Houston, Jan 4 (AP/UNB) — Authorities on Thursday released a composite sketch of a man accused in the death of a 7-year-old black girl during a Houston-area shooting that her family believes might have been racially motivated.
The suspect is described as a white man in his 30s or 40s, wearing a black hoodie, with pale skin and blue eyes.
Investigators say he pulled up alongside the car Jazmine Barnes was riding in with her family Sunday and fired into the vehicle in the eastern outskirts of Houston. Jazmine died at the scene while her mother was shot in the arm.
The shooting occurred on a service road as the family was heading to a store.
The suspect had previously been described by authorities as having a beard.
But Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a news conference that additional information received by investigators made them realize the suspect had more of a "five o'clock shadow."
Authorities on Thursday also released a short video of what they believe is the red truck the suspect drove.
"We're not gonna rest until we find justice for Jazmine," Gonzalez said.
At a separate news conference, Jazmine's mother, LaPorsha Washington, said she believed the shooting could have been racially motivated. Some Houston activists believe race prompted the shooting and point to an unsolved incident in the area in 2017 in which a suspect described as white shot into a vehicle carrying at least two black people.
Gonzalez said authorities have not yet determined a motive in Sunday's shooting and have not found links between it and the 2017 cases.
Investigators remain focused on finding the suspect, Gonzalez said.
Washington implored the shooter to turn himself in.
"His conscience is finally going to get to him after he sees my child's face go across (television screens) so many times. He's going to turn himself in," Washington said. "Do the right thing."
Lee Merritt, a national civil rights attorney with an office in Dallas and New-York-based activist and writer Shaun King, have offered a $100,000 reward for a tip that leads to an arrest.
Merritt, who had been working with Jazmine's family, said while there is no confirmation the shooting was racially motivated, "we do believe it was racially motivated in part because our nation at this moment is a highly racially charged society."
Activists planned to hold a community rally on Saturday to knock on doors and pass out the sketch of the suspect in the area where the shooting took place.
Jazmine's death has prompted an outpouring of support for her family from people, celebrities and sports stars across the country. On Thursday, Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins tweeted that he would donate his check from Saturday's NFL Wild Card playoff game to help pay for Jazmine's funeral costs. Her funeral is on Tuesday.
Washington, Jan 4 (AP/UNB) — House Democrats prepared Thursday to pass a plan to re-open the government without funding President Donald Trump's promised border wall, after Trump made a surprise appearance pledging to keep up the fight for his signature campaign promise.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Senate Republicans should "take yes for an answer" and pass a bill — without funds for the wall — that the Senate approved on a voice vote last month.
"We're not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we're not doing a wall?" Pelosi told reporters at a news conference Thursday night.
Pelosi, who was elected speaker earlier Thursday, also took a shot a Trump, calling his proposal "a wall between reality and his constituents."
Trump strode into the White House briefing room Thursday — the 13th day of the partial government shutdown —and declared that "without a wall you cannot have border security." He then left without taking questions from reporters.
The appearance came hours after the new Congress convened, with Democrats taking majority control of the House and returning Pelosi to the speakership after eight years of GOP control. Democrats expected to quickly pass legislation to re-open the government without funding the wall, but it is going nowhere in the Senate, where Republicans want Trump's endorsement before voting on a funding package.
Trump is demanding billions of dollars to build his wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which the Democrats have refused.
Asked if she would give Trump $1 for a wall to reopen the government, Pelosi said: "One dollar? Yeah, one dollar. The fact is a wall is an immorality. It's not who we are as a nation."
Congressional leaders from both parties met with Trump at the White House Wednesday, but failed to make progress during their first sit-down in weeks. The White House has invited the leaders back Friday for another round of talks that officials have suggested might be more successful now that Pelosi has been sworn in.
Reporters were told Thursday that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be holding a hastily called late afternoon briefing. Instead, out walked Trump, flanked by members of the unions that represent border patrol and immigration enforcement agents. It was his first time delivering remarks at the briefing room podium.
"You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want," Trump said. "But essentially we need protection in our country. We're going to make it good. The people of our country want it."
Trump said his meeting with the union officials had long been planned and just happened to come at "a very opportune time." He also claimed his refusal to budge was winning praise, telling reporters, "I have never had so much support as I have in the last week over my stance for border security."
Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the border wall, although Republicans strongly support it.
White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have spent recent days trying to make a public and private case that the situation at the border has reached a "crisis" situation that demands more money than Democrats have offered.
Trump tweeted an ominous video Thursday with images of what appeared to be migrants trying to rush the border and clashing with law enforcement, beneath the words "crisis at the border," ''drugs" and "crime." The video concludes with footage of Trump at the border along with audio from one of his rallies in which he vows to build his promised border wall and the crowd chants "Build the wall!"
The Democratic package to end the shutdown would include a bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels — with $1.3 billion for border security, far less than Trump has said he wants— through Feb. 8 as bipartisan talks would continue.
It also would include a separate measure to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. That measure would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.
The White House has rejected the Democratic package.
"Why not fully fund the Department of Homeland Security? Why doesn't the Pelosi bill do that?" said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put the House Democratic package on the Senate floor and send it to the president, saying it would show Trump "the sweet light of reason."
McConnell has dismissed the idea as a "total nonstarter" and a waste of time.
But some Republican senators appeared open to at least part of the Democrats' proposal.
"I'm not saying their whole plan is a valid plan, but I see no reason why the bills that are ready to go and on which we've achieved an agreement should be held hostage to this debate over border security," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
"Congress needs to take further action on border security, but that work should be done when the government is fully open," added Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was on the Hill Thursday to swear in new senators, took a hard line, telling Fox News Channel's Tucker Carlson, "Bottom line, if there's no wall, there's no deal."
Trump has said the partial shutdown, which began Dec. 22, will last "as long as it takes" to get the funding he wants.
The White House said Trump made calls Thursday to the family of Cpl. Ronil Singh, the Newman, California, police officer shot to death during a Dec. 26 traffic stop. The suspected shooter is a Mexican man accused of living in the U.S. illegally. Republicans have seized on the case to call for tougher border security.
Fort Lauderdale, Jan 4 (AP/UNB) — Two big rigs and two passenger vehicles collided and spilled diesel fuel across a Florida highway Thursday, sparking a massive fire that killed seven people, authorities said.
The wreck happened on Interstate 75 about a mile (1.6 kilometers) south of Alachua, near Gainesville. The flames were fed by about 50 gallons (189 liters) of diesel, authorities said.
Several others were taken to the hospital, some with critical injuries, the Gainesville Sun reported. Authorities initially said six had died but late Thursday night revealed a seventh victim had perished.
Emergency crews extinguished the fire and said they were treating the crash as a homicide investigation, but didn't say why. The fire was so intense that authorities said it damaged parts of the road.
A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol told The Associated Press in a phone interview that their top priorities were to conduct a thorough investigation and to identify the deceased victims.
"There's going to be families that need to be notified that their loves ones have perished," said Lieutenant Patrick Riordan.
It's unclear whether the victims were killed in the wreck or whether they burned in the fire, which would make identification more difficult, he said.
The aftermath closed part of the highway in both directions, causing massive delays.
The crash was in the northbound lanes, but southbound lanes were closed for hours to keep a route open for first responders, according to a tweet from the Alachua County Sherriff's office, which said the emergency "required all hands on deck." Authorities opened the northbound lanes around 8 p.m. but said southbound lanes could be closed until morning.
Debris including personal property and vehicle parts was scattered across the road, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
A helicopter arrived to search for any victims who may have been in nearby woods.
Washington, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he has received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and will be setting up a meeting with Kim "in the not-too-distant future" to restart talks about the North's nuclear programs.
"He'd like to meet. I'd like to meet," Trump said as he held up the letter during a Cabinet meeting.
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted: "Kim Jong Un says North Korea will not make or test nuclear weapons, or give them to others — & he is ready to meet President Trump anytime."
Kim has met several times with the leader of South Korea and attended a summit in Singapore with Trump in June. Kim has signed vague statements pledging a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but has not described how and when that might occur.
In a New Year's message, Kim hinted at a possible cap on nuclear weapons production if the U.S. took equivalent steps. He did not elaborate. He also stood by his commitment on denuclearization, which does not mean the unilateral ridding of the North's arsenal. Both areas need to be further clarified in negotiations.
Kim sees such weapons as a valuable deterrent to a possible U.S. military strike. He also believes his weapons put him in a position of strength from which he can make demands and extract concessions.
The message he is conveying to Trump is for the American leader to start addressing his concerns about security and easing sanctions or the North Korean will have no choice but to try a different, less-friendly approach. Kim is warning that he will be able to make a case to China, Russia and possibly even South Korea that if the situation deteriorates, Washington will be to blame.
During the Cabinet meeting, Trump lamented that he's not been given enough credit for opening a dialogue with North Korea. Trump said his engagement with North Korea helped stave off what he said "could have been World War III."
But he and Kim spent most of 2017 exchanging personal insults and war threats before agreeing to their meeting in Singapore.
"You know, frankly, if this administration didn't take place, if another administration came in instead of this administration ... you'd be at war right now," he told reporters. "You'd be having a nice, big fat war in Asia. And it wouldn't be pleasant."
Before Trump took office, the United States engaged in four major negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, stretching from the mid-1990s to about 2012. All were aimed at getting North Korea to halt or disable its nuclear missile programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic concessions.
Trump also said North Korea has tremendous economic potential so he looked forward to meeting again with Kim. "We'll set that up," he said. "We'll be setting that up in the not too distant future."
Concord, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — New Hampshire Democrats asserted their newly acquired power at the Statehouse on Wednesday by restoring a ban on guns and other deadly weapons on the House floor.
For the last decade, rules on allowing guns in Representatives Hall, including the anteroom and public gallery overlooking it, have flipped back and forth depending on which party held the majority. After four years in the minority, Democrats regained control of the House in November, and one of their first actions was to restore the rule Republicans had thrown out in 2015.
The 220-163 vote largely followed party lines, with only four Democrats voting against the ban. One Republican voted for it.
"This is an issue of gun safety and public safety," said Majority Leader Douglas Ley, Democrat, of Jaffrey. "We don't want to wait, as has been suggested, until there is a problem because if we do that, we are waiting until there is a tragedy."
Supporters of the ban called it common sense, given that children frequently visit the Statehouse. They cited two recent incidents as cause for concern: A House lawmaker dropped a loaded revolver onto the floor as she arrived late to a committee hearing in 2017, and another lawmaker dropped his handgun at a hearing in 2012. Neither weapon discharged. Neither is currently in the House.
Republican Rep. John Burt, of Goffstown, said banning guns was as absurd as banning women or minorities would be, and said the House doesn't have the authority to turn its chamber into "some kind of Constitution-free zone." After receiving five death threats in his four terms, Burt said he will continue exercising what he called his God-given right to carry a gun, despite the vote.
"I want to make sure every crazy nut out there that loves to go to these gun-free zones and do their killing understand one thing: I, Rep. John Burt of Goffstown, will not be a victim in my House, the people's house, because you guys have the majority," he said.
The first ban on weapons in the House was enacted in 1971. It was requested by a Republican House speaker after a fellow lawmaker threatened to shoot him, said Rep. Timothy Smith, Democrat, of Manchester.
"I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that if there is a threat of gun violence in this chamber, that threat does not come from a nut in the gallery," Smith said. He later apologized, saying he did not mean to suggest any of his colleagues were "nuts."
Several female lawmakers expressed concern about being unprotected if they leave their guns at home or having them stolen if they store them in their cars while at the Statehouse. Under the rule, Statehouse security officers would provide secure storage for weapons.
"Why are you choosing to leave me defenseless?" asked Rep. Kimberly Rice, a Republican, of Hudson. "Let's be honest. Violence against elected officials is on the increase, yet you chose to leave us defenseless."
About 50 opponents of the ban gathered outside the Statehouse in 20-degree-Fahrenheit (minus 7-degree Celsius) weather before the vote. One man wearing a tri-corner hat and a gun on each hip carried a sign that read, "Keep Calm and Carry," on one side. The other side said: "Ban Idiots, Not Guns."