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‘Wizard of Oz’ munchkin dies; Usher’s son nearly drowns; Ariel Castro’s home gets demolished

Margaret Pellegrini. (27383)
Margaret Pellegrini.


Republican Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas announced Tuesday he will challenge Mark Pryor, the senior senator from his state and one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year. “No one will outwork me in this campaign. I will always defend our shared principles when they are attacked by anyone. I will do the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing. And I will never, ever forget how I was raised or where I come from,” the freshman congressman told a crowd at his campaign launch in Dardanelle Tuesday. Cotton has planned events around Arkansas in the next few days as he begins courting votes, according to a campaign aide. Cotton, who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is considered a rising star in the GOP and a favorite of many neo-conservatives. The sixth-generation Arkansan, who was just elected to Congress this past November, has been a frequent guest on cable news channels, including CNN. He currently sits on the Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees in the House.

The 12-year-old Arkansas girl who was infected with a rare brain-eating parasite is showing remarkable improvement, her doctors said this week. Kali Hardig is still listed in critical condition at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, but over the past 48 hours, she’s grown alert to the point where she can gesture in response to questions, according to Mark Heulitt, M.D., an intensive care specialist. Heulitt has scheduled a test this coming Tuesday afternoon to see whether Hardig can breathe without the breathing tube that she’s had for more than two weeks. Hardig’s doctors are in virtually uncharted territory. Of 128 known cases in the past half-century, just two patients have survived, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection is caused by a microscopic amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, found in hot springs and warm, fresh water, most often in the southeastern United States. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. You cannot be infected with the organism by drinking contaminated water, the CDC says.

Margaret Pellegrini. (27383)


One of the last remaining Wizard of Oz munchkins has passed away at age 89. Margaret Pellegrini was one of three surviving munchkins from the famous 1939 film. She was born in Tuscumbia, Ala., and recently lived at the Beatitudes Campus in central Phoenix. In March, CBS 5 News spoke with Pellegrini as Disney’s adaptation of the movie, “OZ: The Great and Powerful,” was released. Pellegrini said she was just 13 years old when a scout spotted her at a state fair. He took down her name and address, and then two years later she found out she was going to Hollywood. Pellegrini was paid $50 a week. It was 10 times what her father made, so she sent money home to Alabama.

Hannah Anderson. (27385)


Kidnapping and murder suspect James DiMaggio was so close to the family whose life he is alleged to have turned upside down, that they considered him one of their own. Now, there is a nationwide manhunt for DiMaggio, who is suspected of kidnapping Hannah Anderson and possibly her brother Ethan, 8, and of killing their mother in a fire. DiMaggio was such good friends with the family that Brett Anderson, the children’s father, can’t reconcile the man he knows with the crimes he is suspected of. “I have been through every scenario in my brain,” Brett Anderson said. “There was nothing ever to show any indication of this.” DiMaggio joined the family on camp-outs and was always friendly toward them, he said. “I can’t fathom what happened in Jim’s head. He obviously just lost it,” Anderson said. “You’ve taken everything,” the father pleaded to DiMaggio in the interview. “The damage is done. Just let my daughter go, Let her go home safe, let her be with me and try to mend things from there.”


The father of a Chechen-American shot dead by an FBI agent has traveled from the Russia to the United States, saying he wants answers to questions he has about the incident. Abdulbaki Todashev, the father of Ibragim Todashev, told CNN on Tuesday he wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the May 22 shooting at his son’s Tampa home. The elder Todashev was meeting in Tampa with attorneys and members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Ibragim Todashev was fatally shot during questioning about a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Mass., as well as his relationship with deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Todashev admitted to his direct role in slashing three people’s throats in Waltham and said Tsarnaev was involved as well, a federal law enforcement official told CNN in June. Law enforcement sources have said the son, a former mixed martial artist, was shot seven times after he rushed the agent. A law enforcement official told CNN that Todashev attacked the FBI agent with a broom handle. A source said the internal administrative investigation into the shooting may not be completed for months.

Usher and sons. (27343)


Singer Usher Raymond’s ex-wife is asking a judge to give her custody of their two children after the oldest suffered a “near-death accident.” Five-year-old Usher Raymond V nearly drowned “in a swimming pool and is currently hospitalized in the intensive care unit of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Hospital,” Tameka Foster said in an emergency motion filed Tuesday in a Fulton County court. Her son “is doing much better,” according to a Twitter posting by Foster on Wednesday afternoon. The mother has been with him at the hospital since she learned of the accident Monday, her lawyer told CNN. A hearing was set for an Atlanta courtroom this Thursday. In a statement released Wednesday, Usher said: “I am blessed and fortunate to say that my son Usher V is doing well and is recovering. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of prayers, love and support for my family’s well-being.” The singer did not address his ex-wife’s allegations or the upcoming hearing. Usher won primary custody of the children last year after a bitter court fight in which Foster accused the singer of being an absentee father.

Michelle Knight. (27336)


The Cleveland woman who was held the longest at Ariel Castro’s house of horrors was there to see it shortly before it was torn down Wednesday. Michelle Knight handed out yellow helium-filled balloons Wednesday morning to people who’d gathered for the demolition of the 1,400-square-foot house where she and two other women were raped and held captive for roughly a decade. Minutes later, a hydraulic excavator began reducing the house to rubble, destroying the site of one of Cleveland’s most notorious crimes. Knight told reporters that she was at the demolition site in part to remind relatives of abducted children that all is not necessarily lost. “I want the people out there to know—including the mothers—that they can have strength, they can have hope, and their child will come back,” she said. Castro forfeited the house on Seymour Avenue as part of a July plea deal with prosecutors that took the death penalty off the table in exchange for a life sentence, plus 1,000 years in prison.


A Texas man killed four women—including, her relatives say, his ex-girlfriend—and wounded three teens and a boy in shootings at two Dallas-area homes, police say. The man was arrested at the second home after a child there called 911, according to police. When the shootings were done Wednesday night, there were two slain women and two wounded minors at each location—one in Dallas and the other in DeSoto, roughly 15 miles to the south. None of the victims’ names were released. Relatives of one victim told CNN affiliate WFAA that she had previously dated the suspect. DeSoto police initially identified the suspect as Erbie Bowser, but police declined to name him in a news conference Thursday morning. No charges have been announced. The Dallas Mavericks said Bowser used to be a member of the NBA team’s Mavs ManiAACs, an all-male Hip-Hop dance troupe that entertains fans at games. He left the squad in 2009, Mavericks spokesman Scott Tomlin said.

Compiled by Juliana Norwood. CNN News Wire contributed to this report.