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Rev. Billy Graham celebrates 95th birthday

Rev. Billy Graham celebrates 95th birthday

Rev. Billy Graham celebrates 95th birthday

Rev. Billy Graham celebrates 95th birthday

Eyewitness News Anchor Blair Miller was in Asheville Thursday night for the Rev. Billy Graham’s 95th birthday celebration.

In a ballroom packed with nearly 900 people, Graham and his best friend of nearly 70 years shared a moment that was just about them.

"Cliff and I want to thank you," Graham said. "This celebration is partly for you as well. And I want to thank you for all you have meant to me."

Cliff Barrows was musical director for all of Graham's crusades.

"That was 68 years ago and I thank God for you, my dear friend," Barrows said.

And all night, people said how grateful they were for the evangelist and his ministry.

From singers Ricky Skaggs and Michael W. Smith to Donald Trump, who said his own father was a fan.

"Billy Graham is special," Trump said.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin spoke at Thursday night's celebration at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. She said Graham has always been bold and spoken the truth.

"So appreciative of what he's done in impacting our world," Palin said.

The reverend delivered a message that's been on his heart for the past three years.

His son, Franklin Graham, said Billy Graham originally wanted to preach in a stadium, but didn't have the strength.
Instead, he recorded the message from his living room, and turned those recordings into a series of videos called "My Hope America."

They include powerful messages from the reverend and testimonies.

IMAGES: Scenes from Billy Graham's birthday celebration in Asheville

IMAGES: Scenes from the Billy Graham Library

Local attendees touched by Graham's message

Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty was also in Asheville to hear what tonight's celebration meant to the people who have followed his teachings

For nearly a century, Graham's message has inspired believers.

Channel 9 talked with a number of people from the Charlotte area who made the trip to Asheville Thursday night.

One woman described how she was brought to tears as close friends of the Graham spoke.

Some of the people from Charlotte chose to come over together in buses.

Many of the attendees described how Graham impacted their lives or the lives of loves ones.

Strong security presence at celebration

The Grove Park Inn was very careful not to give details of all the security, but security personnel are visible.

RELATED Charlotte couple invites neighborhood to watch Graham video

Faherty saw several off-duty Buncombe County sheriff deputies posted at the entrances.

The hotel has its own security team, and Channel 9 learned Graham has his own security personnel as well.
A Grove Park Inn representative said it is not unheard of for it to host large events and the hotel has dealt with security of high-profile people in the past, with several presidents staying there.

“We’ve had 10 presidents stay with us over the years including our sitting president. President Obama has been here twice. He just enjoys the golf course. We’ve had several high-profile people come in. I wouldn’t say we are used to these events, but we know how to handle them,” said Grove Park Inn representative Tracey Johnston–Crum.

Many attendees are planning on staying at the hotel overnight.

Visit "My Hope America online" here.

Celebration at the Billy Graham Library

There was a large crowd at the Billy Graham Library on Thursday, and visitors got some special treats as they took a tour.

People signed a birthday card on the wall. It was already the third one they've had to put up, because the birthday wishes are filling them up so fast.

Visitors also get a piece of birthday cake to celebrate Graham's 95 years, and get a free copy of a book about his life, called "God's Ambassador" to take home with them.

"This is my fourth visit to this library, and I'm coming back again in December, but today is so special. I just wanted to come and sign his birthday card, and let him know we love him," said visitor Jeanette Henley.

Read more on the celebration from the Billy Graham Libarary here.


  • For more information on the life and legacy of Billy Graham, visit our special section here.


  • Follow Channel 9 anchor Blair Miller on Twitter from the event: @BlairMiller9.
  • Follow WSOC-TV on Twitter for complete coverage: @WSOC_TV.


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  • A Gwinnett County family is trying to make sense of the murder of their husband and father outside their home in a Buford subdivision overnight Thursday. The victim, identified as 43-year-old George Young, was shot dead right outside his own front door. He had just come home from working a security job and his keys were still in the front door when he was shot twice. “I heard two loud gunshots,” says his wife Tia. “At first, I thought it was gunshots, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t sure if it was firecrackers.” Her brother, who was asleep on the couch, heard it too. He opened the door to find Young lying on the front porch. “I never heard a car speed off. My brother didn’t either,” says Tia. Gwinnett Police detectives told the woman it does not appear to have been a robbery. “We don’t know where the gunshots came from--whether they came from the porch or came from the street. But our ultimate motive, right now, is to figure out what other people heard,” says Cpl. Michele Pihera. She is asking anyone with information to come forward to police. Tia and her husband had been married close to 23 years and she wonders how she will continue alone raising their three sons. “I lost my dad a few years back to suicide, and I didn’t think it could any worse. But losing a spouse like this, I think it tops that,” she says.
  • His book called gay people 'vile.' Now, a federal judge says she may rule within the next month whether the city of Atlanta fired its fire chief over his religious views.  Kelvin Cochran lost his job in January of 2015, after self-publishing the book 'Who Told You That You Were Naked?' It includes passages that referred to homosexuality as 'vile, vulgar and inappropriate' and akin to 'bestiality.' When concern was raised about the book in late November 2014, Cochran was suspended for 30 days. His lawyer, Kevin Theriot, contends the chief was punished for his religious faith, but attorneys for the city argued that it was Cochran's actions during his suspension while an investigation was underway that got him ousted. City lawyer David Gevertz pointed out that Cochran had been directed to not make public comments about his suspension, but instead helped launch a PR campaign with the Georgia Baptist Convention that resulted in thousands of angry e-mails being sent to City Hall. 'We did not fire Chief Cochran because of his religious beliefs,' said Atlanta Chief Counsel Robert Godfrey. 'It was about trust. It was about his campaign to have people contact the mayor and things like that afterwards.' Theriot contends that Mayor Kasim Reed's public statements and social media posts contradict that, including one in which Reed made clear that he did not share the anti-gay views expressed in Cochran's book. The lawsuit points out that there were 'zero instances of discrimination' by Cochran against any employees, and so Theriot says the rest of what the city says is a pretext. 'There are a few isolated passages that they take out of context to try to depict Chief as being hateful, when in fact, Chief Cochran's beliefs require him to treat everybody equally--and the only evidence before the court is that what he always did,' says Theriot. Theriot acknowledged that some copies of Cochran's book were given to men on the job, but he insists they were from people who asked for it and/or shared similar beliefs as the chief. Gevertz pointed out in court that the book created a hostile work environment and could leave the city open to lawsuits from disgruntled employees or unsuccessful candidates once the views of Cochran, a member of the mayor's cabinet, were known publicly. Cochran's lawsuit seeks back pay after his suspension and termination, as well as reinstatement. He has also filed a separate complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Cochran says his childhood dream was to become a fire chief, and he says the discrimination and racial slurs experienced in his early years working in Louisiana combined to make him vow that if he were ever in a position of authority, no one would face discrimination because they were a minority under his leadership. Yet, he says, that is why the city terminated him. 'I was shocked that writing a book encouraging Christian men to be the husbands and fathers and men that God had called us to be would jeopardize my 34-year career,' said Cochran on Friday. 'It's still unthinkable to me that the very faith and patriotism that inspired my professional achievements and drove me to treat all people with love, equity, and justice, are actually what the government used to end my childhood dream-come-true career. 'In the United States of America, true tolerance should be a two-way street for all Americans,' Cochran continued. 'No one deserves to be marginalized or driven out of their profession because of their faith.' U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May grilled lawyers on both sides with questions about the cases they cited in support of their arguments, and says she will write a detailed analysis and likely issue a ruling in about three weeks. The attorneys are seeking summary judgment, meaning they are asking the judge to decide the case. If she cannot rule on every issue raised, says Judge May, the Cochran case will go to trial on the ones she cannot resolve, putting the questions in the hands of a jury. A trial would likely be held next spring. Any jury pool will likely include some people like Tonya Ditty, who tells WSB that she has been a longtime supporter of Cochran since the case began in 2014. She attended Friday's hearing and says she was also at a rally at the state Capitol for him. Ditty says she is concerned about 'the trampling of religious rights,' no matter what religion. 'When our Founders wrote the Bill of Rights, they did not pick a religion,' says Ditty. 'This is fitting for everyone. I think that often is said that, 'Oh, the Christians just want protection.' This is for any religion. I don't think it's ever been stated that we are trying just to protect Christians.' Ditty, who says she is a Christian, says people of faith are being stifled. 'I either have to live out my faith in church or in my home, but dare me come out into the marketplace of ideas, and then I'm under attack,' she says.
  • A Montana congressman misled investigators about his assault on a reporter the day before he was elected and claimed that the 'liberal media' was 'trying to make a story' out of it, according to documents released Friday.U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, told an officer in the aftermath of the attack that Guardian newspaper reporter Ben Jacobs had grabbed him by the wrist and pulled both of them to the floor, according to notes from a Gallatin County sheriff's officer who interviewed the politician the night of the attack.Multiple witnesses contradicted that account, and Gianforte later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. The attack occurred the day before his victory in a May 25 special election, by which time many voters already had cast ballots by mail.More than 100 pages of documents, photos and audio from the investigation were released under a court order following requests from The Associated Press and other news organizations.The documents include interviews with members of a Fox News crew who were in the room with Gianforte and Jacobs at the politician's Bozeman campaign office. They said Gianforte became enraged over what he perceived as biased coverage before body-slamming Jacobs, throwing him to the ground and punching him.Gianforte staffer Josh Elle — the candidate's driver — told investigators that he was in an adjacent room when he heard a commotion and looked into the interview room. Elle told investigators that Gianforte appeared to be striking the reporter with closed fists before someone in the room closed the door.Another worker said Gianforte and others on the campaign had been complaining earlier in the day about 'duplicitous' campaign coverage by the Guardian and Buzzfeed.Gianforte told Sgt. Scott Secor in an interview that Jacobs had interrupted as the Fox crew set up for an interview and 'started interrogating in a very intensive way.'I probably shouldn't do it but I reached out for his phone ... he grabbed my wrist, he spun and we ended up on the floor ... so he pulled me down on top of him,' the sergeant quoted Gianforte as saying.In the hours after the assault, Gianforte's campaign spokesman, Shane Scanlon, issued a statement that also blamed the attack on Jacobs, saying the reporter had grabbed the candidate's wrist. The records released Friday show that Gianforte first gave the misleading account to authorities.Gianforte spokesman Travis Hall insisted the documents contained 'nothing new.'No one was misled, and anyone who says otherwise is mistaken. Greg took responsibility for his actions and is focused on serving the people of Montana,' Hall said in an emailed statement.Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said he was aware of Gianforte's comments to investigators but did not consider additional charges such as obstruction of justice because authorities were focused on the assault allegation.'When the police are investigating a case, suspects of crimes will say misleading things, and apparently that's exactly what happened here on the part of both Mr. Gianforte and his campaign,' Lambert said.'It is not a crime per se to lie to the cops,' added Lambert, a Republican. 'The main thing here is he was charged with assaulting Ben Jacobs and pled guilty to that.'Gianforte paid a $385 fine and completed 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counseling. He also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.The assault happened too late in the campaign to affect the outcome of the election to replace Ryan Zinke, who resigned to become President Donald Trump's Interior Department secretary.Gianforte is up for re-election next year and has filed to run. Six Democrats have lined up to challenge him.The congressman unsuccessfully fought a judge's order for him to be booked by law enforcement and photographed like other defendants. In October, Gallatin County District Judge Holly Brown ordered the release of Gianforte's mug shot, which is sure to be used as fodder by Democrats in the run-up to the election.__Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at www.twitter.com/matthewbrownap .
  • Update (Friday, November 17) President Donald Trump said in a tweet Friday he’s delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review “all conservation facts.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport. The agency said encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs. Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. On Friday, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time.” Trump said that the policy had been “under study for years.” He says he will review the issue with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Earlier The Trump administration plans to lift a ban on Friday that barred big game hunters from bringing trophies from elephants killed in a pair of African nations to America, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told ABC News in a statement Wednesday that the decision was made after officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia provided them with information to support a reversal of the ban. 'Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,' the spokesperson told ABC News. The decision will overturn a 2014 ban implemented by President Barack Obama’s administration in response to falling elephant populations.  African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A provision in the act, however, allows for the government to give permits that let people import trophies from such animals if evidence shows that hunting them helps conservation efforts, according to NBC News. The rule reversal will apply to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, the news station reported. It will also apply to elephants killed in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and “applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements,” a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told NBC News. According to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Savanna elephant populations fell by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014. About 352,000 elephants were spotted during the survey, 82,300 in Zimbabwe and 21,700 in Zambia. Both countries had areas that saw substantial declines in elephant populations along the Zambezi river in Zambia and in Zimbabwe’s Sebungwe region, according to the census. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on a plan to allow importation of elephant parts (all times local):7:55 p.m.President Donald Trump says he's delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review 'all conservation facts.'The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport. The agency said encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs.Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. On Friday, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the 'wrong move at the wrong time.'Trump tweeted that the policy had been 'under study for years.' He says he will review the issue with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.___1:40 p.m.The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is calling on the Trump administration to reverse its new policy allowing importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, labeling it the 'wrong move at the wrong time.'California Rep. Ed Royce is questioning the action because of concerns not only about African wildlife but U.S. national security, citing the political upheaval in Zimbabwe,.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs.Royce says that when carefully regulated, conservation hunts could help the wildlife population, but 'this is the wrong move at the wrong time.
  • The family of a 5-year-old boy whose skull was crushed in the rotating wall of a hotel restaurant has sued the Atlanta hotel, accusing it of negligence in his death. Attorney Joseph Fried filed suit Wednesday for Rebecca and Michael Holt of Charlotte, North Carolina, whose son Charlie died April 14. 'What started out as the best family trip, turned into the worst nightmare,' Rebecca Holt said in a statement emailed by Fried. They had chosen the Sun Dial restaurant 'because it was recommended as a fun place for families with kids to see the Atlanta skyline and enjoy a meal,' Charlie's father, Michael Holt, said in the statement. Marriott International, the hotel's owner, didn't immediately respond to an email and phone call requesting comment. Police had said the boy wandered away from his family's window table at the restaurant atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel and got his head stuck between tables. They also said the rotating floor shut off automatically when he was struck. The lawsuit disagrees with police statements. It said the family left along a path that various members had used without problems to go to and from the bathroom. But this time, it said, a booth rotating near a stationary wall blocked their path. Charlie, a few steps ahead of his parents, 'was too short to see past the booth and did not appreciate the danger until it was too late,' and was trapped in the 'pinch point' between booth and wall, according to the lawsuit. 'To Michael's and Rebecca's horror, the rotation did not automatically stop when Charlie got trapped,' the lawsuit states, and there was no emergency button to stop it. Rebecca Holt tried to pull her son free and Michael Holt 'threw his body against the booth,' but both actions were futile, it said. It said Michael Holt heard his son's skull crack before someone finally stopped the rotation. 'The family has filed this law suit to set the record straight about what happened and to make sure, to the best of their abilities, that no other family ever has to suffer the same fate,' Fried's statement said. Defendants include Marriott, as well as the chain that previously owned the Peachtree before Marriott bought the chain. Also named are other former owners and operators, and the architects, interior designer and contractor in charge of renovations to the restaurant in 2012 and 2013. The hotel reopened the restaurant in June. 'After Charlie's death, Marriott has said that it won't allow the restaurant to revolve again until it has addressed the dangerous pinch points,' Fried's statement said. 'Marriott should not have waited for this tragedy before acting to correct this hazard, especially while it held itself out as a safe place for kids.' ___ McConnaughey reported from New Orleans.