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Nevada School Shooting; President Obama Speaks Out On Obamacare Rollout Problems; Problems Plague Obamacare Website; Missouri Rape Case Gets Special Prosecutor

Aired October 21, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It happens all too often, and yet the news still sends chills down your spine every time. A Nevada middle school is now the scene of this country's latest deadly school shooting.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, parents had just dropped their children off for the day only to learn moments later of the chaos that erupted at their school. A student allegedly aims his gun at classmates before killing a member of the staff at the school and then himself.

Also in national news, President Obama and the GOP finally find some common ground. They both think the Obamacare Web site,, isn't good enough, but the president warns not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, no matter how putrid the bathwater may be.

And she's the Missouri teen who says her tiny town turned against her when she accused a popular football player of rape. But Daisy Coleman, she is not backing down. She will talk to us about her latest quest for justice and what life has been like at the center of the media storm.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the national lead and breaking news out of Nevada, where panicked parents rushed to the scene of another deadly school shooting today, this time at a middle school in Sparks near Reno, Nevada. Details on this case have been slow to come in, but we do know that a staff member at the school was killed and that the suspected gunman who has been described as a student also turned the gun on himself.

Joining us now by phone is Lieutenant Erick Thomas with the Sparks Police Department.

Lieutenant Thomas, thanks for being with us. Can you tell us any more about how this went down?

LT. ERICK THOMAS, SPARKS POLICE DEPARTMENT: At about 7:16 a.m., our time here, our dispatch center started receiving phone calls about numerous shots being fired at the Sparks Middle School.

Our officers responded to the scene and requested assistance from other agencies also in Washoe County here, including the Reno Police Department, the Washoe Sheriff's Department and the school police department. When they arrived on scene, officers secured the area and located two subjects who were deceased, and two injured subjects.

The injured subjects were taken to the hospital and they're in the process of being treated for their injuries right now.

TAPPER: What can you tell us about the suspect?

THOMAS: All I can tell you right now is that the suspect appears to have been a student at the school.

TAPPER: About how old?

THOMAS: Middle school age is all I have right now.

TAPPER: OK. And, also, as you mentioned, there were reports of two individuals who were injured in the shooting. We're told that they're students. Is there any update on their conditions? Are their wounds life-threatening?

THOMAS: They appear -- one of the subjects had -- went and received surgery for his injury. Both subjects I believe are doing well right now. But I don't have an update on their condition right now.

TAPPER: All right. Lieutenant Thomas, thank you so much for your time.

We are going to turn now to our affiliate reporter Joe Harrington with KOLO TV in Nevada.

Joe, thanks for being with us.

You spent most of the afternoon with the students. What are they telling you?

JOE HARRINGTON, KOLO REPORTER: Well, they are understandably in a state of shock.

Jake, I spoke with some students who heard one gunshot, one saying she was in the lunchroom at the time she heard that. Another student I spoke with actually goes to a school that's nearby this one and was able to hear the gunfire. And she told me she and her friends went into the bathroom and were taking cover there.

It's my understanding from speaking with law enforcement as well as students out there at the scene that there were quite a few students congregated outside the building where some or perhaps all of this shooting incident occurred, and a number of them telling me they felt that this staff member at Sparks Middle School acted somehow to protect students.

In fact, officers that I have spoken with calling this individual a hero, and, as of a few hours ago, that staff member's family had not been notified that they had been killed in this tragic incident. So, right now, police are not releasing much more information about exactly how this person intervened, in their words, in a situation that they described as chaotic.

TAPPER: What's known about this boy, the alleged shooter? Is there any sense of motive? Were any of the kids able to talk to you about that?

HARRINGTON: Well, officially investigators say that they are still investigating a motive and don't have one at this time, although some students are telling our crews down on the scene that statements might have been made just prior to the shooting that somehow indicated that this was motivated by bullying or that this student had been bullied recently and that might have led up to this.

But investigators are holding back on releasing any kind of motive, saying that they still have a lot of witnesses to talk to and that there might even be some security camera footage that they need to review to determine exactly how this played out.

TAPPER: I know that Sparks is near Reno. What can you tell us about Sparks for people who are watching who are not familiar with the town?

HARRINGTON: Well, Sparks is known as Reno's bedroom community. It's sort of the place where a lot of people who work in Reno live. It's mostly houses and very nice neighborhoods and just a nice place to live, where you're kind of away from the city.

It's not something -- you never expect anything like this to happen anywhere, but Sparks is a quiet town. It's a place where a lot of people want to live who work in the Reno area, and it's a tight-knit community. There's maybe about 100,000 people who live in Sparks, and I think that this incident is felt very deeply throughout the community.

I know the mayor was -- I did speak with him earlier today, saying that his heart just goes out to everyone affected by this tragic shooting.

TAPPER: Joe, stay with us. I want to play some sound from students and then get your reaction to it, to see how similar it is to what you have been told by students as you have interviewed them. Let's play that sound.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw a kid just holding a gun, pointing at the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People started running and screaming, so I started running, and then we heard another gunshot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just standing around with my friends hanging and then...

QUESTION: Outside?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And then a kid started getting mad, and he pulls out a gun and shoots my friend, one of my friends, at least. He got shot in the shoulder. He's fine right now. And then he walked up to a teacher and says, "Back up." The teacher started backing up. He pulled the trigger.


TAPPER: What's so -- I mean, it's so horrific every time there are one of these school shootings. I'm on the phone with Joe Harrington from KOLO Television.

But, Joe, these kids are so young. They're sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade. Is what you heard from those students just now what you heard when you interviewed them yourself?

HARRINGTON: It is. In fact, so many of them just told me that there was running, there was just panic.

The shooting happened, according to school police, at a time when a lot of students were just beginning the school day. At 7:16 or so, the first calls came in, Pacific time. And so there were quite a few students gathered outside the building, and the same thing they keep telling me is just a lot of people running, a lot of chaos.

I spoke with some students who weren't really sure if their friends were OK. And, you know, parents understandably very upset as they were reconnecting with their students, and some of them saying they were just relieved that they were able to go home with their parents and see their parents, because they didn't know what happened to their friends.

TAPPER: And, Joe, the kids that you spoke with, how were they doing emotionally? We heard some of the kids just there talking, sixth grade, seventh grade, obviously very, very shaken up. This is the kind of incident that happens that, and not to be glib about it, but post-traumatic stress happens with kids like this.

It doesn't need to be in Afghanistan or Iraq. Any sort of traumatic event can happen, and I imagine the school district there in Sparks is going to have a lot of work to do to help a lot of these students. How did the ones you met, how did they seem?

HARRINGTON: Well, Jake, to me, they seemed sort of shell-shocked. It's like you said. There is a post-traumatic stress from some event like this.

I know that the school district has told me it's going to be bringing in a lot of additional counselors. Some of those students, though, were just somewhat relieved to be able to go home with their family members, because they were still uncertain exactly what their friends' status was and if they were going to be OK, and it's not just the students. I know I talked to a school board member, as well as Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

And it's been a difficult day for everyone. They had teary eyes and it appears a student, the suspected gunman, and a teacher have lost their lives here. Plus, two more students who went to school today are now at the hospital, and according to Renown Regional Medical Center, one in serious condition, the other in fair condition.

We also know from speaking with the Sparks Police Department that one of those students did have to have surgery as a result of the wounds today.

TAPPER: Joe, I know it's early and the amount of reporting you have been able to do on this is limited so far. Did it seem as though the alleged shooter went to the school that day to harm a specific other student, or was he -- from what you have gathered from the other students, was he there just in some -- I mean, it's a mindless act no matter what, a senseless act no matter what, but was there a method to what he was trying to do?

HARRINGTON: This question came up in a police briefing earlier today, and police say at this time they don't know if specific people were targeted or if this was an act where someone was trying to open fire and hurt as many people as possible.

That's something that they're still investigating. We know that the Sparks Police Department has scheduled another briefing for about three hours from now. So we could learn some more about exactly how this unfolded at that time.

TAPPER: All right, Joe Harrington, a reporter from our affiliate KOLO in Nevada, thank you so much.

And we will continue to keep you updated on this tragic event in Sparks, Nevada, a school shooting in which two individuals are dead, two wounded.

And a night of underaged drinking ends in horrific accusations of rape. And now, thanks to mounting pressure, a special prosecutor promises to take a closer look. What does the teenaged girl at the center of it all think should happen now? Well, I will ask her, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In other national news, President Obama is now acknowledging what most Americans already knew, the Obamacare Web site is, at worst, a disaster and, at best, a frustrating mess. Although the president never went so far as to use the word disaster, the president did admit during a Rose Garden ceremony today that there was no need to sugarcoat the Web site's rollout issues.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Web site has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody's more frustrated by that than I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: The president was introduced at the rally by Janice Baker, a woman from Delaware with a preexisting condition whose insurance rate is lower than it was before. That's the good news.

The bad news, it took Janice 11 days, up to eight attempts and seven full hours on the Web site or the phone or the Web site again to get enrolled. Even as the Web site gets tinkered and tweaked and rebuilt, perhaps, the president says it's important not to lose sight of the fact that is merely one component of Obamacare.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The product is good. The health insurance that's being provided is good. It's high quality and it's affordable. People can save money, significant money, by getting insurance that's being provided through these marketplaces. And we know that the demand is there. People are rushing to see what's available. And those who already had a chance to enroll are thrilled with the result.


TAPPER: Another important note from the president, there are ways to sign up for the Affordable Care Act other than going through the Web site. You can also go the old-fashioned route and call the toll-free number for help. We have also learned within the past few hours that one Obama administration official taking a lot of heat for these rollout issues plans to testify before Congress. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius turned down an invitation to testify this week but a spokesperson says that's only because of a scheduling conflict and she can go before Congress next week. Some Republicans have called on Sebelius to resign.

So what's the administration saying about all this? White House deputy senior advisor for communications and strategy, David Simas, joins me now.

David, thanks for being here.


TAPPER: I want to play an exchange I had with White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer just a few days before the launch of the Web site.


TAPPER: Is it possible that this health care law is not yet ready?

DAN PFEIFFER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: No, we are absolutely ready.


TAPPER: Did you really not expect these problems? There was a Government Accountability Office report from June and all sorts of anecdotal information before the Web site launched. Was it a complete surprise?

SIMAS: So, Jake, I think that the 8.6 million unique visitors in the first three days exceeded anybody's expectations, and that level of volume triggered the initial problem with the Web site, where what was happening was given that level of volume, people were actually being sent into waiting rooms and then had to wait before they could cycle through the process. That's built up to 20 million unique visitors and the good news is, 500,000 applications and enrollments throughout the country and in the federal marketplaces.

TAPPER: But, David, you're not still saying that it's just a volume question, right? I mean, there are lots of individuals saying there are serious software issues, that the beta testing didn't happen, that there wasn't enough time to practice before the Web site was actually launched. You're not actually still saying this is just a question of volume?

SIMAS: So, Jake, what I said was the initial problem --

TAPPER: The initial problem. OK. So, what --

SIMAS: -- was driven by volume.

TAPPER: What are we facing now?

SIMAS: So, what we're doing -- well, here's what we know. Folks are going through and applying. Not enough folks are going through and applying. Too many people are being held up.

We've got a tech surge throughout the process right now to determine where there are bugs, where there are glitches, to identify them, to isolate them and to fix them, so between hardware and the tech folks coming in, we feel that while it's been a bumpy three weeks, we've got the resources on the ground now to make sure that as the president said today, anybody who wants to go to can go through beginning to end and have a good consumer experience. That's what we're building to.

TAPPER: December 15th is the date you need to be signed up, if you want to have insurance starting on January 1st. March is the date you need to have been signed up, gotten insurance, if you don't want to pay the penalty.

Can you promise that the Web site will be fully functioning by either of those dates, December 15th or the March 2014 date?

SIMAS: So, Jake, besides the improvements in the Web site that are going to continue throughout October into November, an important thing also to remember is that there are multiple pathways for folks that didn't exist before. The president mentioned one today in terms of the 1-800-318-2596 number. There's a new tool on the Web site that allows you to find out where the local assisters and navigators are in your community and for those individuals who simply want to download the three-page application, not 35 pages as was the industry standard, they can do that.

So, besides an improving Web site, 1-800 number that people have access to, folks on the ground who will meet the demand and the ability for people to do it on their own, we'll be ready.

TAPPER: Right. We obviously want people to get health insurance and we obviously want people to be able to do it so they don't have to pay the fine, which is why I let you do what President Obama did earlier and give the public service announcement about other ways.

But you didn't answer my question. Will the Web site be up and running, can you promise, by December 15th or by the March deadline, either one of those dates, yes or no? Can you promise?

SIMAS: So, Jake, yes, between the Web site --


SIMAS: -- and all of the other ways that people have to sign up --

TAPPER: That wasn't really the question.

SIMAS: Well, but here's the reality. Any American over the course of the next six months who either doesn't have insurance or is on the individual market, between a Web site service that prior to October 1st that didn't exist, a 1-800 number prior to October 1st that didn't exist --


SIMAS: -- navigators and the ability to do it on their own, they can get insurance and will.

TAPPER: Last question, sir. Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spoke recently about all the problems with the Web site. Let's hear from him.


ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I hope they're working day and night to get this done. When they get it fixed, I hope they fire some people that were in charge. This is excruciatingly embarrassing for the White House and for the health -- Department of Health and Human Services.


TAPPER: That's Robert Gibbs. So should someone get fired? He hopes someone will.

SIMAS: So, Jake, the first thing that Robert said was I hope people are working 24/7. They are working 24/7 and will continue.

TAPPER: Right.

SIMAS: Our main focus at this point is to make sure that it works and it works flawlessly for folks.

TAPPER: But Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary, says I hope people are fired. Do you think anyone should deserve to lose their job over this, or even their contract, if it was a contractor's problem?

SIMAS: Jake, at this point, the sole focus needs to be and should be, and I think the American people would agree, fix what's broken. Throw all your resources into making sure that people who need insurance, get insurance and then do your post action after you fix what you need to fix.

TAPPER: But, David, you won't even say whether or not it will be fixed by March.

SIMAS: Jake, I did. I said that if there's any --

TAPPER: No, you said the phone call -- the phone service will be working.

SIMAS: Jake, I said that the main purpose of the Affordable Care Act is not a Web site. It's to make sure that any American who is either uninsured or in the individual market has options to get insurance. That will happen. That's our sole focus and that's what we're going to do.

TAPPER: All right. And I have questions about the law as well and I hope you will come back and answer those questions as well. Today's focus obviously was the Web site. David Simas, thank you so much.

SIMAS: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next on THE LEAD: a mother fights for justice after her teenaged daughter says she was raped and the accused goes free. Now, a new turn in the case gives them hope. We'll talk to the mother and her daughter.

Stay with us.