Teenagers in love found slain, bound in abandoned mine shaft

They were teenagers in love, bonding after overcoming personal struggles and dreaming of a family and future together. When they vanished days after Christmas, friends and family combed Utah’s west desert for months in search of answers.

What police eventually discovered was more unspeakable than anyone had imagined: The teens’ bound and stabbed bodies were 100 feet (31 meters) down an abandoned mine shaft.

“We had every scenario run through our heads, but for the events that truly took place, words can’t even describe it,” said Amanda Hunt, after learning the fates of her 17-year-old niece, Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, and 18-year-old Riley Powell.

A man enraged that his girlfriend had welcomed her friends into their home bound, beat and stabbed Powell to death as Otteson watched in horror before he cut her throat, prosecutors said this week.

“It’s as bad as anything I’ve ever seen,” said Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon. “They just seem like decent kids … they never did anything to deserve this.”

Otteson, an outspoken teenager with side-swept hair and bright hazel eyes, had been wrestling for years with her mother’s death in a car crash. But she found something special in Powell, her aunt said. Over Thanksgiving the teen was telling her family she might be pregnant.

“She struggled with that affection, she struggled with feeling that people loved her, and the same with Riley,” Hunt said. “I think they both wanted to be loved.”

Powell had his own challenges. He’d been sent to a boys’ home after bringing a gun to his high school, though Hunt said he only intended to take it rabbit hunting. He changed schools, graduated and found work as a plumber.

The couple was living with Powell’s father in Eureka, a former silver mining town with a wind-swept main street surrounded by sandy-colored hills pockmarked with hundreds of abandoned mine shafts about 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Sturdily built with glasses and a goatee, Powell often played basketball or went riding off-road growing up. At one point, Hunt said he’d briefly dated a woman named Morgan Henderson.

The two remained friends, and made plans to meet at her house and smoke marijuana at around midnight on Dec. 30, police say, after Powell and Otteson wrapped up Christmas celebrations with her family.

Investigators pieced together a scenario of what happened next, according to court documents and statements Henderson gave to authorities:

The couple met Henderson, 34, at a home she was sharing with a 41-year-old boyfriend named Jarrod Baum near Eureka. He’d been in and out of jail since robbing a Burger King at age 15, said Cannon, who booked him into jail back then.

He had warned Henderson against having male friends over, and when he arrived home and found the teenagers there he exploded, she said. He tied them up, duct-taped their mouths and threw them in the back of Powell’s Jeep. He told Henderson to get in.

They drove a few miles outside town and stopped in front of a mine shaft wide enough to swallow a car and nearly 2,000 feet (609 meters) deep.

Baum pulled the teenagers out of the Jeep and led them to the abandoned mine, at one point congratulating them on her pregnancy. While Otteson had hoped have a baby, investigators later found she wasn’t pregnant. It’s not clear why Baum mentioned it.

He made her kneel and watch as he beat and stabbed Riley Powell to death, police said, before Baum sliced her throat and tossed her down the mine after him.

The bodies stayed there for months as family and friends combed the desert, descending into several of the abandoned mines around Eureka. Searchers even stood over the pit known as the Tintic Standard Mine No. 2, but didn’t go down because it was too deep for their team, Hunt said.

Henderson, meanwhile, told police she hadn’t seen the couple. A break came March 25, when Henderson was pulled over with weapons in her car and arrested. She eventually told police the story of what happened and led them to the bodies.

Baum is facing aggravated murder, kidnapping and other charges that could bring the death penalty, while Henderson is charged with obstruction of justice. No attorneys were available to comment for Baum or Henderson, and there were no working publicly listed phone numbers for them.

At a hearing Tuesday, Baum turned and locked eyes with the teens’ heartbroken families.

“He just looked empty,” Hunt said. “Soulless.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: U.S.

'Affluenza teen' Ethan Couch released from jail

Ethan Couch, the young Texas man at the center of the so-called affluenza case, was released from jail this morning.

Couch, now 20, was sentenced to two years in Tarrant County jail after violating his probation conditions for a 2013 fatal drunk-driving accident that killed four people and injured several others.

His case gained national attention when a psychologist involved in the case said then-16-year-old Couch was a product of “affluenza” — a term he used to describe Couch’s irresponsible lifestyle associated with his affluent upbringing. Couch had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit on the night of the crash.

After leaving the Tarrant County jail this morning, Couch was sent to meet with probation officers in a separate building. He was released from the probation office later in the morning.

“[Couch] will now serve the remaining six years of his period of community supervision under the terms and conditions imposed by the court,” his lawyers, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, said in a statement to ABC News. “From the beginning, Ethan has admitted his conduct, accepted responsibility for his actions, and felt true remorse for the terrible consequences of those actions.

“Now, nearly five years after this horrific event, Ethan does not wish to draw attention to himself and requests privacy so he may focus on successfully completing his community supervision and going forward as a law-abiding citizen,” the lawyers’ statement said.

Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years of probation and time in a rehabilitation center.

However, in 2015, he failed to show up to a check-in with his probation officer, sparking a manhunt. Authorities discovered he had fled to Mexico with his mother, Tonya Couch.

Ethan Couch was extradited back to the U.S. and later sentenced to 720 days in jail for violating the terms of his probation.

Meanwhile, Tonya Couch was charged with hindering apprehension of a known felon and money laundering, but released on bond. Last week, though, she violated her probation when she failed her court-ordered drug test. She was arrested and booked into the same jail as her son just days before his release.

Her trial is set to begin in May.

ABC News’ Jim Scholz contributed to this report.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: U.S.

Tens of thousands of teachers planning massive rallies and classroom walkouts

Tens of thousands of public school teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma plan to attend rallies on Monday at their state capitols in what they hope will be the latest display of muscle by the nation’s educators demanding higher wages and better classroom resources.

The double demonstrations come less than a month after West Virginia teachers went on a nine-day strike that ended with the governor there signing legislation giving them a 5 percent pay hike — their first raise in four years.

“What happened in West Virginia is inspiring for sure,” a spokesperson for the Kentucky Education Association told ABC News Sunday.

The planned rallies also come on the heels of one on Wednesday in which 2,500 teachers in Arizona — who are demanding a 20 percent raise — demonstrated at the state’s capitol in Phoenix. Gov. Doug Ducey didn’t directly address the teachers’ demands, but noted that the state already gave teachers a 4.3 percent raise from 2016 to 2017.

On Monday, thousands of teachers and supporters in Kentucky are expected to descend on the state capitol in Frankfort to demand Gov. Matt Bevin veto a bill that overhauls their pension plan, which they say was forged by lawmakers in secret backroom deals.

Meanwhile, thousands of Oklahoma teachers and advocates for better education are poised to stage a classroom walkout and converge on the state capitol in Oklahoma City to call on lawmakers, including Gov. Mary Fallin, to restore funding for education programs and supplies they say have been drastically slashed over the last decade.

The Oklahoma protest comes after Fallin signed legislation Thursday granting teachers annual pay raises averaging $ 6,100, the largest in state history. Oklahoma teachers had been making an average of $ 45,276 a year, among the lowest wages for educators in the country, according to a 2017 report by the National Education Association.

While teachers in Oklahoma say they appreciate the pay raise, they are upset that state lawmakers shortchanged their students by slating only $ 50 million for education programs and supplies.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said the union had asked that teachers’ pay be raised by $ 10,000 annually and that funding for education be boosted by $ 200 million over the next three years.

“It’s not about teacher pay raises. It’s not about being greedy and needing what I need. It’s me seeing what my kids need and recognizing that I can only do so much in the classroom,” David Walls, a seventh-grade teacher in Moore, Oklahoma, told ABC station KOCO in Oklahoma City.

Despite the pay hike, Oklahoma educators still earn below the national average for public school teachers of $ 58,950 a year, according to the National Education Association report. Only teachers in Mississippi and South Dakota earn less, according to the report.

Teacher union officials in Oklahoma say many educators have left their schools for higher pay in neighboring states. In Arkansas, public school teachers earn an average of $ 48,218 annually, while teachers in Texas make an average of $ 51,890 a year.

In anticipation of the teacher walkout, many Oklahoma public school districts, including those in the largest districts of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, canceled classes for Monday.

Doug Folks, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Education Association, told ABC News that about 200 schools in the state will close Monday due to the teacher walkout.

“There will be teachers from schools that are open who will join us at the Capitol. Those schools will combine classes or get subs where they can,” Folk said in an email, adding that teachers who can’t attend the Oklahoma City demonstration plan to protest in their home districts.

As of Sunday, union officials said they were planning for just a one-day teacher walkout.

In Kentucky, so many teachers staged a sickout on Friday that 29 school districts were forced to cancel classes because they couldn’t find enough substitute teachers.

Up to 10,000 teachers, parents and students plan to attend the demonstration, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday in front of the Kentucky Education Association headquarters in Frankfort, and march around the state capitol building.

Stephanie Winkler, president of Kentucky Education Association and a fourth-grade teacher from Madison County, Kentucky, called for the demonstration on Friday, a day after the state Senate and House passed a bill that was initially meant to address sewage service, but was amended at the last minute to include the measure to overhaul the teachers’ pension plan.

During a news conference Friday, Winkler said the move by lawmakers was “nothing short of a bomb that has exploded on public service.”

The union is asking Bevin to reject the bill, which creates a “hybrid” plan for new teacher and will no longer allow experienced teachers to tack on accrued sick leave pay to their years of service when calculating retirement benefits.

The Republican-dominated legislature says the pension reform bill was crafted to help the state cover a $ 41 billion shortfall in pension costs over the next 30 years. But teachers’ union officials said the pension overhaul would only generate $ 300 million in savings over the next three decades.

“These political shenanigans are unacceptable,” Winkler said. “Anyone who voted yes for this bill will need to start packing up their legislative office.”

Winkler said the union did not have anything to do with organizing the teacher sickout on Friday, saying, “I can’t control what teachers do.”

Bevin, a Republican, has voiced support for the bill and after the legislature passed it Thursday night he tweeted that public workers owe “a deep debt of gratitude” to the state lawmakers.

Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men & women who did the right thing

The governor has not announced when or if he will sign the legislation.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: U.S.

Mother arrested after 2 children found dead strapped to car seats

A mother was arrested after her two children were found strapped to their car seats, dead, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona said.

Brittany Velasquez, 20, was taken into custody after the two children, ages 2 and 10 months, were discovered dead Monday night, according to ABC affiliate KNXV.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Navideh Forghani said that evidence indicates foul play and autopsies are underway.

The children’s grandmother told Arizona’s Family that she feels the system has failed her.

Other relatives told the news outlet that law enforcement officials and the Department of Child Safety that had been called to the family’s home multiple times.

Velasquez faces two counts of murder. She was booked into the Pinal County Jail on Tuesday, jail records show.

It was not immediately clear whether she’d entered a plea.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: U.S.

Pilots report close encounters with UFO over Arizona: 'Something just passed over us'

Two pilots on different aircraft reported having close encounters with a mysterious object flying high above Arizona last month, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The sightings occurred within minutes of each other on the afternoon of Feb. 24, some 40,000 feet above southern Arizona near the New Mexico border. ABC News obtained the audio recording of the conversation between the pilots and the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center, released by the FAA.

The news comes amid a series of reports of military pilots coming into contact with what they believed to be UFOs and the disclosure of a secret, but now-defunct Pentagon program to track such incidents.

The pilot of a Learjet 36 belonging to Phoenix Air, with the tail number N71PG, reported the initial sighting. He asks the controller: “Was anybody above us that passed us like 30 seconds ago?

“Negative,” the controller responds.

“OK. Something did,” the Learjet pilot says.

“It’s a UFO,” another pilot chimes in.

“Yeah,” the Learjet pilot laughs.

A few minutes later, the controller radios to American Airlines Flight 1095, an Airbus A321. He asks the pilot, “Let me know if you see anything pass over you here in the next 15 miles.”

The pilot seems puzzled and responds, “If anything passes over us?”

“Affirmative. We had an aircraft in front of you at 37 [thousand feet] that reported something pass over him and we didn’t have any [radar] targets, so just let me know if you see anything pass over you,” the controller says.

“All right,” the pilot says.

The Learjet pilot joins the conversation, saying, “I don’t know what it was, it wasn’t an airplane but it was — the path was going in the opposite direction.”

About a minute later, the American Airlines Flight 1095 pilot radios back to the controller to report a bizarre sighting in Arizona’s airspace.

“Yeah, something just passed over us, like a — I don’t know what it was. But it was at least two, three thousand feet above us. Yeah, it passed right over the top of us,” the pilot says.

“OK, American 1095, thank you,” the controller responds.

The controller later asks, “American 1095, can you tell if it was in motion or just hovering?”

“Couldn’t make it out whether it was a balloon or whatnot. But it was just really beaming light or could have had a big reflection and was several thousand feet above us going opposite direction,” the pilot says.

“Roger,” the controller responds.

The American Airlines pilot later radios to the controller again, asking if the unidentified object was a “Google balloon.”

“Doubtful,” another pilot chimes in.

The voice of another pilot adds, “UFO.”

The controller was unable to verify that any other aircraft was in the area at the time of the reported sightings, according to a spokesperson for the FAA.

“We have a close working relationship with a number of other agencies and safely handle military aircraft and civilian aircraft of all types in that area every day, including high-altitude weather balloons,” the spokesperson told ABC News in an email Wednesday.

Phoenix Air Group vice president Bob Tracey told ABC News he recently spoke with the captain of the Learjet after reading about the sightings in a local newspaper. The captain said he was flying at about 37,000 feet when the unidentified object flew several thousand feet over his aircraft at a speed that appeared similar to what a commercial airline would travel. The captain said he often sees balloons or airships at these flight levels, but a beam of light shining off the object was so bright that he couldn’t decipher whether that’s what it was, according to Tracey.

“He said the only thing that was different about this was that it was just so bright,” Tracey told ABC News in a phone interview Wednesday. “The glare was so intense, they couldn’t make it out.”

Tracey said the captain described the sighting as “rather uneventful,” but he notified air traffic control because he was concerned the object could hit other aircraft.

“He said when he landed, he didn’t give it much thought,” Tracey added.

American Airlines referred ABC News’ request for comment to the FAA.

Spokespersons for Google and the North American Aerospace Defense Command did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

ABC News’ Anthony McMahon, Rex Sakamoto and Daniel Steinberger contributed to this report.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: U.S.

'Build Your Own AR-15' class in Michigan draws a crowd just days after protest

Just four days after the March for Our Lives protests were held across the country in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, some residents of a Michigan suburb took to the streets again to protest the annual “Build Your Own AR-15” class at a local VFW hall.

The class, run by a local gun dealer, sparked about two dozen protesters to descend on VFW hall 4073 which hosted the event in Marshall, Mich. on Tuesday.

This is the third year that the class is being held in the space, and the recent protests and gun law debates didn’t stop it from moving forward.

“We did consider [canceling], but owing to the great response we were getting, we decided to go ahead with it,” John Delaney, the quartermaster of the lodge, told ABC News.

The class is run by Chris Walden, who owns a gun business in nearby Battle Creek. There are four monthly sessions where enrollees buy the various parts and build their own AR-15s.

“This is an opportunity for Americans to exercise their Second Amendment right to help those who are protesting this voice their First Amendment right,” Walden told local CBS station WWMT.

ABC News was not able to reach Walden for comment.

Delaney said that he was present for the class on Tuesday but wasn’t planning to attend the rest of the sessions this year, having already participated twice before. He said that there were about 60 people who attended the class on Tuesday, which he said was “a little bigger” than past classes, and there were 24 people who protested peacefully outside.

“I knew several of the people over on the other side of the fence there and we had a couple ladies from the protest come in and talk to us and ask questions,” he said. “It was kind of, I’d say, productive.”

One of the protesters, Pam Daume, told WWMT that the timing of the event was disrespectful to the victims of school shootings.

“The event is disgusting,” Daume told WWMT. “It’s a slap in the face to all of the children who have died.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: U.S.