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New Details Emerging on Ten Victims of Boulder Shooting; Biden Calls for Assault Weapons Ban and Background Checks. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everyone. It's the top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim has this week off.

This morning, increasingly louder cries for gun reform in the wake of yet another American mass shooting. In all, ten lives lost in Boulder, Colorado. Look at these images. These are the people that were murdered just for going to the grocery store, a police officer, a soon-to-be grandfather, their families grieving this morning. We will share their tributes pouring in.

But what happens next? President Biden is demanding Congress take action on assault weapons and background checks, this as new troubling details emerge about the suspected shooter. His family tells CNN he was paranoid. The suspect heads to court tomorrow. He'll face ten counts of first degree murder.

What will tomorrow bring for America though? Will demands be more than just words this time? Will there be action?

Let's begin our coverage this hour with Dan Simon. Good morning to you, Dan. Before he does head to court, what is the latest on the investigation?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hey, Poppy. We know that the suspect, 21-year-old Ahmad Alissa, according to court documents, brought two semi-automatic weapons to the grocery store. When he was cornered by the police or when he felt like he had no choice but to surrender, he put everything down on the ground, including the weapons, basically stripped down to nothing. There was also a tactical vest that police found. And then when officers tried to question him, he didn't say anything, but he did say that he wanted to talk to his mother.

In the meantime, we're getting more information about his mental status. This comes from his brother who spoke to CNN. He basically said that his brother suffered from mental problems and that he was paranoid, talked about the fact that he thought people were following him, used some duct tape to cover the camera on his laptop because he was worried that people could essentially spy on him. The suspect apparently also thought people were hacking his phone.

And then also in 2018, he was convicted of assault. He pummeled a student, according to a police report that we obtained. And witnesses at the time said there was really nothing to provoke that attack.

In the meantime, Poppy, we're also learning more information from people inside the store. I want you to listen now to Maggie Montoya who worked in the pharmacy department helping people get their COVID- 19 shots. Take a look.


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 there the whole time ready to throw if we needed.

After the next couple rounds of shots were fired off, I hung up on 911 and called my parents, 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 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 walk out of the store.


SIMON: Those stories are just heartbreaking. And, Poppy, you can see what things look like across the street now with the chain link fence and that growing makeshift memorial there. You can see people standing there, people continuing to drop off cards and flowers and just look at the scene. It continues to just get bigger and bigger.

And we know that there's going to be candlelight vigils tonight in the community as folks here in Boulder continue to mourn the victims. Poppy?

HARLOW: Dan Simon, thank you very, very much for that reporting.

For more on what comes next in the investigation, I'm joined now by Cedric Alexander, he is the former public safety director for DeKalb County, Georgia. Good morning. Thank you very much for being here.

In mornings after attacks like this and in the subsequent days, we always ask about motive, right? And it's important, but it doesn't bring back these lives. What would your most important pressing questions be at this hour?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, FORMER PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT EXECUTIVES: Well, certainly, we all want to know what the motive was. And sometimes people ask the question, why is the motive important at this point. It's important from the perspective of this, the more we know about the individual and what caused him to do the harm that he did, it helps us going forward, was it a mental health condition, was it rage, was it a history of violence, et cetera, et cetera.

So the more we know about the assailant and what drove him to this level of violence, it certainly helps investigators, it help scientists, it help researchers, it helps all of us to better understand what may be in the mind of a person who feel they have to go out and carry out such an act.


Because if there's opportunities for us to get in front of these individuals, we certainly do want to take advantage of them at every possible angle.

But the ongoing investigation will eventually reveal motive, whatever it may have been, but the ongoing investigation, also when we step back after all this, we'll step back and we'll take a look, what is it that we can do better? What is it around issues so salient to this country right now that there don't seem to be any real resolve around, which is gun control? How do we begin to continue to talk about it and advance that conversation in a way that's going to be beneficial to the country as a whole?

HARLOW: Well, what would you do? I mean, you literally were in charge of public safety. I don't know if you heard, but we just had a member of Congress on a few minutes ago who does believe in some more gun control, but doesn't believe in what the House has passed most recently. What would you do?

ALEXANDER: Well, for me, being a former chief, my concern is always going to be the public and the men and women that protect the public. The question around assault rifles are beginning to come up again. Should they be banned? I think that's a conversation that requires a great deal of discussion, but for someone as myself, let me answer that question for you.

I don't want to see my men and women out there on the street having to confront a dangerous individual with an assault rifle. And to play the word game of an assault rifle or A.R.-15 is not the same as an M-16 is really playing games. Because the reality of it is that an A.R.-15 is built off the same platform as a military M-16. The cartridges can be high capacity. They're certainly high velocity. They can do great damage and there's not a police officer out there that will tell you that they look forward to confronting any type of assault weapon, whether it's an A.R.-15 or an M-16.

Now, we have to also keep in mind -- we have the greatest majority of people, I do believe, are law-abiding Second Amendment people who understand, protect their weapons, own their weapons, handle their weapons with a great deal of responsibility. But we've got to take into account that there are bad people out there who are looking for weapons, who can get their hands on a weapon quicker than some people can an ice cream cone. And we also have to recognize that we need to, in American culture, make it a very difficult place for people to get weapons who do not deserve them. But here is part of the challenge also, Poppy. Every day, we know who bad guys are, as your congressman from Nebraska said. We need to keep the guns out of the hands of bad people. That is very true. But one of the challenges that we have, if we go back and we look at a lot of these previous assaults, of mass shootings, oftentimes there was not a previous record or indication that they would carry out such a violent act. So how do we get in front of that?

There's a lot of conversation and a lot of study that is still need to be done, but we've got to do it quickly, because the American people are sick and tired of where this nation is around this issue. But at the same time, we do have to protect our Second Amendment. So what we've got to somehow take some of the politics out of this and put in front of this human life and protect those who are Second Amendment supporters, such as I am. But to be able to do it in a way that's going to be beneficial for everyone and not for some. Those are challenges.

I don't have any answers, and it's clear a lot of our elected officials don't either. But we have to continue to do what we can and to move in the direction, because people are getting tired of this. It is weighing on us. Thank you.

HARLOW: Chief Alexander, I'm so glad you could join us this morning. Thank you for that perspective.

ALEXANDER: Thank you for having me this morning.

HARLOW: So let's talk about the victims. Because now we're learning more about their lives, who they were, their lives that were cut so short in Boulder.

Stephanie Elam joins me this morning. Stephanie, what do we know about them?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, we're learning more from the people that knew them best, that loved them and really want the world to know just how wonderful these people are.

I want to start off by taking a look at all ten names of the people that lost their lives earlier this week.


And let's start with Rikki Olds, she's 25 years old, Officer Eric Talley, 51, Tralona Bartkowiak, 49, Suzanne Fountain, 59, Denny Strong, 20, Neven Stanisic, 23, Kevin Mahoney, 61, Lynn Murray, 62, Jody Waters, 65, and Teri Leiker, 51.

And as we've been getting more information from these people who knew them, I just want to focus in on a few that we've learned a little bit more about, and Rikki Olds is one of them. She was a manager at that grocery store there, doing her job, a frontend manager. She's from Lafayette, Colorado. Her uncle describing her as strong and independent and raised by her grandparents and energetic and charismatic. And, in fact, take a listen to her aunt telling more about her.


LORI OLDS, AUNT OF SHOOTING VICTIM RIKKI OLDS: She was giggly and bubbly, and you couldn't be sad around her. She wasn't having it.


ELAM: Tralona Bartkowiak had originally lived here in the Los Angeles area before moving to Colorado about a dozen years ago, according to her family members here. She was there to run the family's clothing line business. Her cousin also saying that she had recently gotten engaged and was really in a happen point in her life. Take a listen to how he described her.


DAVID, COUSIN OF SHOOTING VICTIM TRALONA BARTKOWIAK: She was the backbone of this family. She's the backbone of that company. She helped raise me. She was always there for me.

It's just really sad that she's gone. It's unbelievable. She had the biggest heart. She was the most loving person I've ever met in my life. And it's just so devastating.


ELAM: Suzanne Fountain was 59 years old. She worked as a medical insurance agent. She had previously worked for a non-profit for 17 years. And just, really, according to a friend who had actually ended up hiring her, she was just all about helping others. That's what her whole life was about, said she had a great sense of humor and she leaves behind one child and a partner. Listen to how she described Suzanne Fountain.


HELEN FORSTER, FRIEND OF SHOOTING VICTIM SUZANNE FOUNTAIN: If you were having a bad day or you were having a tense moment, if she was around and you saw that smile, she just would light up the room, and she was a bright light. She was one of those people that I think a lot of people who met her felt they already knew her.


ELAM: Kevin Mahoney was 61 years old and have lived in Los Angeles County for a very long time before moving to Boulder, Colorado, where he was currently living. And his daughter, Erika Mahoney, put out this tweet. I'm just going to read the text of it to you right now.

She wrote, I am heartbroken to announce that my dad, my hero, Kevin Mahoney, was killed in the King Soopers shooting in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. My dad represents all things, love. I'm so thankful he could walk me down the aisle last summer. I am now pregnant and I know he wants me to be strong for his granddaughter. I love you forever, dad. You are always with me.

Just some of the people that we're learning more about and how they're remembered by their family members and just thinking about what it's like for Erika Mahoney, now pregnant, knowing that her daughter or son will never get to know her grandfather.

HARLOW: Stephanie, thank you very, very much for that.

Up next, we will speak to the mayor of Boulder, Colorado, about his community and what can possibly be done in the future.

Also, vaccine eligibility is opening up a lot in several states this week. What you need to know, we'll have that.

And the White House's COVID-19 task force will give us all an update in just a few minutes.



HARLOW: President Biden stepped into the familiar role as consoler in chief, as he urged action in the wake of the shooting in Boulder, Colorado, that has left ten people dead. Now, he is making a strong push for stricter gun laws. Watch this.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act. We can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country once again.


HARLOW: Let's go to our White House Correspondent John Harwood. John, it was interesting also to hear from Vice President Harris this morning on CBS really focus more on legislation than on executive action. But the White House knows they don't have the votes on legislation for broad gun changes that they want to see. So, I mean, do you have an indication that it will take executive action, the White House will?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think they will. In terms of actually getting legislation over the finish line, they almost certainly cannot do that. The president can articulate his goals, as he did in that clip you just played. And, of course, he did with fellow Democrats and Bill Clinton pushed through an assault weapons ban in 1993 and 1994.


That expired, much more difficult to do today. There are things he can do by executive order, tightening the background check system, financing some community violence prevention programs. But as Vice President Harris acknowledged in her interview this morning, that simply doesn't have the lasting impact that passing a law does. Take a listen.


KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: There is the piece about executive action. But if we pass legislation that's permanent, if the Congress acts, then it becomes law, and that is what we have lacked. That is what has been missing.


HARWOOD: But here's the problem. Some legislation that they're proposing, like stronger background check -- strengthening the background check system polls very well. It is very popular, especially within the Democratic Party. It does not have the Republican support that's been demonstrated to clear the filibuster requirement.

And even if you got rid of the filibuster, other steps, like banning assault weapons, which was done before, a lot of Democrats have a bad aftertaste from the political ramifications from that ban in '94 and '93. So that's a risky step to take, something that would take attention away from what the president considers more significant goals, like his infrastructure and human capital program.

So it looks as if President Biden is going to be in the same position that President Obama was, which is calling for action and not getting it from Congress any time soon.

HARLOW: Okay. John Harwood, thank you very much for that at the White House. We'll see what executive action they put forward then.

Let's bring in the mayor of Boulder, Colorado, Mayor Weaver. Thank you.

I'm at a loss for words, I know all my colleagues have been, as we've been speaking with you, because what do you say? I'm sorry. This shouldn't have happened. We always say that. But then it happens again and again and again. So what I will ask you is, do you think this morning you can assure your constituents, the residents of Boulder, that the Senate will act on anything gun-related that would make them safer?

MAYOR SAM WEAVER, BOULDER COLORADO: Good morning. And I wish I could make an assurance like that. Obviously, I can't. I am aware and our whole community is aware of the political situation, and we're not focused on that first and foremost. I'll tell you right now we're focused on the victims of this tragedy and giving them support and pulling our community together. We will focus on what we can do in a day or a week, and we can talk about that. But I do want to start out by saying the most important people here are those who have lost loved ones.

HARLOW: What are your thoughts this morning as we now see their pictures, we learn about their lives, we hear from their children who have lost their beloved parents?

WEAVER: My thoughts are we need to celebrate their lives and grieve for our loss. This is the time when we move from shock into grief and some into anger. And it's because we learn who these people are that we lost.

All of these people are connected deeply to our community. We are a town of 110,000 people, and we know each other. We're a strong community. We've been through floods and fires. We know how to support ourselves and each other. But it is a great loss to us, these ten people.

HARLOW: You know, you said just a few hours ago the statewide ban on assault-style weapons could have absolutely helped in this situation. We know what happened with the judge just a few weeks ago in terms of overturning the Boulder ban on assault weapons, saying you can't do that as a city, it has to be at the statewide level. And we don't know if that would have prevented him, the shooter, from buying this gun less than ten days ago. But do you believe that it would have helped on a state level to have this ban?

WEAVER: We can never know on an incident-by-incident basis, what laws would have been effective or not. But I can say this, it wouldn't have hurt and probably would have helped.

Making these weapons less available to people, particularly people who may have mental health problems, is an important step we need to take. It is clear from the ban that was referenced earlier from '94 to 2004, the federal assault weapons ban, we were able to continue hunting, we're able to continue to defending ourselves with weapons that were not assault weapons.

And so I own guns, and I appreciate the Second Amendment for what it was meant to do. I do not think that protecting killing machines in the hands of Americans was what the Second Amendment was intended for, at least not mass killing machines like assault weapons are.


HARLOW: So given what this judge has ruled, there's a state senator, as you know, in your city in Boulder who is drafting a bill to try to restore the city's ability to itself implement an assault weapons ban, right? I just wonder, given Colorado state law and given this district judge's ruling, do you think that stands a chance of being implemented?

WEAVER: I do. I do. Senator Fenberg is a friend and I appreciate that he has taken such quick action. That's just the very first step, is repealing the state preemption, which means the state ban on cities being able to make their own laws. We want to make our own laws. It was a unanimous decision in 2018 to pass this assault weapons ban. Our people want it. And why shouldn't we be able to?

All that said, it's obvious that this needs to happen at a broader level because the city borders of Boulder, Colorado, are not that big. And so people can go buy assault weapons outside of the city. And so, yes, it has to happen at the state level.

So, I'll say this, that what Senator Fenberg is bringing forward is a necessary first step, but it's certainly not enough.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Mayor Weaver, for being with us this morning, and, again, our hearts are with all of you even though I know our words can do very little to ease your pain. Thank you for the time.

WEAVER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, members of the White House COVID-19 task force will speak live in just minutes with updates. You'll see that right here. This is as more local leaders loosen up restrictions and open up vaccine eligibility in several states.

We'll be right back.