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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

MO DESE Hearings will focus on unaccredited schools

Monday, 27 January 2014 04:15 Published in Local News
   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri education officials are planning a series of public hearings on ideas for helping unaccredited school districts boost student achievement.
   The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says it wants to hear what the public has to say about several plans it's received from education organizations as well as a study it commissioned.
   The department will use the feedback as it creates a statewide plan for supporting and possibly intervening in unaccredited schools. The agency plans to submit its recommendation to the State Board of Education next month.
   The first hearing takes place Wednesday in Kansas City. The second is Feb. 4 in St. Louis, and the last two are scheduled Feb. 6 in southeast and southwest Missouri.
   Comments can also be made online at:  http://dese.mo.gov/divimprove/sia/msip/unaccrediteddistricts.html
 
 

Md. mall to reopen with memorials, more security

Monday, 27 January 2014 03:38 Published in National News
COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) — The mall where a Maryland teenager gunned down two people before killing himself was set for a somber reopening Monday under increased security as police worked to figure out why the shooting took place and whether the gunman knew either victim.
 
Investigators found a journal belonging to Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, but they would only say that it "expressed general happiness." The contents, however, were enough for an officer looking into the disappearance of Aguilar on the day of the shooting to worry about the teen's safety.
 
Police said Aguilar took a taxi to the Mall in Columbia in suburban Baltimore on Saturday morning and entered the building near Zumiez, a shop that sells skateboarding gear. He went downstairs to a food court directly below the store, then returned less than an hour later, dumped the backpack in a dressing room and started shooting.
 
Shoppers fled in a panic or barricaded themselves behind closed doors. When police arrived, they found three people dead — two store employees and Aguilar.
 
The shooting baffled investigators and acquaintances of Aguilar, a quiet, skinny teenager who graduated from high school less than a year ago and had no previous run-ins with law enforcement.
 
Aguilar, who had concealed the shotgun in a bag, fired six to nine times. One victim, Brianna Benlolo, a 21-year-old single mother, lived half a mile away from Aguilar in the same College Park neighborhood, but police said they were still trying to determine what, if any, relationship they had.
 
The other employee, Tyler Johnson, did not know Aguilar and did not socialize with Benlolo outside of work, a relative said.
 
Zumiez chief executive Rick Brooks said in a statement that when the mall reopens, there will be memory books to sign and visitors will be invited to float flowers in the mall's fountain in memory of Benlolo and Johnson.
 
"Counselors have met with the store team," he said Sunday. "The emotions are very raw and real — and as co-workers and friends, we are pulling together."
 
Aguilar was accepted last February to Montgomery College, a community college in the Washington suburbs, but school spokesman Marcus Rosano said he never registered or attended.
 
Tydryn Scott, 19, said she was Aguilar's lab partner in science class at James Hubert Blake High School and said he hung out with other skaters. She said she was stung by the news.
 
"It was really hurtful, like, wow — someone that I know, someone that I've been in the presence of more than short amounts of time. I've seen this guy in action before. Never upset, never sad, just quiet, just chill," Scott told The Associated Press. "If any other emotion, he was happy, laughing."
 
Aguilar graduated in 2013.
 
The Prince George's County Police Department said it received a missing persons report for Aguilar at about 1:40 p.m. Saturday, more than two hours after the mall shooting. Officers went to Aguilar's home to speak with his mother about 5 p.m. and saw Aguilar's journal. The portion the officer read made him concerned for Aguilar's safety, the department said.
 
Police began tracking Aguilar's phone and soon discovered it was at the mall.
 
Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said there has been speculation about a romantic relationship between the gunman and Benlolo, but investigators have not been able to establish that.
 
Aguilar purchased the 12-gauge shotgun legally last month at a store in neighboring Montgomery County.
 
At his home where he lived with his mother, officers also recovered more ammunition, computers and documents, police said. No one answered the door there Sunday. A half-mile away, a roommate who answered the door at Benlolo's home confirmed that she lived there but declined to comment further. Two police officers went into the home after he spoke briefly to a couple of reporters.
 
Residents described the neighborhood as a mix of owners and renters, including some University of Maryland students.
 
A man who answered the phone at Johnson's residence in Mount Airy, northwest of Baltimore, said the family had no comment. The victim's aunt told a local television station she did not believe her nephew knew Aguilar.
 
Sydney Petty, in a statement to WBAL-TV, said she did not believe her nephew had a relationship with Benlolo.
 
"Tyler didn't have anything beyond a working relationship with this girl, and he would have mentioned it if he did, and we're just as confused as anybody," Petty said.
 
Five other people were hurt in the attack, but only one was hit by gunfire — a woman who was hit in the foot upstairs near Zumeiz. All were released from hospitals hours later.

Brilliant, baffling moments at the Grammys

Monday, 27 January 2014 03:35 Published in National News
A teenager from New Zealand and two French "robots" shall lead them.
 
What makes music special is its seeming randomness, of magic moments coming from where you'd least expect them. Sunday night's Grammy Awards proved that. In a room filled with music history and industry powerhouses, Lorde and Daft Punk took major awards. And there were other moments, too — some moving, some boring, some baffling, some just plain fun.
 
Here are some of the thrills and clunkers the 56th annual Grammy Awards offered:
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: An emotional performance of "Same Love" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with Mary Lambert, featuring dozens of couples exchanging vows. Guest Madonna seemed a bit wobbly, but her "Open Your Heart" fit nicely with the sentiment.
 
SOUR NOTE: What's the point of assembling an odd rock super group with Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age and Lindsey Buckingham for the finale and cutting them off mid-song?
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: That stellar funk jam with Daft Punk, Williams, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Wonder, mixing in pieces of Chic's "Le Freak" and Wonder's "Another Star." It achieved what many of these collaborations often can't, illustrating the music that inspired a modern hit and paying tribute to the artists who blazed the trail.
 
SOUR NOTE: Then again, there's Metallica and Lang Lang. Metallica can make enough noise on its own, thank you.
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: Pharrell Williams and Giorgio Moroder acting as onstage interpreters for Daft Punk as they piled up trophies. Williams had fun with the inherent ridiculousness of sharing the stage with two tuxedoed guys in metallic masks. "Of course, they want to thank their families," Williams said. Daft Punk wasn't alone in weird headgear: Williams looked like he was auditioning to be a park ranger.
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: Robin laid it on a little too Thicke in his duet with Chicago, taking over and showboating through some of that band's hits. When they broke into Thicke's "Blurred Lines," however, that famous horn section gave the song an extra punch, adding a little nod to James Brown in the process.
 
SOUR NOTE: Carole King and Sara Bareilles was an inspired choice for a duet, but they never quite clicked. Pink and Nate Ruess made for a much better twosome on "Just Give Me a Reason," but Pink opening her segment with acrobatics was a waste since we've seen it before.
 
SOUR NOTE: We love Paul McCartney. We love Dave Grohl. But if "Cut Me Some Slack" is the best rock 'n' roll had to offer last year, the genre's in some real trouble.
 
SOUR NOTE: Not to blame Taylor Swift, but it seemed we saw more camera shots of her dancing in the front row to Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons than we saw of Imagine Dragons. Odd irony considering that being upstaged herself at an awards show was such a key moment in her career.
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: Let's give credit to the camera operators, though, for that shot of Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon dancing to Paul McCartney singing "Queenie Eye," with Ringo Starr on drums. Forty-five years of history, and tons of water under the bridge, went into that image. The 80-year-old Ono grooved to "Get Lucky," too.
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: Beyonce and Jay Z are the First Couple of music these days, and the opening duet on "Drunk in Love" proved why. Terrific lighting effects and cool performance, and if Bey is in love with her body a little too much, she's done the work to earn it. Smooth acceptance by Jay Z when he picked up a Grammy for his collaboration with Justin Timberlake, telling his daughter that "Daddy got a gold sippy cup for you."
 
SOUR NOTE: Where was Timberlake, anyway? He was omnipresent in the commercials, but not on the show.
 
SOUR NOTE: LL Cool J has proven himself as a rapper and actor. As a major awards show host, not so much. Perhaps it was his fate to follow so quickly after Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on the Golden Globes, but it was a journeyman's job. His opening monologue about music's universality showed he wasn't going to poke even mild fun at his fellow musicians. He was irrelevant thereafter.
 
SOUR NOTE: Can't understand why the Grammys gave such a spotlight to Hunter Hayes and a bombastic song that nobody knows. His voice wasn't up to it, and the onscreen quotes by Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp and the like were bewildering. Major reason why the show was slow to gain momentum; Legend, Swift and the usually dependable Katy Perry didn't help, either.
 
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: That moment when Merle Haggard delivered the opening line to "Okie From Muskogee" — "we don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee" — with a knowing glance at Willie Nelson on the side of the stage.

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