Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's Newsdesk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, DC, in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

A former National Security Agency contractor who pleaded guilty to stealing vast troves of classified material over the course of two decades has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

Harold Martin III, 54, apologized before U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett handed down the sentence on Friday.

"My methods were wrong, illegal and highly questionable," Martin told the court in Baltimore, according to The Associated Press.

If a fire was reported while you were on an upper floor of a high-rise, what would you do?

For one West Philadelphia man, the answer was: Get to the outside of the building and scramble down more than a dozen floors.

The breathtaking feat was captured in detail by multiple local television stations, bringing us several views of the man descending at least 14 floors of the tall building with apparent ease.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. ET

Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the freshman Democratic congresswomen facing attacks from President Trump and his supporters, was cheered as she arrived back at her home district in Minnesota on Thursday.

A crowd of people at the airport in the Twin Cities held banners with slogans such as "Stop Racism Now" and chanted "welcome home Ilhan" as the congresswoman emerged from her flight.

Updated at 5:48 p.m. ET

A major anime studio in Kyoto, Japan, was hit with a major fire in a suspected act of arson that killed at least 33 people, according to Japanese national broadcaster NHK.

At least three dozen people were injured, the broadcaster said, citing fire department officials in Kyoto.

Police told the broadcaster that one suspect, believed to be in his 40s, is in custody.

Elijah "Pumpsie" Green was the first black player on the Boston Red Sox, the last Major League Baseball team to integrate. He died on Wednesday at the age of 85.

Some of Puerto Rico's biggest stars rallied a crowd of many thousands in San Juan on Wednesday, calling on the island's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign. It was the fifth day in a row of protests in the U.S. territory, following a leak of hundreds of pages of misogynistic and homophobic texts between the governor and his main advisers.

During the day, trap artist Bad Bunny and singer Ricky Martin were among the huge crowd that marched to the governor's mansion.

Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET

The World Health Organization's director-general has declared the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo an international health emergency.

The outbreak in the DRC has killed more than 1,650 people, and about 12 new cases are reported daily, according to the WHO.

The State Department said it has issued sanctions to four top military leaders in Myanmar over what it called "gross human rights violations" during the "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Two vital research agencies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are hemorrhaging staff as less than two-thirds of the researchers asked to relocate from Washington to the Kansas City area have agreed to do so.

There's a new king of the hill.

The small town of Harlech in Wales has ousted Dunedin, New Zealand, for bragging rights to the world's steepest street. Guinness World Records announced the new title in a news release on Tuesday.

Ffordd Pen Llech, the name of the Wales street, winds up at a slope of 37.45 % stretch over fall, Guinness World Records said. That's in comparison to a slope of 34.97% at Dunedin's Baldwin Street.

Two years after it released the first season of the show 13 Reasons Why with a graphic suicide scene, Netflix has announced that it has edited it out.

The names of several major hotels and camp villages at Yosemite National Park in California are being restored, after a years-long trademark dispute.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is back to its original name, The Ahwahnee. And a set of cabins that was temporarily called Half Dome Village now carries its historic name, Camp Curry.

About two hours after a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant closed for business on Wednesday night, a massive blast reduced it to rubble within seconds.

The explosion in the small town of Eden, N.C., which happened Thursday just after 12:30 a.m., was captured in dramatic surveillance footage from a neighboring pharmacy.

It shows a quiet building under street lights, when suddenly the frame fills with white from the blast. Smoke and flames erupt from the demolished building, and debris and sparks fall from the sky.

Curious how much the ground shifted after the two large earthquakes last week in Southern California? NASA has just the map for that question — and it happens to look like beautiful, psychedelic art.

On July 4, a 6.4 magnitude quake hit the town of Ridgecrest, north of Los Angeles. The next evening, the area was jolted again by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Luckily, there were no serious injuries or major infrastructure damage.

Chalk up another victory for machines.

In artificial intelligence, it's a milestone when a computer program can beat top players at a game like chess. But a game like poker, specifically six-player Texas Hold 'em, has been too tough for a machine to master — until now.

Researchers say they have designed a bot called Pluribus capable of taking on poker professionals in the most popular form of poker and winning.

Four-time World Poker Tour title holder Darren Elias helped test the program's skills, playing Texas Hold 'em against a whole table of the bots.

A Brazilian judge has ordered mining giant Vale S.A. to pay for all damage caused by a ruptured dam that unleashed a torrent of mine waste and killed at least 247 people in January.

The disaster in the small city of Brumadinho was one of Brazil's worst-ever industrial accidents. Twenty-three people are still missing from the rupture that engulfed many of the company's workers and nearby residents in the muddy waste.

Updated at 5 p.m. ET

Ross Perot, the colorful Texas billionaire businessman who ran twice for president, first as an independent and then as a third-party candidate, died early Tuesday at his home in Dallas. He was 89.

Perot, who had battled leukemia, was surrounded by family members when he died, his family said in a statement.

Residents of London's Clapham area got a shock Sunday afternoon when they discovered a body in the garden of a neighborhood home and called police.

That body is believed to have fallen from the sky.

Metropolitan Police said they suspect the person was hiding in the landing gear of a Kenya Airways flight and fell as the plane was approaching Heathrow Airport.

The body, which police said is believed to be male, has not been identified.

A group of voting rights advocates and felons has filed a lawsuit after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that could make it more difficult for felons to vote.

Updated at 5:53 p.m. ET

People in Guadalajara, Mexico, woke up on Sunday to a thick blanket of ice over areas of their city, after a freak hailstorm that damaged houses and left cars partially buried.

This is particularly striking because it's the middle of summer. In the past month, temperatures most days have hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit or over.

Federal officials in South Florida said Friday that a massive international operation in three countries arrested 25 people and seized thousands of weapons and their components.

Those arrested in the bust, dubbed Operation Patagonia Express, include a married couple in their 60s who lived in Broward County, Fla. John James Peterson and Brunella Zuppone have been charged with conspiracy to violate and attempted violations of U.S. weapons laws.

Americans bought tens of millions of pairs of eclipse glasses to watch the total solar eclipse that crossed the U.S. in 2017. Now tens of thousands of them are heading for South America for another eclipse.

A group of astronomers is repurposing boxes and boxes of the glasses to send to hopeful viewers ahead of the celestial event that will be visible across much of the continent on July 2.

Witnessing a total solar eclipse can be a transcendent, even life-changing experience. But to do so safely, you must be wearing proper eye protection or risk injury.

Modern crocodiles can trace their lineage back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. If you picture that crocodile ancestor, way back in the Cretaceous period, what do you imagine it snacking on? Maybe a fish or a bird?

Think again. Scientists say it's more likely it was chomping on prehistoric flowers or other plants. A new study in Current Biology has found these ancient crocodile cousins actually evolved into plant eaters at least three times, and probably more.

Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET

Drivers with smartphones these days don't often get truly lost, thanks to navigation services such as Google Maps. But what happened in Colorado is a reminder that even with new technology, some shortcuts can still go very wrong.

After a crash that killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire, lawyers for the man charged with seven counts of negligent homicide have entered a plea of not guilty.

According to the criminal complaint, 23-year-old Volodymyr Zhukovskyy was driving erratically in a Dodge pickup truck and trailer on Friday night. He allegedly crossed the center line of a rural road in the small town of Randolph, colliding with a group of motorcyclists.

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis says it has decided to fire a gay teacher to remain in the local archdiocese.

In a letter to the community, leaders of Cathedral High School said they had been in talks with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for 22 months before deciding to cut ties with the teacher.

The U.N.'s human rights chief says there are only two options for dealing with the tens of thousands of suspected ISIS fighters currently detained in Syria and Iraq: They must be either tried or let go, and their families cannot be detained indefinitely.

Some 55,000 suspected ISIS fighters and their family members have been swept up and detained since ISIS was effectively toppled and lost control of its territory, the U.N. says.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

A fire at an oil refinery in South Philadelphia caused a series of explosions before dawn on Friday, unleashing a giant ball of flames and plumes of smoke into the air. The incident prompted a shelter-in-place order for a nearby neighborhood and sent more than 100 firefighters to the scene.

Several people were treated on the scene for minor injuries, WHYY's Tom MacDonald reported.

Two female beluga whales have finally arrived in Iceland, where they will enjoy a sanctuary in cool coastal waters. But the longtime performers from an aquarium in China had quite the journey to get there.

Little Grey and Little White traveled from Shanghai by land, sea and air — a Boeing 747 aircraft.

Naturally, transporting two whales — each about 13 feet long — was a huge logistical headache. Trainers have been preparing the belugas for the journey and for their new life in open water.

So picture this: You're a receptionist at, say, a hotel. Someone walks in and says they found a lost wallet but they're in a hurry. They hand it to you. What would you do?

And would that answer be different if it was empty or full of cash?

Those are questions researchers have been exploring; Thursday, they published their findings in the journal Science.

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