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National
Immigration: Babies and children held in 'tender age' shelters according to report
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Immigration: Babies and children held in 'tender age' shelters according to report

'Zero Tolerance' Immigration Policy: Why Are Children Being Separated From Their Families

Immigration: Babies and children held in 'tender age' shelters according to report

Top Republicans responded Tuesday to the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, a “zero tolerance” policy implemented six weeks ago. Many Republicans responded publicly to the harsh criticism over the policy, saying they support keeping migrant children and parents together.

>> Read more trending news

Update 11:07 p.m. EDT June 19: Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, according to The Associated Press

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

The three centers -- in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville -- have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

 

Update 10:00 p.m. EDT June 19: The growing backlash against the Trump administration’s immigration policy is expanding as tech workers take a stand in Silicon Valley.

Microsoft workers are demanding the tech giant end its relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the forced separation of families at the U.S. southern border.

Some 100 Microsoft employees signed an open letter that calls for the company to sever its ties with ICE, according to The New York Times.

“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits,” employees said in the letter.

The letter was addressed to Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella.

Microsoft has a contract with ICE worth more than $19 million “for processing data and artificial intelligence,” the Times reported

Axios reported the letter demanded three things: Cancel its contract with ICE, create a public policy stating that "neither Microsoft nor its contractors will work with clients who violate international human rights law,” and commit to "transparency and review regarding contracts between Microsoft and government agencies, in the US and beyond."

 

Update 8:30 p.m. EDT June 19: Protests unfolded in several U.S. cities Tuesday against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of at least 2,000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past six weeks.

In New York, opponents of the policy marched from Union Square to Lower Manhattan, demanding an end to the separation policy.

 

In San Francisco, protesters marched to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, demanding that the agency stop separating children from their parents at the border.

 

Protesters also gathered in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square to protest the administration’s immigration policy during an appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at a GOP fundraiser.

 

Update 6:30 p.m. EDT June 19: As President Donald Trump meets with Congressional Republicans this hour over immigration, it’s unclear whether lawmakers can agree on immigration legislation and whether the meeting will address the controversial policy of separating undocumented families at the U.S. border.

Trump is reportedly urging House Republicans to pass “the compromise bill and the Goodlatte bill,” according to The Hill, which is citing GOP sources.

 

Senior Trump administration officials are doubling down on the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, calling out opponents of the plan, according to a new statement, the Huff Post reported on Twitter.

“The administration’s zero tolerance policy is a response to a humanitarian crisis brought about by loopholes in federal immigration law that encourage human trafficking and smuggling. As a result of these loopholes, the only two options for the U.S. government are to either release into the country illegally all illegal Central American migrants who show up at our border with a minor, or to prosecute them for illegal entry. There is no policy of family separation,” the statement said.

“The Trump administration has repeatedly asked Congress to give us the authority to detain families together and promptly return families together. Members of Congress who are pushing to give immunity for child smuggling will only increase the crisis ten-fold.”

The statement urges Congress to close the loopholes so the government can return “illegal alien families in a fair, expeditious and humane fashion.”

 

Update 4:42 p.m. EDT June 19: An undocumented child with Down syndrome was separated from her parents while illegally trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The 10-year-old girl was separated from her parents, even though her father is a legal U.S. resident, and sent to an immigration facility in McAllen, Texas, the Journal reported, while her mother was sent to a facility in Brownsville. The separation occurred while the mother was trying to get the girl and her brother across the border.   

The newspaper learned of the situation after an interview with Mexico’s Foreign Prime Minister Luis Videgaray.

During a speech at a small business event Tuesday, Trump blamed Mexico for contributing to the crisis at the U.S. southern border, saying the Mexican government could help end the stream of people traveling to the U.S. if it wanted to. 

 

Update 3:09 p.m. EDT June 19: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday that Republicans support creating a plan to keep migrant children and parents together amid criticism of a Trump administration policy that separates families suspected of coming into the country illegally at the border.

“I … and all of the other senators of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

 

Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, has passed a letter around to colleagues calling on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop separating families, The Hill reported.

“I’m asking for a pause,” Hatch said. “I think we ought to pause and look at this very carefully.”

Update 2:07 p.m. EDT June 19: A pair of Florida Democrats was barred Tuesday from going inside a Miami-area facility housing immigrant children as the national debate raged around the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from parents at the border.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wassermn Schultz and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson attempted to enter the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children Tuesday, but Wasserman Schultz said they were told that they needed to put in a request to visit the facility two weeks ahead of time.

The lawmakers said that they were told by the company that runs the facility that they would be able to visit Tuesday, but they were stopped by the a representative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 

“This is not a good day for our country, where a U.S. senator and a U.S. congressman have been turned away from a federal facility because the Trump administration does not want us to check on the welfare and the care of the children inside -- children who have been taken from their moms and dads,” Nelson said.

Update 1:30 p.m. EDT June 19: President Donald Trump once again blamed laws passed by Democrats for his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from parents suspected of coming into the country illegally while speaking Tuesday at a meeting of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Trump said the policy is necessary because loopholes in the immigration laws mean families “cannot  be detained together or removed together, only released.”

“These are crippling loopholes that cause family separations,” Trump said. “Child smugglers exploit the loopholes and they gain illegal entry into the United States, putting countless children in danger.”

There is no law that mandates the separation of children and parents at the border.

“We've got to stop the separation of the families, but politically correct or not we have a country that needs safety, that needs security, that has to be protected,” Trump said. “We don’t want people pouring into our country, we want them to come in through the process, through the legal system and we want ultimately a merit-based system where people come in based on merit.”

 

Update 11:40 a.m. EDT June 19: More than 20 state attorneys general are calling for an end to the Trump administration’s immigration policy, which has led to children being separated from their parents at the border and has sparked national outrage.

The 21 Democratic state attorneys general, from states including Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“Put simply, the deliberate separation of children and their parents who seek lawful asylum in America is wrong,” the attorneys general said in the letter. “This practice is contrary to American values and must be stopped. We demand that you immediately reverse these harmful policies in the best interests of the children and families affected.”

The group is led by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who on Tuesday called the immigration policy “inhumane” and “draconian.”

 

“The Justice Department is ignoring its legal and moral obligations for the sake of a political agenda at the expense of children and the efforts of state law enforcement officials,” Balderas said. “The latest move to unnecessarily separate families is cruel and another example of this administration putting politics ahead of people.”

Update 10:15 a.m. EDT June 19: President Donald Trump insisted on Twitter that “Democrats are the problem” in the immigration debate as criticism of his administration’s policy of separating children from parents at the border continues.

Trump wrote Tuesday morning that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”

 

The president has blamed Democrats for the recent surge in family separations, saying that laws need to be changed in order to change the separation policy.

>> Recording of crying immigrant children separated from parents at border sparks outrage

“Now is the best opportunity ever for Congress to change the ridiculous and obsolete laws on immigration,” Trump said Tuesday in a tweet with the hashtag #CHANGETHELAWS.

 

 

There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border.

The president also wrote Tuesday morning that “if you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country,” and reiterated a claim that crime has risen in Germany since the country started accepting migrants, despite government numbers that show crime at its lowest rate since 1992.

     

Update 9:44 a.m. EDT June 19: The executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund called stories of children being separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policy “heartbreaking,” saying in a statement Monday that “such practices are in no one’s best interests, least of all the children who suffer their effects.”

 

“Detention and family separation are traumatic experiences that can leave children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and can create toxic stress which, as multiple studies have shown, can impact children’s long-term development,” said Henrietta Fore, an American who has headed UNICEF since earlier this year.

She noted that the U.S. government has long supported UNICEF’s efforts to help uprooted children in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Haiti.

>> Clergy group brings church charges of child abuse, immorality against Jeff Sessions over zero-tolerance policy

“Children -- no matter where they come from or what their migration status -- are children first and foremost,” she said. “I hope that the best interests of refugee and migrant children will be paramount in the application of U.S. asylum procedures and laws.”

Update 8:40 a.m. EDT June 19: Sen. John McCain called the Trump administration’s family separation policy “an affront to the decency of the American people” in a tweet Monday night.

The Arizona Republican said the policy is “contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded.”

 

“The administration has the power to rescind this policy,” he wrote. “It should do so now.”

>> Is the immigration separation policy new, where did it come from, where are the detention centers?

McCain is among a growing number of Republican lawmakers voicing concern over the administration's "zero tolerance" approach to illegal border crossings. Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution. With adults detained and facing prosecution, any minors accompanying them are taken away.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May.

Update 7:15 p.m. EDT June 18: The nonprofit news organization ProPublica released an eight minute audio recording of wailing children, who were separated from their parents last week.

>> All 5 living first ladies speak out on separation of immigrant children, parents at border

A U.S. border patrol agent can be heard laughing in the background as the 10 children from Central America are separated from their families.

Update 6:00 p.m. EDT June 18: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, during a briefing Monday afternoon, said there’s nothing new about the current policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

>> Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy: 4 things to know

"This entire crisis is not new, Nielsen said, pointing to "loopholes" in federal immigration laws from the past, but that could change this week with the introduction of several immigration measures in the U.S. House and Senate, including one from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Cruz is expected to introduce the “Protect Kids and Parents Act,” according to news reports. The measure would double the number of federal immigration judges from 375 to 750. It would authorize new temporary shelters to better accommodate families. 

The bill would mandate that immigrant families remain together, unless there’s criminal conduct or a threat to the children, and it would require that asylum cases are heard within 14 days of application.  

 

Update 5:35 p.m. EDT June 18:  The head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, addressed the growing backlash over the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy at the southern U.S. border, which is separating undocumented children from their parents. Nielsen defended the policy and urged 

Congress to fix the system and close the loopholes.

 

>> Before Trump policy, immigrant families arrested at the border were detained together

Update 5:30 p.m. EDT June 18: Two more first ladies have weighed in on the widening controversy over the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the southern U.S. border. Michelle Obama retweeted comments Laura Bush made that Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

>> Trump border policy: How to help immigrant children separated from families

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter also released a statement Monday, according to The New York Times. "The practice and policy today of removing children from their parents' care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country," Carter said.

 

Update 4:30 p.m. EDT June 18: The Department of Health and Human Services has released photos of the “tent city” in the Texas border outpost of Tornillo, just outside of El Paso, where the U.S. government is sending children separated from their parents at the border. There are already dozens of children at the facility, according to news reports.

 

Update 3:10 p.m. EDT June 18: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, called Monday for the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen amid the ongoing debate over the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

The demand came one day after Nielsen said in a tweet that, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

 

Nielsen echoed President Donald Trump’s claims that a law is behind the recent spike in separations of migrant children and their parents at the border.

“We will not apologize for enforcing the laws passed by Congress,” Nielsen said. “We are a nation of laws. We are asking Congress to change the laws.”

However, as Harris and numerous fact checkers have noted, there is no law that mandates the separation of children and parents at the border.

Harris said in a statement Monday that Nielsen’s “misleading statements ... are disqualifying.”

“We must speak the truth,” Harris said. “There is no law that says the Administration has to rip children from their families. This Administration can and must reverse course now and it can and must find new leadership for the Department of Homeland Security.”

 

Update 2:30 p.m. June 18: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that President Donald Trump is telling an “outright lie” when he claims that Democrats are behind the recent surge in separations of children from their parents on the border.

“This is not happening because of the 'Democrats' law,' as the White House has claimed,” Clinton said. “Separating families is not mandated by law at all.”

 

Clinton, who ran as a Democrat against Trump during the 2016 presidential election, also appeared to chastise U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who cited a Bible verse last week while justifying the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

“Those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenant of Christianity,” Clinton said. “Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children unto me.’ He did not say, ‘Let the children suffer.’”

 

Update 2 p.m. EDT June 18: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush urged President Donald Trump to end the policy that’s allowed authorities to separate migrant children from their parents on the border, writing Monday on Twitter that "children shouldn't be used as a negotiating tool.”

“(Trump) should end this heartless policy and Congress should get an immigration deal done that provides for asylum reform, border security and a path to citizenship for Dreamers,” he wrote.

 

The president has repeatedly called for Democrats to negotiate with Republicans to address illegal immigration after falsely claiming that the party is behind laws that mandate the separation of child from parent at the border. No such law exists. 

Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, ran against Trump in 2016 for the Republican presidential nomination.

In an op-ed published Sunday by the Washington Post, former first lady Laura Bush called the Trump administration policy “cruel.”

"I live in a border state," Bush wrote. "I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart."

First lady Melania Trump has also criticized the policy, telling CNN in a statement through her spokeswoman that “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

Update 12:46 p.m. EDT June 18: President Donald Trump again accused Democrats of obstructing efforts to deal with illegal immigration and the separation of children and parents at the border, telling reporters Monday that “we’re stuck with these horrible laws” because Democrats refuse to sit down with Republicans.

There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border.

“We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world,” Trump said. “Nobody has such sad, such bad – and in many cases, such horrible and tough – you see about child separation. You see what’s going on there.”

 

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” Trump said.

 

Update 12 p.m. EDT June 18: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said authorities don’t want to separate children from their families but that officials have a duty to prosecute people who illegally cross the border.

“When we ignore our laws at the border we obviously encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country, creating an enormous burden on our law enforcement, our schools, our hospitals and (our) social programs,” Sessions said Monday during the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference in New Orleans.

 

He framed the issue as a debate over “whether we want to be a country of laws or whether we want to be a country without borders.”

“President Trump has said this cannot continue,” Sessions said. “We do not want to separate parents from their children. If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices. We will have a system where those who need to apply for asylum can do so and those who want to come to this country will apply legally.”

Sessions’ arguments echoed those of President Donald Trump, who has blamed Democrats for passing laws that he said led to the separations.

There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said earlier Monday that officials will not apologize for enforcing immigration laws.

"We have to do our job," she said.

 

Original report: President Donald Trump defended his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy on Monday, writing in a series of tweets that children are being used “by the worst criminals on earth” to get into America as critics slammed the policy for separating children from their parents.

“Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country,” Trump wrote. “Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border. It is historic, with some countries the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S.”

 

The president pointed to a rise in crime in Germany as an example of the chaos caused by illegal immigration, writing in a tweet that it was a “big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture.”

   

However, Germany’s internal ministry reported last month that criminal offenses in the country were at their lowest since 1992, according to Reuters.

This spring, the Trump administration ordered prosecutors to charge every person illegally crossing the border. Children traveling with the adults have been separated and placed in detention centers, prompting protests nationwide.

The president has blamed Democrats for not fixing the law that allows for the separations.

“Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration,” the president wrote. “Change the laws!”

     

Despite his claim that Democrats are at fault for the situation, The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration “put the policy in place and could easily end it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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He studied flies in a few spots in remote Greenland and noticed an 80 percent drop in numbers since 1996. 'It's clearly not a German thing,' said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. 'We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is.' THE SUSPECTS Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects. Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change. 'It's death by a thousand cuts, and that's really bad news,' Wagner said. To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans' war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops. Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said. Those landscapes are 'essentially dead zones,' he said. Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said. Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations. 'We're hitting insects during the day, we're hitting them at night,' Tallamy said. 'We're hitting them just about everywhere.' Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures. Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small. RESTORING HABITAT Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps. University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop 'turf is basically like a desert' that doesn't attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads. The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become 'ecological traps where you're drawing insects in and they're all squashed by cars.' Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects. Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly. 'The kids I'm teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule,' Wagner said. 'They're not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon.' ___ Associated Press video journalist Federica Narancio contributed to this report. Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears . His work can be found here . ___ The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • As South Carolina rivers overflowed from Florence's torrential rain, deputies taking two women to a mental health facility drove into floodwaters that engulfed their van and trapped the women inside, officials said Wednesday. The two deputies worked to free the women, who were being transported Tuesday night as part of a court order, but were not able to save them from the back of the van, Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson told reporters. 'I'm not sure if it was the way the van was positioned, against a guardrail, or if it was pressure from the water, but unfortunately they were not able to get the van doors open and get the ladies out,' Thompson said. Rescue crews needed about 45 minutes to find the van, which was underwater at that point, and plucked the Horry County deputies from the roof, the sheriff said. Officials said the van was in Marion County near the Little Pee Dee River, one of the bodies of water state officials are watching closely after Florence. Because of darkness, responders decided trying to retrieve the women's bodies from the van Tuesday night wasn't safe. That effort resumed Wednesday morning, and Thompson said a specialized crew was being flown in from Charleston to assist. At nearly 7 p.m. Wednesday, State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Thom Berry confirmed the bodies had been recovered. Thompson identified the women as Windy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43. Earlier Wednesday, Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson had identified Newton with a different last name. Thompson told reporters that deputies appear to have driven around a barrier blocking the road but the investigation is ongoing. 'It hasn't been confirmed to me that they did, but here's my question: There's barriers there. It could be assumed that he did,' Thompson said Wednesday. Justin Bamberg, a state lawmaker and lawyer who has represented the families of several people injured or killed by law enforcement officers, said he's perplexed by the decision to transport anyone in such uncertain weather conditions. 'If that road is in an area where it is a flood risk, and waters were rising, why were they driving on that road anyway?' he said. 'People need to know exactly how it happened. It makes it seem like someone took a very unnecessary risk in creating the problem in the first place.' The incident has spawned investigations by the State Law Enforcement Division and Highway Patrol. Thompson said he has also begun an internal investigation and put the deputies involved — Joshua Bishop and Stephen Flood — on administrative leave. A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for Flood told a reporter he didn't want to talk to anyone. There was no answer at a number listed for Bishop. Thompson said he did not think the women were in restraints in the back of the van, noting that restraints are used for combative patients 'and I understand they were not.' The women had been involuntarily committed by a physician, authorities said. Under South Carolina law, people who have been certified by a physician as posing an imminent risk of harm to themselves by virtue of mental illness and are the subject of an involuntary emergency admission must be transported by law enforcement to whichever designated hospital has agreed to admit them, according to officials with the state's Department of Mental Health. According to statute, the documents authorizing the admission require 'a law enforcement officer, preferably in civilian clothes and preferably with crisis intervention training, to take into custody and transport the person to the hospital designated by the certification.' The sheriff said his agency acts as a courier in such situations, to follow a judge's wishes. Neither woman has an arrest record in South Carolina, according to documents obtained from state police. Their names also yielded no records in the Horry County jail and court index systems. Newton had posted on her Facebook page that she previously had been hospitalized for mental illness. She posted multiple times about her struggles. ___ AP photographer Gerald Herbert in Conway and AP writer Jeffrey Collins in Columbia contributed to this report. ___ Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .
  • Foreign government hackers continue to target the personal email accounts of U.S. senators and their aides — and the Senate's security office has refused to defend them, a lawmaker says. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a Wednesday letter to Senate leaders that his office discovered that 'at least one major technology company' has warned an unspecified number of senators and aides that their personal email accounts were 'targeted by foreign government hackers.' Similar methods were employed by Russian military agents who leaked the contents of private email inboxes to influence the 2016 elections. Wyden did not specify the timing of the notifications, but a Senate staffer said they occurred 'in the last few weeks or months.' The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. But the senator said the Office of the Sergeant at Arms , which oversees Senate security, informed legislators and staffers that it has no authority to help secure personal, rather than official, accounts. 'This must change,' Wyden wrote in the letter. 'The November election grows ever closer, Russia continues its attacks on our democracy, and the Senate simply does not have the luxury of further delays.' A spokeswoman for the security office said it would have no comment. Wyden has proposed legislation that would allow the security office to offer digital protection for personal accounts and devices, the same way it does with official ones. His letter did not provide additional details of the attempts to pry into the lawmakers' digital lives, including whether lawmakers of both parties are still being targeted. Google and Microsoft, which offer popular private email accounts, declined to comment. The Wyden letter cites previous Associated Press reporting on the Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear and how it targeted the personal accounts of congressional aides between 2015 and 2016. The group's prolific cyberspying targeted the Gmail accounts of current and former Senate staffers, including Robert Zarate, now national security adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Jason Thielman, chief of staff to Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the AP found. The same group also spent the second half of 2017 laying digital traps intended to look like portals where Senate officials enter their work email credentials, the Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm TrendMicro has reported. Microsoft seized some of those traps, and in September 2017 apparently thwarted an attempt to steal login credentials of a policy aide to Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill , the Daily Beast discovered in July. Last month, Microsoft made news again when it seized several internet domains linked to Fancy Bear , including two apparently aimed at conservative think tanks in Washington. Such incidents 'only scratch the surface' of advanced cyberthreats faced by U.S. officials in the administration and Congress, according to Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University. Rid made the statement in a letter to Wyden last week . 'The personal accounts of senators and their staff are high-value, low-hanging targets,' Rid wrote. 'No rules, no regulations, no funding streams, no mandatory training, no systematic security support is available to secure these resources.' Attempts to breach such accounts were a major feature of the yearlong AP investigation into Fancy Bear that identified hundreds of senior officials and politicians — including former secretaries of state, top generals and intelligence chiefs — whose Gmail accounts were targeted. The Kremlin is by no means the only source of worry, said Matt Tait, a University of Texas cybersecurity fellow and former British intelligence official. 'There are lots of countries that are interested in what legislators are thinking, what they're doing, how to influence them, and it's not just for purposes of dumping their information online,' Tait said. In an April 12 letter released by Wyden's office, Adm. Michael Rogers — then director of the National Security Agency — acknowledged that personal accounts of senior government officials 'remain prime targets for exploitation' and said that officials at the NSA and Department for Homeland Security were discussing ways to better protect them. The NSA and DHS declined to offer further details. Guarding personal accounts is a complex, many-layered challenge. Rid believes tech companies have a sudden responsibility to nudge high-profile political targets into better digital hygiene. He said he did not believe much as been done, although Facebook announced a pilot program Monday to help political campaigns protect their accounts, including monitoring for potential hacking threats for those that sign up. Boosting protection in the Senate could begin with the distribution of small chip-based security devices such as the YubiKey, which are already used in many secure corporate and government environments, Tait said. Such keys supplement passwords to authenticate legitimate users, potentially frustrating distant hackers. Cybersecurity experts also recommend them for high-value cyber-espionage targets including human rights workers and journalists. 'In an ideal world, the Sergeant at Arms could just have a pile of YubiKeys,' said Tait. 'When legislators or staff come in they can (get) a quick cybersecurity briefing and pick up a couple of these for their personal accounts and their official accounts.' ___ Bajak reported from Boston. Satter reported from London.
  • Authorities said they still don't know why an employee at a Wisconsin software company went to his office with a pistol and extra ammunition and began firing on his colleagues, seriously injuring several, before he was fatally shot by police. Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke said the shooting happened Wednesday morning at WTS Paradigm. Officers were alerted to an active-shooter situation at 10:26 a.m. and arrived to find a man armed with a semi-automatic pistol and extra ammunition. The man fired at officers before he was shot, and he later died at a Madison hospital. Foulke said four officers fired their weapons within eight minutes of getting the call, preventing more bloodshed. 'I think a lot less people were injured or killed because police officers went in and neutralized the shooter,' Foulke said. Foulke released few details about the suspect: that he was an employee of WTS Paradigm and lived in nearby Madison. The chief said he didn't know if victims were targeted, adding that investigators were following all leads. 'We have reason to believe the suspect was heavily armed with a lot of extra ammunition, a lot of extra magazines,' Foulke said. Judy Lahmers, a business analyst at WTS Paradigm, said she was working at her desk when she heard what sounded 'like somebody was dropping boards on the ground, really loud.' Lahmers said she ran out of the building and hid behind a car. She said the building's glass entrance door was shattered. 'I'm not looking back, I'm running as fast as I can. You just wonder, 'Do you hide or do you run?'' she told The Associated Press. She said she knew one co-worker had been grazed by a bullet but was OK. She didn't have any other information about the shooting but said it was 'totally unexpected. We're all software people. We have a good group.' WTS Paradigm Marketing Manager Ryan Mayrand said in a statement Wednesday evening that the company was 'shocked and heartbroken' and was working to set up counseling for workers. He asked the media to respect the privacy of the workers, particularly those who were among the victims. University Hospital in Madison confirmed Wednesday evening that it was still treating three victims from the shooting, saying one was in critical condition and two were in serious condition. Police conducted a secondary search of the office building after the shooting to ensure there were no more victims or suspects — and officers discovered some people still hiding in the building, which also houses Esker Software. Gabe Geib, a customer advocate at Esker Software, said he was working at his desk when he heard what 'sounded like claps.' He said he then saw people running away from the building at 'full sprint.' 'We knew at that point that something was going down. A ton of people were running across the street right in front of us,' he said. Geib said he and his colleagues were still huddled in their cafeteria, away from windows, more than an hour after the shooting. Jeff Greene, who also works at Esker, said police told those gathered in the cafeteria to go to a nearby hotel to make a statement about what they saw. Three yellow school buses full of more than 100 people, including witnesses, were unloaded at a hotel about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the office building. Some people hugged as they were reunited with loved ones. Others stopped to pet a dog that had been brought by someone picking up a worker. WTS Paradigm makes software for the building products industry. A Wisconsin State Journal profile from 2014 listed company employment at about 145 employees and noted the company was looking to move to a larger location at the time. The company's website was down Wednesday. A shopping center next to the building was temporarily put on lockdown at the direction of police. Middleton is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of Milwaukee. ___ Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, and Amy Forliti and Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis contributed to this report.