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Prosecutors Say Oath Keepers, Proud Boys Coordinated Before Capitol Attack; Biden Calls for Assault Weapons Ban and Background Checks; Boulder Shooting Reignites Push for Gun Control Measures; 21- Year-Old Charged with 10 Counts of First-Degree Murder; Remembering the Victims of the Boulder Supermarket Shooting. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim has the week off.

Congress, Mr. President, what are you going to do? The nation is reeling after another mass shooting. Will you do all you can to break the pattern of inaction?

This morning, growing calls for action on gun reform as we learn much more about the 10 people killed in Boulder. Today we are seeing their faces. We are hearing the stories of their lives, and we're hearing the void that their families now feel.

We are also learning the suspected shooter, 21 years old, was, according to his family, paranoid, and just eight days ago, he bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol that sources confirmed to CNN was modified with an arm brace.

Also this morning, a clearer picture of the chaos inside the grocery store that he attacked and the scars survivors still carry.


MAGGIE MONTOYA, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I hid under the far desk against the wall, and my pharmacist, Carrie, who was in there with me, she was right by me. She was standing the whole time behind the wardrobe as much as she could, and she just held the chair, the chair there the whole time. Ready to throw if we needed.

After the next couple of rounds of shots were fired off, I hung up on 911 and called my family, called my parents and stuff. I saw a body and it was just an instinct to look over and that's when I saw that it was -- it was Rikki. It all came crashing down seeing someone I knew dead, dead there that wasn't going to be able to walk out to her family or to walk out the store.


HARLOW: That's Maggie Montoya, one of many survivors that will be forever be scarred by this shooting. This is a crisis. Now what happens next? That is the question.

We begin this hour with our Dan Simon in Boulder again.

Dan, good morning to you. What is the latest you can tell us on the investigation?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. We can tell you that, according to court documents, the suspect, 21-year-old Ahmad Alissa, brought two semi-automatic weapons to the grocery store. Also had a tactical vest. We know that he came to this country from Syria when he was just 3 years old. Came with his family.

We're also learning some information about his background. And this really comes from his brother. His brother told CNN that he suffered from mental illness. That he was paranoid. That he had been bullied when he was in high school and that led to him being anti-social. But this notion that he thought people were following him, and he was paranoid.

He actually took some duct tape and put it on the camera on his laptop because people, he thought, were following him. We also know that, according to a Facebook post, that the alleged shooter posted a couple of years ago, he thought his phone was being hacked.

So the bottom line here, Poppy, when you take all of these elements, when you take the mental illness and you combine it with the fact that he had easy access to weapons, you really have the recipe for a disaster. I can tell you that he will be in court tomorrow for his first court appearance.

HARLOW: Dan Simon, you're so right. A complete recipe for disaster. Thank you for that reporting.

Let's keep this conversation going. Let me bring in former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow and former -- formerly the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District in Colorado, George Brauchler.

Thank you very, very much. And I should note, Mr. District Attorney, that you prosecuted multiple active shooter cases, including prosecuting the gunman in Aurora after the movie theater shooting. Thank you for being here this morning, both of you. And let me begin with you, because, I mean, I spent more than a week there in Aurora in the wake of the shooting, and I remember so well what those hours were like, but then what the days were like with the families.

How does this change things, George? Because we thought movie theaters were safe. Then that showed us they weren't. Then we thought grocery stores were safe. And now this shows us they're not.

GEORGE BRAUCHLER, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, 18TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT IN COLORADO: It's such a good question and it's one that America is grappling with right now. And where are the safe spaces left that you can go without having to second-guess who is around you and your ability to protect yourself? It started with Columbine and I handled that. That said schools were no longer safe. HARLOW: Yes.

BRAUCHLER: We've had theaters, spas, now grocery stores, churches. There are very few places left that I think Americans can go without having to have a second thought. It's troubling.

HARLOW: Jonathan, what would you do about it? Right? I was speaking with a family member yesterday who is traumatized just seeing it. And they said, well, does it mean metal detectors or turnstiles before you go into a grocery store? I mean, I don't know if that's practical.


I don't know what -- I don't know if it would fix everything if someone just runs in with a gun. What do you do?

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Listen, I think -- well, good morning, Poppy. First of all, I think -- you know, I think it's interesting to -- let's flip the paradigm of the conversation slightly. Let's talk about, you know, we keep talking about, are movie theaters safe, are shopping centers safe? All of these what we've heard was soft targets around the country. Are they safe?

And instead of putting all of this focus on fortifying locations, let's talk about the actor themselves. Let's talk about, you know, individuals that, you know, telegraph behavioral anomalies. You know, behavior runs on a continuum. Somebody doesn't just wake up today and say, hey, I'm going to go kill somebody. I'm going to walk into a store and I'm going to kill, you know, 10 people. I'm going to shoot a police officer. That's not normal behavior. So there were warning signs.


WACKROW: We've heard it from the family and I'm sure that the investigators are going to find a lot of behavioral anomalies along the continuum that were red flags, that were missed, that weren't actioned off of. So I think we should be looking at those actors, not the asset locations to fortify.

HARLOW: OK. That's fair. But to you, George, what we know from his family so far, his brother told CNN, he was paranoid. Often even younger in his teenage years he would be fearful that someone was walking behind him, sort of always looking over his shoulder, thinking people are out to get him. That's one thing. But to then have a family member, you know, call and say, I think -- I don't think my sibling or child should have a gun, et cetera, when they probably didn't even know he was going to buy a gun.

That's another thing, right? So where is the line? Where is the line between odd behavior, paranoid behavior, and an actual threat that Jonathan is talking about? Because at least, as of now from his family, we don't know about an actual threat.

BRAUCHLER: It's a great question. There's a couple of thoughts about that, though, Poppy. One is, we're never going to be in a zero-defect environment where people are going to nail every one of these before they turn into some sort of a homicidal act. I think we've got to work towards it but recognize it will never happen.

The second thing I'd say is we have a red flag law in Colorado. It's over a year old. And despite having that here, the question about whether or not family members feel comfortable diming out another family member for some suspected mental illness, even when I think in this case his sister-in-law spotted him playing with this rifle gun just a couple of days before.

The final thing I'd say is I want to disabuse listeners and viewers of this. Mental illness is not the same thing as insanity, for purposes of avoiding responsibility. The keys here are not, did he have paranoia. The keys are, could he form the intent to murder after deliberating on it and could he know right from wrong based on societal standards and morality? If those things are true, he is going to be accountable for these crimes, very similar to what took place in Aurora.

HARLOW: So, Jonathan, the president is now talking about another assault weapons ban which he helped lead in 1994. That one only lasted a decade and Congress has failed to re-up it. If they do this time, does it have to be different? Because the jury is out on whether the '94 ban really broadly worked because there were so many exceptions, including the 1.5 million people who got to keep their assault rifles and I think the 24 million people who got to keep the high-capacity magazines.

WACKROW: I mean, Poppy, listen, every single time we have a mass shooting, we have this conversation, right? Is this the moment? Is Boulder, Colorado, going to be the moment where we enact smart gun legislation to prevent these things from happening?

Well, listen, if Sandy Hook and, you know, Parkland, if those incidents didn't move the needle, is Boulder? I fear that it may not, but we have to try. We have to do something to stop, you know, preventing these violent acts from happening. I mean, whether it's -- whether it's the weapon, whether it's looking at, you know, how mental illness impacts this type of behavior, we have to take a whole of community approach to address the problem.


WACKROW: Because it's getting worse and it's not going away.

HARLOW: I also want to be mindful not to stigmatize mental illness because most people, many, millions, that are mentally ill do not go do things like this. Final thoughts --

WACKROW: That's a great point.

HARLOW: George, to you quickly, what would you do? What law would you change?

BRAUCHLER: This is a big one for me. Look, I'm a father of four kids who go to public school right here. I used to live about three minutes from STEM where I'm prosecuting a mass shooting. You know, I lived in Boulder for seven years. I just feel uncomfortable as a father, as an American, that we've come to a place where I am left with only two choices. And one is, an extreme, take-them-all-away or the other is. just shrug and say this is the price of liberty. I don't believe either of those are true.

HARLOW: Well, it's not -- I mean, the two House bills that were just passed, HR-8 and HR-1446, neither does anything to confiscate weapons. So there's no middle ground for you?


BRAUCHLER: But, Poppy, fairly, neither of those bills would have had a single impact on this case, on the case in Aurora, the case at STEM. Most of your mass shootings --


HARLOW: So that we don't know. Only to be fair here, I got to jump, but I just want to make clear. We know when he bought the gun, what we don't know is the result of the background check. We don't know if, for example, the Charleston loophole was at play here, if three days expired and they didn't get the background check back, so they had to give it to him. We just don't know. We'll know in time but we don't know yet.

Thank you, gentlemen, both so much.

BRAUCHLER: Thank you.

HARLOW: And please come back.

WACKROW: Thanks, Poppy.

BRAUCHLER: Thank you.

HARLOW: This morning, friends, family are, of course, remembering the 10 people killed in the massacre in Colorado. Among the lives lost, a heroic police officer, a soon-to-be grandfather, a supermarket manager.

Here is our Sunlen Serfaty with more on the legacies they leave behind.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The victims going about their daily lives in a grocery store. Customers, employees, some there to get their COVID vaccine. The 10 lives lost from all backgrounds and ages, from 20 to 65 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our hearts ache for those who lost their lives.

SERFATY: Among them, 61-year-old Kevin Mahoney. His daughter posting a tribute on Twitter to the man she calls her hero. "My dad represents all things love. I'm so thankful he could walk me down the aisle last summer," she wrote. Adding, "I am now pregnant. I know he wants me to be strong for his granddaughter."

DEBBIE BRINLEY, KEVIN MAHONEY'S NEIGHBOR: Kevin was incredible. He was an incredible father, an incredible spouse, an incredible neighbor. He was just a wonderful, wonderful man who didn't deserve this at all. We're devastated as a community.

SERFATY: And 25-year-old Rikki Olds. A manager at King Sooper Store, she was raised by her grandparents. Her uncle describing her as charismatic. A strong, independent young woman. A shining light, he says, in this dark world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was giggly and bubbly, and just didn't -- couldn't be sad around her. She wasn't having it.

SERFATY: And 51-year-old officer Eric Talley, a husband, a father of seven who within minutes of the first 911 reports of an armed man inside the store ran into danger. He was the first officer on the scene and then shot and killed.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the moment to act came, Officer Talley did not hesitate in his duty, making the ultimate sacrifice in his effort to save lives. That's a definition of an American hero.

SERFATY: Talley had been in IT before becoming a police officer. But at age 40 pursued a career change, joining the Boulder Police Force 10 years ago.

CHIEF MARIS HEROLD, BOULDER POLICE: And he didn't have to go into policing. He had a profession before this. But he felt a higher calling. He was willing to die to protect others.

SERFATY: His father saying it didn't surprise me he was the first one there. And revealing he was learning to become a drone operator on the force because the job would be safer. Talley's police car parked outside the Boulder Police station becoming a memorial. And a procession of his fellow officers honoring him Monday evening. Boulder Police revealing the other eight victims.

HEROLD: The families of the victims have been notified.

SERFATY: Twenty-year-old Denny Stong. 23-year-old Neven Stanisic. 49- year-old Tralona Bartkowiak, 59-year-old Suzanne Fountain, 51-year-old Teri Leiker. 62-year-old Lynn Murray and 65-year-old Jody Waters. Lives lost. Families shattered.

HEROLD: Our heart goes out to all the victims killed during this senseless act of violence.

SERFATY: Sunlen Serfaty, CNN.


HARLOW: Well, an all too familiar battle on Capitol Hill now as the president and the vice president call for action on gun laws. Senator Ted Cruz calls Democratic outrage after the shooting, quote, "political theater." Ahead, we'll speak with a police chief who says his community benefited from stricter gun laws and a Republican member of Congress who has proposed one gun law but voted against two others in the House.

Plus, a devastating new report exposing the toll this pandemic has taken on our nation's hospitals and medical workers. We have more on that ahead.



POPPY HARLOW, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: New and disturbing revelations this morning about the insurrection on January 6th at the Capitol. Prosecutors claim the paramilitary group you've come to know them as the Oath Keepers coordinated, prosecutors say, with the Proud Boys before the attack. Whitney Wild is on this story again for us. She has the latest. I mean, that would be really key if prosecutors can prove pre-meditated coordination.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly. And so, what we know is that DOJ has been building towards conspiracy cases. So, we know Oath Keepers, several of them are facing conspiracy charges. We know several Proud Boys are facing conspiracy charges. However, this does not -- this latest revelation does not indicate an overarching conspiracy between the two cases. So at this point, prosecutors do not feel like they are at that point. However, what this does show was that there was coordination between these two groups who, in the end, affected violence at the Capitol riot that day. And what we know is that there were Facebook messages that are highlighting the evidence here that the prosecution is using.


So, here we have a couple of quotes from Facebook messages that happened in December weeks before the Capitol riot in which an Oath Keeper leader was telling a member -- another person that they had planned to coordinate with the Proud Boys. So, for example, this person said in a Facebook message that the Oath Keepers plan to bring between 50 and 100 people to Washington and had coordinated with the Proud Boys, calling them a force multiplier, Poppy. But again, I want to caution and say this is not a moment where DOJ is saying, look, there's this large conspiracy between these two groups. Instead, they're just pointing out that there was a coordinated effort here prior to the Capitol riot. So, it's a fine line there, but it's an --

HARLOW: Yes --

WILD: Important distinction to make.


WILD: Poppy?

HARLOW: Got it. That is an important distinction. Whitney, thank you very much for the reporting. We've also just learned that they have removed all of the fencing around the Capitol. That just in. Well, the White House is demanding legislative action on gun control in the wake of the seventh mass shooting in America in the last seven days.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What it means is that we need to take action, but Gayle, let's be clear about this. There is the piece about executive action. But if we pass legislation that's permanent, if we -- if we -- if the Congress acts, then it becomes law. And that is what we have lacked. That is what has been missing. We need universal background checks. We need to have a federal standard, and that is going to be accomplished by the way we have structured our democracy when the United States Congress acts. The house has acted, now it's in the hands of the Senate.


HARLOW: Let me bring in Chief Fernando Spagnolo. He is the chief of the Waterbury Police Department in Connecticut and he supports stricter gun laws. He testified just yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Good morning, thank you for being here, chief.


HARLOW: What we're hearing so much now, sadly, is that, well, if nothing really changed federally after children and a teacher were murdered in Sandy Hook, at the elementary school, nothing is going to change now. But things changed after that in Connecticut, and you have evidence that, that worked. So tell us why?

SPAGNOLO: It sure did, Poppy. You know, the people of Connecticut took a look at the gun laws that applied in this state after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and worked with our legislative body here to improve those gun laws. You know, we instituted background checks for all weapons. So if a person in Connecticut over the age of 21 wants to buy a pistol, they have to apply it for a concealed weapons permit. It's a process that requires background checks and mental health checks, fingerprints. We use the FBI as a clearing house to make sure that these people are not prohibited or have any disqualifiers on their record.

And then once they get that, they are able to buy the pistol. And when they go to a store, you know, to purchase this pistol, the stores will take that permit number and run it through the state police firearms bureau to make sure that it's active and valid and nothing has changed. So, it's a pretty good process in place to make sure that folks buying guns in our state actually are not prohibiting people and they have -- they have the ability to purchase that weapon.

HARLOW: The Brady Center, which you know is a nonprofit that advocates for gun control measures and against gun violence, frames this in a racial justice lens. And you spoke a bit about that yesterday. The disproportionate impact that gun violence has on black and brown communities. Do you think that's enough of the conversation right now? SPAGNOLO: So, I know as a police chief working in a very diverse

community here in Waterbury, that the majority, almost all the gun violence that occurs here is impacting our black and brown communities. And it's a tragedy. We worked closely, you know, with our leaders, our local leaders to try to figure out, you know, the cycles of violence that are occurring in these communities, and you know, other services other than just law enforcement that we can provide to members of this community to break that cycle.

HARLOW: Do you believe that one of the laws that was changed in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook massacre is background checks for private sales and transfer of weapons. That is what the -- part of what the house passed a few weeks ago, but it looks to go nowhere in the Senate. Do you have evidence to use at your -- you know, educated belief as a police chief that, that has helped stem mass shootings in your state?

SPAGNOLO: I think it's helped stem gun violence, yes. And, you know, the fact remains that, you know, the person that initially bought that gun, that gun is registered to them. So, you know, from a law enforcement perspective, and if an investigation needs to be launched, we have a starting point. We know where to go to determine what happened to that weapon and trace it from there, and you know, ultimately hold somebody accountable for its use if it's used in a criminal way.


HARLOW: I'd like to get your reaction to this from Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Listen.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Every time there's a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.


HARLOW: What do you think when you hear that? Ridiculous theater?

SPAGNOLO: So, I think that, you know, there's a dual approach to this. You know, gun laws need to be strengthened. I think that Connecticut has shown to the country that strengthening gun laws, such things as background checks, the ability for law enforcement officers to apply for a risk warrant. The surrender of firearms if you are a subject of a protective order from domestic violence. These are all components that reduce gun violence in communities and states and it should be really adopted across the country. I think that, you know, working with our federal partners, there is a law enforcement approach and an accountability approach that needs to be addressed as well. You know, there are people that are engaged in straw purchases throughout the country.

We see many guns coming into Connecticut. Two-thirds of the guns actually used in this state in criminal activity are straw purchases that are bought in states with weaker gun laws that provide them to come here and end up in the hands of prohibited persons.

HARLOW: Well, coming up, we have a Republican lawmaker who just introduced legislation to try to stem those sales from straw purchasers. So we'll talk to him about that. Chief, thank you very much.

SPAGNOLO: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Hospitals and their staff are burned out by a year battling this pandemic. And that is just one of the disturbing details in a brand new inspector general report. We are also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Take a look at futures this morning, pointing higher across the board. Some concern though about the global economic recovery as cases rise in some countries around the world. The Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers yesterday that more work needs to be done to help the economy recover. They testify on Capitol Hill again today. We'll watch that closely.