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Texas governor issues executive orders on mass shootings

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iStock(EL PASO, Texas) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed eight executives orders on Thursday in an effort to “better protect” residents amid calls for action in the wake of two deadly mass shootings there.

Abbott, a Republican, said the orders would improve requirements for authorities when it comes to reporting suspicious individuals and make it easier for the public to identify potential mass shooters. The orders, however, do not deal with guns.

“Texas must achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings,” Abbott said in a statement Thursday. “One of those objectives is to marshal law enforcement resources to stop violent criminals before they commit mass murders. But more must be done.”

“I will continue to work expeditiously with the legislature on laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, while safeguarding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans,” he added.

The announcement comes as the state works to recover from two mass shootings that claimed the lives of 29 people and wounded dozens more.

A gunman targeted Mexicans at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, killing 22 people. Then, another shooter killed seven and injured nearly two dozen others in Odessa on Saturday, just a day before looser firearm restrictions went into effect statewide.

In the aftermath of both shootings, officials learned that the mother of the El Paso gunman had expressed concerns to law enforcement about her son, the governor’s office noted in a statement announcing the orders. In Odessa, the killer had called both local and federal authorities prior to his shooting spree.

“Today’s directives by the governor will help close the information gaps when suspicion of a potential mass shooter arises,” the office said in a statement. “While these executive orders will enhance law enforcement’s ability to respond and prevent these shootings, legislative solutions are still needed.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Conception's surviving crew members describe harrowing escape from burning boat

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iStock(SANTA CRUZ, Calif.) — The crew of the Conception immediately knew they were in trouble.

The fire that killed 34 people early Monday fully engulfed the ship in minutes, according to the Conception’s surviving crew members, who described a harrowing and horrific scene in the critical moments after their boat caught fire.

One crew member said he was sleeping on the top deck when he heard a loud noise, National Transportation Safety Board Member Jennifer Homendy told ABC News in a one-on-one on camera interview. He immediately realized the boat’s galley was engulfed by flames.

Crew members said they rushed to get to the 34 people sleeping below. They first attempted to go through the double doors leading to the galley, but were pushed back by fierce flames. They then went to the front of the boat and tried to break through its windows. When that didn’t work, they ultimately had to look out for their own safety.

“At some point because of heat, smoke and fire they had to jump off the boat,” Homendy said.

One crew member broke his leg in the process, Homendy said. Two others swam to the front of the boat and got to a skiff. They loaded the other survivors on board and then raced to the nearby boat, The Grape Escape. After unloading their friends onto the boat, the two crew members tried to go back to the Conception again to see if they could get to survivors.

By that point, the entire boat was fully engulfed.

Homendy said the crew members don’t know what started the fire. She said possible ignition sources include the electrical system, photography equipment, batteries, cameras and phones that were plugged in and charging when the fire broke out. At this point, the NTSB is not ruling anything out.

While they search for the cause, Homendy just toured the Vision, a similar sized boat owned by the same company, in order to see the bunk room and its emergency hatch. Homendy said she had to climb a ladder in the back and maneuver over the top bunk. She then tried to crawl through the hatch.

“In order for me to really get at it I had to kind of twist around and push it out,” she said.

She also said she tried to find the hatch with the lights off, simulating an escape during the middle of the night, and couldn’t see anything.

Homendy was blunt when describing how hard it would be for 34 people to escape through that hatch during a fire.

“I think it would have been very difficult,” she said.

“I think I’d have concerns [sleeping in those quarters].”

The only two ways to exit the bunk room each led to the same place — the galley that was on fire. That possible design concern is also now part of the investigation, and, ultimately, could lead to a change in federal regulations, she said.

A full report on what caused the fire is not expected for over a year.

Thirty-three of the 34 passengers who died in the fire have been recovered, authorities said Wednesday. The remains will have to be identified through DNA testing.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Black bear attacks on humans are rare but often begin as scuffles with dogs, experts say

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iStock(NEW YORK) — Predatory attacks on humans by black bears are extremely rare, but experts are offering insight as to how some of them may start after a woman was killed in Canada by a black bear while searching for her dogs.

A “disproportionate number” of attacks by bears on human are related to dogs, Lynn Rogers, research scientist for the Wildlife Research Institute and founder of the North American Bear Center, told ABC News.

A 62-year-old Minnesota woman died over the weekend while she was looking for her dogs in the woods in Rainy Lake, Canada, just a few miles over the border from Minnesota, authorities said. The dogs, yelping and barking, later returned to the cabin, but the woman never returned and was later found with a bear standing over her.

Bear attacks involving dogs also occurred in June, when a California man was bitten after he kicked a bear that attacked his dog in his yard, in December 2018, when a Pennsylvania woman was dragged 88 yards in her front yard after a bear attacked both her and her dog, and in June 2018, when a man wrestled a black bear after it lunged at his dog at Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The dog in that case was killed.

In Minnesota, three of the seven unprovoked bear attacks recorded since 1987 in which the victim required hospitalization involved a dog, Dave Garshelis, a bear research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, told ABC News. None of those attacks were fatal, Garshelis said.

Often in those types of cases, the owner gets hurt when he or she tries to intercede in the scuffle, or the dog runs back to its owner for protection and “next thing you know the bear is 2 feet away,” Garshelis said.

Knowing what to do in the event that a dog encounters a bear is a “tough call” because the situations can be so unpredictable, Garshelis said.

He suggested arming yourself with some type of weapon, such as a gun or big stick, “especially if the dog is running back to you for protection.” In one of bear attacks that occurred in Minnesota, a person in the group bashed it over the head with a canoe paddle, he said.

“That’s the only thing you can do,” he said. “The normal reaction for the bear would be to leave.”

Yelling or banging pots and pans may do the trick as well, Garshelis said, while Rogers advised using pepper spray to encourage bears to retreat.

“They don’t go away mad,” Rogers said. “They just go away.”

An article on the website for Orvis, a retail company that specializes in fishing, hunting and sporting goods, suggests that dog owners “quietly and quickly leave the area” if the bear has not spotted you, but if it has, to “keep your dog close and calm, avoiding sudden movements.”

Fatal black bear attacks on humans are so rare — more so than any other species of bear — that they occur on average of once per year across North America, Garshelis said. In addition, about one black bear out of 1 million will attack a human in a predatory manner, Rogers said.

The reason why the attacks by black bears seldom occur isn’t because the bears stay away from humans, the experts said. In fact, they are often attracted to people’s food sources or get used to the presence of humans.

However, black bears are typically not aggressive and fear the “repercussions of attacking someone,” Garshelis said.

“They just don’t want to attack people,” Garsheilis said. “They’re kind of timid animals.”

Black bears may have developed their apprehensive nature during the ice age, when they faced rivals such as saber-toothed cats, dire wolves in packs, huge American lions and the giant short-faced bear, the primitive species that weighed more than a ton, had powerful jaws and could run fast with its long legs, Rogers said.

“Black bears wouldn’t have stood a chance against any of those,” he said. “They developed an attitude of run first, ask questions later and stay by trees.”

During more than 50 years of studying bears, the only time Rogers ever got “nipped or slapped” was when he was trying to put a radio collar on a bear without using tranquilizers, which he found would cause them to lose trust and make them harder to observe in the long run, he said.

In addition, most bears will run away from a dog that’s chasing it, Garshelis said, while Rogers said bears are quite easy to drive away.

“I’ve never found a bear that I couldn’t chase,” he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

LA Police work to track down owners of stolen art

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iStock(LOS ANGELES) — The Los Angeles police department has launched a program to track down stolen art.

Operation Demetra, named after a similar European task force, was launched in June after an auction house contacted police to say they had received a few paintings they suspected were stolen.

The LAPD was able to link the paintings back to art pieces that went missing years ago and eventually recovered more than 100 items from several warehouses in Los Angeles and one in Orange County.

“Art theft is really rare. It’s a specific item,” Los Angeles Detective Mel Vergara told ABC News.

Some of the pieces that were recovered in June include signed lithographs of pictures by Pablo Picasso, antiques such as furniture and firearms, and collectibles signed by the likes of Grace Kelly and U.S. Presidents.

“Some of these paintings don’t have the artists’ names because a lot of them were damaged and stuff,” said Detective Vergara. “They weren’t properly stored.”

Vergara said he has reached out to local art experts from the Getty Museum, the Broad and even the Autry Museum to uncover the details of each found art piece.

One of the art pieces that was stolen in 1992 and recovered in the heist was worth $60,000. Vergara thinks the rest of the art pieces are worth thousands.

In an effort to find the owners of each art piece, the LAPD has posted photos of the artwork online.

“We want to be able to ID them to owners or to relatives that are living and to get a hold of them,” said Detective Vergara. “We’d be more than happy to unite them to it.”

The LAPD has been cracking down on art thefts since the ’90s.

When a number of robberies occurred in areas across the West LA, a unique two-detective LAPD task force was created to find art that had been stolen, Vergara said. It was the first of its kind the LAPD was the only force in the country dedicated to finding stolen artwork. Because of their efforts, over $100M worth of art has been recovered.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Virginia college offers free tuition, housing to students in Bahamas displaced by Hurricane Dorian

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iStock(HAMPTON, Va.) — Hampton University is lending a hand to students in the Bahamas displaced by Hurricane Dorian.

The Hampton, Virginia, school is offering University of Bahamas students free tuition and free housing for the fall semester after the storm battered the island for nearly two days, according to a statement from the university.

The death toll in the Bahamas reached 23 on Thursday, but Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told a local radio station that the final count will be “staggering.”

Dorian, which reached the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, left “generational devastation” across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, which are both in the archipelago’s northern region, east of southern Florida.

“Young Bahamians from Abaco and Grand Bahama who are looking for the tools to rebuild their lives and our home will find them at Hampton,” Lawrence Rigby, who is from Nassau and is a former student at the Bahamas college, said.

Dr. William R. Harvey, Hampton University president, said he hoped to give students the chance “to achieve and meet their goals.”

Harrowing aerial footage from the Bahamas shows widespread devastation after the storm, which landed as the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record.

A slew of celebrities and tourism agencies have offered aid to the island, including donations from Sandals Resort and pledges of a million dollars in disaster relief from Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 2, is making its way along the U.S. coastline toward the Carolinas, possibly making landfall in North Carolina Friday morning.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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