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ABC News(BURLINGTON COUNTY, N.J.) -- The "heartwarming tale" of a New Jersey couple helping drug-addicted homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt was "predicated on a lie," designed to dupe thousands of people into contributing to a GoFundMe campaign, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Bobbitt, and the couple, Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico, allegedly conspired to concoct a story to tug at the hearts and wallets of kindhearted individuals, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a news conference Thursday. They initially sought to raise $10,000. But the wildly successful GoFundMe campaign brought in over $400,000.

But every shred of the trio's story, including the part that Bobbitt used his last $20 to help McClure out of a roadside jam when she ran out of gas, was all bogus, Coffina said.

"The entire campaign was predicated on a lie," Coffina said. "Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was fake."

In one of the texts read by Coffina, McClure allegedly wrote to a friend, "Ok, so wait, the gas part is completely made up but the guy isn't. I had to make something up to make people feel bad. So, shush about the made up stuff."

GoFundMe, which has cooperated in the investigation, has agreed to refund money to the 14,000 people who donated to Bobbitt.

"While this type of behavior by an individual is extremely rare, it's unacceptable and clearly it has consequences. Committing fraud, whether it takes place on or offline is against the law. We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D'Amico," GoFundMe said in a statement.

Coffina said the suspected fraudsters might have gotten away with the scam had Bobbitt not filed a lawsuit against McClure and D'Amico in August, accusing them of withholding the funds from him.

He said the money is all gone, most of it squandered by McClure and D'Amico on gambling, numerous luxury handbags, a New Year's trip to Las Vegas and a BMW. The couple also used the donated funds to pay back $9,000 they owed to relatives.

McClure, 28, D'Amico, 39, and Bobbitt, 34, were all charged with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception. They voluntarily surrendered to authorities on Wednesday, and have since been released, Coffina said.

Bobbitt was arrested Wednesday night by the Philadelphia Police Department on charges of being a fugitive from justice, according to Philadelphia police. He is expected to be extradited to Burlington County to face charges related to the GoFundMe case.

Reached Thursday morning, an attorney for McClure and D'Amico told ABC News, "We have no comment. Have a nice day."

In numerous media appearances, McClure claimed she was driving to meet a friend in September 2017 when she ran out of gas around midnight on the I-95 exit ramp near Philadelphia and Bobbitt, who was sleeping under a nearby overpass, came to her rescue. She claimed Bobbitt spent his last $20 to buy her gas.

"I pulled over to the side of the road as far as I could and I was going to get out and walk to the nearest gas station because it was not that far away, and that's when I met Johnny," McClure said last November in a "Good Morning America" interview. "He walked up and he said, 'Get back in the car. Lock the doors. I'll be back.' I was just like, 'OK.'"

She said Bobbitt used his panhandling money to get her out of the jam.

"I almost couldn't believe it," McClure added. "I said, 'Thank you...I swear, I'll be back. I promise I'll be back to give you [the] money back.'"

Hoping to repay Bobbitt for the apparent generous act, McClure and D'Amico set up a GoFundMe online account that tugged at people's hearts and wallets.

"I just got her gas to help her get back on her way. I didn't think anything about it. I wasn't expecting anything in return," Bobbitt told "Good Morning America." "That's how I got the money to start with -- from other people. [I had to] return the favor. I can't constantly take and not give back."

Now it's unclear if the entire story was false.

Burlington County prosecutors said they would not discuss the case until Thursday afternoon.

In August, Bobbitt filed a lawsuit accusing McClure and D'Amico of committing fraud by taking more than half of the money they raised for themselves. His attorney alleged in court papers that the couple treated the donations like their "personal piggy bank to fund a lifestyle that they could not otherwise afford."

D'Amico and McClure denied the allegations.

In September, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal investigation into the missing GoFundMe donations and raided the couple's home, seizing a BMW and other belongings.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A Nor'easter is churning through the East Coast Thursday, bringing many Northeast cities their first snowfall of the season.

The snow and ice have caused over 1,000 flights to be canceled.

The winter weather will stay put through the evening, causing a treacherous rush hour commute home.

Washington, D.C.

The snow, ice and sleet have already coated the Washington, D.C., roadways.

Reagan National Airport saw 1.4 inches of snow -- the heaviest snow in November in D.C. since 1989.

Parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland saw up to six inches of snow.

Rain is expected to continue overnight.


Philadelphia has seen over two inches of snow, while central Pennsylvania has over six inches.

The heaviest snow will likely be across central Pennsylvania and New York where up to 10 inches of snow is possible.

New York City

Fast-falling snow is also blowing through New York.

Northern New Jersey, New York City and the Hudson Valley region could get one to two inches of snow per hour.

The last time New York City saw more than one inch of snow in November was in 2012.


Boston is likely to see two to five inches of snow between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. Thursday.

By Friday morning, the snow will change to rain from New York to Connecticut to Boston.

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U.S. Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- Two SEALs from the Navy's elite Seal Team Six and two Marines have been charged with murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Mali in June 2017. If the case moves to a court-martial, the four members of some of the U.S. military's most elite units face the possibility of life in prison without parole.

"Charges were preferred yesterday against two Sailors and two Marines in the death of Army Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar, who died June 4, 2017, while serving in Bamako, Mali," said a Navy statement.

"The four personnel face charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice including Felony Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter, Conspiracy, Obstruction of Justice, Hazing and Burglary," the statement said.

Charge sheets identify the two SEALs as serving with Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the official name for SEAL Team Six, the elite unit most famous for carrying out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The two Marines belong to the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.

The charge sheets allege that on the night of June 10, 2018, the four special operations service members obtained duct tape, broke down the door into Melgar’s sleeping quarters, bound him up with duct tape and then strangled him to death while in a chokehold. The charge sheets do not provide a motive for Melgar's death but under the burglary charge alleges that the four broke into Melgar's bedroom "with the intent to assault."

Another charge of hazing alleges that they had allegedly committed "hazing" by breaking into his bedroom "while he was sleeping and participating in an assault."

The four service members also face charges of obstruction of justice for denying their use of duct tape, lying that they had drunk alcohol and providing false timelines about what happened that night.

One of the SEALS is alleged to have gruesomely tried to cover up the damage to Melgar's trachea by carrying out a cricothyrotomy, normally a life-saving procedure where an incision is made in the trachea to help with breathing.

The circumstances of Melgar's death had initially triggered an Army investigation that was referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) last September. Last week, NCIS referred its completed investigation to Admiral Charles Rock the Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, to decide how the case should proceed.

Melgar was part of a small group of U.S. military personnel working in Bamako, Mali in support of the U.S. Embassy. The Lubbock, Texas, native enlisted in the Army in January 2012 as an 18X. In 2013, he started his Special Forces training and was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) in 2016, after he'd completed the Special Forces Qualification and Special Forces Engineer courses.

Melgar conducted two deployments to Afghanistan as an engineer sergeant.

"We honor the memory of Staff Sgt. Melgar, our thoughts remain with his family and teammates," said Captain Jason Salata, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command.

"If these allegations of misconduct are substantiated, they represent a violation of the trust and standards required of all service members. We trust our service members to safeguard our nation's most sensitive interests and to do so with honor."

"We will not allow allegations or substantiated incidents of misconduct erode decades of honorable accomplishments by the members of US Special Operations Command," he added. "Ours is a culture of professionalism and accountability, which prides itself in being a learning organization that uses critical self-examination in a relentless dedication to improvement."

The four will face a preliminary Article 32 court hearing on Dec. 10 that will determine if they will face a general court-martial. A Navy spokesperson says the maximum penalty they currently face is life without parole, but that could change if the Article 32 hearing determines the case merits a capital court-martial which carries the death penalty.

The four service members are currently not being held in pre-trial confinement.

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Ventura County Sheriff(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.) -- Family and friends will gather Thursday to mourn the sergeant killed in the line of duty in the Thousand Oaks, California, mass shooting.

Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, was among the 12 people shot dead on Nov. 7 at the Borderline Bar & Grill, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

Helus was one of the first responders on the scene and was shot multiple times when he arrived the bar, authorities said.

Helus, 54, who is survived by his wife and son, was looking to retire soon, the sheriff's office said.

Instead, he made "the ultimate sacrifice," Dean said.

When the report of the shooting came in, the sheriff said Helus was checking in with his wife on the phone, as he often did during his shift.

"Hey, I got to go handle a call, I love you," Helus told his wife, according to Dean.

"He was a great man," Capt. Garo Kuredjian, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, told ABC's Good Morning America last week. "He was a cop's cop, and we miss him."

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Subscribe To This Feed ANGELES) -- Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, has been arrested for domestic violence, police said.

The incident took place Tuesday and Avenatti was arrested Wednesday, police said.

Avenatti was booked at 3:44 p.m. local time Wednesday on a charge of domestic violence with injuries, according to booking records obtained by ABC Station KABC-TV. His bail was set at $50,000, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

The case will be "presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney for prosecution," the LAPD said in a press release.

Avenatti is due in court on the charge Dec. 5.

After being released on bail, Avenatti said he is "confident that I will be fully exonerated."

"First of all, I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the LAPD for their professionalism and their work today. They had no option in light of the allegations. Secondly, I have never struck a woman. I never will strike a woman. I have been an advocate for women's rights my entire career and I'm going to continue to be an advocate," Avenatti said. "I am not going to be intimidated from stopping what I am doing. I am a father to two beautiful, smart, daughters. I would never disrespect them by touching a woman inappropriately or striking a woman. I am looking forward to a full investigation at which point I am confident that I will be fully exonerated. I also want to thank everyone for their support that has reached out. You know my character. You know me as a man and I appreciate it. Thank you."

Avenatti also issued a statement through his law firm denying the allegation:

"I wish to thank the hard working men and woman of the LAPD for their professionalism they were only doing their jobs in light of the completely bogus allegations against me. I have never been physically abusive in my life nor was I last night. Any accusations to the contrary are fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation. I look forward to being fully exonerated."

Both Avenatti's estranged wife, who he is in the process of divorcing, and ex-wife issued statements saying he was never violent with them -- the former through her lawyer.

"My client states that there has never been domestic violence in her relationship with Michael and that she has never known Michael to be physically violent toward anyone," Valerie Prescott, Lisa Storie-Avenatti's lawyer, said. "My client requests that the media respect her privacy and that of the parties' young son."

Christine Avenatti-Carlin, Avenatti's first wife and mother of his two daughters, defended her ex-husband, too.

"I've known Michael for the last 26 years. We met when he was 21 years old and we were married for 13 years," she said. "Michael has always been a loving, kind father to our two daughters and husband.

"He has never been abusive to me or anyone else," Avenatti-Carlin added. "He is a very good man."

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Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, has been arrested for domestic violence, police told ABC News.

The incident took place Tuesday and Avenatti was arrested today, police said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Authorities are investigating the death of an American woman on board a Princess Cruises ship on Tuesday.

The 52-year-old woman, described only as a "female guest" on the Royal Princess from the U.S., died under unclear circumstances. The ship was on a seven-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Aruba.

No cause of death has been reported.

"The incident was reported to the FBI and local authorities and the local authorities met and boarded the ship upon arrival in Aruba," Princess Cruises said in a statement Wednesday. "We are cooperating fully with the investigating authorities, including the FBI."

The ship, which can carry up to 3,560 passengers, was expected to return to South Florida on Saturday. The Royal Princess is set to undergo a $15.9 million makeover in just a matter of weeks.

"We are deeply saddened by this incident and offer our sincere condolences to the family and those affected," the cruise line said.

The woman's name and hometown have not been released.

The death was the second announcement of a person being killed on a cruise ship on Wednesday. Holland America announced a 70-year-old woman was killed when she fell into the water in the South Pacific while trying to move between the deck and a smaller boat.

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iStock/Thinkstock(SAN ANTONIO) -- Education officials in Texas launched an investigation into the possible discrimination of an African-American student after a white lecturer was recorded on a cellphone video having police remove her from a classroom -- allegedly, according to witnesses, for having her feet on the seat in front of her days earlier.

Many are saying this is the latest in a string of incidents in the United States of white people calling the police on black people who are seemingly going about their normal lives. Many of the incidents have been recorded on cellphone videos -- and have exploded on social media.

The new incident occurred on Monday in a biology class at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Taylor Eighmy, the school's president said in a statement.

"While the facts aren't fully known regarding [the] incident, our Office of Equal Opportunity Services is already conducting an investigation into possible discrimination," Eighmy said.

Eighmy said a second "inquiry regarding the academic management of the classroom" is being conducted by the university's interim dean of the College of Sciences.

"Beyond this particular incident, I am very much aware that the circumstance represents another example of the work we need to do as an institution around issues of inclusivity and supporting our students of color," Eighmy said in his statement. "This concerns me greatly, and it's incumbent upon us as an institution to face this head-on. It's something that we need to address immediately as a university community."

The lecturer was identified by students to ABC News, but attempts to reach her for comment Wednesday were not successful.

After a classmate's video of her went viral on social media, the student who was removed from the class addressed the controversy on Twitter.

"Upon entering class I was told I needed to leave or would be escorted out by officers, I never disobeyed the student code of conduct. Not once," wrote the student, tweeting under the handle @FavoritePaigeee. "A police report is being filed atm [at this moment], this is just the beginning. Thanks for your support!"

Apurva Rawal recorded video of the incident with his cellphone and posted it on Twitter, writing, "So this happened today in class, a girl had her feet up and the professor called the police after calling our class uncivil."

The video showed the lecturer at the back of the class talking to three police officers, who then walked to where the student was seated and asked her to leave. Without objecting, the student gathered her belongings and walked out of the classroom.

Another student from the biology class told ABC News the incident apparently stemmed from a run-in the classmate had with the lecturer on Friday.

"The girl who was escorted out had her feet up on a chair in front of her, there was no one around her and she wasn't disturbing anyone," the student, who asked not to be identified, told ABC News.

"However, the professor went up to her and told her to please place her feet down and she did. A few minutes later [the student] had her feet in her own chair now, so the professor once again went up to her and told her to stop and she did. A few minutes before class ended [the] professor gave a speech about civility and told us that we were the most disruptive class and we never paid attention," the student said.

On Monday, the lecturer began the class by handing out a paper on civility and walked up to the African-American student she had scolded before about having her feet on a seat and spoke to her prior to calling the university police, the student told ABC News. She said her African-American classmate didn't have her feet on the seat Monday before police were summoned, but had just walked in and sat down.

"I did not believe she was calling them [police] but, sure enough, they came a few minutes after she had stopped talking on the phone," the student said. "They escorted [her] out and once the police had left out of the classroom, a lot of students started telling [the lecturer] she had done wrong, she was being disruptive of class time and she had taken matters out of control."

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Washington County Sheriffs Office(TONTITOWN, Ark.) -- An intense shootout between a sheriff’s deputy and a suspect in Arkansas was caught on video.

Corporal Brett Thompson attempted to stop the driver of a green Saturn for a traffic violation on Nov. 11 near Tontitown, Arkansas, but the driver refused to pull over, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

In dashcam footage released by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect, identified as 29-year-old Luis Cobos-Cenobio, is seen eventually pulling over, leaning out of his car and firing his gun directly at the officer’s vehicle parked behind him. The video then shows Cobos-Cenobio leaving his car and continuing to shoot while approaching the deputy’s vehicle.

The sheriff's office said Cobos-Cenobio and Thompson exchanged gunfire for 53 seconds before Cobos-Cenobio drove away, dropping off a female passenger a short distance away who was also in the vehicle. The sheriff’s office said the woman had wanted to leave the vehicle during the incident, and was not charged with any crimes.

An alert was issued for Cobos-Cenobio and his vehicle. He was spotted by officers with the Springdale Police Department, after which Cobos-Cenobio exchanged gunfire with them while officers tried to stop the vehicle, according to authorities.

The chase continued into Fayetteville, Arkansas, with officers from the Fayetteville Police Department and Arkansas State Police assisting. The suspect eventually returned to Springdale, where he stopped and surrendered, according to Springdale Police.

Cobos-Cenobio suffered a “wound to the left arm/shoulder,” according to the sheriff’s office. He was treated at Northwest Medical Center and released into police custody.

The sheriff's office also released video of Thompson’s vehicle following the incident showing numerous bullet holes in the vehicle and the windshield as well as shattered windows.

Cobos-Cenobio was charged with four counts of attempted capital murder, committing a terroristic act, fleeing, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, and was being held on $500,000 bond, Kelly Cantrell, a spokesperson for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, told ABC News.

He is scheduled to be arraigned at the Washington County Detention Center on Dec. 10, according to the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

The sheriff's office said no officers or deputies were injured, and that state police were investigating.

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California National Guard (LOS ANGELES) -- As search crews found another body Wednesday in a house burned by a massive Southern California wildfire, officials fear many more deaths in the destructive blazes at both ends of the state that have now claimed 59 lives.

A victim who apparently perished in the Woolsey Fire was located inside a burned home in Agoura Hills, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The grim discovery marked the third death from the Woolsey Fire, the monster inferno that swept through Los Angeles and Ventura counties leveling nearly 500 structures and blackening 97,620 acres, officials said.

The deadliest and most destructive of the two wildfires is the Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County, which has killed at least 56 people.

Thom Porter, chief of strategic planning for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, said the death toll from the Camp Fire is expected to go higher as search crews comb through at least 7,600 homes destroyed by the blaze.

"It is by far the most deadly single fire in California history and it's going to get worse, unfortunately," Porter said of the Camp Fire.

There were more 130 people missing in the Butte County fire zones on Wednesday night, though officials were working to track them down. Butte County officials asked residents to go to the sheriff's website to check the missing persons list to make sure they are not on it.

Gov. Jerry Brown toured the devastation caused by the Camp Fire on Wednesday with Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The government leaders visited firefighters still battling the blaze, which burned 135,000 acres and obliterated the town of Paradise, destroying nearly every home in the community of 30,000 people.

"This is one of the worst disasters I've ever seen in my career, hands down," Long said at a news conference Wednesday in Northern California.

Brown said the destruction "looks like a war zone." He said he spoke earlier Wednesday to President Donald Trump, "who pledged the full resources of the federal government" to help in the recovery effort.

A public health emergency

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday declared a public health emergency in California.

"We are working closely with state health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to provide whatever they may need to save lives and protect health," Azar said in a statement. "This declaration will help ensure that Americans who are threatened by these dangerous wildfires and who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have continuous access to the care they need."

The best time to venture outside will be in the early afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Aviva Braun told reporters Wednesday night, blaming the light winds for the continued poor air quality.

Lisa Almaguer, public information officer for Butte County Public Health, recommended residents stay indoors as much as possible and to wear properly fitting masks when going outside.

On Saturday, stronger northeast winds mixing in the valley will help improve the air quality, Braun said.

In addition, an outbreak of norovirus has occurred at one of the shelters, Almaguer said, describing the presence of norovirus as "not uncommon," especially at this time of year and "with hundreds of people living in close quarters."

People who are ill at the shelter have been taken to a separate location, are using separate restroom facilities and are being cared for by public health experts, Almaguer said.

Two massive blazes forced the evacuation of at least two hospitals and eight other health care facilities. A smoke advisory was issued for portions of Los Angeles County amid concerns that smoke from the fires could present a "significant health threat" for people with asthma and other lung conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Battle rages on

Thousands of exhausted firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California appeared to be getting a handle on the two massive blazes.

Chief Ken Pimlott, director of Cal Fire, said weather conditions at both fires have improved and the strong winds firefighters were seeing over the past three days have started to dissipate.

But Pimlott said "critical fire conditions" still existed with an abundance of dry vegetation in both fire zones that could flare-up with the slightest spark.

"We're not keeping our eye off this ball at all," Pimlott said Wednesday, adding that 9,000 firefighters were working on the front lines of both blazes.

Firefighters, with the help of out-of-state fire crews, were showing progress in their twin battles to subdue the widely-destructive blazes that have blackened a combined acreage larger than the size of New York City.

The Camp Fire showed "continued activity" on its northeast side, along the Feather River drainage basin, as it pushed toward the community of Big Bar, Cal Fire announced Tuesday night.

The lower part of the area continued to be a challenge because of the "extremely steep, extremely rocky" terrain, fire officials said.

Dry conditions will continue this week but precipitation is expected next week, Braun said.

Camp Fire

The Butte County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday night that eight additional people were confirmed dead from the Camp Fire, which first started on Nov. 8. All of the bodies were located in the city of Paradise, six inside structures and two outside, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters.

The death toll from the Camp Fire now stands at 56, making it the deadliest single wildfire in California's recorded history. Forty-seven of those found dead have been identified, but the remains of some of the missing may never be recovered due to the severity of the fire, Honea said.

Two prison inmate firefighters were among three injured battling the Camp Fire, fire officials told ABC News.

The blaze was 35 percent contained on Wednesday.

"The entire community of Paradise is a toxic wasteland right now," Paradise City Council Member Melissa Schuster, who lost her home in the calamity, told ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. "In addition to that, and this is the hardest part for me to even talk about, is the number of fatalities is [among] things that we don't know at this moment and that's something that has to be determined before people can move back in."

Schuster said teams from the Butte County coroner's office are combing through thousands of destroyed homes and burned cars in Paradise.

"We will rebuild our homes, we will rebuild our town stronger, better, safer and more beautiful than ever," she told ABC News' "Start Here" podcast.

Woolsey Fire

The Woolsey Fire, which also started on Nov. 8 in Southern California's Ventura County, rapidly spread south to Los Angeles County.

At least 483 structures, including many homes, have been destroyed by the blaze, which swept through the celebrity enclaves of Malibu and Calabasas.

The fire killed two people in Malibu, where the entire city has been under a mandatory evacuation order, officials said.

At least three firefighters were injured battling the Woolsey Fire.

The blaze was 47 percent contained on Wednesday, as firefighters successfully stretched containment lines. A flare-up Tuesday in the Lake Sherwood and Hidden Valley areas of Ventura County that was threatening to take off in the windy weather was quickly smothered by firefighters.

"We are not out of the woods yet. We still have tough conditions," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said the Woolsey Fire, which has spread to an area about the size of Denver, was the largest his department has battled in 100 years.

Despite Tuesday's flare-up, Osby said, "We are getting the upper hand" on the blaze.

Another wildfire in the area, the Hill Fire, was 94 percent contained Wednesday after burning 4,531 acres in Ventura County, according Cal Fire.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary James Mattis defended the deployment of thousands of active duty troops to the border with Mexico Wednesday, calling it "a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen."

While visiting with some of the soldiers deployed to the southern U.S. border, Mattis said "border security is part of national security" and stressed that the military mission is strictly to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection as it prepares for the arrival of four migrant caravans in the coming weeks.

"We determined the missions as absolutely legal and this was also reviewed by Department of Justice lawyers, it’s obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen," Mattis told a small group of reporters traveling with him to Texas.

On Wednesday, Mattis visited Camp Donna, a large, newly-constructed camp outside of McAllen, Texas that was built to house 1,000 soldiers and their equipment.

He was accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees Customs and Border Protection, and Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command.

As of Wednesday, there were 5,900 troops deployed on the border. More than 7,000 active duty troops are expected to be fully deployed in Arizona, California and Texas ahead of the arrival of the migrant caravans.

"The eyes of the world, and certainly all of the Americans, are on you," Mattis told soldiers during his tour of Camp Donna.

Some military analysts have speculated that the deployment could end up costing as much as $200 million, but Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he was not able to provide a preliminary cost estimate because the information was still flowing into the Pentagon.

"So we can estimate costs all we want," said Mattis. "I prefer to give you real costs."

Four migrant caravans were making their way through Mexico to the U.S.

Several hundred migrants from the first caravan arrived in Tijuana on Tuesday where they are expected to rest and receive legal advice before approaching the border crossing at San Ysidro to request asylum.

Last week President Donald Trump signed an executive order that only allowed asylum requests to be made at formal ports of entry, a change of existing law that allows asylum requests anywhere on the border.

Migrants from a caravan that left Mexico City earlier this week and are now headed to the border crossings near Tijuana, 1,500 miles to the northwest. That was a change from the expected route to McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, a much shorter distance.

Mattis acknowledged the location of the caravans arrival was a "dynamic situation" but said "we can move the troops back and forth."

"Right now the only thing we’ve been asked for is to put in obstacles, provide transportation and to provide housing," said Mattis, reiterating that the soldiers' mission along the border is one of support.

"I do not anticipate military personnel coming into direct contact with migrants," said Mattis.

"I’m a hundred percent confident we have the number of troops at each of those ports of entry to complete what we’ve been asked to do prior to the arrival of the large caravans."

Additionally, the only military personnel who will be armed are the military police providing security to the military support units.

“The service members there in an engineering capacity who are building barbed, wire and barriers are not armed," said Mattis.

Military police watching over these engineers, he said is part of normal force protection.

The military deployment became a politically charged issue in the lead-up to the midterm elections with Democrats questioning whether it was necessary and if Trump was using the military for political gain.

While campaigning, Trump regularly referred to the U.S. military mission to help deal with the migrant caravans which he labeled as an "invasion." But since the election, the president has not mentioned the border mission publicly or on social media. He has also not used the term "invasion."

Last week, Mattis instructed that the name "Operation Faithful Patriot" be dropped and instead refer to the deployment as a border support mission. He explained he did not want to risk misinterpretation by using military terminology to describe a mission supporting another agency.

"I do not want to put this mission in some arcane military terms if what we are doing is laying wire," said Mattis. "I want to talk to the American people because this is a highly politically visible issue and I want you to tell them what you’re doing."

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Missouri State Highway Patrol(ST. LOUIS) -- A St. Louis ballet dancer was mysteriously found dead in a rural Missouri lake after police spotted her car abandoned nearby, authorities said.

The body of Raffaella Stroik, 23, was found Wednesday morning in Mark Twain Lake by a private pilot who was circling the area to help search for her, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

The state park, in rural Monroe County, is about 130 miles away from St. Louis.

There's no evidence of foul play, authorities said at a news conference.

It was not clear why Stroik was in Monroe County, authorities said, adding that her family is "shocked" by her death.

The investigation began when a state park ranger found Stroik's car on Monday in the boat ramp parking lot, the state highway patrol said.

A trooper checked again Tuesday morning and found the car still in the lot, authorities said.

Investigators determined Stroik was missing, and her family and friends assisted authorities in the search.

Stroik was last seen Monday morning at a Whole Foods in Town and Country, just outside of St. Louis, authorities said.

She is a South Bend, Indiana, native who joined the Saint Louis Ballet Company in 2017, according to the company's website.

An autopsy will determine her cause of death.

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iStock/Thinkstock(PARADISE, Calif.) -- A Paradise, California, couple made a harrowing escape from the deadly Camp Fire with their four young children, describing it as driving "through hell."

When the blaze neared, Michelle and Daniel Simmons piled their kids -- ages 8, 7, 2 and 1 -- into their car to flee for their lives.

They grabbed their wedding rings, a stuffed animal and a blanket.

"It was so hot and so hard to breathe," Michelle Simmons told ABC News. The children "were really scared. They kept asking a lot of questions."

"There was a woman on the side of the road running with her baby. I just replay the image over and over. She was barefoot," she said. "I think the worst part for me, personally, was seeing the community, seeing everybody panicking."

Daniel Simmons described it as "traumatic," adding, "There were a couple moments where I didn't think we were gonna get out."

It took them about two hours to get out of Paradise as Michelle Simmons' hometown burned around them.

Once they reached safety, Michelle Simmons said she took the kids out of the car, hugged them and cried, feeling overwhelmed with thanks that they were OK but sadness that they'd never have their home back.

The family is together and safe, with the exception of two of their cats who remain missing.

"We drove through hell but we're lucky," Daniel Simmons said. "There's so many other people who went through worse."

At least 48 people have died in the Northern California Camp Fire, now the the deadliest on record in the state. The blaze has burned over 130,000 acres and nearly demolished the town of Paradise.

Michell and Daniel Simmons' home is one of the many in the town now burned to the ground.

Daniel Simmons said his employer has been extremely supportive, providing them with a hotel room and rental car. But they said many of their neighbors are not as lucky.

"I can see people staying and sleeping in their cars," Michelle Simmons said. "Everyone's homes are destroyed. These people need so much help."

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Cities along the East Coast are bracing for the first snowfall of the season this week.

A storm is set to develop in the Gulf Coast Wednesday and track along the East Coast on Thursday and Friday, bringing rain, freezing rain, flooding, snow and sleet throughout the South and the Northeast.

The storm will gather strength Wednesday night in the eastern Gulf Coast and then bring heavy rain to Georgia and Tennessee. The Ohio Valley is expected to see snow and ice.

The storm will then move near the Southeast coast on Thursday morning, bringing heavy rain to Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as potentially dangerous flooding.

Snow, rain and freezing rain are possible further inland in the southern Appalachian Mountains and into the Ohio Valley.

By Thursday afternoon, snow is expected across the mid-Atlantic and up the I-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to New York City. Several hours of heavy snow are possible before the powder melts into sleet and rain.

Washington, Philadelphia and New York City are all forecasted to receive around 1 inch of snow.

Inland areas including Pennsylvania, western New York, the Hudson Valley and New England will stay cold enough for snow, sleet and freezing rain to continue.

Boston will see 1 to 2 inches of snow, but areas west of the city could see closer to 3 inches or more.

Some areas in the Northeast and Appalachia may see more than 6 inches of snow.

But for upstate New York, the snowy season has already begun. A lake effect snow band blew through the Albany area overnight, causing snow squalls.

The National Weather Service urged residents to be mindful on the road.

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Santa Ana Police Department(SANTA ANA, Calif.) -- Police in California are seeking the public’s assistance to find a woman accused of attacking a McDonald’s manager in Santa Ana -- allegedly over an insufficient amount of ketchup packets.

The attacker entered the McDonald’s restaurant from an employee back door on Oct. 27 at about 11 p.m. and asked for ketchup, according to a statement from Santa Ana police.

“When the store manager said she could not be in the building, the suspect became combative,” a police official said in a statement. “The suspect pushed, punched, and choked the victim.”

The video released by police on Nov. 13 shows a woman wearing a light pink T-shirt and dark grey pants choking and slamming the manager’s head against a soda machine in kitchen area.

Other employee quickly rushed to assist the manager in trying to pull the woman off the alleged victim.

"The manager tells her, 'I'll be glad to help you, you just need to go up front,' and for whatever reason she took it upon herself to assault the manager," Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna told ABC Los Angeles station KABC-TV.

In a stunning moment in the video, one of the fast food restaurant employees manning a drive-thru window gets physically involved in the dispute, as the now three-person tussle veers out of camera, and then can be seen darting to the drive-thru window to return change to a customer before rejoining the brawl.

The attack ceased after one of the employees went and alerted a man in a gray hoodie sweatshirt, who can be seen escorting the suspect from the restaurant through the back door.

"There is no reason that any employee at any business should be assaulted by a patron, much less over not getting enough ketchup," said Bertagna.

McDonald’s owner operator Larry Kaplan, said in a statement that his restaurant is cooperating with the police to find the suspect.

“Our biggest priority is always the safety and well-being of our employees and customers at our restaurants,” Kaplan said. “We are fully cooperating with the Santa Ana Police department’s investigation.”

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Xinhua/Zhao Hanrong via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday declared a public health emergency in California, where at least 50 people have died from multiple wildfires ravaging the state.

"We are working closely with state health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to provide whatever they may need to save lives and protect health," Azar said in a statement. "This declaration will help ensure that Americans who are threatened by these dangerous wildfires and who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have continuous access to the care they need."

Two massive blazes burning at opposite ends of the state have forced the evacuation of at least two hospitals and eight other health care facilities. A smoke advisory was issued for portions of Los Angeles County amid concerns that smoke from the fires could present a "significant health threat" for people with asthma and other lung conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Thousands of exhausted firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California appeared to be getting a handle on the two massive blazes. But authorities continued to find more bodies amid the scorched destruction.

At least 50 people have been found dead from the fires, which have laid waste to more than 9,000 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Meanwhile, officials have warned of howling winds that could spawn more monster blazes with the slightest spark.

There's a new extreme fire danger in San Diego County, where wind gusts of up to 86 mph were recorded early Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

The blustery condition prompted red flag warnings for the San Diego area, signaling extreme fire danger through at least Wednesday, officials said.

Some schools in San Diego County were closed Tuesday, and San Diego Gas & Electric took the precautionary measure of shutting off electricity in some fire-prone areas of the county to avoid new blazes, officials said.

Firefighters, with the help of out-of-state fire crews, were showing progress in their twin battles to subdue the widely-destructive blazes that have blackened a combined acreage larger than the size of New York City.

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