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THE SITUATION ROOM
Another Plea Deal in Trump-Russia Probe?; School Shooting Investigation; Gun Control Debate; Vigil Being Held for Victims of Florida High School Shooting. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 15, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And the president says it's a mental health issue. With 56 school shootings in the last 14 months alone here in the United States, why is there only rhetoric and not action?
And heroes in the horror. As families and friends grieve for those killed, stories emerge of personal sacrifice and lives saved. Who were the heroes who gave their own lives in an effort to save others?
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news, new developments and new details of the high school shooting in South Florida.
The Broward County sheriff just revealed that the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, escaped the scene by mixing in with fleeing students. Cruz is now charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and being held without bail after appearing before a judge by video from jail.
A vigil is being held this hour for the people who died and the 14 people who were injured, some of them still in critical condition.
And, tonight, the FBI is speaking out about a warning it received about a very disturbing online post with the shooter's name. We will talk about the breaking news this hour with the mayor of Broward County, Florida, Beam Furr, and our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's get straight to South Florida. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. He's outside the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
What's the latest information there, Brian, you're picking up there?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, we got a very dramatic, compelling, and disturbing new timeline of exactly how this shooting unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, this timeline on what happened when the shooter got out of an Uber vehicle that he took to the high school.
This account coming from Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: An Uber car dropped off the suspect at 20:19 yesterday, 2:19 p.m., at Stoneman Douglas High School.
The suspect entered the east stairway. That's building 12, with a rifle inside a black soft case. The suspect exited the stairwell, pulled the rifle out of the case. At 2:21 hours and 33 seconds, the suspect readied his rifle and began shooting into rooms 1215, 1216, 1214.
He went back to 1216, back to 1215, and then to 1213. The suspect then took the west stairwell to the second floor and shot one victim in room 1234 on the second floor.
The suspect then took the east stairwell to the third floor. He dropped his rifle and backpack, ran down the stairs. He exited building 12 and ran towards the tennis courts, and then took a southbound turn on foot.
The suspect crossed fields and ran west along with others who were fleeing and tried to mix in with the group that were running away fearing for their lives. The suspect arrived at the Wal-Mart store. He bought a drink at the Subway, and then left the Wal-Mart on foot.
The suspect went to McDonald's, sat down for a short period of time. This was at 3:01 p.m. And he left on foot. At 3:41 p.m., 40 minutes after he departed from the McDonald's, the suspect was detained at 4700 Wyndham Lakes Drive in Coral Springs by an officer from the Coconut Creek Police Department. He was taken into custody without incident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And we also have an account of how that arrest took place. The officer who arrested him, Michael Leonard of the Coconut Creek Police Department, said that he got there on the scene after the police had secured the scene. There were a lot of police units already there, so Leonard said he decided to venture into a nearby neighborhood.
He went into a back area of the neighborhood where there are heavily residential streets. Not many people were out on the streets. He happened to notice a man with the suspect's description wearing the same clothing. He went up, next to him in a car, talked to him, and then apprehended him without incident, Wolf, a very dramatic account from that police officer as well.
BLITZER: Certainly was. All right, Brian, Brian Todd in Florida for us. Brian, stand by. We will get back to you when you get some more information.
I want to get more on all of this.
The Broward County mayor, Beam Furr, is joining us right now.
Mayor, thanks so much for joining us.
BEAM FURR, MAYOR OF BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good evening, Wolf.
BLITZER: How concerned are you, Mayor, that the suspect was flagged to the FBI, they apparently were unable to identify him, and passed that information on to local law enforcement authorities in Broward County?
FURR: I think all of us are concerned with that.
Any time, you know, you see the things that were on YouTube or you know that someone has been -- had some mental health issues, how those are not red flags that should just be go flying, I don't know how you can ignore those.
I mean, any time -- if someone's going to buy a gun, and those red flags have been flying, how do they get within 1,000 feet of a gun? We don't know.
BLITZER: Do you have any information, Mayor, on the shooter's extremist views?
FURR: On the what? I'm sorry.
BLITZER: Do you have any information on the shooter's extremist views?
FURR: No, I do not.
We have not gotten that information yet. I mean, we have only heard a few things, but nothing solid or anything that we really are sure of yet.
BLITZER: Nothing confirmed.
You have also told CNN that the suspect was getting mental health treatment, but that he hadn't been to a clinic in over a year. His adoptive mother, as you know, recently passed away in early November. Did that have an impact on his actions?
FURR: I would say probably, yes.
I mean, let's assume there had to be some issues there. That's -- you know, it goes -- he was in treatment for about a year or so, and then he was out of it for 14 months. Those are -- you know, those are things all of us are going to be looking.
BLITZER: You were a teacher, Mayor, for many...
BLITZER: Go ahead.
FURR: Yes. And the fact that he had just become -- you know, his mother had died.
His father had died. What his connections were, who his connections were, we don't know. And, you know, was he, you know, a loner? Did he have any kind of connection to other people, to other students, to other adults? We don't know that.
And, you know, frankly, those are the kind of things that you don't want to see happen. But that's where a lot of these people that cause these things often come from.
BLITZER: Yes. His father died several years ago. His mother died in November. I was about to say, Mayor, you were a teacher for many years. When you look at that pattern of behavior, and all of us obviously are a lot smarter with hindsight, but looking back now, what should have happened to intervene?
FURR: Well, I mean, as a teacher, when you're -- when you have your kids and let's say you go to the cafeteria and you see a kid sitting alone, or you go out to the playground and a kid's all by themselves out by the -- away from everybody, a good teacher will try to bring them into the fold.
They will try to find a way where they can buddy up with somebody. Find some kind of interest, something that they can attach themselves to, so that they, you know, become part of a larger community. This, you know, this kid obviously was not connected.
And then when he was expelled, from my understanding, from the school -- and I don't know at this point whether or not he went to an alternative school or not. An alternative school sometimes works for kids like this, because it's an alternative way to go to school, different ways to connect. I don't know if he was going to one or not. We're still looking into that.
BLITZER: Yes, despite that background -- and this is what's shocking -- I just asked the governor, Rick Scott, of Florida the same question I'm about to ask you. He passed a background check at the age of only 18, a year or so ago. He was able to walk into a store and very quickly buy an AR-15-style assault rifle.
He couldn't go out legally and purchase a can of beer, but, in Florida, you can go ahead at the age of 18 and buy an AR-15 assault rifle. Does that make any sense at all?
FURR: None. None at all.
It should -- I mean, I wish -- as a Mayor, I wish we were able to pass a law today that we could say you can't do that. Unfortunately, we're preempted by the state government, and we will be -- you know, I think we are talking with our state legislators and everybody to say this needs to be changed.
My one hope is this, is that there are a lot of students who are asking the same thing, and, you know, maybe they will listen to them. The kids right now in this school are asking what can they do, how can we make the change?
And that -- you know, let's hope they will listen to them, because there is no way that any kid that was in that position, who had those issues, should be able to get within 1,000 feet of a gun.
FURR: It just shouldn't happen. It should be against the law. And, you know, whatever we can do to make it happen so that that becomes law, we're going to do it. We're going to try to do that.
BLITZER: Yes. I pressed the governor, Rick Scott, pretty hard on this. He seemed to be ready for some new laws to deal with this. Let's see if that -- if he follows through and other politicians in Florida follow through to take some specific action.
Beam Furr, the mayor of Broward County, thanks for joining us. Good luck to you. Our hearts go out to all of you down there, such a heartbreaking story indeed. Thanks for joining us.
FURR: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Let's go to our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, right now. He's learning more about the shooter.
Drew, the lawyer calls the 19-year-old -- his lawyer calls this 19- year-old deeply disturbed. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly what we're finding.
And in his own writings and social media posts, it's even more disturbing, because this shooter practically telegraphed what he was about to do. One of his friends -- his former friends says this was so preventable and, Wolf, so predictable.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The warning signs were all there in person and on social media, photos of guns, knives, extremist comments posted under political videos.
"I want to shoot people with my AR-15." That quote attached to a YouTube video of a Donald Trump supporter being pushed around at a rally. Under a video about Antifa, he posted: "F. Antifa. I wish to kill as many as I can and I'm going to kill them in the future."
And the comment that prompted a call to the FBI, "I want to be a school shooter."
Ben Bennight called the FBI when he saw that post.
BEN BENNIGHT, BAIL BONDSMAN: They came out to my office the very next morning in person and met with me. GRIFFIN: And those who knew Nikolas Cruz said his life was filled
with trouble. This video shows from concerned neighbor him brandishing a B.B. gun. He was expelled from school, obsessed with guns, and when his adoptive mother died in November, he ended up with nowhere to live.
The family of a friend took him in. Their lawyer said Cruz didn't get up as usual yesterday, but they had no idea what was about to happen.
JIM LEWIS, ATTORNEY: They saw some depression. Obviously, he lost his mom, but they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store.
They got him going to an adult education so he could try to get his GED, and he seemed to be doing better.
GRIFFIN: A former manager at a store where Cruz works says the suspect broke his arm, only recently having the cast removed.
HUNTER VUKELICH, FRIEND OF CRUZ: He seemed guarded, but he didn't seem aggressive or mean. He just seemed like, you know, distant. He was cordial, nice, quiet. You could tell he was a little off.
GRIFFIN: Schoolmates CNN spoke with described him as weird, odd, strange.
Brody Speno grew up with Cruz. They used to ride the school bus together. Cruz lived two doors down in the house where the police were often called.
BRODY SPENO, FORMER NEIGHBOR: Police were there almost every other week. That's kind of how we knew he moved, because police stopped showing up there.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Really?
SPENO: He was always, like, always getting into trouble, like, evil kid.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Speno describes Cruz as unusual, always pulling pranks, running through neighbors' yards, egging his car and at a young age prone to violence against animals.
(on camera): You were surprised that he was able to legally purchase a gun?
SPENO: Yes. I'm surprised that he's the one that did it, but I am surprised he somehow got ahold of it.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, many of his social media posts are attached to extreme political views, to say the least.
The Anti-Defamation League is telling us that Cruz belonged to a white supremacist group here in Florida, a group that espouses being a white ethno-nation. Investigators have not been able to corroborate that, but that is according to the Anti-Defamation League -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Drew, thank you, Drew Griffin on the scene for us.
Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on possible warning signs that were missed or disregarded by law enforcement.
Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is working that part of the story for us.
Evan, the shooter's name was on an online post about wanting to become a "professional school shooter." Tell us about that.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I did go interview the person who said that they had seen that post from this -- who became the shooter.
They talked to the FBI, and the FBI tried to see what they could find out about him. They ran the name through some databases that they had access to, but they were never able to identify him or connect him to this person.
So it appears that that is one sign that was missed by law enforcement, but there were multiple others, including people down there in Florida and the school. He was apparently expelled from the school for some of his behavior problems.
And then there's the mental illness picture, which apparently was there was plenty of signs that were pointing towards troubles in this young man's life. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, addressed some of these very questions earlier today. Take a listen to what he had to say.
BLITZER: This isn't the first deadly incident where there were warning signs, warning signals that were missed by law enforcement, right?
PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. You know, there's been a history, at least in recent years, of these type of mass shootings, including one just a couple years ago at the Fort Lauderdale Airport.
The FBI had interacted with the shooter. Actually, he got his gun back and then he got on a plane and flew down from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale. He was able to access his gun and carry out a shooting, and, of course, there was the incident at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Again, the FBI had interactions with that shooter and was not able to find reason to basically get him off the streets. This is, again, something that we have seen before, and I think that's one of the reasons why the FBI, Attorney General Jeff Sessions are trying to figure out a way that perhaps, you know, there could be some kind of interaction done whereby they could try to prevent some of these people from carrying out these shootings -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, thanks for that report.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We will get back to all the breaking news in Florida, including the stunning new timeline of the shooter's movements during and after the school massacre.
But there's another major breaking news development that's unfolding right now involving special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
I want to bring in CNN's Sara Murray with this exclusive new CNN reporting.
Sara, tell our viewers what you're learning.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we have been learning is that former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. He appears poised to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.
That's according to sources familiar with the case who have spoken with my colleagues Kaitlan Collins, as well as myself. Now, back in October, Gates pleaded not guilty to financial crimes that were unrelated to the presidential campaign, but for about the past month, Gates has been in plea negotiations with Mueller's team.
And he's already been in to speak with Mueller's team about the case. Now, this is someone with a young family. He's a father of four. He is under financial pressure, and he was already facing more than 10 years in prison if he were found guilty of existing charges if this case had gone to trial -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dramatic and important development, indeed. Sara, stand by.
I also want to bring in our justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, plenty of Trump associates have met with Mueller so far. What makes this potentially very different?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is sort of similar, Wolf, in what happened with Michael Flynn.
In this case, Gates took part in what criminal lawyers call a queen for a day. This is an interview that occurs before attorneys at the special counsel's office. And they basically go through a whole list of things that perhaps Gates was involved in.
He answers questions from prosecutors, the team, about his own case, the Manafort case, and he also has to answer questions about other criminal activity. This is important. Other criminal activity that he may have witnessed, that he may have been part of. So, it essentially lays the groundwork for a cooperation agreement. Now, this comes as investigators have also been preparing to file new
charges against Gates, as well as Paul Manafort, who, as we all remember, was the Trump campaign chairman and a -- he was also a co- defendant in this case with Gates.
Wolf, as you said, this would be a significant step in this investigation.
BLITZER: Very significant indeed, if he's -- if he flips.
What does this mean, Sara, for President Trump?
MURRAY: Well, Wolf, that's a little bit murkier. This is certainly troubling news if you're Paul Manafort, that Gates has prepared to potentially tell Mueller everything about the criminal case that they are both involved in, but Gates' cooperation could also be a building block for Mueller in a possible case against Trump or other key members of his team.
Now, the White House is insisting that they are not concerned about a potential plea deal in this case. They don't believe Mueller has any interest in Gates or Manafort's activities during the presidential campaign or during the transition.
One White House official tells me, if Gates cooperates against Manafort, that's nothing to us, although we are hearing from the president that he does feel personally sorry that Gates and Manafort have been drug into this legal mess as a result of the Russia investigation.
BLITZER: Major development, indeed. Sara and Shimon, guys, thank you very much for breaking that story right here.
There's more breaking news we're following.
President Trump is reacting to the massacre in Florida.
Let's quickly go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, for this part of the story.
Jim, the president made somber remarks today, and he also took to Twitter.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The flags are at half-staff here at the White House. President Trump is offering the usual thoughts and prayers after this school shooting in Florida, but the president appears to be clinging to the talking points of the National Rifle Association, which called for measures dealing with mental health issues, instead of gun control.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a sad and deadly pattern that is uniquely
American. A mass shooting breaks out and a president offers thoughts and prayers.
TRUMP: We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.
Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation's governors and attorney generals, where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority.
ACOSTA: President Trump did not utter the word guns once during his remarks on the school shooting in Florida, and he passed on the question as he left the room.
(on camera): Mr. President, why does this keep happening to America? Will you do something about guns?
(voice-over): Earlier in the day, the president's tweet could have been dictated by the National Rifle Association. "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."
For all the president's talk of dealing with the psychology of the gunman, know this. Nearly one year ago, the president signed legislation that canceled an Obama era regulation requiring the Social Security Administration to disclose information about people with mental illnesses to the nation's background check system, though it does not appear that measure would have prevented this shooting.
Even the students traumatized by the events in Florida can see through the rhetoric.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can say, yes, we're going to do all these things, thoughts and prayers. What we need more than that is action. We're children. You guys, like, are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together. Come over your politics and get something done.
ACOSTA: This mother pleaded for the president's help.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump, please do something. Do something. Action! We need it now! These kids need safety now!
ACOSTA: This is not Mr. Trump's first mass shooting as president. After each massacre, like the one in Las Vegas...
TRUMP: We will be looking into that over the next short period of time.
ACOSTA: ... he says the conversation on gun control should come later. But as the president told British journalist Piers Morgan, he doesn't think new gun laws would make a difference. TRUMP: We do have gun control laws, and this sick person -- he was a
sicko. And that's the problem. They're sick people. If he didn't have a gun, he would have had a gun or bomb or he would have had something else.
ACOSTA: So, the pattern continues, one that winds from one administration...
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hillary and I are profoundly shocked and saddened by the tragedy today in Littleton.
ACOSTA: To the next.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you.
ACOSTA: To the next.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From first- graders in Newtown, every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.
ACOSTA: Appeals for change in Congress, and then nothing.
OBAMA: Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote, because, in the two months since Newtown, more than 1,000 birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.
ACOSTA: Leaving the powerful sounding powerless.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At some point, we, as a society, have got to come together and put a stop to this. This senator grew up on a ranch. I have hunted all my life. I have had guns all my life. I still hunt with my son. But an AR-15 is not for hunting. It's for killing.
ACOSTA: The president canceled a rally in Orlando that was planned for tomorrow, but White House officials are now working on plans for the president to visit the mass shooting scene down in Florida, where he will likely be asked what will be done before nothing is done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very, very much.
We're following lots of breaking news right now, much more right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Following breaking news, new details about movements made by Florida high school gunman Nikolas Cruz during and after the massacre.
Looking at live pictures, folks down there in Parkland, Florida, getting ready for a vigil. At the same time, we're learning more about these victims.
Let's get a quick update on the vigil being held right now for these 17 people who were massacred in the school shooting and the 14 people who were injured, some of them still in critical condition.
CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us from South Florida right now.
Martin, a very, very emotional evening right now.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
The sun has set, but the tears have been falling for some time. There have been several vigils in this community already. This one's just getting under way. But, by far, Wolf, this one is the largest.
It has been organized by the city. City officials, state officials, they are all here, but, most importantly, many, many students are here. They have come with their parents. Their parents in this community will not let their children out of arm's reach.
[18:30:17] You see a lot of tears. You see laughter. You see hugs. There are reunions that are taking place. Some of these students haven't seen one another since they fled their building in terror.
But for the most part, this is all about coming together as a community, trying to come to grips with what has happened. Thousands of people here, you really can't tell how many on the ground here.
And there are some signs of protests. A few people have signs that say, "Enough is enough." Some say, "No more guns." But for the most part, this is meant to be a moment of reflection, to realize what has been lost and to focus on how to heal, not just those that were wounded but also an entire community, Wolf. And it's just getting started.
BLITZER: The candlelight vigil is about to begin. A very, very sad moment indeed. Martin, thank you very much. We'll get back to you.
Let's get some more on all the breaking news right now. Joining us, our correspondents and our specialists.
And David Axelrod, let me begin with you. I want to play an exchange I just had in the last hour with the Florida governor, Rick Scott. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Are you ready to commit your political team to work to tighten gun control, gun restrictions in the state of Florida?
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA (via phone): I'll be stronger than that, Wolf. Everything's on the table. All right? I'm going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.
BLITZER: Even if the National Rifle Association goes after you?
SCOTT: Wolf, I'm going to do -- look, I love my kids, my grandkids. I know every family in the state is in the same position. We love our children. I'm going to do whatever I can do to keep these kids safe. I'm going to talk about every issue to keep these kids safe.
BLITZER: Including gun control?
SCOTT: Wolf, I'm going to do -- it's a lot of things. It's looking at, you know, who should have guns. Should individuals with mental illness have guns? Should -- what can we do to create more safety in our schools? What can we do do make it easier for our children and make them feel comfortable to report things? It's not one thing. It's all these things put together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, David, what did you think? Is he going to take specific steps to tighten gun restrictions in the state of Florida?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we shall see. You know, the pattern, Wolf, has been that there have been these great expressions of support. We all remember what happened after Las Vegas, and there was all of this discussion about these bump stock devices that could turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons, as was in the case there with that mass murder in the plaza in Las Vegas.
And when the controversy -- when the crisis faded, when the tragedy faded, so did the interest of politicians in doing anything about it, and Congress never acted on it. So, we'll see what happens over time.
Look, I hope that he's very sincere about that, but you know -- and the mental health issue and detecting these kinds of personalities, particularly among young people, but not exclusive to them, that is very, very important.
But we have a gun problem in this country. We have exponentially more guns in this country than any other country, almost as many guns as we have people. We have these semiautomatic weapons that are designed to kill on a mass scale, as we saw in that school. Five to 10 million of them.
You know -- and we have gun deaths that are exponentially more than any other country. It's not because our people are less mentally stable. It's because they have access to these weapons, and particularly these weapons of war, these weapons of mass destruction, which is what these semiautomatic weapons and when they're altered to be automatic are.
So you can say that "I'm putting everything on the table," but if you don't deal with this in a serious way, then you're not really dealing with the problem. BLITZER: You know, Josh Campbell, until recently, you were a
supervisory special agent of the FBI. Listen to this other exchange I just had with Rick Scott, the Florida governor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let me phrase it another way, because this is -- this is really shocking to so many of us, Governor. He wasn't old enough to buy a beer legally in your state. You've got to be 21 years old. So why is it that in Florida he could buy an assault weapon at the age of 18?
SCOTT (via phone): Wolf, I think -- I think it's a legitimate question. We're going to have -- we have to go back and we've got to look at -- we've got to look at these things and say to ourselves that our primary goal is school safety. And so, you know, that's -- you know, I want to make sure we don't ever trample on anybody's constitutional rights, but we've got to focus on keeping these kids safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:35:07] BLITZER: All right, Josh, what did you think?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, this is an epidemic. Our people are dying. You know, I heard the speaker say earlier that we shouldn't get into a knee-jerk response. We need to wait for more facts.
We have 17 dead citizens at the hands of an AR-15. What more do we need? You know, we talk about knee-jerk responses. What is the alternative to that? Our people continue to die. We continue to see attacks, and I think the alternative to knee-jerk response is no response. With our people continuing to be killed, I think it's time for a knee-jerk response.
BLITZER: Shawn Turner, the sheriff there in Broward County, Scott Israel, he was very specific of outlining the time line of what exactly happened yesterday afternoon.
The suspect, he got to the school at around 2:19 p.m. He readied his assault weapon at 2:21 and started killing people, going from classroom to classroom, going from floor to floor.
And then he left. He left the campus, began walking with other students who were fleeing, tried to blend in, went to a Wal-Mart, got a cold drink. Then he went to a McDonald's, spent about 40 minutes there, went out, continued walking, and fortunately, a local police officer spotted him, recognized the clothes he was wearing, similar to what the suspect had been identified as wearing, and fortunately, was arrested without incident.
It's pretty shocking, though. Took, what, more than an hour and 20 minutes for this -- for his capture.
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, you know, Wolf, it is, but I think that when you look at the set of circumstances here and some of the things that we know he did, you know, he tried to -- we understand that he tried to blend in with other students as he was leaving the campus. And you know, these situations are extremely chaotic. So when you have a situation where you have someone who's young, who puts his weapons down, who tries to blend in, it's not surprising that he would -- he would at least be able to make some progress.
But I think what we really have to point to here is the fact that law enforcement and other people in the community were able to come together and bring all the information that they had and figure out who this individual was and where he was.
And it just speaks to the fact that when something like this happens, I mean, the radar for law enforcement is just on fire, and they were able to identify this individual and bring him to justice in a relatively short period of time. So I think they certainly deserve our praise for that.
BLITZER: Yes, they -- the local police officer who got him, who identified him and arrested him, he deserves a medal for that. There's no doubt about that.
Lisa van Susteren, you're a psychiatrist. You're learning a lot about this suspect. There were red flags, and maybe some of those red flags were ignored, right?
LISA VAN SUSTEREN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: Some of those red flags were what?
VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, yes. But of course, they always are. This is the nature of the business. We only see them as really noteworthy after the fact.
And while I have to say that a lot of this discussion is really important, it's a catharsis for people, when I hear politicians talking about things they're going to put on the table and what they're going to talk about, my job, really, as a psychiatrist is to push all that away and get down to brass tacks, which is, we already know what works. We know that in states where there are stricter access to guns, that we don't have as many murders. We know that when there are more guns, there are more murders. So we already know that.
Our job now is to turn what we know into what we do. And honestly, if I were a young person, I would be so outraged at this inaction. I think every kid should be out there, consistent with his temperament, saying something.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, and you're a psychiatrist, Lisa, that after he murdered these kids, these high school students and others, some of the teachers, he simply walked away, and then he went to a McDonald's and a Wal-Mart and then, when a police officer spotted him, he gave up and he was arrested. Peacefully. VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there are two things. No. 1 is this was
obviously a psychic explosion. It was a storm in his head, and when the dam burst, there was calm afterwards. So he walked out and went about his business.
But it also tells you, and it's so -- it's a fantasy that people have that better mental health laws are going to enable us to spot people like this. Most of the time, you can't tell when someone is about ready to burst. Occasionally, there will be little hints and things like that. We saw it with Steven Paddock. People can go for years being crazy and have murderous thoughts, and then it reaches some critical mass, some trigger, some condition, and off they go.
So what it tells us is that what we really have to do is go upstream and recognize that, until we reduce access, we're not going to have any results. We're going to keep meeting here, talking about this the same way.
BLITZER: You know, David Axelrod, you served in the White House under President Obama. You know how many times we've gone through this drill, what we're going through right now, a massacre, a school shooting, horrendous situation? The country is outraged. And almost always, nothing, nothing ever materializes to deal with -- to deal with the basic gun issues involved. Why is that?
[18:40:22] AXELROD: Well, it is because of the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby is extraordinarily powerful, and they're powerful in states where the Republican leadership comes from. There is not a -- there is not a desire to buck the NRA.
And I mean, you know, the interesting thing to me, Wolf, is that this president, President Trump, said he came to Washington to drain the swamp, to challenge politics as usual. There is nothing that demonstrates the problems of Washington more than this issue.
When 90 percent of the American people favor action on something like universal background checks, and Congress cannot act. When the bump stock issue comes up, and there really is no constituency for that, and Congress cannot act, because they are afraid to take on the power of the gun lobby, which, incidentally, was strongly supportive of the president in his campaign, that is politics as usual; and he is participating in politics as usual. He is not draining the swamp. He is swimming with the alligators, and we are paying a big price for us.
BLITZER: The fact, David, that in his, what, seven-minute address today, earlier at the White House, he expressed his deep concern. He expressed his heartfelt condolences, but he didn't utter the word "gun" even once. What does that say to you?
AXELROD: Well, it says -- it speaks to what I just said, but he said something else, Wolf, that I think bears repeating. He talked to the children of America, and he said, essentially, "We will do anything to protect you."
Well, prove it, Mr. President. Prove it. Take this issue on. Let's take these common-sense steps. Nobody is saying let's confiscate every gun in America. But certainly, weapons of mass destruction shouldn't be available to an 18- or 19-year-old kid for him to walk into a school and kill a massive number of his classmates and his teachers. We have to, as a country, confront this.
I will tell you, having worked with Barack Obama, there is no issue that I have ever -- that I know of, that he worked on, that frustrated or hurt him more. I remember him calling me on the day of the Newtown massacre, saying, "This is the first time I've ever cried in the Oval Office." And you saw, in footage earlier in the broadcast, how frustrated he was with the inaction of Congress.
The question is, when will the country make this a voting issue? When will people say, "I will not support you unless you do some things to address this issue, so we don't have to go through this again and again and again"?
It is -- right now, when the president speaks, when the speaker of the House speaks, and they offer their prayers and they offer their sympathies, it doesn't mean anything until and unless they're willing to get serious about taking this question on and taking on the NRA and taking real common-sense steps to try and reduce gun deaths in this country.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by for a moment. I quickly want to go to our senior investigative correspondent, Drew griffin. Drew, you have some new details on the shooter's social media. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: From an Instagram account, Wolf, troubling pictures, interesting pictures, strange pictures.
The first one is his photo itself, with a bandana and a "Make America Great Again" hat on. This is from the shooter's Instagram account.
Also posted, seven months ago, he took this picture and put it up. This is a box of American Eagle bullets. These are the type of ammo you would use in an AR-15, the .223 caliber. He put this up and showed just how much he paid for it.
There's also a series of pictures of him with long guns. We're not sure if they're all real guns from the photos. Or if one of these is the gun, but three different photos,
And then finally, it ends with this chilling shot taken through what looks to be the scope of a rifle on a second floor looking down on a street. We don't know if this is him behind this gun and scope, but again, all these pictures on an Instagram account that is connected or built by this shooter -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chilling. Chilling indeed. Drew, thank you very much.
Evan Perez, I want your analysis of what we just saw. Those images, they are strict -- simply awful. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf, and I think,
you know, all day we've been hearing from some of the law enforcement officials who have been looking at some of this material, and they've been -- they've called it extremist. They've called it disturbing. Again, all part of a greater picture of signs that were out there for anybody who might have been able to put it together. Unfortunately, nobody really had a full picture of how disturbed this young man is.
And look, I think the fact is now that he is now facing these charges, he's talking, I think one of the things that's going to happen is they're going to try to figure out how much of this he really believed, some of this extremist stuff that he really believed, how much of it was him just acting out, trying to get attention, trying to appear sort of bigger than he was. He seemed to be a weird kid in high school, which is obviously not an unusual thing. I mean, a lot of kids go through periods in high school where they don't fit in, and they don't end up doing things like this.
So, it's -- the question is, you know, how can you tell whether someone's having mental issues and having some struggles and, you know, when that person is going to go and do something like this. It's very difficult for the average person to try to make a difference between those two things.
BLITZER: Josh Campbell, you used to work in the FBI. That image of the "Make America Great Again" cap and his face covered like that, what's your reaction?
JOSH CAMPBELL, FORMER FBI AGENT: So, as an investigator, we don't look at things through partisan lens, so we can set aside the politics for a second and just try to get to the motive. I think Evan was exactly right in his analysis that as this information continues to come out, it's giving us that fuller picture, it's information that we didn't have before and unfortunately we're going to continue to see this.
If you're a law enforcement officer right now looking at these pictures, we've said this before, this is a gut-wrenching day for you because you look at these little disparate pieces of information and ask yourself, is this something that we could have put together in order to paint a picture and possibly stop a plot. I don't know that we're there yet now but I think Evan is correct that this is going to give us a fuller picture so we can understand what really was the motive at play here.
BLITZER: Lisa, you're a psychiatrist. You see these images. What's your reaction?
SUSTEREN: Well, the talk about the motive is certainly worth looking at, but, Wolf, I have held an assault weapon in my hands in a military context, and it's unbelievable the feeling of power that you have. It's intoxicating. Just in those first few minutes.
And when you take a young man like this who doesn't feel like he is powerful at all, no one notices him, maybe they bullied him a little bit, the idea of having access to a gun, to be able to get a gun, that's like magic. All of a sudden, you're someone important, and not only that, you have life and death power over people. This is irresistible.
So, while it's important to find motive, and it's important to find social media clues and all the rest, until we take away what amounts to just an almost irresistible impulse to get a gun that makes you feel so important, we're not going to have any change.
BLITZER: The fact, Lisa, that he posted these images publicly for people to take a look at, what does that say?
SUSTEREN: Well, that tells you that he wants people to think of him as really powerful. I'm a white supremacist or I can kill people. I can do these amazing things.
This is a young man who feels humiliated, emasculated, insignificant, and think, for these few moments, he is so very important and all he had to do was buy a gun and shoot it. So, this is what I mean. Until we look at the real nexus of the problem, the rest of this is really certainly interesting and helpful, but it's not going to change anything.
BLITZER: Let me bring Shawn Turner into this as well. Shawn, what's your reaction to those really awful images?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, when I look at those images, I spent 21 years in the Marine Corps and had occasion to deal with young men and women who were troubled, and I will tell you, as I look at those images through the eye of someone who's dealt with people who are having mental health issues, it's startling. I mean, the fact that those images were posted and that they sat out there, I would imagine that there were people who looked at those images and really raised a red flag and said, this is really disturbing. It's unfortunate that when we see those sorts of things, that you know, the way that our laws are written and the way that things operate in this country with regard to civil liberties and privacy, there are limitations on what law enforcement can do to really look into those things and investigate those things in a way that might give us some additional advanced warning.
But, you know, this is the kind of thing that will cause us for a while to be really sensitive to this, and, unfortunately, as it always happens, eventually that sensitivity will fall away, and you know, I would just say, Wolf, that we've got to have a little bit of intellectual honesty here. You know, every time this happens, we begin the process again of saying that we need to have a debate about these issues and we need to come to some resolution as to what we need to do in this country.
[18:50:06] But the truth is that, if we don't do anything about this, this time around, just like we didn't do anything last time or the time before, what we are saying through our inaction is that this -- these mass shootings are an acceptable price to pay to maintain access to the guns that we hold so dear. And I think that as we continue to watch this happen, you know, we have to have the intellectual honesty to do that or do something about it. So I hope this will be the wake up call that we need.
BLITZER: Yes, we keep saying that after every one of these incidents, after 20 first graders were massacred in Connecticut, I heard the same stuff, but clearly not much happened after that.
You know, Evan, these images, I suspect the tip of iceberg. There's probably a lot we haven't seen yet. How were investigators, whether FBI agents or others, Evan, going to be using this material?
PEREZ: Wolf, a lot of ha happens after this, you try to put together a picture of this shooter, but try to see whether or not there is something that you can learn of a pattern with other mass shootings. And they have done a tremendous amount of research, the FBI has, other organizations have done in the last few years, to try to understand the sort of the psyche and sort of what makes these people tick. One of the things we've learned over the last few years a they kind of like the idea of looking glamorous, they like the coverage that happens after one of these shootings, because for the first time they feel important, ones that survive that is.
And, look, I mean, I think it's very difficult for us, obviously, we have to cover these stories and the families deserve to have these incidents covered, and for the politicians to have to answer the questions that you asked of the governor there in Florida, but there is also sort of a question I think we all have to ask ourselves whether or not when we do this, you know, the next shooter is watching some of this coverage, and whether or not they are trying to learn from this as well. So, I think law enforcement struggles with that because they know that they need to explain some of these things, they need to explain motive, and some of the images that are you showing on the screen right now.
But I think they are also afraid that the next shooter is watching this and studying this and going to act based on what they see.
BLITZER: What about that, Josh, talk a little bit about that fear that Evan just raised.
CAMPBELL: Completely justifiable. Unfortunately as the shooters continue to learn more, I think law enforcement unfortunately is getting more practice at these. How do you conduct these investigations? How do you try to interdict and how to stop a plot?
I'll say as we look at these images as they continue to flash across the screen, we are unfortunately in a place right now that law enforcement wasn't in 48 hours ago. You know, obviously with the horrendous attack took place yesterday, any law enforcement attempting to serve process on social media account or maybe a resident or any type of facility used by the shooter would have no issue getting a judge to sign off on that. Unfortunately, you know, if we look at the story we saw earlier today with YouTube posting, for example, the anonymous posting on someone else's site, I still don't think that would be enough to get a judge or get a court to say go forth and find out who that is. That's the sad part here.
But what we're going to learn as we continue to dig into this, you can bet law enforcement officers are looking at this, the images that we have here and things we may not know about yet, that they're going to learn more about the shooter, they're going to get that fuller picture and hopefully that information will help stop the next attack.
BLITZER: After all of these incidents, Lisa, as you know, and you're a psychiatrist, we are always hearing about mental illness. Talk a little bit that and how that plays into this.
SUSTEREN: Well, all of us are subjected to forces that rattle us and clearly some people are more explosively unstable than others. And in this particular case, obviously, this was one person for whom those conditions and forces made him explode. But what I'd like to draw a little bit of parallels talking about finding patterns, all important, but reminds me a little bit about what would happen if the opioid crisis, we said let's figure out why people are getting addicted and study why they are getting addicted.
That's not what we are doing. We are reducing the supply. And this is I think a similar way to look at what we are doing with guns.
BLITZER: Shawn, let me get your thought on that as well. As someone who has watched all these incidents explode.
TURNER: Yes, I think when it comes to the issue of mental health, wolf, I agree wholeheartedly, but I think it's a little challenging because we tend to focus almost exclusively on mental health issues after something like this happened. You know, in my experience in government, and in the military, you know, there are wide range of issues that cause people to act out.
[18:55:03] And one of the real challenges for the mental health community is that you have people who have motivations, people who may be fiercely anti-government or people who may be motivated by religious ideology and on day-to-day basis these individuals don't like and they don't exhibit any traditional symptoms of mental health illness.
But they wake up one day and they decide today is the day I'm going to do something. And when they do that, it's too late for the mental health community, it's too late for any one in their family to stop that. The one common denominator across all of those motivations is their access to weapons that allow them to carry out these acts. So, yes, look, mental health issues are an important issue but I think it's only part of it. And we are kidding ourselves if we don't recognize that we've got to look at mental health as well as other motivation as well as gun control in this country.
BLITZER: Yes, that's fair.
Our national correspondent Gary Tuchman is over at the vigil that's taking place right now for the 17 people massacred yesterday.
Gary, family and friends, they're paying emotional tributes to the victims.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf, its emotional, it's a beautiful candlelight vigil that's taking place in this park about two miles away from the school. There are thousands of people who have come here, and hundreds of the people come here were students in the school when this horrifying day happened yesterday. On the stage are 17 angels that symbolize the people who died, and all throughout this crowd are first responders who ended up coming to the school to try to help save lives.
One of the most touching parts of the ceremony a short time ago involved 14-year-old girl Jamie Guttenberg who died yesterday. Her father took the stage and talked about how important it is to always tell your children every day I love you. And there were gasping from the crowd when he said she left yesterday and said I don't remember if I said I love you.
It's poignant but it's a very important day as this community tries to heal amid the worst day so many people's lives -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Gary, such a moving, emotional movement right there, and just multiply that by so many times. We're going to continue to show our viewers these live pictures.
David Axelrod, this is a moment in American history we are seeing, there is an opportunity to deal with this in constructive way. The question is will the political leadership have the guts to do it.
AXELROD: That is the question, Wolf, because we've been at this moment before. We certainly thought we were thereafter new town and nothing happened. We thought after Las Vegas, something would happen. Nothing happened.
So, my hope and my prayer for these young people, and for young people across this country, I speak as a father and a grandfather, is that our public officials will live up to their oath, will live up to their responsibilities here, will put these children and their safety ahead of their political allegiances, ahead of the their fundraising, ahead of their own political fate.
You know, I work with young people all the time. My job is to encourage them to believe that this system works, that the democracy is meaningful, that we can grab the wheel of history and turn in a better direction. We desperately need that at this moment.
And this is the opportunity for our leaders. If they miss this opportunity, people will become more cynical after each one of these incidents. And, you know, it remains to be seen. I wish I could be more hopeful, but the example we have seen to this point is not very encouraging.
BLITZER: But it's happened so many times, David, during Republican and Democratic administrations, presidents, and nothing ever happens. And so, you have to say to yourself, is it going to be repeat performance now?
AXELROD: Well, I hope that our leaders are watching tonight and looking at those images that we are seeing on the screen of these young people, and trying to put themselves in the place of these families who have lost these children and of the other children who witnessed their classmates and their teachers murdered for no reason, for no reason, and say to themselves, we can afford to pass by one more of these incidents, we'll play the game as we played it before. I hope that they will either actor they will be held accountable for not acting. I hope this time is different. And we shall see, wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, community grieving right now in south Florida. We see the grief there, people grieving all over the country, indeed watching all over the world. We hear politicians say now is not the time to talk about this. Well, it is the time to talk about this right now.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
CNN special coverage of the deadly school shooting in Florida continues on "Erin BURNETT OUTFRONT".