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Phillip Chisholm Suspect in Teacher Death; Obamacare Damage Control Revs Up; More Calls for Sebelius Resignation Over Obamacare Rollout; Rush to Clear Roads in Colorado; Grambling State Football Team in Trouble.

Aired October 23, 2013 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to the breaking news out of Danvers, Massachusetts, where the body of a young teacher was found this morning in the woods behind a high school. Inside the school, blood found in a bathroom. A 14-year-old boy is being held on a murder charge.

Earlier, the district attorney talked about the victim, 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer.


JONATHAN BLOGETT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ESSEX COUNTY: It was apparent that she was a homicide victim. She was a teacher here at Danvers High School. This is a terrible tragedy of Colleen Ritzer and the entire Danvers communities.


BLITZER: Let's go to Alexandra Field.

I understand we are now ready to identify the 14-year-old's name. Is that right?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Phillip Chisholm was in court this morning, the 14-year-old. The district attorney says he will present the case to a grand jury. If the grand jury returns an indictment, this 14-year-old will be tried as an adult. Right now, he is being kept in an adult facility, the Essex County House of Corrections, related to the death of a 24-year-old beloved math teacher, Colleen Ritzer. Her body found just outside of Danvers High School. The school is shut down today along with the other six schools in the school district. Students mourning the loss of a teacher who is described as being very well liked.

Again, a young teacher. She's been at the high school for just two years. We're not sure of what connection she may have had to this 14- year-old Chisholm. But other students at the high school tell us that Ritzer was a math teacher who taught freshmen, 14-year-olds. Again, we cannot confirm whether or not Chisholm was a student in her class. We do know she taught that age group. This morning, students are trying to take in the news. A horrifying moment in the history of this town. It's a small and a tight community. Trying to make sense of the loss here. A lot of questions still unanswered about why this woman was found dead behind the school that she worked in -- Wolf

BLITZER: I suppose you're trying to find someone who knows Phillip Chisholm. Have you found anybody, any of the friends, any other students in the school that may have known him?

FIELD: Wolf, we have talked to a couple of students out here today. They say that they did not know him well because he moved from Tennessee just at the start of this school year. That means he would have been at the school for only about two months now. He was on the J.V. soccer team. We haven't heard from anyone who seems to really know him and his character well. They're telling sort of generic things. He was a nice kid, joined the soccer team, he came from Tennessee. There didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary about him. But again, he had not had a lot of time at this high school, so he was not yet a very well-known student here.

BLITZER: We know he was definitely a student at that high school?

FIELD: We do know that. We do not know the relationship, however, or if there was a relationship, a connection, if he was a student in the class of this particular teacher, Colleen Ritzer. But students out here today say, yes, they know him, he's a student here, 14, on the soccer team. He was in some of their classes. They don't know who his math teacher was or if Colleen Ritzer was his math teacher.

BLITZER: Even though he's only 14, he's being charged as an adult, held as an adult, is that right?

FIELD: That's correct. There was a lot of discussion this morning. Prosecutors came out, investigators who said, look, he's 14, he could be tried as a juvenile. But now, today, he was in court just a few minutes ago and we are hearing from the district attorney that if the grand jury returns an indictment on the murder charge, that he would be tried as an adult. He is, again, being held in an adult facility right now as we speak at the Essex County House of Corrections.

BLITZER: Alexandra Field on top of the story for us.

Thank you, Alexandra.

We're going to continue to follow the story. More information will be shared as soon as we get it.

Also ahead, the damage control over the botched Obamacare website shifting into overdrive. Can the Obama administration fix the problems, get the program completely back on track anytime soon? Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, she's here. We'll discuss.


BLITZER: She's taking a lot of heat for the botched rollout of the Obamacare website. Some Republicans even calling for the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign.

She skirted the question in an exclusive interview with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: If this persists, or even at this point now, would you consider resigning over this?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEATH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I think my job is to get this fully implemented and to get the website working right. That's really what I'm focused on. I work at the pleasure of the president. He is singularly focused on making sure we deliver on this promise. That's what I'm committed to do.


BLITZER: Let's discuss with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, with us from Washington.

Gloria, she's got some questions to answer. I take it they're going to try to be more transparent now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they are. Jay Carney just announced minutes ago that they're going to try to do daily briefings for journalists on the progress they're making with the website so they can appear to be more transparent.

But, Wolf, up until this point, I'd have to say -- and we all heard Sanjay's interview last night -- I think that there are so many questions out there that leave us scratching our heads, which is, if there were extensive concerns pre-launch, why wasn't this run up the flagpole? Why didn't this get to the president of the United States? If they can't fix all the problems they've got right now, Wolf, what's the Plan B? We know they're finally sending in the A team. We can ask with why that wasn't done in the first place. But if they can't get this up and running, what's their backup plan? Are they going to get rid of the penalties, for example? Are they going to extend open enrollment? There are lots of questions here that remain to be answered. And it gives you the sense that they're making it up as they go along, which is not really comforting to a lot of people out there trying to get on this website.

BLITZER: There's a new CBS poll that's out that reflects public opinion. It's not good for the administration. How is the signup on health care exchanges going? Well, 12 percent. not well, 49 percent. Don't know, 38 percent. So how do they turn this around?

BORGER: Well, they're trying to turn it around. And you heard Jay Carney do it and you heard Secretary Sebelius do it. They're trying to say, look, a website is not the Affordable Care Act. OK? And they have a point there. That is not the Affordable Care Act. And they're trying to say focus on what this plan can do for you. When you sign up, you're not going to be asked whether you have a pre-existing condition. You're not going to be denied insurance. But the real problem they have in turning it around, Wolf, is that the people who are being turned off by this are younger people who would most naturally go to the Internet to sign on. And they're the people they need, the healthy young people. They're the people they need to make this program work. So the president sending his cabinet out there. The president, I'm sure, will continue to talk about it. But they've got a real problem here because if the website, doesn't work, a lot of people are going to say, wait a minute, if the website doesn't work, how's the program itself going to work? This doesn't bode well.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, thanks. see you later in "The Situation Room."


#: Let's get back to the other story we're following, a horrible situation in Danvers, Massachusetts. 14-year-old boy now being held by local police in connection with the murder of a teacher, a 24-year- old teacher at Danvers High School.

Mike Brooks is joining us right now, law enforcement analyst.

He's being held as an adult. Maybe charged as an adult, even though he's only 14 years old. Why do they do that?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, if they think they have the evidence to charge premeditation, if there's enough evidence to say he premeditated this, if it was so heinous, then they could charge him as an adult by Massachusetts law. But there's a lot of questions that remain unanswered here, Wolf, especially as motive. Why did he kill, as a 14-year-old, kill his 24-year-old math teacher and what was the relationship between these two at school?

BLITZER: Allegedly.


BROOKS: Allegedly. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Because we don't have enough information. We know he was a student at the school. Our reporter on the scene told us that. We don't know if he was a student in her classroom.


BLITZER: And we have no idea is there was any -- if she knew who he was. These are all questions to local authorities have not yet answered.

As a precaution, they've shut down all the schools in this town, seven other schools. That's presumably a good idea, right?

BROOKS: I think it is. You have five elementary schools and a middle school and the high school, which is basically an active crime scene, Wolf. And I think, out of an abundance of caution, just to make sure in their investigation that this 14-year-old, who allegedly killed a teacher, was acting alone. Because this student apparently didn't go home after school on Tuesday. So where did he go? These are all the things that law enforcement right now as part of their investigation are piecing together, this time line. Exactly what happened? What led up to this action in the school? Apparently, the crime scene there at the high school, Wolf, is in the second-floor bathroom where they found blood. So this, you know, active crime scene, I don't have a problem with them shutting schools down in an abundance of caution.

BLITZER: Mike Brooks, we'll stay on top of this story together with you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very, very much.

Kathleen Sebelius is taking a lot of heat for the Obamacare website rollout. Has the health secretary's personal and professional background prepared her for this kind of scrutiny? Our own Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: A growing number of Republicans demanding that the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius lose her job over the botched Obamacare website roll out.

Brian Todd is covering the story for us.

Brian, Sebelius really on a hot seat right now. She's certainly has a lot of political experience. She's been through a lot of pressure in her life. Give us a little background.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she does have experience dealing with controversy before this, Wolf. That also relates to the arena of health care. As Kansas governor, Sebelius tried to enact sweeping health care reform there with mixed results. She tried twice and failed twice to finance health coverage through cigarette taxes. Now she did win, as insurance commissioner, in the mid to late 1990s, a battle with Blue Cross, Blue Shield to keep premiums down. But one of her opponents, former Kansas Republican Congressman Todd Tiahrt, just told me over the phone he believes insurance companies departed Kansas under her leadership because she made it to too tough on them. Tiahrt says there was a significant rise in regulations placed on health care during her term as insurance commissioner, which drove costs up for the companies up and they left the state. That's according to him.

Also as governor, there was controversy surrounding her when she vetoed -- this is in the abortion realm. She vetoed a bill that would have placed severe restrictions on late-term abortions. She is a Catholic herself, so her pro-choice stance made her a lightning rod among some church leaders. But, again, conversely, as HHS secretary, she went against a proposal to make the morning-after pill available for young women.

So she's got sort of a mixed record and has drawn controversy on some of these health care issues in the past -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I know a prominent Kansas friend of her families has now turned against her. Tell us what happened.

TODD: He has, Wolf, but there's political implications there as well. Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, who is a long-time friend of the Sebelius family. he worked for Keith Sebelius, Kathleen Sebelius' father-in-law when Keith was a long-time congressman from Kansas in the 1970s, Pat Roberts was his chief of staff. Robert basically succeeded him when he ran for office. Keith Sebelius pretty much hand picked Roberts to succeed him. But Roberts was one of the first Senators, one of the first people in Congress, after the rollout, to call for Kathleen Sebelius to resign. He turned on her, according to one of Roberts' aides, who said, the last straw for him was when she went on this sort of political/speaking tour to promote the rollout, but that was, as the staffer put it, while the ship was sinking. That was the last straw for Roberts.

Some do claim -- some allies of Sebelius claim that he's turning on her because he's got a primary opponent who is supported by the Tea Party and he has to appease that part of his constituency. So, Wolf, that's where the politics play in.

BLITZER: The politics of Kansas.

Brian, I know you'll have a lot more on this later in "The Situation Room."

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Urgency ramping up in Colorado. Crews race to repair roads damaged in last month's floods so people can get to their homes before winter sets in. We're live next.


BLITZER: A race against the clock in Colorado. After last month's flooding washed out roads, devastated homes, crews are rushing in to try to rebuild before winter sets in.

Our Ana Cabrera is joining us from Lyons in Colorado.

How much progress, Ana, has been made?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is definitely been progress, but still a long way to go. You can see huge debris piles, like this, all over town. There are still downed power lines, still no sewer service, and yet the community spirit here remains unbroken with a strong resolve to get back to normal.


CABRERA (voice-over): When you drive through the town of Lyons, the devastation is undeniable. Not a home in this neighborhood untouched. Six weeks after the floods, parts of homes remain hanging and streets are still littered with crunched cars and mounds of muddy debris.

The sound of hard work cuts through this otherwise quiet community. Rebuilding has begun.

JANET ORBACK, FLOOD VICTIM: Initially, we said we're not coming back. We said, we're done. You know, it's time to move on. Then we come back and it's like, this is home.

CABRERA: This has been Janet's home for 43 years. Now, just a shell. Volunteers from Missouri helped them gut the place. It's now up to Janet and her husband to finish the job.

(on camera): Where do you begin in terms of trying to get back to normal?

ORBACK: Well, right now, this is normal.

CABRERA (voice-over): Another new normal, doctors commuted by helicopter. It's just 25 miles to the town of Estes Park, but right now, driving isn't much of an option. Floodwaters washed away 85 percent of the highway through the Big Topson Canyon. Construction crews are working feverishly to make fixes.

MINDY CRANE, COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: In some areas, we lost complete sections of the roadway for several thousand feet.

CABRERA (on camera): Just dropped off?

CRANE: Just completely crumbled.

CABRERA (voice-over): 485 miles of state roads and bridges need repairs. The estimated price tag, half a billion dollars.

(on camera): There has been a lot of progress, but clearly, there's more work that needs to be done. And take a look, snow already on the ground, a constant reminder that these crews are in a race against mother nature.

(voice-over): The governor says the goal is to have all roads accessible by December 1st.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, (D), GOVERNOR OF COLORADO: This is an awful thing. There's nothing good about a natural disaster like this. And it's going to take a while, but we can't slow down, we can't back off. We have to go fast.

CABRERA: Nobody in Colorado is giving up.

ORBACK: You're given a lot of bumps along the way and the good lord blesses us and says, lets move forward now, and away we go.


CABRERA: Such an impressive attitude, really. And we're hearing that from everyone in this town and across the state. And we continue to check on the government response. We do know, since the flooding began, more than $45 million has been approved by FEMA to help individual families with the recovery effort. And those we have been talking to say FEMA is doing a good job -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best.

Ana Cabrera, thanks so much.

The once-powerful Grambling State football program is in deep trouble right now. CNN's Alina Machado has the story.


ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They boycotted a game and made national headlines, but members of the Grambling State football team say they have no regrets.

NAQUAN SMITH, GRAMBLING STATE FOOTBALL PLAYER: There are many problems that exist. If no one says anything, nothing will become of the institution.

MACHADO: On Monday, Naquan Smith, surrounded by his teammates, said the team will take the field this Saturday against Texas Southern, a week after refusing to make Jackson State.

SMITH: We did not quit on our university.

MACHADO: This Twitter account belonging to the Tigers' safety shows several pictures of moldy walls and ceilings, broken equipment, and flooring. Their caption, "See our struggle." The tweets seem to highlight some of the problems detailed in this grievance letter sent to university administrators by the players. The letter lists a series of concerns about the state of the university's football program.

It also cites the firing of head coach, Doug Williams, after just two games this season.

EMMETT GILL, STUDENT ATHELETES HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT: The conditions within the Grambling State university athletic department, specifically football, are pretty dire.

MACHADO: Emmett Gill said he toured the university's weight room Tuesday afternoon and saw firsthand some of the problems noted by the student athletes.

GILL: The gap between the haves and have-nots is certainly exacerbated by a lot of the budget cuts we're facing in higher education.

MACHADO: According to university spokesperson, Will Sutton, Grambling State has seen a 57 percent drop in state funding in recent years. The school has millions of dollars in deferred maintenance, so many buildings are closed or in dire need of repairs. Sutton says this is the first time they have asked athletics to contribute to the bottom line, including a $75,000 cut in the football program.

The university meanwhile could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines for forfeiting last Saturday's game. It's unclear if the football players will be punished, but Gill says players from the bigger programs should take note.

GILL: I think that student athletes in the SEC, the A.C., the Pac-12, should take notice that when it comes to standing up for student athletes' rights, Grambling State University is ranked number one.


BLITZER: That report from CNN's Alina Machado.

An important story. Adding to Grambling's woes, Jackson State is planning to sue over the game that Grambling canceled.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.