Blog Posts by Jason Sickles, Yahoo

  • Arkansas tornado victim's message of hope goes viral

    'Show them what my God can overcome,' says woman who lost both sons

    The focus of Jessica Sowards' portraits are usually warm fuzzies — baby bumps, birthdays and other family milestones.

    So it was with great irony and pain this week that the Arkansas photographer snapped the saddest image her lens has ever captured.

    The photo is of her close friend April Smith lying in a hospital bed. Smith’s face is swollen and battered. Two broken legs and a fractured pelvis will keep her from walking for months.

    Daniel and April Smith lost sons Cameron, 9, and Tyler, 7, when the tornado hit Vilonia, Ark. (Courtesy photo)

    But even worse, the tornado also claimed the lives of her two children, 9-year-old Cameron and 7-year-old Tyler.

    The whole family, along with husband and dad Daniel Smith, were beneath a mattress in a bathtub last Sunday evening when the violent twister obliterated their Vilonia, Ark., home. Daniel suffered head trauma and is recovering at a separate Little Rock hospital from his wife.

    Cameron and Tyler were among eight Vilonia residents who died on Sunday. The Arkansas tornado, which packed wind speeds of up to 200 mph, killed 15 people in all. The Smiths'

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  • Unique home spares Vilonia family from Arkansas tornado's direct hit

    VILONIA, Ark. — Jerri Weaver’s house is certainly unconventional. Some might even call it kooky. But come crunch time — when Mother Nature’s fury is at her doorstep as it was Sunday night — the native Arkansan has peace of mind in her bunkerlike abode.

    “I have no fear,” Weaver said. “I know that we’re going to be OK.”

    That’s because the 1,600-square-foot home was built into a hillside. While some people here in tornado-prone Central Arkansas have storm shelters, Weaver and her family have essentially lived in one for 30 years.

    The initial design and purpose of the home was for energy savings (the earthen insulation requires less heating and cooling), but the Weavers have come to value the home’s near tornado-proofing.

    “At first people think it’s weird, but you start talking to them and they realize it’s pretty cool,” said Liz Weaver, Jerri’s daughter. “We built Hobbit-holes before they were cool.”

    Voyne Weaver, Jerri’s father-in-law and a former concrete dealer, has built four of the

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  • Father and son tell of a ‘very different’ twister

    84-year-old realizes he may have cheated death during killer Arkansas tornado

    VILONIA, Ark. ­— Doctors and nurses are fussing over James Purvis, trying to stitch up gashes to his arm and above his left eye. The 84-year-old suffered the wounds a few hours earlier when a massive tornado ravaged his home.

    Purvis knows he’s fortunate to be alive, and was antsy when his son, who had ridden out the storm with him, arrived at the hospital.

    “He immediately wanted me to find his rosary,” said Jim Purvis, 55.

    Jim tracked down his dad’s bloodstained pants and pulled a pouch from a front pocket. Inside the pouch were prayer beads and a crucifix Purvis has carried since he fought in the Korean War.

    “It gives you something to lean on,” said the elder Purvis, who was still in hospital scrubs Monday afternoon. “We lost everything. The thing came through the center of the house.”

    James Purvis, 84, suffered several cuts when his roof collapsed on him during the tornado. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo News)

    The father and son were watching television shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday when weather conditions began to worsen. After the TV signal went out, the men began watching the skies as they had done so many

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  • Boy Scouts shut down troop for refusing to banish gay scoutmaster

    Minister of sponsor church says boys will continue meeting regardless

    The Boy Scouts of America, one of the country’s largest and oldest youth organizations, has shut down a Seattle troop and pack for refusing to remove an openly homosexual scoutmaster.

    In a letter sent last week from BSA attorney Steven P. McGowan to Seattle attorney Peter J. Mullenix, the Scouts fault Rainier Beach United Methodist Church for allowing Geoff McGrath to serve in violation of their policy that "does not allow open or avowed homosexuals to serve as volunteer adult leaders."

    The chapter is being closed "as a result of this refusal to comply with the policies, guidelines, rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America," according to the letter. It goes on to say Troop 98 may "no longer use the Scouting program or any of its registered marks or brands."

    However, the Rev. Monica Corsaro, minister of the Seattle troop's host church, told Yahoo News on Monday that the 15 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts will meet this week as though nothing had changed. But will they wear their

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  • Witness's risky tweeting gave world front-row view of Boston Marathon firefight

    A year later, people are still asking Andrew Kitzenberg, 'What were you thinking?'

    They were the most frantic moments of Andrew Kitzenberg’s life.

    The young entrepreneur had just settled down to watch TV shortly before 1 a.m. last April 19 when a barrage of gunfire rattled his quaint Boston-area neighborhood.

    “Pop, pop, pop,” recalls Kitzenberg, then 26. “It was really loud.”

    Flushed with shock, adrenaline and curiosity, Kitzenberg darted to the window. He could see two men crouched behind a black SUV on Laurel Street, 40 feet from his front door in Watertown, Mass. One of them had a handgun and was firing wildly at police officers down the street.

    Kitzenberg raced up the stairs to his third-floor bedroom where he lay prone across his bed. From just beneath a window, he was able to photograph and tweet with his iPhone what was unfolding.

    That first grainy photo and Kitzenberg’s take on the turmoil were discovered and

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  • Alleged victim targets accused pedophile priest 30 years later

    ‘Brutal abuser’ remains free while former altar boy fights for change in sexual-assault laws

    “There are very few pictures of me being a happy kid,” says John Delaney, who says he was sexually abused for years by Catholic priest James Brzyski. (Courtesy photos)
    The Rev. James Brzyski allegedly began molesting John Delaney when the altar boy was 11, persuading the child to keep quiet by saying his parents condoned their sexual relationship.

    “This guy had me all screwed up in my head,” Delaney said.

    More than 30 years later, the now defrocked Philadelphia Catholic priest is still trying to manipulate the narrative.

    When asked about Delaney by Yahoo News, Brzyski, 63, was silent for several seconds. Then he blurted out, “Quite a liar, John is,” and hung up the phone.

    Delaney, now 42, brushed off Brzyski’s denial.

    “You tell him John Delaney’s coming for him,” he said in a thick Philly accent. “I'm not a little kid anymore. You can't do this to me. I'm going to fight back now.”

    Delaney getting his day in court will be easier said than done.

    In 2005, a grand jury report made public by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office alleged Brzyski had subjected Delaney and at least 16 other boys to “unrelenting abuse, including fondling, oral sex, and

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  • Surge in luxury shooting ranges caters to new gun culture

    ‘We’re an entertainment complex, if you will,’ Lock & Load's manager says

    FRISCO, Texas ­­— It’s the lunch hour on a recent Wednesday, and pricey sedans outnumber pickups parked at the crowded parking lot of the indoor Frisco Gun Club.

    Mercedes, BMW, Lexus — they're all here.

    Inside the club, men sit in leather chairs and do business over a gourmet lunch.

    A middle-aged woman browses a spacious shopping area and eyes a purse designed to conceal a handgun.

    The club’s marketing manager talks up a future pizza-and-pistol family night promotion.

    All the while, less than 100 feet away, more than a dozen shooters blast targets on ranges where a state-of-the-art ventilation system purifies the air.

    Take note Elmer Fudd — this is definitely not your granddaddy's good ol’ boy retreat.

    “It’s like a country club,” said Jason Tanaka, a 40-year-old mortgage executive who skipped lunch to put 100 rounds through his new semi-automatic pistol.

    While the $12 million Frisco Gun Club bills itself as the “nation's premiere indoor shooting range,” it is certainly not alone. In

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  • American father Philip Wood confirmed as passenger on missing Malaysia Airlines jet

    DALLAS – One of three Americans aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is a longtime IBM executive who raised his family in North Texas before moving to East Asia.

    The name of Philip Wood, 50, is among 239 people identified on a passenger manifest provided by the airline. Two others with American passports are listed as Nicole Meng, 4, and Yan Zhang, age 2.

    Wood’s ex-wife confirmed the family’s fears in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon.

    Philip Wood (Linkedin)“Philip Wood was a wonderful man,” wrote Elaine Wood, who still lives in the Dallas area. “Although we were no longer married, he is still family. His sons and I just want peace and quiet right now.”

    Elaine's Facebook page was quickly flooded with messages of condolences from friends and family. Wood’s oldest son is a recent graduate of Texas A&M University, which his younger son now attends.

    The family last saw Wood about a week ago when he visited his Texas home, James Wood, the man’s brother, told the AP on Sunday.

    “There is a shock,

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  • James Tague, key JFK assassination witness, dies

    The assassin's missed shot left with him a minor injury and a place in history

    A material witness whose testimony contributed to the controversial “magic bullet theory” in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has died.

    James Tague was standing in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza when the shots were fired on Nov. 22, 1963. A bullet presumably meant for Kennedy instead struck a curb near where Tague was standing and sent debris flying into his face.

    “It was just skin-deep, that’s all there was to it,” Tague told Yahoo News three months ago when he was the subject of a video story on the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

    Tague’s daughter, Suanna Holloway, said her father died at his home 70 miles north of Dallas on Friday following a brief illness. He was 77.

    “It happened very fast,” Holloway said. “He was a fantastic father.”

    Tague’s experience at Dealey Plaza ultimately led Warren Commission investigators to conclude that one of the three shots missed and that one of the rounds went through both JFK and Texas Gov. John Connally.

    JFK researcher Debra Conway

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  • Tornadoes, strong thunderstorms threaten East Coast

    Just a week after being buried by snow and ice, a number of states along the East Coast are dealing with the threat of thunderstorms and tornadoes on Friday.

    Severe weather watches and warnings are in play from the Florida Panhandle to Philadelphia, including tornado alerts for Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and North and South Carolina.

    The bumpy weather is a product of a cold front pushing toward the Eastern Seaboard.

    From the National Weather Service:

    A deep supply of moisture flowing northward from the Gulf of Mexico ahead of the cold front is resulting in widespread moderate to heavy rainfall, along with strong thunderstorms. Most locations across the East Coast states should experience a round of rain and embedded thunderstorms lasting for a few hours as the band

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