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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Lion Mauls Woman To Death; Reeva Steenkamp's Family Speaks

Aired March 7, 2013 - 05:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A wild animal and deadly attack. An intern at an animal sanctuary killed inside a lion cage.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And a new threat from North Korea this morning causing fears of a nuclear strike.

BERMAN: Off the stage and behind bars. Earlier this morning, a judge cracking down on the ballet dancer accused in an acid attack on a theater director.

SAMBOLIN: And no rest for the storm weary. People still picking up after superstorm Sandy on watch now for a brand new flood threat this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us. It is Thursday, March 7th. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

And new developments this morning after a female intern, just 24 years old, was mauled to death by a 350-pound African lion at an animal sanctuary. This was in California. The big cat known as Cous Cous had to be shot and killed when he would not allow handlers to get close enough to rescue Dianna Hanson.

This horrifying tragedy unfolded yesterday afternoon at the project survival cat haven that is in Dunlap, California, and that's where we find Dan Simon this morning. Dan, what's the latest on this?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zoraida. We're talking about a 24- year-old volunteer intern. The question this morning is how did she get in harm's way? How did she get in a position to be harmed by this lion? We know that this happened yesterday afternoon. Apparently, she was alone with the lion in an enclosure when she was attacked.

Crews apparently tried to get this lion to go into a different spot to possibly try to save the victim's life. The lion didn't budge. At that point, it was shot. The owner of this place or the founder, Dale Hanson (ph), issued a brief statement yesterday afternoon when he came outside and faced the cameras. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The female volunteer intern entered the lion's closure where she was attacked and fatally injured. The lion was shot and killed per our safety protocols. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends and family and to her family at this time and this trying time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Well, they got 50 big cats here at Cat Haven. It draws visitors, apparently, from all over the world. This lion was five years old, had been raised basically since birth here in captivity. So, Zoraida, you know, the question is how did this happen? Was this girl, this 24-year-old intern, lulled into some false sense of security?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Had she been in there before and she felt kind of safe? Do you know if there was any aggression from this lion in the past?

SIMON: You know, that's a good question. Not as far as we can tell. This lion made actually made some public appearances, had been on some TV shows. There's a woman who goes by the name of Jungle Jenny who spent some time out here, seemed to pet the lion or at least patted the tale. She was on Piers Morgan last night and said that the lion absolutely showed no signs of aggression.

But, you know, the important thing to remember is that these are predators and you can't, as we said before, you can't be lulled into some false sense of security.

SAMBOLIN: Dan, tell us a little bit more about Dianna Hanson, the victim here.

SIMON: Well, she's from Washington State. She went to college and she came down here. This was her dream to be around these types of animals. She had a passion, particularly, for big cats. If you look at her Facebook page, you'll see all kinds of pictures of her surrounded by these cats, and her father actually spoke out and talked about his daughter's love of these animals. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was so happy when she got that internship. She was having so much fun down there. It was her dream job. She was so happy there. It makes it bearable that she died so happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: The father also happens to be a lawyer. And, you know, what's remarkable at least, so far, in his public statements, he also issued a statement on Facebook, he seems to show no animosity or bitterness towards Cat Haven. Right now, he's just obviously in shock and celebrating his daughter's life. And he said the way to honor her memory is to support facilities like Cat Haven, support these animal sanctuaries that try to preserve some of these animals that are going extinct.

SAMBOLIN: That really -- I got to tell you, that's remarkable as a parent, hearing words like that and him saying that it makes it bearable to know that she was doing what she loved. Dan Simon live for us this morning. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Thirty-five minutes after the hour right now. And right now, that monster winter storm is still pummeling the east coast, dumping heavy, wet snow, and really causing havoc on the roads and in the air. A state of emergency has been declared in Virginia where parts of the state saw 20 inches of snow.

Mass power outages have been reported, 215,000 in Virginia alone, 1,600 flights have been canceled, and now, coastal flood warnings are in effect for parts of New England, including areas still recovering from superstorm Sandy. Right now, the biggest threat does seem to be the winds and coastal flooding.

Karen Maginnis is live in the severe weather center tracking the storm, which isn't going to end for a while, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Exactly. We're taking it all the way through Friday, high tide on Friday. Here are the winds as we look across Massachusetts, here's the cape. Some of the winds are gusting to near 50 miles an hour. In Boston, we're seeing wind gusts close to 40. So, we've got these wind driven waves, and we'll see some snowfall.

Boston, in particular, is looking at a winter storm advisory. So, no heavy snow there, but the wind is going to be problematic and a lot of these areas saw the big storm back on February 9th and Boston has seen a ton of snowfall for the month or the month of February. But now this area of low pressure is going to kind of linger off the mid- Atlantic coast.

And as a result, these waves coming onshore, the wind coming onshore out of the east and the northeast, sometimes, gusts up over 50 miles an hour. So, we do have this coastal flood warning. In particular, some of these areas are expecting three to five-foot above normal tides coming up for this afternoon and for tomorrow morning -- John.

BERMAN: All right. We'll be watching this very closely. Karen Maginnis, our thanks to you.

So, new this morning. North Korea threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States as the United Nations Security Council prepares to vote on tougher sanctions against North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): Reuters reports a foreign ministry spokesman made that threat in a statement to the state-run news agency. Right now, it is believed Pyongyang does not have the capacity to deliver a nuclear strike on the U.S. You know, North Korea, as we've been saying, does make these threats from time to time, but the level of rhetoric and the frequency of that rhetoric does seem to be increasing (ph) in the last few days.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Ramping up. That's right. That's right.

Thirty-seven minutes past the hour right now. We're eyeing another possible record for the Dow. Twenty-four hours after hitting that all-time high, the Dow did it again, gaining 42 points yesterday to close at 14,296. The index is up an astonishing nine percent this year. And the -- it might continue this morning, because Dow futures are up. Meaning, we could see a bump right at the opening bell.

BERMAN: That would be nice.

All right. Some new developments overnight in that acid attack against the director of the fame Bolshoi Ballet. A Russian court ruling that the alleged master mind, Bolshoi's lead dancer, Pavel Dmitrichenko, excuse me, will remain in custody until the police complete their investigation. Two others are charged in the acid attack.

The victim, Sergei Filin, suffered severe burns to his face and neck. Police say the attack was fueled by what they call a hostile relationship between the two men. If convicted, the suspects face up to eight years in jail.

SAMBOLIN: Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez's body lies in state this morning. And leaders from all over Latin-America have arrived in Venezuela for tomorrow's funeral. The country has declared seven days of mourning, closed schools for the rest of the week, and deployed armed forces to try to keep the peace. Venezuela's interior ministry also banned the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcohol during this mourning period.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (on-camera): We have a sad story to report this morning. Really, it's just awful. A two-year-old killed by his babysitter's boyfriend. This happened while a Colorado family was vacationing in Mexico. The family says the sitter let her boyfriend into the walled complex while the couple was out and then some kind of violent drug- induced state, they say the boyfriend hurt the toddler and threw him into a pool, leaving him to drown.

Both, I supposed, the sitter and the boyfriend were arrested and face federal murder charges in Mexico City.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Wow. All right. Federal investigators are now looking into five women's claims at the University of North California Chapel Hill routinely mishandled sexual assault cases. The U.S. Department of Education has opened up an investigation of allegations that UNC didn't appropriately respond to claims or provide appropriate grievance procedures.

BERMAN: Sort of related here. President Obama will sign the Violence Against Women Act into law today after months of negotiations.

SAMBOLIN: That's great. BERMAN: The Republican-run House finally signed off on the bill. This is -- and it's strengthening the criminal justice systems response to domestic abuse, sexual assault, and trafficking. Vice President Joe Biden will be there, and women from leading advocacy groups have been invited as well.

SAMBOLIN: And Mitt Romney has landed on his feet. Was he ever off of them? I guess, when you lose a presidential election, right? The former presidential candidate is returning now to the private sector. Romney is joining his oldest son, Tagg, at his investment firm, Solamere Capital. He'll reportedly work with the firm for one week a month, advising on matters of private equity.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney knows a little something about private equity.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Forty minutes after the hour here. And the family of Reeva Steenkamp now breaking their silence for the first time since the so- called blade runner was released on bail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE STEENKAMP, REEVA STEENKAMP'S UNCLE: I would like to be face-to- face with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We're going to have more on this murder case in a CNN exclusive, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. We have a CNN exclusive for you this morning. Three weeks after Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, her family is speaking out. Now, this is the first time since Pistorius was freed on bail, awaiting her trial for murder. Here's Drew Griffin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The interview took place inside the Capetown home Reeva often stayed, in the back room of her cousin, Kim Martin's. It is where we interviewed her and Reeva's uncle.

Has the family now realized emotionally what has happened?

STEENKAMP: You sort of wake up in the morning expecting Reeva start to give a phone call.

KIM MARTIN, REEVA STEENKAMP'S cousin: It's easier to deal with it if you don't concentrate on anything else other than the fact that Reeva's not here, and at the end of the day, she's not coming back.

GRIFFIN: What the family says it does not want to concentrate on is just why Reeva Steenkamp is not coming back. She died in the home and at the hands of her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius. He is charged with murder awaiting trial for what he has called an accidental shooting.

Kim Martin says she was as close to Reeva as a sister. There were no secrets. She knew the couple were dating. She also knew Reeva was not in love.

MARTIN: And I knew that, in time, she would chat to me about it.

GRIFFIN: But she never did?

MARTIN: No. She never did.

GRIFFIN: January 2nd on small bay in Cape Town, Kim and her daughters finally did meet him at this seaside cafe.

(on-camera) It was the only time she ever met Oscar Pistorius. He barely made an impact.

MARTIN: Wasn't long enough to form an opinion on his personality, you know? Typical Reeva, her and I were chatting, and the kids and what I saw of him, what we did speak, he was nice. He did seem like a nice guy.

GRIFFIN: You still think that?

MARTIN: I don't really want to comment on that.

GRIFFIN: Now, the family, including Reeva's parents, Barry and June, are trying to come to grips with a lot of tales from the past. Former friends of Pistorius speaking out about anger, rage, and guns, early signs that police may have mishandled the crime scene and the fact that Oscar Pistorius who's dmitted killing Reeva in an accidental shooting is now free from jail awaiting trial.

MARTIN: The less I hear about it, all the other stuff, the better.

STEENKAMP: None of us are going to be represented at the court and the trial. None of us in the family are going to go up. We will not be present. I can tell you that now. And for that reason, it's not about the court case. It's about Reeva.

GRIFFIN: It would be too painful, but choking back tears, Mike Steenkamp did say he one day does want to meet the man who killed his niece.

STEENKAMP: I would like to be face-to-face with him and forgive him, forgive him what he's done. And that way, I can find most probably more peace with the situation by telling him face-to-face.

GRIFFIN: And you would forgive him, Mike, whether this was a tragic accident or whether this was --

STEENKAMP: Whatever, whatever the outcome. I feel with my belief and if Christ could forgive when he died on the cross, why can't I?

GRIFFIN: Drew Griffin, CNN, Cape Town, South Africa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Serious faith that man has.

Forty-seven minutes past the hour. The suspect wanted for a hit and run accident in New York that claimed the lives of a Brooklyn couple and their unborn son has turned himself in. The 44-year-old Julio Acebedo surrendered to authorities in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Wednesday. In a phone call with reporters before his arrest, Acebedo said he was trying to escape from someone who was shooting at him at the time of the crash.

BERMAN: No charges will be filed in the case of an 87-year-old woman who died after a worker at an elderly living facility refused to perform CPR. The 911 operator begged the staff member who said she was a nurse to perform CPR on the dying woman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand if your facility is not willing to do that. Give the phone to that passerby, a stranger, to have it then. I need -- this woman is not breathing enough. She's going to die if we don't get this started. Do you understand?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Glennwood Gardens has a policy that prevents its employees from providing medical care to residents, but the Bakersfield Fire Department says EMS would have assumed all liability if the woman had followed the operator's instructions.

So, up next, the hunt for a serial arsonist. Authorities try to find out who's burning the Virginia Shore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): An exotic cat sanctuary in California remains closed this morning one day after an African lion mauled and killed a 24-year-old female intern inside the lion's cage. The 350-pound lion named Cous Cous had to be shot and killed by sheriff's deputies when it refused to allow sanctuary officials to approach the victim. Dianna Hanson of Washington State was that victim.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Rand Paul has stopped talking. The Kentucky senator ending an old-fashioned filibuster at 12:38 eastern time. That was a.m. this morning. It lasted 12 hours, 52 minutes. Paul was protesting the administration's domestic drone policy. His filibuster delaying the confirmation of John Brennan to be the next director of the CIA.

A new law is the most restrictive early abortion ban in the country. State legislators in Arkansas voted to override Governor Mike Beebe's veto and ban abortions after 12 weeks. The government had vetoed the bill, because he said it, quote, "blatantly contradicts the United States constitution." The Center for Reproductive Rights in the Arkansas, ACLU, say they will challenge the law in federal court.

SAMBOLIN: Authorities in Virginia suspect arson and a rash of fires along the eastern shore. Since November, 62 vacant structures have been burned in Accomack County, including two on Tuesday night. The ATF and FBI have joined the investigation. There's a $25,000 reward now for anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction in this case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (on-camera): So, you are going to say J.woww when you see how Snooki looks now. That was an awesome joke, everyone.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Really?

BERMAN: -- will appreciate that. The queen of the "Jersey Shore" shows off her post-baby bikini bod.

SAMBOLIN: I can't wait.

BERMAN: We will show it to you, all of it, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Top CNN Trends on the web this morning. Would you look at the Snook now? Is that what we call her?

BERMAN: Wow!

SAMBOLIN: Wow! OK. She's no longer a member of team meatball, and that's right. America's rose, Snooki showing off her post baby body. You know how many pounds she lost? Forty-two pounds. I mean, she gained 42 pounds. The former "Jersey Shore" star and her fiancee welcomed their baby boy, Lorenzo, last August. That was quite an accomplishment, although, she's young, so it's a little bit easier to shed the weight.

BERMAN: Well, I'm impressed if you're not.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Taco Bell fans mad as hell or maybe we should say mad shell. Apparently, people are freaking out over the new Doritos locos tacos now available in cool ranch flavor. But many people lost it on social media when they could not find the new taco, the cool ranch taco at their local restaurant.

There were thousands of comments on Taco Bell's Facebook page with one fan writing, "I've never been so angry in my life."

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

BERMAN: I'm glad people have perspective here --

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: -- on what's important in life.

SAMBOLIN: OK. To check out other top CNN Trends, head to CNN.com/Trends.

BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Attacked without warning. A lion suddenly turns on one of its keepers, an intern, killing the young woman inside a cage.

BERMAN (voice-over): And still developing at this hour, new threats from North Korea and talk of a nuclear attack.

SAMBOLIN: High seas, strong winds, a powerful winter storm brings a flood threat to some of the same areas that were hit hard by hurricane Sandy.

BERMAN: And droning on and on and on and on. One senator's pretty historic and interesting protest over drones turn into a one-man, nearly 13-hour marathon on Capitol Hill, Rand Paul.

SAMBOLIN: He was really interesting to watch.

BERMAN: Just finishing up minutes ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (on-camera): Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday, March 7th. It is just about 6:00 a.m. in the east, and we are following a developing story out of North Korea right now. The country amping (ph) up its rhetoric, threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States as a U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on tougher sanctions against it.

Anna Coren is following all of these developments from Seoul, South Korea. What can you tell us, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, as you say, more fiery rhetoric coming out of North Korea, but this is verging on the absurd. North Korea's state news agency has said that the United States is working to ignite a nuclear attack on North Korea. And it said in a in response to that that it will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack.

Now, this is, of course, happening as there are joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, planned for the next couple of days. They will carry on for a month. And this is something that, of course, angers North Korea. You mentioned those U.N. sanctions which will be discussed and voted on in the next several hours, 10:00 a.m. in New York.

It is expected that they will be enforced, tougher sanctions. But as we know, Zoraida, tougher sanctions have not worked, and the experts that we've spoken to here in Seoul say it's time for dialogue.