11 hurt in mass shooting in Savannah, Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. — An argument between two women led to a gunfight that left 11 people hurt in a busy tourist area of Savannah, Georgia, late Saturday, one of five weekend shootings in the city, two of which were fatal, authorities said.

Two people were injured in separate shootings Friday. Two more shootings Saturday resulted in two deaths. Then came the gunfire just before midnight Saturday near Savannah’s Ellis Square.

The shooting broke out as two women argued in an area business, according to Police Chief Lenny Gunther, who didn’t name the establishment.

“One shot rang out. That triggered other individuals to shoot,” he said. “We had multiple individuals discharge their weapons to shoot at each other, which resulted in multiple people getting shot.”

Ten of the 11 injured were hit by gunfire. Authorities did not say what caused the 11th injury. Victims were treated at the scene and “several” were taken to a hospital, police said. None of the injuries appeared life threatening.

Mayor Van Johnson said a proliferation of guns was a factor in the shootings and that reasonable gun control laws are needed. He also stressed the need for gun owners to keep their weapons from being stolen and for people carrying guns to know how and when to use them.

“We have to insist on smart gun laws,” Johnson said at a Sunday news conference. “And then, on the other end, we have to insist that people act responsibly with those weapons.”

The mass shooting happened a week ahead of the tourist-heavy Memorial Day weekend. Gunther sought to assure people that police staffing will be sufficient to keep the public safe.

Ellis Square is in Savannah’s historic district, an area popular among tourists and locals. It was developed in 2010 and is known for a large fountain and a life-sized statue of songwriter Johnny Mercer.

The first two of Savannah’s weekend shootings happened Friday. Each of those resulted in a non-life-threatening injury and an arrest. On Saturday, police answering a call about a home invasion found a dead juvenile at the home. Initial reports are that shots were fired after a resident confronted an armed intruder.

Still another shooting was reported at a Savannah intersection Saturday night that left one man dead and a juvenile injured.

Colorado clinic provides Ukrainian refugees with care in own language

Almost half a million Ukrainian immigrants have moved to the U.S. since the start of Russia’s invasion, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Two of the biggest challenges they face are finding health care and a job. In one small Colorado city, a local clinic owner, herself a Ukrainian immigrant, is helping out as much as she can. Svitlana Prystinska has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

China launches anti-dumping probe into EU, US, Japan, Taiwan plastics

Beijing — China’s commerce ministry on Sunday launched an anti-dumping probe into POM copolymers, a type of engineering plastic, imported from the European Union, United States, Japan and Taiwan.

The plastics can partially replace metals such as copper and zinc and have various applications including in auto parts, electronics, and medical equipment, the ministry said in a statement.

The investigation should be completed in a year but could be extended for six months, it said.

The European Commission, which oversees EU trade policy, said it would carefully study the contents of the investigation before deciding on any next steps.

“We expect China to ensure that this investigation is fully in line with all relevant WTO (World Trade Organization) rules and obligations,” a spokesperson said.

China’s plastics probe comes amid a broader trade row with the United States and Europe.

The United States on Tuesday unveiled steep tariff increases on Chinese electric vehicles, or EVs, computer chips, medical products and other imports.

On Friday, the European Union launched a trade investigation into Chinese tinplate steel, the latest in a string of EU trade and subsidy probes into Chinese exports.

Most notably, the European Commission launched a probe last September to decide whether to impose punitive tariffs on cheaper Chinese EVs that it suspects of benefiting from state subsidies.

Beijing argues the recent focus by the United States and Europe on the risks to other economies from China’s excess capacity is misguided.

Chinese officials say the criticism understates innovation by Chinese companies in key industries and overstates the importance of state support in driving their growth.

Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Philadelphia’s Drexel University

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University in Philadelphia over the weekend, prompting a lockdown of school buildings, a day after authorities thwarted an attempted occupation of a school building at the neighboring University of Pennsylvania campus.

After several hundred demonstrators marched from Philadelphia’s City Hall to west Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, Drexel said in a statement that about 75 protesters began to set up an encampment on the Korman Quad on the campus. About a dozen tents remained Sunday, blocked off by barricades and monitored by police officers. No arrests were reported.

Drexel President John Fry said in a message Saturday night that the encampment “raises understandable concerns about ensuring everyone’s safety,” citing what he called “many well-documented instances of hateful speech and intimidating behavior at other campus demonstrations.” University buildings were “open only to those with clearance from Drexel’s Public Safety,” he said.

Authorities at Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, were monitoring the demonstration to ensure it was peaceful and didn’t disrupt normal operations, and that “participants and passersby will behave respectfully toward one another,” Fry said.

“We will be prepared to respond quickly to any disruptive or threatening behavior by anyone,” Fry said, vowing not to tolerate property destruction, “harassment or intimidation” of students or staff or threatening behavior of any kind, including “explicitly racist, antisemitic, or Islamophobic” speech. Anyone not part of the Drexel community would not be allowed “to trespass into our buildings and student residences,” he said.

On Friday night, members of Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine had announced an action at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher-Bennett Hall, urging supporters to bring “flags, pots, pans, noise-makers, megaphones” and other items.

The university said campus police, supported by city police, removed the demonstrators Friday night, arresting 19 people, including six University of Pennsylvania students. The university’s division of public safety said officials found “lock-picking tools and homemade metal shields,” and exit doors secured with zip ties and barbed wire, windows covered with newspaper and cardboard and entrances blocked.

Authorities said seven people arrested would face felony charges, including one accused of having assaulted an officer, while a dozen were issued citations for failing to disperse and follow police commands.

The attempted occupation of the building came a week after city and campus police broke up a two-week encampment on the campus, arresting 33 people, nine of whom were students and two dozen of whom had “no Penn affiliation,” according to university officials.

On Sunday, dozens of George Washington University graduates walked out of commencement ceremonies, disrupting university President Ellen Granberg’s speech, in protest over the ongoing siege of Gaza and last week’s clearing of an on-campus protest encampment that involved police use of pepper spray and dozens of arrests.

The ceremony, at the base of the Washington Monument, started peacefully with fewer than 100 protesters demonstrating across the street in front of the Museum of African American History and Culture. But as Granberg began speaking, at least 70 students among the graduates started chanting and raising signs and Palestinian flags. The students then noisily walked out as Granberg spoke, crossing the street to a rapturous response from the protesters.

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to protest the Israel-Hamas war, pressing colleges to cut financial ties with Israel. Tensions over the war have been high on campuses since the fall but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University.

Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested on U.S. campuses over the past month. As summer break approaches, there have been fewer new arrests and campuses have been calmer. Still, colleges have been vigilant for disruptions to commencement ceremonies.

President Joe Biden told the graduating class at Morehouse College on Sunday, which included some students wearing keffiyeh scarves around their shoulders on top of their black graduation robes, that he heard their voices of protest and that scenes from the conflict in Gaza have been heartbreaking. Biden said given what he called a “humanitarian crisis” there, he had called for “an immediate cease-fire” and return of hostages taken by Hamas.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, while Israel’s military offensive has left more than 35,000 people in Gaza dead, according to the territory’s health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Blue Origin flies thrill seekers to space, including oldest astronaut 

Washington — After a nearly two year hiatus, Blue Origin flew adventurers to space on Sunday including a former Air Force pilot who was denied the chance to be the United States’ first Black astronaut decades ago. 

 

It was the first crewed launch for the enterprise owned and founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos since a rocket mishap in 2022 left rival Virgin Galactic as the sole operator in the fledgling suborbital tourism market. 

 

Six people including the sculptor Ed Dwight, who was on track to become NASA’s first ever astronaut of color in the 1960s before being controversially spurned, launched around 09:36 am local time (1436 GMT) from the Launch Site One base in west Texas, a live feed showed. 

 

Dwight — at 90 years, 8 months and 10 days — became the oldest person to ever go to space. 

 

“This is a life-changing experience, everybody needs to do this,” he exclaimed after the flight. 

 

Dwight added: “I thought I didn’t really need this in my life,” reflecting on his omission from the astronaut corps, which was his first experience with failure as a young man. “But I lied,” he said with a hearty laugh. 

 

Mission NS-25 is the seventh human flight for Blue Origin, which sees short jaunts on the New Shepard suborbital vehicle as a stepping stone to greater ambitions, including the development of a full-fledged heavy rocket and lunar lander. 

 

To date, the company has flown 31 people aboard New Shepard — a small, fully reusable rocket system named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space. 

The program encountered a setback when a New Shepard rocket caught fire shortly after launch on September 12, 2022, even though the uncrewed capsule ejected safely. 

 

A federal investigation revealed an overheating engine nozzle was at fault. Blue Origin took corrective steps and carried out a successful uncrewed launch in December 2023, paving the way for Sunday’s mission. 

 

After liftoff, the sleek and roomy capsule separated from the booster, which produces zero carbon emissions. The rocket performed a precision vertical landing. 

 

As the spaceship soared beyond the Karman Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space 100 kilometers above sea level, passengers had the chance to marvel at the Earth’s curvature and unbuckle their seatbelts to float — or somersault — during a few minutes of weightlessness. 

 

The capsule then reentered the atmosphere, deploying its parachutes for a desert landing in a puff of sand. However, one of the three parachutes failed to fully inflate, possibly resulting in a harder landing than expected. 

 

Bezos himself was on the program’s first ever crewed flight in 2021. A few months later, Star Trek’s William Shatner blurred the lines between science fiction and reality when he became the world’s oldest ever astronaut aged 90, decades after he first played a space traveler. 

 

Dwight, who was almost two months older than Shatner at the time of his flight, became only the second nonagenarian to venture beyond Earth. 

 

Astronaut John Glenn remains the oldest to orbit the planet, a feat he achieved in 1998 at the age 77 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. 

 

Blue Origin’s competitor in suborbital space is Virgin Galactic, which deploys a supersonic spaceplane that is dropped from beneath the wings of a massive carrier plane at high altitude. 

 

Virgin Galactic experienced its own two-year safety pause because of an anomaly linked with the 2021 flight that carried its founder British tycoon Richard Branson into space. But the company later hit its stride with half a dozen successful flights in quick succession. 

 

Sunday’s mission finally gave Dwight the chance he was denied decades ago. 

 

He was an elite test pilot when he was appointed by President John F Kennedy to join a highly competitive Air Force program known as a pathway for the astronaut corps, but was ultimately not picked. 

 

He left the military in 1966, citing the strain of racial politics, before dedicating his life to telling Black history through sculpture. His art, displayed around the country, includes iconic figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and more. 

Diddy admits beating ex-girlfriend Cassie, says he’s sorry, calls his actions ‘inexcusable’  

Los Angeles — Sean “Diddy” Combs admitted that he beat his ex-girlfriend Cassie in a hotel hallway in 2016 after CNN released video of the attack, saying in a video apology he was “truly sorry” and his actions were “inexcusable.” 

“I take full responsibility for my actions in that video. I was disgusted then when I did it. I’m disgusted now,” the music mogul said in a video statement posted Sunday to Instagram and Facebook. 

The video aired by CNN Friday shows Combs, wearing only a white towel, punching and kicking Cassie, an R&B singer who was his protege and longtime girlfriend at the time. The footage also shows Combs shoving and dragging Cassie, and throwing a vase in her direction. 

Cassie, whose legal name is Cassandra Ventura, sued Combs in November over what she said was years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The suit was settled the next day, but spurred intense scrutiny of Combs, with several more lawsuits filed in the following months, along with a federal criminal sex-trafficking investigation that led authorities to raid Combs’ mansions in Los Angeles and Miami. 

He denied the allegations in the lawsuits, but neither he nor his representatives had responded to the newly emerged video until Sunday. 

“It’s so difficult to reflect on the darkest times in your life, but sometimes you got to do that,” Diddy says on the video. He adds, “I was disgusted then when I did it. I’m disgusted now. I went and I sought out professional help. I got into going to therapy, going to rehab. I had to ask God for his mercy and grace. I’m so sorry. But I’m committed to be a better man each and every day. I’m not asking for forgiveness. I’m truly sorry.” 

Combs is looking somber and wearing a T-shirt in the selfie-style apology video, and appears to be on a patio. 

The security camera video, dated March 5, 2016, closely resembles the description of an incident at an InterContinental Hotel in the Century City area of Los Angeles described in Ventura’ lawsuit. 

The suit alleges that Combs paid the hotel $50,000 for the security video immediately after the incident. Neither he or his representatives have addressed that specific allegation. CNN did not say how it obtained the footage. 

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange facing pivotal moment in long fight to stay out of US court 

London — The host of a news conference about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition fight wryly welcomed journalists last week to the “millionth” press briefing on his court case.

Deborah Bonetti, director of the Foreign Press Association, was only half joking. Assange’s legal saga has dragged on for well over a decade but it could come to an end in the U.K. as soon as Monday. 

Assange faces a hearing in London’s High Court that could end with him being sent to the U.S. to face espionage charges, or provide him another chance to appeal his extradition.

The outcome will depend on how much weight judges give to reassurances U.S. officials have provided that Assange’s rights won’t be trampled if he goes on trial.

Here’s a look at the case:

What Assange is charged with

Assange, 52, an Australian computer expert, has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010.

Prosecutors say he conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He faces 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse. If convicted, his lawyers say he could receive a prison term of up to 175 years, though American authorities have said any sentence is likely to be much lower.

Assange and his supporters argue he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing and is protected under press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

“Julian has been indicted for receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public of evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. government,” his wife, Stella Assange, said. “Reporting a crime is never a crime.”

U.S. lawyers say Assange is guilty of trying to hack the Pentagon computer and that WikiLeaks’ publications created a “grave and imminent risk” to U.S. intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Why the case has dragged on so long

While the U.S. criminal case against Assange was only unsealed in 2019, his freedom has been restricted for a dozen years.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and was granted political asylum after courts in England ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation in the Scandinavian country.

He was arrested by British police after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status in 2019 and then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the embassy.

Although Sweden eventually dropped its sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed, Assange has remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison while the extradition battle with the U.S. continues.

His wife said his mental and physical health have deteriorated behind bars.

“He’s fighting to survive and that’s a daily battle,” she said.

A judge in London initially blocked Assange’s transfer to the U.S. in 2021 on the grounds he was likely to kill himself if held in harsh American prison conditions.

But subsequent courts cleared the way for the move after U.S. authorities provided assurances he wouldn’t experience the severe treatment that his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.

The British government authorized Assange’s extradition in 2022.

What the latest hearing is about

Assange’s lawyers raised nine grounds for appeal at a hearing in February, including the allegation that his prosecution is political.  

The court accepted three of his arguments, issuing a provisional ruling in March that said Assange could take his case to the Court of Appeal unless the U.S. guaranteed he would not face the death penalty if extradited and would have the same free speech protections as a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. provided those reassurances three weeks later, though his supporters are skeptical.

Stella Assange said the “so-called assurances” were made up of “weasel words.”

WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the judges had asked if Assange could rely on First Amendment protections.

“It should be an easy yes or no question,” Hrafnsson said. “The answer was, ‘He can seek to rely on First Amendment protections.’ That is a ‘no.’ So the only rational decision on Monday is for the judges to come out and say, ‘This is not good enough.’ Anything else is a judicial scandal.”

The possible outcome

If Assange prevails, it would set the stage for an appeal process likely to further drag out the case.

If an appeal is rejected, his legal team plans to ask the European Court of Human Rights to intervene. But his supporters fear Assange could possibly be transferred before the court in Strasbourg, France, could halt his removal.

“Julian is just one decision away from being extradited,” his wife said.

Assange, who hopes to be in court Monday, has been encouraged by the work others have done in the political fight to free him, his wife said.

If he loses in court, he still may have another shot at freedom.

President Joe Biden said last month that he was considering a request from Australia to drop the case and let Assange return to his home country.

Officials have no other details but Stella Assange said it was “a good sign” and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the comment was encouraging.

Botanists scour US-Mexico border to document forgotten ecosystem split by giant wall

JACUMÉ, Mexico — Near the towering border wall flanked by a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle, botanist Sula Vanderplank heard a quail in the scrub yelp “chi-ca-go,” a sound the birds use to signal they are separated from a mate or group.

Then silence.

A quail on the Mexican side called back, triggering a back-and-forth soundtrack that was both fitting and heartbreaking in an ecosystem split by an artificial barrier.

Vanderplank was among several botanists and citizen scientists participating in the Border Bioblitz near the Mexican community of Jacumé, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Tijuana.

Roughly 1,000 volunteers armed with the iNaturalist app on their smartphones are documenting as many species as possible along the U.S.-Mexico border in May. Uploading photos to the app helps identify plants and animals, and records the coordinates of the location. 

The hope is the information could lead to more protections for the region’s natural richness, which is overshadowed by news of drug trafficking and migrant smuggling.

On a recent day, Bioblitz volunteers scrutinized a bright yellow blooming carpet of common Goldfields, a sharp contrast to the imposing steel bollards of the border wall topped with rolls of razor wire. Some navigated their way around piles of empty water jugs, a gray hoodie and empty cans of tuna fish left under the branches of native flora like the Tecate Cypress.

“There’s a fabulous amount of biodiversity here that’s traditionally been overlooked,” Vanderplank, of the binational program Baja Rare, said.

The efforts started in response to former President Donald Trump adding hundreds of miles of border walls that toppled untold numbers of saguaro cactuses in Arizona and passed through the biodiversity hotspot of Baja California.

“When the border wall construction began, we realized how little hard data we had, especially when it came to plants and small organisms,” Vanderplank said. “We don’t know what all we could lose.”

Since then, there has been a groundswell of initiatives to document the borderland’s flora and fauna as climate change coupled with habitat loss, pollution and development have hammered the world’s biodiversity. One estimate in 2019 warns that a million plant and animal species face extinction within decades, a rate of loss 1,000 times greater than expected.

The United Nations is expected hold a high-level meeting in Colombia of signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October aiming to protect 30% of land, freshwater and oceans considered important for biodiversity by 2030, known as 30 by 30. Representatives from nearly 200 countries are expected to present plans on how they will meet conservation targets agreed upon in 2022.

Currently, 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas are protected. 

Baja California peninsula, which borders California and is home to Tijuana with one of Mexico’s highest homicide rates, has more than 4,000 species of plants. A quarter of them are endemic and at least 400 plants are considered rare with little to no protection.

Flora and fauna that have gone extinct or are in danger of disappearing in the U.S., like the California red-legged frog, are thriving south of the border, producing specimens that are being used to bring back populations.

But the region’s crime deters many U.S. scientists from crossing the border. Mexico also is restricting permits for botanists and not allowing seeds to be collected, further curtailing the work, scientists say.

Bioblitz organizers work with local communities and say they take people only to areas deemed safe.

“You have to be really careful because of the violence,” said Jon Rebman, a curator of botany at the San Diego Natural History Museum, who has named 33 new plants for science from the southern California and Baja California region.

“It’s scary from that standpoint, yet those are the areas where we really need more information because there’s hardly any protected area on the south side,” he said.

Using the museum’s collection, Rebman made a list of 15 plant species endemic to Baja California and not seen since being collected nearly a century ago. He created a binational team to find them. So far, they have located 11.

Rebman also discovered two new plants to science in 2021 in a canyon off a Tijuana highway: the new species, Astragalus tijuanensis, and a new variety of the Astragalus brauntonii named lativexillum.

“I was worried they would go extinct before we even got them named,” Rebman said. “That tells you what type of area we’re working in.”

Tijuana-based botanist Mariana Fernandez of Expediciones Botánicas periodically checks on the plants. Working with Rebman, she is pushing Baja California to adopt more protections for its native plants. Currently only a fraction are on Mexico’s federal protection list. 

She hopes the state will step in, while she also tries to build support by taking Tijuana residents and Baja officials on hikes.

“People are amazed that these things exist in Tijuana, and I hope to show more and more people so they can see the beauty, because we need that,” Fernandez said. “It’s important to not be impeded by the barriers that humans create.”

As border security increases with the number of people being displaced by natural disasters, violence and wars at record levels worldwide, more migrants are traipsing out to areas like the stretch near Jacumé. The tiny community of about 100 families includes members of the Kumeyaay tribe and sits across the border from an equally sparsely populated desert near the California town of Jacumba Hot Springs. Population: about 1,000.

The area has seen thousands of asylum seekers who wait for an opportunity to cross, usually in the cloak of darkness, and then camp again on the U.S. side after turning themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Fernandez was among the botanists helping Bioblitz volunteers on the Mexican side near a crumbling crossing station from the 1920s.

“I never would have thought that there would be so much biodiversity on the border,” said Jocelyn Reyes, a student of Fernandez at La Universidad Autónoma de Baja California who stopped every few feet to hover over a plant and photograph its details. “It’s so interesting and makes you realize there’s so much worth saving.” 

Illness took away her voice. AI created a replica she carries in her phone

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND — The voice Alexis “Lexi” Bogan had before last summer was exuberant.

She loved to belt out Taylor Swift and Zach Bryan ballads in the car. She laughed all the time — even while corralling misbehaving preschoolers or debating politics with friends over a backyard fire pit. In high school, she was a soprano in the chorus.

Then that voice was gone.

Doctors in August removed a life-threatening tumor lodged near the back of her brain. When the breathing tube came out a month later, Bogan had trouble swallowing and strained to say “Hi” to her parents. Months of rehabilitation aided her recovery, but her speech is still impaired. Friends, strangers and her own family members struggle to understand what she is trying to tell them.

In April, the 21-year-old got her old voice back. Not the real one, but a voice clone generated by artificial intelligence that she can summon from a phone app. Trained on a 15-second time capsule of her teenage voice — sourced from a cooking demonstration video she recorded for a high school project — her synthetic but remarkably real-sounding AI voice can now say almost anything she wants.

She types a few words or sentences into her phone and the app instantly reads it aloud.

“Hi, can I please get a grande iced brown sugar oat milk shaken espresso,” said Bogan’s AI voice as she held the phone out her car’s window at a Starbucks drive-thru.

Experts have warned that rapidly improving AI voice-cloning technology can amplify phone scams, disrupt democratic elections and violate the dignity of people — living or dead — who never consented to having their voice recreated to say things they never spoke.

It’s been used to produce deepfake robocalls to New Hampshire voters mimicking President Joe Biden. In Maryland, authorities recently charged a high school athletic director with using AI to generate a fake audio clip of the school’s principal making racist remarks.

But Bogan and a team of doctors at Rhode Island’s Lifespan hospital group believe they’ve found a use that justifies the risks. Bogan is one of the first people — the only one with her condition — who have been able to recreate a lost voice with OpenAI’s new Voice Engine. Some other AI providers, such as the startup ElevenLabs, have tested similar technology for people with speech impediments and loss — including a lawyer who now uses her voice clone in the courtroom.

“We’re hoping Lexi’s a trailblazer as the technology develops,” said Dr. Rohaid Ali, a neurosurgery resident at Brown University’s medical school and Rhode Island Hospital. Millions of people with debilitating strokes, throat cancer or neurogenerative diseases could benefit, he said.

“We should be conscious of the risks, but we can’t forget about the patient and the social good,” said Dr. Fatima Mirza, another resident working on the pilot. “We’re able to help give Lexi back her true voice and she’s able to speak in terms that are the most true to herself.”

Mirza and Ali, who are married, caught the attention of ChatGPT-maker OpenAI because of their previous research project at Lifespan using the AI chatbot to simplify medical consent forms for patients. The San Francisco company reached out while on the hunt earlier this year for promising medical applications for its new AI voice generator.

Bogan was still slowly recovering from surgery. The illness started last summer with headaches, blurry vision and a droopy face, alarming doctors at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. They discovered a vascular tumor the size of a golf ball pressing on her brain stem and entangled in blood vessels and cranial nerves.

“It was a battle to get control of the bleeding and get the tumor out,” said pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Konstantina Svokos.

The tumor’s location and severity coupled with the complexity of the 10-hour surgery damaged Bogan’s control of her tongue muscles and vocal cords, impeding her ability to eat and talk, Svokos said.

“It’s almost like a part of my identity was taken when I lost my voice,” Bogan said.

The feeding tube came out this year. Speech therapy continues, enabling her to speak intelligibly in a quiet room but with no sign she will recover the full lucidity of her natural voice.

“At some point, I was starting to forget what I sounded like,” Bogan said. “I’ve been getting so used to how I sound now.”

Whenever the phone rang at the family’s home in the Providence suburb of North Smithfield, she would push it over to her mother to take her calls. She felt she was burdening her friends whenever they went to a noisy restaurant. Her dad, who has hearing loss, struggled to understand her.

Back at the hospital, doctors were looking for a pilot patient to experiment with OpenAI’s technology.

“The first person that came to Dr. Svokos’ mind was Lexi,” Ali said. “We reached out to Lexi to see if she would be interested, not knowing what her response would be. She was game to try it out and see how it would work.”

Bogan had to go back a few years to find a suitable recording of her voice to “train” the AI system on how she spoke. It was a video in which she explained how to make a pasta salad.

Her doctors intentionally fed the AI system just a 15-second clip. Cooking sounds make other parts of the video imperfect. It was also all that OpenAI needed — an improvement over previous technology requiring much lengthier samples.

They also knew that getting something useful out of 15 seconds could be vital for any future patients who have no trace of their voice on the internet. A brief voicemail left for a relative might have to suffice.

When they tested it for the first time, everyone was stunned by the quality of the voice clone. Occasional glitches — a mispronounced word, a missing intonation — were mostly imperceptible. In April, doctors equipped Bogan with a custom-built phone app that only she can use.

“I get so emotional every time I hear her voice,” said her mother, Pamela Bogan, tears in her eyes.

“I think it’s awesome that I can have that sound again,” added Lexi Bogan, saying it helped “boost my confidence to somewhat where it was before all this happened.”

She now uses the app about 40 times a day and sends feedback she hopes will help future patients. One of her first experiments was to speak to the kids at the preschool where she works as a teaching assistant. She typed in “ha ha ha ha” expecting a robotic response. To her surprise, it sounded like her old laugh.

She’s used it at Target and Marshall’s to ask where to find items. It’s helped her reconnect with her dad. And it’s made it easier for her to order fast food.

Bogan’s doctors have started cloning the voices of other willing Rhode Island patients and hope to bring the technology to hospitals around the world. OpenAI said it is treading cautiously in expanding the use of Voice Engine, which is not yet publicly available.

A number of smaller AI startups already sell voice-cloning services to entertainment studios or make them more widely available. Most voice-generation vendors say they prohibit impersonation or abuse, but they vary in how they enforce their terms of use.

“We want to make sure that everyone whose voice is used in the service is consenting on an ongoing basis,” said Jeff Harris, OpenAI’s lead on the product. “We want to make sure that it’s not used in political contexts. So we’ve taken an approach of being very limited in who we’re giving the technology to.”

Harris said OpenAI’s next step involves developing a secure “voice authentication” tool so that users can replicate only their own voice. That might be “limiting for a patient like Lexi, who had sudden loss of her speech capabilities,” he said. “So we do think that we’ll need to have high-trust relationships, especially with medical providers, to give a little bit more unfettered access to the technology.”

Bogan has impressed her doctors with her focus on thinking about how the technology could help others with similar or more severe speech impediments.

“Part of what she has done throughout this entire process is think about ways to tweak and change this,” Mirza said. “She’s been a great inspiration for us.”

While for now she must fiddle with her phone to get the voice engine to talk, Bogan imagines an AI voice engine that improves upon older remedies for speech recovery — such as the robotic-sounding electrolarynx or a voice prosthesis — in melding with the human body or translating words in real time.

She’s less sure about what will happen as she grows older and her AI voice continues to sound like she did as a teenager. Maybe the technology could “age” her AI voice, she said.

For now, “even though I don’t have my voice fully back, I have something that helps me find my voice again,” she said.

Pro-Palestinian protesters rally in Washington to mark painful past, present

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of protesters rallied within sight of the U.S. Capitol, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and voicing criticism of the Israeli and American governments as they marked a painful present — the war in Gaza — and past — the exodus of about 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from what is now Israel when the state was created in 1948. 

About 400 demonstrators braved steady rains to rally on the National Mall on the 76th anniversary of what is called the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe. In January, thousands of pro-Palestinian activists had gathered in the nation’s capital in one of the larger protests in recent memory. 

There were calls in support of Palestinian rights and an immediate end to Israeli military operations in Gaza. “No peace on stolen land” and “End the killings, stop the crime/Israel out of Palestine,” echoed through the crowd. 

Protesters also focused their anger on President Joe Biden, whom they accuse of feigning concern over the death toll in Gaza. 

“Biden Biden, you will see/genocide’s your legacy,” they said. The Democratic president was in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday. 

Reem Lababdi, a George Washington University sophomore who said she was pepper-sprayed by police last week when they broke up an on-campus protest encampment, acknowledged that the rain seemed to hold down the numbers. 

“I’m proud of every single person who turned out in this weather to speak their minds and send their message,” she said. 

This year’s commemoration was fueled by anger over the ongoing siege of Gaza. The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, and Israel’s military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. 

Speaker Osama Abuirshad, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine, gestured at the Capitol building dome behind him. 

“This Congress does not speak for us. This Congress does not represent the will of the people,” he said. “We’re paying for the bombs. We’re paying for the F-16s and F-35s. And then we do the poor Palestinians a favor and send some food.” 

Speakers also expressed anger over the violent crackdown on multiple pro-Palestinian protest camps at universities across the country. In recent weeks, long-term encampments have been broken up by police at more than 60 schools; just under 3,000 protesters have been arrested. 

The demonstrators marched for several blocks on Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues, with police cars closing the streets ahead of them. One lone counter-protester, waving an Israeli flag, attempted to march near the front of the procession. At one point, one of the demonstrators snatched his flag and ran away. 

With tensions rising, members of the protesters’ “safety team” formed a tight phalanx around the man, both to impede his progress and protect him from the crowd. The standoff was broken up when a police officer intervened, led the man away and told him to go home. 

Heat poses new risk for thousands without power after deadly Texas storm

houston, texas — As the Houston, Texas, area works to clean up and restore power to hundreds of thousands after deadly storms left at least seven people dead, it will do so amid a smog warning and scorching temperatures that could pose health risks.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard said Saturday that highs of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius) were expected through the start of the coming week, with heat indexes likely approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) by midweek.

“We expect the impact of the heat to gradually increase … we will start to see that heat risk increase Tuesday into Wednesday through Friday,” Chenard said.

The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when humidity is combined with the air temperature, according to the weather service.

“Don’t overdo yourself during the cleanup process,” the weather service’s Houston office said in a post on the social platform X.

In addition to the heat, the Houston area could face poor air quality during the weekend.

Heavy rainfall was possible in eastern Louisiana and central Alabama on Saturday, and parts of Louisiana were also at risk of flooding.

The Houston Health Department said it would distribute 400 free portable air conditioners to area seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers of disabled children to contend with the heat.

Five cooling centers also were opened — four in Houston and one in Kingwood.

Hundreds of thousands without power

The widespread destruction of Thursday’s storms brought much of Houston to a standstill. Thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds tore through the city — decimating the facade of one brick building and leaving trees, debris and shattered glass on the streets. A tornado also touched down near the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress.

More than a half-million homes and businesses in Texas remained without electricity by midday Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. Another 21,000 customers were also without power in Louisiana, where strong winds and a suspected tornado hit.

CenterPoint Energy, which has deployed 1,000 employees to the area and is requesting 5,000 more, said power restoration could take several days or longer in some areas, and that customers need to ensure their homes can safely be reconnected.

“In addition to damaging CenterPoint Energy’s electric infrastructure and equipment, severe weather may have caused damage to customer-owned equipment” such as the weatherhead, which is where power enters the home, the company said.

Customers must have repairs completed by a qualified electrician before service can be restored, CenterPoint added.

High-voltage transmission towers that were torn apart and downed power lines pose a twofold challenge for utility companies because the damage affected transmission and distribution systems, according to Alexandria von Meier, a power and energy expert who called that a rare thing. Damage to just the distribution system is more typical, von Meier said.

How quickly repairs are made will depend on a variety of factors, such as the time it takes to assess damages, replace equipment and dispatch workers.

Storm caught many off guard

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez reported late Friday that three people died during the storm, including an 85-year-old woman whose home caught fire after being struck by lightning and a 60-year-old man who had tried to use his vehicle to power his oxygen tank.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire previously said at least four other people were killed in the city when the storms swept through Harris County, which includes Houston.

School districts in the Houston area canceled classes Friday for more than 400,000 students; government offices were closed.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles said Saturday that he hoped to reopen schools Monday, but that is dependent upon the restoration of electricity in school buildings.

“If a school doesn’t have power, it will remain closed,” Miles told reporters during a tour of the heavily damaged Sinclair Elementary School.

Whitmire warned that police were out in force, including state troopers sent to the area to prevent looting. He said the speed and intensity of the storm caught many off guard.

Noelle Delgado, executive director of Houston Pets Alive, said she pulled up at the animal rescue Thursday night and found the dogs and cats — more than 30 in all — uninjured, but the building’s awning had been ripped off, the sign was mangled, and water was leaking inside.

She hoped to find foster homes for the animals.

“I could definitely tell that this storm was a little different,” she said. “It felt terrifying.”

Recovery assistance on the way

Considering the storm damage, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Whitmire both signed disaster declarations, paving the way for state and federal storm recovery assistance.

A separate disaster declaration from President Joe Biden makes federal funding available to people in seven Texas counties — including Harris — that have been affected by severe storms, straight-line winds, tornadoes and flooding since April 26.

Bird flu found in western China as US combats cattle outbreak

BEIJING — Cases of bird flu have been confirmed among wild fowl in western China, the agriculture ministry said Saturday, as concerns grow over a U.S. outbreak infecting cattle. 

Two counties in Qinghai province confirmed 275 cases of H5 influenza among dead Pallas’s gull and other wild birds, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in a notice on its website. 

The ministry received a report on the cases from the China Animal Disease Control Center, and the national Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory confirmed the finding, the notice said. 

The H5N1 outbreak among dairy cattle in at least nine U.S. states since late March has raised questions over whether it could spread to humans. No such cases have been reported. 

The U.S. announced on May 11 that it would spend close to $200 million to fight the outbreak. 

News of the China bird flu cases came as the nation’s anti-graft watchdog announced a corruption probe of the agriculture minister Saturday. 

Tang Renjian, 61, is under investigation for “serious violations of discipline and law” by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and National Supervisory Commission, CCDI said on its website. 

The term is CCDI’s typical euphemism for corruption. 

The notice gave no further details. 

Зеленський: Україна та союзники мають «однакові цінності», але часто «різні погляди» на закінчення війни

«Ми хочемо, щоб війна закінчилася справедливим миром для нас. Захід хоче, щоб війна закінчилася. Крапка. Швидше. І для них це справедливий мир»

Yemen’s Houthi rebels reportedly fire missile, hitting tanker in Red Sea

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen’s Houthi rebels hit an oil tanker in the Red Sea with a ballistic missile early Saturday, damaging the Panama-flagged, Greek-owned vessel in their latest assault over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, officials said.

Although the Houthis did not immediately claim the assault, it comes as they claimed to have shot down a U.S. military MQ-9 Reaper drone over Yemen and have launched other attacks on shipping, disrupting trade on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.

The attack around 1 a.m. struck the oil tanker Wind, which recently docked in Russia and was bound for China, the U.S. military’s Central Command said. China and Russia maintain ties over military equipment and oil to Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.

The missile strike “caused flooding which resulted in the of loss propulsion and steering,” Central Command said on the social platform X. “The crew of M/T Wind was able to restore propulsion and steering, and no casualties were reported. M/T Wind resumed its course under its own power.”

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center and the private security firm Ambrey similarly acknowledged the attack earlier Saturday. Ambrey said it caused a fire aboard the Wind.

It can take the Houthis hours — or even days — to claim their attacks.

The Houthis have launched attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, demanding Israel ends the war in Gaza.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the rebels have been targeted by a U.S.-led airstrike campaign in Yemen. Even so, shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden still remains low because of the threat.

The Houthis claimed that they shot down the Reaper on Thursday with a surface-to-air missile. They described the drone as “carrying out hostile actions” in Yemen’s Marib province, which remains held by allies of Yemen’s exiled, internationally recognized government.

Since the Houthis seized the country’s north and its capital, Sanaa, in 2014, the U.S. military has previously lost at least five drones to the rebels.

Reapers, which cost around $30 million apiece, can fly at altitudes up to 50,000 feet and have an endurance of up to 24 hours before needing to land.