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Three Women Missing For Years Found Alive; Chris Christie Slimming Down; Three Brothers Arrested for Kidnapping Women; Neighbor Shocked to Discover Brother's Secret; First Glimpse of Syrian Sites Struck by Israel; President: 'I Have No Tolerance' for Sexual Assault in Military

Aired May 7, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a real-life house of horrors, three brothers suspected of holding three young women captive here for a decade. We're learning new information about the suspects. What neighbors saw that raised suspicion that prompted them to call police almost two years ago.

Plus, a possible White House contender, as we just saw, undergoing drastic surgery to lose some weight, the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he is here to explain the risks the New Jersey governor is taking.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A daring escape and an end to a decade-long nightmare which three young women were allegedly held captive by three brothers in a house in Cleveland, Ohio. We're following this rare and remarkable story making headlines around the world.

Among the latest developments, all three women have been reunited with their families after being checked out at a hospital. FBI agents in protective suits and with a search dog, they are combing the house right now. And we know that police talked to the suspect, Ariel Castro, at the house at least twice, once in 2000 when he reported a street fight, and back in 2004 when he left a child on the school bus he drives. But no charges were filed.

And these are the three men suspected of the unthinkable crime, brothers Ariel, Pedro and Onil Castro. They're being held by police and will soon be charged.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Cleveland for us.

Brian, what do we know about these men?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while we're getting some details from investigators about interviews, the investigators, we're told, are interviewing the women who were held. You can see behind me that they're still going through Ariel Castro's house.

This is a major crime scene and evidence scene right now. They brought in canine teams a short time ago and took out some other evidence not long ago this afternoon. We're also piecing together some details about Ariel Castro's life from neighbors and acquaintances.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): As investigators swarm the home on Seymour Avenue, neighbors are trying to piece together who knew what when. One neighbor says she once saw a naked woman walking in Ariel Castro's backyard, a woman who she says was quickly told by a man to get back inside. Another neighbor says she once saw a child there.

ISIE CINTRON, NEIGHBOR: It's just strange to see a little girl up there. And I started questioning people. I said, he's got a daughter. They said, no, he doesn't even have a wife.

TODD: Daniel Marti now connects the dots about how Ariel Castro would act outside his house.

DANIEL MARTI, NEIGHBOR: He had a little strategy, where me and him would talk. And he would start stepping out of the driveway towards the street in front of the house. And I would follow because I didn't know nothing was going on.

TODD: Ariel Castro was arrested for domestic violence back in 1993. But the case was dismissed. Collectively, since 2003, neighbors and bystanders didn't put together what Castro was allegedly doing, holding three young women captive inside the house on Seymour Avenue. Perhaps the closest authorities got to discovering something was in early 2004 when a city children's services agency got a report and passed it to police.

It was related to an incident on a school bus Castro was driving.

MARTIN FLASK, CLEVELAND DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SAFETY: He either intentionally or inadvertently left a child on a bus when he returned to the depot.

TODD: At that time, police say they tried to make contact with someone inside Castro's home and couldn't. They investigated the incident on the bus and found no criminal wrongdoing. Fast forward to Monday night

(on camera): It was from here, Altagrasia Tejeda's house, that Amanda Berry was finally rescued after 10 years. Altagrasia says she came running across the street from Ariel Castro's house right there to this porch, dialed 911 on this phone and within just a couple of minutes, the police were swarming this place.

Tejeda described the scene to us when Amanda Berry got to her front porch.

ALTAGRASIA TEJEDA, NEIGHBOR (through translator): She told them there were no more people inside the house. That's when they broke down the door.

TODD: (on camera): Can you tell us what Amanda Berry was like when she came here? Was she screaming? Was she -- what was she dressed like? What did she -- how did she speak?

TEJEDA (through translator): She was very nervous and crying a lot. My little girls came crying saying, mommy, mommy, mommy, daddy, daddy, daddy. They were inconsolable. She was wearing a sweatshirt and a ribbon in her hair.

TODD (voice-over): When Berry called 911, she seemed to realize her window for escape might close soon.

AMANDA BERRY, ESCAPED: Hello?

911 OPERATOR: Yes. Talk to the police when they get there.

BERRY: OK. Are they on their way right now?

911 OPERATOR: Yes, as soon as we get a car open.

BERRY: No, I need them now, before he gets back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And Berry seemed to indicate also she had an understanding of the outside world, telling that 911 operator that -- quote -- "I have been on the news for the last 10 years." She had a sense of how much coverage her 2003 disappearance had gotten on the news.

We have this just into CNN. Some items were moved from Ariel Castro's house, we're told, including a guitar, a bass amplifier, storm door, one of the storm doors on the house, and multiple black trash bags. That is according to some observances on the scene, more people who have observed some of these items being taken out of the house, again, a guitar, bass amplifier, a storm door, and multiple black trash bags.

As far as the guitar and the bass amplifier, we have gotten accounts that Ariel Castro did play in a band at one point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Brian, where does the investigation go from here?

TODD: Well, charges could come as early as tomorrow.

One of the police officials told me that they have about a 48- hour window to file formal charges. And, also, what we're told, we're getting indications from police that this may not be the only area searched. In one of the releases this afternoon that they sent us, they said that other locations for searches are pending. So, they may be looking at other areas as well.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in Cleveland for us, thank you.

Let's get more on where this nightmare played out. CNN's Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at the neighborhood and the house.

What are you seeing, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, you have to look at the geography of these kidnappings to understand how astonishing this story is.

Let's bring in the map and talk about this. All three of these young women disappeared in roughly the same period of time, in roughly the same part of Southwest Cleveland, 2002, then 2003, and then 2004. This is an area of small businesses, apartments, some houses, all of them gone without a trace, and for 10 years they remained simply vanished.

And then suddenly they reappear only three miles away from the spot where they disappeared. So what do we know about this house where they were kept, Wolf? Not a whole lot, because as Brian noted there, for most of the neighbors, it was kind of just a normal place. If you take a look at this house, what you see is a property that is very old, very small, only about 1,400 square feet in here.

And it attracted very little attention because it was sealed up so tight. Some people thought, in fact, that nobody even lives here. Once in a while, they would see something unusual, like there was a window right up here where once one of the neighbors said she saw a woman looking out for a period of times and then being pulled away. Then that window was ultimately covered over.

But what we're really interested in is the inside of the house. Let's pull this away and talk about it. They say they took out a bass guitar and a bass amp. A witness tells us that he kept those in the front room up here. This is a small living room to your left as you come in through the front door. Right behind it is a small dining room. And then the kitchen is back here.

This is all this witness saw of the area. But we know the house has four bedrooms. So presumably most of those are upstairs, where the bathroom is also located and, as I noted, where that window was that a woman was seen. So the big question, Wolf, as we build this model over the next few days, and add in details as we get them, is really, where were these people? Where were they in this house? Were they kept together? And how were they kept from reaching out in this crowded neighborhood to anyone for help for so long, Wolf?

BLITZER: We have been hearing, Tom, and I know you have as well, that these women may have been held in the basement of this house. What can you tell us about that?

FOREMAN: Yes, it's an interesting point, Wolf.

I talked to a guy in construction there who made the point of saying particularly in these old homes here, the stairs for the basement, as this witness told us, are underneath the stairs that lead upstairs. And typically because the ground here is very soft and very sandy, they don't make big basements. It's usually only by 15-by-15 feet. It would have a water heater down there. You would also have a furnace down there, and because of the nature of the soil, it's almost always leaky and musty and damp, and an awful, awful place to be, Wolf.

So if in fact they were being held there, it's a very tough place to be, and the neighbors would be right, a hard place to hear anyone who was trying to call out for help -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ugly situation by all accounts.

All right, Tom, thanks very much.

It's hard to imagine what the victims are experiencing right now, three young women robbed of a decade of their lives, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle knight.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin also in Cleveland right now with more on this part of the story.

What are you finding out, Brooke, about these young women?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, when it comes to these three women, it's interesting to look back at the timeline.

You talk about how this has been a decade-long ordeal. You're absolutely right. And it appears that these three women were possibly plucked off the streets one year, and then the next, and then the next.

Let me just get you a little bit of background. I want to begin here with Amanda Berry. Amanda Berry was all of 16 when she reported missing back on April 12, 2003. She had called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her part-time job, not too long -- not too far from where I'm standing here at a Burger King here in Cleveland.

And then you have Michelle Knight. Michelle Knight is now 32 years of age. She was reported missing August 22, 2002. A missing person's report was filed, but at the time, Wolf, her family believed she left on her own. And then third is Gina DeJesus. She was just 14 years old when she was reported missing on April 2, 2004.

She was last seen walking home from school. A relative says her family actually had known the man who owns this house where these women were found, Ariel Castro. Apparently, they go a number of years back. And here we are in Cleveland trying to talk to people who knew these young women obviously out here in the neighborhood, Wolf, talking to some of the neighbors.

But let's be specific, talking to family members. Poppy Harlow, my colleague, is here in Cleveland as well, and she spoke with Gina DeJesus' brother Ricardo about this unimaginable happy ending. Here they were.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICARDO DEJESUS, BROTHER OF VICTIM: Like a best friend, able to talk to her, be there for her, and everything else.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What was she like? What did she like to do most?

DEJESUS: She liked to dance a lot, crack jokes, and be around with the family.

HARLOW: You saw Gina last night at the hospital.

DEJESUS: Yes.

HARLOW: What was that the like for you? Tell me about that.

DEJESUS: I was very excited. I was like, I'm glad I'm able to see her. It was nine years, nine long years. And I'm just happy I was able to sit there and hug her and say, yes, you're finally home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, Wolf, finally home.

We saw a paper earlier that said this nightmare is over. But if you talk to, you know, clinical psychologists, as I did earlier today here on my show, he said, no, actually, this is just the beginning, Wolf, of a road to recovery.

Psychologically speaking, this could take years to sort of overcome this decade. Imagine, a decade of your life gone, potentially spent as a prisoner in this home in Cleveland and now reuniting with family members they really don't even know very well. Happy ending, but a road ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So cruel, so cruel indeed. All right, Brooke, thanks very much.

We're going to have much more on this story. Also, coming up:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said she heard and seen a child and a white girl holding a child up in the window, pounding on the window like she needed help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Neighbors describe a very disturbing sight at the house almost two years ago. So what happened?

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will talk about the New Jersey governor Chris Christie's surprise revelation about his weight loss surgery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get back to Cleveland. You're looking at pictures of this house, the FBI now inside. They're removing a lot of potential evidence from that house even as we speak right now. Much more coming up on the rescue of these three young women and the three suspects. That's coming up shortly.

But there's some other news we're following, including the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. He's getting plenty of second looks today after revealing he did in fact have secret surgery last February in order to lose weight.

Here's what he looks like today, alongside a picture from late last year. The governor won't say how much weight he's lost so far, but he does tell reporters he did it for his family, not for politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It may sound odd to some people, but this is a hell of a lot more important to me than running for president.

This is about my family's future. And that's a heck of a lot more important to me than the idea of running for president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us right now.

So, Sanjay, what does getting a lap band surgery, if you will, what does that actually involve?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what you're trying to do is you're literally trying to put a band around the stomach. So it's sort of what it sounds like.

But this operation, Wolf, is usually performed in what is known as a laparoscopic way. So, instead of a big incision, sort of up and down in the abdominal area, they are small incisions that just allow laparoscopic instruments to go in and basically put this band around the stomach.

You may be looking at an animation of this, Wolf, but the stomach ends up looking a little bit like an hourglass, and sort of slowing down how quickly the food gets from the top of that hourglass into the bottom of the hourglass.

And that's a large part of how it works. There's something else, though, Wolf, in terms of the mechanism. And that it that it seems to decrease the number of hunger hormones that are going back to the brain. So, in addition to eating less, over time, the goal is that people may feel less hungry as well with this operation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why would someone opt for lap band surgery,as opposed to gastric bypass surgery?

GUPTA: I think the biggest thing is risk and how you look at risk.

With the gastric bypass operation, it's a bigger operation. There's a larger incision. It's a longer operation. You're sort of connecting to the stomach a little lower down, so you're creating a small pouch of the stomach. The tradeoff is that you lose a lot more weight more quickly, so larger risk up front, but more benefit potentially up front as well. The lap band, it's less risky up front, but you end up losing weight a little bit more slowly, they say about one to two, maybe three pounds a week on average in the first several months. But I think it's a risk/reward sort of ratio there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are there any serious risks, though, to this lap band surgery, as far as you know?

GUPTA: Well, you know, any time an operation like this is performed, anesthesia, the anesthesia is going to be a risk, but also infection potentially, bleeding down the road.

The band itself, which is something that incidentally you tighten by injecting it with saline, and that sort of tightens it, or you take saline out to sort of loosen it, that band can sometimes move. It can sometimes need to be replaced, which would involve another operation.

Sometimes, it can erode, meaning that the stomach sort of grows around the band. And sometimes it just doesn't work. But there's about 30 percent -- about a third of the people for whom this just doesn't work at all, or they have some sort of significant problem. But in people who start to cut down how much they eat, also become more active, within 18 months to three years, they can lose about half the excess weight that they have right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's pretty good. Let's hope he succeeds on that front. And that would be great, great news for him. Sanjay, thanks very, very much. Great news for his family as well.

This was a day for the history books on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average crossed a boundary traders have never seen before. We have details of that.

And listen to this. An Air Force officer in charge of stopping sexual assaults is arrested on a sex charge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Going to back to Cleveland in a few moments. You can see the media on the scene in Cleveland right now. There are new developments unfolding with the rescue of these three young women from that home in Cleveland, the arrest of three brothers. We will have much more on this story coming up in a few minutes.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see Ariel Sunday at the park here right down the street. And he was with that little girl. And I was at the park with my daughter. And that was the first time I actually seen that little girl's face. And I asked him, well, who is this? Whose daughter is that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You're going to find out what kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro told this neighbor, whom he's known for 18 years.

And we will take you to the site of Israel's massive airstrike near Damascus. CNN has the only Western reporter inside Damascus and Syria right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: A neighbor tells us of a disturbing sight in the house where three women were allegedly held captive for a decade. Plus, the neighbor who helped rescue them is now an Internet sensation.

And CNN visits the site of Israel's massive airstrike inside Syria. We have the only Western reporter following the Syrian military's every move.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's an unimaginable nightmare that lasted a decade. Three young women allegedly held captive by three brothers in a house in Cleveland. The story exploded with their bold escape, and now the investigation is quickly unfolding.

Among the latest developments, police and FBI are searching the house right now. In the last few minutes, we've been told they removed an item, including a guitar, an amplifier, multiple black trash bags, as well.

And police have released mug shots of the three brothers arrested in the case: Ariel, Pedro and Onil Castro. They say they could be charged as early as tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Israel Lugo Jr. is joining us now from Cleveland, a neighbor of Ariel Castro, one of the suspects in this case.

Mr. Lugo, thanks very much for coming in. I'm told that your sister noticed something extraordinary back in 2011, at your neighbor's house. Is that true?

ISRAEL LUGO JR., NEIGHBOR: Yes, it is true.

BLITZER: What did she see?

LUGO: She came home. She said it was about 10:30 at night. She came home; she was terrified. She was shaking. She said she heard and seen a child and a white girl holding a child up in a window, pounding on a window like she needed help.

So she came and got me. She said, "I think we need some help. I think there's something inside Ariel's house." So I didn't think -- I told her, Ariel lives by himself. So I walked over there. And you can't see nothing, because there's plywood on all the windows and there's plastic across all the windows, a real dark plastic. So I'm walking back to the house, and I'm calling the police. Maybe 20, 30 minutes around, they pulled up.

They approached -- they approached Ariel's house, knocked on the porch on the door, like 20 good hard times. There was no response. So they walked into the driveway and looked all around. They can't see (EXPLETIVE DELETED), see nothing. So they -- so they got back in the car and went up on their way.

BLITZER: And that was the last of that incident. After that, did you ever have any more suspicions? Did your sister have any more suspicions that something not so good was happening at that house?

LUGO: Well, my sister always had, like, a back door for the past four years. She kept on telling me, you should please watch the kids when you're out here around Ariel. And I kept on saying, "He's a school bus driver. You know what I'm saying? Just because I don't think he's that type of person."

But it turns out to be that he was, you know. And that's the sick thing about it, is that me thinking that I got a good neighbor and I didn't even know my neighbor that I thought I knew.

BLITZER: So you were shocked -- you were shocked by this news, because you've known him, what, for 18 years?

LUGO: Yes, I've known him for 18 years. And the thing about it is that I just seen Ariel Sunday at the park here right down the street, and he was with that little girl. I was at the park with my daughter and that was the first time I actually seen that little girl's face. And I asked him, "Whose daughter is that?"

And he told me, "It's my girl's daughter."

So I didn't pay no attention toward it. And what was that for: the next day, I go to my house and I see two of my neighbors pulling out that same little child that I seen at the park and Amanda Berry. She come out the door. She came out -- she came over and goes, "There's more girls upstairs in the house. More girls upstairs in the house." So when my neighbor Chuck went to proceed to go back in, that's when the police officers started pulling up.

BLITZER: Did you ever go inside that house?

LUGO: When I was a child, yes. When he bought it, no. Because he was really strict on that. Like you was not passing the -- you can't even pass this gate, you know what I'm saying? Why? We never asked. You know what I'm saying? I guess it's probably because I respect people's property. But yes, he never allowed people to go up on his property.

BLITZER: Did you ever meet his brothers Onil or Pedro? LUGO: Yes. I knew Pedro since I was 5 years old. That -- I can't even believe that that man had something to do with it. Because he was like a real -- like a real up to God guy. I don't know what happened to him. He turned around and started being -- hitting the bottle a couple of times, drinking alcohol. But yes, it's a -- it's a real mess. All three brothers.

You know, and the thing about it, I never seen all three brothers there. Ariel lived there by himself. So I -- I don't know how they got in there, or how they left. Because there's someone always out here, you know what I'm saying? Always playing with the kids, or there's an adult out here. So how they did it, it was very sneaky how they did it.

BLITZER: What about Ariel? When was the last time you spoke with him?

LUGO: I spoke to Ariel, as I told you, on Sunday, literally, two days ago. He was at the park with the girl, that came out of the house yesterday. Like I said, I talked to him Sunday. He looked like a normal day, like a father and daughter day. They were buying pastry, eating everything. And I'm playing with my little daughter across the street from here. I was talking to my neighbor, Moses and stuff. Like I said, it's heartbreaking, to believe that someone that you took as a friend and everything, that you thought that he was your neighbor, turned out to be a monster.

BLITZER: And this little girl is the 6-year-old who's Amanda Berry's daughter? Is that the little girl that you saw on Sunday?

LUGO: Yes, that's the little girl I saw Sunday. Which literally blew my mind when I seen her in the middle of my street over, inside her mom's arms. And I didn't even know if that was Amanda Berry. But I knew who the little girl was, because I seen her the day before that.

BLITZER: You knew that that little girl lived in that house. Describe her to us. What was she like?

LUGO: No. I -- I really didn't know that the little girl lived in the house. Because every Sunday, like, we would see him drive up the street, and that little girl would be in the car, but we couldn't see the little girl, because he had his windows tinted.

So Sunday, I see the little girl. She's about 2 1/2, maybe about 2 1/2 feet tall. She's a beautiful little girl, black hair, short. I seen her Sunday. She had like a little dress on. Ariel had a white cap with a pair of khakis and a Pirates (ph) shirt. And they looked like a family, you know what I'm saying? The last thing that you would imagine was somebody like this that would do something like this to anybody. You know what I'm saying? It's unbelievable.

BLITZER: That was Amanda Berry's daughter, apparently. What a story. What an awful story. How are you doing? Are you still shaken by all of this? LUGO: We're all shaken down here. You know what I'm saying. Everybody that lives around here, we're all family. Bloodline family, you know what I'm saying? And if you ain't bloodline, well, then, we'll make you family. It's just a -- it's a horrific thing, but it's a good ending to it.

BLITZER: And how is your sister doing? The one -- your sister spotted something inappropriate earlier. You called the police. They showed up. They knocked on the door. They didn't do anything. How's your sister dealing with this?

LUGO: That's why she -- my sister, she's -- she's really a wreck right now. And that's one of the reasons why she keeps her kids in the yard, you know what I'm saying? There's a reason for everything. And for what he did there, I wish I knew, so I could see it and explain it to you. But it's mind-boggling, saying that this neighbor of mine, like, in my own backyard, you know what I'm saying? And I'm walking past this house every day for the past ten, 12 years that the girls been in there. You know what I'm saying? And it -- it don't make no sense. It doesn't make no sense at all.

BLITZER: It certainly doesn't. Israel Lugo Jr., thanks very much for joining us. Please give your sister our best, best wishes. And we hope everyone comes out of this OK. We -- we really appreciate your thoughts.

LUGO: Thank you, sir, and for everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. We're just getting this in from the Cleveland police -- or Cleveland FBI spokesperson, Vicky Anderson. She says these three suspects -- Ariel Castro, Pedro Castro, Onil Castro -- will be interviewed. It's likely they'll be interviewed by both federal and local law enforcement. Vicky Anderson says locally they may be included -- they may be interviewed by Cleveland's sex crimes units.

Also, she points out charges, formal charges may be delayed slightly beyond the 36 hours mentioned earlier by authorities, mentioned at Tuesday morning's press conference. But that's what we're getting, interviews with the FBI and local law enforcement tomorrow.

The Cleveland story certainly has created an instant hero. We're taking a closer look at the man who heard the cries for help, and rescued one of the kidnapped women.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama says while he has evidence chemical weapons have been used inside Syria, he can't make decisions or organize international coalitions based on what he calls the perceived crossing of a red line. We're going to have more from the president in a moment. But we're also getting our first look at the area hit by Israel's weekend air strikes near Damascus. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is the only western journalist in Damascus right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosions lit up the night sky for hours, set off by Israeli air strikes on Syrian military facilities. Two days later, the towns surrounding one base that was hit are getting back to normal.

In Zemariya (ph), they are clearing the debris. This man, who would only give his first name, Mohammed (ph), witnessed the attack and says he's never been more terrified.

"We were sleeping in our homes," he says. "Then we heard the explosions. And the windows and the doors blew out, and some people were injured by that. Then we ran out and saw the fire coming from the sky."

Residents show us badly-damaged buildings and say people were killed when roofs and houses collapsed, including an entire family of six.

"It was not just one explosion," this man tells me. "It was many. And it took a long time. Something like three hours the fire was going."

It's still unclear what the targets were. Syria's government says it was a military research facility. But U.S. officials say it was a storage area for weapons destined for Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia that's a close ally of the Syrian regime.

The area here is littered with munitions, mostly small-caliber bullets.

(on camera): The explosion that the people here heard came from the other side of that mountain. That appears to be where the military base is. But I want to show you something interesting, because the ground here is littered with military hardware, with ammunition. And some of it actually hasn't been spent. You can tell that this bullet has not been fired. And a lot of the other ones haven't been fired either. So it seems as though there was a big explosion over there, and then a lot of this stuff was blown over here, and landed on the ground.

(voice-over): Some local pro-government forces told us the munitions came from caches militias here use for self-defense and not from the base. But others say they rained down from the sky after the air strikes.

This quiet town had been spared the worst of Syria's conflict. Sunday's strikes were a sudden and shocking introduction to what now threatens to become a regional war.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Zemariya (ph), Syria. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Syria's situation over there.

There's a new sex scandal over at the Pentagon that's unfolding. An officer in charge of preventing sexual assault has been arrested on a sex charge. You'll want to hear what the president has just said about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Live pictures from outside the home of Gina DeJesus, one of the three women rescued last night. She was reported missing at the age of 14. She's now 23. She's been missing since April of 2004.

You see law enforcement outside the home.

Family and friends of the three women found alive after a decade in custody, they are calling this nothing short of a miracle. Listen to what some of them are saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just so surreal right now. It's unbelievable. I don't -- I just can't even believe this, after all these years. And it was right down the street from my grandmother's house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How difficult was this for you? Just always wondering what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very difficult. I never forgot about her ever. I remember walking in the rain, looking for her, just asking around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's 10 or 12 years, and I thought about her every day. And I knew she would come -- I knew she would come home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We missed you. We cried. We shed tears. But you're here. Everything is OK. Everything is going to be OK. We can't wait for you to come home. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sisters and mom. We missed you. I love you, baby!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There are few people that know firsthand what it's like to be abducted. Elizabeth Smart is one of them. Last hour, I spoke with her, and I asked her how hard it is to readjust after such a horrible ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ELIZABETH SMART, KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: It's different for everyone. For me, it was -- it was great, because I have such a supportive family. I have such a wonderful community. I've had so much -- so many blessings in my life. For me, I felt like it came quickly, and time really does heal so much.

BLITZER: Certainly does. So what advice would you have for these three women in Cleveland?

SMART: First of all, I want them to know that nothing that has happened to them will ever diminish their value, and it should never hold them back from doing what they want to do. They should still follow their dreams, follow the life that they wanted to have. They should still be able to have that.

I also want them to know that they don't need to ever feel pressured into saying anything. Take as much time as they need. And if they decide never to share their story, that would be OK, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Elizabeth Smart with some good advice. We're going to have more on this story coming up, including a story -- a report on the hero who helped break this and rescue those three women.

President Obama's anger clearly showed this afternoon as he declared that, as commander in chief, he has no tolerance for sexual assault in the U.S. military. This follows the shocking disclosure the U.S. Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual assaults was arrested on a sex charge.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, who's working the story for us. Pretty shocking stuff, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This arrest could not have come at a worse time for the Pentagon, who is already dealing with an increase in the numbers of reported sexual assaults.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Sexual assaults in the military are going up. Not down. And this has become the face of the Pentagon's inability to stop it.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: This is a mug shot of Jeffrey Krusinski.

LAWRENCE: The lieutenant colonel was the head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention program. Police arrested him Sunday in this parking lot about a mile away from the Pentagon. They say Krusinski grabbed a woman's breasts and buttocks, then scuffled as she fought him off.

SPEIER: The best and the brightest the Air Force has to offer, to run this office, and he's a sexual predator? Is that what we're talking about? LAWRENCE: It all sounds familiar to former sailor Jenny McClendon, who says she was assaulted while serving on a Navy destroyer.

JENNY MCCLENDON, U.S. NAVY (RET.): I was being groped. I was being harassed. I was being forcibly kissed. And eventually, it escalated into full-on rape.

LAWRENCE: Now a married mother of four, McClendon says she was called a "feminazi" for reporting the assaults, which broke her trust in fellow troops.

MCCLENDON: And you don't know who's more dangerous to you: the person fighting next to you or the person shooting at you.

LAWRENCE: New statistics show reported sexual assaults have gone up 6 percent in the last year. And the Pentagon estimates as many as 26,000 troops may have been assaulted last year and did not report it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will support them, and we're not going to tolerate this stuff.

LAWRENCE: President Obama ordered Pentagon officials to punish anyone found guilty.

OBAMA: Court-martial. Fired. Dishonorably discharged. Period.

LAWRENCE: The latest revelations have pushed Pentagon officials to a crisis point.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Strong words. And I reached out to the colonel who was arrested just a few minutes ago, called his cell phone, got a voicemail message but have not heard back. CNN has also reached out to his attorney, but so far, Wolf, no comment.

BLITZER: Pretty shocking stuff there, too. All right, Chris Lawrence. Thank you.

The man who was instrumental in ending the kidnapped women's ordeal in Cleveland is becoming an overnight sensation. Jeanne Moos will show us why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Moos now has more on the man who's become an overnight sensation because of the Cleveland kidnapping story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): he calls everybody "bro," from reporters interviewing him...

CHARLES RAMSEY, NEIGHBOR: Bro, not a clue!

MOOS: ... to the 911 dispatcher.

RAMSEY: Yes, hey bro.

MOOS: And now everybody wants to be his bro. "This guy is ten types of awesome." Awesome if his story about helping with the rescue holds up.

RAMSEY: I see this girl going nuts.

MOOS: Awesome for how he described the suspect.

RAMSEY: I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listened to salsa music. You see where I'm coming from?

MOOS: His quotes, like the one about the suspect's testicular fortitude, have been immortalized on the Web and the ultimate Internet accolade, his interviews have been AutoTuned.

RAMSEY: Something is wrong here

MOOS: Even when he was about to swear then substituted the word "stuff" for the "S" word.

RAMSEY: No, because I would have pulled this heroic -- stuff last year.

MOOS: He got a pat on the back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for restraining yourself.

MOOS: Charles "Chuck" Ramsey is a dishwasher at a Cleveland restaurant. His newfound fans want to give him money. They've raised over $500 with a goal of $10,000.

Other admirers started a petition to get Charles invited to the White House for a beer with the president.

(on camera): But there was one Charles Ramsey line in particular that brought down the house.

(voice-over): Whether the house was the floor crew of a morning news show...

RAMSEY: I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You heard it straight from Mr. Ramsey.

MOOS: ... or the studio audience of "The View."

RAMSEY: When a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms, something is wrong here.

MOOS: Comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted, "Dear Charles Ramsey, I am not a little pretty white girl, but I totally want to run into your black arms. #hero."

(on camera): Some are even saying McDonald's should treat Charles to some free Mickey D's because of all the publicity he's given the chain.

RAMSEY: Went to McDonald's, came home...

RAMSEY: Heard her screaming. I'm eating my McDonald's.

MOOS (voice-over): Next thing you know McDonald's is saluting the courage of the kidnap victims, tweeting "Way to go, Charles Ramsey. We'll be in touch."

Who doesn't want a touch of Chuck? At least until a second rescuer claimed Chuck isn't on the up and up with his version.

ANGEL CORDERO, NEIGHBOR: Me break the door. Not him.

RAMSEY: I knew something was wrong, when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I want to thank all -- Charles Ramsey on behalf of all of us for the heroic work that he did, in fact, do. Those three women are now safe, in part thanks to him. Thank you, Charles Ramsey.

I'll be back tomorrow morning at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. We're going to have special coverage of the hearings up on Capitol Hill on the Benghazi events. What happened when the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed? We'll have special coverage coming up tomorrow here on CNN, starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show, @CNNSitRoom.

That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.