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Chemical Weapons Attacks?; Gunfire in George School; Hannah Anderson Kidnapping Twist; Guns In Schools?

Aired August 21, 2013 - 08:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also a story we've been following -- an unarmed Florida man shot at 15 times by police in his driveway. And when they mistook him for a thief, that man is speaking out for the first time on CNN about what happened and the answers he's looking for. We're going to get reaction from the county sheriff whose officers were involved.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We're also going to have a little bit of fun today. If you happen to love Oreos, it could be earth shattering. Just how much stuff is in that double stuff Oreos. There are concerns, though, that my producers may have eaten my props. We'll have the answer, you may not like it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to begin with news that has been breaking from overnight from Syria.

Rebel groups claimed a poison attack by government forces -- that's what's going on. And we want to warn you, some of the video we're going to show you is disturbing, but the truth is, there's far worse that we're not showing you that seemed to show deadly effects of chemical weapons on adults and children. The Syrian opposition says hundreds of people were killed and injured in an assault on rebel strongholds outside of Damascus.

They accuse the Assad regime of using chemical weapons on its own people. Syria's government denies the claims. If the reports are true, it could have serious implications for the United States. The Obama administration has said the use of chemical weapons would cross a, quote, "red line."

CNN's Arwa Damon is monitoring developments for us from Beirut, Lebanon -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Most of the images that are emerging from Syria are quite simply too graphic, too disturbing to show. A lot of the victims are very young, quite a few chilling videos showing doctors desperately trying to resuscitate some of the children. And one doctor who we spoke to said that his location ran out of atropine within an hour. Hundreds of people killed according to opposition activists, accusing the Syrian government of carrying out this alleged chemical attack, allegations that the government does deny.

Now, this is not the first time that there have been allegations of a chemical attack inside Syria. In fact, that is exactly why there is a U.N. monitoring team on the ground, presumably they will be requesting permission to visit the sites.

None of the previous attacks have a death toll that is even close to as high as what we're seeing come out of Syria right now -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Arwa Damon, thank you so much.

Now, President Obama is on the record -- if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons on its people, they'll be crossing a red line. So, if these reports are true? What's next?

Our Dan Lothian is live at the White House this morning.

So, Dan, disturbing reports to wake up to. Are you hearing anything from the White House at this point?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nothing from the White House. This does put more pressure on the administration as it tries to deal with Syria.

A senior administration official telling CNN's John King earlier this morning that they're aware of these reports out there, but they have no confirmation that chemical weapons were used. In fact, if those weapons were used it would be, quote, "further of unconscionable brutality by a desperate man and desperate regime."

Remember, it was earlier this summer, in fact in June, with the White House that the U.S. would be providing military support to those rebels in Syria. This came as a result of that red line that you've been talking about. The president had laid down. There was evidence that chemical weapons had been used. And so, that's when the U.S. decided to provide support for the rebels.

Some have been asking for much more, like a no-fly zone. But so far, the administration not willing to do that -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Dan, thank you very much for the reporting this morning.

A 20-year-old man, a gunman, is under arrest this morning after entering a Decatur, Georgia, elementary school armed with an AK-47. The witness says the suspect was not afraid to die. He exchanged fire with police, but in the end, no one was injured. And officers were able to place the man under arrest.

Let's go now to CNN's David Mattingly. He's live in Decatur, Georgia, with the latest.

Good morning, David.


The students are back in class today, but they're not at the school that they left yesterday. They're actually gathering at a nearby high school. They will be back at classes here in this building tomorrow, that is if parents let them after now thinking about the terrible things that could have happened here. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Hundreds of kids ages 4 to 10, running for safety as gunfire erupts in their school. Inside, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill, armed with what police say was an AK-47 and a number of other weapons, 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 us to 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, and 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.

Now, in police custody, Hill faces charges including aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and a possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Parents complain about a lack of communication. Most say they heard about it on local news.

CELISA RAYSOR, GRANDMOTHER: Yesterday, 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 aggravated 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: Michael Brandon Hill getting in trouble with police not too long ago, back in March, in a neighboring county. He was actually arrested and charged with making terroristic threats and terroristic acts. We don't have any more details on what that involved, but we do know he was able to get out on 1,050 bond.

Authorities in that country, so far, have not been able to tell us the status of that case or why he was a free man -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. David, thank you very much.

And that really points to something that is often ignored in these stories. These school shootings, they put gun control in the spotlight but is there a way to make our school safer? We're going to debate this topic in just a few moments -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Now, here's a question for you -- was James DiMaggio, Hannah Anderson's biological father? That is what the alleged kidnapper and murderer's family wants to know. Now, requesting DNA samples from Hannah and the remains of her 8-year-old brother to find out for sure whether DiMaggio was something more than their Uncle Jim.

Zoraida Sambolin tracking these bizarre latest developments for us -- Zoraida.


James DiMaggio left $112,000 in life insurance money to the paternal grandmother of Hannah and Ethan Anderson. He made it clear that he wanted the cash to go to the Anderson children. And now, DiMaggio's family is asking for paternity tests to rule out the sister suspicion that he was the children's father.


SAMBOLIN: Overnight, a painful twist to an already tragic story, Laura DiMaggio, sister to Jim DiMaggio, the man accused of kidnapping 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and murdering her mother and younger brother, now requesting DNA samples from both Hannah and her brother. The reason according to a family spokesman, she wants to know if DiMaggio was actually the children's biological father.

ANDREW SPANSWICK, FRIEND OF JIM DIMAGGIO (via telephone): There have been a lot of rumors about whether or not Jim might be the father of either or both children. We find it strange he's left all this money without any explanation.

SAMBOLIN: That money is from a life insurance policy that named Hannah's paternal grandmother. It reportedly is worth around $110,000. Jim's sister was reportedly the beneficiary up until 2011.

SPANSWICK: Expected the grandmother to use the money to take care of the two children. He stated specifically he didn't want to give it to either parent because he didn't trust them.

SAMBOLIN: DiMaggio was described by Anderson's father, Brett, as a platonic family friend to the Anderson family, referred to as Uncle Jim, in an interview with NEW DAY while Hannah was still missing.

Hannah's father was asked about the relationship.

BRETT ANDERSON, HANNAH'S FATHER: He basically became like part of our family, but we were just very good friends. There was nothing ever to show any indication of this.


SAMBOLIN: If DiMaggio's life insurance policy is in order, his alleged crimes are not expected to impact the payout. That means Hannah's grandmother, Bernice, could receive a check within 45 days.

We should note that CNN reached out to the Anderson's family for comment about all of these latest twists in the case, we have not heard back yet.

BOLDUAN: Not something the Anderson family needs to be dealing with at this moment.

SAMBOLIN: Tough situation.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Thanks so much, Zoraida.

CUOMO: A lot of other news to get to this morning. Let's get to Michaela dealing with some firefighters -- firefighters wildfires out West.

PEREIRA: Yes, a lot of them, too, Chris. A lot burning right now.

Let's take a look at the headlines. Firefighters gaining some ground, though, against the massive Beaver Creek fire near Sun Valley, Idaho. Many evacuation orders, in fact, have been lifted. Right now, that fire is at 30 percent containment.

In California, meanwhile, the fast growing Rim Fire threatening some 2,500 structures and has scorched more than 10,000 acres and currently burning out of control.

Fort Hood massacre suspect Nidal Hasan could take the stand in his own defense today. He could also call other witnesses in his court martial. The former army psychiatrist is acting as his own attorney and faces a possible death sentence for the 2009 shooting rampage that left 13 fellow American soldiers dead.

Nuclear concerns today in Japan where officials fear more tanks at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor are now leaking contaminated water. Fukushima's level three situation, that is a serious incident. Officials in China say they are shocked by today's announcement, which comes two years after a tsunami and earthquake damaged the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Over 40,000 legal cases could be impacted by the suspected evidence tampering of a former Massachusetts chemist. Thirty-four-year-old Annie Dookhan faces 27 counts, including obstruction of justice, mishandling drug evidence and lying about holding a master's degree. She has been released on $10,000 bail, accused of altering drug evidence submitted by police while she was a state chemist from 2003 to 2012.

I want to show you, we're going to go from your good stuff here. Some really exceptional talent. Check out this young fellow. He plays baseball with just one leg. This video has been going around for a while, but it is going viral, currently. He was born with a cancerous tumor on his left leg and had to be amputated after he turned 1. That has not stopped him. He is, in fact, using his experience to inspire others. He has his own motivational Web site where he shows people that anything can be done and he's proof. He's living proof.

ESPN did quite a series on him on their dotcom page. And apparently, they found an old folded up wheelchair in the family garage and moms said, well, keep it. Just in case you need it. And he said, I'm never using that.

CUOMO: Just awesome. Literally, right? Every step he takes.

PEREIRA: What a kid. What a kid.

BOLDUAN: He's fast, too.

CUOMO: Thanks for doing that.

All right. Let's get to Indra Petersons and find out what's going on with the weather today.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're finding some better news in the Southeast. We've just seen about an inch of rain and eventually, yes, the stationary front will dissipate. The new story is rather going to be pretty much right around the Great Lakes. We're watching a new front that could produce some severe weather today from Michigan, kind of stretching down through Iowa and also big portions of Wisconsin today, looking for some heavier thunderstorms and some strong winds and maybe some large hail out of that.

But each day, as this makes its way a little bit farther to the east, right through Ohio valley and eventually into the Mid-Atlantic, we're going to be talking about not only more storms and some rain, but really I think on everyone's mind will be the temperature change. I mean, beautiful weather pretty much already. But some heat advisories in Minnesota yesterday. It's a lot of 80s will shift to the 70s. So, those fall-like temperatures, a lot of us felt pretty much a week ago -- well, they are returning.

Look at this right as we set up for the weekend. Pittsburgh for tomorrow looking about 71 and New York 80s, but eventually seeing some 70s as we go through the weekend. So, good news there. But, unfortunately, still way too much heat on the West Coast. In fact, we do have some red flag warnings, unfortunately, where we're continuing to fight all the wildfires.

One of the biggest concerns, which is a little bit confusing, is that we're looking at showers moving into the area. So, you think rain, that's a good thing. Unfortunately, it also means some strong winds and some dry lightning threats out there. Remember, if you have burn areas, you got a lot of rain in a short period of time. Too much rain could also be a bad thing. We saw some mudslides last week and we're concerned about that as well today in those regions.

BOLDUAN: Too much of any of it, right?


BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Indra.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. And when we come back, you heard about the near tragedy in Georgia turning the focus once again on gun violence in our schools. When are we going to learn the lesson? And what is that lesson?

Should we have guns in the schools? Should we have more gun control? Should we focus on the issues that surround these shooters? What are the best options for us?

We're going to debate it when we come back.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, deputies shot at this man 15 times, hitting him twice. He was in a driveway in his own car. He survived. He's now telling us what happened.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The gunman at a Georgia elementary school puts the issue of gun violence in our schools once again in a sharp focus. Children in six states will return to class under new laws that allow some teachers, security guards, and other staff to carry firearms. Is that the answer? Would it make it worse? Should we be doing different things? Are we missing the point altogether?

Let's discuss. Joining me now is CNN political commentator and the host of "The Ben Ferguson Show," guess what his name is, Ben Ferguson, and from Mom's Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Kim Russell. Thank you to both of you for joining us. Ben, let's start with you.


CUOMO: Guns in the school. Is that the answer? If so, why and how would you do it?

FERGUSON: Well, I think it is the answer and the reason why is yesterday is yet, again, another example of proof that gun-free zones as much as we wanted them to work when we passed that legislation all over the country, it doesn't work as soon as one person decides to break that rule. And yesterday, gun control wouldn't have even fixed the issue because you had a convicted felon who's not allowed to buy guns who apparently had multiple guns.

And so, when you have that combination of lawbreakers, you have to have a line of defense to protect kids. And when they dialed 911 yesterday, they wanted a guy to show up with a gun. And so, I think communities have to look at this and they got to decide what is best for their community whether it is hiring armed guards, whether it's putting resource officers in the schools. But yesterday's school was one of those classic schools that had a phenomenal security system. They were supposed to buzz you in. You're supposed to show an I.D. You're supposed to be stuck between two sets of doors and all of that failed and that's where you've got an issue.

CUOMO: And you say, but it's putting the focus in the wrong place because?

KIM RUSSELL, MOMS DEMAND ACTION FOR GUN SENSE IN AMERICA: Because guns are not the answer. More guns simply lead to more gun death. Having armed guards in school will create a less safe environment for our children. Those guns are far more likely to be used in homicide, suicide, or accidental shooting than they are actually protecting students.


CUOMO: So, to go to Ben, Ben just said how. And that is the contextual question, right, because in these situations, we always see that if there had been someone there with a weapon who knew how to use it to defend these kids, things may have been different. Why isn't that enough?

RUSSELL: You know, we can speculate all day about how things may have been different at Newtown, but we'll never know. But what we do know is that having a gun for protection is far less likely to be used for protection than it is at risk of being used by an accidental shooter or, you know, in homicide.

And, also, there was an armed guard at Columbine. Those shooters still managed to kill 15 people and then kill themselves.

CUOMO: But generally not the case. Ben, pick up on the point?

FERGUSON: Yes. I mean, there's this Kumabaya idea that in a perfect world, no guns would make everything great. We have no guns in that perfect world on every campus in this country. Elementary, high school, we have a no-gun, a gun-free zone. And to imply after we see these shootings happen and these people that have free reign on all these children to imply that somehow we're going to stick with that idea, it's a failure.

We continue to see it be a failure and it's like I said earlier, when they dial 911 from these gun-free zones, they're begging for somebody show up with a gun to stop the mad man. This guy was a convicted felon. There was a security system at the school, that didn't work. He wasn't supposed to own a gun, that didn't work. And so, the police showed up and they have guns.

And that's what people want when there's a bad guy with a gun. And to put kids' lives at risk over the politics of, well, I feel more safe with no guns around, to me, is unrealistic and we keep seeing kids shot and killed every time we have a gun-free zone.

CUOMO: Let me ask each of you a different question. I believe there's a reason that we're putting too much emphasis on guns and here's why. Thirty states tried to pass laws like the one you're talking about, Ben, most of them were shot down, no pun intended, but you're aware of that. Ms. Russell, the type of law you're talking about, more gun control.

There was so much outcry after Newtown. I was there. We all know the pain. It didn't amount to just about anything. And in states where it did, there was a voter backlash. So, what does that tell us about guns? Maybe we're putting too much emphasis on it. Why do I say that? The shooter here, he'd been arrested before for making terroristic threats.

And yet, he's still out there on the streets, still able to get weapons. All we ignoring the main issue that always accounts in these situations, something being wrong with the mental health of the people involved. No laws, no early intervention, and no money spent there. Should we focus on there first and leave the guns where they are for now?

RUSSELL: I don't think we can forget about the guns for a second. I mean, mental health is an issue here, but first, we need to have our streets safer. We need stronger gun legislation.

CUOMO: But you always find a gun if you want when the way America is today. You're never going to get rid of all the guns.

RUSSELL: We will never get rid of all the guns, but if we enact stronger gun legislations, if we create federal gun trafficking penalties, federal stroll trafficking penalties, we can greatly reduce the amount of guns where felons who get them shouldn't get them.

CUOMO: All right. So, let's say we can get the number down. Ben, address it to this. I want to leave the guns a little sideways just for a second and here's why. It's the frustration of, in every one of these cases, it's someone who's deranged, who's stabilized, who has the sickness, that has been ignored or they didn't take their treatment or nobody followed up or they were allowed to stay in the system anyway. Why not more attention on that, Ben? Where is the answer for that?

FERGUSON: Well, we should. We absolutely should. And I'm a prime example of that. I had a gun put to my head and shot at me from five feet away in a gang initiation by someone that had been declared that he was mentally insane, mentally incompetent, had been in and out of the legal system five times before he shot at me.

Now, luckily, I survived that shooting and was able to protect myself, but he should have never been out on the streets. Now, he was a convicted felon. He wasn't supposed to own a gun, he got one, but the mental health side of things, even when we went to trial, the first thing his defense team said was they brought someone up to declare that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.

There is a huge gap there with mental health. But at the same time, if we have a gap there and we know that there are mental issues that are not being dealt with, we still have a duty, I believe, to protect children in schools and that is not to think that because we post a sign up that says, gun-free zone, that that's going to protect children.

I would ask the guest this question. What gun law would she have passed that would have stopped the guy yesterday from getting a gun because he broke probably more than 53 gun laws yesterday based on him being a felon. So, what other law would have stopped him from getting that gun? And I don't think there's a law that she can pass that's going to fix that problem.

CUOMO: You asked the right question, let's get the answer.

RUSSELL: Well, I would like to point out that yesterday's event was handled incredibly well by the DeKalb County police and there were no injuries. The police were notified. They arrived.

FERGUSON: But what law would you pass so that he couldn't have gotten a gun?

CUOMO: Is there a law that if it were passed this would never happen again, this way?

RUSSELL: Look, we will not be able to prevent all gun violence. There are simply too many guns in this country, however, we need to responsibly regulate the ones that are here. If more guns in more places were the answer, then we would not have a problem. Our country has more guns per capita than any other country in the world, and yet, we have a murder gun rate 15 times higher than every other developed nation.

This is not a solution. Our schools are places of nurturing and learning. We do not want to arm our staff to, you know, be responsible for these guns.


FERGUSON: Well, look, first of all --

RUSSELL: Teachers, the two main teaching unions in this country --

CUOMO: Are against it.

RUSSELL: Do not want guns.

CUOMO: Are against it, but there are a lot of reasons for that. But here's what i know, Mr. Ferguson, Ms. Russell, you did very well today in laying out what the issues are. I appreciate it. We're going to cut it short for time.

Kate, I send it over to you. People have to remember, though, guns have a lot of power in this country, so they got a lot of attention, but in every one of the shooters, the school shootings, the people involved that had a mental health issue that was ignored -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Chris, thanks so much. Coming up next on NEW DAY, Roy Middleton was shot 15 times in his own driveway by deputies. He survived. He's now talking. His side of what happened.

Also ahead, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, talking about his next big venture, connecting the whole world to the web. It's an exclusive interview. We're going to have that for you.

But first, CNN's legendary show, "Crossfire," returns September 16th. This is a program that redefined political debate. And as we lead up to the premiere, here's a look back at one of its most memorable moments.


NEWT GINGRICH, HOST, CROSSFIRE: THE new "Crossfire" is going to bring a lot of new things to television, but it's also going to bring some that have been on a long time. I'm going to share with you 21 years ago a topic that we're going to be talking about for the next few years, maybe for the next decade. Hillary Clinton.

If Hillary Clinton has a public life, if she is a professional woman who gave up baking cookies to have a full-time profession, if she goes to the Bar Association luncheon to praise Anita Hill, if she is the head of the children's defense fund at one point, if she's on the legal services board as a full professional, I would assume she'd want to be in the fray.


GINGRICH: Mrs. Bush is talking about the wife as a wife.


GINGRICH: -- a distinction that every professional women in the United States has to make in terms of how they're dealt with.



CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, August 21st. I'm Chris Cuomo.

BOLDUAN: And I'm Kate Bolduan. We're here with news anchor, Michaela Pereira.

PEREIRA: Good morning.

BOLDUAN: Coming up this half hour, an unarmed man shot at by police 15 times in his own driveway. He's now speaking out to CNN about that terrifying night.

CUOMO: Plus, it's not easy to get Mr. Mark Zuckerberg to sit for an interview, but we did it. Why? Well, because he has something he wants to talk about, that's why.