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Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- The nation's busiest airport is in the dark tonight and leaving as many as 100 planes stuck on the tarmac, stranding thousands and causing a ripple effect grounding at least 1,200 flights, after a power outage possibly caused by a fire.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the world's busiest airports, suffered a power outage at around 1 p.m. Sunday. Airport personnel, Atlanta Fire and Rescue officials and Georgia Power staff are on the scene to respond and restore service, a spokesman told ABC News.

With the power still out nine hours later, the airport shutdown forced airlines to cancel flights. Delta, which has a large hub operation in Atlanta, said Sunday evening it had already cancelled approximately 900 Sunday flights and another 300 on Monday. Another 48 flights were being diverted to other airports, the airline said.

Hundreds of passengers on inbound flights were stuck on their planes for hours and hours.

Jenny Bloom, who was on a flight from Florida that landed around 2:30 p.m., was still on the plane four hours later.

"[The pilot] came on about a half an hour ago and actually said that he thinks we're better off here on the plane than going into the terminal because the power is out and nobody can get out," she told ABC News around 6:30 p.m. "So I think people on the plane are doing fine. I mean people are not upset, they're staying pretty calm and it's been fairly quiet. You know, all things considered I think they're handling this really well."

Another traveler described the scary scene in the blackout inside the terminals.

"The lights flickered once. That was really scary," Muhammad Saeed said. "And then they flickered again and they didn't come back. And it's been about an hour now and it's just pitch darkness in the airport."

Georgia Power said it believes the outage may have been the result of a fire that caused extensive damage in one of the company's underground electrical facilities. The fire was safely extinguished by fire crews before Georgia Power could enter the area to assess damage and begin repairs, the company said.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said there was no evidence that the fire was deliberately set, but a security sweep was being conducted. Because extra personnel had to be brought onto the airport campus to fight the fire, authorities want to make sure the fire wasn't set to allow someone access to the airport grounds that wouldn't normally have it, the mayor said.

Ann Mason, who was traveling to South Bend Indiana, told ABC News she saw smoke coming from one of the terminals and that people were told to evacuae.

"We were in Terminal D and we could see fire trucks all along terminal E and black smoke coming from the back probably from Terminal F," she said. "Terminal D got so bad that they told us to evacuate for the smoke and either got to Terminal C or to leave the building. I decided to leave the building."

"We were standing here and getting ready to get our boarding passes and the lights just went out all of a sudden," David Bergeron said. "They went out and then they went back on and then they went back out again, and that was it. We've been here ever since."

Atlanta police said they were trying to get everyone out of the airport, and were asking others not to come.

"We need everyone to refrain from coming to the airport. We literally have no power and the ETA for having power is very vague," Atlanta Police Sgt. Warren Pickard said.

He said there were no injuries everything has been orderly so far.

Multiple airlines, including Southwest and Delta Airlines, told ABC News they were beginning to deplane passengers by sliding them down airstairs.

Before this move, the FAA confirmed to ABC News there are up to 100 planes stuck on the tarmac.

The FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center stated there were "80 to 100" planes" parked on taxiways.

The agency said that flights headed to the airport were grounded "due to the power outage," but also added that the airport's tower has power and is capable of operating "normally."

Delays are still expected to continue with the equipment failure at several terminals, the FAA official added.

The airport tweeted earlier that the outage had "impacted several areas in the airport" and that officials were "working to remedy the situation."

A representative of Delta Airlines, which uses the airport as a central hub, said "diversions are in progress" for flights that were already in the air and headed to Atlanta.

The airline rep told ABC News that there are jets sitting on the tarmac waiting to taxi to various gates.

Thomas Guzik tweeted that he was being rescued from the sky train by firefighters.

And cartoonist Dave Trumbore also took to Twitter, but has been jovial about the situation.

"This started as a joke but the flight attendants *quite honestly and literally* just said they have no snacks left and have rationed us a half-cup of water each!" he wrote.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport sends jets to 150 domestic destinations and more than 75 international destinations in 50 countries.

It is one of the busiest airports in the world, with on average 275,000 passengers passing through its terminals every day and with about 2,500 flights arriving and departing.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government until 2012 ran a program for investigating reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, the Department of Defense confirmed to ABC News.

As first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post, the once-secret program was funded from 2007 to 2012. According to The New York Times, DOD spent $22 million on the program.

"The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 timeframe," the Pentagon told ABC News in a statement. "It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the [Department of Defense] to make a change. The [Defense Department] takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed."

According to initial reports, the program investigated years of reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and the program was funded at the request of former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who has expressed interest in investigating unexplained phenomena in outer space.

Reid took to Twitter after The New York Times report was released, saying, "This is about science and national security. If America doesn't take the lead in answering questions, others will."

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St. Louis Police(ST. LOUIS) -- Nearly four months after four people -- including a 10-year-old boy -- were murdered in a St. Louis home, a suspect is under arrest charged with murder and other crimes, police said Sunday.

Ja’Vonne Dupree, 20, was hit with four counts of first-degree murder, four counts of robbery, nine counts of armed criminal action, one count of burglary in the 1st degree, one count of stealing a motor vehicle, and one count of tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution, according to a probable cause statement released by the St. Louis County Police Department.

Dupree allegedly broke into a Glasgow Village home on Aug. 24 and stole electronics and clothing before killing Patricia Steward, 56, as well as her sons Joseph Corely, 20, and Terrence Dehart, 10; and Deandre Kelley Jr., 18.

The four all died at the scene from gunshot wounds, police said.

Police allege that in an attempt to cover his tracks, Dupree "picked up multiple shell casings" and then made his getaway by stealing Steward's car, according to the probable cause statement.

He was taken into custody Friday in Columbia, Missouri, and the case is now in the hands of the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the police said.

ABC News' attempts to reach the prosecutors' spokeswoman were not immediately returned and it is unclear if Dupree retained an attorney.

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David McNew/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Depending on their affinity for the white stuff, residents of upstate and western New York state found themselves in a winter wonderland on Saturday, with nearly 18 inches of lake-effect snow reported in some areas.

Cattaragus County, which borders Pennsylvania in western New York state, received 17.6 inches of snow. Erie County reported 14 inches, and the city of Dunkirk issued a temporary travel advisory so it could keep up with snow removal.

For now, the threat of lake-effect snow has ended.

Looking ahead, a weak disturbance will slide into parts of the interior of the Northeast on Monday, dumping snow onto an area stretching from New York to Maine during the morning hours. It does not appear that this system will result in heavy accumulation.

In fact, some milder weather is heading for the Northeast -- potentially into the 50s for New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. But all good things must come to an end: This mild weather will be short-lived.

Turning to the south-central U.S., several rounds of rain are headed toward that region over the next few days. A round of heavy rain was moving through parts of the Gulf Coast Sunday morning. Another round of rain will move into parts of southeast Texas and southern Louisiana on Monday. A more widespread round of rain threatens to arrive on Tuesday, with heavy rain expected from Texas to Arkansas. Locally, over 4 inches of rain is expected over the next few days, and a localized flooding threat can't be ruled out.

A potent disturbance will arrive in the Northwest and northern Rockies by Tuesday and Wednesday. Rain is expected along the Northwest coast, and widespread mountain snow is expected in the northern Rockies.

This system will reorganize and dominate the weather in the central U.S. by Thursday and Friday, which will be busy travel days. At this time, it is too early to determine the precise location and magnitude of winter weather impacts. However, it does appear that parts of the central U.S. will be impacted by winter weather at the end of this week.

Furthermore, as we head toward Christmas, it appears that the weather pattern will bring higher probabilities of below-average temperatures for much of the U.S. As this pattern sets into place, it looks as if more turbulent and impactful weather will be likely as the holiday weekend approaches.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, firefighters are feverishly battling the Thomas Fire, the third largest fire in California. The 418-square-mile (267,500 acres) blaze has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and is at 40 percent containment.

Strong winds and dry conditions are not helping the firefighting efforts.

Dry Santa Ana winds gusted to 65 mph on Saturday in Montecito, California, on Saturday. Nearly 18,000 structures are threatened in both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. New evacuation orders were issued on Saturday for parts of Santa Barbara County, affecting between 20,000 and 25,000 residents. Officials now estimate that full containment will be achieved on Jan. 7.

Sunday's forecast is very concerning. There's an "extreme fire danger" warning for most of Southern California's hillsides and mountains, where winds are expected to gust as high as 55 mph. The dry winds will keep relative humidity as low as 10 percent. This will lead to rapid fire growth and erratic fire behavior.

Parts of Central and Northern California are also at a critical risk for fire danger as well, due to locally strong wind gusts and dry conditions.

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Courtesy Brian Claypool(CALIMESA, Calif.) -- The family of a 13-year-old California girl who committed suicide plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district, accusing the girl's middle school of failing to stop the bullying that the family says led to her death.

On Nov. 28, Rosalie Avila hanged herself in her bedroom "following months of relentless verbal abuse and bullying from classmates," a press release from the family's attorney, Brian Claypool, states.

Avila attended Mesa View Middle School in Calimesa in Southern California, ABC Los Angeles stationKABC reported. There, classmates would taunt her and call her names, including "whore" and "slut," Claypool said. Avila's peers would also call her ugly, tell her she had ugly teeth and sexually transmitted diseases, Claypool alleges.

In addition to the verbal abuse, classmates doctored a video "portraying what an ugly girl looked like and what a pretty girl looked like," using Avila's photo to represent the ugly girl, Claypool said in the press release, claiming that the video went viral.

"In her suicide note, Rosalie apologized to her parents for being ugly," the press release states.

Earlier this month, Avila's mother, Charlene Avila, told KABC that her daughter kept a list in her journal of people who hurt her, called her ugly or put her down.

Avila's father, Fred Avila, told KABC that she would come home and complain that kids were "calling her names about her teeth." When he would remind her that her braces would come off one day, she responded, "Yeah, but my teeth are straight and they're still making fun of me," Fred Avila said.

In October, Avila began cutting herself, Claypool said. The family's attorney claims the school did not intervene despite allegedly knowing of the struggles Avila was facing.

"The school was not only aware of the bullying, but also of Rosalie cutting herself and did nothing," according to the press release.

Claypool will announce the filing of the lawsuit on behalf of Avila's parents during a press conference Monday. He alleges that the school was negligent in its "failure to take appropriate measures to safeguard Rosalie as a victim of bullying and ensure her safety" as well as its failure to "take action against the bullies."

In an initial statement on Dec. 1, the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District said it was "saddened" by Avila's death and that crisis counselors were available to students.

"The communities of Yucaipa and Calimesa have proven to be caring, united, active, supportive communities in all manner of events, whether joyful or sorrowful," the initial statement read. "The District earnestly believes and hopes that those qualities will continue to come to bear here as we are all committed to the well-being and support of everyone in the YCJUSD family."

Days later, on Dec. 4, the school district released another statement saying that it was cooperating with investigators over the bullying allegations. The school district also said that "false" information had spread in response to the news of Avila's death.

"Sadly, as the public learns about this tragedy, false rumors and social media posts disrespecting Rosalie and her family have begun to spread," the statement read. "These posts are being handled by the appropriate authority."

In the second statement, the school district also emphasized that it is "committed to maintaining a positive, inclusive school culture that enables our students to grow academically and socially. This issue requires all of us to work together, to watch for signs and intervene when we see problems. It is more essential than ever that we all come together, united in our commitment for the safety and well-being of our children."

Links to suicide prevention awareness and the school district's bullying policy are now featured prominently on the school district's website.

Claypool and Avila's family plan to propose new legislation called Rosie's law that will advocate for stricter bullying laws to treat verbal abuse in the same manner as physical abuse "so that school districts will begin having harsher punishments for the perpetrators of bullying rather than shielding the bullies."

In a statement to ABC News, Claypool said that words can be "lethal weapons."

"Until school districts nationwide step up and implement legitimate anti-bullying programs and on-campus suicide prevention programs, rampant bullying and suicide will worsen," Claypool said. "Public image is more important to many school districts than student safety. Current anti-bullying laws and policies often protect the bully more so than the victim.“

A community vigil in Avila's honor will be held on Monday evening.

Neither the school district nor the San Bernardino Police Department, which is handling the case, immediately responded to ABC News' request for comment.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Multiple Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities were found to have problems with basic detainee rights, humane treatment and health and safety, according to a report released this week by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security.

The violations varied from facility to facility, but included underutilized language services, lack of respect and professionalism, potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions and, at one facility, all detainees were strip-searched when they entered.

"Overall, the problems we identified undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment," reads the report.

The watchdog made unannounced visits to six faculties used to house ICE detainees and based its findings on observations, interviews with detainees and staff, and a review of documents.

The inspector general found "significant issues" at four of the five facilities, which raised concerns about the treatment and care of ICE detainees. Only the Laredo Processing Center "modeled quality operations," during inspections.

One of the facilities was reviewed earlier this year in a "management alert," which is used to inform senior DHS leadership when the IG believes there is an "immediate and serious" threat of waste, fraud and abuse.

After that report was issued in March, the sheriff’s office that runs the facility, said that all of the concerns alleged by the inspector general "have been addressed."

This new report focuses on five additional facilities.

At one detention center, staff misclassified some detainees with high-risk criminal convictions and housed them with low-risk detainees. At others, language assistance was not always provided to detainees, even though it’s required. And detainees at some facilities reported long waits for medical care, including instances of detainees with painful conditions, such as infected teeth and a knee injury, waiting days for medical intervention, reported the IG.

According to ICE, the agency ensures that detention facilities comply with detention standards through an aggressive inspections program.

For example, the custody management division schedules and oversees formal facility inspections, the majority of which are conducted by a third-party contractor.

Facilities that receive a less than acceptable rating must be scheduled for a follow-up inspection within six months, according to ICE.

If a facility receives two consecutive final ratings of less than acceptable, ICE must discontinue use of the facility.

“Based on multi-layered, rigorous inspections and oversight programs, ICE is confident in conditions and high standards of care at its detention facilities. To ensure the safety and well-being of those in our custody, we work regularly with contracted consultants and a variety of external stakeholders to review and improve detention conditions at ICE facilities. As such, ICE concurs with the IG’s recommendation to further enhance compliance monitoring as part of our already robust inspections program,” said a spokesperson for ICE in a statement.

This report comes at a time when apprehensions at the southwest border are at all-time lows, but immigration arrests by ICE throughout the U.S. are up 30 percent over last year – a three-year high.

Immigration enforcement has been a top priority for the Trump administration and its been largely carried out by the agents and immigration officers at ICE.

ICE detainees are held in civil, not criminal, custody, which is not supposed to be punitive.

Based on hotline tips, open-source reporting and professional judgment, the inspectors made unannounced visits to: Hudson County Jail, Laredo Processing Center, Otero County Processing Center, Santa Ana City Jail, Stewart Detention Center, and Theo Lacy Facility.

These locations are state and local facilities operating under an agreement with ICE to hold only ICE detainees. Some of the facilities also house non-ICE inmates.

At the Santa Ana City Jail, staff confirmed detainee reports of personnel strip searching all detainees upon admission, which they did not document in detainee files as required, according to the inspector general.

ICE discontinued its contract with the Santa Ana City Jail in early 2017 and will no longer house detainees in this facility, according to the report.

The Santa Ana City Jail did not respond to a phone call requesting comment on the report.

CoreCivic, a private company which manages two of the centers that were inspected, provides its detainees with access to services such as medical vaccinations, legal assistance and even educational opportunities, according to a spokesperson for the company.

"We were pleased that the OIG found no issues with our Laredo Processing Center, which the report said ‘modeled quality operations.' We believe the issues identified at Stewart Detention Center can be quickly and effectively remedied," CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said in a statement to ABC News.

ICE concurred with all of the inspector general recommendations and has begun corrective action to address the findings, according to the report.

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Courtesy Alpha Fire Company and Boalsburg Fire Company(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) -- Five people were injured at a Pennsylvania ski resort Saturday when a chair on the ski lift slid backward into the chair behind it, setting off a chain reaction that involved a total of five chairs, officials said.

Around 10 a.m., a "malfunction" on a section of the chair lift cut the first car loose, sending it sliding down the rope into another chair and causing a "chain reaction" that sent four slipped chairs sliding into a fifth, the Tussey Mountain ski resort said in a statement.

The State College, Pennsylvania, police said there were five minor injuries in the pile-up, none life-threatening.

"We take the safety of our guests very seriously, and are saddened to learn that there were non-life threatening injuries as a result of this accident," a statement on the Tussey Mountain Facebook page said.

Police said it took 90 minutes to evacuate the chair lift, including people who were stranded aloft when the lift was stopped.

Tussey Mountain, which closed after the mishap, said the lift had been inspected by state safety officials and had received a passing grade.

"[W]e have begun taking the necessary steps to ensure a situation like this will never happen again," Tussey Mountain's statement said. "We have contacted the manufacturer of the lift to diagnose what caused the malfunction, as well as the appropriate state agencies prior to re-opening."

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Residents of the Midwest and Northeast will wake up Saturday morning to a bone-chilling blast of cold air, with a wind chill that will make it feel like the temperature is in the teens and single digits.

The good news? It won't last too long, with milder temperatures kicking in later Saturday and continuing over the next few days.

The Northeast was slammed with a quick-hitting winter storm Friday night to areas along the I-95 corridor.

While the snow amounts were not particularly heavy, the timing of the heaviest snow bands caused a traffic nightmare for the Philadelphia and New York metro areas. Road crews attempted to keep the roads clear, but traffic and cold conditions hampered their efforts. The combination of snow and a traffic light outage in Philadelphia brought chaos to Center City, with traffic at a near-standstill Friday night.

Meanwhile, heavy bands of lake-effect snow brought near-whiteout conditions to parts of northwest Pennsylvania and upstate New York Friday night. Looking ahead, lake-effect snow is expected to continue through Saturday.

On Saturday morning, a band of heavy snow was moving through parts of Michigan and Ohio. Locally, over 4 inches of snow will be possible in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, region Saturday morning. And more lake-effect snow will develop later Saturday.

Lake-effect snow warnings and winter weather advisories have been posted for parts of Michigan, northeast Ohio, northwest Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Total snow accumulations are expected to be as high as 18 inches in the heaviest snow bands, which will be near the New York-Pennsylvania border. Winds in these heavy snow bands could gust as high as 35 mph.

Over on the West Coast, the weather will not help the effort to contain wildfires in Southern California. Extreme fire danger is expected through the weekend for much of Southern California, especially in the mountains of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Humidity could be as low as 5 percent in spots, with wind gusts over 50 mph possible. Elsewhere in California, much of the state is seeing critical fire danger with wind gusts over 30 mph and relative humidity as low as 5 percent. This includes the mountains and valleys outside of San Francisco.

Now, looking ahead to Christmas, which is a little over a week away, general large-scale weather patterns can be forecast now. While the beginning of the week will offer some seasonably mild temperatures in the central and eastern U.S., it does not appear that this trend will continue toward the upcoming holiday weekend.

In fact, unsettled weather late this week will occur, as cold air will spill down from Canada once again. The eight- to 14-day temperature outlook indicates widespread below-average temperatures across much of the continental U.S., with well-below average temperatures likely in the north-central U.S. This type of pattern will also bring a favorable track for more storms that could potentially bring unsettled weather during the busy travel period.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Since sexual misconduct allegations involving famous men are “coming up almost daily,” New York City police have designated a team to deal with them.

The team is within the Special Victims Unit and has been tasked with handling high-profile cases as they are reported in the media.

“Every case that comes up we take a look at,” Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Friday.

He cautioned that does not mean every instance is considered a full-blown investigation or will even develop beyond an initial review but he also stressed every credible report is being reviewed.

“We have to look and see if it’s in the statute, see when these crimes occurred, talk to our complainants and the prosecutors’ offices around the city where they may have happened and see if we can go forward,” Boyce said.

That is where the allegations against Russell Simmons stand.

“You know that we are looking into it. That doesn’t mean that we opened an investigation. We see if there is an investigation that’s possible,” Boyce said.

Boyce said detectives have sought out Simmons’ accusers to ask questions and see if there’s a case to be made.

“What came up in the last couple days, we take a look and we talk about it and we will go forward that way.”

Some of the allegations against Simmons involve alleged encounters in New York.

“The matter is certainly under review,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said, declining to elaborate.

Officials in both the DA’s office and the NYPD have cautioned that unless they find evidence of actual rape most other sexual misconduct crimes might be too old to prosecute.

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David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Devastated friends, family and colleagues intend to remember the firefighter who died Thursday battling a California wildfire as a “true hero," though also asking, “Why Cory?”

Cory Iverson, 32, died while fighting the Thomas Fire in Fillmore, California, according to a page set up on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.

He’s survived by his five-months pregnant wife, Ashley, and their 2-year-old daughter, Evie.

Cal Fire-San Diego Chief Tony Mecham choked up recalling the phone call informing him of Iverson's death.

“When my phone rang this morning, it was the phone call no fire chief ever wants to get,” he told reporters in San Diego Thursday.

He added: “The whole family at the [Iverson] house thought, ‘Why Cory?’”

The unending inferno has burned for 12 days and ravaged 252,500 acres, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials said.

As of this morning, the Thomas Fire, which has traveled more than 45 miles northwest, has prompted the evacuation of parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

It has also become the state’s fourth largest fire on record, but Iverson is the only firefighter to die so far, along with one resident.

And as of Friday, the Thomas Fire was credited with demolishing 972 structures and damaging more than 200, with only 35 percent of the fire contained, officials said.

Iverson succumbed to the Thomas Fire in Fillmore, California, after it had started on the afternoon of Dec. 4 in Santa Paula, but it’s unclear exactly how the eight-year veteran died.

He was “outside the fire engine” but officials “don’t know where the accident site occurred,” chief Mecham said.

Iverson, who was part of a five-member firefighting strike team, had headed north Dec. 5 from his San Diego base to help fellow firefighters battle the flames, Mecham said.

His entire team has now been pulled from the Thomas Fire and many are reuniting with their families, he said.

Iverson will be remembered as a “great young man, he added, “and somebody who really loved his job and took pride in wearing the Cal Fire badge.”

Mecham, who said he knew Iverson, remembered the fallen firefighter as an “incredible guy” and said he was also a “loving father and husband.”

The death traumatized fellow firefighters who have since been “going through all the range of emotions when one of these tragedies occur,” he said.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott asked for a moment of remembrance.

"... [P]lease join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers all the responders on the front lines in your thoughts as they continue to work under extremely challenging conditions," Pimlott wrote in a news release.

On the crowdfunding site, which was created by a family friend, Iverson is described as a brave and dedicated first responder.

“Cory Iverson is a true hero to our Southern California community,” according to the site, which has raised slightly more than $38,000 of the $50,000 goal.

It goes on to say how Iverson was expected to welcome a new addition to the family “in May.”

Instead, his death “leaves behind his best friend and devoted wife and a daughter with another little girl on the way.”

The fund is expected to help the family compensate for learning “to adapt to life without Cory.”

It will also help with funeral arrangements, as well as “for their girls, for help with the home and the yard,” according to the site.

The 8,369 firefighters attempting to put out the Thomas Fire aren't getting much of a respite this holiday season.

“Normally, this time of year, we’re slowing down and enjoying the holiday season with family,” Mecham said. “But we still have thousands of firefighters on the frontlines and it’s overwhelming for all of us.”

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Courtney Adams(HOUSTON) -- A woman in Alabama is helping bring Christmas to nearly 200 families in the Harvey-stricken Houston area through a holiday adoption group she started on Facebook.

Courtney Adams, 33, watched in despair from thousands of miles away in Auburn as parts of her hometown of Kingwood, Texas, flooded when Hurricane Harvey struck southeastern Texas in August.

Adams, a mother of three, said she felt “helpless” in the moment and relied on prayer to figure out how she could help.

She started a Facebook group, Holidays for Harvey, with the idea of matching people from across the country with families in need in the Houston area.

“I sat down and created a group on Facebook and I just started sharing it,” Adams said. “People started joining and asking for help and people started offering to help and give back.”

One of the first people to volunteer was Lori Martin, a mother of three from Pennsylvania who is friends with Adams but did not have a direct connection to Houston.

Martin and her family volunteered to provide Christmas for a husband and wife and their 17-year-old daughter whose home was hit hard by Harvey.

“The mom said she and her husband wanted nothing and they just wanted a nice day for their daughter,” said Martin, who purchased gift cards for the teen and is surprising her parents with gifts too. “I wrapped everything that I got individually because there is something special about opening a present on Christmas morning.”

Rachel Nicholson and her family will have presents to open on Christmas morning too, thanks to Adams.

Nicholson, a childhood friend of Adams’, gave birth to her third son just days before Harvey hit.

She and her newborn and two young sons had to be evacuated by boat as the first floor of their home flooded.

Nicholson and her family have been living in a rental home, relying on their savings, until their home is rebuilt.

“All of our money is going back into our house and the last thing you think about is presents,” said Nicholson. “Our boys deserve a Christmas and a home and not being displaced. I don’t want what happened to affect their memories of Christmas.”

Adams took Nicholson’s sons’ Christmas wish lists and had the gifts delivered to the family’s door.

“Now we have the presents under the tree thanks to Courtney,” Nicholson said. “She has been an angel and has orchestrated a movement. She really has.”

Adams was aided in her Christmas movement by two friends in Auburn who volunteered their time to help. Together, the three women have arranged Christmas for 188 families in the Houston area, totaling 620 kids and 1,045 family members.

Robinn Graves’ family includes five of those 620 kids.

Graves, her husband and their five children were evacuated from their Porter, Texas, home in a rescue truck when water began to overtake the home's first floor.

They got back into their house a few days after Harvey struck, and have been living in a construction zone ever since, with all their time and money going toward rebuilding.

“We have lots of Christmas traditions and we’ve had to cut back on what we can do, both financially and time wise,” said Graves. “We’ve had to spend all our time on the house and it’s taken a lot away from our family and the kids.”

Graves’ family was matched with a woman in New Jersey who is providing Christmas gifts for all five kids, ranging in age from 17 to 2.

The woman told her boyfriend and her daughter that she only wanted money for Christmas so that she could donate to charity, according to Graves.

“A couple of weeks ago they sent us a pre-lit Christmas tree,” said Graves. “That was our first sign of hope, that tree and the lights.”

Graves provided her kids’ wish lists -- which included practical items like a lamp and books for the older kids and a broom for the 2-year-old, who watches her parents clean the house -- and the presents are due to arrive next week.

“Without her, Christmas would have been over in a minute,” Graves said. “And we’ve connected on a personal level because we know how we’re a blessing to each other. She’s blessed because she’s able to help and we’re blessed to have her help.”

Adams said Graves and her donor have accomplished exactly what she set out to do.

“I wanted the families to know that we do love you guys, we know you’re still out there and that the rebuilding process hasn’t even begun for some,” she said. “They’re still trying to find normalcy and Christmas was just my foot in the door to get that.”

She continued, "To see the families that are supported and to hear how something so simple can bring so much to them, it’s just a good reminder that less is more. It’s all about the relationships we make as opposed to the stuff we think we need to make us happy."

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Columbia Couty(NEW YORK) -- The former assistant high school soccer coach who allegedly ran off with a Florida teen was hit with a charge of sexual activity with a minor Friday, according to ABC News affiliate WJXT.

Rian Rodriguez, 27, who made his first appearance before a judge via closed circuit video in Columbia County criminal court, already was facing the felony charge of interfering with custody of a child for allegedly taking 17-year-old Caitlyn Frisina from home for a week without her parents’ permission.

The circumstances surrounding the additional charge were not immediately clear. Rodriguez was held on $125,000 bond.

Frisina was returned safely to her parents after a state trooper in Syracuse, New York spotted Rodriguez behind the wheel of the car they were last spotted in.

Rodriguez, who worked as an assistant coach for the victim's father at Fort White High School, was then extradited to Florida.

At the time of the reunion, the teen's mother, Scarlet Frisina, told ABC News that the family was trying to "work through things."

"Ward and I and Caitlyn are very tired, worn out, in fact, physically and emotionally, and we feel that: she's home, she's OK, we're seeking counseling to help us work through things," she said. “We are incredibly grateful for all of the coverage and assistance everyone offered during this very trying time."

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A grand jury's report following the drinking death of a Pennsylvania State University student says school officials showed "a shocking apathy" to a dangerous pattern of hazing and excessive alcohol consumption cultivated by fraternity life on campus.

The report, released Friday by a Pennsylvania district attorney, recommends a number of changes that Penn State should undertake in the wake of the Feb. 4 death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza.

"The system didn't protect Tim and didn't protect others," Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said at a press conference. "Tim didn't have to die."

A Penn State spokesperson did not immediately have a comment when reached by ABC News.

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ABC News.(NEW YORK) -- One night this past March, Sarah Edmondson says she was one of five women summoned to a house outside Albany, New York.

She was there to willingly participate in a strange initiation ritual led by a woman who she said told everyone to take off their clothes and put on blindfolds.

“[She] led us in blindfolded and sat us in a semicircle… buck naked, no clothes, on a sheepskin rug,” Edmondson said. “Could that be any weirder?”

“And we were all, ‘My goodness, what’s going on here? This is so weird,’” she added.

Edmondson told ABC News and in a complaint to the New York State Department of Health that she thought they were going to get a tattoo, but then, as she said in our interview, they found out she and the other women were going to be branded.

“It was a horror movie,” she said. “It was the most inhumane, horrific way to treat anybody. But the most horrific thing is that it’s women doing it to women.”

Edmondson said each of the women would lie down naked and then was branded with a cauterizing device, without any anesthesia. When it was her turn, Edmondson said the pain felt “worse than childbirth.”

Watch the full story on ABC News "20/20" TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET

NXIVM is a secretive self-help organization based in Albany that was founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman. It touts itself as a “professional coaching company” and its website says it offers “Executive Success Programs,” or “ESP,” in New York, California, Canada , Mexico and elsewhere.

NXIVM hosts five-day and 16-day seminars it calls “Intensives,” which some former members said was like group therapy sessions that ran for as long as 14 hours a day for 16 days.

Former members who spoke with ABC News said Raniere is very protective of his teachings and requires participants to sign confidentiality agreements.

“Everyone signed it,” Edmondson said. “And if you didn't sign it, you couldn't take the curriculum.”

Edmondson is a wife and mother living in Vancouver with a successful career working in film, television and voiceover for 20 years, including starring in the TV series, “Continuum,” and doing the voiceover work for the cartoon series, “My Little Pony.”

She said she signed up for her first five-day seminar in 2005 when she was 27.

“I left my five-day, my initial training as if a veil had been lifted,” she said. “And I could see things more clearly in my life.”

After attending NXIVM seminars for more than a decade, Edmondson said she was approached about an opportunity to join a secret sorority. Then one night, Edmondson said she and four other women, one by one, submitted to being branded by a woman named Dr. Danielle Roberts.

“The [first] woman on the table screamed out in pain, twisted and turned and yelled,” Edmondson said. “And the woman I was with, holding her legs down, we looked at each other and we just wept.”

ABC News approached Dr. Roberts at a wellness expo in New York City for this report and she said she had no comment. An attorney for Dr. Roberts told ABC News these allegations are “unfounded.”

In her complaint to New York State Department of Health, Edmondson said she was told the brand was a Latin symbol but then said she realized it included the letters “K” and “R,” which she took to be the initials for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere.

“I lost it when I figured that out,” Edmondson said. “I am not cattle. I’m not owned by Keith.”

Raniere did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment. In a letter posted on the NXIVM website, Raniere said, “There is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals.” Raniere said the secret sorority is “not part of NXIVM and… I am not associated with the group.” The letter also said, “Our experts … say members of the sorority are thriving, healthy, happy, better off, and haven’t been coerced.” When ABC News requested comment from Nancy Salzman, she referred us to this letter.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Chris McCowen, the man who was convicted of raping and murdering Christa Worthington, is speaking out about being at the center of what was then the biggest case to hit the Cape in decades.

“There's a lot of speculation on the exact timeline of when she was killed,” McCowen told ABC News “20/20.” “I’m not guilty of anything ... this is a nightmare for me.”

Worthington, a 46-year-old fashion writer and single mother, was found stabbed to death in her seaside cottage in Truro, Massachusetts, on Jan. 6, 2002, with her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ava, by her side, unharmed. The case earned national attention after authorities made a controversial move to ask every man in the community to voluntarily submit a DNA sample prior to making an arrest.

McCowen, who worked as a garbage man on the Cape and had Worthington’s home on his trash route, didn’t testify at his 2006 trial, but was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and aggravated burglary in connection with Worthington’s death.

He was given three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, but has long maintained his innocence.

Since his conviction, McCowen has had one appeal and three motions for a new trial denied. Now, armed with a new defense attorney, McCowen is hoping to get new evidence that could warrant a new trial and overturn his conviction.

“At this point, Chris wants to get his story out there,” his current attorney, Gary Pelletier told “20/20.” “Chris wants to explain. Chris regrets not testifying.”

McCowen told “20/20” he knew Worthington from his trash route, and that her trash pick-up day was on Thursdays – a detail that was confirmed by the owner of the trash collection company McCowen worked for at the time.

“Being a garbage man, you know, I get to go by everybody’s houses and, you know, get to talk to them briefly,” McCowen said. Worthington was found dead on a Sunday, but that previous Thursday, McCowen said he was coming by her house for trash pick-up and she asked him about getting rid of her Christmas tree.

“She asked me to come in the house and to look at her Christmas tree,” he said.

After she invited him in, McCowen said then “one thing led to another.”

“It just like it was just a mutual thing between two people, I guess,” he said. “We started kissing. Then we ... ended up having, having sex.”

McCowen said he had sex with Worthington just that one time. Her body was found three days later, but he insists he didn’t kill her. The prosecution maintains to this day that the evidence against McCowen, and him alone, was "overwhelming."

During trial, prosecutors presented forensic evidence that showed a match between McCowen’s DNA and DNA found on Worthington’s body, as well as statements McCowen made during a six-hour interview with two investigators after his arrest, who said McCowen kept changing his story from saying that he never knew Worthington, to saying he went over to her house and had sex with her, to saying he and a friend beat her up after a night of heavy drinking.

At trial, McCowen’s former attorney Bob George argued that McCowen was poorly educated with low intelligence, so he wasn’t able to understand what was happening after his arrest and was only telling police what he thought they wanted to hear, that McCowen wasn't sober at the time of the six-hour police interview and that the interview was not recorded, only summarized by an investigator in a 27-page report, so it was impossible to know exactly what was said.

McCowen told "20/20" that he didn’t remember talking with police nor what he told them during the six-hour interview because he was under the influence of Percocet, cocaine and marijuana at the time.

“They [police] kept on switching everything up,” McCowen said. “I was so intoxicated off of all of them drugs that I really didn't know what the hell was going on.”

During his statements to police after his arrest, McCowen had said he and his friend Jeremy Frazier had gone over to Worthington’s house after a night of drinking. At one point, McCowen claimed Frazier had killed her.

McCowen said he didn’t remember ever going over to Worthington’s house with Frazier. When asked why he named Frazier as her killer, McCowen told “20/20,” “That’s what they [police] said that I did. I didn’t do that.”

Frazier testified for the prosecution at McCowen’s trial that he was at an underage club called The Juice Bar with his friend Shawn Mulvey and McCowen for a rap contest on Jan. 4, 2002, the Friday before Worthington's body was found.

Just like in his interview with police, Frazier said they left the bar and went to a party, where a fight broke out and everyone was kicked out. Frazier said he and Mulvey then went to Mulvey's father’s house and were there the rest of the night. Frazier said he didn't know what happened to McCowen.

McCowen told “20/20” that after leaving The Juice Bar, he went to the party but then “went straight home” afterwards.

Frazier denied having any involvement with Worthington’s death and denied going to her house with McCowen on the night in question. Police believed Frazier, and also believed that McCowen went over to Worthington's house by himself.

Today, having spent the past 11 years behind bars, McCowen said he was optimistic that his current attorney will be successful in getting him a new trial.

“I don’t deserve to be in [prison],” he said.

This article is part of an investigative series by "20/20" and ABC Radio looking into the murder of Christa Worthington and the trial and conviction of Christopher McCowen. Watch the two-hour "20/20" documentary, "A Killing on the Cape," HERE and the six-part podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and under the "Listen" tab on the ABC News app.

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