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New Details Emerging on 10 Victims of Boulder Shooting; CDC: Watching "Very Closely" As Case Decline Stalls. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 11:00   ET


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

Less than 48 hours ago, less than 48 hours after a gunman opened fire inside a Colorado supermarket, we're learning more about the ten people who were killed. A memorial for the victims is growing outside the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder. Bouquets of flowers, handwritten cards and messages, people stopping and paying respects to those whose lives were taken too soon.

We know their names now. Here are some of their faces, and we're going to bring you their stories throughout the next two hours.


And while that city is mourning, the investigation into the shooting is just beginning to take shape, really, with authorities expected to release some more details a little later today. The suspect's motive is still unknown, but his brother says he suffered from mental illness and had become increasingly paranoid. I should and always want to note, simply suffering with mental illness does not make a person violent.

Police say the suspect who is charged with ten counts of first degree murder bought one of his weapons just six days before the attack. He's scheduled to make his first court appearance tomorrow.

We have reporters on both of these threads right now. CNN's Dan Simon is in Boulder.

Let's start with Stephanie Elam who has much more about the victims.

Stephanie, what are you learning today?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Kate, as much as we get information, we're going to share it with everyone here. Let's just start off by showing you the names and images we have so far of the people that lost their lives senselessly in this attack. Just looking at all their names together, and looking at the pictures that we now have of five of them.

And I want to just give you a little more information as we're learning it from the people that knew them best and loved them the most, starting with Rikki Olds. She was 25 years old, she was a manager at this grocery store, at this King Soopers in Boulder. Her uncle saying that she was strong, independent young woman and was energetic and charismatic and a shining light in this dark world. Her aunt saying she was bubbly, and you really just had no choice but to be happy around her. You couldn't be sad around Rikki Olds.

Also lost was Tralona Bartkowiak, she was 49 years old. She was previously from the Los Angeles area and helped to raise her cousin David who told one of our affiliates that she moved to Colorado about 12 years ago to run the family's clothing line business. He says she had just gotten engaged and was in a very happy place in her life.

Another one of the people that we know lost his life was the youngest of all of the victims, and that's Denny Stong. He was 20 years old, also worked at this King Soopers grocery store. His co-worker was with him at the time, Logan Smith. He said they were both big Second Amendment supporters. That they went shooting on the weekends. He says he will miss his smile, laugh and honesty and listen to what else he had to say about Denny.


LOGAN SMITH, FRIEND OF SHOTING VICTIM DENNY STRONG: I saw him run off. I ran in the other direction. That was the last time I saw him.

He was my best friend. He was a brother to me. I immediately had a ball drop in my gut. I knew that something was not right.


ELAM: And Erika Mahoney put out a tweet about her father Kevin. He was 61 years old and lived in Boulder, Colorado. This is what she wrote about her dad.

I'm 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'm now pregnant. I know he wants me to be strong for his granddaughter.

I love you forever, dad. You are always with me.

Another neighbor of Kevin Mahoney described him as an incredible father, incredible spouse and an incredible neighbor -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Stephanie, thank you for putting those together for us. I really do appreciate it.

So, we continue to follow their stories and bring their stories to light. At the same time, as we mentioned, the investigation continues. It's going to be a very long investigation, Dn. That's what the authorities have warned us about. What is the very latest?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the suspect, according to his brother, as you mentioned, showed signs of mental illness. Others say he was prone to having a temper. You take that, and combine that with the fact that he has easy access to weapons and you have a recipe for disaster.


SIMON (voice-over): This morning, authorities are investigating why a gunman opened fire at a Colorado supermarket and killed ten people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know if there's a shooter, an active shooter somewhere --

SIMON: Witnesses say they first heard shots around 2:30 p.m. local time Monday.

ANNA HAYNES, WITNESSED BOULDER SHOOTING FROM HER APARTMENT: We could see the entire front of the store from out our living room window. I initially heard maybe ten gunshots. I assumed it was a firework or a car engine failing. I saw a body in the middle of a parking lot.

BRIAN KRUESI, WITNESSED BOULDER SHOOTING: He was walking through the parking lot and just shooting towards the other doorway from where I was.

SIMON: Maggie Montoya was inside the King Soopers in Boulder, signing people up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

MAGGIE MONTOYA, BOULDER SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It sounded like he was right outside our door. We couldn't see him through the crack of the door. We could hear him so clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the building. This is the Boulder police department. The entire building is surrounded.

SIMON: Less than an hour after responding to calls of a shooter, place taking the 21-year-old suspect into custody.


According to an arrest warrant affidavit, authorities say the gunman started the shooting in the parking lot before moving inside where they reported him wearing a tactical vest, armed with two semi automatic weapons, a law enforcement source tells CNN one was purchased just six days earlier. The suspect is now behind bars and charged with ten counts of murder and one charge of attempted murder.

MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, BOULDER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It's an extensive investigation just getting under way into his background. He's lived most of his life in the United States. Beyond that, we're in the early stages of the investigation.

SIMON: At the White House, President Joe Biden calling for immediate action.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps.

SIMON: Back in Boulder, a memorial growing outside the grocery store as the community mourns the victims of Monday's massacre. One of them, Officer Eric Talley, whose police car now covered in flowers.

CHIEF MARIS HEROLD, BOULDER POLICE: He cared about this community, cared about his family, and he was willing to die to protect others.

SIMON: Local authorities pledging to find justice for the victims of yet another mass shooting in the United States.

DOUGHERTY: I promise you that all of us here will work tirelessly and also to make sure that the killer is held absolutely and fully accountable for what he did.


SIMON (on camera): Right there is a look at what things look like outside the grocery store. You see that chain linked fence, the growing makeshift memorial, people coming by to have a look, people hugging each other, just very somber outside the grocery store, Kate. Meantime, I can tell you that the suspect will have his first court appearance tomorrow.

Kate, we'll send it back to you.

BOLDUAN: Dan, thank you. Stephanie, thank you as well.

All right. Joining me right now for more on this, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's also former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Juliette, the investigators made clear this is a lengthy investigation. I think they said at least five days that they're going to be working at the scene. What are -- what is the process? Even take the investigation at the scene. What are the steps? Who is involved right now?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The basic step is a forensic investigation at this stage. What they're going to want to do in anticipation of a trial is to essentially create the tick tock of what happened that day, when did he arrive, who was shot where, what happened inside. That's going to take a lot of investigation. It's going to take physical evidence, but, of course, witness testimony.

Lots of people were there in the building. They were in the parking lot. So it's just essentially that sort of chronology that they have to create because when they then prosecute him and eventually there's a trial, you want to make sure it's factually accurate. Each of those individuals, as was so clear, is a mother, father, son, daughter. They deserve their day in court. And so, they want to make sure that they get it correct.

BOLDUAN: Does this move more slowly because you have someone who is alive, a suspect who is alive, a suspect who is charged, not -- you know, not dead -- not among the dead?

KAYYEM: Well, we don't know if he's speaking and what he's saying. So it may be eventually that he provides information about what happened that day, whether some triggering event, how he got the gun and, of course, the motivation, why he did that. His own sense of his motivation may be very -- you know, is not terribly relevant at this stage, and his brother and other family members talking about his mental state, as you made clear, lots of people with mental disabilities do not do this.

So it may be that the search for motivation comes up inconclusive. That happens a lot. Remember Las Vegas and other cases. They're not animated by race or politics. They're just crazy people that have access to weapons that kill people quickly. That's essentially what we saw.

No one survived who was shot in that building. There were no injuries, that's the most amazing thing. Everyone who was shot died.

BOLDUAN: What do investigators need from him now? What do you think?

KAYYEM: Well, if he is speaking, they will want to hear his accounting of what happened that day, his sense of why he did it. The brother keeps talking about he was both delusional, but also had a sense of victimization. That may go to the defense about whether he claims an insanity defense. And that will be relevant.

But it's important to note that the investigators will want an independent assessment, also, of what happened. You don't want to be completely dependent on the defendant. That's why it's going to take four or five, maybe even more days.

I heard someone earlier this week, I guess it was just two days ago say that even in the Aurora shooting, the theater, it took two weeks until it was no longer a crime scene. These things take time.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, they sure do.


I think that was the former police chief who said that, how long it took.

"The New York Times" is reporting that the suspect, he was known to the FBI because he was linked to another person who had been under investigation by the FBI.

"The New York Times" is reporting this. I'm curious what you make of it. It seems to be kind of a fact, maybe without context that I'm curious what you think.

KAYYEM: Right. So, then, right now, we're learning things and so, just -- this is what we can interpret from "The New York Times" reporting. Remember early on the police said there was no further threat to the community. They seemed pretty insistent on that, that he had acted alone.

Later on, though, we get information that the FBI has linked him to someone else. That may be because there was either a domestic investigation or a foreign investigation. We just don't know yet. Every motive is still out there. It's relevant, of course, especially if there's a conspiracy. We

talked about this with the Capitol attacks. You want to determine whether people planned something.

We have two different story lines. Maybe he was involved with someone who was under investigation. Maybe he acted alone, and there will be a determination, but I think what the FBI wants to do is make sure there was no conspiracy and that no one helped him in this.

And this is why, while I consistently say motivation is interesting, it may be helpful to understand what's going on and to prevent the next one, we also have to look at the impact of failing to prevent. And that is why certain weaponry that kills quickly and does not allow for response time -- remember, the police got in there relatively quickly. That we need to look at that weaponry as a way to minimize the impact when we fail to prevent these men from these mass shootings.

BOLDUAN: You know, on just on that point, the former police chief of Aurora, actually said the style of weapon, AR-15 style of weapon actually releases ten times more energy into the human body than a regular handgun. So it's no surprise to anyone why every single person that was shot by this gun, by this man, was killed and why there is basically no option for response time from authorities. It's instant.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. Treat it like any other homeland security issue, whether it's climate change or a pandemic. You want to stop the bad thing from happening. Everyone does. We understand why people move to violence.

But you don't stop there. You then protect communities by ensuring that you minimize the risk should the harm come to pass. This is why we build differently near seashores, why we stayed inside for many months, to protect ourselves.

This weaponry does not allow us to do that because it has one goal. People always say why is the AR-15 always used. Because it kills. I have a simple answer, because it kills.

They're choosing this gun not to harm people or injure them. It kills. And we saw that, we've seen that not just this week. We've seen it in the dozen mass shootings in the last couple years where the weapon was used.

So, I think rational people can see that and try to get reform at least based around weaponry that kills quickly and does not allow police, who allegedly we support in their efforts, to protect their communities.

BOLDUAN: And to do their jobs.

Juliette, thank you.

Coming up for us, staff shortages, burnout, post-traumatic distress symptoms, a new report spilling out the devastating impact the pandemic has had on U.S. hospitals and staff. And as the city of Boulder mourns, it's also left wondering why and how this could happen. Just as I was speaking out with Juliette, I'm going to speak to a state lawmaker who has another unique perspective on this who represents the community and says moments of silence are not enough.



BOLDUAN: We have brand new information out this morning showing the disturbing impact COVID is having on the nation's hospitals. The new report by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services says a year fighting the pandemic has left hospitals burned out, demoralized and frustrated. We also just heard from President Biden's COVID response team expressing concern about the status of cases, the stalling of the trajectory in the pandemic.

Listen to this.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I continue to be worried about the latest data and the apparent stall we are seeing in the trajectory of the pandemic. CDC is watching these numbers very closely. As I said on Monday, the decisions we make now will determine what the pandemic looks like in the days and weeks ahead. We have made such extraordinary progress in the last several weeks, and if we choose to invest in prevention right now, we will ultimately come out of this pandemic faster and with fewer lives lost.


BOLDUAN: Let me bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes for more on this.

Kristen, in this new HHS report on how the pandemic has impacted hospitals, the findings are pretty brutal.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, they certainly are. And HHS surveyed over 300 hospitals. It's meant to be a screenshot, a snapshot in time of what it looks like to cover a pandemic, to threat pandemic for a year, and it shows a health industry in crisis.

I mean, some of the findings here, pulling them up for you, staff struggling from burnout, trauma and in some cases PTSD. Administrators talking about all the death surrounding these frontline workers leading to higher-than-normal staff turnover rate or shortages which in some cases impacted the quality of care.


They also talked about rural hospitals struggling to stay afloat. Some of these are the only hospitals for miles that can actually treat patients. They talk about concern of future higher hospitalization because of decreased routine care. They mean there the actual screenings for diseases like cancer or diabetes or cardiac issues, people being too afraid to go into hospitals for those screenings and being diagnosed at those later stages. So, it is clear from this that the country needs to do better by these

frontline workers, they were simply not prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, that's for sure. Thanks so much, Kristen.

Joining me right now for more on this is Dr. Michael Mina, a assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

Thanks for coming back in, Dr. Mina.

So, we're still in the midst of this pandemic. You have this -- we're still in the midst of this pandemic and you have this report out from HHS as Kristen lays out really well, just how brutal the past year has been on the morale, the status -- the morale, the mental health of health care workers in hospitals. I mean, what steps are needed to improve this?

DR. MICHAEL MINA, DEPARTMENT OF IMMUNOLOGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, I think this is really reflecting that we weren't necessarily prepared. I think that getting these -- getting this information, getting people like Dr. Walensky discussing the morale of health care workers, the morale of the public is the first step to really be addressing this crisis right now, and it is certainly a crisis. It's one that wasn't necessarily front and center for most of the pandemic but certainly is coming to the fore right now.

BOLDUAN: And it's not over, is kind of one thing I'm thinking about. The pandemic is not over. Hospitals are still dealing with the same frustrations over getting access to PPE on a regular basis. I mean, this isn't yet done which is so troubling.

MINA: That's exactly right. The pandemic is certainly far from done.

Of course, we are seeing a lot of optimism with the vaccines. We heard a lot about that, but that needs to be tempered, at least momentarily with the reality that we're not done with this pandemic, or at least the pandemic certainly is not done with us, and we need to continue being prepared and we need to continue addressing these very, very important components that are not necessarily just the transmission of this virus, but the overall health of the population at large.

BOLDUAN: More and more states are opening up eligibility to get a vaccine, but at the very same time, the CDC is pleading and warning states to not relax restrictions yet. More and more states are also doing just that. They are relaxing the restrictions, state by state.

I mean, Indiana's governor just announced mask rules will no longer be mandatory in two weeks. Virginia is loosening its rules on gatherings.

What do you think is at stake with the CDC warning this and states across the country essentially saying never mind?

MINA: Well, certainly, if we open up too quickly, we're going to erode some of the benefits that we can feel from the vaccine. We're rolling out the vaccines at rapid pace, frankly, faster than most of us thought we were going to get to. So, that is a major, major positive move.

But if we open up too quickly, we do run the risk of igniting small outbreaks again, especially with some of the more transmissible variants. And those -- we're essentially swinging the pendulum. We'd rather go more middle of the road here, be more tempered in our opening strategies.

I would suggest the states continue to try to find middle ground. The CDC's recommendations are to not open too quickly. I certainly think we should heed that advice across the whole of the United States right now.

BOLDUAN: We've learned now that the CDC is beginning to tracking break-through infections, which is, you know, you're getting infected with COVID after you've gotten the vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci talked today about real life data actually showing the vaccines are largely effective against infection, including against the U.K. variant.

Is there any data -- are you hearing anything about what an infection looks like after being vaccinated looks like?

MINA: Yeah. So, we have to ask is it symptomatic disease or (AUDIO GAP) with a PCR test, for example. By and large we're finding most reinfections are (AUDIO GAP) this virus replicating without many symptoms.

That's actually a good thing. It can boost your -- I want to be careful with what I say. It can boost your immune system. This is a natural part of how the body learns.

But what is concerning is if people are actually getting sick after they've been vaccinated. We're seeing troubling news reports out of Brazil, for example, where we are seeing and hearing a lot about people with certain variants.


That's concerning.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it is, and something definitely to continue to watch.

Doctor, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.

Coming up for us, inaction is not enough. That's the message from a Colorado lawmaker who represents the community where Monday's shooting happened, and her personal fight for gun reform inspired by her own family.