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Missouri College Student Allegedly Encouraged Five Suicides, Lawsuit Says

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  • Parents of two suicide victims are suing former Truman State University student Brandon Grossheim for encouraging five people struggling with depression to take their own lives.
  • In the suit, Grossheim was described as “fascinated with death,” and was allegedly seen wearing one of the victim’s clothes and dating another’s girlfriend after their deaths.
  • The lawsuit also seeks to hold the university and the fraternity house, where several of the deaths occurred, accountable for not taking precautions to keep the victims away from the “suspicious fraternity brother.”

Lawsuit

A former Truman State University student and fraternity member is facing a lawsuit that claims he “encouraged” and “aided” five people struggling with depression to commit suicide.

The suit accuses 22-years-old Brandon Grossheim of the wrongful deaths of three students who were fraternity brothers with him, along with others living near the university in Kirksville, Missouri. All five deaths occurred between August 2016 to April 2017.

During that time, Grossheim acted as house manager for Alpha Kappa Lambda and counseled depressed individuals because he saw himself as a “superhero,” going by the nickname “peacemaker.”

According to BuzzFeed News, Truman State students Alex Mullins, Joshua Thomas, and Jake Allen Hughes all committed suicide in the AKL house. 

Another friend, who was not associated with the university, killed himself in his apartment, where Grossheim worked as a building manager. The final victim, a female listed as Jane Doe, was not identified as a student and the location of her death was not revealed.

Grossheim does not currently have any pending criminal charges against him. Kirksville police said investigations into each of the deaths have been closed without any charges filed.

Grossheim is no longer a student at Truman State, having withdrawn in December 2016. The last suicide associated with him took place in April 2017.

Alleged Odd Activity 

The suit states that all five individuals battled depression and had expressed suicidal thoughts to Grossheim after they quit taking medication for depression.

The attorney representing the families of the victims, Nicole Gorovsky, said Grossheim “counseled people and gave advice and step-by-step directions to people on how to ‘deal with depression and do their own free will.’” Part of that advice included information about how to commit suicide. 

The suit goes on to cite statements by Grossheim’s fraternity brothers, who claim he was known to cause problems and possessed a “fascination with death.” 

After their deaths, Grossheim was seen wearing the clothes of one of the victims, dating the girlfriend of another, and carrying significant amounts of money and drugs the fraternity brothers speculated might have belonged to the victims.

Gorovsky said a police investigation found Grossheim possessed keys to all five victim’s living spaces. It claims he “handled” Mullins’ body before the police arrived, and that he attempted CPR after Hughes’ death.

Police also found a note with Grossheim’s name and contact information in the same closet where Thomas killed himself. 

There were too many similarities, one person in common, and so many questions… it’s time for answers,” Mullins’ mother, Melissa Bottorff-Arey, said in a statement. 

The series of deaths have drawn comparisons to the 2017 involuntary-manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter, who repeatedly encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide. In July, Carter filed an appeal to the United States Supreme Court to overturn her conviction.

I love you, bud,” Grossheim said in a Facebook post about Joshua Thomas following his death. “I know I told you that a lot, and it made me happy to know that you knew I meant it. We’ve been through a lot, together, and we grew very close. It really upsets me to lose you.”

Grossheim also made similar posts about Hughes and Mullins after their deaths. 

Lawsuit Against Truman State and Kappa Alpha Lambda

The parents of Mullins and Thomas also lodged suits against Truman State University and AKL for permitting the “suspicious fraternity brother to be alone and have unfettered access to the victims,” despite concerns raised by Grossheim’s fraternity brothers. 

Truman State University has denied any involvement in the deaths of the three victims who were students. 

We strongly disagree with the allegations as stated in the lawsuit and will defend the suit vigorously,” the statement said. “As the litigation proceeds, it will become clear that the University is not responsible for the deaths of these students. We will not comment further on this pending litigation.”

There was clear foreseeability to the university that there was somebody dangerous on this campus and they didn’t do anything about it,” Gorovsky said in an interview with KTVI.

Alpha Kappa Lambda is still active on the Truman State campus but has declined to comment on the suit.

Family and Friends Remember Victims

Following the death of Alex Mullins, the Xi chapter of AKL posted a tribute on Facebook.

Although gone, Alex Mullins is a friend, a son, and most of all an incredible brother,” the post read. “Wherever he went he brought smiles and good times with him, whether that be in Kansas City, Kirksville, or while on a run to deliver Chinese food to some lucky soul that has no idea the incredible man they are about to meet. He can never be replaced and we pray that he has found peace in the afterlife.

In an obituary from the Truman Media Network, Karen Hughes said many people reached out to her after her son’s death to tell her about their memories of his kindness.

It was kind of a gift that he could reach out to people so easily,” she said. “It didn’t matter if it was adults or kids. He has always been able to speak with people, even when he was younger.”

In another obituary from TMN, a friend remembered getting to know Thomas from the beginning of his first year at Truman State to the night of his death.

We didn’t talk much on the way back, but I wish we had,” Danielle Nahm said. “We got back at around 2 a.m. and as we headed upstairs to our rooms I told him I’d see him later, not knowing that that was the last time I would ever, or anyone would ever, see or talk to him.”

I’ll never be able to forget his personality and how full of life he always was,” she continued. “He was truly like no other and if you knew him, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

See what others are saying: (KTVI) (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) (The Kansas City Star)

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As Unemployment Claims Rise, CA Officials Report Inmates Collected Millions in Benefits

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  • Unemployment numbers spiked for the second week in a row, marking the highest amount of new claims made since early October with 778,000 people filing. Over 20 million Americans are still collecting some kind of joblessness aid.
  • Experts say this will only get worse as COVID cases continue to rise and states impose more restrictions. However, unlike during the spring shutdowns, struggling Americans and small businesses will likely not have any help from the federal government.
  • Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in California reported that tens of thousands of inmates received upwards of $1 billion in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that officials described as “the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.”

Unemployment Numbers Spike

Another 778,000 Americans filed for unemployment this week, the Department of Labor reported Wednesday, marking the highest spike since early October and the second week in a row that new claims have risen.

According to experts, this data signals that the massive coronavirus spikes the U.S. has seen in recent weeks are slowing the economy once again. On Wednesday, the country reported a record 2 million new cases in the same two weeks that joblessness claims also went up, bringing the official case count to more than 12.6 million Americans infected and over 260,000 dead.

As the COVID-19 spikes continue, and with more state and local governments imposing new restrictions on public gatherings, limiting hours and operations for restaurants and bars, and temporarily closing down some businesses entirely, economists say this situation will get worse before it gets better.

Unlike the first wave of shutdowns this past spring, it seems almost certain that struggling Americans will have to weather these latest closures without any help from the government.

Already, many of the programs that gave trillions of dollars to unemployed Americans and small businesses under the CARES Act have expired, and most of the few remaining programs will run out soon.

That is especially concerning when it comes to unemployment benefits. According to a recent report from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, unless Congress and the White House sign off on a deal to extend key programs, roughly 12 million Americans will lose these benefits entirely the day after Christmas.

But after months of deadlock, any hopes for a new stimulus package petered out when the election came around. Democratic leadership is reportedly attempting to restart those talks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to approve some kind of bill before the end of the year. 

However, it remains unclear how all the problems that had deadlocked the lawmakers for months during the earlier negotiations will be resolved in time.

Inmate Unemployment Fraud

Meanwhile, states are still continuing to struggle with distributing unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.

On Tuesday, a task force lead by nine district attorneys across the state of California reported in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that tens of thousands of prison and jail inmates — including more than 100 people on death row — have collected hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that the officials say “appears to be the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history,”

According to the task force, between March and August, inmates housed in every single California prison and in jails throughout the state filed 35,000 claims totaling at least $140 million in benefits, though the alleged crimes could total as much as $1 billion.

In most cases, officials said that the payments were given out in the form of prepaid debit cards sent to friends or family on the outside who would then later deposit the proceeds to inmate accounts.

In some cases, the joblessness benefits were sent directly to the jails and prisons. Sometimes the inmates used their real names, but other times, they used fake names and fake Social Security numbers.

In fact, prosecutors were tipped off to some of the cases by listening to inmates recorded phone calls, where they bragged about how easy it was the game the system.

As far as how such widespread fraud could happen, law enforcement officials blamed California’s Employment Development Department, which has been swamped with processing more than 16.4 million unemployment claims since March, resulting in a massive backlog of unfilled claims that, according to reports, has totaled upwards of more than 1.6 million people at times.

However, the task force also said that part of the problem was due to the fact that unlike at least 35 other states, California does not have the technology to crosscheck inmate rosters against unemployment claims.

Looking Forward

In their letter, the officials called on Newsom to crack down on the rampant fraud and provide “significant resources” to do so. 

Newsom, for his part, responded in a statement by calling the fraud “absolutely unacceptable,” and ordering the Office of Emergency Services to create a task force to help the prosecutors with their investigation.

However, as The New York Times pointed out, Newsom had already formed a “strike team” a few months ago to help the state’s employment department speed up claims and address other issues, including fraud at correctional facilities.

The district attorneys were still forced to form their own task force with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after the reports of fraud in the employment department continued and the “strike team” failed to uncover the large amounts of fraud the other groups had seen.

Currently, it is unclear how Newsom’s new task force is different from the largely unsuccessful “strike team.” 

California, of course, is not the only state having these issues with unemployment insurance fraud. There have also been similar reports of fraud in Massachusetts, Illinois, Kansas, and other states.

These problems also go beyond unemployment. There have been frequent reports of CARES Act funding being misused, including by people using small business loans to buy luxury cars, as well as large companies or businesses connected to President Donald Trump Trump and members of Congress improperly receiving funding.

As Congress considers another much-needed stimulus package, these issues of transparency and accountability have now become paramount. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today

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COVID-19 Cases Expected To Surge After Thanksgiving

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  • With coronavirus cases already on a steep rise in the U.S, experts are warning that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings will likely make things worse. Canada, for example, saw a jump in cases after its citizens celebrated the holiday last month.
  • Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that Americans should hold out for a vaccine, which is on the horizon, and be safe this Thanksgiving.
  • A family in Texas is also waring against gathering, saying they learned how dangerous it is the hard way. After celebrating a birthday together, all 15 people who attended the party tested positive for the virus.
  • On top of this experts are also warning against thinking a negative test clears you for socialization. In reality, you can test negative for the virus and still have and transmit it.

Warning From Surgeon General 

As Thanksgiving looms closer, warnings against family gatherings are being echoed by experts and everyday people alike. 

Health officials have been vocal about the threat the Thanksgiving holiday poses when it comes to the coronavirus. The U.S. has seen 12.4 million cases and lost 257,000 lives to the virus, and cases have been on a steep increase this month. The CDC has already warned against travel and experts have said that based on the spike Canada saw after its October Thanksgiving, America is set to go down a similar, or even worse path. 

“I want the American people to know that we are at a dire point in our fight with this virus by any measure,”  U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Monday on Good Morning America.Cases, positivity, hospitalizations, deaths. We’re seeing more Americans negatively impacted than ever before.” 

Adams said that with a vaccine on the horizon, Americans should just wait out this homestretch and stay put for the holiday.

“I’m asking Americans, begging you, hold on just a little bit longer,” he said. “Keep Thanksgiving and the celebration small and smart this year.” 

Family in Texas Urges Caution

Health officials are not the only ones preaching this advice. In Arlington, Texas, a family that has lived the consequences of gathering without regard for public health is urging people to not make the same mistake as them. The Aragonez family celebrated a birthday earlier this month indoors without masks or distancing. Now, all 15 people who attended tested positive for the virus. 

“We feel guilty for gathering,” members of the family said in a video encouraging caution. “All this pain that my family is feeling, this loneliness, this sickness, this longing to be healthy could have been prevented.” 

“Please don’t be like my family and ignore the CDC guidelines,” one person said. “By staying apart we can fight this virus together.” 

While most cases in the family were mild, one person was hospitalized for over a week.

“One moment of carelessness has cost us a month of peace, has cost us sleep, has cost us laughs, has cost us a lot of money,” one family member told the Washington Post. 

Testing Negative is Not Enough

Many have still forged on with their gathering plans under the false idea that if everyone tests negative before attending, they are in the clear to socialize. However, experts warn this is far from the case.

Just because a person tests negative does not necessarily mean they do not have the virus. Tests are not 100% accurate and it can take days or even a week to test positive for the virus after exposure. Not to mention, people could come into contract with the virus between their test and the family event. 

“A negative result is a snapshot in time,”  Dr. Paige Larkin, a clinical microbiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago explaining to the New York Times. “It’s telling you that, at that exact second you are tested, the virus was not detected. It does not mean you’re not infected.”

While it might slightly minimize the risk of spread, it certainly does not eliminate it. More than anything, it gives people a false sense of security that they have a free pass to go wherever and see whoever they want, despite the fact that it still poses a large health threat.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)

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Over 1 Million People Traveled Through U.S. Airports Friday, Despite COVID-19 Warnings

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  • Over 1 million people traveled through U.S. airports on Friday, marking the second-highest single day of airport traffic since the coronavirus pandemic began.
  • The new record comes despite the fact that the CDC has issued a warning against travel for Thanksgiving, encouraging people to stay home instead because COVID-19 cases are already on a steep rise.
  • In Canada, cases spiked after the country celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday in October.
  • While cases were already increasing in the country, contact tracing has linked outbreaks to holiday gatherings, which likely accelerated the speed of spread.

Cases and Travel Both Increase

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is expected to worsen the already increasing coronavirus outbreak in the United States. 

Currently, the country has seen over 12.3 million cases and lost more than 256,000 lives to this virus. On Friday, the U.S. broke its record for new cases in a single day, reporting 198,500 cases. The daily average has reached 171,462 cases a day and roughly one-quarter of all cases in the U.S. have come from just the month of November. 

These circumstances paint a grim picture of what could come after all of the traveling and large gatherings that are expected to happen over the holiday, even after repeated warning against doing so.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against traveling and advised that “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

The CDC told travelers to ask themselves questions, like if cases are high in their home or destination, if their method of travel makes social distancing difficult, and if there are travel restrictions in their area. If the answers to any of those questions are yes, people should “consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.”

Despite these warnings, air travel is on the rise in the country. On Friday, more than 1 million people passed through airports, marking the second-busiest day of air travel since the pandemic began. While this is 1.5 million people less than the same day last year, the travel surge troubles health officials who fear the virus could spread as people gather with their families. 

Case Spike After Canada’s Thanksgiving

All the U.S. has to do is look to its neighbor to the North in order to find out just what kind of impact Thanksgiving can have on coronavirus cases. Two weeks after Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, the country saw a spike in cases. While cases were already on the rise at the time, experts believe that holiday gatherings contributed to and accelerated the spread.

“Cases were indeed increasing already, but we definitely saw an increase in the rate of transmission after Thanksgiving. And we know that Thanksgiving is important for a couple of reasons. One is through contact tracing data,” Dr. Laura Rosella, an associate professor and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto told CBS News.

Contact tracing in the country showed a significant transmission from household gatherings stemming from Thanksgiving. 

“One local health unit that reported about 12 people being infected because of a Thanksgiving gathering,” Rosella explained. 

It’s not the only reason the cases are increasing, it’s not the only setting in which transmission is occurring, but definitely when people gathered indoors it did transmit COVID.”

Superspreading Events

Still, people are more likely to feel safe with their family, no matter how high the COVID-19 risk actually is. Superspreading weddings are among the strongest examples of this, as numerous have led to significant outbreaks because couples thought it was safe to gather with friends, family, and other people they trust.

“Many people don’t believe that you can actually catch it from your family and friends. They feel safe when they are around people that they know,” Karen Potts, the director of the Adams County Health Department in eastern Washington explained to NBC News. “And I think that’s why this sort of event happens. People just feel safe, and they go to the event, and it just spreads so rapidly.”

One August wedding in Maine, for instance, was liked to 177 coronavirus cases and 7 deaths. Many of those cases include people who did not attend the wedding. In fact, none of the deaths traced back to the wedding were attendees. 

An October wedding in Cincinnati led to 32 of the 83 guests getting COVID-19, including grandparents of the bride and groom. In Washington, a 300 person wedding earlier this month has led to 17 people getting the virus so far. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NBC News) (Washington Post)

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