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.

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 4:30 a.m. ET Tuesday

Hours after the White House imposed new sanctions against Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a televised speech, President Hassan Rouhani called the move "outrageous and idiotic."

Rouhani called the sanctions a sign that the Trump administration had "become mentally crippled." Earlier, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi tweeted that the latest "useless sanctions" marked "the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy."

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.

Remember Boaty McBoatface? In the years since the naming snafu over a research vessel grabbed international headlines, Boaty has been off gathering crucial deep-sea data on the effects of climate change.

Now, the findings from Boaty's first mission are out — and they shed light on how Antarctic winds that are strengthening due to climate change are impacting sea levels.

But before we dive into what Boaty found, let's remember how it got here.

Updated at 8:54 p.m. ET

Ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has died, Egyptian state television reported Monday, after fainting during a Cairo court session.

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET

A man was killed and five people were injured in a shooting at a graduation party late Sunday evening in Philadelphia, police say. All of the victims are younger than 25, and four of them are teenagers.

The shooter fired "indiscriminately into the crowd" at Paschall Playground in Southwest Philadelphia just after 10 p.m. ET, the police department said in a statement emailed to NPR on Monday morning. The gunman is still at large, and no weapon has been recovered.

Bald eagles are typically known for their elegant flying, skilled hunting and having such majestic strength and beauty that they became the U.S. national bird. But they also possess a lesser-known talent: swimming.

Yes, bald eagles are really good at swimming, a fact some of us learned this week from a viral video published by New Hampshire TV station WMUR.

Thousands of women are demonstrating in the streets of Switzerland. Dressed in purple and brandishing signs, they're furious that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, their wages still lag far behind those of men.

Friday's strike comes 28 years after Switzerland's first nationwide women's strike for equal rights. Its motto is "Wages. Time. Respect."

NASA is highlighting the legacy of African American women who played a major role in the space race but are only recently getting widespread recognition.

This week, the space agency renamed the street in front of its headquarters Hidden Figures Way.

Hidden Figures is the name of a book and movie that celebrate the contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Its author, Margot Lee Shetterly, was at the unveiling ceremony, along with members of the women's families.

The U.S. government is juicing up its weather forecasting power.

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that it has upgraded its main weather forecasting model, called the Global Forecast System.

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has agreed to pay about $15,000 as part of a plea deal to settle allegations that she improperly spent some $100,000 in catering at the prime minister's residence.

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is facing escalating challenges to his leadership after government auditors found even more evidence of large-scale corruption, ushering in days of street protests and strikes in multiple Haitian cities.

The capital Port-au-Prince has been flooded with protests, calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse. Thick smoke from burning cars and tires filled the air, as protesters waved flags and faced off against security forces.

Ten state attorneys general have filed a lawsuit to try to block the merger of telecom giants T-Mobile and Sprint.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

A helicopter crashed into the top of a Manhattan skyscraper and ignited a fire early Monday afternoon, sending New York authorities and rescuers racing to the scene in Midtown.

Officials said the crash killed one person, believed to be the helicopter's pilot.

It's not yet clear why the helicopter went down around 1:45 p.m. ET, though it's possible that rainy, windy weather in the area was a factor.

The United Nations says at least 95 people were killed in an armed attack on a village in central Mali. It's the latest in a spate of deadly attacks in the region, which has seen escalating tensions between ethnic groups.

The attack on the village of Sobanou-Kou started Sunday evening when a group of armed men poured into the village, according to a statement from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.

Venezuela has hit a worrying milestone. The United Nations says more than 4 million refugees and migrants have left the country, which is suffering from political chaos, food shortages and hyperinflation.

The U.N. has called this exodus the "largest in the recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean."

Your phone company may start blocking robocalls without your needing to ask for it.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission passed a ruling that allows and encourages phone companies to block robocalls by default.

"We think these actions will help consumers in the near term and the long term to get the peace and the quiet that they deserve," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

National Weather Service meteorologists noticed something puzzling on their radar screens in Southern California on Tuesday evening — a big green blob.

"It was very strange because it was a relatively clear day and we weren't really expecting any rain or thunderstorms," Casey Oswant, a NWS meteorologist in San Diego, tells NPR. "But on our radar, we were seeing something that indicated there was something out there."

Oakland passed a resolution to effectively decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and other psychoactive plants and fungi in a unanimous City Council vote on Tuesday.

That makes it the second U.S. city to do so – last month, Denver voters approved a similar ballot initiative that decriminalizes the "magic" mushrooms.

The cruise line giant Carnival Corporation and its Princess subsidiary have agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $20 million for environmental violations such as dumping plastic waste into the ocean. Princess Cruise Lines has already paid $40 million over other deliberate acts of pollution.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the terms of the deal during a hearing Monday in Miami. She had appeared to grow increasingly frustrated as the company continued to flout environmental laws during the course of the years-long case.

A years-long government inquiry says human rights abuses "perpetrated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state" has led to violence against Indigenous women and girls that amounts to genocide.

It's the conclusion of more than two years of research involving at least 2,380 people who shared their stories or artwork with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Shipping containers of Canadian trash have moldered in the Philippines for years, in a situation so irksome to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that he threatened to personally sail it back to Canadian waters.

Now, much of the trash that arrived in 2013 and 2014 is on its way back to Canada. The Canadian government says that 69 shipping containers of rubbish have left the Philippines and are expected to reach Canada by the end of June.

Thad Cochran, the Republican senator from Mississippi who served for some four decades, has died at the age of 81, his successor, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, said on Thursday.

Cochran used his considerable influence, especially while serving as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to direct billions of dollars to Mississippi.

A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told a U.K. court Thursday that he was too ill to appear via video link at an extradition hearing about possible transfer to the United States.

Lawyer Gareth Peirce told Westminster Magistrates' Court in London that Assange was "not very well." The United States is pursuing a range of criminal charges against Assange, including a violation of the Espionage Act.

WikiLeaks said in a statement that it has "grave concerns" about the state of Assange's health.

The family of a man who died in a Milwaukee jail after the water in his cell was shut off for seven days has been paid a $6.75 million settlement, according to the family's lawyers.

Terrill Thomas, 38, died of dehydration in Milwaukee County Jail in April 2016. The payment was made by Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services, a company that was contracted to provide medical care for inmates at the jail.

There's good news for fans of Jeopardy! and its beloved host, Alex Trebek.

He says that his doctors say his stage 4 pancreatic cancer is in "near remission," in an interview published in People and shared on the show's official pages.

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