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Police Identify Victims, Ages Range from 30 to 65; Suspect Charged with 10 Counts of First-Degree Murder; Biden Urges Assault Weapons Ban, Closing Loopholes; Israeli Election Too Close to Call as Vote Count Continues; AstraZeneca Stands by U.S. Vaccine Trial Results; U.K. Reflects on Loss, One Year After First Lockdown. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, the city of Boulder mourns the ten lives lost in a shooting rampage at a Colorado supermarket as investigators work to piece together how the attack unfolded.

President Joe Biden demands stricter gun laws after two deadly mass shootings in the U.S. in less than a week.

And a CNN investigation uncovered the shocking brutality of police and soldiers in Belarus, our exclusive report this hour.

Thanks for joining us. Well across the United States emotions are raw from Monday's deadly shooting spree in Boulder, Colorado. Many are struggling to comprehend why a lone gunman opened fire at a supermarket killing ten people, including a police officer who was among the first on the scene.

The area near the market has become a makeshift memorial. People are leaving cards, flowers and other items to honor the victims. Those killed came from all walks of life ranging in age from 20 to 65. On Tuesday Boulder's police chief was emotional in identifying each victim.


MARIS HEROLD, BOULDER, COLORADO POLICE CHIEF: I'm going to read the names of the deceased. Denny Stong, 20-years-old: Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Officer Eric Talley, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65. Our hearts go out to all the victims killed during this senseless act of violence.


CHURCH: Police still don't know why the suspect, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa went on a shooting rampage. He is charged with ten counts of first degree murder and will appear in court on Thursday. More now from Kyung Lah.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire building is surrendered.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the officers first made their way in, they confronted the gunman, 21 year old Ahmad Alissa, the arrest warrant says he was walking to SWAT officers to surrender. He'd been shot in the leg. Removed a green tactical vest, all of his clothing except for shorts. The affidavit said he had two weapons, an aerosol rifle and a handgun. One of them purchased just six days before the shooting. The affidavit says the suspect did not answer questions, though he asked to speak to his mother.

MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, BOULDER COLORADO DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I know that there's an extensive investigation just getting underway into his background. He's lived most of his life in the United States. And beyond that we're still in the very early stages of the investigation.

LAH (voice over): The family emigrated from Syria in 2002. The gunman's brother says Alissa struggled with mental illness, growing increasingly paranoid. On his now removed Facebook account, Alissa wrote a year after graduating from high school, "I believe my old school was hacking my phone." A high school friend said Alissa was bullied in high school for being Muslim, something that he resented.

DAMIEN CRUS, SCHOOL FRIEND OF THE ALLEGED SHOOTER: People chose not to mess with him because of his temper. People chose not to really talk to him because of all how he acted and things like that. So yeah, he was very alone, I'd say. But when he was with you, he was approachable.

LAH (voice over): Alissa's brother says he never knew him to own guns. Law enforcement did recover additional weapons from the gunman's home.

DISPATCH: 136, we have multiple shots being fired at us.

LAH (voice over): Witnesses first heard shots in the parking lot around 2:30 in the afternoon. Anna Haynes lives across the street from King Soopers grocery store.

ANNA HAYNES, WITNESS: I also saw the gunman himself holding a semi- automatic rifle. He was on the handicap rail to the entrance of the store.

LAH (voice over): Newly released arrest documents say witnesses saw the suspect fatally shoot at least two people in the parking lot. A man in a vehicle and an elderly man.


Store employees say they watched through a window as a gunman walked up to the elderly man stood over him and shot him multiple additional times. DISPATCH: He's armed with a rifle, our officers shot back and returned fire. We do not know where he is in store.

LAH (voice over): The first officer to confront the gunman was killed, shot in the head. As the shooter continue to roam the store busy with shoppers and people waiting to be vaccinated in the store.

STEVEN MCCUE, GRANDCHILDREN WERE INSIDE STORE DURING SHOOTING: That's when at least one shooter came in and killed the woman at the front of the line in front of him. They ran upstairs to hide and hidden in coat closet standing up for 45 minutes.

LAH (voice over): As the gunman was led away, 10 lay dead at the store.


LAH (voice over): One by one, the Police Chief spelled out all the names of the 10 victims, including her own officer, Eric Talley.

HEROLD: This officer had seven children, ages five to 18. I just had that officer's whole family in my office two weeks ago to give him an award and so it is personal. This is my community.

LAH (voice-over): Kyung Lah, CNN, Boulder, Colorado.


CHURCH: And president Joe Biden is making an emotional appeal for new gun control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings in less than a week. But as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports he faces steep hurdles in a very partisan and divided Congress.


COLLINS (voice-over): After two mass shootings in less than a week, President Biden is calling for action.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a shooter, active shooter somewhere.

COLLINS: Biden said he was, quote, devastated after 10 people were killed in Colorado, and urged the Senate to pass legislation expanding and strengthening background checks.

BIDEN: The United States Senate -- I hope some are listening -- should immediately pass the two House-passed bills that close loopholes in the background check system.

COLLINS (voice-over): Then Biden went even further.

BIDEN: We should also ban assault weapons in the process.

COLLINS (voice-over): Despite the president's calls for action, Capitol Hill is already divided on how to respond.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Thoughts and prayers are not enough, and yet thoughts and prayers is all we have heard from my colleagues on the other side. Thoughts and prayers must lead to action.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The senator from Connecticut knows that it's false. 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.

COLLINS (voice-over): Former President Barack Obama also calling for stricter gun laws, saying it's, quote, time for leaders everywhere to listen to the American people when they say enough is enough, because this is a new normal, we can no longer afford.

President Biden now finds himself in a similar position to the one he was in 2012, when President Obama tapped him to lead the effort after 26 people, including 20 children, were killed in Sandy Hook.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's why I have asked the vice president to lead an effort that includes members of my Cabinet and outside organizations to come up with a set of concrete proposals.

COLLINS (voice-over): The concrete proposal turned into only a modest measure on expanded background checks, and never made it out of the Senate.

Aides would go on to say Biden had wanted to do more, including his longtime adviser Bruce Reed, who told Politico in 2015: Even before Newtown, the vice president had wanted the administration to push harder on the issue.

This time, aides say President Biden is considering executive orders, in addition to urging Congress to act, as families from Atlanta to Boulder grieve.

BIDEN: Those poor folks who died left behind families. It leaves a big hole in their hearts.

COLLINS: And while he was on the ground in Ohio, President Biden was asked whether or not he believes he has the political capital to actually get lawmakers to move on those gun reforms he was calling for at the White House. He crossed his fingers and told reporters he hopes so, but he has not started counting votes yet.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: Well, we are closely watching vote counting in Israel's election with nearly 90 percent of ballots now counted the result remains too close to call. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Tuesday's vote when he appeared before supporters, but the outcomes remains anything but clear. The pro-Netanyahu block of parties are below the threshold needed for a majority but that could change quickly. Journalist Elliott Gotkine is in Jerusalem. He joins us now live. Good to see you Elliott.


So the fourth election in two years with Benjamin Netanyahu's party ahead but the path to victory still uncertain. So what is the latest on all of this?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: You know, much is uncertain, Rosemary. Seems like deja vu all over again and you could almost play the tape from our conversation at the last elections because this is a similar situation. The one big change that we had in the last half hour or so is that with around 90 percent of the vote counted one of the Arab parties, know as Ra'am, which according to exit polls and according to early results until we got to about kind of 70 percent, 80 percent of the vote counted they were projected to not make it into the Knesset. Which meant that there were more seats to be divided among the pro- Netanyahu block and anti-Netanyahu block.

Now that changed when more votes came in and now as things stand -- and I should caveat that these aren't the final results -- as things stand Ra'am is projected to get into the Knesset with something like five seats. Which meant that the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocks lost seat. So the way things stand right now, is that the pro-Netanyahu block -- if you include the presumed king maker, Naftali Bennett, and his Yamina Party, the pro-Netanyahu block would come out with 59 seats out of 120 and the anti-Netanyahu block would come out with 57 out of 120 leaving them both shy of a majority.

Now there are other possibilities and permutations. It's unlikely that either of the two Arab parties that looks set to get into the Knesset would join either governing coalition because no Arab party has done so in the past. A confidence and supply arrangement whereby parties don't formally join the coalition but agree to support it on particular bits of legislation, that is a possibility. But of course, doesn't make for a particularly stable coalition.

But I should say as you have said as well, Rosemary, reiterate these aren't final results and there is half a million absentee ballots, so- called double-envelope ballots which in addition to including, you know, diplomats and soldiers and the like as in previous years, this year also includes people who voted in the drive through COVID polling booths, people in quarantine and people in nursing homes as well. And that could have a major impact on the vote as well. So we are watching these numbers closely, but important to bear in mind is that, you know, it ain't over until it's over.

CHURCH: Yes, still a long way to go and too close to call. Journalist Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem. Many thanks.

While coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM. AstraZeneca says it's new coronavirus vaccine shows promising results, but U.S. regulators say not so fast.

Plus some European countries are tightening restrictions to contain yet another wave of the coronavirus. A live report from Paris coming up. [04:15:00]


CHURCH: Three more U.S. states are about to offer coronavirus vaccines to anyone 16 years and older and more than a dozen states will do the same in the coming weeks. Now, this comes as AstraZeneca says it stands by its vaccine after U.S. regulators took the unusual step of publicly questioning the data. CNN's Nick Watt reports from Los Angeles.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One in four Americans have now had at least one vaccine dose.

DWAYNE STEWART, MILWAUKEE RESIDENT: It's been a horrible year. I will remember this year for the rest of my life.

WATT (voice over): But it's not over. The road to herd immunity long and winding. AstraZeneca celebrated results from its vaccine trials. Today pushing back and promising to share their primary analysis with the review board that raised concern the company may have used some outdated information in a press release.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY IS AN INFECTIOUS DISEASES: This is really what you call an unforced error because the fact is this is very likely a very good vaccine.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER ON COVID-19 RESPONSE: The public should rest assured that nothing will get approved unless the FDA does a thorough analysis of this data.

WATT (voice over): And with the three vaccines already authorized, the White House still confident of reaching its goal, enough doses for all by end of May, although Johnson & Johnson now has just eight days to meet its goal of 20 million doses delivered by end of March.

SLAVITT: The company reiterated publicly that they are on target. They have a big production week ahead.

WATT (voice over): Within hours of that statement, a source told CNN that J&J will only get about halfway to 20 million by month's end. Meantime, the average daily death toll in the U.S. just dropped below 1,000 for the first time in nearly five months. But the country's average new case count still stuck at over 50,000 a day.

FAUCI: That's not good. They should keep going down and down. When the plateau like that, there really is a danger of a resurgence.

WATT (voice over): And with time, tiredness and vaccines, our guard is slipping. Nearly half of Americans, according to one poll, went out to eat in the past week.

WATT: Some new vaccine numbers and they are good. The White House says they have 27 million doses to allocate this week. That is up significantly, just from last week. There will come a day when supply meets demand. Not yet, but it will come. A good sign, Texas starting Monday is going to open vaccine eligibility to every adult in the state.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CHURCH: Brazil's health ministry has confirmed more than 3,000 new deaths from COVID-19. That's a new daily record for the country and it pushes its death toll closer to 300,000. The second highest total in the world. Nationwide intensive care units are close to full in at least six states are running critically low on medical oxygen. In an effort to address the crisis the president is pledging to ramp up vaccine distribution saying this will be the year of vaccinations for Brazil.


Germany is reporting it has reached 75,000 deaths from COVID-19. It comes as Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a hard five-day lockdown during the Easter holiday to help battle a sharp rise in new COVID cases. She also says the variant first identified in the U.K. is making it more difficult for Germany to control the viruses spread.

And in France President Emmanuel Macron is making it his priority to speed up vaccinations as the country face has third COVID wave.

And for more on the situation in Europe let's bring in CNN's Melissa Bell in Paris. So, Melissa, the French president saying he will accelerate vaccinations, making it a national priority. How will they do that exactly and talk to us, too, about Germany's situation.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, right, keeping vaccination centers open over the weekend, Rosemary and denouncing that people who are over 70 until now had been people over 75 with no underlying conditions can go ahead and get themselves vaccinated. So lowering that age range of people who can go to those vaccinations and -- centers and begin to get a vaccine.

But it is a reminder really of how far behind where it should be France is. Less than 4 percent of its population has been fully vaccinated and once again, EU countries want to get 70 percent of their population vaccinated by the end of the summer. And so it's going to be a hard slog.

And this of course as you mentioned, each as in Germany, in Holland, in Norway, in France, we're seeing those worrying rises in terms of new cases, high entry numbers into ICUs, ICUs bursting at the seams. French doctors warning that if there are not a further advancing of restrictions we are -- and I quote -- headed toward a war here in France.

So a great deal of concern about the speed of that COVID-19 third wave and its variant driven spread throughout the European Union, even as the vaccination campaigns struggle on the ground. Now I mentioned those changes being made in France, but more broadly Europe wide there is the question of supplies.

We understand that later today we're going to be hearing from Brussels about a beefed up export ban mechanism which will allow the EU to keep even more doses of those vaccines produced in the EU in the EU. Something that's pretty controversial but I think speaks also, Rosemary, to Europe's desperate need to fix its supply problems in order to begin to counteract those rising COVID-19 figures.

The European Commission under a great deal of pressure here while other countries have managed to get their vaccination programs up and rolling and made progress, for instance, the United Kingdom which might even help keep that third wave in check, that is far from being the case in the EU. It is a controversial move to beef up that export ban but looks like one that the European Commission is determined to carry out.

What it's going to be looking at, Rosemary, is not just whether or not a country is exporting itself COVID-19 vaccine doses but also how fast its vaccination program is moves on compared to the EU. So the EU giving itself a lot more ability if this goes through, to keep vaccines in the European Union -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Paris correspondent Melissa Bell, many thanks.

Well, one year on since the first COVID lockdown many across the U.K. stopped to remember the thousands of lives lost, buildings and landmarks were lit up in yellow, a sign of hope and support for those who are grieving. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it's been a difficult and dark year, but the things are starting to get better.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Month after month our collective fight against coronavirus was like fighting in the dark against a callous and invisible enemy. Until science helped us to turn the lights on and to gain the upper hand. And cautiously but irreversibly, step by step, jab by jab, this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedoms.


CHURCH: And CNN's Scott McLean joins us live from London. So Scott, after a very bad start to this pandemic the U.K. has certainly turned a corner with the very successful rollout of its COVID vaccination program even though restrictions are still in place. Do bring us up to date on all of that.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Rosemary. So this government, the British government, has rightly gotten a lot of criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic despite the fact that we've been through three lockdowns, one of which we are still in right now. The U.K. has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls on earth. On the other hand as you mentioned, the vaccine rollout has gone what seems like lightning fast. 54 percent of the adult population has now gotten at least their first dose of the vaccine, the government's goal is to offer it to everybody over 50 in the next three weeks and all adults by the end of July.

It is a very different picture as you heard Melissa talking about in Europe, though. I want to show you a graphic that illustrates this stark difference.


The U.K. has vaccinated three times the share of its population compared to European giants like Germany, Italy, Spain and France. Now Europe is facing this third way and it simply does not have enough vaccine doses to actually do much about it. The EU -- as you heard Melissa talking about -- is threatening to block vaccine exports outside of the block.

But because of the way the vaccines are produced and because of the international interconnectedness of the supply chain a lot of people are saying that may cause more harm than good especially if there is retaliation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked yesterday whether he would consider retaliating against Europe if there is a blockade. Listen.


JOHNSON: We in this country don't believe in blockades of any kind of vaccines or vaccine material. Not something that this country would dream of engaging in and I'm encouraged by some of the things I've heard from the continent in the same sense.


MCLEAN: A little context here for you, Rosemary. It's pretty easy for the Prime Minister to make statements like that about being against blockades because the U.K. is actually at the moment is not exporting any finished vaccine doses. Their deal with AstraZeneca requires the company to fully fulfill its contract before shipping anything abroad.

CHURCH: All right. We'll continue watching this. Joining us live from London, Scott McLean. Many thanks.

And still to come tributes are pouring in for the victims who lost their lives in the Boulder mass shooting.

Plus a North Korean missile test would normally make a U.S. president sit up and take notice but hear why Joe Biden and the White House are playing the latest one down.