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Honoring Fallen Firefighters; Indiana Slammed by Snow; Toyota Reclaims Top Carmaker Title; Gun Permit Map Backlash

Aired December 26, 2012 - 10:30   ET



ANGELA HONG, WHAM: Kaczowka and 43-year-old Lieutenant Mike Chiapperini were both firefighters. They were shot Christmas eve while responding to a fire. The two men were good friends.

AL SIENKIEWICZ, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, WEST WEBSTER POLICE:: Tomasz was quiet. He did his job pretty much unnoticed. He didn't look for any thanks or anything like that. He just did what needed to be done. Chip was -- his personality was such as he could make you laugh in the worst of situations or he'd find something to laugh about. And he did it naturally.

HONG: Amidst their pain and grief, the West Webster firefighters returned to work the next day on Christmas.

SIENKIEWICZ: We want them to return to a point of normalcy as quickly as possible. And obviously it's not going to be quick. And the first few runs that they go out on, quite frankly, they may be looking over their shoulder. But at some point in time, this organization has to get back to what we do.

HONG: And after 36 hours of filling in for West Webster, area fire departments left and West Webster pulled in, knowing if needed, they had the support of the community and their brother firefighters.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: That was Angela Hong from our affiliate WHAM reporting. We're also learning details this morning about the gunman, William Spengler.

Police say the 62-year-old convicted killer set fire to his sister's house and then shot the responding firefighters. Police also think he killed his sister. Her body was found in the burned home. Spengler did leave behind a suicide note which read in part, "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best, killing people." But as far as why he did it, police say they may never know.


CHIEF GERALD PICKERING, WEBSTER, NEW YORK POLICE: Just to clarify, there was no motive in the note. It did not speak to motive. There were some rambling in there. There was intelligence information that we obtained that investigators need to follow up on. It spoke mainly to intend that he intended to burn his neighborhood down and kill as many people as possible before stopping.

But as far as motive, all kinds of speculation and -- and truthfully, we do not know.


COSTELLO: In case I didn't say it that the gunman did commit suicide after these shootings. Two other firefighters also wounded in the attack. They're recovering after surgery at a local hospital.

Joining me now for more on this bizarre case, CNN legal contributor and civil rights and law professor Avery Friedman. Good morning, Avery.


COSTELLO: I think the thing that stands out for most people is that this man was convicted of murder for killing his grandmother who was 92 years old. Apparently he beat her to death and he was on parole. He only served 17 years. How is that possible?

FRIEDMAN: Yes, it seems impossible to happen. But if you study this, Spengler was in his late 20s when he committed this murder. And one would expect that he would have spent the rest of his life in the New York penal system. The fact is, though, that he was paroled out and actually had an obligation to report to his parole officer until -- until this happened.

But the fact is that it struck me as virtually impossible for the parole department not to know that this guy was a problem. I mean, that the -- the fact that he committed this murder -- again, even though he was in his 20s, unless he was a model person in the penitentiary, it would seem pretty obvious that there was a problem with this guy and of course the worst happened here.

And we will never know, although we do tend to think that because of the hatred he had toward his sister, that was the motivation. And then set the building on fire in order to cover up the murder of his sister.

COSTELLO: Perhaps. I mean, he's been on parole since 1998.


COSTELLO: Police say at this point, he lived a quiet life. They didn't have any problems with him. Would he still be required to visit his parole officer though, even after all that time and would the parole officer know there were guns in the sister's house?

FRIEDMAN: Well, remember, parole officers -- actually I'm a former probation officer. We commonly went into properties without notice to do inspections. Whether or not this happened, we don't know. But this guy had a Bushmaster, he had a two.23 caliber I think a Smith & Wesson and I think he had a shotgun, too. He's a convicted felon he's not allowed to have weapons.

And so whether or not that was done, we'll find out. But I think the parole officer probably was assuming this guy was not going to be any problems. And perhaps the sort of inspections that would have been necessary didn't happen here. We're going to find out. But we don't know right now.

COSTELLO: So as a - as a former probation officer, many times people are let out of prison and they don't get psychological help anymore --



COSTELLO: -- or they can't find a job. And we don't know the background of this man obviously. But could all of this come into play here? Because by the note, this man was not in his right mind.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, yes. I think -- there were some interviews of neighbors and friends, Carol, and there were real questions about what was going on within the family between the siblings and the mother. He lost his mother about a month and a half ago. And that allegedly set him off the edge. But whether or there's medication whether or not it's mental illness -- if this -- if someone like this, like Spengler, isn't being monitored, Carol, then you're inviting the potential of something like this. No one could reasonably expect to see it.

But you know what the signs were there. And as this thing is delved into in more depth, we're going to find out some answers we don't know right now.

COSTELLO: Yes, hopefully it will. And it's just so difficult to understand things, even if we do find out the answers.

FRIEDMAN: That's right.

COSTELLO: Avery Friedman, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

More than 7,000 customers still in the dark after a tornado ripped through Mobile, Alabama. We'll take you there live.


COSTELLO: May be the day after Christmas but the big story for much of the country has nothing to do with those post holiday sales. It's all about the weather, severe weather that brought several inches of snow to Arkansas and Indiana, closing highways and snapping power lines.

In Louisiana, this waterspout was caught on video near New Orleans high winds forcing bridge closures in the area. And it's not over yet the mid-Atlantic expected to get intense storms with strong winds, rain and possibly snow. In the meantime, heavy snow is expected from Ohio to New York as blizzard warnings are in effect through much of the night. So let's head to Mobile, Alabama, where officials say a tornado touched down in five different areas, ripping off roofs, shattering windows. Luckily, no serious injuries have been reported but, oh, there is damage.

Joining me now is Christina Leavenworth from our affiliate WEAR. What's it like there, Christina?

CHRISTINA LEAVENWORTH, WEAR: Carol the damage is pretty extensive and it's widespread for the most part. Like you said it touched down in five different spots. Tilman's Corner, midtown and one area here at Murphy High School and it may look bad right now. But I promise you, it actually looks a whole lot better than it did earlier this morning. Clean-up crews jumped to clean it up immediately.

They've actually made a lot of headway. But I want to show you a little bit of the damage that we've seen. This football pad right here this came from two football fields away. It blew that far. It was from the Fieldhouse that's been completely decimated. Some portable classrooms also completely decimated. And they're now I'm not kidding and I'll turn into this. You're seeing sticks and splinters, they're completely gone. Glass out of windows and as well as the tiles of the roof.

So they're seeing a lot of that. The Fieldhouse, the baseball field, gone along with those portable classrooms. Over the (INAUDIBLE) the roof literally picked up and moved. And you can see the sky out of that now and the athletic facility missing a lot of windows.

So it's just a whole lot of damage here. Now I was speaking to some teachers who were actually walking up, looking at their classrooms with tears in their eyes, just talking about the history of this place. It was built back in the 1920s. and you can see there's beautiful magnolia trees on campus that are decades old. And this massive tornado snapped them into two.

And what I found are kind of the underlying feeling here due to the fact there were no injury, no one killed, everyone is just grateful that this did not happen when school was actually in session -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Oh you're not kidding. Christina Leavenworth, from our affiliate WEAR in Mobile, Alabama.

Now to Indiana where they're dealing with heavy snow and blizzard warnings. This is a live look from outside the state capital Indianapolis. They're getting Yvonne Mann from our affiliate WXIN she has more on the conditions there now.

YVONNE MANN, WXIN: The sun start to come up here but the whiteout conditions, you can see how white it is now. Look at that traffic you can barely even see from just a mile ahead of you. And it really has picked up in the last half hour. You can see cars are trying to go steady here. They are slowing down and putting those brakes on. But you can see just how much this wind is picking up the snow and really making things -- visibility a big, big factor on the roads. So definitely slow down if you are trying to head out. If you don't need to head out it might be best to stay inside. Because the snow trucks and the plows are out there. But this wind is going to continue to make these visibility conditions and the whiteout conditions a lot worse.

Now take a look at the snow right now. I want to show you the ground here. We think we've picked up a couple more inches here. This is probably about three to four inches right now on the ground. About two hours, it was just bare pavement. So we're really starting to see things pick up. The wind is really hitting at our face right now.

So as much as we can tell you how things are going here, trying to stay inside is probably the best piece of advice I can give you.

COSTELLO: That was one frozen Yvonne Mann from our affiliate WXIN.

A newspaper in New York thinks you have the right to know who owns a gun in your neighborhood. So the paper published a map showing the names and addresses of people with gun permits. And not surprisingly, backlash has begun.


COSTELLO: 45 minutes past the hour.

And this just in to CNN, there's a new top dog in the car world. Toyota reclaiming the world's biggest carmaker title name from General Motors. Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange with more.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So it looks like Carol, that there's been this rebound in car sales in the U.S. for Toyota. Gains coming from Lexus and Camry models. And a lot of this may have to do with pent-up demand.

You know, during the recession and also during the time when gas prices have been very high, Americans really held back from buying more cars and more Toyotas, to be more specific, you know. But this is nothing new between GM and Toyota. This has been a running theme with them. They've been neck and neck for years.

Toyota lost the top spot to GM in 2011. In part because of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan. Well guess what; now Toyota is closer to reclaiming the title as the world's biggest carmaker. And this is really notable because Toyota -- it's had lots of problems. It's had numerous recalls. It's paid millions of dollars in fines for safety recalls and safety issues. It even had a boycott by some Chinese buyers over a territorial dispute.

Now it looks like its worldwide sales are expected to hit 9.7 million. And GM is a bit behind, on track to sell around 9.3 million cars around the world this year. Interestingly enough, though, Carol GM was really going strong for most of this year. And then for some reason, as it approaches the finish line, it's fallen behind Toyota. So it looks like Toyota's going to go ahead and get that top spot -- Carol. COSTELLO: All right. Alison Kosik reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange.

46 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories. President Obama leaving Hawaii today to go back to Washington for a last-ditch effort to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff.

Senate and House expected to reconvene tomorrow. As you know, we have just six days left before across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts take effect.

Former president George H.W. Bush is still in a Houston hospital. His wife, Barbara, and other relatives at his side. The 88-year-old has been in the hospital for more than a month with a lingering cough. He recently had a low-grade fever. Doctors remain cautiously optimistic about a full recovery.

A claim of Facebook privacy breach within the Zuckerberg family. Co- founder Mark Zuckerberg's sister says a family photo she posted on Facebook was reposted by another woman on Twitter. Randy Zuckerberg called that woman out on Twitter. The woman apologized saying she thought it was "public" because it was in her Facebook newsfeed.

And in China, the world's longest high-speed railway train opens to connect Beijing with Guangzhou; that's just under 1,500 miles. It slashes the travel time between the two cities from 22 hours to eight -- 1,500 miles and eight on the train. The tickets are expensive though, they start starting at $138. Many travelers say it's still cheaper and faster to fly.


COSTELLO: Do you have the right to know if your neighbor owns a gun? A newspaper in New York State says yes. It's posted a map with the names and addresses of people who have gun permits in two New York counties. You can see the map here. Each red dot represents a person who has a gun permit in Westchester and Rockland counties, just outside of New York City. People whose names were posted on that site, they're not very happy.

We did reach out for a statement from the newspaper. It told us, quote, "The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut remains at top of mind for many of our readers. Our readers are understandably and keenly interested to know about who owns guns in their neighborhoods."

Last hour, I talked with Jonathan Lowy from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Here's what he had to say about the paper's decision.


JONATHAN LOWY, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE (via telephone): I think this shows a lack of judgment by the newspaper, and I think that we should not be stigmatizing every law-abiding gun owner out there. And I think particularly after Newtown, let's engage in a conversation about sensible policies that gun owners, including probably many of these people whose names were printed in the paper, and most Americans agree on, like background checks for all gun sales and getting military style assault weapons off the streets and other sensible policies.

COSTELLO: Well, the interesting thing about this, apparently these gun permits are for handguns only because you can't find out who owns let's say a semiautomatic assault rifle. Those things aren't made public.

Why is that?

LOWY: Well, that is a serious problem. The gun lobby has exerted its pressure to keep a lot of very important crime gun data secret.

For example, there are restrictions which now prevent us from finding out which gun dealers supply most criminals, which was a very useful tool and it will help targeting those bad apple gun dealers. Gun lobbyists shut it down with its friends in Congress which just protects corrupt gun dealers. And actually, most law-abiding gun dealers would like to expose those bad ones.

COSTELLO: So you don't think it's OK to publish people with permits who own handguns. But is it OK then in your mind to publish the names of people who own more heavy-duty weapons?

LOWY: I just think it's a focus on the wrong thing here. There are a lot of sensible reforms that we can do. I don't think this sort of public exposure is the right path. I mean, I really think we need to look for ways where gun owners and non-gun owners agree, and there are many things that we can do.

I do think that the media needs to be able to get data. For example, "Florida Sun Sentinel" exposed the fact there were over 1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, yet were issued concealed carry permits in Florida. That was very important. The gun lobby's response to that was to get the flawed legislature to make the names secret so you couldn't do that analysis. I mean, that was wrongheaded by the legislature. This I think was wrong headed by the media.


COSTELLO: We did reached out to the NRA this morning for a comment on the story. They said they're not familiar with the story right now but when they know more, they will certainly give CNN a comment. When that happens, we'll bring it to you.

We wanted to know what you think about this issue as well. Today's "Talk Back" question: Do you have the right to know who owns a gun in your neighborhood?; your responses next.


COSTELLO: A rematch of last season's NBA finals turned out to have similar results. The Miami/Oklahoma City battle was the biggest of five presents the NBA gave to fans on Christmas Day.

The game came down to the final seconds. The Thunders' Kevin Durant -- you're going to see him here -- he has a slam. Oh. That brings OKC to within one point. But that was as close as they got. Lebron James finds Chris Bosh under the basket and Bosh makes the easy two. The Heat remains at the top of the NBA East with the Knicks.

Speaking of the Knicks, they're trying to keep pace, taking on the Lakers in L.A. Carmelo Anthony's three-pointer -- there it is there -- puts them up in the third quarter. But Kobe Bryant, oh, he was solid at crunch time. He finished with 34 points, becoming the all- time scoring leader for Christmas Day games. The Lakers win. They win their fifth straight.

Virginia Tech's football team is honoring the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary school and the university's own 2007 tragedy. Players wearing decals on their helmets with the number 58, those killed in the two shootings plus the initials of the two schools and two of the colors.

Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum showed his generosity to strangers. He took his bowl game present, a $470 best buy gift card and spent it on three kids who just happened to be in the store. He just wanted them to have a happy Christmas. Awesome.

That's a look at sports this morning.

All right then. Now we have your responses on our Talk Back question, which was a hot "Talk Back" question today: Do you have the right to know who owns guns in your neighborhood?

This from Lavonda: "Absolutely not. It's getting to the point that law abiding people are losing their privacy. And getting punished for the things that the crazy and warp-minded are doing.

This from Gwen: "I'd rather see repeat DUI offenders publishes. They actually carelessly present a threat to us and our children than responsible gunowners."

This from Miriam: "Privacy versus the right to know but I'd avoid neighbors who owned.

This from David: "Publishing these gunowners addresses seem to be designed to shame those of us who own firearms."

And this from Sukarno: "Absolutely. I have every reason to know who is owning a gun in my neighborhood. This is my fundamental right to protect my own safety."

This from Tim: "Wow, I didn't realize so many people are paranoid of someone coming into their home uninvited. The way these gun owners are talking it's as if there are home invasions every single day."

Keep the conversation going. or tweet me, @carolCNN. Thanks as always for being a part of that conversation. I appreciate it. And thanks for being with me today. "CNN NEWSROOM" continues right now with Don Lemon.