Return to Transcripts main page


Texas Flooding; Deadly Month in Baltimore; Houston Man Accused of Plotting to Join ISIS; Surge in Violence After Freddie Gray Death; DC Mansion Murders: Money Trail Could Lead to New Arrests; IRS Security Breach? Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Much of America's fourth largest city is currently underwater.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, Houston in utter, utter chaos. Nine people have been killed in this crush of severe weather, rescue officials now scouring cars beached in highways, cutting across streets turned rivers, searching for people potentially trapped and those still missing.

Also in national, the bloodiest month in Baltimore since 1999, and there's still five days left before the calendar turns over, 35 homicides, crime scenes across the city, but residents now loudly demanding to know after the Freddie Gray protests, where did all the cops go?

And the pop culture lead. First came a period of mourning, now a mystery. After losing B.B. King, two of his daughters now claim their dad was murdered.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Breaking news in our national lead, at least five people have been killed by the savage flooding in Texas, four others by extreme weather in Oklahoma. There's so much water on the ground in the Lone Star State, it has created a perpetual high tide that has much of the city of Houston submerged under shoulder-high water.

Texas state safety officials today mobilizing fire and police and dispatching them in Zodiac boats to pull anyone stranded in the swelling waters. Right now, it's unclear how many people need help, as rows and rows of streets are saturated, driveways swirled thick with mud.

In many places, the only evidence of cars are the windshields reflecting in the sun. Now, for many Texans, the stakes of these ongoing rescue efforts are quite dire. There is still no trace after 12 people in Central Texas, including a mother, Laura McComb, and her two children. They were last seen in their cabin by the river with several other families now also missing, Ralph and Sue Carey, Randy and Michelle Charba and their baby boy, before the flood current cut that house's foundation from the ground and swept it downstream. Another 30 people also unaccounted for, and the stories of those

killed are quite heartbreaking. Alyssa Renee Ramirez, for example, driving home from her senior prom, the flood was simply too fast.

Jennifer Gray is live for CNN in Wimberley, Texas.

Jennifer, what's going on there right now?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Jake, it's hard to believe that less than two days ago, water was above my head. The flood stage rose to at least 43 feet.

That's when the gauge broke, and you can see houses behind me just like this wiped clear off their foundation, we hear up to 400 homes possibly destroyed, about 1,000 more damaged. And the stories coming out of Wimberley and the surrounding areas are just devastating.


GRAY (voice-over): Tonight, devastating images of destruction and heartbreaking stories of those lost and still missing after relentless severe weather cripples Texas and Oklahoma, hundreds of homes washed away in Hays County, Texas, in floodwaters that have left some of America's largest cities like Houston underwater.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Define worse. Obviously, the worst thing that has happened is that we have got a loss of life here. We have got cars littered all over the city. And as the floodwaters go down, that's one of the things we're doing to make sure that no one was trapped in those vehicles.

GRAY: President Obama spoke to Texas Governor Greg Abbott Tuesday, offering the support of the federal government.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the communities who have been affected by some of these devastating, record-breaking floods.

GRAY: Several communities dealing with loss remembering the lives of those lost to rushing waters, like homecoming queen and student council president Alyssa Ramirez, who was killed on her way home from prom, the car she was driving swept away by floodwaters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She did the right things. She called 911. She called her father. But it was just too much and too quick.

GRAY: Laura McComb and her two young children still missing after the cabin where they were staying literally split in half, her father-in- law telling CNN that rescue efforts have been challenging.

JOE MCCOMB, FATHER OF POTENTIAL VICTIM: It's a major undertaking. And the volume of water that came down as a result of the flood, I mean, it just covered hundreds of thousands of acres, and seems to be an impossible task, but there are people that are dedicated to their mission. We remain eternally optimistic. GRAY: McComb's husband, Jonathan, was also in that cabin. He was

rescued, but not before suffering a collapsed lung and broken sternum. With more rain on the way at the end of the week, the Texas governor worries that more lives could be lost.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Even though we have been to the point we are now, the challenges are not over yet. There's going to be more rain to come. This is a huge challenge going on across the entire state.



GRAY: Now, the river has gone down considerably, but, as you can see, the water rushing at an incredible pace, the volume moving through unbelievable.

And the concern now, with all the rivers, the creeks, everything completely saturated and running high, Jake, the concern is more rain later in the week and the weekend for more potential flash flooding.

TAPPER: Jennifer Gray live for us in Wimberley, Texas, thank you so much.

This storm is overwhelming rivers and essentially erasing embankments from the Texas landscape. The relentless rain has caused the Blanco River to surge unchecked washing away some 400 homes in Hays County.

Let's bring in the mayor of Wimberley, Texas, Steve Thurber.

Sir, thanks for joining us under such trying circumstances.

What's the latest you can tell us about the rescue efforts?

STEVE THURBER, MAYOR OF WIMBERLEY, TEXAS: Well, the search-and-rescue efforts are ongoing.

We have the Texas -- Texas Team One here is on the water, in the air and on the land, supplemented by the National Guard that we have here as well. So, it's ongoing. We have two confirmed fatalities in this part of the river and, like you said, 30 -- 30 are unaccounted for.

TAPPER: What can you tell us about the McCombs, the Careys, the Charbas? What's the latest on efforts to find them?

THURBER: That is the primary concern.

We have -- all of our search-and-rescue efforts are focused in that area. They were actually in a house that was right behind us here that was swept off its foundation and into the river. We understand that one of the ladies in the house at the time it was in the water was in contact with family members telling them where they were, that they were floating down the river.

TAPPER: Sir, tell us about your part of the world there. Is this kind of flooding rare? Does it happen -- has it happened before? Have you ever seen anything like this?

THURBER: Well, no, not to this magnitude. We have flash flooding in the hill county periodically, but nothing to this magnitude. In 1929, we had a 33.5-foot surge come through. That was the highest on record and this one was -- topped out at 44.5 feet before the -- before we lost communications with the gauge.

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor, is there anything that your town needs right now that you're not getting?

THURBER: I can't think of a thing. We have had just tremendous response from the city, the county, the state, and now President Obama has declared a national disaster area for this area. So, we're very grateful for that effort, because it means financial support for the community which they so desperately need.

TAPPER: Mayor Thurber, thanks so much for joining us. Our thoughts and prayers go to you and your town. We appreciate your being with us today.

Let's go right now to Joe McComb. He's the father-in-law of that missing Texas mom Laura McComb and the grandfather of her two children, Leighton and Andrew, also missing.

Sir, first of all, thanks for joining us. I cannot even imagine how trying these times must be for you and your family. How is your family doing? How are you holding up?

MCCOMB: Well, there's no question that it's challenging times. And we're all still cautiously optimistic that some -- by a miracle, that the families could be found.

But it's -- as the clock ticks, that percentage obviously is diminishing. But we're a strong family based in faith, and, you know, you don't -- you really can't handle a situation like this, in my opinion, unless you have got a good grounded faith and a relationship with the lord.

And so we're depending on him, and we're depending on the first- responders and second-responders and volunteers to do everything they possibly can. But this is a horrific experience that many families are going through.

TAPPER: We just heard from the mayor of Wimberley, Texas. What have rescue officials told you about their efforts? Are you satisfied that everything that needs to be done to find your loved ones is being done?

MCCOMB: Well, I have not talked directly to any of the rescuers.

My wife and I were out of town when this happened. And then we got back in Monday night and have been at the hospital pretty much since. But others that are out, my other sons that are out with the rescuers, I think everybody is doing as much as they can.

I mean, you're talking about huge areas of land. Once the river exceeds the regular river route, well, then it just flows to just thousands and thousands of acres. And it just, you know, takes debris and people and whatever is in its path with them. And, so, you just really don't know.

My son -- one report says that when he was finally able to make it out of the river, he was about nine miles down from where the house was at the time. Another report has him about 12 miles down. So, I really don't know the width and the breadth of where all this water is going. And so the search area is just huge.


And then the amount of debris that is being taken with this flood between the uprooted trees and the houses and everything else, just -- you can just imagine trying to find a small person or an adult person in all of that stuff, plus all the mud and stuff.

So, it's a difficult situation for everybody. The responders, they are doing their best. They know the clock is ticking.


MCCOMB: And those of us that are out waiting, hoping to get some positive reports is -- it's quite an anxious time for all.

TAPPER: You mentioned your son, Jonathan, who almost got swept away, but managed to cling to an embankment. How is he doing?

MCCOMB: He's doing fine. He's responding physically to the treatment.

He had a punctured lung and a collapsed lung and broken rib and his sternum was fractured. I think he said he remembers hitting a big rock or something. And I think that's probably when the sternum got fractured and the rib got broken. He never did lose consciousness while he was being tossed around out there.

He says he's got hit a couple times in the head. He's got some pretty good-sized knots on his head. But he just said there were times when -- while he was under the water swimming, trying, he said he didn't know whether he was swimming up or down. He said he just kept moving his arms hoping he would find air. And he ultimately did and was able to somehow get over to where he could get some footing and put himself up.

And he saw a light on somebody's porch and was able to crawl up there, he said, knocked on the door and just said, "I need help." And that's when they got the emergency 911 out to him.


TAPPER: Mr. McComb, thank you so much for joining us. We're going to keep praying for your daughter-in-law and your grandchildren and hope -- hope for that miracle that you referred to, hope for their safe return. Thank you so much.

MCCOMB: Well, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: In other national news today, an American arrested accused of trying to join ISIS, but his family lured him back to the United States before he could hook up with the terrorist group

The story they told him to get him home, that's next.


[16:16:33] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have some breaking news in our national lead. Another American charged today with trying to join the terrorist group ISIS in Syria.

Let's get right to CNN justice reporter Evan Perez who is tracking the late breaking details.

Evan, what do we know about this case?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, you know, for months, Jake, the FBI has been urging families to tell them when they know of a family member who might be trying to join ISIS. Well, in this case, the family was very key in having this guy arrested.

His name is Asher Abid Kahn. He's 20 years old. He was living in Australia for the last couple of years. He was trying to join ISIS and join a friend who lives in Houston, Texas. Both of them were supposed to join up in Turkey and travel to join.

Well, in this case his family, Abid Khan, his family tricked him, told him something was wrong with his family's health so he flew her to Houston where the FBI arrested him. Now, he's facing up to 15 years in prison.

His friend who did travel and went on to join ISIS in Syria, has disappeared. He's there. he's believed to be with the terrorist group. But in this case, we have family members who played a key role in getting the FBI to stop this guy from going to join ISIS.

TAPPER: Interesting. Evan Perez, thank you so much for that late- breaking story.

Also in the national lead today, an incredibly bloody weekend in Baltimore, where this weekend saw a record surge in murders. In fact, this month has been the deadliest for Charm City in 16 years, 35 people have been killed in May alone.

The spike started almost immediately after the top prosecutor announced charges against six police officers in the Freddie Gray case. He, of course, was the 25-year-old who died in police custody, his spinal cord having been severed. His death sparked days of protests and even a riot with businesses looted and burned.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins me now live from Baltimore.

Suzanne, a police officer told Miguel Marquez, CNN's Miguel Marquez, that officers have stopped being proactive. Is that what's going on here?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it has been absolutely horrific, absolutely horrific for this community. We're talking about the last 24 hours, police saying now that a nine-year- old boy was shot in the leg. You had a male who was graced by a bullet in his head, somebody else to shot in the torso.

This is what the community is dealing with. I talked to a small group of protesters who were disrupting traffic this morning and they want to make it clear that they believe this is part of a smaller drug violent culture that is part of the city that shootings happen all the time. But the number of shooting just extraordinary over the past three-day weekend in this past month, very worrisome to them. And they believe in part this is due to police who are not really policing in their community, turning this into potentially the Wild Wild West.

Just take a listen.


MALACKA REED EL, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: I don't think the police are doing their jobs, but I do not think that it's all of the police. We do have some police officers that are doing their jobs.

REV. JAMAL BRYANT, PASTOR, EMPOWERMENT TEMPLE CHURCH: It's almost akin to having a substitute teach near the middle of the semester who turns a blind eye, doesn't know the students and is not in fact giving a grade. So, it's a very dangerous time in our city when crime is going up but arrests are going down.


MALVEAUX: And, Jake, those were two people who I talked to earlier this morning. The pastor, Jamal Bryant, very close friend of the Freddie Gray family, as well as Malacka Reed.

[16:20:01] And both of them saying, look, they acknowledge that they don't believe that policing is really happening aggressively in their neighborhood. This is something that the community had been complaining about before, as you know, over-policing, too aggressive.

But they also acknowledge as well, there's an element in the community that's taking advantage of this opportunity here and that they have to also be held accountable -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much.

Coming up, new leads in the murder of a family and its housekeeper right here in Washington, D.C. What we're just now learning about potential suspects and what the alleged killer did in the days after those horrific murders. That's next.

Plus, Russia amassing thousands of troops along with combat planes and weapons. Just what is President Vladimir Putin up to now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:25:13] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

New clues emerging today in that tragic murder mystery in Washington, D.C. Detectives now following a trail of money that could lead to new arrests in the mansion murders. The latest line involves the $40,000 delivered to the home where the family was being held hostage before, police say, Daron Wint brutally killed the family, Savvas Savapoulos, his wife, their 10-year-old son and their housekeeper. Police now also investigating new details about just about what Daron Wint did in the days after the murders.

CNN's Pamela Brown joins me now.

Pamela, police may know what happened to some of that $40,000, some of it.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Some of it, that's right, Jake.

What we're learning here is that investigators believe that two people in the car with Daron Wint when he was arrested purchased thousands of dollars in money orders with the $40,000. Some of that money, and even though they are no longer in police custody, sources say the investigation into them and others in the car with Wint is still very active.


BROWN (voice-over): CNN has learned two of the five people with Daron Wint during his arrest cashed money orders for $2,500 each, money believed by investigators to be from the $40,000 dropped off at the Savapoulos family home while they were held hostage, according to a law enforcement official.

HARRY HOUCK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: When you release them -- I mean, you've got all -- you've identified all of the information. We know where they work, we know their cell phone numbers, we know where they live, we know where the family is. So, the police officers probably felt pretty confident that they can release them. All right? And let them know, listen, you know, you're still under investigation and there might be some charges to come in the case.

BROWN: This as we're learning police continued to investigate an individual described in police records as an assistant and driver of Savvas Savapoulos, who allegedly help facilitate the money drop-off at the family home. According to court documents, the assistant changed his story about when his boss contacted him to pick up the $40,000, revised details about the car he had left the money in at the mansion and admitted he lied by not initially telling the police the cash was in a red bag.

HOUCK: There's no reason for somebody like that to lie. The detectives are taking a very close look at him to find out whether or not money was dropped off of not, going through all of his record to see if anyway he was somehow connected to Wint at all in this case.

BROWN: So far, no one else besides Daron Wint has been named as a suspect in the case.

CNN has learned after the murders in Washington, D.C., Wint allegedly took a bus to New York to stay with his girlfriend. Once he was publicly named as a suspect, Wint paid $1,000 to hire an Uber car service to drive him back to D.C., according to a law enforcement source.


BROWN: And the source I've been speaking with says that police have been in touch with that Uber driver.

Of course, it's really interesting, Jake, because as you know, Uber you usually have to have an account and purchase it on a credit card. So, we don't know whether he purchased it or someone he knew. He used their account. There's still a lot of unanswered questions about that particular aspect.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much for bringing us.

This just in, "The Associated Press" reporting that more than 100,000 taxpayers had their information hacked and stolen from the IRIS. The report says thieves used an online service provided by the agency, a system called Get Transcript as a backdoor to steal personal information, data ranging from names, addresses to Social Security numbers. The IRS told the Associated Press it shut down the service while it shores up its security. The agency also says it is notifying taxpayers whose information was compromised. We'll bring you more information on that story as we get.

Our world lead now, ISIS marched through Ramadi just last week and U.S. officials said the Iraqi forces did not put up much of a fight. But after being accused of running scared, the Iraqis now say they're on the verge of a turnaround and hours away from retaking Ramadi. Does the Pentagon believe them? That's next.