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Four More Churches Burned to the Ground; Political Messages at Coretta Scott King Funeral

Aired February 8, 2006 - 08:00   ET


I'm Miles O'Brien.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zain Verjee in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The very latest on that rash of church torchings in Alabama. Four more burned to the ground. A live report is straight ahead.

Political messages at the Coretta Scott King funeral.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.


O'BRIEN: It was a time for praise, but for a time it became a bully pulpit. Politics amid the pall of a big funeral.

VERJEE: More protests over controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. And now, Iran's president has his own idea on political correctness.

Investigators say a former hockey star is a gambling kingpin. But this sports scandal may stretch all the way to Hollywood.

O'BRIEN: And music's biggest sellers will be on display tonight at the Grammy Awards. But what does Grammy gold really mean anymore?

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

In just one week, nine Baptist churches in Alabama up in flames. Four of them burned down yesterday. And authorities are looking for an arsonist. They fear more churches could be in danger.

David Mattingly is live now in Boligee, Alabama with the latest -- David, what are investigators focusing on?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, now that the sun has come up, we're going to give you just a little bit of a visual tour of this particular church here. We're going to take you past the police tape as best we can. This is what is left of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Boligee, Alabama. It's an example of what investigators are dealing with. They were able to determine that the fire at this church, like so many other churches in the recent rash of fires, the fire began somewhere around the pulpit. They believe there was forced entry. They were actually able to recover a door.

And to show you how meticulous they are in going through all of this debris, they were able to find a footprint on that door to add to the evidence that they're collecting. Yesterday, we actually watched a specially trained dog go through the rubble looking for any signs of any sort of fuel that might have been used to start the fire.

Investigators at this point have no solid suspects, so they're telling everyone to remain vigilant. And the way that these were carried out because they're in remote rural areas, they believe it has to be someone who's familiar with the area.


JIM CAVANAUGH, SPECIAL AGENT, ATF: Somebody knows the region pretty good. They've been around. They've searched it out. They might have traveled back here as a hunter. And, you know, we're going to be looking at all those avenues. Somebody out there knows. Somebody in the area knows probably who these people are and they need to give us a call.


MATTINGLY: And until someone is in custody, of course, there is a possibility everyone's concerned about that this might happen again. The governor of Alabama going to be touring these sites today, these new sites. And when he comes out here, as you can see behind me, Miles, some of these places there's not much left to look at.

O'BRIEN: David, aside from the obvious, we've got a geographic link. Obviously, all of them Baptist churches.

Anything else that there -- a common thread between these nine churches?

MATTINGLY: They've been able to determine at quite a few of these that there has been forced entry, that the source of the fire seems to be around the pulpit in some of these.

Investigators are starting to believe that this is sort of like the equivalent of a smash and grab. They will break their way in, they'll light anything that they can possibly burn quickly and then get out of there quickly.

And, again, as you heard the ATF investigator telling us, these are remote areas. You have to know where you're going to get to these places and to get away as cleanly as they've been doing that.

But they are collecting a mountain of evidence through all of this, through all their forensic analysis. Yesterday we actually watched them look -- making plasters of a tire track that was in the mud at one of the churches nearby here. So, they're collecting all sorts of evidence.

All they need now is a solid suspect -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: David Mattingly in Alabama for us this morning.

Thank you very much.

Coretta Scott King being remembered this morning as a civil rights icon. Four American presidents among the thousands who paid their final respects yesterday. It was a six hour service in Georgia. The funeral took a political turn when the Reverend Joseph Lowery and former President Jimmy Carter took some jabs at President Bush.


CARTER: The struggle for equal rights is not over. We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi...


CARTER: ... those who were most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, COFOUNDER, SCLC: She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bums on missions way and far. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there.


LOWERY: ... but Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war, billions more. But no more for the poor.


O'BRIEN: Now, Coretta Scott King was buried in a tomb near her husband's at the King Center in Atlanta -- Zane.

VERJEE: Miles, in the last hour, I spoke with an editor at the Danish newspaper that published the controversial cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Those caricatures have angered and outraged much of the Muslim world.

Fleming Rose, the culture editor at "Jyllands-Posten," is defending their publication.

CNN's Matthew Chance spoke this morning with the Danish prime minister and he joins us now on the phone from Copenhagen -- Matthew, the cartoon controversy has put Anders Fogh Rasmussen in pretty tough spot.

What did he say to you today? MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Zain, Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed his deepening concern at the, what he called an international crisis concerning these cartoons and the reaction to the images across the Islamic world. He said that he, along with the rest of the people of Denmark, had reacted with shock as they watched the images of Danish diplomatic missions being attacked across the Muslim world, Danish flags being burned in the streets. That's not something, they say, that they're used to seeing in this country.

But I asked him whether he thought that the issue of the cartoons, them being published in Denmark, made the increased chance of the country being targeted by terrorists.

Here's what he had to say.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, DANISH PRIME MINISTER: I think there is an increased risk globally. Everybody could be targeted. We have seen that. It's not directly related to Iraq, so I think that all over the world, there is a risk, including in Denmark.


CHANCE: Well, Anders Fogh Rasmussen is saying that he believed it did not make the country more at risk of acts of terrorism. But I can tell you, that's not a view that's expressed on the streets here. Many Danes have been watching this crisis develop over the past several days across the Islamic world, now feeling increasingly insecure, that this may be the issue that makes them a target -- Zain.

VERJEE: CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, reporting to us from Copenhagen in Denmark.

We want to check in now with Kelly Wallace, who's got the headlines -- good morning, Kelly.


And hello, everyone.

We're beginning with President Bush, who has a busy day ahead. The president hosting Jordan's King Abdullah at the White House later this morning. Their meeting comes as many members of the Muslim community are up in arms over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, just as Matthew Chance was talking about moments ago.

Later in the day, the president will turn his attention to domestic issues, highlighting his $2.7 trillion budget during an appearance in New Hampshire.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meeting her Israeli counterpart today. The landslide Hamas win in the Palestinian elections will be the major focus of those talks. To West Virginia now, where the mine safety director says his decision to resign has nothing to do with recent deaths in the state's coal mines. Doug Conaway is stepping down after more than 20 years and state government. His announcement comes less than a week after West Virginia marked its 15th and 16th coal mine related deaths this year. The state is now implementing new safety measures in the wake of those deadly accidents.

In Southern California, residents are now back at home after a fast moving fire forced thousands to evacuate. The fire, burning east of Los Angeles, has charred more than 6,500 acres. Strong Santa Ana winds could fuel the flames some more today. Also, we're learning that officials are now saying the fire may have started after rampant flames escaped from controlled burns.

And it's all systems go for adventurer Steve Fossett. He took off in his Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer a short time ago from Florida. Fossett is trying to break a non-stop flight record. If all goes well, he'll cover some 27,000 miles over three-and-a-half days and land in Kent, England.

And, Miles, I guess when it comes to sleeping, just five minute catnaps, right?

O'BRIEN: That's all you need. That's why you have George, George on board. George is the -- what I call the autopilot. A lot of pilots call it that so -- but that's it, five minute catnaps. He'll be ready to land.

WALLACE: He'll be very tired when he lands.


All right, thank you, Kelly.


O'BRIEN: Let's check the weather now -- Bonnie Schneider, a picture perfect day there at the Kennedy Space Center. But you're looking a little bit to the west.

How are you?


I'd like those five minute catnaps. I wish that would work for us, right?

O'BRIEN: Yes, in between weather segments it would be perfect for you, wouldn't it?

SCHNEIDER: It would be, but a little too risky.

O'BRIEN: You've got work to do, that's the problem.



O'BRIEN: Thank you, Bonnie Schneider.

See you in a little bit.

A former hockey star is expected to soon face charges of being behind a nationwide gambling ring. Rick Tocchet is an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. Investigators say he financed the ring, which brought in more than a million dollars.

Current players being questioned by authorities. Also involved is the wife of the great one, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky is Tocchet's boss in Phoenix.


WAYNE GRETZKY, PHOENIX COYOTES COACH: Obviously we feel bad, you know. It's a situation that, you know, obviously concerns the organization at this point. So other than that, hopefully things will work out and, you know, we don't know a lot of the details, but hopefully things will work out.

QUESTION: Do you fully stand behind them?

GRETZKY: Yes, you know, right now, I mean everyone in the world is innocent until proven guilty.


O'BRIEN: Gretzky is married to actress Janet Jones, seen there on the right, just in case you were curious.

Officials say none of the bets were placed on hockey games, however. That's an important point.

Tocchet meets with league officials today in New York, as they decide what to do next.

VERJEE: Always in good shape when you see pictures like that.

Do you exercise or are you...

O'BRIEN: I do.

I do.


How often?


VERJEE: Do you climb up the stairs to work every day? O'BRIEN: Yes, that's it. I push the elevator button.

VERJEE: You walk to work?

O'BRIEN: I lift the coffee cup. No, I run. I run. I bike. Yes, I do a little bit of everything.

VERJEE: You snowboard? You fall badly.

O'BRIEN: I did snowboard once.

VERJEE: You get hurt.

O'BRIEN: Yes. There's that.

VERJEE: Well, coming up, our health series for people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Today, we're going to take a look at what kind of exercise you should be getting as you get older.

O'BRIEN: And how would you like it if you could use your cell phone as a credit card? That possibility is just around the corner.

VERJEE: And later, music's biggest stars will come out for tonight's Grammys. But with so many other awards shows out there, why do the Grammys really matter? Do they still matter?

We're going to take a look ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: There is an arsonist, or perhaps a group of arsonists, on the loose in Alabama. The target? Baptist churches -- mixed race congregations, white and black. Nine of them reduced to ashes so far. Authorities are looking at the tracks in the mud. They're looking at shoe marks on a door, trying to get a forensic piece of -- pieces to the puzzle.

Here's a look at where all nine fires were set, all across the state, basically 60 miles, from one end to the other.

Joining me now is Ragan Ingram of the Alabama Department of Insurance, overseeing the fire investigations all throughout the state.

Mr. Ingram, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: How can we -- I know you're trying to tie together all this. And aside from the obvious, you've got Baptist churches, rural locations, kind of set apart from the street so it's easier to go after them.

Is there any other common thread that you've been able to identify that unites these churches? INGRAM: Well, clearly, the five in Bibb County forensically have been identified as linked. We're working toward seeing if that happens with these other fires. Two have been confirmed as arsons. That's the two that were not -- not burned to the ground, the ones that were merely damaged -- the fire at Dancy and the fire at Spring Valley. The other two fire investigations, those scenes will be finished up today. We presume that they will be linked together and we would not be surprised if all nine were linked together as a group.


Is it -- have you ruled out at this juncture the possibility that the second cluster, or maybe others embedded in this group of nine, are a copycat?

INGRAM: We believe the first five are definitely linked. We would -- it could go either way, to be honest with you, about the second four. They could -- it could be copycat or it could be linked. We're working on that -- those issues, very diligently.

O'BRIEN: All right, give us a sense of how you go about this, what sorts of leads you're going after besides the -- we talked about the tire tracks and the footprint, for example.

Why don't we begin there.

What sort of evidence are you finding on the scenes?

INGRAM: Well, obviously, you've seen the video of the tire tracks and those were plastered and will be taken to the lab for examination. You've seen -- you've heard talk of footprints on doors and obviously those types of things, if they are found, are examined, as well, to see what kind of consistency there is between things found at other sites. You have situations like looking for a dark colored SUV that was seen in Bibb County at one of the locations and trying to interview people in the area and people that may have information regarding those churches, those fires in those areas and what they may have seen.

O'BRIEN: I get the sense you don't have too much to go on right now.

Is that true?

INGRAM: Actually, there's probably a little more than is being said because basically the idea is, is in an investigation, you want the investigator to know what he's found and really the only other person you want to know that is the perpetrator, because if things get out in the public domain, things -- you lose, kind of, control of the investigation.

So things have been kind of closely held at this point.

O'BRIEN: Let's try to clarify one other point.

Do you detect any sort of racial motivation in all of this or is this focused against religion purely and is it color-blind?

INGRAM: Well, it's hard to say at this point. Obviously, the first batch of fires were -- four of the churches were white, predominantly white churches. The other one was an African-American church. It's the other way around on this one. These were, I believe, all African-American churches.

Obviously somebody -- somebody or somebodies are interested in burning down churches. Whether it's hate against a race or religion in general, we don't know. But I'm sure that's something that will be developed.

The federal government has taken the lead on this. Once church fires started becoming prevalent about 10 years ago, the FBI decided that whenever there was a church fire, they wanted to be involved, they wanted to know about it and find out if it was something that they needed to participate in.

Obviously, FBI and ATF are working hand in hand with the state fire marshal's office on this investigation.

O'BRIEN: All right, Ragan Ingram, who is the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Insurance...

INGRAM: Assistant.

O'BRIEN: Assistant commissioner...

INGRAM: Don't get me in trouble with my boss.

O'BRIEN: You're right. I don't want to get you in trouble with the boss. That's always a bad idea. Boss, it was our fault, not his.

Thanks for being with us -- Zain.

INGRAM: Thank you, Miles.

VERJEE: Coming up, big trouble at one of the nation's biggest airports. We're going to tell you why it had to shut down overnight.

Plus, more on Muslim outrage over those cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. We're going to look at how al Qaeda and the Taliban may factor into all that anger. That's ahead here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: All right, live pictures now in Southern California. Thanks to KABC. And we believe this fire is a little different from the ones we've been telling you about, we've been telling you about in Orange County. This is Malibu. Obviously, still 5:20 in the morning out there, so we're waiting for first light to give you a better sense of what's going on, whether any homes are threatened.

But the wildfires continue in a new location now. This is Malibu, a long way from Orange County, where we've been telling you about those other fires.

We'll keep you posted.


VERJEE: How many times have you planned to exercise, go to the gym and you just got lazy? Well, we're focusing this week on good health and aging in our special series, 30, 40 and 50.

Today, we're going to take a look at exercise and metabolism and see how they affect the aging process.

CNN's medical correspondent, who's always in the gym, always looking after herself, and we hate her for it, Elizabeth Cohen in Atlanta with more on that -- Elizabeth, hi.


Zain, there is a sad truth. I'm sorry to be the one to have to say this, but our metabolism does slow down as we age. Now, that doesn't mean you should give up. It means you have to fight extra hard to counteract Mother Nature.


COHEN (voice-over): Ah, the joys of aging. In your 50s...

LIZ SCULL, 50-YEAR-OLD: I can actually feel myself slowing down. I have to work harder here and at home to get my metabolism up, to get my heart pumping, to be able to breathe better. It's just a little more of a fight.

Fire! Fire!

COHEN: Even in your 40s.

BRIAN REYNOLDS, LIFTS WEIGHTS: You know, I used to play basketball, be able to run full court and you have to kind of supplant that as the joints get a little creakier.

COHEN: Exercise physiologists say our bodies change so much between 30 and 50.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER: You can expect every year to lose a half a pound of muscle. So from your 30s to 40s, you're losing five pounds of muscle.

COHEN: And a changing body requires a changing workout.

Rule number one, in your 30s, really make an effort to build your muscles as strong as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER: In your 30s, what you're looking to do is establish a base. That's when you're really wanting to put on muscle mass. So you might look at lifting heavier weights.

COHEN: A good base that will help you later.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER: 40s and 50s, as our body ages, just overuse injuries start happening. So if you have a good baseline, then you can look at maintaining and taking a more functional approach to exercise.

COHEN: So at 50, Liz Scull may not be lifting as much or as quickly as a 30-year-old. Her focus is on keeping the muscles she has strong and supple.

SCULL: That's me.

COHEN: She's also working on maintaining her balance, one of the first things to go as you age. And the work is paying off.

SCULL: The biggest benefit to working out -- for three years now, I've been doing this -- is when I started here, I was on five prescription drugs. And now I'm on zero.

COHEN: Her plan? To keep exercising in her 50s, 60s and beyond.


COHEN: Now, while it's never too late to start an exercise program, you do want to keep in mind the longer you wait to start, the harder it's going to be to get going -- Zain.

VERJEE: Reality checks with Elizabeth Cohen.

Always good to talk to you.

Thanks, Elizabeth -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, tired of carrying a wallet around? Pretty soon you might be able to use your cell phone as a credit card. But will you be able to call somebody on your American Express? Hmmm. We'll see how that works out, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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