US launches new strikes on Houthi fighters in Yemen amid continued Middle East unrest

Glowimages/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — A coalition of countries led by the U.S. and U.K. on Saturday carried out a new round of strikes on the Houthis in Yemen “in response to the Houthis’ continued attacks against commercial and naval vessels” in and around the Red Sea, officials said.

According to a joint statement from the eight countries involved, the strikes were against 18 targets, including those related to “underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars, and a helicopter.”

“These precision strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade, naval vessels, and the lives of innocent mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways,” the joint statement reads.

It continues: “The Houthis’ now more than 45 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to the global economy, as well as regional security and stability, and demand an international response.”

The U.S. has targeted dozens of Houthi locations already this year. Six countries supported the U.S. and U.K. in Saturday’s strikes: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

In his own statement, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, in part: “We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage, and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries.”

The Houthis have said their attacks are in response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza while targeting Hamas in retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack, which sparked a war.

The U.S. has publicly stressed that it hopes to prevent that conflict from spilling out into the region and described its own strikes in Yemen as de-escalatory.

Still, the tit-for-tat pattern that has been established has also raised questions about the immediate effectiveness and long-term goals of the U.S. strategy regarding the Houthis.

“We’ve got to be thoughtful about our approach in these areas, and we can’t predict exactly how any one of these groups is going to respond,” Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview in January. “And so we’ve got to make sure we look at the key partner force protection, but also the ability to take away their capability.

“And we don’t want to go down a path of greater escalation that drives to a much broader conflict, within the region,” Brown said.

He told Raddatz then that the American airstrikes have “had an impact” on the Houthis’ ability to continue carrying out missile and drone attacks, though he declined to say by how much.

ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Meghan Mistry contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump claims Black Americans relate to his criminal prosecutions

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(COLUMBIA, S.C.) — Former President Donald Trump said he was speaking to President Joe Biden’s worst nightmare while courting Black conservatives at the Black Conservative Federation Gala in Columbia, South Carolina: “Hundreds of proud Black conservative American patriots.”

Trump spent the night using racially charged sentiments by suggesting he has strengthened his appeal to Black Americans by claiming they relate to his multiple criminal indictments.

“I got indicted a second time and a third time and a fourth time and a lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against. And they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing,” Trump said to applause.

He continued, asserting that Black people are starting to turn to him because “what’s happening to me, happens to them,” centering his appeal to Black voters by equating his criminal prosecutions to the historic discrimination Black Americans have faced.

“I think that’s why the Black people are so much on my side now because they see what’s happening to me happens to them. Does that make sense?”

Trump is charged with 91 felony counts and faces charges including racketeering, conspiracy to obstruct justice and falsifying business records.

Throughout the evening, Trump portrayed himself as a victim of an unjust criminal justice system which he said appeals to Black voters, especially in the Fulton County election interference case, where he was ordered to take a mugshot.

“My mug shot, we’ve all seen the mug shot. And you know who embraced it more than anybody else: the Black population. It’s incredible,” he said.

Trump’s comments come as he also likened himself to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the wake of Navalny’s death, saying the more than $350 million in penalties he faces in his New York civil fraud trial are a “form of Navalny.”

Trump was joined on stage by the leaders of the organization as well as some of his Black political allies, including Reps. Byron Donalds and Wesley Hunt and his former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson who engaged with him repeatedly as he made off-the-cuff remarks.

“These lights are so bright in my eyes that I can’t see too many people out there. But I can only see the Black ones. I can’t see any white ones. You see, that’s how far I’ve come. That’s how far I’ve come,” Trump said, quipping about a racial stereotype that Black people can’t be seen in the dark as the lawmakers laughed behind him.

The ballroom was mainly filled with Black Republicans who seemed to enthusiastically cheer the former president on from their dinner tables.

“That’s real,” Kevin McGaray told ABC News. “We get picked on all the time unnecessarily and, and he understands what that feels like now, so there’s a connection.”

McGary is a Black Republican from San Francisco. He voted for Trump in 2020 and 2016.

“I appreciate the track record that he has with the Black community,” he said. “Everything he did was on point for communities of color. So I appreciate that.”

Meanwhile onstage, Trump touted his policy appeals to the room which included boasting about his help in securing the passage of the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice bill, and claimed he was able to help economic growth in the Black community.

Voters like Karqueta Lindsey from Raleigh, North Carolina, don’t like the way he compares his legal troubles to Black Americans. However she tells ABC News that his “words” on race are not a deal breaker.

“I’m not saying that everything that Donald Trump says that I’m for it, but I’m not for 100% of what any politician says,” Lindsey said. “I am pro-life and the borders need to be secured. So those are things that affect me, not the words.”

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Three things to watch for in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — South Carolina is set to hand former President Donald Trump a landslide victory in its GOP presidential primary Saturday, dealing former Gov. Nikki Haley another setback in her home state.

Trump is on an apparent glide path to his third straight GOP White House nomination, having handily won nominating contests so far in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Haley, meanwhile, has yet to come close to winning any of those states, with the rest of the calendar looking equally foreboding, polling shows.

Still, she insists she will carry on at least through early March.

Here are three things to watch in South Carolina’s primary.

How big is Trump’s margin of victory?

Virtually every Republican operative in South Carolina predicts Trump will win the state’s primary. The only question is by how much.

538’s polling average has the former president up by 30 points, a margin that, if true, would land a devastating blow to Haley in her home state, which she led as governor for six years.

Haley has nodded toward the likelihood that Trump will win big in South Carolina, maintaining that she will stay in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5. Still, such a loss would cut into whatever momentum her campaign still has.

On the flip side, Trump’s consistent polling lead has produced such sky-high expectations that Haley could claim any performance beating them could warrant her staying in the race.

Cue the drop out chatter

Should Haley get washed out as expected, the ongoing talk about when she may suspend her campaign will likely ramp up to 11.

Already, strategists have publicly and privately wondered what value Haley sees in staying in given her recent defeats and the daunting path ahead. When Haley advertised a major speech on Tuesday, Republicans thought the long-awaited announcement had come.

Instead, the former governor defied calls for her departure.

“South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

Haley continued her defiant tone against Trump, saying she does not fear for her political future.

“Well, I’m not afraid to say the hard truths out loud. I feel no need to kiss the ring. And I have no fear of Trump’s retribution. I’m not looking for anything from him,” she said. “My own political future is of zero concern.”

What’s next?

There is a small handful of races between Saturday’s primary and Super Tuesday, but March 5 is easily the next big date on the calendar.

Fifteen states will hold their nominating contests that day, and 36% of all delegates (874 out of 2,429) will be awarded.

Some of those states allow Democrats and independents to participate in their primaries and caucuses, a dynamic Haley has highlighted to suggest she could see a modicum of success then, given her inability to win over big enough swaths of Republicans so far.

Still, polling doesn’t show her near Trump in any state voting that day, and while Haley has insisted that her campaign will live on beyond South Carolina, she has said less about what comes after Super Tuesday should she fall even further behind.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Nex Benedict, nonbinary teen who died day after school fight, describes altercation in police footage

Oliver Helbig/Getty Images

(OWASSO, Okla.) — Newly released body camerage footage shows Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old who died one day after a physical altercation with several other students in a bathroom at their Oklahoma high school, describing what led up to the fight during an interview with police from the hospital.

While lying on a gurney in the hours after the Feb. 7 fight at Owasso High School, Nex Benedict told a school resource officer, Caleb Thompson, that they had poured water on three students who were making fun of the way they and their friends laughed and dressed, the footage released Friday by the Owasso Police Department shows.

“We were laughing and they had said something like, ‘Why do they laugh like that?’ And they were talking about us in front of us,” the teen said in the 21-minute video about the students she had an altercation with. “And so I went up there and I poured water on them. And then all three of them came at me.”

The teen told the officer that they blacked out during the ensuing physical altercation.

“I threw one of them into a paper towel dispenser. And then they got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground … beating the s— out of me,” Nex Benedict said. “And then my friends tried to jump in and help but I’m not sure, I blacked out.”

Nex Benedict said that they didn’t know the names of the students but the group had been “antagonizing” them in the days leading up to the fight. When asked by Thompson why they didn’t alert school administrators, she said they “didn’t really see the point” but had told their mother.

In the video, the teen’s mother, Sue Benedict, told Thompson she was “very mad” and “wanted something done” about the altercation. The mother called 911 after taking the teen to the hospital to report that her child was attacked at school, according to newly released 911 records.

While discussing the logistics of filing a report on the fight, Thompson told the two that Nex Benedict “essentially started it” by throwing the water.

“The way the courts are going to look at it is it’s a mutual fight,” he said. “Both parties are victims, but both parties are also suspects in this.”

Thompson advised that they consider whether they want to press charges and said he would follow up the next day and proceed from there.

The teen died on Feb. 8, a day after the altercation. On a 911 call made that day around 1 p.m. local time, Sue Benedict can be heard asking for an ambulance because the teen’s hands were “posturing.” Their breathing was shallow and their eyes were “kind of rolling back,” she said.

Police have said that preliminary information shows that the teen’s death was not a result of physical trauma from the altercation. The cause of death is pending until toxicology results and other testing results are completed, police said.

A final cause and manner of death will be determined by the State Medical Examiner’s Office.

An investigation by Owasso Police is ongoing. Once concluded, the case will be forwarded to the FBI for a “complete and thorough review,” the police department said.

While awaiting the full results of the autopsy, the teen’s family is calling on “all school, local, state and national officials to join forces to determine why this happened, to hold those responsible to account and to ensure it never happens again.”

“The Benedicts know all too well the devastating effects of bullying and school violence, and pray for meaningful change, wherein bullying is taken seriously and no family has to deal with another preventable tragedy,” the Benedict family said in a statement to ABC News.

The Owasso Police Department has said Owasso High School and Owasso Public Schools have been cooperative in the investigation.

Owasso Public Schools declined to comment on the investigation into the teen’s death, but told ABC News in a statement that the “safety and security of our students is our top priority and we are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.”

“Bullying in any form is unacceptable,” the statement read. “We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures in place to address such behavior.”

The teen’s death has sparked calls against anti-LGBTQ bullying, including by Vice President Kamala Harris.

“My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community,” Harris said on Friday. “To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you, and you are not alone.”

The Human Rights Campaign is demanding federal investigations into whether protections for LGBTQ students were violated in the case. The organization sent letters to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice asking for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding their death.

The incident has also struck a chord nationwide with 2SLGBTQ groups and allies who are demanding answers regarding the circumstances around Nex’s death. 2SLGBTQ includes Two Spirit, an umbrella term used to describe a third gender in Native and Indigenous communities. Sue Benedict is a registered member of the Choctaw Nation.

Local organizations — including Transgender Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma, Freedom Oklahoma, and Oklahomans for Equality — are holding vigils across the state and country throughout the weekend so the 2SLGBTQ community can honor the teen’s memory.

A student walkout against bullying is also planned for Monday at Owasso High School.

ABC News’ Kiara Alfonseco, Tristan Maglunog and Erica Morris contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police targeted in ‘alarming’ cyberattack

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Canada’s national police force was hit with a cyberattack Friday that was of “alarming” magnitude, according to the agency.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is now launching a criminal investigation into what happened and how their systems were able to be breached, the agency said in a statement to ABC News.

There is no known impact to safety and security operations, RCMP says.

“While a breach of this magnitude is alarming, the quick work and mitigation strategies put in place demonstrates the significant steps the RCMP has taken to detect and prevent these types of threats,” according to the statement.

The RCMP says it is working with other Canadian government partners to continue “assessing the breadth and scope of the security breach and hold those responsible accountable.”

The news comes as experts warn of the dangers of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and government operations. The Canadian government’s global affairs office was targeted in a prolonged security breach last month due to “malicious” cyber activity that impacted internal data from the agency’s staff, according to the CBC.

The U.S. Justice Department also said last month it had successfully disrupted an effort by Chinese government-sponsored hackers to target critical U.S. infrastructure networks using malware.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

‘Red meat,’ J6 and Trump regalia: The GOP base rallies outside Washington

Win McNamee/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Laura McGarraugh, an emergency room nurse from Austin, Texas, is confident Democrats will replace President Joe Biden atop their ticket this year. She’s just not sure with whom.

Speaking to ABC News at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a longtime Republican cattle call that in recent years has morphed into a far-right watering hole, McGarraugh simply said Biden would be replaced with “anybody that’s not dead.”

When pressed on if she actually thinks Biden is dead, she simply replied, “don’t you?”

“You don’t have to be a doctor or nurse,” added McGarraugh, sporting an American flag tank top. “You just have to have eyes.”

Such sentiments were common here, where attendees were decked out in clothing supporting former President Donald Trump’s comeback bid and listening to a steady stream of red meat.

The conference, whose motto this year is “where globalism goes to die,” featured panels titled, “Would Moses Go To Harvard?” and “Cat Fight? Michelle vs. Kamala,” which showcased speakers who were adamant that Biden would be replaced as Democrats’ presidential nominee at the party’s convention this year.

“It does us no good to live in wishful thinking fantasyland to think that Democrats don’t have a plan,” said podcaster Monica Crowley, who warned the crowd that former first lady Michelle Obama would supplant him on the ticket this November, even though, “I don’t know how realistic any of this is.”

Larry O’Connor, a radio host on the same panel, instead predicted that Vice President Kamala Harris would ascend as president once he resigns at the convention, winking at the conspiracy that Obama would not fall under the category of a “female president.”

Conversations with over a dozen attendees reflected similar discussions: debate over who would replace Biden but near consensus that the president will appear on their ballots later this year.

“I know they have a plan because they always do, and I’m sure it’s been in place for a long time. I don’t see how he could possibly win. So, I guess I’m leaning towards they will replace him,” said Vanessa Alban, a homemaker from Ocean City, Md.

Theories about Trump’s presidency and the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol Hill riot also abounded.

Democrats and many Republicans in Washington have said Trump lost the 2020 election and that the mob amounted to an insurrection — statements that were batted away or mocked within the halls of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

“Welcome to the end of democracy!” declared right-wing personality Jack Posobiec. “We’re here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on Jan. 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it with this right here.”

Even now, CPAC attendees and organizers painted a dour picture of a “deep state” intent on not only kneecapping Trump’s campaign but also holding down his supporters.

“Well, look at all the J6 prisoners that haven’t had a fair trial. I mean, they’re rotting in jail. And they’ve been there for how many years? Let’s get serious,” said Thomas Siens, an economist from Fort Worth, Texas. “They’re just picking and choosing who they want to go after.”

“It was a Trump rally that people went there to support the president,” added Jon Linowes, who designed a digital pinball game based on the riot on display at the conference’s vendor hall which boasted in-game alerts like, “it’s a setup,” “stop the steal,” “Babbitt Murder,” and “peaceful protest,” among others.

“In any large event, there may be some troublemakers. Whether they were in this case planted by government agencies, or actually right wing troublemakers and things happen, but that was certainly not Trump’s intent.”

The fuel behind the rhetoric is Trump himself, said Joseph Uscinski, a professor at the University of Miami specializing in conspiracy theories.

The former president had a stranglehold over the crowd here, with speaker after speaker invoking his name to standing ovations from attendees enthralled with his anti-establishment message.

“He continued playing that anti-establishment card throughout the general election in 2016 through now. So, he’s not just trying to attract people who don’t like Democrats or are Republicans or are conservatives, but he’s trying to attract people who have antagonisms towards the establishment as a whole,” said Uscinski. “He talks about how everything is rigged. He’s attracting people who already have these ideas.”

“So, now that he’s built this audience of people who are already predisposed to such sentiment, he and his confidantes and other Republicans who just have to fall in line with what the former president says are engaging in that rhetoric, too … there’s been a sea change in the rhetoric coming from the Republican Party largely due to this.”

To be certain, the ideas espoused at CPAC are not the sole perspective of the GOP writ large — but they surely resound loudly, as they represent some of Trump’s most unflinching, unwavering “warriors.”

Even still, the ballroom that hosted the conference’s main speakers was pockmarked with empty seats. The popular “media row,” where radio and television personalities and others line up for broadcasts, was noticeably shorter — a sign, some strategists said, of the conference’s shifting priorities.

“CPAC is the Stak Trek convention of politics, with just as much merchandising and cosplay,” said Doug Heye, a former top Republican National Committee staffer.

“CPAC was always a great place for conservatives to gather, debate and exchange ideas from all over the country,” added Chip Saltsman, who worked on former Vice President Mike Pence’s now-shuttered 2024 bid. “The last year seems more like a one-way street for conservatives to come for affirmation rather than challenge one another on the issues of the day so that we can unite the party and the movement to win in November.”

But CPAC’s current strategy appeared to be by design.

The conference where Ronald Reagan once debuted his “city on a hill” vision, CPAC bragged in recent years about not sending invitations to lawmakers like Sen. Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican and Capitol Hill dealmaker. This year, the conference denied media credentials to “left-wing” outlets.

“If you call yourself a journalist where you spend all your time trying to destroy America and trying to destroy Americans who love America and trying to destroy conservatives and patriots and people from MAGA, and yes, J6, if that’s what you do, we don’t want you here,” CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp said.

That strategy serves a dual purpose, per Uscinski: convincing loyal Republican voters that those theories are true while keeping people already in the GOP’s right flank in the fold.

“I’m not shocked if there are non-conspiratorial Republicans who might buy into some of the things that Trump says that are conspiratorial, simply for the fact that it’s the leader of the Republican Party saying it. So, they’re not believing it because they’re conspiracy theorists, they’re believing it because these are the party cues coming down from up on high,” Uscinski said.

“But I think a lot of what explains what’s going on is the coalition is different, the audience is different, they like different tunes, and the people who are going to play the tunes for them are going to have to play the right ones.”

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Flaco, the escaped Central Park Zoo owl, dies

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Flaco, the rare Eurasian owl that captured the attention of New York City and dubbed “the most famous owl in the world,” has died after an apparent collision with a building, the Central Park Zoo said in a statement.

“We are saddened to report that Flaco, the Eurasian eagle owl discovered missing from the Central Park Zoo after his exhibit was vandalized just over a year ago, is dead after an apparent collision with a building on West 89th Street in Manhattan,” the zoo said in a statement Friday.

The zoo said that Flaco was reported to the Wild Bird Fund (WBF) by people in the building. Staff from the WBF quickly responded, but he was non-responsive and they declared him dead shortly afterward.

“The vandal who damaged Flaco’s exhibit jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death. We are still hopeful that the NYPD, which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest,” the statement continued.

Flaco unwittingly transformed from an obscure bird to a cause célèbre after being reported missing on Feb. 2, 2023, from the cramped Central Park digs that served as his home since 2010, when he arrived in the city as a fledgling from a North Carolina bird sanctuary. He had been hatched and raised in captivity for the first 12 years of his life.

Flaco had been released from captivity by Central Park vandals, police said. Despite an extensive search, Flaco was able to evade capture for an entire year—and developed a following.

Flaco immediately caused a stir on one of Manhattan’s most fashionable shopping streets, Fifth Avenue, where he landed on the sidewalk near the Bergdorf Goodman department store, drawing a crowd and the NYPD. Officers cordoned him off with yellow crime scene tape and set an open cage next to him, apparently in case he wanted to surrender. Before they could move in to catch him, the mottled-colored creature flew off to a tree in front of the Plaza Hotel.

“He’s certainly my most photographed bird of 2023,” David Barrett, the creator and manager of Manhattan Bird Alert, and encountered Flaco told ABC News last year. “He’s the most famous bird in the world.”

Flaco would continue to draw crowds and his survival skills stunned those who did not think he could survive outside the enclosure.

“Several days ago, we observed him successfully hunting, catching and consuming prey. We have seen a rapid improvement in his flight skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park,” zoo officials said last year.

Feb. 2 marked a year since the apex predator slipped through an opening vandals cut in the stainless steel mesh of his enclosure at the Central Park Zoo and bolted into the wilds of America’s largest city, testing the limits of his six-foot wingspan for the first time in his life.

ABC News’ Bill Hutchinson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

High-altitude balloon intercepted by US fighters over Utah a ‘likely hobby balloon’: NORAD

Stocktrek/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — A balloon intercepted by fighter aircraft over Utah on Friday was a “likely hobby balloon” and has since left United States airspace, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Saturday.

The “small balloon” was allowed to continue to fly above the U.S. after being intercepted Friday morning at an altitude of 43,000 to 45,000 feet because it has been determined not to pose a national security threat, NORAD said.

“After yesterday’s fighter intercepts, and in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command monitored the likely hobby balloon via ground radars until it left US airspace overnight,” NORAD said in a statement on Saturday.

NORAD said it has no additional information on the balloon.

A U.S. official described the balloon as being 50 feet tall and carrying a payload that is the size of a two-foot cube. It is not known what the payload might be carrying, the official said.

“The balloon was intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, who determined it was not maneuverable and did not present a threat to national security,” NORAD said in a statement on Friday.

The balloon also posed no hazard to flight safety, NORAD said.

The development comes slightly more than a year after a Chinese spy balloon was tracked across the United States before being shot down by U.S. fighters over U.S. territorial waters east of South Carolina.

That balloon measured nearly 200 feet in height, was equipped with a payload described as being the length of three school buses that carried intelligence sensors and was capable of being maneuvered remotely.

That incident created tensions between the United States and China that have only recently improved.

NORAD subsequently made adjustments to its sensors to increase the detection of high-altitude balloons flying across the U.S. and Canada that led to the shootdown of smaller balloons over Alaska, Canada’s Yukon Territory, and Lake Huron.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Suspect charged with murder after University of Georgia student who went on run found dead

Augusta University

(ATHENS, Ga.) — A suspect was taken into custody a day after a woman who went for a run on the University of Georgia’s Athens campus was found dead due to “foul play,” school officials said Friday.

The victim, Laken Hope Riley, 22, was found in a wooded area on campus on Thursday with “visible injuries,” the university said. She died from blunt force trauma, according to University of Georgia Police Department Chief Jeffrey Clark.

A suspect in her death, 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra, has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, obstructing an emergency call and concealing the death of another. He was denied bond during an initial court appearance on Saturday and is being held at the Clarke County Jail.

Clark told reporters Friday evening they took three to four people into custody in connection with the murder but only plan to arrest Ibarra, who is from Venezuela.

“The evidence suggests that this was a solo act,” he said.

Police do not believe he knew the victim and do not have a motive, according to the chief.

“I think this was a crime of opportunity, where he saw an individual and bad things happened,” Clark said.

“Key input” from the community, physical evidence and video footage from campus security cameras helped lead investigators to the suspect, who lives in Athens, the chief said.

“There are no indications of a continuing threat to the community related to this case at this time,” Clark said.

The Justice Department said Saturday that Ibarra’s brother, Diego Ibarra, had also been arrested during the course of the investigation for presenting a fake green card after officers approached him because he matched the description of the suspect. Diego Ibarra has been charged by federal complaint with possessing a fake green card and is in state custody.

A friend reported Riley missing shortly after noon on Thursday when she failed to return home from a run at the school’s intramural fields earlier that morning, the university said.

University police officers subsequently found her behind a lake near the fields “unconscious and not breathing,” the university said. Officers attempted to provide medical aid but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Riley was a junior at the Augusta University College of Nursing who studied at its Athens campus, the school said. She had previously attended the University of Georgia.

“This sudden loss of one of our students is truly heartbreaking,” the Augusta University College of Nursing said in a statement on Friday.

She graduated from River Ridge High School in Woodstock, Georgia, in 2020, where she ran on the school’s cross-country team for four years.

“Her passion for health care science and running are to be admired,” River Ridge High School cross-country coach Keith Hooper said in a statement to ABC News. “She will always accompany us as we run.”

Classes were canceled at the nursing school on Friday, with counselors available to staff and students.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Athens-Clarke County Police Department are assisting in the homicide investigation, the university said.

“We have been fully briefed on this terrible situation,” the university said in a statement. “We want to assure you that the safety and welfare of our campus community is our top concern.”

The incident follows the “sudden death” of a student in the campus’ Brumby Hall Wednesday night, the school said. A cause of death has not been released.

Chief Clark said there is no connection between the two deaths.

Classes will resume on Monday, the school said, calling the past 24 hours a “traumatic time” for the university.

University officials recommended that students travel in groups when possible and download the school’s safety app.

Clark urged anyone with information on the incident to contact the University of Georgia Police Department.

There has not been a homicide on the campus in the past 20 years, according to Clark.

ABC News’ Luke Barr, Alyssa Gregory, Jason Volack and Nick Uff contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russian authorities hand over Alexei Navalny’s body to his mother, spokeswoman says

peng song/Getty Images

(MOSCOW) — Russian authorities have given Alexei Navalny’s body back to his mother more than a week after the opposition leader’s death in an Arctic penal colony, according to Navalny’s spokesperson.

Spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that a funeral is to come and that they don’t know yet if authorities will allow the family to carry out the funeral “the way the family wants and as Alexey deserves.” She did not mention if the family will hold a public funeral.

Navalny’s body was taken to the city of Salekhard, located on the Arctic Circle, after he died in a nearby penal colony on Feb. 16, according to Russian officials. His supporters have accused Russian officials of murdering the vocal critical of President Vladimir Putin, who was previously poisoned and nearly died in an apparent assassination attempt.

Russian officials denied the claim that Navalny was murdered in retaliation for his political activity. Navalny’s cause of death has been listed as “natural” on his medical report, according to Navalny’s spokesperson, who relayed the information from his mother.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, had asked local police Friday to open a criminal case against the investigators who she said were withholding her son’s body, on charges of “abuse of a corpse.”

The appeal claimed that the lead investigator into the death of Navalny made threats towards his mother and promised to commit illegal actions with Navalny’s body in order to prevent his burial.

Navalnaya said in a video message posted to YouTube Thursday that the Russian government is blackmailing her and trying to force her to have a secret funeral for her son.

“So, as one of the arguments, the investigator said, ‘time is working against you, because the corpse is decomposing,'” the complaint alleges. “Such words cause irreparable moral harm [to Navalny’s mom], grief from the loss of her son is complemented by an absolutely insulting attitude on the part of the investigative authorities and blackmail,” the document says.

Meanwhile, the White House on Friday announced a tranche of sanctions against Russia and its supporters, including additional measures intended to punish the Kremlin for its alleged role in the death of Navalny.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.