Florida teachers can arm themselves under new gun bill

FILE PHOTO: A selection of Glock pistols are seen for sale at the Pony Express Firearms shop in Parker, Colorado December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Florida’s legislature on Wednesday passed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom, expanding a program launched after the deadly high school shooting in Parkland with the aim of preventing another such massacre.

Florida’s House of Representatives voted 65 to 47 to pass the bill after hours of debate over two days in which the Republican majority thwarted Democratic efforts to amend, stall or kill the measure. Florida’s Senate approved it 22 to 17 last week.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, enabling school districts wishing to take part in the voluntary Guardian program to arm those teachers who pass a 144-hour training course.

On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student armed with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.

President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association have argued an armed teacher could provide the best defense against a shooter bent on mass murder.

Opponents questioned whether the solution to gun violence should be the presence of even more guns and warned of the danger of a teacher misfiring during a crisis or police mistaking an armed teacher for the assailant.

Passage marks a victory for gun-rights advocates, who were on the defensive a year ago when Parkland students inspired nationwide protests in favor of gun control.

After the Parkland shooting, Florida lawmakers rushed through legislation that required schools to place at least one armed staff member or law-enforcement officer at each campus.

The law also imposed a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and raised the age limit for buying rifles from 18 to 21 – remarkable measures in a gun-friendly state.

Although last year’s law allowed some school personnel to carry weapons, guns were still banned from the classroom.

Backers of arming classroom teachers revived the issue this year, arguing that school shootings often erupt too quickly for law enforcement to respond.

In anticipation of passage, school employees in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties already enrolled in or planned to take the 144-hour course, a spokesman for the Speaker of the House said. Some counties have resolved not to participate in the Guardian program.

Florida’s gun-control advocates had made stopping the proposal a top priority, among them Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, which is funded by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; additional reporting by Steve Gorman)

Some 156 people in 10 states infected with E. coli from ground beef: CDC

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A total of 156 people in 10 states have been infected with E. coli after eating tainted ground beef at home and in restaurants since the beginning of March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

No deaths have been reported but 20 people have been hospitalized after they were infected with the strain E. coli O103 since March 1, the CDC said on its website.

The agency said an investigation is ongoing to determine the source of the contaminated ground beef that was supplied to grocery stores and restaurants.

“At this time, no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified,” the CDC said.

The investigation began on March 28, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified the CDC of the outbreak. Since then, some 65 cases have been reported in Kentucky, 41 in Tennessee and another 33 in Georgia.

E. coli cases have also been reported in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

The CDC said that illnesses after March 26 may not have been reported yet because the lead time is two to three weeks.

People infected with the bacteria get sick two to eight days after swallowing the germ, and may sometimes develop a type of kidney failure.

Many of the infected people had bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and Sloppy Joes, the agency said.

The regulator said it is not recommending that consumers avoid eating ground beef at this time, but said that consumers and restaurants should handle ground beef safely and cook it thoroughly to avoid foodborne illnesses.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wis.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Matthew Lewis)

Teen ‘infatuated’ with Columbine found dead in Colorado

FILE PHOTO: People visit the Columbine memorial after teens kicked off a voter registration rally, a day ahead of the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A Florida teenager believed to be armed and “infatuated” with the Columbine massacre was found dead by authorities in Colorado after she traveled to the state days before the 20th anniversary of the school attack, according to CNN and other media reports.

Sol Pais, identified as an 18-year-old woman from Surfside, Florida, who authorities called “extremely dangerous,” was found

in Clear Creek County, a local CBS affiliate reported. CNN, citing law enforcement sources, reported that she was dead when authorities found her.

Pais was “no longer a threat to the community,” Patricia Billinger, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s Public Safety Department told Reuters. She declined to elaborate.

Clear Creek County is about 40 miles (64 km) west of Columbine High School, where two teenaged male students shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher on April 20, 1999, before committing suicide.

Area schools were closed on Wednesday as FBI agents, Jefferson County deputies and Colorado state troopers searched for Pais.

Pais flew from Miami to Denver on Monday, where she bought a pump-action shotgun and ammunition, FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips said at a news conference late on Tuesday. Denver is adjacent to Jefferson County.

Some 20 to 30 officers were searching for her near the Echo Lake Campground in the Arapaho National Forest on Wednesday morning, CBS4 in Denver reported.

A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools said that Pais was student at Miami Beach Senior High School and that there was no threat to schools within the district.

On Tuesday, an FBI bulletin said authorities lacked probable cause for a formal arrest but that law enforcement should detain Pais for a mental-health evaluation.

The sheriff’s Twitter post, which included two photos of Pais, said she was dressed in a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and black boots.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and additional writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Larry King and Bill Berkrot)

‘Apparent suicide’ of Parkland student days after massacre survivor took her life

An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

(Reuters) – A student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has died in “an apparent suicide,” police said on Sunday, less than a week after a 19-year-old survivor of the 2018 massacre at the school took her own life.

The student’s death occurred on Saturday evening and is under investigation, said Coral Springs Police spokesman Tyler Reik. The student’s name, age and gender were not disclosed, he said.

“We’re calling it an apparent suicide because we don’t have the exact results back from the medical examiner’s office,” Reik said by phone.

The Miami Herald reported that the suicide victim was a male sophomore who attend the Parkland, Florida, school when 14 other students and three staff members were killed on Feb. 14, 2018, in the deadliest-ever U.S. high school shooting.

A week ago, former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Sydney Aiello took her own life, according to her family. Aiello, who survived the 2018 shooting, was suffering from survivor’s guilt and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, her mother told CBS Miami.

Aiello was a senior at Stoneman Douglas when a former student with a semi-automatic rifle shot dead her friend Meadow Pollack, the family said.

The deaths drew calls in Florida for increased spending on mental health services for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community and other schools.

“Now is the time for the Florida Legislature to help,” Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director and a former state representative from Parkland, posted on Twitter.

David Hogg, who survived the 2018 shooting and became a gun control advocate, said schools needed serious mental health funding and proper guidance counselors.

“How many more kids have to be taken from us as a result of suicide for the government/school district to do anything?” he tweeted.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Former Florida policeman guilty in killing of motorist

FILE PHOTO: Family and supporters attend the funeral for Corey Jones at the Payne Chapel AME of West Palm Beach, Florida October 31, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool/File Photo

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – A Florida jury on Thursday convicted a former police officer for manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder in the fatal 2015 shooting of a black motorist who was waiting for his car to be towed off the highway.

Nouman Raja, 41, was charged in 2016 after a grand jury found he had used unjustified force when he shot and killed 31-year-old Corey Jones while wearing plainclothes on a highway exit ramp in West Palm Beach. Prosecutors said he did not identify himself as a police officer.

Raja looked distraught as the jury read their verdict after five hours of deliberations, then he was placed in handcuffs and escorted out of the courtroom. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced on April 26.

Relatives of Jones left the West Palm Beach courtroom in tears, hugging each other and raising their hands in praise.

“It was truth that convicted him. It was truth that brought him to justice. It was the truth that sent him to jail,” the victim’s father, Clinton Jones, told reporters outside. “It was truth that gave us justice for Corey.”

Prosecutor Adrienne Ellis thanked the jury for their service.

“They’re a smart group and they were fair,” Ellis said. “When I say I’m speechless, it’s because I’m overwhelmed with just gratitude.”

Raja’s lawyer, Richard Lubin, had argued on Wednesday that the police officer feared for his life when Jones pulled out a gun during the roadside encounter, according to WPEC CBS12 News.

Lubin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Raja was driving an unmarked van when he approached Jones early on Oct. 18, 2015, and fired six shots at the victim within 13 seconds, according to prosecutors.

Jones, who was a drummer, had pulled out a .380-caliber handgun that he had legally purchased three days earlier. He was hit three times and died of a gunshot wound to his chest.

Audio from the incident was captured on a recording of a roadside assistance call that Jones had placed before Raja arrived. According to prosecutors, the recording showed that Raja did not identify himself as a police officer.

Protesters held a peaceful rally in Palm Beach Gardens four days after Jones was killed, and dozens of mourners attended his funeral more than a week later.

Reverend Al Sharpton was among those who spoke at the memorial service, where the pallbearers wore hats and jerseys of the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders, Jones’ favorite team.

Lawyers for Jones’ family, including civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, said in a statement that the verdict was “a vindication of the good man that was Corey Jones, and an utter repudiation of a criminal who tried to hide behind a badge.”

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

‘Do something:’ After school shooting, Florida mother chooses action

Lori Alhadeff, a newly elected school board member in the community where her daughter, 14-year-old Alyssa, was killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks during an interview in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Fogarty

By Letitia Stein

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – After screaming out on national television for President Donald Trump to “please do something” to prevent another school shooting like the one that had just killed her daughter, Lori Alhadeff heeded her own call for action.

She was powerless when gunfire silenced 14-year-old Alyssa on Feb. 14, 2018. But in the year since 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Alhadeff ran for the local school board and won. She started a non-profit. She raised money to equip schools with bulletproof glass and emergency medical stop-the-bleed kits.

On Wednesday, she was in New Jersey, her former home, to watch the governor sign an “Alyssa’s Law” named after her daughter. She hopes other states will follow in requiring schools to have silent panic alarms to notify law enforcement in emergencies.

“I had no control on Feb. 14. And as a mother, when you have your children, you need control,” Alhadeff said in an interview with Reuters. “But now I have the control. I have this power, and I am using that power by using my voice.”

Alhadeff is among the Parkland parents who have channeled their anguish into advocacy. Instead of dance recitals, soccer matches and marching band performances, their schedules now involve lobbying trips to state capitols, the U.S. Congress and the White House.

Some served on a state commission that reviewed the Parkland shooting, documenting each failure before and after the firing of the first bullet in a freshmen classroom building. Others have waded into partisan politics to campaign for local and federal candidates pledging to do more for school safety.

For Fred Guttenberg, fighting for gun control is a way to cope when he thinks about the final moments for his daughter, Jaime, who ran down a hallway with a shooter at her back.

“What I have discovered this year is I have this need to still be Jaime’s dad,” he said. “I am not going to ever stop talking about my daughter and what she meant to me – and what the moments without her mean to me.”

Success can be both satisfying and hollow.

“It doesn’t bring my son back,” said Max Schachter, who has focused on identifying best practices for school security after his son, Alex, died with Alhadeff’s daughter in English class.

Alhadeff, 43, once ordered her life around her children’s soccer teams. She now races between school functions and activities for the non-profit, Make Our Schools Safe, she started after Alyssa’s death.

“I know that she would say to me, if I was like sleeping in bed: ‘Mom what are you doing? Why are you wasting your time? You need to get out there and fight for me,'” Alhadeff said.

MOTHER FOR CHANGE

As a stay-at-home mother of three, Alhadeff jokingly called herself Alyssa’s personal assistant. She drove her daughter to the movies, the beach and sporting events – even laying out her shoes with the laces turned just so for her to slip right on.

While her children were at school, Alhadeff played tennis and grocery shopped. To support their teams, she sold cookies and Gatorade at their soccer games.

Last month, Alhadeff cried while recalling those memories. She was again sitting on the sidelines, watching her second child practice soccer where his sister once played. He wears Alyssa’s No. 8 on his jersey.

It was at an adjacent park that Alhadeff asked a reporter for a microphone following the school shooting, not long after making preliminary plans for her daughter’s funeral.

Angry with raw grief, she begged Trump in a live CNN broadcast to take action because she said he was the most powerful person who came to mind.

Late last year, Alhadeff joined a group of Parkland parents to meet with Trump at the White House and discuss a national safety commission he created after the shooting.

Her anger has eased, she said, as she focuses on school safety as the only new member of the Broward County School Board, where she is calling for the removal of the superintendent in charge when her daughter was killed at school.

“I don’t see myself as a politician,” Alhadeff said. “I see myself as a mother wanting to make change.”

She has planned a full day to mark the one-year date from Alyssa’s death – gravesite prayers, lunch at her house, a clean-up event at Alyssa’s favorite beach and community memorial. Staying busy is better than having too much time to think, she said.

But in quiet moments, when she needs to feel close to Alyssa, Alhadeff dabs on perfume from her daughter’s pink Victoria’s Secret bottle. She wears her daughter’s gray sweatshirt with white splotches, which Alyssa bleached in a laundry mishap.

“I am just trying to live for her,” she said.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)

Florida bank shooter killed five women in apparent random attack

Zephen Xaver, 21, a suspect in the shooting at the SunTrust Bank in Sebring, south of Orlando, Florida, U.S., is seen in this booking photo released on January 23, 2019. Courtesy Highlands County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – The 21-year-old gunman accused of carrying out a deadly bank shooting in a small Florida town killed five women in what police said on Thursday appeared to have been a random attack.

The attack took place around lunchtime on Wednesday at a SunTrust Bank branch in Sebring, a town of about 10,000 people 95 miles (153 km) south of Orlando, authorities said.

“We have no information at this time as to what his true motive may have been. We believe it was a random act. We believe no one was specifically targeted,” Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said during a news conference.

The suspect, Zephen Xaver, called the 911 emergency number just after 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT) and told dispatch he had shot five people inside the bank, according to authorities.

When officers arrived at the scene, they found he had barricaded himself inside. After more than an hour of negotiations, police entered the bank and took Xaver into custody.

Hoglund said all the victims were women, and named two of them as Cynthia Watson, a bank customer, and Marisol Lopez, a bank employee. He did not give their ages.

The police chief said the families of the other three victims had asked that their names not be released, but added that all of the victims aside from Watson were employees.

“We have no known connections to the suspect or any of the victims at this time. … We have no known motive that he’s targeting this bank for any particular reason,” Hoglund said.

Xaver was being held without bail, according to booking records on the Highlands County sheriff’s website. He faces five counts of premeditated murder in the first degree.

Xaver lived for a time in northwestern Indiana, according to local media reports there.

A man who identified himself as the suspect’s father, Josh Xaver, told CNN on Wednesday that he was heartbroken for the victims. He said his son moved to Florida about a year ago, and that “he wasn’t raised to be like this.”

“He’s always been a good kid. He’s had his troubles, but he has never hurt anyone before,” Josh Xaver told CNN. “This is a total shock.”

A woman who said she used to date the suspect, Alex Gerlach, told Indiana TV station WSBT that he was fascinated with death and guns and often talked about wanting to harm people.

“I never understood where it started. For some reason (he) always hated people and wanted everyone to die,” Gerlach told the station, adding that she tried to warn people in the past but no one believed her.

SunTrust Banks Inc Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Rogers said on Wednesday that bank officials were working with law enforcement and addressing the needs of all individuals and families involved.

“Our entire team mourns this terrible loss,” Rogers said in a statement.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus and Joey Ax in New York; editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

Hand recount ordered in Florida’s divisive U.S. Senate race

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bill Nelson speaks in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 12, 2016 and Florida Governor Rick Scott appears in Washington, DC, U.S., September 29, 2017 respectively. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski and REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photos/File Photo

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – Florida election officials on Thursday ordered a hand recount of ballots in the closely fought U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott after a machine recount showed them divided by a razor-thin margin.

But in another tight contest, Republican Ron DeSantis appeared to secure the Florida governor’s seat against Democrat Andrew Gillum when the electronic recount showed DeSantis with a 0.41 percentage point lead, outside the threshold to trigger further recount.

Under state law, the Florida Department of State must trigger a manual recount if an electronic recount of ballots finds a margin of victory less than 0.25 percent.

Gillum, who initially conceded on election night but then reversed course, signaled that he had not yet given up.

“A vote denied is justice denied — the State of Florida must count every legally cast vote,” Gillum said in a statement after the machine recount concluded.

In the Senate race, Nelson trailed Scott by about 12,600 votes, or 0.15 percent of the more than 8 million ballots cast following an electronic recount of ballots in the Nov. 6 election, the state said.

The electronic recount suffered glitches as liberal-leaning Palm Beach County failed to complete the process by Thursday’s deadline due to machine problems. Nelson’s team said it had filed a lawsuit seeking a hand recount of all ballots in the county.

In the next stage of the recount, Florida counties face a deadline of noon E.T. on Sunday to submit their election results – including a manual recount of undervotes or overvotes, cases where the machine that reviewed the ballot concluded a voter had skipped a contest or marked more than one selection.

If the voter’s intentions are clear on review by a person, the ballot could be counted.

Overall control of the U.S. Senate is not at stake in the Florida race. President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans held their majority in the chamber while Democrats took a majority in the House of Representatives.

But both the Senate and governor’s races were closely scrutinized as Florida is traditionally a key swing state in presidential elections.

Florida’s close races and legal disputes over the validity of votes have stirred memories of the 2000 U.S. presidential election when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped an ongoing recount in the state and sent George W. Bush to the White House.

The Scott campaign called on Nelson to concede. “Last week, Florida voters elected me as their next U.S. Senator and now the ballots have been counted twice,” Scott said in a statement.

But Nelson attorney Marc Elias said he expected the margin between the two candidates to shrink and “ultimately disappear entirely.”

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee, Florida, separately ordered election authorities to allow voters a chance to fix signature issues on an estimated 5,000 ballots that were rejected by officials. A Georgia federal judge issued a similar ruling as that state worked to resolve a close governor’s race.

Along with the hand recount, Nelson’s supporters have asked the court to allow mail-in ballots to count if they were postmarked before the election yet arrived too late.

The Democrats’ majority in the new House expanded by another seat on Thursday when the Maine Secretary of State’s office declared Jared Golden the winner of a race against incumbent Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin. That race represented an early test of a new state ranked-choice voting system, designed to prevent candidates in races with three or more contenders from winning office without majority support.

‘LAUGHING STOCK’

Walker grew testy during a series of Thursday hearings about lawsuits over the recounts, voicing frustration uneven recount progress in different counties and also the Florida legislature’s response to historic election problems.

“We have been the laughing stock of the world election after election,” Walker said. “But we’ve still chosen not to fix this.”

Separately, a federal judge in Georgia on Wednesday ordered state election officials to count some previously rejected ballots in that state’s governor’s race, where ballots are still being tallied but Republican former Secretary of State Brian Kemp has declared victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

This year’s campaigns went down as the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history, with some $5.25 billion spent on advertising, up 78 percent from the last midterm elections in 2014, according to a Kantar Media analysis released on Thursday. Spending was 20 percent higher than the 2016 presidential election.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Man suspected in parcel bombs case arrested in Florida

Cesar Altieri Sayoc in an August 2015 booking photo. Broward County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

By Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall

PLANTATION, Fla. (Reuters) – FBI agents used DNA and a fingerprint to identify the Florida man suspected of sending at least 14 parcel bombs to critics of U.S. President Donald Trump days ahead of congressional elections.

Cesar Sayoc has been charged with five federal crimes including threats against former presidents and faces up to 58 years in prison if found guilty, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference.

“We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially political violence,” he said.

FBI agents arrested Sayoc, 56, in Plantation, Florida and also hauled away a white van plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan “CNN SUCKS” and images of Democratic figures with red crosshairs over their faces.

A law enforcement officer checks a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation, Florida October 26, 2018 in a still image fro video. WPLG/Handout via REUTERS

A law enforcement officer checks a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation, Florida October 26, 2018 in a still image fro video. WPLG/Handout via REUTERS

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the news conference that fingerprints on a package sent to Representative Maxine Waters belonged to Sayoc.

He also said there could be other packages.

Announcing the arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to a cheering audience at the White House, Trump said such “terrorizing acts” were despicable and had no place in the United States.

“We must never allow political violence to take root in America – cannot let it happen,” Trump said. “And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and to stop it now.”

Sayoc’s home address was listed in public records as an upscale gated apartment complex in the seaside town of Aventura, Florida.

According to the records, he is a registered Republican with a lengthy criminal past – including once making a bomb threat – and a history of posting inflammatory broadsides on social media against Trump’s political foes.

Sayoc was being held at an FBI processing center in Miramar, Florida, CNN said. He was expected to be taken to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and will likely make his first appearance before a judge on Monday, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein.

Police respond to a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Police respond to a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

A federal law enforcement source said charges would likely be brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Sayoc transferred to New York City.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York, Mark Hosenball, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, Sarah N. Lynch in Washington, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)

Police find packages sent to ex-U.S. intel chief Clapper, Senator Booker

A U.S. Postal Inspection Service facility is pictured near Miami International Airport, in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Authorities found two more suspicious packages on Friday addressed to U.S. Senator Cory Booker and James Clapper, the former U.S. director of national intelligence, amid a manhunt for the person who sent bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of U.S. President Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) walks to an elevator as he leaves the Senate chamber after a procedural vote on the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) walks to an elevator as he leaves the Senate chamber after a procedural vote on the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The 11th package was found at a mail sorting facility in Florida and was addressed to Booker, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, the FBI said on Twitter. A 12th package was addressed to James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, and sent to CNN, the cable network reported.

Meanwhile, a local police bomb squad and canine units joined federal investigators on Thursday to examine a sprawling U.S. mail distribution center at Opa-Locka, northwest of Miami, Miami-Dade County police said.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that Florida appeared to be the starting point for at least some of the bomb shipments.

“Some of the packages went through the mail. They originated, some of them, from Florida,” she said during an interview with Fox News Channel on Thursday. “I am confident that this person or people will be brought to justice.”

Authorities called the parcel bombs an act of terrorism. They were sent less than two weeks before national elections that could alter the balance of power in Washington.

FILE PHOTO: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

FILE PHOTO: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombs, and the public was asked to report any tips.

All the people targeted were frequently maligned by right-wing critics. They included Democratic Party donor George Soros, former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said that at least five of the packages bore a return address from the Florida office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Authorities believe the packages, which were intercepted before reaching their intended recipients, all went through the U.S. Postal Service at some point, a source said. None detonated and no one has been hurt.

The devices were thought to have been fashioned from bomb-making designs widely available on the internet, a federal law enforcement source told Reuters.

Still, investigators are treating the devices as “live” explosives, not a hoax, said James O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner. Two of the parcels surfaced there.

“It does remain possible that further packages have been or could be mailed,” William Sweeney, assistant director of the FBI, told a news conference in New York.

Investigators have declined to say whether the devices were built to be functional. Bomb experts and security analysts say that based on their rudimentary construction it appeared they were more likely designed to sow fear rather than to kill.

The parcels each consisted of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices,” the FBI said. Each was affixed with a computer-printed address label and six U.S. “Forever” postage stamps, the agency said.

Others who received the bombs were former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA director John Brennan, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters of California, and actor Robert De Nero. Two packages were sent both to Waters and Biden.

Brennan’s package was sent in care of the New York bureau of CNN, where he has appeared as an on-air analyst.

The episode sparked an outcry from Trump’s critics, who charged that his inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats and the press has created a climate for politically motivated violence.

After first calling for “unity” and civil discourse on Wednesday, Trump lashed out again Thursday at the “hateful” media. His supporters accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting the president was to blame for the bomb scare.

“Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!” Trump said on Twitter at about 3:15 a.m. EST (0715 GMT) on Friday.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Mark Hosenball and Susan Heavey in Washington; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jeffrey Benkoe)