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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Wicked Weather Nationwide; President Obama in Oklahoma; Memorial Day in Washington; Hitting the Reset Button; Abusive Coach Allegations
Aired May 27, 2013 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Our STARTING POINT this morning, Memorial Day today. We remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States armed forces. Today, we honor the ultimate sacrifice.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And many Americans also see Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. The folks in Vermont may not exactly be firing up the barbecue and heading to the pool this morning. Why? Snow. Snow in Vermont. And more than two feet in New York. We're going to track this extreme weather.
ROMANS: And history seems to be repeating itself at Rutgers University as another scandal hits that school. We'll explain why some are alleging the school is continuing a cycle of abuse.
BERMAN: Plus, one woman's labor and delivery story that begins and ends at the hospital doorstep. No further. Her incredible story with pictures this hour.
ROMANS: Wow. Oh, boy. Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.
BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Welcome to STARTING POINT It is Monday, May 27th. It is Memorial Day.
And, we have dangerous and deadly weather --
Great to see you this morning, everyone. We have dangerous and deadly weather slamming much of the country this holiday weekend. In Texas at least three people died in historic flash floods that inundated the San Antonio area. And Texas was not alone in this. More floods in the Central Plains, and in the northeast, a pair of late spring snowstorms.
CNN's Indra Peterson is following all of this for us this morning. What the heck is going on here?
INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. When I was talking about this on Friday, everyone was like no, what are you talking about? See? That's what we're talking about. Hard to believe it's May.
Let me show you if you missed it what happened this weekend.
PETERSON (voice-over): The unofficial start of summer looking nothing like it's supposed to. Torrential rain and historic flooding blamed for at least three deaths in the San Antonio area. The body of an 18- year-old missing since Saturday was recovered from floodwaters on Sunday night.
DAVID HARRIS, SCHERTZ EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SUPPORT: Whether it's the floods of '98, 2002 or again this year in 2013, powerful force of water comes down that creek, and it takes out homes, disrupts lives, in this case, took a life of a young man.
PETERSONS: Drivers had to be rescued from floodwaters. Submerged in more than nine inches of rain that fell in less than seven hours. Even this bus was no match for flooded roads. Riders escaped the bus through the hatch in the roof. Drenching rains and flooding washed away any outdoor plans in the Central Plains. In Iowa, residents breaking out their shovels, instead of their grill, to make sandbags to protect from rising waters.
The final week of May looking more like a winter wonderland in parts of the northeast. The Memorial Day weekend storm brought chilly temps and dumped nearly three feet of snow on a New York ski mountain in the Adirondacks. And in Stow, Vermont, more than a foot of snow recorded on Sunday. The latest in the season it's ever had that much snow.
PETERSONS: Cold just looking at that. Now today we're still looking for that soggy weather especially on the Midwest. Heavy thunderstorms, if you notice all the instability, currently right around Des Moines. Think about half an inch, an inch of rain still possible in the forecast late and strong winds with that, as well. But in the northeast, and kind of like that soggy weekend today finally warming up.
Look at these temperatures, Vermont warm up 30 degrees in comparison to yesterday where they had that snow. And New York will be about 10 degrees warmer so Washington looking at some 70s today. Gorgeous. No longer is everyone going to be walking around with scarves and boots and even umbrellas. Much better day for you out there. Texas also going to be drying out. Seeing a lot more sunshine.
Unfortunately still a slight risk is out there. About 10 million of you today. Anywhere from Dakotas all the way through Texas, and even through Illinois, are going to be looking for the threat. Not really for tornadoes. That's pretty minimal. Of course we can't rule it out. But really just those heavier thunderstorms and of course some large hail in the forecast.
But again you guys, it looks like by Wednesday the threat for severe weather still back in the forecast. Looking for potential for even another tornado outbreak for the middle of the country this week.
BERMAN: Several more days of stress out there to be sure.
All right. Indra, thank you so much.
This just in to CNN, fire on board a cruise ship. This one on a Royal Caribbean vessel called Grandeur of the Seas, it's headed to Coco Bay in the Bahamas. The company saying the fire is out. They say there are no reports of injuries to passengers or crew. We also understand the ship is in calm seas right now and running with full power.
ROMANS: "You are not alone." President Obama delivering that message to the people of Moore, Oklahoma, after getting a firsthand look at the tornado devastation. Last night during his emotional -- an emotional memorial the president sent a message of his own. "We are down but we are not out."
Here's Nick Valencia.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thousands gathered at the First Baptist Church in Moore Sunday night to remember the 24 lives lost. Including 10 young children. Last Monday's tornado was the strongest and deadliest to strike Oklahoma in years.
GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: Our spirits have been shaken this week. Our hearts have been broken. But our resolve is strong. And we will rise again.
VALENCIA: President Obama saw the devastation left by the powerful tornado.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously the damage here is pretty hard to comprehend. Our hearts go out to the families who've been impacted. Including those who've had loved ones who were lost.
VALENCIA: The president offered solace and aid to those hard-hit by the tornado.
OBAMA: It's going to take a long time for this community to rebuild. So I want to urge every American to step up.
VALENCIA: This weekend, the parents of Bethany Pate joined her at what was once her house. The cleanup has just begun.
BETHANY PATE, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Now we're just kind of getting real and starting to clean up. Starting to take the next steps.
VALENCIA: Bit by bit, piece by piece, the residents of Moore, Shawnee, and other cities impacted by the recent outbreak of tornadoes, are beginning to put their lives back together. And they're not doing it alone. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin offered her help to residents of this Moore neighborhood.
FALLIN: For those that are just overwhelmed and it's just too much to do, get their personal belongings out, and then we'll come in and then we'll take care of it as a state.
VALENCIA: A bittersweet yet familiar sound of pomp and circumstance provided a needed respite from the devastation as seniors from three area high schools graduated.
SAWYER TUMBLSON, HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE: I mean, it kind of seems we're ending our senior year like this but then again it brings us all a lot closer and more together. So I mean, that's always a good thing, too.
VALENCIA: It's a closeness that will bring renewal to a community ravaged by the storm and provide them the courage to rebuild.
VALENCIA: And you see behind me, Christine, this devastation stretches block after block, mile after mile. The good thing is that since we've gotten here, since the start of the tornado, things have gotten better. But the governor told me yesterday that it could take weeks, if not months, for things to get back to normal -- Christine.
ROMANS: All right, Nick Valencia. Thank you, Nick.
BERMAN: Today, President Obama will mark Memorial Day by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. That will be followed by a remembrance ceremony at Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater.
Let's go now to CNN's Barbara Starr. She's standing by at Section City -- sorry, Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. Section 60 is where service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest.
Good morning, Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, it is a beautiful still morning here at Arlington. The cemetery doesn't actually open to the public on this Memorial Day for another hour.
This is Section 60 some of the most hallowed ground in the country. This is where so many nearly 1,000 of those who served and fell on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.
And I just want to show you what we will see throughout the day. An example of battle buddies coming, visiting their friends, leaving memories that we can't really imagine what this may represent. But it is friends remembering friends.
What we will see throughout the day here at Section 60 are family members, relatives, friends, other members of the United States Military, and of course the president coming here to Section 60 to pay respects to those who have fallen.
Arlington, of course, a remarkable place in the nation's history, nearly 300,000, 300,000 of the nation's veterans buried here. And as you look back up the hills of Arlington, these are those who have served in Vietnam, Korea, World War II. This is a cemetery that dates all the way back, of course, to the civil war.
But this area here today, Section 60, very special. Everyone will come here to pay their respects to those who have fallen, and we will see this, of course, across the country, in cemeteries, parades and Memorial Day remembrances -- John.
BERMAN: Barbara Starr in Arlington National Cemetery standing amongst the heroes there on this day to remember the sacrifice of so many.
ROMANS: All right. It's been a rough couple of weeks for President Obama. He's been dealing with the IRS targeting controversy but it's not the only problem he's facing.
CNN's Dan Lothian live this morning for us at the White House with more.
Good morning, Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. You know, the president would much rather be talking about his accomplishments, how he ended the war in -- or winding down the war in Afghanistan, ended the war in Iraq, how he got Osama bin Laden. He likes to highlight how he believes the economy is a much better place under his watch.
But there are some big domestic and foreign policy challenges that remain, even as the president tries to move beyond the scandals.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): After weeks of dealing with scandals, the president is struggling to reset his agenda. And with Congress off this week, he has a chance to do so. But even as he tries to limit damage from the IRS uproar, Republicans are demanding a broader investigation.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's clearly an organized effort within the IRS to target political opponents of the president. That's undeniable. How does such a culture come about? How vast was it? Who was involved? This really does call for a special counsel.
LOTHIAN: The president wants his attorney general to review whether his own Justice Department has gone too far pursuing those leak investigations targeting reporters.
OBAMA: And I've raised these issues with the attorney general who shares my concerns.
LOTHIAN: But Republicans are pressing for a special counsel for that, as well. Noting Eric Holder was involved in seeking a search warrant against FOX reporter James Rosen.
SE. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: You cannot investigate yourself, and I think it's a total conflict of interest. OBAMA: We have to be determined to stop these problems.
LOTHIAN: Mr. Obama is also dealing with a sexual assault scandal in the military, giving Republicans a new line of attack.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the constellation of these three scandals ongoing really takes away from the president's moral authority to lead the nation. Nobody questions his legal authority. But I think he's really losing the moral authority to lead this nation.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: It passes.
LOTHIAN: Immigration reform, a top priority for the president, is headed to the Senate floor after winning committee approval. But it's not clear there are 60 votes to stop a Republican filibuster. And his new push to close the Guantanamo facility is facing stiff opposition on Capitol Hill.
OBAMA: I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo.
LOTHIAN: Of course there's also Syria on the global front. The president under pressure to get more involved there. So you see him trying to strike this balance with those big domestic and foreign policy issues. At the same time the president in that role as consoler-in-chief. You saw him yesterday in Oklahoma touring the devastation there. Tomorrow he heads to New Jersey to take a look firsthand on how the recovery efforts are going there seven months after Hurricane Sandy -- Christine.
ROMANS: All right. Very, very busy agenda. No question. Dan Lothian -- thanks, Dan.
BERMAN: Eleven minutes after the hour right now. Ahead on STARTING POINT, another controversy hitting Rutgers University. The person hired to clean up the alleged abuse caused by the former basketball coach there, the one supposed to clean it up, is now embroiled in her own abuse allegations. We're going to examine what's going on at Rutgers and why people are calling for more heads to roll.
You're watching STARTING POINT.
BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Developing this morning so the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers red in the face again. Rutgers University engulfed in another fire storm over its athletic program. It turns out the school's new athletic director, the hired to clean up this scandal-starved program may have been guilty of the same type of abuses that got the Rutgers Men's head basketball coach fired in the first place.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN (voice-over): Rutgers University faced tough criticism in the days after a video surfaced of its head basketball coach being abusive towards players.
MIKE RICE, FORMER COACH: You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fairy. You're a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
BERMAN: The video captured former coach Mike Rice's aggressive behavior, hurling basketballs at players and yelling homophobic slurs. The university fired Rice after a public outcry and the athletic director was also forced to resign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was deeply disturbed by the behavior the video revealed.
BERMAN: This time the university's president will have to answer to Governor Chris Christie, after reports surfaced that the new athletic director, hired to turn the university's image around, is herself accused of being an abusive coach. The governor's spokesperson said in a statement he's not going to be making any judgments at this time but he expects to be talking with the Rutgers administration this week to get the details.
It has emerged that back in 1996 all 15 members of Julie Hermann's volleyball team at the University of Tennessee wrote her a letter. The players wrote, in part, "The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable. We have been lied to, publicly humiliated, and ripped apart as both players and people." They said the coach had called them whores, alcoholics and learning disabled.
One of the players provided "The Star Ledger" with a copy of the letter. The paper says Hermann responded, quote, "I never heard any of this. Never name calling them or anything like that whatsoever. Hermann has promised she will bring a new era to Rutgers.
JULIE HERMANN, ATHLETICS DIRECTOR FOR RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: It is a new day. It is already fixed. And there's no one that doesn't agree about how we treat young people with respect and dignity and build trust.
BERMAN: But at that news conference, Hermann was asked about a jury award of $150,000 to former assistant coach Ginger Heinline back in 1997. Heinline claimed she was fired because she was pregnant. In 1994, Hermann was a bridesmaid at her wedding and in the video the coach said this about her becoming pregnant.
HERSMANN: I hope it's good tonight. I hope it's not too good because I don't want you to come back in February with any surprises, you know. The office and all, and it'd be hard to have a baby in there.
BERMAN: Hermann responded.
HERSMANN: There's a video? I'm sorry, you said there's a video? There's no video, trust me.
BERMAN: Hermann is even seen here catching the bouquet. The university says its attorneys had investigated that case before Hermann was appointed. But as it prepares for the Big 10, Rutgers has another big headache.
BERMAN: Big headache, indeed. And Kim (INAUDIBLE) played volleyball under Julie Hermann for two years at the University of Tennessee. She's a member of the team that wrote the letter to Hermann in 1997 and recently gave it to "The Star Ledger" in Newark and Kim joins us now from savannah, Georgia.
Thank you so much for being with us, Kim. I really appreciate it.
KIM OBIALA, FORMER UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE VOLLEY PLAYER: No problem.
BERMAN: So I don't think I've ever seen a letter quite like that written by all the members of a team before to the athletic department and coach complaining about this coach. The Newark "Star Ledger" has a description of a very dramatic confrontation where you're face to face laying out the complaints about this coach. What led you to that point?
OBIALA: I think once it went off the court, and became a personal attack on us, we all came together and felt it was -- it was time to take a stand, and it was no longer about volleyball. Because as athletes we put up with the physical thing. We can do the push-ups. We can do the suicides. That's not a problem. But when it started mentally attacking us and affecting us in that way, we decided that it was time to take a stand, and come together as a team and it was great that all of us came together. It was just -- it was a moment that we had waited on.
BERMAN: As a big-time college athlete, as someone who's played sports your whole life, you no doubt have come in contact with all kinds of coaches. And a lot of people wonder where is the line between a tough coach, just someone who is, you know, as tough as nails, and someone who is inappropriate? Is it easy to draw that line somewhere?
OBIALA: Absolutely. You have to keep it on the court. Once you attack someone's outside the court where you're attacking their personality, who they are as a person, that's where you've crossed the line. I mean, there's no reason for that, and I've definitely had some tough coaches that have pushed me beyond my physical limits, but this was more mental and psychological.
BERMAN: So the big question then is, Kim, you see that Julie Hermann is hired to clean up Rutgers University after the scandal there with their men's basketball coach. You see that she's brought in. This woman that you complained about years ago brought in to clean up that program. What was your first reaction when you heard that?
OBIALA: I think my first reaction was like, hey, isn't that ironic of all the people that they can hire, you know, someone who's actually done that kind of thing, to me, you know, and to others, but, I mean, over the years she might have changed and learned her lesson. So back then she was a similar coach. BERMAN: Has she ever apologized to you over all these years?
OBIALA: No. And I think we -- we've moved on from it. Once the lady vol department acknowledged our letter and gave us the opportunity to speak to her, and she chose not to coach for us anymore, we all accepted it, and that we said our piece. We've moved on, we're moms, we're career women, and we're happy.
BERMAN: I don't know if you've had a chance to talk to some of your former teammates since this news at Rutgers, since she's been hired to run the Athletic Department at Rutgers but what do you all want to see now? Do you want her to stay on at Rutgers? Would you like to see the university now say that she's not the right person to head their athletic department?
OBIALA: No. I mean, we have all discussed, you know, what happened in the past, and it wasn't about any kind of, you know, causing any drama. We were just asked a question, you know, how was Julie as a coach? And that's -- we told the truth. It was nothing more than that. We were just telling our side of the story, we weren't trying to cause any waves, honestly I don't think any of us expected it to get to this point.
You know, hopefully at this point Julie's changed and she's realized what a program needs, but, it -- we -- we've moved on and we're very happy in our lives.
BERMAN: Quick last question, do you know if anyone at Rutgers contacted you --
BERMAN: -- or anyone else on your team in Tennessee before hiring Julie?
OBIALA: As far as I know from the teammates I've talked to, no.
BERMAN: Interesting. All right, Kim Obiala, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate your time this morning.
OBIALA: No problem. Thank you.
ROMANS: Just some remarkable, the whole team, the whole volleyball squad, all got together, and wrote that letter, presented it to the university, and after that Julie Hermann went into administration. That was the end of the coaching day.
BERMAN: What's really remarkable is that Rutgers didn't ask any questions about it apparently when they hired her to be the athletic director now given everything that's happened there.
ROMANS: All right. Ahead on starting point, police foil an alleged bomb plot of an Oregon high school. The suspect, a junior who was reportedly building his bombs in his own home, and planning a Columbine-style attack. We've got the frightening details. BERMAN: And a death row inmate convicted of killing her 4-year-old child may soon be a free woman. The details behind death row Debbie's bizarre case.
You're watching STARTING POINT.
BERMAN: Police in Kentucky are calling the shooting death of a fellow officer a premeditated act. Officer Jason Ellis was shot multiple times Saturday as he stopped to pick up road debris. According to police the debris was placed there intentionally like a piece of bait, they say. The police are not sure whether Officer Ellis was the intended target or whether the shooter acted alone. They vow not to rest until those responsible are in custody.
ROMANS: Police in Oregon say a 17-year-old was planning a school massacre deadlier than Columbine. Grant Acord is accused of making bombs for an attack on his own school. Police say they got a tip, they found bombs in a secret compartment under the floor in his bedroom. Police will search the school before students return tomorrow. CNN trying to reach the teen's attorney for comment.
BERMAN: Secretary of State John Kerry is teaming up with his Russian counterpart to bring the Syrian government and opposition leaders to the bargaining table. Kerry meets tonight in Paris with Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Both the Syrian government and the opposition have expressed interest in peace talks set for next month in Geneva. But opposition leaders have not yet confirmed that they will actually attend.
ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, she's been sitting on death row for 23 years accused of killing her own son. But could the woman known as death row Debbie soon walk? We're going to speak with her attorney.
You're watching STARTING POINT.