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Crisis Averted; House of Horrors; Boycotting Black Thursday

Aired November 28, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Crisis averted! Millions of travelers making their way home for the holiday. But will the real stars of Thanksgiving, the PG-rated inflatable ones, will they fly high or will they be grounded?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And house of horrors. New details emerging. Three young sisters held captive for two years. Disturbing allegations of neglect and abuse by their own mother and stepfather.

BERMAN: And boycotting Black Thursday? Why some are saying no way to opening store doors early today. Really, are the retailers taking it too far now?

Good morning, everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

BROWN: And I'm Pamela Brown. Of course, it's Thursday, November 27th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Happy Thanksgiving morning.

BERMAN: And the worse is, in fact, behind us. It is time for the ritualistic pre-Thanksgiving celebratory distance, the pre-holiday storm that rolled across the country this week. It was enough to slow down traffic but not stop it, on one of the busiest days of the year.

BROWN: Some airport delays were reported along the East Coast. Hubs in Philadelphia and New York reported slow downs but most people made it to their destinations with little or no hassle.

BERMAN: The final remnant of the weather system moving through the Northeast and over the Atlantic today. Some spots did get rough weather including parts of Michigan. Cold air moved in, producing snow around the Great Lakes.

Take a look at this, some tough driving conditions up there.

BROWN: And up to a foot of snow fell in parts of Pennsylvania. Crews there were keeping busy with snow plows and salt spreaders. Forecasters also worry even with the snow and rain almost gone. The cold temperatures could keep roads very icy over the next few days.

BERMAN: Western New York also hit with lots of snow. Take a look, the roadways in Buffalo and Rochester, slick conditions making for a tough drive and scattered power outages adding to the chaos there. People in the area say it's no big deal to them. They are used to this kind of thing and they have to take it slow.

BROWN: You know, there were some people who did not get where they were going for Thanksgiving holiday, 308 flights into or out of the U.S. were canceled yesterday. That's according to, and many of those trips were supposed to arrive or depart from Philadelphia and the New York area.

BERMAN: With the worst of the severe weather behind us now, one big mystery remains, what about Bob? SpongeBob, that is.

Three and a half million expected, many of them tourists are crossing their fingers and praying to the weather Gods right now. The 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade set to begin in four hours with high winds whipping through Manhattan. Snoopy and Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the big balloon bunch, they could be grounded.

Let's get more from Jason Carroll.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the crowds are certainly out here in the Upper West Side, excited about seeing the balloons in the parade. Yes?


CARROLL: A lot of excitement. They are looking at Sonic, the Hedgehog, here. Down the way there, you also have Hello Kitty and some of the other giant balloons. Sixteen giant balloons in all in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Still a question in terms of whether or not, they will end up flying. We spoke to the man who is ultimately going to be the one making that decision. He is the incident commander for the New York City Police Department. He says he is obviously going to be checking the weather reports.

They are going to be checking the weather reports. They're going to be checking the wind gauges along the parade route as well.

The final decision won't come until right before the parade is expected to start. Obviously, a lot of fingers are crossed out here hoping that the balloons will end up flying.


BROWN: It's deflating to even think about, isn't it, John?

If sustained winds in New York City top 23 miles an hour with gusts over 30 miles an hour, those 16 big balloons will not get off the ground this morning.

BERMAN: Meteorologist Jennifer Gray joins us. How does it look for the balloons this morning?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now, the forecast is just under that criteria. We are seeing winds forecast to be around 18 miles an hour sustained, with gusts up to 29. So, if that holds around 9:00, those balloons will fly.

It is going to be breezy, though. It is going to be cold. Temperatures at 9:00, 31 degrees. And winds right now in New York City are sustained at 8 miles per hour with gusts around 26.

And around the rest of the Northeast, it is just the same. We are seeing winds anywhere from 10 to 20 miles per hour with gusts 30 to around 40. And when you combine this with the very cold temperatures, 31 degrees right now in New York, 31 in Philly, 30 in D.C. when you factor in those winds, it feels right now in New York City like 23 degrees.

So, folks heading along that parade route, it is going to be a cold, cold morning and wind chills aren't going to get out of the 20s for the rest of the afternoon even.

So, guys, it is going to be cold. It's going to be windy. So bundle up.

BERMAN: Sounds really pleasant. I was walking today and thinking this whole thing could be touch and go.

BROWN: Absolutely it could. I was thinking the same thing.

So we will keep our fingers crossed the balloons can fly.

BERMAN: Stay with us for the latest updates.

BROWN: Thank you.

BERMAN: We're moving on now. We have some chilly new details emerging this morning about the horrors that three sisters suffered while allegedly being held captive in an Arizona home.

We're getting our first look inside the Tucson home, where police say the girls 12, 13, and 17 were held separately captive for at least two years. The malnourished sisters told detectives they lived in filth, their doors were locked and alarmed. They were tortured by a barrage of loud music and white noise day and night.

They described how their mother and stepfather monitored their every move. They had not showered in months. The two younger girls told police they escaped after their step-father kicked in their door and tried to attack them.

They ran to a neighbor's home. That neighbor did not want to appear on camera but spoke to a CNN affiliate reporter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came to the door and heard these children, young people, didn't know who they were because we thought they were our other neighbors, but when we had had the door halfway open and they were in, we -- I didn't recognize them. And I said, "Well, where do you live?" And they motioned to the house over here. I said, "Well, I never -- we never see you guys." And she said something to the effect of, "Well, they don't want us to be seen," or something to that effect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they were kids, they never came out and played. You know, I mean , we have kids all over this neighborhood and they had to try extra hard to keep themselves secluded, you know, because somebody would have noticed something, you know?


BERMAN: The girl's 32-year-old mother, Sophia Richter, and stepfather, 34-year-old Fernando Richter, are charged with child abuse and kidnapping. The stepfather is also charged with one count of sexual abuse of a child under 15 and more charges are expected.

BROWN: It's a horrible story.

Well, no time for turkey for the White House technology team that's trying to fix the Obamacare Web site. Crews are scrambling to get up and running by the weekend.

And they are building a Web site workaround. It's called Easy App. According to "The Washington Post", it will allow people for who are eligible for financial assistance to enroll for coverage, without calculating the exact subsidy amount. That is not going over well with the insurance companies.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, Verizon is out. Hewlett-Packard is in, as network host for the federal health insurance marketplace. The administration officials say a change in providers is not related to the problems with They say HP was contracted this past summer, well before the rollout of the Obamacare Web site.

BROWN: A nine-hour standoff between a barricaded gunman and police in Inglewood, California, is now over. Two officers were injured.

It all began when the unidentified gunman took his girlfriend and her 14-year-old daughter hostage. When police arrived, he opened fire rather hitting one of the officers. Another cop got hurt in a fall.

The suspect is in custody this morning after finally agreeing to come out of the house with his hands up. The two hostages are safe. No word yet about a possible motive.

BERMAN: A New Jersey police officer is getting credited for saving a life. Officer Scott Christenger (ph) pulled a 61-year-old man from a burning pickup truck in Cape May on Monday, dragging him to safety. The victim identified as Gerald Ferrell (ph) was airlifted to a local hospital. He's in critical but stable condition right now. These are some amazing pictures. He is expected to recover. Witnesses tell police that Ferrell was riding on a flat tire. His pickup truck was making a loud noise before it burst into flames.

BROWN: The cop is so brave too.

BERMAN: So brave.

Look at that. The truck is still burning right there.

BROWN: Wow, unbelievable.

Well, now that a Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, angry shoppers are threatening to both boycott stores that are opening early on this Thanksgiving Day. They claim Black Friday has swallowed thanksgiving, robbing workers of the chance to spend time with their families.

And there is a badge now circulating on Facebook. Take a look here. That's where people can pledge not to shop today. They are targeting stores like Toys "R" Us and Walmart and Kmart.

Kmart is opening its doors at 6:00 Eastern Time this morning, with plans to remain open for 41 straight hours.

BERMAN: Have you ever shopped on Thanksgiving?

BROWN: I have not and never will.

BERMAN: I never have. I mean, I wouldn't know how to get out of the house.

BROWN: I don't even do Black Friday, like I'm not into the whole --

BERMAN: Yes. There's too much football. How can you leave the house when football is on?

BROWN: Too much food, Berman.

BERMAN: Too much football and football.

So, take a look at these turkeys. They, of course, they are untouchable. President Obama carrying on the White House Thanksgiving tradition. He spared two birds from Badger, Minnesota, making sure they will leave to do whatever it is that turkeys do for another day.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDNT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Office of the Presidency, the most powerful position in the world, brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities. This is not one of them. And now, before these turkeys get away, with the power vested in me, I want to grant Popcorn a full reprieve.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Plenty of turkeys have been presented to presidents all the way back to Abraham Lincoln. There's a lot of history here and the details is not exactly clear. JFK believed to be the first president to spare a turkey. George H.W. bush the first to give an official pardon.

BROWN: In Afghanistan, a taste of home for U.S. troops. More than 50,000 fighting men and women are spending the Thanksgiving holiday there. It's the military's 12th Thanksgiving in Afghanistan. It isn't easy getting them a proper holiday meal, but they pulled it off with more than 70,000 pounds of turkey.

The Defense Department says it's more than worth it to support the men and women sacrificing so much for all of us.

BERMAN: Very, very worth it. Happy Thanksgiving to all of them and, of course, we appreciate everything they do.

Coming up, celebrity chief Nigella Lawson accused of over-the-top drug use for more than a decade. The latest on the explosive court case, just ahead.

BROWN: And time for your morning rhyme. Tweet us with your own original verse. It could be about anything, #earlystart, and #morningrhyme. We're going to read the best ones on the air in our next half hour.

BERMAN: And now, we have Thanksgiving wishes for men and women who serve this country with so much honor.


PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS MIKEYA JONES, U.S. MARINE: I'm Mikeya Jones, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in South Carolina, with Marine Squadron 273. I'd like to wish my mom, dad, and little brother in Alabama, a happy Thanksgiving.



BROWN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Of course, happy Thanksgiving to you. It's 5:15 in the East.

Well, allegations of rampant drug use by celebrity chef Nigella Lawson emerging from the fraud trial of her two former personal assistants. Lawson's ex-husband is taking the stand the day after the court heard about an e-mail that referred to Lawson as High-gella (ph).

CNN's Max Foster is following developments live from London.

Max, good morning.


Yes, this is quite an extraordinary case with lots of publicity here. What it is, though, the court case is about fraud. Two of Lawson's formal personal assistants, two sisters, are accused of spending more than a million dollars on Mr. Saatchi's company credit card over a period of four years.

So, this is a story which wasn't getting much publicity until an e- mail which read out in court from Mr. Saatchi to Nigella Lawson accusing her of being aware of this fraud, allowing it to happen to cover up her drug use, which is an extraordinary allegation and we may hear more about that when Mr. Saatchi appears in the court behind me today.

Both of these sisters deny all of these charges. But you will remember there was a famous photo that appeared in some newspapers earlier in the year -- Mr. Saatchi with his hand to Nigella Lawson's throat. He has said in court via his lawyer that he only learned about this drug taking as he calls it, alleged drug taking around the time of that photo.

So, the world is pretty engrossed in this story and normally, these sort of personal issues wouldn't come up in a fraud case, but these sisters are claiming that anything that they spent on these cards was cleared by the family, so it wasn't fraud.

BROWN: And, of course, she is such a beloved figure there in London. Thank you so much, Max Foster. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expelled from parliament after his tax fraud conviction. He's also been banned from holding public office for two years. Berlusconi had called on supporters to protest in Rome before the Italian senate voted to oust him. He even asked senators to delay the vote, claiming to have proof that he did not commit any crimes.

BROWN: Well, the U.S. is advising all commercial airlines to take necessary steps to operate safely over the East China Sea as tensions between Japan and China increase over airspace rules imposed by Beijing. The airspace is over a small island chain that both China and Japan claimed as their own territory. Those islands may be near large reserves of valuable natural resources. The U.S. defied China's new airspace claims Tuesday by flying two unarmed planes to the disputed zone.

BERMAN: Staggering new numbers just released by the officials in the Philippines, putting the number of people affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan at 10 million. The official death toll now about 5,500. The number missing remains at about 1,700. Damage from the storm is estimated over $1.4 billion dollars.

BROWN: Too spicy for the neighborhood. The maker of the popular this Sriracha hot chili sauce -- I hope I pronounced that right.

BERMAN: Sriracha, but I'm not sure.

BROWN: Sriracha, I knew I was going to botch that one, darn it. I don't eat spicy --


BROWN: Well, anyway, let's get back to the story here, shall we?

They were ordered to do something about the strong smell coming from its plant in Irwindale, California, near Los Angeles. People who live nearby say the place is emitting fumes that irritate their eyes and throats. A judge denied a request to shut down the plant. He told company officials to shut down the stink as the court takes a closer look at lawsuit from neighbors.

BERMAN: Crazy.

All right. CNN doesn't just report on the challenges of holiday travel, we get out there and live it. Three correspondents racing from New York to Washington on one of the busiest travel days during the terrible weather. This, folks, was a television event. It was really history.

Nic Robertson tried to go by air. Lisa Desjardins by rail. And Brian Todd stuck in the car forever. Who would get over the river, through the woods, and into "THE SITUATION ROOM" the fastest?

Well, the answer is Nic Robertson, who did it by plane, arrived first. It took him three hours. So quick, in fact, some people thought it was rigged. It wasn't.

Lisa Desjardins, the train passenger, came in second by train. It took her four and a half hours. She was pleased she was able to drink on the train.

And, Brian Todd, the driver, came in last, dead last. Even running did not help. It took him five hours and 15 minutes.

BROWN: Love that he is still sprinting to the finish line.

BERMAN: You know, he was smiling almost the whole drive down. The last hour, he was getting a little grumpy which is understandable, but he made it.

BROWN: I spent a good part of the morning yesterday in the car, so I can sympathize with Brian.

BERMAN: Yes, not fun at all.


All right. Coming up right here on EARLY START, they burned his uniform when he decided to leave town. And now, Cleveland basketball fans are changing their tune when it comes to the king. Is LeBron James considering a return to his roots? "The Bleacher Report" is up next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Lt. Col. Mike McGregor (ph) with the 4t Infantry Division headquarters here in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I just want to send a shout-out to my two sons Caleb and Spencer. Happy Thanksgiving, buddies. I miss you! Love you.



BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

And this is something I never thought I would see honestly. Cleveland Cavaliers fans cheering on LeBron James, begging him to come back home.

Andy Scholes joins us now with "The Bleacher Report".

Andy, this is a Thanksgiving miracle, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, THE BLEACHER REPORT: Happy Thanksgiving, guys.

BROWN: You too.

SCHOLES: You know, what a difference a few years make -- after the infamous decision, Cavs fans, they were burning LeBron jerseys in the streets. But now, many of them have come full circle. And last night some of them were handing out "Come Back, LeBron" t-shirts before the game.

Now, a group of fans have started a "Come Back, LeBron" campaign, going as far to put up billboards around Cleveland. The boos LeBron usually hear back in his hometown have started to turn back into cheers. LeBron served up victory. The Heat beat the Cavs, 95-84, and he is also going to be serving up Thanksgiving dinner.

The whole Heat team stayed in town to celebrate thanksgiving in LeBron's Akron state later today.

All right. So, what do you do when you're a coach in the NBA? It's late in the game and you're out of time out? So, if you're Jason Kidd you hold a soda in your hand and tell one of your players to bump into you. Check this out. It appears Kidd says hit me to Tayshaun Taylor and then he spills his drink everywhere causing a stop in the action and giving him one time to draw up one last-second play but it didn't work. The Nets still ended up losing this game 99-94 to the Lakers.

All right. It's Thanksgiving. So, what does that mean? Turkey, football, and napping. Here is what is on tap today in the NFL. The Lions are going to host the Packers at 12:30 Eastern. That's followed by the Cowboys taking on the Raiders at 4:30. The Ravens host the Steelers in the night. That game kicks off at 8:30.

All right. It's rivalry weekend in college football. Michigan host third ranked Ohio State tomorrow afternoon. If the Wolverines shut out the Buckeye, a Michigan car dealership is giving away free cars!

Now, before anyone gets excited about this, Ohio State has scored at least 31 points in every game this season. They haven't been shutout by Michigan in 20 years. So, guys, the chances of this happening are about the same as you winning the lottery. BERMAN: I think they are lower than the chances of winning the lottery.

SCHOLES: Probably.

BERMAN: I got to say. The Jason Kidd thing, I hadn't seen that, Andy. Are they going to give him any repercussions there? Because that's like cheating, practically?

SCHOLES: Yes. You know what? I bet he gets fined for it. He kept straight in the postgame show saying I spilled my drink but -- it's pretty obvious.

BERMAN: I mean, it's genius, but I think it's cheating.

All right. Andy Scholes, appreciate it. Happy Thanksgiving.

SCHOLES: You too.

BROWN: And coming up right here, on this Thanksgiving morning here on EARLY START. The top headlines and everything you need to know for your Thanksgiving holiday right after the break.

Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Captain Stella Moore (ph) stationed with the Task Force Life Liner in Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. I'd like to wish my family and friends a happy Thanksgiving. I love you! I miss you!


BROWN: Chaos averted. Millions of travelers making their way home for the holiday, but will the real stars of Thanksgiving, you know, the PG-rated inflatable ones, fly high or get grounded?

BERMAN: Web site work around. White House technology team are scrambling to get the Obamacare Web site up and running by the end of the weekend, and they've got a backup plan that the insurance companies may not like.

BROWN: And have you seen this? A man in a burning pickup truck -- well, he has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. He is alive this morning, thanks to a hero cop.

BERMAN: Amazing pictures there.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

BROWN: And happy Thanksgiving, of course. I'm Pamela Brown, on this Thursday, November 28th. We appreciate you joining us this morning. Five-thirty in the East.

Well, the worst appears to be over.