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Inside today’s St. Joe Live

❯ Start The Presses

Robidoux Resident Theatre to perform ‘Disney’s Newsies’ this weekend

❯ 25 years of The Vous

Bar and music venue set to celebrate anniversary with two concerts

Plus, Much, Much More

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Heartfelt reception | EmPowerU holds event to meet and greet new MWSU president
New Western president meets with community

Leaders in the St. Joseph community gathered Wednesday morning at emPowerU to welcome Missouri Western State University’s new president and to foster a spirit of collaboration between the university and its surrounding area.

The event, hosted by the Heartland Foundation saw educators, law enforcement, military, politicians, health-care providers and more gathering to meet and hear from Matthew Wilson.

“I feel humbled and privileged to be in a community that rallies around higher education, that is willing to work with a fine quality institution like Missouri Western,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he hopes to bring more opportunities to the citizens, organizations and businesses in the St. Joseph area as he steps into his new role.

“One of the reasons why I’m here in St. Joseph is to help elevate folks, make sure that they have the education that they need to go out in our society and succeed,” Wilson said. “We are an open-access university. That means that we shouldn’t have obstacles that prevent students from coming into our university. We need to be recognizing folks and the experience that they have in life and being able to integrate that into the university.”

Julie Gaddie, president of the Heartland Foundation, said this is one of many opportunities her organization has taken to focus on bringing the community together.

“Today was a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the power of collaboration,” Gaddie said.

Wilson said he hopes community members will continue to support Missouri Western by becoming involved with events on campus.

“There are many ways that the community can help Missouri Western,” Wilson said. “One is to get behind Missouri Western. Come out and experience our campus. We have art events, music events, sporting events. We offer classes for everyone whether it’s on a credit basis or a non-credit basis.”

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Hawley scrutinizes Silicon Valley for 'child exploitation'

Big tech companies fail to change their ways even in the face of criticism over exposing children to pedophiles, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley says. The reason, he adds, isn’t hard to figure out.

“The reason is money,” the lawmaker said Wednesday. “The reason is they make 70 percent or more of their money, of their revenues, from this kind of auto-referral.”

Hawley has taken Silicon Valley firms to task this year for a number of things, most recently aiming at the inadequate protections provided to young people online.

On Tuesday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World,” the Missouri Republican focused his attention on YouTube and its algorithm that automatically refers home videos of minors to those who might prey on children.

Legislation called the Protecting Children from Online Predators Act has been introduced by Hawley, who said YouTube could add security to child content but has shown no inclination to do so.

“I’m afraid it’s typical of these big tech companies,” he said. “At the end of the day, what they’re most interested in is making a quick buck.”

In an interview Wednesday with News-Press NOW, Hawley said parents have no idea that videos of their children have been referred in this way. Pedophiles can track and get in contact with the children.

“We know that child exploitation online is becoming an epidemic,” Hawley said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, recalled her girlhood and warnings about getting lured into a stranger’s van.

“Now that hypothetical van has gone away and we have those who want to exploit our children using the internet as their van,” she said.

Christopher McKenna, founder of an online safety organization called Protect Young Eyes, testified at the hearing that sexual predators use social media platforms to identify and “groom” children.

He noted that a poll of 2,000 teens revealed that almost 75 percent of respondents said they had gotten pornographic direct messages from strangers, even on private accounts.

“The business model based on reach and engagement is one that absolutely conflicts with protection,” McKenna said in fielding a question from Hawley. “In no other places where we have significant numbers of children spending time do we allow so few controls to govern those environments.”

Another piece of legislation Hawley introduced, the Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act, got approval in the U.S. House on Wednesday and goes to the White House for President Trump’s signature. It had earlier passed in the Senate.

The measure provides grants for local law enforcement agencies, the funds to be used for suicide-prevention programs and mental health services for officers.

“These heroes show up every day to protect and serve our communities, so it’s important that we show up for them,” Hawley said after the House action.

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Local officials react to disaster declaration

Federal assistance for local individuals affected by recent flooding has been approved, and area government officials are relieved to see the program go into effect.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump approved the state’s request for a major disaster declaration due to floods and storms that began April 29. This made it possible for homeowners and renters in 20 Missouri counties, including Andrew and Buchanan, to apply for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individual Assistance Program.

Buchanan County Emergency Management Director Bill Brinton said this program was not available during the first round of flooding in March due to not enough damage being done to individual properties.

“When the second event happened, it’s a lot wider spread. There’s lots more homes involved in it on both the east and west side of the state,” Brinton said. “So, we finally met that threshold where there’s enough damage and there’s assistance for individuals.”

Housing assistance, low-interest disaster loans, counseling and money for repairs and the replacement of some damaged items are a few of the many things that can be applied for through the program.

Brinton said loans can cover uninsured property loss, and for some who may not qualify for the loans, one-time grants may be available.

He said FEMA will be setting up a post in St. Joseph to assist individuals with the process, though a location and date have not yet been determined.

“They’ll set up an individual assistance post and then people will go in and fill out the paperwork with them,” Brinton said.

Homeowners and renters can register for disaster assistance at or by calling FEMA at 800-621-3362.

Another FEMA program, the Public Assistance Program, which would provide financial aid for county- and city-owned property damage, has not been approved, though officials with the city of St. Joseph and Buchanan County have submitted preliminary estimates and are continuing to assess damage.

Presiding Buchanan County Commissioner Lee Sawyer said while that process continues to be ongoing, the recent declaration will mean relief for those who live in the area.

“This is really where individuals go in directly and deal directly with the federal government themselves,” Sawyer said. “So, really the county is not involved, but obviously we’re very pleased that individuals in the county have an opportunity now to go apply for this assistance.”

County officials have estimated there is around $1.2 million in damage to county-owned property caused by flooding that they hope to have partially covered by FEMA funds if the Public Assistance Program application is approved.

Jada McClintick, emergency management manager for the city, said St. Joseph officials are estimating that total flood damage for 2019 on city-owned property is approaching $2 million.

It is not yet known the exact damage that has been done by the current flood event.

“With the second incident, we still have so many things that are underwater that we haven’t gotten a good grasp on all the damage assessment yet, so the governor has not been able to request the PA declaration yet,” McClintick said.

The majority of damage done to city property has occurred at Heritage Park on the city’s northwest side.

The first round of floods, which matching grant funds have been approved for through FEMA, caused damage to some parts of the park, while the second round damaged other parts, such as the field grass.

McClintick said FEMA will have to decide what damage occurred when and then will assign matching grants for individual repair projects.

“Heritage is one site and they’ll have to try and divide the different damage between what happened during this flood and what happened during that flood,” McClintick said.

She said FEMA funds typically cover the majority of a project’s costs, but the state and city will be responsible for some of the funding.

According to City Manager Bruce Woody, it could take years before those reimbursement funds are seen, based on past experiences.

New holding center for migrant children opens in Texas

CARRIZO SPRINGS, Texas — A former oilfield worker camp off a dirt road in rural Texas has become the U.S. government’s newest holding center for detaining migrant children after they leave Border Patrol stations, where complaints of overcrowding and filthy conditions have sparked a worldwide outcry.

Inside the wire fence that encircles the site are soccer fields, a giant air-conditioned tent that serves as a dining hall, and trailers set up for use as classrooms and as places where children can call their families.

The long trailers once used to house workers in two-bedroom suites have been converted into 12-person dorms, with two pairs of bunk beds in each bedroom and the living room.

The Department of Health and Human Services said about 225 children are being held at the site in Carrizo Springs, with plans to expand to as many as 1,300, making it one of the biggest camps in the U.S. government system.

The government said the holding center will give it much-needed capacity to take in more children from the Border Patrol and prevent their detention in stations like the one in Clint, Texas, where lawyers last month reported some 250 youngsters were being held in cells with inadequate food, water and sanitation. Of the children held at Carrizo Springs, 21 had previously been detained at Clint, HHS spokesman Mark Weber said.

HHS said the Carrizo Springs location is a comfortable environment for children while they wait to be placed with family members or sponsors in the U.S.

But immigrant advocates and others liken such places to child prison camps and worry that the isolated location 110 miles (180 kilometers) from San Antonio, the nearest major city, will make it more difficult to find lawyers to help the teenagers with their immigration cases.

Advocates have complained that HHS’ largest holding centers — a facility in Homestead, Florida, a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, and a now-closed tent camp at Tornillo, Texas — have traumatized children through overcrowding and inadequate staffing.

“All of this is part of a morally bankrupt system,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat.

There’s also the huge cost: an average of $775 per day for each child. HHS plans to pay the nonprofit Baptist Child and Family Services up to $300 million through January to run the Carrizo Springs site.

The government allowed The Associated Press to visit on Tuesday and distribute photos and video, though the AP could not show children’s faces because of privacy restrictions.

Boys and girls are kept in separate buildings and follow separate schedules. They have decorated their rooms with drawings of superheroes and the flags of their home countries, including Guatemala and El Salvador. Many children smiled and greeted visitors as they walked by. Several girls knitted yarn hats and armbands.

A series of tents serves as the infirmary, with nurses on hand treating a few children for lice and flu-like symptoms.

Breakfast is at 7 a.m., followed by soccer, then six hours of classes in reading, writing, social studies, science and math.

In reading class on Tuesday, the students were asked to practice reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in English. Many did so haltingly before the teachers called one student to the front to help lead them. After he finished, the whole class applauded.

HHS said the goal is to move the children through the holding center and others like it as quickly as possible. The department said it has sped up placing children with sponsors to an average of 45 days, down from 93 days last November. One key, HHS said, was lifting a requirement that all adult relatives be fingerprinted before they can take a child out of custody.

“This facility is all about unification,” said Weber, the HHS spokesman.

The holding center is opening amid record numbers of family members apprehended at the border and thousands of children traveling without their parents as they flee violence and poverty in Central America.

Baptist Child and Family Services also ran the Tornillo camp, which opened last summer as thousands of children were separated from their parents by Trump administration policy. Tornillo reached as many as 2,800 children until it was closed in January.

BCFS CEO Kevin Dinnin said he had refused in December to take more children at Tornillo because the camp was holding them for so long, a decision that led to its closing. Dinnin said he resolved never to open another emergency center like it, but the conditions reported in Border Patrol custody changed his mind. He said he also believes HHS is doing more to process children more quickly.

“At the end of the day, our philosophy has been ... to keep kids out of CBP jail cells,” Dinnin said.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the legal group RAICES, said his organization is ready to send lawyers to Carrizo Springs but is waiting for the OK from the government.

“We just want to get inside and work with those kids,” Ryan said. “Children who have been detained, who have gone through deprivation and cages in Border Patrol custody, are potentially being released without ever having had access to legal advice and screening.”

U.S. Women's soccer team returns home

Fans celebrate U.S. women’s World Cup champs with parade, also rally for equal pay.

Details on Page C1