National News

Vigil held for woman pushed in front of train and killed by stranger in NYC

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Dozens of New Yorkers, leaders and activists came out to Times Square Tuesday night to honor Michelle Go, who was killed when she was pushed in front of a subway train by a stranger in what her family called a "senseless act of violence."

On Saturday morning, Simon Martial allegedly pushed Go in front of an oncoming train on the N/Q/R/W line inside the Times Square-42nd Street subway station, police said.

News of Go's death disturbed the city's Asian American community, which has seen a rise in hate crimes over the last two years, according to Ben Wei, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Asians Fighting Injustice. Wei's group helped to organize the vigil in Times Square as a way to remember Go and send a message that the city did not tolerate hate.

"Today we are here to honor the memory of Michelle Alyssa Go and pay respect to the way she lived her life," he said.

A portrait of Go, 40, was displayed on a big screen billboard behind the steps and many of the vigil members had her picture in her hands.

Go's family said in a statement that they remembered her as a "beautiful, brilliant, kind, and intelligent woman who loved her family and friends, loved to travel the world and help others."

Go worked as a consultant for Deloitte and spent her free time volunteering as an advocate for the homeless, according to New York ABC station WABC.

Wei said he talked with a lot of Go's friends and co-workers over the last few days and they told him she was a caring, humble woman.

"Michelle was giving, she was the best friend that anyone could have," Wei said.

Martial has been charged with murder and is awaiting arraignment. New York Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell said during a Saturday press conference that the attack was "unprovoked" and that Go didn't appear to interact with Martial.

The investigation was ongoing. Part of that investigation will look into whether the attack was a hate crime.

ABC News wasn't able to reach an attorney for Martial for additional comments.

Go's family demanded justice.

"We are in a state of shock and grieving the loss of our daughter, sister and friend. We hope Michelle will be remembered for how she lived and not just how she died," the family said in a statement. "Her life was taken too soon in a senseless act of violence and we pray that she gets the justice she deserves."

Elected officials echoed that call during the vigil.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng said New Yorkers are terrified by the recent jump in Asian American hate crimes. In the fall, the FBI released data that showed hate crimes against Asians was up by 76% in 2020.

Meng vowed to bring changes that would ensure that the community could walk the streets safe.

"We come together today and in the weeks and months ahead to honor the work and legacy of people like Michelle," she said.

Mayor Eric Adams said he would increase police patrols and pair them with mental health professionals to prevent more subway attacks.

"We must ensure we have a plan of intervention and prevention," he said at the vigil.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 live updates: Biden administration website to order free tests goes live

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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 851,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 62.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Jan 18, 7:11 pm
White House to make 400 million N95 masks available for free

The Biden administration will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks available for free at tens of thousands of pharmacies and community health centers, a White House official said Tuesday.

The administration will start shipping out the masks, which are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile, at the end of this week. Masks will start to be available at pharmacies and community health centers by late next week, with the program "fully up and running" by early February, the official said.

President Joe Biden had announced last week that the administration would be launching a program to provide high-quality masks to Americans for free, but did not provide details.

The announcement comes on the heels of updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that stated that loosely woven cloth masks provide the least amount of protection against COVID-19, and that Americans in some cases might want to opt for higher quality masks like KN95 and N95 respirators.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Jan 18, 5:47 pm
75% of Americans have received at least 1 vaccine dose: CDC

Three-quarters of all Americans -- nearly 250 million people -- have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On average, around 296,000 Americans daily are receiving their first shot, down by about 35% since mid-December, federal data shows.

Some 62.7 million eligible Americans -- those ages 5 and up -- are unvaccinated.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 18, 5:35 pm
Nearly 1 million US children tested positive for COVID-19 last week

Around 981,000 children in the United States tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

This "dramatic" uptick is a nearly 70% increase over the 580,000 added cases reported the week ending Jan. 6, and a tripling of case counts from the two weeks prior, the organizations said.

With nearly 9.5 million children having tested positive for the virus since the onset of the pandemic, that means 10% of those cases were in the past week alone.

In recent weeks, there has been a significant increase in demand for coronavirus tests as more Americans are exposed to the virus. Many students have also been tested as they return to school, which can lead to an increase in these numbers.

The organizations said there is an "urgent" need to collect more age-specific data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as potential longer-term effects, and noted in their report that a small proportion of cases have resulted in hospitalization and death.

The rising number of pediatric cases has renewed the push for vaccination. Nearly 19% of children ages 5 to 11 and about 55% of those ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 18, 4:03 pm
No ICU beds left in Oklahoma City: 'We are struggling to keep up'

All intensive care units are full in Oklahoma City, where 117 patients are in emergency rooms waiting for an open bed, Dr. Julie Watson, chief medical Officer of INTEGRIS Health, said Tuesday.

Some patients have been waiting more than 24 hours for an available ICU bed, Watson said.

"Our emergency departments are overflowing. Our health care professionals are exhausted. We've been working nearly nonstop for over two years now," Watson said at a news conference. "Omicron cases are rising faster than previous variants and we are struggling to keep up."

"We aren't able to care for patients the way we normally do," she continued. "It feels, and sometimes even looks, like a war zone. … We have to care for patients in hallways, sometimes closets."

Oklahoma City hospitals are also experiencing staffing shortages and supply chain shortages.

"Some days we don't have syringes, or saline or chest tube setups," she said.

-ABC News' Katherine Carroll

Jan 18, 3:23 pm
Kansas to end contact tracing

Kansas will end its contact tracing program at the end January due to an overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases and a "diminished" willingness of people to take part, the state health department announced Tuesday.

"As we enter the third year of this pandemic, public health has to begin to adjust the level of response to help alleviate the strain on the Public Health system," Janet Stanek, acting secretary of the state's Department of Health and Environment, said in a statement. "The pandemic is far from over, but this step is a move toward managing COVID-19 as an endemic disease. The responsibility of protecting yourself and others belongs to all of us."

-ABC News' Will McDuffie

Jan 18, 2:50 pm
Stephen A. Smith opens up about illness: 'I didn't know if I was gonna make it'

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith is opening up about his intense COVID-19 battle.

After Smith tested positive in December, he said he had a 103 degree fever every night.

"Woke up with chills and a pool of sweat. Headaches were massive. Coughing profusely," Smith said, according to The New York Post.

Smith said he was admitted to the hospital over New Year's with pneumonia in both lungs.

“They told me, had I not been vaccinated, I wouldn’t be here. That’s how bad it was," he said.

Smith is now back to work, but he said, "two-and-a-half, three weeks ago, I didn’t know if I was gonna make it.”

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Disney is the parent company of ABC News and ESPN.

Jan 18, 2:05 pm
New York cases down 75% from early January

New York state, hit hard by the omicron surge over the holidays, is seeing COVID-19 cases down 75% from early January, state officials said.

New York reported 22,312 new cases Tuesday, according to state data. On Jan. 7, New York state recorded 90,132 daily cases.

The seven-day average of new cases is down 38.9% from the previous week and the seven-day average of hospital admissions dropped 13.6% from the previous week, according to state data.

"We hope to close the books on this winter surge soon," Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Jan 18, 12:30 pm
Biden administration website to order free tests goes live

The Biden administration's website to order four free at-home rapid tests per household is now live at covidtests.gov.

The tests won't ship for another seven to 12 days.

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 18, 11:45 am
Omicron accounts for 99.5% of new cases in US: CDC

Omicron is estimated to account for 99.5% of new cases in the U.S. as of Saturday, according to new forecast data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

In early-December, omicron was estimated to account for just 0.6% of all new cases. The delta variant now accounts for only 0.5% of new U.S. cases, forecasters estimate.

These percentages are calculated using modeling and should be considered estimates, not exact figures.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 18, 10:42 am
COVID-19 patient at center of life support battle transferred from Minnesota to Texas

A Minnesota man severely ill with COVID-19 was transferred to a Texas hospital over the weekend, after his wife was granted a temporary restraining order against the Minnesota hospital where doctors informed her they would take him off a ventilator.

Scott Quiner, 55, of Buffalo, Minnesota, tested positive for COVID-19 in late October and was initially admitted to Waconia Hospital before being transferred to the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids on Nov. 6, according to a GoFundMe page in support of the Quiner family and an article by the StarTribune, which was first to report the story.

A court order, issued last Thursday and obtained by ABC News, prohibited Mercy Hospital from disconnecting the ventilator that had been supporting Scott Quiner for months while his wife, Anne Quiner, searched for a new facility to continue his care. An Anoka County judge granted the order after health care providers advised Anne Quiner that they "intend[ed] to take actions on Thursday, January 13, 2022, that [would] end [her] husband’s life."

According to court documents, Anne Quiner told doctors that, as her husband’s health care proxy, she "vehemently disagree[d]" with these actions, and did not want her husband’s ventilator turned off.

Over the weekend, Scott Quiner was subsequently moved to a facility in Texas for treatment, according to the Quiner family's attorney, Marjorie J. Holsten.

"A doctor evaluated him and determined that he was severely undernourished. Scott has been receiving much-needed nourishment and hydration and medications that were not given by Mercy," Holsten told ABC News in a statement Monday. "He is being weaned off of the sedating drugs and has already been able to follow with his eyes movements the doctor made with his hands. He is making progress in the right direction, though he has a long road ahead of him and continued prayers are appreciated."

Representatives for Allina Health, which operates Mercy Hospital, said they wish the patient and his family well and have "great confidence" in their team's work.

“Allina Health has great confidence in the exceptional care provided to our patients, which is administered according to evidence-based practices by our talented and compassionate medical teams. Due to patient privacy, we cannot comment on care provided to specific patients,” the health system told ABC News in a statement Monday. "Allina Health continues to wish the patient and family well. Any information regarding the patient’s on-going care should be directed to his current medical provider."

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 18, 7:30 am
Hong Kong to cull 2,000 small animals after hamsters test positive

Some 2,000 hamsters and other small animals will be culled in Hong Kong amid fears over possible animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19, authorities announced Tuesday.

The move came after an employee at the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay shopping district tested positive for the highly contagious delta variant on Monday. Further testing revealed at least 11 hamsters in the shop, imported from the Netherlands, were also infected, according to authorities.

The store has been shuttered and its hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas will all be tested and euthanized. Anyone who visited the shop since Jan. 7 is being urged to get in touch with authorities. Although officials said there is no evidence animals can transmit the virus to humans, they are not ruling out the possibility.

As a precautionary measure, authorities said they will seize all hamsters in Hong Kong's 34 licensed stores for testing before putting them down in a humane manner. Residents who purchased hamsters after Dec. 22 are being urged to hand them over to be tested and culled. The customers themselves will be subject to mandatory testing and quarantine.

Hong Kong will also cease the sale and import of small mammals, including hamsters. All shops selling hamsters in the city have been ordered to stop doing so immediately, according to authorities.

"We have assessed the risks of these batches are relatively high and therefore made the decision based on public health needs," Dr. Leung Siu-fai, director of Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, told a press conference Tuesday. "We urge all pet owners to observe strict hygiene when handling their pets and cages. Do not kiss or abandon them on the streets."

-ABC News' Britt Clennett

Jan 17, 2:31 pm
Moderna working on combined COVID, flu booster

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Davos Agenda Monday that the company is working on a combined COVID-19 and flu booster shot, which could, in a “best case scenario,” be made available by fall 2023.

Bancel said the company’s goal is to be able to provide a single annual booster.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 2:16 pm
Fauci: Unclear whether omicron will lead world into an 'endemic' phase

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday it's an “open question” as to whether the omicron variant will lead the globe into a new endemic phase of the pandemic.

“We were fortunate that omicron, although it is highly transmissible, nonetheless, is not as pathogenic but the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity,” Fauci said at the Davos Agenda, a virtual event held by the World Economic Forum.

But Fauci said it’s still unclear if omicron’s reduced severity will translate to the virus gradually becoming less prevalent.

“I would hope that that's the case. But that would only be the case if you don't get another variant that alludes to the immune response to the prior variant,” Fauci said, adding that it is “very difficult” to calculate how the globe could reach herd immunity.

When the globe does enter an endemic phase, Fauci said there will be a "new normal.''

“It's not going to be that you're going to eliminate this disease completely. We're not going to do that. But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn't disrupt our normal, social, economic and other interactions with each other," Fauci said. "To me, that's what the new normal is. I hope the new normal also includes a real strong corporate memory of what pandemics can do."

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 11:40 am
Growing evidence suggests COVID surge may be receding in parts of US

Growing evidence suggests the omicron surge may be beginning to recede in the parts of the U.S. that were first hit by the variant.

Although new case rates remain high across much of the Northeast, daily totals are slowly beginning to fall. New York City reported a 17% drop and New Jersey reported a 17.6% drop in new cases over the last week. Washington, D.C., reported a nearly 25% decline and Vermont saw a nearly 22% decline in cases in the last week.

But health officials caution the latest surge has yet to peak for much of the U.S. The nation is still reporting nearly 800,000 new cases a day -- a record high and a more than eight-fold increase compared to six weeks ago.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday that Americans should not expect a decline in the days to come.

"This is a very difficult time during this surge. We are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates... we're also seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country," Murthy said. "The next few weeks will be tough."

Nearly 1,800 Americans are dying from COVID-19 each day – an approximately 52.6% jump since Jan. 1.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Judge blocks hospital from turning off ventilator of severely ill COVID-19 patient

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(COON RAPIDS, Minn.) -- A Minnesota man with COVID who had been fighting for his life for months was transferred to a new hospital days after a judge blocked another hospital from taking him off a ventilator.

The decision allowed Scott Quiner, 55, of Buffalo, Minnesota, to be moved to a hospital in Texas, where he is being treated.

Quiner was initially admitted to Waconia Hospital, and then transferred to the ICU at Mercy Hospital, in Coon Rapids, on Nov. 6, after he tested positive for the virus in late October, according to a GoFundMe page in support of Quiner’s family, and the StarTribune, which was first to report this story.

Anne Quiner, Scott's wife, was granted a temporary restraining order last Thursday against Mercy Hospital, after doctors informed her that day that they would be disconnecting her husband from the ventilator that had been supporting him since the late fall.

The order, from an Anoka County judge, prohibited the hospital from turning off ventilation support, while Anne Quiner searched for a new facility to care for her husband.

According to the court order, Anne Quiner told doctors that as her husband’s health care proxy, she “vehemently disagree[d]” with these actions and did not want her husband’s ventilator turned off.

Over the weekend, Scott Quiner was moved to a facility in Texas for treatment, Marjorie J. Holsten, the Quiner family's attorney, told ABC News in a statement on Monday.

“A doctor evaluated him and determined that he was severely undernourished. Scott has been receiving much-needed nourishment and hydration and medications that were not given by Mercy,” Holsten said. “He is being weaned off of the sedating drugs and has already been able to follow with his eyes movements the doctor made with his hands. He is making progress in the right direction, though he has a long road ahead of him and continued prayers are appreciated.”

Quiner remains on a ventilator but the oxygen level has been lowered, the family's lawyer said.

Representatives from Allina Health, which operates Mercy Hospital, told ABC News that they wish the patient and the family well, and have "great confidence" in their team's work.

“Allina Health has great confidence in the exceptional care provided to our patients, which is administered according to evidence-based practices by our talented and compassionate medical teams. Due to patient privacy, we cannot comment on care provided to specific patients,” the health system wrote. “Allina Health continues to wish the patient and family well. Any information regarding the patient’s on-going care should be directed to his current medical provider.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


DHS, FBI warn faith-based communities they 'will likely continue to be targets of violence'

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(WASHINGTON) -- Faith-based communities have been and will “likely” be the target of violence “by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists," according to a note sent nationwide to law enforcement officials and houses of worship by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

“Given the volatile environment, we encourage our partners to maintain strong operational security and situational awareness on events that could be exploited by violent extremists to further their ideological causes,” said Monday's message, obtained by ABC News and written by FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and senior DHS official John Cohen.

The warning from federal officials comes after a tense situation at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue in which an armed man held the synagogue's rabbi and three others hostage while demanding the release of a convicted terrorist.

At 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, police received a 911 call reporting that an intruder, later identified as Malik Faisal Akram, was aggressively confronting Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker at Congregation Beth Israel.

Over the next two hours, Akram was heard on live streamed video saying he was holding the rabbi and three other male adults hostage, claiming to be armed with a gun and explosives and discussing his belief that he was going to die. Facebook interrupted the live stream, but law enforcement was able to access the synagogue’s CCTV, allowing the FBI to continue to view the unfolding events in real time, sources said.

A call for assistance to the Quantico-based Hostage Rescue Team came at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Just after noon, Akram instructed Rabbi Cytron-Walker to call New York-based Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of the Central Synagogue in Manhattan. In a series of subsequent calls with Rabbi Buchdahl, the perpetrator threatened to kill the four hostages if convicted Al Qaeda supporter Aafia Siddiqui was not released from federal prison in Texas. Investigators are working to determine why Akram chose Rabbi Buchdahl in Manhattan. Authorities believe it’s because she is the leader of a prominent synagogue in the city where Aafia Siddiqui was convicted.

At 6:20 p.m. ET, the first hostage was released unharmed. About four hours later the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team entered the synagogue. Akram was shot during the entry and later died from his wounds. A handgun, believed to belong to Akram, was recovered inside the synagogue.

Javed Ali, the former senior director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council, told ABC News the message from DHS and the FBI underscores the seriousness of the threat against Jewish places of worship and other potential targets by radicalized individuals in the United States.

"Extremists inspired by global jihadist groups and messages have long sought to attack Jewish targets domestically, and other extremists inspired by white supremacists and neo-Nazi beliefs--like the lethal attacks against the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and the Chabad House in Poway, California April 2019 -- are reminders of this threat," Ali said.

The email sent Monday by the FBI and DHS underscored how conspiracy theories are further inflaming hate-fueled threats.

"Discussions in online forums associated with domestic violent extremist content have referenced Jewish targets tied to conspiracy theories about COVID-19, the outcome of the 2020 General election, and even the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan," the message said. "Given the volatile environment, we encourage our partners to maintain strong operational security and … recommend enhanced vigilance."

On a conference call with reporters on Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made clear that the department’s work on combatting anti-Semitic types of attacks didn’t begin or end on Sunday, but has been an ongoing effort for the administration.

"The harsh reality is that we are seeing a continuing rise in the language of hate and it's connectivity to violence,” the Secretary said. “We need to ensure that we not only protect our houses of worship, and all places of assembly, but that we become aware of the signs that someone is going down a path toward violence."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3 Pennsylvania officers charged in shooting death of 8-year-old girl at high school football game

Delaware County District Attorney's Office

(SHARON HILL, Penn.) -- Criminal charges have been filed against three Pennsylvania police officers in connection with the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl and the wounding of three others at a high school football game last year.

The girl, Fanta Bility, was killed on Aug. 27 when gunfire broke out shortly after the conclusion of a game at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, a community of about 5,700 residents near the Philadelphia International Airport. Bility's sister and two others were injured.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced the charges Tuesday against three Sharon Hill Police officers -- Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney -- in connection with Bility's death. The officers face a total of 12 criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment "for their actions that night," according to a statement from the district attorney's office.

Preliminary findings in the investigation found that return fire from the police officers after a gunfight between two teens likely struck and killed Bility, prosecutors announced in September, less than a week after the shooting.

"We have now concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that it was, in fact, shots from the officers that struck and killed Fanta Bility and injured three others," the statement from the district attorney's office read.

A grand jury recommended charges of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, which were all approved by the district attorney's office.

Investigators determined that after the gun shots began, two were fired in the direction of the officers, who were monitoring the crowd exiting the stadium, prosecutors said. The officers then discharged their weapons in the direction of the football field.

The officers were placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting. The Sharon Hill Borough Council will vote on whether to fire the officers during a meeting on Thursday, according to a statement from the council.

"The entire Borough grieves for Fanta Bility and we again convey our deepest sympathies to her family and everyone affected by the shooting," the statement read. "Today’s indictment of our police officers brings us to another solemn moment. Today we must reflect on our safety, and on those who are sworn to protect and serve."

Bail was set at $500,000 for each officer, and preliminary hearings have been set for Jan. 27 in the Springfield District Court.

"This is a terrible tragedy that was caused by armed and violent criminals who turned a high school football game into a crime scene in which an innocent child lost her life and others were seriously injured," Raymond Driscoll, Steven Patton and Charles Gibbs, the lawyers for the three officers, said in a joint statement. "These three officers ran to the sound of gunshots and risked their own lives to protect that community. These three good men are innocent, and remain heartbroken for all who have suffered because of this senseless violence."

The gunfight that killed Bility began as a verbal altercation between two teens, prosecutors said. Activists criticized prosecutors for their handling of the case after arguing that the two teens who started the gun battle should be held criminally liable for Bility's death. The pair were eventually charged with first-degree murder and other offenses.

Stollsteimer directed his office to drop the murder charges against the teens, he said in a statement Tuesday.

"While I believe these defendants should be held accountable for starting the series of events that ultimately led to Fanta Bility’s death, developments during the grand jury investigation render it appropriate to withdraw these charges at this time," Stollsteimer said.

Hasein Strand, 18, of Collingdale, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm and charges of aggravated assault for his wounding of a child bystander during the gunfight. By the terms of his plea, Strand will serve a sentence of 32 to 64 months at a state correctional institute and will remain under court supervision until 2030, prosecutors said.

The other teen involved in the fight, who is 16, "remains charged with serious crimes for his attempt to kill Strand," prosecutors said. A scheduled hearing for him was postponed last week after activists ramped up their protests.

The family is thankful for the charges brought against the officers, an attorney for the Bility family, Bruce L. Castor Jr., said in a statement released by the district attorney's office Tuesday.

"The family appreciates that the District Attorney has kept the family informed at every stage of this investigation," Castor said. "From the beginning he assured them that he would seek justice for Fanta, and today’s charges indicate that he’s done exactly that. They made the right call."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alleged hostage-taker at Texas synagogue was known to British authorities, sources say

Obtained by ABC News

(COLLEYVILLE, Texas) -- The man who allegedly held people hostage at a Texas synagogue on Saturday may not have appeared on any American watch lists but he was known to British authorities, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

British authorities investigated Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, about a year ago and concluded he posed no threat that would have prohibited his travel from the United Kingdom to the United States, the sources said.

When asked for comment on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the U.K. Home Office told ABC News that it would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing police investigation.

Akram was named the slain suspect in the hourslong hostage-taking incident at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, about 27 miles northwest of Dallas. An armed man claiming to have planted bombs in the synagogue interrupted Shabbat services on Saturday just before 11 a.m. local time, taking a rabbi and three other people hostage, according to Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller.

One hostage was released uninjured at around 5 p.m. CT on Saturday. An elite hostage rescue team deployed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation breached the synagogue at about 9 p.m. CT and saved the remaining hostages.

The alleged hostage-taker, identified by the FBI as Akram, died in a "shooting incident," according to Miller and FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno, neither of whom provided further details.

Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the initial indication is that Akram was shot and killed by the FBI team. The FBI said in a statement Sunday that its Shooting Incident Review Team "will conduct a thorough, factual, and objective investigation of the events."

A motive for the incident is under investigation.

During the negotiations with authorities, Akram "spoke repeatedly about a convicted terrorist who is serving an 86-year prison sentence in the United States on terrorisms charges," the FBI said in a statement Sunday.

"This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force," the agency added. "Preventing acts of terrorism and violence is the number one priority of the FBI. Due to the continuing investigation we are unable to provide more details at this time."

Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the suspect was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, about 16 miles southwest of Colleyville. Siddiqui, who has alleged ties to al-Qaida, was sentenced to 86 years in prison after being convicted of assault as well as attempted murder of an American soldier in 2010.

Two teenagers were arrested in southern Manchester, England, on Sunday evening in connection with the probe and "remain in custody for questioning," according to a statement from the Greater Manchester Police. Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the teens are Akram's children. Both have been released from custody without being charged after they were questioned by British counterterrorism officers, authorities said.

Akram was from the Blackburn area of Lancashire, about 20 miles northwest of Manchester, according to Assistant Chief Constable Dominic Scally of the Greater Manchester Police, who said in a statement Sunday that counterterrorism officers are assisting their U.S. counterparts in the investigation.

Akram also has ancestral ties to Jandeela, a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, the local police chief told ABC News. He visited Pakistan in 2020 and stayed for five months, the police chief said, a duration that may have been necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions.

Akram has been separated from his wife for two years and has five children, according to the police chief.

After arriving in the U.S. last month via a flight from London to New York City, Akram stayed at homeless shelters at various points and may have portrayed himself as experiencing homelessness in order to gain access to the Texas synagogue during Shabbat services, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who called the hostage-taking incident "an act of terror," told reporters Sunday that investigators suspect Akram purchased a gun on the street. While Akram is alleged to have claimed he had bombs, investigators have found no evidence that he was in possession of explosives, according to Biden.

ABC News' Joseph Simonetti contributed to this report.

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77-year-old woman killed, several others hurt in gas explosion at home in the Bronx

WABC-TV

(NEW YORK) -- A 77-year-old woman has died from smoke inhalation following a gas explosion at a detached home in the Bronx in New York City, officials said Tuesday.

Two other women, ages 82 and 68, are in stable condition, and five police officers are being treated for smoke inhalation, officials said.

The explosion happened about 11 a.m. at a three-story residential building with one residential unit.

More than 100 firefighters and EMS descended on the scene.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


16-year-old boy gunned down with 3 gunshots to the face in Philadelphia

WPVI/ABC News

(PHILADELPHIA) -- A 16-year-old boy has been fatally shot three times in the face, becoming the latest victim of gun violence in Philadelphia, police said.

The teen, identified as Dominic Figueroa, was found when officers responded to gunshots at about 6:30 p.m. Monday on the 2600 block of North Hutchinson Street, Philadelphia police said.

No arrests have been made, police said.

At least 20 shots were fired from multiple weapons, Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small said, but Figueroa was the only one struck.

At least 10 of the bullets pierced a home filled with people -- including a 2-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl who were asleep -- but no one inside was struck by the gunfire, Small said, according to ABC Philadelphia station WPVI.

Police would not confirm if the 16-year-old was targeted.

Philadelphia has been plagued by a growing epidemic of gun violence. Last year was Philadelphia's deadliest year on record with over 500 homicides.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Low-income schools facing string of challenges after natural disasters: Report

CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- As climate change increases the severity of natural disasters, low-income school districts face disproportionately greater obstacles when attempting to recover from them, according to a Government Accountability Office report (GAO) obtained exclusively by ABC News.

Districts in high-poverty areas are already plagued with challenges -- like outdated building infrastructure or a lack of resources -- and when hit with the havoc wrought by a major disaster, the recovery process can be a tedious, uphill battle, according to the report released Tuesday. At the same time, natural disasters pose a disproportionate threat to students in already vulnerable educational settings, the report states.

There have been more than 300 "presidentially-declared major disasters" in every state and territory since 2017, and more than half of the nation's public school districts are located in counties that were subject to major disasters from 2017-2019 and make up more than two-thirds of the nation's students, according to the report.

But most districts that received certain federal recovery grants after major disasters that occurred during those years "had elevated proportions of students from certain socially vulnerable groups," according to GAO's analysis of federal data.

"Many natural disasters have had devastating effects on K-12 schools and the communities in which they are located -- especially socially vulnerable communities for whom disaster recovery is more challenging," the report reads. "We have found that school districts affected by natural disasters have faced a range of recovery challenges, including trauma and mental health issues among students and staff, lost instructional time, staff burnout, and financial strain."

GAO spoke to officials from five school districts in socially vulnerable communities that detailed challenges their schools faced when recovering from a major disaster, and in most instances, physical recovery was one of them, according to the report.

A previous GAO report from 2020 showed that thousands of school buildings across the country could need critical repairs due to natural disasters, and revealed that "about half (an estimated 54%) of public school districts need to update or replace multiple building systems or features in their schools."

The report, released on Tuesday, cites a "subject matter expert," who reportedly told GAO that "socially vulnerable groups are more likely to attend under-resourced and poorly maintained schools, which in turn are more likely to suffer extensive damage due to disasters, causing extended school closures and student displacements."

And in some instances, "low-income school districts can be denied funding or receive less funding than needed" from one of FEMA's programs, because these are designed to provide funding to return a property to its previous condition.

"Officials from one state explained that districts must adequately document the condition of the building to prove that damage was caused by the disaster rather than neglecting to make an earlier needed repair, such as fixing a leaking roof," the report states. "Poorer districts and those with fewer resources often do not have sufficient staffing or expertise to maintain the necessary maintenance records, according to these officials."

Additionally, four out of the five districts that spoke with GAO said their district was still in the process of its physical recovery, "in some cases, years after the natural disasters." Some of these districts told GAO they were forced to use temporary facilities, which also disrupted students' learning.

"For example, in one district multiple classes had to share one classroom space, while in another district, a temporary facility lacked adequate Wi-Fi, requiring students and staff to rely on physical materials, according to district officials," the report says.

House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott, D-Va., said in a statement: "This GAO report confirms what we have long known: Schools in vulnerable communities do not have the support they need to keep their facilities safe for students and staff."

"The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters nationwide have been powerful reminders that our public school buildings are in urgent need of repair; however, we cannot expect schools to prepare for our changing climate or recover from future disasters without dedicated federal funding for school infrastructure," he added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rabbi held hostage by gunman leads prayer service at Texas synagogue

ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP via Getty Images

(COLLEYVILLE, Texas) -- The Texas rabbi who threw a chair at a gunman to help himself and two others survive a hostage situation held a prayer service in the wake of the deadly ordeal.

Just two days after a gun-wielding suspect took Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and two other congregants hostage at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, the rabbi lead a service aimed to "put this terrible event behind us and be thankful for a good result," according to a post on the synagogue's Facebook page.

Cytron-Walker, greeted with applause at the outset of the service, spoke briefly, thanking law enforcement, first responders, clergy, political leaders and people around the world who have reached out with support. He then continued the service by describing both the beauty and cruelty that exist on Earth.

"God, I long to feel your presence -- not just this day but every day," the rabbi said. "I do not pretend to know your ways."

He thanked the "three amazing individuals" who were with him at the synagogue Saturday, saying that they managed to make it through the traumatic ordeal.

"Very few of us are doing okay right, now," he said. "We'll get through this."

Cytron-Walker was greeted with applause at the outset of the service. He spoke briefly, thanking law enforcement, first responders, clergy, political leaders and people around the world who have reached out with support.

Congregants gathered at the healing service, many in masks and spaced several seats apart. Several took to the stage to sing prayer songs in Hebrew.

Cytron-Walker also evoked Martin Luther King Jr., quoting the civil rights activists on the holiday dedicated to him.

"Without love, there's no reason to know anyone," Cytron-Walker said. "For love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts."

The rabbi was preparing for Shabbat services on Saturday when the suspect, identified by the FBI as 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, knocked on a window of the temple. The Rabbi invited Akram in for tea, and heard the click of a gun during the Shabbat service, which was attended by only a handful of congregants. He and three other male congregants were initially taken hostage, but Akram freed one of them.

Cytron-Walker told the others to run before throwing the chair at Akram after the suspect grew visibly frustrated and belligerent that his demands were not being met, the rabbi said. Cytron-Walker and other members of the congregation had previously taken active shooter drills from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League and a local group called the Secure Community Network.

Akram was shot and killed by an elite FBI hostage rescue team who breached the synagogue.

At the end of the service, he gave an emotional talk, noting that the incident could've been much worse and that he was grateful that the traditional prayer of mourning was not being said.

Cytron-Walker said in an interview with CBS News Monday morning that he was looking forward to returning to his house of worship, describing it as a crucial step in the healing process.

"It won't necessarily be an easy thing," he said, "but it's a really important thing."

ABC News' Marilyn Heck and Bill Hutchinson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


$20K reward offered for student who vanished at Michigan State University

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(NEW YORK) -- It's been nearly three months since 18-year-old Brendan Santo vanished while visiting friends in East Lansing, Michigan, the weekend of the Michigan-Michigan State football game.

There have been no clues yet as to what happened to the Grand Valley University student who disappeared on Halloween weekend, but the search for him continues, and his family is not giving up hope. "We just want Brendan back," they told ABC News.

"It is unfathomable to believe in this day and age someone can just disappear," Brendan's aunt, Dawn Brewer, said. "Our family is desperately begging anyone with information to come forward even anonymously."

Santo was last seen around midnight on Oct. 29 on MSU's campus, near Yakeley Hall, authorities said. He was wearing grey sweatpants, a black T-shirt, a Detroit Red Wings cap and Converse high tops, police said. He's about 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds.

FBI to assist in search for 18-year-old who went missing weekend of Michigan State-Michigan game

Santo's friends believed he was heading toward the Brody neighborhood, where he was staying with other friends, but he never arrived. His phone was at 0% battery when he went missing, the last message he sent was around 11:45 p.m.

The surveillance cameras in Yakeley Hall were not working the night Brendan went missing, MSUPD confirmed, and there were no other cameras in the area.

"Finding out what happened after Brendan left Yakeley Hall is the key to finding Brendan, or at the least adding another piece to this horrible puzzle," Brewer said.

Santo's friends reported him missing the next morning. Brendan's vehicle remained in the last location it was parked, and there is no indication he left the East Lansing area, according to MSUPD.

Family searches for missing 26-year-old daughter Mercedes Clement

Soon after Santo's disappearance, the FBI joined state and local agencies in the search, which included efforts by foot, drone, helicopter and boat. Authorities utilized multiple K9 teams early in the investigation, including cadaver dogs.

According to MSUPD, multiple cadaver dog indications on the Red Cedar River near Santo's last known location along with his digital footprint led investigators to focus on the Red Cedar River, though they are exploring other possibilities.

"As a parent, family member or friend, you want to turn over every boulder as fast as you can to get the information you need to find your loved one. We understand an investigation like this can take time, but it has been very difficult," Santo's aunt said.

There have been no sightings of Santo to date, and none of his belongings have been found, but interest in his disappearance has only grown. Volunteer searches, charity events and various fundraisers have helped raise awareness, as has social media.

There have been two extensive civilian searches with over 800 volunteers scouring the area looking for Santo's black red wings hat, blue iPhone, car key or gold necklace. Several MSU students and local citizens have continued to search every day, according to the family.

"Many of these people do not know Brendan or our family, but have taken the time and energy to help us every day … our family continues to be overwhelmed by their support and dedication," Brewer told ABC News.

The family-run Facebook page called "Bring Brendan Santo Home" has reached over 43,000 members, donned BBH Warriors. Many are participating in a #bringbrendanhome flyer challenge, which encourages people to print Brendan's flyer and post a photo with the hashtag "#bringbrendanhome." Flyers have been posted across the country and beyond, according to the family. An Instagram account created to getting the word out continues to grow, as more join the search for the missing teen.

The reward for any credible information about Brendan's whereabouts has grown to over $20,000. The tip line can be reached at 844-99-MSUPD (844-996-7873), tips@police.msu.edu or Crime Stoppers of Mid-Michigan 517-483-STOP (7867) https://www.crimestoppersofmidmichigan.com/.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Timeline of synagogue hostage standoff sheds light on suspect's travel in US

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(NEW YORK) -- The British national who allegedly took a rabbi and three other people as hostages inside a Texas synagogue on Saturday arrived in the United States last month and gave customs agents a hotel in New York as his local address, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News on Monday.

The suspect, Malik Faisal Akram, 44, reportedly took a flight from London to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Dec. 29 and listed a hotel in Queens, New York, as his local address on a customs form, the sources said.

The FBI is investigating whether Akram actually stayed at the hotel prior to traveling by air to the Dallas-Fort Worth area possibly on Dec. 31.

As investigators piece together Akram’s movements in the United States, they’ve determined he bought the handgun used in the hostage-taking on the street from someone he met at a local homeless shelter in Texas, according to the law enforcement sources. The last time the gun was legally sold through a federally licensed dealer was in September 2019, they said.

While in New York, Akram -- who was shot dead by an FBI hostage rescue team, ending a nearly 11-hour standoff with authorities in Texas -- also obtained a cellphone, which he apparently used up until his death, the sources told ABC News.

Suspect was not on any watch lists

Akram's name did not appear on any U.S. watch lists.

Investigators are now working to develop a complete timeline of his movements since his arrival in New York. According to the sources, Akram stayed at homeless shelters for about a week and may have portrayed himself as experiencing homelessness to gain access to the Texas synagogue during Shabbat services.

As part of the investigation, authorities are looking into Akram’s mental health history and are working to determine whether any potential history should have come up during the vetting process for his travel to the United States.

Sources told ABC News that American and British authorities have made contact with Akram’s brother, who told them Akram has mental health issues.

A friend of Akram's family, told the Associated Press on Monday that it was known in their community of Blackburn, England, that Akram had "mental health issues."

Mahmud, a community organizer in Blackburn, also said that Akram had previously served a custodial sentence in England and questioned how he got past U.S. immigration checks.

"Well, I do know he obviously served a custodial sentence, so it must have been serious enough for him to serve a custodial sentence. So, he was known to the authorities for that reason," Mahmud said without elaborating on what offense Akram had been sentenced for. "But for all intents and purposes, other than that, he lived what one would describe a normal kind of existence. He was part of the community."

Two teenagers have been arrested in England as part of an ongoing investigation into the hostage-taking incident, British authorities said. The pair were detained in southern Manchester on Sunday evening and "remain in custody for questioning," according to a statement from the Greater Manchester Police. Multiple law enforcement sources in the U.S. told ABC News that the teens are Akram's children.

Suspect called New York rabbi during standoff

At 10:45 a.m. CST on Saturday, police in Colleyville, Texas, received a 911 call reporting that an intruder, later identified as Akram, was aggressively confronting Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.

Cytron-Walker said in an interview with CBS News on Monday that Akram knocked at the synagogue’s window and that he invited Akram in for a cup of tea prior to Shabbat services. The rabbi said that during the services, while his back was turned to Akram in prayer, the suspect pulled a gun.

After taking Cytron-Walker and three other members of the synagogue hostage, Akram was heard on a livestreamed video of the service saying he was holding four hostages, claiming to be armed with a gun and explosives, and stating that he was willing to die at the hands of police and that he was not acting on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization.

Facebook eventually interrupted the livestream, but law enforcement officials were able to access the synagogue’s closed-circuit TV system, allowing the FBI to continue to view the unfolding events in real-time, the sources said.

Just after 12 p.m., Akram instructed Cytron-Walker to call New York-based Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of the Central Synagogue in Manhattan. In a series of subsequent calls with Buchdahl, Akram reportedly threatened to kill the four hostages if convicted terrorist and al-Qaida supporter Aafia Siddiqui was not released from prison at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth.

"I can confirm that the gunman reached out to me twice (on Saturday) by phone," Buchdahl wrote in an email to the New York-based Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We are about to share a note with the congregation just confirming that. Other than that for security reasons I cannot share more."

Investigators are working to determine why Akram chose Buchdahl to speak to, sources told ABC News. Authorities suspect it was because she is the leader of a prominent synagogue in the city where Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, was convicted in 2010 of assault and attempted murder of a U.S. soldier and members of a U.S. team sent to interrogate her in 2008. She was sentenced to 86 years in prison.

Siddiqui's attorney, Marwa Elbially, released a statement over the weekend saying Siddiqui did not know Akram and that she condemned his actions.

Elite FBI team flown in to help

As the hostage standoff was unfolding on Saturday, authorities reached out about 12:30 p.m. to the FBI's hostage rescue team at the bureau's headquarters in Quantico, Virginia. The team was immediately dispatched to Colleyville, officials said.

Around 5:30 p.m., Akram released one of the hostages unharmed.

About four hours later, the FBI hostage rescue team entered the synagogue after Cytron-Walker and the two other hostages escaped when they bolted for an exit door as the rabbi threw a chair at the suspect.

Akram was shot as the team entered the synagogue and later died from his wounds. A handgun, believed to belong to Akram, was recovered inside the synagogue, sources said.

ABC News' Luke Barr contributed to this report

 

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Martin Luther King Jr.'s family leads march urging lawmakers to pass federal voting rights

Getty Images/Emma Espejo

(NEW YORK) -- As voting rights legislation remains stalled in Congress, Martin Luther King Jr.'s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, and his 13-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, were among a coalition of civil rights activists who led the annual Peace Walk in Washington on Monday to honor the legacy of the civil rights icon and demand action on voting rights.

"What we want is for Americans to be engaged," King III told ABC News anchor Linsey Davis, adding that the need for federal safety guards is more urgent than ever. "This year, we are laser focused on getting the right to vote sustained and getting the right to vote empowered."

The march comes as lawmakers are expected to take up a vote to change the Senate rules as early as Tuesday that encompasses both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Some would say it's about time the Congress takes up a debate on voting rights in the Senate.

Without the support of 10 Republicans needed to overcome a GOP filibuster to block the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to raise a rules change vote as early as Tuesday, according to a Democratic aide familiar. But with conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema making clear they will not vote to end the Senate's filibuster -- even though both support the underlying legislation -- the fate of the reforms that activists are demanding action on is unclear.

"Let the Senate hear you! Let the White House hear you all! Spread the word!" said King's granddaughter before her family led hundreds of marchers across a snow-capped Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.

Yolanda Renee King had sharp words for lawmakers, calling out Senators Manchin and Sinema by name.

"Sen. Sinema, Sen. Manchin, our future hinges on your decision and history will remember what choice you make. So join me in demanding action for today, tomorrow and generations to come," Yoland Renee King said.

She added, "For all the elected leaders out there who are tweeting, posting and celebrating my grandfather, Dr. King, today, my message to you is simple do not celebrate, legislate!"

Manchin released a statement Monday celebrating the life and legacy of King, but made no mention of voting rights.

"We celebrate and honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most inspiring and important figures in American history. Dr. King taught us to stand up for what we believe in through civil, peaceful means to unite our nation instead of divide it," the statement read.

When asked if Manchin's words are enough, King III told ABC News, "First of all, I would say that, you know, it's kind of frustrating for people to be releasing statements and you really have not totally adhered to my father's ideals. My father not only gave his life, but he fought for the right to vote, and he and others gave their lives. And again, Sen. Manchin says he supports a bill but he won't move or is not so far moved on a pathway to say that there's a pathway for it."

He added, "So my hope and my message to him would be senator, you got to go further. You can't say, 'I'm for something' but don't have a pathway to [it], and that's anybody who's talking about dad today, because I'm sure [there are also] many senators also on the Republican side, who ought to be ashamed of themselves, who have shut down the process for voter expansion, voter protections."

At least 19 states have passed new restrictive voting laws since the 2020 election. There have been 34 such new laws in total across the country, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, and most of them in states controlled by Republicans.

Many of the new laws, fueled by false claims of widespread election fraud by former President Donald Trump, take aim at mail-in voting, implement stricter voter ID requirements, allow fewer early voting days and limit ballot drop boxes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the King family Monday for a voting rights rally at Washington's Union Station outside Capitol Hill, where she spoke in support of expanding voter access, alongside other members of Congress and activists, including Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Rev. Al Sharpton.

"The Congress and I give great credit to the Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer for his relentless and persistence and trying to get this done, and to the president for his leadership, but we have to get this done," Pelosi said, before launching into an argument for changing Senate rules to make way for election reform legislation.

"While it may be true to them that the filibuster is an important custom, it is not the Constitution of the United States, the truth is," Pelosi said. "If you really truly want to honor Dr. King, don't dishonor him by using compression of custom as an excuse for our democracy."

Beatty, following Pelosi, told the crowd of supporters, "Silence is not an option."

"We will not yield our efforts to enshrine voting rights legislation into law, nor will we allow a filibuster to filibuster away our democracy and our voting rights," she said.

ABC News' Libby Cathey contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 live updates: Latest surge has yet to peak for much of US

JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 851,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 62.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Latest headlines:
-Growing evidence suggests COVID surge may be receding in parts of US
-Beijing records 1st omicron case, tightens restrictions ahead of Olympics
-Italian police arrest nurse accused of faking shots for anti-vaxxers

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

Jan 17, 2:31 pm
Moderna working on combined COVID, flu booster

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Davos Agenda Monday that the company is working on a combined COVID-19 and flu booster shot, which could, in a “best case scenario,” be made available by fall 2023.

Bancel said the company’s goal is to be able to provide a single annual booster.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 2:16 pm
Fauci: Unclear whether omicron will lead world into an 'endemic' phase

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday it's an “open question” as to whether the omicron variant will lead the globe into a new endemic phase of the pandemic.

“We were fortunate that omicron, although it is highly transmissible, nonetheless, is not as pathogenic but the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity,” Fauci said at the Davos Agenda, a virtual event held by the World Economic Forum.

But Fauci said it’s still unclear if omicron’s reduced severity will translate to the virus gradually becoming less prevalent.

“I would hope that that's the case. But that would only be the case if you don't get another variant that alludes to the immune response to the prior variant,” Fauci said, adding that it is “very difficult” to calculate how the globe could reach herd immunity.

When the globe does enter an endemic phase, Fauci said there will be a "new normal.''

“It's not going to be that you're going to eliminate this disease completely. We're not going to do that. But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn't disrupt our normal, social, economic and other interactions with each other," Fauci said. "To me, that's what the new normal is. I hope the new normal also includes a real strong corporate memory of what pandemics can do."

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 11:40 am
Growing evidence suggests COVID surge may be receding in parts of US

Growing evidence suggests the omicron surge may be beginning to recede in the parts of the U.S. that were first hit by the variant.

Although new case rates remain high across much of the Northeast, daily totals are slowly beginning to fall. New York City reported a 17% drop and New Jersey reported a 17.6% drop in new cases over the last week. Washington, D.C., reported a nearly 25% decline and Vermont saw a nearly 22% decline in cases in the last week.

But health officials caution the latest surge has yet to peak for much of the U.S. The nation is still reporting nearly 800,000 new cases a day -- a record high and a more than eight-fold increase compared to six weeks ago.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday that Americans should not expect a decline in the days to come.

"This is a very difficult time during this surge. We are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates... we're also seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country," Murthy said. "The next few weeks will be tough."

Nearly 1,800 Americans are dying from COVID-19 each day – an approximately 52.6% jump since Jan. 1.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 11:02 am
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tests positive

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a statement from Joint Staff spokesman Col. Dave Butler.

Milley has "very minor" symptoms and is working remotely, the statement said.

Milley was last in contact with President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

"He tested negative several days prior to and every day following contact with the President until yesterday," the statement said.

All other Joint Chiefs of Staff tested negative except for Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger, a spokesperson said.

ABC News' Matthew Seyler

 

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New Virginia governor signs executive order to end mask mandate in schools

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(NEW YORK) --- Newly inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, signed several executive orders over the weekend, including one removing masking requirements in schools across the state. However, a growing number of school districts have said that their masking policies will remain in place.

“There is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children. Under Virginia law, parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children,” Youngkin's second executive order read.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, from her personal Twitter account, weighed in on the issue as a parent in Arlington County, Virginia. Psaki applauded the county where her kids go to school for keeping the mask requirement in place and swiped at the new Republican governor’s order.

"Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong). Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant," Psaki wrote.

Since Youngkin signed the order Saturday, at least three school districts in Northern Virginia have reminded families that masking policies remain in place, including Arlington Public Schools, Alexandria City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools.

“As we return to school after the holiday weekend, we want to let you know that FCPS will continue universal masking for all students and staff,” FCPS superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement Sunday.

The statement also said that FCPS is currently reviewing Youngkin’s executive order and will remain aligned with CDC guidelines for now.

Along with the executive order on masks, Youngkin also signed an executive order ending the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state employees, one banning Critical Race Theory in public education and another that terminated the Virginia Parole Board, among others, on the same day.

 

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