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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boston Marathon bombing survivor reunites with nurse through birth of daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FBI more than doubles domestic terrorism investigations: Christopher Wray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teen pleads guilty in murder of Barnard student Tessa Majors

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

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

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

Lewis also pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Lewis replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oakland Police Department investigating 100th homicide of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COVID-19 live updates: US records 1.1 million pediatric cases over past five weeks

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

More than 676,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.7 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily deaths in the U.S. has risen about 20% in the last week, according to data from the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. is continuing to sink on the list of global vaccination rates, currently ranking No. 45, according to data compiled by the Financial Times. Just 64% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Sep 21, 9:16 am
Washington state requests federal staff for overwhelmed hospitals

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to the White House Monday requesting staffing resources to help the state’s overwhelmed hospitals.

“Once the Delta variant hit Washington state, COVID-19 hospitalizations skyrocketed. From mid-July to late August, we saw hospitalizations double about every two weeks,” Inslee wrote. “The hospitals have surged to increase staffed beds and stretch staff and have canceled most non-urgent procedures, but are still over capacity across the state.”

“While there are hopeful signs that the current wave of infection is peaking, and some states are beginning to see declines, we have not yet seen that effect here,” the governor said.

Washington state had already asked for 1,200 federal government staffers and is now “requesting the deployment of Department of Defense medical personnel to assist with the current hospital crisis,” Inslee said.

Sep 21, 8:31 am
2nd dose of J&J vaccine results in stronger protection, company says

A second dose of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine given two months after the first leads to stronger protection, the company said Tuesday.

Compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine always had slightly lower efficacy. Peak efficacy from the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was 95% and 94%, respectively, against symptomatic illness. But two Johnson & Johnson shots, given two months apart, resulted in a similarly high effectiveness level: 94% protection against any symptomatic infection in the U.S. and 100% against severe disease.

J&J chief scientific officer Dr. Paul Stoffels said the single-shot vaccine still provides “strong and long-lasting protection” while also being “easy to use, distribute and administer.”

“At the same time,” Stoffels said, “we now have generated evidence that a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly.”

Sep 20, 5:39 pm
US records 1.1 million pediatric COVID-19 cases over past 5 weeks

The U.S. reported more than 225,000 child COVID-19 cases, marking the fourth consecutive week with over 200,000 new pediatric cases reported, according to a newly released weekly report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

In the last five weeks alone, the country has reported more than 1.1 million pediatric cases, according to the organizations.

“The weekly figure is now about 26 times higher than it was in June, when just 8,400 pediatric cases were reported over the span of a week,” the organizations wrote in their report.

The South accounted for about half –110,000– of last week’s pediatric cases, according to the report.

The organizations added that more than 2,200 children are hospitalized with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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