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Case for Ultimate Climate Change; Limbaugh Sack; Sheriff: Balloon Case A Hoax; Pakistani Military Continue Offensive in South Waziristan; H1N1 Vaccines Sweeps the Country; The State of Alaska's Economy

Aired October 18, 2009 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Three days after the nation watched the assent of a helium balloon with a boy possibly inside it, these astounding words from Colorado's Larimer county sheriff today: Quote, "This was a hoax, a publicity stunt."

During the dramatic announcement three hours ago, Sheriff Jim Alderden said felony and misdemeanor charges could follow. He explained how investigators reached the conclusion that the whole family, including the children, were in on the roost.


SHERIFF JIM ALDERDEN, LARIMEN COUNTY, COLORADO: We believe that we have evidence at this point to indicate that it was a publicity stunt done with the hopes of marketing themselves or better marketing themselves for a reality television show at some point in the future.

Clearly, we were manipulated by the family. And the media was manipulated by the family. We have since learned as many of you have that these people are actors. Not only have they appeared in several reality television shows and on YouTubes, we have since determined that, in fact, they met together, the way that they met and established their relationship was in acting school in Hollywood.

So needless to say, they put on a very good show for us. And we bought it. It wasn't until the Larry King show where the family was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer where we had the first aha moment.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": And Falcon was really in the garage this whole time. I don't know if Falcon can hear me, but was he - because I know at some point he fell asleep in that garage. But he was hiding out because he felt you were going to punish him for something that happened earlier in the day. Did he hear anything? Did he hear you screaming out, 'Falcon, Falcon'?

RICHARD HEENE, FATHER OF FALCON HEENE: He's asking, Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?


R. HEENE: You did?

MAYUMI HEENE, MOTHER OF FALCONE HEENE: You did? R. HEENE: why didn't you come out?

FALCONE HEENE: You guys said that we did this for a show.



R. HEENE: You didn't come out?


ALDERDEN: The reaction, it became very clear to us at that point that they were lying.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. The sheriff says a meeting with the FBI and FAA may happen this week and that federal charges are also possible. Restitution for the costly search is also a likelihood. Our legal guys, criminal defense attorney Richard Herman and civil rights attorney Avery Friedman are on the phone with us. So let me begin with you, Richard. All right. Well, here are the charges that we heard from the sheriff. Possible charges that may come.

Conspiracy to commit false reporting, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, endangered public transportation, what other ones do you see might follow, Richard?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think they're also discussing making a false police report and attempting to influence a public servant. Three of those are felonies. One is a misdemeanor. Fred, they're looking at potentially six years in prison and a half a million dollar fine. I don't think this is going to get as serious as everyone is thinking at this point. I see some people may be laughing.

Sheriff Jim is not laughing. He's clearly embarrassed. This kid couldn't even fit in this balloon. It's ridiculous. This thing couldn't hold maybe 10 pounds. It's ridiculous. Publicity is good in Hollywood except when you do it - when you use law enforcement, lie to them, to get it. And I think a restitution package deal here is what's going to end up.

WHITFIELD: OK. So Avery, you know, Richard brings up a good point. One of the things they examined this aircraft or this balloon a little bit further. The little boy, 37 pounds. They did some calculations. It just doesn't seem it would have supported this child. But the police say they believe this whole family may have planned this for about two weeks or so. So now as local investigators meet with the FBI and the FAA later on this week what sort of questions are going to be asked?

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, there'll be a whole bunch of question. Actually, part of what the sheriff didn't talk about is they have a smoking gun here. They've got Robert Thomas, who is an assistant to Richard Heene, and he talked about what Heene had in mind here. But clearly the discussion that will occur between Larimer County officials, the FBI and FAA is that there was substantial commitment in terms of federal law.

Certainly all those people at the airport at Denver Airport were held up. There was substantial commitment. There were actually military helicopters involved here. So I actually think that the implication here, the federal charges may be significantly more powerful than the Colorado state charges.

So on those local charges, we're talking about anywhere up to, if convicted of the types of charges that we already heard from the sheriff, somewhere between two to five years that could mean prison term if convicted and there could be some fines up to $5,000. You're saying on the federal level it would be much more significant than that?

FRIEDMAN: It will - there's another part of this that you can't forget. And that is Children's Services have to be knocking at the door, Fredricka. I mean, I don't know what kind of parenting skills these folks have. But they used this little boy to advance this scheme here and I think clearly Children's Services have to be involved because obviously these adults used the children for this purpose.

WHITFIELD: And Richard, you agree with that? That possibly these children, custody, you know, where might they end up if indeed there are charges that are imposed against these parents, do you suppose that the children might be removed from their custody before there would be even a trial?

HERMAN: No, no. The children will not be removed before a trial. And I don't believe that the Family Court Service is going to be involved in this at all. But Avery is right on, Fred. If they bring federal wire fraud charges, you know, because they used the wires and phones to call into the local sheriff to report him missing, if the Feds jump into this and buy that that's 20 years just on one wire count. I'm sure there was several conversations when the fraud took place. That's why the sheriff is saying we're having discussions with the Feds.


HERMAN: Very quickly, Fredricka, without Wolf Blitzer, this thing would not have been busted open as it is.

WHITFIELD: That's right. The sheriff made it very clear it was that interview.

HERMAN: This little boy...

WHITFIELD: That made them raise eyebrows.

HERMAN: Exactly right.

FREIDMAN: The little boy said, I thought this was for a show. WHITFIELD: Yeah. And they looked farther. Avery Friedman, Richard Herman. Thanks so much again. The videotape that you are seeing here images that have been released over the course of the last three days or so of the balloon. There is also a new image that we have as well, if we can show that still image of the balloon, the sheriff's department did make the balloon available to a lot of the media folks within the past 24 hours or so. And you can see the compartment at the bottom when the sheriff talked about it wouldn't be able to hold a 37-year-old child. And when we're able to get that still photo for you, the latest image, we'll bring that to you and you will see that it would have been very difficult to put a 37-pound child in that balloon.

Let's talk about some weather now. Hurricane Rick has turned into the strongest storm to hit the Eastern Pacific in more than a decade. We'll tell you where this massive storm may be headed and you'll remember the battle that killed eight Americans in Eastern Afghanistan earlier this month. Well, a mother of one of the fallen soldiers opens up about her loss.


WHITFIELD: A suicide bomber killed five senior commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Southeastern Iran today. At least 24 other people were killed in the attack in an area where Sunni insurgency has been growing in strength. Iranian news agency reports say that a man with explosives blew himself up outside a sports complex. Tribal leaders were gathering there to discuss relations between Sunnis and Iran's Shiite majority.

The warring sides in Pakistan are telling very different stories today as the Pakistani military continues its offensive in South Waziristan. CNN Reza Sayah reports from Islamabad.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Day two of the major ground offensive targeting the Taliban in South Waziristan. Both sides say they have the upper hand. The militaries say they've delivered a major below to the Taliban by capturing the village of Hopeguy (ph) the hometown of Pakistan Talibani leader Mehsud. The army also says they've killed dozens of militants and chased many others out of their hideout. The military telling CNN the Taliban is running low on arms and ammunition.

But Ozentarick (ph) the spokesman for the Taliban with a very different account of what's happened over the weekend. In a phone call to CNN said 68 soldiers have been killed by Taliban fighters. Ozentarick (ph) also says other militant groups have arrived in South Waziristan to help the Taliban. Ozentarick (ph) saying they have enough arms and ammunition to last them for years. The Pakistani military rejected the claims calling them Taliban propaganda. We haven't seen any suicide attacks over the past couple of days. But the army says expect more suicide attacks to be launched by the Taliban as payback for the offensive.

Meantime on Sunday night, U.S. Senator John Kerry along with regional commander of U.S. troops General David Petraeus arrived here in Islamabad. Washington, of course, keeping a close eye on this military operation in South Waziristan. Washington convinced that many insurgent attacks across the border in Afghanistan stem from the South Waziristan region.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Islamabad.

WHITFIELD: And there is new controversy over the presidential vote count in Afghanistan. The political opposition today accused President Hamid Karzai of delaying a report on vote fraud and pressuring election officials to declare him the winner.

Meanwhile on the battlefield a U.S. soldier was killed today. On CNN's "State of the Union" Senate foreign relations Chairman John Kerry says it would be a mistake to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan right now.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA) CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with. And when our own commanding general tells us that a critical component of achieving our mission here is, in fact, good governance and we're living with a government that we know has to change and provide it, how could the president responsibly say, oh, they asked for more? Sure, here they are.


WHITFIELD: Eight families are grieving the loss of eight American soldiers who were killed in an intense battle in Eastern Afghanistan earlier this month. They are Sergeant Justin Gallegos, Christopher Griffin, Private First Class Kevin Thomson, Specialist Michael Scusa, Sergent Joshua Heart, and Sergeant Joshua Kirk, Specialist Stephan Mace and Sergeant Vernon Martin. CNN's Kate Bolduan spoke with the mother of Specialist Mace as she was preparing to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A hero's welcome. But a homecoming every mother fears. Vanessa Adelson flew home with her son's casket.

VANESSA ADELSON, SOLDIER'S MOTHER: Stephan would have wanted me to do that. Stephan and I were very close. So I did it for him. I wanted to be the one to bring my baby home.

BOLDUAN: Adelson describes Army Specialist Stephan Mace as a thrill seeker, a loyal friend and devoted soldier.

ADELSON: As long as I can remember Stephan wanted to be in the army.

SAM CHAPMAN, STEPHAN'S CHILDHOOD FRIEND: He definitely lived on the edge. Even when it came to playing football.

BOLDUAN: Longtime friend Sam Chapman says Mace knew the danger he and fellow soldiers faced in Afghanistan.

CHAPMAN: He definitely knew he was in a tough situation over there. He knew how serious it was. He knew that there might not be a positive outcome.

BOLDUAN: And just two weeks ago the 21-year-old was killed along with seven other soldiers during a fierce fire fight. His mother gains comfort knowing Stephan wasn't alone when he died.

ADELSON: He always wore that St. Christopher. He had it on when he deployed. He had it on the day that he died. I have it now.

BOLDUAN: Mace's return to a small Purcellville, Virginia was met by hundreds of people, family, friends, and strangers. Mayor Bob Lazaro calls the show of support nothing short of amazing.

MAYOR BOB LAZARO, PURCEILVILLE, VIRGINA: Up the hill when the first motorcycle came over, all the chattering stopped.

BOLDUAN: Just silence.

LAZARO: Silence. No cars. No chattering. Silence. It was holy, you know? It was holy.

BOLDUAN: Vanessa Adelson is still searching for answers of exactly what happened that day. The day the country lost a soldier and a family lost a brother and son. A painful reality Adelson hopes Washington sees.

ADELSON: Either fight this war or you get out. You cannot have one foot on ground and one foot in the water. If we want to go in and we want to win this war, then they need the support and they need those troops.

BOLDUAN: Specialist Mace was awarded six medals presented at his funeral. His mother says she will proudly display them as she now fights to keep his memory alive.

Kate Bolduan, CNN, Purceilville, Virginia.


WHITFIELD: And Specialist Mace will be buried tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery.

If you're planning to travel to Mexico's Baja California peninsula, this week, well, you may want to reconsider. Our Karen MaGinnis is standing by with the latest on hurricane Rick.


WHITFIELD: A look now at some of the other top stories we're following. A grueling marathon in Detroit turned deadly today. Three runners collapsed and died. One man in his 60s fell and hit his head. Two others ages 26 and 36 fell near the finish line. Officials believe all three died of cardiac arrest.

Police want to know who killed a star football player at the University of Connecticut early this morning. Twenty-year-old Jasper Howard was stabbed during a fight on campus just hours after his team's victory over Louisville. The U of Conn. coach says the team is devastated by the loss.


RANDY EDSALL, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT FOOTBALL COACH: What Jas would want these young men to do was to take their moment for grieving, but also then move forward and go on and get ready to go play another game. That's what Jas would want to do.


WHITFIELD: The coach says Jasper Howard was about to be a father. He was a starting cornerback who led the big east in punt returns last season.

The death toll from a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona is rising. A 49-year-old woman who took part in the spiritual retreat earlier this month died last night. Two others died of their injuries the night of the ceremony. A homicide investigation is now under way.

Hurricane Rick is churning off Mexico's coast. Forecasters are calling it one of the strongest pacific storms on record. That's where our Karen MaGinnis steps in.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Very impressive, Fred, as we take a look at our enhanced satellite imagery. This system a clearly defined eye but the winds, we just received an update, down to 160 miles an hour, still very powerful. Just less than 500 miles to the south of Cabo, Cabo is right here along the Baja. As it makes its way towards west-northwest eventually it is going to curve more toward the north and northeast.

So it brings it up toward the coast, the southern tip of Baja as we go towards Wednesday. Perhaps as a weakened category 2 or perhaps a category 1 hurricane. It is still too early to tell. But even the slight movement is going to bring it into much cooler water. It's going to have an interaction that is going to allow it to really decrease in intensity. Fred we have lots of delays in that northeastern corridor because of bad weather there.

Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Always on a Sunday leading into that Monday workweek. All right. Karen appreciate it.

All right. Right now, a lot of parents are trying to decide whether they should get their kids the H1N1 flu vaccine. Earlier I spoke with senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen about that and some of your other H1N1 questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD (voice-over): So many questions still about H1N1. Should I get the vaccine or not? And that's why we've invited senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen along because lots of questions. Beginning with Allen who says I keep hearing statistics on how many children have died this year from the H1N1 flu. Are these statistics any worse than deaths from seasonal flu?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know it's interesting, H1N1 flu really has hit young people very hard. Let's take a look at some statistics. When you look at the seasonal flu, on average in a few recent seasons 71 children have died in an average flu season. However, H1B1 flu so far just since April there have already been 81 deaths and technically the flu season hasn't even started yet. Because it's only October. Yes, H1N1 flu does seem to really hit kids hard.

WHITFIELD: That's what makes it so unnerving. This from the Penya family saying my sons are ages 17, 20 and 23. They're healthy and have never received any flu shots. Should they get vaccinated with H1N1 or will the regular flu shot be enough?

COHEN: The regular flu shot won't be enough. If you want to be protected against H1N1, the regular flu shot is not going to do anything for you. The strain's just not in there. So you have to have the strain in there in order for it to work. What the CDC is suggesting is that the Penya family's children in fact, should get the H1N1 shot. They fall into what are called a high-priority group.

Let's take a look at all of the groups put together. For example, pregnant women are supposed to get an H1N1 vaccine. Anyone ages 6 months to 24 years which is where the Penya children fall into. Anyone who takes care of a baby under the age of six months should get a vaccine. The reason for that is babies six months and younger can't get vaccinated on their own. Protect everyone around the baby. Health care workers and anyone ages 25 to 64 with an underlying health problem such as diabetes or asthma. The CDC would say all those children should get vaccinated.

WHITFIELD: Jason asks this. Can a patient get both flu vaccines at the same time or is there a need to stagger the vaccines?

COHEN: That's a great question. I will tell you Fred a lot of my friends are asking that question. It's a little bit complicated. Here goes. If you want to get shots for both the seasonal flu and for H1N1, get them at the same time. It's perfectly fine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and other experts.

However, if you want to get the nasal spray vaccine against either of those, you really ought to separate them. If you're going to be getting the nasal spray vaccine you should separate them by a couple of weeks. The reason for that is that the spray is a live virus where as the other one is an attenuated virus. It's a different type there.


WHITFIELD: All right. Great advice earlier from our own Elizabeth Cohen.

All right. Anxious days for Alaska's economy. Is America's northernmost state headed south? We'll take a look.


WHITFIELD: All right. From the gold rush days to the oil boom era, Alaska has been a beacon of economic opportunity. If you've been thinking about heading north to find a job, think again. CNN's John King reports even Alaska has been hit hard by the recession.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alaska takes pride in its natural beauty. And the geographic isolation that makes it very different from what folks here call the lower 48.

NEAL FRIED, ECONOMIST, ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: Our economy really beats to a very different drummer than sort of the average American economy, if there is such a thing.

KING: State economist Neal Fried says the numbers don't lie. Tourism is down, trade is slumping, unemployment climbing.

FRIED: Now we are part of it like the rest of the country is. We appear to be more attached and we're being more affected by this recession than we've ever been in prior recessions elsewhere in the country.

KING: With jobs so scarce, Brad Gillespie says the state is taking new steps, including an online warning to discourage people who lost jobs elsewhere for migrating to Alaska.

BRAD GILLESPIE, REGIONAL MANAGER, ALASKA JOB CENTER: We have a fair number of people that think Alaska's the promise land. They have maybe misconceptions about what's up here. They load up their family and head out on the Alaska Highway. We want to encourage them to not do that until they have something lined up before they get up here.

KING: Sharon Phillips is a regular here, out of work for nine months now.

SHARON PHILLIPS, UNEMPLOYED ALASKA RESIDENT: I put in for probably -- oh, probably ten jobs, eight or ten jobs a week. I get interviewed for about four a week. I'm still unemployed. There's usually about 70 or 80 people that apply for most jobs. We've been here 27 years. This is probably the worst I've ever seen the economy anywhere since I've been alive.

KING: Sharon's unemployment benefits run about $450 a month. She says others have it worse.

PHILLIPS: My husband also works for the state. So we're making it. You know, but it's -- I see so many people, I see more people out on the streets. I see more people homeless. It's going to get worse with winter.

KING: Demand for shelter is increasing. At this one in Anchorage, the faces reflect the recession's higher toll on native Alaskans. So does the activity on the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Job Center. Unemployment among native Alaskans is around 20 percent. With winter approaching, employment director Carol Wren worries it will go higher.

CAROL WREN, COOK INLET TRIBAL COUNCIL: They face a lot of other challenges that many individuals may not face. You look at education as a whole, usually lower. Poverty rates, pregnancy rates, and some of those things. So I think that it's going to be a little rough for folks here into the future. I think we're just starting to feel it here.

KING: The Tribal Center has benefited from federal stimulus money. So has the state government. Republican Gov. Sean Parnell says he would prefer longer term help from Washington.

GOV. SEAN PARNELL, (R) ALASKA: Outer continental shelf development means 35,000 new jobs. The problem with stimulus funds, they're great when they come in. It's horrible when they're gone. It's a dependence that gets created that doesn't lead to any more freedom or prosperity in the long run. I'd like to see more policy geared towards investment and job creation rather than, you know, propping up the states along the way.

KING: Looking ahead, the governor worries next summer will be another tough tourism season. And that a recession that came late to Alaska will linger too long.

PARNELL: Alaska tends to trail the rest of the U.S. when it comes to the economy. So when the rest of the economy is headed out, it takes Alaska some time behind it. When the national economy is heading down, we trail.

KING: John King, CNN, Anchorage.


WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for joining us.