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Potential Pentagon Chief Draws Fire; Top Crime Stories Of 2012; Southwest U.K. Slammed By Floodwaters; Volcano Alert In South America; Letters Pour In To Newtown; Tracking Santa This Christmas Eve; Giving The Gift Of Hope After Sandy; Last Minute Christmas Shoppers

Aired December 24, 2012 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: It is the bottom of the hour. I'm Hala Gorani in Washington, D.C. in for Brooke Baldwin today. This year definitely had its share of crime stories, some capturing international attention and outrage. Others were filled with disturbing details almost too hard to believe. Here is Randi Kaye with the top ten crime and punishment stories of 2012.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The year turned out to be one full of some incredible stories, some unfolded and sparked international outrage and still as others developed, the details were almost too hard to believe.

Crimes were committed and in some cases justice was handed down, but for some victims, they may never know what justice feels like. Here is our top ten list of crime and punishment stories of 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEWSROOM": A manhunt is under way for McAfee software founder John McAfee.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The computer whiz and millionaire is wanted for questioning in the murder of an American ex-patriot in Belize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police are pursuing multiple leads they say and they claim they just want to talk to McAfee as part of their investigation and nobody seems to know where he is.

KAYE (voice-over): Yes, this one was strange, and only got stranger after weeks went by and no one could find him. Well, not no one.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN'S "OUTFRONT": Breaking news right now, fugitive software tycoon John McAfee wanted for questioning in the murder of his neighbor in Belize has been on the run for three weeks from authorities, but our Martin Savidge found him.

KAYE: McAfee claims he didn't kill his neighbor. Number nine, the day darkness fell under a crystal clear August sky in Wisconsin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The very information that we know, seven people are dead at this point, three of them, we're told, outside of that temple. KAYE: The gunman on a rampage at a Sikh temple, U.S. Army veteran, Wade Michael Page. After shooting one police officer multiple times --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shots fired, shots fired.

KAYE: Page was shot and killed by another officer. Number eight, the massacre in Kandahar Province.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered.

KAYE: The accused gunman, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Military officials say Bales left his Afghanistan outpost on a night back in March and single-handedly attacked two villages. Opening fire and killing 16 Afghan civilians in their homes and wounding six others.

Number seven, striking a deal in the shooting that struck a blow to the nation.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": The man who shot Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people in a rampage in Tucson last year pleaded guilty to 19 charges.

KAYE: Jared Loughner sentenced to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years. His guilty plea means he will avoid the death penalty. Chicago's murder rate surged this year to levels not seen in almost a decade. By December, close to 500 people were killed in the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just not the gang bangers. Right now, innocent kids and women are being shot on a daily basis.

KAYE: Averaging more than a murder a day, most of the crime happened in a few specific areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire city suffers when that violence happens and this idea of not in my backyard is not OK.

KAYE (on camera): We start this morning with breaking news from Italy.

(voice-over): A massive cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, turned on its side after running aground in January, 32 passengers and crew were killed, the captain says it was an accident, not a crime, but he now faces charges.

The ship's captain is being investigated for manslaughter and abandoning ship. He claims he tripped and fell into a lifeboat. The sentencing of Jerry Sandusky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Carol, Jerry Sandusky will die in jail.

KAYE: A judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach to at least 30 years in jail after he was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse. Despite the mountain of evidence against him, Sandusky continues to proclaim his innocence. He's in the process of appealing his sentence. Number three, the shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son left Stanford, Florida, in a body bag while George Zimmerman went home to go to sleep in his own bed.

KAYE: Accused gunman George Zimmerman claims self-defense in a case that sparked international outrage and ignited racial tensions. Trial is set for June. Number two --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need rescue inside the auditorium, multiple victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven down!

KAYE: July 20th, just past midnight, terror inside Theatre Nine.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Aurora, Colorado, nine miles east of Denver, where there has been a mass shooting at a movie theatre.

KAYE: Prosecutors say James Holmes donned protective gear, threw tear gas and began firing. In the end, 12 people killed, 58 others wounded. Holmes faces 152 charges. Many victims continue to recover, while others will never recover the loss they suffered that night. And number one --

BLITZER: Unimaginable horror grips the nation in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

KAYE: Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is unspeakable what happened in this town.

KAYE: Innocent children shot dead in their classrooms, the victims, sixteen 6-year-olds, four 7-year-olds along with six adults.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emilie's laughter was infectious and all those who had a pleasure to meet her would agree this world is a better place because she's been in it.

KAYE: In Newtown, Connecticut, an outpouring of kindness and compassion, while a nation faced hard questions about mental health and guns as the president issued an emotional call for action.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Well, also this hour, keeping an eye on a South American volcano. There is a red alert as it is called, but people are not evacuating. We'll ask an expert why and what we can expect from this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: The Southwest U.K. is getting hammered with rain causing some travel nightmares. It has to rain a lot in the U.K. for it to make any kind of difference. They're used to it, but look at this. There is floodwater everywhere in Devon, England.

The drenching rain is causing massive travel problems. With roads and rail lines as well washed over. That's affecting the commute for people. Britons lined up sandbags on the weekend and now officials are warning people about even trying to get out on the roads. Parts of Wales and Scotland are also getting flooded.

People in Chile and Argentina are watching a volcano that straddled the border between the two countries. The volcano has been spewing smoke into the sky. Ash has been raining down on surrounding towns. You can see it there. Almost looks like snow. It is ash.

I'm joined now on the phone by volcanologist, Larry Mastin. So far, Chile is on red alert, but no one has been ordered to leave. Why is that, Larry?

LARRY MASTIN, VOLCANOLOGIST (via telephone): Well, I can tell you based on what I've seen in the reports from the Chilean Volcanological Agency, there was an eruption that started on midday on Saturday.

And according to their most recent reports, the plume is coming out of the volcano now is only about a kilometer high. That's not very high by the standards of most volcanic plumes.

GORANI: So why is it a red alert then?

MASTIN: Well, that's a good question. I think you should probably ask them directly, but according to the news reports, the -- they're doing it under the possibility that the volcano could ramp up. Historically it produced fairly small eruptions.

If it stopped right now, for example, the size of the eruption we saw on Saturday and Sunday wouldn't be that different from the size of the eruptions that have happened in the last few decades.

GORANI: If you were in one of those towns at the base of that volcano there, would you stay there? Would you spend the night happily and comfortably or would you leave?

MASTIN: Well, it depends how close they are, of course. If they're right on the flanks of the volcano, I don't know the geography of that volcano very well since I'm not a Chilean volcanologist. But if it becomes active or in river valleys that are very close to the volcano would be in danger.

And once you get farther away from the volcano, it depends on the wind direction. So since in that area the wind is most commonly blowing from west to east areas that are, say, tens of kilometers downwind could certainly be affected by ash fall, which is not life threatening, but it could disrupt transportation.

GORANI: We know that -- we know what ash clouds can do -- we know what ash clouds can do to transportation from the icelandic volcano. We'll keep our eye on this. Larry Mastin joining us there on the phone with more on that Chilean volcano. Red alert but no evacuations. We'll continue to follow that.

OK, it is Christmas Eve. So last minute holiday shoppers are out in force. However, procrastination could actually work to your advantage this year. We'll tell you why after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Well, a lot of heavy hearts in Newtown, the last victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting have been laid to rest, but a bit of goodness has shown up in the form of cards and packages, letters from children, from their parents, from all around the U.S., and, indeed, all around the world. Here is CNN's Lisa Sylvester.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a perfect B.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 4-year-old Kaelyn takes her time working hard to get each word right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, start here.

SYLVESTER: She's writing a letter.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Dear parents, I know that you are upset --

SYLVESTER: A letter to the parents of the children killed in the Newtown shooting. She and her mother live in Maryland. They have never been to Newtown. In fact, they have never been to the state of Connecticut, but they wanted to show the town that they care.

KAREN CLARK-REDDON, MOTHER: We're writing letters just to let them know that our hearts are with them, that they are in our prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because I want to make them cheer up.

CHRISTINE DUGAS, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE, NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT: Right away, we started seeing mail volume coming in that began with a few hundred and now it's thousands per day we are receiving.

SYLVESTER: In the middle of all of the sorrow, the sadness, and the heartbreak is something else compassion -- letters, cards, and books pouring into Newtown.

DUGAS: I don't know if they feel like strangers. I think they feel very connected to the tragedy here, but they are coming in from as far away as England, Sicily, Australia and every corner of this country. So they may not have personal knowledge of the families here, but they certainly feel their pain.

SYLVESTER: Kaelyn only knows what her mother told her, that a bad guy hurt and killed children, but she offers this message.

KAELYN CLARK MIDDLETON, 4 YEARS OLD: Dear parents, I know that you are upset but your children now fine in heaven. Love Kaelyn.

SYLVESTER: With her letter, she is sending two pictures, her vision of a rainbow. Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Bowie, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: The town received thousands of letters and if you would like to send one of your own, you can mail it to Messages of Condolence for Newtown, PO Box 3700, Newtown, Connecticut, 06470.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPC. TRAVIS BAILEY, U.S. ARMY: This is Travis Bailey, Third ID, Third Brigade, Kuwait. I'd like to say happy holidays and Merry Christmas to friends and family back home. Thank you for all your support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: It is an annual tradition, tracking Santa's whereabouts on Christmas Eve. But in recent years, the yearly ritual has gotten even more high tech. Alexandria Steele joins me again. And is following the track from Atlanta, where is he right now?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right now he is in Russia, headed toward the Ukraine. Let me show you this. It is the back story with this that is so cool. What happened was in 1955, there was an advertisement in a local paper in Colorado Springs and it asked kids and invited kids to call Santa if they wanted to talk to him.

The problem was, the advertisement had the wrong phone number and the number was for NORAD, which really essentially is a center, a group of people who are monitoring the skies above us. The officers on duty, though, they laughed and played along and that's the rest is history.

Here is the NORAD web site, last spotted in Russia. He's headed for the Ukraine in 13, in 12, in 11 seconds. This is just a really cool site. There is so many things kids can do on this, play games, and here is the little village, you can select the scene and watch it. This is adorable.

And Santa hidden activities in each city, but now Google is getting into the act as well. Google saying you can follow us and we'll track Santa as well. So here's Google's Santa tracker. And it, too, scrolls through the little town, games, activities, I mean, there is so much to do.

So these are just some of the things you can track Santa, Hala, tonight, throughout the day and watch him move across the world. It is cool. Myriad ways of to do it, but I love the back story. Isn't that kind of cool? GORANI: Yes, it is. Here is the question. Google is getting in on this. For years we have tracked Santa with NORAD. But are they in the same place at the same time?

STEELE: Yes, that's right. Yes, there isn't a real disparity between the two. I've been monitoring to make sure that sleigh is in sync and it appears to be.

GORANI: It appears to be. OK, interesting. Because Santa is real and we can track him. He's in the Ukraine. Thanks very much. Alexandra, we'll see you later.

When we come back, as a community is rocked by Superstorm Sandy recovers, we profile a group that is lending a helping hand to those hit the hardest. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, hundreds in the town of Rockaway, New York, are still putting the pieces back together. And as the community rebuilds, one group is out on the streets trying to give the gift of hope to its fellow neighbors. It is today's "Giving in Focus."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our opportunity to really help a lot of people.

DANNY RUSCILLO, RESIDENT: We were totally wiped out like many other people. We lost all the belongings. We lost our car. We lost a friend across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of really ugly basketball games were held right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Extremely busy, all good stuff, all the money coming in and got to get the checks in and write out checks.

STEVE STATHIS, PRESIDENT, GRAYBEARDS, LLC: That's our mission, to help our neighbor in their time of need. We have a lot of tentacles. We reached out in a lot of different ways. Back in 1995, we had a -- the Saint Francis summer classic basketball program.

And I was one of the fellows that helped run the league and some guys that recently moved into Rockaway had a common bond and that common bond was basketball.

After 9/11, one fellow sent me an e-mail that said Graybeards of Columbus. Like the Knights of Columbus, we can become a not for profit in the community. My qualifications were I was the guy that collected $20 at the bar after we played basketball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To have Steve show up at my house today, it means a lot. We totally have zero. We lost everything. Couple of items here and there, but -- STATHIS: Hello? When you do something for somebody, the, you know, you go through the tears, you go through the thanks, the hugs and everything, but at the end of the day, you walk away, you go -- I just -- your name came across our desk so from the Graybeards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have to do that.

STATHIS: How are you holding up? All right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

STATHIS: I did good today, you know? I helped somebody. Little something, all right, hope you get through. The Graybeards change a person's life. There is an expression in Rockaway about you're born with sand in your diaper. After years of irritation, you know, you want to feel good, so you go out and help people, you know?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: There you have it, people trying to lend a helping hand. If you forgot to do your Christmas shopping, or waited until the 11th hour, you're not alone. This is the 11th hour, by the way, in case you were wondering.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange. Millions of Americans are expected to brave the stores tonight -- Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Hala. Seventeen million people are expected to hit the stores today for last minute gifts. Consumer Report survey conducted from December 10th through the 17th found that 67 percent of shoppers had not finished their Christmas shopping yet while 14 percent had yet to start.

Now there are probably a lot of bargains out there, for toys and winter clothes and other items that retailers want off their shelves by January. That's not necessarily what last minute shoppers are looking for.

Well, over half told Consumer Reports they'll just grab a gift card, wine and liquor is a popular last minute choice, 27 percent will end up just giving cash. While 4 percent say they'll give an IOU this year.

Then there are the cyber shoppers. Comscore says online shopping is up 16 percent this holiday season. This season has seen 12 days with online spending of over a billion dollars.

Last week, Americans spent $3.7 billion online. That's up 53 percent from 2011. By most measures, it has been a huge year for online retailers and it will continue right through Christmas Day.

The 8.2 percent of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they would shop online tomorrow. That number has doubled since 2009 -- Hala.

GORANI: Alison Kosik, thanks very much.