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33 snakes, including endangered species, found dead at zoo

Knoxville Zoo officials are investigating why 33 reptiles, including three endangered species, died Wednesday. 

Herpetologists came to work that morning to find a majority of the 52 animals housed in one of the reptile buildings dead. They immediately evacuated the snakes and lizards, giving them oxygen and checking their heartbeats with an ultrasound device.

“This is a devastating and catastrophic loss to our zoo,” Lisa New, president at the zoo, told the Knoxville News Sentinel Saturday. “These animals were important ambassadors who helped so many people understand the role snakes and lizards play in the balance of nature.”

>> Read more trending news

Veterinarians from the zoo as well as from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine are investigating the cause of death.

“We also lost breeding programs for several endangered and threatened species,” she added. “It is especially difficult for our herpetologists who have dedicated their careers to caring for and advocating for these animals.”

Three critically endangered species died; the Louisiana pine snake, the Catalina Island rattlesnake and the Aruba Island rattlesnake. The zoo’s forest cobra and albino Eastern diamondback rattlesnake also died.

“We don't know exactly what occurred to cause this terrible event, but we do know it was isolated to a single building,” the zoo said in a post on Facebook. “We are continuing to investigate all the physical systems and conducting necropsies to see if we can gain any insight.”

UNC mascot's memory kept alive through organ donation 10 years later

Sunday marks 10 years since Jason Ray, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill mascot, died after he was hit by a vehicle in New Jersey.

"You've still got that big chunk in your stomach when you think about it," mother Charlotte Ray said. 

Jason was in New Jersey to perform as the Tar Heels’ mascot, Rameses, in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. He was severely injured when hit by a car on a Friday night in late March 2007. He died three days later.

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Jason's parents, Charlotte and Emmitt Ray, sat down with Channel 9's DaShawn Brown and talked to her about their son's decision to become an organ donor years before his death.

His parents described Jason as a young man who loved life, loved Carolina and also loved people. His decision to become an organ donor later helped 118 people."We just honored his wish and I've never regretted it," Charlotte Ray said.

Ten years since his death, his legacy seems infinite. His family started the Jason Ray Foundation in his honor, which raises money for other transplant patients. The foundation holds a golf tournament every year to help raise money. The tournament will be held April 3 in Kannapolis this year.

UNC also renamed its transplant clinic in 2016 after Jason, whose death prompted more than 46,000 people to sign up to be donors too.

"That was our whole intent when we started this, making sure Jason wasn't forgotten," Emmitt Ray said.

Sword-carrying man dressed as Joker arrested

A man was arrested Friday after going out in public while dressed to look like the Joker from “Batman,”  complete with a cape and a sword.

Jeremy Putman, 31, was arrested and charged with wearing a mask in public. He is being held on $2,000 bail, WJLA reports. 

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Winchester police said they received several calls about Putman walking around the city in the costume around 2 p.m.

Police said they got similar calls last week but do not think there are more suspects. 

Spring breakers shotgun beer with shark

Spring breakers may have taken “fun” a little too far, using sea creatures to help them get drunk.

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The rowdy Instagram account for Total Frat Move shared a clip sent to the account from some Spring break revelers using an apparent dead shark to shotgun a beer.

 

While some found these posts amusing, others were critical, calling the video animal abuse.

Total Frat Move posted a response regarding it on its website

“I can admit that it’s in relative poor taste, but it’s not so bad that it deserves all this attention, or even close to it.”

1 dead, 1 injured in shooting near Vegas’ Cosmopolitan hotel 

For the second time in less than 24 hours, police have swarmed the Las Vegas Strip after at least one person was killed in a shooting near the Cosmopolitan hotel and casino.

>> Related: Burglary at Bellagio Hotel and Casino prompts lockdown on Vegas strip

Police said Saturday afternoon that the situation was not an active shooter situation. 

The suspect peacefully surrendered around 6 p.m., according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

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Around 11:30 a.m. Las Vegas police reported that they were investigating a shooting that occurred on South Las Vegas Boulevard.

Authorities believed an individual who was on a bus that was traveling on the strip is responsible for the shooting.

Police closed portions of the strip, and set up a staging area and a barricade.

Guests at the Cosmopolitan resort were evacuated.

Shortly after 11 a.m., KSNV reported that at least one victim of a shooting had been transported to University Medical Center trauma in unknown condition.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, authorities reported a second victim had been killed.

According to USA Today, police evacuated the nearby Cosmopolitan hotel and casino shortly after 1 p.m.

“The shooting incident happened on the bus,” said Larry Hadfield, a spokesman with Las Vegas Metro police. “We had one single shooting incident with two victims. Both were transported to the trauma center and one is deceased.”

Hadfield said police were negotiating with the suspect Saturday afternoon in an effort to take him into custody, USA Today reported.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Burglary at Bellagio Hotel and Casino prompts lockdown on Vegas strip

Las Vegas police are investigating a burglary at a retail store in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino after an incident that occurred overnight Friday, The Associated Press reported. 

>> Read more trending news

Police said Saturday they believe at least three people entered the store.

It was not immediately clear what items were stolen. The store was closed at the time of the burglary. 

Authorities said the suspects broke into a high-end jewelry and watch store, where they may have used sledgehammers to break into the shop's jewelry cases.

A witness said she saw an armed burglar wearing a pig mask near a Rolex store. Authorities said they are reviewing surveillance tape, where they saw multiple suspects wearing “character masks,” ABC News reported.

According to ABC News, the Bellagio was on lockdown for approximately a half-hour after the incident.

Police initially thought at least one of the theives may have fired gunshots during the burglary, but later said they believed the sound of the sledgehammers breaking the jewelry cases may have been confused for gunshots.

Guests fled the hotel and casino in the midst of the incident. No one was injured. 

Police have taken one suspect into custody. 

Portions of the Bellagio were closed Saturday as police continue to investigate.

Couple accused of killing deaf son, lighting house on fire to destroy evidence

A couple has been indicted on accusations that they murdered their deaf teenage son and then burned down their house to cover up the crime, the Associated Press reported.

>> Read more trending news 

According to the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office in New York, Ernest F. Franklin II, 35, and his wife, Heather Franklin, 33, of Guilford, New York, were charged with second-degree murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence.

The two were indicted Friday on charges of second-degree murder in the death of their adopted son, 16-year-old Jeffrey Franklin, People magazine reported.

Following an investigation of a fire on March 1 at the family’s 1,300-square-foot home, the couple was arrested. Investigators believe they set fire to their home to cover up the killing of their son. An autopsy determined he died prior to the fire, according to the sheriff’s office.

Local law authorities have not said how or when the boy was killed.

The Franklins got married in 2011 and adopted Jeffrey six or seven years ago, the sheriff’s office said. According to People magazine, Ernest is an Iraq War veteran. Heather wrote in posts on her Facebook page that she is pregnant.

The Franklins are being held without bail. They entered a plea of not guilty.

“People are asking themselves, ‘How could this happen?'” Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting Jr. told People magazine. “Certainly for the public here, it’s a mix of anger and frustration and disappointment.”

Just days before Heather Franklin was arrested, she posted an update on her Facebook page about how much she missed her son, who she called JR. She also informed friends and family that she and her husband had added their “needs” and “wants” to the CheckedTwice.com Family Gift Registry because they lost everything in the fire.

A GoFundMe page was also established, but it has been taken down.

The Associated Press reported that police who responded to a 911 call about 1:15 a.m. on March 1 found the Franklin’s house, located about an hour away from Syracuse, engulfed in flames. Jeffrey was inside and unable to escape the fire, according to the sheriff’s office.

Authorities initially said the cause of the fire appeared to be a wood stove, the residence’s main heating source.

“People are wondering how anybody could do something so brutal to a developmentally disabled and handicapped 16-year-old boy,” Cutting told People. “There are a lot of people who would have taken him. There are organizations that would have taken care of him. Why resort to that? … It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy.”

Cher drops from Flint water crisis movie, cites family issue

Cher will no longer appear as planned in “Flint,” a Lifetime original movie about contaminated river water that became a main water source in the Michigan city in 2014.

The announcement came weeks after news was released that the 70-year-old singer would star in and produce the film.

>> Read more trending news

Cher, who has helped donate more than 100,000 bottles of clean drinking water to the residents of Flint, cited “a serious family issue” as the reason for dropping out.

“This has been a project so near and dear to my heart, and I was truly looking forward to helping tell this story,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I will be unable to leave Los Angeles during the scheduled filming as I am dealing with a serious family issue that prevents me from going on location for the April filming. I’m so glad that [producers] Craig [Zadan] and Neil [Meron] plan to move ahead, and I know that this Lifetime movie will be done beautifully.”

According to Deadline, producers have been in the process of casting other roles for “Flint,” but the film is still on track to begin production in Toronto next month.

The film is based on Time magazine’s February 2016 cover story by Josh Sanburn titled, “The Toxic Tap.”

Cher’s role was a Flint resident whose family was impacted by the crisis.

“Flint” is described as “a hard-hitting, fact-based drama that will explore the events that led to the toxic crime and shed light on politics of the poor management and the human element of residents who suffered and were ignored,” according to Variety magazine.

Katie Couric will also serve as an executive producer for the Sony TV-produced film.

This week, comedian Amy Schumer announced she will no longer star in another Sony-produced film as previously planned.

>> Related: Amy Schumer drops out of live-action ‘Barbie’ movie

Chicago teacher fired for telling student to stand for Pledge of Allegiance

A Chicago-area teacher was fired this month for telling a student to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Vince Ziebarth, a full-time driver’s ed teacher at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois, was upset when one of his students wouldn’t stand for the pledge. He told the student to either get on his feet or forgo that day’s driving lesson.

>> Read more trending news

“I told him he can make a choice to sit, but as long as you choose to sit, you will not sit in my [driver’s ed] vehicle,” Ziebarth said, arguing that he gave the student a choice. “I did not tell him what to do.”

However, when the student, Shemar Cooper, told his mother about the incident, she wasn’t pleased.

“If my son didn’t say anything to me, [the teacher] would have continued — and that’s bullying,” Cooper’s mother, Kelley Porter Turner, told the Tribune. “He violated my son’s First Amendment rights.”

Ziebarth, whose grandfather served in World War II, and his uncle in Vietnam, said he explained to Cooper why standing for the pledge is so important.

“I told him I stand to honor the sacrifice and bravery of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It doesn’t mean America is perfect, or that we agree with everything going on,” he told the Tribune. “We had an understanding. He was making a choice, and I was making a choice. His name never appeared on my sign-up sheet again, so I thought it was over.”

The school employs seven other driver’s ed teachers, and students are allowed to choose which teacher they want to ride with. After their first conversation, Ziebarth said he and Cooper often “joked” about the ordeal, but Porter didn’t find it funny and complained to the school.

“I was given no options. Had the principal told me I had to allow Shemar in my car, I would have,” Ziebarth said of the day he was fired. “The punishment does not fit the crime.”

At the beginning of the school year, another teacher at the school was suspended for one day after grabbing Cooper’s arm during the pledge in an effort to get him to stand.

Cooper, whose uncle served in the Army and grandfather served in World War II, said he made the decision to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance as an act of defiance against the rise of reported incidents of police brutality against black Americans last year. 

Read the full story at the The Chicago Tribune.

Class assignment leads 8-year-old to become bestselling author

What started off as a school assignment led one 8-year-old girl to land on Amazon’s Best Seller list.

>> Read more trending news

Nia Mya Reese is a student in Hoover, Alabama. She has an “annoying” little brother who constantly keeps her on her toes.

“He won’t always listen,” Nia told CBS News.

Nia Mya wrote a book about her experiences as a big sister titled, “How to Deal With and Care For Your Annoying Little Brother.” The book has since landed at the top of Amazon’s Best Seller list for parenting under the sibling relationships subsection.

The book began as a first-grade class assignment last year.

“Nia Mya shared that she was a great big sister to an annoying little brother,” teacher Beth Hankins told CBS News.

Nia Mya’s mom, Cherinita, turned the book into a summer assignment, encouraging Nia Mya to work on getting the words and sentences just right.

Now, Nia Mya has a fan base and attends book signing for her book. She said she learned something very valuable from the whole experience.

“I learned to follow my own dreams,” she said. 

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