Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Police Reveal Evidence Found in Gunman's Car; Trump Holds Double-Digit Lead in Latest Poll; Trump Attending Super PAC Events; Poll: Biden is the Top Democrat to Take on Trump; Trump on White Supremacists' Praise: "Everybody Likes Me". Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 27, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:03] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, we are learning much more about the man who shot and killed a reporter and cameraman on live television. The extra license plates he carried, even a wig and a shawl. Could it have been part of an elaborate getaway plan?
Plus a new poll gives Donald Trump his widest lead yet. So who can beat him? And Trump drawing big support from right-wing radicals and white supremacists. What does this say about his candidacy?
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto in again tonight for Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. The shooter's possible escape plan. We are learning details about what Virginia gunman Vester Flanagan, who shot and killed a reporter and cameraman on live TV, could have been planning to do after those shocking murders. Police releasing a long list of what they found in the car that Flanagan drove the day of the shooting. In addition to a Glock semiautomatic pistol, a gun he purchased legally back in July, police found more ammunition, three license plates, a wig, a shawl. Investigators now trying to determine where he was headed next.
Also tonight co-workers of the two slain journalists, some holding hands, appeared together at a press conference where the news director offered a possible explanation as to how Flanagan may have found out where the victims were filming that morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLY ZUBER, WDBJ NEWS DIRECTOR: It is conceivable that if someone saw their first hit on the air, which was probably about 5:10, they could get from wherever they were to Smith Mountain Lake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT tonight.
Pam,. what more are you learning about what appears to be or could have been a getaway plan, at least he seemed to be preparing for something after those shootings? PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, which is interesting,
Jim, because he had written this suicide note that he apparently sent to ABC. But based on what was found inside of his car, including a wig and a shawl, it appears that he was planning a getaway after he murdered that news crew.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight new evidence 41-year-old Vester Flanagan, seen here in a recent road rage incident, was attempting to escape. Police found disguises in his car when he pulled off the highway and shot himself. Court documents show Flanagan had a wig, shawl and sunglasses, along with multiple license plates, a to-do list and a bag full of random supplies.
JEFFREY MARKS, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER, WDBJ: We are still at a loss.
BROWN: WDBJ's general manager says when Flanagan was fired in 2013, he threatened some of his former co-workers during a violent outburst, including photographer Adam Ward.
MARKS: The police arrived and escorted him from the building. On the way out he handed a wooden cross to the news director, who was at the time Dan Dennison, and he said you'll need this. He also made a derogatory comment to Adam Ward.
BROWN: Ward filmed the entire incident. Two years later, in a carefully orchestrated attack, Flanagan would return to film himself killing Ward, along with 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker, during a live interview.
Flanagan apparently wrote a suicide note, detailing his grievances all the way back to first grade. He faxed 23 pages to ABC News two hours after the murders. In it he complained he's been, quote, "targeted his whole life by white females and black males," and cites seemingly innocuous comments as discriminatory such as "an intern asking where I would, quote, 'swing by,' for lunch."
MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: The average person would not perceive those common everyday comments as insulting or injustices, but clearly, you know, he does. His belief system is so rigid, there would be no way that you could get through to him. No way.
BROWN: During this morning's WDBJ broadcast the anchors paused to remember their colleagues.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was yesterday around this time that we went live to Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward. Please join us now in a moment of silence.
BROWN: In an interview with CNN, Alison Parker's father said the grief is unbearable.
ANDY PARKER, FATHER OF ALISON PARKER: She would be texting me right now, saying, Dad, what did you think of my story? You know, what did you think of it? And I'm never going to hear that again. She was so loved by all, and you know, my heart is broken.
BROWN: So a lot has been uncovered in this story over the past 24 hours, Jim. But why the gunman targeted Parker and Ward still unclear -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: With such public suffering for the family as well.
I know you've been looking into this all day. We're learning more about what he did before -- after he was fired from the station. Owning several Web sites? What do we know?
[19:05:04] BROWN: Well, that's right. So we're learning more about his past. We know of course that he filed suit against two news stations. We also learned that he owned several Web sites. And we've uncovered that some of these Web sites were associated with gay porn. In fact he apparently registered at least seven domain names in 2007 and 2008 and solicited, quote, "attractive and muscular men" to model for live Web cams.
In fact records obtained by CNN show Flanagan's name and the California address were included in the domain registrations. Those answer some questions perhaps, Jim, about how he had the money after he was fired from this last station -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: All right. Pamela Brown in Washington.
OUTFRONT now, former FBI assistant director Chris Swecker, former FBI special agent Mary Ellen O'Toole and former chief deputy U.S. Marshal, Matthew Fogg.
Mary Ellen, I'd like to begin with you because when you look at this list of what police found in his car, more ammunition, a suicide note he wrote about past mass killers, including the Virginia Tech shooter, and in it, a little bit of one upmanship going on there. He wrote, "I was also influenced by Seung-Hui Cho, that's my boy right there. He got nearly double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold got. Just saying."
Harris and Klebold of course the shooters from the Columbine shooting. Based on what was found in the car and those comments, do you think he was planning on killing more?
O'TOOLE: Yes. It's my sense that when I heard about what was in the car -- and compare that with the whole crime itself, it was so sensational and it was so dramatic, so over the top, that he possibly was not through at that point. If he wanted to suicide earlier, he certainly could have. So at that point and looking at those items, I think there's every possibility that he intended more crimes.
SCIUTTO: Chris, I want to ask you, too. You've got great experience here driving this rental car not only the ammunition, you had these extra license plates, you had a wig, possibly a disguise, sunglasses, a hat. You know, initially the impression was that this was a suicide mission. Does it sound like to you that he was possibly planning an escape?
CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, I mean, there's enough narcissism in his rantings and his notes that he wrote to show that he had some instincts for self-preservation. So it could very well be that he was on -- he was about to go on the lam and on the run. But there's another theory. And that could be that he needed those disguises to get close to the people from the news station because they would recognize him if he approached them. And he had that history with the news channel. So possibly he was -- that was part of an earlier plan.
SCIUTTO: Yes, it's hard to judge.
Matthew, I want to ask you, could you -- you know, there's a question about timing here as well. He did not begin tweeting until 4 1/2 hours after he murdered Parker and Ward. And at that point it appeared he already knew he'd been identified. And the fact is, the public only saw his face really by accident because it was -- the cameraman fell, he captured this image with the face of Flanagan there.
Does it appear that his plans changed because he now knew that he was a suspect? That he had been outed in effect as the killer here?
MATTHEW FOGG, FORMER CHIEF DEPUTY, U.S. MARSHAL: I think so. I mean, I think the fact that he tweeted the message out knowing that people would know who he was. Actually it seemed like to me he wanted folks to know. It seemed like he wanted to really make certain that he got his message across that he was able to accomplish the mission that he was out to accomplish. And I think that he was trying to escape and that his game plan was if he could get away with this disguise, he would get away. But if he did get caught, he would kill himself.
I think he knew this was the ultimate decision. Once he killed two people, he knew that at that point his life was over if he got caught. But I believe he did have probably a plan to see if he could get away. No doubt.
SCIUTTO: I wonder, Mary Ellen, you know, profiling killers like this, and you mentioned narcissism here. And that's so clear through so much of this, in going public, filming it, getting it on Twitter, Facebook, the fax to ABC News,, et cetera. Does that narcissism often lead to self-preservation? Right? That he wanted -- that he might want to get away as opposed to making this sort of a very public form of suicide.
O'TOOLE: It could, but when you look at the overall crime and you look at the planning that went into this and he really made sure that that shooting of those two people took place while it was on -- during a live interview. He wanted to make that murder as sensational as he could. And he had no control over who could have seen him anyway. So he wanted credit for that.
Because nobody up to now has really -- has done anything like this. Not even Cho. And frankly after the Cho case, in the BAU, we talked about the next time we have a shooting, the shooter is going to wear a camera on his hat.
O'TOOLE: And we have breathed a sigh of relief for all these years and then here you go. But that's so sensational. He wanted credit for this.
[19:10:02] SCIUTTO: No question. I mean, you certainly have to be concerned about copycat attacks.
I wonder, Chris, looking at this, are there past cases where it is clear that a killer looked at a previous killing and, you know, took a lesson from that, something that they wanted to repeat?
SWECKER: Yes. I can't point to one specific case. But we know that some of these mass shooters were inspired by other shootings, have mentioned other shooters in some of their writings. So I have no doubt that some of these are copycat or at least take some of their learnings, if you will, from other shooters.
SCIUTTO: And Chris, as you mentioned, the shooter as well, he drawing a line between himself and the Columbine shooters and the Virginia Tech shooter. Fascinating but also just a very scary picture of him.
Chris, Mary Ellen, Matthew, I want to thank you for joining us tonight.
O'TOOLE: You're welcome.
SCIUTTO: And OUTFRONT next, new information from Flanagan's lengthy suicide note. Rants about disappointments in his life. Does it provide a motive for his horrific crime?
Plus Donald Trump, a new poll gives him his biggest lead by far since entering the race. So why do those same voters use words like arrogant, even idiot to describe him?
And Joe Biden still undecided but leading everyone in a new poll. Is he closer to throwing his hat into the ring?
SCIUTTO: And welcome back. Right now, mourners are gathering to remember the two young journalists shot to death on live television.
We are watching live pictures of the crowds outside the TV station where Alison Parker and Adam Ward worked together.
Also today, WDBJ's general manager revealed some stunning new details about the gunman's history at the channel. We now know that Vester Flanagan came to the station in 2012 with good references. But he quickly became a concern to those around him, arguing with his colleagues, even threatening his bosses.
Brian Todd is OUTFRONT tonight live in Roanoke, Virginia, where that vigil is taking place tonight.
And, Brian, what are the plans for the vigil tonight outside the station?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the vigil is going to be given by a group -- excuse me -- called Stop the Violence Star -- excuse me. Stop the Violence Star City. People are starting to gather now. It's going to start in less than an hour. This group was formed to combat violence, the growing violence in Roanoke. And they say WDBJ covered their first event. So they want do their part to pay respects to the victims.
Jim, just one way tonight, Jim, that this town is still trying to get its mind around this senseless act. Trying to honor the victims and still trying to figure out exactly how this could have taken place -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: And a big part that was question is his history at the station, what led him to target his former colleagues there. What more is the station telling us about the shooter's history there, his work history there?
TODD: Well, Jim, fascinating new details tonight about that. They are laying out some real detail about how troubled his tenure here was. And it was only for less than a year that he was here. He had a succession of performance-related issues, troubles with fact checking and news judgment. He had a lot of angry outbursts and run-ins with colleagues. At one point shortly before his firing, he confronted a news anchor who was assigned to review one of his scripts. It was shortly after that time that they decided to terminate him from WDBJ.
I spoke to a gentleman named Ryan Fuqua, who is a photographer and editor at WDBJ. He worked with Vester Flanagan in the field several times. He said he was always on edge around Vester Flanagan because of his anger management problems. He detailed one incident where a live report in the 6:00 p.m. hour of their newscast went wrong because of technical problems. And here's what he says about how Flanagan reacted to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN FUQUA, WDBJ PHOTOGRAPHER/EDITOR: Ryan He got so irate, threw all the stuff down and just walked out into the woods, staying out there for like 20 minutes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Vester Flanagan's anger got so bad at certain times that the management, according to the station general manager, Jeff Marks, ordered him to undergo counseling. He did comply at least once, Jim. But it's not clear if he got any other kind of help after that.
SCIUTTO: Brian Todd outside that vigil. And CNN will go to that vigil later when it begins later this evening.
OUTFRONT now, psychologist Jeff Gardere and clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula.
Jeff, thanks for coming back again tonight.
JEFF GARDERE, PSYCHOLOGIST: Always a pleasure. Yes.
SCIUTTO: You know, a fascinating trip inside this troubled mind but also a frightening trip as you learn a lot of these details. One thing that struck us today, the general manager saying that after he was fired for the two -- it has been a good two years since then that employees would run into him around town. That those would be perfectly peaceful and friendly interactions. I mean, is it possible to hide the kind of violent anger that he clearly was harboring for that length of time and then have it, you know, burst out in the way we saw it?
GARDERE: Well, I think he was trying to subdue a lot of that anger. But the people that he talked to, he said allegedly, you know, I told them that I think certain people --
GARDERE: You know, I hate people. And then he would say it with a smile. So he wasn't trying to hide it that much. I think he was being more menacing than anything else. He seemed to me, and I haven't examined him, of course, to be that kind of a person who was a powder keg as he said that he was. Perhaps a paranoid personality. Any slight that he perceived, he took it to a point that was completely over the top.
And at the end of the day, yes, we know that people get angry. But this person shot through three people and killed two in cold blood and then tweeted it, put it on social media. So obviously, he is a person with -- was a person with severe mental health issues.
SCIUTTO: No question. Ramani, in retrospect after violence like this, we will often ask the question, were there signs missed? And invariably, you look back and, yes, there were, there were signs as we see with Flanagan. Anger, the firing from his station, menacing statements as Jeff just referenced here.
RAMANI DURVASULA, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: I know that mental health is not an exact science. It just can't be. The mind is too complicated. But clinically, are there certain things that troubled people like this do from a professional's perspective that crosses a line where you can say, this is one -- this is someone we really got to, you know, pay attention to?
I think the thing that has concerned me the most about this case is how much his co-workers were reporting being afraid of him. I have to say from an occupational standpoint in the workplace, when his co- workers is saying we don't feel comfortable with him, he's very combative, those are the kinds of red flags that lead you to say, OK, when adults are feeling uncomfortable and at risk, that that was a wake-up call. But like I said, we all have this 20/20 hindsight.
There are a lot of combative people in workplaces, especially high pressure workplaces like newsrooms.
DURVASULA: And so we can reconstruct it backwards. But there are often people who get into these rages. And I think it was probably written off as rage. But that to me is the key, the key red flag.
[19:20:07] SCIUTTO: Yes. Jeff, I want to ask you a similar question. Which are the red flags -- I mean the burning red flags in this country, right?
GARDERE: Yes, sure.
SCIUTTO: And to be fair to the station, the station took steps while he was there. They didn't sort of sweep this under the rug. Clearly, he had bigger problems than an anger management class could take care of. They didn't sort of sweep this under the rug.
GARDERE: That's right.
SCIUTTO: But clearly he had problems that an anger management class could take of.
GARDERE: Right. And we're talking about one temper tantrum. But it seems like a lot of temper tantrums. Not getting into a conflict with one person but being in conflict with almost everyone there at that station.
SCIUTTO: He was very much a me against the world mentality.
GARDERE: Victim mentality, association one saw and I think more than Isolating oneself. It's the consistency of his inappropriate behaviors. To me is that burden red flag that there was something. They should -- again, hindsight 20/20 as my colleague has said. But this is a person -- and I hope we do this in the future as soon as we see these issues, we get them into counseling. Because these are people who may be emotionally ill. Not necessarily bad people. But this personal was emotionally ill he did dome . And he did some very bad things.
SCIUTTO: Ramani, I heard you reacting there. It sounds like you agree very much.
DURVASULA: I mean, Jeff nailed it. We really -- the idea of using the employment setting as the place to get someone into treatment. Any bridge we can create to get someone into treatment on the other side of the table from a counselor, because that person is going to be much more trained to pick up on these red flags.
Our big problem is engagement in treatment. Someone like him may not have wanted to go into treatment. But the workplace was a great way to get him there and keeping him there was the next trick. So I think that that was the key. That at least he got seen once. But once is not enough. This has to be consistent. And this has to be over time.
SCIUTTO: No question. And to be fair, it's really impossible for anybody to predict when one of those red flags turns into something so violent. But we appreciate, Ramani, Jeff, as always. Good talking.
GARDERE: My pleasure. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: And OUTFRONT next, turning to politics and the latest poll showing Donald Trump with his biggest lead yet. 16 points ahead of his nearest rival. That as Jeb Bush hits a new low.
And that same poll makes Joe Biden the Democrat to beat. He also has the highest favorability of any candidate of either party. Will that push his decision to run for president?
[19:26:53] SCIUTTO: Tonight, Donald Trump topping the GOP field by the widest margin yet in this election. A new Quinnipiac University poll showing Trump at the head of the pack with 28 percent of Republican votes nationwide. But Trump also leads the pack when it comes to who GOP voters say they would never vote for. Still Trump in South Carolina today reveling in his frontrunner status and our Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Remember how big those pages used to be?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A confident Donald Trump reading to the crowd.
TRUMP: Another words, the man of the toupee. I don't wear a toupee. It's my hair. I swear. Come here. Come here. Come here.
MURRAY: Upping the ante on his colorful antics, even pulling a woman on stage to defend his hairdo.
TRUMP: Come, come. Is it mine? Look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is.
TRUMP: It is. Say it, please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I believe it is.
TRUMP: Thank you.
MURRAY: His jovial mood, perhaps thanks to a new Quinnipiac poll showing Trump with his widest lead yet. Trump now at 28 percent support, 16 points ahead of his closest competitor, Ben Carson.
TRUMP: We're going to win.
MURRAY: And attributing his rise to widespread frustration with Washington.