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Twenty-Six Dead, Twenty Hurt in Texas Church Massacre; Trump: North Korea Is a 'Threat to the Civilized World'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 6, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[07:00:05] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers. You're watching NEW DAY. Alisyn is in New York, and we are in Sutherland Springs, Texas. You probably have never heard of this town. It's about 30 miles east of San Antonio. It's a faithful community, and it is in pain this morning.

Twenty-six people here murdered, 20 others hurt, a gunman opening fire with a military-style rifle at a Baptist church during Sunday services. Apparently, he would spare no one. A 5-year-old killed, a 72-year-old killed, 14-year-old daughter of the church's pastor killed, eight people from one family gone.

This is a small town. There are just a few hundred people here. Imagine the impact of just the numbers. Everybody knew somebody very intimately. Last night we saw a candlelight vigil. The victims were remembered. Just about everybody is affected by this.

What do we do? What does it mean? Those are the familiar questions, and they're just as frustrating this morning as ever.

Sources tell CNN that this murderer was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He'd been court-martialed five years ago for assaulting his wife and child, but somehow, he was still able to get a weapon.

Investigators say they don't know a motive. The president weighed in from his trip in Asia, saying that the man, to him, sizes up as somebody who was deranged and had mental health problems. He says that this situation is not about gun laws.

We have all the different aspects covered. Let's begin with CNN's Ed Lavandera, who's taken us through the facts as we understand them. And you've been raising one really troubling question, which is this guy is not from here. Why would he come to a place that's so small, so discreet? Investigators are on that.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. As investigators try to piece together the motive, they don't really fully understand what brought this gunman to this particular church in this small town, as you mentioned. He lives about 40 miles away in the town of New Braunfels, which is north of San Antonio. So the real question is, why would he drive all the way here and attack this particular church?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAVANDERA (voice-over): CNN is learning more about the man believed to have opened fire at this small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Law enforcement sources tell CNN the suspected killer is 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, who once served in the U.S. Air Force. Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and child. He served a year in prison. In 2014, Kelley was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state's history.

LAVANDERA: Police say the suspect began his rampage around 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Dressed in all black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, he began firing from outside the church during Sunday's service. He then entered the church and continued his assault, killing dozens.


LAVANDERA: This video taken last Sunday shows just how small the congregation is. The pastor's own 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy, is among the dead. Eight members of one family were also killed, including a pregnant mother.

At a nearby store, employees recalled hearing shots ring out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was semiautomatic fire. This was rapid fire. We were flabbergasted.

LAVANDERA: A law-enforcement official tells CNN that Kelley legally purchased the Ruger AR-style rifle used in the attack back in April of 2016. But when filling out the paperwork for his background check, Kelley indicated he didn't have any disqualifying criminal history. Police say a local resident confronted the gunman at the church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As he exited the church, a local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect. The suspect dropped his rifle and fled from the church.

LAVANDERA: The suspect fled the scene, but that resident and another man pursued him for 11 miles at high speeds.

JOHNNIE LANGENDORFF, PURSUED SHOOTING SUSPECT: The gentleman with the rifle came to my truck as the shooter took off, and he briefed me -- he briefed me quickly on what had just happened and said that we had to get him and so that's what I did.

LAVANDERA: Johnnie Langendorff says the suspect lost control of his vehicle, crashed on the side of the road, and that's where police found him dead, inside his car with a gunshot wound.

President Trump reacted to the massacre half a world away during a press conference with the Japanese prime minister.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This isn't a guns situation. Fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction. This is a mental health problem at the highest level.

LAVANDERA: Now this small, tight-knit community comes together to remember those killed and hurt in Sunday's carnage.

[07:05:05] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's so much love for one another. There's no room for hate.


LAVANDERA: And just before midnight last night, we witnessed a family walking across the street away from the church. They were distraught. We approached them and asked them what they were struggling with, what they were dealing with. They said that they -- their daughter was missing, that they had not heard about her nearly 12 hours after that.

The emotion in their face, Chris, really speaks to just what so many of these families are dealing with here this morning.

CUOMO: We're with a member of the community right now. Thank you very much. We have Kathleen Curnow here between me and Ed. She and her husband live right across the church, right across the street from the church. You heard the gunshots. Some of them made it to your property.


CUOMO: You're all right? Your husband's OK? How are you doing with what happened right across the street?

CURNOW: It was a rough night. You know, goes off once and had a nightmare, woke up hearing gunshots.

CUOMO: Look, we're not making it any easier for you.


CUOMO: There's so much light and sound going on here. You've got the chapel right across the street. You heard the gunshot.

CURNOW: We did. There were approximately four to five shots. I looked at my husband and said, "Really? Fireworks? It's Sunday."

And he turned and looked out the window immediately behind him, which faces the church, and he said, "There's a shooter at the church." So I grabbed his phone, headed to the other side of the house and, you know, called 911 and started giving information. And he's calling out license plate and, you know, telling them what's going on.

CUOMO: What did he see, your husband?

CURNOW: He saw the shooter walking up to the church and shooting the outside. The church has a kind of an "L" shape. And he walked to the door and around and down the "L," shot from the outside, came back to the vehicle, started to reload or that's what it appeared, gathering things out of his vehicle and went back up to the church. And that's when I saw the gathering of the vehicle, because I went back, I was trying to pull my husband away. And he was like, "I have to do this. I have to do this."

And so I saw that, and I had to turn away. I couldn't -- I couldn't watch it. And that's when he went -- he saw the gunman go back into the church and at that point, you know, the shots and everything just picked up, and it was horrifying.

CUOMO: Where did your husband go? What did he do?

CURNOW: He stayed there in the window. And I, you know, slid some binoculars across. I said, if you're going to get at least -- you know, these will help you.

And a friend of mine's off-duty for the county, and I called my friend and said, "This is what's going on. And she went into cop mode, I got the information after the 911 call. And I heard the shots sound closer and louder, but not as close to together. I got to my husband. He didn't hear me.

So I went running back to the house, thinking that he got shot. It was at that point that I realized that one of our neighbors, you know, was there and there was actually an exchange. Both of our vehicles got hit, the house got hit. You know, and our neighbor in my opinion, and from what I saw and what I know about the neighbor of 30 years, he -- you know, he stopped this. This would have been a lot worse.

CUOMO: I don't know how you could look at it in any other way. I mean, you know, by all accounts of people who have seen what happened and by his own to law enforcement, from what we're told, the murderer came back outside for some reason. And that's when they engaged. And the reporting is that the gunman wound up dropping his weapon, got in a vehicle to flee. And then other people saw him fleeing and chased him down until he eventually went off the road. And they don't know if he died from being hit by them or taking himself out. But if not for your neighbor, who knows what would have happened.

CURNOW: I know the neighbor took out one of his windows. Johnnie Langendorff was at the intersection. I don't know Mr. Langendorff. I know his truck. And I saw the neighbor leap from behind our truck, and the parts of that vehicle. And they left. As soon as that happened, my husband and I went outside, because you know, people were coming up to the church. And we didn't want anybody going in to see that, so we're trying to pull people away and get them away from the church and get them away until law enforcement could secure the scene.

CUOMO: Did you ever imagine what had happened in that church and how many people you would know?

CURNOW: I knew it was bad. My sister lives here. She works for the school district. I've raised both my kids in that house. I know a lot of people and a lot of people by association. And many of them were friends of my niece, who also went to church there many years ago. And it's -- this is two and three generations of two or three families are not with us anymore. CUOMO: One family lost eight. We heard about a mother who was killed

there with some of her kids. There was only one of them that wasn't there.

CURNOW: The one that wasn't there, the first responder brought her out, and she hid. They brought her to me, and they said immediately after we don't know, you know, can you just hold her for a minute?

[07:10:07] She had a bump on her head, was covered in, you know, blood. And I just tried to get her calm and, you know, clean her up. There was another bystander that was going to the church and caught a ricochet bullet from some of the gunfire. And so he had a, you know, small cut on his ankle. And so we were just kind of staging it so that, if people come out on their own or were brought out, and they were OK, luckily, for this little girl, one of her family members was still alive. Did come out. Her aunt was on her way to the church, as well.

So we were able to kind of stop and accidentally get the family together. But I will never forget those shots. That noise is not -- I've been raised around guns all my life. I will never forget how that sounded.

CUOMO: About 400, 500 people live here? What's your guess?

CURNOW: Six hundred is on a good day.

CUOMO: Six hundred.

CURNOW: You know, they had a Dollar General right down the street. How did we get that? You know, but--

CUOMO: But it matters in terms of, well, no matter where this happens, it's hit terribly in terms of its impact beyond even those directly affected. But here, there's not going to be anybody who didn't know someone who's not going to make it out of the service.

CURNOW: To give you this example, this Route 539, it's one of two roads that connects Floresville. This is the edge of the Floresville School District. People walked by. We were having this interview on my porch, and nothing was happening. And they could cross the street. Every other car, "Hey, how you doing?"

"Hey, how you doing?"

"Hey, how you doing?"

We know everybody. And when something's not right, we just come together, and you know, we try and figure it out. But it's very--

CUOMO: We saw it last night, but that's going to be the strength now, is that you do know each other. You do care about each other in a way that just goes beyond a name and a face. It's all family here now.

CURNOW: It is. It is. I mean, we do Girl Scout fundraisers. My daughter's in Girl Scouts at the church. And, you know, the pastor's kids would come over and always invite me to the fall festival. And you know, it was just--

CUOMO: Did you know his 14-year-old? Pastor Pomeroy's daughter?

CURNOW: Not very well. But I had met her, you know, several times during, you know, the course of the year. They were very respectful with their ministry: "Do you have a minute for the word of God?"

"You know what? I'm a little bit busy, if you can come back."

"Sure, no problem."

You know, they were -- they were -- they weren't pushy. And they were very good and very accepting. There was a food pantry that they started. They were very active in the community. If there was a problem at the church when the church was closed, you know, the entire community has the cell phone number. So you know, maybe there's somebody there. You know, we're not sure. Right down to my FedEx packages ended up in the church and vice versa. So we just -- I can't imagine what Mr. Pomeroy and his family is going through right now, as well as the rest of the families.

CUOMO: And the rest of this community. Kathleen, thank you for telling us about what makes this place special. Because it's not going to be defined by this one day. It will be defined by how you guys come through it together. Thank you. The best to you and your husband.

All right. So as Kathleen had to live through, and as we have all seen together, in the last five weeks, we've seen two mass shootings in America: Vegas, of course, and here now in Texas.

And in between them, we had a terror attack that was the deadliest in New York City since 9/11. If you put them together, 90 plus 92 lives lost, 500 hurt by a violence that increasingly seems unique to our culture.

Let's bring in our panel: CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano, and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. Gentle -- gentlemen, once again, I'm relying on you both during the worst of circumstances to help us understand what it means to investigators and how we move forward.

James, motive. We never got word on it out of Vegas. We were standing should to shoulder there. They're looking for it here. We do see a couple of unique characteristics about this man and how they'll play into the investigation. Tee them up for us.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. Well, first of all, Chris, establishing motive. People ask all the time why in the wake of these senseless tragedies is that so important?

First and foremost, you want to make sure that there are no other imminent threats. And those are established when you find out there was a conspiracy. Did the killer meet with somebody prior to this? Did anybody support him, give him some type of aide? Sometimes that support can be unwitting. The second thing, Chris, that I see here, and it's such a stark point, is inconsistency. How is that you can have a prohibition on somebody that has a felony conviction from being able to purchase a weapon and even people with a misdemeanor conviction, if there's violence that attaches to that misdemeanor?

Yet in this instance, the subject did not have a dishonorable discharge. He had the next -- next one, just up a bit, just north of that. Which is another punitive measure. It's either a general or special court martial, but he got a bad conduct discharge. That does not preclude you from buying a weapon legally in this country. That's the inconsistency.

How in the legislative process have we not been able to marry up the uniform code of military justice and the standards we have in the military with their separation? This guy left under bad conduct discharge. And then the court system and how we apply that to everyone else.

I encourage folks to go to On that web site, there are a list of the reasons that preclude people from being able to purchase a rifle or a handgun. And in this instance, from what we can tell right now, nothing precluded the subject from being able to get his hands on that Ruger AR -- Ruger AR rifle.

CUOMO: Phil, let's bring you in here. Two -- two aspects that I want you to speak to. One is, they have a unique piece of evidence that they're going to be referring to here. We know that this church had a tendency to put its services on YouTube, to video them.

Is that helpful to investigators, or is it just a reminder of just one of the worst scenes that you ever want to see in your life?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it is helpful. When you look at even the past hour since the incident, if you're investigating this, you've got to look at things like what was in his apartment or home? Did he have a laptop that showed he was looking at that YouTube video? What was he searching? What was his Google search record?

We're also, even overnight, going to start the interview process. The problem in these cases, Chris, the same problem we saw in Las Vegas, if this individual is operating based on something that's going on inside his head, if he's not showing any exterior sort of characteristics that suggest he's going to commit this act, one person who doesn't make a mistake, it's really hard to figure out how their thought process is changing so they decide that killing dozens of people is appropriate.

CUOMO: Well, look, and that takes us into way bigger concerns that we'll take care of in this interview today. I mean, there are cultural questions that just matter that we avoid or we just don't have good answers to.

One of the things that winds up being prickly here is how we define it. People will say, "Well, when the brown guy did it in New York City, it's terror, but when the white guy does it, it's not."

People misunderstand, I think, the legally -- the contextual relationship between the word "terrorism" and investigations. I've asked you before. I'm asking you again now. What does it take for something to be terror to investigators?

MUDD: Pretty straightforward. If he's motivated by a political motivation. That is he's protesting, for example, U.S. engagement in Iraq or Syria, he's protesting racial issues in the United States which is political, that goes into terrorism. If he's simply angry because of something that's happened in his life, maybe similar to what we saw in Las Vegas, that's not terror. That's simple violence, and that's insanity. I'm guessing in this case we're going to find that he, as the president suggested, had some mental health issues. That doesn't necessarily take me to terror.

CUOMO: I mean, there are people, I think, confused who does it with why they do it. And you guys are focused on why it's done and how can you make that manifest in terms of agenda.

James, let me bounce it back to you for a final point. You're the professor on the panel. This is happening more. When you look at the list of these, yes, they're a small, small percentage of overall gun violence, but they're happening more and the most deadly ones that we've had in modern history have happened over the last decade.

Do you believe that that is an coincidence or do you believe that there is a trend that we have to examine?

GAGLIANO: Chris, if you look at the statistics, you look at this statistically, we look at August 1, 1966, the Charles Whitman University of Texas clock tower shooting, where I believe 15 people ended up dying from the Texas clock tower shooter.

We look at that from a law enforcement perspective as the first of these active shooter situations. And then you even go back just eight years ago, November 5, eight years to the day you had the Fort Hood shooting. Thirteen people killed there. So in those two shootings, roughly the equivalent of what this gunman was able to do with the Ruger AR-556.

Does it appear that this is happening more often? Sure it does. I mean, is there more coverage of it? Are we more aware of it? Absolutely. These events have happened before. You get an evil, depraved person. Something happened that triggered this guy. What triggered him?

And Chris, he was court-martialed three years ago. He served a year in the brig for laying his hands on his wife and his child. But then was it three years before he came up with this idea to do this? What happened in between? Is there a screed or a manifesto that we're going to be able to find on Facebook or in social media or inside his domicile? Hopefully, we'll have some answers here soon, because we don't have any right now.

CUOMO: Gentlemen, thank you. Coming up in the next hour, we're going to have Texas's governor. Greg Abbott is going to come on. He raced down here. He was in the community last night. He put his arms around it. It meant a lot to people. What does he see his job being in this situation, going forward -- Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. Lots of other important news. We'll get back to you shortly.

[07:20:00] President Trump says he is monitoring the Texas church massacre while he's on his five-nation Asia trip. This morning, he's wrapping up his visit to Japan with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where North Korea, as you can imagine, was a big topic of discussion.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is traveling with the president. He joins us now from Tokyo. So how is it going over there, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Actually, at this hour here, this evening in Tokyo, the president is at a state banquet with the Japanese prime minister here. He is forging that relationship here, of course.

But the second day of his visit, of course, overtaken, overshadowed by some degree by that shooting in Texas. But the administration said the president is keeping his schedule, keeping that focus here on North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The era of strategic patience is over.

ZELENY: President Trump delivering a stern message to North Korea.

TRUMP: Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong. But look what's happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now.

ZELENY: Defending his fiery threats against Kim Jong-un as he opened a diplomatic marathon through Asian capitals, anxious over Pyongyang's nuclear threat. The president trying to sell Japan on the plan to bolster its self-defenses.

TRUMP: He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States.

ZELENY: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreeing, saying it's not time for talks with North Korea, instead announcing a new plan for sanctions against the rogue regime.

After meeting the families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents, President Trump expressed hope the standoff can end peacefully.

TRUMP: They would send them back. I think would be the start of something, I think would be just something very special.

ZELENY: Amid somber themes, the two leaders also managed to look upbeat. They lunched on hamburgers, played nine holes of golf, and fed koi fish at the Akasaka Palace. Despite the friendly photo ops, though, signs of tensions emerged over trade, Mr. Trump insisting any deal with Japan be free, fair and reciprocal.

TRUMP: We built one of the world's most powerful economies. I don't know if it's as good as ours. I think not. OK? And we're going to try to keep it that way, but you'll be second.

ZELENY: President Trump heads next to Seoul, 35 miles from the North Korean border. He will also stop in China, at Vietnam and the Philippines. The president is touring the continent as he faces record low approval ratings back home. A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of how he's handling the presidency.


ZELENY: There's no question the White House hopes that his handling of foreign policy here helps lift those approval ratings, but there's one other meeting on the agenda that we're learning about that's coming later this week, Alisyn, that's certainly going to be interesting. The president said he does intend to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam, an economic summit that begins later in this week.

Of course, Russia still hanging over so much of what's going on back in Washington at the White House with those investigations here. The White House is trying to keep the focus on North Korea, on other matters, but that meeting on Thursday, Alisyn, will be one to watch.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jeff, thank you very much for the update from Tokyo for us.

So this morning we're reporting on another mass shooting. In just five weeks, three attacks have claimed the lives of dozens of innocent people. Will Congress do anything about this? We ask Senator Jeff Flake next.


[07:27:42] CAMEROTA: In the past five weeks, three acts of mass murder have shaken America. Two mass shootings and a terror attack have left 92 Americans dead and more than 500 injured. President Trump says the latest attack was a mental health issue, not a gun issue. So what will Congress do about that? Republican Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona joins us now. He's the author of "Conscience of a Conservative," and he recently announced his retirement from the Senate.

Good to have you here, Senator.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Thanks for having me on. CAMEROTA: Twenty-six people killed, 20 injured while they were at a

Sunday church service. Has Congress just sort of decided that this is the cost of living in the United States, in a country with 270 million guns on the street?

FLAKE: You know, I don't know. We haven't fully found out the information from yesterday, and what it means and where we can make an impact.

I do think that in this case, I think what will come to light is we need better information sharing, if nothing else, in terms of criminal convictions or background check issues.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean--

FLAKE: We don't have a good system now. The mixed system. We don't share information like we should between local and federal agencies.

CAMEROTA: This guy did a year in jail for assault of his wife and child. He was kicked out of military service as a result.

FLAKE: Right.

CAMEROTA: How could this guy get a gun?

FLAKE: Yes, that -- I mean, we'll be exploring that, I'm sure.

I come from a small town. I went to a church service yesterday. And to think that something like this could happen, you know, where I grew up--

CAMEROTA: It could happen anywhere. This is what's happening now. I mean, look at Charleston. Look at what happened in that church service. Look at what happened to you. You were playing baseball in Virginia in the morning with your colleagues, and a gunman opened fire. I mean, do you have a feeling of enough is enough?

FLAKE: Certainly, yes. There's no way you can experience something like that and see bullets pitching right in front of you and not figure, you know, what can we do? We've got to do something more.

CAMEROTA: But why doesn't it seem that Congress ever does anything? What happens with bump stocks, for instance?

FLAKE: It's not just Congress. We have to have a change in attitude and behavior. This person who fired on the baseball field, he had a legally, you know, possessed weapon and he wouldn't have shown up on anything. So sometimes there are things that would matter in terms what Congress does.