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The Situation Room

Texas Gov.: I Was "Misled" About What Happened And Am "Livid"; Police Admit "Wrong Decision" To Delay Confronting School Gunman; Police: 19 Officers Were In Hallway, Opted Not To Storm Classroom; Harrowing Accounts From Students Who Survived Massacre; Protesters Gather Outside NRA Convention In Houston; Police Admit "Wrong Decision" To Delay Confronting School Gunman; Police: 19 Officers Were In Hallway, Opted Not To Storm Classroom; 11-Year-Old Survivor Took Dead Teacher's Phone, Called 911. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 27, 2022 - 17:00   ET



GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Then second, we need to have a discussion and pass laws to make sure that our schools are safer. And the people of Uvalde, but the people of Texas deserve that.

Second, as I was discussing two days ago, you can expect robust discussion. And my hope is laws passed that I will sign addressing healthcare in this state. There is an array of healthcare issues that we face as a state in general, but there are an array of health care issues that relate to those who commit gun crimes in particular. Those need to be addressed.

Whether it be the healthcare issues that I talked publicly here with the mayor about two days ago and that would affect the community in general, or whether it be laws that address the challenges that are now surfacing that this killer had in his life that lead to someone doing what he did. And then there will be all other kinds of issues.

But there will be committees formed, there will be meetings held, there will be proposals that will be derived, many of which will lead to laws will be passed in the state of Texas. Because let me make one thing perfectly clear, the status quo is unacceptable, this crime is unacceptable. We're not going to be here and talking about it and do nothing about it. We will be looking for the best laws that we can get passed to make our communities and schools safer.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A follow up I have on that is very simple. While the universal background checks to be one of the laws that ends up being proposed (INAUDIBLE). We have AP (ph) source told us today, if you can spend a 100 billion dollars on mental health care, but without the universal background checks, it's worthless. Somebody gets through, somebody will kill again. And really, how do you plan to stop event like this from happening again?

ABBOTT: Let's be clear about a couple of things that show that these background checks -- if everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and just assume, well, that's the golden strategy right there.

Look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting. A background check had no relevancy whatsoever, because the killer took the gun from his parent. Look at what happened in the shooting at Sutherland Springs, there was a background check that was done, it was done in a flawed way that allowed the killer to get a gun. And so, anyone who suggest, well maybe we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health, I suggest to you as mistaken.

If there's anybody here who thinks we have perfect healthcare in this country, in this world, they're wrong. If there anybody who thinks that we can't do more to address mental health care? They're wrong? They can. We can. And we're going to.

Go ahead, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can use my turn.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like to know what you've been told by investigators now about what DPS (INAUDIBLE) by the commander. Why do you make the decision to not go in (INAUDIBLE)? And why was he incharge of (INAUDIBLE)?

ABBOTT: What I've been told about that is several things. One is that this is an ongoing investigation and that there have been obviously new facts and information surface revealed as a result of that investigation that are different today than they were two days ago. Second, there will be ongoing investigations that detail exactly who knew what when, who was in charge of what strategy, why was that particular strategy employed? Why were other strategies not employed? Bottom line would be, why did they not choose the strategy that would have been best to get in there to eliminate the killer and to rescue the children?

I can't hear you. I can't hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider a banning of --

ABBOTT: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- 18 years old buying AR-15? Governor, please, would you consider? Yes, this is me, Antonio (ph) (INAUDIBLE). Thank you.

ABBOTT: Hey, Tony (ph), how are you doing, man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm doing great.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't seem the very respectful way, Governor, would you consider? This is a teen, 18 years old, would you consider at least a ban on 18 years old being able to buy a AR-15? That's what I'm asking. [17:05:05]

ABBOTT: So, there's my understanding that ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be dependent.

ABBOTT: Right. And since that time, it seems like it's only been in the past decade or two that we've had school shootings. So for a century and a half, 18 year olds could buy rifles and we didn't have school shootings, but we do now. Maybe we're focusing our attention on the wrong thing and we're focusing it on --

BETO O'ROURKE, TEXAS GOBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Senator (INAUDIBLE). I'm not doing a political -- my colleague are asking for (INAUDIBLE) in getting a letter tomorrow. We have a talk with the Senate Democratic Caucus, we've asked for both in full pages. I'm asking you now to bring this back in three weeks.

I apologize for interrupting this press conference about the needs of this community. I've been here for three days with all of these elected officials, this judged (INAUDIBLE).

I don't know how to express the law for the family that I talked to. But I know you've been to. You have to do something now.

My colleagues are telling me -- calling me telling me an 18-year-old couldn't have a gun. This is not (INAUDIBLE).

Just call us back.

ABBOTT: Next question.

I can't hear you. Speak up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On that alienated question about the Uvalde consolidated school district Pete Arredondo, are you specifically investigating? And what's the status in employment has he been stood down under investigation?

ABBOTT: Sure. Can -- I was unable to hear the first part of your question. Would you restate it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the school police check, Pete Arredondo, the gentleman who stopped the police going in earlier, is he specifically under investigation? And what is the status of employment has he been stood down pending investigation? What is his situation?

ABBOTT: OK. So, every act by every official involved in this entire process is under the investigation conducted both about the Texas Rangers and by the FBI. Every act of all of those officials will be known and identified and explained to the public, but I cannot overemphasize enough. We need to get that information to the families of all these victims who deserve to know the most.

As far as his employment status is concerned, that's something that is beyond my control, and I have no knowledge about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question. Last question.

ABBOTT: Go for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a question, Mayor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you plan to hold (INAUDIBLE)?

MAYOR DON MCLAUGHLIN, UVALDE, TEXAS: Yes. As the Governor said I'm not in law enforcement. I have not -- I am the mayor of the city. But -- and once we know what took place, what went down, we will get to the bottom of it and see.

I have -- I've been just as confused as you are because as the governor was I get the same information that the governor got until yesterday afternoon. I was blown away and again this morning, other information. So, I don't have an answer for you yet. But I can tell you if we need to make changes in that, we will.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great. Thank you, guys. Good bye (ph). Thank you.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: If you're just joining us, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I'm Jim Acosta in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's discuss what we just heard in that news conference with the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott. He says he was misled about the police response to the school massacre as authorities are now admitting mistakes were made. We're joined by CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz on the ground in Texas.

Shimon, what stood out to you? I mean, obviously hearing the governor of Texas say that he was misled and that he's livid, I suppose with law enforcement officials about what he was told earlier this week is obviously big news. But he did seem to be dodging some questions as well. Again, we're heading into the evening with more questions, really than answers.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he -- I think he's saying that he wants every action to be investigated by every official who was involved and suggesting that it's going to be the Texas Rangers. But then he's also talking about the FBI being involved in this investigation, which right now they're not, they've been just assisting authorities here. So, we need to get some clarification certainly from the FBI on that.


As he's saying he wants the FBI to now come in to this investigation. I'm not entirely sure some of the nuance on that. So that's something that I think could potentially be interesting. I don't think I heard him talk about the Department of Public Safety. This is -- the head there, Steven McCraw, he is the one who took to the podium today and who revealed all these new facts, the fact that 19 officers were in the hall of this building, of this school behind me as the shooter was holding children, teachers captive inside this classroom where several children have been shot by the time police had entered into this hallway.

And big questions, obviously have been, why didn't police storm that room? Why didn't any of those 19 officers go towards the gunfire and break into that room and try and rescue those children?

The other thing, of course, all this stems because in really, the moments when the governor briefed the public about the shooting, he spoke about the bravery of officers, saying how they were running towards gunfire, that it could have been far worse. Obviously, we now know that was not the case. He says he was misled. He said that he was in a room with law enforcement officials that he took notes, and this is the information they gave him, that the same information that they've been giving us now for several days until today.

So, the next steps here, certainly, it does sound like the governor wants those actions, that information, the inaccurate information that was released and given to him and then released to us in the public, he wants that investigated. So we'll see what happens. We'll see if that actually happens. But certainly significant that the governor here is asking for that investigation.

Because today, Jim, I was asking the head of the DPS here, Steve McCraw, if there was going to be an independent investigation. So, maybe perhaps we're heading in that direction.

The other questions, of course, surround the chief, the chief of the police here, the school police, Peter Arredondo, where is he? He wasn't at the press conference. I think there were questions about whether or not he should be -- whether or not he should resign, whether or not he should sort of take a leave of absence. We don't know where that stands. We have no information from him. He wasn't at the press conference, so we've not been able to ask him questions.

ACOSTA: And I guess, Shimon, we don't know exactly who misinformed or lied to the governor of Texas. We didn't get that straightened out, did we?

PROKUPECZ: Well, here's the thing. No, we didn't. But here's the thing, Jim, the DPS, the Department of Public Safety here, it's the largest law enforcement agency. It's kind of an arm of the governor's office, right? He -- it's -- they report to him, it runs through the state. So, presumably it would have been people in that agency.

Keep in mind, Jim, right, just two days ago, I was outside the high school where the governor was given the briefing. And he -- sitting next to him was Steve McCraw, the head of the DPS here, who also then said that there was a public safety officer here, the school police officer, that doesn't turn out to be the case. So, still a lot of questions, Jim. ACOSTA: All right, Shimon, standby. I want to bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera who's just coming out of the news conference.

Ed, I saw you in the room there. What stood out to you? The governor was very defensive. Didn't have a lot of answers.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. And as you heard, insisting that he was misled. But before he made his comments on Wednesday, that in his words, that the shooting would have been a lot worse because of the actions that law enforcement took that day and that the officers showed amazing courage running toward the gunfire. And obviously, to some extent, that might be true, but by and large, what we have heard today after the news of 19 police officers inside the hallway of that school as the gunman was still inside the classroom as children were calling 911, you know, all of those facts that we have learned today kind of fly in the face of what the governor said on Wednesday. And he insists that he was livid and misled.

There was also some opportunity, the superintendent of the school district here in Uvalde was also inside. The mayor, he was asked toward the end, I'm not sure if it was clear for everybody listening at home, he was asked about the future of the police chief here in the city. And it's not exactly clear whether or not the mayor is going to take any action in terms of asking for the resignation of the police chief or call for the resignation of the police chief at the school district. So, kind of stunning.


And after the press conference, Jim, I went up to both the mayor and the superintendent to try to ask those questions again about the fate of those two police chiefs here in Uvalde. They walked away without answering or continuing to ask -- answer any of the questions that we had. So it's not clear where that stands here at this point, Jim, but this comes on a day where we have learned just some dramatically emotional stories of what exactly unfolded inside that school.


COL. STEVEN MCCRAW, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: There was a wrong decision, period. There's no excuse for that.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety makes a stunning admission that police were wrong and waiting to go in and eliminate an active shooter after he'd started killing students and teachers.

MCCRAW: Texas embraces active shooter training, active shooter certification, and that doctrine requires officer -- we don't care what agency you're from, you don't have to have a leader on the scene. Every officer lines up, stacks up, goes and finds where those rounds are being fired at and keep shooting until the subject is dead, period.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The decision to back down from an active shooter was, according to officials, made by the school district's chief of police.

MCCRAW: The incident commander at the time was, it's believed that the, you know, that in fact it was a barricaded subject and we had time, there was no kids at risk.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The admission comes after he laid out the timeline that day. At 11:27 a.m. a teacher, he said, had propped open a door to go outside and grab her cell phone. Then the gunman fired shots at two people near the school grounds.

MCCRAW: There was multiple shots fired at the school at 11:32, 11:33, the suspect begins shooting into room 111 or 112. He shot more than 100 rounds based on the audio evidence. At 11:35, three police officers entered the same doors the suspect entered, all three of those police officers worked for the Uvalde Police Department. The three initial police officers that arrived went directly to the door and to receive grazing wounds at that time from the suspect while the door was closed.

11:37 there was more gunfire, another 16 rounds was fired, one at 11:37 and 16 seconds 11:38, 11:40, 11:44. At 11:51, a police sergeant, new FBI (ph) agents started to arrive. At 12:03, you know, officers continued to arrive in the hallway.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Gunfire continued while agents were still in the hallway, but they didn't go in the classroom until a janitor brought the keys.

MCCRAW: Though both of the classrooms that he shot into were locked when officers arrived, they kill the suspect.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Second grader Edward Silva was in his classroom when the shooting started.

EDWARD TIMOTHY SILVA, WITNESS: At first they sounded like -- something like was popping. Like kind of like fireworks.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Just after 12:00, the 911 calls began from a child inside the classroom where shots were fired.

MCCRAW: She identified herself whispered she's in room 112. At 12:10, she called back in room 12 advisor both were dead. 12:13, again she called on the phone. Again at 12:16, she's called back and said there's eight to nine students alive. At 12:21 you could hear over the 911 call that three shots were fired.

At 12:36, 911 call lasted for 21 seconds, the initial caller call back. Student, child call back, was told to stay on the line and be very quiet. She told 911 that he shot the door. At approximate 12:43 and 12:47 she asked 911 to please send the police now.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Eleven-year-old Mia Serio was inside the classroom with the gunman.

BLANCA RIVERA, AUNT TO SHOOTING WITNESS: Mia got some blood and put it on herself so she can pretend that she was dead. LAVANDERA (voice-over): While the community mourns those killed, law enforcement says they are now looking at all the missed warning signs.

MCCRAW: Almost asked his sister to help him buy a gun, she flatly refused. That was in September of '21. On March 1, 2022 there was an Instagram he had with four people, it was a chat, he discussed him buying a gun. Ramos replied, just bought something, RN (ph), on March 14. And there's Instagram posting by the subject in quotations 10 more days. The user replied, are you going to shoot up school or something? The subject replied, no. And stop asking dumb questions and you'll see.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The shooter bought two AR-15 style rifles and a trove of ammunition.

MCCRAW: He had purchase and had a total of 1,657 total rounds of ammunition, 315 of those rounds were inside the school.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): His mother is now responding to questions about her son.

ADRIANE REYES, SHOOTER'S MOTHER (through translator): I have no words. I have no words to say. I don't know what he was thinking. He had his reasons for doing what he did and please don't judge him.



LAVANDERA: And Jim, you know what really makes a lot of this so much more dramatic here in the last few days in the way the stories have changed, and you have to remember here in this community, law enforcement agencies are some of the largest employers. Many of these families that are victims of all of this have family members, friends who work in the law enforcement community, many of the families that we've spoken to over the course of the last day, these are people who wanted to believe what they were being told early on. And so these changes is also very hard for them to comprehend and to understand. Jim.

ACOSTA: Absolutely devastating. All right, Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

Let's get more analysis from CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz, alongside CNN Law Enforcement Analysts Jonathan Wackrow and Peter Licata.

Peter, let me start with you first. This is a Texas sized mess that they have on their hands down there. The authorities now say it was the wrong decision not to breach the classroom. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions, including the governor saying he was misled about all of this and that he's livid. I mean, doesn't seem -- it seems like there's a lot of finger pointing going on.

PETER LICATA, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes. And Jim, absolutely a lot of finger pointing. There's no reason for any of that. You know, obviously, the Texas Rangers, DPS have started to kind of peel back the onion a little bit and get to the truth. You know, it's -- there's a saying at first ports on the battlefield are always greatly exaggerated. People want to embellish and people want to cover for some of their mistakes.

And I think just by a simple investigation that DPS then, in association with the FBI, they're finding that those initial stories were fabricated or exaggerated and they're getting to the truth now. And the truth is just, you know, I've listened to that -- the press conference by Colonel McCraw earlier, and the truth is, it's actually frightening and it's very disturbing.

ACOSTA: It is very disturbing. And Jonathan Wackrow, the incident commander started treating this almost like a hostage situation, it sounds like, I mean, that's the way they're explaining it, rather than an active shooter. Doesn't that run counter to everything officers are taught about how to respond to something like this?

And you know, the other question I have is, does it matter either way? Why not charge in either way?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Jim, let me just first start off and be very blunt, this could turn out to be one of the worst police failures in modern U.S. history. And there needs to be accountability because the incident commander on that day made the wrong call, you know, and we have to investigate why that call was made to deal with a barricaded subject, as opposed to what is a, you know, a well-known, well trained policy of active shooter response, hostile intruder response by law enforcement, which is going to the threat and neutralizing it as fast as possible.

Even under fire, officers are trained to go to that threat because every second counts. And what we saw here was that delay costs children their lives. Full stop. We know that we heard that today.

And, you know, the press conference that we had, Shimon asked the right questions in pressed hard to get the answers that were necessary. Now that we have them, they're stunning. I'm almost at a loss for words at what I heard law enforcement do in those moments.

ACOSTA: Yes, Shimon, you did an excellent job pressing for answers there earlier today. This incident commander was actually the police chief for the school's district police force. I know you were talking about this earlier, presumably he knew the school, does it make any sense to you that he would assume that kids were no longer at risk when the gunman was inside two adjoining classrooms full of students? It doesn't make sense to me.

PROKUPECZ: No, and I don't think it made sense to anyone who spoke here today, including the head of the DPS here, Steve McCraw or any law enforcement official. This is not the way you conduct these kinds of operations. And we don't know why he did this, right?

Peter Arredondo is the chief. He did speak briefly after Tuesday when this happened, it was a brief statement. We've not seen or really heard from him since. He was not here today. We don't know why he wasn't here today.

And so, as a result, we're really not getting very specific answers, Jim.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And parents down there, that whole community down there, they have every right to be totally irate with the situation.

Shimon Prokupecz, Peter Licata, Jonathan Wackrow, thank you all very much.

Coming up, we'll bring you an exclusive account from one of the young survivors of the Uvalde massacre. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



ACOSTA: We're beginning to hear some truly harrowing accounts from students who survived the Texas gunman's rampage. CNN's Lucy Kafanov is joining us with details.

Lucy, these stories are just terrifying and heartbreaking. Tell us what you're hearing.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. I mean, what these kids went through is truly too gruesome to imagine. I mean, they were trapped inside that classroom watching their beloved teachers, their closest friends, their classmates in their final moments. The bloodshed that they saw, the sounds that they heard, the carnage all through the eyes of nine, 10 and 11 year olds. These kids are certainly lucky to have survived but the scars that they will be carrying will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

My colleague Nora Neus interviewed one 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo who was inside that classroom the kids. She tells CNN, we're watching the movie, "Lilo and Stitch" when that gunman burst into the room. She did not speak on camera, but she described the harrowing moments to Nora. Take a listen.


NORA NEUS, CNN PRODUCER: He says the shooter looked one of her teachers in the eye, said, good night, and then shot her. Then he opened fired shooting the other teacher and a lot of Miah's friends. And she heard screams and then heard him shooting in that classroom, heard a lot of gunshots.

After the shots stopped, though, she says he started playing music, sad music. I asked her, you know, how would you describe it and she said, it just was sad like you want people to die. She says she actually put her hands in the blood from her friend to lay next to her. She was already dead, and then smeared the blood all over herself all over her body so that she could play dead.

She told me that she assumed the police just weren't there yet. But then afterward, she heard -- the grown up say that the police were there but waiting outside. And that's the first time that she really started crying in the interview. She'd been pretty stoic up until then. But that's when she started crying, saying she just didn't understand why like they didn't coming and get her. Why wouldn't they come in? Why wouldn't they come in?


KAFANOV: And Miah managed to get her dead teacher cell phone and dial 911. She told the dispatcher, please come, we're in trouble. Obviously they didn't come in time to help her friends. And that's just one story.

Two other boys interviewed by CNN, who survived the shooting. They spoke to our network. Jayden Perez is 10 years old. He says he never wants to return to class. He watched all of his closest friends die on Tuesday, and says he worries another mass shooting could take place.

Another young little boy just in second grade. His name is Edward Timothy Silva. He says he's terrified of guns. He's also terrified this could happen again. Take a listen.


JAYDEN PEREZ, UVALDE SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Five of us hiding there and then the rest under a table. But that didn't stop one of my friends getting hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened to your friend?

PEREZ: The shooter shot through the window and hurting my friend and my teacher like my teacher got hurt like on right -- like on -- I don't know which side but she got hit, like hit on the side.

EDWARD TIMOTHY SILVA, UVALDE SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: A lady came to the classroom and knocked on our doors with a purple shirt. She said go and hide and we turned off all the lights and went to the back of the classroom and put desk in front of us. And we were hiding. I have the fear of guns now because I'm scared someone might shoot me.


KAFANOV: And Jim, we're in front of the University Health Hospital where two little girls are still recovering from their physical injuries. But the psychological invisible wounds that all of these children will carry for the rest of their lives will certainly weigh them down for the years to come. Jim?

ACOSTA: It just breaks your heart. It's just so painful to listen to. Lucy Kafanov, thank you very much.

Up next, the NRA is going ahead with its convention today in the same state where the horrifying school massacre happened. We'll go live there next.


ACOSTA: Tonight, just three days after 19 children and two teachers were murdered by a gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault weapon in Uvalde, Texas, the National Rifle Association is kicking off its annual meeting in that same state in Houston just a few hours drive from the side of the massacre.

CNN National Correspondent Ryan Young is following this for us from Houston. Ryan, what's the latest there?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the emotions here are very raw. So I'm already going to apologize just in case someone starts cussing again in front of the camera because as we've seen right here, people have been screaming across the way at people who have been going inside that convention.

You can see that heavy police presence right there. And every time someone seems to stop, the protesters here gather and start chanting and screaming at them. Now we know they had a large gathering a little earlier. More than 1,000 people seem to show up. And here Beto O'Rourke talked about how he wants to see things change in the state.

But this is where the emotions of what happened just a few miles away from here have really boiled over. We've seen people crying, we've seen people nearly come to blows here in the street. Police have been very responsive to make sure that hasn't happened. But you can feel the raw emotions.

I had one mother told me she is tired of standing by on the sidelines and she wants the people on the inside to know that she wants this to stop. But listen to Ted Cruz and how he framed this day and why he's here today.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): We must not react to evil and tragedy by abandoning the Constitution or infringing on the rights of our law- abiding citizens. Now is not the time to yield, to panic or intimidation or fear. Now is not the time for lies. It is not the time for empty political gestures. Now is the time for unity.


YOUNG: Yes, a time for unity, but you can see there's a probe and white person over here and they are being surrounded by the crowd and being shouted down. This is happening over and over, Jim. That's kind of sad to see but at the same time you understand why the emotions are so high. Jim?


ACOSTA: Absolutely. So a very volatile situation. All right, Ryan, thanks very much. We appreciate it. Ryan Young in Houston there.

Joining us now is Jeh Johnson, the former Homeland Security Secretary during the Obama administration. Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time. We really appreciate it. How galling is it do you think to --


ACOSTA: -- see Republican leaders meet at the NRA convention there in Houston, just days after 21 people were killed on an elementary school?

JOHNSON: Jim, two things and thanks for having me on. First, Ted Cruz and I both know that there are almost no constitutional rights that are absolute. The freedom of speech is not absolute. The freedom of religion is not absolute.

The Second Amendment is not an absolute constitutional right. There is a right to bear arms in the Second Amendment. That does not mean, however, that you get to keep a surface to air missile in your garage. Nor should it mean that a demented monsterous 18-year-old should be able to walk into a store someplace in Texas on his 18th birthday and buy a weapon of mass destruction.

We can regulate gun sales. We can regulate who gets a gun in America consistent with the Second Amendment. We have done so for my lifetime. The other argument that the NRA continues to make, and it's just an argument, the view there seems to be that if I give an inch on this particular piece of legislation that I'm giving up my entire right, that is so not true.

I cherished my driver's license. But that doesn't mean, therefore, that I'm willing to permit the freedom to drive if you're intoxicated. For matters of public safety, I want better regulation of driving while drunk.

I don't understand why members of the NRA, who for the most part, are responsible gun owners. They're careful gun owners. I know some of them. I don't understand why the NRA does not simply embrace the position that we cherish the right to buy a gun if you're capable of buying a gun.

And we deplore loose gun environments in which someone like this murderer, this monster is able to, on his 18th birthday, walk into a store and buy an assault weapon, a weapon of mass destruction. I don't understand why the NRA doesn't embrace that position to make themselves more credible in crisis circumstances like this.

ACOSTA: And what is your message to the politicians who have obstructed action on gun violence in this country? The governor of Texas Greg Abbott was just asked about raising the age for buying an AR-15-style assault rifle. He essentially said he was against it, didn't sound very open to other new gun control laws. What is your message to the governor of Texas and others who essentially say the same thing?

JOHNSON: Raising the age of -- for the ability to buy a weapon of mass destruction is the least we can do. Apparently, in the state of Texas right now, you can buy an assault weapon at age 18 but you can't buy a -- you can't but a six-pack of beer, that makes absolutely no sense. And, you know, the big picture problem here, and the reason I mourn for America today is because of our inability, our unwillingness to do anything about this plague. It happens over and over and over again. We're getting to the point now where it's happening almost weekly, and we fail, we refuse to address the problem. And the problem to put the label on it plainly, is the prevalence of guns in America.

I don't deny the right of a responsible gun owner to have a gun. There are circumstances where a responsible gun owner should have a gun. I do, however, have a serious problem with the inability of our lawmakers to even address the most basic, simple gun measures.

And I hesitate to say this, Jim, but I think that we need a game changer here to change the political environment. Maybe we do need an Emmett Till moment. Now for those of you who don't know who Emmett Till was, he was a 13-year-old boy in Mississippi in 1955, who had the temerity to say something sassy to a white woman, which you don't do if you're black in Mississippi in 1955.

He was lynched. He was tortured. He was beaten, he was shot. His mother wanted the world to see what his murderers had done to their son and she had an open casket funeral. And there were photos. It changed the world. It probably sparked the civil rights movement.

You know better than me, Jim, that photographs say a million words. Whether it's this incident, whether it's Rodney King, whether it's George Floyd, whether it's the Vietnam War.


And I hesitate to say that it's somehow the public obligation of a mother or a father to display the autopsy photos of her murdered child. But on the other hand, look at it this way. The child you just had on, the 11-year-old who witnessed the execution of her teacher, and who will go to grief counseling for the rest of her life was forced to witness up close and personal that tragedy.

Why is it that that child has to see this, but lawmakers who, through their inaction or action permit this environment to exist, can walk away and not have to see vividly the consequences of their action or inaction? And so, I think we need something dramatic here to finally make a difference. Otherwise, this is going to go on and on and on.

ACOSTA: These children are changed, you're right, but the country doesn't.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your time. Secretary Jeh Johnson, we appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Just ahead, experts say the emotional trauma of the Uvalde massacre will take a very heavy toll on these young survivors as we were just discussing.

Next, I'll talk with a child psychologist about how to help these children cope with this crisis.



ACOSTA: As Uvalde, Texas tries to recover from the grief and shock of the elementary school massacre, President Biden is preparing to visit the city along with the First Lady. CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us with details from the White House. Arlette, what do we know about the President's trip this weekend?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will spend several hours on the ground in Uvalde, Texas as they are trying to offer comfort to these families grieving through these gut-wrenching losses. Now the President is spending the weekend at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, but he's expected to travel from there to Uvalde on Sunday.

The White House says that he will be meeting with local community officials as well as religious leaders and most importantly, the families who lost their loved ones, those teachers and those 19 young children in Uvalde, Texas. Of course, President Biden has gone into these types of communities time and time and, again, not just as president, but also as vice president. He has his own connection to loss having lost his wife and young baby girl in a car accident and then later, his son Beau Biden.

But clearly, the President wanting to go spend some time down in Uvalde, Texas, with these families dealing with this life altering loss of their young, young children due to this horrific shooting.

ACOSTA: All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you very much.

And for the children who survived the Uvalde massacre, the mental and emotional scars can be just as devastating as the physical ones. Listen to one young survivor Jayden Perez describe the gut-wrenching trauma of Tuesday shooting.


PEREZ: Still sad about some of my friends that died.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who are your friends that died? Jayce, Makenna, Tess, Annabell, basically almost some of them. Basically almost all of them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you tell your mom when you finally saw her?

PEREZ: I left my water bottle at school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your water bottle? Did you hug her? Oh, she hugged me first because she was like, oh.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Let's discuss with Karin Price, Chief of Psychology for Texas Children's Hospital. Karin, I mean, just watching those kids, it's incredible how strong they are. And we're counting something that is just absolutely horrific. You're leading a trauma response team, you'll be helping these Uvalde survivors, these little kids who have been through so much. What do they need most right now?

KARIN PRICE, CHIEF OF PSYCHOLOGY, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Right now they need the adults that are in their lives to be able to provide some stability, support, comfort to be able to answer questions that they have, but also not push too hard to have them talk about things that are really incredibly difficult.

ACOSTA: And 19 children, two teachers gone. What is the most important thing at this stage for their loved ones would you say?

PRICE: I would say for the adults for the loved ones to get support wherever you can get it. So whether that's from your extended family, from your partner, from your community, making sure that you have somebody who's helping you to take care of yourself, so that you can also take care of the other family members, the other children who've also experienced this terrible tragedy.

ACOSTA: And the school shootings, they shake parents and kids across the country. What do you have in terms of advice for the caretakers out there wondering how to reassure their kids right now, whatever age they are? I'm sure parents across this country, I've had the conversation myself, they're having these conversations with kids as we speak.

PRICE: I think the most important thing is what you just said, have the conversation. Unless you have a very young child assume that they have heard something, they know something, even if it's just that something really terrible happened. Make sure that you let them know that you are open to having the discussion to answering any questions that they have, to sharing your own feelings about it in a very developmentally appropriate way.

As parents, we're sad, we're scared, we're worried and some of us are angry and all of those feelings are OK.

ACOSTA: And what about the long-term consequences for this generation of students who have lived through these shootings? You know, I mean, it's just kind of hard to get your head around what they're going to be living through for decades.

PRICE: Absolutely. Their lives are forever changed. The lives of their families are forever changed. That doesn't mean that it's kind of a life sentence to be struggling to function and to have a wonderful happy great life down the road.


And it's really about what do we do now, what do we do in the coming weeks and months to set kids up to recover and to be resilient, but also to identify children that are struggling more and who really do need professional help, and get them the help that they need.

ACOSTA: And a lot of these young people, they're going to be fighting for change. They're going to be putting their feelings into action.

Karin Price, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

And coming up, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he's, quote, absolutely livid after being what he says misled about the police response of the Uvalde massacre.