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American Student Killed in Russia; 10 Dead, 151 Missing in Florida Building Collapse. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 28, 2021 - 15:00   ET



JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And, of course, a lot of folks in this region don't have air conditioning. And, as you mentioned, this heat does extend in the Northeast as well -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Jennifer Gray, thank you for the forecast.

It's the top of the hour. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Victor is off. Thank you for joining me.

Major developments in the catastrophic collapse of that condominium in Surfside, Florida. The death toll has risen. A short time ago, the mayor revealed that a 10th person has been found, the number of unaccounted for now 151 people.

The mayor is stressing that the mission has not changed even five days after this tragedy.


DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: I repeat, the search-and-rescue operation continues. As the governor and the congresswoman said and the lieutenant governor, there's going to be a thorough and full investigation of what led to this tragic event.

We are going to get to the bottom of what happened here. Right now, our top priority is search-and-rescue and find the people.


CAMEROTA: We are also learning new details about previous signs of trouble for this 12-story building.

A 2018 report by a structural engineer found major issues with waterproofing around the pool area and abundant cracking in concrete columns in the building's garage. Despite that report, a Surfside building official assured residents two days after he read that report that the building was -- quote -- "in very good shape."

Also, "The Miami Herald" reports a condo resident called her husband moments before the collapse and said the building was -- quote -- "shaking," and that she saw a sinkhole where the pool used to be. Then the line went dead. And that woman is now missing.

In addition to local officials, a federal team now on site for what could lead to a rare federal investigation.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is covering that development for us.

So, explain what their findings could lead to, Kristen.


So, we're talking about the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This is a relatively small agency that was given a huge power after 9/11 to investigate building collapse. And in their words, in order to get involved, it has to be a disaster or failure event that results in a substantial loss of life.

So what we know now is that there's a team of six people from this agency on the ground. That includes structural engineers, scientists, geoengineers, and they are looking at every aspect of this building. They have not launched a formal investigation yet. That is what this preliminary trip is.

And we are told they're looking at literally everything, the ground around the building. The history. That 2018 report will likely be part of this investigation. It is sprawling. And here's where it becomes incredibly significant.

If they do, in fact, launch a full investigation, which we are told by multiple experts they believe they will, this will be only the fifth time they have done so since 9/11. So, this is a very big deal here for the federal government to get involved. And we know this is coming at a time when we're hearing from more and more local and state officials, who want more federal oversight here. They want the federal government to be involved.

So it'll be interesting to see what their findings are. One official there says they hope to have an answer on whether or not they're going to launch this investigation within the next two weeks -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kristen Holmes, thank you very much.

So, last hour, one Florida father and mother told me about what they're facing in the search for their son and his girlfriend, Ilan Naibryf and Deborah Berezdivin are among the 151 people still missing.


CARLOS NAIBRYF, FATHER OF MISSING RESIDENT: He was a 21-year-old young adult, bright, love -- everywhere to go -- went made an impact.

RONIT FELSZER, MOTHER OF MISSING RESIDENT: He was going to Hawaii in a couple of weeks. And I was like, please don't do anything crazy.

And we always -- we're always trying to take care of our kids. And you know what? God has a different plan sometimes. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: CNN's Nick Valencia has been speaking with other family members of those missing.

Nick, what are they telling you?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we have talked about how frustrated families have been with this process.

We also wanted to show you their gratitude. It was just a short time ago that we captured this tender moment between a father who says his son was identified as one of the bodies pulled from the debris. He came across the street from the reunification center to just spontaneously hug one of the police officers with Miami-Dade to show just how grateful he was for the efforts being done by these first responders, who are -- at this point are just exhausted.

They are working round the clock to try to find any sign of life in that debris, though, as the hours tick by, that sign of getting good news is getting a little more and more grim.


Right now, we can tell you that some of the family members are currently at the site of the collapse. It's something that officials decided to do yesterday, continued with today. It's provided some solace and comfort for some of the family members, some of whom are now realizing that they may never receive the good news that they have been hoping for.

And one of those family members is Pablo Rodriguez, whose grandmother and mother are currently among the unaccounted. He wanted to share with you this message.


PABLO RODRIGUEZ, FAMILY MEMBER OF MISSING RESIDENTS: As the days tick on, it's harder to hold on to any little hope that we do have that we will be able to see them again alive.

It's been especially difficult this weekend because they would always come over on the weekend. We would always be together. So my son is still asking when we can call them. When are they coming over? When are we going to see them again? And we can't tell him yet that he's not going to be able to see them again.

So, we're just sitting by anxiously awaiting any news to be able to move on to the next steps. That's the only hope we really have right now regarding them. The only other hope that is starting to increase is that there are investigations going on. People are starting to get interested in the story.

The owners had complained many times about the board, about the finances, about the condition of the building. And for the board to have allowed the building to get into this condition of disrepair is unconscionable.

So we are hopeful that this doesn't go away and that the people that allowed this to happen are held responsible.


VALENCIA: And, as we were listening to Pablo, it was just now that two buses full of family and friends of the unaccounted arrived back at the reunification center on their way back from a site visit.

It is a very somber moment, as it starts to rain here. This, of course, one of the elements that's just adding an undue, an unwelcome amount of stress for those here still looking for signs of life on day five -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I can only imagine, Nick.

And it looks like there will be scattered thunderstorms in the forecast all week, which obviously will complicate everything.

Thank you for the reporting.

With us now is Dr. Benjamin Abo. He is a physician working with rescue teams at the crash site.

Doctor, thank you very much for taking the time to peel away for a few minutes to come to our camera and update us.

Can you just tell us what's happening with the search?

DR. BENJAMIN ABO, THE RESCUE COMPANY 1: So, right now, just like from the very beginning of things, we have been actively searching for signs of where people might be and any survivors.

We're trying to do things as safe as possible, so that we don't get hurt, our dogs don't get hurt. And also so that, if there is any survivors, so that they don't get further hurt.

It's a very tricky situation, similar to a complex game of, honestly, almost pick up sticks with multiple other hazards like weather and things going on.

CAMEROTA: I can only imagine how painstaking it is just going through every square inch. But do you, as a doctor, hold out hope that people have survived this?

ABO: For situations like this, as a trained EMS physician, an emergency physician, and urban search-and-rescue physician, I am cautiously optimistic.

I always have hope. Part of our job is to bring hope also to the community. But with all the sites that I have studied and everything going on, I do know that time is ticking, and all the different variables that go into the possibilities of somebody surviving change and are extremely dynamic. So I'm still hopeful. I pray, and I work hard, hoping that we're going

to get to more people. But, like I said, I'm cautiously optimistic as time goes on. And this is as a trained rescuer and also a member of the community.

CAMEROTA: I understand. I mean, you have to hold out hope as you're sifting through the rubble.

But is there some sort of survivability window that you're working with right now that the search teams are up against?

ABO: Yes, they're -- it's a really hard way to calculate.

In general, sometimes, depending on the type of situation, we're talking about hours. But we have been in situations where it's been days into it we have had survivors come out.

There's just honestly so many variables. We're talking more than 50 things. There's weather. There's what people were doing at the time. Were they sleeping. Were they in bed? Where they were in the building? What caused it?

There's just -- there's so much that goes into it. So we're consistently recalculating all of that, while continuing to do the job that we're trying to be here to do.


CAMEROTA: Family members are, of course, frustrated and are tortured by the waiting.

What do you say to those who think that it's not going fast enough?

ABO: I say that you have to have some trust.

I am very proud in our training. I have trust in my team. And it's not just us here to try and help.I also have people that I have missing still in this. Other firefighters and rescuers also have people missing in this. And we have faith in -- unfortunately, we have had the experience in having a lot of searches like this in different things coming down and storms.

And this is, quite honestly, unfortunately, what we do. We don't want it to happen to people. But, for when it does, like days like these, we're glad that we have the training so that we can be there to help people.

So, really, it's -- I understand that -- I really just want people to understand that it's not like the movies, where we quick kind of go and do things. We have to do things right and try, based on evidence- based medicine and experience-based medicine.

CAMEROTA: And, so, Doctor, I mean--

ABO: So, bear with us, and we're in it with you.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

And, Doctor, you're a local doctor. And so who do you have that you're looking for, I mean, who of your friends or loved ones?

ABO: Out of respect for everything going on and the stress of the family, I don't want to specifically give the names, but I do have three people, a combination of friends when I was in residency and people that I have worked with over the years since I moved down here to South Florida, that are with -- and that's beyond all of the second-, third-person connections.

Those are direct connections. To be honest, I have been concentrating on my team, my dogs, and the -- everybody around in the community. So I haven't looked into the other specifics of who -- what connections I have that I know that there's even more of. But I do know for a fact that there are three people that I knew personally directly that are unaccounted for.

CAMEROTA: Well, Doctor, I know that what you have been finding are some household items, some personal belongings. Can you share with us the kinds of things that you're finding?

ABO: Yes, so I got here very early on in the morning when things first happened.

And the first thing, actually, that I found was wedding photo. And you can tell. I mean, it was from a long time ago. And is it a survivor? Is it someone that was killed in this incident? Is it someone that already passed a long time ago and these are memories? I don't know.

But while we're doing our mission, and going through things carefully, we have all been setting certain things aside, certain toys and pictures, things that are safe for us to move, and some of which we have moved also over to a shrine that was set up, a memorial spot with some toys.

Some of the things in particular that really hit home for me are certain toys and stuffed animals, a Hess truck similar to what my grandfather, when he was alive, used to get me all the time growing up every year, menorahs, and things like that.

So, it's a very interesting glimpse into the lives of the people that are here or were here. And that's -- as we continue with things, hopefully, we get more survivors. But maybe these are things that are going to help bring closer and help us celebrate the lives of people, as opposed to mourning the deaths.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Benjamin Abo, we really appreciate all you're doing down there for the community.

And, yes, we're thinking of you and everyone there. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

ABO: I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Let's turn now to Mark Eiglarsh. His friend Jay Kleiman is among the missing.

Mark, great to see you. I'm sorry that your friend is missing. Tell us what updates you have gotten. Tell us about your friend.

MARK EIGLARSH, FRIEND OF MISSING RESIDENT: Well, we don't know if he's alive or not.

And I try to speak of him in the present tense, like he's still here. But I'm having challenges, being intellectually honest with myself, knowing that it's been so many days, and the chances are not very good.

So, this is very difficult, for me. Alisyn. I, candidly, didn't want to share and go on and discuss this. But he really is an extremely extraordinary human being and has meant a lot to me. We were childhood friends in Miami Beach. We grew up in Miami Beach.

And I'm about 15 miles from Champlain Towers and had friends there. We would hang out there. And it's affected all of us in an extraordinary way.


CAMEROTA: I can imagine.

And this was his childhood home, where he was -- I mean, this -- in the condo?



And what's interesting is, the backstory is extraordinary. He wasn't even supposed to be here in Miami. He lives in Puerto Rico. And he only came in because another one of our childhood friends, George Matz, passed away from COVID. So he was in town in Miami to attend George's funeral, George, who was only days away from getting vaccinated, and didn't make it.

So, he was in town for a funeral. And then he was staying with his mother and his older brother Frankie at their childhood condo, and they're all missing right now.

CAMEROTA: I -- the double tragedy of all of this.

We have heard from other people who were also connected to that funeral, who came into town for that funeral, and now obviously are still missing.

And so were you saying that -- I mean, Jay, you said, was your childhood friend, and I know that you have told our producers that you guys were like brothers to each other.

EIGLARSH: Well, I would say that ,when we were growing up, this was a guy who always had an extraordinary smile. I can't name -- if you said, well, who else was like him, he was very unique. That's why, again, I want to celebrate his existence and who he is, because he had that smile that no one else had. And he always had it, a huge heart, so compassionate.

We would play football together. I remember missing passes or not tackling properly, and he'd come over, maybe the first one to give you a high-five and say, don't worry about it. It's OK. It's just a game. It's OK.

So he taught me a lot. I told someone recently that he was spiritual before spirituality was cool. You know what I'm talking about? Like, just filled with love and happiness and joy and gratitude, before we learned that really was what life's about.

So he's quite special. And it's just -- it's a tragedy that he's even missing for this time period.


Well, Mark, we're thinking of you. And thank you for helping us know more about Jay. And we're certainly praying for Jay and his family. Obviously, we will stay in touch with you, Mark.

EIGLARSH: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: We will continue to follow the latest developments out of Florida. And we will take a look at what exactly investigators are trying to figure out as they try to get to the bottom of how this catastrophe could have happened.

But, first, an American student in Russia found dead after taking a ride with a stranger, her last text message saying -- quote -- "I hope I'm not being abducted."

Her mother and sister join us for an exclusive interview next.



CAMEROTA: Heartbreaking news for the family of an American being held in a Russian prison.

The Moscow city court has just denied Trevor Reed's appeal of his nine-year prison sentence. The former U.S. Marine was convicted and sentenced last year for allegedly assaulting two police officers. Reed says he's innocent.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia calling the appeals denial a -- quote -- "miscarriage of justice" and adding that Reed's case is of great importance to President Biden. We will stay on this case, obviously.

Meanwhile, a Mississippi mother is in a living nightmare right now. Her daughter's body was found a little more than a week ago in Russia; 34-year-old graduate student and former U.S. Marine Catherine Serou was studying in Russia near Moscow when she went missing on June 15.

A Russian man is now in custody and charged with her murder. On the day she disappeared, Catherine's mom, Beccy Serou, received a text from her daughter, saying -- quote -- "In a car with a stranger. I hope I'm not being abducted."

Beccy Serou is here with me now. Also with me is Catherine Serou's sister, Marie-Claire.

Ladies, we're grateful to have you. And we're so, so sorry for this horrible loss.

Marie-Claire, I want to start with you.

I was reading about Catherine. She was 34 years old, as we said, former Marine, tougher than most human beings. She served a tour in Afghanistan. And so, I mean, I just can't -- obviously, it is such a chilling message to imagine getting: "I'm in a car with a stranger. Hope I'm not being abducted."

So, just tell us what happened after your family got that message.

MARIE-CLAIRE SEROU, SISTER OF CATHERINE SEROU: We just were frantic to try to get her back.

And we spoke with the FBI and the State Department. And we ended up working extensively with the U.S. embassy in Moscow. And the Russian police and the university where she attended, the university and the police mounted a huge search effort to try to find her in the woods where her cell phone last pinged.


And I don't think that we thought that it could get any worse, until we found out that she was no longer with us and they had found her remains.


And, Marie-Claire, is it your belief that she got into a car with a stranger thinking it was her Uber?

M. SEROU: I really don't know.

And the Russian police have told us that they're going to debrief us in person. And I'm hesitant to say, to speculate, in case it gets in the way of their investigation. I hope that's OK.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

Beccy, look, as a mom, all of us can only imagine how chilling a text message that is. And I know you didn't get it in time. I mean, you were also thousands of miles away. But you didn't read it until 40 minutes after she had texted you.

And so how complicated is it now to be able to get Catherine back for a burial, to be able to go over there and to be able to collect her belongings? Just how -- I can -- between the language barrier and the distance, what's happening now?

BECCY SEROU, MOTHER OF CATHERINE SEROU: Right now, we're very lucky to have the investigative committee still in place, and they are still conducting their investigation.

And so we don't have a death certificate yet. And we won't have that until the investigation is complete. But I feel like everyone on the team, from the police, the investigators, the university staff, the host family, everyone is working for Catherine's best interests and to make sure that the murderer is convicted.

And so we don't want to rush their investigation.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I understand.

What have they told you about this suspect, Beccy?

B. SEROU: We don't know yet. And I have seen a lot on the media. But they said that they will tell us everything when we come and that they are interested in making sure that this isn't swept under the rug.

CAMEROTA: And, Beccy, I was just talking to your daughter about how tough Catherine sounds. I mean, as we said, she served a tour in Afghanistan. She was a Marine.

B. SEROU: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And we're looking at these pictures of her now.

Just tell us a little bit more about her and why she loved Russia, why that was her second home.

B. SEROU: She was both tough and gentle.

I never saw her become violent or angry at all. She had a very calm way of being. But she was trained in self-defense. And I just don't know how this happened to her. I'm just -- yes.

She came to want to go to Russia because she had finished her studies at U.C. Davis. She had earned an undergrad and design and a master's in art history. And her sister Marie-Claire had had the idea of maybe going to law school. And so she had studied for the LSAT and made a really high score.

But she ended up -- she could speak for herself. She's here.

She ended up becoming a software engineer instead. But Catherine thought: Oh, maybe I could go to law school after all.

So, she took the LSAT, and she made a pretty high score of 170. But she thought that the top schools might not take her as seriously because she didn't have an academic record of studying law. So, she said: I will go to Russia and get my master's in Russian law, and then I will be better positioned to be an immigration attorney when I come back and go to American law school.

And so she started studying Russian at night in Sacramento.

CAMEROTA: Marie-Claire, I know you all have set up a GoFundMe page because you need help. You need help being able to get to Russia and being able to collect her belongings.

Tell us what your family needs.