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In wake of national anthem protests, school honors police, first responders in pregame ceremony

Nearly every day, there are headlines about high schoolers, college students, singers and professional athletes taking a knee or sitting out during a pregame performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner.”

<script>(function(d, s, id) {</span><br /><span>  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];</span><br /><span>  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;</span><br /><span>  js = d.createElement(s); = id;</span><br /><span>  js.src = "//;version=v2.8";</span><br /><span>  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);</span><br /><span>}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script> Middletown police celebrationPosted by The Asbury Park Press on Friday, October 21, 2016

>> Watch the video here

These protests have come after Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the national anthem for this year’s NFL games. Kaepernick, and those who have followed in his footsteps, wish to open a dialogue about racism in the United States, specifically the number of high-profile police shootings of African-Americans.

On Friday night in Middletown, New Jersey, students, teachers, parents and residents came together to turn the pregame ceremony into something a little different before a football game between Middletown High School South and rival Toms River North.

The pregame ceremony included a mammoth tribute to police officers, firefighters, military and other first responders. 

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

“There’s too much violence going on,” Carmine Babino told the Asbury Park Press.

“I didn’t grow up in that, and I don’t want them to grow up in that,” he said of his children.

Hundreds of local officers came together to march on the field. Linden police Officer Angel Padilla, who helped capture bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahimi, was given an award. Bagpipes played, people cheered and an American flag was unfurled on the field.

Despite the good tidings of the event, the American Civil Liberties Union believed that it set a frightening precedent.

“The statements made by the deputy police chief and the event’s ostentatious show of power send an ominous, frightening message: that, as an official stance, law enforcement will not tolerate expressions acknowledging our nation’s history of unequal treatment and systematic oppression,” Jasmine Crenshaw, ACLU-NJ organizer, said.

>> Read more trending stories

Prior to the game, Middletown Deputy Police Chief Steve Dollinger had condemned those who protest the national anthem.

“It’s OK to stand up for social justice, inequality and reform,” Dollinger said, according to the Asbury Park Press.

“It’s another thing to not stand up for the national anthem.”

Celebrities, athletes react as Cubs clinch first pennant since 1945

The Chicago Cubs on Saturday clinched their first National League pennant in 71 years, beating the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the NLCS. Next stop: The World Series, where the Cubs will face the Cleveland Indians.

>> Sheen offers to throw out first pitch at World Series

>> Cubs' comeback: Social media reacts to Chicago's dramatic NLDS win

After the historic win, celebrities and athletes took to Twitter to celebrate. 

>> Click here or scroll down to see what people were saying

>> Read more trending stories

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6 months later, skepticism, rumors abound with grisly 'massacre' of Ohio family still unsolved

Six months later, these wooded hills are holding tight to their secrets.

Neighbors say it’s much quieter on Union Hill Road than it was when Chris Rhoden Sr. and his family raised fighting roosters, bred dogs and salvaged cars for sale. Chris Jr. would tear up and down the road on a four-wheeler.

The mobile homes where the father and son and six members of their family were found shot to death April 22 are warehoused, along with dozens of vehicles, at a chemical plant outside nearby Waverly.

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Free-standing porches mark the spots where the homes were towed from three properties deep in the hills, now shaded by scarlet and burgundy leaves. Barbed wire and “no trespassing” signs block the driveways. A playground, rusted boat, boarded-up barns and car parts spot the yards. Someone planted small American flags and solar-powered lights, one for each victim.

Six months later, no one has been arrested for what Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called a “cold-blooded, calculated massacre.”

Rumors far outnumber official information coming from an ongoing investigation.

Family members and their neighbors pray for justice, but many are losing hope. Residents of Piketon and Waverly quietly shake their heads when asked if they think the crime will be solved.

Leonard Manley, whose daughter and three grandchildren were among those killed, said he thinks they’ll find the killers “one of these days.”

“It may not be in my lifetime,” said Manley, 65. “I got five, 10 years maybe to live.”

Manley keeps a photo collage of the victims: Chris Sr. and his ex-wife Dana Rhoden; their three children, Hanna, Chris Jr., and Frankie; Frankie’s girlfriend Hannah Gilley; and Chris Sr.’s brother Kenneth and cousin Gary.

They were shot a total of 32 times, mostly in the head. Manley said his daughter Dana was shot in the head five times.

“It’s more like a hate crime than anything,” he said of the barbaric nature of the killings.

But three children were left alive — ages 3, 6 months and 4 days. Manley said one was found covered in blood because he was nursing when his mother was murdered.

A fourth surviving child was staying elsewhere that night. Some of the children remain in protective custody.

Plenty of rumors

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader’s confirmation last week that he believes someone from Pike County is behind the slayings came as little surprise to those who knew the family.

“Whoever done it had to know the dogs,” said Manley, who lives a half-mile from the nearest crime scene. He said Chris Sr. had a vicious pit bull named Chance that even he wouldn’t go near without Dana or Chris around.

“I guarantee if anyone pulled up to his garage and took a step on the concrete where the wire (invisible fence) wasn’t, I’ll tell you he’d been bit,” Manley said.

Manley said he has received more information from the media than from the Sheriff’s Office or the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. And the hills are full of rumors: that this was about a road rage incident, a child custody battle, a dispute over a demolition derby car, a drug deal gone bad, and on and on.

Manley doesn’t know what to believe. Authorities have refused to dispel even the most farfetched claims.

Manley said even his son and daughter — Dana’s brother and sister — were suspects, which Manley said was offensive because his children were close and Dana and her big brother had a “special relationship.”

“If they asked me what they asked my daughter and my son I’d come across the desk and I’d beat the hell out of one of them,” he said. “They asked them how much someone paid them to kill that family.”

Manley said if he knew who did it, “the sheriff wouldn’t have to worry about it.”

‘Bigger than that’

Initial reports that investigators found a large marijuana grow operation at the crime scene fueled speculation that Mexican drug cartels could be involved, considering the apparent sophistication of the crime and prior reports that Mexican organized crime was previously active in the area.

But Reader put that to rest for the first time in an interview with Cincinnati television station WCPO.

“With the nature of the investigation, and the things that’s been revealed while conducting the investigation, there would be no indication to me as to any type of Mexican drug cartel being involved,” he said. “It wasn’t because they had a couple little indoor grows, wasn’t because there was just a couple of cars on the property that may have been stolen. It’s much bigger than that.”

DeWine’s office would only say that there were at least two killers and at least one of them was familiar with the property.

The attorney general’s office also provided statistics on what has become one of the largest criminal investigation in state history. It has included more than 150 interviews, more than 100 pieces of evidence submitted for testing, roughly 90 office staffers working on the case at some point, and more than 700 tips to chase down.

‘Locked and loaded’

Meanwhile, Manley and others say they sleep with firearms within reach, ready to defend their homes if someone kicks in a door or breaks a window.

“I’m locked and loaded in there about seven times,” said Brian Distel, who lives next door to Bobby Jo Manley in a cluster of trailers known as Camp Creek. Bobby Jo first found the bodies and called 911.

“I try to keep an eye out for her too,” he said.

Luke Rhoden, whose father was Kenneth, was stoic about whether his family was still in danger. He doubts the killers will come back.

As for whether the killers will be brought to justice, he said: “I think eventually, yeah. But soon? Probably not. If someone knows anything, they’re too scared to come forward.”

Pessimism, politics

At the edge of nearby Piketon, diners at the Riverside Restaurant enjoyed fried eggs and burgers on Texas toast on Wednesday. Waitress Amanda Kinsley said the shootings were “the big talk for a good while,” but now it rarely comes up in conversation.

Whoever did it, “I think they’re long gone,” she said.

Likewise at Ritchie’s BBQ, bar patrons could all describe in detail exactly where they were when they heard of the horrific crime. But that late April day gradually has faded from conversation.

“I don’t think it’s gonna get solved,” bartender Heather Colesinger said, noting the revelation that the killer may be someone local follows numerous other claims that turned out to be false.

“Next week, it’ll be the Mafia or something,” she said.

The yards and fields of Piketon, Waverly and the rest of Pike County are peppered with political signs, many supporting Reader, but also for his Republican challenger Delbert Slusher.

Amid this campaign, a former Waverly police officer and sheriff’s deputy has printed a tabloid that circulates across the county. It accuses Reader of criminal acts. Reader denies the accusations.

DeWine also faces pressure to end the investigation with an arrest, as he plans a run for the Ohio governor’s mansion in 2018.

And costs are growing. Pike County officials are trying to get help from the state to cover the tab for moving and storing the evidence: $135,000 and growing.

Help stalled

The ongoing investigation also has frozen assistance usually available to families and survivors of violent crime.

Some of the victims had life insurance, but Manley said investigators are holding up autopsies and other reports needed to apply. Similar problems are stalling applications for victim’s compensation from the state.

The inheritance process is stalled in probate court because the family’s property is being held as evidence. Some speculate it will all be kept by the county as drug forfeiture, though one family member said they were told it won’t. It’s unclear when the property will be released; the storage lease is good through mid-May.

Manley said he hopes to auction off his daughter’s belongings, including 15 cars in her name.

“Whenever it’s all said and done, the four grandchildren are going to get all of it,” he said.

Manley said a woman came to him claiming she was a friend of his daughter and raised money selling balloons and other things, but he said he found out a week ago that she pocketed the cash.

A dispute among family members forced GoFundMe to refund $8,220 raised to pay for the funeral for Dana and her children, he said.

‘Somebody knows’

Manley credits the congregation of the Union Hill Church, about a mile from the Union Hill crime scene, for support, including paying off the expenses of burying his daughter and grandchildren.

Dana, Chris and their three kids share a grave site on a rolling hill overlooking the Scioto River Valley. A hand-painted rock on Dana’s grave is the only tombstone. But the ground is covered with solar-powered angel and cross lights, silk flowers, photos, a Keystone Light beer can, deer antler and other remembrances.

Pastor Phil Fulton of Union Hill Church said the community is concerned that the slayings may never be solved. Faith in law enforcement is low, he said, but they try to help each other.

“We’re hoping for somebody to just come up and say, ‘We have some evidence,’” he said. “That’s been my prayer. Somebody knows. We know that.”

Boy with Down syndrome scores touchdown

Sixth-grader Grant Pearson didn’t expect to take the field, much less score a touchdown.

The honorary football team captain for the Waynesville Middle School Spartans wears a jersey and goes to all the home and away games. It was no different for the game on Saturday against Bellbrook Middle School. That is, until Grant was sent onto the gridiron after the first quarter. He received the ball around the 50-yard-line and took it all the way to the end zone.

“Did you see how fast he was? He took off,” coach Tim Sizer said. “I think he outran all his blockers. It was beautiful. We’re so happy that he did it.”

>> Read more trending stories

It’s no secret that Grant, who has Down syndrome, is “a fanatic about sports,” as his father, Jim Pearson said. “And to see him out here with his friends and running down the field … it’s just heartwarming."

Wayne Local Schools earlier in the week reached out to Bellbrook about giving Grant a field experience, to which it readily agreed, Sizer said.

“It was about more than just a football game,” the coach said.

The Saturday football game also happens to fall in the middle of National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

“He was having the time of his life,” said his mother, Janet Pearson. “It was just a thrill for him to do that. That was really cool.”

Adult film actress is latest to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct

Adult film performer and director Jessica Drake on Saturday became the latest woman to accuse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of sexual misconduct.

Drake, who was represented by famed attorney Gloria Allred, said Trump came on to her in 2006 after a golf tournament in Florida.

“Ten years ago, I was working for Wicked Pictures, an adult film company, at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe,” Drake said.

>> Read more trending stories

“I was at Wicked’s booth when I met Donald Trump in the celebrity gift room early in the morning before he teed off. He flirted with me and invited me to walk along the golf course with him, which I did. During that time, he asked me for my phone number, which I gave to him. Later that evening, he invited me to his room. I said I didn’t feel right going alone, so two other women came with me.”

Drake said, Trump came on to her and another woman, kissed them without their permission, and then inquired about their lives as adult film stars.

“In the penthouse suite, I met Donald again,” Drake told the media.

“When we entered the room, he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission. He was wearing pajamas. A bodyguard was also present. He asked me about details on my job as an adult film star, about shooting porn, and he also asked us about our personal relationships and whether we were married or single.”

Drake said that the whole ordeal felt like an interview and lasted about 45 minutes.

After they left, Drake says Trump called her and asked her to come back to his room. When she declined that invitation, a Trump associate reportedly offered her $10,000 presumably to sleep with the Republican nominee.

“I was then told Mr. Trump would allow me to use his private jet only if I accepted his private invitation,” Drake added.

Drake called Trump a “sexual assault apologist.”

“Collectively, his words and his actions are a huge testament to his character, that of uncontrollable entitlement, misogyny and a sexual assault apologist,” Drake said.

“This is not acceptable behavior for anyone, much less a presidential candidate. I realize that in the situation I may be but a tiny grain of sand, but clearly, this is an enormous speech. I am not looking for monetary compensation.”

Allred, who represents several other women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, made a parallel between Trump’s actions and those that Drake experiences in her profession.

“Consent is required, in her occupation … . Consent seems to be missing for Mr. Trump,” she said.

Trump has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.

"This story is totally false and ridiculous," according to a campaign news release. "The picture is one of thousands taken out of respect for people asking to have their picture taken with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump does not know this person, does not remember this person and would have no interest in ever knowing her. This is just another attempt by the Clinton campaign to defame a candidate who just today is number one in three different polls. Anyone who would pay thugs to incite violence at a rally against American citizens, as was released on video, will stop at nothing. Just another example of the Clinton campaign trying to rig the election."

10,000 California soldiers must repay enlistment bonus

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Facing a troop shortage and in the midst of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, California Guard officials offered bonuses of $15,000 or more for soldiers to re-enlist during the height of the country’s global war on terror.

Now the government is asking about 10,000 troops for the money back. If they refuse, they could face stiffer penalties, including interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.

The government has recovered about $22 million so far.

"At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price," Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, told the Los Angeles Times. "We'd be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can't do it. We'd be breaking the law."

A 2010 investigation discovered that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were wrongly given to soldiers in the California Guard. The audit found that there was widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials in order to meet enlistment goals.

 California Guard officials said they are helping soldiers and veterans file appeals to erase debts but it's a long process and there's no guarantee they'll win.

Boy, 3, dies in fire with dog huddled next to him

Neighbors saw the flames and heard the screams.

Spokane Fire Department personnel discovered the grisly and emotional scene.

A 3-year-old boy who died in a fire Friday was found huddled with his dog and teddy bear by his side.

“They died together,” Brian Schaeffer, the department's assistant fire chief, told The Spokesman-Review.

>> Read more trending stories

Two adults in the home were able to rescue three other children from the conflagration. Neighbors pulled a water hose across the street to try to suppress the flames. The fire was so hot it melted the metal frame on the boy’s bed.

“It melted everything,” Schaeffer said. “There was no way to survive that.”

The smoke detector at the home did not have a battery, fire officials said. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Spokane police are investigating the child’s death.

Florida driver straps riding lawn mower to car roof

A photo posted to Twitter shows a riding lawn mower strapped to the top of a car traveling down I-10 in Florida on Saturday.

T.K. Waters, assistant chief with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, said he took the photo on westbound I-10 near Pensacola.

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The riding lawn mower was strapped to the top of a Saturn.

He posted it with the caption "#unbelieveable."

Several people said the driver should be arrested.

Florida teen in wheelchair tries to stand when American flag passes by

Arek Trenholm may have spina bifida, but that didn’t stop the Florida teenager from standing as the American flag passed by him, making it the first time he’s tried to stand in seven years.

In a photo snapped by his professional photographer uncle Myron Leggett, Trenholm, 16, can be seen propping himself up on his wheelchair in the upright position as the junior ROTC color guard approaches with the Stars and Stripes during a local high school’s homecoming parade.

>> Read more trending stories

Leggett posted the photo on Facebook, and his caption was a call-out of sorts to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who have knelt during the national anthem as a sign of protest.

“He’s making that effort, where so many that have legs, that could stand, are sitting or kneeling,” Legget told WOFL. “And not using their ‘well legs’ to stand and respect those who have fought and died for our flag and for our country.”

Grandmother opens fire in Walmart parking lot after losing custody battle

A North Carolina grandmother who reportedly lost custody of a 2-year-old child, completely lost her cool and opened fire in a Walmart parking lot on Thursday afternoon, police say.

Police say a judge had turned over custody of the child to the father instead of the grandmother earlier that morning, according to Fox 8. The father went to meet the grandmother in the parking lot to take custody of the child, but that’s when the grandmother began to shoot, police said.

>> Read more trending stories

The only person injured during the parking lot gunfire, which happened around 3 p.m., was the grandmother. Police say she shot herself in the foot by accident then drove away.

According to FOX 8, the grandmother was later identified as 42-year-old Sheila Marie Nougier.

Nougier faces charges that include two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of assault by pointing a gun, one count of injury to personal property and one count of discharging a firearm within the city limits, the station reported.

She is being treated at a hospital for her injuries.

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