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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Police Apprehend Suspected Court Shooter Brian Nichols; Interview with Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington
Aired March 12, 2005 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The massive multi-state manhunt for Brian Nichols seen here continues this morning. Police allege Nichols went on a shooting rampage in an Atlanta courthouse Friday killing a judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy and wounding another. Now investigators think Nichols has at least two weapons and police are also checking out the shooting death of a Customs agent on the north side of the city, although they don't know if it is connected to Nichols.
In international news now, representatives of a United Nations envoy say Syria's president has turned over a timetable for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon. The envoy is expected to go through talks with Lebanese officials before giving details of the pull-out to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
And in New York, former President Clinton continues his recovery. Two days after doctors removed fluid and scar tissue surrounding his left lung, surgeons say the procedure went well. Clinton is expected to remain in the hospital for up to 10 days.
We want to tell you about a new development right now. While police investigate the killing of that Customs officer, John Shirek, from our affiliate, WXIA, is live at the latest crime scene. We want to tell you that he filed this report just a few minutes ago. Let's take a listen.
JOHN SHIREK, WXIA REPORTER: Tiffany, this is a very new crime scene, a very developing crime scene because as we have been here just in the past few minutes, a lot of police have just come here. They've barricaded the street, Cantor (ph) Road here and Jo-Jo, if you can turn around, you can see federal agents and Atlanta police detectives and Fulton County police detectives are arriving as we're talking. Now, coming back around to Cantor Road, this apparently happened just down the road, just down the hill behind these condominiums.
Sometime this morning, Atlanta police discovered that the U.S. Customs agent had been shot and killed. Again, what they're interested in finding out is whether this has any connection at all to the courthouse shootings. They do not know for sure. Just in the past few minutes, we have seen Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents very carefully going over the grounds of this condominium complex, the Alexandria condominiums and also the condominiums across the street from them, looking very closely to see what they may be able to find in relation to this shooting.
Jo-Jo is going to show you how close we are to Lennox Square Mall. Just up the hill, over the railroad tracks is the Lennox Square station so one could wonder whether someone might have taken a MARTA train to the Lennox Square Station. It's certainly within walking distance of that station to the crime scene. Again, we want to emphasize, Atlanta police are not saying whether there's any connection with this shooting and the courthouse shootings from yesterday, but they're very interested, obviously, in looking into this, because, as you said, the U.S. Customs agents Glock pistol, his Customs badge and his pickup truck are missing. We have a description of his pickup truck. It's a 1994 blue Chevy pickup with a Georgia tag of APG 6121. Again, a 1994 blue Chevy pickup, license tag APG 6121.
NGUYEN: And that was reporter John Shirek with affiliate WXIA. Security camera video shows Brian Nichols, the suspect in the Atlanta courthouse shooting in a downtown parking garage. We want you to take a look at that video. A shirtless Nichols is seen putting on a jacket while heading down the stairs. The garage is several blocks from the courthouse where the shootings occurred. Police say it is the same garage where Nichols took a car at gun point, but that car, a 1997 Honda Accord was later found still in the parking garage.
Investigators aren't sure how Nichols got out of the garage, whether he left on foot or if he took another car. Police in Georgia and neighboring states, of course, they continue their massive manhunt for Brian Nichols. He is considered armed and very dangerous. Officers are appealing to the public for any information they may have. At last report, the reward for Nichols is at $60,000.
We want to get more now on the manhunt from CNN's Kimberly Osias who is in downtown Atlanta. She, in fact, is standing outside of that parking garage where that 1997 Honda Accord was found overnight. Kimberly, what's the latest?
KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, this area, I'm still standing here because it is of critical importance in this investigation. Police now say that Mr. Nichols had two, confirmed two guns on him. Still actively looking, an active, all-out manhunt. Now this parking garage, we are actually on the third floor. This is where he is believed to have pistol whipped an "Atlanta Journal," a local newspaper reporter. Not for the reporter, but, in fact, for his car. That car is not the same car he escaped with.
OSIAS (voice-over): Here, you see the suspect, caught on surveillance video, time, 9:30 am, Friday morning, 30 minutes after the shooting rampage took place, 33-year-old Brian Nichols, shown here, in exclusive CNN video in the second floor stairwell. He stops and ponders his next move. Where to go, up or down? He heads to ground level out of camera's view and out of police sight. Surprisingly, it takes authorities until late Friday night to actually find the green '97 Honda Accord. All the while, it's right under their noses, in the very same place where Nichols left. Authorities have issued a nationwide bolo. That's police parlance for be on the lookout for Nichols, who's believed to be armed and dangerous.
VERNON KEEHAN, CGI DIRECTOR: The message to the public is this. We're no longer hunting for the green Honda accord. We found that with citizens' help. We very much need the continued assistance of the public in reporting any sighting of him or any information they may have.
OSIAS: The whole nightmare unfolded Friday morning when Nichols was scheduled to appear for a retrial. Charges, rape and aggravated sodomy. The 200-pound former linebacker overpowered the sole female deputy, grabbed her gun and could have made a clean break, but Nichols was a man on a mission, walking through a cross walk into the old courthouse. It was there where he shot and killed Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, down eight flights of stairs and outside again. Nichols fires, killing another deputy, Hoyt Teasley.
CHIEF RICHARD PENNINGTON, ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT: This manhunt will continue until he is apprehended. He is a very dangerous person in our community and we want the public to know that. If anyone has any information about this individual, please call us because we're not going to stop looking until we apprehend this person.
OSIAS: Until then, Nichols is a marked man, a man with a $60,000 price tag on his head.
OSIAS: And speaking of cash, that is not something police believe that Mr. Nichols has, at least right now. That is something that they say he desperately needs, that he may, in fact, go back to his comfort zone, may visit friends in order to get some cash. They are definitely watching out for that, just hoping that he will make a mistake. Betty?
NGUYEN: Kimberly, have you gotten any information as to any specific area where police may be searching at this point? Of course, especially with that security video where Mr. Nichols was apparently last seen. Where is the search concentrating on right now? Do you know?
OSIAS: Well, I understand that Mr. Nichols lived in the Sandy Springs area. So, of course, they would certainly focus there and then, perhaps, make some sort of concentric circles out from there as well, sort of making a best educated guess and essentially making a radius, casting a wide net from his home.
NGUYEN: OK, CNN's Kimberly Osias in downtown Atlanta. Thanks for that report. Brian Nichols grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Reports there say he was a popular student. According to the local newspaper, he was a standout when he played on the football team in high school. Relatives of Nichols say they are shocked by the news that he is suspected of shooting down several people. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REGINALD SMALLS, BRIAN NICHOLS UNCLE: The only thing I can say is our hearts go out to the people in Georgia. I really mean that. We don't know how this could have happened or anything. Our hearts go out to them. And Brian is a nice young man as far as we know. I don't know what happened. That's all I can say, is that our hearts really go out to those people in Atlanta. We haven't seen Brian in a while. I think the last family reunion. And, like I said, he was a nice, young man. And I just can't figure out what happened. Anyway, please take it that our hearts go out to those people. And I am worried now about him and about my -- his parents. Our hearts go out to them too. So, thank you. That's all we have to say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: And Nichols lived in Maryland until he left for college in Pennsylvania. Atlanta's police chief tells CNN that shooting suspect Brian Nichols has at least two weapons. Richard Pennington says it is believed Nichols took weapons from two deputies before opening fire inside the Fulton County courthouse. The chief says investigators are talking to people who know Nichols.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENNINGTON: We think right after he took the first deputy's weapon, he got engaged with another deputy and we believe that he took that person's weapon too.
QUESTION: Before he got to the courtroom?
PENNINGTON: Yes. And so now we believe now, -- that in fact, we know that he is in possession of two weapons. And so that information came about yesterday evening, late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: The search for Brian Nichols is already being described as the largest manhunt in Georgia history and it extends well beyond the state line. Now earlier, former FBI investigator Bill Daly told or talked with Tony Harris and told CNN what it is going to take to search for Nichols across such a large area.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL DALY, FORMER FBI INVESTIGATOR: There are a number of different facets that the police local police in Atlanta, state police in Georgia, the FBI and surrounding states are starting to do and that is to start looking at people who Nichols may have had contact with, people you referred to a little bit earlier as being kind of in his comfort zone, things that he is used to doing, people he's used to contacting...
TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The friends and family network.
DALY: Exactly and also, as was pointed out earlier, he has a situation now where he's on the run. He will have a need for cash if he expects to continue to be on the run. He needs to get that from some place. It may be committing another crime or it may be going to that comfort zone and getting people to aid and abet him. So that's why police are going to be looking at those type of contacts. They're also going to be posting information across the various law enforcement networks, not just in posters, but also through NCIC, which is the information system law enforcement uses when they go to check vehicles or individuals when they're stopped.
It's quite interesting. Tony, I just want to point out that in some of the video you just showed a few minutes ago from the Turner security systems is that his demeanor seemed quite comfortable. I mean at one point he had his hands in his pockets. It's certainly of concern that this individual may feel comfortable going out into the public, committing other crimes. We're talking about another incident, which we have not connected at all with him.
DALY: But it certainly is of concern that there's someone like this on the run, that they may look to get cars, money, perhaps even some protection from the public.
HARRIS: Bill, we're looking at that surveillance video right now. And I when I first saw it I was absolutely stunned at how composed he is. This is a man accused of horrific crimes being on an absolute adrenaline rush as he is running through the streets of downtown Atlanta. As you look at him here, he has already carjacked a couple of people and here he is, walking down the steps, the stairwells of this parking garage like he is on a Sunday stroll.
DALY: That was the first thing that struck me. As you start to profile individuals, whether criminals, whether it's people involved in intelligence, you're always looking to see the way they act and behave. This individual, the concern I have is that he has this ability to be able to then act in a very -- which would appear just in this short video, a more controlled manner, which then may not be as alertive to people who may be passing him on the street. So, we need to be very cognizant to clue in the public that this is someone who isn't necessarily just driving recklessly through the streets, but it could be somebody who has a, who certainly has a purpose of avoiding police at this point and may be very comfortable, may look very calm if they were to be approached by him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: OK. We have a breaking news situation that we want to tell you about right now. In Gwinnett County, which is just north of Atlanta, we're being told there is a hostage situation under way at this hour. Our affiliate, WXIA just filed this report. Let's listen to what it has to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SGT. DARREN MALONEY, GWINNETT CO. All we're releasing right now is we do have a hostage situation. SWAT is employed. We have basically locked down the area, as you can tell. We're not letting anyone inside the apartment complex. If anyone inside the apartment complex is watching this right now, they are safe. Just lock all your doors. Stay inside. Do not be wandering around and we're checking people as they leave. But right now, the situation is secure. We do have a stand-off situation but we have localized it. We know what area we're at. We can't get more specific right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Again, that was Sergeant Darren Maloney of Gwinnett County. To recap, there is a hostage situation in Gwinnett County, which is just north of Atlanta. That is underway at this hour and according to the sergeant there, it is at an apartment complex. We have crews headed to the area. We'll bring you the latest as it becomes available to us. But you definitely want to stay tuned. Aside from that, we are covering the manhunt of Brian Nichols, 33- year-old Brian Nichols, who is suspected of a courthouse shooting yesterday. Stay with CNN for the latest developments.
NGUYEN: There are a lot of developments happening in and around Atlanta this morning. We want to tell you right now about a hostage situation in Gwinnett County, which is just north of Atlanta. We understand that it is taking place at an apartment complex there. There is very little information that we know at this time. We understand a hostage situation and a stand-off is underway in Gwinnett County at this hour, which is just north of Atlanta.
As you recall, a courthouse shooting happened in Atlanta yesterday. For that, a manhunt is underway for 33-year-old Brian Nichols. Also this morning, we learned that an off-duty U.S. Customs agent was shot and killed in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, right off of Lennox Road. That agent's gun and badge have been stolen along with the agent's vehicle. We want to put a license plate up on the screen right now. It is Georgia plate APG 6121.
The vehicle that we're talking about is a 1994 blue Chevrolet pickup truck belonging to an off-duty U.S. Customs agent, who was found shot dead this morning, his gun and badge also stolen. Now, of course, we do not know if this is, indeed, connected to Brian Nichols, who is the suspect in the courthouse shooting yesterday. Nor do we know if the hostage situation in Gwinnett County is related to Brian Nichols. But at this hour, there is a hostage situation in Gwinnett County, which is just north of Atlanta. It is happening at an apartment complex. That's about all the information we know at this time. But, of course, a lot of developments today. We'll keep you on top of it just as soon as we get that information in to CNN.
Now, yesterday's drama in downtown Atlanta unfolded at several different locations with lots of people caught in the middle. CNN's Miles O'Brien talked about it this morning with senior investigative producer Henry Schuster.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the older facility and this is the newer buildings, which were built around it. Am I correct on that Chris?
HENRY SCHUSTER, CNN SR. INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: That's right, Miles.
O'BRIEN: So, basically, the new facility is where most of the superior courtrooms are. And I don't know where that catwalk is, whether it's here or there. In any case, what happened was he was brought in to the new facility, as all the prisoners are, and made his way into the older facility, where Judge Barnes' courtroom was is that right?
SCHUSTER: That's right.
O'BRIEN: Now, subsequent to -- am I correct so far, Henry?
SCHUSTER: Right. It's about 9:00 am.
O'BRIEN: Now give us the time track on this one. This is about 9:00 in the morning.
SCHUSTER: About 9:00 in the morning.
O'BRIEN: So we know he was there.
SCHUSTER: This is where the gun shot, when the incident occurs in the courtroom.
O'BRIEN: All right. So now after that, he makes his way to the street. Which street did he come out off? Did he come out this street or that one, do we know?
SCHUSTER: I think he was coming out on that street to a parking lot across the street.
O'BRIEN: OK. There's a parking lot here, a parking lot there. In any case, that's where the first car jacking number one occurs, right?
SCHUSTER: He tries to get one car at the courthouse, goes across the street, gets a tow truck.
O'BRIEN: The tow truck, that's right.
SCHUSTER: Gets the tow truck.
O'BRIEN: And then makes his way to where?
SCHUSTER: He makes his way to an office building called Inforum.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's go to the Inforum now and show people where we're going. We're just talking about a few city blocks here, of course a fair amount of traffic at this time as we make our way across there. This is the Inforum, it kind of looks like it's got a cross on top of it right here and that is a facility that is used for trade shows and the like. Here, you see, by the way -- for folks who aren't familiar with Atlanta, this is the Centennial Olympic Park. A lot of people would remember that just for the bombing which was ultimately linked to Eric Rudolph, who Henry Schuster worked so long and hard on.
All right. What happened at the Inforum then? Did he get out of the tow truck?
SCHUSTER: Gets out of the tow truck.
SCHUSTER: He is over on the left side of the street.
O'BRIEN: OK. So this is Spring Street, isn't it?
O'BRIEN: Or Techwood.
O'BRIEN: Excuse me.
SCHUSTER: He abandons the tow truck.
O'BRIEN: Car jacking number two occurs here, right?
SCHUSTER: An Isuzu.
O'BRIEN: OK, Isuzu and that makes its way...
SCHUSTER: Just up the street.
O'BRIEN: We follow the street. Let's go to the Centennial parking deck. As you have to, as you look back on this, you have to wonder why he didn't just head for Interstate 85 and get out of town, but maybe there were officers - there's any number of things that could have occurred. I believe this is the Centennial deck right here.
SCHUSTER: Right there.
O'BRIEN: And by the way, this is right where we are right now, CNN Center. Into the Centennial -- he goes into the parking deck. That seems counter intuitive to me. Why would a suspect do that?
SCHUSTER: Well, obviously, to switch cars. So he is trying to lay down some false flags. He is moving. He is changing. He's trying to throw people off the scent. Remember, the focus right then is still at the courthouse. They're trying to figure what's happening in the courthouse. They're trying to figure out whether there's somebody still inside with the weapon.
O'BRIEN: Inforum there, CNN center is number two and down here in this area, I don't think it's showing right now. The courthouse, I believe that's it, number three. Of course, I'm doing it in the opposite order. I probably should do it in the proper order one, two and then three for the centennial parking deck. That is all within just walking distance.
SCHUSTER: He has half -- obviously, he's halfway back to where he started from and he is laying down a series of confusing tactics here. The question is, when he is going down that stairwell, when he comes out onto that ground level, what happens next?
NGUYEN: That was Miles O'Brien and senior CNN senior investigative producer Henry Schuster, describing yesterday's courthouse shooting as all of those events played out. Atlanta authorities are keeping close tabs on assistant DA Gayle Abramson. She is the woman who was prosecuting courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols on rape charges. Now, there are new questions about her safety. Mark Winney (ph) from our Atlanta affiliate, WSB, has that story.
MARK WINNEY, WSB CORRESPONDENT: How many minutes away were you from that courtroom?
GAYLE ABRAMSON, FULTON CO. DA: About one and a half.
WINNEY: However narrowly, she missed the violence previously in the day, the question may be whether prosecutor Gail Abramson is in peril now. Eric Friedly spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney's office says law enforcement officials have alerted the DA's office that a man purporting to be fugitive Brian Nichols has contacted law enforcement and said he was going to kill Senior Assistant District Attorney Abramson.
You were the prosecutor of Brian Nichols before Judge Rowland.
ABRAMSON: That's correct.
WINNEY: We're told she has been the prosecutor in Nichols kidnapping and rape trial before Judge Rowland Barnes which was under way when Barnes and a deputy court reporter were shot to death, a crime in which Nichols is the prime suspect.
ABRAMSON: I cannot believe that this happened to one of the fairest judges that we have.
WINNEY: Spokesman Friedly indicated he could not vouch for the authenticity of the threat toward Abramson. He says the call came in almost immediately after Abramson and District Attorney Paul Howard appeared on television. Said Howard soon after a news conference...
PAUL HOWARD, FULTON CO. DA: She is fearless.
WINNEY: There were apparently already incidents involving Nichols before the shootings. He was discovered earlier this week with a shiv so to speak, a shank in his shoe. That discovery was made where?
ABRAMSON: That discovery -- there were actually two, one in each shoe. That discovery was made in a holding cell.
WINNEY: Again, Friedly said he cannot vouch for the authenticity of the threat, but he said law enforcement officials appear to be taking it seriously. We should mention that photo of suspect Nichols we showed has been retouched to comport more closely with what we understand he is believed to look like now. This is Mark Winney, Channel 2 Action News, Saturday am.
NGUYEN: OK. We want to update you on the developments this morning, especially that hostage situation in Gwinnett County. We have learned that police have surrounded a home in north Atlanta, which is, of course, in Gwinnett County. But they're not saying whether it is related to the search for Brian Nichols, who is the suspect in the courthouse shooting.
Also, we are learning about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was found shot dead this morning in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, which is also north of the courthouse. That agent was found shot dead off of Lennox Road, if you're familiar with the Atlanta area. Also, that person's gun and badge have been stolen. We understand that his vehicle also stolen today. We want to put up that on the screen, the license plate of this 1994 blue Chevrolet 1500 4x4 pickup truck. It also has a silver tool box in the back of it. The license plate number is APG 6121. This truck is believed to have belonged to that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was found shot dead this morning. Also, his gun and badge were stolen.
Of course, it is still not known if any of this is related to the search, which is underway right now, a massive, multi-state search for Brian Nichols, the 33-year-old suspect in the courthouse shootings yesterday, which killed three people. That included a judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy.
We spoke with the Atlanta police chief a little bit earlier this morning. And at that time, he told us that he believes that Brian Nichols has two weapons, one from the deputy who was escorting him to the courtroom when he overpowered her and took her gun and another from another deputy as he was making his escape before he went to the new portion of the courthouse where he shot the judge, the court reporter and another deputy. All three who were killed in that shooting.
So, there are a lot of events here. But it is not known if any of them are connected. Those events being, the courthouse shooting yesterday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was found shot dead in Atlanta this morning, whose gun and badge are missing. Police are also looking for his pickup truck and also the hostage situation, which is going on right now in Gwinnett County, which is just north of Atlanta.
We are being told that it's at a home north of Atlanta, but a little bit earlier when we listened to some sound from Sergeant Darren Maloney with the Gwinnett County police, he mentioned that it was happening at an apartment complex. So obviously, a lot of information is coming in at this moment, a lot of information that we are trying to verify. What we do know is that a hostage situation, a standoff is under way at this hour north of Atlanta in Gwinnett County. Whether that's involving a home or an apartment complex, that is unknown. But the situation is, indeed, under way.
Also, an investigation is underway into the shooting death of a U.S. Immigration and Customs agent who was found dead this morning in north Atlanta as well. Not in Gwinnett county, but in the Buckhead area, both of which are north of the courthouse shooting yesterday. That person's gun, badge missing as well as his vehicle. Police are asking folks to be on the lookout for that. Let's put it up again one more time. That 1994 Chevy pickup truck with Georgia license plate. Police are asking folks to be on the lookout for that. That license plate number, we're going to try to get that on the screen, is APG 6121. There it is on the screen, this belonging to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was found shot dead this morning in Atlanta, his 1994 blue Chevrolet 1500 4X4 pick up truck with a silver tool box in the back
NGUYEN: 4x4 pickup truck with a silver tool box in the back is missing. And as we mentioned, we do not know at this time if all three of these events, developments are related to the ongoing manhunt at this hour for 33-year-old Brian Nichols, the man you see at the corner of your screen right now. He is the suspect in the three courthouse killings yesterday. We want to give you some live pictures right now. This is from our affiliate, WSB. This is in Gwinnett County, the site of that hostage situation which is under way. Now we are being told through Associated Press that it is happening at a home in that area, but according to those pictures, this picture, it appear that is it is at an apartment complex, which really coincides with the information we got a little bit earlier from Sergeant Darren Maloney with Gwinnett county, who says that, indeed, a hostage situation is under way. We understand, we want to take WSB, this local affiliate coverage, which is under way right now. Let's listen in to what they know about the situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We understand -- there you go. I think you're seeing SWAT officers coming out now. We cannot see if they have the suspect with them from this angle, but, again -- if you look right over to the right there a little bit -- well, the pickup truck that we saw, I think, is blocked out right now. But we can't verify that is the pickup truck that they're looking for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: We're getting this in right now, that CNN has confirmed that the hostage situation that you're seeing live pictures of right now in Gwinnett County is over. The hostage situation is over. The standoff over and someone is in custody. We do not know who that individual is. We do not know if anyone was injured in that standoff in the hostage situation, but we do know, according to CNN's sources that this hostage situation is over in Gwinnett County, which is, again, just north of the Atlanta area. We were told a little bit earlier this was under way and very little information was given about the area, who lives there, who might be involved. But as of now, CNN is confirming that the hostage situation in Gwinnett County, which is north of Atlanta, has been resolved. It is over. One person -- at least one person is in custody at this hour. Who that person is, we do not know. Is this related to Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings? We still don't know that either. But let's listen in to the live coverage here with local affiliate WSB.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspect is in custody that they were looking for here. Some time ago -- again, this is being relayed to us from police through our assignment desk, but some time ago, we were told this was a hostage situation. We will wait for confirmation. You're going to be in a better position to get it there on the ground probably Carol, that this suspect in custody is, indeed, Brian Nichols. I think it's fair to say that in virtually any situation involving this kind of law enforcement --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Let me break in right now and let you know that CNN has a single source that is telling us this morning right now that Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings is in custody. That's what we know at this hour according to a single source which told CNN just moments ago that Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings, which killed three people yesterday morning in downtown Atlanta, is in custody. Very little information is known about how he was taken into custody, if there were any injuries, if there was a shootout. We do not know.
I'm also being told that we have a picture of the blue Chevy pickup truck belonging to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. That is the truck right there that you see in the middle of your screen. That truck was missing earlier today. We were posting the license plate from that truck, belonging to this Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was found shot dead in the Buckhead area, which is just north of downtown Atlanta. And apparently that truck, according to this live video, we understand, is in that parking lot there at this apartment complex in Gwinnett County where a hostage situation was under way.
And, apparently, according to a single source, CNN has confirmed this by one person, that Brian Nichols, the 33-year-old suspect in the courthouse shootings yesterday morning, about 9:00 eastern time, is in custody. Now, we don't know very much about how he was taken into custody or what led him to this area of Gwinnett County, which is just north of Atlanta, what the significance is of this apartment complex. But as you can see, there are many law enforcement agencies on the ground there and this situation apparently appears to be wrapping up. A hostage situation, which happened a little bit earlier, which we are told is over by now.
And CNN has confirmed that Brian Nichols, the 33-year-old suspect involved in the shooting deaths, at least accused of shooting superior court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Brandau and Sheriff's Deputy Sergeant Hoyt Teasley is in custody. Now a manhunt has been under way for the past, what, 26 hours now? The shootings happened yesterday morning around 9:00 Eastern time. For the past day, the search has been under way for 33-year-old Brian Nichols. That search took them through downtown Atlanta where there were three car jackings, one, a tow truck was car jacked. Then later an Isuzu vehicle near the Centennial Park area was car jacked.
And then of course we've been talking this morning, about the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" reporter who had his car taken as well in a parking garage, in fact just across the street from CNN. That car later was found to be in that same parking garage. Then video surfaced of Mr. Nichols walking through the stairwell of that parking garage. Then he walked out one of the garage levels and it appeared that no one really knew where he went.
Well, apparently, according to this live video and the reports that we're receiving through one source, CNN is confirming that Brian Nichols, after this 26-hour manhunt, is in custody at this hour. This is the scene from the area in Gwinnett County where just a few minutes ago, a hostage situation was under way. Now, apparently that situation is over. We're not looking at the shot right now, but in the parking lot of that apartment complex where the hostage situation was under way was the pickup truck belonging to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. There it is. That pickup truck right there with the silver tool box in the back of it in the middle of your screen. That truck was reported missing a little bit earlier, just before 10:00 Eastern time, belonging to that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
Also, it was reported that that agent's gun and badge were stolen as well. So there was a lot of questions whether any of this was connected. According to the information that we're gathering right now, of course, we don't have any cold facts to this, but it appears, because that vehicle is in this parking lot where the hostage situation took place, that all three of these developments were related in some way to Brian Nichols, because one source has confirmed to CNN that 33-year-old Brian Nichols has been captured. He is in police custody.
The details surrounding that capture are not known at this time but there are many developments this morning in this massive manhunt. There was a lot of fear yesterday that Mr. Nichols may have headed out of the state of Georgia. Some people worried that perhaps he was staying within the city of Atlanta. Apparently, according to where he was picked up this morning, according to CNN reports, that he stayed in the Atlanta area, moved north to the Buckhead and then went to Gwinnett County to those areas and apparently has been captured by police in this apartment complex in Gwinnett County.
We want to go right now to my co-anchor, Tony Harris, who has the latest on the capture of Brian Nichols. Tony, you're in Gwinnett County. What's the situation there? What do you know?
TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Betty, we're actually en route. Let me see if I can set the scene. We're actually in the car very close to the apartment complex right now where Brian Nichols surrendered. As we're driving in, we can see the helicopters from various television stations overhead. Here's what I just found out just moments ago. I called Chief Pennington and I asked him the question, do you have him? Do you have him? And he said yes, we do. Then I asked him for more details of the circumstances under which Brian Nichols surrendered and what he told me is that he was in this apartment complex. I believe it is the Bridge water apartment complex in Duluth. That's in Gwinnett County, Georgia and that's north of Atlanta, along Interstate 85. What he said is that Nichols was in this apartment complex and in one of the units in the apartment. He was in the apartment with someone else.
NGUYEN: Tony let me interrupt you for just a moment. We're looking at some live pictures right now and we believe that the man in the center of the screen there with his back bent over right now -- and I think that is maybe a blue shirt -- is the suspect, Brian Nichols, the 33-year-old man who is suspected of those courthouse shootings yesterday, which killed three people. There he is, standing up, facing the officers there right now.
HARRIS: Do you have a visual of him right now?
NGUYEN: Yes. We have a helicopter view of the situation there at the apartment complex. He is in handcuffs. He is facing the officers that have surrounded him. There are many officers on the scene, both in plain clothes, others in their uniforms. There are cars surrounding this little area where he is. I believe they're going to try to put him in this SUV and transport him.
HARRIS: OK, let me add a little bit of information that might be helpful here.
HARRIS: The other thing -- bit of information that Chief Pennington was able to add -- remember, there was someone else in the apartment unit with Nichols and there was some speculation that that might be a hostage. What Chief Pennington said to me is that he believes that -- they're still sorting this out but he believes this person might have been an acquaintance, friend, an associate of some kind that this person was allowed to leave the apartment building and the apartment unit, came out. We believe they spoke to law enforcement on the scene. And shortly thereafter, shortly thereafter, Brian Nichols surrendered.
NGUYEN: Do you have any idea how he is related to Brian Nichols? I know you mentioned an acquaintance. Is there the possibility that he was maybe helping Mr. Nichols?
HARRIS: Betty, nothing to suggest that right now. I guarantee you, once we get on scene, on location, we will certainly ask that question and ascertain all of the answers to that question, more questions and get a better handle on who this person was, is, who was in that apartment building with Brian Nichols. Right now, that person was allowed to come out of the unit with Nichols, have a conversation of some kind with law enforcement, and then shortly thereafter, Brian Nichols surrendered. At this point, we do not know if it was a family member. What the chief was willing to tell me is that he believes at this point, with more questions to be asked and answered, that this person was an acquaintance, a friend.
NGUYEN: OK, let me ask you this, Tony. Why this area? Do you know what led Brian Nichols to this area of Gwinnett County?
HARRIS: No, we don't. And the best we can surmise at this point is that he had some kind of a friend or an acquaintance in the area. Or -- this is just where he ended up in the course of just running. I got to tell you Betty, as we drive up closer to the scene now, we've got a huge traffic jam as you can imagine, but we have people lining hills, lining hills trying to get some kind of a vantage point to see what's going on. As you can imagine, we've been talking about it for the last day or so, since 9:00 yesterday morning. There is tremendous interest in this manhunt and in the capture of Brian Nichols. And we have people literally lining hills to get a look at the police activity and what, at this point, they don't know has been the successful capture of Brian Nichols.
NGUYEN: Let me ask you this, Tony. Since we don't know what led Mr. Nichols to that area, only that he was with an acquaintance at an apartment there, do you know what led police to this area? Was it perhaps the vehicle that belonged to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent?
HARRIS: That, I don't know. Here is as much as I can tell you about how this chain of events unfolded. There was a dispatcher for Gwinnett County police who placed a call to CNN radio, to our sister network, CNN radio, to inform us of the police activity in this area, where we're headed right now. We're just blocks away. We don't know where that call originated from in terms of who called the dispatcher. We do know that the dispatcher called CNN radio and gave us a heads up. That was when I was yanked off the set with you and we made tracks out here to Duluth.
NGUYEN: All right. We have Tony Harris on the phone. Tony, I want to ask you to stand by for just a moment. For those of you just joining us, we are following the developments here of a manhunt that appears to be over at this hour. CNN has learned from the Atlanta police chief that Brian Nichols has been arrested. This is the vehicle that he is being transported in at this hour as you're watching it live.
Here is a picture of some tape earlier of Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings, being handcuffed there on the scene in Gwinnett County at this apartment complex where a little bit earlier a hostage situation was under way. According to Tony Harris, it appears that Mr. Nichols was with an acquaintance at that apartment. We want to go right now to -- I'm being told that we have Mr. Nichols' attorney on the phone, Barry Hazen. Are you with us? Mr. Hazen, are you with us? Mr. Hazen, this is Betty Nguyen with CNN. Are you with us live?
OK. Obviously, we're having some difficulty trying to get him on the phone. We will get back to that as soon as he is available.
But the picture that you're looking at right now is Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings, being arrested this morning, just moments ago in Gwinnett County, which is north of Atlanta, where police found him with an acquaintance at an apartment there. That acquaintance, at first, was believed to be a hostage and a standoff situation was under way, but that was soon diffused and we have since learned that Mr. Nichols is in custody. We don't know exactly how he was apprehended.
But I'm being told right now that we have Major Edward Platt (ph) with the Fulton County Sheriff's Department on the phone with us as we're watching this Suburban head down the road back to downtown Atlanta to put Mr. Nichols behind bars in custody. Major Platt, tell me what you know so far about how all of this played out this morning. Major Platt, are you with us? Major Edward Platt?
OK. Obviously, we're having some more technical difficulties. We'll try to get him on the phone as well. As soon as that is available, we'll bring it to you.
But for those of you just joining us, you are watching live pictures right now from our affiliate, WSB, of a black Suburban that you see there, right there in the middle of your screen. That Suburban is carrying Brian Nichols, the 33-year-old suspect in the Atlanta courthouse shootings, which happened around 9:00 yesterday morning. Those shootings took the lives of superior court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Brandau and Sheriff's Deputy Sergeant Hoyt Teasley.
And of course, Mr. Nichols is being transported to the jail where he will be kept until the rest of the proceedings take place. Of course, he is suspected in all of those shootings, as well as three car jackings that took place following the shootout yesterday morning in downtown Atlanta.
Those car jackings happened really pretty close to each other in the downtown vicinity. One, he took a tow truck and then later, near the Centennial Park area, the site of the 1996 Olympics, near that area. He also took -- he is suspected of taking an Isuzu vehicle. We'll get to that in a moment. We understand we have Fulton County Sheriff's Department Major Platt on the phone with us. Can you hear us?
MAJOR EDWARD PLATT, FULTON CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Yes, I can.
NGUYEN: Major Platt, tell us what exactly happened this morning to take Mr. Nichols into custody.
PLATT: Well, Gwinnett County police spotted that missing truck. Their SWAT team surrounded the apartment. Mr. Nichols, about 10 minutes ago, gave up without a struggle.
NGUYEN: Without a struggle?
PLATT: We have him in custody. NGUYEN: Let's step back just a moment and tell us exactly how you centered in on this area of Gwinnett County.
PLATT: Well, it was strictly a reporting. He had taken -- apparently had taken a lady hostage, if that's the right word, in her apartment. She managed to get out and called authorities.
NGUYEN: All right. And you mentioned taking her hostage, if that was the right word because we were learning that perhaps Mr. Nichols knew the person that at first was believed to have been taken hostage. Is that correct? Is this person an acquaintance of Mr. Nichols?
PLATT: I'm sorry. I just don't know. I can't confirm that at this point. We're about to enter the apartment to look for evidence. And obviously, it's an ongoing investigation, but we feel a lot better that he is in custody. I have eye balled him and he is in custody.
NGUYEN: And he was taken into custody without any type of struggle at all?
PLATT: That's correct.
NGUYEN: And what do you know about the connection between Mr. Nichols and the death of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, whose body was found this morning in the Buckhead area?
PLATT: I'm sorry. I cannot comment on that.
NGUYEN: OK. So, what happens now? What's happening right now with the investigation?
PLATT: Well, I don't know. There are two possible ways it could go and this is something that the FBI and GBI will sort out, the investigatory agencies in terms of whether it goes federal or state and that's up to them. As I said, we're just glad he is off the street.
NGUYEN: Are you surprised at all that he remained in the Atlanta area?
PLATT: Not at all.
NGUYEN: Do you think all of the developments that happened with the car jacking and then the shooting death, which was discovered this morning, led you to what we're looking at now, which is a live picture, I guess or this perhaps may be tape of the area where the hostage situation took place? And then, of course, the arrest of Mr. Nichols?
PLATT: As I said, I can't comment on any connections. What I can say is that Gwinnett police did find the vehicle and, obviously, that was the key to finding Mr. Nichols.
NGUYEN: How relieved are your officers at this hour? PLATT: We're elated. After being on an adrenaline rush for over 24 hours, it's quite a relief to know that this person is off the street and can't hurt anybody else.
NGUYEN: All right. That was Major Edward Platt with the Fulton County Sheriff's Department. Major Platt, we want to thank you for your information this morning. Again, you're looking at a live picture of a black Suburban to the left of your screen, which is carrying Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings, which took place Friday morning in downtown Atlanta. Those shootings killed superior court Judge Rowland Barnes, as well as court reporter Julie Brandau and Deputy Hoyt Teasley.
I have, on the phone right now, Atlanta police chief, the Atlanta police chief to talk to us about exactly what happened this morning, which led up to the arrest. What can you tell us about what happened?
PENNINGTON: Well, actually, what we were able to ascertain this morning is that the custom agent's truck was taken and we had a description of the vehicle and we broadcast that description. And I just wanted to congratulate Gwinnett County police and the FBI, GBI and ATF for their coordinated effort. We would not have been able to apprehend this individual had it not been for all of us working together.
But after we located the vehicle, our law enforcement officials set on the vehicle for a short period of time and then subsequently, a female came out of the apartment complex and notified law enforcement people on the scene that Brian Nichols was up in her apartment or up in the apartment. So, Gwinnett County's SWAT team came in along with the FBI, GBI and ATF and subsequently, he surrendered without - he surrendered peacefully and then he has now been arrested and charged as a fugitive.
NGUYEN: Chief Pennington, let me ask you, how surprised are you that he surrendered without any kind of violence surrounding this taking him into custody, because there was so much violence before with him being accused of not only the shootings, but the car jackings as well. And now we learn this morning of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was also shot dead.
PENNINGTON: Actually, I was somewhat surprised, because I thought -- he left a trail of violence behind him. But a lot of times in situations like this, these individuals have time to sit down and get their thoughts together. I'm sure that's what happened to him, where he was either able to talk to someone and they convinced him that he should turn himself in peacefully and that's what he did. I think that now we will prepare our case and I think the most important part of this is we have this individual off our streets. He will not be able to prey on any innocent people again.
NGUYEN: Chief Pennington, when he was taken into custody -- we're talking about Brian Nichols -- did he say anything?
PENNINGTON: Well, I'm not sure whether or not he said anything. Based on the information I have been able to receive is that he didn't do much talking at all. And so I don't know whether or not he has made any confessions or admissions, probably not. Most situations, they just come out peacefully and they ask for their attorney. And so I can't comment on that at this time.
NGUYEN: Let me ask you this, Chief Pennington. You were on the set with us earlier this morning, talking about the manhunt. And I had asked you whether you thought Mr. Nichols was still in the Atlanta area. What did you tell me at the time?
PENNINGTON: I told you yes. I told you that I thought he was still in the area and I felt that he was. And that was just based on my intuition as a law enforcement officer. I have seen this happen so many times where you would think that a person that has committed so much violence in a community would try to leave the city, leave the country, but in most instances, they don't. They feel comfortable. They like to stay in an area because of their comfort zone. And I think that's what happened to him this morning.
NGUYEN: What do you think was key in capturing Mr. Nichols?
PENNINGTON: I think the whole key in this is the outstanding work of the Gwinnett County police, being able to spot that vehicle early today and sit on it, notify the other law enforcement agencies. I think that was the most important part of this case, is being able to locate that truck.
NGUYEN: We've got a lot of officers who have been working, been up all night on this manhunt. In fact, it was a multi-state manhunt. And as we have learned in just the past what, 30 minutes that Brian Nichols, the suspect in this courthouse shooting was picked up, taken into custody in Gwinnett County. Now you mentioned that there was a lady at the apartment complex in the area where he was picked up, that perhaps he may have known. Do you know the relationship between that person, who at first was believed to be a hostage?
PENNINGTON: We don't know the relationship between that female and Brian Nichols. We're going to have to interview her extensively to find out the relationship. But we know that she was a part of this case in terms of notifying the law enforcement authorities that he was still inside the apartment complex.
NGUYEN: Now, at that apartment complex where Brian Nichols was arrested, we also saw some video or some live pictures at the time of a vehicle, that blue Chevy pickup truck which belonged to that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in the parking lot. So, is there a connection between that murder and Mr. Nichols?
PENNINGTON: We don't know that yet. You know, because of our forensics, we will first have to first, through forensic evidence, match the weapon with the bullet and we're going to have to go in and really work hard now. This case is just really starting now. We have to retrieve all the evidence, ballistics, match ballistics to the gun and that's what we're in the process of doing. Even though he has peacefully turned himself in, this case is just really starting right now.
NGUYEN: Now you said to the gun. Are you talking about the gun that was stolen from that agent?
PENNINGTON: No, no, the gun that we retrieved from Brian Nichols at the scene.
NGUYEN: You don't know exactly which gun that is?
NGUYEN: Because earlier, you had told us that he had more than one weapon.
PENNINGTON: Yeah, that's true. Originally in the courthouse, we thought he had only taken one gun. We have found out he had taken two weapons from the deputies in the courthouse. So all the time, we originally thought he only had one weapon. But subsequently, in our investigation, we discovered that he had two guns.
NGUYEN: Let me ask you this, Chief Pennington. It was 22 hours since the court shootings and to the capture. Are you pleased with that progress or do you think it should have come more quickly?
PENNINGTON: No. Actually, I'm pleased because this has been a coordinated effort. He eluded us yesterday and by the mere fact that he was able to take two or three different cars and then subsequently leave out of that parking garage and put on a sports coat or a jacket and just walk away like nothing had happened. So, all this information, we put together today. And I think the most important piece of this was being able to find and locate that truck that we found out that was taken from that murder scene.
NGUYEN: Chief Pennington, I want to ask you one question here about -- of course, I know hindsight is 20/20. When you look back at this manhunt, what could you have done differently?
PENNINGTON: We can always say we could have done a lot of things different. I think the most important part was the coordinated effort between the sheriff's department, the Atlanta Police Department and of course the federal agencies too, making sure that we pieced all the information, putting it together where we could have possibly found the car quicker or found him quicker. I mean, there's so many things now we can go back and say we could have done different. The most important part of this is we have him now. He is in our custody. I think that the citizens will feel a lot safer to know that this person now will be arrested and put behind bars.
NGUYEN: Of course, you have got to be just thrilled that this is over and that he was taken into custody without incident.
PENNINGTON: Yes, I am. I'm very thrilled about that. Justice will -- has been met and he will have his day in court again.
NGUYEN: We're still watching this live picture of the Suburban carrying Brian Nichols being transported to the downtown Atlanta area. Tell me where he is being taken and what will happen next, chief.
PENNINGTON: Well, I think he is going to be taken to the Gwinnett County Police Department where he will be booked and arraigned and probably go through the Gwinnett County court procedure and then I'm sure at some point, Fulton County will get involved with extradition proceedings. So that will probably be the normal practice.
NGUYEN: So, he is not being taken to downtown Atlanta where...
PENNINGTON: No, he's not. No.
NGUYEN: The shootings took place yesterday, where the police department is? But he is in Gwinnett County and they will handle it from here?
PENNINGTON: That's right. That's right.
NGUYEN: All right. We have been talking with Atlanta police chief, Richard Pennington.
Mr. Pennington, Chief Pennington, I appreciate your time and your insight into this. Thank you so much.
PENNINGTON: Thank you. And...
NGUYEN: Yes, go ahead.
PENNINGTON: I was going to say once again I really wanted to thank the Gwinnett County police officials and all the law enforcement officials who worked all through the night to help us apprehend this individual.
NGUYEN: Absolutely. A lot of people went in to capturing Brian Nichols. And as you see on the screen, right now, live in these pictures, he is being transported to the Gwinnett County Police Department where he will be held until further proceedings. Of course, for those of you just joining us, let's recap just for a minute now.
Brian Nichols, the suspect in the courthouse shootings, has been captured. That happened just about 45 minutes ago. I'm going to send it off to my colleague now, Kyra Phillips, who's going to take it from here.
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