Return to Transcripts main page


Parkland, Florida, Mayor Weighs In About Her Town's Tragedy; The Benefits of Gun Control Were Examined; Rick Gates' Cooperation with the Mueller Investigation Was Discussed; The Failure of the Immigration Bill Was Announced. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: "Early Start" continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump, please do something.

MARSH (voice over): Grieving families are demanding action after the Florida school massacre. We heard the gunman's home was a frequent destination for local police, but did the FBI miss a chance to track him down?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To every parent, teacher, and child, we are here for you. Whatever you need.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: President Trump offered comfort to families, but yet no mention of guns. Is there hope for action to stop the bloodshed?

Bood morning everyone and welcome to "Early Start." Along with Rene Marsh in New York, I'm Dave Briggs. It is Friday, February 16th. It is 5:00 a.m. here in Parkland, Florida. We begin with the latest on the Florida high school shooting.

As families hold vigil and begin the process of saying good-bye to their children. Charging documents in the case show 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz has confessed to being the gunman. We've learned the FBI was warned about Cruz by someone who saw a threatening post online. That post, one of many that offer disturbing glimpses into his mental state.

All 17 victims have now been identified by the Broward Sheriff and as lawmakers fumble with what to do or not to do, this morning the conservative Murdoch- owned "New York Post" out with this surprising cover, "Mr. President please act." It also had an accompanying editorial. Seven people remain in the hospital; four in critical condition. For the latest on what we've learned about the gunman's actions before and after the attack, we turn to CNN's Rosa Flores live here in Parkland. Good morning, Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN REPORTER: Good morning, Dave. The suspect waking up in a jail cell this morning after having confessed to the crimes. This is according to probable cause documents, and from law enforcement, we're getting a timeline - a chain of events. Two minutes after he arrived at this campus, according to police, he started firing his weapon. Ten minutes later, he set the AR-15 style rifle down and he started blending in with students. That's how he was able to flee the scene. He even stopped by Wal-Mart and purchased a drink, bought a sandwich, and then stopped at McDonald's.

About an hour later, he was apprehended by a police officer from a nearby town who saw him in a residential area and noticed that he fit the description. Now, we are also learning from police records that police were called to his home about 39 times since 2010 for things like quote mentally ill person and disturbance and domestic disturbance. And from his court-appointed attorney, we are learning, she is saying he simply fell through the cracks.


MELISA MCNEILL, NIKOLAS CRUZ'S ATTORNEY: He's a broken human being. He's a broken child. He's sad. He's mournful. He's remorseful. He is fully aware of what is going on. And he's just a broken human being.


FLORES: Now police say they are disturbed by his digital footprint. A second Instagram account has surfaced showing him wearing a mask and with an arsenal of weapons; a pile of rifles and guns. So Dave, all of these, of course, clues as police try to bring this case together. As you know, the suspect is charged with 17 counts of pre-meditated murder. Dave.

BRIGGS: Rosa, thanks. Questions this morning about whether the FBI missed an opportunity to stop the Parkland massacre. The video blogger says he warned the bureau of the apparent school shooting threat from a YouTube user with the same name as the gunman. The blogger reported an alarming comment on a video he posted. It said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

Now the FBI says a field officer did a web search and internal data place review but the blogger did not know the commenter, and the FBI says it could not identify him. The bureau says no connection to south Florida was found and therefore local law enforcement was not notified of the possible threat. Let's talk to the mayor of Parkland, Florida. Christine Hunschofsky, thanks so much for joining us once again.

I was at Columbine almost 20 years ago as a student journalist. As the days went on, I became a runner for this network, ironically, and every night I confess, I drove home in tears and still as you can see to this day, I cry every time this happens. But I feel like the country does not. There was a shooting just a few weeks ago in Kentucky and I saw people glance at their phone in the breaking news update and went about their business. What do you want the country to feel after your town was attacked?

CHRISTINE HUNSCHOFSKY, MAYOR OF PARKLAND, FLORIDA: I want the country to remember that these are families, that there are real people whose lives are forever affected by this.

[05:05:00] For those us who are here, we see the raw emotion, we see the hurt, we see the pain and we can feel it and we want to make a difference and we want to make sure this never happens again. I think this day and age, there is so much competing for our attention, that it's hard to keep focus on these things. It is hard to remember these are not just images on TV, these are real people with real lives.

BRIGGS: how do you characterize the mentality of this town of Parkland and how it has evolved in the last 36 - 48 hours?

HUNSCHOFSKY: This town is an amazing town. We've lived here almost 18 years. It's family-oriented, close-knit, everybody helping people -- neighbors, strangers. It's wonderful. It has been hard here. It has been hard here. People are suffering. People are seeing things. Their children have seen things they never expected. But we had a vigil last night where thousands of people came out and it was amazing and it showed this community is here to get better, to recover and to help those who need it.

BRIGGS: What do you need? I know the whole country wants to lend a hand. I've seen a GoFundMe page that's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. What does this town and what do the victims, what do the parents and students need?

HUNSCHOFSKY: Right now we started with the basics of the grief counselors and that stuff. The city will be working to put together things that the residents will need, the whole community will need. I know the school board will be doing the same thing, and once we have that down, unfortunately, we are learning from other areas that have had these tragedies of what is most need going forward.

BRIGGS: Many people in the country were shocked, in a good way, to hear your governor Rick Scott say everything is on the table. Do you take him at his word? What should be on the table?

HUNSCHOFSKY: I take him at his word. We just had Hurricane Irma here in September. Governor Scott was on the phone every day with the mayors and with local electeds and he was there to help. I will take him at his word. He said it on the record.

What we need right now is the resources to be able to help this community recover. What all those resources are going to be going forward, I don't have the specifics, but we're going to have a long list.

BRIGGS: You are, indeed.

HUNSCHOFSKY: And we're going to take advantage of what is being offered to us.

BRIGGS: The nation is behind you. Our hearts go out to you. Thanks so much mayor, for being here this morning.

The mayor tells me school closed today. They are not sure when it will reopen. It may next week, but it in fact, may not. All of the victims from the mass shooting have now been identified.

A geography teacher, an athletic director, a football coach, and 14 teenagers with their entire lives ahead of them: sixteen-year-old Carmen Schentrup, a semifinalist for 2018 National Merit Scholarship; Nicholas Dworet, a 17-year-old senior, was headed to the University of Indianapolis in the fall on a diving scholarship; 49-year-old Christopher Hixon, the school athletic director was a Naval reservist who served in Iraq in 2007. His widow Deborah describes him as an awesome husband, father and American. Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old dancer, her father, Fred, holding back tears and anger at a vigil last night.


FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF PARKLAND FLORIDA SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIM: I sent her to school yesterday. She was supposed to be safe. My job is to protect my children and I sent my kid to school. In the morning sometimes things get so crazy. She runs out behind. She's like, "I got to go, dad. Bye." And, I don't always get to say I love you. I don't remember if I said that to Jaime yesterday morning.


BRIGGS: Fourteen-year-old Alaina Petty loved to serve her community. She was a member of the school's ROTC and also volunteered to help rebuild lives after Hurricane Irma.

Aaron Feis is an American hero. The 37-year-old assistant football coach was killed when he used his body as a shield to protect students from gunfire. A colleague says, "He died the same way he lived. He put himself second."

Joaquin Oliver was 17. A family friend describes him as good-hearted kid who loved his family and just being around other people.

Fourteen-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, a Parkland travel soccer star. Her mother Lori, holding nothing back,


demanding action on gun violence.


LORI ALHADEFF, MOTHER OF PARKLAND, FLORIDA SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIM: 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! This is not fair to our families that our children have 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 is 14. President Trump, please do something!


BRIGGS: We can't begin to imagine a parent's pain this morning.

Luke Hoyer, he was 15. He loved basketball and mac and cheese. His cousin remembers him as an amazing individual who was always happy, always smiling.

Thirty-five-year-old geography teacher Scott Beigel died trying to usher students back into his classroom when the shooting began. Kelsey Friend, one of Beigel's students, tells CNN he saved her life.


KELSEY FRIEND, STUDENT MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: He will forever be will be my hero. I will never forget the actions 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 am alive today because of him.


BRIGGS: There are seven other victims. We don't know as much about them, we do know their names. Martin Duque Anguiano, 14, described by his brother Miguel as a funny


Cara Loughran, a 14-year-old dancer. Her dance studio calls her a beautiful soul.

Eighteen-year-old Meadow Pollack who was preparing to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton.

Gina Montalto, 14, a member of the school state champion marching band.

Alexander Schachter, 14, whose older brother survived the shooting.

Peter Wang, 15, also a member of the school ROTC program.

And, Helena Ramsey, described by a relative as deeply loved and loved others even more so. She's gone at 17.

President Trump trying to console a nation in mourning, but the idea that it's too soon to talk about guns remains a prevailing theme.




TRUMP: 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. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness.


BRIGGS: President Trump addressing the Florida school shooting with plenty of empathy, but not a single mention of guns. The President says he is planning to come here to Parkland, Florida, to meet with families and officials. He also says he will meet with state governors and attorneys general later this month to discuss policies to make schools safer. But truth be told, we have heard it before.


TRUMP: We will be talking about gun laws as time goes by.


BRIGGS: That, of course, after the Las Vegas concert shooting in October. It is fair to say guns are not part of the national conversation since then. Let's bring in CNN Political Commentator Errol Lewis. Good morning to you Errol. Thank you for joining us on this difficult morning. Let's talk about something we have heard time and time and time again over the last 20 years. It's something Florida Senator Marco Rubio reiterated yesterday. Listen.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Someone decided I will commit this crime. They will find a way to get the gun it to do it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have a law that makes it harder, it just means understand, to be honest, it isn't going to stop this from happening. You can still pass the law, per se, but you're still going to have the horrible attacks.


BRIGGS: Errol, is he right? Would none of this, with the restrictions we talked about and heard about, would that have shopped this shooting?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, no, that's probably false. I think that might just be the money talking. Senator Rubio is one of those who has taken millions of dollars from the National Rifle Association and so he kind of recites their talking points and that's one of them. But the facts are these, in the decade before the 1994 assault weapons ban was passed, you had one set of numbers. Those numbers came down, both the number of incidents and the number of fatalities from mass shootings to find that six or more people killed. It went down in the decade the ban was in effect and then the numbers soared after the law was allowed to lapse.

Senator Rubio knows that very well. He is not really being honest with the public when he says, "Gee, nobody can do anything. These things are going to happen." There was a ten-year period where a federal law was in effect and the numbers came down, steps were taken in the right direction. Senator Rubio -- even if you accept his logic and say this is not really going to work, fine. Pass it. Prove everybody wrong who has been crying out for some kind of regulation, but Senator Rubio is not going to do that. BRIGGS: Yes, a couple of things to point out. There are 27 states

that allow 18-year-olds to buy long guns; 3 of those allow them to buy at age 16. There are two pieces of gun legislation in Congress today. [05:20:00] They would arguably loosen gun restrictions on concealed carry and make it easier to buy a silencer. Let's listen now to what Florida Governor Rick Scott said surprising some on the right and the left.


RICK SCOTT, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: Everything's on the table. All right? I'm going to look at every way we can make sure our kids are safe. It is a lot of things. It is looking at who should have guns. Should individuals with mental illness have guns? What can we do to create more safety in our schools? What can we do to make it easier for our children and make them feel comfortable to report things? It is not one thing. It is all these things put together.


BRIGGS: A courageous stand in particular if he is running for Senate will be difficult to take on the NRA. Do you expect changes to be made? Do you expect Democrats to use this as an issue as we approach the 2018 mid terms, Errol?

LOUIS: Not necessarily. Governor Scott knows he's got a so-called purple state. He has a lot of Democrats and independent voters he's going to have to at least not enrage, and I think that accounts for what you just heard. Whether he does this within his power as Governor, it remains to be seen, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is all just kind of talk as he tries to get himself elected to the U.S. Senate. The political system is really where the deadlock lies. The fact of the matter is, you've got a lot of Americans who just believe everyone should have guns all the time and there should be no regulation. They have a powerful lobby in the form of the NRA that enforces that kind of insanity. Governor Scott is walking a tightrope to get elected to the Senate without annoying too many on the other side.

MARSH: All right, and Errol, I really want to zero in on the question of what do we do next? Where do we go from here? I mean we just heard that sound from Senator Rubio who says, you know, the restrictions wouldn't have stopped this from happening. Paul Ryan has said this is not the type to delve into politics. The President yesterday when he addressed the nation, he didn't mention gun control at all. And then, this morning, fast forward, the front page of "The New York Post." This is a conservative newspaper, and the words say "Mr. President, please act." So my question is, if you have a conservative newspaper saying this, how long will Republicans be able to continue this stance of it's not the time to talk about this now.

LOUIS: They're going to remain silent and hope we remain silent and let this pass until the next incident. They're going to do it for as long as they can get away with it. And I think every person watching this should get involved on whichever side. Because the reality is these folks are going to do absolutely nothing. You should get involved. They made that as clear as they possibly could. They would not go on national television to defend it.

Even the A Plus rating from the NRA, the people who clearly believe in this stuff and some of the laws they championed are so, so, so extreme. Yet they won't talk about it; they want to get reelected and quietly move along. I'll give an example, Lee Zelden, a New York City lawmaker, was one of the co-sponsors of the Conceal Carry Reciprocity Act which would allow you to take a gun -- if you were allowed to carry a concealed weapon in Georgia or a place with really lax laws, you can come to New York City and local authorities would be forced to allow you to carry that weapon.

A very extreme measure, completely out of step with what people in New York would want. Yet he is one of the members who won't give an interview, won't talk about it, won't defend it, won't excuse it. Just wants to slide past the election in November. Everybody has to get involved. Pick a district. Focus on it. Learn about it. Get involved. Volunteer. Donate money. Whatever it is you're going to do, now is the time. Not the next massacre or the one after that.

MARSH: And all you have to is follow the money and that explains why they are hesitant to come forward and say anything about this issue in particular. I want to shift gears to Russia. Rick Gates. It is CNN's reporting that he has made or is he in the process of making a deal with Robert Mueller in this Russia investigation.


MARSH: Looking into whether there was any collusion or things of that sort relating to the last election. How significant is that?

LOUIS: Very significant. Rick Gates was a top assistant to Paul Manafort. Not just in the campaign, but inauguration. He carried over past the election. He has been involved in some back and forth. You can never tell exactly what's going on. He has to change his lawyers. He's got financial problems. He's got four young kids at home and a wife and he has been under house arrest for months. He has to get out from under this. He is not a wealthy man; he doesn't have millions of dollars to throw around. He has to put an end to this.


What we can tell from the reporting from CNN is that he will go in and tell them everything he knows. That can't be good for the Trump team which has been saying this is a witch hunt. This is somebody who is unquestionably in the campaign, unquestionably part of the transition, knows a lot, and is now talking openly and freely and cooperating apparently with the special prosecutor.

MARSH: Right, they are not interested in making a plea deal if he has nothing to offer. Errol Louis, thank you for joining us this morning. We'll be right back.


MARSH: An immigration deal and the fate of the nation's Dreamers still very much up in the air this morning. Senators failed to advance a bipartisan bill that would offer a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants as well as $25 billion for border security and other measures. The deal, falling six votes short of the 60 need, a competing more-conservative White House backed plan also failed. John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate says he doesn't feel the issue of immigration will be raised again anytime soon. The Trump Administration says the next plan to consider is a conservative proposal in the house.

"Early Start" continues right now.