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Vigil Today For Murdered Nursing Student in Georgia; Police: U.S. Airman Who Set Himself On Fire Outside Embassy Has Died; Israel: Delegation Left For Qatar This Morning For Hostage Talks; Amid Measles Outbreak, Florida Defers To Parents On Sending Kids To School. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 08:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, students at the University of Georgia are planning a vigil for the nursing student who was killed on campus last week.

Twenty-two-year-old Laken Riley was found dead Thursday near a lake on campus, and a 26-year-old man is now charged with her murder. A man that we have since learned is undocumented from Venezuela, and that is something that Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp has jumped onto to connect this tragic murder to a political -- ongoing political fight in Washington over border security.

CNN's Ryan Young has the very latest for us. He has been falling from the beginning from Athens, Georgia.

Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning a lot about this, Kate, I will tell you were standing in a place that we could not stand on Friday. Investigators actually swarmed up and down this area here. That's the apartment complex that they were focused on. On this backside of the trail, investigators were walking through to see what evidence they could grab.

We know they arrested Jose Ibarra, who's 26, and we know that he entered in the country September 2022 when he was arrested, when he crossed over the border and at some point, he also was arrested in New York.


He's now been charged with felony murder and malice murder, but you could understand why this campus is still in shock about this crime. This trail is used by a lot of people. We saw people running the trail even last week just after the murder. The big question right now is what exactly happened when we talked to the police chief last week when they were announcing this arrest, they said they believe this was a crime of opportunity that the two did not know each other and Riley was attack. Now, we also know this is going to be a big day here because class is

just started again and so many students here been hit hard by this. I talked to one student so this was like a gut punch because obviously people enjoyed this campus or hasn't been a murder here in over 20 years. So you can understand the pain they're going through.

But the focus now is, what does anyone know about this man? What was he doing and what were the whereabouts? We know she died by blunt force trauma, but there's so many still questions by the school. And in fact, there are many students are asking for security be raised on campus in light of all this.

But somebody left questions that have left to be unanswered right now until we get more from investigators about this. But then today at 03:00, there will be that visual so many people who plan to come out to really show their respects for his young woman who lost her life -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Ryan Young, thank you so much from Athens, Georgia, for us.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Breaking news just moments ago, officials confirmed to CNN that the active duty U.S. Air Force member who police say set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington has died.

CNN's Gabe Cohen with us now with the very latest.

Gabe, what have you learned?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you're absolutely right. That is the latest that this 25-year-old active duty member of the U.S. Air Force, Aaron Bushnell from San Antonio, has died from his injuries in the hospital and we have a pretty clear picture of what happened in this incident in broad daylight in Washington, D.C. around 1:00 p.m. Sunday, because it appears Bushnell recorded and live streamed just about all of it.

Now, we are not showing that video is graphic and disturbing, but I can walk you through what we see in it. You can see Bushnell in his military uniform, walking down the street in dc, really speaking calmly to the camera as he records himself before arriving at the Israeli embassy.

He says: I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I'm about to engage in an extreme act of protest. But compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it is not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.

Then he appears to pour some sort of accelerant on his head, John, and then he sparks a lighter and sets himself on fire, yelling again and again, free Palestine, free Palestine, before eventually the flames overtake him and he collapses to the ground and police officers then rushed in to put out the fire with an extinguisher.

But again, we now know that he has died from those injuries. And look, John, this just again speaks to the rising tensions were continuing to see, not just across the world, but right here in the United States over this escalating war in Gaza, now, more than four months into the conflict the death toll nearing 30,000 people. And we saw similar incident back in December, a person set themselves on fire outside of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta. But this takes it to another level when an active duty member of the U.S. military has burned himself to death in the nation's capital but as the political stakes again continue to rise for the Biden administration.

BERMAN: All right. Gabe Cohen, thank you for bringing us up to speed on what's going on in Washington. Appreciate it.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. One of the people tasked with combating antisemitism at Harvard University has just resigned. The new reporting on what's behind this abrupt departure. We'll have that coming up.



BERMAN: We just, got word that an Israeli delegation has departed for the Gulf nation of Qatar. They're there to work on a temporary ceasefire deal that would allow for the release of some of the remaining hostages inside Gaza.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in Tel Aviv this morning with the very latest.

A lot of hopes on these negotiations, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, from the outside, you kind of get a sense of momentum, right? Friday, Paris, you have the head of CIA, head of Mossad, Egyptian intelligence, Qatari officials, that meeting, they leave Saturday, come back, the prime minister here gets a briefing from the negotiation team that he sent, and then he says, okay, you guys go on to Qatar. You know, I'm enabling you go to Qatar and continue these talks.

So were expecting again, as well, the Qataris, the Egyptians, U.S. representatives to be there in Qatar. But what's the substance? What's the meeting this? We don't know.

There seems to be as we've been hearing now for number of weeks, that there is some kind of consensus about the initial phase that could be six weeks and could lead to the release of a number of the hostages. It's been talked about the women the elderly, and the sick. That's about 40 people. How many Palestinian prisoners get released?

But there's no real details and I think at the moment and particularly for Hamas issues, you get the sense that there's a lot of sort of froth going on at the top, but not real substance that they see that changing that this is posturing.

The art of negotiation, of course, is always about making it look the other guy isn't doing enough. And right now, Israel looks like it's doing a lot.


It's been to Paris. The prime minister said, go ahead and keep going. The delegation is going to Qatar. Let's see what they get out of it.

BERMAN: Yeah, with these negotiations. There's never a deal until there is one, so we just have to wait and see.

Nic, in the meantime, a really interesting development in the West Bank this morning, which I hope you can explain to our viewers here, which is that the government under President Mahmoud Abbas basically resigned. What does that mean and what does that allow for?

ROBERTSON: Yeah, this is significant and it is of a moment. Is it momentous? No. Indicative? Yes. Why? In early January and Secretary Blinken was here, he said that it was needed for the Palestinian Authority to reform and deep when he left, he said he had a commitment from them to reform. He made a visit back in February. There have been no change.

So this does seem to be a step in the direction of potential Palestinian Authority reform. The prime minister has talked about the need to form a unity government. Now, that reaches across the U.S. aspiration of finding a path to a Palestinian state out of the war in Gaza, something where there's a Palestinian body that can administer both the West Bank and Gaza as well. It speaks to that.

The Prime Ministers Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, saying that it would be something a new unity government that would draw on, not parties, but on competencies.

So is this movement in that direction? Its certainly pressure the United States has been putting on the Palestinian Authority to make movements like this. Worth noting that in the West Bank and I was talking to a respected Palestinian pollster in the West Bank just a couple of weeks ago.

And he said right now the Palestinian Authority presidents ratings 92 percent in the negative, the Palestinian Authority, there its not particularly popular in the West Bank. Is there a need for change there? Absolutely.

BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson. Thank you so much for explaining that so well.

And -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: I will take it, John. Thank you so much.

The co-chair of Harvard's newly formed task force to fight against antisemitism on campus just resigned barely a month after joining the team.

CNN's Matt Egan has this reporting and is joining us now.

Matt, Harvard continues to struggle here in these leadership posts. What's happened?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Kate, the timing here is stunning. Normally, if everything is going smoothly, you don't step down from a high profile position --


EGAN: -- after just five weeks on the job. But that is what is happening here. Harvard business professor Raffaella Sadun is resigning as the co-chair of this antisemitism task force that had just been put together. This news was sort of buried in the middle of a longer announcement from Harvard laying out the full list of members of this task force, and another one on Islamophobia.

Now the question is, why, of course? And the stated reason is that she wants to double down on academics. Harvard's interim president, Alan Garber, he put out a statement saying that Sadun has, quote, decided to refocus her efforts on her research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities at Harvard Business School. But the fact that this came out on a Sunday night and that it is so abrupt suggests that there could be some more afoot here.

Now, publicly, for now, both sides are playing nice. Garber praised Sadun for her work on this task force and she said the Garber has put together a, quote, excellent task force. But we do know there's a lot of pressure on Harvard right now, especially on the antisemitism task force, and this antisemitism issue.

And a job like this. I mean, this requires building consensus, which, of course, is no easy task given the spotlight on the university right now. And we've also learned that some Jewish alumni at Harvard, they are still upset with the antisemitism controversy there that they are even taking the extraordinary step of auditing the university's courses to try to root out what they see is pervasive antisemitism.

And just to remind people about how we got here --


EGAN: -- remember it was early December that then president of Harvard, Claudine Gay, she testified before Congress that hearing was so disastrous that --

BOLDUAN: It was a total mess.

EGAN: It was. When she stepped down barely a month after that, amid a controversy over plagiarism, the new president, Alan Garber, he launched this presidential task force on antisemitism back on January 19. Earlier this month, the House Education Committee took the unprecedented step of issuing a subpoena to Harvard. I mean, this committee has been around since just after the civil war

and had never launched a subpoena to any university until now. And now we have of course, more turmoil with the co-chair of this task force stepping down. So this does feel like another setback for a university that is desperate to turn the page on controversy, and they have a lot of work that they need to do.

Forget about just leadership post. The reason that this taskforce had to be put together is because of what they were seeing was happening on campus.


So this does it seems unlikely to be helping in the efforts to try to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus.

EGAN: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Matt. Thank you for bringing that reporting.

EGAN: Thank you.


SIDNER: All right. Ahead, there's a growing measles outbreak at a Florida elementary school, but the state's surgeon general is contradicting CDC guidelines to help stop the spread. We'll talk about it, ahead.


BOLDUAN: Two new cases of measles have been reported in Broward County, Florida.


Now that brings the total number of children with his highly contagious disease to at least eight in the county. Health officials are investigating. Yet there's a twist here. Florida surgeon general has failed to urge parents to vaccinate their children in light of this or advise them to keep unvaccinated students home because of how highly contagious this is, instead saying that the state health department is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance.

CNN's Jacqueline Howard is following this for us, and she's joining us now.

So, Jacqueline, what are health officials doing them

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Yeah, Kate. So, there's this disconnect because Florida health officials, as you mentioned, are leaving it up to parents to decide what to do. But we do know from CDC guidance, the CDC recommends when there is a measles outbreak children who are not vaccinated if they're exposed to the virus, should stay home for 21 days because that's the incubation period for the virus.

Whereas just last week, the states surgeon general in Florida sent a letter to parents and guardians saying what you just mentioned, Kate, that the department of health is quote, deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance so there is this disconnect between what the CDC guidance says and what Florida is actually doing.

Now, the reason why this is controversial if the child is not vaccinated and there are exposed to the measles virus and they're still sent to school. Of course, they have their own risk of getting seriously ill or sadly, even possibly dying from the illness. But also if they're sent to school, that raises the risk of the virus spreading and the outbreak getting worse.

So there is a lot of concern around this if you're unvaccinated, 90 percent of the time, you will get the virus if you're exposed and measles is so contagious if someone's infected and they cough or sneeze, it can linger in the air for up to two hours. So that's the situation that we're at, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, which raises -- I mean, there's a whole I mean, talk about the amount of data that is out there to talk about how dangerous measles is, what needs to be done if there is an outbreak, the data is there. Now the questions are swirling of what exactly Broward County is going to do about this.

Jacqueline, thank you so much.

HOWARD: Exactly.


SIDNER: All right. Outrage this morning after an Oklahoma lawmaker referred to the LGBTQ+ community as and I'm quoting here, filth. Republican State Senator Tom Woods isn't story about it at all. He's standing by his remarks. He made the comment after being asked about the recent death of a non-binary high school student Nex Benedict, who said to his family that they were beaten up during a fight in a school bathroom.

Correspondent Whitney Wild joins us with more on the story.

Whitney, what exactly did the state senator says in his full response to the question?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the context of this, Sara. This happened at a public event. State Senator Tom Woods was joined by other lawmakers, other speakers, other leaders in Oklahoma, and an audience member named Cathy Cott, questioned the speakers at that event, including state Senator Tom Woods about laws in Oklahoma that target people who are LGBTQ+.

And what she said according to an interview, she did with CNN, was that she asked why does the legislature have such an obsession with LGBTG+ citizens of Oklahoma? She also, as you mentioned, spoke about Nex Benedicts death, again, that non-binary teenager who died, the day after a fight at their high school.

Senator Tom Woods said that his heart goes out to Benedict's family and then said this.


STATE SEN. TOM WOODS (R-OK): We're Republican state, supermajority in the House and Senate. I represented constituency that doesn't want that field in Oklahoma. You know, we are religious thing. We're going to fight to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we are a Christian state, we are a moral state.


WILD: Sara, as you said, there is outrage after those comments, but as you heard in that clip, there was also applause after that comment. Cathy Cott said that she was shocked. She left the event immediately. CNN has reached out to Senator Tom Woods, but we have not yet heard back -- Sara.

SIDNER: So much for the separation of church and state.

Whitney Wild, thank you so much for your reporting.


SIDNER: Nikki Haley's bruising loss in her home state of South Carolina is costing her major donor support while Donald Trump gets new key GOP endorsement. This is all happening as the Michigan primary is going to get underway in less than 24 hours.

BOLDUAN: This morning, the Supreme Court is about to hear arguments on a couple of cases that could further first time define what rights social media companies have to control what users can post, cases that could fundamentally change what we see online.