A 14-year-old girl has made history by becoming the first African American to win the 96-year-old US Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Zaila Avant-garde, a sporting prodigy with several Guinness World Records to her name for dribbling multiple basketballs at a time, won the event by correctly spelling Murraya – a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees.
The confident teenager from New Orleans appeared relaxed, peppering pronouncer Jacques Bailly with questions about Greek and Latin roots, and bantering with the judges and moderators before jumping and twirling for joy on stage as she was told she was right and was declared the champion to claim the $50,000 (£36,308) top prize.
“I was pretty relaxed on the subject of Murraya and pretty much any other word I got,” she said afterwards.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing, though. She had struggled with another botanical word.
Pausing at the unstressed sound in the middle of Nepeta, a word for another plant genus, she collected herself, started again, and nailed it.
Zaila, who hopes to one day play in the WNBA or even coach in the NBA, described spelling as a side hobby, even though she routinely practiced for seven hours a day.
She is the first black contestant to win since Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998, also the only international winner.
Ahead of the final, she told the Associated Press that she hoped to inspire other African Americans, who she said might not have the money to pay for the tutorials needed to be competitive.
She even thought of MacNolia Cox, who in 1936 became the first black finalist at the bee and wasn’t allowed to stay in the same hotel as the rest of the contestants.
Many top Scripps spellers start competing when they are of nursery age. Zaila only started a few years ago, after her father, Jawara Spacetime, watched the competition on TV and realised his daughter’s affinity for doing complicated maths in her head could translate well to spelling.
She began working with a private coach, Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student and the 2015 Scripps runner-up.
He said: “Usually to be as good as Zaila, you have to be well-connected in the spelling community. You have to have been doing it for many years. It was like a mystery, like, ‘Is this person even real?’
“She really just had a much different approach than any speller I’ve ever seen. She basically knew the definition of every word that we did, like pretty much verbatim. She knew, not just the word but the story behind the word, why every letter had to be that letter and couldn’t be anything else.”
Zaila’s win also breaks a streak of at least one Indian-American champion every year since 2008, with children of South Asian descent dominating the competition.
Chaitra Thummala, 12, of San Francisco, came in second after misspelling neroli oil, but still took home $25,000 (£18,156).
Bhavana Madini, 13, of New York finished third with the $15,000 (£10,893) prize, after being eliminated while trying to spell athanor – a type of furnace.
The competition finals returned before a live audience at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando after being cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Derek Chauvin: George Floyd’s killer was stabbed 22 times with ‘improvised knife’ by former mafia member
Derek Chauvin – the ex-police officer jailed over the murder of George Floyd – was stabbed 22 times with an “improvised knife” in prison, it has emerged.
Fellow inmate John Turscak has been charged with attempted murder following the attack on 24 November, which was Black Friday.
The 52-year-old, a former member of the Mexican Mafia, told FBI agents he attacked Chauvin on that date as a symbolic connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.
He also revealed he had been thinking about targeting Chauvin for over a month – and said he would have killed the high-profile inmate had officers not intervened so quickly.
“Life-saving measures” were performed after the stabbing in the prison library, and Chauvin is “expected to survive”.
Turscak has also been charged with three counts of assault and could face an additional 60 years behind bars if convicted. He had been due to complete his current sentence by 2026.
He had led a faction of the Mexican Mafia in Los Angeles during the late 1990s, and went by the nickname “Stranger”.
The former gang member later became an FBI informant and recorded conversations with his associates in the hope of receiving a lighter sentence.
Chauvin had been moved to the jail in Tucson, Arizona last August – and at the time, his lawyer had called for him to be kept away from other inmates for his own protection.
The disgraced cop was convicted of second-degree murder and violating George Floyd’s civil rights after pressing a knee on his neck for nine-and-a-half minutes outside a store in Minnesota in 2020.
Mr Floyd had been suspected of using a counterfeit $20 (£16) bill, and footage from bystanders captured him telling officers “I can’t breathe”.
His death sparked protests worldwide and a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.
‘Serial killer’ hunted in LA after three homeless people shot dead
Los Angeles police are hunting a potential serial killer after three homeless people were shot dead in separate incidents.
The murders took place over a few days – between 26 and 29 November – and the city’s mayor warned rough sleepers on Friday: “Try not to be alone tonight.”
CCTV has been released of the suspect, who’s described as male and probably wearing a hoodie; as well as a dark-coloured vehicle he might be using.
LA police chief Michel Moore said a special task force had been set up “to uncover the identity of a potential serial killer preying on the most vulnerable in our community”.
The murders share similarities: all three happened in the early hours and all suspects were homeless and alone.
Mr Moore said all were shot as they were sleeping or preparing to bed down for the night.
The Los Angeles Times named them as Jose Bolanos, 37, Mark Diggs, 62, and a 52-year-old man who’s yet to be named.
Mayor Karen Bass said she had met with the housing department and homeless service and that they are doing “all we can to make shelter and services available”.
“Our message to our unhoused community is clear – try not to be alone tonight,” she said.
The mayor added: “To the many Angelenos who have friends or family who are unhoused, please let them know the danger that exists.”
George Santos expelled from House over criminal charges and damning ethics report
Republican congressman George Santos has been expelled from the House of Representatives after a report found “overwhelming evidence” he misused campaign donations.
Mr Santos was ousted 311-114 in a bipartisan vote – only the sixth time a member has been kicked out of the House since it was founded in 1789.
Two-thirds of members must support the move – but an excoriating report by the House ethics committee that accused him of breaking federal law appeared to seal his fate.
The 35-year-old led his own defence on the floor of the House and said he would “not stand by quietly”.
Speaking the evening before the vote, he said: “The people of the Third District of New York sent me here. If they want me out, you’re going to have to go silence those people and go take the hard vote.”
Mr Santos argued it would set a precedent that would make expulsions more common.
Three previous cases involved disloyalty to the Union during the American Civil War, the remaining two were after politicians were convicted of federal crimes.
A congressional investigation found he charged his campaign account nearly $4,000 (£3,151) for spa treatments, including
He also spent more than $4,000 at designer store Hermes and made “smaller purchases” from the OnlyFans site – best known for sexual content.
As the outcome of Friday’s vote became clear, Mr Santos put his coat over his shoulders, shook hands with some members who voted against his expulsion and exited the chamber.
The House Speaker solemnly instructed a clerk to inform New York’s governor that his seat was now vacant.
Mr Santos was in his first term and had been previously feted as an exciting prospect after he flipped a district from the Democrats in November 2022.
But the committee launched a probe in March after reports he lied about having Jewish ancestry and his grandparents fleeing the Nazis, working at elite investment bank Goldman Sachs, and his college degree.
It lasted eight months and found “overwhelming evidence” of law-breaking – and Mr Santos has now admitted making up much of his biography.
The US attorney’s office indicted him in May, accusing him of cheating donors, laundering campaign funds for his own personal use, and lying to Congress.
It alleged he stole donors’ identities and used their credit cards to make tens of thousands in authorised charges.
Mr Santos has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial is scheduled for September 2024.
“Mr Santos is not a victim. He is a perpetrator of a massive fraud on his constituents and the American people,” said Susan Wild, the top Democrat on the ethics committee.
The last person to be kicked out of the House was Democrat James Traficant over a criminal corruption conviction in 2002.
New York state governor Kathy Hochul now has 10 days to call a special election for Mr Santos’s seat.
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