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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Harrisburg's Matty Hawkins (5) and Nashville's Janie Holle (33) battle for a rebound in the fourth quarter of the 2A sectional semifinal last season in Johnston City. 

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West City
West City police confirm active death investigation

WEST CITY — West City Police Chief Scott Choisser confirmed that police are investigating a death or deaths at a home at 425 S. Central St. He also confirmed that Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigators were at the house at Thursday evening.

Neighbors say police arrived at the home by 3:15 p.m.

Choisser would not confirm the number of people dead at the home, but said there was no threat to public safety.

“The public has nothing to worry about,” he said.

Amanda Smith lives about half a block from the home where police were investigating. She has lived in West City for 27 years. Smith had heard that someone might have killed another person, which worried her because she has “little kids running around.”

Her boyfriend, Cheyenne Maceri of Sesser, heard that someone had died or possibly been murdered.

“Honestly, I thought it was a murder because I saw CSIs of some sort,” Maceri said.

Smith said she knew the man who lived in the house. 

“I am just concerned. He’s a nice guy who has been in the neighborhood for years.” Smith said.

The fact that police said there was no threat to the public did not calm Smith’s fears. She said she would consider moving if the situation turns out to be a murder.

“You just have to keep in mind that crazy stuff happens every day,” Maceri said.

In addition to West City Police and ISP Crime Scene Investigators, vehicles at the house included Franklin County Coroner, two ambulances from Abbott EMS and a couple unmarked vehicles. The ambulances left about 7:30 p.m. The coroner’s vehicle left shortly after 8 p.m.

The West City Police Department planned to send a news release after they are finished investigating at the home. 

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Carlie Clay, 17, takes a picture of herself and Sol Park, 16.

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South Korean students share Korean culture with new friends in Vienna

VIENNA — Dahee Jeon, 15, and Chaewon Park, 16, giggled as they tried Dippin’ Dots for the first time and chatted with their host family, Amanda and Brad Sheridan of Anna.

The teens were part of a group of 26 students from Daedong Taxation High School in in Seoul, South Korea, visiting Vienna High School.

Dahee and Chaewon explained that the students had to take a test of English with about 450 questions to qualify for the trip. Only top-scoring students were selected.

“They cooked for us on Sunday night,” Amanda Sheridan said.

They cooked a traditional Korean meal that included kimchi (fermented vegetables) and ramen (noodles).

Dahee is the second student in her family to visit Vienna. Her sister, Huiju Jeon, was part of the group that visited last year.

After a meal provided by Fellowship Baptist Church, the Korean students gave a presentation on Korean life and culture to their host families, Vienna High School students and members of the church.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Many new friendships were made as a group of students from a high school in South Korea visited Vienna. Wearing matching stocking hats, South Korean Bae, 16, and Bethany Gray, 6, embrace during an event for the students at Fellowship Baptist Church in Vienna on Wednesday. It was Gray's birthday.

The presentation started with Mansik Ahn, English teacher at Daedong Taxation High School. He joked that he wanted to hide the fact that he was an English teacher.

“Last Tuesday we arrived in Vienna, and we have had a good time and made many friends here,” Ahn said. “I asked the students, ‘How about this place?’” Ahn said.

After his short comments, a video greeting from the students who visited Vienna last year was shown. Many of those students said they were homesick for their American host families. The videos were created by Dabeen, one of the students.

“I will go there after graduation and hope to go bowling with you,” Dabeen said to his American friends.

Then it was time for this year’s students to share their presentations.

The first group talked about education and culture. They talked about subjects they study and taking the SAT test. The Korean SAT is given on one day each year. On that day, planes are not allowed to fly because officials do not want the noise to distract students.

They also gave a presentation on Korean language, showing traditional characters and a quick guide to pronunciation.

The second group talked about Korean history and geography. Korea is on a peninsula between China and Japan and has about 3,000 islands. Seventy percent of the rest of the country is mountains and hills.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Korean student Ha Jiwon, 17, holds Roshen, 1, the daughter of her host parents at Fellowship Baptist Church in Vienna on Wednesday.

“Japan colonized Korea in 1910 and took everything from us,” one student said. “We were liberated from Japan when U.S. forces dropped bombs on Hiroshima in 1945.”

The third group talked about culture and food, including K-Pop music and drama, Taekwando and food. Many Americans have heard K-Pop (think Psy and his song “Gangnam Style” or BTS on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”).

Their presentation ended with an invitation. A student offered to treat any visitors in the crowd to a “delicious meal” at a Korean restaurant.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

A contingent of students from Daedong Taxation High School in South Korea dance to the K-pop music Gangnam Style by Psy. It was just one part of their presentation about their country that they presented following a community dinner at Fellowship Baptist Church in Vienna on Wednesday.

The fourth group talked about places to visit in Korea, like Seoul, the world’s 10th largest city; Je Ju Island, a World Heritage Site famous for haabong and black pork; North Seoul Tower; Lotte Tower, and lots of bridges in Seoul.

“When you visit we recommend you go to these places,” Dahee said.

The students left Thursday morning after an assembly at Vienna High School.

Michael Moon, who arranged the tour, said he is often asked why he chose Vienna.

“I can tell you. It’s the student and people here,” Moon said. “This is true American life.”


President Donald Trump listens during a dinner with European business leaders at the World Economic Forum on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland.

Report: Trump wanted Mueller fired, backed off

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but he backed off the order after White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to resign, according to a report Thursday in The New York Times.

The newspaper reports that Trump demanded Mueller's firing just weeks after the special counsel was first appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

McGahn said he would not deliver the order to the Justice Department, according to The Times, which cites four people familiar with the request by the president.

Trump argued at the time that Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Va. The president also believed Mueller he had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday night. Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer working on the response to the Russia probe, declined comment Thursday night.

The response from Democrats was nearly immediate. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that if the report in The Times is true, Trump has crossed a "red line."

"Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses or otherwise interfere in the investigation would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately," Warner said.

The report comes as Mueller moves ever closer to interviewing Trump himself. The president said Wednesday that he would gladly testify under oath — although a White House official quickly said afterward that Trump did not mean he was volunteering to testify.

Last June, when Trump was considering how to fire Mueller, the special counsel's probe had not progressed far, at least not in public.

At that time he had yet to call on any major witnesses to testify and had not yet issued any charges or signed any plea deals. But that would change just a few months later, when federal agents would arrest former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and ultimately turn him into a cooperating witness.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump adviser Rick Gates were charged by Mueller with criminal conspiracy related to millions of dollars they earned while working for a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian political party. And former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to cooperate with investigators in a plea deal revealed two months ago. Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI.

Mueller's investigators have been focusing their inquiry on questions surrounding Trump's firing of Flynn and also his firing of former FBI Director James Comey. They have slowly been calling in more witnesses closer to the president himself and, recently, began negotiating the terms of a possible interview with the president.

On Thursday, Trump's lawyer said that more than 20 White House employees have given interviews to the special counsel in his probe of possible obstruction of justice and Trump campaign ties to Russian election interference.

John Dowd, Trump's attorney, said the White House, in an unprecedented display of cooperation with Mueller's investigation, has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president's 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages.

The number of voluntary interviews included eight people from the White House counsel's office.

An additional 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have also been interviewed by either the special counsel or congressional committees probing Russian election meddling. Dowd's disclosure did only not name the people nor provide a breakdown of how many were interviewed only by Mueller's team.

Separately, transcripts of interviews held behind closed doors in congressional investigations into Russian meddling could soon become public. Those will include the president's elder son.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he will work with the panel's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, to release the transcripts of interviews with Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended a June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower in New York.

"Let's get them out there for everyone to see," Grassley said.

The rare bipartisan move brings the focus, at least momentarily, back to the initial subject of several different congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and whether Trump's campaign was involved. In recent weeks, many Republicans have pivoted to instead focus on whether the FBI conspired against Trump when it began investigating the campaign, citing anti-Trump texts between two Justice Department officials who were at one point part of special counsel Mueller's investigation.

Trying to stem some of that criticism, the Justice Department's internal watchdog said Thursday that it had located several months' worth of text messages the department had previously said it couldn't find.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a letter to Congress that his office "succeeded in using forensic tools" to recover messages from FBI devices, including those swapped by a counterintelligence agent, Peter Strzok, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page between December 2016 and May 2017.

Strzok was reassigned from Mueller's Russia investigation following the discovery of anti-Trump text messages he and Page, who was also briefly detailed to Mueller's team, had shared.

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Bill proposed in Illinois would ban tackle football for kids under 12

CHICAGO — Organized tackle football would be banned for Illinois children younger than 12 years old under a bill to be unveiled on Thursday.

The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE is named for the Chicago Bears defensive back who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy after he killed himself at the age of 50. Duerson shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for signs of the disease that has been linked to concussions or repeated head trauma.

"When my father tragically took his own life, he donated his brain to science in hopes of being part of the solution," said Tregg Duerson, who like his father played football at Notre Dame.

"Thanks to increased attention and research on brain trauma, we know that part of the solution is to guard young children's developing brains from the risks of tackle football," Tregg Duerson said in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press in advance of the announcement. "This bill honors my family's hopes and my father's legacy to protect future athletes and the future of football."

State Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, announced the proposal at a news conference Thursday along with Chris Nowinski, the head of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Also expected to attend were former Bears players Mike Adamle and Otis Wilson — a teammate of Dave Duerson's on the 1985 championship team — and Liz Nicholson, the wife of former Cleveland Brown Gerry Sullivan, who has sued the NFL over its handling of concussions.

"We all want kids to have fun playing football and to learn to play the game the right way early on," Sente said in a statement. "But the overwhelming data and powerful stories of our supporters here today show the risks of playing tackle football before turning 12 just aren't worth it."

CTE is a degenerative disease known to cause memory loss, violent moods and other cognitive difficulties in football players, members of the military and others who have endured repeated head trauma. It can only be diagnosed after death. Researchers believe the severity of the symptoms is increased for those who began playing football at a younger age.

After years of denials, the NFL has acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in 2015 to a $1 billion settlement with former players.

The Illinois bill is similar to a proposal in New York, and Nowinski said lawmakers in at least one other state are working to raise the age at which children begin playing tackle football.

"I am confident we have the science on our side and can make a very persuasive argument that safer football for youth will lead to healthier and more rewarding lives for generations to come," Sente said.

— Golen reported from Boston.