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Killings of 8 Relatives Shock Rural Ohio Community

iStock/Thinkstock(CINCINNATI) — Residents of a rural Ohio community expressed their shock as police continued searching for a gunman who fatally shot eight relatives “execution style,” including a woman as she was lying in bed with 4-day-old baby.

Seven of the victims were found Friday in three homes along the same road in Peebles, a small village east of Cincinnati. The eighth victim was found later than the others in nearby Piketon, officials said.

Officials said Saturday the victims were all members of the Rhoden family.

Sharon Fulton, the wife of a pastor at the Union Hill Church, said some of the victims used to go to their church and that she was in contact with the victim’s family.

In this town “everybody knows everybody, almost,” she said. “When one hurts, we all hurt.”

Fulton said people living in the village “work for what they have.”

“They don’t have much because the jobs are scarce around here,” she said of Peebles, which had a population of 1,782 at the time of the 2010 census.

Fulton said the shootings were shocking “because you don’t hear that around here. It’s something you don’t hear of, especially with one family.”

“It’s sad,” she said. “We know the grandparents … they’re around our age. … What if that was my family? I don’t know how they’re handling this.”

Some of the victims appeared to have been killed in their sleep and were found shot to death in their beds, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. One victim, who appeared to be a mother, was killed lying in bed with a 4-day-old baby, he said.

Three young children — the 4-day-old baby, a 6-month-old baby and a 3-year-old — were found unharmed at the various shooting locations, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said.

Officials said Saturday the investigation is “still in its early stages.”

While residents of the county “should not panic,” they should “be careful,” said DeWine. He said authorities have interviewed more than 30 people, though he declined to characterize any of them as “persons of interest.”

“There are different theories that we’re looking at,” he said.

Agents with the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) were leading the ongoing investigation at the request of Pike County Sheriff’s Office, officials said. Numerous other law enforcement agencies from nearby counties were offering support.

“This is a devastating time for a family,” Reader said at a news conference Friday, noting the crime had shocked the rural community.

“We’ve never had a shooting with eight victims,” he said. “We’ll find who did this.”

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6-Year-Old Boy Gives Birthday Money for Sea Turtle Rescue

iStock/Thinkstock(WATERTOWN, Mass.) — When Jasper Rose turned 6 years old earlier this month, he decided he didn’t want birthday gifts. Instead, he asked friends and family for money he could donate to sea turtle rescue efforts, according to his mother.

The kindergartner — fittingly from a Massachusetts city called Watertown — was able to raise more $500, his mother Ananda Rose told ABC News. She said Jasper compiled the money into one handwritten check, which he presented to the North England Aquarium’s sea turtle rescue program in Boston today — just in time to mark Earth Day.

“He loves the ocean and all marine life, but he’s particularly connected with sea turtles,” Ananda, 41, said. “It’s a mystery to me as to why sea turtles, but I think there’s something about how sweet and gentle they are, just like him.”

Jasper “had an amazing time” at the aquarium today and even got to feed the aquarium’s famous 90-year-old sea turtle, Myrtle, breakfast, his mother said. Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts were on the menu.

The 6-year-old and his family have been aquarium members for the past three years, the aquarium said in a statement sent to ABC News. Jasper knows all of the turtles by name and their stories, the aquarium added.

This past winter, Jasper got a special invitation to the aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts, which is normally closed to the public, his mom said.

“They brought him in to see their rescue turtles and he got to do an exam with turtle vet,” she said. “It was a really cool experience for him.”

The kindergartner has also written and illustrated a book about the adventures of a sea turtle named Shield, his mom said. She explained the 10-page story “catalogs all sorts of information about environmental climate change and the growing problem of ocean pollution.”

“I’m very proud of him,” she said. “I didn’t grow up learning all about the oceans and recycling, so it’s interesting to me how invested children in this generation are now, given the state of the environment today.”

She said Jasper hopes to be a marine biologist when he grows up.

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Virginia Governor Makes More Than 200,000 Convicted Felons Eligible to Vote

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The governor of Virginia announced Friday that more than 200,000 people convicted of felonies will now be eligible to vote in the state after he signed an executive order restoring their civil rights.

The order applies to both nonviolent and violent former offenders, but only after they complete their sentence and all other requirements like supervised probation or parole. The 206,000 people the governor’s office says are now eligible to vote could influence how Virginia votes in the competitive 2016 election.

.@GovernorVA signs executive action restoring voting and civil rights to over 200k Virginians pic.twitter.com/XUyEP0NoOn

— Terry McAuliffe (@GovernorVA) April 22, 2016

The Republican Party of Virginia quickly criticized Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to include violent offenders under the order, calling it “political opportunism” and a “transparent effort to win votes” for Democrats. The speaker of the Virginia House even said in a statement that McAuliffe made the decision to help elect Hillary Clinton, whom he has campaigned for in the current race.

But McAuliffe told ABC News the decision has nothing to do with the election and that he thought it was the right thing to do as governor.

“Forget the elections, as governor I’ve got to make decisions that are the best interest I believe for the Commonwealth. It was morally the right thing to do and legally I have the right to do it,” he said.

Virginia was one of three states where felons and ex-felons permanently lost their right to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. McAuliffe said that today’s decision was also part of ending racial injustices that have existed since the Virginia Constitution was enacted in 1902.

“We were one of the four worst states in the United States of America, so you bet race was a big issue,” he told ABC News. “What we did today remedied, literally going back to 1901 and 1902, a terrible injustice in the African-American community. Today we ended that horrible chapter of 115, 114 years.”

The executive order signed todaydoes not automatically apply to all individuals convicted of a felony in the future but McAuliffe ordered a similar order prepared every month as the Commonwealth continues to look at the eligibility process.

The governor has restored the rights of 18,000 convicted felons in previous years, more than the past seven governors combined, according to a press release from his office.

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Suspect in Fatal Shooting of 5 Found Dead of Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound

iStock/Thinkstock(APPLING, Ga.) — A man who was suspected of killing five people Friday was found dead in his northeastern Georgia home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Andy Shedd said the body of Wayne Anthony Hawes was recovered by authorities after midnight Saturday. Police found Hawes after a pair of shootings left three women and two men dead in homes about half a mile from each other.

Investigators believe some of the victims were related to the suspect’s wife, Shedd said.

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Five People Shot to Death in Columbia County, Georgia, Coroner Says

iStock/Thinkstock(APPLING, Ga.) — Five people were shot to death in and around the town of Appling, Georgia, about 130 miles east of Atlanta, the county corona told ABC News on Friday night.

There are two crimes scenes, Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins said.

Three bodies — two females, one male — were found on Johnson Drive, Collins said, noting that none of the three appears to have self-inflicted wounds. Two other people were found dead on Merrymont Drive, Collins said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Lawyer for Families of Teens Who Drowned in Alleged Stolen Car Accuses Police of ‘Smear Campaign’

iStock/Thinkstock(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) — Lawyers for the grief-stricken families of three St. Petersburg, Florida, teen girls who died during a police chase of an alleged stolen car accused law enforcement officials of waging a “smear campaign” against the girls.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has released dash cam footage and a more-than-100-page report of the March 31 incident.

“The sheriff’s office is trying to have an appearance of transparency,” the families’ lead attorney, Michelle Whitfield, told ABC News Friday, but Whitfield is challenging the sheriff’s office on some major details of the case.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the girls, who were between the ages of 15 and 16, tried to evade a police pursuit because they were driving a car they stole from a Walmart parking lot.

“I didn’t make it up,” Gualtieri told ABC News. “I didn’t make it up that at 4 o’clock in the morning they were driving a stolen car.”

“Upon getting behind the vehicle in an unmarked patrol vehicle [Sergeant Skaggs] observed FL tag 764TDV. FCIC/NCIC [Florida Crime Information Center/National Crime Information Center] listed this vehicle stolen by St. Petersburg Police Department reference 2016-015027,” according to a police report from the sheriff’s office.

Whitfield said her own investigation reveals there is more to the story, insisting, “it has been a rush to judgment. It has been a smear campaign.”

“Due to our ongoing information, there is a belief that the girls may have had permission to use the vehicle,” Whitfield said. “Just because the vehicle is reported stolen doesn’t make it so.”

The Florida Crime Information Center told ABC News it could not “access” any information about the alleged stolen vehicle “except for criminal investigative purposes.”

The dash cam footage has also been a source of contention. Gualtieri is adamant that officers tried to wade into the water and save the girls’ lives after their car plunged into the pond at the Royal Palm Cemetery, but had to abort the effort because it was “thick with sludge.”

Whitfield said she reviewed the dash cam footage and the radio scanners, and found no such evidence.

“I don’t see anyone wet. I don’t see anyone drenched,” Whitfield said. “No one said, ‘Hey, I’m going in there to help these girls.’ I find it hard to believe that they actually went in.”

Gualtieri conceded that no police rescue effort was captured on video, but maintained the officers got into the pond, described in the police report as “heavily vegetative” and “approximately 15 feet deep.”

“The officers got in the pond and just because it’s not on cam doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Gualtieri said.

“They’ve been arrested seven times in the last year on just auto theft charges,” Gualtieri said of the girls. “These are not good kids. These are kids who are heavily engaged in criminal activity.”

But Whitfield countered: “He is still being callous, and doesn’t care about these children.”

“I can’t imagine my child being killed in a pond with law enforcement around,” she said. “At this point, my position is, we are trying to get answers for these families,” Whitfield added.

“My daughter was not perfect,” Natasha Winkler, mother of Laniya Miller, one of the girls who drowned, told ABC’s Tampa Bay affiliate WFTS. “What 15-year-old is?”

Winkler could not be reached by ABC News for further comment.

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Transgender Student Says She Wasn’t Allowed to Walk in High School Graduation

iStock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) — A transgender student says she wasn’t allowed to walk at her high school graduation as a female, so she elected to skip the ceremony altogether.

Jennea Purcell, 18, says she was barred from participating in the graduation ceremony at Kahuku High & Intermediate School in Honolulu after transitioning from male to female, telling ABC News affiliate KITV that she transitioned from “Jackson” to “Jennea” while in school.

“I was full-time female. I dressed like a female,” Purcell told KITV. “I played the role as a female as far as the bathroom goes, yes, anything the females did, I was doing.”

Traditionally, graduating girls at Kahuku wear white gowns and boys wear red. Purcell told KITV she wanted to wear the white gown and that’s when things got complicated.

“When I talked to Pauline Masaniai [the principal of Kahuku], she was telling me that my choice is the male’s choice and that’s the only option I have.”

Masaniai denies Purcell’s allegations, telling ABC News, “She was not barred because of being transgendered. She was not barred because of the color of gown she wanted to wear. That was already approved.”

Purcell did not participate in the graduation ceremony because of other reasons, according to Donalyn Dela Cruz, Communications Director of the Hawaii State Department of Education. She did not elaborate on the reasons.

“There has been no incident in which a student has been ‘barred’ from participating in commencement exercises based on gender identity,” Dela Cruz told ABC News in a written statement. “Hawaii State Board of Education Policy 4540 states students shall be permitted to participate in commencement exercises if they:(1) meet the requirements for a diploma or a certificate; (2) have fulfilled their financial obligations; and (3) meet other conditions established by the Department of Education, which meet the standards of clarity, reasonableness, and justifiability.”

Purcell admitted to KITV she struggled academically in her final year of school, but believed that she was on track to graduate.

Purcell is sticking to her story and says she plans to share it with the world through filmmakers with the Kumu Hina film project, according to KITV.

She’s also started a petition on change.org, challenging the Hawaii DOE to implement reforms.

“My intention in making this film and having the petition is just to make sure that no other child, even if they’re not transgender or part of the LGBT community, doesn’t have to go through something like this. It’s not okay,” Purcell told KITV.

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Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Organizations Debunk ‘Bathroom Predator Myth’

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, N.C.) — A coalition of over 200 national, state and local organizations across the U.S. that work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors are objecting to the justifications given by lawmakers to forbid transgender people from using the bathroom of their choosing.

These organizations asked for “support of full and equal access for the transgender community,” according to a statement on Thursday by a coalition under the advocacy group National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.

This outcry from hundreds of organizations comes after North Carolina passed House Bill 2, a law that bans people from using bathrooms that don’t match the sex indicated on their birth certificate.

There is currently no explanation of how the law should be enforced, and “lawmakers proposing these measures could implement enforcement that is a grave and unconstitutional intrusion into people’s privacy,” Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and a transgender man, told ABC News on Friday. The ACLU Project is not one of the organizations listed on Thursday’s coalition statement.

Lawmakers in North Carolina who support HB2 say it prevents putting women and children in vulnerable situations in public bathrooms and changing areas if men exploit the law and pose as transgender women so they could sexually assault or engage in inappropriate behavior in these areas. Critics call that reasoning the “bathroom predator myth.”

“Over 200 municipalities and 18 states have nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people’s access to facilities consistent with the gender they live every day,” according to the coalition. “None of those jurisdictions have [sic] seen a rise in sexual violence or other public safety issues due to nondiscrimination laws. Assaulting another person in a restroom or changing room remains against the law in every single state.”

Strangio also noted that allowing transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity “doesn’t increase in any way public safety incidents.”

There are two central falsehoods to the legislators’ reasoning, Strangio said. One is “that transgender people aren’t real and [are] inherently dangerous.” The second falsehood is that without HB2, “non-transgender people will take advantage” of the situation — for example, a man could dress up as a woman to enter a woman’s bathroom.

“All this does is to heighten gender policing of everyone by law enforcement, and individual people who do not conform to gender norms are targeted,” Strangio said.

John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, a group that supports HB2, denies that the bill seeks to discriminate against the trans community.

“The bill is important because it protects the privacy and dignity of woman and children,” Rustin told ABC News on Friday. He added that by allowing transgender people to go into the bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender it would “allow men and potentially predators to enter into those facilities with ill intentions. It’s a common sense privacy and safety law. Men go into men’s restrooms and women go into women’s restrooms.”

Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told ABC News that people who are looking to sexually assault someone will go into a bathroom regardless if it corresponds to their gender. “It’s problematic to conflate in examples when a person, who is not transgender identified, is trespassing in a restroom exploiting that position to harm others,” she said.

The lawmakers’ justification does not take into account that men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment in public bathrooms and changing rooms. Transgender men who have had to use female restrooms due to such laws “experience a ton of violence in women’s restroom and are told they don’t belong there,” Strangio said. “It usually leads to people not using the bathroom.”

Palumbo said she believes people “must understand the facts about sexual assault,” adding that in 8 out of 10 cases the victim already knows the person who sexually assaulted them, citing Justice Department statistics. However, 64 percent of transgender people will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, she said, citing a study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality.

“All the data and all the evidence shows protecting transgender people only increase public safety,” Strangio said. He said laws like House Bill 2 imply “that fundamentally people just don’t think of transgender people as humans, and they try to erase trans people from existence.”

But he added that the “reality is that most everyone has shared a bathroom with a trans person and nothing has happened. It is a mundane experience of how it is whenever going to the bathroom.”

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Government Official Says 32 Cases of Commercial Grade Fireworks Believed to Be Stolen

iStock/Thinkstock(DETROIT) — Thirty-two cases of commercial grade fireworks were reported missing and are believed to be stolen from a train shipment that originated in Chicago and ended in Detroit, a senior law enforcement official told ABC News Friday.

The train transited through Ohio, where officials believe the fireworks may have been stolen. The discovery that the fireworks were missing was made Thursday and was reported to authorities.

The cases include 2.5-inch and 5-inch aerial commercial grade fireworks, which is the kind used in public fireworks displays, officials said.

These commercial grade fireworks could be very dangerous in the wrong hands, the source said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has established a tip line out of its Detroit Field Division that is handling the case. The number for the tip line is (313) 202-3400.

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Teacher’s Aide Fired After Allegedly Shoving Student on Video

Courtesy Brandon Smith(MILWAUKEE) — A 39-year-old teacher’s aide at a Milwaukee high school has been fired after a video allegedly showing him pushing a student to the ground was posted online, Milwaukee Public Schools said in a statement.

The Bay View High School teacher aide’s termination was put into effect Friday, the school district said, adding that the decision was made based on the “district’s investigation of the incident.”

The school district did not name the teacher’s aide or student in question.

The school employee allegedly pushed a 14-year-old male student to the floor and held him there around 10:50 a.m. Wednesday, according to Milwaukee Police Department.

In the video, a man appears to tackle a student forcibly to the ground while yelling expletives. The student hits chairs and a desk before he lands on the ground.

Other students were present in the classroom. They said the student and teacher were arguing in the moments before someone began to record the incident.

A security guard pulled the teacher’s aide off off the student, who was transported to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries, police said. The teacher’s aide was arrested and charged with physical abuse of a child, police said.

Milwaukee police are investigating and interviewing students who witnessed what happened.

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