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North Carolina diocese publishes names of credibly accused clergy

A Catholic diocese in North Carolina on Monday published the names of 14 clergy it says have been credibly accused of having sexually abused children during its nearly 50-year history.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte also published the names of six credibly accused clergy, now all deceased, who served in western North Carolina before the Charlotte diocese was established in 1972 and a list of 23 names of clergy who served the diocese with no allegations against them in Charlotte but who were named by other dioceses and religious orders of having abused children.

"To all who have been victimized by Catholic clergy, I apologize on behalf of the diocese and express to you personally my heartfelt sorrow for the physical, emotional and spiritual pain you have suffered," Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis wrote in a letter that accompanied the list of names.

No active clergy members in the diocese were listed among those with credible allegations against them.

The diocese defines a credible allegation as one that is "supported by information worthy of belief," such as an admission of abuse, a corroborated allegation or the clergy has been named by another diocese or religious order. A credible allegation, it says, is not a finding of guilt but requires the cleric to be removed from the ministry and assigned duties until the allegation is proved not credible.

"You deserved a priest in whom you could place your trust, a model of Jesus the Good," Jugis wrote. "Regrettably, it is clear in our history that the Catholic Church -- including this diocese -- did not fully understand the pathology of child sexual abuse or respond to allegations as aggressively as it could have, as we do today."

Nine of the 14 named clergy are deceased and the remainder were either removed, retired or both. Two, however, were convicted on sexual misconduct charges.

Of the two who were convicted, Robert Yurgel pleaded guilty in February 2009 to felony second-degree sexual offense and served eight years in prison and Richard Farwell pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and was sentenced to probation, according to the diocese.

"It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior, particularly for those who have carried the burden of sexual abuse by clergy," Jugis wrote. "However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families. I pray this step achieves that goal."

The diocese, which serves more than 400,000 people in 46 counties in western North Carolina , said the lists were the product of over a yearlong review of more than 1,600 files going back nearly 50 years, discovering that instances of abuse in the Charlotte diocese peaked in the 1970s and dropped in the 2000s due to new protections put in place by the church with only one credible allegation occurring in the last 20 years.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein called the allegations in a statement "devastating."

Stein, who is pushing legislation to strengthen the protection of children from sexual abuse, said he hopes this action "is part of a process to bring some closure and justice to the victim-survivors."

However, advocates of those who have been abused by the Church criticized the list as incomplete.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said at least four others who were accused were not included on the diocese's list, including Paul L. Berrell , a music minister at St. Eugene Catholic Church in Asheville who pleaded guilty to producing child pornography in 2010.

"This information that Catholic officials in Charlotte undoubtedly have access to and yet chose not to make public for reasons unknown," wrote SNAP in a statement. "It is hard to see this as anything but continued efforts by church leadership to downplay cases of sexual violence and make the problem appear less common -- and less recent -- than it is."

SNAP is calling on the diocese to update its list to provide a complete look of abuse that was committed by its clergy.

The diocese said most of those named in the lists were previously known.

Lawsuit: Famed Jesuit abused boy 1,000 times around world

Chicago (AP) — One day in May of 1970, an 11-year-old boy and his disabled sister were sitting on the curb outside a Chicago tavern, waiting for their mother to come out. When a priest with crinkly eyes and a ready smile happened by and offered the family a ride home, they could not have been happier.

The boy, Robert J. Goldberg , now 61, would pay dearly for the favor, enduring what he describes as years of psychological control and sexual abuse he suffered while working as a child valet for the late Rev. Donald J. McGuire . He remained in the Jesuit’s thrall for nearly 40 years, even volunteering to testify on McGuire’s behalf during criminal trials that ultimately resulted in a 25-year prison sentence for the priest.

But today, Goldberg says he has finally broken the hold McGuire once had on him. And he has begun to tell his story, in interviews with The Associated Press and in a lawsuit he filed Monday in California state court in San Francisco .

The lawsuit charges that McGuire, a globe-trotting Jesuit with ties to Saint Teresa of Calcutta , abused Goldberg “more than 1,000 times, in multiple states and countries,” during sojourns to spiritual retreats throughout the United States and Europe .

On these trips, the lawsuit says, McGuire referred to Goldberg as his “protégé.” All the while, the suit says, the boy carried his briefcase, ran errands and often endured daily abuse that included “sexual touching, oral copulation and anal penetration.”

The lawsuit filed Monday doesn’t currently name any defendants, but Goldberg’s attorneys say the defendants will include the Jesuit religious order in the United States and the order's top leader in Rome , among others. They also say that Goldberg’s abuse occurred at a time when powerful church officials — including Mother Teresa , who was elevated to sainthood by Pope Francis three years ago — knew that McGuire had been repeatedly accused of sexually abusing boys. Church officials went to great lengths to cover up his crimes, the suit alleges.

In the nearly two decades since the clergy abuse scandal erupted, thousands of survivors have stepped forward to tell their painful stories. Hundreds more revealed their abuse in lawsuits earlier this year, when the state of New York opened a one-year window that allows survivors to file child sex abuse lawsuits without regard to the statute of limitations. And hundreds more, including Goldberg, are expected to step forward as a similar window opens Jan. 1 in California .

But many victims still suffer in silence, often taking decades to step forward, if they ever do. Advocates say that Catholic priests, as representatives of God and respected members of their communities, are often able to exert control over the children they abuse, especially when they are helping the child or their families overcome poverty or other obstacles.

Terence McKiernan of , which tracks the abuse crisis and maintains a data base of accused priests, said abusers in the Jesuit religious order are well-equipped to exercise psychological control over their victims because of the order’s reputation as administrators of dozens of colleges and high schools in the United States alone.

“Everyone knows the Jesuits are smart and the Jesuits are sophisticated,” he said. “And they often bring enormous sophistication to the abuse they perpetrate.”


Goldberg’s journey from supporter to accuser took years to complete. The final stretch began last fall, on a cold October night in the suburbs of Chicago .

Tyrone Cefalu , another former assistant to McGuire, was watching TV at his home when he got an unexpected call from Goldberg and his sister. Cefalu and Goldberg had bonded over the years, discussing their time with McGuire and what they knew about the priest’s dark side.

Goldberg, a scruffy former dog breeder, and his older sister Debbie, who has Down syndrome, had been living quietly in southwest Virginia's coal country. But they had fled their home because Bobby feared a Virginia social service agency was trying to take Debbie away from him.

Now they were holed up at a nearby gas station, wondering if Cefalu could meet them and help them out. After some missed signals, Cefalu found the pair huddled under blankets in the back of a U-Haul cube truck, parked behind a church in Forest Park, Illinois — out of gas, out of money, and out of luck.

For Goldberg, it could have been the end of the road. Years of hard living had left him with a variety of ailments, including tumors in his throat and the loss of several teeth, which made it difficult for him to speak.

But that evening, against all odds, marked a new beginning. Goldberg and his sister followed Cefalu home, and Cefalu and his wife made beds for them in their living room. Over the next several weeks, the two one-time McGuire supporters explored their shared history, recalling McGuire as a messianic retreat leader able to instill loyalty in his victims and their families, many of them wealthy, devout Catholics.

“He was very controlling. I had no say whatsoever,” Goldberg told the AP, recalling the years he spent working and living with McGuire. “Whatever he told my mother he wanted me to do, I had to do it.”

The key to Goldberg’s slow transformation was Cefalu, who was once so devoted to McGuire that he spent six years working full time on the celebrated priest’s defense, through two criminal trials and various appeals. His labors included scanning documents for McGuire’s attorneys, drumming up witnesses, and investigating McGuire’s accusers.

“McGuire asked me to find the dirt on those guys, and I found the dirt,” he told the AP.

Like Goldberg, Cefalu met McGuire when he was a boy, but his circumstances were different. Goldberg was being raised by a single, Catholic mother of limited means — his Jewish father had recently died. Cefalu, by contrast, was part of a middle-class family and was headed for Loyola Academy , a prestigious Jesuit prep school where McGuire had been a teacher.

McGuire was a family friend who frequently appeared at the family home for dinner, Cefalu said. His family attended weekly Mass to hear McGuire sermonize and took part in his spiritual retreats, events where McGuire began to acquire a cult-like following.

“When he said Mass he would give a sermon that would go on for 45 minutes and everybody loved it,” Cefalu recalled. “He’d been all over the world and could tell stories. He could sing. The guy was mesmerizing.”

McGuire also won supporters by doing favors. “He’d tutor poor kids and help them get into good schools and graduate from good schools,” Cefalu said. “If your family had problems, he would be there for you, and almost every family had some kind of serious problem that he could deal with.”

During those years, Cefalu recalled, he began helping at his father’s print shop, which produced McGuire’s personal Christmas cards, a measure of his growing reach. “We started out printing 200 cards and that went up to 5,000,” Cefalu said. “The guy had a following.”


After Goldberg and his family met McGuire that fateful day in 1970, the priest quickly ingratiated himself with Goldberg’s mother, persuading her that Goldberg would be better off living under his supervision, according to the lawsuit.

During this time, Goldberg would spend evenings at McGuire’s living quarters and sometimes would return to his family's home with McGuire, who would sleep with him in his bed. Meanwhile, Goldberg’s mother came to rely on the funds that McGuire paid Goldberg for working as his assistant, $300 to $500 a week.

If Goldberg rebelled, by running off with his friends or refusing to have sex, McGuire punished him by locking him in a room for hours, Goldberg said.

McGuire also used sex as a punishment, he added. He said that once, when he got into an accident with McGuire’s car, the priest ordered him to make amends by performing a menu of sexual favors.

Goldberg and his family followed along in 1976 when McGuire moved to San Francisco to assume a teaching assignment at the University of San Francisco , a Jesuit school, and promote a roving ministry in which he presided over religious retreats for wealthy Catholics, collecting large donations along the way.

It was during this time that McGuire developed ties with Mother Teresa , becoming her spiritual adviser while vetting nuns seeking to join the religious order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity .

In 1981, following new accusations of inappropriate relationships with boys — part of a series of accusations that had begun in the early 1960s — McGuire lost his teaching assignment and returned to Chicago . Once again, Goldberg and his family followed him, and Goldberg continued to give in to McGuire’s sexual demands.

In 1990, Goldberg’s family moved to Virginia . Even after the move, Goldberg said, he continued to rely on McGuire for financial support, especially during a three-year prison term for a drug conviction.

“There’s a lot of things I remember, and a lot of things I try not to remember,” he said.


Shortly after McGuire was ordained, in 1961, the Chicago Province of Jesuits (now part of the Midwest Jesuits) began hearing from church officials concerned about the young priest’s relationships with boys. The complaints would keep coming for the next half century, continuing even after McGuire was defrocked and sentenced to prison.

They started when McGuire was living in Europe , in the early ‘60s, when church officials in Germany and Austria sent alarming reports of McGuire’s activities. One official in Austria wrote that McGuire had “much relations with young boys, particularly some boys who work in our kitchen and who used to go to his room.”

As a result, the Jesuits recalled McGuire from Europe but assigned him to a teaching position at Loyola Academy , where he molested students who would later file lawsuits and receive significant monetary settlements.

Each time the Jesuits received complaints that McGuire was sexually abusing boys, they would move him to another post, where he would continue his predatory behavior. Even after a psychiatric evaluation showed McGuire was sexually attracted to underage boys, the Jesuits continued to insist he was a priest in good standing, in part due to the urging of Mother Teresa .

In a letter dated Feb. 2, 1994 , after McGuire had been released from a residential treatment center, the future saint wrote to the leader of the Chicago Jesuits, saying she had received a letter from McGuire and believed that the accusations lodged against him were untrue. “I have confidence and trust in Fr. McGuire and wish to see his vital ministry resume as soon as possible,” she wrote.

Mother Teresa got her wish, and McGuire continued his world-wide ministry, “openly traveling with young boys as his companions,” according to Goldberg’s lawsuit.

In 2002, after yet another complaint, the Jesuits restricted McGuire’s ministry to the Chicago Archdiocese. In 2003, the first of several lawsuits against McGuire and his Jesuit superiors were filed.

Months later, a Wisconsin district attorney began investigating allegations that McGuire had abused two Loyola students during a trip in the late 1960s to the Lake Geneva resort area. The investigation led to a trial where nuns from Mother Teresa’s religious order, wearing their distinctive while and blue habits, packed the courtroom. They wore buttons, saying: “I support Fr. McGuire.”

Despite that support, McGuire was convicted. And while he was free on appeal he was charged by federal authorities with molesting another boy on trips to Austria and Switzerland . Once again, McGuire was convicted while protesting his innocence, leading to his 25-year prison term.

Officials in the Jesuits' Midwest Province could not be reached for comment Monday.

In 2012, the Chicago Jesuit official who received Mother Teresa’s letter, the Rev. Bradley M. Schaeffer , issued a statement apologizing for failing to rein McGuire in. “I deeply regret that my actions were not enough to prevent him from engaging in these horrific crimes,’’ he said.

Last year, when the Midwest Jesuits released a list naming 65 accused Jesuits , including McGuire, Provincial Brian G. Paulson issued a similar apology. “We are painfully aware that in earlier decades, some Midwest Jesuits were not removed from ministry quickly enough,” he said. “We are deeply sorrowful.”


It was only after McGuire began serving his 25-year federal prison sentence, in 2009, that Cefalu began to doubt his innocence. The turning point, he said, came when he was sorting McGuire’s belongings and discovered a color slide that captured him as a naked 13-year-old, changing into his underwear during a trip to Canada with McGuire and another young teen.

“That really pissed me off,” he said.

When he confronted McGuire during a visit to the federal prison in Texas where he was serving his sentence and McGuire denied taking the photo, Cefalu said, he knew the priest was lying. Back home in suburban Chicago , as he pored over more than 40 boxes of McGuire’s records, his skepticism only grew.

Reading the documents was unsettling, Cefalu said, because he’d been one of McGuire’s chief supporters, to the point where McGuire had appointed him to be his legal representative while in prison. In addition, Cefalu had known several of McGuire’s victims while attending Loyola Academy , the Catholic prep school, during the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

The experience made Cefalu rethink the “horse bites” McGuire would sometimes give him, pinching him hard on his upper thigh and then placing his hand over his groin, exclaiming, “Gotcha!” Cefalu provided details of his alleged abuse by McGuire and another Jesuit in a lawsuit he filed five years ago, without the help of an attorney, in Cook County Circuit Court .

After reading the records McGuire had entrusted to him, Cefalu began reaching out to McGuire’s other victims, hoping they might answer his many questions. And as McGuire’s victims began filing lawsuits, they reached out to him.

Goldberg also knew McGuire’s victims, not as an alumnus of Loyola Academy , but through the years he’d spent working as McGuire’s assistant.

After the former priest was sent to prison, Cefalu and Goldberg occasionally talked on the phone and began to reassess their histories with the charismatic priest they had known. Their conversations continued after McGuire died behind bars in 2017, at age 86.

But it wasn’t until Goldberg’s desperate call to Cefalu in October 2018 that Goldberg’s decision to go public with his allegations against McGuire and the church began to take shape.


After Cefalu found Goldberg and his sister huddled in the back of their U-Haul in late 2018, Goldberg began revealing more details of his abuse to Cefalu. Cefalu came to believe that Goldberg had been abused over a longer period than any of McGuire’s other victims.

Yet when Goldberg said he was ready to file a lawsuit, Cefalu hesitated.

Since discovering the nude photograph of himself in McGuire’s files, he has nursed a growing antipathy for the Jesuits and the role they played covering up McGuire’s crimes.

But his disdain for lawyers is nearly as great. “I have found that the lawyers, the psychiatrists, the therapists, have turned this whole thing into an industry,” he said. “They’re not interested in healing the people.”

On the other hand, Cefalu understood that, without legal and financial help, Goldberg and his sister would likely remain homeless.

So, he grudgingly introduced them to a trio of lawyers with experience representing McGuire’s victims: Chicago attorneys Marc Pearlman and Melissa Anderson , and Jeff Anderson , the Minnesota attorney who has represented clergy abuse survivors since the 1980s.

“They have a success rate, and Bobby needed a success,” Cefalu said.

Today, the Goldbergs and their bullmastiff, Boss, remain inseparable, living in a modest duplex with help from a nearby nondenominational church and a generous individual who befriended Debbie while she was hospitalized for a staph infection.

During hours of interviews conducted with the AP over two days, Goldberg said his feelings about McGuire began to change after hearing victims testify at McGuire's criminal trial in Chicago , where he was scheduled to testify on the priest's behalf but never was called to the witness stand. In his head, he recalls, he imagined saying to McGuire: “I'll pray for you. You have no remorse for what you did to me or the others.”

Goldberg was often tearful as he told his story, while his older sister looked on. He said he felt a sense of relief and connection with other people while unburdening himself, and that he has started to make peace with his memories of the priest who, he says, dominated his life and his family for so long.

“I have to forgive him, so I can get into heaven,” he said.

Judge dismisses suit by former John Bolton deputy challenging impeachment subpoena

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by former national security official Charles Kupperman to challenge a House subpoena calling on him to testify in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump .

Washington, D.C. , District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the lawsuit was moot as the House withdrew its subpoena for Kupperman's testimony in November after the White Houser ordered him not to appear for the congressional hearing.

"Kupperman no longer faces the 'irreconcilable commands' of two coordinate branches of government and he accordingly lacks any personal stake in the outcome of this dispute. Thus, it would appear that this case is moot and should be dismissed," Leon wrote in a 14-page ruling.

Despite the House's decision to drop the subpoena, Kupperman had called for a ruling, saying the House could at any time reissue the subpoena or hold him in contempt of Congress for failing to testify in the probe.

Leon asserted that the House "clearly has no intention of pursuing Kupperman" but noted circumstances may change moving forward.

"Should the winds of political fortune shift and the House were to reissue a subpoena to Dr. Kupperman , he will face the same conflicting directives that precipitated this suit. If so, he will undoubtedly be right back before this Court seeking a solution to a Constitutional dilemma that has long-standing political consequences: balancing Congress's well-established power to investigate with a President's need to have a small group of national security advisers who have some form of immunity from compelled Congressional testimony," he wrote.

Kupperman a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton , was called to testify in the inquiry as House investigators said he was party to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the center of his impeachment.

Serial killer Phillip Jablonski dies on California death row

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A serial killer whose five victims included two wives has died on California's death row, authorities said Monday.

Phillip Carl Jablonski , 73, was found unresponsive in his San Quentin State Prison cell on Friday and pronounced dead within minutes. His cause of death is awaiting an autopsy, but he had been assigned a single cell, said corrections department spokeswoman Terri Hardy .

A San Mateo County jury sentenced him to death in 1994 for the first-degree murders of his wife, Carol Spadoni , 46, and her mother, Eva Petersen , 72.

Spadoni had married him while he was in prison for murdering a previous wife in 1978.

It was the latest in what court records say was a long history of violence against multiple women, dating to his trying to kill his first wife in the 1960s. At the time he was an Army sergeant who had served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War before he was discharged in 1969 for a “schizophrenic illness.”

He pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder, assault and attempted rape of his second wife, Melinda Kimball , in 1978.

He was paroled for good behavior in 1990, despite having tried to strangle his mother with a shoelace during a prison visit in 1985.

Authorities said they recovered a cassette tape in which he then described fatally shooting, stabbing and mutilating Spadoni and her mother, and raping her mother after she was dead.

He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but a jury found he was sane at the time.

Jablonski was also implicated in the deaths of two other women that same year, Fathyma Vann of Indio, California , and Margie Rogers of Thompson Springs , Utah .

Vann was attending the same community college as Jablonski at the time. Rogers and her husband co-owned a store along Interstate 70 where she was found dead.

Fed report: Tariffs contribute to job losses, increased production costs

President Donald Trump's efforts to impose import tariffs to bolster U.S. manufacturing instead led to retaliatory tariffs that harmed some U.S. industries, according to a new Federal Reserve study.

The report by Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce of the Fed's Divisions of Research and Statistics and Monetary Affairs found that the tariffs enacted in 2018 were associated with a loss of manufacturing jobs and increased production costs.

"While the longer-term effect of the tariffs may differ from those that we estimate here, the results indicate that the tariffs, thus far, have not led to increased activity in the U.S. manufacturing sector," they wrote.

Some U.S. markets faced less international competition as a result of the tariffs, but the study found that the effect of this was offset by retaliatory tariffs and rising costs.

"Tariffs can have impacts through channels beyond their traditional effect of limiting import competition," the report stated.

The study found that the Top 10 industries affected by retaliatory tariffs were magnetic and optical media, leather goods, aluminum sheet, iron and steel, motor vehicles, household appliances, sawmills, audio and video equipment, agricultural chemicals, and computer equipment.

Earlier this month, the Institute for Supply Management's Production Manufacturing Index measured 48.1 percent, down 48.3 percent from October and marking the fourth consecutive month with measurements below 50 percent.

The contraction in manufacturing came amid the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China that has seen each country impose tariffs on billions of dollars of goods.

Woman sues Epstein estate, says she was 14 during encounter

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A woman who says she was 14 when she had a sexual encounter with financier Jeffrey Epstein at his mansion sued his estate in Florida court on Monday for coercion, inflicting emotional distress and battery.

The lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County asks for an undisclosed amount of money. The lawsuit doesn't give the woman's name and only refers to her as “JJ Doe.”

The woman went to Epstein's Florida mansion in 2003 when she was “a vulnerable child without adequate parental support,” the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, the teenager was first approached by another teenage girl who offered her $200 to give Epstein a massage at his mansion. At the mansion, she was led to a bedroom where there was a massage table and oils. Epstein entered the room in a towel, laid on the table and instructed her to take off her clothes as she massaged him, the lawsuit said.

“Out of fear, plaintiff complied with Jeffrey Epstein's commands,” the lawsuit said.

Epstein then pinched the teenager's nipples, fondled her, touched her between her legs and masturbated, the lawsuit said.

“During the encounter, plaintiff resisted Jeffrey Epstein's advances and demands, yet was assured if she complied, then he would stop and it would end soon,” the lawsuit said

Darren Indyke , an attorney for the estate, didn't return an email inquiry for comment.

More than a dozen lawsuits are seeking millions of dollars in compensation for women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, sometimes for years, at his homes in Manhattan , Florida , New Mexico , the Virgin Islands and Paris .

Epstein, 66, killed himself in his New York City prison cell in August after he was arrested on sex trafficking charges. The wealthy financier had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. In lawsuits, women say the abuse spanned decades.

Test shows citizenship question had impact with subgroups

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Although a test showed that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census wouldn't have had an impact on overall response rates, it did make a difference in neighborhoods that were bilingual and had substantial numbers of non-citizens, Hispanics and Asians, the U.S. Census Bureau said Monday.

In its final report on a test conducted last summer, the bureau said there were lower self-response rates when a citizenship question was added to a test questionnaire in neighborhoods where 5 percent or more of residents weren't citizens; where almost half the population was Hispanic; where 5% to 20% of residents were Asian; and neighborhoods that received bilingual materials.

Self-response rates for the test questionnaire also were lower with a citizenship question when respondents mailed in their answers and within New York and Los Angeles . When a citizenship question was on the test form, the proportion of respondents who identified as Hispanic also was lower, the bureau said.

The test was conducted this summer as part of an effort to fine-tune planning for the 2020 head count next spring. Test questionnaires were mailed to 480,000 households across the U.S. Half of the questionnaires had a citizenship question and the other half didn't.

The bureau announced last October that preliminary results showed the test questionnaire with the citizenship question had a self-response rate of 51.5 percent, and the questionnaire without the citizenship question had a self-response rate of 52.0 percent.

At the start of the test, the Census Bureau didn't know if the question would be allowed since it was being litigated between the Trump administration, which was pushing for the question, and civil rights groups and several Democratic state attorneys who opposed it. Critics said it would reduce participation by Hispanics and immigrant groups.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that the question couldn't be on the 2020 questionnaire.

School bus joins funeral procession for long-serving driver

CHURCH HILL, Tenn. (AP) — A weekend funeral procession for a Tennessee man who drove a school bus for more than 57 years included the last bus he drove before retiring — Hawkins County Schools bus no. 89.

Robert Brooks , who was also a farmer, started driving for the county schools in 1958 after another driver quit and a school board member approached him about the job, the Kingsport Times News reports.

In 2010, with 52 consecutive years of driving under his belt, he beat the record for the longest-serving bus driver in the Volunteer State. When Brooks hit 56 years of service in 2014, he was inducted into the Tennessee School Bus Driver Hall of Fame .

Brooks died Christmas Day in his home at the age of 84.

Bus no. 89 was the last one Brooks drove before retiring in 2016. It is no longer in regular service but still operates occasionally when other buses are being repaired, Hawkins County school bus driver Darrell Lawson said.

Lawson drove Brooks' family to the cemetery on the no. 89 bus on Saturday. Mourners, including former students whom Brooks drove over the years, lined the route of the unusual funeral procession before joining the family at the cemetery.

“He would have been so proud,” Brooks’ widow, Janice Brooks , said through tears as she prepared to board the bus.

GOP lawmakers in 2 states seek anti-red flag laws on guns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans in two Midwestern states where GOP -controlled legislatures have gun-rights majorities are proposing measures aimed at preventing the U.S. government or other states from taking guns away from residents whom the courts deem a danger to themselves.

Neither Oklahoma nor Kansas has “red flag”laws through which relatives or police can obtain a court order to remove firearms from someone's possession. However, the proposals in those also also would prevent local city and county governments from enacting such laws. They would even go so far as to make it a felony for someone to help enforce such an order.

Sponsors said they were inspired by prospects that Congress might enact such a law or offer federal grants to entice states into putting them on the books.

Supporters of red flag laws say they reduce suicides and gun violence and lessen the risk of mass shootings. Gun-rights supporters contend they violate not only the right to own firearms but other constitutional guarantees, such as the right to due legal process, to confront an accuser, and against unreasonable searches and seizures of property.

“There's numerous violations of the Bill of Rights taking place by these red flags laws," Tulsa -area Republican state Sen. Nathan Dahm , who is sponsoring Oklahoma's measure.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have some sort of red flag law, with most enacting them starting in 2018, according groups favoring them and other gun-control measures. Interest in Congress appeared to grow after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio , and El Paso, Texas .

Dahm filed his proposal in September, and it may have been the first of its kind. In Kansas , separate but identical measures were introduced in December by members of the state House and Senate . The two states' legislatures would consider them after convening their annual sessions next year.

All three measures declare that any gun-removal order from another state or a federal court are null and void, and no state or local agency could accept federal grants that require such orders to be enforced.

The U.S. Constitution prevents states from nullifying federal laws.

“States generally do not have the ability to tell the federal government, 'Get out of our state and stop enforcing your laws,'” said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt , a Republican gun-rights supporters who's not taking a position on the measures. “But states do generally have the ability to tell the federal government, ‘You are not able to commandeer state resources and compel us to enforce your laws.'"

Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton , a Kansas City -area Democrat, called the proposals “disturbing" and said they show how extreme gun-rights backers have become in opposing any restrictions over the past decade. She said she wonders whether the proposals are a “publicity stunt” because they're going beyond trying to block red flag laws.

“It's a completely different thing to aggressively criminalize something that is intended to minimize death by suicide and murder,” Clayton said. “The last time I checked, murder is bad and so is suicide.”

The Washington -based, nonprofit Brady campaign against gun violence equates red flag measures with laws states have in place to combat domestic violence. Such laws allow abuse victims to get temporary court orders to keep alleged abusers away from them at least until a judge can review their cases.

Christian Heyne , Brady's vice president of policy, said people generally have to be “an acute risk” to themselves or others to have their guns removed temporarily. He said such laws targeted people “at the highest risk” of suicide or violent behavior.

“Firearms can do damage that knives cannot do,” added Jonathan Lowy , Brady's chief counsel and legal affairs vice president. “Suicide is another are where the science is clear, that suicide attempts with firearms are much more successful than other means.”

While the Brady campaign and other supporters of red flag laws say they have due-legal-process protections built in, Dahm and other critics argue that they're open to abuse.

Kansas state Sen. Richard Hilderbrand , a southeast Kansas Republican sponsoring one of his state's measures, said red-flag laws set the wrong target, “one tool” for someone bent on violence.

“The gun isn't what caused that mass shooting. That was the instrument that was used,” Hilderbrand said. “The hate in that person's heart is what caused it, so until we start addressing that, you know, we're just going down these rabbit holes that lead to nowhere.”

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Cliffs, jungle a big hurdle for feds in Hawaii copter crash

HONOLULU (AP) — The remote and rugged terrain on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where a sightseeing helicopter crashed, killing all seven people aboard, could make it difficult or even impossible to piece together what led to the wreck.

Federal investigators who arrived Sunday are calling the inaccessible area of steep cliffs and thick jungle canopies one of the most challenging crash sites they have seen.

Getting a team to the actual site was proving to be one of the initial challenges, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said Monday.

“The logistics of this particular site are very challenging, even by NTSB standards,” Weiss said. “I can't exaggerate the difficulty of the terrain.”

Before the helicopter crashed on a mountaintop Thursday, it was set to tour the rugged Na Pali Coast , the picturesque and remote northern shoreline of Kauai that was featured in the film “Jurassic Park."

The team of investigators from Alaska and Washington state planned to fly over the crash site in a helicopter Monday and then come up with a plan on getting people to the area, Weiss said.

Sometimes it's been impossible for investigators to reach wrecks.

The NTSB couldn't determine why an Alaska sightseeing airplane crashed into a mountain in Denali National Park in 2018, killing a pilot and four passengers from Poland , because it couldn't reach the wreckage. The plane crashed on a near-vertical mountainside covered by snow and ice and later got buried when a glacier split apart.

In Hawaii , federal investigators have started their work remotely even if they can't get to the Kauai site, Weiss said, including studying the fast-changing weather at the time of the crash.

National Weather Service meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said the agency was not releasing information on Thursday’s weather conditions on Kauai .

“We’re going to hold off an any comments at this time just for the NTSB to do their investigation,” he said. “In that mountainous terrain, there are not a lot of observations that can be taken, but we’ll leave that up to the incident report of the NTSB.”

The inaccessibility of the site also could hamper efforts to bring the wreckage elsewhere to study it.

“I don’t know if that will be possible in this case,” Weiss said.

Six people from two different families and a pilot were on the flight. Police said the flight manifest listed the pilot as Paul Matero , 69, of Wailua, Hawaii . Two of the passengers were 47-year-old Amy Gannon and 13-year-old Jocelyn Gannon of Wisconsin .

The four other passengers, including two girls who were 10 and 13, were from Switzerland , officials said.

Because the family was from Switzerland , there's a delay in releasing their names, said Coco Zickos , a spokeswoman for Kauai County . She said officials expect to release the names once they have finished notifying relatives.

Experts say Kauai's topography and weather pose unique challenges to pilots and that it would be difficult to find anywhere to make an emergency landing. U.S. Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii has said more needs to be done to make tour helicopters and small planes safe.

The helicopter company, Safari Helicopters , contacted the Coast Guard on Thursday evening after the tour did not return as scheduled. A search began, but steep terrain, low visibility, choppy seas and rain complicated the effort.

The company's owner, Preston Myers , said in a statement that Matero had 12 years of experience on Kauai and was a “seasoned member of our team.”

Associated Press writer Dan Joling in Anchorage, Alaska , contributed to this report.

Authorities identify victims, gunman in Texas church shooting

Authorities in Texas have identified the victims and gunman who died in a shooting Sunday morning at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement .

Anton Wallace , 64, of Fort Worth and Richard White , 67, of River Oaks died after Keith Thomas Kinnunen , 43, of River Oaks opened fire during the morning church service, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Monday.

Kinnunen was shot dead by a volunteer security team member at the church, identified as Jack Wilson , a former reserve deputy sheriff and firearms instructor who is running for county commissioner in Hood County, Texas , state Attorney General Ken Paxton told CNN.

"The events at West Freeway Church of Christ put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists and I had to take out an active shooter in church," Kinnunen wrote on Facebook. "I'm thankful to God that I have been blessed with the ability and desire to serve him in the role of head of security at the church. I am very sad in the loss of two dear friends and brothers in Christ, but evil does exist in this world and I and other members are not going to allow evil to succeed."

Wilson said he doesn't consider himself a hero and that he did was he was trained to do, CBS Dallas Fort Worth reported.

"The whole thing was less than 6 seconds from start to finish," Wilson said. "I had to make sure I didn't hit someone, a member there, as they were right in front of me."

Authorities described Kinnunen as a loner who had been arrested in various jurisdictions on charges including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He had been to the church previously. A motive for Sunday's shooting hasn't been released.

Some praised a 2017 law allowing churches to have armed volunteer security.

"We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse," Britt Farmer , senior minister at the church, said. "And I am thankful that our government has allowed us the opportunity to protect ourselves."

Tiffany Wallace told KXAS-TV that her father, Anton Wallace , had just given out communion when a man stood up from a pew and shot him.

"You just wonder why," Wallace said. "How can someone so evil -- the devil -- step into the church and do this?"

Judge temporarily blocks California's forced arbitration law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked a new California law outlawing mandatory arbitration agreements that critics say can make it more difficult for workers to sue their bosses for sexual harassment.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller halted enforcement of the law, which had been set to take effect Wednesday, until she considers a request by the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups for a preliminary injunction on Jan. 10 .

About two-thirds of California non-union, private-sector workplaces have mandatory arbitration policies, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute .

Employers generally like the agreements because arbitration moves more quickly and costs less than going to court. Labor groups say the pacts leave employees at a disadvantage because they don’t have attorneys and rely on arbitrators who are often selected and paid for by the companies.

The business groups argued that the increasingly common practice is protected under federal law, is effective, fair to both sides and better than the alternative of going to court with employee grievances.

Federal law and some U.S. Supreme Court decisions restrict state governments from banning the agreements, but supporters said the California law just makes them optional. Employees could still choose to sign them but could not be punished for refusing.

The chamber said employers who relied on the federal law in good faith could have faced the potential for prosecution and imprisonment of up to six months under California's law.

The law's author, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego , said the state attorney general was correct in arguing that California has a duty to protect employees.

The law “simply says employers can't tell workers they will only get a job by signing away their rights,” she said in a statement. "When both parties choose arbitration freely, it can be a highly effective tool. But it doesn’t work when corporations say you won’t be hired unless you sign away your rights, which is what Big Business is trying to accomplish with this lawsuit.”

Aside from the U.S. and state chambers, the groups include the national and state retailers associations, National Association of Security Companies and national and state associations representing home healthcare services.

The judge ruled that the groups “have carried their burden, at this early stage on a tightly compressed timeline, by raising serious questions going to the merits and showing that the balance of hardship tips decidedly in their favor.”

They could face “irreparable injury” if the law takes effect and is later thrown out, Mueller said, noting that even a brief stoppage could “cause disruption in the making of employment contracts.”

The law would not affect existing arbitration agreements and would only apply to people hired after Jan. 1, 2020 .

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law this year after it was vetoed twice by his predecessor, fellow Democrat Jerry Brown .

Vaping industry ad urges Trump to abandon flavor ban proposal

The Vapor Technology Association has launched an ad campaign urging President Donald Trump to abandon a proposed ban on flavored electronic cigarettes.

Launched in West Palm Beach, Fla. , the $100,000 ad buy began airing Sunday on CNN , MSNBC and Fox News , CBS News reported, noting that Trump is spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach .

The 30-second commercial features two voters from Ohio speaking out against the ban, which Trump proposed in September.

Trump appeared to pull back from the proposal last month under political pressure. At a Nov. 22 meeting with vaping and tobacco industry leaders and public health officials, Trump asked about the possible implications of an outright ban on e-cigarette flavors.

"A ban would either drive people back to combustible cigarettes, the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. , or lead to illegal sales with a new and burgeoning black market," VTA Executive Director Tony Abboud said in a statement.

The VTA ad warns that millions of Americans will go back to cigarettes, if e-cigarettes flavors are banned, and says that vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking.

"If you enact a flavor ban, this will cost you the election," Jeff Kathman says in the commercial.

"I vape, and I vote," Sarah Rutland says.

First lady Melania Trump and first daughter Ivanka Trump are strong advocates for efforts to reduce youth vaping, leading to the proposal in September to ban flavors.

Dozens of vaping-related deaths also drove the issue. More than 2,500 people have been hospitalized and 56 have died as a result of vaping-related illnesses this year. Health officials suspect the cutting agent vitamin E acetate is to blame, but other possibilities are being investigated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month began enforcing a new law raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products nationwide from 18 to 21.

N Carolina diocese publishes list of credibly accused clergy

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Catholic diocese in North Carolina on Monday published a list of 14 clergy who it says have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse in the nearly 50 years since the diocese was established.

The Diocese of Charlotte also listed six clergy members who served the area before the diocese was formed in 1972, and 23 clergy members from the diocese who were accused of misconduct while working for the church in other places.

“To all who have been victimized by Catholic clergy, I apologize on behalf of the diocese and express to you personally my heartfelt sorrow for the physical, emotional and spiritual pain you have suffered,” the Rev. Peter Jugis wrote on the diocese's website.

“Regrettably, it is clear in our history that the Catholic Church — including this diocese — did not fully understand the pathology of child sexual abuse or respond to allegations as aggressively as it could have, as we do today," wrote Jugis, who is bishop of the diocese.

Of the 14, nine are dead, according to the diocese's list. Of the remaining five, two were convicted, the diocese said. The others were removed, dismissed or left the ministry.

A leader of the Charlotte affiliate of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the diocese should have released the list long ago, when news broke of clergy abuse in Boston .

“I'm not going to give them a gold star for doing what they should have done 18 years ago," said David Fortwengler of Gaffney, South Carolina . “But a list is better than no list.”

The Charlotte Diocese serves more than 400,000 Catholics in 46 counties in western North Carolina . It defines a credible allegation as “one that has the semblance of truth; one supported by information worthy of belief. It is not a finding of guilt.”

Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at .

Gallup: Donald Trump, Barack Obama tied as most admired man in 2019

President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama tied as the most admired man of 2019, according to Gallup survey results released Monday.

This is the first year Trump has risen to the top spot in the annual survey and the 12th year for Obama. Each was named by 18 percent of respondents to the open-ended survey conducted Dec. 2-15 .

Obama tied former President Dwight Eisenhower for the most times named as most admired man since the survey began in 1948.

The survey reflected the political divide in the nation, with 41 percent of Democrats naming Obama and 45 percent of Republicans naming Trump. The results also reflect Trump's rise in popularity, with a 45 percent job approval rating up from 40 percent in 2018 and 36 percent in 2017, Gallup noted.

The incumbent president has taken the top spot in 58 of the 72 prior Gallup polls.

Other men in the Top 10 this year were former President Jimmy Carter , businessman Elon Musk , Microsoft founder Bill Gates , Pope Francis , Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders , California Rep. Adam Schiff , the Dalai Lama and investor Warren Buffett , though none earned mentions from more than 2 percent of respondents.

Former first lady Michelle Obama was named as the most admired woman for the second year, with 10 percent of respondents naming her, down from 15 percent last year. First lady Melania Trump came in second at 5 percent.

Among women, talk show host Oprah Winfrey , former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg tied with mentions from 3 percent of respondents, followed by Queen Elizabeth II , House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg , Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren , German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley .

Friends, family grieve 5 killed in Louisiana plane crash

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Michael Walker Vincent was one day away from his 16th birthday when he died in a plane crash along with his mom and three others on their way to a college football playoff game Saturday.

To honor him, relatives and neighbors gathered at the home of a family friend in Lafayette, Louisiana , on Sunday to sing “Happy Birthday” and to share memories of Michael and his mother, Gretchen Vincent , The Acadiana Advocate reported.

Michael's father, Chris Vincent , supplied a birthday cake, while teenage friends presented the elder Vincent with a poster board covered with their handwritten notes and photos of his son with his friends.

"I feel like the whole town is mourning their loss," Leslie Jacobs , a close friend of the Vincent family who hosted the gathering, told the newspaper. “It's not just his school friends or his tennis friends. Chris and Gretchen were so kind and genuine. They touched so many lives."

The mother and son were on board a plane headed from Lafayette to Atlanta on Saturday to watch Saturday's Peach Bowl rivalry between Louisiana State University and the Oklahoma Sooners . The eight-passenger aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff.

The other people killed on the flight were Ian E. Biggs , 51, the plane's pilot; Robert Vaughn Crisp II, 59; and Carley McCord , 30, a well-known sports reporter who is the daughter-in-law of the LSU offensive coordinator, Steve Ensminger .

The sole passenger to survive was identified as Stephen Wade Berzas , 37. Berzas was still hospitalized Monday in critical condition, said Elisabeth Arnold , a spokeswoman for Our Lady of Lourdes hospital.

On the ground, a person who was in or near a car where the plane crashed was injured, while two people were treated for smoke inhalation.

Most of the passengers had ties to Global Data Systems , a Lafayette -based tech company.

Crisp was vice president of operations, according to the business' swebsite. Biggs, according to his LinkedIn profile, was a pilot and aircraft manager for GDS. Chris Vincent was the company's CEO, The Advocate reported. The newspaper also reported that McCord was friends with Gretchen Vincent and had accepted a last-minute invitation to fly with them to the game.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were in Lafayette investigating the crash. They said Sunday that it could take a year or more to determine why the two-engine Piper Cheyenne crashed.

The lack of a distress call and flight data recorder coupled with mangled and charred wreckage will make finding the cause of the fiery crash extremely challenging, they said.

Iowa woman accused of racist attacks to undergo mental tests

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A judge Monday approved a competency evaluation of a woman accused of hate crimes in the Des Moines area, including intentionally running over a girl she thought was Mexican.

The attorney for Nicole Poole , 42, told a judge Monday that he'd only just met Poole but that he believes she has a mental disorder and is incompetent to stand trial.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone didn't fight the request from Poole's court-appointed attorney, Matthew Sheeley , The Des Moines Register reported.

Poole is charged with assault in violation of individual rights for an incident at a convenience store and with attempted murder for allegedly running over two children with her SUV. Both children survived.

Court documents indicate she also goes by the name Nicole Franklin . She remains in custody, pending $1 million cash bail.

Authorities say Poole drove her SUV onto a sidewalk in the Des Moines suburb of Clive on Dec. 9 to hit 14-year-old Natalia Miranda . The girl was hospitalized for two days. Clive Police Chief Michael Venema has said Poole told officers she targeted Miranda because the girl “is Mexican.”

After the hit-and-run, Poole went to a convenience store and threw items at a clerk while directing racial epithets at him and customers, West Des Moines police said in a court document.

Poole also is charged with attempted murder for driving over a Des Moines curb on the same day to hit a 12-year-old black boy, authorities said.

Court records show the question of Poole's competence for trial has been raised before.

She was accused in February 2018 of biting her boyfriend on an arm, picking up a knife and repeatedly saying she would kill him.

Her attorney in that case said he was concerned that her “pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis and the status of her mental health treatment” made her unable to stand trial. A judge ordered an expert to evaluate her and concluded in November 2018 that Poole was competent to stand trial.

That prosecution ended after the victim refused to cooperate and the county attorney's office dismissed the charges in January 2019 , court records show.

Mike Pompeo to visit Ukraine Friday

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ukraine on Friday, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country since President Donald Trump's July phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that sparked Trump's impeachment.

Pompeo travels to the country as controversy continues to whirl around how the Senate will handle Trump's impeachment trial and when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will deliver the charges to the Senate .

"Excited to travel to Ukraine , Belarus , Kazakhstan , Uzbekistan , and Cyprus in the new year to meet with counterparts and affirm U.S. priorities across Europe and South Central Asia ," Pompeo said in a Twitter post Monday.

Pompeo will meet with Zelensky, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko and Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk on his one-day trip "to reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus in a statement.

He will also attend a wreath-laying ceremony at St. Michael's , and meet with religious, civil society and business community leaders to discuss human rights issues, climate issues and Ukraine's reform agenda.

Pompeo will be in Belarus on Saturday, Uzbekistan on Sunday and Jan. 6 , and Cyprus on Jan. 7 .

With births down, U.S. had slowest growth rate in a century

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The past year’s population growth rate in the United States was the slowest in a century due to declining births, increasing deaths and the slowdown of international migration, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau .

The U.S. grew from the middle of 2018 to the middle of 2019 by almost a half percent, or about 1.5 million people, with the population standing at 328 million this year, according to population estimates.

That's the slowest growth rate in the U.S. since 1917 to 1918, when the nation was involved in World War I, said William Frey , a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution .

Jimmy Carter makes first public appearance following brain surgery

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has made his first public appearance since undergoing brain surgery in November, attending church services in Plains, Ga.

The 95-year-old ex-president and his wife, Rosalynn, were seated in the front row of the Maranatha Baptist Church Sunday, marking Carter's first public appearance following a Nov. 11 procedure to vent pressure caused by a subdural hematoma.

The brain surgery came after multiple falls. He was discharged from another Georgia hospital in October after a fractured pelvis. A fall on Oct. 6 led to 14 stitches in his forehead and a black eye. In May, he underwent surgery to repair a broken hip.

After recovering from the brain procedure, Carter was again briefly hospitalized this month for a urinary tract infection.

At Sunday's church service, the Rev. Tony Lowden acknowledged the Carters' presence, telling the congregation, "We have a saying here at Maranatha -- we love you, and there ain't nothing you can do about it."

Carter and the former first lady greeted Maranatha's parishioners, smiled and posed for pictures after the service.

At 95, Carter is the oldest living U.S. president in history. He has also survived brain and liver cancer.

Ex-judicial candidate disciplined for anti-Muslim comments

MIAMI (AP) — A retired Florida lawyer and former judicial candidate has been disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court for making disparaging comments on social media about Muslims and the LGBTQ community.

The court, which handles discipline against lawyers and judges, handed Donald McBath a 91-day suspension from practicing law, according to the Florida Bar , the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The Bar documented 15 comments that McBath made on Facebook or Twitter, including anti-Muslim remarks (“never trust a Muslim”), homophobic remarks (“Abstain, if you really have that mental illness. It’s not love”), comments against abortion, and comments supportive of President Donald Trump’s travel ban (“They’re leaches on our system.”)

The Bar also noted McBath's Twitter profile stated: “100% Trump supporter #MAGA; #KAG; proud DEPLORABLE; Pro-God; Christian; Pro-Life; Pro-Gun; Anti-Sharia; Constitutional Conservative; Former Major US Army .”

McBath ran for judge last year in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which comprises Pinellas and Pasco counties. He lost in the primary to former prosecutor Doneene Loar .

During his candidacy, McBath told the newspaper the comments were his, but said they wouldn’t prevent him from treating a Muslim or LGBTQ citizen fairly if one appeared before him as a judge.

Forest ecologist helps refashion Barbie dolls as scientists

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — When Nalini Nadkarni was a kid, she’d run home from school, climb into one of the eight maple trees in her parents’ backyard and spend an afternoon there with an apple and a book.

That time in the treetops set the tone for the rest of her life: She’s now a forest ecologist at the University of Utah who’s dedicated her career to studying rain forest canopies.

She’s also always looking for new ways to get people interested in science, from fashion made with nature imagery to science lectures at the state prison.

“I’ve tried for years and years to bring the science I do and understand to people outside of academia,” she said.

Her childhood memories made her particularly interested in reaching children. After her own 6-year-old daughter asked for a Barbie, Nadkarni decided to re-fashion the iconic dolls as a scientist-explorer in rubber boots rather than high heels.

“Lots of girls, and some little boys, love Barbie,” Nadkarni said. “It’s almost aspirational, they want to be Barbie.”

That was about 15 years ago. Nadkarni said Barbie-maker Mattel wasn't interested in the idea then, so she decided to redo dolls herself, using gear she collected.

She scoured thrift stores and eBay for Barbie dolls and enlisted help from volunteer seamstresses. She called the creation “Treetop Barbie" and began selling them at cost on her website.

Last year, Mattel began working with National Geographic to create a new line of scientist Barbies. Nadkarni has a longstanding relationship with National Geographic , so when the non-profit reached out for help, she quickly agreed.

Nadkarni joined a team of female scientists advising Mattel as it made the line of dolls that includes a marine biologist, astrophysicist, photojournalist, conservationist and entomologist.

Sales began in the summer. As a thank-you, Mattel sent Nadkarni a one-of-a-kind doll with tree-climbing gear and full dark hair woven with strands of white that made the doll resemble the scientist.

For Nadkarni, the company's investment in the dolls reflects a broader cultural shift toward recognizing women in science, math and technology that could spark an appreciation for science even among kids who don't end up entering the field.

It's not known, though, how career Barbies might affect kids' aspirations. A 2014 study by Oregon State University found that girls who played with the dolls told researchers they could do fewer jobs than boys — even if they played with a doctor Barbie.

The study didn't examine the girls' reasoning, but researchers speculated that Barbie might be an inherently sexualized doll, said associate professor Aurora Sherman , who worked on the paper.

Putting the same doll in a professional outfit likely won't do much to change perceptions about what women can do, she said. But it might help to use it as a starting point for conversations about women in science and math.

"Its really going to depend on how that doll is experienced, and what adults are doing to drive home that message," she said.

Barbie's icon status gives the doll cultural sway, and the new dolls have the potential to normalize the idea of women in science and engineering, said Kris Macomber , a sociology professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina .

Barbie sales have been increasing as the becomes available in different body shapes and careers, but there's only so much a toy can do to change broader attitudes about what professions chosen by girls as they grow up, she said.

“Barbie does not hold all the power to change culture,” Macomber said. "But it does contribute."

California's Gov. Newsom had 'baptism by fire' in 1st year

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — During his inaugural address last January, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made only a passing reference to wildfires and never mentioned the state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric . Both soon became inescapable topics.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy barely three weeks after the Democratic governor was sworn in, triggering a series of events that defined the former San Francisco mayor's first year as leader of the country's most populous state.

Newsom worked with state lawmakers to create financial stability for PG&E and the state's two other investor-owned utilities; developed a plan that required them to strengthen their safety measures; and forcefully reacted when the utilities shut off the lights to millions of Californians.

“He certainly had baptism by fire, and I’m not even kidding,” said state Senate leader Toni Atkins , a San Diego Democrat.

PG&E's bankruptcy was prompted by an estimated $30 billion in liability from wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018, including the state's deadliest and most destructive blaze, which killed 85 and nearly leveled the city of Paradise .

Fearing further financial consequences, PG&E instituted wide-scale blackouts when weather created high fire danger. In previous years, utility lines and other equipment sparked fires when winds were extreme.

Newsom declared he “owned” the blackouts and would fight to keep them from happening again, putting himself squarely in the center of an issue that had prompted a public outcry. He also blasted the utilities for years of poor maintenance and a lax focus on safety.

“Newsom has shown a willingness to really engage on a topic that wasn't of his choosing, and that's an important hallmark of a strong governor," said Michael Wara , a researcher on climate and energy policy at Stanford University who has worked with the state on energy and wildfire issues.

State Assemblyman James Gallagher , a Republican whose district includes Paradise , said Newsom has done a good job of changing wildfire policy, fighting to compensate victims and holding PG&E accountable.

“The governor and I don't agree on a whole lot ... but I think that we have found actually a lot of agreement and mutual cooperation when it comes to wildfire policy," Gallagher said.

Gallagher even praised Newsom for working well with the Trump administration to procure federal disaster resources.

“I think a lot of this stuff is show,” he said of Newsom's ongoing battles on Twitter and elsewhere with President Donald Trump .

Regardless, Newsom's feuds with the Republican president attracted much attention. Perhaps the most consequential was the Trump administration's efforts to stop California from continuing to set its own auto emissions regulations. In response, Newsom teamed with four major automakers to go against Washington .

When he wasn't battling with the president, Newsom was advancing policy at a frenetic pace. He began the year by placing a moratorium on executions for the more than 730 people on California's death row, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The move won praise from criminal justice reform advocates and scorn from families of people killed by convicted criminals who had been sentenced to death.

Elsewhere, he checked off a litany of items in his progressive wish list. Among them: health care to more young immigrants living in the country illegally, expanded subsidies for middle-income people to buy health insurance, an increased tax credit for working families, a ban on for-profit prisons, and stricter rules for when police use deadly force.

All of the moves drew sharp criticism from the state's Republican minority, and some California residents have started a long-shot campaign to recall Newsom from office.

Newsom stumbled at times on message, sowing confusion early on about the future of California's troubled high-speed rail project and injecting last-minute uncertainty into an impassioned debate over exemptions for childhood vaccinations.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon , a fellow Democrat, said it's been a year of learning between Newsom and lawmakers after eight years of dealing with Gov. Jerry Brown .

“We’ve had an incredibly productive year, and I consider him a partner, and I know he is willing to work through things," Rendon said.

Atkins, however, found herself at odds with Newsom when he vetoed her bill aimed at blunting environmental rollbacks from the Trump administration. Environmental groups, normally allies, were upset.

“I think he had some growing pains that were frustrating in the first year,” said Kathryn Phillips , director of the Sierra Club California.

Homelessness has become a top issue in California , and Trump took delight in highlighting the problem, saying the state's major cities were “going to hell.”

Newsom has touted a $1 billion investment the state made in 2019 to address homelessness and the law he signed enacting a statewide cap on annual rent increases to help address the lack of affordable housing. But those moves have yet to produce visible results.

Still, Newsom said in an October interview with The Associated Press that his administration has done more than any other on the two issues.

“I can't solve that overnight,” he said. But “we're not being neglectful in that space, and I think the consequences of that will reverberate in cities large and small, but also will leave clues for other states that are struggling with the same.”

Gallagher said he thinks Newsom and Democrats have spent too much time focused on failed solutions to homelessness and housing. The assemblyman said the state needs to reduce government red tape and barriers to building.

“He needs to push a little bit harder maybe against his base on the issue to really see results,” Gallagher said.

Newsom's overall approval rating has stayed between 44% and 48% during his first year in office, according to surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California . About 46% of people approve of his handling of the wildfire issues.

In a recent interview with the AP, Brown said a governor shouldn't be measured until after a full four-year term.

“I think it's a mistake to look to the first year and draw a lot of big conclusions," he said.

Family: Hanukkah stabbing suspect had mental illness history

MONSEY, N.Y. (AP) — A man accused of storming into a rabbi's home and stabbing five people as they celebrated Hanukkah in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City was raised to embrace tolerance but has a history of mental illness, his family said.

“Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime,” his family said late Sunday in a statement issued by attorney Michael Sussman . “He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”

“We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness,” the statement said.

“Finally, we express our deepest concern and prayers for those injured physically and otherwise deeply affected by the events of Saturday night. ... We thank those who rendered medical attention to each of those injured.”

Police tracked a fleeing suspect to Manhattan and made an arrest within two hours of the attack Saturday night in Monsey . Thomas had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach but said “almost nothing” when officers stopped him, officials said.

Republican President Donald Trump condemned the “horrific" attack, saying in a tweet Sunday that “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism."

The stabbings on the seventh night of Hanukkah left one person critically wounded, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The rabbi's son was also injured, he said.

Thomas, 37, was arraigned Sunday and pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Bail was set at $5 million , and he remains jailed.

Thomas' criminal history includes an arrest for assaulting a police horse, according to an official briefed on the investigation who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. A lawyer representing Thomas at the arraignment said he had no convictions.

The Greenwood Lake street where Thomas lived with his mother, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Monsey , was blocked with police tape Sunday as FBI agents and police officers carried items from their home.

The FBI was seeking a warrant to obtain his online accounts and were scouring digital evidence, the official said.

The attack was the latest in a string of violence targeting Jews in the region, including a Dec. 10 massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey . Last month in Monsey , a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue.

Cuomo said Saturday's savagery was the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York since Dec. 8 .

According to the official briefed on the investigation, authorities do not believe Thomas is connected to recent anti-Semitic incidents in New York City .

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said it wants the FBI to create a special task force.

Monsey , near the New Jersey state line about 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of New York City , is one of several Hudson Valley communities that has seen a rising population of Hasidic Jews in recent years.

At a celebration in Monsey on Sunday that was planned before the shooting, several members of the community stood guard armed with assault-style rifles. They refused to give their names when approached by an AP journalist, but they said they were there to defend their community.

“The Jewish community is utterly terrified," Evan Bernstein , the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey , said in a statement. “No one should have to live like this."

-__ Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

Armed congregants kill gunman who shot 2 at Texas church

WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas (AP) — A gunman who killed two people during a Texas church service was fatally shot within seconds by armed congregants, said Texas officials, who hailed the state's gun laws that allow weapons in places of worship.

More than 240 parishioners were in the West Freeway Church in the Fort Worth area town of White Settlement at the time of the shooting on Sunday, authorities said.

Parishioner Isabel Arreola told the Star-Telegram that she sat near the gunman and that she'd never seen him before Sunday's service. She said he appeared to be wearing a disguise, perhaps a fake beard, and that he made her uncomfortable.

She said the man stood up, pulled a shotgun from his clothing, opened fire and was quickly shot by two congregants who were part of a volunteer security team.

“I was so surprised because I did not know that so many in the church were armed,” she said.

Tiffany Wallace told Dallas TV station KXAS that her father, Anton “Tony” Wallace, was one of the victims killed in the attack. She said her father was a deacon at the church and had just passed out communion when the gunman approached him.

“I ran toward my dad and the last thing I remember is him asking for oxygen and I was just holding him, telling him I loved him and that he was going to make it,” Wallace said.

Wallace said her father was rushed to a hospital but he did not survive.

"You just wonder why? How can someone so evil, the devil, step into the church and do this,” she said.

At a press conference Sunday night, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the gunman was killed within six seconds of opening fire. Patrick hailed the state's gun laws, including a measure enacted earlier this year that allowed licensed guns in places of worship, unless the facility bans them.

"Two of the parishioners who were volunteers of the security force drew their weapons and took out the killer immediately, saving untold number of lives," Patrick said.

Britt Farmer , senior minister of the church, said, “We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse."

Officials have not released the names of the victims or the gunman. FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said they're working to identify the gunman's motive, adding that he is “relatively transient” but had roots in the area.

DeSarno also said the gunman had been arrested multiple times in the past but declined to give details.

An elder at the church told the New York Times that one of those killed was a security guard who responded to the shooter, calling him a dear friend.

“He was trying to do what he needed to do to protect the rest of us,” said the elder, Mike Tinius .

“It’s extremely upsetting to see anyone committing violence,” he said.

Tinius said he didn't know the gunman and that the shooting appeared to be random.

A woman who answered the phone at the West Freeway Church of Christ told the AP she could not answer any questions and that she was told to direct inquiries to authorities.

In a livestream of the church service, the gunman can be seen getting up from a pew and talking to someone at the back of the church before pulling out a gun and opening fire. Parishioners can then be heard screaming and seen ducking under pews or running as papers fly to the floor.

Two people with minor injuries that were sustained while ducking for cover were treated at the scene, MedStar Mobile Healthcare spokeswoman Macara Trusty said.

Gov. Greg Abbott asked the state to pray for the victims, their loved ones and the community of White Settlement , about 8 miles (12 kilometers) west of Fort Worth .

“Places of worship are meant to be sacred, and I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life,” Abbott said in a tweeted statement.

It is not the first deadly shooting to take place at a church in Texas . In November 2017 , Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on the congregation at a church in Sutherland Springs , killing more than two dozen worshippers, before taking his own life. And in 1999, a gunman killed seven people in Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth before detonating an explosive device and killing himself.

Sunday's shooting in Texas was also the second attack on a religious gathering in the U.S. in less than 24 hours. On Saturday night, a man stabbed five people as they celebrated Hanukkah in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City .

Report: Police eye Hanukkah stabbing suspect in similar November attack

Police are investigating suspect Grafton Thomas , arrested for the stabbing of five Orthodox Jews on Saturday in suburban New York City , in connection with another stabbing in the same town last month.

Citing police sources, the New York Post reported authorities are looking at Thomas, 37, in connection with a Nov. 20 attack in Monsey, N.Y. , in which a 30-year-old Jewish man was beaten and repeatedly stabbed while on his way to a village synagogue.

In that attack, the victim was so badly beaten that authorities initially believed he had been hit by a car.

Thomas, of Greenwood Lake, N.Y. , on Sunday pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Thomas was ordered held on $5 million bail with his next court appearance Friday.

The Nov. 20 incident and Saturday's rampage at the home of a rabbi holding a Hanukkah party are part of an upsurge in anti-Semitic hate crimes being reported in the New York City area. There was at least one incident reported every day last week leading up to the Monsey stabbings.

In the Saturday attack, police said a suspect armed with a large blade entered the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey , a town of about 18,000 residents. Around midnight, Thomas was located in a gray Nissan 30 miles south in New York's Harlem after a traffic stop and taken into custody by the New York Police Department .

Members of Thomas' family said Sunday he suffers from mental illness, but was not known to be violent.

"We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which ... Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released," according to his family's statement released by their attorney.

"He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races," the statement continued. "He is not a member of any hate groups."

Rockland County, N.Y. , public defender Kristine Ciganek said Thomas had no criminal history and lived with his mother.

Police, victims warn against firing guns on New Year's Eve

Kaitlyn Kong thought she had been punched hard in the abdomen as she stood among thousands of people in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina , as the new year arrived a year ago. Her best friend, standing next to her, thought Kong had been stabbed as blood poured from a wound.

It wasn't until Kong underwent an X-ray that she and hospital medical staff realized she had been shot after someone fired a gun into the air to celebrate the new year.

Although rare, people being shot by celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve and other holidays like the Fourth of July does happen, prompting law enforcement authorities to caution people that bullets fired into the air can endanger people's lives.

Raleigh police Lt. Mario Campos said the city receives a small number of calls about gunfire during New Year's Eve celebrations in the city but would not discuss what happened to Kong, saying it remains under investigation. Raleigh police said at the time that the shot could have been fired from several blocks away.

“Our message has always been not to do it because it's dangerous and illegal in our city,” Campos said. “Bullets can travel a long distance. Any gunfire discharged into the air has to come down and land on something.”

A 9-year-old boy in Cleveland was wounded by a stray bullet last New Year's Eve as he watched television inside his family's home. The boy's mother declined to be interviewed. Another 9-year-old boy in Atlanta was shot in the abdomen by celebratory gunfire early Jan. 1 while he and his family set off fireworks.

A 4-year-old boy was killed in 2010 in Decatur, Georgia , when an AK-47 round penetrated a church roof and struck him in the head as he sat next to his parents during a New Year's Eve service.

Kong, then a senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill , headed to downtown Raleigh with her friend for the city's family-friendly First Night celebration. Kong, 23, said she was pointing her phone upward to capture video of fireworks as confetti floated down on the crowd when it suddenly felt as if she had been punched “super hard," prompting her to clutch her friend's shoulder, not able to speak.

Bystanders helped move her out of the crowd, and a police officer called for an ambulance while pressure was applied to the wound.

“I didn't think it was that serious, but I was hurting a lot," Kong said.

It turned out to be quite serious. The bullet entered her chest and penetrated a lung, her diaphragm and stomach before lodging near her hip. Kong underwent a four-hour surgery. She recovered enough to return to classes days later with some assistance. She graduated in May with a degree in environmental studies.

“If it had been any higher, it could have done some permanent damage, to say the least,” Kong said.

A 2004 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people struck by gunfire shot into the air are most likely to be hit in the head.

That's what happened to Texas state Rep. Armando Martinez as he celebrated the new year at a friend's home in Weslaco, Texas , on Jan. 1, 2017 . He and his family had waited in the friend's garage until gunfire had subsided to let off fireworks, he said.

Martinez told NBC News that his wife had just wished him a happy new year with a kiss when a .223-caliber round fell from the sky and penetrated his skull. It felt, he said, as if he had been “hit by a sledgehammer."

“I was extremely lucky,” Martinez said. "My surgeons said if it went a couple more millimeters deeper, I may not have been able to have this conversation right now."

Carl Leisinger III, a retired New Jersey State Police major and supervisor of the agency's forensics laboratory, said a 9 mm round like the one that wounded Kong would typically leave the barrel at around 1,100 feet per second and then fall down at 200 to 300 feet per second. How far a bullet fired into the air travels sideways will depend on wind and other factors, he said.

“She's very fortunate she didn't die,” Leisinger said.

Kong said she plans to celebrate somewhere this New Year's Eve , but not in downtown Raleigh .

“You can't let it stop you from living your life,” she said. “Maybe I'm that kind of person.”

Authorities name victims in fatal Hawaii helicopter crash

Authorities have identified three of the seven victims of Thursday's helicopter crash in Hawaii .

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the Kauai Police Department said pilot Paul Matero , 69, of Wailua, and passengers Amy Gannon , 47, and Jocelyn Gannon , 13, of Madison, Wis. , were among the dead.

The other passengers are believed to be a family of four from Switzerland , including a 50-year-old man, a 49-year-old woman, and two girls, ages 13 and 10. Their names were not released.

Police said autopsies to positively confirm all identities were still pending.

Rescuers discovered the wreckage of their tour helicopter Friday, recovering six of the victims' bodies.

The search began after the helicopter, owned by Safari Helicopters , failed to return from a tour over the Na Pali area Thursday evening.

Recovery efforts were suspended Saturday afternoon and the scene has been turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board for further investigation, police said.

"We off our continued condolences and prayers to the families and friends of the victims," said KPD Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce . "As we continue to search for and recover evidence pertinent to this tragic helicopter crash, we hope to bring some sense of closure to the loved ones of the victims."

On This Day: Nixon halts bombing in North Vietnam

On this date in history:

In 1853, the United States bought 45,000 square miles of land along the Gila River from Mexico for $10 million . The area is now southern Arizona and New Mexico .

In 1903, flames swept the Iroquois Theater in Chicago , killing 602 people. The fire led to safety regulations for theaters around the world.

In 1916, Grigori Rasputin , a self-fashioned Russian holy man, was killed by Russian nobles eager to end his influence over the royal family.

In 1922, at the first Soviet Congress , Russia , Ukraine and two other Soviet republics signed a treaty creating the Soviet Union .

In 1958, revolutionaries under the command of Ernesto "Che" Guevara battled with government troops loyal to Cuban President Fulgencio Batista for control of the city of Santa Clara . Within 12 hours of the rebel victory, Batista had fled the country, with control of the country passing to Fidel Castro .

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was inaugurated as president of the Philippines .

In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam and announced that peace talks with the Hanoi government would resume in Paris in January.

In 1986, Exxon Corp. became the first major international oil company to withdraw from South Africa because of that country's racial policies.

In 1992, Ling-Ling, a giant female panda who delighted visitors to Washington's National Zoo for more than two decades, died of heart failure.

In 1994, John Salvi III, an anti-abortion activist, went on a shooting spree at two abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass. He killed two workers and injured five others. Police captured him the next day.

In 2006, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein , who had been convicted of the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiite men and boys, was executed by hanging in Baghdad .

In 2009, a suicide bomber, identified as a Jordanian informant, killed at least eight U.S. civilians, all but one of them CIA agents, at a base in Afghanistan .

In 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hospitalized because of a blood clot, the State Department said. The clot, or thrombus, was discovered during a routine MRI while Clinton recuperated from a recent concussion.

In 2013, four NFL coaches were fired on the league's so-called Black Monday: Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins , Leslie Fraiser of the Minnesota Vikings , Tampa Bay's Greg Chiano and Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions . Cleveland's Rob Chudzinski had been let go the day before.

In 2016, Indians deposited their last 500- and 1,000-rupee notes into the bank. The government withdrew the currency values in order to crack down on black market and counterfeit currency.

In 2018, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the second player in NFL history to finish a season with more than 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes, joining Peyton Manning .

After brain surgery, Jimmy Carter returns to hometown church

PLAINS, Ga. (AP) — Former President Jimmy Carter publicly appeared Sunday at the Georgia church where he worships for the first time since undergoing brain surgery in November.

The 95-year-old Carter and his wife of more than 70 years, Rosalynn, attended services at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains on Sunday, news outlets reported. Parishioners also prayed for the Carters, who were nestled into front-row seats at the church where Carter famously has taught Sunday school.

The nation's oldest-ever ex-president underwent surgery last month at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta to relieve pressure on his brain caused by bleeding from a fall.

Carter has faced several health issues in recent years. Earlier this month, he was treated at a hospital for a urinary tract infection. In October, he was hospitalized for a fall that fractured his pelvis and another fall in which he hit his head and required 14 stitches. A previous fall required he get hip surgery. In 2015, he was diagnosed with melanoma. After having parts of his liver removed and undergoing radiation, immunotherapy and treatment for brain lesions, he announced that he was cancer-free.

As robots take over warehousing, workers pushed to adapt

NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Guess who's getting used to working with robots in their everyday lives? The very same warehouse workers once predicted to be losing their jobs to mechanical replacements .

But doing your job side-by-side with robots isn't easy. According to their makers, the machines should take on the most mundane and physically strenuous tasks. In reality, they're also creating new forms of stress and strain in the form of injuries and the unease of working in close quarters with mobile half-ton devices that direct themselves.

"They weigh a lot," Amazon worker Amanda Taillon said during the pre-Christmas rush at a company warehouse in Connecticut . Nearby, a fleet of 6-foot-tall roving robot shelves zipped around behind a chain-link fence.

Taillon's job is to enter a cage and tame Amazon's wheeled warehouse robots for long enough to pick up a fallen toy or relieve a traffic jam. She straps on a light-up utility belt that works like a superhero's force field, commanding the nearest robots to abruptly halt and the others to slow down or adjust their routes.

“When you’re out there, and you can hear them moving around, but you can’t see them, it’s like, ‘Where are they going to come from?’,” she said. "It’s a little nerve-racking at first."

Amazon and its rivals are increasingly requiring warehouse employees to get used to working with robots. The company now has more than 200,000 robotic vehicles it calls “drives” that are moving goods through its delivery-fulfillment centers around the U.S. That's double the number it had last year and up from 15,000 units in 2014.

Its rivals have taken notice, and many are adding their own robots in a race to speed up productivity and bring down costs.

Without these fast-moving pods, robotic arms and other forms of warehouse automation, retailers say they wouldn't be able to fulfill consumer demand for packages that can land on doorsteps the day after you order them online.

But while fears that robots will replace human workers haven't come to fruition, there are growing concerns that keeping up with the pace of the latest artificial intelligence technology is taking a toll on human workers' health, safety and morale.

Warehouses powered by robotics and AI software are leading to human burnout by adding more work and upping the pressure on workers to speed up their performance, said Beth Gutelius , who studies urban economic development at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has interviewed warehouse operators around the U.S.

It's not that workers aren't getting trained on how to work with robots safely. “The problem is it becomes very difficult to do so when the productivity standards are set so high,” she said.

Much of the boom in warehouse robotics has its roots in Amazon's $775 million purchase of Massachusetts startup Kiva Systems in 2012. The tech giant re-branded it as Amazon Robotics and transformed it into an in-house laboratory that for seven years has been designing and building Amazon's robot armada.

Amazon's Kiva purchase “set the tone for all the other retailers to stand up and pay attention,” said Jim Liefer , CEO of San Francisco startup Kindred AI, which makes an artificially intelligent robotic arm that grasps and sorts items for retailers such as The Gap.

A rush of venture capital and private sector investment in warehouse robotics spiked to $1.5 billion a year in 2015 and has remained high ever since, said Rian Whitton , a robotics analyst at ABI Research .

Canadian e-commerce company Shopify spent $450 million this fall to buy Massachusetts -based startup 6 River Systems, which makes an autonomous cart nicknamed Chuck that can follow workers around a warehouse. Other mobile robot startups are partnering with delivery giants such as FedEx and DHL or retailers such as Walmart.

Amazon this year bought another warehouse robotics startup, Colorado -based Canvas Technology, which builds wheeled robots guided by computer vision. Such robots would be more fully autonomous than Amazon's current fleet of caged-off vehicles, which have to follow bar codes and previously mapped routes within warehouses.

The tech giant is also still rolling out new models descended from the Kiva line, including the Pegasus, a squarish vehicle with a conveyor belt on top that can be found working the early-morning shift at a warehouse in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, Arizona . A crisscrossing fleet of robots carries packaged items across the floor and drops them into chutes based on the zip code of their final destination.

All of this is transforming warehouse work in a way that the head of Amazon Robotics says can “extend human capability” by shifting people to what they are best at: problem-solving, common sense and thinking on their feet.

“The efficiencies we gain from our associates and robotics working together harmoniously — what I like to call a symphony of humans and machines working together — allows us to pass along a lower cost to our customer,” said Tye Brady , Amazon Robotics' chief technologist.

Brady said worker safety remains the top priority and ergonomic design is engineered into the systems at the beginning of the design stage. Gutelius, the University of Illinois researcher, said that the aspiration for symphonic human-machine operations is not always working out in practice.

“It sounds quite lovely, but I rarely hear from a worker's perspective that that’s what it feels like,” she said.

Gutelius co-authored a report published this fall that found new warehouse technology could contribute to wage stagnation, higher turnover and poorer quality work experiences because of the way AI software can monitor and micro-manage workers' behaviors.

A recent journalistic investigation of injury rates at Amazon warehouses from The Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal found that robotic warehouses reported more injuries than those without.

Reveal looked at records from 28 Amazon warehouses in 16 states and found that the overall rate of serious injuries was more than double the warehousing industry average. Amazon has countered it's misleading to compare its rate with rivals because of the company's “aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small.”

The Reveal report also found a correlation between robots and safety problems, such as in Tracy, California , where the serious injury rate nearly quadrupled in the four years after robots were introduced.

Melonee Wise , CEO of California -based Fetch Robotics, which sells its autonomous robotic carts to retailers and other clients, credits Amazon's Kiva acquisition for propelling innovation in the industry.

But she said that Amazon's system forces workers to do “un-ergonomic moves” such as reaching up high or crouching down to pick out and stow inventory into the shelves-on-wheels.

“They have robots that live in cages,” she said. “Our robots are designed to work safely around people, which is a very large distinction between the two systems.”

Amazon hasn't disclosed how its safety record at robot-powered warehouses compares to those without. But company officials remain optimistic that Amazon workers are adapting to the new technology.

At a visit with a reporter earlier in December to the warehouse in North Haven, Connecticut , Brady was explaining the workings of a powerful robotic arm called a “palletizer” when crates it was stacking on a pallet started tumbling over. Unfazed by the temporary malfunction, he watched as an employee disabled the machine, discovered an apparent structural weakness in the pallet, adjusted the stack of crates and let the robot get back to work.

“His ability to problem-solve that was like this,” Brady said, enthusiastically snapping his fingers. “What I love about that is it's humans and machines working together."