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CNN This Morning

Gunman Kills Three Nine-Year-Olds and Three Adults at Elementary School in Tennessee; Parents in Uvalde React to News of School Shooting in Tennessee; Hush Money Grand Jury Hears From Ex- National Enquirer Publisher; Another Round Of Rain, Snow & Wind To Hit California. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2023 - 08:00   ET




CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, NASHVILLE POLICE: I saw kids coming out, holding hand in hand. I saw officers coming out bleeding. I saw just emotion. I had officers tell me they weren't sure if they could do this anymore after carrying kids out of the building. It was just a tough, tough scene.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: That is the Nashville police chief weighing in on the devastating scene that we all saw yesterday coming out of Nashville. Good morning, everyone. Poppy is off. Don and I are here.

As you heard there from the police chief, he's describing a horrifying scene played out at an elementary school in his city yesterday where three nine-year-olds and three school staffers were murdered. Overnight police released new video, disturbing video of the shooter entering the school, and we have new information just in to CNN that the shooter had actually reached out to someone on Instagram moments before.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Also this, a crucial witness in the Donald Trump hush money case testifies again. David Pecker, the former publisher of "The National Enquiry" appeared before the grand jury for the second time. Those jurors set to meet again tomorrow.

COLLINS: And at least 39 people have been killed in a fire that swept through a migrant detention center in Mexico. We have new details coming in.

But we start this morning tracking the several overnight developments as we are getting new details out of Nashville where that school shooting took place, including this surveillance video from inside the school and new information about the minutes leading up to the murders of three nine-year-old children and three school staff members. I want you to know that what you're about to see is disturbing. This is the shooter pulling into the parking lot from surveillance video, now been identified as a 28-year-old former student of the school, arriving at Covenant School. It's a small private, Christian elementary school, only about 200 students total. The shooter had a handgun and two assault style weapons, we were told, blasting the way through the entry glass doors at 10:10 a.m., then climbing through one minute later.

The shooter, as you can see on the video, roamed the hallways, eventually taking six innocent lives. The first 911 call came in at 10:13 a.m., 14 minutes later, the shooter was dead.

LEMON: We're also getting brand new information about the moments before the shooting. A former middle school classmates says the shooter reached out to her on Instagram minutes before the rampage, writing "One day this will make more sense. I've left behind more than enough evidence behind, but something bad is about to happen." Averianna Patton joined us just moments ago telling us what she thought when she got those messages.


AVERIANNA PATTON, RECEIVED MESSAGES FROM AUDREY HALE BEFORE SHOOTING: I just I just couldn't believe it, like I'm in effect, to know that I did, I tried to reach out, not even knowing that it was her. I didn't, I just I don't know. I don't know. I don't know where she was, what she was dealing with. I just, I don't know.


COLLINS: A lot of questions still remain this morning about the shooter, but first and most importantly, we wanted to focus on the victims. Sixty-one-year-old Cynthia Peak was a beloved substitute teacher. Sixty-year-old Katherine Koonce was the head of the school, 61-year-old Mike Hill, a custodian. The young victims include nine- year-olds, all three of them, William Kenny, Hallie Scruggs. You can see here pictured with her father. He's actually the lead pastor at Covenant Church. This is a photo of them from 2019. And Evelyn Dieckhaus, "The Tennessean" reports that her sister, a fifth grader, cried at last night's vigil, saying, quote, I don't want to be an only child.

CNN's Amara Walker is in Nashville covering all of this. Amara, the more we are learning this morning about these details about what led up to this and what happened in the moments before this tragic shooting took place.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is so much more that we're learning, and look, the reality is that there are six families waking up this morning here in Nashville without their children, and without their loved ones. This is what they're going to have to go through for the rest of their lives.

In the meantime, here at Covenant School, the investigation continues. It will be the second day police will be arriving to process what is now a crime scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) AVERY MYRICK, MOTHER TEACHES AT SCHOOL: I don't know how somebody could go through with doing something like that, and especially children, like just, it's disgusting. And I -- yes. I just I have no words.

WALKER: This morning another community is in mourning after what police are calling a targeted attack by 28 year old Audrey Hale, a former student who showed up on campus to execute a prewritten plan.

CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, NASHVILLE POLICE: It indicates that there was going to be shootings at multiple locations, and the school was one of them.


There was actually a map of the school detailing surveillance entry points and how this was going to be carried out on this day.

WALKER: Metro Nashville releasing more than two minutes of surveillance video showing the moment Hale arrived on campus. In the video, Hale is seen driving through the parking lot of the Covenant School in a silver Honda Fit. The security camera footage then cuts to video of Hale opening fire on glass double doors at an entrance of the school before climbing in. As the video continues, you see Hale start roaming the hallways.

Police say Hale had three weapons, an AR style rifle, an AR style pistol, and a handgun along with significant ammunition. Police say they believe two of those weapons may have been obtained legally. Officers say when they arrived on scene, Hale fired on them from a second story window. One patrol car taking a bullet to the windshield. Police say two officers confronted Hale on the second floor, and hale was killed.

During the shooting, Avery Myrick was texting with her mother, a teacher at the school.

MYRICK: I texted her, and I said, just like what was going on. She said she was hiding in the closet and that there was shooting all over.

WALKER: She later spoke to her mother by phone and learned she was safe. This morning, we're learning more about the victims.

DON AARON, METRO NASHVILLE POLICE SPOKESMAN: The three nine-year-olds who were killed, Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kenny, Hallie Scruggs.

WALKER: Also killed, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce, who according to the school's website was the head of the school. Police also identifying 61-year-old Mike Hill, a custodian, and 61-yearold Cynthia Peak, a substitute teacher. Police continue to investigate a motive but say they have a theory.

DRAKE: There's some belief that there was some resentment to having to go to that school -- don't have all the details to that just yet -- and that's why this incident occurred.


WALKER: So of course, motive is the big question. Why would anyone go on such a deadly shooting rampage? Metro Nashville police also said that the shooter scouted a second location but decided against it because there was too much security there, and hence chose the Covenant School, this private Christian school. We learned that there was and is no school resource officer or security guards on campus because this is housed inside a church. Perhaps questions will be raised on whether or not that policy needs to be changed.

COLLINS: Yes, definitely a lot of questions that we still have. Amara Walker, in Nashville, thank you very much.

LEMON: So the police response in Nashville stands in stark contrast to what happened last year in Uvalde, Texas. Uvalde law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the gunman. In Nashville the response took just 14 minutes from when the first 911 call was placed to the shooter being killed. And police say five officers responded after the 911 call came in at 10:13 a.m. central time. As they arrived, they said the shooter fired on them from a second floor window. Two officers then made it to the second floor where they shot and killed the shooter at 10:27. a.m., 14 minutes, 14 minutes.

In both Uvalde and in Nashville the shooter entered through a side door, and Uvalde police say that the door was unlocked. CNN has identified the side entrance that the shooter in Nashville used. It's on the westside of the building. It is unknown if the door was locked or not, but as you'll see here in this surveillance video, it didn't matter, right? Didn't matter. The shooter just fired their way right through two glass doors.

CNN's senior crime and justice correspondent is Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon joins us now. He won the Polk Award, as a matter of fact, for his reporting in Uvalde. Shimon, good morning to you. You were actually in Uvalde yesterday. You were speaking to parents about the prospect of another shooting and then this happened in Nashville. What was the reaction?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was just finishing up an interview with parents of a 10-year-old girl who was killed in Uvalde. And we were talking about, what do you say to family members who go through something like this, because it's going to happen again?

And sure enough, as we were wrapping up the interview, we finished the interview, the mom turns to me and says, oh, my God, there's been another shooting. And the pain all over her face. These families in Uvalde certainly are suffering, and they will suffer for the rest of their lives. And they are fighting for justice, they are fighting for reforms, gun reform. And to see another shooting like this happen again, they're reliving it again.

Another parent texted me whose daughters, her daughter survived. She's not sending her back to school. She's too scared to send her back to school because she's afraid of the security and whether there is enough security at schools. She was thinking about sending her to private school. She said to me, well, this happened in the private school, right? I said, yes. She said, well, now I'm not sending my daughter to private school. So there are families all across the country that are really afraid to send their kids to school.


Because one of the parents said to me yesterday, it's one thing when you leave your kid to go to school. You have no control over them. You dropped them off. You leave, and you expect them to be safe. If you go into a supermarket, you're there with your kid and you can protect your kid if there's a shooting in a supermarket or somewhere else. You have no protection for -- you can't protect your own kid. And this is something that many of the parents in Uvalde are living with, the fact that they couldn't do anything to save their kids. And now many of the families here in Nashville are going to have to deal with what could they have done possibly different to try and save their kids to prevent this from happening?

You talk about the door. You talk about guns. You talk about mental health, right? Clearly something needs to be done. And these families realized this in Uvalde. And just with the ease in which this shooter was able to get inside the school, that to me is certainly very striking.

COLLINS: Can we talk about that? Because I know one thing that we have also talked about is the police response, the fact that the first call and when the shooter was killed was 14 minutes had elapsed between that. But the door. My mom is a schoolteacher, a fourth grade teacher, her classroom is right by the door. And Uvalde we talked about this and the precautions that they take in locking the doors. But the door was locked here. It made no difference.

PROKUPECZ: It made no difference because of the ease of which the shooter was able to shoot through the glass. Schools in many ways are now kind of soft targets. After 911, there was all this security that went into infrastructure and buildings to prevent against terrorism. Schools now are a target, a big target for shooters, for killers, and they studied. This shooter here, we have evidence, did surveillance, knew where to go, knew where they could possibly get in with these, and they found that door.

The other thing I think with this is that we need to learn more about the shooter, right. There are certainly indications as there are this trail of warning signs with this shooter. So hopefully today the police can release more information, more about the timeline. The 14 minutes, yes, it sounds fast. But it's really not that fast. A lot of times these things are over in three, four, five, six minutes. so I think we need to know more from the police on the timeline and go back and look more on what was going on in the shooter's life at the time.

LEMON: It's an interesting time that in an interview, saying that your mom's classroom being near a door, and when I was in school, I'm sure when you were in school, the windows were open. The doors were open. You know what I mean? It's just a whole different.

PROKUPECZ: It's crazy to think that we need to fortify schools, right? No one wants to think that, and we get attacked for saying that, maybe, like what, are we supposed to make schools into prisons? No, but this is something that I think -- go spend a year in Uvalde, as I have. They have built fences, like massive fences around the schools just so that parents can feel safe about sending their kids there.

LEMON: It's the world we live in.

PROKUPECZ: It shouldn't be this way.

LEMON: It's the world we live in.

COLLINS: And the surveillance video from both what happened in Uvalde, and what we're seeing this morning is so disturbing. Shimon, we want you to keep you around us, because obviously you are such an expert on this and you've done such reporting on this. We want to broaden out this conversation this morning and talk more about the aftermath.

LEMON: Yes, let's do that.

Sissy Goff is here. She is a director of child and adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, and we're so happy to have you. Thank you for joining us this morning, Ms. Goff. You rushed to the church yesterday where parents and children were united to volunteer your time. How is this tragedy affecting the community there?

SISSY GOFF, CHILD AND ADOLESCENT DIRECTOR, DAYSTAR COUNSELING MINISTRIES: Well, obviously, everyone is just devastated. This is a very sweet school, a lot of families that care so much for each other. I was standing next to a friend yesterday whose kids are in the school, and she said we are a family at Covenant, and I think they're feeling the reverberations of that.

COLLINS: One thing that were so struck by, you look at the front page of the "The Washington Post" today, and it's this this young child who is being driven away from the school on a school bus. It's just this anguished image that we are seeing. And I think the question that so many parents have this morning is, a, how they feel dropping their own children off at school, Shimon was just talking about, but also if their child was there, what they -- what do you even say to your child as a parent who's waking up this morning in Nashville?

GOFF: I love that you're asking that because I think it's so important. I would say, first of all, as grownups, we really have got to manage our own anxiety because kids pick up on it. And so that would be first. And second, kids have this amazing, innate ability that they ask for the information that they're ready for. So we want to have really short factual statements. Be the source where you're the one telling them, not someone else. And then really let them lead the conversation. So say your two to three sentences, and let them ask the next question, and then answer that age appropriately, honestly, and let them ask again.

LEMON: You were at the reunification center. Can you tell us what some of the questions were? How you helped in counseling? Can you talk to us about that, please?

GOFF: Yes. Most parents were just asking exactly what you all just asked. How do I talk to my kids?


What do I say? How do I help? And then, I got Yes.

LEMON: What -- can you talk to us also about -- listen, obviously, the people who are affected most by this are the families who are involved. But really the whole country is --

GOFF: Yes.

LEMON: -- traumatized, retraumatized every time something like this happens. For the broader audience watching now they're saying, my gosh, how, you know, how much do we have to deal with this, as Kaitlan was talking about the picture from the Washington Post. It reminded me of images of seeing, you know, horses going by families and their young kids. And everyone is just sort of retraumatized over and over and over again. How much more can any of us take with us?

GOFF: I don't have an answer to that. I wish I did, I wish none of it. I wish we would never have to go through this again. And I think we certainly need to circle up and be near kids and give as much support and as much opportunity for them to process their emotions as we can. And be safe, steady sources of support in the midst of that.


COLLINS: Yes, it's just insane that you have to even think about how to talk to children about that. Sissy, thank you, for joining us from Nashville. You have a unique perspective on this. You were there at the reunification center. Thank you for your time this morning. Thank you to Shimon, for what your perspective on this and what these families are going through.

LEMON: Yes and of course, our hearts go out to the families, those are the folks where are dealing with it. Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9 years old, Hallie Scruggs, 9 years old, William Kinny, 9 years old, Cynthia Peak 61, Katherine Koonce 60, Mike Hill 61 years old.


LEMON: So, straight ahead about 15 minutes from now, we're going to be joined by the mayor of Nashville, his name is John Cooper. We're going to talk to him more about this and what he plans to do and what the city is dealing with.


LEMON: That's coming out.

COLLINS: So many questions remain this morning. Also, this morning, we are tracking other elements. Another round of severe weather, it's expected to roll through California. We have a reporter live on the ground in San Francisco, where storm fatigue communities are preparing, bracing for more rain.



COLLINS: All right, we have new developments this morning and one of the four ongoing investigations that is facing former president and current presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The Manhattan Grand Jury examining Trump's role in a hush money scheme, as heard from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, again yesterday. Pecker appeared before the grand the panel in back in January. It's not clear yet why he was called back for more testimony we're still reporting on that. Pecker was the Chief Executive of the National Enquirer's parent company known as AMI until 2020.

He played a key role in connecting Stormy Daniels as attorney with then Trump Attorney Michael Cohen. Daniels wanted to sell her story of an affair she says she had with Trump to the paper. Trump has denied the affair, he continued to do so, even as of last night, but Cohen did ultimately pay Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence. The Grand Jury is next scheduled to meet tomorrow. The panel last convened on March 20th, that was when they heard from Bob Costello, at the requested Trump's legal team to in order to contradict and push back on testimony, that was then provided by Michael Cohen. Trump responded to all of this last night in an interview on Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: He's doing that out of civic duty. He's not doing that for news. I don't know about Costello, by the way, I don't know. I know he represents people that close to in some ways, but I have to tell I don't know. I know this, he's a highly respected person.


COLLINS: Trump weighing in on Bob Costello. Also, during that interview, the former president promoted a song that he collaborated on with a group of inmates, who were in prison for their actions on January 6, during the capital insurrection. The song quote, justice for all features the men singing the national anthem, as Trump recites the Pledge of Allegiance. We should note that is also another investigation into the former president when it comes to his role on January 6.

LEMON: California already hammered by a wave of storms now facing more rain, powerful winds and heavy snow for the Central Coast and the Bay Area. The latest system from the Pacific has more than 9 million people under wind alert -- wind alerts and could reach up to 70 miles an hour. CNN's Camila Bernal, live in San Francisco with more this morning. Good morning, Camila, California just getting hammered can't catch a break. How are people -- what are they doing, they're bracing for another storm?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, everyone is just thankful for the rain, but also trying to do everything they can to get prepared. Especially people that have already been flooded because the situation can get worse. It's just another round of storms here in California. The ground is already saturated, that means the potential for a lot of trees to come down which also can translate to power outages. So, you have to prepare for those power outages as well. Up in the mountains there are many roads that are already closed because of the mudslides and the rockslides.

There could be more closures we have record levels of snowpack already. So, it is just incredible what we've been seeing in California, the forecast today in the Bay Area one to two inches of rain, it may not seem like a lot. But again, it could make a lot of the situations that people are dealing with. Even worse, on top of the rain and the snow, we're also expecting a lot of wind. 15 million people both in California and Oregon are under wind advisory that means, wind gusts of 45 to 55 miles an hour. Here in San Francisco and previous storms we saw some of the windows in the high rises shattering because of the wind.

So, all of that glass falling down to the street. So, it could be extremely dangerous, which is why authorities are telling people to prepare for this storm and just to be careful as they're walking around if they are going to be out today. Now, when it comes to the rain, this is going to be extremely beneficial to the drought conditions. We are already at a much better place, and we have been over the last three years. The governor even rolling back some of the water restrictions. And so, people are thankful because at the moment California is looking good when it comes to those drought conditions. Don.

LEMON: Have a (INAUDIBLE) San Francisco. Thank you, Camila.

COLLINS: Also, this morning, a massive fire swept through a migrant detention center near the U.S.-Mexico border. It left nearly 40 people debt. The blaze broke out late Monday at the National Immigration institute that you see here that's a facility in Juarez. It's a major crossing point for migrants entering the U.S. The case of the fire right now is still unknown, but we are told that Mexico's Attorney General's Office is investigating.

[08:25:11] As we continue to follow that, next we're going to take you back live

to Nashville. We are learning new developments almost by the minute in the elementary school mass shooting. The mayor of Nashville John Cooper is going to join us live, next.

LEMON: And a live look at Paris France, where demonstrators are out for another day of protest against the government's plans, to increase the retirement age by two years.


COLLINS: You can see Nashville there is more now on our top story this morning as we are tracking all of this. Here's what we know at this hour. The Nashville school shooter has been identified as a 28-year- old former student described by police as a female to male transgender person. The shooter had detailed maps and the school including entry points to the building and was armed with a handgun and two A.R. style weapons. Newly obtained surveillance video shows the shooter firing through entryway doors before roaming the halls, and eventually killing six people. The shooter was then killed by police 14 minutes after the first 911 call.