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Bomb Blast Injuries at Least 30 in Israel; Police Interview Person of Interest in BTK Killer Case; Search Continues for Missing Florida Girl

Aired February 25, 2005 - 17:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, HOST: Happening now: breaking news. The first pictures of an explosion in Israel, the aftermath of it. Israeli media reporting at least 30 casualties in Tel Aviv. Authorities say they believe this is the work of a suicide bomber.
Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Vanished: a 9-year-old girl disappears from her bedroom in the middle of the night.

MARK LUNSFORD, FATHER OF MISSING GIRL: I just want my daughter home.

O'BRIEN: I'll speak with the aunt of Jessica Lunsford.

Shootout: shocking pictures inside a Texas courtroom as a gunman blazes away outside.

After surgery: as Catholics keep a vigil, the Vatican says the pope is breathing better and in good spirits. But what's the Vatican not saying?

Getting closer? Iraqi authorities say they've captured a top aide to a terror leader.


ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Friday, February 25, 2005.

O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien. Wolf has the day off. Thanks for being with us.

In Israel, a powerful blast just rocked a nightclub in Tel Aviv's popular beachfront area. Local media say 30 people wounded, some of them seriously. Police are calling it a terror attack.

Let's go live now to CNN's John Vause in Jerusalem.

John, what do we know?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, this happened just a short time ago. The blast happened near the U.S. embassy in an area filled with nightclubs and restaurants. This blast happened apparently near a nightclub in a busy area of Tel Aviv. It's Friday night here. It's quite a night. The area was apparently full of people enjoying the weekend.

The Israeli radio is, in fact, reporting that there are 30 casualties. There are fatalities in that number. Many of these people are being rushed to hospital. It's a chaotic scene.

And Miles, this is the first suicide bombing in quite some time. And it's the first one since the Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to a truce on February 8 at a Sharm El Shaikh conference in Egypt -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: John, you mentioned the U.S. embassy. Is there any reason to believe that it was targeted in any way?

VAUSE: No, not at this stage, Miles, because this area is a very popular area of Tel Aviv. There's a lot of restaurants, a lot of nightclubs. About two or three streets back from the beach in Tel Aviv. There's no indication the U.S. embassy was a particular target. It seems as though the target was, in fact, this nightclub, where all these restaurants are, that kind of thing. The U.S. embassy just happened to be in that location, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. And it's just after midnight local time there, a busy Friday night. If you can just characterize this area a little bit more for us. Would the streets just be packed with people, typically, on a Friday night with good weather?

VAUSE: Yes, exactly, Miles. It's a nice night. The weekend's already started. Many people would have been out. It's an area popular with young people. There's a lot of outdoor cafes, a lot of coffee shops, a lot of restaurants and nightclubs, that kind of thing. It's the hip part of town, if you like. And it's only one street back from the beach in Tel Aviv.

And given the fact that it's such nice weather here. We're just emerging from winter, from some very, very cold weather. It's quite a nice night. It would have been very, very busy with people enjoying their weekend.

O'BRIEN: And at this moment, we should welcome all our viewers around the world now to CNN's coverage of this.

Just to recap briefly. A bomb explosion. It's now a little bit after midnight, local time, in Tel Aviv. This happened within the past hour. At least 30 casualties, some of them serious. Appears to be a suicide bombing and terrorism.

And John, this comes amid moves toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It's very early to start talking about this. But clearly, this is a setback.

VAUSE: Yes, absolutely, Miles. We now have to wait and see, is how the Israeli government will react to this. And what needs to be calculated into all of this is -- and this is a horrible calculation that we'll go through in the next couple of hours, the Israeli government and the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, how many people have been killed? How many people have been wounded? What did the Palestinian authority do to try to stop this act? Who actually is responsible for it? Who claims responsibility for it?

While it's a suicide bombing, we don't know who was behind it. Was it Hamas? Or Islamic Jihad? They've been responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in the past. But who was responsible?

Was it sanctioned, if you like, by the leadership of whichever Palestinian militant group is responsible? Or was this just some individual acting on his or her own? That's happened in the past, Miles, where individuals of these militant groups have gone out without the knowledge of the leadership of Hamas, or al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or whoever, and have blown themselves up and inflicted such terrible casualties on Israelis. That has happened in the past.

So we now have to wait and see the circumstances around this to find out exactly how the Israel government will react. But as you say, this is not a good sign for that handshake which was made -- or had between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Sharm El Shaikh on February 8 in Egypt -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: The Associated Press reporting, John, that there are several dead as a result of these among those 30 casualties that we have been telling you about.

It's worth pointing out that as the middle ground moves toward peace here, that handshake you spoke about, on the fringes of both sides there is deep resistant to those moves towards peace.

VAUSE: Absolutely, Miles. And what we've been hearing from Israeli intelligence is that, while there has been this agreement between the leaders to try and get themselves out of this cycle of violence, which is -- which has been in this part of the world for the last 4 1/2 years, Israel intelligence has been saying that they're still getting word, they're still getting intelligence of attempts by militant groups, Palestinian militant groups, to deliver attacks on Israelis, that they're still stopping these kind of attacks, dozens each week, they say.

And they're also concerned about attacks from Jewish extremists, as well, on Palestinian targets, on areas like the Harem esh-Sharif, which is the Temple Mount to Jews.

So they're concerned about attacks by Jewish extremists to try and wreck this ceasefire agreement which is in place. They're also very, very concerned about this kind of attack by Palestinian militants, as well, Miles.

So what you say -- what you say is right. It certainly is the mainstream groups, the mainstream bodies are moving towards a lasting peace, it certainly appeared over the last couple weeks. But the elements on the extremes are going to become increasingly desperate to try to stop it.

And the other point, too, Miles, especially when Israel is moving towards its pullout from Gaza, which is slated for July 20, they're expecting an increase in the kind of militant attacks, which we've seen coming from Gaza all of last year, and also attacks from the Jewish extremists -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's John Vause on the line with us from Jerusalem. Details still coming in. We're, of course, going to keep you posted on this story.

The -- one of the wires services, Reuters wire service, just a few moments ago crossing with this news, that the suicide bomber exploded next to a queue, a line of people, trying to get into a club there, on what was a pleasant Friday evening in Tel Aviv. We'll keep you posted as those details come in and check in with John Vause later in the broadcast.

Now, another breaking story to tell you about, right now in Kansas. There may be a key break in the serial killings known as BTK. Our affiliate KAKE is reporting that a person of interest is being questioned in connection with this case.

Authorities have been trying to solve this case for more than 30 years now. For some background on the BTK murder case, let's go to CNN's David Mattingly. He joins us live now from CNN Center in Atlanta -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, this killer is responsible, they believe, for the murders of eight people. The first victims claimed back in 1974, the most recent murder in 1986.

This killer had gone underground, had not been heard of -- heard from until last year when he started sending a variety of cryptic messages and packages to the authorities and to local media including television station KAKE.

And at this last hour, as you have been seeing, they're reporting they have a person of interest that is being questioned in this case, a case where there's been a great deal of anticipation because of these communications and a case where there has been a break. A break has been long time in coming.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): The killer calls himself BTK, which stands for bind them, torture them, kill them, a pattern he has follow with most of his victims. He's developed a taste for publicity. Over 31 years, he sent many notes to Wichita police and the local media and once, even reported one of his own murders to 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Experts following the case agree the killer's greatest talent may be deception. His actions do not fit into any one particular profile. And his communications contain such a wide array of possible clues that no clear picture of him emerges.

(voice-over) The last known murder was in 1986. A 28-year-old mother named Vickie Wegerle was killed, like all the others, in her Wichita home. But this time there were no calls, no notes. So many years went by that some believed BTK was dead. They were wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, we have more information on the letter sent to "The Wichita Eagle" by the BTK killer.

MATTINGLY: Last spring, after nearly a 25-year silence, the killer unleashed a flurry of communications to local media, including a package dropped in this Wichita park, containing the driver's license of one of his victims.

(on camera) How unusual is this for a serial killer to give back mementos that he's taken?

ROBERT BEATTY, WROTE BTK KILLER BOOK: I've never heard of that happening before at all.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Wichita attorney Robert Beatty has written a soon to be published book on BTK and is among those believing the killer has reemerged with a purpose.

(on camera) Is it possible he's winding down, maybe coming to some sort of conclusion?

BEATTY: He may be winding down to a conclusion or climax or he may be teasing us. While we're all expecting something, he'll just disappear like Jack the Ripper.

MATTINGLY: Do you think he'll kill again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- you can the not rule that out. I personally don't think he will. And the reason is, you know, he still has these memories. I think he's guilt-ridden now and I think he will -- that the final hurrah that he refers to is the idea that he will come forward.


MATTINGLY: Such a mysterious case and so much speculation, because there have been no answers in this case.

In one of the communications to station KAKE, the killer recently detailed a list of possible chapter titles, as if he were writing his own story about this case. No confirmation yet out of Kansas today whether or not that we might actually be seeing a conclusion unfolding before our eyes -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: David Mattingly in Atlanta. We're watching that story as well for you. More details as they become available.

Now the latest on another developing story we're following and have been following all throughout the day. Live pictures now. We expect to see a news conference very shortly in this case that we've been telling you about.

A hundred investigators taking part in the search for a missing 9-year-old Florida girl, Jessica Lunsford.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): On Florida's gulf coast, a frantic search in the fog and a desperate cry for help.

MARK LUNSFORD, MISSING GIRL'S FATHER: I just ask you to please help me find my daughter and bring her home.

O'BRIEN: Mark Lunsford could not keep his composure as he made his pleas to the media. It's been more than 24 hours since his 9- year-old daughter Jessica vanished from home. That night, Mark was at his girlfriend's house. Jessica's grandmother tucked her in about 10 p.m.

RUTH LUNSFORD, GRANDMOTHER: She got her snack. She took a shower. She went to bed at 10. I'm laying on my bed and she says, "Come on, Grandma."

I said, "OK."

She says, "Come on, you got to put me to bed." I always put her to bed. And so I went in there, and I put her to bed.

"I love you." That's all she said to me. She always expresses her love.

O'BRIEN: Mark Lunsford came home in the morning and made the discovery.

M. LUNSFORD: I came in the door and her alarm clock was going off. I went to my room. I changed my clothes, got ready for work. Her alarm clock was still going off. And when I opened her door to her room, she wasn't there. And -- I just don't know where she's at.

O'BRIEN: Neither do authorities. The Citrus County sheriff says there's very little to go on. There was no sign anyone broke in.

Detectives seized a computer from the Lunsford home but don't believe Jessica was lured over the Internet. At the same time, more than 100 people are searching the marshlands surrounding the home for leads and there is at least one clue.

SHERIFF JEFF DASY, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA: There is one doll that's missing. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but there was one doll that was taken out of the room.


O'BRIEN: Police have located the girl's mother in Ohio. She is being questioned by investigators.

As we mentioned, a few moments from now, we expect to hear more from authorities. A live news conference is planned from that part of the world. We'll bring it to you when it happens.

Just to recap our top story: Tel Aviv, reports of a suicide bombing there. Several casualties, many fatalities, we're told now, apparently attributable to Palestinian's Islamic Jihad. It happened in a beachfront area on a Friday night, a little bit before midnight, people queuing up at a nightclub. A suicide bomber causing mayhem there, and perhaps causing some mayhem to the peace process, which has been renewed of late.

The other two developing stories we are watching, crime stories. BTK, the story out of Wichita, Kansas, that story we've been covering for decades, quite literally. The possibility, according to our affiliate there, KAKE, that a person of interest has been identified.

Meanwhile, the search for the 9-year-old girl who mysteriously vanished out of her house, apparently without a trace, live news conference coming up. We will put the last two stories to John Walsh and have his insights on all of that. John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" is standing by. An interview with him in just a few moments. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. A couple of developing stories we are watching for you.

In Florida, we expect in just a few moment's time to hear from authorities there as they search for a 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford of the west coast of Florida. We will bring you that news conference. There you see live pictures of it. As soon as that happens.

Also, out of Wichita, Kansas, we're following very closely right now reports from our affiliate there, KAKE, which has led this story from the very beginning decades ago, of the possibility of the identification of a person of interest. That's the term that is being used, "a person of interest" in the BTK serial killer case. We're watching that one closely, as well.

It's a good time to bring in John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," who has focused on both of these cases of late, and the case of BTK for many years.

John, good to have you with us. Let's talk about little Jessica first. A very critical time, as you painfully learned through your own painful experience in 1981, losing your son, Adam. That first 24 hours after a child goes missing.

JOHN WALSH, HOST, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": Crucial time. The Justice Department says that most stranger abducted children, about 99 percent of them are dead within the first four hours.

So as this hunt went on, the odds of finding this little girl alive have diminished greatly, and I know that they're going to have a press conference shortly. I think they're going to announce that our people on the ground tell me -- we've been so involved in the sheriff's department. They've done a great job, too. They really, really mobilized immediately.

But unfortunately, they have found the body of a little girl. Don't know if it's Jessica. Praying that it isn't. But I -- I have a terrible suspicion -- my personal suspicion, that it's this little girl's body.

O'BRIEN: On that sobering note, of course, we're still waiting to hear officially from authorities. On that sobering note, what is the next step in this story? Clearly, the identification of some sort of suspect. Based on what you've seen of this case, would authorities be looking pretty close to home there?

WALSH: Well, I hope people remember the Van Dam case in San Diego, the little girl that was taken out of her house there. Her body was found. And it was a neighbor. It was two doors away, a neighbor who became obsessed with her, saw her, you know, trick or treating and figured out a way to get in that house and grab her. And she was -- her body was found murdered.

Fortunately, he was caught. And that was good police work. And they canvassed the entire area. I know that the sheriff there is looking at everybody who's in Megan's registry. You know, the Megan's Law makes every convicted sex offender that gets out of jail register. So I know they're looking who lives close to that little girl. That's good police work, and they'll have to do it.

We were hoping that it might be the Elizabeth Smart case, where it was been a pedophile that had done some yard work and had grabbed Elizabeth Smart. And thank God we got her back alive.

But I don't think that's the case. So now the hard, hard work of looking at everybody that lives around there, everybody she came into contact with -- and certainly any registered sex offenders in the area, that's what police have got to do right now.

O'BRIEN: A couple of things we're pointing out here. First of all, no signs of a break-in at the house, and also the computer confiscated. What are your thoughts on those two thoughts?

WASH: Well, in the Van Dam case, a door was left open, innocently. They had a security system, and the door was left open, and David Westerfield got in that house.

In the -- in the Elizabeth Smart case, they had a security system, too. A sliding glass door was left open by mistake in a beautiful community, a million-dollar house. And that weirdo, you know, Brian David Mitchell, who had been obsessed with Elizabeth Smart, got in, too.

So it could very easily be someone in the neighborhood that just was obsessed with this beautiful girl. Easy to get in those houses.

No. 2, the Internet. She's 9. I mean, we deal with Internet pedophiles all the time. Kids go into chat rooms. They think they're talking to another kid. It's a 45-year-old, 50-year-old pedophile who lures them out. I think she's too young. She's only 9, third grader. I don't believe this little girl would get up in the middle of night and go to meet some Internet buddy from a chat room. I don't think that's a feasible explanation.

I think it's a pedophile, somebody who knew that house or knew that that little girl lived there and got in that house and got her.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's shift our attention now to Kansas, to Wichita, where our affiliate KAKE -- KAKE is telling us -- as you see the live feed there, that they've identified a person of interest.

This BTK case has been a case you talked about for many years. What are your thoughts on all of this?

WALSH: Well, I was just on the ground about a month and a half ago. We'd been working with the Wichita police, and they have done one hell of a job. They have never given up, even after 30 years.

And this low-life coward has been taunting the people in that community for the last year. They had a person of interest about eight months ago. And they eliminated him. The media went all crazy, all over it and said they got the BTK killer and it wasn't him. And the chief said, "Let's slow down."

But now I know for a fact that they have incredible amount of interest in this guy. This guy is a person of interest a thousand times more interest, than they did on the last guy.

And I think it would be great -- if this is him -- because he's been taunting and taunting -- I mean, he's been taunting primarily the victims, not only the police, the people in Wichita.

And people forget; they know him as a serial killer. He killed two children. In one family, he killed the mother and father and raped the 11-year-old daughter and hung her from a pipe in the basement and killed a 9-year-old son. That's why I've been on his case for so many years, because he's not just a coward serial killer, he's a killer of children.

And I'm praying -- I think the Wichita police have hit a home run her. I think his arrogance is what's probably done him in. Because he thought, in all those message, he kept saying, "I'm not as famous as Ted Bundy." Well, I hope he gets his 15 minutes of fame in the prison cell and then hell in the next life. I think they got the right guy.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's quite clear this person is looking for attention and probably, subconsciously, is trying to get caught here. Share with us more details on why you believe police are so certain this person of interest could have led them to the killer.

WALSH: Well, in one of the packages he sent to the TV station, and he sent them a couple consequently, the first package contained crime scene photos that only the murderer could have taken. They were Polaroids of a crime scene of one of the women that he murdered and a Xerox of her license.

In the subsequent package that he left off a couple months ago, there was the actual license of a woman that he killed 30 years ago, Nancy Fox. And her father came to me on location out there and said, "John, I'm sure this is the killer. I know the police believe it was the killer that sent that information." And he said, "I need to get justice after 30 years."

So BTK has been sending, you know, uncontestable evidence that he's the killer. Now, I don't believe he wants to get caught. I think he's just an arrogant creep that was trying to rub it into everybody's face and say, "I've melded into society. I'm still here in Wichita -- could have left and come back -- but I'm still here in Wichita, and you'll never catch me."

Well, I hope he slipped up because we certainly got a lot of great tips that, you know, of people of interest, and I think this is the guy. I think his arrogance is what tripped him up. I don't think he ever dreamed that the police would be smart enough to catch him.

O'BRIEN: John Walsh, the host of "America's Most Wanted," who has been involved in the BTK case for many years, and as well as, most recently, just over the past couple of days in the case of Jessica Lunsford. Thanks for your time.

WALSH: OK, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it. And we'll keep you posted, of course, on both of those stories.

We have additional details to tell you about, as well, on that suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and what its impact might be on the peace process in the Middle East.

And of course, a live news conference still planned from Homosassa, Florida, authorities there giving us the latest on Jessica Lunsford and her -- the search for her. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Live pictures now, Homosassa, Florida, Citrus County sheriff is about to give a news conference. Actually, we're seeing a reporter there. About to give us an update on the case of Jessica -- Jessica Lunsford, 9 years old, who's been missing now for more than 24 hours, missing mysteriously from her home.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has been tracking this story for us.

Susan, do you have any inkling as to what the authorities are about to announce?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we do but we are waiting for him to give us confirmation of that. There may, indeed, be some developments in the case. But there is no confirmation about any of this, and so we are preferring at this time, Miles, to wait until the sheriff has something to say. But as you indicated, there has -- there's been a lot of activity throughout the day, police looking all over the area for this little girl, in the area around her home, a marshy area, a rural area. There are lakes nearby. Obviously, they've been looking in every bit of water that they could find, as well as through the forest and the like.

They've also had some help from volunteers who met at a local church earlier this day to offer their assistance. And naturally, they've had nationwide publicity about this case.

No Amber Alert has been issued because, according to the sheriff, it doesn't meet the criteria. There has been no hard evidence so far that little Jessica has been kidnapped. Therefore, at this time, there's been no need to put out an Amber Alert that might include a description of a car. Usually, you see those highway signs. Again so far, there's no information that would require that at this time.

But according to the sheriff, they're doing just as well, because so many people know about this case. They have had calls from all over the country, because he's been doing interviews with media outlets all over the place. So little Jessica's photograph has been seen in a lot of places. We're told they've been getting calls from as far away as Montana.

And so we're waiting at this time to see whether he has any additional information we can tell you. As you mentioned earlier, that they have examined her computer just to see, because she did have access to the Internet, whether that might have any play here.

And it looks like the sheriff's about to speak. Let's go to it now.

O'BRIEN: All right, Susan. We're going to interrupt you now. Let's go to that news conference.


SHERIFF JEFF DAWSY, CITRUS COUNTY SHERIFF: As you guys get to you know me, you know I don't try to come down and give you information that I can't verify.

Initially, the sheriff from Hillsborough County, David Gee, called me earlier this afternoon, advised me that they had located a body down there and it may match our girl here. And, as I say, an emotional roller-coaster. We have confirmed that it is not our girl. I repeat, it is not our girl. And for that sake, we're very happy. Our hearts go out to whoever this little girl's family is.

But from that particular standpoint, our mission here is to return this little girl and continue working diligently in this area. I have to tell you, I've overwhelmed by the public support we've received, businesses just bringing things in left and right and helping us.

We're now mobilizing volunteers. And as we go through this, I know you'll have some questions. I'm going to throw out two phone numbers right now for anybody that would like to help. The numbers, 302-2353 and 302-2345. I do not have any new and breaking information for you, except that, as I spoke earlier today, we are turning every rock that we can turn and following every lead we can possibly follow, but we have not received anything of any credible information.

With that, I turn to questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) area code 352, sir?

DAWSY: Yes, I'm sorry, 352 area code.

QUESTION: Sheriff, what can you tell us about the mother? Obviously, you told us earlier today the FBI had to talk to her. What has come out of that...


DAWSY: Just some basic background information about the young lady, very limited, but we really then started talking about her.

And, as I've been briefed by the FBI, I did not talk to the investigators up there, but I did talk to our FBI agent. And Pam (ph) has advised me that they have totally discarded this woman as being involved in anything involving our missing child.

QUESTION: Sheriff, there was a computer that was taken from the home, if I understand correctly. A couple of questions. Can you tell me if that computer was in the little girl's room? And what do you think about, if, indeed, that was in the little girl's room, leaving those computers in kids' rooms unattended, unsupervised?

DAWSY: We're totally against that. We teach that in the child lores program to everyone of our young children. Computers should always be supervised by an adult. These grandparents did that. The child's computer was in the main living area, where the grandma and grandma hang out.

QUESTION: Any more about the doll that was discovered missing?

DAWSY: No, nothing.

QUESTION: What are your plans for searching, as far as tonight or tomorrow? What are you going to do?

DAWSY: Well, these people are worn right now. We're bringing in, debriefing them, going through the stuff, cutting them free. They will be staying up here, whoever wants to. We have a block of rooms registered for them.

We will then meet, my staff and I, and we will have a plan in place to attack tomorrow morning.


QUESTION: Sheriff, have you heard from any FBI around the country, any other outside the state of Florida, saying, hey, we've got tips?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is about any other tips coming from around the country.

DAWSY: No, no tips at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None whatsoever.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Carlie Brucia in Sarasota. Just all of this brings that back. Anyone here from Sarasota Sheriff's Office? Are they assisting in any way or giving you any of their expertise?

DAWSY: The sheriff has called me. We've had conversation through my office. At this particular time, we feel this may be an ongoing situation. As we need his expertise, we will call him. But there has been a good sharing.

There's one thing nice about the Sheriff's Association, we are very strong partnering. I've talked to numerous ones throughout the state offering help.

QUESTION: Sheriff, how are the family right now?

DAWSY: Well, they went through an emotional roller-coaster, because I went in earlier this evening and told them about the found body. The dad was emotional, as you could imagine. We did not tell the grandma, because we are just worried about the health. And then I was able to go back and tell them that that was not Jessica.

QUESTION: And the reason for telling him was to brace him in case it turned out?

DAWSY: Yes. I wanted to make sure that he didn't see it on TV and then possibly lose faith in us communicating with him.

QUESTION: Have you been able to eliminate all the sexual offenders in this area? You said you were working on that.

DAWSY: Nobody's eliminated. We've just been continuously working on it. Nobody's eliminated until I know where that little girl is.

QUESTION: Sheriff, the cloud cover, how bad has that hampered or has it really hampered your search at all?

DAWSY: Hampered it tremendously. I couldn't been the chopper up last night. Today hasn't been too bad. We have been able to fly.

You had a question?




DAWSY: Don't really have anything new. As soon as I do, guys, I'll be back in touch with you.

Thank you very much.


DAWSY: I don't believe so.

O'BRIEN: That was Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, Citrus County Sheriff's Department there, indicating tragically that a body that was discovered in Hillsborough County, which is where Tampa, Florida, is, that body is another child, another victim, another crime story. But, in this case, Jessica Lunsford remains missing. And the authorities there are still looking for clues.

Susan Candiotti, a bit of a surprise there.

CANDIOTTI: It's a shame. We did hear a little bit earlier, just before this news conference started, confirmation that, in fact, a body of another little girl had been found, as you said, Miles, tragically, for the parents of that little girl.

We're still looking into how recent that case is. Also, that's in a neighboring county, just one county over actually from Citrus County, Hillsborough County. And so now they, of course, are obviously going through a notification process there.

But, in this case, you heard the sheriff say, we are turning every rock we can turn. We are following every lead we can follow. So, you can imagine this is a process that has been going on for, as you said, over 24 hours now. Just to briefly recap, little Jessica was put to bed by her grandparents Wednesday night after attending a church service. And then her father was out all night.

When he came home, about 6:00 in the morning, he heard her alarm going off and that is more or less when he discovered that she was missing from her room. Her clothes were still laid out. No shoes were missing. They did determine later on that a doll was missing. They won't give us more information about that.

But above and beyond that, they have no hard evidence of a kidnapping, no one to look for, no communication, no note. And that's why they haven't issued an Amber Alert at this time. However, they do have a missing child alert out on her, obviously. And police throughout the state and obviously people throughout the country are now aware of this case -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Susan, I've got to ask you, in a way, it's a moot question because of the media attention on this case, but why the technicalities on the Amber Alert? Why not just give this particular case an exception and give it an Amber Alert?

CANDIOTTI: Well, there's particular criteria that has to be met and that criteria includes information, definite information that there is an abduction involved.

If that were the case, remember, in an Amber Alert, every state isn't automatically notified. Each state, each local police department, in this case, it would be the sheriff's department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in effect, the state police, would have to notify other states about this missing child.

But they're called -- there must be some sort of link to other states. That's how the Amber Alert works.

O'BRIEN: All right, Susan Candiotti, we appreciate that.

One other important piece of news that came out of Jeff Dawsy, the sheriff's, news conference just a moment ago. Angie Lunsford, the estranged mother of Jessica, who lives in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, has been discarded as a suspect in all of this. Having said that, the sheriff also said no one has been eliminated. So we'll leave it to the viewers to figure that one out.

Earlier, I talked with Jessica's aunt, Susan Lunsford, about the ordeal this very tight-knit family is going through right now.


O'BRIEN: Susan, good to have you with us. I know this is a very difficult time.

First of all, our hearts go out to you and your family as you try to search for this little girl. Could you just bring us up to date? What are the authorities telling you?

SUSAN LUNSFORD, AUNT OF JESSICA: Well, they haven't really found anything, but they have talked with her mother, who did not recognize her. And she has now been excluded from anything in this. So, they know that she had nothing to do with it.

And that's all that we know right now. They don't know anything else. They don't know where she's at. We just want to know where she's at. We want to know she's all right. We want her to come home. Jessie's a very wonderful young lady. She's very sweet. She's friendly, but she's not overly friendly with people. She's very cautious. She smiles a lot, a beautiful young girl.

O'BRIEN: Is there anything about Jessie that would lead you to believe she might run off, for whatever reason, just lose track of where she is?

LUNSFORD: No, Jessie would never -- she would never leave. She wouldn't even go to school without grandpa taking her and grandma picking her up. She wouldn't never leave the house. She had friends come here, but she'd never go away.

O'BRIEN: How would you describe her personality?

LUNSFORD: Her personality, well, she's -- like I said, she's a very friendly young lady. She's smiling all time. She will talk to you, but she's cautious. And she's a lot of fun to be with.

O'BRIEN: It's a pretty close-knit family, as I understand it. How are people holding up right now?

LUNSFORD: We're just all hanging to one another. We know -- we know that, somehow, we've got to find Jessie. And we hope that, somewhere, that someone will hear this and bring her home or take her somewhere where we can get her.

And we want Jessie to know that we love her. We hope that she hears this.

O'BRIEN: If somebody had kidnapped her, what would you like to say to that person right now?

LUNSFORD: Please, please, bring her home or take her somewhere where we can get her. Call us. Let us know that she's OK and let us come and get her. Please bring Jessie back.

O'BRIEN: As you look at the circumstances of her disappearance, what does it lead you to believe?

LUNSFORD: I don't even know -- I don't even know what to think about it. I can't imagine somebody wanting to hurt her. And I don't understand why anyone would take not just Jessie, but any child, why they would just take her away from our family. She needs her family and we need her.

O'BRIEN: And tell us a little bit about the efforts to look for her right now, a lot of people involved.

LUNSFORD: Yes, there's been about 30 to 50 people here today. And then yesterday, I wasn't here, but I was aware that they had horses out looking for her. They've had dogs. Everything that they could possibly do, they've done and still doing. They're not giving up either. And I'm thankful for that.

O'BRIEN: Jessie's grandparents, your parents, were there. Did they hear anything at all?

LUNSFORD: They didn't hear anything. And Mark come home about -- I think he said it was about 6:00 in the morning. And he heard Jessie's alarm clock going off. So he went to her room and to get her up for school. And she wasn't there. She was already gone.

O'BRIEN: What's next for the family? What's next for the search and the investigation now?

LUNSFORD: Well, they're not stopping, and we aren't either. We're continuing on with everything that we can think of to do. Anybody that we can think of to go to, any friends, anybody that that could possibly know anything, we're just doing everything that we can to search that out, too.

O'BRIEN: All right, Susan Lunsford...


O'BRIEN: Thank you for your time. And best to you and your family.

LUNSFORD: Thank you.


O'BRIEN: Jessica's aunt, Susan Lunsford.

It's now been more than 40 hours since Jessica was last seen by her family members, her grandmother, who tucked her in. As we heard from John Walsh, the host of "America's Most Wanted" just a little while ago, that first 24 hours in these cases is extremely critical.

Breaking news in Israel that we have been telling you all about, a bombing in Tel Aviv. It happened just about an hour ago on a pleasant Friday night outside a nightclub, at least 30 casualties, some of them fatalities. It is a suicide bombing. It is terror. It has returned to the Middle East. It has rocked Tel Aviv. The question is, how will it rock the peace process?

We'll have details for you. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Shock and terror tonight in Tel Aviv. An hour ago, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up beside a long line of young people waiting to get into a nightclub, the Stage Club in Tel Aviv, at least 40 casualties. Many of those are fatalities. Still don't have some firm numbers on that.

Joining us with more detail is Guy Raz in our Jerusalem bureau -- Guy.

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, we understand that this attack happened at about a quarter past 11:00 p.m. local time this evening.

Now, that happened just outside the Stage Club, one of the many clubs of dozens of nightclubs along the beach in Tel Aviv. It did happen at a time when the club was just opening up. We understand these clubs tend to become quite busy at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. But it did have quite a devastating impact, injury, we understand now, at least 50 people.

Now, we do also understand that there have been deaths in this attack. But police and medical officials have not confirmed how many deaths. But they do now believe that this was a suicide bomb attack that was carried out in Tel Aviv this evening, the first time now in four months that a suicide bombing has been carried out inside of Israel.

There were two others late last year, one in Tel Aviv as well, not too far from where this attack occurred, where two people were killed at the Carmel Market, an outdoor market -- outdoor -- an indoor market in Tel Aviv, and also a twin suicide bus bombing in Beer Sheva a month and a half before that that killed 16.

But this is the first time, as I say, in four months that such a devastating attack has taken place, and, of course, a break in what has appeared to be a momentum, a period of calm, between Palestinians and Israelis in the past several month, particularly since the Palestinian and Israeli leaders met at a summit in Egypt at the end of last month -- at the beginning of this month, rather, in an attempt to restart peace negotiations between the two sides that had essentially foundered and collapsed over the past four years -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Guy, it's rather interesting to me that, of the militant groups, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is blaming Hezbollah. Hezbollah in turn is blaming Islamic Jihad. I assume we should take that at face value. But the real question, I suppose, is, at what point, how much control at this point does the Palestinian Authority have over these groups?

RAZ: Well, this of course is something that Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian Authority president, is trying to do. He's trying to sort of stamp his authority on the militant groups and on all of these various security apparatuses inside of the Palestinian Authority.

Mahmoud Abbas just became the president of the Palestinian Authority in January. And he's already made several trips to Gaza in an attempt to strongly warn militant groups not to carry out any kinds of attacks. Mahmoud Abbas has long been a public and vocal critic of the violent uprising. He opposes any kind of militant activity. And he believes, and has publicly stated his belief, that the best way to bring about a resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is through dialogue and negotiations.

But, of course, there are literally dozens of militant groups in Gaza, in the West Bank. We know of two main groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. and Mr. Abbas managed to reach an agreement with those two groups last month that they would abide by a cease-fire, in other words, a decision not to carry out attacks against Israeli targets.

And, by and large, these groups have adhered, have abided to this cease-fire. The problem for Mr. Abbas is that, as I say, there are literally dozens of factions of breakaway groups, could be small bands of young men who simply are not affiliated, simply desire, simply would want to do anything in their power to destroy the momentum that has begun, has begun to emerge between the two sides.

Of course, the dialogue we've seen over the past several weeks between the two sides has been unprecedented, because it's something that simply hasn't existed between Palestinian and Israeli leaders over the past four years -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Guy Raz in Jerusalem.

Of course, the critical next step to watch will be to see exactly how Mahmoud Abbas responds to all this. Thanks for your time. We have gotten confirmation from Israeli police on the scene in Tel Aviv that there are three known dead, once again, 40 casualties, three known dead, a little bit more than an hour and a half ago after that suicide bombing in front of a crowded nightclubs, a line in front of a nightclub in Tel Aviv.

Is a Pentagon policy having a harmful effect on the military? Why some say don't ask don't tell may not be the right way to handle the issue of gays in the military.

Stay with us for that.


O'BRIEN: Here's a quick check of some other stories we're watching now in the news.

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube will remain for now. A stay barring its removal was to expire just a short while ago, but a Florida County Circuit judge has effectively extended it, ordering it removed on March 18. Schiavo suffered severe brain damage from a heart attack 15 years ago today. Her husband and parents have battled in court for years over whether she should be allowed to die.

Iraqi authorities say they've captured two aides to most wanted terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. One of them is said to be a top lieutenant responsible for finding safe houses and transporting group members.

Meantime, word from the U.S. Army today that three American soldiers were killed, nine wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad.

A day after he underwent surgery to aid his respiration, the Vatican says Pope John Paul II is breathing better, eating, and is in good spirits. A spokesman says the pope never needed mechanical assistance to breathe, but will be unable to speak for a few days to rest his larynx.

New figures show the Pentagon's don't-ask-don't-tell policy on gays in the military comes at a high price in terms of money and manpower.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre joining us now with details -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, that new GAO report is giving ammunition to critics who argue the Pentagon's don't-ask-don't-tell policy doesn't make sense.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): In 1997, Steve Boeckels was a West Point cadet with a secret he couldn't even admit to himself.

STEVE BOECKELS, FORMER ARMY 1ST LIEUTENANT: I didn't feel like I was gay at the time, even though I was -- I always have been gay. I was basically in denial with my own sexuality.

MCINTYRE: At his graduation, he shook hands with the president, whose don't-ask-don't-tell policy was supposed to make it easier for soldiers like him to serve.

BOECKELS: Steve Boeckels. Hope things are well.

MCINTYRE: Now Boeckels, a former cavalry scout platoon leader, is out of the closet and consequently out of uniform.

BOECKELS: With this policy, it's clear, blindingly obvious, that you're basically kicking people out that are more than willing to serve and put than life on the line.

MCINTYRE: Gay rights advocates and their supporters in Congress say, with the military struggling to meet recruiting and retention goals, it's time to revisit the 1993 compromise that requires gays to keep their sexual orientation secret to stay in the U.S. military.

A just-released Government Accountability Office study estimates the Pentagon has spent roughly $200 million over the last decade to recruit and train more than 10,000 replacements for gays who were booted out. And the report also notes that, at the same time the U.S. military is paying bonuses to fill critically short jobs such as linguists, it's discharging hundreds of gay, many with those same skills.

President Clinton was forced to abandon his campaign promise to end discrimination against gays in the military by a Congress swayed by the argument that the ban is needed to maintain good order and discipline.

PETER SPRIGG, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: People serving in the military have the right to be free of the fear that they're in the barracks or in the foxhole with somebody of same sex who may be viewing them as a sexual object.

MCINTYRE: But, in recent years, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops have served with allies who permit gays to serve, including Britain, Australia, Italy, and Spain. British lifted its ban on gays five years ago and now the Royal Navy has begun actively encouraging them to enlist.

BOECKELS: Absolutely. It's not just myself. I think that America's ready for it. It's more than long overdue.


MCINTYRE: Next week, Massachusetts Congressman Martin Meehan will introduce a bill to repeal the ban on gays in the military. But given that the Congress now is even more conservative then it was in 1993, the prospects for passage are uncertain at best -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Taking a look at another story that we're watching for you in Kansas, there may be a break in the BTK serial murder case, which stretches back more than 30 years now. Our affiliate KAKE is reporting police are questioning a person of interest. BTK stands for bind, torture, kill. The first person known to have been killed in this case back in 1974. There have been at least seven others. The killer had not been heard from in years until last year, when someone claiming to be BTK began sending message to the media.

And updating another developing story we've been following this hour, a search continues this hour for 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. She was last seen Wednesday night in her bedroom in her Homosassa, Florida, home. We learned this hour that a body discovered in the region, in the Tampa area, Hillsborough County, was in fact not that of the missing girl. Officials say there is no physical evidence that Jessica was kidnapped.

One more story we're watching for you, 40 casualties, a few fatalities in the wake of a bombing in Tel Aviv, occurred a little more than an hour and a half ago. And it is the work of a Palestinian suicide bomber. Islamic Jihad, one of the factions in the Palestinians, claiming responsibility for it, a tense and tragic moment in Tel Aviv. The question that lingers is how will this affect the peace process in the Middle East that appeared to be on its way toward some positive outcome.

A reminder, you can always catch WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays at this time, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Wolf will be back this Sunday at noon Eastern for "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. Join us then.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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