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Interview with Denise Robinson; High School Football Player Dies; Back To School; Emmy Controversy; Zac Efron's Stint In Rehab

Aired September 18, 2013 - 07:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. It is Wednesday, September 18th. Coming up in the show, what was it like to be in that building when Aaron Alexis opened fire? Joining us in just a moment is someone who worked in that Building 197 at the Washington Navy Yard and came face to face with the gunman. She will be joining us live in just a few moments.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a very different kind of story. You're not going to want to run into this guy. A creepy clown is making his way around an old English town, leaving some cringe-worthy messages on Facebook. What is the deal with this? It's happening enough to look into it. So we'll tell you what's going on there later this morning.

A lot of news we're following for you this morning. Let's get right to Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We start again with an update on our top story. Still no motive in the Washington Navy Yard shooting rampage, but Rhode Island police say Aaron Alexis told them about a month ago that he thought he was being followed and was hearing voices through his hotel room walls. It is raising questions about how a man with an arrest record and a history of mental problems still had clearance to the Navy Yard as a civilian contractor.

Nebraska is now getting swamped by Colorado's high water. Runoff now creeping east into the neighboring state. Crews continue evacuating hundreds of stranded people. It's believed these are the largest rescue efforts of this sort in the U.S. since Katrina. The death toll has now been revised down from eight to six, but more than 300 people remain unaccounted for.

Three people are charged in alleged bribery scheme to make millions off contracts with the U.S. Navy. A Navy commander, a contractor and a criminal investigator, all face conspiracy charges and up to five years in prison. Prosecutors say the contractor bribed the commander and investigator with travel, prostitutes, and gifts in exchange for information that he could use to overcharge on contracts.

Take a look at this. A million dollar home in Stamford, Connecticut, now a pile of rubble after an explosion levelled it to the ground. The blast was felt miles away. The fire chief called it a scene out of hell. It's not clear what sparked the fire, but there was 400 pounds of propane in an underground tank. The homeowner thankfully was not inside at the time of the explosion and is OK.

A touching story to end with these headlines with, a 12-year-old, Trey Sampson, he is a middle school student from the Texas. He's fighting a rare form of bone cancer that's spread throughout his body. His prognosis is bleak, but he still had a dream of playing for the Jaguars. Trey can't be tackled.

He can't run hard, but boy the coach made sure Trey got the ball during Tuesday's game and he ran it in for a touchdown. Not only did trey's teammates celebrate his efforts, so did his opponents from the J.L. Long Buccaneers, a touching tribute to a great kiddo. Chris, over to you.

CUOMO: One of the best touchdowns I've seen, Michaela. Appreciate that story.

All right, everybody, imagine being just steps away from a killer. No one ever thinks this could happen, but we all know it did happen and it happened to our next guest. Denise Robinson, she works in Building 197 at the Navy Yard, was just feet away from the gunman when he opened fire. China Campbell, Denise's niece is also here with her for support.

And China, we'll talk to you because all that waiting, all that waiting, so hard for family members. You didn't know what was going on, had to be horrible. But Denise, it's so good to see you here. The most important thing is to know, how are you feeling today?

DENISE ROBINSON, WITNESS TO D.C. NAVY YARD SHOOTING: I feel pretty good now. I'm thankful to be here. It was a very scary event and still kind of traumatized by it.

CUOMO: A little bit, right?


CUOMO: Still shock. We're not talking about something that happened a long time ago, obviously. When you can, if you can, when you put your mind back to Monday morning, what was going on in the moments before this at 8:00 in the morning? What was this Monday?

ROBINSON: It started out as a typical day, you know, talking with co- workers and about 8:20 we hear pop, pop sounds. Then you hear consecutive. We really didn't know what was going on. So we stood up just to see and hear, and couldn't really determine what was happening.

So when my supervisor came to her door, we both made eye contact and just beside her door was the gunman. And she closed her door just in time and my co-worker, Nyla Washington screamed, he has a gun --

CUOMO: Did that register to you, when you're looking at this face, seeing what was going on?

ROBINSON: No, it didn't. He looked very calm and composed. So he didn't look like a person that was angry or doing that type of event. CUOMO: What did you see in his face?

ROBINSON: I just saw a cold stare.

CUOMO: A cold stare?


CUOMO: Something that you just don't usually see on somebody's face?


CUOMO: What happens next?

ROBINSON: We run for cover. I leave my desk and go over to the next cubicle and hide under the desk.

CUOMO: What told you to do that, just instinct?

ROBINSON: Just instinct. We really didn't have any other choice because it was, you know, captive inside the area.

CUOMO: What was his reaction to the door being closed, did he fire?

ROBINSON: He did fire at the cubicle in front of the door and the glass shattered and that's when, you know, we knew that it was the gunman.

CUOMO: And that's where you had been?

ROBINSON: I was just maybe less than 100 feet away.

CUOMO: When you realized that he saw you were there, the door was closed and then he fired, what did that mean to you to know that he was that intent on putting bullets where you were?

ROBINSON: I just felt very threatened at that point.

CUOMO: So then what happens? How long does it last?

ROBINSON: It lasts for about maybe an hour and a half.

CUOMO: An hour and a half?


CUOMO: For that long --

ROBINSON: I just didn't know what was going on.

CUOMO: You didn't know where he was or what was going on.

ROBINSON: I just heard gunshots and people screaming.

CUOMO: People forget when we get in this moment of crisis with the shooting that it lasted for two hours. So you did keep hearing shots, like it never ended for you?


CUOMO: And how did you stay safe during that time?

ROBINSON: You know, cuddled real tight and just hid under the desk.

CUOMO: So you're there, crushing your knees, trying to stay safe under the cube. Hours start to pass. You hear about the shooting, China.


CUOMO: But you can't get in touch with your aunt.

CAMPBELL: Exactly.

CUOMO: What happens there?

CAMPBELL: Well, frantically I was making phone calls to several of her co-workers. Once of them answered and they said, my God, nobody has seen Denise. We don't know where Denise is, have you talked to her? Try to reach her. We don't know where she is.

So I said, I'll try to call her and I'll keep calling. I kept getting phone calls, looking at the caller I.D. and there was no number I knew. Finally it was a number that came through at 9:53, and it was my aunt and she said, I'm OK. Tell everybody I'm OK.

I looked this man dead in his eyes. It was the scariest thing I ever seen. And I dove and dived under the desk, me and a co-worker. He was just right like two desks over shooting at people.

CUOMO: I mean, this was the longest moments of your life, I'm sure. But for you and family members of survivors, that hour plus of not knowing where your aunt was, I know you're very close. It will be a good discussion to have down the road about who was more frightened that day. You were facing danger literally in the eye and you were facing the unknown.


CUOMO: So horrible for a family. So what do you do now? What do you do with this? You know somebody was trying to kill you. You know he killed people. You know some of the people who were lost.


CUOMO: What do you tell yourself to make yourself get over this?

ROBINSON: Well, I feel very fortunate that I was not a victim and all I can do is just pray for those families that lost their loved ones and try to put this all together and move forward.

CUOMO: Of course, when you get back to work, not everybody will be there. ROBINSON: Yes.

CUOMO: You're going to know that.


CUOMO: But at least you know that you made it and thank God for that, right?


CUOMO: And for you, China, I know you're very close. Did you think you could love your aunt any more than you did before this happened?

CAMPBELL: When she called and said they're releasing me, I got there in like 12 minutes. I probably broke the speed limit.

CUOMO: I think it was OK on that day.

CAMPBELL: I couldn't wait to see her. The buses blocking our view, but when the buses separated and I saw her and she saw me, I couldn't wait to put her in my arms.

CUOMO: There are so many lessons coming out of this situation. You know the questions being asked about how this man got clearance given his past. But -- and all the lives that were taken and what changes going forward but at least you made it out, Denise.


CUOMO: We know too many didn't.


CUOMO: It's great to have you here.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

CUOMO: I look forward to hearing how it goes for you going forward.


CUOMO: Denise, thank you for being here. China, thank you for making sure she got here safely.

CAMPBELL: You're welcome.

CUOMO: You have to let her travel alone at some point.

CAMPBELL: I don't know, I don't know.

CUOMO: For now, keep your arms around her.


CUOMO: Good luck going forward. Kate, over to you. BOLDUAN: All right, Chris, thank you.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, a helmet-to-helmet collision leaves a teenage football star unconscious. Three days later, he died. So what happened? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to explain.

And then this very bizarre story, a clown that is not clowning around and not making anyone laugh. Where is he going next? We'll tell you.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Football is dangerous. You know that, but when it takes someone's life, it raises questions. This morning, the dangers of football are brought into sharp focus by the death of a 16-year-old high school player. There was a helmet-to- helmet hit and he wound up dying. Now parents are worried. They want to know if this game can be played safely by their children.

Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is at the CNN Center with more. Good morning, Doc.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. I think there are ways to make football safer and still have it be football. Something we've been looking into for some time. First, a little bit more about what we know happened to Damon Janes.


GUPTA (voice-over): A New York school is mourning the death of one of its students after a fatal injury during a football game last Friday. The 16-year-old Damon Janes, he is a junior on the varsity football at Brocton High School took a direct hit to the head during the third quarter of the game. He was knocked unconscious and then he was immediately taken to a nearby hospital.

Three days later at Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo he died from his injuries. It was the third death of a high school athlete in New York in as many years.

JOHN HENTLEIN, SUPERINTENDENT, BROCTON CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT (via telephone): The kids are supporting each other. Our staff is supporting the kids and the kids are supporting the staff. We have counselors in and around the school.

GUPTA: Helmet-to-helmet hits have been banned at all levels of football, from pee-wee to the NFL, but they do still happen. In fact, just last week, Tampa Bay Safety Dejon Goldson was fined $30,000 for a similar tackle hitting New York Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland with his helmet. Janes' death comes just a month after Dejandre Turman, another high school junior died in Fairburn, Georgia when he fractured a vertebrae during a scrimmage.


GUPTA: Chris, I think we're getting better, despite those numbers, at preventing some of these types of injuries. Still 37 high school students have died since 2000. That gives you a little bit of context and again, three in the last three years in New York -- Chris.

CUOMO: Well, look, I grew up playing the game. You understand this and you kind of learn the culture of the sport as you grow up in it, but a couple of questions here to bring the relevance into focus, any chance that this death was concussion-related?

GUPTA: Well, it's possible in the sense that -- we don't know for sure, but it's possible because of something I'm particularly concerned about from a neurosurgeon standpoint, something known as second impact syndrome. You may be familiar with this, Chris. It means a first concussion, recognized concussion, but the brain did not heal and then that same brain takes another hit.

That second hit may not be a problem in isolation, but because it comes so quickly on the heels of the first hit, that can cause a catastrophic, even deadly situations so concussion-related in that regard -- Chris.

CUOMO: I understand that, thank you for that, Sanjay. We get to the policy related part of this. Football started with no helmets. It comes from rugby, no helmets. We went to the helmet to keep the head safe. Then because we had the helmets on we started using it as a weapon. Now we're trying to get away from it.

The question that is here for parents with be what are you doing when you put your kids into this sport? You know they're going to wind up banging heads. You know they are going to run into each other at high speed, what is the line between safety and sport?

GUPTA: Well, as you point out, it's a long discussion. This is something I'm fascinated by. Let me tell you a couple of quick things. First of all, the helmets have gotten a lot "better," quote/unquote, but they still do not really protect the brain. What happens when someone takes a hard hit is that the head stops, but the brain keeps moving within the skull and therein lies the problem.

No helmet can prevent that, no matter how good so that's an important thing. The helmet is not going to do everything. Second of all, again, back to the second impact syndrome. If you recognize your kid has had a concussion, first of all, be sure you recognize that. You've got to make sure the brain is completely healed.

That is probably the most catastrophic part of all this, a brain that has not healed is back on that football field. That's when you take an issue of concussions to an issue of death. So there are many more strategies, I think, again to make football safer and still have to be football. But from a neurosurgeon standpoint, those two are so critically important.

CUOMO: All right, Sanjay, thank you so much for the perspective and the information. This is important, affects a lot of families. Thank you.

GUPTA: You got it, Chris.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, a decision to pay tribute to the late "Glee" star Cory Monteith at the Emmy's is causing some major drama, apparently. Nischelle Turner will be joining to explain the controversies.


BOLDUAN: Very appropriate music for today. Welcome back to NEW DAY. We'll tell you why in a second. It's time for our "Pop Four" with Nischelle Turner joining us from Los Angeles this morning. Good morning, Nischelle.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to spare you my rendition of "Rocket Man." It is one of my favorite songs. You're like, please, too early in the morning. Let's get to this "Pop Four." We don't have a lot of time, but I got a lot of stories.

Number four this morning, Mark Wahlberg singing his fight song because the actor just graduated from high school. Yes, and he's 42. Wahlberg dropped out of school in the ninth grade, but he recently decided to take some online classes, go back and get his diploma. I guess, that means it's never too late to get yours.

Number three, Elton John taking some heat for not canceling upcoming concerts in Russia due to their anti-gay laws. He says as a gay man I can't leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I like it.

Number two this morning, controversy over the Emmy awards and their annual in memoriam moment. In addition to the segment, the show will pay special tribute to "Glee" star, Cory Monteith and four other industry heavyweights including James Gandolfini and James Stapleton. Here's the controversy. Andrew Wallinstein, editor in chief of "Variety" says that he does not think Monteith's young career was equal to the others so he should not be recognized with them.

In this world of smartphones and tabloid gossips, the chances of keeping anything private for one second are pretty slim, right? How about for five months? It's our number one story this morning. Zac Efron successfully completed a stint in rehab five months ago. You know, there's conflicting reports about why he decided to seek help.

But sources tell "People" magazine that, quote, "He's doing great. He is taking care of himself and it shows." He was just at the Toronto Film Festival. He did walk the red carpet for his film, didn't do a lot of interviews. He wasn't talking to a lot of people. This may be the reason why.

But I have to tell you even though that was the number one story, the real number one story is I can't go anywhere here in Los Angeles without somebody saying, how's Michaela? We miss Michaela. Can we say hi to the west coast?

PEREIRA: You're not up yet.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Nischelle. Come on back.

CUOMO: I can't walk around my own house without somebody asking me how's Michaela. Give the kids candy, they'll say anything.

BOLDUAN: Your check is in the mail.

CUOMO: By the way, this story about Zac Efron, big round of applause.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Thank you to the entertainment media for not stigmatizing his addiction and covering it like some kind of sport because it never helps anything.

We're going to take a break on NEW DAY. When we come back, we keep telling you about this bizarre clown. All right, the story is folks are scratching their heads because these cryptic Facebook messages. What's this clown really up to? I don't know if I said that the right way.

BOLDUAN: We're also learning more about the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis. With all those red flags in his past, should he have even had access to a U.S. military facility? We're going to talk about it with Senator Susan Collins about the new security concerns, live.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got so many red flags over a protracted period of time. It almost seems like this was the type of thing that was bound to happen.


CUOMO: The trigger, new information on what drove the Navy Yard shooter to kill, his frantic final days and new questions this morning about why his history of problems didn't affect security clearance.

BOLDUAN: Black point, dramatic new 911 calls from the night this unarmed man was shot 10 times and killed by a police officer --