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Growing Outrage at Killing of Florida Teen; Santorum: Campaign "Not About The Economy"

Aired March 19, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, fears of a possible attack on Jewish neighborhoods right here in the United States after a deadly shooting in a Jewish school in France. This hour, new information about the possible danger and security precautions being put in place right now.

Plus, growing outrage over the killing of an unarmed teenager in Florida and new questions about why the shooter has not been arrested. Now, federal authorities are getting involved in this racially charged case.

And cruise liner rams into a container ship, punching holes in both vessels and terrifying passengers.

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, you're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Jewish communities in the United States and around the world are tightening security right now with New York City police taking extra precautions, this just hours after a deadly shooting at a Jewish school in Southern France. Police say a teacher and three children were gunned down by a man on a motorcycle. One of the victims was just three years old.

The president of the France says it's obvious the attack was anti- Semitic. Our Mary Snow is standing by in New York with details of a possible threat in New York, but first, let's go to our senior international correspondent, Jim Bittermann, in France.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a day of a lot of hand wringing and anxiety in many parts of France, a day in which President Sarkozy interrupted his campaigning, fly down to Toulouse as to the socialist party candidate, Francois Hollande. It all began with a drama that started unfolding at the beginning of classes just after eight o'clock this morning in Toulouse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BITTERMANN (voice-over): It was a nightmare that touched every parent, out of nowhere, a gunman appeared in the courtyard of the Jewish school just as students were arriving for morning classes. According to witnesses, he got of a motor bike, took a few steps past the front gate and began firing randomly with two different weapons. Four people were killed instantly, three children and an adult. And one other first was critically injured.

The gunman then just as deliberately head back on to his motorbike and drove off. French President Sarkozy immediately interrupted his campaigning for re-election to visit the scene. The shootings, he said, were a national tragedy.

PRES. NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRANCE (through translator): This is a tragedy across all the communities. I've asked the minister of education to devote to one minute of silence in all the schools in memory of these martyred children. The minister of the interior will remain here in Toulouse.

BITTERMANN: Sarkozy like other authorities here quickly made a connection between the school attack and two other attacks in the Toulouse area which left three soldiers dead and the fourth in critical condition. In all three incidents, the gunman arrived on a motor bike and appeared to shoot random but before riding off.

And police sources have now confirmed that the same gun was used in all three killings. A number of political figures described the attacks as anti-Semitic or a racist since all of the victims are of either North African or Jewish origin. And Toulouse prosecutor's office has opened a terrorism investigation into the crimes. Faced with an apparent serial killer on the loose, Toulouse residents are understandably nervous.

ALEXIS, STUDENT (through translator): It's a horror. We are all heart sick, and we're hoping the police work the find the killer so that he can be judged for terrorism and for the crimes he committed. To kill children like this is unimaginable, and the whole community is affected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We heard the shots in the courtyard, and all of us were very scared. They called the police and firemen, and we were all shocked.

BITTERMANN: President Sarkozy said because of the apparently racist nature of the attacks, security will be stepped up at Jewish and Islamic sites across the country. And he said, he'll be suspending his campaigning for re-election until at least Wednesday.


BITTERMANN (on-camera): And in addition to that re-enforced security, the French will wake up to tomorrow morning, there will also be a minute of silence in schools across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Bittermann in Paris for us. Let's go to New York right now, and new fears that Jewish-Americans may be in danger after the bloodshed in France. Our Mary Snow is in the synagogue in the upper east side of Manhattan. Mary, what's going on there?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the NYPD is saying it has no information on any specific threat, because, though, of the significant Jewish population In New York City. The police commissioner says he felt it was necessary to increase police security and a police presence at synagogues like the one behind me, Central Synagogue and Jewish schools, also the Israeli mission.

The police commissioner says his main concern is of a copycat attack, and he says what will now happen or has been happening since this morning, more uniformed police officers have been sent to Jewish institutions around the city. He says at least 50 locations are seeing beefed up security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How are folks responding? I know you've had a chance to speak to some of the people over there at the Central Synagogue in New York.

SNOW: You know, there's certainly concern at some institutions. Yeshiva University, for one, just said that it sent out an e-mail to its 7,000 students telling them about the increase security, but also telling students to be on the look out for any suspicious behavior, reminding they've always (inaudible).

At the Central Synagogue behind me, there is a nursery school here. We talked to one of the teachers who says, yes, she was aware of the attacks, but she says she feels very protected here.


ABBY MORRIS, CENTRAL SYNAGOGUE TEACHER: It doesn't take away from the amount of safety I feel at my job or, you know, working at Central Synagogue. So, you feel for these people. You know, you would never want that to happen to anybody. But it doesn't -- I still feel very safe and very protected.


SNOW: And this kind of beefed off security in New York after an international incident is not uncommon. The NYPD has increased security before when there've been attacks overseas, the Mumbai terrorist attacks, also the bombings in London and in Madrid on the train (INAUDIBLE) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York for us. Thanks very much.

We're also learning today a little bit more about the U.S. soldier accused of a brutal massacre of civilians in Afghanistan. The Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is meeting with his defense lawyer for the first time since the slaughter a week ago. CNNs Ted Rowlands is over at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas where Bales has been in custody for the last few days. What's the latest there, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we do understand that he has met with his attorney, John Henry Browne, for most of the day, and according to a spokesperson at Ft. Leavenworth, Browne will be in town through Wednesday, presumably, continuing his meetings with his client. Now, Bales is being held in a single cell. Most people think of Ft. Leavenworth, you think of the maximum security installation. Well, he's actually in a different building for pre- trial prisoners.

These are folks who haven't gone through the system yet, and it's only a medium security facility. But according to a prison spokesperson that we talked to -- spokesperson we talked, they're putting him there because despite the serious charges, he is innocent until proven guilty. So, they're treating him like any other soldier in trouble.


REBECCA STEED, FORT LEAVENWORTH SPOKESWOMAN: He is in pre-trial confinement and the Joint Regional Correction Facility can house pre- trial service members as well as post-trial inmates up to -- who are sentence up to five years. They are separated.

You have pre-trial who are separated from the post-trial population, and that is because pre-trial service members are innocent until proven guilty, and therefore, we don't want the populations mixed together to keep that level of innocence for the pre-trial population.


ROWLANDS: Meanwhile, back in Washington State a few hours ago, moving vans were outside of Bales' home. We talked to the moving company, they say they are moving the family's belongings to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That is where Bales' wife and children have been taken for safety reasons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ted, we're also learning new information about some of the financial trouble he, apparently, was in, in his home state of Ohio. What can you tell us?

ROWLANDS: Yes. Ohio and Washington, he had a condo that went into foreclosure in Washington. He didn't pay the mortgage there, but we're just learning some more details out of Ohio where he was a financial analyst before he joined the army. This was just before September 11. The company that he was involved in was accused of bilking a couple in Ohio out of $1.5 million, and that company, according to this couple, has never paid back in restitution.

And an arbitration report in Ohio did name Bales, specifically, and said that he engaged in fraud. Now, of course, John Henry Browne points out somebody engaging in fraud or having financial difficulties has absolutely nothing to do with somebody who goes and kills 16 innocent people, including 11 members of one family and nine children. The answer to that question, what happened, we still don't have.

BLITZER: Finally, Ted, the CNN has learned more about Bales from his own friends over the years. Tell our viewers what we're learning. ROWLANDS: Yes. We talked to a gentleman that grew up basically with Bales in his life. He had a handicapped son, and he said that Bales from the time that he was in high school, took care of his son and brought him in with the group. He said this is a person that he absolutely cannot fathom by any stretch of the imagination being involved in this.

He said his heart absolutely broke when he learned the name of the soldier that was accused of this shooting rampage in Afghanistan and says that it just doesn't simply add up with the Robert Bales he knew.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands on the scene for us. Thanks very, very much. I suspect that we'll be learning a lot more about this individual.

Meanwhile, cries for justice in the killing of an unarmed teenager after 911 calls add to doubts that the shooting was in self- defense.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you think he's yelling help?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. What is your name?


BLITZER: Stand by for new information about the investigation and why there hasn't been an arrest.

Also, Rick Santorum is explaining his concern that prenatal testing can be a gateway to abortion. Will that help him or hurt him in tomorrow's Illinois primary?

And a passenger says he was horrified by what he calls a major collision aboard a cruise ship. Stand by.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the gas price saga is kind of like the movie "Ground Hog Day." We have been here before many times. President Obama says gas prices make things harder. Mitt Romney says Obama wants higher gas prices. When gas prices get to a certain level, it becomes the president's fault. It's like Murphy's Law. It happens over and over again.

The president's response doesn't matter who the president is, they all do the same thing. First they name a commission to look into speculation, then they call for a release of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. That's not what that oil is meant for to play presidential politics in an election year, and then, they threaten to remove the subsidies that are enjoyed by the big oil companies. The subsidies are never touched. Sometimes, some oils released from the strategic reserves, and sometimes, that results in a temporary declined in gas prices, small and temporary.

The commissions workings into speculation don't do anything. They discover speculations, super sleuths that they are, but we already knew that. It's like the government commissions to reduce the deficit or cut spending, meaningless. And if you think the government's going to get aggressive cutting oil company subsidies in an election year, well, you're dreaming. You know how much money these outfits donate so their subsidies are left alone?

It's all a three card money game designed to lure the sucker citizens, that would be you and me, into thinking the government really cares and is actually doing something meaningful. Nothing could be further from the truth. We'll pay the higher prices until the market decides they're high enough, and they turn around and come down. That's how markets work as opposed to the government which doesn't.

Here's the question, what's the real answer to rising gas prices? Go to, post comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. It's a charade, I think, would be the operative word.

BLITZER: I think a lot of people agree with you, Jack. There's no doubt about that. Thank you.

Rick Santorum is making a final big push before tomorrow's Illinois primary. He's firing back admit Romney's charge that he's an economic light weight. Both Republican presidential candidates are campaigning in Illinois today.

And a new AIG poll shows Romney is 14 points ahead in Illinois as of right now. Santorum is trying to close the gap by invoking Ronald Reagan's name and by discussing some of his most controversial views. Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us now from Moline, Illinois. What's going on there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rick Santorum just wrapping up an event here in Moline. He says a win in Illinois would profoundly change the race. However, he did come in here running considerably behind Mitt Romney, and now, he is sharpening his attacks on the frontrunner.


JOHNS (voice-over): He was visiting the birth place of the late President Ronald Reagan, but Santorum's earlier prediction that the Illinois primary could be his watershed moment was now starting to look like a fantasy.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that if we can win here in Illinois, that will pierce the bubble of inevitability of Mitt Romney, and we will get a conservative nominee, and I believe I'll be that nominee. JOHNS: Predictions aside, depending on how you see it, Santorum was either toughening up the frontrunner or breaking him down with the very kind of attack he's likely to see should he get the nomination.

SANTORUM: I heard Governor Romney here call me an economic lightweight, because I wasn't a Wall Street financier like he was. Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as the president of the United States? Do you think that's the kind of experience we need, someone who's going to take and look after as he did his friends on Wall Street and bail them out at the expense of Main Street America?

JOHNS: So much of this now is about the country's finances, but Santorum says there is more to this race.

SANTORUM: The issue in this race is not the economy.

JOHNS: He's not shied away completely from the social issues. On the radio, he took a question about his position on prenatal testing as the gateway to abortion.

SANTORUM: Prenatal testing is important, and you know, I think people have an opportunity the right to know that. I think there are some prenatal tests that, again, I personally wouldn't use because I think they're invasive, and they can cause miscarriages. Look, I'm the father of a disabled child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm the aunt of one.

SANTORUM: Yes, as well, and I know that (INAUDIBLE) are used primarily to discover, you know, things that are wrong with the child, and then, abortions are encouraged thereafter. I mean, that is simply a fact. And, you know, we see 90 percent of downs syndrome children are aborted in this country. That, to me, is just an absolutely devastating statistic.

JOHNS: Another question for the Santorum campaign is how receptive voters here will given the reputation some say preference for moderate Republicans politicians and a state that is known as the land of Lincoln.

RON BONJEAN, GOP STRATEGIST: In a state like Illinois, which is much more moderate than the south, you really have to go in and talk to what people care about, which is the economy, high gasoline prices, and high unemployment and the solutions to those problems.


JOHNS (on-camera): The Romney and Santorum people now starting to really go head-to-head over what they believe will be the central issue when come time for the fall elections in the fall campaign. The Romney people say they believe it's going to be the economy, but the Santorum people say they think it's going to be the president's healthcare legislation, and that's going to heat up more as the week -- next week comes, Wolf, when the Supreme Court starts three days of hearings on the president's signature piece of legislation. BLITZER: Yes. We'll be covering every one of those days. Thanks very, very much. Lots at stake coming up at the Supreme Court.

New 911 calls from neighbors desperately crying for help.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's probably going to be best if you stay inside your home for the time being, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. I can't believe somebody's killed. He was saying help, why didn't someone come out and help him?


BLITZER: This is the story that's sparked outrage across the United States. Now, the justice department right here in Washington might be getting involved.

And a mysterious disease is causing children to randomly walk off into the wilderness. We'll explain what's going on.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including a tough question for the United States Supreme Court. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is an interesting one. If a child is conceived after the father has died, should he or she be considered a survivor? The justices are trying to answer that question and determine whether twins conceive by in-vitro fertilization after their father's death are eligible for Social Security benefits. The Obama administration says no. A decision by the court will likely come in June.

Doctors worldwide are rushing to treat a rare disease afflicting children in Northern Uganda. More than 23,000 children suffer from the mysterious nodding disease, which causes severe epilepsy-like seizures and debilitating confusion. While there's no cure, there are clues that it may be related to a parasite or vitamin deficiency.

Tax Masters is filing for bankruptcy, the company which advertises it can help you with your tax problems owes creditors between $1 million and $10 million, yet, its assets total, 50,000 or less. Two states are suing the company for deceptive practices, including allegedly collecting non-refundable fees from customers but providing little or no help.

And apparently, Senator Scott Brown has no problem making fun of his fellow Republicans. Appearing at the annual St. Patrick's Day political roast in Boston, the Massachusetts senator let loose on the GOP candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. SCOTT BROWN, (R) MASSACHUSETTS: I see that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum now have secret service with them on the campaign trail. And in Santorum's case, I think it's the first time he's actually ever used protection.



SYLVESTER: Brown also joked that Ron Paul is from another planet and said that when his truck broke down, Mitt Romney gave him one of his Cadillacs. So, Scott Brown showing off his humor at side, Wolf.

BLITZER: he's going to be on "Piers Morgan Show" tonight. I'm looking forward to that interview. Scott Brown, he's got a tough re- election campaign. We'll see how he does. Thanks very, very much.

She's one of the most famous women in the world, but chances are you haven't heard her speak until now. Stand by to hear the duchess of Cambridge. She's going solo.

Plus, a luxury cruise liner deep in the fog hits another ship. We have some amazing pictures. The story of this collision at sea. That's coming up as well.

And federal authorities are looking at the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in Florida after calling 911 -- after chilling 911 calls are released.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These (EXPLETIVE DELETED) holes, they always get away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you following him?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We don't need you to do that.



BLITZER: Friends and family of a Florida teenager are demanding justice after he was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Federal authorities now are getting involved in this racially charged case. The release of chilling 911 calls have raised a lot of questions about the shooter's claim that he acted in self-defense.

CNN's David Mattingly has been following the story for us. He's joining us now. David, what's the latest?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, listen very closely to these 911 tapes because a lot is riding on determining exactly who we hear yelling for help. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Listen as calls to 911 tell the story of a tragedy in the making.


MATTINGLY: That's the voice of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, apparently frustrated by recent break-ins. He gives the dispatcher his poor first impression of Trayvon Martin walking alone and acting strangely.

ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he is up to no good or he's on drugs or something.

MATTINGLY: Less than a minute later, Martin is running away, Zimmerman gets out of his car.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Are you following us?


UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK, we don't need you to do that.


MATTINGLY: But instead, Zimmerman and Martin end up fighting. And a neighbor calls 911.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: 911, do you need police, fire or medical?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe both. I'm not sure. There's just someone screaming outside.

MATTINGLY: In the background, listen for the sound of a fight and a panicked voice yelling for help, followed by a gunshot.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: And is it a male or a female?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like a male?

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: And you don't know why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know why, I think they're yelling help, but I don't know. Send someone quick, please. God.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: So you think he's yelling help?


UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: All right, what is your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: You just heard gunshots?




MATTINGLY: The cries for help stop, but whose voice was it? The answer could make the difference between a case of self-defense or a deadly crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's that crying?

CROWD: Trayvon's crying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's that crying?

CROWD: Trayvon's crying.

MATTINGLY: Monday morning cries of justice for Trayvon Martin continue. Demonstrations outside the Seminole County Courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could so easily have just been any one of us. So I feel like the reason y'all are out here is because you all were affected the same way I was affected.


MATTINGLY: The Justice Department is watching this case, but they tell us they are not involved in the investigation. They have made contact with the authorities in Sanford, Florida, but at this time, Sanford Police say they welcome any kind of federal scrutiny in this case, they are confident they have handled themselves correctly in this investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so far no one has been arrested, right?

MATTINGLY: No one has been arrested. The problem, they say, is finding enough evidence to have probable cause that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense and they say they just don't have that here.

BLITZER: All right. David, thanks very much.

I want to dig in a little bit deeper into this case with our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Explain the law in Florida in a case like this.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think the clearest way to do it is to talk about the law in other states. In most other states there's what's called a duty to retreat. Duty to retreat. You have to step back in a threatening situation. In 2005, Florida changed the law. And they have what's called the stand your ground defense, which means if you reasonably feel threatened, you can use deadly force in response. And as a result, there have been several cases where people have shot unarmed people and not been prosecuted because of this stand your ground law. It gives a lot of -- it gives self-defense a much broader interpretation than in most other states.

BLITZER: As you know, there are now really strong calls on the Justice Department in Washington to get directly involved and investigate, bring the FBI in, how does that unfold? What's going on?

TOOBIN: Well, what would -- if the FBI were to get involved, they would have to investigate or if they want to prosecute, they would have to find that Zimmerman, the shooter, shot this young man because he was black, that it was a civil rights crime. You don't need that sort of intent if it's just a state offense.

That's hard to do to find that sort of motive. Especially in a situation here where at least at this point, we don't have any witnesses to what actually went on. There's an audiotape, there are suggestions of what happened, but in terms of who approached who first, who is -- the only witness at this point is Zimmerman himself and obviously he's not going to talk to the authority.

BLITZER: And the notion, the stories out there have suggested that the young teenager had gone to the store to get some, like, Skittles, maybe a soft drink, a bottle in his hand, is that enough to justify potentially the -- that this guy may have felt threatened by this?

TOOBIN: Again, it's really hard to say in the abstract. You need more information. But it is true, under Florida law, that unarmed people have found to be threatening to armed people who have then shot them and not been prosecuted. And this is an unusual law that really gives a broad definition of self-defense, so it is not out of the question, that even if, as it appears clear, this young man was not armed, it could be found legitimately to be self-defense under Florida law, but, you know, it's important to do a lot more investigation, find eyewitnesses, the -- you know, anything possible that can corroborate or not Zimmerman's story.

BLITZER: Well, the 911 dispatcher clearly says, should I follow him, and the 911 dispatcher says, do not do that. But apparently Zimmerman did follow, continue to follow this teenager. What if anything does that mean legally as far as Zimmerman is concerned?

TOOBIN: Well, it's certainly not good for Zimmerman. It -- it doesn't help his case. But it doesn't completely rule out a stand your ground defense either because it depends what happened at that point. Zimmerman may claim that this young man made an aggressive move towards him, again we don't know the fact there. Certainly that's a bad fact for Zimmerman, the fact that the 91 operator said, leave him alone.

But under Florida law, that's not the end of the story, he could still be threatened if the right circumstances are -- you know, have -- took place. BLITZER: It's obviously a complicated situation, we'll see what happens. A lot, a lot of outrage, though, across the country on this story.

Jeffrey, thanks very much.

Stay with CNN, by the way, for a new interview with the father of the teenager killed in Florida. For our North America viewers, he'll be a guest on "JOHN KING, USA." That comes up at the top of the hour.

A passenger witnessed the collision between the cruise ship he was on and another huge vessel. You're going to hear what happened, stand by.

Plus, powerful winds send a hot air balloon right into a storm. We're going to tell you how the pilot risked his life to save the lives of five others.

And you've definitely seen her pose for cameras. Now you'll hear her in her very first speech. How did the Duchess of Cambridge do? Stand by for that.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including the fight in Syria, moving to the capital of Damascus.

Lisa, what's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, intense fighting, it is under way in Damascus. An opposition group says at least 18 security members are injured from clashes with rebels. It is the worst violence in the Syrian capital since the start of the uprising. And the closest fighting to a major center of operations for President Bashar al-Assad. An opposition group says 30 people died across Syria today.

And it was a different kind of March Madness that broke out in Athens. A match between Greece's two soccer teams had to be cut short because fans were throwing Molotov cocktails. Authorities say fans started provoking police hours before the game, sparking violent clashes that left 20 officers wounded. Crews are now working to repair damage to the stadium.

And the body of a missing balloonist in Georgia has been found. Sixty-three-year-old Avery Stano was flying his hot air balloon with five sky divers when strong winds carried him into a storm three days ago. All five skydivers jumped early and have been found alive. Stano lost radio contact shortly before crashing but authorities say he saved the lives of those skydivers.

And two former queens of daytime talk are parting ways, the Oprah Winfrey Network, also known as OWN, is canceling Rosie O'Donnell's evening talk show. The network launched the "Rosie" show less than a year ago but it never got the big ratings Oprah had hoped for even after multiple format changes.

So we'll have to see, Wolf, what goes in that time slot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll catch and see. Thanks very much for that.

Public appearances are all part of the job when you're a royal, but while the Duchess of Cambridge is no stranger to cameras, she's shied away from actually speaking in public, that is until now.

CNN royal correspondent Max Foster reports.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The duchess arrived in a $200 dress last worn in public by her mother, perhaps a gesture of frugality in an era of austerity. There was also a link here to her mother-in-law, as Diana also visited this hospice network. Inside the duchess met young children with long-term illnesses, a dream come true for many of them and a moment of respite from their daily struggle.

The Tree House Hospice in Ipswich is one of only four charities that Catherine has agreed to be patron of. And then a big test for any young royal. Her first speech in public. People are used to seeing the duchess, but not hearing her. Some close by said she looked very nervous. But she stuck to the task.

CATHERINE, DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE: I'm really sorry that William can't be here today. He would love it here. A view of his that I share is that through team work so much can be achieved. What you have all achieved here is extraordinary. You as a community have built the tree house. A group of people who have made every effort to support and help each other.

FOSTER: It wasn't a long speech, and she didn't falter. Make use of long pauses to pace herself in front of a live TV audience of millions. And then another rite of passage, the tree planting, and another engagement carried out flawlessly.

(On camera): Having a flurry of public appearances by the duchess recently, but this is probably the last we're going to have of her in a while, in public at least. Prince William is heading home from the Falklands where he's been serving in the military soon, and they'll be no doubt retiring home to spend some time together.

Max Foster, CNN, Ipswich, Eastern England.


BLITZER: One minute passengers were enjoying themselves on a luxury cruise, the next, they were thrown off their feet when their ship ran into another ship. How could this have happened?

And a young girl's role and a new jump forward for women in sports.


BLITZER: New alarm bells today about safety on board cruise ships and here's why. We're now learning that a luxury cruise liner traveling through foggy waters rammed into another ship off Vietnam. The cruise line is downplaying the incident, re-created in this animation we're showing you, but a passenger is telling a far more disturbing story, calling the collision horrifying.

Our Brian Todd has been looking into the story for us. Brian is here.

What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the passenger we spoke with says he cannot get this image out of his mind, says he was in the observation lounge of this cruise ship looking through the fog. All of a sudden he says a container ship was right in its path just a few seconds from impact.


TODD (voice-over): You're looking at another cruise ship coming off a collision. The 610-foot, 28,000 tons Silver Shadow, scrapes along its left bow after witnesses say it struck a container ship broad side in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. It happened on Friday, with pictures, video, eyewitness accounts just emerging.

Passenger Andrew Lock who says he was in the observation lounge captured some of these images and tells CNN heavy fog had reduced visibility Ha Long Bay to almost zero. He says the fog horn in the back of the ship had been going off constantly. Then --

ANDREW LOCK, PASSENGER ON SILVER SHADOW: There was a certain point in time where the fog horn at the front of the ship suddenly sounded and it was much, much louder, and it caused us to look up, and in fact we looked up straight out of the window and through the fog, we -- to our horror, we saw this Vietnamese container ship appear sideways on and it was as if our ship was perfectly lined up to hit it in the side.

So it was a -- it was a horrifying moment and in less than about five seconds after the ship appeared, we did in fact collide right in the side of it very dramatically. The Vietnamese ship rolled over at a 90-degree angle, we thought it was going to capsize. It then righted itself, and with the forward momentum of our ship it pushed the Vietnamese ship around so that it actually came down the side, the length of our ship, scraping along the side as it went.

TODD (on camera): Lock says this picture he took shows the damage to the container ship. It looks like a major chunk of the bridge was taken off. Although there were no injuries reported on the cruise ship, Lock says he saw people lying on the deck of the container ship who appeared to him to be injured while the two vessels were scraping each other.

(Voice-over): But it's not clear if there were injuries on the container ship. We've not yet learned who owns that vessel.

Contacted by CNN, Silver Sea Cruises, Italian owner of the Silver Shadow, issued a statement acknowledging contact with the container ship, calling the incident minor. And Silver Shadow incurred limited minor dents and guests' safety was never compromised. The ship was fully operational and continued on its course to Ha Long Bay where all shore tours operated normally.

After it docked, this video was taken, then posted on YouTube by someone who says he was a passenger. It's similar to images taken by Andrew Lock, but CNN has not been able to verify its contents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our cabins are probably 20 feet that way. So we were slipping right there when that hit. So, yes, that sucks.


TODD: A key question now is with visibility so poor, was the Silver Shadow operating any radar at the time of the collision. One expert tells us radar and other collision avoidance systems are found on most modern cruise ships and required on most. The Silver Shadow was built in 2000 and modified last year.

Our calls and e-mail to Silver Sea Cruises on that question of radar have not been returned but the cruise line says it's conducting a full investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, the passengers, how did they say the crew responded to all of this?

TODD: Well, the passenger we talked to, Lock, says they were calm, the crew was calm and got people to their muster stations relatively quickly. But he says communication from the top brass of the ship was very poor. Not enough information and they didn't get it fast enough. And again we called and e-mailed the cruise line to get an answer to that or response to that characterization of what went on we've not heard back yet.

BLITZER: Fortunately everybody on the cruise ship was OK. It's docked and they're off.

OK, thanks very much for that, Brian.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is what's the real answer to these rising gasoline prices they just keep going higher?

Ken in New Jersey writes, "Greed and speculation. Obama needs to stop talking and nationalize the oil refineries. If he can order assassinations of Americans, jail Americans without trial, bomb countries without congressional approval, then he can also do something about the upcoming $5 a gallon gasoline."

Patriot writes, "Since there was no winter and fuel oil sales were in the dumpster, greed took over and the big oil companies screwed us again. Making up their lost revenue by increasing gasoline prices."

Larry in Texas says, "There are few things that can be done. Another major recession, quit driving, get a bike or better yet walk. We could also have the army invade the oil companies and take them over. Other than that, greed is legal and the free market wins, it's the American way."

Pete in Florida writes, "The real answer is suck it up, folks, there are many ways car drivers can cut their usage, improve their own personal fuel economy and thus spend less on gas. Get used to it, people, learn how to help yourself because long-term it's only going to get worse. A lot worse."

Tom in Texas writes, "I don't believe there is an answer to higher gas prices. It's like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. We're just catching up now to the rest of the world realizing the cost."

Charlie in New Mexico says, "For once you and I are in agreement to answer your question. I used the car as little as possible, do all my shopping, et cetera, in one trip. The less gasoline I use, the better I'm able to afford to eat this month."

Mr. D writes, "Apparently the groundhog saw its shadow and we're in for many more weeks of high gas prices. Blocking the sun from the groundhog never seems to work for Congress along with most everything else."

If you want to read more about the subject, go to my blog, Or through our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: You got it.

BLITZER: We're about to take all of our viewers on quite a ride down hill, and we'll have a fourth grader to thank for it.


BLITZER: A 10-year-old girl documents her first ski jump and now over 600,000 people have seen her brave plunge down the slope.

Here's CNN Jeanne Moss.


JEANNE MOSS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is how ski jumping looks when the big girls do it. To a little girl it looks like this. ZIA TERRY, FOURTH GRADER: I will be fine.


TERRY: I will do it.

MOSS: Her name is Zia, and she is a fourth grade in Park City, Utah.

TERRY: Here goes something, I guess.

MOSS: But it's not going yet.

TERRY: I can do this. I am going to -- I'm going to jump.


TERRY: My ski is slipping off.

MOSS: Zia's mom, Jennifer Terry, posted the helmet cam video on YouTube.

(On camera): Now she's not up there alone. You can hear an instructor chiming in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Use your maverick. Have no snowplows. OK?

TERRY: No snowplows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep it straight and you'll be fine.


MOSS: She's standing atop the 40-meter jump, having already mastered the 20.

TERRY: Just longer, just a bigger 20, that's all.


TERRY: It's a bigger 20.

MOSS (voice-over): But even a self-described tomboy is entitled to a last-minute whimper.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's fine. You'll do fine.

TERRY: OK. Go. Whoa. Yes.

MOSS: This viral video reminded America's most accomplished female ski jumper of herself.

(On camera): You mean you grew up on that very jump?

LINDSEY VAN, PROFESSIONAL SKI JUMPER: Yes. I grew up on that jump, and I did that same thing, but 20 years ago. Yes, it seemed huge to me then.

MOSS (voice-over): Now Lindsey Van skis off jumps more than four times that size. When she was a kid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The goal is to make the Olympic team for girls.

MOSS: Only women weren't allowed to ski jump in the Olympics. For years opponents argued there weren't enough female ski jumpers and that it wasn't good for their reproductive health, a myth became a joke with the uterus fallout?

(On camera): Your uterus is OK, right?

VAN: My uterus is perfect. Yes.

MOSS (voice-over): Just last year women finally got it the green light to ski-jump at the 2014 Olympics, and now Zia is showing girls how to face the fear.

TERRY: Just the suspense at the top at the first time freaks me out. That's the only thing, it's so fun.

MOSS: Though even on the beginner's 40 meter jump, that last step --

TERRY: Here goes something.

MOSS: Doozy.

Jeanne Moss, CNN.

TERRY: Sixty seems like nothing now.

MOSS: New York.


BLITZER: Got to give that little girl a lot of credit. She is very, very brave. Good work.

Thanks very much for joining us. I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.