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CNN NEWSROOM

4,000 U.S. Soldiers Looking For Three of Their Own

Aired May 13, 2007 - 22:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: A 91-year-old war veteran beat mercilessly. The video of it is bad enough, but look at this. What are they doing?
Four-thousand U.S. soldiers are now looking for three of their own. And Al Qaeda may have them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER BERGEN: Unfortunately, I think the idea that these people would be released is wishful thinking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: And our commander in chief as leader of the band. New video, from the CNN NEWSROOM.

And hello, everybody. We are going to begin in "B" control once again tonight, because we've got - first of all, we've got one video that we have to show you. It's almost sickening. I'll be honest with you, it makes me furious when I watch it. You may react the same way.

See it here on the right side of your screen. That's a 91-year- old man being punched in the head and in the face over and over and over again. This is in Detroit. The attacker is trying to steal the man's car. I know, let's get out of that now. Let's show this shot.

See, look at the top. See there? Look at -- freeze it, freeze it. The top of your screen. Look at that group of guys there. They're doing absolutely nothing to stop the attack. That's really the heart of the story. We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up. We got reaction to this horrific crime. The suspect is in custody, I guess we're happy to report tonight. The victim speaks about this incident. We'll have it for you. It's inspiring, actually.

First, though, what is obviously the most important story for Americans to think about on this Mother's Day. Three moms whose sons may be captured in Iraq. And we're now learning that they could quite possibly be in the hands of al Qaeda. This is just past 6:00 a.m. right now in Baghdad. And that means that those soldiers that I'm talking about have now been missing for about 48 hours.

4,000 troops are now looking for them as we speak. We've been talking to military officials. Because of the magnitude of the story, we're going to obviously be bringing in our colleagues. My colleague, for example, Michael Holmes, who knows Iraq through and through. I'm also going to be bringing in for you CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, who knows al Qaeda as well as anybody.

Do they have these soldiers? Does al Qaeda control them right now? Remember, Bergen interviewed Osama bin Laden himself. So that's one of the reasons we're going to bring him into this conversation.

First, though, I want to show you a map of the area, where the search is taking place tonight. See this region right here? It's just south of Baghdad. It's called the triangle of death. The three soldiers were ambushed before dawn yesterday outside the city of Mahmoudiya. Five of their fellow soldiers were killed in this attack.

Now this part of Iraq has been the scene of several deadly insurgent attacks. The identities of the missing soldiers have not yet been released. So what are those 4,000 soldiers doing as we speak that we've been talking about? Remember, the military refrain about never leaving a fallen soldier behind. Well, that's on display tonight south of Baghdad. Let's do this first. Let's bring in Major General William Caldwell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: Everybody is fully engaged. The commanders are intimately focused on this. Every asset we have, from national assets to tactical assets. And when I say national, I mean, United States government assets that may not be habitually be routinely used on a daily basis are being used all the way down to the 4,000 troops, the tactical assets to locate these three missing soldiers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: All right, so who has done this? One group tonight we can report has claimed responsibility for killing some U.S. soldiers and capturing some others. Their words. The group calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq. It's linked to al Qaeda. The group posted the claim on a Web site it uses to make such statements. The claim cannot be independently verified, but this is where we bring in our terrorism expert, now Peter Bergen, who knows the fringe group and knows al Qaeda as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We have this claim of responsibility, which I think is credible. This group is tied to al Qaeda in Iraq. So it does look like al Qaeda in Iraq may have been involved.

SANCHEZ: If we're looking at a situation where al Qaeda has, in fact, abducted these individuals, would they normally play this out, do you think, Peter?

BERGEN: Yes, I think they play it out for as long as possible. And then, unfortunately, they would probably almost certainly be killed. Because Al Qaeda in Iraq is not interested in being negotiating for money. A number of hostages in Iraq have been released because the country's involved -- either publicly or under the table pay some money.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is interested in getting as much political capital as possible. And unfortunately, in those sorts of cases, you don't get releases. It's very unlikely.

SANCHEZ: So it's really about exposure for them, for their organization. Almost like - boy, it's horrible to say this, but it's almost like a PR move for them, isn't it?

BERGEN: Yes, no, I think it is. It's about exposure for them. It's about trying to, you know, sow discontent amongst Americans about the military presence in Iraq. And I'm sure they'll spin it out for as long as possible. And unfortunately, I think the idea that these people would be released is wishful thinking.

SANCHEZ: What do you do in situation like this if you are a U.S. commander faced with this situation? Let me know what they're doing? They have some 4,000 soldiers as being reported now, but how do you tackle something like this if you know the enemy as well as you happen to know this enemy of al Qaeda?

BERGEN: Well, I think that you're planning a rescue operation. That's the only thing you can do. There is no - there's going to be no negotiations that will be successful. You try and identify where these people are located, and you try and rescue them. Of course, that's often quite dangerous because, you know, hostages often get killed in rescue operations.

SANCHEZ: Do you suspect in a situation like this that they're already gone from that particular area and perhaps even in another region?

BERGEN: Yes, that could easily be the case. And in fact, what - sometimes, you know, group A will kidnap somebody and then will sell them on to group B. And often the group B is worse than group A.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Peter Bergen with his analysis for us tonight. Few months have been worse than the past one in Iraq. Michael Holmes knows that only too well. He spent a lot of time there. We're going to bring him in now to get a unique perspective. We sat down and talked about the situation there on the ground now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: We hear about all these reporters who go to Baghdad. And most of the time, they're sitting in a fortress somewhere because they can't get out, because it's too dangerous. We see you out with people. How unique is that?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that time when we're doing the religious observance of Ashura -- that walk through the streets that day was a great illustration of that power. That's Sadr's militia, the Mehdi army. They control that area, but we're walking down the street with the local sheikh. No one touched us. SANCHEZ: You were going around with military people at the time with - soldiers with heavy guns and a lot of artillery.

HOLMES: You don't know what to expect when you go back in, but at the same time you do. And this time going back, snipers all of a sudden become a really big issue. Instead of maybe looking there, a lot of people are looking up now, looking at windows and rooftops.

SANCHEZ: Could you do what you did without them?

HOLMES: On this last trip?

SANCHEZ: Yes.

HOLMES: No, absolutely not.

SANCHEZ: Too dangerous?

HOLMES: Oh, yes. No, I'd last -- if I walked outside of our compound, I'd probably last about 15 minutes before I'd be killed or kidnapped.

SANCHEZ: Those things that you're showing us in your piece when you're walking and you see the kids?

HOLMES: It's a great Arab tradition that you show hospitality to guests. You just come in here with a dozen soldiers, people going house to house asking questions. And they make you chai. Everyone gets a little cup of tea if they want one. It's traditional Arab hospitality.

SANCHEZ: That would have been a great thing to start establishing three years ago.

HOLMES: There are some good things happening here. There's - you know, Petraeus is -- General Petraeus is a smart guy. He's a scholar of counterinsurgency. Written books about it. And he's doing some very good things, but I wonder whether they're a couple years too late.

SANCHEZ: I'm just thinking that is there a way to win? And what is the definition of winning? Mine would be -- I'll share mine with you. Mine would be, A, stop killing them, thereby they'll stop hating you and wanting to kill you, or B, kill them all.

HOLMES: Well, the problem with this war is it's - there's more...

SANCHEZ: Are any of those options?

HOLMES: Well, no, because ultimately, you want to kill the bad guys. And this is the first war I've ever been in where there is no front line. And the bad guys don't wear uniforms.

So it's very hard for the U.S., for example, to pick out who you're going to shoot at. You know, you could be driving down the street, or walking down the street, and the guy standing right there is a senior member of the insurgency. You don't know. And the guy over there is a baker. And how do you pick? It's a very hard battle to win.

The key to winning a counter - winning an insurgency is to get the people on the side. And that's a slow process. You've got to bring back that tribal fabric that existed before and get the shakes involved, and get them to fight the bad guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Serious questions about a serious situation. Michael's documentary airs right after our newscast here. It's called "Month of Mayhem" right here, as you come to expect, on CNN.

Well, tonight, in what is being considered a turnaround, the Bush administration will negotiate with Iran. Repeat, will negotiate. You're looking live at the White House, where this is being discussed. They do add this caveat, though. They say the only thing that they will discuss is the situation in Iraq with Iran. They say that's all that's going to be on the table.

Now the White House that says that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq is going to meet with the Iranians in the next couple of weeks. And it's likely to take place in Baghdad. It also says that the administration isn't budging on its hardline stance against Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Here's a quote, in fact. "This is not about the United States and Iran. This is about Iraq. This is about Iran playing a constructive policy role inside Iraq. The U.S. wants Iran to use its influence with Iraq's majority Shi'ites to try and forge some political peace, but it's also accused Iran of meddling in Baghdad's affairs and giving bomb parts to insurgents.

Now to Afghanistan. There, he was known as the killer of killers. But tonight, coalition forces have handed the Taliban what we're told is an incredible blow. His name is Mullah Dadulla. And he is dead. NATO says that when he left his haven in southern Afghanistan last night, U.S. led forces were waiting. We're told his death is possibly the Taliban's most significant losses in six years.

Also, now to another part of the Mideast. Hamas and Fatah officials are saying that they start observing a cease-fire tonight. That's 6:00 Eastern. And so far, six hours into it. It seems to be holding up, because things are quiet in Gaza. Both sides met recently and agreed to build a new government aimed at ending the fighting between the Palestinian factions. Under this current cease-fire, all checkpoints are being dismantled. Gunmen, we're told, to get off the streets and any hostages held by other side are being released.

Well coming up, it's video that's hard to watch, but it's also hard to look away. This is the story of a 91-year-old man beaten in a parking lot, while bystanders just stand by. Tonight, we ask, what would you do?

Also this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kids running underneath the table, scared, shaking, crying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Yes, these are students terrified that a gunman is on the loose. The outrage tonight when the real story comes out. There's some people in trouble as a result of this one.

First, a family feud spills out of a courtroom. Take a look at this. We'll tell you what happened. There's an update on this story next right here from the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back. I'm Rick Sanchez. I want to bring you into our state of the art incoming center, where we bring you different videos, many of them coming in just as we speak.

This is the latest video that we got. It's from Baltimore. That's a ramp that feeds I-95. And that's an 18 wheeler that's just all but exploded there. They've been working to put that fire out. And now they're going to be concerned about the integrity of the ramp itself and the effect it could have on commuters tomorrow morning if they're not able to open it. So we're going to be keeping an eye on that. Sadly enough, the driver of that tanker truck died on the scene.

Here's another traffic story that we're following, a horrible situation this morning in Los Angeles. People were waiting on a bus this morning, when suddenly, a car out of control, police don't know why, suddenly rammed into them. One person is killed, five of them were injured. Some of them are injured critically. And we'll be keeping tabs on that as well.

Then we have this story that we've been following up on. This is in Jackson, Mississippi. And these are relatives of a child who was killed they say by a man who's on trial there. So they started to try and attack him in the middle of a court trial. Security guards tried to hold them back. It even went out into the hallway. In fact, let's let you just take a listen up full here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me go! Let me go!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: It's a wild scene. Two people arrested, including the grandfather of the baby that died. He's still in custody. Another person was arrested, we understand, now has been released. He won't spend a lot of time in jail, by the way, according to officials we've been talking to there. And then, there's the commander in chief turned entertainer in chief. Of course, we remember these pictures. The president doing his steel drum music.

Well, now we got another one. This one is coming in from Jamestown, the big celebration there in Jamestown as the president now being the conductor in chief. In fact, go ahead, take a listen. There you have it. The president doing a stellar job, as you would expect. He got a rousing applause for that. And we will leave the commentary to Jon Stewart tomorrow night.

Here's a big story that we're following for you. Why are these people standing around watching when you would think, they could be helping? We're going to have that for you right here. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rick Sanchez.

Remember, we told you at the beginning about this newscast about these unbelievable pictures that were coming in from Detroit. 91- year-old man brutally beaten and punched and robbed of his car. And it goes on to describe exactly what happened. In fact it says that in broad daylight, and it was caught on video, while several people stood by and literally did absolutely nothing.

We want to show you a different angle of this now. As a matter of fact, here it is. This is part of the video that we have. And you can see there what happens. We've got another shot now that shows something else. And this is probably why the story becomes so important. That right there, bystanders. They are non-chalant about watching this man being beaten. Don't help, don't do anything as a matter of fact. We'll concentrate on that part of the story as well. More on that.

The man in custody and his victim, who now has a message, by the way. Here's Derek Dennis of our Detroit affiliate WDID.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEREK DENNIS, WDID NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ninety-one- year-old Len Sims reacts to seeing the man who hit him, pounded him in the face over and over again finally brought to justice. The arraignment of his suspected attacker beamed into Sim's living room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Court does the fact that the complainant is a senior citizen.

DENNIS: Twenty-two year-old Dionte Bradley, formally charged with felony carjacking and assault for the brutal and vicious beating of Sims in the middle of a public carjacking caught on tape.

LEONARD SIMS, BEATING, ROBBERY VICTIM: If wanted the car, he could have grabbed the keys and taken off. Not the beating. DENNIS: But that's exactly what Sims says Bradley did, using the side of this World War II veteran's face like a punching bag, literally trying to knock his block off. And let's not forget the people caught on tape standing by, watching this beating go down. Not one person bothering to help. Still, Sims has a message for the suspect.

SIMS: To turn his life around. Go to school. Learn a trade. Get a job and work for his living. Not steal it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Tough guy, Mr. Sims. And not that he needs one more bit of bad news. The police have not yet found his car, by the way.

Thousands of children are reported missing each and every year in the United States. And now officials want to make sure that you take notice. You know those little cards that you get in the mail, showing black and white photos of missing kids? Well, starting tomorrow, no more little cards. They're going to be replaced with larger pictures in color. Officials credit the picture program with helping to recover 144 missing children over the years. That's why we thought we'd bring you that story if there's any way that we can possibly help.

Coming up, speaking of kids and safety, you're not going to believe what happened on one school field trip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We hear somebody running around the building, and knocked on one window, then went to the next window, knocked on it, went to the next window and knocked on it. And just went all the way around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Students scared out of their minds and now their parents are ticked off.

First though, a Bush administration insider who now wants to sit in the big chair. Tommy Thomson is our Sunday spotlight. He's going to be live right here in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We welcome you back. Another presidential contender is now stepping up to bat tonight in our Sunday spotlight. Tommy Thompson is a former governor of Wisconsin and a former member of the Bush cabinet back when the administration had much higher approval ratings.

He's joining us from Washington tonight. Well, governor, what's gone wrong? It's you, right? You leave and suddenly, they got issues. TOMMY THOMPSON, FMR. GOVERNOR, WISCONSIN: Well, Rick, I think there's a lot of things. I think a lot of the individuals left. And I think the White House has got too many people around them that just say yes and not enough people questioning some of the policies.

But I think overall...

SANCHEZ: It sounds to me like a criticism. You've been criticizing the Iraq War as well, haven't you? Or the handling of it?

THOMPSON: Well, I've been -- yes, I have been because I think there's no question the handling the Iraq War -- there's been a lot of mistakes. And I developed a plan, Rick, that I think is the best plan out there. In fact, I believe it's the only plan out there on how you win the peace in Iraq. And I think that that is what is really necessary at this time.

SANCHEZ: Well, how do you win the peace in Iraq, given what we're dealing with? As a matter of fact, you probably heard today, three soldiers maybe abducted, maybe in the hands of al Qaeda as we speak?

THOMPSON: Yes, it's really sad. And there's no question that the individuals that were murdered and assassinated at the same time that the three were taken is really serious. But I think the first thing you have to do, is you have to require the al Maliki government to vote. You know, they're duly elected. Let them vote and find out if they want United States in their country. And if they vote yes, what are they going do to help the United States?

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, they've done - they've had several polls there. And when they've asked many people in the government and just residents as well, they said they want us out. How troubling is that? And if that's what they want, if you were the president, would you leave?

THOMPSON: I would require them to vote. If the al Maliki government voted yes, tell us how they're going to help us win this war. Secondly, if they vote no, they don't want us there, we should leave. They're duly elected. And we should require them to have a vote.

Secondly, Rick, I would require all the 18 territories which are geographically defined to elect their state leaders just like we elect our state leaders in 50 states. And if you do this, you will be able to reduce this interesting civil war, because Shi'ites will elect Shiites, Sunnis will elect Sunnis, Kurds will elect Kurds. And the people will gravitate to those particular provinces that really believe in their religious theocracy.

SANCHEZ: Sounds like a plan, governor. Let me ask you another question now. You know, guess what? You made "Newsweek." "Newsweek" is out. And tonight, they have a quote about you. You know what it's about, right?

THOMPSON: Well... SANCHEZ: Do you know?

THOMPSON: No, I really don't.

SANCHEZ: I'll surprise - you probably would expect it. They're making you one of the quotes in their perspectives page about the comment you made about private person or employer being able to fire a gay employee. You made that comment during the debate. You wish you hadn't made it?

THOMPSON: I did not hear the question, Rick. I said that we should not have discrimination at all. And my whole record as governor and secretary has been one in which I have not ever indicated discrimination. In fact, I've signed legislation to prevent it.

SANCHEZ: Do you believe, though, that an American has the right of individual choice to either back gay rights initiatives or not back them?

THOMPSON: Well, you cannot have discrimination. There are laws on the books both at the state level and federal level that will not allow that to take place. And I support those laws. I do not think discrimination is accessible - or acceptable at any time in the workplace.

SANCHEZ: So essentially, you're saying it was something you said but didn't mean to say and it's because you misinterpreted the question when Chris Matthews asked it?

THOMPSON: Well, Chris Matthews did not ask the question, it was asked by somebody else did and I did not hear it properly. And I thought the question was whether or not there were enough laws on the books to handle this and there are laws on the books to make sure there is not discrimination?

SANCHEZ: You also made a statement - this was back in April, talking to a group of Jewish activists. You compared making money in the private sector to Jewish tradition.

THOMPSON: That is not an exact quote but I was trying to do, Rick, was to compliment the Jewish people for their tremendous successes, not only in the workplace but in education and science and so on. I did it clumsily and I apologized by the end of my speech.

SANCHEZ: You understand why some people might be offended by that. I mean, equating money and Jewish ...

THOMPSON: Absolutely There is no question about that. I tried to compliment them. And I apologized later on. I have always been a friend of Israel and still am and will continue to do so. I think we have to do everything I can to protect Israel.

SANCHEZ: Would you call those gaffes? Is that a problem that you are going to have as far as your campaign is concerned? Both of those comments together, sir. THOMPSON: Well, there's no question that they were gaffes, they were mistakes and I apologized for them. And I don't know how many more times you have to apologize for a mistake. I think everybody makes gaffes. I think you probably have.

SANCHEZ: Oh, certainly!

THOMPSON: And the president made one the other night when he indicated Queen Elizabeth was around in 1776. All of us, no matter who you are, makes gaffes.

SANCHEZ: How do you move forward from here? How do you make sure you re-energize your campaign once again?

THOMPSON: Well, my campaign is very energized in Iowa, Rick. I think we're going to do very well. In fact, I expect to win in Iowa. I'm in Iowa every single week, and I believe if you are going to win the nomination on the Republican side, it has to go through Iowa. And I think we have got the best game plan of any of the candidates and I feel very comfortable and optimistic about my chances.

SANCHEZ: What do you make of Rudy Giuliani's comments about abortion this week?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that all the candidates are different. I think that Rudy has made his comments based upon his philosophy. And I think that people should take that philosophy and understand whether or not they are going to support that.

SANCHEZ: Does that create an opening for someone like you with the more conservative side of the Republican voters.

THOMPSON: Well, I think that there's no question that I've been the reliable conservative all along. I'm an individual that's vetoed more than any of the other candidates and I'm the one that started the culture revolution on welfare reform as well as private school choice. So I feel very good with my record.

And I feel most people that look at it and say yes, he is the reliable conservative in this campaign.

SANCHEZ: Reliable conservative. I like the moniker. By the way, you were the secretary of health and human services. So I have to ask you this question. If we were tomorrow to have to deal, heaven forbid, with an attack that would involve something like anthrax for example, are we prepared right now? Are we prepared to deal with something like that? Are we stockpiled?

THOMPSON: We have stockpiled enough anthrax medicine, Cipro as well as doxycycline (ph) but also enough vaccine. There's probably never enough for some of the other diseases, but we started a program for bio-security when I was secretary. And we also were able to get enough smallpox vaccine while I was secretary so that we can vaccinate every man, woman and child if smallpox ever was weaponized or if smallpox broke out again. We've done a tremendous job in the Department of Health and Human Services. Start rebuilding the public health. Does it need more? Sure, but we've made a great deal of progress in this arena.

SANCHEZ: Tommy Thompson, we wish you luck, sir. And thanks so much for coming on and being in our Sunday spotlight.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much, Rick.

SANCHEZ: The candidates' debate in the first real battleground. It's going to be live from New Hampshire on CNN, the Democrats battle June 3rd, by the way. Republicans go at it June 5th. No holds barred once again. And CNN, we'll be there. The best political team on television, as you've come to expect.

Well, a school field trip turned into a night of terror. Students are told a gunman's on the loose. Fact or fiction. Well, now some teachers are facing reality as a result of what they did on this field trip. Plus this.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Zarrella in Lake City, Florida, firefighters are literally racing against the wind. Will the fire lines hold? I'll have that story coming up.

SANCHEZ: And will Mother Nature help? Our Jacqui Jeras is monitoring the fires and has your Monday forecast. The big question here is, a lot of places in the United States need rain. Are they going to get it? Jacqui is looking into it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We have got some breaking news that we want to bring you right now. We've just received information of 10 people have been found dead, this after an explosion that has taken place where there was also a fire, this is in a cafe in the Russian city of Orsk. You see, we put that map together for you there.

You can see that it just dips over the border into Kazakhstan. Here's what else we can tell you about it. Authorities are trying to determine the cause of the blast at this point and a fire in a city that's about 1,300 kilometers, that's about 800 miles, by the way, southeast of Moscow.

Emergency situation, ministry spokesmen have been monitoring the situation, hoping to get more information. Don't know at this point. Obviously it's important to say because anybody who's followed this situation knows a history of problems there with terrorism as well. Don't know if this is in anyway related to the problems they've been having with some of the Chechen rebels there in that part of the world.

If we get any more information, of course, we'll be bringing it to you right away.

SANCHEZ: Hard to believe that so soon after the Virginia Tech massacre any teacher would think that this that we're about to show you, this prank would be OK. Let's just say it was in bad taste because it was really bad timing. And tonight in Tennessee, students and parents are not amused. In fact, they're down right angry about this. See if you would be, too, after watching Catharyn Campbell's report from affiliate WSMV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CATHARYN CAMPBELL, WSMV-TV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, parent were called to Scales Elementary School and given an apology. Their kids made up a group of nearly 70 11-year-old students went to Fall Creek Falls State Park. The kids got a serious scare.

SHAY NAYLOR, SIXTH GRADE STUDENT: They turned out all the lights to say that they had just got a call saying that there was a random shooting going on around the park.

CAMPBELL: Shay Naylor was on the trip. She says teachers and an assistant principal told her classmates to take cover.

NAYLOR: We hear somebody running around the building. Knocked on one window, went to the next window, knocked on it, went to the next window, knocked on it and just went all the way around.

CAMPBELL: Shortly after the teachers told the kids it was a joke but their parents aren't laughing. Calley Stroud says her daughter is a nervous wreck.

CALLEY STROUD, PARENT: She thought it was real and told me she was crying and praying to God and saying good-bye to her parents. And it just broke my heart.

CAMPBELL: With the recent shootings at Virginia Tech still fresh on everybody's mind, parent say this so-called prank was way out of line.

JEFF, PARENT: Kids were underneath the table, scared, shaking, crying.

CAMPBELL: School principal Catherine Stephens wouldn't elaborate on what happened but said she has plans to handle it.

CATHERINE STEPHENS, SCHOOL PRINCIPALS: The circumstance involved poor judgment. My hope is we will learn from it and in the end, it will have a positive result of growth for all of us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Can you imagine? That was Catharyn Campbell, reporting, by the way. Well, some parents and students said they now want the sixth grade teachers involved to be fired so it doesn't happen again. At this point there is no disciplinary action that we know of that has been taken. We are told the school board could possibly meet as soon as tomorrow night to try and discuss what it is that they are going to do here.

Here's an update on a story we first brought you last month, about a Seattle hospital that stunted the growth and the sexual development of a little girl so that her parents could more easily care for her physically because they didn't want her to get so heavy. Well, her name is Ashley and that's what she looks like. She can't walk or talk and is totally dependent on her parents for care. To be sure we should state that in the story.

But in 2004, the hospital removed her uterus, her are breast buds and gave her high doses of estrogen therapy. The procedure essentially freezes her as a child so that the parents can take care of her physically, physically manage her for the rest of her life.

An advocacy group that investigated this is now saying it should not have been done, certainly not without a court order. The parents say that would have been an undue burden for them.

Wildfires raging on tonight in Florida but firefighters bracing for what tomorrow may bring. The forecast calls for high winds, long stretches of I-75, I-95 and I-10 are all closed now as this thick blanket of smoke makes driving extremely dangerous in parts of north Florida. Visibility near zero in some place and unfortunately, so is a quick end to all of this. Our John Zarrella is taking a look at the burning battle lines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): A race against changing weather conditions. Bulldozers move in cutting new fire lines and widening existing ones. Flames are just a few feet away.

Division supervisor, Jamie Rittenhouse plots his next move.

JAMIE RITTENHOUSE, FLORIDA DIVISION OF FORESTRY: Just go in there, box it in, right. Try to make - Give it some room, on case some wind shifts, OK?

ZARRELLA: The strain of the struggle shows on firefighters faces. It's already been a long day, knocking down hot spot fires as the wind picks up. Fanning the flames.

The idea to keep it from jumping into the next stand of timber, right.

RITTENHOUSE: Yes. Because that means we lose everything we worked hard on the last couple of days.

ZARRELLA: All this you worked on ...

RITTENHOUSE: Is gone if it jumps over there and we can't catch the spot.

ZARRELLA: The next 24 hours are critical. After two days of relative calm, the winds are gusting again. Will the fire lines hold?

(on camera): What the forestry teams want to happen is for this fire here to burn its way all the way over to the road in the distance there. That's the fire break. Once it gets there, they're hoping the fire break will be wide enough to stop the fire right there.

Of course, if the winds kick up, the problem would be that these flames could jump that fire break into the next stand of trees.

(voice-over): The question for firefighters like Julian Priest (ph) is always the same. Have we done enough?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're widening lines as fast as we can widen lines.

ZARRELLA: Rain would help. A lot of it. Sunday it was the prayer of the day in Lake City.

John Zarrella, CNN, Columbia County, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Well, now is your opportunity as well as to bring us the very latest on this. There is an awful lot more that we follow.

And now let's do this. Let's go over to Jacqui Jeras. Because the big question here is, well, is there going to be rain or is there not going to be rain? Boy, do they need it.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. Well, those prayers I think were answered at least in part. They did get a little rain over the fires this evening but Doppler radar is estimating it was only about a quarter of an inch, one small part of Columbia County got up to a half-inch of rainfall.

Here you can see this is I-10. Here is I-75. Here we have Baker County and Columbia County. So the showers are kind of not in that area right now. But there's a chance that some of this could hold together and squeeze down there yet but we think once we get past the midnight hour, those chances are going to be reduced quite a bit. Anything helps.

But of course, when you get thunderstorms like that, you can get some erratic winds and of course lightning strikes and our Doppler radar has been picking up on those lightning strikes in the past couple hours. You can see them with these storms here just to the south and east of the Tallahassee area and we did have some lightning strikes near those fires so hopefully, they did not start anything more.

Now there is a little cold front that is dropping through the region and that is going to be bringing in changeable conditions tomorrow. High pressure is going to control the area. And tomorrow afternoon, those winds will be coming in clockwise around the high, that means easterly winds, so that's going to be a different direction than they've been dealing with. And the humidity is going to be lower tomorrow.

But the temperatures will be down a little bit so hopefully this is not going to add any problems. Now the entire state really affected by these fires. Our I- Reporters have been sending in incredible pictures. We want to show you a few pictures of before and after shots and this is from St. Petersburg Beach. Steve Woo from Toronto on vacation there in his friend's condo, took this picture in the early morning hours. And take a look at the after shot, all that haze. The air quality in St. Petersburg was rated as moderate today. But Tallahassee, it was unhealthy, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando, it was unhealthy for sensitive groups.

If you see any weather happening or news happening, you can say I-Report for CNN, go to cnn.com/ireport and download your photos or video if you have them. Rick?

SANCHEZ: Some vacation, huh?

JERAS: Yeah, I know. What a bummer? I'm going to Orlando in a couple weeks. I'm a little worried about it.

SANCHEZ: You pays your money and you takes your chances. Thanks so much, Jacqui.

Coming up, get ready to pay more at the post office. Tomorrow is the day that you're going to be spending more pennies. That's right.

Also, she was homeless but turned her life around and now, she's teaching others and getting an education she never dreamed of. A very pleasant surprise, coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Here are a few of the popular stories that you are now checking out on cnn.com. As you go in there and click, we've been keeping tabs.

Number one, shape and size does matter, at least it does to the U.S. Postal Service. Not only will the price of a stamp be going up 41 cents tomorrow but now you can expect to dole out more change for larger envelopes and larger packages.

Two, "Spiderman 3" has spun impressive amounts of money at the box office. Already it's been named the year's top grossing film, taking in more than $242 million in just 10 days.

And three, there is this. A way to share your mom with the entire world. It's cnn.com's mother's moments. Post a picture or story or video about your mom. Log on to cnn.com/mom. And a whole lot of folks are doing just that.

Every once in a while something magical happens on television as it did earlier tonight while I was in the middle of an interview.

I interviewed this Phoenix woman. Brenda Combs is her name. She's had one heck of a hard life. Homeless, drug addicted, living on the streets. Then one day, she made the decision to start living a quality life. She went to drug treatment, went to college, got her bachelor's degree, became a teacher. Went back for her master's. And now is hoping to get a doctorate. You know how expensive that could be, right. We knew the CEO of Grand Canyon University wanted to give her a break. So we asked him if he in fact could help her in any way.

Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENT RICHARDSON, GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY: Because Brenda has been an example, a master teacher, her story has been an inspiration to all of us. And mostly just because we're so proud of her, I wanted to be here today to honor her and ask her if she would be the first enrollee in our PhD program and give her a full ride scholarship to the program.

SANCHEZ: Yo! Brenda, how about it?

BRENDA COMBS, PHD CANDIDATE: Oh, my God. I don't know what to say.

SANCHEZ: You don't have to come up with the money.

COMBS: Oh, my god! Thank you.

RICHARDSON: You're so welcome.

COMBS: This is awesome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: We were kind of in on it, as you might expect. But she had absolutely no idea that was going to happen.

We also want to introduce to you a very special woman, a mother, a veteran, an amputee. She says she was doing her job in the war on terror. And now you can help her back at home. Stay with us. We'll bring you her story in just a moment here from the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We welcome you back. I'm Rick Sanchez. A special story for you now. Like a lot of people we call Heroes. Army Specialist Sue Downes says, not a hero, just doing my job. When U.S. troops do their jobs to benefit the folks back home, it truly is considered heroic. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Army Specialist Sue Downs had just returned from R&R.

SPECIALIST SUE DOWNES, U.S. ARMY: I was in Afghanistan November 28th of '06. I was on patrol. We were in the mountains and we went over two anti-tank mines. I was a gunner.

STARR: This 27-year-old was trapped under an armored Humvee.

DOWNES: They said I started screaming, you know, for them to get the Humvee off of me because I had the turret shield on me.

STARR: The mother of two small children lost both her legs. On this day, Specialist Downes is overcoming the setback. Like many amputees, she has had follow-on surgery. There are painful efforts to try to bend her knee so she can put on prosthetics and walk. She is determined to walk.

DOWNES: The bottom of my leg hurts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's wrong?

DOWNES: The bottom of the stump right there, where it hurt yesterday.

STARR: She readily acknowledges all of the challenges ahead.

DOWNES: It's been tough mentally, more mentally than physically.

STARR: So does Sue Downes, who like so many badly injured troops, is now so determined to recover think of herself as a hero?

DOWNES: I was just doing my job. I think we all were. You know, heroes, I think we all deserve that title. I mean, we're going over there and putting our lives out there. You know, we're getting injured for the people here. So I think we deserve that title.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Barbara tells us Specialist Downes' van was stolen. It was her only means of transportation in therapy. It was recovered and damaged and now she needs money to buy a new one.

If you know of somebody who goes above the call of duty in your neighborhood, we encourage you to nominate them on our CNN "Hero" award. You're going to find all the details on our Web site at cnn.com/heroes.

Finally tonight, I hope you all got a chance to spend some time with your moms. Those of us who can do that, including me, are lucky. Then there are those who aren't are not lucky. Case in point, three moms dealing with the nightmare scenario possibly having their sons in the hands of al Qaeda.

On this end, we do what we can to report it. Beyond that, we join most of you in sharing our hopes and prayers that those mothers and those sons will somehow, someday be reunited. We'll be watching it for you. I'm Rick Sanchez. Thanks so much for beign with us. We'll see you again next weekend. Good night.

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