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NATION IN BRIEF: Fire under bridge halts commuter rail for hours

Fire under bridge halts commuter rail for hours

NEW YORK — A large fire under a bridge sent billowing smoke over New York and shut down commuter rail service between Manhattan and the northern suburbs for more than two hours on Monday.

Television footage showed wooden pilings on a pier in the Harlem River began burning under the 138th Street lift bridge and FDNY marine units hitting the fire with water. Huge orange flames were visible, and plumes of white and black smoke wafted over the river and East Harlem.

‘‘The flames were really huge and it was really pitch black,’’ said Jesus Ramos, a bank worker who saw the blaze as he came into the city from White Plains, N.Y. ‘‘It was a big giant cloud. It was really going way up to the sky, it was covering up everything.’’

Serial stabbings suspect faces 1st murder charge

FLINT, Mich. — A man suspected in a series of stabbings in Michigan and two other states was charged with murder and attempted murder Monday as a prosecutor promised to convict the man he said has ‘‘terrorized our citizens.’’

It’s the first murder charge in a stabbing spree that killed five men and injured nine in the Flint area. Elias Abuelazam also is a suspect in two stabbings and a hammer attack in Virginia and a stabbing in Ohio.

He was charged Monday in the death of 49-year-old Arnold Minor, who had been stabbed in the chest and stomach on Aug. 2. He was also charged with four new counts of attempted murder.

Chicago man arrested in alleged bomb plot

CHICAGO — Federal authorities said they’ve arrested a 22-year-old man who allegedly placed a backpack on a crowded Chicago street corner over the weekend thinking it contained an explosive.

The FBI’s Chicago office said Sami Samir Hassoun is charged with one count each of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of an explosive device.

Hassoun was arrested after midnight Saturday. He had an initial appearance in a Chicago federal courtroom Monday afternoon.

The statement said the arrest was part of an investigation going back at least several months. It said the supposed explosive device was fake and given to Hassoun by an undercover agent.

Suspect caught in slaying of NC chief’s daughter

RALEIGH, N.C. — Authorities in New York arrested a convicted sex offender on Monday in the slaying of a North Carolina police chief’s daughter, hours after the lawman made an emotional plea for help tracking the suspect down.

FBI agents and U.S. Marshals took Michael Neal Harvey, 34, into custody without incident in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He was wanted on a murder warrant in the killing of Valerie Hamilton, a 23-year-old preschool teacher and swim instructor whose body was found in a Charlotte self-storage unit on Saturday.

Merl Hamilton, police chief in the Charlotte-area city of Concord, used an appearance on ABC’s ‘‘Good Morning America’’ to ask for help from law enforcement around the country, his voice breaking several times as he spoke.

Aspiring rapper pleads guilty to killing 4 in Va.

FARMVILLE, Va. — An aspiring rapper who embraced horror-themed lyrics has pleaded guilty to killing four people in central Virginia.

Richard ‘‘Sam’’ McCroskey was sentenced to life in prison Monday as part of his plea agreement. The defendant from Castro Valley, Calif., showed little emotion during the hearing in Prince Edward County Circuit Court.

McCroskey pleaded guilty to killing his girlfriend, 16-year-old Emma Niederbrock; her parents, Presbyterian minister Mark Niederbrock and Longwood University professor Debra Kelley; and Emma’s 18-year-old friend, Melanie Wells of Inwood, W.Va.

Oh, Christmas tree: Chicago needs a taller one

CHICAGO — Chicago officials looking for the perfect Christmas tree to grace Daley Plaza said that time is running short — and so are the trees.

The city has received about 30 submissions from people willing to donate a tree since announcing a contest in July. But none measured up to the required 55-foot-tall minimum.

So officials are having a do-over. Ann Hickey, program coordinator for the mayor’s office of special events, said the city wants a spruce or fir that’s at least 55 feet. Submissions due Oct. 11 must include photos and an essay on why the tree should be chosen.