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Would Be Campus Killer Takes Own Life; Interview with Richard Beary; First Day Of Spring; Where Are The Cherry Blossoms?; President Obama Arrives In Israel; Ohio School Shooter Gets Life; Ford: "Accidents Are Going To Happen"; Statue Of Liberty To Reopen By July 4th; Rodman's North Korea Revelations; Besties With "The Worm"; NCAA Tournament Officially Tips Off; Dominican Republic Uses Fruity Lucky Charm; Queen Elizabeth's Return

Aired March 20, 2013 - 07:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. Our morning team is here right now. Katherine Robson, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," and Chris Frates, a reporter from the "National Journal." Thank you guys so much for coming in.

We have some terrifying new details this morning emerging right now about the University Central Florida and the student who may have been just minutes away, just minutes from carrying out a massacre on campus.

The 30-year-old James Seevakumaran pulled the fire alarm in his dormitory Monday in anticipation of the attack, but when his roommate spotted a gun, he barricaded himself into the bathroom, and called 911.


ARABO "BK" BABAHKANI, ROOMMATE OF UCF GUNMAN (via telephone): 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 and I slammed my door shut and locked it.


BERMAN: Police arrived on the scene within minutes, but by the time they entered the room the suspect had already taken his own life. This video is from helmet cam as they first entered the room.

Authorities also found a small arsenal of weapons and ammunition along with what appeared to be a handwritten plan of attack ending with the words, give them hell. Richard Beary is the chief of the University of Central Florida Campus Police. He joins us right now. Chief, thank you for coming in this morning.


BERMAN: Let me read you a quote from the family of the alleged -- the victim here or the, the dead man who was plotting this attack. It says, James was a loner and did not have a history of violence.

The family does not wish to make any further comments to the media, and they are requesting privacy during this difficult time. The family has requested privacy. He has no history of violence. You have any idea of a possible motive?

BEARY: No, we're still conducting an active investigation to try to determine if we can figure out what the motive would be. Actually the statement the family made matches what we have learned thus far, that he was a loner. That part is very accurate.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Tell me about the list, sir, the list, looks as though he was crossing off items maybe in preparation, he had not crossed off pull the fire alarm, and he had not crossed off go and give them hell. Does it look to you like he had planned this very carefully?

BEARY: Well, certainly, the -- the information we have in the writings that we've recovered indicate that, yes, he did have a plan. It was a checklist probably to keep him on track. We've seen these in other situations across the country and this one kind of matches that same thing, trying to make sure they stay on track with their -- with their plan.

BERMAN: Let me read you a list of the things that we believe were part of his arsenal, a 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, a .22-caliber tactical rifle, a back pack with four homemade explosive devices, two 110-round magazines, 1,000 plus rounds of ammunition. We also understand he had some extra clips being shipped to him at the time. If this had gone off, you know I almost hesitate to ask, how bad would it have been?

BEARY: Well, that is pretty hard to assume how that would have been. The good news is, is because our officers response was so fast, they were well equipped to handle the situation. So if it would have started I think we would have ended it very, very quickly based upon the training that we do for our officers.

ROMANS: At this point, he was a loner, you say, investigators say he was a loner, and, and in the end, would you ever know the motive here? It doesn't appear that he had any friends, certainly his roommate that he lived with for seven months said that he didn't really know him.

BEARY: Well, we may never know what the exact motive was. We continue to do some analytical research on his computer to see if we can come up with something there. That's going to take several days because there's a great deal of data on that computer.

So we hope to wrap this up and find out what that motivation was. Again with these situations, you know, you can't get inside of people's heads. We may never know exactly what we do know is that we stopped a bad situation here and for that we're very thankful.

BERMAN: And I think everyone is very lucky that that is the case. Richard Beary, the chief of the University of Central Florida Police Department. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. ROMANS: All right, you know, I think for 20 minutes it has officially been spring. You wouldn't know it today is the first day of spring snow and cold temperatures still gripping much of the northeast and the Midwest.

CNN's Chris Welch is live in Minneapolis this morning where the hardy people of Minnesota are like, you know, their neighbors in Iowa where I'm from, we, this is the time of year when you just have to kind of give up hope and wait for the first daffodil. They're still waiting.

CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You really do have to wait and yes, they are still waiting. We were spoiled last year it was so warm this same time, but look at me now. I'm standing on a snow pile in a parking lot here. This is basically, about 15 feet of dirty snow.

It's been cleared from the streets of Minneapolis, and put here. Now this snow is pretty dirty. So this has been here for quite some time. It hasn't had a chance to even begin to melt. Now folks all across the country, from the Midwest to New England are dealing with this right now. The first day of spring and they're saying enough already.


WELCH (voice-over): When Punxsutawney Phil showed up last month, he told us to prep for an early spring. Well, Punxsutawney Phil might be full of you know what. Today is the official first day of spring, but winter's grip appears far from over.

From the Midwest to New England, late-season winter storms bringing as much as 15 inches of snow in some areas, leading to another round of school closures and travel nightmares. In Maine, this was the scene on the roads earlier this week. Worcester, Massachusetts, saw one of its snowiest winters on record, with totals of more than 100 inches.

Six of those fell this week. To add insult to injury, all you have to do is think back to exactly one year ago. We were in a heat wave. Sneakers replaced snowshoes in Boston, and this was the scene in Manchester, New Hampshire. No snow, maybe just a snow cone. It was so warm in Fargo, North Dakota. This man could ice fish without bundling up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 70 degrees up here and down here, it's -- you're sitting on an ice cube.

WELCH: This year that's not the case so why the contrast? CNN meteorologist Chad Myers --

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know the old saying, sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Here sometimes you're under the ridge like we were last year. Fargo, North Dakota, 80 degrees on this date. Sometimes you're under the ridge, cold weather all across the same area. Fargo this morning, 10 below zero.


WELCH: Now, Christine, as much as I hate to think about what we were at last year. I'm going to do it right now so that I can tell you what we were at. It was 80 degrees on St. Patrick's Day last year, 8- 0. Today, we might see a high of 23 degrees, a balmy 23. But right now we've got a wind chill of about minus 7. So it's a far cry from that 80 degrees.

BERMAN: One thing you don't know about Chris. Chris is 6'8", so that gives you a sense of how tall that snow pile is behind him right now. It's a lot of snow in Minnesota.

WELCH: Yes, exactly.

ROMANS: Chris Welch, thanks. For all of you watching us from the snow, it will be over soon. I'm no meteorologist, but it will be over soon. Thanks so much.

Let's go now to Shannon Travis in Washington, D.C. where the average temperatures are postponing a popular event in the nation's capital -- Shannon.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, to say the least. We're actually wondering whether it's reached 20 or April Fools' Day, Christine, with the weather being what it is on this first day of spring. It's not 39 degrees right now here in Washington, D.C.

And this cold snap is affecting things like the cherry blossom trees here in the nation's capital, obviously, the first day of the festival, nearly a four-week festival commemorating the cherry blossoms start today.

Obviously, we know that the trees were a gift from Japan to the U.S., about 101 years ago. But, not many blossoms on the trees that we're looking at. We just wanted to show a few of them. No touching, no climbing on them. Take a look right here, Christine. We're looking at some of the buds kind of coming out a little bit.

Park rangers tell us that a few of the other trees have a little bit more, a little bit less of a bud or what have you. Some of the people are saying that they think that they'll miss the thing entirely. The National Park Service thinks that there will be pink blossoms about April 3rd to April 6th. Take a listen to some people we talked to yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Came down here today to see them. They're not quite ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was looking at them, it seems like they're almost ready. I think they're just afraid we're going to get another snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came last year at the end of the festival and we missed it there, as well. So we were hoping this year that we would get it, but this is her spring break obviously so it dictated when we would come. We're a little disappointed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winter is letting go slowly this year.


TRAVIS: Now, Christine, this time last year on March 20th you can take a look at some video the blossoms, the trees had already blossomed this time last year. We had almost 70 degrees on this very day, and my producer tells me that he spoke with a person yesterday who's actually measuring the water around the area. The water temperature is five degrees colder this week than it was last week -- Christine.

ROMANS: But the optimist in me is seeing forsythia blooming way back behind you and that comes before cherry blossoms. So maybe it's going to come here very soon and no, you cannot blame the delay, Mother Nature, Mother Nature at her finest. Shannon Travis, thanks, Shannon.

BERMAN: Forced spending cuts even keeping the flowers away. Congressional approval ratings will -- let's go to Zoraida with the rest of the top stories. Hi, Z.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Good morning to you. President Obama landing in Tel Aviv last hour greeting Israeli leaders with a big smile on his face and giving brief remarks. He emphasized that Israel is an ally and a friend.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Between our nations, to restate America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security, and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbors.

We stand together because we share a common story, patriots determined to be a free people in our land, pioneers who forged a nation, heroes who sacrificed to preserve our freedom and immigrants from every corner of the world who renew constantly our diverse society.


SAMBOLIN: Today the president will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at about noon Eastern. His trip will also include the west bank, and Jordan.

The Marines have now widened the ban on ammunition related to Monday's deadly training explosion in Nevada. It happened at Hawthorne Army Depot. Seven Marines were killed and several others were injured.

Officials say the cause of the blast was a 60-millimeter round that detonated inside a mortar tube. In a statement, the Marines said, quote, "a blanket suspension of the 60-millimeter mortars and associated tubes is now in effect until this review is complete."

In a bizarre and highly offensive scene in an Ohio courtroom as a judge handed 18-year-old T.J. Lane three life sentences for last year's shooting at Chardon High School. Three students were killed and three others were wounded. First, Lane unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a t-shirt with the word "killer" written on it. When given the chance to address the court, Lane made an obscene gesture at the victims' families and spoke to them briefly using explicit language, as well. Lane smirked throughout the entire hearing and laughed when the prosecutors referred to him as an evil person.

That's what actor Harrison Ford told the "Daily Caller" when asked about the consequences of forced budget cuts on aviation. He told the House general aviation caucus his main concern is safety.


HARRISON FORD, ACTOR AND PILOT: This is not just about general aviation. This is about commercial aviation, and passenger safety. And it's a -- it's a critical issue that's got to be addressed immediately.


SAMBOLIN: Ford also says he wants to, quote, "persuade the FAA to find the funds in their very large budget to prevent some 200 contract towers from shutting down."

And Lady Liberty, I am so happy to share this. It is set to reopen to the public by July 4th. The New York City landmark has been closed for over four months because of infrastructure damage from Superstorm Sandy. Massive flooding caused millions of dollars worth of destruction to the docks, boilers, sewage pumps, and the electrical systems on the island where the Statue of Liberty stands.

Dennis Rodman cannot seem to stop talking about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. In an interview with the "U.K. Sun" Rodman called Kim, I guess they're on a first basis, a big kid who loves disco, Michael Jackson and basketball.

Rodman says Kim asked him to deliver a message to President Obama, if we can talk, we can work this out. Those are his words. Rodman claims the military elite is behind all that tough talk. He also revealed that Kim and his wife reportedly have a second child, a baby girl. I know, John, look at the look on his face.

BERMAN: I'm still thinking of these 15 minutes for Dennis Rodman had gone on for an hour and 15 minutes. It's too much. I don't know if we knew Kim Jong-Un had a second child. Maybe Dennis Rodman is providing key intelligence now although I doubt it.


ROMANS: Dennis Rodman providing key intelligence.

BERMAN: Those words have never been spoken.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, March Madness begins and it is already starting off mad, and frankly bad for me.

ROMANS: Yes, I actually way ahead of you in brackets. They're used to hoots and hollers, why these ball girls got booed.


BERMAN: March Madness begins.

ROMANS: Yes, the annual ritual of decreased American work productivity. Andy Scholes has all the excitement in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

ANDY SCHOLES, "BLEACHER REPORT": Good morning, guys. Much of the talk surrounding the first two games was Liberty University, who was just the second time ever to make the tournament with 20 losses. It shouldn't be much of a surprise last night they lost.

They trailed by seven with 4 minutes to go. They were almost able to make the comeback but, their last-second attempt would be no good. North Carolina A & T holds on for their first ever tournament win. They will play Louisville in the second round.

The other game featured St. Mary's versus Middle Tennessee State. This was the Matthew show. He led St. Mary's to a 13-point win. They'll take on Memphis in round two. The play-in games will wrap up tonight on TruTV. Liu Brooklyn takes on James Madison followed by La Salle versus Boise State.

Before heading over to Israel, president Obama continued his annual tradition of filling out his bracket with ESPN. Last year the president picked two of the final four correctly. His picks for this year's final four are Louisville, Indiana, Ohio State, and Florida. The president has two number one seeds, a number two seed and a number three seed. We'll have to see how he does.

The power of the plantain must be real. The Dominican Republic team calling the fruit their good luck charm throughout the world baseball classic. And it's hard to argue against it. The Dominicans dominated the field in the tournament going a perfect 8-0 capped off by last night's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the championship game.

He doesn't plan on eating his lucky plantain now that they've won. Instead it will be his black diamond because it's starting to change color. That will happen to fruit after a few weeks. Well, if you had over to you can check out this story in the line up section.

Spring training can become a bit of a drag after about a month of meaningless games. So one way Phillies have spiced things up is to have hooters girls down the foul line. You can probably guess how this one went. This poor girl made two errors in the same inning and the Phillies fans they let her hear about it.

And, guys, Philly fans have been known to boo Santa Claus. You know there was no way they were going to let this poor girl off the hook for making two blunders in the same inning.

ROMANS: It's hard to run in pantyhose, I guess. BERMAN: I have nothing to say about that. There's nothing legal that I could say about that that won't get me thrown off TV. So thank you, Christine. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right ahead on STARTING POINT, a rare public appearance today by Britain's ailing Queen Elizabeth. We're going to go live to London for those details.

BERMAN: This afternoon, be sure to tune into CNN's new show "The Lead" hosted by Jake Tapper at 4:00 right here on CNN.


ROMANS: A rare public appearance today from Britain's ailing Queen Elizabeth. The queen accompanied by her husband, Prince Phillip and Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge to a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the London underground.

BERMAN: The new train there named in the queen's honor we are told. CNN's Max Foster is in London. Good morning, Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, I think she looked a bit paler than usual, perhaps has lost a bit of weight. This is her first major event since she got ill out and about. She arrived by car, of course, but yes, she was out and about and that's one good thing.

But she doesn't look as well as she normally does. The Duchess of Cambridge, of course, about five and a half months pregnant as well joining her at the event. I am told she just received a baby on board badge, which is something people on the tube wear to make sure they get a seat.

BERMAN: The queen had to go out in public because there has been so much talk about her health the last couple of weeks.

FOSTER: Absolutely. She kept on going out and canceling engagements afterwards so in the end she said I'm only going to events inside the palace so much debate about her having to step back a bit. She's refusing to do that, but she should be stepping back many say and allowing Prince Charles to perhaps do a bit more.

There's a title used in the past in the U.K., which is Prince Regent, suggesting that Prince Charles could take on the role of the monarch while the queen steps back a bit, but so far that hasn't really been the case. She's out and about having fun today.

BERMAN: All right, Max Foster, our thanks to you. It is good to see her out.

ROMANS: All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, new concerns Syria may have used chemical weapons against its own people as President Obama arrives for a two-day visit in Israel.

BERMAN: And carrier revived? Mark Sanford gets one step closer to a seat in the House of Representatives. Next hour, we'll talk with Ted Turner's son, Teddy, who ran against Sanford and finished a distant fourth.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Soledad is off today. Our STARTING POINT, President Obama in Tel Aviv this morning trying to smooth relations with the Israelis while dealing with a potential chemical weapons crisis in Syria.

BERMAN: It is the first day of spring allegedly. Do not tell that to the folks in the northeast who are battling brutal weather.

ROMANS: Mark Sanford back in the game. The former disgraced, governor of South Carolina, one step closer to resurrecting his political career after a big election win last night.

BERMAN: And former NBA great Adrian Dantley joining us live. He's making headlines after taking a new job as a school crossing guard. He'll tell us why.

ROMANS: And a notorious anti-gay church in Kansas gets a new neighbor, a rainbow-colored neighbor. Is there enough room for both on the same street? It's 8:00 a.m. in the east and STARTING POINT begins right now.

BERMAN: Our team this morning is Katherine Rossman, a reporter for the "Wall Street Journal" and Chris Frates, a reporter for the "National Journal." Great to see you guys. Thanks for coming here.

ROMANS: Let's start with President Obama, shall we, touching down in Tel Aviv with a start of a historic Middle East visit. His mission is taking on a new sense of urgency this morning because there are mounting concerns that the Syrian government maybe --