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Colorado Prison Chief Killed; I Was Not Going to Let Him Shoot Me; Man Rushes Stages During Mayor's Speech; Snow and Cold Mark First Day of Spring; Wounded Veteran Disrespected by TSA?; President Obama in the Middle East

Aired March 20, 2013 - 13:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Obama is in Israel for the first time as president. Among the issues he's discussing with Prime Minister Netanyahu, accusations of chemical weapons used in Syria.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINNESOTA: And there's four Americans killed --

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But, Congresswoman, you're -- but you're the one who brought it up.


WHITFIELD: Is this the art of dodge unfolding? Michele Bachmann trying to duck questions by running away from our Dana Bash. And --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My roommate just pulled a fire alarm, and he's got a gun out.


WHITFIELD: Hear from the students who may have prevented a massacre at a Florida college campus.

This is the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Suzanne Malveaux.

All right, guns and grief, we begin with two major developments out of Colorado where the governor has just signed into law a series of gun control measures. They are some of the most restrictive in the country. One limits magazine capacity, the other to deal with background checks and how to pay for them. This comes just hours after the state's prison chief was gunned down. Authorities say Tom Clements was shot in his home last night when he answered a knock at the door. Police are talking to neighbors and searching the woods near his property. At a news conference a short while ago, Colorado's governor was clearly very emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. JOHN HICKENLOPPER, COLORADO: To me, to I think all of us, in many ways, he helped define what a public servant is. He did his job quietly, and intently. He cared deeply about his staff, and his family and the community. In his approach to corrections, he was all about best practices and using data and information to continuously improve the way -- the way we do things. How do we make our prisons safer, not just for the employees but for the inmates? How do we do a better job of preparing inmates for returning to the community?


WHITFIELD: Police are looking into the possibility that the shooting could be related to his high profile job. Jim Spellman is in El Paso County. So, Jim, I gather you have some new information that comes directly from the police?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sheriffs here in El Paso County, Colorado tell us they've gotten their most important piece of information yet in this investigation. Somebody here in the neighborhood last night witnessed a car with the engine running without a driver in it right around the time of the shooting. Here's somebody from the sheriff's department. Listen.


JEFF KRAMER, LEUTENANT, EL PASO COUNTY, COLORADO, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: It was odd in the sense that the vehicle was unoccupied but running. And a couple minutes later that same resident passed back by the location, the car was gone. Just a few minutes beyond that, that same resident was traveling in her -- in their vehicle and observed the -- that vehicle of interest traveling westbound on Higby Road and then turning south on Jackson Creek Parkway which, of course, would lead back to Baptist Road which, of course, feeds to the interstate.


SPELLMAN: The sheriff's department describes this car as a late 1990s boxy style two-door similar to something like a Lincoln, dark in color, black or possibly dark green. Now, near the highway entrance there are many surveillance cameras, traffic cameras, gas stations, banks, things like that. They're definitely checking that footage now to see if they can get some sort of a linkage here, maybe get a license plate and find this person that way -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Jim, are authorities saying anything about whether they believe the shooting was in any way related to the gun measures that I just spelled out moments ago being signed into law today?

SPELLMAN: There's no indication that it's related to the gun legislation at all. And I can tell you that Mr. Clement was not a high-profile public figure. This is not the kind of person that you would see on T.V. a lot, the kind of person advocating for any of these charges. He was a guy definitely in the background. But the police here do tell us that they are working with the Department of Corrections here to try to track down any leads that could come from that front, possibly from somebody who recently paroled, a family or friend of somebody who was denied parole, somebody who's in prison now. Way too soon to tell in the investigation if any of that will at all lead to the killer, but those are definitely avenues they're pursuing at this time -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jim Spellman, thanks so much.

A Florida college student is being called a hero after throwing a wrench in his roommate's apparent plot to go on a mass shooting. Arabo Babakhani called 911 after spotting 30-year-old James Oliver Seevakumaran with an assault weapon. Police say Seevakumaran fatally shot himself and they found an arsenal of weapons, including about 1,000 rounds of ammo and four homemade bombs. Here's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Fredricka, imagine you are the roommate of this would-be killer. The fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, and you stick your head out the door to see what's going on and there's a gunpoint right at your face. For the first time, we are hearing from this would-be killer's roommate. The fire alarm is blaring as Arabo Babakhani calls 911. His roommate and would-be killer, James Oliver Seevakumaran, has just pointed a gun right at him.

ARABO BABAKHANI: My roommate just pulled the fire alarm and he's got a gun out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): Where are you at?

BABAKHANI: I'm in the University of Central Florida, Orlando. The fire alarm went off. I opened the door to see what was going on and he's there with like some sort of like gun, like large assault gun. I don't know if it's a real gun. I don't know what it is. But I just saw it, I slammed my door shut and locked it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. And are you in your room now? Secured in your room?

BABAKHANI: Yes. Yes, I'm in the bathroom.

(on camera): I was definitely scared but I was scared but calm. I was just taking cover like in my room behind objects.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Campus police released this dramatic helmet camera video of officers making their way inside the gunman's dorm room. This might be disturbing for some to watch, but this is the moment police find the 30 year old lying dead on the floor. They also found that he apparently was planning a massacre with an arsenal of weapons and explosives.

RICHARD BEARY, CHIEF OF POLICE, UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA: I don't think that you acquire 210-round magazines and numerous 22 capacity magazines and that you purchased a thousand rounds of ammunition and that you purchase the 45 ammunition, I don't think you just do that as a joke. LAVANDERA: Investigators say they found a bizarre handwritten timeline for the attack. In Seevakumaran's words, he would visit this bar called the Mad Hatter, get drunk, then go back to his dorm, take a shower, shave up and then get equipped. Scratching off items as he went down the list. The last item read, good luck and give them hell. The would-be killer's roommate had lived with him for the last seven months.

BABAKHANI: You know, I've tried to get to know him and stuff but, you know, we're not friends. He's just very antisocial. He doesn't -- he doesn't want to know me. He doesn't want to make friends. He just keeps to himself.

LAVANDERA: Police say Seevakumaran was not targeting anyone specifically, but his roommate suggests he killed himself because he felt cornered.

BABAKHANI: I knew he was having money problems because of the whole process with him getting evicted from the apartment, and he was having trouble at work, too. I think his hours got cut recently and he wasn't making a lot of money.

LAVANDERA: Police have described Seevakumaran as someone who was a loner and showed signs of antisocial behavior. Even his own family is describing him as a loner, but someone who had no history of violence. Investigators, in the meanwhile, have taken his computer and going through other writings and that sort of thing and are still trying to come up with what his motive might have been -- Fredricka.


WHITFIELD: All right. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

And Kansas City Mayor Sly James says he doesn't know why a man rushed the stage as he delivered his annual state of the city address yesterday. James tells CNN's starting point quick action by his security detail left the man little time to explain himself. And James kept a cool head as it all unfolded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man just got done talking about (INAUDIBLE.)

SLY JAMES, MAYOR, KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: Well, that was unfortunate.


WHITFIELD: While the mayor staying cool the whole time, James says the man was jailed and an investigation is now underway.

And today, it's the first day of spring, but you wouldn't know it, not by the sight of a plow like that. This is what much of the Northeast and Midwest are looking like, snow, tons of it, making people feel like it's the dead of winter really. Parts of Massachusetts buried under more than 15 inches of snow, sleds and all. And the snow is still coming down in New Hampshire and in Maine. Temperatures are bitterly cold. Wind chills in some areas in the Midwest are well below zero.

Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center. Shannon Travis all bundled up even though you've got some bare cherry blossoms behind you there on the tidal basin. It's supposed to be spring-like there, Shannon. But a lot of tourists have come to town and they're a little frustrated now. Let's begin with you. It's the first day of the National Cherry Blossom Festival as well. And those trees are not in bloom.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Fred, a lot of people are wondering if this is the first day of spring or April Fool's Day, because, as you just mentioned, this time last year, a lot of these cherry blossom trees were in bloom. But right now, I'm surrounded by cherry blossom trees, but where are the buds? It's going to give you a sense of the development of where they are right now. Take a look at this tree right here, Fred. It's young. It looks like it might have been planted not too long ago. But look at the buds right there, look closely. They are barely peeking out. Obviously, forecasters and rangers are saying that the weather is making them a little bit shy. But I just want to show you a little bit of a difference over here for this tree, much older.

So, again, that probably again plays a factor but these buds right here, Fred, popping out a little bit more. Hopefully in a few weeks, we'll see a little bit more of that. Park rangers tell us that they expect peak bloom between April 3rd and April 6th. Obviously, Fred, about 3,700 of these trees, not just on the basin but in the area, obviously, a gift from Japan to the U.S. about 101 years ago. But as you mentioned earlier, tourists, they are all coming out here and saying, oh, we're here in town, we want to see the blossoms. Because the weather has affected them, I spoke with the park ranger's official and asked him flat out, you know what? Could the weather delay them any more? Take a listen.


JAMES PERRY, SERVICE RANGER, NATIONAL PARK: Well, that is within -- in the realm of possibility. You know, these things are very sensitive to the temperature and the conditions and particularly if we have very lows overnight, continually in the 30s, it will -- it will simply slow down the process of the budding. But we think there's a little bit of hope in the forecast and a little bit of a warming trend that should push the buds out.


TRAVIS: And, Fred, I know we have Chad standing by.


TRAVIS: Maybe that's the question he can answer for us and for the tourists.

WHITFIELD: Yes, because we know what it's supposed to look like. This is what it looked like last year. Oh, full bloom, cherry blossoms, gorgeous. Wouldn't it be nice if folks could enjoy -- TRAVIS: It's like 70 degrees out there almost.

WHITFIELD: -- that during that Cherry Blossom Festival? Instead, Chad, we're seeing what was right behind Shannon Travis there, just barely a bud on the tree. So, at least during this festival, do you think it's going to get warm enough where those buds will kind of open up?


WHITFIELD: We've got three weeks.

MYERS: Yes, we have three weeks. It will happen. Obviously, it's going to come out. Probably April 3rd. The rangers saying April 3rd is probably the peak this year. But, believe it or not, those pictures that you were just showing, that was March 17th last year.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my God.

MYERS: It was so early last year. We had temperatures 85 degrees by this time last spring where temperatures now are in the 35, 45 degree range. They're just a little bit shy when you see that. Ames, Iowa, picture from you from Instagram, some snow on the ground there. A couple of buds. A little bit of greenery around some places across America. This is from Athuta (ph) at Instagram. I do like this picture, kind of on the beach. Maybe that's the place to be for spring break or anywhere for spring. Send your pictures, if you will, for me. Put pound (ph) CNN spring and send them via Instagram, so I can put them up here on this wall and show them to the whole world.

WHITFIELD: Gorgeous, I like the array of pictures there. All right. Well, Shannon, it'll happen. I'm sure the longer you stand out there, you'll see some kind of progress on a tree.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much. Shannon Travis and Chad Myers, I appreciate it. Happy spring anyway.

MYERS: Anywhere.

WHITFIELD: Anywhere, too. All right, President Barack Obama, well, he, right now, spending spring in Israel meeting with the Prime Minister Netanyahu. And still to come, the significance of this trip and the U.S.-Israeli relation.


WHITFIELD: All right. You know by now that President Barack Obama's in Israel. And when he landed and spoke with the prime minister, he said it was kind of good to be away from U.S. Congress. Well "THE LEAD's" Jake Tapper caught up with House Speaker John Boehner this morning and he actually asked him about his reaction to President Obama's comments. And this is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAKE TAPPER, HOST, "THE LEAD": President Obama arrived in Israel today. He had some interesting comments for Prime Minister Netanyahu on the tarmac. He said it's good to get away from Congress. Netanyahu laughed and said, believe me, I know. Any reaction?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So much for the charm offensive.

TAPPER: Does a comment like that actually have an impact, do you think?

BOEHNER: No, not really. You know, president's meeting with the President of Israel, you know, he's got his legislative issues, the president's got his. Comes with the territory.

TAPPER: Comes with the territory.

BOEHNER: I would rather be heckled than ignored. Or as I like to say, you only tease the ones you love.


WHITFIELD: Wait, there's more. The full exclusive interview will be on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper today 4:00 Eastern Time.

All right. President Obama says the U.S. is Israel's strongest ally and greatest friend. The president is on his first visit to the Jewish state since taking office. Among the tough issues he's discussing with Israeli leaders the war in Syria and Iran's nuclear program. I want to bring in chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Candy, why is the president taking this trip now? is there anything to the timestamp?

CANDY CROWLEY, ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION": Well, he isn't the first president to wait until his second term. I think you mentioned two of them, Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear weaponry is of great concern to both Israel and the U.S. they have not been on the same page about when they think Iran might acquire that capability. These are not Netanyahu and Israel and Obama here not the best of friends. So anything they can do to kind of ease what has been kind of four years of tension between the two would be good so they get on the same page.

Egypt, you know, the Arab Spring and the transition from dictatorship, which might have been a dictatorship, but nonetheless certainly helped in terms of the Middle East balance of power because it did have a peace treaty with Israel. That hasn't gone so well. We're talking about the war in Syria spilling over into Israel. There's no shortage of things to talk about. And I think I would also just add that presidents in second terms use a broader palette when they go after issues. They are looking at the history books. Every president has tried to do something about Middle East peace in particular between Israel and the Palestinians. I think that clock also ticks for the president.

WHITFIELD: And how important is it for the U.S. and Israel to see eye- to-eye, namely the leaders of this country, to see eye-to-eye specifically at a time when there are these reports of Syria and the use of chemical weapons?

CROWLEY: Well, the U.S. has been pretty clear about the broad use of chemical weapons in Syria and sort of saying, look, we might in fact use force in Syria or apply force to Syria if we have absolute proof of chemical weapons being used by the government in Syria. So I think the two actually see eye-to-eye on that. I think the big problem really has been Iran. They don't -- the U.S. and Israel don't see eye-to-eye, but they have each other's back. I think that's kind of, you know, the best way to put it. It is -- it has long been the U.S.'s strongest ally in the Middle East. And the U.S. has been Israel's biggest friend.

That doesn't mean that there haven't been a lot of bumps along the road. And there have been again particularly for these two men and it's been around Iran. I know one of the reasons that the president took this trip and one of the things he wants to emphasize here is to assure the Israelis, not just Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Israelis at large that the U.S. will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. There's still probably going to be a difference of opinion about when one might say, hey, too late, we've got to move. Nonetheless it's important that they have the same goals. They don't always see eye- to-eye on how to get there.

WHITFIELD: Candy Crowley, host of "STATE OF THE UNION," thanks so much.

CROWLEY: Thanks..

WHITFIELD: All right, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann pulled a fast move to avoid questions from one of our reporters. Our Dana Bash tried to ask Bachmann about allegations of lavish spending by the Obama family. Here's what she said at the CPAC gathering.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) MINNESOTA: Now we're finding out that there are five chefs on Air Force One. There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in order to be readily available in case the first family wants a really, really late show. We are also the ones who are paying for someone to walk the president's dog.


WHITFIELD: But when Dana Bash tried to follow-up, Bachmann wanted to walk rather than talk.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Congresswoman, can I ask you about your speech at CPAC? You made some accusations about the president that were either questionable or untrue. Can you talk to me about that? I just want to ask you some specifics --


BACHMANN: The comments I made about the president are that during the Benghazi debacle --

No, the president went missing --

BASH: What I want to ask you about is the fact that you talked about the excesses that he's engaged in, the fact he has a dog walker, which is not true.

BACHMANN: The big point in my speech was about Benghazi. This was an absolute disaster -- Dana --

BASH: You also made specific accusations about --

BACHMANN: Dana, the real issue is there are four Americans that are dead. The secretary of state was not in conversation with the secretary of defense or with the chair of joint chiefs staff.

BASH: I think that's an important point.


BACHMANN: This is the president of the United States didn't care about those four Americans and they were killed. That's the point.


BACHMANN: If you want to focus on -- That's what's important. You're talking about a dog and four Americans killed --

BASH: But Congresswoman, you're the one that brought it up. You're the one that brought it up.


WHITFIELD: All right. Still no answers to the questions Dana was asking. A follow-up to the CPAC speech, boy, Dana is dogged. And we'll see if we can bring you more of that a little bit later on here in the NEWSROOM.

A Marine who lost both his legs fighting in Afghanistan claims he was humiliated by TSA agents. Now one Congressman is demanding action.


WHITFIELD: A California lawmaker wants answers from the Transportation Security Administration. Republican Duncan Hunter wants an explanation for reports of a double amputee Marine being humiliated by TSA officers at a Phoenix airport. Let's bring in Rene Marsh in Washington. Tell us what happened at this alleged incident.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, this California Congressman, Duncan Hunter, he's raising questions about whether TSA screeners at a Phoenix airport humiliated a member of the military, a double amputee Marine. Now, Congressman Hunter is so upset about the allegations that he fired off this letter, two pages, to the head of the TSA demanding answers. But the TSA denies that its screeners did anything wrong. Now, according to our Phoenix affiliates, the Marine -- he was in Phoenix with a group of other wounded warriors from California for spring training baseball games. The group was there. You're looking at some video there. But when it was time for them to return home to California, the Marine who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan was humiliated. That's according to a man traveling with him. That same man says a TSA screener asked the Marine to get out of his wheelchair and walk. And then that Marine also had to remove his prosthetic leg. Here's more from the man traveling with him.


VOICE OF JIM PHILLIPS, TRAVELED WITH MARINE: He cannot stand up by himself. And I tried to explain that, and they don't want to hear it. I said, man, I'm sorry that has to happen to you. And he just goes, you know what, get me the F out of here.


MARSH: So they apparently walked away from that situation feeling very disrespected. But the TSA has a different story of the account. They say that closed circuit TV shows that TSA officers followed procedures and that the Marine actually stood up on his own and willingly walked through security. The TSA also says that the Marine actually never removed his prosthetics and he never filed a complaint. We should tell you though, Fred, the TSA has a special program specifically to address how wounded warriors are treated at security points. And the program is simply designed to ensure that all of these folks get treated respectfully. Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Rene Marsh in Washington. Thank you so much.

Victory for Stephen Colbert's sister. She's the winner in a South Carolina congressional primary and now could be up against Former Governor Mark Sanford.