National

'Dating Game' serial killer Rodney Alcala dies on death row

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(LOS ANGELES) -- Rodney Alcala, a convicted serial killer who was on California's death row, has died, authorities said Saturday.

Alcala, 77, died of natural causes at 1:43 a.m. Saturday at a hospital in the community near Corcoran State Prison, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.

Alcala was known as "The Dating Game" killer for his appearance as a winning contestant on the television game show in 1978.

After representing himself in Orange County court, he was sentenced to death in 2010 for the 1979 murder of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe and the murders of four other women -- 18-year-old Jill Barcomb and 27-year-old Georgia Wixted, both in 1977; 32-year-old Charlotte Lamb in 1978; and 21-year-old Jill Parenteau in 1979.

He was previously sentenced to death twice for the murder of Samsoe -- in 1980 and then again in 1986 -- though those sentences were later overturned in appeals and he was granted new trials.

Alcala also pleaded guilty to the murders of two other women in New York -- Cornelia Crilley in 1971 and Ellen Jane Hover in 1977. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2013.

He has been linked to or suspected of murders in other states. In 2016, he was charged by Wyoming prosecutors with the murder of 28-year-old Christine Ruth Thornton, who disappeared in 1978 when she was six months pregnant and whose body was found four years later, though authorities ultimately decided not to extradite him to Wyoming for trial due to his failing health.

Alcala's execution in California had been postponed indefinitely due to a moratorium on the death penalty instituted by the state in 2019.

A successful photographer, Alcala often would lure women and girls by approaching them on the street and offering to take their picture before attacking them, investigators said. While investigating the murder of Samsoe in 1979, investigators found hundreds of photographs in a Seattle storage locker belonging to Alcala of unidentified women, girls and boys, as well as jewelry believed to be trophies of some of his victims.

In 2010, the Huntington Beach Police Department released the photos taken by Alcala confiscated decades earlier to determine whether they may have been victimized by him. Prior to his death, he had not disclosed whether there were other victims.

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One dead, six injured after boats collide on Georgia lake

Emily Swecker/WGXA

(MACON, Ga.) -- One person is dead and six others injured, including one critically, after two boats collided on a Georgia lake early Saturday, officials said.

The incident occurred before 3:40 a.m. on Lake Tobesofkee in Macon, Mark McKinnon, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' law enforcement division, said in a statement to ABC News.

All seven victims were aboard a pontoon boat when it collided with a "cigarette boat" occupied by two people, McKinnon said.

William Childs, 22, suffered an open head injury and was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Bibb County coroner Leon Jones told ABC News.

"I knew he was going to die," Jones, who was in the hospital responding to a separate incident, said of the moment he saw Childs brought into the emergency department.

A woman in her early 20s was in critical condition in the intensive care unit with a head injury, Jones said.

The other five people on the pontoon boat sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

The two people aboard the cigarette boat were not injured in the crash, officials said. They allegedly abandoned the boat and were found at a nearby residence, McKinnon said.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Critical Incident Reconstruction Team is investigating.

Authorities suspect alcohol may have been involved but are awaiting results of the investigation for confirmation, according to McKinnon.

Any charges will be determined when the investigation is completed in two to three months.

Lake Tobesofkee, a recreational lake located just outside Macon's city limits, has 35 miles of shoreline and is a popular spot for boating and fishing.

Editor's note: Authorities initially reported the operator of the cigarette boat was arrested for boating under the influence, though that information was later determined to be incorrect. The story has been updated to remove references to the arrest.

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Washington state deputy shot and killed in the line of duty

KATU

(VANCOUVER, Wash.) -- A Washington state sheriff's deputy was shot and killed in the line of duty Friday night as police launch a search for suspects.

The deputy involved in the shooting that unfolded around 7 p.m. has not been named.

Clark County Sheriff Sgt. Brent Waddell said in an initial press conference the deputy was hospitalized after being "seriously injured," but by 11:30 p.m. the department announced the officer died.

Waddell said there were "multiple suspects" involved in the shooting and they may be "armed and dangerous."

Two persons of interest have been detained and a search is ongoing for a third person of interest, Vancouver Police, which is handling the investigation said Saturday, according to The Columbian.

Officials did not offer details about the circumstances under which the deputy was shot.

Police were involved in a standoff with someone at a Vancouver apartment complex late into the night, local ABC affiliate KATU reported.

Several police departments searched for suspects in the area of Interstate 205 near Northeast Padden Parkway well into the night.

"This is a difficult time for the Clark County Sheriff's Office, law enforcement agencies in Clark County and the surrounding Clark County, Portland metro area. Clark County law enforcement appreciates the support and understanding of the community in these tough times," the department said in a news release. The investigation remains ongoing.

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Missouri county's order reinstating mask mandate amid delta surge met with challenges

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(ST.LOUIS) -- Hours after health officials in St. Louis announced they would reinstate a mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the state's attorney general said he planned to challenge it.

On Friday, officials for the city and county of St. Louis said residents ages 5 and up will be required to wear masks in indoor public places and on public transportation starting Monday, regardless of vaccination status. Wearing masks outdoors in groups will be strongly encouraged under the new order, which includes exceptions while eating and drinking in restaurants and bars, and for people with disabilities.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said on Twitter late Friday night that he planned to file a lawsuit Monday to halt the mask mandate.

"The citizens of St. Louis and St. Louis County are not subjects -- they are free people," he said. "As their Attorney General I'll be filing suit Monday to stop this insanity."

St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch has also said he plans to challenge the mask mandate. Last month, Missouri enacted a new law allowing local governing bodies to halt public health orders at any time through a majority vote.

St. Louis County rescinded its health order requiring masks and social distancing in mid-May, a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance allowing fully vaccinated Americans to stop wearing masks indoors in most settings. Local officials recommended wearing masks "whenever you're close to people who may not be vaccinated."

"We have arrived at a point in the pandemic where we have to lean more heavily on personal responsibility to prevent further spread of the virus," Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the city of St. Louis, said in a statement at the time.

In the weeks since, COVID-19 cases have surged in Missouri, as the highly transmissible delta variant has rapidly spread. The rate of new cases in St. Louis County has increased to 20.9 cases per 100,000 per day -- as high as the rate seen in early February "when we were still coming out of the enormous winter surge," according to a report published Thursday by the county's public health department. COVID-19 hospitalizations have also increased by 45% between July 6 and July 19.

"We've lost more than 500 St. Louisans to COVID-19, and if our region doesn't work together to protect one another, we could see spikes that overwhelm our hospital and public health systems," Echols said in a statement Friday announcing the renewed mask mandate. "The city and county health departments are taking this joint step to save lives, make sure hospitals can provide the care residents rely on, and protect our children so they can enjoy a full range of educational opportunities this year."

"Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance when possible, and most importantly, get vaccinated," he added. "Vaccines remain one of the best methods to prevent severe complications and death from the virus."

The increase in COVID-19 cases has been driven by infection in unvaccinated residents, the county has said, including fueling multiple outbreaks in daycares and camps this summer. About 44.8% of St. Louis County residents are fully vaccinated, according to state health department data.

"Vaccinations are the best way to stop the fast-spreading delta variant of COVID-19, but so far, not enough people have been vaccinated," Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said in a statement Friday. "We are relentlessly committed to making vaccinations more accessible and convenient. In the meantime, we need everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks in crowded indoor settings."

"We must protect our most vulnerable residents as well as children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations," he added.

Last weekend, Los Angeles County officials reinstated an indoor mask mandate in response to surging COVID-19 cases. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said it would not enforce the health order.

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New York City eyes French 'health pass' vaccination policy

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(NEW YORK) -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared on Friday to entertain the possibility of implementing vaccination passports in the nation's largest city.

The mayor, who had previously said vaccine passports could be an important tool if balanced with privacy concerns, encouraged businesses "to move immediately to some form of mandate," adding that he would "seriously consider" a mandatory COVID pass for most social activities.

De Blasio compared New York to France, which announced this month that so-called "health passes" would be required for events or places that include 50 or more people, starting July 21, and for restaurants, cafes and stores starting in August. Patrons also can show a proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken in the previous 48 hours to gain entry.

"We have to look at making it more appealing to get vaccinated, because there are only things you can do when you're vaccinated," de Blasio said during an interview with WNYC Friday.

So far in France, the newly announced health passes appear to have spurred an uptick in both vaccinations and anti-vaccine demonstrations. 

Health workers in France, where at least 111,778 people have died from COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, will be required to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, according to Macron.

As of Thursday, 58% of French residents had received at least one dose, and 44% were fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. By comparison, 56% of Americans had gotten at least one shot, and 49% were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, thousands of people in France took to the streets over the weekend to protest the health passes on the grounds that the rule was an overreach of Macron's power and an infringement of personal freedom, adding to longstanding tension. Even prior to the pandemic, the country had a strong thread of vaccine skepticism running through it.

Researchers on vaccine confidence surveyed more than 65,000 people across 67 countries in 2015 on their attitudes about vaccines. Based on those results, researchers deemed France, where 41% of respondents said they disagreed that vaccines were safe, the world's most vaccine-hesitant country. By comparison, the global average was 13%.

Some neighboring European countries seem similarly willing to take a hard line on compulsory vaccination. Italy announced that it would introduce its own mandatory health pass system starting Aug. 6.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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Lack of diversity in higher learning can be a problem for diverse student bodies

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(NEW YORK) -- Some of the best colleges and universities in the U.S. are facing backlash over the extent of their commitment to classroom diversity.

Several high-profile Black academics have been denied tenure at esteemed higher-learning institutions, sparking a new debate about racism and privilege in academia. This comes as data has shown that as student demographics changed to have more people of color, while the racial makeup of professors and instructors remains the same at these institutions: predominately white.

After decades of teaching at schools including Yale and Princeton, activist and scholar Dr. Cornel West's name made headlines this year in a very public conflict with Harvard Divinity School. West resigned from his position at the school in June.

In his resignation letter, he attributed his decision to "spiritual rot" after he was denied tenure.

"I've been a Black man in America for over 60-something years. ... I know what's going on. It has nothing to do with academics," West said in his letter.

West has said he believes race was a factor in his not getting tenure. He had previously held tenure during his last stint at Harvard and has also held a tenured position at Princeton University. He said his teaching has been significantly limited by Havard's failure to grant him that protection.

Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, spoke with ABC News about tenure standards and policies for higher education.

"[Tenure] provides job security, but it's really about academic freedom," Mulvey said. "[With tenure], you're not worried about your job security for teaching the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing, or because somebody doesn't like what you're researching."

Harvard administrators offered West a five-year contract with consideration of a future tenure bid following public outcry from student protestors, but West declined.

"Harvard offered me more money. It offered me a big chair ... and I said it's not about that. You can't even undergo a tenure process. You can't negotiate respect in that regard," West said in an interview with ABC News' Deborah Roberts.

The Harvard Divinity School issued a statement thanking West for his "enormous contribution to ... issues of racial justice" adding: "We had hoped to retain him on our faculty for many years to come."

During the three-month dispute over West's tenure debate with Harvard, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones publicly announced her withdrawal from tenure negotiations with her alma mater, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

UNC recruited her to be the Knight Chair in race and investigative journalism, a position which is endowed at schools by the Knight Foundation to lead journalism in the digital age.

However, the board of trustees at the school initially refused to vote on her tenure. It would have made her the first person to hold the position without tenure in the Knight Chair's history at the school.

"I think it showed that there was not a respect for what Black faculty go through on campus," she told ABC News in a recent interview. "If they were able to do this to me -- I work at the New York Times. I have a huge megaphone, I have a huge platform -- what do they think they could get away with when it came to lesser-known scholars?"

Though the school's board of trustees did eventually vote in her favor for tenure, she declined the offer, instead announcing her decision to accept the first Knight Chair position at Howard University, a historically Black college.

UNC said it is "disappointed" that Hannah-Jones won't be joining the faculty" and that the school is working "toward a more inclusive and equitable campus," in a statement released on July 6.

ABC News' data team analyzed U.S. Department of Education reports on more than 4,000 schools and found that there has been a dramatic change in the demographic makeup of students, while instructors' demographics remained stagnant.

Overall, they found the student population on the nation's college campuses have become majority non-white, while faculty has remained about 70% white.

"Nikole Hannah-Jones' situation is particularly egregious because what you can see is a Black woman not getting what was given automatically to everyone that came before her," Mulvey said.

Research shows non-white professors are less likely to receive tenure. Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System shows professors of color make up 30% of the overall faculty, but only 10% of tenured professors are people of color. Of that 10%, 3.7% are Black and 4.8% are Hispanic/Latino.

Overall about 41% of all faculty are tenured, but among Black and Hispanic faculty, the percentage of those who are tenured is lower.

Hannah-Jones will join faculty members at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University, alongside author and Howard alumnus Ta-Nehisi Coates.

West says there are "barriers" that non-white professors face on the path to tenure.

He noted the "invisible" responsibilities that professors of color take on that typically fall outside of their job description on paper. In large part, he said, this stems from their relationship with students of color. These professors fulfill the role of a mentor and encourage professional development.

"When you have students coming in who are hungry and thirsty for a quest for truth and they themselves feel disrespected, many Black professors feel that we want to spend some time with them. Some of us spend a lot of time with them to empower them. Why? Because we had Black professors who empowered us. So that takes extra time. It takes extra effort. It takes extra energy," West said.

According to Mulvey, the glass ceiling for nonwhite professors in higher education is nothing new.

"Higher education is not immune to systemic and institutional racism," Mulvey said. "Faculty of color will talk to you about the Black tax, which is well-known in that faculty of color are always asked to serve on diversity, inclusion and equity task forces. And as a result, when a faculty of color comes up for tenure, they may have found they didn't have the same amount of time for research as their white colleagues."

The racial disparities within higher education reach beyond the realm of faculty, influencing students' experiences in the classroom.

ABC News' data analysis has found that non-white students at universities with more diverse faculty have higher graduation rates.

It's a correlation not lost on Georgetown University senior Yaritza Aguilar. She is the first in her family to go to college and says professors of color have been crucial throughout her education.

"When I have a Latino professor, I feel more confident. Latin professors have been in my shoes, being the first to kind of lift your family out of a difficult situation and there's a lot of trauma that comes with that," said Aguilar.

ABC News' data team found racial disparity is present across schools, which can cause students to feel isolated and discouraged to continue their education, affecting graduation and retention rates.

"For a student to come on a campus and not see anyone else that looks like them, the message is you're an outsider. If they see faculty that looks like them, the message they get is that, I can succeed here, I can succeed in this field," Aguilar said.

Early last year, Aguilar was involved with a group of student volunteers who pushed an initiative to help the school hire two more Latino professors in the history and American studies department. She is also starting a petition to help create a Latino studies minor.

"After the murder of George Floyd, I think Georgetown has been more responsive and critical of the way they've dealt with diversity. They created a racial justice initiative and hired another professor of color. But we want that rhetoric to be turned into action," Aguilar said.

Though progress has been made among universities and colleges, many academics say there is still more to be done for faculty and students.

"Racism is still operating in these institutions," West said. "The racism is still at work at each and every one of these institutions. Yet there's decent people of all colors willing to fight against it. That's the good news. That's the good news."

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COVID-19 vaccinations up 14% in past week, White House says

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(WASHINGTON) -- COVID-19 vaccinations rose 14% over the past week, White House officials said Friday, as the more contagious delta variant is quickly spreading in under-vaccinated areas.

"In the past 7 days 2.15M reported newly vaccinated, vs. 1.88M the 7 days prior (+14%)," Cyrus Shahpar, the White House COVID-19 data director, said on Twitter Friday.

"The delta variant is highly contagious and circulating across the US," he added. "Get vaccinated!"

The delta variant now makes up over 80% of cases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday, up from 50% at the beginning of July.

It's unclear at the moment whether the increase in vaccinations is a blip or a trend. An ABC News analysis of CDC data shows that, as of Thursday, the number of COVID-19 vaccinations had plateaued at about 530,000 total shots administered per day. Over the last week, on average, 297,202 people initiated vaccination per day -- 9.6% higher than the previous seven days.

On average, 236,791 adults initiated vaccination each day in the last seven days -- 7.4% higher than the previous seven days, the analysis found. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, that number rose nearly 20%.

The five states that currently have the highest COVID-19 case rates are seeing their vaccination numbers increase, according to the White House. Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada are seeing a higher rate of people getting their first shots compared to the national average, Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator on COVID-19, told reporters Thursday.

"This is a very positive trend," he added.

Visits to the website vaccines.gov from users in Alabama -- the least-vaccinated state -- have gone up three times in the last two weeks, according to epidemiologist and ABC News contributor Dr. John Brownstein. Meanwhile, people in Louisiana and Missouri have doubled visits to the site, he found, suggesting people there are seeking information on where to get a shot.

On Friday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called on people to get vaccinated, as the daily average of new COVID-19 cases has tripled over the last two weeks in the state.

"Let's get it done, and we know what it takes to get it done -- get a shot in your arm," she said during a press briefing. "I've done it, it's safe, it's effective, data proves that it works, it doesn't cost anything, it saves lives."

Just under 34% of the state's population is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

"Folks are supposed to have common sense," Ivey said. "But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that let us down."

Louisiana's health department issued new COVID-19 guidance Friday, recommending mask-wearing indoors regardless of vaccination status "in light of Louisiana's troubling COVID-19 trends in cases and hospitalizations," Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Twitter.

"Louisiana is undeniably in a fourth surge of COVID," the governor said during a press briefing Friday afternoon, as the state reported 3,127 new cases. The state's average daily cases per 100,000 residents has increased 208% over the past 14 days.

"Louisiana now has the highest growth rate in cases per capita in the United States of America. I want to let that sink in," Bel Edwards said, attributing that to widespread transmission of the delta variant and the "very low percentage of people who have been vaccinated."

About 48% of residents ages 12 and up have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the governor.

"That number is far below where we need to be to have the protection that we need in order to slow the spread and move toward ending the pandemic," he said.

One encouraging sign, and one the governor noted he hopes continues, is that vaccinations have been on the rise over the past two weeks, state officials said, going from an average of 2,000 vaccine initiations per day to about 5,000 per day.

"This surge is on us," Bel Edwards said. "How bad it gets, how long it stays bad, how many people ultimately die -- on us."

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett, Sasha Pezenik and Jason Volack contributed to this report.

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Maryland wildlife refuge fights to protect American history from climate change

Robert A. Reeder/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

(CAMBRIDGE, Md.) -- While extreme heat waves, wildfires and devastating flooding bring attention to the impacts of climate change, some parts of the country are fighting more pernicious effects that threaten both protected ecosystems and important landmarks of American history.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a wetland in the outer banks of Maryland established in 1933 as a protected area for bald eagles, osprey and several species of migratory birds. The government officials working to protect it say they can see the impacts of climate change in the refuge every day. As the ocean continues to warm and sea levels rise, the water is turning marshes into lakes and allowing invasive species to take over the ecosystem.

But the pressure to protect Blackwater is about more than just the plants and animals that live there. It also has deep roots in American history. Harriet Tubman is connected to multiple sites in the area, including the town where she was born, the general store where she was hit in the head after refusing to stop an enslaved boy from escaping and multiple locations she used when leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

"These are the very forests. If Harriet Tubman were here today, none of this landscape would have looked different to her at all," said Deanna Mitchell, the superintendent of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Historical Park.

Those forests are now also feeling the impact of climate change. The trees can't survive the saltwater intruding on the marsh, and more and more forests are dying, turning into what U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Matt Whitbeck calls "ghost forests."

"For many people, many visitors, if they come to the refuge, they go around our wildlife drive and they look to the south and they see this big body of open water. And it's beautiful. You know, we have pelicans out there, we get tundra swans out there in the winter, the sunsets, and it's just lovely," he said.

"But once you understand the factors that cause this big expanse of open water, it's a little alarming. So when the refuge was established in 1933, that was all the vast expanse of tidal marsh. So we had black rails, we had nesting black ducks. We had all of this habitat that has since been lost to open water."

Whitbeck said 5,000 acres of tidal marsh at Blackwater have been converted into open water since the refuge was created, and encroaching saltwater has killed acres of forests and made irreversible changes for native species. The Fish and Wildlife Service expects sea levels around Blackwater will be 3.4 feet higher in 2100 than they are now, meaning most of the marshlands visible now will all be underwater.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked to restore marsh areas and is researching ways to manage the ecosystem, but Whitbeck said they won't be able to stop all of the changes they're seeing in the marsh as sea levels continue to rise and the saltwater makes it harder for native species to survive.

Just in the last year, a team of archeologists from the Maryland Department of Transportation announced they discovered the site of a cabin belonging to Harriet Tubman's father, Ben Ross, where Tubman lived as a child and worked with him as an adult.

The agency recently purchased the 2,600-acre property where they found the site, because they were concerned it could be completely flooded before they were able to find and preserve what remained of the property.

"Sea level rise was already beginning to take away that particular site and that history. So if we had waited, if we hadn't been able to begin this, even a couple of years, we might never have found it. So we found it just in time in a surprise area, in an area that was definitely being impacted by sea level rise," said Marcia Pradines, the head of restoration efforts for wildlife refuges around the Chesapeake Bay.

Pradines and other federal officials are charged with making difficult decisions about how to prioritize the fight against climate change in protected wildlife refuges, including sometimes accepting that not every impact of climate change can be stopped or that they have to adapt their approach to determine what parts of the ecosystem will be able to survive. The federal government has adopted new guidance called Resist, Accept, Direct, acknowledging that they can no longer protect the country's natural resources from every impact of climate change.

"I am very confident that at the end of my lifetime, Dorchester County will continue to be one of the largest expanses of tidal marsh in the Chesapeake Bay," Whitbeck said.

"The trick is what kind of marsh will it be, and what plants and animals will live in that marsh? And that's what we're still sorting out."

While federal and state officials work to balance the current impacts of climate change with the parts of Blackwater they can protect, they say they are focused on preserving the history for generations to come.

"The reality is we are dealing with climate change, and we are seeing the impacts of sea level rise to some degree," Mitchell said.

"So I would say probably by the end of the century, things will start to change in here, you know, pretty much. But while we can do it and while we have the ability, we need to try and do as much as we can to protect what we can for as long as we can."

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Paralyzed man uses exoskeleton suit to get down on knee to propose to girlfriend

Courtesy of Chris Velazquez

(NEW YORK) -- Josh Smith, a quadriplegic, has been unable to walk or perform most activities after an accident seven years ago.

So when Smith proposed to his girlfriend, Grace on bended knee, it was a big surprise for his friends and family.

Smith was able to do so using an exoskeleton suit.

"I had this huge idea, and I didn't know if it was even possible because I don't think I've ever seen anybody do it before," Smith said. "So, I reached out to my therapists and told them I wanted to try to get down on one knee to propose, and I was hoping that we could use the exoskeleton to help with that."

After he was given the green light, Smith got to work. But just like the last few years of his life, he knew it wouldn't be easy.

A life-changing injury

In August of 2014, Smith was visiting some friends in Virginia Beach when he dove into a wave head first, slamming into a sandbar. He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.

"I was floating there face down and couldn't move anything, but my eyes were open," Smith said. "It took me a little bit to realize that I couldn't move at all and then once I came to, I thought I was going to drown there."

"It was really scary," he added. "Luckily, my friends dragged me out onto the beach and waited for the paramedics to get there."

At 23 years old, Smith said he realized he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

The weeks following the accident were tough for Smith. He spent up to four months at the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta, where he worked with therapists to help him adjust to his wheelchair. Shortly after, he returned to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, where he continued life, but forced to look through a new lens.

"Life as Josh knew it had changed in one horrific instant," his mother , Caroline Smith said. "With his level of injury, living independently is very hard to achieve, but we worked together as a team to help him reach that goal."

In under a year, Smith was making stride. He could drive an accessible van, work full-time, participate in adaptive sports and even invent products and tools for those, like himself, with limited motor functions. A little over two years after his injury, Smith lived in an accessible home he custom built for his needs, his mother said.

"It was kind of just my own drive that really pushed me forward to get independent and learn new things," Smith said. "Help from my parents definitely makes things easier too."

Although Smith said his life improving, there was one aspect of his life that he knew might not ever be the same again -- dating.

"My self-confidence kind of went down the drain a little bit," he said. "I didn't really think anybody would want to date me, let alone marry me."

Meeting "the one"

In February 2020, that notion changed when Smith connected with a woman named Grace Thompson on a dating app and realized they had a lot in common. Both Richmond natives, they discovered they attended the same church.

"The pandemic played a huge role in how serious we became because we went on the perfect amount of dates to where we both felt safe and comfortable not being in public anymore," Thompson, 26, said. "We were pretty lucky in the timing of it all. It was a lot of game nights with another couple that we got close with during quarantine. We liked to cook dinners together and play games, and it was kind of nice to because, you know, we were still getting to know each other. We had a lot of great conversations and went out to parks a lot. He's the only guy I've ever dated who I really work out with -- which most people would be surprised at because he's in a wheelchair -- but he's more active than most people I know."

After being in a relationship for over a year, Smith said he knew Thompson was meant to be in his life forever. He planned a proposal which would include the use of the exoskeleton suit -- made up of motorized leg braces -- allowing him to get down on one knee and pop the question.

"I went to the hospital and met with a therapist twice to sort of work through the kinks and discuss how we were going to do it," he said.

After sending Thompson off with her best friend to get a manicure, Smith made the final arrangements, waiting on the deck of his home in position while friends and family waited inside.

"It was just the easiest place for the therapist to set up the exoskeleton and things were just in a much more controlled environment," he said. "It was a little bit less stressful."

The proposal

Thompson said she was completely shocked to see Smith down on one knee after she took off her blindfold.

"I just kind of froze, staring at him and I felt like I couldn't move," she said. "Then my family and his family started pouring out and I was like, 'Oh! It was very overwhelming but in a good way."

"It was really cool that he was able to get on one knee, she added. "But to see him stand up -- I've never seen him stand before, so that was really great and it was really strange to, like, have him hug me standing up! I wish we could do that more!"

Thompson said that meeting one another was meant to be, fueling her ambition to go to nursing school to help those who, like Smith, really needed it.

"There really is someone out there for everybody," Thompson said. "And I think on my end of things, and from what I've learned, is to just try to be more patient and learn how and when to help him and know when he wants to do things on his own."

The couple said they plan marry in October of next year and look forward to traveling more in the coming months.

"Everyone deserves love," Smith said. "Sometimes you don't know how it will come but it will always come when you're least expecting it."

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Former salesman pleads guilty to role in doping racehorses

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(NEW YORK) -- A former sales representative for a Kentucky company that marketed a performance-enhancing drug used with racehorses pleaded guilty Friday to a criminal charge stemming from what federal prosecutors in New York called a "widespread, corrupt" doping scheme.

Michael Kegley conspired with trainers, veterinarians and others to make misbranded drugs, secretly administer them to racehorses and cheat bettors in the $100 billion global racehorse industry, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Kegley marketed SGF-1000, the same adulterated and misbranded performance-enhancing drug that Maximum Security was given when he briefly placed first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference.

The feds intercepted calls during which Kegley acknowledged he did not know the precise contents of SGF-1000, the indictment said. Kegley also was overheard explaining that trainers could be charged with felonies in the U.S. for doping horses.

"We can even put on the box, you know, 'dietary supplement for equine,'" the indictment quoted Kegley as saying. "That way it's not, no one even has to question, if it's FDA approved or not."

Kegley pleaded guilty to drug adulteration and misbranding of drugs. He faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison and agreed to forfeit more than $3 million.

SGF-1000 was not approved, was mislabeled and distributed without a valid prescription, said Sarah Mortazavi, an assistant U.S. attorney.

"I knew that there was no medical description for those products," Kegley said at a plea hearing on Friday, adding that he "knew that the product was not manufactured in an FDA facility or approved by the FDA."

"Did you know that the trainers intended to use these products on thoroughbred racehorses?" asked Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.

"Yes, your honor," Kegley replied.

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Sleep-away camp COVID-19 outbreak sickens 31

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(COLUMBIA COUNTY, N.Y.) -- Dozens of children tested positive for COVID-19 at an upstate New York summer camp, health officials confirmed to ABC News on Thursday.

The site of the outbreak was Camp Pontiac, a 550-person sleep-away camp located in Columbia County, about 2 1/2 hours north of New York City. Thirty-one children ages of 7 to 11 contracted the virus, according to Jack Mabb, the county health director.

The sickened children, younger than 12, weren't eligible to be vaccinated. About half of campers are 12 or older, according to Mabb, and all but four of them had been vaccinated.

The 275-person staff at the camp had a similarly high vaccination rate, with only three unvaccinated staffers. The sick campers were sent home to isolate, as were 130 other campers who were considered close contacts of those who tested positive.

"None were seriously ill when they left, but we can't know if they become more ill at home," Mabb told ABC News.

Community spread is currently low in Columbia County, according to Mabb. While staffers from the camp are permitted to go into Columbia County and have done so, there's no evidence so far that the outbreak is affecting the wider community.

"This morning, we have only one positive and she was not associated with the camp," Mabb said.

Camp Pontiac sent a letter to families following the outbreak, noting that the camp had "decided to test all unvaccinated campers even though the CDC and the Department of Health do not require that we do so."

"We consider the health and welfare of our camp community our number one priority," the letter said. "Every camper of course is welcome back after the quarantine period ends and we will happily return or rebate pro rata tuition."

New York's vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average. As of Thursday, 62% of residents had received at least one dose, and 56% were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, 56% of Americans have gotten at least one shot, and 49% are fully vaccinated.

ABC News' Will McDuffie and Esther Castillejo contributed to this report.

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Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich settle in NY over sexual harassment, discrimination

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(NEW YORK) -- Chef Mario Batali and his former partner Joe Bastianich violated state and city human rights laws with a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination at restaurants they owned, the New York attorney general said Friday announcing a settlement.

The company, formerly known as the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees who were sexually harassed while they worked at the famed restaurants Babbo, Lupa or Del Posto.

"Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere -- no matter how powerful the perpetrator," said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement. "Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting."

This agreement comes after a four-year investigation, the attorney general's office said, looking at allegations between 2016 and 2019 that included unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching and sexually explicit comments from managers and coworkers, in addition to forcible groping, hugging and kissing by male colleagues.

The investigation also included accusations of sexual harassment by Batali of servers.

The investigation also looked into instances of discrimination, as female employees said chefs and managers supported male employees and made misogynistic comments, including commenting on women employees' appearances.

The agreement includes $600,000 going to at least 20 former employees. It also includes revising training at B&B restaurants to be more comprehensive and encourage "a safe, healthy work environment," the attorney general's office said.

Batali has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women. In 2019, he "fully divested" from the restaurants that made him famous. Before that, he had apologized and stepped away from day-to-day business responsibilities.

In 2019, he pleaded not guilty to an indecent assault and battery charge stemming from an alleged 2017 incident with a woman in a Boston restaurant.

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Martin Luther King Jr., the KKK, and more may soon be cut from Texas education requirements

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(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Some lessons on the civil rights movement, white supremacy, the women's suffrage movement and Martin Luther King Jr. may soon be cut from Texas' public education requirements, according to legislation being considered in the state -- one of several bills targeting critical race theory around the country.

The Texas Senate has passed Senate Bill 3 in a continued effort to proscribe education on racial inequality in K-12 education. It removes several Texas Education Code lesson requirements that were proposed by Democrats in prior education legislation to be implemented in the upcoming school year. It also stipulates that lessons cannot teach that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex" or make students "feel discomfort, guilt, [or] anguish" about privilege or systemic racism.

The concept critical race theory, an academic discipline that analyzes how racism is perpetuated in U.S. laws and policies, has become a lightning rod for conservatives around the country amid the racial reckoning spurred by George Floyd's death.

At least 26 other states have introduced or implemented similar legislation on race education by Republican lawmakers, echoing concerns about racial division.

Opponents say that children should not be made to feel responsible for past injustices based solely on the color of their skin or be forced to accept the idea that the United States and its institutions are not only structured racially but perpetuate that racism.

Some teachers interviewed by ABC News have said critical race theory isn't being taught in grades K-12 and instead is reserved for academic institutions. Some Texas educators told ABC they believe the fight against "critical race theory" is a veiled attempt to turn back the clock on racial equality.

What's in the bill

The new legislation, SB3, would remove several staples of U.S. history education from state requirements, according to Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

The state currently requires teaching "the history of white supremacy," "the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong; the Chicano movement; women's suffrage and equal rights; the civil rights movement" and more.

However, SB3 would cut those requirements -- a move that some teachers say signals a growing effort to remove specific lessons from classrooms.

"Specifically editing out that you can't teach that white supremacy is morally wrong -- that is deeply concerning," said Jennifer Lee, a teacher in Killeen, Texas. "I think the angle here is just … preserving the ideals behind white supremacy."

Though the new legislation doesn't necessarily ban these lessons from being taught, removing them from the list of requirements means they may come under scrutiny due to the vague, anti-critical race theory language of this bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott already signed anti-critical race theory into law in June with HB3979 -- stating that teachers are banned from linking systemic racism to the "authentic founding principles of the United States." But teachers and advocates say it is so vague that it could infringe on their ability to have truthful dialogue about history and racism with their students.

SB3 was added to the state legislature's special session after Abbott signed HB3979 into law, saying "more must be done" on critical race theory in schools.

And SB3 has been called troubling by education groups including the National Education Association for its potential to censor teachers and students in the classroom.

'Provide guardrails' against 'animosity'

Defenders of the bill, including Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes who sponsored the bill, say that some lessons on racial inequality blame white students for systemic racism and creates tension between students of different backgrounds.

"This bill is meant only to provide guardrails against imposing division and animosity on our students," Hughes said before the July 16 Senate vote. "Since [critical race theory] is so prevalent in higher education and since we see it popping up in public schools, that's why it needs to be addressed."

Other proponents of anti-critical race theory bills, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have said that some lessons on race could lead to the "indoctrination" of public school students toward progressive political leanings.

Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said that students have so much to gain from education about America's racial history, including those that would be erased by this new legislation.

"We want to keep honesty in education," Molina said. "We want to make sure that we teach our students the truth, the whole truth, the good, the bad, the failures, the successes."

Molina said teachers have spoken up at hearings and called their local legislators to denounce the new legislation -- but said lawmakers are not listening.

"They don't know what's happening in our public schools," Molina said. "We still want to celebrate women's suffrage, we still want to celebrate the Chicano movement, we still want to celebrate people of color, so that our students see themselves in the history and so they see themselves in the future."

The Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Molina said that Texas districts have yet to announce what punishment for teaching these subjects might look like for teachers.

Concerning shift toward 'patriotic' education

Some teachers told ABC they are worried about retaliation, termination, or other forms of punishment. But others are more concerned about what this shift toward more "patriotic" education means for their students.

"One of the first things Hitler did was start to reform education and impact the way that history is taught. One of the first things Mussolini did was go through and incorporate patriotic education," Lee said. "Education has always been that first line of defense in preserving a certain way of thinking."

Former President Donald Trump, among several other conservatives, have become proponents of "patriotic" education in response to critical race theory and The New York Times' 1619 project -- which dissects the founding of the United States of America and its legacy of slavery. Trump's proposed "1776 commission" aims to envision U.S. history in a positive light, instead of through a condemnatory, racial lens.

San Antonio teacher Christopher Green said he believes that lessons on race, inequality and oppression are vital to helping children navigate the world and understand our society.

"Rather than adding a more diverse perspective to the teaching of history, it's eliminating things that really need to be in there to understand the full picture of the American story," Green said.

The bill will now be headed to the state House, but it will likely be stalled due to protests from Texas Democratic representatives. They have fled the state in protest of new voting restrictions, meaning there won't be enough members to conduct business according to House rules.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Morgan Wallen speaks to 'GMA' about being filmed using racial slur

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(NEW YORK) -- Morgan Wallen is speaking out to address using a racial slur in a video that was leaked in February and the fallout that ensued.

In an exclusive interview with Good Morning America co-host Michael Strahan that aired Friday, the country singer, 28, reflected on using the vulgar language in the footage released by TMZ on Feb. 2.

He also opened up about what he says his understanding of the word was at the time the video was taken, what he has done since the footage was released and what he is planning to do in the future after the scandal.

When Strahan asked Wallen to take him back to the night the footage was captured, Wallen said he had been partying with some of his longtime friends the weekend the footage was taken and "it just happened."

"I was around some of my friends, and we just ... we say dumb stuff together," Wallen said on GMA. "And it was -- in our minds, it's playful ... that sounds ignorant, but it -- that's really where it came from ... and it's wrong."

Wallen claimed that he did not say the racial slur "frequently" in the past -- but admitted that when he previously did, he used it around that "certain group of friends" of his.

In the particular clip taken in January, Wallen said he "didn't mean it any, in any derogatory manner at all."

"It's one of my best friends -- he was, we were all clearly drunk -- I was askin' his girlfriend to take care of him because he was drunk and he was leavin,'" Wallen reflected on the night the video was taken.

He explained that he is "not sure" what made him feel he could use the racial slur and chalked it up to his lack of knowledge. "I think I was just ignorant about it," he said. "I don't think I sat down and was, like, 'Hey, is this right or is this wrong?'"

Following the video's release, the chart-topping singer was promptly dropped by his record label and talent agency, disqualified from eligibility at multiple prestigious country music award shows and his music was removed from multiple radio companies' stations.

"My manager called me probably two hours before the video came out," Wallen reflected. "He was, like, 'Are you sittin' down?' And no one's ever called me and said that before."

"I went to one of my friends [who] has a house out in the middle of nowhere," he continued, adding that he was "just sittin' in that house, tryin' to figure out what it is I'm supposed to do."

Along with repercussions that he faced from his own representation, many artists in the country music industry, including Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton and more, used their platforms to condemn his actions and call out the history of racism in the industry.

Wallen issued his first apology shortly after the video was released.

"I'm embarrassed and sorry. I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back," he said in a statement obtained by GMA at the time. "There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better."

He later released a five-minute video in which he implored his fan base to stop defending him, acknowledged that he "let so many people down" and spoke about the changes he was planning to make in his life.

"My words matter. A word can truly hurt a person and at my core, it's not what I'm OK with," he said in the video. "This week I heard firsthand some personal stories from Black people that honestly shook me. And I know what I'm going through this week doesn't even compare to some of the trials I heard about from them."

He added these conversations helped him gain a "clearer understanding of the weight" of his words.

Wallen told Strahan that one of the first organizations he spoke with was the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), an advocacy organization that was created to fight for fair treatment of Black artists and address racism in the music industry.

The country singer claimed he also spoke to record executive Kevin Liles, Eric Hutcherson, executive vice president and chief people and inclusion officer at Universal Music Group and gospel singer BeBe Winans.

"I've heard some stories in the initial conversations that I had after that -- just how some people are, you know, treated even still today, and I'm just, like, I haven't seen that with my eyes -- that pain or that insignificant feeling or whatever it is that it makes you feel," Wallen said on GMA.

When asked by Strahan if he understood why the slur "makes Black people so upset," Wallen acknowledged his ignorance.

"I don't know how to put myself in their shoes because I'm not" he began, "But I do understand, especially when I say I'm using it playfully or whatever, ignorantly, I understand that that must sound, you know, like, 'He doesn't -- he doesn't understand.'"

In his February apology video, Wallen admitted he had "many more things to learn" but affirmed that he knew he did not want to further "add to any division."

He also stated that the video footage was taken while he was on "hour 72 of a 72-hour bender" and he was intending to focus on his sobriety moving forward.

During his GMA interview, the singer revealed he checked himself into a rehab facility following the scandal.

"For 30 days, I spent some time out in San Diego, California -- you know, just tryin' to figure it out ... why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?" he shared.

Despite widespread backlash from institutions -- and many of his peers -- in the music industry, the singer continued to prevail on the charts long after the February scandal.

His second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, spent 10 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and is still No. 1 on Billboard's top country albums chart after 24 weeks in the spot. His album sales also increased dramatically in the days after the footage of the racial slur was released.

"Before this incident my album was already doing well," Wallen said. "It was already being well-received by critics and by fans. Me and my team noticed that whenever this whole incident happened that there was a spike in my sales. So we tried to calculate what the number of -- how much it actually spiked from this incident."

"We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations -- BMAC being the first one," he continued.

When asked about people questioning his motivations for choosing to speak out now, Wallen admitted he understands the skepticism.

"I'm not ever gonna make, you know, everyone happy," he said. "I can only come tell my truth, and -- and that's all I know to do."

As for whether or not the country music industry has a race problem? Wallen shared, "it would seem that way, yeah," before adding, "I haven't really sat and thought about that."

ABC News has reached out to BMAC but has not heard back.

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Ohio man charged with hate crime related to alleged plot to commit mass shooting of women

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(WASHINGTON) -- An Ohio man who is a self-proclaimed "incel" was charged by a grand jury for an alleged plot to conduct a mass shooting on a number of female university students, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

Tres Genco, 21, is charged with one count of attempting to commit a hate crime, which is punishable by up to life in prison because it involved an alleged intent to kill. He is also charged with one count of illegally possessing a machine gun, which is punishable by up to 10 years, the DOJ said in a statement.

According to the indictment, on Jan. 15, 2020, Genco allegedly conducted surveillance at an Ohio university and searched online topics, including "how to plan a shooting crime" and "when does preparing for a crime become an attempt."

Genco identified himself online as an "incel" or "involuntary celibate" and had active online profiles that supported the incel movement -- a community predominantly of men who harbor anger toward women and "seek to commit violence in support of their belief that women unjustly deny them sexual or romantic attention to which they believe they are entitled," said the DOJ statement.

Genco also allegedly stated in a written manifesto that he would "slaughter" women "out of hatred, jealousy and revenge."

As part of their investigation into the alleged plot, law enforcement agents reportedly discovered a note that they say was written by Genco indicating his hope to "aim big" and kill up to 3,000 people, according to the DOJ statement. The note also allegedly indicated his intention to attend military training, which investigators found he completed in December 2019.

In March 2020, local police officers reported finding among other items, a firearm with a bump stock attached, several loaded magazines, body armor and boxes of ammunition in the trunk of Genco's vehicle, the DOJ statement said.

Hidden inside a heating vent in Genco's bedroom, police said they also found an unmarked semi-automatic pistol.

Genco's detention hearing is scheduled for Friday in the Southern District of Ohio.

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