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Rain & Snow Slam the Northeast; Alabama Hostage Standoff; Gun Debate Continues in Washington; Interview With Sen. Charles Grassley

Aired January 31, 2013 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

Extreme weather hitting much of the country today, major flooding in the east with cars being stuck on the roadways, tornadoes, thunderstorms, all causing major damage in the south, and now another change, a drastic temperature drop.

Plus that Alabama hostage standoff is entering its third day. Little boy held by the man accused of killing his school bus driver, the disturbing details of what we're learning about that suspect this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Wal-Mart changing its ammo policy, why the store is limiting how much you can buy.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Inside the mind of a serial killer a new documentary explores how Jeffrey Dahmer went from seemingly normal to a killer and cannibal. We have the first look.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this hour, we're talking to Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and documentary producer Chris James Thompson and Robby Novak will join us. He is so adorable.

It's Thursday, January 31st and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Richard Socarides is with us. He's a writer for, former senior adviser to President Clinton. Abby Huntsman is back. She's the host of "Huffpost Live". Katherine Rosman joins us. She's a reporter from "The Wall Street Journal." John Berman sticks around to help us out, from "EARLY START."

Our STARTING POINT this morning is that massive, deadly, 1,000-mile- long storm system that has moved through the Eastern U.S.

Live pictures now of a car submerged in floodwaters. That's from affiliate WJLA, and these are pictures from Maryland. This right after we showed you another car that was submerged, more examples of just how dangerous the aftermath of this storm has been. Adairsville, Georgia, is just about 60 miles north of Atlanta. Look at the pictures from there. Among one of the hardest hit spots. The person in died. A man in Tennessee died as well.

Miguel Marquez has more on the aftermath of this powerful storm system and the cleanup that lies ahead for everybody. Miguel, good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Boy, this affected so many people. The person who died here, it was not too far from where we are. This is actually ground central for where that tornado touched down in this area. He was in a trailer house. The tree went down and killed him inside of it.

But the storm crosses a broad swathe of the country, packed a powerful punch.


REPORTER: We can see circulation in the clouds.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A reporter from Atlanta affiliate WSB caught one twister as it touched down.

REPORTER: Slashing towards I-75. Again, a tornado --

MARQUEZ: In its path, utter destruction.

(on camera): This is main street in Adairsville, Georgia. This is exactly where that tornado hit. You can see devastation on that side of the street. The trucks completely destroyed here.

On this side, it was a normal day of work here at the Daiki plant. They come here to make parts for tractors. Complete devastation, 50 to 100 people working here today. All of them fine.

Across this entire area, trucks, everything, shredded.

(voice-over): At the plant, Justin Carnes and his fellow employees took refuge in the bathroom.

(on camera): What did it sound like? What did it feel like?

JUSTIN CARNES, SURVIVED TORNADO: Walls shaking. Everything was shaking.


CARNES: Yes, like a pressure on my ears, real high-pitched whistling sound. Just hurt my ears really.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The 1,000-mile-long storm set off tornadoes in six states, from Missouri to Georgia, leaving massive damage and creating drastic temperature changes.

In Nashville, one man died when a tree fell on his home.

DARRYL LOCKRIDGE, KNEW TORNADO VICTIM: It was a bad sight. Tree fell, like, right on him.

MARQUEZ: In Memphis, torrential rain and massive flooding. Bridges, underpasses inundated.

In Monticello, Arkansas, a horse barn collapsed. All 11 horses A-OK.

In Indiana, downed trees and fire, lightning is suspected. Kentucky saw strong winds, flipping tractor trailers like toys.

And winds so fierce in Scott County, Missouri, 48 train cars knocked right over.

And across Alabama, wind, rain and more misery.


MARQUEZ: Now what authorities are concentrating on here is getting the electricity back on, about 10,000 people across Georgia, the electricity is out but 1,000 have the poles back up on that side of the street and also the water systems back going, as I understand from many of the local businesses here, the water supply is contaminated here in Adairsville, so they can't use the water for now.

Back to you, guys.

O'BRIEN: Miguel Marquez for us this morning -- thank you for the update.

Let's get right to meteorologist Indra Petersons. She has the forecast for that area ahead this morning. What does it look like?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, here's the good news. Yes, we're finally seeing the rain out of the area. A little bit windy this morning out, towards Atlanta, and temperatures dropping about 30 degrees from yesterday.

And this is going to be the story. It's going to be that cold air and the wind. Take a look at yesterday. This is Chicago. Their was 63, record-breaking heat on Tuesday. Today, 17 with a chance for snow flurries. That's going to be the story.

And once you go from warm air to cold air and a big drastic change like that, you're going to be dealing with a lot of wind out there. So, keep in mind, if you have any flights today, we are going to see major delays in a lot of our hubs. We're looking at New York, even Atlanta, even Chicago dealing with these delays, so please keep that in mind.

The other story, of course, as we know, is that cold air. Look at the wind chills. And this is going to be sticking with us as we go through the weekend.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you for watching us, Indra. Appreciate it.

Other story we're following this morning for you is the tense hostage standoff that's taking place in Alabama where a 5-year-old boy, a kindergartener, is being held hostage in an underground bunker. It's now going into its third day, this hostage situation.

The little boy was dragged off of his school bus Tuesday afternoon, happened in Midland City, Alabama, after the gunman shot and killed the bus driver. We brought you that live news conference in the last hour. The sheriff there saying that there wasn't much progress made, but he did thank the volunteers for what they've been doing around the clock.


WALLY OLSEN, DALE COUNTY SHERIFF: We got a lot of volunteers. You know, even as much as the land that we're standing on now, people have been good enough to work with us through all this, and the law enforcement agencies, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, all the private businesses that's brought in food for the volunteers and the workers and law enforcement.


O'BRIEN: He also said he wasn't sure how long this situation could last.

George Howell is live for us in Midland City. So we're learning more about the bus driver, Charles Poland, what can you tell me about him?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Charles Poland, you know, he is described as a hero. This is a man who is willing to die to protect the children on that bus.

And here in this community you can tell that people are hurt by what happened here. Again, there was a prayer service here in town as people came together to remember him, and even the "Dothan Eagle", the local newspaper, did a piece on him to talk about him, described him as a man who hated to discipline the students but again a man who sought no recognition for the work that he did.

And again when you talk to people here, you get the story, this is a person who tried to knock Mr. Dykes off his balance, protect the kids and was shot and killed in the process, and that's really, those are the two things that are happening. People are thinking about Mr. Poland. But also, they are also think being what happened here just behind me, this child who is still in the bunker and now three days, and investigators are doing their best to get him out.

O'BRIEN: Terrible story. George Howell for us, updating the situation there -- thank you, George.

Let's turn to Pastor Michael Senn. He's a pastor at the Midway Assembly of God Church, the standoff near the bus happened near his church. He was there roughly 20 minutes after it happened.

There have been many, many prayer vigils. We heard from the sheriff earlier that there's been a number, at least five or six prayer vigils in the region for people who are just at a loss for what to do as they wait to get some news about this little boy who has been held now in this underground bunker since Tuesday.

Pastor Senn joins me this morning. So, talk to me, sir, about the prayer vigil you held last night. How is the community doing? What an awful, awful situation.

PASTOR MICHAEL SENN, PASTOR, MIDWAY ASSEMBLY OF GOD: Well, the community, of course, is traumatized, because this is southeast Alabama -- a peaceful, rural area where we never, ever expected something like this to happen in our home. And people came together last night in not only our church, Midway Assembly of God, but several other churches in the local area, just come together for a time of unity, of faith, and belief in God to bring this young boy home safe and get him back to his parents where he belongs.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about exactly what happened. Children were running of that bus after the shooting and making their way to your church. What happened when you got there?

SENN: Well, I arrived about 25, 30 minutes after the shooting had happened. I'd been to a funeral service and from what I understand, right after or during the process, several of the children were asked to leave the bus and went running down the hill towards the church to try to seek a place of safety.

And some of the children told me the experience of what took place and I saw in their eyes the trauma, because they've never seen anything take place like this, or never expected anything to take place.

O'BRIEN: Pastor Michael Senn joining us. He's a pastor of Midway Assembly of God, one of the churches that was holding a prayer vigil as people just wait out the hostage situation, a little boy held in an underground bunker -- thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Other stories to get to this morning and John has that for us.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Soledad. Wednesday's Senate hearings on guns opened with powerful words from former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords. It's been two years since Giffords was shot in the head in a political event near Tucson. She was there yesterday to urge Congress to do something to stop gun violence. Listen.


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 spoke, along with the NRA's Wayne LaPierre.

Tonight, Anderson Cooper is looking at both sides of the debate in "GUNS UNDER FIRE". This is an "A.C. 360" town hall special. That's tonight at 8:00, right here on CNN. It's going to be really interesting. So, as they debated gun control in Washington, another shooting was unfolding. Arizona police are now searching for the 70-year-old man they say is responsible for a deadly shooting in Phoenix. The suspect, Arthur Douglas Harmon, was attending a meeting at a law office when he allegedly opened fire. A 48-year-old man was killed, two others wounded in the attack.

So, Harmon took off in a 2013 Kia Optima. Police say he then opened fire on a witness who tried to follow him.

Hackers invading the "New York Times" have finally been blocked at least for now. This is an amazing story. These hackers out of China have been attacking "The Times" over the past four months, infiltrating their computer systems and stealing passwords. The papers say the timing of the attack related or not happens to coincide with their investigative report that revealed relatives of China's prime minister have accumulated billions of dollars in business dealings.

As I said it is a fascinating, fascinating story. A warning to a lot of reporters out there.


BERMAN: All right. Big night on television. After seven season, "30 Rock" will air its final episode on NBC. There's been some spoiler photos and clips posted online. Fans are buzzing all about it on social media. Of course, many of us think this is one of the great comedies of the last several years, with some of the best writing.

O'BRIEN: I have really enjoyed what is a relatively new phenomenon of ending shows before they get into that last three or four seasons where they're terrible. Like end on a high note, everyone loves it, do a great bringing together of the storyline.

BERMAN: The phrase "jump the shark" literally comes from when Fonzie jumped the shark when the show goes on for too long.

O'BRIEN: That wasn't Bobby Brady? That was Fonzie?

BERMAN: That's Fonz.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes. See? Don't do that anymore.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: a volatile debate on gun control. Up next, we're going to be talking to Iowa Senator Charles Grassley about his point of view on this issue.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. President Obama admitting that he's seeing more movement on immigration than gun control and that he believes the latter could be a very uphill battle. Here is what he said in an interview with Univision. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


O'BRIEN: Those remarks come on the heels of a very emotionally- charged hearing on gun violence. It began with a statement by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who nearly died in a mass shooting back in 2011.

This is what she said.


GIFFORDS: You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.


O'BRIEN: Senator Chuck Grassley is a Republican from the great state of Iowa. He's a ranking member on the committee that held that hearing yesterday. It's nice to have you with us, sir. We appreciate your time.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) IOWA: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. We heard yesterday also from Gabby Giffords' husband, Mark. We heard also from Wayne Lapierre from the NRA. Here's a little bit of what Wayne Lapierre had to say


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.


O'BRIEN: You, too, sir have voted no on background checks at gun shows, and every time I have a discussion with someone, I think, it seems so common sense. Why not support something as kind of simple as a background check on who's buying a weapon?

GRASSLEY: Well, obviously, we have some background checks. It's how encompassing you do it. Do you do it for one father selling to a son or another relative? How do you cover everything? I think that's the issue, and also, the extent to which you have private sales on Sunday between relatives and maybe you can't access a system all the time and as fast as you want to do it.

But it's something that's going to get a good look and it ought to have a good look but expanding it. I'm not sure that we know where we're going in that direction, but there are several areas where we will be legislating, one in the area of prosecuting straw purchasers, stop the trafficking of firearms, where somebody buys and gives to somebody else, because that other person maybe is a felon.

We have to beef up the database here in Washington, D.C., have states submit who are felons. They aren't submitting all that information, and a real tough one, but it's not easy to answer is because of Virginia Tech and Tucson and Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, every one of them had mental problems, shouldn't had guns in the first place. We've got to do more in the area of mental health.

O'BRIEN: So, I notice you didn't mention assault weapons. So, I guess, you're thinking that that is not going to be something that would ever pass?

GRASSLEY: I don't think it will, but it isn't going to keep us from doing a lot of things that need to be done in this area. And the reason why I think the assault weapon issue is, is number one, is because of the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court cases that have recently strengthened that Second Amendment. It's just as good as any other part of the bill of rights, just sacred.

But other thing is, that in so many instances like in the Giffords shooting as an example, those guns would not be covered by the ban, and then, you've got the mental health problems or the case of Newtown, Connecticut, where the guns were actually --

O'BRIEN: But as you know, sir --

GRASSLEY: -- they were stolen. Go ahead.

O'BRIEN: But as you know, there's a report that everybody's referred to a lot -- in fact, you referred to it yesterday, this report that was done at the University of Pennsylvania, which really did show that in fact, if you look only at assault weapons that, you know, following implementation of the ban, I'm reading from page two in their summary, gun crimes involving assault weapons declined by 17 percent in this ten-year period that they were looking at.

So, there clearly is, while it didn't affect other gun violence, it did have a near to 20 percent drop in assault weapon gun crimes. So, it does seem to me that there is an indication that a ban could make a difference, maybe not for a specific case, but it clearly makes some kind of a difference.

GRASSLEY: OK. I also quoted a Department of Justice report that had other points of view along that line and kind of refutes that, but let's, I guess, you can argue over numbers but here's the most important point is that when we had this gun ban and a situation similar to Newtown, happened in Colorado or Columbine School and that was during the gun ban and then another thing is, you know, you can talk about semi-automatic rifles but --


GRASSLEY: -- semiautomatic shotguns as an example.

O'BRIEN: But clearly, some of that is that there are so many of the guns in the population. I mean, part of the argument is that if you start now, that there's potential down the road to make some of a difference. Sometimes, I hear the argument that, well, you're never going to get rid of all the guns or you're never going to get rid of all the assault weapons.

It seems to me to be a little bit of a specious argument. Let me ask you another question. It seems to me having the CDC just do research on gun violence would just be a common sense kind of thing and that -- you know, why would you not want to have research to measure the impact of firearms?

GRASSLEY: Well, I suppose because the Center for Disease Control is all about studying diseases and ownership of guns is not a disease.

O'BRIEN: It's about public health.


O'BRIEN: If you look at a city like Chicago where there's been just massive, massive deaths from gun violence, that's not a public health issue?

GRASSLEY: Well, I think that's the place where you'd study the issue within our society of black violence on blacks, you know, as an example, and the amount of guns that are there and most of those guns are pistols and not the guns that you're talking about on this program.

O'BRIEN: Well, certainly, when we're looking at assault weapons, I know that you know most of those perpetrators have been White men, number one, and number two, I think that just measuring them -- you know how much money was spent back in 1993 researching gun violence? You want to give me a guess on what that number is, sir?

GRASSLEY: I suppose you're going to tell me it's zero.

O'BRIEN: No, sir. In 1993 it was $2,500,000 was spent through the CDC on researching the impact of guns on people and you know what that number went down to between 2009 and 2012? It dropped something like 95 percent. A $100,000.

GRASSLEY: Is that an issue now that the president signed those executive orders?

O'BRIEN: I don't know. I would think that anybody who wants to figure out how to stop people from dying and gun violence whether it's suicide, whether it's small children being killed in a massacre, whether it's a domestic violence that just studying the issue would just be a good idea for everybody.

GRASSLEY: I think I said I agree with you, because that's part of the mental health issues that we have to deal with, yet, during this debate, and we're going to deal with it because in every one of these instances that keeps cropping up where mass killings, people had mental health issues. They shouldn't have had guns in the first place.

O'BRIEN: Well, we'll see where this debate goes. Senator Charles Grassley joining us this morning. Thank you for your time sir. We appreciate it.

GRASSLEY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Well, listen up for the men on the panel, you and you, going to get in the mood and I mean in the mood by cleaning up around the house. There's a new study on that.

SOCARIDES: Boy, that is quite a transition.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, you know --


O'BRIEN: I'm known for my transitions, awkward as they may be. You want to hear about that, that's coming up.

BERMAN: I'm terrified.


O'BRIEN: You should be.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT. Here's a look at what's trending this morning on the web. Here's a kid. You got some rhythm? Check him out. Houston Rockets fan busting a move to run DMC caught on the old school dance cam at banker's life field house in Indianapolis. That was during halftime in the game against the Pacers. Come on, man, you can do it.

BERMAN: Where do you learn that?

O'BRIEN: From mommy and daddy.

SOCARIDES: John, you could do that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, you were just doing that at the commercial break.

BERMAN: Every commercial break.


BERMAN: It helps me with the news. O'BRIEN: And, in other news, as I was referring to in that turn just a moment ago, if you're a husband who likes to help your wife out around the house, it may not pay off, if you know what I mean. It may not pay off.

A new study suggested that married men who spend more time doing what many would consider to be traditionally feminine household tasks like grocery shopping or cleaning or even cooking report having less sex than husbands who stick to more traditionally masculine jobs like gardening or patching the drywall. That's so sexy, gardening and patching the drywall.


SOCARIDES: Look at that look. Look, that is one great John Berman look.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's a time issue. That's why they're having less sex.


O'BRIEN: Doing the cooking and the cleaning and all that stuff.


O'BRIEN: Let's get John Berman's take on this -- John.

BERMAN: Let's just say I chop a lot of wood.


BERMAN: All right?


O'BRIEN: Can we get a confirmation from your wife?


O'BRIEN: All right. We're moving on.

Coming up next, we're going to talk about a new documentary that takes us inside the mind of a serial killer. We're talking about Jeffrey Dahmer. The director of a new film called "The Jeffrey Dahmer Files" will talk to us and he'll be joined by the detective who eventually arrested Dahmer. That's ahead.