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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tornadoes Hit Parts of U.S.; North Korea Continues Threatening Posture; Gunman Killed in Standoff with Police; Shark Takes Fisherman's Catch Senate Gun Debate to Start This Morning;

Aired April 11, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. We're watching several breaking stories this morning.

First, a string of tornadoes ripped through two states. Thousands of people without power. Dozens of homes destroyed. Where that storm is headed next, that's coming up.

BERMAN: And more than 3 million cars recalled worldwide over defective airbags. We're going to have the makes and models. You'll want to stay tuned for that.

ROMANS: Plus, a dramatic rescue of four firefighters held hostage in Georgia. We have the pictures and their dramatic call for help.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FIREFIGHTER: And he is armed and we are in the room with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: This morning we're learning more about what drove that gunman to do it.

BERMAN: And new this morning, on the one-year anniversary of George Zimmerman's arrest in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, his mother penned an open later calling it the day the justice system failed.

ROMANS: And a fisherman gets the shock of his life when a huge tiger shark steals his catch. The whole thing caught on camera.

It's Thursday, April 11, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, right now a powerful storm sweeping east after causing fierce tornadoes in at least two states. The first one hit around 8:00 p.m. in Hazelwood, Missouri, just outside St. Louis. Debris in the streets, trees toppled over, and at least two dozen homes suffering major damage. Missouri's governor declared a state of emergency.

BERMAN: Then in Arkansas, a twister traveled 30 miles through Van Buren County. That's about 75 miles north of Little Rock. At least 33 homes and a popular church were wrecked there. Cars just tossed off the highway. Four people injured. Luckily no deaths have been reported. It's mostly a rural area. Still, nerves definitely frayed this morning. So let's bring in Samantha Mohr. There's still plenty of activity out there this morning. Who is seeing the worse of it?

SAMANTHA MOHR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Things quieted down a little bit overnight. But we do anticipate things to get active again once we get a little daytime heating. Look at the wintry weather, maybe from the northern plains, could see a half foot of snow in Minneapolis by the time we get through tonight. A lot of lightning in southeast Texas, that's a real problem this morning. With all of that electricity in the air and stretching on up into the Tennessee valley as well.

And some of these storms have dropped, some two to four inches of rain, eastern Illinois, Danville, Champagne, down into northwestern Mississippi. We have flood warnings in place. Do be careful, especially if you're driving in the dark. It's hard to tell how deep that flood water is.

Again, under the gun today, we're expecting to see some, oh, 43 million people effected by potential severe weather. So that means Lexington, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, down into Tallahassee as the day progresses here. And, of course, we are in tornado season, typically in the south for March through May. But as you compare this year to the past six, we're actually running about half of where we should be. Normally around 325 tornadoes, this year just 163. I have a feeling we're going to be adding to this tally as the day progresses. Christine, John?

ROMANS: All right, thank you. We'll keep watching.

BERMAN: While you were sleeping last night, a huge, really big recall. Vehicles made by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, all recalled because of an issue with the airbags that could starts a fire. Shannon Travis is live from Washington. Shannon, this is a big recall, as we said. What are the details?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the huge recall over a problem that could cause injuries, John. As you mentioned, four Japanese automakers are recalling 3.4 million vehicles. Now, the fear is potential airbag defects. Let's take a look exactly at who is recalling what. Toyota says it's recalling 1.7 million cars worldwide. Among them, John, many cars driven by our viewers, Corolla, Matrix, Camry models. Honda is recalling 1.1 million, Nissan is a 480,000, and Mazda, 45,000. Now, we want to note that most of the recall cars appear to be from 2001, 2002, and 2003. As for the problem in these effected vehicles, Honda specifically says the passenger front airbag inflators could deploy with too much pressure. Obviously that could cause injuries.

Let's be clear, though, Honda says, thus far, it is not aware of any injuries or deaths caused by this airbag defect. Toyota says it has heard of airbag malfunctions but no injuries. So it looks like these automakers are doing this recall out of an abundance of caution.

One last thing, John, all four of these automakers all purchased their airbag systems from the same manufacturer called Tacada. John?

BERMAN: Take a look at your makes and models because these are some really popular vehicles. Shannon Travis, thanks.

ROMANS: We're following new developments also this morning in a hostage drama in suburban Atlanta that ended with a gunman dead and four firefighters rescued by a SWAT team. Police say the suspect placed a fake emergency call, and when firefighters arrived, he held them hostage. Demand they turn his utilities back on. That's when this strange situation in Georgia got ugly. CNN's Martin Savidge is live for us with the latest.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. A lot of questions being asked in this subdivision. Is it possible that the homeowner in danger of losing their home may have somehow been pushed over the edge? The drama went on for hours but it ended in seconds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: We know that firefighters routinely run toward danger, but not this.

CPL. EDWIN RITTER, GWINNETT COUNTY, GEORGIA POLICE: When they made entry into the home they were taken hostage by him.

SAVIDGE: It began 3:40 Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters near Atlanta were called to what they thought was a man having a heart attack. This is radio traffic from one of the five firefighters taken hostage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in a situation where we have a -- an armed person.

SAVIDGE: The gunman began making demands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he is requesting certain -- certain utilities to be turned back on at his house. And he is armed, and we are in the room with him.

RITTER: Apparently he's going through some financial issues and the power was turned off along with the cable and cellphone.

SAVIDGE: About 30 minutes into the ordeal, one of the five hostages was released. Then around 7:30 p.m., police moved in. A loud bang, then volleys of gunfire.

RITTER: It got to a point where we believed their lives were in immediate danger, and our SWAT team made the decision to go in there and neutralize the situation.

SAVIDGE: Neighbors who knew the man didn't expect anything like this.

JAKE MAJOR, NEIGHBOR: He was really nice. Maybe a little bit too nice, I don't know. I mean, he seemed like a normal guy.

SAVIDGE: The gunman was killed. One police officer was injured, and the firefighters suffered only minor injuries.

CAPT. TOMMY RUTLEDGE, : We're just relieved that, for us, our firefighters are going to go home safe to their families.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: You can also bet though that a lot of fire departments, a lot of EMTs are going to study what happened here in Georgia and wondering if they're going to have to change their practices when they respond to an emergency and what could the impact be on saving lives. Christine?

ROMANS: Martin, thank you.

BERMAN: We said there's a lot going on this morning. Let's go to the crisis in the Korean peninsula. Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. all on high alert as more rhetoric released on North Korean television. Jim Clancy has been watching North Korean TV all morning from Seoul. Good morning, Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, John. You know, we look at this situation. We are waiting and watching for a possible -- potential multiple missile launch by North Korea, including at least one medium range missile cad the Musudan that has the capability of reaching out as far as Guam and hitting U.S. bases there. But this is expected only to be a test firing.

Meantime, more fiery rhetoric combing from the north, this time from the committee of the peaceful reunification from the fatherland. It attacks the south for what it says has been their attitude, accusing the north of propaganda. They say the south is in panic, the whole region is in panic, buying extra instant noodles, supplies of water and food, and many countries are coming up with evacuation plans. They talk about chaos that I do not see even happening here.

This was the announcement as was read on North Korean television, and it warns, "It would be foolish for the U.S. and puppet group war fanatics to miscalculate and hope for luck. War is a matter of time. And what remains is merciless punishment. There's no use to regret then. There will be no one alive to regret."

Pretty chilling message there, John, coming out of the north but we can say, I think, that this is more of that bluster we've come to expect.

BERMAN: Jim Clancy, thanks to you. Angry rhetoric from North Korea.

Later this morning we're going to speak to a man that's been to North Korea several times. Former governor Bill Richardson will join us live in the next hour at STARTING POINT.

ROMANS: Zoraida Sambolin has the rest of the day's top story. Good morning, Zoraida

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. It's been exactly one year since suspect George Zimmerman was arrested in Florida and charged with second degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. To mark the occasion, Zimmerman's mother Gladys wrote an open letter to the public. Here's what she writes, quote, "April 11th, 2012, will be forever remembered by the Zimmerman family as the day that the justice system failed us as Americans and as a consequence an innocent man was arrested for a crime he did not commit solely to placate the masses."

The letter comes two weeks after Zimmerman's brother Robert Zimmerman Jr. apologized for some controversial postings on Twitter. In one he posted a picture of Martin alongside a photo of 17-year-old De'Marquis Elkins, one of the two teenagers charged with killing a baby in Georgia.

President Obama reaching across the aisle and breaking bread with Republican senators at the White House. This all happened last night. Among the GOP heavyweights attending, Marco Rubio of Florida, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The menu consisted of steak and sauted vegetables. The agenda included budget cuts, immigration reform, and gun violence.

Republican Senator Johnny Isaacson of Georgia helped coordinate that dinner and called the talks very productive. But will there be a second round? We will ask him when he joins us live in the next half hour of STARTING POINT.

And Dylan Quick, the student arrested for Tuesday's stabbing spree at Lone Star College, will make his first appearance at a Houston courtroom today. Fourteen students were injured before police took the 20-year-old Quick into custody. The Harris County sheriffs said Quick told investigators he had fantasies about stabbing people since he was eight years old and that he had been planning Tuesday's attack for some time.

And a new D.A. getting ready to take over in Kaufman County, Texas. Governor Rick Perry appointed Judge Early Norville Wiley to finish out the term of former district attorney Mike McClelland, who was killed, along with his wife last month. Still, there are no arrests in that case or the earlier shooting death of assistant D.A. Mark Hasse. Judge Wiley must now be confirmed by the Texas state Senate.

Watch the left side of your screen. A guy in the kayak isn't the only one looking for tuna off Hawaii. A tiger shark shot up and snatched his catch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISAAC BRUMAGHIM, ENCOUNTERED SHARK: The shark made a circle, came around, and came near my boat, hit the kayak and then it kind of hit me what just happened, and then I had a reaction to all of that. I did get the shivers a bit on it just thinking about the whole thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: That was his reaction? Experts think it was a ten-foot tiger shark that stole that man's tuna.

BERMAN: He was shouting for joy. I would be screaming.

ROMANS: I would be out of there. He caught a mahi-mahi after that. Speaking of sharks, next hour, we'll meet a group of teens who went fishing and actually caught a great white shark.

BERMAN: Shark week this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness. This is all for you, Berman.

ROMANS: My story is not about sharks, about bulls. The stock market, the Dow, the S&P 500 both shattering their records, hitting another very good day on Wednesday. They're set for more gains today. NASDAQ is headed for a lower open. Look for this, Dow up 13 percent, NASDAQ up nine percent, S&P 500 up 11 percent. Your 401(k) probably most looks like the S&P 500, the stock part of it. How much higher can we go? I asked Sam Stovall, one of the best in the business, I asked him, can we keep going higher?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM STOVALL, CHIEF EQUITY STRATEGIST, S&P CAPITAL IQ: History says but does not guarantee we probably will advance another three percent before stumbling from exhaustion like the messenger from marathon into a meaningful decline of five percent or more. But I do not expect a new bear market.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Sam has such a way with words. If we get that three percent gain it would be enough to put the Dow above 15,000. Stovall also told us investing in the market is like white water rafting. Don't try to time the decline, just know it's probably coming. He said it shouldn't be too painful. For now, the path of least resistance has been higher on stocks.

BERMAN: Don't get too exhausted.

ROMANS: Baseball analogies. I'll bring those later.

BERMAN: A 15 percent increase for the S&P this year, that's huge.

ROMANS: That's something. It is. You would take that over two years, that kind of a gain. We've already had it in the first quarter.

BERMAN: I would take a gain, period.

Back to our top story this morning. Tornadoes touched down in a nation's heartland. In Arkansas, a twister shredded a path 30 miles wide through three towns in Van Buren County. That's about 75 miles north of Little Rock. Nearly three dozen homes were damaged. Several vehicles overturned there in a popular church simply wrecked. At least three people were injured.

Marci Manley is with our affiliate KCRK in Arkansas. Good morning. MARCI MANLEY, KCRK CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. To say the damage here on the ground is substantial would be an understatement. The dark is misleading and deceptive as far as how bad it is. This was a home. That it want you to take into consideration that there are no walls, no roof. Those are the steps leading to the front door that is simply no longer there. Pieces of people's lives are spread all across the ground, just dispersed up and down 65.

We have keyboards, bassinets, metal just disbursed in a thrown case of devastation. I don't know how else to describe it. This community is rocked by this storm. And that is what it looks like on the ground. But even up in the air you can see that this storm hit heavily. Metal is wrapped around limbs. Trees are snapped like toothpicks. And for people who lived through this storm, they describe it as five or six freight trains barreling through this rural area. And they are just lucky -- counting themselves lucky to be alive at this point. Now, how bad the damage is, how bad the destruction is something they're going to take a look at throughout the day. We will be sending out assessment teams as sunlight comes up so they can see what they're working with. That's what lays ahead for this community in Van Buren County, Arkansas. Reporting for you guys, I'm Marci Manley.

BERMAN: That house behind Marci is simply demolished. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, the Senate just hours from beginning to debate gun control. CNN's Brianna Keilar coming up with details on what we can expect in that.

BERMAN: And a shocking sight for dozens of drivers when police taze a man in the middle of the highway. What made this happen? What caused this chaotic scene? We'll tell you straight ahead, you're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Supporters of gun control legislation are set to stage a 24- hour vigil today on the National Mall in Washington. That begins at 11:30AM eastern time. This is a live look right now at the Mall this morning.

Clergy members from Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the Sandy Hook School massacre, they set \up more than 3,300 grave markers there. That's what you're looking at.

ROMANS: They say each one represents an American killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook tragedy back in December. This as the Senate is expected to vote this morning to open debate on a gun control bill. Brianna Keilar is live at the White House for us this morning. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Christine. President Obama met for dinner last night with a dozen Republican senators. They did talk about this gun violence legislation as well as immigration and fiscal issues. But it's unclear which if any of these Republican senators might join Democrats in this test vote today in the Senate on this gun bill. A gun bill that President Obama says he prefers was stronger, but says that it represents, quote, "significant bipartisan progress."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: First lady Michelle Obama took the rare step of wading into a policy debate Wednesday describing how she felt when she attended the funeral of teenager Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed in her hometown of Chicago.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me tell you, it is hard to know what to say to a room full of teenagers who are about to bury their best friend. But I started by telling them that Hadiya was clearly on her way to doing something truly worthy with her life.

KEILAR: The first lady's comments came on the eve of the Senate's first vote on a watered down gun bill set to take place later this morning. Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin, both of whom have an A rating from the National Rifle Association, forged a compromise on background checks for gun purchases. Manchin, visibly touched by Newtown families when he met with them on Capitol Hill.

The legislation would require a background check on purchases at gun shows and on the internet. But would exempt private transactions. It would also require states and the federal government to provide records on criminals and the violently mentally ill to the national background checks system. But can it pass a Republican Congress?

SEN PAT TOOMEY, (R ) PENNSYLVANIA: Many of them are looking carefully at the legislation, but I don't know in the end how many will support it.

KEILAR: Many gun owners are not convinced.

RUSS HUDSON, MARYLAND GUN STORE OWNER: None of these laws will stop crime. The criminals will just go on getting their guns like they always have.

KEILAR: While the measure is far from the assault weapons ban the president pushed for after the Sandy Hook shootings, some of the parents of children killed say it's a first step.

NELBA MARQUEZ GREENE, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: What I have seen here is people working to the on both sides to try to do something to reduce the likelihood of another mother standing in my shoes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, this Senate vote is scheduled for 11:00AM this morning. Christine and John, keep an eye on this because 60 votes are needed to move this bill to debate on the Senate floor. Obviously there are only 55 senators who are either Democrats or vote with Democrats so they're going to need a little help from Republicans, and it's going to be very interesting to see who joins the ranks.

BERMAN: A lot of counting going on right now, to be sure. Brianna Keilar at the White House. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, first, the controversy over "manatee gray" as a color for plus size dresses, now Target is renaming a line of shoes. Wait until you hear why. STARTING POINT, back after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. Minding your business this morning, the tech heavy NASDAQ might be headed for a lower open after we learned that PC sales plummeted in the first three months of the year. Taiwan based Acer saw a 31 percent decline in PC shipments from a year ago. Hewlett-Packard's PC shipments dropped 24 percent. Overall, PC shipments, 13.9 percent dropped. Tech market research firm IDC blames tablets for disrupting the PC markets. Also says Microsoft Windows 8 getting a weak reception from customers.

Target reportedly renaming some sandals for sale on its website. The sandals are called Orina, which Target got from a Russian word for peaceful. Problem is in Spanish "orina" means urine. The sandals sold under the Mossimo supply company brand has been pulled from Target.com.

BERMAN: Oy. Which means, oy. At 26 minutes after the hour right now, ahead on STARTING POINT, this morning the parents accused of abducting their kids, bringing them to Cuba, they will be in court. We will get a preview of what happened coming up next.

ROMANS: Then, a disturbing sight when police tazed a man on a highway. The shocking takedown and the reason for it when we come back. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. The parents accused of kidnapping their own sons and sailing off to Cuba will make their first appearance in a Florida courtroom this morning.