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Former Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill Stepped Out of the Shadows, Breaking the Famous SEAL Code of Silence; Suspect in the Murder of McStay Family Arrested After Four Years; Mass Murder by Police and Mafia in Mexico; Obama Meeting with Elected Congress Leaders over Lunch; Polar Vortex Coming to the U.S.

Aired November 7, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us. Tonight, a "360" exclusive. The former Navy SEAL who says that he killed Osama bin Laden. He talks about why he broke a vow of silence and possibly the law and about the mission that he expected would end in a Pakistani prison or in death.

Also, the murdered family and the family friend who told us nobody had any reason to hurt that family. Well, tonight, authorities say he had a reason and he killed them all. He's now in custody.

Plus, 43 students missing in Mexico, thousands demanding answers and action. Tonight, we do have some answers. Horrifying answers about what happened to those kids and how police allegedly delivered the victims straight to the killers.

We begin with perhaps the last person in the world you might suspect a murder, much less of murdering an entire family. Maybe you saw it all coming. In a moment, you'll have a chance to look in his eyes and decide for yourself.

The man in question is named Chase Merritt. You might already know him. He spoke exclusively with our Randi Kaye earlier this year, just a few months after a pair of shallow graves were found in California's Mojave Desert. In those graves the remains of four people that he was very close to. Joseph McStay, his wife, and their two sons. Now by then, the McStays had been missing nearly four years. Their disappearance giving rise to any number of theories including some implicating Mexican drug cartels.

Tonight, though, the man that is accused of capital murder is the same man who sat down with our own Randi Kaye. Randi joins us now.

Randi, I mean, you sat across from this guy, Merritt. What was he like?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we have been trying to get an interview with him, it had been almost four years since they disappeared by the time we have spoken with him. And we sat about this far away. We spent an hour together. He was so calm. He was very friendly. He talked to our crew. He was very relaxed. He seemed almost -- he was warm, but he showed no emotion at all. COOPER: We're going to show this interview in a moment.

KAYE: Yes.

COOPER: What was his motivation for talking?

KAYE: Well, he said he wanted to set the record straight. I guess he had given a couple -- he had spoken to a couple of smaller newspapers and he felt that his quotes were taken out of context. So he said to us, I'll sit down, I'll spend some time with you, and I want to set the record straight and this is what he told us.

COOPER: All right, let's take a look.


KAYE: You were the last person he saw.

CHASE MERRITT, SUSPECT IN KILLING MCSTAY FAMILY: I'm definitely the last person he saw.

KAYE (voice-over): Chase Merritt in his only television interview talking about his final meeting with Joseph McStay. The day McStay and his wife and two young sons suddenly vanished.

The interview was January of this year. The McStays had disappeared nearly four years earlier, on February 4th, 2010. Merritt was McStay's business partner, and he says a close family friend. The two met for lunch that day. And nobody ever heard from Joseph McStay again.

Did Joey have any enemies you knew of?

MERRITT: None. None. Everybody loved Joseph.

KAYE: Any idea why someone would want to harm him and his family?

MERRITT: No. There's nobody that I know of in his entire life that I'm aware of that would have any reason to hurt him.

KAYE: No one, say police, except Chase Merritt himself. They say he murdered the entire McStay family. Merritt may now face the death penalty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma. And based on the entire investigation and the evidence obtained, investigators believe these murders occurred at their residence in fall brook.

KAYE: The families' remains were found last November in two shallow graves in the Mojave Desert, now marked with giant crosses. By then, nearly four years had passed. All the while loved ones were wondering what happened. And who could wipe out an entire family, including two small children. Was it drug related? Could it be the cartel? Or did the killer know the McStays?

And you took a polygraph test. What did it show?

MERRITT: I don't know.

KAYE: You passed the polygraph.

MERRITT: Apparently. I mean, I haven't -- after I took the polygraph test, law enforcement has not contacted me at all since. So I kind of simply assumed, well, apparently that resolved any issues that they may be looking at with me.

KAYE: Did detectives ask you if you killed Joseph McStay and his family?

MERRITT: I don't recall them asking me that.

KAYE: Nothing that direct? Not that directly?

MERRITT: No, I don't recall them being that direct.

KAYE: Early on, detectives in San Diego, who first handled the case, began to believe the family had run away to Mexico. They noticed someone had searched for information about passports and Mexico on the family's home computer. And they also discovered this, surveillance video at the border showing a family of four crossing from California into Mexico. Family members weren't convinced it was them.

Another clue, the family may have gone to Mexico, their (INAUDIBLE) trooper was found parked just steps from the border at a strip mall. A neighbor surveillance camera had captured the SUV leaving the McStays' home the night they disappeared. The question still, nearly five years later, is why.

We asked Merritt what he thought about the families' remains being discovered in the desert, in a spot not far from where he lives. Were you surprised that the remains were found in this desert in Victorville?

MERRITT: Yes, actually, because I live in Aspasia (ph).

KAYE: Nearby.

MERRITT: Yes, probably 20 miles or so.

KAYE: Is this ever -- I mean, would you ever expect this is how it would end, in the desert like that?

MERRITT: In the desert, I had no clue.

KAYE: I mean, your gut, what do you think happened?

MERRITT: I have absolutely no clue. I think that if I were to guess just like anyone else, I would think it was probably random. Because I don't -- I honestly don't believe that family had anything to do with it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: I mean, what is fascinating about watching that is either he's telling the truth or he's a psychopath and -- or complete pathological liar.

KAYE: It is incredible to watch.

COOPER: To now -- and, of course, now that you realize the bodies were found close to his house, that sort of raises lots of red flags. Not only did he tell you he was the last one to see them alive, he also told you he was the first one to go to the house after nobody had heard from them.

KAYE: Right. Because he said that he told us that he and Joseph McStay would speak, you know, sometimes 12 or 13 times a day.

COOPER: They worked together. Hadn't they?

KAYE: Right. They worked together in a business. And so, when he hadn't heard from him, he decided to check out the house. He didn't go inside. He looked through the windows. HE didn't see anything wrong, but the dogs who the McStays loved and treated like family were locked outside. He said he fed the dog and then called Susan, who is Joseph McStay's mom, and said you know what, something might be going on here. You might want to call the sheriff and do a welfare check. So he suggest that.

And then he went back, he told us, days later with Michael McStay, who is Joseph's brother, and they actually went inside through an open window. He said the house was in disarray, he said he was in there for three minutes but never gave us any clue he knew what happened there or that he had been there that night.

COOPER: I want to bring in a former FBI profiler, Mary Ellen O'Toole who involved and called upon.

I mean, the fact that this guy sat down for an hour long interview, because he said he had been misquoted before and want to set the record straight. I mean, the idea that he's kind of reinserting himself into this thing is incredible.

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER FBI PROFILER: It is incredible, but consistent with someone who wants to control his own image. They're very conscious of being -- having a good image. They also are, you mentioned it earlier, they're pathological liars and people that do have traits of psychopathy, they're very arrogant. So they think that they're smarter than everybody else and that they can get through it. And they think they're smarter than the interviewer, whether, you know, it is a journalist or FBI agent. I've been in interviews like this, and I've had them blow right through the interview and say, I would never do something like that.

COOPER: When you're dealing with somebody like this, and again, he's just been charged, hasn't been convicted, so, you know, he could be innocent, we'll have to wait and see how this plays out. But, I mean, you watch an interview like that, is there any way -- are there signs you look for as a trained profiler, interviewer, signs you look for that somebody is lying?

O'TOOLE: There are indicators. And Randi did a great job. You want him to be on center stage, you want him to do all the talking. You want him to manifest all the behavior. And if the video is played during the trial, you want the jury to see the differences in terms of how he answers questions.

So, for example, he was iffy about the polygraph, iffy about why this would happen, but when Randi said ask him about whether he was the last one to see the father, he said, I'm definitely the last person he saw.

So I -- that really compared to the rest of his comments, I think, was really pretty interesting. So you do what Randi did, you let him talk, you let him have center stage. The more you let someone like that talk, the more they'll put out there and they'll not guard it. And so that's what you want them to do. It is hard to get them -- he's not going to turn around and say I'm the person that did it.

COOPER: Yes, Randi, I mean, looking -- again, in hindsight, it is fascinating that he insists he's the last person to see them alive. How would he know that? When -- have police given any sense of a motive? Potential motive?

KAYE: They haven't. I man, they talk about the fact they were in business together. But they are not talking about a motive yet. They did have --

COOPER: Mr. McStay had a company making waterfalls.

KAYE: Right. He made these custom waterfalls and Chase Merritt worked with him and worked as his welder. And Chase told us that they had this $9 million deal on the table, over many years. But he stood to make a lot of money with Joseph McStay. And in fact, Anderson, they had just had a business lunch that day on February 4th, 2010. He said business was booming, going great, they had this business lunch and he said they talked another dozen times or so after that. And then that night, this is the creepy thing, he got a call from Joseph McStay's cell phone, he says, at 8:28 p.m. He says he was tired. He was watching a movie with his girlfriend, didn't answer the phone, Joseph is a long talker, didn't want to get involved in a big conversation so didn't pick up the phone. But now, he was looking back, we wonder, did Joseph McStay really call him or did he have Joseph McStay's phone or did somebody else have Joseph McStay's phone?

COOPER: Fascinating. Unbelievable to watch. Randi, thanks very much. May O'Toole, appreciate your expertise. Thanks.

Quick reminder before we move on. You can -- make sure you set your DVR so you can watch "360" whenever you want.

Coming up next, the Navy SEAL, the former Navy SEAL who is now saying that he took the shot that killed Osama bin Laden. It has been all over the news the last couple of days. Well, you're going to see it here, an interview ahead of the documentary he's doing on another network. And later, the question is, who killed the students on all the

posters, nearly four dozen of them. Tonight, we have breaking news, the story just now emerging of mass murder in Mexico implicating the police and even the town mayor who allegedly ordered the killings.


COOPER: Welcome back.

Tonight, the interview you'll only see and hear here. The former Navy SEAL who says that he was the one that fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden. For the first time, you are going to hear directly from him. And these days Rob O'Neill, that is his name, is a motivational speaker. He lives in Washington, D.C. where he's getting plenty of heat from the Pentagon and perhaps shortly from the justice department as well. That is because SEALs are not supposed to talk about their classified missions, as much less reach for the credit.

There is controversy as well because his account of what happened in the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan is not the only one, it is not the only version of events. Just the only one that has him firing the shot that actually killed bin Laden. And his story first came out in esquire magazine back in February 2013, in a piece referring to him only as the shooter. Then three days ago, special forces oriented Web site revealed his identity just a week before he was expected to go public in a TV documentary.

For more than a year, though, this former SEAL team 6 member has been talking to freelance war reporter Alex Quade who joins us now.

Alex, it is good to have you on the program. So these are excerpts from multiple conversations you had with Rob O'Neill over the past year and a half. How did you get access to them? What was the reason he was talking to you?

ALEX QUADE, REPORTER: Thank you, Anderson. Let me just say that I think people like Rob and his fellow special operators, the SEAL community, they are out there right now taking care of business, going after bad guys in very dangerous locations. And I think they are heroes.

So when I first met Rob and it is so strange for me to call him Rob because I had always said I would never call him anything other than the shooter, when I first met him, we were in a location, an intimate environment, with other special operators who had just retired and wounded warriors and other combat veterans. It was a small -- very small group, a small gathering, and he decided in that safe environment that he would share a little bit of the same stuff that he had talked about in the "Esquire" article.

And after that, it was such a water shed moment for many of these combat veteran, his fellow special operators who had retired, who had been going through post traumatic stress, who were wounded, it was such a watershed moment for so many of them to hear about what had happened to bring everything basically into a full circle from 9/11 on. And to give them a sense of closure. After that, he and I talked about maybe discussing a little bit more

about transition, about post traumatic stress. We agreed we would never cover the same -- the exact same ground that Phil Braunstein (ph) over at the "Esquire" magazine had recovered. We would not release any techniques, tactics or procedures but would have ongoing discussions over the course of this year, year and a half, and this was many discussions, very casual, very candid, very friendly, but also it was about -- it was about being able to have some sort of a platform in the future, working on a story or something that would help bring some closure to the families of 9/11, to the victims and to combat veterans overseas.

COOPER: All right, I want to play these comments from him. And again, these are excerpts of the interviews that you did with him over the past year and a half. We have edited some of them together. Let's listen.


QUADE: How do you feel about 9/11 today?

ROB O'NEILL, FORMER NAVY SEAL: I feel good on 9/11. I woke up early, which was 8:00 eastern time. So the first plane hit at 8:50? 8:48? 8:47? And then 9:02 was the other, 9:03?

Yes, so I woke up before and I was able to see the start reading the names. And even like on the helicopter ride in, for the bin Laden raid, when we knew we were going to die, we didn't do it for us. We did it for the people that didn't want to die, but they chose to, you know?

QUADE: Did you actually have that going through your head?

O'NEILL: Yes. We all talked about it.

QUADE: Really? Before the mission?

O'NEILL: The three days before.

QUADE: Before launching?

O'NEILL: The three days between the time we were given the green light and we launched. So those two-and-a-half days, whatever it as, we talked about it. And we knew we were going to die. We knew we weren't coming back. Let's put it that way. Maybe not die right away. But end up in Pakistan prison and die soon after. We talked about that. It was need to, group of guys who knew their time on earth was up. So you could be honest with each other. And we all accepted it and nobody was afraid. It was really cool.

QUADE: But mindfully, you all talked about 9/11 and stuff?

O'NEILL: No, we talked about --

QUADE: Was this about a sense of meaning? O'NEILL: The way we put it was, the single mom who went to work on a

Tuesday morning and later -- a few minutes later decided to jump instead of burning to death at her last gesture of human dignity with straightening out her skirt and then she jumped. You know, that's why we went, for her.

And, you know, for the -- all the people at Cantor Fitzgerald, for the Scott Brady on a golf trip and his entire office was lost, his brother was killed.

QUADE: But was all of this, I mean, mindfully talking about it?

O'NEILL: No, all of this, like we're talking about now. Well, have to pump yourself up to go die. So we would talk about this.

QUADE: But it was like to get your guys head in the right place?

O'NEILL: We didn't need it in the right place.

QUADE: Right.

O'NEILL: We just wanted to the re-justification, this is it. We're going to die, but we're going to die when the house blows up, but knowing that -- face blew up, too.

QUADE: Meaning --

O'NEILL: So going around your ass to get your elbow answer is yes, 9/11 is very significant. It was the whole reason we were there.

QUADE: You sound like a happy person from a year ago from that.

O'NEILL: I'm very happy.

QUADE: And why are you so happy?

O'NEILL: I am. I was pissed when that "esquire" came out. I was mad as hell.

QUADE: When -- I'm sorry, when the?

O'NEILL: The Esquire article.

QUADE: OK. Just because that was time in your life or?

O'NEILL: I mean, little things from shooting Osama bin Laden, three weeks later, getting passed over for promotion, just getting black balled for doing something that everyone is so close to doing. And even now there are guys saying I'm (bleep). But, you know, you only know what you're told unless you're in the room. And unfortunately for me, there was two people in the room and one of them is dead and that is Osama bin Laden.

QUADE: Getting back to your role with helping vets and public with closure. It's a cliche term, everyone says closure in the media. O'NEILL: See, I don't think that vets needs closure. I think the

people need closure. I think that people that weren't prepared to fight need closure. And every time, like I'll be honest too. You can quote me on this (bleep). Every time that I'm not speaking, I need to be careful how I say this, until I'm outed, when I'm out speaking, I never mention the bin Laden mission. But anytime anyone says, you know, my brother died at Cantor Fitzgerald or my mom, what, whatever, one thing I tell them is, all right, Osama bin Laden died like a (bleep). That's all I'm telling you. Just so you know. He died afraid and he knew we killed him. And that's closure. Vets don't need closure. Vets need to sack up.

We will bash each other for no (bleep) reason. Every marine that gets up, every ranger that gets up, every army guy that writes a book, they're lauded as heroes. You do it as a SEAL and you're a (bleep) villain.

QUADE: Well, you guys are ---

O'NEILL: No, we're not. No one is quiet. The only funny thing about this though, and you can use this in your article is, Delta Force says, well, we don't say anything. Well, you know, why? You don't (bleep) do anything. How about that?


O'NEILL: Why do they send SEAL team 6.

QUADE: I'm going to call that the inter-service rivalry. That's very friendly.

O'NEILL: Why do they send SEAL team 6 to get Osama bin Laden and not Delta Force?

QUADE: Mike should have been here, it would have been fun to get his input.

O'NEILL: You know the answer to that one?

QUADE: No, tell me again.

O'NEILL: Because they wanted him dead. They captured Saddam. Great job. We killed Osama bin Laden. In their defense, now I will say this, if Delta was given the mission, they would do exactly what we did. We're better, but they're really good.

The most important thing I learned in the last two years is ,to me it doesn't matter anymore if I'm the shooter, and the team got him. It was a successful mission. Regardless of the negativity that comes with it, I don't give a (bleep). We got him. We brought him out and we lived. And there, obviously, will go down historically, but I don't care if I'm the shooter. And there are people who think I'm not. So whatever.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Alex, I also want to bring in Jonathan Gilliam, who is with me here and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. He is one of the few people actually interviewed Osama bin Laden, who wrote the book about his "takedown men and hunt men; hunt continue search for bin Laden and 9/11 to Abbottabad."

It is interesting, Jonathan, to hear him say he doesn't care if he's shooter. It certainly seems not to gibe with what he's apparently going to be talking about in the documentary and has been according to Peter and folks I talked to, talking about in bars for quite a while now.

JONATHAN GILLIAM, FORMER NAVY SEAL: Right. You know what that sounded like to me, you know, the fear that you ever have that you butt dial somebody and you talk bad about that person? And then it gets out. And they're listening. That's what that reminds me of.

Because, you know, he may have said some great things in there about 9/11, about these victims, but I think that clearly defined the person he is, what we just heard. And that's somebody who has a rock star complex, has a me, me, me complex, you know. He is not telling a story full of conviction and pride. He was telling a story full of bravado. And he's making it sound like he's the guy who, you know, did it for 9/11. But what I'm hearing there is a team guy that is not quiet, professional, touched by what he did. I'm hearing a guy using a lot of f bombs and a lot of, you know, bravado to describe something that he was fortunate to be a part of, to go on there.

And, you know, it could have been any SEALs. It could have been Delta. It just happened to be a rotation that those guy were over there.

COOPER: Well, Peter, the fact that he says that the only two people in that room in Abbottabad were basically him and bin Laden, that -- does that gibe with your understanding of how the raid played out?

PETER BERGEN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Not really. You know, I think there were two other people in the room by all accounts. In fact, there were four other people in the room, two of them were bin Laden's wife and daughter. But two of them were two other SEALs. And, you know, the debate which is never going be to be settled on this program or really ever because the forensic evidence is gone, and, you know, people's memories of this event -- very confusing event, but there was the point man and there was Matt Bissonnette, who are also in the room, roughly at the same time.

Matt Bissonnette's account differs. The point man has not become public and he apparently will never go public. But the community in general has a slightly different view of what happened that night. I don't know if it is the truth. But they are skeptical of the claim that this is the guy who shot bin Laden. At the end of the day, we will never know.

COOPER: And from -- Peter, from the sources you talked to in the SEAL community, does what you heard gibe with what they say about him, about Mr. O'Neill? BERGEN: In what sense?

COOPER: Well, I mean, folks I talked to have said he likes to talk, he likes to brag, talking about it in bars, things like that.

BERGEN: Well, he was thrown off -- Red Squadron was the squadron that did the bin Laden raid. He was thrown off the squadron apparently on this issue about going around and talking about it. And he refers to that in this very interesting tape recordings, that Alex made. He says, you know, that he was passed over for promotion relatively soon after the bin Laden raid. So, you know, the question is why? You know, if he was such a great hero, in his own mind and yet his passed over promotion, usually there is a pretty greater reason for that.

COOPER: Alex, he does sort of indicate -- I mean, he says, you know, we're not quiet, other people talk about it, other people write books, marines write books, essentially saying kind of why can't we? And there is another clip that I want to play where you asked him about the sensitivity of the information he was disclosing and whether he would face repercussions. Let's listen.


QUADE: Was this correct what I had here?

O'NEILL: Yes, three to the head.

QUADE: Is it still considered classified with everybody having leaked?

O'NEILL: Once anyone says anything at that level, it's not classified. I'd check with an attorney on that. But no, I don't think it is.

QUADE: And have you been told not to -- are you still under former command?

O'NEILL: I was told by people that I can't even say I'm a Navy SEAL so I don't give a (bleep) what they think.

QUADE: So, no threat with legal action by former command?

O'NEILL: No. Not at all.


COOPER: So Alex, the time you talked to him, I mean, he seemed to indicate that he didn't think he would face legal trouble. And that certainly has been ruled out now right now by the government.

QUADE: I think one of the concerns is that the shooter, Rob, over this whole year and a half since the "Esquire" magazine came out, not only has he faced his family, and his -- his security, every day there is a target on his back. And so I know that there have been many concerns. And you got to think that somebody like this having to watch over their shoulder all the time and to be worried that they are going to be outed as they put it, outed by somebody else, or outed on a Web site, there is worries, I'm sure, for him on many levels.

And not only that, just the stress of having dealt with his SEAL brothers being killed on other missions. I think for somebody like Rob to actually come forward, after the word and being afraid that his name was going to get out there, I think that the chance that we have to actually hear from him is very important.

COOPER: I mean, there is a lot of SEALs, frankly, who disagree with you on that. And Peter has talked to a number. I talked to a couple as well. Jonathan, are you surprised the way this played out? I mean, is differing accounts, different perceptions? I mean, because it is rare that you hear from SEALs being critical of other SEALs for understand of reasons. It is a real brotherhood, a bond unlike anybody who has ever served can possibly imagine, even for those who served who have been served him with special operators can imagine. Are you surprised at how this is playing out?

GILLIAM: Well, I'm surprised that it is actually happening. But the way it is playing out, I'm not surprised. Because anybody that is, you know, has been an FBI agent, anybody in law enforcement can tell you, especially street cops, you can take as somebody who is a heroin addict, two heroin addicts and put them on both sides of town, they never met each other. Within a week, those people will find each other. That's just the way birds of a feather flock together.

And it is not a coincidence that Bissonnette and O'Neill are friends. I think that this is playing out because they're so similar in personalities, it is playing out the way it is. And one thing that I definitely hear in some of the things that he's saying is he's trying to justify what he's doing, and he's trying to minimize what he's doing. And that's what criminals do.

And I think that when somebody is breaking a law knowingly, they will say things like well, as long as somebody else has said it then it is not against -- it is not classified.

COOPER: Right. You are saying higher ups talked about this. Therefore, I can talk about this.

GILLIAM: Right. He can still be charged under the UCMJ --

COOPER: And you believe he should be?

GILLIAM: And I believe he should be. *

... about this, therefore I can talk about it

GILLIAM: He can still be charged under the UCMJ.

COOPER: And you believe he should be.

GILLIAM: And I believe he should be. It is time to start setting an example. The guy is my brother, my SEAL brother. But he has gone far beyond a point where I have to support my brother. And he's tarnished a little bit of the reputation of what we have and that's where the anger is coming from, because these are professional people. One thing he did get right in that, is that these guys go out and they put their life on the line. They don't even think twice about it.

COOPER: Yeah. No doubt about it. It's good to have you on the program, again. Thanks very much. Peter Bergen as well and Alex, thank you so much. A fascinating discussion. As always, you can find a whole lot more on this story and others at

Just ahead, another polar vortex is bearing down on the U.S. But what does it even mean? We're going to put into plain English for you. Last night it was like - what is - last year it was the first time we're hearing about a polar vortex? It turns out it has been around for quite a while. Someone who actually knows about this stuff will be here. Not me.

Also, breaking news, authorities, this is incredible story out of Mexico, authorities say they believe they have recovered the remains of 43 missing college students turned over apparently by local law enforcement in Mexico to drug gangs who then burned them to death. Details ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back. The breaking news tonight in a missing persons' case at a spark protest and horror all across Mexico and the world. 43 missing people to be precise, college students, who were on their way to a protest when their bus was ambushed. Now, Mexico's Attorney General says three men have confessed to killing them and the details are frankly horrific. Students were allegedly killed, their bodies burned, the remains dumped into a river. Just as horrifying is who allegedly orchestrated the crime and who helped carry it out. CNN's Rosa Flores joins me now.

So, what are you learning tonight? What is the latest?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, there are so many twists and turns to this story. Hear this, federal authorities here say that the mayor of a town, his wife, the police chief, and the cartels are allegedly all involved.

Now, about the latest twist, here is what we've learned from authorities, they say that they have arrested three cartel members who allegedly confessed to killing the students, burning their bodies, putting their remains in body bags and tossing them into the San Juan River. Now, take a look at your screen. Because we have video of this river, shot last week by CNN photo journalist Chris Turner. Now you'll see that federal authorities are combing through that river. And we can't verify that this is actually the federal authorities finding these body bags. But let me tell you something, Anderson, the amount of military that was in this particular town is definitely out of the ordinary.

COOPER: So, let's just get this straight, the mayor is allegedly behind these killings. We showed a picture of the mayor and his wife, earlier a video of them. Why would a mayor want 43 students murdered? Do they know?

FLORES: You know, this is - this story is so bizarre. So, the attorney general says that the mayor and his wife are actually the alleged masterminds behind the disappearance of these students. And here is how they say that all of this went down. And again, all of this is according to federal authorities. They say that the students were headed to the city, where this - this man is mayor, and the students are known to protest against the government. So the mayor found out. He told the police chief that he needed to stop these demonstrators, the police chief allegedly sent the police to block the street, a shootout happened, in other words, the police started shooting at these students. We do know this from authorities. Six people died including three students, 25 others were wounded and the 43 student survivors, Anderson, are these 43 students who are missing and according to federal authorities the police handed them over to the cartels.

COOPER: So, after shooting some of them, killing and wounding some of them, in another instant, they arrest, they take 43 of them, and then the police act, according to the authorities, actually hand them over to a drug gang and it's this drug gang, which is allegedly - burned them and dumped them in the rivers, right?

FLORES: Yeah. It's really a sad story. I was able to talk to the spokesperson of these parents. They talk very little, because they are very emotional. Some of them say that they can't sleep, they can't eat. Now, about this particular twist, they said, look, we've heard this from federal authorities before. Because federal authorities have come to them in two prior instances and saying, people have confessed, we have found bodies and they indeed have found some remains in mass graves, Anderson. And so what the parents are saying is, we need DNA evidence, and until we find DNA evidence, until federal authorities can hand over DNA evidence, saying that these are our children, they think that their children are alive. Anderson.

COOPER: Rosa Flores, I appreciate that. Thanks very much. We'll continue follow it. To Washington now. At the White House today, President Obama met over lunch with the presume leaders of the nearly elected Republican controlled Congress. They'll played nice - for the cameras. In front of the cameras. That may be what - what Americans want to see at this point. But when the cameras left, it was apparently a different story. Whether the new Congress will actually get any work done, that, of course, remains to be seen. Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins me now.

So, Dana, what are your sources telling you about what happened inside the White House today?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, I'm told that at least 30 minutes of the nearly two hour lunch was about immigration and it was pretty intense. That John Boehner said right to the president's face, what he said in public yesterday, which is, he should not deal with the immigration problem by executive order without Congress. Not only will that, he said, make it impossible for Congress to do immigration reform legislatively, but more important I'm told that he warned the president that it's kind of game over when it comes to the last two years in office for the president, because his much bigger more conservative house caucus will be so enraged, that they'll make it hard for the president to do anything and the president responded saying, you know what, it is my job, it is my authority. And I'm going to do it.

COOPER: So, I mean it sounds like a bachelor in a standoff.

BASH: It certainly does feel like they are in a standoff. And it's not - it's impossible to see how they get out of it if the president is so dug in. And, you know, the argument that he made, I'm told by Republican sources, behind closed doors in this lunch is that he's waited for six years because it was -- remember, the president's promise when he came in to office to do immigration reform, but more importantly, he waited for a year and a half for the House to bring up a bipartisan bill that did pass the Senate and they never did. They never dealt with it. And he just doesn't trust that it is going to happen in the next two years. And much more importantly, he told the speaker and other people at this meeting, he's concerned that there are people truly hurting. I mean this isn't just politics, this is about human beings who are going to potentially be deported because of the law of the land, and deserve to stay in the United States.

COOPER: There are some people who thought, maybe the president was using this as a negotiation tactic, you know, have a hard line and then see what could be negotiated. It doesn't sound like that's the case. When might the president actually take this executive action?

BASH: Well, right now the president told them this meeting and White House sources are telling us by the end of the year. So within the next two months the president is going to do this. Now, certainly he could be surprising all of us, this could be just hard ball negotiating as you said, but if it is, it is pretty intense. And it is being done in a way that he's never done before. That really sounds like he's planning on doing this.

COOPER: All right. Well, we'll see. Dana Bash, fascinating stuff. Thanks.

BASH: Thanks, Anderson.

Coming up next, the dreaded polar vortex is going to strike much of the U.S. next week. Millions of people will feel the deep freeze, apparently. What is exactly is the polar vortex? Well, we've got the weather team on the case, coming up next.


COOPER: All right, get your warm coats. A polar vortex is going to blast 200 million Americans next week. The last night, I was wondering out loud on the program what should all these vortices lately. It turns out, they're not anything new, actually. They were described as early as 1853, and they're always there in the atmosphere, now I'm not going to get all scientific on you. But here's CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray to break it down for us.


JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Remember this? Winter of 2013-2014 is one many want to forget. Reporters standing in the frozen tundra.

UF: Let's go! It kind of worked.

GRAY: While much of the nation was bundled up and digging out for months, coping with one of the coldest winters in roughly 20 years. It was also the season of new hashtags, snowjam 2014 in Atlanta, snowpocalypse and snowmageddon. But the one trending term that may have a cringing grip on you as much as the cold, polar vortex.

We heard it over and over last winter as if it was something new. Now that we'd all had a chance to thaw out of it, let's set the record straight on what it is. And what it is not. It's not a storm. It's not a hurricane of cold air. It's not even something that can come and get you. The only way to be in the polar vortex, is to be in an airplane. It exists in the upper levels of the atmosphere and it's always there. It is an area of low pressure around the Arctic Circle that is locked in place and houses some very cold air.

Sometimes different weather patterns can influence the polar vortex and cause it to become distorted. As this happens, a large dip in the Jetstream allows very cold air to spill into the U.S. That's the cold air you feel. The air that lives beneath the polar vortex, air that many times is so cold it can feel like something out of this world. And you may want to dig out your winter gear next week, because the polar air is coming back: one of the strongest, non-tropical storms ever, is currently churning off the coast of Alaska, which will have a domino effect across the country. It will cause a huge dip in the Jetstream, allowing temperatures to plummet. Much of the country will experience the coldest temperatures of the season, with highs only in the 20s and 30s for the Midwest by early next week. Jennifer Gray, CNN, Atlanta.

COOPER: All right, now we know. There's a lot more happening tonight. Susan Hendricks has it at "360". Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, President Obama is sending up to 1500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, nearly doubling the amount there to 2900. They will train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS.

In three days, after the election, Virginia Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie on the left of your screen has conceded defeat in an unexpectedly close race. Democrat Mark Warner will keep this seat.

And Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn is President Obama's pick for Attorney General. The president will make the announcement tomorrow at the White House. CNN's Evan Perez broke the news this afternoon. If approved by the Senate, Lynch will replace Eric Holder who announced his resignation in September as you know. Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Susan, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the hero whose first instinct was to protect his fellow soldiers when that gunman opened fire at Fort Hood. His story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: On Veterans Day next week, the nation, of course, will honor the men and women who serve our country. Often that service takes them far from home. But sometimes, though, the call of duty doesn't come during a deployment in a far-off place. In tonight's "American Journey," an act of valor in the middle of a deadly shooting rampage at a U.S. military base. This is Poppy Harlow.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How are you feeling today?

PATRICK MILLER, SHOT BY FT. HOOD GUNMAN: I'm feeling a lot better than I was a few months ago.

HARLOW: A few months ago, New York native Army Major Patrick Miller and his wife Ashley were living in Texas after being assigned to Fort Hood, following two previous deployments to Iraq. But on Wednesday, April 2, his life instantly changed.

MILLER: I was sitting in the office, and all of a sudden you just here, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Six- seven gunshots. And right away, you know what that is. But you can't believe it.

HARLOW: Also hard to believe because just a few years earlier, Fort Hood experienced one of the worst military base shootings in history. Living 13 dead. On this day, what Patrick heard was an Army specialist on a shooting spree. Never want to run away from trouble, Patrick ran towards it.

MILLER: After the gunshots, I just immediately got up and started - telling everybody to get down, you know, hide. Lock the doors. And I went out in the hallway, just kind of peeped (ph) down the hallway and there's a specialist walking down the hall towards me. I looked at him and I was like, what are you doing? I was like, get out of the hallway. And ...

HARLOW: You didn't think that was the shooter.

MILLER: I didn't know, because when you see somebody in the same uniform as you, the same American flag on the right shoulder, you might thought as, you know, protect them.

HARLOW: You are trying to protect the man that would then shoot you.

MILLER: Correct. Yeah. Ironic. But -so he started running towards me. And again, this is all within the three or four seconds stand. And as he's running, I remember vividly thinking, OK, he's going to come in my office, he wants to, you know, come in my office for protection. And he literally ran right up closer than you and I are, and shot me, in blank point with a .45 in the stomach.

HARLOW (voice over): Patrick was shot just two inches below his heart.

MILLER: After he shot me, he's trying to reload, so I just pushed him as hard as I could, shut the door, locked it and then I just grabbed my phone, started calling 911 with one hand, putting pressure on it with the other.

HARLOW (on camera): And you're shot. You are trying to save all these people.


HARLOW: And calling 911.

MILLER: Yes, ma'am. Adrenaline is the hack of the thing, and- like I said, because honestly, and Ashley was (INAUDIBLE), but I didn't know how much- I didn't know how I was going to live.

HARLOW: You thought you might die.

MILLER: I did. I absolutely did.

HARLOW (voice over): Patrick knew his chances of survival diminished each moment he waited for help to come to him. So, instead, he went to it by climbing out of his office window.

(on camera): When was that moment when you first got to see each other after this?

ASHLEY MILLER, PATRICK'S WIFE: He had just gotten back from surgery. He was intubated, he had an open wound.

HARLOW (voice over): He underwent two surgeries in the next 24 hours. And recently had a third, but through it all, he never lost his will to fight.

(on camera): People call you a hero. How does that make you feel?

PATRICK MILLER: I said this before, but in my eyes, and I've always felt this - the true heroes are the ones who never made home. Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson, Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazaney, and Sergeant Timothy Owens who all perished on April 2nd are heroes in my eyes.

HARLOW: What has this taught you?

MILLER: I appreciate everyone- every day, every minute of every day, and everything and everyone. And then that sounds so cliche, but it is so true. Just don't sweat the small stuff and live your life to the fullest. And do everything you can to make a difference.

HARLOW (voice over): Poppy Harlow, CNN, reporting.


COOPER: They are all heroes in our eyes. We'll be right back.


COOPER: And that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "This is Life" Lisa Ling starts now.