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19 Firefighters Dead in Arizona; Child Snatched from Mother's Shopping Cart; U.S., U.K. Issue Travel Warnings to Egypt; Tragic Cirque du Soleil Accident; J.Lo's Controversial "Happy Birthday"

Aired July 1, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Deadly fire fight, 19 firefighters killed -- 19 -- battling an Arizona wildfire. This morning, the flames still out of control. We are live on the scene.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A child snatched from her mothers shopping cart, then held at knife point as this plays out on surveillance video.

BERMAN: Tragedy in front of a live audience. A Cirque du Soleil performer plummets to her death. And this morning, the big question: how on earth did this happen?

ROMANS: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. We'd like to welcome our viewers watching us on CNN International, all around the world, as well as here in the U.S. Thirty minutes after the hour right now.

ROMANS: Let's begin with breaking news this morning. Tragedy on the fire lines in Arizona. Nineteen members of an elite firefighting crew killed, battling an out of control blaze that exploded near Phoenix. The Yarnell Hill fire has now grown more than 6,000 acres, destroying dozens of structures, forcing hundreds of evacuations. Fire officials believe the fast spreading blaze was started by a lightning strike.

CNN's Kyung Lah is live on the phone for us near Prescott, Arizona. Kyung, what can you tell us about this elite crew, 19 firefighters, caught, trapped, and killed. What can you tell us about what happened?

VOICE OF KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I can tell you is that this was something that simply overtook this squad. This is an elite squad. They're called the hot shots. There are multiple squads like this across the country. This is a squad that is based here in Prescott. Prescott is their home. What they were doing is trying to get close to the fire. That's what hot shot crews do.

They get up. They get right next to the fire to try to create a barrier in order to stop it, to save home, to save lives. Here's what the fire chief told reporters a short time ago.


DAN FRAIJO, FIRE CHIEF OF PRESCOTT, AZ: The families are in terrible shock. Fire departments are like families, and so the entire fire department, the entire area, the entire state is being devastated by the magnitude of this incident.


LAH: And the reason why they feel that so fiercely is because these are the best of the best. They are trained to do this. They're the ones you send off and you expect them to come back. One other thing, Christine, is that we have heard that they deployed their fire shelters, that they were found underneath their individual fire shelters. Firefighters carry the shelters. The reason they deploy them is because they fear that the fire is about to overtake them.

They were deployed and they just didn't make it. We have also heard from the incident commander saying, the incident commander out here saying that, basically, what they were going through throughout the night, this is an incredible monsoon wind conditions with an area that is not burned in 40 years. Extremely tough conditions and very, very tough for firefighters, Christine.

ROMANS: Every one of the worst ingredients for a deadly fire. Every one of those ingredients there right now, in that Prescott fire. This -- it seems to be exploding in size and intensity. What's happening now in terms of fighting this fire?

LAH: What they're trying to do is, you know, the words of the incident (ph) commander is now try to make sure that their firefighters are really paying attention to the conditions. That people are paying attention to the conditions because they are simply deadly out here. They want to make sure, in the words of the incident commander, that every single person does come home.

They're still trying to build a containment line. They try to build a circle around it. Fire crews are still out here and they're going to be fighting this fire because that's what firefighters do.

ROMANS: And they're grieving at the same time. And I can tell you overnight as we've been reaching out and talking to officials there, all of them are so shaken by what's happened. Real hard to try to do this job. They are do this job at the same you've lost 19 firefighters, the worst loss of life in fire fighting since September 11, 2001. Kyung Lah, thank you so much. So sad, John.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, Christine, President Obama issued a statement about the death calling the firefighters heroes who selflessly put themselves in harm's way for people they'll never meet. The president said, "Michelle and I join all Americans in sending our thoughts and prayers to families of these brave firefighters and all whose lives have been up en ended by this terrible, terrible tragedy."

The extreme heat, as we've been saying, no friend to firefighters. It is adding to the deadly conditions there. The heat wave that's gripping much to the west and southwest expected to last until midweek.


BERMAN: Las Vegas hit a record 117 degrees Sunday. It reached 119 in Phoenix over the weekend. That's the highest temperature in 20 years.

ROMANS: And the Death Valley, California, one of the hottest places on Earth, hit 128 degrees for a second straight day Sunday. They could sure use some of this water out west, right? Look at this water. In North Carolina, emergency responders had to rescue people from flooded out cars. Nearly half that state right now under a flash flood watch. Some areas could get another four inches of rain in the next day or so.

BERMAN: So, floods there and that extreme deadly heat out west. Indra Petersons with us right now, tracking all this extreme weather.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. And everyone wishes they could flip-flop at this point, and it's kind of confusing to people. What it is of these two huge domes of high pressure, which you're actually watching are these domes kind of blocking out the weather that's trying to move in and as long as the pattern stays, unfortunately, we're going to be dealing with these two patterns, one being the heat out west and the rain out on the east coast.

So, dome of high pressure really means sinking air. So, that stagnant, high heat. We're looking at low humidity and drought conditions. So all that the fueling to the fire danger. And temperatures well above normal. This isn't a typical high pressure. The huge dome of high pressure really meaning these temperatures are record breaking. It doesn't look like relief for the next several days.

Not until the end of the week are we going to be looking at relief as far as those temperatures. Out on the east coast, we've been talking about heavy rain. I mean, records for the amount of rain for the month of June. Easy to see. Well over ten inches all up and down the eastern sea board for the same reason.

Same thing that dome of high pressure continue to pull in all the moisture up and down the east coast. So, all the front that means flooding threats continue. Again, it looks like for the next several days, more rain expected on the east coast as well.

BERMAN: All right, Indra. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right. The thought of this next story, this will terrify any parent. You're shopping at the local supermarket when your child is snatched right out of your shopping cart, right out. And it all plays out in dramatic surveillance video. As Pamela Brown reports, it unfolded in the middle of the day at an Oklahoma City Wal-Mart.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Store surveillance shows a mom wearing a white shirt shopping with her two daughters. Seconds later, while the mother's back has turned, this stranger reaches in and grabs her two-year-old little girl from the shopping cart. Her stunned 12-year-old sister watches in horror.

The man, Sammy Wallace (ph), hands his cell phone to the girl's mother and demands she call a police officer he knows in Dallas, Texas, all while holding a knife to the little girl's stomach, according to police. Frightened shoppers frantically call 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took this woman's kid and we need a police here immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's someone with a knife holding a little girl hostage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could see the knife, you could see the baby, you could see the momma.

BROWN: Terry Parker (ph), a local pastor, watched the dramatic scene unfold and heroically blocked Wallace with his cart until police arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that gentlemen was to come my direction, he had to go through me or our cart to do that.

BROWN: Moments later, S.W.A.T. teams evacuated the building and two police officers begin to negotiate, but it's not working. Police say Wallace was not responding coherently, that he was acting unstable and making unreasonable demands. Afraid for the child's safety, they moved the mother and her older daughter to the front of the store.

Wallace starts counting down from 60, threatening to harm the child, moving the knife towards the little girl's neck as she starts to squirm. Then, while one negotiator distracts Wallace, another goes up and shoots him point-blank.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knew, if he was going to take the shot, he had one chance. He made sure he was at point-blank range so that there was no ability to harm that child.

BROWN: Pamela Brown, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: Wow! What a story.

All right. In Washington, the focus is now on the House of Representatives as it considers an immigration reform bill pass by the Senate. Lawmakers are back home for the July 4th holiday, but House Republicans plan a closed door meeting next week to discuss the way forward on this. Speaker John Boehner has said he won't call for a vote, unless the majority of Republicans can support it.

And at least one top ranking GOP representative has said they plan to write their own version of the bill. The Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, though, predicts the reform plan which would legalize the millions of undocumented workers and boost border security will pass both Houses by the end of the year.

BERMAN: So, huge news overseas. Both the U.S. and Great Britain now issuing travel warnings against travel to Egypt. This comes amid violent anti-government protest in Cairo and across the country. Huge, huge protest. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated on the first anniversary of Mohamed Morsi's inauguration as Egypt's first Democratically-elected president.

Officials say at least three people were killed, 174 injured in clashes on Sunday. The protesters now giving Morsi until tomorrow to step down or they say they will begin a campaign of civil disobedience, but a defiant Morsi says he's staying in office. And protesters storm the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. This is an extremely tense situation there.

ROMANS: In Brazil, police clash with the anti-government protesters near a site of a major international soccer match at Rio de Janeiro. The demonstrators more than 5,000 strong are venting their anger over the billions being spent by the Brazilian government on big sporting events rather than on public services. Brazil will host next year's World Cup, and then, in 2016, the Olympics at Rio.

BERMAN: Brazil did win the game there. Protesting outside, they want (ph) a confederation got to play last night. A terrific game, too.

Thirty-nine minutes after the hour.

We have all marvels at the spectacle. That is Cirque Du Soleil. But this weekend, during a show in Las Vegas, something went terribly wrong and a performer is dead. So now, that show has been put on hold and as CNN's Dan Simon reports, there are still many questions.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an edge of your seat show that features an incredible array of the acrobatics, pyro techniques and larger than life sets. Cirque Du Soleil performers are highly skilled and intensively trained. But an accident on Saturday night claimed the life of a 31-year-old performer. Acrobat and aerialist, Sarah Guyard (ph) featured in this cabaret show died while performing the production of Ka at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Sun" coach (ph) witnesses that Guyard was being hoisted above a vertical stage like the one seen here during the show's finale when the acrobat fell into the hollow pit 50 feet below. According to those account, some audience members thought the fall was part of the show until they heard screams from the stage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could hear people crying and all the actors were basically looking down.

SIMON: Guyard reportedly a mother of two pictured here at a camp called sherbet (ph) taught physical fitness and circus skill to kids. In a statement, Cirque Du Soleil's founder says, quote, "I am heart broken. I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to the family. We are all completely devastated with this news." The accident is an unfortunate reminder of the dangers of performing in high flying shows. Just last week, a performer in the Cirque Du Soleil production of Michael Jackson One suffered a concussion after falling from a slack rope. And in 2010, a stunt man fell 30 feet off the stage at the Broadway production of "Spiderman." He suffered numerous injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs, and broken vertebra.

Dan Simon, CNN, Las Vegas.


BERMAN: So dangerous.

And coming up from the 7:00 hour of "NEW DAY," a former Cirque Du Soleil performer will talk about her experience and just how safe these kind of acrobatic stunts really are.

Coming up here in emergency landing in the Hudson River, everyone's OK, but how the pilot pulled this all off?

ROMANS: They didn't get wet. They didn't get wet after landing in there.

And, this had to be a future Olympian. A 16-month-old baby swimming across the pool. Look at that.

BERMAN: That's Janet Evans (ph). That's the next Michael Phelps.

ROMANS: Sixteen months old.


BERMAN: So, this was not the trip that a group of tourists visiting New York City were expecting. Their helicopter had to make an emergency landing right in the middle of the Hudson River. Two adults and two children from Sweden want a sightseeing helicopter lost power to its engine.

So, the pilot, he sat it down in the river with pontoons inflated. Some boaters help get the passengers and pilot out. Everyone is said to be OK with only minor injuries. And as Roman says, they didn't even get wet.

ROMANS: They didn't even get wet.

All right. What do you make of this? Because this little baby did get wet. Sixteen-month-old baby swimming across the pool.

BERMAN: That's crazy.

ROMANS: See, as a former life guard and a mother of little babies, I basically want to jump in and get that baby out of there, right? But her father posted this video online claims that she was trained by professional instructors and insists you absolutely should not put your child in the pool, unless, they're trained to swim. BERMAN: That's so scary.

ROMANS: But he said this is one way to ensure they don't drown if they do wind up in the way. This baby can sort of swim all across the pool. He said that if -- the baby has been trained, that if she gets tired or distressed, she just rolls over and takes a breath and she just bobs (ph) there. Look at her go.

BERMAN: It's amazing to see, but like I said, it's still terrifies me.

ROMANS: Let's take a look at what's coming up next on "NEW DAY."

BERMAN: Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan join us now. A busy, tragic morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: It is. Good morning to both of you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: It's a tough day. We're going to be looking at what's happening with the fires. 2,000 acres, but obviously, the headline is the worst part. Nineteen firefighters lost. It's the worst that we've had in the fire since the 20s or 30s. What went wrong? We got to tell you about who the hot shots are.

What their difficult task is and what happened in this particular fire? And of course, barely under control. So, we'll be there live on the scene with the latest.

BOLDUAN: Yes. We're also going to be looking at week two of the George Zimmerman trial. It's going to be kicking off in just a few short hours. We're going to be digging deeper on really what to expect in this coming week. What witnesses the prosecution will be calling, and also, a little bit more about this, what you're seeing right here.

This is kind of a re-enactment, a videotape statement from George Zimmerman. And will it be made evidence in court and what role will it play? A critical week that we're entering from the George Zimmerman trial. We're going to be talking to our legal experts about all of this.

CUOMO: And President George W. Bush is in Africa. He's there to help fight cancer. Our Robyn Curnow spoke with him and got some exclusive information from him about what he thinks about our NSA leak situation and our national security situation. So, we'll be having that from him this morning all coming up on "New Day.


BERMAN: We have not heard from him on those subjects, so that should be fascinating. And of course, the breaking news about these fires. You will bringing us updates all morning as that information continues to come in. Chris, Kate, thanks so much. We'll see you in a bit.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. BERMAN: And coming up here, scramble in the NBA. Free agents being courted left and right and all eyes, for some reason, on all-star center, Dwight Howard. Will he leave the Lakers where he didn't make much of a difference. This morning's "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: So, let the bidding begin. NBA free agency kicked off just a few hours ago. And already teams are lining up to make their pitch to Lakers center, Dwight Howard. He kind of had (ph) black (ph) season for the Lakers. Still, a lot of teams seem to want him. Andy Scholes is here with more in the "Bleacher Report." What's up, Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes. Good morning, guys. It looks like the Dwight Howard sweep stakes is going to be a five-team race, and the Houston Rockets are the first team out of the gate. A group from Houston, included Hakeem Olajuwon and James Harden met with Howard last night in L.A. right when free agency began.

And over the next two days, Howard is expected to meet with the Mavs, Hawks, Warriors and Lakers. Now, Lakers are going last per their request. They recently put up billboards all over Southern California that read "Stay d-12." Howard has said the deciding factor on who he signs with will be the based on the team's ability to win championships.

Well, the game of win as golf may have its very own version of Tiger Woods. South Korean Inbee Park won the 68th U.S Women's Open over the weekend, becoming just the second woman's golfer ever to win the first three major championships of the season. Now, Park will try to do what only Mickey Wright and Tiger Woods had done in the modern era which is win four consecutive majors.

Next up for her is the British Open in August. We nearly saw a major crash near the end of yesterday's second stage of the Tour de France. Check it out. A little dog ran on to the street. This guy is going to try to save him, luckily, right before this group of riders come in. The dog saw what was coming and ran to safety. Crisis averted.

Well, the Atlanta Braves hosted members of the military yesterday as part of their tribute to the troops event. One of the troops on one hand was First Lieutenant Ariel Castro (ph). He just got back from Afghanistan nine days ago. Now, his girlfriend thought they were just the lucky ones pick to be interviewed in the stands, but Castro was surprised her with the old marriage proposal. Got down on one knee, guys, and of course she said yes.

BERMAN: That is awesome. Congratulations to them. He gets the punch in the chest, but a yes. So, a good combination. Anything for love.

SCHOLES: No problem.

ROMANS: Coming up, Jennifer Lopez saying I'm sorry. Why a happy birthday performance is sparking some serious controversy?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. A weekend performance has J.Lo in some hot water. Jennifer Lopez has now apologized for singing happy birthday to leader of Turkmenistan, well, in that country for an event sponsored by a Chinese oil company. Turkmenistan is located just north of Iran. And Human Rights Watch calls it one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

A publicist for the singer and actress says if she realized that the country had human rights issues, she would not have attended. You know what I say? That's why we have Google.

ROMANS: (INAUDIBLE) actually was tweeting saying, "Hey, follow me in Turkmenistan. Hit me up." The Twitter is not there. It's a totally closed society.

OK. The magic is still real for a group of movie monsters. "Monsters University" was at the top of the box office for a second week taken in some $46 million. The Pixar animated prequel has now earned some $300 million worldwide. The buddy comedy "The Heat" with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy was second, raking in about 40 million. Third place, "World War Z," the Brad Pitt zombie slick earned just under $30 million.

BERMAN: Fantastic. Hope you're enjoying your week, so far. Let's bring in " NEW DAY" anchors, Chris Cuomo and Kate Baldwin. We got a big news day here. What's going on, guys?

CUOMO: Good morning both of you. Obviously, we're covering the wildfires. Nineteen firefighters lost part of this hot shot team. We're going to tell you what they were doing and why they were so important and how it went wrong.

BOLDUAN: That's right. So, we're clearly at the top of the hour, which means it's time for the top news.