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Severe Weather; Search Continues

Aired May 25, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening tonight from Joplin, Missouri, a very busy day of breaking news. Jared Lee Loughner, the man charged with killing six people and wounding 13 in that January shooting spree targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is ruled mental incompetent to stand trial.

And the government gives the go ahead for prosecutors to seek felony charges against former presidential candidate in 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential-nominee John Edwards. But we begin tonight here in Joplin with the threat of more severe weather rattling a shell shocked community where even residents who have lived in America's tornado alley for decades say they have not been able to sleep.


JACKIE MCGUIRK, TORNADO VICTIM: I'm scared something's going to happen if I go to sleep. And I'm not going to be awake to hear it to help everybody else. I just -- and in my mind, it just keeps going over and over.


KING: Tonight could be another restless night in Joplin and across an already stressed region. Let's get first to Chad Myers in the CNN Severe Weather Center in Atlanta -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, we have 25 tornado warnings right now. That means that the radar from the National Weather Service picking up 25 separate storms that are rotating, some of them actually on the ground, one not all that far from Memphis south of Little Rock. That's down near Truman and Yorktown (ph). Another one here just in the boot heel of m Missouri.

And then you move a little bit further to the east there was a tornado on the ground a little while ago south of Indianapolis. Don't know that it still is. Big storm very close to Dayton, Ohio, and Cleveland, Ohio, to the west of you, between you and Sandusky, this stretches almost from Texas to Ohio. I've not seen widespread events like this I'm not sure in my career as the weather moves through, storms are all rotating.

Every single storm today has had some type of rotation. And the red boxes those are all tornado watch boxes. They stretch from south Texas to Cleveland, Ohio and all the way up just west of Chicago, more tornadoes on the ground today. At least 48 separate reports of tornado damage already and more coming in as we speak -- John.

KING: Chad Myers, 48 reports of damage already, 20 tornado watches in effect. We're going to stay in touch with Chad obviously throughout the hour ahead and throughout the evening.

Also tonight, there's growing anger and frustration here among the families still searching for loved ones 72 hours after the record setting F-5 tornado ripped open a six-mile long wound here. This couple for example was told by a neighbor that he saw their 12-year- old son's body taken from the rubble of their apartment but they say they can't get a straight answer and aren't allowed to visit the morgue to look for themselves.


TAMMY NIEDERHELMAN, FEARS SON ZACH IS DEAD: This is not just for me; this is for the people that's got 100 other bodies laying down there.


T. NIEDERHELMAN: Something's got to be done.


KING: Now we were not allowed inside when Tammy and Tony Niederhelman came back for a third day demanding answers. But we did record some of their tense meeting inside. Listen.


T. NIEDERHELMAN: So we know that he was deceased. There was no doubt when they put him in that ambulance. You know it's just a matter of getting somebody to actually -- you know, it's like nobody has any heart around here.


KING: A lot of questions and a lot of raw emotion tonight. Here's what you need to know right off the top. The death toll in Joplin is now -- Joplin now 125 with more than 900 people injured. Authorities will no longer comment on how many people are unaccounted for, but earlier estimates put that number as high as 1,500.

At a news conference just now official promised, quote, "We're not giving up". And rescue operations are still under way but with each passing hour there is less hope and more pressure to bring in more heavy equipment like bulldozers to begin the clearing and the recovery effort. Governor Jay Nixon says the concern of the family's still missing loved ones comes first.


GOV. JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: I'm very sensitive to those -- to the needs of folks out there, believe me. We've -- and the losses. I mean, we have a mounting total -- I mean every -- pretty much every few hours the number's been added to the number of folks that have been lost.


KING: But some families who met today well they're not so sure or they worry the search hasn't been as thorough as possible. One woman, whose brother is missing, for example, says first responders searched the rubble of the house where he was Sunday but not with specially trained dogs and at the Red Cross shelter today, we thought we had stumbled upon a happy ending.

Will Norton (ph) is a young man whose family was featured earlier this week on "ANDERSON COOPER 360". They were appealing for help from anyone who might know his whereabouts. Now while we were at the shelter, somebody who worked there scribbled the word found up on the flyer looking for help locating Will but sadly it turned out to be a false alarm. Anderson Cooper with us here now. Will is not found.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Will Norton (ph) has not been found and in fact the -- days ago the family had word that he had been seen or had been treated at a triage center here after the tornado and then sent to another hospital and they felt they were just looking for another -- the other hospital he had been sent to. They've now been told that that initial report was false. The initial report that was given to them was false. So he has never been seen since the tornado.

He was sucked out of the car that he was driving in with his father. They have -- they've had dogs to go out. Dogs looking for (INAUDIBLE) and dogs that are capable of looking for the dead. No word. They are trying to maintain hope, trying to keep hope alive in this, but it's -- you know with each passing day, it becomes more difficult.

KING: But it's hard enough to begin with and then when they hear, well, somebody scribbled found on your son's flyer at the Red Cross shelter, we think he's at a hospital in Springfield, now, those people, they're trying to do their jobs and they're overwhelmed to some degree, but that confusion, those mixed signals, that error must be heart-wrenching.

COOPER: Well and Will's mom and his sister Sarah drove all the way to Springfield because they were getting so many reports, oh, there's this young man in the hospital, it's Will, in Springfield. They went -- they actually were given access, looked at the young man. It is not Will. There is somebody there who was a John Doe who's still alive being treated there in bad shape, but they don't -- nobody knows the identity of that person as of yesterday. So you know the good news is that there is an unidentified young person there that other -- some other family member may be able to find, but for Will Norton's (ph) family it's still there's been no good news.

KING: And you get a sense from many of these families obviously they know that they're not alone. There are other families like them, so they say, well we don't want to be treated any special way but there seems to be a mounting sense of OK, it's been three days now. We understood in the early hours the confusion and the chaos. We understood maybe on day two. But on day three, why can't we go to one place? Why can't we have one place where we can get answers?

COOPER: Well also when you hear 1,500 unaccounted for, a lot of those people maybe just left the state and the fact that they're still talking about a big number like that three days in is pretty shocking and to hear the couple you met who a neighbor saw their child, according to the neighbor, died, been taken away, and they're not allowed to go to the morgue to at least identify -- to look at the bodies there. I mean in Sri Lanka after the tsunami there, they were photographing bodies and there were bodies in terrible shape and they were you know allowing family members to go and at least look at the photos to be able to see possibly if they could identify a loved one.

KING: There's a sense -- they need to find a system quickly (INAUDIBLE) --

COOPER: Yes, there's a sense that it needs to be a real -- there are a lot of priorities obviously, but this needs to be a big priority, certainly for the family members. You know this is an agonizing wait.

KING: A lot more from the Norton (ph) family and more on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" tonight at 10:00 in the East continuing to track the tragedy here, these families trying to find their loved ones, either to find them alive and have a miracle or to get their closure.

At that same Red Cross shelter dozens of dazed family members wandered in desperate for information. They scan the list of the names tapped to the walls and they bring along their own makeshift flyers like this one here, this one here. Dian Hayward's (ph) sister Patty Penn (ph) came here from northern California. Tonight, her hopes are fading.


KING: When you come into look at the list like this I assume you just --

PATTY PENN, SEARCHING FOR MISSING SISTER: Yes -- if -- I think if her name was on the list, she would have called, you know, so we're just going to go see if maybe she's unconscious somewhere, hooked up somewhere at a hospital, so we can bring her home.

KING: How many different places have you looked?

PENN: Well we just started today but her family has looked at a bunch of hospitals. They went to the morgue today. They've been -- had her -- her church has been out digging every day, looking every day, so probably everywhere, everywhere.

KING: How many children?

PENN: Three kids. The 18-year-old just graduated that day and yes, she was going out to get pizzas for his graduation party and she's my sister, 10 years younger, and I aspire to be as her. She opens her home to everybody. She goes to church. She's been on missions. She's counseled teenage girls, pregnant girls, runaway girls, taught Sunday school, and it just kills me that somebody that good -- I know there's another -- a million other families out there, but it just kills me that somebody that good -- something bad would happen to them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where I'm telling you to go to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Same place? Is she going to take us?

Penn: Honestly, I don't have a lot of hope. I mean you know there's always hope but at this point you're just so numb, you just keep going on and on, but I don't have a lot of hope. My heart goes out to all the people here. We're one drop in the bucket. There are so many people looking for a family, friends. If God wants them all --


KING: Still ahead tonight, law and order. The case against the former presidential-candidate John Edwards and the man charged with trying to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has an outbreak in court.

But next the latest on the tornado threat across the Midwest tonight and how the continued nasty weather is making it harder, much harder, for the survivors here in Joplin to rest and to recover.


KING: Live pictures there of a playground in Joplin, Missouri. I wandered around this park the other day. It's supposed to be a giant playground and behind it, behind it is a large residential area that has been devastated, simply destroyed by the tornado that roared through here Sunday night. Look at these homes, the devastation, the debris, the mangled cars tossed around like toys.

Today, as you go through this area, many people, well they're more on edge that yesterday. Now that might seem counterintuitive, but remember there was severe weather again here last night. The tornado sirens sounded again. That means back to the basement or the bathtubs. More than 600 people rushed to the Red Cross shelter. In the end it was just nasty thunderstorms, but those sirens frayed nerves that were already frayed plenty. We met Jackie McGuirk today at a makeshift clinic.


J. MCGUIRK: My whole head is bruised on that side to right in here somewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I'm just going to be gently and look at --

MCGUIRK: Yes, you can't hurt it any worse than (INAUDIBLE). Somebody else's House was dropped on ours and when it did it hit and it knocked the floors down into the basement on top of us.

KING: How many of you were down there?

MCGUIRK: Five and two dogs.

KING: Everybody got out OK?

MCGUIRK: Yes, sir including the two dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Follow my finger with your eyes, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's called a hematoma (ph), OK, so it's just when the blood collects under the skin, probably from that floor joist hitting you, like you said, OK.

MCGUIRK: After it hit me I got up, grabbed the baby, grabbed the 7-year-old's hand. Sandy hollered, said dad I'm buried. He dug her out. I went up out of the basement, barefooted. I just kept walking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of time people want to just sort of tough it out and not talk about it.

MCGUIRK: I lost everything that I had collected over 55 years (INAUDIBLE). My grandmother's, those are things I can't replace. You know we're alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not sleeping at night?

MCGUIRK: No, I don't sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would tell you to take some over-the- counter melatonin. It won't make you sleep too deep --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- hear sirens.

MCGUIRK: Last night when the sirens went off again, I just grabbed everybody and my dogs and we got in the car and went to Webb City (ph). I was in the trailer house. I'm scared something is going to happen if I go to sleep. And I'm not going to be awake to hear it, to help everybody else. I just -- and in my mind, it just keeps going over and over.


KING: Jackie McGuirk there, such a powerful story. She talked about taking her granddaughter, putting her underneath her as the joist flew down from the ceiling above, says she can't sleep. She can't sleep. She doesn't know when she will.

We drove around the impact zone again today and each time you do that it leaves you more numb. The neighborhoods hit hardest still are mostly deserted, but when you walk or drive through them you see people wandering home lots, looking lost, small groups talking, sobbing and hugging in places where they lost loved ones. That is where we met Linda Lindquist Baldwin today at a home where her brother cared for three developed mentally disabled young men. Mark Lindquist (ph) mangled car was tossed across the street, but he was nowhere to be found.


LINDA LINDQUIST BALDWIN, SEARCHING FOR BRO. MARK LINDQUIST: Emotionally this has been the first type I've been able to come here. You know just the impact and to think of the terror he must have experienced. It's just very difficult. This was a brick home, you know a nice home and this is what's left of it.

KING: You look at (INAUDIBLE) -- the house is gone, it's like --


KING: It's like somebody just pulled it right off the foundation.

LINDQUIST BALDWIN: And I said no carpet on the floor even, you know that's what just amazes me, no carpeting even on the floor, but I think he was working like (INAUDIBLE) here and then he was going to go work all night at another home, going in at 11:00 and so on thinking you know why did the tornado have to hit at that particular time.

KING: So there is no doubt he was here?

LINDQUIST BALDWIN: There is no doubt because his vehicle was parked right there. This is Mark right here and my mother is almost 89 now. Mothers know and she says you know I have such a bad feeling about it. Today is my birthday. I'm not going to mention what year, but and of course the only gift I would really love is to see my little -- my baby brother or to know he is well and ironically just a week ago today he -- I saw him.

And he said just in case I don't see you on your birthday, I want to give you this. And it was an antique piece of glassware that I collect. And this is a week later. And never, ever could we imagine that we would be going through this.


KING: You leave a conversation like that a bit depressed. It's also depressing when our crews at the hospital, well there are told there are John Does who can't be identified because they had no identification when they came in and remember hundreds came in Sunday night. No identification, the doctors say they can't identify then because they had to shave their heads to care for their massive injuries, but there are some spots of light here. Just moments before we came on air tonight one of those John Does at the hospital was identified by his brother as Mark Lindquist.


KEITH LINDQUIST: He's in bad condition. He's seriously -- but I think he's in wonderful hands. He's got a lot of tubes in him everywhere --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Swollen. KEITH LINDQUIST: And swollen up everywhere and a lot of bruises and glass in his head and this and that but, you know, he's alive and --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never looked better.

KEITH LINDQUIST: He looks real good to us.


KING: Now we spoke to Linda just before coming on the air. She is, to say the least, ecstatic for her birthday present. That's one bright light. We could use some more here. Our Brian Todd has been out reporting all day on the frustration of families who are looking and looking and looking and they're trying to find information.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're trying to get information, John. It's not forthcoming right now because I think as you and Anderson mentioned earlier the systems aren't set up yet to really accommodate all the information on missing persons. Two people we've talked to, one's name is Jennifer Paris (ph). She's looking for her estranged father, hasn't seen him in eight years. He was working at a McDonalds she says that was completely leveled. She's getting no information. She went to the missing person's calling center today, just wouldn't give her anything, not anyone's fault she says, but she's walking out of there crying.

Another woman named Michelle Hare (ph) looking for her 16-year- old son Lance. He was sitting in a car tossed 300 yards from the parking lot of a grocery store. Interesting case there, she says there was a body found very near that area, a body that matched the description of her son. She says she knows that because someone who was there to guard the body until the authorities came to get it spoke to her, described the body. She's looking for that body in a local morgue. She can't -- she has nowhere to go and they won't let her in. I think they're trying to make sure that it's not someone else you know that it's just very spotty right now.

KING: And that's the hard part when you talk to the authorities they say, we have to be hypersensitive about privacy. We can't let people in looking at -- randomly looking at the bodies, excuse my language, in the morgue. But at the same time you have these families who have been told by people well -- sadly, I saw your son, I saw your loved one. They're taken away and they can't get access, so they can't begin closure.

TODD: Some of these people, you know by the looks on their faces and their body language they do believe their loved ones are deceased. They just want that access. Interesting at the news conference (INAUDIBLE) they won't give an estimate. Again that kind of gives you kind of an indication. They can't get their arms around this just yet, look at what they (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And what -- when you do look at what they have to go through you want to have some sympathy for the authorities --

TODD: Absolutely.

KING: -- because this is a once in a lifetime event. It's people say well we are in tornado alley, you should have a system set up for this. You know we've talked about the once in a lifetime Katrina, once in a lifetime flooding going on in Mississippi (INAUDIBLE) right now. This is a once in a lifetime so you have some sympathy but at the same time the emotions when you talk to these family people. Now they're 20, 72 hours out.

TODD: That's right, 72 hours out; the window for finding people alive is closing if it's not closed already. That's part of the frustration as well and the rescuers are doing everything they can to get to them. It's just very difficult for everybody.

KING: Brian Todd among our team doing fabulous reporting here. When we come back we're going to introduce you to a couple we interviewed today. They are part of the anguish, part of the anguish, people here frustrated. Their parents fighting the bureaucracy trying they believe their son is dead, they're sad at that news, but they want to find his body. They are incredibly frustrated.


KING: Live pictures here from Joplin, Missouri. You see there the trees mangled; wreckage of cars and home twisted within them there. The clouds above it is windy here tonight at the moment, at the moment not severe weather just windy weather although we are told there could be more rains and storms tonight, not only here but across the region.

One hundred and twenty-five is now the death toll for the tornado, the vicious tornado that struck this community Sunday night. A mile wide, six miles long is the path of destruction. Many families very frustrated, those who still cannot find their loved ones beginning to get more raw, to get more anxious and to complain more (INAUDIBLE) not believe there is a system in place. That is the pain of those still missing their loved ones. There are though some remarkable survival stories here. Let's go live now to Jacqui Jeras who has an amazing story -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, John, we've talked a lot about survival stories of people who are trapped in their homes that had to be pulled out underneath the debris, but there have been a lot of people who were in cars at the time of the tornado as well. For example, take a look at this vehicle. It's flipped up on its side up against the tree. Some of these vehicles you can't even recognize anymore.

I want to take you over here and show you this car and tell you a story about 18-year-old Ashley Hogue (ph). She was driving home on her way from her high school graduation when she was driving down the street. The tornado picked her up about a block and a half away, flipped her car up into the air. And it landed on all four straight up. This is a convertible. She and her best friend Paige survived this tornado believe it or not. Take a note at how all this paint is coming off. The debris that was in the tornado just stripped off all this paint. In addition, all that debris hit her back. It had to be surgically removed. She also broke her shoulder, but she's OK. Her best friend Paige next to her broke both of her hands but the girls managed to get out of this car, holding hands, ran over to St. John's Medical Center to get help.

Both of them are OK. Both of them are out of the hospital -- just an amazing story. On top of that, John, their parents, they were in vehicles behind them and the mother -- she was taken into the tornado as well and smashed into her car, just a couple of cuts and bruises on her hand. The entire family home is gone and wiped out, so it's hard to say whether or not they would have survived whether or not they had been home so there are just these continuing horrifying stories that we hear about these people and how they somehow managed to survive it.

Look at this, John. This piece of metal from the car got bent over and it's pierced through the seat on this car. It's just amazing to think that she could have survived sitting right there in this vehicle.

KING: And Jacqui let me ask you, do they remember being in the air essentially? I've spoken to several people who say that they remember taking shelter, but then they were found across the street. They were thrown across the street and knocked unconscious or thrown across the street and they sort of vaguely remember waking up, but they don't remember what happened in between. Do they remember being tossed in the car?

JERAS: They don't really remember. The one thing that Ashley -- her mother told me that was she remembered is that she thought she got hit from behind. If you look at the back of this car it looks like maybe this tree could have hit it so they knew that they got hit and there was some kind of impact, but they don't really remember what happened in between.

KING: Remarkable, remarkable survival story, especially when you see it and cars like that and trees like that and debris like that and imagine a car, they're just twisted and tossed like toys and you find them all over the place, all over the place. You can go for miles up the swath of this tornado and you will find them. Remarkable two people could have survived that. Jacqui Jeras thanks for that story.

As we made the rounds today, as I've noted, you find more frustration from families who three days now, three days now, they have been showing up at the shelters, showing up at the police stations, showing up at the makeshift crime labs, asking for information. They bring photos. They bring documents. They bring anything they're asked to bring trying to find the loved one.

We met a couple here Tammy and Tony Niederhelman. Their neighbor told them, their neighbor told them that he believes that he saw their 12-year-old son Zach dead after the tornado and he insisted he stayed with the body, the neighbor says, until the body was placed in an ambulance and taken away. Now Tammy and Tony of course have some hope that the neighbor is wrong, but they are now resigned three days out that their 12-year-old Zach is most likely dead. What they want is to find his body. They want to bury him. * JOHN KING, HOST: -- ambulance and taken away.

Now, Tammy and Tony, of course, have some hope the neighbor is wrong but they're now resigned three days out their 12-year-old Zach is most likely dead. What they want is to find his body. They want to bury him. For three days, they have been going back demanding access to the morgue, demanding some help to find their son.

What they are getting, and you will see it here, in their view, is incompetence, bureaucracy and inaction.


TAMMY NIEDERHELMAN, FEARS SON ZACH IS DEAD: We're here because our son is missing. I would like these crews to come with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't let anybody in --

TAMMY NIEDERHELMAN: I want an officer to come talk to us right here. We've been in here multiple times about our son who is missing and nobody will help us. I understand this is a federal disaster. But you know what? You're messing with a whole lot of families right now. I know my son is gone.

TONY NIEDERHELMAN, FEARS SON ZACH IS DEAD: My wife called him, told him to go to the bathroom, because the storm was coming in.

After everything was over, I woke up and I was sitting in my pickup truck in the front yard. And I had no idea how I got there. And, you know, I kind of -- tried to pull myself together and remember trying to look for our son. And I don't remember seeing him at all.

One of the neighbors come up to us yesterday when we were over at the house trying to collect memorabilia or whatever, and he told me that, you know, I was standing over his body when he found me and he made sure I got to the hospital. And it wasn't 20 minutes after the storm was over that he said that, you know, our son got taken away by ambulance.

TAMMY NIEDERHELMAN: My 12-year-old son needs to be laid to rest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand. I understand exactly. But if, you know, if you'd like to come in, we'll be glad to -- no, there's other grieving family members in here who don't want --

KING: What do you think is happening in there?

TONY NIEDERHELMAN: I don't really know what's happening. I think, you know, it's nobody is -- has been prepared for anything like this or nobody knows what's going on.

KING: To a degree, that's understandable, that it's hard to everybody at a time like this. But you've been here once, twice, already filled out paperwork.

TONY NIEDERHELMAN: We've been here -- we came here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you sign in for me? We'll send you upstairs where they can --

TAMMY NIEDERHELMAN: Where they can tell me the same thing they've been telling me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The process has changed.

TONY NIEDERHELMAN: The last count I had is 122 bodies. On Monday, they had 30. You know, I can't understand why the coroner's office cannot have, you know, maybe half of them processed and back with your loved ones, then you get closure.

TAMMY NIEDERHELMAN: So, we know that he was deceased. There was no doubt when they put him in that ambulance, you know? It's just a matter of getting somebody to actually, you know, it's like nobody has any heart around here.

TONY NIEDERHELMAN: You know, you come over here and I mean, we want to get closure and be able to go on with your life, but we can't because we're getting jerked around over here. By I mean there's people that we feel have no compassion.


KING: Tammy and Tony were told after waiting in line again today that they would not get any word on their son today. Most likely get no word or access to the morgue tomorrow. And then it could be, they were told, as long as two weeks, as long as two weeks before they get some resolution.

We will stay in touch with the family and we wish them the best heading forward.

During the storm, Tim Richard was on his way home when he received a desperate voice mail message from his wife, Stacy. She survived the storm. Listen to this and hear why he hasn't been able to bring himself to listen, all of that voice mail until now.



STACY RICHARD, TORNADO SURVIVOR: UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son texted me and I said, "Are you OK?" And it was the most awful thing because I couldn't tell him no, I'm not. And that was awful. Laying there, screaming and screaming and screaming and yes, it was awful.



JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Joe Johns in Washington. John King will be right back.

First, some of today's news you need to know right now:

President Obama addressed parliament today, declaring U.S. and British leadership remains essential to the cause of human dignity. The president also held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Army Corps of Engineers began closing portions of central Louisiana's Morganza Spillway today. Doing so will reduce flooding in parts of rural Louisiana.

Former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards appears ready to fight possible criminal charges in connection with payments made to his mistress Rielle Hunter with whom Edwards fathered a child out of wedlock. Sources tell CNN the Justice Department has authorized prosecutors to bring criminal charges against him.

A short time ago, an Edwards' attorney issued a statement saying, "John Edwards has done wrong in his life and he knows it better than anyone -- but he did not break the law. The government's theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law."

This is a long-running case, John. It's been a couple years.

KING: Long-running case. We'll see if they can cut a plea deal, or if that one goes to an indictment and then to trial. We'll keep our eyes on that one.

Another big story today in Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner is not competent to stand trial for January shooting massacre in Tucson that left six people dead and 13 others wounded, including the Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The judge's ruling this afternoon came after a bizarre court hearing where Loughner was forcibly removed for an outburst that the taunt, "Thank you for the freak show."

CNN's Ted Rowlands was right there in the courtroom when it happened. Ted joins us from Tucson.

Ted, take us inside.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a very dramatic day when Loughner interrupted the judge, saying not only "thank you for the freak show" but saying "I watched her die" and then rambled on and on. As two U.S. marshals who were seated on each side of him grabbed him, threw him down to the floor, and then forcibly pulled him out of the courtroom as Loughner continued to talk to the judge.

There was a 10-minute recess. Loughner was brought back into court. At that time, the judge asked him if he'd rather watch the rest of the proceedings on television. And he said yes.

So, he was moved out and then they moved on with this ruling. And the judge basically said he's looked at the competency reports prepared by evaluators of Loughner and he watched a videotape of Loughner being questioned and he says there's no doubt in his mind this young man is not competent at this time to stand trial.

What will happen from here -- he'll spend a few months in a facility, a federal facility, and then be re-evaluated and come back here to Tucson in September -- John.

KING: So, at least a few months, Ted.

What was the sense in the courtroom? Was the prosecution's surprised by this or did they see this coming?

ROWLANDS: They saw it coming when they read the reports. And they basically, after court, said that we're confident that he can be rehabilitated, if you will, get to the point where he understands what's going on in court. If they get to that point, the proceedings can continue -- John.

KING: Ted Rowlands for us in Tucson.

It is a fascinating case. It's a troubling case in many ways.

Joining us now from New York to dig deeper, our CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, I just asked Ted Rowlands, was the prosecution surprise? Let me ask our legal counselor here, were you surprised at this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Not really. I mean, his mental problems are so long standing and so clear that it is -- it's not a surprise, but it's also not the end of this issue. You know, I think people may be confused thinking he has now been found not guilty by reason of insanity. That has not happened yet.

If and when he goes to trial, if he is found sane enough to grow to trial, then he can perhaps claim insanity. But we're not at that stage of the case yet.

KING: Not at that stage of the case yet. So, he'll be re- evaluated. And then they can come back into court.

Does the prosecution have to move to have a reconsideration? Or is this -- does the judge just look at an additional report?

TOOBIN: No, the judge has said, I am going to reconsider this issue in September. And there will be a new evaluation.

Basically, this ruling is about his mental status at the current time. Can he understand the proceedings against him?

It's not about his mental state at the time of the shootings. That's a different issue that will come up if and when there's a trial.

And it's also important to emphasize that in the meantime it's not like he's going to be released. He's going to remain in custody just in a place where he can be mentally evaluated. KING: And also important to note and help me explain how this would work out, that even if he is not competent to stand trial, that doesn't mean he will be a free man. There are videotapes of the shooting. There are numerous witnesses who say he is the shooter. There's not even a firm, no direct denial from Loughner himself.

What happens then?

TOOBIN: Well, in that case, he can simply be held in this sort of limbo state, potentially for the rest of his life. The fact that he is not ready, not mentally capable of standing trial in no way entitles him to release. All it entitles him: to be held in a secure facility until such time as he is found capable of standing trial.

But there is no possibility he's going to be released because of today's ruling.

KING: Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin -- Jeff, thanks for that.

Voters in a New York congressional district have been electing Republicans for decades, for decades, until now. Next, the Democrat who just won -- and why Democrats say her victory has huge national implications.


KING: A New York Democrat named Kathy Hochul is on her way to Congress after capturing a congressional seat that's been in Republican hands for decades. She did it by attacking the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare -- a tactic that could have huge implications for the 2012 elections.

So, this New York race just one special election or does it send a national message heading into the 2012 election cycle?

Let's ask Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Congresswoman, which is it, one election or a big message?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Oh, I think it sends a very strong national message to Republicans -- and I hope whether they come away with in yesterday's election result is that Americans do not want to end Medicare as we know it. They don't want the safety net that is Medicare pulled out from underneath our senior citizens. They understand that entitlement reform is necessary and Democrats want Republicans to sit down at the table with us and really hammer out a compromise, a workable solution, so that we're not balancing all the pain and the hurt on the backs of our seniors.

And I think the voters in the 26th district in New York sent a very strong signal to that effect yesterday. I mean, John, it's the 426th worst district for Democrats in the country. There's only nine districts out of 435 that are worse than this one for Democrats, and a Democrat won the election, and it was Medicare. KING: I want to talk about the policy in a minute, but I want to focus now on the election. Medicare was a big issue and I want you to listen here to a snippet of one of the ads from your candidate, the winner, Kathy Hochul.


NARRATOR: Jane Corwin said she would vote for the 2012 Republican budget that would essentially end Medicare. Seniors would have to pay $6,400 more for the same coverage.


KING: Now, she's talking there about the House Republican budget. It was written by the Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Listen here, Paul Ryan spoke to our Kate Bolduan today and he says that ad and the entire campaign in his view was a lie or at the minimum, highly misleading.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You handed a political playbook for Democrats for 2012?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: If you're willing to lie and demagogue Medicare and scare seniors, then, yes, they have a political weapon. That's a shame on them for lying to seniors. They distorted this so much. Remember one thing, our plan doesn't change benefits for a person 55 years of age or higher.


KING: Now, I know, Congresswoman, Madam Chairwoman, you don't like what Ryan proposes. But what he is right that what he proposes would not affect anybody age 55 or older. And the Democratic rhetoric suggests something otherwise, does it not?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Paul Ryan and the Republicans proposed and voted for and continue to push ending Medicare as we know it. So, whether you're 65 or 55, what they did was that they proposed an additional $6,400 in costs for seniors in health care and, in exchange in that budget, a $200,000 additional tax break for the wealthiest Americans.

I mean, that's not a fact that they can run away from, as much as they might try. Newt Gingrich even thought that plan was too radical. And now that they lost an election over it, I can understand why they want to retreat.

Paul Ryan is -- let's say the pot calling the kettle black. If you'll recall leading up to the 2010 election, the Republicans were the ones who were engaging in scaring Americans about Medicare. When we actually -- Democrats added 12 years of solvency to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. We made sure we closed the donut hole. We also made sure that we had prevention and wellness in Medicare, where they couldn't get coverage for that before the Affordable Care Act passed. So, when it comes to lying and distorting the facts about which party is supportive of Medicare and trying to make sure that it's better for seniors and which party wants to end it, I think it's pretty clear that people who want to end it is clearly the Republicans. They've proposed it, they own it, and now they're going to have to be held accountable for it.

KING: Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the congresswoman from Florida, also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee -- thanks for your time tonight.


KING: And the winning candidate in New York's 26th congressional district, the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, join us now.

First and foremost, congratulations. Democrats in Washington are saying you won because of a message on Medicare that they believe sends a national signal. Do you buy that?

KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: Well, I know I won because the people in the 26th congressional district buy that argument. And I can only speak for the people that voted for me yesterday. And I'd say loud and clear, they're sending a message that they don't support a plan that would decimate Medicare as we know it, end it as we know it. And those are not my words. Those are the words that have been reporting from mainstream journalist organizations like "The Wall Street Journal."

So, they don't buy that argument. They don't buy the priorities of the Ryan budget. So, anyone else can extrapolate what they want from that, but all I know is the voters in this district, traditionally Republican area, came home to me this time. I was proud to receive the crossover support from a lot of people.

KING: You mentioned this is a Republican area. It has been for a very long time a Republican district. So, for you to be successful when you have to go back before those voters, I assume you're going to have to prove your credentials on deficit reduction, on conservative spending proposals.

One of the things you said during the campaign, in criticizing the Republican budget on Medicare, saying that was too severe, you said there's wasteful spending in Washington and I'm going to fight to get rid of it. I'd start with foreign aid to Pakistan and every other country that doesn't support us.

Number one, you'll have a debate about whether people think it's right to do that. But, Congresswoman-elect, if you did that, if you eliminated all foreign aid, it's 1.1 percent of the federal budget, it does not scratch the surface of deficit reduction -- don't you have to cut Medicare in some way?

HOCHUL: I understand. No, you need to get the underlying costs of Medicare under control. You don't have to cut the benefits to the recipients of Medicare. I've said -- and this is what differentiated myself from my opponent. We have to get our debt under control, understood. But how you do it, it's in the details.

In the Ryan budget priorities which is to balance the budget more on the backs of seniors while continuing tax breaks for multimillionaires and billionaires and big oil getting the taxpayer handouts, that's just not the priorities of me or the people sending me to Washington. So, they need to give some thought to this.

I spoke about revenues. I'm willing to bring revenues to the table to the tune of discontinuing tax breaks for people making over $500,000. That sets me apart a little bit from the Democrats. But I think there's some common ground we can find here.

Democrats and Republicans alike know we need to get our debt under control. I'm willing to look at all option. Foreign aid is part of it. Of course, it's not a large part but it's a starting point. Get the underlying costs of health care under control that helps Medicare.

But let's look at waste and fraud, and let's look at the revenue side as well. And that's something that the Republicans are saying they won't touch, and the Republicans in this district seem to be OK with that.

KING: And if you can get some Republicans to look at the revenue side, what about the president and the Democratic Party? From what the president has put forward right now, can you campaign in your district saying President Obama has it exactly right? Or does he need -- if you can get, say, the Republicans to come up something to the revenue side, do the Democrats need to find more on the cut side?

HOCHUL: Well, the Democrats have already demonstrated they're willing to work on the cut side, with $38.5 billion in cuts just for the continued resolution this year alone. Democrats are willing to look at cuts. But the Republicans have to meet us halfway and that involves the revenues.

Between the two, I believe we can bring it together and do what the people who are sending me to Congress want us to do and that is work together and stop all this fighting. Come up with a solution that makes sense so we can get our common enemy under control, which is our escalating debt. So, there are ways to do it, but we just got to stop all the fighting and pointing the fingers and this could happen.

KING: Congresswoman-elect Hochul, look forward to getting to know you when you get to Washington. And again, congratulations.

HOCHUL: Thank you very much, John.

KING: Still ahead here, shaky weather across the region, winds here in Joplin, tornado watches across a lot of the Midwest tonight. Also, this is a town still on edge, for the rain to come, people are still nervous. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Live pictures here from our affiliate, WMC. An ominous- looking sky over Memphis, Tennessee, tonight. Look at that -- Memphis, one of many communities along the Midwest facing the prospect of severe weather tonight. Tornado watches in effect over a lot of the map.

We can show you the weather map right now. A lot of communities worrying about that.

Here in Joplin, windy tonight, no rains as of yet. Last night, there were tornado sirens again. No tornadoes in the end.

But Nancy Studyvin Warren, she's at a shelter here. She took her grandson. They ran to the basement again. She describes it as quite an eerie experience.


NANCY STUDYVIN WARREN, JOPLIN RESIDENT: We're homeless. We're displaced people. But I got in here. And everybody is so nice. I mean, people went and got us clothes. Over at (INAUDIBLE) Christian church, about a mile from here, and what do you need, we'll go get it for you. And everybody was -- has been so nice.

And then last night, tornado sirens went off, and we found out early that they were taking the handicap down in the basement, which I found out later is -- the basement's underground. And the only thing I worried about was all this falling on top of us. And I thought -- oh, no, here we go again.


KING: Some aerial images, as we prepare to leave you tonight. Again, this area -- disaster area you're looking across here in Joplin, it is stunning to be here, stunning sadness in this community. Keep these people in your thoughts and prayers.

That's all for us tonight, though. "IN THE ARENA" starts right now.