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Oklahoma in Recovery Mode; Defending Drones In The Terror Fight; Britain Fearing Terror Attack; Tamerlan Tsarnaev Linked to 2011 Triple Murder; Oklahoma's Heroes

Aired May 23, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Recovery mode. People here in Moore, Oklahoma, sifting through the debris of where their homes once stood, and now trying to figure out just how to rebuild.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Jurors deadlocked. What will happen to Jodi Arias if jurors can't agree if she should be sentenced to life or death?

Defending drones. President Obama takes the podium today right after new information released shows Americans, Americans killed by drones overseas.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. I am here in Moore, Oklahoma, where the search for survivors is now over, and really, everything has shifted full gear into recovery mode. President Obama is coming here on Sunday. There's so much devastation to see. So many people to comfort in this tornado-ravaged town.

State insurance officials are telling us right now that claims are expected to surpass $2 billion. That's easy to see when you look at all this destruction. According to Oklahoma City's mayor, some 13,000 homes have been damaged, destroyed, or affected in some way. About 10,000 people right now left without a place to live this morning. This town now facing the daunting task of burying 24 of their own, including 10 children.

Government officials here are pushing for new laws to require safe rooms or shelters to be built in every new home in this town moving forward. But first, there's so much debris to be removed and so much rebuilding to be done. That's why I want to go to now to George Howell standing by live at Moore City Hall. George, what's the latest on the recovery effort this morning?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, you know what, they just threw the local paper out, "the more man transcript." I want to have you a take a look at here. It says, "Return to rubble. More resident venture back into the disaster zone." And really, John, that's what's happening. As you mentioned, you know, the six people who were missing, those six are now accounted for. And, it does go into that process of going into these hard-hit areas and starting the process to think about rebuilding. Keep in mind, there's a lot of debris, a lot of damage, so people can now understand that people are all accounted for, go back into those neighborhoods, look at the damage, look at the debris. Some of the homes are insured, some weren't, but at least, they can start that process -- John.

BERMAN: So, the mayor here, George, is pushing for a new law that would mandate safe rooms or some kind of shelter in every new home that's built. What are the specifics of this? Does this include schools?

HOWELL: Well, you know, there are two different proposals. First, the creation of a fund by Governor Mary Fallin, a fund to take donations to build safe rooms, safe rooms at different schools. You know, officials here believe this is a mandatory thing that just needs to happen.

And also, there is a state representative who is pushing the idea of a bond measure to basically generate money so that homes moving forward, and schools have storm shelters, specifically though, with schools, making sure that these public schools have underground storm shelters. Listen to what they both had to say.


GOV. MARY FALLIN, (R) OKLAHOMA: That's going to be up to the local school districts and the bonding capacity of the school districts themselves. But I think it's certainly wise to put in some type of storm shelter, whether it's a room that has been fortified and is being used for dual purposes as a classroom, a band room, or whatever it might be, and to put those into schools. And we actually have begun doing that over the years when we've had tornadoes that have struck schools.

SEN. TOM COBURN, (R) OKLAHOMA: Well, I think, first of all, I certainly don't think there should be a requirement of the federal law. It's none of our business. Second thing is Oklahomans aren't stupid. They'll fix this problem and they'll address it.


HOWELL: Sen. Tom Coburn there. And you know, you get the sense that Oklahomans, they are looking at what happened here. Again, we're talking about upwards of $2 billion. You know, in repairs that will have to happen. Some of the hopes insured, many of them not. Talking about a tornado that was 1.3 miles wide. It was on the ground for 40 minutes.

It went 17 miles before, you know, all the damage was done. They're looking at what happened, John, and they're looking at ways to fix it.

BERMAN: I think they are, George. They're always looking at ways to make things better, particularly, in the schools. Some of the questions of so many of the parents who lost their children in the Plaza Towers Elementary School are asking this morning. George Howell, great reporting. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

I had a chance to speak to one of these families who lost one of their precious children, nine-year-old daughter in this case in the disaster. Nine-year-old Emily Conatzer was one of the many children who died when the tornado flattened the Plaza Towers Elementary School.


BERMAN: How did you find out about Emily?

CHRISTOPHER CONATZER, DAUGHTER KILLED BY TORNADO: Well, we knew when we couldn't find her. At all. She wasn't -- any of the kids that got pulled out and we waited until two o'clock in the morning and that's when they told us that she could possibly be a child that's -- that's dead.


BERMAN: I talked to these parents. They're simply brokenhearted. I spoke to them right after they spent the day planning the funeral of their nine-year-old daughter. You can hear my entire interview at the Conatzers coming up at 8:00 Eastern time on "STARTING POINT". And our hearts go out to that family right now. And they showed such strength. And they just adored, adored that little girl. And when I was finished talking with them, Christine, I really wish I had a chance to meet her

ROMANS: Oh, John. All right. I look forward to seeing that interview. And of course, our hearts go out to them. Thank you, John.

Defending drones. President Obama delivering a major speech today on terror policy and the future of drones. It comes one day after the administration said four Americans, Americans, had been killed in drone strikes overseas since 2009. Many of those details had been classified. More now from CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hours before President Obama delivers a major national security speech, his administration is now acknowledging that the U.S. killed four Americans in drone strikes. The government admitted to the killings in a letter Wednesday to Congress.

Of the four, only Anwar al-Awlaki was actually targeted in September 2011 in Yemen. The others were in the wrong place at the wrong time. American drones have aggressively chase terrorist from the mountains of Pakistan to the desert of Yemen. High-tech warfare consistently defended by the Obama administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To stop plots, prevent future attacks, and to save American lives. LOTHIAN: In his "State of the Union" address, President Obama laid out a broad legal justification for this use of deadly force.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable, legal, and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts.

LOTHIAN: And the attorney general's letter also reveals this week the president approved new standards for reviewing and approving missions to capture or kill terrorists. In his speech later today at the National Defense University, aides say the president will build on his "State of the Union" message, including providing more transparency on how terrorists are targeted and making the case that al Qaeda is weakened, but new dangers have emerged.

PETER SINGER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The longer that this program has gone on, the more controversial its become, whether it's the concerns over civilian casualties, the blowback on American reputation.

LOTHIAN: All things the president said he wrestles with in an interview last summer with CNNs Jessica Yellin.

OBAMA: That's something that you have to struggle with.

LOTHIAN: Another flashpoint that the president will address, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Mr. Obama's first pledge when he took office in 2009 was to close the facility, but after insurmountable legal hurdles, it remains open.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, it is the president's view that we should be determined as he is to see the Guantanamo Bay Detentions Facility close. Keeping it open is not efficient, it's not effective, and it's not an interest of our national security.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: There's a new development this morning in the case of the letters tainted with the poison ricin. The FBI arresting 37-year-old Matthew Buquet (ph) in Seattle after a pair of letters containing ricin was intercepted in Washington State. The indictment accuses Buquet of mailing a dead threat to a federal district judge. Buquet has pleaded not guilty.

Still ahead, deadlocked. Why the jury in the Jodi Arias trial seems to be having such a hard time deciding whether she should get life or death? We're back after this.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Forty-two minutes after the hour. Developing this morning, the search is on right now for a missing child after a fourth grade trip, a field trip turned tragic after a gravel slide caused by heavy rain. Search teams in St. Paul, Minnesota, will be out with rescue dogs this morning looking for the missing child. Another child killed in that slide, two others hurt. We're told the ground beneath the kids simply gave out.

Britain fearing a terror attack this morning after a bizarre and gruesome killing. One possible suspect saying it was to avenge the deaths of Muslims.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.


ROMANS: The victim believed to be a soldier was run over then hacked to death. Police this morning back at the scene, looking for evidence. The suspects were shot and they are now under guard in the hospital at this hour. Britain has tightened security and put riot police in the streets.

Dead Boston bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, has been linked to a gruesome 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts. A law enforcement source says Ibrahim Todashev (ph) confessed to slashing those victims' throats and claimed that his friend, Tsarnaev, also participated in those murders. Todashev is from Chechnya. He was killed early Wednesday in Orlando during a confrontation with an FBI agent and Massachusetts State Police.

In just a few hours, the Jodi Arias' jury goes back to work, trying to break through a deadlock over whether the convicted killer should get life or she should get death. The jurors who earlier decided Arias was eligible for the death penalty have so far been unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the sentence. Here's CNN's Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Travis Alexander's family broke down in tears Wednesday when jurors announced they were having trouble deciding if Jodi Arias should live or die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, I have received your note indicating that you are unable to come to a unanimous decision.

ROWLANDS: Jurors had been deliberating for less than three hours when they sent a note asking what they should do if they couldn't agree. The judge told them to go back and keep trying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am merely trying to be responsive to your apparent need for help.

ROWLANDS: If jurors can't agree on what to do, Arizona law dictates that a new jury be brought in, which could extend the almost five months long televise trial that's been ratings gold for networks and stations across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was Jodi Arias a battered woman? ROWLANDS: The media's obsession with Jodi Arias has been fuelled in part by Arias, herself, starting five years ago when she held this news conference from jail proclaiming her innocence

JODI ARIAS, CONVICTED KILLER: Nothing to do with it.

ROWLANDS: Since then, Arias has continued to do interviews and while her story has changed over the years, her willingness to talk about it hasn't, which she was asked about this week by Phoenix television station, KSAZ.

ARIAS: Why are you talking to me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we're interested in what you have to say.

ARIAS: What I've decided to do at this point is utilize the mouthpiece that I have, so to speak, to bring awareness to domestic violence.

ROWLANDS: Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has come under fire for allowing Arias to talk so freely from jail. He tweeted this response saying, "Some of you are mad about the Jodi Arias interviews, please understand, we can't step on her first amendment rights. We allowed them, and now, no more."

He also added, "We did not buy Jody makeup, we wouldn't do that, the media provided it to her."

(on-camera) After the judge told them to keep going, the jury continued to deliberate for the rest of the day without reaching a verdict. They'll be back at it at 10 o'clock pacific time.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Phoenix.


ROMANS: All right. Forty-six minutes after the hour. The storm system that spawned the Oklahoma tornado has moved to the east now. Meteorologist, Indra Petersons, is following the system for us. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. Yes. This has been one of these really tough, slow-moving systems that same low, the one that produced all that severe weather in Oklahoma and across the plains. Each day has been progressing off to the east producing severe weather with it. Today's absolutely no exception. We're going to continue to see more severe weather now progress into the northeast.

So, with that, here's where your severe outlook is today. It's a slight risk. Most likely in the northeast, we're just talking about some strong straight-line winds. The potential for large thunderstorms and even large hail is out there. But, another risk area now is back in the forecast, this time, the panhandle for Texas.

And with that, we're going to be looking for some intense showers today and even here some isolated threats of tornadoes. So, definitely another day to stay vigilant out there. Speaking of that, what we are going to be talking about today is more showers in the recovery area of Moore. So, thunderstorms, even some lightning, a couple of cells developing and moving into the area, and unfortunately, it looks like straight through the holiday weekend.

It's going to be very hard for this to let up. We're going to be talking about showers throughout the entire weekend. Temperatures generally warm. We're looking at some 70s, 60s overnight, even some 80s.

But either way, with some thunderstorms out, we're talking about debris flowing around with some stronger winds, and of course, even still the rain out there. So, definitely a tough day. Christine, hopefully, things look better for them in the near future.

ROMANS: Hopefully, hopefully. Thanks, Indra.

All right. Coming up next, we're going to take you inside the Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, at the very moment the tornado hit. The incredible images coming up.


BERMAN: Back with you now from Moore, Oklahoma, this morning. You know, as you can see all around me, it's a town that has suffered so much damage, so much devastation. But it is also a town this morning taking pride, taking pride, really, in all of its heroes and there are so many, specifically, the teachers who helped protect and comfort students as this deadly tornado barreled through.

Our Brian Todd had a chance to talk to one of these heroes.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's the sound of the terrifying moments when the tornado hit. Lynne Breton and Jessica Orr are still shaken. Their voices still quiver when they talk about it. Monday afternoon, when this massive tornado struck, they huddled with 25 kids inside a bathroom at Briarwood Elementary School. Breton says she covered two kids with her body and kept thinking --

LYNNE BRETON, TEACHER, BRIARWOOD ELEM. SCHOOL: Don't let me die. Just let me get these babies out of here.

TODD: As the roof was torn off and the ceiling caved in on the bathroom, listen to the audio recording on Breton's cell phone of horrified kids. Breton trying to reassure them.


BRETON: You're OK! You're OK! You're OK. We're OK. We're OK.

I didn't know what to tell them. I just kept telling them, we're OK. My mind, I was praying. JESSICA ORR, TEACHER, BRIARWOOD ELEM. SCHOOL: Just, Father, just protect us. For angels (ph) in between us and the tornado, I know you're stronger than this tornado. And some of the kids were praying. The teachers were praying. And I looked Ms. Breton in the eye and we could hear a roar.

TODD: Breton teaches sixth grade at Briarwood. Orr teaches fifth grade. The kids they were protecting, ten or 11 years old.

(on-camera) Lynne Bretton says the most intense part of the experience when the tornado was at its strongest and grinding their school apart played out over the course of only about ten minutes. Afterward, this is what was left of Briarwood Elementary School.

(voice-over) At one point, one of the kids shouted at Breton, "I love you."


BRETON: Oh, I love you, too! We're OK. We're OK!


TODD: Everyone survived. The teachers say no one was hurt.

ORR: In the sound, you could hear it just start to go away and I thought, we made it. We made it. Thank you, God.

TODD: Lynn Bretton said the advice she'd give to teachers for a situation like that count your kids, know who you have, and stay calm. Although, she says that's next to impossible.

Brian Todd, CNN, Moore, Oklahoma.


BERMAN: So many heroes. What an unbelievable story that is. There are also so many tragedies here and families here coping with simply unimaginable grieve. Jherri Bhonde story is particularly wrenching. She is hospitalized this morning coming to grips with the death of her husband. She tells CNNs Anderson Cooper they were actually holding on to one another in a bathroom in their home when the twister came bearing down on them.


JHERRI BHONDE, HUSBAND KILLED BY TORNADO: I felt like I was in a blender.


BHONDE: That's the best way to describe it. The wall just kind of came down on me and kind of swirled. And I held on to my husband as long as I could. And he just flew into space.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You felt him pulling away? BHONDE: Yes. And I don't know where he went.

COOPER: Were you speaking to each other during the storm?


COOPER: What were you saying?

BHONDE: Well, we -- he was telling me how much he loved me. And I said, I love you. And, the whole house just went.

COOPER: The whole house all around you?

BHONDE: It's gone.


BERMAN: So tragic. There's obviously so much need here. We want to remind you, if you want to help the victims here in Oklahoma, there's a great way to do it. Go to We have all sorts of advice, all sorts of ways for you to contribute and to participate here in this rebuilding.

And Christine, I can tell you, just driving around here, some really interesting, wonderful, uplifting visions, armadas of people walking down the sidewalks with rakes and plastic bags, picking up the debris everywhere you look, everyone here pitching in to get this town back up on its feet.

ROMANS: I heard yesterday a guy say, look, we're Okies. We fix things. We're going to fix this. Nice to see. All right. Thanks, John.

Coming up, local Cleveland hero and burger lover, Charles Ramsey, getting a super-sized reward for his help rescuing three kidnapped women. I've got those details next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. Trending online this morning, Cleveland saying thank you to local hero, Charles Ramsey, who helped rescue Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus and Michelle Knight from nearly ten years in captivity. About a dozen Cleveland area restaurants have partnered to give Ramsey free burgers for life.

All he'll have to do is flash his very own chuck card. Ramsey, you recall, was said he was eating his McDonald's when he saw Berry running from the home of Ariel Castro, quote, "going nuts."

To check out other top CNN trends, head to

Special edition of EARLY START live from Moore, Oklahoma continues right now.