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17 Killed in Florida High School Shooting; Shooter Bought Gun Legally. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 15, 2018 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:58:55] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, February 15. Chris is in New York. I am in Parkland, Florida. This, of course, the scene of the latest school shooting. This is a city in mourning.

This is the site of the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since Sandy Hook, which of course we all remember in Newtown, Connecticut. That was more than five years ago.

So police say this heavily armed young man stormed into his former high school, from which he was expelled. The high school's right behind me. He opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, and he turned his school into a war zone.

Here's where things stand at this hour. Police say 17 people were killed in and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. None of the victims have been named as of this hour, because authorities are still trying to notify their families. Some of these students didn't have identification on them.

So at least 15 others are hospitalized, five of them with life- threatening injuries. We're waiting to see what their condition is this morning.

And in just hours, this 19-year-old suspect will make his first court appearance. He is -- he's been transferred to the Broward County jail. You're going to see new video right here. This is him in the wee hours of the morning being transferred. As you can see, he's in hand cuffs, and he's being walked in. These are the first shots that we have of him in custody.

Investigators already finding disturbing social media posts from this suspected killer. As CNN learns that he was -- he was getting treatment at a mental health clinic. And he legally purchased the AR- 15 that he used in this massacre. So, again, we're seeing the nexus of mental health and ability to get weapons.

So this attack, of course, is reviving the gun violence debate. Can Congress do something this time to stop this carnage in schools?

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Rosa Flores. She is here in Parkland, Florida -- Rosa. ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

As you mentioned, we've learned that the suspect will be facing a judge in bond court later today. Meanwhile, in the school that you see behind me, investigators scouring, processing the scene and also reliving the horrors of this gunman and what he left behind.




FLORES (voice-over): Terrifying moments unfolding inside this Florida high school. A gunman brandishing an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon, opening fire, killing at least 17.

AIDAN MINALT, FRESHMAN: There were tears. There was crying. Some of my classmates did not know if they were leaving the school alive.

FLORES: The chaos erupting minutes before the end of the school day when the fire alarm sounded.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: The shooter wore a gas mask, and he had smoke grenades. He went and set off the fire alarm so the kids would come pouring out of the classrooms into the hall. There the carnage began.

FLORES: Students and teachers confused because only hours earlier they had done a fire drill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone thought it was a joke, and then the game shots came about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard screaming. I heard about five, six gunshots. We thought they were firecrackers.

FLORES: Faculty quickly alerting the school that an active shooting was under way. Some students running for their lives, others hiding under desks sending frantic text messages to their loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via phone): She said at 2:38, "Tell them someone is hurt on the third floor of the 1200 building. We can hear him crying and praying."

FLORES: One teacher hiding with 19 students inside a closet for nearly an hour.

GABRIELLA FIGUEROA, STUDENT: I was just praying, praying, praying. It was the most scariest experience of my life.

FLORES: Police desperately attempting to locate the shooter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): Does he know where the shooter is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): We don't know, but we're already in the building.

FLORES: This video shows students huddling on the floor when the SWAT team arrives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise your hands, raise your hands. Police, police.

FLORES: Outside, first responders rushing to help the injured while anxious parents waited to be reunited with their children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said, "Mom, it was real. It was really real."

FLORES: Over an hour after the shooting began, police arrested the suspect in a neighboring city after he fled the scene by trying to blend in with the crowd. The 19-year-old former student had been expelled for disciplinary reasons.

BRANDON MINOFF, STUDENT WHO KNEW SUSPECT: He told me how he got kicked out of two private schools. He was held back twice. He had aspirations to join the military. He enjoyed hunting. He always just seemed very quiet and strange.

FLORES: Investigators now looking for answers in the suspect's online posts. Police uncovering these disturbing images of the suspect on Instagram, showing him brandishing a knife and holding what appears to be a B.B. gun. In another photo, a target riddled with bullet holes.


FLORES: Now, it could take investigators days to process this scene, Alisyn. Think about this. According to the sheriff, this crime scene begins outside of the school. The first body was found by the street. As these investigators move forward, they found two bodies outside the building. Of course we know that 12 others were found inside -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Yes, Rosa. Because this school had something unique, where it had these outdoor hallways where kid would change classes. So it was sort of outdoor-indoor, and of course, that makes the crime scene just as complicated as possible. Rosa, thank you for all that.

Let's turn to CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey. So Commissioner, thank you so much for being with us.


CAMEROTA: The investigators now have to look for signs. That's where we start. They start figuring out were there any signs? Were there red flags that were missed? Who is this suspect? What did he -- you know, what trail of bread crumbs did he leave? And guess what? There were signs.

[06:05:07] RAMSEY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) At this point in the investigation, he's alive. So they can interrogate him to get information. He's left a digital footprint through social media. CAMEROTA: He left a big digital footprint. Listen, this guy had all

sorts of disturbing posts. He said online, like, "I want to use my AR-15 to kill people."

RAMSEY: Someone had to know something. I mean, you don't post these things to read it yourself. The question is who knew what, when and could something have been avoided? Obviously, that's an important point.

CAMEROTA: But doesn't that lead us to the background check? As far as we understand this suspect legally purchased his AR-15. He passed a background check a year ago. So are background checks not looking into social media?

RAMSEY: I don't believe they look into social media at this point in time.

CAMEROTA: How is that possible?

RAMSEY: Well, maybe they need to. But again, it's what's practical and what's required by law. And so it was too easy for people to get their hands on assault weapons and other types of weapons.

CAMEROTA: I mean, listen, this guy was all over social media. He had YouTube videos. He had postings of disturbing violent things. He took pictures of himself brandishing weapons.

I mean, are you saying that, in order to get a gun in Florida, whoever approves the background checks don't have to look into somebody's digital footprint?

RAMSEY: I can't say with 100 percent certainty, but I don't believe so. I don't believe so. Now, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't. That doesn't mean in the future we shouldn't rethink exactly what goes into a background check.

But the bottom line is too easy for people to be able to purchase weapons, especially assault weapons. What does an 18- or 19-year-old need with an assault weapon anyway?

CAMEROTA: Multiple magazines. I mean, you know, look, some of this ammunition can be bought online. You know all about this. And so I know that you -- I mean, I've heard you talking that you don't have much faith that lawmakers can do anything about this. But that doesn't seem possible. Surely there must be something we can do to protect our teenagers in high school.

RAMSEY: Well, there's something we can do. But to rely on Congress to do it, we're not going to get anywhere with that. I have zero confidence that they're going to do anything. If Sandy Hook didn't move the needle at all, then there's no way I think this is going to move the needle. And it's going to happen again. This is not going to be the last school shooting or mass shooting that we're going to have to deal with. It's just not going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Can you tell us what was happening with investigators and policemen? They showed up on this scene, right? It's chaos, of course. So they get -- they get the call of shots fired at a school. They have to figure out where the gunman is, if there's still an active shooter. And there was chaos and confusion, of course. We have some of the kids who were in school who hid, you know, in a closet the better part of two hours. So just explain to us what happens when police get this call.

RAMSEY: Well, police departments across the country have gone through active shooter training. We learned in Columbine we cannot wait for SWAT to arrive, because while we're waiting, people are dying.

So the first officers on the scene form up teams, and they go in and they try to neutralize the threat.

There are three things that people need to do if they're in a situation like that. The first is run if you can. Get out of there. The second is hide, barricade. If you're in there for two hours, three hours, so what? If you survive, you survive.

And the last is to fight. Fight for your life, because that's literally what you're doing.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Commissioner, isn't this just a little sick that this is the advice that we're giving to all of the students in our schools across our country? We're telling them to run like hell. We're telling them to hide. We're telling them to fight if they can. I mean, this is not what high school was designed for. And you know, this campus, as I said, was sort of this indoor, outdoor open campus. You're looking at the video of how terrorized these kids were. Because they thought that they were just going to school in this day. And then there's this cell phone video of everything that transpired in their classrooms.

RAMSEY: It's not just a little sick. It's very sick. But it's the reality of where we are in our society right now. And until we stand up and do something about it, it is not going to change. The only question is when and where it's going to happen again.

CAMEROTA: We can hear -- there's actually some video taken -- look, all kids have cell phones now. So there's really horrible video from inside the school. And this is the video where you can hear, actually, the audio of the AR-15 firing. So let's listen to this.









CAMEROTA: OK. All right. Listen, it's too horrible. I mean, it's just too horrible to actually try to process. You could hear those kids trying to process it, not knowing what's happening, just blood- curdling screams. That was inside a classroom.

[06:10:09] So, you know, I mean, I know that you say that there are some answers. What is that? Having metal detectors at schools? What would you do? If you were in charge, what is the next thing to do to keep kids from having to endure this horror?

RAMSEY: Well, there has to be a strong stand. Pass some kind of legislation and enforce it. In order to make it difficult for people that are suffering from mental illness or having some other types of issues. I mean, think about it. You can be on the no-fly list and go out and buy a gun. That is absolutely insane. There is legislation right now floating around in Congress that will make it easy to purchase silencers.

Now, look at that video and think what it would be like if that individual had a silencer on that weapon and how long it would take for kids to react and even know what's going on. How many more lives would have been lost?

I mean, something that's just -- to me it's insane that you would even think about doing something like that. Yet that's reality in our society today. It's got to stop. And the only way it's going to stop is if Americans stand up and say, "Enough is enough. You legislators, we did not put you here to do this, and you're going to have to do something." But guess what? I don't think it's going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Look, after every one of these, we have this same conversation. It's this hideous deja vu all over again. After Las Vegas, we talked about the bump stocks, that device, easily purchased, that can turn a semiautomatic into an automatic weapon. And still, Congress was dragging their feet and not figuring out what to do about that.

But to your point about the mental health component, we know that this suspect did have some sort of mental health issue. He was in a mental health facility of some kind. How can they not figure out the nexus between them -- if you're in a mental health facility, you shouldn't own guns.

RAMSEY: Well, there are too many gaps in the system. I mean, he legally purchased the gun. It's not like he bought it off the street.

CAMEROTA: But do they ask -- when he legally purchased this gun, what's the mental health clearance that you have to go through?

RAMSEY: But that's my point. Mean, he legally purchased. So it's not as if nobody knew he had a gun. He's undergoing mental health treatment. We've got to find a way to be able to protect privacy to an extent.

But at the same time, make sure this is a person who right now should not have access to this kind of weapon. Maybe a year from now, or two years from now, maybe that's OK, but not now.

CAMEROTA: OK. Commissioner Ramsey, thank you very much. Obviously, we'll be calling on you throughout this whole morning. So thank you so much for being here.

So, Chris, listen, if you can hear my frustration, you and I have been here too many times before. Obviously, it's a different town with a different name. This one is Parkland. It's a different school. But there are 17 families that won't be getting their loved ones back or ever seeing their loved ones again.

And we ask the same questions, and we always say how can this happen and what can we do? And obviously, today, the challenge for you and I will be to get different answers out of people in power -- Chris.

CUOMO: Maybe, maybe not. I think at this point, you know, the job is what you're doing right now. You're there. You're letting know -- people know what matters about what happened. What happens after this is a much tougher part of the conversation.

Because the ultimate frustration is we never get to step one. Step one after any kind of crisis is what do you do about the crisis? We have never had that question meaningfully addressed in this country in my time. And I don't think there's anybody here who's been to more of these shootings than I have. What do we do about the shootings? Charles Ramsey said it. You'll hear isolated politicians say it. But we have never had meaningful consensus on the fundamental proposition of wanting change. So what can change, if there is no energy in that area, Alisyn? That's the frustration.

CAMEROTA: Listen, I mean, obviously you know. We've asked all sorts of lawmakers to come on today to do have a conversation. You know that there are always lawmakers who say, "Too soon. Too soon." It's not, you know, sort of courteous or respectful. We're going to have that conversation today.

CUOMO: And also, you know, look, you can call it out as what it is. That's B.S. Right? We heard it after Vegas. Bump stock, an obvious fix. Charles Ramsey was talking about the application of silencers and what difference, God forbid. This young man had had one of those on his weapon. It was too soon.

Have we ever discussed it since? Never.

But you're doing what we need to have done, Alisyn. You're in the right place at the right time. And we'll be back to you in just a second.

So, look, you've seen this picture before. You've seen schools like this before. You've heard the thoughts and prayers stuff before. You've seen the families. So what happens? Why did this guy do it? We're not going to name him. Now it's an official rule. Why? There's no good reason to name who commits these acts.

Figuring out how it could have been prevented, that's a meaningful conversation. In this case maybe, maybe it presents so many glaring missed opportunities that maybe somebody of conscience somewhere with power will decide to act. We'll tell you why that's such an obvious choice next.


[06:18:59] CAMEROTA: OK. Just hours from now the 19-year-old suspect in the Florida school massacre will be in court. And investigators are now combing through his social media accounts for clues, and there are a lot of them.

We know the alleged gunman was expelled from the school you see behind me, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, last year for disciplinary reasons. And we know more, as well. Let's bring in Jessica Schneider for the latest on the investigation -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, the gunman was taken into custody outside the school. And we are told this morning that he has been talking to investigators.

You know, besides what they're learning directly from the gunman, officials have searched many things, including gun records and also social media for some clues here.

So a U.S. official tells us that the shooter did purchase that AR-15 himself sometime in the past year. And he did pass the background check to purchase that weapon. But the warning signs were definitely there on a variety of social media posts.

We've seen on his Instagram page, the gunman posted a photo of a shotgun. In another, he's shown brandishing a pistol which appears to be a B.B. gun. And then of course, there are these threatening comments that he's posted under videos on YouTube. They include, "I whana shoot people with my AR-15," "I wanna die fighting killing bleep ton of people," "I'm going to kill law enforcement one day. They go after the good people."

[06:20:17] We're also learning that the adopted family of the gunman is cooperating with investigators. We know that the shooter's mother died last November from the flu. That turned in pneumonia. His father died about 14 years ago.

So investigators this morning piecing together some of these details from social media. Also from the gun records, that this gunman did purchase this AR-15. And we do see there that he was taken into custody. We know he is talking with investigators.

And, Chris, this morning we have learned that the gunman has been transferred to county jail. We know that he will make an appearance in court a little bit later this morning -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Appreciate it, Jessica. It's almost always obvious in retrospect. And again, the frustration, the pain ends up being, why isn't anything done to make it different the next time? And we have this conversation for the people who were affected most and the people who may be in the future. Those are the groups to protect.

Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analysts James Gagliano and Jonathan Wackrow. Let's bring people in on the conversation we were talking. We were watching the coverage. Did any other -- and tell me if I'm wrong. In any other type of criminal event, in the aftermath, the immediate assessment is why did this happen? And then, what do we do the next time?

Look at terrorism. Jimmy: "Oh, the guy drove a car. How did he get that car on the sidewalk?" We deal with barriers. And they bought these kinds of materials. How do you get those kinds? We have to deal with that. And how did this person get in the country. We have to deal with that. Not here. Not a word. You and I have started becoming tragedy buddies on these. What's the difference?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Chris, I look at this from a military perspective. There's the tactical level and the strategic level. On the law enforcement end, we do a pretty good job in the after-action review process of figuring out the nuts and the bolts and mechanics how to deal with this?

April of 1999, Columbine. We adjusted. We adjusted our tactics. We realized that going to the sound of guns was what we had to do immediately to interdict the shooter instead of waiting for the perfect law enforcement plan.

The problem is, at the strategic level, which you're talking about, which involves politics and which involves a lot of other things, the problem there is we have two diametrically opposed positions in this country. And if you put the word "gun" and "control" in the same sentence, you have now caused people to retreat to those two opposing corners.

CUOMO: OK, we know that, but I can't believe that it's the end of the discussion. You know, it's the only situation I can think of where we are not at a consensus of wanting to stop the next one. We have a president right now who has hashtagged "#MakeAmericaGreatAgain." I don't think America rates higher on the ugly distinction list in any other category than it does with school shootings. How is this not part of "Make America Great Again"? And yet, Jonathan, I don't think there's any conversation that starts.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Chris, what's resonating on right now in the conversation we just had is complacency kills. We have been complacent on dealing with this issue.

Jimmy, to your point, gun and control, it's like jumping on the third rail of a subway. Nothing good is going to come out of it. People don't want to engage.

CUOMO: It's also not the only issue. Let's look at what we know in this one. OK, so he was all over social media saying horrible things. You can't do anything about that. Well, if you see something, say something. You call local law enforcement. Maybe he gets a call. Maybe he gets a visit. But law enforcement isn't going to be able to have those kinds of tools and resources to do this every time.

"Oh, well, he was getting mental health treatment." This state, the governor is actively fighting. You look this up. Google this for yourself. Governor Scott is actively fighting a federal court that overturned a law in Florida that you can't, as a doctor, ask if someone has firearms. You get penalized for asking. Does that make sense?

You're a gun guy. You're in the FBI. You believe in the Second Amendment.


CUOMO: Ardently. Does that make sense?

GAGLIANO: Chris, the argument -- and I had this argument last night with Don Lemon. The argument becomes that as soon as you mention the Second Amendment, which was -- it came online in 1791. The blowback that I get from that is you have to understand that weapons evolve. And the purpose of the Second Amendment, which was created in 1791, mind you, the purpose of it is for citizens to be able to respond to a potential tyrannical government.

My counter argument to that is, "So you have an AR-15. The government has nukes. You're not going to win that one. If that's the premise in your mind, then we have to have a commensurate response."

CUOMO: But even if you're going to lose the fight, Jonathan, over what kinds of weapons you can have, which I don't know how we go backwards from this. But let's say you're going to have whatever you want. It's who gets them. Right? That's what it is. This guy is getting mental health treatment. And you have a system where you can go and -- that's not just a background check. If you're not adjudicated mentally ill, which very few people who have -- wind up or have a criminal background that triggers it, you're fine.

[06:25:09] And even this, let's be honest, is a little bit of a red herring. The idea that mental illness is the real problem here. It's a component. But the mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of this.

WACKROW: Mentally ill is on one end of the behavioral continuum here.

CUOMO: Right.

WACKROW: That's -- so we can't look at this through one optic. It's not a law enforcement optic. It's not a, you know, health practitioner's optic. It's not an educator's optic or a politician's. We need to look at this holistically and break the barriers down. You know, we need to say -- you know, if there's an issue in mental help, that politicians are blocking, a doctor from asking questions. We need to smash that barrier. It's about responsible gun ownership. Jim and I both, you know, support the Second Amendment. Both gun owners.

CUOMO: All three of us are gun owners. It's about who gets the weapons under what circumstances. Here's the indignity. I love you guys. You both look like you could be elected officials. But you're not.

They wouldn't even come on the damn show. They won't even come on the show. And they'll say, "Well, we have to honor the tragedy. We have to have sympathy for the victims. Thoughts and prayers."

Talk to the victims' families. Ask what they want. They want change. President Trump after Vegas, do you remember what he said? Because I'm holding it in my hand. We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes on. Never a damn word about even bump stocks. A no-brainer. No need. No self-respecting gun owner wants a bump stock. It's a cheap mechanism that ruins your accuracy. We never spoke about it again. Not a single lawmaker would come on this morning to discuss it. What does that tell you?

GAGLIANO: Chris, how about -- how about the other low-hanging fruit that's out there? Thirty-nine states do not require a legal gun owner to report a lost or stolen firearm.

CUOMO: Right.

GAGLIANO: Thirty-nine. Only 11 require that. How about this? We understand that straw purchases are illegal. But in most states, because there's no federal regulation on this, you can gift a firearm, a legal firearm that you purchase, to a family member. There's no reporting on that. These are simple common-sense things. It's not a gun grab.

CUOMO: Look, we'll keep the conversation going, Jonathan, Jim. I want to give it back to Alisyn. She's down there where people need to have their attention this morning in Florida.

But you know, look, it lines up pretty simple, Alisyn, when you see the same thing again and again and again. We are not even at step one, which is having our elected officials say what are we going to do about the school shootings. They're not even there.

CAMEROTA: I know. And I mean, as you pointed out, so many have refused our requests to come on to have that conversation. But we're going to have it anyway. And we have a lot of people to talk to down here.

Up next, we have a witness to this horror, a student, who was in the school, heard the gunfire. And his mother who was right down the street. She's also a teacher. And how they were texting each other and what happened next.