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2 Charged with Murder of Hadiya Pendleton


Two men have been charged in connection with the fatal shooting of a Chicago teen whose death has captured headlines nationwide, Chicago police announced Monday.

Michaeil Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were both charged with first-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old honors student Hadiya Pendleton, gunned down two weeks ago just after she performed at President Barack Obama's inauguration.

They also were each charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery and discharge of a firearm.

Pendleton's mother Cleopatra Crowley told NBC News on Monday night that she was "ecstatic" that her daughter's accused killers had been charged.

"Look at what they've done to me and my family. We put so much work into raising my daughter. We had hopes. My son no longer has a big sister. They deserve to feel something that is remotely comparable," Cowley told NBC News. "But my daughter is dead, and even if they are rotting in jail, they will still be alive."

Ward confessed to shooting Pendleton in what he told police was intended to target a rival gang in retaliation for a July shooting in which Williams had been shot, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told reporters Monday night.

"The offenders had it all wrong," said McCarthy. "They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang. Instead, it was a group of upstanding and determined kids, who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang lifestyle."

McCarthy credited affirmative police work, not tips, with the arrests.

On Saturday night, police apprehended Ward and Williams as they arrived at a strip club to celebrate a friend’s birthday, on the same day as Pendleton’s funeral, police said. Ward did not resist, while Williams tried unsuccessfully to flee.

Before the fatal shooting, Ward had been stopped by police in a traffic stop, according to police. He had been in the same car that was later linked to Pendleton's killing.

At the Monday night news conference, McCarthy expressed sad frustration that Pendleton's death could have been prevented if the state had mandatory minimum sentencing for gun violations. Ward, explained McCarthy, was arrested in 2011 and charged with unlawful use of a firearm. He was sentenced to two years probation.

"When we talk about mandatory minimums, we're talking about saving lives," he said.

Earlier Monday, White House aides told NBC News that First Lady Michelle Obama had invited Cowley, Hadiya Pendleton's mother, to be her guest at Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Cowley will attend the speech after she and her husband make an appearance at Sen. Dick Durbin's Washington, D.C., hearing Tuesday on gun safety.

The first lady traveled to Chicago Saturday to attend Pendleton's funeral. She reportedly met privately with family before services began, offering encouragement and telling them to "hang on" and "stay strong."

Pendleton was killed two weeks ago in a park on her city's South Side, days after she performed at some of President Obama's recent inauguration festivities. She was shot to death blocks from her school and about a mile from the president's and first lady's Chicago home.

The White House announced Sunday President Barack Obama will visit Chicago on Friday to talk about gun violence and the economy. He reportedly sent a letter to the girl's family saying that he would work as hard as possible to "end this senseless violence."

State of the Union: 5 Speeches to Remember


When President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address in 2009, unemployment was reaching a 25-year high, and the Dow was headed for a 12-year low. He said, the "state of our union is a concern that rises above all others."

Tuesday night, Obama will likely include a similar sentence: "The state of our Union is..." That simple, unequivocal structure, which has been used by almost every president since Lyndon Johnson, is now a standard soundbite that everyone anticipates.

But each State of the Union is unique. Some are remembered for their words, some for their staging and some for their historical impact. And some are remembered much more than others.

Here are the five most noteworthy State of the Union addresses in the last 50 years, according to Gerhard Peters, co-director of The American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Lyndon Johnson in 1965: His 1964 speech might be the most noteworthy for policy reasons, because that's when he declared War on Poverty. But his '65 State of the Union was noteworthy for the time: It was the first delivered during prime time. This was the next step in a series of changes over a period of 42 years that helped make the State of the Union a major event: Calvin Coolidge's 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on the radio, and Harry Truman's in in 1947 was the first televised. By moving the speech to prime time, LBJ transformed it from a political event to a conversation directly with the American people. He recognized that if he did it at prime time, television would be pre-empted, and he could just speak to the entire nation at once.

Richard Nixon in 1974: This was really his last big attempt to persuade the American people that Watergate wasn't a big deal. It didn't work. Nixon also failed the aesthetics test: He just didn't look good. He was sweaty, especially on his upper lip. He looked uncomfortable, he acted uncomfortable and the applause was tepid. It was just awkward.

Ronald Reagan in 1982: The nation met Lenny Skutnick, and presidents have been introducing us to new Lenny Skutnicks ever since. In fact, "Lenny Skutnick" has become a tradition that every president has followed in almost every State of the Union since. That's when the president acknowledges somebody sitting in the gallery. It's usually some sort of hero or inspirational figure. Clinton had Rosa Parks, Sammy Sosa, Hank Aaron. Skutnick worked for the federal government and jumped into the Potomac River after a plane crash to save lives. Reagan acknowledged him as the quintessential exemplar of American spirit.

George W. Bush in 2002 and 2003: In 2002, George W. Bush introduced us to the Axis of Evil — Iran, Iraq and North Korea. In 2003, Bush used the State of the Union to persuade the country to go to war with Iraq, pointing to the Yellow Cake uranium in Africa.

Bush was not known as a great orator. On the contrary, he was attacked relentlessly throughout his presidency for his verbal missteps. So it's somewhat ironic that when asked who he thinks made the best use of the State of the Union, Peters points to the man who led us into war in Iraq.

"Generically, if you need to start a war in a democracy, you need to get the people on your side,"  Peters said. "If I were president and I wanted to launch a just war, setting aside whether the Iraq war was a just war, I might follow a similar path that Bush did — I might check my facts first…"

Word cloud of every State of the Union from JFK to Obama made with WordItOut

New Haven Police Set Checkpoints to Deter Travel


New Haven city workers are trying to clear snow from city streets after a record 34 inches fell between Friday and Saturday and local police are setting up check points to discourage non-essential travel in the city.

There is a travel advisory in effect and police said they have set up four entry points to New Haven to prevent impediments to intensive snow removal efforts, police said.

"Staying home will let us do our job better," Police Chief Dean Esserman said during a news conference on Monday morning. "We need people to stay home. There is no public parking downtown and the roads are bad." 

Mayor John DeStefano said over the weekend that it could be at least a couple of days until side streets are reached.

Esserman said he wanted to thank New Haveners for their response to the massive storm. 

Residents have been staying home, helping each other and even helped push a few police cars that were stuck.

This has allowed police to do their jobs, drive doctors and nurses to work, bring dialysis patients to appointments and help other emergency departments do their job as well. 

"We've been helping old ladies get home. We've been making gun arrests," Esserman said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the city’s department of public works had 40 trucks out plowing, as well as 15 payloaders.

A statement from the city said the main arterial roads are passable and crews were working on making secondary streets passable.

The National Guard joined New Haven's storm clean-up efforts around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday and even one of their Humvees got stuck, according to the mayor. We have to use payloaders to clear the streets enough that the plows can get by.

A statement from the mayor’s office on Sunday warned that cars that are parked and obstructing street passage will be tagged and towed.

If your car is one of them, you can call the city’s tow clerk at 203-946-6316.

For the latest storm update, you can call 203-946-SNOW (7669.)

Photo Credit: Audrey Washington, NBC Connecticut

I-91 Reopening From Windsor to Mass.


State police closed around 14 miles of Interstate 91, from exit 40 in Windsor to the Massachusetts state line, because of icing on Monday morning, according to state police, but parts of the road have reopened.

Freezing rain is falling as the state is digging out from the Blizzard of 2013, which dumped around 3 feet of snow in some areas of the state.

Freezing rain advisories were in effect until 11 a.m. in Middlesex, New Haven, New London and Fairfield counties.

Gov. Dannel Malloy issued a travel advisory during the blizzard. It was lifted as of 4 p.m. on Saturday, but the governor decided to close several state offices on Monday and asked employers to allow employees to work from home if they had a policy to do so.

No additional information was immediately available.

Photo Credit: Connecticut DOT

2 in Critical Condition After Being Hit in Milford


Two people are in critical condition after being hit by a motor vehicle on Bridgeport Avenue near Cowles Street at 11:19 a.m. on Monday.

Police said they preliminary investigation indicates that a family of four was walking along the shoulder of the roadway before the crash. Police said they were hit be a passenger vehicle, not a plow.

One pedestrian suffered minor injuries and the other was not injured.

Bridgeport Avenue was closed during the police investigation.

Police said they do not believe that the sidewalks have yet been cleared. Police recommend that pedestrians avoid walking along roadways due to the inclement weather conditions.

If necessary, pedestrians should walk against the direction of traffic so they can see oncoming traffic and stay close to the edge of the roadway.

Milford police are asking anyone with information regarding the accident to contact (203) 783-4749 or email at dsharoh@ci.milford.ct.us.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Plow Causes Power Outage in Manchester


A plow struck a utility pole in Manchester Monday, knocking out power to part of Buckland Hills Mall and the surrounding area.

Connecticut Light & Power had to shut off power while they investigated the damage and made repairs, according to a company spokesperson. The outage affected about 2,000 customers.

The mall remained open during the outage.

Photo Credit: AP

UConn Basketball Player Suspended


Enosch Wolf, a junior center, on the UConn men’s basketball team has been suspended after university police arrested him during an incident on campus on Monday morning.

Police said the player, from Goettingen, Germany, is suspended indefinitely, pending the completion of the legal process and a university review process.

According to a police report, UConn police were called to the Laflesche Building to investigate a domestic dispute just before 6 a.m. Monday.  Laflesche is a student housing building that is part of the Hilltop Apartments. 

Officers found that Wolf, 22,  had been involved in a physical altercation with a female resident of the building, according to the police report.  Wolf refused to leave the apartment, grabbed the hair of the victim and pushed her head, the report stated.

A tweet from Wolf to a female UConn student at 2:55 a.m. Monday said "Let me in :)".  The tweet has since been removed from Wolf's Twitter account.  Police did not release the name of the victim and it was not clear if the student Wolf tweeted was the same woman involved in the incident.

Wolf was charged with third-degree burglary, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.

UConn released the following statement.

“We are aware of the situation concerning Enosch and we are taking the matter very seriously,” UConn head basketball coach Kevin Ollie said. “He has been suspended from the team indefinitely, until the legal and university process is finalized.

“I have spoken to the players on the team previously, and will continue to speak with them, about their conduct both on and off the basketball court. We have high expectations of our student-athletes at UConn, and I expect my players to live up to those standards.”

The university will have no further comment on the matter at this time.

Photo Credit: AP/UConn Police

American Pope Unlikely, Experts Say


American influence on the Papal Conclave that will elect the next pontiff has never been stronger. But the odds of an American becoming pope remain distant at best, Vatican scholars and journalists say.

That's in large part because the United States, with more Catholics than any European country, is already seen as having too strong a hand in global politics and economic matters. So why give us the papacy, too?

"America was a missionary country up to the beginning of the 20th Century, and we like to think of ourselves as the center of the world, but Rome doesn't," said Charles Hilken, a St. Mary's College of California history professor who specializes in papal elections.

Last year, Pope Benedict XVI named three new American cardinals, bringing the country's total to 19, 11 of whom are younger than 80 and thus qualified to vote in the papal election. That's nearly 10 percent of the conclave.

Only Italy, home of the Vatican, has more eligible voters, with 28.

Of the American dark horses, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has the best chance to succeed Benedict, who will abdicate this month, observers say.

"Look, the Holy Spirit has his little jokes, as they say in the Curia, so you never know what the conclave will do, and Dolan is certainly the most appealing American candidate, likely the most ever," said David Gibson, a writer for Religion News Service and the author of a biography of Benedict. "But he's still a huge long shot."

The reality is that the U.S. is not where the Catholic Church wants to focus its energy, Gibson said. While popes have always come from Europe, the church's future is widely seen as lying in the Southern Hemisphere: in South America, and in Africa, where membership is booming.

"If they go outside Europe for the first time, Latin America is the best bet," Gibson said.

In that sense, we still could see the first "American" pope, albeit one from Brazil (home of the largest Catholic population, more than that of Italy, France and Spain combined), or Mexico, with the second-largest Catholic population, or even Argentina.

There is also a promising candidate from the north: Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian-born former Archbishop of Quebec who now works in a powerful position in Rome.

"That's more likely than it going to the U.S., to be quite honest," Hilken said.

Photo Credit: AP

Investigators Suspect Fired LAPD Officer Fled to Mexico


Former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner -- the suspect in three killings that have targeted law enforcement and the subject of a continuing manhunt -- was suspected last week of  fleeing to Mexico, according to a federal court document.

The criminal complaint filed in federal court on Feb. 7 charges Dorner with fleeing to avoid prosecution. It states that there was reason to believe he had crossed the border into Mexico.

An affidavit included in the complaint (PDF) was written by U.S. Marshals Service Inspector Craig McClusky the same day that the search for Dorner led to his burned out truck in the mountain resort of Big Bear.

McClusky recounted the Irvine Police Department's request for assistance from the U.S. Marshal Service in finding Dorner after he became a suspect in the Feb. 3 killing of Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan, who is the daughter of an LAPD official mentioned by Dorner is a manifesto that details his alleged revenge plot.

McClusky described "the recent observations of a suspect matching Dorner's description attempting to flee to Mexico," and stated "there is probable cause to believe that Dorner has moved and traveled in interstate and foreign commerce from California to Mexico" to avoid prosecution.

Timeline: Revenge-Plot Slayings | Read: Full Manifesto | Map: LAPD Manhunt | Tips: 213-486-6860

The document also states that U.S. Marshals were tracking a Dorner associate identified only as "J.Y.," who had been spotted in Costa Mesa.

The search for Dorner continued in Big Bear on Monday, even as police followed multiple sightings of the former officer that turned out to be false.

Also on Monday, the Riverside County District Attorney's office filed a charge of murder against Dorner in the shooting death of Officer Michael Crain, who was killed in what authorities have described as an ambush. Crain was shot Thursday while he and his 27-year-old trainee partner were sitting at a traffic light near the Riverside Freeway in a shooting that police described as an ambush.

"We felt the state of the evidence dictated there was no reason to withhold filing charges," Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said. "He's a felon at large."

The Los Angeles Police Department on Sunday announced a $1 million reward in the case. More than 600 tips have been received, according to the LAPD. 

Photo Credit: Irvine Police Department

Frustration Grows as Plows Don't Show


Frustration continued to build Monday as cities and towns tried to plow streets from under 3 feet of snow.

In Hamden, one of the towns hardest hit during the blizzard, people are still stuck in their homes 48 hours after the end of the storm. A condo complex on Mather Street has not seen a plow since the storm began.

"There is 4 feet of snow in the parking lot," said Lynn Townsend.

In Waterbury, Mayor Neil O'Leary posted an online progress report of streets that have been plowed and those that are still not accessible. Some areas of the city still had not been reached as of 2 p.m. on Monday. Waterbury was awaiting help from the City of Danbury. Mayor Mark Boughton, of Danbury, sent a convoy of public works trucks to Waterbury Monday to help clear streets there.

For some, the wait has been too long. In neighborhoods across Connecticut, people are using their personal snow blowers to try and clear streets that have yet to be plowed. A group of people in Bristol spent the day using snow blowers to clear Orleans Drive.

Wallingford police said about 70-percent of the town's roads have been plowed to make them accessible to emergency vehicles. Troops from the Army National Guard have been embedded with the Wallingford Fire Department to help get firefighters into less accessible areas, police said.

All Wallingford roads were expected to be accessible by Tuesday afternoon, according to police.

Frustration continued to build Monday as cities and towns tried to plow streets from under 3 feet of snow.

In Hamden, one of the towns hardest hit during the blizzard, people are still stuck in their homes 48 hours after the end of the storm. A condo complex on Mather Street has not seen a plow since the storm began.

"There is 4 feet of snow in the parking lot," said Lynn Townsend.

In Waterbury, Mayor Neil O'Leary posted a progress report of streets that have been plowed and those that are still not accessible. Some areas of the city still had not been reached as of 2 p.m. on Monday. Waterbury was awaiting help from the City of Danbury. Mayor Mark Boughton, of Danbury, sent a convoy of public works trucks to Waterbury Monday to help clear streets there.

For some, the wait has been too long. In neighborhoods across Connecticut, people are using their personal snowblowers to try and clear streets that have yet to be plowed. A group of people in Bristol spent the day using snowblowers to clear Orleans Drive.

Wallingford police said about 70-percent of the town's roads have been plowed to make them accessible to emergency vehicles. Troops from the Army National Guard have been embedded with the Wallingford Fire Department to help get firefighters into less accessible areas, police said.

All Wallingford roads were expected to be accessible by Tuesday afternoon, according to police.

Building Evacuated Over Fears of Roof Collapse


A New Haven apartment building was evacuated Monday after concerns the roof might collapse under the weight of heavy snow.

City building officials responded to 335 Fountain Street and condemned the building. The snow on the roof is pushing bricks down and making the building unsafe, according to James Eggert, New Haven Assistant Building Inspector.

In all, 18 people, including 10 children from a dozen apartment were affected. They have been moved to a local hotel with the help of the Red Cross.

Several structures in Connecticut have collapsed under the weight of snow left behind by this weekend's blizzard.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut/Josh Chapin

Study Tests Whether Patch Can Rid Children of Peanut Allergies


A new study at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego may change the future of peanut allergies for kids.

The study will give participants a skin patch with tiny amounts of peanut in the hopes of desensitizing children who are allergic to peanuts.

The hospital has seen nearly 3,000 children with peanut allergies. The only way to manage the allergy is simply to avoid it, or treat accidental ingestion.

"The new patch therapy could prove to be a breakthrough for the peanut allergy sufferers,” said Stephanie Leonard, director of the Food Allergy Center at Rady Children’s Hospital in a statement.

About 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from the allergy and only 20 percent of children grow out of the allergy, according to the hospital. 

To participate, patients must be healthy and at least six years old, have eaten peanuts and had a reaction, and currently following a strictly peanut-free diet. 

Here is more information on the study. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Vernon Woman Charged in Double Stabbing



Vernon police arrested a woman Monday morning suspected of stabbing two people in her Rockville home.
Police said Alicia Smith, 28, 119 Prospect Street, stabbed two people in the neck around 7:21 a.m.
The victims, a 26-year-old woman and 35-year-old man, are seriously injured, but in stable condition. They are being treated at Rockville General Hospital.
Police said Smith ran from the scene and was found on Oak Street after a half-hour search. Smith resisted arrest and had to be subdued with a stun gun.
Smith was charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault, first-degree unlawful restraint, three counts of risk of injury to a minor, interfering with and resisting police and possession of hallucinogens.
She is being held in lieu of a half-million-dollar bond and is scheduled to appear at Rockville Superior Court on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Investigators believe the alleged assault was domestic and not random.


Get Your Ashes to Go in New Haven


Parishioners in New Haven will be given the option to receive “Ashes to Go” tomorrow for the Christian holiday after the blizzard trapped people in their homes for a few days.

The New Haven Register reports that clergy from Trinity Lutheran Church will be around the city offering ashes on the street outside of locations, including their building at 292 Orange St. and at Union Station, on Ash Wednesday.

The “Ashes to Go” concept started with a few congregations, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis back in 2007, according to ashestogo.org

Other towns in Connecticut offering Ashes to Go tomorrow, according to ashestogo.org, including Bethel, Hartford and Milford.

Ashes will be offered at coffee shops and train stations, as well as at chapels.

Three Injured in I-84 Crash in Southington


Three people were injured in a crash that closed Interstate 84 in Southington for almost three and a half hours early Tuesday morning.

Police said Kenneth Hosely, 63, of Tavares, Florida, was driving the tractor-trailer that hit a 1993 Honda Accord driven by Samer Algahmi, 30, of New Britain, at 12:03 a.m. near exit 32 in Southington. 

Musaed Alqamus, 33, the owner of the Accord, was in the passenger seat, according to the report from state police.

All three people were injured and transported to area hospitals.

Algahmi and Alqamus suffered what police called incapacitating injuries. Hosely suffered a possible injury.

The westbound side of the highway was closed until around 3:30 a.m.

Anyone with information to help the police investigation should call 860-534-1000.

Man Charged With Stealing Hair Growth Products


Editor's note: Police earlier released a mug shot of a man identified as Michael Masselli, but later sent out a correction and said they do not have a mug shot of Masselli.

Wilton police have charged a 46-year-old West Haven man accused of stealing hair growth products from CVS.

Michael Masselli, 46, of West Haven, was arrested last Thursday on a warrant out of Norwalk Superior Court charging him with fifth-degree larceny and fifth-degree conspiracy to commit larceny.

Police said he is accused of stealing hair growth products from the CVS in Wilton Center.

Masselli was held on $10,000 bond.

No additional information is available.

Progress Being Made in Storm Cleanup: Malloy


Significant progress has been made in clearing the state's highways of snow, Gov. Dannel Malloy said Tuedsday.

"The Department of Transportation reports that about 95-percent of its main roads are free of snow debris," Malloy said.  The DOT hoped to have 100-percent of the main roads cleared overnight.  That will allow snow removal crews to concentrate on secondary roads, according to Malloy.

Snow removal efforts on I-84 in Hartford caused major backups into the city during rush hour Tuesday evening.

In cities and towns, some side streets remain untouched and many two-lane streets are down to one lane.

The state has released snow removal equipment to assist some cities and towns, Malloy said.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano met with Malloy to discuss the snow removal efforts and said the city is going back to the main roads and widening them.

New Haven will began towing on all the arterials as of 6 p.m. Tuesday. 

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, DeStefano said, the city will go back to the neighborhoods. Parking will be banned on all the odd sides.

School has been out in New Haven and DeStefano told Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman that he thinks the school buses would be able to get through on Wednesday, but the mayor is concerned about where the children will stand. A decision will be made by 5 p.m.

Should schools be closed, the mayor said he thinks some daycare/rec services for parents who are going back to work.

“So we’ll figure out how to do that,” DeStefano said.    

The mayor told Malloy that some residents have set up their own brigades to clear out sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

Some towns have been using plowing equipment, as well as National Guard vehicles, to respond to emergency calls.

“Friday night, we got a little compromised on emergency response calls,” DeStefano said. “Until Monday, we were responding with payloaders and Humvees.”

Malloy said the state transported a lot of nurses from Hamden to New Haven’s hospitals because they had no other way to get there.  

Malloy said there are about eight Humvees, two loaders and 29 personnel in New Haven.

Waterbury is clearing out schools by paying local teens to shovel.

East Haven has issued a parking ban to remain in effect until further notice and the town is offering to pick up medical prescriptions for snowbound in certain critical situations through the courtesy of a McDermott Auto Group vehicle and the National Guard’s Humvee.

The drivers use the vehicles to pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and deliver it to the resident’s door. The vehicles are also available to the community to use for emergency response.

Residents who are snowbound and in dire need of their medication should call 91-1 for this service.

Malloy said he has spoken with about 25 mayors and first selectmen about snow removal efforts and said towns that have removed snow are lending services to other communities.  

In Bridgeport, the fire department used sleds for rescues and payloaders have come from Buffalo, New York to help clear the streets.

A parking ban remains in effect in Vernon until further notice. Police issued a news release warning that violators could be ticketed and towed.


Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut/Audrey Washington

Gun Violence Victims' Families, Survivors Head to State of the Union


The guest lists for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address gave an early glimpse of the issues that might dominate his speech Tuesday night — and of the progressive tilt to his second-term agenda.

The parents of a slain Chicago teen, a Mexican DREAM Act student and 102-year-old Desiline Victor, whose commitment to voting became a symbol of American resistance to new Republican-led restrictions, were all set to accompany first lady Michelle Obama to the speech.

For full U.S. news and politics coverage, visit NBCNews.com.

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nate Pendleton, whose 15-year-old daughter Hadiya Pendleton's shooting death days after she performed at President Obama's inauguration captured national headlines, were attending the speech just after two men were charged with their daughter's killing. Police said her confessed killer had told them she wasn't the intended target; members of a rival gang were.

"It's bittersweet," Cowley-Pendleton said of the invitation from the first lady, who attended her daughter's funeral over the weekend. "Because it’s as a result of losing my daughter, but it’s also exciting to have an opportunity like this."

Also set to attend with Michelle Obama are two U.S. Marines. One of them, Sgt. Carlos Evans, was wounded in Afghanistan, where Obama will announce Tuesday that the U.S. will halve its troop presence within the year. The other, Sgt. Sheena Adams, headed an elite group of women Marines and participated in active combat — something the Pentagon has just opened to women.

Others in the first lady's box at the speech will be representatives of American business big and small — one a microbrewery entrepreneur, the other Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Despite the broad spectrum of political issues the first lady's guest list suggested her husband would touch upon in his speech, the guest lists of dozens of House Democrats showed a coordinated focus on one of Obama's top second-term goals: stronger gun regulation.

House Minority Nancy Pelosi was bringing with her Tuesday night a fourth-grader from Newtown, Conn., who had written to her in support of gun control, as well as the girl's mother. Pelosi's House colleagues were bringing a teacher who was wounded in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the parents of a first-grader killed there and the brother of a teacher who died protecting her students there.

Two Colorado Democrats were set to bring the parents of a teen victim of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre, and an Arizona congresswoman was bringing the mother of a victim killed in the Tucson shooting that wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. Giffords herself was set to attend the speech as a guest of Rep. Ron Barber, her former chief of staff who now holds her former seat.

On the other side of the issue, Republican Rep. Steve Stockman has invited rocker and steadfast gun control opponent Ted Nugent. The Secret Service investigated Nugent last year after comments he made comparing Democrats to coyotes that should be shot.

House Speaker John Boehner's guest list ignored the brewing Capitol Hill gun control battle entirely. Instead, it highlighted education reform and job opportunities, including as it did two school voucher recipients in the fourth grade at a Washington, D.C., Catholic school, an award-winning woman executive and a disabled former bat boy for the Cincinnati Reds.

But even as he declined to enter the gun control fray with his State of the Union guest list, Boehner made clear in remarks Tuesday that he wouldn't shy away from a fiscal fight with Obama in his second term.

"To do the kind of heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don't think he's got the guts to do it," he told reporters in Washington. He went to clarify that the Obama "doesn't have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party."

Photo Credit: Getty Images - FILE

Many From Newtown to Attend State of the Union


When President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union tonight, several people directly affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown will be honored guests.
Kaitlin Roig, a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who barricaded the door of her classroom when she heard the shooting and saved the lives of her students, will be sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box.

Roig, of Greenwich, huddled in a cramped bathroom with her 15 first-grade students on that Friday morning of December 14, trying to assure them that everything would be alright -- even though she didn't believe it herself.

She has taught first grade for six years at Sandy Hook Elementary and started a running club called Marathon Mondays for third and fourth grade students at the school. 

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty's guest will be Natalie Hammond, a Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher who was injured during the shooting, according to the Monroe Patch.  

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s guest will be Carlos Soto, the brother of Vicki Soto.

Vicki Soto, who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, has been hailed as a hero for protecting the lives of her first graders during the shooting.

“Having Carlos at the State of the Union will be a powerful reminder that the victims of gun violence are not statistics. And they are not even just the people who are physically wounded by a bullet. They are parents, siblings, families, co-workers and friends. The Sotos and the other Sandy Hook families have shown tremendous courage by speaking out when they are still grieving. Upholding the legacy of them and their loved ones is an honor we must all try and live up to.”

Carlos, his sisters Jillian and Carlee, and parents Carlos and Donna, have established the Vicki Soto Memorial Scholarship Fund to help fund scholarships for students entering the education field. The family lives in the Third Congressional District, where Carlos attends Stratford High School.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, will bring First Selectwoman Pat Llodra, a Republican and the Chief Executive Officer of Newtown. 

“Pat Llodra has inspired the nation by her leadership, strength, and courage – bringing Newtown together in unspeakable grief and pain. Her courage has been true grace under pressure. She put her community on a path toward healing after a horrific tragedy. I am honored that she will be my guest Tuesday evening. Her great work will help ensure that Newtown is remembered not just as a place but as a promise to keep our loved ones safe,” Blumenthal said.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy will bring Newtown Detectives Jason Frank, who has been with the Newtown Police Department for 17 years, and Dan McAnaspie, who has been with the Newtown Police Department for 10 years. They are two of several first responders who rushed to Sandy Hook Elementary School on the day of the tragedy.

“These detectives were just two of the first responders to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of December 14th. As parents themselves, they put their own emotions aside about the horror of that day in order to do their jobs, and stayed at the scene until the following Tuesday. I can’t imagine the evil they saw when they ran into Sandy Hook Elementary that morning, but they’ve spent every day since helping their community come together to work through this tragedy. These men are heroes. We owe them our deepest gratitude, and it is an honor to have them with me to hear the President’s State of the Union Address,” Murphy said.

Congressman Jim Himes’ guest will be Curtrina Murphy, of Bridgeport, whose 3-year-old daughter was hit in the crossfire of a gun fight in Bridgeport last summer as they walked hand-in-hand down the street in the middle of the afternoon.

Murphy’s daughter has fully recovered from her gunshot wounds.

“It is time to act on legislation to reduce gun violence, and our constituents who have been victimized by gun violence deserve the chance to tell their stories,” Congressman Himes said. “I cannot imagine how I would feel or what I would do if one of my girls were hit by random gunfire. I’m proud and thankful that Kurtrina is willing to share her story so that, hopefully, other children will never have to experience what her daughter did.”

Congressman Himes and approximately two dozen of his colleagues are giving their one State of the Union ticket to someone affected by a gun tragedy.


Photo Credit: AP

Snow Removal Causes Traffic Trouble Again


The state's efforts to remove snow from highways caused major backups for the second day in a row.

Traffic was backed up along I-84 westbound from downtown Hartford back into East Hartford for most of the day on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, traffic backed up on Interstate 84 eastbound from downtown Hartford to Farmington as crews cleared snow from highway bridges during the beginning of rush-hour traffic.

The evening commute was at a near-standstill for hours in and around Hartford.  Some drivers reported a normally 20 minute commute took two hours.

Side streets in Hartford and West Hartford became clogged with cars trying to avoid the mess on I-84.

A spokesperson for the DOT said a combination of snow-covered lanes, accidents, and snow removal equipment are causing the traffic backups.  They urge drivers to plan for extra time when driving on state highways.

Photo Credit: CT DOT
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