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El Paso deaths climb to 22 as mayor prepares for Trump visit

EL PASO, Texas — The Texas border city jolted by a weekend massacre at a Walmart absorbed more grief Monday as the death toll climbed to 22 and prepared for a visit from President Donald Trump over anger from El Paso residents and local Democratic leaders who say he isn’t welcome and should stay away.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo announced at a news conference that Trump planned to visit Wednesday, and in an early sign of emotions already running high, immediately defended the decision to welcome the president.

Trump coming to El Paso in wake of the tragedy is unnerving some residents and politicians who said his divisive words are partly to blame. But Margo, a Republican, deflected criticism.

“I want to clarify for the political spin that this is the office of the mayor of El Paso in an official capacity welcoming the office of the president of the United States,” Margo said.

Acknowledging the backlash in the community, Margo added: “I’m already getting the emails and the phone calls.”

In scripted remarks from the White House, Trump urged unity while blaming mental illness and video games. He made no mention of limiting gun sales.

Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso made clear that the president was not welcome in her hometown as it mourned. Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who was an El Paso congressman for six years, also said Trump should stay away.

“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here,” O’Rourke tweeted.

Other residents in the largely Latino city of 700,000 said Monday that Trump’s rhetoric is difficult for them to stomach.

“It’s offensive just because most of us here are Hispanic,” said Isel Velasco, 25. “It’s not like he’s going to help or do anything about it.”

Authorities are scrutinizing a racist, anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly before police say Patrick Crusius, 21, opened fire on Saturday. Language in the document mirrors some of the words used by Trump, who on Monday denounced white supremacy, which he has been reluctant to criticize.

The White House hasn’t announced Trump’s trip but the Federal Aviation Administration has advised pilots of a presidential visit that day to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, where a second weekend shooting left nine people dead.

Authorities at the news conference in El Paso also revealed details about the suspect’s whereabouts before the shooting — some of the first to come out regarding his movements. Police Chief Greg Allen said Crusius drove more than 10 hours from the Dallas area before arriving in El Paso. He said Crusius got lost in a neighborhood before ending up at Walmart “because, we understand, he was hungry.” Allen didn’t elaborate.

Crusius is from the affluent Dallas suburb of Allen. The police chief said the gun used was legally purchased near the suspect’s hometown. The chief did not say what kind of weapon it was but described the ammunition as 7.62-caliber, which is used in high-powered rifles.

Crusius, who is being held without bond, said in his application for a public defender that he has no income or assets and has been unemployed for five months.

The El Paso shooting is one of the deadliest in U.S. history, and the death toll rose Monday as doctors announced that two more of the wounded had died. Dr. Stephen Flaherty of Del Sol Medical Center described the wounds as “devastating and major” and said that one patient who died had major abdominal injuries affecting the liver, kidneys and intestines.

The hospital did not release the names or ages of the two patients who died, but hospital officials described one as an elderly woman.

Mexican officials have said eight Mexican nationals were among the dead. Tens of thousands of Mexicans legally cross the border each day to work and shop in El Paso.

Allen said 15 people remain hospitalized, including two still in critical condition.

Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said Monday the Mexican government considers the mass shooting to be an act of terrorism against Mexican citizens on U.S. soil. He said Mexico will participate in the investigation and trial of the man suspected of carrying out the attack.

El Paso has long prided itself on being one of the safest cities in the nation. When years of drug cartel-driven violence in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, left tens of thousands of people dead, El Paso still had one of the nation’s lowest crime rates. Police reported 23 murders last year and 20 the year before that, making Saturday’s rampage a year’s worth of bloodshed.

Authorities searched for any links between the suspect and the material in the document that was posted online, including the writer’s expression of concern that an influx of Hispanics into the United States will replace aging white voters, potentially turning Texas blue in elections and swinging the White House to Democrats.

Vanessa Tavarez, 36, from the rural West Texas town of Seagraves, traveled to El Paso on Saturday to renew her Mexican husband’s residency and work documents. They arrived with their 5-year-old son at a motel only to find police helicopters circling overhead.

Shopping at the Walmart where the shooting occurred was on the family’s to-do list before the attack. She said fear nagged at them after the shooting as they shopped elsewhere for supplies and went to a movie.

“I don’t think anybody would be in favor of him (Trump) being here, first of all,” Tavarez said. “Because a lot of people probably think it’s because of him that everything happened. ... I just think people will be angry.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Final phase of decade-long I-44 widening east of Tulsa begins this week

The final phase of a decade-old Interstate 44 widening project east of Tulsa is beginning this week.

The $20 million project will widen the existing four-lane segment between 145th East Avenue and 177th East Avenue to eight lanes and also improve an interchange.

The project will cover about a two-mile section of I-44 and when completed, will mark the end of an overall expansion that began 10 years ago.

Work is set to begin this week and is expected to be completed in late summer 2020, weather permitting.

“This project will have an impact to traffic, and drivers should start planning ahead for delays in the corridor,” the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said in a news release.

This current project will tie into previous widening work on I-44 between the Interstate 244 split and 145th East Avenue, and near 177th East Avenue.

Work on I-44 widening and bridge replacement in areas between the I-244 split and Catoosa has been ongoing since 2009, ODOT spokeswoman Kenna Mitchell said in a previous story.

The bridges at 165th East Avenue were replaced in 2010 due to their deteriorated condition. Improvements to the interchange will be made as part of the current project.

Two lanes of I-44 in each direction are expected to remain open in the work zone during peak travel times, although drivers should plan for reduced speeds in this corridor, ODOT said.

“There should not be too much impact on traffic except for reduced speeds,” Mitchell said Monday.

If crews need to reduce traffic to one lane in one direction during the project, those closures will be done at night, Mitchell said.

About 66,100 vehicles per day travel in the affected I-44 area, according to 2018 ODOT traffic counts.

Specific lane and ramp closures will be announced as they are scheduled.

Drivers can sign up for daily traffic advisories at by clicking on the “Sign Up For News & Alerts” link on the main page of this website and selecting the Tulsa Metro option.

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'You are not powerless': Officials urge awareness as immediate answer to mass violence concerns

Almost no type of institution has been spared from mass shootings, leaving many with a sense of hopelessness after more than 30 people were killed in two separate events over the weekend.

But Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum suggested that community assistance is the most effective tool in prevention.

“Most importantly: you are not powerless,” Bynum said in a measured post on social media Monday. “An underlying concern I hear from a lot of people is a sense that they are powerless to prevent something like this in Tulsa.”

Awareness has become the immediate answer to the question of how to stymie mass violence in America, and Bynum and a police sergeant remarked on the importance of reporting suspicious behavior.

U.S. Secret Service officials conducted a study called “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces,” published in July, that looked at 27 attacks between 2017 and 2018. Three-quarters of those attackers “had concerned the people around them, with most of them specifically eliciting concerns for safety,” according to the report.

The agency says in the report that threat assessment is among the most effective practices for prevention.

“Many of the resources to support this process are already in place at the community level but require leadership, collaboration, and information sharing to facilitate their effectiveness at preventing violence,” the report says.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Shane Tuell said reports of active shooters will “get a quick and rapid response from all officers.”

“The first thing that we’re going to really rely on is that initial information,” Tuell said. “It’s going to really rely on whoever is calling 911 to provide really good information.”

The two gunmen combined injured more than 4 dozen people during the weekend spate of violence.

In May, an active shooter in midtown Tulsa did not make it farther than 1,000 feet from a pizza restaurant, where he shot his first victim, to Interstate 44, shooting another person along the way, before a Tulsa police officer arrived and fatally shot the man.

That police officer, who has not been identified, ran from Cici’s Pizza, 4949 S. Peoria Ave., to China Wok, 4971 S. Peoria Ave., to Skelly Drive as witnesses told him the direction the shooter had gone. The shooter, Derrec Shaw, 25, was pointing the firearm and possibly shooting at passing cars as he ran across the highway.

Tuell said that when officers arrive at a report of a mass shooting, how a suspect responds to commands will dictate the officers’ actions.

Dayton, Ohio, police officials said the gunman in that city’s Oregon District this weekend was shot and killed within 30 seconds of firing his first shot.

Investigators reported that writings linked to that shooter indicated an interest in killing people. Nine people have died as a result of that mass shooting.

Twenty-two people have died as a result of the shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday. A document linked to that shooter was posted online about 20 minutes before the massacre and was filled with white nationalist and racist hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics.

A large part of American culture is people’s desire to be with others in community settings, such as at festivals, museums and events, and instances of mass violence threaten that, Tuell said.

The Dayton shooting occurred in a setting similar to downtown Tulsa or Oklahoma City, and the El Paso shooting occurred at a big box store. Other mass shootings have been committed at schools, houses of worship, a festival, in open spaces, on public transportation and at places of business.

Dan’niel McKnight, a certified firearms instructor at American Arms Training, said situational awareness is among the first things she recommends. She put it in terms of a “what if” game.

“In my head, when I go to a grocery store or a restaurant, the first thing I think of is: ‘What if something bad were to happen? Where can I hide? Where can I get behind that would stop a bullet?’”

The mental exercise fits in with the three words — run, hide and fight — used to recommend responses to active shooter situations. The key to deciding which of those to do is knowing the surroundings and being aware of what is happening.

McKnight said that means keeping your cellphone put away while walking. “Just play that (what if) scenario in your head briefly and then move on,” she said.

Law officers and public officials encourage reporting concerns, even if those that might seem frivolous. Bynum said the Tulsa Police Department would rather respond to 100 calls because people are being overly cautious “than allow one of these perpetrators to go undetected.”

Beyond that immediate response, “there are public policy debates that should rightly occur to reduce violence in our country,” Bynum said. “The increasing breakdown of social cohesion in our communities should be a concern for every American.

“These are things that will hopefully be addressed over time, openly and deliberately.”

Real ID in Oklahoma: One more extension needed to comply with 14-year-old legislation

It’s taking awhile — and yet another deadline extension from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — but officials say Oklahoma eventually will be Real ID compliant.

Do you remember Real ID?

It’s something the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. decided was needed after discovering that the 19 hijackers involved had obtained 30 driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs among them. One of them had four IDs from three states. Five others had duplicates of the same ID.

So, in 2005, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed legislation requiring new ID verification standards and procedures for people flying on commercial airlines, entering certain federal buildings and facilities, or traveling from countries for which a passport is not required. Millions of dollars in federal grants were authorized to help states comply.

In theory, state compliance was voluntary, but opting out promised massive headaches.

Now, 14 years later, Oklahoma is one of four states yet to comply. Officials say the state will be compliant by next spring, but there is one small complication: Oklahoma’s current deadline extension expires on Oct. 10.

Without an extension, Oklahoma’s current driver’s licenses and IDs will no longer be accepted for such things as boarding domestic air flights, entering federal buildings and installations, and traveling to neighboring countries.

As a practical matter, there is every reason to think Oklahoma’s new extension request will be granted. Homeland Security, while not commenting directly about Oklahoma, suggested that the remaining noncompliant states are safe as long as they continue good faith efforts to implement Real ID.

“The majority of states have already been determined to be fully compliant by DHS, and all the remaining states have committed to becoming compliant by October 2020,” said DHS spokesperson McLaurine Klingler. “The remaining noncompliant states are working closely with DHS to share their plans and schedules for implementing the Act. All the states granted extensions to the compliance deadline by DHS are participating in periodic program reviews with DHS and are making timely progress towards meeting the REAL ID requirements.”

And Oklahoma insists that it is making progress.

This comes as a great relief to many Oklahomans, but it may also leave them trying to remember what all the fuss and bother was about in the first place. After all, an entire generation has grown to adulthood since 9/11, and most discussion of Real ID during that time has been about what a hassle it is and whether it is Big Brother come to call.

The basic premise sounded simple enough — make people prove they are who they say they are before they can get into position to hijack planes or blow up buildings. The 2005 law set more than 30 criteria for compliance, including the examination, scanning and storage of verifying documents such as birth certificates.

In other words, applying for a Real ID card would be much like applying for a U.S. passport.

“The theory behind Real ID was not a bad one,” said Kim Carter, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent who is now director of the state Office of Homeland Security. “A lot of states were really loose with their verification.”

As an OSBI agent, Carter said, he investigated a black market ID scheme in Oklahoma that he reported to federal investigators after 9/11. He said nothing developed from the case on the terrorism end but that it illustrated the sort of market that existed for fraudulent and fake identification.

“If you can get a driver’s license in Texas, you can go to Texas and get one (using the Oklahoma license),” he said. “Then you can go to another state and get one.”

The idea behind Real ID was to make obtaining state-issued identification through fraudulent means more difficult.

But the idea of a “national ID card,” as it was being described, alarmed a lot of Americans. So did the reports that authorities would be gathering things such as DNA and retinal scans and that the radio frequency ID chip in the cards could be used to track the population.

Some said the chips were the “mark of the beast,” a biblical reference to the Antichrist.

No place was more concerned about Real ID than Oklahoma. In 2007, it enacted a law forbidding not only implementation but even official discussions of implementation. That law was not repealed until 2017, when Homeland Security finally withheld approval of a deadline extension.

Expense has also been a factor. At a time when Oklahoma was cutting state agencies as much as 40%, it was under pressure to spend millions of dollars on the technology needed to implement Real ID.

The Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for that implementation, said this week it isn’t sure what the final cost will be, but in 2016 the estimate was $13 million. Because Oklahoma waited so long to formally adopt Real ID, it missed out on the federal grants available earlier.

Somewhat ironically, Oklahoma’s current driver’s licenses meet almost all Real ID requirements. The big exception is emplacement of the technological network, which some people still view as overly intrusive.

Under the law Oklahoma ultimately adopted, those people — and those who just don’t want to go through the inconvenience of applying for compliant identification — will be able to continue getting driver’s licenses and ID cards similar to the ones issued now. The cards just won’t get them through federal security checkpoints at airports and other places.

After 15 years, the hope is that fewer terrorists and general bad guys will get through, too.

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