Three additional bodies found after remaining building demolished in Surfside, Florida

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — Search and rescue teams have recovered three additional bodies in the pile of rubble from a collapsed building in Surfside, Florida, following the demolition of the remaining building, according to officials.

First responders were able to search in areas previously inaccessible due to the instability of the portion of Champlain Towers South that still stood following the partial collapse on June 24, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters at a press conference Monday morning.

The death toll now stands at 27, with 118 still unaccounted for, Levine Cava said. The newly accessible areas were likely where a lot of the master bedrooms were located, where people were sleeping, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters.

While the demolition was critical to expanding the search for bodies closer to the standing building, it was also necessary as Tropical Storm Elsa approached the U.S. with winds that “could have brought it down in a matter that could not have been as controlled or predicted,” the mayor said.

The demolition went “exactly as planned,” and the building fell away from the pile that collapsed, Levine Cava said.

“Only dust landed on the existing part,” she said.

Crews received the “all-clear” about an hour after the demolition started around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, and first responders resumed the search by 1 a.m.

Levine Cava emphasized that search and rescue crews “took every action we possibly could” to search for pets that remained in the building prior to the demolition. Multiple full sweeps of the building, which included searches in hiding places such as closets and under beds, were conducted “at great risk to first responders,” the mayor said.

In areas of the building that were not accessible, ladders were used to place live animal traps on balconies, and doorways were opened to give pets the means to escape if they were able to, Levine Cava said. Drones with thermal imaging were also used.

“We went to truly great lengths to take every step that we could,” she said.

Levine Cava described the decision to collapse the entire apartment building as “devastating,” acknowledging the “great tragedy” for the surviving residents of the building, in addition to those who lost loved ones.

“To lose your home and all your belongings in this manner is a great loss as well,” she said.

Officials said it was too dangerous for survivors to enter the building to retrieve their belongings, DeSantis said.

“Obviously it wasn’t worth that risk,” he said. “We can not lose any more people.”

FEMA has been successful in signing families up for assistance, and the city has raised millions of dollars from donations around the world to assist survivors as well, Levine Cava said.

Although the forecast for Tropical Storm Elsa has the center of the storm on the west coast of Florida, there will still be intermittent heavy rain and localized flooding as well as strong gusty winds and the possibility of tornadoes in the region, which could still affect search efforts, said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service South Florida.

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Feds warned last spring of spike in violence and extremism during pandemic: Memo


(NEW YORK) — While COVID-19’s surge has ebbed, violence is on the rise across the United States.

There has been a rash of gun violence in what President Joe Biden called an “epidemic,” including several public mass shootings, increases in incidents in major metropolitan areas and an uptick in road rage clashes.

While dramatic declines in levels of coronavirus have engendered new hope and optimism for some, the effects of the pandemic and the measures taken to combat it linger, simmering tensions brought to a boil and manifesting themselves in anger, and in some cases, violence, experts say.

Federal authorities saw that swell in violence spurred on by COVID’s hardships coming — before the pandemic even got into full swing.

An internal Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by ABC News from spring of 2020 warned that the emotional, mental and financial strain exacerbated by the new coronavirus pandemic combined with social isolation — especially if prolonged — may “increase the vulnerability of some citizens to mobilize to violence.”

“The outbreak of Covid-19, and government’s response to it, have intensified concerns that could accelerate mobilization to violence with extended periods of social distancing,” the memo reads, noting such isolation is a “known risk factor” in inciting violent extremism, along with “financial stress and work disruptions, including unexpected unemployment and layoffs” also “increasing.”

Even as the nation and globe was locking down, the memo, which has not been previously reported, urged agency partners to develop an “action plan” for when communities begin to return to “normal” activities, predicting “the increase in mass gatherings, combined with the lengthy social isolation and other life stressors,” may create environs churned up by COVID, and ripe for violent upheaval.

When reached by ABC News regarding these early warnings, DHS declined comment.

As a tentative reopening got underway in May, DHS Secretary Mayorkas established the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, and a domestic terrorism branch in the Department’s Office of Intelligence & Analysis, aimed at shoring up the Department’s “whole-of-society approach” to thwarting extremisim and other targeted violent acts in the U.S.

Attorney General Merick Garland announced a ‘renewed commitmen’t and multi-pronged Justice Department effort to reduce violent crime through community engagement, targeted enforcement, and interagency collaboration.

Violent crime has “spiked since the start of the pandemic over a year ago,” President Biden said in late June, announcing a range of actions and federal support towards targeting gun violence.

“And as we emerge from this pandemic with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may even be more pronounced than it usually would be,” Biden said.

Pandemic a ‘tipping point’

It wasn’t just federal officials sounding the alarm last year. Doctors — including psychologists — say the pressure of the pandemic may be exacerbating acts of violence and aggression.

“COVID has been a tipping point,” Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon a clinical psychologist in Chicago who focuses on wellness and preventive care. “On top of too much chronic stress, the impact of all this trauma… now everything is starting to leak out.”

And some experts say psychological stressors were already mounting prior to the pandemic.

“We were already in a weakened condition when the pandemic hit — class divisions, overt racism, partisanship, a really poor social support infrastructure — so if you think about the effect of the pandemic on an ‘epidemic’ of shootings — it’s like the immune system of the United States was already suppressed,” Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told ABC News.

“The social, psychological and economic distress in our country has surpassed people’s ability to cope, and there hasn’t been enough support,” added Dr. Marni Chanoff, a psychiatrist and founder of the integrative wellness group at McLean Hospital. “There is no road map on how to navigate this time.”

‘COVID turned up the volume’

When Mohammed Abdelmagied heard loud bangs near his Times Square kebab and hot dog stand the last Sunday in June, he thought it was firecrackers — someone celebrating an early Fourth of July, or maybe freedom from COVID-19.

It wasn’t: it was gunfire: something he never expected in the area where he’s worked for 13 years — a heavily policed place where shootings have been relatively rare.

“I turn my face to the square, I heard everything but I didn’t see nothing,” Abdelmagied, 46, told ABC News.

Two shootings in two months at the Crossroads of the World have brought a flood of police to the area, in a city that until recently had become a model of safety in major metropolitan areas. These flares of gunfire aren’t only in New York, nor have they remained only within city limits across the country.

Major U.S. cities have been rocked by spates of gun violence over the past few months, part of an already rising trend which did not stop during lockdown, but has become more visible as the country reopens.

“Shortly after a resumption of ‘normal’ life,” the memo from spring of 2020 says, tensions already brewing, then exacerbated during the pandemic, may provide an opportune moment for violent extremism, and violent attacks.

Not including suicides, more than 19,400 people died by gun violence in 2020, up from roughly 15,440 in 2019, and far past the rates in years prior, according to Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group.

In 2021, there have already been more than 10,000 gun violence deaths — with nearly six months left to go.

“Covid turned up the volume,” and has fomented a disintegration of social connections and norms, Butts said.

“Then we see some of these horrible shootings — the actual magnitude of the increase is undeniable,” Butts added.

It’s not just gun violence on the rise: acts of aggression on airplanes have also hit new highs — and not only more flight disruptions, but more violent ones as well.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a record number of potential violations of federal law in unruly passenger cases — identifying more than 490 cases this year so far where passengers potentially broke the law by “interfering with the duties of a crew member.” That’s more than double the amount of cases investigated in 2020; and more than two and a half times the amount in 2019.

Airlines have now reported more than 3,200 reports of disruptive passengers to the FAA this year; the vast majority — more than 2,400 — involve people who refused to wear a mask.

In a Homeland Security Threat Assessment released in October 2020, authorities also underscored concerns arising from COVID-19’s impact, where “anti-government and anti-authority violent extremists could be motivated to conduct attacks in response to perceived infringement of liberties and government overreach as all levels of government seek to limit the spread of the coronavirus that has caused a worldwide pandemic.”

Isolation effect

While social media helped maintain personal connections during quarantine, it can also be quite alienating, experts say — and present an opportunity for online radicalization.

In addition, pandemic job loss can be both heavy financial and psychological burdens.

And the unprecedented loss of life and loved ones to the virus, with more than 600,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, has taken an unspeakable toll, experts say.

Isolating factors like these can increase the risk of engaging — or attempting to engage — in violent extremism, according to the DHS memo.

“These risks are likely to become more widespread as public health measures are expanded — or the timeframe for maintaining social distancing increases,” the memo warned, underscoring the research-backed “need to build social links and bridges to prevent social isolation, which in turn, reduces the risk of radicalization to violence.”

Social distancing has been key to stopping the virus’ spread — but after more than a year of being fearful of anyone near potentially being infected, experts point out that self-preservation may have amplified feelings of mistrust in our communities.

“Someone who’s coming towards you on the sidewalk, and you’d think, you’re spraying your droplets at me!” Butts said. “People were afraid. More so than before, we had to see other people as a potential deadly threat.”

Americans are also still reeling from the economic and emotional blow dealt by COVID-19, despite the ebb of infection, and signs of improvement in the labor market, according to Pew polling this spring; those most vulnerable to the virus have also borne the brunt of its financial fallout.

Breaking the cycle

Tensions boiling over across the U.S. have fed what’s becoming a vicious cycle difficult to break; experts worry, that residual anxiety and collective trauma may outlast the pandemic itself.

“That kind of mental and emotional wear and tear doesn’t go away,” Butts continued. “All the harm that results will be festering for some time. That’s a huge concern.”

As some Americans’ anger about the state of the nation abates from where it was during the summer 2020 COVID surge — experts urge vigilance about what that receding rage might leave in its wake.

Even as the nation prepares to celebrate the Fourth of July and some measure of freedom from COVID, federal authorities are raising concerns about the possibility of domestic terror and violence, including mass shootings, as the 2021 summer season gets into full swing.

Whatever the new normal might be, Chanoff notes getting there will take time.

“The human spirit is resilient and the human capacity to heal is enormous,” Chanoff said. “But without support, I think that these things will likely continue to rise.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Remaining structure of collapsed Surfside, Florida, building demolished

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — The remains of the partially collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, were demolished at around 10:30 p.m. Sunday night.

Earlier Sunday, police had urged citizens who live within the designated shelter-in-place area, between 86th Street and 89th Street and Abbott Avenue and the shoreline, to remain indoors “effective immediately,” warning about dust from the demolition.

Some residents and animal welfare advocates had expressed concerned about the fate of pets left behind in the partially collapsed tower and the demolishing of the structure. But there are no animals remaning in the building, mayor of Miami-Dade County Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference Sunday evening.

“As an animal lover and a pet owner myself my entire life, I have made it a priority since day one to do absolutely everything possible to search for any animals that may still in the building. And in the days since the collapse, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Team has conducted three full sweeps of the place, including searching in closets, under beds, and all the other places that they could to see an animal that might have been in hiding … The latest information we have is that there are no animals, remaining in the building,” Levine Cava said.

The mayor also advised residents of nearby buildings to “close your windows, put your air conditioning on recirculation” in the case of dust of other fallout from the demolition. However, she said: “It is not expected anything other than some light debris would potentially affect all those buildings.”

Mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, called Tropical Storm Elsa predicted to hit the area, a “blessing in disguise ” because it inititated the discussion to demolish the remaining part of the building.

“That discussion has accomplished several things. It’s eliminated a looming threat, a dangerous threat for our rescue workers. It will potentially open up probably a third of the pile so we can all, you know, so the teams can focus not just on two thirds of the pile, but on the whole thing, which is important. And, you know, we want to make sure that we control which way the building falls and not, not a hurricane,” Burkett said.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief, Alan Cominsky said that once the building comes down, “there’ll be several different features that we’ll have to address obviously with the demolition and that’ll be the priority and securing the scene in that sense.” Afterward, the rescue mission will continiue, Cominsky said.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach.

Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through debris in hopes of finding survivors.

As of Sunday, the death toll has risen to 24 people. Rescuers were still searching for 121 people as of Sunday afternoon.

A letter from the board of directors of Champlain Towers East, obtained by ABC News, told residents on Sunday that they didn’t know when the other building would come down but “the most common estimate is sometime early evening today.”

The board advised residents to evacuate as soon as possible to avoid traffic.

Levine Cava said other residents nearby wouldn’t need to evacuate but were urged to stay indoors, close their windows and turn off their air conditioners to keep out dust from the demolition.

She said the demolition will be in the form of an “energetic felling,” which “uses small, strategically placed detonations and relies on the force of gravity to bring the building down in place, right on this footprint.”

Search and rescue teams will continue with their operations, “very shortly after the demolition,” Levine Cava added.

The mayor also noted that the all of the crews are working to get as much work done before Tropical Storm Elsa arrives.

Preparations are now being made for Elsa, which weakened from a hurricane in the morning and is expected to come near southern Florida on Monday, into Tuesday. A cover has been placed on the part of the debris field that is closest to the building, Cava said.

On Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for several counties in anticipation of Elsa. Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms also have made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days.

On Friday, two more bodies were found in the wreckage as crews search the area of the collapse, officials said. Two more bodies were recovered overnight, officials announced Saturday.

Two bodies were discovered Thursday evening, including that of a 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, according to Levine Cava. The firefighter was not part of the crew that discovered the girl’s body.

“It goes without saying that every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Friday morning. “But last night was uniquely different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders.”

Meanwhile, 191 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “continue to change.”

The number of those accounted for has gone up as detectives continue to audit the list of people reported missing, a development that Levine Cava called “very good news.”

However, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed, and the hope that more people would be found alive appeared to be fading Friday.

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said rescue workers are “emotional” after the discovery of a first responder’s own daughter, which “takes a toll.” But he said that won’t stop them from continuing to search for those who are still missing.

“I just was hoping that we would have some survivors,” Cominsky said at a press briefing on Friday morning.

Speaking on the signing the emergency order to demolish the remainder of the building earlier this week, Levine Cava said the move will “help us move quickly.”

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injuring his two sons, the president told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation.

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

The association’s board released a statement Friday saying its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interest of all concerned parties, an independent Receiver should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.”

“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation,” the statement continued, “and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

In the wake of the Surfside building collapse, the city of North Miami Beach ordered that another condominium close immediately amid safety concerns connected to the 40-year recertification process, officials said.

The Crestview Towers Condominium is “structurally and electrically unsafe,” based on the review of a recertification report submitted Friday, city officials said in a statement.

“The city of North Miami Beach has taken the steps that we recommended to review to make sure that the recertification process was being done in a timely basis. And as I understand it, as a result of that audit, they found a building that had not been recertified, and when the information came in, they took some steps,” Levine Cava said Friday evening.

Some 300 residents have to evacuate, according to ABC Miami affiliate WPLG, while a full structural assessment is conducted.

The 156-unit condo was built in 1972.

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Tropical Storm Elsa edges toward US after battering Caribbean


(NEW YORK) — Tropical Storm Elsa has set its sights for the U.S. after it wreaked havoc on islands in the Caribbean.

The system, which was downgraded to a tropical storm over the weekend after becoming the first hurricane in the 2021 Atlantic season, was about 50 miles southeast of Cayo Largo, Cuba, Monday morning as it headed northwest at 14 mph. Maximum sustained winds were clocking in at 65 mph.

Elsa destroyed several structures in Barbados, when it hit as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds at 74 mph on Friday.

The heavy rainfall also damaged homes in Haiti on Saturday and flooded parts of Jamaica on Sunday.

Elsa is expected to bring gusty winds and rain across central and western Cuba through Monday and pass near the Florida Keys with heavier rain and tropical force winds early Tuesday.

The storm will then move near or over the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday, possible sparing recovery efforts at the site of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, near Miami Beach on the east coast of the state.

What remained of the Champlain Towers condominium was demolished Sunday night ahead of the storm.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett described Tropical Storm Elsa as a “blessing in disguise” because it fueled discussions to demolish the building left standing after the partial collapse on June 24.

Tropical storm watches and warmings have been issued in parts of Cuba and the Florida Keys, while a storm surge watch is in effect for the west coast of Florida.

By Wednesday morning, the storm will move inland inland into North Florida and parts of Georgia.

The Florida peninsula, coastal Georgia and the Carolinas should monitor the progress of the storm, as additional watches and warnings will likely be issued Monday afternoon.

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Why a focus on mental health is essential for students returning to school in the fall, experts say


(NEW YORK) — It’s been a school year like no other in recent memory — combining the challenge of remote and hybrid learning for millions with the agony and strain of a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000.

Mental health has taken a toll on many students and staff alike.

So as districts prepare for the fall after the first full year during the coronavirus pandemic, many are looking at ways to help best address the mental health needs of students, especially those who may have experienced trauma, anxiety or social isolation.

One Ohio school district will welcome back students with more counselors and social workers on hand. Hilliard City Schools in Columbus has added seven new school counselors, up to 42, and 10 more social workers, for 15 total, Director of Student Well-Being Mike Abraham told ABC News.

“Anxiety has always been high with this generation,” Abraham said. “With the pandemic, some students have become very comfortable with isolation, not having to deal with the anxiety that school might bring or their peers bring. That’s what all districts are dealing with coming back now that these kids are together — giving them strategies to be able to deal with their anxiety, to deal with whatever mental health issues that they’re struggling with.”

The school district, which has nearly 17,000 students, is tapping into federal relief money earmarked for K-12 public schools to pay for the new positions.

Last month, Iowa officials announced the state is launching a new pre-K-12 school mental health center that would expand training and resources that support mental health needs in schools.

The Iowa Department of Education is putting $20 million in federal pandemic relief toward the center, which aims to “address the impact pandemic-related disruptions have had on students and will focus on strengthening mental health support moving forward,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said in a statement.

And the Miami-Dade County school district is exploring using federal relief funds to hire more mental health clinicians as most of the district’s 334,000 students are expected to return to in-person learning this fall, the Miami Herald reported last month.

Other initiatives targeting school culture include adding mental health as an excused absence. That will be the case for Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district, starting in the fall, Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill told ABC News Washington, D.C., affiliate WJLA-TV.

“I think coming off the pandemic this year, adults and students recognize the challenges that mental health has brought about,” O’Neill told the station. “We had to figure out how to make this change and elevate the importance of mental health, as it may be a barrier to learning.”

Range of mental health concerns

The full impact of the pandemic on students will take time to understand, Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, director of policy and advocacy for the National Association of School Psychologists and a school psychologist, told ABC News. One area of concern is emergency department visits for attempted suicide or suicide ideation, she said.

In 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits among those aged 12 to 17 increased 31% compared to 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visits for suspected suicide attempts in girls that age from Feb. 21 to March 20, 2021, were 50.6% higher than the same period in 2019, the agency reported.

A report published in Pediatrics also found “significant increases” in the number of emergency department visits for suicide ideation and attempts in youth for certain months in 2020 when compared to the previous year.

Isolation due to remote learning is another concern. A recent report from a team of researchers at the Graduate Center, City University of New York found that 91% of New York City parents surveyed agreed there should be “increased mental health supports for students due to social isolation from COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, some students may not have experienced any toll on their mental health, and may have even thrived virtually, Vaillancourt Strobach said.

“We don’t know the level of trauma that individual students have had. We don’t know their family situation, if they lost somebody, if parents have lost jobs,” she said. “So what we are encouraging schools to do is really in those first couple of weeks, just infuse a lot of social-emotional learning, give kids the opportunity to talk about what’s happened over the last year.”

“There’s a lot of focus and attention on learning loss, or lost instructional time. Certainly it’s important that we address student’s academic needs, but if we don’t have a handle on their social-emotional learning and their mental health needs, the academics are never going to come,” she added.

‘All about adjustment’

Summer to fall can often be a tough transition for students in general, Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute and the manager of curriculum development and professional training for its school and community programs, noted.

“That first month of school is all about adjustment,” she told ABC News. “Now, even more so, it’s a whole different ball game.”

Students may experience anxiety and stress while getting acclimated to the classroom and a new routine, she said.

When Centennial High School in Corona, California, welcomed back students on campus for their last quarter this past school year, it was an adjustment for some students returning for in-person learning, Josh Godinez, a counselor at the school and chair of the board of the California Association of School Counselors, told ABC News.

“It was almost like the isolation allowed them to create almost somewhat of a fantasy of what they remembered about school. And then showing up to the social distancing partitions, only half their class being there, everybody in masks, it wasn’t that picture that they had created,” he said. “Things start to get back to normal, but aren’t really back to normal.”

As a counselor, Godinez said he worked with students on an individual level to address any anxiety, apprehension, grief or fears students had.

“There was no one response when they came back to school,” he said.

A call for lasting change

Come the fall, Centennial High School, which has about 3,300 students, will have brought on a new counselor, focusing on English learners, bringing them to nine total, Godinez said.

The pandemic has helped bring more attention to the importance of mental health support in school, particularly as districts have an infusion of federal funding that could be put toward more staffing or training, and how schools can foster a healing-centered environment “focusing on social-emotional well-being,” Domingues said.

“This year has kind of really helped propel that mission forward,” she said.

The attention and funding come as schools nationally are largely understaffed when it comes to support staff like social workers and psychologists, experts said.

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of no more than 500 students per school psychologist. In the 2019-2020 school year, the national ratio was estimated to be more than double, and only one state met the recommended ratio, the organization said.

The National Association of Social Workers and American School Counselor Association both recommend a ratio of 250 students per social worker and counselor, which most states also fail to meet, according to a 2019 ACLU report.

“We’ve had 100,000 traumatized school communities in this country,” Robert Boyd, president of the School-Based Health Alliance, which promotes school-based health centers in the U.S., told ABC News. “We’re coming into this with not enough school behavioral health specialists. … We didn’t have it before the pandemic.”

The pandemic relief funds could help bring those ratios down, the experts ABC News spoke with said, though noted more rural areas often face a staffing shortage. Boyd’s organization is also focused on diversifying school support staff, which tends to be white women, he said.

Some schools may need to lean on community providers, Vaillancourt Strobach said. Trained grief counselors, for instance, may include pastors and morticians, Boyd noted.

Beyond dealing with staffing shortages, districts may build up their programs, only to not be able to sustain them in the long term.

“Are we going to make a lot of really good progress because there’s been so much attention paid to the importance of school mental health, and then with the American Rescue Plan dollars hit their limit, are we going to be back at square one?” Vaillancourt Strobach said.

Mental health professionals hope this spotlight leads to lasting change and funding support, beyond the pandemic.

“We don’t need to focus on student mental health just because of COVID,” Vaillancourt Strobach said. “The need has always been there; as a nation, we are finally paying attention to it.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Opera singer delivers her own baby in the car while husband drives

Courtesy of Emily Geller Hardman

(NEW YORK) — One woman was prepared for every aspect of her daughter’s birth — except for the location.

Emily Geller Hardman, 35, was 37 weeks pregnant when she attended a family wedding in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Travis Hardman. Still far enough out from her projected due date, she figured it was fine to attend and felt nothing out of the ordinary during the wedding. Just hours later, when they were back in their hotel room, however, the opera singer said her water broke. But she didn’t rush to the hospital.

“The amniotic fluid was clear and there were no contractions,” Hardman told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “And this was a first-time labor for me. Statistically, most first-time labors are about 16 to 24 hours, so in my head we had plenty of time.”

When Hardman woke up to her first contraction around 3 a.m., she knew it was time to go even if it meant giving birth in the car.

“In my head I was thinking that I’ve been preparing for this for three years,” she said. “I can certainly do early labor in the car.”

Hardman’s firstborn, Wesley, 2, was born via cesarean delivery. She initially wanted to do a vaginal birth, but circumstances forced her into a C-section.

After what she described as a traumatic experience, she was determined to have an unmedicated vaginal birth at a hospital an hour away from their home in Briarcliff Manor, New York, with midwives and a doula on hand.

“I was very involved in the physiological birth world,” Hardman said, adding that she read books, listened to podcasts and did prenatal exercises to prepare herself mentally and physically for a second birth on her terms.

Armed with just her knowledge, signals from her body and the GentleBirth meditation app, Hardman guided herself through labor while her husband drove.

“My husband’s driving and the entire time I’m focusing on listening to the app to get me through each contraction,” she recalled. “I was just riding the waves and hoping we were going to make it back. We still didn’t realize how fast this was going.”

Around 5:30 a.m., they were able to pull over so Hardman could stand and stretch.

“At that point, once I stood up, I think gravity hit and I started bearing down,” Hardman said. “My water starts leaking again. But I knew that we had to get back in the car and get to the hospital so I willed myself back into the backseat.”

Hardman tried her best not to push so that she could hold on until they arrived at the hospital, but when her contractions started coming faster and even more intense, she knew she wouldn’t be able to help it.

“This baby was coming out of me one way or another,” she said. “I either needed to, for lack of a better word, get on board with what was happening and just allow my body to do what it was doing or I could fight it tooth and nail, which didn’t seem like it was going to be helpful.”

“I could feel myself bearing down and pushing,” Hardman continued. “I instinctively just reached down because I’m feeling so much pressure and I feel the top of a baby’s head starting to crown.”

She told her husband to pull over, but there was nowhere for them to do so safely.

“He’s trying to pull over anywhere he can and as he’s doing that, we’re still driving and her entire body just flies out in one contraction,” Hardman said. “There was no pushing stage of her head slowly coming and then waiting for the next contraction and resting. It was just a one-shot deal — she just flew out.”

What Hardman described is a phenomenon known as fetal ejection reflex, in which the body “expels” a baby involuntarily without any forced pushing on the person’s part.

Despite the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s birth, Hardman said the experience wasn’t stressful. As an opera singer, she’s used to high-stress situations and believes that experience, in addition to all the work she put in, helped her handle everything as smoothly as possible.

“You have to perform at a high level under stress, so you’re used to those types of situations and having to focus on what you’re doing and not how you’re doing,” Hardman said.

“I remember I felt relieved,” she said of her feelings after giving birth to her daughter, Rosemary Claire. “I thought something like, ‘I did it.’ It was empowering and a very healing experience. I do feel very lucky.”

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Duchess Kate self-isolating after COVID-19 contact

Karwai Tang/WireImage

(LONDON) — The Duchess of Cambridge is self-isolating at home after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Last week The Duchess of Cambridge came into contact with someone who has subsequently tested positive for COVID-19,” Kensington Palace said in a statement. “Her Royal Highness is not experiencing any symptoms, but is following all relevant government guidelines and is self-isolating at home.”

Duchess Kate was alerted by Britain’s National Health Service after visiting a site where someone tested positive and is following official protocol to self-isolate for 10 days.

The Duchess of Cambridge was due to join her husband, Prince William, at an event to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of Britain’s National Health Service on Monday, but had to cancel.

The duchess has had a busy month of royal engagements. On Friday, she attended Wimbledon and toured the grounds. Last week, she also attended a soccer match at Wembley stadium with William and their eldest son, Prince George.

Prince William and Prince Charles contracted COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.

Britain is dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-transmissible delta variant. After instituting strict lockdowns to control the virus, the government has been easing back restrictions since March and pushing forward with vaccination efforts.
The royal family has been doing their part to encourage vaccinations. In January, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II received her COVID-19 vaccines, which were administered by a doctor at Windsor Castle.

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As recently discovered unmarked Indigenous graves in Canada nears 1,000, activists demand justice


(NEW YORK) — For decades, beginning in the 1800s, thousands of Indigenous peoples from Canada were taken from their homes and families by the Canadian government, shipped thousands of miles away in some cases and placed into so-called residential schools.

The stated purpose of the schools, some of which date to the 19th century and the last of which closed in the 1990s, was assimilation — ridding the students of ties to their communities and instilling European culture, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

There were reports from the TRC — a commission funded by the Canadian government as part of a legal settlement to address the wrongs of the system — of thousands of instances of abuse and mistreatment against students and many of the students did not make it back to their homes in what advocates for the Indigenous population and officials alternately term “injustice,” “systemic racism” or even “genocide.”

There have recently been a number of reminders of that grim past — one which advocates say continues to haunt Indigenous communities.

Another 182 sets of human remains were found on June 30 near the former St. Eugene’s Mission School for Indigenous children in the community of Aqam, bringing the total found in the country in recent days to nearly 1,000.

A week earlier, 751 unmarked graves were found at the cemetery of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. It is unclear how many of the students died or what the causes of death were.

“It’s opened fresh wounds for a number of people,” said David Pratt, the second vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. FSIN is an advocacy organization that represents 74 First Nations in the implementation of treaties that protect Indigenous people and land.

The site at Marieval has the largest number of graves connected to a residential school discovered in Canada so far, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), which archives and compiles the complete history of Canada’s residential school system.

In a June 24 statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent his condolences to Indigenous groups across the country following the Marieval discovery.

“They are a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced – and continue to face – in this country,” the statement read. “Together, we must acknowledge this truth, learn from our past, and walk the shared path of reconciliation, so we can build a better future.”

However, Stephanie Scott, executive director of the NCTR, said that these problems continue to harm Indigenous communities to this day.

“The residential school system has impacted generations,” Scott said. “Take action, take responsibility to learn the true history, seek out survivors and indigenous people and start that dialogue.”

What are residential schools?

What are residential schools? In a 2015 report, the NCTR said there had been 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit students in the residential school system. The first schools of this kind were formed in the 1860s and lasted all the way until the final school, Gordon Indian Residential School, closed in the late 1990s.

About 139 Indian residential schools were identified in the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

For decades, Indigenous children in both Canada and the United States were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools, sometimes thousands of miles away, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Scott, whose mother was a student in one of these schools, said that many students were beaten and abused for speaking their language or practicing Indigenous traditions. She said there have been reports of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and illness.

“We’ve even heard stories about young girls getting pregnant and the children being born and putting into incinerators,” Scott said. “We’ve heard stories of children being hidden in walls. We went to the community one time where there was a caretaker’s house where we found this strap that was covered in blood.”

The official report from TRC reiterates stories of children being strapped, beaten, and forced into crawl spaces.

Scott said her mother got pregnant while attending the residential schools, and child welfare authorities took her away.

“I was adopted out yeah into a community with that forced assimilation and those policies where I didn’t have access to my culture and community,” Scott said. “I grew up without my language.”

Why are there so many unmarked graves?

Many students never returned home from the schools, according to the NCTR. The NCTR reports that the deaths of more than 4,000 children have been connected to residential schools, as graves of young children continue to be uncovered — but Scott said that there are likely more left to be found.

Researchers have been used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to discover unmarked burials, like the St. Eugene’s Mission School and the Marieval Indian Residential School.

In May, researchers also found the remains of 215 students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Some children buried onsite had been as young as 3 years old.

The NCTR has found that many of the children died from illness and malnourishment, among other causes. Scott said she’s heard stories from old school attendees who claimed illnesses and injuries went untreated.

It is unclear how all of the children have died, and who they were.

For many, the discovery of graves is a time of grief, as many can remember the days when residential schools were still around. Pratt said the discoveries of unmarked graves bring up a lot of emotion, trauma and heartbreak for those who’ve been lost and called on the Canadian government and the Roman Catholic Church to help.

“They need to apologize and they need to take responsibility and ownership on the trauma and the chaos they’ve caused amongst indigenous peoples of this land,” Pratt said.

Who has taken responsibility for these?

The residential schools were run by the Canadian government, the department of Indian Affairs and churches, including the Roman Catholic Church at various points in their histories, which has been connected with the recent unmarked grave discoveries.

The St. Eugene’s Mission School, for instance, was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1912 to 1970. The Marieval Indian Residential School was also run by the Church from 1899 to 1997.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was run by the Church until the late 60s when it was taken over by the federal government.

Pope Francis plans to meet in December with Indigenous survivors of the residential school system from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups.

But the Roman Catholic Church has yet to issue a statement on the discoveries. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comments.

According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, the United States also had more than 350 government-funded boarding schools across the US.

In 2000, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover apologized for the trauma and violence against children at the American residential schools.

Trudeau, in his recent statement following the discovery of the Marieval graves, said he promised to help Indigenous people in Canada heal.

“The government will continue to provide Indigenous communities across the country with the funding and resources they need to bring these terrible wrongs to light,” the statement read. “While we cannot bring back those who were lost, we can – and we will – tell the truth of these injustices, and we will forever honour their memory.”

In the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, reached in 2007, Canada promised funding, support, and the formation of federal commissions to help the community heal. The settlement of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was a step, activists say, but many are demanding stronger action.

High incarceration rates, poverty, addiction, trauma, and climate change have plagued Indigenous communities, and Pratt links them to the lasting effects of residential schools.

Scott agreed, saying the unmarked graves have opened up an opportunity to discuss what Indigenous communities are owed and what they continue to experience as a community. Scott said education and dialogue about these atrocities are just the first steps.

“Canada must claim responsibility for the genocide and it has to show a commitment to sharing these truths with all people in Canada,” Scott said.

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American lawyer convicted of assaulting Hong Kong police officer to be sentenced


(HONG KONG) — An American corporate lawyer convicted of assaulting a police officer in Hong Kong during a period of citywide unrest about 18 months ago is to be sentenced July 6.

Samuel Phillip Bickett, 37, has been in custody since July 22, when a Hong Kong magistrate found him guilty of assaulting Senior Constable Yu Shu-sang in December 2019. Bickett was denied bail.

In a statement seen by ABC News, Bickett said he would appeal the “outrageous” verdict and “will not rest until justice is done.” The trial’s outcome, he added, is “entirely unsupportable by both the law and the evidence in this case.”

A State Department spokesperson said the United States was aware of Bickett’s case and that it was working to provide consular assistance: “We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad, and are monitoring the situation.”

Bickett, a former compliance director at Bank of America, reportedly was on his way to dinner when he tried to stop a man from attacking a commuter at an underground train station.

That man, it turned out, was an off-duty police officer who said he was using a baton to try to stop a turnstile jumper. At the time, Hong Kong officers were allowed to carry retractable batons during off-the-clock hours because of the ongoing protests.

Bickett claims the officer was threatening commuters and that he intervened in an attempt to prevent someone from getting hurt.

In his statement, Bickett said that in Hong Kong’s judicial system “rulings suggest a willful abandonment of fundamental legal principles by this magistrate, and make me sad for the state of rule of law in this city.”

Bickett’s case takes place amid a tense political backdrop. There have been a slew of arrests and prosecutions since last summer when Beijing imposed a national security law in the city, where crackdowns have affected a number of key sectors.

Last month, the city’s only remaining opposition newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to close after the government froze its assets and arrested a handful of executives.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said that Hong Kong is “on a rapid path to becoming a police state.”

The remarks came after the city’s former security secretary, John Lee, was promoted to Hong Kong’s second-highest job, while Lee’s post was handed over to police head Chris Tang.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam repeatedly has denied that the former colony’s freedoms and autonomy — meant to be guaranteed when the U.K. handed it back to China in 1997 — are being diminished.

But whether that assurance is enough for the American and international businesses, families and individuals who remain in Hong Kong remains to be seen.

“These are sensitive times for American business in Hong Kong,” said American Chamber of Commerce President Tara Joseph. City leaders are “wrestling not just with the National Security Law but also heightened U.S.-China tensions and strict COVID travel restrictions.”

A survey of members conducted by the chamber in May indicated that some 42% are considering leaving, but, as Joseph noted, Hong Kong remains a vital economic center: “For many sectors, Hong Kong remains an important business hub. Many companies will try to adjust to a new normal.”

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Man dies in fireworks accident after mortar shell explodes next to him


(NEW YORK) — A man has died after in a tragic fireworks accident after a mortar shell exploded inside of a firework tube, sending shrapnel into the man’s body and killing him on site.

The incident occurred at approximately 12:20 a.m. on Sunday, July 4, in Salamonie Township — about 95 miles northeast of Indianapolis — in Huntington County, Indiana, when first responders were called to the scene of a man reportedly suffering from an injury sustained while setting off fireworks, according to a statement from the Huntington County Coroner’s Office.

When authorities arrived they say that they found the victim, 41-year-old Steven E. Sims of Hartford City, Indiana, with critical injuries to his abdomen after being struck by a firework.

The Huntington County Coroner said that lifesaving efforts were immediately attempted to save Sims’ life but that he ultimately succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead by the Huntington County Coroner’s Office at the scene of the accident.

“An initial investigation into the incident determined the mortar shell exploded inside the tube, causing the pressure to breech the side of the tube, and striking the victim,” said Huntington County Chief Deputy Coroner Philip Zahm. “An autopsy is being conducted to determine the extent of injury.”

Toxicology reports are also pending in this case and the final cause and manner of death will be determined by the outcome of the autopsy, said Zahm.

The investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sims’ death is ongoing.

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