Return to Transcripts main page


Colorado School Shooting; Drunk Driving Controversy in Texas

Aired December 13, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

The breaking news tonight: A 15-year-old girl is critically wounded fighting for her life tonight after a fellow student opened fire at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. The gunman, who was apparently targeting a teacher, at least according to early reports, is dead. Police say he took his own life. They also say they found two Molotov cocktails.

The ingredients and the images so familiar by now, the outcome fortunately a great deal less deadly than Columbine or Sandy Hook.

More now from Ana Cabrera.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 12:33 p.m., police say a lone gunman entered the west side of the Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, armed with a shotgun. A gunman believed to be a student at the high school began asking for a male faculty member. That person was alerted and left the school immediately.

A school janitor says he saw a student running around dressed in tactical gear.

FABIAN, JANITOR: I was turning the corner when I saw a kid running into the building on the north side of the building. He was kind of running side to side, kind of military kind of style.

When I saw that, I double looked to see if there was a gun. It was a shotgun. So right away I got on the radio to alert everyone and the staff to hey -- and when he went in, that's when I just heard the shots. I heard the loud shots.

CABRERA: A student was shot while in the vicinity of the shooter. That student who's not being identified is in serious condition. Two other students sustained injuries.

Whitney Riley was with other students inside her ninth grade classroom.

WHITNEY RILEY, STUDENT: We were having fun and laughing. Then all of a sudden, we heard a really loud bang. And my teacher asked what it was. And then we heard two more, and we all just got up and screamed and ran into a sprinkler system room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our teacher was trying to calm us down. A couple of people were crying. They were just all in the moment. We couldn't really think at all. We didn't really know it was a gunshot. But we heard the repetitions. So we just thought might as well take procedure. And we turned off the lights and locked the door so they can't get in.

CABRERA: Within 14 minutes of the shooting, law enforcement entered the school looking for the shooter.

GRAYSON ROBINSON, ARAPAHOE COUNTY, COLORADO, SHERIFF: While we were securing the school and ensuring that the safety of the students and staff in that school, we located the individual that we believed to be the suspect and the active shooter. That individual is currently deceased, and he apparently killed himself.

CABRERA: Law enforcement say they slowly and methodically searched the school before allowing students to leave the safety of their classrooms.

ROBINSON: We wanted to ensure that all of our students, number one, were safe. And, secondly, we wanted to ensure that we had no other suspects or individuals that were collaborators with our shooter.

CABRERA: At about 1:30 p.m., students began exiting the school, single file, arms raised in the air, gathering at the school's running track and into the arms of parents who rushed to the school after hearing reports of the shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frantic. It's horrible. You're super nervous. You're driving down here and trying to get through as fast as you can. So he's OK.

CABRERA: Ana Cabrera, CNN, Centennial, Colorado.


COOPER: For who on the shooter was -- obviously, we're not using any names -- I spoke just a short time ago though with student Frank Woronoff. He saw the teacher in question just after his narrow escape and knew the gunman as well.


COOPER: So, Frank, when you got back to the school, you realized something was going wrong. What did you see and hear?

FRANK WORONOFF, STUDENT: I just saw a bunch of cops swarm into the school, the parking lot, the side streets, everything.

And they blocked off the intersection leading to the school and they forced me off the road into the local grocery store, where I met up with the librarian and the janitor at the school. COOPER: So they had already left the school. It was the librarian, was that the teacher who was allegedly being targeted by this gunman or requested by the gunman?

WORONOFF: He was the one who was shot at, yes.

COOPER: What did the librarian tell you?

WORONOFF: All he could really tell me were the same two or three statements over and over. He just kept telling me that the gunner asked, where is he, where is he, and he just kept searching for him. All he could tell me was his name and about the speech and debate team.

COOPER: What about -- obviously, don't use his name. What about the speech and debate team, though? That has something to do with his motive?

WORONOFF: We believe the gunner was on the speech and debate team. He is on the speech and debate team. But he was demoted a certain position. And I was told that's what led him to sort of snap.

COOPER: Did you know the alleged gunman? And if so, what was he like?

WORONOFF: I did know him. I have known him since my freshman year of high school.

He was the last person I expect to ever shoot up a high school. He was honestly incredibly humble and down-to-earth. He was a little geeky, but in a charming way. So I don't know anyone who hates him really. So it came as a surprise to me at least.

COOPER: Did you have any indication in the last couple of days that there was anything going on with him, anything wrong with him?

WORONOFF: I heard from a few friends that -- and I believe it was the Spanish class on Wednesday that he showed a few outbursts that were fairly violent.

COOPER: Do you know any more details on that?

WORONOFF: He went out to get water, I believe, or something from his locker. When he came back, the door was locked so he started pounding on it and screaming and cursing at the teacher apparently.

COOPER: And that was something which was unusual for him?


COOPER: How are you and the other students doing? It's one thing to see this kind of thing on TV and have it happen somewhere else, but to have it happen in your school.

WORONOFF: It's one of those things you see all over the news, you're like that will never happen to us. But it happened four hours ago, I think, and I'm just now texting my friends and they are telling me it just now hit them they just realized this is a real thing. So still trying to get over it, you know.

COOPER: Yes. Well, listen, Frank, I appreciate you talking to us. I'm glad you're OK and your friends are as well. Thank you very much.

WORONOFF: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.


COOPER: You can follow me on Twitter tonight @AndersonCooper. Tweet us using #AC360.

We will have more late developments throughout the hour and speak with another student who was inside as the gunshots rang out.

Also, the parallels with Columbine and, frankly, the differences.


COOPER: The breaking news, after today's shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, a 15-year-old student is in critical condition right now.

The student that shot her is dead, apparently by his own hand. The images, as always, steering, tough to watch, some like parents this afternoon hugging kids or at least a relief to see. So is hearing from survivors.

I spoke with Courtney Leypoldt just before air time.


COOPER: So, Courtney, first of all, how are you holding up? I know you got real shook up with what happened.

COURTNEY LEYPOLDT, STUDENT: I'm OK. I have definitely been better, but, I mean, just something you got to kind of stick out, got to stay strong for everybody else around you.

COOPER: Explain when you realized something was happening.

LEYPOLDT: We were just -- I was sitting in yoga class and we were working on a school project. It was actually our final for the class, and I just heard this bang, bang and it was like I thought somebody was just upstairs messing around, like with a vending machines because a lot of kids -- like the vending machines get stuck and a lot of kids kick them and stuff like that.

And the next thing we know, one of the girls that was actually upstairs comes running down screaming help, help, there's a shooter, there's a shooter, and she had blood on her shirt. And our teacher, Ms. Bradley, she brought -- kind of freaked out for a second. She calmed down and counted everybody as we walked in the room just to make sure everybody was in there safe and took this young lady with us.

And we went into like a couple backrooms that they have down there in the basement, and we just all kind of sat down there and our teacher checked out the young lady that came down screaming and nothing appeared to be physically wrong with her, but you could definitely tell she was shaken up by the whole thing.

COOPER: This may be a dumb question, but you said she had blood on her. Where did the blood come from?

LEYPOLDT: Her friend that she was standing next to was actually one that had been shot. And her friend -- I didn't really get the full story, but I guess her friend had fallen on her, and I guess her friend kind of just fell, and that's where the blood came from, because she was standing right there when it happened, when her friend was shot.

COOPER: You must have been incredibly scared at this point.


I was more angry, I guess, at first, just to like sit there and think how could somebody possibly do this? It's the holidays. It's Christmastime. This doesn't happen to people -- this just doesn't happen. This hit way too close to home. This doesn't happen to Arapahoe High School. It just doesn't happen.

And I guess I wasn't really scared until SWAT came down. And they were like, it's SWAT, it's SWAT, it's the police, stay calm and they were just really yelling. And I guess that's when it kind of became a reality for me, and that's when I started to just freak out, and I just lost it.

COOPER: How long were you with the other students waiting for the police to come?

LEYPOLDT: I was one of the three girls.

There was two other girls that sat and were comforting the young lady that had came down the stairs screaming for help. We sat there and comforted her, and the rest of the students were in a separate room. We probably were there for about 15, 20 minutes. Our teacher actually has a brother in SWAT and she had texted him and let him know where we were.

So, that's when they came down and got us and they had to make sure everything was secure and stuff like that.

COOPER: Without obviously using any names, did you know the alleged gunman and, if so, what was he like?

LEYPOLDT: I knew of him.

I had maybe talked to him two, three times. He was a really sweet kid. Like, no one ever really expects that from anybody. He ran track. He was on speech and debate. He was a really smart, intelligent kid, really had a good life ahead of him, and it's -- that's really all I can say about him at this moment.

COOPER: Courtney, I'm so glad you're OK and that you were able to comfort this other student at that time is a really wonderful thing you were able to do and I appreciate you talking to us tonight.

LEYPOLDT: Yes, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.


COOPER: Coming when it did and where it did, today's shooting inevitably spurred comparisons to Sandy Hook a year ago tomorrow and Columbine 14 years ago.

Only a few miles separate Columbine and Arapahoe, the images, some uncannily similar, thankfully, the outcomes very different for a whole variety of reasons, including how authorities responded this time.

Here to talk about it is Dave Cullen, who has written the definitive book on Columbine, an extraordinary account. I highly recommend it.

One of the things I got from your book which took you 10 years to write how much of the initial reporting, how much is still in the collective memory, what people think Columbine was about, how much of that was just flat out wrong. And it makes me think about we have just gotten this report about Molotov cocktails. And previously people were saying he was targeting one teacher, so maybe that's not correct.


You're right. With Columbine, we had it so figured out completely the first week. It was two loner outcasts, goths from the trench coat mafia who were on a tirade targeting jocks and killed them. Everybody knew that. Most people still believe that.


CULLEN: Every single bit of that is wrong.

I still -- I do a lot of events at high schools and colleges. The first thing I do is ask people, OK, what happened at Columbine? First, I ask how many people know, and they all do -- what caused it, and I take selections from the audience, and almost everyone still thinks all those things.

But they're all wrong. And today, yes, it was like a minute ago we just heard the news about the Molotov cocktails. The first thought in my head was like, OK, that may or may not be true, although with things like that, that probably is, because if the cops find a physical device, they're probably not going to mistake that.


COOPER: And if the story -- up until a minute ago, people were saying he was targeting a specific teacher perhaps because he was taken or demoted off the debate team.

But if you are bringing Molotov cocktails to a school, that seems like a wider potential destruction.

CULLEN: Exactly. Well, yes, and plus more planning. It takes you some time to do those.

And, yes, usually you don't target a single person with -- yes, I was skeptical about the targeting. You never know, but...

COOPER: I follow you on Twitter. You and I have discussed on Twitter the idea of not naming the shooters, which is something I believe in very strongly and have tried to do in all the reporting, not just obviously tonight, but in all these instances.

Why do you think that's important? And what role does extensive media coverage, particularly you were saying local media coverage, play in encouraging other young people to do this?

CULLEN: I think it has a huge impact.

And sometimes when I talk to people, they don't understand that because they say like, obviously, a person doesn't just think, oh, a school shooting and I will do that. That's not really getting it. So to understand how most of these people do it, most of them are deeply depressed, someone is at the end of their rope. They're trying to lash out and have some sort of impact.

They usually don't know what. They don't necessarily have it clearly defined. They're not sort of clearly defined with goals. It's not trying to become famous, like being on "The Tonight Show" or "Jimmy Fallon" or something. They're trying to be heard and have some impact on the world, and they don't know how to do that.

But then they see the coverage of these things happening. And they're like, oh, it's sort of like a model. That's kind of working that. That guy's being heard. Everyone's hearing his name.

And I think we give power to that individual. And we make it seem like, wow, that sort of does fulfill this need I'm in search of. And if we take that away, we have sort of silenced the person, we have really sort of denuded them and made them sort of like this voiceless person. I think we take a lot of the power away.

COOPER: I also believe just on reporting these things, you can report on motive and you can try to learn things that will help the next time without using the person's name and in any way -- I just don't think...


CULLEN: I'm all for that, the perpetrator, the gunman. (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I just don't think history should remember those people's names. They should remember the names of those who were killed, those whose lives were forever changed.

CULLEN: Of the victims, yes.

COOPER: And the other point you make which is that these schools are really kind of centers on community life. So the impact of a shooting in a school like this goes far beyond the immediate students who were involved. It has ripples throughout the entire community.

CULLEN: It really is.

It's even more so. Every area usually, there's a private and local high school. In this area, it's particularly great because of the sort of suburban flight of when these suburbs came together. Most of those, like Columbine, there is no -- they're in unincorporated Jefferson County. This wasn't unincorporated Arapahoe County and then they created Centennial just like five years ago or something like that.

So they have no Main Street. There's no like county courthouse. There's not even like symbols of where like the center of town is. There's no town. So the high school becomes the town. And people when you ask them where they're from, they will say they're from like Columbine or Dakota Ridge or whatever the high school is, is how they think of their identity of their group.

And so you're sort of shattering the symbol of what the community is.

COOPER: Well, again, the book is "Columbine." That is the correct title, right, just "Columbine."



COOPER: I thought there was a little -- and it's truly -- I have read it. It is such a good book. If you think you know what happened in Columbine, really you have no idea. I had no idea until I really read your book. So, I appreciate having you on tonight.


CULLEN: Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Thanks.

Up next, new details on the Texas teenager who drove drunk and killed four people. He got no jail time after a judge agreed with the defense claim that he suffered from affluenza. What is that? We will hear from the family of another teenager who survived the crash, but his life is changed forever. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back.

Tonight, a new perspective on the case of the 16-year-old drunk driver who caused a crash that killed four people and got no jail time. In a moment, you will hear from the family of a teenager who was hurt in the crash, but first the details of the case, in case you don't know.

A judge in Texas sentenced that young man, 16-year-old Ethan Couch, to 10 years of probation for the July crash that killed four people. The defense that was used was something called affluenza, the theory that Couch isn't really to blame for his actions because his rich parents never set limits for him and he never learned about consequences.

It may be hard for a lot of people to wrap their brains around that one.

Last night, I spoke with Dick Miller, the clinical psychologist who testified for the defense and used the term affluenza. In the course of our conversation, Miller took issue even with the fact that Couch killed four people that night. Take a look.


COOPER: If you commit a crime, if you kill four people, you can't use that as an excuse, can you?

G. DICK MILLER, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: No. And the term -- when you use the word killed and people out in America hear that, it implies that there was -- that motive, that the motive was not good.

COOPER: Are you saying he didn't murder four -- he didn't kill four people?


MILLER: Yes, he did not murder four people. It's a legal term.

COOPER: OK. But he slammed his truck into four people.


MILLER: First-degree homicide and involuntary manslaughter are different things, Anderson.

COOPER: He killed four people, yes?

MILLER: Four people died.


COOPER: Four people didn't just magically die. Four people were killed by this young man. Ethan Couch crashed his vehicle while driving drunk into these people. The lives of those victims' families are, of course, changed forever. It's not just them. Sergio Molina was driving -- or riding, I should say, in the back of that young man's vehicle, in the back of his truck, in the back of Couch's truck. He survived the accident. His life will never be the same, not for him, not for his family.

Gary Tuchman now reports.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the way Sergio Molina used to be, a happy son and brother who loved playing soccer.

This is the way he is today, 16-year-old Sergio with his mother. He can't talk, he can't move. He's considered minimally responsive. It's what happened to him after he flew out of the back of Ethan Couch's pickup truck this past June, on the night that Couch ran into and killed four other people just outside Ft. Worth, Texas.

Alex Lemus is Sergio's older brother.

ALEX LEMUS, BROTHER OF SERGIO MOLINA: They told us that basically that's as much as he's going to rehabilitate, that that's all we can hope for is how he is right now for the rest of his life.

TUCHMAN: The family hopes and prays that is not true. But, meantime, they deal with realities.

(on camera): In the six months since the accident, what have your medical bills totalled so far?

A. LEMUS: The six months since the accident, over $1 million.

TUCHMAN: A million dollars?

A. LEMUS: Over $1 million.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Sergio's family has filed a multimillion- dollar lawsuit against Ethan Couch, his family, and his father's company because it was the company-owned truck Ethan was driving.

An attorney for the driver's family has told CNN the judge made the "appropriate disposition in this case." But Sergio Molina's family says testimony in the trial revealed the teens in Couch's truck pleaded with him to slow down and drive safer before the horrifying accident occurred.

911 OPERATOR: And how many people need EMS?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, I'm telling you it's dark. There's four or five kids. There's kids laying in ditches and streets.

TUCHMAN: Sergio was one of those in the ditch. His brother was in court during the trial and says when he heard the affluenza defense being used, he thought it was nonsense and upsetting.

(on camera): When the verdict came and you found out he was not going to ever spend time in jail, what went through your mind?

A. LEMUS: Just regular -- anger, disappointed, so outrageously anger, I can't say anything.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The family is currently retrofitting their home with money they say they really don't have to accommodate Sergio. His mother, Maria, said it was emotionally hard for her to talk on camera, but she wanted to give it a try.

(on camera): Tell me about Sergio, what kind of boy he is.

MARIA LEMUS, MOTHER OF SERGIO MOLINA: He was the best. He was that kind of boy with a lot of dreams. He was -- well, his first dream was to be a soccer player. He was sweet. I mean, he was...

TUCHMAN: He's lucky he has you. You need to hear that from people like me, outsiders. Do you realize that?

M. LEMUS: Yes.

TUCHMAN: He's lucky he has you and his siblings to take care of him, right?

M. LEMUS: Yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The memories of Sergio before the accident sustain this family, the picture of him on the left with two of his other brothers, his soccer uniforms, and his relationship with his dog, Pinky (ph), which continues today.

His brother says he has quit his job to stay with Sergio all the time.

A. LEMUS: That's my life. If I have to become a scientist to go up in there and fix him, that's my life, man. That's how much I love him.


COOPER: It is so sad. That was our Gary Tuchman reporting. We're going to continue to follow the story.

That's all for us.