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July 27, 2018

The number of firearm-related homicides increased 31 percent between 2014 and 2016, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

While firearms have long been the top weapon used in homicides across the U.S., the number remained fairly stable between 2010 and 2014. But from 2014 to 2016, firearm-related homicides increased from 11,008 instances to 14,415. Guns were involved in eight times as many homicides as the next most frequent method, cutting and piercing.

Recent polls show that gun control is one of the most important issues that voters are considering as they decide who to support in the upcoming midterm elections. One in four people polled an NBC News survey said that guns were one of their top two concerns. See more data at the CDC. Summer Meza

February 7, 2018

Sexual assault reports at the West Point military academy doubled last year from the year prior, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. In total, 50 incidents were reported over the 2016-2017 school year, compared to 26 in 2015-2016.

The data was published in an as-yet unreleased report viewed by AP. The number of sexual assaults reported at West Point has increased for four consecutive years, AP noted, starting with the 2013-2014 school year. West Point is the nation's preeminent institution for Army hopefuls; two other major academies, for the Navy and Air Force, saw "only slight increases" in sexual assault reports, AP said.

After an anonymous survey taken in 2017 discovered that sexual assault and misconduct at the U.S.'s various military schools is underreported, administrators at the West Point campus in New York took "proactive and deliberate initiatives" to make it easier for victims to speak out. One such reform, AP said, was to allow for anonymous reporting that did not go through official channels.

West Point officials thus argue that the increased incidence of reports may actually be a sign of progress. "I'm very encouraged by the reporting," said West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen. The school also relocated its sexual assault reporting office to a more convenient and discreet location on campus, AP noted, in hopes of being more amenable to victims.

Still, AP remains skeptical that the jump in reports is a reflection of outreach, not assaults. "The dramatic and consistent increases may suggest more assaults are happening," AP writes. Read more at The Associated Press. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 19, 2018

Investigators still do not know why Stephen Paddock shot and killed 58 people during an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas last October, CBS News reports. In a press conference Friday, authorities conceded that three months of investigation had not yielded any findings on Paddock's motivations, though Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo did emphasize that Paddock acted alone and that his girlfriend — who was at one point suspected of helping him — would not be charged with any crime.

During the press conference, Lombardo also discussed a newly released 81-page report that examined Paddock's actions in the months leading up to the shooting, which was the deadliest in modern American history. The evidence indicated Paddock had been planning an attack for a while; investigators found he purchased over 50 firearms in the 12 months leading up to the shooting, and that he had studied the response strategies of various law enforcement departments.

Lombardo noted that "disturbing" internet searches Paddock had conducted indicated he may have considered carrying out the attack at other concerts or at beaches in California, CBS News reported. Investigators also found child pornography on Paddock's computer.

Read the full report at the Las Vegas Review Journal. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 6, 2018

Tina Johnson, who accused former Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of groping her in 1991, had her house and belongings destroyed in a fire earlier this week. The Gadsden, Alabama, blaze is being investigated as possible arson. No one was hurt in the fire, but Johnson told Friday that her family had lost everything. "We have just the clothes on our backs," she said. Fire officials said they have a suspect of interest, but that so far, the fire does not appear related to Moore. Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, lost last month's special Senate election to Democrat Doug Jones after several women, including Johnson, came forward accusing him of unwanted sexual advances or assault. He has denied the accusations. Jessica Hullinger

December 21, 2017

Scientists have recently discovered an affliction that could seriously threaten the global snake population, Gizmodo reports. A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances describes the ailment — a potentially deadly fungal infection that originates with a bacteria known as ophidiomyces ophidiodiicola — and claims that snake species all over the world could be vulnerable to its harms.

When a snake is infected by the bacteria, there are effectively only two choices: death, or a dangerous recovery process. Deadly lesions will quickly cover the body of an infected snake, and the only way to fight off the infection is for the snake to molt, or shed its skin. But molting isn't exactly a simple process; most snakes spend one or two weeks shedding their skin, meaning expulsion of the infection by molting may not happen sufficiently quickly.

Molting can be accelerated with exposure to sunlight, Gizmodo's George Dvorsky notes, but the trade-off there is that lounging in the sun exposes snakes to attacks from hungry animals. Additionally, most snakes eat infrequently while they molt — if they eat at all.

"First responders shouldn't just be looking for certain types of snakes," said Frank Burbrink, the lead author of the study. "All snakes could become infected, or already are infected."

If there is any good news here, it's that currently only 26 type of snakes are known to be infected worldwide, out of Earth's 3,000-plus snake species. Read the entire study at Science Advances. Kelly O'Meara Morales

August 9, 2016

Thai Olympian Sinphet Kruaithong's grandmother died Sunday just minutes after his family watched him win the bronze medal, several media outlets are reporting.

The Bangkok Post says Subin Khongthap, whose age has been reported as 82 or 84, was at an Olympics viewing party when she fainted. Khongthap gained consciousness after Kruaithong, 20, won the bronze in the 56kg weightlifting event, and was then taken to a hospital where she later died, Sports Illustrated reports. "The initial assumption is that she died from heart failure, but we have to wait for the hospital's result," a local police officer told Agence France-Presse. "I'm not sure if she was too excited, or if maybe she was already ill." Catherine Garcia

July 7, 2016

The San Diego County medical examiner ruled the death of James Derek Lovelace, 21, during Navy SEAL training a homicide.

Lovelace was participating in a training exercise May 6 in the pool area of the Naval Amphibious Base on Coronado when he was observed in distress in the water, the autopsy report, released Wednesday, states. During the exercise, an unnamed Navy instructor repeatedly dunked him underwater over the course of five minutes, the report says, something that SEAL instructors are not supposed to do. The report concluded that while the incident could be viewed as an accident, "actions, or inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death."

Only 25 percent of candidates make it through the grueling six-month SEAL course without dropping out, and Lovelace, of Crestview, Florida, was in his first week. The pool training is called "combat swimmer orientation," and the candidates must swim and tread water while wearing masks, boots, and fatigues. Lovelace previously had been treated for asthma and a heart abnormality, which the report says could have been a contributing factor in his death. While Lovelace is at least the fifth SEAL candidate to die during training in the last three decades, this is believed to be the first time a candidate's death has been ruled a homicide, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Navy is still investigating the incident and has not yet decided if charges will be filed. Catherine Garcia

June 30, 2016

Authorities in Montana are searching for a grizzly bear they say attacked and killed a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer as he biked through the Flathead National Forest outside of Glacier National Park Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said Brad Treat, 38, was fatally attacked at around 2 p.m. while riding on a trail with another person. "It appears they likely surprised the bear and Treat was taken off his bike by the bear," Curry said. The other rider was able to escape uninjured, ABC News reports. Treat was pronounced dead at the scene. It's rare for a bear to attack in the area, and since Glacier National Park was established in 1910, park officials say there have been 10 bear-related human deaths. Catherine Garcia

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