ABC - National News

Lt. John J. Mike/U.S. Navy via Getty ImagesBy LUIS MARTINEZ and MATTHEW SEYLER

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Navy said that at least one fire continues to burn aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, as progress is being made in extinguishing the fire that has raged in San Diego's harbor since Sunday morning.

A defense official told ABC News that as of Tuesday evening the fire was 80% contained.

Defense officials acknowledged that the fire has caused serious damage aboard the ship and that they face tough decisions about the ship's future, including whether the ship will be able to continue in service.

"The ship is stable and the structure is safe," said Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 said at a news conference Tuesday in San Diego to update the efforts to extinguish the blaze.

Sobeck said there is one confirmed fire in the forward section of the amphibious assault ship that firefighters were only able to access earlier on Tuesday. There is another heat source in the rear of the ship that may or may not be a fire.

"The challenges remaining, obviously are getting that fire out completely," said Sobeck. "And then once that occurs, we'll then go space by space to make sure that each and every compartment is cool."

Defense officials told ABC News that overnight it appeared the last fire aboard the ship had been extinguished only to reignite again.

Sobeck said it's still too early to tell if the ship will be able to remain in service given the amount of damage believed to have occurred. One official described the fire reaching temperatures of 1,200 degrees.

A Navy team has arrived in San Diego to be in place once the fire is extinguished and carry out an initial damage assessment of just how severe the damage has been to the ship.

After the assessment is completed a defense official said "some hard decisions will have to be made" about the ship's future.

Commissioned in 1998 the USS Bonhomme Richard is estimated to have cost approximately $750 million, the ship is one of eight Wasp-class amphibious assault ships that are no longer in production. A replacement ship would likely come from the new America-class of amphibious assault ships that could cost $3.4 billion.

Sobeck said the fire did not cause major damage to the ship's four main engineering spaces and that "the risk is very low" to the ship's fuel tanks, which contain a million pounds of fuel.

The fire is believed to have started in the aft section of the ship near its "well deck" where Marine Corps vessels are stored when the ship is at sea.

It is believed that from there the fire moved quickly to the wide open hangar area, located above the well deck that maximized the fire's spread and intensity.

"For this class of ship, the open area that is above the vehicle storage area is all open. It's a big hangar. And so once the fire hit that amount of oxygen it then found other ways to go up some ventilation -- all the things where, you know, the fire sees space and oxygen, that's what fuels it, and that's what happened," said Sobeck. "And so then it went off to the races."

Navy helicopters have dropped 1,200 buckets of water onto the ship's deck and Navy tug boats are spraying the side of the ship, all in an effort to cool the ship's hull.

Sixty-one personnel, including 38 sailors and 23 civilians, have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. All of those personnel were treated and released from the hospital.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ovidiu Dugulan/iStockBy JON HAWORTH and EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The novel coronavirus pandemic has now killed more than 573,000 people worldwide.

Over 13 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their nations' outbreaks.

The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 3.3 million diagnosed cases and at least 135,615 deaths.

Latest headlines:

  • Philadelphia banning large public events through February 2021
  • North Carolina schools will open for in-person and remote learning
  • Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin added to NY travel advisory

Here is how the news is developing today. All times Eastern. Check back for updates.

7:22 p.m.: Mississippi seeing 'highest numbers of patients as we speak'

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told "World News Tonight" on Tuesday that the state is now in the worst of its battle with COVID-19.

"We were a little bit slower or behind New York, behind the West Coast as far as seeing that real surge of patients, but we're seeing our highest numbers of patients as we speak," Woodward said.

On Monday, the number of cases jumped 862 to a total of 37,542. The number is shy of two 1,000-case days in late June, but still overwhelming UMMC.

"We are full. We are full in our med surge beds, we are full in our ICU beds," Woodward said. "As of some hours ago, we had a few open pediatric beds, but in fact in the adult bed count, at this moment, we're oversubscribed by 29."

6:30 p.m.: LA County reports new record for deaths, cases

The crisis in Los Angeles County is continuing to get worse.

The county reported a new daily record for deaths (73) and cases (4, 244) on Tuesday. The county did qualify that the death total could be higher due to a lag in reporting from over the weekend.

There are 2,103 people currently hospitalized in the county, 19% of which are on ventilators.

The county already has rolled back some of its reopening plans in the wake of the rise in cases.

5:15 p.m.: Moderna says everyone in vaccine trial developed antibodies

Moderna released data from its Phase 1 trial Tuesday, saying the trial was relatively safe and that all 45 people who were given the vaccine developed COVID-19 antibodies.

These antibodies are believed to provide some level of immunization, but how much immunization and for how long is still to be determined.

The trial was made up of three groups with 15 people in each group. Each group received a different dose of the vaccine -- low, medium or high.

Side effects were minimal, Moderna said.

3:35 p.m.: CDC director says 'we can bring this epidemic under control' if everyone wears masks

CDC Director Robert Redfield told JAMA on Tuesday, "I really do believe if the American public all embraced masking now and we really did it, you know, rigorously ... I think if we can get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next four to six, eight weeks, we can bring this epidemic under control."

"Masking is not a political issue, it is a public health issue," he continued, calling it a "personal responsibility" for everyone.

"I'm glad to see the president wear a mask this week, and the vice president," Redfield said. "We need them to set the example."

Redfield said "the most powerful weapon we have" against the coronavirus is using face coverings, washing hands and "being smart about social distancing."

"If we all rigorously did this, we could really bring this outbreak back to where it needs to be," he said.

3:08 p.m. North Carolina schools will open for in-person and remote learning

In North Carolina, where there are over 89,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, schools will open with in-person and remote learning, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday.

The beginning of the school year in North Carolina is about a month away, he said.

Schools will have protocols in place including fewer children in classrooms, social distancing and required face coverings for all students and staff, Cooper said. The schools are also recommended to use one-way hallways and suspend large group activities like assemblies.

Districts will have the option to conduct all remote learning if that is best for them, he said.

"If trends spike and in-person school cannot be done safely with these safety protocols, then we will need to move to all remote learning like we did in March," Cooper tweeted.

1:30 p.m.: Philadelphia banning large public events through February 2021

In Philadelphia, large public events will be banned through Feb. 28, 2021, reported ABC Philadelphia station WPVI-TV.

Banned events include parades, concerts, fairs and block parties.

"To bring people together in large groups ... would not be responsible. And that's why we're doing what we're doing," Mayor Jim Kenney said at a new conference Tuesday.

"We're going to have to live with the virus for a long time," said Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the city's Department of Public Health. "We're gonna have to have some restrictions on our activities until we deploy a vaccine."

Philadelphia held a parade during the 1918 flu pandemic, which prompted a massive outbreak.

Farley said that is "still in the memory" of public health workers and "that weighs on all of our decisions.”

Philadelphia has over 27,000 cases of the coronavirus. While the city is not facing the same rise in cases many states are seeing, Farley called this a "dangerous period."

"The way for us to avoid similar increases ... is to have everyone follow the safety precautions," he said.

12:15 p.m.: Arizona sees 20% positivity rate

In Arizona, where the pandemic has intensified, the state reported a positivity rate of 20% on Tuesday, a slight drop from the 21.7% rate on Monday. Nationally, the overall test-positivity rate stands at 9.4%, according to a FEMA memo obtained by ABC News.

Arizona reported 4,273 new cases and 92 new deaths on Tuesday, according to the state's Department of Health Services.

The state has 197 adult ICU beds available, the department said. On Monday officials said ICUs were 90% full.

Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday he was expanding testing capacity and limiting indoor dining to 50%.

11:35 a.m.: Florida has 48 hospitals with no ICU beds 

Out of 309 facilities being tracked, Florida has 48 hospitals with no available ICU beds, and 31 hospitals with just one available ICU bed, according to the state's Agency for Healthcare Administration. These numbers will fluctuate throughout the day.

Hard-hit Florida saw a record new 132 deaths bringing the fatality total to 4,513, the state's Department of Health said Tuesday.

Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami, and Osceola County, home to the cities of Kissimmee and Celebration, are especially hard-hit.

Miami-Dade is reporting a positivity rate of 22.1% while Osceola County's positivity rate stands at 22.8%. Duval County, home to Jacksonville, and Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, both have positivity rates at 16%.

11:12 a.m.: Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin added to NY travel advisory

Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin have been added to New York's coronavirus travel advisory, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

Those four states join Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Delaware has been removed from the list.

Travelers headed to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from those states must quarantine for two weeks.

The quarantine applies to states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a one-week average, or any state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a one-week average.

10:20 a.m.: Virginia Beach, Montana see new jumps

Virginia Beach, Virginia, may be a new spot to watch, according to an internal FEMA memo obtained by ABC News.

Virginia Beach reported 317 new cases for the week ending July 8 -- a 92.1% increase over the previous week.

Montana is also seeing a drastic jump.

On July 9, the state reached a new single-day record of 96 new cases, according to the FEMA memo. There were 377 new cases reported in the week ending July 8 -- a 59.1% increase week-over-week.

Nationally, the overall test-positivity rate stands at 9.4%, according to the FEMA memo.

Forty states reported an upward trend test-positivity rate over the last week.

Nationwide death counts show a large increase in the last two days.

From July 6 to July 12, there were 410,332 new cases reported and 5,073 new deaths in the U.S. Those figures represent a 20.4% increase in cases and a 47.4% increase in deaths.

9 a.m.: New Jersey governor: 'We've lived through hell'

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is "very concerned" about surges in other states because "we've lived through hell," he told ABC News' Good Morning America on Tuesday.

"We've lost over 13,000 confirmed fatalities to COVID-19 in our state. Over 15,000 if you include probable deaths," he said. "We don't want to have to go through that again."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he was issuing an order requiring out-of-state travelers from states with rising coronavirus cases to give local authorities their contact information when they arrive. Cuomo said this would help enforce the mandatory quarantine for people traveling to New York from high coronavirus states.

When asked if New Jersey is considering a similar order, Murphy told GMA, "we'll do it our own way, but were deadly serious about this."

"We knew when we opened our state up we'd take on more risk of transmission of the virus, but there's an added element from folks who are coming in from out of state, from hot spots, and we'll take that very seriously," he said.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have a travel advisory in place for states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a week average, or any state with 10% of higher positivity rate over a week average. Travelers arriving in the tri-state area from those states must quarantine for two weeks.

Last week, Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma were added to the travel list, joining Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina , Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

4:22 a.m.: Russia lifts two-week quarantine for arriving foreigners from tomorrow

A 14-day quarantine will no longer be required for anyone arriving to Russia, according to a decree signed by the country's chief sanitary doctor on Monday.

Starting from Wednesday, people entering Russia will need to provide a document -- in English or Russian -- that they have tested negative for the coronavirus in the past 72 hours.

Alternatively, they can test in Russia and provide the document within three days. This news followed last week's announcement that Russia is looking resume international air travel in mid July.

Russia confirmed 6,248 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday bringing the country’s official number of cases to 739 947.

Over the past 24 hours, 175 people have died bringing the total toll to 11,614.

A total of 8,804 people recovered over the last 24 hours bringing the overall number of recoveries to 512,825.

3:17 a.m.: U of Miami infectious disease doctor: “Miami is now the epicenter for the virus"

A group of Miami-area medical experts joined Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez on a Zoom news conference Monday morning and made clear that South Florida is in a dire position when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

“Miami is now the epicenter for the virus,” said Lilian M. Abbo, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Miami Health System and the Chief of Infection Prevention for Jackson Health System. “What we were seeing in Wuhan [China] five months ago, we’re now seeing here.”

The experts were speaking minutes after Florida announced 12,624 new cases of COVID-19 -- a day after Florida set a record for any state with 15,300 new cases.

The experts stressed the need to restrict large gatherings of people in indoor spaces, and Gimenez said the biggest thing that needs to be done is residents following the safety guidelines.

“The reason [for the spike] is us. There’s no Boogeyman. The reason is us,” he said. “We have to change our behavior. The no. 1 reason is our behavior.”

1:59 a.m.: Hawaii delays reopening to tourists until September 1

Hawaii Governor David Ige announced that, in light of the surge of cases on the mainland, Hawaii is delaying its reopening to tourists until September 1.

The plan was to allow tourists who have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their trip to Hawaii to bypass that mandatory two-week self quarantine starting in August. But with the increase of cases in the state and the growing number of cases nationwide, officials decided to delay it by a month.

“I am announcing today that we will be delaying the launch of the pre-travel testing program until September 1,” said Ige during the press conference. “The outbreaks on the mainland are not in control and we don’t believe that situation will change significantly by August 1st."

Said Ige: "We did believe it would be in the best interest of everyone here in the state of Hawaii to delay the start of the program to September 1. I know this increases the burden of businesses here in Hawaii …we still believe in the pre-testing program and we will take actions to implement it safely.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — Hawaii announced plans to delay reopening for tourism for another month, as coronavirus infections continue to rise in the Aloha State and on the U.S. mainland.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced the plan in a press conference late Monday, saying the state would delay reopening to tourists until August. He said all travelers who enter the state, even those who have tested negative for the virus, will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine through Sept. 1.

Ige, who said the state recently set a new record of 42 new infections in a single day, cited "uncontrolled outbreaks and surges" on the U.S. mainland as well as increases in COVID-19 cases within the state. The U.S. has become the worst-affected country by far, with more than 3.3 million diagnosed cases and at least 136,000 deaths as of Tuesday.

The state's previous plan was to allow tourists who test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arriving in Hawaii to bypass the mandatory two-week self-quarantine starting in August. But with the influx of new cases, officials said it was impossible to reopen safely.

"The recent increase was a key factor in our decision of the recent start of the pre-travel testing program for travelers to Hawaii," Ige told reporters Monday. "The outbreaks on the mainland are not in control and we don't believe that situation will change significantly by August 1."

Ige acknowledged the potential impact the delayed reopening will have on the state's tourist economy as well as local businesses, but he said it was the only way to stem the uptick in positive cases, as states like Florida, Texas and Arizona saw massive spikes upon reopening prematurely.

"We did believe it would be in the best interest of everyone here in the state of Hawaii to delay the start of the program to Sept. 1," Ige said. "I know this increases the burden of businesses here in Hawaii … we still believe in the pre-testing program and we will take actions to implement it safely.”

Hawaii has counted 1,243 COVID-19 cases after logging a record 42 new cases on Saturday. Some 13.1 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 globally, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases, and suspicions that some governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their nations' outbreaks.

The U.S. tourism sector has been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic.

Earlier, Delta Air Lines -- the first major U.S. airline to report earnings results for the May-through-June quarter -- said the company lost $5.7 billion during the three-month period that largely brought travel to halt.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — A federal judge has rejected a proposed $19 million settlement between Harvey Weinstein and 15 accusers, contending the offer didn't meet the needs of too many alleged victims of the disgraced movie mogul.

The settlement, which would end litigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Weinstein and his company, would have allowed the accusers to file claims for up to $750,000. However, six of the 15 accusers urged the judge to reject the settlement, contending such payouts would be too small after attorney's fees.

"This is the most one-sided and unfair settlement we have ever seen proposed to a court," attorney Douglas Wigdor said before the hearing on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein criticized attorney Elizabeth Fegen, who represents nine clients in the proposed settlement, for placing prospective female plaintiffs who merely met Weinstein as part of their work for his company on equal footing with women who claim they were sexually assaulted or raped.

"Your settlement would include an equality that is not suitable," Hellerstein said during the 20-minute phone hearing.

"All of the women [were] in the zone of danger," as Weinstein "assessed" female employees' vulnerabilities and looks, Fegan contended.

Hellerstein rejected Fegen's argument, noting the case isn't a class-action suit.

Morgan Rubin, a spokeswoman for James' office, said in a statement the attorney general is reviewing the decision.

"Our office has been fighting tirelessly to provide these brave women with the justice they are owed and will continue to do so," Rubin said.

Weinstein is serving a 23-year sentence following his February conviction for sexually assaulting a former production assistant and raping an aspiring actress. He is appealing the verdict.

He still faces rape and sexual assault charges at a court in Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — A white man who's been accused of beating up and shouting racial slurs at a Black man in a filmed incident at an Indiana lake on the Fourth of July contends he isn't the one who started the violent conflict and says his accuser is not telling the truth.

But Vauhxx Rush Booker, the man seen in the video with his face pressed against a tree, is sticking with his account and continuing to call for arrests.

Attorneys for Sean Purdy, one of the men accused of taking part in the alleged assault, held a news conference Monday in Monroe County, Indiana, and said Booker was putting out "a false narrative" about the incident that took place in Lake Monroe. Booker, 36, said a group of white men confronted him while he was walking to an event at the lake with a friend and later blocked the path to the beach.

Booker said in a Facebook post that he and a friend "decided to just walk back and attempt to simply have a conversation" with the group, but that group members "quickly became aggressive," and when Booker and his friend walked away, "two of them jumped me from behind." Booker, who called the assault an attempted lynching, said some of his hair was pulled out and that he heard one of the attackers yell for someone to get a noose.

A group of bystanders came to Booker's aid and some of them filmed the confrontation that showed people screaming at the white men, who are seen pushing Booker's face into a tree.

Booker posted a video on his Facebook page showing footage taken after the initial confrontation ended, in which the white men are seen cursing at him and the bystanders, with at least one yelling racial epithets. Booker said he called 911 and the police saw the videos that were taken of the incident, but as of Tuesday, there were no arrests.

David Hennessy, one of Purdy's attorneys, contends that Booker instigated the encounter, threw the first punches, and "started race-baiting." The attorneys said that their client was only restraining Booker.

Hennessy also said that Purdy "passed" a polygraph test about the incident, specifically regarding questions about Booker's claims that Purdy used racial epithets and threatened to get a noose.

"Mr. Booker says he survived this near-lynching, yet he stays to videotape people as he race baits them ... and he gets one of them to say some racially insensitive stuff," Hennessy said during the news conference.

The attorney called on Booker to take a polygraph test and offered to pay for it.

"You can't much prove things with the polygraph, but you can rule things out," Hennessey said.

Katherine Leill, Booker's attorney, said in a statement that her client won't be taking a test and that he stands by his account of the incident.

"This is what repeatedly happens," Leill said in a statement. "The victim gets blamed and shamed. He gets re-victimized.”

She said that other witnesses filmed the incident and have corroborated Booker's account. Leill urged authorities to charge the alleged attackers.

"Look at the video. There are witnesses who saw Sean Purdy's aggression and who heard the racist slurs of his friends. You cannot provoke racism," Leill said.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Law Enforcement Division and the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office have said they are investigating the incident. Leill said Booker spoke with the FBI Monday and that they have opened a hate crime investigation.

A spokeswoman for the FBI told ABC News the agency couldn't comment on ongoing investigations.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and longtime companion of the infamous sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking charges in a video appearance before a federal judge in New York on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan set a trial date for July 12, 2021. The hearing is still ongoing.

Maxwell, 58, is the Oxford-educated daughter of Robert Maxwell, the larger than life publishing baron whose rags-to-riches story captivated England. She lived an extravagant life among the British elite until her father's business empire collapsed in the wake of his death. She fled to New York looking for a fresh start and was soon seen in the company of the mysterious multimillionaire Epstein.

In a letter to a Florida state prosecutor related to Epstein's 2008 guilty plea, Epstein's attorneys describe his relationship with Maxwell as one of two "long-term intimate relationships" Epstein had in adulthood. Maxwell has asserted in court filings that she entered Epstein's employ in 1999, where she remained, despite the eventual end of their romantic relationship, until at least 2006.

Maxwell is now facing a reckoning for her alleged role in facilitating Epstein's sexual abuse of young women. She was arrested by federal authorities in New Hampshire earlier this month and is facing a six-count federal indictment alleging that she conspired with Epstein in a multi-state sex trafficking scheme involving three unnamed minor victims between 1994 and 1997. Prosecutors contend Maxwell not only "befriended" and later "enticed and groomed multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein, through a variety of means and methods," but was also, at times, "present for and involved" in the abuse herself.

Maxwell has repeatedly denied those allegations, both in court filings and in a sworn deposition, claiming through her attorneys to have "had no involvement in or knowledge of Epstein's alleged misconduct." But several of Epstein's alleged victims tell an entirely different story, one that often places Maxwell in a role that was central to their abuse. Maxwell has been named as a defendant in five lawsuits from alleged Epstein victims, and in at least three others, alleged victims identify her as one of Epstein's primary “recruiters."

According to Brad Edwards, an attorney who represents several of Epstein's alleged victims, Maxwell's role in Epstein's story is clear.

"Ghislaine Maxwell created Jeffrey Epstein," Edwards told ABC News. "She helped to create the monster that we later understood him to be."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Torrance Police DepartmentBY: BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — A white Southern California man was jailed on $1 million bail after being charged with a hate crime stemming from an incident in which police allege he screamed racial slurs at a group of Black people before driving a car at them, injuring two, including an off-duty security guard who fired shots at the charging vehicle.

Dennis Aaron Wyman, 42, allegedly fled the confrontation last month in a hotel parking lot in Torrance, California, police said. He was arrested during a July 8 traffic stop in Rodando Beach where he lives and was charged on Monday with multiple felony counts, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

The charges against Wyman were filed following a string of recent incidents across the country in which people have driven into crowds, mostly at protests, injuring multiple people and killing one Black Lives Matter protester during a freeway demonstration.

Wyman was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in serious injury. He was being held at the Los Angeles County Jail, according to online records, and is scheduled to appear in Torrance Municipal Court on Tuesday.

It was unclear if Wyman has an attorney.

Police said Wyman was involved in an incident on June 29 at the Staybridge Suites in Torrance.

Wyman allegedly approached a small group of African Americans in the hotel's parking lot about 11:30 p.m. and allegedly began yelling racial slurs at them, according to a statement from the Torrance Police Department. The disturbance prompted a member of the group, a 23-year-old man, to call his father, who was working nearby as a security guard, police said.

The 50-year-old security guard arrived just as Wyman allegedly got into his Chevrolet El Camino and began to drive toward the crowd, police said.

The security guard, who was armed, drew his gun and fired several shots as the charging car struck him and injured another person in the group, according to police.

The driver of the El Camino then drove away from the scene.

The security guard who was struck by the car was taken to a hospital with injuries to his lower extremities, police said. Details on the injuries to the second victims were not immediately available.

The episode came amidst a series of incidents in which people have used cars to attack groups of protesters across the country.

A Black Lives Matter protester was killed and another was seriously injured on July 4 when a 27-year-old man allegedly drove onto a freeway in Seattle that had been closed due to a protest and barreled into the demonstrators at high speed, police said. The suspect, Dawit Kelete, who is Black, was charged with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving in the incident that left Summer Taylor, 24, dead and Diaz Love, 32, seriously injured.

On July 6, a 66-year-old white woman allegedly injured two protesters when she drove into a crowd of demonstrators in Bloomington, Indiana, and drove off. Christi Bennett was arrested on Wednesday and charged with two counts of criminal recklessness, a felony. She was also charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury -- a felony -- and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in bodily injury, a misdemeanor.

On that same day, a 36-year-old white man was arrested after he allegedly drove into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in Huntington Station, on New York's Long Island, injuring two demonstrators. The suspect, Anthony Cambareri, of Coram, New York, sped away but was caught a short time later, according to Suffolk County Police.

Cambareri was charged with third-degree assault and was issued a desk appearance ticket. He will be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip at a date yet to be determined.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — As a young figure skater, Adam Rippon thought he’d have to keep the secret of his sexuality secluded forever.

After lacing up his first pair of skates at age 10, years of practicing difficult moves like the triple Lutz helped him to chip away the anxiety of being accepted for who he was.

Now 20 years later, with his identity known to the world, Rippon said he’s using his success as an Olympian and openly gay athlete to serve as an example for other kids coming to terms with their own identity.

“I owe it to that young kid to say something,” Rippon said to John Quiñones in a new interview for “What Would You Do?”

“If I had a role model or if there was a person saying the things that I was saying when I was younger, I could have saved myself a lot of grief,” he said.

Like many other youth athletes have experienced, Rippon said he discussed with family and friends whether he should go public with his sexuality for fear that he wouldn’t find success in his career.

“Nobody really had a clear answer of what the right thing to do would be. But for me, it felt like I needed to do it,” Rippon said.

Until recently, LGBTQ individuals in more than half the country could still be fired for being gay. The U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision in June, making it illegal to fire workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rippon described the reaction from friends and family as “overwhelmingly positive” when he came out as gay in 2015. In 2018, he made history as one of the first openly gay U.S. athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics.

“When I was at the Olympics, to be honest, I never got any negative feedback of being an out athlete,” he said. “If somebody wants to say something nasty about me, it was always about me being gay on Twitter and Instagram on social media.”

For Rippon, he said coming out was all for the better.

“I knew who I was,” Rippon said. “As an athlete, and I think no matter what your job is, when you know who you are, you’re more confident in that person.”

For the hidden camera segment that Rippon was asked to join, “What Would You Do?” actor Kyle Pollack nervously revealed he’s gay to his baseball coach, played by Danny Plaza.

In a scene from the show, Plaza quickly replied being openly gay is a “career-ender” for athletes. Pollack expressed he was worried about how the coach would take his news and how the team would take it. But Pollack said he’d rather grow up to play on the professional teams “as who I am, being who I am.”

The two acted the scene inside Tom Sawyer Diner in Paramus, New Jersey, while Rippon and Quiñones watched customers’ real-life reactions caught on hidden cameras. They listened in on what a woman at a nearby table said to Plaza after Pollack left to take a moment in the restroom.

“I saw it coming. He was having a hard time,” the woman said after seeing Pollack stumble with his confession. “He’s right in the bathroom right now freaking out because he wanted you to accept it more.”

A few minutes later, Pollack returned as Plaza left the table.

“Just give him time,” the woman told Pollack. “Things are different now in this world. He doesn’t realize it.”

Pollack confided in the woman, “[My coach] thinks I’m giving up my career.”

“He’s old school. He feels like no one’s done that yet,” the woman said, “But maybe you can be the first because he says you’re amazing.”

In the control room where he watched this exchange in real-time, Rippon started wiping away tears.

“She didn’t need to say anything and she wasn’t prompted to say anything,” he said. “She was just so kind to the both of them.”

Rippon later embraced the woman with a warm hug, after Quiñones asked why she felt compelled to speak up.

“It’s a tough situation,” the woman told Quiñones, “And there’s so much kid-suicide now that I got upset that I didn’t want him to feel rejected from his coach.”

More than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider death by suicide each year, according to The Trevor Project.

Rippon’s own professional accomplishments might serve as an example to any coach thinking an athlete’s sexuality denies them opportunity.

Since his coming out, Rippon won gold at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and won a bronze medal as part of the U.S. team during that history-making Winter Olympics in 2018. After retiring from skating in 2018, Rippon was named a “Dancing With the Stars” champion and penned a memoir “Beautiful on the Outside.”

“Getting to meet younger kids who’ve told me that they came out after they saw me skate at the Olympics is really touching,” Rippon said in his interview with Quiñones.

It’s the type of representation Rippon said he wished he saw in sports as a young boy from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“When people can see a little bit of themselves in someone, it gives them the permission to be as authentic as they possibly can be,” he said.

That’s why Rippon said he’s stepped into the spotlight, giving his advice to any kids fearful about coming out.

“Being part of the LGBTQ plus community, it's just not a hindrance to anything,” he said. “You can still be successful. You can still go after your dreams. It doesn't have to affect that.”

If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.




(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department on Tuesday morning put to death convicted killer Daniel Lewis Lee in the first execution of a federal inmate in the United States in 17 years.

Lee was executed by lethal injection at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, following a 5-4 overnight ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that lifted a temporary injunction initially put in place by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A former white supremacist, Lee and his accomplice, Chevie Kehoe, were convicted of killing and torturing William Frederick Mueller, Nancy Ann Mueller and their eight-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell, in Tilly, Arkansas, in 1996. While Kehoe was the primary suspect, he was not sentenced to death, and instead is serving life in prison without parole.

According to an AP reporter who attended Lee's execution, he was placed on a gurney and when asked if he had any final words, answered, “I didn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’m not a murderer.”

Lee’s last words, according to the reporter, were “You’re killing an innocent man."

The order brought an end to a contentious last-minute legal battle that lasted well through the night on Monday, after the family of two of Lee's victims sued the Justice Department over their concerns they might contract COVID-19 at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute while witnessing the execution.

"Because the Government has scheduled the execution in the midst of a raging pandemic, these three women would have to put their lives at risk to travel cross-country at this time .. . . My clients hope the Supreme Court and the federal government will respect their right to be present at the execution and delay it until travel is safe enough to make that possible," Baker Kurrus, attorney for Earlene Branch Peterson, Kimma Gurel and Monica Veillette said.

It was then revealed that a Bureau of Prisons staff member at the penitentiary where Lee was to be executed had tested positive for COVID-19.

Court documents said the staff member attended some meetings on the execution, but the BOP said that he did not go into the execution chamber or come into contact with the execution team.

The Bureau of Prisons told ABC News that prior to the executions they would not be providing the public with any details, but that they will try to practice social distancing. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, temperature checks will be required (100.4 or higher will not be permitted), face masks will be issued upon arrival to the complex and participants will be required to wear it throughout the entire process. Any violation of this order will be subject to immediate removal from the premises. Additionally, to the extent practical, social distancing of 6 feet should be exercised. Prior to the execution, we will not be providing details regarding internal procedures,” a spokesperson told ABC News.

Louis Jones was the last federal inmate to be put to death, in 2003, for kidnapping and murdering a young female solider in 1995. More notably, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was put to death in 2001, and his execution was watched and attended by over 200 people.

Last month, the Supreme Court denied a challenge from the four death row inmates: Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken and Keith Dwayne Nelson. All four committed violent crimes against children, the Justice Department said, and have their executions scheduled through the rest of the week at Terre Haute.

According to court documents, the Justice Department directed Lee to be sentenced to death after prosecutors at the state level initially wanted to seek the same charges for Lee as his accomplice Kehoe.

Earlene Peterson, the mother of wife-and-mother Nancy Ann Mueller, has advocated that Lee not be executed.

"As a supporter of President Trump, I pray that he will hear my message: The scheduled execution of Danny Lee for the murder of my daughter and granddaughter is not what I want and would bring my family more pain. We don't want Danny Lee to be executed. We feel Mr. Lee's execution would dishonor the memory of my daughter Nancy Anne and my granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth, who was killed when she was only eight years old," Peterson said in a statement released in June.

"The man who actually killed my daughter – when Danny Lee refused to do so – has been sentenced to life, not death, and that's what we think Mr. Lee deserves, too. The Attorney General has said the government owes it to the victims and their families to carry out federal executions like Mr. Lee's. Please take our family's feelings into consideration and grant clemency to Mr. Lee."

Attorney General William Barr has said that the crimes committed by the four men set for federal execution this summer are "heinous" and that the "American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death."

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that keeps statistics on death penalty deaths, there have been more than 1,500 executions at a state level since 1976. But only 37 federal inmates have been sentenced to death since 1927, according to the DPIC.

The death penalty is rarely used in federal cases. The state of Texas has put the most people to death in the country.

"The federal government hasn't executed anybody in 17 years. Why on earth would you, if you were interested in responsibly administering the law, schedule the first three executions in a five-day period?" Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told ABC News.

Dunham was critical of Barr's handling of the death penalty but says the DPIC does not take a side on the controversial issue.

"We are critical of the way in which it's administered," Dunham said. "The manner in which they've gone about attempting to restart. Several executions raises giant red flags about potential abuse of process." In contrast, he said that prior administrations were mindful of the court procedures.

Dunham told ABC News that there is a rush to carry out these executions when in some cases, there are still ongoing appeals.

Faith leaders have pushed to have the attorney general stop the executions.

"As an Evangelical, I am heartbroken to see our country return to killing its citizens. We have seen so much death in recent months and people are hurting. Restarting executions during a pandemic should be the farthest thing from our minds," said Carlos Malavé, executive director of Christian Churches Together.

Malave is one of over 1,000 faith leaders appealing to Barr.

The American Civil Liberties Union joined with a law firm to sue Barr and other federal officials in order to delay a federal execution that's scheduled to be carried out later this month, claiming it is unsafe because of the coronavirus.

The execution is the second of four that the government has scheduled for this summer and which the ACLU argues could become "super-spreader events," according to the ACLU.

The plaintiffs are hoping to postpone the federal execution of Wesley Purkey -- scheduled for July 15 -- arguing that Purkey's witness and spiritual minister, Rev. Seigen Hartkemeyer, a 68-year-old Buddhist priest with lung-related illnesses, would be exposed to the virus if he attended the execution at an Indiana prison. The lawsuit argues that forcing Rev. Hartkemeyer to risk his health in order to perform his religious duties violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Purkey was sentenced to death in 2003 after he was convicted of killing a young girl, raping her and dismembering her body. Purkey also was convicted on the state level for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane, according to the Justice Department.

Dunham said that these executions are taking place in a "unique" time in history, due to the pandemic.

"What you will have are witnesses being brought in to a closed facility from all over the country. They will bring with them, whatever exposure to the coronavirus they already have. They will subject people and hotels and restaurants to whatever exposure to the virus they already have. They will be put in waiting facilities before the execution takes place, and then be brought into waiting rooms to watch as the execution takes place," Dunham said.

Mental health advocates have also pushed to have Purkey's execution halted.

"Mr. Purkey's multiple and progressive mental and neurological conditions raise serious doubt about whether he comprehends the purpose of his execution. We therefore strongly urge the federal government to not proceed with his execution and instead commute Wesley Purkey's sentence to life without parole," Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, wrote in a letter obtained by ABC News.

Richard Stack, who wrote "In the Executioner's Shadow," which examines the cases of innocent people who were put to death, said that these executions are a way of the administration amplifying the tough-on-crime policy.

"We haven't had a federal execution in 17 years. I think this is a way of amplifying get tough on crime in a way that I don't think is a particularly effective," Stack, also a professor of communications at American University, said.

Corrections officers who are overseeing the executions say they will be carried out with the utmost professionalism.

"The often-unseen silent professionals of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the sentences determined by our Justice system. It is an ethical and moral responsibility that these professional law enforcement officers assume voluntarily. They do not assume these responsibilities lightly," Shane Fausey, national president of the Council of Prison Locals, told ABC News in a statement. "With the case of the federal execution protocols, they fulfill this ultimate responsibility with a delicate balance of dignity for the condemned, condolences and comfort for the families, and an offer of closure and justice for the victims of violent crimes."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Historic heat across the South continues today with San Antonio, Texas hitting 107 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city in the month of July.

In Del Rio, Texas, temperatures reached a whopping 112 degrees which tied the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city’s history.

In New Orleans, a daily record high was broken yesterday when the city reached 99 degrees but, with humidity, the heat index reached 118 degrees.

Tuesday, 10 states from New Mexico to Florida are under Heat Advisories and Warnings where the heat index could top 110 degrees with actual temperatures approaching 100 once again.

In the West, gusty erratic winds helped spread wildfires from California to Colorado.

In Evergreen, Colorado, the Elephant Butte Fire forced evacuations of more than 1,000 homes and the fire is currently 0% contained.

In southern Utah, the Veyo West Fire has burned 1,184 acres and is also 0% contained. There were evacuations yesterday but, as of this morning, it was lifted!

In Fresno County, California, the Mineral Fire burned 1,000 acres and is currently 0% contained with evacuations in effect and structures threatened.

Red Flag Warnings and a Fire Weather Watch has been issued from California to Colorado.

The biggest threat is erratic winds from thunderstorms and outflow boundaries that could spread fires very quickly and change the direction in which they are burning.

The high heat and dry vegetation is not helping to fight these fires but, thankfully, the extreme heat is beginning to subside.

On Monday, severe storms moved through the Northeast, the Carolinas and the Plains and brought damaging winds of 60 to almost 90 mph along with large hail.

Tuesday, severe weather is expected mostly from the Great Lakes to the western Plains.

The biggest threat today will be damaging winds, large hail and even an isolated tornado. The tornado threat will be from Wisconsin to Iowa and damaging winds with hail should occur from Wisconsin to the Texas panhandle.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jun Zhou/iStockBy JON HAWORTH, ABC News

(MORRISON, Colo.) -- Public health officials have announced that a squirrel in Colorado has tested positive for the bubonic plague.

The town of Morrison, Colorado, in Jefferson County, which is just west of Denver, made the startling announcement saying that the squirrel is the first case of plague in the county.

“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken,” officials from Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) said in a statement released to the public.

It is possible for humans to be infected with the bubonic plague through bites from infected fleas and by direct contact with blood or tissues of infected animals such as a cough or a bite.

Jefferson County Public Health said that cats are highly susceptible to the plague from things like flea bites, a rodent scratch or bite, and ingesting an infected rodent. Cats can die if not treated quickly with antibiotics after contact with the plague.

Officials also said that dogs are not as susceptible to the plague as cats are but still may pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas. Any pet owner who suspects that their pet is ill should contact a veterinarian immediately.

“Symptoms of plague may include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, occurring within two to seven days after exposure. Plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician,” said JCPH.

Risk for contracting the bubonic plague is extremely low as long as the proper precautions are taken and JCPH published a list of them including eliminating all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around the home, not feeding wild animals, maintaining a litter and trash-free yard to reduce wild animal habitats, having people and pets should avoid all contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents, using precaution when handling sick pets and having them examined by a veterinarian, consulting with a veterinarian about flea and tick control for pets and keeping pets from roaming freely outside the home where they may prey on wild animals and bring the disease home with them.

“All pet owners who live close to wild animal populations, such as prairie dog colonies or other known wildlife habitats, should consult their veterinarian about flea control for their pets to help prevent the transfer of fleas to humans,” JCPH said.

According to the CDC, even though there is no vaccine for the plague, it can be treated successfully with antibiotics if caught within 24 hours of exhibiting symptoms.

“Arguably the most infamous plague outbreak was the so-called Black Death, a multi-century pandemic that swept through Asia and Europe,” according to National Geographic. “It was believed to start in China in 1334, spreading along trade routes and reaching Europe via Sicilian ports in the late 1340s. The plague killed an estimated 25 million people, almost a third of the continent’s population. The Black Death lingered on for centuries, particularly in cities. Outbreaks included the Great Plague of London (1665-66), in which 70,000 residents died.”

However, the CDC says that there is now only an average of seven human plague cases per year and the WHO says the mortality rate is estimated to be between 8-10%.

National Geographic is owned by Walt Disney, the parent company of ABC News.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Benny Diaz, of Miami, says the rental home across the street from his is being used for parties and they may be helping the coronavirus spread. - (ABC News)By ANTHONY RIVAS, ABC News

(MIAMI) -- Benny Diaz says that lately, the scene in front of his home in a residential Miami neighborhood has looked a lot like a normal day in South Beach several miles away, with partygoers at the rental home across the street showing off their expensive rental cars, blasting loud music, and getting drunk without regard for the risks of spreading the coronavirus.

"They have no clue that there's a pandemic," he told Nightline. "They have no clue that there's a curfew. … The scene is chaotic, irresponsible drunkenness."

Diaz says the parties have gotten bigger since they began in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic first led to bars and nightclubs closing in Florida.

Two weeks ago, there were buses shuttling people to and from a party, as well as over a dozen people arriving by cab, Diaz said. He estimated there were more than 100 people at the party.

"When they came out of that bus, there was nobody wearing a mask," he said. "It was crazy."

Over the weekend, 12 states reported record highs of new coronavirus cases, with many being traced back to large gatherings. Florida, specifically, recorded the highest single-day total of new cases out of any state since the pandemic began, with 15,000.

"These people that are in these party homes lately have no concern at all that they can catch the virus just by not wearing masks, not being socially distant," Diaz said. "They are there to party on top of each other. … They probably think that they're not going to catch the virus."

"They're negligent," he added. "The fact that they think they can't get it or that they don't care. But it's really shameful what they're doing, not caring about somebody else."

Several parties across the country have been linked to the spread of coronavirus cases.

On Sunday, Westfield, New Jersey, Mayor Shelley Brindle announced that an uptick in cases in the town had been linked to parties within the community.

In Alabama earlier this month, students who had been diagnosed with the virus were found to have attended "COVID parties," where organizers purposely invited people who had the virus, Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKistry told ABC News.

In San Antonio over the weekend, a man died after attending one of these parties. He told his nurse he thought the virus was a hoax but realized he made a mistake when he got sick.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(SAN DIEGO) -- More than 400 sailors are working to put out the massive fire that continues to rage aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego and Navy officials are unclear how long the blaze might continue to burn.

The fire has brought down the amphibious assault ship's forward mast and caused other damage to the ship's superstructure that rises above its flight deck.

"There is a tremendous amount of heat underneath and that's where it's -- it's flashing up -- also forward, closer to the bow again there's a heat source and we're trying to get to that as well," Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 said at a news conference Monday in San Diego.

Sobeck said that the temperatures in the fire's heat sources are reaching as high as 1,000 degrees. With temperatures that high, the sailors are rotating in on 15-minute firefighting shifts.

Asked if he believes the ship could be saved, Sobeck said, "I feel absolutely hopeful because we have sailors giving it their all."

He also expressed confidence that the fire will not get close to the ship's supply of one million gallons of fuel, which lies two decks below the blaze.

The fire continues to cause damage to the the ship's superstructure, which rises above its flight deck and has brought down one of the two masts that tower above.

Sobeck acknowledged that the ship's Halon fire suppression system -- which could have put out the initial fire -- was not activated because it was also receiving maintenance.

"We again augment that with firefighting elements from the pier and the shipyard," said Sobeck.

Teams of sailors were pouring water onto the ship from the pier and from tugboats along its side. Navy helicopters have also dropped 415 buckets of water on the ship to contain the fire, much as they have done in the past to help put out wildfires.

There were 57 sailors injured after the fire started aboard the ship on Sunday, most have been treated for exhaustion and smoke inhalation. A U.S. official told ABC News that the last five individuals who remained hospitalized have been released from the hospital.

Sobeck had no information about how the fire started, but said it originated in the "lower V" part of the ship's aft section, which normally holds equipment used by Marines when they are aboard the vessel. Since the ship has been in maintenance, it has been used to hold maintenance supplies, including lots of cardboard boxes.

"Because the ship was in the shipyard, there is lots of scaffolding and lots of debris in the way," Sobeck said, explaining that it has hampered firefighting efforts.

He said the initial fire was too much for the sailors aboard the ship at the time, which is why they called for civilian San Diego fire units to assist. But the blaze continued to expand, setting off an explosion aboard the ship.

Addressing concerns in the San Diego community that smoke from the fire may contain environmentally hazardous materials, Sobeck said he was aware that plastics, cabling and rags have burned.

"Right now, we're testing and we're checking everything that we know and we're well within EPA standards," said Sobeck. "There's nothing else on board the ship that would be toxic in nature" aside from the fuel aboard.

"As we continue to fight the fire, we remain conscious of concerns regarding the air and water quality, and we recommend following county advisories for safety out of an abundance of caution," he added.

The U.S. Coast Guard has also contracted for a protective boon to be deployed around the ship to guard against any potential environmental concerns. A one mile nautical and temporary flight restriction zone has also been established around the ship to ensure the safety of firefighters and the public.

Looking much like a smaller version of an aircraft carrier, the USS Bonhomme Richard is one of nine amphibious assault ships in the Navy. When on deployment, the ship carries a variety of Marine aircraft, including tilt-rotor Ospreys, Super Cobra attack helicopters and vertical take-off versions of the F-35 Lightning fighter jet.

The extensive fire damage will leave the Navy with the difficult choice of trying to put the ship back in service -- a process that could take years -- or deciding to take the ship out of commission.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and longtime companion of infamous sex offender Jeffrey Epstein who was recently arrested on federal sex trafficking charges, is under investigation by authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands in connection with a civil case the government is pursuing against Epstein's estate, according to court documents filed last week.

"The Government is and has been actively investigating Maxwell's participation in the criminal sex-trafficking and sexual abuse conduct of the Epstein Enterprise," wrote prosecutors from the office of Denise George, the island territory's attorney general.

Prosecutors are attempting to intervene in the lawsuit Maxwell filed against Epstein's estate earlier this year, seeking to block her demand for reimbursement of the legal, security and relocation expenses that she says she incurred as a result of what she claims were wrongful accusations of her alleged involvement in Epstein's alleged crimes.

"If Maxwell succeeds on her undocumented and suspect claims for indemnification by the Epstein Estate," prosecutors wrote, "that will threaten the availability of Estate funds to satisfy the Government's potential judgment in its lawsuit against the estate."

Attorney General George, through a spokesperson, declined to comment for this report, but she previously told ABC News that her office's investigation focuses "not only the criminal activity, but also the assets [and] persons who have been involved in that."

David Cattie, a Virgin Islands-based attorney for Maxwell, did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Maxwell was arrested by federal authorities in New Hampshire earlier this month and is facing a six-count federal indictment alleging that she conspired with Epstein in a multi-state sex trafficking scheme involving three unnamed minor victims between 1994 and 1997. She has not yet entered a plea to the criminal charges, but her defense attorneys wrote in a court filing in New York federal court that Maxwell "vigorously denies the charges, intends to fight them and is entitled to the presumption of innocence."

She is scheduled to appear before a federal judge in New York on Tuesday.

Epstein first acquired property in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1997, purchasing Little St. James, an island off the east coast of St. Thomas, for $7 million. He then spent millions of dollars developing an elaborate estate, with a main house, swimming pool, helipad and guest villas overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Starting in 2010, Epstein made the island his permanent residence and established a host of vaguely-named corporations in the territory to run his business, charitable and personal affairs. He would later, through a series of separate transactions totaling more than $20 million, complete the purchase of a larger, neighboring island called Great St. James.

In January, Attorney General George filed a civil enforcement action against Epstein's estate, its co-executors and several of his corporate entities, alleging that Epstein, through his network of companies and associates, "trafficked, raped, sexually assaulted and held captive underage girls and young women at his properties in the Virgin Islands." The government also filed criminal activity liens against all of Epstein's properties and companies, which had the effect of freezing virtually all of the estate's assets worldwide while the case is ongoing.

In these latest filings, prosecutors allege that both Maxwell and the Epstein estate have taken steps to impede what the attorney general has described as a far-reaching probe into Epstein's operation.

"Mr. Epstein had a lot of companies, a web of companies that worked together in different ways … but it was in such a way that concealed a lot of his criminal activity," George told ABC News in an interview in St. Thomas in February. "And so it is a rather complex case, and we are continuously investigating to get the full picture."

The Epstein estate's latest response also reveals details about the scope of the inquiry.

"The Government has demanded extensive discovery not just from the named Defendants, but from at least nine third-parties," attorneys for the estate wrote. "In each case, the Government's discovery demands reach back decades."

In last week's filing, prosecutors describe Maxwell as a "critical fact witness" in their lawsuit against the estate. But attempts to serve Maxwell with a subpoena for documents have failed, prosecutors said, because she "resisted and evaded service of the subpoena during the three and a half months after its issuance."

Epstein's estate and its co-executors, Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn, who are named as defendants in the government's suit, are showing "no inclination to be anything but adversarial to the Government's interests," prosecutors said.

"They are refusing to comply with discovery," prosecutors wrote, "and even are seeking to prevent the Government from issuing subpoenas to key fact witnesses, such as the house managers for Little St. James, where Epstein (and likely Maxwell) sexually abused girls and women in the Virgin Islands."

Christopher Kroblin, a Virgin Islands-based attorney for the estate, did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News. In March, the estate filed a motion to dismiss the government's lawsuit. The court has yet to rule in the estate's motion.

Prosecutors asked the court to issue letters rogatory, a request for judicial assistance to a foreign court, to subpoena Miles and Cathy Alexander, a South African couple who served as house managers on Little St. James from 1999 to 2007, for documents and testimony.

The Alexanders have, over the years, denied interview requests from ABC News, but the couple told the Daily Mail in 2011 that Maxwell had made it clear when she hired them for the position that discretion was part of the job description.

"She said we had to keep quiet about what we saw or heard on the island," Cathy Alexander said.

Miles Alexander reportedly said he refused several requests from Epstein to smuggle female guests onto the island by boat, so as to avoid certain immigration requirements that would have created a record of everyone entering and leaving the island, though he and Cathy suspect he found other ways to circumvent those policies.

"I saw some girls who I thought were very young-looking -- about 16 or 17 easily," Cathy Alexander said.

Attorneys for Epstein's estate, however, have sought to block the move to question the Alexanders, claiming that a five-year statute of limitations on the government's claims renders documents and testimony related to their time in Epstein's employ irrelevant.

"The letters rogatory reflect the Government's aggressive and misguided discovery campaign against the Estate and third-parties alike," the estate's attorneys wrote. "No amount of discovery can salvage the Government's defective claims."

Attorney General George, meanwhile, has said that she is determined to "hold persons accountable" for any criminal activity her investigation uncovers.

"We follow the evidence," George told ABC News in February. "And where the evidence leads us, that's where we'll go."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(TULSA, Oklahoma) -- The city of Tulsa is breaking ground on a mission to find the truth. It's a mission many agree is 99 years too late, but officials are beginning a journey to unearth a piece of the city's history that many refused to speak openly about until recently.

A team of professional historians, forensic anthropologists and archaeologists is digging up ground at Oaklawn Cemetery in search of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

What began as a confrontation between groups of white and black residents following the arrest of a young black man named Dick Rowland ended with 35 city blocks being burned to the ground in the city's Greenwood District. Greenwood was an affluent area known as Black Wall Street, and home to 1,200 black residents and 300 black-owned businesses.

Rowland was riding in an elevator with a white woman named Sarah Page. Details about what happened in the elevator have never been confirmed, but reports say Page screamed and Rowland ran off. According to official reports on the event, Tulsa Police arrested Rowland the next day.

An article published in the local paper led members of the black community to believe Rowland would be lynched, so a group of black residents went to the courthouse where Rowland was being held, where they were confronted by a group of white residents. Shots were fired, witnesses interviewed in the weeks and months following the event said, but as black residents returned to Greenwood, they were followed by white mobs, who opened fire on black residents and began looting and setting fire to buildings.

The case against Dick Rowland was dismissed in September 1921.

Historians believe that as many as 300 people were killed as white mobs destroyed homes, businesses, churches, schools, hospitals and other buildings over a span of two days. Nearly 100 years later, many of those victims' bodies have never been found.

"Step one that took 99 years to get here but that's where we are," said Mayor G.T. Bynum, who has made this project a personal mission. "The ultimate goal here is to connect the victims of this event with their family and that is an ambitious goal and an incredible challenge."

Plans to begin the search with a test excavation were set to begin in April but were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. As crews gathered Monday morning, the weather caused an additional delay, this time just a few hours. A small crowd of onlookers and media gathered to watch as the work began on what Oklahoma State archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck says is the start of what will be an ongoing process.

"This is an intermediate step intended to open a small window in that larger anomaly to see if there are actually human remains," she said. If evidence of a mass grave is found, the excavation will continue.

For forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield, the search is the culmination of 22 years of work. She is a member of the original investigation team that started gathering data and information in 1999. "It's not closure, but you are providing a peace to what happened and who these people are."

Stubblefield, who is with the University of Florida, is among those who will carefully watch each piece of soil removed from the cemetery. Her job is to inspect any remains that may be found for signs of trauma. It's a painstaking process. If remains are found, Stubblefied will also begin to try and trace their ancestry. "After 100 years often the only good DNA available may be the DNA that speaks to your maternal family line," she told ABC News at a news conference.

The excavation team will work at the cemetery for approximately the next six days, but off-sight this work could take years. Oaklawn is one of three sites officials in Tulsa identified as possible locations of mass graves.

Descendants of the victims are living all across the world. For many, what led to potential mass graves in Tulsa is a story told through generations; for others it's a story they tried to forget. Mayor Bynum says this part of the city's history has long remained hidden due to the reluctance to revisit those dark days. "The conspiracy of silence was strong enough we had generations grow up here who didn't know about it," he said.

In an effort to help educate more people about the massacre and the new efforts underway, the city is providing a live stream of the excavation site and posting updates on social media. Bynum says the goal is to make sure the story of what happened in Tulsa in 1921 is no longer passed down as generational folklore.

"It reflects very poorly on Tulsa in 1921. It only reflects poorly on Tulsa in 2020 if we continue to try and cover it up and not talk about rather than pursuing the truth. We're going to follow the truth on this wherever it takes us. And the first step is to try and identify the location of those remains."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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