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AP News in Brief at 11:09 p.m. EST

Last Updated Feb 19, 2018 at 8:20 pm PDT

School shooting puts pressure on Florida lawmakers to act

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — The deadly shooting at a Florida high school has put pressure on the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws in a state that has resisted restrictions on firearms for decades, lawmakers said Monday.

The legislative effort coalesced as 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School prepared to ride buses more than 400 miles to the state capital Tuesday to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and faculty last week.

The suspect, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, made his first appearance in court Monday. Wearing a prison jumpsuit, he kept his head down and didn’t appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defence team. A previous appearance was by a video connection from jail.

His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.

Soon after the shooting, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand and appeared shaken afterward.


Funerals: Grieving teens, raw emotions after school shooting

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Each funeral for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre is different, yet the same: the mourning relatives, teens walking in clutches wearing black, politicians paying their respects, media cameras pointing at the entrance from across the parking lot.

And each service takes its toll on the young mourners, many of them attending more friends’ funerals in a span of days than many middle-aged people have in their lifetimes. Services for 14 Stoneman Douglas students, the athletic director, a coach and a geography teacher began Friday, two days after the shooting, and will end in the next few days.

Erica Sparrow, a 17-year-old senior, said Monday that she went to her first funeral a couple of weeks ago, “now I have one every day.” She and her friend, Lauren Kuperman, also 17, began ticking off names — Meadow Pollack from Friday, Joaquin Oliver from Saturday and Alaina Petty’s on Monday. Three more Tuesday, another Wednesday. It’s both difficult and cathartic, the girls said.

“It kind of helps but at the same time it makes me sad,” Sparrow said.

Stoneman Douglas senior Lewis Mizen said Monday he had never attended a funeral for someone his own age before the weekend. He will attend another Tuesday. When an older family member dies, he said, it seems natural that their children and grandchildren speak about their loss, but seeing parents eulogize their child cuts deep emotionally.


Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust US indictment

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg “troll factory” say they think the criminal charges are well-founded.

Marat Mindiyarov, a former commenter at the innocuously named Internet Research Agency, says the organization’s Facebook department hired people with excellent English skills to sway U.S. public opinion through an elaborate social media campaign.

His own experience at the agency makes him trust the U.S. indictment, Mindiyarov told The Associated Press. “I believe that that’s how it was and that it was them,” he said.

The federal indictment issued Friday names a businessman linked to President Vladimir Putin and a dozen other Russians. It alleges that Yevgeny Prigozhin — a wealthy restaurateur dubbed “Putin’s chef,” paid for the internet operation that created fictitious social media accounts and used them to spread tendentious messages.

The aim of the factory’s work was either to influence voters or to undermine their faith in the U.S. political system, the 37-page indictment states.


Pennsylvania’s new congressional map could boost Democrats

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s high court imposed a new congressional district map for the state’s 2018 elections on Monday, potentially giving Democrats a boost in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House unless Republicans can to stop it in federal court.

The map of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a Republican-drawn congressional map widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered. The map was approved in a 4-3 decision, with four Democratic justices backing it and one Democratic justice siding with two Republicans against it.

The divided court appears to have drawn its own map with the help of a Stanford University law professor, although some district designs are similar to proposals submitted to the court by Democrats.

Most significantly, the new map gives Democrats a better shot at winning a couple more seats, particularly in Philadelphia’s heavily populated and moderate suburbs. There, Republicans have held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including one labeled “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

Democrats cheered the new map, which could dramatically change the predominantly Republican, all-male delegation elected on a 6-year-old map. The new map repackages districts that had been stretched nearly halfway across Pennsylvania and reunifies Democratic-heavy cities that had been split by Republican map drawers.


Trump endorses Romney for Senate bid in Utah

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is endorsing Mitt Romney in Utah’s Senate race, another sign that the two Republicans are burying the hatchet after a fraught relationship.

The GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012, Romney announced last week he would seek the nomination to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. In a tweet Monday night, Trump wrote, “He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!” Romney quickly accepted the endorsement via Twitter.

Trump has not always been so positive about Romney the political candidate. In 2016 Trump said the former Massachusetts governor had “choked like a dog” during his failed 2012 bid against President Barack Obama.

For his part, Romney gave a scathing critique of then-candidate Trump during the GOP primary that year, calling him a “phoney” who was unfit for office. More recently, Romney criticized Trump’s response to last year’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and last month called Trump’s use of an obscenity to describe African countries as inconsistent with American history and values.

Members of both political parties have suggested that Romney, if elected to the Senate, would continue to call out Trump if he believed the president warranted criticism. However, Romney did not mention Trump or his scandal-plagued administration in his campaign announcement on Friday, focusing instead on how his adopted state of Utah could be a model for better government in Washington.


Canada hopes to claim ice dance gold at Pyeongchang Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who already have helped Canada win gold in the figure skating team competition, head into the ice dance free skate at the Pyeongchang Olympics in first place. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are in second after overcoming a wardrobe malfunction in the short program Monday.

The three American teams are right behind them. American champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are in third, siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani are in fourth, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are in seventh.

Also Tuesday, there are qualifying games in men’s hockey, and the women kick off their first bobsled heats. Not yet clear is whether there will be any resolution to a Russian doping case involving a curler that could jeopardize the country’s chances of marching under its own flag in the closing ceremony.


More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org


Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — From the confines of his golf club, President Donald Trump offered support for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases Monday while staying largely mum in the last few days about the victims of the Florida school massacre and the escalating debate about controls on weapons.

One side of that debate was represented outside the White House as dozens of teens spread their bodies across the pavement to symbolize the dead and call for stronger gun controls, a precursor to a march in Washington planned next month by survivors of the Parkland school shooting and supporters of their cause.

At his Florida club just 40 miles from a community ravaged by the shooting that left 17 dead last week, Trump gave a nod toward a specific policy action, with the White House saying he had spoken Friday to Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, about a bipartisan bill designed to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders qualified the support, stressing that talks continue and “revisions are being considered,” but said “the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.”

The main action Trump has taken on guns in office has been to sign a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people. The president has voiced strong support for gun rights and the National Rifle Association.


Wardrobe issues causes Olympic stress for French skaters

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The first notes of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” had just played when Gabriella Papadakis suddenly became aware that people were about to see a whole lot more of her shape than she had planned.

The French ice dancer’s glittering emerald costume at the Olympics had come unhooked at the neckline and later in the routine her left breast was exposed live on television.

When the clasp became unhooked, the 22-year-old Papadakis was more worried about holding up her outfit than making sure her twizzles and rhumba were in sync. Her swinging short program with partner Guillaume Cizeron at the Pyeongchang Olympics was threatening to go down in history alongside Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction during her halftime performance at the Super Bowl.

“I felt it right away and I prayed,” Papadakis said. “That’s about what I could do.”

Somehow, the French couple kept things together through most of their Latin program, producing a score of 81.93 points Monday that left them second behind Canadian stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.


Injured Alpine ski racers miss years, not days, at a time

JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) — Just the thought of being at the Olympics on Tuesday made Swiss ski racer Lara Gut smile broadly, and that had nothing to do with it being the last opportunity to train for the downhill, an event in which she earned a bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games.

No, the reason for Gut’s excitement was much simpler, as she demonstrated with a two-word exclamation of “I’m here!” while kicking up her left leg. Turns out Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the operation she had to repair tears to the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in that knee, a season-ending injury incurred during practice at the 2017 world championships.

“Everything that was natural, like walking — you have to get used to that again,” Gut said. “One day, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s natural. I can walk. I can run. I can ski.'”

Coming back was nothing new. Gut missed the 2010 Olympics and an entire World Cup season after dislocating her right hip, but later won an overall World Cup title. Like so many other Alpine skiers at the Pyeongchang Games, Gut has dealt more than once with the rigorous process of recovering from the sort of long-term absence pretty much inevitable in a pursuit that involves hurtling one’s body down the steep and icy side of a mountain at 60 mph or more.

“Maybe we’re crazy,” Gut said after Monday’s training. “Or maybe we just love what we do.”


Trump revives push for limits on immigrants bringing family

NEW YORK (AP) — When the U.S. government approved Ricardo Magpantay, his wife and young children to immigrate to America from the Philippines, it was 1991. By the time a visa was available, it was 2005, and his children could not come with him because they were now adults.

More than a decade later, his children are still waiting.

Magpantay gets worried when he hears the White House is aiming to limit the relatives that immigrants-turned-citizens can sponsor, a profound change to a fundamental piece of the American immigration system.

“It is really frustrating and it is very dreadful for me, because after a long wait, if this will be passed, what will happen for them?” said Magpantay, a 68-year-old mechanical engineer in the Southern California city of Murrieta. “I won’t be able to bring them forever.”

For the past 50-plus years, family reunification has been central to U.S. immigration law. Those who become naturalized citizens can bring spouses and minor children and petition for parents, adult children and siblings to get their own green cards and become Americans in their own right, with their own ability to sponsor.