Return to Transcripts main page


Rabbi Myers Says 11 Of My Congregates Were Gunned Down in My Sanctuary; 11 Killed Including Husband and Wife, Doctor, Brothers; Suspect in Pipe Bomb Mailing in Court Today; Sarah Sanders Says Synagogue Attack was a Chilling Act of Mass Murder. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 29, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin and you are watching CNN's special live coverage as a string of hate- filled attacks rock this country amid the grief, the devastation for those lost, is a nationwide gut check about what is happening in America. Among the questions, how will the White House respond? Live pictures there inside that briefing room. The first White House briefing in nearly a month is set to begin.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Brooke, I'm Anderson Cooper in Pittsburgh. Just moments ago, the man accused of the deadliest assault on a Jewish community in the U.S. went before a judge. And this hour in Miami, another suspect inspired by hate is set to enter court. He's accused of sending more than a dozen IEDs to critics of President Trump. One of the devices, authorities believe, was addressed to CNN's world headquarters and discovered today. We'll have much more on that case, of course, ahead, as well. But first, to the anti-Semite accused of turning a time of worship into morning of terror. He allegedly murdered 11 members of the Tree of Life Synagogue here in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of this city. We won't say his name, but the 46- year-old long haul trucker went on a rampage Saturday during Shabbat, forcing the rabbi inside to do this. Listen.


RABBI JEFFERY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: At that time, I instructed my congregants to drop to the floor. Do not utter a sound and do not move. Our pews are thick, old oak and I thought perhaps there's some protection there. The people that were in the front of my sanctuary, I quickly tried to usher them up to the front, out some doors in the front. I turned back to see if I could help the remaining eight people in the back of my congregation. At that time, I could hear the gunfire getting louder. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave them. One of the eight was shot. And she's survived her wounds. The other seven of my congregants were gunned down in my sanctuary. There was nothing I could do. But I do live with regret that I wish I could have done more and I live with that and the sounds that are seared in my brain that I'll never forget for the rest of my life. We are a Tree of Life, and as I've said before to many, you can cut off some branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We're not going anywhere. We will rebuild and we will be back stronger and better than ever. I will not let hate close down my building. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: "I will not let hate close down this building." I want to turn now to CNN's Jean Casarez. She's outside the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh. Jean, prosecutors have just filed paperwork to seek the death penalty. I know you have some breaking details about the bond, as well.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a packed courtroom and we just came out minutes ago. It was packed with media. And U.S. Marshals entered the courtroom, they went through the door where the defendant would come in. He did not walk in, however. He was wheeled in, in a wheelchair. This defendant had layman's clothes on. He had a blue pullover top. It was hard to see, but on his right leg, appeared two white bandages. He was wheeled between the two public defenders on the defense side and almost immediately, U.S. Marshal, with plastic gloves on, actually took his handcuffs off. And that was because he had to sign paperwork. He counseled with one of the public defenders for several minutes, signing those pages. When it was finished and there were U.S. Marshals all around him, they put back on those handcuffs.

One thing, I saw his face distinct and clearly when he was wheeled in. He appeared to be very aware, but even more than that, very calm. I didn't see any nervousness, any anxiety, I didn't see confusion. Just very calm as he was wheeled in and turned. And now, the magistrate judge, specifically questioned this defendant. First of all, asking him, by name, if he was the defendant. The answer was "yes." asked him, after he read the charges, not all 29, but all of the charges that you see on the criminal complaint, involving the obstruction of allowing someone to exercise their free religious beliefs, causing death, causing serious bodily injury. He asked him if he had read the complaint and gotten a copy of it? The answer was, "yes, sir."

And then he asked him if he wanted to fully read all of the charges. The defense attorney stood up and said, your honor, we waive that.

[14:05:00] The defense also waived a reading of the possibility penalties. But we do now know that he has signed financial waiver statements, saying that he cannot afford an attorney. So, it's the public defenders' office who will be appointed, not necessarily who was there today for him, but attorneys out of that office will be representing him on what could potentially be a death penalty case. Anderson?

COOPER: Jean Casarez, I appreciate the reporting. Thanks very much. I want to turn now to the 11 people, 11 people whose lives were lost. One synagogue member who knew five of them described them this way to the "Wall Street Journal" saying, and I quote, "they were more than good and lovely people. They were the stalwarts who would show up on time and help out." CNN's Jessica Dean now joins me with more of what we know about those who were murdered. Jessica, tell us what you've learned so far.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, all 11 of these people had deep ties to this community. They were just pillars of this community. Like Dr. Richard Gottfried. He was Dr. Rich, as people called him. He was a dentist, he had a dentistry practice with his wife. She was actually Catholic, and together they prepared local couples for marriage through her Catholic Church. He was also well known in one of the local school districts, treating a lot of these children and their families as they grew up here in the squirrel hill neighborhood and beyond in Pittsburgh. The school district certainly remembering him today and saying their hearts are broken.

Also, Joyce Feinberg. She was 75 years old. She had been a research specialist at the university of Pittsburgh. Her husband had passed away from cancer a couple of years ago, but students remembered both of them, welcoming them into their home, mentoring them. Serving them up love and also camaraderie. She was also remembered as lighting up a room. One person said she was a small woman, but she had a big personality, that she was elegant and warm and very kind. And also, a pair of brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal. They were really known as unofficial ambassadors here at the tree of life synagogue. A lot of people remember them, greeting them as they came inside. Many people in the neighborhood knew these brothers, including this woman. Take a listen.


SUZAN HAUPTMAN, MEMBER, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: They stood proud. Cecil was tall, David was small. They stood proud at the front door, at the door that was open into the sanctuary, whichever sanctuary it was, they just stood there, hello. They gave you a book, or they said "hello," they were like the ambassadors. I think that's how you could say it. Because they were always there. Whether I was a congregant at the time or whether I was coming as a guest, they were always there. And they will always be there in our hearts.


DEAN: So many people missing them today. We also learned more about the Simon couple, Bernice and Sylvan. They were actually married right here at tree of life in 1956. And Anderson, it really comes down to this. These 11 people are the types of people who make communities what they are. And they are certainly being missed today.

COOPER: Wow, married in 1956 at the Tree of Life. Extraordinary. Jessica, thank you for that. I want to get a deeper perspective. I want to talk to a man, the man I quoted earlier. His name is Lou Weiss. He wrote this "Wall Street Journal" piece, a lovely piece on knowing 5 of the 11 people who were killed at the synagogue. Lou, thank you so much for being here. My condolences. I'm sorry we're here under these circumstances. What is going through your heart now and through your mind?

LOU WEISS, KNEW 5 OF 11 VICTIMS IN THE SYNAGOGUE: I -- I mean, I -- in the article, I mentioned the archetypal villain of the Jews, and his specialty was, he would pick off the people from the exodus of Egypt that were the most fragile, the oldest and infirm and he would kill them. And this murderer basically chose the oldest and people with special needs and the frailest people.

COOPER: A 97-year-old woman.

WEISS: It's the most cowardly thing you can do. And the thing about this, and I mean, he appears through history as Hitler, the semalach returns and he's come here to Pittsburgh. And the one thing that we've decided that we're not going to be, you know, cowed by this. We're not going to be fearful from this. Our community is strong and I mean, this guy said he wanted to -- this murderer saying, I want to kill all the Jews. Well, the Jewish people lives. Am Yisroel Chai is the Hebrew word for that.

[14:10:00] And we're here and we represent those values that he despised.

COOPER: And you know, I'm a big believer in not repeating the name of these killers, because I don't think history should remember them. History should remember the names of the 11 and the family members whose lives have been forever changed. Just tell us a little bit about the people you knew inside.

WEISS: They were just, when I say stalwarts, they were there every week. I mean, the Jewish prayer service is long. It's like 3 1/2 hours sometimes. They would be there promptly, they would be there early, I would always be late. But you need ten good people for a minion, and to get these people to do it and there were 11 that were murdered. But to gather these people together and get these people to show up at that time and get things together and hand somebody a prayer book at the right page when they come in and do all of those little things. And just to be a presence there.

COOPER: And the brother, Cecil and his brother, they would greet people often at the door, we're told.

WEISS: Just their presence there and just throughout the community. You see them waiting for buses. And just with a smile on their face and, their faces, and it's just heartbreaking.

COOPER: Yes. Did you ever think -- obviously, we live in a world where this does happen sadly. Did you ever think it could happen here?

WEISS: No. It's a city that's so together all the time, not just with this, but the Jews are so a part of the fabric of the community. We have a Jewish mayor involved in just every aspect of life here. And so, it's -- Pittsburgh's about the last place you think something like this would happen. And, but I mean, the one thing that he wanted to do was to strike fear and the opposite has happened. I mean, people of Pittsburgh are united around the Jewish community, around the world. People are having vigils, Jewish communities around the world and non-Jewish communities around the world. So, anyone that is, that has a conscience and knows what evil is and what good is and recognizes that, has rallied, rallied to our cause. And that's the good news. I mean, is that we carry this message for 3,500 years of, you know, looking out for the down trodden and freedom and the virtue and the -- every human being, you know, infinitely valuable. And we're not going to back off of those values. They're our values.

COOPER: For you, it's not the hate that will be remembered, it's the love that has come out of this.

WEISS: No question. When you said not to mention the name, it's funny, when you mentioned the guy, the biblical guy, there were all of these bad thick things. So, may his name be forgotten. So, you're supposed to remember his name and not remember his name. And I give you credit for not mentioning his name.

COOPER: Lou, thank you. I'm so sorry.

WEISS: Appreciate it.

COOPER: There's going to be a lot we're going to be learning over the next several hours and days and a lot of people whose lives will be forever changed. Right now, I want to go back to Brooke, who's standing by for the White House press conference. Brooke?

BALDWIN: We are. And I wanted to quote Lou, he said the best way to honor the people who would murdered would be to emulate their decency and goodness. Anderson, we'll come back to you in Pittsburgh. Thank you so much. As Anderson mentioned, we've got that White House press briefing, the first one since the 3rd of this month. As soon as we see Sarah Sanders, we'll take that live. They have a lot, a lot to talk about.

Also happening today, the man accused of sending pipe bombs to critics of President Trump is appearing in court today to face charges. Law enforcement say $e suspect had a list with more than 100 names. So, we'll tell you what he was planning the to do with that.

Also, this. As we've learned of another suspicious package addressed to CNN. It was intercepted today in Atlanta. Our special coverage continues here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Authorities are investigating yet another suspicious package. This one addressed to the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. The package was intercepted at a post office near the CNN center today and appears identical to other mailings. Investigators believe it was sent by a serial bomb suspect who is in a federal courtroom in Florida right this very moment. The 56-year-old man is already accused of mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs or IEDs as the head of the FBI referred to it last Friday to two former Presidents and several other prominent Democrats, critical of President Trump, as well as the media. Law enforcement sources now telling CNN the list -- the suspect, rather, had a list of more than 100 people to whom he intended to send these packages. Investigators are now reaching out to alert those people on the so-called hit list. So, let's go to Miami, where we find joe Johns upside that Miami courthouse where the suspect is making his very first appearance. Joe, tell me about what's happening in this hearing.

JOE JOHNS, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: This is all about due process in the first place, Brooke. I think he's going to be advised of his rights. He's going to be advised of the complaint that was filed against him on Friday, in the Southern District of New York.

[14:20:00] And there's going to be questions about an attorney for him. We do know that an attorney from Ft. Lauderdale, just north of here, is expected to put in an appearance for him. We also know that the Feds want to get Sayoc out and up to New York, where five of those packages actually were addressed, as well as where that complaint was filed by the United States prosecutor there. The question is, how long will that process take? It could be a very short process or it could take a little longer. So those are the kinds of things we're going to find out here in court today, as Sayoc makes his first appearance before a federal judge. Federal magistrate I should say.

BALDWIN: Stay in close contact with you, Joe Johns. Thank you very much in Miami. We are also following another attack seemingly fueled by hate in Kentucky. A white man is charged with killing two African- Americans last week at a grocery store near Louisville. Police say just moments before the shooting, the suspect was seen on surveillance video, trying to get into a predominantly black church. So, for more on this, let's go to Ryan Young in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. And Ryan, tell me more about what happened at that grocery store.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, as you -- well, as you can understand, there are people in this community who feel like this case is not getting enough attention. And in fact, they believe that Gregory Bush was trying to get into the First Baptist Church, which is just down the street from where we are, and he couldn't get in. In fact, someone was getting in the parking lot watching him try to violently open the doors. He just could not get in. And then he ended up in the Kroger that's behind me. And that's where this story takes a disastrous turn. He walked in and trained his gun on a man who was standing there with his grandson and he opened fire and killed Maurice Stallard right there in front of his grandson. They were there to buy school supplies when this happened. He then ran outside into the parking lot, according to authorities, and shot Vickie Jones, killing her in the parking lot, as well. And that's when another man with a gun approached and tried to stop this shooting, and there was an exchange of gunfire at that point. So, you can understand why people are upset in this community, because they're trying to figure out exactly what happened. In fact, there was a vigil here in the parking lot at one point, and people were asking questions about why would this happen here? They want to know how this is going to move forward later on, especially whether or not he's going to face hate crime charges.

BALDWIN: You know, I remember, Ryan, when we were -- when I was reading about this last week, as it happened on Wednesday, and you tell me, but apparently when he was in the Kroger, thank goodness, unsuccessfully, you know, not able to get into that church, someone else was heard saying or he was heard saying, you know, "whites don't shoot whites." This seems entirely targeted.

YOUNG: It is. And that's something we've been trying to confirm ourselves, trying to talk to that witness. And haven't officially confirmed that, but obviously, that has been spreading throughout this community. Had a man stop by to talk to us earlier and said, look, this doesn't happen in this community. And even some of the workers here say, if you're not safe at the Kroger, where are you safe? You understand people having that desperation, but then you think, another house of worship, the First Baptist Church, just up the street had a bunch of people on the inside, he was trying to get in and he couldn't get in. Thank goodness those doors were locked.

BALDWIN: Thank goodness. Ryan Young in Kentucky, thank you. What is going on in America? Let's have that conversation. With me now, Randy Blazak, the chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes. He's been studying hate crime for more than 30 years. Randy, Ryan was talking about what happened in Kentucky. We've been talking about the attacks on people because of the color of their skin, the place they worship, and the political views they hold. What is happening?

RANDY BLAZAK, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR, HATE CRIME RESEARCHER, CHAIRMAN OF THE OREGON COALITION AGAINST HATE CRIMES: Yes, frightening. It's just sort of gut wrenching. As somebody who studies this academically, I have to remember there's a real human cost associated with this. And you know, I think one of the reference points we should be thinking about is the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. A lot of people are unaware that McVeigh was trying to start a race war in America. He believed in these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, fueled by a book called "The Turner Diaries." It's about racial patriots overthrowing the government and purging it of the sort of global Jewish cabal that they believe runs the world.

And we're just seeing the latest manifestation of that thinking. It's nothing new, but it's just been intensified over the last few years. And there is this rhetoric in this country that's happening on the extreme right about a second American revolution or a civil war. And that more carnage like this is coming. So those of us that study this think that we've probably got more of this ahead of us.

[14:25:00] BALDWIN: I hope your studies are wrong. I hope, I hope, I hope. But the fact that you said that you've seen more of this, and you point to the rhetoric, and you point to the far right. Can you pinpoint what is causing this uptick in violence?

BLAZAK: It's always been there. It's something that goes back, these conspiracy theories and the beliefs that the government is controlled by alien influences. But what we're seeing right now, and of course, you have to talk about the role the President plays in this is a magnification of two things. One is the rhetoric about enemies, us versus them. Instead of us together, we have enemies, including within our government, including the media, including Democrats. You know all of these people are sort of listed as enemies. So, there's more of that polarity, of that binary thinking. But the other part of it is this conspiratorial thinking that used to be something on the fringes. When people talked about Roswell, New Mexico, or who killed JFK, now this conspiratorial thinking, thanks to the internet, and largely thanks to the bully pulpit the President has, have become mainstream. The conspiracy theories about the caravan or about global warming or about who's controlling the media, who's controlling the federal reserve. We've seen all of this before, but it never has seemed so legitimate and mainstream that it has now. So, there is this bleed-over effect into mainstream political discourse. When I started doing this 30 years ago, I was studying a relatively small subculture on the political fringes of America. And now I'm talking about masses of people who are buying into this way of anything.

BALDWIN: I wanted to ask you about Charlottesville, you know, as part of our special coverage on Saturday night and the head of the ADL brought it up to me and he reminded me, you know, the violence last august sort of almost lost in the unrest and the racial component and the death of certainly Heather Heyer, there was the chanting, Jews will not replace us. And of course, you brought up Trump, you know, the "both sides" comment. But, you know, anti-Semitism was front and center and hate is nothing new for Jews.

BLAZAK: Yes, and that's why this community has to be feeling an incredible level of anxiety right now. There's a reason we call hate crimes acts of terror. They are meant to terrorize entire communities. They aren't the same as all crimes. I get so frustrated when people say that all crimes are hate crimes. These are crimes that are meant to create discord and fear and anxiety in large groups of people. And we've seen that this week. So, it really has that impact. And that's why it takes leadership. And I'm just going to say, it takes real leadership to understand what the threat level is and what is happening to this country. And I think we're clamoring for a leader who sort of understands the depth of this and doesn't just go back into the old rhetoric of us versus them and really brings us together, because that's what this country needs.

BALDWIN: We are about to get the first White House press briefing in just about a month. And you know, you talk about real leadership. What needs to be said to help stop this?

BLAZAK: Yes, well, it's kind of an uphill battle for the President. He's dug himself such a deep hole. But there has to be a recognition of how real the threat is and how we are all, us, all of us, included in the blame game that, instead of blaming them, we have to kind of look at our own role in it and the President has to be willing to take a look at his role in it and have that honest discussion about how we, all of us Americans, participate in this divisiveness and it's time for it to change. And I would really billion impressed if he could say, look, I've been participating in this divisive rhetoric --

BALDWIN: Randy, I'm going to cut you off. Thank you very much. Here's Sarah Sanders at the White House.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- as you know, the shooter is in custody and the FBI is on the scene leading the investigation with the support of state and local law enforcement. This atrocity was a chilling act of mass murder, it was an act of hatred, and above all, it was an act of evil. Anti-Semitism is a plague to humanity and it is responsible for many of the worst horrors in human history. We all have a duty to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms and everywhere and anywhere it appears. The American people reject hatred, bigotry, prejudice and violence. We are a nation that believes in religious liberty, tolerance, and respect. And we are a people who cherish the dignity of every human life. Today, America grieves for the precious lives that were cruelly stolen. Our hearts ache for every person who lost a loved one. The 11 Jewish Americans who were horribly murdered represented the very best of our nation. They were brothers and sisters who looked out for each other, they were doctors who cared for citizens in need. They were proud grandparents who taught their grandchildren to value faith, family, and country. And they were the religious heart of the tree of life community.

[14:30:00] Our nation mourns the loss of these extraordinary Americans, and we also pray for those who were wounded. Our hearts are with the four brave police officers who were shot and injured while trying to stop the attack. We thank god for these officers and for every member of law enforcement who responded swiftly and bravely. In the wake of the attack, we have witnessed Americans of every faith and tradition coming together to mourn with their fellow citizens, to support one another, and to stand in solidarity with America's Jewish community. The President cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country. He adores Jewish Americans as part of his own family. The President is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren. His daughter is a Jewish American and his son-in-law is a descendant of holocaust survivors. Tomorrow, the President and first lady will travel to Pennsylvania to express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community. And with that, I will take your questions. John?