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Russia frees captive medic who filmed Mariupol’s horror

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A celebrated Ukrainian medic whose footage was smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol by an Associated Press team was freed by Russian forces on Friday, three months after she was taken captive on the streets of the city.

Yuliia Paievska is known in Ukraine as Taira, a nickname she chose in the World of Warcraft video game. Using a body camera, she recorded 256 gigabytes of her team’s efforts over two weeks to save the wounded, including both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers.

She transferred the clips to an Associated Press team, the last international journalists in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, one of whom fled with it embedded in a tampon on March 15. Taira and a colleague were taken prisoner by Russian forces on March 16, the same day a Russian airstrike hit a theater in the city center, killing around 600 people, according to an Associated Press investigation.

“It was such a great sense of relief. Those sound like such ordinary words, and I don’t even know what to say,” her husband, Vadim Puzanov, told The Associated Press late Friday, breathing deeply to contain his emotion. Puzanov said he spoke by phone with Taira, who was en route to a Kyiv hospital, and feared for her health.

Initially the family had kept quiet, hoping negotiations would take their course. But The Associated Press spoke with him before releasing the smuggled videos, which ultimately had millions of viewers around the world, including on some of the biggest networks in Europe and the United States. Puzanov expressed gratitude for the coverage, which showed Taira was trying to save Russian soldiers as well as Ukrainian civilians.

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Jan. 6 hearings: What we’ve learned, and what’s next

WASHINGTON (AP) — In its first three hearings, the House panel investigating the Capitol insurrection has laid out the beginnings of its case against former President Donald Trump — that his lies about the 2020 election, and his pressure on his vice president to overturn it, directly led to the violence on Jan. 6, 2021.

The committee’s June hearings — at least two more are scheduled — come after a yearlong probe and more than 1,000 interviews. The panel has featured both live witnesses and video, including from interviews with many of Trump’s closest advisers who tried to dissuade him from his efforts to stay in power. The committee has also showed video from the violent attack that day, some of which had never been seen before.

In methodically laying out their initial findings, members of the nine-member panel say they are trying to remind a weary public of what was at stake that day, and what could have happened if Vice President Mike Pence and others had not rebuffed Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat. They are also compiling a huge trove of evidence that the Justice Department wants to use in its own investigations.

A rundown of what we’ve learned so far from the public hearings of the select Jan. 6 committee — and what’s next:

PENCE UNDER PRESSURE

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FDA authorizes 1st COVID-19 shots for infants, preschoolers

U.S. regulators on Friday authorized the first COVID-19 shots for infants and preschoolers, paving the way for vaccinations to begin next week.

The Food and Drug Administration’s action follows its advisory panel’s unanimous recommendation for the shots from Moderna and Pfizer. That means U.S. kids under 5 — roughly 18 million youngsters — are eligible for the shots. The nation’s vaccination campaign began about 1 1/2 years ago with older adults, the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s one step left: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends how to use vaccines. Its independent advisers began debating the two-dose Moderna and the three-dose Pfizer vaccines on Friday and will make its recommendation Saturday. A final signoff is expected soon after from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

At a Senate hearing Thursday, Walensky said her staff was working over the Juneteenth federal holiday weekend “because we understand the urgency of this for American parents.”

She said pediatric deaths from COVID-19 have been higher than what is generally seen from the flu each year.

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Gunman kills 3 seniors over potluck dinner at Alabama church

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (AP) — The 70-year-old visitor had previously attended some services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church before police say he showed up for a potluck dinner, pulled out a handgun and fatally shot three of the elderly participants, one of whom died in his wife’s arms as she whispered words of love in his ear.

Church members were spared further violence Thursday evening when one of them rushed the gunman, struck him with a chair and held him until police arrived, a former pastor said. The suspect, Robert Findlay Smith, was charged with capital murder Friday, the Jefferson County district attorney announced.

The baffling violence in a wealthy suburb of Birmingham stunned a community known for its family-centered lifestyle. It also deepened the unease in a nation still reeling from recent slaughter wrought by gunmen who attacked a Texas school, a New York grocery store and another church in California.

“Why would a guy who’s been around for a while suddenly decide he would go to a supper and kill somebody?” said the Rev. Doug Carpenter, St. Stephen’s pastor for three decades before he retired in 2005. “It doesn’t make sense.”

All three shooting victims were members attending a monthly dinner at the church, said Carpenter, who still attends Sunday services there but wasn’t present Thursday night. A Facebook post referred to the gathering as a “Boomers Potluck.”

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Russian TV shows videos of 2 US vets captured in Ukraine

Russian state television showed video Friday of two U.S. military veterans who went missing last week while fighting in Ukraine, confirming that the men were taken captive and raising fears about their fate.

Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, both from Alabama, were believed to be the first Americans captured by Russian forces since the war began on Feb. 24.

Drueke, speaking into the camera from what appeared to be an office, sent a message to his mother, concluding with a quick wink.

“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and I hope to be back home as soon as I can be. So, love Diesel for me. Love you.” Diesel is his dog, a mastiff.

His aunt, Dianna Shaw, said the video included both a key word and a gesture that Drueke and his mother had set up during one of his two tours in Iraq so she would know that it was indeed him and that he was OK.

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Ukraine gets possible path to EU, aid pledges from Britain

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The European Union’s executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership Friday, a symbolic boost for a country fending off a Russian onslaught that is killing civilians, flattening cities and threatening its very survival.

In another show of Western support, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv to offer continued aid and military training.

The European allies’ latest embrace of Ukraine marked another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago, hoping to pull his ex-Soviet neighbor away from the West and back into Russia’s sphere of influence.

At Russia’s showpiece economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin said Moscow “has nothing against” Ukraine joining the EU, because it “isn’t a military organization, a political organization like NATO.” He also reprised his usual defense of the war, alleging it was necessary to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and to ensure Russia’s own security.

Johnson’s trip to Kyiv followed one Thursday by the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania, who pledged to support Ukraine without asking it to make any territorial concessions to Russia.

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Screams, threats as New Mexico counties certify vote

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A standoff over the security of voting machines between a Republican-leaning county in New Mexico and Democratic state officials that threatened to erupt into a wider political crisis was defused Friday after local commissioners voted to certify their election results.

The move by the Otero County commission reversed an earlier decision against certifying results of the June 7 primary because of unspecified concerns with Dominion voting systems, a target of widespread conspiracy theories since the 2020 presidential election.

The two commissioners who voted in favor said they had been threatened with prosecution by the state attorney general and had no choice under the law — but criticized their position as being little more than rubber stamps.

Commissioner Couy Griffin was the lone dissenting vote, but acknowledged that he had no basis for questioning the results of the election. He dialed in to the meeting because he was in Washington, D.C., where hours before he had been sentenced for entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“My vote to remain a ‘no’ isn’t based on any evidence. It’s not based on any facts,” Griffin said, nevertheless requesting a hand recount of ballots. “It’s only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition.”

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Brazil police: Remains found those of British journalist

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Federal police said Friday that human remains found in Brazil’s remote Amazon have been identified as belonging to British journalist Dom Phillips, who went missing almost two weeks ago along with a Brazilian Indigenous expert in a case that drew world attention.

Additional remains found at the site near the city of Atalaia do Norte have not yet been identified but are expected to belong to Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, 41. The pair were last seen June 5 on their boat on the Itaquai river, near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia.

“The confirmation (of Phillips’ remains) was made based on dental examinations and anthropological forensics,” Federal Police said in a statement. “Work is ongoing for a complete identification of the remains so we can determine the cause of death, and also the dynamics of the crime and the hiding of the bodies.”

The remains were found Wednesday after fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, confessed he killed Phillips, 57, and Pereira, and led police to the site were the remains were found. He told officers he used a firearm to commit the crime.

Police also arrested Pelado’s brother, fisherman Oseney da Costa de Oliveira.

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Bill Cosby civil trial jury must start deliberations over

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — After two days of deliberations in which they reached verdicts on nearly all of the questions put before them, jurors in a civil trial who were deciding on sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby will have to start from scratch on Monday.

By the end of the court day Friday, the Los Angeles County jury had come to agreement on whether Cosby had sexually assaulted plaintiff Judy Huth at the Playboy Mansion when she was 16 in 1975, and whether Huth deserved any damages. In all they had answered eight of nine questions on their verdict form, all but one that asked whether Cosby acted in a way that should require punitive damages.

Judge Craig Karlan, who had promised one juror when she agreed to serve that she could leave after Friday for a prior commitment, decided over the objections of Cosby’s attorneys to accept and read the verdict on the questions the jury had answered. But he had to change course when deputies at the Santa Monica Courthouse appeared and required him to clear the courtroom. The courthouse has a required closure time of 4:30 p.m. because of no budget for deputies’ overtime

Karlan refused to require the departing juror, who had been chosen as foreperson, to return on Monday, so jurors will have to begin again with an alternate in her place.

“I won’t go back on my word,” Karlan said.

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SpaceX reported to fire employees critical of CEO Elon Musk

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (AP) — SpaceX, the rocket ship company run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has fired several employees involved in an open letter that blasted the colorful billionaire for his behavior, according to media reports.

The reports published Friday cited an email from Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, saying the company had terminated employees who put together and circulated the letter. The letter writers denounced Musk for actions that they said are a “frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks.”

The New York Times was the first outlet to report the purge, based on information from three employees familiar with the situation. The employees were not named.

It’s unclear how many SpaceX workers lost their jobs, but Shotwell left no doubt that the company believed they had crossed an unacceptable line.

“The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell wrote in her email, according to the Times . “”We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”