News of the Weird

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Cruelly Snatched

Florida: In Jacksonsville, the Livingway Christian Fellowship hardly belied its name when 35-year-old Melvyn Nurse took to the pulpit to give a sermon to an audience of 250 children, including his own four daughters, about the way in which sin - especially guns and drugs - is like Russian roulette.

To emphasise the point, he loaded a gun with a blank, and fired into the air to emphasise the evil of each sin which he enumerated. As a final flourish, he held the gun to his head, again pulled the trigger, and this time the blank was released: it shattered his skull.

Said the associate pastor, Michael Cooper: "We thought it might be part of his sermon, and he would pop back up. We knew he was using a blank, so I wasn't uncomfortable with the demonstration." But Nurse died soon afterwards. "It was a total wake-up call. They got the message."


Arkansas: The religiously inclined among the citizens of little Rock risked their lives recently. A fashion for jewellery with the engraved initials WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) turned out to be far from blessed: a severe health risk, this import from China and Korea contains high levels of nickel and lead.

South Carolina: The state, which has banned from schools blue hair and nose-rings, has found new cause for censorship: hemp necklaces are to be outlawed, a move which the American Civil Liberties Union has denounced as "authoritarian".

Maryland: New regulations in Cecil County require fortune-tellers to buy a licence for $250 (pounds 145). Two have been sold, but some practitioners have decamped across the border. They must think longingly of liberated California, where a judge ruled that a ban would be illegal: after all, it's not so different in practice from "economists who prognosticate interest rates and other business conditions".

Snaps Judgement

Blackpool: Nicola and Kevin Lloyd, of Wigan, took their family on holiday with Paul Holland and his family. A happy time was had by all. The men even, greatly daring, took a trip on the roller-coaster. On getting home, they soon relived the vacation by watching it on the video. As Mrs Lloyd remarked: "One minute we were looking at the illuminations and the Pleasure Beach, and the next, two pairs of jiggling boobs. All I knew was, they weren't mine."

In the nick of time, during a re-run of the offending item, Mr Lloyd glimpsed a T-shirt, and remembered that, before the roller-coaster ride, he had entrusted the video-recorder to two girls at the box office - Tina Haynes and Lisa Bamfield. These two, given to that Northern brand of humour, had enlivened their cloakroom duties by preparing a surprise souvenir for two men they had assumed to be on a stag night.

Not in Spock

Wisconsin: Michael and Angeline Rogers kept their seven-year-old daughter in a urine-stained dog cage in the basement, sometimes throughout the night, which a judge described as "outrageous". A psychologist agreed, noting that, although the child was of a difficult disposition, using the cage was "ill-conceived and desperate". But the parents were let off with only a year in jail, for they had tentatively sought help for this, and for subjecting their other children to beatings relieved only by "making them stand for hours with boards on their heads".

China: Discipline is equally harsh in the village of Xinlay: for three years a young girl has been kept with hens in a coop. After being fed the same ration of rice as the chickens, she is unable to walk.

Turning Turtle

Washington: a two-shelled box-turtle turned pit bull after being goaded once too often by its eight-year-old owner: "Boxer" clamped both shells around the boy's finger - and would not let go until a fireman hit on the idea of laughing-gas. A shot of nitrous oxide in Boxer's face did the trick. "Totally stoned", the turtle let go.

Medical Notes

Vietnam: Demand for radical transplant surgery could take a new direction with news that the 118-year-old Le Thi Co recently received her first X-ray in Saigon, when it was discovered that her heart was on the right and her liver on the left.

Political Mementos

California: Ronald Reagan is not the only one to be suffering from loss of memory. Government regulations decree that a certain proportion of the costs of a new building should be allocated to commissioning art for it. This was duly done in Santa Ana. The Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse cost $123m (pounds 71.5m), its completion having been delayed by severe storms in Tivoli, where the finest marble was being quarried for the elegant, 14-courtroom building. But only now, when all is ready for the grand opening ceremony, has anybody noticed that there is neither any portrait of the former President himself nor the funds to commission a lightning artist to fill the gap.

Russia: In a possible kick-start for the digital era, the Duma no longer has enough paper to print laws.

Cincinnati: What is a girl to wear? The question always becomes particularly vexing at Hallowe'en. This year, it is that much easier. Stores across the country report great demand for Bill and Monica outfits - complete with cigar, beret, and that tie. As for the blue dress, one theatrical outfitter in Cincinnati is not out to make a killing but says: "We suggest they go to the Gap, because that's where the dress came from."

Nightmare State

Sierra Leone: Any faith in humanity takes a severe blow when thinking about evidence given by the 86-year-old Cecila Caulker at a court martial in Freetown. The junta in power for almost a year from May 1997 had forced her to eat the heart of her son, who had been executed in front of her.

A Little Knowledge

New York: Never let it be said that the Big Apple's cab-drivers are not the finest. Take Mohammad Rahman, 36, who threw in his restaurant job, took the city's 40-hour training course and, early one morning, began work: he hit a parked motor car at 20th Street and 6th Avenue, but drove on, only to knock over a 22-year-old pedestrian a short distance away, at 20th Street and Broadway. He fled across town - and hit a parked motorcar at 19th Street and Park Avenue South.

Faced by such bravura displays, the city authorities moot an 80-hour training-course, a far cry from the scooter-riding initiation expected of their London counterparts. Meanwhile, such scenes could be repeated across the country: Chrysler has recalled 650,000 motorcars which are prone to roll away when the hand-brake is put on, not to mention another 157,000 whose child-belts have the unfortunate habit of trapping and choking the occupants.

Texan Heat

Texas: Shelby Baucum, a minister at Casa View Baptist Church in Dallas, was adamant that a federal jury violated his religious freedom by saying he had erred in his secular and spiritual counselling of two women whose marriages had gone awry. The Supreme Court disagreed: not only did the charges stand, but the Rev Baucum would have to pay $115,000 (pounds 67,000) to each of the women who had succumbed to his vigorous, no-holds-barred advice-giving.

Elsewhere in the Lone Star State, Otis Collins, a pastor from the Harvest Baptist Church at Fort Worth, did not prevaricate: he resigned as soon as two women reported that he had done likewise when they took their personal problems to him.