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Leaving Their Ancestral Home: Alaska Village Votes to Move Due to Climate Change

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(NEW YORK) — For four generations, the family of Esau Sinnok has been born, lived, worked and died in Shishmaref, a small Inuit Eskimo village off the western Alaskan coast. But there likely won’t be a fifth generation in the village.

On Thursday, unofficial results showed that the majority in the small community of 600 voted to relocate the village as a result of the effects of climate, which include erosion and rising sea levels.

“You know it really breaks my heart, it hurts my heart, knowing that my one and only home will have to soon relocate, and having all the memories that I have on Shishmaref be gone when Shishmaref is gone, and when the island is underwater,” Esau Sinnok, 18, told ABC News today,

“I woke up every morning with a view of the shoreline and the waves,” Sinnok said. “It is a very friendly, small community, everyone is nice there, everybody knows everybody.”

The unofficial results of the special election held earlier this week showed that 89 were in favor of relocating and 78 chose to stay on the island with increased protections, according to the Shishmaref municipal clerk’s office. A spokesperson for the clerk’s office told ABC News last night that the unofficial count has yet to include absentee and special needs ballots.

Sinnok did not vote because he is in Fairbanks at college. But he said he would have voted to relocate the village.

He said he has witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of climate change in in his hometown. Since he was born in 1997, “we probably lost 100 plus feet of land and we’ve been getting a lot less snow in the winter.”

And, since the 90s, the community had to move about 19 houses from one side of the island to the other because of coastal erosion, he said.

“My grandfather said the ice used to freeze in October when he was growing up and now this past winter we had to wait until late November, December, to safely go out on the ice,” Sinnok said. He said his uncle passed away after he “fell through ice where it was usually thick enough” to walk over.

The family has been directly affected by climate change in other ways, he said. One house that had to be abandoned was the home of Sinnok’s grandmother.

Sinnok said a majority of Shishmaref residents are Iñupiaq Eskimo, a culture that he said dates back 4,000 years.

The Iñupiaq practice subsistence farming and hunting, he said. Although their way of life has not significantly contributed to manmade climate change, they are experiencing firsthand its devastating impact, Sinnok said.

Sinnok said seeing the impacts of global warming inspired him to become an activist and “to try and spread the word of climate change.”

A student at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, he serves as an Arctic Youth Ambassador for the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

His work was honored by the White House last month when he was received a White House Champions of Change for Climate Equity award. In 2015, Sinnok attended the United Nations climate talks in Paris, France.

“I never take any day for granted when I go” to Shishmaref, Sinnok said.

Shishmaref is in the State of Alaska Immediate Action Workgroup’s list of the six top-priority communities that were imminently threatened by the impacts of climate change.

“Shishmaref is where my heart is, that’s my home. When its all said and done Shishmaref will always be my home. I would love to be buried there when I pass away,” Sinnok said.

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Chicago PD Moves to Fire Seven Cops in Teen’s Shooting Death

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — The Chicago Police Department has moved to fire a group of officers for their involvement in the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

In a statement released Thursday, the Chicago Police Department said it had reviewed reports on the case by the city’s inspector general, who alleged that the officers filed false police reports. The department said it was accepting the recommendations of the inspector general to sack seven of the officers.

Two of the 10 officers cited in the I.G. reports have since retired.

The department further said it “respectfully disagrees” with the recommendation to fire the 10th officer because of “insufficient evidence to prove those respective allegations.”

The decision now heads to the city’s Police Board for a final determination, the department said.

“The Chicago Police Board is an independent civilian body that oversees certain activities of the Chicago Police Department,” according to its website. “The nine members of the board are private citizens appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council.”

The move comes after the Chicago Police Department announced earlier this week the departure of two high-ranking members, First Deputy Chief John Escalante and Deputy Chief David McNaughton, who were key players in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old McDonald.

McDonald was shot 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014, according to an autopsy. Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged in November with the first-degree murder of the black teen and is awaiting trial. He has been suspended without pay, a Chicago Police Department spokesperson told ABC News.

Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty.

Police dashboard-camera footage showing the fatal exchange between the police officer and McDonald caused national protests after the police department released it last November. The video showed that McDonald was armed with a knife but was not moving toward the responding officers when he was shot.

In the wake of national outrage over the case, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the former superintendent of police and hired Eddie Johnson in March.

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Justice Department Announces Effort to End Use of Private Prisons

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department has launched an effort to reduce, and eventually discontinue, its use of privately operated prisons, according to the department’s second-in-command.

“I am directing that, as each contract [with private prisons] reaches the end of its term, the Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau’s inmate population,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a memo to the Bureau of Prisons.

Yates added, “Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities.”

In fact, just a week ago, a report by the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog, the inspector general’s office, found that “in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable [Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)] institutions.”

As the federal prison population skyrocketed a decade ago, the Justice Department began contracting with private prisons. But the federal prisoner population has begun to decline, thanks in part to “several significant efforts to recalibrate federal sentencing policy,” and private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources” as government-run institutions, Yates said in her memo.

Private prisons also “do not save substantially on costs,” and the “rehabilitative services that [BOP] provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource,” she added.

In its report released last week, the DOJ inspector general’s office also showed higher per person rates of “contraband finds, assaults, uses of force, lockdowns, guilty findings on inmate discipline charges, and selected categories of grievances,” a press release said.

“For all these reasons, I am eager to enlist your help in beginning the process of reducing –- and ultimately ending –- our use of privately operated prisons,” Yates told BOP’s acting director in the memo.

BOP currently uses private prisons “primarily to confine low security, criminal alien, adult males,” according to the inspector general’s office.

As of December 2015, private prisons housed roughly 22,660 of these federal inmates — or about 12 percent of BOP’s total inmate population — costing taxpayers more than $630 million a year, the DOJ inspector general’s report said.

Within minutes of the news Thursday that the Justice Department was looking to end its use of private prisons, at least two of the three private corporations used by the department saw their values drop by double-digits on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

This issue has been a long-standing priority for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and became a hot topic on the presidential campaign this year. Bernie Sanders, in particular, was vocal about his opposition to private prisons from the start of his campaign, and on Thursday, he applauded the Justice Department’s announcement.

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Blue Cut Wildfire in Southern California Just 4 Percent Contained

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — The Blue Cut wildfire in Southern California, which has destroyed homes and forced evacuations, has spread to over 31,000 acres Thursday morning.

“It was such a large flame front and it came so fast and so hard that firefighters did all they could to basically get people out of the way of this advancing front,” San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig told ABC News Thursday morning.

Over 1,500 personnel are at the scene Thursday. The blaze is just 4 percent contained.

Officials said the fire, named after the Blue Cut hiking trail, began Tuesday morning for unknown reasons. It quickly grew to nearly 30,000 acres by Wednesday.

“The intensity, the speed, the breadth, width of this fire, and how fast…I’ve not seen anything like this,” Hartwig said. “I’ve been fighting fire in this county for 25 years. I have not seen this kind of fire behavior.”

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Army Removed Dallas Shooter’s Weapons During Afghanistan Deployment

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — According to newly released Army documents, Micah Johnson, who killed five Dallas police officers in July, had his weapons taken away by commanders during a 2014 deployment to Afghanistan after a female soldier in his unit complained that he had sexually harassed her and stolen her underwear.

A redacted copy of the Army’s initial investigation into the allegations of the sexual harassment was posted on an Army website earlier this week.

According to the report, in May 2014, a female soldier in Johnson’s Army Reserve engineering unit stepped forward to allege that he had stolen some of her underwear from her belongings and had sexually harassed her. She told investigators that she and Johnson had been platonic friends in the unit for five years and described a series of ups and downs throughout their relationship that included “fights and disagreements.”

The report quotes what may be one of Johnson’s superiors at a base in southern Afghanistan as saying, “The 1SG (First Sergeant) told me we needed to separate them as soon as possible.”

“I asked if for safety reasons we should relieve [PFC] Johnson of his firearm and any bladed weapons in his possession,” said the soldier. “The 1SG said that was a good idea so I had [redacted] retrieve all weapons. We locked them in our mail room for security.”

It is unclear how long Johnson did not have access to his weapons.

An Army official said Johnson’s “weapon was taken simply out of an abundance of caution” and not due to any perceived threat.

According to the official, “He did not appear agitated, or threaten himself or others. It was an unusual event for the company and an action taken through an analytical Command decision, rather than any perceived threat.”

A later inspection of Johnson’s personal belongings turned up a grenade round and a bag of prescription medications that belonged to another soldier, the documents show.

When confronted about the missing underwear, Johnson ran away and later admitted to investigators that he was trying to throw them away in a dumpster along the way, documents show.

The report ultimately determined that Johnson had sexually harassed the female soldier. The investigating officer’s recommendations for how to deal with Johnson’s case were redacted.

Johnson was transferred to Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, where he served out the remainder of his deployment to Afghanistan that ended in July 2014.

In July of this year, Johnson killed five police officers and injured nine others in an ambush shooting targeting police officers who were providing security for a protest against police violence in Dallas. Johnson was killed by police, who used a robot to deliver an explosive device to his hiding place.

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Two Women in Same Raft as 10-Year-Old Boy Killed on Kansas Waterslide Speak Out

Courtesy Schwab Family(KANSAS CITY, Kan.) — Two women who were in the same raft when 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was tragically killed on a Kansas City waterslide earlier this month are speaking out for the first time.

Schwab, the son of a Kansas state lawmaker, suffered a fatal neck injury on the 168-foot-tall Verruckt ride at the Schlitterbahn waterpark on Aug. 7. The young victim was one of three passengers in the raft. The two other occupants, Hannah Barnes and Matraca Baetz, suffered serious facial injuries.

The two women, who are sisters, released a statement through their attorney Wednesday.

“We are pursuing a thorough investigation of this tragic event to insure that any and all measures are taken to prevent this from ever happening again. Being mothers ourselves, we can only hope that Caleb’s family can find some comfort in knowing we are doing everything we know how to do to stop something so tragic from occurring again to any other family,” the statement read.

The boy’s father, Rep. Scott Schwab of Kansas, also released a statement through his family’s attorney in which he thanked the public for their support.

“‘Thank You’ seems so inadequate to express our appreciation, but it is the only phrase we have. So, from the depths of our hearts, we thank you,” the Republican lawmaker said in the statement. “While we try to step forward into the new normal life without Caleb in our presence, we find hope with the current investigation into the incident to provide answers and assurances that such a tragedy would not strike again.”

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Out-Of-Control California Wildfire Forces 82,000 to Flee

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — The devastating Blue Cut wildfire burning east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County — that has swallowed up homes and forced mass evacuations — is now 25,626 acres with 4 percent containment, officials said Wednesday night.

Previously, officials said the fire — named after the Blue Cut hiking trail, where the ferocious wildfire began Tuesday morning for unknown reasons — was 30,000 acres, but its size was modified due to “more accurate mapping,” the San Bernardino National Forest tweeted.

A fleet of 10 air tankers and 15 helicopters and nearly 1,600 firefighters are battling the blaze, according to officials.

“It hit hard. It hit fast. It hit with an intensity that we hadn’t seen before,” San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said of the blaze.

Added San Bernardino County Fire Department incident commander Mike Wakoski, “In my 40 years of fighting fire, I’ve never seen fire behavior so extreme as it was yesterday.”

The Blue Cut wildfire has prompted evacuation warnings for about 82,000 people and 35,000 homes. But Lyn Sieliet, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, said “possibly up to half” of those under evacuation warnings have not left their homes.

“There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing,” Hartwig said Wednesday, after flying over a fire scene he described as “devastating.”

San Bernardino County evacuee Shawn Brady, who is staying at a shelter, told The AP, “What I’ve been told is that flames are currently ripping through my house. I’m trying to remain optimistic. It’s the not knowing that’s the worst.”

Evacuees Vi Delgado and her daughter April Christy are also wondering about the fate of their home. “No joke, we were literally being chased by the fire,” Christy told The AP in a minivan outside an evacuation center in Fontana. “You’ve got flames on the side of you. You’ve got flames behind you.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Tuesday in San Bernardino County.

The California Highway Patrol reopened I-15 late Wednesday night, while the southbound side remained closed.

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Homeland Security Secretary to Visit Louisiana as Death Toll Rises to 13

ABC News(BATON ROUGE, La.) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit flood-stricken Louisiana Thursday, one day after the death toll rose to 13.

Officials confirmed Wednesday night that there were two deaths in Livingston Parish, two in St. Helena, five in East Baton Rouge, three in Tangipahoa and one in Rapides Parish.

Johnson will review the federal government’s response to the flooding, which has prompted 70,000 people to register for individual assistance. More than 9,000 have filed flood insurance claims.

Some 40,000 homes have been affected by the flooding — which Gov. John Bel Edwards has called “unprecedented” — that hit the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas.

And some 8,000 people were in shelters as President Obama declared a state of emergency in the area.

On Wednesday, officials in Vermilion Parish in southern Louisiana called for residents to evacuate amid rising waters there. Gueydan Fire Chief Evans Bourque said the evacuation affects about 60 to 70 homes and less than 100 people.

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