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National News
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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.2 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 788,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Just 59.6% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Dec 06, 8:42 am
NYC mandating vaccines for all private sector employees

New York City Bill de Blasio on Monday announced a vaccine mandate for all private sector employees.

On the talk show Morning Joe, the mayor called the mandate, which goes into effective Dec. 27, a "preemptive strike."

Dec 06, 8:01 am
Man who became one of the 1st omicron cases in US speaks out

Peter McGinn was one of the first known people in the United States to contract the omicron variant.

The 30-year-old Minnesota resident, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has received a booster shot, said he believes he became infected after attending a massive anime convention in New York City in late November. McGinn said he and several other attendees, who are also fully vaccinated, went out together after the event. Half of that group has since tested positive for COVID-19, according to McGinn.

McGinn said he tested positive after returning home to Minnesota and learning that a friend with whom he attended the convention had contracted the virus.

"I felt perfectly safe with the people that I was with, and so it never really crossed my mind to think that I had COVID," McGinn told ABC News on Sunday. "I was just a little taken aback."

Several dozen cases of omicron, a newly discovered variant of the novel coronavirus, have now been reported in at least 17 states across the country, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dec 06, 6:12 am
17 people test positive for COVID-19 on cruise ship in New Orleans

At least 17 people aboard a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship docked in New Orleans have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Sunday.

The cases were found among both passengers and crew members on the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship. A probable case of the omicron variant was also identified among a member of the crew, who is not a Louisiana resident and did not leave the ship, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Earlier Sunday, Louisiana confirmed its first case of omicron, which the health department said did not include any of the passengers or crew members from the Norwegian Breakaway.

The Norwegian Breakaway had departed New Orleans on Nov. 28 and returned this weekend as scheduled. Over the past week, the cruise ship made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico.

The ship docked in New Orleans on Sunday and all individuals on board were tested prior to disembarkation, according to a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines.

"In addition to requiring that 100% of guests and crew are fully vaccinated, per the Company’s comprehensive health and safety protocols, we have implemented quarantine, isolation and contact tracing procedures for identified cases," the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Sunday. "Any guests who have tested positive for COVID-19 will travel by personal vehicle to their personal residence or self-isolate in accommodations provided by the Company according to CDC guidelines."

All of the identified cases on board were asymptomatic, according to the spokesperson.

"We take this matter extremely seriously and will continue to work closely with the CDC, the office of Governor John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Department of Health as well as the city and port of New Orleans," the spokesperson added.

-ABC News' Mina Kaji and Anthony Mcmahon

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Oakland County Sheriff's Office

(DETROIT) -- The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old who authorities said killed four classmates at his Michigan high school, are still in jail after a judge assigned them each a $500,000 bond on manslaughter charges related to the shooting.

James and Jennifer Crumbley were taken into custody early Saturday after they failed to turn themselves in Friday afternoon for a scheduled arraignment, prompting an hourslong search for the couple. They remained in the Oakland County jail on Sunday and have not posted bail, online jail records show.

The couple was captured in Detroit after a business owner called 911 after spotting the suspects' car in their parking lot and Jennifer Crumbley standing next to it, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. She fled the area on foot, but the couple was located in a commercial building in an art studio after an extensive search of the area.

They were "aided in getting into the building," Detroit Police Chief James White told reporters at a 3 a.m. press conference Saturday, adding that it was "very likely" they were trying to flee to Canada. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said his office would be presenting potential charges to the prosecutor's office against the person who allegedly helped them gain access to the building.

The 65-year-old Detroit artist whose studio Jennifer and James Crumbley used to hide as they allegedly fled authorities on Friday is maintaining his innocence in their movements that day, his attorney, Clarence Dass, told ABC News.

The lawyer for Andzrej Sikora told ABC News on Sunday that the Crumbleys came to Sikora on Friday morning, the day the county leveled charges of involuntary manslaughter against the couple in the Oxford school shooting. The Crumbleys knew Sikora through a ski club, Dass said.

Dass declined to describe the interaction Friday morning and would not say whether Sikora gave the couple keys to the Detroit building that houses his studio. Sikora was not aware the couple was facing charges in the shooting, saying that he “knew what was going on” but wasn’t following the news closely, Dass said.

When Sikora woke up on Saturday and saw the news of the Crumbleys’ overnight arrest, he went to the Detroit Police Department and told them he was the owner of the studio, Dass said. Authorities then directed him to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, where he provided information about what he knew, before hiring Dass as counsel.

Sikora has not been arrested and no charges have been filed against his client, Dass said, but he did not rule out the possibility that authorities could charge the artist this week.

Each parent is facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter for what authorities are saying was a failure to properly secure the firearm that was used in the shooting. They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Tuesday, the morning of the shooting, a teacher at Oxford High School saw a note on Ethan Crumbley's desk with a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, "The thoughts won't stop, help me," prosecutors said. Another drawing depicted a bullet with the words "Blood everywhere" above it and a drawing of a bleeding person who appeared to have been shot twice, according to prosecutors.

Ethan Crumbley was then removed from class, and his parents, who school officials said were "difficult to reach," were called to the school.

Ethan Crumbley told school guidance counselors that the drawings were for a video game he was designing, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne said in a statement Saturday. His parents did not indicate that they had recently purchased a firearm for him and led the counselors to believe there was no threat of violence, to himself or to others, Throne said.

It is not clear whether the gun was in Ethan Crumbley's backpack at the time, Throne added. Due to his lack of disciplinary record, they sent him back to class instead of home, Throne said. His parents were then told that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours.

Hours later, Ethan Crumbley was armed with a 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol his father bought on Nov. 26 as he walked down the hallway, aiming into classrooms, Oakland County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Marc Keast said during Wednesday's arraignment. There were 18 live rounds left in the firearm when he was apprehended in the hallway, Bouchard told reporters Wednesday.

Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of assault with intent to murder -- actions that prosecutors allege were premeditated.

Throne has requested a third-party probe to investigate how the school handled the events leading up to the shooting.

"I have personally asked for a third-party review of all the events of the past week because our community and our families deserve a full, transparent accounting of what occurred," Throne said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has also reached out to the Oxford Community Schools to offer help in investiating the shooting and events leading up to it.

"Our attorneys and special agents are uniquely qualified to perform an investigation of this magnitude," Nessel tweeted.

ABC News' Meredith Deliso, Ahmad Hemingway, Will McDuffie and Emily Shapiro contributed to this report.

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ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Despite two cases being detected in his state, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis reiterated he's not yet alarmed by the emergence of the omicron variant.

"We always wish that we had next week's information this week, next month's information this month, but we don't," Polis told ABC's This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday. "I think what we're all looking for at this point is what characteristics the omicron variant has that are different."

Polis announced his state’s first case of the omicron variant on Thursday in a person from Arapahoe County who had recently returned from South Africa. She was vaccinated and eligible for a booster.

At the time, Polis said during a news conference he was "not terribly alarmed."

But experts say that early research shows that omicron is more transmissible, Raddatz pointed out to Polis.

"It's clearly a very different variant," Polis said. "It's different than the whole branch of the viral family that led to the delta area, and as indicated in your introduction, we're just recovering from a wave of that. There are some states that are going up, ours is going down -- has been for a week or two -- but we're just recovering from the delta variant."

With omicron being a variant of concern and with it most likely having a higher transmission rate than other COVID-19 variants, Raddatz questioned Polis on the possibility of having to push off elective surgeries in case omicron continues to spread throughout Colorado.

The governor reaffirmed his stance on waiting to get more answers about the variant.

"The last thing that we want is another wave," Polis said. "Now, again, I think what we're all waiting to see is how virulent the omicron variant is, how effectively it can break through prior immunization and how contagious it is, and those three factors will really determine the spread of the virus."

The governor also stressed on This Week that the omicron variant level of community transmission in Colorado is currently low.

"We have a few isolated cases, but we do regular wastewater screening," Polis said. "It has not come up in that and we also screen about 15 to 20% of our tests, and we do tens of thousands of tests per day, for the indicators of the omicron variant. And none of those have come back with the omicron variant yet."

Across the state of Colorado, just under 1,400 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 95% of ICU beds are in use and many hospital facilities anticipate ICU shortages in the next week according to the Colorado Department of Health.

When Raddatz pushed Polis on hospitals in Colorado anticipating ICU shortages in the coming weeks and how they plan to handle that, Polis said the number of people who are unvaccinated and hospitalized with COVID-19 is far greater than the number of people who are vaccinated.

"So we just have slightly over 200 vaccinated Coloradans hospitalized ... and then we have the 1,100 people that are unvaccinated," Polis said, noting that those numbers show "the tremendous efficacy of the vaccine and keeping people out of the hospital."

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(MINNEAPOLIS) -- A man was arrested for allegedly harassing the judge overseeing the trial of Kim Potter, the former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, officer who shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April.

A group protested Judge Regina Chu last month for her decision to ban cameras inside the courtroom during the trial and rallied outside an apartment building in Minneapolis, where they believed the judge lived, according to court documents.

Cortez Rice, 32, was among the protesters and went inside the building while others remained outside, investigators said. Rice allegedly made his way to the 12th floor, live streaming his actions on YouTube, according to the complaint.

"I think this is her crib right here," Rice was allegedly filmed saying outside a door, according to the complaint.

The defendant walked down to the lobby where other protesters asked him if the building was the right location, the complaint said.

"That's her window on the 12th floor," Rice said, according to the complaint.

Rice was also heard yelling to Chu, "We demand transparency. We'd hate you to get kicked out of your apartment," the complaint said.

Judge Chu spoke with investigators and said she "believed she was the target of Rice and the other protestors," and "it was her belief the intention was to intimidate her and to interfere with the judicial process."

Rice was arrested last week and charged with felony harassment with aggravated violations -- tampering with a juror or retaliating against a judicial officer, the complaint said. The defendant is currently being held at the Waukesha County Jail in Wisconsin and is awaiting extradition, court papers show.

Rice's attorney didn't immediately respond to messages from ABC News for comment.

Opening arguments in Potter's criminal trial are slated to begin on Wednesday.

Potter has been charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Wright, a 20-year-old Black man. In April, Potter stopped Wright's car over for an expired registration tag.

She then determined he had an outstanding warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge and tried to detain him, according to former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who resigned after the incident.

As officers tried to arrest him, Wright freed himself and tried to get back in his vehicle. That's when, according to Potter's attorneys, she accidentally grabbed her firearm instead of her stun gun and shot him.

The incident, which was captured on body worn cameras, set off more protests against police violence and racial profiling in Minnesota.

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(VISALIA, Calif.) -- All four people on board a small plane that crashed in California Saturday are dead, according to the Tulare County Sheriff's Office.

The identities of the victims have not been confirmed. It is unknown what led to the crash.

Around 6:35 p.m. Saturday, deputies were called to the area of Road 68 and Avenue 288 near the Visalia Airport in Visalia, California, for a possible downed plane, authorities said.

When deputies arrived, they found a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza had crashed, killing all on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board ​said Sunday it is investigating the crash.

ABC News California affiliate KFSN reported the plane crashed just a few seconds after taking off.

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(FLORIDA) -- A Florida Institute of Technology student who was reportedly wielding a knife at students on campus was fatally shot by officers Friday night, authorities said.

Police officers and school security responded shortly before 11 p.m. to reports of a man on the Melbourne campus "armed with a knife and assaulting students," the Melbourne Police Department said.

The incident began at Roberts Hall, a freshman residence hall, according to school officials.

Officers confronted the man, identified by police as 18-year-old Alhaji Sow, in a campus building "armed with an edged weapon," the department said.

Sow "lunged" at a police officer with his weapon during the confrontation, and the officer and a school security officer both fired their weapons, striking him, according to Melbourne police.

Officers attempted lifesaving measures but the student died at the scene, police said.

The Melbourne police officer who fired his weapon was injured during the incident, police said. No other injuries were reported.

Shortly after midnight, the school issued a shelter-in-place alert and advised people to avoid the area due to police activity on campus. The order was lifted around 3 a.m., though students were advised to avoid Roberts Hall and Campbell Hall, another residence hall, due to the investigation.

The shooting was an "isolated incident" and there is no further threat to the campus, police and school officials said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting. The officer is a five-year veteran of the force, police said.

Sow, of Riverdale, Georgia, was a sophomore at the university studying aeronautical science, school officials said.

In a statement Saturday morning, Florida Tech said it "continues to collaborate with law enforcement's ongoing investigation."

The school said it is arranging support services Saturday for students and others in the community.

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(LOUISIANA) -- Bryant Purvis was just 17 when he became a part of the "Jena Six."

He and five other Black teens were accused and later convicted of attacking a white student at a high school in Jena, Louisiana, a town with a large majority of white residents, after a series of racially charged incidents there.

The case against the teens became for many a symbol of racial discrimination in the justice system -- attempted murder charges for what supporters called a schoolyard fight. The charges were later dramatically reduced.

Purvis, now 32, maintains he was not involved in the fight. He has since dedicated his time talking to students about racial injustice as a motivational speaker. He also authored the book, "My Story as a Jena 6," in 2015, but is now focused on his future beyond the "Jena Six" label.

"At the time, it was just so much emotion," Purvis, who now lives in Dallas and has a 9-year-old son, told ABC News.

"It was more extreme because I knew I didn't commit the crime. So, once I found out the charges, knowing where I was in Jena, I just didn't see it coming out good."

15 years later

Dec. 4 marks the 15th anniversary of the arrest of the Jena Six: Purvis, Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Theo Shaw and Mychal Bell.

At the beginning of the 2006 school year, several Black students were sitting under a tree at Jena High School where white students usually congregated, according to the ACLU, which advocated on behalf of the Jena Six. A day later, three nooses were left hanging from a branch on the tree, and three white students were temporarily suspended, the ACLU reported, despite the principal's recommendation to expel them.

Later that year, a white adult at a gas station pulled a shotgun on three Black teens, including Bailey, but the teens were the ones charged in the case -- for taking the gun and bringing it to police, according to a 2009 Good Morning America report.

On Dec. 4, 2006, six Black teenagers, now known as the Jena Six were accused of beating up a fellow white student Justin Barker, who was hospitalized and suffered a swollen eye and a concussion, according to Barker's family.

He said in interviews years later with The Associated Press that he didn't know why he was attacked.

The Black teens were arrested and charged with second-degree battery, which was later upgraded to second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy to commit attempted murder, despite Barker returning to a school function hours later, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented one of the teens and helped arrange the defense for another.

Supporters argued the charges were far too serious for the severity of Barker's injury, sparking a massive protest and litigation efforts to have the charges reduced, SPLC said.

Bell, then 16, was charged as an adult and pleaded guilty to second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree battery. However, his conviction was later overturned after a judge ruled he should have been tried as a juvenile. Bell still received an 18-month detention sentence.

The other five pleaded no contest in an agreement that reduced their charges to a misdemeanor simple battery and did not admit guilt or involvement. Each one of them was fined $500 and served a week of unsupervised probation.

"We recognize that the events of the past two and a half years have also caused Justin and his parents tremendous pain and suffering, much of which has gone unrecognized," the teens said in a prepared statement read in court, according to SPLC. "We hope our actions today help to resolve this matter for Justin, Mr. and Mrs. Barker, and all others affected, including the Town of Jena."

DA said race not a factor

The district attorney at the time, Reed Walters, claimed race wasn't a factor in the charges.

"It is not and never has been about race," Walters said, according to an AP report at the time. "It is about finding justice for an innocent victim and holding people accountable for their actions."

Local activists disagreed.

"From racial profiling to unequal punishment in school to potential misconduct by authorities, the Jena Six case causes great concern," Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a 2007 statement.

"It is time to fully examine the facts surrounding this case to determine if any racially motivated misdeeds have taken place. Considering the concerns that the Jena Six bring up, we must redouble our commitment to equal protection -- not just in Jena, but across Louisiana and the rest of the country."

Thousands came out to protest during their trials in 2007. Demonstrators were furious with disparities in the criminal justice system, which they said often resulted in harsher, more unjust charges and sentences for Black people compared with white people.

Trying to move on

Following the incident and their convictions, the other men too wanted to move on -- some going to college, others entering the labor force. Shaw also maintained his innocence, claiming he was not involved in the fight.

Purvis said racial division and segregation had long been an issue in Jena, for as long as he could remember, but the experiences of the Jena Six shined a national spotlight on the tensions that were building up.

"I would say we kind of put pressure on the officials and everybody that run the town to make a change," Purvis added. "We brought a lot of attention to the community ... A lot of other things that happened leading up to that fight that really weren't publicized."

Years later, Purvis has a message for Black men about ongoing injustice in America: "Carry yourself in the right manner, and don't let one situation define who you are."

"Things are gonna happen to you," he added, "but it's not about what happened -- it's how you respond."

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(MICHIGAN) -- The parents charged in connection with this week's deadly shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan each pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter Saturday in their first hearing since being taken into custody in the middle of the night while hiding in Detroit.

The couple was captured early Saturday following an hourslong search after they did not turn themselves in for their scheduled arraignment Friday afternoon, according to law enforcement officials.

The attorney for James and Jennifer Crumbley, who could be seen fighting back tears during the arraignment, had said Friday they were returning to town for their court date after detectives announced they were trying to locate the couple. But the duo remained missing late Friday and the U.S. Marshals Service joined in on the search.

The couple was caught by the Detroit Police Department when a business owner called 911 after spotting the suspects' car in their parking lot and Jennifer Crumbley standing next to it, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. She fled the area on foot, but the couple was located in a commercial building after an extensive search of the area. They were taken into custody "without incident," Detroit Police Chief James White said at a 3 a.m. press conference, and were unarmed.

White said the duo was "aided in getting into the building" and some charges might be filed against the person who let them inside. He also said it was "very likely" they were trying to flee to Canada.

The Marshals Service had announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to their arrests.

At Saturday's arraignment, the judge ordered they each be held on $500,000 with no 10% bond and will submit to drug testing and be fitted with a GPS monitor if they are able to meet bond. They were also asked to surrender any weapons to the sheriff's office.

Shannon Smith, who is representing Jennifer Crumbley, repeatedly said her clients were not fleeing prosecution and planned to turn themselves in Saturday morning, a categorization that Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald disputed.

"While it’s human nature to want to find someone to blame or something to point to or something that gives us answers, the charges in this case are intended to make an example and send a message," Smith and James Crumbley's lawyer, Mariell Lehman, said in a statement Saturday. "The prosecution has very much cherry-picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative to do that."

McDonald recommended the $500,000 bond, saying, "These are not people that we can be assured will return to court on their own."

The parents were each charged Friday with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their son, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, allegedly used his father's semi-automatic handgun in the Tuesday shooting that killed four and injured seven.

"They could have stopped it and they had every reason to know he was dangerous," McDonald said during the hearing Saturday.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the Crumbleys' attorney would make arrangements for their arrest if charges were issued, and when the warrants were issued Friday, "detectives immediately moved to arrest the couple," the Oakland County Sheriff's Office said.
The attorney told police "she had made repeated attempts to reach them by phone and text without success," the sheriff's office said.

Bouchard said, "The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges. They cannot run from their part in this tragedy."

The couple's attorneys then said in a statement: "The Crumbleys left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety. They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement."

In a response to the statement by the attorneys for Jennifer and James Crumbley, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office said it was not aware that the couple was returning to be arraigned.

"If they are, it's news to us," Undersheriff Mike McCabe told ABC News, saying authorities still don't know where the couple is located.

McDonald confirmed Saturday that the couple had withdrawn $4,000 from an ATM in Rochester Hills on Friday morning before going missing.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are due back in court in Dec. 14.

Earlier on Friday, McDonald at a news conference outlined an alarming and violent note Ethan Crumbley allegedly drew hours before the shooting that prompted his parents to be called to the school. She also stressed the importance of responsible gun ownership.

“While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there are other individuals who contributed to this, to the events on November 30, and it is my intention to hold them accountable," McDonald said.

Ethan Crumbley was with his father when he bought the 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol on Nov. 26, McDonald said. The teen posted photos of the gun on social media, writing, "Just got my new beauty today," she said. Jennifer Crumbley also posted online about testing the gun out with her son, McDonald said.

A teacher saw Ethan Crumbley researching ammunition in class days before the shooting, the prosecutor said. School officials contacted his parents, but they didn't respond, McDonald said. However, according to the prosecutor, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, writing, "lol, I'm not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught."

According to McDonald, the morning of Tuesday's shooting, Ethan Crumbley's teacher saw an alarming note on his desk. McDonald described the note as "a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, 'The thoughts won't stop, help me.' In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, 'Blood everywhere.'"

"Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding," she said. "Below that figure is a drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, 'My life is useless,' and to the right of that are the words, 'The world is dead.'"

Ethan Crumbley was removed from the classroom and his parents were called to the school, McDonald said. By the time a counselor obtained the drawing, the teen had allegedly altered it, McDonald said.

"At the meeting, James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the drawing and were advised that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours," she said. "Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask their son if he had his gun with him or where his gun was located and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun, which he had with him."

The parents left school while Ethan Crumbley returned to class, likely with the gun in his backpack, McDonald said.

Once news broke of a shooting at the school, McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, "Ethan, don't do it."

James Crumbley called 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and said he believed his son may be the shooter, McDonald said.

Authorities determined James Crumbley's semi-automatic handgun was stored unlocked in a drawer in his bedroom, McDonald said.

McDonald said involuntary manslaughter is "the strongest possible charge that we could prove" against the suspect's parents.

"These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences," she said.

Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death; four counts of first-degree murder; seven counts of assault with intent to murder; and 11 counts of possession of a firearm in commission of a felony.

A judge entered a not guilty plea for Ethan Crumbley on Wednesday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 13.

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(NEW YORK) -- A federal appeals court on Friday peppered the Justice Department with questions over whether it's appropriate for the department to substitute for former President Donald Trump in the defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll.

Carroll, a former Elle magazine columnist, sued Trump in November 2019 after he denied raping her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s. Trump claimed Carroll wasn't his type and made up the story to sell a new book.

The Justice Department is appealing the ruling of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who in October rejected the DOJ's bid to replace Trump as the defendant in the case.

The DOJ's Mark Freeman conceded during arguments on Friday that "the former president made crude and offensive comments" when he responded to Carroll's rape accusation, but that he spoke in his capacity as president, therefore allowing the U.S. government to take over as the defendant, shielding Trump from personal liability.

"Any president facing a public accusation of this kind in which the media is very interested would feel obliged to answer questions from the public, answer questions from the media," Freeman said during oral arguments before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "It is part of the responsibility of a public official to address matters of grave interest to the public."

One of the appellate judges, Denny Chin, suggested that the context and content matters.

"Shouldn't we be parsing the individual comments to see whether they're serving the country?" Chin asked. "Who is he serving when he says 'She's not my type?'"

Another member of the three-judge panel, Guido Calabresi, questioned what law determines whether Trump was acting within the scope of his employment.

"We don't have any cases that tell us," Calabresi said.

Trump's attorney, Alina Habba, said that Trump was obligated to respond to Carroll's accusation.

"When somebody says he did a heinous crime 20 years ago, he needs to address it," Habba said.

Carroll's attorney, Joshua Matz, said Trump "acted in pursuit of private motives" and that Carroll should be allowed to hold him personally accountable.

"A mere denial is not the same as 'I didn't rape her and she's too unattractive for me to have done it,'" Matz said.

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(HONOLULU) -- A blizzard warning has been issued for Hawaii, with at least 12 inches of snow forecast this weekend.

The warning is in effect for the Big Island summits from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Sunday local time.

In addition to blizzard conditions, wind gusts over 100 mph are also expected, according to the alert issued by National Weather Service Honolulu.

"Travel could be very difficult to impossible," the alert said. "Blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility at times, with periods of zero visibility."

"The strong winds will likely cause significant drifting of snow," it added.

A blizzard warning for tropical Hawaii may come as a surprise, but snow is not uncommon; the summits of the Big Island's Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes reach nearly 14,000 feet in elevation.

Also on the radar this weekend is rain -- a flood watch has been issued for all Hawaiian islands through Monday afternoon, as a prolonged period of heavy rainfall is anticipated over the weekend.

"Flash flooding caused by excessive rainfall continues to be possible," the alert said.

"Landslides may also occur in areas with steep terrain," it warned.

The "very active weather" in Hawaii is due to what's known as the kona low, a seasonal cyclone that pulls moisture from the south, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Ari Sarsalari.

"The coverage of the precipitation is going to get a little more intense into the weekend," Sarsalari said in a video update Friday. "This is going to be a lot of rain, so be prepared for some flooding issues."

The slow-moving kona low is expected to bring the "greatest potential for heavy rain" over Maui and the Big Island, NWS Honolulu said.

Elsewhere in the United States, a storm system is expected to sweep from the northern Rockies to northern Great Lakes, bringing a blast of snow and gusty winds later this weekend. Winter storm watches and warnings have been issued from Montana to northern Wisconsin, where more than a half a foot of snow is possible this weekend.

Strong, gusty winds will also impact parts of the northern Rockies later Saturday into Saturday night. High wind alerts are in effect from Great Falls, Montana, to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

ABC News' Dan Peck and Max Golembo contributed to this report.

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(OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich.) -- The parents charged in connection with this week's deadly shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan are returning to town for their arraignment, their attorney said, after detectives announced they were trying to locate the couple.

James and Jennifer Crumbley were each charged Friday with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their son, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, allegedly used his father's semi-automatic handgun in the Tuesday shooting that killed four and injured seven.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the Crumbleys' attorney would make arrangements for their arrest if charges were issued, and when the warrants were issued Friday, "detectives immediately moved to arrest the couple," the Oakland County Sheriff's Office said.

The attorney told police "she had made repeated attempts to reach them by phone and text without success," the sheriff's office said.

Bouchard said, "The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges. They cannot run from their part in this tragedy."

The couple's attorneys then said in a statement: "The Crumbleys left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety. They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement."

In a response to the statement by the attorneys for Jennifer and James Crumbley, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office said it is not aware that the couple is returning to be arraigned.

"If they are, it's news to us," Undersheriff Mike McCabe told ABC News, saying authorities still don't know where the couple is located.

Earlier on Friday, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald at a news conference outlined an alarming and violent note Ethan Crumbley allegedly drew hours before the shooting that prompted his parents to be called to the school. She also stressed the importance of responsible gun ownership.

“While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there are other individuals who contributed to this, to the events on November 30, and it is my intention to hold them accountable," McDonald said.

Ethan Crumbley was with his father when he bought the 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol on Nov. 26, McDonald said. The teen posted photos of the gun on social media, writing, "Just got my new beauty today," she said. Jennifer Crumbley also posted online about testing the gun out with her son, McDonald said.

A teacher saw Ethan Crumbley researching ammunition in class days before the shooting, the prosecutor said. School officials contacted his parents, but they didn't respond, McDonald said. However, according to the prosecutor, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, writing, "lol, I'm not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught."

According to McDonald, the morning of Tuesday's shooting, Ethan Crumbley's teacher saw an alarming note on his desk. McDonald described the note as "a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, 'The thoughts won't stop, help me.' In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, 'Blood everywhere.'"

"Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding," she said. "Below that figure is a drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, 'My life is useless,' and to the right of that are the words, 'The world is dead.'"

Ethan Crumbley was removed from the classroom and his parents were called to the school, McDonald said. By the time a counselor obtained the drawing, the teen had allegedly altered it, McDonald said.

"At the meeting, James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the drawing and were advised that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours," she said. "Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask their son if he had his gun with him or where his gun was located and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun, which he had with him."

The parents left school while Ethan Crumbley returned to class, likely with the gun in his backpack, McDonald said.

Once news broke of a shooting at the school, McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, "Ethan, don't do it."

James Crumbley called 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and said he believed his son may be the shooter, McDonald said.

Authorities determined James Crumbley's semi-automatic handgun was stored unlocked in a drawer in his bedroom, McDonald said.

McDonald said involuntary manslaughter is "the strongest possible charge that we could prove" against the suspect's parents.

"These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences," she said.

Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death; four counts of first-degree murder; seven counts of assault with intent to murder; and 11 counts of possession of a firearm in commission of a felony.

A judge entered a not guilty plea for Ethan Crumbley on Wednesday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 13.

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(MINNEAPOLIS) -- The jury has been selected in the trial of former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter, who's charged with fatally shooting Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in April.
 

The jury of 12, and two alternates, will be composed of 11 white jurors, one Black juror and two jurors of Asian descent.
 

Wright's death reignited protests against racism and police brutality across the U.S., as the killing took place just outside of Minneapolis, where the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, was taking place.
 

The jury selection process lasted only three days.
 

In the questionnaire given to potential jurors back in August, they were asked what they know about this case, what their impression of Potter and Wright is, whether they participated in protests or if they have any relation to Potter, Wright or local law enforcement. Ownership of stun guns and firearms also was also discussed.
 

On the stand, potential jurors were asked if they've seen body camera footage of the incident, their feelings on Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements, and discussed their answers on the questionnaires.
 

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. She has plead not guilty to both charges.
 

Potter fatally shot Wright after initially pulling him over for an expired registration tag on his car. She then determined he had an outstanding warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge and tried to detain him, according to former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who resigned after the incident.
 

As officers tried to arrest him, Wright freed himself and tried to get back in his vehicle. That's when, according to Potter's attorneys, she accidentally grabbed her firearm instead of her stun gun and shot him.
 

Potter is set to testify during the trial.

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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.2 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 785,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Just 59.6% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

 

Dec 03, 5:44 pm
Over 97% of CDC employees vaccinated

Over 97% of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employees are vaccinated, according to data released Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, 99% of the agency's employees are "in compliance," meaning they have either initiated vaccination or have submitted a request for a medical or religious exemption.

In other HHS divisions, 96% of Food and Drug Administration employees are vaccinated and 99% are in compliance. At the National Institutes of Health, 97% are vaccinated and 99% are in compliance.

The data release comes as some Republican senators have pushed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for vaccination rates at her own agency as she defends Biden's federal workers vaccine mandate, which is being challenged in federal court.

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett

Dec 03, 4:57 pm
1st monoclonal antibody treatment for young kids, newborns authorized by FDA

The FDA has expanded its emergency authorization for Eli Lilly's monoclonal treatment for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 to children under 12, including newborns, who have tested positive and are at risk for getting severely ill. This expansion also includes preventative use in young kids who may have been exposed and who are at high risk of getting severely ill.

This is the first time a monoclonal treatment has been authorized for children under 12.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik
 

Dec 03, 3:28 pm
3 omicron cases detected in Maryland

Three cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Maryland, all among Baltimore area residents, Gov. Larry Hogan said.

One of these people, who is vaccinated, recently traveled to South Africa. The second case is someone in their household who is not vaccinated, Hogan said.

The third case is unrelated; this person, who is vaccinated, has no recent travel, Hogan said.

No one required hospitalization, he said.
 

Dec 03, 1:14 pm
Omicron identified in Nebraska

Six cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Nebraska, health officials announced.

The first individual was likely exposed during travel to Nigeria, officials said. The individual returned to the U.S. on Nov. 23 and developed symptoms the next day.

The five other people were "likely exposed" through household contact with the first case, health officials said.

Only one of the six individuals was vaccinated, officials noted, and none have required hospitalization.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos
 

Dec 03, 1:05 pm
Hospital admissions up by 26%

Daily COVID-19-related hospital admissions have jumped by 26% since the beginning of November, according to federal data.

Nearly 60,000 patients with COVID-19 are currently in hospitals.

The Northeast and the Midwest are seeing the biggest jump in cases and hospitalizations, according to federal data.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos
 

Dec 03, 12:06 pm
'It's better to be vaccinated than unvaccinated,' CDC says

With several cases of the omicron variant confirmed in the United States, officials have learned that "many" of those infected are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But many of the patients experiencing mild symptoms from omicron are also vaccinated, Walensky said, indicating that the current COVID-19 vaccines are fending off severe disease.

"We've seen omicron in about five states now and we're continuing to do investigations in other states as probable cases emerge. But what we can say, based on what these cases are showing -- some have mild disease, some may have more severe disease, many of them are vaccinated -- and what we're seeing now is that many of the people with mild disease were the vaccinated people," Walensky told ABC News' Cecelia Vega in an interview Friday on "Good Morning America."

"So we still have a lot of science to do to understand how these vaccines are working against omicron, except to say that we know for every variant that we've had it's better to be vaccinated than unvaccinated," she added.

Walensky emphasized that, despite the global frenzy around omicron, delta remains the dominant variant in the U.S.

"We have 90,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day and about 99.9% of them continue to be delta," she said. "So we can't lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of what we have here in the United States is delta, and we know how to tackle delta with vaccines, with boosters, with masking and all of our prevention measures we have been using all along."

Walensky acknowledged that there are still many unknowns about omicron, including the severity of disease, transmissibility and vaccine effectiveness.

"I think we really do need to follow the science here and understand how our vaccines are going to work against omicron," she said. "It may very well be that our vaccines actually work quite well and continue to work quite well against severe disease, and those are the studies that are ongoing."
 

Dec 02, 9:08 pm
Hawaii latest state to confirm omicron case

Hawaii became the fifth state to detect the omicron variant, after confirming a case through expedited genomic sequencing Thursday, health officials said.

The individual is an unvaccinated resident of Oahu who had a previous COVID-19 infection, the state health department said. The person is experiencing "moderate symptoms," the department said.

The resident has no recent travel history, indicating that this is a case of community transmission, health officials said.
 

Dec 02, 8:44 pm
LA County detects 1st omicron case

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said Thursday evening it has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant.

The county resident had recently traveled to South Africa, returning via London on Nov. 22, and the infection "is most likely travel-related," the department said.

The person is fully vaccinated and their symptoms are improving without medical care, health officials said. Several close contacts have all tested negative.

This is the second confirmed case of omicron in California, following identification Wednesday in a resident of San Francisco who had recently traveled to South Africa.
 

Dec 03, 8:22 am
Vaccinated people make up 'many' of the omicron cases in US, CDC director says

With several cases of the omicron variant confirmed in the United States, officials have learned that "many" of those infected are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But many of the patients experiencing mild symptoms from omicron are also vaccinated, Walensky said, indicating that the current COVID-19 vaccines are fending off severe disease.

"We've seen omicron in about five states now and we're continuing to do investigations in other states as probable cases emerge. But what we can say, based on what these cases are showing -- some have mild disease, some may have more severe disease, many of them are vaccinated -- and what we're seeing now is that many of the people with mild disease were the vaccinated people," Walensky told ABC News' Cecelia Vega in an interview Friday on Good Morning America.

"So we still have a lot of science to do to understand how these vaccines are working against omicron, except to say that we know for every variant that we've had it's better to be vaccinated than unvaccinated," she added.

Walensky emphasized that, despite the global frenzy around omicron, delta remains the dominant variant in the U.S.

"We have 90,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day and about 99.9% of them continue to be delta," she said. "So we can't lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of what we have here in the United States is delta, and we know how to tackle delta with vaccines, with boosters, with masking and all of our prevention measures we have been using all along."

Walensky acknowledged that there are still many unknowns about omicron, including the severity of disease, transmissibility and vaccine effectiveness.

"I think we really do need to follow the science here and understand how our vaccines are going to work against omicron," she said. "It may very well be that our vaccines actually work quite well and continue to work quite well against severe disease, and those are the studies that are ongoing."

Dec 02, 9:08 pm
Hawaii latest state to confirm omicron case

Hawaii became the fifth state to detect the omicron variant, after confirming a case through expedited genomic sequencing Thursday, health officials said.

The individual is an unvaccinated resident of Oahu who had a previous COVID-19 infection, the state health department said. The person is experiencing "moderate symptoms," the department said.

The resident has no recent travel history, indicating that this is a case of community transmission, health officials said.

Dec 02, 8:44 pm
LA County detects 1st omicron case

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said Thursday evening it has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant.

The county resident had recently traveled to South Africa, returning via London on Nov. 22, and the infection "is most likely travel-related," the department said.

The person is fully vaccinated and their symptoms are improving without medical care, health officials said. Several close contacts have all tested negative.

This is the second confirmed case of omicron in California, following identification Wednesday in a resident of San Francisco who had recently traveled to South Africa.

Dec 02, 7:38 pm
Preliminary analysis suggests omicron might be more likely to lead to reinfection

A new study from South Africa suggests that the new omicron variant might be more likely to lead to COVID-19 reinfection than prior variants, though more research is needed.

The study, which is not peer-reviewed, found that in November, there was an uptick in the rate of reinfections seen within three months of a primary infection, compared to prior surges driven by the delta and beta variants.

Researchers, who reviewed records of over 2.7 million people in South Africa with COVID-19 infections in 2020 and 2021, assumed many cases in November were caused by omicron, even though the first cases of the variant were not detected there until late November.

The vaccination status of individuals with suspected reinfections was unknown in the study, so it is unclear if they had immunity from prior infection or vaccination.

Dec 02, 6:27 pm
5 omicron cases identified in New York

Five cases of the new COVID-19 variant omicron have been detected in New York state, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in a press conference Thursday evening.

Hochul emphasized that battling the delta variant is more of a challenge right now, adding that all five cases have been described as mild.

One case was located in Suffolk County, while three others were in New York City -- two in Queens and one in Brooklyn, Hochul said. A fifth suspected case has also been detected, the governor said, but did not provide details.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

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(NEW YORK) -- A Columbia University graduate student has been stabbed to death near the Ivy League school's New York City campus while walking home from soccer practice.
 

The student, 30-year-old Davide Giri, suffered a stab wound to his abdomen just before 11 p.m. Thursday near West 123 St. and Amsterdam Ave., at the north end of Morningside Park, according to the New York Police Department.
 

A second victim, a 27-year-old man, suffered a stab wound to his torso. He was found nearby, at the northwest corner of Central Park, and hospitalized in stable condition, police said.
 

While canvassing the area, a 25-year-old man fitting the suspect's description was taken into custody in Central Park, police said. The 25-year-old "was observed menacing" a third victim, a 29-year-old man, with a knife, police said.
 

The 29-year-old wasn't hurt and the knife was recovered, police said.

 

Pinkney, a suspected gang member, has been charged with attempted murder, assault, attempted assault and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon.

 

Columbia said Giri was a student at the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
 

Giri was also a member of NY International FC, an amateur soccer team. The team said Giri was walking home after practice when he was killed.
 

The team called Giri "the nicest and brightest person on the team" who "was a big contributor to our successes."
 

"This news is both unspeakably sad and deeply shocking, as it took place only steps from our campus. The University is working closely with NYPD to learn more details of the attack," university president Lee Bollinger said in a statement. "On behalf of the entire Columbia community, I send my deepest condolences to Davide’s family."
 

The scene of his death is near where Barnard College student Tessa Majors was stabbed to death in Morningside Park in December 2019, allegedly by three teenagers who were later arrested.
 

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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(CHICAGO) -- At the American Library Association, annual reports are collected to monitor efforts by parents and political groups to ban books from libraries and schools across the country.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of non-profit ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, has worked with such reports for about 20 years -- and she says she's never seen such a widespread effort to remove books on racial and gender diversity from the shelves the way she's seeing it right now.

"What we're observing right now is an unprecedented volume of challenge reports that seem to be connected to a loosely organized campaign to remove certain books," Caldwell-Stone said. "Before, you might get one or two challenge reports a week and now we're getting multiple reports per day."

Though the reports for 2021 are still coming in, 273 books were targeted in 2020 -- and Caldwell-Stone says the number is expected to be higher this year. Reports of challenges are based on media stories and voluntary reports sent to the organization. But the vast majority of book challenges remain unreported.

The increase comes as the controversy over the concept of race in education picks up steam, as states across the country challenge education about racism and discrimination through legislative action.

"In recent months, a few organizations have advanced the proposition that the voices of the marginalized have no place on library shelves," ALA, which fights censorship, wrote in a recent statement against the efforts. "Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral, or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections."

In June 2021, about 150 organizations including the ALA penned an open letter against legislative efforts to restrict education and readings about racism and American history.

Now, some authors of color are speaking out, saying that books are a tool for children and young adults to learn, ask questions and see new or nuanced perspectives about the world around them.

"The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a kid," said poet and author Kwame Alexander, whose books tackling racial issues have been challenged in the fight to ban certain books from educational spaces. "When you talk about representation, you talk about creating a space for literature in a child's life that is all-inclusive of the kind of world that we claim we want for them, that the world is kind of loving and compassionate and empathetic."

No Left Turn in Education is one of the groups leading the calls against certain books on race and sexuality. Its website contains a long list of books, warning parents that they allegedly spread anti-police messages, themes of critical race theory, and education on sexuality.

"These are the books that are used to spread radical and racist ideologies to students," a statement on the website reads. "They demean our nation and its heroes, revise our history, and divide us as a people for the purpose of indoctrinating kids to a dangerous ideology."

No Left Turn in Education did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Focus on 'critical race theory'

Critical race theory, an academic concept that analyzes how racism affects or drives U.S. laws, has become a target of Republican legislators in states across the country despite the subject not being officially taught in K-12 classrooms. At least 29 states have introduced or implemented bills that aim to place limitations on lessons about race and inequality being taught in American schools, in the name of stopping "critical race theory" in its tracks.

Proponents say that some lessons blame children for actions of generations past or make them feel guilty for being white.

"We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as an oppressor or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex," said Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt when he signed a bill into law in his own state in May. "I refuse to tolerate otherwise during a time when we are already so polarized."

In a statement sent to ABC News, Stitt said that some forms of the curriculum "define and divide young Oklahomans" based on their race or sex.

The language in the law is almost identical to at least 24 other proposed bills across the country. Lawmakers in several states are aiming to ban educators from teaching that "an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously," that "a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex" and that "this state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist."

This push has led to the increasing call on school boards and libraries to remove books that deal broadly with racial issues -- a misinterpretation of what critical race theory is, according to Caldwell-Stone.

"There was a real focus on books that dealt with Black American history, the experiences of Black persons that talked about racism, the history of racism and slavery in the United States, all under the claim that they dealt with critical race theory," Caldwell-Stone said.

Many educators, however, say that it's not critical race theory that's being taught in K-12 schools, but that it's basic U.S. history on racial issues in America. They argue that anti-critical race theory laws only serve to restrict conversation about racism and oppression in America.

Encouraging diverse perspectives

A diverse array of books, the authors say, is a major factor in getting children to learn about new perspectives and to look at society in nuanced or complex ways.

Author and artist Lulu Delcare, who writes multilingual children's books centering on the Latino experience, says she has looked to books to learn about people and identities.

"Many decades ago, one of my daughters came out as gay. And for me, I didn't know how to react to this because I grew up in … an extremely prejudiced family and guess what? I turned to books," Delcare said. "The very first thing that I did was to tell her I loved her no matter what. The second thing that I did was to go to the library."

Delcare and author Sheetal Sheth joined the non-profit Reading Is Fundamental to encourage young readers to embrace literature from diverse perspectives.

These authors fear that if children don't have inclusive reading material, they may not be prepared to see the complexities of the world around them. Specifically, they may not be able to understand and address racism or discrimination, Alexander says.

Alexander's book, "The Undefeated" has landed itself on some banned books lists. The book of poetry is described as a "love letter to Black life in the United States," and covers slavery, the civil rights movement and more.

Many books on banned lists cover similar issues.

"Human beings are afraid of things they can't see, things they can't imagine things they don't have any connection with," Alexander said. "If you look at the background of any of the people who are banning books, I would posit that there were no poetry books by Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni on their shelves as kids. There was no "House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros on their middle school shelf."

Fostering 'cognitive empathy'

A study from the Frontiers in Psychology research journal found that reading books can support empathy if it highlights differences between groups of people, and seeks to minimize bias between those different groups of people.

It also found that "identification with characters who are dissimilar from the readers is the most valuable contribution of children’s storybooks to cognitive empathy."

Alexander said that a lack of diversity in education has helped shape some of the efforts to ban books now.

"They didn't have an opportunity as children to be able to experience the full capacity of the world," he said. "And so therefore, when they became adults, their imaginations are so limited, that all they can see is what they know. And so they're afraid of things they don't know. So that could be slavery. You know, that could be the tragedy and the triumphs of Black people in America. That could be the experiences of LGBTQ+."

Caldwell-Stone says the organization is also seeing a rising number of challenges to books on LGBTQIA topics amid a wave of anti-transgender legislation.

Authors urge parents and educators to promote banned books and literature despite calls, in hopes of preparing children for an ever-intensifying social and political climate.

"It's a product of the political climate that we're in," Sheth said. "The idea that you would take away a book where they might see themselves or be able to have a conversation or whether it be a window to them or a mirror for them -- if you want to teach our kids empathy, and kindness and love, the best place to start is in the books that they read."

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