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President in New Orleans to Mark 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina; Police Found Evidence Roanoke Shooter was Planning to Escape. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 27, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now it's time to turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Getaway plan. We have new indications that the killer of two young journalists intended to escape. Police find multiple license plates, a wig, a shawl, and other materials suitable for disguises.
History of instability. What the killer's personnel files and own frenzied writings reveal about his troubled past, problems at work, run-ins with colleagues. And new information just in to CNN that he owned several gay porn web sites.
Unbearable grief. The father and boyfriend of slain reporter Alison Parker speaks out at a community -- as the community rallies around the colleagues of the murdered journalists.
And main event. As he surges ahead in the polls, Donald Trump campaigns in South Carolina, inviting an audience member to check out his hair.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All that coming up, but right now I want to go to New Orleans. President Obama is marking the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I want to listen in.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As soon as I land in New Orleans, first thing I do is get hungry. When I was here with the family a few years ago, I had a shrimp po'boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. I still remember it. That's how good it was. And one day after I leave office, maybe I'll finally hear a rebirth of the Maple Leaf on Tuesday night. I'll get a chance to see the Mardi Gras, and somebody tell me what carnival for? But right now, I just go to meetings.
I want to thank Michelle for the introduction, more importantly for the great work she's doing, what she symbolizes, what she represents in terms of the city bouncing back. I want to acknowledge a great friend and somebody who has been working
tirelessly on behalf of this city, and he's following a family legacy of service, your mayor, Mitch Landrieu. Proud of him. His beautiful wife, Cheryl.
Senator Bill Cassidy is here. Where did Senator Cassidy go? There he is.
Congressman Cedric Richmond. Where is Jonathan? There he is over there. We've got a lifelong champion of Louisiana in your former senator, Mary Landrieu in the house.
I want to acknowledge a great supporter to the efforts to recover and rebuild, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York, who has traveled down here with us.
To all the elected officials from Louisiana and Mississippi who are here today, thank you so much for your reception.
I'm here to talk about a specific recovery, but before I begin to talk just about New Orleans, I want to talk about America's recovery. Take a little moment of presidential privilege to talk about what's been happening in our economy.
This morning we learned that our economy grew at a stronger and more robust clip back in the spring than anybody knew at the time. The data always lags. We already knew that over the past 5 1/2 years our businesses have created 13 million new jobs. These -- these new numbers came out, showing that the economy was growing at a 3.7 percent clip, means that the United States of America remains an anchor of global strength and stability in the world, that we have recovered faster, more steadily, stronger than just about any economy after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
And it's importance for us to remember that strength.
It's been a volatile few weeks around the world. And there's been a lot of reports in the news, and stock markets swinging, and worries about China and about Europe.
[17:05:01] But the United States of America, for all challenges that we still have, continues to have the best cards. We've just got to play them right.
Our economy has been moving and continues to grow. And unemployment continues to come down, and our work is not yet done, but we have to have that sense of steadiness and vision and purpose in order to sustain this recovery so that it reaching everybody, and not just some. It's why we need to do everything we can in government to make sure our economy keeps growing. That requires Congress to protect our momentum, not kill it.
Congress is about to come back from a six-week recess. The deadline to fund the government is, as always, the end of September. And so I want everybody just to understand that Congress has about a month to pass a budget that helps our economy grow. Otherwise, we risk shutting down the government and services we all count on for the second time in two years. That would not be responsible. It does not have to happen. Congress needs to fund America in the way that invests in our growth and our security, and not cuts us off at the knees by locking in mindless austerity or short-sighted sequester cuts to our economy or our military. I've said I will veto a budget like that.
I think most Americans agree, we've got to invest in rather than cut things like military readiness, infrastructure, schools, public health, the research and development that keeps our companies on the cutting edge. That's what great nations do. That's what great nations do. You know, eventually we're going to do in anyway, so let's just do it without too much (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Let's do it without another round of threats to shut down the government. Let's not introduce unrelated partisan issues. Nobody gets to hold the American economy hostage over their own ideological demands.
You, the people who send us to Washington, expect better. Am I correct? So my message to Congress is, pass the budget, prevent a shutdown, don't wait until the last minute, don't worry our businesses or our workers by contributing unnecessarily to global uncertainty. Get it done, and keep the United States of America the anchor of global strength that we are and always should be.
Now, that's a process of national recovery that from coast to coast we've been going through. But there's been a specific process of recovery that is perhaps unique in my lifetime. Right here in the state of Louisiana, right here in New Orleans.
Not long ago, our gathering here in the lower nine probably would have seen unlikely, as I was flying here today with a home girl from Louisiana, Donna Brazile. She saved all the magazines, and she was whipping them out and one of them was a picture of the Lower Ninth right after the storm had happened. And the notion that there'd be anything left seemed unimaginable at the time.
Today this new community center centers stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city, the extraordinary resilience of its people, of the entire Gulf Coast and of the United States of America. You are an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand. And brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future.
That more than any other reason is why I've come back here today. Plus Mitch Landrieu asked me to.
It's been -- it's been ten years since Katrina hit. Devastating communities in Louisiana and Mississippi, across the Gulf Coast. In the days following its landfall, more than 1,800 of our fellow citizens -- men, women and children -- lost their lives. Some folks in this room may have lost a loved one in that storm.
[17:10:24] Thousands of people saw their homes destroyed, livelihoods wiped out, hopes and dreams shattered. Many scattered in an exodus to cities across the country. And too many still haven't returned. Those who stayed and lived through that epic struggle still feel the trauma sometimes of what happened.
As one woman from Chantilly (ph) recently wrote me, a deep part of the whole story is the grief. So there's grief then, and there's still some grief in our hearts.
Here in New Orleans, a city that embodies a celebration of life, suddenly seemed devoid of life. A place once defined by color and sound -- the second line down the street, the crawfish boils in backyards, the music always in the air -- suddenly was dark and silent. And the world watched in horror. We saw those rising waters drown the iconic streets of New Orleans, families stranded on rooftops, bodies in the streets, children crying, crowded in the Superdome. An American city dark and under water.
This was something that was supposed to never happen here. Maybe someplace else, but not here, not in America. We came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster, a failure of government to look out for its own citizens. And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades.
Because we came to understand that, like so many cities and communities across the country, had for too long been plagued by structural inequalities that left too many people, especially poor people, especially people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing. Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools, where few had a shot to break out of poverty.
And so, like a body weakened already, undernourished already when the storm hit, there's no resources to fall back on.
Shortly after I visited -- shortly after the storm I visited with folks, not here, because we couldn't distract local recovery efforts. Instead, I visited folks in a shelter in Houston, many of whom had been displaced. And one woman told me, "We had nothing before the hurricane, now we have less than nothing." We had nothing before the hurricane; now we have less than nothing.
And we acknowledge this loss and this pain, not to dwell on the past, not to -- not to wallow in grief. We do it to fortify our commitment and to bolster our hope. To understand what it is that we've learned and how far we've come, because this is a city that slowly, unmistakably, together is moving forward. Because the project of rebuilding here wasn't just to restore the city as it had been. It was to rebuild the city as it should be, a city where everyone, no matter what they look like, how much money they've got, where they come from, where they're born, has a chance to make it.
And I'm here to say that, on that larger project -- of a better, stronger, more just New Orleans -- the progress that you have made is remarkable. The progress you've made is remarkable.
[17:15:08] It's not to say things are perfect. Mitch would be the first one to say that. We know that African-Americans, and folks in hard-hit parishes like Plaquemines and St. Bernard, are less likely to feel like they've recovered. Certainly, we know violence still scars the lives of too many youth in this city.
As hard as rebuilding levees are, as hard as -- I agree with that, but I'll get to that. Thank you, ma'am. As hard as rebuilding levees is, as hard as rebuilding housing is, real change, real lasting structural change, that's even harder. And it takes courage to experiment with new ideas and change the old ways of doing things. That's hard. Getting it right and making sure that everybody is included and everybody has a fair shot at success, that takes time. That's not unique to New Orleans. We've got those challenges all across the country.
But I'm here to say -- I'm here to hold up a mirror and say, because of you, the people of New Orleans working together, this city is moving in the right direction, and I have never been more confident that together we will get to where we need to go.
You inspire me. Your efforts inspire me, and no matter how hard it's been and how hard and how long the road ahead might seem, you're working and building and striving for a better tomorrow. I see evidence of it all across this city.
And by the way, along the way, the people of New Orleans didn't just inspire me. You inspired all of America. Folks have been watching what's happened here, and they've seen a reflection of the very best of the American spirit.
As president, I've been proud to be your partner. Across the board I've made the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast a priority. I made promises when I was a senator that I'd help, and I've kept those promises.
We're cutting red tape to help you build back even stronger. We're taking the lessons we've learned here, we've applied them across the country, including places like New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
If Katrina was initially an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what's possible when government works together. State, local, community, everybody working together as true partners.
Together we've delivered resources to help Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida rebuild schools and hospitals, roads, police and fire stations; restore historic buildings and museums.
And we're building smarter: doing everything from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings, to improving drainage so that our communities are better prepared for the next storm.
Working together, we've transformed education in this city. Before the storms New Orleans' public schools were largely broken, leaving generations of low-income kids without a decent education.
Today, thanks to parents and educators, school leaders, nonprofits, we're seeing real gains in achievement with new schools, more resources to retain, and develop and support great teachers and principals.
We have data that shows before the storm, the high school graduation rate was 54 percent. Today, it's up to 73 percent. Before the storm, college enrollment was 37 percent. Today it's almost 60 percent. We still have a long way to go, but that is real progress. New Orleans is coming back better and stronger.
[17:20:00] Working together, we're providing housing assistance to more families today than before the storm, with new apartments and housing vouchers. And we will keep working until everybody who wants to come home can come home.
Together we're building a New Orleans that is as entrepreneurial as any place in the country, with a focus on expanding job opportunities and making sure that more people benefit from a growing economy here.
We're creating jobs to rebuild the city's transportation infrastructure, expanding training programs for industries like high- tech manufacturing, but also water management, because we've been building some good water management around here, and we want to make sure everybody has access to those good, well-paying jobs.
Small businesses like Michelle's are growing. It's small businesses like hers that are helping to fuel 65 straight months of private- sector job growth in America. That's the longest streak in American history.
Together we're doing more to make sure that everyone in this city has access to great health care. More folks have access to primary care at neighborhood clinics, so that they can get the preventive care that they need. We're building a brand-new V.A. medical center downtown, alongside a thriving biosciences corridor that's attracting new jobs and investment. We are working to make sure that we have additional mental health facilities across the city and across the country.
And more people have access to quality affordable health care, some of the more than 16 million Americans who gained health insurance over the past few years.
All of this progress is the result of the commitment and drive of the people of this region. I saw that spirit today. Mitch and I started walking around a little bit. Such a nice day outside.
And we went to Faubourg Lafitte, and we saw returning residents living in brand-new homes, mixed income, new homes near schools and clinics, and parks, childcare centers, more opportunities for working families.
We saw that spirit today at Willie Mae's Scotch House. After Katrina had destroyed that legendary restaurant, some of the best chefs from the country decided America could not afford to lose such an important place, so they came down here to help. Helped rebuild.
And I just sampled some of her fried chicken. It was really good. Although I did get a grease spot on my suit, but that's OK. If you come to New Orleans, and you don't have a grease spot somewhere, then you didn't -- you didn't enjoy the city. Just glad I didn't get it on my tie.
We all just heard that spirit of New Orleans, in the remarkable young people from Roots of Music. When the storm washed away a lot of middle school music programs, Roots of Music helped fill that gap. And today it's building the next generation of musical talent: the next Erma Thomas or the next Trombone Shorty or the next Dr. John. That's a Marsalis kid in here somewhere. How you doing?
And I saw it in the wonderful young men I met earlier, who were part of NOLA for Life, which is focused on reducing the number of murders in the city of New Orleans.
There's a program that works with the White House's My Brother's Keeper initiative to make sure that all young people, and particularly our boys and young men of color who so disproportionately are impacted by crimes and violence, had the opportunity to fulfill their full potential.
In fact, after the storm, this city became a laboratory for urban innovation across the board. We've been tackling with you, as a partner, all sorts of major challenges: fighting poverty, supporting our homeless veterans. And as a result, New Orleans has become a model for the nation as the first city, the first major city to end veterans' homelessness, which is a remarkable achievement.
[17:25:16] You're also becoming a model for the nation when it comes to disaster response and resilience. We learned lessons from Katrina. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed stricter standards, more advanced techniques for levees.
Here in Louisiana we built a $14 billion system of improved levees and pump stations and gates, a system that stood the test of Hurricane Isaac.
We've revamped FEMA. And I just have to say, by the way, there's a man named Craig Fugate who runs FEMA and has been doing extraordinary work, and his team all across the country, every time there's a disaster. I love me some Craig Fugate.
Although it's a little disturbing, you know, he gets excited when there are disasters. Because he gets restless if everything is just quiet. But we -- under his leadership we've revamped FEMA into a stronger, more efficient agency.
In fact, the whole federal government has gotten smarter at preventing and recovering from disasters, and serving as a better partner to local and state governments.
And as I'll talk about next week, when I visit Alaska, making our communities more resilient is going to be increasingly important, because we're going to see more extreme weather events as the result of climate change. Deeper droughts, deadlier wildfires, stronger storms.
That's why, in addition to things like new and better levees, we've always been investing and restoring wetlands and other natural systems that are just as critical for storm protection.
So we've made a lot of progress over the past ten years. You've made a lot of progress. That gives us hope, but it doesn't allow for complacency. It doesn't mean we can rest.
Our work here won't be done when almost 40 percent of children still live in poverty in this city. That's not a finished job. That's not a full recovery.
Our work won't be done when a typical black household earns half the income of white households in this city. The work is not done yet.
Our work is not done when there's still too many people who have yet to find good affordable housing, and too many people, especially African-American men, who can't find a job.
Not when there -- not when there's still too many people who haven't been able to come back home. Folks who around the country every day live the words sung by Louis Armstrong, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?"
But the thing is, the people in New Orleans, there's something in you guys that is just irrepressible. You have -- you guys have a way of making a way out of no way. You know the sun comes out after every storm. You've got hope. Especially your young people reflect hope.
Young people like Victor York Carter. Where's Victor? Victor York Carter. Stand up, Victor. I was just talking to victor. I had some lunch with him. Here's these fine young men that I just met with. Stand up, everybody. See, these are the guys who I ate chicken with. Really impressive. Have overcome more than their fair share of challenges. But are still focused on the future. Sit down; I don't want you to start getting embarrassed.
So I'll just give you one example. Victor grew up in the 8th Ward, gifted art student, loved math. He was 13 when Katrina hit. And he remembers waking up to what looked like something out of a disaster movie. He and his family waded across the city, towing his younger brother in a trash can to keep him afloat. They were eventually evacuated to Texas.
[17:30:02] Six months later they returned and the city was almost unrecognizable. Victor saw his peers struggling to cope. Many of them still traumatized, their lives still disordered, so he joined an organization called Rethink to help young people get more involved in rebuilding New Orleans.
And recently he finished a coding boot camp at Operation Spark. Today he's studying to earn a high-tech job, wants to introduce more young people to science and technology and civics so they have the tools to change the world.
And so Victor, and these young men that I just met with, they've overcome extraordinary odds. They've lived through more than most of us will ever have to endure. They've made --
OBAMA: They've made some mistakes along the way, but for all that they've been through, they have been just as determined to improve their own lives, to take responsibility for themselves, but also to try to see if they can help others along the way.
So when I talk to a young man like that, that gives me hope. It's still hard. I told them they can't get down on themselves. Tough stuff will happen along the way, but if they've come this far, they can keep on going. And Americans like you --
OBAMA: The people of New Orleans, young men like this, you're what recovery has been all about. You're why I'm confident that we can recover from crisis and start moving forward. You've helped this company recover from a crisis and helping move forward. You're the reason 13 million new jobs have been created. You're the reason the unemployment fell from 10 percent to 5.3. You're the reason that layoffs are near an all-time low. You're the reason the uninsured rate is at an all-time low, and the high school graduation rate is an all-time high and the deficit has been cut by two thirds, and two wars are over.
OBAMA: And -- and nearly 180,000 American troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have now gone down to 15,000. And a clean energy revolution is helping to save this planet.
You're the reason why justice is expanded and now we're focused on making sure that everybody is treated fairly under the law, and why people have the freedom to marry whoever they love from sea to shining sea. You know, I tell you.
OBAMA: We're moving into the next presidential cycle, and the next political season, and you will hear a lot of people telling you everything that's wrong with America. And that's OK. That's a proper part of our democracy. One of the things about America is we're never satisfied. We keep pushing forward. We keep asking questions. We keep challenging our government. We keep challenging our leaders. We keep looking for the next set of challenges to tackle.
We find what's wrong because we have confidence that we can fix it, but it's important that we remember what's right and what's good and what's hopeful about this country. It's worth remembering that for all the tragedy, for all the images of Katrina in those first few days, and those first few months, look at what's happened here?
It's worth remembering the thousands of Americans like Michelle and Victor, Miss Willie Mae, and the folks who rallied around her. Americans all across this country who, when they saw neighbors and friends, or strangers in need, came to help. And people who today still spend their time every day helping others, rolling up their sleeves, doing the hard work of changing this country without the need for credit or the need for glory.
Don't get their name in the papers. Don't see their day in the sun. Do it because it's right. These Americans live the basic values that define this country. Value that we've been reminded of in these past 10 years as we've come back from a crisis that changed this city, and an economic crisis that spread throughout the nation. The basic notion that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper, that we look out for each other and that we're all in this together.
[17:35:15] That's the story of New Orleans, but that's also the story of America, a city that for almost 300 years has been the gateway to America's soul. Where the jazz makes you cry, the funerals make you dance.
OBAMA: The bayou makes you believe all kinds of things.
OBAMA: A place that has always brought together people of all races and religions and languages, and everybody adds their culture and their flavor into this city's gumbo.
You remind our nation that for all of our differences, we're all in the same boat. We all share a similar destiny. If we stay focus on that common purpose, if we remember our responsibility to ourselves, but also our responsibilities and obligations to one another, we will not just rebuild this city, we will rebuild this country. We will make sure that not just these young men, but every child in America has a structure and support and love, the kind of nurturing that they need to succeed.
We'll leave behind a city and a nation that's worthy of generations to come. That's what you've gotten starting. Now we've got to finish the job.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless America.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama in New Orleans, on this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, offering a generally upbeat optimistic assessment on what's going on over the past 10 years in New Orleans and an upbeat assessment on what has been accomplished, he says, in the United States over the past 6 1/2 years under his presidency.
Tonight, by the way, a CNN SPECIAL REPORT takes an in depth look at the disaster, "KATRINA: THE STORM THAT NEVER STOPPED" airs later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. You'll want to see it, it's hosted by our own Anderson Cooper.
We'll have the breaking news coming up next. New indications that the killer of two journalists intended to escape. What police found in his car. Also other major news we're following, including Donald Trump talking
about everything from his hair to his rivals, to why he says he will win the Mexican vote. New polls show he is the clear frontrunner right now.
[17:42:29] BLITZER: We're getting some breaking news. New information about the man who murdered the two journalists during a live TV interview.
Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is standing by.
Pamela, what are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning some new clues about what the gunman planned to do after the shootings, after he murdered the news crew on live TV. A Glock pistol and ammo just the beginning of what was found in his car.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight new evidence 41-year-old Vester Flanagan seen here in a recent road rage incident, was attempting to escape. Police found disguises in his car when he pulled off the highway and shot himself. Court documents show Flanagan had a wig, shawl and sunglasses, along with multiple license plates, a to-do list and a bag full of random supplies.
JEFFREY MARKS, WDBJ GENERAL MANAGER: We are still at a loss.
BROWN: WDBJ's general manager says when Flanagan was fired in 2013, he threatened some of his former co-workers during a violent outburst, including photographer Adam Ward.
MARKS: The police arrived and escorted him from the building. On the way out he handed a wooden cross to the news director who was at the time Dan Dennison and he said you'll need this. He also made a derogatory comment to Adam Ward.
BROWN: Ward filmed the entire incident. Two years later, in a carefully orchestrated attack, Flanagan would return to film himself killing Ward, along with 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker during a live interview.
MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: He did not want the shooting to start until that live interview was happening because he wanted what he was going to do on live TV. And that tells me he was thinking strategically and he was thinking logically, and he was very committed to that plan.
BROWN: Flanagan apparently wrote a suicide note, detailing his grievances all the way back to first grade. He faxed 23 pages to ABC News two hours after the murders. In it he complained he's been, quote, "targeted his whole life by white females and black males," and cites seemingly innocuous comments as discriminatory such as "an intern asking where I would, quote, 'swing by,' for lunch."
O'TOOLE: The average person would not perceive those common everyday comments as insulting or injustices, but clearly, you know, he does. His belief system is so rigid, there would be no way that you could get through to him. No way.
BROWN: In the manifesto Flanagan never mentions his victims by names, but does named other killers he admires, including Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech University campus in 2007.
[17:45:10] He writes, "Cho was brilliant and smooth. We actually practiced at the same shooting range in Roanoke. My choice of Glock 19s was influenced by him."
O'TOOLE: We were very concerned that the Cho shooting took mass murder to a new level. And what we said when we saw that case unfold was, the next time something like this happens, the shooter is going to wear a camera on his head. That's what this guy did.
BROWN: Flanagan posted his shooting video online, and sent a flurry of tweets before police caught up with him.
During this morning's WDBJ broadcast the anchors paused this morning to remember their colleagues.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was yesterday around this time that we went live to Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward. Please join us now in a moment of silence.
BROWN: In an interview with CNN, Alison Parker's father said the grief is unbearable.
ANDY PARKER, FATHER OF ALISON PARKER: She would be texting me right now, saying, Dad, what did you think of my story? You know, what did you think of it? And I'm never going to hear that again. She was so loved by all, and you know, my heart is broken.
BROWN: A lot of people's hearts are broken over this. And Ward, by the way, was engaged to be married to a producer who was in the control room when the shooting happened. And he recently told her that he planned to get out of the news business and do something else -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Heartbreaking story indeed.
All right. Thanks very much, Pamela.
There's more breaking news just ahead. New details coming in of the crime, the gunman and the clues he left behind.
Plus Donald Trump seizing one of the latest campaign controversies, taking a direct swipe at one of his favorite targets.