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Family, friends remember Kevin Lewis in prayer and song

Hundreds clapped, swayed and sang along to a soulful version of the bluegrass standard “I’ll Fly Away” as they remembered LeCarvin “Kevin” Lewis on Thursday afternoon.

Lewis, 41, was found dead on the grounds of the Denton State Supported Living Center on July 4, five days after he was reported missing. He had lived at the center off and on for the past two decades.

Members of the center staff and Lewis’ many friends joined his family for a home-going ceremony in the center’s chapel, a memorial service that included music, prayers, Bible readings, video and lots of sharing.

Wes Cohoon, the center’s chaplain, led the service, including a reading and eulogy based on Psalm 13.

Known for its questioning first line, “How long, O Lord,” and the many expressions of doubt that follow, Cohoon assured Lewis’ family and friends that it’s OK to have questions about their loss.

“God invites questions,” Cohoon said. “He’s heartbroken as well.”

Cohoon passed the microphone around the crowd, which gathered testimonials from Lewis’ family as well as his many friends at the center who were keenly feeling the loss, too.

One resident called Lewis a great guy. Another said he would miss seeing Lewis’ face. Yet another took the time to write his remarks and struggled to keep his composure as he read them.

“I don’t know what to do or say to make you come back,” he said. “But I know we’ll see each other again.”

Several speakers reminded the crowd that Lewis was home and no longer hurting, and that it was actually the people in the room who needed healing.

One parent rose to say that the center’s residents are family to each other as well. To applause, another parent, Angela Reynolds-Biggs, said she hopes the loss will also draw everyone closer together.

“My prayer is that God will comfort all who need to be comforted in the way that they need to be comforted,” she said.

Both music and video offered comfort during the service, including a heartfelt rendition of Kirk Franklin’s contemporary gospel song “Take Me to the King.”

Lewis’ love of Michael Jackson’s music was woven throughout the service, from family members who donned a single-mirrored glove to a video montage of family photos set to Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone.” The photos alongside both formal and school portraits showed a bright-eyed Lewis and his toothy smile beginning at a young age, from Christmas memories and peewee basketball to family visits to the park and the beach.

Records with the Tarrant County medical examiner on Thursday showed that the agency has not yet determined Lewis’ cause of death, which Denton police are investigating.

“The investigation remains ongoing pending a final report from the medical examiner,” said Khristen Jones, police department spokeswoman.


Denton
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Denton residents recovering from Wednesday's storm

This story has been updated to reflect that the Denton Fire Department's response time to the Alicia Ridge residence took eight minutes.

Spaghetti was cooking on the stove when neighbors Alicia Ridge and Kari Edney were shocked by a lightning strike in the 3000 block of Armstrong Street.

Storms crawled their way across Denton County on Wednesday evening, bringing wind gusts upward of 70 mph.

That wind, coupled with at least half a dozen fires caused by lightning strikes, including one at Ridge’s house, made life harder for people across the area. Ryan Adams, a Denton city spokesman, said more than 10,000 people experienced a temporary loss of power due to the storm.

Nearly 2,200 people were without power for a few hours, and seven Denton Municipal Electric customers experienced an outage lasting more than 12 hours. Everybody who had lost power during the storm had it restored by 10 a.m. Thursday, Adams said.

Five of six reported broken utility poles were located between University Drive and North Loop 288.

Storms leave plenty of damage in Denton

“Due to the sporadic nature of limb and tree falls, the city will not be conducting additional tree and limb pickups,” Adams said via email Thursday. “Residents who have limb and tree debris are asked to cut limbs to 4-foot lengths and stack them into a single pile for pickup on your scheduled service day. If there are any questions, please call 940-349-8700.”

Amid the aftermath

Edney, a neighbor from across the street, was reaching into the refrigerator to grab some juice while Ridge was working on a nearby computer when the bolt hit the roof above.

“It was a horrible sound,” Ridge said. “It was like a big loud ‘pop’ almost.”

“Like a gunshot, kind of,” Edney said.

Edney said the light above her exploded before she collapsed to the floor. Both recalled a burning or tingling sensation in their hands.

“I fell to the floor and then crawled around to [Ridge] and couldn’t hear anything — it was bad,” Edney said.

Ridge said her daughter Brooklynn, 3, was crying, but nobody else was harmed. Her 9-month-old son Zane, who stared curiously from his perch on her hip Thursday afternoon, had been in a plastic highchair during the lightning strike.

“The next thing we knew, our neighbor was banging on the door telling us to get out,” Ridge said.

She remembered thinking it might have been the police knocking.

“She said, ‘It’s your neighbor. Get of the house, your house is on fire,’” Ridge recalled.

The Denton Fire Department arrived within eight minutes after being dispatched.

Ridge said the bolt struck right above her 15-year-old son Kerrington’s room.

“The kids upstairs were OK, and I’m thankful to God for that because it was above his room where it actually hit,” Ridge said. “He was in there. He was in his room.”

While the family took refuge in Edney’s house, a friend brought them all fast food to replace the spaghetti left abandoned. At the advice of police, Edney stayed awake all night to watch for looters.

Several blocks away in the 3300 block of Cooper Branch East, J.T. King was cooking dinner — Korean pork chops — for his family when the storm rolled through Wednesday evening.

“The trees were just waving back and forth, and I didn’t think much of it,” King said. “I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s a strong wind,’ but I thought more of it when the tree came down.”

About 18 hours later, King was cooking a late breakfast for his kids while a two-man crew worked to clear the fallen branch from a flattened section of his fence.

A few miles west, in central Denton, Kevin Nielsen had to see his 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix crushed by a fallen tree outside his house in the 1800 block of Carlton Street.

Trinity Nielsen, his college-aged daughter, said Thursday afternoon that he’d been repairing the car over the course of several years.

Mark Finley / Jeff Woo/DRC 

A tree rests Thursday on top of a 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix owned by Kevin Nielsen in the 1800 block of Carlton Street in Denton. Wednesday's storm blew down the tree onto the car, which Nielsen had been working on for several years.

Back on Armstrong Street, a crew was clearing a bit of clutter out of Ridge’s house Thursday morning. She had been told to expect repairs to take six to nine months. Until then, her insurance company is expected to put the family up in a hotel.

With electricity unavailable, the entire home was cast in shades of blue as sunlight filtered through tarps laid over holes in the roof.

Charred beams filled the house with a smoky scent that mixed uneasily with the damp insulation covering nearly every surface. Bits of drywall and popcorn ceiling crunched underfoot.

Shredded insulation dripped water from a second-floor walkway, making a puddle in the hallway below.

In 3-year-old Brooklynn’s room, a framed Bible verse hung beside cutouts of an anchor and oars above the bare floor and overflowing crib.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you,” Isaiah 43:2.


Mark Finley / Jeff Woo/DRC 

J.T. King takes a break Thursday from cleaning up the damage caused to his home and yard in the 3300 block of East Cooper Branch following Wednesday’s storm.


Washington
AP
Trump abandons bid to include citizenship question on census

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump abandoned his controversial bid to inject a citizenship question into next year’s census Thursday, instead directing federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

He insisted he was “not backing down,” declaring in a Rose Garden announcement that the goal was simple and reasonable: “a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the United States population.”

But the decision was clearly a reversal, after the Supreme Court blocked his effort by disputing his administration’s rationale for demanding that census respondents declare whether or not they were citizens. Trump had said last week that he was “very seriously” considering an executive order to try to force the question. But the government has already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it, and such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.

Instead, Trump said Thursday that he would be signing an executive order directing every federal department and agency to provide the Commerce Department with all records pertaining to the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.

Trump’s efforts to add the question on the decennial census had drawn fury and backlash from critics who complained that it was political, meant to discourage participation, not only by people living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating would expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.

Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, and the lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case, celebrated Thursday’s announcement by the president, saying: “Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper.”

Trump said his order would apply to every agency, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The Census Bureau already has access to Social Security, food stamp and federal prison records, all of which contain citizenship information.

Trump, citing Census Bureau projections, predicted that using previously available records, the administration could determine the citizenship of 90 percent of the population “or more.”

“Ultimately this will allow us to have a more complete count of citizens than through asking the single question alone,” he contended.

But it is still unclear what Trump intends to do with the citizenship information. Federal law prohibits the use of census information to identify individuals, though that restriction has been breached in the past.

At one point, Trump suggested it could help states that “may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter-eligible population.” That would mark a change from how districts are drawn currently, based on the entire population, and could increase Republican political power.

Civil rights groups said the president’s efforts had already sown fear and discord in vulnerable communities, making the task of an accurate count even harder.

“The damage has already been done,” said Lizette Escobedo of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.

The Census Bureau had stressed repeatedly that it could produce better citizenship data without adding the question.

In fact, the bureau had recommended combining information from the annual American Community Survey with records held by other federal agencies that already include citizenship records.

“This would result in higher quality data produced at lower cost,” deputy Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin had written in a December 2017 email to a Justice Department official.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, ultimately rejected that approach and ordered the citizenship question be added to the census.

The American Community Survey, which polls 3.5 million U.S. households every year, already includes questions about respondents’ citizenship.

“It’s a retreat back to what he should have done from the beginning,” said Kenneth Prewitt, a former Census Bureau director.

Trump’s administration had faced numerous roadblocks to adding the question, beginning with the ruling by the Supreme Court temporarily barring its inclusion on the grounds that the government’s justification was insufficient. Two federal judges also rejected the Justice Department’s plan to replace the legal team fighting for inclusion.

But Trump insisted his administration was pushing forward anyway, publicly contradicting government lawyers and his commerce secretary, who had previously conceded the case was closed, as well as the Census Bureau, which had started the process of printing the 2020 questionnaire without the controversial query after the Supreme Court decision.

As he has many times before, Trump exploded the situation with a tweet, calling reports that the fight was over “FAKE!”

A week of speculation about the administration’s plans and renewed court battles ensued as Trump threw out ideas, including suggesting last week that officials might be able to add an addendum to the questionnaire with the question after it was printed. And he toyed with the idea of halting the constitutionally mandated survey entirely while the court battle played out.

Attorney General William Barr, however, said that the government had no interest in delaying the count and that, while he was confident the census question would have eventually survived legal review, the process would have taken too long to work its way through the courts.

Trump had offered multiple explanations for why he believed the question was necessary to include in the once-a-decade population count that determines the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years and the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending.

“You need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons,” he told reporters last week, despite the fact that congressional districts are based on total population, regardless of residents’ national origin or immigration status.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, said he supports Trump’s efforts to ensure “an accurate account of our nation’s population.”

“Quite simply, we should know how many American citizens live in America,” Burgess said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “Demographic information is a critical part of ensuring that the U.S. government can best serve all people living within our borders — whether in Texas or around the country. As Congress considers how to steward taxpayer resources, including the important services provided to vulnerable communities throughout the nation, we must know what is needed to be most effective.”

If immigrants are undercounted, Democrats fear that would pull money and political power away from Democratic-led cities where immigrants tend to cluster, and shift it to whiter, rural areas where Republicans do well.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday accused Trump of pushing the question “to intimidate minorities, particularly Latinos, from answering the census so that it undercounts those communities and Republicans can redraw congressional districts to their advantage.”

He later called Trump’s move a “retreat” that “was long overdue and is a significant victory for democracy and fair representation.”


Denton
featured
Recommendations of HOT funds made; Armintor votes no citing community market's amount

Denton City Council member Deb Armintor voted against all of the Hotel Occupancy Tax and Sponsorship Committee’s recommendations Thursday because she disagreed with the $50,000 recommended for the Denton Community Market, which had sought twice that amount.

Still, the recommendations passed at Thursday’s committee meeting with a 2-1 vote, with Mayor Chris Watts, who was voted the temporary chairman of the committee, and council member Jesse Davis both voting in favor.

“It [Denton Community Market] was the main thing, absolutely the main thing,” Armintor said. “I’m really concerned that this institution, the community market, that has done so much for Denton in such a short period of time and that’s so big ... I’m worried that they’re not going to be able to sustain without the full support of this request, which is such a small request compared to what the [Denton] Chamber of Commerce gets.”

The committee recommended a total of $1.4 million for the Denton Chamber of Commerce, which includes the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Discover Denton Welcome Center.

The recommended funding for various local entities comes from hotel occupancy tax revenue, which comes from hotel stays around the city. For example, a one-night $100 hotel room will result in $6 of occupancy tax for the state and $7 for the city.

This year the committee recommended distributing a little over $2.5 million in HOT funds.

Most entities that applied were recommended a 2% funding increase, while others such as the Denton Community Market, the North Texas Fair and Rodeo and the Denton Black Film Festival were recommended to receive more than that.

Both Watts and Davis agreed on a recommendation of $50,000 for the Community Market, which asked for $108,191 and opened this season with a $20,000 deficit.

“I don’t want to say much at this point,” said Vicki Oppenheim, the nonprofit market’s executive director. “We don’t really know the impacts yet. We appreciate the increase in funding and we have to evaluate whatever’s finally approved.”

Two new entities that applied for funding were Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival and Real Waves Radio, which operates KUZU-FM (92.9). Real Waves applied for funding last year but did not receive any.

State law determines who can receive HOT funds. The city is required to budget at least 1% of the annual revenue for advertising, and no more than 15% can be spent on the arts or historical programs.

Denton has its own restrictions on HOT funding in that at least 2.4% of the money that can be spent on the arts must go to public art projects, and the hotel occupancy taxes collected at the Embassy Suites by Hilton will be reimbursed as a subsidy for the Denton Convention Center.

Also on Thursday, the committee decided to discuss with the City Council using other funds such as the general fund for downtown Square maintenance and made no recommendation of HOT funds for that purpose.

After deciding on recommendations for the HOT funds, the committee also went forward with recommending sponsorship funds, for which there were 15 applicants and $88,000 available.

The largest sponsorship recommendation went to the Denton Kiwanis Club for its Fourth of July Fireworks Show, while Explorium children’s museum, Habitat for Humanity and Serve Denton were among the other entities that were recommended sponsorship funds.

The committee also decided to send to the City Council the issue of city employees using Amazon Smile when making P-card purchases. The program run by Amazon allows users to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charity of their choice when they shop at smile.amazon.com.

The hotel occupancy tax and sponsorship recommendations made by the committee will now head to the full City Council for approval as part of Denton’s annual budget.


National
AP
Trump administration plans immigration enforcement operation

CHICAGO — The Trump administration is moving forward with a nationwide immigration enforcement operation targeting migrant families, despite loud opposition from Democrats and questions over whether it’s the best use of resources given the crisis at the border.

The operation could happen as soon as this weekend after being postponed by President Donald Trump late last month. It would pursue people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

The plan has sparked outrage and concern among immigrant-rights advocates and lawmakers.

“Our communities have been in constant fear,” Estela Vara, a Chicago-area organizer said Thursday at a rally outside the city’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement offices where some activists chanted “Immigration Not Deportation!”

The sweep remains in flux and could begin later, according to two administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The American Civil Liberties Union preemptively filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to protect asylum-seekers.

Meanwhile, activists ramped up efforts to prepare by bolstering know-your-rights pocket guides, circulating information about hotlines and planning public demonstrations. Vigils outside of detention centers and hundreds of other locations nationwide were set for Friday evening, to be followed by protests Saturday in Miami and Chicago.

The operation is similar to ones conducted regularly since 2003 that often produce hundreds of arrests. It is slightly unusual to target families, as opposed to immigrants with criminal histories, but it’s not unprecedented. The Obama and Trump administrations have targeted families in previous operations.

This latest effort is notable because of the politics swirling around it.

Trump announced on Twitter last month that the sweep would mark the beginning of a push to deport millions of people who are in the country illegally, a near-impossibility given the limited resources of ICE, which makes the arrests and carries out deportation orders.

Then he abruptly canceled the operation after a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, while lawmakers worked to pass a $4.6 billion border aid package. Plus, details had leaked, and authorities worried about the safety of ICE officers.

The agency said it would not discuss specifics about enforcement operations.

“As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” it said in a statement.

Trump started hinting anew in recent days that more removals were coming. He said last weekend they would be starting “fairly soon.”

“Well, I don’t call them raids,” he said. “I say they came in illegally and we’re bringing them out legally.”

Ken Cuccinelli, the new head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, told CNN on Wednesday that the raids were “absolutely going to happen.”

Pelosi said she hoped the administration would reconsider. “Families belong together,” she said.

Advocates in border areas have “received word” that up to 1,000 families are expected to arrive at an immigration center in Dilley, Texas, according to attorneys representing separated families in a long-running lawsuit.

In court papers filed Thursday, the attorneys said the government has not responded to questions about the operation.

The administration has been straining to manage a border crisis, and some officials believe flashy shows of force in deporting families would deter others migrants from coming. But others have criticized any move that draws resources away from the border at a time when the Border Patrol is detaining four times the number of people it can hold. Also, a watchdog report found filthy, potentially dangerous conditions at some stations.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a former immigrant advocate, accused the administration of showing a “willingness to be cruel at every turn.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, blamed Pelosi for the raids, saying she had done “nothing” since they were delayed. “It is the speaker who caused this problem,” he said.

He said Trump would have postponed the raids again if he saw progress in House.

Some activists said they were gearing up for operations to start Sunday and planned to protest. Organizers estimated a rally planned for Saturday in Chicago would draw around 10,000 people.

“We will not be swayed by fear and fiat,” said Justin Valas with Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago.

In New Orleans, any operations were put on hold due to severe weather. The city tweeted that it confirmed with ICE that enforcement would be suspended through the weekend as the region braced for the first hurricane of the season.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, argued that thousands of migrants fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were not allowed a fair chance to request asylum due but were still ordered removed from the country. They are asking that those individuals get another hearing.

Others said they were skeptical that Trump would follow through on the threat.

Advocates have ramped up know-your-rights training since Trump took office, reminding immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, about their right to remain silent and to ask authorities for proper paperwork.

They have also explained that immigrants can often avoid arrest simply by not opening doors to agents, who need permission to enter private homes. That has forced ICE officers to wait outside courthouses and other public places to make arrests.

“We don’t want to alarm folks, but we want to alert folks,” said Melissa Taveras of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.