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Tragedy in Kansas City; Pope Now on Twitter; Third Pacific Storm Soaking West Coast; U.S. Warns Syria Over Use of Chemical Weapons

Aired December 3, 2012 - 06:30   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. It's 30 minutes after the hour. I'm Alina Cho.

SAMBOLIN: So it is the second win of the season for the Kansas City Chiefs, but it is a hard victory to celebrate. They beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21.

But it came just one day after police say Chief linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, shooting her multiple times. Then police say belcher drove to the team's practice facility where he killed himself in front of coaches and the general manager. The couple leaves behind their 3-month-old daughter Zoe. There are pictures of her there.

So I want to bring in Tiki Barber. He played nine seasons in the NFL as a running back with the New York Giants.

I've got to tell you -- I'm sure you're shocked by this. And I think we're all shocked that they actually were able to play the game. Go ahead and play the game just one day later.

So I want to play what Chiefs -- Kansas City Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster said about the team's decision to play on Sunday, just a day after that murder/suicide.


DEXTER MCCLUSTER, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Definitely glad we played the game today. You know this is a game we love. We're all brothers. We're all in it together. And why not go out there and do something that we love to do?


SAMBOLIN: You have a lot of experience here. How do you make a decision like that?

TIKI BARBER, FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK: It's interesting. I was on the New York Giants on September 11th. And when faced with a very similar decision, obviously the loss of life was much greater and we decided not to play because there was so much tragedy.

But I can understand why the Kansas City Chiefs wanted to get back to a sense of normalcy and try to put this behind them as quickly as possible, because it's such an emotional point in their season. They're playing so poorly for the last 10 weeks. They have this unimaginable tragedy, and they only thing that they can do is try to get back to playing football so that they can feel normal. You don't want to actually think about this.

And I think this next week is going to be most important for this Kansas City Chiefs team. I know the NFL and the NFLPA are doing a lot with grief counseling. Most really just having them talk about this. Instead of letting it fester in their minds and try to explain it because you can't explain it.


CHO: You know, Tiki, as you may have heard this morning, including Jovan Belcher, at least six current or former NFL players have committed suicide just in the past couple of years. Some have been speculating that it might have something to do with undiagnosed concussion injuries.

What do you make of that?

BARBER: Well, it may. There's a word that's seared into my head because I went to the concussion hearings on Capitol Hill, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a deterioration of some of your brain tissue, which ultimately has an effect on your reason and your impulse control.

But there are so many things which exist outside of that issue, the concussion issue, that could have led to this. Mental illness that may have been undiagnosed or just past through on his college and high school years. There could have been stresses at home that we didn't know about.

And so, it's hard to speculate and I wouldn't speculate. It would be a disservice to his girlfriend.

CHO: Sure.

BARBER: But at the same time, you never know how bad concussion syndromes can play on people. We've seen it most recently with Junior Seau a few months ago and, obviously, over the history of the sport because it's so violent, has such a devastating toll on your body physically and mentally.

CHO: Right.

SAMBOLIN: I don't want to forget the victim here, because, you know, there's a woman that's dead this morning and there was a moment of silence, it was had for victims of domestic violence.

BARBER: Yes. SAMBOLIN: Now, we don't know exactly what happened here, but do you -- have you heard anything about some issues of domestic violence here in the past. We do know, there are reports that say they fought a lot. But outside of that.

BARBER: Well, everybody, every family, every relationship has bad moments, they fight. They get into arguments. But it doesn't mean you're going to go out and do something as irrational as kill your significant other and then kill yourself. I think what you really have to look at is this is a microcosm of society gets smashed into immediacy because it's the NFL, because it is such great attention, but I don't think it's any different than some explainable tragic event that happened outside of the game of football.

But what I think is really great for athletes, it points out that we're human. We make the same mistakes that everybody else in the world, and in communities make, and oftentimes, we're held to this standard that we shouldn't because we're invincible, that we have this mental and emotional fortitude and can handle all of these things.

That's why you supposedly have success. But in reality, there are forces at work inside of you that no one can explain -- and oftentimes most people don't see.

CHO: But does that make it harder I mean this sort of tough guy culture?

BARBER: Well, it does.


BARBER: It does, because to be weak is the antithesis of what it takes to be an athlete. You have to be strong. You have to be able to deal with adversity and sometimes you need help to do that.

SAMBOLIN: Tiki, I want to play something about the culture in the NFL and I want you to respond to it.


DERRICK JOHNSON, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: We need to talk to each other more as men, not as football players, I mean in life, because generally men don't really show their feelings. You know, they don't talk about what's going on. They don't cry. They don't show emotion. I mean, to -- to have an act go on like this yesterday, it's one of those things that could have been avoided.

But as a teammate, you know, we have to do more about not getting in people's business but I mean just, you know, making sure that, you know, your teammate is OK.


SAMBOLI: I just asked, it could have been avoided.

BARBER: Yes, it could, because if you're -- as a teammate you're talking to him, you know him intimately, you know why he's fighting with his girlfriend or you think he's going to do something irrational like this, he went and got a gun or something of that nature.

You can intervene. You can cut it off at the pass. I think what happens in sports is you don't talk on that level. You talk about Xes and Os and how much fun we had at the party last night, but you don't talk about what it takes to be a father or a man or a person or an individual, and I think we need more examples of guys doing that.

And one famously that has is Brandon Marshall who is a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears who had a lot of struggles on and off the field early in his career, affected his career, but he went and got help. He has borderline personality disorder, and since he's been treated he has been counseling. His life has turned around and as a result, his play on the field has been stellar.

We need to hold up that example, as opposed to guys who are just tough and keep it all in and ultimately have these demons that don't get addressed.

SAMBOLIN: I wonder if the NFL will play a role in that, as well.

BARBER: I would hope so. I would hope so.

SAMBOLIN: I hope. All right. Tiki Barber, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your perspective.

BARBER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirty-six minutes past the hour.

A search is under way for a young cancer patient whose life is now in danger. Police say the girl's mother snuck her out of phoenix children's hospital. This was last Wednesday. The 11-year-old identified only as Emily is battling leukemia. She still has a catheter in her heart from a recent surgery to amputate her arm. The doctors say Emily could die within days if her heart becomes infected.

CHO: Major changes are coming to the manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health disorders. Over the weekend, the American Psychiatric Association voted to amend the DSM, that's the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. For example, a child with Asperger's Syndrome will instead be told they have autism spectrum disorder. And binge eating and hoarding have also been added to the manual.

SAMBOLIN: NASA officials will discuss the latest developments involving the Mars rover Curiosity today. Curiosity is searching for organic compounds -- carbon containing chemicals which are the building blocks for life. Last week, the director of the Mars jet propulsion laboratory suggested the Curiosity may have found simple organic molecules.

CHO: A woman from Nepal who supports children so they don't have to live behind bars with their imprisoned parents is CNN's 2012 hero of the year.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The 2012 CNN Hero of the Year from Kathmandu is Pushpa Basnet.


PUSHPA BASNET, CNN'S 2010 HERO OF THE YEAR: This is for my students, and this is for back to my country Nepal. Thank you so much for everyone who voted for me and who believed in my dream. Thank you.


CHO: How cute is she? Twenty-nine-year-old Pushpa Basnet received her award last night at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, during "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute".

Since 2005, listen to this, she has helped more than 140 children. Basnet will now receive $250,000 to continue her work, and another $50,000 bonus for being named one of CNN's top ten heroes of the year.

SAMBOLIN: Happy, happy faces there.

President Obama recognizing entertainers at the Kennedy Center Honors. This is last night. This year's honorees include Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman, "Late Night" host David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova, blues guitarist Buddy Guy and the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin and during the reception for the event Mitt Romney supporter Kid Rock ran in to President Obama.

Rock said the run in wasn't awkward. In fact he said they were able to laugh off their rivalry.


KID ROCK, MUSICIAN: I saw the president tonight and he said, "I'm still here." So no hard feelings, and he remembered meeting my son when I played his inauguration, which was very special.


SAMBOLIN: Kid Rock also ran in to Wolf Blitzer right before the ceremony. Don't they look good together?

Wolf tweeted this picture #verycool.

CHO: Wolf gets all the great invites.

Meanwhile, Sunday night football action the Dallas Cowboys take on the Eagles. It's really a big night for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo who threw three touchdown passes in the second half as he led the Cowboys to a 38-33 victory. Romo also broke the Cowboys record for career touchdown passes. That's a record previously held by Troy Aikman with 165. Romo now has 168 career TDs.

SAMBOLIN: The pope is joining Twitter. Starting December 12th, Pope Benedict will begin tweeting using the handle @Pontifex. He already has 5,700 followers.

A Vatican official told CNN the Pope will be composing the tweets himself. The pontiff is no stranger to Twitter. The Vatican launched a Twitter news feed 17 months ago and it kicked off with a tweet from Pope Benedict. So that's @Pontifex, in case you're interested.

CHO: Follow him. Your favorite story of the day. It is. I think it's cute.

A flood warning and several flood advisories in place right now for parts of California, and another big storm is coming through the region. We're going to check in with our Rob Marciano, next.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-four minutes past the hour.

Soledad O'Brien joins us with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. Good morning, good morning.

As the clock continues to tick, both sides in Washington, D.C. seem to be digging in over the fiscal cliff. One lawmaker says, looks like we're going over it. We're going to talk this morning to Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Also, Florida Congressman Connie Mack. and California Republican Mary Bono Mack is with us.

Neighbors demonstrating outside a California home today. There are pictures there. They say the home is actually serving as a maternity center for mothers from China who want to give birth to American citizens. We're going to talk to Rosanna Mitchell. She's the spokesperson for those who are protesting. It's called "Not in Chino Hills".

Plus, we'll have a CNN exclusive with antivirus software inventor John McAfee. He's been on the run, of course, since his neighbor was mysteriously murdered in Belize. We'll tell you why Martin Savidge got this interview, and did this interview, getting this interview was almost as strange as the tape itself?

All that and much more ahead this morning on "STARTING POINT." We'll see you right at the top of the hour.

CHO: So curious about that.

O'BRIEN: It's weird, right?


CHO: All right. Soledad, we'll be watching. Thanks.

Thousands of people in Northern California are without power this morning. The third Pacific storm in five days soaking the already saturated San Francisco Bay area this weekend. Trees are down. Hundreds of homes have been damaged by falling limbs and floodwaters.

Our Rob Marciano has been tracking the pacific storms for us. He joins us from the weather center in Atlanta. Rob, good morning. What's the latest?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Stunning video there. The latest is that the rain has stopped for now. But look at these numbers as far as how much rain has come down in the last five days. Nearly a foot and a half in some spots, Petrolia, California 17.5 inches. Parts of Oregon seeing over a foot and Sterling, California also seeing over a foot of rain.

Even San Francisco proper seeing a near record breaking rainfall here. This pulse of energy came through yesterday. We're still seeing some rain from Seattle to Portland. Dry right now in San Fran, but another system about to roll in, and that will come in tomorrow night into -- or tonight into tomorrow night.

Most of this one is going to go up into the Pacific Northwest, and then, eventually, dragging south into San Francisco. And it could have been worse. We did get some colder air that moved in late day and some of the rivers especially in the Sierras, namely Truckee, the Truckee River. We didn't see nearly the flood that we could have seen.

But certainly, Napa, they saw a tremendous amount of flooding. And on the east side of this system, very, very warm and still moist. We've got some fog issues this morning. Quarter mile visibility right now in Chicago. An eighth of a mile in Milwaukee. So, if you're doing some travel there, elsewhere, temperatures will be a good 10, 15, in some cases, 20 degrees above average. Hard to believe it's the first week of December east of the Mississippi. Guys, back up to you.

CHO: Almost took off my coat on the way in. All right. Rob, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It was warm. Forty-six minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date with this morning' top stories.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The grieving Kansas City chiefs come together and pull out a win over the Carolina Panthers. This is a day after police say their teammate, Jovan Belcher (ph), shot and killed his 22- year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins. A few minutes afterwards, he turned the gun on himself just outside the chiefs practice facility right in front of his coaches and the gm. They leave behind a three- month-old daughter, Zoe.

CHO (voice-over): President Obama kicks off December with a busy schedule today. He hosts the prime minister of Bulgaria in the oval office. He then heads to National Defense University to deliver remarks. And tomorrow, the president will meet the governors at the White House to talk about that impending so-called fiscal cliff.

SAMBOLIN: Cory Booker is taking the food stamp challenge this week. The Newark, New Jersey mayor, will only be eating what he can afford to buy with just over $33. That's the average weekly food stamp benefit in his state. Booker tweeting that he will be giving up coffee because he will not be able to afford it.

CHO: I really like that he's doing that, actually.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Yes. I can't wait to see how that turns out.

CHO (on-camera): That's right.

Drawing a red line, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks tough to Syria about using chemical weapons. We will have a live report next.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-one minutes past the hour.

There is growing concern within the Obama administration that the Assad regime in Syria may resort to chemical weapons in its ongoing fight with the rebels. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a stern warning this morning calling the potential use of such weapons a red line for the United States.

CHO: In fact, one administration official told CNN there are, quote, "worrying signs of activity in Syria," just in the past couple of days.

Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, we're so happy to say is with us in studio this morning. Barbara, great to see you. You know, so the White House, apparently, hasn't revealed any new evidence that the Syrian government is planning to deploy these weapons. So, why is everybody so concern about this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What are we talking about here? They're not revealing it publicly, but in fact, there has been intelligence over the last couple of days that the Syrians are moving their chemical weapons inventory around. And it's quite different. In the past, we've seen them moving it around to store it essentially, make it more secure, as fighting's gotten closer.

This time, all of our sources are telling us, it is different. That what they are seeing is movement that could potentially signal the use of chemical weapons. This typically would be matching up the chemical material with --

CHO: Preparing it.

STARR: -- preparing it with a warhead, with artillery, with rockets, all the signs that they could be getting ready for an attack. Very worrying. A lot of international pressure in the last several days now being put on the Syrians not to do this.

SAMBOLIN: So, in fact, if this is true, how does the United States respond to this? STARR: Well, it becomes very difficult. What do you do about this? President Obama's called it a red line. There is no appetite for unilateral U.S. strike against any of these fights. You have to get the coalition in the region on board.

And at the moment, I think it's fair to say they're going to go with extreme diplomatic pressure against the signs that they're seeing that this weapons inventory is being moved around and possibly, possibly being prepared for use. They're not sure yet what the intent really is. But everyone is saying this time, it looks different.

CHO: Meanwhile, a side story but also very important is that they're having trouble controlling the flow of weapons into the country, especially from Iran, because Iraq is not intercepting these planes as they go through its air space.

STARR: Right. I mean, this has been one of the big questions, how is the weapons flow either to the rebels or to the regime to resupply the regime. How is it all getting in there? By all accounts, the Iranians still resupplying the regime at various times, coming in by air cargo and those cargoes are not inspected as they cross international air space.

CHO: Right.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Barbara Starr, thank you so much for coming in today. We really appreciate it.

CHO: Today's "Best Advice" is next


CHO: What a beautiful shot of New York City. Looks foggy. You know, I run in the park yesterday in Central Park and you could --

SAMBOLIN: Did you say you run in the park?


SAMBOLIN: Attagirl.


SAMBOLIN: Attagirl. It's going to be 58 degrees today, Alina. So, another run is in store for you today through Central Park.


CHO: You mean, I can't take a nap?



SAMBOLIN: So, it is 58 minutes past the hour. CHO: And we wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." Today, we hear from ambassador and former presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, about the best advice he's ever received.


JON HUNTSMAN, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Well, best advice, you know, you receive a lot of advice from people, particularly, when you're in the world of politics, some of it is good, some of it is not so good. But I think the best advice I've ever received is the simple admonition that you should follow your heart.

If you stop to think that following your heart is probably the purest, most honest thing to do, because your heart will never let you down or will never lie to you. You know, in your head, you can think through a lot of different options, then you fall back on your heart, and it will always lead you in the right direction.


CHO: Who knew that Jon Huntsman had such a soft side? Great advice in love and in life, right?


CHO: That's EARLY START. Thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm Alina Cho.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.