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Numerous Fatalities in California Boat Fire; Dorian Nears Florida at Category 5 Storm; Update on Mass Shooting in Odessa, Texas. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 2, 2019 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The Coast Guard says there are numerous fatalities.

Let's get back to Stephanie Elam, who is in southern California, with more.

I mean that's -- that's a significant update, Steph. They're saying numerous fatalities.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a big update. And to be clear, this is Santa Cruz Island, not Santa Cruz.


ELAM: So it's Santa Cruz Island, which is off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura County, how you look at it. And that news of numerous fatalities come from the Ventura County Fire PIO (ph).

What we do know is that this is some sort of diving vessel, according to the Coast Guard, that they're working to rescue people, that there was reported of some sort a fire that they are working to extinguish to get the people off. It said that there was 34 people on board and perhaps five crew members. That a group of crew members were rescued off of the boat, but one of them had minor injuries.

But the Coast Guard saying that there was a fire on board. That that is what they're dealing with. Obviously still very early here, trying to get more of an idea on why this 75 foot diving vessel, commercial diving vessel, as the Coast Guard put it, would have been out in the water so early. But dealing with the fact that we do now know that multiple people have died and they are battling this fire on this boat there, which is Santa Cruz Island, which is a few miles off the coast of Santa Barbara or Ventura County, depending on which way you go.

And there are ferries that go there from both of those cities, both of those areas, just not clear yet on when this boat got out there or how this fire started.

HARLOW: OK, Stephanie, thank you very, very much. We'll get back to you in just a little bit.

Joining me on the phone right now is senior chief of the U.S. Coast Guard, Aaron Bemis.

Can you hear me, sir?


Good morning.

HARLOW: Thank you so much for calling in, in the middle of this tragedy clearly. I'm so, so sorry to hear about it.

Can you update us on the fatalities because we're hearing from your colleagues at the Coast Guard, quote, numerous fatalities, is that right?

BEMIS: Right now we can't confirm any fatalities. The firefighting operations are still commencing. The fire has been put out multiple times and reflashed. So there's multiple Coast Guard and local Ventura County Fire Department assets on scene, but we're not able to yet breach the hole (ph) and see if there's anybody -- any survivors at this point.

HARLOW: You're not able to breach the hole. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that means, what kind of boat we're talking about here?

BEMIS: You bet. It's a 75 foot commercial dive vessel that reportedly had 39 people on board. The five crew members were able to disembark the vessel because they were up forward in the -- in the main cabin. The 34 passengers were below decks. And the report that we got was that they were trapped by the fire. And the fire, it was -- was so intense that even after it was put out, you know, we're not able to actually embark the vessel and, you know, look for survivors at this point.


BEMIS: So it's still ongoing.

HARLOW: Chief, we're just seeing our first images. And I don't know if you're near a TV and you can see these images, but what our viewers are looking at and what I'm seeing for the first time, these are images that just came to us from Ventura County Fire. And you see the entire vessel, as you said, a 75 foot boat engulfed in flames.

You mentioned being able to breach the hole, get below deck. I assume this is in the dark. It was 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning when this broke out. Is the belief that these people were sleeping on the boat when the fire broke out?

BEMIS: The people were in a berthing (ph) area, which is a section of the boat where people do sleep. And the -- the fire kicked off at 3:14 local Pacific Time this morning. So chance are good that they were asleep in the berthing area.

HARLOW: What time again was that? BEMIS: It was at 0314 Pacific Standard Time.

HARLOW: 3:14 in the morning.

BEMIS: Yes, ma'am.

HARLOW: OK. You have been able to rescue some people off the boat. But, obviously, not everyone, because you believe there are still victims on that boat. Can you give us any sense of numbers, meaning at least how many you were able to rescue?

BEMIS: Five crew members were able to disembark the vessel on their own before Coast Guard was on scene. Due to their -- where they were located on the boat, they were up forward in the main cabin. So they were not trapped by the fire.

But another 34 people are reported to be on the boat. We won't have a strong figure or names until the crew -- a ship's manifest is obtained.

HARLOW: But just to be clear, it sounds like you're saying, sir, that only five people that you know of safely got off that boat. That none of the 34 others on board that you know of at least at this point were rescued by the Coast Guard. Is that correct?

BEMIS: That is correct.

HARLOW: Do we know -- do we know who was on this boat? It was a diving boat. Were these tourists? Were there children on board?

BEMIS: Until we are able to obtain a crew manifest, I won't have any -- any information on that. So that -- that is ongoing right now. A unified command center has been set up at Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor, where operations are going to commence to take place for the long-term.


HARLOW: You mentioned that there were several attempts to put out this fire, to extinguish it, and that it kept flaring up again. Is the fire fully extinguished at this point on the vessel?

BEMIS: Yes, it keeps being extinguished and reflashing, possibly due to the amount of fuel on board. Unsure why, but it's consistently being put out and reflashing.

HARLOW: Do you have reason to believe, sir, that there are any survivors on that boat?

BEMIS: I am unaware of any survivors at this time. And I'm also at no confirmed casualties at this time. It's too early to tell.


So I have some more information. Sir, if you could just stay -- stay with me. My executive producer is telling me in my ear we've just learned that this boat was, indeed, a commercial dive boat. The name of it is "Conception" and it embarked on this journey on Saturday. So the belief is then, chief, as you said, that people were sleeping on it and this was a multi-day trip.

Is there anything else you can tell us about that?

BEMIS: That's the most up to date information that I have at this time as well.

HARLOW: OK. Chief Aaron Bemis, thank you so much for calling in. It is -- it is a tragedy. Thirty-four people trapped on this boat. We don't know if anyone is alive. We'll bring you more as soon as we have it. I really appreciate your time.

Back to the other breaking news, millions across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina right now under mandatory evacuations or they will be soon. Take a look at a live picture. This is from Daytona Beach. The sun is up. So is the surf. We are going live to Florida as Hurricane Dorian closes in.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

Hurricane Dorian continues its slow crawl up Florida's east coast with millions under hurricane warnings and watches. Two phrases being used to describe this gigantic category five storm, slow moving and catastrophic.

Rosa Flores is in Daytona Beach, Florida, this morning.

Good morning, Rosa.

What are you seeing and, really, more importantly, what are people preparing to see and endure?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing here are just beautiful skies here behind me. But as we make a 180 with the camera, you'll see these dark, menacing clouds. And according to our CNN Weather Center, that's what we're going to be seeing here in Daytona Beach and in Volusia County all day long, the outer, outer bands of Hurricane Dorian. They are going to be windy, they're going to be wet, but they're going to be brief.

Here in Volusia County, mandatory evacuations will start at 10:00 a.m. That's why you see these boarded up businesses. So everyone along this barrier island, it's about 47 miles long, they are all under mandatory evacuations starting at 10:00 a.m. So are RV parks, any low-lying areas, anyone living in a mobile home.

Now, the other thing that we might see a little later is double red flags on, on the beach. You're allowed to drive on this beach except not today. Individuals are not allowed to drive on the beach. The gates have been closed. And once those red flags go up, then all aquatic activity must stop according to officials.

Now, Poppy, shelter will be open starting at 10:00, of course, because that's when the mandatory evacuation goes out. There's about 34 across the county. Officials told me they're going to need about eight or nine to start. But then, from there, they can open other shelters. And it's schools her in this county that double as shelters.


HARLOW: Rosa, thank you very much. Ominous warning, those dark clouds just to the other side of you. Thank you very much.

The chaos surrounding the deadly west Texas shooting this weekend. In the middle of all of that, first responders and doctors were able to save this beautiful 17-month-old little girl who was shot in the face. Today, she undergoes surgery.



HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And hundreds of people gathered last night in Odessa, Texas, during a candlelight vigil for the victims of Saturday's massacre. Seven were murdered in the rampage, 22 more were wounded, including a 17-month- old little girl. More on her in just a minute. The residents there thanked police and the first responders. The mayor of Odessa vowed that the community would get through the tragedy together.

As for the investigation into the why here, "The New York Times" is reporting that the gunman had been fired from his job as a truck driver just a few hours before he embarked on this shooting spree.

Scott McLean joins us in Odessa this morning.

They are searching, Scott, for a motive. Do they have one yet?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're not ready to draw any conclusions just yet, Poppy, but that is exactly why there are some 130 FBI investigators here combing through 15 or so different crime scenes spread out throughout the city to try to figure out what exactly took place here on Saturday and why it took place. As you mentioned, we are learning more about the shooter. "The New York Times," as you said, is reporting that he was fired from his trucking job on Saturday before this happened. Authorities are now searching his property, which is about 15 miles west of where we are, in a pretty rural area.

CNN spoke with one of his neighbors yesterday who said that he would actually sit on the roof of his house and actually shoot down at animals in her yard.


She also said that they had a dispute last month that culminated in him showing up at her door with a rifle in his hand.

Now, this 36-year-old suspect, he has a pretty scant online footprint. He also has a pretty scant criminal past, just two misdemeanors that we could find dating back to 2001.

We know, though, that he used an AR-15 type of weapon in this shooting. He -- the entire thing took place over the course of about an hour, and a lot of miles. He also hijacked a U.S. Postal Service van, which added to some of the confusion as to where exactly the shots were fired. All of this culminating right there. You can still see the van back there. He was in a shootout with police and was killed, Poppy.

HARLOW: Scott, thank you very much for that reporting.

Let's talk about this a little bit more with former FBI supervisory special agent, and our law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell.

Good morning, Josh.


HARLOW: We know that they are -- the Feds, right know, are combing through 15 different crime scenes because of how widespread this was. They're processing cars. They're looking at all the forensic evidence that they can. What are they looking for in terms of a motive, and how do they determine it was someone who has been killed?

CAMPBELL: Yes, it's a great question. I think at the outset we should all be prepared for the fact that we may not find out what that motive is. I've been talking to sources that are there on the ground, and as you mentioned, this robust investigation is underway. But thus far authorities have not identified any type -- any piece of evidence that leads them to a particular motive.

And I can tell you, looking at this through an investigative lens, again, I don't -- this doesn't appear to be one of those incidents that was premeditated and plotted out. I think what we're probably going to find out, and this "New York Times" reporting is so key about this notion that he was possibly fired is --

HARLOW: Right.

CAMPBELL: I want to look at characteristics in a pattern and think about what transferred. If he was fired, that is an authority figure, you know, controlling his life, essentially impacting him. That's not that dissimilar from a traffic stop where a law enforcement officer or a patrol officer is essentially denying your liberty, only for a few minutes at a time, usually. But if you're someone who's predisposed to violence and you, you know, react in that nature with violence based on someone who is now doing essentially what your boss just did, controlling your life in this powerful way, that could explain the motive.

But, again, we just don't know at this point. HARLOW: So -- so, Josh, just quickly. I mean, look, this guy didn't have any warrants out for his arrest, but he did have a criminal past back in 2001, arrested for criminal trespassing, evading arrest. And, on top of that, we just heard Scott's reporting that he apparently showed up at a neighbor's house with a rifle, yet, you know, no flags on this guy?

CAMPBELL: Yes. Yes, exactly. And that's a -- that's a problem is after these incidents we always look back and try to determine, were there warning signs there. And I think there are two aspects. First, the shooter himself. As you mentioned, this is someone who, if he's sitting on a roof popping off rounds into a neighbor's yard, again, that's a key. And that's a characteristic people want to know about, presumably, you know, breaking the law there. But was that reported to law enforcement, that we don't know.

But the reason why it's so important, even if we don't know the motive, to look at the actions as we look back is because we want to try to stop the next one. And so that is regarding the shooter.

The second aspect, which I think we have to talk more about, is the firearm itself. Now, we don't know whether this was purchased legally or illegally, but I think that that is the key. As you look at all these incidents in the past, the one through line for so many of these cases has been access to this high-powered rifle.

HARLOW: Josh, thank you for your analysis. We appreciate it very much.

CAMPBELL: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, that's the investigation. That's the shooter.

But so much more importantly, the victims, like this little girl. Today, a beautiful 17-month-old little girl will be wheeled into an operating room, her loving parents by her side. She has to undergo surgery to remove shrapnel from her chest, repair a hole through her bottom lip and her tongue. Why? Because Anderson Davis was shot in the face this weekend. Her smile is nearly as wide as her face. Her bright eyes, as you can see, are filled with hope. She is the youngest of the innocent victims of the Texas shooting spree. Her mother sent a note to Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Listen to what she told him.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Thank you all for praying. This is all of our worst nightmare. But thank God she's alive and relatively well. She goes on to say that, toddlers are funny because they can get shot, but still want to run around and play. She says that, we are thanking God for that.


HARLOW: Those parents thankful in the face of such hate.

So I want to just pause for a moment and read you her parents' words. Their names are Kelby and Garret Davis. And here is part of a statement that they issued that they never should have had to make.

Quote, although there is so much to grieve today, there's so much to be thankful for. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to the strangers who offered us help on the street, to the first responders on duty and off duty, to the staff and the physicians at MCHS Airocare (ph), the pilots, the nurses, the paramedic, the staff, the physicians at UMC in Lubbock, to our family, to our friends.


That terror that flooded the streets of west Texas would not have been stopped without each and every effort you put forth. We praise God for walking beside us during this time and our prayers go out to all of the families that are walking this same walk. We hurt so badly for the families whose loved ones did not survive this tragedy. We are thankful that our beautiful baby girl will be OK and look forward to reuniting her at home with her twin brother.

Those are some of the words from her parents. They thanked all of the remarkable first responders who helped save their daughter, because their daughter is too young to ask us this question, but we should all be asking ourselves, what would you tell little Anderson Davis if she asked you what you did to stop this?

If you would like to help her family, you can go right there. That is the GoFundMe page. They've raised just about $190,000.

We'll be right back.