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Suspect in Custody Over Atlanta Shootings; Results Expected Soon in Review of AstraZeneca Vaccine; U.S. and South Korea Discuss Alliance and Security Goals; Severe Storms, Tornadoes Strike U.S. Southeast. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 18, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: We're learning more about a deadly shooting spree here in Atlanta. Eight people are dead, and a suspect is now in custody.

With much of Europe pausing injections of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine the final results of an emergency review into its safety are due in just hours.

And --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got people that have been crawling into the pipeline itself, that have been chained to the machines. I mean, it's an all-out struggle for mother earth that's happening here.


BRUNHUBER: CNN travels to northern Minnesota where a controversial oil pipeline is firing people up.

Live from CNN headquarters in Atlanta welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

New details are emerging about the deadly shootings at three massage partners here in metro Atlanta. The 21-year-old suspect accused of killing eight people on Tuesday is now in jail facing eight counts of murder, police say it's too early to know a motive. Six of the victims were Asian although officials say the violence may not have been racially motivated. President Biden spoke about the tragedy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very concerned because, as you know, I've been speaking about the brutality against Asian- Americans for the last couple months and I think it's very, very troubling, but I'm making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer, I'm waiting for an answer from -- as the investigation proceeds, from the FBI and from the Justice Department. And that's -- so I will have more to say when the investigation is completed.


BRUNHUBER: CNN's Natasha Chen is following the latest on the investigation. Investigation.


CALLER: Please hurry.

DISPATCHER: Do you have a description of him, ma'am?

CALLER: I need to hide right now.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That quiet plea came from a woman hiding in one of three spas in the Atlanta area, whereby the end of Tuesday night, eight people were dead and one injured.

The killing spree in which most of the victims were Asian-American women happened in the span of just a few hours. The suspect told investigators he had no racial motivation, but that he targeted what he felt were temptations.


A former roommate told CNN he was deeply religious and felt tortured and distraught by his sexual addiction. Another roommate said he had spent time in rehab for sex addiction and had spent time in a transition house.

Law enforcement sources told CNN the suspect purchased the gun he used this week. One source said nothing in his background would have prevented the purchase.

At 5:00 p.m. Tuesday night, Cherokee County Deputies were called to Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia about 30 miles north of Atlanta. Four people died at that location.

About an hour later, Atlanta 911 dispatch received two calls from spas across the street from each other, emergency calls where it took time, perhaps across language barriers to comprehend what exactly was happening.

DISPATCHER: Is it a male or female?

CALLER: They have a gun, but (INAUDIBLE).

DISPATCHER: They have a gun, you said?

CHEN (voice over): They found three Asian women killed at the Gold Spa. Ten minutes later, this call resulted in first responders finding one Asian woman dead there. CALLER: Some guy came in and shoot the gun, so everybody heard the gun shots. Some ladies got hurt, I think. And you know, everybody's scared, so they're hiding.

CHEN (voice over): Police said the suspect's family called in to help identify him from surveillance images. They tracked his cell phone 150 miles south of Atlanta in Crisp County. State troopers intercepted him. Investigators believe he was headed to Florida to make similar attacks.

While the suspect told investigators this attack was prompted by his sexual addiction.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GEORGIA: I'm taking that with a grain of salt. This is a man who murdered eight people in cold blood. So it's very difficult to believe what he says. I'll leave it up to the prosecutors to determine what other appropriate charges may be warranted as it relates to hate crimes, but it's very difficult to ignore that the Asian community has once again been targeted.

CHEN (voice over): Whether or not this is called a hate crime, the Asian-American community says the fear is real.

SAM PARK (D), GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: I think there's an enormous amount of fear and anxiety, particularly in that this crime that was not necessarily committed based on race, at least based on what we know so far, but that it was six Asian-American women who were shot and killed yesterday, in light of the broader context where we've seen a spike in discrimination, hate and violence against Asian-Americans across this country.

CHEN: The mayor of Houston has asked police to increase patrols near homes and businesses in Houston's Asian-American community. Similar resources are being deployed in Seattle and New York City. Here in Atlanta people continue to come by the spa across the street from us, and directly in front of us, building upon memorials for the women who went to work on Tuesday never knowing that they would never return home to their families.

Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: There was a sole survivor of the shootings, a 30-year-old man, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz. He was hit by a bullet outside one of the massage parlors just north of the city. In a heartbreaking interview his daughter says she's anxious for him to come home and recover.


YOSELINE GONZALEZ, SHOOTING SURVIVORS DAUGHTER: I don't really know what to do. I try to calm myself down. When we called over there, they told us that he was very lucky. He is a really good dad, and I don't want him to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: Her father is still in the hospital and is said to be in stable condition.

America's top infectious disease expert says real world data show that COVID vaccines are working to slow the pandemic. During a White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed to the success of Israel's vaccination program. He said the Pfizer vaccine administered there has been up to 94 percent effective but getting enough doses out to Americans is still a challenge, especially with the rise of new variants. We get the latest from CNN's Alexandra Field.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The urgency to get as many people vaccinated as possible is growing as the CDC officially labels five strains of the virus already detected in the U.S. as variants of concern, meaning they could be more transmissible and perhaps less treatable.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are in a race to stop transmission and the emergence of variants that spread more easily has made that even more challenging.

FIELD: President Joe Biden now pushing more Americans to get their shots.

BIDEN: I just don't understand this sort of macho thing about I'm not going to get the vaccine, I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it. Why don't you be a patriot, protect other people.


FIELD (voice-over): This as concerns mount about a slowdown of vaccinations in Europe with at least 16 countries pausing their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing concerns over a small number of reported blood clots, despite no known link between the clots and the vaccine. The World Health Organization today saying the benefits of AstraZeneca's vaccine outweigh any risks. Dr. Anthony Fauci taking a similar position.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The actual incidence of the clotting is not more than you would expect in the population in the absence of vaccine. So that's why they are insisting that the concern is not founded on the reality of what's gone on.

FIELD (voice-over): AstraZeneca has not yet applied for Emergency Use Authorization here in the U.S. Some promising news on the vaccination front, an Israeli study not yet peer reviewed showed vaccinated pregnant women transferred antibodies to their infants.

Here in the U.S. we are seeing a steady rise in vaccinations. 22 percent of the U.S. population nearly 74 million people have received one vaccine dose already. 12 percent of the population nearly 40 million people are fully vaccinated. But there are worrying signs of the possibility of another surge.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: It's going to be a close call. We are vaccinating really well, that's the good news. These variants are spreading pretty quickly across the country, that's the bad news.

FIELD (voice-over): Nationally new cases remain down overall, but 14 states are reporting a week tweak increase of more than 12 percent. Delaware, Montana and Alabama posting gains of more than 30 percent with Michigan leading the way, cases there up a whopping 53 percent since last week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do think the next six to eight weeks could be rough.

FIELD (voice-over): Spring breakers are flooding beaches and bars in some cities, that's worrying to health officials, combined with St. Patrick's Day parties. The CDC hasn't issued updated travel guidance for people who are fully vaccinated.

WALENSKY: We're revisiting the travel question.

FIELD (voice-over): But there's already a new record stretch of air travel during the pandemic. According to the TSA more than 7 million people flying in the last six days.

FIELD: And while we can expect new guidance on travel from the CDC, the CDC is also saying that they should soon be putting out new guidance for schools. They're currently looking at studies that show the effectiveness of reducing physical distancing from six feet to just three feet. It could go a long way toward President Biden's goal of getting the majority of schools back open.

In New York, Alexandra Field, CNN.


BRUNHUBER: We're now learning the Biden administration is considering sending some doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada. The vaccine is still going through clinical trials in the U.S. and the company hasn't yet applied for Emergency Use Authorization. That means tens of millions of doses are stockpiled waiting for approval. Both countries have made a request for doses and Mexico says an agreement to get them could come as soon as Friday.

Well later today European drug regulators will announce the results of an emergency review of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So for the latest from Europe, let's bring in CNN's Jim Bittermann outside of Paris, and Cyril Vanier in London. Jim let's start with you. What are we expecting to hear and regardless of what they say you can't help but wonder if the image has already been done?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly looks that way, Kim. In fact, the European Medicine Agency is expected to approve AstraZeneca because of incidents of those blood clots are just not high enough as Dr. Fauci indicated there. And so as a consequence the suspension has had the unforeseen

difficulty of also of spreading the idea that AstraZeneca is somehow inadequate. In a poll taken right after the announcement of the suspension on Monday 20 percent of the French said they have no faith in the AstraZeneca vaccine. So as a consequence that skepticism and there's already been a lot of skepticism about vaccines in France, is something that's likely to build here and it's at a time when cases are spiking.

Overnight Tuesday they were 29,000 new cases in this country and overnight last night 38,000 new ones. So it is a growing problem. They're depending on vaccines like AstraZeneca to combat it and if the public is skeptical about it, well that's a whole other story -- Kim.

Absolutely right. All right, Cyril let's go to you now. So the U.K.'s vaccine rollout has been held up as a success story, especially when you compare it to what's happening in the EU and now just like the EU getting hit by a supply issue here. What's going on?

Cyril might not be able to hear us. Cyril, can you hear us?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I apologize, the audio dropped. But I can see you with a slight delay. I am going to address, however, your question about vaccine delays here in the U.K.


And what has happened is that a letter was sent by the government to the state-run health service announcing that the supply of vaccines in the U.K. was going to be, quote, severely constrained starting at the end of this month and that, therefore, no new appointments should be made for the month of April.

Ironically, this comes as the U.K. has been doing extremely well with its vaccination rollout so far, it's been a huge success. And today we found out -- yesterday we found out that 25 million people, adults, had been vaccinated, that is almost half of the British adult population. Making it one of the fastest and most successful vaccine rollouts in the world on par with countries like Israel. And it's already had a tremendous effect because three months ago the U.K. was deep into a third wave with almost 60,000 new infections a day. That number now down to 5,000. That progress is the result of a strict lockdown for the last three months as well as a speedy vaccination campaign.

It's worth noting that 90 percent of people here who are deemed extremely vulnerable to COVID had been vaccinated and that the government still believes it can meet its target of offering a dose of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca to all over 50s by mid-April. So really what's going to happen is now for the under 50s there's going to be a delay in vaccination starting next month.

BRUNHUBER: Got it. All right, thank you so much. Glad you were able to hear us in the end. Cyril Vanier in London and Jim Bittermann near Paris. Thanks to you both. Well a severe weather outbreak in the U.S. targets several southeastern states with dozens of tornados reported. We'll have the details ahead.

Plus -- the U.S. and South Korea are reaffirming their goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. And why the U.S. is calling on China to help. We'll have a live report from Seoul next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met a short time ago with South Koreas president. It's their last stop in Asia during a trip that's mainly focused on China and North Korea. The U.S. and South Korea reaffirmed their commitment to address Pyongyang's nuclear program. And a top U.S. official says China could play a critical role in achieving denuclearization on the peninsula.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest, in helping to pursue the denuclearization of the DPRK because it is a source of instability. It's a source of danger and obviously a threat to us and our partners, but China has a real interest in helping to deal with this. It also has an obligation under the U.N. Security Council resolutions to implement fully the sanctions that the international community has agreed.


BRUNHUBER: So let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks who's in Seoul. So Paula, what's the latest? Bring us up to speed here.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kim, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin have just met with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in to talk about North Korea but also clearly about China.

Now what we've seen over the past couple of days really is that Secretary Blinken has a bit of a balancing act. He has been quite condemning of China, criticizing what he calls the acting more repressively at home, more aggressively abroad. But then as you heard Secretary Blinken speaking there he also knows that the U.S. needs China if they are to try and stop the nuclear missile program of North Korea.

And one other thing that we haven't really heard when it comes to North Korea recently was Secretary Blinken talking about the human rights record. This has been pushed to one side in recent years, so that's something that they're looking at once again.

Now, we did hear the President Moon Jae-in saying that he welcomes the return of diplomacy and alliances when he met with the two VIPs, something that Joe Biden, the president, was hoping was going to be on his first day of becoming president. To reinvigorate those alliances around the world which he believed that the previous administration had let go.

Now, Secretary Blinken will be leaving and heading to Alaska where he'll be meeting with his Chinese counterpart. This is the first time of such a high level contact between the U.S. and China since President Biden took control. So it will be very interesting to hear what they say and what is decided. There are three meetings over an afternoon and evening and then the next morning. Although we have already heard from the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. saying that he doesn't have high expectations for the meeting but hopes that they can at least meet halfway -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, that China meeting promises to be as fraught as it is fascinating. Thanks so much, Paula Hancocks, in Seoul, South Korea. Appreciate it.

Police say they've arrested a man just outside U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris' official residence. Washington, D.C. police say they've charged a 31-year-old man from san Antonio, Texas, and they've recovered a rifle and unregistered ammunition from his car. A secret service official said none of the people they were guarding were at the residence when this happened.

Severe weather has swept across several southeast states Wednesday with some terrifying moments caught on tape. Watch this.




BRUNHUBER: Damage has been reported across Alabama. Officials will be determining just how many storms may have produced tornadoes. And it wasn't just Alabama, tornadoes believed to have caused this damage in neighboring Mississippi. We have meteorologist Pedram Javaheri who's joining us with more. Pedram, frightening stuff there and I'm hoping it doesn't swing through this way. What's the latest?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Kim, you know, I was just looking at that carefully here in the last few minutes and good news is the atmosphere for portions of the state of Georgia as this system kind of approaches the state of Georgia is stabilizing a little bit. But as you noted -- show the video there -- has had a history of producing violent storms and tornadoes.


And the initial estimates by the Storm Prediction Center, bring down at least 21 reports of tornadoes, so that number will be fine-tuned within the next few hours.

But you'll notice at least 50-plus severe wind gusts which at times we are talking about near hurricane force gusts reported with these storms and of course widespread large damaging hail as well in place. Climatologically, of course, you begin to see the rapid rise here, the numbers going up to about 78 tornadoes for the month of March, up to 100 more there, to 178 for the month of April on average and almost another 100 more going into the month of May as well.

So here's what we're looking at here with tornado watches still in effect through 7:00 in the morning local time, includes portions of western Georgia, southern Alabama and the western periphery there of the panhandle of Florida. And that's because of this line of storms here still unstable enough to produce plenty of lightning strikes at this hour across this region, but no tornado warnings at this hour. So that's the good news.

But we do expect with the afternoon heating as the system migrates farther towards the east, Kim, we do have the severe weather threat return especially around portions of coastal regions of the Carolinas, an area indicated a level four on a scale of 1 to 5 there, so a serious concern continues this afternoon.

All right, we'll be following it. Thanks so much, Pedram Javaheri. Appreciate it

And you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Coming up, we've been hearing this hour about concerns in Europe over the AstraZeneca vaccine, but some Asian countries aren't sharing those worries. We'll show you how their vaccine rollouts are going.

Plus the U.S. Fed predict an economic boom for this year but it will come with higher prices. We'll have forecast and Wall Street's reaction ahead. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching here in the U.S., Canada and around the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Well even though many European nations have suspended.