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Fatalities Feared After U.S. Army Helicopters Crash In Kentucky; Police Believe The Shooter Had Weapons Training; City Holds Vigil For Victims, U.S. First Lady Attends. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 02:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. And I'm Paula Newton.

And we begin with breaking news out of Kentucky where officials at the U.S. Army base Fort Campbell, have confirmed the crash of two Blackhawk helicopters. Now they're with the 101st first Airborne Division and the status of the crew members is at this hour unknown.

Now, in a tweet earlier from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. He said fatalities unfortunately are expected. The statement comes from Fort -- the statement that we received from Fort Campbell also notes the helicopters were doing what was routine training when the crash occurred. Once again, we are getting news that two Blackhawk helicopters out of Fort Campbell and Kentucky have crash. That's in nearby Trigg County.

The governor is saying fatalities are expected. Now, stay with CNN, we of course will bring you the very latest as developments continue to come into CNN.

The meantime, mayor of Nashville, Tennessee says the city's heart is broken. And its residents are united in mourning. A huge crowd turned out for a vigil Wednesday evening to remember the three children and three adults killed Monday at the covenant school. U.S. First Lady Jill Biden was on hand and earlier in the day she left flowers at a memorial for the victims. The visit holds special significance for Biden given her lifelong work as an educator.

Police Chief John Drake told the crowd his officers trained for a situation like Monday's attack, but hoped it would never come.


JOHN DRAKE, METRO NASHVILLE POLICE: Our hearts are heavy. As we join all of Nashville in mourning the deaths of Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, Cynthia Peak, Mike Hill and Katherine Koonce.

We are grateful to the team of officers who rushed into that school building without hesitation Monday morning to locate and stop the threat before any more innocent victims were harmed.


NEWTON: Now law enforcement experts are praising for the police response to the shooting. Chief Drake says his officers are crying with Nashville and the world.

Meantime, singer Sheryl Crow performed her song I shall believe.



NEWTON: A moving tribute to an unspeakable crime there. Meantime, investigators are working with an expert who previously conducted active shooter training at that Covenant School. And he says all six victims were in open areas or hallways and that the shooter also fired into several classrooms, think about that, and thankfully did not hit anyone.

We get more now from CNNs Carlos Suarez.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The motive for why 28- year-old Audrey Hale shot and killed six people at the Covenant School is still unclear. Nashville Police Chief John Drake spoke to CNN about the investigation.

DRAKE: What we know is the suspect actually went to that school and as I said once before that there may be some resentment. But we haven't been able to confirm that.

SUAREZ: The Chief said detectives are still going over a notebook that Hale left behind with writings inside. Authorities believe Hale had weapons training and may have stopped somewhere between leaving home and arriving at the school. According to the Chief, Hale did not have problems at the school while a student.

DRAKE: The suspect was under doctor's care for an emotional disorder of some type.


As of right now we don't have any indication that there was any problems at the school or at home.

SUAREZ: The Chief said detectives believe the parents did not know about the seven weapons Hale legally owned.

DRAKE: The parents felt like she should not own any weapons. She did have one weapon that they encouraged her to sail which she did so they thought she didn't have any more.

SUAREZ: An art instructor who taught Hale hail for two semesters in 2017 at Nossi College of Art told CNN Hale had an emotional outburst on the first day of class.

MARIA COLOMY, TAUGHT HALE IN 2017: During the creation of the password where it asks you for a non-alphanumeric character meaning a special character. She didn't know what it was asking for and she got really flustered and she just like turned red, started crying.

SUAREZ: Maria Colomy said that was the only outburst Hale ever exhibited in class.

COLOMY: I just think that Audrey had easier access to guns and rage than she did to compassion or proper mental health care.

SUAREZ: We're also learning more details about the six victims. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released a video statement saying his wife Maria had a close relationship with one of the victims, Cynthia Peak.

GOV. BILL LEE (R-TN): Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends, Cindy Peak. Cindy and Maria and Katherine Koonce were all teachers at the same school and have been family friends for decades.

SUAREZ: However, Governor Lee said right now is not the time to discuss and debate policy.

LEE: There will be a time to talk about the legislation and the budget proposals that we brought forth even this year, and clearly there's more work to do.


SUAREZ: A city council member tells CNN that the head of school, 60- year-old Katherine Koonce may have died protecting the children. The city officials said that a witness said that Koonce was on a Zoom call when the shooting began and that Koonce left that call. Now, according to police, where Koonce's body was found leads them to believe that Koonce encountered the shooter in a hallway.

Carlos Suarez, CNN, Nashville, Tennessee.

COMPAGNO: Joining me now is Nashville Council Member At-Large, Sharon Hurt. And Miss Hurt, I really thank you for joining us and sharing part of your experience. Very tragic experiences over the last couple of days. You attended some vigils in the last hours. I mean, what do you take from that experience, especially that the grief at this point must be profound?

SHARON HURT, NASHVILLE COUNCIL MEMBER AT-LARGE: You know, you're right. It has been --the grief has been very profound. However, I'm finding some healing from it on both of the vigils that I attended. First of all, I want to thank the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden came here with so much grace and love that she shared with the elected officials, the community leaders, the clergy, and family of victims that were in attendance.

There was probably a thousand people who attended the vigil. But those who were on the inside, Dr. Biden went and shook each person's hand, thank them for being there and extended her condolences. It was just a beautiful sight. I know that the daughters and a couple of sons of Mr. Hill were there. And she stopped and specifically spent some real time with them. And they felt so encouraged from her and they felt as if their father had left them with something special, that they were able to meet the First Lady of the United States.

SUAREZ: I want to ask you as we watch this outpouring of grief. How do you channel that grief? I mean, who and what do you turn to, to try it and find some meaning in all of this?

HURT: You know what, at something that was common at both vigils is -- it was almost like church where you said, turn to your neighbor and they reached out, we reached out and touched one another. And we channeled that love, that grief. It was like it took all of us coming together and embracing and extending that love when everyone knew that you're not alone. You are not alone. As a matter of fact, at the vigil for Evelyn Dieckhaus, there was a singer there and she sang a song and it said channel God's peace and let it flow like a river.


It was beautiful. So, when you talk about the channeling, it was a channel of peace, of channel of love, a channel of encouragement and healing that I believe everyone felt.

NEWTON: You know, it certainly is Nashville strong right now. And I certainly hope there is a measure in comfort and all of this community that all of you are feeling and you're coming together. I have to ask you, you're currently in a state, the state of Tennessee, that's been unwavering about protecting gun rights. Do you see any opening for change after this tragedy?

HURT: From what I've been seeing from a state leadership, no, I don't really see it. Although, I know that there are some parents who are very upset about it. And they are talking about coming together and saying, we cannot stand for this. We don't feel safe for our children to be in school. And I think that if and when they come together, and we are forceful, and unwavering, I believe that we might be able to make a change.

You know, I think anything is possible. But we have to be steadfast and unmovable. And always abiding in order for that to happen.

NEWTON: Well, we'll certainly continue to follow developments in your community. Sharon Hurt, thanks so much for coming to us, especially after what has been an exhausting few days in Nashville.

HURT: Well, I can tell you that Nashville is grateful for CNN for being very much aware and concerned and willing to share our story because we've been getting an outpouring of love from all over this country. And it is because of you all of what you have done in terms of shining the light on us during this time. NEWTON: Well, it is certainly reflective of everyone that cares for Nashville right now. And the fact that you're in the hearts and minds of so many. Again, Sharon Hurt for us. Thank you so much.

HURT: Thank you.

NEWTON: Pope Francis spent the night in hospital after having trouble breathing on Wednesday. And the Vatican says he'll stay there for at least a few days. Catholics around the world, including in the Pope's hometown of Buenos Aires are praying for the quick recovery of the 86- year-old pontiff. Now, the Pope has had some health issues recently and that includes colon surgery and chronic knee pain.

CNN's Delia Gallagher has the detail.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: The Vatican says Pope Francis had been complaining in the past few days about some respiratory difficulties, and on Wednesday afternoon, he went to Rome's Gemelli hospital for what the Vatican calls previously scheduled tests. Those tests revealed that the Pope has a respiratory infection. They have ruled out COVID but they say that he will need to stay in hospital for medical attention for the next few days.

Now we saw Pope Francis on Wednesday morning at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. He seems to be speaking and breathing just fine. But, of course, he is 86 years old and when he was a younger man, he had part of his right lung removed due to respiratory illness.

This begins an important Easter week, one of the busiest weeks in the Vatican on Sunday for the Pope. He has scheduled masses and other events but for the moment, we will be monitoring his progress in the hospital. Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome.

NEWTON: Now, on a move that's already angered China, Taiwan's leader has embarked on another diplomatic trip abroad this time to visit Belize and Guatemala in Central America. President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in New York City late Wednesday on the first leg of her 10-day trip. Now her stopover in the United States is not an official state visit, but Beijing quickly condemned her trip as a provocation.

CNN's Anna Coren joins us now live from Hong Kong. She's following the reaction. Anna, good to see you. This trip would always be controversial, of course, but how are the strange relations between U.S. and China at this moment making this visit even more contentious?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's a tough one. She is walking a tightrope. And, you know, a short time ago, Paula, she praised her country's bond with the United States while attending a banquet in New York. She of course, is transiting through the United States before heading to Central America for official visits with Guatemala and Belize. And while this stopover, as you say is unofficial, it has deeply angered China.

A spokesman saying China firmly opposes the visit claiming her true purpose is to promote Taiwan's independence. [02:15:05]

Now, before we delve further into China's warning of a serious confrontation let's have a listen to what scientists say.


TSAI ING-WEN, PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN (through translator): Taiwan has made tremendous progress in diplomacy and its relationship with the U.S. has never been closer.


COREN: Now what's really upsetting the Chinese, Paula, is Tsai's expected meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on her way back to Taiwan. McCarthy would be the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet a Taiwanese leader on American soil. China has threatened to "resolutely fight back if they meet in Los Angeles."

Let's now have a listen to China's top diplomat in the U.S. speaking before Tsai's arrival.


XU XEUYUAN, CHARGE D'AFFAIRS, CHINESE EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON: It could lead to another serious, serious, serious, I repeat, confrontation. We urge the U.S. aside not to -- not to repeatedly play with fire on the Taiwan question. Everything. Those who play with fire will perish by it.


COHEN: Certainly, a strong language there, Paula. Now when former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan back in August last year, China responded by firing ballistic missiles over Taiwan deploying warships in the Taiwan Strait and conducting a simulated blockade of the island. China believes Taiwan belongs to it, it's refused to rule out using force to bring Taiwan under its control.

And while the U.S., you know, acknowledges China's position it maintains that Taiwan status should be settled peacefully between Beijing and Taipei. Her trip comes amid these tensions -- heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing. But U.S. officials say China should not overreact that such transits which Tsai has done six times before as president is simply routine.

Now, analysts believe that Tsai's 10-day visit is designed to strengthen diplomatic economic ties with the West and assert her island's autonomy. They also believe that she wants to project strength back home. Tsai of course he's stepping down as president next year. She's had a drop-in support for, her party her Democratic Progressive Party. She wants to bolster confidence in the DPP, Paula, before presidential elections in Taiwan next January.

NEWTON: Yes. And everything you just laid out there means we will continue to keep a close eye on this visit. Anna Coren for us from Hong Kong. Appreciate it.

Now the leader of Russia's Wagner mercenaries does some straight talk about his military losses. He says his forces took a pounding in Bakhmut but claims the price is still worth pay. We'll explain.



COHEN: Now we continue to follow breaking news this hour. Two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters from the 101st airborne division have crashed in Western Kentucky. That's according to a statement from Fort Campbell. It says crew members were flying a routine training mission when the incident happened. Now the status of the crew is unknown at this time. Kentucky's Governor tweeted earlier that in his words, fatalities are expected.

Now Kentucky State Police say they are assisting authorities and no residential areas have been affected. We'll bring you the latest on this developing story as soon as we have it.

Now, a battle that's often called a meat grinder is taking a toll on Russia's Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine. Now, they've been leading the charge in Russia is brutal offensive in Bakhmut for months now. The top U.S. General says more than 30,000 Wagner mercenaries and recruits could be involved in the battle. But he also says Russian forces have racked up so many losses that the fighting has turned into -- in his words a slaughter fest.

As Matthew Chance reports, Wagner his boss is no longer denying that his troops are taking a beating.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the darkness, Russia's Wagner mercenaries edging their way to the frontline. The open ground here in Bakhmut is a killing zone. Only it's devastated buildings or any kind of cover. Like this destroyed school where Wagner's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is again, visiting his troops.

The 61-year-old frequently appears near the frontlines to see what can be done better, he says. The new plan he informs them is to go forward.

Even Prigozhin admits Wagner has been battered by the fighting. The sacrifice he says in the new audio statements for a greater cause.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER GROUP HEAD (through translator): If Wagner dies in the Bakhmut meatgrinder and takes the Ukrainian army with it, giving regular Russian army the opportunity to further protect the interests of Russia then we have fulfilled out historical role.

COHEN: Wagner's role in Russia's present remains fragile. This funeral of killed fighters in southern Russia, nearly didn't go ahead at all. The Times reluctant administration, saying there was no room to bury Wagner's dead. Only after this group of masked Wagner gunmen issued a public threat, extraordinary in Russia. Did local officials back down?

Wait until we come and deal with you. One of them warns. You're worse than the Ukrainian army.

On the Ukrainian battlefield, Wagner has often criticized Russian military command. Accusing defense officials of intentionally cutting off the mercenaries from ammunition supplies. Even deviating from the Kremlin's war justification against NATO and Nazis.

PRIGOZHIN (through translator): We are fighting Ukrainian army exclusively in terms of denazification, I don't know if there are any Nazis or not. I haven't checked it out myself.

COHEN: Emboldened Wagner which is trying to recruit new members. He's also intervening in non-military matters.


Like the highly publicized case of the anti-war picture that got a young Russian girl sent to an orphanage and her father sentenced to jail. Wagner issued a public letter condemning the case as unjust.

We fight a war against evil for the sake of our children's future, the letter reads, calling other Russian authorities to revisit the case.

But it is uncertain if Wagner will continue to enjoy Kremlin support or have any further impact either on or off the front lines.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

NEWTON: Still had for us. Pursuing charges. Mexico's president vows transparency in the investigation into a deadly fire at a migrant facility.


NEWTON: Mexican officials have announced they will issue arrest warrants or the deadly fire at a migrant Detention Center near the U.S. border. Outrage though is growing after video emerged in the facility inside Juarez, Mexico.


Authorities say none of the public workers or private security officers made any attempt to open the door to the migrants who were locked inside the burning building. At least 39 people died in the disaster Monday night. Protesters are demanding justice for the victims and accountability from the government. They gathered outside the interior ministry in Mexico City and held banners reading the migrants didn't die. They were killed. Betty Camargo is the State Programs Director of the border network for human rights. And she joins us now from El Paso, Texas and that's just across the border from where this fire happened.

Thanks so much for joining us and I want to get your reaction to the arrest warrants especially given that the Mexican president suggested in the first hours of this, that the migrants were responsible for the fire. Now, I will say an arrest warrant at least one has been issued for one migrant allegedly involved in starting the fire. But the Mexican government's accusations are chilling, right? They're saying that no one came to the aid of these migrants. And we heard from witnesses that they were screaming from their lives for their lives when all of this happened. I mean, how do you interpret this now in terms of Mexico saying, look, we will not let this go on punished?

BETTY CAMARGO, STATE PROGRAMS DIRECTOR, BORDER NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Well, we can tell you that this has been an inhumane act, overall. We were on the ground that Monday night and indeed we were able to hear the screams from inside, the migrants screaming for their lives and no authority was able to go inside anymore. And so, Tuesday morning, when we heard Mexican president statement, we were appalled because it was too quick to have an investigation done. And the fact that he was blaming victim blaming the migrants, where we know that, as the migrants have told us on the ground, that it although it's not a detention center, and it's indeed not a shelter. It is like a holding tank where they remove all the items from migrants.

And so, it was hard to really believe that the migrants were the ones who had started it. That's the first thing. The second thing is that the video that shows that there was a fire that was started somehow in the in the cell, the way it was started. It just it's there's still a lot of conflict. And questions about that. And lastly, even if the migrants were to have started it. What we have seen in the video is that, like you mentioned, the public workers decided not to open the cell. They were locked in. And so, they were left there to die and so just as the migrants on the ground, we have also come out and ask for the transparent and clear investigation that will not only provide in come out with us warrants, but also tell us what happened. Indeed, we need answers.

NEWTON: And I want to turn to the reason that those migrants were there in the first place that your organization has long said that these detention centers are effectively prisons. So, what are the implications? Because the reason there is U.S. policy because they continue to send migrants back to Mexico, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands throughout the last few months and years.

CAMARGO: Correct, so, for us, you know, we have been denouncing these conditions in Mexico for quite a while now. As a matter of fact, we have been partnering with NGOs in Mexico for the last year doing a documenting cases of abuse from the authority, from immigration authority but also from inside the these shelters quote unquote shelters. And also, detention centers that really have just shown us what the migrants are deprived of, you know, they don't have adequate medical attention. There's no -- they don't have legal aid. But also, the living conditions are inhumane, overcrowded conditions, which is also something that was spoken on what happened this last Monday.

And to us it's just, of course, we're asking for the accountability from the Mexican government, but also the U.S. government administration has been throwing out policy that has been expelling migrants and having them wait in Mexico. For example, a country that it's not safe, that its own citizens are fleeing, because of the danger and because of the living conditions. And so, what we see is that Mexico is not reliable party. Mexico should not -- does not have the infrastructure to be receiving thousands of migrants.

NEWTON: Right.

CAMARGO: To be waiting area.


NEWTON: Yes, and in fact, the State Department itself continues to point out that he's areas where migrants are sent back to are not safe for travel. They advise U.S. citizens not to travel there. I have to leave it there for now. But we will continue this conversation, Betty Camargo from El Paso Texas, really appreciate your input there.

CAMARGO: Thank you.

NEWTON: Just ahead for us, the latest on our breaking news out of Kentucky where officials say fatalities are feared, after the crash of two U.S. army helicopters out of Fort Campbell. Stay with us, we'll have more.


NEWTON: I want to get you right up to speed on our breaking news this hour, Kentucky's governor says fatality are expected in the crash of two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters. A statement from Fort Campbell confirms the incident. It says the helicopters from the 101st airborne division were on a routine training mission when the incident happened. The status of the crew is unknown at this time now. Kentucky State Police say they are assisting authorities and no residential areas have been affected. We will continue to bring you more information on this developing story as soon as we get it.


Now, it appears the New York grand jury investigation into Donald Trump's role in in the alleged hush money scheme is not moving as quickly as some anticipated. A source familiar with the case says the grand jury is scheduled to go on break on Wednesday and won't be back until later in April. There had been speculation that proceedings were wrapping up and that Trump would become the first former president in the U.S. history to be indicted. Now that's partly because of comments from Trump himself, who incorrectly predicted he would be arrested last week. The Grand Jury proceedings are secret, and prosecutors can change the panel's plans at any time. I'm Paula Newton, for international viewers, "WORLD SPORT" is up next. For those of you who are in North America, I will be right back with more CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment.