Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. 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, D.C., 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.

Updated Friday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

Officials in Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia have announced that schools in their states will be closed for several weeks amid concerns about the coronavirus. The statewide closures come after many school districts and dozens of colleges and universities have temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 disease.

Updated at 10:26 p.m. ET

The Brazilian government says an official who met President Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fábio Wajngarten, the communications director for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, was part of a delegation that traveled to the U.S. During that trip, Wajngarten posted a photo of himself on Instagram standing directly next to Trump and wearing a hat that says "Make Brazil Great Again."

Thousands of people have been facing a difficult decision in recent weeks about whether to cancel or postpone an upcoming cruise vacation amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Now, for many, the decision has been made for them.

Starting in April, immigration authorities will start taking cheek swabs to collect DNA from hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees in federal custody each year.

The Trump Administration says the policy change will help law enforcement apprehend criminal suspects. The data collected will be transferred to an FBI database, so that in the future, law enforcement officials could check if these samples matched any DNA recovered from a crime scene.

The International Criminal Court has cleared the way for its prosecutor to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including those allegedly committed by U.S. forces and the CIA.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the decision, calling it a "breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body."

The Horn of Africa, one of the world's most impoverished regions, is being ransacked by billions of tiny invaders.

Farmers look on in horror as desert locusts moving in vast cloud-like swarms darken the sky. The insects blast through fields of crops at an astonishing pace, decimating livelihoods in the process.

Forever 21, the fast-fashion mall standby that filed for bankruptcy last year, will live on. Three companies announced Wednesday that they are jointly acquiring the retailer aimed at young shoppers and that they plan to continue to operate its U.S. and international stores.

The buyers are Authentic Brands Group, which owns major brands such as Barneys New York, Aeropostale and Nine West; and real estate companies Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners.

Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET

Houston Astros players and coaches offered an apology Thursday in the wake of a sign-stealing scandal that sent shock waves throughout Major League Baseball. But the apology seemed to further inflame critics of the league's and team's response to the sweeping cheating scheme during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn't know existed.

There aren't any bones or ancient DNA to prove it, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans. They analyzed genetic material from hundreds of people from Nigeria and Sierra Leone and found signals of what they call "ghost" DNA from an unknown ancestor.

Holden Matthews, the white son of a sheriff's deputy, has pleaded guilty to federal charges over setting three historically black churches on fire in Louisiana during a 10-day period last March and April. The religious institutions were completely destroyed.

"His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations," Bryan Vorndran, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans Field office, said in a statement.

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