Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Pro Wrestler, Family Found Dead in Their Home; Lake Tahoe Firefight; White House Immigration Victory

Aired June 26, 2007 - 14:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

Strangulation, asphyxiation, hanging, the reported means of a shocking murder-suicide of a big-time wrestler and his young family.

LEMON: The rage is apparent, but are steroids to blame? Police try to explain the unthinkable, straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The wrestling world grapples with a shocking tragedy outside the ring. Popular pro wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife, Nancy, their little boy, Daniel, all found dead in their home in Fayetteville, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.

And CNN's Rusty Dornin is there with the very latest for us -- Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, if what we're hearing is true, it's very disturbing. Associated Press is reporting that Chris Benoit strangled his wife, Nancy, and then smothered his 6- year-old son Daniel before going into his own private weight room and hanging himself. Now, Fayette County sheriff's deputies are telling us they will not confirm or deny that, but are expected to come out later this afternoon with a preliminary autopsy and may discuss some of the details of the case.

As you can see, the house is still covered with crime tape. Investigators have been inside all day long combing that scene, making sure, indeed, that what they have is, indeed, the double murder and suicide.

You can see the flowers that have been brought by just a few fans, not -- a lot of people are not coming out. But that big white bouquet you see was brought by some people who chauffeured Benoit and his wife for the last six years back and forth to the airport. They say they are stunned.


JIMMY BASWELL, DRIVER AND FRIEND: He carried his son on a pedestal. He loved that boy. You can watch any Pay Per View event. Anytime he'd win a match he had his son in the ring with him. And I just cannot fathom the idea that this -- that he done anything to this family. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DORNIN: Now, what we're hearing, the events leading up to this, was over the weekend Benoit was supposed to be at two different wrestling events in Houston and he did not show up for those. He apparently called in and said that he had some kind of family emergency.

Then the WWE called the sheriff's department after some friends said they received some disturbing messages from him. They called the sheriff's department. The sheriff's department came inside his house, but couldn't get in because of his two large German Shepherds.

They actually had to have a neighbor come in to help them get into the house. That's when they discovered the bodies.

So, hopefully we are going to be hearing in just an hour or two hours what the results of that preliminary autopsy will be -- Don.

LEMON: And Rusty, what are neighbors saying? Did anyone hear anything?

DORNIN: Well, this is an interesting neighborhood because it's in a rural part outside Fayetteville, Georgia, which is about a half hour south of Atlanta. And very large areas of -- you know, each estate is about four or five acres.

And the neighbors that are right across the street said they used to see the Benoits but they really didn't talk or interact with them. And all the neighbors that we've spoken with really didn't have much interaction other than perhaps to wave at them, that they weren't outgoing, they didn't get to know the neighbors.

So, people here are of course stunned, but there are very few that had any kind of personal interaction with them.

LEMON: CNN's Rusty Dornin live in Fayetteville, Georgia.

Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Charred and smoldering ruins, all that's left of many homes near Lake Tahoe after a fast-moving wildfire that broke out Sunday. It's still burning today, and hundreds of homes are still threatened near the California-Nevada border.

CNN's Kara Finnstrom is in the hard-hit community of Meyers to bring us up to date -- Kara.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the good news is firefighters feel they are closer to getting this contained. They've been getting some cooperation with the weather, and that there have been no injuries so far. And this community really thinks that's very important to stress that.

But this has taken a real emotional toll on this community. And one of the families that has lost their home is joining us now. It's the Hartzell family.

And we really appreciate you joining us.

Sue Hartzell is the wife of a retired firefighter who tried to actually put out the fire at your home which is behind you. Tell us a little bit about what happened.

SUE HARTZELL, FIRE VICTIM: He came -- he was driving home, he saw the fire over on the other end of North Upper Truckee (ph), and he got here, and another fireman showed up, and David, my son, showed up and they started cleaning stuff out of the house. And while they were doing that, there were spot fires everywhere.

And then the house right behind us burst into flames, so he sent -- my husband sent everybody away, and he stayed, tried to fight the fire, but he couldn't save anything. We got the photo albums out and just a couple other things, I think. Oh, the computers. But that's about it.

FINNSTROM: I know you've been here looking for some things this morning. Your daughter found some of your dolls.

HARTZELL: Yes, we found some of the doll heads. There's really nothing left. We can recognize a few things, but I'm astonished how complete the devastation is.

FINNSTROM: I know this is a difficult time for you. And you said you also were concerned not just about your family, but about the larger community here. And I know you wanted to say something about that.

HARTZELL: We're a really close, close-knit community. This whole area out here is all of the local people that have been here 20, 30, 40 years.

We know practically everybody on this street. We've always been a real close-knit neighborhood.

And I just hope that they all rebuild and we can get through this, but I think it's going to take two to five years. I just wish I knew where they were so I could talk to them and give them a big hug. And I can't believe it.

FINNSTROM: We thank you for your time today.

Kyra, we're going to be hearing many more of those stories today. This is the day that some of these families may start coming back. We may see more of them coming back.

The sheriff's department is trying to work out the logistics of getting all these families up here, but some of these families are now going online and finding out about the status of their home, finding out whether there was -- whether it's OK, or whether there was some damage, or whether it was totally lost -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Kara Finnstrom, appreciate your report.

Well, our viewers are sending in dramatic images of the fire. CNN I-Reporter Kyle Conway, who just graduated from South Lake Tahoe High, took this video of flames approaching the school Monday morning. He says that firefighters and police were all around trying to protect the building. Flame-retardant gel kept the fire away, and the school is now safe.

LEMON: Well, President Bush's last-minute pitch apparently worked. The immigration reform bill he's pushed appeared doomed in the Senate, but just about an hour ago, new life all of a sudden.

CNN's Kathleen Koch live now with a victory for the White House -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, absolutely, though I have to say, they're not popping champagne corks here just yet because they understand there's still a very long road ahead for immigration reform. But spokesman Tony Snow, in the White House briefing that started just a few minutes after the vote took place this morning, said that the White House is "certainly pleased and happy" that the Senate did vote by a vote of 64-35 to resume debating immigration reform.

Now, President Bush himself, Snow said, has been on the phone lobbying senators directly to vote for the measure that the president in a White House appearance this morning says represented a "historic opportunity" for Congress to act.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you dislike the status quo on immigration, then you ought to be supporting a comprehensive approach to making sure the system works. And it's a practical approach.

The Senate has worked very hard to craft a comprehensive bill. And a good piece of legislation like this, in a difficult piece of legislation like this, one side doesn't get everything they want. It's a careful compromise.


KOCH: So this is hurdle number one crossed. What happens next is the debate begins on some two dozen amendments split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But even if immigration reform does succeed in passing the Senate, its chances are looking very bleak in the House.

The Senate Republicans -- or excuse me -- House Republicans at their weekly meeting this morning decided that they overwhelmingly oppose the Senate immigration bill, even though they decided not to go ahead and put out a statement expressing that disapproval. But the statement that they did say that they agreed on, though they didn't put it out, was "resolved". The House GOP conference disapproves of the Senate immigration bill.

So, things looking pretty tough for it over there -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Kathleen Koch, thank you.

KOCH: You bet.

LEMON: We've heard what lawmakers had to say. You heard that from Kathleen.

Here's what you say about the immigration compromise. A new CNN and Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 47 percent oppose the bill now pending in the Senate, 30 percent like it, 19 percent don't know enough about it to say.

PHILLIPS: A schoolyard fight that got out of hand, or a case of attempted murder? A Louisiana town braces for the trial that threatens to tear it apart.

LEMON: A fan base torn by grief and anger. What do pro wrestling buffs have to say about the shocking death of Chris Benoit and his wife and son? We're scoping out the blogs.

PHILLIPS: Art with heart. Ex-inmate Paris Hilton scrawls a love note to TMZ's Harvey Levin. We're going to ask him whether he's had time to get it framed.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


LEMON: Twelve past the hour. Here are three of the stories we're working for you here in the CNN NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: A divided southern town, simmering racial tensions. And at the center, six kids facing attempted murder charges over a school fight. Their trial starts today, and our Susan Roesgen brings us up to date from Jena, Louisiana.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Reporters are not welcome these days at Jena High School, where racial tension has led to charges of attempted murder.

Back in September, black students sat under this tree in the school courtyard where traditionally only white students sit. The next day, three white students hung nooses from the tree and were suspended. What the nooses meant divided the town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think a couple boys made a mistake. You know, but I think it's all being blown out of proportion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very offended, because that's a racial slur against us.

ROESGEN: From there, things got worse.

In November, someone set fire to the school, destroying one of its main buildings. Though police don't know if there's a connection to the nooses.

Then in December, a school fight. A white student, Justin Barker (ph), was knocked unconscious and kicked as he lay on the ground. Six black teenagers were accused of beating him.

(on camera): This is a copy of the school handbook here at Jena High School. It says the punishment for a school fight is three days' suspension.

(voice over): But in this case, five of the six black teenagers are charged with attempted murder, and they face the possibility of spending the rest of their lives in prison.

Carwyn Jones, Bryant Purvis, Robert Bailey Jr., Theodore Shaw and a student who hasn't been identified because he's only 16 are all charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. A sixth student, Mychal Bell, had his charge reduced to aggravated battery. But they all say they're innocent, and one of us them told us he didn't even see what happened.

You know, like, when a fight breaks out, all the kids are just running to see the fight. That's just how it was. And everybody was in one part.

ROBERT BAILEY, DEFENDANT: You really couldn't see nothing. So when I'm running to -- when I'm running to see what's going on, I got down and the fight was over. The coaches and the students were breaking up the fight.

ROESGEN: The students' parents say whatever happened, the only reason their sons were arrested is because they are black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I've never seen nothing like this before in my life, you know. It's just mind-blowing. You know, it's heartbreaking, you know?

ROESGEN: Two of the students have been locked up in jail since December because their parents can't afford the $90,000 bail.

THEODORE MCCOY, PARENT: No previous record of anything. And he's been taking it pretty hard at times, because we visit every Sunday. Sometimes he's OK. The next minute he's taking it very hard.

ROESGEN: The parents believe their sons just can't get a fair trial when they're the minority in a town that's 85 percent white. Even some white residents agree.

KRISTY BOYETTE, JENA, LOUISIANA, RESIDENT: These are kids. They are kids. You're fixing to ruin these kids' life. ROESGEN: District Attorney Reed Walters released a statement after the incident saying he had "never charged anyone based on who they are." But he also addressed the six black students directly, saying, "You will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I will see to it you never again menace the students at any school in this parish."

Since the arrests last December, Jena has seen protests denouncing the criminal charges against the six black students as racially motivated. But there is another side to this story that's gone unreported.

KELLI BARKER, VICTIM'S MOTHER: He was getting kicked and stomped.

ROESGEN (on camera): Why?

BARKER: I don't know. You tell me.

ROESGEN (voice over): For the first time, the parents of Justin Barker (ph), the victim, agreed to be interviewed exclusively by CNN.

BARKER: Several lacerations on both sides. Both the ears was kind of really damaged. And both eyes. His right eye was the worst. It had blood clots in it.

ROESGEN: Kelli and David Barker say Justin (ph) has no idea why he was attacked. But his injuries have caused $12,000 in medical bills and his parents do believe it was a case of attempted murder.

BARKER: I wish to goodness it wouldn't have happened. I mean, they had parents. And, you know, me and David are parents to Justin (ph), and I hate it for them parents. I mean, I can only imagine. But I also have to think about my child and my family.

ROESGEN: Now the trial for one of the Jena Six is under way in a town where fear and suspicion on both sides have made Jena an uncomfortable place to call home.


ROESGEN: Now, as for what actually caused that school fight, it's too bad, Kyra, that there weren't surveillance cameras in the school, because I've heard several different versions of what happened.

The victim, Justin Barker (ph), really he doesn't even know what happened because the first punch knocked him cold. He told his parents that he didn't do anything to provoke the attack, but I've heard from other students who said that he did use a racial slur and that's what set it off.

The bottom line is that six students, six black students, were arrested, all charged with attempted murder. Now, today, Mychal Bell, the first student to go on trial, is facing a reduced charge of aggravated battery. But Kyra, that's still a felony, and that means that if he's convicted he could still face many years in jail.

PHILLIPS: Now, jury selection began this morning, right? So what do we know so far about the jury?

ROESGEN: Well, they may be all white. Again, this is a town of about 8,000 people, 85 percent white. So far the jury pool that we've seen come up has all been white.

They're going to have just six jurors for this case. So far, three white women and one white man have been seated for this trial.

All of them, Kyra, said they were familiar with the case, they'd either read about it or heard about it. All of them said that they knew some of the witnesses that are expected to be called in this case.

So I asked the defense attorney for Mychal Bell, the first student, "Why didn't you ask for a change of venue, get it out of this town, where you might get people who aren't familiar with the case?" And he said, "Don't you think I can get a fair trial here of six people?"

I said, "That's your question." And he said, "I think I can."

PHILLIPS: Interesting.

ROESGEN: So, the first trial will start as soon as they seat that jury.

PHILLIPS: Yes, we'll follow up with you.

Susan Roesgen, thanks so much.

LEMON: A police officer pepper-sprays a suspect. And then watch what happens next.

Man. Officer down. And it's caught on tape.


LEMON: Well, even if you've saved up $600 for a new iPhone, you still haven't saved enough. In fact, the cost will be much higher.

Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange adding it all up for us.


PHILLIPS: The roster is still in flux, and so are the polls. Ahead in the NEWSROOM, our Bill Schneider analyzes the latest batch of numbers in the presidential race, including the Bloomberg factor.


LEMON: A developing story happening now into the CNN NEWSROOM.

You're looking live at a water rescue in Oklahoma City.

PHILLIPS: That's right. What we understand is there were a number of people that were trapped in a car. They got stuck in this flooded dam this afternoon.

Firefighters responded. They believe there were about three people inside. Here's when they first responded to the car.

We saw one of the rescues happen live. Now we'll try and see how many people are inside as we continue to watch this video that just happened moments ago.

Firefighters used actually a ladder truck and a boat to reach that car and get close to them. You can see how that water's been rushing through. There you go. There's one of the individuals that have been rescued.

Bonnie Schneider's been tracking the weather conditions there in Oklahoma City. Boy, not only the conditions rough but the last thing you want to do is get trapped in a dam.


PHILLIPS: And -- do we want to go back to those live pictures, you guys, or did they get all three people out of that car? These are the live -- OK, we are waiting on two more people to be rescued. You saw that first rescue take place, firefighters moving in on that rib boat, get close to the car. You can see, they got stuck in the dam. Two more people still in that car. They're going back to rescue them.

Looks like they've pretty much got it contained, Don.

LEMON: Yes, hopefully they do.

PHILLIPS: Well, dramatic new dash cam video from New Hampshire. Take a look at this. It shows a traffic cop last month that ended in a officer's death. You could actually see Corporal Bruce McKay (ph), and just -- right there, using the pepper spray on the driver. But he turns his back, unfortunately, and the driver, Leeko Kenney (ph), fires seven shots, killing McKay.

Now, a passing driver saw it. He grabbed the officer's gun and killed Kenney. No charges were filed.

LEMON: Ooh, kind of disturbing to see that.

Well, they're not even running, not yet, anyway, but a former senator from Tennessee and the current mayor of New York are drawing more than passing glances along the presidential campaign trail.

Of course we want to hear from our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider. He joins me now from Washington with the x-factors in the new CNN Opinion Research Corporation Poll.

So, Bill, let's start with this poll where we asked voters about a race between Senator Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and of course Mayor Bloomberg. So, what does this mean for (ph) the Independent who's not even in the race is doing pretty well? That's kind of interesting.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the Independent Michael Bloomberg. If he were to run, and remember, he says he's not running, he hasn't spent any money. Forty percent of Americans don't know much about him. He's getting 17 percent of the vote, which is pretty good. That's almost as much as Ross Perot got in 1992 when he first ran for president.

Otherwise, the race between the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and the current Republican frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani, both at the top of national polls, looks pretty tight. The standings are Clinton, 41 percent, Giuliani 38, and Bloomberg 17. So, he's doing about as well as Ross Perot did, which is not bad if you're not even running.

LEMON: Yes and, you know, when we did this a couple days ago, when, you know, it was sort of bandied about that he might actually run, they did a poll in New York and this one is actually pretty close to that poll.

Now, let's look at the top three choices when asked Republican voters who they would choose. Registered Republicans' choice for nominee without Gingrich in the race. We have the numbers but you can't see them. So, 31 percent for Giuliani, Bill, 21 percent for Thompson, then 19 for McCain.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, another undeclared candidate, Fred Thompson. Well, unlike Bloomberg, Fred Thompson says -- well, he doesn't say but he is making preparations to run. He's been making contacts with supporters. He's been raising money. It's expected that he will declare himself a candidate sometime early next month.

Well, if he were to run, he suddenly bolts into second place or more or less tied for second place with John McCain. As you put it, Thompson's getting 21 percent of Republican support, McCain 19. Statistically undistinguishable, but that's a pretty good showing for a guy who hasn't even gotten into the race yet. It indicates that Republicans like voters across the country are looking for new voices.

Hey, they've only got ten candidates running, the Democrats have eight. Eighteen doesn't appear to be enough. Bloomberg, Thompson, the more the merrier.

LEMON: All right, thank you, Bill Schneider.

PHILLIPS: Want to take you back live to Oklahoma City where that water rescue is happening. We've already seen one person rescued from a stranded car right here in this dam in Oklahoma City. This is the second person being rescued. We understand there were three people in the car.

And you can see that the car has pretty much remained steady, stuck in that dam. The water hasn't been rising. It's got a pretty strong current, so firefighters feel pretty confident that they can bring each person out one at a time back to shore. It looked like the first person was OK. They were brought back. Now they've gone in for the second individual. One more person in that car that they're going to go after.

We're told that the car got trapped in this flooded dam in Oklahoma City this afternoon. The car is on a spillway at Ski Island, that's northwest Oklahoma, the whole city is pretty much flooded right there within that area.

So, firefighters had a ladder truck and they took this rib boat and they were trying to reach the car and finally did after working at it for more than an hour. You can see it's calmed down a bit. Second person now being rescued, third person in the car.

We'll continue to follow this and of course Bonnie Schneider's bringing us all the updates on the severe weather throughout the country.

LEMON: Yes, I'm sure they're happy to see those guys who put their lives on the line all the time to help folks just like that.

A pro wrestler and his family found dead. Police call it a murder-suicide, and wrestling fans torn between grief and anger. Well, they've turned to the Web to vent. That's straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: We want to get you back now to those live pictures coming out of Oklahoma City. This is a water rescue here, this is happening -- Oklahoma City firefighters trying to rescue a person trapped in the car. Earlier, they rescued two people from this car, and now they're going back for a third person.

This car was stuck on a flooded dam in Oklahoma City. It's on a spillway at the Ski Island in northwest Oklahoma City. And that's where the -- there have been some floodwaters there according to our -- according to our Bonnie Schneider.

And if you look at the right side of the screen, that is the second rescue that happened just moments ago. And as we said, I'm sure these folks are glad to see these rescue workers. If you look at these waters, they are just raging right there. And on the other side, just holding that car from going over the dam, just that rail there. So, if the water got up any higher than that, that car was in danger of going over.

But these folks are being rescued and again, we're waiting on a third rescue. Two of those rescues played out right here on our air just moments ago. But again, this is from Oklahoma City.

Here's how they did it, the firefighter had a ladder truck and they were trying to reach this car, and they took this boat out, of course, with the ropes there and secured those people and then brought them in. And is this the third person in the car? Or is this the second rescue we're looking at, guys?

OK. We're not sure which one that is. I believe that's pictures and not live. That's the second rescue. We are, again, waiting the third rescue. So we're going to continue to monitor this for you, and when they rescue the third person, we'll bring you those pictures as well. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: Wrestling fans are flooding the internet, right now, with grief, disbelief and speculation. They are stunned by the apparent murder-suicide that claimed the lives of popular pro- wrestler, Chris Benoit, his wife and their young son.

Our Internet Correspondent, Jackie Schechner, is watching those blogs. Jackie, what are they saying?

JACKIE SCHECHNER, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: They're shocked, Kyra. There's really no other word for it. People are really going online to express how completely utterly stunned they are at this news. You know, originally when the news broke, people were really just dumb founded at the information that was coming out.

They didn't have all the information at the time, and didn't know what to believe. People were going online to the WWE, the World Wrestling Entertainment organization web site to get all of their information. And there was not only the news being posted, but also photos, videos, really tributes to the professional wrestler who was quite beloved, from what we can garner online. The information that was coming out was obviously was sporadic and there were some things that the WWE was saying that they needed to hold back, so of course, that led to tremendous amount of speculation.

If you go back to the web site now, you can see where the tribute information is taken off of the front page of the web site now that it has been reported that it was alleged murder-suicide. There was a lot of question from fans as to how much this man should be honored at this point. Some of the products online at the WWE shop have been removed. You can see the pictures, but if you go to click on them to order them, it says that it is no longer available for purchase.

Some of the fan forums that we have been checking in with today, plenty of conversation as to what is right and what is wrong at this point. How should he be remembered? Should he be remembered for this tragedy? Should he be remembered as an incredible wrestler?

A lot of people in denial, some wondering whether, Kyra, it is a mental illness that caused this, whether perhaps this was drug induced in some regard. So plenty of speculation until we have those autopsy reports for more information from investigations. This is exactly where people are going online to talk to one another about the Chris Benoit tragedy.

PHILLIPS: Yes, I know there was talk of steroids use. Has anyone been talking about that?

SCHECHNER: Yes. They have been talking about steroids. They have been talking about mental illness. They've been talking about the rough life on the road as a professional wrestler.

But you've got to remember, Kyra, that this is an organization that builds story lines and plots. They were actually the midst of a complicated story line where the chairman of the WWE was allegedly killed in a limo explosion. There's actually some pictures online of that alleged explosion. So they were really in the midst of this death story line when this all happened, so there's a lot of disbelief and certainly there was some question at first, whether or not it could be real and now we know, of course, sadly that it is.

PHILLIPS: And we were also looking at the lists of just how many of these wrestlers have died since the '80s. I mean, it was two pages full of names and they were all -- most of them were really young.

Talk about drug use and just stress on the body and the type of schedules that they keep.

SCHECHNER: Yes, well you know, one of the things is, you know, while people say that wrestling is fake or the story lines are fake because it's scripted. It is very real athletically. And you're talking about guys who are really pushing it out and pumping it out and putting out the best they can in terms of entertainment and from a physical perspective.

So, you're talking about on the road, traveling, putting in that sort of exertion and they keep going even if they get injured. So it's a tremendous amount of strain and stress. And, you're right. I saw that list too, it's extraordinarily long.

PHILLIPS: Jacki Schechner, thanks so much. We're expecting a live news conference, 3:00 p.m., eastern time, out in front of the Benoit house. We will take that live when it happens.

LEMON: Absolutely. Bye-bye, orange jump suit. Hello, fresh start. It's the liberation of Paris Hilton. Paris, I should say, Hilton, that is, swimming pools, movie stars. We'll talk to TMZ's Harvey Levin about her and much, much more.

And of course, please don't forget our e-mail question of the day. What do you want to hear from Paris Hilton? The address is


PHILLIPS: Some families on the southern edge of Lake Tahoe are getting their first look today at the devastation left by a fast- moving wildfire. It destroyed at least 275 homes and other buildings and is threatening hundreds of others. Calmer winds allowed firefighters to contain 40 percent of the blaze at the southern tip of the lake, but the full extent of the destruction is still coming to light.


MARTIN HALE, SOUTH LAKE TAHOE POLICE: I've been at the command post for most of the time since the fire broke out, and the reports coming back really don't begin to describe the devastation and destruction. And really my heart goes out to the families for how much they've lost in the community here.


PHILLIPS: Firefighters hope to fully contain the fire by Sunday. Now, some fire victims are being allowed back into their neighborhoods and are shattered by what they've found.

CNN's Chris Lawrence went along with one couple desperate to know what happened to their home.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): South Lake Tahoe residents watched the roaring fire incinerate their homes like paper. Now they're wondering, did anything survive?


LAWRENCE: We followed this couple back to their neighborhood as they're seeing it for the first time.


A. HERNANDEZ: Oh, my god.

Right here. This is our house.


LAWRENCE: Andrea and Hector Hernandez lost everything.

H. HERNANDEZ: The kitchen, the living room was here, back bedroom.

LAWRENCE: Ten years of memories detroyed.

A. HERNANDEZ: That's your safe zone. Now we don't have a safe zone. We're kind of, just in limbo. So, that -- I think that's pretty hard right there, just not being able to come home.

LAWRENCE: Firefighters believe someone started the blaze Sunday, whether intentionally or by accident. Within a day, it had destroyed well over 200 homes and buildings.

A. HERNANDEZ: What's that right there? Is that the -- that's the heater.

LAWRENCE: Hector tried to save his home, but it got too hot, too fast, and rescuers were ordering him to leave.

H. HERNANDEZ: And, you know what, the thing was, the Red Cross guy, I yelled at him. And I'm sorry. I just wanted some help. And I couldn't get it.

LAWRENCE: They've got no home, no clothes, no money.

H. HERNANDEZ: The nightmare is just beginning, actually. Just the rebuilding, just dealing with insurance companies and taking care of everything else now.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Even after all that, Hector and Andrea still want to stay and rebuild. They're hoping their insurance company will give them the money to do so.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Meyers, California.


LEMON: Alright, our thanks to Chris Lawrence.

We're awaiting a news conference at the top of the hour about that wrestler death. We are going to talk to TMZ's Harvey Levin after a break.


LEMON: We're waiting a news conference in just about seven minutes at the top of the hour and our top story, very sad story from the wrestling world. An apparent murder-suicide claiming the lives of a well-known pro wrestler, his wife and their young son.

Chris Benoit and his family were found dead at their home just outside of Atlanta, and from there the details just got more and more disturbing as it went on. Some of those details are being reported by, a web site owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner. Let's bring in Harvey Levin, TMZ's Managing Editor, to talk about that.

Harvey, these details are just -- we said disturbing and they certainly are, the more we hear about them.

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ.COM MANAGING EDITOR: Yes, they're horrific, Don. What law enforcement is telling us, is that they believe Chris Benoit strangled his wife on Saturday, smothered his son on Sunday, and then hanged himself on Monday. So, it is beyond words.

LEMON: It is beyond words. Was there any signs of this, Harvey, anyone from the wrestling world, his family, his neighbors about this erratic behavior? I do see on that you reported there were some domestic issues, and that his wife had actually filed, at one point, a restraining order against him.

LEVIN: Yes. That was back in 2003. She had actually filed for divorce and then got a petition for a restraining order filed, where she said that Chris Benoit threatened to strike her and destroy the furnishings inside the home. And got a restraining order prohibiting him from coming near her or the kid.

And she withdrew both the divorce petition and the restraining order subsequently. Beyond that, we don't know of anything recent that might have triggered all of this. But, you know, clearly something was going on.

LEMON: Yes. And according to, again, to, it says that Nancy said she was in reasonable fear for petioner's own safety and that of the minor child, meaning her son, who died with her. Tell us about these text messages, Harvey, and then the moments before he killed himself and then I guess allegedly killed his family. Apparently there were some very strange text messages that he sent his friends?

LEVIN: Yes. I mean, I've been hearing about that, too. And we haven't seen them, Don, so, I mean, you know, he just seems like he was -- you know, he was talking about having some kind of a personal emergency at home. He didn't show up at a wrestling event. I believe it was scheduled for Sunday.

LEMON: Yes. In Houston, I think it was supposed to be. But Harvey, just looking, we have two pages here of -- did some research on wrestlers who died by the age -- before 40 or 50 years old and it's like two pages long.

LEVIN: Yes, we did the same. It's unbelievable. We actually pulled the same thing, and there are about 15 of them who are fairly well-known wrestlers. And, you know, there's a whole side to wrestling that, you know, it's been written about some but, you know, the -- just the whole idea of, you know, steroids in the wrestling world, health benefits that don't exist in many areas. And, you know, it's not a place where, you know, people come where they're taken care of in the sense of health and mels.

LEMON: Apparently, Harvey, it's a very stressful environment to be in. We're going to wrap this part up, talking about this, a very sad story, indeed. And we'll take a break, Harvey, and come back and talk to you about the story that has been headlines for a couple weeks now. Paris Hilton getting out of jail. CNN NEWSROOM continues after a quick break.


LEMON:'s Harvey Levin is still with us to talk about another big story. And of course, it is Paris Hilton. She ditched her orange jump suit shortly after midnight. The hotel heiress is out of jail, but on probation until March of 2009.

Some wonder about her plans. She has thrown out some ideas. Harvey, what's the next step for Paris Hilton? What are her plans? Is she a changed woman?

LEVIN: Well, the big plan, right now is appearing on Larry King tomorrow. And I think that's a huge interview for her because everybody is saying, you know, is she a changed woman?

You know, her lawyers say she is, her friends and family say she is, but the way she presents herself on the show tomorrow is really going to be telling. And, you know, if people buy it, she can totally reinvent herself. If they don't buy it, it's going to be a problem for her. So, a lot is riding on this interview.

LEMON: And Harvey, that's what people seem to say about this, that if she really truly has learned something from this, and because of all the attention that she gets. I mean, she is a person who gets tons of media attention. If she can turn this around to help other people, to help young people instead of presenting this lifestyle of shallowness that she presents. If she can help people, then maybe it's all worth it in some way.

LEVIN: Yes, and I've got to tell you something, you are looking at -- look at the picture that you are showing right now. That's the most real I've seen Paris Hilton in my memory. That, you know, you see her posed, almost like a wax figure on red carpets. And, last night, she looked real, I mean, she was walking real, she was just -- all of her expressions were real. She didn't have as much makeup on. And I know that superficial but it's all part of the package and I think that if she does start making different choices in the friends she keeps and what she does, she can turn this thing around.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, Harvey, real quick because we have to get to the Benoit press conference, but do you buy it? Do you believe it?

LEVIN: It think there have been changes. I really do. I'm going to be real interested to watch tomorrow night. I will be among the viewers, I promise.

LEMON: Alright, Harvey Levin at TMZ, we always appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

LEVIN: My pleasure.

LEMON: The next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

PHILLIPS: Hello, everyone, I'm Kyra Phillips at CNN center in Atlanta.

LEMON: And I'm Don Lemon.

Violence was his life. In the ring, on the circuit. The over- the-top world of pro wrestling.