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Car Crashes Into House on West Main Street in Milford


A driver was hurt Tuesday evening when his or her car crashed into a house on West Main Street in Milford, according to police.

Police said the car struck a house at 171 West Main Street around 4:50 p.m. No one was home at the time of the crash. The driver suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Police are investigating the collision and said a building inspector was called to the scene to check for structural damage.

No additional information was immediately available.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Yale Graduate Stabs Classmate, Jumps to Death: Police


A recent graduate of Yale University stabbed a Yale undergrad at a New Haven apartment complex early Tuesday morning, then jumped to his death from the ninth floor of the building, according to New Haven police.

Police said initial reports suggest Tyler Carlisle, who graduated weeks ago from Yale College, stabbed Alexander Michaud, a 21-year-old member of the Yale College Class of 2017, in a ninth-floor unit of the Taft Apartments at 265 College Street around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Carlisle then took his own life by jumping from the ninth floor and landing on a third-floor terrace, according to police.

Michaud survived the attack and is listed in serious condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital, police said.

"The University extends its deepest sympathy to the families and friends of these two members of the Yale community, and joins everyone in hoping for Alexander¹s full recovery," Yale said in a statement released by email.

Mental health counselors and staff from the university chaplain's office are providing support to city residents and members of the campus community affected by the incident.

Police continue to investigate and said detectives are interviewing a witness.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Crews Respond to Scooter Crash in Chester


Firefighters, state police and a LifeStar medical helicopter are responding to a scooter crash on Middlesex Avenue/Route 154 in Chester, according to dispatchers.

The Department of Transportation said two vehicles collided around 6:45 p.m. Route 154 was closed between Grote Road and Old Depot Road while authorities responded, but police said around 8 p.m. that the scene is clear and traffic is moving.

There has been no word on injuries.

Dog Hit by Car on I-95 Needs Surgery for Broken Pelvis


Police and community members are trying to find the owner of a young pit bull that was hit by a car on Interstate 95 in Bridgeport over the weekend.

Veterinarians with the VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center in Shelton, where the dog is now resting, said the pup will need surgery for treatment of a broken pelvis.

They've nicknamed him "Staffie," for Staffordshire Terrier.

Police believe the dog was involved in some sort of fight and ran out onto the highway in an effort to get away.

Nurse Tiffany Teixeira said she was heading home to Bridgeport after working an overnight shift when she noticed the pup limping in the fast lane near exit 29 off I-95 south.

She and two others – identified as Monroe Police Officer Karen O'Donnell and a man named Michael, a nurse at a local veterans' hospital – helped coax the dog to safety, according to Teixeira.

"We were able to slow traffic and help him cross the highway to the emergency lane. He did not have a collar on. We used an old belt that we found in the trunk of my car as a leash and had him lay down," Teixeira wrote in an email to NBC Connecticut. "He was very well behaved but scared."

Teixeira said O'Donnell called 911 while she and Michael found water to keep the dog hydrated. State troopers arrived with a truck and the group used a large piece of carpet to lift "Staffie" into the back.

They brought him to the veterinary clinic, where is resting and has been sedated. Despite having a broken pelvis, he is still able to walk on three legs, according to the clinic.

Staff members believe the dog has an owner because he is well behaved and neutered. They are hoping someone will come forward and claim him, since he does not have a micro-chip.

"He's really, really friendly. He's a sweet dog. He like to go outside for walks," said Dr. Bari Morris of the veterinary clinic. "Considering how much pain he is in from his injuries, he's still friendly. We think he's a pretty great dog."

His surgery could cost up to $10,000, and the veterinary clinic has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his medical expenses.

Anyone with information should call the VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center at 203-929-8600 or Bridgeport Animal Control at 203-576-7727.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Teixeira

LifeStar Responding to Motorcycle Crash in Torrington


State police troopers and a LifeStar medical helicopter are responding to a motorcycle crash on Saw Mill Road in Torrington, according to state police.

Firefighters said it happened Tuesday evening near the intersection with Babbling Brook Road.

No additional information was immediately available.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Amtrak to Install Cameras for Locomotive Engineers


In the wake of a deadly derailment in Philadelphia, officials with Amtrak have announced plans to install cameras to view the actions of train engineers as they operate locomotives.

Cameras will be installed on 70 new trains currently on order and 48 existing locomotives that travel along the Northeast Corridor to and from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The cameras are designed to reduce the possibility of operator error in train crashes and derailments.

It comes after a derailment in Philadelphia killed eight passengers earlier this month. The black boxes revealed that the train sped up to 106 miles per hour as it entered a 50 miles per hour zone. When interviewed, the train's operator said he didn't remember any details of the crash.

U.S. Sun. Richard Blumenthal applauded Amtrak's announcement Tuesday.

"It has become crystal clear that inward-facing cameras – with the right privacy protections for employees – are a critical way to make our railroads safer," Blumenthal said in a statement.

Jim Cameron with the Commuter Action Group said "it's about time" cameras be positioned in the cabin wear the operator is working.

"Airlines have had this technology for decades and I think it’s high time that Amtrak and Metro-North both do the same thing," Cameron said. "We need to see what’s happening inside the cockpit, if you will, of the train. We need to be able to watch the person on the train and we need to have an audio recording of what’s going on in there."

Amazon Hiring Hundreds to Work at Windsor Warehouse


Retail giant Amazon is hiring 6,000 full-time workers around the country, including hundreds in Connecticut.

Amazon announced the new positions Tuesday. A company representative said the new million-square-foot fulfillment center in Windsor will employ hundreds. Initial estimates pinned that number at 300.

"The full-time associate positions announced today are just the start of what will be hundreds of jobs in our Windsor fulfillment center," Amazon spokesperson Aaron Toso said in an email to NBC Connecticut on Tuesday. "We will announce hiring for a majority of our full-time positions soon."

The jobs announced Tuesday have been posted online at www.amazonfulfillmentcareers.com.

Police Cruiser Collides With Car, Hits Building


A Bridgeport officer was hurt Tuesday when his cruiser collided with another car, causing it to veer off the road and into a building, according to a spokesperson for the city.

Bridgeport communications director Brett Broesder said it happened near the intersection of Stratford Avenue and Carroll Street.

Bridgeport police and firefighters pulled the injured officer from his squad car. He was taken to Bridgeport Hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.

Photo Credit: News 12 Connecticut

FBI Director Says ISIS Poses a Threat in All States


FBI Director James Comey, who lives in Connecticut when he's not in Washington, visited his home state's field office Tuesday to speak with agents and local law enforcement about the threat ISIS poses as it works to recruit Americans.

"There are active investigations open all over the country," Comey said. "I wouldn’t single out Connecticut, but I would tell you that I do not exclude it. Wherever there are troubled souls with access to the Internet, we have this problem, and even in my beloved state of Connecticut, we have troubled souls and the Internet."

Comey said the way his agency fights terrorism has changed dramatically since he started his 10-year term at the helm of the federal law enforcement agency. He said Twitter alone presents agents with new obstacles.

He described the social media site as a key part of a "spider web" of interactions between ISIS recruiters and their targets.

"Twitter has changed all that because it is not a watering hole, a central gathering point. The threat is coming in that’s very hard to see. It’s consumed through mobile devices, personal devices of some sort," he said. "Saying, 'Kill, kill, kill' through social media works, and now we’re seeing the results through Twitter of that kind of advertisement."

He said working with local law enforcement like state troopers and police departments is the way to preven threats before would-be actors can even discuss them.

"We are only going to deal with a threat that is this dispersed, this hard to see, together. We need to search that hay stack together," he said.

Comey added that it's highly unlikely an individual FBI agent would be informed about a possible terrorist threat before someone like a local police officer.

Task Force Aims to Improve Police-Community Relations


New Haven Mayor Toni Harp will hold a press conference Wednesday to announce a new task force designed to improve the relationship between city residents and the police department.

According to the mayor's office, the New Haven Community and Police Relations Task Force comprises 17 members and seven ex-officio members, including peace advocates, members of the New Haven and Yale University police department, clergy members and community representatives.

The task force is designed to evaluate the current relationship between city residents and the police force and look at ways to improve that relationship, the mayor's office said.

Harp will make the official announcement at 1 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

New Principal for Stamford High in Wake of Sex Scandal


The Stamford school system has appointed a new principal to step in and take over after a student-teacher sex scandal shook up the administration at Stamford High School.

Principal Donna Valentine and assistant principal Roth Nordin were implicated in the case for allegedly failing to report a student-teacher relationship to authorities, as required by law.

The superintendent has moved to terminate both of them, along with one other school administrator. Stamford's assistant superintendent has offered his resignation and other high school employees have been disciplined.

Former English teacher Danielle Watkins, who is at the center of the case, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.

A spokesperson for the school district announced Tuesday night that Raymond D. Manka will take over for interim principal Tony Pavia beginning July 1. Pavia has been leading the high school since late February, when the allegations surfaced.

Manka, who is currently assistant principal at Norwalk High School, has 16 years of experience in education, five of which he spent as assistant principal at Stamford High School and Westhill High School. He has also taught sixth-grade science and high school biology, according to the Stamford school system.

"I am pleased to welcome Ray back to Stamford Public Schools," Supt. Winifred Hamilton said in a statement Tuesday. "His extensive academic credentials and experience at large area high schools, including Stamford High, will serve him well in his mission to lead Stamford High with a priority of building trust and respect among students, staff, parents, and community members."

Students, staff, parents and administrators all took part in the interview process during the search for a new high school principal, according to the school system.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com/Norwalk Public Schools

Drugs Found at Calif. Crash Site


Bottles of methadone were found in the car that crashed into a power pole last month, killing a 3-year-old girl, a San Diego County Medical Examiner’s report reveals.

The toddler, Carlee Ramirez, was not buckled in properly before the deadly crash on April 4 in El Cajon, a city in east San Diego County, the ME said. Her mother Brandy Teague was behind the wheel and now faces a number of felony charges in the girl’s death.

Carlee was sitting in a booster seat in the left rear passenger side of the Hyundai Elantra when Teague veered off Broadway and into the pole. While Carlee’s lap belt was secure, the shoulder belt was behind the back of the seat, according to the report.

Although emergency crews performed CPR on Carlee and took her to Rady Children’s Hospital, she died soon after. Her cause of death was blunt force injuries to her head and a neck fracture, the ME said, and her manner of death is an accident.

When ME investigators examined the scene of the crash, they found a bottle of methadone behind the driver’s seat and another on the ground beside the car, placed there by officers.

Teague’s sons, 1 and 10 years old, both survived the crash with minor to moderate injuries. El Cajon police believe Teague fell asleep at the wheel before she crashed.

She is now in jail, charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, DUI causing injury, driving on a suspended license and other felonies. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and her next court appearance is scheduled for June 16.

Carlee’s father, Carlos Ramirez, spoke with NBC 7 not long after he lost his daughter. He said he did not want Carlee to go with Teague because he suspected she was under the influence of drugs, but he did not have full custody of her. According to the ME’s report, Carlee’s maternal grandmother was her legal guardian.

Photo Credit: GoFundMe

Drunken Driver Hits Parked Cars, Narrowly Misses Pedestrians


A man driving with a blood alcohol content more than three times the legal limit hit several parked cars in East Windsor, narrowly missing people who scrambled out of the way, according to police.

East Windsor police said Jordan DeSousa crashed his pickup truck into a number of others in the parking lot of Geissler's Plaza on Bridge Street around 4 p.m. He then struck five other vehicles down the street behind Maine Fish Market.

Officers arrived to find five heavily damaged cars behind Maine Fish and two others at Geissler's Plaza, according to police. Four had to be towed. Three pedestrians told police they were standing near their cars and had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit.

Police found DeSousa in his pickup truck. A breath test revealed his blood alcohol content to be more than three times the legal limit to drive.

He was charged with driving under the influence, reckless driving, evading responsibility and three counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.

Police said no one was hurt.

Hartford Community Calls for End to Violence Amid Shooting Spree


Dozens gathered outside Hartford’s First Church of the Nazarene for an anti-violence rally Tuesday evening to call for an end to violence in the city after the church's own pastor was shot.

Rev. Dr. Augustus Sealy was shot several times while placing Memorial Day flags outside the church on Sunday. His recovery is expected to take at least six weeks.

"All lives matter, but you know, this is like the work of the devil, truly," said Hartford resident Henrietta Beckman, whose son was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2002.

That disbelief drove Beckman to come to the rally. She said she has been to too many of these shooting vigils since the death of her son.

"Every year it’s the same scenario. It will die down for the fall and as soon as the weather breaks, the killings start again, and I don’t understand that," said Beckman.

Three people have died in six shootings over the past week and a half alone.

Police said big gangs are no long the issue like in years past.

"What we have is small groups of individuals who make their living off of drug sales and living pretty hard and pretty fast," said Hartford Police Chief James Rovella.

Now they're investigating whether the shooting that sent Sealy to the hospital may have been a hate crime. Police said the shooter made anti-gay comments and the church is known for welcoming members of the LGBT community.

While city leaders and police promise to work with the community to help end the violence, one mom had a simple message.

"Please put down these guns; let people live their lives," said Beckman.

Strange Man Follows, Grabs Student Walking Home


Police are planning to step up patrols near an elementary school in Vernon after a strange man followed and a grabbed a student who was walking home Tuesday afternoon.

Vernon police said the student was not hurt and was able to break away and run to safety.

According to police, the student was walking home from Lake Street School when the man drove up in a four-door vehicle. It happened near the intersection of Lake Street and Tunnel Road between 2:30 and 2:50 p.m. Tuesday.

According to police, the vehicle crossed over a lane of opposing traffic to get to the child. Police said other cars were driving by and people were walking in the area at the time.

Detectives are working with school officials to investigate. Police plan to maintain a presence at the elementary school during drop-off and pick-up times going forward.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or who was in the area between 2 and 3 p.m. Tuesday is asked to call Vernon police at 860-872-9126. Callers can remain anonymous.

Shooting of Pastor at Church May Have Been Hate Crime: Police


The shooting of a pastor in Hartford over Memorial Day weekend may have been a hate crime linked to the church's inclusion of gay and lesbian members, according to the police department.

Rev. Dr. Augustus Sealy, 54, of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, was placing flags from different countries outside the First Church of Nazarene at 932 Captiol Avenue 6:30 a.m. Sunday when someone opened fire, according to church official Rev. Elton Adams.

Police said Sealy was shot twice in the right leg and once in the left shoulder. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was listed in critical condition.

His wife, Sharon, said Sealy was in a lot of pain but was expected to recover.

"He hasn’t lost any hope," she said. "You know, this is something that happened that was really terrible and shouldn’t have happened and we’ve already prayed for that person who actually committed the crime."

Now investigators are looking into whether the shooting may have been a hate crime.

"I can tell you we do hear from residents that the church is very accepting and open to the LGBT community," Hartford police spokesman Deputy Chief Brian Foley said during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon. "So there were some statements made at the scene that certainly keep the idea of it being a hate crime open to our investigators."

Foley declined to elaborate on those statements except to say someone made "hateful comments" toward the LGBT community. He said it's not clear whether Sealy was targeted.

The police department's Major Crimes Division is investigating. Foley said detectives have yet to identify a suspect and are looking for a dar-colored sedan that sped away from the scene.

A vigil for Sealy has been planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the scene of the shooting. The city mayor and police chief also plan to address the shooting during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com/First Church of the Nazarene

East Haven Zoning Official Arrested on Federal Charges


An East Haven zoning official accused of taking illegal payments in exchange for zoning decisions was arrested Wednesday morning on a federal criminal complaint, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Frank Biancur Jr., the planning and zoning administrator and zoning enforcement officer for the town of East Haven, has been charged with mail fraud and theft of honest services/

He's accused of soliciting illegal personal payments starting in October 2012 in exchange for his promise to smooth over any issues within the zoning office.

"I am saddened by the charges that were unsealed today regarding East Haven's Zoning Enforcement Officer Frank Biancur," East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "I want to assure residents that while this is certainly discouraging, we will take all appropriate steps to ensure that this development will in no way disrupt the Zoning Department or that department's daily business."

Maturo declined to comment on Biancur's employment status but said "insofar as this involves Town business it is a personnel matter and will be addressed accordingly."

The mayor said a town employee called him at home last week to disclose the allegations against Biancur. Maturo alerted the town police chief and federal authorities, who began investigating.

"Since that time, we have cooperated and continue to cooperate in the government's investigation," Maturo said.

When NBC Connecticut asked Biancur for a response about the charges, he said "no comment." His attorney, Vincent Amendola, said Biancur was released on his own recognizance.

Another person was arrested in connection with the case, but it is not clear who else was arrested or why.

Biancur is due back in court on June 17. 

Missing Girl Safe, Uncle Killed


A missing 9-year-old Benbrook, Texas, girl abducted by her uncle is safe in Bossier City, Louisiana, Benbrook police say, after her uncle was killed in a struggle with an FBI Task Force officer Tuesday afternoon.

An Amber Alert for Caitlyn Elizabeth Williams was issued early Tuesday morning after officials said she was believed to have been taken by her uncle, 24-year-old Jessie Nicholas Williams, of Arlington, last Friday. Family members reached out to the man but said he had been unresponsive, which they said was unusual.

Benbrook Police Officer Sandy Eubanks said a tip led law enforcement to a motel room where the girl's uncle was killed during a struggle with law enforcement.

"The Amber Alert that was issued resulted in numerous tips that led officers to a motel room in Bossier City, Louisiana," Eubanks said. "Just a little bit earlier, the FBI attempted to take the suspect into custody. An FBI Task Force officer was shot and wounded and the suspect was killed. The child was safely recovered."

The wounded officer, whose name has not been released, was shot in the leg and is expected to recover. Police were not able to comment on the condition of the girl, but they said she is expected to be reunited with her parents in North Texas soon.

"Since they said she's safely recovered, I presume she's uninjured," Eubanks said.

Police have not released any motive or further details about the girl's abduction.

Caitlyn Reported Missing; Uncle Believed to be Involved

Police told NBC 5 they believe Jessie took Caitlyn Friday. She was believed to be headed to a friend's house for the weekend, but, police said she never showed up.

Caitlyn and Jessie were spotted twice over the weekend, once at a hotel on Alta Mesa Boulevard at Interstate 35W and later at a hair salon on Bryant Irvin Road. After being spotted at the hair salon, police said Caitlyn's appearance could have been altered.

"She was described as having long wavy brown hair, we have reason to believe that her hair may have been cut short to alter her appearance," said Benbrook Police Officer Sandy Eubanks.

Police began looking into the girl's disappearance after her parents called and reported her missing Monday. According to police, the girl's parents expected her to return home from her friend's house on Sunday. When she hadn't returned Monday, they called police.

"She was supposed to return Sunday, and when she didn't, they decided to wait, because the weather was bad," said Eubanks.

Investigators learned Caitlyn never arrived at the friend's home and that she had been spotted with her uncle at two locations. Attempts by family members to reach Jessie Williams have been unsuccessful.

"Because the other family members can't contact him, obviously that elevates the level of concern we have for the child," said Eubanks.

Police originally said an Amber Alert had not been issued because there was not a specific suspect or vehicle that could be described, but armed with new information Tuesday morning the Amber Alert was issued for Caitlyn and her uncle.

A rental car believed to have been used by the uncle was recovered, police said.

Family Urges Uncle to Return With Missing Girl

Caitlyn's great grandmother, Linda Bullard, spoke to NBC 5's Jeff Smith and made a plea for Caitlyn's safe return.

"Jessie, please, you know Caitlyn needs to be at home, she needs to be in school, she needs to be with her friends and her mom and her dad and me. Please bring her home," Bullard said.

Police said they spoke to Caitlyn's parents, her neighbors, friends and relatives in an effort to find her. Neighbors told NBC 5's Jeff Smith that FBI agents canvassed the neighborhood along Wade Hampton Street Monday night. They said the two agents knocked on doors and asked to come inside and look around.

Neighbors said the agents asked a lot of questions about Caitlyn, her great grandmother and how often she rode her bike alone in the neighborhood. They also asked if neighbors recognized her uncle.

"The family has only been in this area for a short period of time. And we haven't had any prior calls; there's no call history with regard to the address that they live. So the information’s very limited," said Eubanks.

NBC 5's Ray Villeda, Ellen Bryan, Amanda Guerra, Jeff Smith and Frank Heinz contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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Kitten Escapes Hawk Attack


A little white kitten narrowly missed having to dig into her nine lives on Tuesday after escaping the mouth of a hawk in a Southern California neighborhood.

The kitten's ordeal was already underway in Jurupa Valley when Lindsey Gage saw a large hawk perched on top of a neighbor's basketball hoop on Mountain Shadow Drive, Riverside County Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said.

Gage was in her car with her 6-year-old daughter about to leave for the grocery store when she noticed something inside the hawk's mouth: a white kitten.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Gage said. "At first I thought it was a rare occurrence just to see a hawk that close, let alone a baby kitten in its mouth."

The hawk took off and flew down the street, but it lost its grasp on the 5-week-old female kitten and dropped the feline from the sky, Welsh said.

A man watching nearby saw where the kitten landed and pointed Gage in its direction, where she scooped up the baby animal and took her to the Western Riverside County/City Animal Shelter in Jurupa Valley.

The kitten has a wound on its chest, but it doesn't appear to be life-threatening, Welsh said.

Shelter officials said there is no timetable on when the kitten could be put up for adoption, because she is very young and possibly must be bottle-fed. The kitten will likely go through rehabilitation before the shelter makes any final decisions, officials said.

Photo Credit: Riverside County Animal Services

Rick Santorum Announces 2nd White House Run


Conservative culture warrior Rick Santorum launched a 2016 White House bid on Wednesday, vowing to fight for working-class Americans in a new election season that will test his influence — and focus on social issues — in a changing Republican Party.

The former Pennsylvania senator may have exceeded his own expectations by scoring a second-place finish in the race for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago. Yet as he enters a more powerful and diverse 2016 field, he may struggle even to qualify for the debate stage in his second run.

"I am proud to stand here, among you and for you, the American workers who have sacrificed so much, to announce that I am running for president of the United States," the 57-year-old senator said, flanked by factory workers and six of his seven children in a cinderblock warehouse near his western Pennsylvania hometown.

"The last race, we changed the debate. This race, with your help and God's grace, we can change this nation."

Santorum opens this political season as a heavy underdog in a race expected to feature more than a dozen high-profile Republicans — most of them newcomers to presidential politics. He is among the nation's most prominent social conservatives, having dedicated much of his political career to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights, while advocating for conservative Christian family values.

He mentioned cultural issues only briefly on Wednesday, however, in remarks designed to broaden his appeal to working-class Americans. "As president, I will stand for the principle that every life matters — the poor, the disabled and the unborn," said Santorum, a Catholic.

He ultimately won 11 states in the GOP's 2012 primary election after an unexpected and narrow victory in the opening contest in Iowa, where he emerged as a conservative favorite after touring the state's 99 counties in a pickup truck.

His road to relevancy this time won't be easy.

"It's going to be much more competitive," said Foster Friess, a prominent donor who was standing near the podium during Wednesday's announcement.

Santorum has acknowledged his challenges in 2016, but says his experience could pay dividends the second time around. Most of the GOP's recent presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and President Ronald Reagan among them, needed more than one campaign to win the nomination.

He faces considerable competition for his party's social conservatives in particular. The list of Republicans already courting religious voters includes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. And like Santorum, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Catholic.

Polling suggests a shift in voter attitudes about the importance of social issues, particularly gay marriage, which has long been a defining issue for Santorum. Like others in his party, he has appealed to religious voters recently by criticizing what he calls President Barack Obama's "war on religious freedom," which includes the broader debate over whether private businesses can deny services to same-sex couples.

Santorum's longshot status may keep him out of presidential debates altogether.

Only those who place in the top 10 of national polls will be allowed to participate in the first Republican presidential debate in August, according to guidelines released by network host Fox News. Santorum is on the bubble.

While advisers suggest he will benefit from a donor network that has grown in recent years, questions remain about Santorum's ability to raise money as well.

Friess, who previously gave more than $2 million to a pro-Santorum super PAC in 2012, said he would continue to support Santorum's White House ambitions, although he plans to avoid donating large amounts directly to the campaign or a supportive super PAC, both of which would disclose their donors.

"Any giving I'm doing is going to be lower-profile and less noticed," Friess told The Associated Press.

Santorum immediately launches a rollout tour that begins in Iowa on Thursday and Friday and moves to South Carolina on Saturday and Sunday. He is not scheduled to appear in New Hampshire, where voters typically don't favor candidates who focus on social issues.

A crowd of hundreds watched Santorum's announcement at Penn United Technologies, an employee-owned manufacturing company based in the western Pennsylvania county where Santorum grew up.

Wallace Cypher, 54, who lives a half mile away, said he's backing Santorum because he wants a true conservative to win the GOP presidential nomination.

"I think he'd be a whole lot better than what we've got in there right now," Cypher said.

Photo Credit: AP
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