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Notre Dame: Te'o was Victim of Hoax; Americans Held Hostage in Algeria; Preparing for Gun Control Battle; Gargantuan Goldfish in Lake St. Clair

Aired January 17, 2013 - 06:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots of questions surround Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. He says he was the victim of a cruel hoax. But why didn't he or the school come clean sooner?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And travelers, be warned. Wet weather, even snow, from Mississippi to the nation's capital, could put a monkey wrench in your travel plans.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, sexiest women of the millennium. One magnificent already calling it a decade into the millennium.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) welcome back to EARLY START. I'm John Berman. It is 30 minutes after the hour right now.

And Notre Dame officials are coming to the defense of their star linebacker Manti Te'o, who they say was the victim of a cruel hoax. It turns out that the story about Te'o's girlfriend dying which he said inspired him to play, well, she wasn't real. There was no girlfriend. She just didn't exist.

The university says Te'o was duped into a relationship with a woman carried out online and over the phone. There are so many questions here.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is following this bizarre story on the ground in South Bend, Indiana. Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Last night, the athletic director here at Notre Dame held a press conference and he says he believes Manti Te'o because he sat down and talked with him for -- on two separate occasions for hours and he says after that discussion, he absolutely believed that Manti Te'o had nothing to do with this, other than being the victim.

Now, one of the big questions you alluded to it a moment ago, is timing. Manti Te'o apparently found out his girlfriend was fictitious in early December. He didn't tell the school until December 26th and then the school allowed the truth to be concealed during the buildup to the national championship game. Well, during that buildup, every media outlet that was covering about it talked about Te'o and the talk about the fact that this is a guy that finished second in the Heisman trophy voting, and his girlfriend died a tragic death of leukemia.

Listen to what the athletic director said about the decision not to come forward with the truth before that game.


JACK SWARBRICK, NOTRE DAME: So from the outset, we established a parameter this was Manti's story to tell. We wanted to know it would be told, we wanted to know at the appropriate time when it would be told, but that it was his to tell.


ROWLANDS: And when will Manti tell his story? According to officials here at Notre Dame, they expect it will happen over the next few days. But still no word from either Te'o or his agent as to exactly when or how he will tell the story, John.

BERMAN: And Te'o has yet to speak out loud publicly. But what have we heard from him and his people?

ROWLANDS: He did released a statement to Deadspin, the folks who broke the story. I'll read a part of it to you.

It said, "I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone. And I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of somewhat was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was and is, painful and humiliating."

BERMAN: All right. Ted Rowlands, I got to say, you know, I guess we don't know the truth yet. No matter what the truth is, this is a very, very sad and bizarre story.

Ted Rowlands on the ground in South Bend, Indiana -- great to see you this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour. Right now, a hostage crisis is unfolding in Algeria, where Islamic terrorists are holding Americans and other foreigners who were working at a natural gas complex. The details of the kidnapping and exact number being held remains a little hazy.

But there is confirmation, 13 Norwegians have been taken, along with five Japanese and one Irish national, at least three Americans, maybe even more. And an unconfirmed number of British workers as well. Thirty Algerians taken hostage did manage to escape.

For more, let's go to CNN's Dan Rivers. He is live in London.

Dan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is calling this a terrorist attack. What do you know? DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has turned into a standoff now with the Algerian forces surrounding this gas plant. The hostage takers and several Westerners held inside.

Within the last few minutes, the Algerian news service, APS, is reporting that 30 Algerians have escaped. We haven't been able to get confirmation on that.

And there is also news from French broadcaster that's talked to the head of a French catering company that operates in this gas plant, that says that some of the Algerian, 150 Algerian employees there, they are allowed to move around freely inside the plant. They can carry on work, but they can't leave. He then said that the Westerners are being kept in a separate wing of the base. They're tied up, and are being filmed, electricity is cut off and mobile phones have no charge.

So, it gives you a picture of what must be a terrifying situation for the hostages there. We don't know how many Americans for sure are being held. The State Department isn't confirming numbers. We're getting reports of three or maybe four. But certainly we know there are Americans as well as Brits, French, Japanese, and Norwegians as you mentioned.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you for that new information. Dan Rivers, live in London.

BERMAN: So it is already coming down in some parts of the country. We're watching a winter storm this morning that's hitting places that don't know snow very well at all.

Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado with a look at the snow coming down, down South.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, guys. You're right. We're watching snow right now through parts of Mississippi. But a lot of this is really going to start to come down as we get later into the afternoon, as well as in the evening hours.

You can see right now, most of the areas being affected by rain, from Delaware, all the way down to parts of Alabama. But, of course, the snow in Mississippi, it's coming down good in some parts, right along Interstate 55. For many areas, we are talking about two to four inches of snowfall.

And we do have winter storm warnings in place for areas like Mississippi. That's going to last until late this morning. But for other areas like Georgia, goes into the evening. And then parts of mid-Atlantic, goes until early tomorrow morning.

Now, as we time the snow for you, this is 1:00. This is why we are talking that more of this will come later in the day, because we have to get the cold air in place with the moisture. Now, as we move ahead to 6:00 p.m., notice it starts to spread into areas like Virginia, as well as into North Carolina and even into the overnight hours. Some of these locations you can see, we're talking higher elevations, six to eight inches of snowfall. And that include parts of North Carolina, as well as areas just to the west of Roanoke.

We talked about the snow out there and how this could cause travel delays. We're going to be looking at low clouds around for areas like Atlanta, Charlotte, and D.C. metro. And speaking of D.C., we are going to see the potential between one to three inches of snowfall, traveling on the roadways will be dangerous. That's why we do have those winter storm warnings in place.

Here's the setup for today -- the snow, rain, warm for areas like Texas, as well as into California, as well as in Arizona. Temperatures returning to the 70s, I think I hear some applause there.


BERMAN: All right. Jennifer Delgado, thanks a lot.

DELGADO: They have suffered with those 30s.

SAMBOLIN: I was just saying that I'm looking forward to the summer. It's a long way off.

All right. Thirty-seven minutes past the hour. And checking the top CNN trends. Amazing entrepreneur or daring double crosser? A Verizon case study tells a really amazing story. A guy named Bob who worked at a critical infrastructure company outsourced his own job to China. The company says it's discovered its computers were being accessed from China. And initially they thought there were hackers involved, but that was not the case. It turns, BOb, the programmer, hired a firm in Shenyang (ph) to do his work.

Coming in overnight on a schedule that mimicked his 9:00 to 5:00 gig, paying them one-fifth of his six-figure salary. So, the ending of the story, Bob was terminated. The moral of the story, don't do this.

BERMAN: I guess, I don't know. I'm still wondering.

All right. So, Beyonce, showing some skin on a "GQ" shoot. The magazine is declaring her Ms. Millennium.

SAMBOLIN: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Look at the pictures. She looks amazing.

BERMAN: There are still 987 years left to unseat her. I suppose.

The list of the sexiest women of the millennium also includes Kristina Hendricks and "SI" cover girl Kate Upton. Sorry, I got a little tongue tied there.

SAMBOLIN: I bet you did.

All right. It's the celebration of the independent spirit. But the Sundance film festival also attracts biggest names in entertainment. Sundance 2013 opens today in Park City, Utah. Over the next 10 days, some 50,000 people will hit the town. They're getting the first look at the next big thing in the movies.

And guess who is going? I'm going. I get to experience Sundance first hand next week. We'll be reporting live from Park City, Utah. Zoraida Sambolin will be experiencing it.

So, Berman, you get to stay here.

BERMAN: You're so fabulous. Go into Sundance.

All right.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to work really hard for you.

BERMAN: Thirty-nine minutes after the hour right now.

Coming up here in New York: tight squeeze. Rescuers saved a woman. She's somehow became wedged between two walls. That's crazy picture.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, is it too soon? We're going to go live to Colorado where the Aurora movie theater is set to reopen just months after one of the darkest events in American history took place there.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-two minutes past the hour.

The Colorado movie theater where 12 were killed and 60 were wounded last July is set to start showing movies again, six months after the massacre in Aurora. The theater will reopen today with the private ceremony for victims, first responders and officials.

The theater was opened this week for private visits from family members. A formal reopening will be held tonight, where Aurora's mayor and Colorado's governor are expected to speak.

But many families have decided not to attend tonight.

Jessica Watts, whose cousin, Jonathan Blunk, was a victim in Aurora, is one of those family members. It's very nice to see you. I know we spoke about a week ago, and I really appreciate you coming back. So, you had no interest in visiting this week or going to the reopening, why is that?

JESSICA WATTS, COUSIN OF AURORA SHOOTING VICTIM: Because I felt like it was -- the fact that we were being used as pawns. That they were using us as momentum for their public ticket sales by telling the public, look, the family members of this massacre came back, and it's OK for them to come back, it's going to be OK for you guys, too.

SAMBOLIN: Jessica, some of the families did attend and they said it was therapeutic for them. It's going to help them actually go on with their lives. Do you see the value in that?

WATTS: It depends on the healing process. All of us are at different stages of healing and grief and, you know, different levels of trauma. And it kind of depends on, you know, what people feel, you know, as right to do. I know of a few family members that are going back, but I choose not to, just because I would rather focus my energy on, you know, how we can make a change.

You know, in policies, kind of according to what President Obama wanted to do yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Well, let's talk a little bit about that. The president unveiled his plans to curb gun violence yesterday. I want to listen to part of what he said. >



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines. The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with a high-capacity magazine, has one purpose, to pump out as many bullets as quickly as possible.


SAMBOLIN: So, Jennifer, it looks really unlikely that the president will get an assault ban by the Senate. How do you feel about that?

WATTS: You know, just the fact that he is hearing our plea not only from Aurora, but from Newtown, from Tucson, from all of these different places, you know, our pleas are being heard, and that is that we hope that, you know, other -- there are other people out there every day that are getting killed.

And we're trying to curb -- you know, get some kind of policy in place so that, you know, 34 other people aren't affected every day due to gun violence.

SAMBOLIN: Jessica, the last time I talked to you which was almost two weeks ago, you mentioned that would help -- what would help you heal is if Cinemark reach out to you. Have you heard from them at all? I know that they're embroiled in a lawsuit, but have they contacted you at all?

WATTS: No, they have not. And I don't know that they've contacted any of the families.

SAMBOLIN: And that you still maintain as something that would help you with your healing process?

WATTS: Absolutely. It would help, because we would know that, you know, they were at least thinking about us and had our best interests at heart.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jessica Watts, cousin of Aurora shooting victim, Jonathan Blunk. I really appreciate you being here again, and again, I'm going to say, we're going to pray for your healing to happen as well. WATTS: Thank you. Thank you.

BERMAN: Forty-six minutes after the hour right now. Notre Dame officials say star linebacker Manti Te'o they say he was the target of an elaborate hoax. The Web site Deadspin says his girlfriend whose death was said to be an inspiration for Te'o during some of the team's biggest games, they say this girlfriend never even existed.

Notre Dame officials say that Te'o was duped into an online relationship. In a statement, Manti Te'o called it "someone's sick joke." The reporters haven't had a question to question him in person yet.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama again promoting from within. Sources say deputy national secretary advisor, Dennis McDonough, has been tapped to be the next White House chief of staff. He would replace Jack Lew who's been nominated for treasury secretary. McDonough has been a key voice for the president on foreign policy.

BERMAN: And take a look at this, unless, you're at all claustrophobic. This Oregon woman spent nearly four hours trapped in an eight-inch space between an apartment building and a great foot (ph) wall. This happened early Wednesday morning in downtown Portland. She apparently fell from a second floor smoking area, and getting her out, so tough.

Firefighters had to cut through a section of the wall and use airbags to widen the space. Lt. Rich Chatman is the firefighter who pulled this woman out.


LT. RICH CHATMAN, PORTLAND FIRE AND RESCUE: To get her out, really get her out as soon as possible and we weren't going home without her. That was it. We used basically soapy water to kind of lube up the sides of the walls, and then, between us and her, she was getting out.


BERMAN: Airbags and soapy water. Unbelievable, and the look on her face when she finally made it out. Oh, what a relief.

SAMBOLIN: Relief! Oh, my goodness. Good for her.

All right. A Detroit area man said he was fishing for perch, instead, look at what he found, gold, last Friday, as in a big, gargantuan goldfish. It weighs more than three pounds. It is close to 15 inches long. The fisherman, Mike Martin, said he has been fishing in Lake St. Clair for 20 years, this is his first goldfish.


BERMAN: Look at it. It's crazy.

SAMBOLIN: What is in that lake is what I want to know.

BERMAN: Looks like something from the Simpsons.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my --

BERMAN: All right. Forty minutes after the hour right now, and the president is out with his gun control proposals, but what do people think and what are the representatives in Congress think? We're going to go live to Washington, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT".

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Lot to talk about this morning. Wow! Wow! This mystery about Manti Te'o. Wow! We're going to explore the bizarre mystery that surround the dead never existed girlfriend of Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. Is he the victim of the hoax? Is he, in part, a perpetrator of the hoax? There are so many weird questions in the story.

The assignment editor from Deadspin broke this story, Timothy Burke, is going to join me this morning to talk about exactly what threads they followed to figure out what happened. Also, we'll chat with ESPN's Mike Greenberg and Mark Schlerth. We're going to talk to their show as riveting to hear what they think about this.

BERMAN: My brain is broken. I can't wait to --

O'BRIEN: Yes. It is so bizarre.

Then, we're going to talk about the hostage situation, hostages in a foreign country. We're following, of course, the militant standoff in Algeria. Are Americans and how many are they among the hostages? Some of these hostages have escaped. Those escapees -- are Americans among those escapees? We're going to ask that question to Congressman Peter King this morning.

And 20 years after she was rescued from a dungeon, if you remember this story. It was the most riveting story in Long Island when I was first working. Talk about how she survived that horrifying ordeal and says in some weird way, the kidnapping was the best thing that happened to her because her life was so treacherous up to that point. We're going to talk to Katie Beers about that ahead this morning as well.

SAMBOLIN: A lot going on, Soledad.



BERMAN: -- fasten your seat belt, stay with us.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you. O'BRIEN: You bet.

BERMAN: All right. Fifty-three minutes after the hour right now, and as we have reported this morning, President Obama has moved to tighten gun control laws just one month after the elementary school massacre in Connecticut. Yesterday, he signed 23 executive actions to strengthen existing gun laws and he's calling on Congress to take aggressive action such as expanding background checks and reinstating a ban on assault weapons.

Congress, however, so far cool to his proposals. And what about the American public? We have some new data out this morning, and for that, we're going to go to Paul Steinhauser in Washington with the latest information. Good morning, Paul.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Hey, good morning, John. You know, we saw a surge in support for gun control right after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month. Is that starting to fade a little bit? Well, maybe. Take a look at this. As you mentioned, our brand new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll, you can see right here, some of the things the president announced yesterday.

Look at that, still a lot of support for gun registration with local authorities, but it's down from 78 percent in December to 69 percent now. Same thing, a majority support for banning extended ammunition clips and a ban on semi-automatic guns, still majority of support, but look at that, down from December by a little bit.

Go to the next graphic, you can see there's definitely a partisan divide here. I guess, no surprise here, but Democrats much more than Republicans, as you can see from these numbers, supporting a lot of what has been suggested by the president. John, as you know, all the action begins in the Senate about two weeks from now.

The big question, of course, will any of this get passed through the Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone the House which is controlled by the Republicans? John.

BERMAN: Will it all get passed? Will parts of it get passed? What's going to happen? Paul Steinhauser, thanks for being with us this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-five minutes past the hour. Today's "Best Advice," though, coming up. We'll hear from a young filmmaker who will be featured at Sundance, which starts today.

BERMAN: Who's going?

SAMBOLIN: I'm going.

BERMAN: And later on "STARTING POINT", a tense standoff in the Sahara Desert with Americans held hostage. We're going to have a live report just minutes away.


BERMAN: Just a couple of minutes left right now.

SAMBOLIN: We wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." Here's Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I could use some good advice today. Today comes from filmmaker, Spencer Gillis. Listen.


SPENCER GILLIS, FILMMAKER: I think the best advice anyone has ever given me is that if you want to be a story teller, tell something that you're passionate about and that you know something about and is personal to you.


ROMANS: So, that's like a filmmaker, writer, novelist, write what you know. make a picture about what you know.

BERMAN: And he's on his way to Sundance along with --

ROMANS: Dat-dat-da-da

SAMBOLIN: I'm so excited.


SAMBOLIN: I will be there Monday, Tuesday, coming back Wednesday. So, I'm very excited. I'm going to share tons of stories with you. We can't wait.

BERMAN: I will not.

SAMBOLIN: No, you'll be here.


BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm gloating. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.