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Anonymous caller warned Colorado school of 'repeat of Columbine' 5 months before shooting

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Chet Strange for The Washington Post via Getty Images(DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo.) — In the wake of a deadly shooting at a Colorado school this week, ABC News has obtained a letter in which a school official detailed a warning called in to the school board in December, describing a troubled school and concerns of a “repeat of Columbine” on the campus.

The internal school letter sent to Penelope “Penny” Eucker, executive director of the Highlands Ranch STEM School, outlines a phone call made by an anonymous woman who said she was the parent of a senior at the school complaining of an “extremely high drug culture” and “student violence due to high pressure environment.”

Wendy Vogel, education director of the Douglas County School District Board, received the phone call from the parent on Dec. 17 and made detailed notes of the conversation, according to the letter.

The letter, dated Dec. 19, was written by Daniel Winsor, director of Choice Programming for the school district, and addressed to Eucker. A copy of the letter has also been conveyed to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Winsor wrote that the parent cautioned Vogel that a “perfect storm” was brewing at the school and that students were “susceptible to ‘copy-catting'” of Colorado mass shootings, specifically the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton that left 12 students and a teacher dead, and the December 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School in which a gunman fatally shot one student before killing himself.

“The individual expressed concern about a repeat of Columbine and Arapahoe,” according to the letter sent to Eucker. “Many students are suicidal and violent in school. Several students have reported sexual assault in school and that nothing is being done.”

The anonymous caller also complained of STEM School students “dealing and using cocaine, meth, marijuana, and LSD, including putting marijuana in drinks.”

“Several students have gone to rehab,” the caller told Vogel, according to the letter.

The caller also recounted an incident in which a student spread feces on the walls at the school, and said that a bomb threat had been made after “kids learned how to build a bomb in school.”

“The executive director has ignored many complaints and issues that have been brought forward and told this individual, ‘I know we have bullying and special needs students that cause problems, but those students will just leave,'” the letter states.

The letter, quoting the anonymous parent, states that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department had investigated several issues at the school and “they have expressed concerns about safety issues.”

Winsor concluded the letter by writing that school district officials were requesting an investigation of the allegations “to determine their legitimacy and to take any remedial action that may be appropriate.”

In a statement to ABC News on Thursday, STEM school officials said the allegations were investigated and found to be without merit.

“While STEM took the allegations seriously, our investigation revealed no evidence to support any of the allegations raised in the anonymous complaint,” according to the statement.

Just before 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday, a pair of gunmen, both allegedly students at the STEM School, opened fire on classmates. An 18-year-old student, identified as Kendrick Castillo, was shot to death when he and two other students charged one of the gunmen inside a classroom in an attempt to stop the shooting, police and witnesses said.

Joshua Jones, 18, one of the students who helped tackle alleged gunman Devon Erickson, spoke out about the incident on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday, explaining how Castillo pushed the gunman against a wall before he and student Brendan Bialy grabbed him and threw him to the ground.

“When it actually happened, I had to make that decision that nobody should really ever have to make, which was run toward the gunman or run away from him. I chose to run towards him,” said Jones, who suffered two gunshot wounds to his left leg in the encounter.

Meanwhile, a court hearing scheduled Friday for Erickson and his alleged accomplice, a juvenile whose name has not been released, was postponed until May 15, while investigators continue to collect evidence in the case and determine a motive for the shooting.

The suspects allegedly obtained the handguns used in the attack by breaking into a locked gun cabinet belonging to one of their parents, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating whether an armed security guard at the school, identified by his lawyer as Marine veteran Shamson Sundara, 29, mistakenly fired at least one shot in the direction of a responding deputy during the chaotic moments of the shooting, and whether a student was injured by his gunfire, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

Police and sheriff’s deputies who responded to the shooting did not fire a single shot, sources said.

“He took every measure in his power to prevent further harm of students … and I think he’s a hero,” Sundara’s attorney, Robert Burk, told ABC News.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said that the actions Sundara took “saved lives.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Suspected kidnapping of 7-month-old girl was a hoax, mom arrested: Police

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Henderson County Sheriffs Office(ASHEVILLE, N.C.) — A 35-year-old North Carolina mother has been charged with attempted first-degree murder of her 7-month-old daughter.

Asheville police in North Carolina received a 911 call Thursday saying Krista Noelle Madden and her baby, Shaylie, had been kidnapped. The call did not come from Madden, police said at a press conference Friday.

Authorities were able to trace Madden’s cellphone to Henderson County and police officers were sent to the area where her phone had been tracked. They also received a call that an abandoned car was found on a “remote, gravel, private drive” near the location of the Madden’s phone.

Upon arriving at the scene, police found Madden, who said she had escaped a kidnapping. The abandoned car was identified as hers.

Police dogs found no trace of anyone else in the area except for Madden, Henderson police said at the press conference.

Later Thursday, police received another call just before 8 p.m., this time from a family saying they found a baby who appeared to have been tossed into a ravine.

The baby was found after a woman went to check her mailbox and thought she heard a baby crying and called her husband for help.

“[The husband] arrives at the scene, descends about a 75-foot ravine to find the child alone with a car seat,” Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin said.

Shaylie, who was admitted to a local hospital, is believed to be in good condition, according to Griffin.

Police now say there is no indication a kidnapping took place, although it is possible the original 911 caller truly believed Madden and Shaylie had been kidnapped.

Police took Madden into custody Thursday night and served her with an arrest warrant.

Madden, who is being held on $750,000 bond, is due in court Friday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Jailed moms to get bailed out for Mother’s Day

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Bill Oxford/iStock(NEW YORK) — Childcare can create complications for any working parent, but for Shalice Williams, the stakes were especially high: she was due to check in with her probation officer and was told she couldn’t bring her three children.

“The children are not allowed into the office, and so me not being able to show up with my kids was technically me not showing up,” Williams said.

She missed the appointment and, as a result, was later arrested for violating her parole. Unable to afford the $2,500 bail, she was held in a Baltimore jail for 42 days.

Then, just ahead of Mother’s Day, Williams got a very welcome surprise and was informed that her bail would be paid by a project called “Black Mama’s Bail Out,” which had just launched a bail drive aimed at African American caregivers and moms.

“It was a beautiful feeling, for people who did not know me, to come and get me out for Mother’s Day,” Williams, who is now 25 years old, told ABC News.

That was back in 2017, the inaugural year of Black Mama’s Bail Out. Now in its third year, the project, which is run through the group National Bail Out, has helped release 300 people from pre-trial detention.

This year, Black Mamas Bail Out will be making bail payments for more than 100 people on and around Mother’s Day in some 35 cities. In addition to making the payments, the group offers outreach, like reminding recipients of their court appearances and providing supportive services like helping to arrange housing and transportation.

Criticism of cash bail – a financial guarantee that an individual will appear in court – has been gaining national attention in recent years, as reform efforts have gathered momentum in several states. California ended cash bail in August, and New Jersey effectively eliminated it in 2017. New York state recently eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes, but resisted the push to end it entirely.
Will the state pay you for a wrongful conviction? Depends on the state.

Activists say that low-income people who are unable to make bail payments unfairly face pressure to plead guilty or go into debilitating debt just to secure their release, and that the system is especially unfair to those responsible for young children.

“Cash bail is one of the main drivers of mass incarceration in the U.S. and it disproportionally impacts black and low income communities,” said National Bail Out’s Arissa Hall, who is working on the campaign.

Because the system “impacts people at the margins,” it can easily be ignored. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people in the country’s jails “are being held in a jail because they can’t afford jail, not because they’ve been convicted of a crime,” Hall said.

Williams was initially sent to jail in 2014, when she was charged with multiple counts of second degree assault. She said she was in jail for a week after that arrest, until family members were able to raise the money to cover her bail.

“That week seemed like years,” Williams said.
Inmate gave birth ‘alone in an isolation cell’ hours after asking for a doctor

She was later sentenced to time served and put on probation. She only returned to jail after the 2017 parole violation when she faced childcare issues.

Across the country, the number of women in U.S. jails increased 14-fold between 1970 and 2014, swelling from just under 8,000 women to almost 110,000 nationwide, according to the latest federal data.

“Even as were starting to see the population of men tick downward ever so slightly, the number of women continues to grow,” said Liz Swavola, a program manager at the Vera Institute of Justice, a non-profit organization focused on criminal justice reform.

“The vast majority of women are in jail for nonviolent offenses, so this includes property offenses, drug offenses and public order offenses,” such as disorderly conduct or loitering, she said, “Very low level offenses.”

While judges are generally more likely to release female defendants on their own recognizance – meaning they are not required to post bail – when women are required to post bail, they are less likely than men to be able to afford it, Swavola said. And while more work needs to be done on women in jail, the available research does suggest that probation or parole violations are significant factors, she said.

Activists in many states have set up community bail funds, which can be used to pay bail fees locally, and the money is reinvested once the person appears in court as required, and the bail is returned by the court.

Peter Goldberg, the executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, described the funds as an “active way for communities to push back against a system that is ransoming freedom.” Just as, during the Civil Rights Movement, an individual would sometimes bail out activists en masse, today, those who question the fairness of the cash bail system on low-income people can take action, he said.

Williams knows the personal costs of being held in pretrial detention all too well.

Prior to her arrest, she was working as a cashier at a local Goodwill store, but afterwards she lost her job and her housing, she said. When she was released, her belongings had been moved to the street, and neighbors had picked through it and taken what they wanted.

“I had to start completely over,” she said, adding that while her children had been staying with their father while she was in jail, many of their belongings – including important paperwork like identification documents – was lost or stolen when her house was cleared out.

Williams, is still looking for a stable job two years after being fired from Goodwill. She does some hair styling and babysitting – “odds and ends” she said – as she continues to look for something that’s full-time. She said that the Black Mamas Bail Out team has been helping her with housing and trying to find a job, as well as “my support system, someone to talk to.”

“They became family,” she said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Colorado school shooting victim explains how he helped pin down gunman

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ABC News(NEW YORK) — A student wounded twice in the leg during a Colorado school shooting this week spoke out on Friday, explaining how he and two friends stood up to one of the two gunmen who burst into their classroom.

Joshua Jones, 18, said on ABC News’ Good Morning America that he never thought about how he would react in a school shooting until he was confronted by the harrowing circumstances on Tuesday at the Highlands Ranch STEM School in a suburb of Denver.

“When it actually happened, I had to make that decision that nobody should really ever have make, which was run toward the gunman or run away from him. I chose to run towards him,” Jones told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

Just before 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday, a pair of alleged gunmen, both students at the school, opened fire. When one of the alleged gunmen, Devon Erickson, entered Jones’ classroom, student Kendrick Castillo didn’t hesitate to fight back, Jones said.

Jones said he saw Castillo and classmate Brendan Bialy immediately go after the gunman to save others and his instincts kicked in to help.

“I saw the gunman come in the room brandishing a weapon and saying, ‘Nobody move,'” Jones said. “And then I saw Kendrick and Brendan get up and, you know, I was right there with them. We rushed him. Kendrick pushed him against the wall. Me and Brendan grabbed him and threw him to the ground. I stayed on top of him while Brendan went off and tried to help Kendrick. Then the police arrived soon after and it was harrowing but we got out of there.”

Castillo, 18, who dreamed of going to college and becoming a mechanical engineer, was killed in the shooting and eight other students, including Jones, were wounded.

Jones was shot twice in his left leg during the confrontation.

“It was instinct after about the half second … because I wasn’t sure what was truly happening. It was confusing,” he said of making the decision to fight instead of flee. “You know, you never expect that to happen at your school. So when it does it’s confusing and scary but then you go for it.”

Erickson, 18, is in jail and facing charges of murder and attempted murder. His alleged accomplice, a juvenile, has not been identified as prosecutors decide whether to charge him as an adult.

Investigators have yet to say what allegedly motivated the shooting.

Jones said he was not surprised to see Castillo leading the charge.

“Kendrick was a kind person,” Jones said. “He always had a kind word for someone. He loved his car, he loved his parents. It was evident that if you talked to him that he would, you know, help you out if you ever needed it. He was just a lovely person. He had so many plans for the future, too.”

Jones parents, Lorie and David Jones, said they are thankful their son survived but are heartbroken for Castillo’s parents.

David Jones said he was proud of his son for making what he considered the “right decision.”

“He may have even saved his own sister’s life. She also attends that same school,” Jones said on GMA.

He went on, “Kendrick … it’s horrible for his parents. I’m glad that my son came home. I feel so bad for them that theirs didn’t. Everybody here loses and I’m glad that our loss is not as great as others.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Torrential rain causes flash flooding, water rescues in Houston

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Houston Fire Department(HOUSTON) — Trailing thunderstorms brought torrential rain to parts of southeast Texas and southern Louisiana overnight. Rainfall rates of 2 to 3 inches caused major flash flooding in parts of the region, especially metro Houston.

Rainfall totals in this region are estimated to be up to 6 inches, though official totals are not in yet. The very heavy rain caused numerous water rescues in Houston on Thursday night and stranded cars on area roadways.

This rain comes on top of at least over 10 inches of rain for parts of southeast Texas in the last week.

The torrential rain was accompanied by damaging winds and very large hail in the southern U.S. Galveston, Texas, reported a wind gust of 76 mph, while Polk County, Texas saw hail up to 4 inches in diameter. There were 100 reports of severe weather from Texas to Alabama in the last 24 hours.

The Friday morning radar was showing an organized area of strong thunderstorms with torrential rain over eastern Texas and southern Louisiana. The severe aspects of this system are winding down, but the torrential rain will continue in the region.

Rainfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour are possible over southern Louisiana and totals could exceed 4 inches through the morning hours.

Much of eastern Texas to Mississippi are still under a flash flood watch, because any additional rain could exacerbate flooding in the region.

Unfortunately, the weather through the weekend looks complicated. Most of this storm activity is forming along a stalled stationary front from Texas to the Carolinas. More storms will continue to fire up along this front through the weekend.

One of those new storm systems will develop and begin to slide east into the southern U.S., with the possibility of torrential rain from Louisiana to Mississippi on Saturday.

As the storm approaches the East Coast late Saturday night and Sunday, it will likely spawn the next round of organized severe weather. Damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes are possible. At this time, it is too early to determine how bad these storms will be.

Locally, over 6 inches of rain remains possible in parts of the South, from Louisiana to Mississippi, through the weekend. Additionally, the flood threat is spreading east into the Mid-Atlantic, with 2 to 3 inches of rain headed for the Appalachians and the Carolinas through Sunday night.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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