Killer of 2 NY firemen bragged in note he liked 'killing people,' death toll rises to 3
WEBSTER, N.Y. (AP) -- An ex-con killed two firefighters with the same caliber and make military-style rifle used in the Connecticut school massacre after typing a note pledging to burn down his neighborhood and "do what I like doing best, killing people," police said Tuesday as another body, believed to be the gunman's missing sister, was found.
William Spengler, 62, who served 17 years in prison for manslaughter in the 1980 hammer slaying of his grandmother, set his house afire before dawn Christmas Eve before taking a revolver, a shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle to a sniper position outside, Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.
The death toll rose to three as police revealed that a body believed to be the killer's 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, was found in his fire-ravaged home.
Authorities say he sprayed bullets at the first responders, killing two firefighters and injuring two others who remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition, awake and alert and expected to survive. He then killed himself as seven houses burned on a sliver of land along Lake Ontario.
Police recovered a military-style .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle with flash suppression, the same make and caliber weapon used in the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26, including 20 young children, Pickering said.
Syrian rebels capture town, attack air base in new gains in north
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian rebels fully captured a northern town near the Turkish border on Tuesday after weeks of heavy fighting and attacked a regime air base in a neighboring province, activists said.
The air base is in Aleppo province, where opposition fighters have already captured three other large military bases in recent months. Rebels have also laid siege to the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, and launched an offensive on the police academy near the city.
With steady rebel gains across the north, President Bashar Assad's regime is having increasing difficulty sending supplies by land to Aleppo province, especially after rebels cut a major thoroughfare from Damascus. It is just another sign that the opposition is consolidating its grip across large swathes of territory in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
In his traditional Christmas address, Pope Benedict XVI decried the slaughter of the "defenseless" in Syria, where anti-regime activists estimate more than 40,000 have died in fighting since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule began in March 2011.
In another blow to the regime, activists said that Mohammed Adnan Arabo, a member of Syria's parliament has left the country and joined the opposition. Ahmad Ramadan, an executive council member of the opposition Syrian National Council group, and other activists said Arabo arrived in Turkey on Tuesday.
With storms and 'fiscal cliff' worry, US holiday shopping up just 0.7 pct, weakest since 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. holiday retail sales this year grew at the weakest pace since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession. In 2012, the shopping season was disrupted by bad weather and consumers' rising uncertainty about the economy.
A report that tracks spending on popular holiday goods, the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, said Tuesday that sales in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent, compared with last year. Many analysts had expected holiday sales to grow 3 to 4 percent.
In 2008, sales declined by between 2 percent and 4 percent as the financial crisis that crested that fall dragged the economy into recession. Last year, by contrast, retail sales in November and December rose between 4 percent and 5 percent, according to ShopperTrak, a separate market research firm. A 4 percent increase is considered a healthy season.
Shoppers were buffeted this year by a string of events that made them less likely to spend: Superstorm Sandy and other bad weather, the distraction of the presidential election and grief about the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. The numbers also show how Washington's current budget impasse is trickling down to Main Street and unsettling consumers. If Americans remain reluctant to spend, analysts say, economic growth could falter next year.
In the end, even steep last-minute discounts weren't enough to get people into stores, said Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at the market research firm NPD Inc.
Nasty storms, tornadoes cross South; blizzard conditions in midsection; 3 deaths, travel tough
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Twisters hopscotched across the Deep South, and, along with brutal, straight-line winds, knocked down countless trees, blew the roofs off homes and left many Christmas celebrations in the dark. Holiday travelers in the nation's much colder midsection battled treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions from the same fast-moving storms.
As predicted, conditions were volatile throughout the day and into the night with tornado warnings still out for some parts of Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The storms were blamed for three deaths, several injuries, and left homes from Louisiana to Alabama damaged.
In Mobile, Ala., a tornado or high winds damaged homes, a high school and church, and knocked down power lines and large tree limbs in an area just west of downtown around nightfall. WALA-TV's tower camera captured the image of a large funnel cloud headed toward downtown.
Rick Cauley, his wife, Ashley, and two children were hosting members of both of their families. When the sirens went off, the family headed down block to take shelter at the athletic field house at Mobile's Murphy High School.
"As luck would have it, that's where the tornado hit," Cauley said. "The pressure dropped and the ears started popping and it got crazy for a second." They were all fine, though the school was damaged. Hours after the storm hit, officials reported no serious injuries in the southwestern Alabama city.
Pope's Christmas message calls for peace in Mideast, more religious freedoms in China
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- In his Christmas message to the world Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the slaughter in Syria and for more meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, while encouraging more religious freedom under China's new leaders.
Delivering the traditional speech from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, Benedict also encouraged Arab spring nations, especially Egypt, to build just and respectful societies.
The pope prayed that China's new leadership may "esteem the contribution of the religions, in respect for each other" to help build a "fraternal society for the benefit of that noble people."
It was a clear reference to the Chinese government's often harsh treatment of Catholics loyal to the pontiff instead of to the state-sanctioned church. Earlier this month, the Vatican refused to accept the decision by Chinese authorities to revoke the title of a Shanghai bishop, who had been appointed in a rare show of consensus between the Holy See and China.
As the 85-year-old pontiff, bundled up in an ermine-trimmed red cape, gingerly stepped foot on the balcony, the pilgrims, tourists and Romans below backing St. Peter's Square erupted in cheers.
Past Christmas tornadoes
From the National Weather Service in Washington, DC
Notable U.S. tornado events with at least one F2 (minimum 113-mph) tornado between Dec. 24 and Dec. 26:
--Dec. 24-25, 1964: 14 tornadoes (three of them F3), Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia. Two deaths in Georgia; about 30 people injured.
Egypt's constitution passes, now economic crisis looms
CAIRO (AP) -- The official approval of Egypt's disputed, Islamist-backed constitution Tuesday held out little hope of stabilizing the country after two years of turmoil and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi may now face a more immediate crisis with the economy falling deeper into distress.
In a clear sign of anxiety over the economy, the turbulence of the past month and expected austerity measures ahead have some Egyptians hoarding dollars for fear the currency is about to take a significant turn for the weaker.
The battle over the constitution left Egypt deeply polarized at a time when the government is increasingly cash-strapped. Supporters of the charter campaigned for it on the grounds that it will lead to stability, improve the grip of Morsi and his allies on state institutions, restore investor confidence and bring back tourists.
"In times of change, politics are the driver of the economy and not the other way around," said Mourad Aly, a media adviser for the political arm of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the backbone of Morsi's presidency and the main group that backed the constitution.
But there are already multiple fights on the horizon.
UC Davis Veterinarian: Hero dog that lost snout saving 2 girls appears to have beaten cancer
DAVIS, Calif. (AP) -- A veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, has some good news about a dog from the Philippines who became an international hero after sacrificing her snout to save two young girls.
After completing six weekly intravenous chemotherapy infusions, Kabang appears to have beaten the cancer she was suffering from, Gina Davis, the primary care veterinarian at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in Davis, told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/Ti87pl).
The dog, however, is still facing treatment for heartworms in her arteries before she can have the gaping wound on her face closed. Full treatment of that condition was put on hold during cancer therapy.
Kabang -- a female mongrel -- had the first of three arsenic-based heartworm shots on Dec. 4 and is expected to receive the other two in the second week of January, Davis said.
"It will be one to two months for her to recover from that before she goes in and has the surgery," Davis said.
Bryant scores 34 points to help Lakers beat Knicks 100-94 and return to .500
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The pieces of the puzzle that have been the Lakers' confounding season so far are starting to fall into place.
Kobe Bryant engineered a second-half comeback, the defense stepped up, and Los Angeles beat the New York Knicks 100-94 on Tuesday, extending its winning streak to five games.
"We're .500," a smiling Dwight Howard said. "We did it on Christmas, too. I knew this day would come."
Bryant scored 34 points in his NBA-record 15th Christmas Day game and Metta World Peace added 20 points and seven rebounds while defending Carmelo Anthony, whose 34 points led the Knicks. Anthony said he hyperextended his left knee, but expects to play on Wednesday in Phoenix.
Bryant, the league's leading scorer, has topped 30 or more points in nine straight games.
Rajon Rondo scores 19, Celtics beat Nets 93-76 in Christmas opener
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rajon Rondo lost his cool, and any chance at history, in the second quarter when Boston last met Brooklyn.
This time, the second period featured some of the best basketball the Celtics have played this season.
Rondo scored 19 points in his first full game against the Nets this season, and the Celtics won 93-76 on Tuesday in another game with some heated moments between the division rivals.
Rondo, sidelined in the first meeting and thrown out of the second after shoving Nets forward Kris Humphries into the courtside seats, outplayed counterpart Deron Williams and helped the Celtics take control early.
"We moved the ball; we rebounded the ball," Rondo said. "They beat us pretty bad on the glass, so tonight we did an exceptional job on the glass, taking care of the defensive rebounds, and we got stops."