Return to Transcripts main page


Wounded Officer Making Progress; Interview with Representative Mike Turner; Voices "Talking" to Alexis Through His Walls; Massive Rescue Operations Ongoing In Colorado; Investigators Seek More Info On Aaron Alexis

Aired September 17, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Three of the people wounded in yesterday's shooting are said to be doing better today. Among the injured, a Washington, D.C. police officer who was shot twice in the legs. Officer Scott Williams is a 23-year veteran of the force. Earlier today, Police Chief Cathy Lanier talked about Officer Williams and how his character is helping him beat the odds.


CHIEF CATHY LANIER, METROPOLITAN D.C. POLICE: We have a very good prognosis from the doctors. He does have serious injuries to his legs. Again, I know the officer and I know his personality. I'm real confident that he not only will walk again but probably will outrun most of us again.


TAPPER: I'm joined now by Kristopher Baumann, he's the chairman of the D.C. Police Union.

First of all, it's great to hear that Officer Williams is doing better. Tell us about this encounter between the officer and the gunman.

KRISTOPHER BAUMANN, CHAIRMAN, D.C. POLICE UNION: Well, what happened in there is they sent in what we call active shooter teams. And it used to be that we would pull back around an area and wait until we got our SWAT teams and (INAUDIBLE) team in place but after Columbine we adjusted those tactics and so we now train a majority of our force to go in as active shooter teams, also with other agencies. So as soon as they get there, they can begin getting into the building and stop what the threat is.

TAPPER: And specifically when the officer ran up the stairs, the shooter, the killer, was on top of the stairs shooting down from the fourth floor?

BAUMANN: The specifics of the investigation at this point, we're not going to discuss. We're a little hesitant. I know there's a lot of talk out there but I think this investigation needs to unfold. We need to know exactly what happened, have that documented, let the FBI do its job and then we'll be able to discuss and look at what happened.

TAPPER: The city councilman for this area told us yesterday that the gun blast, I guess, from the shotgun almost severed the officer's legs. Is there the hope that -- he will be able to walk again?

BAUMANN: Well, we're going to be there with him the whole way. We have officers with him. We'll be there. I saw him this morning, I was in the ambulance last night before it took off. We will get him back. And he -- you know, he's one of us, he's part of the family. And we'll get him back to where he needs to be.

TAPPER: Tell us about some of the other individuals with the Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement organizations who ran into the danger.

BAUMANN: The bravery that was exhibited was extraordinary. These teams formed up immediately. They went in even after they knew there had been an officer shot, they continued to go in there, they continued to risk their lives to save civilians and if they had not done this, if they had not gone in, I think the death toll would have been even higher.

And for -- you know, I think we see a lot of TV, a lot of movies but the idea that you're going into a situation where you believe you may be killed, and yet you go in there to save others, that's what they did. I couldn't be prouder to be a Metropolitan Police officer right now and I'm proud of all the local agencies, because what I heard across the board is everybody was brave, everybody kept going in there.

And you can have all the training in the world but at the end of the day, it's going to come down to that individual courage of each officer. And we saw that time and again, time and again, and that's one of the reasons we were able to contain what was already an awful situation.

TAPPER: Tremendous character, and there's no doubt. I heard one of the law enforcement officials say yesterday no doubt that Aaron Alexis would have kept shooting had he not been taken down.

Thanks to you for coming in and please convey to Officer Williams our thanks and our prayers on his behalf.

BAUMANN: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir.

Coming back -- when we come back, was security cut back at the Navy Yard to save money? Why a new report has one congressman demanding answers. I will talk to him next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Live right outside the Washington Navy Yard. It was a rampage within walking distance of the heart of the nation's capitol so how did someone like Aaron Alexis get inside the Navy Yard in the first place? How did he get clearance?

The question comes coincidentally at the same time as the release of a new government audit that says budget cuts have hurt security at a variety of military installations, including the Navy Yard.

Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, joins me now.

Congressman, thanks for being here. You spoke earlier today with the special inspector general who did this audit and you asked him if the tragedy that happened yesterday could be tied in any way to the budget cuts and the point of this audit. What was his response?

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), OHIO: Well, they're very concerned about the safety at the Navy facilities, and their report which is now available online is very condemning of the Navy's vetting process, and not accessing criminal records, not even looking for possible terror suspects.

What they indicated is that they will now take the specific instance of the shooter, compare that against the lack of vetting processes that they've seen within the Navy, and to try to make that correlation.

Now the Navy cited budget constraints for their new process of permitting access to Navy facilities. They also, in rejecting the inspector general's recommendations to tighten security, cited budgetary constraints. That's certainly a concern for us. And we're going to follow that up.

TAPPER: I guess what's so confounding to a lot of us, Congressman, is after he was named, so many members of the media were able to do searches and find out about this 2004 arrest, when he fired a gun at the tires of a car and said he had a blackout.

Other arrests, the fact that he was honorably discharged from the military, but there were a number of incidents where he was reprimanded. And in fact, he was close to, according to some accounts, close to possibly being dishonorably discharged although he didn't meet the requirement, ultimately.

How come none of this tripped any alarms for the Navy?

TURNER: Well, and that's part of the problem. The inspector general in their report identified 52 felons that had received access to Navy facilities that had not been identified, but were later caught in the system when their names were re-vetted.

So clearly, there's a problem with the Navy. I've sent a letter to the secretary of the Navy today requesting that they immediately implement the recommendations of the inspector general. The inspector general specifically cites that their concern was the safety of individuals at these facilities as a result of this improper vetting. TAPPER: Now the mayor of Washington, D.C., said that the forced budget cuts of this year called sequestration could be part of this. Take a listen.


MAYOR VINCENT GRAY, WASHINGTON: As I look at, for example, sequestration which is about saving money in the federal government being spent, that we somehow skimped, you know, on what would be available for projects like this and then we put people at risk.


TAPPER: Is he right, Congressman? Does this have to do with sequestration or does this predate that?

TURNER: Well, this predates sequestration. I think sequestration has become sort of the buzzword for budgetary constraints. Again, the I.G. in their report have the Navy specifically talking about budgetary constraints for their new processes, and the I.G. raises the issue of how does the Navy look at the issue of balancing both security risk and budgetary constraints.

But I think this really does go to the heart of what we're trying to do in the Department of Defense, finding smart ways to do things but at the same time, lower risks. Security is not an area that should at all suffer as we look to ways in which cuts might be able to be found.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Mike Turner, thanks. And keep us updated on this.

TURNER: OK. Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Coming up next, voices in his head and in the walls. And run-ins with the cops. How did a man like Aaron Alexis slip through the cracks of this nation's mental health system?


TAPPER: He heard voices talking to him through his hotel wall, according to police, and when he moved, they moved with him. We know the Navy Yard shooter sought treatment for mental illness but what was he suffering from? He had violent outbursts.


TAPPER: Welcome back to this special edition of THE LEAD. Aaron Alexis we know had violent outbursts, run-ins with the police, and police now say he also heard voices. The father of the Navy Yard shooter also told police that his son's issues began over a decade ago, when he began to suffer from what he says was post-traumatic stress disorder after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

That all paints a troubling picture of the mind of a man responsible for the deaths of 12 people here at the Washington Navy Yard. I want to bring in Dr. Gail Saltz. She is an associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Dr. Saltz, thanks for being here. We certainly don't know for sure what caused Aaron Alexis to snap. But when you hear of all these incidents, shooting the tires, saying he had blackouts, hearing voices through the wall, saying that somebody was sending vibrations through a microwave, what sort of mental health concerns leap to mind for you?

DR. GAIL SALTZ, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, NEW YORK PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL: Well, you're describing symptoms of psychosis, the hearing things through the wall and hearing voices which are called auditory hallucinations, are symptoms of psychotic thinking. Psychotic thinking can be due to, in some instances, post-traumatic stress disorder but often it's due to another psychiatric diagnosis like schizophrenia, like severe bipolar disorder, and early 20s is a typical time for those kinds of disorders to first present.

Certainly someone who is psychotic should not be able to have a weapon, but I think it's important for people to understand that most people who are even seriously psychiatrically ill, even psychotic, will never commit a violent act. In fact, they are more likely to be victims themselves. However, the fact that people say he appeared suspicious and paranoid and that he had had some violent behavior in the past.

Those are red flags because people who feel that others are out to persecute them as a delusion are more likely to potentially be violent, as are, of course, ones who have committed some violent acts in the past.

TAPPER: So Doctor, how does someone like this who had reportedly been seen by medical professionals at a V.A. Hospital, at least one, how does that person still fall through the cracks?

SALTZ: You know, I guess it remains to be seen whether, in fact, that's what happened. There was an actual report and in fact, it did fall through the cracks, or whether it was a case of, you know, entering but not following through, no one heard anything about any of his symptoms, really. In other words, a patient may come in and say I feel down, I feel depressed, I feel anxious.

Nothing that would flag and they don't report that in fact, they're hearing voices or any of these things. You know, at the end of the day, psychiatrists are not mind readers. In New York, if a patient came in and said to me I'm hearing voices and I have a gun, I would have to report them. That's part of the safe act now and I would do so.

But there are a lot of cases where patients don't return what's going on, they come in once. They don't return for treatment. They are never hospitalized or there's no record to in any way insinuate that they officially have mental illness that should prevent them from getting a weapon.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Gail Saltz, thank you so much for your insights. CNN will have continuing live coverage of the D.C. Navy Yard massacre in a special night of prime time this evening. Here's a preview.


ANNOUNCER: CNN Tonight, at 8:00 on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," the shooting rampage at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Anderson Cooper is there live with the latest on the investigation. At 9:00 on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE," a test of faith for the man known as America's pastor. Piers talks exclusively with Rick Warren and his wife, their first interview since their son's suicide, and about what he did when he heard about the navy yard shootings in Washington.

RICK WARREN: The first thing I did is get down on my knees and pray for those families.

ANNOUNCER: It's all on CNN Tonight starting with Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" at 7:00, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:00, and "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" at 9:00. Tonight on CNN.


TAPPER: Coming up next, we'll check back in with the FBI on the Navy Yard shooting. What are investigators looking for right now as they try to piece together all the details of the attack.


TAPPER: Hundreds waiting to be plucked from the flood waters, a chopper ride their only way out. We've got the very latest on the Colorado search and rescue operations when THE LEAD continues coming up in just a couple of minutes.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. While we've been focused on the tragic shootings here in Washington, D.C., we have not lost sight of other national news. One of the largest air rescue operations since Hurricane Katrina is back under way in Colorado after a relentless onslaught of rain that left hundreds of families stranded. The numbers associated with this flood crisis are staggering, 1,500 homes have been completely washed away. Nearly 600 people are still unaccounted for, although officials caution that could just be a result of communications systems in the area being down.

The damage is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. There are now eight confirmed deaths, including a couple that was swept away after getting out of their car. Joining us now by phone is Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith. He is at the incident command post in Loveland, Colorado. Sheriff Smith, thanks so much for joining us. What's the latest on rescue operations in your county?

JUSTIN SMITH, LARIMER COUNTY SHERIFF (via telephone): Well, Jake, we have good news this afternoon on rescues because weather has continued clear. We have significant air resources up. What that means is the helicopters are getting out. They're getting to the zones that we put people together and they're flying them out of the area. In addition to that, we have the urban search and rescue teams out in the field with our deputies and they are getting to people, checking residences, going through and documenting what we have so a lot of things going on out there.

TAPPER: How many individuals are still unaccounted for in your county?

SMITH: The last number I had was somewhere in the 200 range. They were unaccounted for and certainly that doesn't mean missing, just simply means nobody's heard from them. It's a little difficult because at the same time we'll take people off who we locate and bring back. Names may be added to the list because other family members or friends will call in, somebody we weren't aware of.

TAPPER: We've heard that food and water is running low in some areas. Will you and your officers be able to get supplies to families that are awaiting rescue?

SMITH: Yes, Jake. That's one of the things that's going on at the same time that these air operations are able to go into areas where we cannot extract people yet and are bringing in water, bringing in MREs to put in the field to folks so if they're awaiting rescue. We are getting that to them. It's easier in large communities, maybe a dozen houses in an area where you can put a helicopter down. Where you may have individual cabins it's a little more difficult.

I can tell you, I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon out at the airfield greeting people as they came off the helicopters and talking with them. I can tell you they were in much better condition than I anticipated they might be, given the number of days. This started last Wednesday. But a lot of these folks, you have to understand, they are very hardy folks.

They keep a good supply of food and water at their residence so they are actually doing pretty good, but yes, it's getting to the point with some folks that they're really running out of supplies.

TAPPER: Sheriff Smith, our thoughts and prayers are with you and the citizens of Colorado. Thanks so much for joining us.

SMITH: Thank you.

TAPPER: Back now to our National Lead. The more investigators learn about the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, the more questions they have about how he managed to pull off this deadly rampage. I want to welcome back Shawn Henry, a former executive assistant director for the FBI.

Shawn, one of the things you and I were talking about during the break is the fact that there are so many red flags that we've seen now, obviously everything in retrospect, including the report from Deb Feyerick about the police telling the Naval Yard in Rhode Island this guy's reporting that he was feeling vibrations. Do you think that anything will change now, not just in the military, but society-wide? SHAWN HENRY, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: You know, I think that an event like this raises the public's awareness. Unfortunately, it's oftentimes short-sighted. The pendulum moves to the right for a short period of time, then tends to slide back. But I would hope that the public, seeing an issue like this, seeing those red flags, in the future, identifying people who might have problems, bringing it to the attention of authorities, people who should know and might be able to intervene before a tragedy like this happens.

TAPPER: What's your message for authorities as well? Obviously the authorities knew he shot out the tires of that car, obviously the naval yard in Rhode Island had been alerted by local police this guy's reporting vibrations are being sent to him. What do those authorities need to do?

HENRY: Let me put this in perspective. This goes back about nine years, a lot of events over a long time. Certainly something should have picked up. It's easy to look back and say we should have picked it up. It happened in multiple states over many years. Investigators are doing their job, trying to do the right thing.

Sometimes things do slip through the cracks. The resounding message at the end of the day is we have to be alert. There are bad people out there looking to harm innocent people. Hopefully, the events of yesterday will help raise that awareness so this doesn't happen again anytime soon.

TAPPER: I hope so. Shawn Henry, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I will now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in THE SITUATION ROOM, back in the Washington, D.C. Bureau of CNN -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jake, thanks very much.