Feds investigating whether Jussie Smollett played a role in sending threatening letter sent to 'Empire' studios addressed to him

tupungato/iStock(CHICAGO) -- The FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service are currently investigating whether Jussie Smollett played a role in sending a threatening letter addressed to him at "Empire’s" Chicago studio prior to the alleged attack, two federal officials confirm to ABC News.

The accusation, made by the two brothers who were persons of interest, has not been confirmed.

The letter, which was sent Jan. 22, is currently in the FBI crime lab for analysis, one of the sources said.

The latest in this ever-changing story comes hours after the two brothers claimed they helped Smollett concoct the alleged assault after he became upset that a letter threatening him, sent to the "Empire" show's studio, did not get enough attention, sources told ABC News on Monday.

Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo have also told investigators that Smollett paid them to help him orchestrate and stage the Jan. 29 attack that he said occurred near his Chicago apartment, sources said.

Detectives are actively investigating the account of Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, but thus far police have not independently verified the allegations, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told ABC News.

The Osundairo brothers agreed to cooperate with authorities after detectives confronted them with evidence that they bought the rope -- allegedly used in an attack that Smollett described to police as laced with racial and homophobic slurs -- at a Chicago hardware store, sources said.

No one has been charged in connection with the case.

A spokesperson for Smollett said Monday the actor's attorneys are keeping an active dialogue going with Chicago police on behalf of the actor.

Smollett told police that on Jan. 29, he was walking on a street near his apartment when he was attacked by two men. The attackers allegedly shouted racist and homophobic slurs before hitting him, pouring “an unknown chemical substance” on him — possibly bleach — and wrapping a rope around his neck, he told detectives.

“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with," Smollett attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a separate statement Saturday. "He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

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Fate of Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago in jeopardy after judge rules lawsuit can move forward

Scott Olson/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Construction of the $500 million Barack Obama Presidential Center in a historic Chicago park was dealt a major setback on Tuesday when a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by park advocates to stop the project can move forward.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blakey rejected a request by the city of Chicago to toss the lawsuit filed by the group Protect Our Parks.

In its lawsuit, Protect Our Parks claimed the city and the Chicago Park District violated statutes dating back to the 1800s that bar private development in public parks along Lake Michigan.

Blakey, who was nominated to the federal court by Obama in 2014, heard arguments in the case last week. Blakey ruled that Protect Our Parks has standing to sue because it represents taxpayers who are concerned that providing park land in the public trust to the Obama Presidential Center violates their due-process rights.

The judge dismissed a claim that the center violates the First Amendment right of taxpayers who disagree with Obama's "political, environmental, or educational initiatives" yet will be forced to pay a new real estate tax to support the center.

The judge warned both sides that he does not want to see the litigation dragged out and that he wants a trial to begin in 45 days.

The private nonprofit Obama Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., had hoped to break ground on the project this year.

The Obama Presidential Center is slated to be built on 20 acres inside historic Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago near an economically depressed area of the city where the 44th president of the United States got his start as a community organizer.

"The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of Chicago. It will bring transformative investment to the South Side, create hundreds of permanent jobs, and inspire young Chicagoans and people from across the world to follow the lead of Barack and Michelle Obama," Ed Siskel, corporation counsel for the city of Chicago, said in a statement following Blakey's ruling.

"We are pleased that the court dismissed some of the claims and made clear that the proceedings will move forward expeditiously," Siskel said.

In a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for the Obama Foundation said, "As we have said before, we believe the lawsuit is without merit."

"We are confident that our plan for the Obama Presidential Center is consistent with Chicago's right tradition of locating world-class museums in its parks, and we look forward to developing a lasting cultural institution on the South Side," the spokesperson said.

The legal battle comes less than three years after a similar lawsuit filed by the group Friends of the Parks prompted "Star Wars" creator George Lucas to abandoned plans to build a museum to house his art collection on land along Lake Michigan owned by the city of Chicago Park District. Lucas decided to build the museum in Los Angeles.

The Protect Our Parks lawsuit accuses city officials of deceiving the public with a "short con shell game" to "legitimize an illegal land grab."

The Chicago Park District sold the land to the city for $1 and city officials got the state legislature to amend the Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules.

But the Protect Our Parks lawsuit contends the center does not meet the definition of a presidential library because it will not house documents, records and artifacts from the Obama administration as the city initially said it would.

"The Obamas announced that, instead, the [Obama] Foundation had decided to forego and relinquish all custody and control of the former president’s records to NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] and abandoned all plans for building a 'Presidential Library,'" according to the lawsuit.

Under the agreement the Chicago City Council approved, the Obama Foundation would pay the city $10 to use the land in Jackson Park for 99 years.

"The new, renamed 'Presidential Center' would instead be privately owned, managed and operated in ways that the private Foundation itself would decide," reads the suit.

The suit charges the city pulled a "bait and switch" on the public.

The city countered that the state's Park District Aquarium and Museum Act authorizes it to build and operate museums, including presidential centers, on public park land.

"The Museum Act expressly affirms that presidential centers, along with the other museums authorized by the statute," the city's response to the lawsuit reads.

The city's response notes that the Obama Presidential Center would be the 12th museum in Chicago located in a public park.

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Alleged poison plot, blood in bathroom: Gruesome details revealed in case against fiancé accused of killing Kelsey Berreth

Woodland Park Police Department(WOODLAND PARK, Colo.) -- Prosecutors on Tuesday revealed new details -- including blood and an alleged poisoned coffee plot -- in the case against Patrick Frazee, the Colorado man accused of killing his fiancé and the mother of his baby.

Kelsey Berreth, 29, vanished on Nov. 22, 2018, near her Woodland Park, Colorado, home. Her purse, phone and keys went missing, but no other personal items were gone, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Her body has still not been found.

Frazee's ex-girlfriend, Krystal Lee, said Frazee asked her last fall if she would poison Berreth's favorite Starbucks drink. Frazee claimed Berreth should die because she was an abusive mother, Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Gregg Slater said Tuesday as he testified for the prosecution at Frazee's preliminary hearing.

Frazee and Lee discussed potential drugs that were easy to access because Lee was a nurse, according to Slater.

Lee said she bought a drink and gave it to Berreth, portraying herself as a new neighbor, but she did not put anything in the drink, Slater said.

Frazee, 32, who was arrested in December for murder and solicitation to commit murder, has not entered a plea.

On Dec. 6, two weeks after the disappearance, Berreth's mother found blood in her daughter's bathroom and noticed a missing bathmat, Slater said.

Investigators did a luminol test (which detects blood) and found Berreth's blood DNA profile in her bathroom, including on the toilet, trash can, floor, wall, door, town rack and part of the vanity, Slater said.

Frazee's attorney, however, noted that the blood was found in Berreth's home by her own family days after cadaver dogs and police investigated the scene.

Surveillance and phone evidence were also presented on Tuesday.

Cameras from Berreth's neighbor showed Berreth, Frazee and their baby at Berreth's front door on Nov. 22, the day she disappeared, said Christopher Adams of the Woodland Park Police Department, who was called by prosecutors at the preliminary hearing.

Frazee was seen also seen on surveillance video that day at a Woodland Park credit union drive through, Adams said. A baby carrier was visible in the car passenger seat and a black tote was in the back of the truck bed, Adams said. Prosecutors asked if that tote would play a significant role in what happened to Berreth, and Adams said yes.

Prosecutors want Frazee's mother to testify because they believe she witnessed Frazee destroy that bag.

On Nov. 22, Berreth and Frazee's phones pinged off a tower serving Berreth's home, Adams testified.

The next morning, Frazee called Berreth's phone. At that time both phones pinged off the tower by Frazee's home, indicating the phones were together, Adams told the court.

Frazee's attorney, Adam Steigerwald, attacked the phone evidence, asking how many cellphone towers were in the area.

Steigerwald also stressed that there were hundreds of tips about sightings of Berreth.

Lee, the former girlfriend, admitted in court this month to moving Berreth's phone.

Lee's phone records showed her in Colorado on Nov. 24, Adams said Tuesday. On Nov. 25 Berreth's phone traveled west, eventually reaching Idaho, where Lee lives. Records indicate Lee's phone was traveling with Berreth's phone, Adams testified.

Lee pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with physical evidence.

A judge has granted temporary custody of Frazee and Berreth's 1-year-old daughter to Berreth's parents, Cheryl and Darrell Berreth. The couple filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Frazee.

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Storm headed to eastern half of US, threatening major snowfall in DC and flooding in the South

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A major storm is headed to the eastern half of the country, bringing snow, ice and rain from the Plains to the Northeast to the Southeast.

Over 280 flights were already canceled for Wednesday as the storm takes shape.

Here is the latest forecast:

One storm gained strength Tuesday morning, spreading heavy rain across the South.

Meanwhile, a separate storm is bringing snow to Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and the central Plains.

The storms will merge Wednesday morning, bringing heavy snow to Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The nation's capital is forecast to see 4 to 6 inches of snow before the storm changes to ice and rain Wednesday afternoon. Areas west of D.C. could see 12 inches of snow.

A wintry mix of snow and ice will move into New York City and Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon, bringing 1 to 3 inches of snow.

Philadelphia schools will be closed Wednesday as the storm moves in.

In the Midwest, Minneapolis is forecast to see 5 to 8 inches of snow while Des Moines could get 6 to 9.

Chicago is forecast to get up to 2 inches.

Meanwhile, in the South, very heavy rain will continue, with a potential for flash flooding through Wednesday night.

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Statue of World War II sailor kissing woman vandalized days after man in iconic photo dies

Sarasota Police Department(SARASOTA, Fla.) -- A statue inspired by the iconic photograph of a World War II sailor kissing a woman in Times Square, New York City, was vandalized just days after the sailor in the photograph died.

The "Unconditional Surrender" statue in Sarasota, Florida, had "#MeToo" emblazoned in red spray paint on the woman's left leg, a photograph released by the Sarasota Police Department shows.

Police were called to the scene at around 12:53 a.m. Tuesday but did not find any cans of spray paint in the area, according to a press release.

Nothing else in the area was spraypainted or defaced, police said.

There are no known witnesses to the crime and there is no available surveillance video in the area, according to authorities.

The damage is estimated to cost about $1,000 to fix.

The sailor in the photograph, George Mendonsa, died at the age of 95 on Sunday after he had a seizure at the assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he lived with his wife of 70 years, The Providence Journal reported.

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Charlottesville rally lawsuit to proceed despite Nathan Damigo's bankruptcy filing

Zolnierek/iStock(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- Bankruptcy is no shield for a white nationalist targeted in a lawsuit concerning the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Va., according to a recent ruling from a federal judge -- and Twitter and other online platforms can't be blocked from subpoenas, another ruling announced.

Nathan Damigo, one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, filed for bankruptcy protection to protect his assets from a civil lawsuit, which is moving toward trial this summer.

The suit was filed by 10 plaintiffs from Charlottesville who said they were injured by the same car attack that left counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer dead.

The plaintiffs can "proceed with litigation" against Damigo, federal bankruptcy court judge Ronald Sargis wrote last week.

In a separate ruling filed on Tuesday, Judge Norman K. Moon of the Western District of Virginia denied a request from Michael "Enoch" Peinovich, a white nationalist podcast host, to block subpoenas to Twitter,, Cloudflare and Hatreon to "gather evidence related to Defendants' and their co-conspirators' coordination of and planning for racially-motivated violence" related to the Charlottesville rally, as the subpoenas detailed. and Cloudflare are web services companies that allegedly "provided services" to defendants and Hatreon is a crowd-funding site "allegedly used to raise money for bail following one defendant’s arrest in Charlottesville," according to the ruling.

"As our plaintiffs argued, Nathan Damigo should be held accountable -- and remain liable -- for the harm he caused in Charlottesville. We’re glad the court agreed,” Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First America, the nonprofit organization backing the lawsuit against Damigo, Peinovich, Richard Spencer and organizations like the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said in a statement to ABC News.

The lawsuit accused the defendants of an unlawful conspiracy and sought damages for the violence in Charlottesville over two days in August 2017.

"It's going to be very clear what the defendants planned for, foresaw and executed," Karen Dunn of Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the high-profile attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told ABC News.

In November, the judge allowed the plaintiffs access to the defendants' electronic devices, and Dunn claimed there is evidence of premeditated harm.

"There's discussion of vehicles into crowds of people and how to defend that legally afterwards," Dunn said.

The case was brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 that was meant to protect the civil and political rights of millions of freed slaves from vigilante groups during Reconstruction.

"This lawsuit is not seeking to prevent them from speaking or believing anything that they want," Robbie Kaplan of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, who is representing the plaintiffs and is known for winning the landmark Supreme Court case that laid the groundwork for marriage equality, told ABC News. "While their views are odious to us, they are not the issue. The issue is, motivated by those views, that they agreed to engage in an illegal conspiracy to commit violence."

The defense has said the lawsuit lacks specifics.

"Plaintiffs complaint is long on coarse internet language regarding non-whites and short on allegations of racial violence perpetrated by any moving defendant," defense attorneys said in a motion to dismiss that was later denied.

They also said the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a conspiracy.

"Plaintiffs have failed to make any credible allegation that any moving defendant came to any agreement with anybody, to do anything, other than march and chant in Charlottesville," defense attorneys said in a filing.

Despite those arguments, the judge recently ruled the lawsuit can proceed. Trial is scheduled for July.

"The larger statement here is going to be, we hope, that our American system of justice protects and defends our values and stands against those who do things that are contrary to our values," Dunn told ABC News.

Aside from damages the plaintiffs aimed to "ensure that nothing like this will happen again at the hands of the defendants," the lawsuit said.

"Certainly we want to hold these guys to account," Kaplan told ABC News. "But the legal system in our country also serves another purpose and that is to send a message."

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Man arrested for slapping stepdaughter's 12-year-old bully, police say

Evgen_Prozhyrko/iStock(LA PORTE, Texas) -- A Texas man was recently arrested for slapping a 12-year-old boy in the face. He claims the boy was was bullying his young stepdaughter, according to police.

James Peace, 37, of La Porte, Texas, had just picked up his stepdaughter from school when he saw the boy walking home with a friend in Harris County last Thursday afternoon. Peace told investigators that his stepdaughter has depression and that the boy's teasing caused her "serious psychological harm," an officer with the Deer Park Police Department stated in the probable cause affidavit.

Peace pulled over, got out of the car and began shouting at the boy for picking on his stepdaughter. He then struck the boy with an open palm on the side of his face before getting back into his car and driving away, according to the affidavit.

Peace initially denied the act when questioned by police the following day, but admitted to it after he was advised that a surveillance camera from a nearby residence had captured the entire incident. Peace told police that "he let his emotions get the best of him," according to the affidavit.

Peace faces a felony charge of injury to a child.

The boy told police he didn't know the adult who slapped him but recognized his classmate sitting in the front passenger seat of the vehicle. The boy said the man told him not to tell anyone what happened or "he will beat them up too, even the police." The boy said he didn't immediately tell his parents or others because he "was afraid that the man may return and cause more harm to him or his family," according to the probable cause affidavit.

The boy took a photo of himself after the incident, which he later showed to police. The picture shows the boy with "an obvious large handprint on the left side of his face that was extremely red and appeared to be swelling," according to the affidavit.

The next day, the boy told his teacher about what happened after asking if he could stay in class and have lunch with her rather than go to the cafeteria with the other students, explaining that he didn't want to see the classmate who was in the vehicle when the man slapped him. The teacher immediately notified school officials and the boy's mother, prompting a police investigation.

Peace's stepdaughter told police she did see her stepfather slap the boy in the face but "didn't think it was that hard of a strike." She said the boy had been "picking on her at school and calling her names and that she told her parents about it," which led to the confrontation, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Peace's wife, who asked to remain anonymous, told ABC Houston station KTRK that her daughter called and asked for a ride home because the boy and his friend were bullying her after school.

"Saying that her body was ugly, said that she was a transvestite, started throwing ice cream at her and then they picked up the rocks," the mother told KTRK, adding that she doesn't agree with her husband's actions. "He took it too far, he did."

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Legislators kill controversial education bill hours after W. Va. educators hit picket line

Ildo Frazao/iStock(CHARLESTON, W. Va.) -- Nearly a year after they went on strike and inspired educators nationwide to do the same, West Virginia teachers were back on picket lines Tuesday to protest an education bill moving through the state legislature that they see as retaliation for the job action they took last February.

Just after teachers went on strike, the House voted 53-45 to table the bill indefinitely. Teachers in the gallery at the state Capital building in Charleston broke into applause and were quickly ushered out.

With little warning and a lot of anger, Mountain State teachers went on strike prompting school administrators in 54 of 55 counties to cancel classes for more than 200,000 students.

Representatives of the three largest public school employee unions in West Virginia called for the statewide strike Monday evening in protest of state Senate Bill 451, which seeks to overhaul education.

The state Senate sent the bill back to the House of Delegates Monday with amendments to allow the establishment of charter schools in the state. The bill also provides public money to fund vouchers called "education savings accounts" for parents who home-school their children or send them to private school.

But teacher union leaders didn't call off the strike immediately after the House of Delegates voted to put it on the back burner.

"The Senate can amend it into another education bill. We can't take anything for granted," Jennifer Wood, spokeswoman for the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News. "There is a history with the Senate leadership. Teachers don't feel like they argue in good faith."

Despite the bill including raises for teachers, Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia AFT said, educators were "left no other choice" but to go on strike to stop the erosion of public education in the state.

Randi Weingarten, president of the nationwide American Federation of Teachers, posted a message on Twitter earlier Tuesday saying the Republican-dominated West Virginia Senate "is keen to destroy public schools & retaliate against its teachers."

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the Senate bill was rammed through and sent back to the House of Delegates with little to no input from teachers.

"It appears that they are more interested in listening to the outside interests than they are the educators across West Virginia," Lee said at Monday's news conference at the state capital in Charleston.

“We will work as closely as we can to get a resolution, but at this point, there doesn’t seem to be a resolution," Lee said.

Lee and other teachers' union representatives said it remains a day-to-day decision for how long teachers will be on the picket lines.

State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson County, said the bill has "great provisions" in it, including additional 5 percent pay hikes on top of 5 percent raises teachers won after striking nine days last year. The bill also creates a $250 tax credit for teachers on the purchase of classroom supplies or other educational materials.

He said the bill's goal is "getting our education system out of the doldrums."

"Why would anyone want to stand in the status quo and stay in the past?" Carmichael said.

Last year's West Virginia teachers' strike, which started on Feb. 22, was followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and most recently Los Angeles and Denver.

West Virginia has no comprehensive collective bargaining statutes, meaning public school budgets are set by state legislatures and not local school boards like in California and Colorado.

In states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky, strikes by teachers are considered illegal and educators risk being fired for participating in them. Because teachers in those states have shown statewide solidarity in their job actions, state government leaders have had little choice but to bargain.

"What's happened in all these places is over the course of the last 10 to 15 years is that people have tried to make good schools and students front and center have gotten demeaned, disparaged, called names, schools have been divested," Weingarten told ABC News in an interview last week. "And so what has happened ... is a sense of possibility that when you join together you can indeed be stronger together, but you have to join together on a mission that the community really adopts."

The West Virginia strike comes ahead of one being planned by Oakland, California, teachers on Thursday.

The Oakland public school teachers' contract expired in July 2017. The union and the Oakland Unified School District began bargaining on a new contract in December 2016, but after 30 negotiating sessions encompassing 200 hours of bargaining, an impasse was declared on May 18, 2018. Both sides agreed to mediation but that failed to break the stalemate.

As part of the negotiations, an arbitrator was assigned to do a fact-finding report. The report showed an 18.7 percent annual turnover rate for teachers in the school district.

To stem the tide of teachers exiting the Oakland Unified School District, which has more than 37,000 students, the union is asking for a 12 percent raise over three years, smaller class sizes and more support staff. The school district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years, retroactive to 2017.

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Police looking for 2nd crime scene after woman, kids found dead in Michigan home

Prathaan/iStock(KENT COUNTY, Mich.) -- Investigators are searching for a second crime scene after a woman and three young children were found mysteriously dead inside a Michigan home, authorities said.

The woman and three children -- who were elementary school age and younger -- were found dead from suspected gunshot wounds Monday afternoon at a home in Kent County, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, according to the Kent County Sheriff's Office.

But evidence at the home suggests some of the victims weren't shot at that location, Kent County sheriff's Sgt. Joel Roon told ABC News.

Officers canvased the area Monday night to try to find a second crime scene to no avail, Roon said via email Tuesday morning.

"We are still asking residents to call if they see anything that could be considered a scene of a shooting," Roon said. "People should look for any condition that could be considered consistent with that of a shooting scene, i.e. blood."

There's no indication of a suspect at-large and no indication of more victims, sheriff's officials said.

"It is believed that the situation is contained and there is no current threat to public safety," sheriff's officials said in a statement.

Authorities have not eliminated the possibility of a murder-suicide, Kent County Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young said Monday, according to ABC Grand Rapids affiliate WZZM.

"It's always hard when there's deaths in the community, but it's absolutely the most difficult when there are kids are involved," Lajoye-Young told reporters.

"Investigators are asking for the public's help as we try to establish the chain of events leading up to this tragedy," officials said.

Anyone who lives in the area and has surveillance cameras pointing toward the road is urged to call the sheriff's office.

The names of the victims will be released once autopsies are completed, the sheriff's office said.

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Mexican man dies in Border Patrol custody after crossing US-Mexico border

Phototreat/iStock(MCALLEN, Texas) -- A Mexican man died at a McAllen, Texas, hospital Monday while in Border Patrol custody after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas earlier this month, officials said.

The cause of death remains unknown, according to a statement released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Monday night.

The unnamed 45-year-old man died at the McAllen Medical Center where he was admitted on Feb. 3 for what was initially diagnosed as cirrhosis of the liver and congestive heart failure, the release said.

"This loss of life is tragic. Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones. CBP remains committed to ensuring the safe and humane treatment of those within the care of our custody," Andrew Meehan, CBP's Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs, said in a statement.

The agency said that the man requested medical attention when was taken into custody on Feb. 2 for illegal re-entry into the U.S. near the Roma Port of Entry, about 55 miles west of McAllen. The man was returned to the Rio Grande City Border Patrol Station after he "was cleared to travel" by the Mission Regional Medical Center, officials said.

The next day, he was brought to the McAllen Medical Center after a welfare check showed that he needed medical attention, according to the CBP statement.

This man is the third person to die in CBP custody in as many months.

In Dec. 2018, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl and an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died in CBP custody.

Following the second death, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told ABC's This Week that the deaths were "absolutely devastating for us."

CBP said that in accordance to agency policy, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility has initiated a review.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and the Mexican Government have all been notified of the man's death.

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