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Interview With Mayor of Meridian, Mississippi

Aired July 8, 2003 - 12:20   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a breaking story in Meridian, Mississippi. Just outside a Lockheed Martin plant, a shooter went in there, a gunman opened fire killing five people, injuring eight others. They've been rushed to hospital. Then apparently took his own life. Six confirmed deaths.
John Robert Smith is the mayor of Meridian. He's joining us now the phone. Mr. Mayor, sorry to have to report this horrible story. Tell us what you know about the specific details.

JOHN ROBERT SMITH, MAYOR OF MERIDIAN, MISSISSIPPI: This morning, sometime before 10:00 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) arrived at the scene. And our office is not confirming exact numbers but we have multiple deaths, multiple injuries. The scene has been secured for sometime now. We've been on the scene for about an hour.

The employees are in the facility and being administered to by a team of clergy that's assembled here on the site. Family members that are coming out are being assembled across the highway where they are also being seen to by members of the clergy.

Obviously an unspeakable tragedy here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) town.

BLITZER: Any word, Mr. Mayor, on a possible motive?

SMITH: No word at this point, no.

BLITZER: Due know the identity of the shooter?

SMITH: The identity of the shooter is known. We're not releasing that at this time and we're attempting now to notify affected family members first before releasing any other detailed information.

Our thoughts, once the site is secure, our thoughts have to be to the families that are facing something that we can't begin to imagine. There's shock, there's horror and great, great grief.

BLITZER: Our thoughts are with those families as well, Mr. Mayor. Was the shooter, without releasing his name, an employee at the plant?

SMITH: That is my understanding.

BLITZER: Was he laid off? Was he fired? Did he have any grievances or anything like that? SMITH: Obviously not getting into those details at this time until (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are notified. They're facing enough uncertainty now that we won't tend to those who are in grief first and then we'll release any other information.

BLITZER: Do you have any information on the five individuals, the employees who were shot? Were they randomly shot or were they targeted?

SMITH: Again, not confirming exact count. And at this point, do not have a motive. But the sheriff's department is in control of the crime scene supported by the Meridian Police Department. This facility actually just outside the city of Meridian.

BLITZER: We have spoken earlier, Mr. Mayor, with the sheriff, Billy Sollie, who did give us the numbers, five people killed. The shooter then apparently took his own life. Eight others injured. But I can understand you're not going to speak about specific numbers pending confirmation, of course, from the sheriff's department who are in charge of this investigation.

Tell us a little bit about your community, Mr. Mayor. The people who work at this plant. How many people are there? How long it's been in business. What do they do there?

SMITH: Well, the city of Meridian is about 40,000 people. We're in a retail medical trade (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of about 350,000. Lockheed Martin is one of our major employers here, a fine company. Heavily involved, obviously, in support of the nation's military. We're a military town. We train 60 percent of the strike pilots for the Navy here.

And Lockheed's a fine company. The employees here are citizens of Meridian, citizens of Lauderdale County. They're our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones and they're hurting now. And that's -- you know, that's where your heart is.

BLITZER: Our heart is, of course, with those family members, as well.

I'm reading here some information that the Associated Press has been putting out. The plant, the Meridian plant, the Lockheed Martin plant builds parts for the C-130 Hercules as well as other parts for the F-22 Raptor jets. Is that right based on what you know?

SMITH: Yes, and of course, some of the manufacturing mission here is fairly recent. We've been pleased that our congressional delegation has been able to see that some of these fine jobs are here in Meridian because we're very supportive of this nation's military. Have been and will continue to be proud of this facility.

Heart very, very heavy over this tragic event caused by one individual. And who can know the human mind or the human heart? But when it's bent in a means of destruction, then something like this can be brought on innocent people and in an innocent hometown. BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, I'll ask you this question even though it might be a little bit farfetched. Given the nature of what the plant was manufacturing, military equipment, parts for aircraft, Hercules, F-22s, is there any indication, any early indication whatsoever there might have been some political motive involved in this shooting?

SMITH: No indication of that -- anything in that nature whatsoever.

BLITZER: All right. So we can basically rest assured that that is not necessarily the case.

How is the community dealing right now? It's only been an hour or two since this has happened. You said that some chaplains, some ministers have arrived on the scene to deal with those who have obviously been shaken by what has occurred?

SMITH: The community is obviously reeling in shock from an event like this. It's not supposed to happen in a city like Meridian, Mississippi or in Lauderdale County.

But we're a people of strong faith. The clergy has responded to a call. And they are here giving the best of hope, consolation and prayer that can be given in a time like this. We're a strong resilient people with a strong faith. And as unspeakable as this act is, we will be stronger for it.

BLITZER: It's a shocking, shocking event. Mr. Mayor, has anything like this -- I asked Sheriff Sollie earlier if anything like this has occurred in your community in recent years or ever for that matter. Do you remember anything like this that has ever happened in Meridian?

SMITH: Absolutely not. Nothing like this has happened here. We pride ourselves on being the safest city in Mississippi with a population over 30,000. If we have three to four violent deaths in a year, that's a surprise to us. So something like this is unimaginable for the people of Meridian.

BLITZER: And all the indications are, Mr. Mayor, that this was one isolated individual working, not part of any group, no kind of coconspirators or anything like that. Is that right?

SMITH: That's correct. It appears to be the act of a lone gunman who brought a lot of grief and suffering to innocent people.

BLITZER: Are you taking any extra security precautions, nevertheless, as a result of this incident?

SMITH: Right now, the effort is to secure this area and to deal with the families. We don't think there's any reason to believe there are any other threats in this community whatsoever. A lone gunman acting on his own, no motive at this time.

But again, the human mind can bring great disaster and it certainly has here in my hometown. BLITZER: The human mind can be horrendous and sick as we all know.

Mr. Mayor, I'd just ask you one final question before I'll let you go back to work over there. The entire scene as it's unfolding right now, just set the stage for us a little bit. What you're seeing, what you're hearing.

SMITH: Well, Lockheed Martin is located in an industrial park outside the city of Meridian. It employs a lot of our family, friends and loved ones here. The scene is quiet, the scene is under control. People here, both law enforcement and emergency responders are -- have turned their attentions to ministering to those who are in need emotionally, mentally and spiritually at this time. I ask your prayers for our hometown.

BLITZER: Well we'll try to give them to you Mr. Mayor. Thanks so much and of course, we're shocked as all of our viewers are by what has happened in Meridian, Mississippi earlier today.

John Robert Smith is the mayor of Meridian, Mississippi. He was kind enough to tell our viewers what going on right now.


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