National News

Eric Garner's mother speaks out on first days of NYPD judicial inquiry

Getty Images/Jeenah Moon

(NEW YORK) -- Petitioners in the judicial inquiry over the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD officers during an arrest for the alleged selling of untaxed cigarettes, are speaking out as the proceedings continue.

The petitioners represent leaders of the community fighting against racial injustice, including Garner's mother, Gwen Carr. Together, they hope that the line of questioning will offer more insight and transparency into the fatal 2014 incident.

In a video conference with reporters, the petitioners called for the firing of officers involved in the incident who are testifying.

"I am sick and tired of listening to the lies," Carr said. "These officers should not be on the force. They should have been fired immediately."

The unique proceeding is hosting 13 NYPD officers and sergeants, who are testifying on the events surrounding Garner's arrest, death and the alleged leak of several documents related to Garner and the incident. It will not result in any charges for those involved or any legal rulings.

On July 17, 2014, Garner was suspected by NYPD police officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin D'Amico of selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner denied the accusation, but the police then tried to arrest the 43-year-old Black man.

Pantaleo used a prohibited chokehold that has been banned by the NYPD since the 1990s on Garner in order to detain him. Garner told officers "I can't breathe" 11 times before falling unconscious.

Garner was left lying on the sidewalk for several minutes while officers waited for an ambulance to arrive, and was declared dead at the hospital.

Pantaleo, who committed the chokehold that led to Garner's death will not be involved in the inquiry. He was fired in 2019 following a department disciplinary trial for using a banned chokehold method. Pantaleo was not indicted in Garner's death.

He denies any wrongdoing. Garner's family reached a $5.9 million settlement with the city over the incident.

Christopher Bannon, who was a special operations lieutenant at the time of Garner's death, texted shortly after the incident that Garner's death was "not a big deal" because he believed the arrest was lawful. On Monday, Bannon further testified that he still believes the arrest was lawful.

"My son lay dead on the ground and he said it wasn't a big deal," Carr said. "Well, officer Bannon, it was a big deal to me. That was my son. You had no sympathy or empathy for him."

D'Amico admitted in testimony to falsities and mistakes he made when filing the initial incident report in his testimony; he claimed that no physical force was used during Garner's arrest, and he also charged Garner with a tax-avoidance felony.

Garner only had four sealed packs of cigarettes on him, as well as an opened fifth pack that contained 15 cigarettes, however, a felony charge usually applies only to people in possession of at least 10,000 cigarettes.

D'Amico also claimed in testimony this week that he never heard Garner say that he couldn't breathe.

Deputy Commissioner of Internal Affairs Joseph Reznick said in testimony that the Internal Affairs Bureau did not punish or investigate D’Amico for logging the false charge or falsity in the report, nor did they investigate media leaks of Garner’s medical and arrest history.

Petitioners on the press conference detested the actions being revisited and defended by officials.

"It's horrendous that we are seven years later and they're continuing to lie and they're continuing to be on the force and that the mayor and commissioner have not made any substantive changes to hold these officers responsible," said Kesi Foster, a petitioner from social advocacy organization Make the Road New York.

Several social justice organizations have joined Carr in what she said is a fight to seek justice for her son.

"Many of these kinds of offenses should be immediately fireable offenses," said Joo-Hyun Kang, executive director of advocacy group Communities United for Police Reform and petitioner in the case.

"When you're really talking about trying to end or reduce police violence that cannot happen unless you reduce the outside bloated budget, the bloated size, the outsized power, and the scope of the NYPD," she added. "We have to reduce and limit the situations where officers are interacting with New Yorkers."

ABC News’ Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Live bullet was in gun fired by Alec Baldwin in fatal movie-set shooting: Sheriff

Obtained by ABC News

(SANTA FE, N.M.) -- Law enforcement officials in New Mexico said Wednesday that they suspect a real bullet was loaded in the antique revolver used in a movie-set shooting by actor Alec Baldwin that killed the film's cinematography and wounded its director.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said a lead slug taken from wounded film director Joel Souza's shoulder came from the F.LLI Pieata Colt revolver that Baldwin fired during a dress rehearsal Thursday afternoon for the western "Rust" at the Bonanza Creek Ranch studio near Santa Fe.

Mendoza said the same shot mortally wounded cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who later died at a hospital.

Mendoza declined to say whether negligence was involved in the incident or who was responsible for putting the live round into the Colt revolver Baldwin fired.

"I think there was some complacency on this set and I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico," Mendoza said.

The sheriff said three guns were seized from the scene, including the Colt revolver. He described the other guns as a non-functioning .45 caliber revolver and a plastic non-functioning prop gun.

He also said 500 rounds of ammunition were also seized that included a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and live rounds.

“We believe that we have in our possession the firearm that was fired by Mr. Baldwin. This is the firearm we believe discharged the bullet," Mendoza said. "We also believe we have the spent shell casing from the bullet that was fired from the gun. We regard this specific spent casing and recovered projectile to be the live round that was fired from the revolver by Mr. Baldwin."

Mendoza said investigators have interviewed the two people who “handled and or inspected the loaded firearm prior to Baldwin firing the weapon." He identified them as the film armorer Hannah Guitierrez-Reed and assistant director David Halls.

A new search warrant affidavit obtained on Wednesday by ABC News includes a statement from Guitierrez-Reed in which she purportedly told investigators that on the day of the shooting she checked the rounds of "dummies" and ensured they were not "hot" rounds.

Guitierrez-Reed also told detectives, according to the affidavit that when the crew broke for lunch that day, the firearms were secured in a "prop truck" on the set. She said ammunition was left on a cart at the set and not secured, according to the affidavit.

Halls purportedly told investigators that Guitierrez-Reed showed him the gun in question before rehearsal, the affidavit states. An earlier search warrant released in the case alleged that Halls handed the weapon to Baldwin and said "cold gun," to let the crew know that a firearm supposedly with no live rounds was being handled

"He could only remember seeing three rounds," according to the affidavit. "He advised he should have checked all of them, but didn't, and couldn't recall if she (Guitierrez-Reed) spun the drum."

Souza told investigators that when Baldwin fired the weapon he vaguely remembers Hutchins complaining about her stomach and grabbing her midsection, according to the affidavit.

"Joel also said Halyna began to stumble backwards and she was assisted to the ground," according to the affidavit. "Joel explained that he was bleeding from his shoulder and he could see blood on Halyna."

Mendoza said investigators have collected what they believe to be additional live rounds from the set.

He said the evidence will be analyzed by the FBI at the bureau's crime lab in Quantico, Virginia.

"I want to ensure the victims, their families and the public that we are conducting a thorough and objective investigation," Mendoza said. "In reference to possible charges, it's too early right now in the investigation to comment on charges at this point."

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said no decision has been made on whether charges will be filed and that she will wait until the investigation is complete.

"I must emphasize that a complete and thorough investigation is critical to DA review. We take the corroborated facts and evidence and connect it to New Mexico law and we are not at that juncture yet," Carmack-Altwies said. "I am a prosecutor that was elected in part because I do not make rash decisions and I do not rush to judgment."

Ask by a reporter whether Baldwin could face criminal charges, Carmack-Altwies said, "All options are on the table at this point."

"I'm not commenting on charges whether they will be filed or not on whom," she said. "We cannot answer that question yet until we complete a more thorough investigation. No one has been ruled out at this point."

Mendoza said there were about 100 people on the movie set at the time, but only about 16 were in the vicinity of the shooting.

He also said investigators were looking into statements and rumors that crew members were allegedly taking target practice on the set and that there had been reports of drinking on the set.

“We are aware of those statements and we are investigating whether or not that is true or isn’t true," Mendoza said. "I would encourage anybody that has any information that any target practicing or any firearm was discharged away from the movie set or for practice or for whatever reason to contact the sheriff’s office."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Boy found dead in home died from blunt force, abandoned siblings left in 'unspeakable' conditions

KTRK

(HOUSTON) -- An 8-year-old boy whose skeletal remains were left in his Houston home died from "multiple blunt-force injuries," authorities said Wednesday.

The remains of the boy, who died around November 2020, were left in the apartment along with his three malnourished and abandoned siblings, ages 15, 9 and 7, the Harris County Sheriff's Office said.

The three surviving brothers were found home alone on Sunday when the 15-year-old called authorities. The teen reported that his 8-year-old brother had been dead for one year and his body was in the room next to his, the sheriff's office said.

The teen also said his parents hadn't been in the apartment for several months, authorities said. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez described the home as "unspeakable living conditions," with soiled carpets, roaches and flies.

"It seemed too horrific to be real," Gonzalez said at a news conference Wednesday.

The boyfriend of the 8-year-old's mother, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, was charged Tuesday with the boy's murder, authorities said. The boys' mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, was charged with injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence, according to the sheriff's office.

The children were taken to a hospital and the Texas Department of Family and Protective services received emergency custody of them, Gonzalez said.

Authorities said Wednesday that one of the boys had a jaw injury, allegedly caused by Coulter several weeks ago, and will need surgery.

The boys all were very thin, officials added.

"The mother, we believe, was providing some food by delivery service or having food dropped off on a fairly routine basis," though it only appeared to be junk food, Gonzalez said.

The children had apparently not been in school for more than one year, the sheriff added.

"Those children [appeared] younger than their chronological age. They were very sweet children," one official said. "That blankness in the eyes, but they were as sweet as they can be."

"My prayer is that the remaining children find the love, support and protection that they so desperately need and deserve," Gonzalez said Wednesday.

Coulter did not appear at his initial court hearing Wednesday. His bond was set at $1 million, and he was ordered to have no contact with Williams or the minor witnesses in the case, according to ABC Houston station KTRK. Williams is expected to appear in court Wednesday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


This dog is winning Halloween with his 31 amazing costumes

Courtesy Katie Palamara

(NEW YORK) -- A 1-year-old golden retriever named Chandler has a Halloween costume for every day in October and they are paw-sitively adorable.

Chandler, named after "Friends" character Chandler Bing by his owner Katie Palamara, has over 100,000 followers on TikTok and his 31 costumes have been a viral sensation.

“Halloween is my favorite holiday. I anticipate it months and months in advance,” Palamara said. “So it was kind of a no-brainer to do this.”

Palamara said she acquired the costumes over several months. The costumes range from Winnie the Pooh to Fruit Loops to Chandler Bing.

@katieandchandler

“Winnie The Pooh” - Day 18/31 Days of Halloween costumes


Pittsburgh synagogue massacre three years later: Remembering the 11 victims

Getty Images/Jeff Swensen

(PITTSBURGH) -- On Oct. 27, 2018, 11 worshippers, including a 97-year-old woman, were gunned down at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Here's a closer look at the lives lost.

Rose Mallinger

Rose Mallinger, 97, was the oldest of the victims but "age was truly just a number," the Mallinger family said in a statement.

"She retained her sharp wit, humor and intelligence until the very last day," the family said. "No matter what obstacles she faced, she never complained. She did everything she wanted to do in her life."

Rose Mallinger "was a pillar of the Jewish community and the Tree of Life Synagogue, which she was a part of for over six decades," the family said. "The synagogue was the center of her very active life. She was there every weekend, and the people of the congregation brought her great joy, as she brought to them."

"Rose was 'Bubbie,' Yiddish for grandma, to everyone in our family and our beloved community," the family said, adding that "family was everything" to her.

Rose Mallinger has three children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

"She loved us and knew us better than we knew ourselves," the family said.

Jerry Rabinowitz

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was killed when he ran outside to try to help the wounded, according to his nephew, Avishai Ostrin.

"In addition to being the president of the congregation, he was a doctor, a healer ... when he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did," Ostrin wrote on Facebook.

"He always wore a bowtie," Ostrin added. "There is just something about guys who wear bowties. Something youthful, something fun. And that is a word that definitely embodied my Uncle Jerry – fun. You know how they say there are people who just lighten up a room? You know that cliché about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry. It wasn’t a cliché, it was just his personality. His laughter, with his chest heaving up and down, with a huge smile on his face – that was uncle Jerry. And that bowtie. That bowtie that you know made people smile, you know made his patients more at ease."

Rabinowitz was a "compassionate, loving, non-judgmental" physician, Pittsburgh dentist Stephen DeFusco told ABC Pittsburgh affiliate WTAE. "He sat down, talked with you -– there wasn’t a minute that he didn’t pay attention to you."

A former patient said the slain doctor was one of his heroes.

"In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh he was to [sic] one to go to," former patient Michael Kerr wrote on Facebook. "He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office."

"I got lucky beyond words - because when he gently told me around November 1995 that it was time to begin taking medications - there was an ACTG trial for two HIV medications that saved my life," he wrote. "Thank you Dr. Rabinowitiz for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life. You will be remembered by me always. You are one of my heroes."

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center "cannot even begin to express the sadness and grief we feel over the loss of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz," the medical center said in a statement. "Jerry was above all one of the kindest physicians and human beings in our community."

Tami Minnier, chief quality officer of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, added, "Those of us who worked with him respected and admired his devotion to his work and faith. His loss is devastating, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and fellow UPMC colleagues who loved him."

Cecil and David Rosenthal

Brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, were both killed in the attack.

The brothers never missed a service and were always at the synagogue because it was a place they felt the most safe, fellow congregant Scott Levin told ABC News.

The brothers were always together, congregant Katy Levin told ABC News, so she said it brings her some comfort that they died together because she doesn't know how one could live without the other.

Both brothers were developmentally disabled.

"Cecil and David had a love for life and for those around them," according to a statement from ACHIEVA, a local organization which provides support for people with disabilities.

"Cecil’s laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit," Chris Schopf, Vice President of ACHIEVA Residential Supports, said in the statement. "Together, they looked out for one another. They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone."

Cecil Rosenthal was "a gregarious person who was super social, absolutely loved talking to people," said David DeFelice, Cecil Rosenthal's friend and match in a "Best Buddy" program.

"Somebody who had an intellectual disability ... we were kind of their mentor, their friend, and the whole point was to just foster friendship," he explained to ABC News' "Nightline."

He knew Cecil Rosenthal for three years and called his friend "a fixture in the Jewish community and at Tree of Life."

"I was you know welcomed right away because he kind of brought me in," DeFelice said. "He always carried a Hebrew calendar, knew the Jewish holidays -- he marked them down. He was always talking about events and parties that the synagogue was having and that he invited different people to."

"He was a funny guy, he liked to tease," DeFelice said. "I loved talking to him. I have nothing but good memories, so it’s nice because it brings a smile to my face."

Daniel Stein

Daniel Stein, 71, was a "simple man" who loved going to synagogue and playing with his grandson, his son, Joe Stein, wrote on Facebook.

Joe Stein wrote on Facebook, "My mom, sister and I are absolutely devastated and crushed! Our lives now are going to have to take a different path, one that we thought would not happen for a long time. ... We love you dad more than you’ll ever know!"

"He was the best man you’d ever want to know," Steven Halle, a nephew of Daniel Stein, told ABC News.

Daniel Stein was incredibly active in the synagogue community, where he was a mentor, provided services to the elderly community and served as president of his congregation, Halle said.

He called his uncle a happy, caring and sympathetic man who had two "wonderful" kids and a "beautiful wife."

Daniel Stein also loved to show off his 7-month-old grandchild. Now, his grandson "is never going to know who his grandfather is," Halle said.

Richard Gottfried

Richard Gottfried, 65, a successful dentist, had reconnected with his faith following his father's death and at one point became the president of the 70-member congregation in Pittsburgh, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

He was survived by his wife, Margaret A. "Peg" Durachko, who is also a dentist.

The couple had worked together at the Squirrel Hill Medical Center’s dental clinic, where they treated refugees and immigrants, many of whom had never been to a dentist, the newspaper reported.

"Do not let his death be in vain. Drive out evil from your own life and help another to drive it out of their life. The only way to combat evil is with love," his wife said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Joyce Fienberg

Victim Joyce Fienberg, 75, a former research specialist, was survived by her two sons and grandchildren. Her husband died in 2016.

Joyce Fienberg was a research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) from 1983 until she retired in 2008.

"My mother-in-law was one of the kindest humans I've ever met," her daughter-in-law, Marnie Fienberg, told ABC News. "If you knew her for five minutes, if you knew her for 20 years, you felt exactly the same way."

"She traveled extensively with her husband and they met people internationally -- she would stay in touch with them. So there are people from 50 years ago who she met once in Australia who are her good friends," she said. "She would stay up nights making sure everybody was staying in touch -- I've never seen anything like it before. ... I think everybody tries to do that, but she succeeds."

Joyce Fienberg's most important relationships were the ones she had with her six grandchildren, who range in age from 15 to 8.

"She made a point of mastering social media very early so she could stay in touch with these kids," Marnie Fienberg said. "Each one of them had a one-on-one relationship with her. She knew what was going on in their days, she was so involved. She really was an amazing, amazing grandmother."

Melvin Wax

Melvin Wax, 88, a retired accountant. Wax's wife, Sandra, had died in 2016.

Bernice and Sylvan Simon

Sylvan Simon, 86, and his wife, Bernice Simon, 84, were killed in the same synagogue where they married in December 1956, The Tribune-Review reported.

"A loving couple, and they’ve been together forever," longtime friend Michael Stepaniak told the newspaper. "I hope they didn’t suffer much, and I miss them terribly."

"They held hands and they always smiled, and he would open the door for her," neighbor Heather Graham told the newspaper. "They were really generous and nice to everybody."

The couple's front door has three stickers, according to The Tribune-Review: "Support Our Troops," "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful."

Irving Younger

Irving Younger, 69, a father and grandfather, was a regular volunteer and worshiper at the synagogue, where he would come early and stay late, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw this gunman walk into the room where the services were and his first thought was, 'Can I help this stranger get settled?' Until he saw what the stranger was doing -- because that’s the kind of thought that he would have," said Schachter, the former congregation president.

Younger, a former small-business owner and youth baseball coach, "was the most wonderful dad and grandpa,” neighbor Tina Prizner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"He talked about his daughter and his grandson, always, and he never had an unkind word to say about anybody," Prizner said.

ABC News' Teri Whitcraft, Eric Strauss, Cassidy Gard, Jake Lefferman, Katie Muldowney and Carlin Mccarthy contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


State Dept. issues first 3rd-gender passport for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming Americans

Getty Images/Kevin Dietsch

(WASHINGTON) -- Four months after announcing it would allow a third-gender option for U.S. citizens on their passports, the State Department said Wednesday that it has issued one.

It is the first of its kind, denoted with an 'X,' for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming U.S. citizens.

The agency is still preparing to make the option widely available for passports and other documents, such as the consular report of birth abroad.

"I want to reiterate, on the occasion of this passport issuance, the Department of State's commitment to promoting the freedom, dignity, and equality of all people -- including LGBTQI+ persons," said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. He did not specify when the passport was issued or to whom.

In June, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Americans could choose which gender is displayed on their passports, no longer needing medical certification if their preference contradicts supporting documents such as birth certificates.

Adding a third-gender option is "technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates," Blinken said at the time. Price said Wednesday the agency is still working on the issue, which they expect to be an option for all regular passport applications early next year.

"The Department also continues to work closely with other U.S. government agencies to ensure as smooth a travel experience as possible for all passport holders, regardless of their gender identity," he added.

Advocates say harassment by immigration and travel authorities for gender non-conforming people is common. Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, praised the announcement in June.

"Inaccurate IDs open transgender people up to harassment and discrimination. Reforming U.S. passports is a common-sense way to improve the lives of transgender people," Heng-Lehtinen said, adding accurate documents are "necessary for travel, banking, starting a new job and school."

President Joe Biden promised these changes during his 2020 campaign.

"Transgender and non-binary people without identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity are often exposed to harassment and violence and denied employment, housing, critical public benefits, and even the right to vote," his campaign website said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Nor'easter's heavy rain and wind knocks out power to nearly 600,000 customers

Cohasset Police/Twitter

(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 600,000 customers are without power in New England Wednesday after a powerful, record-breaking nor'easter lashed the Northeast.

Heavy rain flooded roads from Massachusetts to New York, while water rescues were reported in New Jersey.

Dangerous winds also toppled trees and blocked roads.

One person was killed in Morris Township, New Jersey, when a tree limb fell on two cars Wednesday morning, according to ABC New York station WABC.

A kayaker also was found dead off the coast of the Bronx, reported WABC. The 45-year-old man had headed out on the water Monday night, around when the storm started, en route from Long Island to Westchester County, New York.

The storm became a "bomb cyclone" when its pressure dropped 24 millibars in less than 24 hours. In Nantucket, Massachusetts, the nor'easter set a record for the lowest pressure ever recorded in October.

The heavy rain should be ending in most of the Northeast on Wednesday, but the winds will continue to roar up to 60 mph from Long Island to Massachusetts to Maine. By 7 p.m., wind gusts could still reach near 50 mph in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, where about 500,000 customers remained without power Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects a "multi-day" restoration process.

ABC News' Victoria Arancio contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Inside the rise of AR-15-style rifles in America

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- This report is a part of "Rethinking Gun Violence," an ABC News series examining the level of gun violence in the U.S. -- and what can be done about it.

Alex Schachter, a 14-year-old marching band member gunned down in the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, would have graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this year.

"All of Alex's friends were able to walk across that stage," his father, Max Schachter, told ABC News. "Since Alex wasn't there, I did it and collected his posthumous diploma. It's sad watching all of these kids go off and go to college and do everything that I hoped that Alex would do."

The accused Parkland gunman was armed with an AR-15-style rifle when he stormed into Stoneman Douglas in February 2018, killing Alex and 16 others.

The United States has over 20 million AR-15-style rifles legally in circulation, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a national trade association for the firearm industry. That accounts for a small percentage of the roughly 400 million guns in the country -- but the popularity of AR-15-style rifles has been growing "exponentially" ever since the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, said Mark Oliva, the NSSF's public affairs director.

Because AR-15-style rifles are so versatile, with the ability to add scopes and change both the length and size of the barrel, they became a desirable weapon for many Americans, especially people who like to hunt, ABC News contributor and former FBI agent Brad Garrett said.

But along with that rise in popularity, the use of these weapons in mass shootings is also climbing, according to Louis Klarevas, a research professor at Teachers College, Columbia University who specializes in gun violence and safety. From Sandy Hook to San Bernardino to Orlando to Las Vegas, "most of the deadly high-profile mass shootings in the past decade were perpetrated with assault weapons, particularly AR-15-style assault rifles," Klarevas said.

The history

Sometimes referred to as "assault weapons" or "military-style rifles," this class of firearm can encompass many different kinds of guns -- not just the more well-known rifles, such as the AK and AR-15 series weapons. The term "assault weapon" generally encompasses a wide range of models, including the UZI rifle and pistol, the Beretta AR-70, the SKS rifle and more, according to the California Attorney General's Assault Weapons Identification Guide.

AR-15 style rifles are rifles "modeled on the AR-15 platform and that fire the same caliber cartridges," Klarevas said, such as the Smith & Wesson M&P15 and the Ruger AR-556.

Along with their use in hunting, for some Americans, AR-15-type weapons also connote patriotism, which can be traced back to the M16 military rifle that became prominent during the Vietnam War, according to Garrett.

"It didn't hurt that Sylvester Stallone uses an assault-type weapon in 'Rambo,'" the 1982 film about a Vietnam veteran, Garrett said.

But in 1989, an AK-47 was used to kill five children at a Stockton, California, elementary school, leading California to become the first state to enact an assault weapons ban, Klarevas said. That was followed by two other high-profile mass shootings with semiautomatic pistols -- one in San Francisco and one on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train -- in 1993.

Those shootings were the impetus for the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, signed into effect by President Bill Clinton in 1994, stopping the manufacture, sale, transfer and possession of these types of firearms.

The federal law led to a decrease in gun massacre incidents where six or more victims are killed, Klarevas wrote in a report he issued last year as an expert witness in a federal court case challenging California's ban on assault weapons. When compared to data from 1984 to 1994, the U.S. saw a 43% drop in gun massacre deaths and a 26% decline in gun massacre deaths involving assault weapons in 1994 to 2004, according to his report.

The federal ban was not renewed by Congress and expired in 2004. Gun massacre incidents involving these weapons then skyrocketed from 2004 to 2014, jumping 167% compared to the 10 years the federal law was in effect, Klarevas' report said, and active shooter incidents with different guns overall have been steadily climbing over the last two decades, according to FBI data, which does not break down murders by exact model of gun used.

While there's no federal assault weapons ban now, Washington, D.C., and seven states -- California, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York -- have banned the possession of certain kinds of these firearms, and the rules vary state to state. According to Klarevas' report, "In the past 30 years, accounting for population, states with assault weapons bans in place experienced 54% fewer gun massacres involving the use of assault weapons and 67% fewer deaths resulting from such attacks perpetrated with assault weapons."

The pros and cons

In many rural and suburban areas, fully and semi-automatic rifles hold a practical value, such as for defending property, and a familial value, to pass down weapons to future generations, Garrett said.

AR-15-type rifles are also beloved as sporting rifles because they are accurate, versatile, light and easy to disassemble, Garrett said. They're also simple to shoot -- Garrett said anyone could be trained in a few hours.

Oliva and his wife, both Marine Corps veterans, shoot AR-15s recreationally.

"The way it's designed, it is easily adaptable. It can fit my frame," Oliva said, and with adjustments, "It can also fit my wife, and she can shoot that rifle just as easily."

Oliva stressed that AR-15-style rifles are semi-automatic -- and the automatic rifle he used in Iraq and Afghanistan "is not the same rifle that I have in my gun safe today."

The rifle he carried in war was automatic and could fire three rounds without any other action, Oliva said, while the gun in his safe is semi-automatic and requires pulling the trigger every time you want to fire.

But according to Garrett, automatic and semi-automatic rifles can easily fall into the hands of those who want to commit murder.

Sometimes after a high-profile mass shooting, states will tighten up gun laws, such as by requiring background checks, reducing the sale of certain weapons or banning the sale of high-capacity magazines. But those looking to buy these items can often find another way, Garrett said.

In most states you must be 21 years old to buy a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, but only need to be 18 to buy a rifle, he pointed out. That's because, historically, rifles have been used by people in rural areas to hunt or defend property, Garrett said. But with the prevalence of private and black market sales, "none of these laws apply in reality," he said.

Some guns are modified by bump stocks, which are used to make the weapons fire like machine guns. The perpetrator of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, used a bump stock, leading them to be banned federally in 2019.

Since 9/11, the 10 deadliest acts of intentional violence in the U.S. have all been gun massacres, according to Klarevas. Of those 10 acts, the seven most recent -- including Parkland -- involved what he defined as an assault weapon. The other three shootings, carried out with handguns, were the oldest, one taking place in 2007 and two others happening in 2009.

In the 1980s, less than 20% of gun massacres involved assault weapons, while in the 2010s, that number went up to 35%, Klarevas said. In the last three years, those weapons made up 67% of gun massacres, according to his report.

The push and pull over bans

When Alex was killed in Parkland, "it left a huge hole in my family that could never be replaced," his aunt, Gail Schwartz, told ABC News. Alex would have turned 18 in July.

Schwartz, along with other family members and survivors of the Parkland and Orlando mass shootings, launched Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN), a grassroots initiative aiming to ban assault weapons in Florida through legislative and electoral efforts.

BAWN first looked to bring a constitutional amendment banning assault weapons before Florida voters, and collected signatures and donations across the state, she said.

"But when we took the amendment to the Florida Supreme Court -- because we need to get their approval before appearing on the ballot -- the ... justices rejected the amendment," Schwartz said.

Florida's Supreme Court rejected the proposed constitutional amendment in June 2020 on grounds that the wording was misleading, The Miami Herald reported. The ballot measure summary, which was limited to 75 words, said assault weapons lawfully possessed before the new rule would be exempt; the ballot measure's full text said the weapons could not be transferred, the Herald reported. The majority of the justices, however, said "the summary exempts the weapon itself. So, under that theory, the weapon, if it’s registered, could be transferred to someone else," and since the justices' "interpretation of the summary conflicts with the full text of the amendment," they deemed that "the measure itself is misleading," the Herald reported.

When BAWN lobbied the Florida legislature in 2020, 52 co-sponsors signed on, accounting for 90% of the state's Democratic legislators, she said. But no Republicans -- who hold the majority in Florida's legislature -- would co-sponsor the bills, Schwartz said.

Those numbers mostly match up with how members of political parties feel about a potential ban. When split by party, 27% of Republicans support an assault weapons ban and 70% oppose, while 88% of Democrats support the idea and 11% oppose it, according to an April poll from Quinnipiac University, a nationally recognized public opinion polling center.

Overall, 52% of Americans support and 43% oppose a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, according to the poll.

Oliva is among those against a ban.

"It's truly heartbreaking to hear the stories" of mass shootings, Oliva said, but he added that AR-15s tend to take the blame "for the evil that the individual has committed instead of holding those individuals responsible."

"I don't want to take away the ability for those who choose to defend themselves with a firearm of their choosing from that choice," Oliva said. "I think when we start to look at bans on entire classes of firearms, what you're doing is taking a tool away from those who would choose to defend themselves."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Dads form 'Dad's on Duty' squad to help stop violence at their kids' high school

Michael LaFitte Jr.

(SHREVEPORT, La.) -- When a series of fights at a Louisiana high school resulted in nearly two dozen students getting arrested, suspended or expelled in a span of 72 hours, a group of dads stepped up to help.

The five dads, all parents of students at Southwood High School in Shreveport, met on a Sunday night to brainstorm how they could help lessen the violence at their children's school.

"After about three hours, we came up with the idea to have us be a presence on the campus," said Michael LaFitte Jr., who hosted the meeting at his office, told "Good Morning America." "We thought we could be a collective unit to be able to show them that there are strong men who are on the campus."

The dads named their group "Dad's on Duty USA."

For the past six weeks, they have traded shifts so members of the group are always present on the Southwood High campus.

Wearing "Dad's on Duty" T-shirts, the dads welcome students to school, share jokes with them and offer a helping hand and listening ear, according to LaFitte, whose daughter is a junior at the high school.

"Although we're titled 'dad's on duty,' we also serve as uncle's on duty, we serve as men of the community on duty," he said. "Because there are some folks who don't have a father or don't have such a great relationship with their father, and it's our goal to let them see what the right relationship with a male figure is supposed to look like."

The five dads who originally started the effort, as first reported by CBS News, have more than quadrupled in number, according to LaFitte, who works with an independent security company to vet the fathers who participate.

Working in shifts, there are six to 10 dads on campus at Southwood High every day, throughout the school day. They not only have a presence on the school campus, but also at extracurricular activities like football games and a recent homecoming dance.

"Some days we have long, long days, but we will be at school no matter what," said Zachary Johnson, who has four children at Southwood High and, like the other dads involved, also works a full-time job. "When your heart is into whatever you're doing, you make it work."

David Telsee III said his son, a 15-year-old sophomore, was at first not sure about the idea of seeing his dad on campus every day, but now has "warmed up to it."

"At first, mine was like, 'What are you doing dad?'" said Teslee, who spends around three to four hours each day on campus, split between the morning and the afternoon. "He's starting to warm up to it now, but at first he couldn't believe it."

The dads' efforts have paid off, according to Kim H. Pendleton, Ph.D., the principal of Southwood High, a public school with around 1,500 students.

Pendleton said the school faced serious gang violence at the beginning of the school year, but that has tapered off since the start of the "Dad's on Duty" effort.

"After the fights, there was a heavy police presence at the school and the kids told me they did not like that," said Pendleton. "The dads are from the community."

"They care and they're committed to being present," she said. "The kids see them as they're walking in in the morning. They greet the kids. They tell corny jokes. When I do my rounds to classrooms, they walk with me. They're making sure that kids are leaving school safely. People are able to talk to them."

With the success of their effort, the dads said they are working to expand "Dad's on Duty" to other schools in their school district and then hope to make the effort national.

"We just want people to know that it's possible," said Johnson. "We went with it hoping it would make an impact on the school, and now that we see that it's working, we want to take it to other schools."

"We'd like this to be the same as the PTA, something that is in every school in every county," added LaFitte.

Pendleton said the dads have helped her fulfill her mission to make sure every student on campus feels seen and heard.

"My biggest charge to kids is to find one adult that you can interact with and you can trust and you can share information with and we can help you," said Pendleton. "I want them to find one person on campus who knows who they are, and the dads help with that."

To her, it's a great demonstration that it takes a team "to make sure that a school works and works well."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 live updates: Immunocompromised people may need fourth dose, CDC says

Bill Oxford/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 4.9 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 738,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Just 67.2% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Oct 27, 9:25 am
Weekly death totals likely to continue falling in coming weeks, CDC says

While more than 1,100 Americans are still dying from COVID-19 each day, the U.S. daily death rate has been slowly falling in recent weeks.

And now, forecast models used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are predicting that weekly death totals will likely continue to fall in the weeks to come, though thousands of Americans are still expected to die from the virus.

The model expects 18,000 more virus-related deaths to occur in the next two weeks, with a total of around 767,800 deaths recorded in the U.S. by Nov. 20.

The model also estimates that 14 states and territories have a greater than 50% chance of having more deaths in the next two weeks compared to the past two weeks.

Oct 27, 3:41 am
Australia to lift ban on citizens leaving the country

After more than 18 months, Australia announced Wednesday that it will lift a ban on its own people from leaving the country without permission.

Starting Nov. 1, citizens and permanent residents of Australia who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer require an exemption to travel abroad. Australia has imposed some of the world's strictest border rules amid the pandemic, which Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said has kept the country "free from widespread COVID transmission."

"The easing of these restrictions is possible thanks to our impressive national vaccination rates, and I thank all those who have done the right thing and rolled up their sleeve," Andrews said in a statement Wednesday.

While Australian citizens and permanent residents are currently the "first priority," Andrews said, more travel restrictions -- including for some foreigners -- will be relaxed as the national vaccination rate "continues to climb." As of Wednesday, nearly 75% of people aged 16 and over in the country are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data posted by the Australian Department of Health.

"I look forward to further easing restrictions over coming weeks and months as more and more Australians become fully vaccinated," Andrews said. "Before the end of the year, we anticipate welcoming fully vaccinated skilled workers and international students."

Oct 26, 8:53 pm
Immunocompromised may need 4th dose: CDC

Immunocompromised people may need a fourth dose of the vaccine, according to newly issued guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those patients may end up needing an additional shot six months after their third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, the CDC said. The fourth dose can be of any of the three available vaccines, according to the agency.

This is in line with what the CDC has said before regarding immunocompromised adults. A third shot is considered necessary to establish vaccination for those patients and a boost would need to come six months later, according to the agency.

Oct 26, 4:26 pm
FDA panel greenlights vaccines for kids

An advisory panel at the Food and Drug Administration voted Tuesday in support of the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5 ages 11.

Seventeen people voted "yes" and one person abstained.

Next, the FDA will make a decision. Then, the matter heads to the CDC's independent advisory panel to deliberate and vote next week, and after that, the CDC director is expected to make the final signoff.

The earliest shots could be in arms is the first week of November.

Oct 26, 2:37 pm
Biden administration to ship vaccines for children as soon as FDA approves them

The Biden administration will begin shipping vaccine doses for kids ages 5 to 11 as soon as the Food and Drug Administration gives the green light in coming days, White House officials told governors on a private phone call Tuesday.

Doing so will allow children to begin receiving shots as soon as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signs off, which is expected around Nov. 4.

Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator on the federal response to COVID-19, said one big concern is the shorter shelf life for pediatric doses. In trying to make the vaccine easier for pediatricians to handle, the doses for kids 5 to 11 can be kept for only 10 weeks, compared with six to nine months for adult doses.

"We don’t want to have wastage, so we encourage you to build flexibility into your distribution systems you can move around within your state or territory," he told the governors. Audio of the call was obtained by ABC News. "Just order what you need. We have plenty of supply. We can always get you doses on short notice."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


FDA panel greenlights vaccines for kids, paving the way for authorization

jacoblund/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- Vaccines for 28 million American children are on the way to authorization after an advisory panel at the Food and Drug Administration voted in support of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5-11 on Tuesday afternoon.

The vote was the first step in a regulatory process for the two-shot Pfizer vaccine that could allow kids to get their first shots in early November and become fully immunized by early December.

Next, leaders of the FDA have the chance to officially sign off, potentially as soon as Tuesday night. If and when that happens, the White House will begin shipping doses, senior officials told governors on a call Tuesday afternoon that was obtained by ABC News.

But there are still more steps before shots go into arms: If authorized by the FDA, the process would move to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next Tuesday, when a CDC panel meets to discuss the same data reviewed by the FDA advisers.

"If all goes well, and we get the regulatory approval, and the recommendations from the CDC, it's entirely possible, if not, very likely, that vaccines will be available for children from 5 to 11 within the first week or two of November," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser for the White House, said in an interview on Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Many parents are desperate to protect their children after the delta surge over the summer led to increased cases and hospitalizations among kids. Though the variant is not more deadly, it is more transmissible -- and because kids are unvaccinated, the variant rocketed through schools and camps.

The most recent data from Pfizer's clinical trials found that the vaccine for 5-11 year olds was nearly 91% effective against symptomatic illness.

For kids, the vaccine will be given at a smaller, one-third dose.

The vaccine also appeared safe. None of the children in the clinical trials experienced a rare heart inflammation side effect known as myocarditis, which has been associated with the mRNA vaccines in very rare cases, mostly among young men.

And in a review of the data that assumed the worst -- that kids could experience myocarditis at the same rates as young men, which many experts don't believe will be the case -- the FDA's senior adviser for benefit-risk assessment, Hong Yang, still found that in the majority of scenarios, kids will still be safer once vaccinated.

Dr. Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist, told the panel during his presentation on myocarditis that one of the leading theories is that the heart inflammation is linked to testosterone and hormones, which is why it has occurred more often in teenage boys and young men. Oster also said people tend to recover quickly from the kind of myocarditis experienced after vaccination.

But he noted that long-term study of myocarditis is still needed.

"We really need to see what the long-term outcomes for these kids will be. So far, the data for follow-up results is sparse but ongoing follow-up is in progress," Oster said.

Despite the near-unanimous vote, Oster and Yang's presentations were among the most debated.

The FDA experts ultimately agreed all children should have the opportunity to get vaccinated, but many also voiced concern over the remaining unknowns about adverse effects, weighing that against the relatively low risk of hospitalization or death from COVID for kids.

Most FDA advisers felt very clearly that the benefits outweighed the risk.

"To me the question is pretty clear. We don't want children to be dying in COVID, even if it is far fewer children than adults, and we don't want them in the ICU," said Dr. Amanda Cohn, chief medical officer for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Although children are less likely to die of COVID-19 than older adults, nearly 2 million kids in the 5-11 age group have gotten COVID. Of those, 8,300 have been hospitalized, about one-third of whom have been in the intensive care unit, and almost 100 kids have died.

Cohn said if adverse events like myocarditis increase among kids, the safety systems in place will flag and address the problem.

Dr. Jeannette Lee, a biostatistician at the University of Arkansas, also agreed.

"Obviously, the adverse events are always a concern, but they don't seem to be overwhelming really, at this point," Lee said. "I will say that the school closures and the disruption, I think has been enormous."

But some, though they voted in favor, also felt there should be caveats to the authorization.

"I'm just worried that if we say yes, that the states are going to mandate administration of this vaccine to children in order to go to school, and I do not agree with that. I think that would be an error at this time, until we get more information about the safety," Dr. Cody Meissner, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts Children's Hospital, told his colleagues on the panel.

For his part, FDA's vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said the experts should trust that any adverse effects would be closely monitored and acted on if necessary.

The safety teams at the FDA and CDC "are incredibly committed and devoted to making sure that we understand the nature of the safety events and that we catch these signals as soon as we possibly can," Marks said. "That's what we're here to do."

The White House has purchased enough pediatric doses to vaccinate all 28 million children ages 5 to 11. If authorized, it will be distributed to thousands of sites, including pediatricians, family doctors, hospitals, health clinics and pharmacies enrolled in a federal program that guarantees the shots are provided for free.

Some states are planning to provide the vaccine through schools as well.

The 5-11 age group would be the youngest and latest to receive eligibility. The Pfizer vaccine has already been authorized for adolescents 12 and up, and everyone 18 and older is eligible for all three vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna and J&J.

Whether parents will embrace the vaccines for their kids is still a question. In a September poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about a third of parents with kids ages 5-11 were willing to vaccinate their kids right away, while another third wanted to "wait and see." The figures represented a slight uptick in vaccine acceptance among parents of elementary-school-aged kids since July.

Trials for children 2 years and up, the next age group that could become eligible, are ongoing. Data from the clinical trials is expected sometime this winter.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Benton Harbor's water crisis highlights failing infrastructure's impact on the poor

caristo/iStock

(BENTON HARBOR, Mich.) -- The small town of Benton Harbor is the latest example of decaying infrastructure and historic divestment leading to a water crisis in the state of Michigan.

Car lines have been wrapped around blocks for weeks at local distribution locations where many low-income residents are collecting cases of bottled water after state and city officials advised them not to use the tap water due to high levels of lead contamination.

"You still have to pay for water you can't drink, you can't brush your teeth with, you can't cook with, or bathe with it," said Rev. Edward Pinkney, president of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council. "No city in this country should have to go through what Benton Harbor went through for the past three years."

Benton Harbor's water system has exceeded EPA standards for lead contamination since 2018, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. In six tests over that period, each six months apart, at least 10% of the water samples taken from homes and businesses in the city have shown lead contamination above 15 parts per billion.

Pinkney, along with a coalition of environmental and community organizations, filed an emergency petition in early September asking for an intervention by the Environmental Protection Agency, citing Benton Harbor's water contamination as a "persistent, widespread, and severe public health crisis rising to the level of substantial endangerment."

Following the petition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to provide bottled water, filters and premixed baby formula to residents. She also pledged to replace the city's lead pipes over the next 18 months, a project that will cost approximately $30 million.

"All resources are going to help Benton Harbor eliminate this problem," said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. "We still have many homes to test. There are over approximately 6,000 lead service lines, old infrastructure in the ground, along with homeowners who have lead pipes in the home. So this is where we have to test, investigate and as we do that we'll remove lead service lines."

Benton Harbor's water crisis is the latest example of failing infrastructure further disenfranchising its residents. With a poverty level of 45%, according to 2019 U.S. Census data, the city has battled high unemployment and economic decline for decades due to low investment from private and government sectors, according to Muhammad.

"The disparity, the hopelessness and abandonment in this city has gone on for years," Muhammad said, explaining that more state and federal financial resources are needed not only to replace the pipes but also revitalize the economy.

Benton Harbor, which is 90.5% nonwhite, and where median household income is only $21,916, according to 2019 Census data, is not unlike other poorer, majority nonwhite cities when it comes to lead water contamination.

An ABC News analysis of EPA data shows that 1 in 6 majority nonwhite ZIP codes has at least one water district with excessive lead contamination, compared to 1 in 8 majority white ZIP codes. And 1 in 4 of America's poorest ZIP codes -- where median household income is less than $35,000 -- has at least one water district with excessive lead contamination, compared to 1 in 11 of America's wealthiest ZIP codes, where median household income is more than $75,000.

Benton Harbor is one of only 76 water districts across the U.S. that has had three or more tests exceeding the EPA lead standard since 2018, according to the analysis.

"It's an old city with old infrastructure," Gillian Conrad, communications manager for the Berrien County Department of Health, told ABC News. "It's pretty well documented that communities that have high levels of poverty and lower-income communities that are predominantly Black and brown, and communities that have suffered from disinvestment over the years -- in infrastructure, in community engagement, all of those things -- are directly correlated to environmental issues that can pop up like lead in drinking water."

Conrad is stepping down Oct. 29, unrelated to the water crisis, instead citing the COVID-19 pandemic's toll on her "mental, emotional and physical health."

Advocates say the city's crisis highlights infrastructure woes across the country.

"Unfortunately, we've really been living off of the investments of our grandparents who built the water treatment plants and who put the pipes in. Many of them, unfortunately ... they're starting to fall apart. They are failing," said Eric Olsen, senior strategic director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Congressional lawmakers in Washington are negotiating a historic deal on infrastructure that would allocate a $55 billion investment in clean drinking water, including dedicated funding to replace all lead pipes and service lines in the nation. It's a federal intervention that Olsen said states and local governments sorely need.

"Our water systems really are sort of underground ticking time bombs because not only do we have lead pipes all over the country in all 50 states, but we have these aging water mains that burst 250,000 times a year across the country," Olsen said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mother's boyfriend charged with murder after 8-year-old boy's remains found with abandoned siblings

carlballou/iStock

(HOUSTON) -- The boyfriend of the mother of an 8-year-old boy has been charged with murder after the child's remains were discovered in a Houston home along with his three abandoned siblings, authorities said.

One of the children, a 15-year-old, called the authorities and said his brother had been dead for one year and his body was in the room next to his, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Monday.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said the boy's manner of death was a homicide, according to Houston ABC station KTRK.

His mother, Gloria Williams, 35, now faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence (human corpse), Gonzalez announced Tuesday night.

Her boyfriend, Brian Coulter, 31, has been charged in the murder of her son, who was 8 years old at the time of his death in 2020, the sheriff said.

Both Williams and Coulter are in custody and additional charges are expected, he said.

The 15-year-old and the other two children -- boys under the age of 10 -- were found home alone on Sunday, the sheriff said.

Both younger kids "appeared malnourished and showed signs of physical injury," he tweeted.

Deputies also "found skeletal remains of a small child," the sheriff said.

All three children were taken to the hospital, he said. Their conditions were not released.

Authorities believe the parents hadn't lived in the home for several months, Gonzalez said.

Prior to their arrest, the children's mother and her boyfriend were found late Sunday night and had been interviewed and released, Gonzalez said Monday.

The investigation is ongoing, the sheriff said.

At a news conference Sunday, Gonzalez called it a "horrific situation."

"I have been in this business for a long time and I had never heard of a scenario like this," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 live updates: Unvaccinated Americans continue to drive infection, death rates

Chaz Bharj/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 4.9 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 737,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Just 67.2% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Latest headlines:
-Biden administration to ship vaccines for children as soon as FDA approves them
-FDA panel hours away from vote on Pfizer vaccine for kids
-US sees 7th straight week of drop in daily pediatric cases

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern.

Oct 26, 8:53 pm
Immunocompromised may need 4th dose: CDC

Immunocompromised people may need a fourth dose of the vaccine, according to newly issued guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those patients may end up needing an additional shot six months after their third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, the CDC said. The fourth dose can be of any of the three available vaccines, according to the agency.

This is in line with what the CDC has said before regarding immunocompromised adults. A third shot is considered necessary to establish vaccination for those patients and a boost would need to come six months later, according to the agency.

-ABC News' Anne Flaherty

Oct 26, 2:37 pm
Biden administration to ship vaccines for children as soon as FDA approves them

The Biden administration will begin shipping vaccine doses for kids ages 5 to 11 as soon as the Food and Drug Administration gives the green light in coming days, White House officials told governors on a private phone call Tuesday.

Doing so will allow children to begin receiving shots as soon as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signs off, which is expected around Nov. 4.

Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator on the federal response to COVID-19, said one big concern is the shorter shelf life for pediatric doses. In trying to make the vaccine easier for pediatricians to handle, the doses for kids 5 to 11 can be kept for only 10 weeks, compared with six to nine months for adult doses.

"We don’t want to have wastage, so we encourage you to build flexibility into your distribution systems you can move around within your state or territory," he told the governors. Audio of the call was obtained by ABC News. "Just order what you need. We have plenty of supply. We can always get you doses on short notice."

ABC News' Anne Flaherty

Oct 26, 12:00 pm
Kids 5 to 11 account for 8,300 hospitalizations

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opened Tuesday's FDA panel meeting by explaining how children 5 to 11 years old are impacted by the pandemic. They have accounted for over 1.9 million infections and over 8,300 hospitalizations, about a third of which have required ICU stays, officials said.

Nearly 100 children in that age group have died from COVID-19, making the virus one of the top 10 causes of death in this age range at this time, officials said.

The independent FDA advisory panel on Tuesday is debating whether to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The panel's nonbinding vote is expected Tuesday evening.

After the panel votes on whether or not to recommend Pfizer, the FDA will make a decision. Then, the matter heads to the CDC's independent advisory panel to deliberate and vote, which is scheduled for Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. Once the CDC panel votes, the CDC director is expected to make the final signoff.

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

Oct 26, 10:18 am
Unvaccinated Americans continue to drive infection, death rates: Federal data

The five states with the highest death rates over the last week -- Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, West Virginia and Idaho -- are also among the states with the lowest full vaccination rates, according to federal data.

People who have not been fully vaccinated are 6.1 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 11.3 times more likely to die from the virus, according to federal data.

Approximately 63.2 million eligible Americans have yet to get the shot, according to federal data.

But hospitalization rates are continuing to steadily trend down, with just over 51,000 Americans now hospitalized with the virus, compared to 104,000 people hospitalized in late August, according to federal data.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 26, 9:11 am
FDA panel hours away from vote on Pfizer vaccine for kids

An independent FDA advisory panel on Tuesday will debate and vote on whether to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The nonbinding vote is expected between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET.

Pfizer data submitted to the FDA has shown that this vaccine, which would be administered to children at one-third of the adult dosage, is nearly 91% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. There were no reported adverse side effects in the clinical trial group.

After the panel votes on whether or not to recommend this vaccine for children 5 to 11, the FDA will make a decision.

Then, the matter heads to the CDC's independent advisory panel to deliberate and vote, which is scheduled for Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. Once the CDC panel votes, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is expected to make the final sign-off.

The earliest shots could be in arms is the first week of November.

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Black men in 'Groveland Four' case may get rape convictions, indictments dismissed

Marilyn Nieves/iStock

(GROVELAND, Fla.) -- More than 70 years after four Black men were accused of raping a white woman in 1949, Florida State Attorney Bill Gladson has filed a motion to posthumously clear the "Groveland Four" of their criminal records.

"Even a casual review of the record reveals that these four men were deprived of the fundamental due process rights that are afforded to all Americans," Gladson wrote in his motion filed Monday. "The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, a judge, and prosecutor all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case."

Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, all young Black men, were accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in the central Florida town of Groveland. Following the accusation, an angry mob shot and killed Thomas before he could be arrested. Records show that the indictment against him was never dismissed by the court, according to Gladson's motion.

Greenlee, Shepherd and Irvin were all put to trial and convicted.

Greenlee, who was 16 years old at the time, received a recommendation of mercy from the jury and received a life sentence. He did not appeal the verdict.

Irvin and Shepherd were sentenced to death and successfully made an appeal. In 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated their convictions and ordered a new trial for each. Following the new indictment, Florida Sheriff Willis McCall shot and killed Shepherd and attacked and injured Irvin. Shepherd's indictment, like Thomas', was never dismissed. Irvin was retried, convicted and again sentenced to death, but later had his sentence commuted to life in prison.

Gladson filed the motion to dismiss the indictments of Thomas and Shepherd, and set aside and vacate the judgments and sentences of Greenlee and Irvin.

Several pieces of troubling information highlighted the problematic nature of their charges and convictions. Gladson argues that the state never had Irvin's pants tested for the presence of semen, even though they could have, and instead left the jury with the impression that Irvin's pants contained evidence of the rape.

The qualification of the prosecution's star witnesses, who made shoe and tire casts from the scene, has also been called into question. One of the defense's expert witnesses stated in the second trial that one of the casts was manufactured to falsely link Irvin to the scene.

Gladson also noted an email from the grandson of the state attorney who prosecuted the Groveland Four case that says state attorney Jesse Hunter and trial judge Truman Futch knew at the time of the second trial that there was no rape.

Now, if the court grants the Gladson's motion, the legal presumption of innocence for these four men would be restored.

"While we are thankful the Florida Legislature apologized and the Board of Executive Clemency granted pardons, full justice depends on action from the judicial branch," Carol Greenlee said in a statement. "I hope this motion will result in that full justice for my father Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis granted posthumous pardons to the men in 2019.

This isn't the first time Black men may have been falsely or unfairly convicted for similar incidents.

In 1972, Federal District Judge Charles R. Scott vacated the convictions of Robert Shuler and Jerry Chatman, two Black men who were convicted of raping a white woman in Florida. The retrial was ordered when the woman hinted the assault may never have been committed.

In the 1980s, the Exonerated Five, previously known as the Central Park Five, were a group of Black and Hispanic teenagers who were convicted and later exonerated in connection with the rape and brutal assault on a white female jogger in New York.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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