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Headlines for Monday, July 16, 2018

Police: Suspect in Homicide, Officers' Shooting Identified

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man who was fatally shot after wounding three Kansas City police officers during a gunfight had not drawn law enforcement's attention before he became a person of interest this month in the death of a college student from India, police said Monday. Investigators believe 25-year-old Marlin Mack opened fire on officers Sunday with a high-powered semi-automatic rifle during a confrontation that began outside a motel before moving to a nearby home, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said. Smith, who didn't say where Mack was from, declined to say what preceded the confrontations. But he said one of the injured officers was expected to be released Monday and would need ongoing medical attention. The other two will remain hospitalized but are in stable condition, Smith said. Mack was wanted for questioning in the slaying of 25-year-old Sharath Koppu, who was fatally shot during an armed robbery on July 6 at a fast-food restaurant. Relatives said Koppu was studying for a master's degree in computer engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Investigators believe Koppu, who was helping a friend at the restaurant, was the random victim of a robbery, police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said Monday. Video from the restaurant prompted up to 40 tips, which Smith said was vital to finding Mack.

"I can't thank those people enough for having the courage to call our tips hotline and being willing to reach out to us," Smith said.

Officers found Mack on Sunday at a motel in eastern Kansas City. Investigators said he fired at officers , hitting two of them. Mack then fled to a nearby home where more gunfire was exchanged. He eventually came out of the house firing and was shot by officers, police said. A juvenile who fled the scene of the first shooting was taken into custody but isn't expected to face charges, Becchina said Monday. Smith said police were not aware of Mack before Koppu's shooting. Prison officials in Missouri and Kansas have no record of any prior violations, and online court records show no criminal history for Mack. Koppu was a software engineer who came to the United States from India in January, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family. His cousin, Raghu Chowdavaram, told WDAF-TV on Monday that Koppu was chasing his dream of earning a graduate degree in computer engineering.

"He was determined to do something very big," Chowdavaram said.

University Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal expressed thanks in a statement Sunday to the officers who were wounded while investigating Koppu's death, saying they "risked their lives to pursue justice." Jagdeesh Subramanian, president of the India Association of Kansas City, said the robbery and fatal shooting of Koppu appeared random and unfortunately "could have happened to anybody."

(-Earlier Report-)

Police: Suspect Dead After Wounding 3 Kansas City Officers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A gunman being investigated in the killing of a university student from India shot and wounded three Kansas City police officers Sunday before dying in an exchange of gunfire with police, authorities said.  The three officers' wounds were not life-threatening, police said.  The suspect, whose name has not been released, had been identified as a person of interest in the slaying of Sharath Koppu and officers had him under surveillance, according to police. Koppu, 25, was a master's degree student from India who was studying at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Koppu was shot on July 6 during an armed robbery at a fast food restaurant in Kansas City where he worked.  Jagdeesh Subramanian, president of the India Association of Kansas City, said the group is grateful to police for pursuing Koppu's shooting diligently and that "there is some closure" with the person of interest's death.  "We are equally disheartened hearing about the three officers who were shot in pursuit," Subramanian said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them for a speedy recovery."  The man being sought by police in relation to Koppu's death opened fire Sunday afternoon on officers with a semi-automatic "AK-47-type" rifle as they conducted an investigation at a motel less than 2 miles from Kauffman Stadium, where the Kansas City Royals baseball team plays, police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina told The Associated Press. Two officers were wounded in that gunfire.  Police had been looking for the man all week, Kansas City police Chief Rick Smith told reporters in a video posted online by KCTV.  "This is the first time we laid eyes on him," Smith said.

After shooting the two officers, the man fled in a vehicle with another person, Becchina said. Police took the vehicle and placed the other person in custody, though Becchina said that individual isn't believed to be involved in the fatal robbery or the shootings of the officers.  The gunman remained at large until about an hour or so later, when he opened fire at officers from inside a house where he had barricaded himself a short distance from the motel, police said. A detective was shot.  "We didn't know he was there. He just popped up all of a sudden," Smith said.  Becchina said about 15 minutes later, the man emerged from the home and again opened fire. Officers fired back, fatally wounding him.  Koppu, the university student who was killed in the shooting that police were investigating, was a software engineer who came from India to the United States in January, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family. Raghu Chowdavaram, a cousin, told The Kansas City Star newspaper after Koppu's death that Koppu was a "perfect gentleman" who wouldn't hurt anyone.  Subramanian said the robbery and fatal shooting of Koppu appeared random and unfortunately "could have happened to anybody."

(-Earlier Report-)

Kansas City Shootout Kills Gunman, Wounds Three Police Officers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a gunman being investigated in the killing of a university student from India shot and wounded three Kansas City police officers Sunday before dying in an exchange of gunfire with police.  The three officers' wounds were not life-threatening. Police said the suspect, whose name has not been released, had been identified as a person of interest in the slaying of Sharath Koppu and officers had him under surveillance.  The 25-year-old Koppu was a master's degree student from India who was studying at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Koppu was shot on July 6 during an armed robbery at a fast food restaurant in Kansas City where he worked.  Jagdeesh Subramanian, president of the India Association of Kansas City, said the group is grateful to police for pursuing Koppu's shooting diligently and that "there is some closure" with the person of interest's death.

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NRA Endorses Kansas Governor Colyer in GOP Primary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The National Rifle Association has endorsed Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer in his Republican primary race against a field that includes Secretary of State Kris Kobach. But Kobach touted his own endorsement Monday by Gun Owners of America. The group describes itself as a "no-compromise" gun-rights organization. Colyer released a copy of a letter Monday from the NRA's political action committee backing Colyer and giving him an "A'' rating. The letter became public shortly after Kobach announced his endorsement. Colyer and Kobach have both portrayed themselves in their August 7 primary race as strong supporters of gun rights. Gun-rights advocates are a key part of the Kansas GOP's base. Kobach rides in parades in a jeep painted with a U.S. flag design with a replica machine gun on back.

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Wisconsin's Walker Endorses Kansas Governor in Primary Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has endorsed Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer as Colyer faces a crowded Republican primary featuring a serious challenge on his right. Colyer announced the endorsement Monday. Walker said in a statement that he is backing Colyer in his bid to stay in office because Colyer has shown "real commonsense, conservative leadership." Walker is among the nation's most prominent Republican governors and is seeking a third term in Wisconsin. Colyer's opponents in the contentious August 7 primary race include conservative firebrand and Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach spokeswoman Danedri Herbert responded to Walker's action with an email saying, "So what? Who cares what some guy from Wisconsin thinks?" Walker's endorsement of Colyer came a day before a planned Kobach fundraiser in Wichita with Donald Trump Jr.

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Report Says Kansas Wheat Harvest Nearly Finished

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The government's latest update pegs this year's Kansas wheat harvest as nearly finished. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported on Monday that 99 percent of the wheat has been harvested in the state. That compares to 95 percent five-year average for this time in the season. The agency reported corn condition in the state as 20 percent poor to very poor with 32 percent rated as fair, 42 percent as good and 6 percent as excellent. Other crops are also making progress. About 13 percent of the soybeans in Kansas are now setting pods and 10 percent of the sorghum has now headed in Kansas.

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Missing Missouri Woman Found Dead in Kansas

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Police say a Missouri woman missing for a week has been found dead in an eastern Kansas house, and a man has been arrested on suspicion of killing her.  The Kansas City Police Department says the body of 43-year-old MeShon Cooper, who had been missing from Kansas City since July 6, was found early Saturday morning in a house in Shawnee, Kansas.  Shawnee police say 47-year-old Ronald Lee Kidwell, of Shawnee, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He remains in jail on $1 million bond.  Police say Cooper's body was found as part of a joint investigation by the Kansas City, Shawnee and Lenexa police departments. Prosecutors say Kidwell is suspected of having killed her sometime between July 6 and Friday.

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Kobach Rails Against Illegal Immigrants at Pro-ICE Rally

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — GOP gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach railed against people in the U.S. illegally at a Wichita rally intended to show support for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The Wichita Eagle says Kobach blamed those immigrants for everything from stealing American jobs to causing a tuition hike this year at state universities at the Saturday rally that drew only about 80 people. If elected governor, he says he would end in-state tuition for young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.  Kobach was joined at the rally by his running mate, Wink Hartman, and Republican state Sen. Ty Masterson, of Andover.  Bill Anderson was one of three rally protesters who held signs and shouted at Kobach and other speakers, noting that nearly all of the rally supporters attending were white.  Kobach addressed the three protesters during his time at the microphone, calling them "snowflakes" who express "fake outrage."

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Kansas Churches Vow to Protect Immigrants from Deportation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two churches in Kansas say they'll protect immigrants facing deportation even if it means arrest. The Wichita Eagle reports that Newton's Shalom Mennonite Church and Moundridge's First Mennonite Church are two of a growing number of churches nationwide that have joined the sanctuary movement. Those churches have pledged to offer sanctuary to immigrants who live in the U.S. illegally and face the threat of deportation. Some churches have opposed the sanctuary movement, saying religious spaces have no legal authority to protect immigrants or that it's immoral to harbor people in the U.S. illegally. Pastors at Shalom and First Mennonite say they wouldn't try concealing their housing someone, but understand there could still be consequences. Both churches will undergo renovations to create spaces for immigrant families to live while they work on their legal cases.

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Ocasio-Cortez Stumps for Insurgent Democrats in the Midwest

NEW YORK (AP) — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is back on the campaign trail, but this time in the Midwest. The 28-year-old Democratic rising star is stumping for two young, progressive Democrats hoping to win Democratic primaries in Kansas and Michigan. On Friday, she will travel to Wichita to join Senator  Bernie Sanders in campaigning for James Thompson, a Democrat looking to flip a congressional seat once considered safely Republican. Then on July 28 and 29, she'll visit Michigan to lend her national spotlight to Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old, progressive candidate for governor. She will travel throughout Michigan, including stops in Grand Rapids, Flint and Detroit.

"Right now we are in a critically important juncture in our country," Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement released by El-Sayed's campaign.

In New York City's boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez came out of seemingly nowhere to upset 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic congressional primaries last month. It remains to be seen if her populist, progressive brand can help win a congressional election in the Midwest. Sanders, of Vermont, beat Hillary Clinton in both Kansas and Michigan in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. Ocasio-Cortez, Thompson and El-Sayed are part of Justice Democrats, a political action committee formed by organizers of Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign. They are supporting a number of progressive candidates across the country who are not career politicians and have pledged to refuse donations from corporations. Thompson, who is a veteran and a civil rights lawyer, came within 6 percentage points of Republican Ron Estes in last year's special election in Kansas. He has one competitor in the Democratic primary. El-Sayed is Detroit's public health commissioner and looking to upset Democratic state Senator Gretchen Whitmer. Primaries in both Kansas and Michigan take place August 7.

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3 Inmates Sue Former Jail Worker over Abuse Allegations

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three former inmates have filed lawsuits alleging that a former food service worker at a Kansas jail sexually and physically abused them and that the worker's supervisors ignored their complaints. The Wichita Eagle reports that the civil suits were filed last week in Sedgwick County District Court over the conduct of Timothy Kaneer. He's currently awaiting trial on eight criminal counts associated with the alleged assaults at the county jail. The lawsuits say Kaneer supervised the three inmates in the jail's kitchen while working for the facility's food service vendor. The suit accuses him of making sexual comments, rubbing up against them and — in at least one case — threatening to have an inmate placed in segregation if he reported it. Kaneer's defense attorney says Kaneer denies the allegations.

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2 Companies Donate $5 Million to Build Topeka's Downtown Plaza

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A banking and utility business are donating $2.5 each toward the construction of a downtown Topeka plaza that will include a large digital screen and performance stage. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the donations are coming from Capitol Federal and Evergy, which was formed by the merger of Westar Energy and KCP&L. The combined $5 million gift will make up more than half of the funds needed to build the plaza. Downtown Topeka Inc. CEO and president Vince Frye says the plaza is expected to cost between $8 million and $9 million. Besides the stage, the plaza also will feature a splash pad that can be used as an ice rink during winter months. Construction is expected to begin next year, with the plaza expected to open in March 2020.

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Kansas Woman Charged in Beheading Found Competent for Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled a Kansas woman accused of decapitating her ex-boyfriend's mother is competent for trial. Rachael Hilyard is charged with first-degree murder in the April 2017 death of 63-year-old Micki Davis, the mother of Hilyard's ex-boyfriend. KAKE-TV reports that earlier this year Hilyard had been found not competent and returned to Larned State Hospital pending Monday's reevaluation in Sedgwick County District Court. Prosecutors say Davis was attacked when she went with her 9-year-old grandson to collect some belongings from a home. The boy was able to run away and call 911. Davis's decapitated body was found in the garage and her head was in the kitchen sink.

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Medical Company Moving to Independence, Adds Up to 125 Jobs

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Healthy Plus, a medical service start-up in Lee's Summit, plans to relocate to Independence and add up to 125 jobs.  The company announced Friday that it plans to put its headquarters in a former Sprint building near Interstate 70.  Healthy Plus was founded last year by former University of Missouri-Kansas City assistant basketball coach Sean Bledsoe. It helps doctors and health systems schedule annual wellness visits for Medicare patients.  The Kansas City Star reports Healthy Plus currently has 11 employees but plans to grow by 75 to 125 employees in the next two years.  Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Economic Development Council, said 40 employees were already planning to join Healthy Plus in the next three weeks.

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Final Hurdle Cleared to Bring KC46 Tanker to McConnell AFB

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Air Force says McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita likely will receive its first KC-46 air refueling tanker by October.  Air Force official Will Roper said Friday flight testing to bring the tanker has been finished. McConnell, in southeast Wichita, will be the first base to receive the tanker that uses the Boeing 767 passenger airplane as its airframe.  The flight testing for the first delivery was completed July 6 in Seattle.  The Wichita Eagle reports the long-awaited tanker replaces the KC-135 air refueling tankers that dominate McConnell's two air refueling wings, the 22nd and 931st Air Refueling Wings.  McConnell was designated as the first base to receive the tankers. Eventually, McConnell will have 36 KC-46s, replacing its aging fleet of KC-135s.

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Program to Help Missouri Families with Home Down Payment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A program could help hundreds of Missouri families with a down payment on their homes.  The Kansas City Star reports that the NeighborhoodLIFT program will provide homeowner training and $15,000 in down-payment assistant grants.  Up to 300 families buying houses in Jackson, Clay and Cass counties will be accepted into the program. The program will begin accepting applicants July 27.  The program is administered by Westside Housing Organization and run by NeighborWorks America. It's funded through a $5.7 million commitment from Wells Fargo, which is working to improve its image after being criticized for opening accounts without customers' permission in 2016.  Region bank president of Wells Fargo Kirk Kellner says the program predated the scandal.  NeighborhoodLIFT previously came to Kansas City in 2014, when almost 270 families received loans.

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Water Levels Increased in Missouri River

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The amount of water being released into the lower Missouri River will likely remain above normal throughout the summer and fall to reduce the amount of water held in reservoirs along the river.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased the amount of water being released from Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border in late June because more spring rain and more snow fell in the mountains.  Officials expect the amount of water in the Missouri River this year will be 157 percent of normal.  The releases are expected to remain near 60,000 cubic feet per second through the summer, but they may be adjusted in response to downstream flood concerns.  Roughly 25 percent of the flood storage space in the river's reservoirs remains available.

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KU Scholarship Program to Help Underrepresented Engineers

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas School of Engineering has launched a new scholarship program that aims to increase the number of underrepresented students.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the KU Engineering, Science and Technology program is part of IHAWKE, the engineering school's organization for diversity and women's programs.  KU officials say the program aims to help recruit students who have potential but don't have the resources, support or knowledge of opportunities. The initiative will seek out students as young as middle school and focus on low-income and first-generation college students.  The program will hold day camps, university tours, offer test prep and have mentorship opportunities.  A 2017 study by National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics found that African Americans, Hispanics and disabled people are underrepresented in science and engineering jobs.

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Kansas Farmers Face Challenges in Budding Hemp Industry

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Experts and economists warn that creating an industrial hemp market in Kansas is full of obstacles.  State lawmakers legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp earlier this year, and final regulations are expected later this year.  Industrial hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, but hemp is cultivated to produce small amounts of THC, the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.  Hemp can be turned into many items, including food, clothes, insulation and construction materials. However, the plant requires special equipment to harvest and process.  The federal government still views industrial hemp as a drug, so growers and processors are cut off from traditional banking.  Kansas resident Christina Hett says the farming market is doing poorly so many farmers are interested in the new hemp market.

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St. Louis Volunteers Preserve Trans World Airlines Relic

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Volunteers are trying to ensure the legacy of Trans World Airlines isn't forgotten in St. Louis.  KSDK-TV reports that several Trans World retirees are disassembling an old training simulator, one of the last artifacts from the airline's glory days. The simulator located in St. Louis hasn't been used since Trans World was acquired by American Airlines in 2001.  The St. Louis Lambert International Airport is donating the relic to the TWA Museum in Kansas City. The simulator was used for decades to help pilots and flight attendants prepare for emergencies.  Retired Trans World mechanic Greg Tyler says it simulates fires and turbulence.  Volunteers hope to have it fully taken apart by the end of July. The relic will then be reassembled in Kansas City to be displayed sometime next month.

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Ex-Royals Player Auctions Baseball Memorabilia for $80K

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bidders have spent nearly $80,000 for baseball memorabilia a former Kansas City Royals second baseman put up for auction last month. Crown Sports Auctions Co-founder Jeff Logan tells the Kansas City Star that Frank White's miniature World Series trophy went for $33,000 and his 1980 Gold Glove award sold for almost $13,400. White became Jackson County's top elected official in 2016. White declined to comment on how he plans to spend the proceeds, which could relieve some financial pressure he's faced since his ties with the Royals were severed seven years ago. His Lee's Summit house has been listed for foreclosure three times, most recently in April. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is investigating how White was able to remove the home from the foreclosure list for the first time in 2016.

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