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Nation and World briefs for September 20

Federal agency says it lost track of 1,488 migrant children

Twice in less than a year, the federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.

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The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June. That number represents about 13 percent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.

The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April. Lawmakers had asked HHS officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.

“The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn’t know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel’s chair, said Wednesday. “Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable.”

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were “lost.”

Pakistan’s ex-PM Sharif freed after court suspends sentence

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law were released from prison Wednesday after a court suspended their sentences and granted them bail pending their appeals hearings.

The Islamabad High Court made the decision after the Sharifs petitioned to appeal their sentences, which were handed down by an anti-graft tribunal earlier this year in a corruption case against them. The three were released from a prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The development is the latest twist in a series of scandals involving the former prime minister, beginning with his ouster from office last year, to several corruption cases and trials he still faces.

When the anti-graft tribunal first convicted and sentenced Sharif on July 6, he was in London with his daughter, visiting his critically ill wife. The father and daughter returned home a week later and were taken to prison to serve their sentences.

Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League, meanwhile, lost in parliamentary elections later in July and has now taken on the mantle of opposition party to new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.

In Wednesday’s decision, the two-judge panel headed by Justice Athar Minallah ordered that Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Mohammad Safdar, be released once they each post a bond of half a million rupees, or about $4,000.

In the evening, the three were released from the prison, where many party leaders and a large crowd of supporters gathered to receive them, said Sen. Mushahidullah Khan, a close aide to Sharif. Khan said Sharif and relatives were escorted to the airport amid tight security. From there, they were to fly to the eastern city of Lahore.

Woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart released from prison

DRAPER, Utah — A woman who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart and stood by as the Utah girl was sexually assaulted was released from prison Wednesday amid concerns that she remains a threat 15 years after the chilling crime.

Wanda Barzee, 72, quietly left the state prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper, avoiding a throng of reporters gathered outside.

Court documents say she will stay in unspecified emergency housing chosen by her probation officer until another home is approved.

Barzee’s release followed a surprise announcement last week that Utah authorities had miscalculated her sentence and she would be freed about six years earlier than expected.

Under the terms of her release, Barzee must undergo mental health treatment and not contact Smart and her family.

Lawmaker: US Senate, staff targeted by state-backed hackers

Foreign government hackers continue to target the personal email accounts of U.S. senators and their aides — and the Senate’s security office has refused to defend them, a lawmaker says.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a Wednesday letter to Senate leaders that his office discovered that “at least one major technology company” has warned an unspecified number of senators and aides that their personal email accounts were “targeted by foreign government hackers.” Similar methods were employed by Russian military agents who leaked the contents of private email inboxes to influence the 2016 elections.

Wyden did not specify the timing of the notifications, but a Senate staffer said they occurred “in the last few weeks or months.” The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

But the senator said the Office of the Sergeant at Arms , which oversees Senate security, informed legislators and staffers that it has no authority to help secure personal, rather than official, accounts.

“This must change,” Wyden wrote in the letter. “The November election grows ever closer, Russia continues its attacks on our democracy, and the Senate simply does not have the luxury of further delays.” A spokeswoman for the security office said it would have no comment.

Police kill gunman who shot 4 in Pennsylvania court lobby

A gunman opened fire outside a crowded Pennsylvania courtroom Wednesday afternoon, shooting at police and others before an officer fired multiple shots at him, killing him.

Fayette County District Attorney Richard Bower said Wednesday evening that a German Township police officer shot and killed the gunman after he entered the lobby in Masontown with a handgun drawn and opened fire injuring four people. Bower declined to name the gunman, saying only that he was due in court on charges related to a recent domestic violence incident.

Bower said Masontown police Sgt. R. Scott Miller first encountered the gunman and was injured when he exchanged gunfire with the shooter. When Miller took cover, Bower said the gunman proceeded to fire shots injuring two men and one woman.

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“In this case, as is so often the case, the German Township police officer ran toward the danger, not away. He protected over 30 to 40 people from injury or death,” Bower said.

“These police officers and these emergency management people risk their lives every day … and today they all were a shining light to our community,” he added.