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17 Killed in Florida High School Shooting; Shooter Bought Gun Legally. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 15, 2018 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Since Sandy Hook, which we all remember which was about five years ago in Newtown, Connecticut. So folks here this morning are dealing with that same sense of devastation. Because police say that this heavily-armed man, young man, 19 years old, stormed into his former high school, from which he was expelled -- it's right behind me -- and he opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon. He turned his school into a war zone.

Here is the latest. Here's where things stand at this hour. Police say 17 people were killed in and around this school, most of them students. This is Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School behind me. None of the victims have been publicly identified or named, because authorities are still trying to identify them. Basically, so many students don't have I.D. on them. And so that makes it, obviously, much tougher for authorities.

At least 15 others are hospitalized as we speak, five of them with life-threatening injuries. This 19-year-old suspect will make his first court appearance in just the next hour. Prosecutors have now charged him this morning with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Obviously, that means he knew what he was doing when he went into this school with an AR-15.

Earlier this morning, authorities transferred the suspect to the Broward County jail. This is the video, Chris, that we're watching right now of this perp walk, as we call it, where he is in custody, obviously. He's handcuffed and shackled, probably.

And listen, Chris, you and I have talked about this a lot. We don't say the names -- you and I have chosen not to -- of these suspects, because we do believe that it could increase notoriety. There are copycat fears. And what's the point?

It's unusual, though, I must say, because he survived this massacre. So often they don't. They shoot themselves or go down from police bullets. But this young man is going to obviously already be answering questions of police as if there is ever an answer to why someone does this, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I mean, I think we're probably better off saying the names of the lawmakers who don't do anything. I mean, you're in Florida there. You know, you'll have one of the senators on this morning, Senator Nelson, the Democrat. The Republican, Marco Rubio, put out a statement saying this is a day you pray will never come. Well, that's all you've got is prayer, right? Because they called it an inexplicable tragedy. This is about one of the most easily explained tragedies that we deal with.

And of course, the always perfunctory, "We're praying for the victims." What kind of prayer is promises to do nothing?

Making the case is easy here for the investigators. They're going to comb through numerous disturbing social media posts from this suspected killer. We say that because we respect the process. But we know who did this and we know why.

CNN learned that the suspected killer was getting treatment a lot a mental health clinic. In Florida, doctors can be penalized if they even ask whether or not you own a firearm. It is a fight the governor there is actively in favor of. A federal court knocked down that rule. Governor Scott, who of course is expressing sympathy for the victims, is fighting to keep it so that doctors shouldn't even ask in most circumstances.

And of course, the purchase of the AR-15-style rifle was completely legal. And you know that name now, and that is one of the sick parts of this. You know that gun from these kinds of massacres.

Of course, you'll hear the gun control debate on the news. But you will not hear lawmakers even begin the first step. What are we going to do to stop school shootings? They won't even get together and ask the question.

The president has yet to speak publicly about the shooting. "The New York Times'" Maggie Haberman reports advisers were recommended that the president say something about this. Mr. Trump opted not to say anything.

Let's begin our coverage. We have CNN's Rosa Flores in Parkland, Florida -- Rosa.


We've learned that the suspect has been transported to the Broward County jail, which is actually attached to the Broward County courthouse, where he is scheduled to face a judge later this morning. And new into the CNN newsroom, his booking photo. Take a look at your screen. This is him in that booking photo taken at the county jail.

Now, behind me what's happening is investigators are processing this extensive scene. They are gathering evidence. And as we mentioned, he has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Investigators behind me trying to gather the evidence to prove that.

Now, we have to warn you that the images that you're about to see are very graphic.





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.

[07:05:06] 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.

LISETTE ROSENBLAT, MOTHER OF STUDENT IN SCHOOL DURING SHOOTING (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 clearly -- 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 was sobbing. 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: And the Florida attorney general announcing that the state will be paying for the funerals of the victims, and the Florida governor announcing he is asking for flags to be flown at half-staff.

And Alisyn, again, the latest news that we're getting into the CNN newsroom is that the suspect is expected to be charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Rosa, thank you very much.

Let's talk more about how investigators are trying to piece together clues. They're combing through the suspect's social media accounts. So we know the suspect was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which is what you see behind me. This is last year, for disciplinary reasons.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the latest on the investigation into all of that -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we saw there just minutes ago the suspect being taken into the county jail there. He was taken into custody yesterday outside the school. And we're told that he has been talking to investigators.

But besides what they're learning directly from the gunman, officials have searched. They've searched gun records and social media, as well, for clues. So a U.S. official tells us that the shooter purchased that AR-15 himself sometime in the past year. He did pass the background check to purchase that weapon.

But the warning signs were definitely there in a variety of social media posts. On his Instagram page, the gunman posted a photo of a shotgun. In other shows, he's brandishing a pistol. It appears to be a B.B. gun. Another one shows him brandishing long knives. And of course, there's these posts, online posts, threatening comments under videos on YouTube, including, "I whana shoot people with my AR-15," "I wanna die fighting, killing expletive ton of people," "I'm going to kill law enforcement one day. They go after the good people." So all of these clues now amassing, of course, after the fact here.

But we know that the shooter's adopted family, they are also cooperating with investigators. We know the shooter's mother, she died last November from the flu. That turned into pneumonia. His father died about 14 years ago. So now the adopted family talking to investigators.

We know that the gunman has, as well, talked to investigators ever since he was taken into custody outside the school. But, Alisyn, this investigation still continues going on. And more pouring through these social media accounts, as well -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica, thank you very much.

Obviously, we are getting information in here every minute. And we just have an update to share with you now. We have our first confirmed identity of one of the victims. It is the assistant football coach. His name was Aaron Feis. He died at the hospital from his injuries. We believe that he was helping to shield students who were under attack from this massacre. So again, this is assistant football coach Aaron Feis who has been killed.

[07:10:26] There are 16 other victims. And authorities are not naming those yet, because they haven't been able to identify all of them and tell their families, because teenagers don't always walk around with identification on them. And that makes it more complicated, obviously, for police. So we'll bring you all of these developments as soon as we get them.

Joining us now here is Parkland mayor Christine Hunschofsky.

Mayor, thank you very much for being here. So sorry for your community.


CAMEROTA: I mean, losing 17 people in a small community. This will forever change Parkland.

HUNSCHOFSKY: It will. Parkland is a very small city here in northwest Broward County full of families. We're a very close-knit community. In times of -- when we had Hurricane Irma here, families were out helping their neighbors, helping complete strangers. It's very devastating for something like this to happen in our community.

CAMEROTA: And of course, the twisted irony is that Parkland was voted the safest community in Florida last year?

HUNSCHOFSKY: Yes. And we've always been thought one of the safest cities in America.

CAMEROTA: So how do you explain a massacre like this behind this?

HUNSCHOFSKY: It shows that something like this can happen anywhere. And I think that's something that people need to realize. And hopefully going forward, when people see things on social media that might seem a little suspect, that they'll say something to the police.

CAMEROTA: Is that what you think the front line is here? I mean, obviously, people realize, I think, at this point, that it can happen anywhere. We have been to a sickening number of these. It can happen anywhere. It can happen in Newtown, Connecticut. It can happen in Parkland, Florida. Do you think that authorities missed the social media clues?

HUNSCHOFSKY: I think in hindsight, it's always easy to say we could have seen this, we could have seen that. But I think any time something like this happens, it's everyone's responsibility to learn something for it. Not just the police, but it's for us as residents to learn something from it.

HUNSCHOFSKY: What happened in your office when you heard that there was an active shooter loose at a high school?

HUNSCHOFSKY: So we heard there was an active shooter call. Then I heard all the sirens going. And I realized that this probably wasn't just a call, that this was probably something serious. And I immediately came on the scene. There were parents here hadn't heard from their children yet.

CAMEROTA: And what did you do for them? I can't imagine the hell of being here waiting to hear some word from your child who's not answering their cell phone and who's trapped in a closet, and you don't know if they're dead or alive.

HUNSCHOFSKY: All I could do is say, "I'm here for you" and talk them through it. Thank goodness -- thank goodness for technology and that the students and the children could text their parents. And then the police were going through at one point through the school piece by piece. And as areas became safe, they allowed the children to come out and see the parents, able to embrace their children and know they were OK. It was unbelievable.

CAMEROTA: I mean, of course 17 families can't.


CAMEROTA: I mean, I don't know how a community like this is going to move forward with that loss of life.

HUNSCHOFSKY: I think it's very difficult. Again, we're a close-knit community. People knew -- many people knew these families, knew these kids, grew up with these kids. But we're also a very strong community. Any time that there's been disaster in other areas or help needed in other areas, our community has always stepped up. And I know we will step up for this, as well.

CAMEROTA: You're not only the mayor; you're on the school board, am I right?

HUNSCHOFSKY: No, I'm not on the school board.

CAMEROTA: Oh, you're connected to the school board. HUNSCHOFSKY: No. In Florida, the county controls the school board, controls our schools. So we have a Broward County school system.

CAMEROTA: All right. My question was about the school. This is obviously a beautiful school.


CAMEROTA: It has this sort of outdoor/indoor quality. It has these open-air hallways. So that while kids are changing class, they're outside--


CAMEROTA: -- in the beautiful weather here that you have. Is something going to change here with the schools? How are you going to make schools safer from this?

HUNSCHOFSKY: To be fair, we do have single points of entry at Stoneman Douglas High School. So you have to go through the office if you're coming in, inside. During school hours, you have to come in through the office and, like, show your I.D. in order to gain access to the school.

CAMEROTA: If you're a guest, if you're a visitor, you have to show your I.D.

HUNSCHOFSKY: If you're a student, also. Once the school is in session to be able to come in, we have a single point of entry.

CAMEROTA: And is that good enough? After something like this, does anything need to change at this grassroots level with schools?

HUNSCHOFSKY: That's something I'm sure the police and the Broward County schools will be working on once they do their investigative work here and find out what happened.

CAMEROTA: Mayor, stand by. We're just getting a new statement from the president.


[07:15:00] CAMEROTA: So I want to read that to everybody. This is what President Trump has just tweeted: "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again."

I mean, the president there seems to -- I'm just reading this for the first time and hearing it along with you. But the president seems to suggest that it's going to be up to neighbors and friends to stop these things.

HUNSCHOFSKY: If a solution were simple for these things, we would have found one already. And I don't think there's one solution. I think it takes many people and many different avenues to come to a solution. And hopefully, we never see one of these tragedies happen again in our country.

CAMEROTA: Unfortunately, we are going to see another one. I mean, if history is any guide, we will see this. There have been already -- this isn't the first school shooting of this year. There's already been a spate of school shootings this year. And so it's just hard to know where to start. If you had one wish so this never happens in Parkland again, what would it be?

HUNSCHOFSKY: I would wish that it never happens anywhere again. I'm going to be more vigilant. I'm going to talk to our residents, neighbors, friends to be more vigilant. And ask our kids, when they see something on social media, go to your parents. We're a safe place to talk about it and to discuss it.

CAMEROTA: Mayor Hunschofsky, thank you -- thank you very much for being here with us. We're very sorry for your community.

HUNSCHOFSKY: Thank you. Appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Yes. So you heard it here. I mean, look, everybody is casting about for different ideas of what they think would solve it. But just hoping that it doesn't happen and praying that it doesn't happen doesn't seem to be working.

We want to bring in law enforcement analyst now, Charles Ramsey.

Commissioner, thanks so much for being here.

I don't know if you just heard the tweet from the president. He just put out a statement saying this is going to require vigilance. That people knew this suspect had mental health history. He was mentally disturbed. He was expelled from school. And that it's going to be up to neighbors and friends to call these people out.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, but what happens? So how do you -- how do you seize his gun? What do you -- what do you expect to happen after that? I mean, that's all in hindsight. The question is what do you do? Do you know that? Now what do you do?

CAMEROTA: Some students did know that. I mean, we've heard from other students here. They say that they did know that he was a problem. They did know that he had disciplinary areas. They did knew he had personality issues. Then what?

RAMSEY: What do you think would happen if police just came and just seized that weapon?

CAMEROTA: I don't know.

RAMSEY: Based on that.

CAMEROTA: What would have happened?

RAMSEY: They would have been in a lot of trouble, probably, and you'd have a lot of politicians saying that they're violating this person's Second Amendment rights. We need to just fix the problem. We're looking at this through

hindsight. And who should have known what, and who should have done what and that sort of thing? But you've got to be able to give people the tools they need to have the tools to take action if you have someone in a mental state where they are a danger on others potentially.

CAMEROTA: And how is that? What is that action? What's the solution?

RAMSEY: Well, there's going to have to be some legislation in order for that to happen. Certainly, it does start with people paying attention and bringing matters to the attention.

CAMEROTA: But legislation meaning keep -- what's your dream legislation?

RAMSEY: If a person is suffering -- and it's not just about mental illness. There's all kinds of forms of mental illness. But if you are a person who is a danger. I mean, just the mere fact that a psychologist or a psychiatrist can't even ask you whether or not you own a gun. That is the person talking to you, and they know whether or not you're a potential danger. And you can't even ask the question? You're asking the question because you think this person potentially could be a problem or at least could pose a threat to someone. I mean, that -- to me that doesn't make any sense.

We've got to take a look at this realistically. We're not trying to disarm every American. But you have to have something that's reasonable and that's sensible in place so that once you become aware, you can actually take action. Becoming aware is only part of it. You have to be able to act.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I'd say that we're pretty aware at the moment.

I understand that the suspect has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

RAMSEY: Right.

CAMEROTA: Is that surprising?

RAMSEY: No. I mean, 17 counts of murder. More if other people die. We still have people who are in life-threatening conditions right now.

But think about it, Alisyn. I mean, we're here, because we've had a tragic school shooting. Young kids lose their lives on the streets of our cities every single day to gun violence. One here, two there. And we don't hear anything about it. Maybe a short blurb in a newspaper somewhere. It's a problem that affects our entire country, every neighborhood in our country.

CAMEROTA: Charles Ramsey, thank you very much for your experience in all of this and being with us.

Chris, obviously, we will be bringing you all of the developments from down here in Parkland, Florida. Because they seem to be coming out every moment by moment.

CUOMO: You know, perfectly laid out by you and Ramsey. The president just tweeted about the shooting. He doesn't even contemplate doing something to stop the shootings. He says all of us have to be more aware, let people know when there's a bad person in our midst.

[07:20:14] The Florida school massacre reviving the debate over gun violence. Will Congress finally take action on guns? We ask a senator why the answer is no.


CUOMO: Seventeen. That's the number of lives that gets added to the ever-increasing lists of those who are lost to school shootings. This time, the scene is a high school in Florida. Senator Chris Murphy blasting Congress for not doing anything to stop these horrific acts.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: This happens nowhere else other than the United States of America. This epidemic of mass slaughter. The scourge of school shooting after school shooting. It only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.


[07:25:06] CUOMO: Now Murphy is, of course, one of the senators from Connecticut. That's where Newtown was. The other one is Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal.

And we remember Newtown all too well. We didn't do anything about it. But there were 20 kids, six adults killed there at the Sandy Hook Elementary School some five years ago.

Senator, what are we going to do to stop these school shootings?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Chris, first, let me thank you and Alisyn for the great work that you're doing on the ground in Florida, because it is part of the answer that we educate America and make our nation aware of the awful toll of these mass atrocities.

Not just in schools, although there have been 400 people injured in 200 schools since Sandy Hook, many of them killed. But also day to day on our streets, 90 every day on average. It can happen everywhere, and it is happening everywhere.

And what can we do? Well, Connecticut provides part of the answer. In the wake of Sandy Hook, we passed common-sense measures that have actually reduced gun violence. These measures like background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, other common- sense steps. A number of them are pending before Congress right now. I sponsored them with Republican colleagues. If we can break the glacier of our complicity in Congress, we can get measures done. CUOMO: How do you do that? Because you can't do it state by state.

Right? Because if you don't have one rule, you wind up having all kinds of, you know, all this kind of variability. I mean, you know, you look at Florida. The laws are so different than they are in Connecticut.

But overall, you've got 39 states in this country don't make it legally required to even say if someone has stolen your weapon. So there's a lot to do. What would make the Republicans want to deal with this issue? Now Dave Jolly, who was a Republican congressman from Florida, he talked about this last night. Listen to what he said about his own party.


DAVE JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE: Let's be brutally honest about what we do know. And I say this as a Republican.

Republicans will never do anything on gun control. Consider last summer you had Republican members of Congress shot and nearly killed during a softball practice, and they did nothing. After the Pulse Night Club, Democrats had a sit-in in the House. Republicans did nothing. After Vegas, hundreds injured, over 50 killed, Republicans did nothing.

There are two things I would suggest tonight. First, flip the House. Flip the House. Republicans are not going to do a single thing after this shooting we saw today.


CUOMO: Is that true?

BLUMENTHAL: I think Republicans will act if they are faced with the prospect of mass losses in these elections.

And in answer to your question, what can be done? In a word, elections. The advocates of gun violence prevention like myself and other groups and organizations around the country, and they are springing up and growing in number and power, need to make this issue front and center, a priority in these upcoming electrics.

And here's some glimmers of hope, Chris. First of all, in the last election where states had gun violence prevention measures on their ballots, three out of four succeeded in referendum. And many candidates with this issue succeeded in elections last time around.

Second, even now in the Congress, one of my colleagues, Senator Cornyn, has joined me in a measure that would tighten the kinds of information that are submitted to the background check system. We need to expand those background checks. He has not yet, nor has the Republican Party, joined in efforts to expand the background check.

CUOMO: Right.

BLUMENTHAL: But there are glimmers of hope. And we need to make this issue a groundswell, grassroots issue that really moves America.

CUOMO: Well, you've got all of the negative momentum you could use, Senator. I mean, you're on -- we are on pace for a record year this year in terms of school shootings. We're way ahead of the pace from last year.

And the president, who promised that we would be talking about gun laws as time goes on after Las Vegas, hasn't said a word. And he just tweeted now in a way that completely explains the problem. He says, "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again."

Let's write it off to ignorance. But he has to know that, one, the citizenry is not the first line of damn defense against this kind of situation.