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Boaters Asked To Watch For Kidnapped Boys; WHO Plays Down New Bird Flu Strain; Remembering Roger Ebert; Mudslide Pushes Train Off Track; Stranded Sea Turtles Released; The Battle Over Gun Control; President Ends Gun Push Near Newtown; NCAA Championship Is Tonight; Women's NCAA Final Is Set; 7-Years-Old Runs For Glory; Flag Raised To Honor Slain Texas D.A.; Hepatitis Scare; Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Dead

Aired April 8, 2013 - 07:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. Coming up, we'll be talking to Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal about the federal gun control push and President Obama's visit there later today. But first let's get to Zoraida Sambolin with some of the day's other top stories. Good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Good morning to you. Boaters from Key West to Pensacola are being asked to watch for a sailboat with two kidnapped boys on board. Cole and Chase Haken have been missing since Wednesday.

Authorities say their father was armed when he broke into their grandmother's home near Tampa, tied her up, and took off toward a pier where the family had a sailboat. That's where the trail ends.

CNN's Sara Ganim is live in Miami with more details. Good morning to you.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. Like you said, this all started Wednesday afternoon when that father, Joshua Michael Haken, went into these boys' grandmother's house. She has custody. Police say he abducted them and the next night, Thursday evening, that's when the trail went to the sea.

Because that's when police found this family's SUV parked at a dock in Florida. Florida Fish and Wildlife officers on land and sea are working with federal authorities and local authorities, they're searching the Gulf of Mexico, the amber alert was just recently expanded to include the coastal states, including Georgia, Alabama.

Authorities are also searching areas on land. This is a really large area that they're searching for this boat for this family, really. There are a lot of waterways in that area. There's a lot of coastline. As you mentioned, the Coast Guard is also seeking help from boaters, people who are out recreationally in the Gulf of Mexico. Friday there was some bad weather. But over the weekend and today authorities are hoping that there will be other boats out on the gulf that can help them search for this family.

Police say that this father is actually a pretty experienced boater. They don't have any indication that these boys are harmed at this point. They wanted the family to know they can reach out and have a conversation with police and try to resolve this -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: We know at one point the dad was armed. Sara Ganim, thank you. We appreciate it. Next hour, we'll hear from Detective Larry McKinnon with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department that is at 8:15 Eastern.

Health officials playing down a strain of bird flu that has been seen in humans for the first time. Six people have died and nearly two dozen infected all in China. The World Health Organization called it sporadic cases of a rare disease and praised Chinese officials for the efforts to contain it.

And funeral services will be held this morning in Chicago for legendary film critic Roger Ebert. His loyal fans will appreciate this detail. Today's church service will be open to the public. It is a first come, first serve basis.

Just like "At The Movies." Ebert's family says a memorial tribute will be held on Thursday. Roger Ebert lost his long, courageous battle with cancer last week at the age of 70.

A wall of mud and debris pushing an Amtrak train off the tracks. It happened on a southbound train to Seattle. The dining car and two coach cars derailed. No one was hurt. Train service in that area is canceled today so workers can fix the track there.

And they're off. Several endangered sea turtles were released to the ocean Sunday at a beach in Jacksonville, Florida. This was the last major shipment of the threatened species to arrive in the south.

Hundreds of them were rehabilitated after washing up cold and stunned on New England beaches last fall. And there, John Berman, you finally get to see them actually released. Earlier, we had the pictures of them being rehabilitated. Quite a sight, isn't it?

BERMAN: Thanks, Zoraida. It's 33 minutes after the hour. President Obama heads to Connecticut today to try to bolster his argument for tougher national gun legislation. The White House issuing this statement, it says on the eve of Senate consideration of gun safety proposals the president will speak as he did at the "State of the Union" about the obligations the nation has to children lost in Newtown and other victims of gun violence to act on these proposals.

ROMANS: This visit comes just days after Connecticut enacted some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal will be on hand for the president's speech in Hartford today. He joins us now.

You know, my first question is, the new set of laws enacted in your state. How will they prevent another Adam Lanza or a James Holmes from doing the unthinkable in a movie theater or at a schoolhouse? Does this move the ball toward preventing these sorts of things?

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It definitely is a step in the right direction. It bans assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines, which were so integral to those mass killings. Remember that anywhere from 6 to 11 children were able to escape the classroom where the shooter was firing bullets rapid fire.

And that was because he had to change magazines. The same is true in Tucson, where Christina Taylor, the 9-year-old who was killed by the 13th bullet fired might well be alive today if that magazine had been restricted to ten rounds.

So high capacity magazines, and assault weapons, both involved in mass shootings will make a difference. Plus, and here's where I think the Connecticut law is very important as a model for the nation.

There are also bans on illegal trafficking, that is straw purchases, mental health initiative and school safety measures and very importantly, background checks.

BERMAN: Let's talk about --

BLUMENTHAL: Which are very, very important.

BERMAN: Let's talk about background checks. We got news overnight that there may be some progress towards a new deal with new players involved in the Senate. West Virginia's Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, a Republican, are apparently working on some kind of a deal on background checks.

They wouldn't be universal. They'd be limited. They wouldn't count family-to-family sales and also hunter-to-hunter sales. What can you tell me about this possible deal and where you stand on it?

BLUMENTHAL: There really is a compromise and common ground that is feasible and can be done on a bipartisan basis. In fact, has to be done on a bipartisan basis. We will need Republican votes to break the filibuster that is threatened. So, Senator Toomey's involvement along with Senator Manchin, two very credible and experienced senators, very important to achieving that kind of common ground.

BERMAN: Did you and other Democrats, you think, support that deal that wouldn't be universal, would be limited. Could you support limited background checks?

BLUMENTHAL: Where there are family sales. Where there are sufficient limitations, it may be possible to gain common ground among all the supporters of gun safety measures. And of course, the president is going to be in Hartford creating a picture that I think will be very powerful in moving the debate forward. But, there is a compromise that's feasible and possible and necessary and desirable. These kinds of discussions have been going on for some time now crystallizing and very possibly reaching an agreement.

ROMANS: The president was speaking today I think about 50 miles from where Newtown happened. Do you worry at all that in Washington there is a diminished sense of urgency about this as time passes?

BLUMENTHAL: There needs to be a continued sense of urgency. You know, the NRA is really trying to slow walk and stall and we have the opportunity for the first time, maybe in a generation, to break the stranglehold --

ROMANS: Look at the run on gun sales and we can really track that through background checks to the FBI. But the amount of gun sales over the past three months since Newtown is just staggering. You talk about new laws in Connecticut and other states, I mean, we've got, people are armed to the teeth and some --

BERMAN: And some 24 states have actually passed new restrictions since Newtown.

BLUMENTHAL: And no one wants to take away those guns. We respect the second amendment rights of all Americans. Nobody wants a national registration system or invasion of privacy. And that's why the sensitivity of those rights is important to reaching a deal, and an agreement that I think can provide a basis for going forward.

You know, sense of urgency, I think, is still there for those of us who talk and live with these families. And that's the urgency that the president will try to revive tonight because the families will be with them.

And that picture, I hope, along with the knowledge that the majority of Americans, more than 90 percent, want background checks, I think will revive, reinvigorate, but also sustain that sense of momentum and urgency.

ROMANS: About 95 percent of Americans want those background checks.

BERMAN: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, a heart warming moment on the football field when a little boy battling brain cancer gets to live his dream. You've got to see this.

And the hit show "River Monsters" back for season five. We're getting a sneak peek with exclusive clips of the upcoming episode, host, Jeremy Wade joins us live. You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: To the final four now down to the final two. Louisville and Michigan play tonight for the NCAA championship. What a fantastic match-up. Jared Greenberg is here with today's "Bleacher Report." Hi, Jared.

JARED GREENBERG, "BLEACHER REPORT": Hi, guys. It all started with 345 schools, way back in November. Tonight, only one will be able to say mission accomplished and a different set of circumstances tonight than the norm as the favorite has the nation pulling for them and that's because Kevin Ware is the story for Louisville.

He watched courtside Saturday night a week after suffering a horrific leg injury. The Cardinals got past Cinderella, aka Wichita State. Now multiple media outlets are reporting later on this morning Rick Pitino will be selected to the basketball hall of fame.

And tonight, Pitino has a chance to win his second ever national championship. Led by the consensus national player of the year Trey Burke has Michigan moving on. They can also capture their second-ever title and despite a poor performance from Burke in the semi-finals, Michigan was able to get past Syracuse.

To see a complete breakdown of the title game, you can check out So here it is, once again, not a minute before or after 9:23, they're going to throw the ball up Eastern Time tonight, Louisville against Michigan in the 75th NCAA men's basketball championship game.

And the Louisville ladies can complete the blue grass state sweep. Last night, the Cardinals upset Cal in the women's final four. Meaning the Cardinals will also play for a women's national championship. Who's going to be producing those bats for Louisville slugger when all they're doing is watching hoops?

And college career of one of the all-time greats came to an end of Notre Dame got upended by Connecticut. Tuesday night, it will be U- Conn against Louisville in the women's title tilt.

Believe it or not Billy Crystal smiling wider than Jack Nicholson these days because for the first time ever the Lakers have not beaten the Clippers in a single game during the regular season, 4-0 in favor of the Clippers. And while the Clippers have a spot reserved in the playoffs, the fate of the tradition-rich Lakers is now very much in doubt.

The video of the weekend comes to us from Nebraska. Spring football has never meant so much. A 7-year-old battling brain cancer got an opportunity to live out a dream during the Nebraska intra-squad scrimmage.

Jack Hoffman took the handoff and he knew exactly what to do with it. Look at Hoffman go, 69 yards for the score. A feeling he could only describe as awesome. A crowd of more than 60,000 cheered him on. Then the entire Nebraska squad came out to lift him up on their shoulders and it is officially team Jack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDY HOFFMAN, JACK'S FATHER: You know, it's pretty special. I mean, it was very special and you know, I told coach and all these coaches, you know, they've given Jack so many once in a lifetime opportunities, and to just have another one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, I think speaks volumes about the coach and the kind of program that he has.


GREENBERG: And give credit here to the players. This is not a PR stunt. Rex Burkehead found out about the boy and said listen, we want to have him part of our team and he was certainly now will always be remembered as a tailback for the University of Nebraska.

BERMAN: That's fantastic. The players and the fans and Jack, who could run, man, that kid was booking. All right, Jared Greenberg our thanks to you. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, "River Monsters" back for a fifth season. Host, Jeremy Wade, is here with an exclusive look at the next episode and what "Monsters" has got facing this time around. You're watching STARTING POINT.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Some stories we're watching for you this morning. Even as police search for his killer, an honor flag will be raised today for murdered Kaufman County D.A. Mike McLelland. Organizers say it will fly at the top of the pole because McLelland would not want it at half-staff.

And more than 200 people who had dessert at a New York City restaurant are now receiving vaccines for Hepatitis A. The city's Department of Health says as many as 450 patrons of the restaurant, Alta, may have been exposed to the virus by a worker. So far there are no reported cases of the illness.

And Beyonce and Jay-Z's Cuban holiday to celebrate their fifth anniversary has raised some eyebrows in Congress. Most travel for Americans to the communist island has been banned unless there is a religious, cultural or academic reason.

Now Republicans Eliana Ross Litman and Mario Diaz Ballart want to know who approved the trip and for what reason. They have written a joint letter to the government agency responsible for the ban. A little bit of trouble. You can go for cultural reasons but --

ROMANS: Cultural fifth wedding anniversary? I don't know. We'll see what they come up with there. Thanks, Zoraida.

All right, fans have come to know Jeremy Wade and his scary fish tails on the popular Animal Planet series "River Monsters."

BERMAN: Now back for a fifth season, Wade is upping the ante in his mission to find the world's most mysterious and dangerous fish. This includes a search for a mutant fish in Chernobyl's nuclear waste lands. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly I'm hooking something and it was big and pulling me closer and closer to the radioactive water, came off the hook.


BERMAN: All right, so that was just a little crazy. Jeremy Wade joins us. It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming in. Jeremy, I think I heard the radiation detector going off there as you were fishing. That's Chernobyl. God knows what's in it. How concerned were you about the radiation?

JEREMY WADE, HOST, "RIVER MONSTERS": Very concerned, which is why we can't go in to it blindly. We consulted radiation experts beforehand. There was a total limit that we mustn't exceed. We were limited to five consecutive days there.

I had a thing on my belt that I wore all the time, the radiation is quite patchy, so there are some places where if I had an alarm that told me if it was particularly high. Some places if I stood there for an hour, I would have exceeded my dose. I'll have to go out. So can't see radiation. That's the thing.

ROMANS: Let me quickly ask you about you went in with Ukrainian scientists. Thirty years on, this is still kind of a scientific mystery, isn't? Tell us a little bit about the region and what you expected to find there.

WADE: Well, it's still an excluded zone. You have to get permission to get in. So it was unlike anywhere that I'd ever been. In terms of a backdrop, I'm normally fishing jungles. So scientists wanted a fish that key study because it hasn't been done and it's very important in the likes of Fukushima, what effect does it have to underwater life.

BERMAN: This is season five coming up. What's in store? I understand you're tackling kind of like the biggest fish story of them all, the lockness monster.

WADE: Absolutely. That's the season finale.

BERMAN: Did you find it?

WADE: We found something. We have a very dramatic ending to the program. I obviously can't say too much.

ROMANS: Are you surprised at the popularity of the series and are you surprised that the range of viewers that you're getting?

WADE: Absolutely. I think children like the fact that a lot of the creatures look ugly, they're strange, they are potentially dangerous to people, but they're sort of misunderstood. Normally they don't know it's somebody's foot they're grabbing. They just see a splash in the water and think it's a small fish. So I show them and generally put them back is very important.

BERMAN: All right, Jeremy Wade, the host of "River Monsters," now entering your fifth season. Congratulations. Thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, we're following some breaking news for you right now. We've confirmed that Margaret Thatcher has died.

BERMAN: Lady Thatcher, of course, the leader of Great Britain, the prime minister for so long, the iron lady as she was called, led that nation through a very difficult period. She was in charge when the economy had a big turnaround there and also through Falk Islands War.

Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister, Lady Thatcher had died. We are getting our reporters up ready to talk to us and we will bring you that information when we come back. Stay with us.


BERMAN: We do begin this hour with breaking news. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died. That news is from her spokesman. Of course, Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister in England, in Great Britain, 1979 to 1990. She led a conservative government for that time.

She was a fierce ally of the United States during those cold war years, a great friend to Ronald Reagan and also controversial prime minister for some in Britain with austerity measures. She battled the unions there.

She also led that nation in the Falkland war against Argentina. That's controversial but galvanized and really solidified her support within that country.

ROMANS: In 1984, she escaped an IRA terrorist bombing at her hotel and she went on eventually to see peace, at that time unthinkable. So she saw a lot of changes over her life time.

Including 2002, she retired from public life after a series of small strokes and she's been really very private since then. Her daughter confirmed in 2008 that she was suffering from dementia, but clearly a woman whose public image was very -- iron lady.

BERMAN: You say talk about the changes she saw, how about this. She was the first and only so far woman prime minister of Britain and she led that country again through difficult times. And still an icon in that country.

ROMANS: She's 87 years old and again her spokesman is confirming to CNN this morning that Margaret Thatcher has died. She had been hospitalized a couple of times over the past few months. Obviously, 87 years old and in 2002, she had had a series of strokes.

That's when she retired from public life. She did attend the funeral services for Ronald Reagan in June of 2004 and those two figures really key in that era of the American-British friendship. BERMAN: It was such an amazing life and CNN's Becky Anderson -- we don't have Becky Anderson now I'm told. As you were saying though, you know, such --