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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

"Cruise From Hell" Heads Home; Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius Arrested for Murder; Helping Children Recover from Trauma; US Airways- American Super Merger; Richard Simmons: "Project Hope"

Aired February 14, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: So, realistically, as disgusting as it sounds and people talked about as you know feces in the hallways and really not a lot of food options, running out of -- just eating sandwiches with just condiments in the middle of the sandwich and sleeping outside and the smells are disgusting. How medically risky is what they're experiencing?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, despite all that, still medically, I think that the risks are pretty small. Certainly the people who are already sick, have underlying health conditions, would be most at risk, but from what we're hearing there are some medical capabilities on the ship. So if they needed antibiotics, for examples, they probably would have received those things.

But you know, Soledad, you remember Katrina? You and I both covered Katrina and how disgusting some the conditions were at that time as well, unsanitary. And people always worry about an infectious disease outbreak, but those typically don't happen. So I think the health risk is actually pretty small here, just mainly misery.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. There was a mom who described how she was going to meet the ship and she was going to bring a bag of antibiotics for her kid and I don't know if she meant like topical antibiotics, or she meant like just oral antibiotics because she might have been exposed to something. Would that be a smart thing to do?

GUPTA: No, look, I don't think so and I'm a parent, so I know there's a compelling nature to want to do anything you can. Couple things to keep in mind. First of all, they have antibiotics on the ship, so if somebody needed them, hopefully they're already getting them. Second thing is you don't want to give prophylactic, meaning give antibiotics without them being necessary or some sort of infection being diagnosed. It can make people more sick and develop antibiotic resistance. So I understand but it's probably not necessary.

O'BRIEN: How about psychological trauma? And again, I think people have been through, certainly those who've served in war or even have lived through some kind of war, or you've mentioned the folks during Hurricane Katrina -- there are people who have been through a lot for a lot longer, certainly. But you hear the moms describe their daughters in hysterics over the phone saying "Please come get me out of here." And you have to imagine some of these people are going to be traumatized.

GUPTA: I heard some of that as well and certainly people who have had previous trauma are going to be certainly most at risk. Children and elderly people tend to be more resilient, interestingly enough. But there's a couple things to keep mind: Lack of information can really greatly worsen the stress in some of the mental health stuff. So I don't know what kind of information they were given at what time. At some point, they did know exactly what was happening with the ship? That would be a big risk factor.

Also, children look to their adults, their parents, a lot to see how they're behaving and that directly affects the children's resilience to this as well. But, Soledad, with most of these things, again, as you know, brings out the worst in people and brings out the best in others, people giving each other a helping hand, really pulling them together.

O'BRIEN: That's true. Certainly sounds like for some people it has brought out the best. You hope that folks there are helpful.

LOU PALUMBRO, RETIRED NASSAU COUNTY, NEW YORK POLICE OFFICER: I wonder if cruise ships would consider reducing the number of passengers to make situations like this a bit more manageable.

O'BRIEN: That's a good question. Well, Sanjay, thank you. Appreciate it. It's true you wonder that if they had space for equipment and things like that, you'd be able to drop people in and drop port-a-potties in and drop supplies in. Maybe the weight limits are an issue there.

We've got other stories to cover too and John's got that for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad.

A developing story we're following right now, a deadly shooting at the home of the Blade Runner, track superstar Oscar Pistorius. His girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, shot and killed in Pistorius' home. And we've received this picture this morning of Pistorius leaving the police station covered in a gray windbreaker.

A spokesman for him says he is assisting the police with the investigation. They have no further comments right now. Police say a 26-year-old man is in custody; they have charged him with murder. As of right now, though, they're not going to confirm yet the man is Pistorius, although it is important to note Pistorius is 26-year-old, and that he and Steenkamp were the only ones in the house at the time of the shooting.

Police also discussing previous domestic issues at the home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENISE BEUKES, PRETORIA POLICE DEPARMTENT: I can't confirm the shooter (ph) was Mr. Pistorius, but I can confirm there has previously been incidents at the home of Mr. Pistorius.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

BEUKES: On allegations of domestic violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And let me give you an update right now. CNN just confirming right now that, in fact, it is Oscar Pistorius who has been charged for murder in the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp right there. That is a development just being confirmed right now to CNN. Oscar Pistorius charged with murder

Just yesterday, this Valentine themed tweet was sent from Steenkamp's Twitter account, reading, "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?"

A tragedy this morning in South Africa.

Meanwhile, authorities in Mexico announcing the arrest of six men who allegedly raped six Spanish female tourists earlier this month in Acapulco. Mexico's attorney general says suspects have confessed to the attacks. The men allegedly forced their way into a beachhouse rented by women and roughed up seven male companions before raping the women.

General John Allen may withdraw his nomination to become the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. In fact, a staff member's written statement indicates he's considering taking a break to reunite with his family or possibly even retire. General Allen spent 19 months directing NATO forces against Taliban insurgents. Last year, you will remember, embarrassing e-mails with Tamap socialite Jill Kelley came to light during the sex scandal involving CIA director David Petraeus, but Allen was cleared of professional misconduct.

Conor Kennedy, Taylor Swift's ex-boyfriend, Robert Kennedy Jr., actress Daryl Hannah, and others, were arrested Wednesday for cuffing themselves to the White House gate in a protest demanding the Obama administration take concrete action against climate change. The activists chanted, "President Obama, we don't want no climate drama." That was their creative chant.

O'BRIEN: Wow, and it ended in arrest.

All right, some new pictures this morning to share with you. A 6- year-old boy from Alabama, you'll remember this little boy as the one who was abducted and then held for six days in an underground bunker. He and his mom spent time with the governor, Robert Bentley, yesterday, and then spoke with Dr. Phil.

Ethan's mother told Dr. Phil in spite of the smiling photos, her son is very aware of what happened to his abductor. Also knows what happened to his bus driver, too. Erin Burnett has our report this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, TALK SHOW HOST: Give me five. I like it. ERIN BURNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nine days after Ethan was freed from an underground bunker in Midland City, Alabama, the world is getting the first glimpse of this brave six-year-old, but his mother, Jennifer Kirkland, tells Dr. Phil the recovery has been difficult.

JENNIFER KIRKLAND, ETHAN'S MOTHER: He is having a very hard time sleeping soundly. He slings his arms and tosses and turns and he's cried out a few times.

BURNETT: In a story that captivated the nation, Ethan was kidnapped at gun point from a school bus last month. His abductor, the local resident, named Jimmy Lee Dykes, had boarded the bus and killed the driver. For six days, Ethan was held underground by Dykes in an 8 x 6 bunker. Neighbors say over the years, the Vietnam veteran and retired truck driver behaved strangely and that he'd even beaten a dog to death with the pipe. But kirkland says Dykes took surprisingly good care of her son.

KIRKLAND: When he found out that Ethan was autistic and took medication, I believe that's why he started caring and letting Ethan have the things that he was letting him have.

BURNETT: Authorities say Dykes fed the boy, gave him toys, and even allowed him to take medicine for his autism. Kirkland told Dr. Phil, waiting for Ethan's return was the hardest thing she's ever been through.

KIRKLAND: I wanted to be there. There's not one second of this whole thing that I wouldn't have begged that man to let me have Ethan. And then, I would have turned around and given him to my family and I would have took his place at any moment, any second, had I been allowed to.

BURNETT: For almost a week, police and FBI officials tried to convince Dykes to let Ethan go free, but they ended up storming the bunker in a daring rescue on February 4th.

KIRKLAND: We were told that he had stopped negotiating and that had he grown agitated, and that it had just become time to get Ethan out of there.

DR. PHIL: And what did they do?

KIRKLAND: I understand that a hostage team went in. They had put like explosives on the top of the doors and they blew the doors off and knocked him off guard with that. And, they went in and covered Ethan with a vest and they shot Mr. Dykes.

DR. PHIL: Did he see Mr. Dykes shot and killed?

KIRKLAND: He absolutely did. He had seen the army came in and shot the bad man.

BURNETT: Ethan who played quietly with his toys as his mother spoke to Dr. Phil says little about what happened in those harrowing days, but when Dr. Phil asked him how he gets to school, here's what he whispered to his mother.

ETHAN GILMAN, HELD HOSTAGE IN BUNKER: My bus driver is dead.

BURNETT: Kirkland says she's already forgiven Dykes and is ready to move on, devoting all of her attention to protecting Ethan.

DR. PHIL: How are you coping with all of this?

KIRKLAND: I'm not sure yet. I've been so busy trying to make sure he's OK first. I mean, I'm basing it on how he's doing. If he's doing OK today, then I'm fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: I want to bring in Patricia Saunders. She's a clinical forensic psychologist. Thanks for talking with us. You know, you look at this little boy and he looks good, he's playing quietly. The thing that rips your heart out is when he goes over to whisper to his mom, "My bus driver is dead you," and you realize he really has a sense of what happened.

What can you tell from that of how he is processing all of this?

PATRICIA SAUNDERS, CLINICAL FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: It's kind of hard to tell how an autistic child or a kid with Asperger's syndrome processes these kinds of experiences. It's not that dissimilar from the way a normal kid. It looks like he's having acute stress syndrome. That behavior suggests that he's frightened and the only person he feels safe with is his mom.

She also reported that he's having nightmares, thrashing, screaming in his sleep, won't go near a bus and he has an exaggerated startle response, which is one of the signs we se in acute stress syndrome. I want to stress that that's a normal reaction.

O'BRIEN: But she talks in her interview with Dr. Phil, she said that she hasn't really asked him about what's happened in the bunker, that she's been kind of hands off on all of this. Is that the right strategy?

SAUNDERS: Yes, I think it is. Our job as grownups is to just communicate to kids that we're there to protect them and to help them feel safe, to take the lead from the child. I think she needs to say in words -- she's certainly showing it in deeds -- that he will be protected. He will be safe. Of course, we can't promise that, but kids his age need to hear that.

O'BRIEN: She seemed wonderful. I mean, as she was talking, you really got the sense that she just is so involved in really trying to protect him and take care of him. She even talked about how she would have offered herself if it were possible to do, and she told Dr. Phil that she had forgiven Jimmy Lee Dykes, which I thought was interesting. I don't know that I could do that.

KIM MANCE, CO-HOST, TRAVEL CHANNEL: I have a 13-year-old autistic son and it's taken him sometimes years to process things, and he'll say, "Mommy, do you remember when you were wearing a red shirt and there was a wreath behind your head and you said this and that," and I have no idea what he was talking about. But he will process it much, much later, and so maybe that could be happening at the same time here. He's not processing it quite real time.

O'BRIEN: I wonder if that's a good thing or if that's a bad thing, if the processing of it is slowing it down and letting him get back into his routine with his mom. Is that a good thing over time or --

MANCE: I don't know. And I think he's probably also taking in everything that's happening with somebody interviewing him right in front of a camera.

MARK ORWOLL, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, TRAVEL + LEISURE: What do you think about that, Patricia, the fact this has become a media event? And how is this going to affect the little boy?

SAUNDERS: It depends on how tuned in he is to social interaction, which is one of the problems with kids on the autistic spectrum. I'm pretty conservative when it comes to working with kids and trauma, and I would say no more media, please.

O'BRIEN: Right.

PALUMBRO: I'm with you. I wonder if the other children that were on the bus with him when the bus driver was murdered --

O'BRIEN: My goodness, right.

PALUMBRO: -- if anybody's attended to these children. I mean, this little boy obviously has been the focus of a lot of attention and rightly so, but there are other children. The same comment he made, other young children experienced the bus driver being murdered.

O'BRIEN: I mean, he has seen two people killed, right, the bus driver in front of him and, of course, when they went in to get the suspect and take him out. What does that look like down the road? I mean, is that a ten-year recovery? Is that a -- he has the possibility of being fine?

SAUNDERS: He has a possibility of being fine and functional, but he will never forget. These memories don't decay. The way you were describing your autistic son with an almost photographic memory. Well, traumatic memory is processed by a different system in the brain and it has a photographic quality. Your point about what about the other kids?

PALUMBRO: I have another question also, Doctor, about the quality of care he's going to get there. No disrespect to anybody in Alabama, but the quality of psychiatric care and counseling in New York City is significantly different than it is in other parts of our country. So I would think you'd want to take the young boy to the best people you could find along with those other children on the school bus.

SAUNDERS: Couldn't agree with you more. You need a specialist in child psychology, psychiatry and trauma, and to call in someone who is a developmental specialist.

O'BRIEN: Well, hopefully all that is being offered and if not done -- and brought in if they need any, if they're lacking for any people to help them out, that that's being offered from around the country.

Patricia Saunders, nice to have you with us. We certainly appreciate it.

SAUNDERS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Ahead, $11 billion deal to merge American and U.S. Airways and create the world's largest airline. We'll tell you why it probably won't raise your ticket prices.

And for nearly 40 years, he's been trying to get us in shape. Now Richard Simmons has a new program. He says it will help you on the journey to lose weight. That's ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SIMMONS, FITNESS MOGUL: Just say "I can do it!" You're empowered, you're empowered by this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: "Minding Your Business" this morning. A new report from Fidelity says 401(k) balances hit a record high last quarter. You can thank an improving stock market for that.

But today, futures are lower even though new jobless claims dropped by 27,000 last week. There's a deepening recession in Europe, a lot of people talking about that this morning.

It's official: the U.S. Airways and American are merging. It's an $11 billion deal that would create the world's largest airline. The American name, the American headquarters in Dallas-Ft. Worth will stay; U.S. Air will maintain its corporate presence in Phoenix.

Here are some pictures of the new planes or the old planes with new signage. Experts say it won't lead to higher air fares most likely, but that's largely because there's not a lot of overlap between U.S. Airways and American. American gets a lot of new hub, frankly, on the East Coast.

Here's what the situation looks like where they'll be. The deal does have customers left with fewer choices. There will now be four major carriers, those four companies fly more than 80 percent of all passengers. In 2001, there were ten major carriers. The deal still needs regulatory and shareholder approval.

And I'll tell you, after that last big deal, that Continental/United deal, it's pretty interesting we saw 189 percent spike in customer complaints about things like lost luggage, reservation problems, so there will be lots and lots of things to work out once they do get regulatory approval.

O'BRIEN: Transitions are always challenging.

ROMANS: Yes they are.

PALUMBO: Aren't they saying the unions are quite pleased with this merger though?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

PALUMBO: Especially the pilots?

O'BRIEN: They got the real challenge and (INAUDIBLE) on that.

ROMANS: Well the bankruptcy judge has to approve it and so does the federal government.

O'BRIEN: Right, right.

All right, ahead he spent decades trying to get Americans into shape. Now Richard Simmons has a new program to help a cause that he's passionate about. We have an interview with him straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: For close to 40 years, Richard Simmons has been telling to us keep moving, helping millions of folks to lose weight. He's at it again with a new program which he is calling "Project HOPE". It stands for health, optimism, passion and energy.

And I sat down with him. Hear him to talk about the project and why he is so passionate about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMMONS: Our world has no hope and, without hope, you can't cope. Hope stands for -- H is for health, O is for optimism, P is for passion, and E is for energy. There are so many stupid diets out there, things you sprinkle on food, drinks that say you're going to lose weight, you know, ten pounds a week. We're very gullible, but today it's 2013 and we should know better.

O'BRIEN: So how is HOPE different than what you've had before?

SIMMONS: I knew that God made six food groups,:fruits, vegetables, dairy, fat, protein and starch. There's nothing other than that. I know that you need some of it in the right portions unless you're a diabetic with the sugars, but basically it's portions of food. And today people starve. They eat one meal a day. They drink the liquid shakes and all of that. But with my program, it is just love yourself, move your body and watch your portions.

O'BRIEN: You make it sound so simple, right? I mean, if you think the number of Americans who struggle with their weight and then when you describe it as there are six food groups basically and you basically have to move your body, it doesn't sound so hard. Why do -- why are we an obese nation?

SIMMONS: Because we have low self-worth. Twenty years ago, a teacher could have said something to you, or your grandmother said, "You're not pretty enough," or somebody at work made fun of you. And it's like a reel in your head and those words keep going over and over. And then you don't believe in yourself and you don't think you're good enough, and then you take food and stuff it down to hide your emotions.

O'BRIEN: Why is this so personally moving to you? I mean, you're crying practically and you're a success. You're wildly successful.

SIMMONS: It's not about me. I call and e-mail thousands of people every week, even if I've known them 20 years and they're not doing well, I always think that maybe after a phone call when I sing them a song, that maybe they'll turn it around. I take it personal.

O'BRIEN: Why? Why?

SIMMONS: I wish I could tell you why. It's just like I see my head on their bodies and I suffer their pain.

O'BRIEN: How can your exercise and food program help what you're describing as a psychological dilemma?

SIMMONS: Because they're going to see real people that have lost weight. People come in all shapes and sizes and there's no scales at the gates of heaven. But on this earth, it's not just about you and your health. It's about being a good example to your children. We have obese children and we have obese teens that get bullied and some commit suicide. We have young adults who really don't even know what they want to do.

So it's my job as court jester to call them, to travel, to raise money for breast cancer, or bullying, anti-bullying, whatever, for me to make a difference and for me to say hey, you can turn this around.

I'm still a compulsive eater. I'm not going to lie to you. I have a hard time traveling. You open up that, you know, appetizer menu and it's nachos and buffalo wings and I want it all. Sometimes I just lick the page, you know, because I -- plus how does Richard Simmons order? Hey, yes, hi, yes it's me. I'd like the quesadilla with the smoked chicken and nacho platter and buffalo wings with extra blue cheese.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: He can't order that. He takes in a lot of pain from other people. It was a really interesting interview. He has made gazillions of dollars obviously in a message that has worked for some folks. It will be interesting.

ORWOLL: The image of his head on everyone's body is kind of disturbs me a bit but --

O'BRIEN: But that's how it works. BERMAN: But he's helped a lot of people. (INAUDIBLE) about Richard Simmons. He's helped a lot of people.

PALUMBO: He has indeed.

O'BRIEN: We have got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: We end as always with "End Point". I'm going to let you start, Mark, because it's all about cruise ships for me today.

ORWOLL: Oh, the most horrifying thing, once we found out this was not a life or death event, that it was just merely the voyage from hell, when I found out that they actually closed down the bars. I thought, how could they do this to this poor people? Gaven't they suffered enough?

O'BRIEN: Compensation better be more than $500.

ORWOLL: You better believe it.

O'BRIEN: I've got to tell you, what do you think?

MANCE: I can tell you if my kids were on the boat, I'd probably be swimming out there. But, I mean, they seem to be handling it fairly well, maybe not the best communication, but I think once they get in port, we'll see how they handle it.

O'BRIEN: You could see why those moms are in hysterics. I would be there or close to that, too. Final word from you this morning?

PALUMBO: Dorner issue, not a dead issue. More to come.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I agree with you.

MANCE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I think there are a lots of questions about the sheriff who gave the press conference last night that was odd and of course what exactly happened and the cause of death. You know, did he take his own life? Was he burned out? Was he burned alive? What happened? And very interesting. Lots to follow on that.

We've to take a break. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.