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President Obama Spoke to White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism; ISIS Launches Major Offensive Southwest of Irbil; Cold Weather Hits U.S.; 360 Bulletin; New Twist in Road Rage Killing; American Sniper Murder Trial

Aired February 18, 2015 - 20:00   ET



Tonight, President Obama answers critics who wonder how he can stop ISIS when he won't even use the phrase Islamic extremism. They say he is trying to fight a war with political correctness. In a speech, he is getting plenty of strong reaction tonight on all sides of the issue. The president says that he's simply taking away the legitimacy that ISIS is Al-Qaeda and their followers seek. We'll play you some of his remarks in a moment and debate the central question.

We are also joined later by author of remarkable new article on what ISIS ultimately wants. The answer quite simply is a Muslim version of Armageddon. That's coming up.

We begin, though, with several other ISIS headlines. One in an act of horror straight out of the dark ages, burning dozens of people alive. There's that and efforts to identify this killer. The spokesman on that propaganda video, showing the murder and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. His American sounding accent caught the ear of investigators.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is working those stories joins us now.

So let's talk about first, this English speaking executioner in that video, is there any clear picture as to where he might be from?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Not conclusively yet. U.S. officials are still investigating. But we spoke to language experts today. They had a hard listen. What they heard is the accent of someone, who, if not a native speaker from north America, might have either been educated in north America or learned from someone, a teacher from somewhere in north America.

This is interesting because one of those linguistics we spoke to detected a particular accent from Montreal, just the way he rolled his Rs. You know, a lot can be determined from a voice. Remember Jihadi John? The English sounding or English accented jihadi in many of the videos before. He is not only been identified as someone who lived in England but they have a specific identity of that attacker. This is something that investigators will continue to look in this case as well. COOPER: I want to ask you about a claim that was made by Iraq's

ambassador to U.N. that ISIS may be harvesting organs from their victims for money. I mean, has that been confirmed at all? Because it seems that it's not beyond the pale of what they'd do, but harvesting organs requires abilities to transport this organ on the timely manner to actually use or sell. What are you hearing about this?

SCIUTTO: Look. Well, no officials that we've spoken to have put this beyond ISIS because we've seen the degree of their brutality. They say it's very possible that they would try to do this. Open question as to how you could harvest those and get them to Europe and actually make money from it. But interesting reaction from the state department tonight saying they're aware of these alarming allegations. And they say there's no reason to doubt it because of ISIS' history and after all, that's coming from Iraq's ambassador to the U.N. But we have no confirmation yet. The Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. did not prevent -- present any evidence of it. The question you raised, Anderson, a very fair one.

COOPER: This report also that ISIS militants terrorists burned 40 Iraqis to death including the members of the Iraqi security forces. You dug into that. What more can you tell us?

SCIUTTO: Well, an Iraqi official from CNN told us that's exactly what happened. That during this fighting which is still going on in Baghdadi between Iraqi security forces and ISIS fighters that 40 both Iraqi security forces, Iraqi soldiers as well as local tribesmen who have taken arms against ISIS, that they were killed, that they were burned to death. Many if not most of them burned to death.

Now, I also read situation reports, Anderson, from witnesses on the ground that said it was also possible that these men were killed in the fighting and then burned afterwards. This is something that ISIS has done as well desecrating bodies in effect. But again, the reaction from U.S. officials including from the Pentagon, they're investigating and their attitude is, listen, it's very possible because ISIS has proven itself very capable and willing of carrying out atrocities like this.

COOPER: Yes. Right, no doubt about that. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

In a moment, a report from the front line where as Jim just mentioned, Alcan Kurdish fighters have been trying to turn back a major ISIS push. First though, the word that is erupted at Washington over how much words matter in defeating ISIS overseas and stopping ISIS and other groups and acts of terror at home.

Late today, President Obama spoke to White House Summit on countering violent extremism. He confronted critics who say that his refusal of frame the conference or the larger issues s on specifically Islamic extremism is a mistake or even dangerous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now leading up to this summit, there's been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge. So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al-Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam. That's why ISIL presumes to declare itself the Islamic state. And they propagate the notion that America and the west, generally, is at war with Islam. That's how they recruit. That's how they tyranicalize (ph) young people.

We must never accept the premise that they put forward because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They're terrorists.


COOPER: President Obama called for tolerance towards Muslims from Americans and reform in the Muslim world. He singled out the lack of democracy in Muslim countries and told clerics in the audience they need to do better with young people because he said, compared to ISIS quote "your stuff is boring."

Joining us Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS,' also Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist himself whose life's work is now battling extremism.

Fareed, you talked to president about this. Does the wording matter?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: The wording does matter, actually, in two senses. If you're a scholar, if you are trying to accurately present the phenomenon we're dealing with, of course it is Islamic extremism.

But the president of the United States is not a scholar. He's not trying to get this right in terms of the facts. He's a political leader. He's trying to ask, what is the most constructive way I can frame this so that I bring, you know, I attach myself to a large body of Muslims in countries like Indonesia, 300 million who are law abiding and non terrorists and don't, you know, don't demean them and their faith and ISIL, the extremists.

So I'm not going to play their game and call them Islamic leaders. I'm going to describe that the way I want to. They're terrorists. You know, in other words, if you're a scholar looking from the outside, you'd say, yes. You now, most of this violence is coming out of the world of Islam. So it's fair to call it Islamic extremism. The president is saying, I'm not going to legitimize them by calling them Islamic in any way.

So in a sense, both are right. The president is being a political leader. He's not trying to get at the factual accuracy here.

COOPER: Maajid, what do you make of that? Because the critics of the president's say, well look, unless you understand the enemy you're fighting, unless you call it what it is, unless, you know, you're able to fight this a war of ideas as much as a military conflict, you're not going to be able to truly defeat this enemy.

MAAJID NAWAZ, AUTHOR, RADICAL: Yes. First of all, I speak, Anderson, as a Muslim and I speak as a liberal. At the forefront of my concerns is also anti-Muslim attacks.

Having said all of that and I agree with Fareed that it's not a black and white issue that precisely for the political reasons that Fareed has just mentioned. I think that there is a word that can be used. That isn't at once Islamic extremism and is also not burying our heads in the sand and denying that the ideology has a name. And that's the word Islamist extremism. And the suffix, i-s-t, or Islamism denotes the politicization of the religion. Now, what I fear --

COOPER: Explain why do you think that makes a difference?

NAWAZ: Right. If we don't name the ideology Islamism, there are two problems that happen. One is on the non-Muslim side. When the president said there's a poisonous ideology that needs to be refuted by Muslim clerics, the average everyday non-Muslim, the only word they known for that is the religion of Islam and they will think that the ideology we are referring to is the faith of Islam itself and thereby they would end up blaming all Muslims.

On the Muslim side, there's another problem. And that is that, you know, there are liberal Muslims out there attempting not just political reform of the democratic nature the president referred to, but also reform within their faith. And they need the lexicon and the tools to be able to distinguish the religion from its politicization and without that, ISIL will monopolize the discourse and win the debate.

COOPER: So for you, Islamism is the belief Islam not just a religion, that it should be a political system, which is a governing system that should determine all aspects of life? Is that the distinction you're making?

NAWAZ: Very briefly in one sentence. Islam is a religion like any other with all the various sects of denomination. Islamism is a desire to impose Islam over society. And that is a fear classic extremist desire. It can manifest its violently. When it does, call it Jihadism. But is can manifest itself politically. It's still a problematic ideology because any desire to impose anyone's faith over anyone else is inherently flawed and must be challenged.

Al-Qaeda didn't inspire extremism. It was this extremist Islamist ideology that inspired Al-Qaeda. And unless and until we recognize the problem isn't these groups that we can just take out by taking out their leaderships, but it is the ideology that inspires them. We'll have a new ISIL tomorrow.

COOPER: I mean, I do think that's an important point, Fareed. That ISIS can be defeated and another group is going to pop up because there is a core belief here that is transferable to a number of groups. ZAKARIA: That's exactly right. The issue is not, is this ideology

real? Do these people believe in it? The article you refer to the gram (ph), one article in the Atlantic.

COOPER: Right. We're going to interview in a second.

ZAKARIA: It says, look. These guys really believe in this ideology. Of course, they do. Just as believing communists and believing Marxists believed in that.

The question is, why is it working? Why is it spreading? What is the hole it's filling? And to answer that question, you have to ask yourself, what are the conditions of the political and social conditions that are allowing it to flourish?

The fact that the Arab world, you have almost no democracy. You have almost no economic progress. You have almost no social progress. Allows groups like ISIS and allows groups like Al-Qaeda, it allowed them to say, we are the answer.

Cast aside your failed ideologies you're living with. Look at the regimes that you live under. We provide you an alternative. It is precisely because they can look at the very desperate stagnant present of the Muslim world that they could present this, you know, invented past that they say is much better.

So that's the question you always have to ask. Nobody doubts that these crazies believe their crazy ideas just as, you know, when I was growing up in India, there were crazy Maoist revolutionaries all over. And they would explain what they meant by the kind of world they wanted. I'm sure that's what they wanted. The question is why were people believing? Why did they have a following? And what Obama is trying to say, you've got to address that. You've got to fill that hole that right now radical Islam is filling.

COOPER: Maajid, do you believe the United States -- I mean, because, essentially, the core of those who oppose the president on this, he's not using the correct language, he is not using the real language, is that the idea that the United States isn't battling ISIS in the correct way. I mean, does this argument over the language, does it represent a misunderstanding of what the enemy is?

NAWAZ: Of course, it does. I mean, I agree with everything Fareed just said again actually. But let's take the national republic. That was we were dealing with Germans after world war I who were feeling a defeated nation. They were feeling victimized. Now, that means of course there are psychological structural economic issues that must be addressed, but also (INAUDIBLE) had to be addressed.

Now, when we are dealing now with Arab people, Muslim peoples that if you feel defeated, that you feel victimized, Israel, Palestine is an issue. I saw many other conflicts across the world. But you know, I fear, Anderson, the Voldemort (pg) effect.

If we cannot name this, if we cannot call it the Islamist ideology, what I fear it does is increase the hysteria, it increases the paranoia. And what will happen is a bigger backlash against Muslims. And we are seeing this play out across Europe with the rise, a far rise populist (INAUDIBLE) who are now not just saying we're worried about extremists but are actually blaming each and every Muslim and insisting Muslims expelled from Europe. And that's the Voldemort (ph) effect I'm worried about.

COOPER: Fareed?

ZAKARIA: Just one thought. Even if you are to name it, whatever that means, you know, the president I don't think wants to use complicated ideological terms like the Islamism. But if you were to name it, how would that change anything? Are we going to do more drone strikes or fewer drone strikes or more special ops, fewer?

At the military front, you are going to fight these guys. You are going to try and kill them. And the political social front, this is my point, you are trying to figure out some way to reform these societies so that people have some alternative. What you call it doesn't really matter.

COOPER: Maajid, I just want you to be able to respond to that. You believe it does matter in the battle?

ZAKARIA: Of course. Because part of dealing it with as well as dealing with the structural economic problems that Fareed rightly raises, you know, I care greatly about what he just said there. But as well as that is an additional factor, and that is that within Muslim discourse and Muslim societies, civil society resilience and civil society engagement against this Islamist ideology can't happen if we don't recognize it exists.

As I said, again, this is not Al-Qaeda inspired extremism. It's extremism that inspired Al-Qaeda. And it is that extremism that theocratic tendency that we have to refute.

COOPER: Maajid, great to have you on always. Fareed as well. thank you. Good discussion.

Coming up next, fighting ISIS on the ground and grand words, a very sobering take on what ISIS wants. Fareed mentioned it earlier. If you're familiar with the phrase end times, you'll get a picture of what they want.

Later, we will go from fire to ice. Look at this. It's a wonder the flames didn't go out without any water. That's how cold it is around the country. Very chilly forecast in some unexpected places ahead.

And later, a woman fatally shot in front of her children. However, the story may not be as simple as that and you'll see why when we continue.


COOPER: What President Obama dealt with pundits in kind a war of words over ISIS, the actual fighting war is taking another bloody turn. ISIS has launched major offensive southwest of Irbil and Kurdish fighters have been taking them on in some of the heaviest fighting that conflict so far.

The latest now from Ben Wedeman in Irbil.

So Ben, this assault ISIS want against Kurdish fighters, what is the latest tonight?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well tonight, the situation in Gware (ph), which is about 30 miles to west of here, is quiet. But last night at 9:00, there was an assault by ISIS on three Kurdish positions to the west of here. It went on for about five hours. We saw on Kurdish TV some of the Kurdish positions. It looked like they had empty machine gun shells up to their ankles, at least. And that gives you an indication of the intensity of the fighting that was taking place in pitch dark with the fog. So it was very difficult for coalition aircraft to provide any cover to those Kurdish fighters. It was only when they were able to push the fighters, the ISIS fighters away. That the coalition aircraft were able to become engaged. And according to Kurdish officials, 40 of the ISIS fighters were killed at the end of that 5.5 hour battle.

COOPER: How well equipped at this point are the Kurds? That was a real issue early on when a lot of this began between ISIS and the Kurds. Do they have what they need in order to keep propelling these attacks?

WEDEMAN: I don't think there's any question they don't have what they need. They have received some light weaponry from European countries, but certainly, it's nothing compared to what ISIS has. Keep in mind that last June, ISIS drove the Iraqi army out of Mosul and they won as a result.

A huge amount of modern American equipment. Humvees, communication equipment, ammunition, heavy artillery that ISIS -- that allows ISIS to seriously outgun the Kurds. The Kurds have a thousand kilometers, 600 a mile front with ISIS which they have to defend. And certainly, in terms of equipment, they are outgunned. They don't have their own air power. They depend upon Baghdad for its weaponry, and they haven't been very generous in that regard. They have very little in the way, for instance, of night vision capability, which, of course, would have been very useful last night during this assault -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben Wedeman, appreciate your time. Ben, thanks.

President Obama today said we're at war with people who have perverted Islam. The question, though, is that really true? In a new piece in the Atlantic, title "what ISIS really wants," Graeme Wood writes the reality is that the Islamic state is Islamic, very Islamic. It continues, yes, it is attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Graeme Wood joins us now.

It's fascinating article. I urge people to read it. You write about ISIS. You say that the nature of ISIS is more like a Dystopian alternate reality? Explain what you mean? You kind of compare, it is like a David (INAUDIBLE) or Jims Young.

GRAEME WOOD, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. I would call it a death cult. What ISIS believes is that it involved in the production of the end times. It believes that it's directly involved in creating the stages of an apocalyptic future that will bring about the fulfillment of prophesy.

COOPER: And unlike Al-Qaeda, it's crucial there for ISIS to actually control territory to create this caliphate.

WOOD: That's right. They believe that if they control territory, if they act properly, then they can fulfill, particular elements of prophesy that involve a clash of crusader armies and this is a very important part of Obama's remarks today because he correct being noted that we want to avoid fulfilling the narrative that they want to push forward which is a clash between civilizations because that is a necessary part of that prophesy.

COOPER: A clash between Islam and the west.

WOOD: Specifically that, yes.

COOPER: Which is interesting there, too, about your article and it is something I mean, others have written about this as well, but it was just really well spelled out in your article is the sheer volume of enemies that ISIS believes they have, the people who ISIS labels apostates. I mean, it is not just Christians as we think, it is not just westerners, it is 200 million Muslims.

WOOD: Yes, that's right. I mean, ISIS in some ways actually treats Christians much better than most Muslims. They believe that Christians, for example, don't need to be killed. They can be enslaved. They can live under the Islamic state without adopting Islam, if they pay a particular tax.

Whereas with Muslims, they're very, very particular about who qualifies as a proper Muslim and who is, in their mind, perverting the faith. And those people, they believe, need to be killed.

COOPER: And the justification for killing anyone who is Shia, for instance, is that they believe that's a more modern or call them the moderns. It's the more modern interpretation of the Koran, which as you wrote therefore means that the original interpretation of the Koran was somehow incorrect, which was something -- I mean, something they can't tolerate anybody saying.

WOOD: That's right. They view any innovation, they call it, Bidda (ph), which means a kind of reprehensible innovation, any of this is a perversion of the faith. And if you reject the inerrancy of the Koran, the Hadith and the early actions of the earliest followers of the prophet Mohammed, then you're, in their mind, rejecting Islam. And this is the kind of pronouncement that historically Muslims have been very reluctant to make. It's just -- it's not something that they do. It's considered perilous, even to their own souls because if you pronounce excommunication toward another Muslim and that person is actually a Muslim, then actually that makes you a non-Muslim too. That's a really dangerous game for someone who believes these things to take. But ISIS does it.

COOPER: They're so convinced in their own interpretation that they believe they are right.

WOOD: Yes, absolutely. And when I spoke to ISIS supporters, they would openly say, this guy who works for the Jordanian regime, he is not a Muslim. This is a person who is someone who prays five times a day, but purely by the action of working for a government or drinking repeatedly or doing things that implicitly showed that, in their minds, this person had rejected clear elements of Islamic law, that's enough.

COOPER: Voting, having, not having a beer, being clean shaven. Things like that.

WOOD: Yes. In certain circumstances when they believe that it shows that they have rejected the inerrancy of the Koran.

COOPER: So when President Obama said that they perverted Islam, is that true?

WOOD: Well, you know, he doesn't really have the authority to say that. I don't think any non-Muslim really has the authority to say that or to convince others that that's the case. But a non-Muslim certainly can say objectively is whether the actions of ISIS have precedent within the long and often contradictory history of Islam. And that certainly the case.

The things that they are doing don't come from nowhere. They come from elements of Islam that for the vast majority of Muslims around the world are either in advance, they are not applied right now or they are not just interested in the thing like doing things like stoning adulterers.

COOPER: When you say it's a death cult, it's solely geared towards the end times, you know, apocalyptic their vision.

WOOD: Well, the apocalypse is a very important, frequently occurring element to the rhetoric. So they believe this is going to happen. And they also believe, by the way, that before they finally achieve victory when Jesus comes back and comes to their aid, that they will actually almost be diminished to nothing. They believe that there will only be 5,000 of their fighters left and then Jesus comes and will save the day for them.

COOPER: They Jesus will save the day for them?

WOOD: Yes. At Jerusalem, that that Jesus will come to earth at Damascus and then go to their aid when they're circled by the forces of the anti-messiah type of figure in Jerusalem and then that Jesus will come to their aid and save them.

COOPER: Again, it is fascinating article. And we really just touch the surface. But I urge people to read it, "the Atlantic." It's really just fascinating.

Graeme, thank you so much. Graeme Wood, fascinating stuff.

Up next, more than a hundred patients at a California hospital warn they may have been exposed to potentially deadly bacteria. How it happened coming up.

And an explosion of fire rips through an oil refinery plant. We have late details on that ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back.

All right, it is cold out there. You know that. That said, you might still be wondering how cold is it? Well, it's cold enough to turn Niagara Falls into Niagara doesn't fall because it's partially frozen. "The Buffalo News" posted this on its FaceBook of the New York side of the falls icing over, below zero temperature forecast for tomorrow. Not below zero windchill factors, below zero period. And 19 below with the wind. It is cold there and it will be dangerously cold too. In places where they're used to it, and where they're not as well. Public schools closing tomorrow in Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, Kentucky, just to name a few places.

Joining us from Atlanta, where it's colder than normal tonight, Jennifer Grey in the Weather Center.

So, exactly where is it going to get really cold? How long is it going to stay that way?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, unfortunately, it's going to stay this way for quite a while. And we're seeing windchill advisories and warnings anywhere from North Dakota, all the way down to south Florida, if you can imagine. And we could be shattering records left and right, not only tomorrow morning but Friday morning as well.

We're looking at low temperatures tomorrow morning in Atlanta, 14 degrees. Nashville, 2 below zero. St. Louis, zero. Chicago, 7 below. That doesn't even factor in the wind. A lot of these areas are going to be very windy.

So the potential record lows, Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, Detroit, Key West even, possibly breaking a record low of 49 degrees. We could be in the negatives all across Lexington, Louisville, Nashville and Detroit tomorrow morning. Thirteen below zero in Lexington. By Friday morning, the story doesn't improve. Detroit, 12 below zero. Marquette, 19 below zero. All up and down the East Coast in the single digits. And so, once again, we could see record lows. Again, Anderson, in Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, Key West, even in Miami with a low of 40 degrees, which is very cold for south Florida.

COOPER: And another storm expected this weekend.

GRAY: Absolutely. Another storm on the way. They are just lining up in the pipe. We're looking at winter storm watches already in effect from Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Huntsville, Knoxville, all included in that. That is for Friday night into Saturday. We're looking at mainly rain in the south. A nasty wintry mix anywhere from Little Rock, all the way through middle Tennessee.

And timing this out, by Friday evening, we could see an icy mix around Nashville through Little Rock. These are the same places that saw this nasty wintry mix just a couple of days ago. We're looking at it once again. It's going to make its way into the Carolinas, even dipping down into the Georgia mountains by Friday night into Saturday morning. Right now it looks like mostly rain for New York. Could see a wintry mix between New York and Boston. Right now, Boston is right on that line. We could see snow or a wintry mix as we go into the end of the weekend.

COOPER: It's the last thing they need there, more snow.

GRAY: Yes.

COOPER: Jennifer Gray, thanks very much.

Let's get the latest on some of the other stories we're following. Amara Walker has a "360" bulletin.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, more than 100 patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center have been notified, they may have been exposed to a potentially deadly superbug. The hospital says the bacteria could have been on scopes used in endoscopic procedures from this past October to January.

President Obama has named Joseph Clancy to lead the Secret Service, elevating him from interim chief. The White House is ignoring a panel's recommendation to seek an outsider for the job after a series of security mishaps.

Ukraine is asking for U.N. peacekeepers to be deployed to enforce a cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists that has crumbled over the past few days.

And an explosion and fire at an oil refinery near Los Angeles left at least two people injured and several windows were shattered. There's no word yet on what caused the blast.


COOPER: All right, Amara, thanks very much.

Just ahead, new details about a road rage incident that left a woman dead in Las Vegas. Her family is defending her after it came out that she may have escalated the situation by picking up her son, who was armed with a gun himself, to go looking for the driver.

Also ahead, the American sniper trial. The former girlfriend of the man accused of killing Chris Kyle takes the stand.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: A new twist tonight to that deadly road rage incident in Las Vegas. Police now say the victim, a mother of four, who was shot to death, had gotten back in her car after the original incident, drove around with her armed son looking for the other vehicle. Police are still searching for the suspect. Sara Sidner has the latest.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Filled with sorrow, the family of Tammy Meyers walks by her makeshift memorial as they prepare to make funeral arrangements. Meyers, a mother of four, shot and killed after a road rage incident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom was protecting me this night, you know? She was doing what every mother would do, is protect her baby.

SIDNER: But while the family first explained this as a case of road rage only on the part of the suspected killer, they now find themselves defending Meyers' role in possibly escalating the situation.

ROBERT MEYERS, HUSBAND: Emotions get ahead of what you should do, you know, and I think that there might be a case of that.

SIDNER (on camera): So, what happened? Initially, the family only revealed details that the driver suspected of killing Meyers went off the handle with no provocation. But new details are emerging. Police say Meyers was finishing up a driving lesson with her daughter in the parking lot just two minutes from their home and then the two left the school and ended up in some kind of altercation with the man who would eventually kill Tammy Meyers.

LT. RAY STEIBER, LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE: A vehicle came up at a high rate of speed behind her and then pulled off to the side and cut -- ultimately cut in front of her. As that vehicle did that, her daughter had reached over and honked the horn.

SIDNER (voice-over): Police say Meyers and that driver, sketched here, argued. Meyers and her daughter then drove home. They arrive safely. And it could have ended there, but it didn't.

STEIBER: Her 22-year-old son came out of the house, got into the car. He was armed with a firearm that is registered to him and then they left the house. They left the house in search of that person they were -- that Mrs. Meyers was involved in an incident with just prior.

SIDNER: Police say they found the driver they were looking for, but gave no details on what happened in that second encounter. What we do know is, Meyers and her son returned home and this time the suspect followed. Gunfire was exchanged and Tammy Meyers was struck in the head. She was taken off life-support on Valentine's Day.

Despite the criticism that Meyers and her son may have had a hand in escalating the situation, her family says no one should ever have died over something so trivial. BRANDON MEYERS, SON: I did what I had to do to protect my family.

Everyone can think what they have to think. I did it for a reason. I'd do it for anyone I love.


COOPER: Sara Sidner joins us.

Now, was anyone else in that neighborhood endangered during the shootout?

SIDNER: You know, a lot of the neighbors did hear it. We talked to a neighbor just a moment ago who said that his son heard the shots going off when they came out. They realized that Tammy Meyers had been shot. And we actually saw one of the holes from a bullet in the wall over there. So there was fear after everyone figured out what the sound was and then found out that Meyers had been killed.


COOPER: Sara Sidner, thanks very much.

Joining us now is our legal analyst, criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin.

I mean, Jeff, what do you make of this? It's --


COOPER: Obviously, there's a lot of stuff we don't know.

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean the key issue here is, what is the version of the facts from the mystery man who was involved in all of this? But, I mean, to just belabor the obvious, it would have been better for all concerned, one, if they had simply gone home and forgot about it. And, second, I know it's kind of a sacrilege to say this, but if people didn't have guns, none of this would have happened.

COOPER: I mean the son is saying he was defending his family.

TOOBIN: How? I mean it just doesn't make any sense. I mean the incident had already taken place. They had an unpleasant encounter on the road. There was no follow-up necessary as far as I can tell. So, I mean, you know, I don't want to blame this guy who lost his mother, but, I mean, it certainly seems it would have been better off for all concerned if they had simply left this alone.

COOPER: Mark, I mean, could the suspect, who's still at large, claim that he was actually acting in self-defense, even though he apparently, and, again, from the early information we have, he apparently then followed these two home and that's where the shooting took place?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's amazing how far this story has turned in just one day. It would not surprise me in the least if the person who did the shooting either conjures up or claims at some point, look, they came chasing after me. They waved the gun. Who knows if the gunshots were fired. We don't know that yet. We seem to keep learning things by the hour. I could think of, you know, 10 different scenarios where the person who did the shooting said he was doing it in response to or in self-defense from somebody who was chasing him down who was armed and who apparently, at least at some point, fired some shots.

TOOBIN: And who's to say, by the way, that they even have the right guy? I mean they were not a police force. They could have gotten into a confrontation with an entirely different person who wound up in this fatal conflict.

GERAGOS: That's exactly -- that's exactly -- right. That's exactly right. I mean it's entirely possible and who's going to -- who's going to be the person who's going to negate that? The only person who's going to negate it is going to be the daughter who was doing the driving lessons. Other than that, there's nobody else who's a witness to whoever the road rage was.

COOPER: The police are now saying, though, the son didn't fire the first shot. Does that matter that he fired back?

GERAGOS: Well, that's what -- the police are saying that. The police are saying that. But that doesn't mean anything. I mean, you've got shots fired right now. The police are saying that based on what? Based on the son who's saying that and the family who apparently was letting out information that wasn't correct in the first place? So the police don't have any corner on the truth and shouldn't be seizing the moral high ground here. I don't think anybody knows at this point. It's way too early to determine who was shooting first, who was doing what, because we certainly did not get the first story correct.

TOOBIN: And, by the way, the one thing we know for sure is these guns were fired in a residential neighborhood, which, to put it mildly, is not a good idea.

GERAGOS: We're exactly like the OK Corral.


COOPER: So where does this thing -- I mean they have to find the guy.

TOOBIN: They have to find the guy. And that's, obviously, the key issue --


TOOBIN: Because at least potentially he could be prosecuted in the death of Mrs. Meyers. I mean I, you know, he will certainly have a response to that. But, I mean, this woman died in a gunshot and that's certainly a very serious thing.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: And you need to do an investigation. But I -- my guess is this story will get even more complicated when this guy is located. COOPER: All right, Jeff Toobin, thank you. Mark Geragos as well. We'll

continue to follow it.

Just ahead, jurors hear from friends and family members of the man accused of killing Chris Kyle of "American Sniper" fame. See how they say the suspect was acting before and after the killings, next.


COOPER: It's the defense's turn in the trial of the man accused of murdering Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who, of course, is the subject of the movie "American Sniper." The prosecution rested yesterday. Today, the suspect's sister, brother-in-law and former girlfriend were on the stand talking about his behavior before and after he killed Kyle, as well as Kyle's friend. Shootings the defense says were a result of psychosis. Ed Lavandera reports.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right after Eddie Ray Routh gunned down Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, he drove to his sister's house. Laura Blevins says her brother was talking about pig sucking on his soul and that he had to take two souls before they could take his. She called 911 right after he left in Kyle's pickup truck.

911 DISPATCHER: Who did he say he was -- he had killed?

LAURA BLEVINS, EDDIE RAY ROUTH'S SISTER: He said that he killed two guys. They went to a shooting range. It was like he's all crazy. He's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) psychotic.

911 DISPATCHER: Is he on drugs?

BLEVINS: I'm sorry for my language.


BLEVINS: Um, I don't know if he's on drug or not, but I know that he's been --

LAVANDERA: In court, Blevins described the scene. "The person who came to my house is no the man who I knew was my brother." And then she turned to him that day and said, "I love you but I hate your demons." The judge is not allowing courtroom audio to be broadcast until the trial is over, but prosecutors are zeroing in on those last words from Routh's sister in that 911 call. The drugs have been the focus since opening statements.

ALAN NASH, PROSECUTOR: (INAUDIBLE) use drugs and alcohol that morning and that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

LAVANDERA: Prosecutors say Routh even ignored orders from his doctors to stop smoking weed and drinking alcohol and smoked and drank whiskey with his uncle hours before he would kill the man known as the American sniper. UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR, "AMERICAN SNIPER": I just want to get the

bad guys. But if I can't see them, I can't shoot them.

LAVANDERA: As Routh descended deeper into psychological troubles, he started dating this woman, Jennifer Weed, who has a degree in psychology herself. She says Routh could be quick tempered and erratic. A few weeks before the murders, Routh held his girlfriend and her roommate at knife point in her apartment. And the night before the killing, she said, "I asked him if he was seeing things and he said 'yes.' And then I asked if he was hearing things and he said 'yes.' He got up and told me that they were listening to us. And when I tried to speak with him, he would take his hand and cover my mouth." That was the last night Routh would spend with the girlfriend he just asked to marry him. Not long after, he'd be seen handcuffed in the back of a police car.


COOPER: And Ed Lavandera joins us now.

So the suspect's family said he suffered from PTSD. What do we know about his military history?

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, a lot of people, when they hear that he served in Iraq, assume that it had to do with that. But so far no testimony that he actually saw combat in Iraq. In fact, family members say it was his experience as a -- in a humanitarian mission in 2010 in Haiti that affected him deeply. His mother talked about how he saw dead bodies on the beach and those images and those experiences that he had in Haiti, his family members say, had a much deeper and much more profound effect on him.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera. Ed, thanks very much.

In just a few moments, you can see a special report about Chris Kyle's life and the controversy surrounding the film based on it. Watch the CNN special report, "Blockbuster: The Story of American Sniper." That's at the top of the hour on CNN.

First, though, a lot of people are sick of the cold and the snow by now, but this winter is also kind of bringing out the best in human ingenuity. I've got two words for you, banana hammer. "The Ridiculist" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And tonight we're going to try to melt your icy heart with a few stories of people who are putting the cold and snow to good use. Sure they've already gotten almost a hundred inches of snow in Boston this year, but what better chance to perfect your snow swimming? Everyone knows about snow angels. Rarely do we see the snow butterfly. And, look, it is quite inspiring, is it not?

And, yes, it's so cold in Ithaca, New York, that for a while their official tourism website inspired people to, instead, visit the Florida Keys and come back when things thaw out.

Attitude truly is everything. That paradigm was never more purely expressed than when The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore was reporting from Plymouth, Massachusetts, and witnessed multiple occurrences of a rare phenomenon, thunder snow.


JIM CANTORE, THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Oh, yes! Yes! Yes! We got it, baby! We got it! We got it! Whoo! Whoo! We got it! Yes! Listen to that! Oh, again!. Again! That's a two-fer! That's a two-fer, baby! Yes! Yes, again! That's a three! You've got to be kidding me! You've got to be kidding me!


COOPER: Now, that is enthusiasm for one's work. And it's especially nice to see him go bonkers like that since we all know he's a master of keeping his cool.


CANTORE: We have not gotten into the worst part of this storm yet.


CANTORE: That is to coming a little bit later on tonight. So, obviously here at the College of Charleston, they're already having a good time.


COOPER: Yes, you need the guy.

Across the country, reporters have been outstanding in the cold, and I do mean outstanding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I want to really put it in perspective on how cold it is. We were able to actually used a banana that we had, one of our snack items, and put it in the snow and now this banana, completely frozen. It is now a banana hammer. So, any home projects, you can actually use this to complete that. again, banana completely frozen. (INAUDIBLE). That is how cold it is out here.


COOPER: That's a rock hard banana right there.

All this time you've been buying your hammers at the hardware store when you could have just left your groceries outside. This is what we in the business like to call a weather report with a peal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A banana hammer. My goodness. Do not mess with Rita Patterson (ph). She's armed with the banana hammer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A banana hammer. I feel like -- I mean how can you not start hammer time after J.P. (ph) drops a banana hammer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hilarious now.


COOPER: That's exactly what I'm talking about. Attitude. Yeah.

You can complain about the cold all you want, or when life hands you a bunch of snow, make a banana hammer. Words to live by on "The Ridiculist."

That does it for us. We'll see you again at 11:00 p.m. Eastern for another edition of "360." The CNN special report "BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF AMERICAN SNIPER" starts now.