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School Shooting Aftermath; President Trump Making Plans to Visit Parkland, Florida; 17 Dead, 15 Hurt in Florida High School Massacre; Gun Control Debate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 15, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: New clues this afternoon about what was going on in the shooter's mind before the massacre, as the nation grieves.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The accused Florida high school shooter comes face to face with a judge this afternoon, as a new report says the suspect had ties to a local white supremacist group -- quote -- "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

That is just one of the very disturbing social media clues attributed to the accused killer. Did the FBI miss a chance to prevent this from happening?

Plus, President Trump addresses a mourning nation, pledges to ease the pain, but he does not mention the word gun even once. Why?

Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Families in Parkland, Florida, are mourning 17 children and teachers today as we learn more about the horror visited upon that Florida high school yesterday afternoon, a brutal and calculated attack that left 17 bodies in its wake and sent at least another 14 individuals to the hospital with injuries, some of them quite serious.

The alleged shooter just made an appearance in court, where he's charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. The Anti-Defamation League today saying that the suspect had participated in "training exercises" with a white supremacist group in Florida.

We're also learning more about all the times people flagged his violent behavior and threats to law enforcement, including a chilling comment he posted on YouTube saying he was -- quote -- "going to be a professional school shooter" -- unquote.

When the FBI was told about that post on YouTube in September 2017 by the person whose video it was, there was already a lot known about the suspected shooter for anyone who wanted to ask the questions.

The shooter had already been suspended from school for fights and for bringing in ammunition to the school, according to "The Miami Herald." School administrators had listed him as a potential threat, particularly if he was carrying a backpack, according to "USA Today."

The accused shooter had been expelled for disciplinary reasons. The accused shooter had already purchased an AR-15-style rifle, and a user with his exact name had posted that he could "do so much better" than that Bronx doctor who shot up a hospital.

A month after the FBI got that September 2017 tip, a user with the shooter's exact name posted -- quote -- "I want to shoot people with my AR-15."

The FBI now says they did -- quote -- "database checks," but could not identify the YouTube poster who said he wanted to be a professional school shooter.


ROBERT LASKY, FBI AGENT IN CHARGE: The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.


TAPPER: The person who actually made the comment did so under his own name, with the unusual spelling of his first name.

A big question for the FBI today, why was that too difficult to track down?

In somber remarks today, President Trump offered his sympathy for the victims of the massacre.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to speak now directly to America's children, especially those who feel lost, alone, confused, or even scared. I want you to know that you are never alone, and you never will be.


TAPPER: President Trump saying he was committed to tackling the difficult problem of mental health. He did not mention the word guns once in his remarks.

CNN's Kyung Lah is live for us in Broward County, Florida.

And, Kyung, it appears there was no question among those who knew the suspect that he was seriously troubled.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Especially if you dive into his mental history, say his public defenders. They laid it out in very stark terms.

His public defenders saying this young man suffered from a lifetime of mental illness, that he had brain development issues, impulse control issues, as well as a recent trauma. They describe him as "a broken child" who fell through every single crack.


LAH (voice-over): Just 24 hours after the deadliest school shooting since Newtown, the young shooter appeared in court, emotionless facing 17 counts of premeditated murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a broken human being. He's a broken child.

LAH: Staff and young students Aleppo among the dead in what had been Florida's safest city.

ROBERT RUNCIE, SUPERINTENDENT, BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOLS: We had an athletic director, campus monitor who responded immediately when there were signs of trouble in the school. Unfortunately, those two heroes gave their lives for our kids.

LAH: An assistant football coach Aaron Feis reportedly threw himself in front of children to block them from the bullets, saving countless lives, but losing his own. Armed with only cell phones, students recorded dramatic video as the massacre unfolded and evacuations took place.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody down!

LAH: Many who escaped are trying to cope with what they saw.

KELSEY FRIEND, SURVIVOR: I have heard a young man crying for his mother dying.

LAH: And the shocking loss of those they will never see again.

FRIEND: I saw at the beginning this was just -- it was all a drill, it was just a drill, until I saw my teacher dead on the floor.

LAH: Now a local white supremacist group says it has ties with the 19-year-old who carried out the attack.

A spokesman for the group told the Anti-Defamation League Nikolas Cruz participated in at least one training exercise with them, riding with other members to Tallahassee, Florida, some six hours away.

The spokesman says Cruz was never encouraged to carry out any kind of shooting. Social media posts under his name indicate violent, racist views, including slurs and threats of murder. One message reads: "I want to shoot people with my AR-15."

When the shooter's adoptive mother passed in December, the family of a former classmate took him into their home. He brought his AR-15-style rifle with him.

JIM LEWIS, ATTORNEY: It was his lockbox and his gun in his room, and these folks are horrified. They did not see this coming at all from this young man. They saw some depression. Obviously, he lost his mom, but they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store.

LAH: His former manager at the Dollar Tree says he tried to help the killer after his mother passed away.

HUNTER VUKELICH, FRIEND OF CRUZ: You could tell he was a little off, but there's people that are off that you wouldn't say, let's lock him away because he's that dangerous. But for him, it's just all that more scary to think that I worked with him. I couldn't have done anything else, but, hey, you want to play basketball sometime?

That's just scary to think that it could have happened at work, it could have happened anywhere.


LAH: The public defender says that as far as what the suspect is feeling right now, that he is expressing some sadness over what has happened, that he understands that there has been some loss of life, and that he is dealing with the shock -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung Lah in Broward County, Florida, for us, thank you.

My panel of law enforcement experts joins me now to really dig into this.

Josh Campbell, formerly with the FBI, let me ask you this.

The FBI was told in September about the YouTube post where the person said, I'm going to be a professional school shooter. The person whose YouTube page it was reported to FBI. The FBI apparently went to him the next day, sat down with him, took an interview.

Now, today, we from the FBI special agent in charge in Miami that they ran the guy's name on a database and couldn't find anything. But let's be honest here. He posted that on YouTube under his own name with the unusual spelling of Nikolas with K.

And if there had been a real thorough investigation, there was a whole bounty of information indicating this guy had problems.


First, this is the nightmare scenario for law enforcement, for an agency to realize that they have information in their holdings that may have saved lives. It's the nightmare scenario.

I know the FBI will be looking through the after-action, try to determine what happened, what can they do better, how did information flow? So that's the first part.

Second is, I think this shows there is a lack of fusing information in this country between law enforcement and mental health providers, those who are, you know, working in the schools, family members and the like. That is something that we have to really work on.

It's difficult in the aftermath of such a tragic situation like this to talk about policies and procedures and processes, but I think it's so important. We can't lose sight of that, that in order to make sure this doesn't again, we have to do that after-action to see what went wrong and how we can stop it in the future.

TAPPER: So, Dimitri, let me ask you, what more should the school have done?

Obviously, there's still we -- there's a lot we don't know. He had been suspended. Teachers were afraid of him. He apparently was told not to ever bring in a backpack. One time, he had brought in ammunition.

He ultimately was expelled. He was put in school for at-risk youth. Once a potentially dangerous student leaves a campus, should there be some sort of body, some sort of government system where the school says, this guy's no longer a problem for us, but we're worried about him for society?

DIMITRI ROBERTS, FORMER CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER: Well, we would hope, Jake, but what we commend the school on doing is they did everything within their powers to thwart this problem before it became an issue in their schools, which, unfortunately, that's what it turned out to be.

What could they have done more? Well, I beg that question of myself, and what I think can happen moving forward is there has to be a system in place that coordinates better with the law enforcement community, with following up, with the social workers, with the mental health professionals that say we are keeping a dossier of information on this individual from which we have that's being passed on, and we're doing regular checks on this individual to make sure that they are not just a threat to our school, but not to our community as well.


TAPPER: And one of the other questions, Josh, the president didn't use the word gun today, but Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, who is also a conservative Republican, did, saying, we need to keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental problems like this.

What can be done? He had -- as far as I can tell, the shooter had not been adjudicated in terms of his whatever mental and emotional issues he had, but what more can be done in terms of making sure that somebody like that cannot purchase a firearm?

CAMPBELL: That's the question.

And as you mentioned, there's this issue of adjudication. Until someone is denied something, they are allowed to do it. I think it goes back to the larger picture. If we have a system in place where law enforcement and mental health providers and family members can report information that goes into some system that everyone sees, I think it's going to solve a couple problems, the first of which being, imagine a scenario where all these people who saw these warning signs, this individual was blinking red. If that information was provided, perhaps an FBI agent doing a search on some YouTube poster, that name would have hit somewhere. That's a potential area to interdict and stop a plot.

And then secondly, you mentioned the weapons. If that information is fed in, vice versa. The FBI involved has involvement here well. If that information they saw is presented against this person, maybe that could be factored in before a weapon is actually approved for purchase.

TAPPER: And, Dimitri, the Anti-Defamation League says the suspect was associated with a white supremacist group called the Republic of Florida.

He participated in a training exercise with them. Again, nothing -- it's not against the law to be a hateful bigot and to participate in training exercises.


Again, we come back to this narrative of sharing information, but also ensuring that the information is going to the right agency at the right time and that the proper follow-up is being done.

As someone who has served with the FBI, but also served in a local law enforcement community, I can tell you, you get really tied up with things at all levels, but in most cases, the FBI are not going out and knocking on doors.

It's the local agencies that are doing that, and have more responsibility to do that, that are doing the liaison work with the schools. So when we talk about this broader perspective of sharing information, I think that's what we really have to key in on, and that's where we are going to find some real solutions.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have got a more to talk about.

As the killer stormed the halls, 17-year-old Hannah desperately texted her sister. She wrote -- quote -- "Kaitlin, there's a shooter on campus. I'm not joking. Call 911, please. Send them to Douglas," meaning the high school.

Kaitlin back, "Hannah, what? Are you serious right now?"

Hannah wrote: "Kaitlin, I'm not joking. They just shot through the walls. Someone in my class is injured. I'm not joking. Call mom and dad. I don't have service, or I would call. I don't know how this message is going through."

Her sister then responds: "I'm calling 911. Then I'm calling mom and dad."

More stories about the victims and the heroes who saved others next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:17:01] TAPPER: It's been just over 24 hours since this unthinkable shooting at the Florida high school and we're beginning to learn now some of the names of the 17 victims, many of them young students.

Nicholas Dworet was planning on swimming for the University of Indianapolis next year. Alyssa Alhadeff was beloved at her local soccer club. Her classmate, Jamie Guttenberg, was also killed.

On the faculty side, athletic director Chris Hickson and geography teacher Scott Beigel whom one student called her hero.

Moments ago we learned the names of some more victims. Peter Wang, Luke Hoyer, Alex Schachter, Martin Duke, Helena Ramsey, Joaquin Oliver, and Cara Loughran.

I want to bring in CNN's Martin Savidge now down in Florida.

Martin, students are saying that one of the victims, assistant football coach, Aaron Feis, sacrificed his life saving students.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. There are a lot of students now that are coming forward and saying that Coach Feis was the man who saved them in many ways.

You have to understand that Coach Feis was a beloved teacher and coach. He is a big man. He was well-known by the student body and he was known as one of those teachers that beyond just the person who instructs you, this is a man who loved his students. And he was in the hallways and he was directing children, telling them how to get out of the school when the gunfire began, even some students say after he was wounded and had fallen to the ground, he continued to compel and tell students to get out and get away safely.

So he is being remembered as just one of what is now a growing and emerging group of heroes and beloved is the term that fits him so well, people say -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Martin, you're right outside one of the hospitals where some of the injured victims were taken. What are you hearing from physicians?

SAVIDGE: Well, first of all, there are about nine remain hospitalized between two hospitals. There were three hospitals initially that were used, and the good news here is that all of the victims in both hospitals are expected to make a full recovery. Now there are some that are still listed in critical condition and at least one person that's going to need additional surgery, but doctors do believe that everyone is going to make a full recovery.

There was a total of nine people that were brought here to Broward North, two of those that arrived here were pronounced dead on arrival, and also brought here was the suspect, and I asked the doctor how that went, and they said, well, first of all, only a very limited number of hospital knew the suspect was being brought. They of course knew what the emotional state would be, they're treating victims at the same time, so the suspect was taken to a separate part of the hospital.

I should also point out that doctors have a hard time forgetting what they saw here. Here's just one doctor.


DR. IGOR NICHIPORENKO, TRAUMA MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BROWARD NORTH TRAUMA: Young children, pale coming in together, not talking, and it's something that you are always going to remember, especially when it happens to young children because it's not what they expected to happen by going to school.


[16:20:14] SAVIDGE: The victims exhibited wounds coming from a high powered rifle, multiple gunshot wounds, shattered bones, heavy blood loss, big bullets, one doctor said big holes. And there's a lot of damage that had to be repaired -- Jake.

TAPPER: Martin Savidge, thank you so much.

Today, President Trump offered, quote, "whatever he could to ease the pain," unquote. Those words got angry response from the mother of Alyssa Alhadeff who was killed in the shooting. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump, you say, what can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children's hands. Put metal detectors in every entrance to the school. What can you do? You can do a lot.



[16:25:06] TAPPER: Today President Trump promised to secure America's schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health in the wake of the deadliest school shootings since Newtown. But the president never used the word gun, it never crossed his lips. President Trump also said he's making plans to visit Parkland, Florida.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny from the White House filed this report.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, today I speak to a nation in grief.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An all-too familiar ritual unfolded across Washington today in the wake of another mass shooting in America. Flags lowered to half staff from the White House to Capitol Hill.

REP. MIKE THOMPSON (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. Speaker, can you tell us when the House may muster the courage to take up the issue of gun violence? (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: But despite cheers from Democrats, there were no signs today Washington is any closer to addressing gun violence in the wake of the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. President Trump did not mention the word gun in his brief remarks from the White House. Instead talking about mental health.

TRUMP: We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.

ZELENY: While offering no specifics, the president said it was time for action.

TRUMP: It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference, we must actually make that difference.

ZELENY: It's the fourth major shooting he's addressed since taking office, each time he said it's not the right moment to talk about guns. After the massacre on the Las Vegas strip --

TRUMP: We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.

ZELENY: And the rampage inside the Texas church.

TRUMP: But this isn't a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it, but it's a little bit soon to go into it.

ZELENY: The White House had no daily briefing today, but the question we asked Press Secretary Sara Sanders 136 days ago still lingers.

(On camera): Does he believe that he could bring something new to the gun debate that has been, you know -- I guess, locked into local politics for so many years.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that there will be certainly time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment.

ZELENY (voice-over): That moment has not yet arrived. Trump's presidential campaign was strongly supported by the NRA, but before running for office, he criticized the party's stance on guns, writing, "The Republicans walked the NRA line and refuse evenly limited restrictions. I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.


ZELENY: Now since taking office, the president has not expressed any support for gun control measures at all, Jake, in fact, he rarely talks about the topic here. He only has done so when one of the American tragedies, these horrific tragedies, have come up -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us. Thank you. One Parkland student used his interview on CNN as a call for action to



DAVID HOGG, STUDENT WHO SURVIVED SHOOTING: Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful and help you get reelected and everything. But what's more important is actual action and pertinent action that results in saving thousands of children's lives. Please, take action.