Return to Transcripts main page


Jury Unable to Agree on Sentence in Arias Trial; Tornado Terror at Briarwood Elementary; Preying on Tornado Victims

Aired May 23, 2013 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks very much.

Good evening, everyone. We begin with breaking news tonight in the Jodi Arias trial. Another major twist in a trial that has been full of them. As you maybe know, just a short time ago, the Arizona jury charged with deciding whether Arias should live or die told the judge they were deadlocked. Here's how that moment went down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The State of Arizona versus Jodi Ann Arias, sentencing verdict. We the jury duly impaneled and sworn in the above entitled action upon our oath unanimously find having considered all of the facts and circumstances that the defendant should be sentenced -- no unanimous agreement. Signed foreperson.

Is this your true verdict, so say you one and all?



COOPER: Now remember, this is the same jury that took less than two hours to decide that Arias was exceptionally cruel when she killed her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, back in 2008. Arias stabbed him 29 times, slit his neck from ear to ear, shot him in the face. She was convicted of first-degree murder.

Now in the penalty phase, Arias took the stand and pleaded for her life. She told jurors that she can make a difference in prison. The 12 jurors needed to reach a unanimous decision. Clearly they could not.

A lot to talk about. Joining me tonight, CNN senior -- excuse me, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin. Also Mark Geragos, criminal defense attorney and author of "Mistrial."

Let's start with CNN's Ted Rowlands, though, who is in Phoenix, in the courtroom, also Ashleigh Banfield, who's also in Phoenix on location.

So, Ted, explain the reaction of the jurors. I understand one juror actually mouthed "I'm sorry" to Travis Alexander's family. TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As the jury was leaving, two jurors were crying as the verdict was being read. One of them was an alternate, another female juror in the front row was on the panel. They were crying during the reading of this verdict, if you will, this non-verdict, and as the jury was leaving, a jury member said I'm sorry to Travis Alexander's family.

There was another juror that I saw from my vantage point that looked over at Jodi Arias and seemed to be trying to communicate with Jodi Arias on some level, and Arias at that point moved where she was, and moved all the way to the end of her table and stared intently as the jury left the courtroom.

Clearly, we got an indication of this just three hours into deliberation, there was a divide in this jury. They came back less than three hours into this and said we can't come to a decision. The judge sent them back and now a day and a half later, the same result. They could not come to a decision.

Clearly they tried, they gave it an effort but clearly there was a divide from very -- from the very beginning here for this jury in terms of the decision of life and death. Of course, they did convict her of first-degree murder.

COOPER: So, Ashleigh, what happens now? A new jury has to be impaneled, right?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very unusual circumstance but it is part of Arizona statute that yes, if you get to this third phase, the penalty phase, and there is a hung jury, it means another jury comes in. They do not re-litigate this case in terms of guilt/innocence. They do not re-litigate whether this was cruel, that aggravating factor, phase two. They do re-litigate phase three.

But, Anderson, those people have not been here for five months. They may have watched it on TV on occasion, but they don't have the full scope of what the evidentiary picture is. So you can bet your bottom dollar that when they bring that jury in and that's set to sort of get under way in late July, it is going to be a very lengthy phase, rich with awful evidence that these jurors have had to endure and these family members have had to endure, and rich with terrible detail, uncomfortable detail, salacious detail, but detail that is critical.

It goes to the essence of just how violent and ugly this murder was, and that's what they're coming to is a decision on whether someone should die for their cruelty. It's a hard choice.

COOPER: Mark -- Mark Geragos, your reaction to all this? I mean does, it -- does it surprise you?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No. It does not surprise me. I've always thought, we talked about it, Anderson, when those juror questions came out, when they started calling her by her first name, Jodi, it led me to believe that some people, even though this was a horrific crime, had some kind of identification or had humanized her to that extent. And I'm not so sure that this case or penalty phase will get retried.

I don't know that it's been reported yet but the fact remains until they find out what the split was and how the split was leaning, if it was 11-1 for guilt, you can be sure the prosecutor's going to want -- I mean for death, you can be sure the prosecutor is going to want to retry it. If it tilted the other way and it was 9-3 for life or 10-2 for life, they may just decide no, we're not going to do that, we'll try and cut a deal. So I don't think by any means that this is a sure thing that they're going to retry the penalty phase.

COOPER: And Mark, when will we find out what that split of the jury is? Because I agree with you, that would be critical.

GERAGOS: Yes. I'm surprised because California has a similar system here, where you can impanel that second jury. Normally what happens in California at least is once the judge declares the mistrial, then the judge will say, don't tell me where it was but tell me how you were split, and they would do it that way.

The jurors are free to talk so whoever's got the best crack producer that's out there and finds a juror that's ready to talk, we will then know what the split is. I can guarantee you the defense is out there and the prosecution as well trying to figure out what the split is and which way it leans.

COOPER: Sunny, you know, Mark and I had talked about this a lot over the course of this trial, especially when Jodi Arias was testifying, being on the stand for 18 days, it does seem perhaps that her being on the stand that much time, as Mark said, humanized her in the eyes of at least one juror.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, no question about it. And I think what probably also humanized her, Anderson, is that in Arizona, the jury is allowed to ask questions and so there was a real back and forth, almost a pseudotype conversation between this jury and Jodi Arias. And let's also remember that she gave this statement basically begging for her life, explaining to the jury what good she could still do in the community and for the community if she was kept alive.

So I certainly think that while you get a jury that is death qualified that says yes, if the circumstances are appropriate, I can vote for the death penalty, once a jury gets to know someone in this manner, five-month trial, you know, 18 days on the witness stand, asking her over 200 questions, I do think it becomes a bit more difficult to render that death sentence, especially when the defense here, while many didn't believe it, was I was an abused woman and this is why I committed this heinous murder because this was never a whodunit, it was why she did it. And perhaps there are a couple of those jurors that believed her defense.

COOPER: So Mark, is she going to retake -- I mean, if this is retried, does she take the stand now again? GERAGOS: Yes, and the length of the time that she would spend on the stand in the penalty phase would be longer than she did this last one, because this jury saw her for 18 or 19 days, whatever it was, and so she got back on to talk about life. If they're going -- the prosecution is going to go back with a new jury and have to, as Ashleigh said, go through a lot of this testimony and evidence again, to bring them up to speed, she's going to get up there and I think you're going to see another lengthy, lengthy performance, which just harkens back to what I said before.

This is why the death penalty machinery is broken in America. This points out -- this is a great lesson in exactly how absurd the death penalty is.

MORGAN: Jose Baez, who obviously defended Casey Anthony, in that trial is now joining me also by phone.

Jose, are you -- you know, she gave interviews right after she was found guilty. She said she wanted to die, then she changed her mind or at least publicly seemed to change her mind. Did it surprise you that she keeps giving interviews and do you think that had an impact on the jury?

JOSE BAEZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (via phone): I certainly hope it didn't have an impact on the jury because they should have been following their instructions and not watching any coverage on the case, including her interviews. Now, having said all of that, I think all of this is much ado about nothing. We -- the smartest thing for this prosecutor to do now is take death off the table rather than go through this again, especially considering the fact that this penalty phase has serious appellate issues.

There's a new problem that we have now and that's social media and the way these trials are being covered, we had this very same problem in Casey Anthony, where we couldn't get mitigation witnesses because they were afraid of the online intimidation as well as the intimidation by their -- by their neighbors. We literally had a third grade teacher of Casey's sic-a-dog on our mitigation specialist.

That's how bad it got. I can tell you, this court made a serious error when she didn't sequester this jury and on top of that, she allowed for cameras in the courtroom. These were exact -- the same exact problems we would have faced had Casey been convicted, and it's going to be a new appellate issue that courts are going to have to deal with, because of the way that we're changing the way we cover these trials and the social media aspect of it all.

COOPER: Sunny, do you agree with what Jose and really what Mark said, that once they find out the breakdown of the jury, that the prosecutor may very well just say OK, we're just going to go for life?

HOSTIN: No question about it. I mean I think the prosecutor will also take into consideration how Travis Alexander's family feels. They've been in that courtroom, Anderson, day in and day out. They were crying today. This has been a very, very difficult case for the family, very emotional, and the prosecution is going to explain to them that if they go forward again with another jury, they've got to listen to a lot of this evidence all over again.

And so I suspect that in a case like this, Anderson, it makes a lot of sense for both sides to come together and determine whether or not Jodi Arias should plead guilty to life in prison without the possibility of parole and waive all her rights to appeal. That's what Jodi Arias says she wanted, and other than the prosecution perhaps really wanting to make the statement with the death penalty, it seems to me that that would be an appropriate end to this kind of case.

COOPER: Sunny Hostin, Jose Baez, Mark Geragos, Ashleigh Banfield, Ted Rowlands, appreciate it all. Thank you very much.

There is a lot to cover in the hour ahead. You can follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting throughout the hour.

Next, exclusive video from inside a school here in Moore, Oklahoma, in the dark as the tornado hit.

You're going to hear from the teacher who captured these moments as she tried to keep her students safe and calm.

Also, we go back to that school today. It's amazing anybody survived.

Later, the London terror attack and if you got kids, you might want to warn them to look away now because we have new video taking you up close as police took the suspects down hard.


COOPER: Well, other than the day of the tornado, days don't get much tougher than today in Moore. Bad storms hit the area, making recovery work hard. There was driving rain and lightning and thunder for a lot of the day. The first funeral was held for 9-year-old Antonia Candelaria. They called her Toni. She died along with six classmates, including her best friend at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Tonight, before we do anything else, we just want to remember her and all the others who have lost their lives because we're learning more about them.

Jenny Neely, she and her son Jacob were riding out the storm at home in a -- in a closet. He was thrown clear, lost consciousness. His mom did not make it. Jenny Neely was 38 years old. Randy Smith was 39, electrician, he loved playing video games, watching movies with his son Dylan.

Cindy Plumley was a nurse at the Veterans Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Her family was her life. She enjoyed spending every moment she could with her kids, her grandkids. Cindy Plumley was just 45 years old.

And then there are the children, of course. Emily Conatzer was just 9 years old. She loved Lady Gaga. Her father says she was a fashion diva, loved designing hats and clothes. Christopher Legg, also 9, loved sports and was battling skin cancer. His family says he faced it with strength and enthusiasm as he -- just as he faced his whole life.

Then there are the Vargas sisters, Karrina and Sidnee. They were at home with their mom and grandmother in the tub trying to stay safe. Their mom and their grandmom survived. Karrina was a vibrant 4-year- old who wanted to figure skate some day. Her sister Sydnee was just a baby, who brightened her family's life, just 7 months old. We'll talk with their father Philip Vargas ahead tonight.

No one died at Briarwood Elementary, where, I'm pleased to say, everyone made it through at that school. But as you'll see in this 360 exclusive video taken by a teacher named Robin Dziedzic she hunkered down with her kids, it was the closest of close calls. Now I'm going to play the video for you. I'm going to play two clips. The second one, it's all over and the damage is plain to see. The first is in complete darkness because that's the way it was for the kids and the teacher. But you can hear the sounds as the EF-5 tornado tore through.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god. I can't see anything.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. (INAUDIBLE) all my clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're OK. It's almost over. It's almost over. It's almost over. It's almost over.


COOPER: That's what a 200-mile-an-hour tornado sounds like from about as close as you can get. They were hiding in the bathroom. Now this is what teachers and students experienced just seconds after the funnel cloud passed. Take a look.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Calm down. Listen. Listen. Guys.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god, my house. Oh, my god. My god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. My god. My god. My god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. Sit down. You're safe and you're dry. Sit down right here. Sit down right here where you're safe and you're dry.


COOPER: You get a sense of just the pandemonium during the storm and also after as they tried to get the kids out of that building. And when you see this building, you're going to see how difficult it was. That was from a fifth grade teacher, Robin Dziedzic.

We went back to Briarwood Elementary School with Robin today to get a look at the school and the place where they rode out the storm. Let's take a look.


ROBIN DZIEDZIC, BRIARWOOD TEACHER: This part here was where I was at, and its wall to the ceiling. And -- so when -- while it was absolutely terrifying and we heard everything going on overhead, it's nothing like what happened back there, where it approached the building.

COOPER: So you took the kids from out of your classroom into this hallway here first?

DZIEDZIC: Right. Yes.

COOPER: So these are -- these are cinderblock walls.

DZIEDZIC: Yes. And that's what I told my students in the classroom. I said, look around you, we don't have any glass in our classroom, you are safe. I know you hear scary things about storms and we recently had very bad storms where a lot of our students had taken shelter the Sunday before, Saturday and Sunday before. And I said, you're safe, you're in cinderblock walls, you know. No one could have known --


COOPER: But the roof here is basically corrugated steel.

DZIEDZIC: Right. But this was -- this was the building that sustained hardly any damage.

COOPER: So what part of the building is this? DZIEDZIC: That's where my son was.

COOPER: Your son was right over there?

DZIEDZIC: Yes, with Mrs. Biddle. You see the green bulletin board and the brown door?

COOPER: All the way over there, yes.

DZIEDZIC: Mrs. Biddle had them tucked into that corner.

COOPER: So they were sitting literally in that corner?

DZIEDZIC: In that corner.

COOPER: And that's about the only corner that survived.

DZIEDZIC: That is still existing. Her desk was -- you see the -- she painted the walls rainbow and there still is some standing over there, but I just -- I don't know how my children weren't either crushed to death or sucked out. I have no idea. My daughter was across the way and there's a car outside her classroom, there's a car in the classroom -- he just said that there are approximately six cars in that -- in the vicinity.

COOPER: And this car obviously should not be here.

DZIEDZIC: We -- our parking lot is out front.

COOPER: So where did this car come from?

DZIEDZIC: We have no idea.

COOPER: So it got picked up, slammed here.


COOPER: This is the middle of the school.

DZIEDZIC: This is the middle of the school.

COOPER: How soon after the storm passed and you left that bathroom with your kids did you -- were you able to find your kids?

DZIEDZIC: My kids personally came out right away. My son was just standing behind me all of a sudden. I asked him later, how did you get out and he said Mrs. Biddle helped us out. I believe our P.E. teacher, Mr. Murphy, they were -- they had a chain and they were just sending the kids out. And -- because you can't walk out of that.

And my daughter was rescued by her dad and if they would let you see the fourth grade door, all the kids were rescued through a broken window, single window that someone busted out. They were essentially could have been trapped in there and perhaps in a big building, maybe that sometimes is the issue. We had somewhat open areas. I don't know if that made us more exposed or fortunate to get out. I don't -- it feels so haphazard.


DZIEDZIC: You know? That you just -- it's nothing you can prepare for.

COOPER: No matter how many times you drill and stuff.

DZIEDZIC: No matter how many times you drill or you say I'm in a cinderblock building, it doesn't matter.

COOPER: You don't know where it's going to hit. Did you think that you might not make it?

DZIEDZIC: The walls never came in on me and I knew that nothing like this had ever happened at our school before, to me before. I had heard about it. I think at one point I thought how is there not going to be loss of life in this building. But again, if I were back here, that absolutely would have been -- I would have been convinced that it was my last breaths and I know that a lot of teachers were at one point, you know, Mrs. Sanders, my fourth grade daughter's teacher, said that at first the kids, you know, she was like this is going to pass, you know, we're going through procedures but we've been here 30 minutes, you know, can someone check.

And then the more updates we got, it was it's coming and brace yourselves, and then it was more of a panicked it's coming. And she said she just kept the kids in the corner and she put her arms around them and she said that at one point, they were -- she was just praying over them, Lord, give us protection, keep us safe, bring us peace. And then when it was over, she had to pass her children out the window because everything caved in.

COOPER: It's incredible.

DZIEDZIC: Amazing to think that my daughter was in that and that she survived.

COOPER: Thank you very much.

DZIEDZIC: Thank you.


COOPER: It's incredible when you see the damage to that school to know that all the kids got out OK and all the teacher got out OK. It's just remarkable.

We have seen such an outpouring of compassion and kindness from people here, volunteers from all around the state coming to try to help clean up. We've seen that just over the last two days, really since the storm stopped.

But Oklahoma's attorney general is warning about business scams and price gouging in the wake of this disaster. Erin McPike joins me now. She has been digging into some especially troubling details.

What have you learned?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I just spoke with the State Attorney General's Office. And they say they've gotten about 10 complaints of price gouging so far. One of those was that a hotel doubled its rates, they said because of limited availability, and a gas station raised prices about $1 per gallon. Now all of that is against the law. The state passed a law after the May 3rd, 1999 tornado because they saw these problems then, so they're asking residents when they see something like this to take pictures and save their receipts so the state can do something about it.

COOPER: Interesting. I mean, it's horrible to think that anybody would take advantage of a situation like this, selling water for inflated prices or selling gloves or, you know, any kind of equipment for an inflated price. It's infuriating, especially for people around here. There's also been reports of problems with so- called travelers?

MCPIKE: So travelers go from state to state after these disasters and you see them in these flashy pickup trucks with out-of- town plates and they pose as volunteers and they say for a price, I can help you clean up your house and remove debris and fix your roof. But what we are hearing now is that local police and the state are going to some hotels in the area to take pictures of some of these pickup trucks so they can show victims have you seen this car, have you had this problem happen to you.

COOPER: We saw this in New Orleans as well. Travelers are basically con artists, kind of traveling con artists who live in communities and move state to state.

MCPIKE: They absolutely are. Now what the state is telling people to do is don't pay for anything up front. Always do things in writing. Do things with a contract, and try to stick to local businesses that are reputable.

COOPER: Yes. And that's the other problem we saw, especially in the wake of Katrina. A lot of kind of shady contractors, and people aren't really contractors offering to fix your roof, they get cash up front and then they basically just disappear. So a lot to watch out for here.

Erin, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

A quick reminder. They need help here and you can pitch in if you'd like to. Here's how. Just go to, where you'll find links to aid organizations that are doing good works here even as we speak. Again, that Web site is

But for more on this story, you go to, of course.

Just ahead, the loss that one family is facing with incredible strength. They lost two young daughters. They say they will get through this difficult time. Their story ahead.

Plus, new details in the murder of a British soldier, including this new video showing London police taking down the two men now in custody.


COOPER: Welcome back. Want to talk about the terror attack that occurred in England yesterday and anyone with kids, you might want to tell them to leave the room or look away. We have this new video, police taking down a pair of terror suspects.

The reason we think it's important to show you as graphic as it is, is because you can clearly see that at least one of the alleged assailants charging toward the police then and only then do the police fire. In London, two men are in custody in the brutal murder of a British soldier and there are more arrests as well.

Nic Robertson has the latest now from London. So what do we know about this new video? What is the reaction to it there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly shows that there's been a lot of criticism of the police showing up late here. There has been talk about the two men waiting almost for the police to arrive then charging at them. This video does appear to show that very clearly, shot from above, from an apartment complex that overlooks where the young soldier was brutally murdered.

As the police arrive on the scene, literally as they arrive, movement towards them, they shoot at one of the suspects, move forward, continue shooting at the other suspect and you can see that suspect on the -- that injured suspect then on the ground -- Anderson.

COOPER: What's the latest now about the two new people taken into custody today and also, do we know anything more about the suspected killers?

ROBERTSON: Well, the two new people in custody, a man and woman, both age 29, arrested at a house here in South London. Not a lot is known about them, other than their ages, arrested on the suspicion of conspiracy to murder. As for the two men themselves remain suspects, one 22 years old, the other 28 years old. British born of Nigerian descent, convert to Islam, somebody who his friends said held very strong views about Muslims and the way they were being treated around the world. We also now understand that both these men were known to the British Security Services -- Anderson.

COOPER: So how were they known to British Security Services, do we know?

ROBERTSON: Yes, it's kind of interesting. They were clearly on the radar. At least one of them had been attending rallies belonging to a group that has pro-al Qaeda sympathies. We understand these men were not specifically being observed by the security services about them, but people they knew were under investigation and that's how they came on the radar.

But of course, a lot of people now asking that question, well, if you had come across them before, why perhaps were you not looking at them more closely if you had come across them several times. That's a big question being raised here right now -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's talk about the victim. What do we know about him? Lee Rigby is his name. That's been released. Is there anything to indicate he was actually being targeted or did he just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

ROBERTSON: You know, we are learning details that may provide some information about that he might have been -- he might have come into contact potentially with his alleged killers before. He was a very well respected, very well liked young soldier, somebody whose friends said look, whenever he was around, he raised people's spirits. He had a quick humor.

The 25 years old, he had a 2-year-old son called Jack. He was from the north of England. He joined the Army in 2006. In 2009, he served in Afghanistan fire support at a small base, providing artillery support for troops in the field, and then 2011, this is where it gets perhaps interesting here, 2011, he comes here to South London and becomes a recruitment officer for the Army.

In that role, he's clearly in contact with the public more than perhaps other soldiers would be based here in London. So it does raise that possibility that could his killers, alleged killers, have identified him, met him perhaps when he had been out on recruiting drives, seen him in a recruiting office somewhere, known details about his previous service. So that's something that's getting a lot of scrutiny right now as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: Still so sickening. Nic, appreciate the update. Thank you.

Also on the terror front, some good news in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing tonight, Jane Richard, one of the youngest victims, was discharged today from Boston Children's Hospital after 39 days in the intensive care unit. She's had 12 surgeries. Jane lost her left leg below the knee.

You may remember she had started Irish dancing. We have been following her story closely. I talked to a paramedic who helped save her life. Jane's 8-year-old brother Martin was killed in the attack. Her mother was particularly injured as well.

In a statement today, the Richards said Jane has been moved to a rehab facility where she will continue her recovery. They said she is in good spirits. They also said they remain devastated of course over Martin's death. A mass will be said in his memory on June 9th, which would have been his 9th birthday. Our thoughts are with the Richards family today.

There's a lot more happening tonight. Isha is here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha. ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the Boy Scouts of America today voted to end its long-standing ban on openly gay members. More than 60 percent of delegates voted to lift the ban. The new policy takes effect on January 1st. However, the boy scouts ban on gay adult leaders still stands.

Mexican drug cartel members pleaded guilty to the murder and attempted murder of two U.S. immigration agents in Mexico. Under the deal, Julian Zapata Espinoza will avoid the death penalty. The judge also unsealed guilty pleas by three other defendants charged in the 2011 ambush.

In the upcoming issue of "Esquire" magazine, actor, Brad Pitt reveals that he may suffer from face blindness, which as the name suggest makes it hard to remember faces. He told the magazine he plans to get tested. Today, Carnegie Mellon University offered to have one of its neuroscientists do the exam.

Anderson, McDonald's is serving up a hero's reward to Charles Ramsey who helped rescue the three Cleveland women who was held hostage on his street. He was carrying a Big Mac when he came to their aid. In fact, he mentioned in interviews he gave. For the next year Ramsey will get free food from his local McDonald's. I can't wait to hear his reaction.

COOPER: Isha, thanks very much. When we come back, as I said, the last two days, we have been learning more and more about some of the people who have lost their lives here. We think it's important to tell you about them and a lot of the parents of the children in particular want you to know about their kids.

A pair of sisters, one just 7 months old, the other 4 years old, perished in this storm, ripped away from their mother as the twister hit their house. Their dad is going to join us to share his memories and talk about his kids. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. So many families here in Oklahoma were able to stay safe from the tornado because they had plans in place for the moment a twister strikes. The Vargyas family knew the danger, they practiced tornado drills, they knew to climb into the bathtub, but when this EF-5 twister took direct aim their house was no match.

The 7-month-old Sydney and 4-year-old Karinna died. Their mom and grandmother survived, but were seriously injured. They're in the hospital. Their father, Philip, and the couple's two oldest kids were not home at the time. They survived. Philip Vargyas joins us now. I'm so sorry for your loss.


COOPER: How do you -- how are you doing? How are you standing?

VARGYAS: Basically, I've got a lot of things that I have to do in order to rebuild some semblance of a normal life for my family and I think that's kind of what's driving me, kind of that mental to-do list that needs to be done. My wife and my mother-in-law were in there with my babies and I wouldn't ask them to do anything other than heal at this point.

And I know that I've got a lot of grieving to do but at the same time, there's a lot of work that needs to be done and I have to move forward with that, and my wife's been supportive through it all. She's a strong woman. I'm proud of her.

COOPER: Your 4-year-old, she wanted to be an ice skater.

VARGYAS: Yes. We took her to Disney on ice at the last state fair here in Oklahoma, and ever since she saw her favorite princesses out there skating. She wanted to go out and skate just like them. I always told my kids you have to do at least one thing outside of school and ice skating was what she wanted to do. Unfortunately, we didn't get the opportunity to take her ice skating before this happened. We'll take her one day. She'll be there next time we go.

COOPER: You will go with your wife.

VARGYAS: We know she'll be there with us and we'll enjoy it all the more knowing she's there.

COOPER: The 7-month-old Sydney was the only one of your children born here in Oklahoma.

VARGYAS: Correct. I like to call her my Okie. She was my only Oklahoma child. I was in the military. We had several in California, one in Washington. Sydney was born in Oklahoma. She was my Okie.

COOPER: She just started crawling.

VARGYAS: She crawled for the first time on Sunday.

COOPER: The day before the storm.

VARGYAS: Right. I actually made a joke saying being you're an Okie it's fitting you crawled for the first time when there was tornadoes. Unfortunately, she was taken from me on Monday, but at least we have that lasting memory. I got to see her crawl before she was taken.

COOPER: How are your other kids doing?

VARGYAS: They're doing surprisingly well. My 11-year-old son, Damon and my 8-year-old daughter, Aria, they are carrying on as if it's normal life and that's good. We discussed what has happened. I believe in full disclosure. We discussed with them what happened to their sisters.

COOPER: They're 11 and 9.

VARGYAS: Correct. No, 11 and 8. I discussed everything with them, me and my wife did. We hugged and we dealt with that and kids are resilient. As soon as that warm embrace was over and the tears had been shed, they went to terrorizing the hospital for as long as they could. I think they're doing OK.

COOPER: How's your wife? How's her condition?

VARGYAS: She's doing good. She sustained a couple lacerations, which is not bad considering what I saw at ground zero where she should have been, according to how we did our tornado drill.

COOPER: She actually was picked up by this storm.

VARGYAS: Right. And I didn't know that until yesterday morning. I had spoken with her and she finally had some clarity, we had some time to talk and she told me that after she had landed, she sat up and looked around and had seen her mom, who was in there with her, and wasn't sure if she had made it but she had started her search for our girls at that time, dazed and confused.

I had asked her you landed? And that's when it came to realization she was actually picked up by the force of the storm. I couldn't imagine what she seen. That's the reason why I'm here doing a lot of what I'm doing, so she can heal, both mentally and physically.

COOPER: Is it going to be a long recovery for her physically?

VARGYAS: Physically, she was actually released from the hospital today. She's in good condition. She's sore. Like I said, she has some lacerations but other than that, physically she's OK.

COOPER: Where do you go from here?

VARGYAS: To be honest with you, from here we're still making decisions. Believe it or not, we want to stay as close to the community we were at when this happened. My family has built a lot of roots here. And I believe that in order for my kids to successfully make it through this, we have to make the transition as seamless as possible.

The best way to do that is to keep them surrounded by the things they know most, whether it's friends, family, youth athletics and things like that, and my wife is on board with that. We actually plan on re-establishing our roots here in Moore despite the disaster.

COOPER: You had -- it was Karrina's birthday coming up?

VARGYAS: Correct. Her birthday was coming up, June 13th. She would have been 5 in two weeks or so. My grandmother actually mentioned she had her birthday present still in the closet. She was going to be mailing them out soon. It's -- there's tragedy all around. It's a bad situation.

COOPER: I'm so sorry for your loss.

VARGYAS: I appreciate that. I really do.

COOPER: Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Thank you very much. Thanks for telling us about your daughters.

It is still so unbelievable, the losses here for so many people, unthinkable. When we come back, you will meet a group of people who are here trying to make things just a little bit better. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. In times of trouble, there's really nothing like a home-cooked meal but with entire neighborhoods like the one I'm in now destroyed and destruction all around me as far as the eye can see, it's a rarity around here to get a home-cooked meal of some of the biggest names in barbecuing are actually in Moore tonight to try to deliver the next best thing. They're doing it really on an epic scale. Gary Tuchman has the story.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Let's get right to the meat of the story. Some of the country's best barbecuers have come to Moore, Oklahoma.

WILL CLEAVER, CO-FOUNDER, "OPERATION BBQ RELIEF": Barbecue is one of those things that it's a comfort food. Especially in the Midwest, primarily we want to get meals out to those that need meals.

TUCHMAN: This is "Operation Barbecue Relief," an organization of humanitarian foodies who show up at disasters to help. Will Cleaver is a co-founder and hardcore barbecue man.

CLEAVER: We've got very creative cooks. Barbecue cooks are probably some of the most creative people I have ever seen.

TUCHMAN (on camera): The idea here is to serve nutritious four ounce servings so here's what they're doing in these smokers. Inside here, 850 pounds of pork. Inside the other smoker, 650 pounds of beef. We've done the math, we've checked it twice. That's 6,000 four ounce servings. That's just for a portion of the day. They have the capacity of feeding 20,000 people.

(voice-over): Donations come from corporations and individuals to make it all possible. This weekend is expected to be the peak time for "Operation Barbecue Relief." Residents and cleanup workers started showing up as soon as the food was put out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good, very good. We're in Oklahoma, I don't know where they're from, but barbecue's kind of a thing that's standard here.

TUCHMAN: "Operation Barbecue Relief" was started in Kansas City, its first disaster, the deadly Joplin tornado two years ago. One of the volunteers, Frank Schaefer, lost his home in that tornado, but discovered "Operation Barbecue Relief" and is now part of its traveling crew.

FRANK SCHAEFER, OPERATION BBQ RELIEF: It just makes you feel like you're doing something that's going to impact people's lives.

TUCHMAN (on camera): What's the temperature?

CLEAVER: It's 182 and climbing so probably about 184, 185.

TUCHMAN: Is that what you want it to be?

CLEAVER: We'll let it go a little longer. Reason why, just because --

TUCHMAN: My eyes are tearing.

CLEAVER: I know so are mine.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Smiles and barbecue, ingredients the people in this charity are here to serve.


COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins me now. Somebody who hasn't lived through something like this may not get this story, but there is something incredibly comforting about food at a time like this. I've had barbecue, the best pulled pork sandwiches, I paid for it. I wouldn't take it from these folks, but it is something comforting. It reminds you of kind of normalcy.

TUCHMAN: Right. He pointed out it's comfort food and people who have come today to eat the food have gone through such hard times over the last few days really had big smiles on their faces when they were sitting there eating their steak and eating their pork. It was really nice to see.

COOPER: Yes. I had two pulled pork sandwiches today.

TUCHMAN: I'm impressed.

COOPER: It was very impressive. We have seen such an outpouring, people coming from different states, bringing supplies, people driving around with water, giving it away. It's really just -- it makes your heart feel good.

TUCHMAN: We covered so many tragedies over the years and each time we show up, it's so sad but we're always inspired by the people we see who volunteer to help out. It really makes you feel very proud of humanity when you see so much help.

COOPER: Gary, appreciate the reporting. Thank you very much. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. Before we go, another quick reminder how you can help the people of Moore and across the area. Go to You'll find a whole bunch of links to aid organizations that are doing good work here even as we speak. The web site is We'll be back one hour from now, another live edition of 360 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern here from Moore, Oklahoma. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.