North Carolina voter fraud probe could prompt new primary, general elections

With fraud allegations still plaguing an uncertified North Carolina congressional election, voters could head back to the polls for a brand new election – primary and all. North Carolina’s state legislature voted Wednesday to require both new primary and general elections should the state elections board decide to call for a redo. Accusations of voter … Continue reading “North Carolina voter fraud probe could prompt new primary, general elections”

With fraud allegations still plaguing an uncertified North Carolina congressional election, voters could head back to the polls for a brand new election – primary and all.

North Carolina’s state legislature voted Wednesday to require both new primary and general elections should the state elections board decide to call for a redo. Accusations of voter fraud and ballot irregularities have bedeviled the 9th Congressional District election.

Republican Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes out of nearly 283,000 cast in the district, which the GOP has held since 1963. But issues with absentee ballots have prevented Harris from being certified the winner as the state elections board continues to investigate allegations of “irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities.”

The probe has chiefly focused on absentee ballots, particularly in Bladen County – the only county among the eight in the district where Harris won a majority of mail-in ballots over McCready. A Bladen County man, McCrae Dowless, has been identified by the board as a “person of interest” related to an alleged absentee ballot operation.

DEMS THREATEN NOT TO SEAT GOP HOUSE WINNER AMID BALLOT HARVESTING ACCUSATIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA

Dowless, who worked for the Harris campaign as a chief strategist, has been accused of holding onto more than 800 absentee ballots ahead of the May primary elections, according to an affidavit.

Kenneth Simmons, a Republican, said in the affidavit that he spoke with Dowless during a GOP meeting. During that time, Dowless admitted he had more than 800 ballots with him, Simmons said, according to The News & Observer.

Dowless allegedly said he wouldn’t turn in the ballots “until the last day because the opposition would know how many votes they had to make up.” But Simmons said he was concerned the ballots would never be submitted at all.

NORTH CAROLINA ELECTIONS OFFICIAL RESIGNS AMID VOTER FRAUD CONTROVERSY: 'THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WAY OUT OF HAND'

Republican state Rep. David Lewis was instrumental in pushing through the legislation requiring a new primary and general election should the state elections board decide to call for a redo. He said he pushed for the bill because it appeared there were issues with absentee ballots during the primary elections as well.

Harris, 52, beat incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the May primary.

The state elections board has said an evidentiary hearing will occur on or before Dec. 21, after which it could call for a new election.

Harris, a Baptist minister, has maintained he was “absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing” but is open to a new election if there is proof any ballot irregularities could have influenced the outcome of the race.

McCready had initially conceded the election but retracted it earlier this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

Huge fire erupts on North Carolina highway after tractor-trailer hauling 8,500 gallons of gas crashes

A large tractor-trailer hauling 8,500 gallons of gasoline reportedly hit an icy part of the road on I-73 in Greensboro, North Carolina, which sent the vehicle flying. The tractor-trailer flipped onto its side, igniting a massive fire that forced officials to close portions of the highway Thursday morning.

The incident occurred during the morning rush hour commute near the Holden Road exit, the Greensboro Fire Department confirmed to Fox 8.

Highway Patrol told Fox 8 the driver of the tractor-trailer was able to exit the vehicle before it was completely engulfed in flames. He suffered minor injuries and was transported from the scene by emergency medical services (EMS). No other injuries have been reported.

Within hours, fire crews were able to extinguish the flames but the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) warned all lanes of I-73 South near Exit 97 would remain closed for an "extended period" of time. The agency provided drivers a variety of detours.

Structural engineers will examine the bridge for potential damage from the flame and determine whether it is safe to reopen.

Motorists who were brought to a stop ahead of that particular stretch of highway shared photos and videos of the huge flames and black plumes of smoke on social media earlier Tuesday, echoing officials' advice to avoid the area. Many reported that traffic was at a standstill.

Jennifer Earl is an SEO editor for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @jenearlyspeakin.

North Carolina elections official resigns amid voter fraud controversy: ‘Things have gotten way out of hand’

A North Carolina elections official with ties to a “person of interest” in the ongoing voter fraud investigation has resigned.

Jens Lutz, vice chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, said “things have gotten way out of hand” in his resignation letter.

“Sometimes in life circumstances reach the breaking point especially when your [sic] trying to do the right thing,” Lutz, the former chairman of the Bladen County Democratic Party, said. “It becomes even more difficult when your family is drug [sic] into the drama plus your own party begins to attack you for compromising and common sense decisions.”

Lutz told WECT-TV he decided to step down after he was made aware that “some in the Democratic Party are not happy” with him.

Bladen County’s absentee ballots are at the center of a fraud probe that prompted the state elections board to refuse to certify Republican Mark Harris as the winner over Democrat Dan McCready in the 9th district election. The board cited allegations of “irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” involving mail-in ballots.

POSSIBLE VOTER FRAUD PROBED IN TIGHT NORTH CAROLINA HOUSE RACE

A few years ago, Lutz started a political consulting firm with McCrae Dowless, who has been dubbed a “person of interest” by the state elections board in the probe. Dowless, a former Democrat, has a criminal record that includes prison time in 1995 for felony fraud and a conviction for felony perjury in 1992.

Dowless seems to have collected the most absentee ballot request forms in Bladen County this fall, according to documents released by the state elections board. He worked for a consulting firm hired by Harris’ campaign.

“I do everything by the book,” Lutz told WSOC-TV. “Once I see something is not 100 percent, I would rather not be a part of it. There were several people aware of what I was doing and at the time, McCrae was a Democrat, I was a Democrat.”

DEMS DENY CHANGING TONE ON VOTING, ELECTION FRAUD AMID NORTH CAROLINA BALLOT MESS

The board could order a new election – which Harris said he would support if it’s proved fraud changed the outcome of the race – but for now, the vote count remains unofficial, with Harris leading McCready by about 900 votes.

Some Bladen County voters said strangers came to their homes to collect absentee ballots – even if they were not fully completed or sealed in an envelope to keep them from being altered, according to affidavits offered by the state Democratic Party.

North Carolina state law allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.

Lutz posted concerns about potential voter fraud on Facebook multiple times. On Nov. 5, he asked if anyone had received an absentee ballot without requesting one or if someone had picked up a ballot who was not a family member. And in October, he warned against strangers collecting absentee ballots and encouraged people to contact him if concerned.

The 9th district spans a few counties in the middle of North Carolina along the border with South Carolina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

1 dead, 310K without power after powerful winter storm slams Southeast: report

A motorist in North Carolina was killed and about 310,000 were left without power after a powerful winter storm ripped through the Southeast over the weekend dropping a foot of snow in some areas, reports said.

Large swaths of North Carolina, southern West Virginia and Virginia remain under a winter storm warning, Reuters reported. The report said about two inches of snow is expected.

The massive storm was also blamed for the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Police in North Carolina and Virginia said they’d responded to hundreds of snow-related traffic accidents as of Sunday afternoon, as cars, trucks and tractor-trailers all struggled with the snow and ice.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper strongly urged residents to stay off the roads Sunday, asking drivers not to put lives of first responders needlessly at risk. Cooper said emergency crews, including the National Guard, worked overnight to clear traffic accidents on major roadways.

Five members of a dive team searched the Neuse River in Kinston, North Carolina, for a missing truck driver Sunday after a tractor-trailer ran off a road and into the river, WRAL-TV reported. Police just outside of Charlotte said a driver died when a tree fell on a moving vehicle.

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Officials warned residents to prepare emergency kits and stay off roads in impacted areas. Several schools districts in North Carolina and Virginia announced they’ll be closed Monday.

“Virginians should take all necessary precautions to ensure they are prepared for winter weather storm impacts,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Fraud allegations loom over North Carolina congressional race

More than four weeks after Democrat Dan McCready conceded to Republican Mark Harris, allegations of voter fraud are preventing North Carolina elections officials from certifying results for the state’s 9th Congressional District.

McCready, who currently trails Harris by 905 votes in the unofficial tally, took to social media Thursday to withdraw his concession.

“I didn’t serve overseas in the Marine Corps just to come back home and watch politicians and career criminals attack our democracy,” McCrady said in a video posted to his Twitter account. “And I call on Mark Harris to tell us exactly what he knew and when he knew it.”

Citing filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), The New York Times was first to report Harris’ campaign disclosed it owes more than $34,000 in connection with a voter turnout effort in Bladen County that has been called into question. State elections officials are investigating allegations that a Republican political operative ran a door-to-door operation to collect absentee ballots from voters, which is illegal in North Carolina.

North Carolina GOP leaders insist Harris had no knowledge of illegal activity. But they say they would support a new election if state officials can show ballot irregularities affected the outcome of the race.

"To sum it up, we think the Board of Elections should hold a public hearing and fully lay out the facts,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina GOP, said in a written statement to Fox News. "If they can show with certainty that the outcome could NOT have been changed, they need to certify Dr. Harris and continue to support all state and federal criminal investigations. If they can show a substantial likelihood it could have changed the race, then we fully would support a new election."

More than four weeks after Democrat Dan McCready (left) conceded to Republican Mark Harris (right), allegations of voter fraud are preventing North Carolina elections officials from certifying results for the state’s 9th Congressional District. McCready has withdrawn his concession.

“We’re calling for transparency,” said State Sen. Paul Newton, a Republican. “We’re calling for a fully bipartisan task force to lead the investigation, and finally that the investigation be broad enough — have a broad enough scope — to satisfy the concerns of all North Carolinians.”

North Carolina’s bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement has announced it will hold the evidentiary hearing on, or before, December 21. If the board determines there’s enough evidence that fraud affected the outcome of the race, it could call for a completely new election early next year.

“The Board of Elections has taken important steps to uncover the truth in this case by further delaying certification of the 9th District election and by calling for a full public evidentiary hearing,” said Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “This was the right move.”

Democrats, who will control the U.S. House next year, could get involved. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters the House retains the right to determine who is seated in Congress.

“The House Administration Committee will have full investigative authority to determine the winner of the election,” Pelosi said. “Only if it’s impossible to determine who the winner is would we take the extraordinary step of calling for a new election. But that governing body can do so.”

Pelosi added that allegations of fraud in the North Carolina race are not only a problem for Democrats.

“The Republicans have a problem, too,” she said, “because it affected their primary election.”

In the May GOP primary, Harris, a Baptist pastor, defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger. Both candidates had run as pro-Trump conservatives.

Fox News producer David Lewkowict contributed to this report.

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.

Killer of North Carolina girl, 13, found in jail on unrelated charge, authorities say

A 34-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the kidnapping and death of a teenage girl in North Carolina last month that set off a three-week search for her.

The suspect, identified as Michael Ray McClellan, was already in jail on an unrelated charge when he was charged in the rape, murder and kidnapping of Hania Aguilar, FOX 46 of Charlotte reported in a Twitter message early Saturday.

It was not immediately clear what charges McClellan will face or how he came into contact with the 13-year-old.

Hania Aguilar was waiting outside her Lumberton mobile home park on Nov. 5 when she was kidnapped. After a three-week search, her body was found off a rural road, seven miles away, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Meanwhile, the dead girl's family was struggling with a separate matter: Her father, Noe Aguilar, was denied a visa so he could travel from Guatemala, where he resides, to attend her funeral in North Carolina on Saturday, his lawyer said.

Noe Aguilar traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala on Monday to ask for an expedited visa to enter the U.S. for the funeral, but U.S. officials determined he lacked strong ties to his home country and denied him on the spot, his attorney Naimeh Salem told the New York Times.

“To tell you the truth, with past administrations, we never had a problem like this. With this administration, most everything that is discretionary is getting denied," Salem, an immigration lawyer based in Texas, said, referring to the Trump administration's policy on entry to the U.S.

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A petition on Change.org requesting that the father be allowed to enter the country collected more than 57,000 signatures as of early Saturday.

VISA DENIALS PREVENTED NAVY VET'S MOM FROM ATTENDING HIS FUNERAL, DAD SAYS

"No parent should be denied the right to attend their child’s funeral — especially when Hania was a Citizen-born in Tennessee," the petition states.

Guatemalan residents must receive a special visa to enter the U.S. Noe Aguilar lived in the U.S. when his daughter was an infant but moved back to Guatemala in 2005, according to the Times.

In his visa application, he said owned a business and had no intention of overstaying.

“He has no negative immigration history,” Salem said. “No deportation. He has never attempted to come back to the U.S. He has no desire to come to the U.S. He wanted to kiss his daughter goodbye.”

North Carolina Dem McCready retracts concession as GOP signals possible support for new House election

North Carolina Republican Party officials are signaling that they might support a new election in the House race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, amid reports of possible illegal ballot harvesting and fraud by a GOP-linked operative.

McCready uploaded a video to Twitter on Thursday afternoon retracting his concession last month and condemning what he called "shameful criminal activity bankrolled by my opponent."

Unofficial totals have Harris leading McCready by 905 votes, with some counties reporting unusually high numbers of unreturned absentee ballots and a surprisingly strong showing by Harris in mail-in balloting that far exceeded his support during in-person voting.

"I didn’t serve overseas in the Marines to come home to NC and watch a criminal, bankrolled by my opponent, take away people’s very right to vote," McCready tweeted. "Today I withdraw my concession and call on Mark Harris to end his silence and tell us exactly what he knew, and when."

In the video, McCready said Harris has remained "completely silent."

Meanwhile, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the House "retains the right to decide who is seated" and could take the "extraordinary step" of calling for a new election if the winner in the state's 9th Congressional District isn't clear.

And incoming Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that a "very substantial question" about fraud hangs over the race for a seat Republicans have held since 1963. He also suggested Democrats could refuse to seat Harris.

The state elections board refused to certify the results in the race last week because of allegations of "irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities" involving mail-in ballots in the district.

The board is meeting later this month to hear evidence, but it's unclear whether the race will be settled then.

Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C. (Associated Press)

The Republican Party of North Carolina (NCGOP) said the board's public findings will be critical.

"To sum it up, we think the Board of Elections should hold a public hearing and fully lay out the facts," NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said in a statement to Fox News. "If they can show with certainty that the outcome could NOT have been changed, they need to certify Dr. Harris and continue to support all state and federal criminal investigations. If they can show a substantial likelihood it could have changed the race, then we fully would support a new election."

BALLOT HARVESTING IS LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA, BUT NOT NORTH CAROLINA — IS IT RIFE FOR ABUSE?

Woodhouse continued: "If they hold a public hearing and simply can’t determine one way or the other then, we would not oppose a short delay on the question of certification until they have more answers."

Entertaining the idea of a new election represents a significant change from last Thursday, when state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes issued a statement saying: "Democrats are throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the wall to try and steal an election."

"Today I withdraw my concession and call on Mark Harris to end his silence and tell us exactly what he knew."

— Democrat Dan McCready

On Sunday, Hayes said there weren't enough questioned ballots to change the race's outcome, and the next day he accused a Democratic member of the state board of "score-settling."

On Wednesday, the editorial board of The Charlotte Observer wrote that the election had been "tainted" and that a new election is almost certainly required. "Individuals have interfered with the voting process by gaining access to others’ absentee ballots," the paper wrote.

The brouhaha highlights the wildly varying state laws governing ballot harvesting, which refers to the practice of someone other than a voter dropping off that voter's ballot at a polling station.

Paul Ryan questions ‘bizarre’ vote-counting process in CA

House Speaker Paul Ryan questioned the legitimacy of California’s ballot-counting process, adding to claims from many Republicans that the state’s election procedures are flawed.

Two years ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB1921, which now permits anyone — including political operatives – to collect and return ballots in that state. Previously, only the voter or close family members could perform that service.

Republicans have since openly suggested that the practice led to major irregularities in voting in California, where the GOP lost seats in several strongholds as votes continued to be counted well after Election Day.

But in North Carolina, state law still prohibits anyone other than a voter or a close family member from mailing in or dropping off that voter's ballot.

FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2018, file photo, Democratic congressional candidate Dan McCready leans against wallboard as he pauses during a Habitat For Humanity building event in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

The elections board has subpoenaed documents from the Harris campaign, and is concentrating on activities linked to McCrae Dowless, a longtime political operative from Bladen County. Dowless worked as a contractor for Harris' chief strategist in the campaign, Harris campaign lawyer John Branch confirmed Tuesday.

A North Carolina voter, Ginger Eason, told Charlotte, N.C. station WSOC-TV on Monday that Dowless had paid her between $75 and $100 to collect absentee ballots in the 9th District.

“I was helping McCrae pick up ballots," Eason said.

In affidavits offered by the state Democratic Party, voters described a woman coming to their homes to collect their absentee ballots, whether or not they had been completed properly.

"If they can show a substantial likelihood it could have changed the race, then we fully would support a new election."

— NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse

Bladen County was the only county in the district where Harris won a majority of the mail-in ballots, according to unofficial election data. Bladen and Robeson County — where officials also have requested information — had the district's highest percentages of unreturned mail-in absentee ballots.

Blanden also recorded absentee ballot requests from a whopping 7.5 percent of registered voters, more than double the rate of virtually all other counties in the state. Just over 60 percent of returned absentee ballots in Blanden went for Harris, even though registered Republicans comprised less than 20 percent of all voters who sent in ballots in the county on Election Day.

Florida recount repeat: Have politics come into play?

Former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris speaks out on the ballot showdown in the Sunshine State.

Local officials said Wednesday that more than 1,000 absentee ballots likely cast by Democratic voters in the 9th Congressional District may have been destroyed.

“You’re looking at several thousand, possibly 2,000 absentee ballot requests from this most recent election. About 40 percent of those, it appears, at this point may not have been returned,” Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told CNN.

Freeman confirmed Monday that her office has been investigating “potential voting irregularities” in Bladen County since early this year.

Allegations about similarly apparent mail-in absentee ballot irregularities also surfaced two years ago in Blanden County during a tight election for governor.

If the allegations are accurate, "this is the biggest absentee fraud in a generation or two in North Carolina," said Gerry Cohen, an election law expert and former longtime legislative staff attorney. "North Carolina has a long history of this kind of thing, particularly in rural areas."

Dowless, who served prison time in 1995 for felony fraud and was convicted of felony perjury in 1992, has worked on get-out-the-vote efforts for various local and legislative candidates through the years.

Dowless put his name on an elections protest, backed at the time by the campaign of then-GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, that alleged a "massive scheme" by a local political group to run an "absentee ballot mill" to improperly submit votes for a write-in candidate for a position Dowless was seeking.

But the board peppered Dowless with questions about his own absentee ballot activities. Dowless acknowledged he hired people in 2016 to urge voters to turn in absentee ballot request forms, which is legal. In sworn testimony, Dowless said he never handled or filled out the actual ballots. The board dismissed Dowless' protest but sent all of its evidence to local and federal prosecutors.

Republican leaders had previously said Harris, a Southern Baptist minister, should be certified the winner, saying no evidence has been made public that shows he didn't get the most lawful votes.

"The campaign was not aware of any illegal conduct in connection with the 9th District race," Branch said in a statement.

Fox News' David Lewkowict, Louis Casiano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.

Over 1,000 ballots may have been destroyed in NC congressional race, DA says

More than 1,000 absentee ballots likely cast by Democratic voters in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District may have been destroyed amid voter harvesting allegations in favor of Republican Mark Harris in a closely contested race.

“You’re looking at several thousand, possibly 2,000 absentee ballot requests from this most recent election. About 40 percent of those, it appears, at this point may not have been returned,” Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told CNN.

Freeman confirmed Monday that her office has been investigating “potential voting irregularities” in Bladen County since early this year.

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The investigation began in 2016 and has now incorporated the 2018 primary and midterm election allegations.

“There has been an open investigation throughout this period,” Freeman told the Raleigh-based News & Observer.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hold an emergency hearing to look into allegations from some voters that their absentee ballots were collected illegally and not counted, the Hill reported.

Mark Harris speaks to the media during a news conference in Matthews, N.C. (Associated Press)

The "real election fraud is playing out right before us in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District," Connolly said in a statement.

Harris holds an unofficial 900-vote lead over his Democratic opponent Dan McCready. Both candidates did not immediately respond to Fox News requests for comment early Thursday.

BALLOT HARVESTING BOUNTY: HOW DEMS USED NEW RULE TO ROUT GOP IN CALIFORNIA

Some voters have said their ballots were taken illegally. It remained unclear of the ballots were counted and the state Board of Elections has declined to certify the results amid the fraud allegations.

One woman, Ginger Eason, told Charlotte, N.C., station WSOC-TV on Monday that McCrae Dowless, a longtime political operative from Bladen County, had paid her between $75 and $100 to collect absentee ballots in the 9th District.

Democratic congressional candidate Dan McCready leans against wallboard as he pauses during a Habitat For Humanity building event in Charlotte, N.C. (Associated Press)

“I was helping McCrae pick up ballots," Eason said.

On Tuesday, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., threatened to not seat Harris when the new Congress takes power in January.

"The House … has the authority over the propriety of the election," Hoyer said. "This is a very substantial question. [It] ought to be resolved before we seat any member."

“If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris’s being seated until that is resolved,” he added.

Search continues for killer of North Carolina girl, 13; FBI offers $25G reward

The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward as it continues searching for a suspect in the death of a 13-year-old North Carolina girl, whose body was found nearly a month after she went missing.

The body of Hania Aguilar was found in water in Robeson County on Nov. 27, about 10 miles south of the mobile home park from where she was abducted Nov. 5 after going outside to start a relative's SUV before school.

That morning, a man dressed in black pushed the girl into a family member's SUV and drove from the scene, investigators said. A witness reported hearing her scream during the altercation.

Three days later, a green Ford Expedition in question was discovered after someone spotted it in a wooded area several miles south of the girl's home. Her body was found a few miles away.

(FBI)

In Lumberton, four crime block drop boxes around the community are also allowing residents to anonymously inform police about the case, South Carolina's WPDE-TV reported.

“They can utilize these boxes. They don’t have to fear of retaliation of turning in a criminal b placing information in this box. [They] don’t have to put their name on it. We just need a lead. We need some information — some vital information," the Rev. Larry Williams told the station. "I understand that there is nothing done under the sun whereby somebody don’t know about."

Williams had developed the boxes more than 20 years ago for residents to anonymously inform law enforcement about a crime, the station reported.

Authorities vowed to continue their investigation and said their work “will not stop” until whoever is behind the teen’s disappearance is brought “to justice.”

Fox News’ Elizabeth Zwirz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amy Lieu is a news editor and reporter for Fox News.

Dean at North Carolina university refers to freshmen as ‘freshmores’: report

In an effort to make campus life at one North Carolina university more gender inclusive, some students are ditching the term freshman in favor of “freshmore” to describe first-year students.

Jefford Vahlbusch, dean of the Honors College at Appalachian State University, introduced the term when he came to the school two years ago, The Appalachian student newspaper reported.

“We have women and men as college students, and I think having a non-gender specific way of talking about them, of addressing them, just shows that we’re aware of the power of language,” Vahlbusch said.

Jefford Vahlbusch (Appalachian State University)

Vahlbusch began using the term while employed at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire after searching for a “non-sexist way” to describe freshmen.

“I just started using (freshmore) and encouraging students, prospective students and parents to use it, and it kind of caught on,” Vahlbusch said.

MICHIGAN HIGH SCHOOL REPLACES HOMECOMING QUEEN WITH ‘EXCELLENCE AWARD,’ SPARKS DEBATE

“I think that certainly the “freshmore” class this year is using it more often,” he added.

Vahlbusch did not immediately respond to Fox News for comment Wednesday.

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The term hasn’t caught on campus-wide, but Honors College students and faculty have embraced it, Vahlbusch said.

“Freshmore” journalism major and Honors College student Marlen Cardenas said she appreciates the intent behind the word.

“I don’t mind being called a freshman, but it’s nice that they’re making an effort to make sure everyone feels included,” Cardenas said.

PURDUE HOLDS GENDER-NEUTRAL HOMECOMING, HONORING ‘ROYALTY’ RATHER THAN KING, QUEEN

The term is already making an impact, Vahlbusch said. He described a recent high-level administrative meeting where someone used the word freshman and then apologized.

“I think that we are really all rewarded when we strive for inclusive language and inclusive practice,” Vahlbusch said.

He said he expects the term to catch on.