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Obama a Threat to Lations?; NIU Shootings Examined; Nascar's 50th Anniversary; Hurricane Katrina Still Not Over for Some
Aired February 16, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now. A community mourns as investigators try to figure out why a 27-year-old man took aim at students at Southern Illinois University.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so nervous in my classes, I can honestly say since the threat, all of that, like I look around. Test anxiety, you know, I'm nervous.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Did the school respond properly after that shooting rampage? And what are the lessons learned from these latest killings?
NGUYEN: Plus, celebrities rallying around the city of New Orleans Grammy award-winning musician Branford Marsalis putting down his saxophone in favor of a hammer. He joins us live this hour from the big easy.
Good morning from the CNN Center in Atlanta, it is Saturday, February 16th. I'm Betty Nguyen.
HOLMES: And I'm T.J. Holmes. It's 10:00 a.m. here in Atlanta, Georgia, 9:00 a.m. in DeKalb, Illinois and that's where we want to begin this hour. The campus of Northern Illinois University grieving. Several students held vigil last night remembering their fallen friends. Five people were killed in that attack, 16 others wounded. This morning three of them remain in critical condition. Police say they have spoken with Steven Kazmierczak's girlfriend. He is the shooter in this case. They say his girlfriend is in fact cooperating. Kazmierczak's sister posted this statement on her front door, saying, "We are both shocked and saddened. In addition to the loss of innocent lives, Steven was a member of our family. We are grieving his loss as well as the loss of life resulting from his actions."
NGUYEN: Well, there are so many stories of survival coming from the NIU campus. Students caught in the classroom during that rampage, and CNN's Don Lemon is at the university this morning. You've spoken with many of these students. A lot of them just still trying to come to grips with what has happened.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, you know what Betty, absolutely, and we spent time focusing on the shooter, but we want to focus on the victims and honor the victims, really, who lost their lives innocently. And this is usually, you know, this hill here, usually people are hanging out here, and it's usually a hill that's just covered with snow, but today it's covered with the crosses from five of the victims -- actually, six crosses, including the shooter here. And just really nice messages left behind by some of the loved ones and some of the fellow students of the students who died here.
It has -- I heard T.J. mention that there was a memorial last night, a vigil. Several vigils that have sort of happened on their own, but there was a big one last night as well, where dignitaries showed up and people really talked about it. But here you go, Danielle Parmenter, Ryanne Mace, Juliana Gehant, Catalina Garcia and also Gayle Dubaski. Flowers here, a husky little dog here as well, a stuffed animal. A Phi Kappa Alpha shirt for Danielle Parmenter and really just wonderful messages left around. Several of these memorials have cropped up really all over the campus, and we're going to show you some just a little bit later on.
But you can imagine really how devastating this has been for many of the students, especially -- come on over here, Jerry. Mr. Jerry Santoni, thank you for joining us.
Jerry, the last couple days I know have been really rough for you. We were talking before and you said you left so fast, you left all of your stuff in the classroom. You left your cell phone. And talk to us about the last couple days for you. I know it's tough.
JERRY SANTONI, SURVIVED CLASSROOM RAMPAGE: Well, first off, my sympathies go to the victims and all the families that are injured here. It's far more important than any of the stuff I left behind. But yeah, the last few days have been really hard. It's been hard to fall asleep and it's been hard to just move on with my life.
LEMON: You were in the classroom at the time, and we heard the horror stories and we've heard that, and the tragedy of what went on, just how devastating that was. But how are you going to move on? Are any of the memorials or anything -- has that been helpful to you over the last day or so?
SANTONI: Yeah. To see all the support is definitely very helpful, and I think it's just more of an isolated incident, you know, with someone with mental problems. And I mean, as it was reported earlier, this guy was off his medication. And I mean, I just want to say, if anyone knows people with mental illness or friends of friends with mental illness, you know, you just need to take a few minutes out of your day to make sure they're taking their medication. Because I don't think this individual had anyone that was keeping close enough track on him to take his medication, and I think that might have averted this whole crisis.
LEMON: We've been hearing a lot about the shooter. You did not know him?
SANTONI: I did not. Apparently, he's in the same American criminology association that I'm in, although I never saw him at any meetings or anything like that.
LEMON: Have you spoken to any other people in the class? How are they doing?
SANTONI: I only spoke to one other -- my friend that I was sitting next to, and she's still very shaken up. It was pretty traumatic for her. She ended up staying in the room the whole time until the shooter ended up killing himself, and that was pretty traumatic for her, so I've been trying to be there for her and all.
LEMON: We thank you for joining us.
LEMON: Our prayers and our thoughts are with you.
SANTONI: Thank you.
LEMON: Like he said, he keeps replaying it in his head. Many of the students that I've spoken to said the same thing, it's really hard to get out of it. Are you going to, real quickly, sign up or get any grief counseling to deal with this?
SANTONI: I plan to, yes, as soon as I can, probably later today, actually.
LEMON: All right, Jerry, thank you very much.
LEMON: So the school is offering some grief counseling to students, but I mean, you can imagine, I don't really know how one would get over this or what a grief counselor would say, but they have expertise in this, T.J. and Betty, to deal with these sorts of matters, and hopefully, that will help these students to move on and take the next step.
NGUYEN: Yeah, it's definitely something that will provide some help, but at the same time, a lot of the students have gone home to their families over the weekend until they return at some point when the university is back open. Don Lemon joining us live, thank you, Don.
HOLMES: And in response to the shooting at Northern Illinois University, well, it was quick. The school updated security and its alert system after last year's massacre at Virginia Tech. Take a look at this timeline now. The gunman opened fire at 3:00 in the afternoon local time. Campus police were on the scene within three minutes. 17 minutes later, 3:20, the alarm was sounded across campus. That message was "there's a gunman on campus. Stay where you are." By 4:00, police determined there was only one gunman and that he had killed himself. Well, even with that new alert system, Thursday's deadly shooting spree at Northern Illinois University begs the question -- how safe is the campus?
NGUYEN: As CNN's Abbie Boudreau explains, it depends on who you ask.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this guy with a gun comes in.
ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Gaynor, an NIU senior, saw it all unfold.
GEORGE GAYNOR, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIV. SENIOR: There was no expression on his face whatsoever. He didn't say a word. He just came in, pointed the gun, and opened fire.
BOUDREAU: After a shooting rampage that left 6 dead and 16 wounded on Northern Illinois University's campus, Gaynor and others we talked to say they feel safe.
GAYNOR: Yes. Concerning the police response to the incident, I feel that everything is very well in hand and very under control.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The student walks into the building --
BOUDREAU: NIU police Chief Donald Grady agreed, telling a room full of reporters it took his officers only two minutes to respond to the scene.
CHIEF DONALD GRADY, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIV. POLICE: The recovering efforts were remarkable. NIU has an extremely professional staff of police officers.
NICHOLAS JOHNSON, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIV. SOPHOMORE: They got to the scene on time, but where were they before the actual event happened?
BOUDREAU: Sophomore Nicholas Johnson says a recent string of threats on campus had made him feel unsafe.
JOHNSON: I feel nervous in my classroom. I can honestly say since the threats, all of that -- like I look around -- test anxiety, you know, I'm nervous.
BOUDREAU: There had been at least two recent cases of bathroom graffiti reported to police as possible threats of violence. The first taken seriously and one last week that the chief says did not appear connected to the shooting.
GRADY: There was a threat on the bathroom wall. It was not considered a credible threat, and no, we do not believe that it is related to this incident at all.
BOUDREAU: That first threat in December was racially charged. It led to the campus being shut down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly, it makes you a little bit concerned.
BOUDREAU: Communication instructor Floyd Sanders says he knows many students who feel just like Johnson and says the university needs to do a better job investigating every threat.
FLOYD SANDERS, NIU COMMUNICATIONS INSTRUCTOR: I think they did investigate them. Student body didn't hear about it. So, obviously they weren't taken too seriously.
BOUDREAU: How big of a concern is that?
SANDERS: Considering what just happened, pretty big, yeah.
BOUDREAU: Abbie Boudreau, CNN, DeKalb, Illinois.
(END OF VIDEOTAPE)
NGUYEN: And new this morning, a gruesome scene in Prince George's County, Maryland. Police say seven people were killed by a car that apparently went out of control and plowed into a crowd watching a street race overnight. Four others were rushed to the hospital and police also say a tractor-trailer truck may have struck someone as it tried to avoid the crash scene.
HOLMES: President Bush beginning his five-nation visit to Africa. Right now he's headed to Tanzania after a brief stop in the western African country of Benin. He was given a medal by that country's president. The trip focuses on President Bush's effort to help fight AIDS in Africa as well as efforts to combat malaria and poverty, but he's also getting questions about Darfur and post- election violence in Kenya.
NGUYEN: President Bush says the government will be less able to protect you from terrorist threats after midnight tonight. That's when an electronic eavesdropping law expires. Now, congressional democrats accuse the president of fear mongering. The bill expands the government's authority to wire tap foreign calls and e-mails that pass through the U.S. One main sticking point -- whether to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits when they cooperate with the government.
HOLMES: We've got some politics to talk about this morning, and we're going to talk the Latino vote, critical in the upcoming Texas race. Can Barack Obama make a late push to court these voters or did he wait just a little too long?
HOLMES: All right, about 15 minutes past the hour. Here's a look at some other stories we're following, and certainly this first one you're a big fan of.
NGUYEN: Definitely. All right, here it is, an experimental screening system designed to get you through the airport in less time. Love it! Here's how it works -- lines are color-coded. Green for families who need additional assistance. You know, they have the kids and all that extra luggage. Blue for frequent fliers familiar with security. And best of all, black for expert travelers. The system is being tested in Salt Lake City. Hopefully, it will come to an airport near you very soon.
HOLMES: And near you in particular, Betty.
Stuffy nose, sore throat, fever? Been there, done that this season. And flu season is actually getting worse. This is because health officials say the flu shot is fighting only about 40 percent of this year's viruses. You know, they've pretty much taken a guess on which flu bug is going to hit, which strain of the virus. So maybe they didn't guess correctly this time around. In good years, actually the vaccine can fend off about 70 to 90 percent of flu bugs. So this is not a good year.
NGUYEN: Yeah, only 40 percent?
Well, an 8-year-old Arizona girl got more than she bargained for when she decided to climb up a tree. It doesn't sound like a big deal. You know, kids climb trees every day. Well, here's the problem -- she kept going and going, actually climbed 50 feet up. And then, of course, she got stuck. That's when the fire department was called in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNA MOORE, RESCUED GIRL: They had this big bucket, and they used it, and they brought it and they took it up to the tree, and then they got me down.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: She's a lucky kid. What did Reynolds say when he got stuck in a tree?
HOLMES: How his mom used a tranquilizer gun and shot him down.
NGUYEN: Well, fire officials say that kind of stunt can be dangerous, even deadly, especially when kids climb that high. Lucky little girl.
HOLMES: You know, what would have been your parents' response? As soon as they got me down, they would say oh, happy you're safe.
NGUYEN: I think I would have gotten a spanking.
HOLMES: Go get my belt, yes.
NUGYEN: Actually, can you get that tree limb because we're about to use it on you.
HOLMES: I've got to tell you about a guy here, who was no easy target, and it turns out, he's a pretty good shot himself.
NGUYEN: Yeah, and get this, he's an 80-year-old Texas man who fired back when two intruders started attacking him with a knife inside his home. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think they ever expected you to pull this out?
JAMES PICKETT, ATTACK VICTIM: Oh, hell no! He knew as old as I am, he knew he was going to whip the hell out of me. He jumped and turned, and I shot him there. Then I shot at him. Only problem was I run out of bullets.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: What the attackers didn't know, Pickett is a World War II veteran and life-long John Wayne fan. One of the suspects was hit by a bullet that barely missed his spine. Police say both are charged with assault, burglary, and robbery. As for Pickett, he says he is prepared to defend himself any time, but he says his attackers best not come back.
HOLMES: Ran out of bullets.
NGUYEN: Can you imagine? That's a tiny, little gun, but it did what it needed to do.
HOLMES: It did the job.
NGUYEN: There is much more ahead, including a major star ready to race. Yeah, fans rooting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to repeat his Daytona success. But he'll have to do it in a new ride. We'll take you there.
HOLMES: Also, helping his native New Orleans rebuild. Musician Branford Marsalis joins us to talk about that, as well as the NBA All- star weekend happening in New Orleans.
NGUYEN: Well, today we begin introducing you to the CNN heroes for 2008. They're ordinary people having extraordinary impacts in the lives of others.
HOLMES: And our very first hero, Marie DaSilva. She's a nanny with a huge heart in Los Angeles. She takes care of two kids, but in her native Malawi, she's saving hundreds, pledging one-third of her salary to educate and feed AIDS orphans. Take a look.
Come on! This way. Children just bring joy to me. That's why I'm a nanny. They need to be surrounded by love. They need education. They need attention. I can make that happen in Los Angeles, why can't I do it for children elsewhere? I was born and bred in Malawi, and we have hundreds and thousands of orphans, and most of them of course are orphans by AIDS.
They live in very bad conditions. It's literally poverty. I, Marie DaSilva, my mission is to educate AIDS orphans in Malawi. AIDS is like a plague in Malawi. I have 14 members of my family who have died of AIDS. When I visit Malawi, I visit my family at the graveyard.
When I heard that the AIDS orphans would have no school, it touched me to say I need to help. The Jacaranda school is in the house that I grew up in. They study in my bedroom, they study in the pantry, they study in the garage. We have a lack of just about everything, but we give them courage and they are doing amazingly well. Every month I send in $1,000, about 30 percent of my monthly wages. I reached out to my nanny friends, and today there are nannies that give me $10 a month.
I do this because I know that the children there need it. When my father was dying, there was this huge jacaranda tree outside that brought in light. For me, the jacaranda tree symbolizes hope and that's what I want to give the children at the Jacaranda School.
(END OF VIDEOTAPE)
HOLMES: And you can find out more about Marie and her project as well as other everyday heroes at cnn.com/heroes.
NGUYEN: Well, we are going to be taking a closer look at the black-brown divide in the Democratic Party to find out why Hispanics are not rallying behind Barack Obama.
NGUYEN: Let's get you a quick check of our top stories today. Northern Illinois University is grieving those killed in Thursday's massacre. Many students have left campus, spending some time at home this weekend. Meanwhile, police are piecing together Steven Kazmierczak's last few days before he went on a rampage, killing five people, then himself.
HOLMES: Turning to Maryland now. Police are on the scene, reconstructing a deadly accident that happened overnight. They say seven people were killed when a car apparently plowed into a crowd that had gathered to watch a street race.
NGUYEN: On the political front, and a bit of a detour for Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He's actually leaving the campaign trail today. Instead, heading for the Cayman Islands. Doesn't that sound nice? Well, Huckabee is giving a paid speech to a youth group there because it was planned a long time ago. But he is expected back in Wisconsin tomorrow. And John McCain, well, he has no big events on his schedule today.
HOLMES: On the other side, the Democrats are going to be really busy. No trip to the Cayman Islands for them. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have a number of events in Wisconsin. They will also appear at the same founders' day event in Milwaukee tonight. Both are aiming for that state's 74 delegates up for grabs in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, the candidates also looking ahead to Texas, that primary coming up on March 4th and Hillary Clinton certainly has been campaigning in Texas.
NGUYEN: Yeah and husband Bill Clinton is there today. The Clintons are really counting on Latino voters to continue their support, but can they bank on it? CNN's Soledad O'Brien has more.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Si, se puede is right, yes, we can!
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are among Hillary Clinton's staunchest supporters, lifting her up state after state. The California exit poll said it all. Clinton won 67 percent of Latino votes, Barack Obama 32 percent. But behind the ground swell, a troubling question -- are Latinos rallying for this white woman or against this black man just because he's black? Luis Jimenez is the Latino Howard Stern, one of the top Spanish-language radio hosts in the country.
LUIS JIMENEZ, RADIO SHOW HOST: Right now, if we have a white woman and an African-American person, I think the natural instinct of the Latino would be to vote for the white woman.
O'BRIEN: Jimenez argues blacks and Latinos are competing minorities, jockeying for better jobs, higher wages, more political power. The prospect, he says, of a President Obama makes many Latinos anxious.
JIMENEZ: He's going to do more for the African-American community, and he may forget about us. I'm not saying that's the truth, but that's the way a lot of us think.
O'BRIEN: Henrik Rehbinder runs the editorial page of La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the country. He acknowledges that while the Latino community is hardly monolithic, a gulf does exist between it and African-Americans.
HENRIK REHBINDER, LA OPINION: Basically, they don't know each other. When we talk of competition, it is more a lack of understanding of each other.
O'BRIEN: La Opinion endorsed Obama just before the California primary, but Rehbinder strongly denies racism fueled Clinton's big win. The Clintons have deep roots in the community, he says, and Obama made little effort to reach out.
REHBINDER: The candidate was not really available for Latino media, so the voters, they did not really have the opportunity to hear the candidate.
O'BRIEN: The endorsement from Rehbinder and La Opinion was a big opening to connect with Latinos. And the crew here says Obama blew it.
FAY, RADIO PERSONALITY: To be backed up by someone so great, someone that people listen to, and then kind of like let us slip through your fingers and not do much with what you have. It's kind of like having Michael Jordan teach you how to play basketball and just forgetting everything.
O'BRIEN: Obama now has a team handling Latino media and an ad in Spanish running on Texas radio.
Too little, too late?
JIMENEZ: He may be the best guy in the world, but we just met. It's not racism, it's who we know and who we trust more.
O'BRIEN: Still, the trust gap might be shrinking. Exit polls show Obama gaining on Clinton among Latinos. He won them outright in Virginia. Now it's on to Texas.
Soledad O'Brien, CNN.
HOLMES: And a reminder for you, folks. "BALLOT BOWL" is back this weekend, your chance to see the candidates unfiltered in their own words. CNN's "BALLOT BOWL" comes your way today at 2:00 Eastern time.
NGUYEN: Also, hear the Democratic candidates talking about the issues. It's the CNN/Univision Debate this coming Thursday night. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama face off in Austin, Texas, at 8:00 Eastern.
HOLMES: And Junior! Dale Earnhardt Jr. changing his colors, changing his wheels, changing his team, changing his number. A lot of changes for this man this time around. Will it help him race to Daytona glory?
NGUYEN: But first, celebrities rallying around the city of New Orleans. Grammy Award-winning musician Branford Marsalis is putting down a saxophone in favor of a hammer. He's going to join us live.
HOLMES: We need more scratches on CNN SATURDAY MORNING, don't we? Shooting hoops, giving hope and making music, it's all part of the NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. And Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis one of the musical performers. He's with us from his hometown of New Orleans to talk about that and his efforts to help rebuild that city after Hurricane Katrina.
Kind sir, good morning, how are you doing?
BRANDFORD MARSALIS, MUSICIAN: Good morning, T.J., how are you doing?
HOLMES: I am well this morning. We will start with recovery in the city and we'll talk more about the All-Star Weekend and what's happening, but how would you gauge your level? I mean, how would you describe your level of satisfaction with how the recovery has been going the past two years in your hometown?
MARSALIS: It has been slow, but I think historically, these kinds of things do take time. I mean, it would be hard -- you would be hard pressed to find any example of a disaster of this magnitude going any quicker than it has gone. And so I think that because of the way that most of our lives operate, you know, we can get food quickly, we can get information quickly. We tend to have a lot of frustration at the snail's pace that occurs, but it's kind of par for the course, to my understanding.
HOLMES: And tell us, you certainly spend -- again, that's your home and you have been very involved in the efforts there, but for a lot of people, they saw the coverage after Katrina and what they have seen in New Orleans since is the big events, like NBA All-Star Weekend or Mardi Gras, when all the cameras and the spotlight and the media's there and focusing on New Orleans at the time. That's what people see, and those recovery efforts.
But tell us, in those interim times when the spotlight and the cameras and the media, everybody is not there to cover an event, how are things? Is the attention still where it needs to be on New Orleans?
MARSALIS: Well, you know, 24-hour news, man, you know, attention goes from here to there. But the people in the city are very remarkable. They love the city, and some have left and they're waiting for things to have a semblance of normality before they come back.
But a large number of people, they have just stuck it out, you know. You know, they're going to stay here because they love it. And some that leave are just waiting to come back. We have a new governor in place, and Governor Jindal is doing what he can to change the perception of New Orleans -- of Louisiana, I should say.
The federal money, it's finally starting to come. And I think in the next couple -- in the next three to five years, things are going to start rolling.
HOLMES: Now, of course, a lot of people just are frustrated and confused about -- and they heard all this money has been allocated for rebuilding New Orleans, and then we hear that some -- it's at a snail's pace. And I know you commented a second ago that, you know, what, something of this magnitude does take time, but do you direct or do you share any of those sentiments and direct your frustration at the government at all for not getting this thing rolling as fast as maybe some say it should be?
MARSALIS: Well, I think that if you want to even have a historical comparison, I think it was Herbert Hoover in the great flood in Mississippi in 1927, the government was on point in there, but they also didn't have the distraction of a war to fight and all the other things that are going on politically.
I think that the war has created a big drain in terms of how quickly people would have gotten their money. And I think it's one of those things that's going to correct itself in the coming years. People are very frustrated, and I'm not saying that they shouldn't be, but just observing other similar tragedies or something like World War II. I mean, it took 15 years before you could consider many of those cities normal. So I hope it doesn't take that long, and I hope that things are about to turn around for the better.
HOLMES: And this weekend, you're certainly happy to see the NBA coming down and helping here. I was looking at some pictures here of some of the efforts the other day of some of the NBA all stars, but what is this weekend going to mean to New Orleans and recovery, and how are you participating this weekend?
MARSALIS: Well, I think one of the big challenges for Louisiana in general is to make itself a more business-friendly state so that they can bring corporate infrastructure and not have to depend on tourism for its lifeblood.
But given that it is what it is right now, this is a very, very needed influx of cash for the hoteliers, for the restaurateurs, for just about every aspect of the tourism industry. And I think that the NBA with NBA Cares does such a great job of mobilizing the players and the organizations in the NBA and getting them out.
Like something that they did yesterday, they were working on 11 homes in the New Orleans area. It really brings -- it allows the world -- America in specific, but the world in general to focus on the still-existing suffering that goes on in the city.
And real quick here, finally from me, are you -- would you like to see the candidates -- the presidential candidates, talking more about New Orleans? Of course, so much focus is on the candidates right now and so much on the campaign, but have you heard enough about New Orleans?
MARSALIS: I think to be fair, New Orleans has suffered, but all of the points around the city, (INAUDIBLE), Louisiana, St. Bernard Parish, parts of Terrebonne Parish, Mississippi, Alabama, I think that it would be in their best interest to focus on -- you know, since the entire nation is voting, you don't want to look like you're catering to one small segment of the people at the risk of alienating the larger population.
And I think that once the race is over -- once the presidential race is over, I think that with the candidates that are left we will see more of a concentrated effort on the city, whomever wins.
HOLMES: Well, we certainly hope to see it. Branford Marsalis, you've been involved long and hard down there in your hometown, trying to get it going again. And in a lot of ways, it is going again. And NBC All-Star Weekend another example of that city getting back on its feet. Sir, good luck to you this weekend. We'll be watching.
MARSALIS: Thanks, T.J.
HOLMES: All right. Thanks so much. NGUYEN: Well, there is outrage over the rampage. Josh Levs is looking at your comments on cnn.com about the shooting at Northern Illinois University.
JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, what's happening now, people all over the world really are starting to weigh in on there. They're weighing in, they're saying what it says about our culture and also issues like gun control. I'll show you how you can join this conversation, coming right up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It could be a home run of a vacation.
CHRIS MCGINNIS, EXPEDIA.COM: Spring training has become a big phenomenon recently because it's inexpensive. Families love it because you're kind of up close and personal with the teams.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reasonable hotel rates and cheap tickets have many people heading south and southwest.
MCGINNIS: Arizona is typically more expensive in the spring because there's just not as many flights headed in that direction. Florida, on the other hand, has a low-fare carriers that are flying to just about every Florida city.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For hoops fans, scoring the best travel deals for the NCAA Final Four games may be a bit pricier, but still possible if you're willing to take one for the team.
MCGINNIS: It is expensive to go to the final March Madness games in San Antonio. Package prices already starting at about $1,000, going up to about $1,500. This includes three nights at a hotel nearby, plus tickets to the game.
NGUYEN: Let's get you a quick check of some of the stories that we're following this morning.
HOLMES: Yes, more election violence in Pakistan to tell you about, coming just two days before critical voting there, 37 people killed in a suicide blast near the Pakistan People's Party office in northwestern Pakistan. The PPP, as it is known, is the party that was led by the late Benazir Bhutto. The interior ministry says as many as 93 people were wounded in that blast.
NGUYEN: Steve Fossett is dead, that is according to a Chicago judge, who has now declared him dead. The millionaire adventurer has been missing for five months, and now that he has officially been declared dead, his family can settle his estate. Fossett was the first to fly solo around the world in a hot air balloon. He was last seen in September flying a single-engine plane and some say he crashed in the Sierra Nevadas, but the wreckage has never been found. HOLMES: This was perfect timing here. Big surprise for a New Hampshire college student. Elizabeth Penn (ph) there and her father, well, her dad came home from Iraq, showed up at her Valentine's Day dance. I'm sure the date was thinking, oh...
NGUYEN: He totally got overshadowed.
HOLMES: This night is not going to go the way I thought it was. Yes, dad just showed up, and he's a soldier, yes. She was so surprised, actually, you can see her there. She couldn't stop crying, she couldn't stop shaking. Staff Sergeant David Penn (ph) is spending two weeks with his family before he actually has to return to Iraq. So nice time there. He got to show up, and at the actual dance on Valentine's Day.
NGUYEN: That is such a great thing, way better than any flowers or candy that anybody...
HOLMES: All right. That's nice to see. But we have to turn back to this horrific story we've been watching the past couple days, the shootings at that campus in Illinois. There's actually a wealth of information we always get online. Sometimes the community, especially when you talk about young people...
NGUYEN: Yes, they come together with those condolences, a lot of it online. And you can check that out at cnn.com. Josh Levs has been looking through a lot of it today. And he joins us now with the latest.
LEVS: And we were talking about this, I mean, it is news, but this also -- this urge to share in the wake of a tragedy like this. And a lot of people feel like it's the nation's tragedy. It is. It is a national tragedy to see this. And we're getting so much stuff through I-Report, we're getting videos, photos, and also a lot of people's opinions.
I want to start off with one video that we were sent by Ray Cook, who took this on his cell phone. Now he says that this is the first person who was wheeled out from the scene of the rampage, and you can see there, there was someone who had been inside. We don't know who's on there, but was rushed onto this ambulance. And we here at CNN are keeping a close eye each day on the status of the wounded, and we keep updating that for you at cnn.com.
I also want to show you some photos that we're being sent. Again, cnn.com, the I-Reporter view. You can see some of these photos from the scene, what has been sent to us today. There is one that is really striking. It shows these crosses that have been set up for the victims, and our Don Lemon reported earlier that there is now another cross that was set up for the alleged shooter, but it's faced backwards, not along with those. And people have been spending time today visiting those, but I also want to show you another I-Report photo that shows it what it's like for students who are on there now surrounded by media. That's a part of their reality right now, not only grappling with this, but also surrounded by media from all over the world, and this is just one example of the media kind of converging on one group as they were gathering to support each other.
Now at cnn.com, here is what has been happening. People have been sending in their views and their thoughts in the wake of this. And again, that urge to share. Why does this kind of thing happen in our society? They're just sending in their views. I want to share some of them, really interesting insights and different viewpoints here.
For example, on gun control, Richard Smith of Tulsa, Oklahoma, we're going to start with that one. He writes us: "If law-abiding citizens are allowed to arm themselves for protection, they are in a better position to stop these shooters. If shooters realize citizens are allowed to carry weapons in gun-free or safety zones, they will not be so quick to go there."
The opposite view now from William Ma: "When will Americans finally come to our senses about controlling the availability and potency of guns in our communities?" These are the flashpoint moments, folks. This is when this dialogue happens on both sides. But there are also people writing in, in a broader sense, why does this kind of thing happen?
Let's take a look this from Martin Wnuk of Friendswood, Texas: "We've become a nation of strangers. Things of real value are dismissed while worthless things are assigned great value. So it's not surprising that we are creating these seemingly soulless ghouls, capable of unthinkable, random violence."
And finally, from P.W. Johannes, Portland, Oregon: "This type of event is the combination of several things, an open society, easy access to firearms, poorly socialized male children, and a culture that can make even the strongest feel at times disenfranchised, alone, and alienated."
A lot of really thoughtful responses, and those are the ones I wanted to share here, viewpoints, but also people who are spending some real time thinking about this, what it means to them and why they think this kind of thing happens. And that's what we're all as a nation grappling with now.
NGUYEN: Yes. It has touched a lot of people in many different ways and like you said, opening the forum for discussions about gun control.
LEVS: We should have that. We need that.
NGUYEN: All right. Thank you, Josh.
HOLMES: Josh, thank you. Still to come here, we're going to be talking about a self-imposed crackdown in college sports. Florida State drops the hammer on itself and its student athletes after dozens were caught in a cheating scandal.
NGUYEN: Plus, he is the most popular driver in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr., trying to guide his career back on track with the help of a former rival. We're going to take you to the track when we come back.
NGUYEN: A university caught up in a cheating scandal puts itself on probation.
NGUYEN: When is the last time you heard of that? Florida State University says all of its athletic teams will be on probation for two years.
HOLMES: Yes. The school says some programs will lose scholarships and about 60 student athletes could lose all or some of their eligibility. This academic cheating involved online testing for a single course. A lot of them got wrapped up in it. A lot of athletes were suspended for the team's bowl game. And it was a music history course they were cheating in.
NGUYEN: Are you serious?
HOLMES: Cheat in physics, please, not in music history.
NGUYEN: Yes, something a little bit harder than that.
HOLMES: We don't condone it. Hey, we're not...
NGUYEN: Cheating of any sorts, that is.
HOLMES: All right. We will turn to racing now, and racing fans come out of hibernation now because it's time for the Daytona 500.
NGUYEN: Oh, yes, NASCAR's Super Bowl kicks off this season on Sunday and one of the sport's biggest names already a winner this week. Let's take you to Ray D'Alessio live in Daytona Beach for tomorrow's race, and of course, we are talking about number 88.
RAY D'ALESSIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, Betty. Now soon you're going to be hearing the roar of the engine. It is happy hour now at the Speedway, which is the final practice for tomorrow's Daytona 500, and anybody who follows racing knows full well that 2007 was a disastrous season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For one, there was the ongoing contract disputatious with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, the race team started by his late father. He failed to win a race for the first time in his career and he missed the chase for the championship, which is Sprint Cup's version of the playoffs.
So with all that said, I think we can agree, 2008 provides Junior with a much-need fresh start.
D'ALESSIO (voice-over): Gone is the red number 8 car. Gone is the Budweiser sponsorship. Gone is the company bearing his father's name. So for Dale Earnhardt Jr., a new beginning has arrived.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still doing the number 8 in the red, and now we're doing the 88 and we don't know whether to go green or white or red.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're having a hard time finding him on the racetrack, too, because it's hard to see his car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to stomach, man. At first, (INAUDIBLE) I was sick to my stomach, but I'm growing on it. I'm growing on it.
D'ALESSIO: The change for Junior is historic for many reasons. Not only did he leave Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, he joined what many views as his late father's nemesis, Hendrick Motorsports, which just so happens to be the most successful team in all of NASCAR.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., 2004 DAYTONA 500 WINNER: They're the cream of the crop when it comes to our sport, running one and two last year, and being a teammate and being really close to that information and that competitive edge is going to really help me.
JEFF GORDON, EARNHARDT'S TEAMMATE: You know, I've seen a whole new Dale Earnhardt Jr. since he has become my teammate, but I'm really proud of the fact that he said, hey, you know, I want to be more than just Dale Earnhardt's son or Dale Earnhardt Jr., you know, and the most popular driver, you know. You know, I want to be more than just these wins that I've had. I want to do more and I want to take this huge step and go to another team.
D'ALESSIO: Earnhardt has a lot to prove with his new team. Hendrick won half of the 36 cup events last year. Junior hasn't found victory lane in 62 straight points races.
KYLE PETTY, NASCAR DRIVER/OWNER: He's in a strange situation, OK, in my opinion. You know, he didn't win any races, so if he goes to Hendricks and wins two races, then he's better than he was at DEI. But if you only win two races at Hendricks, you're pretty much a failure.
D'ALESSIO: One area Dale Jr. has never been a failure, the merchandise trailer. Of the $2 billion fans spend annually, Earnhardt is consistently the front-runner.
MARK DYER, CEO, MOTORSPORTS AUTHENTICS: He's the biggest single seller in the sport, and there are estimates that he's anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of the entire NASCAR market. Now he doesn't have an alcoholic beverage sponsor, he has a soft drink, energy drink sponsor, and of course, the National Guard. So his product is available at more places and probably has a more broad appeal now.
D'ALESSIO: Dale Earnhardt Jr., a former winner of the Daytona 500. In fact, he won it back in 2004. But coming up tomorrow, T.J., Betty, it is the 50th running of the Daytona 500. We will have a live report for you. But for now, we'll send it back to the studio. Betty, T.J., can I get a yee-haw?
HOLMES: Enjoy yourself, you've got a good assignment. Love NASCAR. They have their Super Bowl, the first event of the year, that's how you do it.
NGUYEN: And ray is living life right now.
HOLMES: Ray is loving it.
NGUYEN: We'll see you tomorrow, Ray.
And coming up next hour, a woman accused of being a witch, and she could be decapitated in Saudi Arabia. We are looking at women's rights overseas.
HOLMES: Well, a lot of you are just getting your weekend started on this Saturday morning, but a lot of folks are already preparing for Monday. For you here now, CNN's Kiran Chetry to let us know what's happening on "AMERICAN MORNING."
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Betty and T.J. Coming up next week, they're still going and so are we. The most politics in the morning is on the campaign trail. You can call it what you want, a must-win, a firewall, the last stand. Hillary Clinton is focused on winning Texas. She's not alone at the Alamo. We'll take a look at who's by her side. Just who are the supporters hoping to save the day for her campaign?
Plus, we're marching with Obama's youth rally. He has drawn huge crowds at college campuses across the country. We'll be live from the UT campus in Austin for the next head-to-head debate between Obama and Clinton.
Also, the Toy Fair 2008. It opens tomorrow. Toymakers are showing off their new goods in New York and trying something new to keep toys safe. Last year, a lot of concern over lead paint. We're going to see if that problem's been solved and what's on their minds this year. Our Greg Hunter is looking out for you.
Also, this guy gets all the good assignments. Of course, he was live at the Daytona 500 for us on Friday. And recently, Rob Marciano is on assignment in the Colorado Rockies at the highest weather station in the country. They're studying the clouds and what's in the clouds. You won't believe what's blowing in all the way from China.
Also, live from the Oscars. Our Lola Ogunnaike will be on the red carpet. And she has picked up a theme in the nominees. See if you can guess what it is. Hope to see you Monday for "AMERICAN MORNING." It all begins at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.
Betty and T.J., have a great weekend. Back to you.
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