(NEW YORK) -- Three people were injured after shots were fired in New York's Times Square, including a 4-year-old girl who was shot in the leg.
All of the victims were taken to Bellevue Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The 4-year-old was struck in the thigh by a bullet and will undergo surgery.
New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea said the incident started as an argument between a group of two to four men when at least one of them pulled out a gun and started shooting. The shots missed and struck the victims, who police say were innocent bystanders.
The group of men involved fled the scene and police have no suspects in custody. Shea confirmed that the NYPD is looking for at least one shooter and one person of interest.
(NEW YORK) -- A cyberattack has forced the shutdown of a major gas pipeline in the U.S. that supplies 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.
The cyberattack against Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Houston to Linden, New Jersey, began 7 p.m. on Friday night, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency report reviewed by ABC News.
"We proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems," the company said in a statement.
Colonial Pipeline said in an update Saturday the attack involved ransomware.
Colonial’s network supplies fuel from U.S. refiners on the Gulf Coast to the eastern and southern U.S. and transports 2.5 million barrels a day of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products through 5,500 miles of pipelines, the company said.
It’s not clear how long the pipelines would be shut down. The shutdown will affect other pipeline operations such as the Buckeye and Twin Oaks Pipeline which runs through the NYC-Long Island area and Maine, FEMA said.
The company, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, said it hired an outside cybersecurity firm to investigate the nature and scope of the attack and has also contacted law enforcement and federal agencies.
"Colonial Pipeline is taking steps to understand and resolve this issue. At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation. This process is already underway, and we are working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline," the company said.
The FBI has not responded to ABC News' request for comment on the matter.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke about the dangers of ransomware earlier this week given the recent spate of ransomware attacks, including the hack of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
ABC News' Josh Margolin and Luke Barr contributed to this report
(BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md.) -- Three people are dead, including a suspected shooter, and two injured following reports of an active shooter and fire at a home in Baltimore County, Maryland, authorities said.
Police officers responding to the Woodlawn neighborhood, west of Baltimore, after 6:40 a.m. Saturday found a man armed with a gun outside a burning residence, Baltimore County Police Department spokesperson Joy Stewart said during a press briefing.
Police fatally shot the suspect, Stewart said. The officer-involved shooting is under investigation and it is unclear at this time how many officers discharged their firearms, she said. The suspect has not been publicly identified.
Two people died, one victim was critically injured and another suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the incident, police said. Authorities have not shared any additional details on the victims.
Two people initially unaccounted for after the incident have since been found.
Police are continuing to search the scene for any other possible victims.
There was no continued threat to the community, police said.
The two-alarm fire destroyed two townhomes and heavily damaged a third, Tim Rostkowski, a spokesperson for the Baltimore County Fire Department, said during the briefing.
The fire was being fed by natural gas, and firefighters were still working to control the gas leak by Saturday afternoon, authorities said. A utility company was working to shut off the natural gas to the home.
"We don't have any preliminary information whatsoever on the exact origin or cause [of the fire]," Rostkowski said. "That's part of the ongoing investigation."
The call for the active shooter and fire came in at the same time, and authorities are investigating if the two incidents are related, authorities said.
"We have this fire that happened, we also have this suspect who was armed," Stewart said. "How they're all related, it's really too early to tell at this point."
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said he was at the scene of the "horrific incident" Saturday morning and will make "all possible resources" available to those impacted.
"This rapidly evolving situation has required a multi-agency response and will take time to fully investigate," he said on Twitter. "Today, we pray for the injured victims and the families who have lost loved ones."
(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd's death were indicted Friday on federal civil rights charges.
The three-count indictment alleges Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane deprived Floyd's rights when they saw him lying on the ground "in clear need" of medical care, but "willfully failed to aid Floyd, thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm."
Count one accuses Chauvin of deprivation of rights under color of law for his direct role in 46-year-old Floyd's May 25, 2020, death.
"Chauvin held his left knee across George Floyd's neck, and his right knee on Floyd's back and arm, as George Floyd lay on the ground, handcuffed and unresisting, and kept his knees on Floyd's neck and body even after Floyd became unresponsive," the indictment said. "This offense resulted in bodily injury to, and the death of George Floyd."
In count two, the grand jury accused Thao and Kueng of being "aware that [Chauvin] was holding his knee across George Floyd's neck as Floyd lay handcuffed and unresisting, and that Defendant Chauvin continued to hold Floyd to the ground even after Floyd became unresponsive, and the defendants willfully failed to intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin's use of unreasonable force."
Count three is against all four former officers, and claims that by not giving Floyd medical care and aid, they "willfully deprived Mr. Floyd of his constitutional right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes an arrestee’s right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs."
The Justice Department said Friday's indictment is separate from its recently announced and still ongoing civil "pattern or practice" investigation looking into the policing practices of the entire Minneapolis Police Department.
Civil rights attorneys in the Floyd case Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and L. Chris Stewart said in a statement they are "encouraged by these charges."
"The Constitution claims to be committed to life, liberty, and justice, and we are seeing this realized in the justice George Floyd continues to receive," they said. "This comes after hundreds of years of American history in which Black Americans unfortunately did not receive equal justice."
The attorneys said they're "eager to see continued justice in this historic case that will impact Black citizens and all Americans for generations to come.”
Derrick Johnson, the NAACP national president, in a statement called the charges "a step in the right direction."
"No police officer is above the law, nor should they ever be shielded from accountability. We need urgent reforms now," Johnson said.
Attorneys for Thao and Kueng declined to comment.
In addition to allegedly violating Floyd’s rights, Chauvin is named a second, separate indictment filed on Thursday for deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly violating the civil rights of a 14-year-old in 2017. The indictment said "Chauvin, without legal justification, held" the teen "by the throat and struck Juvenile 1 multiple times in the head with a flashlight." Chauvin is also accused of holding "his knee on the neck and the upper back of Juvenile 1 even after Juvenile 1 was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting."
Chauvin was convicted last month on all state charges against him in Floyd's death: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The three other officers involved in Floyd's death are awaiting trial. After appearing in court Friday morning over the new federal charges against them, all three were released on $25,000 bond.
(NEW YORK) -- For Neda LaFuente, everyday moments with her family are not only precious, but they also play a vital role in her job.
“They say, as paramedics, your most important time is your downtime … because that keeps us healthy,” she told “Nightline.” “If we have a healthy life outside of work then we can maintain a healthy life at work.”
The 42-year-old has been working as an EMT for almost 20 years. She’s a field commander in the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Unit and her team is on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in their corner of Texas.
When she’s not responding to calls, LaFuente volunteers as a team leader in the department’s peer support group. For medics like her, the group is a critical way to process the traumatic situations they often encounter on the job. The group’s goal is to destigmatizethe mental health crises they often face, and not just in the field.
“As a leader, my job is to serve not only the patients but [also] to serve my paramedics and my medics, so I just focus on one task at a time,” LaFuente said.
In the early mornings, as she says goodbye to her husband and her nearly 2-year-old son, she says she thinks “about making sure that my day is as safe as possible so that I can come back.”
Her fears are more than valid. In Austin, over 50,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported since December. And last month in March, Governor Greg. Abbot lifted the mask order.
The policies around COVID-19 directly impact the lives of medics like LaFuente. Their work is twofold: caring for others while also making sure they care for themselves.
“It's hard as a medic to look at yourself and say, ‘Hey, I need help,’” she said. “We go to the extreme and then we realize that our limb is broken and we need to get help, too.”
Daniel Owens, a field medic who is also with Austin-Travis County Emergency Services, says it’s “one of the most fulfilling jobs that you can absolutely do.” But he admitted, “in full transparency, it's a profession that really does kind of tear at you.”
Owen said he often thinks about the people he was able to help on the job and its this sentiment that makes the job meaningful.
“You run certain 911 calls where you know that you absolutely made a difference, and you realize that, at that point in time, you were able to perform an intervention that may have saved someone's life,” he said.
Owens and his partner, Andre Thompson, have been working in emergency services since before the pandemic began, and their experience shows.
“You get up and you come to work and anything can happen. A workday could turn out in a million different ways,” Thompson, a field paramedic at the department for over 11 years, told “Nightline.”
In March 2020, Owens made the difficult decision to move away from his wife Jessica and their two boys, ages 6 and 4, in order to keep them safe from the risk of contracting COVID-19, which his patients might expose him to at any time.
“When Jessica and the kids left, we decided we'd just ride out -- two or three weeks until things kinda got under control. Things never got under control,” he said.
Returning home to his boys made his hard days at work more bearable, Owens said.
“If you want to feel like a million bucks after you have just a horrible, cruddy shift, come home to two boys who think that you're just the man who hung the moon,” he said. “[They] just think that you're an absolute hero… They are just happy that you're home.”
During the hard times, Owens said he leaned on counsel from his father, who was a firefighter for more than 30 years.
“He's the reason I am in this occupation. I just kind of followed in his footsteps,” Owens said. “So, dad understands my stories when I talk to him about work because he lived it, too, and he carries a lot of burdens from … years of being a first responder as well.”
Owens said the overwhelming changes to his job and personal life over the last year came as an onslaught.
“Everything about our profession, and how we responded to very basic 911 calls, changed,” he said. “We're dealing with picking up extra shifts because we're now short-staffed with multiple coworkers ... experiencing COVID-19 of their own, and we are now experiencing life with daily COVID-positive patients,” he said.
While many of their calls are for suspected COVID-19 cases, they must be cautious to treat seemingly unrelated cases as possible COVID-19 exposures, too.
“You can run a stabbing victim -- boom, they have COVID,” Thompson said. “So, even people who have other kinds of complaints may still have COVID and be contagious. So our safety is a bigger concern.”
Owens said they were just beginning to grasp their new responsibilities during the pandemic when the country was rocked by a reckoning on racial inequality.
“Not only were we dealing with this pandemic that was going on, but now we also had political unrest,” Owens said. “Every single 911 call you do, someone is judging your performance, whether it's the public, it's your bosses, it's your coworkers.”
He says that having Thompson by his side has helped him navigate a world he couldn’t understand.
“It is very rare to have a Black paramedic,” Owens said. “Only 3% of our paramedic workforce is Black, and so, for Andre and I to go into calls, especially into Black homes, you see a difference.”
“It makes a huge difference in the quality of health care, I wish people could understand how important that is and why representation is so needed in a critical way,” Owens added.
Thompson said working with Owens has been a “mind-expanding experience.”
“He's a white guy from rural Texas and then I am me,” Thompson said. “So the conversations we've had, some of the perspectives that he has are things that I would never have considered.”
Both of the first responders agreed that these conversations are just the beginning for truly understanding the long-held pain and trauma in this country.
“We are pretty open with what we talk about and nobody gets hurt feelings. Yeah, we both say what we need to say,” Thompson said.
And with a job that is physically and mentally exhausting, there is also a pain from their work that’s rarely discussed.
“We can't call 911 because we are 911. There's no backup,” Owens said. “We have created this false machismo. If you start having cumulative stress, it's because you are weak. For most medics in the profession, it's going to come at a great cost.”
In 2015, two Austin medics died by suicide. In response, the department launched the peer support program, one of several initiatives focusing on mental health and wellness.
Tania Glenn, Psy.D., specializes in treating severe stress and trauma. She’s worked with first responders in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. “When you take a human being, and you put them in the worst days of people's lives, and they see the worst things happening to innocent people, and they see awful things and tragedy and accidents and death and destruction, it does take a toll,” she said.
Glenn launched the paramedic peer support program in Austin and several other cities across the country.
“First responders will not go to therapy if there's a paper trail, if there's a diagnosis attached to their name,” Glenn said. “I proposed this program to put my practice on a separate contract with the specialty of dealing with first responder issues, and that I would submit an invoice once a month with no names on the invoice.”
She said her number one focus is “mitigating those traumas so that it doesn't become post-traumatic stress disorder,” and then helping the medics cope with the burnout while trying to keep it all in perspective.
Owens explained that many of his colleagues want to stay anonymous because “there is that fear that somebody is going to hold your struggles against you in a professional setting.”
“A peer support team creates this bubble of trust. Because it's someone who works in the same profession as you,” Owens said. “It's someone who is not going to go on an administrative tear and try to take away your job.”
“Post-traumatic stress disorder is when an individual is exposed to a stress trauma [that’s] so extreme it's beyond their human coping capacity,” Glenn explained.
Glenn said that while the country has made some progress in the way mental health is discussed and understood, it still has a long way to go.
“I think that the more we do education and awareness and normalizing mental health issues, the better we all get at understanding what that is,” she said.
LaFuente said that at one point in her career, she experienced symptoms of PTSD. She says she was able to better cope with the stress and trauma that had compounded after talking to Glenn.
“When my son was born, something turned on inside of me where I was constantly anxious and looking for things that may happen,” she said. “I've been on lots of calls where the baby died because the parent slept while they were holding their baby, and then whoever wanted to hold my baby, I would watch them. I couldn't get my eyes off them because I was afraid they'll fall asleep even though it was broad daylight.”
LaFuente said the anxiety caused her to begin asking her family and friends if it was normal since she was a first-time mom.
“They had to bring it to my attention. They said, ‘Out of the thousand times that somebody does something, you see that one time where it went wrong,’” LaFuente said.
LaFuente also has an additional layer of stress: She’s one of the very few women leading a team in a field traditionally dominated by men.
“Statistically, being a woman and being a woman of color, I'm outnumbered,” LaFuente said. “As a woman, your voice has to be a little stronger and you have to have a little bit more of a presence to get that attention. And it's not just from our department; it's society in general.”
For LaFuente and her fellow front-line heroes, success isn’t just measured in how many lives they save, but how they maintain their own.
Owens has been working toward building that balance for other first responders. Over the past three years, he said he’s volunteered his time as the executive director of the Association of Texas EMS Professionals, lobbying to ensure EMS professionals are “recognized and represented at all levels.”
(NEW YORK) -- Ten-year-old Ke'aundre James was on the bus headed to school when he "heard yelling and cussing in the front" -- and spotted a man with a rifle.
The gunman "was telling the bus driver, 'Close the doors, take me to the next town over. Go, go, go.' And stuff like that," Ke'aundre told ABC News.
So Ke'aundre called his parents.
"I was telling him [his father] I was being held hostage, and my mom and my dad started freaking out," the fourth grader said. "They got in the car and I told them where we was going."
When the gunman told the children to move to the front, Ke'aundre said, "I put my phone on silent and I put it in my pants and put my jacket down over it."
"Somewhere close to the next town over," Ke'aundre said, the hijacker "made everybody get out."
Neither the bus driver nor the 18 Forest Lake Elementary students were physically harmed in harrowing incident in Thursday morning in South Carolina.
The suspect, a 23-year-old Fort Jackson trainee, Jovan Collazo, was taken into custody.
Collazo's Army-issued rifle did not have ammunition, Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. said at a news conference, adding that the children and driver could not have known that at the time.
When Ke'aundre's mother, Carolina Esenwein, got her son's phone call, she said she "went into panic mode."
Esenwein and her husband jumped in the car and started searching for the bus.
"I was trying to call my son's phone at this time and I was texting him and he wasn't returning my phone calls or my texts, so I just started freaking out. I didn't know what was going on. You hear all of this stuff in the news with people doing random shootings and kidnaping of kids," she said.
Esenwein was on the phone with the school when Ke'aundre told her all of the children were off the bus. She had Ke'aundre spell a road sign so they'd know where to find him.
The students were taken to school where they received support from counselors and were reunited with their parents, the district said.
"I felt so thankful," Esenwein said. "Relieved. ... It was beautiful."
The ordeal began when Collazo fled Fort Jackson, officials said. Collazo went to a bus stop where he allegedly stormed the vehicle and "told the bus driver he didn't want to hurt him, but he wanted him to drive him to the next town," Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.
As the bus driver drove, Collazo brought the children to the front of the bus, Lott said.
"The kids started asking lots of questions to the suspect if he was going to hurt them or the bus driver," Lott said at a news conference.
Six minutes into the alleged hijacking, the driver pulled over and the children and the bus driver got off safely, Lott said.
Collazo allegedly drove the bus for a few miles before abandoning it, leaving the rifle inside, Lott said. Collazo was later booked on charges including kidnapping.
Beagle said it appeared that Collazo, a New Jersey native in his third week of training at Fort Jackson, was trying to get home. Fort Jackson officials issued an apology, saying in a statement, "This was a failure in our accountability procedures that we truly regret and are apologetic to our community."
After the incident, Ke'aundre said, "Me and my friend were talking about a bunch of things. How the children aren't supposed to experience that ... And after we got off the bus, I let him use my phone to call his mama, and his mama came up to the school to pick him up. "
"I'm just very proud of my son for being strong and being smart enough to know to call me," Esenwein said. "We have raised him very well."
ABC News' Rachel Katz and Isha Battu contributed to this report.
(NEW YORK) -- Dressed up in a Minnie Mouse costume for her son’s school Halloween party, Melissa Fox tried to put on a brave face for her 6-year-old boy and the world.
Just hours earlier, on Oct. 27, 2004, police had made an arrest in the tragic murder of her 3-year-old daughter, Riley Fox, claiming to solve and bring to a close the five-month-long, high-profile investigation.
“On the news, they were telling everybody there was an arrest made. I [knew] who they arrested, but nobody else did yet.” Melissa said.
Riley, an adorable, outgoing and bright-eyed toddler, was found murdered in a creek just 4 miles from her home, shaking the small town of Wilmington, Illinois, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, to its core.
“In an instant, my life was forever changed and it was devastating,” Melissa told ABC News.
As Melissa fulfilled her promise to be with her son at school that evening, the Will County Sheriff’s Office was getting ready to announce its suspect: Kevin Fox, Melissa’s then-husband and Riley’s father.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ “20/20,” Melissa reflected on how she survived a parent’s worst nightmare, tirelessly defended her husband's innocence and never gave up fighting for justice for her beloved daughter.
On June 6, 2004, the lives of the Fox family changed forever.
That weekend, Melissa, then 25, and a group of friends participated in the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer in Chicago, where she stayed for two nights -- the longest she’d ever been away from her children. Kevin stayed home with the kids.
Melissa adored Riley and cherished her time with her little girl.
“She had this perfect black hair and perfect little round face and blue eyes,” Melissa said. “She was funny. She was silly. Just, so talkative, and she was friendly to everybody she met. She was just a sweetheart.”
“Riley was a lot like Melissa,” Jillian Garrelts, Melissa’s friend, said. “She was a spunky, sassy little girl. She ... could be a little princess... But ... she was a daddy’s girl, kind of a little tomboy [who] loved to fish … and wasn't afraid to get dirty.”
While his wife was in Chicago, Kevin, then 27, and the kids spent Saturday afternoon making posters in anticipation of celebrating Melissa’s walk at the finish line, where they planned to meet her the next morning.
But early Sunday morning, Tyler woke up Kevin to tell him that Riley was missing.
Not thinking it was a true emergency, Kevin looked through the house and backyard. Then, after about 30 to 40 minutes, Kevin called the non-emergency number for police. He reported finding his front door open and Riley’s yellow blanket still on the couch, where she had been sleeping.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Melissa and her friends were nearing the end of their walk when she called her husband to check in.
“He sounded so startled. I knew immediately something was wrong,” Melissa said. “He just said, ‘Riley's gone,’ and I immediately hit the ground and the phone fell out of my hand.”
The women rushed back to Wilmington, where word of Riley’s disappearance had spread quickly throughout the small town of 5,000. They arrived to see the community mobilized, with dozens of volunteers searching for Riley in ditches, woods and the town’s forest preserves.
“It was something out of a movie… [I] feel like the entire town was out looking for her,” Colleen Hansen, Melissa’s friend, said. “Every area of the town was being canvassed in some fashion.”
For hours after Melissa had arrived, the town continued to search high and low for Riley. Then at one point, Melissa said a police officer placed her and Kevin in separate police cars.
“I didn't understand what was going on. When we got to the police station, they just started asking questions and I was like, ‘Is someone going to tell me what's going on?’” she said.
The couple was unaware that two volunteers had found Riley facedown, wearing only a shirt, in a creek. She had duct tape across her mouth and what investigators believed to be duct tape residue on her wrists. Autopsy reports later determined that she had been sexually assaulted and drowned.
“It was just crushing,” Melissa said. “I couldn’t even stand. I couldn’t even think. I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like without her.”
From that moment forward, Melissa said she never stepped foot in the house where Riley had disappeared from again.
Police focus on Riley Fox’s father in her murder
Nearly 6,000 people attended Riley’s funeral a few days after she’d been found.
The attendees wore pink, Riley’s favorite color, and buttons with her picture on it while Martina McBride’s “She’s a Butterfly” played through the speakers. Riley was buried in the white flower girl dress she had worn to her uncle’s wedding just two weeks before her murder and new flip flops that she’d wanted.
Melissa later learned Will County Sheriff’s Office detectives were also in attendance, videotaping Kevin.
“Within an hour of the funeral ending, [the police] came to my house,” Hansen said. “They asked if there was any reason that I would believe Kevin to be capable of doing something like this. … Before the question even came out of their mouth, my answer was, ‘No.’"
Desperate to find out what happened to her daughter, Melissa said she reached out to the detectives every day and that they assured her they were investigating the case thoroughly.
Then, nearly three weeks after Riley’s murder, the detectives asked to speak to her brother, 6-year-old Tyler. Melissa and Kevin agreed.
For over an hour, a forensic interviewer questioned Tyler about Riley’s disappearance. On a videotaped recording, Tyler was seen crouching into his chair, covering his face and crying while the interviewer questioned him.
He told the interviewer 168 times that his father had nothing to do with the disappearance of his little sister, according to Fox’s attorney Kathleen Zellner.
When Melissa was able to view the recording at a later date, she was distraught. She said she allowed her son to be questioned because she trusted the detectives.
“It was really sad to watch,” Melissa said. “Our family had been through so much. I had just lost a child and then to see the way that they decided to treat the one I still had was really terrible.”
Riley Fox’s father is arrested for her murder
Months passed with little movement on the case. On Oct. 26, 2004, the Foxes received a call from the Will County Sheriff’s Office asking them to come to the office as there were new developments in the case.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it. They found the person,” Melissa said. “We were just grinning from ear to ear like we’re finally going to know what happened.”
But immediately upon their arrival, Melissa said they were separated and Kevin was taken to a backroom for questioning.
"Something just [didn’t] feel right,” she said. “I thought they were going to tell us what was going on. I [didn’t] know what's happening."
“I was stunned… For months, [I had been] telling [them], ‘Stop looking at my husband. Kevin had nothing to do with it,’" Melissa said.
About eight hours into Kevin’s interrogation, Melissa said police told her Kevin had agreed to take a polygraph exam and that he had failed. Melissa said she then spoke to her husband.
“As soon as I got in the room ... I think they were really upset, that they thought they had me believing their story. And the second … I let Kevin know, ‘I don't believe them. It's OK’ … They didn't want me anywhere near him,” Melissa said.
She said the sergeant overseeing the investigation pulled her out of the room, yelled obscenities in her face and insisted to her that Kevin had murdered their child. The Will County Sheriff’s Office has denied these claims.
At approximately 8 a.m., Will County detectives said Kevin had confessed to killing his daughter. He had been questioned by police for about 14 hours and hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours.
According to the detectives, Kevin confessed that he had accidentally killed Riley when he opened the bathroom door and struck her in the head early Sunday morning and that he then staged her death to look like an abduction and murder. Police said that he sexually assaulted Riley as part of the cover-up and dumped her body in the creek.
DNA evidence proves essential in Riley Fox case
When Chad Fox learned of his brother Kevin’s interrogation, he rushed to the building where he worked and waited outside the door of a neighboring attorney’s office. Chad had suggested months earlier that Melissa and Kevin speak with an attorney, but they felt they didn’t need one.
Little did they know, Chad was not referring to just any attorney. He was talking about Kathleen Zellner, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country, who has helped exonerate 20 people.
After speaking to her, Chad and Zellner raced down to the sheriff’s office. When they arrived, they learned Kevin was already being booked into the Will County Jail.
“I went outside and Melissa Fox was standing in the parking lot… She told me, ‘There's just no way that he did this,’” Zellner said. "I thought … this is a very self-confident, assertive ... person that seemed very intelligent to me, and when she told me that, I thought maybe he didn't do it.”
After meeting Melissa and speaking to Kevin, Zellner took on the case.
The Will County State’s Attorney filed first-degree murder charges against Kevin Fox and announced they were planning to seek the death penalty against him for the murder of his daughter.
Yet, Kevin denied killing Riley, claiming the detectives threatened and coerced him into giving a false confession. The investigators have denied threatening Kevin and coercing him to confess.
Word spread like wildfire throughout Wilmington and the Chicagoland area that Kevin was responsible for Riley’s murder. Chicago media descended upon the small town.
“We went from being the victims of the crime, and having everybody’s sympathy to, all of a sudden, we were bad people,” Melissa said in a previous interview.
While Melissa’s world was falling apart, she said she had to stay strong for her son, Tyler, and her family.
Meanwhile, Zellner sprang into action. She and her team of private investigators traveled to Wilmington and began to reenact the crime to see if it fit Kevin’s confession
She quickly began poking holes in the Will County Sheriff’s Office investigation and Kevin’s confession. For example, she alleged that the current of the creek wasn't strong enough at the spot where Kevin said he’d placed Riley’s body to move her to the location where she was found.
However, in spite of her findings, Zellner felt the only way to overcome Kevin’s confession and prove his innocence would be with DNA evidence. In her review of the Will County Sheriff’s Office investigation, Zellner found that there was, in fact, DNA from Riley’s rape kit that had been available all along, but the DNA required sophisticated technology to further test it.
She was able to strike a deal with the newly elected State’s Attorney James Glasgow, who agreed to allow a private lab to test the DNA.
When the results came back, they excluded Kevin Fox, but did not identify the real killer. He was released from jail the next day and the charges against him were dropped.
Kevin spent eight months in jail wrongfully accused of his daughter’s murder.
“[Kevin’s release] was something I had hoped for and I knew would happen, but some days it just felt like ... forever, and other days, it just felt impossible,” Melissa said.
“I [was] really happy to have our family back together, but [we were] still missing a piece,” Melissa added. “Still, nothing had helped us understand what had happened to Riley and it felt as if they made it that much more difficult to find the truth because they had so many people believing that it was Kevin.”
“[The Sheriff's Office] wasted all that time. … They really screwed us over big time and I still don’t know why,” she said.
Fox family files civil rights lawsuit
Upon Kevin’s arrest, Zellner filed a civil rights lawsuit against Will County, the Will County Sheriff’s Office, multiple sheriff’s detectives who investigated the case, the former Will County State’s Attorney, the polygraph examiner and the forensic interviewer who spoke with Tyler, and others.
Zellner's claims for Kevin Fox included violations of due process, false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and conspiracy. For Melissa Fox, claims included conspiracy, loss of consortium, and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against one detective.
“This was not about incompetence. This was a case where we had to show that there was some malicious intent,” Zellner said.
Just before the trial, the former state’s attorney who filed charges against Kevin negotiated a resolution with the Fox family without admitting wrongdoing.
Zellner said the lawyers for Will County tried to settle with the Foxes, but Melissa and Kevin wouldn’t agree to it.
“Why settle? We'd had nothing to hide. … They raked us through the mud,” Melissa said.
Melissa claimed the detectives caused more damage to her family while grieving the loss of her daughter.
“The one person ... who I needed by my side was Kevin, and they took him from me. So, I was mourning the loss of a child,” she said. “And … now I have to raise my son by myself, who's just lost his sister. It was just truly a nightmare, and ... the civil case at that time … felt like [our] only way to get back at them.”
In court, Zellner and her team argued that the detectives had tunnel vision. She said they presented many possible leads that she said they say the Will County Sheriff’s Office failed to properly investigate.
Zellner argued that the detectives did not properly investigate a possible break-in at the Foxes’ neighbor’s home on the night Riley disappeared, and that they didn’t follow up on a suspicious red Chevy Beretta that had been seen driving through the neighborhood.
The attorneys for the detectives had said one of the reasons they suspected Kevin was that they found no sign of forced entry into the Fox home and that he didn't immediately call police.
Melissa and Kevin said the lock on their back door had been broken.
The detectives’ attorneys argued the detectives had probable cause to arrest Kevin, and that they did not rush to judgment or coerce a confession from him.
All of the detectives involved in this case declined “20/20’s” requests to be interviewed.
During the trial, one of the detectives, the polygraph examiner, the forensic interviewer, and others settled out of court without admitting wrongdoing.
The jury ruled in favor of the Fox family on a number of their claims, but not all, finding that the remaining four detectives and the estate of a fifth detective were liable for violating Kevin Fox’s right to due process, false arrest and infliction of emotional distress, but not conspiracy or false imprisonment. The jury also held the detectives liable for Melissa’s claim of loss of consortium, but not conspiracy. The jury also found in favor of Melissa Fox’s claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.
Two of the detectives were found liable for malicious prosecution. The jury awarded the family $15.5 million which was later reduced to about $8 million on appeal.
An appeals court later vacated Kevin Fox’s substantive due process claim and reduced damages for his false arrest claim and Melissa's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, reducing the payout to about $8 million.
The search for Riley’s killer continues
After the civil trial, the Fox family turned its attention to finding Riley’s real killer. Melissa called for outside agencies to take up the investigation.
Years passed and Melissa grew weary, but never gave up hope that her daughter’s killer would be brought to justice.
In 2009, the FBI took over the case after Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said it had reached the point where something “drastic” had to happen. Its investigation led them to Scott Eby, a career criminal who eventually confessed to the crime. In his confession, he revealed, among other things, the harrowing details of Riley’s final moments.
A year later, Melissa was on her way to an appointment when she received an unexpected call from Zellner, who told her, “We got him.” She was referring to the FBI, who had caught Riley’s killer.
“I was ... crying and smiling and I just couldn't even believe it,” Melissa said. “It was words that I had longed for, but a lot of days felt like I was never going to hear. … It took my breath away.”
Melissa met Kevin at Zellner’s office to meet with the FBI agents.
"One second we're sitting there just like, 'Thank you so much for the work you've done,’” Melissa said in a 2010 interview. "And then, the next minute, crying so hard that you couldn't breathe and just being sad for [Riley]."
”Most people say ‘a dream come true.’ It was like a nightmare come true,” she added.
Melissa said Will County officials and the detectives involved in Riley’s case never directly apologized for what they’d done to Kevin or what they had put the family through. But following Eby’s arrest, a spokesman for the Will County Sheriff’s Office issued an apology to the family.
"I can forgive a mistake. You know, people are human. I get that. But ... they almost completely ruined our chances of ever knowing what happened to our daughter, and so, I hate them for that," Melissa said.
Eby pleaded guilty in 2010 and Melissa finally faced her daughter’s killer in court. She described him as “pathetic.” Speaking directly to Eby in a victim impact statement, Melissa called him a monster, a coward and a “disappointment to his mother, family and society.”
“Although you took [Riley] from me, you cannot take the time I shared with her,” Melissa said in front of a packed courtroom. “I will always treasure those memories and feel so lucky to have [had] the privilege and honor … to have been Riley’s mom.”
“Riley is the one we will all remember,” Melissa said. “She’s our little princess.”
Melissa asked for Eby not to receive the death penalty so that he could spend the rest of his life thinking about what he had done to Riley and their family.
Eby was sentenced to life in prison without parole. For Melissa, justice was bittersweet.
“[There was] definitely some closure, some peace, knowing that … [Eby] was going to pay the price for what he had done, but ... could it ever measure up? No,” she said.
In the years that passed after Riley’s murder, Melissa and Kevin had another child -- a daughter -- but their marriage couldn’t survive the trauma their family had endured.
They moved, got divorced and are both now remarried with new families.
“Melissa's a remarkably courageous, resilient person who had the character to stick with [Kevin] because she knew he was innocent,” Zellner said. “She believed in him. It was an extraordinary story of tragedy, but redemption … and going forward … resiliency,” Zellner said.
Looking back over the past 17 years, Melissa reflected on the lessons she learned fighting for justice for her daughter and trying to protect her family. She thinks Riley would be proud of the way she fought for them.
“I just feel like … you have to be your own advocate. If something doesn't feel right, just you have to protect yourself,” Melissa said. “Trust your gut.”
She no longer lives in Wilmington, but often visits a memorial garden that was dedicated to honor Riley as well as her grave. Riley would have been 20 years old this year. Melissa said the world missed out on a “bright light,” but that she knows Riley is watching over her.
“I like to think of the day she was given to me, not taken away,” Melissa said, reflecting on Riley’s birthday.
She added that despite the many struggles and heartache her family has endured, she refuses to be defined by tragedy.
“I fight every day to be happy and to ... live my life to the fullest for Riley and for my other kids. Just like I did when I put the Minnie Mouse costume on [for Tyler],” Melissa said. “I'm gonna keep living... I'm not gonna let [her daughter’s killer] destroy any more of me or my life.”
Through it all, Melissa said she’s learned to look at life through a different lens, but nothing will be able to replace her little girl.
“Some days are sad. I'll miss [Riley] forever,” Melissa said. “It's something I can never really truly recover from, but I'm still blessed beyond belief. It will forever be devastating, and I'll forever have a hole in my heart,” Melissa said.
“But because I have suffered such great loss,” she added, “I see the world and the blessings and love that I have in such a different way.”
(NEW YORK) -- South Carolina and Montana residents will be cut off from federal pandemic unemployment benefits next month, with Republican governors in each state claiming the payments have led to a workforce shortage. Economists say that's not the case.
"Employers are just angry that they are unable to find workers at relatively low wages," Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, said in an interview. "The jobs being posted are more stressful, more risky, harder jobs than they were pre-COVID. ... When the job is more stressful, then it should command a higher wage."
These two states will be the first to end participation in the unemployment enhancement programs, as both states are attempting to transition back to pre-pandemic unemployment insurance eligibility and benefits by the end of June.
Unemployment recipients will lose an extra $300 per week, and contractors and gig workers will lose their access to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. In March, 120,783 South Carolinians still were looking for jobs, according to the state's Department of Employment and Workforce. In Montana, there were about 25,000 people filing unemployment claims, according to the state's Department of Labor. There are about 9.8 million unemployed workers across the U.S.
"In many instances, these payments are greater than the worker's previous paychecks," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. "What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement."
In July 2020, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that two-thirds of laid-off workers were making more off unemployment than their typical wages.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte also announced that the return to pre-pandemic benefits was part of a "severe workforce shortage," and that the new measures will "incentivize" Montanans.
However, the number of Americans submitting unemployment claims on the week of May 1 has fallen to a pandemic-low of 498,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And in March, more than 900,000 jobs were added to the labor market.
At a press conference on Friday, President Joe Biden responded to the latest jobs report that showed only 266,000 jobs had been added to the economy in April, compared with a forecast of closer to 1 million.
"You might think that we should be disappointed, but when we passed the American Rescue Plan, I want to remind everybody, it was designed to help us over the course of a year -- not 60 days, a year," Biden said. "We never thought that after the first 50 or 60 days everything would be fine."
Shierholz told ABC News that after the $600 bonus on unemployment expired at the end of July, "You should have seen a bump up in employment, and you can't see that in the data so it just points to that it wasn't really causing the labor supply effect. It's just difficult to imagine that something half that big is having any effect now."
But a report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that a more likely reason some employers aren't attracting workers is that many of these businesses are offering too-low wages. In a true labor shortage, the report states, wages will rise as does competition among employers. But wages aren't growing -- at least not quickly enough.
William E. Spriggs, an economist and professor at Howard University, said in an interview with ABC News that there is no data to prove that unemployment checks are preventing Americans from returning to work.
"There's no job shortage, in terms of workers. There's a wage shortage," said Spriggs, adding that research shows many employers "want to pay rotten wages and have rotten hours."
Gianforte said that a "return-to-work bonus" of $1,200 will be paid to people who rejoin the labor force and maintain employment for at least one month. McMaster did not mention the bonus in his announcement. The federal funding for the return-to-work program is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Experts told ABC News declining to take federal money is going to have a deep effect on the living standards of residents and their families, and likely will worsen those states' overall economies.
"The idea that states are just going to forego that and allow all that money to be sucked out of their economy is just terrible economics," Shierholz said. "I just deeply hope that you don't see more states following this path because it's a huge mistake."
(NEW YORK) -- Over 60 migrant children at two California holding centers have tested positive for COVID-19, sparking worry over the health of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. from across the border.
At the Long Beach Convention Center housing 728 migrant children, 55 of them have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, Zhan Caplan, spokesperson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told ABC News. The center has a capacity to hold 1,000 children.
Meanwhile at the Pomona Fairplex site, which began housing migrant children Saturday and currently hosts 216 children, 14 have tested positive for COVID and are being housed separately, local ABC station KABC-TV reported. The site has the capacity to hold about 2,500 children.
Caplan said the Long Beach site conducts surveillance testing of the children every three days and those who test positive are moved to an isolation tent. UCLA Health, the center's onsite medical provider, cares for the infected kids.
He noted that "almost all" of the kids who tested positive are asymptomatic, "with the exception of one who has very mild symptoms."
Caplan said COVID-19 at the center "is a very well managed medical situation with full mitigation plans in place."
Bonnie Preston, regional director at HHS, told KABC most of the COVID-19 cases are among children who arrived to the center with the virus, testing positive when leaving Border Patrol custody. Those children were taken to intake centers in separate vehicles, she said.
"We have a team of infectious disease experts from the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on site who are working with program leads to implement CDC COVID-19 protocols as the site gears up and the census grows," Preston said.
The unaccompanied children will be held until they can be reunited with family or placed with sponsors.
There have been other reports of COVID-19 among migrant children. In early April, more than 100 cases were reported at the San Diego Convention Center, which was used to house unaccompanied minors and had reached its capacity of 1,450 kids. Caplan told the Long Beach Post that the facility currently has 30 positive cases.
As of Thursday, there are 23,003 children in CBP custody and HHS care, according to HHS data.
The United States has been grappling with a surge in migrants arriving at its southern border in recent months.
Nearly 19,000 children traveling alone were stopped at the Mexican border in March, surpassing previous highs set during periods of heavy child migration in 2014 and 2019.
To handle the COVID-19 cases among migrants and overcrowded Customs and Border Patrol facilities, HHS has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase shelter space in existing facilities and by modifying COVID-19 mitigation measures to free up space that was previously left empty for social distancing.
(BOULDER, Colo.) -- The police officer who shot and injured a mass shooting suspect at a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store was justified in his actions and won't face criminal charges, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in a new report.
The suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was shot in the leg and taken into custody after the March 22 shooting that killed 10 at the King Soopers grocery store.
Alissa allegedly started shooting in the grocery store parking lot before running inside and opening fire, according to prosecutors. The first officers arrived within minutes and went into the store, where Boulder police officer Eric Talley was shot and killed, according to prosecutors.
Boulder officer Richard Steidell -- who shot and injured Alissa -- said when he arrived at the scene, he saw two victims dead outside, and when he and his fellow officers went inside the King Soopers, he saw Talley with devastating injuries, according to a report released Thursday by Dougherty.
As Steidell approached Talley, he said he saw someone with a long gun pointed at the officers, the report said. At least two rounds were then fired at the officers, the report said.
Steidell returned fire with one or two shots and "then waited for the shooter to reemerge," the report said.
When the suspect moved into Steidell’s view, the officer said he fired about five to 10 rounds, the report said. Investigators later determined Steidell fired eight shots, the report said.
Steidell was "entirely justified in using deadly physical force" because he knew the suspect "posed an immediate threat to himself, his fellow officers, and civilians still inside the store," Dougherty's report said.
"And, because Steidell fired down an empty shopping aisle and toward the back wall of the store, his use of force did not create a substantial risk of injury" to people other than Alissa, the report added.
Charges against Alissa include 10 counts of first-degree murder and numerous counts of attempted murder. He has not entered a plea.
(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- More than 100 days after declaring a state of emergency, Puerto Rico finally will have some funding to address an alarming rise in gender-based violence on the island.
The Financial Oversight Management Board, which is in charge of the island's finances, on Wednesday approved a $7 million request by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to be used for different programs aimed at preventing gender-based violence.
"We favor the Fiscal Control Board's decision to allocate the $7 million budget ... for the implementation of public policy to eradicate sexist violence," Colectivo Feminista, a community-based group, wrote on Twitter.
The international nonprofit Women for Women defines gender violence as violence directed at an individual based on their biological sex or gender identity. This includes physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse.
Since 2018, Colectivo Feminista had been pushing leaders in Puerto Rico to declare a state of emergency as gender-based killings increased. The government did so on Jan. 24, but the delay in approving the funding proved frustrating for local advocates, hundreds of whom took to the streets on Sunday and Monday, demanding action.
"A state of emergency only seen in paper are dead words," said Zoan Davila Roldan, a cofounder of Colectivo Feminista.
According to an analysis from GEN and Type Investigations, the intimate partner murder rate in Puerto Rico rose to 1.7 per 100,000 women in 2018, up from 0.77 per 100,000 in 2017.
In 2020, 60 gender-related killings were reported, according to Puerto Rico's Gender Equality Observatory. At least 21 gender-based killings have been reported this year, among them Andrea Ruiz Costas and Keishla Rodriguez Ortiz.
According to her family, Rodriguez Ortiz had been romantically involved with Felix Verdejo-Sanchez, an Olympic boxer for Puerto Rico. Rodriguez Ortiz's mother said the 27-year-old was pregnant and had received threats from Verdejo-Sanchez, including demands to terminate the pregnancy. Ortiz went missing, and two days later her body was found in the San Jose Lagoon, near Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina.
Verdejo-Sanchez has been charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death and killing an unborn child, according to the Department of Justice, and Judge Camille Vélez ruled on Monday that he would remain in jail, with no option of bail, until a preliminary hearing. A federal grand jury indicted Verdejo-Sanchez and an alleged accomplice on Thursday.
Ruiz Costas' body was found brutally burned in the town of Cayey on April 29. After her partner was identified as a possible suspect, he came forward and confessed, according to local authorities. In March, the 35-year-old twice filed for a restraining order against her partner but was denied.
"The state and the system is responsible," Davila Roldan told ABC News. "There is a failure in the system."
Pierluisi held a press conference on Monday to address both cases, and he acknowledged the state's fault in Ruiz Costas' case.
"The system failed Andrea," he said.
After the state of emergency was declared and the $7 million was requested, the FOMB initially approved just $200,000. Because Puerto Rico is going through a bankruptcy that began in 2016, the FOMB has the final say in all economic decisions of the government. The island has over $100 billion in debt and pension obligations.
In an April 27 letter to Pierluisi, the FOMB wrote, in part, that the government "should further evaluate other funding sources."
"I don't want to hear excuses from the board," Pierluisi said on Monday.
The $7 million, now approved, will help reinforce the work of the specialized committee called PARE, an acronym in Spanish that means Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education of Gender Violence. It was created after the state of emergency was declared and consists of organizations that work closely with experts and representatives from gubernatorial agencies.
"Organizations have been doing unbelievable work analyzing the different hurdles the system has," Vilma Gonzalez, a PARE committee member and director of the nonprofit Paz Para La Mujer, which roughly translates to Peace For Woman, told ABC News.
Gonzalez said she was among those worried about the lack of urgency in approving the funding.
"There needs to be a commitment from gubernatorial agencies," Gonzalez said.
She and other colleagues also said they've experienced delays in distributing paperwork needed to complete the action plan.
For Davila Roldan of Colectivo Feminista, the fight against gender violence will continue until real change is visible.
"The state has to do their part," she said. "We are taking the streets to put pressure."
(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The man who allegedly stabbed two elderly Asian women in San Francisco earlier this week is now facing multiple charges, including premeditated attempted murder, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Patrick Thompson, 54, was charged with two counts of premeditated attempted murder and two counts of elder abuse, with enhancements for great bodily injury, great bodily injury on elders and personal use of a deadly weapon, in the "brutal" knife attack, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said.
The district attorney's office said it is still working with police to determine if any additional charges should be brought forth, including any evidence to support hate crime allegations.
The women, ages 84 and 63, were stabbed shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, San Francisco police said.
Both victims were hospitalized. The 84-year-old's injuries were at first considered life-threatening; she's since been upgraded to non-life-threatening condition, police said. The 63-year-old's injuries are non-life-threatening, police said. One victim was stabbed in the lungs, and a knife had to be removed from the second at the hospital, according to the district attorney's office.
The district attorney is not releasing the victims' names.
Thompson was taken into custody about two hours after the incident and booked on two charges of attempted murder and elder abuse, police said. It is unclear if he has an attorney.
In 2017, a judge found Thompson incompetent to stand trial during court proceedings for several cases, according to the district attorney's office. He was transferred to Napa State Hospital and then, after returning to custody, started participating in a state mental health diversion program in October 2018, the office said. A judge granted a motion for him to leave the program after nearly two years, during which time he was not charged with any new offenses, though he was arrested for missing court and for possessing a drug pipe, the office said.
"What happened is a devastating tragedy, and we will use the full force of our office's resources to prosecute this case. We also need to work hard to stop the next crime from happening, and that involves prevention and treatment," Boudin's office said in a statement. "We need far more intensive tools that keep people who are mentally ill treated and supported so that they do not reoffend even when there is no pending criminal case."
The stabbing was the latest in a spate of violence against Asian Americans across the nation. The coronavirus pandemic and its suspected origins in the Chinese city of Wuhan are cited as leading to the tide of anti-Asian discrimination.
There were more than 6,600 hate incidents against Asians and Pacific Islanders reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization that tracks such incidents, between mid-March 2020 when the pandemic began and March 31, 2021. About 40% of the incidents were reported in California.
(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Army is turning to animation to attract Generation Z's reputed short-attention span by profiling five soldiers who candidly share their personal experiences in eventually joining up.
It's another of the Army's novel approaches to recruiting soldiers from Generation Z, the description used for tech-savvy young people born in the late 1990s and 2000s who are the first to have grown up with access to the internet and smartphones.
The first effort was in late 2019 with the "What's Your Warrior" recruiting campaign that focused less on combat roles and more on non-traditional careers in the Army that may have had more appeal.
That recruiting campaign "captured their attention and stopped their thumbs as they were scrolling through the various media on their phones," Maj. Gen. Alex Fink, chief of Army Enterprise Marketing, told ABC News in an interview.
Fink said internal analysis found that the 2019 recruiting campaign led to a 53% spike in online interest.
In its latest effort to reach Generation Z, the Army this week released a new animated series labeled "The Calling," profiling five soldiers in videos that will appear, primarily, on YouTube.
Each soldier provides a description, about three to four minutes long, of the personal challenges that eventually led them to serve in the Army.
"We're trying to get a few seconds of their attention," said Fink, who added that to draw their attention "you've got to surprise them."
"Animation is a different way to surprise the audience," he said. "It's just a type of storytelling that works with this Gen Z at this time and, you know, at this moment in history."
Fink said the new campaign has tested well in internal research because it makes service in the Army relatable to individuals who may not know anyone who has served or who may mistrust government institutions.
"Some of them may have this idea that Army soldiers are like the super humans, a distant star almost unachievable and not relatable or relevant to my life," said Fink.
But Fink said each of the personal stories told by the five soldiers "shows a certain amount of vulnerability" in describing how they overcame what they saw as obstacles to joining the service.
"We were wanting to show that it's OK to have different reasons for joining the Army, not everybody has the same reason," said Fink.
The five soldiers profiled in the animated videos are a diverse mix from the active-duty Army or Army Reserves. Chosen from among 100 applicants, they serve in roles as varied as helicopter pilot, nurse and public affairs officer.
Spc. Jennifer Liriano, a U.S. Army reservist, shared personal moments, including how as a 4-year-old, she and her siblings saw their father try to take his own life. In her vignette, she went on to describe how she helped take care of her family and almost joined a street gang.
Narrating her own story, the animated vignette shows how her family sent her back to the small town they were from in the Dominican Republic where a chance meeting with a stranger at a bus shelter instilled in her a calling to serve others. A meeting with an Army recruiter helped her realize that goal by providing scholarship support that helped her get her nursing license.
Twenty-five-year-old 1st Lt. David Toguchi is fulfilling a life-long dream by flying CH-47 Chinooks during a deployment to Honduras.
He never thought it was attainable because of insecurities that he would never have the academic grades needed to become a helicopter pilot.
"The story of self-doubt is a very true, genuine story," Toguchi said in an interview. "I think my story is relatable, because I think everyone struggles with self-doubt, confidence -- especially at a young age."
Toguchi said that his generation is often comparing their life experiences with what they see on social media where people seemingly have "perfect lives and these really big jobs or these awesome vacations."
"I'm sure Gen Z struggles with self-confidence in all the ways -- just like I did. And my story is about overcoming self-doubt. Taking a step in a direction with the Army and having them, like, allowing the Army to come into my life and make me a stronger individual," he told ABC News.
Toguchi's video highlights a life-changing conversation he had with his older brother, who encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. He credits that conversation with helping him focus his energy and academic study towards realizing that goal.
He called the animated telling of his experience "a powerful tool" that "allows you to just take a glimpse of my past."
"You know it's an animation, but you can somewhat put yourself in my shoes and see how I felt," he added.
First Lt. Janeen Phelps' video describes how she eventually joined the Army after pursuing a successful career as a cruise-line singer more than a decade after her father asked her not to join the Army.
"As soon as I turned 17, I asked for my dad's blessing to enlist, " Phelps says in her video. "But having served in the Army during the Vietnam era, responding to civil unrest, he had his reasons. So, I turned to singing."
The 39-year-old Army reservist from Las Vegas said a 2011 cruise in the Mediterranean during which she experienced protests in Greece, and the cancellation of a port call in Israel following a bombing, led her to once again consider joining the service.
"There was a lot of stuff going on in the world. And I knew that I could contribute more than just singing," Phelps told ABC News. "It was a feeling that I needed to be doing more in whatever way the -- the Army was going to allow me to do it."
Phelps' young nephews are excited that her "unique" story is being told in animation form and she said she feels her story will also resonate with the Army's target audience.
"I think of Generation Z, they can see what's what from a mile away," said Phelps. "And I think if the army had not portrayed me in such an accurate light, they would be able to tell that."
(RICHMOND, Va.) -- A suspended fraternity at Virginia Commonwealth University could be banned for life if an investigation by the school determines the Greek organization was responsible for misconduct related to the death this year of a 19-year-old freshman, whose family alleges was the victim of an alcohol-fueled fatal hazing incident.
Officials at the university in Richmond announced this week that they have tentatively recommended the permanent removal of the Delta Chi chapter but will hold off on the ban until an investigation by the school's Division of Student Affairs is complete.
The move to abolish the fraternity from VCU comes as the Richmond Police Department continues its investigation into the death of freshman Adam Oakes in February at an off-campus party involving Delta Chi pledges.
The Division of Student Affairs initiated disciplinary proceedings against the Delta Chi fraternity on Monday, according a statement from the school.
The university said it will move forward with plans to issue a lifetime ban on Delta Chi if the allegations are found to be responsible for Oakes' death.
Once complete, the Division of Student Affairs report will be reviewed by VCU’s Student Organization Conduct Committee, which will decide the fraternity's fate. VCU officials said they expect the school's investigation to be completed sometime this summer.
Oakes' family welcomed the university's probe.
"I'd love to say that after Adam’s death we can change the world and we can change the culture. But I have to think realistically, you know. This happens in so many other states," Oakes' cousin, Courtney White, told ABC affiliate station WRIC-TV in Richmond.
White and other family member allege that hazing involving alcohol played a significant role in Oakes' death after he received a bid to rush the fraternity.
Oakes was found unresponsive on Feb. 27 at an off-campus residence near the university, according to the Richmond Police Department. Police have released few details on the investigation and results of an autopsy on Oakes have not been released.
VCU and the Delta Chi national chapter both suspended the VCU Delta Chi chapter in the wake of Oakes’ death.
(NEW YORK) -- Former first lady Michelle Obama is encouraging young girls to reflect on their own personal stories as they work on "becoming" their best selves.
Obama is partnering with the Girl Scouts of the USA on the "Becoming Me" program that is based on the Young Reader edition of her best-selling memoir, Becoming.
The "Becoming Me" program series is designed to let young female scouts "explore your story and the power of your voice," according to Girl Scouts.
To kick off the program, which launched Thursday, Obama, a mother of two daughters, talked for nearly one hour with five Girl Scouts of all ages from across the country.
When asked about finding the courage needed to achieve big things, Obama, who hosted a Girl Scout camp out on the White House lawn as first lady, told the girls, "Courage takes practice. As you learn in the Girl Scouts, courage is a part of leadership, and leadership is a thing that you practice over time and you practice in stages."
"You guys are learning good leadership skills in the stages that you’re going through with the Girl Scouts," she said. "Courage, like any leadership trait, requires some practice, and it’s OK that at your age you still find things that are intimidating for you or that you’re nervous about or that you’re hesitant because you’ve just been on this earth such a small amount of time."
Isabel Montalvo, 16, a high school junior from Puerto Rico, asked Obama about her now-famous catchphrase, "When they go low, we go high," which she said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention during Hillary Clinton's run for president.
Obama told the girls it's not always easy to go high, but explained the importance of doing so, especially in today's world of social media.
"Going high means looking at the bigger picture. When you go low, oftentimes you’re just reacting to your base, gut reaction. It’s like the first thing that comes out of your mouth. Oftentimes, that’s No. 1, not how you really feel, and No. 2, it’s not going to solve anything or make anything better," she said. "You need time to think through how you feel and then what you’re going to say that’s going to actually add value and fix the problem."
"This is particularly true in a social media climate where everybody has a platform, everybody’s got a Twitter account. Everybody has Instagram. Everybody thinks that every thought in their head should be shared and shared right away. Well, I’m here to tell you that often doesn’t work out well," Obama added. "I want to encourage you all, because you all are leaders and you will be leaders, to know that your voice has power, and with that power comes great responsibility to use it well. You never want to just say the first thing that comes to mind. You want to think about it."
The former first lady released her Young Reader edition of Becoming in March. Adapted for kids ages 10 and older, the book features a special introduction by Obama and three photo inserts, according to Penguin Random House, the book's publisher.
Obama told Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts in March that she finds such joy in working with young people because they "are our hope."
"They are not jaded yet. They are not beaten down by what they're supposed to be. They are still wide open," she said. "That's the point of Becoming. If you are lucky, you will never become something and that's the end. If you are lucky, you will constantly grow and evolve until the day you cannot breathe anymore, you know? We are all learning and becoming something better and greater."
Obama writes in Becoming about her journey from growing up on the South Side of Chicago to becoming a lawyer, a wife, a mom and the first lady of the United States.
She relayed a story from her memoir to give the Girl Scouts the confidence to know they can sit at any table in the world.
"I, Michelle Obama, at this stage in my life, have been at every, major important table that is important to be in," she said. "I have been at law firms. I have been working at the state level with mayors, with governors. I’ve worked with heads of nonprofits. I’ve worked in c-suites. I’ve gone to G summits. I’ve sat at State Dinners. I’ve been to palaces."
"I’ve been to every table you can imagine, and let me tell you, you are smart enough to be there," Obama said.