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Police Searching for Motive; Weapons in Las Vegas Shooting; Victims At University Medical Center; Remembering Victims of Shooting; Family, Friends Remember Victims Of Shooting; Survivors Describe Chaos And Confusion. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 3, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The world is what we make it, Alisyn.

We'll keep covering this massacre here in Las Vegas. We are in continuing coverage. We're going to cover the president's trip to Puerto Rico.

So we have CNN "NEWSROOM" now picking it up with Poppy Harlow and John Berman. That's right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Now developments, new questions, but no answers. No answers as to why a 64-year-old gambler carried out the deadliest mass killing in modern U.S. history. And let's be clear about this, no answers will bring back the 59 lives lost to the hundreds and hundreds of lives scared forever.

This morning, we know at least 23 weapons were found in the 32nd floor suite of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Twenty-three. Another 19 guns discovered at the shooter's home in the town of Mesquite. Also ammonium nitrate, which can be used to make bombs, was found in his car.

HARLOW: And the toll of this entire tragedy now stands at 59 innocent lives cut short, more than 500 people wounded. Among those we remember this morning and will always remember, we want you to see these faces and always remember their names.

Neysa Tonks, a mother of three little boys, Kayden (ph), Braxton (ph) and Greyson (ph). Known for her laughter.

Sonny Melton of Tennessee, a registered nurse.

And special education teacher Sandra Casey, remembered for her sense of humor and her devotion to her students.

We will have much more on the victims straight ahead.

But, first, let's go to our Dan Simon. He is in Las Vegas with the latest on this investigation.

A lot has developed. We've learned a lot. But so many open questions still this morning, Dan, since we spoke yesterday. What can you tell us?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hey, Poppy and John.

I think what we can say is more than 24 hours since this took place, it's clear that there is no obvious motive. There is no criminal history to look at. According to his brother, there are no political ties, no religious ties. In fact, his only true passion appears to be gambling, high stakes poker here in Las Vegas. His brother also describing him as a multimillionaire and a real estate investor. So, obviously, investigators are going to be looking at the shooter's financial history to see if any clues can be gathered because at this point nothing has emerged.

BERMAN: And, Dan, what are we learning this morning about the weapons, all of them, more than 40 of them at this point.

SIMON: It's really incredible. We know that in the Mandalay Bay suite, 23 weapons were found, another 19 at his home in Mesquite. Just an amazing array of firepower.

We did speak to a gun store owner in Utah. Here's what he had to say about selling the shooter a firearm. Take a look.


CHRIS MICHEL, GUN STORE OWNER: He didn't set off any of my alarms. Anything that I felt like there's a problem in any way, shape or form with him. He was a normal, everyday guy that walks into my door 50,000 times a day.


SIMON: Well, we know that ten suitcases were brought up to the hotel suite. One of the questions that's been asked is, how did he get all of those weapons up to his room. At some point did he put a "do not disturb" sign on the door to avoid detection. When you talk about Las Vegas, obviously there are more security cameras here than probably anywhere in the world. Investigators are going to be looking at that footage. You cannot avoid them, whether it's at the check-in, whether it's in the elevator, whether it's in the casino. Investigators are going to be pouring over all of that surveillance video to see if any clues or information can be gleaned.

John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Dan Simon live for us in Las Vegas. Thank you for the reporting, Dan, we appreciate it.

President Trump, this morning, is on his way to Puerto Rico. But before he left the White House, he did speak briefly about the massacre in Las Vegas. Listen to the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in Las Vegas is in many ways a miracle. The police department has done such an incredible job. And we'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.

But I -- but I do have to say how quickly the police department was able to get in was really very much of a miracle. They've done an amazing job.


HARLOW: Praising the police department, saying we will speak about gun laws in due time. He did also weigh in on the shooter. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was a sick man. A demented man. A lot of problems, I guess. And we're looking into him very, very seriously. But we're dealing with a very, very sick individual.


BERMAN: All right, joining us now, Jonathan Wackrow, CNN law enforcement and former Secret Service agent for President Obama, and Anthony May, a security and explosives consultant.

Jonathan, you know, everyone's obsessed with this idea of a motive. Why did the killer do this? But before we even get there, there are key investigatory questions right now that haven't been answered, and beg (ph), asking, did anybody know? Did anybody see signs that this was happening? He had been planning this clearly for some time.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT: It's pre-attack indicators, pre-attack behavior is what investigators are looking for right now. They're going to look for the anomalies in his life. What we've heard thus far from his brothers, his neighbors, is that this was a good guy. This was a normal guy. He integrated into society, you know, very well. There was no outliers.

[09:05:13] But the reality is, is separate from that. I mean he brought all of these weapons to a hotel. He had weapons and explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition at his house. So the narrative is -- there's a delta in the narrative in reality. And that's what investigators are going to look at, why. They need to actually start looking forensically at his data, understanding, who was he communicating with, why? How was he getting information? For somebody that was purported to be not a gun guy, how did he modify these weapons to become fully automatic by modifying the weapon, as has been reported earlier?

So that's what investigators are going to start to, you know, really define, what is the baseline? What is the threshold that this individual's at to then further the investigation. HARLOW: Anthony, as someone who worked with ATF, just talk about the sophistication Jonathan brings up. It's not anyone who can just alter a rifle to make it automatic, right? It's not just anyone who can fire off those shots with that kind of rapidity out of two different angles at such a long range. What does that take, because all of the accounts, including his brother's, this isn't a gun guy, never talked about guns, knew nothing about guns. Is this possible with this kind of sophistication?

ANTHONY MAY, SECURITY AND EXPLOSIVES CONSULTANT: Well, I'm not sure if he knew nothing about guns. I mean apparently he was a gun collector. We're -- total count, 42 guns, and these are -- these are high-end guns, quality guns.

Now, the -- as far as modifying them, now, let's be clear, the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits machine guns, and the only modification to that was to 1986 by the Firearms Protection Act but still prohibits private citizens from owning an automatic weapon, which is what was appeared to have been fired from the audio that we've heard from the cell phone videos.

That type of weapon is not sold at a gun store. As that -- in your previous segment or -- a gun store owner was on there talking about that no alarm bells went off.

As far as converting those weapons, it's not difficult. There are conversion kits that are out there. There are things that could be -- like an autoseer (ph) for example on certain guns can be dropped in. It does take a little bit of knowledge to do that, however.

But as far as a gun store and the weapons that he was in possession of appear to be all legal weapons with the exception of the one that may have been modified. And the further forensic examination by that weapon, probably, hopefully, by ATF at their firearms technology branch will determine exactly how that firearm was modified. And from that will develop leads to take them back to who may have done that.

BERMAN: Jonathan, we're more than 24 hours now into the investigation. Where do you think it stands right now? What do you see as the priorities?

WACKROW: Well, the priorities are, you know, building that profile. Who really was this individual? You know, Anthony's point earlier was that, you know, it does take a little bit of knowledge to modify these weapons. How did he gain that knowledge? Was it just through a Google search? But I think it's more than that. Someone's got to show him.

There were people who are out there that, you know, were around him, around guns, that will point to the anomalies in his behavior over time. And again, we're not getting a lot of information purposely from the police department. Again, this investigation is really in its infancy. It's very complex. There's no glaring answer to motive, so this is going to take a little bit of time. And I appreciate the fact that they're not releasing a lot of information because disinformation in an investigation like this is the worst thing that could happen.

HARLOW: Yes, hugely problematic.

Anthony, I mean, you're also a security expert -- an explosives and security expert. What changes? Because this is a new kind of ambush, right, from above, from a far distance, didn't have to go through security checks to get into that hotel room. What changes now for security?

MAY: You know, this type of an event is very sad. And it's not the first. In Europe, a couple of months back, we had that concert where an individual walked into the concert and started shooting people as they were exiting.

You know, this is -- any public gathering now, and a security aspect, that needs to be looked at. Now, this was near a high-rise building, the hotel. Now, they typically -- and as your other guest there may be able to confirm, for presidential visits, which has a bomb technician, Army EOD, I worked those, we always watched out for those elevated positions and had counter snipers. At concert events now, the elevated position has to be looked at. These type of events, copycats are always happening.

[09:10:06] BERMAN: And they're going to be looking at that very closely, you can bet, over the coming days and weeks right now.


BERMAN: Because just that is always a concern, the copycats.

Jonathan Wackrow, Anthony May, thanks so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys.

Our Stephanie Elam is outside of the University Medical Center, where so many of the injured were taken.

Of course you had some who lost their lives, who are fighting to hang on to their lives, some who are still fighting to hang on to their lives this morning

Stephanie, what can you tell us?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Good morning, John.

Yes, I can tell you that here at this hospital where they've received 104 patients, that they did have four that passed away in route to the hospital. But the amazing thing is, this hospital, this level one trauma center, is so prepared and do so many drills here that they were -- never seen anything like it with the numbers that came in here, but they were prepared for it and they actually said that they have a 96 percent success rate if somebody walks -- or comes in the door -- I shouldn't say walks, but walks -- comes into the door alive, staying alive.

So right now they have 12 patients that are remaining in critical condition from this shooting event. We also know that there are two teenagers that are still inside the hospital here. It was all hands on deck. They said that they activated their calls to get everyone here, all of the surgeons, all the doctors, the nurses, the support staff so that they could be here to help as many people stay alive. And that was a key part of what they said, that response, the fact that they had trained for this as a county and that the hospitals throughout the area were all prepared to do that was really key. But this hospital here, a really big deal, because they are that level one trauma center.

BERMAN: All right, Stephanie Elam, thanks so much, in Nevada for us.

For 59 people, Sunday was supposed to be a night of music and fun. Instead, this morning, the friends and family honoring them. These are just some of the names and faces.

HARLOW: That's right, 59 people murdered senselessly. Among them, a registered nurse, whose wife credits him with saving her life, a kindergarten teacher from California, a Las Vegas mother of three little boys left behind.

Jason Carroll is with us to help us remember the victims and the lives they led.

It is too often that we sit up here and we show faces of innocent people gunned down in this country.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I remember doing it during Sandy Hook. You know, when -- whenever you see the names and the faces of these victims, that's when the magnitude of what happened I think really starts to hit home for a lot of people. Whether it be a husband who saved his wife by protecting her during the shooting, or a mother that lost her life while running to -- running away from the tragedy. It's all heartbreaking once you start to see the names and the faces of some of these people, these victims.

Rachel Parker, for example, worked at the Manhattan Beach Police Department for ten years. She was a police records technician who was off duty while at the concert with four other employees. The other employees were not hurt. Parker made it to the hospital but she died there from her injuries.

Next there was Neysa Tonks. She was 46 years old, from Utah and had moved to Las Vegas 10 years ago. Her brother said, quote, she was pretty much a single mother who raised three boys. She was a great mom, a great sister and a great friend.

And we also want to bring you Rhonda LeRocque. She was 41 years old. Her family describes her as one of the nicest people you will ever meet in your life. She attended the concert with her daughter and her husband, who were not hurt. Her family says people started running after the shooting and LeRocque was shot in the head. Her mother found the courage to speak about her daughter.


PRICILLA CHARRGANE (ph), MOTHER OF VEGAS SHOOTING VICTIM RHONDA LEROCQUE: She's the one who threw all the events and all the family gatherings and she was the hostess with the moistest and she was -- she was just beautiful inside and out. And she was -- she loved country music and she lived life to the fullest.


CARROLL: A lot of tears from a lot of families.

Angie Gomez, we want you to bring you her. She was a former cheerleader from Riverside Polytechnic High School. She graduated just two years ago. The school wrote, she will always be loved by our Poly family. One of her friends tweeted, my heart is in shambles. None of this feels real.

Then there was Sandra Casey. She was 35 years old. A middle school teacher, education teacher. Casey was an alumni of the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vermont, and Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her family is planning to set up a scholarship in her name.

And, finally, there was Sonny Melton. The 29 year old was from Big Sandy, Tennessee. He died protecting his wife from the bullets. He got on top of her to save her. His wife Heather said at this point I'm in complete disbelief and despair. Sonny was the most kind-hearted, loving man I have ever met. He saved my life and lost his. Melton was a registered nurse who worked at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee. The couple had just gotten married two years ago.

[09:15:07] Again, 59 lives lost. But once you see the names and the faces behind the number, that's when it really hits home.

BERMAN: And for every name there's a family, friends, and a community that mourns. There are thousands and thousands of people affected by this and hurting this morning.

CARROLL: Very much so.

HARLOW: Jason, thank you for helping us remember. The stories are also of survival and heroism that we saw are pouring in. Joining us the next, the woman who escaped with her 9-year-old son. They will be with us.

BERMAN: And the president is on his way to Puerto Rico this morning to survey the hurricane damage. Just one of the two major tragedies now facing his administration. We're in Puerto Rico with the latest.



HARLOW: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the massacre in Las Vegas. Our next guest and her 9-year-old son were at the concert. They were leaving the Route 91 Festival when these gunshots began. Like many others at the concert, they initially thought it was fireworks. The reality, the terror then set in and that's when they ran.

BERMAN: Joining us now from Las Vegas, Sheri Riggs and her son, Jayden. Good morning to both of you. Thank you so much for being with us. I am so glad you are together this morning. How are you doing? How are you holding up?

SHERI RIGGS, WITNESS WHO ATTENDED CONCERT WITH HER 9-YEAR-OLD SON: We're a little tired, but we are doing well. We are just very blessed we are safe.

HARLOW: Jayden, 9 years old, nobody should experience this, especially a child like you. How are you doing? You certainly have a brave mom.

JAYDEN RIGGS, WITNESS WHO ATTENDED CONCERT WITH HIS MOM: Well, I felt safe with her around because I know she would protect me and she loves me so she would protect me.

BERMAN: You are one lucky man, to be sure, to have a mother like Sheri. Tell us what happened. You were actually on your way out of the concert when the horror began.

SHERI RIGGS: Yes, this was the third night and we were actually with a couple of friends, another mother and her 8-year-old daughter. My son and her were playing and at the end of the night, Jason Aldean was on and Jayden fell asleep on my lap so I thought it was time to start heading towards the hotel.

So, I woke Jayden up and we were walking towards the exit gate, and we heard, like, tap, tap, tap, we thought it was fireworks. Some people who were walking around us, they said they were setting off fireworks, and we looked around and didn't see anything.

Then the rest of the gunshots started going off, and everybody was screaming around us, and I picked up Jayden in my arms and we ran across Las Vegas Boulevard and went into the Luxor first. We were just scared, but Jayden was crying because everybody was pushing and shoving and screaming through the doorways, and he started to get really scared.

So, I said let's sit down for a second and take a breath. I said if we panic something will happen. He kept saying, we can't go outside. They're going to hurt us. I said, we're going to be OK. All I could do is sit here and calm Jaden. I said we can get to the Mandalay from here, and we were staying on the 20th floor.

I told him we could get to the casino and get in our room and stay. We didn't know what was going on over there. We got to the Mandalay bay, we got into the casino floors, and the minute we got on to the casino floors, the cops and security guards come rushing through yelling we have to evacuate. We have to evacuate.

So, we were kind of hurried out the backdoor towards the convention center with other people. There was at one point where we had a sudden rush of people turn around and start running and screaming, so Jaden not knowing what was going on, he let go of my hand and he started running, which scared me half to death.

And I just grabbed him and I held on to him and I said just stay with me. As we stood there more cops came and that's what was scaring everybody, just the rush of everything. We actually were escorted off the property, and even a mile out when we were outside at a jack-in- the-box just waiting to hear if we could go back or what was happening.

So, at that point, it was almost 1:00 in the morning and we still didn't know anything. I just went into survival mode. I started calling local hotels and found a hotel we could stay at for the night, so very blessed we were safe.

HARLOW: Yes, very blessed. Sheri, what do you want people to remember and keep talking about when this is no longer in the headlines, when all the news cameras are not there, and when you are back home trying to work through what you went through, what do you hope the national conversation is?

SHERI RIGGS: You know, I hope -- I look at my son and we had this conversation last night. I said bad people, if they want to do something bad they will find a way to do it, but we can't live our lives stuck in a room or house waiting to see what happens.

We can go out and just live life and hope that we have a great mankind upon together. Jaden and I were blessed yesterday with people wanting to give us rides and to get us back to the hotel.

[09:25:11] So, there's an outpouring of people with good intentions. I am just afraid that we're getting too scared to enjoy it. I don't want my 9-year-old having to think he can't go outside and be safe.

BERMAN: No. That is no way to live. You know, Sheri, I am looking at you and thinking if I am in your shoes, I am not letting go of Jayden for weeks. I will keep my arm around him, and as close to you as he is right now as long as I possibly can. I just cannot imagine going through what you have been through. When are you going to go home?

SHERI RIGGS: Well, I was very lucky to hear this morning that they finally released our cars out of valet. As soon as we are done here, we are getting back in the car and driving back to California. Cannot wait to get home to our friends and family.

HARLOW: I bet you can't. Sheri, thank you so much. Jayden, is there anything else you want to say, buddy?

JAYDEN RIGGS: I am very blessed to be safe, yes, and happy my mom's here to protect me, and as long as we are with God and Jesus, we know we are safe.

BERMAN: I think you probably protected your mom through it all, too, Jayden. You seem like one brave kid. Thanks so much for being with us. Sheri and Jayden, you are amazing. Hang on tight.

HARLOW: All right. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)