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Former Student Admits to Shooting Rampage; New South African President Sworn In. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:13] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour -- the Florida school shooter makes his first appearance in court as people across the United States debated anything can be done to prevent the next tragedy.

VAUSE: The man who Nelson Mandela once hoped would succeed him has been sworn in as South Africa's new president but can he bring an end to the political corruption and abuse of power?

SESAY: And later, the international opening for "Black Panther" which hopes to break box office records, while breaking new ground.

VAUSE: Hello everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay.


We begin with a community in mourning for 17 people gunned down in one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history. And many are asking how a 19-year-old with a disturbing online profile was able to get his hands on a semi-automatic weapon.

VAUSE: Thousands gathered for a candle-lit vigil Thursday night to honor the 17 lives lost, all shot dead by Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school who has now confessed to the mass killing and is facing 17 counts of pre-meditated murder.

In a brief court appearance on Wednesday, Cruz was denied bail, and according to his lawyer, is now under a suicide watch.


MELISA MCNEIL, PUBLIC DEFENDER: He's a broken human being. He's a broken child. It's just -- the sadness that this community is feeling, I mean my children are -- they go to school in this community. I feel horrible for these families. And Mr. Cruz feels that pain.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SESAY: Well, joining us now here in L.A., CNN law enforcement contributor and retired FBI special agent Steve Moore and criminal behavioral analyst Laura Richards.

VAUSE: Also we have CNN political commentators -- Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas.

SESAY: All right. But let's start with Steve and Laura. Good to have you with us.

Steve -- we have a confession and a host of unanswered questions. But what a lot of people are contemplating in these hours after this tragedy is, could this have been prevented? Given that he had that YouTube post in which he said "I'm going to be a professional school shooter". People are troubled by the fact that the FBI was aware of this posting.

Take a listen to how the FBI is responding before you give your take.


ROBERT LASKY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: In 2017 the FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel. The comment simply said "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." No other information was included with that comment, which would indicate a time, location, or the true identity of the person who made the comment.

The FBI conducted database reviews, checks but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.


SESAY: All right. So, Steve, they were unable to identify the person who made the comments. But we have since learned that they did also get two threat reports about the shooter. Did the FBI drop the ball here?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's hard to say they dropped the ball. I think they could have possibly done better. And I know that sounds really astounding to say at this point.

But here's what's going on in the field offices, 59 field offices every day. You are getting in small offices, 10 to 15 of these kind of cases every day. 99.9 percent of them are what we call nothings -- just they never pan out to be anything.

The agent there or the agents there did due diligence to try and see if they could locate him, basically saying is there anything out there about this guy, anything on file that would show that there's a Nikolas Cruz who's dangerous? They were unable to do it.

And make no mistake the FBI has the technology to find who that particular Nikolas Cruz is. But it's kind of like triaging. What other cases do you drop for this case when all you have is a statement? SESAY: Ok. But let me ask you this and then Laura -- I want you to weigh in. They got these threat reports. But as I understand it those weren't passed on to the local authorities.

MOORE: Right.

SESAY: So as you talk about triage --


SESAY: -- why not hand it over, at least cover your bases on that front?

[00:04:58] MOORE: Well, see, the police in Florida had the threat reports on Cruz. The office that was working -- the FBI office that was working the threat was Mississippi so there was no cross- pollenization there. There is no database right now on these threat situations.

And I think that's where we're going to have to go as a nation. And though it sounds somewhat Orwellian, there needs to be some system where we track threats.

SESAY: Yes. I don't know about Orwellian, just put in place safeguards to keep people safe.

MOORE: Well, that's what you and I would believe.

SESAY: Laura, you believe there were numerous red flag, warnings here that were missed. What are you referring to specifically?

LAURA RICHARDS, CRIMINAL BEHAVIORAL ANALYST: I do believe there are lots of warning signs here and certainly domestic violence. Domestic abuse is the thing that tends to be overlooked when talking about gun violence.

We've got to remember about 57 percent of all cases has a domestic violence history. He was expelled because of his domestic violence.

SESAY: But we haven't been able to corroborate why. We just know it was disciplinary matters -- all that authorities are saying. Although there are reports that he had had some quarrel with his ex-girlfriend.

RICHARDS: The euphemism -- trouble with a girl. But then there was another report that he was stalking one of the neighbors -- a female.

And it's not just the domestic violence and the stalking. I saw the posts online, the threats, other students talked about harassment. Everybody said that he was a grudge flexer (ph) and took revenge on people. They said that he was the weirdo, introverted (ph) and that he stood out and so all of these things start to become cumulative.


RICHARDS: But I really do think with link domestic violence is the thing that is not taken seriously. Domestic violence is always seen as a misdemeanor here. And actually if you're prepared to abuse or hurt the people you love and care about the most, what are you prepared to do to people that you don't care about?

SESAY: Let me ask you about triggers, which is that's always a question of what would have triggered this individual?

We know he came from a broken family life, if you can call it that. But you know, he had an adoptive parent, a mother who died back in November. He was taken in by a friend's family. Could the passing of the mother, the adoptive mother, have been the trigger for this?

RICHARDS: Well, that may well have been a trigger, along with the break-up of a relationship. Valentine's Day in particular, that was chosen specifically. You think about what Valentine's Day signals and means to people.

He chose a particular time, a particular place, he chose 2:00 because he knew there would be a higher body count. That was deliberate and premeditated. This is somebody who wants to have a high body count, and it was a target-rich environment.


RICHARDS: He had planned everything. He went in there with an automatic weapon, smoke grenades, a gas mask. You know, this is somebody who is very planned, very prepared. He'd been ruminating on it for a long time. His posts were months ago saying he wanted to become a professional mass shooter.

SESAY: Well, to that point, I want to play some sound now from the family that took him in, their lawyer Jim Lewis, because he paints this individual slightly differently.

Take a listen to what Jim Lewis had to say.


JIM LEWIS, LAWYER FOR FAMILY WHO TOOK IN GUNMAN: They didn't see a mentally-ill person or they never would have let him live under their home. These folks opened their home out just to try to help the young man because he really had no other place to go.

They did not see any danger. They did not see any kind of predilection that this was going to happen. And they're horrified just like everybody else.


SESAY: Steve, that contradicts everything else that other people are saying, you know, the weirdo, introverted comments and all the rest of it.

I mean again Laura and Steve -- both of you weigh in here, that would suggest, if you are to take Jim Lewis' point of view that there was some kind of mental break here because he did not appear dangerous. He said they would not have taken him into their house if he was a danger.

RICHARDS: Right. It depends on what you're talking about when you're saying a danger. We have psychopaths who walk among us. They don't have two heads.

So psychopathologies can be difficult to detect. I'm not saying that this is somebody with a clear mental health disorder. And, you know, saying that this is just about mental health I think is very shortsighted.

We know that many people who are mentally ill do not commit serious violence. This is somebody -- and this is why it's always about asking the right questions.

Many people at that school said they were not surprised that it was him. So listening to community intelligence, what teachers are saying, what people are saying, what ex-girlfriends are saying is very important.

SESAY: Well, that's my point. Why does that contradict what Jim Lewis is saying? That's my point. If the teachers and the students are saying one thing -- why is Jim Lewis saying they didn't pick up on that?

RICHARDS: Well, it depends how long he had been living with them, how much time he actually spent at home. This, to me, strikes me that he was someone who was a bit of a loner. And maybe he wasn't spending that much time at the house. And when he was there, he held it together.

There are masks that people wear, that people compartmentalize things, and kind of appear in one setting to be one thing.

But again -- sometime when it's right under our noses, we don't see it. And other times if something catastrophic and awful happens, people distance themselves from it and they can go into denial.

[00:10:04] Now, I'm not saying that's what's happened here. But I'm saying that if people do ask the right questions, they will start to see the warning signs. You know, you scratch the surface when you start to see warning signs there.

SESAY: Steve -- we're almost out of time but last word to you. Last 30 seconds to you.

MOORE: I was going to agree with Laura. Psychopaths can be anything to anybody whenever they need to. The one thing he needed was a place to stay. And that's why he didn't appear that way at home.

SESAY: Ok. Steve Moore and Laura Richards -- we appreciate it. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.


VAUSE: Thanks -- Isha. Well the U.S. President plans to travel to Parkland, Florida to meet

with families, survivors and local officials but for now, no word on when that will actually happen. On Thursday the President addressed the nation, and promised to tackle what he called the difficult issue of mental health.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans -- I want to speak now directly to America's children, especially those who feel lost, alone, confused, or even scared. I want you to know that you are never alone, and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.

Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can. 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.

It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.


VAUSE: But he made no mention of what can be done to stop the next mass shooting and prevent the senseless killing of innocent children, like 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. Her mother has made a desperate plea to the President to do something.


LORI ALHADEFF, MOTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: How, how do we allow a gunman to come into our children's school? How do they get through security? What security is there?

There's no metal detectors. The gunman, a crazy person just walks right into the school, knocks down the window of my child's door, and starts shooting, shooting her and killing her.

President Trump, you say what can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children's hands. Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools.

What can you do? You can do a lot. This is not fair to our families that our children go to school and have to get killed.

I just spent the last two hours putting the burial arrangements for my daughter's funeral who's 14. President Trump, please do something. Do something. Action -- we need it now. These kids need safety now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: It was a powerful moment.

Let's bring in CNN political commentators Dave Jacobson and John Thomas. Ok, you know, that was one of those moments that, you know, so incredibly moving that it's hard to, you know, forget what that mother was saying.

So John -- with that in mind, how can the President speak for almost ten minutes after one of the worst school shootings ever and never use the word "gun", apart from reference to police responding to gunfire?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we're not there yet. I mean we're going to have that conversation. We don't know -- when he spoke we still don't have all the facts -- John.

And the fact is we don't know if this was strictly a failure of law enforcement. It seems like in your last segment, it seems like any teenage boy or girl with an Instagram account could have sleuthed this thing and figured out that this guy was a real danger, right.

So why did law enforcement fail? Why are we not hardening these soft targets? And whether it's like here in the L.A. school system, we have metal detectors at almost every door.

There are things that we can do both on a local and federal level. I'm sure we're going to figure that out over time. But I think what President Trump was trying to do was to show empathy in the moment and not start pointing fingers.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, that was teleprompted Trump that we heard talking about Florida.

[00:15:00] Earlier there was Twitter Trump putting this out. "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."

So Dave -- apart from the fact that authorities were told, Twitter Trump seems to come very close to blaming the people of Parkland Florid for all of this.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Enough is enough. A Quinnipiac poll came out three months ago in November -- 95 percent of Americans, John, want strengthened background checks; 65 percent of Americans want a ban on high-capacity magazines or assault weapons.

The fact of the matter is, in Florida, you have to be 21 to buy a handgun. And there's a three-day waiting period to get that gun. You have to be 18 to buy an AR-15 and it takes minutes -- minutes of a background check.

THOMAS: But Dave -- he bought this a year in advance.

VAUSE: Ok. John -- so it's too soon for a policy debate on gun violence. But when, you know, a terrorist tries to (INAUDIBLE) a group of people on Halloween in New York, that policy debate about immigration that happens like that. That happens in an instant. And we didn't know all the facts then.

But the President Trump jumped in, Sarah Sanders jumped in, the entire administration boots and all talking about immigration and ending chain migration, all this kind of stuff. So why is it ok then but not ok now?

THOMAS: Well, it's certainly a more complicated debate. I mean there's no simple solution because --

JACOBSON: Murder is murder, I'm sorry.

THOMAS: No, there's not, Dave. Dave -- he bought the gun a year ago. This is pre-meditated. A background check would not have caught this guy. So unless you're advocating for total confiscation, you could not have prevented this attack.

VAUSE: But the timing of the policy debate. Why is it ok to have a policy debate when there is an act of terrorism and the President jumps in and doesn't have all the facts? But it's ok, he's out there advocating policy changes.

THOMAS: Well, And I don't think he should within the first 24 hours.

VAUSE: But he does. So why not this time? Why not when it comes to shootings, mass shootings, domestic terrorism?

THOMAS: Well, obviously it lines with his policy perspective, right.

VAUSE: And his base.

THOMAS: And his policy perspective. But in any of these instances, we've got to wait to get all the facts before we have the conversation.

VAUSE: Ok. We're having the conversation where it's all about blaming mental health for gun violence.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: How do we make sure these individuals with mental illness do not touch a gun?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: As you know, mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies. That may be the case here today based on earlier reporting.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: This individual appears to have significant issues with mental illness. I think we will certainly be asking were there signs of mental illness? Could we have stepped in and prevented this beforehand?


VAUSE: So, John -- it's all about mental illness. We've had the Las Vegas shooting, the worst mass shooting ever in the U.S. We have the Texas church shooting -- again all of this mental illness. Was has the administration done to address this problem?

THOMAS: They said they're working on it today. I mean it's a good point. They could have been doing more. You know, they're focusing on the opioid crisis and they weren't focusing on this. You're right.

VAUSE: Dave -- tell us what they haven't done when it comes to all of this because what they've actually done, they've made it easier for those who are mentally ill to actually get a gun.

JACOBSON: Yes. Precisely and they haven't one anything to enhance gun safety laws. The fact of the matter is, Republicans starting at the top with President Trump, going into Congress -- they are not executing the will of the people.

People want tougher background checks. They want a ban on assault weapons. And the fact of the matter is, these Republicans are cowards. And they have blood on their hands. They take the money from the gun lobby and the NRA and they execute their agenda but not the agenda of the American people. It's deplorable.

VAUSE: Marco Rubio number six on the list of recipients of contributions from the National Rifle Association.

THOMAS: I think you're overplaying the value of the NRA to these -- a lot of these elected officials, members of Congress strongly believe in the Second Amendment. Yes, the money doesn't hurt. But it's not about the money. They go in with these strong-held beliefs.

VAUSE: I just want to go back to the issue of mental health because in 2015, a psychiatrist at Columbia University analyzed the numbers, the database of all the shootings over a period of time found only 52 out of the 235 killers, or about 22 percent, were mentally ill. And the conclusion was the mentally ill should not bear the burden of being regarded as chief perpetrators of mass murder.

And so Dave -- apart from, you know, this mental health thing being just plain wrong, it is outrageous, and is kind of slur on people who actually are struggling with mental health issues.

JACOBSON: Look, I don't want to discount the mental health issue -- John. And I think that's a bipartisan issue. Like Donald Trump should get started on that yesterday. And I think Democrats would meet him halfway and clearly want to address this issue and get something done. But I also thing that the American people, overwhelmingly, believe that these guns are out of control.

VAUSE: America doesn't have a mental health issue any worse than anywhere else in the world. It has a gun violence problem worse than anywhere else in the world.

[00:20:01] So why does it keep coming back to mental health for Republicans? It's just such a convenient talking point and then they don't do anything about mental health. THOMAS: Well, they should do something about mental health and it's

one of the reasons -- I know you're alluding to Dave about why Trump rolled back an executive order and made it easier for people with mental health issues to get firearms. That was backed by the ACLU and the Mental Health Association of America.

Because you're right, it is unfair. It's still a challenge. John -- I wish there's a perfect solution here. I don't have the answer today. I know it looks like it was a failure of law enforcement and we need to fix that cooperation just like we did after 9/11.

Why different agencies weren't talking to one another so we can stop these things. But simply confiscating guns, I don't believe, or tougher background checks is not going to solve this situation.

JACOBSON: Well, even like the bump stock issue after the Las Vegas shooting--

THOMAS: He didn't use a bump stock in this one.

JACOBSON: I'm saying Las Vegas though. That could prevent another Las Vegas from happening again but Republicans refuse to move.


VANIER: Everything dies in Congress. Yes. Everything that gets tried eventually dies in Congress. This country has so many mass shootings, you literally cannot count them.

Anyway, thank you. Obviously this is a debate which goes on for some time and I appreciate you guys for being with us. Thanks.

SESAY: Well, rather than making this an abstract debate let's talk about the victims. Let's talk about those who lost their lives in what happened there in Florida.

Let's share some of the heartbreaking details of the 17 victims killed, with this gun violence. Seventeen victims' lives cruelly cut short. The victims, all of them -- teachers and students alike -- they lived vibrant lives full of ambition and talent which many hopes and dreams.

Like 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet, a star swimmer just -- just months away from graduation. Nicholas would have headed for the University of Indianapolis this fall.

VAUSE: Jamie Guttenberg, who was only 14 years old. Her father posted a tribute on Facebook saying the family doesn't know how to put their lives back together after losing their only daughter and sister.

And Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who'll be remembered as a friend and hero. He died trying to rush his students back into the classroom after the shooting began.

One of those students told CNN that she will never forget how he saved her life. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELSEY FRIEND, SURVIVOR OF SCHOOL SHOOTING: He still will forever be my hero. I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students in the classroom. And if his family is watching this, please know that your son or your brother was an amazing person. And I'm alive today because of him.



VAUSE: Well, South Africa has a new president and many are hoping it will mean a new era of transparency and prosperity.

SESAY: Cyril Ramaphosa is replacing Jacob Zuma whose presidency was overshadowed by scandals. The new leader is promising to crack down on corruption, that he has got a very long road ahead of him.

CNN's David McKenzie has all the details.


[00:24:58] DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The room packed with parliamentarians with last-minute invites. Cyril Ramaphosa --


MCKENZIE: -- sworn in as the next president of South Africa after a late-night resignation from his scandal-plagued predecessor.

RAMAPHOSA: I do believe that when one is elected in this type of position, you basically become a servant of the people of South Africa.

MCKENZIE: Relief and celebration for many in the ruling party who say this hastily organized ceremony was, in fact, a long time coming.

JACKSON MTHEMBU, ANC CHIEF WHIP: This man who for his entirety of his life has fought for the freedom of the people of this country.