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    A North Carolina man who sent customers and employees scrambling when he fired a gun inside a northwest Washington pizzeria told police he went there to investigate a fictitious online conspiracy theory involving the restaurant and high-ranking Democrats.

    Police received a report of a man armed with a rifle at Comet Ping Pong about 3 p.m. Sunday.

    [[404663856, C]]

    The gunman pointed a weapon at an employee, who fled and called police, police said.

    Lee Elmore, a bartender at Comet who said he didn't see a gun himself, told News4 everyone inside started to panic as the man walked to the back of the restaurant.

    “His demeanor was bizarre, in that if you come in to a place to eat, you ask for a host or grab a seat at the bar,” Elmore said. “Didn’t make any eye contact, didn’t talk with anybody.”

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    Customers and employees ran from the restaurant.

    The gunman fired at least one shot from the rifle into the floor, but no one was hurt, police said.

    The incident drew heavy police response. Dozens of officers with guns drawn were in the streets, and a helicopter circled above the scene.

    Police arrested 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina, and charged him with assault with a dangerous weapon. Police recovered two guns inside Comet and another inside the suspect's vehicle, which police towed away from in front of the pizzeria.

    After his arrest, Welch told police he was there to investigate a fake news conspiracy theory known as "pizza gate" involving the pizzeria in the 5000 block of Connecticut Avenue NW. Posts to Facebook and Reddit claim Comet was the home base of a child sex abuse ring run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign chair, John Podesta.

    “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories does come with consequences,” Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis said.

    Twitter accounts drew connections between Podesta's emails, which were hacked and then published by WikiLeaks, and the pizzeria. Users of the online message board 4Chan saw that Podesta had emailed Comet Ping Pong about hosting a Clinton fundraiser, then speculated Comet Ping Pong was part of a Democratic child trafficking ring, according to the New York Times.

    Politifact, a Tampa Bay Times project dedicated to uncovering the truth in Washington, found the conspiracy theory presented without documentation or named sources "fails to rise above rumor or hoax."

    Alefantis told the Times he received hundreds of death threats after the conspiracy theory surfaced.

    “We should all condemn the efforts of some to spread these malicious and utterly false accusations about our restaurant, Comet Ping Pong,” Alefantis said Sunday evening.

    Connecticut Avenue was closed between Fessenden Street and Nebraska Avenue but reopened about 6 p.m. after a police sweep of the area found nothing hazardous.

    Comet Ping Pong will be close Monday but will reopen Tuesday.

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    Photo Credit: Jay Alvey, NBCWashington
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  • 12/04/16--19:28: Woman Gives Birth In-Flight

  • A flight from Philadelphia bound for Orlando, Florida, was diverted Sunday after a passenger gave birth on board.

    Southwest Airlines Flight 556 took off from Philly International Airport and was headed to Orlando International Airport when a woman on board went into labor, according to an airline spokesperson. Medical personnel who were on the flight helped with the baby’s delivery and the plane was diverted to Charleston, South Carolina.

    Once the plane landed, emergency medical technicians transported the parents and the baby to an area hospital. The flight and its 132 passengers then continued to Orlando.

    A Philadelphia native who was on board the flight recorded the baby crying and posted the video on Twitter.

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    Photo Credit: Izzy Gould,
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    Thirty-three people were confirmed dead Sunday after a horrific Oakland warehouse blaze that has since been deemed one of the country’s deadliest structure fires, sheriff's officials said.

    Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced at a news conference Sunday that the Alameda County District Attorney's Office has launched a criminal investigation into to the fire at the converted warehouse on 31st Avenue.

    Meanwhile, firefighters continued to maneuver through the wrecked "Ghost Ship," where an unknown amount of people were attending a Friday night electronic music festival.

    Any potential criminal investigation must be officially implemented by the Alameda County district attorney, and Schaaf confirmed that a representative from that office is at the scene of the blaze and "engaged in the recovery effort."

    "What I am doing is getting a team of city employees to gather every piece of evidence," she said.

    A Facebook event page indicates that the fire sparked during a Golden Donna show — promoted by Los Angeles-based dance label 100% Silk — at the warehouse at 1315 31st Avenue. 

    Crews, who arrived on scene Friday night within 3 minutes, have so far only been able to search about 35 to 40 percent of the building, sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said Sunday. Schaaf added that crews continue to piece through the rubble around the clock.

    "We are working as fast as we can," she said.

    Victims range in age from as young as 17 years old to people in their 30s, but that scope could shift as the rest of the wreckage is peeled back, Kelly said.

    "It's very unfortunate that we have to tell you that we have 17-year-old victims," Kelly said.

    Among the dead include an Alameda County Sheriff's deputy's son and people visiting from countries across the globe such as Europe and Asia, Kelly said.

    Sheriff's officials plan to begin releasing the names of victims Sunday after notifying the families. A total of seven people have been positively identified as of Sunday afternoon, according to Kelly. Kelly added that officials have been able to identify victims after comparing fingerprints or locating personal identifiers such as material found in wallets or purses.

    "We're doing the identifications as fast as we can," Kelly said. "The sooner we can get those identifications done, the sooner we can meet with the families, offer counseling and begin to move forward from that. We want to get everybody identified as quickly as possible, however it's a very cumbersome process."

    Among the missing include community members associated with UC Berkeley, the school confirmed Sunday. Meanwhile, "several dozen" people who were initially reported missing have been located and reunited with their families, he said. 

    Capt. Melanie Ditzenberger with the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau reiterated that the families of people who are still missing to "preserve sources of DNA," including combsand toothbrushes, to "prevent future delays" in the identification process. She also asked that such items be stored in clean paper sacks, but not sent to the coroner's bureau. Officials will ask for them, if needed.

    "It's a terrible thing to have to say that, to have to come out here and do that, but that's what we're left to deal with here," Kelly said.

    Officials suspect that artists were living illegally in the structure, although it was permitted for use only as a warehouse. Mark Hoffman, operations chief at the Oakland Fire Department, described the building as a "labyrinth," cluttered with woodworkers, sculptors, painters and more.

    "I think it really hits this community because there are a lot of warehouses," resident Fallon Burner said. "I live in a warehouse that’s very similar to this one. ... And that leads to things not being fire coded and stuff like this happening."

    Oakland property records indicate the warehouse is owned by the Chor N. Ng trust, and multiple complaints have been filed against the owner. A family member speaking on behalf of Ng said they were "trying to figure out what happened just like everyone else" and were "sorry to hear of [the tragedy] and those injured and killed."

    Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said there was no evidence of smoke alarms or sprinklers at the now-destroyed building. Further, its charred roof collapsed onto the second floor, which in places plunged onto the first floor. 

    When she tried to enter the building, Reed said she was "just able to get in about 10 feet." Kelly agreed that it has proven "tricky" to move around in the building because of debris, downed beams, a collapsed roof and leaking water.

    The inferno reduced the building to a smoldering skeleton, and Kelly said weakened walls further complicated and delayed the recovery and identification process. Fire crews were forced to withdraw from the unstable structure Saturday because it needed to be shored up.

    Officials brought in heavy equipment, including cranes, dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers, to create a safe path into the building. They flooded the building with light while crews worked carefully so bodies weren't scooped up with debris, Kelly said.

    Melinda Drayton, a battalion chief with the Oakland Fire Department, said she took up her post around 9 p.m. Saturday and oversaw recovery efforts for 12 hours.

    Crews "breached the left side of the warehouse building" so firefighters and Alameda County sheriff's officials could move debris "literally bucket by bucket" from the ravaged structure to a vacant lot next door," Drayton said.

    Firefighters dressed in "coveralls" used "buckets and shovels" to clear the scene in a "methodical, thoughtful, mindful and compassionate way," according to Drayton.

    When Drayton entered the building, she said she noted a "somber approach" to the difficult work being done.

    "It was quiet. It was heartbreaking," she said, choking up.

    Kelly echoed the same sentiment.

    "This is very hard work and it's very slow and it's definitely taken a toll on first responders here," he said.

    Of the bodies recovered, one was found within a few feet of the breached wall, three were on the east side of the building, four lay at the center — where large and treacherous timber rafters had also landed — and within 10 feet of them were six more, according to Drayton. 

    Although it was a "phenomenal feat" to comb through one-fifth of the warehouse overnight, firefighters still have a ways to go, Drayton said.

    "This will be a long and arduous process, but we want to make sure that we are respecting the victims, their families and our firefighters' safety," Drayton said.

    In the meantime, Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said officers have conducted an areawide search, noting license plate numbers of cars that victims may have driven to the warehouse. They are now trying to match cars with registered owners to aid in the identification process. 

    It may take "considerable" time before all the victims are found and identified, according to Kelly. He added that officials are investigating the warehouse "around the clock" and will be there for "days and days to come."

    "It appears that people either made it out or didn’t make it out," he said. "There’s not a lot of other injuries that have been reported to us at this time."

    Drayton, who has spent 19 years with the city's fire department, said, "This is the most deadly fire in Oakland Fire’s history that I’m aware of." The 1991 Oakland Hills fire killed 25 people. "It is tragic to watch so many people perish from a fire fatality in front of your eyes and have to be stoic in your job, be professional in your actions, and make sure we’re honoring the victims and their families to bring them safely out of the building," Drayton added.

    In the hours after the fire, the Bay Area community roared back with support for people affected by the fire. Elected officials, including Schaaf and Gov. Jerry Brown, offered their condolences; groups organized vigils; the A's and Raiders made donations; and Facebook rolled out its Safety Check so people could inform family and friends about their condition. 

    The Alameda County Sheriff's Office and American Red Cross also set up a family assistance center at 2425 E. 12th St. People called 510-382-3000 for help.

    According to Kelly, the center proved to be a great resource for people frantically searching for their loved ones.

    "We have contacted every family member. We have sat down with them. We have talked to them. We have cried with them. We have spent hours and hours with them," Kelly said. However, that wouldn't have been possible without support from chaplins, city workers, Red Cross officials and others.

    "The offers of assistance have been amazing," he said.

    Separately, an arson task force is investigating the cause of the fire, but there’s no reason to suspect arson at this time, officials said. 

    "It’s still under investigation," Drayton said. "We don’t believe we’ve even gotten close to the point of origin of the fire."

    NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez and Elyce Kirchner contributed to this report.

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    Survivors Nikki Kelber and Carmen Brito describe the horrific scene inside the converted Oakland warehouse where they lived as they fled for their lives and tried to help others escape the building where dozens died in a fire late Friday night. "I came out of my space and saw an entire wall on fire 20 feet from where I was standing," Brito said as anguish echoed from her voice. "I just knew there was nothing that could be done." In a matter of 30 seconds, Brito managed to make a beeline for the front door and escaped the inferno consuming her home. She described the entire ordeal by saying "everything happened so quickly." Her friend, Kelber, jumped from her loft, grabbed her cat and switched on a head lamp to help navigate the foggy maze. Her ghastly escape through the dark was complete in a matter of moments. "I feel like it was 30 seconds from when I looked down the hall to when it was pretty much engulfed," Kelber said. "It was so fast."

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    Time magazine narrowed downed its potential "Person of the Year" list to 11 finalists on Monday.

    The short list includes President-elect Donald Trump; Hillary Clinton, the first woman to become a presidential nominee for a major political party; Olympic gymnast Simone Biles; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; former head of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage; Beyonce; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

    The Flint Whistleblowers, local residents, along with civil-engineering professor Marc Edwards and local pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who alerted the public to the lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, along with CRISPER Scientists, who have developed a groundbreaking new technology that can edit DNA, also up for the recognition. 

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2007, made this year's shortlist, too. 

    The magazine's editors each year select a person — or idea — that has most influenced the news and the world in the past year. Time has made the pick since 1927.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened her nation's border to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and managed Europe's debt crisis, was Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2015. The year before that, the honor went to the Ebola fighters.

    The 2016 Person of the Year will be unveiled on NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday morning and

    Photo Credit: Getty Images

    From left, President-elect Donald Trump, gymnast Simone Biles, and Russian President Vladimir Putin have all made the shortlist for Time Magazine's Person of The Year.From left, President-elect Donald Trump, gymnast Simone Biles, and Russian President Vladimir Putin have all made the shortlist for Time Magazine's Person of The Year.

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    A months-long standoff between the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe ended Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 after the Army Corps of Engineers declined to grant the permit to extend the pipeline beneath Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

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    The search for victims in the charred wreckage of an Oakland warehouse resumed on Monday after a brief break due to safety concerns, with 36 bodies recovered so far in what's become the city's deadliest blaze.  

    Authorities have tentatively identified 33 of the bodies, officials said at a news conference Monday afternoon. The families of 16 victims have been notified and five more are pending notification that their loved ones were among the dozens killed.

    The death toll from the "Ghost Ship" warehouse that burned down Friday is expected to rise as firefighters continue a painstaking search for victims. Flames quickly consumed the converted East Oakland warehouse during a dance party, leaving the structure a mess of blistered wood and twisted steel.

    Seventeen names have been released to the public, while many others were witheld so that families can take a moment to grieve, Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Tya Modeste said at a news conference early Monday. One of the dead includes the son of a sheriff's deputy.

    Three of the victims were foreigners from Finland, Korea and Guatemala, officials said.

    The investigation into the fire and recovery of the bodies from the illegally converted warehouse on East 31st Avenue resumed Monday morning after it was temporarily suspended Sunday night because of an unstable wall that was deemed dangerous, Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said early Monday.

    Drayton said Monday it appeared the "extremely hot fire" may have started in the back of the building and burned underneath the dance floor.

    "We've got some areas where the steel is actually twisted and wrapped," she said.

    Power was shut down at noon Monday to PG&E customers in the surrounding area so that a crane and large equiptment, which could hit power lines, could be moved to conduct work at the warehouse. It was expected to last for about 12 hours.

    The fire ripped through the warehouse on Friday about 11:30 p.m. and the cause remains unknown, but occupants saying the place was a "deathtrap," littered with junk, electrical wires and butane cooking tanks. Artists, musicians and mostly 20-somethings had gathered for an electronic dance party, one of countless such gatherings throughout Oakland over the years.

    The warehouse was an artist's "labyrinth" full of art, wooden structures, tapestries, musical equipment and other relics. People had been illegally living and partying there, according to witness statements, interviews and records.

    The blaze burned for hours and has cast a pall over the entire California Bay Area. Survivors described chaos inside the building as flames quickly burned through the two-story space. The power cut out and smoke filled the halls.

    "I feel like it was 30 seconds from when I looked down the hall to when it was pretty much engulfed. It was so fast," warehouse resident Nikki Kelber recalled.

    She and a friend, Carmen Brito, were able to get out of the building along with others.

    "We all looked out for each other, we all helped each other," Brito said of the people who lived at the space.

    President Barack Obama sent prayers Monday to the victims of the "awful tragedy" and their families, and said his administration was ready to assist local and state agencies.

    "While we still don't know the full toll of this disaster, we do know that an American community has been devastated, and many people – including young men and women with their whole futures ahead of them – have tragically lost their lives," Obama said in a statement.

    A criminal investigation was launched by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office on Sunday into possible criminal negligence.

    District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said Monday her office has sent a team to search for evidence of a crime in the warehouse, but has not yet determined whether a crime even occurred. She said potential charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder.

    O'Malley said anyone with information about the warehouse and the people living there can call a hotline the DA's Office has set up at 877-288-2882.

    Many in the artist's community are now focusing their anger at Derick Ion Almena, the founder of the collective who escaped the fire. His wife and children were at a hotel when the fire broke out.

    Almena also has a criminal history.

    People had long complained to Almena that his enclave was unsafe, and he had simply laughed it off, according to many comments on a now-deleted Facebook post.

    Immediately after the fire, he had written to lament the fact that "everything I had worked so hard for is gone." Facebook users excoriated him for not being sensitive to the loss of life.

    On Monday, he sent a statement to NBC News that read: "In my previous Facebook post, I had no idea there was a loss of life. This tragic event consumes me every moment. My heart is broken. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones."

    The deadliest fire in Oakland history until Friday, the Oakland Hills Firestorm, took place in 1991, when about 3,000 homes were destroyed and 25 people killed.

    Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
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    Aerial footage of the badly damaged Oakland warehouse. (Dec. 3, 2016)Aerial footage of the badly damaged Oakland warehouse. (Dec. 3, 2016)

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    Dozens of people were killed Friday when an Oakland warehouse that was used as an unsanctioned residence and event space went up in flames.

    The death toll at "The Ghost Ship," as the warehouse was called, is the seventh highest of any building fire in the last 50 years, NBC News reported. Thirty-six bodies have been recovered, with more expected to come.

    The two deadliest fires came after massive explosions: The September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the bombing in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The buildings burned after the initial blasts in both instances, killing more.

    The next deadliest building blaze took place nearly 40 years ago, leaving 165 dead at a supper club in Kentucky in May 1977. And fires at a night club, social club and a Las Vegas casino also left more dead than in Oakland.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images

    Firefighters work to clear the debris from a doorway Saturday, December 4, 2016, following a fire overnight that claimed the lives of dozens of people at a warehouse in Oakland, California. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)Firefighters work to clear the debris from a doorway Saturday, December 4, 2016, following a fire overnight that claimed the lives of dozens of people at a warehouse in Oakland, California. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

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    A man who authorities said shouted "go back to your country" at a Muslim woman wearing a religious head covering may have picked the wrong target: a decorated New York City police officer.

    Officer Aml Elsokary, a New York City native who joined the force after the Sept. 11 attacks, said she was off duty in her Brooklyn neighborhood Saturday when she encountered a man yelling and pushing her 16-year-old son.

    When she intervened, she said, the man referenced the Islamic State group and threatened to slit her throat.

    It was the first time anything like that had happened to her, she said at a news conference with the city's mayor Monday.

    "I became a police officer to show the positive side of a New Yorker, a Muslim woman, that can do the job," Elsokary said. "I help everybody, no matter what your religion, what's your faith, what you do in New York. I'm born and raised here."

    The man accused of making the threat, Christopher Nelson, 36, was arraigned Monday on a felony charge of menacing as a hate crime. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The encounter was one of a number of alleged episodes of religious or racial bigotry reported in the city in recent days.

    On Monday, a transit worker who is Muslim was pushed down the stairs at Grand Central Terminal by a man who called her a terrorist, police said. The station agent, who was wearing a religious head covering, was attacked while on her way to work. She was treated at a hospital for ankle and knee injuries.

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo also noted in a statement that a subway train was vandalized with swastikas on Saturday, and Ku Klux Klan materials were distributed at Long Island Rail Road stations last week.

    The police department cited Elsokary for bravery in 2014 after she and a partner ran into a burning building to save a baby. Police Commissioner James O'Neill recalled visiting Elsokary at the hospital where she and her partner were treated for smoke inhalation.

    "You and your partner did a tremendous job that day," O'Neill told her at Monday's news conference.

    Mayor Bill De Blasio said there are 900 Muslims serving as New York City police officers, on a force of about 36,000.

    "In 2014, she ran into a burning building and helped to save a young girl and her grandmother. And, then, on Saturday, she had to experience a man allegedly yelling at her and her son, 'Go back to your country,'" said de Blasio. "Well this is Officer Elsokary's country. She is an American. She is a New Yorker. She's already at home."

    Photo Credit: Handout
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    Aml Elsokary, who was off-duty and wearing her hijab, dropped her 16-year-old son off near Ridge Boulevard and 67th Street shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday.Aml Elsokary, who was off-duty and wearing her hijab, dropped her 16-year-old son off near Ridge Boulevard and 67th Street shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday.

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    Nearly two million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products have been recalled due to concerns over bacteria, the USDA said Sunday.

    National Steak and Poultry has recalled 1,976,089 pounds of poultry because the product is labeled “ready-to-eat” but may have been undercooked, and thus is at risk of containing dangerous bacteria.

    Though no cases of illness have been reported, the items were shipped to food service locations nationwide and were sold directly to retail consumers, the USDA said.

    The issue of possible contamination came to light after a customer complained to an establishment that their chicken appeared under-cooked.

    The recall has been classified as a Class I recall by the USDA. A Class I recall is the most critical and involves a health hazard situation where there is reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences.

    The products under recall include five-pound bags of product labeled “Distributed by National Steak and Poultry, Owasso, OK Fully Cooked, Diced, Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast Meat with Rib Meat” or labeled “Hormel Natural Choice 100% Natural No Preservatives Fully Cooked Roasted Chicken Breast Strips with Rib Meat Natural Smoke Flavor Added.” The former contains lot code 100416 and case code 70020; the latter contains lot code 100416 and case code 702113.

    The recalled products were produced on various dates from Aug. 20, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2016. The cases containing the products subject to recall have the establishment number “P-6010T” inside the USDA mark of inspection, the USDA said.

    Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume or serve them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase, the USDA said.

    For more information about the recall, head to the USDA recall page. 

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    Members of the West Jefferson Parish branch of the NAACP questions the police's decision to let Ronald Gasser go after Gasser fatally shot ex-Jets player Joe McKnight in a road rage incident during a vigil on Dec. 3, 2016.

    Photo Credit: WDSU

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    Is the police force with you? Well, intergalactic combat experience may not be enough to qualify as a candidate for the Fort Worth Police Department, at least according to a new recruitment video.

    The clip features an officer attempting to teach a stormtrooper how to shoot. He finds the trooper's lack of accuracy disturbing.

    "Stop jerking the trigger," the officer says before firing a series of rounds into the dead center of the target.

    The department is capitalizing on the excitement over the upcoming release of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" to draw applicants to its next civil service exams, which are scheduled for Jan. 10-11.

    It's not the first time the department used "Star Wars" to help with recruitment. Last year police posted a video that showed Darth Vader interviewing for a position

    A stormtrooper approaches a firing range target in a recruitment ad from the Fort Wayne Police Department.A stormtrooper approaches a firing range target in a recruitment ad from the Fort Wayne Police Department.

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    The "Ghost Ship" warehouse in Oakland was a place to "have interesting conversations about embracing different art forms," but the makeshift wooden staircase was dangerous, one guest of the artist's enclave told NBC Bay Area.

    Ajesh Sheh, 35, of Oakland, had been inside the space several times, and even helped put on a show there, before it burned on Friday night at an electronic dance party, killing at least 36 people; Oakland recovery teams are searching for more. The staircase may have been to blame for some of the deaths, fire officials noted in a city document released Monday.

    The inside of the warehouse at 1305 East 31st Ave. was both beautiful and a "disaster waiting to happen," Shah told NBC Bay Area Monday morning. That's why he only hosted one event there, "partly, because I did not feel like I wanted to use the space again because of safety in and outside the venue."

    The warehouse was an artist's "labyrinth" filled with a bevy of artwork, wooden pieces, electrical wires, Hindu god statues and even a gun. And the stairwell was makeshift, too. Shah took a photo of the staircase, decorated with pink lights, two years ago.

    "It was a terribly designed staircase," he said. "It was hard to navigate, day or night. It was not constructed well. You could easily miss a step or two and hurt yourself."

    Other people who had lived or visited the warehouse had also warned of the warehouse's dangerous set-up. And in city documents released Monday, firefighters noted that some of the victims may have been trapped in the blaze when "they couldn't escape down a makeshift, one-way stairwell leading to the second floor made of out wooden pallets."

    The property owner's daughter, Eva Ng, refuted claims over the weekend that the staircase was made out of wooden pallets.

    The stairs would have been an exit for the guests, perhaps as many as 100 at the party's peak, to get out of the two-story structure when the blaze flared up about 11:30 p.m. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

    "I think everyone must have told him at some point that this is not a good staircase," Shah said of the artist’s enclave founder, Derick Ion Almena, who did not immediately respond to requests regarding the safety of his living space.

    Ion first posted a Facebook post after the deadly fire which lamented the loss of his life's artwork. He has since taken that Facebook post down, and in a statement to NBC News, said: "In my previous Facebook post, I had no idea there was a loss of life. This tragic event consumes me every moment. My heart is broken. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones."

    Ion's family, his wife and children, were not at the warehouse when the fire tore through their rented home, he said in the deleted post. 

    The Alameda County District Attorney launched an investigation to decide whether to file criminal charges and who they would be filed against.

    NBC Bay Area's Michael Bott contributed to this report.

    Photo Credit: Ajesh Sheh

    The staircase inside the The staircase inside the "Ghost Ship" warehouse in Oakland that burned on Dec. 2, 2016, seen in 2014.

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    With Congressman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., on the verge of becoming California's next attorney general, he will be in a key position to challenge President-elect Donald Trump's policies and mandates, NBC News reported.

    Becerra accepted Gov. Jerry Brown's nomination to be the state's next attorney general and now awaits confirmation.

    As attorney general of the nation's most populous state, Becerra will be poised to challenge Trump's promise to end sanctuary cities, which refuse to prosecute immigrants in the country illegally, and can push back on other policies that Democrats don't agree with.

    "He could become the face of the California resistance. That is a very popular idea in a lot of places, that California Democrats are going to be the vanguard of opposition to the Trump administration," said University of Southern California professor Roberto Suro, director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images

    Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) listens during a news conference to discuss the rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump, at the U.S. Capitol, May 11, 2016, in Washington, D.C.Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) listens during a news conference to discuss the rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump, at the U.S. Capitol, May 11, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

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    Celebrations followed in the wake of the federal government’s announcement Sunday that it would not permit the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

    The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who lives on land adjacent to the construction project, and the thousands who’d gathered in Cannon Ball, N.D., to protest the pipeline saw Sunday’s news as a victory.

    But some say they’re celebrating with caution, as NBC News reports, because with a new presidential administration right around the corner, the federal government may change its position.

    President-elect Donald Trump, who has been shown to have financial ties to the pipeline construction company, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, would have the power to impact or change Sunday’s decision.

    Photo Credit: Scott Olson, Getty Images

    Native American and other activists celebrate after learning an easement had been denied for the Dakota Access Pipeline at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Dec. 4, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.Native American and other activists celebrate after learning an easement had been denied for the Dakota Access Pipeline at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Dec. 4, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

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    Damaging testimony that Bill Cosby gave in an accuser's lawsuit, including admissions that he gave young women drugs and alcohol before sex, can be used at his criminal sex assault trial, a judge ruled Monday.

    The defense had insisted that Cosby only testified after being promised he wouldn't be charged over his 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand. But his lawyers at the time never had an immunity agreement or put anything in writing.

    "This court concludes that there was neither an agreement nor a promise not to prosecute, only an exercise of prosecutorial discretion," Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill wrote in his ruling.

    Cosby, 79, acknowledged in the 2006 deposition that he had a string of extramarital relationships with young women. He called them consensual, but many of the women say they were drugged and molested.

    The release of the deposition testimony last year prompted prosecutors to reopen Constand's 2005 criminal complaint.

    Cosby, asked about the 2004 encounter at his home with Constand, described being on his couch and putting his hand down her pants.

    "I don't hear her say anything. And I don't feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped," he testified.

    Prosecutors describe Constand as being semiconscious after Cosby gave her three unmarked blue pills for stress.

    The ruling on the deposition is one of two key pretrial issues that will determine the scope of the evidence against Cosby at trial. The other question is how many other accusers will be allowed to testify in prosecutors' attempt to show a pattern of similar conduct. Prosecutors hope to call 13 additional women who say they were assaulted by Cosby as far back as the 1960s. Two days of arguments on that issue are set for next week.

    The release of the deposition testimony last year prompted prosecutors in suburban Philadelphia to reopen accuser Constand's criminal complaint and charge Cosby with felony sexual assault.

    O'Neill has suggested that Cosby's decision to testify at the deposition could have been strategic. The actor -- known as America's Dad for his top-rated family sitcom, "The Cosby Show," which ran from 1984 to 1992 -- could have invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. But jurors would have heard of that decision if the case went to trial.

    Cosby instead settled Constand's lawsuit, for an undisclosed amount, after finishing four days of testimony about his extramarital affairs, his friendship with Constand and other topics.

    In another excerpt, Cosby described a phone call with Constand's mother a year later, when he refused to say what the pills were.

    "I'm not going to argue with somebody's mother who is accusing me of something," he testified. "And I'm apologizing because I'm thinking this is a dirty old man with a young girl. I apologized. I said to the mother it was digital penetration."

    Cosby also described getting seven prescriptions for quaaludes in the 1970s, which he said he kept on hand to give women he hoped to seduce, "the same as a person would say, 'Have a drink.'"

    Constand had met Cosby at Temple University when she managed the women's basketball team. He was a prominent booster and university trustee. She went to police in 2005 to report that he had sexually assaulted after taking what Cosby described as an herbal product.

    The defense will fight strenuously to block the testimony of the other women, arguing that their accounts are vague, decades old and impossible to defend. They also say Cosby is legally blind and can no longer recognize his accusers or help with the defense.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images

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    Former Vice President Al Gore met Monday with president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower. Gore described the interaction as “an extremely interesting conversation,” NBC News reports.

    Gore didn’t say exactly what he and Trump discussed during the meeting. He also met with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who reportedly wants to make climate change a priority. The former vice president has an influential voice in the fight against human-caused climate change.

    Before his electoral victory, Donald Trump called climate change a hoax “created by and for the Chinese.” Since then, he’s said he has an “open mind” about humans' effect on the climate.

    Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP

    Former Vice President Al Gore arrives at Trump Tower, Dec. 5, 2016, in New York.Former Vice President Al Gore arrives at Trump Tower, Dec. 5, 2016, in New York.

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    A Muslim MTA worker was called a terrorist and pushed down the stairs at Grand Central Terminal on Monday, the latest in a string of alleged bias attacks sweeping the region, authorities said. 

    The woman, wearing her New York City transit uniform, was on her way to work and had just gotten off the 7 train when the suspect shoved her, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office. 

    She hurt her ankle and knee in the fall and was taken to NYU Langone Hospital for treatment.

    The attack comes amid a spate of apparent instances of bias crime and hateful language throughout the region following the presidential election.

    Swastikas were painted inside a 1 train on Saturday, and KKK recruitment materials were distributed in two Long Island Railroad stations. 

    In New York City, hate crime has spiked 115 percent since Election Day, with 43 cases reported compared with 20 cases in the same period in 2015, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce. Bias against Muslims has doubled, with four cases reported since Election Day compared with two reported in the same time period last year. 

    Overall, hate crimes are up 35 percent year over year, with a 45 percent uptick in arrests, Boyce said. 

    Discrimination has also been reported in schools. Suffolk County officials sent a letter to each of its school districts in recent weeks offering to help deal with race-based bullying, and in at least one instance students chanted "build a wall" in the hallways.

    There have been similar reports of bias across the U.S. in the wake of the presidential election. Most of the cases appear to involve graffiti or violence directed at racial or ethnic minorities and in some reports the perpetrators indicated support for President-elect Donald Trump.

    Most recently, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was harrassed in the 23rd Street subway station by three men who allegedly called her a terrorist, chanted "Donald Trump" to her and told her to get out of the country, officials said.

    And in the Mineola village of Long Island, police were investigating after someone spray-painted a red swastika along with the words "Make America White Again" on a Washington Avenue home last Wednesday, along with racist remarks against African American and Middle Eastern people. Similar words were spray painted on a sidewalk on Elm Place. 

    During a "60 Minutes" interview in November, Trump looked at the camera and said that any supporters of his who are harassing people or destroying property should "stop it."

    Shortly after the election, Cuomo announced a hotline for New Yorkers to report instances of discrimination.

    Anyone who wants to report an instance of bias or discrimination can call 888-392-3644 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. New Yorkers who want to report a crime or fear their safety should still call 911.

    Photo Credit: AP

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    One proud Georgia mom sent head shots of her son, little Asher Nash, to a modeling agency, but she got a response she never expected, NBC News reported.

    Asher "really likes the camera" and loves the attention of a photo shoot, according to Meagan Nash, but the agency behind a casting call for Carter's clothing for children said that they weren't looking for children with special needs. Asher, who is 16 months old, has Down syndrome.

    "I was hurt, because here is my little boy — I look at him, and nothing's wrong with him," she said.

    Nash wrote a Facebook post about the experience. It went viral, and it wasn't long before modeling executives came calling.

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nash family
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    Asher NashAsher Nash

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    FBI, LAPD and sheriff's department officials said Monday they received a telephone call about an imminent but un-corroborated threat against the Metro Red Line in Universal City.

    The threat came through an anonymous phone call to a public safety line, said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike in a news conference.

    The caller indicated that something would occur at the station on Tuesday, she said.

    Law enforcement officials have stepped up security at the station and other transit stations across the area while authorities worked to determine the credibility of the threat.

    Mayor Eric Garcetti urged caution but asked that the public go about their normal day on Tuesday. He said he intended to ride the Metro Red Line in Universal City on Tuesday.

    Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is urging "people to always be vigilant as they go about their daily routine."

    He said uniformed deputies will have an increased presence at stations, and
    undercover deputies will also be on the job on the transit system.

    LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says the threat was "very specific," targeting the specific station, "but the credibility still needs to be vetted out."

    The timing and specificity of the threat also prompted officials to share the information with the public.

    McDonnell urged residents to stay calm but remain vigilant.

    "We've been running this to ground all day long," he said. "This could be real, it could be a hoax. But we must remain calm but vigilant. And we're asking the public to take the same precautions they would take on any other day. And we ask that people always be vigilant as they go about their daily routines. As far as actions we're taking, what you don't see is just as important as what you will see. You will see ... an increased uniformed presence especially at transit stations where we also deploy our K-9 explosive detection teams. We'll have undercover operations under way as well.''

    Officials repeated the mantra, "If you see something, say something,"  while urging people to go about their lives but to contact authorities if they notice something that doesn't seem right.

    Residents can call 877-A-THREAT and officials urged people to download the LAPD's iWatchLA app from the department's website at

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