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Obama About To Touch Down In Tel Aviv; He Made The Call

Aired March 20, 2013 - 05:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And new information this morning in the plot to kill at a college campus and the roommate who may have prevented a massacre now speaking out.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And a stunning upset from national champions to losers in this first round. Can you believe it? The can't miss low lights of the Kentucky game.


HARLOW (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Good morning. I'm Poppy Harlow in for John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Wednesday, March 20th. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

And developing this morning, President Obama touches down in Tel Aviv in just under an hour. And there's a new sense of urgency to his historic Middle East visit this morning because there is growing concern that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its own people near the northern city of Aleppo.

Sara Sidner is live from Jerusalem. And Sarah, what was the president's mission in Israel and how do these developments in Syria potentially change his agenda?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the problem of the chemical weapons in Syria has been high on the agenda anyway. And we know that it's going to be discussed and was told by a senior Israeli official that this issue is definitely on the agenda. It was on the agenda before hearing about potential chemical weapons used in Syria recently.

And it is something that these two leaders will discuss. Now, the discussion will be very interesting because one of the things we're told that the Obama administration is going to be asked is whether the United States can strike inside of Syria to keep Syria from sending missiles, particularly, surface-to-air missiles over the Lebanon border to Hezbollah, a group that both Israel and the United States and several other countries consider a terrorist organization.

That has been a big concern, but, of course, the chemical weapons has been a concern. We were on the border, the Israel-Syria border. You could hear the sounds of the war and some of that war has been spilling over with shells, tank shells coming over into -- on the Israel side of the Golan Heights. The chemical weapons are very different. And if you talk to experts, you can not just strike them from the air, they have to be gotten from the ground.

So, a real issue that's going to be talked about in real terms now that we're hearing that chemical weapons may have been used in Syria -- Zoraida

SAMBOLIN: Sara, how's the president planning to try to push the peace process forward?

SIDNER: The peace process is one of those things that a lot of people don't have a lot of hope that there's going to be any movement when it comes to the process between the Israelis and Palestinians. However, it's definitely something that's on the agenda. They have been telling people to have low expectations, perhaps, we will see something.

We're hearing that Secretary of State Kerry is going to be coming back to Israel to speak with Netanyahu to try to push this peace process plan forward to try to figure out what it is that can kick start this plan. Again, remember, it's been about three years since any talks of the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians has happened -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Sara Sidner live in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

HARLOW: We're learning more this morning about the frightening moment when a former University of Central Florida student began what could have been a deadly massacre on campus. Police say 30-year-old James Oliver Seevakumaran had a detailed checklist and plenty of firepower.

But a 911 call from his roommate may have saved the lives of many students inside Tower One. That's a dorm on the UFC campus. CNNs Ed Lavandera has more from Orlando.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The fire alarm is blaring as Arabo Babahkani calls 911. His roommate and would-be killer, James Oliver Seevakumaran, has just pointed a gun right at him.

ARABO BABAHKANI, UCF GUNMAN'S ROOMMATES: My roommate just pulled a fire alarm and he's got a gun out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Where are you at?

BABAHKANI: I'm in the University of Central Florida in 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 was definitely scared. But I was -- I was scared but calm. I was just taking cover like in my room behind objects. LAVANDERA: 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.

CHIEF RICHARD BEARY, UCF POLICE: I don't think that you acquire 210 round magazines and numerous 22 capacity magazines and that you purchase 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 also 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 goad good luck and give them hell. The would-be killer's roommate had lived with him for the last seven months.

BABAHKANI: Yes. I tried to get to know him and stuff, but, you know, we're not friends. He's just very anti-social. He doesn't -- he doesn't want to know me. He doesn't want to make friends. He just keeps to himself.

LAVANDERA: Ed Lavandera, CNN, Orlando, Florida.


HARLOW: Well, the suspect's family issued a brief statement through the Sarasota County sheriff's office. They said only that the suspect was a, quote, "loner" and did not have a history of violence.

SAMBOLIN: The deadly mortar shell explosion that killed seven marines and injured several others during a military training exercise has prompted the marines to ban the use of the weapons pending an investigation now. Officials say the cause of the blast was a 60 millimeter round that detonated inside a mortar tube. The explosion happened at Hawthorne Army Depots in Western Nevada Monday night.

HARLOW: And Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is removing a proposed assault ban rifle -- assault rifle ban from new gun legislation that he will send to the full Senate for consideration. Reid said keeping the assault weapons ban would have guaranteed a Republican filibuster to block the measure.


SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not going to try to put something on the floor that won't succeed. I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds may be to bring something to the floor, and it dies there.


HARLOW: Reid says that Senator Dianne Feinstein could introduce her proposed ban on assault weapons as an amendment to new gun legislation in order to at least get a vote on that.

SAMBOLIN: And new shocking sex and drug allegations against the man who used to be the voice of Elmo. Twenty-four-year-old Sheldon Stephens is suing Kevin Clash, alleging he smoked crystal meth while engaging in sexual activity with Stephens. This was back in 2004. The lawsuit alleges Clash also gave Sheldon poppers as a sexual aid.

Poppers generally refers to capsules that give users a rush when their broken and inhaled. Clash's attorney calls the suit meritless and barred by the statute of limitations.

HARLOW: Interesting development this morning. The FDA is giving up on graphic new warnings for cigarette packages. The justice department will not ask the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court ruling that had blocked those new warnings. The rule stated that requiring such graphic labels on cigarettes would be a violation of free speech protections.

The FDA says it will now work to create new warning labels that comply with the 2009 Tobacco Control Act.

SAMBOLIN: It's something out of a disaster movie. Could an asteroid capable of wiping out a city really hit Earth? Listen to this, NASA says it's possible, especially considering a meteor exploded over Russia last month. Their advice, if one like it, threatened New York, pray. They say 95 percent of asteroids capable of destroying civilization pose no immediate threat, but they also say they know little about so-called city killers.

In a House hearing yesterday, a NASA official pushed for an astronaut mission to an asteroid by 2025. That is not comforting.

HARLOW: Not at all. And if you're up this early, maybe you didn't get enough sleep last night. Well, new research this morning shows that getting just a few hours of sleep a night in a row can lead to almost immediate weight gain. Immediate, folks.

Researchers at the University of Colorado studied 16 healthy men and women for two weeks, some were allowed to sleep a luxurious nine hours a night. The rest just five hours like Z and I.


HARLOW: Those who stayed up late and got less sleep not only ate more, they also ate less healthy food consuming six percent more calories than the well-rested group. I'm just going to sleep and sleep and sleep.

SAMBOLIN: You know, all they needed to do is study us here.

HARLOW: Anyone that works in news.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Yes. All right.

Stunning upset in college basketball. Defending national champs, the Kentucky Wild Cats, lost last night to Robert Morris by a score of 59- 57 in the first round of the NIT. Kentucky's season ending with a big thud. First, they were left out of the NCAA tournament, now this. But congrats to Robert Morris. Go, Colonials.


HARLOW: All right. For viewers who don't know, Zoraida won the bracket last year. She's already had a Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I am, indeed, had Berman. And unfortunately, he's not sitting next to me today so I can gloat. I'm happy to have you, but yes, I would love to gloat.

HARLOW: But Ohio going all the way in yours, right?

SAMBOLIN: Supposedly.

HARLOW: Supposedly.


HARLOW: We will see.

Well, stunning defiant behavior from the teenager who shot and killed three students at an Ohio high school. Horrible story. Horrible actions. A look at what happened as he was sentenced to life in prison. That's next.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Life in prison without parole. That is the sentence for an Ohio teenager charged with fatally shooting three students at Chardon High School last year, but it's the defiant behavior of defendant, T.J. Lane, in court that has triggered new outrage leaving victims' families and his own family in shock. CNN's Mary Snow has that story for us.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments after entering the courtroom, Ohio school shooter, T.J. Lane, took off his shirt, underneath was a T-shirt with the word "killer" handwritten on it. It was similar to what he was wearing when police arrested him in February of 2012 after he opened fire in the Chardon High School cafeteria in Northeastern Ohio.

Lane killed three students and injured three others. And he pleaded guilty last month. When given a chance to speak, the 18-year-old Lane turned to the victims' families, made an obscene gesture with his finger, and used profanity. Crying could be heard and people were visibly upset.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, I wasn't prepared for this.

SNOW: Lane smirked as a prosecutor called him an evil person. A mother of one of the teens who survived addressed Lane directly.

HOLLY WALCZAK, VICTIM'S MOTHER: You're really lucky there are so many police in this room right now. You can smile all you want.

SNOW: The judge sentenced lane to life in prison without parole. He was not eligible for the death penalty because he was a minor at the time of the shootings. After the sentencing, prosecutor, James Flaiz, spoke out about what happened in court.

JAMES FLAIZ, PROSECUTOR: I'm totally disgusted by that. But it has been our position all along that he knew what he was doing. He planned this out. And what he did today is consistent with what we thought of him all along.

SNOW: Lane's sister who was herself in the school cafeteria when her brother opened fire offered sympathy for the victims' families.

SADIE LANE, TJ LANE'S SISTER: What I keep coming back to is that hate will only generate more hate, but forgiveness and compassion will bring peace and understanding. The brother in the courtroom and that did this was not the brother I knew.

SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-four minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans. Boy, that story is really rough.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It really is. Wow! To think of that girl sitting in the lunch room when he did that. Just incredible. OK. There's a lot to get to this morning.


ROMANS (voice-over): President Obama about to land in Tel Aviv for the start of his Middle East trip, and the visit is growing more complicated by the hour with mounting evidence that the Syrian government is using or concerns, rather, that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons on its own people near the city of Aleppo. The president sits down for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that just before noon eastern time.

White House officials are investigating reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. The president long ago warned Syria that's a red line that should not be crossed. Chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told CNN yesterday that if those weapons have been deployed, that's a quote, "game changer" and the U.S. will act accordingly.

South Korea investigating a suspected cyberattack that has left computer networks at several banks and media outlets paralyzed this morning. Three major broadcasters and two banks have reportedly have been affected. It's not clear if the cyberattacks originated in North Korea or somewhere else.

Former South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, reviving his political career after a dramatic fall from grace. He finished first in a special election for a seat in the House last night. He now advances to a runoff election in two weeks. If he wins that contest, he'll square off in May against Democrat, Elizabeth Colbert-Bush, the sister of TV comedian, Stephen Colbert.

New video into CNN this morning. It took rescuers In New York City about four hours to free a man who became trapped 75 feet underground while working on the second avenue subway project. This worker got stuck last night in a muddy underground trench. After securing him, firefighters used hand tools and a back hoe, a back hoe to dig him out. He's in the hospital in stable condition.



HARLOW: Well, a high school senior making an argument for why, why not?


HARLOW: Super model, Kate Upton, should be his prom date. The video that's gone viral this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't dance, at all. You're Christian, 5'10," and that hot video (ph) should have won an Oscar for best short film.



SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. I have some really great news to tell you. The Statue of Liberty is set to reopen to the public by July 4th. The New York City landmark has been closed for nearly five months because of infrastructure damage from superstorm Sandy. Massive flooding caused millions of dollars worth of destruction to the boilers, the sewage pumps, and electrical systems on the island where Lady Liberty stands.

I have to tell you, I didn't know until I started going over to Liberty Island and telling the story.

HARLOW: You were the first one to get there.

SAMBOLIN: I was. I was, but all of their infrastructure is underneath Lady Liberty. So, everything got flooded. And they were very concerned. They needed a lot of money to be able to reopen it. So, I'm really excited. And, I can't wait to head back.


HARLOW: Definitely go back as soon as you can and show us --

SAMBOLIN: I am going to try. I'm making a valiant attempt for everyone.

HARLOW: Let Zoraida in.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, let's get a look at your forecast now on this supposed first day of spring.

HARLOW: Spring.

SAMBOLIN: For meteorologists it is, anyway.


HARLOW: Jennifer Delgado live in the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta for us. Good morning, Jennifer.

DELGADO: Good morning, Zoraida. Good morning, Poppy. You know, you're right. It is the first day of spring, and it starts in just about an hour. I know you guys are very excited about it. And if you have any photos, we're doing something here, send it to us on Instagram and trend it with #springCNN, so we can see how your spring day is turning out.

Now, we already have spring showers out there and thunderstorms moving through Texas, Houston, as well as into Baton Rouge. You expect some delays out there and storms moving through Tampa. More of this are going to be popping up throughout the afternoon. As we move up towards the New England area, notice for yourself that really doesn't look like a lot happening.

But we are going to still see some lake-effect snow today, tomorrow, and that means some of these locations five to nine inches of snowfall. So, very windy across parts of the northeast including New England. But overall, we're certainly seeing those snow flurries really coming to an end. Now, high temperatures for today. It's spring. You want to know what you're going to be experiencing. Well, not spring-like temperatures.

Temperatures are going to be running 20 degrees below average in some parts, even 30. Look at the high temperatures for Wednesday. Chicago, high of 25 degrees. This time last year, you were at 85 degrees. The average is 43. For St. Louis, you're going to be cool and the same for New York City. High temperature should generally be right around 60 degrees.

And, it's not going to end any time soon. This cold spell is going to stick around as we go through Thursday as well as into Friday. And we're also talking about some snow developing through parts of the Midwest. We'll get to that coming up a little bit later on. Back over to you guys. Happy spring.

SAMBOLIN: We don't want to know.


SAMBOLIN: But thanks, Jennifer. Appreciate it.


DELGADO: A nice warm-up is coming, but now, I'm not giving it.

SAMBOLIN: We'll check back in with you. Thank you.

HARLOW: Jennifer, thanks. Well, Girl Scout cookies inspiring a new trend, you can call it, for the over 21 crowd. Thin mint beer anyone? Those details next.

And don't forget, Watch Jake Tapper's new show "The Lead" at 4:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.


HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START. Good morning everyone. A look at the top trends online this morning. It just might be the unlikeliest of marriages. Girl Scout cookies and beer. Five new cookie beers are flowing at San Francisco's (INAUDIBLE). There is peppermint order (ph) inspired by thin mints peanut butter cream ail (ph) for Do-Si-Do.


HARLOW: Short bread gold nail for tree foils, assorted chocolate stunt (ph) with peanut butter for peanut butter patties, and a Belgian double with coconut and cocoa nibs for (INAUDIBLE). There are no actual cookies in the beer, folks, but each beer is served with the cookie that inspired it. I think hangover.

SAMBOLIN: Well, beer and cookies. I don't know. I don't like the combo.

All right. It's not the first time we've seen this. The California high school senior, jaKe Davidson (ph), makes some compelling arguments why supermodel, Kate Upton, should be his prom date. His video has gone viral and even better, it has her attention.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the Ying to my Yang. I'm Jewish, 5'9" on a really good day and I can't dance, at all. You're Christian, 5'10" and that video (ph) should have won Oscar for best short film. You could say this is destiny.


SAMBOLIN: Well, Kate Upton has responded to Jake tweeting, "You can call me Katie if you want. How can I turn down that video? I will check my schedule!" So, folks, stay tuned.

HARLOW: Oh, I hope she goes.

SAMBOLIN: Wouldn't that be great?

HARLOW: That would be fantastic. All right. To check out other top CNN Trends, head to

SAMBOLIN: And here's a question. What do the new pope, Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods have in common? Cue the late night laughs.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": How about this weather? Isn't it crazy? Forty-six and cloudy? I mean, like Lindsay Lohan?


LETTERMAN: The pope is urging compassion for those less fortunate. Of course, the poor, passion for them. The oppressed, urging compassion for the oppressed, also Carnival cruise passengers, compassion for them because --


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Today, 200,000 people showed up to St. Peter's Square for Pope Francis' first mass. 200,000 people. It was crazy. Instead of handing out communion, they just handed (ph) wafer cannon.


FALLON: Here's some celebrity news. Tiger Woods and professional skier, Lindsey Vonn, confirmed on Facebook that they are dating. Things are moving pretty quickly. Just today, he took her home to meet his other girlfriends.


FALLON: Isn't that sweet? That's sweet.


SAMBOLIN: EARLY START continues right now.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): President Obama minutes from touching down in Tel Aviv for the start of a historic Middle East trip. It's his first visit to Israel since taking office.

HARLOW (voice-over): And the president's visit to the Middle East growing more urgent by the hour now that it appears the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons against its own people.

SAMBOLIN: Career revived. New this morning, Mark Sanford, the controversial former governor of South Carolina, wants that closer to winning a seat in the House of Representatives.

HARLOW: And developing this morning, a suspected cyberattack crippling networks in South Korea. Is North Korea behind it?


HARLOW (on-camera): Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in for John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Wednesday, March 20th. It is the first day of spring. So, happy spring to you. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east. Let's get started here.

In less than 30 minutes, President Obama is scheduled to touch down in Tel Aviv to begin a Middle East visit. That's taking on new urgency this morning.