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.

Stephen Hillenburg, who created SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at 57. Inhabited by a good-natured pineapple-dwelling yellow sponge and a motley crew of sea creatures, the Nickelodeon TV program gained huge popularity with both children and adults over its nearly 20-year run.

Nickelodeon said Tuesday that Hillenburg died of ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

The World Chess Championship is heading toward a dramatic conclusion on Wednesday, which could give the U.S. its first champion since Bobby Fischer took the crown in 1972.

The players will embark on a series of fast-moving tiebreaks at the event in London, which will get faster and faster if they continue to draw.

Updated at 3:16 p.m. ET

General Motors says it plans to cease production of some models at three vehicle assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada in 2019. It also plans to cut production at two plants in the U.S. that make transmissions. The company said the moves are part of an effort to cut 15 percent of its workforce.

It's part of a major restructuring that will prioritize the company's electric and autonomous vehicle programs.

Dozens of people have been hospitalized after a charter bus transporting members of the University of Washington marching band rolled on a Washington interstate Thursday, according to Washington State Patrol.

Trooper John Bryant said "40-45 plus" people were transported to hospitals but that none of the injuries were serious. He said there were 56 people total on the bus.

A dead sperm whale found in Indonesia had at least 13 pounds of garbage in its stomach, including 115 plastic cups and two sandals, according to a team of researchers including the World Wide Fund For Nature.

"Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia, told The Associated Press.

Property-renting company Airbnb says it plans to remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin described it as a "disgraceful surrender," while senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it an "initial positive step."

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday

Chicago is mourning an ER doctor, a pharmacy resident and a police officer who were killed Monday after a man opened fire at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center on Chicago's South Side.

"This tears at the soul of our city. It is the face and a consequence of evil," Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters.

After years of motorists blazing through a tiny village in Northern Italy, the area's mayor got fed up and installed speed cameras.

And after just two weeks, Acquetico's cameras have caught more than 58,000 speeding incidents, according to Italian media. That's a hefty number for a community of about 120 residents.

Washington, D.C., got its first snowfall of the season this week. And at Smithsonian's National Zoo, at least one animal was really, really excited about it.

On an afternoon last September, a string of explosions suddenly hit Merrimack Valley, Mass. At least five homes were destroyed and a person was killed. More than 20 others were injured.

Federal investigators say they have now pinpointed what caused the sudden explosions on Sept. 13 — a natural gas company field engineer made a major mistake in the plans he developed for construction work that happened earlier that day, resulting in a disastrous chain reaction.

A plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from neighboring Bangladesh has stalled, apparently because the refugees were unwilling to go.

Bangladesh has stressed that it will not repatriate anyone against their will. Still, the program sparked protests among some refugees, while others reportedly hid within refugee camps out of fear of being forced to go back.

Neanderthals might bring to mind images of cartoonish brutes whacking each other with clubs.

But even though a number of Neanderthal skeletons have been unearthed showing grave head and neck injuries, new research suggests their lives weren't as violent as the stereotype implies.

In fact, the levels of cranial injuries for Neanderthals are very similar to those of early modern humans, according to scientists whose work was published today in the journal Nature.

Updated at 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday

CNN has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration after the White House suspended CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta's press credentials.

"This is my very first day at Xinhua News Agency," says a sharply dressed artificial intelligence news anchor. "I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences."

A team of researchers peered inside bumblebee colonies and spied on insects individually labelled with a tiny tag to figure out exactly how exposure to a common insecticide changes their behavior in the nest.

Girl Scouts of the USA wants to take Boy Scouts of America to court. The organization has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Boy Scouts of trademark infringement.

This started last October, when the Boy Scouts said it would start allowing girls to join its programs.

For a whopping 57 miles, a runaway train loaded with iron ore hurtled down tracks in Western Australia with nobody on board.

The train was eventually deliberately derailed, creating a dramatic crash scene with huge lengths of crumpled, twisted metal on the bright orange desert sand next to the train track.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the man accused of having run the world's largest drug trafficking organization, is about to see his day in a U.S. court. Jury selection began Monday in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Updated at 2:46 p.m. ET

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said Thursday that the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Istanbul was premeditated, reversing course yet again on the Saudi account of what happened.

Updated at 9:38 p.m. ET

At least seven suspicious packages containing what the FBI called potentially destructive devices have been sent since Monday to several leading Democratic Party figures and to CNN in New York, triggering a massive investigation.

An iceberg recently spotted by NASA scientists looks like it was carefully cut into a perfect rectangle, and it's getting a lot of attention because of those unexpected angles and straight lines.

It looks nothing like the craggy, uneven mass that sank the Titanic, perhaps the most famous iceberg ever.

A German court has sentenced a man to 12 1/2 years in prison on charges of attempted murder and attempted extortion for poisoning jars of baby food and leaving them on store shelves.

According to local media, the 54-year-old man was sentenced Monday at a state court in Ravensburg, located in southern Germany, over the scheme he confessed to last year.

Hold on to your hats: A sea cucumber that looks like a headless chicken has been caught on video in the deep seas near East Antarctica.

It's a surprising location for the species, Enypniastes eximia, to turn up. The last place it was filmed was thousands of miles away in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Updated at 9:13 p.m. ET.

Newly released surveillance footage shows a man apparently wearing the same clothes Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was wearing the day he disappeared after entering Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul. A Turkish ruling party official called the footage evidence of a Saudi cover-up, while another official described the man seen in the video as a "body double."

Editor's note: This story describes graphic allegations of sexual abuse.

The University of Southern California says it has reached a tentative class action settlement agreement worth $215 million over allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by a gynecologist who used to work at its student health center.

Approximately 500 current and former students have accused gynecologist George Tyndall of misconduct, according to The Associated Press.

The Washington Post has published the last column Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote before he disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul.

"We held on to this column he filed the day before he entered the consulate in the hopes that we could edit it with him, as we normally did," Fred Hiatt, who runs the Post's Opinions section, told NPR.

After more than four years as the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura is leaving his post. He says that in his final month, he'll make a major push to try to lay the groundwork for a new constitution in Syria.

De Mistura told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that he was departing for "purely personal reasons," and would wrap up the last week of November. He said that has always been his plan.

Still, he added: "A month can be a century in politics."

As U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May meets with EU leaders in Brussels, a deal for her country's imminent departure from the trade bloc appears far out of reach.

"We need much time, much more time and we continue to work in the next weeks," EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

May remained optimistic Wednesday, repeatedly saying that she thinks an agreement is possible. "I believe we can achieve a deal ... a deal is in the interest not just of the U.K. but also the European Union," she stated.

Updated at 5:22 p.m. ET

After Hurricane Michael slammed through the Florida panhandle and into Georgia last week, President Trump has surveyed damage and met with officials about recovery efforts.

At a briefing alongside Florida Gov. Rick Scott at Eglin Air Force Base, Trump praised the work of emergency responders and law enforcement.

"The job they've done in Florida has been incredible," he said, and described Scott as a leader who "steps up in the biggest emergencies, the biggest problems, and he gets it done."

Updated at 1:18 p.m. ET

To try to stave off the type of wildfires that have scorched California, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. warns it may pre-emptively turn off power for about 87,000 customers in 12 counties.

These areas are forecast to have weather conditions conducive to fires, including low humidity and gusty winds of up to 60 mph.

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