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Killer Line of Storms Moves Through; Obama Admits Gun Control Difficulties; Fake Girlfriend Hoax; Sen. Menendez Denies Sex Scandal Allegations; NASA's Nighttime Launch; Family Wants Answers in Daughter's Shooting

Aired January 31, 2013 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: One thousand miles of power. The huge storm system that ripped parts of the South now heads for the Northeast.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Taking sides -- in our national debate over gun control, one of the key speakers before Congress joins us live in just a few moments from now.

BERMAN: Blame it on love. The man behind the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend hoax makes a TV confession. It's interesting.

SAMBOLIN: If you missed it, you want to stay tuned for that.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us. It is Thursday, January 31st. Thirty minutes past the hour here.

A 1,000-mile-long storm system barreled through the eastern half of the country. Did you feel it? Probably the hardest-hit spot was Adairsville, Georgia. It's about 60 miles north of Atlanta. One person was killed there.

That massive storm heavily damaged a motel and a manufacturing plant. You are taking a look at one of the some of pictures. It was so violent workers in the plant were forced to take cover in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

Miguel Marquez is surveying all of the damage and the cleanup that is happening there. Miguel, how is it going?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems to be going pretty well, given the extent of the damage here. The gentleman who was killed here was killed in a trailer home when a tree crashed down on it. Another person in similar circumstances in Tennessee was killed when they were in a shed and a tree came down and killed them there as well.

But despite those two incidents and certainly here in Adairsville, it is amazing that not more people weren't injured or killed.

At the Daiki plant, which is just across the street where we are, that plant was absolutely leveled. There were 100 people in there, between 50 and 100 people in there when that storm came barreling through. They took refuge in a bathroom and a kitchen and were able to survive. How they did it, I don't know.

One of the guys we talked to said when he came out to the bathroom to go to the break room, the break room was just gone. It was clear sky out.

Right now, power crews are here from Georgia Power. They're trying to restore power throughout the area here. Probably more than a thousand people in this area are without power, across Georgia, about 10,000 people.

So it's widespread. Places like where we are right now were hit very hard, but you look just beyond where I am, there was a house there that is damaged but not as bad as this place that was -- that we're standing right in front of. This, by the way, was a rental unit that had just rented and apparently there was nobody in it. So fortunately everything was fine there. But it could have been much, much worse here in Adairsville.

Back to you guys.

SAMBOLIN: No, as we're watching all the pictures you've been showing us and actually behind you, it looks like a complete disaster area. Are folks getting help now with the cleanup effort?

MARQUEZ: The cleanup has begun. The biggest thing to clean up were the cars, the number of cars that had been tossed around the roads here. And those they have been able to get off the roads.

You know, there was one person in Tennessee who was particularly pleased to be OK. Her home was destroyed but she was able to save one of her family members.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just the worst sound I've ever heard in my life. That's nothing compared to the life of this child here. That's nothing compared to that.


MARQUEZ: Now, the other thing that we can tell you about what's happening here today, and I think you guys are going to experience this going into today, is the cold. It was 65 degrees here in Atlanta, in the Atlanta area yesterday. It's now in the 30s and the wind chill has it down into the 20s.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, wow.

MARQUEZ: So it is bitterly cold out here at the moment. Back to you guys.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, insult to injury, I would say. But a lot of folks lucky to be alive this morning. Miguel Marquez, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

So will the weather be as extreme today? Some folks in Chicago are telling me the same thing. It was 65 degrees. And now, it feels like below zero.

Meteorologist Indra Petersons is here with some more of that.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I think we all know the story here, cold, cold and more cold, unfortunately. The good news, though, of course, that line of storms finally seeing the back edge of that, making its way out. The bad news, as we know, more of this cold, arctic air spreading even now all the way into the Southeast. So this cold, arctic air is going to really bring that big change out there.

When you have that change of warm air to cold air, you're also going to start to see some wind. So, today, we're going to be talking about delays at the airport and not just one. Take a look at these major hubs affected today. It's going to be another tough day for travel out there.

Let's talk about those temperature changes. Yesterday morning felt so good, especially if you get up in early hours. Temperatures were quickly warming ahead of the cold front. Behind it, though, they were already feeling that chill. Dallas went down 27 degrees yesterday.

Now watch this cold air spread really from the Dakotas, all the way again down to the southeast. Look at these temperature changes, down about 32 degrees from yesterday morning and it's not going to stop there.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Indra Petersons, thank you very much.

BERMAN: President Obama admitting it's been difficult to drum up support for gun control on the other side of the aisle. Here's what he told Univision.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My suspicion is we're seeing more bipartisan discussion on the immigration issue than on the gun issue. I'm actually optimistic that we can get both done. Both will end up generating some opposition and some strong opposition. There will be passions on both sides.


BERMAN: The president's remarks came after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a contentious hearing on gun violence that began with a statement from Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was nearly killed by an assassin's bullet.

She told the committee that gun violence is simply claiming too many American lives.


GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.


BERMAN: Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, also testified. So did NRA head Wayne LaPierre.

And, also, the chief of Baltimore County, Maryland, James Johnson. He is also the chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. He joins us right now.

And, Chief, you are really on the front lines of this gun debate. So I want to ask you, if you could get one thing -- change one thing when it comes to guns and gun violence -- what's the one measure you would choose?

CHIEF JAMES JOHNSON, BALTIMORE COUNTY POLICE DEPT.: Well, it's definitely going to be a universal background check. I think most in law enforcement would agree that a universal background check certainly would make it more difficult for people who are trying to get weapons, keep them out of their hands.

You know, in fact, from 1994 to 2009, nearly 2 million prohibited purchases were stopped. So we know this is going to work. And, obviously, increasing penalties for those who try to straw purchase for someone else, I really think this will have a tremendous impact.

BERMAN: So, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA doesn't agree with you. At the hearing yesterday he said that criminals will never submit to these background checks.

Let's listen to what he said.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EVP AND CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: When it comes to background checks, let's be honest. Background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them.


BERMAN: Your response?

JOHNSON: Well, certainly I respect Mr. LaPierre's position on this issue. He has a right like all Americans to take a position on this matter. But I disagree with him. And most law enforcement executives across the nation and the individuals I represent in the law enforcement partnership to prevent gun violence, we disagree with that -- with him.

BERMAN: Mr. LaPierre also talks about the significance of guns and why Americans need guns. And something he said brought up something from you yesterday that caused a moment of tension in the hearing.

I want to listen to him when he talked about why Americans need their guns. Let's listen.


LAPIERRE: I also think, though, that what people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government. If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they're going to be out there alone and the only way they're going to protect themself in the cold and the dark when they're vulnerable is with a firearm.


BERMAN: Now, when asked about this, you called this creepy. What did you mean?

JOHNSON: Well, what you didn't play, though, was the introduction by the senator where he talked about people assembling weapons, I believe, to prevent some police action against them. You know, certainly I think there's concerns about stockpiling weapons. I strongly believe law enforcement across this nation will be there and we have been there in natural, manmade disaster where public safety need to take a role.

BERMAN: All right. Police Chief James Johnson from Baltimore County, Maryland -- as we said, you are in the middle of this entire gun discussion -- thank you for being a part of it and thanks for being here this morning. Appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: So what can and should be done about gun violence in America? Anderson Cooper looks at both sides of the gun debate in "Guns Under Fire." This is an "A.C. 360" town hall special tonight at 8:00 p.m., right here on CNN.

SAMBOLIN: And taking a look at the top trends on

The man behind the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax is going to spill the beans with Dr. Phil.

BERMAN: Sure is. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo appears in a two-part interview that airs today and tomorrow on "The Dr. Phil Show." I'm going to keep saying his name, because Zoraida can. Tuiasosopo claims he was the voice of Te'o's fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua. He says he fell deeply in love with the Notre Dame football star and explains why he put an end to their telephone relationship.


RONAIAH TUIASOSOPO, POSED AS "LENNY KEKUA": I wanted to end it because after everything I had gone through, I finally realized that I just had to move on with my life and had to get, you know, my -- me, Ronaiah, I had to just start living and let this go.


BERMAN: Let's say it together. Tuiasosopo. SAMBOLIN: Tuiasosopo.

BERMAN: He claims -- he tells Dr. Phil that he is confused about his sexuality.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So maybe she's been too busy getting ready for her Super Bowl halftime show, but superstar Beyonce hasn't had much time to speak to the media since her now infamous inaugural lip syncing debacle. Here she is as a sexy referee.

BERMAN: That's real, by the way. This is not lip-synching in any way.

SAMBOLIN: That's very, very real. She was promoting her big halftime performance at a press conference at 3:00 Eastern Time in New Orleans. So, finally, we hear from Beyonce. We'll see if she talks about that little misstep.

All right. After seven seasons, "30 Rock" will air its final episode tonight on NBC. Some spoiler photos and clips have been posted online and fans are buzzing about it on social media. Remembering, it is one of the most brilliant network comedies and casts ever.

BERMAN: A lot of funny people involved with that show.


BERMAN: So it's hurtling into orbit as we speak at this very moment. Coming up, the story behind NASA's latest rocket launch.

SAMBOLIN: And also ahead, how one young woman's shooting death in Chicago has radiated all the way to Washington and actually beyond there as well.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. A lot going on this morning. Soledad O'Brien joins us with a look now what's ahead on "STARTING POINT".

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING PIONT": Lots happening right at the top of the hour. We're going to continue to talk about this tense standoff that's happening right now in Alabama. A little boy who's got Asperger syndrome has been held hostage since Tuesday. We're live with the very latest on this. Also hear from a state lawmaker who knows the family of that little boy.

Also facing tough questions this morning, those confirmation hearings begin on Capitol Hill in Chuck Hagel's fight to become Defense Secretary. We're going to take a look this morning at what we can expect and what he should expect as well.

And then, have you seen this viral video of kid president? Have you seen this? Oh my God! I love this boy. He has the funniest laugh. Robbie Novak is going to us to talk about his videos which have gone viral. SAMBOLIN: I'm going to go check it out. I haven't.

O'BRIEN: Oh my gosh! Yes. Check it out right now. He's so cute. We'll see him.

SAMBOLIN: All right.

BERMAN: Awesome.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Soledad. It is 46 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on this morning's top stories.

That massive 1,000-mile-long line of violent and deadly storms has moved through the East Coast. The damage, extensive. Take a look at your screen. It's video from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The storm killed two men, one in Georgia, another one in Tennessee.

BERMAN: New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is denying allegations that he traveled to the Dominican Republic on a friend's private plane to have sex with prostitutes. Menendez's office issued a statement on Wednesday after FBI agents searched the West Palm Beach office of Dr. Salomon Melgen, who has made political donations to Menendez.

The statement confirms that the senator has flown several times on Melgen's plane but claims that all the trips were paid for and reported appropriately and did not include any visits to prostitutes.

SAMBOLIN: What is cooler than a nighttime launch? A new NASA communications satellite blasted off from Cape Canavarel, Florida. Look at that. This was last night. Atop an Atlas 5 rocket. That rocket was carrying the 7,600-pound TDRS spacecraft. The satellite will act as an orbiting switchboard relaying voice communications and data between the International Space Station and mission control. You made a sound --


SAMBOLIN: It's kind of cool. Yes.

All right. Forty-seven minutes past the hour. She was an honor student, a majorette who performed at President Obama's inauguration. Now, she's a symbol of Chicago's crisis of gun violence. Her father and her godfather are joining us coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-one minutes past the hour. We've heard a lot about the murder rate in Chicago. Last year's murders in the Windy City topped the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan. And now, this incredibly tragic story. Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student who performed at President Obama's inauguration, she became the 42nd person killed this month in the president's hometown.

Ironically, Hadiya can be seen in this 2008 YouTube video warning students about gun violence. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HADIYA PENDLETON, HONOR STUDENT: Hi, my name is Hadiya. This commercial is informational for you and your future children. So many children out there in gangs, it is your job as students to say no to gangs and yes to a great future.


SAMBOLIN: Police believe Hadiya was the unintended target of a gang shooting. Her murder made this Chicago's deadliest January in a decade and Hadiya's death has struck a chord in Chicago and in Washington and all over, actually.

Joining us this morning from Chicago are Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, and her godfather, Damon Stewart. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We are very, very sorry for your loss as well.

I want to talk about Hadiya because she seems like she was just a remarkable student. She was a majorette, and just last weekend, she was in Washington, D.C., performing at the inauguration. Mr. Pendleton, could you tell me what that experience was like for your daughter?

NATHANIEL PENDLETON, FATHER OF HADIYA PENDLETON: It was one of the greatest things that she -- she was so excited. She was really excited to just -- to meet the president and to be there, a part of the inauguration. She had been talking about it way before the inauguration, way before the election.

She said, dad, I'd be -- if Barack Obama ends up backing -- being the president again, our school was going. I really want to go. She was really excited about it.

SAMBOLIN: Now, I understand she had several trips that were planned overseas as well with her school in order to continue performing.


SAMBOLIN: Mr. Stewart, you have an interesting perspective here because you are a lawyer, a Chicago police officer as well. What is your understanding of what happened on the day of the murder?

DAMON STEWART, GODFATHER TO HADIYA PENDLETON: Sad set of circumstances. It's my understanding that she left school with her friends from the volleyball team, a bunch of good children, went to a local park in a nice neighborhood, nice homes, ideal neighborhood where people in the city would like to stay, and because of one individual was on the scene or came to talk to these young ladies who probably had a checkered past or had some issues, somebody came and attempted to try to shoot maybe this individual and ended up taking Hadiya.

SAMBOLIN: And, was she trying to flee when she was shot in the back? STEWART: Yes. It is our understanding that the guy -- the way he approached everybody seeing this guy coming with the gun so everyone tried to get away.

SAMBOLIN: And this is the Hyde Park Kenwood neighborhood, not too far from the Obamas' home. Is this a neighborhood that is infested with gangs and violence? Do you typically see this in this neighborhood?

STEWART: Actually, for about maybe a year ago, I lived around the block. No, this is an ideal neighborhood where this happened. But just like most cities, and I would imagine most major metropolitan cities, you have your little niche neighborhoods. And if you go too far, you know, maybe a mile to the left, a mile south, a mile east --


STEWART: -- you can run into the bad neighborhoods. But where this happened at was an ideal community. This is a place where a lot of people from the south side would like to live.

SAMBOLIN: Well, President Obama has actually weighed in on this. He was asked yesterday in an interview with Univision about how Hadiya's case relates to gun control -- to the gun control issue, and this was his response.

"Well, the problem is that a huge portion of those guns come in from outside Chicago. I mean, what is absolutely true is that if you are just creating a bunch of pockets of gun laws without having sort of a unified, integrated system, for example, of background checks, then you know it's going to be a lot harder for an individual community, a single community to protect itself from this kind of gun violence. This is precisely why we think it's important for Congress to act."

And gentlemen, I want you to both weigh in on this. Do you think that Hadiya's death now should be involved in this bigger issue of gun violence across the country?

PENDLETON: Me, personally, absolutely.

STEWART: Yes. Definitely.

PENDLETON: If I may, Anthony, when we talked about this as a family, we recognized the implications of Hadiya's death in this debate. And one of the things we've come -- it's already our view on it. One, we believe that this debate -- it should be a multi-faceted approach. Not a single to right (ph) approach.

It shouldn't be a Democratic approach, it shouldn't be a Republican approach, it should be multi-faceted. Gun laws should be, somehow, created in a way that's going to make it harder for the bad guys to get guns and make it easier for the law-abiding citizens who want to have them.

SAMBOLIN: I sincerely appreciate your time this morning. We're taking a look at some beautiful pictures of this incredibly young woman, Hadiya, so that we can remember her that well -- or that way, rather. Nathaniel Pendelton, Damon Stewart, I really appreciate your time. And again, we are very, very sorry for your loss.

We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.