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Inside the movement to ban caste discrimination across the US

ABC News

(LOS ANGELES) -- Some South Asians, many miles away from their homes, say they are suffering from experiences with discrimination that dates back to thousands of years.

From job rejections to unsupported marriages, they claim that severe harassment from the caste system crossed over into America and has gone unchecked.

"When we talk about our personal experience, people don't believe me," Prem Paariyar, a Nepalese immigrant who said he was discriminated against because of his caste both back home and in the U.S., told ABC News Live. "Not just my experience, our experience."

But state and local leaders on the West Coast are seeking to address the issue with legislation that anti-caste advocates say could help curb this inequality.

The caste system started as a social construct created over 3,000 years ago in South Asia. People are born into distinct groups, that came with their own social hierarchy and political and economic status, according to Anupama Rao, a history professor at Columbia University.

Brahmins, or ritual specialists on top are considered the top caste, followed by the Kshatriyas, the warrior caste, then the Waishyas, which was the caste that represented farmers, traders or merchants, and finally the Shudras, who are also known as the "untouchables."

Rao told ABC News that members of Shudras were forced to do the worst kind of jobs including hauling caucuses and excrement. She said they are sometimes referred to as Dalit, which is a term of militant self-identification, that means ground down, broken, crushed.

"Caste operates as an engine of social hierarchy and as a form of political and economic inequality," she said.

Although the Indian government banned caste discrimination in 1948, it has still existed culturally, according to Rao.

"The ways in which caste operates is subtle and not so subtle," she said. "People trying to figure out what your caste is through your last name, people being very interested in knowing about your cultural and social practices, all trying to get a sense of ways in which you can cut into somebody's caste identity."

Alok Kumbhare said he has faced discrimination all of his life because of his name and caste. He remembered a music teacher in India discouraged him from learning music after learning his name as a child.

Kumbhare held back tears recalling a former landlord in India who harassed him over his caste and told him, " You stink up the toilet too much, I should’ve made you clean and that's what you're good for."

"This implicit notion of superiority and inferiority creeps in all the time," the married father of one told ABC News Live.

Paariyar said his family was brutally attacked in Nepal by members of a dominant caste and he fled to the U.S. seeking political asylum.

When he arrived in America, however, Paariyar said that his harassment didn't go away.

After getting a job at a restaurant, Paariyar said he was denied housing that those workers typically used because they were all part of the dominant caste.

"After a month, I was homeless…I was in a van," he said.

Pariyar would eventually graduate from California State University with a degree in social work, and spearheaded efforts to end caste discrimination on campus.

Some South Asian Americans said that the discrimination is strong even in bigger organizations and groups.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a South Asian-American activist, and the executive director of Equality Labs, told ABC News that she was originally invited to speak at Google about caste bias but her invitation was rescinded after some employees complained.

"I had a Google V.P. news manager tell me, 'Well, you know, caste is not a protected category,' and that's just me as a speaker imagining what they're telling to workers," Soundararajan said.

She said that after the incident, she had to live in a safe house because of threats.

Google claimed in a statement to ABC News, "In this instance, there was specific conduct, and internal posts, that made employees feel targeted and retaliated against for raising concerns about a proposed talk. We made the decision not to move forward."

"Caste discrimination has no place in our workplace and it’s prohibited in our policies. We have long hosted a variety of constructive conversations with external guests on these sorts of topics," the company said in a statement.

Soundararajan and other anti-caste advocates have long been calling on the government to address the issue and recently local leaders have been pushing legislation that bans caste discrimination.

In February, Seattle became the first major city outside of South Asia to ban caste discrimination.

On May 11, the California state Senate passed SB 403 which would make caste a protected category in California's anti-discrimination laws. The law is working its way through the state Assembly.

"As our state becomes more diverse, our laws need to go further and deeper in communities and tackle the issues that matter to them," State Sen. Aisha Wahab, the lead sponsor of the bill, told ABC News Live.

The bill, however, was met with resistance from some South Asians who contend that caste discrimination isn't as prevalent as some others claim.

Puspita Prasad, a member of the group The Coalition of Hindus of North America which has opposed SB 403 and Seattle's law, told ABC News Live, the nature of the legislation is discriminatory

"We object to this word caste. The word caste is in the Western lexicon. It's a Hindu phobic term. It is not a neutral term," Prasad said.

Rao acknowledged that most people associate the term caste with the Hindu religion but said "caste and caste-like differences and exclusions are also in evidence in Muslim and Christian communities across South Asia."

Alok and other anti-caste advocates say the Seattle and California movements are positive signs that people are becoming cognizant of the issue and are willing to make change to end the cycle of discrimination.

"This ordinance is all about hope," he said of the Seattle legislation. "It will create this ripple effect [that] can create a more inclusive environment," he said.

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Man with weapons arrested after allegedly spotted with gun near a California movie theater: Police

Placer County Sheriff's Office

(TAHOE CITY, Calif.) -- A man found with an arsenal of weapons was arrested after a person near a local California movie theater spotted him with a gun and called 911, authorities said.

Police arrested 42-year-old Thomas Alexander of Oregon after conducting a traffic stop near the Cobblestone Movie Theater on May 19. Authorities discovered multiple weapons in his vehicle, including a loaded handgun holstered on his hip, a loaded rifle with four high-capacity magazines, two additional loaded handguns and prescription pills, the Placer County Sheriff's Office said.

Alexander is facing multiple charges, including carrying a loaded firearm in public, illegal possession of a rifle, transporting a rifle and possession of a controlled substance, according to the sheriff's office.

Law enforcement officials responded to an emergency call from a concerned citizen at the Tahoe City-area movie theater inquiring about California's gun law on open carry, after the citizen allegedly saw Alexander with a weapon, according to the Placer County Sheriff's Office.

Prior to his arrest, Alexander allegedly inquired about the arrival time of theatergoers, according to police.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, California is home to the strictest gun laws in the U.S.-- some of which were enacted in response to several violent mass shootings in recent years, including a bill from February that expanded the state's gun licensing system and strengthened gun training requirements.

Despite its tough laws on firearms, California has been the site of a handful of mass shootings so far this year.

Eleven people were killed and nine injured at a dance studio in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles, on Jan. 21 during a Lunar New Year celebration.

On Jan. 23, seven people were fatally shot in Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, after a suspect open fired on two farms in the rural town, according to officials.

California voters passed Proposition 63 in 2016, which requires background checks for purchasing ammunition and prohibits possession of large-capacity magazines. A red flag law also went into effect that year, which prevents certain people from acquiring firearms.

Alexander's attorney did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

His next hearing is on June 7, according to court records.

ABC News' Julia Jacobo contributed to this report.

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South Carolina teen falsely accused of shoplifting fatally shot by store owner: Police

WOLO

(SOUTH CAROLINA) -- A South Carolina gas station owner was charged with murder on Monday after allegedly shooting and killing a 14-year-old boy he wrongly believed had shoplifted several bottles of water, according to police.

Rick Chow, 58, was arrested and charged in connection to the fatal shooting of Cyrus Carmack-Belton in Columbia, South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff's Office said.

In a news conference on Monday, Sheriff Leon Lott said the teenager did not shoplift from the Shell gas station, despite Chow's belief that he did.

"He did not shoplift anything. We have no evidence that he stole anything whatsoever," Lott said.

ABC News reached out to Chow's attorney, James Snell, Jr., on Wednesday, but his office declined to comment.

According to a sheriff's office incident report obtained by ABC News, the shooting was "not a bias motivated incident."

Police said there was a verbal confrontation inside the store before Cyrus left and took off running.

Lott said the convenience store owner, who police said was armed with a pistol, and his son chased after the teenager toward an apartment complex.

Cyrus fell during the chase, got up and was allegedly shot in the back by Chow, police said.

"Even if he had shoplifted four bottles of water, which is what he initially took out the cooler and then he put them back, even if he had done that, that's not something you shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old," Lott said. "You just don't do that."

Richland County coroner Naida Rutherford told reporters at the press conference on Monday that Cyrus died from "a single gunshot wound to his right lower back" that caused "significant damage to his heart and hemorrhaging."

She added that his injury was consistent with "someone who was running away from the assailants."

Attorney Todd Rutherford, who is representing Cyrus' family, told ABC News in a statement on Wednesday that the teenager's fatal shooting is "something that the Black community has experienced for generations."

"What happened to [Cyrus] wasn't an accident. It's something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog. Words can't describe the pain I feel having known this family for decades," Rutherford said.

"One beacon of hope is seeing the resilience of the Black community as they wrap their arms around this family that has joined the club that no Black family ever wants to be a part of," he added.

Lott said that "at some point" during the chase, the son said that the teen had a gun.

"At that point the father shot the young man in the back," Lott said. According to law enforcement, a gun was found close to the teen's body.

"Right now we don't have anything that says that he did not have that gun on him," Lott said during the press conference Monday when asked if Cyrus was in possession of a gun during the incident.

But Lott added that the investigation found that Chow "did not have that gun pointed" at him and he did not fear for his life when he shot Cyrus.

"You don't shoot somebody in the back who's not a threat to you," Lott said, adding that Cyrus was "running away" when he was shot.

Naida Rutherford added that "there's no indication" that Cyrus was physically fighting with the store owner before he ran out of the store.

Following a peaceful protest at the gas station Monday, there was alleged vandalism and looting, which Lott condemned during a second press conference Tuesday, saying those who took part would be held responsible.

According to a police report, protesters shattered the business' window, vandalized gas pumps, spray-painted outside the store and left the scene carrying beer and other food items.

Chow is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, according to police.

Veronica Hill, a public information officer for the Richland County Sheriff's Department, confirmed in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday that over the past five years the sheriff's department has received "hundreds of calls for service" at the gas station owned by Chow related to cases of "assaults, larceny, shoplifting, motor vehicle theft, vandalism, robbery and burglary."

She also said that Chow was involved in two incidents -- one in 2018 and another in 2015 -- where Chow confronted shoplifters and fired a weapon, but his conduct in those incidents "did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges."

According to Hill, in 2018 Chow confronted a shoplifter who then assaulted Chow, leading Chow to fire twice, and striking the assailant in the leg.

"That individual was treated at a local hospital and later pled guilty to charges stemming from this incident," she said.

"In 2015, Mr. Chow attempted to stop an individual stealing items, that individual then entered a vehicle and threatened to shoot Mr. Chow. Mr. Chow fired approximately six shots at the vehicle. No one was injured," she added.

Chow appeared in court on Tuesday, according to ABC affiliate in WOLO in Columbia, South Carolina, but a bond hearing has not been scheduled yet, the sheriff's office told ABC News on Wednesday afternoon.

ABC News' Brittany Gaddy and Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.

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Lawyer arrested in over decade-old rapes after being identified by genetic genealogy

urbazon/Getty Images

(BOSTON) -- Police have arrested 35-year-old Matthew J. Nilo, a former Boston attorney, in connection with several decades-old rapes that took place in Boston. Officials said they were able to identify the suspect using forensic genetic genealogy.

Nilo has been charged with three counts of aggravated rape, two counts of kidnapping, one count of assault with intent to rape and one count of indecent assault and battery, according to Boston police.

The sexual assaults were allegedly committed on Aug. 18, 2007; Nov. 22, 2007; Aug. 5, 2008; and Dec. 23, 2008, in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, according to police.

"This arrest cumulates the investigation that employed the use of genetic genealogy from recovered evidence. All four cases are DNA connected," Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox said at a press conference.

Nilo was arrested in New Jersey following an investigation between the Boston Police Department, the New Jersey Police Department and Boston's FBI office.

"These investigations utilized sexual assault evidence collection kits with the assistance of detectives in identifying the suspect as the investigations continued," Cox said.

Additional resources for the investigation came from the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant, which helps the city investigate unsolved sexual assault crimes, according to Cox.

Efforts were launched in May 2022 to review unsolved sexual assault cases that posed the most threat to public safety, Cox said.

Authorities announced in 2008 that the cases were connected through DNA evidence, but had no suspect at the time. Through genetic genealogy, detectives can search for relatives of an unknown suspect through DNA voluntarily submitted to public databases and then narrow the family members down to a likely perpetrator.

"While we know today's arrest of Mr. Nilo cannot erase the harm he allegedly inflicted upon his survivors, we believe we have removed a dangerous threat from our community," FBI Boston Division Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta said at the press conference.

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Man arrested in slaying of New Jersey councilwoman apparently knew victim from church

Borough of Sayreville

(VIRGINIA) -- A Virginia man has been arrested for the murder of New Jersey councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour, who was gunned down outside her home in February.

Rashid Ali Bynum, 28, who apparently knew Dwumfour from church, was taken into custody Tuesday morning on charges including first-degree murder, Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone announced at a news conference Tuesday.

On Feb. 1, Dwumfour, a 30-year-old mom and church leader, was shot multiple times while she was in her SUV outside her townhouse.

According to Ciccone, Bynum was a contact in Dwomfour's phone under the acronym "FCF," which authorities believe stands for "Fire Congress Fellowship," a church that the congresswoman was previously affiliated with, "which was also associated with the Champion Royal Assembly, the victim's church at the time of her death."

On the day of the shooting, Bynum allegedly searched online for information on the Champion Royal Assembly church and the Sayreville area, according to Ciccone.

In the days before the murder, Bynum allegedly searched online for what magazines were compatible with a specific handgun, she said.

Bynum's phone traveled from Virginia to New Jersey at the time of the murder, and Bynum's physical description matched a witness description of the suspect at the scene, Ciccone said.

Officials did not discuss a possible motive and did not take questions from reporters.

Ciccone called it a "complex, extensive case."

For Dwumfour's family, the last few months have "been a rollercoaster of emotions," family lawyer John Wisniewski told ABC News on Wednesday.

And while the family is glad a suspect was arrested, Wisniewski said they're also left with more questions.

Bynum "is not a name or a face that they're familiar with," Wisniewski said, and the family is "struggling for understanding what this man's connection to their daughter was, what was his thinking."

Dwumfour, a business analyst and a part-time emergency medical technician, was elected as a Republican to the Sayreville Borough Council in 2021, defeating an incumbent Democrat.

"There are no words that can be said to you to make you whole," New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said to Dwumfour's family, who attended the press conference. "I did not know Eunice. I wish I had. But I know that she was a public servant."

"I hope that today is the beginning of a healing process, and also the beginning of a sense of justice," he added.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Man missing after falling overboard on Carnival cruise ship near Florida

David Sacks/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A 35-year-old man is missing after falling from a cruise ship off the coast of Florida, authorities said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it is searching for a passenger who went overboard from the Carnival Magic cruise ship traveling 186 miles east of Jacksonville on Monday.

The man's companion reported him missing late Monday afternoon and "an initial review of closed circuit security footage confirms that he leaned over the railing of his stateroom balcony and dropped into the water at approximately 4:10 a.m. Monday," Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement to ABC News.

The man -- identified by his family as Ronnie Peale Jr. from New Hope, Virginia -- was on his first cruise, his mother told Richmond ABC affiliate WRIC.

His mother, Linda Peale, told WRIC that her son was on a cruise with his partner, Jennilyn Blosser, and her family for Blosser's birthday.

He would call at least three times a day to check on his dogs, and when he didn't call Monday morning and afternoon, Linda Peale knew something was wrong. She said she called Blosser to check in and learned they couldn't find him.

"I just woke up 11:30 in the morning [on Monday] and he wasn't there," Blosser told WRIC. "So I spent my whole day trying to find him."

Twelve hours had passed between when he went over his balcony railing and they found the security footage, Linda Peale said. Blosser said the footage showed him leaning over and that it looks like he accidentally fell.

"It’s not like he was like jumping, like you know, it wasn’t like that at all," Blosser told the station.

After the Coast Guard released the ship from search and rescue efforts, the 1,004-foot Carnival Magic continued its return trip to Norfolk, Virginia, where it was scheduled to arrive as planned on Tuesday.

The Coast Guard said it is using both air and water assets to conduct the search for the passenger. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard said its crews have searched 5,000 square miles over more than 40 hours as the search for Peale continues.

Linda Peale described her son as "full of life" and someone who loves old cars, gardening and cooking.

"We're still praying that he's somewhere out there somewhere," she told WRIC.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


The challenges to US security posed by 'salad bar' extremism

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- A Hispanic man accused of shooting and killing eight people at an outlet mall in Texas earlier this month held a mix of views consistent with neo-Nazism and involuntary celibate extremist ideologies, authorities said.

Though a motive for the suspect, who was shot and killed by a police officer, remains under investigation, the mass shooting appears among recent examples that highlight a "persistent and lethal threat" to U.S. security posed by "lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances," the Department of Homeland Security said in a recent bulletin.

This type of threat is what's often referred to by FBI director Christopher Wray as "salad bar" extremism. In the U.K., it's known by the acronym MUU -- mixed, unstable or unclear. Security firm Valens Global calls the phenomenon "composite violent extremism."

The terms broadly refer to "idiosyncratic patterns of radicalization," according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the CEO of Valens Global who leads a project on domestic extremism for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

"Traditionally, terrorism is thought of as being largely nested within a single ideology," Gartenstein-Ross told ABC News. "What we're seeing is violent extremists who display an amalgamation of different disparate beliefs, interests and grievances."

This pattern of radicalization has "taken on increasing salience in recent years," with an uptick within the last decade, Gartenstein-Ross said.

Examples of this, he cited, include Frank James, who pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges for a 2022 shooting in the New York City subway; Nikolas Cruz, who was sentenced to life in prison for the 2018 mass shooting at South Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; and Zale Thompson, who was shot and killed by NYC police officers after attacking them with an ax in 2014.

John Cohen, a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security acting undersecretary for intelligence and ABC News contributor, points to several factors that are contributing to this phenomenon in the U.S., including a highly-polarized society in which some people feel that violence is acceptable, and an online and media environment that is "saturated" with extremist content.

"You spend time online, you not only can find the justification for the conduct of that attack, but you can find content that will provide you detailed instructions on how to do it," Cohen said.

Gartenstein-Ross said he feels that the idiosyncratic ideologies reflect people, in general, taking on very disparate ideas in today's information and social media environment.

"We as a people are becoming more incoherent," he said. "Extremists are becoming more incoherent as well."

Such extremists may pop up on law enforcement's radar prior to attacks -- such as a concerned call from a family member -- but the U.S. lacks a "cohesive strategy" in the investigation and prevention of this threat, according to Cohen.

"This is the most complex, dynamic and dangerous threat environment I've experienced -- and I include in that the months following Sept. 11," Cohen said. "The reason I say that is because we're not adapting to address this [type of] threat, and it's a threat that potentially impacts every city and town across the United States."

Composite violent extremism poses several challenges to law enforcement, Gartenstein-Ross noted, from determining when someone who is ideologically idiosyncratic becomes a threat to how to best intervene, to how to define their community.

"We understand where jihadist groups exist, we can see very concretely what the neo-Nazi white supremacist sphere is," Gartenstein-Ross said. "For idiosyncratic, violent extremism, what's the digital or real-world community that forms a part of the extremist's familia?"

There is also an "unsettled" methodology in determining this type of extremist's core beliefs, Gartenstein-Ross said.

"I firmly believe these are things we can crack," he continued. "A lot of these are new questions based on the increased prominence of idiosyncratic radicalization patterns."

Cohen said addressing the threat will entail strategies from the local to federal level.

"We have to employ not just traditional law enforcement strategies to address it, but also community-based threat management strategies that involve collaborative efforts involving mental health professionals, law enforcement, community groups, faith leaders," he said.

Educating both the public on the behaviors of these types of extremists so they know when to alert authorities, and front-line responders on how to respond, is also key, he said.

Common behaviors often exhibited by violent extremists, who tend to be people "who exist on the fringe of the community," include publicly expressing anger and grievances; spending significant time online consuming violent and extremist content; acquiring firearms, ammunition and tactical gear; posting photos with that gear; and "making statements that represent an articulation of an intent to engage in violence," Cohen said.

"We need to make sure that those calls are answered and that local authorities have a process in place to evaluate those behaviors -- not just from the perspective of, has a crime been committed, but from the perspective of, is this person exhibiting behaviors that we know to be associated with somebody who may be preparing to conduct a mass casualty attack?" Cohen said.

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Son desperate for answers in wake of Iowa apartment collapse: 'My dad's in there and there's nothing I can do'

Branden Colvin, one of the residents still missing after a building collapsed in Davenport, Iowa, is shown in this undated photo. -- Obtained by ABC News

(DAVENPORT, Iowa) -- It's been nearly 72 hours since a Davenport, Iowa, apartment building partially collapsed, possibly trapping two men inside, including resident Branden Colvin.

Colvin's son, Branden Colvin Jr., said he feels helpless as he waits for answers.

"I know my dad's in there and there's nothing I can do ... wishing I could just run in there," Colvin Jr. told ABC News on Wednesday.

Colvin Jr. said he's not an emotional person, but when he was alone, he said he broke down crying.

"I just want to talk to him, give him a hug, hear his voice, anything," he said.

The six-story building partially collapsed on Sunday afternoon for unknown reasons.

More than a dozen people evacuated the building at the time and eight people were rescued in the 24 hours that followed.

On Monday, officials said there was no credible information that anyone was missing and the city was moving forward with plans for staging a demolition beginning Tuesday.

Then, on Monday night, a ninth victim, Lisa Brooks, was found alive inside and pulled out of a fourth-story window.

On Tuesday, demolition plans were put on hold as officials announced that five people were unaccounted for, including two men, Branden Colvin and Ryan Hitchcock, who may be inside.

Colvin Jr. said Brooks' rescue "gave me hope."

"I'm just trying to stick it out and keep having hope," he said.

But Colvin Jr. is frustrated with city officials, saying he wants responders to "just go in there and look for these people."

Officials said Tuesday they were working to determine the best ways to search as the building's condition worsens.

In a Tuesday afternoon search, several animals were rescued, but no human activity was detected, city officials said.

"The stability of the building continues to degrade," the city of Davenport said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "The recovery of any unaccounted for individuals remains the priority of the City as operational planning progresses."

The owner and property manager said in a statement, "Our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time. We would like to thank the brave men and women of Davenport fire, Davenport police department, and all other first responders for their tireless efforts to ensure everyone’s safety. We have been working closely with the American Red Cross and other agencies to assist the displaced tenants."

They're also working to refund deposits to tenants, a property manager told ABC News.

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Wildfires in eastern Canada affecting air quality in major US cities

Gary Hershorn / Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- Wildfires burning in Canada continue to create hazardous air quality conditions in several states in the northern U.S.

Plumes of smoke from the fires blazing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, began drifting over New York City and the tri-state area on Tuesday, leading to a decrease in air quality, according to the National Weather Service.

Patchy low-level smoke is expected to linger and expand through the region on Wednesday, creating a cloudy haze that will block much of the sunlight, the NWS announced. The smell of smoke will also be present in some areas.

The jet stream, a high-speed, constantly shifting river of air about 30,000 feet into the atmosphere, is carrying the smoke from Nova Scotia through New England and further south in the U.S.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has issued a "code orange" air quality alert through Wednesday night for several counties, signifying unhealthy air pollution concentrations.

At-risk populations, such as young children, the elderly or those with lung and heart disease, should avoid the outdoors through Wednesday, according to the advisory.

The smoke is also affecting northern states such as Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont and Connecticut and is expected to travel as far south as Washington, D.C.

The weather is expected to remain hot and dry on Wednesday, with no rain forecast until Friday at the earliest.

Travel and activity in wooded areas have been banned to prevent the chances of reburn in some of the evacuated neighborhoods due to heavy winds.

Air quality alerts are in effect in the Northeast until midnight Thursday.

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Limo company operator sentenced to 5 to 15 years for manslaughter in crash that killed 20

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

(ALBANY, N.Y.) -- A limousine company operator was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison Wednesday in connection to a 2018 crash in upstate New York that left 20 people dead.

Nauman Hussain was found guilty of 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter earlier this month.

Hussain was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for each count of second-degree manslaughter, however, the terms will run concurrently for a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Hussain pleaded guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide in 2021, but the case went to trial after a judge threw out a plea deal reached with Schoharie County prosecutors last fall that would have spared him a prison sentence.

The limousine was driving down a stretch of road when it barreled through an intersection and crashed into a parked Toyota Highlander in the town of Schoharie, about 40 miles west of Albany. All 17 passengers, the driver and two pedestrians were killed in the crash.

Hussain was in charge of day-to-day operations for the company, Prestige Limousine, when a group celebrating a 30th birthday party rented a stretch Ford Excursion SUV on Oct. 6, 2018.

The limo had failed an inspection by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles one month before the deadly crash and the driver did not have the appropriate driver's license to be operating the vehicle, officials said at the time.

A report by National Transportation Safety Board investigators in 2020 found that one of the brakes was not operational.

After he was found guilty, Hussain's lawyer said they plan to appeal the verdict.

"He chose profit over people," prosecutors said at the sentencing hearing. Before sentencing, his lawyer said Hussain would not speak due to the pending appeal.

Prosecutors said Hussain made the conscious decision not to repair the car ahead of the crash and failed to get a second inspection before putting it back on the road.

The defense asked for the mercy of the court ahead of the sentencing.

The incident was the deadliest transportation crash in the U.S. since 2009.

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Boy speaks out after being shot by police; suit says he was shot without warning

Courtesy Nakala Murry

(INDIANOLA, Miss.) -- The family of Aderrien Murry, the 11-year-old boy who was shot by police on May 20 after calling 911, claimed the boy was shot without warning after he and his family members were ordered to leave their house, according to a lawsuit.

The suit, filed in Mississippi federal court on behalf of Aderrien and his mother, Nakala Murry, claims the officer who fired the gun, Greg Capers, was "reckless." It was filed after Aderrien spoke to ABC News about the incident.

"This is a claim for negligence and excessive force," said the complaint, which also named the city of Indianola, Police Chief Ronald Sampson and John Does.

"The injuries endured by all plaintiffs could have been avoided if defendants would have acquired the adequate training on how to provide proper assistance and care," the lawsuit, which was reviewed by ABC News, said. "However, as a result of the defendants, deliberate indifference, reckless disregard and gross negligence, plaintiffs sustained injuries and damages."

The complaint alleges that Capers arrived at the home with his firearm drawn and that he fired at Aderrien without warning as the boy emerged from the room.

Indianola Mayor Ken Featherstone and the Indianola Police Department did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

ABC News has also attempted to reach the officers directly.

Before his family announced the suit, Aderrien spoke out about the harrowing experience in an exclusive interview that aired on Good Morning America and GMA3 on Tuesday.

"I came out of the room like this," Aderrien said with his hands above his head as he reflected on the incident in an interview with GMA3 co-anchor DeMarco Morgan.

“It felt like a Taser, like a big punch to the chest,” he added.

Aderrien said that he ran to his mother, who was standing outside, after he got shot.

"I was bleeding -- bleeding from my mouth. Then I would just remember singing a song," he said.

Asked what song he was singing, Aderrien said, "No weapon formed against me -- prosper shall."

The line is a reference to a Bible verse, Isaiah 54:17: "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper."

Murry previously told GMA3 in an interview that aired on Thursday that her son was shot in the chest by a police officer who responded to their home in Indianola, Mississippi in the early morning hours of May 20 after her son called 911. Murry is now calling for the officer to be fired.

Murry told ABC News she gave Aderrien the phone and asked him to call his grandmother after she said she woke up around 4 a.m., heard a knock on the window and saw her ex-boyfriend standing outside.

"I noticed he was kind of irate. And from dealing with him in the past, I know the irate version of him, what it could lead to," she told GMA3.

ABC News has reached out to the ex-boyfriend but a request for comment was not immediately returned.

According to Murry, Aderrien first called the police and then he called his grandmother, who also called 911.

She explained that two officers responded to their home in Indianola, and her daughter’s father asked her not to open the door as police tried to break in.

“I heard a shot and I saw my son run out toward where we were," she said recalling the shooting.

“[Aderrien] fell, bleeding," Murry added.

Featherstone told ABC News that officer Capers fired the shot that hit Aderrien. Capers was later suspended, Featherstone said.

The Indianola Police Department declined to comment.

Aderrien was rushed to the hospital where doctors discovered a bullet had collapsed his lung and cut his liver, according to the family.

According to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the incident, officers responded to a domestic disturbance at the home and a minor was significantly hurt from an "officer-involved shooting."

The results of the investigation will be shared with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, the agency said.

Asked about the status of the investigation, the Mississippi District Attorney’s Office referred all inquiries to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

"The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office is tasked with reviewing and prosecuting all office- involved shootings. That being the case, we do not have any comment nor involvement in this investigation nor prosecution," the DA’s office told ABC News.

The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Murry family attorney Carlos Moore told ABC News this incident is an example of excessive force.

"With living in the South, Mississippi, especially, sometimes you feel that you can trust the police a little more when they [are] your own color, your own race," Moore said, referring to the fact that Capers is Black. "But now this man, this young boy, would never trust law enforcement again."

Aderrien said he now wants to be a doctor. When asked if it was because of his life-saving care, Aderrien replied, "Well, not only them. As I said, it was God that saved my life and I truly truly believe that."

Although she's calling for the officer who shot her son to be fired, Murry said she does not "hate him."

"You know, I'm not angry," she told ABC News. "I'm so much over filled with joy at the fact that my son is alive that I don't -- I don't have room for anger right now. I want justice to be served."

ABC News' Katie O'Brien, Kimberly Ruiz and Emily Shapiro contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Police searching for three suspects after nine injured in shooting at Florida beach

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

(HOLLYWOOD, Fla.) -- Police are searching for suspects after nine people, including children, were shot and injured along the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk on Florida's east coast.

Four children between the ages of 1 and 17 were shot Monday night, including a baby between 15 and 18 months old, according to Hollywood police spokesperson Deanna Bettineschi.

The other five victims were adults ages 25 to 65.

The four children remain hospitalized on Wednesday, all in stable condition, according to hospital officials. The injured adults have been treated and released.

The shooting apparently stemmed from an altercation between two groups, and multiple people were detained in the aftermath, Bettineschi said Tuesday.

Two men believed to be involved in the shooting have been arrested on weapons charges, Bettineschi said. Morgan Deslouches, 18, and Keshawn Paul Stewart, 18, both face a concealed carry weapon charge in connection with the incident. Deslouches also has been charged with larceny-grand theft of a firearm and removing the serial number from a firearm, court records show.

Authorities said they're looking to identify these three people they believe were also involved in the shooting:

"No stone will be left unturned in bringing the perpetrators to justice," Hollywood Beach Mayor Josh Levy said in a statement Tuesday. "We will utilize every available resource to apprehend those responsible."

"It is completely unacceptable that innocent people spending time with family on a holiday weekend have been affected by a shooting altercation between two groups who came into our city with guns and no regard for the safety of the law abiding public around them," Levy added.

ABC News' Darren Reynolds, Peter Charalambous and Okelo Pena contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Convicted killer calls police and allegedly admits to murdering two more people

Austin Police Department

(AUSTIN, Texas) -- A Texas man is facing two new murder charges after he allegedly called police to confess to killing his roommate and another woman, and authorities are now investigating whether the previously convicted killer could be linked to other cold cases.

Raul Meza Jr. also allegedly may have killed again if he was not apprehended this week. Austin police Detective Patrick Reed said Meza told police Tuesday night that "he was ready and prepared to kill again, and he was looking forward to it."

Meza, 62, was apprehended Monday for the murder of his roommate, 80-year-old Jesse Fraga, who was stabbed to death at their home in Pflugerville this month, and the murder of a woman in 2019, according to authorities.

Fraga was found dead with a belt around his neck when police responded to the house on May 20 for a welfare check requested by his family, who hadn't heard from him in over a week, Austin police Sgt. Nathan Sexton said at a news conference Tuesday. Fraga's niece told police that Meza moved out on May 12, which was the day Fraga was last seen alive, according to the probable cause affidavit.

On May 24, Meza called Austin police and allegedly confessed to Fraga's murder, and he also allegedly implicated himself in a woman's murder from several years ago, Sexton said.

Reed, who answered Meza's confession phone call, said Meza told him that he was released from prison in 2016 and, "I end up murdering a lady soon afterwards."

Sexton said Austin police found only one case that met the "parameters that had been set out by Meza" in that phone call: the murder of Gloria Lofton, who was strangled in May 2019.

Reed said Meza shared details that hadn't been released to the public.

DNA recovered from the Lofton scene was also linked to Meza, authorities said, but it wasn't until Meza called police that he was charged with Lofton's murder.

Meza was already a convicted killer. In 1982, he pled guilty to the murder of an 8-year-old girl, according to the case's main investigator, Bruce Mills, who is now Austin's assistant interim city manager.

In the wake of these new murder charges, police have now identified "multiple cold cases that have a similar M.O. [modus operandi], and we're looking into those for future leads," Reed said.

Police said there are between eight and 10 cases that fit similar circumstances.

"He's killed how many people? We don't know," Mills said.

Meza was booked into the Travis County Jail. He does not have a court date set.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Parkland officer accused of failing to confront school shooter faces trial

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(PARKLAND, Fla.) -- Jury selection is set to begin Wednesday in the trial of a former school resource officer charged with felony child neglect for allegedly failing to confront the Parkland school shooter.

Scot Peterson was assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland as a school resource officer when a gunman opened fire at the South Florida high school on Feb. 14, 2018, killing 14 students and three staff members.

Peterson, 60, was terminated from his position and charged with multiple counts of child neglect in 2019 after an internal investigation found that he retreated while students were under attack.

Peterson faces up to 95 years in a state prison if convicted on all charges -- including seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury -- a Broward County judge said during a pre-trial status hearing on Tuesday.

Peterson has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

An internal probe by the Broward County Sheriff's Office found that Peterson "did absolutely nothing to mitigate the [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] shooting," according to a statement released by the agency. Surveillance video and police radio transmissions showed that as the teenage gunman opened fire inside the school's Building 12, Peterson remained outside and did not enter the school to confront the gunman.

Peterson's charges stem from the six people killed and four wounded on the third floor of Building 12, after the officer had arrived at the building. Prosecutors say that he also made a false statement, claiming that he did not hear gunfire.

During Tuesday's status hearing at a Fort Lauderdale courthouse, attorneys debated whether the jury should see the third floor; the defense argued that being in the building is "traumatizing" and that the prejudicial effect would be "extraordinary," while the state maintained that jurors should be allowed to because all but one of the charges emanated from what happened there.

The judge said he plans to issue a written order on the matter by June 5, ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV reported.

Peterson had been a sheriff's deputy in Broward County for more than 30 years until he was terminated from his position when the criminal complaint was filed against him in June 2019.

At the time of his arrest, legal experts called the charges unprecedented. The move was largely applauded by the Parkland community, with the parent of one teen who was killed on the third floor calling Peterson a "coward."

The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the high school, was sentenced to life in prison last year after pleading guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Former NYPD cop, others to stand trial in Chinese harassment campaign

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A retired New York City Police Department sergeant and two purported Chinese agents used an elderly father as bait in an alleged plot to repatriate a former Chinese government official living in New Jersey, according to federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, where trial opens Wednesday.

The retired sergeant, Michael McMahon, and two men charged with acting as agents of China, are the first defendants to stand trial in the U.S. over what the Chinese government called Operation Fox Hunt, a worldwide attempt to coerce Chinese nationals living abroad to return to China through tactics including harassment, stalking and threats.

The victim in this case is identified only as John Doe-1 and China said he was wanted for corruption. Instead of operating with the approval and coordination of the U.S. government, federal prosecutors said China dispatched its own prosecutor and police officer "to engage in unsanctioned and illegal conduct on behalf of the PRC to coerce the targeted victims to return to the PRC."

According to court records, McMahon, Yong Zhu, Congying Zhen and others forced John Doe-1's elderly father to travel from China so he could warn his son, in a surprise visit, about the consequences of refusing to return to China. Zhu is accused of hiring McMahon, a private investigator, to surveil John Doe-1. Zheng is accused of harassing John Doe-1 and his adult daughter.

According to the criminal complaint, McMahon at one point suggested the men could "harass [John Doe-1]. Park outside his home and let him know we are there." At another point, two conspirators, including Zheng, "visited John Doe-1's residence, banged on his front door, walked into his yard, and ultimately left a message taped to the residence that threatened John Doe-1 and John Doe-1's family with dire consequences should they fail to return to the PRC," according to the complaint.

McMahon, who has pleaded not guilty, argued he was unaware of the alleged scheme's true intent.

"Mr. McMahon agreed to investigate and conduct surveillance, as he is legally permitted to do as a licensed private investigator – not that Mr. McMahon agreed to, or was even aware, that the investigation was at the direction or control of a foreign government or official," defense attorney Lawrence Lustberg wrote.

The Department of Justice said in April that there was evidence of expanding espionage and security activity by the Chinese government on U.S. soil.

"[It] shows how brazen they are, how unwilling they are to work under the laws that apply in free democracies," David Newman, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for National Security at the Department of Justice, told ABC News' Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas at the time. "And it demonstrates that they choose to project their authoritarian system outside their borders."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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