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Prison Camps; Mall Shooting: What Made Him Kill?; Genetics Of Being Gay; Boehner To GOP Lawmakers: Make No Holiday Plans; Pope Blesses Followers In First Tweet; Family Pleads For Son's Release From Mexican Prison; McAfee Returning To U.S.

Aired December 12, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Ashley, thank you. Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight as we do every night "Keeping Them Honest" searching for facts holding people in governments accountable.

Tonight, we are going to show you a place so horrific it is tough to believe it even exists. It is a modern day concentration camp, part of a network of prisons that house an estimated 150,000 men, women and children.

This concentration camp is in North Korea, a country that is right now publicly celebrating the launch of a missile, a missile that has much of the world's media talking.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After four successful failures, a defiant North Korea shocked the world with this successful launch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With rockets powerful enough to reach our shores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Testing a long range ballistic missile that could someday be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon across the Pacific Ocean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A nuclear war head to the west coast of the United States.


COOPER: North Korean TV showed images like these of people publicly celebrating in North Korea. Tonight, a U.S. official tells CNN there are early signs the Koreans are not in total control of the device.

But on North Korean government-run TV, the news anchor was giddy with excitement. "Keeping Them Honest," Pyongyang reportedly spent more than a billion dollars on their missile program this year alone, money that could feed a lot of hungry starving people in North Korea.

While much of the world is talking about missiles tonight, there is a crime against humanity occurring in that country, a crime that receives very little attention. As I said some 150,000 people are believed to be doing hard labor on the brink of starvation in a network of hidden gulags.

It doesn't house just those who have been accused of political crimes however. These prisons house their entire families, grandparents, parents and children. It's a system called three generations of punishment.

Now imagine if you were accused of a crime and sent to a concentration camp, but to truly punish you, they would also send your parents and your children, three generations of your family simply disappear.

The most notorious of these prison camps is called Camp 14. We know about it because of a man named Shin Dong-hyuk. I originally spoke with him recently for CBS News' "60 Minutes."

He says he not escaped from Camp 14, but he was actually born there. He is believed to be the only person born and raised in the camps who has ever escaped and lived to tell about it.


COOPER: Did anybody ever explain to you why you were in a camp?

SHIN DONG-HYUK (through translation): No, never. Because I was born there, I just thought those people who carried guns were born to carry guns and prisoners like me were born as prisoners.

COOPER: Did you know America existed?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Not at all.

COOPER: Did you know that the world was round?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I had no idea if it was round or square.

COOPER (voice-over): Camp 14 was all that Shin Dong-hyuk says he knew for the first 23 years of his life. These satellite images are the only glimpse outsiders have ever gotten of the place. Fifteen thousand people are believed to be imprisoned here forced to live and work in these bleak collections of houses, factories, fields and mines surrounded by an electrified fence.

(on camera): Growing up, did you ever think about escaping?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): That never crossed my mind.

COOPER: It never crossed your mind?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): No, never. What I thought was that the society outside the camp would be similar to that inside the camp.

COOPER: You thought everybody lived in a prison camp like this. DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes.

COOPER (voice-over): Shin told us that this is the house where he was born. His mother and father were prisoners whose marriage, if you could call it that, was arranged by the guards as a reward for hard work.

(on camera): Did they live together? Did they see each other every day?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): No, you can't live together. My mother and my father were separated and only when they worked hard could they be together.

COOPER: Did they love each other?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I don't know. In my eyes, we were not a family. We were just prisoners.

COOPER: How do you mean?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): You wear what you are given and you eat and you only do what you are told to do. So there is nothing that the parents can do for you and there's nothing that the children can do for their parents.

COOPER: This may be a very dumb question. But did you know what love was for the first 23 years of your life?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I still don't know what that means.

COOPER (voice-over): Love may have been absent, but fear was not. In this building a school of sorts, Shin says he watched his teacher beat a little girl to death for hoarding a few kernels of corn, a violation of prison rules, which he and the other students were required to learn by heart.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): If you escape you would be shot. If you try to escape or plan to escape, you would be shot even if you did not report someone who was trying to escape. You would be shot.

COOPER: The shootings took place in this field he says. The other prisoners were required to watch. As frightening as the executions were, Shin considered them a break from the monotony of hard labor and constant hunger. The prisoners were fed the same thin gruel of cornmeal and cabbage day in and day out. They so hungry Shin says they ate rats and insects to survive.

(on camera): So for 23 years, you were always hungry.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes, of course. We were always hungry and the guards always told us you hunger you will repent.

COOPER (voice-over): What Shin and his family were repenting for probably dates back to the Korean War when two of his uncles reportedly defected to the south. Shin believes that is why his father and grandfather were sent to Camp 14 and why he was supposed to live there until he died.

North Korea's first dictator, Kim Il-Sung instituted this practice of three generations of punishment back in the 1950s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea is to eliminate this family on the theory that if the grandfather was a counter revolutionary, the father and the grandsons would be opposed to the regime as well.

COOPER: David Hawk is a human rights investigator who has interviewed dozens of former prisoners and guards from the six political prison camps operating in North Korea today.

DAVID HAWK, HUMAN RIGHTS INVESTIGATOR: The largest number of people in the camps are those who are the children or grandchildren of people considered to be wrong doers or wrong thinkers.

COOPER (on camera): I have never heard of anything like that.

HAWK: It is unique in the 20th or 21st Century. Mao didn't do it. Stalin didn't do it. Hitler of course tried to exterminate entire families, but in the post World War II world, it is only Korea that had this practice.

COOPER (voice-over): North Korea denies it has any political prisons, but refuses to allow outside observers to inspect Camp 14 and other sites.

(on camera): There is no way to verify all of the details of Shin's story. Do you believe his story?

HAWK: Sure. His story is consistent with the testimony of other prisoners in every respect.

COOPER (voice-over): There is physical evidence he carries around with him to this day. The tip of his finger is missing. He says it was chopped off as punishment when he accidentally broke a machine in a prison factory.

He also has serious scars on his back, stomach and ankles, which he was willing to show us, but embarrassed to show on camera. He says he received those wounds here in an underground torture center.

He was tortured because his mother and older brother were accused of trying to escape. He was just 13 years old at the time.

(on camera): Did they think that you were involved in the escape?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I'm sure they did.

COOPER: How did they torture you?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): They hung me by the ankles and they tortured me with fire and from the scars that I have the wounds on my body. I think they couldn't have done more to me.

COOPER (voice-over): Shin says he tried to convince his interrogators he wasn't part of the escape plot. He didn't know if they believed him until one day when they took him to that field used for executions.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): When I went to the public execution site, I thought that I might be killed. I was brought to the very front. That is where I saw my mother and my brother being dragged out and that is when I knew that it wasn't me.

COOPER (on camera): How did they kill your mother?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): They hung her and they shot my brother.

COOPER (voice-over): He speaks of it still without visible emotion and admits he felt no sadness watching his mother and brother die. He thought they got what they deserved. They had after all broken the prison rules.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He believed the rules of the camp like gospel.

COOPER: Blain Harden is a veteran foreign correspondent who first reported Shin's story in the "Washington Post" and later wrote book about his life.

(on camera): He had no compass by which to judge his behavior.

BLAIN HARDEN, VETERAN FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: He had a compass, but the compass was the rules of the camp, the only compass he had. It was only when he was 23 when he met somebody from the outside that started to change.

COOPER: When he met Park.

HARDEN: When he met Park.

COOPER (voice-over): Park was a new prisoner Shin says he met while working in Camp 14's textile factory. Unlike Shin Park had seen the outside world, he'd lived in Pyongyang and traveled in China, and he began to tell Shin what life was like on the other side of the fence.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I paid most attention to what kind of food he ate outside the camp.

COOPER (on camera): What kind of food?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): A lot of different things broiled chicken, barbecued pig. The most important thing was thought that even a prisoner like me could eat chicken and pork if I were able to escape the barbed wires.

COOPER: I have heard people define freedom in many ways. I've never heard someone define it as broiled children.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I still think of freedom in that way.

COOPER: Really that's what freedom means to you?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): People can eat what they want. It can be the greatest gift from God.

COOPER: You were ready to die just to get a good meal.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes.

COOPER: He got his chance in January of 2005 when he says he and Park were gathering fire wood in this remote area near the electrified fence. As the sun began to set they decided to make a run for it.

HARDEN: And as they run towards the fence, Shin slipped in the snow, fell on his face. Park got to the fence first and thrust his body between the first and second strand and pulled that bottom wire and was immediately electrocuted.

COOPER (on camera): How did you get past him?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I just crawled over his back.

COOPER: So you climbed over him?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes.

COOPER: He was a fugitive now in rural North Korea on the run in one of the poorest, most repressive countries in the world. But that is not how it seemed to him.

(on camera): What did the outside world look like?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): It was like heaven. People were laughing and talking as they wanted. They were wearing what they wanted. It was very shocking.

COOPER: How did you manage to get out of North Korea?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): I was trying to get away from the camp and I ended up going north. And on the northern side, people talked a lot about China.

COOPER: Did you know where China was?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): No, not at all. It just happened that the way I was going was toward the border.

COOPER: With amazing luck and cunning, Shin managed to steal and bribe his way across the border and quietly work his way through China where he would have been sent back if he was caught.

In Shanghai, he snuck into the South Korean Consulate and was granted asylum. In 2006, he arrived in South Korea with not a friend in the world. He was so overwhelmed with culture shock and post traumatic stress he had to be hospitalized.

More than seven years later, it's remarkable how far Shin's come. He is 30 you now and has made friends and built a new life for himself in Seoul, South Korea. But old demons from Camp 14 are never far behind. Shin now admits there's was something he was hiding. Two years ago, he finally confessed to author, Blain Harden.

HARDEN: When he first told me about the execution of his mother and brother, he didn't say that he had turned them in.

COOPER: You reported your mother and your brother?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes.

COOPER: What did you hope to get out of reporting your mother and your brother?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Well, being full for the first time.

COOPER: More food?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes, but the biggest reason was I was supposed to report it.

COOPER: Why was Shin tortured after ratting out his mother and brother?

HARDEN: The guard who he ratted out to did not tell his superiors that he got the information from Shin.

COOPER: So the guard basically was trying to claim credit.


COOPER (voice-over): It was only after seeing what family life was like outside Camp 14 that Shin says he started to feel guilt about what he had done to his own mother and brother.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): My mother and brother, if I can meet them through a time machine, I would like to go back and apologize. By telling the story, I think I can compensate, kind of repent for what I did.

COOPER: Repentance has taken Shin all over the world. He speaks at human rights rallies, meets with U.S. congressmen and is telling his story to us in part because he is frustrated by how much the attention the press pays to North Korea's new leader, Kim Jung-Un and his wife.

And how little attention gets paid to the people in the camps. In South Korea, he and some friends started an internet talk show designed to tell the world what is really going on in the north. As for that taste of freedom, he risked his life for, he can eat all of the broiled chicken he wants now, but admits he hasn't given him the satisfaction he'd hope for.

DONG-HYUK (through translation): When I eat something good and I laugh with my friends and make some money I'm excited, but that is only momentary and right afterwards, I start worrying again.

COOPER (voice-over): You worry about what now?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): What I worry about now is all of those people in the prison camps. Children are still being born there and somebody is probably being executed.

COOPER: And you think about that a lot?

DONG-HYUK (through translation): Yes.


COOPER: So while the world focuses on the North Korean missile launch, tonight, we think of all of those still in Camp 14 and the other prison camps in North Korea.

Let us know what you think, follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight. Up next, the lives lost in the Oregon mall shooting, a young life saved and the search for what turned a 22-year- old into a masked killer.


COOPER: Welcome back. We're learning more tonight about the shooting rampage of a shopping mall outside Portland, Oregon. Now before we bring you the latest though on the killer and the crime, I want to take a moment and recognize the two people who lost their lives, Cindy Ann Yuille and Mathew Forsyth.

He was 54 years old, had two children, (inaudible) sports and friends say he had a zest for life. Cindy was 45, a hospice nurse, who everyone says always put others first.

A third victim 15-year-old Christina Shevchenko is recovering from serious injuries and may need more surgery to fully heal. She and Cindy and Mathew were shot last evening at the Clackamas Town Center by this 22-year-old man.

Police today say he was acting alone and took his own life as police arrived on the scene.


SHERIFF CRAIG ROBERTS, CLACKAMAS COUNTY, OREGON: During this attack, he was armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. The rifle was stolen yesterday from a person known to the suspect. At the time of the attack, he was wearing a load bearing vest not a bullet-proof vest that was earlier reported by some outlets. He was also wearing a hockey-style face mask and we have not yet been able to establish how many shots were fired during the attack although we believe he was carrying several fully loaded magazines.


COOPER: A friend of the killer tells CNN that he can't believe he did this. A friend of his mother meantime gave the following letter to a local TV station.

It reads quote, "Tami Roberts wishes to express her shock and grief at the events at Clackamas Town Center on Tuesday. She has no understanding or explanation for her son's behavior and requests that her privacy be respected."

More now on the search for motive and the search for answers from Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Housemates of Jacob Tyler Roberts avoided our questions. Not willing to talk about what might have led Roberts to open fire on holiday shoppers.

Neighbors say the 22-year-old moved in about six months ago, renting the basement of this Portland house. Bobbi Bates last saw him yesterday when he left at 1:30 in the afternoon.

BOBBI BATES, NEIGHBOR: He just came out and he didn't wave or anything. He just went out with a guitar case in the car.

LAH: Two hours later the 911 calls were coming in from a Clackamas Town Center. Roberts wearing a hockey mask and firing a stolen AR-15 semiautomatic rifle was making his way through the mall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard was, I am the shooter and then shots rang out, five, six shots and by that time, I hit the floor and I just ran out. I was telling anyone I saw there is a shooting going on. Don't go in there.

LAH: Police say the only reason he didn't kill more people, his rifle jammed. He had several fully loaded magazines. Officers back at Roberts' house are still trying to piece together what caused this man to fire into crowds of people before killing himself.

ROBERTS: At this time, we do not understand the motive of this attack except to say that there is no apparent relationship between the suspect and his victims.

SUZIE HAYES, FAMILY SPOKESWOMAN: My son did grow up with Jake and I can tell you that he is a very good boy and it is very shocking.

LAH: Family friends say Roberts showed no warning signs. There was this though, perhaps a sign of a gun fascination on his Facebook page. It shows a man firing a hand gun. Friends say Roberts had been a popular boy at his high school and loved his mother who shared this statement read by a friend.

HAYES: She is very sad and wants everyone to know that she is so sorry at what Jake did. It is so out of his character.


COOPER: Kyung Lah joins me now. Kyung, when you consider the kind of weapon that he was carrying, it's kind of amazing he didn't kill more people. I understand the gun jammed, but if the gun jammed, how was he able to kill himself?

LAH: It's a little bit of a miracle and the police will quickly point out that they just don't know how this happened because the gun did jammed and it jammed early on in the food court.

The suspect then started to run. It is during that process that police say for some reason the gun unjammed and so that is when he took his own life after he had ran away from the crowd in the food court. But that gun jamming, Anderson, police say -- they just called that a miracle.

COOPER: We have been hearing a lot of stories of people who helped other people in the midst of this frightening situation.

LAH: Absolutely. I mean, the police say what really shows up here for them isn't the damage that this suspect did. They say they want to focus on all the people who chipped in to help each other.

First of all, all those 10,000 people that we're talking about inside the mall, they all stayed calm. They helped each other. There was a doctor in that crowd. There were nurses.

What they did is they immediately started treating the people on the ground and so that police say is something that they hope people learn from all of this.

COOPER: Yes, I talked to a man yesterday, one of the eyewitnesses, who actually went toward a woman who was wounded and ultimately killed and a nurse showed up. So I guess that was a nurse that happened to be in the mall as well. Kyung, appreciate the reporting on that.

Just ahead tonight, have scientists actually discovered how being gay or lesbian is passed from parents to their children. A new study claims to have found a possible explanation. We'll talk to Dr. Drew Pinsky about just ahead.


COOPER: A former U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico. He's been there since August after a surfing vacation to the terrifying turn. Tonight, Johnny Hammers parents are pleading for help ahead on 360.


COOPER: For a long time, scientists have asked if being gay is genetic and so far no one has identified a gay gene so to speak. But now a group of researchers believed they've discovered how being gay may be passed from parent to child not through genes themselves, but through something called epi-genetics and epi-marks. We're going to get to what they are in a moment.

The new study claims to have found evidence that sometimes epi- marks maybe passed down between generations. It is complicated and we should point out a scientifically controversial theory hasn't been tested on actual people. The researchers used a mathematical model, but it certainly raises a lot of questions.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of HLN's "Dr. Drew" joins me now. So epi- genetics, epi-marks, I've never heard of them. What are they?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW": Well, epi-genetics is really where the rubber hits the road in genetics these days. I think everyone is aware that DNA is where the genetic code is laid down, but how the code is transcribed is really what epi-genetics is all about.

The way of thinking about it being perhaps over simplified, but consider a sentence. If you have a sentence and you just pick up in the middle of that sentence randomly and try to understand that sentence or manage the meaning of that sentence can be severely altered.

The same is true of the genetic code. Where and how the code is transcribed is very much involved in how those codes are expressed themselves. In this particular case, that they are seeing is that there appears to be something that affects of testosterone in some males passed from their mother to the boy and similarly from dads to daughters.

COOPER: So they are saying it is not father to son, but father to daughter, mother to son?

PINSKY: Exactly. What they are saying is that in females, there's a lot of in the uterus when we're developing changes in testosterone levels that we are exposed to. What they are theorizing is there has to be some epi-genetic mechanism that dampens or limits the effects of testosterone on the female.

And that's an epi-genetic phenomenon that can be in some cases passed from the female from mom to son and similarly in the dads. There has to be epi-genetic mechanisms that allow the testosterone to have full effect that perhaps can go to girls as well.

Where this gets a little bit of a stretch is, what they are saying is that perhaps mom's factors doesn't allow a son to masculinize and dad's factors perhaps over masculinizes the female and then that somehow has to do with someone's sexual orientation. For me, that is the greatest sort of assumption and stretch in this entire theory.

COOPER: And at this point, it is a theory. I mean, this is based on mathematics more than science right? PINSKY: That is exactly right. And it is something that, you know, science is very fearful of going forward and studying because of the politicization of the issue of, is homosexuality genetic or not?

The fact really is that when you study almost any human behavior. There is a component of genetic and a component from environment. There are clearly as some biological components here and it is on science to really nail down exactly what those mechanisms are.

COOPER: One of the questions about the genetic thing is that if it was purely genetics then some scientists say it would die out over time because -- because gay people, I guess, in large numbers have not been procreating and therefore passing if there is a gay gene passing it down, but if it these epi-marks that would explain how it is passed from generation to generation.

PINSKY: That is exactly right. That's why -- right, that's one of the theories as to why these genetic elements or these biological elements have not died out in the human population over millions of years. In fact, they have stayed quite study. The genes don't get passed along, but the epi-genetic mechanisms can get passed along.

COOPER: Interesting. Dr. Drew, a lot more study needed. Thanks very much.

PINSKY: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, it started out as a relaxing trip to ride the waves in Costa Rica, but ended with a 27-year-old former U.S. Marine in a Mexican prison. He has been there since August. There are a lot questions about why he was even arrested. His parents are pleading for his release. My interview with them ahead, but first, Isha joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Speaker John Boehner is telling House Republicans not to make Christmas break plans because they may have to work through the holiday on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

The warning comes after President Obama talked with Boehner last night on the phone. Sources say it was a tense conversation. Experts warn of a new recession if a deal can't be reached in 20 days.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says it is ridiculous to say he couldn't be president because of his weight. He pushed back at his critics in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. The Republican governor is rumored to be considering a bid for the White House in 2016.

Anderson, Pope Benedict the XVI blessed his internet followers on his first tweet today. The pope now has nearly 1 million followers on this English Twitter page alone and has many accounts, I mean, seven other languages. Some saying that he is the coolest pope in history.

COOPER: Isha, thanks very much. A former U.S. Marine served Iraq and Afghanistan. Now his parents fear that he may die in a Mexican prison. They are pleading for his safe return after what began as a surfing trip. It has turned into a nightmare. Johnny Hammer's story is just ahead.


COOPER: A new twist in the frankly bizarre story of millionaire internet pioneer, John McAfee. Police in Belize want to question him about his neighbor's death, but he fled to Guatemala. He was detained there and he is on the move again. We'll tell you where to ahead.


COOPER: Tonight new information about a former U.S. Marine who has been in prison in Mexico since August. His name is Johnny Hammar. He is 27 years old and until recently his story hasn't been known outside of his immediate family, but now his parents are speaking out and you're going to hear from them in a moment.

Their son's story is finally getting the kind of traction that his parents hope will actually help bring him home. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson brought Hammar's plight to the Senate floor yesterday.


SENATOR BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Bring this Marine home Mexican government and now that you have a new president just installed in Mexico, the relations with the United States are especially important to treat the United States citizens who are posses peaceful in their intent and innocent in their observation of the Mexican laws. Where no harm has been done, send that U.S. Marine back to America and back to his family in Miami.


COOPER: Well, Senator Nelson spoke for nearly 6 minutes vowing to keep pressing for Hammar's release. So how did he end up in prison to begin with? Frankly, the deeper we dig into this story gets kind of stranger and stranger.

Like many other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnny Hammar has struggled post traumatic stress disorder, a lifelong surfer. He finds peace on the water riding waves.

So after completing a PTSD treatment program last summer he set off to go on a surfing trip to Costa Rica and that's when his life took a terrifying turn. Here's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Johnny Hammar is an American war veteran. He was a Marine serving in the Infantry in Afghanistan and Iraq. He decided to drive with a fellow Marine from Florida all the way through Mexico to Costa Rica for a surfing vacation. John and Olivia Hammar are Johnny's parents.

JON HAMMAR SR., FATHER OF FORMER MARINE ARRESTED IN MEXICO: I mean, he had been there before and surfed. I mean, they took every single decent board they had.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So he was looking forward to that cool trip, drive in there. I mean, he knew it was Mexico, but he wasn't planning on staying in Mexico.

JOH HAMMAR SR: The only reason they stopped was to get more gas.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): His parents were concerned when Johnny said he wanted to bring an antique Sears and Roebuck shotgun, his great grandfather once owned, one that looks just like this. His parents he said he wanted to be able to hunt with it. They said he got the proper forms from U.S. border agents to declare it. But once he did declare it, the nightmare began.

(on camera): How far was he from the United States of America when he was arrested?

JON HAMMAR SR: He was on the border. He was crossing the border.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Johnny Hammar's friend was released, but Johnny was brought to this jail and charged with violating Mexico's strict gun laws. His parents say they were told the jail is largely controlled by Mexican drug cartels members.

A few nights after Johnny was imprisoned, his parents got a call from someone threatening to kill their son unless the parents paid money.

OLIVIA HAMMAR, MOTHER OF FORMER MARINE ARRESTED IN MEXICO: So then he said I have your son and he said I'm going to "f" him up and he said I already have. For some stupid reason my response was, no, I'm going to call the consulate.

And he put Johnny on the phone and I couldn't believe it. And then I realized, my God, and I really thought he wasn't in the prison. I thought someone has taken him out of the prison because I couldn't conceive of this going on in a government facility.

TUCHMAN (on camera): What did Johnny tell you?

OLIVIA HAMMER: He said, mom you need to do whatever they say and he said they are really serious.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Hammars never heard from the caller again. Although the U.S. Consulate has known about this from the beginning, Johnny's parents kept this story out of the press. Scared that attention could be bad for their son, but increasingly desperate they are speaking out now.

JON HAMMAR: The longer we go in with him in there, the greater chance it is that he is not going to get out alive.

TUCHMAN: The Hammar's congresswoman is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who heads up the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The family has informed her about this. REPRESENTATIVE ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: This is outrageous and I'm asking for the State Department to be more proactive. I've communicated with them. I've communicated with our U.S. ambassador in Mexico. This week I meet with the Mexican ambassador to the United States, and enough is enough.

TUCHMAN: Their son had looked forward to a surfing vacation. Now he's passed the four-month mark in a Mexican prison. He talked to his parents on the phone Friday.

OLIVIA HAMMAR: I said Johnny we are going to get you out. And he said mom, you have been telling me that since August.


COOPER: Gary, you went to the U.S. Consulate in Mexico not far from the prison where Johnny Hammar is being held. What are officials saying there about the situation?

TUCHMAN: Well first, we should point out, Anderson, the parents, Johnny's parents, do not think the consulate is on a particularly good job. The consulate did get him out of the general prison inmate population, which is considered safer.

But they think the consulate has been surprisingly indifferent. So we are on the Texas side of the border. Two miles behind me is the consulate. It is not safe for us to be doing live reporting in Mexico, but a couple of hours ago we were there during daylight.

It is a heavily fortified building. There is an armed guard outside. There are large walls. There are gates and I talked to the boss there, the council general. And the council general told me when I asked him questions about the parents were saying that he was unable to get the clearance from Washington to talk to us.

So therefore we needed to talk to the State Department in Washington find out what the consulate was doing. So this is what the State Department told us. They gave us this statement. They said, the consulate is following Mr. Hammar's case closely as it proceeds to the Mexican judicial system.

We are in constant contact with Mr. Hammar's lawyers and family. And we will continue to monitor his safety and well being throughout his detention. Members of the council have seen him, Anderson, in prison three times.

Johnny Hammar is still there and he presented the gun at the border check right behind me and now he is in jail for four months.

COOPER: Gary, appreciate the reporting. We'll continue following. As you heard from Gary, Johnny Hammar's parents have been afraid to go public with their son's story. They are now speaking out with urgency. They want you to know about him.

You can imagine how awful these last several months have been for them. I spoke to Olivia Hammar and Jon Hammar earlier. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Olivia, I can't imagine what this has been like for you and your family. How are you holding up?

OLIVIA HAMMAR: Just try to take it one day at a time and praying that this exposure helps get him home.

COOPER: Jon, you actually went down to visit your son, what are the conditions like where he is held?

JON HAMMAR: They are horrible, you know, third world facilities, and it is not a secure facility either. And you know the road out there from town is, you know, has problems daily. I was not authorized to go out there by the State Department. I had to go on my own.

COOPER: I read you or Olivia say that you believe he is actually being chained to a bed at times?

JON HAMMAR: Yes, you know, it is not a very secure situation that he is in because, you know, the State Department got him isolated from the main facilities that is run by the cartel.

But the area that he is in isn't really a facility for housing a prisoner. It is a makeshift closet storage area next to guard offices. And so I suspect to give them some relief every now and then the guards will chain him to the bed.

Because they feel like there is this guy over here and he could run away and we will get in trouble and then the consulate will go out there and tell them no, you can't do that every month or so, but it is a back and forth contest.

COOPER: You said the cartel is running the prison. You mean, a drug cartel is running the prison that your son is in?

JON HAMMAR: The main part of the prison, the 90 percent of the prison where the actual prisoners are, the facilities, you know, is once you get in those doors. The cartel controls it.

Or seems to, because we get called from inside the prison saying this is not about the police, this is about us, and this is our house and if you don't no send money, we are going to kill your son. Here is your son on the phone.

COOPER: So what you are saying people from the prison are actually calling you extorting money -- trying to extort money from you?

JON HAMMAR: In August that is how it started. That was our first phone call on this.

COOPER: How much money did they want?

JON HAMMAR: They asked for $1,800. We said we'll send it tell us how. They said we'll call you back with a Western Union account number and so when we hung up, we called the State Department.

OLIVIA HAMMAR: At some point the calls stopped, but it took us about three days for the consulate to be able to get back out there and confirm that he had been isolated.

COOPER: Olivia, you way the Mexican military sent a letter about the particular type of weapon that John had to the judge and the prosecutor. What was the letter and did it have any impact?

OLIVIA HAMMAR: The letters because the crime that he is charged with a possession of a weapon that is restricted for military use. The Marino De Mexico, which is an arm of the military in Mexico sent a letter to the judge and the prosecutor saying that this particular weapon is not on their, quote, "forbidden list" and they have just declined to, you know, give that any weight.

COOPER: Jon, what are you hoping Mexican officials will do or what do you want them to know?

JON HAMMAR: I'm appealing to the Mexican government to put pressure on through the trial court to come to some reasonable conclusion that we can get our son home alive after he's been returned from war alive. This would be a tragedy that I don't know how we would stand losing him this way.

COOPER: Jon and Olivia, I'm so sorry you are going through this and we will continue to follow it. Thank you so much.


COOPER: It's hard to imagine what it is like for them. In Syria, U.S. officials say the government has made another bold move firing scud missiles at the opposition. We have the latest developments ahead.


COOPER: "The Ridiculist" is coming up, but first Isha is back with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, the U.S. officials says Syrian government troops have fired at four scud missiles presumably at opposition fighters. The official says U.S. military satellite picked up the infrared signature off the missiles when they were launched from the Damascus area into Northern Syria.

Computer software developer John McAfee is heading to Miami tonight. After weeks on the run he fled Belize where authorities wanted to question him about his neighbor's death. He ended up in immigration detention in Guatemala. Today his lawyer said police there let him return to the U.S. McAfee says he has nothing to do with the death.

California Governor Jerry Brown is undergoing treatment for localized prostate cancer. Doctors say his prognosis is excellent. Anderson, I understand you met a very cool kid on your talk show today. Kim Moriya of Birmingham, Alabama turned 12 today at 12:12 p.m. on 12/12/12. As you found out, he had a (inaudible) of honoring the moment.


COOPER: Today at 12:12 p.m. what are you going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm going to yell out holla as loud as I can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are allowed it is your birthday.

COOPER: Aren't you going to be in class when you yell out?



COOPER: I hope the teacher was OK with that.

SESAY: I hope he got his Krispy Kremes.

COOPER: Isha, thanks very much. Coming up, how to get into the holiday spirit, on a strip club no less, "The Ridiculist" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Don't you love this time of year? The lights, the trees, the music, the parties, but I have to say nothing really says happy holidays quite as much a strip club in Arkansas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have having toys for Tatas. You come in and bring a toy to donate and we'll give you two for one lap dances.


COOPER: Isn't that sweet? The fine folks there are putting the poll back in the North Pole this Christmas. Ho ho ho everybody. It's two for one lap dance. I'll never think of Dancer, Prinster and Vixine quite the same way again. Thank you, Platinum Caberet.

No, don't get me wrong. This is for a great cause, toys to tats, which collects gifts for under privilege kids although the local coordinator of that very worthy organization says the strip club didn't exactly run the idea by him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not something that we would have endorsed, as long as it is done in a legal manner and as long as people are bringing us new unwrapped toys. We don't get into what the process was.


COOPER: What the process was so we did a little checking, believe it or not, the concept of toys for Tatas not confined to the greater Fayetteville area. There's a toys for Tatas event in Scottsdale, Arizona where they also apparently giving away breast augmentation because there's really nothing like free surgery to really get you in the festive holiday mood.

And in Rick's Cabaret in Minneapolis, they just had their 13th annual toys for tatas event complete with complementary buffet. If you want to get into the spirit and strip clubs aren't your thing. It is the Christmas Boobsie.

It is a beer cozy with breast. A concept that debuted at hooters and it is available at No need to thank me. I'm here to help. It is part of my mission. So when you gather with you family and your friends this holiday season remember to appreciate what you have and give to those less fortunate. Because every time a bell rings, a stripper gets her wings. It is indeed a wonderful life on "The Ridiculist."

That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now another edition of 360 at 10 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.