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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Investigators Believe Boulder Attack Was Planned, Also Trying To Determine If Suspect Had Connection To Grocery Store; Biden Preparing For First Press Conference Thursday; AstraZeneca Now Says Vaccine 76 Percent Effective In Preventing Symptomatic Disease. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, Chris Cuomo is off tonight.

Vigils are underway right now in Boulder, Colorado, people there mourning the loss of 10 lives, Monday, at a supermarket, including a police officer, with a wife, and seven kids, who was honored separately as well.

At the same time, investigators still have a lot to learn about what motivated the alleged killer, and why he chose this particular store to attack.

In our last hour, I spoke with Kimberly Moore, a pharmacy worker, at King Soopers, who took shelter, at times, just steps away from the shooter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIMBERLY MOORE, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I stood back. I wanted to make sure that my other colleagues in the pharmacy were OK. So, we ended up just hunkering down, more in the back of the pharmacy.

But for the beginning of the initial part of the attacks, it was really terrifying because she felt extremely exposed. All he had to do was jump over our counter.

COOPER: So, you were what, underneath the counter, or?

MOORE: So, there's these shelves that go behind the pharmacy, where we keep our medications. And we had eventually moved our way back there, which is pretty deep in to the corner, as you can get, being inside of the pharmacy. And we just hid there.

COOPER: Wow!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We also have more today from those grieving for loved ones. Robert Olds lost his niece, Rikki. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT OLDS, UNCLE OF SHOOTING VICTIM RIKKI OLDS: She was 25-years- old. She didn't get to experience a lot of the stuff that we get to experience in life. And I'm saddened for her, and I'm saddened for all the rest of the victims.

There's a hole -- there's a hole in our family that won't be filled. I mean, we try to fill it with memories. You know that's tough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining us now from Boulder is CNN's Lucy Kafanov.

Lucy, there are a number of vigils around the city tonight, I understand. How are people doing where you are now?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're hearing shock, we're hearing grief, and we're hearing outrage.

This is one of seven vigils across the city this evening. People have been trickling in. There's a band that's playing solemn music. People have brought therapy dogs to comfort some of the mourners here.

But the one thing you don't hear from people is any sense of disbelief. And that's because Colorado, sadly, no stranger to this kind of violence.

Now, I spoke to one of the survivors this morning, Logan Smith. He grew up in this city. He went to a school in Boulder. And at his age, he's had regular active shooter training drills. It's a grim reality that he said he was sadly prepared for.

And at the same time, to have this happen, at your local grocery store, which during this pandemic became one of the only familiar things, for so many of us, as one person placed it -- said to me, "No place feels safe anymore."

They want answers. People want justice. But more than anything, they want to know what we can do to prevent this kind of violence from happening again.

COOPER: And what are you learning about the latest in the investigation?

KAFANOV: Well, sources tell CNN that the FBI is looking at virtually everything. They're scrubbing his online activity, his social media. They're interviewing friends and relatives to try to understand his motivation.

We also understand, this is according to one senior law enforcement official, that federal investigators are aware of friends, who say the suspect harbored grievances over his perception of how Muslims were being treated, but they caution it's too soon to draw any conclusions.

They're also trying to understand whether he had any particular connection to that specific King Soopers location, because he lived 30 minutes away. There are plenty of grocery stores closer to his home.

And another thing we're learning, investigators say they are examining possible mental health issues, and possibly more importantly, they believe that attack was planned, given the fact that he bought, on March 16th, that Ruger AR-556 pistol. That was just six days before the massacre.

[21:05:00]

They're also, Anderson, taking note of the fact that there were no wounded survivors. That is a very unusual thing in a mass shooting. Usually, there are people, who are wounded that you're able to talk to.

COOPER: And tomorrow, the gunman makes an appearance in court?

KAFANOV: That's right. So, we're expecting that first court appearance, early tomorrow morning.

Now, he does have the right, if he chooses to, to waive that appearance. It is a procedural hearing. So, he's going to be advised of his rights and sort of the charges against him.

Officials are saying they do expect it to be a lengthy hearing. So, perhaps we might get some more details about what investigators have learned, in the days following that mass shooting. Anderson?

COOPER: Lucy Kafanov, appreciate it. Thanks.

More now on those red flags and the suspect's background as well as what we're learning about how police say he armed himself, joining us is our National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem.

So obviously, the investigation is still in the early stages.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HOMELAND SECURITY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.

COOPER: I'm wondering what stands out to you, right now, just in terms of reconstructing what happened.

KAYYEM: I think what's important is that nothing has been ruled out. And I think the FBI's continuing involvement suggest that they don't know yet. And it could be people -- it could be that they're never going to know.

But it's some combination of a family alleging that he has mental illness, we know that mental -- most people who have mental illnesses are not violent, allegations of bullying, and other things that went on in his high school, and a life that his family did not seem to know about, one that was slightly obsessed with weaponry and violence.

Those may complete some story about motivation, they may not. And they'll figure out whether there was a triggering event, whether there was something about this store, had he sought employment there, those are the questions. So, I don't think anything is ruled out right now, in terms of

motivation. We simply know that he was able to walk in and kill a lot of people very quickly.

COOPER: And, I mean, how long does it take, you think, investigators, to process a scene, like this, to get a full picture of exactly what happened?

KAYYEM: So, he may be speaking, and I actually think, he may be disclosing information that will be helpful.

But what you want to do independently of anything that he says -- he's an unreliable witness, he may not speak at the trial, he's going to have his own perceptions of what happened, is the reason why it's going to take so long is they have to reconstruct what happened that afternoon.

It's both outside and inside. So, you're going to have hundreds of witnesses, determining where was he at any given moment?

That is because there is going to be a court case. And each of those individuals, who perished and deserve an accounting of how it happened, I mean, their families deserve an accounting of how it happened. So, that's why it's going to take so long.

In Aurora, at the movie theater, it took almost two weeks to construct -- to construct what happened, and totally was no longer a crime scene.

COOPER: Yes.

KAYYEM: So, I think four days or five days may actually be optimistic.

COOPER: The arrest warrant says that he purchased, I mean, again, we don't know the mode of -- the alleged gunman may have had.

KAYYEM: Yes.

COOPER: But he said he purchased a firearm six days before the shooting. Clearly, one of the things the prosecutors have been looking for, is trying to build a case of planning, and track whatever planning there was --

KAYYEM: Yes.

COOPER: --for premeditation.

KAYYEM: Right. And then, when the gun was purchased, the guns that was utilized, was purchased, is going to be relevant. Six days is a long time. This is not a crime of passion. It is -- it is something that he had been thinking out, and may have been looking at that particular market or at a particular time.

What's important is that, as we keep talking about this AR-556 is, it's called a pistol. But what people have to know is that in 2014, it was introduced into the market as a competition to the AR-15. In other words, purchasers of this gun perceive it to be as powerful as the AR- 15.

The reason why is that the bullets come out at higher velocity, so they're killing, and they're destroying human bodies. And that's -- and that's why we see no -- no one really survived it.

And it's -- it has a shorter band -- rifle, so it's easier to carry, so to speak. But the idea that it's a rifle, a pistol, is like it's just that's like a terminology that makes no sense, in most people's mind.

So, we have to remember it was introduced into the market, not as a handgun, or as a pistol, but it's actually as competition to the AR- 15. And that's why it's important that we begin to discuss sort of why -- everyone knows you're not going to end all gun violence.

But it is these weapons that make it impossible, for people, to survive, in most instances, and impossible for law enforcement to stop, because they're so fast, and they're so deadly, and as we saw, a police officer was dead, that maybe rational people can start there, and get these off the market.

COOPER: Juliette Kayyem, I appreciate your time. Still, obviously early on in the investigation.

KAYYEM: Yes.

COOPER: We're joined now by someone who is traveling the road that people in Boulder are just embarking on.

[21:10:00]

Cameron Kasky was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. He's Co-Founder of "March for Our Lives," a group mobilizing young people, in support of anti-gun violence measures.

Cameron, appreciate you being with us again, sickening --

CAMERON KASKY, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR, CO-FOUNDER, MARCH FOR OUR LIVES: Yes.

COOPER: --that it is under these circumstances yet again.

I spoke to other people, who have lived through shootings, in the years since Parkland. What would you want to say to folks, who are at that vigil, and in a lot of pain right now?

KASKY: Well, it's more of the same, obviously. Mass shootings are just part of what reopening is going to look like in this country, because mass shootings are part of the American narrative.

They are inherently ingrained in our laws. So, the people who are dealing with the outbreak are going to be facing grief that is unfortunately all too known, but still impossible to wrap your head around. And it's difficult, in this time of insurmountable loss, for Americans, where people all over the country have been forced to face trauma this year in all sorts of different ways. When this affects somebody, it feels so personal.

But we're an entire nation that's traumatized right now. Everybody's grieving. So, to the people at the vigil right now, I would say, understand that it's going to get more difficult, it is going to get easier.

You never know what days you're going to be feeling worse. You're never going to realize when everything seems like it's OK, everything can fall apart. But, again, this is just what's going to happen in this country. We still haven't passed -- gun laws.

Exactly three years ago today, we had the "March for Our Lives" in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of thousands of people came from across the country, in support of immensely popular gun legislation. And we still haven't seen anything change. With reopenings, is going to come, the return of mass shootings.

COOPER: I remember, I mean, I remember talking to you, just in the days after Parkland, and at the "March for Our Lives." I mean, you were -- you were optimistic at "March for Our Lives."

I mean, looking back on it, three years ago, did you believe we would be in a different place right now, in terms of laws?

KASKY: I did. I guess I didn't take into account that Donald Trump was the President and Mitch McConnell was the Senate Majority Leader, allowing bipartisan bills passed by the House to collect dust -- to collect dust on his desk for months to -- months.

I will say now that we have the Biden-Harris administration, and now that the Democrats are largely in power, a lot of people in the gun violence prevention, they are expecting some serious changes.

We are expecting the, again, bipartisan-backed House bills to pass. They are popular. So many people support background checks and red flag laws. Over 90 percent of people are in favor of this.

The majority of card-holding NRA members are in favor of expanding background checks. The only people who are not are the people who are in the pocket of the gun lobby, and therefore the gun manufacturers, because that's the same thing.

It is very, very obvious that people in the country want to see these changes. And if we don't see them, that's going to be a different story.

COOPER: The issue of mental illness, mental health, has been brought up in relation to potentially this particular alleged shooter.

It's -- and I understand, obviously, some people, most people I've met, you know, mental health issues are not violent. But some people, perhaps this person does have mental health issues. It does seem ironic, though, that there is still, for those who say,

"Well, this isn't a gun issue. It's a mental health issue," a lot of those same people are not necessarily fighting for greater access to mental health coverage or easier access to mental health treatment.

KASKY: Well, the shooter in Boulder allegedly had an outbreak, where he had threatened to kill classmates. He had a misdemeanor assault charge in 2018.

And that's not me saying that any of these things are indicative that somebody is going to commit an act of mass violence. But the fact of the matter is it brings to light what red flag laws can do for this country.

The shooter, at my high school, had an immensely -- had a terrifying record, had the police call on him, many times, had very, very clear report that he was somebody, who was violent, treated others violently, treated women violently, which is one of the clearest indicator that somebody is going to commit an act of violence, the way that -- women, all of these things are just indicative that we need to pass these red flag laws, we need to extend background check.

Like you just said on the program, this shooter was able to buy something that is essentially an AR-15, marketed as a pistol, because the Ruger AR-556 is what, 9.5 inches to 10.5 inches in its barrel, which makes it technically a handgun, under Colorado law.

[21:15:00]

You've got the NRA bragging that they knocked out an assault weapons ban, in Boulder, just weeks before this shooting. A lot of the most popular and most rudimentary changes that could be made are being ignored, and are being brought to light by these shootings.

There was a shooting in Atlanta only a couple days ago that I don't see people talking about anymore. As you know -- the news cycle isn't ready for this new uptick in mass shootings that have just again, been part of this country the whole time.

So, the obvious legislation that people need to pass is on the table. The Biden-Harris administration campaigned on making these changes. In the VP debate, Vice President Harris said that in the first 100 days, if Congress does not take meaningful action, she will step in. We need that now. We need it years ago, and it just has to happen.

COOPER: Cameron Kasky, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

KASKY: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, new reporting on how President Biden is preparing for his first press conference, and what almost certainly will be questions about his push for tougher gun laws.

Also, we'll speak with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who was Governor, when a gunman shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

[21:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Looking at one of the vigils tonight, in Boulder, Colorado. As Parkland survivor, Cameron Kasky, said before the break, this is tragically a picture of what a return to normal looks like in this country.

As for the new administration's push for legislation, they think could change that, President Biden holds his first formal press conference tomorrow. Some of the questions will almost certainly be about gun violence and gun legislation.

Tonight, we're learning more about how the President is preparing. Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us now with reporting on that.

So, what are you hearing, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, earlier, when the President was in front of reporters, and he was asked how he's preparing for tomorrow, he kind of jokingly wrote it off saying "What press conference?"

But Anderson, we actually know that behind-the-scenes, he's been prepping pretty extensively for this, because this is the first time he's going to be one-on-one with the White House Press Corps in a lengthy formal session.

He's done interviews, and of course, he's taking questions, at times, in the Oval Office, or on his way out to Marine One. But this is really the first chance, where reporters will have that time, at the mic, to press the new president on his thinking on several issues.

And of course, what has happened in Atlanta, and in Boulder, is going to be one of the top priorities that people want to get his mind -- his opinion on, and his thinking on, given, of course, he is now pushing for new gun laws, but where that's actually going to go remains to be seen.

And so, I've told -- I'm being told that he is preparing for this by meeting with senior advisers of his inner circle, but also he did do an informal prep session, earlier this week, to also get prepared for it.

So, there is a lot of planning going on behind-the-scenes, because of course, they want to make sure this is a President, who stays on message. That's what they've been trying to do for the last two months.

But tomorrow will be a much more expanded session for him to talk about his policies, his priorities and what's coming next for him.

COOPER: And what about the President's efforts to try to move Congress on gun safety legislation? COLLINS: I think if you're looking at it realistically, and you're talking to advisers, in the White House, yes, this is something they're pushing for. And you haven't heard the Vice President Harris, saying this morning they're pushing for legislation over taking executive action.

But it just doesn't seem that there is an appetite for this in the Senate right now. And the filibuster, of course, would require any kind of legislation that they are going to get, they'd have to get Republican support.

And you've heard from Republicans, who say they don't even agree with those House-passed bills that would strengthen and expand background checks, let alone Biden's call to ban assault weapons.

So, it's a really steep uphill climb, and whether or not it's actually going to go anywhere seems unlikely at this moment, unless there is some grand plan that the White House has that they haven't revealed yet.

And so, I think that's the real question is, is he going to take executive action? What are those executive actions going to look like? And how long will this push for gun changes last?

COOPER: Yes, Kaitlan Collins, I appreciate it, thanks.

As the political battle over gun legislation moves to the Senate, Colorado Senator, Michael Bennet, took to the Senate floor late today, to grieve for the victims, in Boulder, and urged his colleagues to act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): What a sacrifice of their right to be free from fear. Who are we to insist that they live terrified in their own country? Nobody insisted that we live that way. But our failure to act has helped create these conditions.

And we can't wait any longer. The Senate needs to act. There is nobody else to act but the United States Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining me now is one of those colleagues, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who's seen more than his share of these political fights, as well as one of the nation's deadliest mass shootings, when he was Governor of Virginia.

Senator Kaine, thanks for being with us. So, we're going to get to President Biden's legislative push in a moment.

But you were Governor of Virginia, in 2007. 32 people were killed in mass shooting at Virginia Tech. 14 years ago, next month, it happened. What goes through your mind, when you see yet another tragedy like this? SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): I'm sick to my stomach, Anderson that the United States Congress has just decided to be a bystander to this carnage.

And I was sick in 2007. My legislature wanted to be a bystander. I had two Republican houses and we did some significant reforms in mental health and campus safety, but they wouldn't join with me to do reforms on gun safety.

However, years later, Virginia, the headquarters of the NRA, has now done a series of gun safety rules. And my attitude is if we can do it in Virginia, we can do it in the U.S. Congress.

[21:25:00]

And this will be a tremendous test of Democratic majority. We've been saying for years, "Well, we don't have the White House, or we don't have the Senate, or we don't have the House." We have all three levers now. And so, we now should be able to find -- certainly background checks and hopefully more to keep Americans safer.

COOPER: So, but -- not even all Democrats are on board. I mean, you have Joe Manchin, who's clearly not in agreement with even some of the things in the House bills.

KAINE: Well, Anderson, every Democrat is on board that we need to have more comprehensive background checks.

You're right. There are some differences on subtleties. But remember, Joe Manchin was the lead patron of the bill that got nearly enough votes in 2013. And he hasn't gone backwards.

So, here's what we have to do. Democrats have to find something that unifies 50 out of 50. And then, we have to go out and get Republican colleagues, including those, like Pat Toomey and others, who voted with us in 2013.

But bottom line, we've got to act. We told the American public, "If we got a majority, if we got the White House, if we had the House, we would do something about gun safety." And so now, we've delivered a big recovery plan for America, over Republicans stonewalling. They're likely to stonewall this, but we've got to deliver results.

COOPER: President Biden's calls for an assault weapons ban and other gun control legislation, it's certainly ambitious, cheered by Democrats.

The political landscape is daunting, Republicans unified in opposition. As I mentioned, Democrats don't have the Caucus on board. Is that even possible, I mean, that -- that's way out ahead of red flag laws, background checks.

KAINE: You're right, the assault weapons is tougher.

My attitude on legislation is climb the ladder, get the first thing done. And my belief is that the single most important thing you can do that will make the biggest difference for people -- let's do that first. We don't need to load it up with everything.

Let's do background checks, because 77 percent of Republican voters want us to do comprehensive background checks. The numbers with Independents and Democrats are higher still. So let's unify the Democrats behind that, and let's test the Republicans. Are they going to oppose 70 percent -- 70-plus percent of their own voters on this?

But we've got a testament. To do that, the Democrats have to be unified. We've got to find a path, put this on the floor for a vote, and I hope we'll do it soon.

COOPER: Are those conversations happening, I mean, between Democrats, but also Democrats and Republicans?

KAINE: Yes, they are. They're happening.

Because, look, when we can close the 60 votes, in 2013, I was just four months in the Senate. We had the vote nearly on the anniversary day of the shooting at Virginia Tech. And Virginia Tech families were in the Senate Gallery, holding hands and sitting next to Sandy Hook families, and it felt horrible to fall short that day. But we did have Republican votes.

So, I think the right way to get this over the goal line on background checks and then we can build from there is to get all Democrats to unify and to say "Look, we accept this is a test of us. We said if we got a majority, we would do it." We've got to do it.

As soon as Democrats unify, we can go out and see about getting Republican support, like we had in 2013.

COOPER: Senator Tim Kaine, appreciate your time, thanks.

KAINE: Absolutely.

COOPER: Coming up, torn apart by oppression, Uyghur parents are desperate to reunite with their families. In a CNN Exclusive, our David Culver travels to Xinjiang to look for the Lost Children left behind.

[21:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news about a possible North Korean missile test. If confirmed, it would be the second of the Biden Administration, in just days after the first.

Paula Hancocks joins us now from Seoul, South Korea.

Well, so what do we know?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the first we heard about this was when the Japan Coast Guard warned ships in the area to look out for falling objects. We then had confirmation from the U.S. senior official that two

ballistic missiles had been fired. And we hear from Japan that they landed in the waters just off their West Coast.

Now, according to Japan's Prime Minister's Office, they believed that they had a range of about 260 miles and 270 miles. Now, that would put it in the range of a short-range missile, which is less dangerous, and less offensive, too much of the world.

But of course, it is a ballistic missile, which means that it does violate the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and is banned by the international community. And the South Korea has convened a National Security Council emergency meeting, the same in Japan, and both have upped their surveillance of the region.

COOPER: So, this is not North Korea's first weapons test, since President Biden took office. There was reportedly one this past weekend. Do we know about the reaction prompted, or if any?

HANCOCKS: That's right, yes. This is the first short-range missile for a year.

But there was a weapons test, over the weekend, which we didn't actually hear about, until just yesterday, when Washington released information about it. That was not ballistic. So, it was not banned under U.N. resolutions.

But it was the first weapons test. It was downplayed by the Biden Administration simply because it didn't break any of the rules. And President Biden himself was asked about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us about North Korea and firing of the rockets, what you've learned?

BIDEN: We have learned that there's nothing much that's changed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANCOCKS: So, they said it was on the low end of the spectrum. Obviously, this changes things today with what we have seen. We know that North Korea has rebuffed any approach, at this point, by Washington, to have any kind of discussion.

Secretary Blinken, when he was here, in the region, last week, admitted that they have been reaching out, but North Korea has pushed that back at this point.

So, even though they don't want to talk at this point, Anderson, what they have done today is make sure that they will be talked about, when President Biden has his press conference.

COOPER: Paula Hancocks, appreciate it, thanks.

Now to CNN investigation, we're about to take you inside one of the world's great humanitarian crises that's been going on.

[21:35:00]

One of the Chinese -- it's a crisis the Chinese government would rather you not see. Children are being ripped away from their families. Some of the loved ones left behind are now turning to us for help.

In a new and heartbreaking report, Amnesty International estimates, China's policies, toward ethnic Uyghur Muslims, has split up thousands of families.

The U.S. and other countries have labeled China's treatment of Uyghurs as genocide. China denies the human rights abuse allegations, claiming their actions are justified, to combat religious extremism and prevent terrorism.

But, in an exclusive report, CNN's David Culver, Senior Producer, Steven Jiang, and Photojournalist, Justin Robertson, traveled to the heavily-surveilled region. With the parents' permission, they went in searched the Lost Children of Xinjiang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Followed by a convoy of suspected undercover Chinese police vehicles --

CULVER (on camera): The tail is still on us.

CULVER (voice-over): --mimicking our every turn through China's far- western Xinjiang region.

CULVER (on camera): Yes, they want to know exactly where we're going.

CULVER (voice-over): Blocking roads that lead to possible internment camps, and keeping us from getting too close to so-called sensitive sites. How we ended up on this journey had less to do about us and more about who we were looking for.

CNN searching for the lost Uyghur children of Xinjiang, a region in which several countries, including the U.S., allege China is committing genocide against the ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority.

Thousands of families have now been ripped apart due to China's actions. We tracked down two of them.

Now in Adelaide, Australia, Mamutjan Abdurehim constantly replays the only recent videos he has of his daughter and son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daddy!

CULVER (voice-over): He has not held his wife or their children in more than five years. He is among thousands of families from Xinjiang who've been torn apart, according to a new Amnesty International report. MAMUTJAN ABDUREHIM, FATHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG: In April 2017, the mass internment had started. And as one of the first people detained, my wife was detained too.

CULVER (voice-over): Before they were separated, Mamutjan was studying for a PhD in Kuala Lumpur. His wife was studying English there.

ABDUREHIM: We were happy as a family. It was a -- it was good old days.

CULVER (voice-over): But Mamutjan's wife lost her passport while abroad in Malaysia. Chinese officials told her that to renew it, she had to go back to Xinjiang. She brought the couple's two young children with her, thinking they'd soon be able to travel back to be with her husband. But that was late 2015.

Amnesty says the forced separation of families allows China to control the narrative, keeping something precious to dissuade their loved ones outside the country from bad-mouthing China.

Chinese officials have repeatedly pushed back against claims of genocide, in Xinjiang, the Foreign Minister recently calling it preposterous, adding.

WANG YI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): We welcome more people from around the world to visit Xinjiang. Seeing is believing. It is the best way to debunk rumors, he said.

So, we decided to try to find the missing children ourselves, with permission from their parents.

The five-plus hour flight from Beijing ended with a strange request from the cabin crew. As we approached Kashgar's Airport to land, all window shades had to be shut. No explanation why. We went through a standard COVID test for all arriving passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye, thank you.

CULVER (voice-over): Loaded up a rental car and roamed without anyone stopping us. Though, like much of China, you're always watched.

You immediately encounter the vibrant and richly diverse culture of this region. The faces, also different, perhaps not what you'd expect in China.

From the Grand Bazaar to the Central Mosque, we stroll through the reconstructed Old Town. It's here, we began to notice, people trailing us.

CULVER (on camera): There are usually individual men, on phones, and kind of keeping a social distance, shall we say.

CULVER (voice-over): But it seemed they wanted to know who we were searching for.

This video of Mamutjan's little girl was a critical clue for us. We match to the alleyways of old Kashgar with the backdrop in the video. The first day, no luck.

CULVER (on camera): Hit another dead-end.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: This might be it.

CULVER (on camera): Let's try this.

CULVER (voice-over): 24 hours, and 20,000 steps later, we weaved our way through one last corridor, and suddenly --

CULVER (on camera): That's her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (on camera): Do you know this man? Is he your father?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (on camera): Oh, that's your dad?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): The daughter and her grandparents, Mamutjan's mom and dad, were not expecting us, but they let us into their home.

Muhlisa (ph) told me she's going to turn 11 in May. But amidst her innocence, an awareness not to say too much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): She told us she had not spoken to her father since 2017.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

JIANG: Was confiscated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

CULVER (voice-over): And when we asked her.

CULVER (on camera): What would you want to say to him, if you could talk to him?

JIANG: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): "I miss him," she later told me.

CULVER (on camera): Can you tell me some of that what you're feeling?

JIANG: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

[21:40:00]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): "I don't have my mom with me right now. I don't have my dad either. I just want to be reunited with them," she told me.

Off-camera, her grandmother, overcome by grief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): As I asked about her mother, and if she'd been sent to a camp?

CULVER (on camera): How long was she away for?

CULVER (voice-over): She quickly bolted to her grandfather, translating our question from Chinese to Uyghur for them. Camps are too sensitive a topic to discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): As they talked, notice the sudden murmurs in the background. It seemed word of our visit had gotten to officials, and back to the family, bringing an abrupt end to our visit.

CULVER (on camera): She wants the family together.

JIANG: Right.

CULVER (on camera): And that's.

JIANG: But she wouldn't want to -- she didn't want to say they want to go abroad.

CULVER (voice-over): But we still wanted to know where Mamutjan's wife and son were. The family says they'd been living with her parents in a house nearby.

CULVER (on camera): It's locked on the outside, so unless they're gone for the day or they're gone permanently.

CULVER (voice-over): We asked the Chinese government if the wife is currently in a camp. They have not gotten back to us.

(KNOCKS DOOR)

CULVER (voice-over): While on the ground in Xinjiang, there was a second set of children we wanted to track down. Their parents are in Italy.

MAMTININ ABLIKIM, FATHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG (through translator): My children thought that we have abandoned them that we don't care about them. CULVER (voice-over): After having five children, and getting pregnant with a sixth, they say authorities wanted to force the mother to have an abortion, and throw the father in jail.

MIHRIBAN KADER, MOTHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG (through translator): The policies were too strict, it was impossible to take all our children together with us. So, we left our homeland and our children in desperation.

CULVER (voice-over): The older children, now aged between 12 and 16, were left behind with their grandparents.

Mihriban and Ablikim hoped the separation would be temporary, until they could secure more visas. But they went nearly four years unable to contact their children. And they got word that family members were being rounded up, and sent to camps.

Determined to reunite the family, their cousin in Canada, Arafat Abulmit choreographed their escape attempt, from half a world away. Their parents had finally secured visa approvals from Italy for their children. In June 2020, Arafat managed to communicate to the kids.

ARAFAT ABULMIT, COUSIN OF UYGHUR CHILDREN: This is your only shot, if you just stay, your life is going to be staying there, nothing we can do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): On their own, they traveled more than 3,000 miles, farther than going from L.A. to New York, recovering hidden passports, eventually flying into Shanghai.

CULVER (on camera): When the children arrived here, in Shanghai, they were excited and happy. They never thought they would make it this far.

CULVER (voice-over): But their repeated attempts to obtain their visas failed. Arafat also says multiple hotels turned the kids away because they're Uyghur. They finally found a place willing to take them in.

All the while, they dropped geo-location pins for Arafat to know that they were OK. The last pin dropped, on June 24th, a few blocks from the hotel.

CULVER (on camera): Do you know who these children are? Have you seen them before?

CULVER (voice-over): Arafat in Canada watched, then silence, minutes, to hours, to days, to weeks.

ABULMIT: And then I tell like my aunt, they might have been detained. Mihriban in Italy, they -- they start crying like they cannot believe it.

CULVER (voice-over): After several phone calls, he learned that Police had tracked them down, China's giant surveillance network zeroing in on the four children. Arafat later found out they'd been sent back to Xinjiang, and thrown into an orphanage.

In Rome, the parents heard the devastating news of their children's detention, as they begged for help outside Italy's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office. The Italian government refused to comment to CNN on what happened.

China has also not responded to requests for comment on the two families' cases.

Having found Muhlisa (ph) for her father, we hoped to find the four Ablikim children to bring their parents some comfort.

We headed out before sunrise, leaving Kashgar, for the hour-or-so drive to get to the orphanage, where they were sent.

That's the eldest boy, Yehya, standing in front of the building a month ago.

As we drove, we watched as one car after another trailed us.

CULVER (on camera): Yes, this is it, right here, where he took the photo.

CULVER (voice-over): After making a pass by the orphanage, we headed to one of the kid's schools, and we asked to see the kids. Eventually, a local official showed up and asked for about 30 minutes to get back to us.

CULVER (on camera): It was more than two hours ago. But they've yet to let us talk to the children.

CULVER (voice-over): We later made contact with Yehya through video chat.

CULVER (on camera): Do you want to be with them? Do you -- do you miss them?

CULVER (voice-over): "I do," he says. He answered quickly and kept looking off-camera. Someone was directing him to answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): "Tell them that you see your sister every day," the voice said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has been coached, obviously.

CULVER (on camera): Can you tell us about your journey trying to reunite with your parents last year?

CULVER (voice-over): When we asked about the Shanghai escape attempt, he deflected. Much like Muhlisa (ph), here was another child keenly aware that the way they speak and what they say could impact those they love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye-bye. CULVER (voice-over): After about eight minutes, we ended the call.

CULVER (on camera): They are literally right over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

CULVER (on camera): And we can't see them.

[21:45:00]

CULVER (voice-over): We later learned that three of the children were interrogated about our conversation.

Despite the pressure that the children face every day, late last month, they even risked sending out a photo message to their parents. The four of them, lined up, holding a sign in Chinese saying, "Dad, Mom. We miss you," a rare glimpse of an uncensored truth.

With each passing hour of our being on the ground, in Xinjiang, it seemed the number of likely security agents trailing us, increased, adding pressure to our search. But before leaving, we reconnected with Mamutjan, who was hungry for any information on his wife and kids, and desperate to see his little girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): We watched him, as he watched her.

ABDUREHIM: It's my daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

ABDUREHIM: That's my mother.

CULVER (on camera): Do you know this man? Is he your father?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (on camera): Oh, that's your dad?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (on camera): We've been talking to your father.

ABDUREHIM: That's my father. He got so old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

ABDUREHIM: We're missing them for four years.

CULVER (voice-over): For Mamutjan, it's part relief, seeing that she's OK, even proud that she still wants to be a doctor.

CULVER (on camera): What would you want to say to him, if you could talk to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): But to see her break down, sending her love to her father, well no dad, no matter how strong, can hide that agony for long.

ABDUREHIM: Poor thing!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

ABDUREHIM: What kind of country does this to people, to innocent people?

CULVER (on camera): --what you're feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

ABDUREHIM: She definitely misses me too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I mean it's so heartbreaking. David Culver joins us now from Beijing.

Do we know what happened to the children after you left?

CULVER: Heartbreaking is the word that definitely sits on me. I mean, this is just one of the heaviest assignments that I've been part of. And it's a team well beyond me, Anderson, a lot of journalists here at CNN, working weeks on this.

With regards to the kids, we do know that, at least according to one of the family, the Ablikim family, four of the children went through hours of interrogation, with Chinese officials, one of them telling us 10 hours of interrogation, being questioned.

With our reporting, it was printed out, shown to them, asked them why they sent that sign, "Dad, Mom. We miss you," to their parents.

And we know with Muhlisa (ph), she has been now part of a propaganda campaign, state media here, rolling out some video of her, earlier this week, showing her in a seemingly happy situation, pointing out that her school's paid for that she wants her dad to come from Australia, back here, to reunite with the family.

What was interesting, though, Anderson, is that state media broadcast also gave us some information about her mom. We tracked her down. We tried to find her, at least, made the attempt, could not find her. According to state media, she is a criminal. She has been charged with inciting ethnic hatred. They didn't specify where she was.

COOPER: And how is China likely to respond?

CULVER: They're not happy. I mean, this has been an issue that has been, in their words, an internal matter, domestic affairs, the rest of the world should just mind their business and keep out.

But what we're seeing is that they're now deflecting a bit more and saying, "Well, the U.S. is pointing out our flaws, so is Canada, so is Australia, so is the U.K.," because this is coming from Western countries now, by the numbers.

And they're saying "Look within your own countries, look at the issues that you're having there." And that's something that we're likely to see intensify, as this rhetoric increases.

But we also have to look ahead to what we're expecting here in Beijing next year, and that is the Olympics. And this is something that could play out in potential boycotts, or athletes from Western countries, in particular, using that as a platform to push for human rights.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, pressure now does seem to be rolling in China over their policies in the region.

CULVER: Yes. And I think the other aspect of this that we have to look at is going to be the business impact. I mean, China's obviously heavily focused on being a major player in the global economy, being the second largest economy in the world right now. But how are businesses going to respond, right?

And we're already seeing H&M actually, even just this week, saying that they will not take any cotton from Xinjiang, because of concerns of forced labor being used to produce that cotton, Nike putting up a statement saying that they are going through their supply chains, making sure that likewise, they're not tied to this.

That has caused another backlash domestically here with some of those products being boycotted by Chinese consumers.

COOPER: David Culver, just fascinating reporting. Appreciate it to you and your team. Thank you.

CULVER: Thanks, Anderson.

[21:50:00]

COOPER: Up next, there's new information coming in, this hour, on AstraZeneca's vaccine, days after Dr. Fauci criticized the company for what he called an "Unforced error." The new data from the drug company, when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: This just in, AstraZeneca has released new data on its proposed coronavirus vaccine, after facing controversy in recent days.

The drugmaker now says its vaccine is 76 percent effective preventing symptomatic disease, and has 100 percent efficacy against severe or critical disease or the need for hospitalization. Now, those numbers are much different from the press release the company issued, Monday.

But while Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week, he thinks it's "Likely a very good vaccine," he also called out AstraZeneca for what he labeled an "Unforced error." He said the data, posted Monday, was somewhat outdated and possibly misleading.

I want to bring in CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, and Dr. Uche Blackstock. She's the founder of Advancing Health Equity, which works with health care groups to fight racism and other inequities.

Dr. Wen, on Monday, AstraZeneca said they had 79 percent efficacy. Right now, they're saying 76 percent, and they still haven't released their primary analysis for review, is very confusing. Do you know what's going on?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN, VISITING PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: I don't know what's going on. And you're absolutely right. It's confusing.

[21:55:00]

AstraZeneca is not explaining why, on Monday, they didn't just issue the results that they have now. It gives the impression that they were maybe trying to cherry-pick the data that look better, when actually the data that they released today are still very good.

I mean 76 percent of preventing infection, a 100 percent of preventing severe disease, those are really good results. But I think it raises the bigger question of why we're only getting data by press release.

And I think we really need to wait, at this point, for the FDA, to receive the data, from AstraZeneca. And I am very confident that the FDA will go through a very thorough review process at that time.

COOPER: Dr. Blackstock, what do you make of the AstraZeneca Vaccine?

DR. UCHE BLACKSTOCK, CEO, ADVANCING HEALTH EQUITY, YAHOO NEWS MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I agree. I think that it is a safe and effective vaccine. But this communications error can further undermine public confidence in a vaccine that works quite well.

So, I think AstraZeneca has had a series of, of missteps, but we need to be able to see the complete data. And I also feel confident that the DSMB and FDA will review this data with a fine-tooth comb.

COOPER: Dr. Wen? Dr. Fauci said today that the vaccines are extremely effective, when it comes to preventing infection. He's talking about all vaccines.

How crucial is this to ending the pandemic, because it's not just question of, they're effective, preventing hospitalizations, and death. He's saying they're effective in preventing people from actually getting infected.

WEN: It's really important, and we are getting accumulating evidence now that the vaccines that we have work really well in the real world, and not only work to protect the individual, who's getting vaccinated, from severe disease, which is really important, but it also reduces the likelihood of them becoming an asymptomatic carrier, and spreading it to others.

Actually looks like it's very effective, at preventing spread of infection as well. And so, I think that just adds to the evidence that we have that vaccines will be our ticket out of this pandemic.

COOPER: Dr. Blackstock, are you worried about the trend we're seeing right now, in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths?

BLACKSTOCK: I definitely am. I think, seeing this slight bump in the seven-day average, to 55,000, and then also seeing hospitalizations and death plateau, are incredibly concerning. And it's a combination of the variants, of relaxing of restrictions.

And essentially, we just need to get those vaccinations into the arms of Americans as soon as possible. I'm hoping that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be able to meet their goals, at next week, 20 million vaccinations that could potentially go into the arms of Americans, and make a real difference.

COOPER: Dr. Wen, right now, five States have opened up vaccine eligibility to anybody over 16, 16 and over, I should say. And, by the end of April, we expect 20 States to have done so. Does this track with President Biden's timeline of getting back to some sort of normalcy by July?

WEN: It does. And I'm very glad that the States are opening up their eligibility, because the last thing that we want, at this point, is for many doses to be sitting in freezers, while the eligibility criteria is too narrow.

And so, I think that we need to do everything we can also to increase access to the vaccines and accessibility of the vaccine. So, open up eligibility, get everyone, who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated, but then also be really attentive to those, who may want the vaccine, but are just unable to get it.

And so, I think the next thing that States really should be focused on is making sure that every single doctor's office, every single pharmacy has access to the vaccine because these mass vaccination sites don't serve everyone.

We also want to get the vaccine into churches, into schools, into businesses, wherever it is that people are, so that I would hope that no one has to go more than half a mile, in order to get the vaccination.

COOPER: Dr. Blackstock, how do you feel it's going on, on that front, to Dr. Wen's point, about getting the vaccine to people where they are?

BLACKSTOCK: Well, as of last week, we're still seeing data that shows there are real inequities in who is receiving the vaccination.

Black and Latino Americans are still receiving it, lower than their share for the population, as well as for the representation of their cases, and who's hospitalized and dying from this virus.

So, I agree with Dr. Wen, that we actually need to allocate vaccinations to the communities that are hardest-hit.

We need to make it easier for people to register to be vaccinated, so those who don't have smartphones, or laptops, can text to register for an appointment or call for an appointment.

And we also need for vaccinations to be allocated for the people in communities that need it most, despite opening up eligibility. We can't leave those communities behind.

COOPER: Even, Dr. Blackstock, to that point, even the -- for those who do have access to computers, the whole -- it seems like, at least in New York, from what I've seen of the system, for finding where you can get vaccinated, it's incredibly confusing. I mean, it's, I mean, not to mention those who don't have access or easy access to online.

BLACKSTOCK: Yes, agreed. I think we need to have a uniform like one place, where people go, to register for these vaccinations.

What's happening is we have multiple sites, and it's incredibly confusing. And I'm hoping that over the next few weeks to months, that States will be able to work out these kinks in the registration process.