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Soon: Florida Officials give Update on School Massacre; Asst. Football Coach Dies after Shielding Students; AG Sessions Speaks about School Massacre. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired February 15, 2018 - 10:00 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: All right, John Berman here in Parkland, Florida.
Behind me, of course, the high school where 17 people were killed yesterday. Also behind me now, you can see the beginning of a setup here. We're expecting to hear from the county sheriff very shortly for an update on the investigation. There are so many new questions right now arising in this investigation. So many questions about signs that might have existed over the last year, signs that if they were noticed, if they were heed, maybe, perhaps, this would not have happened. There are also so many stories of heroism this morning which we'll get to.
The suspect accused of killing 17 people and wounding more than a dozen others now charged with premeditated murder. We've learned this morning that one of those killed was assistant football coach Aaron Feis who acted as a human shield to protect the students. And we're learning this. The FBI was warned about a school shooting threat made online by a user with the same name as the suspect months ago.
Let's get the very latest on all of these developments. I'm joined this morning by CNN's Rosa Flores. Rosa?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, reliving the horror, that's what's happening inside the school building that you see behind me as investigators scour through the deadly trail. They are collecting evidence, trying to connect dots. As you mentioned, the suspected shooter charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. They're collecting the evidence that would be used in a trial to prove that that was indeed premeditated murder. They're scouring through social media footprint to see what clues were there, what clues were missed, perhaps.
Now, this hour, we're also learning about the heroes in this particular case, that assistant football coach, Aaron Feis who used his body as a shield to try to protect parents. I talked to a parent yesterday who was outside the school at about the time that the shooting broke out. And she says that as soon as she got a text message confirming that her daughter inside was OK, she started putting other students inside her car and driving them away to safety, again, a lot of these stories of people just selflessly trying to help others to make sure that they were safe.
We're also learning a lot about the suspect in this case. We know that he purchased an AR-15 style rifle within the past year. He passed the background check. And, of course, we know what happened yesterday, when the suspect brought that rifle to this school, creating mayhem. And we're learning a little bit more about his personal life, about his background, from the family attorney of the family that took him in. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: 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 else to go. They did not see any danger. They did not see any kind of predilection that this was going to happen and they're horrified just like everybody else. They're a part of this community. Their son was here at the school during the shooting. Didn't know -
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He was a student here.
LEWIS: He's a student -
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: 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 is nothing ominous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: Now we understand that the suspect's father died 13 years ago. His mother died last November. And, John, as we have been talking about, the charges that he's expected to face, the latest that we heard from state attorney here is that he is on the docket for the 1:30 p.m. bond hearings. We'll be following that very closely. John?
BERMAN: All right, Rosa Flores thanks so much for that.
I do want to bring you all one piece of possible news. CNN just learning from the Broward County Sheriff's Office that they received a notification that possible shots were fired at the north Broward preparatory school. They received notification that possible shots were fired. That's all we know right now. I will tell you, we all hope this amounts to nothing. But I just wanted to give you the information as we're getting it in. We will keep you updated on that as it develops.
In the meantime, we are learning this morning of the FBI was tipped off last fall to a comment posted on YouTube by a person with the same name as the Florida shooting suspect. This is the comment that was on YouTube. I'm quoting here, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."
[10:05:03] CNN's Jessica Schneider has much more on that from Washington. Jessica, what are you learning?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, our team has talked to this YouTube account holder. And he says he alerted the FBI and even met with FBI agents back in September. Now, his name is Ben Bennight. He's 36 years old. He lives in Mississippi. And when he saw that one line comment under a YouTube video that he had posted, it said of course, that one line comment, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."
When he saw that, he says he immediately e-mailed a screen shot of it to the FBI's tips e-mail account, and that's when agents in the Mississippi field office got back to him immediately and interviewed him in person the next day. That was September 25th. But we understand from Bennight that agents were back in touch with him again yesterday after this shooting unfolded in Florida. They even visited Bennight in person, in Mississippi. But, of course, as Ben Bennight had been selling them back in September and now just yesterday, he said he knew nothing about this poster or this gunman, if, in fact, they are one and the same. He said he just alerted authorities and YouTube about this. He said he didn't know much else except that comment, that one line comment was disturbing.
Now, of course, we have reached out to the FBI. We have not heard back from them. And we also don't know if the FBI ever visited the gunman as part of this investigation into this cryptic one line comment on YouTube. But, you know, this does just add to that disturbing social media profile of the gunman. He posted photos on Instagram, where he was brandishing firearms and knives. But we are told that he has been talking with investigators since his arrest, of course now we're awaiting his appearance in court.
But, of course, those investigators, John, still working to fill in all the details about this horrific shooting that killed 17 people and you can see here, just some of the suspects online posts in addition to that YouTube comment that did draw scrutiny from the FBI and that they were tipped off to that from that YouTube account holder. John?
BERMAN: All right. Jessica Schneider for us again, those posts are very, very troubling. Also troubling, this news we're getting in just now, again, possible shots fired at North Broward County Preparatory School. That's not too far from here. That is from the sheriff's office. Possible shots fired. We're trying to find out as much information as we can. We'll bring that to you as it happens. We're hoping it amounts to nothing. But as of now, it is still developing.
In the meantime, joining me, two students who live through this massacre here yesterday, David Hogg, a 17-year-old senior and Zachary Walls, also 17. You guys have sort of different stories to tell in different perspectives on this. David, I want to start with you. You run, you know, the news station, the news organization at this school. When these shots started ringing out, you did what a good journalist does, you started filming. What did you see? What did you experience?
DAVID HOGG, STUDENT WHO LIVED THROUGH MASSACRE: First thing I experienced was a single gunshot that echoed long through the hallways. We initially thought it was a drill because they've been talking about having a possible drill for the past couple of months and -- I mean the teachers and some of the students. And we initially thought it was a drill because of the fire drill earlier that day. But right after the first shot was fired, I told my teacher, we should probably close the door and she did. As she closed the door, the fire alarm went off. As the fire alarm went off, we all instinctually got up and started walking out as the soft targets we were.
And as we were walking out, there was a flood of people coming towards me because we were walking towards our fire designated zone. As I was walking out, there was a flood of people running past me coming towards me say go the other way, go the other way. I follow them and as I'm following them, there is a janitor that says no, don't come this way, this is where he is. We were actually running towards the school shooter.
And because of that janitor, and because of the person that was in the nearest classroom, she took everybody that she could in, I think it was around 30 to 40 students and put them all in 100 square feet of space and saved all of our lives that day. That's a true testament to how a single split second decision can make a huge difference and how people can stand up out there, even today, and tonight, and in years to come and stand up and not let this happen again and talk to their elected officials and say this is not OK. This is something we can't keep up.
BERMAN: Probably saved your life. Probably, also your bravery, your cool headedness, very well might have saved life as well.
Zach, you were with Colt (ph). We spoke to Colt (ph) a short time ago. You're part of the junior ROTC program. The junior ROTC program -
ZACHARY WALLS, STUDENT WHO LIVED THROUGH SCHOOL MASSACRE : Yes, sir.
BERMAN: You helped people shelter in that classroom behind that Kevlar blanket.
WALLS: Yes, sir. I was actually the one in charge of the classroom. I'm a company commander. I was in charge during the time. And we just got back inside from being outside doing formation with our uniforms. We just got back into the classroom, I heard the fire drill. I started lining the kids up outside and I started to lead them because I'm in charge, I was in front and leading them towards our fire zone, which is exactly where the shooter was. And I was about past the senior courtyard and I heard two to three shots.
[10:10:00] And from training I've had and some programs, I knew from the fire drill and from the shots that it was an active shooter. I looked at all the kids behind me. They were looking at me. What do I do? What do I do? I just yelled get back in the classroom. Everyone started sprinting and I just tried to hurdle as many people in as I could. I got all my cadets in. I got some teachers, some kids that weren't in my class. Some kids didn't know where to go, I said if you can't find your class, get in mine. Me and Colton started setting up this Kevlar things s in front of the kids to help protect them in case anyone came in. We've got up some tables and grabbed some two by fours to arm ourselves in case anyone did come in the room.
BERMAN: And everyone in that room was safe?
WALLS: Yes, sir. We put them all behind the Kevlar. We were on the phone with police officers. Colton got information from the sergeant of a name of Victor Cruz and he was possibly -
BERMAN: Your sister, though, right? Everyone you know is safe, but your sister lost some friends, yes?
WALLS: Me and my sister, my sister's in a different state right now. She graduated. She's in college. The main person closest to me, my best friend, he lost his sister, Alina Petty (ph). She passed away. I don't know the details of that. But it is tragic. And I love him. I'm praying for him and his family.
BERMAN: I'm sorry to hear that. To both of you, let me just say, you guys sound so brave and together and it is terrific for you and your friends and the people in the school that you were so cool headed and able to handle this. But you shouldn't have to, right? You guys are 17 years old. You shouldn't have to be, you know, that brave. And see this.
HOGG: We had to prepare for these things. And that's already more than what we should have to do. We shouldn't even have to worry about these things in school. And the sad thing is, we had to prepare for them. But luckily, because we did, we saved -- I believe our school saved a lot of lives as a result.
BERMAN: Zach, the shooter here, I really don't want to say his name because I want to think about you and the heroes and also the victims here. But you knew him or knew of him, what did you know about him?
WALLS: I previously had interaction with him when I was younger in my freshman, sophomore year. I had a water jug and he was sitting along the wall. And he asked if he could have a drink from it. I don't know why. I gave to him but I just gave him the jug. He took a drink. He spit out water on the floor, laughed at me and handed me the jug back. I didn't know what to do. I was, like, who does that? I just grabbed the jug and walked away. I was very confused with what was happening and I stayed away from him from them on because I figured he was a weird person.
BERMAN: You feel safe coming back to school here?
HOGGS: Yes. We have security guards such as Coach Feis that put their lives on the line for us and I feel safe knowing there is people like that at this school.
BERMAN: Talk to me about Ccoach Feis. WALLS: He was an amazing guy. I actually knew him outside in the community more than I did in the school. I would see him driving around all the time. I would talk to him about the truck he owned a few times. He was a great guy. He was a selfless guy. My sister was good friends with him, always talked to him a lot of times. It is rough, knowing that he passed away.
BERMAN: Again, I'm so sorry for that. That you're going through this. David, one last message, you know you have a chance to talk you know to the country right now, to the leaders, what do you want to say?
HOGGS: What I would say to the country and to the leaders right now, specifically to the people of the United States, is take action. Don't let this happen to your children. Because we thought this would never happen to us and it did. And getting used to this kind of thing is what is causing these types of situations to continue on. And nothing is going to happen unless we actually take action. And to the politicians and the leaders out there, we can have all the ideas that we want, but ideas without action remain ideas and children's lives are lost as a result.
BERMAN: 17 years old, David Hoggs, Zachary Walls, thanks so much for being with us. Thank you again for your bravery. We're here for you, you know. If you ever don't want to be as brave as you're being now, let your guard down, that's OK too. Let me just say that in the next few days.
Any minute now, Broward County Sheriff's Office will hold a press conference that's going to happen right here behind me. We could get an update on the investigation. All these new emerging questions, stay with CNN for the very latest.
[10:17:53] BERMAN: Any minute now, just behind me, Florida officials will be holding a press conference. There are a growing number of questions in this investigation over this massacre that left 17 people dead here in Broward County in this high school behind me.
Want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Cedric Alexander and Bobby Ciccone, retired FBI special agent. Cedric, I think the first newest bit of business that needs to be addressed is this "BuzzFeed" report that deals with YouTube, the fact that someone with the same name as the shooter left a message on YouTube that said, "I want to be a professional school shooter." Now the FBI followed up on this. There was some follow-up, but that just seems to be a glaring piece of information back in September. So how do you get from September to yesterday?
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, that's what the FBI is going to determine in their investigation. But I think it is important to keep in mind too, John, that probably if you go up on YouTube, where you have very little parameters as -- in terms of what you can say up there, you're probably going to find many other, if we dig deep enough, many other types of insane statements that are being made. And you have a small quadrant, if you would, of FBI local police that can follow up on many of these. So I think my personal self if we think about social media, one of the important questions we can begin to ask ourselves, all of us as citizens, when we see something, we should say something. But also how can we hold social media more responsible to monitor and make sure when these types of threats or innuendos are made that someone is aware so they're probably investigated.
BERMAN: All I will say is that in this case it appears that someone who saw something did say something. He raised it to the FBI and YouTube and action was taken. So even if you say something, sometimes it does not prevent the horrible here. I want to bring up one point, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, is speaking in Washington right now. If he addresses this school shooting, we will bring that to you live when it happens. So we might have to break out. There is the attorney general right there. Do you want to listen in for a second?
[10:20:10] ALEXANDER: Absolutely.
BERMAN: OK. He's not addressing it just now. We'll go there if we can.
Bobby Ciccone, again, to you, this issue, if you see something, say something. When you say something and still nothing happens, that seems to be the problem here because not only did someone report it to YouTube and the FBI, but the school, behind me, they said something also. They said this kid can't go here because we have concerns about him.
All right, here is the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Let's listen.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- that we have seen in that school and young people we lost. And certainly a tragic event and we're going to work on it and many ways to do something about it. It cannot be denied that something dangerous and unhealthy is happening in our country. And we are once again watching the images of children, terrified, screaming out of their school, hands over their heads. It is an image we don't need to continue to see. When parents, once again, go to sleep, and fearful that their kids will not be safe, even when they go to school, parents have told me and gang infested neighborhood that children can no longer stand on the bus stop by themselves, they take turns, parents do, of being out there every morning and afternoon.
So we got to confront the problem. There's no doubt about it. I know that each and every one of you in this room feels the same way. I know that our sheriff in Florida, trained schools and committed his resources and effort to try to train school people and other groups on how to respond to these kinds of tragedies. I bet most of you do the same thing in major cities.
So, we at the Department of Justice are going to make this a priority. But we know your deputies, your deputies are the ones who arrive first, they respond to the danger, not knowing what they're going to see but responding, putting their own lives at risk to save our children without regard to their personal safety. That's something we got to always remember. In this situation that we have seen just cannot continue, and we will take such action as we're able to take. We have got to reverse these trends we're seeing in these shootings. Since the day I took office, in conjunction with our state and local colleagues and our sheriff's departments, we prioritize the violent crime and violations of federal firearms laws.
And the first quarter that I was sworn in, we -- well, I first sworn in, we sent out a directive on gun prosecutions, the first quarter I was in office, we saw a 23 percent increase in gun prosecutions. Virtually all of those or big percentage of those came from partnering with our state and local law enforcement. So this is a big issue for us, I think effective enforcement of our gun laws, focusing on criminals and dangerous people, mentally ill people that have been -- where we have the legal ability to do so, can reduce violence in our communities and improve public safety. It is not good if we got gun laws that say criminals can't carry guns. They never get enforced. So we intend to enforce our laws and if anything the recent events have caused us to know we need to do even more in the future.
Today, we met with this morning our office of legal policy to work with our partners in Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, across this administration, to study the intersection of mental health and criminality and violence and to identify how we can stop people before these heinous crimes occur. It is just too often the case that the perpetrators have given signals in advance.
We had a brief meeting with your leaders before this speech and they all agree that every one of these cases we had advanced indications and perhaps we haven't been effective enough in intervening immediately to deal with that. I suspect it appears that we have seen that again in this case. So you are experienced professionals. You and I know we cannot arrest everybody that somebody thinks is dangerous.
[10:25:01] But I think we can and we must do better. We owe it to every one of those kids, crying outside their school yesterday and all those who never made it out of that school. Our hearts are hurting today, and all the law enforcement community knows that we have a challenge in front of us, and I know together we'll meet it.
It is also a reminder of how important the work of law enforcement is. People sometimes denigrate or don't appreciate what you do and your deputies do until we have a tragedy and then they're glad you're there. That's who is called upon. Most important thing that any government does is to protect the safety and rights of its citizens and I understand the importance in this country of respecting the civil rights of every American as you do. It is taught in your training academies, you teach it every day in your meetings with your deputies before they go out to work.
But the first civil right is the right to life, the right to be safe in your community. That's a fundamental right that you protect every single day. Everything else do in government, depends on that. We cannot allow politics or bad policy to get in the way of this mission. All of us, no matter your political party, depend upon law officers for our safety and protection. I know firsthand the important work that each of you do, my experience as I indicated was firsthand, working directly with sheriffs and deputies, and we'll continue to do that and we want to see that even further advanced under my tenure with the federal government in working with state government.
Back in mobile, I work with Sheriff Tom Purvis and Sam, Sheriff Sam Cochran and he -- I remember Sam as a lieutenant narcotics officer, next thing you know he's sheriff. I think he's like you, he didn't have -- Judd doesn't have opponents when he runs for re-election. But good sheriffs are important to our communities. You all know that. Together we are -
BERMAN: You've been listening to the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Powerful words from the attorney general on the shooting that happened here right behind me at this high school in Parkland, Florida, powerful words, but a reasonable question, how much more beyond the words will there be. The attorney general said that there is something dangerous and unhealthy going on in America right now with the number of these school shootings. He talked about the importance of our civil rights here in this country, the most important right he said is the right to life, the right to go to school and expect that you will not be in harm's way. He said he thinks that the United States should study the intersection between mental health and gun violence right now.
Again, the question is what will come of this now and why didn't something come of it sooner? I'm joined again by our law enforcement analyst Cedric Alexander and Bobby Ciccone. Bobby, you know, to you. The attorney general says he wants to study the intersection between mental health issues and gun violence. I have to believe a lot is already known. This has been addressed quite a bit. The question is what will you do about it? We do know that President Trump when he came to office within a month of taking office reversed some measures that allowed more people who might have mental health issues to buy guns.
BOBBY CICCONE, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, yes. Unfortunately in this case, policy already exists, the law already exists. It just wasn't used. The Baker Act in Florida allows schools to target people like this who are likely to do substantial harm to themselves in the near future and if they take one act of behavior, coupled with that tendency or that you know likeliness, then they can be brought in for an involuntary confinement for 72 hours. That psychiatric evaluation can then lead to further confinement.
So, in this case, the school, instead of invoking the Baker Act, my niece is a schoolteacher in Florida. I use that as a verb, to Baker Act someone, if they Baker Act it, would have been off the street. It would have been having a psychiatric evaluation, hopefully got the treatment he needed. I mean, instead, they expelled him. They pushed him off and said now he's somebody else's problem. So, really, all the indications were there, but this school district in this school system to monitor this individual and say, this kid falls under the Baker Act, he should be brought in for psychiatric evaluation. The laws are there. Use it.
BERMAN: Bobby - Cedric - Bobby, let me interrupt you for one second here because we have one bit of breaking news I want to read you. This, from our Evan Perez who covers the Justice Department so well, this from Evan, there were at least two alleged threat reports that the FBI received about the shooter, that's according to a law enforcement official.