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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Four Marines Killed in Tennessee Shootings. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 16, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

An act of domestic terrorism, that's what a U.S. attorney calls the carnage in Chattanooga today, shootings first at a military recruitment center, then at a Naval Reserve Center just a few miles away.

The Pentagon confirms that four Marines were killed at the naval operations center, three people wounded, including a police officer who engaged the shooter.

[16:00:00]

City officials also say the attacker is dead. The FBI believes that the shooter acted alone and did live in the Chattanooga area, at least leading up to the shooting. It all started shortly before 11:00 a.m. this morning. It was one shot and then was just endless shots. That's how a witness described the first attack at the military recruitment center.

And that is the location where there were only people wounded, no one killed there. You can imagine what it was like at the second location. This is the aftermath, bullet after bullet, just too many to count ripping through the storefront of that military recruitment center. Authorities quickly locked down the entire city. Life in Chattanooga was put on hold as local police, FBI, ATF just swarmed the city.

CNN is digging on multiple fronts right now. There are a lot of open questions. We're pressing federal and local law enforcement sources, military sources to piece together just what happened.

We have Barbara Starr standing by, Evan Perez standing by.

But I want get first to Victor Blackwell. He is at one of the two locations, one of those crime scenes right now just covered by the yellow crime tape.

Victor, give us the latest. Victor Blackwell, are you hearing me OK?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, here on the scene, we're starting to begin to see the beginning of this investigation. People have described endless bullets and endless shots, pow, pow,

pow, pow. It only took a few seconds at each location. Now the federal investigation has begun to bloom as people try to figure out why this happened today in Chattanooga.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL (voice-over): A gunman opens fire on U.S. military personnel, killing four Marines, wounding several others, including a police officer.

ANDY BERKE (D), MAYOR OF CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE: We have four individuals who were killed who are victims. We know that the shooter was killed at the scene as well. Also, one Chattanooga police officer was shot in the ankle and has been treated very well at Erlanger, as well as there were some other individuals who have been shot and have also been treated.

BLACKWELL: Shortly before 11:00 a.m., the shooter drove up to a military recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he pulled out a weapon and opened fire. He then headed to a nearby Naval center, where more shots were fired.

ED REINHOLD, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Well, obviously, we're going to look at the shooter. We're going to do an intense look at him to see if -- what his connections are.

BLACKWELL: It is believed the shooter acted alone. And investigators now believe that this was an act of domestic terrorism.

BILL KILLIAN, U.S. ATTORNEY: This is a sad day for the United States. These service members served their country with pride and they have been the victims of these shootings. We are conducting this as an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI is now in charge of this investigation.

BLACKWELL: FBI and ATF have arrived and have declared it a federal crime scene.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: And we're seeing here now a response from the people in Chattanooga. You see just over here under this lamppost an American flag brought here with a sign that says, "In our thoughts and prayers."

Some have brought flowers here as well. I see other people now walking up with American flags in hand. We have seen, John, over the last few hours the investigation begin. We will see how the community will respond.

But having spoken with some of the people who work in the nearby businesses, they say that it sounded as if the shots would never end. If you count the bullet holes in the windows, there are no fewer than two dozen of them. And we know that the investigators here are doing that and a lot more to figure out what the motivation was for this attack -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Victor Blackwell for us at one of the crime scenes, thank you so much, Victor.

Want to bring in the mayor of Chattanooga, Andy Berke. We have been hearing from him all day.

Mr. Mayor, we know this is a difficult day for you and your city. I want you to know that our thoughts are with you.

BERKE: Thanks so much.

Our hearts are broken for the families who are suffering tonight. You know, Tennessee is the Volunteer State. We have a proud tradition of being linked to our military, and for us to see this happen in a city like Chattanooga is truly a nightmare.

BERMAN: A short time ago, we heard from a number of officials, including you. The U.S. attorney said he is treating right now as an act of domestic terrorism, did not give the identity of the shooter. Do you have any updates on that? Do you know the name of the person who carried out this crime?

BERKE: I really can't speak more to that. What I can tell you is that at two different locations, an individual opened fire on people who proudly serve our country.

[16:05:03]

That is as terrible an act as I can imagine, and I know that Chattanooga is coordinating with the FBI and ATF to put all of our resources into making sure that anybody involved is brought to justice.

BERMAN: The four killed were Marines, as you say, such a tragedy, the loss of life.

As of now, do you know if their families have been notified?

BERKE: At the last time that I had information, they had not, and certainly we are doing everything possible to be respectful of those families and the loss that they have suffered.

BERMAN: Understandable and appropriate.

Mr. Mayor, by looking at the crime scene right now, the two crime scenes, we do know a few things. We know, number one, that whoever staged this attack carried it out specifically to hit two military- related locations. The gunshots we're looking in the windows, they're mostly only at the recruitment center. He then traveled to the Naval operations center, the Reserve office. He knew exactly where it was, apparently.

Are you concerned that in your community someone has been making plans to stage this attack against the military for some time?

BERKE: Of course.

This is just an awful incident. And the idea that someone staged this out, then took action, you know, is just horrible. I will say that I spent much of the last few hours talking to Chattanooga police officers and Hamilton County sheriff's officers who responded. And they did so inconsiderably quickly and very valiantly.

Some of the stories that they told me today of being out there as bullets flew by and engaging the shooter were truly acts of heroism. And so I think the other side of the story at least is that our officers were prepared and did much so that the total impact was not worse.

BERMAN: And there was an officer was wounded in pursuit of this killer, shot in the ankle, I believe. His condition, we are told right now he's doing OK. He has been treated.

Do you have details? How quickly did they arrive on the scene? When did they make contact with the shooter? Was it at the first location or was he already on his way to the second location?

BERKE: Well, they essentially started very quickly as he was going from one location to the other.

Most of the final impact and the casualties occurred at the second location, but they engaged him on the way coming from every part of the city. Once the call went out essentially, officers from every type of location -- I talked to officers who had come from court, who had come from government buildings, who came from other parts of the city. Everybody responded both on the Chattanooga Police Department side and on our sheriff's department.

BERMAN: Do you have any sense of how many law enforcement personnel were involved with the pursuit?

BERKE: Well, from the pursuit side, I don't know exactly how many were in pursuit. Eventually, there were several officers there, definitely double digits of officers who made it to the scene.

BERMAN: And you're describing a situation where they made contact, with them coming from all directions all at once. Was this essentially a running gunfight from the time that officers made contact?

BERKE: I really can't get into the details of how that occurred. What I can tell you is that this is an individual who was motivated to do significant damage.

And our officers, as they were being fired upon, engaged him as quickly and as forcefully as possible.

BERMAN: You say he was motivated to do great damage. We know obviously that is the case merely by the fact that he shot up two locations, four Marines are dead and he had some kind of firepower, because many dozens of shots were fired. Is there anything else right now in the investigation that indicates to you just how much damage he wanted to do? Any sense of the arsenal he had with him at the time?

BERKE: We really don't have further details. I know that the ATF and the FBI are working with all their resources to make sure that they know exactly the scope of what he was doing, of anybody else who was involved, and I don't expect us to stop until we know all the answers.

BERMAN: What's the message to the community right now? As we head into the evening, what do you want to tell the people of Chattanooga about their safety tonight?

BERKE: Well, we don't know of any active shooters or any ongoing problems that we have out there.

[16:10:01]

And there's no reason to think that there's anything else going on. By the same token, as a community, we need to come together and recognize the loss that four individuals who serve our country have suffered and the families that they leave behind, and we need to also thank our brave men and women who serve here locally in the way that they responded to make sure that the damage was not worse.

BERMAN: Over the last month or so, military installations around the country had been warned to be on alert. There had been a lot of concern about perhaps ISIS-inspired attacks. We don't know what this was just yet. We have a lot to learn in the coming hours right now, but, as mayor, had you had any warning that any installations in and around your city might be targets? Were they told to keep their watch up, to increase security?

BERKE: No, we had no indication that there was anything happening locally.

Most of that information comes through coordination with federal officials. To me, one of the lessons that I got from talking to some of our officers, though, was that they were prepared regardless, and described how their training that they had had for such an incident kicked in when the time came.

BERMAN: And, Mr. Mayor, describe to me the military presence in Chattanooga. These are not bases that were attacked today. It's a recruitment center for many services and then it was a Naval Reserve office. I assume it was sort of an office building. And that is where those who were killed were working.

BERKE: Yes, I have been to these locations. I was at an event several months ago now at the Naval Reserve Center for sea cadets.

These are places where individuals go regularly. It's in -- and the Naval Reserve location is in the middle of essentially a very heavily traveled park and right next door to our local community college. .

BERMAN: Mayor Andy Berke, we appreciate you being with us. It's been a long day for you. Again, our thoughts are with you and your city. And please have a good and safe night.

BERKE: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, that was Mayor Andy Berke.

Obviously, there's more information coming in right now. We have a great many questions about the identity of the shooter, the location that this person chose to target, just what kind of weapons were used, how many weapons were used. We're digging on all that.

We will have much more information right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman.

The breaking news: four Marines killed after a lone gunman unloads bullet after bullet at two military centers in Tennessee. The shooter is also dead.

Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, you did confirm what so many feared the identity -- or at least the work the four of those killed were doing. They were Marines. Any information about their identities or if their families have been notified?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what I can tell you at this hour, the very same procedures are swinging into place to notify their families, the same procedures as if these Marines fell on the battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are reaching out to their families, assistance officers will be appointed to help the families through the next several days, to help through this entire, very difficult, very sad process. This is as if they fell in combat in war.

The Pentagon has struggled all day to come up with some facts about all of this. And it has been a mighty struggle, the Navy and Marine Corps not getting really quick and clear information about what did transpire. But what our Pentagon sources are saying now, their best information is that the four Marines were killed at the second site, after the gunman left the first strip mall site and drove to these other area, this other center. That is where the Marines were killed.

But let's go back to the video of that strip mall, where the recruiting center is, because a lot of people may have the question, you know, what about security at these places? What about security for military personnel in the United States?

Look, this was a recruiting center. The military is part of American communities across this country. Recruiting centers, even with a heightened awareness, even with the warnings about attacks, recruiting centers are part of communities across this country. They want young people to feel they can come in, approach a recruiter, sit down and talk to them, sit down and talk about having a military career.

That is what happens every day across this country at these recruiting centers. Many of these military facilities, it's simply not affordable, not realistic for them to have the massive security that you would see at the Pentagon, that you would see at the large military bases across this country like Ft. Bragg, Ft. Hood, Norfolk Naval Base. These are part of the communities, the families and people across this country.

It makes it even so much more difficult for the people of Chattanooga. I guarantee you many people in that mall, they knew the recruiters. Many people in Chattanooga knew the military people that worked at that center. Now, those families being notified, the military telling us that they are looking through their databases to see if they have any information on the gunman, any possible indication the gunman may have served in the military at one point, may have made previous threats, anything they can.

[16:20:02] But clearly civilian law enforcement, federal law enforcement taking the lead on this now -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr, we'll let you get back to reporting. We have so many more questions. Hopefully, we can get some answers in the coming minutes and hours.

Thank you, Barbara.

I want to go now to CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.

Evan, you've been working sources with the FBI, ATF, Department of Homeland Security. What are you hearing right now about the crime and about the shooter?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, at this stage, it's still a confused picture because earlier we were told, certainly the briefings that we're being given here in Washington is this did not appear to involve terrorism, but then at the press conference about an hour ago, the U.S. attorney there said that he was calling it -- that he viewed it, and he was treating this case as a case of domestic terrorism. The FBI then sort of backed off of that. The FBI special agent in charge at the scene there said that he -- that it was wide open, they were consider whether or not there was international terrorism, and certainly had not ruled out anything.

So, we know at this stage that they're looking into the background of the suspect. They want to make sure they can understand who he's been talking to, perhaps that can help explain this. We also don't know at this stage whether or not he had any relationship previously with the military, whether these was anything that he had with these particular two centers that he attacked today.

At this point, you know, we know that this is a summer in which we've been talking a lot about the different threats that have been made against U.S. military facilities all across this country. At various times, the military has increased security because of those threats. We don't know whether or not this is related to that at all. At this point, you know, we haven't heard any kind of claim by anyone that this is related to Islamic terrorism, but, again, that's something that the FBI and the ATF are all working to see whether or not there's any links to that. BERMAN: No. But, Evan, as you point out, there has been

unprecedented concern about possibly targeting military installations around the country this summer, specifically over the Fourth of July. We also do know that it seems just by looking at the nature of this attack that these installations were attacked, there were two, it seems likely, or at least more than possible that they were attacked because they were involved with the military. Why else would you go from one military center to another several miles away and shot them up?

And likely, the four people who were killed, the four Marines were killed because they were Marines.

PEREZ: Right.

BERMAN: Or at least in the military.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. Those are the facts that we do know, and that indicates that whoever -- whatever was motivating him, he definitely was trying to strike these offices, these two facilities today. We have -- we've seen a name that we're not reporting just yet. We know that authorities are right now trying to learn as much about this person's background, this man's background to try to see if there's anything else that could explain this.

Obviously, there are things that they have to do, a lot of different work to try to learn about his background as much as possible. But, you know, that's the stage of this investigation at this point, John.

BERMAN: All right. Evan Perez, our justice reporter for us, thanks so much. Again, getting a lot of information right now working to confirm much of it at this point. So, Evan, we will talk to you again in a moment.

I want to bring in Gina Mule. She is on the phone with us right now. She was in the diner essentially right next to the first location that was shot up. She was there as he was unloading his gun again and again and again.

Gina joins us now by phone.

I know it's been a very hard day, Gina. Thanks so much for being with us.

I wonder if you can tell us exactly what you saw.

GINA MULE, WITNESS (via telephone): Well, yes, as you can imagine, I'm still trying to get my thoughts together from the day. It's been very hectic and chaotic. I was just in the kitchen first when I heard the shots, doing my normal prep work, and I come out of the kitchen and walked towards the front of the restaurant, I looked out the window.

And I'd seen -- I couldn't even see his face. The part that comes up from the windshield was blocking right directly in front of his face. I'd just seen his arms hanging out in the window. He was in a silver Mustang, a newer model silver Mustang with no top on it, and he has his arms hanging out of the window.

He never got out of the car. He had a big huge high-powered rifle, and he was just unloading shots right into those arm forces recruiters. I believe it was the air force, navy and Marines doors.

BERMAN: Gina, he never got out of the car. He was shooting out of the car window?

MULE: Yes, sir, he never got out of the car.

BERMAN: He was shooting from inside the car. He had stopped the car, the car was not moving, correct?

MULE: Right. He stopped the car, he was directly in front of the building, I mean, he moved as close to the sidewalk as pretty could be, and he was just pointing directy doors and just unloading rounds, one after another.

[16:25:01] I know there had to be 20 to 30 shots.

BERMAN: How long did the shooting go on for?

MULE: Oh, how do you put a time frame on something like that? I can't even believe I have seen something like this today. I mean, it was a matter of minutes, three minutes or so from when I first heard the gunshots in the kitchen when I came out, and then it was all over so quick.

BERMAN: Gina, do you know what caused him to drive away?

MULE: No. I just believe that he was done doing what he came there to do, unloading his shots. He threw his gun in the seat next to him. He drove off, and then went on the Lee Highway and made a left, and he took off. There was some of the army men and women was running out there to try to get a tag number or catch him, or something. But they said they don't have a tag on his car.

So, everybody was in shock. We were all trying to figure out, was anybody OK? Thank God everybody. You know, next door to us, they were OK, with exception for the one guy who got shot in his leg. I know it's not the same story at the other location.

BERMAN: I know.

MULE: We're very blessed today, very, very blessed.

BERMAN: It's a great tragedy that you witnessed what you did in your location. Again, we're looking live pictures of this. The first shooting location, no one was killed here, but he did drive off and the second location shot and killed four Marines.

So, when he left your location, he was not in pursuit? He just got up and left?

MULE: He just left. As soon as he pulled it off, they picked up the phone, some of the service men I saw picked up the phone, immediately reported what had happened, and he took off. He was gone.

And within a matter of minutes law enforcement started showing up.

BERMAN: Had you ever seen the guy before?

MULE: Well, I actually didn't get a look -- I couldn't tell you his facial features, his hair, nothing like that. All I seen was his arm. That part, whatever it's called on automobile, that comes up with the window and actual windshield was blocking his face was right there in front of his face from the angle that I was facing. So, I just seen his arms hanging out of the car and seen that big gun.

And then after I've seen the gun, I pretty much didn't look at anything else. I was just like shock and, you know, my attention was on the gun the entire time. I just couldn't take my eyes off. I was looking in, one (INAUDIBLE) myself that was going through my head, it's like, is this real? Is this a real gun? Like is this really happening? That was close (ph).

BERMAN: Oh, it's real, much, much too real.

Gina, last question, how are you doing right now?

MULE: I'm OK. I'm home with my kids. I'm a little stirred up, ready to sit down, and I don't know, maybe pack a whole pack of cigarettes today. I don't know how I feel about going tomorrow, but I'll be there.

BERMAN: Gina Mule, thanks so much for being with us. We're thinking about you.

MULE: This is crazy. I'm going to pray for all the families involved.

BERMAN: Absolutely. Thinking you, thinking about your family, thinking about your city tonight. Hang in there, Gina.

MULE: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. You just heard it right there, a vivid description. A man opening fire right here at this location, looking at live pictures right now of the military recruitment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Dozens of bullets fired at that window right there. You can see the bullet holes.

Again, after this shooting and amazingly no one was killed in this shooting right here. After this the gunman drove several miles away to a naval reserve operations center, and shot and killed four Marines. Four Marines in Chattanooga are dead tonight. The shooter is also dead. The U.S. attorney calls it an act of domestic terrorism. We have much more on the investigation, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)