Return to Transcripts main page
Seventeen Dead, 15 Hurt In Florida High School Massacre; Buzzfeed: FBI Was Warned About Threat In September Made By YouTube User With Same Name As Suspect; Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired February 15, 2018 - 9:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:31] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. I'm John Berman live in Parkland, Florida. The scene of the deadliest mass shooting in American since November which was the deadliest since October.
Behind me today a high school filled with FBI agents and police officers. It should be filled with students and teachers, nearly 3,000 of them. They were inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School less than 24 hours ago when a former student pulled a fire alarm, and started shooting those trying to evacuate, killing 17 people, injuring more than a dozen others.
The breaking news this morning, the shooting suspect is now charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. And a new report from BuzzFeed says the FBI was warned about a school shooting threat made online by a user with the same name as the suspect months ago.
We're also learning the identity of one of the victims. Assistant football coach Aaron Feis. He acted as a human shield, threw himself in front of students when the suspect started shooting. He truly died a hero. In just a moment, I'm going to speak with a student who spent the morning with him before this coach lost his life.
Next hour we expect an update from Broward County officials. And then at 11:00 a.m., the president will break his silence and speak to the nation about this horror.
I want to start with CNN's Rosa Flores today. She is here in Parkland, Florida, to walk us through the very latest.
Rosa, what are you learning?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, at this hour at least five people are still fighting for their lives. That's the latest that we've heard on the victims who are still in the hospital, five with life-threatening injuries. As you mentioned seven fatalities so far. And the suspect has been charged like you mentioned with 17 counts of premeditated murder. But if the death count rises, we're expecting those charges also to pile up.
Now what's happening behind me is investigators are scouring through the scene, trying to collect evidence. Of course that evidence would then be used to prove premeditated murder. We're also hearing about some of the heroic efforts from individuals who tried to save lives. As you mentioned, the assistant football coach Aaron Feis using his body as a shield to protect students.
We heard from students who say that they took refuge under their desks, under their teacher's desks, and then from investigators, that there is just a trail of evidence, cell phones, bags, some of the cell phones perhaps with text messages from parents who were frantically trying to find out if their loved ones were OK.
We're also learning more about the suspect and what his family attorney is saying. And we're learning more about some of the signs that these family members were seeing.
Here is what that family attorney had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Beyond the depression, did he seem mentally ill to them?
JIM LEWIS, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY WHO TOOK IN SUSPECT: They didn't see that. They didn't see a mentally ill person or they never would have let him live under their home. These folks opened their home out just to try to help the young man because he really had no other place to go. They did not see any danger. They didn't see any kind of predilection that this was going to happen. And they're horrified just like everybody else. They're part of this community. Their son was here at the school during the shooting, didn't know anything about it.
CAMEROTA: He was a student here.
LEWIS: He's a student here now.
CAMEROTA: He's a current student here and he was there at the time of the shooting.
LEWIS: Right. And didn't know anything about it. And there are texts between the two of them earlier in the day. And there's nothing ominous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: Now here's the background on that family attorney. We're told that the suspect's family actually had died, passed away. His father -- adoptive father passed away 13 years ago, his mother in November.
So, John, this family literally just took him in to help him out. And here they are now dealing with this and cooperating with authorities -- John.
BERMAN: There are many questions that authorities have this morning about all of that.
Rosa Flores, thanks so much. About more questions, this morning BuzzFeed is reporting that a
YouTube user spotted a threatening comment to a video he had posted back in September and alerted the FBI who got back to him immediately. The commentator had the same name as the Florida shooting suspect.
The key to all of this is that this message on YouTube, BuzzFeed is reporting, from the person with the same name as the alleged shooter here, said he wanted to be a school shooter.
[09:05:11] CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me with the very latest on that.
This seems to be an extraordinary clue, Jessica.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It does, John. The FBI was alerted to this. And this YouTube user, our CNN team has just gotten in touch with. He tells our team that it was in September that he noticed this disturbing comment that was on a video that he posted on YouTube. It came from a user with the same name as the gunman. So you can see the comment -- this is the alert that he sent to the FBI.
But the comment was, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." You can see it there, the name matching the school shooter in this case. Now this YouTube poster, this user who alerted the FBI, his name is Ben Benite. He says he immediately e-mailed that screen shot to the FBI's tips e-mail account. And that's when agents in the Mississippi field office, they got back to him immediately, they interviewed him in person the next day. That, of course, was back on September 25th.
But Benite also tells us that agents were back in touch again yesterday. They even visited him in person. But Ben Benite said look, I knew nothing about this poster, I know nothing about this gunman. I just saw the comment and I alerted the FBI and I alerted YouTube.
Now we have reached out to the FBI. We have not heard back. We've reached out to the national office here in D.C. as well as the field office in Mississippi. But really this just adds to the disturbing social media profile of this gunman. We know that he also posted photos on Instagram of him brandishing firearms and knives. We're told that, you know, he has been talking with investigators since his arrest yesterday.
And we also know that that AR-15 he used to carry out this attack, it was purchased legally. He passed a background check despite the fact that he had been expelled from school at least a year ago, and we know that he used this, he carried multiple rounds of ammunition in this shooting that killed 17 people.
But, John, a lot of disturbing details that are unfolding here. Mostly from his social media profile and the fact that we now know, our CNN team has talked to this YouTube account holder who did, in fact, alert the FBI back in September about this disturbing comment that was posted from an account with the gunman's same name, and we know that the FBI agents according to this YouTube account holder, contacted him again yesterday looking for more information -- John.
BERMAN: And Jessica, I should note, again, we're going to hear from President Trump. He will speak to the nation at 11:00 a.m. this morning. We have not heard from him directly since the school shooting, though he has been on Twitter. In one of the messages he did put out on Twitter this morning dealt with this issue of mixed signals -- missed signals.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. So the president, he alluded to the gunman's disturbing social media profile. In fact, first thing this morning the president tweeted out this, he said, "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad or erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again."
So what we do need to know about the president's tweet here, though, is that the signs, they seem apparent now. Now that we're seeing some of these social media posts, now that this YouTube user is talking again, that he noticed this "I want to be a school shooter" comment. You know, but we heard from the lawyer earlier today for this family who took this 19-year-old into their home.
And they said to -- on "NEW DAY" this morning, they said that they didn't notice any violent tendencies. That they did notice depression, seeing that this gunman's mother had died in November, but no signs of violence.
So, John, now that we're going through and picking apart the social media profile, it's maybe easy to see. But it's not so clear that those signs were readily apparent before the shooting yesterday -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Jessica Schneider for us in Washington. Jessica, thanks very much.
Joining me now is Colton Haab, a 17-year-old junior, a student who lived through this massacre.
Colton, thanks so much for being with us. And first, I need to say this, we're so sorry. We're so sorry that you had to go through this yesterday, but we're proud of what you managed to do, not just for yourself but for others.
So explain to me what happened, you know, a little bit after 2:00 yesterday. What did you hear?
COLTON HAAB, STUDENT WHO SURVIVED MASSACRE: So around 2:20 I heard a fire alarm go off. So that morning around 9:30-ish, we had a fire alarm. That was a scheduled fire alarm because I could tell all my administrators were in their correct place for a fire alarm. So at around 2:19, 2:20 when the fire alarm went off that started the whole scenario, I didn't realize exactly what was going on.
I thought possibly it was going to be a culinary fire, only because my administrator came right on the loud speaker right out in my room, and said evacuate the building.
[09:10:07] So we grabbed the paperwork for the fire drill and we started walking out. As I shut the door to go out the back door for the fire alarm, I heard seven gunshots.
BERMAN: You heard gunshots?
HAAB: I heard seven of them.
BERMAN: What goes through your head when you hear gunshots in your school?
HAAB: The first thing that went to my mind is, is this a drill or is this the actual scenario? Because we had been training all these different scenarios for a tornado drill, a fire drill, code yellow and a code red. A code red is our active shooter. So first I thought personally this is going to be our active shooter drill until I heard more gunshots and over the radio three victims down.
BERMAN: When you heard three victims down, you knew this was code red as you say. What did you do?
HAAB: My first thought was, I picked up the phone, I called my brother who is also in school. He's a sophomore. So my first thought is where is my brother, where is my family.
BERMAN: You're a good brother, man. You're a good brother.
HAAB: So as soon as I called him and I confirmed he was OK, I called my dad. I said turn on the news, I need to know what's going on, you've got to keep me up to date so I can keep as many people safe as possible. From there, I have a friend that retired out of the Coral Springs Police Department. I got on the phone with her and she was able to give me updates on what's going on and where -- to the school where the shooter was.
BERMAN: You're in the hallway now, yes?
HAAB: I'm in the other ROTC rooms. So we have two JROTC rooms. So the second room is where we had all the people that we sheltered.
BERMAN: So you went out, after you made these phone calls, you decided you were going to help other students. What did you do?
HAAB: Correct. I opened the door to the second ROTC room, and we let everybody, as many people as possible into the classroom to make sure they were in the safe and out of harm's way.
BERMAN: You let these kids -- and how many kids did you let in?
HAAB: Probably 60 to 70 kids.
BERMAN: And you didn't just let them in. Again, Colton here, he's junior ROTC, you want to be either a Marine and serve in the Coast Guard. You had equipment with you. What did you do? HAAB: So in JROTC we have a program called marksmanship. So our
backdrop for marksmanship were Kevlar sheets that are hung on hangers. It's kind of like a curtain. So we took those sheets and we put them in front of everybody so they weren't seen because they were behind a solid object and the Kevlar would slow the bullet down. I didn't think it was going to stop it, but it would definitely slow the bullet down so -- and make it from a catastrophic to a lifesaving kind of thing.
BERMAN: So, Colton, you know, you're speaking about this almost clinically here. But what's that moment like? You're 17 years old with 70 kids from your school, you're a high school student, and you're sheltered behind Kevlar sheets here. What were you thinking?
HAAB: I'm thinking about how I'm going to make sure everybody goes home to their parents safely.
BERMAN: Were you scared?
HAAB: I was a little scared. I was more worried about getting home safe, making sure everybody got home safe. And God forbid if he did come into the classroom, I didn't want that to happen but God forbid if it did, I was going to try to stop him with another friend of mine that was with us.
BERMAN: Were you 100 percent sure you were going to get home safe?
HAAB: Yes, sir. I was destined to get home.
BERMAN: So, listen, in the hallway, you say you also saw assistant football coach Aaron Feis.
HAAB: Yes, sir. I saw him running towards the gunshots as soon as they had started to happen.
BERMAN: Tell me about Aaron Feis. You can tell by looking at you, you were a football player.
HAAB: Yes, sir. I did the summer program, we were lifting weights. And I couldn't do it with job and ROTC. But I still lifted and I had a close relationship with Coach Feis. Very selfless man. He was very -- made sure that everybody else's needs were met before his own. He was a hard worker. He worked after school on the weekends, mowing lawns, just helping as many people out as possible. Very friendly, approachable and very selfless.
BERMAN: So when you saw him running down that hallway to help, you thought this is just the kind of thing Coach Feis does.
HAAB: Absolutely. That's Coach Feis. He wants to make sure everybody is safe before himself.
BERMAN: What did you hear happen to him?
HAAB: I heard that he had used himself to shield other -- I believe it was three females that were in the line of fire. He used his body to shield them.
BERMAN: You told me you spent yesterday morning with Coach Feis.
HAAB: Yes, sir.
BERMAN: In the office.
HAAB: After second period, I saw him in the hallway and we walked in the office and then we talked for like 20 minutes. Just talking about normal stuff, how is work, what are you doing after school today, how is football going, that kind of thing.
BERMAN: What's it feel like knowing Coach Feis is gone today?
HAAB: He's definitely in a better place now. I'm glad that he didn't suffer that much. It's sad because it's not going to be the same without him at school anymore. That's for sure. Football definitely won't be the same. We're definitely going to have to band back together as brothers and mourn his loss and pick up the pieces to try to rebuild our football team.
BERMAN: When you -- when the school opens back up again, do you feel safe coming back here?
HAAB: Probably going to be safe.
HAAB: It's going to be -- it will be safe. I'm just worried that it's not going to be the exact same how it was before.
BERMAN: It's never going to be the same.
HAAB: Everybody is going to be on their toes from now on. It will never go back to the way it usually was. But hopefully one day it will.
BERMAN: Hey, Colton, I just wanted to ask you, finally, you know, what's your message to the rest of the country right now? You've been through this right now. You're the member of the most unfortunate tragic club in America right now. It's a club that's growing. You know, people who have been through a mass shooting. What do you want people to do and care about?
HAAB: I want everyone to pray for the victims, their families, somebody who lost one of their loved ones, and make sure that they're in their prayers. And I want to thank the first responders. They got here so quickly and saved as many people as they possibly could.
BERMAN: And I think everyone wants to thank you, Colton, for what you did and your bravery, helping your fellow students.
Thank you so much for being with us right now. Thank you for helping us remember, you know, Coach Feis (ph), who lost his life trying to help people.
HAAB: Thank you.
BERMAN: Stay strong.
HAAB: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. You are looking right now -- I think we have a picture of coach Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach. A guy who used to mow lawns on the weekend for extra money. Colton just told me all he wanted to do was help people. That's how he died, helping people. We'll be right back.
BERMAN: All right. Stunning new details coming in this morning about the FBI being warned months ago possibly about the Florida school shooter. At least someone with the exact same name.
[09:20:04] According to "Buzzfeed News," a YouTube user with the same name as the alleged shooter left a comment saying, quote, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter. The video's creator took a screen shot of that comment, alerted the FBI, and YouTube.
According to the tipster, FBI agents came to his office the next morning, asked if he knew the commenter and took a copy of the screen shot. He didn't hear from the FBI again until yesterday after the shootings.
Joining me now James Gagliano, CNN law enforcement analyst, and Tom Bernie, former NYPD detective. James, you know, let me start with you. The FBI had someone with the same name as the shooter months ago saying he wanted to be a professional school shooter. That has got to be just a blinking red warning sign.
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure, John. That's a fair concern. Let's just break this down along free speech parameters and what we have to focus on when we are trying to bring charges against somebody on the federal side.
First of all, courts have determined over the course of the last 10 years or so when a lot of these Facebook, social media posts have come up where people have made threatening comments.
They said that the first thing you have to do is you have to be able to prove that a reasonable person in this situation would feel threatened. We have free speech protections. Eric Clapton and Bob Marley sang about I shot the sheriff. Nobody anticipated that was going to go sideways for a law enforcement professional.
In this instance, you've got to be able to prove it wasn't just a hasty, impulsive or easily misinterpreted statement. Now what it should have led to would have been what we call in the FBI a knock and talk, which meant agents should have been dispatched, gone to this person's house, knocked on the door and questioned him at a minimum.
That provides some level of deterrence and the FBI would have been able to ascertain whether or not this was somebody that just said something in the heat of the moment or had really bad intentions planned.
BERMAN: So, a knock and talk. We do not know if that happened with the shooter. We know it happened with the person who posted the video and alerted the FBI. We do not know if that happened with the shooter.
Tom Verni, had it happened or did it happened with the shooter, the FBI and law enforcement might have found out this was a kid that who had been expelled from the high school behind me because of some kind of concerns about threatening activity.
TOM VERNI, LAW ENFORCEMENT CONSULTANT: Good morning, John. My condolences to all the families involved in this horrific tragedy. This is why you've been hearing people in different scenarios talk about, if you see something, say something. We can't rely on Washington to do the right thing apparently.
Because in 20 years with multiple, multiple mass shootings, especially after 20 kids were slaughtered in their classroom in Sandy Hook and there was no action taken whatsoever, either to address gun loopholes or to address the mental illness issue in this country, you know, Washington has been inactive.
So, I find it hard to believe that they're going to be there for us because they haven't been. So we have to be there for ourselves. People have to pay attention to what they see in social media, what they hear in their classrooms or locker rooms.
If they hear a student who may be going off the rails, they got to tell somebody about that. So, the appropriate authorities whether it's a school authorities or law enforcement authorities can take action and hopefully stop something before it happens instead of being reactionary and responding when there's chaos.
BERMAN: But Tom, they did. This YouTube user who posted the video told the FBI, told YouTube, they were alerted to something, someone with the same name was saying he wanted to be a professional school shooter. The school itself expelled the student.
So, they said something, they did something. It shouldn't be left to Colton Haab, that 17-year-old hero I spoke to, to put Kevlar sheets on students at the end of the day when there are this many signals. Everyone has to act. As you say, Washington has got to be part of that.
VERNI: There was clearly a disconnect. There were one or two people that saw something and wanted to do something about it, but they never connected. That's why there has to be a to a follow-through to make sure that there isn't a disconnect and this is addressed when these red flags pop up to try to do the best we can.
That's the best we can do is try to prevent if we can the schools, working with -- every school district in America at this point, if this not another wake-up call that they should be working with local law enforcement to have a plan in place. BERMAN: This is more than the best we can do. It's incumbent upon all of us to do something here. Again, I met with a mother a short time ago saying imagine getting a text from her daughter saying she had just seen her teacher shot. That is what this community is facing. That's what this country is facing this morning. James Gagliano, Tom Verni, thanks very much, a very busy morning.
[09:25:07] In just a few moment, we'll be joined by another student who lived through this massacre, she was inside the school where the bullets shattered the glass of her classroom. Stay with me.
BERMAN: All right. John Berman here in Parkland, Florida. Let me tell you what's happening right behind me right now. They're setting up for a press conference. In a few minutes, we will hear from the county sheriff, potentially also Florida's Governor Rick Scott and some officials from the hospitals to get an update on the investigation.