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Senate Takes Moment of Silence for Florida Victims; Scene of Florida Shooting; FBI Received Warnings; Mental Health Focus after Shooting. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired February 15, 2018 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Gunned down at a Florida high school. I want to take you live to the United States Senate right now. A moment of silence in honor of the victims in Parkland, Florida, yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate will observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Florida school shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senate will come to order.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate from Florida.
KING: Just witnessing there a moment of silence on the Senate floor. Bill Nelson, the senator from Florida, about to speak. Obviously his home state struck by this tragedy. We will monitor Senator Nelson, go back to the floor if necessary.
Actually, why don't we just listen for just a minute.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Those of us who are parents, you can imagine the parents of those children, wondering what else can be done, because yesterday a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in northern Broward County, Parkland, Florida, walked onto the campus with a gas mask, smoke grenades and carrying an AR-15 assault rifle. He pulled a fire alarm. He waited for the students to come out into the hallway and he opened fire. And as a result, 14 families are grieving. Their worst fears have become reality. And more than a dozen other students who were injured, they're in the hospital and some of them in critical condition.
At some point we've got to say enough is enough. At some point we, as a society, have got to come together and put a stop to this.
This senator grew up on a ranch. I have hunted all my life. I have had guns all my life. I still hunt with my son. But an AR-15 is not for hunting, it's for killing. But despite these horrific events that are occurring over and over, these tragedies have led so many of us to come right here to this floor and to beg our colleagues to take commonsense actions that we all know will help protect our children and our fellow citizens from these kind of tragedies. And we get nowhere.
So when is enough going to be enough?
KING: Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, when is enough going to be enough? The Democratic senator up for reelection there, pushing the United States Congress to take some action. He wants gun controls. The president of the united states a short time ago spoke about this. He talked about convening a national conversation governors and attorneys general about mental health. So the political conversation about what's next, and when is enough enough, and what is it that politicians should do is beginning. This a day after -- a day after a deadly massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Let's remind you of the tragedy in that community.
Last night, in that community, 17 families went home without a loved one. At least 14 other families anxiously waiting and waiting for doctors to update them overnight about the injuries of a child, a parent or a sibling. Most of the wounded still in the hospital this hour today.
We want to warn you, many of the images and videos you will see throughout the hour are violent and disturbing. Some 3,000 students and teachers waiting for the final bell of the school day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when a 19-year-old gunman triggered the fire alarm. Teenagers and staff poured out of their classroom, thinking they're answering that alarm. Instead, walking, running into an ambush. The shooter opened fire. People scattered. Some jumping fences, taking shelter at a nearby Walmart.
A few shielding others from gunfire. We're learning heroism stories today. One student, Kelsey Friend, says her geography teacher saved her life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELSEY FRIEND, SURVIVED SCHOOL SHOOTING: He still will forever be my hero. I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students of the classroom. And if his family is watching this, please know that your son or your brother was an amazing person and I am alive today because of him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[12:05:22] KING: So many remarkable stories like that. Many students and teachers took cover inside the classrooms, texting loved ones, posting on social media, saying they could hear the gunman moving around the school building. Teens captured the terrifying scenes on their phones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: More than an hour after law enforcement was first alerted to the gunman, officers find and arrest the gunman. He's been charged now with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He's due in court a bit later today.
Today you are hearing repeated calls from the president and lawmakers that if you see something, say something. You should say something. We're learning that two people did see something and they did say something. The first on YouTube, a video blog flagged this comment to the FBI and to YouTube last September. "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." Left by a user with the same name as the alleged Parkland shooter. The FBI says they searched their databases but weren't able to identify the person who made that comment.
And we don't know yet when the gunman bought his firearm. But we do know this, a shooter with the same name as that commenter on YouTube turned that threat into deadly action yesterday. We'll talk about that in a few moments a bit more.
But, first, let's go straight to the ground. CNN's Rosa Flores live in Parkland, Florida, on this tragic day after.
Rosa, what's the latest?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you can see behind me this is still a very active scene. You can see flashing lights. We also learned during that press conference, where the FBI special agent in charge spoke regarding those alerts -- and I will get to that in just a moment -- but the -- we also learned that bodies are still inside the school because investigators are gathering evidence. They are trying to process the scene. And this is a pain-staking act because imagine this, these investigators, who are human beings, are having to enter these classrooms, enter this school and gather and collect evidence. As law enforcement officials said during that press conference, they have to do this very carefully because, at the end of the day, they are hoping that justice is served and that is with a prosecution.
Back to those alleged threat reports that you were mentioning from the FBI. We've learned that there were two of those threat reports. We don't know what one of them was. We don't know exactly what that was. But we do know about this 2017 report. And here is what the FBI special agent in charge said.
He said, quote, in September of 2017, the FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel. The comment said, quote, I'm going to be a professional school shooter. No other information was included in the comment, which would indicate a particular time, location, or the identity of the person who posted the comment. The FBI conducted database reviews and other checks, but it was unable to further identify the person who posted the comment.
And, of course, John, what everybody is thinking right now is, we always hear from law enforcement, if you hear something, say something. In this case, something was done, somebody did speak out. But here we are in this tragic event covering yet another mass shooting in the United States.
KING: Rosa Flores. Rosa Flores on the ground in Parkland. Thank you so much.
I just want to say, just in to CNN, seven patients -- seven patients remain in the hospital now. We're 22 hours after the shooting.
With me to share their insight and expertise on these law enforcement questions, Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director and CNN's senior law enforcement analyst, and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Tom, I want to start with you because if you're watching anywhere in America, and especially in Parkland, Florida, today, you are hearing that a YouTube blogger contacted YouTube, contacted the FBI and said, look at this, a person with this name, spells exactly as this shooter spells his name, put up, I want to be a professional school shooter. The FBI came back and contacted the blogger.
But Rosa just noted this. The FBI special agent in charge -- actually, let's listen to him if we have the sound. This is Robert Lasky, the Miami special agent in charge, says, yes, we got this notice and this is what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT LASKY, MIAMI FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: In 2017, the FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel. The comment simply said, I'm going to be a professional school shooter. No other information was included with that comment, which would indicate a time, location or the true identity of the person who made the comment. The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[12:10:10] KING: So take us through how this works. In the sense that -- and I want you to explain what the FBI can and cannot do. Where they run up against the law? Where they run up against civil liberties and private rights? In the sense that most Americans, who don't have the understanding of the law that you do, think, well, I have one of these. The government, if it wants to, can find out exactly where John King is sitting right now. The government can find out exactly who John King last texted. And, if it wants to, can find out exactly where I last used my credit card. So why can't the government get to this young man's house, knock on the door and say, is this you?
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, in this situation, they sent agents to talk to the person that made the call in the first place to the FBI reporting that it read this on YouTube from this Nikolas Cage (ph), the posting that he was going to be a professional school shooter. Then they went to try to locate. They asked that person, do you know who that is? Is he a friend? Is he a neighbor? Is it someone you know? No, I don't have any idea who that is. This is the posting. That was the name used.
So they go to that. Well, people can post on YouTube from all over the world using anybody else's name. This could have been another friend of his that just knew that he was having mental problems and had guns. It could be anything. So they went around their databases to try to locate, do we have any information on a Nikolas Cage (ph) about doing something like this.
KING: Nikolas Cruz. Nikolas Cruz.
FUENTES: I mean Nikolas Cruz, I'm sorry.
KING: That's OK. Yes.
FUENTES: Sorry. And they couldn't find anything on him. They went back later to the -- to the same complainant and still couldn't learn more identification about the actual person that put that online.
Now, I should add that one of the biggest problems that you have with YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, other -- many of these social media networks, is that they can do this anonymously, they can do it from anywhere in the world, they can post these things and it can be very difficult. And what's worse is that there are thousands of people on a regular basis posting that kind of ominous message about what they're going to do. They could be wanting to join ISIS. They could be domestic terrorists in some white supremacy group. They could be any number of things. The bureau tries to track them down, identify them. In this case, they weren't able to find him.
KING: Right. And let's listen to the blogger, the YouTube personality in question here, because he did exactly what people are asked to do. If you see something, say something. You see something alarming, alert the right people. Let's listen here. Ben Bennight is his name.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN BENNIGHT, ALERTED FBI TO FLORIDA SHOOTER'S COMMENTS: Well, I think in today's online world, it is very difficult to narrow down who does what without more information. And, unfortunately, I wasn't able to provide them with much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you gave them the user's name, right, which is the same exact name as the shooter?
BENNIGHT: I did. I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And, so, Shimon, when you talk to your sources, here's the frustration. Again, the parents in Parkland and people watching around the country are thinking, well, they had a name, it was spelled right, and the technology exists if you had a warrant, say, in a federal crimes case, couldn't you -- could you not trace, you know, at least an IP address or take that message and go -- try to go back to where did it come from? SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's exactly the
question. And when you pose that question to the FBI, I don't think they have that answer right now. It does not appear that they went beyond any steps other than talking to the man who alerted them to this threat and doing an internal database, their own government database searches. Beyond that, we have no indication, at least at this point, that they went and did anything else.
And there is some issues with -- as you talk about, privacy. The FBI is limited in what they can do. In order to take some of the further steps that they would need to, they would have to open a full investigation to get subpoena power. We don't even know if they went to YouTube to try and talk to them to see if they can help them find out the IP address, where this threat was emanating from.
So they gave us a very simple answer. But I think for the families, for the families, they are going to need to answer this question, because, again, while we can talk about gun laws and despite all that, there were signs here that this man was trouble. And nothing was done about it. No one was alerted to it. And I think that's some of the questions that people, certainly these families are going to have as we go into days of this, of this coverage and as we start to learn about this man (ph).
KING: And so what's your perspective on this because there will be people out there saying the FBI dropped the ball. That's what they'll be saying.
FUENTES: Well, we don't know what --
KING: And, I -- again, it's not that simple. But -- so what do you do?
FUENTES: Well, we don't know --
KING: What do you do if you're Tom Fuentes and you're the -- you know, you're the senior official at the FBI. You know he was expelled from school. You know he's doing some stuff on social media. But there's no clearinghouse to connect all those dots. What has to be done?
FUENTES: Well, the FBI doesn't know every person expelled from a school in this country, so they wouldn't have known that.
KING: Right. Right.
FUENTES: The school has a troubled person, and they know he's troubled, disciplinary problems, repeated problems. They expel him. They're done. So off he goes. Secondly, he's 19 years old. At the time maybe he was 18, but it's not that long ago. And, you know, when that happens, you have an adult kid. Even if the parents, his parents are dead, but the foster parents or any other family member, they're not allowed to even find out the status of treatment if he's getting mental health treatment under the HIPAA laws. So that privacy is protected. They don't know if he's supposed to be taking medication or he quit taking medication. So that part's done.
[12:15:10] Secondly, if the FBI had gone -- let's say they finds him and they go interview him. You know, what do they do for the next step? Can't take his gun away. Even if he said, yes, I bought this AR- 15. I bought it legally. I've not been convicted of a felony. I've not been officially judged mentally ill. And that -- having that put in the databases of purchasing firearms. So the FBI would have said, well, you know, we hope you're a nice guy and you don't do anything bad. That would have been the end of it legally for what the FBI could do at the time.
KING: Right. And, again, it's a lot more complicated than we make it in these quick conversations because, again, you don't -- you're not sure. But if there -- if -- if there was a way to search the specific spelling of this name -- I know this could be anybody anywhere around the world using a fake name. But if you searched that name the way it was spelled, if you did find out that this is somebody who was expelled for threatening people, we don't know exactly when he bought the gun, but I assume if you had those two pieces of information, posted online I want to be a professional school shooter, was expelled from school for threatening behavior, wouldn't that stop you from getting a gun? Shouldn't that stop you from getting a gun?
FUENTES: No, not legally it wouldn't stop you from getting a gun. You have to be convicted of a felony to not be able to buy a gun. And until that point, that's the law. And there's not more they can do about it until that person commits that felony or makes an overt threat. Then they can do something.
KING: Well, that's the mental health aspect the sheriff was talking today --
FUENTES: Well, it's both. It's both these things coming together and both restrict law enforcement from taking the next step.
KING: Right, that more things should be -- there should be -- should be more factors involved in those decisions (ph). We'll continue the investigation and please come back if you get any new information.
When we come back, though, the president of the United States did speak about this earlier today. He made no mention of any gun control debate. But he president did promise to talk to state attorneys general and to governors to try to convene a national conversation, he promised, on the mental health part of this latest tragedy.
[12:20:58] KING: Welcome back.
President Trump, at the White House just moments ago, with a message for the nation, pray, hold tight to your families and answer the violence of yesterday, the president said, by coming closer together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer or a faith leader. Answer hate with love. Answer cruelty with kindness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And this, too, both from the president and from the Republican House speaker, talk of changing how the country handles mental health issues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: If someone who is mentally ill is slipping through the cracks and getting a gun, because we have laws on the books, we have a system to prevent people who aren't supposed to get guns from getting guns, and if there are gaps there, then we need to look at those gaps.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now live from the White House.
Jeff, the president says he wants to visit Parkland. Any idea when that might happen and what next to expect from the president's promise to start a conversation, at least about mental health?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the president did say he would visit with family members soon. We are told that this plan is still underway, that planning is being discussed for a potential trip to Parkland on Saturday. The president is already going to be in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, his retreat. He's scheduled to go down tomorrow for that.
This school is some 42 miles from Mar-a-Lago. So it's an area the president knows very well, south Florida. It's an area where he has a lot of supporters. And he is close to it. So potentially a trip on Saturday. The White House is still working all this out. One official says he does not want to be in the way there. So it could come as early as Saturday, perhaps later over the weekend.
But, John, in terms of mental health, that is something that this White House has done not much -- has spent not much time talking about until today. One difference in all of these similar messages from Republicans about mental health, you heard Speaker Ryan there talk about guns. He mentions the word gun policy. That is not what we heard from the president in his address. So this White House does not want to address gun policy. We'll see if they put forth something on mental health. The president said he would talk about it with the nation's governors when he meets with them later this spring. But as of now, John, no specific legislation or ideas for what to do that could have stopped this horrific tragedy.
KING: And, Jeff Zeleny, quickly on this point, the president spoke about 22 hours, correct my math if I'm wrong, after this happened. There were conversation at the White House last night about whether the president should come out sooner. What were the calculations internally?
ZELENY: The calculations were that this was still an ongoing situation last evening, that he was going to monitor it and address this the next day.
But, John, this was pretty much in line of what President Obama did after these horrific shootings that happened all too often. If the shooting happened early in the morning, he would usually address it later that day. If it was later in the day, he would usually address it the next day here. So I think the timing here is something that the president cannot be criticized for. The substance, though, is under much debate here in Washington.
KING: Jeff Zeleny live at the White House. Appreciate the reporting. Thank you, Jeff.
The president, this morning, channeling this question, why do people do this? A lot of parents are having to explain that to their children who might be afraid of go to school this morning.
CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem joins me now. She's a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security.
Juliette, we're had this conversation too many times. You're sick of having this conversation. But, on this question, I spoke to a six-and- a-half-year-old, my son, last night about this. I've also been texting with my older daughter about this. How do you talk to your children about this no matter -- whether they live in Parkland, Florida, or anywhere in the country?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So I have been in this field a long time. I'm the mother of three children. I wrote a book called "Security Mom." So the basic fact is, your kid know what's going on. There's no protecting them from news like this if they're over the age of five or six.
[12:25:06] And so you don't need to explain it. I mean, in other words, this may be inexplicable. It's the parent's obligation to provide their child with the tools and knowledge of what might be out there.
So things like, you know, active shooter protocols that all of our kids do in high school, middle school, elementary school. Don't be the parent who, you know, baulks at it or, you know, rages at the idea that actually tell your child the extent to which it is important that they know what's going on, whether it's an active shooter or a fire drill or whatever else.
The best we can do in a world in which there's too many guns is to protect our children and reduce the risk to them individually and, of course, collectively. KING: Let me move you from your parenting skills to your experience
both at the state and the federal level in terms of homeland security.
When you hear there's accounts that somebody did exactly what they're supposed to do. A guy posted on YouTube, I want to grow up to be a professional -- I'm going to be a professional school shooter. Reports it to the FBI. Individual with the same name turns out to be the suspect in this.
Is this a failing of the FBI? Should this information have been developed further? And if it's a failing, how so?
KAYYEM: So I -- the problem I have or what I don't know is the extent to which things like this are post and then the FBI is notified. In other words, are there hundreds of thousands of these a year? If that's true, then maybe what the FBI did is actually, you know, explainable. But if this actually ends up being that more information was developed and we just don't know, John, now, then the FBI will need to explain why they stopped this investigation.
But whether we blame or don't blame the FBI, there's only one person to blame here, right? WE know this, right, the criminal, the mass murder. But the most important thing is for us, as a society, to stop looking at the solution as binary, right? It's either/or. Like, either mental illness or not mental illness. Either gun control or not gun control.
In a world as sophisticated and complicated as ours, we talk about layered defenses. Multiple things that combined that will reduce the risk to our children in particular. So that's emergency protocols at schools. It's mental health access for people who are showing signs of violence. And, of course, it's making sure that a teenager who cannot buy a beer is not able to buy a weapon that has no place in civilian society. It's all of the above. And I think that the White House sort of tried to make it this binary thing. It's not a binary thing. We need to reduce the risk across all verticals. For our kids, this is ridiculous at this stage. It's just -- we failed them, right? I mean we failed them.
KING: Right. It would be -- I would say it would be at least nice if we could have a conversation about all these things and see what happens with the results.
KING: But at least actually have a common sense, civilian conversation about it might be the way to start.
Juliette, appreciate you insights.
With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Matt Viser with "The Boston Globe," John McCormack of "The Weekly Standard," and Politico's Rachael Bade.
And let's start there and let's add this. And I apologize to the people of Parkland and I apologize to people all across America watching this conversation who will say, you know, well, do I want to get into politics right now? We work in Washington, D.C. It is an election year. You see it playing out. Bill Nelson was on the floor at the top of the program. He's going to join us later in the program. He's in a hotly contested Senate race, likely to run against Florida's Republican governor, who is, of course, front and center, as he should be, dealing with this tragedy in his home state.
We heard from President Trump. As Juliette noted, he did promise to talk to the attorneys general about this and talk about the mental health equation. The president made no mention of even the conversation or a question, should we address gun laws? In an election year, after this, again, we've had this conversation too many times, is there anyone at the table who thinks Washington will actually have a serious, adult conversation, just about, should we look at gun laws, not what should we do, but even just should we? Let's sit down and talk about it.
MATT VISER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": No. I mean even if you look, you know, at the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, there was sort of bipartisan acceptance that something should be done about bump stocks. You know, sort of limiting that. It's been months and we still don't have a federal solution. So states are doing this in a sort of sporadic way to address that. So even on things you have bipartisan buy-in on, this Congress cannot get done.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And two of -- two of the three most important people on this issue signaled very strongly this morning that they want to have absolutely nothing to do with guns. One was the president, who never mentioned the word once in his statement, and the other was Paul Ryan, who said it's way too early to even talk about this.
I think this is where we are. You mentioned, this is 2018. It's an election year. There is not a Republican in Washington who wants to proactively pick a fight with the NRA in a midterm election year. It is, for them, a politically stupid decision because I think they understand that in their districts, the NRA can have enormous amounts of sway. They spent so much money helping President Trump get elected and he's fully aware of that. And I think no one wants to step on that issue right now.
[12:30:04] KING: Right. And we saw the president of the United States last hour. We saw the previous president of the United States, I can't count how many times, in the same position. It doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, it doesn't matter if you're Barack Obama or Donald Trump.