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At Least Two Dead, Dozens Hurt in Tornado Outbreak; Judge Could Rule Any Moment Whether to Disqualify D.A. Fani Willis; Michigan Parents Turn to Schools' Role in Shooting Prevention. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 07:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: And because the Indiana fever hold the number one pick, Clark is basically a lock to be first off the board and to land in Indy.

Clark's Hawkeyes are expected to be a top seed heading into March Madness. I can't imagine why. Bracket selection for the women's tournament is Sunday night.

Karen, this is awesome.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is awesome. And it is awesome to see women's sports, like you say, front and center. I love it.

HUNT: I love it so much.

All right, thank you guys again for being here. Happy Friday. Have a great weekend.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. Have a great weekend as well. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Don't go anywhere. CNN News Central starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly tornadoes ripping through the Midwest overnight. Officials are now searching for survivors. At least two people are confirmed dead so far, dozens of people hurt.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Any minute now we expect to see a ruling which will determine the fate of D.A. Fani Willis in the Georgia's historic case against former President Trump and his co-defendants. Will Willis be disqualified from the case she brought and what could happen next?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, how one wrong move from a flight attendant may have sent a plane into a 500-foot freefall. New details on what turned a simple flight into what some called a mid-air roller coaster.

I'm John Berman with Sara Sidner and Kate Bolduan. It's Friday and this is CNN New Central.

So, right now, rescue crews are searching through what used to be homes but is now tragic debris. And this is across three states, looking for survivors after a tornado outbreak in the Midwest killed at least two people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a huge tornado. Wow. Oh my God.


BOLDUAN: And there is nothing scarier, especially when that's coming at night.

The place is hardest hit are in parts of Indiana and Ohio and there are at least seven tornadoes that were reported there. The path of destruction is huge. At least half the homes are destroyed in one town in the western part of Indiana. In Ohio, one mayor is reporting that several people were trapped after a building collapsed and a trailer park was destroyed.


SUPERINTENDENT DOUG CARTER, INDIANA STATE POLICE: We don't know the extent of the damage on the south end of town. We do know that there have been some buildings and homes that have been completely destroyed. And that work will begin in the morning to actually go through and subdivide every single one of those properties and do everything within our power to find out if there is anyone still within the confines of those collapsed buildings.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Whitney Wild is in Winchester, Indiana, for us. Whitney, what are you seeing there?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, in this location, this is right outside of the Goodwill in Winchester, Indiana, and the damage is so clear. As soon as you get out here, it is just so striking. This Goodwill, the siding effectively ripped away.

As you look here, you'll see so much debris spread all across this parking lot. But it is as you look farther out that it is just gut- wrenching and so chilling what you see. If you can see off in the distance, Kate, you see sheets of metal wrapped around trees. And then if you can see that car flipped over and crushed like a soda can.

It is so alarming out here. And, Kate, this is what it looks like at dawn. As the light comes up this morning, surely this will look even more horrible.

And, Kate, what we know right now is that 38 people in this county have been injured. This storm system put 45 million people from Texas to western Pennsylvania under the threat of severe storms and tornadoes. These were super cells that just ripped across areas, again, from Texas to Pennsylvania, putting thousands of people without power, here in Indiana, 5,000 people at least without power, 20,000 people without power in Ohio.

This scene, again, is just so gut-wrenching. And when you listen to what people saw, it really hits home, Kate.


LISA GULLEY, TOOK SHELTER AS TORNADO HIT: Oh my God, that's going to hit us. I mean, that -- honestly, that was all I could think of is that.

I didn't know where what to do first. I just didn't know what to do. First, made sure everybody's safe, we checked on our neighbors and everybody was good, but then just trying to evaluate what we can do. I'm still pretty shaken up.


WILD: Kate, the Indiana State Police are out here in Winchester to try to help with the cleanup and any rescue efforts that are needed at this moment. But now, it's just a time to wait a time to clean up and wait and see in the daylight how bad this destruction is, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and that's the thing, as that woman was saying, what we need to do, they're not going to really get a full scope of what is needed until sun is about to come up very soon.


Whitney Wild in Winchester for us, thank you so much, Whitney. I mean, it's -- when this happens late at night, it's terrifying anytime.

BERMAN: And first light is not going to be easy and it will happen very, very shortly. Whitney is there will keep us posted as to what the search and rescue efforts reveal.


BERMAN: Let's get right to CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. Derek, give us a sense of where this went and where it's heading.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. John, you know, we're still about a half hour until we see first light, but just giving an overall estimation of what we're seeing from Whitney's live shot just a moment ago, some of that damage is consistent with an EF-2 tornado or greater. So, that's winds roughly of 111 to 135 miles per hour. That's terrifying. It's made twice as terrifying, especially when it strikes at night. Remember, tornadoes are twice as deadly at nighttime because, generally, people are sleeping.

Look at how lightning illuminates this funnel cloud coming out of Winchester, Indiana. That is exactly where our Whitney Wild is on the ground. And I want you to see that there were two separate rounds of tornadic super cells that moved through the region last night. First, notice the tornado popping up right near the Ohio River between Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. But then the secondary line of storms that caused the damage across Central Indiana and into Eastern Ohio were later at night.

And here's a look at the daytime footage from one tornado in Carrollton, Kentucky. I mean, look at that large tornado clearly on the ground. This is the resulting damage, not necessarily from that tornado, but from one of the many tornadoes that popped up across the region.

This is near the Ohio River. And Milton, Kentucky, seeing buildings flatten, taken completely off of their foundations, and lives changed forever. Eight confirmed tornadoes so far. That number likely to go up, and you can see over 300 reports of severe weather.

Now, this line of storms is still marching across the Deep South, and there's right now a severe thunderstorm watch across central portions of Alabama. This is the area we're highlighting as more of an immediate threat, even though this is moving into a more stable environment.

We've noticed a couple of tornado warnings popping up here within the past 20 minutes. This is out of Jackson County in Alabama. So, heads up, Birmingham, you're about to be rocked by some stronger storms, lots of lightning associated with this, and even another threat, flash flooding across southern portions of Arkansas ongoing right now. So, a dynamic storm system evolving this morning, to say the least. John?

BERMAN: Yes, what an awful night and you can see the vivid images there of that storm still moving through, still very much of a threat. Derek Van Dam, thank you. Keep us posted. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. It is decision day in Fulton County, Georgia. We are standing by for a judge's ruling on whether or not District Attorney Fani Willis will be allowed to stay on Donald Trump's election subversion case.

Plus, the RNC and the Trump campaign join forces. What their merger means in the race for the White House.

Also, a flight attendant's mishap may have caused that LATAM plane to suddenly plunge. The new reporting ahead.



SIDNER: A ruling should be out today with the judge promising it will not be political. The judge presiding over the Georgia election subversion case will soon issue an incredibly significant decision involving Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis. The big question, will he disqualify her from trying the case?

The ruling could upend the Georgia election case against Donald Trump and his co-defendants.

CNN's Nick Valencia is outside the courthouse in Atlanta for us. First of all, how will this ruling be delivered? How will we get the information?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, great question. We know it won't come in the form of a hearing. It's going to come in the form of a written order. And previous orders from Judge Scott McAfee have tended to come out in the morning.

And so, in the meantime, though, we wait. A big question mark still is timing for this monumental decision. Will Fani Willis be allowed to continue on with the case that she's investigated for the last three years?

You know, it all started January 2, 2021, with that infamous phone call from the former president to Georgia's secretary of state to ask him to find more votes, and now it's gotten us here to this point, 19 indictments by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, four guilty pleas. But a big question mark, remains, will Fani Willis be able to continue and prosecute this case, or will she be thrown off throwing this case into uncertainty?

Judge Scott McAfee has granted more interviews in the last week than he has since he took on this case late last year. And it was yesterday that WSB, our affiliate here in Atlanta, caught up with McAfee at the Rotary Club. He was there at an event speaking, and this is what he had to say to one of the local news reporters here.

On the decision, he says, should be out tomorrow. I made a promise to everybody. These kinds of orders take time to write. I need to make sure I say exactly what I want to and plan to stick to the timeline I gave everyone. The message I always want to convey is that no ruling of mine is ever going to be based on politics. I'm going to be following the law as best I understand it.

You know, we ran into him earlier this week and asked him about timeline, and he doubled down, saying that the decision would come out by the end of the week, and here we are. But he also gave an interview late last week to a radio station here, and he talked about how this case has personally affected him, saying that he has two young children, ages five and three, and that he looks forward to the day that he could look them in their eye and tell them that he played this straight and did the best he could. For now, though, Sara, we wait. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you so much for that reporting.


I know you'll be bringing it to us as soon as we find out what this decision is. I appreciate it. Kate?

BOLDUAN: And now to Florida, where the federal judge overseeing Trump's classified documents case there just denied one of his requests to have the charges dismissed. Judge Aileen Cannon ruling that the case would not be thrown out based on Trump's claims of constitutional vagueness around the charges. But the judge has yet to rule on the second argument that Donald Trump's team is making as grounds for dismissing the case. And there's also the still the unanswered question of if there is a case, when will it go to trial?

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is following all of this for us. Katelyn, where does this all stand right now?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Kate, it's a waiting game here in South Florida as well in this classified documents case against Donald Trump. Four hours, five hours in court yesterday of oral arguments where Donald Trump's team is trying to convince Judge Aileen Cannon to throw out his charges, these 30-some classified document mishandling charges as well as an obstruction conspiracy set of counts.

In that argument, Judge Aileen Cannon was pretty skeptical about what the Trump team was putting forward. They had tried to make arguments to her that these papers that he took from the White House at the end of the presidency about national defense, weapons, U.S. military plans, that those were his personal papers because when he was president, he decided he wanted them as his personal papers and he could do that. She was skeptical of that.

And then very quickly on his other argument that the law was so vague around national security secrets or national defense material that he couldn't have known he was breaking the law as the president. She very quickly decided that she was going to reject that claim.

But there is a lot of options here that she has to look at what Trump is asking for. There are nine different ways by my count that Trump and his co-defendants have asked her to dismiss this case. We just heard the arguments on two of them.

And so there's a lot of work to do. We're still expecting a decision from the judge on what to do with Trump's personal records claim, that presidential records claim argument that they made yesterday.

And then, of course, Kate, the other thing we're waiting for, a trial date. We still don't have it. We've been in Florida with other hours of arguments before this judge about when this trial should take place and still nothing on the calendar.

And we don't know when the next hearing will be either to work through more of the arguments that Donald Trump's team is trying to make here. So, a lot still to go in this case before we get to a trial.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and we can really get some of this information at any time. The judge can hand down this decision at any time now, and we can hear it very quickly, which is why we are standing by.

It's great to see you, Katelyn. Thank you so much. John?

BERMAN: Look, with no trial date, the only thing to do is go to the beach, obviously.

BOLDUAN: Obviously. You're just jealous.

BERMAN: Well, no, I want to know if Judge Aileen Cannon can say, you know what, we're having court outside today at the beach.

BOLDUAN: Oh, it's like having class outside.

BERMAN: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: I love those days. Oh, man. Back to work, please?

BERMAN: All right. It is time for the school to pony up after the parents of the Michigan school shooter were found guilty. Now, families of the victims say school administrators should be held accountable.

And this morning, the Trump family takeover of the Republican National Committee is complete. We're getting our hands on a new memo that outlines the huge changes.



BERMAN: This morning, parents of school shooting victims in Michigan are shifting their focus to the Oxford School District. This after a jury found both James and Jennifer Crumbley guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the mass shooting perpetrated by their son.


NICOLE BEAUSOLEIL, MADISYN BALDWIN'S MOTHER: We need to start focusing on the school, the school and its failures.


BERMAN: CNN's Jean Casarez is outside the courthouse in Pontiac, Michigan. Two guilty verdicts, Jean, now what's next?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is next is they say they're not finished because for a long time they have wanted some justice with involving the school and the school district. You know, we heard in this trial the fact that Ethan had never been disciplined in school but had been found to be watching violent videos where people are being murdered. His English writings had violent tendencies to them. All of these things, they never contacted the parents, never let them know at all.

And furthermore, on the day of the mass shooting, about two hours before it happened, Ethan was in the counselor's office, his parents were called there also. Well, the dean of students had to get his book bag, and he couldn't believe how heavy it was, and even remarked to another teacher, inside that bag was the gun, and that gun was a very heavy gun, but he said he didn't have reasonable suspicion to look into the book bag, and so the gun was never found.

Now, here's what's happened legally in that aspect. Governmental immunity is what it's called. And so they have been denied for a court to even hear their civil cases against the school. But they are proceeding now. It is before an appellate court. They are hoping that they get justice because they feel that the school let them down.

But here in this courtroom, behind me, they got justice last night because on those four counts of involuntary manslaughter, once again, precedent-setting in this country first time that a father of a mass school shooter has been found -- been responsible for the actual shooting itself.


I want you to listen to the elected county prosecutor, Karen McDonald. She spoke shortly after that verdict.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: These parents could have prevented this tragedy that was foreseeable with just the smallest of efforts. They could have prevented this shooting and saved these kids lives and protected the hundreds of kids in the school that day and all of the members of the Oxford community that it devastated.


CASAREZ: The sentencing for James Crumbly and Jennifer Crumbley will be April 9th, 9:00 sharp. There will be victim impact statements from the family members of those four students that were murdered by James Crumbley's son. It will be an emotional day.

BERMAN: Yes, more difficult moments for all of these families. Jean Casarez, thank you so much for being there. Sara?

SIDNER: All right, still to come, the search for answers after a flight suddenly plunges into a 500-foot freefall. How a mealtime mistake by a flight attendant may be to blame.

Also, an attack of the bees at Indian Wells, an insect invasion forces to off the world's best off the tennis court.