National News

COVID-19 live updates: Three states account for about one-third of last week's deaths

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(NEW YORK) -- The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 677,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.7 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily deaths in the U.S. has risen about 20% in the last week, according to data from the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. is continuing to sink on the list of global vaccination rates, currently ranking No. 45, according to data compiled by the Financial Times. Just 64% 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:

Sep 22, 7:48 pm
FDA authorizes Pfizer booster dose for those who are 65 and up, high-risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third booster dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for people who are 65 and older or at high risk of severe COVID-19, the agency announced Wednesday.

The dose is authorized to be administered at least six months after the second shot. High-risk recipients must be at least 18 years old.

The announcement comes days after a similar recommendation from FDA advisers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advisory board is scheduled to vote on booster recommendations Thursday.

Sep 22, 6:04 pm
Florida letting parents choose whether to quarantine asymptomatic, close-contact children

The Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule Wednesday that lets parents choose whether to quarantine their children if they are deemed a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

In such cases, parents can let their children "attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property, without restrictions or disparate treatment, so long as the student remains asymptomatic," the emergency rule stated.

The move is the state's latest to empower parents when it comes to coronavirus measures in schools. In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order giving parents the choice of whether to send their kids to school with masks, setting off an intense back-and-forth between the state and districts that mandated masks in the weeks since.

DeSantis touted the new "symptoms-based approach" during a press briefing Wednesday.

"Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging to their educational advancement," he said. "It's also incredibly disruptive for families all throughout the state of Florida."

At least one superintendent in Florida has spoken out against the new quarantine rule.

"I find it ironic that the new state rule begins with the phrase 'Because of an increase in COVID-19 infections, largely due to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant,'" Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday.

"In fact, this rule is likely to promote the spread of COVID-19 by preventing schools from implementing the common-sense masking and quarantine policies recommended by the vast majority of health care professionals, including those here in Alachua County," she added.

-ABC News' Will McDuffie

Sep 22, 4:07 pm

Booster shots appear safe from preliminary data

At the ongoing CDC advisory committee meeting, Dr. Anne Hause presented preliminary data showing a low rate of serious adverse events among the over 2 million people who have already received booster doses.

Nearly all adverse events reported were not serious (95%) for both Pfizer and Moderna third doses, according to data collected from the national reporting system, which is not a formal, controlled study.

Dr. Sara Oliver of the CDC called booster effectiveness and safety data “reassuring," adding, "but many unknowns remain.

Committee member Dr. Sarah Long urged her colleagues to stay focused on how well vaccines specifically prevent hospitalizations and severe illness.

“I would just encourage us not to lump infection and hospitalization,” Long said. “I don’t think there’s any hope that vaccines such as the ones we have will prevent infection, after the first maybe couple weeks that you have those extraordinary immediate responses."

Sep 22, 3:40 pm

Nevada county declares health misinformation a public health crisis

Nevada's Clark County, home to Las Vegas, is declaring health misinformation a public health crisis following a 5-2 vote from the Clark County Commission.

This follows the same move in the California counties of San Diego, Sacramento and Monterey in an effort to tackle misinformation.

When the proposal was introduced in Clark County, 83.7% of cases and 96.7% of hospitalizations were among people who were not fully vaccinated.

Sep 22, 3:16 pm

71M eligible Americans still haven't gotten a shot, White House estimates

About 71 million Americans who are eligible for the vaccine have still not gotten a shot, said White House COVID-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar.

About one month ago, the White House said about 82 million eligible Americans didn't have the shot.


Brian Laundrie search presses on as death of Gabby Petito ruled homicide: Live updates

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(SALT LAKE CITY) -- A massive search is continuing in southern Florida for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who went missing on a cross-country trip and who authorities confirmed Tuesday as the body discovered on Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

The search for the 23-year-old Laundrie is centered around North Port, Florida, where investigators said Laundrie returned to his home on September 1 without Petito but driving her 2012 Ford Transit.

Laundrie has been named by police as a "person of interest" in Petito's disappearance. Laundrie has refused to speak to the police and has not been seen since Tuesday, Sept. 14, according to law enforcement officials.

The search for Laundrie is the latest twist in the case that has grabbed national attention as he and Petito had been traveling across the country since June, documenting the trip on social media.

Petito's parents, who live in Long Island, New York, reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not hearing from her for two weeks.

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

Sep 22, 4:35 pm

Man captured on wildlife camera in the panhandle not Brian Laundrie

The Okaloosa County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday afternoon that a man whose image was captured on a wildlife camera in the Florida Panhandle this week is not Brian Laundrie.

The sheriff's office said deputies tracked down the individual, who is a local resident.

The owner of the wildlife camera told ABC News that the image was taken on a wooded trail in Baxter on Sept. 20 and that he alerted the sheriff's office because the man, who was walking with a backpack, resembled Laundrie. Baxter is about 500 miles northwest of where authorities have focused their search for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve near North Port.

Several Okaloosa County sheriff's deputies who viewed the image recognized the individual from his neck tattoo, enabling authorities to locate and speak to him, the sheriff's office said.

The report of the trail camera image set off an extensive search of the area in Baxter on Tuesday, the sheriff's office said.

Sep 22, 12:44 pm

Underwater recovery team dispatched to Carlton Reserve

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office confirmed on Twitter Wednesday that its Underwater Recovery Force team has been dispatched to the Carlton Reserve near North Port, where the search for Laundrie is focused.

The sheriff's office, one of multiple law enforcement agencies involved in the search, did not elaborate on why the team was needed at the search site.

"We continue to respond to requests for mutual aid from neighboring law enforcement agencies & federal partners. To confirm, yes, members of our Sheriff’s Underwater Recovery Force have responded to Carlton Reserve," reads the agency's tweet.

Sep 22, 12:42 pm

2nd witness corroborates domestic dispute between couple

The Moab, Utah, police department has released a report from a second witness claiming he saw Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie engaged in a domestic dispute in Moab on Aug. 12.

The witness told police he observed a man and a woman, later identified Petito and Laundrie, arguing over a cellphone about 4:30 in the afternoon outside a grocery store in Moab, according to a statement from police.

"They were talking aggressively @ each other & something seemed off. At one point they were sort of fighting over a phone -- I think the male took the female's phone. It appeared that he didn't want her in the white van. He got into the driver's seat & she followed him. At one point she was punching him in the arm and/or face & trying to get into the van," the witness wrote in the police report.

The witness, according to the statement, said the woman eventually climbed over the driver to get into the passenger seat and that she was overheard saying, "Why do you have to be so mean"?

"I wasn't sure how serious this was -- it was hard to tell if it was sort of play fighting, but from my point of view something definitely didn't seem right. It was as if this guy was trying to leave her, and maybe take her phone? Not sure but wanted to help out," the witness wrote.

Around the same time, a 911 caller told a Grand County, Utah, Sheriff's Office dispatcher that he witnessed Laundrie allegedly "slapping" Petito and chasing her up and down a sidewalk hitting her, according to a recording released by the sheriff's office.

Sep 22, 10:54 am

Search for Brian Laundrie presses on as Petito family plans funeral

As a massive search continued Wednesday for Brian Laundrie in south Florida's Carlton Reserve, the family of Gabby Petito was making arrangements to bring her remains home to her native New York for a funeral.

A large team of law enforcement officers and police K-9 units resumed their search of the roughly 25,000-acre preserve near North Port, Florida, where Laundrie's relatives told police he claimed he was headed to when they last spoke to him on September 14.

Photos posted on Twitter Wednesday morning by the North Port Police Department showed officers from multiple agencies plotting areas to search, along with other images of high-water vehicles and search dogs.

Sep 21, 11:44 pm

Search ends for another day with 'nothing of note' found

The North Port Police Department said it had ended its search of the Carlton Reserve as darkness closed in with nothing found.

"Search of the Carlton & nearby lands concluded for the evening. Nothing of note," the police department shared in a tweet. "The current plan is to return Wednesday with a similar operation."

Police shared a photo of the search operation's base in the reserve as well as one of the bloodhounds being used to look for the missing person of interest in conjunction with the death of his girlfriend.

Gabby Petito's body was officially identified on Tuesday evening after it was found near Grand Teton National Park on Sunday. The Teton County coroner said Petito died via homicide, but did not yet announce a cause of death.

Sarasota police also later debunked a rumor that Laundrie had been taken into custody. It said on Twitter that they had received several tips about him being seen, but none of them panned out.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


16-year-old boy killed, 2 kids hurt in shooting at school bus stop in Louisville: Police

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(LOUISVILLE) -- A 16-year-old boy was killed and two other children were hurt in a shooting at a school bus stop in Louisville, Kentucky, Wednesday morning, according to local police.

The three children were waiting for a bus when they were shot in a drive-by at about 6:30 a.m. local time, police said.

One of the injured kids, a 14-year-old boy, is in the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. The other survivor, a 14-year-old girl, was treated for minor injuries at the scene, police said.

 

Police are looking for the occupants of a grey Jeep they say was in the area at the time of the shooting.

 

The three victims have not been identified but Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said they are students at Eastern High School.

The school bus arrived shortly after the "traumatic" slaying, Pollio said, and a bus stop for middle schoolers was close by.

This marked Louisville's 145th homicide of the year, officials said.

Louisville Metropolitan Police Chief Erika Shields called it a "heinous crime."

Shields said the city is tackling gun violence and "getting violent felons off the street daily." However, she added, "the availability of illegal guns is just so widespread."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Gabby Petito case example of 'missing white woman syndrome,' experts say

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(NEW YORK) — In the two weeks since Gabby Petito went missing while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, her story has gained national attention.

Petito's case has made news headlines and gone viral online, with people everywhere trying to find clues and solve the case themselves. Adding to the intrigue in Petito's case is the large social media footprint she left behind as she documented her travels cross-country with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie.

Officials confirmed Tuesday that a body found over the weekend near Grand Teton National Park belongs to 22-year-old Petito, but the national fascination with the case continues, as authorities search for Laundrie, currently a person of interest in the case.

It is a fascination that families of other missing people, particularly women of color, say they wish was turned to their own loved ones' cases.

"Everybody who is missing loved ones is saying, 'Why wasn't my case done that like?'" said Paula Cosey Hill. "It's very hard because it takes you back to when your child went missing."

Cosey Hill's then-16-year-old daughter, Shemika Cosey, disappeared without a trace near her home in St. Louis, Missouri, just a few days after Christmas in 2008.

She described watching the search for Petito unfold as an "emotional rollercoaster," since she has both grieved for the Petito family and reflected on what did not happen in the aftermath of her daughter's disappearance.

"All the questions that weren't answered with my daughter, I'm checking to see if they're doing in that case," said Cosey Hill. "When you report your loved one missing, you hear, 'We'll try to get someone on this,' and they act as if they don't have enough manpower to do it."

"But as you can see, they can get enough manpower to do it," she said. "They just choose which cases they want to do."

Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., an online search agency that helps search specifically for missing Black and Hispanic children, said minority children who go missing are often classified as runaways, which can lead to less media attention and less help from law enforcement.

Minority adults who go missing are often stereotyped as being involved in crime or violence, poverty and addiction, which takes attention away from their cases too, Wilson said.

"There's frustration. There's sadness," she said of the people she works with who are searching for their missing loved ones. "We are meeting families at the worst points in their lives. They are frustrated because they're not getting help from law enforcement or they're frustrated because they're not getting media coverage."

At the end of 2020, the FBI had over 89,000 active missing person cases, and 45% of those were people of color, according to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Only about one-fifth of missing person cases involving minorities are covered by the news, according to a 2016 analysis published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.

"I think oftentimes the media and even law enforcement can show that [minority] lives are not as important," Wilson said. "We have to remember that these are mothers and daughters and fathers and children that are missing and they are definitely needed and valued in our communities."

The historic tendency for national attention to gloss over cases of missing people of color was dubbed "missing white woman syndrome" by Gwen Ifill, the late PBS anchor.

Many years later, the term coined by Ifill still applies in the U.S., according to Wilson, who noted the effort to publicize missing persons of color is not meant to divert resources, but to simply "equal the playing field."

"We've been sounding the alarm for close to 14 years that this is an issue and we need to have that conversation, all of us, as to how we can change the narrative," she said. "We're not surprised by the publicity or the reaction [to Petito's disappearance] and we are also hoping and working to keep our missing in the forefront as well."

Maricris Drouaillet, of Riverside, California, said she too was not surprised by the reaction to Petito's disappearance, but said it has brought up emotions of "hurt and heartbreak."

Drouaillet and her family have spent nearly nine months searching for her sister, Maya Millete, a mother of three who disappeared from her home in Chula Vista, California, in January. Millete's husband was named a person of interest in her disappearance in July.

"Even before Gabby's case was out there, I felt that maybe if we were white or with money or had names, we probably would have gotten a different approach, more help and support," said Drouaillet, whose family moved to the U.S. from the Philippines when Millete was 12. "That's how I feel. That hurts a lot."

Drouaillet said she and her family have led searches on their own since January, and have created a website and social media accounts to organize resources and call attention to their sister's missing person case.

"Every missing person deserves to be in a headline," she said. "We have to put awareness out there and seek help from the public, because a lot of times the public are the ones who help solve the case."

In Wyoming, where Petito went missing and where her body was found, a state task force released a report in January on missing and murdered Indigenous people.

While 21% of Indigenous people, who are mostly girls, remained missing for 30 days or longer, only 11% of white people remained missing that long, according to the report.

The report also found that 30% of Indigenous missing and murdered people made the news, compared to 51% of white people. When coverage was done on Indigenous victims, it was more likely to "contain violent language, portray the victim in a negative light, and provide less information," according to the report.

Cara Boyle Chambers, director of the division of victim services in Wyoming's Attorney General office, said the Petito case has echoed the report's findings.

"It highlighted exactly what we had pointed out, the disproportionate, very positive response to Gabby's story versus a lot of other families who don't have that attention and don't have that closure that came, in the scheme of things, relatively quickly," Boyle Chambers said. "We have families that are 20, 30 years of no answers and no remains to bury and no sense of closure."

Boyle Chambers -- who pointed out that two men went missing in June in the same area where Petito was last seen -- said officials in Wyoming have worked since the report's release to improve the collection of missing persons and criminal justice data.

The Petito case has also confirmed the importance of galvanizing media attention, including social media, according to Boyle Chambers.

"I think that is the biggest takeaway too from Gabby's case, just how important the role of social media and people out there were in helping to locate her," she said. "The more eyes you have on it, the better, which is why we're having this whole conversation."

Wilson, of the Black and Missing Foundation, said individual people can make a difference by sharing alerts about missing people and talking about missing person cases, involving minorities, in particular.

"We all have a responsibility, and that is law enforcement, the media and the community," she said. "If you just have one tip, it can solve a case."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID deaths surge in Alabama, after state reports more deaths than births in 2020

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(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) -- After weeks of rising coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, there are signs that Alabama's latest coronavirus surge may be starting to abate. However, the reprieve comes at a high cost -- with the state now experiencing a near record-breaking surge in virus-related deaths.

"We are seeing a decrease in the number of patients that are in the hospital, but unfortunately, it's not because all of them are getting better and going home to their families... These patients are dying," Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, told ABC News.

Statewide, there are now more than 2,100 patients hospitalized with coronavirus, and intensive care unit capacity also remains tight, with 97% of ICU beds currently in use, according to federal data.

Although numbers are now coming down, said Kennedy, this surge is different from the last one, because "patients are so sick," and are thus requiring longer stays.

"A lot of our patients that are in the acute-care settings are getting worse and requiring the ICU. I think overall, the need for ICU beds remains high across the state," Kennedy added.

Because more than 74% of the Alabama's elderly population chose to be vaccinated, they have fared better throughout this latest surge, Kennedy said. However, this latest wave has also been a particularly disconcerting experience, she added, because the patient population is much younger, and primarily consisting of unvaccinated people.

"These patients are as sick if not sicker than elderly patients, they're staying in the hospital longer and they're dying at an alarming rate," Kennedy said. "It's unlike anything that I've seen."

The new surge comes as recent data revealed that for the first time in Alabama's history, there were more deaths than births in 2020.

"Here in Alabama, we continue to see deaths at a really high rate. ... 2020 is going to be the first year that we know of in the history of our state where we actually had more deaths than births -- our state literally shrunk in 2020," Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris reported during a press conference on Friday.

In 2020, data showed that 64,714 Alabama residents died and only 57,641 were born. Even in World War II or the 1918 flu pandemic, there was never a time that deaths exceeded births, Harris added.

"It's certainly possible that could happen this year as well if we continue at the same rate that we're seeing now," Harris noted.

Even as the situation shows signs of improvement, the country is entering flu season, and public health measures have been considerably relaxed in Alabama.

"At this point, we're just kind of bracing ourselves, as we see the resumption of college football and people out in large numbers, and wondering how that is going to fare, as far as inpatient volumes both for COVID and for flu," Kennedy said.

Additionally, Alabama has one of the country's lowest vaccination rates, with just 41.6% of the state's total population fully vaccinated, putting much of the state's population still at-risk for severe infection.

"Unless we see a dramatic uptick in the number of people that get vaccinated, our concern is that we will do this again in just a few months. And every time we do it, it seems to get worse," Kennedy said.

The ongoing crisis has left front-line workers frustrated, Kennedy said, admitting that she still does not see an end in sight.

"Watching people out in the community behave as though COVID is not an issue or that it's over, is really -- it's a really sharp contrast to what we're seeing in the hospital and sometimes that's very difficult to process," Kennedy said. "We don't have to be in these situations. We are choosing illness and death in a way that is just very unnatural."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Brian Laundrie search ends for day after finding 'nothing of note': Live updates

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(NORTH PORT, Fla.) -- A massive search is continuing in southern Florida for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who went missing on a cross-country trip and who authorities confirmed Tuesday as the body discovered on Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

The search for the 23-year-old Laundrie is centered around North Port, Florida, where investigators said Laundrie returned to his home on Sept. 1 without Petito but driving her 2012 Ford Transit.

Laundrie has been named by police as a "person of interest" in Petito's disappearance. Laundrie has refused to speak to the police and has not been seen since Tuesday, Sept. 14, according to law enforcement officials.

The search for Laundrie is the latest twist in the case that has grabbed national attention as he and Petito had been traveling across the country since June, documenting the trip on social media.

Petito's parents, who live in Long Island, New York, reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not hearing from her for two weeks.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Sep 21, 11:44 pm
Search ends for another day with 'nothing of note' found

The North Port Police Department said it had ended its search of the Carlton Reserve as darkness closed in with nothing found.

"Search of the Carlton & nearby lands concluded for the evening. Nothing of note," the police department shared in a tweet. "The current plan is to return Wednesday with a similar operation."

Police shared a photo of the search operation's base in the reserve as well as one of the bloodhounds being used to look for the missing person of interest in conjunction with the death of his girlfriend.

Gabby Petito's body was officially identified on Tuesday evening after it was found near Grand Teton National Park on Sunday. The Teton County coroner said Petito died via homicide, but did not yet announce a cause of death.

Sarasota police also later debunked a rumor that Laundrie had been taken into custody. It said on Twitter that they had received several tips about him being seen, but none of them panned out.

Sep 21, 4:54 pm
Authorities investigating report of man seen in Panhandle matching Laundrie's description

The Okaloosa County, Florida, Sheriff's Office said on Tuesday that it is investigating a report that a man matching the description of Brian Laundrie was captured on a trail camera walking on a property in the Florida Panhandle area.

The individual was purportedly spotted Sept. 20 on an automatic wildlife camera in Baker, which is more than 500 northwest of where authorities have focused their search Laundrie.

"The OCSO did its due diligence in response to this report and is wrapping up an extensive search that took place in this area to include nearby farmlands. No one -- and nothing -- of note was located. The individual referenced in the post below has no known ties to our area," Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, featuring a blurry image from the trail camera of a man walking with a backpack.

The image was initially posted on Facebook by local resident Sam Bass, who wrote, "I’m not saying this is the guy but whoever was on my trail camera this morning in Baker, Fl strongly fits the description of Brian Laundrie." Bass wrote that authorities have been contacted, and advised northwest Florida residents to be on the lookout.

Sep 21, 2:31 pm
Police release video of search for Laundrie in swamp preserve

Police released a YouTube video Tuesday afternoon showing the extensive search going on in the sprawling Carlton Reserve near North Port.

The video showed officers from multiple law enforcement agencies using search dogs, drones and all-terrain vehicles to comb the 25,000-acre preserve.

"The terrain is very difficult. Essentially, 75% of it is under water and other areas that are dry we're trying to clear," a North Port police officer said in the video. "We're expecting to get wet by the end of the day and check the entire area for Brian Laundrie."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Body found near Grand Teton confirmed to be Gabby Petito, death ruled a homicide

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(NEW YORK ) -- Officials have confirmed the body found over the weekend near Grand Teton National Park belongs to Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who went missing while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, the Teton County coroner said in a statement.

The initial determination is that she died by homicide, but the cause of death is pending final autopsy results, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said.

Authorities had said a body "consistent with the description of" Petito was discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sunday. At the time, a full forensic identification hadn't been completed and a cause of death was undetermined.

Petito's parents reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not speaking with her for two weeks. Her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, was named a person of interest by police last week.

Petito, originally from New York, had left from Florida with Laundrie in a van in July for their trip, which they documented on social media.

On Aug. 12, police in Moab, Utah, responded to an "incident" involving the couple, but "insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges," Moab Police Department Chief Bret Edge said in a statement last week.

Petito was last seen leaving a hotel in Utah with Laundrie on Aug. 24. The next day, she spoke to her mother, Nichole Schmidt, informing her that their next stops would be Grand Teton and Yellowstone, Schmidt told ABC News, and that was the last time Schmidt talked to her.

On Friday, it was announced that Laundrie's whereabouts were unknown. His family told police they had last seen him last Tuesday. They said he had a backpack and told them he was going to the Carlton Reserve north of Laundrie's home in North Port, Florida, where he had gone for hikes before.

A search for Laundrie in Florida was paused Monday, with police saying they "currently believe we have exhausted all avenues in searching of the grounds there." He has yet to be found.

FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said in a statement that Laundrie has been named a person of interest.

"The FBI and our partners remain dedicated to ensuring anyone responsible for or complicit in Ms. Petito's death is held accountable for their actions," he said in a statement.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Boston Marathon bombing survivor reunites with nurse through birth of daughter

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(NEW YORK) -- After Jacqui Webb was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, she spent three weeks being treated for her injuries at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

One of the nurses who treated Webb there was Nichole Casper, a registered nurse who at the time was working in the hospital's trauma unit.

"It was a very anxiety-inducing situation, obviously," Casper told "Good Morning America" of the days and weeks following the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured more than 200. "Then you meet all these people [being treated at the hospital], and even though they were so traumatized, they were so amazing."

"Jacqui was always very gracious and very appreciative of all the care," Casper said of Webb, with whom she lost touch once Webb was discharged from Tufts.

Both Webb, now 33, and her fiance, Paul Norden, were injured near the finish line of the marathon, which they'd attended as spectators to cheer on a friend running the race.

Norden lost his right leg in the bombing and, like Webb, suffered second- and third-degree burns and shrapnel injuries.

The couple, of Stoneham, Massachusetts, had long-term plans to have children together, but put those dreams on hold after the bombing, according to Webb.

"For the first year, pretty much all we did was recover," she said. "And over the years we’ve both had additional surgeries for different marathon-related injuries, so that delayed it more."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


FBI more than doubles domestic terrorism investigations: Christopher Wray

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(WASHINGTON) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray told a U.S. Senate panel Tuesday morning that the bureau has been forced to surge resources toward its domestic terrorism investigations in the past 18 months -- increasing personnel by 260% to help handle a caseload that has more than doubled from roughly 1,000 ongoing investigations to 2,700.

"Terrorism moves at the speed of social media," Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "You have the ability of lone actors, disgruntled in one part of the country to spin up similar like-minded individuals in other parts of the country and urge them into action."

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who appeared alongside Wray, agreed with him that social media is a "terrain that can so easily propagate misinformation, false information and allow communications to occur among loosely affiliated individuals."

Wray offered more detail during questioning with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

"The first bucket, the homegrown violent extremists, has been humming along fairly consistently at about 1,000 investigations -- sometimes a little more sometimes a little less -- over the last few years," Wray explained. "The domestic violent extremists bucket, had been going up quite significantly over the last few years, which is why we're now at 2,700 domestic terrorism investigations when if you went back two and a half years ago we're probably more about 1,000 So it's been a really significant jump there."

Wray added that officials are "concerned that with developments in Afghanistan, among other things... I think we anticipate, unfortunately, growth in both categories as we look ahead, over the next couple years."

Those numbers appear to be impacted significantly by the FBI's hundreds of ongoing investigations into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"Overall, the FBI assesses that the January 6th siege of the Capitol Complex demonstrates a willingness by some to use violence against the government in furtherance of their political and social goals," Wray said in written testimony provided to the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "This ideologically motivated violence — domestic terrorism — underscores the symbolic nature of the National Capital Region and the willingness of some Domestic Violent Extremists to travel to events in this area and violently engage law enforcement and their perceived adversaries."

Wray said that even with the surge of resources to tackle domestic terrorism cases, the FBI has not been forced to divert attention away from investigations into threats posed by foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and ISIS, and added the bureau is "certainly watching the evolving situation in Afghanistan."

In the past several years, Wray said the FBI has thwarted potential terrorist attacks in at least seven cities, including Las Vegas, Tampa, New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, Miami and Pittsburgh.

Wray also flagged what he described as "a sharp and deeply disturbing uptick in violence against the law enforcement community." He said thatin just the past eight months, 52 law enforcement officers have been killed feloniously in the line of duty, already lapsing the total number killed in all of 2020.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Teen pleads guilty in murder of Barnard student Tessa Majors

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(NEW YORK) -- A 16-year-old boy charged in connection with the 2019 stabbing death of Barnard College student Tessa Majors pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Luchiano Lewis, who was charged as an adult, was 14 when he and two other teenagers were accused in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Majors during a mugging gone wrong on Dec. 11, 2019, in Manhattan's Morningside Park, near Barnard College.

Majors, a freshman at the school, was stabbed several times before she staggered up a flight of stairs and uttered, "Help me, I'm being robbed," authorities said.

Lewis also pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery Tuesday.

Lewis appeared in court in a dark suit and tie and raced through an allocution in which he said he saw feathers emerge from Majors' winter coat but did not realize she had been stabbed, let alone killed, until the next morning when he recognized her on the news as the young woman he and the others tried to rob.

The family of Majors sat in the front row and listened to Lewis explain how the trio of middle school friends plotted to rob people in the park. He pinned the idea on 16-year-old Rashaun Weaver, who has pleaded not guilty. A 13-year-old juvenile has pleaded guilty and is serving his sentence.

"He wanted the three of us to do robberies in Morningside Park," Lewis said of Weaver. "I assumed Rashaun had a knife on him, but using a knife was not part of our plan."

Lewis will be sentenced Oct. 14, at which point Majors' family plans to make a statement in court, prosecutors said.

"Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?" asked Judge Robert Mandelbaum.

"Yes," Lewis replied.

Police and prosecutors have said Weaver wielded the knife and Lewis guessed he "threw it in the sewer" after the murder.

"This was not a premeditated murder as we heard inside," Jeffrey Lichtman, the noted criminal defense attorney who is representing Weaver, said outside court. "These were 14- and a 13-year-old boys and we should remember that."

Following the second guilty plea in the case, the family of Majors thanked the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the New York City Police Department "for their tireless and thorough efforts."

"We remain resolute in our belief that all parties who bear responsibility for Tess's senseless death will be held accountable, and we are deeply grateful to the many people who continue to pursue that goal," the family said in a statement to ABC News.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'We grieve together,' Pelosi says at COVID-19 flags memorial

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers paid tribute Tuesday to the more than 676,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19, visiting a memorial on the National Mall that displays hundreds of thousands of small, white flags, one for each life lost.

"As we look at this work of art and see it fluttering in the breeze," Pelosi said, "it really is an interpretation of the lives of these people waving to us to remember."

The installation, called "In America: Remember," is the second iteration of the art project. In fall 2020, Pelosi visited the first exhibit, which at that time consisted of more than 200,000 lives lost to the pandemic.

Since then, the death toll has more than tripled, and so has the number of flags. The death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed the estimated number of Americans who died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, topping 675,000 deaths on Monday.

The lawmakers walked silently among the rows of flags, trails that stretch more than 3.8 miles.

At times, Pelosi bent down to read the messages families and friends had written on the white rectangles.

"We look at these flags and we think of the family someone missing from the table at dinner, missing from the conversation," she said, recalling one flag that stuck her which was dedicated to a grandfather that said, "We miss you."

Pelosi, who is Catholic, said that she hopes faith and prayer can help not only grief, but also to bring an end to the pandemic.

"I know that many of these people are people of faith and they believe that their message is being received and that by receiving that message -- that not only our prayers but the prayers of the departed -- will also bring solution to all of this," she said.

She said the flags installation reminded her of the AIDS Quilt, which was displayed on the National Mall in 1987, and how such tributes can be so important.

"Nothing could be as eloquent as a manifestation of sadness that art," Pelosi said. "We all see it as we do, but all of us grieve together, are inspired together and renew our pledge to remember ... and in remembering to make sure that the number doesn't grow."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Gabby Petito case becomes point of interest for internet sleuths on social media

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(NEW YORK) -- The extensive reach of social media has become a focal point in the disappearance of travel blogger Gabby Petito.

Petito had been traveling cross-country with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, in a white van and had frequently documented their adventures on YouTube and Instagram.

Since she was reported missing nine days ago, Petito's case has captured the nation's attention -- particularly young people online who are sharing their reactions and actively trying to solve the case themselves.

ABC News' Trevor Ault, who is reporting on the case from Florida, spoke with ABC News podcast "Start Here" about the influence of social media and the blurry line between solving a tragic situation and getting entertainment from it.

"It's like you're taking part in the true crime podcast before there's a true crime podcast," Ault told "Start Here" on Monday. "[Infatuation with a case] isn't a new experience in America, but it is definitely a new look at how it is evolving … and how it impacts law enforcement too."

TikTok user Miranda Bajer claimed that she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on Aug. 29 in Grand Teton National Park a couple days after Petito was last seen.

"In the past, if a person thought that they had a tip and they wanted to share it, they could share it to law enforcement and it would be that until law enforcement investigated it," Ault said. "Now a person can post about it or whatever their theories are and it can catch on."

Baker's video has since gained 8 million views on TikTok.

Police in Florida confirmed to ABC News on Sunday that they have spoken to Baker, but federal authorities have not yet confirmed her statement.

While on one hand, the extra tips and leads are helpful, law enforcement said that they have run into trouble corroborating facts and disproving false narratives about the case before they are published widely online.

"In every instance, law enforcement has expressed gratitude to the people who are opening up about what they're seeing or what they think they might know or have experienced," said Ault. "[But] It can clog the machine."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Oakland Police Department investigating 100th homicide of 2021

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(OAKLAND, CALIF.) -- The city of Oakland, California, recorded its 100th homicide of the year on Monday, marking the second consecutive year of triple-digit homicides.

It's a somber milestone for the city, which recorded 10 homicides in just the past week, police said. In 2020, there were 109 homicides, police data shows.

At a press conference on Monday, a 100-second moment of silence was held to honor the victims, and Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong pleaded with the public to "put down guns."

"So much violence. So many guns. So many senseless lives lost. If this is not a calling to everybody in this community that there is a crisis, I don't know what is," Armstrong said. "I say this every time we have a press conference. I'm tired of appearing before you. We've got to do the work. I'll be out in the community meeting with people, but I need people to step up and grab your loved ones and tell them, 'Put the guns down.'"

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden found images of border agents with migrants 'horrific and horrible,' White House says

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(NEW YORK) -- President Joe Biden found videos of tactics used by Border Patrol agents on horseback against Haitian migrants at the Texas border "horrific and horrible," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

"I don't know anyone who could watch that video and not have that emotion," Psaki said on "CBS Mornings."

The videos from outlets including Reuters and Al Jazeera appear to show a mounted Border Patrol agent snap his horse's reins in the direction of a migrant who then stumbles back into the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


America Strong: Teachers across the country go above and beyond as in-person classes return

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(NEW YORK) -- As millions of kids head back to school this fall, "World News Tonight" has followed three incredible teachers caring for students in and outside the classroom.

In Washington D.C., Imani Baucom teaches at the Bilingual Public Charter School. She said her students' safety comes first.

"The kids are really happy to be back… Walking to class. Masks on," said Baucom. "We just remember to put the kids first, to put our health first, and to just take it one day at a time."

With some students and teachers returning to in-person learning amid the pandemic, some adjustments are having to be made.

World News Tonight previously reported that Jennifer Martin, who lives outside of Austin, Texas, turned her garage into a library. With the help of "World News Tonight" viewers, she has now collected more than 4,000 books and 350 students have visited her library.

"Thanks to supporters from all over the country," Martin said. "It's important to continue this effort because once you grow a reader. A reader needs books to read."

Across the country, in Livermore, California, Heidi Robinson has been going the extra mile -- quite literally.

Robinson, who teaches at Marylin Avenue Elementary School, had delivered lesson plans door-to-door during the pandemic and sent her students many virtual hugs along the way.

Nearly a year and a half later, Robinson reports that the class is back together again.

"We are back in school full time! Wearing masks so we're all very safe," said Robinson.

Robinson said virtual hugs have been replaced with elbow bumps and she hopes that progress will only continue.

"We are so incredibly happy to be back in school," she said. "With challenges behind us and lots of hope ahead of us."

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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