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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Sandy Hook Students Return to School; Video Surfaces of Teens Discussing Committing Rape

Aired January 3, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Good to see you today. Soledad is off this morning.

And we want to begin here with our STARTING POINT: a new beginning for the kids of Newtown. Sandy Hook Elementary students heading back to school this morning. A look at what's new and how adults, teachers, parents, helping them cope.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, outrage as lawmakers fail to vote for relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For crying out loud, please help us! You know, you helped Katrina in 10 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is why the American people hate Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The fury that's pitting Republicans against each other on the eve of the new Congress.

Baldwin: Plus, have you heard about this? A war on Kwanzaa? One lawmaker calls it a leftist plot to destroy America. And guess what, he's not backing down.

BERMAN: We have a packed two hours straight ahead. New York Congressman Michael Grimm and Peter King, they have a lot to say about Hurricane Sandy. Also, Texas Representative-Elect Joaquin Castro and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.

BALDWIN: It is Thursday, January 3rd, STARTING POINT begins right now.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Good morning to you.

BALDWIN: Oh, hello. How are you?

BERMAN: Very well, thank you.

BALDWIN: Good.

BERMAN: Our STARTING POINT this morning is a fresh start to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BERMAN: The kids, they will return to class today for the first time since 20 of their friends, six of their educators, slaughtered by a gunman three weeks ago.

BALDWIN: We have Deb Feyerick. She is live there for us this morning, actually in Monroe, Connecticut, where this sort of new, that's what they're calling it, the new Sandy Hook Elementary School is set to open.

Deb, good morning.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. You know, one of the things the kids that we spoke to yesterday, they are really excited to be getting back to class. They're really excited to be joining their friends and their teachers in discovering what is really a new environment. Today gives teachers a chance to reset the entire sort of school year and get the kids back into a routine. You know, you have to remember that the last time all these kids were together they were huddled, hiding from a deranged gunman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: So you were in the gym and you were in the art room.

Ben and Ethan Paley heard the gunshots and screams that horrible morning at Sandy Hook elementary school. Three weeks isn't nearly enough time to understand all the feelings they have experienced since then, fear, worry, anger. Still, the nine-year-old twins are trying every way they can.

BEN PALEY, SANDY HOOK FOURTH GRADE STUDENT: It's a healing shawl. So it's supposed to heal us.

FEYERICK: Going back to school this week is a big part of that healing.

Are you guys looking forward to kind of going back to school?

PALEY: Well, we just went there today to visit it and look at everything. And it's very -- it's a very interesting school.

FEYERICK: Originally for teenagers, the school in Monroe has been transformed for K through Fourth Grade, toys, cubbies, carpets and familiar things brought over from Sandy Hook elementary.

PALEY: All of our desks are there, but my desk, I noticed that someone was in there and cleaned it and made it -- well, not cleaned it, made it neater, because my desk is usually very messy.

ANDREW PALEY, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENTS: I think them getting on the bus is -- for us it's a movement forward. So I think a lot of us are looking at that as this is the next step. Now it's getting back to a routine and it's getting them to school so they get back to that normalcy and start learning again and be who they are.

FEYERICK: Ben and Ethan want the school turtle to be Sandy Hook's new mascot.

ETHAN PALEY, SANDY HOOK FOURTH GRADE STUDENT: Our motto that could go with it is actually one step at a time.

FEYERICK: It's also one step at a time for moms and good friends, Denise Correia and Sarah Swansiger and their daughters.

DENISE CORREIA, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: There's no real playbook for this. I don't think any of us really have a playbook. So we're kind of just sensing our child and trying to meet the needs that we can.

FEYERICK: Counselors will be on hand for the children, and parents can spend the day at the school, just in case.

SARAH SWANSIGER, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: I joked with one of the other moms, I'll see you in the morning. I'll bring coffee. It was one of those that I think I need that adult time too because I'm not sure I'm ready yet to totally let them go in peace, because I think my peace has been shattered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: When you think about it, "shattered" is such a right word because everybody is trying to pick up all the pieces and put them together as best they can. Parents will be putting their children on the school bus beginning at 8:30 this morning. And then some of the moms they spoke to, they said, look, they're going to be jumping in their cars and following those buses. They just want to be at the school and they want to be on hand in case their kids do need them. Some of the moms really feel like they weren't there to protect their kids when all this happened. But for the kids, look, they're just happy to be with their friends and their teachers again. Brooke?

BALDWIN: And they want the mascot to be a turtle because they're going to take it one step at a time. That's adorable. Kids are resilient. Deb Feyerick, thank you so much.

BERMAN: How cute were the kids in that piece?

BALDWIN: How cute were the kids?

BERMAN: As you say, kids are so resilient. Sometimes parents not quite as much. It will be a tough day for them today too, I'm sure.

Other top stories we're looking at this morning, he may be hands on when it came to governing, but when it comes to signing the fiscal cliff Bill into law, President Obama not hands on at all. With the first family vacationing in Hawaii, the president couldn't be in Washington to put his actual John Hancock on the bill so he signed it yesterday with an auto-pen, which copies his signature. The president also signed a defense bill. That one got his actual hand involved. BALDWIN: In just a couple of hours here, the 113th Congress will be on the clock. Members are being sworn in on Capitol Hill today and there will be a swarm of wide-eyed lawmakers. You have 13 freshmen senators, 81 freshmen representatives among those taking the oath. The new Congress includes a record 20 female senators.

BERMAN: It's going to be like the first day of school for al them too.

BALDWIN: We're talking to Joaquin Castro later.

BERMAN: His first day on the new job.

BALDWIN: See how it will go.

BERMAN: He's coming to a place which hasn't been terribly friendly the last 24 hours. Though it appears House Speaker John Boehner will get to keep his gavel in the new congress. There was a storm of outrage over Speaker Boehner scrapping a vote on super-storm Sandy relief. He is now doing an about-face. The first of two votes on Sandy aid package will take place tomorrow. New York Congressman Peter King, who accused Boehner of betraying the party, tells CNN he is glad the speaker is making things right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: The bottom line is that we are now receiving what we asked for. As far as I'm concerned, what's done is done. I've always considered John Boehner a friend. I said that on the house floor today, which made it all the more painful for me to say what I felt I had to say. I owed it to my constituents and I did feel that New York in a number of cases was being taken advantage of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You know, he says they have always been friends but they didn't sound too friend low yesterday morning. Peter King has had a lot of emotion over this, and we'll talk to the chairman later this morning in the 8:00 hour.

Also later this hour New York Congressman Michael Grimm whose district in Staten Island was devastated by Sandy. He will join us.

BALDWIN: Speaking of Sandy, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may not be so quick to forgive Speaker of the House John Boehner at least when it comes to that sandy vote. Christie gave Boehner and the entire Republican leadership an earful, vintage Chris Christie, for delaying that vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner. New York deserves better than the selfishness we saw displayed last night. New Jersey deserves better than the duplicity we saw displayed last night. America deserves better than just another example of a government that has forgotten who they are there to serve and why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Governor Christie says he was given no credible reason for that holdup.

BERMAN: Subtle, the word "subtle" not in the Chris Christie playbook.

BALDWIN: Not at all.

BERMAN: Three days after being admitted to a New York hospital to treat a blood clot, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been discharged. She was spotted walking on the grounds of New York Presbyterian hospital yesterday accompanied by her husband, the former president Bill Clinton, of course, and their daughter, Chelsea. In a statement, the state department said Clinton's medical team advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts and they are confident she will make a full recovery. The secretary is being treated with blood thinners to help dissolve the blood clot.

BALDWIN: And now to this one, to say Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman isn't a supporter of Kwanzaa is a huge understatement. He believes the African-American holiday should, quote, "Die a quick death." The press release called "Why must we still hear about Kwanzaa?" Grothman claims the holiday is part of a leftist plot to destroy America. He calls Kwanzaa founder Ron Karenga a racist who, quote, "didn't like the idea that Christ died for all our sins, so he thought blacks should have their own holiday." Take a look what he cold Ashleigh Banfield last night on "AC 360."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN GROTHMAN, WISCONSIN STATE SENATE: I think the underlying problem here is not enough TV types when they talk about Kwanzaa talk about the horrible, racist violent past of its founder. If they knew the past, I think Kwanzaa would die a quick death. You've got to remember Ron --

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Go ahead.

GROTHMAN: The founder of Kwanzaa who just founded it in 1966 was a black separatist who felt the black panthers didn't dislike white people enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Grothman claims Kwanzaa is a holiday and again, quoting here, that, quote, "almost no black people today care about." And with that we roll on.

BERMAN: And with that we roll on.

We've got a story that a lot of people are talking about. Disturbing video surfaces of a teenager joking about the rape of a 16-year-old girl. We're going to talk to the blogger who helped break the story that's rocked an Ohio community and its football team. It's crazy. BALDWIN: It's a crazy, crazy story. Lots of details coming out.

Also coming up this morning, Al Gore has sold Current TV here. Wait until you hear who the buyer is.

BERMAN: Al Jazeera.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: It's 11 minutes past the hour here on a Thursday. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We are getting our very first look at this 12-minute video that is likely to become this key piece of evidence in a rape case involving high schoolers.

BERMAN: That's right. Two high school football players in Ohio charged for allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The whole thing really played out on social media. CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti has been covering this case. Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the charges are horrific. A 16-year-old girl allegedly rape d by two high school football players during end of the summer parties in the small eastern Ohio town of Steubenville. There are reports the girl was drunk and possibly unconscious.

And now two special prosecutors appointed by Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine, are just over a month away from drying at least two teenagers or rape charges. But what makes this case stand out even more is talk about the alleged attack last August has been playing itself out through social media. Even Ohio's chief law enforcement officer says this case might never have come together a decade ago. That's because police in part found out about the alleged rape by piecing together outrageous tweets, a cell phone photo that claims to show the girl at the center of the alleged attack being carried, seemingly limp, by her arms and legs, and at least one online video that shows young people callously laughing about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if that was your daughter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it isn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if it was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that was my daughter, I wouldn't care. I'd just let her be dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm listening to myself fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In about 10 years, I'm going to come back to this video. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten years. My daughter's going to be getting raped and dead in 10 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, that continues for about 12 minutes. He goes on to make offensive one-line comments about rape and talks about the girl as if she was dead, which she is not.

BALDWIN: The charges here are horrendous.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. And, you know, for now this is what we know about them. Two 16-year-old boys are charged with rape. One of the two is also charged with illegal use of a minor in nude oriented material. Now, the attorney general's office says they will be tried by a juvenile court judge without a jury in open court next month. They have been publicly identified by authorities. However, CNN is not yet revealing their names, and because CNN's policy is not to release the name of alleged rape victims, we are also not reporting the name of the girl.

BERMAN: So right now we have two high school football players who have been charged. I've got to say, the tweets, the pictures that have gone around on social media shocking, more than two people there. What do we know about other people that may be involved?

CANDIOTTI: Well, it's possible, the attorney general tells me the investigation is not over. Authorities are still conducting interviews. He also says he's well aware of the online video and the photo and postings. Some were online months ago then were taken down, and some of them are now back online again. So a lot of people are looking at this.

BERMAN: Thank you very much, Susan Candiotti. Obviously this case has received national attention because evidence of the attack first surfaced on social media. Twitter, Facebook, everywhere.

BALDWIN: That's what made this case so, so different than other allegations of sexual assault in the past. I want to bring in Alexandria Goddard. She has a blog and has been posting on this developing story. Also want to bring in Mark Radaza, he is her attorney. To both of you, good morning. Alexandria, let me just begin with you. How and why did you get involved in this case in Steubenville, Ohio?

ALEXANDRA GODDARD, BLOGGER, PRINNIEFIED.COM: I used to live in Steubenville so I keep track of the news there. And when I first came across the article, I just -- I felt like because it was involving football players, and there is a culture there that football is very important, that there was probably a little more to this story than what the local media was reporting. So I started doing my own research.

BERMAN: So you went digging on social media. Without naming names, Alexandria, tell us what you found. GODDARD: I found -- I went through the twitter accounts and I found, you know, very disturbing messages. Basically laying out a timeline of what happened that evening. Found the cache of the YouTube video, just found all of the social media, which told the story of what happened that night.

BALDWIN: With the video, and this is the first time that so many people are seeing this 12-minute video and you saw from what I understand a screen grab, not the actual video. But now that we're learning more about that today, how does that help/hurt your case?

GODDARD: How did the video --

BALDWIN: How does that help your case, just in general your case here, your investigation?

GODDARD: Well, it proves that there was a 12-minute video. We had -- you know, I found the Google cache from YouTube and, you know, some of the supporters were like, you know, it doesn't exist. And that video surfacing now proves that, you know, it did exist and some of the commentary that was going on by the person in it tells the horrific things that happened that night.

BALDWIN: Here's my question, though, and there's so much out there on the internet. How are you able to verify, you know, that these tweets are in fact coming from specific individuals, that this video is in fact a real video? How did you discern that?

GODDARD: Well, I mean, the person is there so that's obviously that person is -- has, you know, identified themselves in the video. They have also identified others in the room who were allegedly involved. And through the twitter accounts, most of these kids were using their full names.

BERMAN: There are two people who have now been charged in this case. You have been -- you were for a while the target of a defamation suit here. How was your blogging, how has your investigation been received in Steubenville?

GODDARD: It's been for the most part very positive. I haven't received any hate mail. I know that there is some people who are upset about it, but for the most part it's been very positive and people have thanked me for, you know, bringing this situation to light, because their local media just wasn't providing enough coverage and they were coming to my blog for information.

BALDWIN: So it's been overall positive, but we're clear this morning in not saying specifically where you are in this country as we're talking to you, so clearly I'm thinking there is a level of fear in terms of your own safety. Is that right?

GODDARD: Yes and no. I mean, you know, I would go back to Steubenville if I need to, to report on this, but, you know, I just as everyone on the Internet needs to be safe and practice safety on the internet. So I mean you shouldn't go out telling everybody where you live. BERMAN: The video, as we said, what you're seeing in its full 12- minute length today, we knew about its existence before, what new are you learning from this video and who more do you think there's still to learn that's out there?

GODDARD: I learned a lot more of the facts and exactly where they were. What I think will be learned from this are the other people and the things that they said, that they admitted. If you listen to the background voices, you can glean a lot of information.

BALDWIN: OK. Alexandria Goddard, Mark Redaza, thank you. It just goes to show in this day and age what people are posting and tweeting and photos, you know, for the world to see.

BERMAN: And these kids were doing it as it was going on.

BALDWIN: As it's going on.

BERMAN: It's a remarkable timeline to read through, I do have to say that. The case against those two teens, the two football players, scheduled for February at this point.

BALDWIN: Still ahead this morning here on STARTING POINT, how the fiscal cliff deal in Washington could delay your tax refund.

Plus an invitation that relatives of those killed in the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre call "disgusting."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. Minding your business this morning, a very big day for the markets yesterday. The Dow gained 308 points, about 2.4 percent. It was a fiscal cliff deal rally. But, as often happens when you have a very big day, you have a little pull-back the next day and that's what we're expecting today. Stock futures are down. It's healthy, John, don't get too worried. Investor enthusiasm over the fiscal cliff expecting to be short-lived as we look ahead to Wall Street's biggest problem, Washington. That's what most of the 30 investment strategists and money managers told CNN money in a survey. They said uncertainty out of Washington remains the biggest market headwind.

One of these money managers said, quote, "Democrats and Republicans did the least they could possibly do to avoid the fiscal cliff, and the question now is will they do the least amount again when it comes to raising the debt ceiling and how will the rating agencies view that." Moody's, one of those rating agencies, did warn yesterday it could lower America's credit rating unless Washington reduces the deficit.

Now, no word yet if your tax refund could be delayed this year because of the last-minute deal on the fiscal cliff. The IRS had this statement saying, quote, "The IRS is currently reviewing the details of this week's tax legislation and assessing what impact it will have on this year's filing season." It also said it will issue additional guidance, quote, "soon."

If you look at the 1040 form for 2012, there's several lines listed as reserved. An IRS spokesman told CNN money these are place holders for several fiscal cliff provisions it was waiting on, like the alternative minimum tax, about a dozen provisions that just never got extended, hanging out there until the very last moment for 2012. The big changes for taxes come for 2013.

BERMAN: These are ones in the fine print for 2012. The big rate increases are next year.

ROMANS: That's absolutely ready. Tax preparers tell us they are ready. They are ready for your business.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, inside the battle on the hurricane Sandy relief bill. This had Republicans publicly ripping each other. We'll talk to Republican Congressman Michael Grimm from heart-hit Staten Island.

BALDWIN: Also coming up this morning, a pint-size football fan. This is precious. She's just calling it how she sees it. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: It's 27 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. In Newtown, Connecticut, this morning, the lunch boxes are being packed. The children of Sandy Hook elementary school are returning to class. This is the very first time since that gunman slaughtered 20 of their friends.

Deb Feyerick is live for us this morning near the new, they're actually calling it, Sandy Hook elementary school, Different town, seven miles away in Monroe, Connecticut. Deb, imagine a lot of nervous parents there this morning?

FEYERICK: Yes, a lot of nervous parents, but a lot of excited kids also. one of the reasons that they did rename the school is they want the children to understand that this is their building, this is their school. The teachers will be the same, their friends will be same. There are changes, of course there are changes. A lot of the children, they either knew some of those who were killed or they know siblings who are also expected to be going back to school today as well.

So -- but one thing that the officials want to really convey is that, you know, everything that they see there belongs to them. And that's one of the reasons they took such great care to move over furniture and cubbies and toys. Even desks were transferred from the old school to the new school. One little boy we talked to said he was a little bit confused because when he left his desk it was a lot messier than when he found it because they did do orientations and the kids could get in and spend a little time there.

But nobody knows what to expect. One of the moms said there's just no playbook for this thing. So everybody is going to be taking cues from each other. The teachers will take cues from the kids. The kids will take cues from their parents. So it's very delicate. But they're going to get through it altogether, and that's one thing the community has said. They don't want to be defined through this tragedy. They want to be defined through how they handle it and come out on the other side, Brooke.

BALDWIN: As for the kids, you mentioned some of the kids are excited. We saw your piece where they said they want the mascot to be a turtle because they're going to take this thing step by step slowly. How are they overall?

FEYERICK: You know, it's interesting. They are still very much processing the emotions and the feelings. It depends on where the children were, if they heard the gunshots. The loudspeakers were on in the school so a lot of the kids did hear what was going on, the commotion. Those who were closest have fresher recollections of it.