News brief: parade shooting, landmark opioid lawsuit, Shireen Abu Akleh's death
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
A July 4 parade became a scene of mass panic as people fled a shooter spraying bullets from a rooftop in Highland Park, Ill. At least six people were killed and dozens injured.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
There have been at least 313 mass shootings in this country since the beginning of the year. That's according to the Gun Violence Archive. Jessica Antes (ph), a comedian, was co-hosting yesterday's event when she heard shots rang out.
JESSICA ANTES: We were, like, 10, 15 minutes into it. And literally, my co-host, Ryan (ph) and I, we looked at each other. We're like, that's got to be fireworks, right? And then we saw people just scattering and screaming.
MARTÍNEZ: Hours later, police made an arrest.
FADEL: NPR's Cheryl Corley has been following all of this, what happened, and joins us now. Hi, Cheryl.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Hi.
FADEL: What do we know about the person police arrested and what they suspect he did?
CORLEY: Well, police identified Robert "Bobby" Crimo - he's 21 - as a person of interest. And the shooting occurred shortly after 10 o'clock in the morning. And the police issued a description of Crimo and the car he was driving. That proved to be very crucial. He's white with long, dark hair. And the authorities said he was driving a silver Honda Fit. And Highland Park Police Chief Lou Jogmen says about 8 hours after the shooting occurred, a police officer in another suburb saw the car, pulled it over for a traffic stop and called in other officers when the driver fled.
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LOU JOGMEN: A brief pursuit went on. Ultimately, they were able to get the subject stopped. The subject was taken into custody without incident.
CORLEY: And Jogmen says, besides questioning Crimo, they're continuing to examine information from the crime scene, along with digital information and other details, as part of determining what charges, if any, will be filed.
FADEL: So at least six people killed at a July 4 parade, where people take their children and celebrate. Dozens more were injured. What do we know about who was killed and about the man police are questioning?
CORLEY: Well, some of the deceased are being identified on social media. For example, one of those killed was a Mexican national, Nicolas Toledo. That information comes from a Twitter announcement posted by Mexico's director of North American affairs. And the wounded ranged in age from 8 to 85, mostly adults, but including four or five children. Many were treated and released. And the information that police provided about the person of interest is limited, but what we know about Robert Crimo is that he is or was an aspiring rapper who goes by the name Awake the Rapper. He has several videos online, had a presence on social media, and some of those videos are pretty ominous and violent.
FADEL: How is the community dealing with this act of violence?
CORLEY: Well, as you might imagine, it's very intense. People were scared. They were angry. Highland Park is a close-knit community, many affluent residents. I spoke with Alexander Sandoval, who went to the parade with his family and their dog. He called it terrifying.
ALEXANDER SANDOVAL: I put my son and my little brother and the puppy in the garbage dumpster, and I ran back to look for my partner. And I saw people on the ground shot. And, you know, all I wanted to do was get my phone, call, make sure that we would get reunited and just get out of there.
CORLEY: And President Biden a few days ago signed a gun violence bill passed by Congress, sent his condolences, said he was shocked by the violence.
FADEL: NPR's Cheryl Corley. Thank you, Cheryl.
CORLEY: You're welcome.
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FADEL: In a landmark opioid case in West Virginia, a federal judge ruled that three major drug distributors are not responsible for funding the treatment programs for the addiction crisis.
MARTÍNEZ: It's a major victory for the drug industry, and it's a setback to local officials who say corporations flooded their community with highly addictive pain pills.
FADEL: NPR's addiction correspondent Brian Mann has been following this case. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So, Brian, remind us what these companies were accused of doing and what local governments were asking for.
MANN: So this lawsuit involved Cabell County in the city of Huntington in West Virginia. These are places absolutely devastated by the opioid crisis. I've actually spent time there, Leila, over the last couple of years and seen the high rates of addiction and overdose, whole families and neighborhoods really ravaged. And government officials tried to make the case that these big drug distributors - AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson - kept sending more and more of these highly addictive pain pills to pharmacies there long after it was clear there was this deadly crisis. Communities also presented evidence suggesting the companies didn't put enough safeguards in place to stop suspicious orders of opioids - attorneys for the communities arguing, in effect, these companies contributed to the opioid crisis, so they should have to pay billions of dollars to help clean it up.
FADEL: Now, there was no jury in this trial. It was decided by a judge. What did he say?
MANN: Yeah. So federal Judge David Faber heard this case almost a year ago and finally issued his ruling yesterday on the holiday, 4th of July. And he acknowledged these communities have been hit hard by opioids, but then he flatly rejected their legal arguments. He said they failed to prove any specific acts by these companies caused the oversupply of opioids. He points out doctors wrote prescriptions for these pills. And Judge Faber also says there wasn't clear evidence that negligence by the companies allowed opioid pills to wind up on the black market. And I want to read from the ruling here. (Reading) While there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, Faber writes, they must be decided based not on sympathy but on the facts and the law. So, Leila, that means these companies won't pay anything.
FADEL: So they won't pay. What happens to these communities?
MANN: Yeah, it's going to be hard. The opioid crisis has gotten worse over the last couple of years - 107,000 overdose deaths nationwide last year alone. A lot of people have been switching from prescription pain pills to heroin and then fentanyl, which means more overdoses and deaths. So these communities don't have the money to pay for all the addiction services and health care and foster care and other programs that might help. The mayor of Huntington, Steve Williams, said in a statement late yesterday that this decision is a blow to his city, and he again claimed that these companies - and I'm quoting here - are "part of a powerful industry responsible for fueling the epidemic."
FADEL: Now, you've described this as a landmark case. What will this ruling mean in other opioid cases across the country?
MANN: Yeah. AmerisourceBergen issued a statement yesterday praising the decision. And it is clearly a huge victory for the drug industry. There are thousands of opioid lawsuits underway right now, another one slated to get underway in West Virginia this morning. This trial in federal court was what's known as a bellwether test case. So the outcome is a blow to communities all over the U.S. that have been trying to use similar legal arguments to the ones used by Huntington in Cabell County. What we've seen here, Leila, in this decision is that proving patterns of wrongdoing by Big Pharma, holding companies accountable, it's extremely hard to do.
FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann. Thank you so much.
MANN: Thank you.
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FADEL: U.S. officials looking into the killing of a Palestinian American journalist in the occupied West Bank says that an Israeli soldier is likely responsible for her killing.
MARTÍNEZ: But the U.S. says the investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh is still inconclusive and that it does not appear that she was intentionally targeted. The Al Jazeera correspondent was shot in May while covering an Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank. The U.S. statement came after an examination of the fatal bullet, but more questions remain.
FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Tel Aviv. Hi, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So, Daniel, tell us more about what the U.S. has concluded about the killing of a U.S. citizen.
ESTRIN: Well, it was a high-profile case of an American citizen, as you say, a veteran journalist, and it's been a saga. There have been multiple investigations from media outlets, from the U.N., that said evidence points to Israel killing her, but Israel claims maybe it was our soldier; maybe it was a Palestinian gunman. And so that's why the U.S. got involved - because members of Congress were pressing for the State Department to do more. And, you know, President Biden is visiting here next week, and the impression is that the U.S. wanted this resolved before his trip. So the U.S. pressed Palestinian officials to hand over the fatal bullet. The U.S. oversaw an Israeli examination, but they said the bullet was too damaged to match it to any weapon. What the U.S. did say is that it reviewed official Israeli and Palestinian investigations of what happened that day, and the U.S. came to the conclusion that it was likely an Israeli soldier who shot her but found no reason to believe the soldier shot her intentionally.
FADEL: But has it resolved anything, these conclusions? Have the Israelis and Palestinians accepted what the State Department concluded?
ESTRIN: Instead of coming to a resolution, it just keeps questions open. Israel is not ready to accept the U.S. conclusion that it was likely an Israeli soldier. Israel overlooked that part of the U.S. statement. But the U.S. and Israeli statements on this were coordinated. They came out around the same time. And Israel seems intent on putting this to rest. Palestinian officials are unhappy with the U.S. claim that the evidence is inconclusive. They say, don't just focus on the bullet; there's many other sources of evidence. And it's just reinforced a lack of trust among Palestinians, I hear, in America's ability to hold Israel accountable. You know, behind the scenes, I spoke to some in Israel's human rights community who said they discussed this case with the U.S. ambassador here, who said he seemed convinced Israel was responsible. He said he was hoping that a test of the bullet would put the issue to rest, and it hasn't yet.
FADEL: So what are the next steps when it comes to accountability, answering questions about this killing?
ESTRIN: Well, Israel says it's building models to reconstruct the event and later will decide whether to open a criminal investigation. But, you know, the army here, like most armies in the world, does not have a track record for charging its own soldiers in, you know, what they consider to be combat situations. The U.S. says it will urge accountability. It's unclear what steps come next. But I spoke to Shireen Abu Akleh's brother, Anton, and he said the U.S. should be taking a stronger stand and press Israel for accountability and said he feels Israel's interests are taking precedent.
FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Daniel.
ESTRIN: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.