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Children Trapped Under Dirt Feared Dead; Gun Legislation Being Negotiated in Congress; State Department Worker Killed in Afghanistan; Game Day in Atlanta; Rescued Hikers Recall Ordeal; Obama Pushes for Gun Control

Aired April 8, 2013 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Monday, April 8th, STARTING POINT begins right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT is breaking news, tragic news from rural Lincoln County, North Carolina. That's where a human drama played out all night. A six-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy both feared dead after they were buried by dirt at a construction site. The two were apparently playing in the pit when a dirt wall just collapsed.

ROMANS: CNN's Shannon Travis has more on this breaking news. He's live in Washington. This has turned from a rescue effort to a recovery effort. What can you tell us?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has, Christine. What was the scene of hope is now a scene of horror. Officials determined those two children have been trapped under dirt for so long, without oxygen, it's unlikely they're still alive. That determination made just earlier this morning. Crews are now trying to recover their bodies.

It had been a rescue effort. Those two children reportedly cousins were playing in that dip pit behind a family member's home some 20 miles outside Charlotte. That's when that wall of dirt just simply collapsed on them. One child's father saw what happened and quickly called for help. Some 75 workers spent hours at the mouth of the deep pit, crawling through earth with heavy equipment, even using their bare hands, looking on in shock, family members, some of them children themselves.

One neighbor said that the children watching feared the worst and she told them, quote, god will take care of them. This recovery effort continues, officials have brought in a structural engineer and others to prevent the pit from caving in as searchers look for the children. Christine?

ROMANS: Oh, Shannon, thanks for that report. Just oh, just such a sad story for anyone with children or anyone who could just imagine what's happening to them this morning.

Joining us on the phone Dion Burleson, the public information officer with Lincoln County emergency management. Sir, thanks for, for, for tuning in here and letting us know what's happening the very, very latest. This is a recovery effort now. You don't think there's any chance those children could be alive under that dirt?

DION BURLESON, LINCOLN COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Unfortunately, no, ma'am. This has been a very tragic point in this small town community in Lincoln County. And rescue efforts, recovery efforts are still under way as we speak at this time. Crews have been working feverishly throughout the night. The call first came in around 6:00 yesterday afternoon. Crews have been on the scene ever since. And they will remain here until we retrieve these two innocent babies' bodies and return them back to their family members.

BERMAN: Any sense of how the kids got into the pit, why they were playing there to begin with?

BURLESON: No, there's not. The Lincoln County sheriff's office will be the lead investigative agency on this and they will be looking into the circumstances that surrounded this incident. At this point in time, the efforts are focused entirely on getting to these little children and getting them out of this predicament and back to their final resting place.

BERMAN: All right Dion Burleson, Lincoln county emergency management, our thanks to you. I know it's been a difficult night there. Some 75 workers working overnight to try to rescue those two kids now.

ROMANS: It's impossible. I don't know what to say.

President Obama begins a big push for new national gun legislation this morning with a speech in Connecticut. CNN's Brianna Keilar live in Washington with those details for us. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Christine. And according to "The Washington Post" this morning, there's a new player in the discussions on the Hill trying to come to a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on background checks, on universal background checks for gun purchases. We understand from "The Washington Post" that Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey is now taking more of a leading role in these negotiations with Democrats.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had really been the point person for Republicans in this. But it appears that he may not be the prominent player now amid some concerns that his negotiations weren't bearing fruit because many Republicans were concerned background checks will lead to a national gun registry. All of this happening as President Obama tries to push Congress to act.


KEILAR: The president is heading to Connecticut, where the governor just signed some of the nation's toughest gun laws, requiring universal background checks, and imposing limits on the number of bullets in a magazine. Speaking not far from the scene of the Newtown shooting, he'll again say lawmakers in Washington have an obligation to the 20 children killed there.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every senator will get to vote on whether or not we should require background checks for anyone who wants to purchase a gun.

KEILAR: But despite polls showing 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, even getting that vote is increasingly uncertain. Republican Senator Rand Paul is leading a growing group of Republicans threatening to block any vote, a total of 13 now signing onto this letter to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, saying any new gun restrictions would violate the second amendment.

OBAMA: They deserve a simple vote. They deserve -- they deserve a simple vote.

KEILAR: White House officials respond by saying, every member of Congress applauded the president's call for a vote at the state of the union with Newtown families looking on. But officials won't say whether the president would sign a watered down Bill without background checks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to make any predictions here. But we're going to try to get the strongest bill we can.


KEILAR: Republican Senator John McCain says that he doesn't think that his fellow Republicans should filibuster gun measures, but at this point, Christine, it doesn't really appear that what he's saying is having any weight on them.

ROMANS: Brianna Keilar in Washington. In just about 20 minutes we're going to talk to the Connecticut senator, Richard Blumenthal, about federal gun control efforts.

BERMAN: New developments this morning in the ever-increasing tensions between north and South Korea, the North announcing in just the last couple of hours that it is pulling all of its workers out of the Kaesong industrial complex that it shares with the south. CNN's Jim Clancy is live for us in Seoul, South Korea this morning. Good morning, Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Shut it down. That's the message from North Korea. A lot of people thought Kim Jong-un wouldn't go this far, wouldn't take this move. He's going to pull out his 53,000 workers from there. That means about 1,000 South Koreans will also be forced to leave and 123 companies will cease doing business in what was the only symbol of cooperation between north and south for many years.

It is, however, a situation where North Korea has hedged its bets, saying that this was a temporary suspension of the operations there. It's going to recover those. The blame went on the U.S., the blame went on South Korea for impugning the dignity of the north and for war mongering on the peninsula. The North Koreans here take a risk, that was a good, reliable source of hard currency. It could reopen later. The companies are certainly hoping so. John?

CLANCY: Jim, we're getting mixed signals over the weekend, too, from the south over the possibility that the North Koreans were preparing for another nuclear test. Do we know anything about that this morning?

BERMAN: Sure we do. Now, we know that that was a misread, comments were made by the unification minister, there have been activity around that nuclear site, activity ever since they have the test near the end of April -- or the end of February. But there's nothing to indicate they're planning another new nuclear test. Not so with that medium- range missile or missiles launch. We're expecting that to go ahead Wednesday. John?

BERMAN: All right, Jim Clancy in Seoul, South Korea. Thank you for that important clarification.

ROMANS: We're following another developing story involving Hillary Clinton. Zoraida Sambolin has that and the rest of today's top stories for us. Good morning, Z.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. Police in New Hampshire are looking for an escapee this morning. It is a man who took hostages six years ago at one of Hillary Clinton's campaign offices. And 52-year-old Leland Eisenberg was reported missing yesterday from a halfway house in Manchester. In 2007, Eisenberg entered Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire, with road flares strapped to his chest. He claimed it was a bomb and he held several hostages for five hours. Hillary Clinton was in Washington, D.C. at the time.

And happening now, Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem trying to rekindle Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. He's in the middle of a ten-day trip to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Kerry will meet with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And earlier this morning, sirens sounded across Israel and all activity stopped for a moment of silence as the country marked holocaust remembrance day.

And in just a few hours, the body of state department employee Anne Smedinghoff will be back on U.S. soil. The 25-year-old was delivering books to schoolchildren in southern Afghanistan on Saturday when a suspected Taliban suicide bomber slammed into her convoy, killing her and also four other Americans. Barbara Starr is live from the Pentagon this morning for us. Good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. The friends and family of Anne Smedinghoff say she died doing exactly what she wanted, serving her country.


STARR: Anne Smedinghoff volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Her family said she was doing the work she loved, trying to make a difference in the world. Her father Tom --

TOM SMEDINGHOFF, ANNE SMEDINGHOFF'S FATHER: We thought she was relatively safe in the -- in the embassy compound. She was always, you know, finding projects and assignments that took her outside, and that was what she wanted to do. That was what really drove her. STARR: On Saturday she was killed in this attack when a suicide bomber smashed into her convoy. Three soldiers and another civilian were killed. They were trying to deliver schoolbooks. Her Chicago neighborhood now decorated with flags and flowers. Smedinghoff is believed to be the first U.S. diplomat killed since last September's attack in Benghazi, Libya. Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling, spoke of the young woman he met on his recent trip to Kabul.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: She was someone who worked hard and put her life on the line so that others could live a better life. Our hearts go out to Anne's mother and father, with whom I spoke yesterday, and to the two sisters and the brother who survive her.

STARR: Smedinghoff had been in Afghanistan since July, as her Facebook photos show, confidently traveling with troops around the country.

KERRY: Anne and those with her were attacked by Taliban terrorists, who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy.


STARR: Of course our condolences go out to the other families who lost their loved ones in the same attack. Afghan civilians also, of course, paying a huge price in this conflict. Over the weekend an air strike inadvertently perhaps, they believe, killed several Afghan children, that incident now also under investigation. Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely awful. You know, Barbara, at the end of the day you want your kids to live out their dreams and passions but with this outcome it's very tragic. Thank you very much, Barbara. Next hour we'll be joined live by the parents of Anne Smedinghoff, Thomas and Mary Beth.

Four men trying to row from West Africa to Miami had to be rescued at sea when a massive wave capsizes their boat. They were about 400 miles north of Puerto Rico trying to set a world record for a human powered row across the Atlantic, when all the craziness happened. The two Canadians and two Americans got into a life raft, then they set off a location beacon, a locator weekend. The Coast Guard found them a few hours later. A cargo ship dropped them off last night in San Juan.

And apparently spring has sprung. You can finally feel it at least here in New York City. It could get up to 70 degrees today. I hear perhaps 79 degrees tomorrow. Take a look at Washington, D.C., the cherry blossoms finally blooming there. Oh, it's so beautiful. But that is unfortunately not the case for many out west, the Rockies and the northern plains brace for heavy snow. Jennifer Delgado has the 411 for us. She's in the weather center in Atlanta. I say you've got a lot of explaining to do for us today.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right, Zoraida. I do. Mother nature is just going crazy out there. We're talking cold conditions on the way for parts of the west, and happy snowfall. As Zoraida said, we're potentially looking at more than a foot of snow for some parts of the Dakotas, as well as in Nebraska. Look for Colorado, and some locations there in the northwest. We do have blizzard warnings in place, and the same for northeastern parts of Utah.

If you're saying to yourself it seems rather late in the year to get this going, well, this is what happens when you're in this pattern. It's all due to, of course, the jet stream. Now for today, we are going to see some severe storms popping up anywhere from Nebraska down to Oklahoma.

There's a possibility we could also see some of these storms producing some tornadoes. But it's not just today we're talking about the severe weather threat. That is going to increase for Tuesday, as well as into Wednesday when you get these two air masses around, of course, you start to see that convection develop.

Here's what's going to be happening. This is Monday, of course we're going to be nice and warm across the south and northeast. Cold air starts to spread more over towards the east, temperatures running 15 to 25 degrees below average, get this for Denver, today, you will see a high of 65 degrees, by tomorrow, hello, a high of 20 degrees. That is a 40-degree temperature drop.

So again temperatures today and tomorrow across the northeast 10 to 20 degrees warmer, you could see 70 for a high today in New York, nearly 80 on Tuesday for Atlanta. We've been flirting with the 80s over the last couple of days. Great weather for the final four tonight. Lots of sunshine. Zoraida, we feel for the people in the west, because they had it nice for the last couple of weeks. We'll take it.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we will. I'm not going to talk about the extended forecast because I think some folks would get upset. Thank you for that.

ROMANS: Live in the moment.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. That is a good idea to live in the moment.

ROMANS: The forecast. Thanks, Zoraida.

College basketball history can be made tonight when Louisville and Michigan battle it out for the national championship.

BERMAN: The Cardinals are favored by four points, and if they win it would make Louisville coach Rick Pitino the first coach ever to win national titles with two children colleges. It would be Kentucky and Louisville. Joe Carter is live from Atlanta where they tip off now 14 hours Joe.

JOE CARTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is game day here in Atlanta, guys. Good morning to you. Unlike college football, I believe college basketball got it right and that we have the two best teams in the country playing for the national championship tonight. You've got the number one offense in the country, the Michigan Wolverines, against the number one defense in the country, the Louisville Cardinals. Both teams had practice and pressers yesterday.

The sense we got from Louisville is that, you know, they've been here before. They were in the final four last year. They came up empty. They do not want to leave Atlanta without a championship this time. Rick Pitino saying this team is more unified than they ever have been before. I think that's because they've been together for so long. And also because of the Kevin Ware factor.

Then you look at Michigan. Some say this is Louisville's year, that they're the team of destiny. How can you make the number one overall seed the team of destiny. Michigan is the team of destiny because this team has had to beat basketball powers in order to get into this game tonight. Teams like VCU, Kansas, Florida, Syracuse. This team, which one fan coined the phrase of the fresh five could do what the fab five was unable to do 20 years ago, that's win the national championship.

Guys, wouldn't it be something if we saw the fab five sitting in the stands tonight when Michigan plays? Perhaps even cutting down the nets? Reports are there's going to be four of them at the game. The one missing link, Chris Webber. Now, he lives here in Atlanta but some say he may not show up to the game. Let's see maybe he'll have a change of heart, it would really be something special to see 20 years later the fab five watching the fresh five go for the national championship.

BERMAN: It would be surprising to see Weber there. Michigan better keep an eye on their time-outs. Joe Carter for us in Atlanta today. Thanks so much, nice to see you.


BERMAN: I know.

Ahead on STARTING POINT one of the hikers stranded in the mountains south of Los Angeles speaking out.


NICOLAS CENDOYA, RESCUED HIKER: So I told her it's pitch black, and I told her if we don't get out of here then we're going to die.


BERMAN: From hallucinations to going unconscious, he tells all coming up next.

ROMANS: And later we'll meet Jeremy Wade host of Animal Planet's "River Monsters." He's here live with exclusive clips of the new next episode next episode of the new season. You're watching STARTING POINT.

BERMAN: Exclusive clips.


ROMANS: Welcome back. New developments this morning in the rescue of two teens in the mountains of southern California.

BERMAN: The pair was lost in the woods for three, long, long days. One even suffering hallucinations. And this morning we are hearing from him. CNN's nNick Valencia joins us now live from Los Angeles with just this crazy story. Good morning, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is crazy. Good morning, John and Christine, 19-year-old Nick Cendoya spoke to reporters yesterday and considering what he went through, he's doing pretty well. The doctors say that if he was out there just one more day there's no telling what could have happened.


CENDOYA: I knew I was going to die.

VALENCIA: After five days in the hospital, two days longer than he was lost in the wilderness, rescued hiker Nicolas Cendoya talked about his near-death experience.

CENDOYA: I'm going to be honest with you, it sounds crazy. I was seeing tigers. I thought tigers were stalking me, like raccoons, everything. I just wasn't scared. I had a stick sharpened ready for anything.

VALENCIA: Cendoya and his hiking companion Kyndall Jack went missing during an afternoon Easter Sunday hike in southern California's Cleveland National Forest. They called police for help but their cell phone battery died before authorities could track them. After making the call, Cendoya says one of the last thing he remembers is a spur of the moment decision to climb a mountain. It was a decision that almost cost him his life.

CENDOYA: We were expecting a helicopter that never showed up. So I told her, it's pitch black, and I told her if we don't get out of here then we're going to die.

VALENCIA: The doctor who treated him said Cendoya is suffering from amnesia after being knocked out from a nasty fall down the mountain. But he expects him to fully recover.

STEPHEN DESANTIS, MISSION HOSPITAL DOCTOR: He has all the evidence of having suffered a significant blunt force trauma. Probably from a fall. Which can explain his amnesia for the event. He's been doing well, and he's recovered remarkably, probably because of his good physical makeup, and his youth.

VALENCIA: But it may have been youth and inexperience that led to the saga. As for any lessons he learned from the experience --

CENDOYA: Definitely bring a compass, water, tell people where you're going, bring a map. I think the number one thing is tell people people exactly where you're going because I didn't even tell my parents exactly where I was going.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VALENCIA: Now as for his hiking companion Kyndall Jack, CNN spoke to the UCI medical center yesterday, they said she's in good condition and has been for several days. Still not sure when she will be released.

BERMAN: All right, Nick Valencia, our thanks to you. Imagine hallucinating so much you have sticks sharpened to protect yourself from the tigers you think are attacking you.

BERMAN: And the vicious raccoons coming after you. What a crazy experience. We're so glad they're both home and okay. Although it sounds like she's still in the hospital. Glad that they're okay.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT gas prices are plunging. We'll tell you what's going on.

Plus which airline, which airline has the best on-time arrival record and who's logging the most complaints? Best and worst choices for flying, that's next. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: So U.S. stocks are headed for a higher open today. That's after closing out the worst week of the year last week. Corporate earnings season gets going after today's closing bell. Starting with aluminum maker Alcoa (ph). Two big concerns over the weekend. North Korea and avian flu. But it still looks like neither will cause too much strain on the markets today.

Airline customer complaints are up a whopping 20 percent. That's according to the latest airline quality ratings from Wichita State University and Purdue University. United Airlines is again the worst offender, taking in more than four complaints for every 100,000 customers. Flyers mostly griping about tight seats, crowded planes, poor customer service. But on-time arrivals improved for eight of the 14 airlines. If you want to get there on time, Hawaiian airlines is top for timeliness. And mishandled luggage is at a 25 year low. Virgin America gets top marks there. Less than 1 in 1,000 bags goes missing on its watch. Maybe because you're carrying them all on.

The national average for a gallon of regular gas is down to $3.59 a gallon, that's down more than 10 cents from a month ago. More than 30 cents below last year's peak. Many analysts say they saw this coming back when prices were climbing in the middle of the winter analysts were saying it was cyclical and prices were likely to come down before they topped the 2012 peak of $3.97 a gallon. So far, it looks like those analysts have been right. Today Trilby Lundberg says more U.S. refineries are gaining access to lower priced domestic and Canadian oil. She says the benefits of that domestic crude north American crude is finding its way to customers here.

BERMAN: Fantastic news. Ahead on STARTING POINT, President Obama continues his push for gun control in Connecticut today, as that state's governor shares harsh words for the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. DAN MALLOY, (D) CONNECTICUT: Wayne reminds me of the clowns at the circus. They get the most attention. And that's what he's paid to do.


BERMAN: We have Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal here to react.

ROMANS: Then the search for two missing brothers believed kidnapped by their parents that search widens. Why the coast guard is now involved. You're watching STARTING POINT.