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Funerals Announced For Nashville Victims; Pope Francis Hospitalized; Minnesota Train Derailment; American Reporter Arrested in Russia; Nine Soldiers Killed in Black Hawk Crashes. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 13:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Alex Marquardt in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

We do begin today with a tragedy in Kentucky and a community in mourning. Nine soldiers are now dead after the two Black Hawk helicopters that they were on crashed in Southwestern Kentucky. The Army says that the helicopters were on a training mission and that the soldiers were using night-vision goggles when the accident happened.

Kentucky's governor rushed to the soldiers duty station, which is called Fort Campbell, and had this to say this morning:


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Today is a tough and a tragic day for Kentucky, for the Fort Campbell and for the 101st. The nine individuals we lost our children of God. They will be mourned and missed by their families, by their communities.


MARQUARDT: We have also heard from the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, who said in a statement: "My heart goes out to the families of the service members and to the members the 101st Airborne Division, who bravely and proudly serve our country every day, each and every day. I'm saddened by this tragic loss, and I am working with Army leadership to make sure our troops and their families receive the care that they need in the wake of this accident."

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live at Fort Campbell.

Dianne, what more are you learning about this tragic accident?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Alex, there is an aircraft safety team that is on their way from Fort Rucker, Alabama, to investigate what caused this crash.

According to the deputy commanding -- the deputy commander of the 101st this morning, there were two Black Hawks -- one aircraft had five service members on it, the other had four service members on it -- that crashed last night just around 11:00 p.m. Eastern time over Trigg County, Kentucky.

It is a neighboring, more rural county here to Fort Campbell, right over Cadiz, Kentucky. He said that they were running a quote -- I'm so sorry here -- they were running essentially these routine training missions. It was a multi-formation. We were told that there were four different aircraft there in the training mission initially, but that one of them had stopped to refuel, and another was ahead of the two that crashed.

They were using night goggles. These were also medevac variants of the Black Hawks. Now, they say that they may not know immediately what happened. Witnesses did describe hearing like a pop and seeing those helicopters fall there in Trigg County, telling a radio station there that it was just like a boom after that pop.

We asked if there was any sort of alert or signal given, any sort of SOS, if you will, letting them know if something was wrong ahead of time. They said they didn't have any indication that there was anything radioed in before the crash happened.

Alex, we do expect them to look for computer data on these aircraft. Essentially, much like when we talk about a black box on a plane, something -- they have something similar to that in these helicopters that they anticipate can give them good information to it.

We do know that that helicopter that was ahead of the aircraft, that was ahead of the two that crashed was able to provide information to the authorities here to let them know that something had happened. There were authorities from all over the area that came to respond to this, and, of course, the commanding general offering his condolences and talking about how difficult this was for the base here.


BRIG. GEN. JOHN LUBAS, DEPUTY COMMANDER, 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION: I would like to express our deepest sympathies to the families of our fallen soldiers. This is a truly tragic loss for our families, our division, and Fort Campbell.

And our number one priority is caring for the families and the soldiers within our combat aviation brigade.


DIANNE GALLAGHER: And you mentioned the governor was here this morning offering his support, as well as his condolences, Alex.

This is a -- it's a sprawling base. It is full of members of the U.S. military, specifically, the U.S. Army. And they said that they are working still on the next of kin notifications, because, of course, there are those who passed away who may not have next to kin that are here in the United States or across the country.

MARQUARDT: Horrible accident for that tight-knit community.

Dianne Gallagher at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, thank you very much for that report.

Now, today, there is an alarming new development in the already extremely tense relationship between the United States and Russia. Russia has just arrested American journalist Evan Gershkovich and charged him with espionage. Gershkovich is a U.S. citizen. He has been working as a reporter at "The Wall Street Journal"'s Moscow bureau.

He is the first journalist, U.S. journalist, since 1986 who Russia -- has been charged with spying.


CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins us now.

Natasha, the Biden administration learned about this yesterday, we're told. They only just put out an official reaction. So what are they saying about this arrest?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Alex, we are told that the State Department actually learned about it from "The Wall Street Journal," who informed the administration that their reporter had been detained by Russian authorities.

But we are getting kind of a flurry of statements now from the White House, from the State Department about the detention of this journalist, saying, essentially, that they are deeply concerned about it, that they have been in touch both with his family and also with "The Wall Street Journal" on this, and also, importantly, that the State Department has been in touch directly with the Russian government about his detention.

And, of course, the data is directly contradicting something that the Russian government had said, which is that they had received no inquiries from the U.S. government. The U.S. now directly pushing back on that, saying that they have submitted multiple inquiries through the consular services there trying to get information when, how and why this reporter was detained there.

Now, we also are getting additional information from the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, who told reporters just a short time ago that he does not know whether this detention was in retaliation for the U.S. charging a GRU operative, a Russian spy, essentially, just last week for entering the U.S. illegally and for impersonating a foreigner, someone he wasn't, pretending to be someone he wasn't.

However, it is still too early at this point to say whether Russia is essentially trying to leverage this reporter's detention for another prisoner swap. So, we will just have to wait and see what happens here, but the U.S. still trying to gather information about why he was detained and whether they can get any answers on when he might be released.

As of right now, he is going to be in detention until the end of May, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, one of the major questions whether this was a tit for tat.

Natasha Bertrand, thank you very much.

This is very much the beginning of what could be a long saga.

Let's continue this conversation now with Julia Ioffe, a founding partner and Washington correspondent for Puck, who is, I should say, Russian-born and has a very deep knowledge of Russia.

Julia, thank you so much for joining me today.

And I think this hits particularly close to home for you and I. We met years ago as young reporters in Moscow, like Gershkovich. And now we have these accusations of espionage, the Kremlin saying that he was caught red-handed.

What does Evan Gershkovich now face with Russia's legal system?

JULIA IOFFE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK NEWS: Well, he faces up to 20 years in a Russian penal colony. And for a young man who's 31, that is his entire youth gone, unless, obviously, some kind of deal is reached.

You mentioned my background. And it's particularly relevant in Evan's case as well. Although he was born in the U.S., his parents were immigrants from the Soviet Union, Jewish immigrants. And there is a sense in Moscow, especially in the Foreign Ministry and in the Kremlin, that people of this kind of background, like my background, they are particularly sensitive to and they're particularly sensitive to our criticism.

They feel that they're -- it's a different kind of level of betrayal when you leave the Soviet Union, you leave the country, you move abroad, and you basically lob grenades at the -- at your homeland, at your motherland from abroad.

And I think that certainly does not help Evan's case. Those of us who had roots in the Soviet Union had bigger targets on our backs, for sure.

MARQUARDT: And, like you, he speaks Russian, which, of course, makes you much -- very, very strong reporters when it comes to covering Russia.

American Paul Whelan, he is, of course, still in Russian prison, convicted on espionage charges. And I was speaking with our Russian colleague Andrei Soldatov earlier today, who told me he thinks that Russia will start to bank, in his words, bank American and possibly European prisoners for future exchanges. Do you agree?

IOFFE: Absolutely.

And I think they have already been doing that for quite a while, unfortunately, for the last couple of years. And it seems they're crossing ever brighter, redder lines. You and I both know from when we reported there that there are rules, written rules, and then the much more important unwritten, unspoken rules about what will get you in the most trouble, in slightly less trouble, et cetera, who is touchable, who isn't.

And you and I both know that when we would come back to the States and Americans would ask us, well, aren't you scared for your safety, we both knew that it was actually our Russian colleagues who were in danger. We were protected by our American passports. In some ways, we were untouchable.

And that rule, unspoken, unwritten, is now gone out the window, like pretty much every other rule in Russia. There is, from what I understand from speaking to people there, a sense that anything goes when it comes to the security services. Anything goes. There are no rules. And it creates a big sense of instability and fear.


MARQUARDT: But even at a time when the relationship was warmer, like when you and I were there, which was over a decade ago, the FSB made it clear to foreign journalists that they were being watched. And it's something that you reported on at the time.

IOFFE: Yes, they did that to foreign journalists, to foreign diplomats.

They would break into their apartments, rearrange the furniture, steal rugs, et cetera, just to let them know that they were not at home, that they were on somebody else's turf, their turf, that they were in charge, and they were completely at their mercy and staying in Russia at their pleasure.

But it didn't result in physical harm. It didn't result in arrests. It resulted in a couple of expulsions, but that was the extent of it. This is a terrifying new low and a terrifying new development. And it's, frankly, why I have been scared to go to Russia since the outbreak of the war, because of exactly this risk, because everybody said, well, but they haven't arrested American journalists.

And I would say, not yet. And, unfortunately, here we are.

MARQUARDT: And since the outbreak of the war, we have seen many independent journalists flee the country. Many of them are trying to keep covering Russia and the war in Ukraine from abroad.

And, to your point, there has been protection for international journalists, who have to be accredited. Many of those international journalists left and then have come back. So, now, seeing American journalists being arrested, charged with espionage, what kind of chilling effect do you think that that's going to have on this coverage of Russia at what is a very, very critical time?

IOFFE: I agree with you.

It's one of the most important stories in the world to be covering from inside Russia. And the fact that there's almost nobody there now makes the coverage suffer, makes Russia more of a black box, makes Russian decision-making and Russian public reaction much more inscrutable.

As you said, American news organizations have been kind of tiptoeing back in. But, from what I have heard, in light of this news, organizations, like "The New York Times" are pulling people out of Russia again, because it's not safe.

And to your earlier point about banking hostages, I have been talking to people in Moscow this morning. And, from what I understand, it isn't just about a tit for tat for this GRU officer or this FSB officers who is in prison somewhere in the West. In part, it's a sense of, we no longer care about the American reaction.

They think America rules the world, including the International Court of Criminal Justice at The Hague, and that, in some ways, this is payback for the arrest warrant that they issued for Vladimir Putin, that: The gloves are off. We no longer care. It's on.


Well, very scary times for our colleagues in Russia.

Julia Ioffe, thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing your thoughts. Really appreciate it.

IOFFE: Thank you, Alex.

MARQUARDT: People in Raymond, Minnesota, are now clear to return to their homes after a train derailment involving hazardous materials.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says that those materials included ethanol, which led to a fire. Now, this comes nearly two months after a train carrying dangerous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is live with the story.

Gabe, do we know what caused this derailment?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Alex, we don't at this point, though the NTSB has sent a team to the scene of federal investigators. So they're going to be looking at that in the days and weeks ahead.

You touch on that major development just in the last few minutes, and that is that the sheriff's office announced that the evacuation order in Raymond has been lifted, which means people in this small town, population less than 1,000 people, can finally return home after they were frantically told to flee overnight.

We also heard from Governor Tim Walz in the past hour or so. He held the press conference and said that there were no reported injuries at the scene, no toxic exposures at this point, and no impact to drinking water. But, look, this is still very much an active scene. You can see some of the images on your screen, the flames that have been burning for hours.

We know that this was a train carrying corn syrup and ethanol. And, according to the EPA, four cars containing ethanol actually ruptured during the derailment. That's what caught fire and created this scene, and four additional cars containing ethanol may also release.

So, there are first responders they're monitoring for that. Ethanol, of course, is this highly flammable chemical that exposure can cause coughing, dizziness, other issues. But, obviously, first foreigners felt it was safe enough for people to return home -- Alex.


MARQUARDT: Just extraordinary scenes there.

Gabe Cohen, thank you.

Pope Francis has thanked well-wishers worldwide as he recovers from a serious health scare. We will have an update on his condition live from Rome.

Plus, damning new evidence revealed which shows that FOX executives knew Trump's election lies were nonsense and potentially even criminal.

And taken by a killer far too soon. Now we are learning how families plan to honor the young lives that were tragically taken in the Nashville school shooting.

We will be right back.


MARQUARDT: Pope Francis is improving after spending the night in a hospital with a respiratory infection.

We're told that, this morning, he was working from the hospital in Rome. His Twitter account posted this -- quote -- "I am touched by the many messages received in these hours, and I express my gratitude for the closeness and prayer."


The Vatican says that the 86-year-old pontiff had been complaining of breathing difficulties in recent days. They did also emphasize that his illness is not COVID-19.

CNN's Delia Gallagher is in Rome.

Delia, what more can you tell us about the pope's condition and the treatment that he's undergoing?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, the important news out of the Vatican today is that the situation is improving.

They say that he's slept well overnight, that his clinical picture is progressively improving, and that he will continue treatments here for the next few days. They haven't given us any details about what exactly those treatments are.

Let me give you an idea of where the pope is right now. If you can see behind me, on the top floor there, there's about five windows that are shuttered down with white shutters. Those are the papal rooms at the Gemelli Hospital.

As you mentioned, the Vatican also told us that he had breakfast this morning, was able to read the newspapers, and indeed do some work, so obviously giving a sense of reassurance, especially considering the uncertainty, Alex, of yesterday's news, with the problems that they said the pope had been complaining about, not being able to breathe.

Now, the pope is 86 years old. He also has a history of a respiratory issue. When he was 21, part of his lung was taken out for respiratory illness. So, he is particularly vulnerable to this situation. We also know he has other health issues, mobility, a problem with his knee. He was here in the summer of 2021 for 10 days to have surgery for diverticulitis, and they had to remove some of his colon.

Hopefully, his stay this time won't be that long, Alex. There's Easter week coming up here starting on Sunday, Palm Sunday, at the Vatican, a very busy time of year for the pope. So we will see how he progresses in the next few days -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: An 86-year-old with a very busy schedule who likes to be in the crowds.

Delia Gallagher in Rome, thank you very much for that report.

Turning now to Nashville and a community that has been gutted by Monday's mass shooting at a Christian grade school which left three children and three faculty members dead. Plans for the first two funerals have been released. Tomorrow, 9-year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus will be laid to rest. That's her on the left in that photo.

Her family wants people to wear pink and bright spring colors, as opposed to the traditional black. They did release a statement saying: "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from family, friends and the community. It is comforting and uplifting for all of us. Please continue to respect our privacy as we mourn the loss of our sweet Evelyn."

Then, on Saturday, the funeral for her schoolmate Hallie Scruggs will be held. Hallie was also 9 years old, according to a statement from the Covenant School.

As that mourning process continues, audio has now just been released of a key emergency call made on the day of the attack.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is in Nashville. He has been reporting on this for several days now.

Carlos, tell us about this call and the timeline.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, the exact quote here is: "I don't want it on my conscience."

Those are the words of Averianna Patton. She is a former teammate and friend of the 28-year-old shooter. On Monday, a little bit before the shooting happened, Patton received a Instagram message from the shooter that said, in part -- quote -- "Something bad is about to happen."

Now, after Patton receives that message on Instagram, she calls a suicide prevention hot line. At some point along that conversation or at some point in that conversation, Patton is told that she really needs to call the sheriff's department. She finally gets a hold of someone at the sheriff's department and then is told she really needs to call a nonemergency number.

So this all happens before the shooting happens. And, at 10:21 in the morning, she is finally able to get a hold of someone at this nonemergency number. By that time, the shooting is already under way. It is still unclear at this hour this afternoon exactly why Patton was being passed from one department to another.

It's quite possible that the reason this happened is because Patton really did not have a whole lot of information to pass along. She did not know the shooter's name and she did not have an address where the shooter lived.

Here now is a bit of that call.


AVERIANNA PATTON, RECEIVED TEXT MESSAGES FROM SHOOTER: I'm so sorry. I have been on hold for so long.

I was calling. I received a very, very weird message from a friend on Instagram. I think it's like a suicidal thing. I called the suicide hot line. And they told me to call the sheriff's department. The sheriff's department told me to call you guys.

So I'm just trying to see, can anybody -- I just don't want it on my conscience, if somebody can go check on her.


SUAREZ: So, again, Patton makes that call right after receiving that message at 10:00 in the morning.


According to her, she is not contacted by any law enforcement department here in Nashville until several hours later. Again, Alex, it's unclear why she kept being passed from one department to another.

The police chief out here was asked about this earlier in the week, and he said that, even if she had called directly to dispatch right after receiving that message, they're not quite sure it would have made much of a difference in terms of a response time -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, Carlos Suarez in Nashville, thank you very much for that report.

He called Donald Trump's election lies leading to January 6 pretty much a crime, so why did FOX chairman Rupert Murdoch let his network continue to push those lies? We have more on just-released e-mails exposing top FOX executives.

That's next.