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THE SITUATION ROOM
Colorado School Shooting; Alleged Bombing Plot Foiled; Uncle of North Korean Leader Executed
Aired December 13, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: At least two of them are students wounded in the shooting. One of them is now in surgery. The shooter is dead. He apparently killed himself.
Students have been evacuated from the school. They're reuniting with their families. This shooting happened not very far from the scenes of other massacres, the massacres in Columbine and Aurora, and on this, the eve of the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
We have team coverage on this breaking story, beginning with CNN's Ana Cabrera in Centennial, Colorado.
Set the scene for viewers, Ana, who are just tuning in right now. What happened?
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The investigation now really begins into why this student came in and shot a couple other students today in his hunt for a specific teacher.
Just behind me, parents and students are now starting to come together, to find each other, to be able to cry, hug, kiss and thank goodness and thank God, really, for being OK after everything that's transpired here.
I'm going to step out of the way so you can see exactly what is happening, as there is still a very active scene. We're a couple blocks from Arapahoe High School. As you look at these pictures, what we understand is a lot of parents are having to wait for a teacher, an authority to bring them their student.
They're lined up, and they are having to give their student's name and then those students are coming out. That's what you're seeing here. Let me walk you back through what has happened since 12:30 this afternoon local time.
A student at the school walked into the school with a shotgun, according to the Arapahoe County sheriff. He asked for a specific teacher. That teacher apparently got wind and left the school. At some point, the student opened fire, hitting at least two other students.
One of those students had very serious injuries, according to the sheriff, is currently undergoing surgery. The other student's injury was described as minor. At some point, the shooter, the student who came into the school, took his own life, police believe.
Not knowing that that had already happened, within minutes of the initial shots fired, we understand the SWAT team and police were already moving into the school, doing what they call an active shooter protocol, meaning they are going directly to the threat. They are not waiting. The goal here is to eliminate the threat before anybody else could be hurt.
By the time they found the student who they believe is the only suspect in this case, he was already dead. We have been talking with people about what happened inside the school. I had a chance to talk to a couple students who described hearing up to three gunshots.
All these students have gone through drills in the past, we're told. They tell us they have trained to lockout situations in which they get as far away from any kind of windows. They lock the doors and they huddle down and they keep quiet. That's what happened here today, the students very grateful for training those drills and even more grateful now to be reuniting with their families -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to hear from some of those student and families shortly. Ana, don't go too far away.
Brian Todd is joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got more on how the shooting actually played out -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
According to the sheriff Grayson Robinson, who spoke to reporters just a short time ago, the gunman entered the building on the west side of the building. We will telestrate for you. This is the west side of the building. Entered the building at about 12:33 local time in Colorado, 2:30 Eastern time. This is the west side of the building.
The sheriff says there are two, possibly three entrances on the west side of the building. So looks to be one here, one here, possibly one here. There's also looks like to be an entrance over here by the gym. So the sheriff says he enters the gym 12:33 p.m. The sheriff said the shooting occurred in what he said was the immediate west section of the building, so presumably anywhere in this section is where the shooting occurred.
But the sheriff did say the shooter's body was found well inside the school in one of 70 classrooms, probably in here somewhere the classrooms are in this body of the school here. There are 70 classrooms inside Arapahoe County High School here, so a lot of ground for police to cover as they looked for the suspect while the scene was still active.
We are also told parents were told to go meet with their children at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, and that is down South University Boulevard this direction. This is the street where the main entrance to the school is, but South University Boulevard is down in this direction. That's where parents met with their children. Again, as far as the entrance to the school, we're going to show you a picture of that. Here is the west entrance to the school right here. This is looking east to west, so it gives you kind of a visual at ground level of the area of the school where the shooter entered, Wolf, so getting you kind of a logistical pictures of this high school in Centennial, Colorado, and where the shooting took place, again, to recap, right here. The shooting took place on the immediate west section of the school right about here.
BLITZER: And what's so chilling is that shooter, according to the police chief, walked in -- the sheriff -- walked in with that shotgun open, making it clear he was looking for a specific teacher as he walked into that school. Brian, thanks very much.
Joining us now is Cathy Noon. She's the mayor of Centennial, Colorado, where the school shooting took at the Arapahoe High School.
Mayor, can you share with us any information about this shooter?
CATHY NOON, MAYOR OF CENTENNIAL, COLORADO: Actually, I can't. This is an active investigation, and our law enforcement partners and professionals are definitely looking into all of this at this time.
BLITZER: What about even the age of the shooter?
NOON: I can only rely on the press conference that our sheriff had earlier.
BLITZER: They don't want to say anything right now, but I'm sure that information will be coming out soon.
Without telling us the individual, the young person's name who shot himself apparently, have you been briefed on who he is, what his motivation may have been, any of those kinds of questions?
NOON: Not at this time. The sheriff's office is still -- their investigation is open and active and they are working on that as we speak.
BLITZER: How is your community doing?
NOON: Well, absolutely devastated that something like this would happen. And most importantly, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, with the families, with the Littleton school staff, and our community as a whole.
BLITZER: People all over the country are asking, you know, after Columbine, after the Aurora movie theater, now this at the Arapahoe High School, is there anything we should know about this area of Colorado that potentially could be causing this kind of a problem?
NOON: Not at all. This is a wonderful area. The community is a wonderful family community, and, you know, bad things happen in good places, and it's unfortunate that it was here.
BLITZER: You feel the community is doing enough to deal with young people and mental health issues?
NOON: Well, I think this is probably not the time or the place to have that discussion. I'm sure there will be plenty of time for that later.
BLITZER: I'm sure there will be.
So where do we go from here? What about the kids? Will they have school? Are the teachers -- have you spoken to that specific teacher, for example, who apparently was targeted by this shooter?
NOON: I have not personally. That's being left up to the law enforcement officials and the school system. They are getting their investigation done. They certainly will work on what the next steps will be for that school community and I'm sure this weekend we will all be getting more information so we can plan for next week.
BLITZER: There will have to be some serious healing now, too, because people I assume have been pretty shaken up by this?
NOON: Oh, I'm sure they have. And that's what we will be doing. We will be supporting our community, both as a city, both as school district. And we're going to be coming together and supporting all of those affected.
BLITZER: Cathy Noon is the mayor of Centennial, Colorado.
Our deepest, deepest, best wishes for you and for the entire community. I know this is really a rough time. Mayor, thanks for joining us.
NOON: I appreciate your time. Thank you.
BLITZER: We will continue to follow the breaking news that is coming out of Colorado.
Also, we're following some other stories as well, including an alleged plot to set off explosives at an airport. The FBI has now arrested a suspect. We will give you the details from the investigators. Stand by.
BLITZER: Now to another breaking story we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, an alleged terror plot targeting a U.S. airport. Federal authorities say they have arrested a suspect who planned to set off explosives on the tarmac.
Our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us with the latest.
So, what do we know, John?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the FBI says this guy got set up by a pair of undercover agents. He thought he was about to detonate a car bomb, but when he tried to enter the airport, he was arrested.
This guy's name is Terry Loewen. He's apparently a practicing Muslim. He works at Wichita Airport, which authorities say he wanted to blow up, and he's charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, a car bomb, and attempting to provide material support to terrorism. According to court documents, the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office say Loewen allegedly had an online chat with someone, and he said he wanted to engage in violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda.
But what he didn't know was that he was chatting online with an FBI employee. The employee offered to introduce him to someone who would help him with his violent jihad, of course, and the documents describe FBI employees number one and number two, who later pretended to be an alleged accomplice as part of what was a sting operation.
They nabbed Loewen when he tried to enter the airport with his security pass. He thought he had explosives in the car, but they were not active, because they had been provided by the agents. These so- called aspirational terror cases have been a bit controversial lately, because the question is whether it makes sense to go after individuals who have terror plans even if they're not at the fully operational stage.
These cases can be expensive and time-consuming. The FBI has said all along, though, that since 9/11 their mission has switched to prevention of terrorism and this case shows just how far they will go.
BLITZER: I read this 21-page criminal complaint that they released. He thought he was actually helping al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and he thought he was engaging in jihad. And that's why he wanted to do what he thought he was going to do. Obviously, all of these allegations contained in this complaint.
Joe, thanks very much for that report.
Meanwhile, other news we're following, growing fears about the stability of North Korea's strong man, Kim Jong-un, and the brutal lengths he will go to try to keep his grip on power. It's been 24 hours since we first reported the shocking execution of his uncle, who was considered to be the second most powerful man in the nuclear-armed nation.
U.S. officials and military analysts are still trying to piece together what this ruthless move actually means.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we have learned, Wolf, is the uncle had a very unique position inside the regime.
Now with his death, the question is what will Kim Jong-un do next? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
STARR (voice-over): The pictures tell it all, Jang Song Thaek airbrushed out of existence, the uncle of Kim Jong-un executed after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason, the state news agency calling him despicable human scum and worse than a dog. Here he is being removed from his seat in government. Here, he was beside Kim Jong-un at his father's funeral.
But the swift arrest and killing has left the Obama administration wondering what is going on inside the world's most secretive nation.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.
STARR: North Korean watchers say the execution is about more than Kim once again consolidating power. The uncle had a unique position.
JOHN PARK, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: He was important because he was very good at making money for the regime. One way to think of him is the CEO of North Korea incorporated, this collection of North Korean state trading companies whose specific task was to raise funds for the personal use of the of Kim family.
STARR: But that power center began to pose a threat to Kim. Jang Song Thaek had to go for Kim to maintain a total grip on all power and money.
There is concern Kim may grow more unpredictable. U.S. intelligence sees no movement yet of North Korean military forces, but will he decide to undertake another missile or nuclear test to demonstrate he's in charge?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: They clearly are now trying to reconstitute their nuclear apparatus, so if you're in South Korea or Japan or the United States of America, you're very concerned right now about the what the North Korean regime might do.
And I think Beijing is worried as well, because this young leader appears not to be listening to the Chinese government.
STARR: And with such unpredictability, as you can well imagine, South Korean and U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula are maintaining a very high state of readiness, as they always do -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As a precaution, just out of an abundance of precaution, as they like to say at the Department of Defense, are they moving any ships, aircraft carriers, anything along those lines, given the uncertainty we are seeing in North Korea right now?
STARR: Not at this time, Wolf, but you have to remember, the U.S. military generally has in fact been increasing its presence out in the Pacific, out in Asia, China, North Korea, just some of the worries out there, some of the reasons you are going to start seeing more U.S. military force out in that region -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a story that is. Very tense situation right now. Barbara Starr reporting for us, thank you very much.
There's other startling developments in the controversy surrounding the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service.
Brian Todd is joining us now.
Brian, you're getting new information, and it's pretty shocking.
TODD: It is, Wolf.
We're learning from the South African network, a CNN affiliate, eNCA, that the man at the center of the sign language translating problem in South Africa, the man named Thamsanqa Jantjie, has faced a multitude of criminal charges in the past, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and rape.
Now, what's important to point out is that he was found not guilty of murder and rape when he was charged. The network eNCA got this information from documents given to them by a senior police source in South Africa, but, again, that this man faced charges including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping in South Africa a number of years ago.
He was acquitted of murder in 2006. The document also revealed that he was charged with rape, housebreaking, malicious damage and again murder between the years of 1994 and 2006. He was found not guilty of rape and murder. Important to point that out.
Reached by that network eNCA on Friday, that translator, Mr. Jantjie, said he did not deny that he faced the charges, but he asked how the reporters came to get that information and said he was not prepared to comment. And then he ended that conversation, Wolf, so new information about charges that he has faced in the past, including murder and rape, for which he was found not guilty of, at least of the murder charge, in 2006.
He was found guilty of a theft charge in the mid-1990s, Wolf.
BLITZER: Hard to believe that they allowed him to get this close not only to the president of South Africa, the president of the United States and all these other dignitaries who were up on that program, given that record.
We will continue to investigate this story as well, shocking information. If you didn't think it could get more shocking, just wait.
All right, Brian, thanks very much.
As we learn more about today's school shooting in Colorado, the nation is marking one year since the shooting massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We're taking a closer look at some of the lessons that may or may not have been learned.
BLITZER: We have been following breaking news of that school shooting in Colorado today.
Authorities say there's no apparent link to the one-year anniversary of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, but it certainly is a grim reminder that the problem of gun violence still weighs very heavily on this nation.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's taking a closer look -- Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
President Obama called it the worst day of his presidency, but about one year later, his administration has only been able to take minor action against gun violence.
KEILAR (voice-over): Newtown was supposed to change everything.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
KEILAR: President Obama addressed a memorial two days after the shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six staff members. He directed Vice President Biden to come up with concrete proposals to reduce gun violence, and public sentiment fueled a bipartisan effort to pass a federal law to require background checks for all gun purchases.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The amendment is not agreed to.
KEILAR: But, in April, it failed to pass even the Democratic- controlled Senate.
OBAMA: This was a pretty shameful day for Washington.
KEILAR: President Obama promised to push on.
OBAMA: But this effort is not over.
KEILAR: One year after the shooting, those efforts have happened on the margins of the issue. Obama has taken 23 executive actions. Vice President Biden announced a $100 million mental health initiative. A handful of states have install background checks or bans on high-capacity guns, but more than a dozen states have actually loosened laws. COLIN GODDARD, VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I still have three bullets with me today and a metal rod in my left leg.
KEILAR: Colin Goddard was injured in the Virginia Tech sheeting. Despite setbacks, he thinks a lot has been accomplished.
GODDARD: We now have an ATF director, the first one in seven years. That's huge. We have more records getting into the background check system to make it work properly. We finally have research again from the CDC studying how people are killed with firearms.
KEILAR: But Colin and other gun control advocates are from frustrated by Congress' inaction on universals background checks.
JOHN FEINBLATT, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: We have to start making calculations about saving lives rather than calculations about people's political future. But 90 percent of people believe in background checks.
KEILAR: At the White House, there's no new push for gun violence legislation, and without Congress' cooperation, officials seem resigned.
CARNEY: In the end, there is a limit on what a president can do. Other actions require congressional movement.
KEILAR: Now, a ban on undetectable plastic firearms, Wolf, just recently made it through Congress, but when it comes to universal background checks, there are no plans to take that issue up again.
BLITZER: I know the president is very, very frustrated with that action -- or lack of action, I should say.
Brianna, thanks very much.
Because of the breaking news today, we weren't able to bring you my interview with the actor Will Ferrell. We will have that for you on Monday.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
Our coverage of the shoot shooting in Colorado continues right now on "CROSSFIRE."