Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's Newsdesk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, DC, in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

Updated at 2:14 p.m. ET Tuesday

One day after a dive boat erupted in flames, killing at least 34 people, authorities are suspending their search efforts for survivors. At a news conference Tuesday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the bodies of 20 victims — 11 female and 9 male — have been recovered from the wreckage, while divers are still trying to recover the remains of several other victims they have spotted in the waters near California's Channel Islands.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

North Carolina is suing electronic cigarette companies that it accuses of selling products to children, amid a major increase in U.S. teens getting hooked on vaping.

The state's attorney general, Josh Stein, announced Tuesday that his office will be filing lawsuits in state court against eight companies that sell vaping products. His office is accusing these companies of "aggressively targeting children and do not require appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products."

A pilot who is credited with saving dozens of lives has died. United Flight 232 went into total hydraulic failure while Al Haynes was at the controls in 1989. With the help of three other pilots, he maneuvered the DC-10 to a miraculous crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, and 184 of the 296 people on board survived.

Haynes is widely seen as a hero among aviation experts, akin to Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his "miracle on the Hudson." Haynes' son Dan confirmed to NPR that his father had died.

A man drove a truck into a group of peaceful demonstrators protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies outside a detention facility in Central Falls, R.I., on Wednesday evening.

After a video of the incident went viral, the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility said that it has placed a correctional officer named Thomas Woodworth on administrative leave pending an independent investigation. A spokesperson for the facility would not confirm that Woodworth was the driver, saying that is "subject to the investigation."

President Trump has vetoed a series of measures approved by bipartisan lawmakers that were aimed at blocking the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Trump said the three resolutions would "weaken America's global competitiveness and damage the important relationship we share with our allies and partners."

Lawmakers in support of the bills have criticized the Saudis' actions in the Yemen conflict where thousands of civilians have died, and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET

The U.S. government is poised to carry out the death penalty for the first time in nearly two decades, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has instructed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to change the federal execution protocol to include capital punishment, the Justice Department said.

The Senate has voted 97-2 to approve a bill that will virtually ensure permanent funding for rescue workers whose work after the Sept. 11 attacks caused health problems.

The House passed the bill last month, and President Trump is expected to approve it, ending a years-long ordeal for the victims after concerns that the fund was on the verge of running out of money.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. ET

Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the freshman Democratic congresswomen facing attacks from President Trump and his supporters, was cheered as she arrived back at her home district in Minnesota on Thursday.

A crowd of people at the airport in the Twin Cities held banners with slogans such as "Stop Racism Now" and chanted "welcome home Ilhan" as the congresswoman emerged from her flight.

If a fire was reported while you were on an upper floor of a high-rise, what would you do?

For one West Philadelphia man, the answer was: Get to the outside of the building and scramble down more than a dozen floors.

The breathtaking feat was captured in detail by multiple local television stations, bringing us several views of the man descending at least 14 floors of the tall building with apparent ease.

Some of Puerto Rico's biggest stars rallied a crowd of many thousands in San Juan on Wednesday, calling on the island's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign. It was the fifth day in a row of protests in the U.S. territory, following a leak of hundreds of pages of misogynistic and homophobic texts between the governor and his main advisers.

During the day, trap artist Bad Bunny and singer Ricky Martin were among the huge crowd that marched to the governor's mansion.

The State Department said it has issued sanctions to four top military leaders in Myanmar over what it called "gross human rights violations" during the "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Two vital research agencies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are hemorrhaging staff as less than two-thirds of the researchers asked to relocate from Washington to the Kansas City area have agreed to do so.

There's a new king of the hill.

The small town of Harlech in Wales has ousted Dunedin, New Zealand, for bragging rights to the world's steepest street. Guinness World Records announced the new title in a news release on Tuesday.

Ffordd Pen Llech, the name of the Wales street, winds up at a slope of 37.45 % stretch over fall, Guinness World Records said. That's in comparison to a slope of 34.97% at Dunedin's Baldwin Street.

Two years after it released the first season of the show 13 Reasons Why with a graphic suicide scene, Netflix has announced that it has edited it out.

Updated at 5 p.m. ET

Ross Perot, the colorful Texas billionaire businessman who ran twice for president, first as an independent and then as a third-party candidate, died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas. He was 89.

Perot, who had battled leukemia, was surrounded by family members when he died, his family said in a statement.

A group of voting rights advocates and felons has filed a lawsuit after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that could make it more difficult for felons to vote.

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis says it has decided to fire a gay teacher to remain in the local archdiocese.

In a letter to the community, leaders of Cathedral High School said they had been in talks with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for 22 months before deciding to cut ties with the teacher.

Ten state attorneys general have filed a lawsuit to try to block the merger of telecom giants T-Mobile and Sprint.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

A helicopter crashed into the top of a Manhattan skyscraper and ignited a fire early Monday afternoon, sending New York authorities and rescuers racing to the scene in Midtown.

Officials said the crash killed one person, believed to be the helicopter's pilot.

It's not yet clear why the helicopter went down around 1:45 p.m. ET, though it's possible that rainy, windy weather in the area was a factor.

Egyptian voters have approved sweeping constitutional amendments that allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to remain in office until 2030 and further entrench the power of the military.

Voters approved the amendments by 88.83%, according to the National Election Authority, which said that 44.33% of eligible voters took part in the poll.

Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be on his way to a fourth consecutive term, and his main challenger has conceded defeat.

The election was neck and neck between his right-wing party and that of his top contender, centrist political newcomer Benny Gantz. But with at least 97 percent of the votes counted, Netanyahu appears to be in the best position to form a government because of the strength of other right-wing, nationalist and religious parties.

Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET

Federal officials have charged dozens of well-heeled parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, in what the Justice Department says was a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat college admissions standards. The parents allegedly paid a consultant who then fabricated academic and athletic credentials and arranged bribes to help get their children into prestigious universities.

U.S. regulators say several makeup products from Claire's stores tested positive for asbestos, a mineral that has been linked to deadly cancers.

The Food and Drug Administration tested makeup from Claire's and the retailer Justice, both of which market their products to young girls and teens. In a statement Tuesday, the agency reported that it found that three product samples from Claire's and one from Justice contained the substance, and it released a safety alert about the products.

The CEO of British fashion retailer Ted Baker has resigned after allegations of misconduct, including complaints of "forced hugging."

The company said Monday that Ray Kelvin, who founded the firm more than 30 years ago, had resigned "with immediate effect." He will not be entitled to any salary or benefits payments in connection with the resignation, the company added.

A sweet story that went viral has taken a dark turn.

Last week, a South Carolina mother posted on Facebook that a man bought some 120 boxes of Girl Scout cookies so that the children selling them could get out of the cold.

Emma Thompson has pulled out of the animated film Luck over concerns that the studio has hired John Lasseter. Lasseter recently departed Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, where he was chief creative officer, after allegations of sexual harassment.

Thompson's letter to the management of Skydance Media, first published in the Los Angeles Times, blasts the company for hiring Lasseter.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET

A Florida police chief has announced that Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, will face charges of soliciting prostitution after he was caught on surveillance video allegedly in the midst of a sexual act.

Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr announced the charges on Friday as part of a sting on a local spa suspected of human trafficking and potential money laundering.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

An Israeli spacecraft blasted off this evening, aiming to land on the moon. And if the mission is successful, it would make Israel the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface – after the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China.

Updated at 5:32 p.m. ET

President Trump pushed forward Tuesday with his plan to launch a space force as a new branch of the military. But it would at first be under the umbrella of the Air Force, and it requires approval of Congress — which is far from certain.

This represents at least a temporary shift. Trump had stated that he wanted a space force that is "separate but equal" from the Air Force.

In a Los Angeles courtroom in 2014, 74-year-old Samuel Little was adamant that he had not murdered three women.

"I didn't do it!" he screamed in court, according to the Los Angeles Times, before he was sentenced to life in prison.

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