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Teen Kills Teacher; Controversy over "Blackfish" Film.

Aired October 23, 2013 - 11:30   ET


JEAN CASAREZ, HLN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, the question remains, the doctor was at the safety fair receiving an award before his wife was found unresponsive, and if prosecutors believe that he drowned her as well as supplied her with drugs, when would he have time to do that? Because he wasn't at the house.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It's a fascinating series of events and all within a very short amount of driving distance.

Jean Casarez live for us in Provo. Thank you very much.

We are also continuing to follow this breaking news this morning out of Massachusetts where a teacher was found mysteriously dead. There was blood in the bathroom of the school. She found in the woods. All of this as the school system has closed its doors at every school there in the system for all of today.

Also still come, a new film about killer whales living in captivity. There is lots of talk about this film "Blackfish." The director herself will join me about in 10 minutes.


BANFIELD: Welcome back. I want to get you back into the breaking news. Off the top of the program we brought you to Danvers, Massachusetts, where a 14-year-old boy is suspected of killing a 24- year-old teacher and it has resulted in all of the public schools in that district being closed, five elementary schools, one middle school and a high school all in this district in northeastern Massachusetts. Students and parents are absolutely in shock. And a lot of questions still to be answered. There was blood was found in one of the school's bathrooms, yet the teacher's body was found in the woods.

I want to bring in our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, again.

What do we know about this 24-year-old teacher that might lead to clues in this case, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we're not even sure right now what the relationship is between the teacher and the 14-year-old, who is in custody. Was she his teacher? It seems like an obvious thing. But we're still waiting for confirmation on that, Ashleigh.

Here is what we do know, in brief. At about 11:30 last night, police get a phone call to report that the teacher, the victim in this case, 24 years old, Colleen Ritzer, didn't go home and not answering her cell phone. The school at about the same time puts out on its own web page an alert about a missing student. The school is searched. They find blood in a second-floor bathroom. Overnight, they then find a suspect, this 14-year-old boy -- who they are not identifying because of his age -- he's found walking on a road somewhat near the school a few miles away. The teacher's body -- he's taken into custody. The teacher's body is then found. Did he lead them to her body? They haven't confirmed that yet. But we are also trying to find out what kind of murder weapon might have been used and whether it's been located -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: And then what about the district attorney in this case? Since there are a lot of unknowns, there are times when the D.A. will release information to hopefully spark tips coming in.

CANDIOTTI: Right. Very few details. Here is how he reacted however to what happened. This is the district attorney from Essex County.


JOHNATHAN BLODGETT, 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 community.


CANDIOTTI: I would like to briefly go to the Twitter page set up by Colleen Ritzer. She is the 24-year-old math teacher. On it, she has a skyline of the city of Boston and, of course, Boston Strong, that saying here all so familiar with after the terrible Boston Marathon bombing. She would post work assignments on her Twitter page. We know that she recently raised money for a Heart Walk for her grandmother, who passed away in 2009, raised a lot of money for that. We'll find a lot more about her, the victim, in this case as the day goes on -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Strange story.

Susan Candiotti, thank you for that.

And when we come back, we're going to take you inside the controversial new film called "Blackfish," the film about the training of orca whales and how they are kept in captivity. The director will be live here, next.


BANFIELD: The provocative issue, keeping killer whales in captivity. Good idea? Bad idea? We know these animals are extremely intelligent and have deep family ties. CNN is airing a documentary called "Blackfish" tomorrow night. It looks at killer whales and it goes behind the scenes at SeaWorld.

Here is a brief look at it.


NARRATOR: They live in these big families. And they have lifespans very similar to human life spans. The females can live to about 100, maybe more, males to about 50 or 60. But the adult offspring never leave their mother's side.

Each community has a completely different set of behaviors. Each has a complete repertoire of vocalizations with no overlap. And you could call them languages. The scientific community is reluctant to say any other animal but humans use languages, but there is every indication that they use languages.


BANFIELD: That is just the beginning, folks. This is a fascinating look at these creatures.

The issue was in the spotlight, of course, after a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld, named Dawn Brancheau, was savagely pulled underwater and drowned by a whale named Tilikum.

Our Martin Savage has more.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): SeaWorld, Orlando, 2010, in front of horrified visitors, veteran trainer, Dawn Brancheau, is dragged into the water, mauled and drowned by the killer whale she worked with for years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, the whale latched on to her and took her under.

SAVIDGE: It's more than a tragedy. It's a turning point. In it's way, the Occupational Safety Health Administration orders SeaWorld to keep trainers out of the water with its star performers.


SAVIDGE: High-flying days like these are over.

SeaWorld turned down our repeated request for interviews. But in an op-ed noted that its staff has been interacting with captive killer whales daily for nearly 50 years. "The tragedy of Dawn's death cannot and has not been ignored. But neither should literally the millions of safe interactions that we've had with killer whales over that time."

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: As part of a publicity stunt --

SAVIDGE: Critics say there have been many incidences suggesting otherwise. Video clips of captive killer whales gone wild are easily found on the web.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whale bits down on her leg and won't let go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's pulled under. Helpless as the whale drags him below.


SAVIDGE: Killer whales, also called orcas, are not actually whales, but dolphins. Animal activists claim they're just too intelligence, too socially dependent on their families and too big for captivity.

Neuroscientist Lori Merino says they are one of the few creatures besides us are aware and blames their aggression in captivity on a basic problem, they're stir crazy.

LORI MERINO, NEUROSCIENTIST: This is not an individual, not a being that's going to be appropriately stimulated by doing throwing a hoop in the water or doing stupid pet tricks.

SAVIDGE: SeaWorld says that it continually provides their killer whales a stimulating and challenging environment. And for understanding them, SeaWorld say much of what we know today came from studying captive orcas.

Marine veterinarian, Greg Bossart, studies bottle-nosed dolphins. By comparing those in captivity with those in the wild, he says, we can learn the problems in the oceans.

GREG BOSSART, MARINE VETERINARIAN: There are emerging diseases that we're seeing, new viruses. We're seeing things like antibiotic resistant bacteria in these dolphins, which is a direct spinoff from pollution from man.

SAVIDGE: Former trainer, Colin Baird, agrees captivity has taught us a lot about killer whales but believe now that we've learned enough and should let them go.

(on camera): Why do you think they're still in captivity?

COLIN BAIRD, FORMER KILLER WHALE TRAINER: Well, there's dollars to be made. And is a big draw for the facilities that have them.

SAVIDGE: It's a business?

BAIRD: It's a business. Yes.

SAVIDGE: While the issue of captivity is debatable, what isn't is the popularity of places like these. Zoos and aquariums set new attendance record almost every year.

(voice-over): SeaWorld's entertainment parks pull in $1.5 billion a year. And supporters say there's a lot more to it than just entertainment.

Performances educate and inspire.

PAUL BOYLE, ASSOCIATION OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS: People are is having less and less daily encounters with animals. So these kind of exhibits are teaching people about the wild. If they don't know animals, they won't care about them. SAVIDGE: Unfortunately, opponents say, audiences are not the only ones held captive by the show.

Martin Savage, CNN, Atlanta.


BANFIELD: And we want to stress that CNN did reach out to SeaWorld and they declined to be interviewed on camera. They offered a lengthy statement, and I want to read it for you in full. "'Blackfish' is billed as a documentary. But instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject the film is inaccurate and misleading and regrettably exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family friends and colleagues. To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in zoological settings, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts. Among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respectable institution. That Sea World rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year. And that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annual to conservation and scientific research. Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests, and to the care and welfare of its animals as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and commitment to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau." And, again, you can read the full statement on

But in the meantime, I want to bring in the director of the film "Blackfish," Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is here with me, live.

That was a very long and indicting statement by SeaWorld about your documentary. I've watched the entire documentary. This is riveting. One of the things I found fascinating, the former trainers who worked at SeaWorld, who said on camera, I knew nothing about fish. I'm from the Midwest, I just wanted a job there. And they are the people often times that we are seeing swimming with many of these marine life.


BANFIELD: And interacting with them. That seems stunning and seemed also, frightening in.

COWPERTHWAITE: It was frightening. And I think -- I always have to say this. The trainers at SeaWorld are so clearly the ones who are sort of putting themselves front and center.

BANFIELD: The four of them in the film.


BANFIELD: Did you come across others that didn't want to talk to you?

COWPERTHWAITE: No. I never came across anybody who didn't want to talk to me. Everybody who was interviewed is in the film. There were a couple of people who backed out and said, if I speak out against SeaWorld, I'll never work for another zoological institution again.

BANFIELD: And there were videos of employees at SeaWorld reciting facts and statistics about orcas that your researchers say are not true. They don't comport with science. Were there others who you also were able to capture on film working at SeaWorld who said accurate statements that they got cut, that weren't in the film?

COWPERTHWAITE: No. Everything that we heard, in fact, we cut some of the miss education that we heard because we didn't have time for an entire segment about miss education.

BANFIELD: They said orcas in the wild only live about 30 years and many have dorsal fins that are floppy.

COWPERTHWAITE: That's right.

BANFIELD: Where, in fact, it's the opposite.

COWPERTHWAITE: That's exactly right.

BANFIELD: OK. Here's one of the tough questions though. And I think a lot of people of see this -- and you should see this film. But many people will also say, if it weren't for the 11 million people a year who go to SeaWorld, we might not know as much as we know if we didn't have a chance to see them up-close and personal like that. I get it. There are downsides. Do the upsides is outweigh the downsides?

COWPERTHWAITE: I don't think they do. I always want to say maybe the reason we're having this conversation and that we care so much and love killer whales and dolphins is because we probably have experienced them, maybe close up at a marine park and seen them gazing back at us. That is the connection people have. However, the most important thing we've learned about keeping animals in captivity for 40 years, they don't belong in captivity. They live very short lives. They get very sick. They're fighting all the time with each other. Tremendous social strife within their own, you know, families in there and in SeaWorld and they attack trainers.

BANFIELD: And the point of your film, we might be encouraging them or creating them to be the killers they may not have been.

COWPERTHWAITE: Correct. Correct.

BANFIELD: It's just great.

Gabriela, thank you for coming on.


BANFIELD: It's a great film. Definitely inspires conversation, which leads me to this. You have to see this movie for yourself. CNN Films presents "Blackfish" tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. eastern time.


BANFIELD: Jaylen Arnold suffers from complex Tourette's Syndrome, and yet, he is leading the charge to put an end to bullying. Here's today's "Human Factor."


JAYLEN ARNOLD, HAS TOURETTE'S SYNDROME: I'm Jaylen, and I have Tourette's syndrome. And I used to get bullied for that a lot.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cool, calm, confident. 13-year-old Jaylen Arnold is on a mission to banish bullying for all.

ARNOLD: I've felt the pain of being bullied. And I know I've been bullied bad, but I know there are over 100 kids that are beak bullied 100 times worse than I was.

GUPTA: You see, he has Tourette's syndrome. It's a neurological disorder which causes respective movements and sounds called tics.

ROBIN ARNOLD, MOTHER OF JAYLEN: Jaylen began ticking at the age of 2. We went through several doctor appointments. Pediatrician was like, oh, my goodness, I think this is classic Tourette's case. He was only diagnosed at 3 because in order to be diagnosed with Tourette's, they have to on the behavior for one whole year.

GUPTA: Jaylen's mom Robin uploaded a video to YouTube hoping it would help children and parents alike better understand her son's disability. The video has racked up around 200,000 views. And it also captured the attention of actor, Dash Mihok, currently starring on the hit series "Ray Donovan."


DASH MIHOK, ACTOR: I was a fighting (ph).


GUPTA: Together, Dash and Jaylen captivate their student audience working with Jaylen's Challenge Foundation to put a stop to bullying.

MIHOK: I'm here because I have a young brother named Jaylen Arnold, who reminds me of me as a kid. He has a message to bring to the world and doing it at an age that I wish that I had had the bravery to step up and reach as many people as he does.

ARNOLD: And we came up with Jaylen's Challenge because I wanted to stand up. I wanted to do something, make a difference.

It hurts to think about how much torture and how miserable a kid's life can be just because one person is causing them to feel that their self-esteem and that they're worthless.

MIHOK: We going to bully. No way.


GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BANFIELD: Right on, Jaylen.

Thanks for watching, everybody. AROUND THE WORLD starts after in this quick break.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Michael Holmes is off today.

We have sad news, breaking news, out of Danvers, be Massachusetts. The body of a teacher was found in some woods behind Danvers High School. A 14-year-old boy now is in custody and is going to be charged with murder. Blood was found in a second-floor bathroom at the high school. The teacher, Colleen Ritzer, was reported missing on Tuesday. Now, police did not release the boy's name because of his age. They say there are no other suspects.