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Suicide Soldier Kills Three, Injures 16; Flight 370 Search to Last "Till Hell Freezes Over"

Aired April 3, 2014 - 11:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But we have to learn how to use them safely to protect ourselves and other people.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Elspeth Ritchie, Kaitlin Dixon and Brooke Baldwin, thanks to all of you.

And thanks to you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

"@ THIS HOUR" with Berman and Michaela starts now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira. Good morning to all of you. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West.

We have many stories @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: We're just minutes away right now from a hospital news conference on the victims of the Fort Hood shooting spree.

The nation 's largest military installation, it is reeling. I should say reeling again after a soldier opened fire there, killing three people, wounding 16 others before killing himself.

Now, authorities are downplaying terrorism, although they have not ruled anything out until the investigation is complete.

PEREIRA: Here is what we do have confirmed. Thirty-four-year-old Army Specialist Ivan Lopez went from one building at the Texas Army post to a second firing a .45-calber semiautomatic pistol.

It took law enforcement about 15 minutes to respond to gunfire. A female military police officer bravely confronted Lopez in a parking lot. He then reached under his jacket, grabbed his pistol, put it to his head and ended his life.

BERMAN: Lopez served four months in Iraq in 2011. As far as we know, he saw no combat.

He was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress, but had not been diagnosed at this point with the condition.

We just got more details about all this from Army Secretary John McHugh. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCHUGH, ARMY SECRETARY: He was undergoing a variety of treatment and diagnoses for mental health conditions ranging from depression to anxiety to some sleep disturbance.

He was prescribed a number of drugs to address those, including Ambien. He was seen just last month by a psychiatrist. He was fully examined, and as of this morning, we had no indication on the record of that examination that there was any sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others, no suicidal ideation, so the plan forward was to just continue to monitor and to treat him as deemed appropriate.


BERMAN: Now when so many heard this news last night, I think the first reaction was not here, not again. This is the same military facility where an officer killed 13 in 2009.

President Barack Obama says this deadly repeat is heartbreaking.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any shooting is troubling. Obviously this reopens the pain of what happened at Fort Hood five years ago.

We know these families. We know their incredible service to our country and sacrifices they make. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with the entire community.

And we are going to do everything we can to make sure the community at Fort Hood has what it needs to deal with the current situation, but also any potential aftermath.


PEREIRA: And we mentioned a moment ago, we expect to learn more about the shooting victims shortly. A hospital news conference is set to start at the bottom of the hour. We'll take you live to hear the latest on the information.

Let's bring in our George Howell. He is outside Fort Hood. And here we are again George. The base -- or the post, rather -- is once again a crime scene. The investigation is under way.

Give us the latest on what they're looking at and how that investigation is progressing.


The investigation really starts as we understand Lopez, looking into his background, everything from his deployment history to his treatment, the history of treatment of mental illness.

We understand again that they'll be looking into everything from how long he was in Iraq, drugs that he might have used, just trying to understand if there might have been any red flags that could have led to this.

BERMAN: George, give me a sense of the timeline here. This was an event that unfolded under -- it felt like several hours, but really the incident itself was about 15 minutes over two buildings.

Give me the timeline.

HOWELL: Well, you know, just after 4:00 yesterday, you have to remember that the sirens were blaring here. People were told to shelter in place. This base, which is really the size of a small city, John, was put on lockdown, and people had to watch and wait as the situation played out.

We understand that it was a shooting in multiple different parts of the base, two different buildings, the transportation building and the medical building.

We understand that Lopez allegedly opened fire in one of the buildings, got into his car and fired shots from the car, then went to the second building, fired shots there.

That is where, as you mentioned, this female military officer, that is where he met her. That's when he used his own weapon to take his own life.

But the aftermath, John and Michaela, is this. We know that 16 people are in the hospital in various states of condition. We know that three people died from this. And, again, we know Lopez allegedly took his own life in the shooting.

BERMAN: We are waiting for an update on the condition of those injured. In a few minutes, George. Our thanks to you, George Howell, at Fort Hood. And we're going to bring you the conditions and that news conference the minute it happens.

CNN military analyst retired Army General James "Spider" Marks is here with us. And, "Spider," I know you lived on this base more than once over the course of your life as a child, and you served there, as well. And I know your heart, just like ours, go out to brave men and women that serve there and the families, the brave families, who live there, as well.

There are a lot of loose ends and sort of unanswered questions here that I think a lot of people are wondering about, about the firearm, about the mental-health issues, so let's break these down here.

Talk to me about the regulations for personal weapons on base. We're told that Ivan Lopez bought this legally off base. We're also told it was against regulations to have it on base.

Explain this to me.

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely correct. Any individual soldier does not give up his or her individual rights to bear arms. You can have a private weapon.

You have to follow the rules. You have to follow the law. If you live off post, it has to be registered with the local, Texas -- whatever those requirements are, he would have to meet those specifications. If he was to bring that on post, and he did, he was illegal the second he walked across the front gate, because on a military post, you have to register that weapon on that post.

It was legal off post. It's got to be on post. It's got to be registered, and in order for you to bring it on, it has to be declared why you're bringing that thing on post. Are you going to do some sports shooting? What are you going to do?

I mean, there are legitimate uses for a private weapon. If you live on post, that weapon also has to be registered and it has to be secured in the arms room of the unit that you belong to.

So it's in complete lockdown, and you have to declare when you want to take it out. You use it. You have to bring it back et cetera. So this guy broke the law when he came on post with a concealed weapon.

PEREIRA: So breaking the law is one thing, because we know that people will do that. They'll skirt the law.

What is being done to make sure that's happening, though, that those procedures are being followed? Are people being screened? Are they patted down? Are vehicles being searched?

MARKS: Michaela this is an extremely tough task to take on. Unless you physically search everybody, every backpack, every trunk, every piece of every car coming in, you're never going to achieve that end state. If you want to get a weapon on post, he just demonstrated how you do it. You drive on post.

And, as Tom Fuentes just said, do an about-face. Look at the gate right now. Are they checking every car? No, they're not.

You have to register your vehicle to get on post. You go through an inspection in order to register your vehicle, and if you've done that, there's a presumption of fair play, of honesty and you're going to follow the rules. Those vehicles are brought right on every day.

BERMAN: We also know he was being treated for some mental-health issues, for depression. He was on some types of medication. He was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress. Meanwhile, he was moved from another Army insulation. Seems odd.

MARKS: It does seem odd, and I have to walk a very delicate line here, right? You can't second guess. The Army is led by immensely gifted folks, and I tell you, this is a place that I know very, very well.

So my point is, this guy needed to have continuity of care. He didn't have continuity of care. His family was uplifted from Point A, went to Point B, Fort Hood.

PEREIRA: That's concerning. MARKS: Now we have this.

PEREIRA: General "Spider" Marks, we appreciate it. Thanks for being here. We know that this has affected you in a personal way, as well. Thanks so much for being here.

MARKS: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right, movie on to our other top story today. "Until hell freezes over," that's one Australian official saying that's how long they'll look for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. And it does seem like it's taking a long, long time.

PEREIRA: We're 27 days into the search now, and those searchers are desperately trying to get a ping, right, a ping before those batteries that power the beacons on the plane's flight recorders run out of juice, if they haven't already.

A British ship arrived in the search a short time ago -- in the search zone a short time ago. I want to bring in our Paula Newton. She's in Perth Australia.

Let's talk about this changing grid that they're looking at. We know, once again, that the area has moved now, this time to the north.

How did they make that judgment, and how did they come to that decision?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if we go back a few days here, when we talked about those arcs, and they decided to look along the southern arc, that for sure this plane had likely plunged into the southern Indian Ocean, they're now plotting different areas on that arc.

Today, the search zone moved slightly north. They tell us that what that means is that a lot of areas that came before have already been searched. They didn't find anything significant, so they're moving on.

Now, as you were just saying, the HMS Echo, it's a British Royal navy ship that does surveying, it was actually in the water trying to listen for sonic transmissions.

They actually had a false alarm, which was probably exciting for them on the ship, but then were able to discount it.

Having said that, it's still good news that they're out there and able to use that piece of equipment.

BERMAN: They're able to use all the equipment they can, Paula. But, again, we're getting this language now from Australian officials talking about the search, the daunting nature, the most difficult in history, saying that they're going to keep up this search "until hell freezes over."

I suppose there are two questions there. One, is that really practical? Can they fly 10 to 12 planes a day, 10 to 12 ships a day, indefinitely? And are they raising the doubt that it's possible that they might never find this plane?

NEWTON: They're definitely trying to lower expectations.

Now, look, the intensity of this kind of search, I mean, you've got a submarine on the way. That's not going to happen at a sustained level. They're giving it definitely a few more weeks, maybe even a few more months.

After that, we're sure that it will continue to be a search, the dimensions of which we still can't know.

But in that language, saying that it's the biggest mystery in aviation history, that it is an unprecedented kind of search, those kinds of things and telling us to be patient, telling the families, especially, to be patient, you know what they're talking about here.

This is going to take a long time, no mystery to be solved anytime soon.

BERMAN: All right, Paula Newton for us in Perth.

It's one thing for us to be patient, quite another thing for those families.

PEREIRA: Yes, that's for sure.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, back to the shootings at Fort Hood, a live news conference from the hospital is expected, that hospital where the wounded are being treated.

Plus, are soldiers getting the mental healthcare they need?

BERMAN: And the quest for Flight 370, batteries dead or dying, the clock ticking, that search getting more desperate by the minute.


PEREIRA: Twenty-seven days, eight planes, nine ships and 86,000 square miles, the desperate search continues for Malaysia Airlines flight 370. An Australian Navy ship should arrive in the area Friday. On board U.S., technology designed to pick up pings from the jet's flight data recorders.

BERMAN: Yeah, but the batteries powering the beacons that make those pings are expected to die in the next few days. That's if they're not dead already, frankly. And once those are no longer able to transmit their signals, the search gets even harder, exponentially harder. And Malaysia investigators, they say they've cleared now all 227 passengers of having any role in the plane's disappearance. They've given us no word, however, about the crew members. Police say a review of the pilot's home flight simulator is inconclusive. And listen to this. Listen to what Australia's prime minister is now saying about the search.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP) TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: This is probably the most difficult search ever undertaken, the most difficult search ever undertaken. Even though we're constantly refining the search area, even though the search area is moving north, it is still an extraordinarily remote and inaccessible spot, time subject to difficult sea conditions.


PEREIRA: Let's bring in Jeff Wise and Les Abend, two familiar faces here on CNN for the past several weeks.

Gentlemen, good to have you with us. The most difficult search ever undertaken. We've heard a distinct shift in the words language that is used. Les, it's sounding a little less hopeful and also as though they're measuring or mitigating expectations.

LES ABEND, PILOT: This is a frustrating process. I mean, this is extraordinary. I mean, you know, and they're just -- to me, they're just explaining their frustration in very well articulated words. I've always said I think we're going to find this airplane. There are way too many assets out there.

BERMAN: Well, Jeff, let me ask you this. You know, they shifted the search zone again today. And one thing that's really struck me over the last few days, you know, a week ago we were seeing satellite images from Thai satellites, from American satellites, from French satellites, from Japanese satellites. When was the last time we saw a satellite image of what looks like a debris field? We know the satellites have been repositioned. You would think if they were picking up anything interesting, anything actionable, we'd be seeking it now.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yeah, one can only presume that they're seeing as much stuff in the water. But we've all kind of collectively learned that just because you see something floating in the ocean, that doesn't mean it's part of this plane.

And I think it's true. Our expectations have changed, shifted. I think the language -- Michaela is exactly right. They're preparing us for the worst (ph) I think. And hopefully we'll get better than that and we will find something. But if nothing does turn up, we're prepared for that.

PEREIRA: And Les, you sound hopeful and you believe that they're going to find this. You know, a lot is being made about the Ocean Shield arriving tomorrow on board with this all this technology to maybe figure out where the pinger is, where the beacon is sending out signals from.

Yet, given the fact that we really know nothing about where it could be, some are saying this is too early; it's too premature. Are you at the mind that we should just throw every asset at it now?

ABEND: Well, we've pretty much done that already, the way I see it. We keep going back and comparing this to Air France. And one of the things that, you know, from inside information, this was politics that took two years. So now we've got a collaborative effort of 26 countries, is my understanding, all trying to -- to -- to find this airplane. And I think it could go quicker, honestly. I mean, rose- colored glasses, but that's the way I'm looking at it.

PEREIRA: Maybe we need a little bit of that right now.

BERMAN: Jeff, you're shaking your head. Do you think it's going to pick up all of a sudden?

WISE: Well, I think what Les says is true. We don't really know what's happening behind the scenes. There were some statements made a few days ago that there was miscommunication, that there was a failure to liaise that caused delays. We don't really know. In retrospect, we know that in the Air France case, that there were some politics happening internally. Obviously things haven't been going entirely smoothly.

BERMAN: Again, with Air France, we always compare it. They had a known flight route, and they had debris within days. To me, it's just apples and oranges.

YOUNG: That investigation seemed so difficult, and baffling, and impossible at the time. And this is that squared.

PEREIRA: Is even far worse. Right, yeah. Absolutely.

Les Abend and Jeff Wise, always a pleasure to have you both with us. Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead for us at this hour, the man behind the shooting at Ft. Hood. We're learning more about Army Specialist Ivan Lopez. We're going to have a life report from the Pentagon, all the new details just ahead.


PEREIRA: Back to our top story now. A deadly incident of soldier on soldier violence.

BERMAN: Three people were killed; 16 wounded. Army Specialist Ivan Lopez opened fire at Ft. Hood yesterday. The shooting spree ended when he took his own life. A neighbor was with Lopez's wife when she found out about the incident.


XANDERIA MORRIS, NEIGHBOR OF FORT HOOD SHOOTING SUSPECT: We all were outside talking about it. And I saw her come out of her apartment. And she seemed to be -- she was worried and she was crying. She had the little girl with her. So, you know, I walked over to her and tried to console her and comfort her and let her know everything was OK.

But it didn't seem to you know, pretty much, you know, sink in. As far as I knew, he was a nice guy. He's always smiled and waved. And that's about it. Typical, average family, you know? They were always coming and going. They would smile when they would see someone. And that was it.


PERIERA: That neighbor describing Lopez, as far as she knew, a nice guy. The picture that's emerging, however, is a man battling mental health problems. The 34-year-old served in Iraq three years ago. We know this. We know that he and his family had just arrived. They were transferred to Fort Hood in February of this year.

BERMAN: Want to bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara has been covering this around the clock since yesterday. I don't think the phone has ever left your ear, Barbara. Help us put together the pieces of this puzzle that is Ivan Lopez.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. We are getting more information now. The secretary of the Army just spoke on Capitol Hill and offered a lot more details.

What we're learning from the Army, John and Michaela, is that this Army soldier had been undergoing psychiatric evaluation for a number of behavioral issue, mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. He had a number of prescription drugs including Ambien that he was using.

The Army is still trying to get a full picture of this. But what they do seem to know is that despite his two tours, perhaps, perhaps, he had not seen the kind of combat that other troops had seen over the years.

I want you to have a listen to a little bit more what the secretary of the Army had to say about all this.


JOHN MCHUGH, ARMY SECRETARY: He did have two deployments including one four-month, approximately four-month deployment to Iraq as a truck driver. His records show no wounds, no involvement, direct involvement in combat.


He was also undergoing an evaluation for post-traumatic stress. This is something that the military finds difficult to diagnose rapidly. It is something that takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. So to be clear, he had not been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress but was undergoing an evaluation for that. He had told the Army he believed he had traumatic brain injury. So an awful lot of detail here about a very complex mental health situation evolving. Certainly, it's gonna be part of the investigation now.

PEREIRA: It certainly will be. And Barbara, we do know that after the shooting in 2009, procedures were changed there. Yet clearly something went wrong that he was able to walk on and commit this act of violence and take his own life. Is there any indication of where the procedures may have fallen short?

STARR: Well, I think there's something everyone is going to want to understand, which is there's some practical realities here for military bases, as there is for large public spaces anywhere in this country.

There's, you know, tens of thousands of people that work at Ft. Hood that move on and off the base through the gates everyday. If you have a permit to be on base, if you're in uniform, if you're a member of the U.S. military and you are allowed to pass through those gates as a member of the military, there would be no reason necessarily on any given day that they're going to stop you and search your automobile. It's not practical. It's not the way life works on a day-to-day basis.

By all accounts, of course, he illegally brought a gun onto the base. It was concealed. He did not have a permit. It was not registered on the base. And sadly, the reality is that this is something we see time and time again, people who have access to weapons.

So there's going to be several threads. They will look at the security procedures and see if there's anything they need to change or tighten up. They will look at him and his mental health. And they'll also look at how he came to acquire a gun and what -- what happened there, whether he actually acquired it legally and all those legal procedures were followed. An awful lot to look into here.

BERMAN: And this investigation very much just beginning. Our thanks to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. She brings up a great point. Fort Hood, this post, it's a small city, not even that small of a city.

PEREIRA: It really is. Largest military installation in the U.S.

BERMAN: When you're talking about procedures to tighten security, it's like saying, you know, a small city. How do you tighten security so shootings don't happen there? It's almost impossible to be perfect.

PEREIRA: It really is.

Coming up after the break, we're going to do a couple of things. We're going to take you to Temple, Texas. There's going to be a press conference from the hospital where nine of the injured were taken. We're going to take you to the hospital to get an update on the condition of those patients.

Also, we're going to turn to the missing airliner, flight 370, give you the very latest on that. Stay with us.