Volcano erupts in Iceland and Marvel drops Jonathan Majors: Morning Rundown

Bereaved families are left in the dark by broken next-of-kin notification systems. Iceland declares a state of emergency after a long-awaited volcano eruption. And a Marvel star is dropped after an assault and harassment conviction.

Here’s what to know today.

Do you regularly read our newsletter? We would love to hear your thoughts! Click below to take our short survey. Tell us your thoughts.

Families spend months searching for relatives, only to find out they’re dead

A mother in Louisiana spent more than eight months trying to track down her son, who she hadn’t heard from after he walked away from a drug rehab facility. Sherry Pfantz and her husband filed missing persons reports and cold-called morgues, hospitals and jails. They even made a four-hour drive to New Orleans to put up posters and search homeless encampments.

In May, Phantz called a coroner’s office in New Orleans, continuing her grim routine. But this time, she heard a different response: “We have him.” And then she learned her 34-year-old son Benjamin had already been cremated. 

The Pfantzes are one of many families across the U.S. who found out too late their loved ones have passed. 

Death investigation experts say these mistakes are preventable, the result of coroners and medical examiners with no written next-of-kin notification policies. And many do not contribute the names of the lost to the federal database for identifying the unnamed dead, NBC News has found. Read the investigation here.

This is Morning Rundown, a weekday newsletter to start your morning. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Iceland volcano erupts and spews fast-moving lava

 A volcanic eruption lit up the sky over Iceland last night, creating a 2.5 mile fissure that has sent a river of lava flowing toward surrounding towns.

Police declared a state of emergency and tourists spots were closed as hundreds of cubic meters of lava spewed across the Reykjanes peninsula. The long-awaited eruption took place in the southwest of the island, near to Keflavik International Airport, the capital city of Reykjavik and country’s famous thermal springs.

A nearby town had been evacuated weeks ago after earthquakes had caused steaming cracks to open in roads.

A video of her abduction was seen worldwide. She still hasn’t been released. 

On Oct. 7, Noa Argamani was abducted from the Supernova music festival. A video of her kidnapping — in which she is seen with a hand outstretched and terror etched onto her face as she is carried away on the back of a motorcycle — became an instant symbol of Israel’s hostage crisis. More than two months later, Argamani is among 14 female civilians who have yet to be released, and friends and family are growing more desperate by the day.

NBC News uncovered information indicating she was not kidnapped by Hamas, but was instead more likely abducted by a mob that swept into Israel hours after the group’s initial attack. Read the full story here.

More on the Israel-Hamas war

  • The father of a 26-year-old Israeli hostage mistakenly killed by Israeli forces rebuked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. “They are only thinking of themselves” and their “salaries,” Avi Shamriz told NBC News’ Hallie Jackson.
  • The fatal shooting of a mother and daughter in Gaza’s only Catholic church highlights the pressure Christians in the enclave are under, with fears mounting that their tiny population could be wiped out during the war.
  • Actor Alec Baldwin was escorted away from a pro-Palestinian rally after getting into a verbal clash with protesters. Watch the encounter.
  • Discussions aimed at securing another hostage deal and pause in fighting appear to be at a standstill, although President Joe Biden’s administration is hopeful for a breakthrough. Elsewhere in the region, attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on ships are threatening global trade as major oil and shipping giants suspend operations through the Red Sea. Follow live updates.

Texas bill over illegal border crossings sets up potential clash with Biden admin

A Texas law signed yesterday makes it a criminal offense to enter the state illegally, which from March will allow police officers to arrest migrants who unlawfully cross the border. The law is a move to “stop the tidal wave of illegal entry into Texas,” said Gov. Greg Abbott. The governor’s recent border policies have led to court battles with the federal government, and this new law looks set to tee up another clash with the Biden administration.

Crossing into the United States between designated ports of entry is already a crime under federal law.

A day to remember Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

A funeral service will honor the life of the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court — Sandra Day O’Connor, who died on Dec. 1 at the age of 93. The service at the Washington National Cathedral will begin at 11 a.m. ET and include eulogies from President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts. O’Connor’s casket arrived at the Supreme Court yesterday, where she lay in repose and members of the public paid their respects.

O’Connor is remembered as a trailblazer in the Supreme Court and a moderate on a conservative court whose crucial swing votes decided some of its most contentious cases.

Today’s Talker: Marvel is cutting ties with…

… Jonathan Majors after the actor was convicted yesterday of misdemeanor assault and harassment. The charges stemmed from an incident in March between Majors and his ex-girlfriend. Majors now faces up to a year behind bars in the assault conviction, and Marvel will have to figure out who will replace Majors as the chief antagonist in the franchise’s upcoming “Phase Six” series of movies.

Jonathan Majors as Kang.
Jonathan Majors as Kang.Marvel

Politics in Brief 

Election interference case: A federal appeals court rejected an effort by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to move the Georgia case against him to a federal court. 

Giuliani sued again: Two former Georgia election workers filed a new lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani yesterday over remarks the former Trump lawyer made immediately after last week’s defamation verdict that awarded them $148 million.

Hunter Biden: The president’s son is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court next month on the nine tax-related charges against him.

Local elections: A local elected official in Washington, D.C., was one of six people fined by the city’s board of elections for double voting in the 2020 general election.

Jan. 6 riot: A pro-Trump group that applied for a Jan. 6 demonstration permit in Washington, D.C, purposely misled authorities about their plans for that day.

Staff Pick: How parents took on a vaccine exemption rule

Mississippi consistently ranks last in nearly every health indicator but one: For forty years, it’s led the nation in childhood vaccination rates. But the strict law that ensured that success was weakened this year. From Mississippi, I reported on the federal lawsuit brought by a national anti-vaccine organization and a group of white, wealthy activists that has doctors there bracing for the return of vaccine preventable diseases. — Brandy Zadrozny, senior misinformation reporter

In Case You Missed It 

6.2-magnitude Earthquake Ravages Gansu
Rescue workers conduct search and rescue operations after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday in Jishishan Bonan, China.Jia Shengyang / VCG via Getty Images
  • An overnight earthquake killed at least 118 people in northwestern China, the country’s state media reported.
  • A South Carolina woman who wondered how her family’s killer could “live with yourself” after discovering the gruesome murder scene was arrested in the 2015 quadruple slaying.
  • A sample of cinnamon used in a recalled applesauce pouch contained lead levels that were more than 2,000 times higher than proposed safety limits, the FDA said.
  • A powerful storm on the East Coast led to at least two deaths, left communities flooded and delayed nearly 4,000 flights. 
  • Parler, a Trump-era social media app that was once popular among conservatives, is planning a relaunch, its new owners said.
  • Ruby Franke, a former family vlogger and a Utah mother of six, pleaded guilty to child abuse charges.
  • U.S. passport processing times are back to pre-pandemic levels.

Select: Online Shopping, Simplified

Worried you may need to grab a last-minute gift this holiday season? Fortunately, there are plenty of thoughtful gift ideas that won’t leave it feeling like you just threw something together. Select rounded up some of their favorite ideas

Sign up to The Selection newsletter for exclusive reviews and shopping content from NBC Select.

Thanks for reading today’s Morning Rundown. Today’s newsletter was curated for you by Elizabeth Robinson. If you’re a fan, please send a link to your family and friends. They can sign-up here.