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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A Texas man accused of fatally shooting five people, including a 9-year-old child, has been captured after a four-day search.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Police say 38-year-old Francisco Oropesa was arrested just miles away from the house where the killings occurred last Friday and that the shooting may have stemmed from a noise complaint from a neighbor.

FADEL: Joining us now is Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media who's been following this story.

Good morning.

LUCIO VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what can you tell us about the arrest?

VASQUEZ: Authorities say Francisco Oropesa was arrested yesterday evening in a home about 10 miles away from the scene of the shooting in Cleveland, Texas. It's an area about 45 miles north of Houston. Police say he was found hiding in a closet under a pile of laundry in the home and was arrested without incident. During a press conference last night, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said he hoped the victims' families could find comfort in his arrest.

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GREG CAPERS: They can rest easy now because he is behind bars and he will live out his life behind bars for killing those five.

VASQUEZ: Oropesa is now being held on a $5 million bond at a local jail. He's currently facing five counts of murder. And as of now, no federal charges have been filed.

FADEL: Now, this was a four-day search, the killing of five people. Can you just recap what happened and what's been going on with the search?

VASQUEZ: Yeah. This all began Friday night when authorities say Oropesa's neighbors had asked him to stop shooting his AR-15 in his yard because they were trying to put a baby to sleep. This prompted him to walk over with the rifle in hand and begin shooting, which left three adults, one teenager and a 9-year-old boy dead. Over the next four days, more than 250 local, state and federal officers scoured the Cleveland area in search of the alleged shooter. They also placed an $80,000 reward for any information leading to his arrest. After receiving more than 200 tips over the last few days, the FBI eventually got a promising lead yesterday evening, which led them to a specific house. About an hour later, Oropesa was in custody.

FADEL: And what can you tell us about the victims?

VASQUEZ: Well, moments before the shooting, four tightknit Honduran families were enjoying each other's time that night in that house. By the time the shooting ceased, five people were dead - 9-year-old Daniel Guzman, 21-year-old Diana Alvarado, 18-year-old Jonathan Casarez, 25-year-old Sonia Taibot and 31-year-old Julisa Rivera. According to the Associated Press, Guzman's elementary school had held a vigil Monday where his classmates and loved ones were setting up a small monument in his honor. The FBI says the families are planning upcoming funerals at the moment and asked the media to give them privacy during the process.

FADEL: Now, during this search, the governor, Greg Abbott, described the victims as illegal immigrants and a lot of people - there was backlash. A lot of people saw that as dehumanizing language. If you could talk about what's happened and how that shifted the conversation around immigration status.

VASQUEZ: Yeah, this happened on Sunday. As you mentioned, Governor Greg Abbott had tweeted the fact that these people - well, at least - it wasn't a fact at the moment. But in that moment, he had called these five victims illegal immigrants. And as you can imagine, there was backlash.

FADEL: Yeah.

VASQUEZ: A lot of critics had said that the immigration status of the victims had nothing to do with the shooting itself or the manhunt of the alleged shooter. Eventually, Abbott slightly backpedaled and said that it appeared that one of the victims was in the U.S. legally. As for Oropesa, authorities say he was undocumented and had been deported from the U.S. several times before.

FADEL: Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media.

Thank you so much.

VASQUEZ: Thank you.

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FADEL: The results from the assessment known as the Nation's Report Card are out today, and they show significant declines.

MARTÍNEZ: The new numbers on how well students in this country are learning their history and civics aren't good.

FADEL: NPR's Sequoia Carrillo joins us now to walk us through the findings.

Good morning, Sequoia.

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: OK, so let's get right to it. How bad are these numbers?

CARRILLO: So the scores are low. The history scores are the lowest recorded since the assessment began back in 1994. And this year marked the first-ever drop in civic scores. And this data comes from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAPE. It's a test administered every four years to a representative sampling of eighth graders across the country. For history, it has students look at different categories, like democracy, culture, technology and world role. This year, there were declines in all subjects. In fact, only about 14% of students reached or exceeded the proficient mark in history. And in civics, only 22% of students met that same benchmark. Those are significant drops from the last time students were tested, back in 2018.

FADEL: Wow. I mean, is this something we should have expected? What are the factors, maybe, that played a role here - pandemic?

CARRILLO: The pandemic definitely played a role. And this was just not a normal four years for students, but we already knew that. There was actually a bigger warning sign back in October, when the counterpart to this assessment in math and reading came out. And yesterday, when I was talking through these latest scores with experts, they said the dips in reading and math from the fall gave a big indication of what was to come here. And it makes sense if you think about it.

If kids are already struggling with reading, then when you test them on documents like the Federalist Papers or a section of the Constitution, they're going to have trouble with it. Teaching history is built on the foundation of reading comprehension. So as one goes down, so goes the other. But in this case, it just dropped more than expected.

FADEL: What about civics?

CARRILLO: This subject was harder to predict. There's been some research that when there's a high-profile election, civic scores can go up because there are lessons in government and democracy. So they're not just learning about it in the classroom, but they're also seeing it happen around them in real life. So there was some hope that these civic scores would hold or even go up with the 2020 election and, of course, the high-profile midterms last year. But they did not. They actually dipped for the first time.

FADEL: So a lot of struggling students out there if there are declines in reading and math and now history and civics. What's a path forward for these students? What are educators going to do?

CARRILLO: I talked with Kerry Sautner from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia about exactly this. She's an educator in civics and history and says the subjects are very intertwined. But like I said before, so is reading. So are many subjects. So what do we do when we have significant drops in everything? And here's what she told me.

KERRY SAUTNER: All reality, we need to make sure our kids are engaged citizens and that means they need to be informed with the knowledge and the skills to do this work. And that takes every class.

CARRILLO: Meaning not just pouring more resources into reading and math, but working to improve schools across the curriculum. And at a time when there are huge concerns about what Americans know of their history and how their government works, this issue couldn't be more vital.

FADEL: NPR's Sequoia Carrillo, thank you so much.

CARRILLO: Thank you.

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FADEL: The Federal Reserve's 14-month battle against inflation may be close to a turning point.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, central bank is expected to raise interest rates again this afternoon, but forecasters think that could be the last rate hike for a while. Today's meeting comes on the heels of another bank failure, which could complicate the Fed's calculations.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to explain. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So the Fed uses interest rate hikes to regulate inflation, which is still pretty high. Why is the Fed going to push the pause button after today?

HORSLEY: Well, they may. This would be the 10th rate hike in a row for the Fed, and you are beginning to feel the drag of those higher rates on the U.S. economy. The construction and manufacturing sectors, which are particularly sensitive to interest rates, are in a slump. Ordinary people are starting to spend less money. And the job market, although it's still pretty strong, is showing some signs of losing steam. So some observers think it's time for a pause in rate hikes.

Lindsay Owens heads the Groundwork Collaborative. That's a progressive think tank here in Washington. She wants the Fed to take a breather and see if inflation continues to settle down.

LINDSAY OWENS: It's not the case that we have to keep hammering away at trying to slow growth in the labor market to bring down inflation. We can have both.

HORSLEY: This has already been the most aggressive series of interest rate hikes since the 1980s. So it's gotten a lot more expensive to borrow money for a business or get a car loan or carry a balance on your credit card. Another increase today would bring the Fed's benchmark rate to just over 5%, and that's about where the average Fed policymaker said rates ought to end up this year.

FADEL: Now, how does the recent turmoil in the banking system affect the Fed's calculations?

HORSLEY: It's definitely something the Fed is watching. Over the weekend, we saw another bank go under with First Republic. That follows the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank back in March. In the wake of these failures, other banks are likely to be more cautious about making loans. And so that's another speed bump for the economy. It acts kind of like higher interest rates, but it's not nearly so carefully calibrated.

Economist Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics thinks the economy and the job market will be significantly weaker because of these bank failures with an outright loss of jobs this summer. He wishes the Fed had stopped raising rates sooner, but he thinks they will stop after today.

IAN SHEPHERDSON: I do think that's the last one, and then things begin to change in June and finally in September. And as far as I'm concerned, the sooner the better.

HORSLEY: By this fall, Shepherdson thinks the central bank will be forced to start cutting interest rates. Now, the Fed's own forecasts do not indicate that. On average, policymakers expect rates to go a little bit higher today and then hold steady for the rest of the year.

FADEL: Now, Scott, how much of the trouble in the banking sector stems from the Fed's own actions?

HORSLEY: Well, they're certainly related. Some banks, like Silicon Valley, were caught off guard by the rapid rise in interest rates. Of course, banks are supposed to prepare for that possibility. So that's mainly the fault of the bank's own management. But the Fed did issue a scathing report last week saying its own supervisors had failed to properly monitor Silicon Valley Bank, and that was a factor in the bank's collapse. Fed supervisors were slow to spot problems at the bank, and when the problems were identified, supervisors didn't act aggressively enough to make sure they were corrected.

Michael Barr, who is the top bank regulator at the Fed, blamed some of that on a policy choice that was made in 2019 to exempt all but the biggest banks from strict scrutiny, as well as a culture of light-touch regulation at the Fed. And he promised more aggressive bank oversight going forward. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell endorsed Barr's recommendation, and I suspect the chairman will get some questions about that during his news conference this afternoon.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley.

Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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