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Shooter Kills 12 in D.C. Rampage; D.C. Shooter Had Military Security Clearance; Dry Weather for Flood-Ravaged Colorado; U.N. Reports Assigns No Responsibility, Overwhelming Proof of Attack

Aired September 17, 2013 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome back to a special edition of NEW DAY. I am live in the nation's capital on this Wednesday, September 17th. And it is a somber morning following a shooting rampage here at the Washington Navy yard. This is a live look at the flag at half-staff at the White House and the Capitol building, of course honoring the 12 victims. So many questions this morning, surrounding the event, most importantly, why did the shooter do it, how did he get access to this building? We'll take you through everything we know at this hour. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris. We're following the devastation out west, the horrific floods in Colorado, the death toll now rising to eight. Rescue operations are back underway with a break in the rain helping crews reach the hundreds of people still stranded. But the disaster is far from over this morning.

We also have for you a CNN exclusive. Pastor Rick Warren and his wife opening up to the media for the first time since their son committed suicide. What they told our Piers Morgan about the moment they founded it out he was gone. More on that straight ahead. But first, let's get back to Chris.

CUOMO: This morning, the capital and the whole country is suffering reality of yet another mass shooting. Less than 24 hours ago, the Washington Navy yard was the scene of absolute terror. A gunman opened fire, killing 12 people, civilians and contractors just beginning their day at the massive military compound. Seven of the victims have been identified. They were mothers, fathers, grandparents, all ranging in age from 46 to 73. The rampage ended only when police gunned down the shooter.

After some concern that there were multiple shooters, authorities announced the 34-year-old killed at the scene acted alone. The bigger question, of course, this morning, is why and how did this man get security clearance?


CUOMO: Monday morning, chaos and fear in the nation's capital after a gunman opens fire at the heavily secured Washington Navy yard, less than three miles from the White House, two miles from the capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple shots fired, multiple people down. CUOMO: The death toll rising by the hour, at least 13 killed, eight more injured, the rampage now appearing to be the work of a lone gunman whom the FBI identified as 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, an IT contractor and former Navy reservist. Alexis dies in a gun battle with police inside the complex. The frightening events unfolding minute by minute -- 8:20 a.m., frantic calls begin pouring into 911 moments after shots fired.

COMMANDER TIM JURIS, WITNESS: We were just standing here maybe three feet away having a conversation. We heard two more gunshots. And he went down and that's when I ran.

CUOMO: The gunman entered building 197 of the Navy yard with an active military contractor I.D. and security clearance. The FBI says Alexis begins firing from a fourth floor balcony on to office workers in an atrium below, using a semiautomatic rifle.

DR. JANIS ORLOWSKI, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: We have a third individual who just arrived who had a gunshot wound to the head and to the hand.

CUOMO: Within minutes, metropolitan police, U.S. capital police and the FBI swarmed the area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have an officer down.

CUOMO: By 9:33 a.m., ambulances and helicopters descend upon the scene, rushing victims to local hospitals. Schools near the Navy yard locked down, the Senate side of the capital closed, and air traffic at Reagan national airport grounded so it would not interfere with law enforcement choppers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone said, this is no drill. Go, go, go, emergency exits now. Go, go, go.

CUOMO: Just before 10:00 a.m., President Obama is briefed in the oval office. Three hours after the shooting spree begins, law enforcement officials confirm the gunman shot and killed. President Obama lamenting yet another mass shooting.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are men and women who were going to work, doing their job, protecting all of us.

CUOMO: The president ordered flags be lowered to half-staff to honor the victims.

Monday's rampage at the Navy yard is the deadliest shooting on a military installation in the U.S. since Fort Hood in 2009, which killed 13 and injured 30 others. One by one, thousands of employees are allowed to leave their offices on base, many spending hours hiding and waiting for the carnage to end, then cleared by police.


CUOMO: Our thoughts and prayers, of course, go out to the 12 people who lost their lives and families and all the people affected in building 197 and the whole facility yesterday. And we gave them respect and attention that is due.

Of course, we also ask a lot of questions about the shooter involved, not for point of glorification, but to help understand why this happened to prevent future attacks. Remember, this is the seventh mass shootings that's killed 10 or more people in the last 10 years, so finding out why it happened and how we can prevent it is all important.

And there is a picture developing of the man suspected of this shooting here. We know he was in the Navy. We know that he was discharged for a pattern of misconduct. We know he had problems with the law involving violence. CNN's Pamela Brown has been developing this picture for us. And one of the big ingredients, Pamela, in all of the shootings we covered is there usually is a component of mental distress, whether it was diagnosed or undiagnosed. And there's a chance we may be seeing that here as well, right?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. It appears, Chris, he's had a history of mental health issues. In fact, law enforcement sources I've been in touch with say that Aaron Alexis has been in contact with two VA hospitals recently, believed to be for psychological issues. Authorities investigating the circumstances around that right now.

Also we have learned he has had violent incidents in his past. So in light of this information, of course, this raises questions about how Aaron Alexis was able to gain legitimate access into the military installation and why he carried out the attack.


BROWN: Law enforcement officials say 34-year-old IT subcontractor Aaron Alexis entered Navy yard building 197 legally with a valid military issued I.D. and intent to kill. His motive, unknown.

VALERIE PARLAVE, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI WASHINGTON FIELD OFFICE: We are looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and associates.

BROWN: A picture is emerging of a complicated man, at times quiet and polite, who spoke several languages and worshipped at this Buddhist temple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's incredible this is all happening because he was a good-natured guy. It seemed like he wanted to get more out of life.

BROWN: Other times he could be explosively angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He might be angry sometimes, but I don't believe that he's going to kill others.

BROWN: Alexis was born in queens, New York, joined the Navy as a reservist in May, 2007. According to Pentagon officials he was discharged in January 2011 following a, quote, pattern of misconduct. While it's unclear what that misconduct was, he did have several run- ins with the law. He was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicles, described in the police report as an anger-fueled blackout. His father said his son was suffering PTSD after helping post-9/11 rescue efforts at ground zero.

In 2008, cited and briefly jailed for disturbing peace in Georgia and arrested again in 2010 for discharging a gun in public in Fort Worth, Texas, where he lived until recently, never charged in that case. Alexis had been staying at this hotel, not far from the Navy yard since last week and the law enforcement source tells CNN Alexis recently purchased one of the guns used in the shooting at a gun store in Virginia. He also passed two security clearances last September and this past July before starting work at the Navy yard.

His violent rampage has left his family devastated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very hurtful. Our hearts are going out more to the victims, the people that got hurt, because, you know, more lives lost, we don't need that right now.


CUOMO: The big question regarding weapons right now is how he got it into the facility. But information has been fluid about the weapons involved. What do we know now?

BROWN: That's right. At this moment, officials are still trying to piece together what weapons were used, how he acquired him. What we do know, Chris, is that three weapons were recovered at the scene. Initially law enforcement thought he was armed with an AR-15. Now it's believed he was armed with a shotgun and two semiautomatic pistols. Right now officials are looking into whether they do believe he brought in the shotgun, at least one weapon, the shotgun, and whether he acquired the two pistols from guards at the building. But, again, right now they're looking at all the information, trying to piece this together. As you say, it is fluid.

CUOMO: And not an easy scene to process, obviously.


CUOMO: Pamela Brown, thank you so much for the reporting. Appreciate it.

Now, everything we're learning about the suspect, about how he was able to be in trouble so often and yet get clearance of this level of military sophistication is a very troubling question. We want to talk about that this morning, because, again, we know that before he ever entered the Navy that he was allowed to enter, the Navy, he had trouble with the law involving a weapon where he allegedly shoot out the tires of a car, then a pattern of misconduct while he was in the Navy, and another arrest after. And so there's a lot on the table to understand how this man got clearance.

We want to bring people in to talk about this. We have security analyst Fran Townsend live in New York, and we have CNN's chief national correspondent John King standing right next to me. Thank you two, both of you here. John, what's the latest on the ground in terms of what we understand here from a clearance perspective.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now you're going to have a Congressional investigation into addition to the police investigation. Pam just went through this. You have a history of a gun incident in Seattle before he joined the military, gun incident while he is in the military that is part of his discharge. Clearly some anger management issues, potential mental health issues.

And so the question is, when somebody like this is discharged, when one of the gun incidents was part of the discharge, how does that get reported? How does that person, who clearly has some issues, then get not only a government contracting job but a past that gives him all access to this military installation and to any military installation? Most military installations around the country, based on the reporting, he showed up yesterday, drove up like anybody else would drive up this morning, showed his card, pulled up, walked into the building and was part of a massacre.

And so part of the question is, is security on military installations correct? And the vetting of these government contractors in which here's a Seattle police report here. The incident happens, the police take him in but the prosecutor never takes it to the finish line. So because he was never fully prosecuted, does that mean he can always get access to guns? That's the line. You have to separate all these big incidents, because there's a lot of warning signs but nobody ever acted to say we have to watch out for this person.

CUOMO: Here you have a record of arrests, at least two of them, and, Fran, the military's own records of what his pattern of misconduct was that led to discharge. So the question I give over to you is, this is about failed policy, failed practice? How do we explain how somebody with this kind of past gets not just allowed into the armed services and gets military clearance at this level?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Chris, you know, normally in these kinds of instances, you look back, you don't see this pattern. In fact, I must say to you, we ought to remind our viewers that having a clearance and have access is a privilege, not a right. And so you don't have to take it to the finish line, frankly. This all comes up in the clearance and vetting process.

Most of those clearances are processed by private contractors who were doing this on behalf of the government. Then it goes to a government official to look at this. It mystifies me. We ought to be angry that this guy was able to get through that process and get the clearance and get the access that John and Pamela have described to you. There really are lessons to be learned here. And it's an absolute sort of travesty that this guy with this sort of history could make it through the process. I think it's inexcusable.

CUOMO: All right, so first thing is, this is a legitimate point of criticism that we're making here, right, because we always want to be very careful about that, not to speculate in the negative when this is just the randomness of how these things go. Fran, in your estimation, this should not have happened the way policy is practiced? TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. The FBI over the last 11 years has looked at these active shooter cases. They analyzed 160 cases, 96 percent of these act alone. Most of them are -- over 90 percent are males. They often, more than half the time they end up dead, mostly by suicide or by a law enforcement killing.

So we've got a decade of history with these. The biggest ones are the ones you've talked about. It's the Fort Hood shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter, the shooter, Loughner, who shot Gabby Giffords, the representative. We know the big ones. But these happen, and we understand most of them are at workplace or academic institutions. We have a history we can look at.

But rarely do you see this sort of defined pattern of violent activity. And we do have to ask the question, why didn't this trigger, in somebody, either the clearance process or the government when they actually granted the clearance, somebody's concern?

CUOMO: Right, because usually the question is, well, why didn't this mental health issue get more attention? Why was this person allowed to stay in the general population? This is different. This is an issue of this person being given special access to a situation that is deserved of vetting.

KING: Quite often you hear, whether it's teachers, whether it's coworker in past incidents, there are privacy issues involved and a mental question. And that is a very difficult line when someone is having emotional difficulties. When do you report to police and say they might be a risk? But this is different. This is a public record. There's a public record of the Seattle incident. There's a public record of his discharge. There's a public record of the Fort Worth incident, all involving anger. His father is quoted, we don't know the particulars of this, but in this police report here saying he had some 9/11 PTSD issues.

CUOMO: He talked about that as well, allegedly, that the suspect mentioned it to police.

KING: And so this is a public record you can find. You assume a government contractor and the military have easier access to these than we do. We can find these in minutes. It was not terribly hard to find these records.

So at what point is there at least -- you're innocent until proven guilty in America. But at what point does this go into a separate file where he has a tougher job, because once he gets that military I.D., number one, he can walk onto that base. Number two, they were at a security level where if he had a bag with weapons in it they weren't searching bags, he walks into a building. Number three, there will be questions now and the gun control debate will be reignited. But if you have a government issued military ID, that's an easy pass to buying a weapon, because the government vetted you. Easy.

CUOMO: And in one respect there's more definable politics surrounding this clearance issue. The gun debate is going to go on. We know that. But we've had people say this is the sequester. This is trying to do things on the cheap that shouldn't be done on the cheap. This is private contractors vetting, not the government vetting. How real will this be going forward in terms of a political fix?

KING: Both on the vetting issue and because of spending priorities have they reduced security levels at installations like this. We have a mix of military personnel and a mix of contractors. You'll see a lot of congressional attention and other public attention on both of those questions. Number one, contractors vetting people who have access to sensitive information, Edward Snowden for example, or access to sensitive installations like this. And then the bigger question of, access, can anybody now -- post-9/11 as the years have passed have we dropped the level of scrutiny when you walk in with a card or a bag.

CUOMO: Exactly. At a time you think we should be heightening. John King, Fran Townsend, thank you very much for the perspective. We'll be coming back to you. Appreciate it.

Obviously we're talking about shooter here because we want to learn how it happened and prevent it going forward, but the real attention, of course, is on the 12 innocent people who lost their lives. They were mothers, they were fathers, and just people ready to begin a day of work. Seven of them have been identified as this information is starting to come out. Renee Marsh is here following this for us, trying to get a better understanding of who these people were and how their lives ended.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That right, and Chris I mean if you just look around, I mean today is dramatically different than yesterday. You don't hear the blaring sounds of sirens, you don't see the police zipping by because today the focus switches to the victims. And just late last night, seven of the 12 victim's names were released. We're going to read those names to you one by one.

The first one, Michael Arnold, 59 years old. Sylvia Frasier, 53 years old. Kathy Gaarde, 62. Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46. John Roger Johnson, 73. Frank Kohler, 50. Vishnu Pandit, 61. And "The Washington Post" this morning reporting Arthur Daniels, 51 years old.

Of course, there are five other victims. We don't have their names as yet. They're waiting to notify the family members. Once that is done, we'll get those other additional names. No timeline on when that will happen. Again, focus on the victims. Later on this morning, about three hours from now, we know that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will be laying a wreath at the U.S. Navy Memorial.

CUOMO: The flags are at half-staff at the Capitol and the White House, we know they're at half mast on Navy buildings. They're showing their respect, we're keeping our distance, let the families heal. Of course, our thoughts go out to the first responders. They took injuries in there as well and certainly kept the situation from becoming worse. Thank you very much for the reporting this morning.

Kate, over to you.

BOLDUAN: All right, Chris, thank you so much. Let's go across the country where we are following the other big story this morning, air rescue efforts have resumed in Colorado where the death toll from massive flooding now stands at eight.

Helicopters were back in the sky Monday rescuing stranded residents in several counties. Hundreds of people are still awaiting rescue as food and water runs low in areas that have been cut off, for some for days by the floods. CNN's George Howell is live in Longmont, Colorado with the latest. Good morning.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, good morning. So, I'm sure you can see the river here flowing behind me. To put it in perspective, from where I'm standing right now, I would have been standing in the river just a few days ago. Fair to say, the floodwaters are receding.

We're also seeing the number of unaccounted for, slowly but surely go down and for the first time, people are returning to their homes to see what's left.


HOWELL: New images emerged overnight. Choppers once again taking to the sky, evacuating at least 100 people. Emergency response out in full force, searching homes, a desperate search for anyone still stranded in the mountains or unaccounted for, following Colorado's deadly flash floods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some areas experienced a 100-year flood. Others experienced a 1,000-year flood, something that would happen every thousand years.

HOWELL: This is what the region looked like from space, just days before, compared to this image taken after the massive flood that inundated northern and eastern Colorado.

Returning to a devastated community. Residents in Longmont, seeing their homes for the first time since Thursday no longer habitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ruined. The basement is gone and it stinks so bad in there, you can barely stand it.

HOWELL: Jeff Larson's wife, Nina, watched as their SUV was swept away by rushing water.

NINA LARSON, WITNESS: We watched it float down the road and our basement immediately started flooding at that time. I took my son and his friend, Wyatt and Cole, we went to the third level with the belly boats.

HOWELL: Evacuated nine hours later, they consider themselves lucky. Thick mud and water moved through Lyons, shifting entire homes from their foundation. This woman unable to reach her home on the other side of the river, in utter disbelief that it was picked up and moved several feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today is our favorite day up here since we've been evacuated. And I feel like it's worse than I thought it would be. We lost absolutely everything we own.


HOWELL: Just yesterday alone, in Boulder County, we know some 250 people who were rescued and when you look at the entire event over the last five days, officials say some 12,000 people, Kate, were forced to evacuate.

BOLDUAN: The numbers are just tough to even believe. The overall flood zone covering some 17 counties in the state, just remarkable. We'll be covering it all.

HOWELL: Impressive.

BOLDUAN: It sure is. George, thank you very much.

Let's get straight to Indra Petersons with the latest on what they can be expecting in Colorado today.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unbelievable as we talk about the break they need. They set records for not only the day, the month, and the year for the amount of rain they received in Boulder, they need this break.

They're going to get it today. They're see a lot more dry air pushing into the area. We are going to be carefully monitoring, though, a cold front currently in the Pacific Northwest that is expecting to drop down Wednesday night in through Thursday. Another chance of rain by tomorrow behind that, at least the rest of the week does look good.

Regardless, the damage is done. The water is there. The question now is where is this water expected to go? Looks like right down the South Platte river. We're looking at many places by Friday, starting to see some major flood stages even as we push in through Nebraska. That's the concern here, a lot of debris could be in the water flow. Will that jam up the progress down the river and produce even more flooding down river?

BOLDUAN: All right. Thanks so much, Indra. We'll check back in.

Clearly there's a lot of news developing at this very hour, so let's go to Michaela Pereira for the latest headlines.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Charges now are pending against a man police say threw firecrackers toward the White House causing a brief scare in those tense hours after the Navy Yard shooting. The man allegedly tossed these firecrackers over the North Lawn fence around 6:30 last night as law enforcement worked to rule out a possible second suspect in those Navy Yard shootings.

North Carolina officer charged with shooting an unarmed former college football player is expected in court today. In the meantime, civil rights leaders say they want crime scene video made public. Police say officer Randall Karrick fired 12 times at 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell Saturday. Ten bullets hit and killed him. Ferrell reportedly ran towards him as they responded to a breaking and entering 911 call . Police now say they believe Ferrell may have just been looking for help following a car wreck. A Philadelphia woman is accused of getting physical with a flight attendant before takeoff. Now she's facing charges. Authorities say Sasha Anderson threw her cell phone at the attendant, slapped, and scratched him. She was taken off the plane and charged with, among other things, simple assault and disorderly conduct. The U.S. Airways flight did head to Florida an hour and a half late.

Britain's Prince Harry chilling out to prepare for a charity expedition to the South Pole. The prince and teammates from The Walking With The Wounded Challenge spent 24 hours in a freezing weather simulator, practicing hike,s and putting up tents in the face of 60 mile-an-hour wind. That expedition is to raise money for injured British servicemen and women, and it will take place in November.

Katy Perry responding to PETA, which claims animals may have been abused and mistreated during the making of her video, her new video "Roar," which features Perry frolicking through the jungle alongside a elephant, a tiger, looks like she's on the back of a crocodile there, monkeys, exotic birds, etcPerry responded with some help from the American Humane Association, which she apparently had representatives onsite when she made that video. The group confirms that no animals were harmed during that course of that three day shoot. Previously PETA had actually praised her for being vegetarian, but apparently they're coming after her, concerned that animals were injured, but she's refuted those claims.

BOLDUAN: With that many animals in the video, she had to see that one coming.

PEREIRA: She must have. I'm sure somebody in her camp said this could be an issue.


BOLDUAN: Still ahead on NEW DAY, the United Nations says the evidence is clear, the chemical attack in Syria is a war crime. So, what happens now?

Also ahead, we're going to head straight back to Washington, where police are looking for answers. What motivated the Navy Yard shooting suspect Aaron Alexis to open fire. Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent gray will join us live.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. Hope you're having a good morning. The U.N. is calling the chemical attack in Syria a war crime, saying it has overwhelming and indisputable evidence that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria. The White House now saying it will provide protective gear to the opposition and inspectors. Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us live with the latest on all this. What does it all mean now, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, that U.N. chemical weapons report about last month's sarin attack in Syria did not assign responsibility, and because of that, Russian officials are insisting this morning that Syrian rebels could still be to blame for that assault. That is just one reason why the White House cannot at this point say that its diplomatic efforts are victories just yet.



ACOSTA: It's a deal that could give President Obama a way to avoid air strikes in Syria, and on Monday he sounded optimistic, the latest attempt at diplomacy may pay off.

OBAMA: We took an important step in that direction towards moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so they can be destroyed. And we're not there yet but if properly implemented, this agreement could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the world.

ACOSTA: Hammered out over the weekend between the U.S. and Syria's closest ally, Russia, the plan demands Bashar al Assad hand over his chemical weapons to international control. Syria's president has just a week to list what weapons he has, where they are and how they're made. To keep the pressure on, President Obama says he's keeping the U.S. military at the ready if Assad doesn't comply. A long-awaited report from the United Nations confirmed Monday what many suspected, that sarin gas mounted on rockets was used to kill more than a thousand Syrians in August. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says the people responsible for the poison gas attack committed a war crime and must face justice.

BAN KI MOON, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: Those perpetrators who have used chemical weapons or any of the weapons of mass destruction in the future will have to be brought to justice. This is a firm principle of the United Nations.


ACOSTA: As for the White House, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.N. chemical weapons report only reinforces the administration's view that Syria's government is responsible for last month's attack. Meanwhile, the next big test for this U.S./Russia plan will come later on this week --