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Santa Barbara Shootings: A Desperate Search; Hagel: "It Makes Me Sick"; Pope in Holy Land; Thunder Win 106-97, Spurs Lead Series 2- 1

Aired May 26, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A desperate search happening too late. This morning, new details about a southern California killing spree. What a 22-year-old wrote about his motives and what his parents tried to do to stop him, this as we find out more about the victims.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It makes them sick. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talking to CNN about the scandal at the V.A. He's calling for change, but not at the top, despite many calls for Eric Shinseki to resign.

BERMAN: And then, a Hail Mary from Pope Francis, putting himself in the middle of a political battle that has lasted centuries, calling for a Palestinian state and offering help negotiate a deal himself. Can he solve what countless others could not?

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you this morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, May 26th. It is Memorial Day and 5:00 a.m. in the East. Really glad to see you this morning.

Let's begin in southern California, where there are new developments as investigators try to piece together what led this 22-year-old to go on a deadly rampage around Santa Barbara, killing six people and wounding more than a dozen before turning the gun on himself.

Now, a friend of Elliot Rodgers' family tells CNN Rodger's parents went on a desperate hunt for their son just as he was opening fire, seemingly at random. He had just sent his 137-page manifesto to his parents by e-mail detailing his problems with women and how often he felt slighted. His mother found his video on YouTube, calling for retribution, but they couldn't find him in time. It was already too late.

Police now believe Rodger had been working on his plan for months. Officers had visited him weeks ago after a relative grew concerned about his welfare, but police say Rodger came across as polite. In the manifesto, he writes if police had searched his room, they would have found his guns and it would have been all over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL BROWN, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF: Mr. Rodger was, although deeply disturbed, he was able to put on a front, as it were, and convince them, and obviously, convince a lot of other people that he didn't have problems that were so severe that it would require some fairly extreme intervention by mental health professionals.


BERMAN: The six victims were all UC-Santa Barbara students, including Cheng-yuan Hong, Weihan Wang and George Chen. Hong and Chen were Rodger's roommates. It's unclear if Wang was a roommate or visiting.

Veronika Weiss was a Phil Delta sorority member, a water polo athlete. She was described as always smiling. Katie Cooper was with Weiss when she was gunned down and was also a Phil Delta member. She was studying art history and archaeology.

And Christopher Martinez's father called him a really great kid whose death left the family lost and broken. His former roommate says Martinez would drop whatever he was doing to help others. Classes at UC-Santa Barbara are canceled through tomorrow, when the university will hold a memorial service.

ROMANS: Just so sad, so sad.

BERMAN: Awful, awful weekend.

ROMANS: All right, breaking overnight, a huge landslide in rural Colorado has left three people missing. It happened in Mesa County in the far western part of the state, not far from the Utah border. The slide is about four miles long, two miles wide, more than 250 feet deep. It's not clear just what was in the path of this thing. There's only limited cell phone service in the area, and it likely won't be until daylight when police get a full sense of the destruction from that landslide.

BERMAN: We're hearing this morning from Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary speaking out with Jake Tapper about the scandal at the V.A. With more calls for V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign or be fired, the defense secretary is making clear it's not time for that action yet.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It makes me sick to my stomach, because it is a clear responsibility we have, as a country, as a people, to take care of these men and women and their families who sacrifice so much. I know systems are imperfect. I mean, I get that. But when you've got what we do know -- and you're right, we do need to get the facts. Let's see exactly what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then we've got to fix it. Then we have to fix it.


BERMAN: That's a point that House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller echoes. He told Candy Crowley on "STATE OF THE UNION" that something has to change at the V.A., but firing the leader, that might not be the answer, he says.


REP. JEFF MILER (R-FL), VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This is much larger than the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.


MILLER: Well, you've got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veteran. The person that's supposed to be served is not the bureaucrat, it's the veteran.


BERMAN: This week, Secretary Shinseki is expected to deliver the preliminary results of a V.A. investigation into claims that some veterans died while waiting for care and allegations that some facilities used secret lists to keep their wait times off the book. You can see Jake's entire interview with Chuck Hagel this afternoon on "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, the V.A. secretary and President Obama expected to visit Arlington National Cemetery, where the president will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns to mark Memorial Day, this a day after an unexpected trip to Afghanistan, where the president saw the status of the withdrawal there firsthand, but he's promising troops will remain, even if in a limited role.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski has more for us.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president didn't mention the V.A. hospital scandal by name, but he did seem to touch on it when he emphasized to troops Americans' sacred obligation, as he put it, to take care of wounded warriors. And also, the president mentioned that this is really a pivotal time for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as well as foreign policy. He did mention that he hopes for a bilateral security agreement, and both of the presidential candidates in Afghanistan who were involved in a runoff election right now have mentioned that they are amenable to it, something that would keep a limited U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

And as the president put it, would preserve the gains made there by U.S. troops.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody knows Afghanistan's still a very dangerous place. Insurgents still launch cowardly attacks against innocent civilians. But just look at the progress that you've made possible -- Afghans reclaiming their communities and more girls returning to school, dramatic improvements in public health and life expectancy and literacy. That's your legacy.

KOSINSKI: Back to you.


BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Michelle Kosinski at the White House.

Happening right now, Pope Francis is in Jerusalem, the final stop on his trip to the Holy Land, a day after the leader of the world's Catholics firmly inserted himself into the Middle East peace process, visiting Bethlehem. The pope called on Israel and the Palestinians to meet with him personally at his Vatican apartment for a sort of summit that could help them find common ground.

Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher is live in Jerusalem.

You know, Delia, this is just a three-day trip, but so much symbolism, so many historic moments already. What kind of impact is the pope having there at this moment in your eyes?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: John, I think this has been so far, as you say, a trip full of resonance. Of course, it really couldn't be otherwise in the holy land for the pope.

Just this morning, he met with Muslim leaders, he met with Jewish leaders, a very poignant moment at the Yad Vashem Memorial. That's the Holocaust Memorial here in Jerusalem, where the pope also met with six survivors of the Holocaust. And in a break from protocol, the pope kissed their hands, a gesture of humility.

And we've said he's the pope of gestures, and that's certainly one of the moments that I think will be remembered from this trip. Before that, he was at the Western Wall, where he left a handwritten note in the wall. That is a tradition and spent some time in prayer. And before that, very nearby to that western wall is the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is an important place for Muslims, and the pope took off his shoes and entered that mosque.

So, there are many moments which we could refer to, certainly, the invitation, as you mentioned, to come to the Vatican for what the pope is calling a day of prayer for peace. Of course, that is a way to get these two parties into the same room without having to say that it's political in any way. But for the pope, of course, prayer can accomplish a lot -- John.

BERMAN: The world's still buzzing over that invitation with the Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. They will be going to the Vatican. We'll see what results that has at this point.

Delia Gallagher live in Jerusalem, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, a huge wildfire is expanding in Alaska, the blaze on the Kenai Peninsula has grown to more than 218 square miles, churning through -- look at that -- churning through dry brush.

BERMAN: Oh, wow.

ROMANS: High winds really fueling this thing. The fire has now forced more than 1,000 structures to be evacuated. Fire crews have as far away as Montana have been brought in to help with this fight. Luckily, so far, no reports of damage or injuries from this blaze, but smoke can be seen as far north as Anchorage, some 60 miles away.


In Arizona, crews making progress in their fight against a huge fire near Sedona. The Slide Fire is now 25 percent contained after consuming more than 14,000 acres. Some of that's the result of back fires to burn out dry tinder fueling the blaze. Authorities lifted a pre-evacuation order for nearly 3,000 residents nearby.

ROMANS: It's early in the season, right?

BERMAN: Very early in the season.

ROMANS: We're talking about all these fires so early in the season.

Let's get a check of your Memorial Day forecast. Jennifer Gray has that for us.

Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you two.

Yes, we need the rain in New Mexico. Unfortunately, it's going to be a little bit to the east, so we're going to see a trouble spot maybe in Texas for your Memorial Day. We could see the possibility of large hail and damaging winds as we go through the next couple of hours, into the afternoon. That's when we're really going to start to see that, not quite advancing, but I'll give you the Memorial Day forecast anyway.

We are going to see possible storms in Texas. We're going to see that rain continuing. We could see a lot of it, anywhere from three to five inches possibly as we go through today into tomorrow. Could possibly see some showers in the southeast. The place to be, guys, is going to be the northeast.

Temperatures are going to be in the mid-to-upper 80s. We're going to see a lot of sunshine, also in Denver it is going to be very nice with temperatures in the mid-70s. Feeling very nice on this Memorial Day.

ROMANS: Good for them.

BERMAN: Eighties?

ROMANS: Exactly. Sounds great, I know.

BERMAN: Perfect.

ROMANS: We're so shell-shocked the last six months.

BERMAN: Exactly. Eighties, what's the number with the 8 at the beginning?

ROMANS: Jennifer, thanks.

Let's get an EARLY START on your money right now.

U.S. stock markets are closed right now. I can tell you right now how the Dow is going to close, because it is going to open. When it resumes trading tomorrow, the S&P will likely start the week right there at a record level, just over 1,900. That's right, at levels never seen before.

So much for that spring sell-off. The NASDAQ is up 1.7 percent so far this month. The Dow has been going higher again, too. Why? Earnings season is nearly over. Most companies doing pretty well, the majority of S&P 500 firms have beaten expectations, partly because expectations were so low because of the harsh winter, but we'll take it, right?

Among the companies we have yet to hear from, Costco. Its earnings come out on Thursday. Costco, one of those bellwethers. Earnings could point towards Americans opening their pockets a bit more or sticking only to buying what they absolutely need.

So, we'll watch that.

BERMAN: That's how I deal with expectations. I set them very, very, very low for myself, like impossibly low, then I invariably reach them.

ROMANS: I see Costco, I think, wow, I have to get some hamburger today. I go to Costco with a list of three things and come home with 35.

BERMAN: Three months worth.

All right. Eleven minutes after the hour.

Former Microsoft Chief Steve Ballmer is reportedly interested in the Los Angeles Clippers. It's according to TMZ and ESPN. Ballmer has met with Shelly Sterling, wife of disgraced Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, who has until tomorrow to respond in writing to NBA officials as the leak seeks to end his ownership of the team over the racist comments caught on tape. Sterling could be stripped of the team as early as June 3rd, when a hearing is scheduled with NBA owners.

I have to say, the amount of activity going on to me hints that this will all be resolved before that type of meeting takes place, but we'll see.

ROMANS: I know. The team is value is I think $575 million.

BERMAN: Going to go higher.

ROMANS: Yes, Mark Cuban told us a couple of week ago, that he thinks $1 billion. He's got a dog in the race.

BERMAN: Yes, makes his franchise a lot more valuable.

ROMANS: We'll see what the going price ends up being.

Ukraine, this morning, is closer to having a new president, but gunmen are still on the streets, storming an airport overnight, shutting it down. We are live with the very latest, next.


BERMAN: Breaking overnight, gunmen have shut down a key airport in eastern Ukraine after storming the terminal in Donetsk. This a day after that country chose a candy tycoon as its next president, but many in the eastern part of that nation did not take part in the election. Armed militants made it impossible. They closed down a lot of the polling stations there.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is live in Donetsk this morning.

Nick, give me a sense of the latest there, if this fresh round of violence will derail whatever progress they may have been, you know, enjoying heading out of these elections.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, the airport was always considered by local officials here in Donetsk to be something they couldn't let fall into separatist hands, but that is what happened.

About 3:00 this morning, they moved in, and by 7:00, flights were suspended. That's still the case. The separatists demanding the army pull away, the army staying in position.

So, we have a dangerous narrative on the ground here of increased tension between the separatists and Ukrainian authorities, but at the same time, the chocolate billionaire, Petro Poroshenko, the new president of Ukraine, just gave a press conference where he sounded very open to the idea of talking to those separatists who he said don't have blood on their hands, basically aren't involved in serious crimes. They could also get amnesty, too, at the same time.

He thinks talking to Vladimir Putin in Moscow could be a useful and fruitful discussion, and at the same time, the Russian foreign minister has just said, too, that he thinks direct talks between Kiev and Moscow are entirely possible.

So, diplomacy has never potentially looked so positive, if it actually happens, between Moscow, who Washington say are backing the separatists here in full, who are seen differently on the ground as a real tension rising, and that airport being seized, great uncertainty as to whether the men with guns here on the streets, those separatist merchants are answering to anybody or pursuing a separate agenda. That's what we have to see in the days ahead, John.

BERMAN: It will be interesting to see the government response to that. Nick Paton Walsh, live in Ukraine for us -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, Egyptians are heading to the polls today. The first round of a two-day presidential election which many observers expect to be a route with overwhelming support going to retired army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who steps down in march to run. His opponent finished third in the 2012 election that brought down now- deposed President Mohamed Morsi, that brought Morsi to power.

But with the Muslim Brotherhood party now banned, critics are calling the election illegitimate. Results are expected at the end of June.

BERMAN: This morning, police in Belgium on the hunt for a killer, releasing this video of a man they say opened fire with an AK-47, killing four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. Security stepped up at Jewish sites across the country. The victims have been identified as an Israeli couple visiting from Tel Aviv, a French citizen and a worker at the museum.

ROMANS: Happening today, track star Oscar Pistorius heading to a psychiatric hospital in Pretoria for an assessment. His mental health now key to his murder trial. A judge decided his actions may have been affected by an anxiety disorder when he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He'll spend seven hours a day at the hospital for up to 30 days.

BERMAN: Out-patient treatment.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: Come and go as he pleases, in a way. Unusual --


ROMANS: A little different treatment, yes.

BERMAN: Interesting.

The king of Thailand has now endorsed a military coup that seized power after months of turmoil and deadly clashes in Bangkok. The blessing of the king, who is widely revered across that nation, could ease tensions there. And CNN has learned that the former prime minister has been freed from military custody. The army is expected to name an interim prime minister and a legislative council there.

ROMANS: Sweep rejected. The Thunder battle back from two games down, picking up a win against the Spurs.

BERMAN: Joe Carter has all the playoff action in the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: So, Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka returned from injury last night, and man, oh, man -- they need him, and his presence felt in a huge way.

ROMANS: Joe Carter has more in the "Bleacher Report", Memorial Day edition.

Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

But, you know, he was originally penciled in to not play the rest of the playoffs because of the calf injury. They listed him active on Friday. Maybe it was mind games, I don't know.

But certainly, his presence felt huge and big right out of the gate. Ibaka made a huge difference offensively. He made his first four shots, scored 15 points on the night.

But more importantly, it was his defense that completely discombobulated the Spurs' offense. He grabbed seven rebounds, had four blocked shots and had an endless amount of energy. Even the league's MVP, Kevin Durant, was impressed with how well Ibaka played in his first game back.


KEVIN DURANT, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: I gained so much more respect for serge for laying it all on the line for us, put his body out there and sacrificing his health, you know, for the betterment of the team.


CARTER: Overtime hockey in New York last night. Martin St. Louis scored the game-winner for the Rangers. A top-shelf beauty, if you will, guys. The Blue Shirts beat the Canadiens 3-2, so New York can now close out the series in advance to the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday night. If they win, it would be their first trip back to Stanley Cup Finals in 20 years.

Let's talk a little baseball. The Dodgers' Josh Beckett threw the first no-hitter of the 2014 season. In the ninth, he was in danger of not being able to finish his outing because his pitch count was adding up quickly.

Chase Utley here thought he was walked, but the umpire called the strike. He eventually struck him out looking, and that's where the game would end. The 34-year-old earns his first career no-hitter.

Well, trending this morning on, a wild finish at the Indianapolis 500. Ryan Hunter-Reay crosses the finish line by 0.04 seconds faster than Helio Castroneves. It's the second closest finish in history and prevented Castroneves from winning his fourth Indy 500. Hunter-Reay is the first American to win since 2006.

Of course, another big story racing yesterday was Kurt Busch, guys. He was trying to complete the double. He finished sixth at the Indianapolis 500, but he had engine problems later that night at the Coca-Cola 600 in NASCAR and he finished 40th.

BERMAN: Easy come, easy go. But the Indy finish was fantastic! I mean -- CARTER: It was.

BERMAN: -- my goodness, that last lap.

ROMANS: That was close.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Carter, great to see you.

CARTER: You, too, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. We have new details this morning on a deadly rampage in Southern California. Police were so close from stopping this thing from happening. All the details after the break.