Friend posts moving tribute on 17th birthday of school shooting victim Carmen Schentrup

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) -- National Merit Finalist Carmen Schentrup would have turned 17 years old on Wednesday.

Instead, one week earlier, she was one of 17 people gunned down at her Florida high school in a Valentine's Day massacre.

 In honor of her birthday, her friend Carmen Lo tweeted a personal message along with a series of powerful photos: notes to Schentrup on balloons, messages on a coffee mug and a birthday cake.

"Carmen Schentrup was a 16 year old senior. She had one week until it was her birthday," Lo tweeted. "She was a National Merit Finalist and had her whole life ahead of her. She was my classmate and she was my dear friend. Happy birthday. This is for you." 

Schentrup "was dedicated and accomplished" and "was going to change the world," her parents said in a statement according to a post on her brother's Facebook.

"She was quite literally a 'straight A' student and a National Merit Finalist (Carmen never knew this. Her award letter arrived the day after she died)," the statement said. "Earlier this month, she was accepted into the University of Florida Honors program and was exuberant to begin her college experience. She wanted to become a medical scientist and discover a cure for horrible diseases, like ALS."

"While many people considered Carmen mature beyond her years (she recently joked people had been asking her how she liked college since she was a freshman), she was still a kid at heart," the family said. "She was silly, playful, and huggable. As parents, we loved that she never outgrew our hugs and would hug us before she went to bed. We miss her hugs."

"Carmen was funny, in witty and novel ways. When she got on a roll, we’d laugh until tears rolled down our cheeks," they said.

"Carmen was strong," they added. "When she was 12, she had major surgery that resulted in four metal rods sticking out of her leg for months. She never once complained about it and never attempted to hide the scars."

The teen "devoured books" and also loved art and music, the family said. She played piano, violin and guitar and also sang in the church choir.

"Carmen was a dreamer," her parents said. A few years ago, they said their daughter dreamed of visiting Germany, so she taught herself the language.

"Last summer, she planned our family vacation to Germany and played the role of translator and guide," wrote Schentrup's parents. "We miss seeing her make her dreams come true."

"Carmen was blessed to have great friends," they continued. After the shooting, the family said her friends "scoured the local hospitals searching for our little girl and stayed with us until our worst fears were confirmed. Their kindness is beyond measure."

"To our dear Carmen, you are a bright, beautiful, young woman bursting into the world," the grieving parents wrote. "You are an amazing daughter, sister, and friend. You fill our lives with loving memories that we will always cherish. You are a gift from God and into His arms you return. May His divine embrace now hug you so very tenderly where we cannot. We love and miss you dearly."

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Missing boy's father, stepmother have history of violent fights, police reports show

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The stepmother of a 5-year-old boy who's been missing since Saturday has a turbulent relationship with the boy's father, as documented in a series of police reports obtained by ABC News.

Lucas Hernandez disappeared from his Wichita, Kansas, home around 3 p.m. on Saturday, police said. His stepmother, Emily Glass, was arrested on two charges of child endangerment Wednesday. Lucas has not been found.

Police reports show repeated instances of physical clashes between Glass and Lucas' father, Jonathan Hernandez.

In February 2016, police were called to an apartment Hernandez was sharing at the time with Glass during an argument over a bar tab that Hernandez had paid, the report shows. Hernandez said Glass hit him in the face, but told officers he did not want to press charges because he didn't want her to go to jail, according to the report.

After police left, the couple started fighting again, resulting in officers returning to the residence after Hernandez threatened to throw out Glass’ possessions, the report says.

Nearly two months later in April 2016, according to a police report, Glass allegedly held an ax handle while arguing with Hernandez after telling him she had been sexually assaulted by a male friend. The fight started when Glass threw a shoe at Hernandez, the report states. Hernandez had a bloody nose and Glass had bruises on the side of her head, according to the report. Police couldn’t determine the primary aggressor.

In November 2016, police responded to the couple’s apartment after a report of a loud disturbance. A report filed at the time said an officer saw injuries on the side of Hernandez's face, which he explained by saying Glass had slapped him. Glass admitted to pushing him, according to the report, but denied trying to hurt him. In the report, police noted that a child’s table, "looked like a Ninja Turtle table," had been knocked over in the kitchen.

In a report from December 2017, Glass told police she was supposed to pick up someone, but said she had fallen asleep with Hernandez. The identity of the person she was supposed to pick up at the location is redacted in the report. When the couple woke up, they went to the location. Hernandez’s ex -- Lucas’ mother -- Jamie Taylor was there and was upset, according to the report.

Glass told police she didn’t know why Lucas’ mother was at the location because Hernandez has full custody of the boy.

Glass accused Taylor of punching her, but police found no visible injuries, the report said.

Sedgwick County jail records indicate Glass was booked at 3:27 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon on two counts of child endangerment. Police confirmed that Lucas and another child were involved, but did not identify the other child.

The search for Lucas is ongoing.

Lucas’ great-aunt Sally Rasmussen told ABC News that Hernandez’s family had concerns Lucas was being abused and reported it to authorities in Kansas and New Mexico, where the family members live.

Both the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department told ABC News they are legally prohibited from discussing any history they may have with a particular family.

Hernandez spoke to ABC affiliate KAKE-TV about the allegations of abuse earlier this week.

“That really pisses me off. Only because it seems like it's about something else and it's not happening now," Hernandez said. "Now, if you want to bring that up later that's fine. That's a whole separate issue. I think it's taking away from what's happening and I don't appreciate it. Not from my family, not from strangers."

He said he still believes his son is somewhere alive and he is focused on finding him.

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Texas woman brought to tears as DOJ targets elder scams

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  A Texas woman was brought to tears at the Justice Department Thursday, as she recalled how her 82-year-old grandmother committed suicide after being scammed out of her life's savings.

"These individuals preyed on her and on her good heart. What should have been some of the best years and the last chapter of her life was taken from her. She was robbed in every sense," said Angela Stancik of Houston, her voice cracking as attorney general Jeff Sessions, acting FBI deputy director David Bowdich and other top U.S. officials listened beside her.

Stancik came to Washington to highlight what Bowdich called a "serious and growing threat" across the United States: the theft of millions of dollars from America's seniors, who are targeted and tricked by fraudsters around the world.

"That has happened far too often in this country. It is a despicable crime these people are doing. They laugh about their ability to defraud people," Sessions said at a news conference in Washington.

In the past year, more than 200 people have been charged inside the United States for committing elder fraud schemes and dozens more have faced civil actions, according to Sessions.

"These defendants allegedly robbed more than one million Americans of more than half a billion dollars," Sessions said.

Stancik pleaded with the public to "say something to anyone" if they suspect they are being victimized or know someone who is.

"It's not too late. It's not your fault," she said. "Don't be afraid to ask for help."

Stancik said her grandmother, Marjorie Jones of Lake Charles, Louisiana, "had a heart of gold, and she was everything you'd expect a grandmother to be."

Her family didn't realize that their beloved grandmother had been ensnared by a big scam until 0 days before Jones killed herself in 2010.

"When she realized that she had been defrauded, she was extremely devastated, she felt humiliated, and she had literally lost everything," Stancik said, holding back tears. "It pains me to say this, but she took her life because of this incident. The events leading to my grandmother's death have scarred my family and left us all in shock. The pain and the loss from her tragic death surrounds us all daily."

Pretending to represent a sweepstakes, scammers told Jones that she had won a big prize, and all she had to do was send in money to cover taxes and fees.

In many cases, scammers send letters in "attention-grabbing envelopes designed to lead a person to believe they actually won," said Guy Cottrell, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's chief inspector. Millions of such letters are sent around the world, according to Cottrell.

"However, no prize is ever delivered. No prize ever existed," he said. And "once the scammer starts, the demands are relentless. ... These fraudsters don't limit themselves to just lies anymore. Their efforts to keep victims in line become increasingly ruthless. They don't hesitate to threaten, coerce or resort to psychological intimidation."

Jones ultimately sent all of her money to scammers - she later had to borrow money from family members, took out all of her life insurance, and then tragically committed suicide.

She had $69 in her bank account when she died.

Last month, the Justice Department ordered all 94 U.S. Attorneys' offices across the country to each designate an "elder justice coordinator," charged with trying to "customize" a strategy to protect seniors in their districts, according to Sessions. Since then, the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, along with U.S. Attorneys’ offices, have filed cases against more than 40 defendants for their alleged role in defrauding hundreds of thousands of Americans, Sessions said.

And over the past week alone, more than 100 inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service executed search warrants in 14 locations across the country, according to Cottrell.

Now, the Justice Department is going after not just the scammers themselves but also what authorities called the "enablers," the people who help write text for the letters, the people who help print the letter, and the people who provide mailing lists for scammers to target.

The FBI and its partners are targeting a "wide range of crimes" against seniors, including Ponzi schemes, romance and lottery scams, and mass-marketing schemes, according to Bowdich.

"This is an incredibly important issue for all of us in government, and everyone in this room has family members that could be taken advantage of through these types of schemes," Bowdich told the reporters and government officials gathered inside the Justice Department.

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'Selfless' off-duty Maryland officer Mujahid Ramzziddin saved neighbor's life 'by giving his own' in shooting

iStock/Thinkstock(BRANDYWINE, Md.) -- An off-duty Maryland police officer was gunned down when he "stood his ground" to protect his neighbor from her estranged husband and "saved her life by giving his own," according to police.

The estranged husband allegedly fired five times outside the woman's home in Brandywine, killing Cpl. Mujahid Ramzziddin, who was a husband, father of four, military veteran and 14-year veteran of the Prince George’s County Police, the police department said.

The female neighbor wasn’t hurt, police said.

Ramzziddin "stood his ground" and "saved her life by giving his own," Stawinski said at a news conference Wednesday.

Stawinski added that Ramzziddin, 51, was "an officer who was selfless throughout his career. Today was not the first day he demonstrated his heroism."

About 24 hours before the killing, the woman had gone to Ramzziddin for help; she knew he was an officer because he parked his marked police car at his home, police said. She had sought protection from her estranged husband through the courts for his alleged violent behavior, and the court order was in process, but meanwhile she was trying to move her belongings out of this home, Stawinski said.

On Wednesday, the officer noticed the female neighbor across the street and "approached her asking if she was OK," Stawinksi said, citing witnesses.

"She had some concerns," and the officer offered to go into her home, according to Stawinski.

Afterward, they came back outside, and that's when Ramzziddin was shot, Stawinksi said.

After the shooting, the suspect, 37-year-old Glenn Tyndell, allegedly took the officer's weapon and fled in an SUV, police said. That launched a police pursuit, after which Tyndall was killed in a shootout with police, according to cops.

Tyndell had three open warrants for second degree assault, according to police.

Stawinski called the suspect "cold and callous" and said the officers "who intervened [during the chase] are to be credited," because more lives may have been lost.

Meanwhile, a community is in mourning.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in a statement called the officer's death "an unspeakable tragedy."

Hogan ordered state flags to fly at half-staff.

"Corporal Ramzziddin was a military veteran and a distinguished law enforcement officer who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his neighbors and community," Hogan said.

Ramzziddin had received a Silver Medal of Valor Award in 2006 for his courage engaging an armed suspect, police said.

"His memory and service will never be forgotten," the governor said.

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4th-grader in Tennessee writes letter to sheriff asking for more school security

ABC News(CLAIBORNE COUNTY, Tenn.) -- As the nation continues to deal with the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, one elementary school student in Tennessee is pleading for action.

Abigail Daniels, a fourth-grade student at Tazewell-New Tazewell elementary school, wrote the Claiborne County sheriff a letter asking for additional protection at her school.

"Dear Mr. Sheriff, I've heard about the school shootings, and I've felt sad and scared. Please, I am begging you, please let us have more protection at our schools. I don't want anyone coming into our schools and hurting kids," Daniels wrote in the letter.

Deonna Daniels, Abigail’s mom, said the family was watching news coverage of the shooting when her daughter came up with the idea.

“It's heartbreaking to see her thinking about that at her age,” the mom told ABC News. “She said she wanted to write a letter and I told her as long as she was polite that it was OK.”

The 9-year-old also asked the sheriff for security officers at her school along with better doors and windows for the school's buildings.

Sheriff David Ray said he was surprised to get the letter but disgraced by the idea of kids not feeling safe in their schools.

“I was teary-eyed. I almost cried,” Ray told ABC News.

He posted a message to Abigail on the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Facebook page on Feb. 16, thanking her for the letter. He also reassured her that police officers already monitor students at her school.

“Hopefully, one day we can place a police officer in every school to make it safer for you and others,” Ray wrote in the Facebook post.

Only three schools out of the 12 in Claiborne County have full-time security officers, according to ABC affiliate WATE-TV. Officers patrol the schools during their shifts in the day, and there are precautions in place in the event of an active school shooter, according to Ray. However, he says, he wants to implement more security measures, such as adding a security officer to every school in the county.

There have been no threats on Claiborne County schools, Ray said, but for safety measures, there were officers posted at the school last week after the shooting in Florida.

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Funeral to be held today for football coach killed while protecting students at Florida high school

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) --  At the funeral Thursday for the Florida football coach gunned down while protecting students in a mass shooting, the sheriff said, "Before you even heard how he died, you knew he died putting himself in harm's way to save others. That's who he was."

Aaron Feis, 37, a father and husband, was one of the 17 people killed in the Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Feis died "running toward danger while others were correctly running away from danger," Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said at Thursday's funeral.

"Feis had no gun, no rifle. And yet he ran toward helping students," the sheriff said. "He was just such a great individual."

The sheriff last week told reporters Feis was a beloved coach, calling him "a phenomenal man" and "one of the greatest people I knew."

"I coached with him. My two boys played for him," Israel said. "The kids in this community loved him, adored him."

At Thursday's funeral, family friend Brandon Corona said Feis was his mentor during his four years at Stoneman Douglas High School, describing him as loving, strong, kind and patient.

Feis gave rides home to students who needed it and "he was a counselor to those who had no father figure," Corona said.

Feis fell for his wife in high school and is survived by his wife and daughter, Corona said. The football coach worked two to sometimes three jobs, he added.

"He always wanted to be the best dad he could be," Corona said. "He was the epitome of what a hardworking husband and father should be."

The school's football team wrote on Twitter, "He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories."

Ryan Mackman of West Palm Beach said he graduated with Feis from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1999.

"I never thought something like this could happen," Mackman, now 37, told ABC News. "The whole community is just stunned."

Mackman said he heard from other former classmates who were close to Feis that he was apparently shot while shielding students from the spray of bullets.

"He was always a really good guy," Mackman said. "But the fact that he died saving lives, the guy's a hero. There's no two ways about it. He was always a giving guy, he was always there for people, he had a big heart. That showed all the way to the end."

Head football coach Willis May told "Good Morning America" last week, “I didn't want to believe it, I didn't want it to be true. I love him ... things are going to be real hard to go back to school and not see my buddy.”

May called Feis a “hero” even before the deadly shooting.

“He didn't need to get shot to be a hero," May said. "He was a hero every day because people looked up to him, respected him."

"It's not a high-paying job,” May said, “but if you can change somebody's life, you know, and make him into a better person, that's what it's all about.”

Football player Robbie Rodriguez called Feis “one of the best guys I know. Just open-hearted, open to anyone, always there for people."

“Say someone messed up, he wouldn't come over screaming at you,” sophomore Gage Gaynor told GMA last week. “He'd come over, tell you what you did wrong, tell you how you could do it right.”

Teammate Patrick Scullen added, “He always put a smile on my face every single day.

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Dissecting the distinctive profile of school shooters: 'There's always a trail of what they're about to do'

Broward County Sheriff(NEW YORK) -- Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz has become the latest young man accused of storming a U.S. school and gunning down students and staff.

Cruz allegedly fired his way through his former school last week, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Seventeen people were left dead. Cruz was apprehended and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Alleged details about the suspected killer quickly emerged: his expulsion from Stoneman Douglas High; how he was fascinated by talk of guns and preoccupied with wars and terrorists; how he posted photos of weapons on social media.

Cruz was "aggressive" and "psycho,” neighbor Brody Speno told ABC News.

Another neighbor, Malcolm Roxburgh, said Cruz would attack pets.

Speno said he remembered one day when Cruz suddenly "cornered a squirrel and was pegging it with rocks trying to kill it."

Such alarming behavior is not uncommon for school shooters like the accused Cruz, who differ from other mass shooters in the sense that they are normally younger and usually signal their plans, experts say.

They have a clear profile, "with some variations," according to former FBI agent and ABC News contributor Brad Garrett, including anger, depression, and careful planning.

“There's always a trail of what they're about to do," Garrett said.

Building the profile

"Almost every school shooter, no matter what their socioeconomic status might be; all have some very specific characteristics that seem to be universal between them: depression, anger and rage towards others," Garrett said.

That describes the two students at Columbine High School in Colorado who opened fire at the school April 20, 1999, killing 12 of their fellow students and a teacher. The gunmen, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, then killed themselves.

Several FBI profilers and psychologists analyzed Klebold and Harris’ writings and reviewed the so-called “Basement Tapes” -- a series of videos they secretly recorded where they discussed their shooting plot (the videos were never made public) -- and later determined that Klebold likely suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts, while Harris was likely a psychopath. Neither boy was formally diagnosed.

"The signs can start at a fairly early age,” former FBI agent and ABC News contributor Steve Gomez said.

School shooters "tend to show that they're outcasts in society," Gomez said. "They just have difficulty establishing and maintaining friends and social relationships. And oftentimes you find that as a result of that they are either being bullied or are a bullier."

The way Cruz allegedly showed violence to animals is "another sign of exhibiting violent tendencies -- that's a red flag," Gomez added of the suspect.

A main common thread is "a loss of purpose," Gomez said. "They just don't know what they're on the earth for."

While mass shooters "all have some baseline characteristics," Garrett stressed, "If you take every one of those variables ... that's literally millions of people."

"People are depressed, sad, angry, enraged," he said, and may want to hurt people, but they don't carry those thoughts out.

A "vast, vast, vast, vast majority of us are not going to be mass shooters," Garrett said. "It's such a small percentage."

"When you take the variables of a mass shooter, that person is troubled and they need help," Garrett said.

'A seed that gets planted'

"When does it turn to where the student gets to a point where they are actually going to commit violence?" Gomez said. "It's almost like a seed that gets planted into the individual, and unless somebody is there to intervene, to conduct some type of informal intervention over the course of that person's life, whether it's a parent or teacher or coach, that kid continues to move towards what could ultimately be an act of violence."

Compared with other mass shooters, school shooters are generally younger so they typically share what they are going to do, Garrett said. Now, that’s done through social media, Gomez said.

They also tend to write or post about their interest in weapons and committing violence as well as publicizing the weapons they have access to, Gomez said.

Columbine’s Harris kept journals and wrote about violence, wanting to have guns, how easy it was for him to lie to people and the pleasure he got from duping others, and included graphic fantasies about getting revenge on people who insulted him.

Two months before Columbine, Klebold’s parents met with Klebold’s teacher to discuss a story he had written about a man in a black overcoat who fills a duffel bag with weapons and guns down a group of “college preps,” Klebold’s mother, Sue Klebold, told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in a 2016 "20/20” report.

Sue Klebold said she and her husband asked their son about the paper twice but when he told her he didn't have it, they let it go.

“I did not grasp the seriousness of that paper,” she said. “I don’t think any of us did at the time.”

Garrett, the former FBI agent, said, "Every mass shooter obviously is very, very troubled. There are varying sort of degrees of what their mental health issues are. Some are extremely severe, some not so severe.”

“But usually almost across the board, particularity with school shooters, a few exceptions, they all know exactly what they are doing: They plan it, they buy the ammunition, they pick the day. They decide how they're going to go into the school, they decide what part of the school are going into."

The planning might be weeks, months or years, Garrett said.

Adam Lanza, for instance, shot and killed his mother at the home they shared Dec. 14, 2012, before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He shot and killed 20 first-graders and six educators. Lanza then killed himself.

Lanza didn't "'snap,' but instead engaged in careful, methodical planning and preparation," the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit ruled, according to documents released last year.

Lanza, who "had a complex background featuring many problematic bio-psycho-social issues," was also "fascinated with past shootings and researched them thoroughly," the documents said.

"There's always a trail of what they're about to do," Garrett said. "It's all about seeking revenge and gaining power."

A person close to Cruz, the suspected Florida school shooter, called an FBI tip line Jan. 5 with information about his alleged desire to kill people, erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of his conducting a school shooting, according to an FBI statement. But the FBI said proper protocol was not followed in response to the tip.

Public defender Melisa McNeill last week in court called Cruz a "broken child." He has not entered a plea.

In the aftermath of the 2012’s Sandy Hook massacre, parents of two children killed at the elementary school founded the organization Sandy Hook Promise, which aims to prevent gun-related deaths by teaching Americans to identify, intervene and get help for at risk-people. The nonprofit is funded by donors and provides its programs to schools no cost.

One of the founders was Mark Barden, whose son, Daniel, died at the school.

"I just knew that I wanted to do something to honor my son, to protect my surviving children," Barden told ABC News. "I wanted to do something to make a difference so this doesn't happen again."

"Families in America just felt completely out of touch, helpless, hopeless," Braden said. "We realized then that we needed to look at this like a social movement, and to do that you need to get folks engaged ... in a bipartisan or nonpartisan manner."

The foundation takes a preventative approach by designing programs that teach students and parents the tools to recognize warning signs as well as how to "take the next step and intervene and get that person help before it becomes a tragedy," Barden said.

Among the tools they provide is an app with an anonymous reporting system that allows a student to report a tip to a call center that's staffed with professionals.

He said 2.5 million students and adults have been trained.

"Students are empowered to know that they can make a difference," Barden said. "They can have a positive impact on somebody's life and that's a huge gift to give somebody."

"We've seen it work," he added. "We've already prevented school shootings, we've already stopped suicides."

While it's unclear how many plots were thwarted by the foundation's work, it appears that far more school shooting plots in the United States are stopped than carried out.

A school security officer in Southern California last week allegedly overheard a "disgruntled student" threatening a school shooting and weapons were then recovered from the student's home, authorities said. Guns and machetes were found in Pennsylvania high school student’s bedroom last month after a classmate allegedly overheard the student threatening a mass shooting, officials said.

But some threats slip through the cracks, as in the case of suspect Cruz. The FBI has said proper protocol was not followed in responding to a tip about the 19-year-old.

After last week's school massacre in Florida, Barden said, "I was just immediately filled with sadness and despair and frustration and anger."

"If our programs were up and running and in place, we could have prevented this," he said.

But he added he think his foundation can help stop more plots as it grows.

"I have to keep going," he said. "Give it all I've got and never let up."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Midwest may see record flooding as rain continues

(NEW YORK) -- About 19 river gauges in the Midwest are showing major or record flooding Thursday morning, and that figure may swell to almost 30 by the weekend.

Waterways were bolstered by the 4-8 inches of rain that fell from Texas to Arkansas to Michigan. The major storm stalled a bit and is expected to keep dumping precipitation in the middle of the country for the next few days.

Flood watches and warnings this morning stretch from Texas all the way to Vermont. More snow is expected farther north.

As rain continues from Texas to Ohio, parts of Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York may see some snow.

From tonight through tomorrow morning, as heavy rainfall continues, snow is expected from Minneapolis all the way to Boston.

A new storm is expected to move into the Plains by Saturday, bringing with it potentially severe conditions including hail, strong winds and perhaps tornadoes. Snow may fall in Colorado and in the Great Lakes.

Heavy rain is expected to continue for several days from Texas to Ohio. Some areas may see 4-5 more inches. Farther north, more snow is expected.

With more than 100 record highs reported Wednesday in the eastern U.S., temperatures Thursday may be 30-40 degrees cooler. But record heat is expected to continue in parts of the Southeast.

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Texas superintendent vows to suspend students who walkout to protest guns

Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEEDVILLE, TX) -- A school superintendent near Houston said his district plans to suspend any student who takes part in classroom walkouts as a form of protest over gun violence after last week's school massacre in Florida.

"Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness," Superintendent Curtis Rhodes, of Needville, Texas, wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post, threatening a three-day suspension. "Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved."

Rhodes went on to say that students participating in “political protest” would be subject to a three-day suspension and that “parent notes will not alleviate the discipline.”

“A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally. A disruption of the school will not be tolerated,” he said. “Respect yourself, your fellow students and the Needville Independent School District and please understand that we are here for an education and not a political protest.”

High school students across the country have been walking out of classes in an effort to stand in solidarity with survivors of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student allegedly shot and killed 17 students and teachers.

Walkouts have been reported in various states, including Florida, Colorado, Minnesota and Illinois, where some school administrators said they were instructed to allow students to walk out peacefully, while others, like those in the eastern Texas city of Needville, said they had a zero tolerance policy toward such demonstrations.

Needville High School junior Maddy Lambright said she and a few friends had planned to organize a 17-minutes walkout to honor the 17 victims of the mass shooting. But she said she got a harsh warning from her principal when she went seeking his approval: “If you walk out, keep walking.”

"We went to our principals to get permission," Lambright told Houston ABC station KTRK. "He came on the intercom later in the day and he said, ‘If you walked out keep walking.’"

Lambright said she was heartbroken by the Parkland shooting and she thought the walkout would be a peaceful way to protest gun violence.

"These 17 people deserve this, they deserve a big walkout, a moment of silence for them. You know they didn't deserve to die," she said.

Anti-gun violence groups like Student Walkout Against Gun Violence and National School Walkout, have urged students to take place in coordinated walkouts across the nation, including one that's planned for April 20 -- the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

Many survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting have vowed to take a stand against guns violence, taking part in major demonstrations in Washington earlier this week and another at the Florida state Capitol building on Tuesday, where the Florida House voted down a measure to hear a bill focused on banning assault rifles like the one used in the deadly shooting. The Republican-dominated body voted against hearing the bill in a 36-71 vote.

"They send out their thoughts and their prayers, and we appreciate that, but that's enough," Daviyana Warren -- a 15-year-old sophomore at Dublin Scioto High School near Columbus, Ohio, where about 200 students walked out in silence earlier this week -- told the AP. "We need change.

"No child should have to go to school and be scared for their life," Warren added. "It hits close to home because it's happening to us."

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US Army's top engineer 'not satisfied' with Puerto Rico's post-Maria recovery

iStock/Thinkstock(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- It's been 150 days since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, but the island still isn't at a level of recovery that satisfies the U.S. Army’s top engineer.

"I am not satisfied that people in Puerto Rico should have to wait that much time for power," Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said Wednesday during an interview at the Pentagon. "But I am telling you, there are no other knobs I can turn to go any faster."

The commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reaffirmed that 95 percent of the island will see energy restoration by the end of March. What comes next is what he dubs the "last mile" -- restoring power to some of the most remote and mountainous parts of the U.S. territory.

"If somebody were to say, 'How come you can’t do this in 25 days?' -- we can get 95 percent of this done, in say 6 months, but now we are doing things by helicopter because it is that hard to make some of that happen," Semonite said.

Hurricane Maria plunged Puerto Rico into darkness within hours of making landfall on September 20.

In mid-October, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello announced a benchmark of December 15 to reach 95 percent of electricity distribution on the island.

That benchmark was never reached.

"What we don’t want to do is give false promises out," Semonite said. "There is no way when I saw this devastation in October that I thought that it was even close to get to 95 percent by December."

The Army Corps has 262 people currently on the ground in Puerto Rico. The agency, which works under FEMA during its Emergency Support Function response structure, has found itself extending past its usual mission.

“We respond to get things backup to normal," Semonite said. "Rebuilding the generating capability of Puerto Rico was not the Corps of Engineers' task."

To date, 83.8 percent of the island, or over 1.2 million customers, have power on Puerto Rico.

The task of reestablishing power to the island, though, changes as residents leave for the mainland.

"You might see me in 3 months from now and say, 'You are only at 99.6 percent.' Well, I am not going to run electricity up the side of a cliff to four houses that will probably never be rebuilt if that is the case,” Semonite said. "I don’t want to spend taxpayers' money getting lines to houses that are never going to be rebuilt."

Rossello told ABC News last Thursday that he felt a lack of urgency on the part of the Army Corps of Engineers in getting supplies to the island in order to restore power.

"Two-thirds of the island’s recovery on that [electricity] front is in the Corps of Engineers’ hands," Rossello said. "I have seen a lack of urgency on that, whether it is on the contracting side or the bringing materials side which is a current problem."

Semonite denied Rossello's claims of a lack of urgency, adding that while he respect the expectations set by the governor for residents, the size of the storm and its aftermath has left a "gigantic mission."

"It is just that the magnitude of the logistical and repair mission is beyond the governor’s expectations,” Semonite said.

For Semonite, who will mark his 30th year of service with the Army Corps of Engineers in May, Hurricane Maria has taught him several lessons ahead of the next storm. Those lessons include permanently establishing supplies on Puerto Rico and ensuring contracts are pre-written and ready to go when disaster strikes.

"If you are on an island, you’ve got to be able to think through things, especially when it’s on hurricane alley,” Seminote said, noting that it is FEMA’s call whether that prepositioning would ever happen, not that of the Army Corps.

Yet with things slowly coming back to normal, Semonite is coming to terms with how Hurricane Maria has forever changed Puerto Rico.

“I am coming to the realization," he said, "that it might just be too hard to be able get every single thing that was pre storm.”

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