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Police Search for Witnesses of Willimantic Crash


Police are looking for anyone that witnessed a crash in Willimantic on St. Patrick's Day. 

Two cars crashed at the intersection of Prospect Street and Birch Street. One woman was transported to Hartford Hospital with serious injuries, police said. 

Prospect Street is shut down for investigation.

Police are asking that anyone that may have witnessed the crash to please contact Corporal Parizo at the Willimantic Police Department.

Captured American Says Time With ISIS Was Bad Decision


An American described as an ISIS defector says he made a "bad decision" to follow a young woman to Iraq, and left ISIS because he doesn’t share the group’s views, NBC News reported.

The man, identified by Kurdistan 24 television as Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, said in a heavily edited interview that he doesn’t see ISIS as “good Muslims.”

American-born Khweis said he left for Europe in December and wound up in Turkey where he met an Iraqi girl, with whom he traveled to Mosul. During the interview, Khweis said he was taught sharia and religion from an imam, but later escaped. Despite being described as an ISIS fighter, he made no mention of combat activities.

It is unclear if he will be returned to the U.S. or prosecuted. His uncle, Kamal Khweis, told NBC News he is anxious to have him back on American soil.  

Photo Credit: via Voice of America
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Escaped New Mexico Prisoner's Sister Charged


The sister of an escaped convicted murderer in New Mexico was charged Thursday with helping her brother, state police said.

Olivia Cruz, 38, sister of convicted killer Joseph Cruz, is charged with assisting escape, state police said. She was already being held on unrelated warrants, NBC News reported.

Police said she made contact with Cruz after he and another inmate, Lionel Clah, escaped from a prison van on March 9, and that she tried to find them a place to stay in Albuquerque.

Cruz was recaptured in Albuquerque on Friday, while Clah surrendered to police on Saturday. Two other women were arrested Wednesday in connection with the escape.  

Photo Credit: New Mexico State Police

More Than 800 Rape Kits in CT Were Never Tested: Report


There are 879 sexual assault evidence kits or "rape kits" that sat in police departments across Connecticut for years.

In some cases, evidence kits weren't tested for as many as 20 years.

That's according a to a report issued by the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

The data was compiled through a survey of police departments around Connecticut.

“Eight hundred seventy nine untested kits represents 879 victims that are waiting for justice," said Laura Cordes, the Executive Director of the organization.

So far, 650 of them have been sent to the State Crime Lab in Meriden for testing.

The lab cleared a historic backlog last year, and with the addition of these, it creates a new sort of issue says Dr. Guy Vallero, the chief of the lab.

"We're going to figure out a way to address these as soon as possible," he said. One possible solution is to outsource the tests to labs in other states.

Nearly 40 percent of the untested rape kits were more than five years old, with some as old as twenty years.

Cordes says the reasons departments didn't have the kits varied. They included not having faith in a backlogged crime lab, and not grasping the importance of the mere existence of the kit.

She said coming forward is a major step for victims.

“Not only disclosing a sexual assault but having evidence collected and reporting to the police and they deserve to make sure that evidence is used in the successful prosecution, hopefully, of an offender.”

Cordes is the leader of a working group established by Gov. Malloy to look at possible policy changes relating to sexual assault. The state instituted a new law last year that requires local police to send a sexual assault evidence kit to the state crime lab within ten days of collection, and the lab then has 60 days to process it.

“We’re taking some great steps in our state to improve the response to sexual assault," Cordes said.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Mental Health Services Hit By Budget Cuts


One of the most significant cuts announced by Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration this week was to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The reduction, totaling $7 million, will affect the services provided by non-profit providers around Connecticut.

Mental Health Connecticut helps with outpatient and residential programs for about 4,000 patients statewide.

Luis Perez, the group's CEO, said lawmakers and the general public need to grasp the significance of such a reduction.

“Individuals and families who have had access to the system will not be able to access the healthcare that they need and it’s really a healthcare issue here," Perez said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy said Thursday he doesn't want to make cuts to social service programs, but the design of the budget leaves him no choice.

“Let’s put it this way, that’s the only portion of the budget that they let me make rescissions in," Malloy said.

"So I have said to both Republicans and Democrats expand my rescissionary authority and I’ll get it done.”

Malloy described the cuts as "tough" and not being done with a "butcher knife" but more carefully.

Overall, the administration announced $65 million in reductions with a request for $13 million more from the legislative and judicial branches.

Sen. Rob Kane, the ranking Republican on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said the governor's wish for more budget cutting authority is one he wouldn't relinquish.

The GOP unveiled its budget cutting plan this week that didn't include cuts to social services. Sen. Kane, (R - Watertown), said both the governor and Democrats could take from the Republican playbook.

“Our package did not do that. We believe in saving the safety net and those most vulnerable," said Kane.

Perez with Mental Health Connecticut said the cuts, "do not reflect the commitment of the Malloy administration" to mental health.

He said Malloy has been a staunch advocate for those programs.

Perez said of the overall budget situation, "I don’t envy any of their positions quite frankly.”

Photo Credit: AP

Bear Spotted on Porch in Watertown


A presumably hungry bear was spotted on a couple's porch in Watertown. 

A little after 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Sam Therault called police to inform them about a bear poking around on his porch. 

Therault told NBC Connecticut that he had seen the bear a week before in his yard on Linkfield Road and that it had destroyed his gate and bird feeder. 

Despite Therault and his finace, Kelly Gillis, moving the bird feeder at night after the first encounter, the bear came back. Therault said the couple's dogs were barking and scared the large animal away. 

According to the couple, the bear climbed over the home's gate and climbed up 15 stairs to the porch. 

Just last week, two miles away from the couple's home, a black bear got into a barn and killed two of three pet goats in Watertown.

The state said a trap had been set for the bear and once caught it will be euthanized. 

Photo Credit: Kelly Gillis

Famous Musician's 2 Kids Found Dead


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Two children were killed and their mother stabbed in a bizarre crime involving the family of an internationally known pianist Thursday in Benbrook, Texas.

Someone who went to the house to check on the family on the 6600 block of Waterwood Trail called 911 at about 9:30 a.m., according to Benbrook Police Cmdr. David Babcock.

Officers found the mother — identified by neighbors as 31-year-old Sofia Tsygankova — stabbed but still alive. Her two daughters, identified by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner as 5-year-old Nika Kholodenko and 1-year-old Michela Kholodenko, were both dead. The children's father is internationally-known pianist Vadym Kholodenko.

According to the medical examiner, the children were both found in bed. Unlike their mother, police said, they had no visible injuries.

"The manner of death has not been determined at this time, but they were not stabbed," Babcock said. "Until we speak to the mother, it's too early in this investigation to establish any suspects or motives at this point," Babcock said.

Tsygankova was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she underwent surgery. Her condition is not known.

Court records obtained by NBC 5 show Kholodenko filed for divorce from Tsygankova in November. Kholodenko's attorney wrote that the couple married in 2010 and stopped living together as a couple last August. Tsygankova filed a counter-suit, records show, asking for attorney fees.

Neighbors said they didn't know anything about the divorce but added that Tsygankova seemed like a good mother who loved her children and frequently jumped with them on a trampoline in their back yard.

"She played outside with them," said Messer. "If they were on the trampoline, she was on the trampoline."

Inside the family's garage Thursday, a suitcase on the floor and a balloon that said "I love you," provided few clues about what happened inside the house.

In 2013, Kholodenko became the first winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, which was held following the death of acclaimed American pianist Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn Jr., according to Kholodenko's biography.

Kholodenko was scheduled to perform three shows with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

A statement issued late Thursday by the symphony said, "We are currently formulating our plan for this weekend's concerts in light of the developing situation and plan to release a statement in the morning."

NBC has reached out to Khodolenko's media spokesperson and divorce attorney for comment.

Babcock said a suspect has not been determined, and there were no signs of forced entry at the home.

"It's very disturbing," said Terri Messer, who lives on the other side of the family's rented duplex. "I wouldn't have expected anything like this."

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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DNA Study Points to Prehistoric Sex With Neanderthals


A new study found that ancient Eurasia was a hotbed of prehistoric sex between Neanderthals and ancestors of modern humans, NBC News reported.

And the genes of these ancient Neanderthals and Denisovans live on today in modern Europeans, Asians and in the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea and other Australasian islands.

The study, published in the journal Science, helps confirm earlier theories that human ancestors didn't interbreed with other hominin species until after they left Africa. There's barely a trace of Neanderthal in Africans living today.

But once they started moving across Europe and Asia, they not only lived side by side, they had a few run-ins.

Photo Credit: AP

Weekend Nor'easter Growing Likely


First Alert forecasters are concerned about a weekend Nor'easter.

A cold front comes through today, yielding mostly cloudy skies and rain showers. A few snowflakes are possible, especially later in the day as temperatures tumble. 

Highs will only be near 50, a marked change from previous days.

Saturday looks absolutely brilliant. Complete sunshine is expected, though it will be cool – highs only in the lower 40s.

Sunday will be cloudy and dry in the morning as temperature rise into the upper 30s and a major nor'easter will threaten come afternoon.

Three outcomes are possible.

One features a major hit with a mix, one features a major hit with snow and the final possibility would be a glancing blow with little to nothing.

One of the major hit outcomes is likely – yielding either a mix or snow.

The unlikely outcome at this point is the out-to-sea track.

This storm has the potential to deliver 6 to 12 inches in the heaviest band of snow, wherever that sets up.

Ironically, the first day of spring is Sunday!

If you have not yet signed up for school closing and delay alerts, you can do it here.

Stay with the First Alert Weather Team as the storm comes into better focus.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut
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Suspicious Powder Sent to Trump Son


The son of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump was sent an envelope containing a suspicious powder and a threatening note, authorities and law enforcement sources told NBC 4 York.

Eric Trump’s security team called the NYPD at 7:15 p.m. after a suspicious envelope containing white powder was sent to his apartment at 100 Central Park South, according to police.

Sources told NBC 4 New York that the envelope was postmarked in Boston on March 7 and that the powder inside wasn't toxic. 

The sources said that a note in the envelope referenced that the powder wasn't toxic but threatened the younger Trump that a subsequent envelope would contain hazardous materials if Donald Trump didn't drop out of the presidential race.

The letter was removed from the 32-year-old's home and taken to a lab for additional testing. 

The 32-year-old son of the billionaire businessman has been seen on the campaign trail in recent days stumping for his father. He is Trump’s third child.

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is working with the NYPD, Secret Service and U.S. Postal Inspectors to determine who sent the letter, a spokeswoman for the FBI said. 

-- Andrew Siff and Joe Valiquette contributed to this report

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York/Associated Press

More Free Chipotle Burritos


Chipotle is still fighting to get its customers back.

The burrito chain, which announced earlier this week its first-ever quarterly loss, is trying to make a comeback from the E.Coli outbreak last fall. Although the virus only hit a few dozen stores, the result of lost customers hit nationwide.

To aid its revival, Chipotle tested out a free burrito promotional strategy in February. Turns out people like anything labeled free, so the company has decided to extend the promotion.

Chipotle announced Wednesday its second effort to bring customers back with a plan to send out 21 million direct-mail free burritos vouchers, according to Eater. The coupon for free food will be good until May 15 and consumers should receive them in the next coming weeks.

“Free burritos – turns out it works. It brings people into the restaurants,” Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung in an industry conference Wednesday, according to the report.

In the first promotional try in February, about 5.3 million people reportedly downloaded the coupons and around 2.5 million redeemed them. Although sales still declined, the number of sales and transactions were up in relation to January.

The purpose of the promotion is more focused on getting customers back into the outlets and into the routine of eating at Chipotle, rather than increasing revenue, officials said.

If the first two promotional attempts do not work as well as planned, Chipotle will still continue with the strategy to see the return of customers, the company said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Crash on I-84 West in Cheshire Caused Delays

Syria Is 'Better Than This Place,' Refugee Camp Mom Says


A refugee mom said her children are begging to return to war-torn Syria rather than endure conditions in a squalid camp in a small Greek village, NBC News reported. 

Fatima Ahmad and her family trekked through Turkey and Greece, ending in the disease-ridden Idomeni camp that has sprung up next to the closed border crossing with Macedonia.

The mother-of-five is trying to reunite with her 13-year-old son, Iham, who is already in Frankfurt, Germany.

Fatima's daughter Arwa, 9, last week became the camp's first confirmed case of Hepatitis A.

"Help me, please … take me out of this place," she said. Syria is "better than this place." 

More than one million migrants and refugees flowed into Europe in 2015 — and already 153,500 have arrived by sea this year.

Photo Credit: NBC News

Police Hold Training to Handle Children With Autism


Around half of children who have autism wander from home at some point, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the Cheshire Police Department is training today on how to respond to reports of this happening in town.

Liz Linehan, a Cheshire town counselor, organized the training and said Autism Speaks created a program for the town to help officers learn to help children with special needs.

“We’re excited to have someone from Autism Speaks create a program for us to help officers learn to effectively help these special needs children when they wander, and that includes a sensory experience, knowing how to approach them so that they don’t get spooked and run away,” she said.

The training, which began at 7 a.m., is the first part of a three-part program and officers learned about autism spectrum disorder and the sensory overloads children encounter.

Trainers said children often wander to water, so it's important to check pools or other bodies of water and children with autism deal with sounds, such as sirens, differently from other children.

William Gibbons said his 15-year-old son Logan has autism and has wandered.

"Every time it's different. Every time, he heads a different direction and we just pray to God that the police are able to do what they do," said William Gibbons, whose 15-year-old son Logan has autism.

Other towns have responded to the types of calls Cheshire police are training to handle.

In Norwich a 10-year-old boy who is autistic disappeared twice and there was another case in Southington.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Tiny Eaglet Hatches in DC


D.C. is now home to a tiny new bald eaglet, with one more on the way.

The eaglet broke halfway through its shell Friday morning, the American Eagle Foundation said. 

"A lot of grey downy feathers now visible, so it musy be making a lot of progress," the American Eagle Foundation wrote on its Facebook page

The eaglet continued to wiggle out its shell and completely emerged just before 8:30 a.m. Minutes before, one of its parents — known at the National Arboretum as "Mr. President" and "The First Lady" — brought a live fish to the nest.

The pair of eagles at the National Arboretum have spent weeks watching over their two eggs. On Friday, the first of the eggs entered the final stages of hatching. The second egg is expected to hatch in the coming days.

The eaglet emerged two days after the American Eagle Foundation announced the beginning of a "pip" — the small hole the eaglet makes as it tries to break through its shell.

The "pip in progress" was first spotted on the eagle cam at 7:39 p.m. Wednesday, the American Eagle Foundation said. After that point, it generally takes up to 24 hours for the eaglet to emerge from its shell.  

The eagles are the first pair to nest in the area in nearly 70 years. The pair built its nest in a tulip poplar tree in 2014 and raised one eaglet there last year, according to the American Eagle Foundation.

This year, two eggs were laid in the nest. The first egg arrived Feb. 10, and a second egg followed on Valentine's Day, according to the foundation.

Bald eagle eggs typically hatch 35 days after being laid. 

Watch the National Arboretum's live "eagle cam" here.

Photo Credit: American Eagle Foundation
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Loaded Gun Discovered at New Haven Magnet School


A student at Riverside Education Academy in New Haven was arrested on Wednesday and charged with bringing a loaded revolver to school.

An alert security guard noticed something poking out of a student’s jacket and confiscated a loaded .357 Ruger revolver.

“You never know what his intentions were or what his plans were with that gun, so thank God for him being able to see it,” Sheree Hunter, a parent, said.

The student is a juvenile and not being identified and police said the student was removed soon after the gun was discovered and is now facing serious charges.

New Haven Supt. Garth Harries said he could not comment on the situation because it is a police matter.

City officials said this is believed to be an isolated incident and the investigation is ongoing.

Riverside Education Academy is a magnet school for ninth through 12 grades on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard in New Haven.

A sign on the door of the school says metal detectors are used on the campus and anyone who enters is subject to a search.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Ill. Candidate Attacked


The daughter of Illinois state Rep. Cynthia Soto has been charged in connection with the brutal beating of her mother's former challenger.

The candidate, Bob Zwolinski, has said he was attacked by two of Soto's campaign volunteers at his campaign headquarters in Chicago earlier this month.

Jessica Soto and Bradley Fichter, both 26, each face three felony counts of aggravated battery after Zwolinski was attacked in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, police announced Friday. Fichter also faces a felony charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report.

The charges come 11 days after a bruised and bloodied Zwolinski told NBC 5 he was kicked, choked, hit with a beer bottle and even stapled in the head by his then-opponent’s campaign volunteers.

Zwolinski sought to unseat Cynthia Soto in the race for the 4th District Illinois House seat and lost Tuesday's primary election to the 16-year incumbent.

Zwolinski said he was attacked after pulling up to his offices on the 800 block of North Ashland Avenue shortly before 9 p.m. March 7. He saw Jessica Soto and Fichter stapling posters to the building he had rented and asked the two to stop, which is when the conversation took a violent turn, according to Zwolinski.

“I thought it may have been a relative of [Cynthia Soto's] just because of the passion,” Zwolinksi said Friday of the woman later identified as Jessica Soto.

Attorney Frank Avila, who represents both Jessica Soto and Fitcher, told NBC 5 Friday he was "shocked" by the charges. He said Jessica Soto "was not involved in the altercation" and that Fitcher was there with another volunteer at the time of the fight.

"There are a lot of inconsistencies with Mr. Zwolinski's story," Avila said.

After the attack, Zwolinksi told police the woman involved had jumped on his back and a staple was planted in his head.

"How does he know it was her?" Avila asked. "He says she jumped on his back and then he fell to the ground."

Avila believes Zwolinksi wrongly identified Jessica Soto in a lineup.

Both sides filed police reports pointing fingers at the other. Chicago police investigated the incident before taking Soto and Fichter into custody Wednesday. Formal charges were filed Friday morning.

Both Jessica Soto and Fichter are scheduled to appear in bond court Friday.

Photo Credit: Chicago Police / Bob Zwolinski
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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: I've Never Blocked Anyone


Twitter founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey insists his social media platform does not censor user content, despite suspicion suggesting otherwise.

"Absolutely not," he told Today's Matt Lauer during an interview Friday. "Twitter has always been about controls. People can follow whoever they want, and it's our job to make sure they see the most important things."

Despite complaints and getting "some nastiness every now and then" from Internet trolls, Dorsey said he has never blocked anyone on the account.

"I really want to see what people are saying and I want to hear from them."

Photo Credit: Today
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'World War III': Insiders Speak on Contested Convention


If Donald Trump falls short of a majority of delegates and Republicans face a contested convention this summer, a small group of party insiders will have huge sway over who gets the nomination, NBC News reported.

The RNC Rules Committee decides party regulations and writes the first draft of convention rules, which are finalized by a convention rules committee and submitted to a floor vote. They could, theoretically for example, pass a rule allowing only Trump to run in Cleveland, or a rule enabling new candidates to challenge him.

Interviews with more than a third of the 56 members of the RNC Rules Committee show that most think a contested convention is legitimate when no candidate has a delegate majority, but they disagree about whether there is a concerted effort to use this year's convention to stop Trump. 

"Change the rules drastically you will have a problem," said one insider. "You want to have World War III and destroy the party?"

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Police Shoot Dog During Raid in Hartford

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