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Website Maps Gun Permit Holders; Details of New York Firefighter Shooter; Latest on Syrian Conflict; Most Intriguing People of 2012

Aired December 26, 2012 - 15:30   ET


JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me show you one more statement here because this really thickens the plot a little bit for what people are talking about. This says that they were "surprised when we weren't able to obtain information on what kinds and how many weapons people in our market own. Had we been able to obtain those records, we would have published them."

So they're standing stalwart, doubling down, really, saying we want to publish more.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: You know, when I saw this, that first time, what it reminded me of?

LEVS: What?

BLACKWELL: The sex offender registry.

LEVS: Right.

BLACKWELL: I mean, that's what a lot of comments are online, that it looks as if they are comparing this or mapping this, much like people would who are sex offenders.

LEVS: And that visual of it is what's bothering people a lot.

I will tell you, you know, I can't tell you how many times I've stood in front of this screen, pointing to a map like this, but often it's been around Halloween when we're talking about which homes have sex offenders registered or we're talking about where the crimes are in your area.

You don't often see a neutral map like this, so some people are just concerned about the visual. Others are concerned about sharing the information and what it says.

I will tell you we have been searching for anyone who might have a positive take on this. There was a gun control -- a spokesman for a gun control group earlier ...


LEVS: He didn't support it either.

We've been reaching out. There's an organization called the Pointer Institute that looks at journalism. They're not happy with it.

I will tell you, because we're looking for anybody, I got this tweet, I want to share from someone that wrote me. "Please thank them for me, this could be a turning point. I do not want my daughter playing in a house with guns."

So, here and there, amid the thousands of angry people, you can find some voices that actually do support this, it's important to mention.

BLACKWELL: One, though, so far in the search.

LEVS: I found one on, also, or one or two out of thousands and thousands. It's not easy to find them.

BLACKWELL: Now, how often does this happen? I mean, is this unprecedented where a newspaper kind of publishes a map of who has a weapon?

LEVS: It is not unprecedented and that's another thing that's really important here. And if you read our story at, we link you to some of this. Other papers have done this in the past, published lists in various types of ways or published databases.

But now we're in this area of social media -- era of social media, so something hits the Web and everybody can share it everywhere and the map, like the one we're talking about, can be really interesting to a lost people and suddenly it can get a lot of attention.

So, this has spread like wildfire and gotten attention in a way that no other similar publishing of information has ever gotten in the past.

I'll also will tell you, there is a couple of examples in the past where people published that information, the newspapers have retracted it, or not said it was wrong, but decided to pull it from the Web because they didn't want that out there.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, it doesn't look like it's been happening because they've written follow-ups to this map in the past few days.

LEVS: Absolutely. And this show, your audience now, very active on social media.

Go ahead and tell us what you think. I'm @JoshLevsCNN. We're both on Twitter and Facebook. Go ahead and let us know what you think. We'll share some of your thoughts.

BLACKWELL: And I'm @VictorCNN.

Josh Levs, thank you very much.

LEVS: You got it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: A sniper ambushes volunteer firefighters in upstate New York. Police say the suspect was equipped to go to war.

And the case gets even stranger. Details are after the break.


BLACKWELL: New details about the New York man who set fire to his home and attacked those who responded. A disturbing letter left behind by the gunman who shot and killed two of the volunteer firefighters and wounded two others. William Spengler wrote that he likes doing best -- what he likes doing best is killing people.

Poppy Harlow in New York with the latest. The story alone is disturbing enough. You add the glee in the letter, it makes it that much worse.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's unbelievable, especially in the wake of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, to have another shooting like this on Christmas Eve. That's when it happened in the early morning hours of Monday and it has been developing since then, as you mentioned.

Firefighters were responding to the typical house fire, four of them, four of them were shot, two were killed, two were pretty seriously injured and what police are saying is it appears to really be a setup, an ambush to shoot these first-responders.

I'll tell you about William Spengler, the shooter. He is dead now from a self-inflicted gun wound to the head. He's 62-years-old. He was convicted of killing his grandmother back in 1980, in prison until 1998 on parole until 2006 and then this happened.

And as you said, he left a letter that police found and I want you to listen to the police chief because he read a portion of that letter that is incredibly disturbing.


CHIEF GERALD PICKERING, WEBSTER POLICE DEPARTMENT: I will read to you one of the sentences out of the two page -- two or three page, typewritten note that really clearly goes to his intent, while the note does not go to motive.

Quote, "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," end quote.


HARLOW: Unbelievable. Three guns were found on the shooter, a revolver, a shotgun and a semi-automatic Bushmaster 223-caliber rifle.

Again, no motive clear in that note, so police are trying to figure out what could have sparked this. The police chief did say in the press conference yesterday he believes some sort of mental illness may have been behind this.

I can tell you the latest development, Victor, is that they believe they found the remains of Spengler's sister, Cheryl Spengler, in the home that was burned down that he set fire to.

Again, the police chief saying, look, this person was, quote, "equipped to go to war and kill innocent people."

BLACKWELL: And now the people who hear the Bushmaster 223, if you recognize that, you don't know where you heard it before, it's the same gun used at Sandy Hook to kill those 20 children and seven adults, the six teachers and Nancy Lanza.

Before you go, Poppy, what about the two firefighters who survived? What can you tell us about them?

HARLOW: We have an update from the hospital. The two firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter, very young firefighter, and also Theodore Scardino, they are being treated still in intensive care at the local hospital. Their condition is guarded, so they're still watching them closely.

But as of yesterday, they were able to breathe on their own and to speak and they were alert. We're hoping for the best for them.

For our viewers, I want to show them the images of the two firefighters that were killed. Those two firefighters, Lieutenant Michael Chiapperini, you see him there, and also Tom Kaczowka. Chiapperini was in the police department also in this community.

Both of these men, very important part of the community. They were remembered with vigils held yesterday, saluted by their firefighters and police officers and a candlelight vigil, as well, was held for them.

We'll all remember them and this is just all too soon after that shooting and tragedy in Newtown that another shooting happened, especially on Christmas Eve.


BLACKWELL: Far too frequent. Poppy Harlow in New York. Thank you for that.

Children in need in Russia and now well-meaning American families will not be able to help them. We'll look at why Russia will no longer allow Americans to adopt its children.


BLACKWELL: A suicide car bomber struck outside a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan today and killed three Afghan civilians. The explosion happened near a gate after a minibus stopped for a security check.

A security guard and two officers were killed. Six civilians were also injured. Now, the Taliban have claimed responsibility for this attack.

In Syria in a city just south of Aleppo, the rebels are now using homemade rockets in their latest push to capture a key military base that's near the Aleppo-Damascus highway. Those are those homemade rockets and we're seeing more signs Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime is crumbling.

In one of the highest level defections yet, the country's military police chief has reportedly abandoned his post to join the rebel army.

Earlier, I spoke with our Mohammed Jamjoom and I asked him when this civil war will end.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, you know, this has been a war of attrition. As you said, yes, that's right, it has been nearly two years, over 40,000 people killed. It seems to get worse day after day.

And all this happening at a time when, in right Syria now, you have the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi there trying to negotiate some sort of peaceful settlement to the crisis there. It just hasn't happened. It just seems to get worse.

You have the rebels saying that they're taking one of the key bases in the north of the country on a highway that connects Aleppo to Damascus and, yet still, they cannot claim that they have won.

It seems that the rebels are gaining momentum. We hear this more from the opposition activists, from the rebel Free Syrian Army, but the government maintains they're ridding the territories across Syria of the rebels, of the terrorists, as they call them.

And it just seems to be spiraling more and more out of control at a time when there is so much concern about what is going on in Syria and there's so much pressure on the opposition and the Syrian government to come to some sort of settlement of their disputes so that the people of Syria can live in peace once again.


BLACKWELL: It is crushing news for hundreds of American couples trying to adopt children from Russia. A law banning the practice has been approved by Russia's upper house of parliament and now it's just waiting for president Putin's signature.

Russia claims the ban is over concern for the welfare of some of Russia's children who died in the homes of their adopted American families.


RUSLAN GATTAROV, RUSSIAN SENATE MEMBER (via translator_: I believe we must have a clear idea about what's happening to our children, to our citizens after they have been adopted.

In regards to the U.S., we just don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: But many see the move as payback for a recently signed U.S. law which restricts Russians accused of human rights violations from entering the U.S.

Fireworks sparked a huge fire today in the Nigerian city of Lagos. At least one person was killed, 40 others seriously injured as the fire quickly spread in this densely populated area.

Officials say the fire started in a warehouse that did not have permission to store fireworks. Some of those injured were trampled in the rush to get away from the flames.

And in China, the world's longest highway -- rather, high-speed railway is set to open. It connects Beijing with Guangzhou.

The two cities are just under 1,500 miles apart. The high-speed train slashes the travel time between the two from 22 hours to just eight.

But the tickets, starting at $138, are still a little steep for some and many travelers say it's still cheaper and faster to fly.

So we asked you to pick the most intriguing people of 2012. So, who's number one? We'll show you, along with the rest of the 10.


BLACKWELL: All right, so, it's the day after Christmas and typically that means a food hangover, but it was worth it, wasn't it? Oh, it was so good.

But in the U.K., Canada and some other parts of the world, people are celebrating Boxing Day. OK, so, it's like a Black Friday in the U.S. Retailers offer big discounts. Crowds of people fill the streets and stores today hoping to take advantage of those sales.

We're a few minutes away from the top of the hour and "The Situation Room." Joe Johns is here with the preview.

JOE JOHNS, ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Hi, Victor, a lot of news out there for the day after Christmas.

We're counting down the minutes until we reach the fiscal cliff. The Congress and the White House are running out of time.

There was supposed to be a leadership telephone conversation today, while the president heads back here from Hawaii. Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is following that closely, so we'll be checking in with her.

We're also staying on the story of the gun culture in America. We'll talk to former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, a man who is very well known here in the nation's capital, a long-time friend of the gun lobby. He's been tapped to lead the NRA plan to put armed guards in schools.

Also the weather is a very big story. Blizzard conditions in Indiana and other places. We'll take a look at just how bad that can get. All that at the top of the hour.

BLACKWELL: Joe Johns, thank you.

They inspire us, sometimes they even anger us. They're the most intriguing people of 2012. So who made the list?

Brooke Baldwin counts down the top ten people who shaped the year that was.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Number 10, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": The United States Supreme Court in a major decision, a five-to-four decision, upholds the president's healthcare reform law.

BALDWIN: Few could have imagined the deciding vote was cast by the chief justice himself. Conservatives, stunned. Liberals, perplexed but thrilled

Forging ahead, the Roberts court takes on same-sex marriage.

Number nine, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. At 37, head of a major tech company, a CEO in a male dominated field, pregnant. It's the baby part that became problematic, shall we say, when Mayer decided to take just a couple of weeks for maternity leave.

The mommy blogosphere went nuts. Sure, she could be woman-in-charge, but what message was she sending by not staying home longer with her baby?

Number eight, South Korean rapper Psy. Say what you want, his lasso- inspired dance style first discovered on YouTube had everyone going "Gangnam." And we mean everyone.

ALAN SIMPSON, FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATOR: The lasso again and then the horse thing.

BALDWIN: Psy was riding high in 2012, the most watched YouTube video of all-time.

Number seven, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This election is over, but our principles endure.

BALDWIN: Romney ran on his impressive business credentials, but it was his multiple gaffes during the campaign that analysts say helped seal his fate.

Remember the 47 percent comments?

ROMNEY: The 47 percent who are with him who are dependent upon government. BALDWIN: Oh. And this one.

ROMNEY: Whole binders full of women.

BALDWIN: Number six, ex-CIA director, General David Petraeus.

Got some breaking news now coming in regarding the chief of the CIA, General David Petraeus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Petraeus, can you talk with us, please?

BALDWIN: The news was unexpected. The reason, shocking. Petraeus, a retired four-star general, had quit his CIA post and admitted he had cheated on his wife.

Petraeus' mistress was also his biographer, Paula Broadwell, an embarrassing exit from the public stage by one of the most respected public servants of his time.


BLACKWELL: Next, you'll see the five most intriguing people of 2012.


BLACKWELL: They are the people who captivated us and dominated the news headlines.

Brooke Baldwin continues the countdown of those you voted for as the most intriguing of 2012.


BALDWIN: Number five, super jumper Felix Baumgartner. Let's face it he did what no human has ever done, diving 24 miles from the edge of space. Breaking the sound barrier along the way.

FELIX BAUMGARTNER, SKYDIVER: I'm still the same guy, but as soon as you start traveling, people recognize my face.

I was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were scared?

BAUMGARTNER: I was a little bit scared.

BALDWIN: Number four, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The shore and the boardwalk of the Seaside Heights of my childhood no longer exists.

BALDWIN: The rough and tumble governor took charge when a super storm named Sandy ravaged his state days before the presidential election.

A Romney backer, suddenly, Christie was standing arm in arm with the president, praising Mr. Obama's leadership as they toured Sandy's wrath.

CHRISTIE: When you know you have responsibility for those folks, you could give a damn about the politics of things. I could care less today.

BALDWIN: Number three, Olympian Gabby Douglas, one of the "Fab Five" at the London games, she captured our hearts, becoming the first African-American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics.

GABBY DOUGLAS, OLYMPIC GYMNAST: I wanted to inspire a nation. And the whole point is to inspire a generation and I love that.

BALDWIN: She did just that.

Number two, the school-aged activist, Malala Yousufzai. Malala rose to fame blogging about the brutality of her life in Pakistan under Taliban rule.

Not yet a teenager, she dared to suggest girls not only deserve but have a right to an education.

MALALA YOUSUFZAI, PAKISTANI TEEN ACTIVIST: I will get my education, if it is in home, school or anyplace.

BALDWIN: The Taliban retaliated, hunting her down, shooting her in the neck and back.

The attack outraged even hardened Pakistanis and all around the world, mala quickly became a symbol of good against evil. Today, she's recovering in England.

Number one, President Obama.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, you voted for action, not politics as usual.

BALDWIN: After a long -- and we mean long -- and bitter campaign, President Obama won re-election.

In 2012, the president also won the Supreme Court stamp of approval for his health care reform program and made history with this statement.

OBAMA: I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

BALDWIN: As 2012 comes to a close, the president joined in grief with a community shocked by senseless violence.

OBAMA: These tragedies must end and, to end them, we must change.

BALDWIN: Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Atlanta.


BLACKWELL: All right, here is a good Samaritan story to end on from Christmas Day in Colorado Springs.

During his Christmas celebration, Jim Stevens noticed some suspicious people carrying items out of his neighbor's home, so he decided to confront them.


JIM STEVENS, NEIGHBOR: Told them put the stuff down. He threw it at the me, hit me in the face, took off running.

Then the car tried to leave, so I reached into the window, put the car in park so she couldn't leave.

As I'm doing that, the other lady came out and I was able to hold her until police got here.


BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Thanks for being with me today.

Up next, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Joe Johns.