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Americans Arrested in Irishwoman's Death; Showdown of Vatican & U.S. Nuns; International Community Condemns Syria Massacre; Tropical Storm Beryl Strengthens; Protest Rally in Response to Comments about Homosexuals; Japan Tsunali Debris Washes Up on US Pacific Coast

Aired May 27, 2012 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin in Japan where two American men are being questioned in the strangulation death of an Irish exchange student. The dead woman is identified as Nicola Furlong. Japanese police say her body was found early Thursday morning in a Tokyo hotel room of one of the Americans.

CNN's Kyung Lah explains how the victim and two Americans may have met.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (ON THE PONE): We know that her name is Nicola Furlong. She is an exchange student from Ireland. She was studying here in Japan. And that she had just recently celebrated her 21st birthday. What Tokyo police are telling us is that she died by something called suffocation by cervical compression, and that does sound like it's strangulation.

The Kyoto News Agency is reporting that she and a friend went to a Nicki Minaj concert Wednesday night here in Tokyo, where she was approached by two Americans. She and her friend ended up with these men at a hotel in a party area here in Tokyo. The police confirm that she was hours later found dead in the hotel room. And that in that hotel room was one of these Americans. And at this point, the police say that they are trying to figure out how these two men fit in with this woman's death.


WHITFIELD: Nicola Furlong's death has rattled her small community back in Ireland.

Earlier today CNN's Randi Kaye talked with Furlong's pastor, Father Fitzpatrick.


FATHER JIM FITZPATRICK, NICOLA FURLONG'S PASTOR (ON THE PHONE): She celebrated her 21st birthday party last December and was looking forward to finishing her course in Tokyo, which would have been the last days of July. So she was literally, according to text messages, to come home. Over recent days even she was looking forward to going to the concert which she was also looking forward pretty much so to getting back to her local community.


WHITFIELD: The U.S. State Department confirms the arrests of the two Americans. But is not providing any details at this point.

Here in the U.S., tropical storm Beryl is getting ready to dump a whole lot of rain on the East Coast starting in northern Florida, and all the way up to the Carolinas. Emergency management officials are urging people to stay out of the water. On Georgia's Tidy Island, lifeguards reported 48 rescues yesterday because of dangerous rip currents.

Jacqui Jeras is following the storm in the CNN weather center. Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Fredricka, yes, rip currents still a big problem out there. Still in fact, I've been watching this tower cam here from affiliate out of Jacksonville Beach. People are still going out in the water. Every now and then we see rescue crews going out and warning people and yelling at them. The beach is closed here now.

In fact, the mayor of Jacksonville has declared a state of emergency. They canceled their Memorial Day plans. They've also cancelled their jazz fest early because of this risk. The storm is really kind of a animal than what we were dealing with yesterday. There was a lot of dry air choking things off. Now this system is getting more organized. The winds have really picked up. We're talking 65-mile- per-hour maximum sustained winds. 74 is a hurricane. So this is what we consider a strong tropical storm.

There you can see the radar picture. The center of circulation, still about 100 miles off the coast. We're already seeing the showers and thundershowers all across north Florida, also all across parts of Georgia. Take a look at some of the wind speeds we've been seeing here, too. Jacksonville Pier just reporting a 55-mile-per-hour wind gust. We're seeing some of these winds in the 25 to 35-mile-per-hour range. We're going to watch those continue to increase now as we head through the afternoon hours as well.

Now, there's not a lot of time left for this thing to intensify very much further. So we don't think we'll see much changes in terms of intensity. It's moving due west around 10 miles per hour. So we're going to see landfall later on tonight. But those impacts obviously already being felt. Now one of our other concerns, too, not just the winds, not just some of the rip current threat, but this is going to slow down. As it makes its way on land, it's going to slow down and it's going to start to make a curve up to the north and then curve on up towards the north and east. It will weaken once it's over land but it looks like it's going to head back over open water as we head into the middle of next week and could intensify back into a tropical storm. So when we see slow movement like that, you tend to get very heavy rainfall. We could see as much as three to six inches of widespread in this area. It's really been very dry drought conditions across much of northern Florida and southern Georgia, so the rain is needed. But when you get this much in a short period of time, especially when the ground is hard and dry and cracked, you get a lot of runoff. So this is a storm that you do need to take seriously. You want to stay inside for it. Conditions not terrible out there now, so as long as you stay out of the ocean, if you want to go out and see some of those waves, go ahead and do it for a little bit, but then go back inside and make sure you're in a safe place.

WHITFIELD: It's so hard to believe this is the second named storm and the season hasn't even officially begun. That will happen later on this week, on Friday. But I know you'll be keeping us posted on all the other storms that just might be on the horizon after Beryl. Thanks so much, Jacqui.

All right. Now to Syria and the growing outrage over the massacre of 85 people in the town of Houla. Syrians were taking to the streets in several cities today demanding justice for the victims and an end to Bashar al Assad's regime. The White House issued a statement today saying in part, "We are horrified by credible reports of targeting, killing, including stabbing and ax attacks on women and children in Houla."

A video of some of the 34 children killed in Houla has surfaced online. The images are simply just too graphic to broadcast, showing children under the age of 10, some missing limbs and with severe head wounds. The U.N. security council is meeting on the crisis right now. And CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following the story from Beirut, Lebanon. So Mohammed, CNN can't confirm the authenticity of the video but what do we know about what happened in this village?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (ON THE PHONE): Fredricka, the opposition activists telling us absolutely horrifying tales about what happened on Friday. They say, first, the town of Houla in Homs province was shelled, mortars were raining down. And then after that happened, the pro-regime militia entered the town and started indiscriminately slaughtering, men, women and children, sometimes entire families.

Now we've seen video emerged today. U.N. monitors in that town yesterday starting to investigate the atrocities that occurred. One resident there who was a witness to the massacre was absolutely shaken and horrified by what happened had this to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): By god, I watched the dead bodies of nine children. One was less than nine months old. Why are they treating us like animals? We are humans. To the infant carrying RPG was he a fighter? He was a baby. He had a pacifier in his mouth. What was his guilt? Why was he killed?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: And Mohammed, still unclear who is responsible for this. The Syrian government is denying that its forces carried out the attack, yet the government is placing blame as well.

JAMJOOM: The Syrian government today flatly denying they had anything to do with this. Even though more and more in the international community and within Syria blaming them directly. A spokesperson for the foreign ministry earlier today said that this was a tsunami of lies. It was directed at the Syrian government. Here's more of what he had to say.


JIHAD MAKDISSI, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (THORUGH TRANSLATOR): We absolutely deny that the government armed forces had any responsibility in committing such massacre, and we strongly condemn the terrorist massacre that targeted our Syrian people, in a blatant criminal manner, and we also condemn the absurdity in blaming the government armed forces on the foreign ministerial level and not just on the level of the media outlets.


WHITFIELD: And the U.N. special envoy, Kofi Annan, is scheduled to visit Syria tomorrow. We know Mohammed, that the peace plan that he brokered two months ago has not been working. So what are his hopes this time?

JAMJOOM: Fredricka, since this peace plan was announced, we have heard from opposition activists that over 1,600 people have been killed at that time since March. So there's not a lot of hope on the ground in Syria. This can really do anything to stop the violence, whether it's U.N. monitors there as they are now, or Arab League monitors as they were on the ground there a few months ago. Nothing has seemed to impact the seemingly endless cycle of violence going on there. This brutal crackdown committed against the Syrian people which has left, according to U.N. estimates, over 9,000 people killed since the uprising began some 15 months ago. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mohammed Jamjoom, thanks so much from Beirut.

All right. First the Vatican accused U.S. nuns of promoting radical feminist themes. Well now the nuns are getting ready to respond.


WHITFIELD: President Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail. And when you listen to his speeches, he is a full candidate indeed.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Governor Romney came to Des Moines last week. (INAUDIBLE) That's what he said. Prairie fire. But, you know, he left out some facts. His speech was more like a cow pie distortion.

I don't know whose record he twisted the most, mine or his.


WHITFIELD: So is he striking a delicate balance between incumbent and candidate? Patricia Murphy is the founder of Citizen Jane Politics and she joins me right here in the studio. Good to see you. So other incumbents really felt like it's difficult to play candidate, even five months away from the election day. That they really wanted to appear more as a president. It's very different for this White House. No problem being that candidate instead of that incumbent, that sitting president.

PATRICIA MURPHY, CITIZEN JANE POLITICS, FOUNDER: Well, I think he's trying to do both. You know, we also saw him this week go to the Air Force Academy and speak to the graduating class and acting as the commander in chief. He's been at the G-8 summit, he's been working on a world stage, but we do see him when he's not doing that also trying to do this balance, full campaign mode. That is because they do not want to give Mitt Romney time to define him and to make this conversation about Barack Obama's record.

This president wants to go after Mitt Romney early. He wants to define Mitt Romney, as somebody who is not capable and does not have the character to be the president. He does not want to leave the table to be set by Mitt Romney. He wants to get in there and do before Romney. Romney's the nominee now and he's got plenty of time to do more.

WHITFIELD: And the president doing himself as opposed to relying on surrogates.

MURPHY: Yes and that's because this White House believes he is the best person for the job. He has a very, very high, sky-high likeability rating right now. He has about 30 points ahead of Mitt Romney so he has even a little bit of room to wiggle right now. He can lose a few likeability points by going Mitt Romney himself. We've seen some other - some of the Obama surrogates haven't been doing a great job lately. They've been saying a few bad things about the Republican, and then throwing in a few bad things about the democrats. So they believe -

WHITFIELD: And several missteps.

MURPHY: And several missteps from these surrogates from the Obama administration. They know that Obama is the best spokesperson for Obama. And that's why they got him out, doing it himself.

WHITFIELD: And what does this White House feel like it's to their advantage, it's to the president's advantage to go after Romney aggressively?

MURPHY: I think it's because they believe they can't afford not to right now. They have a very, very tight election. This is going to be tight until the very end. They know that also Americans are going on vacation this summer. They're going to stop paying attention. They've got to get their licks in early, right now. They don't have time to wait, essentially. They would like to get this on better ground for the president. The economy is probably going to be meddling right along to the election time. So they want to go ahead and damage Mitt Romney before Mitt Romney can open up any room between him and the president in the election.

WHITFIELD: And Mitt Romney trying to impose damage, too, on this White House administration, criticizing the timeline for withdrawal in Afghanistan, calling it in his words "naive." And this morning, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said 50 nations and NATO agreed to the plan and Romney's attacks are just, "campaign rhetoric." So might this backfire for Mitt Romney?

MURPHY: I think any attack on Afghanistan and what the president is doing in Afghanistan could easily backfire on Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney does not have the legs to stand on when it comes to foreign policy. If there's anywhere this president is popular, it's handling foreign policy. His approval ratings are sky high. Mitt Romney's aren't. Mitt Romney needs to be talking about the economy. That's where the president is weak. That's where Americans are anxious and that's where his own background could come into play and make him a better candidate.

WHITFIELD: Let's look at some of those promises that Mitt Romney is making in this ad.


ANNOUNCER: What would a Romney presidency be like? Day one, President Romney announces deficit reductions, ending the Obama era for the big government, helping secure our kids' futures. President Romney stands up to China on trade, and demands they play by the rules. President Romney begins repealing job-killing regulations that are costing the economy millions.


WHITFIELD: This is his strength, business. He wants to push hard on the economy. Too much to soon or is this just about right?

MURPHY: I think this is just about right. This is a message we're going to hear both candidates going on for independent voters. For Romney, he has a better position right now because independent voters very worried about the debt and deficit, worried about China, if you do some polling with independents, very worried about the rise of China. And United States' weakness perhaps China and also worried about just the economy in general. This is the message that Romney is going to hit now, to November. So get comfortable. Busy on day one. He's got a long to-do list there.

WHITFIELD: It's going to be a busy five months.

MURPHY: Yes, it will.

WHITFIELD: This is really the final stretch. Thank you so much, Patricia Murphy.


WHITFIELD: Always good to see you. Have a great rest of the holiday. Thank you.

MURPHY: Thank you. Nice to see you.

All right.

MURPHY: All right. There's a showdown between the Vatican and the largest group of Catholic nuns taking place right here in the U.S.. The Vatican recently reprimanded the group accusing it of spreading "radical feminist themes." On Tuesday, the nuns will gather in Washington to map out their response and Vatican watchers are calling this an important crossroads. Here's Sandra Endo.


SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): keep up the good work.

Letters of support are what comfort Sister Simone Campbell at a time when the Vatican publicly rebuked Catholic nuns for not speaking out more on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

SIS. SIMONE CAMPBELL, NETWORK: It's this kind of support for our work that is so touching.

ENDO: In April, the Vatican released findings of their doctrinal assessment which criticized the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents the majority of the 57,000 nuns across the country. The document says this about the group. "It is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States." The report also found, quote, radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the group's work. The LCWR said it was stunned by the findings. The report singled out for criticism, Sr. Simone's group Network, a liberal catholic lobbying group of nuns. Sister Simone said it's politics at play since the nuns supported the health care reform law, something Catholic bishops opposed.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL, NETWORK: Our church is being torn apart for political reasons. I think. At least that's how it feels to me. And it's anguish. It's anguish. Where it goes, I don't know.

ENDO (on camera): In the report, the Vatican appointed a bishop to oversee the nuns' activities. LTWR's board of directors is set to meet this week to discuss the Vatican's move and come up with a response.

ERIC MARRAPODI, CNN BELIEF BLOG CO-EDITOR: I don't think it's going to change their core mission, which for many of the nuns in the United States is helping the poor. I think what we'll see is some compromise, as they move forward on this. And it will be a long and painful process.

ENDO (voice-over): Worshippers say it's time for both sides to take pause.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would hope that the U.S. nuns would also look at it as an opportunity to reflect on where they're succeeding and where they need to grow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of people are taking a hard line on both sides. I think it just needs a little fairness, a little - just take your time and find out exactly what is going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stay strong. You are an inspiration.

ENDO: Until there's a plan for a way forward, Sister Simone says she will continue to pray for direction.

CAMPBELL: We are not alone. We don't stand alone.

ENDO: Sandra Endo, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: And they call themselves the rolling thunder. Today these patriotic motorcyclists are riding to the National Mall for a very special cause. And they have two very special people with them.

And if you have to go out today, as a reminder, you can continue watching CNN through your mobile phone and you can also watch CNN live from your laptop. Just go to


WHITFIELD: It's Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S. and you're looking at live pictures of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington. Many of you know it as the Iwojima Memorial, where that historic sculpture reminds us of the last territory our troops captured from the Japanese during World War II. President Barack Obama will honor our fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow.

All right. Thousands of motorcyclist called the Rolling Thunder are honoring our soldiers as well. They're paying tribute to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Today they have the parents of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl riding along with them. Their son is the only known American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.


ROBERT BERGDAHL, FATHER OF POW BOWE BERGDAHL: Thanks to you, our P.O.W.S, and M.I.A.s are never forgotten, and they will never be forgotten. Bowe, if you can hear me, you are not forgotten. And so help me god, you will come home. We will not leave you behind.


WHITFIELD: The Taliban captured their son in 2009. Bergdahl's father said the length of his beard is the chronology of his son's captivity. And a verdict in one of the most watched trials in the world, an amazing first in the National Spelling bee. Our Josh Levs has a look at, I guess, this week in what kind of news might be coming out of it.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in fact it definitely will. We'll see. This is one of the things we're expecting. I'm going to start off to look at the coming week with this. This is the verdict in sentencing, the world will be watching. Hosni Mubarak, former Egyptian president, could face the death penalty. He's facing charges of corruption and ordering the deaths of hundreds of protesters. He denies the charges. There were seven months of proceedings. And after the final day of arguments in February, the verdict and sentencing date was set for June 2nd, coming up.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty. He was forced out of office in February 2011 after three decades of autocratic rule there. Meanwhile, he's been facing health problems. Also for people following Egypt news, we're expecting results from the initial round of elections for the new president coming up this week as well.

Meanwhile, in this country, our two major candidates for president have got some major campaign events scheduled, both President Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama will be in Minneapolis for fund-raisers on Friday. Also Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be in Tulsa on Saturday for a fund-raiser for the president. And a Mitt Romney stop this week include a fundraiser in Vegas at Trump International, and then he's got three straight days of campaigning in Florida.

Fred, one thing I always look at is how much money they expect to make at some of these fund-raisers. Huge sums of money. There are times that you get tens of thousands of dollars ahead, even in this economy.


They're trying to raise millions, you know, per event in many cases. So you also have a first for us. And we're talking about a young speller making history.

LEVS: It's just so astounding what I'm going to tell you here. It's the week for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

WHITFIELD: I always love it.

LEVS: It's always amazing and people watch like crazy this annual event which children spell words we mortals didn't even know exist. It begins Wednesday with 277 young spellers, including the youngest speller in the competition ever. There she is. Six-year-old Laurie Ann Madison, who started spelling bees at three and a half. That's the official website there. She also won a science fair. By the way, the vast majority of the contestants are between 12 and 14 years old. This year's group includes three finalists from last year. It's about evenly split between boys and girls, Fred. So nice to see that.

WHITFIELD: And it really always looks so nerve-wracking. But I'm so, you know, awe-inspired by the poise of these kids. LEVS: Yes.

WHITFIELD: When they get up on stage.

LEVS: Sometimes you have a moment where they faint for two seconds. But even so, who cares, that makes it so much more endearing an amazing. For more what's coming up, always check this out especially Sunday evenings, ahead of the curve on And for everything I just told you, including how to test your own spelling, how you stack up, I got links for you right now. It's all on Josh Levs CNN on Twitter.

WHITFIELD: For the brave and bold. All right. Thanks so much, Josh.

LEVS: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. As you know PTSD is a nightmare for many of the soldiers who return from Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, one of those soldiers is Leo Dunson. And this is how he's coping with the stress of war. Through his music. He's going to tell us how the government could help troops in a better way.


WHITFIELD: The U.S. is joining a growing number of nations condemning a civilian massacre in Houla, Syria. Today it called the killings, quote, a vial testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protests with unspeakable and inhumane brutality. The Syrian government blames denies responsibility and blames al Qaeda terrorists for the attack. Protests were held in several Syrian cities today. The U.S. Security Council just wrapped up a meeting on the crisis.

And NATO is launching an investigation into an air strike in Afghanistan after local officials reported civilians were killed in the attack. It happened in a province south of Kabul. An official there claims an entire family was killed, six children and two adults. A NATO spokesman said insurgents attacked NATO troops, and the troops returned fire. He said investigators have been sent to the region to determine if any civilians died.

And here in the U.S., tropical storm Beryl is watching over the east coast right now. It has triggered storm and flood warnings from northern Florida all the way up to the Carolinas. Beryl is packing maximum sustained winds of at least 60 miles an hour. Yesterday lifeguards on Georgia's Tidy Island reported 48 water rescues because of dangerous rip currents.

And PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a nightmare affecting the lives of about 1 in 6 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. For those who are suffering, finding help is not always easy. Leo Dunson said his life simply fell apart due to PTSD. And along the way, he was arrested for domestic abuse, and discharged from the military. He rejected traditional therapy for PTSD, and turned instead to music as a way to cope.


WHITFIELD: Since leaving the military, Leo performs music as Sergeant Dunson, and he joins me live now from Las Vegas. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So, the military did diagnose you with PTSD after you returned from Iraq. But you chose not to take them up on the recommended therapies. Why?

DUNSON: Well, in the military, taking up traditional -- you know, just saying that I have PTSD in general is looked at, upon as being weak. I think for the most part, I rejected it because I just didn't want to have that weak feeling. I didn't want to be considered as, looked down upon because of it.

WHITFIELD: So you almost felt like there wasn't really a good support system in place, whether it be within the military or outside after to really understand what you were going through?

DUNSON: Well especially when you come back. You really don't feel like, you know, that the therapist is going to understand you. I feel like how can I talk to someone who hasn't went through the exact same things that I went through, that are just going to check off a few boxes on a piece of paper. They don't really understand what it's really like. So the system is designed where you want to rebel against it naturally.

WHITFIELD: And then you said there was the stigma attached to it as well. So at what point then did you turn to music? Did you start rapping, writing these lyrics, and how did you come to the realization that that was kind of the best therapy for you?

DUNSON: Well, you know, music has always been a way that I've released my emotions. But never to this extent, didn't I think that, you know, it was going to be, you know, this extreme. It was actually just something that, you know, I came to the realization to say, you know what, I don't want to run away from it and say that I don't have it. I'm going to go ahead and say, OK, yes I do have PTSD, which is the reason why I wrote the song.

I wanted the music to speak for my actions, instead of me actually acting on whatever the problem was that I had, I wanted the music to speak for it. So instead of just being homeless and sitting on a corner and not wanting to get up, I make a song about it and then hopefully that would help me to not want to act on that emotion.

WHITFIELD: So your lyrics, you talk about what's wrong with me, and in your music, you say what's wrong with me, you talk about not being able to recognize your self, and your wife not being able to recognize you. You know you struck a chord there are an awful lot of people who feel the same way you do, that people didn't really have a good grasp as to what they were feeling post-war duty.

How do you know this has also struck a chord with other vets? What are you hearing from others who have been listening to your music and saying, you know what, and I can identify exactly with what you're saying?

DUNSON: I tell you, like hundreds of people write me daily and say that is exactly my life, right here, right now. A lot of people ask me, how did you write that? Or that's amazing. I think when they say that to me, they don't realize that's my life, too. That's how I wrote it, because it was the truth. And so many other -- I mean, I can't explain how many people write me, even right now, that are in this situation right now.

I mean, literally, they're dealing with it right now. They're at home. They're probably watching this and they are dealing with the exact situation right now. They've lost it all. They've lost their kids. They lost their wife. They lost their career. They're probably incarcerated. So many things -- financially ruined. Just mentally in a very, very horrible space. And, you know, it's unfortunate that we had to go through these. But through my music, I wanted to say you're not alone. And hopefully help motivate some other guys to go into another direction, you know, and maybe motivate us to fight this disease as well.

WHITFIELD: So along the way, you thought this would be good medicine for you, but to find out it's been good medicine for a lot of people. So now what's next for your mission by way of your music?

DUNSON: Well, I'm going to continue doing the music that I've been doing, when I was in the military I did music about my experiences in the military, I do music about the way the military has changed the way that I view life in general. My new album is coming out June 14th it is called "Boots to Books."

WHITFIELD: Where do people find your music?

DUNSON: Oh,, go to my website, and you can listen to it all there. I have a lot of albums, a lot of music stuff about things that I'm going through right now. Things that I went through then. And just my entire journey through this -- you know, through everything I've been through.

WHITFIELD: Leo Dunson, Sergeant Dunson, thanks so much for your time. And thanks for sharing your courage and your story with so many.

DUNSON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And if you are a former service member, or a family member of someone who served, you can find out more information about symptoms and treatment options at And of course you can find Sgt. Dunson's music as you heard him saying,

All right. A North Carolina pastor says homosexuals should be surrounded by an electric fence. What do members of his congregation say about that?


WHITFIELD: Today in North Carolina, a protest rally is being held in response to comments about homosexuals made by Pastor Charles Worley. The pastor's comments to his congregation at Providence Rhodes Baptist Church were captured on video and it's gone viral on the internet.


PASTOR CHARLES WORLEY, PROVIDENCE ROAD BAPTIST CHURCH: Build a great big large fence, 150 or 100 mile long, put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified until they can't get out. Feed them. And you know what, in a few years they'll die out.


WHITFIELD: Eric Marrapodi s co-editor of CNN's "Belief Blog." But Eric, same-sex marriage and homosexuality have been hot issues in North Carolina. So now give us a feel for the reception of these words from the church Pastor Worley. What are members of his church saying?

ERIC MARRAPODI, CNN "BELIEF BLOG" CO-EDITOR: Fredricka, I feel like we've been talking about this for weeks. Of course, this stems from a constitutional amendment battle down there in North Carolina, the Tar Heel state. What we've seen here with this church in particular, this church is self-described fundamental and in a time when that word is often pejorative, it's something they cling to. They are believers in strict adherence of the bible, which means they believe every word is literally true.

Beyond that, they believe every word of the King James Version is literally true. You don't see that very often. This is a very, very conservative church in that regard theologically speaking. Now, this pastor's comments, as you said, inflamed millions of folks around the country. However, we sent Gary Tuchman down there to North Carolina this week and he spoke to a number of parishioners who Fred they stood right by their pastor. Take a listen to this.


JOE HEFFNER, CHURCH MEMBER: Takes a real firm stand on the bible and what it says about different things. Whether I like it or not, or whether anybody else likes it or not. He stands for the bible.


WHITFIELD: Well you know when you heard the pastor, and you heard the silence in the room, that kind of was an indicator that no one really contested what the pastor was saying. But then what about other religious leaders, Eric?

MARRAPODI: Yes, as you listen close to the tape, there weren't gasps. It didn't sound like people were getting up and leaving the room. But we have heard from a lot of other pastors in North Carolina and in the broader across the country as well, one in particular the Southern Baptist Convention that is the biggest Baptist group in American with 16 million members. This church in North Carolina is not a member of that convention. They're an independent group. So these southern Baptists came out and soundly condemned virtually everything he said, despite the fact that they are opposed to same-sex marriage themselves. This language, this rhetoric was too far for just about everybody.

In fact Fred in all the time I've spent on this story I haven't found a single person outside of that church building who supported those comments made by Pastor Worley.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right. Eric Marrapodi thanks so much for bringing that to us.

So for more on this story, we are going to check out our "Belief Blog" at You can add your own comments if you'd like.

All right. Debris from that deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan is now washing up on the Alaskan shore. And it's impacting the environment.


WHITFIELD: More than a year after a terrible earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, debris from the devastation is now washing up in Alaska. So, what is being swept ashore and how can it be removed? Our Casey Wian finds out.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're hopefully going to cut across the middle of one of the islands on the outside on the Gulf of the Alaska Coast. That's where a great deal of tsunami debris has already come up. Nearly 4,000 miles from Fukushima, Japan, is Montague Island, Alaska, which is reachable only by helicopter or boat.

CHRIS PALLISTER, PRES., GULF OF ALASKA KEEPER: We are out here in a very remote wilderness. This is as much wilderness as anywhere in the United States. And we're sitting in a landfall. This shore is facing away from Japan actually but the way the currents and the wind works, it swirls it around and dumps it in here. Tsunami debris really concerned us, mostly because of the amount of styrofoam that's coming with it, and also the toxic chemicals coming with it. We think they are going to have a really detrimental impact on the environment out here.

WIAN: Chris Pallister has been cleaning debris here for 15 years. Now the task is becoming next to impossible.

PALLISTER: This is urethane spray and building foam. We just never got much of that before. And now if you walk up and down this beach, you can see big chunks. Look at it all down this beach. That came out of crushed building structures. There are pictures of storage yards in Japan, huge yards, acres of these things stacked up before the tsunami, those yards are empty now and this is where they all are. I've never seen a big yellow one like this, pretty big. Little bits of styrofoam all up and down this beach, pieces of it. The other thing is, albatross and sea birds eat this stuff like crazy and it's killing the hell out of them. Big chunk of styrofoam just fresh came in.

WIAN: On the first wave of tsunami debris to arrive on the U.S. shores have found no abnormal levels of radiation. Still, much of it is toxic.

PALLISTER: I have no idea what was in this. Germicidal boat cleanser. Now that is not something you would want to dump in your area, this will take years to clean this mess up.

WIAN: I think this is the leading edge of the tsunami. It's all the lightweight stuff that blew across the pacific very quickly. And I think we're looking at years of stuff coming up. And the heavier stuff will come progressively later. We're in a slightly less remote area of Alaska near the fishing village of Yak Attack. And near here across this channel of water you can some of the debris that we've collected, very similar to what's on Montague Island.

At this point, no one knows for certain how this debris is going to get cleaned of these beaches, where it's going to go, and who's going to pay for it. And most importantly, no one knows what else lurks out there in the pacific that's heading this way.

Casey Wian, CNN, on the southeastern coast of Alaska.


WHITFIELD: And an 80-year-old woman's daredevil attempt to sky dive went terribly wrong. She started slipping out of the harness thousands of feet in the air. We'll bring you her harrowing story.


WHITFIELD: All right. It was a birthday celebration that didn't go quite as planned. An 80-year-old California woman decided to go skydiving for her big day. But she never envisioned this. First after being convinced to take that plunge right there, heart-stopping moment, as she actually began slipping out of the harness. Fortunately Laverne Everett and her instructor did land safely. He was holding on tight to her. Our affiliate KOBR spoke to the daring lady on her harrowing experience.


LAVERNE EVERETT, 80 YEAR OLD SKYDIVER: Once you get on that edge, that's another story. Upper harness came off. It slipped down. I didn't know anything, only to hold on. That's all.


WHITFIELD: Laverne Everett says she signed a waiver so she has no plans to sue the skydiving company.

And a dog gone heartbreaking story out of California, but it has very much a happy ending. This little dog was severely injured after someone strapped it with explosives, and then actually detonated it. Police rushed the dog to an animal hospital where staff affectionately named him Rocket. His real name is Dexter. The city of Sacramento is now offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who did that to little Rocket. And Dario Franchitti wins the Indy 500 for the third time. He won right after a crash on the final lap, right there. Whoa. The driver barely missed Franchitti after going for the lead into that first turn. Franchitti, who is the husband of the actress and singer Ashley Judd, was able to speed across the finish line and become the tenth driver to win at least three Indy 500s. Congrats to him as he celebrated with milk.

All right. Families of fallen troops team up with disabled vets to heal emotional wounds through scuba diving.

And if you have to go out today, just a reminder, you can continue watching CNN from your mobile phone; you can also watch CNN live from your laptop. Just go to


WHITFIELD: This weekend we're remembering America's fallen veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep this country safe. An organization called Die Hard pairs military families who have lost a loved one with disabled veterans. The idea is to help families heal.


MCKENNA, DAUGHTER OF VETERAN: Diving has a very calming effect. So what I'm down there diving, I don't think about anything else.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Whenever you're handed a gold star, and a folded flag, you think you're all alone. You think that there's nobody around that understands you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our first boat dive. We're getting everybody together and squared away.

We're going to take the Gold Star families and we are going to have them dive with veterans with disabilities. They both have new normals, the Gold Star families have new normals as well as the veterans with disability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep coming. Walk right through.


UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: When you learn to do something as difficult as scuba diving, you learn to -- that you can overcome anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And just like somebody with a physical disability, or injury that's traumatic, you have to go through rehabilitation, you have to go through therapy, and hopefully it will be kind of rehabilitation for their spirit, for their emotions. You know, and hopefully it will heal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your time.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: He wanted them to grow. He wanted them to build strength, build character, to deal with stresses in their life. And that's something that has been stress this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not about scuba diving. We're going deep inside the person and then touching, you know their heart; touching their spirit and having them reach inside themselves. And this is about helping people imagine the possibilities in their life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just go for it. You can do anything you can put your mind to.