Officials 'horrified' after finding 53 dead in suspected human smuggling incident in Texas

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(SAN ANTONIO) -- Four men have been charged in connection with the alleged migrant smuggling operation that took the lives of 53 people who were trapped in the sweltering heat of a tractor-trailer in Texas.

Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, of Pasadena, Texas, was charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death on Wednesday. Zamorano was allegedly the driver of the truck that was found outside San Antonio. Mexican investigators said the driver allegedly tried to pass himself off to authorities as one of the surviving migrants.

On Tuesday, police arrested Christian Martinez, 28, in Palestine, Texas, after they discovered he was in contact with Zamorano about the alleged smuggling operation.

If convicted, Zamorano and Martinez face up to life in prison and possibly the death penalty.

Martinez had a court appearance on Tuesday and is being transported to San Antonio, while Zamorano has a scheduled court appearance for Thursday, authorities said.

Two other men have been arrested in connection with the truck deaths on gun charges, according to federal authorities.

Juan Claudio D'Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D'Luna-Bilbao were identified as unauthorized migrants in possession of multiple weapons, according to federal authorities.

D'Luna-Bilbao was traced to the semi-truck when he was seen near the residence connected to the truck's registration, according to a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives affidavit. After he was stopped by police, Bilboa allegedly admitted to possessing a firearm, according to court documents.

D'Luna-Mendez was also stopped near the residence connected to the semi-truck's registration, where he allegedly admitted to possessing multiple firearms at the home.

D'Luna-Mendez and D'Luna-Bilbao have detention hearings scheduled for Friday. They face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison plus fines on the ATF charges.

The incident unfolded in the southcentral Texas city on Monday evening at around 5:50 p.m. local time, when a nearby worker heard a cry for help and found the tractor-trailer with the doors partially opened and the bodies of 46 people inside, according to San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus and San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood.

The trailer was refrigerated but did not have a visibly working air-conditioning unit and there were no signs of water inside, according to Hood.

An additional 16 people -- 12 adults and four children -- had been transported to area hospitals in what officials called a "mass casualty event."

The victims taken to hospitals were hot to the touch and all suffering from heat stroke and heat exhaustion, Hood said. There were no child fatalities that authorities know of so far, he added.

"They suffered, horrendously, could have been for hours," Hood said.

Chris Magnus, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told reporters he was "horrified" by the incident.

"Horrified at this tragic loss of life near San Antonio," Magnus said Monday. "This speaks to the desperation of migrants who would put their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who show no regard for human life."

Of the 53 bodies in the custody of the medical examiner's office, 40 are male and 13 are female, the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office said Wednesday

Rebeca Clay-Flores, the Bexar County Precinct 1 commissioner, said at a press conference Tuesday that some of those found are under the age of 18, likely teenagers.

Thirty-seven of the victims have potential identification, officials said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said those who have been identified so far were from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. The criminal investigation remains ongoing, as Homeland Security Investigations and its partners continue to work to identify all of the victims, according to ICE.

It's the deadliest incident of human smuggling in U.S. history, an HSI spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, citing information provided by U.S. authorities, said the dead included 22 Mexican citizens, seven Guatemalan citizens and two Honduran citizens. The other victims have yet to be identified and Mexico is working with the U.S. on an investigation, according to Ebrard.

"We are in mourning," Ebrard said in a statement Tuesday via Twitter. "Huge tragedy."

Hood told ABC News that the the smell of meat tenderizer, which was reportedly put on top of the bodies before the suspects fled, was overwhelming.

Hood said there were personal items near where the bodies were found, including prayer cards in Spanish and a new pair of Air Jordans.

President Joe Biden issued a statement Tuesday calling the deaths "horrifying and heartbreaking," blaming the criminal smuggling industry for preying on migrants. Biden also highlighted the anti-smuggling campaign the U.S. has launched with its partners, saying they have made more than 2,400 arrests.

"Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my Administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry," Biden said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed Wednesday that the truck had not been inspected by Border Patrol, despite passing through a border checkpoint.

"It was not inspected because the Border Patrol does not have the resources to be able to inspect all of the trucks," Abbott said.

Abbott announced that the Texas Department of Public Safety will add additional truck checkpoints, beginning immediately. He said they will target trucks like the one involved in the migrants' deaths.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar sent Biden a letter, requesting a meeting and assistance. Salazar wrote he was "angry" that he has made several appeals to the administration, without response. He also criticized the "lack of action" that has allowed Abbott to use this as a "campaign stunt."

Making statements Wednesday, Abbott blamed Biden, saying Biden was warned in advance that reduced border enforcement would lead to dire consequences. Abbott said those consequences are a record number of people crossing the border illegally, a greater sense of lawlessness coming from not enforcing the law, increased brazenness by cartels because the federal government is not pushing back against them and the death of the 53 people on the truck.

"Many of these deaths could be prevented if Biden simply fully funded the border patrol operation of the United States of America and implemented the policies that the border patrol needs in order to do their real job and their real job is not the paper-processing work that they have been assigned to do. Their real job is both to secure the border as well as to do things like inspect the vehicle that was carrying those people who lost their lives," Abbott said.

ICE said initially that HSI agents found more than 40 deceased individuals upon arrival at the scene on Monday when responding to a call from the San Antonio Police Department regarding "an alleged human smuggling event."

"HSI continues its enforcement efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities," ICE said in its statement. "We will continue to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of those smuggled. To report suspicious activity, we encourage people to call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. All calls are kept confidential."

HSI is the arm of ICE responsible for taking down smuggling networks.

The San Antonio Fire Department confirmed to ABC News that HSI and CBP are taking over the investigation from local authorities.

CBP is the umbrella agency of the U.S. Border Patrol, which responded to assist at the scene and is supporting ICE in the federal investigation, according to Magnus, the CBP commissioner.

"We will be working with our federal, state and local partners to assist in every way possible with this investigation," Magnus told reporters Monday night.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration will "continue to take action to disrupt human smuggling networks which have no regard for lives."

"Our prayers are with those who tragically lost their lives, their loved ones, as well as those still fighting for their lives. We are also grateful for the swift work of federal, state and local first responders," Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.

When asked about the criticism from Republicans, including Abbott, who say Biden's border policies have led to dangerous journeys for immigrants, Jean-Pierre said the White House is focused on the victims and their families.

"But the fact of the matter is, the border is closed, which is in part why you see people trying to make this dangerous journey using smuggling networks," Jean-Pierre said.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas took to Twitter to say that he was "heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives."

"Far too many lives have been lost as individuals -- including families, women, and children -- take this dangerous journey," he tweeted Monday night. "Human smugglers are callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit. We will work alongside our partners to hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable and continue to take action to disrupt smuggling networks."

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security released more details on the Biden administration's efforts to combat human smuggling and unauthorized migration in conjunction with the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles.

The series of operations launched across the Western Hemisphere is part of the largest human smuggling crackdown ever seen in the region, with more than 1,300 deployed personnel and nearly 2,000 smugglers arrested in just two months.

Agencies from across the administration, including the intelligence community and the U.S. Treasury Department, have engaged to disrupt smuggling operations in real-time and strip down the financial backing of the transnational criminal organizations that coordinate these crimes.

"The Biden administration is focused on putting these organizations out of business," DHS said in a recent statement prior to Monday's incident. "But human smuggling is, by definition, a transnational problem and we are committed to working with our regional partners in the Americas to commit our collective expertise and resources to put an end to human smuggling."

ABC News' Luke Barr, Marilyn Heck, Matt Gutman, Robert Zepeda, Anne Laurent, Scottye Kennedy and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

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Manhunt underway after 2 sheriff's deputies shot in Alabama

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(BIBB COUNTY, Ala.) -- A manhunt is underway in Alabama for a suspect who allegedly shot two Bibb County Sheriff's deputies, officials said.

The shooting occurred Wednesday afternoon on Highway 25 in the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area during the pursuit of a stolen vehicle, according to Bibb County District Attorney Michael Jackson.

The condition of the deputies has not been released at this time.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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3.5 magnitude earthquake strikes South Carolina

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(ELGIN, S.C.) -- A 3.5 magnitude earthquake struck near Elgin, South Carolina, on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed.

The latest quake comes after a 3.4 earthquake hit the area, 6.4 miles from Elgin, on Sunday.

More than 3,000 people reported feeling Wednesday’s quake, according to USGS. Due to the shallow nature of the earthquake, it could be felt in a wider area, the agency said.

South Carolina has been the site of a few earthquakes already this year.

In May, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake struck Columbia and was felt in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, according to ABC News affiliate WPDE in Florence, South Carolina.

Elgin is 25 miles from Columbia.

While other states, such as California, often draw more attention for having earthquakes, South Carolina experiences between 10 and 15 earthquakes a year, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said.

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NTSB chair says unheeded recommendations might have prevented deadly Missouri Amtrak crash

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(MENDON, Mo.) -- Federal investigators are working to determine if an Amtrak train was traveling at a speed limit of 90 mph when it plowed into a dump truck at a Missouri railroad crossing, killing four people and injuring 150, officials said.

Jennifer Homendy, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said she expects investigators to know by the end of Wednesday the exact speed of the train after analyzing information from its event recorder.

"In this area, the speed limit is 90 miles per hour," Homendy said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The crash unfolded at 12:43 p.m. Monday, when the Amtrak train -- comprised of two locomotives, six coach cars, cafe car and a baggage car -- crashed into the rear of a truck hauling aggregate, or crushed rock, to a nearby Army Corps of Engineers project. The collision caused the train to completely derail, sending the locomotive and cars toppling onto their sides, according to the NTSB.

The train was en route from Los Angeles to Chicago with 275 passengers and 12 crew members on board at the time of the crash, Amtrak said. Three people aboard the train were killed and 150 passengers and crew were injured. A person in the dump truck was also killed.

The dead passengers were identified on Wednesday by the Missouri State Highway Patrol as Binh Pham, 82, of Kansas City, Missouri, and Rochelle Cook, 57, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of Desoto, Kansas. The driver of the dump truck who was killed was identified as Billy Barton II, 53, of Brookfield, Missouri, according to the highway patrol.

Homendy said the crash occurred at what she described as a "passive crossing" that was not controlled by railroad crossing bars, flashing warning lights or bells.

Homendy expressed frustration that NTSB recommendations made as far back as 1998 to upgrade passive crossings to "active crossings" -- ones that are controlled by crossing bars, lights and bells -- have not been heeded.

“Anytime our recommendations aren’t heeded, of course, I’m upset because we see tragedy after tragedy after tragedy and numerous fatalities and injuries," Homendy said. "It’s very frustrating for our investigators, very frustrating, when they are on scene and they know what would have prevented this."

She said the cost of upgrading the crossing grade where the wreck occurred would have cost roughly $400,000.

“I do not have concerns about mechanical failure about the train, any mechanical issues with the train. We do not have concerns about the track," Homendy said. "Our concerns are very focused on this grade crossing, the approach to the grade crossing and survivability after an accident."

Homendy said she confirmed with the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation that the crossing was on a list of crossings they wanted to upgrade.

She said the funds to upgrade the crossing would come from Chariton County, the state and the BNSF Railway Co., which owns and operates the track.

However, Homendy noted that there are 3,500 similar passive railroad crossing in the Missouri, or about half of the state's railroad crossings.

Nationwide, there are 130,000 passive railroad crossings, Homendy said.

The NTSB also recommended in 1998 that roadway vehicles include technology for roadway that could alert drivers of the presence of a train on an approach to a grade crossing.

"We still don’t see action on that. It’s been 24 years and that recommendation is still as important today as it was in 1998. Lives could be saved," Homendy said.

Mike Spencer, a farmer in the Mendon area, told ABC affiliate station KMBC in Kansas City, Missouri, that he's warned local officials that the crossing was dangerous, particularly for drivers unfamiliar with the crossing. Spencer said the crossing has a steep incline that rises 6 feet and because the railroad tracks sit at an angle, it's difficult to see train approaching trains.

Spencer said he was once almost hit by a train at the same crossing.

"I was afraid this was going to happen to somebody that was not really familiar with the crossing and how to approach it," Spencer said. "It's just a nightmare. I look at this and I just can't believe it."

Spencer said he has been working with the Chariton County commissioners to make some safety changes at the crossing and other and others in the area. He said he thought the changes were going to be made in 2021, but they were put off.

Meanwhile, a law firm announced Wednesday that it has been hired by a Kansas couple who was injured in the crash.

Kristofer Riddle, a partner at the Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, said his firm is launching its own investigation into the crash as part of a pending lawsuit against Amtrak and the company that owned the dump truck involved in the crash.

"Uncontrolled grade crossings are inherently dangerous," Riddle said in a statement. "Clifford Law Offices will conduct its own investigation into what occurred, but inevitably negligence is involved, and the stakes are very high when a high-speed passenger train is involved."

Clifford's law firm was part of a legal team that won a $16.75 lawsuit against Amtrak in a 2017 train derailment in DuPont, Washington, that killed three people and injured 65. The law firm is also suing Amtrak and the BNSF Railway Co. on behalf of 40 passengers injured in 2021 train derailment near Joplin, Montana.

"We continue to receive inquiries from others who were aboard the train in Missouri," Riddle said. "People want answers, and they deserve answers."

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Outrage after man accused of killing Chinese food delivery worker released on bail


(NEW YORK) -- The widow of a Chinese food delivery worker who was fatally shot is speaking out after her husband's alleged killer was released on bail.

Glenn Hirsch, 51, was arrested in New York City on June 1 for the alleged murder of Zhiwen Yan, a Chinese food delivery worker, who was shot in the chest on April 30 while riding his scooter in the neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens.

A judge ordered Hirsch to be released to home confinement on Monday after posting $500,000 in bail.

"I am devastated and heartbroken that the person who targeted and killed my husband has been released on bail. He is a danger to our community and his presence in the community where I live and work makes me feel unsafe," Yan's wife, Eva Zhao, said in a statement obtained by ABC News on Tuesday. "I thank the District Attorney and the police for their efforts in obtaining and enforcing an order of protection for me, and I have faith that we will get justice for my husband, Zhiwen Yan."

The Queens District Attorney's Office told ABC News on Wednesday that although prosecutors "asked the court to remand the defendant without bail, the court set bail in a very substantial amount while agreeing to impose conditions we requested, including house arrest and electronic monitoring. Any violation of the terms or conditions could result in bail being revoked."

The DA's office added that prosecutors ensured that Hirsch was fitted with an electronic monitoring device prior to his release to home confinement.

Hirsch was arrested earlier this month and charged with 10 counts, the most serious of which is second-degree murder, as well as several counts of criminal possession of a weapon and stalking, according to charging documents obtained by ABC News.

If convicted, Hirsch could face as much as life in prison, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

"As alleged, a petty dispute over a take-out order became an obsessive point of contention for the defendant who began to stalk and harass employees at the restaurant for months," Katz said in a statement on June 2. "The tragic end result was the murder of a hard-working employee, who left behind a devastated family and a grieving community."

Hirsch pleaded not guilty on June 3 according to New York ABC station WABC. At the time, his attorney told reporters he believes that authorities arrested "the wrong man," WABC reported.

ABC News has reached out to Hirsch's attorney, Michael Horn, for additional comment.

Yan, 45, worked at a Chinese restaurant in Queens called The Great Wall for more than 20 years and had three jobs to support his wife and his young daughter, WABC reported in May.

According to prosecutors, the suspect was a customer of The Great Wall who had multiple prior disagreements with the establishment over orders, including a dispute over the amount of duck sauce he received in an order. Hirsch menaced the restaurant manager with a gun and twice vandalized vehicles owned by his staff, police told ABC News.

In one instance, Hirsch arrived at The Great Wall with a gun drawn asking "do you remember me," and then proceeded to slash the restaurant owner's tires, according to Katz.

A witness told police that an older model Lexus SUV fled the murder scene, the same type of vehicle driven by Hirsch.

Authorities said in May that the shooter fired several times before fleeing eastbound on 67th Drive in a gray or tan sedan.

Ahead of Hirsch's release on bail, several New York lawmakers, including Rep. Grace Meng, issued a joint statement on Saturday opposing his potential release and calling it "terrifying and unsettling."

"Someone who is a clear and present danger should not be released back into the community that still grieves Zhiwen Yan's death," the lawmakers said. "We have been in touch with the 112th Precinct to get assurances that Glenn Hirsch's weapons have been confiscated and won't be returned to him if bail is granted, that he won't be able to legally purchase additional firearms, and that his movements will be closely monitored including a ban on going near the Great Wall Restaurant and its delivery zones."

Hirsch's wife, Dorothy Hirsch, was arrested on June 3 on weapons charges after authorities seized 8 handguns and ammunition from her home, according to charging documents obtained by ABC News.

Dorothy Hirsch, 62, was charged with several counts of unlawful possession of firearms and is out on $150,000 bail. Her attorney Mark Bederow told ABC News in a phone interview on Wednesday that she pleaded not guilty and her next court date is July 12.

"She is not guilty of knowingly possessing firearms which were found in a closet being utilized by Glenn Hirsch to store his junk in large trash bags and boxes," Bederow said, adding that while the couple maintained separate residences, the couple was not separated and Glenn Hirsch had a closet at his wife's apartment.

"She had no knowledge of those items being in the apartment. We believe this is a heavy-handed leverage ploy to gain her cooperation in the case against him which she had nothing to do with," Bederow added.

Yan's death came amid a spate of attacks and a rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in New York City and across the nation.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky and Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.

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Museum director ousted amid FBI investigation into purported Basquiat paintings

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(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The director of a Florida art museum has been ousted amid a federal investigation into the authenticity of more than two dozen paintings purportedly by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that were on view in the institution's blockbuster show.

The exhibition, "Heroes and Monsters," at the Orlando Museum of Art, has been under scrutiny since a New York Times report published upon its opening in February raised questions about the authenticity of the pieces, including one that featured a FedEx cardboard shipping box with a typeface that an expert said wasn't used until after the artist's death in 1988.

On Friday, days before the exhibition was scheduled to end, the FBI Art Crime Team based out of Los Angeles executed a federal search warrant at the museum as part of a federal investigation, an FBI spokesperson said.

According to an affidavit in the search warrant to seize the 25 paintings, the FBI is investigating alleged conspiracy and wire fraud in connection with the artwork. The pieces were purportedly created in 1982 and found in a storage locker owned by the late TV producer Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. whose contents were sold at auction in 2012.

In an interview with the FBI in 2014, four years before his death, Mumford denied ever having any Basquiat artwork and was unaware of the artist's work being stored in his storage locker, according to the affidavit. Several experts who spoke with the FBI agent also "have opined that the artwork is not authentic," the affidavit stated.

The affidavit included an email sent by the museum's ousted director and CEO, Aaron De Groft, to an art professor paid $60,000 by the owners of the artwork to assess several pieces who was requesting that her name not be associated with the exhibition.

"Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou," De Groft wrote, according to the affidavit. "Be quiet now is my best advice. These are real and legit. You know this. You are threatening the wrong people. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane."

On Tuesday, Cynthia Brumback, chair of the Orlando Museum of Art's Board of Trustees, announced that De Groft is no longer director and CEO of the museum "effective immediately."

"The Orlando Museum of Art's Board of Trustees is extremely concerned about several issues with regard to the 'Heroes and Monsters' exhibition, including the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition," Brumback said in a statement.

ABC News did not immediately hear back from De Groft for comment.

The highly anticipated museum exhibition garnered crowds eager to see the paintings, even while their authenticity was under question. Museum attendance went up 500% since the exhibit went on display, ABC Orlando affiliate WFTV reported.

Amid the controversy, Brumback said Tuesday that the museum has "launched an official process to address these matters, as they are inconsistent with the values of this institution, our business standards, and our standards of conduct."

Prior to the FBI raid, De Groft defended the exhibition.

"We stand by our industrial, rigorous, academic process," he told reporters in February. "They were authenticated before we were involved by major, major specialists that put their entire reputations on the line.”

The authenticity of at least one of the pieces is called into question over the inclusion of a FedEx logo, according to the affidavit.

"Forensic information indicates that the cardboard on which one painting was made contains a typeface that was created in 1994, after Basquiat had passed," the affidavit stated.

As part of its investigation, the FBI has uncovered attempts to sell the paintings "using false provenance," and what appear to be investments via wire transfer in "artwork that is not authentic," according to the affidavit.

The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed yet, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California told ABC News Wednesday.

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Endangered red wolf populations could be revived with 'ghost' genes from coyotes, scientists say

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(NEW YORK) -- Scientists are hopeful that the endangered red wolf population, absent from the wild for decades, could be revived now that a significant portion of its DNA has been found in wild coyote populations.

Red wolves have not existed in the wild along the Gulf Coast -- southwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas -- since the last known members of the species were captured in 1980 to establish a captive breeding population, according to a study published in Science Advances on Wednesday.

Researchers who studied coyotes in Louisiana that historically mated with the red wolves found that pockets of the coyote populations carry diverse red wolf "ghost alleles," a genetic variant that has disappeared from a population, which could help bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

Red wolves, or Canis rufus, are categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, with just an estimated 20 to 30 left in the wild along the coast of North Carolina.

The decline of the population is "all human-based," Bridgett VonHoldt, an associate professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University and the lead author of the study, told ABC News. This included human activity as well as predator elimination programs that began in the late 1800s to wipe out animals such as bears, big cats, wolves and coyotes to protect livestock, she said.

As the 1960s approached, there were much fewer observations of red wolves, which were declining as a species as coyotes were expanding, VonHoldt said.

Scientists sampled coyotes in several populations in Louisiana, gathering genomic and morphologic data to investigate the extent of which the coyotes serve as a reservoir for lost red wolf genetic variation, according to the study,.

The researchers found that the coyotes with the longest and oldest chromosomal fragments of red wolf ancestry live in the isolated wetlands of Cameron Parish, along the Gulf Coast near the Texas border, which includes a property that does not permit wildlife hunting and trapping.

Coyotes with higher percentages of red wolf autosomal ancestry were also found to be heavier on average than coyotes without that genetic ancestry, something the researchers found "incredibly strange," VonHoldt said, adding that these particular wolves carry upwards of 60% to 70% of red wolf genetic fata.

"When you define a species, there are several aspects that go into that definition -- and how they interact with each other," she said. "So by all means, these animals are coyotes. But when we look at their ancestry and their body measurements, they are larger than typical coyotes."

Now, the researchers are seeking to understand whether the coyotes are acting different, perhaps using the land differently, to survive -- especially since so they are much larger than a typical coyote, VonHoldt said.

Red wolves are distinctive from coyotes by their larger bodies, larger ears and wider skulls, VonHoldt said. Coyotes are "much more narrow," with "pointy" ears. Red wolves also maintain packs, a trait coyotes do not generally share, but "they can and they will" if necessary, VonHoldt said.

Previous conservation paradigm suggested that hybrid species were a threat to endangered parental species, especially for mammals, Kristin Brzeski, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. Instead, the coyotes are serving as a reservoir for the ghost genetics of an animal declared extinct in the wild more than 40 years ago, and the research is contributing to the growing awareness of the conservation value of hybrid species, VonHoldt said.

"This is, I think, a very beautiful moment where hybrids might be the answer the solution to saving a species," VonHoldt said.

The findings suggest that using less lethal strategies to manage coyote populations will enable the red wolf genetic ancestry to persist, even though the species no longer exists in the wild, according to the study.

The researchers also suggest that Louisiana should be prioritized as a potential site for reintroducing red wolves in the wild in the future.

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After 18-month-old dies in hot car, dad dies by apparent suicide: Police

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(CHESTERFIELD, Va.) -- A Virginia father died by an apparent suicide after finding his son dead inside his hot car, authorities said.

It appears the father accidentally left the 18-month-old in the car for at least three hours on Tuesday, leading to the child's death, Lt. Col. Christopher Hensley of the Chesterfield Police Department said at a news conference.

When the boy didn't arrive at daycare, the father apparently realized the toddler was in his car, Hensley said.

Around noon, family members called police to report that the father was talking about dying by suicide in the woods behind his house. The father was the only person home at the time, Hensley said.

Responding officers found the car in the driveway with an open door and an empty child seat, Hensley said.

Officers went into the home where they found the dead 18-month-old boy, he said.

As officers continued to check the perimeter, they found the father dead in the woods from an apparent gunshot wound, he said.

Hensley called it a "horrible tragedy on so many levels."

This marks the eighth child to die from a hot car this year, according to national nonprofit More than 1,000 kids have died from hot cars since 1990, the organization said.

Click here for tips on how to keep children safe from hot cars this summer.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Rices Fire leads to evacuations in Nevada, 700 firefighters responding

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(NEVADA COUNTY, Calif.) -- At least 700 firefighters are battling the Rices Fire in northern California on Wednesday, where hundreds of residents have been evacuated from their homes, officials said.

The fire, which has burned 769 acres and is 0% contained as of Wednesday morning, has led to mandatory and warning evacuation orders, according to the Nevada County Sheriff's Office. It has impacted 355 homes and other buildings in the area, according to local officials.

The fire is expected to be fully contained on July 1, according to a Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit report on Wednesday.

There are no reported civilian injuries, and one reported firefighter injury.

Evacuation warnings and orders remained active for 12 zones on Tuesday night, according to police.

"Today, the fire exhibited active fire behavior with wind driven runs and single tree spotting and long range spotting. It is burning in dormant brush, hardwood slash and brush," a statement from Cal Fire said on Wednesday.

Steep and rugged terrain, critically dry and receptive fuel beds, and drought have led to the continued fire activity, authorities said.

Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Chief Brian Estes said the fire has been burning to the north and northeast towards the Yuba River drainage.

"If it does go into the over the Yuba River drainage and crosses that drainage that crosses into Yuba County from Nevada County then we could have some tremendous impacts to the communities of Dobbins, Oregon House and Brownsville," Estes said in a press conference on Tuesday evening.

The fire began around 2 p.m. on Tuesday off Rices Crossing Road and Cranston Road, according to the Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit.

Four structures were confirmed to be destroyed as of Wednesday morning. An additional 500 buildings are threatened along with South Yuba State Park, officials said.

Estes said the Rices fire is already a massive operation and it's vital to contain the fire before it spreads further.

"I think we're going to see a trend for Northern California to start to see more large fires, and so we have a long summer ahead of us," Estes said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to Cal Fire.

The Madelyn Helling Library is open as a shelter for residents forced to evacuate and animals can be taken to the Nevada County Fairgrounds for shelter, according to the sheriff's office.

"We make sure that we have lots of law enforcement personnel in the areas to make sure that the people that are in that area are supposed to be there," Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon said at a Tuesday evening conference. "We want to make sure that we don't have any looting."

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Man gored by bison at Yellowstone National Park in 2nd attack this year

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(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- A 34-year-old man is recovering from injuries sustained at Yellowstone National Park after he was charged at and brutally gored by a bison when he and his family got too close to the animal.

The incident occurred near Giant Geyser at Old Faithful on Monday when the unidentified man from Colorado Springs, Colorado, was walking with his family on a boardwalk at Yellowstone National Park when a bull bison began charging at them, according to a press release issued by the park.

“Family members did not leave the area, and the bull bison continued to charge and gored the male,” the statement from Yellowstone continued. “The male sustained an injury to his arm and was transported by ambulance to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.”

It is unclear whether the family had gotten too close to the animal or if the attack was unprovoked but Yellowstone officials confirmed that the incident remains under investigation and did not disclose any further information on the man’s condition.

Yellowstone warned that park regulations mandate people stay at least 25 yards away from bison at all times because they are unpredictable animals and can run three times faster than humans can.

“This is the second reported incident in 2022 of a visitor getting too close to the animal and the bison responding to the perceived threat by goring the individual,” said Yellowstone National Park.

That incident occurred just last month on May 30 when a 25-year-old woman from Grove City, Ohio, approached a bison within 10 feet near Black Sand Basin, located just north of Old Faithful at Yellowstone, causing the animal to charge at her. The victim was subsequently gored by the bison and tossed 10 feet into the air before she was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment, according to a statement from Yellowstone National Park released at the time of the incident.

“Yellowstone’s scenic wonders are sure to take your breath away: don’t let them take your life,” warns Yellowstone National Park on its page online for park safety. Some of the rules highlighted by the park include never approach wildlife, stay on boardwalks and trails in thermal areas, and never feed wildlife.

“Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal,” says the park. “Always stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from bison.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

LGBTQ+ community facing increased social media bias, author says

Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- LGBTQ+ social media content creators are increasingly complaining about their posts being taken down, a practice labeled as “the digital closet” by researcher Alexander Monea.

Monea, who is a professor of English and cultural studies at George Mason University, spent two years digging through data sets and tracking down different anecdotes from users of major social media platforms who reported being censored, silenced or demonetized in different ways to write his book, “The Digital Closet,” which details the policing of online spaces focused on the LGBTQ+ community.

“It has historically been the case that these companies never release damning information unless absolutely compelled to,” said Monea.

Monea's work is an example of the growing field of research that focuses on how LGBTQ+ people, including youth, sex workers and other internet users, experience the internet in a different way than heterosexual people.

"Once the internet is largely controlled by a very few companies that all use an advertising model to drive their revenue, what you get is an over-policed sort of internet space," he told ABC News' "Perspective" podcast.

“It’s a particularly difficult time for LGBTQ+ people on social media,” said Jenni Olson, the senior director of social media safety at the LGBTQ+ advocacy non-profit GLAAD.

“We are doing our best to monitor and hold the platforms accountable,” she said, “to point things out to them, hold their feet to the fire and insist that they do better.”

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience online harassment than any other group surveyed by the Anti-Defamation League in their 2022 report.

Online harassment is experienced by 66% of LGBTQ+ individuals, compared to 38% of non-LGBTQ+ individuals, according to the report, which was released this month.

Of the 2,330 LGBTQ+ and non- LGBTQ+ adults surveyed who experienced harassment on social media, 68% percent said they've experienced harassment on Facebook, among other platforms, 26% named Instagram, 23% named Twitter and 20% named YouTube.

The 2021 GLAAD Social Media Safety Index found “inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms and discriminatory AI which disproportionately impacts LGBTQ users and other marginalized communities” on the five major social media companies: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

The report makes recommendations, ranging from improving community guidelines, fact-checking and content moderation to hiring a more diverse workforce.

Recently, GLAAD’s advocacy led to TikTok adding community guidelines banning misgendering and dead-naming, which is the practice of calling a trans person by their former name, according to Olson. TikTok now joins Twitter and Pinterest in having LGBTQ+ sensitive community guidelines, said Olson.

Last week, President Joe Biden took the first steps in establishing a task force that would investigate online harassment and abuse, particularly targeted at women, youth and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

A day prior, he signed an executive order to “advance equality” for LGBTQ+ Americans, with provisions to prevent the practice of “conversion therapy” and expanding support services for LGBTQ+ youth.

In their recent survey of the content on Meta’s platforms Facebook and Instagram published over the past year, the non-profit media watchdog organization Media Matters found nearly 1,000 violations of the company’s own hate speech policy, including anti-LGBTQ+ content that includes misinformation.

A spokesperson for Meta told ABC News "our policies prohibit hate speech and harassment on Facebook and Instagram,” and cited statistics that “in the last quarter alone, the prevalence of harassment and bullying content decreased to 0.09% on Facebook and about 0.05% on Instagram, and the prevalence of hate speech was at 0.02% on Facebook and Instagram due to significant efforts on our part.”

“We are committed to improving our policies so that people feel safe on our platforms. We will continue to work with civil rights organizations to address issues around speech and social media,” they added.

Alexander Monea’s research is focused broadly on the different mechanisms, ranging from advertising incentives to pressure from conservative legislators, that he says has created a dynamic he calls “heteronormative enforcement.”

This dynamic falls into three categories he describes as an over-blocking of LGBTQ+ content online, an uneven enforcement of content that falls into a gray-area of “things that talk about sex and pornography but aren't sex and pornography” and a content bottle-neck that favors heterosexual porn.

“The internet is largely controlled by a very few companies that all use an advertising model to drive their revenue,” he said, "which results in “an over-policed sort of internet space.”

A 2019 report by the cybersecurity intelligence company found that 73% of safe LGBTQ+ related news articles were being blocked from hosting advertisements.

Monea says he has found queer creators, who rely on the internet to distribute their content, frequently complain of their posts being taken down.

This dynamic has created what he describes as a “digital closet,” whereby LGBTQ+ users have difficulty producing and distributing content online, and connecting on social media without facing harassment and misinformation.

Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic who identifies as trans, says a tweet of hers directed at Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was taken down last week without an explanation.

Caraballo’s original tweet, which she shared with ABC News via email, read: “@ChristinaPushaw This was pulled from a widely circulated nazi meme 3 years ago of a facebook post from burlesque dancer who is a cis woman. This was not drag, nor did it happen in dallas. Care to comment why you’re resharing nazi disinformation and propaganda?”

The original tweet by Pushaw, which features a photo of a performer at a burlesque show posted alongside a tweet about DeSantis’ statement about drag shows, has not been taken down at the time of this article’s publication.

“I was targeted specifically for this moderation,” says Caraballo, “and it felt highly political.”

Caraballo, whose Twitter handle is @Esqueer_, says she was targeted because she publicly identifies as trans, and because the intention of her post was to stop what she calls an “anti-LGBTQ+ smear.”

"Keeping people safe on Twitter, and enforcing against content that could result in offline harm, continue to be top priorities for our teams," a spokesperson for Twitter told ABC News.

"We are committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized."

Twitter declined to comment on Alejandra Caraballo's case.

Linda Charmaraman, who is the director of Wellesley College’s Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab, recently completed a research study that found LGBTQ+ youth were more likely to have smaller social networks online and to share less personal information.

Although Charmaraman’s research did not find that LGBTQ+ youth experienced different levels of harassment online, Charmaraman attributes the findings to “​​the history of sexual minorities facing a lot of different kinds of harassment in school and out of school,” she says.

The upside, she adds, is that these youth are “more likely to join online groups that make them feel less lonely, so they can actually seek to find places where they belong online.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Developing tropical storm targets Caribbean as Houston braces for possible tropical depression

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Three tropical systems are churning in the Atlantic basin that could develop into a tropical storm or tropical depression over the next two days.

The closest system to the U.S. is near the Texas coast. It has a 40% chance of strengthening into a tropical depression as it moves on shore just south of Houston in the next 24 hours.

Up to six inches of rain is possible south of Houston and three to four inches is expected for Houston itself Wednesday night through Friday morning. Street flooding is possible.

The second system is in the southern Caribbean and has a 90% chance of developing into Tropical Storm Bonnie.

Gusty winds and heavy rain are expected in Aruba and life-threatening flash flooding is forecast for Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The third tropical system is now moving through the central Atlantic and will be hovering over the eastern Caribbean by this weekend. This storm may bring heavy rain and gusty winds to Puerto Rico for the 4th of July.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ben Crump joins legal team of Black man injured while transported by New Haven police

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has joined the legal team of Richard "Randy" Cox, a 36-year-old Black man who was injured while being transported by New Haven police in the back of a van.

Crump held a news conference with Cox's family members in Connecticut Tuesday, along with co-counsel Jack O'Donnell and Louis Rubano, as well as local government and civil rights leaders.

New Haven police arrested Cox on June 18 for allegedly unlawfully possessing a firearm, without incident, after a person attending a block party reported that Cox was carrying a gun. Video of the arrest shows the officers then placed Cox in the back of a police van without seatbelts.

During an abrupt stop, Cox was thrown head-first into the back wall of the van, his lawyers said, and the video shows. When the van arrived at the police station, the video shows, he was still lying on the floor of the vehicle. Cox can be heard in the video telling the officers that he couldn't move.

The surveillance video of the incident indicates that the officer driving the van and other officers present flouted protocol, the police department and Cox's lawyers said, failing to wait for medical assistance and dismissing Cox's pleas for help, allegedly assuming he was drunk.

In the video, one of the officers can be heard saying, "He just drank too much" and then later asks Cox, "Did you have any drugs or alcohol?" and "How much did you have to drink?" The footage also shows the officers dragging Cox by his feet and throwing him into a wheelchair, which his lawyers said could have exacerbated his already life-threatening injuries.

The case has prompted a state investigation and resulted in the officers involved being placed on administrative duty.

Crump said Cox's case reminded him of the death of Freddie Gray, a Black man who was killed in 2015 while also being transported in a police van. Gray's death was ascribed to injuries to his spinal cord.

"This is the Freddie Gray case on video," Crump said. "Thank God, we got the video, so they can't deny what happens. They can't deny that they had a man handcuffed and put him in the back of this paddy wagon inappropriately and drove."

Cox's oldest sister, LaQuavius LeGrant, 39, said although he is in stable condition, Cox is currently paralyzed from the neck down, requiring a ventilator, breathing tube and feeding tube to survive. He is currently unable to talk and is unlikely to walk again, she said.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking to go to that hospital room, the ICU, to look in his eyes -- his eyes are awake -- and can't do anything about it," she said. "Knowing that he would never walk again possibly, it's disheartening. What happened is unacceptable and it's inexcusable."

Through tears, Doreen Coleman, Cox's mother, said she and her family are nevertheless praying for Cox's full recovery.

"I don't want to see my son in that damn room with that thing on his neck, on his face," she said. "I want him to keep coming in and out of the house, saying, 'You alright? You need to go eat,' or 'You need something?' Now I don't know how long it's going to be before he gets to go outside."

LaToya Boomer, another one of Cox's sisters, said she could barely finish watching the surveillance video of her brother. She demanded that the officers be held accountable for their actions.

"I'm calling for the officers involved to be fired and arrested," she said. "And I'm calling for any bystanders that was watching but didn't participate, that didn't say anything, for them to be suspended and retrained because I always say, if you see something, say something, intervene."

"Nobody said anything," she added.

Crump also raised allegations that the officer driving the van could have been speeding or texting while driving. He said Cox's family and legal team are demanding transparency from the police department about whether this was, in fact, the case.

The New Haven Police Department did not respond to ABC News' request for comment. ABC News also reached out to the New Haven Police Union.

"We want the cell phone records. We want the transcripts from the inner department communications. We want the policies and procedures," Crump said. "We're going to fully explore ... every possible legal remedy to give full justice, not just partial justice, but full justice to the family of Randy Cox and Randy Cox himself."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Man gored by bison at Yellowstone National Park in second attack this year

National Park Service / Jim Peaco

(IDAHO FALLS, Idaho) -- A 34-year-old man is recovering from injuries sustained at Yellowstone National Park after he was charged at and brutally gored by a bison when he and his family got too close to the animal.

The incident occurred near Giant Geyser at Old Faithful on Monday when the unidentified man from Colorado Springs, Colorado, was walking with his family on a boardwalk at Yellowstone National Park when a bull bison began charging at them, according to a press release issued by the park.

“Family members did not leave the area, and the bull bison continued to charge and gored the male,” the statement from Yellowstone continued. “The male sustained an injury to his arm and was transported by ambulance to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.”

It is unclear whether the family had gotten too close to the animal or if the attack was unprovoked but Yellowstone officials confirmed that the incident remains under investigation and did not disclose any further information on the man’s condition.

Yellowstone warned that park regulations mandate people stay at least 25 yards away from bison at all times because they are unpredictable animals and can run three times faster than humans can.

“This is the second reported incident in 2022 of a visitor getting too close to the animal and the bison responding to the perceived threat by goring the individual,” said Yellowstone National Park.

That incident occurred just last month on May 30 when a 25-year-old woman from Grove City, Ohio, approached a bison within 10 feet near Black Sand Basin, located just north of Old Faithful at Yellowstone, causing the animal to charge at her. The victim was subsequently gored by the bison and tossed 10 feet into the air before she was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment, according to a statement from Yellowstone National Park released at the time of the incident.

“Yellowstone’s scenic wonders are sure to take your breath away: don’t let them take your life,” warns Yellowstone National Park on its page online for park safety. Some of the rules highlighted by the park include never approach wildlife, stay on boardwalks and trails in thermal areas, and never feed wildlife.

“Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal,” says the park. “Always stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from bison.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

R. Kelly faces sentencing today, could spend rest of life in prison

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Singer and convicted sexual predator R. Kelly will appear before a judge today for sentencing in a Brooklyn federal court for racketeering that involved a dozen separate criminal acts, including sex with underage girls.

The former R&B crooner, whose real name is Robert Kelly, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Federal prosecutors say he deserves to be sentenced in "excess of 25 years" due to the severe nature of his offenses.

In September, during his sex-trafficking trial, a jury found Kelly, 55, guilty on nine counts, including leading a criminal enterprise that recruited women and children for sex, which prosecutors called "calculated" and "methodical."

During his trial, nearly four dozen witnesses testified for the prosecution, alleging that he preyed upon children and women for his sexual gratification.

He was also convicted in a bribery scheme involving a public official to get a fake ID for the late singer Aaliyah, so the two could marry when she was 15 and he was 27. Kelly believed Aaliyah was pregnant at the time, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

Kelly produced Aaliyah's debut album, titled "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number." She died in a plane crash in 2001 at 22 years old.

"Kelly relied upon his fame, money and popularity as an R&B recording star and used the large network of people his status afforded him -- including his business managers, security guards and bouncers, runners, lawyers, accountants and assistants to both carry out and conceal his crimes," prosecutors said. "He continued his crimes and avoided punishment for them for almost 30 years and must now be held to account."

The singer declined to testify at the six-week trial but could speak during Wednesday's sentencing hearing. His defense team is asking for less than 14 years in prison, citing Kelly's traumatic childhood.

In 2016, he revealed in a GQ interview that a female family member sexually abused him.

The defense also cast his accusers as motivated by money.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.