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Nashville School Shooting Update; Biden Pushes for Gun Legislation; Russ Pulley is Interviewed about the School Shooting; Russia Fired Drones Overnight; Publisher Meets with NY Grand Jury. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, although a sad one in many ways. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Sad because it's happened once again. Young lives ended in an act of gun violence. The victims were three nine-year-old children, and three teachers at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Police are calling this a calculated and planned attack.

This morning we are learning new details about the shooting.

New surveillance video shows the suspect, identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, shooting through glass doors, as you see there.

The violence lasted roughly 14 minutes before two officers confronted, shot and killed Hale. The mayor of Nashville told CNN THIS MORNING, it is time for the federal government to act on gun control.


MAYOR JOHN COOPER, NASHVILLE: The public is going to go back to understand -- or questioning why we have so few restrictions on guns, particularly assault level type guns, that guns and gunfire, the number one cause of death with children and we really can't tolerate that anymore.

We owe it to the parents. Everybody that's attending every vigil in Nashville feels that there needs to be a public response to this kind of tragedy, and to say enough is enough.


SCIUTTO: The shooter had three weapons. More weapons found at their home.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is in Nashville this morning.

Tell us first, Carlos, about what we're learning this morning about how much planning went into this shooting. CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, good morning.

So, according to the chief of police out here, we are expected to get a look at some of the body cam video from the officers that responded to the site of this school shooting. The chief of police also said we should be learning a little bit more about the other sites that the 28-year-old shooter planned to visit after opening fire inside of this private Christian school.

Now, according to authorities, the 28 year old was ready for a confrontation with police from the get go. According to investigators, she had several rounds of ammunition. She had planned out this entire attack, according to some writings and statements that authorities are attributing to her. They say that she knew exactly what she was doing. She laid out this attack. She knew the entry points to this school. And so we're expected to learn a little bit more about some outstanding questions in this investigation.

Now, overnight, we also learned about a direct message, a DM, that was set by the 28-year-old shooter to a former basketball teammate. Averianna Patton tells us that she received this DM shortly before the shooting yesterday morning. It reads, quote, one day this will make more sense. I've left behind more than enough evidence behind. But something bad is about to happen.

Now, Patton says that she received that message a little bit before 10:00 in the morning and that she called authorities right around the time the shooting happened, but according to her, an officer did not show up to her house until 3:30 in the afternoon. And so that is one of the questions that remain unanswered out here is why officers perhaps did not show up to her house a little bit sooner.

The chief of police was on CBS this morning and provided a little bit more information on where the investigation stands right now.


CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, METRO NASHVILLE POLICE: The investigation is still ongoing into this whole incident. But what detectives have said so far is there -- there's possibly some resentment for having to go to that school. There's a connection with that family.

We have a booklet that shows the -- exactly what she had planned to do. We have maps that showed the entry point into the school. The weapons that was going to be used. The clothing that she was going to wear. She had drawn it up almost like a cartoon character.


It was exactly what she had on during this incident.


SUAREZ: All right, so late last night, authorities here in Nashville released surveillance video from inside of the school. The video is about two minutes in length, and it shows the shooter essentially making her way inside of the school. You can see that video there. She shoots through a glass door, is able to crawl in, and then is seen walking through the hallway of this school.

The gun -- the shooter, rather, spends some time in one office and then seems to be walking down a hall. At one point she passes by what believe -- what appears to be, rather, like the children's ministry. Authorities out here, Jim, tell us that the six people that were shot were -- were not targeted. It appears that they just happened at random. And so we believe that some of this encounter may have played out in the hallways of the school, considering that the surveillance video, as you can see there, the alarm's going off, show this 28-year- old shooter pointing that gun right there as she walked inside of the school.


SCIUTTO: Walking, not running. Seemed to have the run of the place.

Carlos Suarez, thanks so much.

This part is always hard because you get to learn more about the victims of the shooting here. Six of them. All three of the students were just nine years old. There's the face of one of them, Hallie Scruggs. The images from her are from 2019. She was the daughter of the lead pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, which was affiliated with the school. The other two children, their names, Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney. The adult victims, 61-year-old Cynthia Peak. The other two adult victims were school employees, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce was the head of the school. Mike Hill, 61-year-old, he worked as a custodian there. Those are the faces of the victims of this shooting.

Well, the facts are simple. They're sad and familiar. Three nine-year- olds are dead, killed in their school. Guns are now the leading cause of death among children in this country. This according to the CDC. The details vary from shooting to shooting. A locked side glass door that was shot out in this case. The results do not. Powerful weapons, swift and violent loss of life.

When I picked my daughter up from school yesterday, I wondered if the same could happen there. Maybe some of you wondered the same as well. GOP Senator John Cornyn, a key negotiator on the gun safety package passed in the last Congress, said on Monday he does not believe anymore legislation will move in the next two years. I would say we've gone about as far as we can go, he said.

This morning, President Biden is calling on lawmakers to keep trying.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to do more to stop gun violence. It's ripping our communities apart. Ripping the soul of this nation. Ripping at the very soul of the nation. And we have to do more to protect our schools so they aren't turned into prisons. You know the shooter, in this situation, reportedly had two assault weapons and a pistol, two AK-47s. So, I call on Congress again to pass my assault weapons ban.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN's senior White House correspondent MJ Lee and CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox.

MJ, the president knows the math here. He doesn't have the votes to pass legislation, at least as far as we know. Where does he go from here? Are those just words yesterday or is there possible progress?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, first and foremost, I should say the president is, of course, joining other Americans in mourning what happened yesterday. He has ordered flags here at the White House and other federal buildings to be flown at half-staff until Friday at sundown. You know, yesterday, when the president was initially briefed about this shooting, I was told that when he learned that six people had been killed, and that among the victims were children, that he had quite of visceral and visible reaction to this news. And we heard him say that what happened yesterday, a shooting like yesterday, is every American family's nightmare.

Now, we also heard him immediately, and again, call for Congress to enact an assault weapons ban, which I think, as you noted, a lot of folks here in Washington would say there simply is no path to get that done.

But, Jim, I think there are two things that this president would note. And one is that there was once an assault weapons ban in this country. It expired in 2004. So, we've heard him argue before that this is possible in Washington.

I think the second thing that he would bring up is that a lot of folks said that the math legislatively was simply impossible after the Uvalde shooting as well, but then we did see lawmakers come together and pass, on a bipartisan basis, the first gun safety legislation that the country had seen in several decades.


So, I think his argument for right now, even though he is very aware of the political realities, would be that if there is a political will, that sometimes these changes are very much possible in Washington.

SCIUTTO: So, Lauren, tell us what the reality is on The Hill. You heard Senator John Cornyn's comments. He's been a key negotiator on this. He says they can't get anywhere. Is he right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think in part the fact that a bipartisan bill did pass last summer really does make this more difficult because lawmakers came to the table. They really tried to work through what was possible after the Uvalde elementary school shooting last year. And they came up with some modest reforms. And many Republicans argued that was significant, that they had given a lot, and Democrats argued they'd given up a lot in those negotiations to get something through Congress.

I think a couple of things that make this more difficult today than it was last summer also is the fact that House Republicans are now in charge in the House of Representatives. That means that it is up to a Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, to decide what comes to the floor. And I would just note that he has a very, very far right conference. In fact, some of his members wear, you know, AR-15 rifle pins on their suit jackets. And I think that that is just the reality of where things stand in Congress, even though there is a Democratic controlled Senate.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And the weapons used here, AR-style weapons.

Lauren Fox on The Hill, MJ Lee at the White House, thanks so much to both of you.

Well, Tennessee is one of 25 states in this country that allows anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Lawmakers in the state are considering several pieces of legislation that would even further loosen restrictions on firearms. Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow all residents from age 18 to carry handguns without permits, a proposal that would allow residents to openly carry any firearm, including shotguns and AR-15 style rifles, like those used in this shooting, without a permit as well.

Where does this conversation go from here? Joining me now, Russ Pulley. He's a member of the Nashville Metropolitan Council.

Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: First, I wonder if we could talk about the state of the community right now. You were at the church yesterday as parents were reunited with their children. Those are the lucky ones. There are three sets of parents today who will never see their children alive again. Can you describe the heartache?

PULLEY: It was a very emotional day, as you can imagine. When I first got the call, I went to the scene and communicated with the police officers who were there and then immediately made my way to the church where the children were being brought to reunite with their parents. That was a fairly deliberate process. So, the children were in the fellowship hall below the sanctuary where the parents were being told to arrive. You know, it was a pretty amazing scene there. The teachers were doing what they do. They were teaching their kids. And if you went in the fellowship hall, you would think there was school going on. The kids were reacting just like it was a makeshift school room. And the parents, obviously, it was a different emotion up there as they waited to reunite there with the children from such a tragic event. So, it was very deliberate and systematic to make sure that it was done properly.

Yes, I credit the police department and the school for doing that well. Yes, but it was very emotional, as you can well imagine.


PULLEY: And then the staff, after the children left, they certainly let their emotions go at that point as well.

SCIUTTO: I can only imagine.

Yesterday you noted that this school prepared for this kind of event with active shooter drills, as so many schools across the country do, yet we saw in 14 minutes the shooter killed six people. Does that demonstrate to you, to the community, that such drills, and even what was a courageous law enforcement response here, they went in, they confronted the shooter, are not sufficient to prevent something like this?

PULLEY: Prevent? I would say it's, in my opinion, it is tough to prevent something like this entirely when somebody is of that mindset. I will say that in 14 minutes, if -- without these protocols that were enacted at that school, there would have been much greater loss of life.


So, credit the school for their reaction. Credit the principle for walking into the fire instead of away from it. I'm sure that saved lives as well. All coupled with the police response, this is of no comfort to those who really lost family members in that -- in that tragic situation. But those things did save lives of people that ordinarily wouldn't have.


You spent 36 years in law enforcement. I've interviewed law enforcement officials from around the country, red states and blue, for years, and they say that more guns make their jobs harder. Yet in the state of Tennessee, what's currently being considered in the legislatures is to loosen rather than to even hold gun laws where they stand today. Do you think there needs to be a pause on that?

PULLEY: Well, you know, it's kind of hard for me to go down to policy path right now. You know, I'm talking to the families every hour and I'm here to support them. I'm happy to have that conversation with you in a few days. But right now, you know, my role is to support these families. And I'm going to stay in that lane.

SCIUTTO: I understand that, but our families talking about those kinds of changes? Is there appetite among the families in this school, the ones whose children survived this, and the others who did not, for change so that this doesn't happen in another school?

PULLEY: I will have that conversation - sure. Sure. And I -- and I intend to have those kinds of conversations. Right now, emotions are raw, and I'm not hearing those things. I'm hearing respect our - our grieving process. That's what language I'm hearing from the families at this point.

SCIUTTO: Well, when you're ready to discuss that, we'll have you back. Russ Pulley, thanks for joining us this morning.

PULLEY: I'm happy to do that. Thank you so much. Very happy to do that.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, we do have new reporting this hour as U.S. officials tell me that intelligence gathering around Ukraine has been impacted by changes made after a Russian aircraft forced down an American drone earlier this month. We'll have details coming up.

Plus, former President Donald Trump once again attacking the Manhattan district attorney as the grand jury in New York makes no move yet after hearing from another witness on Monday.

And the latest round of layoffs from a major American company. Disney is beginning its first of three rounds of layoffs this week. How that fits into the bigger jobs picture, which was made (ph) pretty healthy.



SCIUTTO: We have new reporting this morning on the fallout from the collision earlier this month between a Russian jet in a U.S. drone that forced the drone to crash into the Black Sea. The U.S. is now flying its surveillance drones farther south and at higher altitudes over the Black Sea. And a senior U.S. military official tells me that decision, quote, definitely limits our ability to gather intelligence related to the war in Ukraine.

When we first reported the new routes, one U.S. official told CNN they were part of an effort to, quote, avoid being too provocative. The Biden ministrations wants to avoid any incident that could escalate into a direct conflict with Russian forces. Were told the drone flights will continue this way for the time being.

Well, the Ukrainian military says that Russia fired 15 combat drones overnight and Ukrainian air defenses were able to destroy 14 of them. This comes as more military help has just arrived in Ukraine in the form of three Leopard tanks, donated by Portugal. And the first British battle tanks have also made it to the country, along with other western made armored vehicles.

CNN senior international correspondent David McKenzie joins us now live from Ukraine.

So, David, as more military aid arrives, President Zelenskyy, he visited the front lines. I wonder you -- what you could tell us about the visit and how Ukrainian forces are receiving all this new equipment.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, certainly this has been a grand tour somewhat of President Zelenskyy. Very significant, I think. Today he was in Sumy, in the far north, visiting troops, visiting wounded troops and handing out medals and rallying the troops. He's done this now over the last several days, Jim. He was in Zaporizhzhia before that, in Bakhmut, right on the front lines in the east. And you have to feel that this is significant and maybe signaling possibly bigger things to come from the Ukrainian military. Of course, everyone is wondering whether this counter offensive that has been talked about may happen in the coming weeks or even months.

And you're right, there was a strike overnight by Shahid drones, those Iranian drones, on the capital Kyiv. A pretty substantial attempted strike. The majority of those drones were taken down by air defense, say the Ukrainian. So, that's good news from the capital's point of view, of course.

And, yes, these significant military assets are now arriving in the country. You have the Leopard tanks coming in, in dribs and drabs. Also the Challenger U.K. tank. This is significant. Now whether they can come in quickly enough for the Ukrainians is a different story. But just to see them here and the Ukrainians, obviously, Jim, advertising the fact that they are in country is certainly significant. We've spent time with volunteer groups, battalions, training, getting ready for what we believe might be this counter offensive when all these assets are in place. Then the question is, will Ukraine strike and at which part of this vast front line.


SCIUTTO: No question. We're watching very closely.

David McKenzie there in eastern Ukraine, thanks so much.

A key player in the hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels by former President Trump appears before a New York grand jury. Still ahead, what kind of information could the former publisher of "The National Enquirer" provide?


What does it mean for the former president?


SCIUTTO: A New York grand jury investigating the hush money case against former President Trump is set to meet again tomorrow after hearing from another key witness. The man you see being driven away right there, David Pecker, former publisher of "The National Enquirer." He faced the grand jury for a second time yesterday. We don't know where things stand about timing or a decision on a potential indictment of Trump.

CNN's Kara Scannell has been following this story for us.

Kara, tell us the importance of David Pecker, and do we have a sense of why he was brought back to the grand jury?