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Northern Illinois Shooting Victims Remembered; Trouble for Clinton Campaign
Aired February 15, 2008 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Sudden, unthinkable violence on a college campus again. A gunman opens fire in a lecture hall. Five people are killed before he takes his own life. And a university campus is, again, a place of suffering and loss.
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And we're learning more about that shooter. Stephen Kazmierczak, the people he killed, also learning about those he hurt in northern Illinois.
Good afternoon to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes.
WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
We are keeping an eye on the podium here and the microphones. We're expecting the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, to come to those microphones at any moment to talk about the recovery efforts there and how the state is really lending a hand in helping this campus, helping this community and really an entire state cope with the issues and cope with the loss of life there on the campus of Northern Illinois University.
When we do see the governor step to that podium, we will certainly take his comments and bring them to you live.
Meantime, our Don Lemon has been on the campus and reporting for us since very early this morning, learning a lot, hearing a lot of stories there on campus.
Good afternoon to you again, Don.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good afternoon to you, again, T.J., as well.
You know, the governor, we just got the warning from the governor that he's going to show up any minute. So, if during my report, the governor shows up, we will just cut right out of it and then we will go to him, because he wants to talk about the investigation into this. He wants to talk about how he can possibly change something here to make things better so that things like this don't happen. He's meeting with the mental health resource folks here.
He's also meeting with the investigators, again, to try to figure it out. And then maybe the governor might have some more details -- we're not exactly sure -- about the gunman and exactly why this gunman did this. So, at any moment now, the governor is going to come out. But, T.J., as you said, we have been hearing some really personal stories, some really sad stories, and that's really what it's all about. Of course, everyone wants to know the motive of the shooter. And right now we don't. Investigators say they don't know a motive. He left no note. As a couple weeks ago, there was no indication that he would even do something like this. But the victims in all of this, that's the big story.
Julianna Gehant really sums up, summarizes what these victims are about, what these people -- how their suffering here. She was a sergeant 1st class Army Reserve here, going back to school for childhood education in her early 30s, when all of a sudden yesterday, she was in a classroom, and then unexpectedly a gunman came in.
Well, just a short time ago, all of her friends got together. They paid tribute to her by putting up a makeshift memorial behind me. And then they came over to CNN, and they talked to me, because they wanted the world to know what their friend was like and what a loss that they're going through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very deep loss, because she was such a lovely and beautiful person. And we're all going to miss her, everyone in the Veterans Club and all of our friends and family and her family. And the loss that we're feeling and the senseless tragedy that this is, is heart-wrenching and mind-blowing, because we loved her, you know, as much as we knew her.
And, like, this picture here is from a toga party that we had at J.D.'s house, and everyone that was there remembers it as one of the best nights that we have had in our college experience. And a lot -- a lot of that is in part because of the joy and the entertainment that Julianna brought with her, you know, everywhere she went.
You know, she was like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. And we're all going to miss her a whole lot. So, the loss is immense.
Danielle (ph), if she's listening down from heaven now, what do you want her -- to say to her?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, just that she's touched our lives in a way that we will remember her for the rest our life. And even if it was only a short time that we knew her, she will be missed greatly, and that we -- her family and friends, other friends, are in our thoughts and prayers.
LEMON: Julianna Gehant and all of the victims, all of the people who suffered from this, we honor them today here in the CNN NEWSROOM. We know what they're feeling, at least by looking.
We're obviously not suffering the loss that they're suffering, but just by them telling their stories, we kind of get an idea of what they're dealing with.
I want to tell you a little bit more about this gunman. According to police here, investigators -- you know what? I'm going to -- I'm being told we're going to the press conference now. We will talk more about the gunman and perhaps we are going to find out more information about the gunman from this press conference.
Let's go to this press conference with the governor, a university official speaking now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JOHN PETERS, PRESIDENT, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY: ... security forces, the FBI. I want to thank the hospitals, the paraprofessionals, the fire department. I also want to thank most of all our students and our faculty and our staff, our staff who is helping with grieving, grieving counseling. I want to thank the universities of the area who have sent counselors. I have seen expressions of love and togetherness.
Last night, I visited the hospital, Kishwaukee Hospital, talking to parents and victims. And I was, as I told you before, amazed at their strength. It sustained me. And I talked about the need to begin the process of healing, although we are still grieving. And one of the first individuals who called me yesterday was our governor, Rod Blagojevich.
And I'm going to introduce him in a minute. But, first, I'm going to introduce our chair of our board of trustees. Cherilyn Murer has a few words to say.
CHERILYN MURER, CHAIR, NIU BOARD OF TRUSTEES: Thank you, John (ph).
Thank you, all of you. We have been meeting here over the last two or three times, and the comments are all the same, but they're not comments that are meaningless. The comments are, thank you. Thank you to the community. Thank you also, as Jon Peters said, to the University of Illinois, to Northwestern University, to all of the universities who have come here to support us.
The support that we have which is unparalleled. It will make us stronger. It will make our university stronger. We are honored to have our governor here to show his support. This state works. And it works because we have individuals who care. I will turn it over to the governor of the state of Illinois.
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you very much.
And, President Peters, thank you for your work and your hospitality. I came here today because I personally wanted to not just walk on the campus and see things and learn things, but I wanted to personally express my condolences to the Northern Illinois University community, to the students that I had a chance to meet, to president Peters, to the trustees, and to the entire community at this wonderful university. Yesterday's shooting was a tragic, senseless, and horrific event. At an institution devoted to learning, we saw yesterday a terrible act of unthinkable horror. We will work with the university to help this community return to its core mission. And that is education.
The Illinois State Police will continue to work with the local police and the FBI to investigate this crime. And we will work to understand the motive of the assailant. There is a way -- if there is a way where this tragedy could have been anticipated or stopped beforehand, we will find it.
I also want to point out that we are working with our larger education community, university presidents and leaders throughout Illinois, to keep them updated on what we have learned, so they can also review their safety plans and their safety rules.
I want to also, again, thank president Peters for his leadership and the trustees here at the Northern Illinois University. Let me also thank and acknowledge Police Chief Grady, who I had a chance to spend some time with. Let me thank and acknowledge Larry Trent, the Illinois director of state police, and all of the law enforcement personnel we had a chance to meet here today and all of those who have been working so aggressively to protect the students and protect the university and to find out what happened, how, and do the best they can to try to find out why.
Let me also thank and acknowledge the different counselors that are working with our students, as they help the students deal with the issues that they're now facing. And all of the students who are helping one another, let me express to them my gratitude and appreciation for what they're doing.
As a governor, you sometimes have opportunities that are not something you hope for, and all too often, you have to deal with issues that rise to something of great tragedy. I have been to locations in Illinois before where we saw people lose their lives because of tornadoes, here with this tragic shooting and the loss of students, loss of life. To see the senseless tragedy, you oftentimes can see the worst of thing. But then you also see the best of things, especially the best in people, as they will come together and work to help each other out.
And that spirit of helping one another is very much alive and well here on the campus of northern Illinois University. Let me close by extending, again, my condolences to everyone here at the Northern Illinois University campus and especially my condolences and my prayers for the students who lost their lives. May God bless them and keep them close and watch over them.
My prayers for their parents and our prayers to those who are trying to recover from their injuries, our prayers are with them. And I hope all of you keep them in your prayers as well. Thank you.
PETERS: Governor, as I said before, you were one of the first calls I received. And you gave me encouragement. I appreciate that personally. And you not only have put the resources of your -- the great state of Illinois at our disposal, but your presence here today has been so helpful as we begin this process of healing. I -- we treasure the hours we have spent with you as you have talked to our students and our staff and encouraged them and shown real concern. It's something that I am not going to forget for a long time.
And we look forward to working with you to make sure every campus in this state is as safe as it can be. And we appreciate that. Now I would like to introduce Mr. Larry Trent, who's director of the Illinois State Police.
LARRY TRENT, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS STATE POLICE: Thank you, Mr. President.
I, too, would like to express my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims of this unspeakable tragedy. And once again, our nation is faced with a situation where we have to look and see what we can do better. And we're in the process of doing that. It's going to be a long process. There are a lot of questions.
I want to point out that Illinois State Police is here in a support role only. Chief Grady is in charge of this investigation and doing just an outstanding job. And questions should go to him more appropriately than me, unless they regard FOID or another system that I'm about to talk about.
But the response from the Northern Illinois University Police Department was incredible, DeKalb City, sheriff's department from DeKalb, FBI, ATF. All of the agencies' response was overwhelming, and everyone worked very well together. As we assess what...
LEMON: Illinois State Police there finishing up this press conference. They are working with local law enforcement as well as the FBI. And, of course, the governor of Illinois, Governor Rod Blagojevich -- and I have seen him in this role a number of times, sadly, a former resident of Illinois, having to deal with tornadoes. But I have never had to see him deal with anything of this magnitude when it comes to deaths of so many young people, at least not in recent times, in recent history here in Illinois.
The governor saying he's going to work with the university to help the university get back to its core mission, also saying they're going to try to work to try to understand the motives of the shooter here, which, again, as I have been saying, police are saying no motive they know of right now. He left no note and until recently only displayed that erratic behavior when he stopped taking his medication.
They're also going to work with all the universities in the state to try to help them with their safety plans. And so obviously they're having to deal with a whole lot here. Again, it's sort of the beginning of this investigation. They're trying to figure out exactly why this shooter did what he did and also how they can improve things in Illinois -- T.J.
HOLMES: All right, Don Lemon for there us there on the scene -- Don, we appreciate you again.
WHITFIELD: All right, the governor there, of course, trying to offer some comfort to those family members of the many who have been lost. Meantime, there were 21 other people who were shot as well.
Susan Roesgen has been at the hospital, which has been a very busy place all evening long with the very latest -- Susan.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the next stop for the governor is here at this hospital, Kishwaukee Hospital. This is the hospital right here in DeKalb, very close to the university, where 18 victims were taken last night.
Now, I can tell you that there is only one student left here at the hospital right now, a female student, in surgery, with some type of orthopedic injury. There are still, however, in other hospitals some critically injured students. Altogether, seven students are still in local hospitals. Four of them are in critical condition.
Now, these students were shot with a shotgun. The gunman as we have learned actually reloaded. There were 48 casings found. He had a Glock handgun. He had four guns altogether. So, this hospital was treating some very seriously injured students last night. They had five emergency physicians ready to go.
And here's more from the chief medical director here on what sort of injuries they faced.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ROGER MAILLEFER, CHIEF OF STAFF, KISHWAUKEE HOSPITAL: Typical gunshot wounds that most of us are trained for in general surgery and trauma surgery is inner city. It's typically not what we saw yesterday.
Usually these are handguns or rifles. Yesterday, as you can imagine, in a classroom full of students that were trying to leave as buckshot was being fired at them, there were a variety of injuries from the front and from the back. These are little pellets. They look like little BBs. And although on the surface they look very small and insignificant, you cannot rely on that. They can travel to places where they're not supposed to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROESGEN: Now, here are some of the names of the dead students: Daniel Parmenter, 20-years-old of Westchester, Illinois, Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero, Illinois; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville, Illinois; Julianna Gehant, whom you have heard friends and family members here today, 32-years-old, from Mendota, Illinois; and Gayle Dubowski, 20-years-old, of Carol Stream, Illinois, some very young victims here today, a lot of questions, of course.
And once again, Fredricka, we're expecting Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois, to come here next to talk to the staff and possibly to the remaining student at this particular hospital, who should just be just about getting out of surgery -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And trying to offer whatever comfort he can.
Susan Roesgen, thank you.
HOLMES: Yes, 10 months ago, we were talking about Virginia Tech. Now it's Northern Illinois. So, just what can America's colleges do to protect their students? We will ask security analyst Mike Brooks.
HOLMES: We are beginning to learn a little more about the shooter in the Northern Illinois University shooting rampage, Stephen Kazmierczak.
However, the more we learn, the more questions we really have about the man. We're trying to get more answers now from our Dan Lothian, who is on the campus of the University of Illinois at Champaign, where Kazmierczak was actually a grad student.
Good afternoon to you, Dan. What are you learning?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Good afternoon, T.J.
Indeed, the more you hear about this story, the more that you find out that there's still a lot of questions. We had a chance to talk with a professor here, Jan Carter-Black. She is a professor in the School of Social Services.
And she told us that she first met him in the summer of '07 and then later had him a graduate class in the fall of '07. And she points out that there were absolutely no red flags that she was at the time that or even looking back on it that would indicate that anything like this could ever happen.
She said that he was a very good student. He showed up on time. He did his work. He was very outgoing, communicated well, not only with her, but also with his classmates. There were about 30 people in that class.
She was also not only his professor, but his adviser, so she saw him on sort of two different levels. She would see him in the class, but also spent a lot of time with him talking about his course work, and, again, never had any indication that anything was wrong. In fact, we asked her whether or not she even knew whether that she may have been having some emotional, mental issues, had she known that he was on any medications.
She said, that's not something that she would have asked. She had no knowledge of any of that until, of course, everything came out today. What she did tell us, though, is that in the fall of '07 he ended up dropping out of her class. So, he never followed went -- through on that class. She pointed out that he came to her and told her that he had gotten a job, and he didn't think that he could also do the job and also take the course work, the demanding course work, until he decided that he was going to go with the job and had to drop the class.
She saw him after that from time to time. She would see him in the hallways, would see him on campus, but, again, did not realize that this was a student who was in her classroom until this morning until she met with some of the other faculty members. They told her. And she says she was just stunned -- T.J.
HOLMES: All right, Dan Lothian, again, trying to piece this all together there at the University of Illinois at Champaign, where Kazmierczak was actually a grad student.
Dan, we appreciate you.
WHITFIELD: Well, it wasn't long ago. It was just 10 months ago, when it was Virginia Tech, now Northern Illinois. What can America's colleges do to actually protect their students? We will ask security analyst Mike Brooks when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: Colleges and universities pride themselves on having open campuses, students, faculty, even members of the general public free to come and go. But after yesterday's slayings at Northern Illinois University, NIU president John Peters says it may be time to end that tradition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETERS: Universities traditionally, for decades, for hundreds of years, have been -- are open institutions, the most open institutions. And events like and Virginia Tech and others are forcing us to reconsider how we do things. I think that is unfortunate, but necessary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, is it time to close the open campus, or are there other options to improve security? CNN security analyst Mike Brooks is here to talk about all that.
OK, the notion of a closed campus or what was an open campus and try to close it, but that's not going to stop you from kind of that lone wolf kind of gunman, which is what this young man is being described as.
MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly what he was, Fredricka. And that's a concern of law enforcement whether it be a terrorist incident or a shooting at a campus, is the lone wolf, someone who doesn't give any indicators, that they said no red flags.
And to secure a campus like this, over 700 acres, 25,000 students, you can drive on, drive out. Nobody challenges you. He apparently came, had the shotgun in a guitar case and had the others secreted on his belt just with a coat on. WHITFIELD: So, he blended in.
BROOKS: He blended in. He knew the area. People there knew him. And, you know, how can you secure -- it's like a small town. It's basically a small city. You know, and it's -- what are you going to do? You put up fences? You put up walls? You know, some people said...
WHITFIELD: And how many campuses could afford to do that?
BROOKS: Right. And you think tuition is expensive now.
WHITFIELD: Because we're talking about hundreds of acres, just like this campus, 700 acres, as you put it.
BROOKS: Exactly. It's huge.
And some people said, after Columbine -- that was a high school shooting -- it's easier to secure high schools, because you're only talking about maybe one or two buildings. But when you have an open campus such as this, it's extremely difficult to make that totally secure.
WHITFIELD: What about I.D. cards and the notion of the searches of the buildings, maybe not the campus, but the buildings, where kids come or students come in and out of?
BROOKS: Right. Well, this man actually drove in. They said they don't know exactly how long he was on the campus, but he drove in, got out and then went right to the building.
Now, do you set up -- you stop all the car, you search all the cars? That's not going to be feasible either because there's so many coming and going. And the amount of personnel it would take to do this, security personnel, it would be almost cost-prohibitive. Some people say, well, what is the value of life? But it's extremely, extremely difficult.
Now, they will go back and take a look and say, what can we do to possibly harden this up? You were talking about security cards. You go in. And we know how much, especially at a lecture hall like this, kids come and going all the time.
BROOKS: You come up. Even if you had like a proximity -- a prox card to open the door, somebody walk behind you. Are you going to challenge those students and say, where is your card? You hold the door for another student, they get in right behind you.
WHITFIELD: But at least it might minimize the possibilities.
BROOKS: It might minimize the possibility. That's just -- it's kind of a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed, if you will. But the question is, let's go back and take a look at -- at everything involved in this. It looked like the emergency procedures went well. But, you know, to tighten up that campus, it's going to be extremely difficult.
WHITFIELD: Oh, so sad.
Security analyst Mike Brooks, thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you, Fredricka.
HOLMES: Well, are they exactly Hillary Clinton's ace in the hole? Or could Clinton's superdelegates begin to slip away? We will get an inside answer from Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.
HOLMES: The latest here on that horrific University shooting in DeKalb, Illinois. We know who he is and we know his name Stephen Kazmierczak, 27-years-old. You see him there. He's been called an outstanding student. But yesterday, police say he pulled out a shotgun from a guitar case and started shooting on the campus of Northern Illinois University. When all that shooting stopped, 21 people were hit. Five of them would die. Kazmierczak dead, as well, turning the gun on himself.
WHITFIELD: George Gaynor is a Northern University -- Northern Illinois, rather, University student. He was in the classroom when the shots rang out and he spoke with our Don Lemon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: George you're in the class. Where are you sitting and what's going on? Was the teacher talking or what's going on?
GEORGE GAYNOR, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I was in the far back row directly across from where the shooter entered the room. The teacher had his back to the room. He was lecturing and just, you know, doing his lecture on our stuff and we were just taking our notes. The shooter entered the building through a technical service door on the stage and didn't say a word. He just pointed his weapon and opened fire.
LEMON: He didn't say anything?
GAINER: He didn't say a word.
LEMON: They say he had three weapons, like a Glock, a small handgun and a rifle. Did you -- a shotgun. Did you see?
GAYNOR: I saw the shotgun rifle. I can't verify the other two weapons, though.
LEMON: And what did -- when he started shooting, who did -- what did he use?
GAYNOR: When he started shooting, he used the shotgun first and just fired into the middle of the crowd.
LEMON: I spoke to Stephanie Miller (ph), someone else who was in the classroom. She thought it was fake, it was just something that was staged.
GAYNOR: No, this was the real deal.
LEMON: Did you think -- you knew it was real right away, is what I'm asking you.
GAYNOR: At first, I didn't know what to think. I couldn't even, you know, piece together everything. And as I was running out of the classroom, running out of the building, you know, talking to the people that were around me that were also running, we just -- we were just asking ourselves is this real, is this real? We didn't think -- we didn't know what was going on.
LEMON: And you -- but you knew it was real.
GAYNOR: We -- we as soon as it hit us that it was real, you know, and as soon as we saw police, we knew what was going on.
LEMON: What did you do?
GAYNOR: I just ran for my life. And I just ran I just ran as far as I could and just -- and then just waited for police to show up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Stunning moments. And now look at this. Cell phone video taken by Northern Illinois University freshman and I-Reporter Ray Cook. This was just minutes after the shooting on campus. Cook was walking to class when paramedics rushed one of the victims into an ambulance, as you see there. Other students can only stare in shock and disbelief at what was actually unfolding right there on their university campus.
Now we want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on the Northern Illinois University shooting in an I-Report at CNN.com. Tell us how this most recent campus shooting has impacted you. Just go to CNN.com/ireports.
HOLMES: We turn to politics now and what's been a familiar theme it seems like lately -- more trouble for the Clinton campaign. New questions emerging today about the presidential candidate's go to, if you will, her so-called superdelegates.
Well, to help with this and make sense of it all, senior political analyst, CNN's Bill Schneider is here.
All right, Bill, the debate we've been hearing now is about Congressman Lewis out of Georgia. A civil rights icon, the possibility -- he's a superdelegate supporting Clinton, now talking about switching and going to Obama since his constituents voted for Obama. Now, if she loses him -- this is a super superdelegate, if you will.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes, if she looses him, it will show, I think the significant loss of momentum -- that momentum seems to be moving in the other direction. And now, among African-American delegates -- super-delegates -- many of whom lined up for Hillary Clinton quite early on. Remember, African- Americans like both Clinton and Obama. It's a very difficult choice for them.
But their constituents, their voters, African-American voters out there have been overwhelmingly for Obama. So a number of them who are shifting from Clinton and Obama -- or a few of them, at least -- are talking about obeying the will of their constituents, which says something about super-delegates. They are mostly politicians, elected officials, and they do not want to do things that their constituents will get angry about because they could pay a price for that.
HOLMES: Now if we follow that logic and the super-delegates, like Lewis, switch his support because his constituents voted for Obama, couldn't that work on the other side, as well, for Clinton?
A place like Massachusetts, where she won, but many of the Congressmen there now -- of course, the two senators from Massachusetts are supporting Obama. So could that work both ways?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, it could. It could very well do that. We haven't seen that happen to any large extent yet. But, yes, you could find people like, well, theoretically, Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry, the governor of Massachusetts and other Democrats -- all of whom -- well, no. The governor supported Obama. But -- they all supported Obama.
But they could shift to Clinton because Clinton won the Massachusetts primary. That could happen. But so far what we're seeing is momentum primarily moving in the direction of Obama.
HOLMES: OK. No matter what, this sounds like bad news. No matter -- we don't know, I guess, officially what Lewis is going to be -- is going to do. There's been some back and forth. But just the talk of it -- we were already talking about she has to win Ohio, she has to win Texas -- and maybe win them fairly handily. Does this make it even more crucial for her to win and win big in those two states?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, it does. She's really staking a lot on those states, as well as Pennsylvania, which doesn't come until April. She really has to win all of them and she has to twin them by convincing margins -- not tight, tight races -- because that won't really give her any bounty in delegates. So that she's putting a lot of faith in Texas, where she has had strong Latino support; Ohio, which is an economically distressed state; Pennsylvania, which has a large population of seniors. All of them constituencies that have been strongly for Hillary Clinton.
Will they hold out or will what is what was clearly, last week, momentum on the part of Barack Obama making inroads into those constituencies, will that simply overwhelm her support? We won't know until March, when we get Super Tuesday Two -- the Texas and Ohio primaries.
HOLMES: Super Tuesday Two. Well, it just keeps going and going and going. We might be doing this -- talking about this in the summer almost...
SCHNEIDER: And the convention.
HOLMES: And the convention, as well. Oh, Bill Schneider we could talk to you about the rest of the day about this stuff. We've got to let you go. But good to see you, sir.
HOLMES: We appreciate you.
And, of course, the two rivals -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- are going to be facing off in another debate ahead of the big Tuesday and Ohio primaries, now dubbed Super Tuesday Two by our Bill Schneider. You'll want to watch their face-off a week from today, February 21st, in Austin, Texas. Special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You can only see it right here on CNN.
WHITFIELD: Well, shock waves are still resonating through Northern Illinois University campus. Six people killed, including the gunman.
Our Don Lemon has been covering this story from DeKalb, Illinois, and now joined by the governor, as well -- Don.
LEMON: Yes, joined here by the governor, Fred. Governor Rod Blagojevich has been kind enough to join us.
And, Governor, in the years you have been governor here, where does this rank on tragedies for you? Is this the worst thing?
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I've dealt with tornadoes where many people have lost their lives. But this is probably the most tragic event I have experienced as governor. What you have is an act -- a terrible, horrific act of unthinking evil, where young students -- barely adults -- lost their lives.
And those of us who are parents -- and I'm a governor, but I think more about this as a parent, it's just a sad tragedy. And it's incumbent upon us now to help this community, the University of Illinois and this community get back its core mission as soon as possible of educating kids and doing 90 a safe place.
LEMON: Well, that's what I want to talk to you about, Governor, because parents who are watching this in Illinois and around the country, what are officials -- especially in your position -- what can you do to make sure that -- that their children are safe when they send them to school? Because I'm sure some people are afraid to send their kids to school after seeing all these tragedies -- this, Virginia Tech and what have you.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, we've -- we've actually been working aggressively with our universities across Illinois since we first learned of this shooting to make sure that they review their safety plans and see what they need to do to make sure the security on campus is the best it can possibly be. I think here at Northern Illinois University, what you have is a situation of a young man -- and more information is coming out on him. But he had a shotgun in a guitar case walking freely on a college campus. And...
LEMON: How do you prevent that?
BLAGOJEVICH: And I think that's...
LEMON: I mean, especially on a university, where it's supposed to be an open environment? How do you do that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, these are questions that the experts are going to evaluate and ask themselves. But in this particular case, Northern Illinois University, the campus police, the Illinois state police and other local law enforcement were on the scene within less than three minutes. And I think a lot of that had to do with the things we learned from Virginia Tech and the tragedy that happened there.
And I should point out that the Governor Kaine from Virginia and their state police in Virginia called us immediately to share with us their experience with something like this and it was really helpful.
LEMON: And sent a letter to you, too, as well. And I know that you're off now, because we want to let you go.
LEMON: But you're off to visit the victims in the hospital now. Where -- what are you -- tell us about that -- what are you going to do?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I...
LEMON: And have you spoken to any of the families yet?
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm in the -- I'm calling parents and others. And, again, my condolences go out to those that lost a loved one -- parents and their kids. And our prayers are with them and may God bless them. May they be close to God. And hopefully he'll watch out for them and for the victims who are recovering from the injuries from the shooting.
BLAGOJEVICH: My prayers are with them, as well. And, again, I'm -- I call as the governor. I'm calling parents as the governor of Illinois, but when I talk to parents, I feel like a parent myself.
BLAGOJEVICH: And that's what I am. And it's -- at a time like this, when you see the worst of things, you see the best in people. And people come together during tragedies like this and help one another.
LEMON: Governor Rod Blagojevich, I thank you for joining us.
LEMON: I know you're going to -- you're off to the hospital to visit the victims and the families, so we appreciate you joining us here today in the CNN NEWSROOM. And best of luck to you. And we hope that maybe this will cause you -- I know you've come up with health care situations -- that, you know, situations or plans that have been followed throughout the country. Maybe you can come up with a safety plan that's been followed around the country for school safety, as well. Thank you very much.
BLAGOJEVICH: Thank you.
LEMON: So go ahead and do your thing.
The governor, also -- I just wanted to point out -- ordered the flags here half staff. So as we toss back to you, flags at half staff in Illinois. The United States of America, flags, as well, ordered half staff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you done? Fox News. Can we get him on the air real quick or is he done?
LEMON: Fox News behind us trying to get the governor on the air real quick.
So as we toss back to you, the governor here working on trying to get a plan up and also going to the hospital to visit some of the victims.
WHITFIELD: All right, Don, thank you so much, from DeKalb, Illinois -- T.J.
HOLMES: Also, want to tell you about a former police officer on trial for killing his pregnant girlfriend -- he hears the verdicts. We'll tell what's next for Bobby Cutts.
WHITFIELD: Guilty -- that was the verdict on numerous counts for Bobby Cutts. The former Ohio cop accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Jessie Davis. Jurors convicted Cutts of aggravated murder in the death of his unborn child, but found him guilty of a lesser murder count in the death of Davis. The defense saw that as a discrepancy and asked for a mistrial. The judge denied it, which didn't surprise legal analyst Avery Friedman when I asked him about it earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AVERY FRIEDMAN, LAW PROFESSOR: Because the bodies deteriorated out there for nine days, the coroner could not testify about the cause of death of Jessie Davis. But the jury had little trouble in understanding that baby Chloe, who would have been born within a matter of days, died because of the intentional actions and reckless actions of Bobby Cutts.
So you're correct. There are two convictions of aggravated murder with specifications, which means that when the jury reconvenes on the 25th, Fredricka, they will be deliberating whether or not Bobby will be put to death.
WHITFIELD: Wow! And interesting, you know, when everyone saw Bobby Cutts tearfully on the stand testifying, I remember hearing your analysis and you were saying this defense strategy is a failure.
Why have him on the stand? Why think that the jurors would be empathetic? But could there have been anything but a guilty verdict? I mean -- or did his defense, you know, team have any other options but to put him on the stand?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I'm sticking with my analysis on this Fredricka. There were a multitude of issues -- for example, an all-white jury, the exclusion -- potentially -- of diversity from this jury, the introduction of evidence of a two-and-a-half-year-old as an exception to the hearsay rule.
Bobby Cutts had very powerful issues to take to the court of appeals. But whether the defense lawyer said go ahead and do it or whether he told his lawyers I'm going to do it, I guess he thought he was a good actor and the jury actually found, obviously, he was a bad actor. And those ag murder convictions with specifications now sets him up for a possible death penalty.
WHITFIELD: And what exactly happens on that February 25th day?
FRIEDMAN: Well, the same jurors will return, Fredricka. What will happen is they will be deliberating on the elements which go to the question of what of -- of the extent to which this defendant was intentional, deliberate in murdering the individuals -- that is, the aggravated murder, I should say, of who would have been baby Chloe. And I think part of what they're going to think about is that baby rotting out in an open field in the hot summer sun for nine days.
WHITFIELD: Oh, boy.
FRIEDMAN: That's going to be a very, very tough part of Bobby trying to argue his way out of a death penalty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So far, the families are not talking about today's verdict. The lawyers can't. They're still under a gag order.
HOLMES: Well, a moving mission to tell you about in Iraq is changing hearts and changing lives there.
Also, a woman finds an unexpected Valentine's Day treat in a brown stained box -- centuries-old expressions of love. That's next.
HOLMES: Well, here now is what many of you are clicking on CNN.com.
O.J. Simpson's girlfriend is in the hospital. But before you jump to conclusions here, let me explain. Apparently, she fell at a gas station. Some tabloids report police are, however, investigating whether her injuries are consistent with a fall or an assault. Simpson says he had nothing to do with her getting hurt.
Also, many of you searching for any detail about the deadly shootings at Northern Illinois University. So are the police -- who haven't found a motive yet behind the killings of five students at that University.
And in Iraq, gifts of hope -- something uplifting we can give you here. Disabled Iraqi kids getting a better chance at life thanks, in large part, to an American civilian contractor who founded Wheelchairs for Kids.
You can link to all of our top 10 lists from the front page of CNN.com.
WHITFIELD: Oh, well, there's no love lost today for a woman from Oregon who found century-old love letters. Pat Nelson found dozens of letters in a box that she bought at an antique shop in Newport, Oregon. She paid $5 for them, but what she got in return, she thought, was pretty priceless -- expressions of a couple's love for each other way back in 1904.
The woman writes to her lover: "All that is noblest and best in me has been awakened with your love."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT NELSON, FOUND OLD LETTERS: We don't write love letters like this. I don't think very many people do. Our e-mails are so brief.
DANA MIDDLETON, DANA'S CLASSICAL FLORAL: They probably did a lot more courting way back a hundred years ago instead of, you know, let's just go buy $100 worth of flowers and call it good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Oh, this is where it gets even cuter, the best part of the story. Pat Nelson figured out where the descendants of the love letters' authors actually live and she sent them to them just in time for Valentine's Day.
HOLMES: Wait a minute.
WHITFIELD: Isn't that sweet?
HOLMES: "All that is noblest and best in me has been awakened with your love?"
WHITFIELD: Nobody writes like that anymore.
HOLMES: I'm using that.
HOLMES: I am using that.
WHITFIELD: It's going to work.
HOLMES: Wolf Blitzer...
WHITFIELD: It's going to be beautiful.
HOLMES: It's time, sir, time to check in with him.
WHITFIELD: In New Orleans.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Guys, thanks very much.
Coming up at the top of the hour, two basketball legends supporting two different Democratic presidential candidates. In "THE SITUATION ROOM," my interviews with Charles Barkley -- he's supporting Barack Obama -- and Magic Johnson -- he's campaigning for Hillary Clinton.
Also, a major endorsement for John McCain. The former President, George Herbert Walker Bush about to throw his support behind the senator from Arizona.
And American troops and political contributions -- guess who has the most support from members of the U.S. military? It's not who you might think.
All that, guys, coming up -- a special edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM." We're live in New Orleans coming up at the top of the hour -- back to you.
WHITFIELD: We look forward to that. Thanks so much -- Wolf.
HOLMES: All right, and the closing bell and a wrap of the action on Wall Street coming your way.
WHITFIELD: All right, the last chance to get a check of Wall Street.
HOLMES: Yes, Susan Lisovicz is standing by with a final look at the trading day.
Susan, hello. It seems like I haven't seen you in a while.
SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You haven't seen me in a while and I guess you won't see me on Monday, either. I'll be working, but the New York Stock Exchange will be closed because it's Presidents Day weekend -- a three day weekend.
And how are people celebrating the weekend? Well, there's the White House, right? You would think maybe a lot of people would visit Washington, right?
LISOVICZ: Well, they're not.
WHITFIELD: Why not?
LISOVICZ: Priceline.com has released its annual survey of the top 50 destinations to spend this particular holiday. Number one is New York. Number two is Las Vegas. San Francisco is in the top five. Washington, D.C. -- specifically downtown and the White House -- number 46.
LISOVICZ: I guess because folks want to -- you know, when they do Washington, it's got to be spring or summer.
WHITFIELD: (INAUDIBLE) the cherry blossoms and all that, I would guess.
LISOVICZ: I guess so. Maybe, you know, the kids aren't out of school the whole week.
LISOVICZ: You want to do the Smithsonian and all the museums.
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