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Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

By CASEY SMITH

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A gunman killed eight people and wounded several others before apparently taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said, in the latest in a spate of mass shootings in the United States after a relative lull during the pandemic.

Five people were hospitalized after the Thursday night shooting, according to police. One of them had critical injuries, police spokesperson Genae Cook said. Another two people were treated and released at the scene. FedEx said people who worked for the company were among the dead.

A witness said that he was working inside the building when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

It was the latest in a recent string of mass shootings across the U.S. Last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses across the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

It was at least the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis alone. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March.

Police have not identified the shooter or said whether he was an employee at the facility. They said “preliminary information from evidence at the scene” indicated that he died by suicide.

“We’re still trying to ascertain the exact reason and cause for this incident,” Cook said.

Craig McCartt, of the Indianapolis police, told NBC Today early Friday that officers still knew “very little.” Chris Bavender, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Indianapolis office, said that they are helping the police with the investigation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting, and the White House said President Joe Biden would be. Biden’s advisors have been in touch with the city’s mayor and law enforcement officials.

Family members gathered at a nearby hotel to await word on loved ones — and some employees were bused there for tearful reunions. But other relatives said they still had no information about their loved ones hours later. Most employees aren’t allowed to carry cellphones inside the FedEx building, making contact with them difficult.

“When you see notifications on your phone, but you’re not getting a text back from your kid and you’re not getting information and you still don’t know where they are … what are you supposed to do?” said Mindy Carson, holding back tears. Her daughter, Jessica, works in the facility and she had not heard from her.

Police were called to reports of gunfire Thursday just after 11 p.m., and officers “came in contact with (an) active shooter incident,” Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.

“The officers responded, they came in and did their job. A lot of them are trying to face this, because this is a sight that no one should have to see,” Cook said.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett lamented that the city was “confronted with the horrific news of yet another mass shooting, an act of violence that senselessly claimed the lives of eight of our neighbors.”

“In times like this, words like justice and sorrow fall short in response for those senselessly taken,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until April 20.

A man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.

“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”

He said his niece did not know the shooter.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

North Mahaska prepares for prom

It’s prom season in the No Coast Network listening area.  Prom is an event that is a high priority for high school students.  It’s also an event that wasn’t held in many places last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  North Mahaska is holding its junior prom on Saturday (4/17) and junior class sponsor Brant Bollman says the students are looking forward to it.

“Yeah, they’re excited.  They’re glad we’ve been able to keep COVID at bay for a while so we can have a normal prom…or as normal as we can.”

North Mahaska junior Gracee Chandler is happy there’s a prom this year.

“It’s pretty cool to do it this year because it got taken away from us so suddenly last year and we were all so excited for it.  So we get basically a second chance.”

Breanna Fogle, another junior, tells us what she’s looking forward to at the prom.

“Just like, being able to be in a group setting and have fun with friends and make memories on a special night.”

Other area high schools having prom this weekend include EBF, Pella and Knoxville.

Southern Iowa Speedway Season Opener

The 2021 racing season is set to take it’s first green flag of the season on Wednesday, April 21st at the Southern Iowa Speedway located on the Mahaska County Fairgrounds in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Following a shortened season in 2020 due to the pandemic the Southern Iowa Fairboard is looking forward to hosting a full season of exciting racing action on the Mahaska County Monster ½ mile dirt track.

Racing action will again be contested in five classes of race cars on Wednesday nights, Stock Cars will be joined by the Sportmods, Hobby Stocks, Sport Compacts and Wingless Sprint Cars. Wednesday nights racing action will get underway with hot laps taking to the track at 7:15 with racing to follow.  If you can’t make it to the races, they can be heard live each week on KBOE-FM. 

Naig says Raccoon River’s endangered ranking is ‘propaganda’

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Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig is dismissing a national environmental group’s report that cited ag run-off in ranking Iowa’s Raccoon River as one of the nation’s most-endangered rivers.

“That so-called report was a bit of propaganda, I think. It was obviously a Washington, D.C based advocacy organization,” Naig says. “They can go out and say what they want to, but what they talked about related to Iowa is not based in fact. We’re moving in the right direction.”

The American Rivers report described the farm chemicals and manure that drain into the Raccoon River as “a grave threat” to using the river as a source for drinking water. Naig says there’s recently been an acceleration of the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy state officials unveiled in 2013 to promote rather than require conservation practices on Iowa farms.

“We’ve got a long ways to go and I don’t sugar coat that at all…The strategy calls for a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loss off of the Iowa landscape,” Naig says. “That’s a big number, not easily achieved. It’s going to time and focus, but the evidence is moving in the right direction.”

About two million acres of Iowa farmland is now planted with oats, rye and other so-called cover crops that hold soils in place. Naig says it took 15 years to reconstruct 100 weblands and another 50 are currently under development. The number of filtration systems called “bioreactors” in Iowa will double after one project in Polk County is completed later this year.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the drinking water system for half a million central Iowans says there will be a catastrophe if the state doesn’t find a way to more quickly reduce ag pollution in the Raccoon River. Naig says the Des Moines Water Works is providing safe drinking water now and every indication is it will be able to do so in the future.

“Last year, 2020 — a year unlike any other in terms of disruption to all of our lives, we set a record in terms of conservation adoption in the state of Iowa,” Naig says. “Even in that environment, more farmers, more landowners, more focus, more resources, more partners doing more on the ground than at any other time in our state’s history.”

Naig made his comments during taping of “Iowa Press” which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa PBS.

Four days with no COVID deaths in Iowa

It’s now four consecutive days with no deaths reported from coronavirus in Iowa.  And the number of positive tests for COVID-19 in the No Coast Network listening area seems to be slowing down.  The Iowa Department of Public Health says there were another 538 new positive COVID-19 tests reported Thursday (4/15), bringing the state total to 358,677.  There were four new positive tests for coronavirus reported in Jasper County, one in each of Wapello, Marion, Keokuk and Poweshiek Counties with no new positive tests in Mahaska and Monroe Counties.

Bahena Rivera in court

The man accused of murdering Mollie Tibbetts was in court Thursday (4/15) for the first time in over a year. Cristian Bahena Rivera attended a pretrial conference for his first degree murder trial.  Rivera is accused of killing Tibbetts in her hometown of Brooklyn in July 2018.  Bahena Rivera’s trial is scheduled to start May 17 in Davenport.  The trial has been moved from Poweshiek County because of pretrial publicity.

US expels Russian diplomats, imposes new round of sanctions

By ERIC TUCKER and AAMER MADHANI

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and sanctions against dozens of people and companies as it moved to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

The sanctions also target Moscow’s ability to borrow money by prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian bonds directly from Russian institutions.

The actions, foreshadowed for weeks by the administration, represent the first retaliatory measures announced against the Kremlin for the hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach. In that intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine agencies in what U.S. officials believe was an intelligence-gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.

Besides that hack, U.S. officials last month alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for reelection as president, though there’s no evidence Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.

Russia swiftly denounced the actions and warned of retaliation.

The measures announced Thursday include sanctions on six Russian companies that support the country’s cyber activities, in addition to sanctions on 32 individuals and entities accused of attempting to interfere in last year’s presidential election, including by spreading disinformation. The U.S. also sanctioned eight people and entities tied to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

The 10 diplomats being expelled include representatives of Russian intelligence services, the Biden administration said.

Other measures are expected as well, though the administration is not likely to announce them. Officials have been advising that their response to Russia would be in ways both seen and unseen.

“These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

But, he added, “Where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for cooperation with Russia, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with U.S. interests.”

The White House also said Biden was using diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to respond to reports that Russia encouraged the Taliban to attack U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan based on the “best assessments” of the intelligence community.

Reports of alleged “bounties” surfaced last year, with the Trump administration coming under fire for not raising the issue directly with Russia. The White House did not publicly confirm the reports. “The safety and well-being of U.S. military personnel, and that of our allies and partners, is an absolute priority of the United States,” the White House said Thursday.

After the sanctions were announced, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that “such aggressive behavior will undoubtedly trigger a resolute retaliation.”

“Washington should realize that it will have to pay a price for the degradation of the bilateral ties,” Zakharova said, adding that “the responsibility for that will fully lie with the United States.”

She said the ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador for a “hard conversation,” but wouldn’t immediately say what action Russia will take.

The sanctions send a clear retributive message to Russia and are aimed at serving as a deterrent. But they are certain to exacerbate an already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

President Joe Biden told Putin this week in their second call to “de-escalate tensions” following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and said the U.S. would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

In a television interview last month, Biden replied “I do” when asked if he thought Putin was a “killer.” He said the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Putin were done. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the U.S. and pointed at the U.S. history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the U.S. have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

U.S. officials are still grappling with the aftereffects of the SolarWinds intrusion, which affected agencies including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security departments, and are still assessing what information may have been stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defenses.

The actions would represent the second major round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Russia. Last month, the U.S. sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.

—-

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Kabul contributed.

Regents won’t mandate vaccinations for state universities

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The president of the Board of Regents says they will continue to try and get vaccinations for everyone at the three state universities, but Michael Richards says they won’t require them.

“The Regents universities will not be mandating any vaccinations for any students employees now, or for the 2021-2022 academic year,” Richards says. He did encourage students at Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa to get a vaccination.

“I strongly believe in the effectiveness of the vaccines. We will continue to make them available, and we encourage people to get vaccinated — but they will not be required at our three universities,” according to Richards. Richards noted that some colleges in the U.S. are requiring student vaccinations.

He made his comments during the Board of Regents meeting today. The Regents voted to approve the proposed room and board rates. The most popular double residence hall room and meal plan at the University of Iowa will go up 2.69%. The rates at Iowa State University will drop on those plans by 1.14% — while the rates at UNI will stay the same.

The rock stars of one of Iowa’s oldest state parks finally reopen for visitors

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The primary feature of one of eastern Iowa’s most popular tourist attractions reopens to the public today for the first time since 2019.

The caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park were kept sealed off all of last year due to the pandemic.

Ryland Richards, who manages the park, says they’re again ready to welcome visitors, from casual hikers to serious spelunkers, though he reminds, we’re still in a pandemic.

“It’s up to them, whatever they feel comfortable with,” Richards says. “The caves are confined spaces so there’s low oxygen and low light. You can see your breath all the time. If you go down in the caves and there’s 19 people in there, I would not go in the caves. I’d try to go through by yourselves or wear a mask.”

Along with a six-mile trail system, there are more than a dozen caves on the park map and dozens more scattered throughout the bluffs. One of Iowa’s first state parks, Maquoketa Caves in Jackson County has been a popular destination since the 1860s.

“We average about 300,000 people a year and weekends are our busy times, so Saturdays and Sundays, we’ve had anywhere up to about 2,000 people a day,” Richards says. “We like to tell people, if you are going to visit the park, try to do it during the week, or if you do come on the weekend, try to do it earlier in the day or later in the afternoon.” Peak hours are usually between 11 AM and 3 PM.

Of the 13 main caves, three are considered walk-through caves, including the 1,100-foot Dancehall Cave.

“There’s smaller, tighter caves that you have to crawl through on your hands and knees, manhole-size is usually about the entrance to most of those caves and they vary in depth from about 40 feet going in them to about 350 feet for depth,” Richards says. “If you just want to just walk through a cave and look at the oohs and ahhs, we have that, and if you want to crawl through and get dirty, we have that as well.”

The largest cave system in the state also features unique geological formations, like the Natural Bridge, a towering arch 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, and Balanced Rock, a 17-ton rock formation that appears to defy gravity.

House passes bill to boost protest penalties

The Iowa House has passed a wide ranging bill that would escalate penalties for protests that damage property and provide police with new liability protection from lawsuits. Fifty-five Republicans and eight Democrats voted for the package. Republican Representative Jarad Klein of Keota says the bill is a response to protests that created unsafe situations in Iowa and other parts of the country over the past year.

“We know our law enforcement officers are some of the bravest men and women in our state. They sign up to risk their lives to keep us safe. It is our job as Iowa legislators to minimize that risk as much as possible.”

Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, says the bill makes damage of any publicly-owned property a felony and jumps up the penalties for protests that block sidewalks or yelling rude and annoying things at police.

“I can’t vote yes on a bill that targets a specific population of Iowans and in my opinion for no other reason than to teach them a lesson, send them a message,” Wolfe said, “which is basically sit down and shut up.”

Several other proposals were folded into the bill. It would make it a crime to use a laser to try to blind police. Police, prosecutors and judges could enter a program that makes their home addresses confidential if the bill becomes law. The Senate has approved parts of the bill already, but must review and pass the entire package before it would go to the Governor.

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