene reported that water gushed into the road for more than two hours and caused significant damage to the road before Metropolitan District crews could shut down service in the area.

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Crews were at the scene overnight and shutdown the 12-inch water main that was installed in 1907.

MDC officials said many of the water lines in this area are old and difficult to inspect because it requires tearing up the road to do so. Nine homes were affected by the shutdown, but water was restored as of 5:15 a.m. on Friday. 

Crews are in the process of excavating to inspect utilities. The work is expected to continue into this afternoon and it's not clear when the road will be fixed.

Residents in the area expressed frustration that the water wasn’t shut off more quickly.

“What about my basement? Do you care about my basement, my house?” said Hartford resident Adesh Singh, who had 3 inches of water pour into his basement.

MDC officials said they had to sequentially turn off valves to find the source of the leak and make repairs.

Major Hurricane Joaquin Track Shifts East


While the National Hurricane Center slowly adjusts the track of Hurricane Joaquin away from Connecticut, our First Alert meteorologists say the most likely scenario is that Joaquin will veer east, out to sea, and miss the United States by several hundred miles.

The storm has drifted quite a ways southwest over the past few days, so much so that it’s now likely to miss getting picked up by a trough of low pressure over the eastern United States. This is what would have made for a United States landfall.

Given such a changable forecast, it remains important to communicate all possibilities. Now, the less likely outcome is a New England or Mid-Atlantic landfall. First Alert meteorologists peg the hit potential at only 10 percent, while the miss potential is a whopping 90 percent and likely to grow.

Periods of rain are expected today in Connecticut, in association with a stalled front just offshore. A few showers are possible Saturday. Some sun is likely by Sunday!

The First Alert weather team will have the latest information online and on-air all week long.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.

Man Bites Trooper After Huffing Dust Cleaner: Police


A Somers man accused of biting a state trooper after huffing dust cleaner on Thursday night has been placed on mental health watch.

State police responded to a home on Lafayette Street in Somers at 10:39 p.m. on Thursday after receiving two 911 calls from a family member who said Daniel Roessier was throwing things in the house and smashed the phone when the family member tried to call 911.

Troopers responded and say the 25-year-old had been huffing Dust-Off, which is a dust cleaner, and got angry when his family member refused to bring him to the store to buy more chemicals to huff, according to a news release from state police.

When state police tried to take Roessier into control, he pushed a trooper, who was eventually able to get him into handcuffs.

Then, he allegedly bit a trooper’s hands and began spitting when police were putting him into the cruiser.

Roessier continued to act violently, police said, so troopers warned him to stop, then used pepper spray on him when he refused to comply, a news release from police says.

Roessier was charged with assault on police, interfering with an officer and resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, interfering with an emergency call and third-degree assault.

He was arraigned in Rockville Superior Court on Friday and is being held on $50,000 bond. He is due back in court later this month. He is due back in court later this month.

It’s not clear if he has an attorney.

Lockdown at Thomaston High Lifted


Thomaston High School was placed on lockdown on Friday after white powder was found in the art room, but the lockdown has been lifted.

Officials from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said they believe this is a "low credibility" incident and they have contained the powder. It is not likely to be cause for concern, according to DEEP.

If the tests are inconclusive, DEEP will send the material for the lab to be analyzed further. 

The school was on "shelter in place" mode, but that has been lifted.

Photo Credit: Newsworks

Explosion at Miami-Area High-Rise


Four people were injured  and more than 100 firefighters responded after an explosion on the top floor at a high-rise condo building in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, Friday.

The incident happened just before noon at the Chateau Beach Residences at 17475 Collins Avenue.

Multiple fire rescue units responded and several people were seen being treated for injuries outside the building.

One victim was airlifted to a nearby hospital from the scene by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Another three people were injured, and two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Two other people were trapped in an elevator but weren't injured, fire rescue officials said.

"There was no life-threatening injury, we had one victim that was a burn victim and the rest had injuries that were not life-threatening," Sunny Isles Beach Mayor Bud Scholl said.

Footage showed parts of the top of the building badly damaged and debris scattered across the roof and in a rooftop swimming pool.

Officials with the City of Sunny Isles Beach told NBC 6 there was a natural gas explosion in a boiler room which sent glass and debris out of the building. The debris fell on patrons at a hotel next door as well as beachgoers.

The building was under construction at the time and the only people inside were about 20 workers, officials said.

One of the workers said he heard two explosions.

"As we were getting out material, we heard the first explosion, then when I got in front of the elevator that's when the second explosion hit and the elevator dropped," Cleo Fleming said. "What was I thinking? I'm gonna die, anything like that, but it didn't happen."

Witnesses said they were stunned by what they saw.

"All of a sudden I heard this big explosion and you see a piece of concrete just come yanking down from the air," Aldo Mottolese said.

"Basically the wall cracked and you heard the big boom and everything just fell down," Leidy Garafalo said.

Collins Avenue was closed between 172nd Street and 178th Street as a result of the incident. Motorists were advised to avoid the area.

Fire rescue officials said the incident remains under investigation.

Check back with NBC 6 for updates.

Police Investigate Racially-Charged Letters Left on Police Officers’ Cars


Bridgeport Police Chief Joe Gaudett launched an Internal Affairs investigation earlier this week after racially charged letters were discovered on several officers’ cars.

An officer reported he found the letter on the windshield of his personal car in a police parking lot on Sunday morning. Officers searched the lot and found about 8 of the letters, including some on police vehicles.

A Connecticut State Police investigation into another racist letter discovered back in February is still ongoing and that is part of the reason Bridgeport Police Union President Charles Paris is so upset by this new one.

"It would be inviting to find out what the results were of the first letter, that would be helpful," Paris told NBC Connecticut.

The new letter ends with “Next to go: All members of the Bridgeport Guardians,” which is a reference to a minority officers’ organization.

"My reaction was the same as the first letter,” Paris said, “it is very disappointing. It is deplorable as far as we're concerned."

Just like the racist memo from February, this new one targeting African American police officers is typed on city letterhead and it includes the phrase coined by the Ku Klu Klan, “White Power.”

“I am disgusted that someone would make such a hateful statement and falsify my signature to the document,” Assistant Chief James Nardozzi said in a statement, responding to the use of his name on the memo.

The letter only hurts a force with its morale at an all-time low, Paris said.

"Our officers’ names have been spread across the country saying that we're a racist department, which is the farthest from the truth,” he said. “We need our names to be cleared."

“The Bridgeport Police Department has one of the most diverse police departments in the state,” Police Chief Gaudett said. “That diversity is a great strength for our department. Any allegation of racial discrimination that seeks to divide our police department or our community will not be tolerated. If the investigation turns up any wrongdoing, swift, fair, just and immediate action will be taken against those guilty of wrongdoing.”

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Truck Carrying Portable Toilets Rolls Over in Ledyard


A truck carrying porta potties rolled over in Ledyard on Friday afternoon and the driver has been transported to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

The trucked rolled over on Shewville Road around noon, snapped a utility pole, and the driver was trapped in the cab of the truck, according to the Ledyard Fire Department.

Emergency crews used the Jaws of Life to extricate the driver.

The road will be closed for a while, according to the Ledyard Fire Department, and crews from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have been called in because of the contents of the truck.

Photo Credit: necn

Police Investigate Bank Robbery in East Lyme


CorePlus Federal Credit Union in East Lyme was robbed on Friday morning.

The robbery at the 125 Boston Post Road branch was reported at 9:30 a.m., according to state police.

Employees told troopers a man walked up to a teller and demanded money.  He did not show a weapon, police said.

The suspect was about 5-feet 6-inches tall with a slim build.  He was wearing a dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt and tan pants.

After leaving the bank, the man jumped in a pickup truck and headed west on Boston Post Road, police said.

The credit union closed for the day.

Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call State Police at 860-465-5400.

Police Search for Teen Missing for Almost a Month


Police are asking for help to find an East Hartford teen who ran away from home nearly a month ago.

Sixteen-year-old Natasha Rivera has been missing since Sept. 3 and police think she could be in the Rockville section of Vernon or New Britain.

She is 5-feet-5, weighs 160 pounds, and her eyes and hair are brown.

East Hartford Police Department ask anyone with information on Natasha’s whereabouts to call the East Hartford Police Department at 860-528-4401.

Photo Credit: East Hartford Police

Undocumented Student Body President Urges School to Allow Him to Be Paid


Cal State Long Beach's student body president is also undocumented.

The elected role is a paid position, but not for Jose Salazar because of his immigration status.

Salazar spends a lot of time at CSULB's Dream Center, a resource center for the undocumented.

He also spends a lot of time in his office at the college as student body president.

"Even if you have the most odds against you, if you work hard enough you can achieve whatever you want," Salazar said.

Salazar is the first undocumented student to be elected into the role. While he didn't need a social security number to run for office, he needs one now to get paid for his position.

"It's been quite a challenge," Salazar said.

Salazar's tuition is waived, perks that come with the president position.

His undocumented status prevents him from receiving a $1,200 a month fellowship payment.

He is urging the school to change the policy because he said his livelihood depends on it.

"Now that school started it's very hard for me to make any form of income because of this job and I have school," he said. "I'm not going to use it myself. I'm going to use it to help out my family."

Salazar came to the United States when he was 8 years old. He's petitioned for deferred status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. But it could be several months before he gets an answer.

The school, meanwhile, is reaching out to lawmakers, encouraging them to push Salazar's petition through.

"He is working very hard in making sure he's successful in that role," said Jane Conoley, the CSULB president. "We don't want anything to be a distraction. We want him to graduate. We want him to get everything he can out of the leadership role that he's in."

Salazar knows not everyone agrees he should be treated equally. His journey did not come without controversy.

He knows a policy change may not come until well after he has graduated, but he said this campaign is not just for him.

"If no one wants to have the courage to stand up for a community, we're not going to make any type of progress," he said.

Photo Credit: KNBC

Donations to Bank’s Coin Machine Benefit Food Pantry


TD Bank is using its popular coin counter machine to do good for local charitable organizations throughout the East Coast, including here in Connecticut for the benefit of a local food pantry.

The bank's Middletown branch is teaming up with the Amazing Grace food pantry, hoping spare change from the neighborhood will turn into big bucks to help the community.

"If it’s a dollar or a can of soup, we’re willing to take it," Heather Scozzari, the branch's manager, said.

People who are feeling charitable can bring their spare change to the Middletown branch’s coin conversion machine, make a donation to the food pantry and the bank will match all donations, up to $2,000.

"We want to bring change to the community. We want to help with their financial freedom. We want to give back ways to help them," Scozarri said.

And the coins dropped into the machines at TD Bank is used to buy food that ends up on the shelves of the food pantry.

John Cappetta, a longtime Middletown resident and supporter of the food pantry, made a special stop by the bank to help out with the effort.

"When I heard of the program, I came right down. I save my coins for the food pantry anyway, so the idea of having it matched really meant a lot," he said.

TD Bank branches throughout the northeast will be hosting Bring Change days.

The Amazing Grace Food Pantry was chosen to be the recipient of the Middletown branches proceeds from a pool of nominees.

Black Women Kicked Off Napa Valley Wine Train File $11M Suit


The group of mostly black women who were booted off the popular Napa Valley Wine Train for laughing loudly filed a $11 million lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the Wine Train alleging racial discrimination.

Reverend Amos Brown and two other members of the NAACP joined the 11 women —, all members of a book club, as they announced their eight claims on the steps of the federal building in San Francisco. "This is an atrocity that should not have occurred," Brown said.

"It's horrible, it really is," plaintiff Lisa Carr said. "The things that have happened to us. People don't think that it's real. It's absolutely real. People have reached out. People have been nasty. It's uncalled for."

Debbie Reynolds, one of the women removed from the train, told reporters at the press conference the incident had affected her livelihood. "To top it all off, the people who I worked with believed those things, and I've lost my job, and I'm the primary breadwinner for my family," Reynolds said.

The women are being represented by high-profile attorney Waukeen McCoy whose expertise includes civil rights cases. McCoy had initially said the group would sue if negotiations for a settlement with the Wine Train failed.

"The actions taken by the wine train were egregious," McCoy said, "This lawsuit highlights that blacks are still being treated differently in America."

The Napa Valley Wine Train — which was caught in the middle of a public relations nightmare after the incident was much-publicized on social media — was sold last month.

The family of Vincent Michael DeDomenico, the wine train’s founder, sold the train to Noble House Hotels & Resorts, a collection of luxury hotels and resorts that entered into a partnership with California-based real estate development and investment company Brooks Street for the purchase.

Wine Train spokesperson Sam Singer released a statement Thursday saying they had hired former FBI agent Rick Smith as an investigator to examine the incident.

“The Napa Valley Wine Train takes the allegations of discrimination very seriously. We are conducting our own investigation into the matter,” Singer’s statement said. “After the investigation has been conducted we will have the appropriate response to the complaint that has been filed seeking $11 million in damages."

The Wine Train’s CEO, Tony Giaccio, personally apologized to the women after their less than pleasant experience aboard the train, which one of them documented on Facebook through videos that went viral. It also prompted the #LaughingWhileBlack hashtag. Giaccio offered the women a chance to be his guests on the train along with their friends and family and promised more diversity training for his staff.

The apology didn’t help, with many saying they would boycott the train for what they claimed was racist behavior. The Wine Train's Facebook page continues to receive criticism from visitors.

The backlash resulted in the creation of a Napa Valley Soul train, which plans to offer rides to Latino and black-owned vineyards in the fall.

We are standing in the dirt and the train is leaving...

Posted by Lisa Renee Johnson on Saturday, August 22, 2015

Photo Credit: Lisa Renee Johnson

4.6 Million Customers Exposed in Scottrade Brokerage Hack


Online discount broker Scottrade said Friday believes it was the victim of a data breach from late 2013 to early 2014 that targeted client names and addresses, NBC News reported.

The company is notifying an estimated 4.6 million clients whose information was stored on a compromised database, Scottrade said in a message on its website.

"Although Social Security numbers, email addresses and other sensitive data were contained in the system accessed, it appears that contact information was the focus of the incident," the company said. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Santa Claus Runs for City Council in North Pole


Santa Claus is coming to town — council. 

Unlike the original Kris Kringle, this Claus notes in all capital letters on his Facebook page, "Please do not send me requests for presents."

Instead, as the North Pole Clerk's office announced on Thursday, Claus is running for election to North Pole's city council. The former local chamber of commerce president is running for one of two open seats for city council, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Due to his late filing, voters will need to write in his name to cast their votes.

Claus, however, isn't worried that people won't remember his name at the ballot.

"Pretty easy to remember and pretty easy to spell," Claus said on Friday. "Even if they spell it C-L-A-U-S-E, I asked the city council and they said they'd still count it."

Thomas O'Connor legally changed his name in 2005 while living in Washoe County, Nevada. He decided that the unconventional name would help his work in child advocacy. He moved to North Pole, Alaska, shortly after changing his name.

The name change is a "useful tool" for his volunteer work in order to get media outlets to pay attention to his actions, he said. 

"It helps me persuade state and federal legislators to support, draft, co-sponsor and pass legislation related to child abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment, homelessness and institutionalization," Claus said.

North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward remarked that he doesn't know Claus well since he only moved to the community a few years ago. He's pleased, however, that Claus running for council.

"We found out about his candidacy yesterday," Ward said. "Filing actually opened back in August. We've had a bit of a drought as far as candidates this year, so I'm definitely excited to see someone run for council."

Ward added that he "definitely does have a unique name. That's for sure." 

The current president of the North Pole chamber of commerce did not immediately return calls for comment about his predecessor.  

Photo Credit: Santa Claus

President: Russian Action in Syria Could Make 'Quagmire'


President Barack Obama sharply criticized Russia's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime on Friday saying Moscow's actions could result in a "quagmire" in the region.

"What started off as peaceful protests against Assad...evolved into civil war because Assad met those protests with unimaginable brutality," Obama said. "The reason Assad is still in power is because Russia and Iran have supported him in that process. They have been propping a regime that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of the population."

Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin's icy relationship took on an even chillier tone this week amid a perception that Moscow is seizing on a perceived American vulnerability in addressing the Syrian conflict and making a power play in the war-torn region. 

Photo Credit: AP

Professor Raps for Students


Last month, Aaron Smith noticed his students were in a slump, so the college professor decided to try a few rhymes to wake them up.

A professor of African American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Smith rapped to the tune of Big Sean’s “One Man Can Change the World,” but changed the lyrics to express experiences that the students were going through, with a special spin: "Owls Were Meant to Soar."

Owls are the university's mascot. 

Smith, who also goes by "Ben", posted the video on his Facebook page.

“I just wanted them to know that people have been down the same roads as them, and we know it’s not always easy,” Smith told NBC10.

Since he rapped that day in class, Smith said that students have come to his office hours increasingly more to talk about life and their coursework.

“I’m not just another teacher,” Smith said he’s been rapping since he was 18, and had planned to pursue a career in the music industry until he took a class at Temple with Molefi Kete Asante, professor and chair of the African American Studies department, that changed his life forever.

Smith said Asante always had a positive, optimistic message for his students, which inspired Smith to become a teacher and do the same.

“I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do."

Photo Credit: Aaron Smith

Rizzuto’s to Open Tonight After Kitchen Fire


Firefighters responded to Blue Back Square in West Hartford on Friday morning after a small kitchen fire at Rizzuto’s.

The health department also responded to the restaurant at 111 Memorial Road to see if the restaurant can open and staff members said the restaurant will be open for happy hour and dinner.

Apartments above the restaurant were evacuated, but everyone is back in now.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Police Arrest Man After Finding Pipe Bombs in Milford Home


Police have arrested a Milford man accused of making pipe bombs after a family member found them in the basement of his Milford home.

Police took custody of Jason Bayard, 39, of 67 Victory Drive in Milford, on Thursday after an investigation that started on Aug. 22, when one of Bayard’s family members called police about what appeared to be homemade pipe bombs in the basement.

One police determined they were improvised explosive devices, they called the State Police Bomb Unit, who removed them, took them to a safe blast site and detonated then.

Bayard bought the items used to make the bombs at stores and admitted to experimenting with them, according to a news release from police.

He was charged with manufacturing of bombs, illegal possession of explosives and illegal storage of explosives.

He was unable to post the $75,000 bond and was held in custody.

It’s not clear if he has an attorney.

Photo Credit: Milford Police
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