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Teacher's Body Found In Woods; Students React To Teacher's Death; Teacher Found Dead, Teen In Custody; Death In Sparks; Web Trouble Blindsided Obama; Insurance Reps Attend White House Meeting; GOP Keeps up Obamacare Pressure; White House Fires Tweeting Mole
Aired October 23, 2013 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York. But we'll start in Danvers, Massachusetts. That's a town in mourning right now searching for answers. The body of a young teacher went missing yesterday, found this morning in the woods behind a high school. Inside the school, a blood -- there was blood found in a bathroom. And a 14-year-old boy is now in police custody. Earlier, the district attorney held a briefing and described what led to their investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN BLODGETT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ESSEX COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS: As a result of a missing person's report filed with the Danvers Police Department late yesterday afternoon, Danvers Police initiated an investigation to locate a 14-year-old male who did not return home from Danvers High School earlier in the day.
At approximately 11:20 p.m. last evening, Danvers Police received a report that a Danvers High School teacher had not returned home from work and was not answering her cell phone. As a result of that report, Danvers Police initiated a search for the teacher and discovered blood in the second floor bathroom at Danvers High School. The school was immediately secured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A reporter, Alexandra Field, is in Danvers right now following the latest developments for us. So, what do we know? Was there any relationship connection between the boy and the teacher? Was the boy a student?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, because we're talking about a 14-year-old at the center of this case, a 14-year-old who will face murder charges later today, we know little about the relationship between the student and the teacher or any potential connection between the two. Investigators are not giving those details, again, because this case involves a juvenile.
But we do know that a 14-year-old is facing charges. We've seen a number of other students coming to Danvers High School this morning. They tell us that their teacher, Colleen Ritzer, was an algebra and a geometry teacher. They tell us that she taught 14-year-old students, freshmen and sophomores. So, again, it is unconfirmed and unclear whether or not this boy was a student in her class.
But we do know that she taught students of that age. A lot of students this morning turning up at the school, mourning a woman who was very much a well-liked, a beloved teacher. She taught in the district for the last two years. She was known for standing outside of her door, greeting students in the morning. They tell us her favorite color was pink. The students plan to hold a vigil tonight, all of them out here dressed in pink. They are home today with their parents trying to make sense of what has happened.
All seven schools in the district were shut down as news of this unfolded. A math teacher's body found in the woods behind the high school. So, the school district not taking any chances, keeping all students home. And that's exactly, Wolf, where the parents say they want their kids to be today.
BLITZER: Why did they shut down all the schools?
FIELD: Well, we're told that they were only looking for one suspect. That 14-year-old who will be headed to court this afternoon. Investigators say that they were not looking for anyone beyond that 14-year-old, but it seems the decision was made that when you have a moment like this, a horrifying moment in this town's history where a lot is uncertain, that the quick response was just to say the kids are staying home with their parents. They will be with their parents, of course. You can't really keep them away from school on a day like today. They want to be with their classmates. They want to be with their team mates. We're seeing some of the soccer team students come out and talk to each other. They want to tell stories about Miss Ritzer. They're leaving flowers in front of the school. They're doing the things that they need to do to try and cope today. But the decision was made from the top that class would not be scheduled today.
BLITZER: Alexandra Field, thank you. We're hearing also from students at the Danvers High School in Massachusetts. They say they were shocked to hear what happened to their teacher. Understandably so. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just thinking back on it, it's just surreal that -- how quickly someone can go and how much we take for granted every day. She was like the nicest teacher you could ever really have -- like, ever have. And it's just -- I don't -- I can't believe it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This is the second high-profile incident at a school this week. On Monday, a teacher in Sparks, Nevada was killed when a student opened fire. Two other students were wounded.
Let's discuss what's going on with a psychologist, Jeff Gardere. He's here in New York watching what's going on. So, parents -- all these schools, they've now been shut down. How do the parents deal with this? They have to explain what's going on to their kids. JEFF GARDERE, PSYCHOLOGIST: Which is a good idea shutting down the schools, letting them spend time with their kids. More than anything, Wolf, listening to what the kids have to say, letting the kids mourn, letting them go through the grieving process, and talking to them about life. What we once considered to be the safe havens, the schools, no longer are those sorts of places. Reality has imposed itself there. And so, it's important for parents to be able to communicate that to their student -- to their kids but yet, at the same time, also not make them jaded.
BLITZER: Because, (INAUDIBLE) some of these kids are going to really be shaken by this, and they're going to have some problems potentially.
GARDERE: Well, here's what happens. If you don't talk about your feelings, if you don't have that catharsis as we talk about in psychiatry, you internalize a lot of those emotions. You become very, very fearful and some of that fear is turned, a lot of times, into anger. Anger at others, anger at yourself. We see some of this situational depression. So, it's important that these kids be allowed to talk about all of their emotions having to doing with this, what we know as a beloved teacher, and what that feels like for them to be betrayed in such a way to lose someone who was a role model to them.
BLITZER: And presumably, some of these kids knew this 14-year-old boy who is now in custody. They are going to be asking themselves questions.
GARDERE: Well, they're going to be asking themselves lots of questions. What was the nature of the relationship that they had with this individual? Were there things that they saw about this individual that they should have told someone and they didn't? So, they're going to have some guilt around that. But if nothing else, a lot of confusion. How does something like this happen with someone that is so young?
BLITZER: It's a -- it's a serious problem. People all over the country should start taking some lessons, teachers, administrators, parents, dealing with these kinds of issues because we've seen them, you know, pop up all over the country.
GARDERE: I don't think we should get into the mindset that these sorts of crimes are committed by 18 year olds and up. We see a 12 year old, a four year -- a 14-year-old. So, we have to pay attention that there are mental health issues that happen very, very early. And if we're able to tackle them as early as possible, then the prognosis is much better. I'm sure there were signs in that 12-year-old who killed the teacher in Sparks. There are signs with this 14-year-old. People probably didn't connect the dots. They need to understand that severe emotional issues can happen with someone very, very young. And if we don't address it, then it can turn into something that is horrific.
BLITZER: Jeff Gardere, there psychologist, thanks very much. Once again, we don't know a whole lot about what exactly happened.
GARDERE: That's right.
BLITZER: The investigation only just beginning
BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow the story, bring new details as they become available.
But let's turn to some other news we're following, including what the president knew about the problems with the Obamacare Web site and when did he know it? Kathleen Sebelius says the president was blindsided. The Health and Human Services secretary speaks exclusively to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That's next.
BLITZER: President Obama was not aware of the problems with the government's health care Web site prior to its launch three weeks ago. That according to the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. She spoke exclusively to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta as the administration scrambles to try to fix the site.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president did say that he was angry about this. I mean, do you know when he first knew that there was a problem?
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on. The first couple of days.
GUPTA: So, not before that though? Not --
GUPTA: -- before October 1st? There was no concern, at that point, between (ph) the White House or at HHS?
SEBELIUS: I think that we talked about having testing going forward. And if we had an ideal situation and could have built a product in, you know, a five-year period of time, we probably would have taken five years. But we didn't have five years.
BLITZER: Our Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is standing by over at the White House. Jim, cabinet members will be fanning out across the country in the coming days urging folks --
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
BLITZER: -- to sign up for Obamacare. Now, we've learned insurance officials are over at the White House for a meeting today. What do we know about that meeting?
ACOSTA: Well, interesting to point out, Wolf, that Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who you just saw there in that interview with Sanjay Gupta is going to be at that meeting with executives from the insurance industry later on this afternoon. That meeting hasn't started just yet to the best of our understanding. Important to point that out, Wolf, because there's been a lot of people asking for Kathleen Sebelius to step down, most notably the former vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, just said that yesterday evening in a conference call on behalf of Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli down in Virginia.
And in addition to that, you mentioned some of these administration officials who are going to be fanning out across the country. Kathleen Sebelius is going to be one of them. She's heading to a customer call center for Obamacare in Phoenix tomorrow. So, a couple of interesting things to note there, not only that an Kathleen Sebelius is going to be out there and that she continues to be the face of the implementation or rollout of Obamacare but they're also highlighting a call center, Wolf. I think that's also important because they try -- they're trying desperately to get the word out that not only can you go to the Web site and put up with the delays that are accompanying that Web site right now in terms of signing up, you can also put in a phone call and do it that way as well. The administration wants to get that message out.
And in case you're wondering, Wolf, what's going on behind me, I just want to point this out to viewers in case they're wondering, the Joint Forces Honor Guard is out in the driveway of the White House right now getting ready to welcome the Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif who is scheduled to have talks with President Obama this afternoon at the White House. This admits to, obviously, a pretty rocky relationship between these two countries, not only because of the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden but those drone strikes that have been very controversial in that part of the world -- Wolf.
BLITZER: On Obamacare, what do they hope to achieve with all the health care executives, the insurance executives, coming over to the White House?
ACOSTA: Well, they've been tight-lipped what the purpose of the meeting is, Wolf. But I -- I mean, I -- you just have to sort of assume, at this point, that a lot of this has to do with the implementation and rollout of the Web site, because people are going in there and buying insurance from various health insurance providers. The experience that a lot of people are having out there has not always been a good one.
And so, my guess is, Wolf, that they're trying to make sure that the continuation of this rollout is a little bit smoother than what've seen so far.
We should mention that the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, is getting ready to start the press briefing any moment now. That is probably one of the questions that he will be asked.
But interesting to note that the insurance industry which was at -- really sort of at odds with President Obama as he was trying to get Obamacare passed. Now, they're sort of working together on the implementation of this law. So, I wanted to point that out, as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta with the Color Guard right behind him. We'll monitor Jay Carney's --
BLITZER: -- briefing. Dip in if it gets interesting over there, presumably it will. Thank you.
House Republicans, meanwhile, they are forging ahead with hearings into Obamacare. The majority leader Eric Cantor says the problems go way beyond the Web site. Just a little while ago, he called for more transparency from the Obama administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle. And the American people are now fearful of their health care. I mean, they're down right scared about what's going to happen with their health care next year. And all we're hearing from the administration really is really unsatisfactory in terms of answers to the many, many unanswered questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing by up on Capitol Hill.
Dana, we know there are important hearings tomorrow. The House Energy and Commerce Committees opening up hearings into the Obamacare website problems that have developed. So set the scene for us. What do they hope to achieve by these hearings?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in tomorrow's hearings, you're right, the focus is going to be on who's (ph) involved in implementing this website, why were all of these companies hired that seem to not obviously get the job done, the money that was spent. A lot of the -- sort of the technical focus on the website.
But what is so fascinating about what Republicans, particularly House Republicans, are discussing behind closed doors is not to just focus on the website. In fact, we understand that House Speaker John Boehner told his rank and file in a private meeting this morning that he believes ultimately this website will get fixed. That is why, politically, he is urging Republicans to keep their focus politically on the big picture, on the Obamacare law in general and why they think it's wrong. So that's why you heard one after another, starting with the speaker, all the House Republican leaders talk not just about the website, but about things like what they call a tax for people, families who don't get their health care or don't sign up for it, which is supposed to go into effect next year, saying well that should at least be delayed because of problems that Obamacare is having and other issues surrounding the law. So that is where they're focused.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, as you can imagine, there are a lot of House Democrats in particular who are frustrated because they're all up for re-election next year. House Democrats are really desperate to retake the House. They feel that they have had a political upper hand because of the shutdown that really hurt Republicans. So you would think that behind closed doors they would be sort of a little bit unsure about whether or not they should have some more substantive changes. And my understanding is that the focus among rank and file Democrats in a meeting they had with some HHS representatives this morning was, just fix it. Just fix the problem with the website. And they feel that ultimately once that is done, that the law itself, the underlying specifics, are going to be just fine and that that - that this focus now should be just fixing the website. In fact, that is what Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader said so many times I stopped counting, just fix it. That was in a press conference earlier today, Wolf.
BLITZER: They must be so angry and frustrated that this -- at least the initial rollout has been botched. I can only imagine. All right, Dana, thanks very much.
Friendly fire on Twitter, meanwhile. The White House and administration officials blasted by one of their own. But now the anonymous Twitter mole has been unmasked. I'll speak to the man who first reported the story. That's next.
BLITZER: Inappropriate tweets from inside the National Security Council. The White House has now fired the NSC's director of nonproliferation, Jofi Joseph, for firing off a series of tweets since 2011 under the name NatSecWonk. NatSec standing for National Security wonk. He took shots at the administration, Republicans, the news media on his Twitter feed. He promised the inside scoop on the foreign policy scene.
Here's this one from September 3rd when Secretary of State John Kerry was testifying on Capitol Hill about the administration's Syria strategy. Sitting behind him was his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, who made her first appearance that day after suffering a seizure over the summer. Quote, "smart move by Kerry to bring Teresa for the sympathy factor and soften potential questions. He's still a politician, folks."
On a White House memo praising presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. "Did anyone at the White House seriously think this type of drivel would convince anyone that Valerie Jarrett actually does anything there?" That's a quote.
And here's what he said about the former CIA director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. "Leon Panetta: Never has more acclaim been awarded a bureaucratic caretaker do-nothing. Umm, folks, look behind the curtain, please!"
And we can't forget the president. Quote, "Obama can be a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to his staff and not afraid to throw them under the bus for his own self-interest #confessyourunpopularopinion."
Joining us now is the reporter who broke this story about this tweet - this guy who was tweeting all this stuff, Josh Rogin is joining us from "The Daily Beast."
Josh, good work. Thanks very much.
So how did you do it without revealing any confidential sources or anything? How did you break this story?
JOSH ROGIN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY BEAST": Sure. For years now, lots of us in the journalist community and in the foreign policy community have been searching for the mystery tweeter @NatSecWonk. And he had managed to alienate and insult so many people of so many stripes that eventually there became sort of this underground community of people putting together evidence from his tweets and from the things that he said and the evidence that he did put forth searching for him. And, eventually, someone in the administration cracked the code and fired him upon the spot. And once he was fired, it was only a matter of time before the name was revealed to some of my sources, who then revealed it to me.
BLITZER: So his identity was really broken by presumably someone on the National Security Council staff or within the administration, right?
ROGIN: Right. It's not exactly clear how they did it. There's been some reporting of what amounts to a leak investigation. There was also some reporting that - and some sourcing that I've heard that he was in line for a senior position in the Pentagon, and in being vetted for that position, they may have stumbled upon this illicit activity. The bottom line is that he was doing this so prolifically and for so long that eventually it was going to come out. It was really only a matter of time and now he's paying the severe consequences of his actions.
BLITZER: And you -- you saved a lot of his tweets because eventually they were all taken down, but you saved a lot of them, including some nasty ones he wrote about you.
ROGIN: Yes. Even I wasn't immune from the vial and snark. When he - when I wrote an article that he liked, he would praise it. When I wrote an article that he didn't like, he would trash it. At one point he said that there are a lot of people who would love to punch me in the face, which may or may not be accurate, but is really not - that's really not the point.
You know, this wasn't a personal thing for me. This was something that everybody in the community was following and paying attention to. He was also a man who was revealing sensitive personnel and other information from inside the national security staff. He had a top secret clearance. He was working on negotiations with Iran. And he was dishing about all of the people in the news that journalists like you and me cover every day.
So it wasn't about me, it wasn't about any one person, it was about this guy, Jofi Joseph, and his vendetta against the people who he was working for.
BLITZER: He issued an apology. I'll read - I'll put it up on the screen. "It has been a privilege to serve in this administration. I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me. What started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments. I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize to everyone I insulted."
Is there any indication that he did anything illegal?
ROGIN: I have not found any leaks of classified information in the tweets, although he does accuse senior White House officials of leaking classified information in the tweets. It's not clear what the evidence is behind those accusations, but those are allegations that he has made. So I don't think he did anything necessary illegal. He did violate the agreements and policies that he signed up for when he became a top national security official with a top security clearance. People who decide to sacrifice and serve for this county, especially in the national security field, agree to give up some of their liberties to say publicly whatever's in their head. And he betrayed those agreements and that's why he was fired.
BLITZER: So where do you think we go from here? I assume there are plenty of other people who work in the government who have sort of anonymous, private accounts that they start tweeting on.
ROGIN: Yes, lots of people violate the government's rules over social media, but very few people do it in such a blatant and egregious and vulgar way. You know, you can get away with tweeting on your personal time if you're a member of the government and even a member of the national security team, but you can't get away with contradicting the policies of the people who employ you and insulting senior lawmakers and officials and then basically making so many enemies that you force the foreign policy community to come out and root you out and find you. And that's what Mr. Joseph did.
BLITZER: Well, let me just say, I follow you on Twitter, Josh. I read all your stuff. You're an excellent reporter and I totally disagree with Jofi's analysis (INAUDIBLE).
ROGIN: Right back at you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Josh Rogin, doing an excellent job at "The Daily Beast."
She's being called the sweetest, most harmless person ever. A young teacher found dead behind her Massachusetts school and a 14-year-old boy being held on a murder charge. The latest from Danvers, Massachusetts. That's next.