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The Lead with Jake Tapper

New Questions Emerge Over Police Response And Timeline; WH: Biden To Travel To Uvalde, Texas On Sunday; Democratic Senators Considering A National Red Flag Law; Students Stage Nationwide Walk- Out To Protest Inactions On Guns; Sources: Hundreds Of Thousands Of Ukrainians Forcibly Moved To Russia. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 26, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Serious questions today about the police response to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Pure anguish playing out. Desperate parents described hearing gunshots go off, pleading, pleading to rush in to save their babies, as police told them to move back. Just how long was the gunman inside that classroom before law enforcement took him down?

And if social media companies know your detailed shopping habits, travel plans, and more about your life than many of your friends, why can't they detect online chatter about potential school shootings that could theoretically prevent another tragedy?

Plus, a disturbing new find. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians forced into brutal camps in Russia. Sources say it's happening at a much larger scale than originally feared.

Today should have been a day of celebration for the children of Robb Elementary School in Texas. The last day of classes before summer vacation. For the second graders, third and fourth graders in Uvalde, Texas. Twenty-one families today are, instead, planning funeral services for 19 students and two teachers.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Amidst the grief, the heartbreak, the shock and despair, are also serious new questions today about how that 18-year-old with a rifle got inside that school and stayed for more than an hour before police entered the classroom and killed him.

This afternoon, the Texas Department of Public Safety laid out this timeline. 11:28 the shooter got into a car crash. He walked into the school at 11:40 a.m., which is 12 minutes later. Police entered the school at 11:44 a.m. and called for backup while evacuating students.

But it was not until more than an hour later, at 1:06 p.m. when officers killed the gunman. Why? Why did it take more than an hour for officers to get into the single classroom we know was the scene of all that horrific carnage caused by a single gunman?

This was the Department of Public Safety's answer when pressed by journalists today, including CNN's correspondent.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You guys have said that he was barricade. Can you explain to us how he was barricaded and why you guys cannot breach that door?

VICTOR ESCALON, SOUTH TEXAS REGIONAL DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: So I have taken all your questions into consideration. We will be doing updates to answer those questions.

PROKUPECZ: You should be able to answer that question now, sir.

ESCALON: What is your name?

PROKUPECZ: Shimon Prokupecz from CNN.

ESCALON: Shimon, I hear you.

PROKUPECZ: We've been given a lot of bad information so why don't you clear all this up now and explain to us how it is that your officers were in there for an hour, yes, rescuing people, but yet no one was able to get inside that room?

ESCALON: Shimon, we will circle back with you. We want to answer all your questions.


TAPPER: Indeed. That's the question.

Today, we saw new video from outside the school, during the shooting, as frantic parents arrived on the scene.

Some screaming at officers to do more, to do anything, while others had to be held back from rushing inside themselves.

"The Wall Street Journal" talked to one parent who said after encouraging cops to do more, in strong words, she was put into handcuffs. She said police tackled another parent and threw that parent to the ground. And the third parent was pepper sprayed by the police, this woman told "The Journal".

Another parent, Angel Garza, recounted the devastating way that he learned that the 10-year-old he raised and considered his daughter had been killed while trying to call 911.


ANGEL GARZA, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM AMERIE JO GARZA: When I arrived on the scene, they still had kids inside. They started bringing the kids out, and I was aiding assistance, one little girl was just covered in blood head to toe, like I thought she was injured. I asked her what was wrong.

She said she was okay. She said they shot her best friend, they killed her best friend, and she's not breathing and she was trying to call the cops. I asked the little girl the name. And she told me -- she said Amerie.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's how you learned?


GARZA: She was so sweet, Mr. Cooper. She was the sweetest little girl who did nothing wrong.


TAPPER: Twenty-one families going through that grief today.

Today, families have publicly identified more of the victims of Tuesday's shooting. Ten-year-old Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez and Jacklyn Cazares, who were cousins. Ten-year-old Tess Marie Mata. Nine- year-old Ellie Garcia. Ten-year-old Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo. Ten-year-old Elijah Cruz Torres. Ten-year-old Jailah Nicole Silguero. And Irma Garcia, a fourth grade teacher.

This in addition to the names we reported yesterday. Jose Flores, Jr., Uziyah Garcia, Amerie Jo Garza, Xavier Lopez, Lexi Rubio. And fourth grade teacher Eva Mireles.

CNN's Jason Carroll starts us off from Uvalde with the latest developments in the investigation.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments of agony for parents gathered at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday, anxiously awaiting beyond the police line, knowing the shooter was inside their children's school.

VICTOR LUNA, FATHER OF ROBB ELEMENTARY 4TH GRADE STUDENT: They were breaking the windows to get the kids out of the windows. At that point, I knew the shooter was still alive.

CARROLL: Some parents ready to go into the building, held back by loved ones and police. Victor Luna was one of those parents. His son, who was in the fourth grade, survived.

LUNA: I told one of the officers myself, if they didn't want to go in there, let me borrow a gun and a vest and I would go in myself to handle it. And they told me no.

CARROLL: Another parent who heard the gunshots at the scene told "The Washington Post," we don't care about us, we wanted to storm the building. We were saying, let's go, because that's how worried we were. And we wanted to get our babies out.

His daughter, Jacklyn Casarez, was one of the 19 students killed along with two teachers. Chilling video shows the moment the gunman entered the elementary school through an unlocked back door, holding a rifle.

ESCALON: 11:40, he walks into the west side of Robb Elementary. According to reports, video we have obtained from outside, inside, and, again, we're still combing through that, so bear with us. Multiple rounds, numerous rounds are discharged in the school.

CARROLL: Troubling questions emerging, as authorities investigate how the shooter could navigate through the school and why no armed resource officer was on site.

The Uvalde school district had a safety plan in place, listing 21 measures for ensuring school safety, including a police force and physical security measures, like fencing and a buzz-in door system.

ESCALON: From the grandma's house to the bar ditch, to school, into the school, he was not confronted by anybody. To clear the record on that.

CARROLL: Authorities also investigating how the gunman was able to barricade himself inside the classroom for up to an hour before law enforcement gained access to the room by force, killing the shooter.

ESCALON: Approximately an hour later, U.S. Border Patrol tactical teams arrive, they make entry, shoot and kill the suspect.


CARROLL (on camera): And, Jake, while there are so many questions we do not have answers to, we have more clarity as to what happened in the moments right after the gunman crashed his car. That was at 11:28 a.m., according to the Department of Public Safety.

A few moments after that, he sees two witnesses at a funeral home. He fires towards them, then continues walking towards the school. He then jumps a fence, firing at the school, arrives at that back door at the school 11:40 a.m. at that point, according to the department of public safety, discharges his weapon numerous times.

But, again, this is going to be of little comfort to some of the parents we spoke to, including Victor Luna, who was out here, Jake, begging these officials to move in sooner. Again, his fourth grader, his son survived. But so many others did not -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll in Uvalde, Texas, thanks so much.

Joining us to discuss is Everardo Zamora. He's part of the Uvalde City Council.

Councilman, I understand your nieces and nephews actually attend Robb Elementary School and you went there as a child.


How are you and your family and the community holding up today?

EVERARDO ZAMORA, UVALDE CITY COUNCIL: They're hanging on pretty good, as best as we can. That is correct, I do have two nieces that go to that school, and correct again, I was on the scene about 20, 22 minutes after it began. I got the text message around 11:34 saying that there was a shooter at the school.

I closed my office and drove here real quick -- I mean, as soon as I got here, there was a lot of police officers and a lot of people. And it was just very, very hectic. What I witnessed was, there was a lot of police officers running in and out of the building on the east side of the building.

When I went towards the west side of the building, I could see there was more officers on the other side, and it was just a hectic scene.

TAPPER: The Department of Public Safety in Texas says it was more than an hour between when officers first entered the school at about 11:45 and when the gunman was killed at about 1:04.

Have you gotten any explanation as to why it took so long for them to go into that classroom and take out the shooter?

ZAMORA: No, there's no explanation to that. But while I was here, there was no -- I didn't hear no gunfire. So I don't know where they're coming with that, that scene. But we were here, myself, the mayor, and we were trying to help as many first responders.

I was outside mainly trying to help control the parents, the people that are here. Most of these family members that were out here, I grew up with them. They know me. And I think when they saw me, they were like, okay, somebody's here, and I -- we felt that -- when I was here, I was trying to help police officers, first responders.

I know volunteer firemen were out here. We were trying to control the -- border patrol was here, too. We were trying to control the people from going in.

All I could see was the police and border patrol, just going in and out of that building. DPS was here, too. As far as what happened inside, what happened inside is I -- until we get the end of the report, we'll know for definite.

TAPPER: I want to get your take on an exchange between a reporter and Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety. She asked: We heard that some law enforcement officers actually went into the school to kid their kids out. Can you talk about that? To which the spokesman, the police spokesman responded: Right. So what we do know, there was some police officers, families trying to get their children out of school because there was an active shooter situation right now. It's a terrible situation right now.

What do you know about this? Were police officers going inside the school to rescue their own children?

ZAMORA: No, that's the first time I've heard that. That is -- will hopefully come out in the investigation. As far as I know, I've never heard that before.

I will check with my police chief and the sheriff from Uvalde County and see if that is correct. That's the first time I've heard of it.


ZAMORA: When I got here, it was -- I know that they were evacuating a lot of people. When they started evacuating the children, that's when the crowds started getting out of control because they were running towards their loved ones, and we were trying to get them into a safe, secure location and trying to control the parents.

As far as other ones coming in by themselves, trying to get there, that's the news on me. We'll find out on that.

TAPPER: OK. Uvalde City Councilman Everardo Zamora, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it, sir.

In our politics lead, moments ago, we learned that President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Uvalde on Sunday.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us.

And, Kaitlan, what is the White House saying about this trip?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. They just confirmed that on Sunday, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will be going to Uvalde to grieve with these 21 families who have lost so much and to grieve with the entire community. It's the second scene of a mass shooting the president will have visited in a matter of days because it was just nine days ago that he went with buffalo to meet with those families who lost victims in that shooting. And now, he'll be going to another one, of course, to talk to these families as well, Jake.

And we should note this comes as all eyes here in Washington is focused whether or not there is going to be the first confirmed director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in seven years. That is the ATF that the president nominated his second nominee, because he had to withdraw the first one because he couldn't get enough support even from Democrats to get confirmed, Jake.


And it's notable because that is really one of the only unilateral moves that the president can take when it comes to being in charge of the firearm regulatory committee, this agency that they would be running. And so, we did see today Senator Angus King said that he is going to vote for Steve Dettelbach. That is notable, Jake, because he is the one who helped sink the previous nominee, David Chipman.

Of course, Jake, all of that comes as there are mayor questions whether or not any progress will be made when it comes to gun control legislation on Capitol Hill. But the White House is eagerly hoping that Steve Dettelbach can get confirmed to run the ATF, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Coming up next, how social media plays a part in these tragedies. Is there anything that these tech companies can do to flag alarming posts from soon-to-be gunman?

Plus, where Congress stands on all of this, the legislation being floated on Capitol Hill right now.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: On our tech lead, minutes before the start of the massacre in Uvalde, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says the gunman used Facebook to send messages to a person online describing how he shot his grandmother and was going to shoot up a school. A Facebook spokesperson says those were private messages that occurred after the tragedy.

CNN's Brian Fung joins me now.

Brian, just a basic question. How is it that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter seem to know every single thing about me, what vacation spots I want to go to, that I'm in the market for new socks, but they cannot figure out a way to assess when somebody might be planning and typing about shooting up a school?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Well, Jake, the short answer is that, you know, these platforms don't make a habit of reading your -- the content of your messages on a proactive basis. Historically, said there are privacy reasons they don't do that. In fact, platforms like Facebook and others have been moving in the direction of expanding encryption so not even they can read the contempt of their messages. Only you and your recipient can.

This really reflects something broader that's going on in social media, where more social media usage is shifting to more private and ephemeral services where live video and disappearing messages have become quite more popular than in the past. So could you look at search history for example? Or what a person -- what site the person visits.

Then you start getting into a thorny problem of context because how do you determine the difference between someone who is looking at terrorist content as an academic research exercise opposed to someone who is being actively radicalized. That is really the challenge here for things like artificial intelligence, and researchers say while AI has come a long way in being able to root out some of this stuff, it's not where it needs to be, and there's a lot more work to be done.

TAPPER: OK. Brian Fung, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining us now to discuss, Stephen Gutowski. He's a founder of He's a gun safety instructor and he knows a lot about firearms, ad I wanted to have you come and just talk about what might work, what could work that could also pass?

So right now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he told Senator John Cornyn to work with Democrats to find a bipartisan solution, to work with Democrats. Democrats have talked about a couple of things, a national red flag law to alert people when somebody is acting in a way that might be at risk to himself or to others, and to have a judge step in and say let's make sure this person can't buy any guns, or expanding background checks.

You've been reporting on firearms for a long time. You're a supporter of the Second Amendment. What do you think might work?

STEPHEN GUTOWSKI, FOUNDER, THE RELOAD: You know, I don't think there's a single switch that you can flip that will solve the issue. Certainly that's something that you do here, politicians talk about this. But I think it's true, there is always going to be some example of a shooting where whatever you're trying to apply to prevent it wouldn't have worked. Certainly in this case, in Texas, it's difficult to find one single policy solution that would have prevented this killing.

Obviously, you could imagine that hardening schools as some Republicans have suggested could have helped in this situation, given what we're now learning about what occurred. You could argue that restricting AR-15s by age, which is something Florida did after Parkland --

TAPPER: You have to be 21 in Wyoming to get a hand gun.

GUTOWSKI: Twenty-one to buy a hand gun anywhere in the country under federal law.

TAPPER: But 18 for a more dangerous weapon doesn't make sense.

GUTOWSKI: You know, there's certainly a dichotomy in our laws over age restrictions for firearms purchases. Hand guns generally are used far more often in crimes than long guns. That's been traditionally why they've been scrutinized more severely.

But like I said, after Parkland they did pass an age restriction on certain types of rifles like the AR-15.

TAPPER: In Florida.

GUTOWSKI: In Florida. So, it's possible that Texas could go that route. Whether that would have prevented the shooting is another question. He did use an AR-15. But you could kill people with other types of weapons. Hand guns are the most common firearms used in mass shootings, the scale for more people killed.


TAPPER: What about a red flag law? Because that's something -- obviously, in Buffalo, the shooter had said -- had written something that alarmed the teachers, they told police. And yet still no one alerted a judge to alert the red flag law, and he was also able to buy guns legally.

GUTOWSKI: Right, and that sort of example shows you why there's no single policy that's going to solve this issue just by flipping a switch. A lot of people on either side will try to tell you if you just did red flag laws or just had armed teachers, that would fix this problem. And it's not -- I don't think it's true.

As far as red flag laws, the possibility for passing them in Texas or at the state level, or at the federal level, I think there's more chance of that happening with something like an assault weapons ban, a total ban on sales.

But even still, there are a lot of concerns with red flag laws over due process protections, all they really do is restrict your access to firearms but don't perhaps help you in other way it is you're a danger to yourself or others that you would need. And people don't always use them, like you said. In Buffalo, they had a red flag law.

TAPPER: I think a lot of people don't know about it.

GUTOWSKI: Right. It's one of the problems.

TAPPER: Lastly, the number of mass shootings has went up 52 percent from 2020 to 2021. Obviously, COVID played some role in terms of people staying indoors. But the number of active shooter incidents are going up. Is there any theory as to why that is?

GUTOWSKI: I think that's one of the big questions, why are we seeing an increase in these types of attempts at mass shootings, active shooters, situations are not necessarily successful in carrying on an attack like we saw in Texas. But there are people that the FBI has identified as attempting to do something of that nature, a public mass shooting.

Yeah, they have increased. I think the year over year numbers are skewed by COVID. There were lockdowns, and we didn't have a lot of mass shootings in 2020 either, where four or more people were killed. So that's obviously not a solution to the problem. Just constant lockdown.

But there does seem to be a long-term trend, and it's hard to identify exactly what's causing that. You know, there are commonalities between a lot of these shooters, they're young men with a history of family issues or domestic violence. They've got, you know, they're troubled people, and they often leave warning signs before something happens, although it's up easier to see a collection of warning signs in some of these cases.

TAPPER: In retrospect, of course, yeah.

GUTOWSKI: It's not an --

TAPPER: It's not easy, but the conversation is important and we appreciate you being here, Stephen Gutowski, who is with -- give everybody the name of your website.

GUTOWSKI: The Reload.

TAPPER: The Reload. GUTOWSKI: Super serious firearms journal.

TAPPER: Yes, with -- and I am a subscriber. Thank you so much, Stephen. I appreciate it.

How young people are taking action to respond to this tragedy. That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, a call to action after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Students across the United States are participating in walkouts today, organized by the group Students Demand Action. That group advocates for universal background checks and other gun safety measures. This comes amid signs of a renewed push on Capitol Hill for a bipartisan solution to address gun violence.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California. She's on the House Judiciary Committee. She's also a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

So Congress has continually failed to pass anything meaningful in the wake of mass shootings. Republicans have largely been the obstruction, although some Democrats have, as well. Senators Chris Murphy, Democrat in Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, are set to meet to try to find some sort of bipartisan solution.

What do you think? Do you think there is actual possibility for some action?

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well, you know what? I just don't understand how many babies need to die before the Senate is willing to act. So I certainly hope that this will be a sincere effort.

Because what usually happens after these tragedies, and you know this very well, our Republican colleagues will act liar they're very concerned, they usually point to mental health but provide no resources for mental health. But mental health becomes an excuse. We have to deal with guns in this country.

So I'm hoping that this time will be sincere. But I do have to tell you: I've seen this a number of times before, as have you.

TAPPER: You know, it's interesting you talk about mental health. One of the things that seem to be clear in these mass shooting events, whether it's Uvalde or in Buffalo, or you go back to the horrific shooting of Republicans playing baseball in 2017, is that the shooter, in all cases, was troubled and people knew that that individual was troubled, sometimes had even had run-ins with police one way or the other.


It does seem possible that a red flag law on a national basis, and state by state, could do something. I mean, it wouldn't stop everything, but it could do something.

BASS: Right. But remember now, I think it was either last year -- well, a couple of years ago, the Republicans blocked legislation to prohibit people on the no-fly list from having guns. They blocked legislation from prohibiting people with serious mental illness to have guns. So, it's quite contradictory.

But if they really believed it, then why wouldn't they put resources for a mental health system in this country. And it is very, very poor, the system we have now.

In Los Angeles, we do have red flag laws, and we have very strong gun laws here, but we still have an issue. We need to enforce the red flag law. People need to understand it and use it much more even in Los Angeles.

TAPPER: Texas Governor Abbott says gun control laws don't work. At a press conference yesterday, he said people who think maybe we can implement tough gun laws and we can solve it, Chicago, New York, and L.A. disprove that thesis. You're running to be mayor of L.A. How do you respond?

BASS: Well, I don't think it does it all, but what it does show is we need national laws. One of the big problems in Illinois, as you know, is that the guns that come into Chicago are coming in from out of state. And we have a problem here too. Our problem is with ghost guns now. That's a whole new animal we have to figure out how to deal with.

But it just goes to show you, until we deal with it nationally, you are going to have places like California with strong gun laws but still have these issues because people can bring them in from other places or get them over the internet.

TAPPER: Right, ghost guns, of course, a made at home, kind of built in a kit guns.

I want to ask you, because yesterday, President Biden signed this executive order modeled after the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which you authored and which failed to pass in Congress. You were at the White House ceremony. Took place on the two-year anniversary of the tragic death of George Floyd.

How will these orders prevent others from being killed the way George Floyd was killed?

BASS: Well, I think it was a step in the right direction. But ultimately, we do need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

But when we did not succeed in passing it out of the Senate, because it passed out of the House twice, Senator Booker and I asked the White House to intervene and do an executive order. So I think it sends a clear message. It applies to the federal law

enforcement. And what sometimes what happens is that when you have one level of government respond, then other levels of government react, as well. So we're hoping it will be a catalyst for future efforts on a local level.

TAPPER: All right .Democratic congresswoman and mayoral candidate, Karen Bass, thanks so much. Good to see you.

BASS: Thank you. Same here.

TAPPER: Next to Ukraine, where a horrific war is still playing out. Reports of Russian filtration camps turning out to be much worse than first believed.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, new intelligence shows the scale of Russia's sinister approach to depopulating Ukraine. As Putin's army systematically forces Ukrainians out of their homes and into what are called filtration camps, processing them in places where Ukrainians used to shop for groceries, such as the one you see here, which is full of Russian military.

CNN's Katie Bo Lillis joins us now with a new reporting.

Katie Bo, exactly how many Ukrainians have gone through these camps and where are they being sent?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, Jake, it's really the numbers that are staggering here. U.S. officials have said publicly that at least tens of thousands of Ukrainians are being sent through these so- called filtration camps and sent into Russia.

TAPPER: Tens of thousands? Originally we thought hundreds.

LILLIS: Now we understand from talking to four officials who are familiar with Western intelligence they believe the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands, if not a million people, which is a massive number. It's important to understand what Russia is doing, according to our sources, is seeking to depopulate eastern Ukraine of nationalists, people who have a connection to Ukrainian military or the Ukrainian government.

So these are camps being run by Russian intelligence, they're being run by the FSB. And we have from our sources and eyewitnesses the credible reports of some brutal interrogations, possibly extending to what we would consider torture or even summary executions. And for those Ukrainians that survive this process, many are then being sent into Russia. From there, many are being re-homed in cities and towns in economically depressed areas, really all over Russia, including even some that are as far away as 10,000 miles away there the Ukrainian border. We know that some Ukrainians have been sent to an island which is literally in the Pacific 10,000 miles away from the border.

TAPPER: How long are Ukrainians stuck in these filtration camps before they're sent to the proverbial Siberia?

LILLIS: Yeah. So, it's on average about three weeks. But the experience varies. Some of them are detained in these camps indefinitely. They're able to speak on a cell phone to loved ones, but these cell phones are being sort of plugged into a Russian computer that is they believe is then capturing their data.


So they have to be careful about what they are saying.

And then there are some Ukrainians that are sort of able to clear this process who are then sent into Russia. When they're sent to these sort of towns, cities all over the country, some of them are given a little bit of support. They might get 150 bucks in rubles, they might get a Russian SIM card, housing. But experiences vary.

Some of them are given nothing, effectively dropped off in a town in the middle of nowhere in Russia and told, okay, you live here. Make a living now.

TAPPER: So crazy. Katie Bo Lillis, what a horrible story. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Ukrainians are also under Russian control in Ukraine. What that life is like right now. That's coming up. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with more on our world lead. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has a blistering message for former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, after Kissinger said Ukraine should concede land to Russia. He compared that to appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

CNN's Melissa Bell takes us to some of the regions that Kissinger was talking about destroyed beyond recognition and where, quote, "the smell of death", unquote, is everywhere.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After three months of war, with Azovstal, that simple of Ukrainian resistance and ruins, Mariupol is a city of ghosts. These exclusive pictures obtained by CNN show the dead only now being retrieved from the rubble. At least 22,000 people are now believed to have died, according to the city mayor's office, now working in exile.

PETRO ANDRIUSHCHENKO, ADVISER TO THE MAYOR OF MARIUPOL: It's absolutely dark inside the city. Just lights by Russian troops, you know, Russian patrols. And everywhere is the smell of death and really, the smell of the fire, smell of the smoke and smell of death. It's Mariupol reality.

BELL: Very different to what's now being transmitted inside Mariupol. Russian TV channels, to go with the Russian passports residents here have already been issued with. 20-year-old Nicole is one of the lucky ones. She fled Mariupol with her 5-year-old nephew in early April. It took them five days to get to Ukrainian held land on foot.

She won't give their full names, because her parents are still trying to get out. As she starts to tell us her story, the boy, who had to be silent for five days, says he wants to speak. He says it was very scary getting out, showing us how he had to hide his head from the shelling. His message now -- "I want everyone to stay alive," he says.

To the west of Mariupol, the city of Kherson. The pictures now emerging, secretly filmed lines of residents waiting to buy oil and medicine, tales of hardship shared by those who fled the city since it fell to Russian forces on March 2. Those still inside, too scared to be identified. One man telling CNN when a Ukrainian flag was raised, he says, anyone within a mile radius was arrested.

In Mariupol, too, the images speak of the new reality of what lies beyond the reach of the free press, Russian controlled Ukraine.


BELL (on camera): I think, Jake, because of the brutality of what's happened over the course of the last three months, it's very easy to forget that this war goes back to 2014. The Ukrainian reach for independence goes back to the first part of the 20th century. But because they have seen what happened in Crimea, because they seen what happened in Donbas, they better understand what is happening in Mariupol and Kherson.

And in the words of the Polish president, who was visiting just a few days ago, Ukraine, or at least what is now on this side of that frontline, is actually now the face of the free world -- Jake.

TAPPER: Melissa Bell in Kyiv for us -- thank you so much.

Coming up, the changes just announced to the NRA's big convention tomorrow, a convention happening in Texas, the same state currently reeling from this week's mass shooting.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, spotlight on the NRA. It's set to open its convention tomorrow in the same state as the Uvalde school shooting. Texas' governor and the one of the state's U.S. senators is still slated to speak there, as parents are also preparing to bury their children.

Plus, parents in agony as they are forced to wait outside the building hearing the gunman inside with their kids. The growing questions about the police response to the Uvalde school shooting.

But we begin today with a look at the children and teachers gunned down. The bodies of 19 children have been released to their families and the funeral homes. Now, instead of celebrating the end of the school year in the beginning of the summer, the parents of 9 and 10- year-olds are preparing their babies.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is outside the hospital in San Antonio, where some kids are still fighting for their lives inside. We're learning more about the children who did not come home.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look at their faces. Fourth grader Jackie Cazares just had her first baptism and first communion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was full of love, full of life. And she would do anything for anybody.

KAFANOV: Nine-year-old Ellie Garcia just a week from her 10th birthday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sweetest girl you ever had the chance to meet.