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NEW DAY

Could California Killing Spree Have Been Stopped?; Obama Returns from Surprise Trip to Afghanistan; Hagel Speaks Out on V.A. Controversy; Pope Wraps Up Tour of the Mideast

Aired May 26, 2014 - 08:00   ET

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


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The three men, students at the University of California-Santa Barbara were, police say, Rodger's first victims, before taking off in his black BMW to this sorority house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw a gunshot wound to her abdomen and her side and one to her head.

SIDNER: This is where police say he shot 22-year-old Katherine Cooper and 19-year-old Veronika Weiss killed right in the front yard.

OFFICER: We need a second ambulance for another gunshot wound --

SIDNER: Less than two blocks away, Rodger opens fire again at I.V. Deli Mart, according to officials, killing 20-year-old student Christopher Martinez. Surveillance video captures customers diving and scrambling for cover as the bullets flew.

RICHARD MARTINEZ, VICTIM'S FATHER: I'll never have another child. He's gone.

SIDNER: CNN's Kyung Lah spoke to Chris's father, who blames the government for a lack of gun control.

MARTINEZ: I can't tell you how angry I am! It's just awful and no parent should have to go through this, no parent, to have a kid die. My kid died because nobody responded to what occurred at Sandy Hook. Those parents lost little kids! It's bad enough that I lost my 20- year-old, but I had 20 years with my son. That's all I'm going to have!

SIDNER: Rodger's shooting spree injuring over a dozen more before, according to police, the 22-year-old took his own life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: And remember that there are 13 people who have been injured, many of them having broken bones. We know at least a few of them have been shot several times. They are still trying to recover -- John.

BERMAN: Sara, our thoughts are with them. Thanks so much.

What stands out about this case, among many other things, is how clear the shooter made his motive before the rampage. Not only did he write that manifesto, he sent it to his therapist, to his parents, who tried to find him after seeing it and seeing disturbing videos on his YouTube page.

And this all came less than a month after police visited Elliot Rodger at his apartment. So, it does beg the question could more have been done? Should more have been noticed?

Pamela Brown has that part of the story.

Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. Of course, that is the big question. We spoke with a family friend who told us that Elliot Rodger's parents who said that was a missed opportunity back in April. We learned from the family friend that when Rodger was on his deadly rampage, his parents were on a mad scramble to find him after receiving his chilly manifesto in an e-mail and discovering his retribution video on YouTube.

And as they were on their way to Santa Barbara, they learned the horrific news that their son was behind the shooting there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELLIOT RODGER, ALLEGED SHOOTER: Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you.

BROWN (voice-over): This chilling video shows Elliot Rodger, the 22- year-old Santa Barbara college student who police say killed six and injured 13 in Friday's mass shooting and stabbing spree. This day of retribution a plan Rodger outlined in a 137-page manifesto obtained by CNN affiliate KEYT.

Rodger wrote, "All of those beautiful girls I've desired so much in my life but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy."

A family friend, Simon Astaire (ph) says he sent his diatribe to a couple dozen people, including his mother and father not long before terrorizing the UC-Santa Barbara campus.

He wrote, "I will kill them all and make them suffer just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair."

Rodger's mother Lichin discovered the terrifying thread in her e-mail at 9:17 that evening. She then discovered her son's last YouTube video titled "Retribution."

RODGER: I will slaughter every single spoiled stuck up blond (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I see inside there.

BROWN: Lichin then called Rodger's father and 911. The parents frantically racing to Santa Barbara from L.A. Both parents en route when they heard the news that they were too late. POLICE SCANNER: According to a witness, there was a dark-colored BMW, one occupant, a male wearing a white shirt.

BROWN: On Sunday, the ATF and county sheriff's office searched the mother's home. Astaire says Rodger's parents feel, quote, "a pivotal moment" was missed last month. Six police officers conducted a well- being check on Rodger in April after his mother discovered other videos he posted online documenting his, quote, "loneliness and misery."

But the officers say they found nothing alarming during their check. In his manifesto, Rodger expresses his devastating fear that police discovered his plan. "I would have been thrown in jail, denied the chance to exact revenge on my enemies. I can't imagine a hell darker than that."

Astaire says Rodger had been seeing therapists on and off before he was 8 and in high school practically daily. Right before his killing spree, Rodger was seeing two therapists. Astaire describing him as a reserved to a daunting degree. Astaire also says the 22-year-old didn't appear to have violent tendencies and never expressed any fascination in guns.

(END VIDOETAPE)

BROWN: On his blog, Rodger portrayed himself as an affluent young man, son of assistant director from "Hunger Game" series. He grew up in the L.A. suburb of Woodland Hills, a place where he said he had a hard time fitting in -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks so much, Pamela.

Let's talk about this case, what was seen, what was noticed, what was done. Joining us now is CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes.

Tom, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

One of the things that makes this case so unique, is so many of the things that haven't happened in past tragedies like this did happen here. The parents, they called the therapist and said they were concerned. The therapists so concerned called the cops. The cops went to the apartment of this shooter but then they couldn't do more they say. They were fooled by him. He seemed OK and they simply left.

So based on what you know, your experience here in these situations, could the cops have seen something they didn't see there. Should they have been more concerned, should they have se stayed longer and asked different questions?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Good morning, John.

I think that's a really difficult question to put to the police in this situation. Their call to go to that house was to check on his well-being, meaning is he OK? It wasn't to do interrogations into his psychiatric condition and what he's ever going to do the rest of his life. It was to see -- his parents were concerned that he might be suicidal and were requesting the police to check on that.

Once he makes an articulate response to the police that he's fine, he's OK, he's not going to hurt himself, that's really about all they can do at that point. And, unfortunately, the gaps in our mental health system are such that it's very difficult to force an adult into mental health care or into a system that really isn't built to handle those kind of situations.

BERMAN: So they did everything they were called to do at that point. They were going to make sure he wasn't a threat to himself. So you're talking about these gaps.

What change would have to be made now to allow the police to do more if that's even possible? Maybe it's not just about the police visiting the house at this time. What change needs to happen in the law to make it be so the parents could have done more, the therapists could have done more?

FUENTES: Once an individual reaches 18 years of age, it's very difficult for a parent anymore to have responsibility or the ability I should say to have them committed or institutionalized, and the police have limited. It's almost as if the person has to do something bad which then triggers the system into putting him in an institution. Until that happens, just because somebody is thinking bad thoughts or writing strange memos or e-mails, there's not a lot that can be done at that point.

Once the YouTube video is produced and the manifesto was sent to the parents and other people, that takes it to another level. But at that point it was too late.

BERMAN: No, it was too late right there.

We've been listening all morning to heartbreaking comments from the father of one of the victims here, condemning our lawmakers in Washington for not doing more since Sandy Hook to address the issue of gun violence.

But is there anything that has been discussed before, after, during Sandy Hook that would address the issues that took place here that might have prevented this tragedy?

FUENTES: Not really. And I think that's the lesson learned is that we never learn a lesson. If you look at Sandy Hook and the situation, the discussions after that concerned assault rifles. No one has ever, ever debated on the Hill or anywhere else that there's going to be a limitation on the purchase of handguns.

There has been some discussion about mental health issues, but it's what triggers it. What do you call a mentally ill person or how do you put that in the system?

You know, my daughter was right down the hall at Virginia Tech in the same dorm in the same corridor as the first two people were killed that morning seven years ago. The shooter, Joe, went to a Roanoke, Virginia gun shop and bought those guns legally, hand guns, after a judge had ruled that he was mentally ill. But it didn't get into the system and so, therefore, he purchased those guns legally. Nothing has changed since Virginia Tech, nothing changed since Sandy Hook, nothing changed in our mental health system since the kid went on the rampage at the high school in Pennsylvania and stabbed classmates in the hallway.

I mean, these things go on and on. And little if anything gets done. We talk about it. We're shocked. We're outraged. Nothing changes.

BERMAN: Tom, you have such a close connection to it, what you went through with your family but also dealing with law enforcement for so long. Let me put this to you. What is the first change you'd like to see, what is one change if they could do it right now that would make a difference?

FUENTES: A complete discussion of our mental health system. What do we do with individuals, especially when they reach 18 years of age and the parents have limited ability to do anything anymore to force or to do an intervention on someone that they've known obviously all their lives and know that that person needs severe mental health care and can't get it and can't force it. Seeing therapists and seeing doctors, but just not quite.

We've had a couple of these situations as, again, the Virginia tech shooter, the Aurora, Colorado, shooter this guy. They were seeing therapists. They were getting mental help. But they didn't trigger enough for them to be committed somewhere, in an institution where they would be really closely watched.

And I think that we have to have a discussion about our mental health system especially because we're not going to have a discussion about limiting handguns. Since that's not going to happen, all we can do is hope for improvements in our mental health care.

BERMAN: Let's hope we do have that discussion.

Tom Fuentes, thanks so much for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.

Michaela?

FUENTES: Thank you, John.

PEREIRA: Great conversation there, John. Thank you so much.

We'll get back to our story, but also today, President Obama is back in Washington preparing to hold Memorial Day events after a surprise trip to Afghanistan Sunday. The president offered his thanks to our troops as the U.S. prepares for withdraw by the end of the year.

But back at home, the focus remains on the growing Veterans Affairs scandal.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski is live in Washington with the latest. This conversation takes a different feel when you talk about what day it is today.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, right. And while the V.A. scandal is going on at home, suddenly, the president appears in Afghanistan with the troops. His advisers said it was a chance to thank them in person for their service, just before he's about to make decision about what America's role in Afghanistan will look like exactly moving forward.

Now, he didn't mention the V.A. scandal by name. He seemed to allude to it when he talked about America's sacred obligation as he put it to care for his wounded warriors. He got some big cheers when he told soldiers this is likely your last tour of duty here in Afghanistan. And bigger cheers when he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the end of this year, the transition will be complete and Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our combat mission will be over. America's war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: The president said he is hoping for a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan that would leave some limited force there to preserve the gains he said made by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you so much for that.

I want to turn right now to Christine Romans for the rest of the day's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to both of you.

Again, breaking overnight -- three people are missing and may have been swept away when an enormous mudslide hit western Colorado. This mudslide, four miles long, two miles wide, 250 feet deep in many places. The area is considered so unstable it's been blocked off and people aren't being allowed in. Emergency crews say they believe the whole ridge had been sliding for most of Sunday following heavy rains.

The pope today wrapping up his three-day visit to the Mideast. The pontiff visited a Holocaust Museum and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also laid a wreath at the grave of founder of Zionism in Jerusalem, showing a gesture of support of Israel. The move did not sit well among Palestinians.

It all comes a day after the pontiff invited Israeli and Palestinian members to the Vatican to pray for the longstanding conflict. Both sides have agreed to meet.

President Obama is expected to keep a Memorial Day tradition laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. It's among many ceremonies honoring our nation's fallen heroes. In New York, hundreds will join active duty service members to visit the intrepid sea, air and space museum.

BERMAN: I played trumpet going up. I used to play the bugle at cemeteries on Veterans Day. It was just a wonderful, wonderful poignant thing to do.

ROMANS: Today is a day, my grandmother, for example, will put things on the tombstones. All around the country, there are people in a subdued manner honored today.

Not all barbecue --

PEREIRA: It's not all burgers and dogs. Very important to remember.

Thanks, Christine.

BERMAN: Next up for us on NEW DAY: the secretary of defense speaks to CNN about the scandal at the Veterans Affairs Department. Does Chuck Hagel support his colleague, embattled Secretary Eric Shinseki or does he think they should go? Find out, coming up.

Also, are changes on the way in the wake of the California rampage massacre? Police did visit the killer a month ago, deemed him OK however. The question is: will police change their protocol? We'll explore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: As we honor those who have paid the ultimate price on this Memorial Day, the man responsible for veterans' wellbeing when they come home remains embroiled in controversy. Some have called for V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign after reports of vets dying while waiting for medical service and allegations of a cover-up.

One person not yet calling for his resignation, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He spoke about the scandal one-on-one with an interview with our own Jake Tapper who joins us now from Washington.

Jake, you put the question bluntly to Defense Secretary Hagel. Should Shinseki stay or go?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD": That's right. So far, he is backing President Obama saying that Shinseki should stay for now, although leaving the door open. But Hagel comes at this from a slightly different perspective.

Take a listen to an exchange he had.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You come at the V.A. controversy, V.A. scandal from an interesting perspective, because not only are you a veteran you were once deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration. Are you appalled when you see these stories? CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I suspect I'm not unlike any American. It makes me sick to my stomach. Because it is a clear responsibility we have as a country, as a people, to take care of these men and women and their families who have sacrificed so much.

I know systems are imperfect. I get that. But when you've got what we do know, and you're right, we need to get the facts. Let's see exactly what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then we've got to fix it. Then we have to fix it.

But, sure, I mean, everybody is upset with this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, basically there's no daylight between he and Shinseki, John, but there wasn't the kind of full-throated support that one might expect to hear if there's no chance that Shinseki will resign.

BERMAN: You mention that he comes at this from not only being a veteran but having worked in the V.A. How about also having been involved in something of a V.A. scandal way back when, also? How does that inform his views on this current situation?

TAPPER: Well, he -- we talked about that a bit. For those who don't know, he was deputy Veterans Administration administrator during the Reagan administration for a year or so. The administrator was a very controversial guy who had referred to Vietnam veteran groups as cry babies, referred to Agent Orange as causing nothing more than a little teenage acne.

Chuck Hagel resigned. He ultimately was so disgusted with the administrator that he went and told president Reagan why he was resigning, left, didn't do any interviews about the subject. Ultimately, the administrator was forced to step down as well.

One suspects that that experience makes Hagel recognize that these problems are horrific and also that they're not new, that they have been going back for decades, the idea of the V.A. sometimes seeming to be at odds with the very veterans they're charged with protecting.

BERMAN: No, it's clear the secretary has done a lot of deep thinking on veterans issues.

Jake, let me say thank you to you for all the work you've done with service members and veterans. Some of the people you've gotten to know over the years, they have good friends who have died in combat.

The secretary served in Vietnam. He had friends. He was around so much loss as well. Is this something you had a chance to discuss with him?

TAPPER: We did. I asked who he would be thinking about today. Two names came to mind. One was a soldier in his unit, Chuck Hagel having served in Vietnam, who was killed in March 1968, the soldier. His name was John Summers. He was killed in the same ambush where Hagel and his brother were both wounded. And then also there was a good friend of Hagel's, specialist Tony Palumbo from Buffalo, New York, specifically who was a very close friend of his who was killed a few months lather. We'll talk more about what Memorial Day means to him later when the full interview runs at 4:00 eastern.

BERMAN: All right. Jake, thank you so much. Great to see you here this morning. I really appreciate you being here.

TAPPER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: And, of course, you can see this interview. It's a terrific interview, important interview on this Memorial Day. That will be on "THE LEAD", Jake Tapper sits down with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, 4:00 Eastern Time.

Michaela?

PEREIRA: All right, John. Thanks so much.

Next up on NEW DAY, we know police visited the 22-year-old behind the rampage last month and missed major clues. Will the tragedy change how police handle these types of calls?

Also, Pope Francis plays peacemaker in the Holy Land. He's asked the Middle East leaders to get the peace process back on track.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Time now for the five things to know for your NEW DAY.

Number one: the shooter in Friday's deadly rampage in California blamed women for his rage. Revelation came in the long manifesto, Elliot Rodger killed six and wounded 13.

President Obama is back in Washington for Memorial Day after a surprise visit to Afghanistan. Obama offering his thanks to troops as the U.S. prepares for withdrawal at the end of the year.

Candy billionaire Petro Poroshenko considered to be locked for Ukraine's presidency. He leads all candidates with 54 percent of the vote and counting in Ukraine.

Pope Francis this morning is ending his three-day trip to the Mideast by meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, it comes a day after he invited Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the Vatican to pray for an end to the longstanding conflict.

Thousands are expected to make their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial today, one of the many events meant to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.

We are always updating the five things to know. Go to NewDday.CNN.com for the latest -- Michaela, John. PEREIRA: All right. Thanks so much, Christine.

Friday's killing spree has left many trying to understand what led 22- year-old Elliot Rodger to kill. We know police visited the shooter's apartment about a month before the shooting for a wellness check. They say they found nothing suspicious.

So, the question is, will this tragedy change how law enforcement changes these types of calls?

Joining us once again, Dr. Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist. Also, joining us, retired law enforcement agent Lou Palumbo.

Really great to have you joining us in the conversation. Lou, Robi, always a pleasure.

Lou, I want to start with you. I think some people have had a chance to see very chilling portions of this shooter's manifesto.

I want to read a quote to you. "The police interrogated me outside for a few minutes asking if I had suicidal thoughts. I tactfully told them it was a misunderstanding and they finally left. If they had demanded to search my room, that would have ended everything."

The question, Lou, is, what more could law enforcement have done? Why did they not go into his apartment, into his room?

LOU PALUMBO, RETIRED LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Basically, Michaela, they did everything they were required to do. In other words, they received information or a heads up that this individual was considering harming himself. They went to his place of residence. They interviewed him. He satisfactorily responded to them.

They had no legal right to force entry into his home. They had no probable cause.