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Social Media and a Connecticut Rape Case; President Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah Hold Press Event; Impostor Pilot Arrested in Philadelphia

Aired March 22, 2013 - 13:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Susan Candiotti takes a look at the powerful impact social media is having on this case.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At least two of the three accused teens are familiar faces for football fans at Connecticut's Torrington High School.

Edgar Gonzalez, named most valuable player this season, and teammate Joan Toribio are 18, legally adults. A third young man is 17, a juvenile. All three are charged with sexual assault. The two alleged victims are 13 years old. Police call the alleged sexual encounters consensual. But under Connecticut law, that doesn't matter.

LT. MICHAEL EMANUEL, TORRINGTON, CONN., POLICE: Consensual in the sense that it wasn't a, quote, "attack;" not consensual because, in the eyes of the law, statutorily, a 13-year-old cannot give consent.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Because the girls were more than three years younger than the boys, the young men are charged with sexual assault, sometimes known as statutory rape in other states.

Torrington is a small New England town, where football is part of school, not a local obsession. Different than Steubenville, Ohio, where just days ago, two football players were convicted of raping an unconscious girl.

The evidence included posts that went viral on social media. In Torrington, social media brought backlash from other kids, namely blaming the girls.

One said, quote, "Even if it was all his fault, what was a 13-year-old girl doing hanging around with 18-year-old guys?"

Another viciously attacked the girl's character. Quote, "Young girls acting like whores, there's no punishment for that. Young men acting like boys is a sentence."

But the boys were targets, too. Quote, "Too bad the girls were not protected from a rapist psychopath like you. You should be telling your buddies to lay off her."

BARBARA SPIEGEL, VICTIMS' ADVOCATE: With social media, it's just an opportunity to tell a lot of people a message. Instead of me just speaking to you, I tweet it and it's out there for the whole world.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Barbara Spiegel heads Torrington's Susan B. Anthony Project for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. She worries about the impact on accusers.

SPIEGEL: The focus is on the girls, as if whatever went on here was their fault. And I think the focus needs to be on the perpetrators -- alleged perpetrators.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): As for all the social media chatter, area parents just shake their heads.

MARCI SASS: I don't think they've stopped to consider the lives that they're -- that they're hurting.

KEVIN LACILLA: I don't think it's appropriate for kids to be expressing their thoughts on something that either they know very little about or they're just not mature enough to make rational decisions.


WHITFIELD: Susan Candiotti joining us live now from Torrington.

So Susan, have the two 13-year olds, the alleged victims, made any comments to their families, attorneys? What is being said by any representatives of these young people?

CANDIOTTI: Such a sad case, Fred. Yes, we've reached out to representatives for the alleged victims in this case, but so far have not heard back.

We also have reached out to the lawyers representing the 18-year olds, and we can tell you that certainly both of them have pleaded not guilty to these charges. So there's a lot more that certainly will come of this in the future.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Candiotti, thank you so much from Torrington, Connecticut.

All right. We want take you overseas now. We've been mentioning to you on the president's three-day trip overseas. He's right now in Amman, Jordan. Let's listen in as he's sharing this press conference with King Abdullah, right now president Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- a serious negotiation focus. We're not there yet, but I'm confident that it can happen, in part because it must happen. It will be good for the Israelis and it will be good for the Palestinians.

I'm very grateful for His Majesty's greatness to advance these efforts. As has been true in the past, His Majesty in Jordan will be critical to making progress towards a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

And we spent a significant amount of time consulting on Syria. I want to commend His Majesty for his leadership and I want to commend the Jordanian people for their compassion during an extraordinarily difficult time for their neighbors.

His Majesty was the first Arab leader to publicly call on Assad to step down because of the horrific violence that was being inflicted on the Syrian people. Jordan has played a leading role in trying to begin a political transition toward a new government.

We're working together to strengthen a credible Syrian opposition. We share Jordan's concerns about violence spilling across the borders. So I want to take this opportunity to make it clear the United States is committed to the security of Jordan, which is backed by our strong alliance.

As has been mentioned, during this crisis, the Jordanian people have displayed extraordinary generosity, but the strains of so many refugees inevitably is showing. Every day (inaudible) to neighbors far from home, but this is a heavy burden. And the international community needs to step up to make sure that they are helping to shoulder this burden.

The United States will certainly do our part. We are already the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. Some of this has helped people here in Jordan.

And today I'm announcing that my administration will work with Congress to provide Jordan with an additional $200 million in budget support this year as it cares for Syrian refugees and Jordanian communities affected by this crisis.

This will mean more humanitarian assistance and basic services, including education for Syrian children so far from home whose lives have been upended. And I think, as parents, we can only imagine how heartbreaking that must be for any parent to see their children having to go through the kinds of turmoil that they're experiencing.

Our cooperation on Syria is an example of how the partnership between the United States and Jordan improves the lives not only of the Jordanian people but peoples across the region. So, again, Your Majesty, I want to express my great appreciation for our partnership.

I want to thank you and the Jordanian people for the friendship and hospitality that they've shown me and to my fellow Americans.

And just as I visited The Citadel here in Amman on my last visit, I'm looking forward to seeing Petra tomorrow, weather permitting, one of the great wonders of history that the world can experience thanks to the care and dedication of Jordan and its people. So, (inaudible). Thank you.


QUESTION: Thank you, Your Majesty.

I will ask you -- for how long are you going to keep the borders open for the Syrian refugees? Next to you is a land of war and anything could happen at any time. If the regime is shut (inaudible) or the water, you are not too far from the Damascus, the capital. It's like we list them on ours (ph) you might find a thousand refugees, not just the hundred that you spoke about, Your Majesty.

And, Mr. President, thank you again. And I just want to know you are a superpower, you are leading the superpower of the United States of America, You don't have a plan to put an end for what's going on in Syria, the bloodshed, the killing and now we are talking about using the chemical weapon.

What's your comment about that?

Thank you, Your Majesty.

KING ABDULLAH II, JORDAN: Well, first of all, the problem with refugees comes down to a humanitarian issue. I mean, how are you going to turn back women, children and the wounded? This is something that we just can't do. It's not the Jordanian way. We have historically opened our arms to many of our neighbors through many decades of Jordan's history.

So that is a challenge that we just can't turn our backs on. So that's the reality that we're facing on the ground. So Jordan has always been a safe haven to people around us through many, many decades.

So unfortunately, from that point of view, refugees will continue to come to Jordan, and we will continue within our means to look after them as best as we can.

The problem is obviously that the burden it's having on Jordan. And we've tried to quantify as much as possible. The latest figures is it's going to cost us roughly $550 million a year, but if those figures double, as we think they will by the end of the year, then obviously we're talking a billion plus.

Not only is that a problem, but it's going to be a tremendous strain obviously on infrastructure and it's creating social problems and security problems. And so this is one of the reasons that we're asking for the international community to help. But physically we can't turn away young children, women, people in desperate need and the wounded. So we will continue to burden that responsibility.

OBAMA: Since the start of the situation in Syria, we have stepped up as not just a superpower as you phrased it, but also because of basic humanity to say that Assad had needed to go. We haven't just led with words, but we've also led with deeds. As I indicated we're the single largest humanitarian donor to the Syrian people.

We have worked diligently in cooperation with the international community to help organize and mobilize a political opposition that is credible because, in the absence of a credible political opposition, it will be impossible for us to transition to a more peaceful and more representative and legitimate government structure inside of Syria.

And that's an area where we have been involved on almost a daily basis. First Secretary Hillary Clinton helped to spearhead the efforts that formed a coherent Syrian opposition council. Now you've got Secretary Kerry, who's deeply involved in that effort as well.

And we are providing not just advice, not just words but we're providing resources, training, capacity in order for that political opposition to maintain links within Syria and to be able to provide direct services to people inside of Syria, including the kinds of relief efforts that obviously we're seeing here in Jordan.

But there are a whole bunch of people who are internally displaced inside of Syria who need help.

I think that what your question may be suggesting is why haven't we simply gone in militarily. And, you know, I think it's fair to say that the United States often finds itself in a situation where, if it goes in militarily, then it's criticized for going in militarily. And if it doesn't go in militarily, then people say, why aren't you doing something militarily.

And, you know, my response at this stage is to make sure that what we do contributes to bringing an end to the bloodshed as quickly as possible and working in a multilateral context and an international context because we think our experience shows that when we lead but we are also working with others, like the Jordanians, like the Turks, like other interested parties in the region, then the outcomes are better.

When we are working with the Syrians themselves, so that this is not externally imposed but rather something that is linked directly with the aspirations and hopes of the people inside of Syria, it will work better.

And you know, so we are going to continue to use every lever and every bit of influence that we have to affect the situation inside of Syria.

You mentioned the issue of chemical weapons. We have called for and we know that the U.N. is now moving forward on an investigation of exactly what happened. We're monitoring the situation ourselves. I have said publicly that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a game changer from our perspective because, once you let that situation spin out of control, it's very hard to stop and can have enormous spillover effects across the region.

And so we are going to continue to closely consult with everybody in the region and do everything we can to bring an end to the bloodshed and to allow the Syrian people to get out (inaudible) of a leader who has lost all legitimacy because he's willing to slaughter his own people.

And I'm confident that Assad will go. It's not a question of if, it's when. And so part of what we have to spend a lot of time thinking about is what's the aftermath of that and how does that work in a way that actually serves the Syrian people.

And by the way, serves the Syrian people from all walks of life, from all religious affiliations, because one of the things that we know is happening in this region is that if we fail to create a model in the Arab world in which people can live side by side, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia or Alawite or Druze, regardless of the manner in which they worship their God, if we don't create that possibility, then these problems are going to occur again and again and again and again.

I think His Majesty understands that. I think the people of Jordan understand that. And these kinds of sectarian and tribal fault lines are part of what we have to get beyond, because they don't work in a modern world. They don't create jobs. They don't put food in the mouths of children. They don't provide an education. They don't create a thriving economy.

And that's going to be a central challenge, not just in Syria but across the region. And the United States, I think, has something to say about that because part of what makes us a superpower is because we have people of every walk of life, every background, every religion.

And if they've got a good idea and they're willing to work hard, they can succeed. And that's got to be something that's more consistently spoken about, not just in -- with respect to the Syria situation, but I think with respect to this enormous moment of both promise but also danger in the Arab world in North Africa.

Julie Case (ph)?.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the aftermath of the Assad regime. There's a lot of concern in Jordan and elsewhere that the upheaval in Syria is creating havens for extremism.

How concerned are you at this point that extremists or jihadists could actually take over in Syria and perhaps be even worse than Assad?

And I was also hoping you could give us some insight into how you brokered the call today between prime ministers Erdogan and Netanyahu and how much of their willingness to talk do you think is actually driven by the urgency in Syria.

And, Your Majesty, you have offered Assad asylum, which he rejected; does that offer of asylum still stand? Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremists because extremists thrive in chaos. They thrive in failed states. They thrive in power vacuums. They don't have much to offer when it comes to actually building things, but they're very good about exploiting situations that, you know, are no longer functioning. They fill that gap.

And that's why I think it's so important for us to work as an international community to help accelerate a political transition that is violent so that a Syrian state continues to function, so that the basic institutions can be rebuilt, that they're not destroyed beyond recognition, that, you know, we are avoiding what inevitably becomes a Syrian or sectarian divisions because, by definition, if you're an extremist, then you don't have a lot of tolerance for people who don't share your beliefs.

So this is part of the reason why for the American people we've got to recognize we have a stake in. We can't do it alone. And the outcome in Syria is not going to be ideal even if we execute our assistance and our coordination and our planning and our support flawlessly.

The situation in Syria now is going to be difficult. And that's what happens when you have a leader who cares more about clinging to power than they do about holding their country together and looking after their people.

It's tragic. It's heartbreaking. And the sight of children and women being slaughtered that we've seen so much, I think, has to compel all of us to say what more can we do. And that's a question that I'm asking the president every single day. And that's a question I know His Majesty's asking in his capacity here in Jordan.

And you know, what I -- what I am confident about is that ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression.

What they're looking for is replacing oppression with freedom and opportunity and democracy and the capacity to live together and build together. And that's what we have to begin planning for now, understanding that it is going to be difficult.

Something has been broken in Syria, and it's not going to be put back together perfectly immediately anytime soon, even after Assad leaves. But we can begin the process of moving it in a better direction, and having a cohesive political opposition, I think, is critical to that.

With respect to the conversation that took place between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan, I have long said that it is in both the interests of Israel and Turkey to restore normal relations between two countries that have historically had good ties.

It broke down several years ago as a consequence of the flotilla incident. For, you know, the last two years I've spoken to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan about why this rupture has to be mended, that they don't have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns.

During my visit, it appeared that the timing was good for that conversation to take place. I discussed it with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and both of us agreed that the moment was right. And fortunately they were able to begin the process of rebuilding normal relations between two very important countries of the region.

But this is a work in progress. It is just beginning. As I said, there are obviously still going to be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel, not just on the Palestinian question, but on a range of different issues.

But they also have a whole range of shared interests, and they both happen to be extraordinarily strong partners and friends of ours. And so it is in the interest of the United States that they begin this process of getting their relationship back in order, and I'm very glad to see that it is happening.

WHITFIELD: President Barack Obama there, sharing the stage with King Abdullah in Amman, Jordan, but underscoring the importance of bringing Turkey and Israel together in terms of the prime ministers discussing, he says he helped broker that discussion, the timing is right. And he says it's important to restore the relationship between the two countries.

The president and also King Abdullah talking about the crisis in Syria and the president saying, quote, "he is confident Assad will be removed. It is not an issue of if, but of when."

We're going to continue to monitor the developments there coming out of Jordan. We'll have much more in the NEWSROOM after this.


WHITFIELD: A teenage girl in Southern California survives a scene right out of a horror movie, cowering in a closet while three burglars invade the house. The 15-year-old girl called 9-1-1 and ran into her parents' walk-in closet when the alarm system went off while she was home alone.

The emergency operator told the frightened girl not to say a word after she heard the criminals' voices inches just away from the young lady who made the 9-1-1 call. She hid behind clothes.


DOYIN: Please hurry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We're on the way. We also have a helicopter on the way, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, bring the bucket over here.


Can you tell me you understand by tapping the phone once? Do not open the door.

OK. Do not open that door.


WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. Well, police arrived shortly thereafter and arrested three teen suspects in a stolen car in the driveway. The heroic high school student was not hurt.

All right. A manhunt is under way in Philadelphia for the suspect who opened fire on a store, injuring three people. Surveillance video shows the gunman as he approached the store and tried to force his way in before he started shooting. Another angle shows the people inside the store, struggling to hold the door closed and diving for cover when the bullets started flying. Oh, my goodness. None of the victims' injuries are considered to be life-threatening. Police warn, though, anyone who sees a suspect not to approach him, but instead to call 9-1-1.

All right. A man is in custody right now, accused of impersonating a pilot on a plane at a Philadelphia international airport. He even managed to get into the cockpit. Lisa Sylvester is following the story for us.

So, Lisa, oh, my goodness, this is really unsettling for many travelers, for anyone, for that matter. So with all the security we have to go through to get on a plane, how did this man get inside the cockpit?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what a story, Fred. You know, for a lot of our viewers, this is probably going to sound a little bit like that movie "Catch Me If You Can." But real story, this happened on a US Airways flight from Philly to Florida on Wednesday night.

Philippe Jernnard (ph), he's a French native. He went to the airport. He was dressed in a white button-down shirt. He had an Air France logo over the pocket and he was carrying a black jacket; it looked just like a pilot's jacket. It even had the gold stripes on the shoulder.

But Jernnard (ph), he actually did have a ticket. So that's how he was able to get past security. But then he got to the gate and while he was there, he tried to get an upgrade to business class and that's when the gate agent told him, you know what, there are no business class seats here, so he ended up going on the plane.

He took a seat, actually a jumpseat behind the pilot, but before takeoff, the flight attendants, they figured it all out. He didn't have the proper credentials and that's when they called authorities, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK, so what is the motive? Why did he do this?

SYLVESTER: Excellent, excellent question. Right now -- and, by the way, he could possibly face federal charges for this.

But right now they say it doesn't appear that this was a link -- there is a link to terrorism. But they think, you know, it is anybody's guess. Maybe the guy just wanted a better seat, he couldn't get the business class seat, but I have no idea. That's all part of the investigation.

Why would somebody do something like this? But it is pretty serious. I mean, it is impersonating, you know, an official; it is lying to police, trespassing. So he's got some charges. He's being held on a million-dollar bond right now, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Unbelievable. All right, Lisa Sylvester, thanks so much for bringing that to us.

All right. That's going to do it for me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. I'll see you throughout the weekend beginning tomorrow noon Eastern time. Right now, more of the NEWSROOM with my colleague, Don Lemon.