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Officials Hold Press Conference on Parkland Shooting; Vigil Held for Shooting Victims in Parkland; Shooting Suspects' Public Defender Speakers Out; Former Manager Talks about Suspect; Coach Who Saved Lives Remembered. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 15, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] OFC. MICHAEL LEONARD, COCONUT CREEK POLICE DEPARTMENT: We had been given information via the radio as to what he had been wearing. This information was provided to the radio dispatch. I decided to travel in some of the residential areas located near the school and as I traveled down one of the back roads, heavily residential area, I happened to come across -- just myself. There was not a lot of people out. Couple of people walking their dogs in the area. As I continued down this roadway, I discovered an individual walking on the sidewalk that was wearing the clothing description that had been given over the radio. He looked like a typical high school student and, for a quick moment, I thought, could this be the person? Is this who I need to stop? Training kicked in. I pulled my vehicle over immediately, engaged the suspect. He complied with my commands and was taken into custody without any issues.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did he have the weapon with him?

LEONARD: I can't comment on that. The investigation is ongoing.

I would like to take this time to express my gratitude for my brothers and sisters in law enforcement, emergency services that have put all their heart and soul into this. This is what we train for. We hope this never happens. But I just want to thank them.


LEONARD: I want to thank them for all their services and everything that they do. And my condolences to the families that have loved ones that have been lost.


LEONARD: Thank you for your time.

FRANK BABINEC, CHIEF, CORAL SPRINGS PARKLAND FIRE DEPARTMENT: Hi. My name is Frank Babinec. Last name spelled B-A-B-I-N-E-C. I'm the fire chief for the Coral Springs Parkland Fire Department.

Before I start off with how this went for us yesterday, I would like to tell all the residents of Parkland and Coral Springs that from all the men and women of our department that we are very sorry for what they're going through. Our firefighters share in their grief. They feel for them. They feel with them. We are part of the community and we are here to protect them during the event and we will be here to protect them after the event.

Yesterday just before 2:30 p.m., we received a call for a possible active shooter event at Stoneman Douglas High School. As we started our response, we really weren't sure if this was a real event or not. We get calls like this once in a while and they turn out to be nonreal calls, which is a good thing. As we began to respond, we got more and more information that made this more and more real for us. Myself, along with several other chief officers and fire personnel were responding to the scene. As we got to the scene, we had to set up an appropriate command post and triage area to deal with the amount of possible patients that we were going to have. As we approached the scene and got set up, we got information that there may be patients on the west side of the building. I went around to investigate that, where we did locate one victim and removed him from that area. And I returned to the command post.

I can tell you that all the first responders train for events like this. We hope we never have to use it. We hope we never have to use that training.

This is a horrible event. But I'm very, very proud of all of the firefighter paramedics, all the first responders, the E.R. folks. Everybody that treated these patients did it with such a high level of professionalism and readiness that I cannot say enough about.

I want to thank you guys for allowing this opportunity. And our firefighters can never -- our first responders can never un-see what they say yesterday. So we will work with them to make sure they get the resources they need to get through this as part of the community.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you tell us about the victim you encountered?



[14:35:18] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are going to come out of that. And exactly the point we were just making, none of these first responders, firefighters, police officers, no matter how many years they have under their belts -- I have talked to them through my years in journalism. Nothing will prepare them.

I want to bring in someone really special, Lissette Rozenblatt, who I was on the phone with this time yesterday.

I just gave you a huge hug because I know the nation was hanging on your every word, as was I --


BALDWIN: -- about your daughter.


BALDWIN: How are you? How is she?

ROZENBLATT: Thankfully, we're fine. We were blessed. She came home. I have never been so happy to see her. It was a horrifying -- I think when I was on the last interview at that point, I didn't know where she was. It was 20, 30 minutes that I had lost contact with her. Her last text at about 2:48, at exactly 2:48 she told me that she was terrified, that she was hiding and that to please call 911. She told me that there was somebody hurt. She kept hearing somebody crying out. She said it was a Spanish-speaking student and she heard them crying and praying. So she knew someone had gotten shot on her floor. It's terrifying. You never think this is going to happen in your town, in a good school.

BALDWIN: Number-one most-safe city in all of Florida.

ROZENBLATT: Exactly. I'm grateful. Our family is absolutely blessed, but our hearts are broken for all those victims. It's so hard. The hardest part is going to be how do you get them back to school? My youngest, who is in elementary school, he didn't want to go to school today.

BALDWIN: Lissette, how do you explain to an -- any kid in this country but an elementary school aged kid, whose older sisters went to this high school. Go to this high school.


BALDWIN: How did you explain that?

ROZENBLATT: You don't. Unfortunately, you don't. You hug them, and you tell them that you love them. And, unfortunately, this is the kind of world we're living in today. If we don't do something now to take action, this is going to keep happening, whether it's mental health, terrorism, whatever. There are guns out there that are automatic weapons that should not be in the hands of civilians. That's what it boils down to. Greed, money, NRA. Politicians taking money from the NRA. As parents, the ultimate goal is to keep our children safe and sending them to school should not be like sending them to a war zone. It shouldn't be like that. I'm more nervous about having to send my kids back to school on Monday.

BALDWIN: So they're going back Monday?

ROZENBLATT: That's my plan. It may not be the academic, correct thing to do. But definitely my daughter -- obviously, the school is closed. She's not going back. My son who is in elementary school, he's petrified. He was so worried. He saw my name, saw me on an interview. That's how he found out.

BALDWIN: We were on an interview. You were live on CNN and I kept saying to you, get off the phone with me when she walks in your back door.

ROZENBLATT: She took almost three hours to get home. I sent him to my neighbor's house. So grateful for them. He literally, after a while, saw the interview and my name scrolling and heard what happened. He came running home just crying, so scared for his sister. I was like, I promise you, she's OK. She's OK.

BALDWIN: Can you tell me -- the phone dropped, and I was hoping that meant that she came home. Can you tell me about that moment?

ROZENBLATT: It was amazing. My inclination as -- I studied broadcasting as well, was to just film it and -- but I didn't. I watch my kids. Her older sister was there, younger son was there. And I hugged all of them at the same time. It was just such a relief. She was just drained. She was just drained.

BALDWIN: How do you explain to people -- I've covered a few of these. You hear the parents say I never, ever, ever thought this would happen in my school or my community and then it does. And then it does again. How do you explain to people who have never gone through this kind of grief and worry every minute?

ROZENBLATT: It's unreal.

BALDWIN: Not knowing. What did that feel like?

ROZENBLATT: There are no words. I pride myself in trying to be pretty emotionally composed and those 20, 30 minutes, I lost it. I was hysterical. There are no words. There's nothing you can say. And I'm blessed. Those parents who are not as lucky -- I woke up this morning with an empty feeling. As a parent how could -- that's the thing. How can politicians not feel like the parents? They've got to know what this feels like.

BALDWIN: Some of them do.

ROZENBLATT: Absolutely. There are those who absolutely do. But we all have to work together. Politicians, the community, everybody. And we need to take action. We're, what, the 18th shooting?

[14:40:07] BALDWIN: What's the action?

ROZENBLATT: The community, those of us that are actually horrified should do something. Maybe we need to go to Tallahassee. Maybe we need to hold rallies. My oldest daughter said we should hold a rally here locally. I think that's a great idea. Once the youth -- it hits home, and they start taking action. If we just post on Facebook and not do anything, nothing is going to happen. Also voting is a huge deal. If we don't vote, nothing happens.

My heart goes out to all the families and I'm blessed. And I thank you, again, for your time.

BALDWIN: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. So glad she's OK. I appreciate you.

With that, let's go live to Gary Tuchman, who is standing by, not too far from me at a student vigil being held, of course, in honor of these 17 young lives -- 17 lives including, of course, an athletic director, assistant football coach.

Gary, what are these young people telling you?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, hello to you. In this beautiful park just two miles away from the high school we have hundreds of students from the high school. This is not an official vigil. They'll have an official vigil here tonight at 6:00. This is just an organic gathering of these students, their parents and other people in the community seeking solace with each other. People are breaking into tears, laughing at times about their friends who have passed away, the fun things they did with them, funny things they did with them.

We're purposely not talking to anyone who is here. We want them to have their time together. We want to show this amazing support of freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors who went to school with 3,000 people. And were at school on Valentine's Day, a day where they should be having fun. It only gets harder each time because nothing is ever done. It keeps happening.

Right next door to us, this building, there are official counseling Sessions going on. There's experts with therapy dogs, psychologists, police. Any student who wants to go inside there, any parent who wants to go inside there right now is undergoing private therapy.

Then to the other side over here, you'll see this building. This is an amphitheater. That's where the official vigil will be happening at 6:00 tonight. As you can see, this is a vigil of sorts. People, friends getting together after the most horrible day of their lives -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: It is, indeed. You never get -- it never gets easier, covering stories like these. I know you know. So do I.

Gary Tuchman, thank you so much. And I love that you're respecting those young people and letting them grieve.

Moments ago, the attorney for the Parkland shooting suspect stoke out after his first court appearance. We'll play you those comments next on CNN.


[14:47:10] BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We're live here in Parkland, Florida, the site of another unspeakable massacre at the school.

Just in, the suspect's public defender is speaking out after this young man's court appearance here in which he was denied bond.

Kyung Lah was there.

Kyung, what did the public defender say?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It was truly an extraordinary moment after appearances, the very first appearance that the defendant had. We heard from the top public defender here. He became so emotional he had to step away from the camera a couple of different times as he described the young man that his office will be defending.

He said that this defendant is on suicide watch, that this is a deeply troubled young man, that throughout his entire life he has suffered from, this is a quote, "significant mental illness," that while they are in the process of gathering all his mental health history, they say that he suffers from brain development and he suffers from depression and that all of this came to a head, that one of the moments that really came to a head was the loss of his mother in November last year. A deeply troubled young man, suffering from all this mental illness, then suffered an extraordinary trauma. His mother became sick. She had the flu. The public defender saying that the young man had encouraged his mother to go to the doctor, but then she died. So he says that, since the moments that he has been -- their client, that they have been in conversation with him, that this young man recognizes the loss that the community has now suffered. He describes him as deeply sad, dealing with shock and that he was able to express that he was saddened by -- this is a quote, "saddened by the loss of these children."

Another public defender, the blond woman who was standing next to the defendant, Melissa McNeil, she described him as, quote, "a broken child." She says that, you know, her children go to public school. That she had a conversation about safety in school, and then she had to sit down from a man she described as a broken child, that his brain was not developed. He had trouble with impulse control. She described him as sad, mournful, remorseful.

The overwhelming feeling out of this, Brooke, is that this is a community suffering on all sides. These are parents, these are students, and these are now lawyers in a legal system trying to figure out what to do next -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Kyung, thank you.

Paul Callan, what's your take on all of that?

[14:49:54] PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm, frankly, shocked that the legal aid attorneys took such a forceful position so early on in this case. I mean, I know what they're doing. What they're trying to do and they're looking down the road, they're thinking about the death penalty being sought in this case, and they're trying to set up a defense that because of his mental illness, because of the family problems, the death of his mother, that there are mitigating circumstances that might reduce this from a death penalty case to a life in prison case.

However, even given all of that, with the high emotion and the suffering that Parkland parents are going through now, with all those other children who were shot, who remain, some in serious condition, in the hospital, I don't think this is the time to be saying, hey, let's be sad for the guy who held the rifle and inflicted all this damage. It's a foolish move. I understand why they do it, what the tactic is. Do you know something? It's a dumb tactic at this point in the case. Save it for later.

BALDWIN: Carrie, what about you?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do tend to agree that it's unusual to make these big, public comments about him so quickly after their appearance. They'll have time to put on their defense and that process will play out. So I think they'll have time to do that and they'll have time to plead whatever is appropriate to his circumstances. Obviously, there is a lot of tragedy that's going to be recognized all around.

But, Brooke, also, in a variety of your interviews, I hear you asking the bigger questions about what is the country going to do to prevent these types of incidents from happening again?

There are several things that really need to be taken on. And the first is that we need to look at physical security of schools. Obviously, a number of steps these schools did drill but people do need to take physical security of schools, perimeter security seriously. It's an issue for state and locals that they can step up. This is an odd moment in our history where schools are vulnerable, and we need to be devoting whatever we can to those.

Second, assault weapon ban. We used to have a federal assault weapon ban. This individual, even given the mental issues that were just described by his public defenders, we need to have Congress take on the assault weapon ban. Very conservative court, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, recently took on this issue with respect to assault weapon ban in the state of Maryland, and the court held it was a weapon of war.

BALDWIN: Yes. I've talked to so many, you know, gun control folks who say we're not trying to take away your weapons, but the idea of having a gun that is used in war used here by civilians -- I know some folks, many folks say it just doesn't make sense.

I want to thank both of you for weighing in.

We're getting some new sound. This is from the suspect's former manager.


UNIDENTIFIED FORMER MANAGER OF SHOOTING SUSPECT: He was always very nice, shy. Head usually down. Little straggling hair but never posed any problem to people, had any complaints from customers. He was a shy individual. I remember him telling me this and I didn't put anything together until I saw him picture. I remember him telling me he got expelled from a school and he went with his mom and his mom passed away. When I realized it was him, I could even believe it. It's shocking to know someone who actually did the thing is even crazier. To say I worked with him, he was still working there, as I know, last week. My grandmother was checked out by him three days ago. Yesterday, I was informing quite a few people, hey, someone we used to work with did some horrible things. One of my current employees here used to work with him. She has a son is in ninth grade. Ad she had to worry about her son in danger from someone she used to work with for a couple of months. One of kids here is 18. He couldn't make today because his girlfriend had one of her best friends killed. And one of his friends was shot in the head. In ninth grade, my freshman football coach was Coach Feis, and he's the one I got shot. Everyone knows everyone around here. It's really sad.


[14:54:16] BALDWIN: Incredibly sad. It is incredibly sad.

Coming up next, more on the heroes involved in this tragedy. Among them, assistant football coach who, when you talk to witnesses, they will say he put his life on the line to shield others, so that other young students could live. We'll talk to someone who knew him very closely.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: A number of students who survived this mass shooting here in Parkland, Florida, are telling stories of this assistant football coach who died, trying to shield them, saving so many lives. They talk of bullets flying in classrooms and hallways, and Coach Aaron Feis throwing himself in front of them. A school official says Coach Feis died a hero.

Chad Lyons is a former athlete and student of Coach Feis'. He joins me now.

I cannot begin to appreciate the emotions you're going through. Can you just tell me about this coach? You described him as your savior in high school. Tell me why.

CHAD LYONS, FORMER ATHELETE AND STUDENT: Yes, ma'am. I began my life with a bunch of difficulties. I was in and out of foster care, in between shelter homes, foster homes, 22 foster homes and four shelters and whenever I just felt unsafe or I felt the need to do something better with my life, which means playing football and also just getting treatment and just a bunch of different things he did in my life, getting me out of negative situations and taking me to church on his regular day basis after practice, on Sunday mornings, after saturday night football, letting me be the ball boy. A bunch of different activities, he included me in and my lifestyle just enjoyed, and I got to experience many different opportunities in my life.

BALDWIN: That's awesome. He sounds like just a total, awesome guy. Incredible coach who went so above and beyond. Can you, Chad, humor me? Can you tell me a story? Tell me one story about your coach.

LYONS: He told me you're going to slack off to the point where you're not going to be in class anymore and these kids are going to be gone. And all of a sudden, I was like maybe you're right or maybe I'll pass the class. I passed the class and he said you proved me wrong. I said yes, sir, coach. Always try to be great. Eagles fly.

BALDWIN: Love it. I love it.

When you heard, Chad, about how he courageously lost his life, what did you think?

LYONS: It was a shock for me. It was unbelievable because of the amount of thought into him actually just passing away would be -- it was a complete shock to me. I couldn't even imagine -- I didn't want to believe it was real. He was such a great human being, going to church, caring for his family. His family is amazing caregivers. And it's just unbelievable. I can't even -- I can cry, but it's just too much tears have gone by.

BALDWIN: Can you imagine your coach jumping in front of you? Jumping in front of students, knowing that there was a man with a gun and trying to save lives, knowing full well what could happen to him? Can you imagine that?

LYONS: I definitely could. He was that type of person who always put himself before others. He was never a selfish person. He would never down talk anybody. He was always a joking guy. He was a loving, caring guy. And words can't express the sympathy he had for children in general. I can know, and I know why he did it, because of his intelligence and his caring for the kids was just remarkable.

BALDWIN: And, Chad, I understand you had leukemia.


BALDWIN: And he helped you with that also.