---- — 911 calls from school tragedy released
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — As gunfire boomed over and over in the background, a janitor begged a 911 dispatcher to send help, saying, “There’s still shooting going on! Please!” A woman breathlessly reported seeing a gunman run down a hall. And a teacher said she was holed up in her classroom with her children but hadn’t yet locked the door.
Recordings of 911 calls from last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were released Wednesday, and they not only paint a picture of anguish and tension inside the building, they also show Newtown dispatchers mobilizing help, reassuring callers and urging them to take cover.
“Keep everybody calm. Keep everybody down. Get everybody away from windows, OK?” one dispatcher told the frightened teacher who reported hearing shots in the hall.
The calls were made public under a court order after a lengthy effort by The Associated Press. Prosecutors had argued that releasing the recordings would only cause more anguish for the victims’ families.
The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his way through a plate-glass window at the front of the school on Dec. 14. The office staff saw the shooter, who was wearing a hat and sunglasses, as he entered the building with a rifle and began firing down a hallway.
Hezbollah commander is killed in Beirut
BAALBEK, Lebanon (AP) — The attackers waited in an olive grove around midnight. As the Hezbollah commander pulled into the garage of his nearby apartment building, they went in after him. Five bullets were pumped into his head and neck from a silencer-equipped pistol — an assassination that reverberated across the Middle East.
The killing early Wednesday of Hassan al-Laqis, described as a member of the inner circle of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, was the latest in a series of recent attacks against the Iranian-backed group.
Hezbollah blamed Israel, which denied involvement. However, the Shiite militant group’s open support of Syrian President Bashar Assad has enraged Sunnis and left it with no shortage of enemies eager to strike at its strongholds and leadership. Dozens of people have been killed in deadly car bombings claimed by radical Sunni groups.
The group’s participation in the civil war in Syria is highly divisive and unpopular in Lebanon, where many feel it has deviated from its raison d’etre of fighting Israel and exposed the Shiite community to retaliation.
Most recently, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 23. An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility, saying it was payback for Hezbollah’s support of Assad.
Attorney: Engineer in ‘daze’ before deadly derailment
YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) — An engineer whose speeding commuter train ran off the rails along a curve, killing four people, experienced a hypnotic-like daze and nodded at the controls before he suddenly realized something was wrong and hit the brakes, a lawyer said as a federal regulator called for the railroad to make immediate safety improvements.
William Rockefeller, who was operating the Metro-North Railroad train, experienced a nod or “a daze,” almost like road fatigue or the phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis, said attorney Jeffrey Chartier, who accompanied the engineer to his interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators Tuesday. Chartier couldn’t say how long the spell lasted.
What Rockefeller remembers is “operating the train, coming to a section where the track was still clear — then, all of a sudden, feeling something was wrong,” Chartier said. “He felt something was not right, and he hit the brakes.”
He called Rockefeller “a guy with a stellar record who, I believe, did nothing wrong.”
“You’ve got a good guy and an accident,” he said. “A terrible accident is what it is.”
Obama: income inequality a ‘defining challenge of our time’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama prodded Congress to raise wages and secure the social safety net as he issued an overarching appeal Wednesday to correct inequalities that he said make it harder for a child to escape poverty. “That should offend all of us,” he declared. “We are a better country than this.”
Focusing on the pocketbook issues that Americans consistently rank as a top concern, Obama argued that the dream of upward economic mobility is breaking down and that the growing income gap is a “defining challenge of our time.”
“The basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed,” the president said in remarks at a nonprofit community center a short drive from the White House in one of Washington’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
Though he offered no new initiatives, Obama blended a call for Congress to act on pending short-term economic measures with a long vision aimed at correcting a growing level of income inequality in the United States. The speech came amid public doubts over Obama’s stewardship of the economy, as his overall approval ratings sink and as he seeks to move past the health care troubles that have consumed his presidency in recent months.
He acknowledged his administration’s “poor execution” in rolling out the flawed website that was supposed to be an easy portal for purchasing insurance, while blaming Republicans for a “reckless” shutdown of the government.
NOAA: 10 whales dead among dozens stranded in Fla.
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. (AP) — Wildlife workers in boats struggled Wednesday to coax nearly four dozen pilot whales out of dangerous shallow waters in Florida’s Everglades National Park, hoping to spare them the fate of 10 others that already have died.
Six of the whales were found dead, and four of the whales had to be euthanized Wednesday, said Blair Mase, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine mammal stranding network. At least three could be seen on the beach, out of the water.
The whales are stranded in a remote area near Highland Beach, the western boundary of Everglades National Park and about 20 miles east of where they normally live. It takes more than an hour to reach the spot from the nearest boat ramp and there is no cellphone service, complicating rescue efforts.
“We want to set the expectation low, because the challenges are very, very difficult,” Mase said.
Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said rescuers were trying to surround the whales, which were in roughly 3 feet of salt water about 75 feet from shore, and herd them back to sea.
World boxing champion Klitschko leads Ukraine’s protests, hopes to become its next president
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Towering over his fellow protest leaders, Vitali Klitschko, the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion, has emerged as Ukraine’s most popular opposition figure and has ambitions to become its next president.
Thanks to his sports-hero status and reputation as a pro-Western politician untainted by Ukraine’s frequent corruption scandals, the 6-foot 7-inch Klitschko has surpassed jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in opinion polls.
As massive anti-government protests continue to grip Ukraine, the 42-year-old boxer-turned-politician is urging his countrymen to continue their fight to turn this ex-Soviet republic into a genuine Western democracy.
“This is not a revolution. It is a peaceful protest that demands justice,” Klitschko told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “The people are not defending political interests. They are defending the idea of living in a civilized country.”
Dubbed Dr. Ironfist for his prowess in the boxing ring, Klitschko has scored 45 victories in 47 fights, 41 of them with knockouts. He has successfully defended his title 11 times, most recently in September 2012, and plans to have one more bout before he retires. He still spends several hours a day training.
Los Angeles airport shooting suspect makes first appearance in court
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (AP) — The man charged with killing a Transportation Security Administration officer and wounding two other agents and a civilian during a shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport made his first court appearance Wednesday, still showing signs of the gunshot wounds suffered when he was arrested.
Paul Ciancia hadn’t been seen in public since the Nov. 1 attack that created chaos at one of the nation’s busiest airports and affected air travel around the country.
The 23-year-old spoke in whispers and showed no emotion during the 10-minute hearing in the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles. He’s being housed at the facility in federal custody.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bristow asked the diminutive, slender Ciancia if he understood the charges against him.
“Yes,” responded Ciancia, who was shackled at his hands and feet and had a bandage on his neck and bruises on the left side of his face.
Security agencies hunt central Mexico for stolen truck carrying deadly radioactive material
VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — A cargo truck hauling extremely dangerous radioactive material from used medical equipment was stolen from a gas station in Mexico, and authorities put out an alert in six central states and the capital to find it, Mexican officials said Wednesday.
The truck was carrying a metal container of cobalt-60 headed to a nuclear waste facility in the state of Mexico, said Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.
Though the container is heavily sealed in lead and designed to be difficult to break into and to survive accidents intact, it contains an amount of radioactive material that could do serious damage if opened, Eibenschutz said. Direct exposure would result in death within a few minutes, he said.
“This is a radioactive source that is very strong,” Eibenschutz told The Associated Press, adding that it can be almost immediately fatal, depending on proximity. “The intensity is very big if it is broken.”
Eibenschutz didn’t know the exact weight, but said it was the largest amount stolen in recent memory, and the intensity of the material caused the alert. Local, state and federal authorities, including the military, were searching for the truck.
Universal shuts down production on ‘Fast & Furious 7’ indefinitely
NEW YORK (AP) — Universal Pictures has shut down production on “Fast & Furious 7” indefinitely following the death of its star, Paul Walker.
The studio announced Wednesday that the film will shut down “for a period of time so we can assess all options available to move forward with the franchise.”
The seventh installment of the street car racing series had begun shooting in September. While much of “Fast & Furious 7” has been filmed, it’s far from complete.
When Walker died in a fiery car crash Saturday north of Los Angeles, the film was on break for the Thanksgiving holiday. Shooting had been planned to resume Monday in Atlanta, but production was put on hold following Walker’s death.
Universal had been trying to fast-track “Fast & Furious 7” for a July 11 release, a date that’s likely to be postponed. Universal hasn’t yet announced any release date change.