Residents seek healing as details emerge in grocery shooting

By TRAVIS LOLLER, JONATHAN MATTISE and MARK HUMPHREY

COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two women who had been strangers prior to Thursday’s mass shooting at a Tennessee supermarket clenched each other’s hands and fought back tears Friday, as they gathered at a vigil to pray for healing from the previous day’s rampage at a Kroger where the shooter worked.

Hollie Skaggs and Sara Wiles happened to be running errands at the same Kroger in Collierville. A day later, after a gunman killed one person and himself and wounded 14 others, Skaggs called Wiles her guardian angel.

“It’s been a very trying last few hours,” Skaggs said, her voice trembling. “Sara and I didn’t know each other before. But now, I told her from the beginning when we came out, she’s my guardian angel. I’m just grateful for her. We ran and hid and heard everything. It was very, very traumatic. We just ask that you pray for us for peace – and sleep. That’s one thing that’s kind of hard.”

The gunman, identified by police as UK Thang, worked in a sushi business at the store and was the son of refugees from Myanmar who had settled in Nashville, a family friend said.

Police have described Thang as a “third-party vendor” who worked at the Kroger in Collierville on a daily basis. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound within a couple of minutes of officers arriving at the Kroger in the upscale suburb outside of Memphis.

The victims included 10 employees and five customers, police said. On Friday, some of the wounded were still in critical condition and fighting for their lives, Collierville Police Chief Dale Lane said at a morning news conference.

Lane identified the woman who was killed as Olivia King. Friends told The Commercial Appeal she was a widowed mother of three.

On Facebook, one of King’s sons, Wes King, wrote that he had spoken to the trauma surgeon and learned his mother was shot in the chest.

“They tried to save her at the hospital to no avail,” he wrote. “I apologize for the graphic details, but this type of crime needs to stop being glossed over and sanitized. No one deserves this.”

Police searched the shooter’s home Thursday and removed electronic devices.

“We all want to know the why,” Lane said of the shooter’s motive. “But today, less than 24 hours (after the shooting), we’re not ready to tell you that.”

The shooter’s parents live in Nashville and are part of a community of Christian refugees from Myanmar who have settled there, according to Aung Kyaw, a friend of the family who came to pray with them at their home on Friday.

Kyaw said Thang had a sushi business that operated inside the Collierville Kroger, though he wasn’t sure what the arrangement was with the grocery store chain.

Kyaw said Thang’s parents were “very upset” about their son’s involvement and were praying for all the people involved.

“His mom is very sad,” Kyaw said. “She’s tired.”

Kyaw came to the door of the parents’ home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the Antioch area of Nashville. Kyaw said he did not know the son personally.

The shooter, acting alone, did not appear to target anyone specifically as he rampaged through the building on a sunny Thursday afternoon, police said. The entire shooting was over within minutes as first responders swarmed the scene.

Lane said the outcome could have been worse. Police received a call around 1:30 p.m. about the shooting and arrived almost immediately, finding multiple people with gunshot wounds upon entering the building, he said.

He said officers of every rank ran into the building and were joined by off-duty firefighters.

“Nobody wants to go into that scene, I can promise you,” Lane said. “I mean, there were bloody people running out of that building, and there was not one blue uniform that hesitated, from the bottom all the way up. We’re in there trying to help.”

Jason Lusk, 39, had just left a tool store beside Kroger when he heard some women screaming in the parking lot about a shooter. He didn’t see the gunman, but heard 10 to 15 rounds in rapid succession at the grocery store.

“It sounded like they were directly over my head,” he said, adding he could feel the concussion of every shot and knew the weapon was powerful.

“As the firing started, I dove in front of my vehicle onto the ground to provide the most cover for myself and instructed the people around me panicking, trying to get into the cars, not to get in their cars, but to actually hide,” he said.

Earlier this year, Tennessee became the latest state to allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns without first clearing a state-level background check and training. The measure was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee over objections from some law enforcement groups and gun control advocates concerned the measure would possibly lead to more gun violence.

Lee said Friday that the new law strengthened penalties that come into play when violent crime occurs.

“The constitutional carry bill applies to law-abiding citizens,” he said. “What happened yesterday was criminal activity, violent criminal gun activity. And those are separate issues. The constitutional carry piece of legislation we passed, in fact, strengthened penalties for violent gun criminals, and we need to continue to find ways to attack violence and violent crime and we’ll keep doing that.”

The Kroger Co., based in Cincinnati, Ohio, issued a statement Friday confirming that the shooter was a third-party vendor but declined to provide additional details.

The Collierville store will be closed until further notice but will continue to provide pay and other support to employees, the statement said.

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Mattise and Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Associated Press writer Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

US implores Iran to return to nuke talks without delay

By MATTHEW LEE

NEW YORK (AP) — The Biden administration is imploring Iran to quickly return to talks on its nuclear program after a three-month hiatus caused by its government transition, warning that the window for negotiations may soon close.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a senior administration official said Thursday that U.S. patience is wearing thin and that further delays while Iran continues to expand its atomic capabilities could lead Washington and its partners to conclude a return to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal is no longer worthwhile.

“We don’t have yet an agreement by Iran to return to the talks in Vienna,” Blinken said. “We are very much prepared to return to Vienna and continue the talks. The question is whether, and if so when, Iran is prepared to do that.”

Blinken and the senior official, who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified by name, spoke as diplomats from the remaining parties to the agreement have been meeting Iran’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly to gauge Tehran’s willingness to return to the talks.

While Iran has said it is ready to rejoin the talks, it has not yet offered a date for a resumption, named a negotiating team or indicated that it is willing to pick up where the negotiations left off in June, according to the officials.

In discussions with representatives from the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union — the officials said all of them had agreed on the importance of resuming the talks as soon as possible.

If the talks don’t resume, the officials said the U.S. would at some point determine that Iran was no longer interested in the benefits that the accord offered or that its recent technological advances could not be undone by the limits it imposed.

“The possibility of getting back to mutual compliance is not indefinite,” Blinken said. “And the challenge right now is that with every passing day, as Iran continues to take actions that are not in compliance with the agreement … we will get to a point at some point in the future at which simply returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA will not recapture the benefits.”

The UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly in violation of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, which former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018. The U.S. has participated indirectly in the Vienna talks, which were aimed at bringing both Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the deal.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, met Tuesday with Iran’s new foreign minister, who reiterated Tehran’s “willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the EU said. Borrell then met Wednesday with Blinken.

Borrell stressed “the need for full cooperation” from Iran and reiterated his concern about the overall trajectory of the Iranian nuclear program,” the EU statement said.

The last round of talks in Vienna ended in June, ahead of Iran’s elections that boosted the ranks of hard-liners. There had been speculation that the remaining parties to the deal would meet on the sidelines of this week’s U.N. General Assembly. But the U.S. official said Iran had declined the opportunity to meet.

U.S. Open of Surfing: Tricky waves, winds challenge competitors on Day 3

Surfers faced small, bumpy and tricky surf conditions on Wednesday, Sept. 22, as the U.S. Open of Surfing contest continues on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

The field of competitors was whittled down throughout Day 3 of surfing. But several Orange County surfers made the best of the wind-whipped waves and advanced to the next round, including two-time U.S. Open of Surfing champ Courtney Conlogue, who kicked off the action when the women hit the water early in the day.

“It’s grindy,” said Conlogue, who didn’t post a sizable score until the final minutes of the heat, having to move to the inside section to find waves. She won the heat with a 7.13 total score (out of 20)

  • Jack Robinson surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Griffin Colapinto of the United States surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Patrick Gadauskas of the United States surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • India Robinson and Zoe McDougall, from left, high five after their heat in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A scaled-down vender area is on display at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, CA on Wednesday, September 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Kolohe Andino of the United States surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Lakey Peterson surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Patrick Gadauskas of the United States surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Joshua Moniz takes a photo with a fan during the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Courtney Conlogue surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Fans sit on the beach for the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, CA on Wednesday, September 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jack Robinson surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Hinako Kurokawa of Japan gets ready for her heat in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Joshua Moniz surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Courtney Conlogue surfs in the U.S. Open of Surfing at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA on Monday, September 22, 2021.
    The competition field is 96 men and 64 women, including some of the top 34 men and 17 women from the World Championship Tour. The World Surf League Challenger Series events allow up-and-coming surfers a chance to earn points to make it onto the next year’s World Tour and also gives World Tour surfers a safety net if they are in danger of falling out of the top rankings. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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She had to adjust and adapt, she said.

“The tide was maxing out,” she said. “It was pretty weak out there. I’m super happy to get through.”

Conlogue, from Santa Ana, talked about how important it was to be surfing at the event, which she’s entered since she was 11 or 12, she said.

“It’s my grassroots event,” she said. “This is where it all started for me, where I drew inspiration from and where I get my drive from.”

The waves got better through the afternoon as the tide dropped, despite the strong wind that showed up.

San Clemente’s Pat Gudauskas was able to earn a 6.40 and a 6.37, saying it was all about wave selection.

“The wind flared up right before my heat, got real tricky looking,” he said.

Long Beach’s Nolan Rapoza was up against three Brazilians, including Alejo Muniz, who won the event in 2013.

Rapoza took to the air and followed up with two big turns to post a 7.17, backing it up with a 5.57. It was his best performance yet – previous years he got knocked out in the first round.

“The last few days I’ve felt confident, I feel like I can take down anyone at this point,” he said.

Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau used his power surfing in the small waves to earn the win, knocking San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino to second spot, both surfers advancing to the next round. World Championship Tour surfer Conner Coffin, of Santa Barbara, was edged out of the event.

Lau was stopped on the sand by fans taking selfies before talking about his experience winning “The Ultimate Surfer” reality show, which had its finale aired Tuesday night.

“It feels great, it was an awesome experience for me, something way out-of-the-box and my comfort zone,” he said. “I look back now and it was amazing, obviously because I won, but being able to compete when nothing else was going on.”

Even though he’s earned three wildcard spots for next year’s World Tour through the reality show contest, he wants to do well at the US Open of Surfing and other contests on the horizon to earn a spot full-time on tour.

“I want to qualify any which way I can,” he said. “When I did the Ultimate Surfer, it was a chance to get on quicker, but here I am at the Challenger Series. I’m looking to qualify and win a QS, that’s my goal and what I’m setting out to do.”

Coronavirus: Orange County reported 433 new cases and three more deaths, Sept. 21

The OC Health Care Agency reported 433 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, Sept. 21, increasing the cumulative total since tracking began in the county to 294,308.

There have been 5,707 new infections reported in the last 14 days.

There were 311 people with confirmed cases of the virus reported in Orange County hospitals on Tuesday, 95 of whom needed to be in an intensive care unit.

Three more deaths were reported as of Tuesday, increasing the count of those who have died from the virus in Orange County to 5,355.

The data on deaths in the county is compiled from death certificates or gathered through the course of case investigations and can take weeks to process. The most recent death recorded was on Sept. 11.

The county update said 4,947,835 tests have been given for the coronavirus since testing began locally, with at least 10,025 new tests administered since the previous report.

It is estimated 278,641 people have recovered from the virus as of Tuesday. The count of people who have recovered is based on the prior 28-day cumulative case count.

Data posted each day is preliminary and subject to change, officials emphasize. More information may become available as individual case investigations are completed.

You can find the Orange County Health Care Agency dashboard here.

Biden aims to increase raise refugee cap to 125,000

By Mica Rosenberg and Lisa Lambert | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration wants to nearly double the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 125,000 in the upcoming fiscal year starting on Oct. 1 in keeping with a campaign promise, according to a statement from the State Department.

The State Department will consult with the Department of Homeland Security and Congress to lift the cap, which was set at 62,500 for the 2020 fiscal year ending this month, the statement said.

The plan to dramatically increase refugee admissions comes at a time when tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are on U.S. military bases awaiting resettlement in the United States. Many still at risk were left behind in the chaotic final days of the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Biden, a Democrat, who took office in January, promised to reverse course after his predecessor Republican President Donald Trump cut the refugee cap to just 15,000, the lowest level in the history of the modern refugee program.

Biden initially left that level in place, but backtracked in the face of criticism from immigration advocates.

Biden has struggled with mixed messaging on immigration. Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are at 20-year highs, and most recently, thousands of mainly Haitian migrants have set up a makeshift encampment under an international bridge in southern Texas.

The refugee program is distinct from the asylum system, since refugees typically apply for relief abroad, are vetted extensively and then are given legal status and resources to establish themselves in the United States.

Asylum seekers can present themselves to border agents and claim fear of return, triggering a long U.S. court process. But since March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic most border crossers have been rapidly expelled under a public health order without a chance to apply for asylum.

Reuters writer Kristina Cooke contributed to this report.