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Family Friend of Santa Barbara Shooter's Family Interviewed; Psychiatrist Discusses Getting Help for Mentally Ill; What Now in Search for Flight 370?; Navy Official Says Pings Not MH-370

Aired May 29, 2014 - 07:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: In an opinion piece in "USA Today", today Eric Shinseki says that other than placing some of the leadership in the Phoenix facility on administrative leave, it was the inspector general of the department that requested that the V.A. take no additional personal action until this independent review that's due later this summer wraps up. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, let's look at more of your headlines right now. We start with breaking news. Rebels have shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter over Slaviansk as heavy fighting rages in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian militants also say they have detained four European security monitors Monday near Donetsk buy say they will release them. Separatists also attacked one of Ukraine's National Guard bases on Wednesday.

There is an American connection to a weekend suicide bombing in Syria. Insurgents say the bomber was part of a group linked to Al Qaeda and detonated a tank with tons of explosives. Multiple reports say he was an American citizen. CNN hasn't been able to independently confirm this. He would be the first American to die fighting for Al Qaeda in Syria.

A U.S. marine being held in a Mexican prison for close to two months now has fired his lawyer. We'll have to wait now another week before he can defend himself before a judge. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooresi is charged with entering Mexico with three firearms in his possession, something that was not legal in Mexico. His family says the guns were registered legally here in the U.S. and insists he didn't know he had even crossed the border, calling it all an innocent mistake. We spoke to his mother yesterday who was anxious to get justice for her son.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The secretary of state told us yesterday that he was following up with Mexican officials to make sure that they had the basis of proof, but it's about timing down there. Things usually move slow, even more in this situation.

PEREIRA: Now it's going to be another week before it gets before a judge.

CUOMO: It could be a while.

So for the first time we're hearing from the family of the Santa Barbara shooter. Simon Astaire is a close friend of theirs. He describes the family as racked with guilt and confusion. They don't even mention their son anymore. And he details a struggle that they've been in to control a killer that seemed to be never-ending. I sat down with Astaire and he described this first time he ever talked with the shooter.


SIMON ASTAIRE, FAMILY FRIEND OF ELLIOT RODGER: As soon as you met him he was unbearably reserved, self-contained. He seemed to merge into the walls. I remember one particular occasion at Christmas, there was a party just after Christmas and I went out into the street to get some fresh air. And he was there. And I disturbed him. And I said to him, I'm sorry, Elliott, that I've bothered you. He said, no, no, let's talk, which surprised me.

And he asked me, because I'm a novelist, what it's like writing novels, don't I feel lonely? And I said that I feel it's solitary, and he said, I know what you mean. And then he turned away. No pleasantry to finish the conversation. I remember thinking this at the time, but of course it's even more poignant now, but he seemed the loneliest person in the world.

CUOMO: What did you know about what his parents had had to deal with him over the years?

ASTAIRE: I understand that it was part of their life, that they -- from the age of nine he was seeking help through therapists.

CUOMO: Do they believe they saw some warning signs or deterioration or some types of red flags that concerned them about where he was headed?

ASTAIRE: I don't think anyone knew where he was headed. I think there was an example in April when there was concern for him. And it's been well recorded that the mother looked to some YouTube videos that Elliott had posted and was concerned enough to ring his social worker and say that she had seen these videos and it was of concern to her.

ASTAIRE: What did they make of the evolution of the videos? Did they try to control his exposure of social media, to stop him from making the videos? Did you know about them before all this happened?

ASTAIRE: I didn't actually know. No, I did not know. I didn't know that he posted videos. I think they're sort of rather insipid, most of them. They're not threatening. They were rather stupid. So I don't think they were seen as a threat. Maybe they saw it as a release for him.

And maybe that's part of the debate, the wider debate, that Internet is now part of a child's culture. And in the same way that you've confined some joy and some good news on the Internet we all know that there really is the sewer of our souls, and maybe it's just open to kids and kids are open to draw into that and it's their own private world. And maybe that's part of the debate.

CUOMO: Did the family know that this man had these guns?

ASTAIRE: When I asked them and I asked them directly a couple days ago, did you know that Elliott had guns? First it was a no. I said, was there any interest in that? And they said, he never even mentioned it.

CUOMO: What have your friends told you about how they learned about the violence?

ASTAIRE: The mother got the call at 9:15 to say, have you received an e-mail from Elliott? So she opens up the document and the manifesto is there, and she reads the first four lines. And she immediately goes to YouTube because she realizes something is very wrong here. There is a video there entitled "Retribution," and she watches she tells me the first 20 seconds and she picks up the phone and rings her ex-husband, Peter. And peter rings his ex-wife back and says, we have to go to Santa Barbara. There's something seriously wrong here.

So they get in the car. Chen in one house drives to Santa Barbara. In the meantime Chen has rung 911. As she's wringing the shootout is happening. And on the way they've got the radio on and they are hearing reports of a massacre on the streets of Santa Barbara and they hear that it's a black BMW that's involved. And they know that their son has a black BMW. And Peter said to me at that moment, I knew he was the perpetrator. It was the longest journey of their lives, and I would suggest everyone's nightmare.

CUOMO: How has this affected them? How are they handling having lost their son but also knowing that he is responsible for the deaths of so many?

ASTAIRE: They have literally cut down in size. They have diminished in standing. They walk slowly. Their conversation is stilted. They are mourning the innocents that didn't come back to their families on Friday night. They are not mourning their son. He is not part of their conversation.

CUOMO: The family has a statement that they want you to get out also. Is that true?

ASTAIRE: That's true. Thank you. "We are crying in pain for the victims and their families. It breaks our hearts on a level that we didn't think possible. The feeling of knowing that it was our son's actions that caused the tragedy can only be described as hell on earth. It is now our responsibility to do everything to help avoid this happening to any other family."

CUOMO: What do you want people to know about how much they did try, how much they struggled with managing the mental illness of their son?

ASTAIRE: There is a sense that they tried everything. And as I said, even on the final night they were in chase of trying to rescue him. He's been having therapy since he was of a young age. But it's quite clearly there is years of work there and years of dedication to try and help their son. There's no blame. I don't hear blame. For instance, the police who went around Santa Barbara to his apartment, they have no blame for them whatsoever because, in a way, he had been fooling everyone for many years.

And the shame is that in the end no one could rescue what had happened on Friday night. And what these boys who go out to kill don't understand, and I'm not talking even there's rationale in their madness, but what they don't understand is that when they murder one, they murder many, because they don't just kill the people that are lying dead on the streets or in apartment or in galleries or in cinemas, they kill thousands and thousands of others who are connected to those. And I've seen that. We all die over something like this. And I noticed that clearly with my close friends who are stooped with grief, the tragedy is of what happened and the affect it has on not just a few but on millions.


CUOMO: That's Simon Astaire, friend of the family of the Santa Barbara killer. Now, look, there will be blame. Let's bring in Dr. Jodi Gold. She's an adolescent and young adult psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor at Cornell Medical College. Doc, there will be blame. People look at the family when it's a bully, a sociopath, bad person, and say you knew, you should have stopped it. Is that fair in a situation like this as we understand it?

DR. JODI GOLD, ADOLESCENT AND YOUNG ADULT PSYCHIATRIST: Absolutely not. It's not fair. We're talking about a very mentally ill person whose family really, really tried to get intervention for him at a young age. And I think what this tells us is how complicated it is to treat mental illness.

CUOMO: So the pushback will be, you bought him a nice car, you funded his lifestyle. So what he said he wouldn't take his meds, so what he wouldn't really comply with this treatment all the time? You weren't on him enough. You didn't follow him around like you should have to make sure this never would happen. Is that realistic?

GOLD: Well, it's easy to cause blame in the past. I think what it does bring up is the idea of how to manage young adults who are just becoming adults and who have severe mental illness. I do think it's really important for the family to be involved, and I think in this case it was clear this this young adult wasn't ready to live on his own, and I do wish that there was an ability for this family to have kept him closer. I do believe that they had financial resources and had they kept him closer maybe the family could have known more of what was going on.

CUOMO: Although very often the illness smothers the family, doesn't it, as we often hear with addiction? So people who are outside that world when you hear, so you caught off this sick person, you cut off this addict? Very offer for the family to go on and survive in a healthy way you almost have to, don't you?

GOLD: Yes and no. Addiction is different than mental illness. I think there is this idea with addiction that sometimes they have to hit rock bottom. The problem with mental illness, especially psychosis, which is what I think we're talking about, is inherent in the illness is a lack of insight. So in my opinion, when you think your child is psychotic or has an evolving psychotic process you really have to be involved.

CUOMO: You can't just get them locked up.

GOLD: You can't.

CUOMO: There is no residential treatment unless you have a lot of money, and even then they're all full. And that's part of what we're trying to make clear in this, that there are a lot of people out there like this, not somebody waiting to be a killer but mentally ill untreated, the digital footprint. He's making videos. They say maybe it was a release. Is that an area where you have to be of particular sensitivity?

GOLD: Yes, and it's an area that is lost on some adults. I think we really have to look at the digital footprint. At this point the way I practice and I think a lot of mental health professionals are doing, it has to be part of the way we do a psychiatric eval. So when police come in and when mental health professionals come in, you can't just look at a child, especially a child who is projecting and doesn't have insight. You need to know about their digital footprint. It's truly a window into what's going on.

What's particularly sad about the digital footprint piece is that people like him who have poor self-esteem, who are alienated, they go to the Internet in an attempt to get support, to get reassurance. And usually what happens is the opposite. However, people that have good self-esteem and self-confidence, they can go to the Internet and get lots of support and lots of friends and lots of tweets. It's not the case for people like him.

CUOMO: Instructive, in Newtown and here we have two families who both went to authorities for help. That was going on in Newtown, too. There was a consideration of surrounding custody to get that kid in treatment, and both times we saw holes in the system. Cops are not set up to figure up your mental health and they're not trained for it. They didn't even search his room. They would have found the cache of guns and everything else there. They never looked online. So there are big holes in the system of how we deal with this.

The big take-away with me for Mr. Astaire was imagine raising someone, caring for them your whole life, and they do someone like this that hurts so much they are not even mourning their son.

GOLD: I know.

CUOMO: Imagine the pain.

GOLD: I can't imagine.

CUOMO: So overwhelming that they can only think of the victims, they can't even think of their own. Doctor, it's a big conversation. We need to keep having it. Thank you for getting up early for us.

GOLD: Thank you for having me.

CUOMO: We need to do it. Kate? BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, we're learning about -- more about the pings. Once the most promising lead in the search for flight 370, well, now, the likely not from the plane at all. So what were they from, and most importantly, what does this mean for the search for that missing plane?

Plus, ahead, prosecutors claim former NFL star Aaron Hernandez stalked two victims, two strangers, before killing him. Court papers reveal what allegedly triggered his murderous rage. Details on that ahead.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back. The main search for Flight 370 has come up empty to this point. The agency leading the search concedes that the plane is not in that 330 square mile search area where they'd focused in the Indian Ocean, where the Bluefin drone had been looking for so long.

Well, now, adding insult to injury, quite frankly, a Navy official says the pings once suspected to the plane's black boxes aren't even from the missing jet at all. So what does the future hold, then, for the search?

Let's bring in aviation correspondent Rene Marsh who broke this news. Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, after 7.5 weeks of search, that U.S. Navy official is on the record with CNN saying that those promising underwater sounds were likely not from the plane's black boxes. And he says not only were the black boxes not in the current search area, but the consensus is neither is the plane.


MARSH (voice-over): It was the most promising lead and now we know it's false.

New information, the U.S. Navy has concluded these four underwater signals were not from the missing plane's black boxes.

(on camera): From the U.S. Navy standpoint, these sounds were most likely not from the black boxes.

MICHAEL DEAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR SALVAGE AND DIVING, U.S. NAVY: Yes, I would have to say at this point based on all of the imagery data that we've collected and looked at, if that black box were nearby, we would have picked it up.

MARSH (voice-over): When detected in April, the pings boosted confidence the plane would be found.

ANGUS HOUSTON, AUSTRALIAN CHIEF SEARCH COORDINATOR: The four signals previously acquired taken together constitute the most promising lead.

MARSH: But now the Navy says the sounds could have been from the search ship itself or other electronics. DEAN: We may very well have been in the wrong place, but again at the end of 30 days there was nothing else to listen for.

MARSH: After searching 329 square miles of ocean floor, the Bluefin- 21's mission is over. The search continues in August when private companies taking over. Meantime, a new potential lead. CNN has learned a sound that could have been the plane crashing was detected by underwater microphones.

MARK PRIOR, COMPREHENSIVE TEST BAN TREATY ORGANIZATION: Our analysis is designed to detect nuclear of that sound and earthquakes. And my understand is yes, that Curtin University are looking at the data specifically with a view to finding if there's any evidence of any impact from the Malaysian aircraft.

MARSH: The United Nations Nuclear Test Ban Organization has a network of 11 hydrophone stations that pick up many sounds even ice breaking thousands of miles away in Antarctica. But could it hear a plane hitting the water?

PRIOR: It's possible, but the circumstances that would allow it would have to be very particular.


MARSH (on camera): All right, well just hours after our report first aired, the U.S. Navy released a statement saying that Michael Dean, the Navy official you saw in our piece, his comments were speculative and premature.

However, it is very important to point out that I called that same spokesman who put out that statement and asked two very specific questions: Was anything in that report inaccurate? His response: We're not saying that; we're saying it was not his place to say what he said.

I also asked, does the Navy believe the pings were from the black boxes? The response: It's not our place to say. It is up to the Australians.

So, really, this looks like it's all about formality, because we should point out, Michael Dean has been very much in the know during this entire underwater mission. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Premature does not inaccurate, especially in regard to this. Rene, thank you very much. Great reporting.

Let's discuss what this means and what's next for the search, really. Let's bring in CNN aviation analyst Jeff Wise and of course CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo to discuss. So you heard exactly what Renee said there, that back and forth, Jeff. But beyond the back and forth, which, as Rene well points out, seems like a formality, he got out in front of what the official announcement would be at some point, right? What do you make of the news though? That the pings aren't the pings at all?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, in a way, it's hardly surprising at all.


WISE: Well, we've -- OK, the pings were detected. The ocean bottom was scoured. Nothing was found. And essentially this is all that Mr. Dean was saying, is that of course they couldn't have come from the plane because the plane isn't where the pings were. So in a way he's just stating the obvious. It's interesting that another Navy spokesman said he was getting ahead of the story; I would say the reverse. I mean, we've known for weeks and weeks now that of course these pings didn't come from the plane.

BOLDUAN: But did they -- you say we've known for weeks and weeks, but what the official line from Australia has been, it's the best lead they have and they continue to search it.

WISE: Well, they've already -- the Australian authorities have already said that they've called off the current search, they're not planning to search the ocean bed for months to come. I mean, they've basically gone into standdown mode. They've called in experts to try to figure out what to do next. I mean, every indication was that the Australians -- and the Australian Prime Minister himself, his language, he said he was baffled and disheartened by the search of the seabed.

And clearly they're flummoxed. They don't know what to do next. There's no lead. The only thing we have to go on at this point is the Inmarsat data, which Inmarsat released earlier this week, but they didn't release enough data for us to easily make sense of it.

So what's happening now is that the independent experts who are out there, who spontaneously joined together over the internet, are now poring over this data, trying to see if they can make sense of it, to see if there's any indication -- well, the big question? Did -- can we trust the authorities when they assure us that this plane had to have gone south? This is the million dollar question; this is what it all boils down to right now. It all becomes a question of trust. And, unfortunately, this matter with the underwater pings really causes us to doubt, quite significantly, whether we can trust the authorities' judgment and their assessment of the situation.

BOLDUAN: Mary, what do you think? Do you think the issue with the pings, this kind of about-face with the pings, do you think this calls into question the credibility of the authorities leading the search?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think it does on the authorities leading this search. But, again, in many investigations, this is how it goes. Now, there are some biases in investigation; you kind of latch on the first piece of evidence that you get and by getting the pings, everybody was so hopeful. But at this point they have done that; they have exhausted that. And in many cases, that is how investigations go, lead by lead. Some of them lead down just completely blind alleys and you have to do it.

And the Australians hinted that they were pretty confident that they had done all they could do there; they'd searched, they didn't find them, so these are not from the black boxes, the kilohertz was wrong, as we talked about many times. But they said they're trying other things. They're going to look to see if it's possible the flight was following waypoints, so they're going to chart different waypoints, if you will, the highway in the sky in that area, see if that makes any sense. Now they're going to look for the underwater hydrophones from the Nuclear Test Ban organization.

So they're looking in other ways so they don't have to go simply on the Inmarsat data, which led them to the location of the pings. But this -- investigations I've been on and many where down you go to a blind alley and you start over. So it's a terrible blow, but often that's the way it goes.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it is what it is. And, Mary, from your experience, when you're talking about how these searches can kind of go down these blind alleys, this network of hydrophones that Rene pointed out in her reporting, that's a possible new lead, that they can almost detect ice breaking far off. I mean, it sounds pretty spectacular to someone who doesn't understand it, which would be me. Are these hydrophones, is this often used in searches for planes?

SCHIAVO: No. Again, I mean, this is very unusual situation because, in most planes, we have information from the plane itself as to where it is. You know, with Malaysia Airlines, we don't have that. So, no, I can't say that using the hydrophones underwater is a very common thing about all. But it's another possibility that's been offered up in a very impossible situation. So it's one of those things they have to do it. Once they have the lead, they have to do it, because 239 people are still missing. It's -- you can't leave any stone unturned.

BOLDUAN: You sure can't. And Sarah Bajc, we spoke with her earlier, and she -- you can sense the frustration growing in her voice and you can only understand that. Mary, I know that you work with families very much, but Mary puts it very well -- a possible solution in an impossible situation. That is at the very least where we are right now. Mary, thank you very much. Jeff, thanks so much as well.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.


CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, what is going on at the VA? We have the man who blew the whistle, led to the report that 1,700 veterans were forgotten or lost -- that's a quote -- in the system. Hear what he says is yet to be discovered.

Plus, did a spilled drink make NFL star Aaron Hernandez gun down two strangers in cold blood? The new disturbing allegations just ahead.