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Georgia Elementary School Shooting; More Questions in Kidnapping Case; "The Perfect Storm is Subsiding"; Syrian Massacre Alleged

Aired August 21, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news overnight: claims of a chemical weapons attack. The opposition in Syria reporting hundreds are killed. The government denying the allegations. We are live with more.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: School shooting scare. New information this morning about the man police say stormed into a Georgia elementary school and opened fire.

SAMBOLIN: And those wildfires are torching the West. Communities evacuated as firefighters continue to battle the blaze. It's been five days. We're going to tell you how much progress they've made.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans, in for John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: Nice to you have, Christine.

And it's nice to have you joining us as well. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Wednesday, August 21st. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: Up first, we're learning more now about the suspected gunman who entered a Georgia elementary school Tuesday, heavenly armed and opened fire on police. Twenty-year-old Michael Brandon Hill is in custody this morning. Witnesses say the shooter told them he wasn't afraid to die. Remarkably, no one was injured in the shooting.

But as CNN's David Mattingly tells us -- hundreds of students had the scare of their lives.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of kids ages 4 to 10, running for safety as gunfire erupts in their school. Inside, a lone gunman takes office workers hostage and tells them to call a TV station with a chilling message.

LACEY LEROY, WSB ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: I've never experienced anything like this. He wanted to us start filming as police died.

MATTINGLY: The gunman fired at police, maybe a half dozen times. Officers returned fire when one office worker convinced him to surrender. ANTOINETTE TUFF (via telephone): I held him the whole time, because he actually wanted to go out and start shooting again. I just started telling him my life story, what was going on with me, asked him to put all of his weapons down and then I told the police that he was giving himself up.

MATTINGLY: Police searched the suspect's car for explosives. Children had to be escorted to busses away from the school as a precaution before being reunited with their anxious parents.

Parents complained about a lack of communication. Most say they heard about it on local news.

CELISA RAYSOR, GRANDMOTHER: They said they put the school on lockdown and they secured the kids. The parents should have been called immediately right then and there.

MATTINGLY: And there are new fears about security from parents deeply shaken by what could have happened.

REVA FIGUEROA, MOTHER: We have a button to push to go in and you're supposed to show ID, and it (INAUDIBLE) me.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Are you going to let your daughters go back to school?

FIGUEROA: I don't want to. I want to home school them.

MATTINGLY: Students will be returning to classes today but at a nearby high school. They're not expected to return to their regular school building until tomorrow.

David Mattingly, CNN, DeKalb County, Georgia.


SAMBOLIN: It's two minutes past the hour.

The family of a man police say killed a family friend and her son and abducted her 16-year-old daughter now is asking for a paternity test. It's the latest twist here. They want to know if James DiMaggio was more than just a family friend to Hannah Anderson, her brother Ethan and their mother now that he's led and left a $120,000 life insurance policy to Hannah Anderson's grandmother.


ANDREW SPANSWICK, SPOKESMAN FOR THE DIMAGGIO FAMILY (via telephone: We've taken DNA samples. We're going to be requesting from the Anderson family to try and get a DNA sample from Hannah, and if they have anything left of Ethan. We're going to get a DNA sample. And there's been a lot of rumors about whether or not Jim might be the father of either children. We find it strange that he's left all of this money without any explanation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Police now say DiMaggio used a timer to set fire to his home near San Diego, some 20 hours after he took off with Hannah. Her mother and brother's bodies were found inside of that burned out home.

ROMANS: Now to the fire lines in Idaho where an aerial assault appears to be helping slow the massive Beaver Creek Fire. It's now 30 percent contained. Some residents are being allowed back now into their homes. But some 1,100 people still evacuated.

About 50 miles away, the Little Queens Fire has led authorities to call for the evacuation of the mountain town of Atlanta, Idaho.

Many residents aren't leaving. They want to fight the fire. The fire has grown to some 7,000 acres. It is not under control at all.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Indra Petersons is tracking the forecast for us.

I have to tell you, I was reading this morning that for that little Queens Fire, 70 percent of the residents decided that they were going to stay and fight that fire. That's incredible.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Incredible, tough situation.


PETERSONS: These conditions are worsening.

A little bit of a mixed bag, though. What we're talking about are some high winds really picking up which, of course, could cause erratic fire behavior. But it's due to a storm moving in. So, there is a chance of rain. Again, that mixed bag is out there.

You can actually see the red flag warnings in all these fire locations is this never a good sign, but it does mean a change is on the horizon. What we're looking at is a low getting close each day. So, today, even more chance for showers than we saw yesterday but that also enhances the chances for more lightning. Of course, the strong winds that go along with any storm.

And then rain. And rain's kind of a tricky one as well. If you have too much rain and you have a burn area, you also have the threat of flooding, as we saw last week. So, that's something that we're going to monitor, just the right amount of rain to help with the fires but, of course, not see the flooding concerns.

Speaking of flooding concerns, yes, the Southwest, look at all the water vapor. This is all that moisture in water satellite still funneling into the Southeast. The good news, stationary front finally on the move. We're slowly going to see --


PETERSONS: Yes, exactly. We're waiting for this. I have been waiting for this. And we're definitely talking about one to two inches of rain today. Still going to have rain in the Southeast as we go through the weekend, but it's more the typical afternoon thunderstorms that they're use to seeing instead of these heavier thunderstorms.

Also, speaking of a cold front in the Midwest that they were talking about, pretty much Iowa, all the way into Michigan. We'll start to see some heavier storms and it will push through the Great Lakes region and we're talking about rain.

SAMBOLIN: You know what? Look behind you there, it's looking like snow, not like rain, OK?


SAMBOLIN: I see the clouds, but still, those look like flakes.

PETERSONS: Are you calling out our graph today?

No snow. Yes, but careful what you wish for, right? It could be here any day.

SAMBOLIN: No, I'm not wishing. Thank you, Indra. Thank you.

PETERSONS: There you go.

ROMANS: I remember after college, I moved to Chicago on November 4th. It snowed on November 4th. It's like --

PETERSONS: Knock on wood.

ROMANS: I know. Oh my gosh. It's the end of August.

All right. Turning now to Cairo today where the news there the court is expected to review the case of former President Hosni Mubarak and could decide to release him from custody. Mubarak has been held shortly after his ouster of 2011 but his lawyer said he should be let out on bond as he awaits retrial on charges he was complicit in the killing of protesters.

SAMBOLIN: The U.S. embassy in Yemen has reopened. It was one of the 19 embassies and consulates that were closed by the Obama administration a little earlier this month. You remember, because of a terrorist threat. It will only provide limited services since most of the employees were ordered to leave the country. That was weeks ago.

Britain and Germany are reopening their embassies in Yemen as well.

ROMANS: Security forces in Pakistan, southwest Pakistan, is using 100 metric tons of bomb-making materials in a raid on a warehouse there. Ten suspected terrorists taken into custody in the town of Quetta. This region has been plagued by Taliban attacks. Authorities say they found 80 drums of material ready to explode, just awaiting a detonator.

SAMBOLIN: And we are hearing this morning from David Miranda and his partner, journalist Glenn Greenwald, after Miranda's long detention at London's Heathrow Airport. This happened on Sunday as Miranda was flying to Berlin, carrying materials bound for a filmmaker. He tells Anderson Cooper on "A.C. 360", officials confiscated his laptop, phone and USB memory stick and questioned him for hours, leaving him afraid of what might happen.


DAVID MIRANDA, DETAINED AT HEATHROW AIRPORT: They changed the agents. They're playing bad cop/good cop, all of that was telling me if I did not cooperate, I was going to jail. They did that for eight hours straight. They didn't let me get my lawyer.

GLENN GREENWALD, JOURNALIST, MIRANDA'S PARTNER: They're trying to intervene in the news gathering and journalism process and intimidate journalists out of reporting on stories and informing the citizens around the world of what's being done, which is our job.


SAMBOLIN: British officials are defending the questioning, saying it was a matter of national security. But Greenwald who has written extensively about surveillance programs in this country and overseas call it an overreach. They're asking a British court to declare the search illegal and return those items to him and to his partner.

ROMANS: The NSA still doesn't know exactly what former contractor Edward Snowden took and is now overwhelmed trying to get a handle on the damage he's brought. That's according to NBC News. The director of the agency has publicly insisted the agency knows the full extent of damage done by Snowden's leak. But NBC reports two sources briefed on the matter say the NSA cannot determine just how many documents he took.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to get back to our breaking news from Syria this morning, where there are reports of a massacre. A warning -- some viewers may find these pictures very disturbing. It's not possible for CNN to independently verify the claims but activists say forces loyal to President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons during a heavy bombardment of a rebel-held area near Damascus. And they say hundreds are dead and wounded.

The Syrian government denies all of these claims.

Arwa Damon is live for us in Beirut this morning.

Arwa, what do you know?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very difficult to get accurate information out of Syria, but the images that are emerging are absolutely horrific. In fact, most of them are so horrific that we can't even air them. A lot of child victims, a lot of images of children lying on the floor. Doctors in some cases trying to resuscitate them.

No visuals -- nothing that we can see that would indicate any sort of external injury. And one doctor that CNN spoke to said that people were dying of asphyxiation. He himself said that there were 40 people who were among the many children as well at this one location. The doctors are really working under very primitive conditions as one can just imagine, they lack things that is needed drugs needs in the case of a chemical attack. They are also say they go don't have enough oxygen.

This is an area that is east of Damascus, an area that has been held by the rebels for quite for some time. An area that is also regularly come under very, very heavy bombardment. And again, the Syrian government denying that it launched any sort of such attack. But those images are so difficult to look at.

SAMBOLIN: No, they are. And you're telling us those aren't even the worst images and they are very disturbing.

Arwa Damon, live for us in Beirut this morning. Thank you.

And coming up --



REPORTER: Can you tell us what you said?

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: No, I never said that, and you guys are all about gossip.


SAMBOLIN: Maine 's Republican governor playing defense, accused of making some controversial comments about President Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the extreme lengths one man went to save a cat from his burning home.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Maine 's governor has been known to speak his mind, but as Jim Acosta tells us, Paul LePage is denying the latest claim against him, that he made an outrageous remark about President Obama.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside Maine's capitol building, reporters were on the chase, because the state's gaffe-prone governor, Paul LePage, had reportedly stepped in it again. According to two of Maine's top newspapers, LePage was quoted by unnamed sources as telling a GOP fundraiser last week President Obama, quote, "hates white people." LePage insists that's false.

REPORTER FEMALE: Can you tell us what you said? LEPAGE: No, I never said that. And you guys are all about gossip.

ACOSTA: Still, the state's GOP leaders have gone into damage control. The spokesman for Maine's Republican Party pointed CNN to what the state's GOP chairman told one reporter, that while he didn't hear the comment in question, "Governor LePage said President Obama had an opportunity to unify the country on race but didn't do anything."

A top advisor to the governor e-mailed CNN this photo, featuring LePage, his wife and children, and a teenager from Jamaica, raised by the state's first couple for nearly a decade.

But state leaders have grown weary of LePage's highlight reel of inflammatory comments, whether they're on the president --

LEPAGE: Governor LePage to Obama: go to hell.

ACOSTA: -- on Obama care --

LEPAGE: You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo, the IRS.

ACOSTA: -- on the NAACP --

LEPAGE: Tell them to kiss my butt.

ACOSTA: -- or on Democratic lawmakers.

LEPAGE: But he's the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.

ACOSTA: And it's not the message top Republicans want to hear in Washington --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republican Party is a party that's open for everyone.

ACOSTA: -- after the RNC just last week tried to spread the word that it hopes to be more inclusive.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden remains at Houston's MD Anderson Hospital today, undergoing tests after felt weak and disoriented while on a family vacation. His father, the Vice President Joe Biden, is with him. The 44-year-old is an Iraq veteran and frequent subject to speculation about future plans to run for higher office. He suffered a mild stroke in 2010, and again, he's undergoing tests in Houston with his family by his side.

SAMBOLIN: We wish him well.

ROMANS: Absolutely. SAMBOLIN: Prison is in his future. In just a few hours, Army Private Bradley Manning will find out how long he'll be behind bars for giving hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Prosecutors are pushing for a 60-year sentence. Manning's attorney, in a plea for leniency, has asked for no more than 25 years.

The military judge says she'll announce her sentence a little later this morning.

ROMANS: At the sentencing hearing for an army soldier who's admitted gunning down 16 Afghan villagers, emotional testimony from one of his victims. An Afghan father asked Staff Sergeant Robert Bales why did he shoot him in the jaw. Bales killed the man's son and he ended his testimony crying when asked to talk about his family. A jury is deciding whether Bales should ever be offered parole.

SAMBOLIN: A Phoenix family is counting its blessing this morning after a massive fire that nearly took that man's life. Despite protests from this family and from his neighbors, he ran back into his burning home in order to try and rescue his cat. He found one. He got that one out and then set about trying to find another one.

Neighbors, family and fire crews had feared the worst, the roof collapsed and he was missing for 40 minutes, but he had slipped out the back and emerged mostly unscathed.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought I lost him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was in there trying to put it out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought I lost my dad.


SAMBOLIN: My goodness.

So, he is very, very, very lucky as is the cat which was injured but is alive. Remember, folks, you should never go back into a burning building. That is the job of the firefighters. That's little girl, can you imagine?

ROMANS: I know.


ROMANS: All right.

In today's --

(CROSSTALK) SAMBOLIN: Looking at that little girl and just feeling her pain.

ROMANS: All right. In today's "Road Warriors" folks, confession time -- have you ever forgotten to turn off your cell phone before takeoff?

SAMBOLIN: Forgotten, forgotten.

ROMANS: On purpose, maybe forgot.

According to a study done by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, a third of travelers forget to turn off their electronic devices during takeoff and landing. And of those, 61 percent said the devices are smartphone.

The study also found that when asked to turn off the device, more than half of passengers said they always turn it off. Twenty-one percent said they instead switch it to airplane mode and 5 percent said that they only sometimes turn off their devices. Current FAA rules mandate travelers turn off electronic devices below 10,000 feet to insure they weren't interfering with the plane's navigation system. But there are rumblings about --

SAMBOLIN: Grumblings, Christine --

ROMANS: That the FAA might relax those rules in the next few months, because, clearly, passengers aren't doing it anyway.

SAMBOLIN: Well, does it really make a difference, I guess is the big question, right? If it doesn't make a difference, you know, they should allow us to keep it on. I fight with my son all the time about turning it off. He kept saying, airplane mode. I said that's not off. It has to be totally off.

ROMANS: I know. I think sometimes the flight attendants would like you to pay attention to their safety drills.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, absolutely.

ROMANS: Sometimes, people are just completely -- you know, completely into devices. They're not paying attention.

SAMBOLIN: Turn them off for now. Yes.

ROMANS: Safety rules are important.

SAMBOLIN: Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Coming up, President Obama's pitch to make college more affordable. "Money Time" coming up next.

ROMANS: College affordable --


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, New York City. There's La Estatua de la Libertad -- the Statue of Liberty. One of my favorites here in New York City.

OK. How about this song? It's called "Bills, Bills, Bills."

Christine Romans is here with "Money Time".

How do you like it? Or do you want something --

ROMANS: I like it.

SAMBOLIN: You like it?

ROMANS: I like it for Wednesday. Halfway through the week, bills, bills, bills.

The Dow, the Dow, Dow, Dow, fifth consecutive loss. But the S&P broke this 4-day losing streak. The Dow closed slightly lower. Very close to the key 15-high level. S&P and NASDAQ closed slighter higher.

Higher interest rates have been a problem for stocks lately. Later today, we're going to have more insight into just when Ben Bernanke and the Fed may feel comfortable letting rates rise. The Fed is going to release minutes of its July meeting. Really important to scrutinize that.

All right. Call it the Obama college road trip 2013. Tomorrow, the president begins a two-day bus tour focused on the cost of higher education. Before then, he's expected to lay out a plan to bring what he calls lasting change that puts college within more reach of more families. And families could certainly use the help.

According to the latest, Fidelity survey more families are saving for college, but they're still painfully short as tuition skyrockets. A record 69 percent of families say they have started saving. That's good. The families now expect to pay just 62 percent of college costs with the rest coming from financial aid and loans. That's up from 57 percent they expected to pay last year.

ROMANS: This is such an interesting tech story. I mean, put together football, Google. Is Google ready to buy its way into it, television with an NFL deal?

The tech blog All Things Digital said that yesterday, Google's Larry Page met with the delegation from the NFL, that included Commissioner Roger Goodell. One subject under discussion, the Sunday ticket package. A deal next year. DirecTV's rights deal for the page ends next year.

A deal would give Google and YouTube instant access to TV. It would cost, I don't know, maybe $1 billion a year, a price tag Google could seem to afford. But with that deadline coming up for the DirecTV deal. Clearly, NFL looking for bidders. Talking to Google. Watch that space. Really interesting there.

Do you like beer with your NFL? NFL TV? Listen up, Heineken said this morning that it expects an economic uncertainty and weak demand to persist in many of its markets. The world's third largest beer producer reported a decline in profits.

And a news is even worse out of Denver, where a strike threatens to shut down production of the only brewery in that country that makes Carlsberg. Carlsberg controls 70 percent of that country's draft beer market. Beer strike.


ROMANS: NFL, Google, stocks, wow, so much for a Wednesday.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, coming up, we have breaking news overnight, claims of a massive chemical weapons attack in Syria. Arwa Damon is live in Beirut with the very latest information on this still developing story. That's right after the break.


ROMANS: Claims of a chemical weapons attack. The Syrian opposition claiming hundreds -- hundreds were killed overnight. The Syrian government denying the accusation. We are live with this gruesome and developing story.

SAMBOLIN: Murder for sport. Three teenagers charged with killing a college athlete because they were bored. We're going to show you the chaotic courthouse scene, coming up next.

BERMAN: And bear break-ins plaguing one Nevada community. But residents aren't the state do anything about it. We're going to tell you why not.

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans, in for John Berman this morning. It's 29 minutes after the hour.

SAMBOLIN: And we have breaking news this morning from Syria and a warning for you. Some viewers might find these pictures very disturbing. I almost guarantee it.

Rebels claimed hundreds are dead after they say the government used chemical weapons against them. The Assad regime denied this. And CNN cannot independently verify any of these claims either.

Arwa Damon is live in Beirut. She is tracking the very latest developments in Syria.

Arwa, what can you tell us?

DAMON: You know, and those image, not even the worst of it. There are many more that we actually cannot even broadcast. They are that disturbing. A lot of young victims in this most recent attack.

The local coordination committees are saying that 660 people at least were killed.