Americans divided as states postpone abortions over coronavirus

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The U.S. states of Texas and Ohio have ordered abortions be postponed as non-essential procedures to free up resources to fight coronavirus, a move critics said on Tuesday was political.

Officials in the two states, which already have severe restrictions on abortions, said postponing elective procedures would allow beds and staff to be focused on coronavirus cases.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the nation’s coronavirus task force, asked the nation’s hospitals last week to cease elective surgeries to free up capacity and staff, amid dire shortages of masks and gloves.

Texas officials said the measure would apply to abortions that were not necessary to save the mother’s life or health.

“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement.

Ohio’s Attorney General told facilities to stop performing abortions that require personal protective equipment, such as gowns and masks, according to documents obtained by local media.

The United States has reported some 50,000 coronavirus cases, including almost 600 deaths, leading officials to order nearly a third of the population to stay home.

Abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in American society, with the Supreme Court due to rule in June on a major case which challenges a Louisiana law that could make it harder for women to obtain the procedure.

The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life (AUL) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments on Tuesday that Ohio and Texas were “doing the right thing”.

“The sheer selfishness on display by abortionists refusing to close shop even for a brief time to funnel every possible resource to the brave medical providers … is simply unconscionable,” said AUL’s head Catherine Glenn Foster.

Several professional obstetric and gynecological groups have said delays to abortions could be risky.

“It’s essential that people seeking abortion can make time-sensitive decisions about their care and have access to providers without politicised interference,” said Heather Shumaker of the National Women’s Law Center, a rights group.

Abortions in the United States are usually performed in outpatient settings or at home using drugs to end pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Ohio, Louisiana become latest U.S. states to declare coronavirus lockdowns

By Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As U.S. cases of coronavirus spiked on Sunday, Ohio and Louisiana became the latest states to announce broad lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus with nearly one in three Americans under orders to stay at home.

The two states join New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey, home to 100 million Americans combined, as cases nationwide top 33,000 with at least 390 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

“Every piece of evidence that I can lay my hands on indicates that we’re at an absolutely crucial time in this war and what we do now will make all the difference in the world,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “What we do now will slow this invader. It will slow this invader so our health care system … will have time to treat casualties.”

Ohio has 351 cases and three deaths while Louisiana has 837 cases and 20 deaths, several in a senior care facility.

The mayor of New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus epidemic, on Sunday described the outbreak as the biggest domestic crisis since the Great Depression and called for the U.S. military to mobilize to help keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

“If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days people will die who don’t have to die,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the nation’s most populous city saw COVID-19 cases top 9,600 and deaths climbed to 63.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the federal government to take over acquisition of medical supplies so states do not have to compete with each other for desperately needed resources. He also repeated a request for the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.

Help is not coming quickly enough, Cuomo said.

“Time matters, minutes count, and this is literally a matter of life and death,” he said. “At the same time, there is not going to be chaos, there is not going to be anarchy. Life is going to go on. Different. But life is going to go on.”

The number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness in the United States and Spain are exceeded only by China and Italy. Italy reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths last week.

“This is going to be the greatest crisis domestically since the Great Depression,” de Blasio told CNN, referring to the economic crisis of the 1930s. “This is why we need a full-scale mobilization of the American military.”

Around the globe, billions are adapting to a new reality, with countries like Italy, Spain and France on lockdown and several South American nations taking similar measures to try to stay ahead of the contagion, as global cases exceeded 315,000 and deaths top 13,000.

The lockdown affecting large segments of the American public to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus is likely to last 10 to 12 weeks, or until early June, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.

Lawmakers in Washington are nearing a deal that could pump a record $1 trillion into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus and will vote on the bill Monday.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said the package would give an average U.S. family of four a one-time payment of $3,000.

Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on Sunday became the first member of the Senate to announce he had tested positive for coronavirus. At least two members of the House of Representatives previously said they tested positive.

MEDICAL CRISIS

De Blasio said the city is not getting needed medical supplies from the federal government to contend with the rapid spread of the sometimes deadly illness.

Hospitals are scrambling for protective equipment for healthcare workers and for ventilators as they brace for a wave of patients who will need help breathing as severe cases often lead to pneumonia and decreased lung function.

Over the past week, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing for aggressive steps to stem the economic hit, after Trump spent several weeks downplaying the virus’ risks.

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday said the White House recognized the urgency of New York’s situation.

“Not only is New York trying to get resources themselves, but we’re going to be pouring it in from the federal government,” he told CBS News.

U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said it delivered 500,000 donated masks to New York City on Sunday morning.

Cuomo warned that 40% to 80% of New York state residents may eventually contract coronavirus. He chastised those who were still congregating in parks and other places and not practicing social distancing. He noted 53% of the cases in New York are between the ages of 18 and 49.

“It’s insensitive, arrogant, self-destructive … and it has to stop, and it has to stop now,” he said, adding he was giving New York City authorities 24 hours to come up with a plan to deal with the situation. “This is not a joke and I’m not kidding.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Several states wary of $48 billion opioid settlement proposal

Several states wary of $48 billion opioid settlement proposal
By Tom Hals and Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Several U.S. states that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic are pushing back on a proposed $48 billion settlement framework that would resolve thousands of lawsuits against five drug companies accused of fueling the addiction crisis.

The proposal would bring an end to all opioid litigation against AmerisourceBergen Corp<ABC.N>, Cardinal Health Inc<CAH.N> and McKesson Corp<MCK.N>, drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Inc<TEVA.TA><TEVA.N>, and Johnson & Johnson<JNJ.J>.

The companies have proposed paying $22.25 billion cash mostly over 18 years, while services and drugs to treat addiction valued at $26 billion by the companies would be provided over the coming decade, mostly by Teva.

Officials in states such as Ohio, New Hampshire and West Virginia — all hard hit by the deadly drug addition crisis — voiced concerns about the proposal.

James Boffetti, the associate attorney general for New Hampshire, said in an interview he was troubled that payments were stretched over many years.

“The concern is, I think, the states need money now to create the infrastructure for treatment,” he said.

Small states fear the money will be divvied up by population rather than need.

“Any global opioid settlement that doesn’t reflect the unique and unprecedented damage imposed on West Virginia through the opioid epidemic should be DOA,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Some 400,000 U.S. overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017 were linked to opioids, according to government data. Roughly 2,600 lawsuits have been brought nationwide by states, local and tribal governments.

The three distributors in a joint statement said they were committed to finalizing a global settlement and would continue working with the other parties on the details of the framework. Teva declined to comment.

J&J said in a securities filing on Wednesday the deal would lower third quarter profit by $3 billion.

The proposal, announced on Monday, was hammered out by the companies and attorneys general in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

It will need broad support among state attorneys general and will have to overcome opposition from the lawyers representing local governments that sued. Those lawyers declined to sign on when presented the proposal last week.

Under the settlement framework, money for each state would be divvied up, with 15% going to the state treasury, 15% for local governments that filed lawsuits and 70% going to a proposed state fund aimed at addressing the crisis.

Boffetti predicted it would takes weeks for states to determine whether they back the settlement framework.

North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, acknowledged that a detailed term sheet needs to be developed.

“There are a lot of details and mechanics that need to be added to it,” Stein told Reuters in an interview. “That will happen in the coming weeks.”

The proposal did win a major supporter on Tuesday. Tom Miller of Iowa, the longest-serving attorney general, publicly backed the proposal, calling the framework “an important step in addressing the crisis.”

Colorado’s attorney general, Phil Weiser, called it a “very promising development.”

The lawsuits accuse distributors of failing to flag and halt a rising tide of suspicious orders and drugmakers of overstating the benefits of opioids while downplaying the risks.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing. Drugmakers say their products carried government-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks of opioids, while distributors argue their role was to make sure medicines prescribed by licensed doctors were available for patients.

The proposed deal has widened a fault line between attorneys general and local governments.

Cities and counties generally hired private attorneys to bring their cases, and attorneys general want to limit the amount of the settlement that goes to pay private lawyers. The attorneys for local governments also generally opposed Teva contributing opioid treatment drugs to the settlement, instead of cash, in part because of concerns that the framework placed an inflated value on those drugs.

Last week’s talks failed to reach a global deal, and on Monday, the three wholesale distributors and Teva struck a last-minute $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over opioids.

North Carolina’s Stein said he looked forward to resolving concerns about the proposal and warned that settling lawsuits individually was unsustainable.

“If we proceed on the current path and each county and city brings their case and extracts whatever amount they may be able to get from these companies, the companies will end up bankrupt,” he said. “The opioid crisis is a national problem that demands a national solution.”

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Nate Raymond in Boston, Massachusetts; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Sandra Maler)

Dozens of CEOs call on Senate to tackle gun violence: reports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than 100 chief executives of some of the nation’s most well-known companies on Thursday called on the U.S. Senate to take action to tackle gun violence, including expanding background checks and strengthening so-called red flag laws, according to media reports.

In a letter to lawmakers, 145 company heads urged meaningful action following a string of mass shootings across the United States that have most recently left communities reeling in Texas, Ohio, Nevada and South Carolina.

“Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,” the letter to the Republican-led U.S. Senate said, according to the New York Times, which first reported the correspondence.

Those signing the missive include the heads of Gap Inc, Levi Strauss & Co, and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. They also included Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Uber Technologies Inc, Twitter Inc, and Amalgamated Bank, among others.

“We are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” they said, according to the Times. The Washington Post also reported the letter.

Lawmakers have struggled to address gun violence after the 2012 killing of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut stoked the debate over gun control in America.

More mass shootings followed, including at a church in South Carolina, a music festival in Las Vegas and a high school in Florida. This summer, shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas – including in a Walmart – sparked fresh debate.

Walmart Inc and other stores have since called on patrons not to openly carry firearms in their stores, prompting protests from opponents who object to curbing gun rights.

The U.S. House of Representatives, led by Democrats, quickly took up measures addressing gun violence as lawmakers returned to Washington this week. These include three bills that seek to remove guns from people deemed a risk, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and prohibit people convicted of violent hate crime misdemeanors from possessing firearms.

The Senate, led by President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, has so far stayed on the sidelines, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looking to the White House for guidance.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they wanted to revive a failed 2013 bill to close loopholes in the law requiring gun sale background checks, but it remained unclear whether Trump would support it.

Polls have shown that nearly half of all Americans expect another mass shooting to happen soon in the United States.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Dayton gunman had cocaine, Xanax, alcohol in his system during attack

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a memorial for those killed in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – The gunman who killed nine people outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, had cocaine, Xanax and alcohol in his system at the time of the shooting rampage, the county coroner said on Thursday.

Dayton police announced the findings at a press conference and on Twitter and said that two victims of the massacre were struck by gunfire from law enforcement officers responding to the scene.

“While it weighs heavily on us that our response caused harm to these victims, we are comforted that none of our rounds caused the death of any of these innocent people,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said on Twitter.

Dr. Kent Harshbarger, Montgomery County coroner, said at the news conference that an autopsy conducted on the body of 24-year-old Connor Betts found the drugs and medication in his system.

It was not clear how much of each drug was present at the time of the attack.

The Aug. 4 massacre, which ended when police shot and killed the gunman, was one of three mass shootings over three weeks that stunned Americans and stoked a long-running debate over gun rights.

Earlier this week a friend of Betts, 24-year-old Ethan Kollie, was charged in federal court with lying his drug use on a form he filled out to buy a gun and with possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

In announcing the charges, prosecutors said Kollie admitted that he had purchased body armor, an accessory for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a 100-round double drum magazine that Betts used during the shooting.

Kollie kept the items at his apartment in the Dayton suburb of Kettering to conceal them from Betts’ parents, according to court papers. Kollie is not accused with helping plan or carry out the attack.

Betts opened fire outside a bar in the Oregon District of Dayton at 1 a.m. on Aug. 4. The shooting ended rapidly when police moved in and shot Betts dead. Those killed included Betts’ 22-year-old sister, Megan.

The FBI said last week that Betts had a history of violent obsessions and had mused about committing mass murder before his rampage in Dayton’s historic downtown.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Most Americans expect next mass shooting to happen in next three months: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Mourners taking part in a vigil at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – Nearly half of all Americans expect another mass shooting will happen soon in the United States, according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Friday, as the nation reels from rampages in California, Texas and Ohio.

The Aug. 7-8 survey found that 78% of Americans said it was likely that such an attack would take place in the next three months, including 49% who said one was “highly likely.” Another 10% said a mass shooting was unlikely in three months and the rest said they did not know.

The poll was conducted after two mass shootings earlier in August in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and a third in Gilroy, California, last month that left 36 people dead. The attacks have rattled the country and renewed calls for tougher gun laws.

“You are on guard because you never know when it’s going to happen and where,” said Suzanne Fink, 59, a Republican from Troutman, North Carolina. “It has been happening much too often and it’s like a copycat effect.”

There is no set definition of a mass shooting, but the nonprofit organization Gun Violence Archive has tallied more than 250 such incidents so far this year alone – for an average of more than one a day – a widely cited figure that counts events in which four or more people were either shot and killed or shot and wounded.

Following the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Democrats, including several 2020 presidential candidates criticized Republican President Donald Trump for rhetoric they labeled as racist and hard-line immigration polices, saying they stoked violence.

Former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday called the shooting in El Paso “an act of terror inspired by your racism” in response to a tweet by Trump.

The president, who condemned “sinister ideologies” and hate in a televised speech on Monday, has expressed support for tightening background checks for gun purchases.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday he would not call the Senate back early to consider new gun legislation, rejecting a plea from more than 200 U.S. mayors, including two whose cities endured mass shootings last weekend.

According to the poll, 69% of U.S. adults want “strong” or “moderate” restrictions placed on firearms.

The poll also found that half of all Americans, including two-thirds of Democrats and a third of Republicans, believe that “the way people talk about immigration encourages acts of violence.”

A majority of U.S. adults considers “random acts of violence,” including mass shootings, to be the biggest threat to their safety, while one in four pointed to politically or religiously motivated domestic terrorism as the biggest safety threat. About one in six cited foreign terrorism.

People cited mental health, racism and bigotry and easy access to firearms as the top three causes of mass shootings in the United States, while only about one in six – and one in four Republicans – said in the poll that video games were to blame.

In his speech on Monday, Trump mentioned video games and mental illness as factors in mass shootings. Research studies have shown little or no link between violent video games and shootings.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,116 adults and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Chris Kahn and Jonathan Oatis)

Heading to El Paso, Trump nixes assault weapons ban, supports stronger background checks

A woman kneels at a memorial three days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed legislation to ban assault rifles as politically unfeasible on Wednesday as he prepared to visit the sites of two deadly mass shootings that shocked the country and drew criticism of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

As he left the White House, Trump said he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for banning assault rifles.

“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will certainly bring that up … There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The president faced an uncertain welcome on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people and the suspect were killed in a rampage early on Sunday and in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart store on Saturday before the gunman was taken alive.

The back-to-back massacres, occurring 13 hours apart, have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of “Do something!”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said on Tuesday she would welcome the Republican president, who has said he wants to meet law enforcement, first responders and survivors.

But Whaley said she planned to tell Trump “how unhelpful he’s been” on the issue of gun violence, referring to the speech he gave on Monday focusing on mental health reform, tighter internet regulation and wider use of the death penalty.

Critics have said Trump stokes violence with racially incendiary rhetoric. The El Paso massacre is being investigated as a hate crime and the FBI said the Dayton shooter had explored violent ideologies.

Democrats accuse Trump of hiding behind talk of mental illness and the influence of social media rather than committing to laws they insist are needed to restrict gun ownership and the types of weapons that are legal.

In Iowa, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden planned to say, “We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division.”

In a sign of higher tensions after the shootings, a motorcycle backfiring on Tuesday night in New York’s Times Square sent crowds running for fear of another gun attack. “People are obviously very frightened,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN.

Authorities in Texas have said they are investigating Saturday’s shooting spree in the predominantly Hispanic west Texas border city of El Paso as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. They cited a racist manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect.

An open letter to Trump on Wednesday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having “a deep tradition of racial harmony” whose people came together after the tragedy. It admonished Trump for calling El Paso one of the country’s most dangerous cities in his February State of the Union address.

“The violence that pierced El Paso, drawing you here today, is not of our own community,” wrote editor Tim Archuleta. “An outsider came here to shatter our city, to murder our neighbors. A white man from another Texas city came to target the more than 80% of us who share Hispanic roots.”

‘SINISTER IDEOLOGIES’

Trump, in his televised White House speech on Monday, condemned “sinister ideologies” and hate. His supporters say Democrats unfairly blame him for the behavior of criminals.

Democrats say Trump’s own anti-immigrant, racially charged language at rallies and on Twitter has done much to fan racist, white nationalist sentiments, creating a political climate more conducive to hate-based violence.

U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes El Paso, declared that Trump “is not welcome here.”

Trump staged his first political rally of 2019 in El Paso in February.

She said on Twitter on Tuesday she declined a White House invitation to join Trump in El Paso after being told he was too busy to speak with her by phone in advance. “I refuse to be an accessory to his visit,” Escobar later told CNN.

Former Texas congressman and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, said Trump “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible” and thus “has no place here.”

In an apparent answer to his criticism, Trump said on Twitter late on Tuesday O’Rourke “should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”

Not everyone agreed that Trump should stay away.

“This is not a political visit,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told reporters. “He is president of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Rich McKay, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washingon, Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Paul Tait and Howard Goller)

Trump denounces white supremacy after shootings, cites video games and internet

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the shootings in El Paso and Daytonin the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday called for urgent action to prevent gun violence and said all Americans must “condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio killed 29 people and wounded dozens.

Trump, whose rhetoric has frequently been condemned as stoking racial divisions, laid out a number of policy options but did not mention his own past remarks.

“These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” Trump said in remarks at the White House. “Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

On Saturday, a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in what authorities said appeared to be a racially motivated hate crime. Just 13 hours later, another gunman in downtown Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people.

Trump said mental health laws should be reformed to better identify mentally disturbed individuals and he called for capital punishment for those who commit mass murder and hate crimes.

He said he had directed the Justice Department to work with local authorities and social media companies to detect mass shooters before they strike. He said the Internet, social media and violent video games had helped radicalize people.

Earlier on Monday, Trump had urged lawmakers in a tweet to put strong checks in place on potential gun buyers, suggesting action could be tied with immigration reform. In his remarks at the White House, however, he did not mention immigration.

(Reporting by Roberta Rammpton and Susan Heavey; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Bill Trott)

Thirty people die in two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

Francisco Castaneda joins mourners taking part in a vigil at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Salgado NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

By Julio-Cesar Chavez Steve Gorman

EL PASO, Texas/ LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thirty people died and dozens were wounded in two mass shootings within just 13 hours of each other in the United States, shocking the country and prompting calls from some politicians for tighter gun control.

The first massacre occurred on Saturday morning in the heavily Hispanic border city of El Paso, where a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store before surrendering to police.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the rampage appeared to be a hate crime, and police cited a “manifesto” they attributed to the suspect, a 21-year-old white man, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

Officials investigate the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Officials investigate the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Across the country, a gunman opened fire in a downtown district of Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding at least 26 others, police and the city mayor said. The assailant was shot dead by police.

The El Paso shooting reverberated on the campaign trail for next year’s U.S. presidential election, with several Democratic candidates denouncing the rise of gun violence and repeating calls for tighter gun control measures.

At least two candidates, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman, drew connections to a resurgence in white nationalism and xenophobic politics in the United States.

“America is under attack from homegrown white nationalist terrorism,” Buttigieg said at an event in Las Vegas.

President Donald Trump branded the shooting “an act of cowardice,” saying in a Twitter post, “I know that I stand with everyone in this country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”

A hallmark of Trump’s presidency has been his determination to curb illegal immigration. Critics say the rhetoric he has used around the issue, as well as other remarks about minorities, is divisive and has fueled racism and xenophobia.

Pope Francis condemned the spate of attacks on “defenseless people” in the United States, including a rampage last Sunday in which a gunman killed three people and wounded about a dozen at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California.

A woman reacts after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A woman reacts after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

‘HATE CRIME’

In Texas, police and FBI investigators searched for clues as to what motivated the suspect, who is from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies on Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

Multiple news media outlets, citing law enforcement officials, named him as Patrick Crusius.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

An El Paso police spokesman, Sergeant Robert Gomez, said on Saturday night police were interviewing the suspect, while investigators continued to collect evidence at the crime scene.

Several local politicians said the gunman was an outsider, suggesting he had traveled hundreds of miles from the Dallas area to commit mass murder. But Gomez declined to say how long the suspect might have been in El Paso before the shooting.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said investigators were examining a “manifesto” from the suspect indicating “there is a potential nexus to a hate crime.”

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed for support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

CNN reported the FBI had opened a domestic terrorism investigation.

“We are going to aggressively prosecute it both as capital murder but also as a hate crime, which is exactly what it appears to be,” Texas Governor Abbott told reporters.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said three Mexican nationals were among the 20 people killed in the shooting, and six others were among 26 victims who were wounded.

The carnage ranked as the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, after a 1984 shooting in San Ysidro, California, in which 21 people died.

RAPID POLICE ACTION

In Dayton, a riverfront city of about 140,000 people in southwestern Ohio, a gunman dressed in body armor opened fire in a downtown district, unleashing carnage that could have been much worse if not for the rapid intervention of police.

Officers who were on routine patrol nearby were on the scene in less than a minute and shot the attacker dead, likely preventing a much higher casualty toll, police and the city’s mayor said.

Assistant Police Chief Matt Carper said the shooting began at 1 a.m. local time in Dayton’s Oregon District, a downtown historic neighborhood popular for its nightclubs, restaurants art galleries and shops.

The motive was not immediately clear, and investigators believe the individual had acted alone, Carper said.

The authorities did not disclose the shooter’s identity.

A total of 10 people were killed, including the assailant. Twenty-six others were injured and taken to hospitals across the area, Mayor Nan Whaley told reporters, though the extent of their injuries was not known.

She said the suspect was wearing body armor and was armed with a rifle firing .223-caliber rounds with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

FBI agents were assisting in the investigation.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Tim Reid in Las Vegas and Daniel Wallis in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Tornadoes rip through Kansas after one killed, scores hurt by Ohio twisters

A man named Luther cleans up his driveway of debris after a tornado touched down overnight in city of Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

BROOKVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) – Several tornadoes reportedly touched down on Tuesday evening in Kansas to damage homes, uproot trees and rip down power lines, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

About 20 tornadoes, including a large rain-wrapped twister near Kansas City, were reported to the NWS by storm chasers and spotters as news broadcast images of roofs torn off homes and roads scattered with debris and tree limbs.

“The house took a pretty good beating … but the main thing is that we are all safe,” homeowner Brian Perry told 41 Action News in Kansas City. “It was pretty wild, never been through anything like it in my life.”

The extent of the damage was unclear and there were no reports of fatalities or injuries.

The Kansas City International Airport said on Twitter that travelers found shelter in parking garage tunnels as the storms passed by the airfield. The airport later said it was closed as crews cleared debris.

The latest wave of tornadoes came a day after a spate of twisters pulverized buildings in western Ohio, killing one person, injuring scores and triggering a recovery effort in neighborhoods strewn with wreckage.

An 81-year-old man was killed in Celina, a small city 65 miles (105 km) north of Dayton, after a tornado sent a vehicle crashing into his home, Mayor Jeffrey Hazel told a news conference.

More than 300 tornadoes have ravaged the U.S. Midwest in the last two weeks, during an unusual onslaught of extreme weather.

The tornado in Celina, which touched down late on Monday, was at least an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, packing wind speeds of 136 mph to 165 mph (219 kph to 266 kph), said Patrick Marsh, a meteorologist at the federal Storm Prediction Center.

The storm injured seven people in Celina, three of them seriously, Hazel said, and about 40 homes there were seriously damaged or destroyed.

Two tornadoes categorized as EF3 or stronger also struck late on Monday near Dayton, including one just south of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Marsh said. An EF3 is just two scales lower than the most intense tornado possible, an EF5.

Damaged property is seen after a tornado in Lawrence, Kansas, U.S. in this still from a video taken May 28, 2019 obtained from social media. LOUIS CORTEZ /via REUTERS

Damaged property is seen after a tornado in Lawrence, Kansas, U.S. in this still from a video taken May 28, 2019 obtained from social media. LOUIS CORTEZ /via REUTERS

‘LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN’

Sue Taulbee, 71, was watching television in her bed in the Dayton suburb of Brookville when she heard an approaching twister.

“They say it’s like a freight train: That’s what I heard,” she recalled on Tuesday afternoon. She hid at the foot of the bed. Flying debris smashed her window and she was soon trapped as her home collapsed around her.

“It was only a couple of minutes, but it seemed like an hour,” she said as she sat in her yard, surrounded by her scattered possessions.

“I just started screaming and my neighbors heard me and said, ‘Sue! Sue! I hear you! We’re coming! We’re coming!'”

They pulled her out through a hole and brought her to a hospital to treat a cut on her head, she said.

After the twisters, Ohio Department of Transportation crews used snow plows to clear highways of debris.

The risk of more tornadoes continued into the night on Tuesday in some Midwest states and the mid-Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern New York, Marsh said.

‘THROWN AROUND’

Nearly 80 people in and around Dayton went to hospitals with injuries, said Elizabeth Long, a spokeswoman for the Kettering Health Network.

“We’ve had injuries ranging from lacerations to bumps and bruises from folks being thrown around in their houses due to the storms,” Long said.

The flurry of hundreds of tornadoes that has recently struck the Midwest was caused by the interaction of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, a strong jet stream and a weather front that has been locked in place, said Alex Lamers, a meteorologist with the federal Weather Prediction Center.

Joseph Taulbee, 21, Allyson Smith, 25, and Danielle,Taulbee, 24, work to collect memorabilia from their grandmother’s damaged house after a tornado touched down overnight in Brookville, near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

Nearly 55,000 homes and businesses in Ohio were without power on Tuesday, according to the PowerOutage.US tracking service, and officials advised people to boil water after water plants and pumps halted.

The latest storm follows tornadoes and floods that killed at least three people in Missouri and six people in Oklahoma during the previous week, including two in El Reno on Saturday.

Unexpected pipeline outages and refinery shutdowns over the past week – in part caused by bad weather in the U.S. Midwest – have roiled cash markets for both crude oil and refined products, traders said.

Rainfall could trigger flash flooding on Tuesday evening in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, said Brian Hurley, a senior meteorologist at the federal Weather Prediction Center.

(This story corrects dateline and name of Dayton suburb in paragraph 12 to Brookville, not Brookline)

(Reporting by Kyle Grillot in Brookville, Ohio; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez)