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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Texas School Massacre; Plea for Action; Witness to the Scene; Don Lemon Interviews Uvalde Resident Kim Hammond. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2022 - 04:00   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is a special early edition of "Early Start". I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. We begin with Americans grieving this morning. Once again, in the wake of a senseless school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas. At least 19 small children and two adults were killed in a teenager's attack on an elementary school. Uvalde is roughly 80 miles West of San Antonio, just about 50 miles from the Southern U.S. border.

Police believe the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, acted alone. He was shot dead by officers. And that is the last time you're going to hear his name at this hour. Officials say he had attended the high school there, Uvalde High School. We now know the name of one victim, fourth-grade teacher Eva Mireles. Her death was confirmed for CNN by her aunt. Officials have not yet identified any of the other victims.

Police say there's one additional victim, the suspect's grandmother. Police believed he shot her before heading to the elementary school. She is now hospitalized in critical condition.

JARRETT: Police say, the suspect crashed his truck in a ditch near the school before trying to enter the building. Law enforcement confronted the suspect but he was able to get inside anyway where officials say he entered several classrooms and started shooting.

Border patrol agents were among the responding officers there. At least one border patrol officer was wounded by gunfire from the shooter who had barricaded himself inside the school. Just three days before the shooting, a photo of two AR-15-style rifles appeared on his Instagram account, or at least an account linked to the gunman. The bio on his TikTok reads, kids be scared IRL, meaning, in real life. President Biden called on Americans to turn their collective pain into political action.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There is a hollowness in your chest, you feel like you're being sucked into it. And never going to be able to get out. The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong. What in God's name do you need assault except to kill someone? Deer aren't running through the forests with Kevlar vests on for God's sakes. It's just sick.


JARRETT: Let's bring in law enforcement analyst and former secret service agent Jonathan Wackrow. Jonathan, nice to have you up very early this morning. We've been through so many of these together. This one, just days ago, the suspect posted photos of those two AR-15s we showed to his social media. You know, so many of these cases there are signs, so many of these cases the signs are missed or just not acted upon or someone just doesn't pick up the baton. You know, we have Red Flag laws in some parts of this country and sometimes people fall through the cracks. But in a case like this, obviously, law enforcement is combing through his digital footprint. What would you be looking for?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST AND FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Listen, you hit it right there. There are things here that were definitely missed prior to this incident that could have prevented it. All right. When we think about behavior, you have to think about behavior along a continuum. It's not normal to wake up, get a weapon, a rifle, a handgun, or any type of weapon, and go and kill people and kill children, kill 19 children. That's anomalous behavior on the furthest end of that continuum.

Prior to that, though, I think law enforcement, I'll almost guarantee, law enforcement is going to see a series of, you know, concerning behavior that should have been acted on before. Just think about the posting that he put online on his TikTok account of the AR-style rifles and the concerning messages. All of this follows a model. The U.S. Secret Service has done, you know, extensive research on mass shooting incidents and those who perpetrate those crimes.

And this shooter actually follows that model where concerning communication is acted on before an event. What we have to do as a community is with law enforcement, you know, mental health practitioners, educators, politicians, is come up and really think about a new model of how to address these threats --


-- to our community and really come up with a comprehensive targeted violent prevention plan so we don't get to that far-end of the behavioral spectrum where we -- I mean, the behavioral continuum where we see acts of violence actually engaged in destroying our communities.

ROMANS: Can I ask you about the AR-style rifles? I mean, we have seen this again and again with this sort of loser to lion mentality of some of these young men who are finding grandiosity I think in their killings. And this seems to be -- there's something about this long gun that is a common denominator. What is it?

WACKROW: Listen, it's been highlighted time and time again. Think about right now we're focusing on this weapon platform. So, people who, you know, want to engage in mass violence are going to select a weapon that has a high rate of fire, high rate of accuracy, easy to use. Again, we are seeing that model. This style of weapon is the common denominator in many of these mass shootings. But it's also the person behind that weapon too, right?

The gun is the vehicle to, you know, to drive all of this violence. But the person behind it is pulling the trigger. We have to understand why. We have to stop that person from actually pulling the trigger and limit their availability to that type of platform. You know, it's just -- I mean, I'm almost at a loss of words this morning thinking about how tragic this situation was.

JARRETT: Jonathan, this is, you know, obviously, this is the second mass shooting in less than two weeks. We were on this set talking about Buffalo just earlier this week.

ROMANS: 11 days ago.

JARRETT: And you know, I know law enforcement always worries about these things kind of coming in clusters, copycats, people are unfortunately and sickly inspired by others. How does law enforcement get their arms around that? Obviously, you're always looking for signs and flags, but is there anything, in particular, that's going to be happening, sort of, behind the scenes in the coming days?

WACKROW: Yes, I mean, I think we -- you highlighted something that's really concerning to law enforcement is that immediately following any of these types of dynamic attacks, there is a significant risk of copycat actions taken by people whether it is directed. They're actually going to take direct action or they're going to threaten that direct action.

So, law enforcement across the country now has a heightened sense of situational awareness. It's talking to community leaders. Talking to schools about what signs they need to look for with people who may be at risk for engaging in acts of violence. Again, this is about raising the situational awareness around the country. Addressing, you know, and understanding what this new threat environment is and coming up with solutions for us to, you know, to address it.

ROMANS: What's interesting to me is that law enforcement was engaged with this suspect before --

JARRETT: Before --

ROMANS: -- he got into that school. And you often hear that you need to harden up these targets. That schools, in particular, and places of worship are the soft targets and you need to harden them with, you know, trained law enforcement or with people with guns taking down people with guns. In this case, you had law enforcement engaging the suspect and you still had all these deaths. What does that tell you?

WACKROW: Well, listen, it tells me the intent of this individual, right. Typically, when engaged with law enforcement directly, it's proven that that direct action with law enforcement by somebody who is engaging in an active shooter situation, 75 percent of that time, that officer actually stops the attack, either by killing the assailant or taking them into custody.

Here, the -- just the fact that this shooter was able to bypass and overcome those officers to go into a school, an elementary school, and start killing is stunning to me. So, again we can't have -- there's not one solution. It's not putting an officer at every single school. It's not just one thing that we can do. We have to think about a different holistic approach to address this threat that's ruining this community. And unfortunately, this community today now is part of a brutal club where, you know, you think about Parkland, you think did is an about Sandy Hook. Now, we're going to, you know, start referencing again another mass tragedy where children died. I mean, this has to stop.

ROMANS: It's a national trauma. I mean, this is local trauma, obviously, for Texas and for this community. But it is a national trauma. We have a generation of kids who have been raised learning how to hide in their school for a bad man to come into their school. My children have been raised like this like I was raised with tornado drills, you know.


It's just remarkable. And that it's a national trauma that no one ever does anything about. It's just -- literally, our kids are collateral damage for -- it's just --

WACKROW: Christine, that's such a great point. I mean, the continued failure to solve or even address, you know, preventative measures only -- you know, for these types of situations, only compounds the risks of these communities.


WACKROW: Listen, I look back, you know, 10 years ago with Sandy Hook, I was at the White House on that day. I saw the raw emotion of the commander in chief at the time, the staff that was around him, I saw the immediate, you know, call for bipartisan support then to never let that happen again. And here we are 10 years later. We didn't move the needle one bit.

JARRETT: Nothing's changed.

WACKROW: We have to do better.

ROMANS: It's a new kind --

WACKROW: We have to do better.

ROMANS: -- it's a new kind of American exceptionalism, right.


ROMANS: Last century it was leading the world. Now, it is leading the world in gun violence. JARRETT: Jonathan Wackrow, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, thank you. Appreciate it.

WACKROW: Thank you so much.

JARRETT: Just ahead, a woman who lives near the school describes the first moments at the scene.

ROMANS: Plus, a passionate plea for action from the floor of the Senate.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Our kids are living in fear. Every single time they set foot in the classroom because they think that they're going to be next. What are we doing?




JARRETT: This morning, we are learning more about the suspected gunman in Texas. CNN has spoken to former high school classmates who say the 18-year-old was severely bullied over his family's financial situation and the clothes he wore. One friend who didn't want to be named said, "People would, like, actually call him school shooter and stuff like that". The friend said the shooter fought a lot throughout high school because people would make fun of him and slowly just dropped out. The friend tells CNN, four days ago he sent me a picture of the AR he was using. You can see this image from his Instagram. The friend says, I was like bro, why do you have this? And he was like, don't worry about it.

ROMANS: 10 years ago, it was a Connecticut community reeling from the Sandy Hook shooting. Following the massacre on Tuesday at Texas elementary school, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy made an impassioned plea to his fellow lawmakers to take action finally on gun violence.


MURPHY: What are we doing? What are we doing? Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African-American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing? There are more mass shootings than days in the year. Our kids are living in fear every single time they step foot in a classroom because they think they're going to be next. What are we doing?

Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority? If your answer is that as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing. What are we doing? Why are you here? If not to solve a problem as existential as this? This isn't inevitable. These kids weren't unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk to their kids as I have had to do about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America and it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue. What are we doing?


JARRETT: You know, the question is, who's going to take up his call to action as you and I were just talking about off-camera. There are two different pieces of what you might call modest reforms, background check reforms that have already passed the House but appear to have no traction in the Senate, whatsoever. And unlikely to overcome a filibuster.

ROMANS: And I think there's no magic wand and that's something that lawmakers hide behind because they say, oh, well, this particular piece of legislation wouldn't have stopped --

JARRETT: Wouldn't solve that either.

ROMANS: -- this particular. And as Jonathan Wackrow just said, our law enforcement analyst, it takes a holistic look. You got to really look at all the things that are wrong in America that allow this to happen and really figure out all the little levers that need to be new moved.

JARRETT: And even if it doesn't stop all of them if it stops one of them or some of them --


JARRETT: - you have to question whether it's worth it.

ROMANS: Even raising, may be the purchase, you know, the purchase age.

JARRETT: The age.

ROMANS: I mean, you can buy an AR-15 but you can't buy a beer, you know, maybe we need to talk about that. I'm not advocating for anything here. I'm just saying there are a lot of things that we just roll past. We just roll right past it.

JARRETT: Just ahead, a witness to the scene at the elementary school describes what she saw right after the shooting.


KIM HAMMOND, UVALDE RESIDENT: And then I started counting the ambulances, and that's when I thought, oh, this is really grave.


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JARRETT: We turn our focus now to the people of Uvalde, Texas. Last night, CNN's Don Lemon spoke to a woman who lives just a few houses down from the elementary school where that mass shooting took place. Kim Hammond told Don about her community and what could be done to stop an attack like this from happening ever again.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about your experience because the school is just two houses over from where you live.


LEMON: Close enough, in fact, that you usually hear the kids when they are out at P.E.


LEMON: Can you walk me through what you heard and saw unfold around your house this afternoon?

HAMMOND: Sure, I just sat down for lunch, you know, I don't know what -- the exact time. I didn't look at the clock, but it must have been around 11:25, 11:30. And something just didn't feel right. And I don't know if I had, like, sensed something, if I had heard something and I just dismissed it. But when I sat down, I thought I heard a couple of pop, pops. And in my brain, it was like, man, that sounds like gunfire. And then I thought, well, maybe the neighbor just dropped some two-by-fours or something. And I just dismissed it.

And I went about eating my lunch and then my living room started to shake and then there was a helicopter right above my house. And I thought, oh, OK. There must be something going on, so I went outside. And there was a helicopter just circling over the house and around the school. And I thought maybe it was border patrol. And I thought, well, we must have some human trafficking runners again. They've been -- they've hidden in the backyards here before.

And so, I just locked my screen door. And as I was coming in I saw all this action out front of the house, so I ran out front. And that's when I saw guys in tactical gear. The first vehicles I saw were border patrol vehicles. Then I saw that there was Texas State Trooper vehicles, and then I saw Uvalde Country Police vehicles, and Uvalde City Police vehicles. It was just a lot of law enforcement converging on this neighborhood.

So, I walk back inside. Locked my door. And got on Facebook, got on the Uvalde Police Department Facebook and it did say safety alert. Large police presence at Robb Elementary School.


And I thought, oh, my gosh. So, they were just warning the public to stay away and that's basically -- the only information that we had until they updated again and said that this was an active shooter situation. I had folks texting me, asking me if I was OK because they said that they had arrested one guy but there was another guy that was his accomplice who was out loose, you know.

Bad news travels fast and it was fortunate that it was, you know, wrong news. But we still didn't know that this guy was actually in the school. And then I started counting the ambulances and that's when I thought, oh, this is really grave because if they only shot the shooter, why do they need seven then eight then nine ambulances. And -- and then -- and that was that, so.

LEMON: The reality set in?

HAMMOND: Yes. Yes, it did. And, you know, it's just -- it's an emotional thing that when Sandy Hook happened, you know, I think the whole nation took it hard because these were little kids, you know. And who is going to kill little kids like this on purpose? And then to have it happen again, Don, it is just -- what the hell are we doing, you know? And if every red-blooded American isn't just P.O.ed right now, there is something wrong. There is something gravely wrong.

LEMON: You know --

HAMMOND: So, yesterday, I got back from the grocery store and they were playing on the speakers at this school pomp and circumstance. And so, they were having like a little celebration for these kids. And I didn't know what it was, but I was humming the song all day. And then today this blew into my driveway out of one of the parents' cars. And it -- they were having a celebration of perfect attendance and other awards. And you know, those little kids were just so proud to be able to get those awards yesterday. And then today -- today, they're just happy to get on that school bus and get out of that school.

LEMON: You're going to stay?

HAMMOND: Oh, yes. Yes, I'll stay and do everything I can to help and -- in any way I can help. They say they've got everything they need right now, but there is a blood drive tomorrow. So, I will go participate in that and just do whatever I can. Might even just hug a neighbor that I've never introduced myself to before.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, we've been talking about Sandy Hook. And earlier, I understand you told my producers that after Sandy Hook, after the massacre there that you vowed never to own a high-powered rifle.

HAMMOND: Yes, I did.


HAMMOND: Oh, I am an army veteran. I packed around an M-16 during Desert Storm and I had a reason to pack that weapon around. I don't have any desire for myself anymore to have anything to do with those now that I'm in the civilian world. I just really adamantly disagree with the sale of these to anybody but law enforcement or military or, you know, anybody in law enforcement. Somebody that, you know, in the line of duty, in your job, you need that to protect yourself and the public, absolutely.

What do we need to go hunting with an AR-15 for? You know, we just don't -- it's a .22 caliber weapon. You know, what -- you'd have to shoot something three times, and then it's just basically going to bleed out. It's not, you know, everybody said, it is my right to have it. It's my right. Well, yes, sure, it is your right. But unfortunately, your right is in -- is putting these guns in the wrong hands. That's my opinion. My opinion only. I'll take a lot of flak for that and I really don't care at this point.

You know, our rights are just getting -- it's just, honestly, Don, It's stupid. It's just -- it's stupid. I believe in the second amendment. I absolutely do. And people are going to say, how can you believe in the second amendment and not -- well, I don't believe in assault rifles. Well, they're not assault rifles. Well, the only reason they're manufactured is to be able to squeeze out as many bullets as you can squeeze out of that trigger. So, if you're shooting that target, that's great. But when you're shooting that little kid, it really ticks me off.


ROMANS: You heard her talking about Newtown, Connecticut. That was the scene of a deadly mass shooting nearly 10 years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary. 20 children -- 20 children, first-graders at Sandy Hook, and six adults, including their principal dead in that rampage. Nicole Hockley's son Dylan was one of those children killed. She helped create a foundation dedicated to preventing gun violence.