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One Dead, Four Injured in Shooting at Ohio High School; Witness: He Fired Two Shots; Syria Deaths Soar In "Horrifying Massacre"; Hillary Clinton Remarks On 2012 Politics; Judge Throws out Muslim, Atheist Assault Case; Red Carpet Prank

Aired February 27, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, breaking news -- a deadly high school shooting hits close to home for one CNN reporter. Just ahead, we're going live to our own Martin Savidge. A member of his family was inside when it all happened. Stand by.

Plus, the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, taking a rare step back into presidential politics during a rather candid interview with CNN. You're going to find out what she says got her political juices flowing again.

And a self-proclaimed atheist allegedly attacked by a Muslim for dressing at a zombie version of the Prophet Muhammad for Halloween. Now a judge is dismissing the case. We'll share with you what we know.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: But, first, let's go to the shocking scene, eerily reminiscent of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. The Education secretary, Arne Duncan, is calling the shooting at Chardon High School in Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, a, quote, "unspeakable tragedy."

Only moments ago, authorities held a news conference to update all of us on the latest.


CHIEF TIM MCKENNA, CHARDON, OHIO POLICE: As a result of that training, that practice, if you would, law enforcement was quickly placed inside the school upon arrival. And we believe that that helped to lessen the tragedy that occurred.

Unfortunately, much had occurred prior to law enforcement's arrival.


BLITZER: The "Cleveland Plain Dealer" is identifying the suspect as T.J. Lane. You see that picture. He's here in this picture that we just obtained from his Facebook page.

Police say a teacher apparently chased him out of the school before he finally surrendered.

Let's go straight to our own Martin Savidge -- Martin, you have a rather important personal connection to this story.

Tell us all about it.


Yes, I grew up in Northeast Ohio. And my brother-in-law and his family still live here in Chardon. And this morning when I went to the CNN Web site and saw the breaking news headline, I just couldn't believe it, because I knew that he has an 18-year-old son who goes to Chardon High School.

And immediately, I reached out to the family to make sure that everyone was OK. And, thank goodness, he was. He was in an area far away from where the shooting took place.

But everybody in this community, and certainly in that high school, has just been shocked and horrified by the day's events. And talking with students here, you can see how deeply shaken.

It began, of course, early this morning, during the morning announcements or shortly thereafter, about 7:30, when the principal gets on the loudspeaker system in the school and announced that they were in lockdown.

Now the students initially said, look, we've had these drills all the time. But they could tell by the emotion in his voice that this was not a drill. They knew it was real. And it became all too real as the day wore on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know you've been speaking with students ever since you got back there, outside of Cleveland, students who knew, or at least know the shooter or the suspect -- the suspect in this case.

What are they telling you about this individual?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, it's a very mixed message that you get. T.J. Lane is a young man who, and as cliche as this sounds, was very much a person who kept to himself. He had a troubled home life. And we're still delving into the details. But he lived with his grandmother. He was not living with both parents. He had an older brother who is in jail, serving for a probation violation for drugs. So you can tell that this is a young man who had a troubled past. Students that knew him said that he'd put up walls, that he kept himself isolated, it was difficult to try to communicate with him. But they also say because of that isolation, because of the way he dressed, because of the way he acted, he would be picked upon by students. And this was a problem that goes all the way back to middle school. And some are suggesting -- not in any way condoning, but suggesting -- that that kind of past caught up with him today and that somehow he snapped inside of that high school -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell us about Chardon, this community about 30 miles outside of Cleveland, more specifically about this high school.

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, it's a pretty well-to-do. It's a -- it's a semirural area. A lot of people out come here because of the fact that it's part city, part country. It's known as the snow capital. They get a ton of lake effect snow out here.

And, of course, when you talk to people, they will tell you I never expected anything like this to happen in Chardon.

But I've got to be honest with you, Wolf. I've covered, unfortunately, many of these school shootings, including Columbine. And those are the first words you get out of anybody's mouth when you get into that community -- I never thought it could have happened here.

This is exactly one of those areas. This is where people come to raise their kids because they think it's safe, because they think that the school system is great.

And all of that is true, except that there are always exceptions sometimes. And today was a very violent exception inside of that high school.

We should also point out that T.J. Lane was not a student of Chardon High School. He actually went to another school. But the way it would work is that the students would show up at Chardon and then catch a bus to the other schools. These other schools were mainly schools that teach you, say, professional trades or prepare you to go into some sort of job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let -- let's get back to your own family that lives there. You've got relatives, as you pointed out, who live there, including a student, an 18-year-old student at Chardon High School.

Give us a little bit more, Martin. Tell us how they're holding up, their -- their reac (sic) -- how they're reacting to all of this.

SAVIDGE: A lot of the kids can't even bringing themselves to talk about it. We've reached out to a number of families, especially families whose children were either in the cafeteria where the shooting took place or who were in the hallways. And -- and they just are so emotionally distraught. Initially, when they got out of the classroom, when they got out of school, they felt fine. But now the news has begun to sink in about how horrible. And, of course, they knew everybody. They know everybody from T.J. Lane to -- to the victims here, to the one student who died. And so it -- it's not a big school. It's not like one place where you're just a number. No. A lot of them know one another. And they're all connected.

And they're deeply shaken tonight. You can see that normally young people who are caught up with the day's events are getting on Facebook or being online are extremely serious right now. And when you talk to them, the conversations you have are far beyond their years.

BLITZER: The Education secretary, Martin, as you know, Arne Duncan, issued a statement. And among other things, he pointed to what he called the extraordinary courage of a teacher who chased the shooter out of the school and if not for the speedy reaction of school leaders, the toll of these shootings could have been even worse.

Are you picking up more information on how the end of this shooting incident went down?

SAVIDGE: Well, we are hearing a number of stories. And some of them we're still trying to verify the facts, so I can't tell you everything until we do.

But that particular teacher which is so often cited, the students know him as Mr. Hall. It's actually Frank Hall. He is a -- a football coach and a big guy. And the kids say they are not surprised in any way, shape or form that Mr. Hall would have been the one that chased the gunman out of the school and probably prevented any further disaster from happening here.

Now, I'm also hearing there are other teachers who did other heroic events, some of them quite remarkable, outside the line of the classroom, going to rescue wounded children, bringing them to their classroom and to care for them and protect them. It's really quite remarkable. And as soon as we can verify the names and give the appropriate credit to the heroes, we'll do so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Martin Savidge on the scene for us.

I'm happy you are, Martin.

Thanks very much.

Ted Rowlands is also standing by in Chardon. He's watching what's going on -- what else is going on right now, Ted, because you've been there almost since this incident went down.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we do have an update on one of the other victims that was airlifted to Cleveland. We talked to a relative of one of those victims. And they do not want the name released.

But we can tell you that that young person has been taken out of surgery a few hours ago and is recovering. And the family has been told that this young student, a high school student, is expected to recover. So that is good news. There are a total of four victims still hospitalized. At the press conference at the top of last hour, we did learn that one is in stable condition and the other three are in critical condition.

So as you can imagine, as Martin talked about this, this community is just absolutely in shock and they're dealing with the healing process of -- of -- for the victims and then also dealing with the question of, well, what happened to this young man and why did he -- what compelled him to do this?

TJ Lane, who has been identified by witnesses who talked to the "Cleveland Plain Dealer." A lot of people obviously very frustrated and -- and just literally in shock.

Outside the school, Wolf, you can see they're still processing the scene here. They say that will take some more time. They're getting some help from the FBI and the ATF. The weapon that was recovered has been handed over to the ATF to do ballistics analyzing. But at this point, they say they're very confident that this one suspect was a lone shooter and acted completely alone.

BLITZER: Do we know details about the weapon, the ammunition, what was involved?

ROWLANDS: What we know is that it was a handgun, apparently, one handgun. And it was retrieved almost immediately. Whether or not the suspect had it on him when he was actually taken into custody or if he had discarded it after being chased away from the school by this teacher that Martin was talking about, Frank Hall, we don't know that. But we know that they have recovered a weapon. And one witness said it was a silver handgun that they saw. And that has been given to the ATF, where they will, obviously, match it to the bullet casings that they find inside the school here to make sure that, indeed, it was just one weapon.

BLITZER: And -- and specifically about this individual, the suspect, T.J. Lane, you're getting a little preliminary information about a -- a student that had problems. He was being teased, if you will, by other students.

What do we know about this?

ROWLANDS: Well, apparently, this this -- we have heard from a witness that -- that knew him and had actually had grown up with him. And he said that he had been friends with him for a long period of time in elementary school and when they were younger. But in recent years, this young man became a bit of a recluse and stuck to himself and dressed in goth type clothing and was going to a school for kids at risk.

He met here every day, along with the other students, not only this school, but another trade school. They would all come to this one location. And then the students that didn't actually attend this school would be bussed to the other locations. And, apparently, he was a student at another location for kids at risk. That's basically all we know for sure at this point about this young man. But the preliminary information from students here is that he was one of these people that, in recent years, changed his behavior in terms of how outgoing he was with other people, etc.

BLITZER: Yes. See, it reminds me a little bit of the shooters at Columbine in Colorado, more than a decade ago. All right. We'll stay in close touch, Ted Rowlands, with you.

We'll get more information. We're staying on top of the breaking news.

We're also watching other important news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including Rick Santorum keeps calling the president of the United States, a, quote, "snob."

Will it will help or hurt him in tomorrow's very important primaries?

We're also learning more about that suspect, as I said, the Ohio school shooting, his apparent relationship with some of the victims. We're staying on top of this story.

Also this hour, a CNN interview with the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. She responds to critics who say she shouldn't be talking about presidential politics in her role as the secretary of State.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: When Mitt Romney goes off the teleprompter and start speaking off the cuff, he has a record of promptly stepping in it. Just yesterday, he was asked many if he follows NASCAR, and he told the Associated Press, quote, "not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I do have some friends who are NASCAR team owners."

Then, there was a botched campaign event in his home state of Michigan Friday. 1,200 people showed up at a football stadium that seats 65,000. Romney told the handful of supporters he drives cars made in Michigan.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Anne drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered.


CAFFERTY: This is not how you connect with blue collar workers in Detroit. It's no wonder he's in a dead heat with Rick Santorum ahead of tomorrow's primary in his home state. In that same speech, Romney made a repeated and rather bizarre comment about why he loves Michigan saying it feels good to be back home in Michigan, quote, "where the trees are the right height," whatever the hell that means.

It appears Romney has a serious problem when he goes off script. He sounds out of touch, elite or just plain strange. Examples about, he has said that he's, quote, "not concern about the very poor, that there's a safety net in place for them." Romney said he likes, quote, "being able to fire people who provide services to me in reference to choosing between different health insurance companies."

He made that infamous $10,000 bet with former candidate, Rick Perry, during an early debate. It's estimated Romney is worth about $200 million. In response to the gaffe about the cars he drive, Romney says he can't be perfect, quote, "I just am who I am." He adds there's nothing wrong with being successful in America. He wants to use his success to help the American people.

So, here's the question, should Mitt Romney be allowed to go off teleprompter? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with Gloria Borger, our chief political correspondent. Gloria, Rick Santorum also has a problem right now, at least, among some. He says the president of the United States is a snob, if you will, because he wants kids to go to college. He's also talking about separation of church and state. What's going on here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not an accident, Wolf. This is contrived. It's on purpose, and there are a couple of reasons Rick Santorum is doing this in the short term he believes it could help him. First of all, in talking about the president as a snob, he's trying to relate to the blue-collar voters in Michigan. I mean, Rick Santorum has portrayed himself as the populist.

His grandfather was a coal miner. He thinks that's going to help him on that scale. In talking about JFK and the separation of church and state, he's making a clear play for evangelical voters who are very important in this Republican primary in Michigan. There are some estimates, Wolf, which say that there are about half of the Republican primary goers in the state of Michigan.

So, he wants to capture those evangelicals because he believes that he can get them and then balance out Mitt Romney's popularity in the Detroit area. So, the danger, though, for him is that if he goes too far with this, he could turn off the fiscal conservatives in the state, and that could be a problem for him as well, not to mention a general election should he win the primary.

BLITZER: So, Santorum has got some problems, and Romney, as Jack Cafferty just pointed out, he's got some potential problems as well.

BORGER: Right. As jack points out, look, Mitt Romney has been dogged this entire primary season with the problem they can't seem to talk about himself and his own wealth. I saw, though, on Fox News on Sunday, a way in which he seemed to be coming around to talking about his wealth with a very good message, but let's take a listen to what he said.


ROMNEY: If people think that there's something wrong with being successful in America, they better vote for the other guy because I've been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and know-how to help the American people.

And by the way, in terms of connecting with the American people, you know, when I got into this race, a lot of the guys in the race and other people have come and gone. I've gotten more votes than anybody else in this race, so far. I've been the guy that's been able to connect in New Hampshire and in Florida and in Nevada.


BORGER: So, that's pretty good. Those are pretty good lines for him. Clearly, written by his consultants. But his problem is that he makes these unforced errors that Jack was talking about. Talking about his wife driving a couple of Cadillacs, talking about knowing the owners of NASCAR teams. So, he's got to be able to figure out a way, when he's trying to ingratiate himself to the average Joe and relate to the average Joe, to do it, in a real way.

I was talking with a Santorum advisor this morning who said, to me, look, it's not just important for a voter to be able to relate to a candidate. It's more important for a president to be able to relate to a voter. His point was, of course, Mitt Romney just hadn't figured out a way to do it.

BLITZER: Look at this poll that came out, American Research Group, and poll right now, Michigan, it wasn't supposed to be like this. Santorum, 36, Romney, 35, Ron Paul, 15, Newt Gingrich, eight percent. This could be a huge night tomorrow night, one way or another.

BORGER: Yes. And they're already trying to pre-spin the results. The Romney people are saying they came back from a very large deficit. The Santorum people saying, look, this is Romney's home state. We weren't expected to win anyway. If it's close, we won.

BLITZER: Santorum people already saying they've won no matter what happens because it's close.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly. Of course.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Gloria, thank you.

A massacre in Syria today. It's hard to believe that things are actually getting worse. We're going to Nic Robertson. He's monitoring the horrifying situation for us. Standby.

Also, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, she is opening up about the lure of presidential politics and whether that's appropriate for the secretary of state to be even commenting about it.

And a judge dismisses a case involving a Muslim accused of harassing an atheist. Did he follow U.S. law or Muslim law? Standby.


BLITZER: To Syria now and what's being called another horrifying massacre, reportedly, boosting today's death toll to 125 people, more than half of them in a security checkpoint in the besieged opposition stronghold of Homs. The European Union is fighting the intense bloodshed with tough new sanctions, freezing key government assets, while the Syrian regime insists reform is on the way touting a new constitution.

It says it's just been overwhelmingly approved. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is monitoring what's going on in nearby Beirut. Nic, let's start with the situation in Homs. What is the Red Cross saying? What are they doing?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Red Cross has been in Homs all day working with the Syrian red crescent to try and get into Baba Amr, to try and get out those injured journalists, the "Sunday Times" photographer, Paul Conroy and the French journalist, Edith Bouvier. When the Syrian Red Cross did get into Baba Amr, when they came out, they only had with them, an old woman, a pregnant woman and her husband.

And according to activists, they say there was about an hour lull in the shelling and as soon as the Syrian red crescent vehicles left Baba Amr, the shelling resumed against with quite an intensity, and they say that the journalists, those international journalists in Baba Amr, don't feel comfortable leaving with the Syrian red crescent because they're not international.

They're Syrian workers. They don't trust them. They want the international committee for Red Cross in person in there to get them out and give them security, Wolf.

BLITZER: That constitutional referendum in Syria, is that really going to make a difference, Nic? Or is it so many U.S. and European officials that many in the Arab world are saying simply a joke?

ROBERTSON: It's not going to bring peace. The country is on the edge of civil war. It's not going to change that one iota. What it will do is, if you, will, give Russia and China, Syria's backers, something to point to and say, look, this is a Syrian government that's supported by its people. The government says that 57.4 percent of the population turned out, just over eight million people turned out.

And of them, they say 89 percent, 89.4 percent, voted, yes. One in 10 voted yes. The nine out of 10, rather, voted yes. One in 10 voted no. So, the government is going to use this to say that they do represent the majority of people. And, therefore, the constitutional changes they're offering should be accepted by the opposition. The reality is that changes they're offering are not substantial. They're not meaningful to the opposition. So, really, it's a lot of window dressing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what most of the officials I've spoken to, at least, in Washington, are suggesting. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Beirut.

Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is getting some heat for briefly, a very briefly, stepping out of the world of diplomacy and making a prediction about U.S. presidential politics. The secretary spoke with our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, as she wrapped up a tour of North Africa. They spoke about several controversial topics, including the U.S. efforts to isolate the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have a lot of contacts as do other countries, a lot of sources within the Syrian government and the business community and the minority communities. And our very clear message is the same to all of them. You cannot continue to support this illegitimate regime because it's going to fall. So, be part of an opposition that can try to have a path forward that will, you know, protect the rights of all Syrians.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: So, what about the message that the Syrian national council is sending to those inside Syria? Do you think they're sending the right message?

CLINTON: Well, I think it's very difficult to form an opposition when you have no place to operate out of inside the country you're trying to change. You know, in Libya, we had a very effective operation in Benghazi that gave us an address. We could deal with people. It represented Libyans across the country. We don't have that in Syria, and the Syrian National Council is doing the best it can, but obviously, it's not yet a united opposition.

LABOTT: Let's talk about Afghanistan. The embassy is in lockdown right now?


LABOTT: Employees not allowed to go anywhere?


LABOTT: OK. Listen, President Obama's apology has become very controversial. I mean, obviously, Newt Gingrich and others have made this apology part of the campaign, but other experts in Afghanistan are saying this apology sends the wrong message. It gives the Taliban the excuse to go against us. To help use our enemies against us and, also, a lot of these attacks that are happening against the Americans, these horrible attacks seem to be in retaliation for something the U.S. is taking responsibility for. CLINTON: Well, I find it, you know, somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan. I well remember during the eight years of President Bush's administration, when something happened that was regrettable, unintentional, as this incident was -- President Bush was quick to say -- look, you know we're sorry about this.

This is something that you know we obviously did not mean to do. That's all that President Obama was doing. And it was the right thing to do. To have our president, on record, as saying this was not intentional. We deeply regret it. And, now, we are hoping that, you know, voices inside Afghanistan will join that of President Karzai and others in speaking out to try to calm the situation. It's deeply regrettable but now it is out of hand and it needs to stop.

LABOTT: You said yesterday that President Obama will be re- elected. It's not -- it raised a lot of eyebrows. It's not really the secretary of state to say anything about an election and it seemed to be kind of a campaign statement.

CLINTON: Well, remember the context of it, you know? I was asked whether the comments in the primary campaign, some of which have been quite inflammatory, represented America and I represent America. And I know what happens in campaigns. I've been there, done that. And I know that things are said. That, you know, are not going to be put into practice or policy but I did think I needed to point that out to the audience. And probably, you know, my enthusiasm for the president got a little out of hand.

LABOTT: No political juices flowing there?

CLINTON: Well, you know, I've tried to dampen them down. I've tried to have you know I've tried to have them taken out, you know, blood transfusion, but occasionally they rear their heads.

LABOTT: Does that suggest maybe going back in at some point?

CLINTON: No, no it just suggests that I want what's best for my country.


BLITZER: The secretary of state speaking with our own Elise Labott in North Africa. Good interview.

We're following the breaking news of a deadly school shooting in Ohio. We're learning more about the suspect and the hints that he had something potentially terrible planned.

Also, a judge's motives in question right now after he throws out a case involving a confrontation between a Muslim and an atheist. I think you'll be interested in this case.


BLITZER: I want to get back to the top story. That deadly high school shooting this morning in Ohio. Lisa Sylvester is joining us right now. Lisa, you're getting any more details about the alleged gunman? What are you learning?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just to recap, first Wolf, you know one student has died, four others are injured and we now have the name of the suspect. It appears that the alleged shooter may have known his victims and we're also getting other new chilling details.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have three students down in the cafeteria at this time. We still don't know where the shooter is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Active gunshots at the high school.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Moments of chaos caught on scanner traffic of the Geauga County fire dispatch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) three in the cafeteria, also there's a fourth one down in room 200 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Requesting assistance as soon as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard someone yell to get down and I heard (INAUDIBLE) shots fired behind me.

SYLVESTER: CNN affiliate WKYC captured these pictures of authorities taking someone into custody a short distance from the school. "The Plain Dealer" (ph) newspaper in Cleveland cited student Nate Mueller (ph), who was slightly wounded in the shooting and identifying the suspect as student T.J. Lane. On Lanes Facebook page, an angry rant that ends "die all of you." CNN has learned Lane is a student at the Lake Academy Alternative School (ph), a school for at- risk kids who may be dealing with emotional or academic problems. He was at Chardon High School waiting with other students to be bussed to Lake Academy (ph) when the shooting happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were at the table right next to him. He was within three feet of us. And three of the victims were at my table, as well out of five people. He didn't say anything the entire time. He took one shot and then that's when we looked to see what was happening. I saw him shoot which hit one of my other friends that was sitting at the table with us. And then as I was turning around that's when he hit me.

SYLVESTER: One student interviewed by CNN says the alleged shooter knew the victims.

EVAN ERASMUS, STUDENT, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL: He used to be friends with all of them back in middle school and early high school days. I was really shocked when I found out it was him because he was -- I mean, he was quiet but, I mean, he was one of the nicest kids there. I mean you could talk to him really easily. I mean he was funny. It was just -- it was really shocking that it was him.


SYLVESTER: Now the Geauga County Sheriff's Department and federal agents have executed search warrants in the case. Police have recovered a gun. It's been turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. And the suspect, T.J. Lane is in custody at the Juvenile Detention Center -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, are you hearing anything about a possible motive in this?

SYLVESTER: You know it's one of those things that we won't know. This is going to have to play itself out as it goes through the courts at this point. He's, you know the alleged shooter. But what we're hearing, what our CNN folks are hearing is that he might have been -- felt ostracized and picked on and that he might have been somebody who felt a little bit of a loner in this case. And we don't know if that is, in fact, the motive but that is what we're hearing and it may have, somehow, contributed to it. Also if you take a look at his Facebook page, which, by the way, Wolf, has since been taken down. But if you look at what his writings on there, it's clear that this is a young man who had a lot of resentment, to say the least -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Obviously is a sad, sad, tragic story. Thanks very much. You send your kids to school and something like this happens it's going to shock a lot of folks.

A plot to kill Vladimir Putin with a land mine, Russian authorities now say the assassination almost happened. You're going to hear why one expert calls the timing though suspiciously convenient.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including an assassination attempt that's been thwarted. What's going on Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's right Wolf. Russian State TV says an attempt to kill Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been foiled. The report says plotters were going to use military-grade land mines in the assassination. The story includes a confession but a former U.K. envoy to Moscow says the timing is suspiciously convenient. Putin is running for president and the election is a week away.

Nebraska Republicans may be in for a fight they didn't expect. A source says long-time Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey says he's changing his mind and wants to run for his old seat. Only three weeks ago he had said that he wasn't running. Kerrey served two terms in the Senate and one term as Nebraska's governor.

And another health organization says boys should receive the HPV vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends both genders get routine vaccinations starting at the age of 11 or 12. The human papillomavirus is known as the root cause of cervical cancer in women, but may cause a number of different men also. The Centers for Disease Control of Prevention also advises young males receive the vaccine.

And talk about an outraged story. This is video of an 86-year- old World War II veteran being carjacked at a gas station in Detroit. Look, you're going to see it there. He broke his leg and had to crawl to help, passed some people who actually ignored him. A Good Samaritan in the station eventually took him home and, maybe the worst part of all of this is that there was a Bible in the front seat because he had just come home from church. Eighty-six-years-old, look at those videos and really, really sad state of affairs. Really sad to see those pictures -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is, Lisa. Thank you so much.

A confrontation between a Muslim and an atheist causes a backlash against the judge in this case and stirs a heated debate over free speech. Stand by.

And what happens when a dictator shows up at the Academy Awards. The stunt -- the stunt seen around the world.


BLITZER: A judge's motives are now being questioned after he threw out a case involving a confrontation between a Muslim and an atheist right here in the United States. Critics are wondering if he was following U.S. law or Islamic law. Brian Todd is taking a closer look into the controversy. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this case in Pennsylvania was tossed out in December but it's again in the spotlight possibly because of the tensions and violence in Afghanistan over the inadvertent burnings of the Koran. This case cast a lot of attention on the conflicts between Islam and the West and the debate over free speech.


TODD (voice-over): At a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg (ph), Pennsylvania, a self proclaimed atheist dresses up as a so-called zombie version of the prophet Muhammed (ph). He apparently films himself walking in the parade, a video posted on YouTube, seemingly with the atheist's own words typed over it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am Muhammed (ph) the prophet.

TODD: At one point a Muslim man confronts him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to protect this? I got to call the cops for you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's ridiculous.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop. You're on film. Please, hey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going on? What's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, he's attacking me. Come here, cops!

TODD: The Muslim man, Talog Albiomi (ph), was given a citation for harassment. State Judge Mark Martin later dismissed the case saying there was no evidence of harassment or that Albiomi (ph) even touched the atheist.

(on camera): But it was during the hearing when the case was dismissed in December that the judge made remarks which drew so much controversy to this case. The remarks were recorded by the atheist, Ernie Perce (ph), the audio posted on YouTube. Listen to what the judge told Perce (ph), the alleged victim.

JUDGE MARK W. MARTIN, PENNSYLVANIA DISTRICT COURT: I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak what's on our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did. You are way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights."

TODD (voice-over): A lecture that's drawn heavy criticism from people like constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley.

PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: That's greatly disturbing to people that believe in free speech. The First Amendment is not needed to protect popular speech. It's there to protect unpopular speech and the most unpopular speech tends to be anti-religious speech.

TODD: When I spoke to him over the phone, Judge Martin acknowledged it's his job to protect the rights of people like the atheist, no matter how offensive they might be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're failing to protect that because there are some who believe you were failing to protect that right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't think so.

MARTIN: Here's the thing, it's a right. It's not a privilege. It's a right. With rights come responsibilities. The more that people abuse our rights, the more likely that we're going to lose them.


TODD: But during that hearing, Judge Martin, an Army Reservist who served in Afghanistan and in Iraq told the atheist it's against the law in Muslim countries for him to dress like that, to walk down the street saying those things, and he could be put to death for it. Jonathan Turley says those laws are oppressive and have no bearing on this case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, there's been a lot of, you know, he said, she said in this case overall, isn't that what's going on to a certain degree?

TODD: There's a lot of that, Wolf, and a ton of Internet traffic over all of it. The alleged victim, the atheist Ernie Perce (ph), claims that he was physically attacked by the Muslim man, Talog Albiomi (ph). The man's attorney and the judge say there's no evidence that he even touched him. The atheist also claims the judge called him a doofus (ph) in the hearing.

The judge told me he said to the atheist if you act in a certain way you'll look like a doofus (ph). There is a lot of this back and forth. There's been this out on the blogosphere on the Internet since the case was thrown out in December and there's a lot of misinformation out there on this case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian thanks very much. Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is should Mitt Romney be allowed to go off teleprompter. Some of these e-mails we got are priceless.

Jim in St. Paul writes "If Mr. Romney goes off script he'll let us know who he really is and that's what we need to assess when we decide whether he should be our next president."

Nancy in Tennessee, "Mitt Romney's probably sincerely trying to convey that he buys American while alienating Americans who are just a few steps from the homeless shelter from not caring about the poor to just not understanding what poor is he has let the cat out of the bag. Rich is more fun than being poor."

This e-mail from "Trees are just right in Colorado". "He's trying too hard to be something he's not, presidential." Crystal writes, "If Romney stays on teleprompter he comes off as a robot, but when he speaks his mind, he looks like an idiot. Bottom line, Romney doesn't have the empathy to be an effective people person and he doesn't have convictions any firm convictions beyond promoting his own self interest. He's exposed by the bright lights of being a frontrunner as an empty suit stuffed with cash. He's a corporation pretending to be a person."

Rich in Florida writes "I think Mitt should be allowed to just go, period. Seriously, voters may like the real Mitt, the elite, successful rich guy better than they like this faux ordinary guy Mitt who keeps slipping up with $10,000 bets and his wife's two Cadillacs."

And Simon writes "When Mittens goes off script, we get to see the real Willard. I drive a car made in Detroit, vote for me, maybe not." If you want to read more about this go to my blog CNN.COM/CAFFERTYFILE or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty thanks very, very much. Ryan Seacrest finds himself covered in Kim Jong Il's rashes. Was it pancake mix? What was going on? Jeanne Moos on the red carpet prank that has so many people in the United States indeed around the world talking.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots". In Tunisia, families of people killed during the revolution demonstrate outside the Ministry of Defense. In Senegal (ph) people line up to vote in one of the most fierce presidential elections in that country's history. In Burma a woman arranges dozens of fish at a market. And in South Korea, presidential body guards trained in marital arts rehearse security procedures. "Hot Shots", pictures coming in from around the world.

He wasn't nominated for an Academy Award, but the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen made his presence felt literally on the red carpet. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He may be best known as Borat, but when Sacha Baron Cohen has a new character to publicize it's time to kick some ash at the Oscars.


MOOS: This time he's a dictator.


MOOS: And it was fake ashes from a fellow dictator, North Korea's Kim Jong Il that got spilled on the host of E!'s red carpet coverage.


MOOS: Ryan Seacrest later told CNN that when he agreed to interview Baron Cohen in character, he figured something would happen though he says he didn't know what.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If somebody asks you what you're wearing, you will say Kim Jong Il (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have fun this evening.

MOOS: And though some reported Seacrest was angry --


MOOS: -- the E! producers milked the moment with slow-motion replay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my -- MOOS (on camera): Now just to be completely accurate, if you asked Ryan Seacrest what he was wearing, it wasn't Kim Jong Il. It was actually pancake mix.

(voice-over): Seacrest seemed fine about the prank afterwards, tweeting a joke about hosting a pancake breakfast. Actually, the person most put off by the stunt seemed to be Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: I thought it was a disgrace. That security guard on the right was pathetic. He wouldn't work for me for 15 seconds. That guy, they should have pummeled him, pummeled him to the ground.

MOOS: But instead of getting pummeled, Baron Cohen attended the show. Oscar producer Brian Grasher (ph) told E! he dropped by Baron Cohen's (ph) dressing room, worried he'd interrupt the actual show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he promised me that he wouldn't.

MOOS: Stunts on the Oscar red carpet are rare and relatively tame. For instance, there was the time that creators of "South Park" cross dressed as Gwyneth Paltrow (ph) and J-Lo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a night of magic.

MOOS: Actually, the real J-Lo's dress this year was one of the hottest topics. Did anything show? Angelina Jolie showed lots and lots of her right leg. Both Angelina's leg and J-Lo's nipple soon had their own fake Twitter accounts. Did you see me? Is there a best undressed? J-Lo met Seacrest minutes after he was dusted --


MOOS: And Tina Fey posed reverently bowing to Kim Jong Il's fake ashes --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're a victim of comedy.

MOOS: Comedy that had to be vacuumed up. It was the urn that kept turning and earning laughs.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dictator, look this way, give us that love right there, man.

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE STIUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.