Threat closes Newtown, Conn., grade school
NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- An unspecified threat Tuesday prompted officials to close an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., as most students in the town returned to school.
Parents taking their children to Head O'Meadow Elementary for what would have been the first day of classes since 20 students and six adults were killed Friday at Sandy Hood Elementary School were turned away by police, ABC News reported.
The schools are in the same district less than 5 miles apart.
Head O'Meadow's principal sent an email to parents informing them the school would be closed Tuesday because of threats.
"As was predicted by the police that there would be some threats, the police were prepared and have us in lockdown, which is normal procedure," the email said. "Due to the situation, students will not come to school today. Please make arrangements to keep them home."
New security systems were being installed at other Newtown schools.
ABC said law enforcement officials classified Sandy Hook Elementary School as an active crime scene that the building would remain closed. Furniture and supplies from the school were being transported to a former middle school in Monroe, Conn., about 10 miles away.
WTNH-TV, New Haven, Conn., said Sandy Hook students would begin classes in Monroe Wednesday.
More funeral services, including those of two 6-year-old children, and wakes were held Tuesday for the victims of gunman Adam Lanza, 20, who killed himself during the shooting rampage. Police said Lanza also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in the home they shared before he went to Sandy Hook.
Boehner: Obama's new proposal not balanced
WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- House Speaker John Boehner says he and Republicans still hope to reach agreement with President Obama on a "balanced" approach that averts the fiscal cliff.
"What we've offered meets the definition of balance," Boehner said Tuesday during a media availability, "but the president is not there yet."
He said the Obama administration's latest offer Monday was "at $1.3 trillion in new revenues for only $850 billion in net spending reductions. That's not balanced in my opinion."
Boehner said he was going to "Plan B," which he said would protect taxpayers earning $1 million or less and "have all of their current rates extended."
"I continue to have hope that we can reach a broader agreement with the White House that would reduce spending as well as have revenues on the table," Boehner said. "I think it would be better for our country, but at this point, having a backup plan to make sure that as few American taxpayers are affected by this increase as possible, moving down that path is the right course of action for us."
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama has compromised and was willing to have rates go up on those making $400,000 – up from his original $250,000 – as a "good faith effort."
NBC reporter free from captivity in Syria
DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- NBC News's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, two colleagues and a security guard were released after five days of captivity in Syria, NBC said Tuesday.
In a statement, NBC said Engel and his crew, missing since entering Syria from Turkey Thursday, were "freed from captors in Syria after a firefight at a checkpoint on Monday, five days after they were taken prisoner."
The NBC News crew was unharmed in the firefight. They were in Syria until Tuesday when they worked their way to the Turkish border and entered Turkey, the network said. The former captives were to be evaluated and debriefed, but had relayed that all were in good health.
"We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country," NBC said.
Turkey's NTV news channel said Aziz Akyavas, a Turkish correspondent with NBC, was taken along with Engel.
Akyavas told NTV he and his colleague were blindfolded and handcuffed as they were held in several locations during the time of their captivity.
While not physically abused, Akyavas said the captives were humiliated, subjected to mock executions and denied food. He said the captors asked them to speak to a camera, identify themselves and ask their governments to rescue them, and were told the video would be posted on YouTube.
S. Africans charged with plot to kill Zuma
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Four white South Africans planned to assassinate President Jacob Zuma and other leaders of the African National Congress, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Mark Trollip, John Martin Keevy, Johan Hendrik Prinsloo and Hein Boonzaaier appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court, the Mail & Guardian reported. Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams said the four were involved in a conspiracy to shoot Zuma and others "execution style" during the ANC's conference in Mangaung.
Abrahams said the killings were planned for Sunday, the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River. On Dec. 16, 1838, a small group of Voortrekkers -- Boers moving into the interior of South Africa -- defeated thousands of Zulu fighters.
Prosecutors said the group had a stockpile of arms.
The four were ordered held without bail pending another hearing Jan. 8.
Francois Cloete, head of the new Federale Vryheids Party or Federal Freedom Party, told the Mail two of the defendants are members of the group.
"We as the Federal Freedom Party still believe they are innocent because the story of the police is constantly changing," he said. "The police must now finally confirm to the FVP what they have been arrested for."
2 bank robbers escape from Chicago jail
CHICAGO, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Two convicted bank robbers used a rope of bedsheets to escape from a 15th-floor cell in a Chicago jail early Tuesday, an official said.
Joseph "Jose" Banks, 37, and Kenneth Conley, 38, were still on the run hours later, the Chicago Tribune reported. SWAT teams raided a house owned by a relative of Conley but found it empty with signs the fugitives had been there some hours earlier.
Police Sgt. Michael Lazzaro said the pair apparently made their way through a narrow window and down the side of the building after a 5 a.m. check. They were discovered to be missing at 8:45 a.m.
"A rope was fashioned out of bedsheets," a spokesman for the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center said. "I would imagine that they saved them up."
Both men had been found guilty of holding up banks, Banks only last week. Banks, who stole $600,000 in two robberies, with $500,000 still missing, was nicknamed the "Second-Hand Bandit."
Theresa Ann Banks pleaded with her cousin to surrender.
"I just don't want to see him get hurt or killed," she said.