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Five Stabbed at New York Hanukkah Celebration; Gunman Kills Two in Texas Church; Congressman John Lewis Diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 05:00   ET



LEYLA SANTIAGO, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: At a Hanukkah party, larger massacres were nearly averted in both cases.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: A civil rights icon faces the battle of a lifetime, Congressman John Lewis has pancreatic cancer.

SANTIAGO: And before you throw away that Christmas tree, it could be this. We'll tell you what one Texas man is doing with leftover trees to help needy veterans. Good morning to you and welcome to EARLY START, I'm Leyla Santiago.

ROMANS: Nice to see you here today, thanks for coming by, I'm Christine Romans, it is Monday, December 30th, it is 5:00 a.m. exactly in the east, and it is just 5 weeks now to the Iowa caucuses. But we begin here. A vitriolic rise in anti-Semitism coming to a violent climax during Hanukkah. Five members of the Jewish community stabbed at a holiday celebration in the New York suburb of Monsey. Witnesses say the attacker struck at the rabbi's home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw him walking in by the door. I asked who is coming in, in the middle of the night with an umbrella. While I was saying that, he pulled it out from the thing, and he started to run into the big room, which was on the left side, and I threw him tables and chairs that he should get out of here. I ran into the other room because I tried to save my life. I saw him running down this way. So, I ran out, and two ladies came along with me, they're still hysterical.


ROMANS: The stabbings capped off weeks of recent violence against Jews in and around New York City, including an attack on a Jersey City Kosher market earlier this month. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says there have been 13 anti-Semitic attacks in New York this month alone.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We have to change the laws to call this what it is. This is terrorism. It is domestic terrorism.



CUOMO: There is an American cancer, it's a spreading of hate. But what is terrorism? It is a hate-motivated act to instill fear, based on race, color, creed, with the intent to murder. And that's what this was.


SANTIAGO: The suspect seen right at the top of your screen running away after the attack was found in New York City, Grafton Thomas' car, his tag was captured by a license plate reader on the George Washington Bridge. And that was about an hour after the attack. It was two officers who blocked the car and arrested Thomas.

He's pleaded not guilty, that happened yesterday, his attorney and his pastor say that he has a long history of mental illness.


WENDY PAIGE, ATTORNEY FOR GRAFTON THOMAS: Grafton is not a terrorist. He is a man who has mental illness in America. And the systems that be, have not served him well.


ROMANS: Less than 24 hours after the stabbings, Hanukkah celebrations were under way where it took place. The consul general of Israel in New York made a worrisome observation about the number of candles lit during the eight-day holiday.


DANI DAYAN, CONSUL GENERAL OF ISRAEL: In this Hanukkah, we suffered more anti-Semitic incidents, that's the candles that we lit, and that it's impossible to bear. What we saw now has to be the last time.


SANTIAGO: All right, the last time, let's talk about that. How do you make it the last time? New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined new steps to protect New York City's Jewish community. They include a greater police presence in heavily Jewish areas of Brooklyn and new education programs in schools.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK STATE: We have to reach our young people more effectively. This is the crux of so much of what we're seeing right now. Young people, who somehow, have come to assume that bias is acceptable. We will not let that happen in New York City.


SANTIAGO: Two of the victims stabbed in Monsey have now been released from the hospital. The anti-defamation league reporting that anti- Semitic incidents nearly doubled between 2015 and 2018.

ROMANS: All right, a man shot and killed two worshipers at a church service in a Fort Worth suburb, Sunday, before two members of the church security team shot and killed the gunman. The attack was caught on the livestream broadcast by the West Freeway Church of Christ. More than 200 people were inside at the church at the time -- that we've blurred some parts, but we want to warn you, the video is very disturbing.

As you'll see near the top of the screen, the whole attack unfolded in just 6 seconds.




SANTIAGO: The FBI describes the shooter as relatively transient with roots in the area. The gunman and one of the victims died on the way to the hospital. The second victim flat-lined was revived, but later died. Despite the loss of life, there were a lot of officials who were praising heroic church members.



JEOFF WILLIAMS, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: It cannot be overstated how important it is that everyone recognized what took place here today. The citizens who were inside that church, undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners.

BRITT FARMER, SENIOR MINISTER, WEST FREEWAY CHURCH OF CHRIST: We lost two great men today. But it could have been a lot worse.


ROMANS: The senior minister says the church will meet tonight to continue the service that was interrupted by the shooting. But Texas recently changed its gun laws in response to the 2017 Sutherland Springs Church shooting, 26 people died in that event. Licensed handgun owners can now legally carry weapons into places of worship.

SANTIAGO: Civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The 79-year-old Democrat said in a statement that the cancer was found during a routine medical visit. He writes, quote, "I have been in some kind of fight for freedom, equality, basic human rights, for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now."

He says that he is clear-eyed about the prognosis, but that recent advances have made this type of cancer treatable. Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The 17-term, 17-term congressman vows to continue his work while undergoing treatment in Washington.

ROMANS: We certainly wish him well and know that he is a fighter.

SANTIAGO: Absolutely. Well, Iraq's Prime Minister condemning the U.S. for a violation of sovereignty after airstrikes target Iranian- backed militias. Why the U.S. says that it was necessary.


SANTIAGO: U.S. forces conduct airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, targeting five facilities the Pentagon says are tied to an Iranian-backed militia. That group is blamed for a series of attacks on military facilities housing American forces.


Top national security officials briefed President Trump yesterday. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says more action is possible, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he says Iran forced the U.S. military's hand.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: This has been going on now for weeks and weeks and weeks. This wasn't the first set of attacks against this particular Iraqi facility and others where there were American lives at risk. And today, what we did was take a decisive response. We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.


SANTIAGO: CNN's Arwa Damon is alive in Istanbul. And Arwa, I mean, tensions are high, there is fear of escalation and there're questions about Iraq's stability as well.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a very messy and complicated situation, Leyla. And the spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry has -- all right, just come out and issued a statement, warning the U.S. of, quote, "consequences". Now, this is the first time that the U.S. has carried out such attacks in response to perceived aggression by Iran.

The U.S. came very close to a similar retaliation, but then pulled back over the Summer, following numerous attacks against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and then of course, as you'll remember, the Iranians shooting down a U.S. drone that they said violated their airspace. This specific attack targeting three sites inside Iraq, two in Syria, belonging to the Iranian-backed militia group Kata'ib Hezbollah comes after the U.S. blamed the group for a series of attacks, a more recent one happening on Friday against U.S. military locations inside Iraq. That Friday attack killed a U.S. contractor, but it also ended up angering the Iraqi government because this U.S. retaliation happened after the Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister specifically asked the U.S. not to carry it out. It also led to Kata'ib Hezbollah issuing a statement to its supporters, saying that they need to renew the battle against the enemy, America, and has caused widespread condemnation among the top echelons of the Iraqi government who are saying that this is a violation of Iraq's sovereignty and could potentially lead to further escalation.

Suffice to say, Iraq can no longer handle being a proxy battlefield between Tehran and Washington, Leyla.

SANTIAGO: All right, Arwa Damon in Istanbul, thanks so much, Arwa.

ROMANS: Oh, we're inching closer to the Iowa caucuses, now only 35 days away. Joe Biden's focus split between the campaign and President Trump's impeachment. And he had to clarify a remark, saying he would not testify in a Senate impeachment trial. Now, He says while there's no legal basis for him to be subpoenaed, he would comply.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would, in fact, abide by the -- whatever was legally required of me. I always have. This is a trial that relates to Donald Trump's behavior. Did he violate the constitution? Pure and simple. And I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that stays the focus, not anything else.


ROMANS: Senator Bernie Sanders has been quietly climbing in the polls. He was confronted twice this weekend by people in the health care industry. They're worried about losing their jobs under Medicare for all, which would eliminate private insurance.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work for a health insurance company. I have through my whole life, that's what I know. I'm 58 years old, help me, you're going to take away my job. I believe in you. I think this is the way to go --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to take away your job. I'll tell you what we're going to do --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need a new job.

SANDERS: Yes, and we will get you.


ROMANS: Mayor Pete Buttigieg knocked Joe Biden for voting in favor of the Iraq war in 2002. Biden of course later became a vocal critic of the conflict, and admits his vote was bad judgment. But Buttigieg, who is also a veteran, remains troubled.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I certainly respect the vice president. But this is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment. He supported the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime, which was the decision to invade Iraq.


SANTIAGO: So, Senator Elizabeth Warren, now, she's trying to stop a slide in the polls. In an e-mail to supporters, the campaign says it raised $17 million so far in the fourth quarter, perspective here, it's not really a bad number, but it is a percentage drop-down, 30 percent from last quarter's big haul.


Well, the playoff picture is set after week 17, drama all over the NFL. Coy Wire has the morning's "BLEACHER REPORT" next.


SANTIAGO: A very ugly end in store for the weather in 2019. More than 25 million people under Winter weather alerts across the Northern Plains, Midwest and Northeast. The weather service warning of severe travel disruptions, and foul weather causing major problems -- oh, this video gets me every time -- the dense fog leading to a multi- vehicle pile-up in Texas including this dramatic video where that 18- wheeler just smashes right through the scene.

ROMANS: Then, there was the school bus sliding down an icy road in Minnesota. Looks like slow-motion, it is not. Chaos on the roads in North Dakota where -- look at that, Interstate 29 closed from the South Dakota state line all the way up to Canada, I-94 shut down from Fargo to Bismarck.

Parts of the Midwest and Northeast, especially near the Great Lakes could see up to a foot of additional snow. The Northeast could also see more freezing rain, ice and sleet. Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera has the latest.

IVAN CABRERA, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning. A mess on our hands, we have the ice storm across the Northeast, it's developing into a huge event, and then we have the blizzard warning for parts of the Dakotas. But there, along with the Winter storm warnings, it's all snow because it's all cold. Right time, it will be accumulating snowfall, but that we can handle.

This is a whole different problem. You see the purple there in eastern New York and parts of central and western Massachusetts, northwestern Connecticut, all under an ice storm warning for the potential, half an inch, three-quarters of an inch of ice.

[05:20:00] That is the kind of weight that you are going to bring down power lines all over the place here, and any untreated surfaces are going to be a mess and basically impossible to travel through, as we head into the next several hours and really through the remainder of today.

Further north, it is snow. But what we do have, this color, you see here, that purple, the radar picking up on -- well, it's falling as rain. The surface temperatures are below freezing, and so everything that falls is going to be caking on a contact here. There's a storm that continues moving east, and even by early Tuesday morning, we still deal with snow, heavy rain and also gusty winds as well. Guys?

ROMANS: Ivan, thanks for that. That's your weather, here's your sports. NFL playoff schedule is set after a thrilling final week of games.

SANTIAGO: Coy Wire has more on who is in, who is out in this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT" --

ROMANS: Hey, Coy --


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Good morning Christine, good morning, Leyla. The saying goes that football is a game of inches, and that turned out to be exactly what it came down to for the 49ers and the Seahawks. Playoff implications. The crowd in Seattle looking for a division title and celebrating the return of Marshawn Lynch down by five in the final seconds.

And the Seahawks don't go to beast mode, instead, they called tight- end Jacob Hollister's number, and he is charging toward the end zone. But he is denied just inches from the goal line. Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw making the tackle of the season for the Niners. They win the division and the top seed in the NFC, meaning the road to the Super Bowl will go through San Francisco for the first time since 1997.

Now, during Dallas' huge win over Washington, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones' playoff dreams were being shattered by Philadelphia's Boston Scott. Dallas leaving the Eagles to lose to make the playoffs. But at just 5 foot, 6 inches tall, Scott is smashing giants. Look at him, spinning on air. The former practice squad player runs for three touchdowns in the second half alone, the Eagles run their way into the playoffs for a third-straight season, a 34-17 win.

They host the Seahawks in the Wild Card round this Sunday, while Dallas misses the playoffs for the sixth time in head coach Jason Garrett's nine full season as head coach. Now, it's not exactly a Miami miracle. But the Dolphins upset the Patriots, and that could impact New England's chances of repeating as Super Bowl champs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick; the quarterback, his 5-yard touchdown pass, there was 24 seconds to go, seals the win -- and couldn't we all use a co- worker like Ryan Fitzpatrick? I mean, he carries you home after a long day of work. With the loss now, New England, they'll have to play in the opening weekend of the post-season for the first time in a decade.

Not good, considering they have never made the Super Bowl while playing in the Wild Card round. Listen to this.


BILL BELICHICK, HEAD COACH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Obviously, we didn't do anything wrong today to deserve to win. So, we'll be playing next week and to see who that is, and you know, still have an opportunity in front of us here. So, need our best football and we didn't have it today. But hopefully it will be there next week.

TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: There's a great chance for us to not play next week, so -- and we didn't take advantage of that, we just didn't play good enough, and you know, we all wish we did on a better job. Certainly I do.


WIRE: The Patriots will host the Titans in Primetime on Saturday, that follows the Texans and Bills, and Sunday, you have the Saints hosting the Vikings and the Eagles welcome Seahawks. All right, today is always one of the most dreaded days in the NFL for coaches. It's known as Black Monday.

It came early for Browns' coach Freddie Kitchens, he was fired last night after just one year on the job. They had high expectations in Cleveland. Many experts predicting a playoff run, instead, they go a disappointing 6-10 on the season. Leyla, Christine, the Browns have had six head coaches over the last seven seasons. Not sure how they can get any momentum going there this far as leadership.

ROMANS: All right, Coy Wire for us this morning, nice to see you, thank you --

WIRE: Me too.

ROMANS: All right, 24 minutes past the hour, Jews in New York, Christians in Texas, both targeted this weekend in violent attacks, a part of a rising tide of hate in America.



SANTIAGO: Four plane crashes across the U.S. this weekend killed six people and hurt at least eight others. In Louisiana, a plane headed to Atlanta for a college football playoff game crashed near Lafayette Regional Airport. The NTSB saying that no distress call was made, five people lost their lives, including 30-year-old Carley Ann McCord.

She was a sports reporter with "WDSU" television in New Orleans. And she's also the daughter-in-law of LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Emsminger's son told "Sports Illustrated" that he was planning to drive his wife to Atlanta, but he couldn't get off work. Here's LSU's head coach. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED ORGERON, HEAD COACH, LSU: Me and my wife -- better, and obviously we're friends with the Ensmingers and, so, we've seen her around all the time, outstanding young lady who had a bright future. So, it's a shame that happened.


ROMANS: In Maryland, one person died Sunday after a small plane hit a house and damaged the house next to it, and no one was inside at the time. In North Carolina, four people were hurt when a small plane crashed in a parking lot across from Asheville Regional Airport. In Long Island, only the pilot was onboard when his aircraft crashed into a wooded area as he made his final approach to Republic Airport. All four crashes are being investigated.

SANTIAGO: And a plane carrying the University of Kansas' -- excuse me, the University of Kansas Men's Basketball Team was forced to make an emergency landing back at the San Jose Airport after one of its engines failed. The Jayhawks were on their way home after their win against Stamford Sunday.

The senior athletic director shared a very scary video of what appears to be flames -- you can see them right there, coming from the engine. Some of the players took to social media after that incident. Mitch Lightfoot tweeted, "never prayed like that before. Thank God."

ROMANS: All right, a Texas man is turning hundreds of Christmas trees into canes for fellow disabled veterans. Jamie Willis started a central Texas branch of the group Canes for Veterans in 2016. He says it keeps him from sitting at home all day feeling sorry for himself.


JAMIE WILLIS, VETERAN: The whole process, it's done off donations. I make the canes myself, everything is done out of pocket.


ROMANS: Willis says made and shipped about 200 canes so far. He's asking for community donations of Christmas trees stripped of their limbs. He says he also needs sandpaper and woodworking tools. Good for him. EARLY START continues right now.

SANTIAGO: Horrific attacks on people of faith. Two people shot to death at a Texas church. Jews targeted again, stabbed at a Hanukkah party.

ROMANS: A civil rights icon faces the battle of a lifetime. Congressman John Lewis has pancreatic cancer.