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Source: No Indication of Al Qaeda Connection; White House Monitors Boston Probe; Reporter Ran, Covered Bombings; Sports, Healing and Tragedy; At Least 174 Wounded in Boston

Aired April 16, 2013 - 14:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we are trying to talk to as many different people who were there yesterday trying to get as many different kind of eyeballs on the scene as possible. We've seen a lot of video coming out over the last 24 hours or so.

We're going to take a short break and we'll talk on the other side to a "Washington Post" reporter who was actually running in the race and had to turn right around and start reporting. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: Back here live in Boston. We are covering special coverage here of the Boston bombings as we're talking today about the investigation, about what happened, about the why, about who was injured and how.

We also want to talk about the White House. We know that certainly the search is on for the bomber, bombers possibly, and the White House deeply involved in that hunt. We heard from the president for a second time.

He spoke to the nation late this morning and I want to go to our chief white house correspondent, Jessica Yellin, for that. Jessica, in listening to the president today, he used the word that was conspicuously absent the first time.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke, he did. That is because some 20 hours after the attack, he was much more confident with all the facts that this was, in fact, a terrorist organization. He spoke originally yesterday, just three hours after the act and the president speaking from the White House clearly did not want to get ahead of the facts that they were learning here.

So a different posture they're taking today. I will tell you the president is sticking to his planned schedule here, effectively signalling to the nation that while everybody is pausing to recognize this great tragedy, the nation isn't stopping because of it. The president will have an event honoring last year's NASCAR champion, coming up in less than an hour, actually, less than half an hour, here at the White House.

And I would expect he will address the Boston tragedy in his remarks. Nothing substantial, not a briefing, but I would expect some sort of emotional acknowledgement of what we are all thinking of this day. Now, Brooke, other events, he began this day with a briefing from his top national security team and we have a photo that has just come out from the White House of that briefing.

We reported on it earlier. You see in this picture, which was taken in the oval office, the president, the vice president, FBI Director Muller, his new -- the president's new Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco, Attorney General Holder, and other officials in his national security and security team.

We're told here that a lot of the meeting talked about coordination between federal and local law enforcement and homeland security experts. You know, coordination of big theme after the 9/11 attacks that there was a lack of coordination then. And so I think probably a reason we're hearing an emphasis on how much the White House says there is focus on it today.

Now, here's what the president had to say when he came out to speak to the public just after that briefing earlier today about what they think could motivate this attack.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This was a heinous and cowardly act. And given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.

What we don't yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why, and whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual.


YELLIN: By malevolent individual he simply means by an individual acting alone. Finally, Brooke, I would not expect the president to visit Boston tomorrow, just based on his past response to terror acts in the U.S. They usually give it a good 72 hours or so, so the president's visit does not distract law enforcement resources from the investigation -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Wouldn't be surprised, though, that he makes his way here sooner rather than later to Boston, Jessica Yellin for us at the White House. And Anderson, as I send it back to you, I just have to say. I was here in Boston over the weekend, having a great time, went to the Red Sox game.

This is a fantastic city, but I've noticed in last couple of hours I've been here, the tone has been different. I've had a lot of take care, be safe from just perfect strangers, just something I've noticed -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Well, you know, as a reporter sometimes you find yourself quite by accident in the right place at the right time. That's the case with my next guest. Vernon Loeb is a metro editor at the "Washington Post." He was running in the Boston marathon yesterday.

You finished the race, just minutes later, he found himself in the middle of this breaking news story. He joins me now. Thanks for being with us. I'm glad you're OK. Explain where you were when the bombs went off and what you immediately thought?

VERNON LOEB, METRO REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": It was about three blocks away. I made it through the baggage area. Luckily, I had my cell phone. I heard these two really loud explosions and I immediately thought those are bombs.

COOPER: You did national security reporting in the past. You're a Pentagon reporter. You are familiar with the sound.

LOEB: Yes. A bombing at the Boston marathon is certainly not beyond my imagination. I mean, what better high value target with large numbers of people on the street. I mean, if you wanted to create mass casualties, this is the place to do it.

COOPER: One of the things that law enforcement has been saying and I'm wondering what you saw is that they were able to kind of secure the crime scene relatively quickly and clear it out, which is important for the investigation.

LOEB: Right. Yes. They were -- as I said, I was two blocks away and by the time they finished the crime scene, pushing the crime scene out, about five blocks away. They completely cordoned entire perimeter. As you see now it's still pretty roped off. So, yes, they took control of it really fast. The response was huge and immediate.

COOPER: What do you make of where this investigation is now?

LOEB: You know, I think they're in the sifting stage. I mean, you know, I think Barbara Starr made the point a minute ago that NSA and others are still sifting through information that they can't sift through in real time.

The Boston police commissioner said earlier this morning that they have assigned officers to start going through all the video, surveillance videos from all the stores and business establishments on Boylston Street, which going to take a long time, not to mention all of the cell phone pictures people were taking. So I imagine that's a long, long process ahead of them.

COOPER: What do you think this means for the -- you've run this race. This is what, your 12th. It has a special place in your heart.

LOEB: Right.

COOPER: To have this happen, on this day, what do you --

LOEB: It is very hard to reconcile, you know, the mood usually after the Boston marathon. It is a celebratory, incredibly soulful vibe around the finish line. You've just run a marathon. You're being met by family members and friends, and suddenly to have that marred by a bombing, you know, it kind of makes running a marathon seem pretty insignificant.

COOPER: Yes --

LOEB: I mean, I hope the Boston marathon -- I'm sure the Boston marathon will continue.

COOPER: Yes. I have no doubt it will. This is a city which believes in moving forward and wants to, you know, show their best face and will next year. It will continue. Vernon, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you very much.

I'm glad you're OK and you're reporting as well. Vernon was taking about his old friend Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Let's go back to Barbara. She has got some breaking news. Barbara, what are you hearing now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, our Elise -- my colleague Elise Labott is now reporting that officials are telling her that we've had all this discussion about a Saudi male, possibly injured in the hospital. Officials are now saying this is a man who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He -- this Saudi gentleman was a spectator at the race. He was injured and running away because of his injury. He was stopped. Authorities questioned him, but came up empty as they say he simply was someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Important, I think, Anderson, to take a deep breath.

As you know better than anybody in the opening hours of these types of events, lots of rumors, lots of parts moving around in the investigation, and many of them prove not to be accurate. This is one of them.

And this all goes against -- the point we were discussing a minute ago, the initial reporting is that they have no indication at this time of a foreign connection or an al Qaeda reaction. That is not to say they won't find one, not definitive by any stretch, but right now that's what some of the current information is telling them -- Anderson.

COOPER: With the significance also of the now -- that breaking news you reported from, Elise Labott's reporting, about the Saudi national basically just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it is also kind of points out that there was a lot of reporting last night about this house, this apartment being searched in Revere, Massachusetts, which was connected to that Saudi national.

That clearly means that that house search then of the Saudi national was just a bystander just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That house search then did not turn up anything as well and is now not significant as part of this larger investigation.

So, again, as you point out, rightly so, often -- and we kept saying this yesterday, that a lot of the initial reports, even the initial reports that often come from authorities, from police sources, are on the record, often turn out not to be the case. For instance, reporting yesterday based on police sources and police public statements that another device was found, and harmlessly detonated or unexploded devices found, those turned out not to be the case. So we know there were not other devices that were found unexploded and, again, Barbara, I appreciate your reporting. Go ahead.

STARR: Let me jump in for one second, Anderson. So why is all of this, you know, aside from finding a perpetrator, why is this so important to the U.S. intelligence community? Look at it this way.

If they had had an al Qaeda plot and we still don't know the final answer, but if they had an al Qaeda plot carried out in Boston against the American people with no warning, no indication that it was about to happen, that would be a massive significant issue for the White House, and for the administration.

After all these years, how could they miss an al Qaeda-organized massive terrorist plot? If this turns out to be for lack of a better phrase a home grown terrorist, a violent extremist, somebody who went out and bought a backpack and a bunch of pressure cookers and nails and ball bearings, which are unregulated items, that becomes a different issue.

The sad fact today is if somebody is going to perpetrate that kind of evil, law enforcement is going to have a very tough time finding all these people before they carry out their plots. So that's one set of circumstances for the challenge for law enforcement and intelligence.

If it was an al Qaeda plot, a very different situation for the White House to have to explain to the American people perhaps. And, again, we still don't know the final answer.

COOPER: Right. Barbara, appreciate that. We are trying to tell you as much as what we don't know as much as what we do know because it is important to just admit that the lack of information in some cases. Also, a lot of times other things are occurring elsewhere in the country that are -- it is easy to feel like it is connected to what is happening here.

That can often instil fear in people. We're really trying to limit that as much as possible. I am just getting more breaking news that American Airlines has grounded all of its flights until 5:00 p.m. Eastern this evening. We're told by the airline, though. It is because of a computer glitch with its reservation system.

That is all we know. Not to read anything more into it than that. That's what they're saying, a computer glitch with the reservation system. We'll have more on that situation in a moment. That is going to cause a lot of problems for travelers around the country at airports around the country.

Let's check in with Brooke Baldwin again -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Anderson, coming up, I'm sure you've seen the cover of the "Sports Illustrated" magazine out on newsstands today, a poignant picture with the one word, Boston. We're going it talk to the executive editor of "Sports Illustrated," talk about why this picture, and, look, this is a big sports town. Boston, Massachusetts, what does this do to the psyche of a sports fan and security at stadiums nationwide? You're watching special live coverage of the Boston bombings.


BALDWIN: Back here live in Boston. I want to show you the cover of the "Sports Illustrated" magazine. You've seen the video. You've seen the explosions at the finish line at the Boston marathon and you have seen the 78-year-old runner fall to the ground, shaken by the explosion right around the finish line, just yesterday afternoon.

His name is Bill Iffrig. He talked to Piers Morgan just last night about falling and wanted to make sure going to right back up. Take a listen.


BILL IFFRIG, RUNNER KNOCKED TO GROUND: Well, I was just in the last straightaway to the finish line and I had a good day and I was feeling really good. I got down to within about 15 feet, as I was finishing, and just tremendous explosion, sounded like a bomb went off right next to me.

And the shock waves just hit my whole body and my legs just started jittering around. I knew I was going down and so I ended up down on the black top. And I didn't feel any severe pain, but as I rolled over, I seen a scratch on my leg, but nothing too bad.

So I laid there, just momentarily, one of the finishers assistants come over and talked to me and asked me if there was anything they could do. And offered to give me a hand, help me get up, and help me get over the finish line so I could complete my race. We did that and I felt OK.

So I told him, I was probably all right, he insisted on getting a wheelchair over there. So we started to do that, but then before they had one rounded up, I said, I'm only -- my hotel is six blocks away. So I think I can make it OK. So they let me get out of there and I went on home to my wife.


BALDWIN: Jon Wertheim, let me bring you in, executive editor of "Sports Illustrated," you write all kind of columns, it is great to talk to you. I wanted to ask you, of all the pictures, we have seen the video, the explosions, the smoke, the tragedy, the blood, why this particular photograph?

JON WERTHEIM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Well, yesterday afternoon we realized we would have to have a new cover than the one we anticipated. And this image was just so arresting. You can see for yourself. It certainly conveys the gravity. We see a sporting event. We see three officers, one of them with a gun drawn. We didn't know this gentleman's age. He didn't know his back story, he would finish the race, but it conveyed a sense of heroism too. Again, a day late, I think we would have chosen the same image.

BALDWIN: I'm hearing you said you knew you had to change your cover. So this was just yesterday afternoon when you all made the call.

WERTHEIM: Yes. I mean, literally to the minute, 24 hours ago, it was a fairly conventional issue, talked about the Masters and NBA story and then this event happened. It became clear to us very quickly, Monday is our close day, but it became clear to us very quickly this was a much more significant sports story, had a writer, two writers in Boston and we quickly reassessed.

BALDWIN: You know, when you cover tragedies, people oftentimes, they're in the communities, and I talked to people, and they talk about resilience, resilience of a community after something like this happens. And I'm just wondering, since this man's story, you see him fall from the explosion, he gets up. He wants to finish the race. I'm thinking it is symbolic perhaps for Boston.

WERTHEIM: Exactly. If you want to talk about symbolism with the flags of different countries waving behind him, 78 years old, and he's going to finish that race -- determinedly he's going to finish that race. And, again, this may be an iconic image of this horrible event, but in addition to the horror that's conveyed. I do think there is a certain heroism in there too.

BALDWIN: How, Jon, this incident yesterday, 24 hours ago, big picture, I mean, I said this is a huge sports town. They have been wearing patches for Newtown, this is really the New England team, and here now their city is impacted. How will this impact just the sports in general here?

WERTHEIM: Yes, it is a good question. I mean, at some level you don't want to overstate this. Sports are just games ultimately in the face of tragedy, but they really do have this ability to restore and to accelerate healing. They represent a community, Boston, as you mentioned, is a particularly avid sports town.

A lot of athletes stay there. We saw it with 9/11 here, where I am in New York. We saw it in London in 2004. I mean, sports do have an ability to accelerate the healing and bring a community. We have seen the divisive forces. Sports can be a uniting force.

BALDWIN: Hopefully it will continue to unite despite the fact it happened of all places at the iconic Boston marathon. Jon Wertheim in New York. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Yes, Brooke, we are anticipating a press conference momentarily at Mass General. Want to get the latest information on those being treated there currently. We're going to a short break and we'll bring that to you live when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: Want to talk about one runner who finished the Boston marathon just yesterday, but she did so with her mother standing by. I'm sure a very proud mom, but mom ended up being injured in the explosion as did we now know some 176 people who have been taken to area hospitals such as Brigham and Women's.

I want to bring in Rebecca Roche, she is joining me here. And, Rebecca, tell me, was this your first marathon?

REBECCA ROCHE, MARATHON PARTICIPANT (via telephone): Yes. That's correct. This was my first marathon.

BALDWIN: And how are you?

ROCHER: I'm OK, shaken up, but not nearly as much so as my mom and one of my good friends.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about your mom. Your mom drove quite a ways, couple hundred miles from what I've read to watch you from the side near the finish line. What happened? How close was she to the bomb?

ROCHE: As far as I understand, she was right next to the bomb. Mom and dad drove from the Chicago area out here, and they were -- mom and two friends were at the marathon sports store where a lot of damage took place.

BALDWIN: And, so, you finished the marathon, seconds before the bombs went off, correct?

ROCHE: Yes. That's correct. The bombs went off. I should say I finished and I was literally getting wrapped in my Mylar blanket and heard the first explosion, turned and looked and realized it had to have been right in front -- and tried to go back.

I was obviously pushed away for good reason from the police, but then heard the second bomb, tried to rush back again, wasn't allowed back, so it was quite a while before I was reunited with my family and especially my mom.

BALDWIN: So, may I ask how old is your mother?

ROCHE: She's 60.

BALDWIN: She's 60. So you can't get to your mother. As you say, understandably so, you know, police and EMS, kudos to them, rushing towards people like your mom trying to help them. When did you finally see your mother? Give her a hug?

ROCHE: It wasn't until I was reunited with everybody but my mom. We had -- we had some trouble finding out where she was triaged to and then found out she was at Tufts Medical Center pretty late in the day, but finally saw her about 9:30 p.m. last night. And this was after she had surgery.

BALDWIN: Before I let you go, Rebecca, I have to ask, I flew into Boston a couple of hours ago, I was really surprised by how many people were walking around, waiting for their flights, wearing their marathon jackets. When you put your marathon jacket on now, how do you feel? What does that symbolize for you?

ROCHE: At this point, it is a kind of a community coming together and circumstances that were devastating, but you know, the Boston community and the running world is strong, and we have a very strong spirit.


BALDWIN: It is tough to hear, Rebecca. It is tough to hear you, Rebecca.


BALDWIN: But the few words I heard was -- the few words I heard was a sense of community and that sort of echoes what some of the folks I asked about in the airport.

Rebecca Roche, we're glad you're OK. We're glad your mom is OK. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.