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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Source: Mexican Drug Cartel Kidnapped 4 Americans by Mistake; Passenger Arrested for Allegedly Stabbing Flight Attendant; Ukraine Doubles Down on Defense of Bakhmut. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 07, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

Investigators believe the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens by gunmen at the Mexican border city of Matamoras was a case of mistaken identity. The U.S. official tells us that the cartel lightly mistook the Americans for Haitian drug smugglers, when in fact they were tourists there for a medical procedure. At least three of the victims or from lake city, South Carolina. The mother of one of them says there's not much to do right now but pray and wait.


CHRISTINA HICKSON, SON KIDNAPPED IN MEXICO: The waiting is the worst part. It has its advantages, it's disadvantages. But however, no news is good news. That is the way I am staying with it. No news is good news.


ROMANS: Reporter Stefano Pozzebon is following the story for us, he joins me live from Bogota, Colombia.

Stefano, what are the U.S. and Mexican government doing to get these Americans back?

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Yes, Christine. Well, the authorities are conducting search and rescue operations across the border area, in particular in the city of Matamoras. And you can see from the images that yesterday, there was an increased police presence, especially from federal Mexican police in Matamoros. At the same time, the FBI is conducting their investigation on the northern side of the border.

We know that they have visited the hotel where these four U.S. citizens were staying. At the same time, the U.S. Department of State is once again reiterating that the border area is not a safe place for U.S. citizens, and for the locals. Have a listen.


NED PRICE, SPOKESPERSON FOR THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: We are standing ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Also, we remind Americans about the existing travel guidance when it comes to this particular part of Mexico, the travel advisory for Tamaulipas state remains at level 4. Do not travel. We encourage Americans to heed that advice.


POZZEBON: Christine, I think the worries of that allows us to give us the opportunity to remark that what happened south of the border impacts what happens north of the border. Mexico has been in the middle of a security crisis for more than a decade with security forces really battling down a gruesome territory or with some of the cartels. And the cartels are exerting territorial control in many areas of Mexico, Matamoros and the northern part of the state of Tamaulipas, being one of them.

So you can tell how security situation in Mexico is deteriorating fast, especially with the last few years, with the impact of COVID and as well, these four people really seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, tragically.

ROMANS: Yes, tragic case of mistaken identity.

All right. Thank you so much. Keep us posted on any developments.

In the meantime, a man on a flight from L.A. to Boston arrested after police say he tried to open an emergency door and stab a flight attendant. Another passenger recorded the man, identified as Francisco Torres, ranting about homeland security and killing people.


ARRESTED PASSENGER: Oh tell them to be done, they will have to should be down today, remember that. Why are they diverting us? Wherever it is, it will be a bloodbath.


ROMANS: The video shows the men walking towards the front where police say he tried to use a broken spoon as a weapon, to stab a flight attendant. He was tackled by other passengers and arrested. The flight attendant was not injured.

Also on Monday, a passenger on a private jet was killed when a plane hit severe turbulence over New England. She has been identified as Dana Hyde, former White House and State Department official. These were just the latest in a series of gruesome incidents raising new concerns about post pandemic aviation safety.

Now, more from CNN's Tom Foreman in Washington.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An engine bursting into flames, smoke filling the cabin, and an emergency landing. It is all alarming to passengers on this Southwest flight from Cuba to Florida, which the airline says had been turn back after hitting birds. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just feel the explosion. A lot of smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People were screaming not knowing what to do, and they kept trying to breathe, and it's filling up with more smoke, and it is very acidy.

FOREMAN: In Boston, a trifecta of trouble. Federal authorities say a man attempted to open an exit door on a United jet coming from Los Angeles, and allegedly tried to stab a flight attendant with a broken spoon, before being tackled by other passengers.


On the ground, two departing passenger planes collided as one of them was pushed back from its gate. And, all of that is just a week after a near collision there between two other jets, one a private Learjet taking off, the other a commercial jet landing. Aviation analysts say airports are struggling with this rash of hits and near collisions.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They've developed a lot of equipment runway alerting systems, and they have a lot of advisory programs. But, despite all the efforts, runway incursions are increasing. The statistics are headed the wrong way, and it is the most dangerous thing in aviation today.

FOREMAN: And, still more trouble. Last week, a Lufthansa plane carrying, among others, actor Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camilla, ran into severe turbulence. She posted, I was told the plane dropped almost 4,000 feet. Seven people went to the hospital.

A different passenger told Erin for "OUTFRONT" --

JAZZ KANTIPUDI, PASSENGER: Suddenly, there was just like this big drop, and everything just flew everywhere and it was a huge mess. And, I saw the attendant on my right basically hit the ceiling and was completely horizontal.

TOWER: This is a medical emergency. Landing runway six.

FOREMAN: And, in yet another case of violent turbulence, a private jet over New England was hit so hard one of the three passengers, a woman from Maryland, died.

TOWER: Only information I have about the emergency, is possible laceration, requesting medical assistance.

FOREMAN: The National Transportation Safety Board says moments before the turbulence, that plane also experienced a problem with its trim control.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NTSB: They were in the process of diagnosing that when they received momentary in-flight upsets. And so, this is something we are investigating.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN (on camera): Some of these incidents might just be coincidences. Some might point to deeper problems, but they all underscore how the airline industry is still facing some stumbles as it tries to bounce back from a difficult few years.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Now to the battle for Bakhmut. Ukrainian leaders are doubling down on defending that besieged city.

Russian forces have gradually gained ground in their effort to get the city, but President Zelenskyy says he ordered reinforcements to Bakhmut, vowing to defend every inch of Ukrainian territory.

I want to bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz in London for us this morning.

And, Salma, you know, Bakhmut is not by itself strategically vital. Why have Ukrainians started to throw so much into its defense here?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think Bakhmut has become important because Russia has needed important, Christine. For nearly eight months now, the Kremlin has yet to claim a single victory on the ground. And it is on the brink of doing that in Bakhmut.

But this is a very small victory, a small city, as you mention, with very little strategic importance that if won by Russia, would come at an extremely high cost. NATO officials say that for every Ukrainian killed in the battle for Bakhmut, five Russian soldiers have died.

And then there are countless amounts of artillery, weaponry, arsenal but has been used up, depleted on the battleground in Bakhmut, not just by Russian forces but of course by the Wagner mercenary group as well. It does bring President Putin slightly closer to that larger goal of trying to claim, illegally of course, the east of Ukraine, the Donbas region. And it gives him the opportunity to declare a win, as I mentioned.

For President Zelenskyy, it holds that symbolic value as well. That is why he is intent on holding on to it. Remember, he promised his countryman, not a single inch of Ukrainian land will be lost to Russia. Not a single drop of blood will be lost in vain.

So both these sides, you will see them absolutely dig in. But with Ukraine sending reinforcements, it is clear that they are on the back foot, Christine.

BURNETT: All right. Salma, thank you so much for that.

Police in Atlanta arrested dozens of people in connection with violent protests on the site of the planned law enforcement training facility. Organizers called it a mass mobilization against police terror. Atlanta officials called it anarchy.

CNN's Ryan Young has the latest.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At least 23 people are facing domestic terrorism charges after an attack at the site of a proposed police and fire training center in Atlanta.

CHIEF DARIN SCHIERBAUM, ATLANTA POLICE: This wasn't about a public safety training center. This was about anarchy. And this was about the attempt to destabilize.

YOUNG: Police surveillance video shows violent protesters dressed in black throwing rocks and bricks and setting construction vehicles on fire outside what opponents call Cop City. Police say nearly all those arrested are from out of state, and now face felony charges.

KAMAU FRANKLIN, ACTIVIST: I think it was an overreaction to the destruction of property and I think this is the very reason why we don't want Cop City built.


SCHIERBAUM: When you throw Molotov cocktails, large rocks, a number of items at officers, your only intent is to harm.

YOUNG: Sunday night's violence unfolded why unorganized concert is being held, part of what organizers call a weeklong mass mobilization a protest against the center.

The introduction of the $90 million training facility has been controversial, blindsiding residents who say they were left out of the largely secretive development process. Police have launched at least two clearing operations at the site. One in January where a protester was shot and killed by police.

FRANKLIN: It is the police that have unleashed violence on Black and Brown communities that have led to the movement against police violence which actually led to Atlanta itself attempting to build this militarized police center.

YOUNG: Activists claim the facility will cultivate police militarization and brutality.

MATTHEW JOHNSON, ACTIVIST: If you need to know what they're going to use the police training facility for, they just showed you, right? And we're supposed to believe that somehow now they're going to start prioritizing de-escalation? And those circumstances are extremely questionable.

YOUNG: The location of the 85-acre training center is also the focus of an environmental fight, where forest defenders have set up camp. The city is committed to replace injuries and dedicating more than 200 acres as protected green space.

The mayor of Atlanta has defended the center and its mission.

MAYOR ANDRE DICKENS (D), ATLANTA: This training needs space, and that's exactly what this training center is going to offer.


YOUNG (on camera): You can see the mess some of these protesters left behind. A burned out trailer and a heavy piece of equipment, that were all shredded by this fire. The protesters moved quickly through this area. In fact, look at this video of the Atlanta police department provided us late Monday afternoon. You can see the large number of protesters, who are moving in this area. We were told some of them were carrying shields.

Something else to point out from the Atlanta police department? Most people arrested do not live in Georgia. So this is something we are pointing out to sing people are coming from across the country to join this protest.

Ryan Young, CNN. Atlanta, Georgia.

ROMANS: All right. Ryan, thank you for that.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping taking an unusually blunt aim at U.S. policy, blaming America by name, for suppressing his country's economy.

Let's go right to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

Interesting because it's rare for him to take direct aim at the U.S. And he's facing criticism, that his own policies are what has hurt his economy. So blaming the U.S., and today we are more sharp words from China's new foreign minister, what did you say?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, it is like a double whammy, Christine, amid these rising tensions between the U.S. and China.

We have been China's new foreign minister Qin Gang who had some very sharp words. He said the balloon crisis could have been avoided. He accused the U.S. of plotting and Asia-Pacific version of NATO, that would risk the repeat of a Ukraine style crisis in Asia.

And Qin also had this warning for the U.S. Take a listen.


QIN GANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): If the United States does not hit the brake, but continues to speeds down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent the derailing. And surely, there will be conflict and confrontation.


STOUT: Now, on the war in Ukraine, Qin says that peace talks to begin as in as possible, and China has not supplied either side with weapons. On Taiwan, he said do not underestimate China, saying it's a matter of the Chinese people and that China would work for a peaceful unification, while reserving the right to use all necessary measures. Also, underscoring the rising tensions between these two countries on

Monday, Xi Jinping directly accusing U.S. and its allies of containment, at a meeting with Chinese entrepreneurs said this is in a business setting. He said this, quote, the U.S.-led Western countries had implemented all around containment, envelopment and suppression against us, which has brought unprecedented, severe challenges to China's development, unquote.

The rift between China and the U.S. continues to grow over the balloon incident, over U.S. military support for Taiwan, over the war in Ukraine and over access to technology, like AI and semiconductors. In fact, in the government work report, which was delivered by the outgoing Chinese premier Li Keqiang at the start of the National Peoples Congress, he called on China to double down on self reliance in the tech industry -- Christine.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right. Kristie Lu Stout, thank you so much for that.

Former Vice President Mike Pence is asking a judge to block a federal grand jury subpoena for his testimony about January six, and interactions with then president Trump. Pence argues because he was acting as president of the Senate that day, he is shielded by the constitution's speech debate clause, protecting lawmakers. Pence has already written a memoir detailing its interactions with Trump ahead of January 6. He's already written about, right? That could complicate his efforts to resist the subpoena, asking him to talk about it.


All right. The Mississippi state senate, resuming this morning after adjourning a vote Monday, on this controversial Republican house bill, which would create an unelected state appointed court system, in a district within Jackson, a majority black city. Supporters say the bill addresses rising crime in the area. Critics say it is a takeover by white politicians that looks like apartheid.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has more.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two sides of the Mississippi state legislator here are essentially working on two different versions of this bill. Now, on the Senate side, they are working through changes to where this bill was introduced on the house side.

Some of those key changes? Rather than having a specific district which would have state appointed judges and expansion of the jurisdiction of the state on capitol police force, that jurisdiction would now expand citywide. So it still leaves the issue, though, of having state appointed judges, whose appointments would come from the majority White government, rather than elected judges in a city that is over 80 percent Black.

And this Senate version would also expand the jurisdiction of the capitol police force, citywide. And the language is basically leaving it so the capital police force must strike an agreement with the local police force on how to police in theory, together.

Now obviously, it is mixed reaction here in this community, but in particular, take a listen to the local district attorney here and the assistant police chief on some of the major concerns that they have about what has been developing.

JODY OWENS, HINDS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It is laughable to talk about new bills, new things we are not addressing old problems. The problem is not the police department insisting that we're funding to actually get the system working.

ARKELA LEWIS, MOTHER OF JAYLEN LEWIS: I know that there are wheels this legislator has introduced, which will expand capital police authority. Possibly to the entire city of Jackson, and the terrifies me. It also angers me.

JIMENEZ: And there is a lot of anger in this community, in part and how it is played out. You can look no further than seeing t-shirts that say Jackson versus everybody, implying is them versus the rest of the state.

Now, proponents of this bill, including the bills sponsor, say, well, look, we had a spike in violent crime over the past few years here. We need to do something to address public safety in a more immediate fashion. This will do that, including reinforcing the ranks of the county judiciary, who have not been able to keep up with the pace of what is coming in.

Now, most sides if not all sides would agree that public safety is an issue, but how that gets tackled and solved is precisely what is up for debate here.

Omar Jimenez, CNN, Jackson, Mississippi.


ROMANS: All right. A deadly search at a concert. What's that the crowd of? Just ahead.

Plus, Ron DeSantis speaking today on the state of Florida. Look for campaign messages in plain sight.

And next, guns in America. Do more firearms mean more shooting deaths?



ROMANS: All right. A grim number this morning. The U.S. has surpassed 100 mass shootings in just over 60 days this year. That is according to the Gun Violence Archive. It defines mass shootings as at least four people, excluding the shooter, being killed or injured in an incident.

Data from ATF says more than 465 million firearms have been produced for the U.S. market, going all the way back since 1899.

The question is, does more production lead to more mass shootings? That is the big question here.

I want to bring in senior news writer at "The Trace", and contributor here at CNN, Jennifer Mascia.

And, you know, we don't track guns in this country, we just do not. I think that's by design, by law. You did research to find out how many guns are out there in circulation. This was a tough job. Tell us how you did that.

JENNIFER MASCIA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So I started digging through ATF reports, historical ATF reports going back decades. You know, they have gun production and import figures.

So we have been hearing for years this is some unknowable figure, but the figures were out there. It's just that a lot of researchers told me, they are very hard to find. So what I figured out, or is that I added them all up, which is something the ATF has not even really done. They provided the numbers, but they do not bother adding it up.

Then we get this big figure, so you can see why -- 465 million guns produced for the U.S. in the last hundred 25 years. And some of those have fallen out of circulation. You know, about 100 million, one researcher estimated. But the really stunning thing that happened, was when I charted gun deaths every year, alongside annual gun production, I found that they rose and fell in tandem.

So, you know, the peaks and valleys were nearly identical. I showed this to some researchers and they were stunned. First of all, why had nobody done this before?

Second of all, you can really see there is some kind of relationship, or correlation. Now, that does not mean causation. We can't say for sure what causes what. Do the guns flowing into the marketplace caused the deaths? We can see that at the very least, it calls into question this argument, that more guns will reduce gun violence. Because with this many guns, and in 2021, when we had nearly record high gun deaths, at what point do the guns start reducing the gun violence?

ROMANS: You also found they were more handguns produced in America in recent years compared to say, the early 1990s. Do we know why?

MASCIA: Well, there was a real shift from hunting and recreation, starting in the early '90s, to buying guns for self defense. Handguns you can carry with you. And this message has been put into, you know, society by pro-gun activists, by the NRA, you need a gun to feel safe.


Well, a lot of Americans have internalized that message. So what we see, for decades and decades, long guns dominate the market. But now the market is dominated by handguns. There are 58 percent of the guns being produced.

ROMANS: So you are saying this myth of, I guess, the hunter aesthetic for gun owners in America today?

MASCIA: That is a long, obsolete mid. You know, it has really been about handguns, self protection and self defense.

The thing is that armed self-defense is relatively rare. We see that gun deaths are far more common. So it really does kind of raise questions about the logic of that argument. It also raises questions about how much responsibility does the gun industry have here, to do something? This is about flooding the marketplace with a product.

At the end of the day, I think it is dollars, cents and profits. It does raise questions about who has responsibility here to try to stem the flow of this gun violence.

ROMANS: Jennifer Mascia, fascinating from "The Trace". Thank you so much. Nice to see you today.

MASCIA: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America right now.

A manhunt underway near Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home of the Colts. One man was killed at the nearby convention center. It was shut down as police searched for a suspect.

A second person has died from injuries after a stampede at a Glorilla Concert in Rochester. Police say some attendees panicked, rush the exit Sunday following what they thought were gunshots.

California's governor saying the state or cut ties with Walgreens over access to the abortion pill. The retailer said last week it will not dispense abortion pills in 20 GOP-led states.

Coming up, fresh scrutiny for real giant Norfolk Southern after a second train wreck.

And escape from Bakhmut. CNN on the ground as people flee a city under fire.