Beyond the county: California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets; Mr. Trump comes to Washington: Triumphant tour for the victor; Iraq troops pause in advance on Mosul to drive out IS | TheUnion.com

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Beyond the county: California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets; Mr. Trump comes to Washington: Triumphant tour for the victor; Iraq troops pause in advance on Mosul to drive out IS

State

California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California teenager, alarmed that hundreds of American World War II veterans are dying every day, has embarked on a bold project to ensure they don't leave this world unnoticed.

Since graduating from high school in June, Rishi Sharma of Agoura Hills has spent almost every day recording in-depth video interviews with World War II combat veterans.

So far the 19-year-old has spoken to about 160.

Afterward, he gives each a CD of the interview.

Sharma also has founded a nonprofit foundation he hopes will eventually enlist others in helping him record interviews and establishing friendships with veterans.

He's putting off college until his efforts are completed.

Sharma says it's his way of saying thanks to the people — now in their 90s — he believes saved humanity.

California denies parole to serial killer of 25 farmworkers

SACRAMENTO — A California man once known as the nation's worst serial killer was denied parole again for murdering and mutilating more than two-dozen farmworkers 45 years ago, officials said Thursday.

Juan Vallejo Corona, 82, was denied parole for another five years and will keep serving his life sentence in Corcoran State Prison, corrections department spokesman Luis Patino said.

Corona, a farm labor contractor with a history of mental illness, was convicted of killing and mutilating 25 men with a meat cleaver, machete, double-bladed ax and wooden club that investigators found in his home, all stained with blood. The bodies were found all at once, but he said in 2011 that the slayings occurred over a year.

It was the nation's deadliest rampage until John Wayne Gacy Jr. was convicted in 1980 of killing 33 young men and boys in Chicago. Gacy was executed in 1994 in Illinois.

Corona was convicted of stabbing 24 of the men, hacking open their heads and burying their remains on two ranches where he once worked near Yuba City, 40 miles north of Sacramento.

"It was a gruesome manner of killing. He hacked these people to death," said Sutter County District Attorney Amanda Hopper, who attended Wednesday's hearing to argue against Corona's release.

He shot the 25th victim in the head, something he could do again if he were released from prison despite his age and use of a wheelchair, Hopper said.

Investigators found a ledger book at Corona's home containing the names of seven victims. Four of the bodies have never been identified, and the remains of 14 victims were never claimed by family members after they were discovered in 1971.

California police investigate attacks on Muslim students

SAN DIEGO — California authorities were investigating a reported attack on a college campus of a Muslim student wearing a headscarf as a hate crime Thursday.

San Diego State University's police department said two suspects who assaulted the student on campus Wednesday had targeted her because of her faith and made comments about Donald Trump's election.

The woman was not hurt. Authorities said the assault occurred in a parking complex while the woman was wearing a hijab. The suspects stole her car keys, and the vehicle was later reported missing, authorities said.

"We condemn this hateful act and urge all members of our community to join us in condemning such hateful acts," SDSU President Elliot Hirshman said in a statement.

A similar report came from Northern California, where a woman said she was walking in a parking garage at San Jose State University when a fair-skinned man in a hooded sweatshirt came up behind her and pulled at her head scarf, the university said in a statement.

The victim was briefly choked and lost her balance before the suspect ran away, the statement said.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday issued an information bulletin to law enforcement agencies, outlining laws that prohibit hate crimes.

Trump election gives momentum to unlikely secession idea

SACRAMENTO — Donald Trump's election as president is giving a big social-media boost to an unlikely effort in the nation's most populous state: a plan to vote on seceding from the union.

The Yes California Independence Campaign hopes to put a question on the November 2018 ballot that would authorize a statewide independence vote for the spring of 2019.

The effort drew little attention until Tuesday's election, which also kept Trump's fellow Republicans in charge of Congress and raised the possibility of a conservative shift on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Any effort to get an issue on the ballot requires the gathering of hundreds of thousands of signatures.

In Portland, Oregon, two residents filed a separate petition for a 2018 ballot initiative for Oregon to secede.

Nation

Mr Trump comes to Washington: Triumphant tour for the victor

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump took a triumphant tour of the nation's capital Thursday, holding a cordial White House meeting with President Barack Obama, sketching out priorities with Republican congressional leaders and taking in the majestic view from where he'll be sworn in to office.

Trump's meeting with Obama spanned 90 minutes, longer than originally scheduled. Obama said he was "encouraged" by Trump's willingness to work with his team during the transition of power, and the Republican called the president a "very good man."

"I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including his counsel," Trump said from the Oval Office. He'll begin occupying the office on Jan. 20.

While Trump noted that he and Obama had never met before, their political histories will forever be linked. Trump spent years perpetrating the lie that Obama was born outside the United States. The president campaigned aggressively against Trump during the 2016 campaign, warning that his election would put the republic at risk.

But at least publicly, the two men appeared to put aside their animosity. As the meeting concluded and journalists scrambled out of the Oval Office, Obama smiled at his successor and explained the unfolding scene.

"We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed the country succeeds," Obama said.

Gunman kills officer, self; woman found dead after fight

CANONSBURG, Pa. — A gunman with a history of domestic abuse fatally shot a police officer and wounded another on Thursday before he and a woman were found dead following a fight at their apartment, authorities said.

Officer Scott Bashioum and the other officer were responding separately to an emergency call from neighbors at around 3:15 a.m. when they were "ambushed upon their arrival" and immediately shot, state police Trooper Melinda Bondarenka said. The officers had arrived almost simultaneously, though authorities said other details of the initial confrontation were unclear.

Bashioum, a father of four, died less than an hour later at a hospital, a coroner said. The 52-year-old had been on the police force for seven years.

The wounded officer, whose name was not released, was hospitalized in Pittsburgh in stable condition after surgery.

The man found in the home, 47-year-old Michael Cwiklinski, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Washington County Coroner Timothy Warco ruled. Information on the woman hadn't been released because authorities hadn't contacted her relatives, who live overseas. Police haven't said how they believe the woman died.

But defense attorney David Wolf identified the dead woman as Cwiklinski's girlfriend, Dalia Sabae, though some investigators have been describing her as Cwiklinski's wife and she listed herself as "married" on her Facebook page.

Trump bucks protocol on press access

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump is keeping America in the dark about his earliest conversations and decisions about his incoming government, and bucking a long-standing practice intended to ensure the public has a watchful eye on the nation's new leader.

Trump on Thursday refused to allow journalists to travel with him to Washington for his historic first meeting with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. The Republican's top advisers rebuffed news organizations' requests for a small "pool" of journalists to trail Trump as he attended meetings Washington.

The decision was part of an opaque pattern in Trump's first moves since his victory Tuesday. Trump was entirely out of sight on Wednesday. His aides said he was huddled with advisers at his offices in New York. His team has not put out a daily schedule, or offered any detailed updates on how he has spent his time. They have not acknowledged phone calls or other contact with world leaders.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory telegram to Trump on Wednesday, Moscow spread the word. A phone call with British Prime Minster Theresa May was announced in London. The pattern was repeated for calls with leaders of Israel, Egypt, South Korea and Australia.

The White House typically releases statements on the president's phone calls with foreign leaders, providing some details about the conversation. Past presidents-elect have had early briefings with journalists, even in confusing first hours after Election Day.

But early signs suggest Trump is willing to break protocol when it comes to press access and transparency.

World

Russia eyes better ties with Trump; says contacts underway

MOSCOW — A top Russian diplomat and Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Thursday that Russian experts were in contact with some members of President-elect Donald Trump's staff during the presidential campaign, a period in which the United States accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party emails systems.

A spokeswoman for Trump denied the assertion, but it raised the ongoing suspicions about the president-elect's relationship with Putin's government that had dogged his campaign with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Russia is hopeful that a Trump presidency will herald improved relations with the United States. But, in a sign of the cold realism that Putin is known for, Moscow is not betting on an immediate drastic turnaround in the strained relationship.

And while Trump himself has said he wants to be friends with Russia and join forces in the fight against terrorism, he has outlined few specifics as to how he would go about it. President Barack Obama began his presidency with a similar goal, only to see progress unravel over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press in an interview in New York that Russian experts had contacts with people in both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. He said such contacts are "quite natural, quite normal."

"And our experts, our specialists on the U.S., on international affairs … Of course they are constantly speaking to their counterparts here, including those from Mr. Trump's group," Peskov said.

"Of course, it's quite natural that Russian experts are trying to maintain the dialogue with people from different camps. It's very important to understand the main streams, and understand the main tendencies, nuances and the positioning of different parties, different camps here in the United States," he said.

Iraq troops pause in advance on Mosul to drive out IS

BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops consolidated gains in their advance on the northern city of Mosul on Thursday, regrouping as they clear neighborhoods and houses once occupied by the Islamic State group.

In Mosul proper, where troops have a foothold in a sliver of territory in the city's east, the special forces control the Zahra neighborhood, once named after former dictator Saddam Hussein, and have taken at least half of the Aden neighborhood, military officials said.

The regular army's ninth division is stationed in east Mosul's Intisar neighborhood, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief reporters.

Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, they country's second largest city and the last major IS holdout in Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line outside the city in the north, while Iraqi army and militarized police units approach from the south and government-sanctioned Shiite militias are guarding the western approaches.

The offensive has slowed in recent days as the forces push into more densely populated areas, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.

Brig. Firas Bashar, spokesman for Nineveh operations command, says troops south of Mosul have been stopped at the town of Hamam al-Alil while other forces push forward on the city.

To the northeast, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the city, peshmerga continued to take territory in the town of Bashiqa, believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters. They have had the town surrounded for weeks, and have assaulted it with mortar and artillery fire.

At an area church in territory freshly freed from the militants' grip, priests rang bells for the first time in two years as the peshmerga worked to secure the town.

"We are so happy at the liberation," said priest Elkhoury Alfaran Elkhoury at the Mart Shoomy Church in Bahzani, a village near Bashiqa.

"They want to give a message to the world, and that message is damage, their message is destruction, their message is death," he said, highlighting damage to the church made by the jihadis while they occupied the area.

Kurdish-led fighters marching against IS near Syria's Raqqa

BEIRUT — A spokeswoman for a Kurdish-led force fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria says they are the verge of surrounding a wide area north of the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

Cihan Ehmed of the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces told The Associated Press Thursday that their fighters are pushing on two fronts north of Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS' self-declared caliphate.

She said once the forces coming from the two directions meet, they will surround 550 square kilometers (212 square miles) of territory controlled by the extremists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many people are fleeing areas north of Raqqa because of the fighting.

The SDF says they have committed 30,000 fighters to the offensive, aiming to eventually take Raqqa.