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(MILWAUKEE, Wis.) -- A judge announced Wednesday that he has found probable cause to bring homicide charges against a Wisconsin police officer, five years after a local district attorney declared the officer was justified in his use of deadly force on a man he found sleeping in a car in a suburban Milwaukee park.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro said at a hearing that there is probable cause that former Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah committed the crime of homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon when he killed 25-year-old Jay Anderson Jr. in 2016.

"This decision has not been taken lightly, nor was it predetermined. It is the result of a careful and extensive review of the evidence in this case," Yamahiro said.

Yamahiro came to his conclusion after holding a rarely used "John Doe hearing," which provides a forum and a procedure in Wisconsin for a citizen to ask a court to review a district attorney’s decision not to issue criminal charges in cases where the citizen believes one or more crimes have occurred.

“There is reason to believe, based on the testimony, that Officer Mensah created an unreasonable, substantial risk of death," Yamahiro said as he read his lengthy decision in a courtroom packed with Anderson's relatives.

Yamahiro said he will appoint a special prosecutor within 60 days to review the case and "decide which charge or charges, if any, they believe can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a far higher standard than probable cause."

Anderson's loved ones, including his parents, burst into tears and applause upon hearing the judge's decision. Outside the courtroom, a large crowd of supporters cheered and began chanting Anderson's name.

"It's awesome, I can breathe," Anderson's mother, Linda Anderson, said after the hearing.

Anderson's father, Jay Anderson Sr., added, "We feel good. This is something that should have been done five years ago. This is justice, you guys, this is justice."

Now a Waukesha County, Wisconsin, deputy sheriff, Mensah left the Wauwatosa Police Department after fatally shooting 17-year-old Alvin Cole in 2020, an incident that sparked large protests in and around the Milwaukee area.

It was the third on-duty fatal shooting in five years that Mensah was involved in. His use of deadly force was justified by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in each case, including the 2015 killing of 29-year-old Antonio Gonzales.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office declined to comment on Yamahiro's ruling.

"What happened today is historic not just for the state of Wisconsin but for this country," said Kimberley Motley, an attorney for the Anderson family who requested the John Doe hearing.

Motley also represents the families of Gonzales and Cole.

Anderson's death unfolded just after 3 a.m. on June 23, 2016, when Mensah found him sleeping in a car in Madison Park.

“Approximately five and one-half minutes after Officer Mensah entered the park, Mr. Anderson was shot," Yamahiro said.

Mensah claimed he opened fire in self-defense when Anderson "lunged for a gun" that was in the passenger seat of the car he was in, according to evidence presented at the John Doe hearing Yamahiro held between Feb. 19 and May 19 of this year.

During Wednesday's hearing, Yamahiro said Mensah failed to activate his body-worn camera until after the shooting and did not turn on his squad car's emergency lights, which would have automatically switched on his vehicle's dashboard camera. Mensah's body-worn camera, however, activated automatically and recorded about 25 seconds of the incident without audio and captured the shooting.

"The court has also heard testimony that Officer Mensah failed to activate his emergency lights or recording equipment at the time Antonio Gonzales was shot in 2015," Yamahiro noted.

In an interview with Milwaukee Police Department investigators, the agency assigned to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting, Mensah claimed that when he approached the vehicle Anderson was in, he saw a handgun through the open passenger-side window lying on the passenger seat.

Mensah claimed that Anderson initially complied with orders to put his hands up, but during the encounter, he claimed Anderson appeared to reach for the gun with his right hand four different times before he lunged for the weapon, according to his statement to investigators.

During the John Doe hearing, two retired police homicide detectives testifying as expert witnesses claimed Mensah's story of how Anderson was shot conflicted with the physical evidence at the crime scene and the findings of an autopsy that showed Mensah was shot three times in the right side of his head and once in the right shoulder.

Ricky Burems, a retired Milwaukee Police Department detective who has investigated more than 1,000 homicides, testified that if Anderson had been lunging for the gun, he would have sustained wounds to the front of his body, the front of his head or his upper chest and even the top of his head. Burems also said there would have been blood on the passenger seat.

"All of the blood was on the driver's seat, the driver's floor, the roof of the driver's seat, the backrest, the pad or bottom where your legs and butt are and also the driver's headrest," Burems said, according to a transcript of his testimony that Yamahiro read in court Wednesday.

"So that tells me that when Mr. Anderson was shot, he was facing straight ahead. If Mr. Anderson had been lunging toward the passenger seat, that’s where his body would have been," Burems testified. "So there’s no way that he could be shot while extending or leaning or lunging toward the passenger seat and then afterward be upright in the driver's seat with his hands on his lap."

Yamahiro also said that before Milwaukee police investigators arrived at Madison Park, the crime scene was compromised by other Wauwatosa police officers who removed the gun from Anderson's car without first taking photos of the weapon and the position it was in when Anderson was shot.

“That is critical evidence that the Milwaukee Police Department didn’t get to, because Wauwatosa had already handled the gun and already moved it from the car, and already cleared it," Yamahiro said. “I don’t know if that means they unloaded it or if they looked and saw there were no bullets in it, to begin with."

Efforts by ABC News to reach Mensah on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Office, where Mensah now works, released a statement saying, "In light of Judge Glenn Yamahiro's decision regarding Joseph Mensah, Sheriff Eric Severson will be reviewing all of his options, and will have a more detailed statement and decision forthcoming."

Wauwatosa Police Chief James MacGillis, who has been on the job for just three days, read a statement during a brief news conference, saying, "The officers of the Wauwatosa Police Department continue their dedication to public safety for all citizens and understand that this is a time for community healing and trust-building."

MacGillis said he has contacted the Anderson family in private to express his condolences.

"Now is the time to process the judge's decision and then move forward," MacGillis said. "The legal process has played itself out, and it’s going to continue to play itself out. My role is to lead this department, look at processes, look at how we function as an organization."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) -- The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded that the shooter who killed eight at a FedEx facility in April carried out the shooting as "an act of suicidal murder."

"The shooter decided to commit suicide in a way which he believed would demonstrate his masculinity and capability of fulfilling a final desire to experience killing people," FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said at a press conference announcing the results of the investigation Wednesday.

In April, Brandon Scott Hole allegedly opened fire outside the building and in a locker room area of the FedEx facility just outside of Indianapolis.

Hole was "indiscriminate" at who he shot at both inside and outside of the facility, adding that he was outside for a total of three minutes before walking back into the locker room and taking his own life, Craig McCartt, deputy chief of investigations for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, said.

He was stopped from entering the facility by the physical security barriers put in place.

"It certainty could've been much worse had he gotten access to the back part of that facility where there was a lot of other employees," McCartt said.

Acting U.S. Attorney John Childress said Hole was "exacerbated by mental health issues."

The Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded that shooter "did not appear" to be motivated by the need to address any injustices, nor did the shooter "appear to have been motivated by bias, or desire to advance any ideology." Four of the victims of the shooting came from the area's Sikh community.

The FBI said that after examining over 175,000 files on his computer they found 200 files of "mainly German military, German Nazi things."

"But there was no indication that there was any animosity towards the Sikh community or any other group for that matter," Keenan said.

The FBI said there wasn't any evidence to suggest he targeted the FedEx facility other than that is a location he knew well. Also, the FBI said 73% of mass shooters carry out an attack at a place with which they are familiar. Hole had worked at the facility from August to October 2020.

"He also incorrectly believed he had identified a vulnerability which would have given him unobscured access to many potential victims," Keenan said.

McCartt also said that Hole's mother reported him to the IMPD in March 2020, saying he might want to carry out suicide by cop after which the department confiscated a shotgun belonging to Hole. A police report from that incident showed that officers also observed white supremacist material on Hole's computer.

"He never got that gun back in his possession, but then some months later he was able to buy more firearms," McCartt explained.

The FBI said Hole started acquiring guns that were used in the eventual shooting in July 2020.

The shooter simply just stopped showing up for work and that is why he lost his job, McCartt explained, adding Hole acted alone in his efforts.

"In talking with other employees and FedEx personnel, he had never had any kind of issue there," McCartt added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(NEW YORK) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced that all patient-facing health care workers in hospitals run by the state will be required to get vaccinated. He said, “There will be no testing option.”
Additionally, as of Labor Day, all state employees must either be vaccinated or get tested on a weekly basis.
Governor Cuomo said the decision was made due to the “dramatic action” needed to control a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant. He said school districts in areas of high transmission should also consider taking a more aggressive approach.
“I understand the politics, but I understand if we don’t take the right actions, schools can become super-spreaders in September,” Cuomo said.
Calling on private sector businesses, Cumo said they should incentivize vaccinations by only allowing vaccinated people in. 
75% of adults in New York state have been vaccinated. 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(AURORA, Colo.) -- Two Colorado officers from the Aurora Police Department are facing charges after body camera footage purportedly shows one hitting a suspect in the head and then choking him.

Officers John Haubert and Francine Martinez responded to a reported trespassing, attempting to arrest 29-year-old Kyle Vincent and two other adult men. 

Martinez learned that they all had felony warrants, and the officers tried to take them into custody. When two of the men fled, Haubert drew a pistol and directed it at Vincent.

Haubert grabbed the back of his neck and pressed the gun against Vincent’s head. 

The man denied having a warrant and attempted to avoid being handcuffed. Police say Haubert came on top of the man and grabbed the side of his neck, hitting him with the gun 13 times.

Haubert is facing three felony charges; attempted first-degree assault, second-degree assault and felony menacing. There is also misdemeanor charges of official oppression and official misconduct.

“This is not the Aurora Police Department, this is criminal,” said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson.

Officer Martinez faces criminal charges for not intervening.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- The United States is facing a COVID-19 summer surge as the delta variant spreads.

More than 611,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 57.6% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, citing new science on the transmissibility of the delta variant, changed its mask guidance to now recommend everyone in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission -- vaccinated or not -- wear a mask in public, indoor settings.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has killed over 4.1 million.

Here's how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

Jul 28, 8:46 pm
Atlanta to require masks indoors

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an order Wednesday requiring everyone to wear masks indoors in public places, as the city is experiencing "substantial" COVID-19 transmission.

"Public health experts overwhelmingly agree, and data has proved, that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this deadly virus," Bottoms said in a statement. “As COVID-19 rates increase, we must remain vigilant, wear a mask, follow CDC guidelines and other measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities."

The order includes exceptions while eating and drinking and for children under the age of 10, among others. It does not say those who have been vaccinated are exempt.

Those who continue to fail to comply after an initial warning could face up to a $50 civil penalty, according to the order. 

The city's order comes as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp took to Twitter Wednesday to say he won't issue a statewide mask mandate and urged people to "get vaccinated as quickly as possible." Just over 45% of Georgia residents ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, Kemp, a Republican, filed a lawsuit against Bottoms, a Democrat, for requiring face coverings and other pandemic measures that were more restrictive than his own executive orders. The lawsuit was eventually dropped.

Jul 28, 8:22 pm
Defense Department to require masks in Pentagon

The Department of Defense said Wednesday that, effective immediately, masks are required for everyone in the Pentagon, regardless of vaccination status.

The updated mask guidance applies to all service members, federal employees, onsite contractor employees and visitors to "installations and other facilities owned, leased or otherwise controlled by DoD in the Pentagon Reservation," the department said in a statement.

The Department of Defense had said on May 14 that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at any of its facilities.

Jul 28, 2:45 pm
CDC predicts increase in cases, hospitalizations, deaths

In its weekly virus forecast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that U.S. COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and daily deaths will increase over the next four weeks.

Daily fatalities have increased by 30.7% in the last week.

Over 32,000 patients are now hospitalized across the country with COVID-19, a 43.2% jump in the last week. One month ago, just under 12,000 COVID-19 patients were receiving care across the country.

Jul 28, 1:22 pm
Google requiring vaccines for in-office workers

Anyone working on Google’s campuses must be vaccinated, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai announced Wednesday.

"Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy," Pichai said.

Google also said it’s extending its global voluntary work-from-home policy through Oct. 18.

Jul 28, 12:00 pm
US reports highest number of new cases in the world

The U.S. reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the world in the last week, according to the World Health Organization. The U.S. saw a 131% increase in new cases for the week ending July 25 compared to the previous week, according to the WHO’s epidemiological report.   

The U.S. was followed by Brazil, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and India.

Globally, there were 3.8 million new cases in the last week, an 8% increase over the previous week. The number of new COVID-19-related deaths also increased sharply this week to over 69,000, a 21% jump from 57,000 deaths last week.

Jul 28, 11:27 am
Health care workers in NY state-run hospitals must get vaccinated

All patient-facing health care workers in New York’s state-run hospitals must get vaccinated, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

"There will be no testing option," Cuomo said.

In addition, beginning Labor Day, all state employees will be required to either be vaccinated or get tested weekly.

Jul 28, 11:05 am
Florida hospital seeing an all-time high of COVID hospitalizations

Baptist Health, a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, said it now has over 400 COVID-19 patients, an all-time high.

The unvaccinated make up at least 97% of the patients, hospital president and CEO Michael Mayo said.

“Northeast Florida has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s never been as bad as it is now,” Mayo said in a statement.

Jul 28, 10:02 am
Fully vaccinated Americans can soon travel to the UK

Fully vaccinated Americans can travel to the United Kingdom without quarantining as of Aug. 2, the U.K. announced Wednesday.



(UNITED STATES) -- The National Alliance on Mental Illness says whenever a tragic act of gun violence occurs, people with mental illness are often unfairly drawn into the conversation.

But experts say the relationship between mental health and gun violence is complex.

"Someone who goes out and massacres a bunch of strangers, that’s not the act of a healthy mind. There’s something wrong with that person," Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University’s School of Medicine told ABC News. "But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have one of these disorders of thought or mood regulation that psychiatrists commonly treat."

Swanson, who co-authored the study "Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy," said the issue is complicated because there's rarely just one explanation for mass shooters; they could also be grappling with trauma, drug use, alcohol abuse, alienation or mental illness.

"When we think about gun violence, what we know is that extreme anger, hatred and violence can motivate people to hurt or kill others. But we should never confuse strong emotions and beliefs with mental illness," Angela Kimball, national director of advocacy and public policy for NAMI, told ABC News.

Because politicians, police and the public put so much attention on mental health in the wake of gun violence, Kimball said those who have been diagnosed with things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder face discrimination and marginalization. She said the world will often confuse those conditions with things like psychosis, which has many causes, including paranoia, Alzheimer's disease, drug use, trauma or sleep deprivation.

According to Kimball, people with mental health conditions are 23 times more likely to be the victims of violence than the general public.

"Blaming mental illness or mental health conditions for gun violence is really a distraction from the real issues at hand which are evidence-based risk factors and the fact that in our country, it’s easier to get a gun than to get mental health care," Kimball said.

Access to mental health care has been a passion of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose county seat is Chicago, a city no stranger to gun violence. In 2020, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a three-year violence reduction plan that addresses what she calls the root causes of violence, including systemic racism, disinvestment and poverty. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed 875 gun-related homicides in 2020, breaking the previous record of 838 set in 1994.

Dart, who was first elected to the office in 2006 and has seen first-hand the effect gun violence has had on communities, said mental health also plays a role. He started a series of mental health programs to help the inmates in his jail, like the Sheriff’s Anti-Violence Effort, or SAVE program. It offers intensive therapy and life-training skills for 18 to 24 year-olds who live in the county's 15 most violent-prone zip codes.

"They spend eight hours a day going through cognitive programming, we tweak it every once in a while but it’s a pretty solid plan that we’ve had going for about five years now," Dart said. "It (targets) what we and experts have suggested are some of the triggers for violence."

Dart also developed a Mental Health Transition Center, a place that offers a complete schedule of behavioral treatment like cognitive programming, anger management, therapy, meditation, parenting classes, and a discharge process so there's a hand-off to the community.

Oftentimes, police are the ones who are called when someone who has a diagnosed mental health condition is in crisis. That's why Dart said he makes sure his officers get training and why he developed a unit called Treatment Response Teams.

"We now have iPads, that our police officers have, so when they go to a mental health case, we literally hand the iPad to the mother or father or we’ll actually hand it to the person in a mental health crisis, and they’re sitting on the iPad talking to a mental health professional," Sheriff Dart said.

Although most of the attention given to guns and mental health focuses on mass shootings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on average, 60% of all the gun deaths in the United States are suicides.

Linda Cavazos, a gun violence survivor and advocate, lost her brother Louie to gun suicide when he was 26 years-old. She said Louie was experiencing depression and anxiety over job loss and a relationship issue before his death.

"All five siblings got phone calls that day from Louie," Cavazos said. "It wasn't unusual for him to call. He sounded like Louis. I realized later that he was sentimental and I realize now that he was saying goodbye."

The death changed Cavazos' family, and their mental health, forever. She said her father became a shell of the man he was for at least five years. The brother who found Louie withdrew and his personality changed, Cavazos said while another brother felt anger and hurt for years. She and her sisters were left with feelings of grief, shock and survivor's guilt.

Cavazos said not only did the family not know Louie was having suicidal thoughts, she also said he lied to a friend to get the gun.

"The friend basically left the gun unsecured with ammunition and told him that he wasn’t going to be home and to come over and get it," Cavazos said.

It's one reason she is pushing for more secure storage laws and what's known as Red Flag laws. Nineteen states plus Washington, D.C., have passed Red Flag laws, which Swanson said lets police or a family petition a court to temporarily remove guns from someone who poses a threat to others, or themselves.

"Even if you’re someone who says ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ here’s a law that’ll help you figure out who those people are," Swanson said.

According to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, the country has seen nearly 11,000 gun violence deaths so far this year. Last year, that number was more than 19,402, the highest number of gun violence deaths in more than 20 years. That was during the height of the pandemic when there were fewer mass shootings, the overwhelming majority were gun suicides.

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].

This story is part of the series Gun Violence in America by ABC News Radio. Each day this week we’re exploring a different topic, from what we mean when we say “gun violence” – it’s not just mass shootings – to what can be done about it. You can hear an extended version of each report as an episode of the ABC News Radio Specials podcast.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(SALINA, Kan.) -- NASA recently began new research to investigate how extreme summer weather may be affecting the upper layers of earth's atmosphere.

Kenneth Bowman, Ph.D., the principal investigator for the Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTSS) research project, spoke to reporters about the project during a press briefing on Tuesday. He said their goal is to understand how intense summer thunderstorms over the U.S. affect the stratosphere -- the second layer of earth’s atmosphere as you move toward space -- especially as climate change causes severe thunderstorms to occur more often.

“Most thunderstorms occur in the lower layer of the atmosphere, which we call the troposphere. But when we get particularly intense thunderstorms, the updrafts -- the rising air in the storm -- can actually overshoot into the layer above, which is the stratosphere,” Bowman said.

He said that when this happens, the air in the troposphere can rise up to the stratosphere in as little as 20 to 30 minutes. Those updrafts can transport pollutants and water that might not normally reach this level of the atmosphere in such a short amount of time.

The stratosphere is usually dry, according to the project’s website, and the water and pollutants may "have a significant impact on radiative and chemical processes" in the atmospheric layer.

David Wilmouth, Ph.D., a scientist at Harvard University who is working on the project, said the updrafts could potentially “change the chemical composition of the stratosphere, a process that would not otherwise happen.” Their work will determine if that’s the case.

Bowman explained that the stratosphere is important because it contains the Earth’s ozone layer, which protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation that comes from the sun. About 90% of the world’s ozone layer exists within the stratosphere, according to Wilmouth.

Wilmouth said the ozone layer is “critical” for protecting life on earth. If its protective shield was to weaken, humans would be more susceptible to skin cancer, cataracts disease and an impaired immune system, according to NASA.

Dan Csziczo, Ph.D., a professor and head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University, said during the briefing that their goal is specifically to understand the composition and size of the particles that make their way up to the stratosphere, and how they might influence the earth’s climate. Csziczo said the research would also help scientists understand the process of cloud formation and subsequent precipitation.

Understanding the relationship between climate change and particulate matter in the air is critical because, ultimately, each of them might exacerbate the impact of the other on humans’ health and way of life.

For the project, NASA is working with several universities across the country, as well as the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The mission consists of three eight-week-long deployments over the course of the 2021 and 2022 summer seasons. The DCOTSS will be using NASA’s ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft for the mission.

DCOTSS will be operated out of Salina, Kansas, a site chosen by the researchers due to its central location within the U.S. It’s also a region of the country that’s particularly prone to severe and intense thunderstorms during the summer.

The ER-2 aircraft is equipped with fully robotic, pre-programmed instruments that can measure the gases and particles that come out of the overshooting tops of the thunderstorms, as well as meteorological information, such as water vapor, Wilmouth said.

The aircraft can only transport its pilot, who must wear a pressurized suit to withstand the high altitudes, which can go as high as 70,000 feet -- about twice the altitude of typical commercial airlines, according to the project’s website.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- After a full school year during the COVID-19 pandemic, elementary and middle school students are heading into the fall with lower rates of achievement gains in reading and math than they would have during a typical school year, new research shows.

The researchers say the results were worse in high-poverty areas and could have been even worse overall had thousands of students "missing" from school systems been counted. Separately, they say that it would take "unprecedented" levels of growth to make up for the past school year.

NWEA, a Portland-Oregon-based education research organization that develops pre-K-12 assessments, expedited research on test scores from the 2020-21 school year to help spotlight student needs ahead of the fall.

Researchers compared gains in student achievement in grades 3-8 across the school year to pre-pandemic levels -- specifically, the 2018-19 school year -- based on the average results of its MAP Growth assessments in reading and math.

They found that, looking at the results of 5.5 million test-takers, students did make modest progress overall over the course of the school year -- but not as much as during a typical year. Compared to 2018-19, average achievement gains declined 3 to 6 percentile points in reading depending on the grade level. There was an even steeper decline in math, between 8 and 12 percentile points.

Unexpectedly, the gains in math and reading decelerated between winter and spring relative to a typical school year, researchers found.

"I think many of us expected to maybe start to see some signs of hope closer to the spring, when more kids were returning to the classroom," Karyn Lewis, a senior research scientist with NWEA, told ABC News. "So that that's when learning really stalled more was surprising to me."

Lewis pointed to "pandemic fatigue" as possibly being behind the unanticipated results.

"When I think back and reflect on my own experiences in the winter, that's I think when pandemic fatigue really started to set in," she said. "I think that it's starting to show in these data that kids were also affected."

When they dug deeper into the data, researchers found that there were even greater declines in math and reading progress for disadvantaged students. Those attending high-poverty schools showed more than double the declines of students attending low-poverty schools for many grades. This was especially pronounced at the elementary level: Third graders in high-poverty schools showed 11-percentile-point declines in reading and 17 percentile-point-declines in math, the report found.

"We know that the pandemic was not an even crisis across families in our country, and families in high-poverty situations were impacted in different ways," Lewis said. "Parents were less likely to be able to stay home and support virtual learning opportunities because of the way their jobs were structured. These homes may have had less reliable internet access or less reliable access to a dedicated computer. ... It's just layer upon layer of different factors that I think are probably attributing to this."

The recent findings don't show the complete picture, Lewis said, due to a higher attrition rate than normal -- and so-called "missing" students likely adding to the lower achievers. The overall attrition rate for the 2020-21 school year was about 20%, researchers said -- meaning 1 in 5 students who tested the prior year did not test this year. For 2018-19, the overall attrition rate was 13%.

"The kids that went missing are not the random sample of students but are more likely to be in schools that serve a high proportion of kids in poverty, that were lower achieving in prior years and that were from communities of color," Lewis said. "This may actually be kind of the best-case scenario because we are missing the voices of many of the students in these groups that were most impacted."

Researchers also emphasized that their work didn't specifically address the impact of remote learning on performance.

"This national data is fantastic for giving us the lay of the broad landscape, but we really need as districts and schools come back to lean into the local context and look at our own data and see how that compares with the trends that we're seeing nationally," Brooke Mabry, strategic content design manager for NWEA’s Professional Learning Design team, told ABC News.

With students going into the fall with, on average, lower gains in math and reading, there would need to be "unprecedented" levels of growth to catch up, Lewis said. The delta variant may also throw a "big curveball" for schools this fall, as COVID-19 cases rise across the country. But there are signs of hope, researchers said.

"We do know that what we learned from what happened with kids over the summer months, when they are out of school altogether, the kids that seem to lose the most across the summer period are also those that tend to rebound the quickest when they're back in the classroom," Lewis said. 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(NEW YORK) -- Vaccine lotteries and other incentives designed to encourage COVID-19 vaccination after the rate steeply declined didn't consistently raise numbers as many public health officials had hoped.

Now, officials are turning to community partnerships and other means of engagement to drive vaccinations -- and the personal approach appears promising.

Vaccinations peaked at over 4 million per day in early April before dropping down to an average of about 429,000 per day by early July. Despite at least 30 states and territories implementing vaccine incentives such as cash lotteries, free food and free entrance to local attractions, the weekly moving average still hovers close to 470,000.

Experts caution not to say that vaccine incentives didn’t work. States such as Ohio and Missouri saw a temporary but meaningful bump in vaccinations in the week after the lotteries were announced.

“I think vaccine incentives have worked better than we think,” said Dr. Stacy Wood, professor of marketing at North Carolina State University. “When any given incentive didn’t work, it was because it didn’t match the hurdle that a particular person was facing for vaccination. ... There’s no one-size-fits-all incentive.”

But for some, the vaccine incentives themselves are a turn off. “It actually makes me a little more leery,” said Camille Holmes, a school-based speech therapist from Westchester County, New York.

Holmes said she routinely gets vaccines for herself and her family but right now is "indifferent" about the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I think as time progressed, my answer went from 'absolutely not,' to 'I don’t know,' to 'I’m not ready,' to 'I probably am going to get it when I’m forced to do so.'"

So what is the key to encouraging vaccinations? For some, it might be a mandate from their employer. For others, it might be about renewed fear as the more contagious delta variant spreads. Now that cases are rising due to the delta variant, there has been a gradual increase in vaccinations, up 14% last week, according to the White House.

But for many, it's about meeting people where they are -- literally. According to research by Wood, “small incentives combined with that immediacy” tailored to a specific population works well.

This might be especially true for younger people, who aren't necessarily opposed to getting a vaccine but don't feel as deeply concerned they'll become very sick or die without it.

St. Louis County, Missouri, recently announced a new initiative called Sleeves Up STL that will enlist local barbershops and beauty salons to provide information to their customers about getting the vaccine.

Randy Barnes, the owner of R & R Style Shop in Florissant, Missouri, plans to participate in this initiative because COVID-19 has been rising in his community.

“I’m thinking because of the barber and the beauty shops, people trust us. If the information is there, if the education is there, people maybe would be more apt to [get vaccinated],” Barnes said. “Those that were skeptical, given the right information, maybe would go ahead and get themselves vaccinated and even convince other people.”

There is already evidence that getting information from trusted friends, family members and community leaders spurs vaccination. Since Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson began traveling the state and having community conversations, the rate of vaccinations in the state has increased 40%, he told NPR.

Research has shown, and Barnes and Wood believe, that hearing from those who’ve had COVID-19 or lost someone due to the disease would be helpful. Barnes lost his brother to COVID-19 last April.

In addition to discussing vaccination with people, having vaccines immediately available at places where people commonly go, such as subway stations or museums can be helpful.

Whether it’s a lottery ticket, free meal, a conversation with a survivor or a trusted person or convenience, Barnes said he hopes one of these measures motivates people.

Adjoa Smalls-Mantey, M.D., D.Phil., trained in immunology and a psychiatrist in New York City, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

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(POWESHIEK COUNTY, Iowa) -- The lead agent who investigated the disappearance and murder of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts testified Tuesday that there was no doubt in his mind who killed her.

"Cristhian Rivera murdered Mollie Tibbetts," special agent Trent Vileta said in court.

Vileta rejected a theory by Cristhian Bahena Rivera's attorneys that he was framed for Tibbetts' kidnapping and murder as part of a sex trafficking ring. The attorneys claim the alleged sex trafficking ring was investigated and that resulting evidence was withheld from them by law enforcement authorities.

"I don't remember any tips that she (Tibbetts) was the victim of sex trafficking, but I didn't see all of them either," Vileta said.

A jury convicted 27-year-old Bahena Rivera in May of first-degree murder, but his sentencing was postponed after his attorneys requested a new trial in order to be allowed to review evidence in any ongoing investigations into sex trafficking in and around Poweshiek County, Iowa, where Tibbetts went missing in July 2018. Her body was discovered in an Iowa cornfield about a month after she vanished.

During Tuesday's hearing, which lasted more than four hours, Bahena Rivera's attorneys called Arne Maki to testify about a conversation he said he had in July 2020 with a 21-year-old inmate while they were both being held at the jail in Keokuk County, Iowa.

Maki, 46, who is now serving a prison sentence for domestic violence, claimed the inmate who he befriended told him that he and another man killed Tibbetts on the orders of a sex trafficker after she was kidnapped and brought to a sex trafficking "trap house."

"He's like, 'yeah, I killed her,'" Maki testified about the inmate who defense attorneys named in court documents and during the hearing. "I'm like, 'I don't believe you.'"

Maki claimed the man then mentioned Bahena Rivera, a Mexican national who was in the country illegally and working at a dairy in Poweshiek County when he was arrested and charged with Tibbetts' killing.

"He's like, 'We set him up.' He's like, 'It's a sex trafficking case gone wrong, and I stabbed her to death and put her in a tarp, me and my Black friend that don't speak English good.'"

Maki testified that he doubted the inmate's story until he saw TV news reports on Bahena Rivera's testimony during his trial.

Bahena Rivera claimed he was kidnapped at his home near Brooklyn, Iowa, by two armed masked men, who ordered him to drive to where Tibbetts was expected to be jogging. He claimed that when they found Tibbetts, one of the men stabbed her to death, put her body in the trunk of Bahena Rivera's car and made him drive to a cornfield, where the young woman's badly decomposed remains were discovered a month after she went missing.

Bahena Rivera said that while he placed Tibbetts' body in the cornfield, he did not kill her.

"Right there my conscience told me that I should say something, even if it's not true," Maki said, explaining why he told authorities about the inmate's purported confession.

But under cross-examination from prosecutor Bart Klaver, Maki said he did not know that the inmate who confessed to him was in a rehab facility under court supervision at the time Tibbetts disappeared.

Judge Joel Yates, who presided over Bahena Rivera's trial, told the attorneys he will make a written decision as soon possible on the defense motion for a new trial.

Earlier this month, Yates rejected the motion to allow Bahena Rivera's attorneys an opportunity to review evidence in ongoing sex trafficking investigations in Poweshiek County and in the case of a missing 11-year-old boy, Xavior Harrelson, who vanished in May from his home in Poweshiek County. The defense attorneys suggested that the man who they allege operated the sex trafficking "trap house" once had been the boyfriend of Harrelson's mother.

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(NEW YORK) -- The United States is facing a COVID-19 summer surge as the delta variant spreads.

More than 611,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 57% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 has infected more than 194 million people worldwide and killed over 4.1 million.
Latest headlines:

    -US moved into ‘high’ community transmission category per CDC
    -Dept. of Veterans Affairs mandates vaccine
    -Savannah reinstates mask mandate indoors
    -Orlando area in ‘crisis mode’ as cases skyrocket

Here's how the news is developing today. All times Eastern.

Jul 27, 6:57 pm
Biden to announce vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Joe Biden is expected to announce a vaccine mandate for the nation’s 2.1 million federal employees on Thursday, ABC News has learned.

-ABC News' Cecilia Vega

Jul 27, 6:35 pm
CDC issues alert, urging doctors to step up vaccines

Just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its policy on indoor mask use for vaccinated Americans, the agency sent out an alert to doctors, pressing them to step up vaccines.

The Health Alert Network Health Advisory reiterated that vaccine coverage needed to go up "to prevent surges in new infections that could increase COVID-19 related morbidity and mortality, overwhelm healthcare capacity, and widen existing COVID-19-related health disparities."

As of Tuesday, 66.6% of Americans above the age of 12 have received one vaccine dose, however the rates are lower in several southern states including Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Those states, the alert noted, have seen a major jump in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

"Unvaccinated persons account for the majority of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths," the CDC said in its alert.

-ABC News' Anne Flaherty

Jul 27, 6:04 pm
Cape Cod outbreak grows to 765

The COVID-19 outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, has now grown to at least 765 people, officials said Tuesday.

The number of cases from the popular tourist destination have been increasing since the Fourth of July weekend.

Of these cases, 469 individuals are Massachusetts residents, 199 of whom reside in Provincetown, Town Manager Alex Morse wrote in a Facebook post.

The remaining individuals who tested positive reside in other states, or jurisdictions, he said.

There have been no reported deaths linked to the cluster so far, however, three people linked to it have been hospitalized. One of the patients was vaccinated, according to town officials.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jul 27, 4:10 pm
CDC reverses guidance on masks for vaccinated people  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday reversed its mask guidance for vaccinated people due to the delta variant surge.

Vaccinated Americans should now wear masks inside if they’re in places with substantial or high transmission, the CDC said.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said data show that on "rare occasions, some vaccinated people with the delta variant … may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations."

Walensky added, "This moment -- and most importantly -- the associated illness, suffering and death, could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country."

In May, the CDC said vaccinated Americans could stop wearing masks indoors.

The CDC also said Tuesday that masks should be worn in schools by all students, teachers, staff and visitors, even for those who are vaccinated. The CDC said students should return to full-time in-person learning this year with prevention strategies in place.

President Joe Biden in a statement called the CDC's new rules "another step on our journey to defeating this virus."

"While we have seen an increase in vaccinations in recent days, we still need to do better," he added.

Jul 27, 3:42 pm

NYC hospital mandating vaccines for staff

New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery is requiring its staff be vaccinated as of Sept. 15.

Only staff with a medical or religious reason will be exempt, the hospital said Tuesday.

Jul 27, 3:00 pm

CDC reverses guidance on masks for vaccinated people  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday reversed its mask guidance for vaccinated people due to the delta variant surge.

Vaccinated Americans should now wear masks inside if they’re in places with substantial or high transmission, the CDC said.

"In rare occasions, some vaccinated people can get delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious,” the CDC said.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said data shows that on "rare occasions, some vaccinated people with the delta variant … may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations."

In May, the CDC said vaccinated Americans could stop wearing masks indoors.

The CDC also said Tuesday that masks should be worn in schools by all students, teachers, staff and visitors, even for those who are vaccinated. The CDC said students should return to full-time in-person learning this year with prevention strategies in place.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, calling this an "evolving pandemic," said Tuesday, "Our responsibility here is to always lead with the science and always lead with the advice of health and medical experts."

"We're not saying that wearing a mask is convenient, or people feel like it, but we are telling you that that is the way to protect yourself, protect your loved ones and that's why the CDC is issuing this guidance," Psaki said.

-ABC News’ Anne Flaherty and Eric Strauss

Jul 27, 2:03 pm

Cal State requiring vaccinations

California State University, the nation’s largest university system that’s home to nearly 500,000 students, will require vaccinations for in-person students, staff and faculty.

"The current surge in COVID cases due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant is an alarming new factor that we must consider as we look to maintain the health and well-being of students, employees and visitors to our campuses this fall," CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said in a statement Tuesday.

Jul 27, 1:10 pm

Louisiana reports 2nd highest daily case count since January

Louisiana is in a "continued surge," logging 6,797 new daily cases on Tuesday, the second highest single-day case count since Jan. 6, the state’s Department of Health said.

The department said 99.56% of the cases are linked to community spread, not congregate settings like nursing homes.

New Orleans city officials said Monday that hospital capacity in the region and the state are being stretched to the limits due to a large uptick in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. New Orleans officials said 97% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state are unvaccinated.

Jul 26, 7:46 pm
Delta variant is 'a whole new virus,' St. Louis health official

St. Louis' top health official talked with ABC News Monday about Missouri's rising coronavirus cases and gave a stark warning to the rest of the country.

“The delta variant is a whole new virus," Dr. Sam Page, the county executive for St. Louis County, Missouri, told ABC News.

Since June, Missouri’s daily case average has surged by 500%, with the state now reporting its highest number of new infections since mid-January. Hospital admissions have more than doubled in recent weeks. They are up by 125% in the last month, according to Page.

At the same time, vaccinations have seen a slight increase the county, Page said. However, he reiterated that it will be at least another month before the county sees full effect of the vaccines in those patients.

“We just wish that we could get people vaccinated sooner because the illness has an unfortunate loss of life associated with it. And that's just a terrible thing to watch,” Page said.

Page said there was no “silver bullet” that will help increase vaccination rates across the state, or drive down cases immediately, but said that officials must work together fast.

“It's going to be multifactorial, a lot of education, a lot of time, a lot of comforting,” he said.

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett and Arielle Mitropoulos

Jul 26, 3:45 pm
US moved into ‘high’ community transmission category per CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now categorizing the U.S. as having "high" community transmission, with nearly 62% of counties in the nation reporting high (43.79%) or substantial (18.17%) transmission.

New York County, which includes Manhattan, is among those now reporting substantial community transmission.

One month ago, only 8% of counties were reporting high transmission.

Louisiana, Florida, and Arkansas have the country's highest case rate with over 300 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Missouri follows closely behind with 200 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Hospitalization numbers are also rising. More than 27,300 COVID-10 patients are in hospitals across the country -- a 36.8% jump in the last week.

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jul 26, 2:44 pm
Dept. of Veterans Affairs mandates vaccine

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Monday that COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory for the department’s health care personnel.

Four VA employees, all of whom were unvaccinated, died in recent weeks, the department said. At least three of those cases were linked to the delta variant.

VA employees will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated.

McDonough said this mandate is "the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country."

ABC News’ Cindy Smith

Jul 26, 2:06 pm
Unvaccinated NYC municipal workers will have to get weekly testing

All unvaccinated New York City municipal workers will have to get weekly testing by the start of school in September, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.

The new requirement will apply to all city workers, including police officers, firefighters and teachers. The new rule will go into effect on Sept. 13, when students are expected to return to public schools.

The New York Police Department has a 43% vaccination rate while about 55% of New York City Fire Department employees are vaccinated.

Workers in publicly run residential or congregate care facilities, like nursing homes, must present proof of vaccination even earlier, on Aug. 16.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a similar mandate on Monday. Beginning on Aug. 9, state employees and health care workers must show proof of vaccination or get tested regularly.

In California, 75% of those eligible have received at least one dose.

"Everyone that can get vaccinated—should," Newsom tweeted.

ABC News’ Aaron Katersky


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US Marshals Service

(NEW YORK) -- The sole copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” owned by one-time hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli until he forfeited it following his securities fraud conviction, has been sold, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, said Tuesday.

The terms of the sale were confidential, as was the identity of the buyer, but the proceeds will be applied to the balance of the nearly $7.4 million Shkreli owes in forfeiture.

“Through the diligent and persistent efforts of this office and its law enforcement partners, Shkreli has been held accountable and paid the price for lying and stealing from investors to enrich himself. With today’s sale of this one-of-a-kind album, his payment of the forfeiture is now complete,” said Jacquelyn Kasulis, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Shkreli, best known for hiking the price of a life-saving drug when he was a pharmaceutical executive and for trolling critics on social media, was convicted of securities fraud in 2017 for orchestrating a series of schemes to cheat investors in two hedge funds he controlled as well as a biopharmaceutical company then known as Retrophin. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The millions the government is seeking in forfeiture “represents a conservative computation of the proceeds Shkreli personally obtained as a result of his three different securities fraud crimes of conviction,” prosecutors wrote at the time.

Shkreli was ordered to forfeit the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album, which he purchased for $2 million at an auction in 2015. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, it includes a hand-carved nickel-silver box as well as a leather-bound manuscript containing lyrics and a certificate of authenticity.

In September 2017, after he had been convicted but before the district court ordered the forfeiture of his assets, Shkreli attempted to sell the album through an online auction, prosecutors said.

The album, which has been considered one of the most valuable musical albums in the world, is subject to various restrictions, including those related to the duplication of its sound recordings.

ABC News' Celia Darrough contributed to this report.

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(ATLANTA) — The 22-year-old man who killed eight people during a shooting rampage in March targeting Atlanta-area spas pleaded guilty Tuesday to four of the murders and accepted a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Robert Aaron Long entered his plea in Cherokee County Superior Court after answering a series of questions from Judge Ellen McElyea. He loathed his sexual addiction, he said, and it drove him to transfer blame from himself to sex workers at the spas he frequented for sex.

Long pleaded guilty to the killings he committed on March 16 at Young's Asian Massage near the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock in Cherokee County.

Killed in the Cherokee County massacre were Xiaojie "Emily" Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54.

Long still faces multiple murder charges in Fulton County, where he allegedly continued his shooting rampage at two different spas in Atlanta.

He was indicted in Fulton County for the deaths of Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.

Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace told McElyea that while most of the victims were Asian, a thorough investigation involving the FBI found no evidence to warrant bringing hate crimes against Long. Wallace said investigators interviewed more than 40 people, including Asian friends of Long, and found "this was not any kind of hate crime.”

McElyea responded, “Once hatred is given a gun, it doesn’t matter who gets in the way. We are all subject to being the victim of a hate crime, whether we belong to that group or not."

In May, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed court documents saying her office intends to seek the death penalty and hate crime charges against Long.

Willis filed a motion last week requesting Long be transferred to the Fulton County jail following his court hearing in Cherokee County, and requested to schedule an arraignment for Long in Fulton County "on or before Aug. 6, 2021, or as soon as practical," according to court documents.

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Michelle Franzen and Tara Gimbel / ABC News

(NEW YORK) — In Watertown, Connecticut, you can hear the squeak of a swing's chain as it glides back and forth, along with the laughter of children at play. They are sounds that harken back to the simpler and sweeter moments of childhood.

This playground has special significance. It was built in honor of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the former principal of Sandy Hook Elementary. She was one of the five school faculty members and 20 first and second grade students shot and killed in December 2012, when a former student stormed the building.

Bill Lavin heads up the construction of the playgrounds for the charitable organization Where Angels Play. “This is the final of the 26 playgrounds that we did, and this was dedicated to really all of the children and the teachers, but in particular, Dawn Hochsprung,” he said. “This is celebrating Dawn's life and her love of teaching.

Lavin calls it the flagship of the project, which includes playgrounds throughout Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Each one reflects the personalities, passions and lives of those who died. “So you'll see that here there's 20 swings that represent -- for us, anyway -- the special number of the children.” Six other toys represent the educators who were killed.

He says the idea grew out of an effort by the New Jersey State Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association to provide support for families after 9/11 and then Superstorm Sandy. When the Sandy Hook shootings happened, Lavin said he had to act and the victims’ families united behind the project.

“So we made sure that this was their project, and that they would honor and find a way to express how these beautiful children lived, rather than how they left us," Lavin said.

Carlos Soto helped build some of the playgrounds, including one in memory of his daughter, in nearby Stratford, Connecticut. Victoria Soto was the Sandy Hook teacher who died shielding her students.

“She always told us that she wanted to be special, different than other teachers,” he said. “And that made us very happy with that, knowing that she was helping other kids.”

Soto, along with other parents, children and colleagues, are left to cope with the loss each day. He’s working to support others affected by gun violence.

“I think that my daughter has given me that tool to help other parents that have lost kids,” he said. But he also said the inaction by lawmakers on gun violence following Sandy Hook is painful for him and his family.

What has changed?

A generation of K-12 students have grown up in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting preparing for the possibility of a shooting at their school, even if they don't know it.

In a kindergarten classroom in New Jersey, 6-year-old Liam and his classmates practiced a drill they have yet to learn the significance of, an active shooter lockdown drill. They were told the intruder was an animal. He recalled to his mom Tara Gimbel, an ABC News producer, “We had to go down and hide under our desks and we pretended there was a bear.”

Hannah Jack, who’s 19, calls this the new normal. “That was life at that point it didn’t even dawn on me that it would be any different.”

Jack was in 5th grade in Watertown, Connecticut, when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. “I could see the pain in their face and how scared they were when the alarms went off and it scared me too, you know?”

John Woodrow Cox, the author of "Children Under Fire: an American Crisis," estimates that during a single school year, 4 to 8 million kids experience lockdowns. He says even false alarms are leaving their mark.

“A meaningful number of that, four to eight million kids thought, at least momentarily, that they might get shot to death in their school. And we know that because they text their parents goodbye, they write wills saying who they want their toys to go. They soil themselves. They weep," Cox said. "And none of those kids –- right? -- none of those kids actually saw a school shooting. They didn't get shot at. They didn't see someone get shot. It was the threat of it that was so terrifying. And it's terrifying because they know about Parkland, they know about Columbine, they know about all these other school shootings.”

Even in the safety of homes, children are getting their hands on the guns, hurting others or themselves. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 3,700 children and teens died or were injured in gun incidents in 2019.

Cox says the ripple effect of gun violence is far-reaching and long-lasting. “The reality of America, is that gun violence, there’s 400 million-plus guns in this country. Gun violence can affect a family or a child's life at any time, regardless of the community that they're in,” he said.

Cox points to other countries whose gun-fatalities numbers are far lower than ours. “There is no evidence that Americans are more evil than people in Australia or England or Canada or anywhere else,” he said. “The difference is anybody who wants to get a gun in this country at this moment, it's not that hard.”

Back at the playground in Watertown, Lavin says the families of Sandy Hook victims want to move beyond politics and find common ground.

“You know, we should be able to figure it out,” he said. “And I think that's what their hope is. Not that they want, you know, their children to be poster children, but maybe to prevent another family from going through what they had to experience.”

Soto says, on the bad days, he goes to his daughter's playground. “They ask me, ‘Carlos, how can you do it?’ I say it’s not easy, but it’s not hard. And I sit there watching the kids play, and enjoying it, and that gives me more relief. And it gives me peace.”

This story is part of the series Gun Violence in America by ABC News Radio. Each day this week we’re exploring a different topic, from what we mean when we say “gun violence” – it’s not just mass shootings – to what can be done about it. You can hear an extended version of each report as an episode of the ABC News Radio Specials podcast. Subscribe and listen on any of the following podcast apps:

Apple Podcasts

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Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(SUNRISE, Fla.) -- The remains of the last victim of the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse have been identified, a relative confirmed to ABC News Monday.

Estelle Hedaya, 54, was the final person to be unaccounted for. The death toll from the June 24 collapse now stands at 98.

Hedaya, a former New Yorker, moved to Florida in 2015 and lived on the building's sixth floor.

Her body will be returned to Midwood, Brooklyn, where her family lives, as early as Tuesday for her funeral. Her remains were still in the custody of the county Medical Examiner’s Office Monday afternoon, which could delay the services.

Investigators have no more missing person cases to pursue from the collapse, but will continue to search removed debris for remains.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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