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Atlanta PD: Motive Unclear ion Spa Shooting Spree that Left 8 Dead; Biden to Migrants: "Don't Come" to United States; CDC: California COVID Strains Officially "Variants of Concern". Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

At this hour, we are following the latest on the string of deadly shooting at massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Georgia police, they just gave a press conference on Tuesday's attacks which left at least eight people dead and one other person injured.

Police said just now they do have the suspect in custody. They say he has taken responsibility for the shootings. But they do say right now it's too early to determine a clear and firm motive.

But there's a lot that they did say. The officials who briefed us just now say the early indications are that this was not racially motivated, even though a majority of the victims are Asian. News of the shooting sparked a new round of fear, a fresh round of fear across the country given the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the pandemic.

The White House says President Biden is monitoring the developments out of Georgia. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray, they are set to brief the president on these developments throughout the day.

Let's start this hour in Georgia with the very latest from the shootings.

CNN's Ryan Young is joining me right now.

Ryan, that police briefing just wrapped up. And they did release quite a lot of information.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate, I'm just surprised by how much information that we've gotten so far in this case. You can really see the coordination that was involved in bringing the suspect to justice in terms of being able to capture him yesterday. This entire area was put on alert after the shootings occurred.

Now, we are standing in Atlanta. The original shooting happened in Cherokee County which is about 47 minutes away from here. I can tell you this busy road behind me was shut down as investigators started to conduct this investigation.

But if you think about this, the Cherokee County sheriff's department which released that picture and suspect description and a vehicle description, they were aided by the suspect's parents apparently, and they were able to give them pertinent information so they can start this tracking process.

We were then told that they thought the suspect was moving toward Florida. They were able to set up in a county for the Georgia state patrol could get behind that car and perform a pit maneuver, which is basically putting that car against another one and spinning it out of control.

But this area behind me is saddened by what happened. So many people around the country are focused on spas like the one across the street where three women were killed. We learned that, of course, six of the victims are Asian women and two of the other victims are white males.

Now, the names haven't been officially released just yet. So, hopefully, we'll learn more about the victims in the coming hours. You can see the coordination between the police department, making sure other massage parlors throughout this area were sort of shut down and lock their doors.

They believe the suspect was going to Florida to commit more crimes, and they talked about the fact that they did get that 9 millimeter handgun out of his car. He indicated to him that he suffered from a sexual addiction, and the reason why he was doing these shootings was because he was hoping to stop some sort of thought process about that sexual addiction.

Look, none of this makes sense when you think about how all this was coordinated and you had eight people shot. It's really saddening. And you can see the community coming out with the thought process of why this happened.

A lot of conversation, but to think now, less than 24 hours later, police giving us all this evidence and talking about just what had happened bit by bit, it's quite surprising that we got so much so far.

BOLDUAN: It was, and there's more to come. Ryan's on the ground, thanks, Ryan.

Joining me right now to work through all of what we just learned, CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey, former police chief in D.C.

Chief, what's the most important thing you heard in this briefing? What's your take?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, there's a lot that came out of this briefing. Before I get into this, let me acknowledge the tremendous work, particularly the Cherokee County sheriff's office. They quickly located video, got it out there, which prompted the family to call, provided more information, and the coordination was exceptional, and no doubt probably avoided many more tragedies from occurring.

It looks like this is a single shooter. They did recover the gun. So a ballistics check will definitely confirm that. It's interesting that the motivation may not be a hate crime. They still don't know for sure, but apparently he has some kind of sexual addiction and he associates massage parlors with that addiction, and he was trying to take out the source of what he considered to be his addiction for whatever reason.


BOLDUAN: Sorry, chief.


I mean, motive, obviously, is something that everyone was asking about and wants to know about. They're leaning away from it being racially motivated, is what it appears. They're very careful to say it is too early on. They do continue their investigation.

This guy has spoken to them. They have had at least one interview with this guy where he acknowledged -- took responsibility, and in that interview is when it came out that he has issues. They talked about porn, talked about a sexual addiction. Somehow he places blame on businesses like this for that problem.

They also say this is possibly targets of opportunity. While there's clearly a lot to learn still, what from your -- with your experience, what needs to be looked at. What is needed now for them to come forward with a clear determination of motive?

RAMSEY: Well, they'll continue the interviews. I'm sure they're looking to see if he social media pages. They'll go through that. They'll interview the family that's been very cooperative, and they'll ask questions about some of the conversations they've had.

Obviously, they probably knew he was troubled which is why they contacted the police so soon. They haven't gotten totally away from the hate crime aspect of it. They're going to follow all these leads through. This has taken them down a slightly different path.

It's important that they really have a clear understanding of what the motive was before they publicly announce it. I know a lot of people want to draw that last line to that one dot, but that may not be the case here. So we need to be accurate, and that's going to be based on the evidence and the facts that they uncover.

BOLDUAN: And talk to me. You touched on it, but talk to me about the fact that it is striking for anyone to hear, and important that they learned he was identified by his family. I think they even called him his son. He was identified by his parents from the surveillance video that they put out on social media really quickly.

RAMSEY: Yeah. That's really fairly unusual, but not as unusual as some would think, that parents that know they have troubled children or have a relative and they identify him, they will contact the police. I wish it happened more often, but it's really not all that unusual.

Thank God they did, because by doing that, they were able to get his cell phone number, able to track him, get his location. He was quite a ways from Cherokee County and Atlanta when he was arrested. That might not have occurred had they not provided that information. It's a unfortunate the thing to do, but thank God they did it.

BOLDUAN: And he was headed to Florida. You often hear, chief, and I know you know this, at the top of -- after an arrest at the top of a press conference you often hear the agencies complimenting the coordination. It seems they were particularly proud of the coordination this time. Do you think it is possibly because of what they -- what would have happened had they not been able to stop him and locate him and get him in custody?

RAMSEY: Well, I think it's a combination of a lot of things. They should be proud of it, because they were able to apprehend this person in a relatively short period of time. They would have put a BOLO out, a be on the lookout around all the states around Georgia. So if he did happen to leave the state, other agencies would at least be aware that there's a wanted subject for homicide in the state of Georgia.

So, you know, the coordination would have continued. Fortunately, he didn't get that far. It is troubling to learn and he admitted he was on his way to Florida. Why Florida -- they'll find out why Florida -- to commit similar acts.

So, again, this is a deranged individual that would have caused additional harm had they not been able to bring him into custody as quickly as they did.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, thank goodness for that surveillance video. He was not smart enough --


BOLDUAN: -- or didn't care enough to try to hide his identity when he was heading into these businesses. Thank God for that.

Chief, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: While law enforcement has indicated the shootings may not be racially motivated, they said it is too early to draw conclusions so we have to say that as well. We also know that Asian-American communities across the country are on high alert and have been on high alert since the start of the pandemic.

We have seen a big rise in crimes against Asians. Now cities like New York and like New York City and Seattle, they're increasing police presence and police patrols after last night's shootings as a precaution.

Joining me is Cynthia Choi, co-founder of stop AAPI hate serving Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Thank you, Cynthia, for coming on.

We heard from law enforcement that it's too early on and we're going to get to speak yet if they believe this is racially motivated or a hate crime.


But while we don't know all the facts there, one thing we know is an indisputable fact is the fear in the Asian-American community that has existed and is increasing and is very real. What do people need to understand about this moment?

CYNTHIA CHOI, CO-FOUNDER, STOP AAPI HATE: First of all, thank you for having me. First and foremost, I want to take this moment to express our condolences to the families who are mourning this loss and that we are really encouraging and demanding that they receive the support and resources that they're going to need at this time.

I think it's important, as I'm learning about the facts as well on your program, that over the past year brought on by the pandemic, our center alone has received close to 3,800 incidents of verbal and physical attacks against members of our community. And we also want to note that women were more than two times likely to report that they were subjected to hate and animus.

So I think it's really important to really investigate this thoroughly, that regardless of whether it's racially motivated or not, at this time, if there's no proof, we can't rum it out either because of the fact that COVID was racialized, the fact that a majority of the victims were Asian women. I think it's going to be really important to fully investigate and understand the facts of this case.

BOLDUAN: And I also think it's important to just understand that this isn't just a local story. This gets to the broader fear that, look, it is your work and why your work is so needed right now, because of the fear, because of the fact that hate incidents against Asian-Americans have clearly jumped since the start of the pandemic, have clearly been on the rise since we started hearing from the Donald Trump White House spreading misinformation about the virus and the labels that they were trying to apply to it.

I mean, even if this incident turns out to not be racially motivated, what has this incident already done to the pain and fear that is real and being felt?

CHOI: This tragedy is really devastating news for the Asian-American community, many of whom have already expressed extreme fear and anxiety for their safety in public spaces, and now in workplaces, our Asian businesses being targeted?

Again, we don't know if this incident is racially motivated, but you have to understand the deep seeded fear that our community is experiencing, and we know that, again, we have vulnerable members of our community who are essential workers, who are on the front lines, who are going about their daily lives and are being subjected to extreme forms of hate at unprecedented levels. I think this is something that we have to really take very, very seriously.

BOLDUAN: Cynthia, thank you very much for your advocacy. Thank you for coming on.

We have -- this just in to CNN, I'm going to watch it along with you. Vice President Kamala Harris speaking about the shooting incident -- these shootings in Atlanta just now. Let's listen together.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Before I begin, I do want to talk about what happened in Georgia, in Atlanta. It is tragic. Our country, the president and I, and all of us, we grieve for the loss. Our prayers are extended to the families of those who have been killed.

And it speaks to a larger issue which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it. The investigation is on going. We don't yet know, we're not yet clear about the motive.

But I do want to stay to our Asian-American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people, but knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian-American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate.

And with that, I am very excited to --

BOLDUAN: The vice president is continuing there.


But as you heard, shocked and outraged -- first and foremost, noting the tragedy, and also noting shocked and outraged regardless of the motivation in this attack, what is determined to be, shocked and outraged by the increased violence we have been seeing across the country against members of the Asian-American community in the United States.

We have much more on this to come. But also coming up for us, as the crisis on the border is getting worse, President Biden has a message for migrants: Don't come.

Plus, a new warning from the CDC, why health officials are increasingly concerned about two COVID variants first detected in California.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: As the White House scrambles to contain a growing crisis at the southern border, President Biden answered to the criticism his administration's policies and messaging have led to the spike. Here is Biden in a new interview with ABC this morning.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, the idea that Joe Biden said come -- I heard the other day that they're coming because they know I'm a nice guy --


BIDEN: Yeah. Well, here is the deal. They're not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have to say quite clearly, don't come?

BIDEN: Yes. I can say quite clearly don't come. What we're in the process of getting set up, don't leave your town or city or community.


BOLDUAN: Don't come, he says.

The president also says he doesn't have plans to visit the southern border at this time despite calls from Republican officials to do so.

Joining me now is CNN's John Harwood. He's at the White House.

John, how big of a problem is this for Joe Biden and the ambitious agenda he wants to take on when you know that Republicans very clearly see a political opportunity here that's separate from the crisis that's also at hand?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a big problem, Kate. Look, these surges happen from time to time. They happened under President Obama, they happened under President Trump.

But there's no getting around the fact that if you advertise the fact that I regard the previous president's policy as inhumane, and I'm going to have a more inhumane policy, that's going to incentivize more people to come. That doesn't mean the Biden team has done anything wrong, but it means they need to act quickly to mitigate the consequences. That means both finding new facilities to house these children, finding ways to speed up the disposition of their cases and in the medium and longer term, dealing with the root causes in the countries where they're coming from.

He's trying to articulate that message now, but this is a divisive and difficult issue for Democrats, a unifying and galvanizing issue for Republicans. One of the reasons President Biden doesn't want to go there, he's trying to stay focused on his top priority, right now, which is dealing with this pandemic.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, well-put.

I was quite interested in the interview, the president's direct approach here. He also made news on the complicated but very important issue of the rules that dictate how the Senate is run, John. HARWOOD: This is going to be a critical issue to the success of his

presidency. Republicans have made clear in the pandemic relief vote, providing zero votes for his policy, that they're going to have blanket resistance to his priorities. They've already said so in terms of the infrastructure bill.

They don't want -- Joe Manchin has said I want an infrastructure bill, I want to pay for it. Republicans say if you pay for it with tax increases, we're not going to be with you.

So the question is, does the Senate stick with this 60-vote threshold filibuster to -- that is required for legislation that isn't about the budget. Joe Biden is now opening the door by saying, if we go to a talking filibuster, that might make it more difficult for Republicans to hold up his priorities. It doesn't mean all his priorities will go through, whether it's infrastructure, or voting rights or immigration, but it does means he opens the door to a possibility for more possible Democratic action if he can keep his party unified.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, John. Thank you.

HARWOOD: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the CDC is sounding the alarm about two COVID variants first detected in California, plus a rise in cases across 14 states now. We're going to have the very latest. That's coming up next.



BOLDUAN: The CDC is now saying two California COVID variants are a greater threat than previously known, and they're now -- they've now declared them variants of concern because they may be more transmissible and may not respond to some treatments.

This comes as more than a dozen states are seeing a significant rise in COVID cases over the past week.

Let's get the very latest on where things stand with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen who's joining me right now.

Elizabeth, let's start in California. What can you tell us about these variants?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, people -- I think we've all heard about the U.K. variant and the South African variant, but I don't think people know there are variants popping up in the United States. So, let's take a look at the California variants that the CDC say are, quote, of concern.

So, what the CDC is telling us is they are 20 percent more transmissible, these variants are 20 percent more transmissible than the coronavirus than came out before the variants. And that there's an Eli Lilly antibody drug that's been used for quite a while that may be less effective against them and they also say there's a moderate reduction in the effectiveness of antibody from COVID-19 survivors, and that this variant is not responding as well as some other types of coronavirus to that particular treatment -- Kate.