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Stabbing Rampage At Pennsylvania High School; Search for Flight 370; Oscar Pistorius Grilled on Cross-Examination; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired April 10, 2014 - 04:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A high school hallway covered in blood. A student arrested, accused of stabbing 20 of his classmates. This terrifying attack, heroic rescues. We are covering the very latest this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The search intensifies for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. New clues, new clues leading investigators to one area they believe the vanished jetliner could have crashed. We're live with what's happening this morning.

BERMAN: And happening right now -- emotional, dramatic, riveting testimony from Oscar Pistorius, withering questions from the prosecution, and as he says it, he is defending for his life. So, can he convince a judge that he didn't mean to kill his girlfriend? We're live with what he's saying this morning.

Welcome back, everyone. Good to see you. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is 32 minutes past the hour this Thursday morning.

Authorities in Pennsylvania have charged a 16-year-old student as an adult in a stabbing spree at his high school near Pittsburgh. Alex Hribal is in custody this morning. Twenty students and a security officer at Franklin Regional Senior High School were stabbed or slashed in this attack. Four of them, four of them are in critical condition this morning, and police still don't know why he went on the alleged rampage.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and John, we have learned that the stabbing suspect, 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal, has been charged as an adult on four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault. He appeared before a magistrate on Wednesday and was denied bail. His defense attorney spoke and asked for a psychiatric evaluation, saying that he wasn't sure he was competent to stand trial.

The district attorney spoke in court, saying that one of the victims was eviscerated, that he's not sure he's going to make it, and that Hribal allegedly walked into the school early Wednesday morning before classes even started, and started stabbing people indiscriminately with two kitchen knives.

Here's what some of the witnesses had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire alarm went off. I was walking over towards the exit, and there was blood all over the floor. Thought maybe someone had a nose bleed or something. And someone yelled she got stabbed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thought it was a normal fire drill. Then I saw people running and screaming and crying, so I thought, oh, something has to be wrong. Then I saw people holding each other's hands, I saw some other people getting cut, just blood everywhere. It was very traumatizing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't see any blood and I didn't see the weapon, either, but everyone just started screaming, "Run", and then you heard someone yell, "He has a knife."

BROWN: The investigation is ongoing. We know the FBI searched Hribal's home. They were able to confiscate his computer. So, they're trying to figure out right now through witnesses, through forensics, why Hribal allegedly went on this stabbing spree early Wednesday morning -- Christine and John.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Pamela Brown.

There are some new details coming out this morning about the 16-year- old suspect, Alex Hribal. Classmates describing him as shy, someone who always kept to himself. It is not clear if he was targeting anyone in this alleged rampage. FBI agents went to his home, they searched his computer. We heard from the teenager's attorney, also his father.


HAROLD HRIBAL, SUSPECT'S FATHER: My prayers go out to everyone who was injured today, and I hope they recover as soon as possible.

PATRICK THOMASSEY, DEFENSE ATORNEY FOR ALEX HRIBAL: He's scared, he's a young kid. I mean, he's 16, looks like he's 12. I mean, he's a very young kid, he's never in trouble. So, this is all new to him. I'm not sure he knows what he did, quite frankly.


ROMANS: Tales of heroism emerging from the horror that engulfed Franklin Regional High School. The stabbing rampage ended when the student suspect was tackled by assistant principal Sam King, who's been described as a great guy, beloved member of the Murrysville community.

King wasn't the only hero. There were many, including this student who talked to CNN about helping classmates who had been stabbed.


GRACEY EVANS, STUDENT: I was crying the whole entire time. I was just trying to keep people alive. I was trying to keep the one kid alive that I was applying pressure to. I was telling him to keep talking to me, keep awake, that he needs to stay awake, that the EMTs are going to be here soon and you're going to be fine and everything.

I did that the same to my best friend. And, like, when we got to the hospital, my best friend kept asking where I was when he was in the emergency room. And then they went to take me up to see some social workers. And they said to me, you know, what you did was an amazing act of bravery, and you're a true hero. You saved that kid's life.


BERMAN: So many heroes from that school. That Pennsylvania school will remain closed for several days now as investigators comb through that crime scene. It is a crime scene.

"The Wall Street Journal" reports that the school with about 1,200 students has had some safety issues. Seventeen incidents were reported during the last school year, most involved fighting or drugs. None of them dealt with assaults on students or weapons. The county's education chief -- the country's education chief says keeping schools safe must be our top priority.


ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Schools are generally the safest places in communities. And until we as a nation are really willing to take on the larger issue of violence in our broader communities, schools will continue to have some challenges.


BERMAN: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Of course, Christine Romans will be talking to him later today about this and so many other important issues. This is not what should be facing our school children.


BERMAN: There are enough issues in education right now, they don't have to be dealing with this.

ROMANS: And this young woman on Anderson last night, you know, these kids, they learn CPR, learn first aid. They don't think they're going to have to use it in their own school hallways.

BERMAN: No. Wish they were learning math. I wish that's what they could pay attention to.

Of course, stay tuned throughout the morning for continuing coverage of this story.

ROMANS: All right. They're back out this morning searching for the elusive pings that might be coming from Flight 370's black box on the bottom of the Indian Ocean after the two latest signals were detected. The search area has now been narrowed, shrinking by some 7,000 square miles.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live for us in Perth, Australia, this morning.

Erin, bring us up to speed on what's the latest. We know that they've searched that -- they've narrowed that search area, but it is still slow going as they listen for more sounds, more acoustic events, as they call them, from these black boxes.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. A short while ago, I spoke to a spokesperson from the British Ministry of Defense, who told me that the HMS Echo, which is a British vessel, is currently on its way to join the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield. She says it's making its way there because the Ocean Shield currently has the most promising leads in this search. She also said that they've managed to discount those Chinese detections made by the Haixun 1 over the weekend.

As for what it's going to be doing, when it gets there, she says that wasn't clear, that the Ocean Shield is currently taking the lead on the search. But it's worth saying that the HMS Echo has sophisticated sound-detecting equipment, but it's also capable of mapping the search floor, I mean, the search floor -- the sea floor. Officials here in Australia are not commenting on this development in the search at the moment, but not saying whether or not this might signal perhaps a new stage of this search. For all we know, as you say, the Ocean Shield is currently out there, equipped with that American towed pinger locator, scouring the waters, trying to detect more signals from this black box pinger.

And Angus Houston, who's the man, the chief coordinator behind this multinational search effort, yesterday saying they were going to do that until they are absolutely certain that the batteries of the black box pinger have expired. They want as much information before they deploy the underwater autonomous vehicle to look for the actual physical wreckage. He also noted that he didn't want any ships in the area of the Ocean Shield, while it was carrying out this very sensitive audio detecting work. So, it's unclear what the HMS Echo will be doing, how close it will be getting to the Ocean Shield when it arrives at its final destination later today, Christine.

ROMANS: And so, we know that these ships and planes have really been looking for any signs of debris, and they have been retrieving things from the ocean, from the surface of the ocean. Has any of that been tied yet to this flight?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, not that we're aware of. It's another search day, day 24. Some 14 aircraft and 13 vessels are out there to the west of where the Ocean Shield is conducting its work, scouring those waters. That area based largely on experts' detections or beliefs in terms of where the debris may have gone, the tides may have taken the debris, if the plane did, in fact, go down in the area that the Ocean Shield is looking.

Nothing from that search at the moment, but they're hopeful here. They are looking at a much smaller area at the moment, about a quarter of the size of the original area, which has allowed them to intensify those efforts. But at the moment, as far as we are aware, we see no physical, actual physical signs of the missing plane -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Erin McLaughlin for us with the latest from Perth, Australia, this morning. You can stay tuned throughout the morning for latest developments in the Flight 370 search.

BERMAN: A lot going on this morning, including happening right now, prosecutors just ripping into Oscar Pistorius. Withering questions. Pistorius is on the witness stand trying to explain why he shot and killed his girlfriend, trying to convince a judge he didn't mean to.

How's he doing so far? Has the prosecution landed any blows? We'll tell you right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. That, of course, Oscar Pistorius. He is on the stand as we speak, being grilled by the prosecutor on cross examination. This, of course, his trial for murder.

Earlier, the prosecutor was attacking the Blade Runner for his apology to Reeva Steenkamp's family.


PROSECUTOR: You're sorry that you have to think of them, you're sorry for their pain and sorry, but you're not sorry that you killed their daughter --

OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: I'm terribly sorry that I took the life of their daughter, my lady.

PROSECUTOR: Now you say that.


BERMAN: CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is live in Pretoria in South Africa for us.

Kelly, some very compelling questions, very compelling testimony this morning. The prosecution really going into Oscar Pistorius, asking him very specific questions, justifications for many of these text messages that went back and forth between Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp.

What's he trying to establish with the nature of their relationship?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, absolutely. He's essentially going for the jugular with character assassination this whole court session so far. And what he's trying to do is build on the narrative that he's been implying throughout the trial, that Nel has been implying throughout the trial, that Oscar Pistorius is a hot- headed and self-obsessed, violent temperament who was prone, who had a likelihood towards behavior that would lead to the murder of his girlfriend.

So, it's an inference that he's essentially setting up for the judge to draw. But it's therefore very important to remember the legal rules around evidence in South Africa, because the judge will be close in that. And character evidence in South Africa only holds very limited weight. So, while this evidence is, of course, very compelling, from a legal perspective, it only has limited impact in terms of what the judge can make of it.

BERMAN: Of course, the only person who knows now what happened in there and what state of mind he was in was Oscar Pistorius. So, knowing how and why he made these decisions will be key.

I've been very interested about these text messages and the way the prosecution's asking these questions, essentially asking Oscar Pistorius, what did Reeva Steenkamp mean when she said she was scared of you? What did she mean when she said that you had been teasing her or being critical of her? Very interesting line of questioning.

PHELPS: Yes, absolutely. And in a way, it's been quite clever, because what they've ended up doing is essentially backing Pistorius up against a wall where he's in essence ended up having to blame the victim, which, of course, a defense team and an accused person never wants to be seen to be in that position, because it will never engender you good faith from a bench or from the public, for that matter. But the way he's posed these questions to Pistorius, he's put him on the spot to have to explain what he was angry with Reeva Steenkamp about, and that isn't very good in terms of his overall image of his testimony.

BERMAN: No. In fact, the prosecution at one point said, oh, so Reeva Steenkamp must have been lying then. And you could really see Oscar Pistorius had a very difficult time handling that. Kelly Phelps, great to have you with us.

Of course, Pistorius hasn't even really begun to explain what happened and what was going through his head when he shot those bullets. Recreating that scene, that will be key also, and we'll continue with that story all morning long.

ROMANS: All right, happening now, Ukraine's 48-hour ultimatum to pro- Russian protesters, threatening force -- threatening force if they don't stand down. Will civil war break out? We're live next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START this morning, as a tense standoff with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine drags on. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart searching for ways to resolve this crisis. High-level talks, which include Ukraine, are scheduled next week. Meantime, Ukrainian officials have said they'll end the eastern standoff, either by negotiations or force within 48 hours.

CNN's Diana Magnay live for us in Moscow.

One way or another, either through negotiation or by force, the Ukrainians say that standoff will end. Meantime, the Russians say don't worry about the 40,000-some troops the Americans suspect are amassing on the border. There is no reason to worry. This is still a very tense situation.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a very tense situation, and that's why you had two telephone calls yesterday, Christine, between Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and the U.S. secretary of state, urging for a peaceful resolution to the unrest still gripping these various cities in southeastern Ukraine.

Russia's end game for now seems to be to try and achieve a federal constitution in Ukraine, whereby each of these various regions has a very, very real degree of autonomy from Kiev. That, according to President Putin, would give this sort of ethnically, religiously, linguistically mixed country much more ability to control its affairs itself. And in that context, Russia is saying these troops on the border are really nothing to worry about.

But NATO and the U.S. still insists there are 40,000 of them, that they've seen no evidence of them withdrawing, and of course, this is a factor of concern. They're also talking about deploying their own troops, more troops into Eastern Europe and the Black Sea as a result of all this tension.

And you mentioned this supposed deadline, whereby the situation in these cities of Lugansk and Donetsk should come to an end. That was after the Ukrainian foreign minister said they should find some kind of resolution. Well, we don't see any resolution yet and time is ticking, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Certainly a deadline to watch and negotiations next week. Thank you so much, Diana Magnay.

We'll be right back.


BERMAN: The death toll is still rising in the mudslide that buried much of the town of Oso in Washington, last month. Thirty-six people are now confirmed dead after another body was pulled from the rubble on Wednesday. Recovery crews are searching for another 10 people listed as missing, including two children.

ROMANS: A helicopter crew recovering this morning after crashing on the roof of a New Mexico hospital last night. The pilot was reported in satisfactory condition. Two other crew members were under observation. There were no patients on board.

BERMAN: FAA officials are investigating the crash, but the cause has not yet been determined. Witnesses say they felt a gust of wind and saw the medical helicopter wobble before going down.

Web sites are trying to fix their security and preserve consumer confidence after word of a serious flaw that can expose supposedly secure identities. The issue was detected in open SSL, which is supposed to provide encryption of private information for about two- thirds of all servers on the Internet. But the so-called Heartbleed software flaw enables hackers to access IDs and passwords in minutes.

It sounds just awful!

ROMANS: It is the wild -- I've been doing a lot of work on this, cyber security. It is a Wild West out there with our information. I mean, this is just another perfect example, the Wild West.

BERMAN: We need a new sheriff in this Wild West.

ROMANS: Yes, you're absolutely right.

OK, after honoring the memory of the Fort Hood shooting victims at a memorial service Wednesday, President Obama heads to Austin today for a civil rights summit at the LBJ Library with his presidential brethren. Bill Clinton is there, Jimmy Carter, and both George Bush and his father.

Speaking of Bush 41, he surprised the Obamas -- look at that. He greeted them when they arrived at the airport in Houston. George H.W. Bush, the president, said when the president comes to your hometown, you show up and you welcome him.

What a great surprise!

BERMAN: He's in a wheelchair because he is battling a form of Parkinson's right there, but there has been so much joy in his life in the last year. He just marked the 25th anniversary of his election. I just get the sense he is enjoying this time so much, and you can tell by the president and Mrs. Obama there. Everyone is enjoying being with him right now.

ROMANS: I think it's legitimately a warm relationship.

BERMAN: I think you're right.

ROMANS: I think it really is. All right, EARLY START continues right now.