News 2 Today Alert Center: Friday, April 29

These are the top stories coming into the News 2 Alert Center throughout the morning of Friday, April 29. 

Man’s ‘bomb’ was candy bars wrapped in foil

Authorities say the “bomb” a man claimed to be wearing when he walked into a television station wearing an animal costume was in reality a red flotation device stuffed with chocolate candy bars wrapped in aluminum foil.

Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith said a police sniper shot the man Thursday after he refused to put his hands up. Smith said that after a robot removed the suspicious garment, the man was taken to a local hospital, where he was in serious but stable condition.

Smith says the man walked into the lobby of WBFF-TV on Baltimore’s Television Hill about 1:20 p.m. wearing a panda costume, the red garment, and a surgical mask.

He says the man gave a flash drive to a security guard and said he wanted the station to broadcast it. Smith does not know what was on the flash drive.

Smith described the suspect as a 25-year-old white male from Howard County. He says he will not be identified until he is charged.

Germany worries migrants will try to reach Europe from Libya

BERLIN (AP) — German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has told reporters the government is concerned that an increasing number of migrants will try to reach Europe this summer by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

De Maiziere and his Austrian counterpart, Walter Sobotka, met Friday, and both ministers said that Italy needs to do more to protect its southern sea border.

With the flow of people across the eastern Mediterranean slowing sharply due to the NATO patrols and an EU agreement to return illegal migrants to Turkey, officials say it is likely that those trying to reach Europe will increasingly try to set off from Libya again. The route has seen a number of mass drownings over the past year of migrants packed into unseaworthy boats.

New Information in disappearance of 2 Florida teens lost at sea

(NBC NEWS) – The families of two Florida teenagers who disappeared off the Florida coast during a fishing trip last year suspect that foul play may have been involved, a suspicion that authorities have taken seriously for several months, court documents and investigative records reveal.

The boys, Perry Cohen and his longtime friend Austin Stephanos, who would both now be 15, remain missing more than nine months after they vanished July 24, 2015, while on a fishing trip. Their marooned fishing boat was discovered off Bermuda last month, with an iPhone and a tackle box on board, the Coast Guard said.

The iPhone, which was heavily damaged by saltwater, is at the center of a legal dispute between the boys’ families. Pamela Jill Cohen, Perry’s mother, has sued Austin’s parents, Carly Black and William Blu Stephanos, demanding that the phone be turned over to third-party investigators for professional examination.

The phone belonged to Austin, but in her legal action, Perry’s mother says her son’s phone was broken, so the boys agreed to share use of Austin’s phone, and thus she has a compelling interest in its contents. In the action, Cohen argues that she “will continue to suffer irreparable harm if the iPhone is not properly handled as material evidence in a possible maritime crime or homicide.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which turned the phone over to Austin’s parents this week, is also named in the suit. A hearing is scheduled for Friday afternoon in state circuit court in Palm Beach County.

A 128-page investigative file dated Feb. 8 reveals that the FBI has been involved in the investigation since September and that in December, state investigators requested subpoenas for phone records in connection with “an official investigation of a suspected felony.”

The FBI’s involvement began in September, when Austin’s stepfather, Nick Korniloff, contacted the FBI and a Fish and Wildlife Commission criminal investigator saying he believed the boys were abducted, according to the file.

The investigative file also discloses that at least two friends of Austin’s received a Snapchat message from him on or about July 24 reading “we’re f’d.” Investigators stressed, however, that neither friend could definitely confirm that they received the message on the day the boys disappeared.

But Pamela Cohen’s attorney, Guy Bennett Rubin, told WPBF-TV in Palm Beach, Florida that photographs of the marooned vessel, which was recovered by a Norwegian supply ship on March 18, prove that “the boat was disabled intentionally.”

The photographs show the ignition switch and the battery — both of which were in hard-to-access parts of the boat — in the “off” position.”

“So we don’t know whether foul play was involved or not,” Rubin told the station.

Speaking separately at a news conference this week, Rubin said the Fish and Wildlife Commission “has indicated to us that the investigation is open and continuing, and they are taking all of this new information very seriously.”

Rubin said Cohen is “desperate” to know what happened, and “we’re not going to just stand by and let someone kind of filter the information that we get.”

In a statement released through a foundation that the Cohen family set up in their son’s memory, Pamela Cohen said the family gave its consent for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to turn Austin’s iPhone over to independent investigators. Authorities haven’t said explicitly that Austin’s parents refused to give such consent, but the Fish and Wildlife Commission said it returned the phone to them this week.

In a statement of their own, Austin’s parents said they were working with Apple Inc., “who seems willing to help us try to get the phone operational again.” They promised to share the phone’s data with Cohen and with investigators, but they said they didn’t want to compromise any potentially “very sensitive and very personal” information.

“In light of the recent San Bernardino incident involving attempts by the FBI to retrieve data from a locked iPhone, we felt that it would be best to avoid the pressures of having these efforts played out in the media,” they said.

But “this is no less a serious matter to us than it has been for the San Bernardino families,” Cohen told NBC News.

“As a mother, I owe it to Perry to fight for him when he cannot,” she said. “We need to avail ourselves of the best resources and intelligence to preserve and retrieve this potentially vital iPhone information. We all want truth and transparency.”

Proposed rule would delay questions about criminal history

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is proposing a rule that would prohibit federal agencies from asking certain job applicants questions about criminal and credit history until a conditional offer of employment has been made.

The administration said that early inquiries about criminal history can unnecessarily narrow the pool of qualified candidates and make it that much harder for those with criminal histories to support themselves and their families.

Beth Cobert, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, told reporters in a conference call that the rule being proposed Friday would give applicants from all segments of society a “fair chance” to compete for federal jobs. She said that early screening for criminal history can prematurely disqualify applicants from consideration without agencies checking whether an arrest actually led to a conviction.

The proposed rule would cover jobs in which applicants must compete with others in an open competition, but it won’t apply to many of the positions dealing with national security, intelligence and law enforcement, Cobert said.

President Barack Obama had already directed the government’s personnel office to wait until later in the hiring process to ask about criminal histories. The proposed rule would formalize that process.

Obama has intensified efforts during the final months of his presidency to help the previously incarcerated. Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from federal and state prisons, and millions more are released each year from local jails. He has said that helping those who have paid their debt to society can reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.

The White House also noted that more companies are committing to undertaking similar efforts to remove barriers in the hiring of those with a criminal record. In all, the White House said, 112 companies and organizations employing more than 1.5 million people have committed to ensuring that information about criminal history is considered in the proper context. Microsoft, Best Buy, Kellogg Co. and Catholic Charities were among those who committed to the effort.

Horry County Schools changes bathroom policy

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) – Horry County Schools has agreed to let a transgender student use the boys’ bathroom after he was suspended for using the “wrong” bathroom.

Media outlets report that the Transgender Law Center sent an email April 21 to Horry County Superintendent Rick Maxey threatening legal action if a transgender high schooler wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom consistent with his gender identity.

The email said Horry County Schools had until Wednesday to respond.

Horry County Board of Education chairman Joe DeFeo confirmed that the district agreed to allow the student to use the bathroom consistent with his gender identity. He also says the suspension will be removed from the student’s record.

The Transgender Law Center says the student had used the boys’ bathrooms throughout middle and high school without incident, until he was suspended in January.

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