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Strangers come together to help mother get her life back on track

A South Carolina mother who gave up her children so she could get clean has received an early Christmas present, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Jessica McCutcheon surrendered her children to the Department of Social Services. Officials said she had battled drug abuse and was a victim of domestic violence, WYFF reported.

>> Read more trending news 

But recently, McCutcheon turned her life around so much she was able to regain custody of her children. 

Meredith Shannon, the foster mother of McCutcheon’s daughter, wanted to do something for the mother of the girl she took care of.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

“We just felt she was part of our family and we just felt that we needed her kids to have a good Christmas and we wanted to be a part of that,” Shannon told WYFF.

So she and her neighbor and some athletes at North Greenville University lent a hand. 

They collected $600 in gifts, including gift cards from local stores, while a stranger donated a car to McCutcheon and her family. 

The video of the life-changing gift has been posted online and has been viewed millions of times.

“She was borrowing people’s cars to get to work and to get her kids to school and I just felt that God laid it on our hearts and that we really needed to be able to provide a good car for her so that she could continue to parent her kids like she needed to,” Shannon told WYFF.

Man with concealed weapon permit fatally shoots would-be robber in Target parking lot

A man with a concealed weapon permit fatally shot a would-be robber Thursday evening, according to reports. 

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A 21-year-old man with gunshot wounds in his back and chest was found in the parking lot near a South Side Target, according to WMAQ. The man, who has not been identified, was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

A silver Nissan was seen leaving the area after shots were fired, according to the Chicago Tribune

The driver, who was not named, was stopped as he returned to the scene. Police found a semi-automatic gun, a revolver and spent casings in the car. 

The 27-year-old driver said he fired the semi-automatic gun after he was approached by the other man, who tried to rob him at gunpoint. 

He was returning to the scene to talk to police and was taken into custody.

RIP AIM: AOL retires its pioneering Instant Messenger app

It’s the end of an era. As of Friday, web company AOL’s groundbreaking Instant Messenger program is no more.

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Oath, the entity formed by AOL combined with Yahoo, announced in October that it would retire AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) on Dec. 15.

As of Friday, users were no longer be able to sign into AIM. Officials with Oath said in October that data associated with the app will be deleted and warned that users would have to save their images, files and chat history before Dec. 15, if they hoped to keep it.

People who have email addresses under the aim.com domain name will still be able to access email as usual, according to Oath.

AIM was the first chat application of its kind when it launched in 1997.

“AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed,” said Michael Albers, vice president of communications products at Oath. “As a result we’ve made the decision that we will be discontinuing AIM effective December 15, 2017.”

Company officials said in an FAQ about the change that no replacement app is in the works.

“Thank you to all of our AIM users,” Albers said. “We are more excited than ever to continue building the next generation of iconic brands and life-changing products for users around the world.”

Panthers' Thomas Davis donates $15K for high school state championship rings

Carolina Panthers defensive linebacker Thomas Davis has made a huge donation to help the Harding University High School football team get its players and coaches championship rings.

>> Read more trending news

Davis confirmed he donated $15,000 to the team in a tweet to WSOC-TV anchor John Paul.

The football team finished its 14-1 season with a 30-22 win over Scotland County in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A State Championship game in Winston-Salem. It’s the first state championship for the team since 1953.

Head football coach Sam Greiner was on the radio Friday morning when Davis called in and said he would help. The football program was trying to figure out ways to purchase rings for its players who couldn't afford them.

The rings cost about $400 apiece, so the school was trying to raise about $20,000. A GoFundMe page was set up to help the team buy rings, which had raised nearly $7,000 by Friday morning.

When Greiner accepted the head coach position two years ago, the football program was one of the worst in the state -- winning just one game in both 2014 and 2015. The players didn't have uniforms until the coach’s church bought them. They still practice on a beat-up baseball field and have to dress behind the stands.

"If someone wrote a movie script about everything that's happened, they would think it's a fairy tale,” Greiner said. “They wouldn't think it's real life.”

WSOC-TV asked what expenses Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools cover and was told it provides for game officials, security and coaching stipends.

Everything else is up to the school, families or a booster club.

Harding doesn't have a booster club, and a majority of the students’ families don't have the money.

"We have kids on our rosters that don't really have homes,” Greiner said. “They really don't know what they're going to eat (from) day to day.”

Greiner and his church created a family before building a state championship-caliber team. The church provides meals before games and Greiner let his quarterback, Braheam Murphy, who was homeless, live with him.

"I have two daughters because I think the good Lord knew I had enough sons, coaching football," Greiner said.

Santa Tracker 2017: Where is Santa right now; when will he get to your house?

On the lookout for Santa?

It’s never too early to keep up with the jolly old elf, and there are a couple of apps that can help.

Both the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Google have their radars powered up, ready for the annual one-night, round-the-world-flight of a certain resident of the North Pole.

For more than 60 years, NORAD has turned all of its tracking capabilities toward following the progress of Santa Claus and his reindeer as he takes flight on Christmas Eve. For the hardcore Santa follower, NORAD’s website does not disappoint.

In the run-up to the big day, visitors can head to the website to watch a movie, play some games, hear some music and learn about St. Nicholas, his elves and his sleigh. NORAD also has a presence at the North Pole.

NORAD, as it has done for decades, provides updates by phone -- call 877-HI-NORAD on Christmas Eve, a live person will give you an update). Times being what they are, you can, of course, follow Santa on Facebook, Twitter and even shoot him an email (noradtrackssanta@outlook.com.) NORAD's Santa operations center opens at 9 a.m. Dec. 24You can go to NORAD’s tracking site here. 

Over at Google, it’s been only 13 years since Santa has been on their radar, literally, and they have pulled out all the Christmas stops this year.

Google’s Santa Tracker includes Santa’s Village. There is a countdown clock there, too, and as we move toward Dec. 24, the village unlocks new games and experiences for visitors. 

Google also reminds users that you can search for Santa directly in Google Maps and google.com in addition to using the Santa Tracker. You can even go into Street View to look at the cities he is visiting as he makes his trip to deliver toys.

For those who want to speak Santa into existence – at least his location on Christmas Eve, you can ask Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant, or Google Home the question, “Where is Santa?” and get an answer.

Of course, the burning question is “When will Santa arrive at my house?” While Santa has his own schedule, he generally makes it to most homes between 9 a.m. and midnight (local time).

As Santa has made clear for centuries if the kids are not asleep in a given home, he’s moving on to the next house.

Anonymous donor pays $40,000 in layaway bills at Walmart

“Santa B” has struck again, and more than 200 families received a wonderful Christmas gift.

>> Read more trending news

For the second straight year, an anonymous donor paid for all of the items on layaway for 200 families at a Pennsylvania Walmart, WJAC reported. 

According to the staff of the Walmart store in Everett, “Santa B” paid more than $40,000 of layaway items. Last year, the same donor paid off $46,000, Fox News reported.

The store had been notifying the families of Santa B’s generosity. Monday was the layaway pickup day, but Walmart officials said there was a grace period of a couple of days.

“In this area you don’t hear a lot, I mean you hear small things where somebody pays somebody’s grocery bill or things like that, but this was pretty big,” employee Barbara Karns told WJAC.

Kristen Martin said she received a call from Walmart and said she “couldn’t wait” to get to the store.

“I was like driving and shaking,” she told WJAC. “Look at me, I'm shaking. It's crazy.”

Martin's kids can now get their X-Box games and toys, WJAC reported.

"I think it means more to me, but I think they'll be happy. I remember when I was growing up for Christmas. I was just telling my mom the other day that I want my kids to have Christmas like that," she said.

Intruders dressed as police duct-tape, rob family

As many as five men dressed as police officers broke into a south Cobb County home, duct-taped the residents and robbed them, police said. 

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Officers were called to the house just before 3:15 a.m. Thursday, Cobb police Sgt. Dana Pierce said.

When they arrived, the victims — all in their 20s and 30s — told police four or five people kicked in a door at their home, tied up the residents and took an undisclosed amount of cash, jewelry and cellphones.

The family had just moved into the home about two weeks ago, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“Once they got into the house, they said, ‘Get down! We are the police,’” one of the victims told Channel 2, asking not to be identified.

The men first encountered the woman’s brother-in-law, she told Channel 2. 

“He was the first one to have duct tape all over him and a gun to his head, telling him not to move, not to look back,” she said.

The intruders then went room to room with guns pointed.

“They had put my husband on the floor and told him not to move,” the woman told Channel 2. “They had told me to go back to bed.”

The intruders left when they suspected police were on the way, Pierce said.

Witnesses saw two vehicles leave the scene. Descriptions of the vehicles and the robbers have not been released.

“Investigators will continue looking into this to establish a motive and possibly apprehend the suspects,” Pierce said.

While no injuries were reported, the woman told Channel 2 she hopes to never see the intruders again.

“I’ll be scared now to even live here,” she said. 

Woman accused of leaving son in car, near drugs, while she broke into house

woman left her son in a car near methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia while she broke into an empty residence, authorities said.

>> Read more trending news

A Forsyth County deputy apprehended Theresa Jean Bice, 39, when she was leaving the house through a rear window, sheriff’s spokesman Doug Rainwater said. The house was on Browns Bridge Road in Cumming.

The deputy, C.A. Miller, said he found the 4-year-old boy asleep near multiple baggies containing meth, a digital scale and glass smoking paraphernalia.

A basket containing DVDs and children’s toys was found in the house, according to the deputy. It’s unclear how long Bice was in the house.

She’s charged with burglary, possession of tools for the commission of a crime, possession of drug-related objects and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, according to sheriff’s officials. She’s in the Forsyth County jail without bond.

At the time of this arrest, Bice was on probation for a shoplifting arrest in April.

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle set May wedding date

Royal watchers now have the date of the royal nuptials.

May 19, 2018, will be the day that Prince Harry and his fiancée, Meghan Markle, will be married at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

>> Read more trending news

Kensington Palace, the official Twitter account of the royal family, posted the announcement Friday morning.

The couple announced their engagement Nov. 27, The Associated Press reported

Markle will be spending the Christmas holidays with her betrothed and his family, including his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II at Sandringham, the royal estate in Norfolk, north of London, The AP reported.

What it’s like decorating a Tournament of Roses Parade float

Sports fans watching the 2018 Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 will be eager to see if No. 3 Georgia can get past No. 2 Oklahoma when the teams meet at the College Football Playoff semifinal in Pasadena, Calif.

One local florist will be watching the preceding Tournament of Roses Parade with a trained and appreciative eye.

>> Read more trending news

“It was one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever done,” said K. Mike Whittle, who helped decorate a parade float years ago. “You learn so much.”

As operator of K. Mike Whittle Unique Floral Designs just off the Marietta Square, he doesn’t have a lot of free time at any point in the year. Certainly not during the holiday season. But with the University of Georgia heading to the Rose Bowl for just the second time ever, he let us tag along the other day while he set up for a party at the the Hilton Atlanta Marietta Hotel & Conference Center so we could press him for intel.

The main takeway: you just cannot believe how many flowers go into all those floats.

“We used 35,000 roses,” he said, his voice still full of awe at the memory. “I was a kid in a candy store with all those flowers. They didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat but they turned me loose.”

A Marietta native who got his start as an entrepreneurial kid who would dig cattails from a ditch and sell them to an area flower shop, Whittle was working in Carrollton when he got the call to go west.

“It really steamed up my career,” he said. He didn’t love getting up on scaffolding to attend to the top of the float, but otherwise enjoyed learning floral problem-solving skills on that big a stage. “We worked 29 hours straight. It just showed me yeah, it can be done.”

The annual parade, older than the football contest, dates back to Jan. 1, 1890. That first year, horse-drawn buggies festooned with blooms were meant to echo a festival of roses in Nice, France. Two years later, winter weather threatened the supply of roses and nearly turned the event into the “Orange Tournament,” but the fledgling tradition held.

Automobiles showed up in 1901 and were shoved to the back of the parade, so they wouldn’t spook the horses. The following year saw the first merger of flora and football, when the University of Michigan rolled over Stanford University, 49-0. One year, 1913, organizers thought a camel vs. elephant road race would be fun. The elephant won, and the species’ record remains unbroken as there have been no similar matchups since.

Famed zookeeper Jack Hanna rode on the float Whittle worked on in 2002, accompanied by giant botanical tigers, monkeys and exotic birds. If your Rose Bowl party plans call for slightly less elaborate floral decor, Whittle likes roses (of course) as well as red ginger and anthurium.

“Carnations are not bad, either. It’s a sturdy football kind of rose,” said Whittle, who has created displays incorporating football helmets.

Proper hydration is key – he’ll give newly arrived blooms a couple of days to drink up before placing them in arrangements – and he uses a sharp knife, not scissors, to ensure a clean, angled cut.

Then again, he mused, there’s one major flub people make when setting out to arrange flowers.

“That is the mistake,” he said with a twinkle, “doing it yourself.”

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