American Scene

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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TEXAS

Officials: Armed boy killed by police in school

BROWNSVILLE — Police fatally shot an armed eighth-grader who “engaged” officers in the main hallway of his middle school Wednesday, the Brownsville Independent School District said.

School district officials said administrators immediately called police after the student brandished a weapon about 8 a.m., shortly after classes started at Cummings Middle School. When police arrived, the student “engaged” the officers and was shot, district spokeswoman Drue Brown said.

Cameron County Justice of the Peace Kip V. Johnson Hodge pronounced the student dead at a hospital and has ordered an autopsy, said court coordinator Israel Tapia.

The school, with an enrollment of about 750 students, was placed on lockdown when administrators called police, and no one else was injured, Miss Brown said.

CALIFORNIA

German man charged in LA arsons

LOS ANGELES — A German man has been charged with arson in connection with a rash of fires set in Los Angeles over the New Year’s weekend.

Los Angeles prosecutors filed dozens of counts Wednesday against Harry Burkhart, 24.

Mr. Burkhart is suspected of setting more than 50 arson blazes that caused an estimated $3 million in damage.

Authorities said they think he was angry over his mother’s legal troubles and went on a nighttime rampage of burning parked cars a day after she appeared in court last week.

Mr. Burkhart has been put on suicide watch, a law enforcement official said Wednesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy issues.

ARIZONA

President of Navajo Code Talkers Association dies

FLAGSTAFF — Keith Little envisioned a place that would house the stories of the Navajo Code Talkers and where people could learn more about the famed World War II group that used its native language as a weapon.

His family now hopes to carry out his dream of a museum in Arizona that also will hold wartime memorabilia and serve as a haven for veterans. Mr. Little, one of the most recognizable of the remaining Code Talkers, died of melanoma Tuesday night at a Fort Defiance hospital, said his wife, Nellie. He was 87.

Mr. Little was 17 when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, becoming one of hundreds of Navajos trained as Code Talkers. They used a code developed by 29 tribal members that was based on the then-unwritten Navajo language. Their code helped confound the Japanese and win the war.

Mr. Little, the longtime president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association until his death, traveled the country seeking funding for the museum that is expected to cost up to $30 million. He preached about the preservation of Navajo traditions, culture and the language that the federal government tried to eradicate before he and others were called on to use it during the war.

CONNECTICUT

Man gets 70 years for kidnapping ex-wife

HARTFORD — A former advertising executive was sentenced Wednesday to 70 years in prison for kidnapping his ex-wife, holding her hostage for nearly a dozen hours and burning down the Connecticut home they once shared.

Richard Shenkman was convicted in October of 10 charges including kidnapping, arson, assault and threatening. He faced a potential of nearly 80 years in prison.

Shenkman, 62, abducted his ex-wife, Nancy Tyler, from downtown Hartford in 2009 and forced her at gunpoint to drive to the home in South Windsor. The two were in the middle of divorce-related court hearings.

Ms. Tyler testified that Shenkman threatened to kill her, fired a gun near her head and threatened to blow up the house. She escaped unharmed. He was arrested after running out of the burning house.

Defense attorney Hugh Keefe said he will appeal the judge’s decision.

NEW YORK

Robert Carter, fighter against segregation, dies

NEW YORK — Robert Carter, a lawyer who helped put together the legal arguments that led to major civil rights victories against segregation, has died. He was 94.

John Carter says his father died Tuesday morning at a Manhattan hospital after suffering a stroke last week.

The former federal judge was a member of the legal team led by Thurgood Marshall that turned to the courts to battle discrimination in the 1940s and 1950s. That team won high-profile victories such as the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 in which the U.S. Supreme Court decreed segregated public schools were unconstitutional.

Robert Carter was nominated for the federal judiciary in 1972. His tenure there included oversight of the merger between the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association.

TEXAS

Phone use of convicted polygamist leader suspended

HOUSTON — Texas prison officials have suspended indefinitely the phone privileges of convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs while they investigate whether he violated rules with improper calls Christmas Day.

Officials think the calls Jeffs made to two approved people on his phone list were broadcast on a speakerphone to his congregation, a violation of the prison phone rules.

“At this point, he’s unable to make phone calls pending the outcome of the investigation,” Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said Wednesday.

He said the inquiry would likely wrap up within the next week or so. Authorities aren’t saying how they found out Jeffs may have been preaching over the phone but have noted that except for calls to their lawyers, calls made through the inmate telephone system are monitored and recorded.

Jeffs, 56, is serving a life sentence plus 20 years at an East Texas prison for sexually assaulting two of his underage brides. The charges followed a raid in 2008 on a West Texas ranch that’s home to followers of his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

MISSOURI

Library sued over blocking of religious content

ST. LOUIS — The American Civil Liberties Union has sued a small-town public library, claiming it unconstitutionally blocks access to websites related to Wicca and other minority religions.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in St. Louis on behalf of Anaka Hunter, a resident of Salem, a largely Christian community of about 5,000 residents in the Missouri Ozarks.

Miss Hunter said she was trying to do research at the Salem Public Library but filtering software blocked access to many sites about religions such as Wicca, an earth-based religion, derived from pre-Christian religions and magical practices that promote a peaceful and balanced lifestyle. Miss Hunter was also unable to access sites about American Indian religions.

Library director Glenda Wofford said it isn’t the library’s intent to prohibit reasonable use of the Internet for research and other legitimate purposes. She said she would have unblocked websites but Miss Hunter refused to specify which sites she wanted to access, citing privacy rights.

Federal law requires public libraries to use filtering software that blocks access to sites with explicit, pornographic and adult content.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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