Monday, April 30, 2007
Illegal immigrant takes refuge in Chicago church
Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, has taken refuge at a Methodist church in Chicago since last August. For some of the people marching in tomorrow's immigration rallies, she has become a symbol of the complications involved in the debate over illegal immigration.
The legal issue is clear. Arellano is here illegally after first coming to the United States in 1997, and there are orders for her deportation. On the other than hand, she has a child who is an American citizen because he was born on American soil. What happens to him? Should his need for a mom affect what happens to Arellano?
With Arellano's story on the minds of many here in Chicago, I've been asking would-be marchers why they plan to demonstrate so publicly. The people we've interviewed so far say the answer is rooted in poverty.
They say they will march because they want to show Americans that there are hardworking, good people living in the shadows of their society. They say they will march because there is no alternative; the poverty is so bad where they are from that they are willing to take risk deportation in order to change immigration policy.
Many tell us that current policy is a contradiction. Arellano's son is 8 years old. If she leaves, he could stay behind in the United States and become a taxpayer-supported ward of the state. Yet his mother, even though she's here illegally, paid taxes, owns a home, and has paid for her son's upbringing. So deporting Arellano could actually wind up costing American taxpayers more money than letting her stay.
If you multiply that cost by the estimated 3-4 million parents and children in similar circumstances -- legal kids, illegal parents -- then you're talking about a large burden on taxpayers. How to deal with this situation is not necessarily straightforward and clear.
The people who are marching say they want an immigration policy that doesn't contain these kinds of contradictions. Arellano's argument is simpler: I'm a mother and I need to be with my son. Her son, meantime, has been traveling the country and lobbying for her to be allowed to stay.
-- By Soledad O'Brien, CNN Special Correspondent
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Oregon governor tries living on food stamps
Could you live on just $3.00 dollar a day for food? One dollar for breakfast, one dollar for lunch, one dollar for dinner. Well, the governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, tried to do so this past week. The goal was to raise awareness of hunger issues.
When the governor came into office four years ago, Oregon ranked last in the country for its hunger rate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, more people in that state than anywhere else in the country were having a hard time putting food on the table. Things have improved there, but Democrats such as Kulongoski are concerned about possible cuts to the food stamp program.
Cameras followed the governor as he shopped for groceries. All he had was $21.00 to spend on food for an entire week. That's the average amount of money allotted to a food stamp recipient. He had to say "no" to organic bananas and Swiss cheese. Too expensive on a paltry budget.
If the governor's goal was to get publicity, he certainly succeeded. The story made the front page of both local newspapers and various TV outlets covered it.
-- By Dan Simon, CNN Correspondent
Friday, April 27, 2007
Is economy becoming campaign issue?
For all the important and tough wrangling over Iraq, another issue has come creeping out of the woods: the economy.
The Commerce Department has issued a report saying the first quarter of the year showed the weakest economic growth in four years, led by the declining housing market. Couple that with the way gas prices continue to creep up, and this could have the makings of a political sleeper.
Remember, our most recent poll showed that only a slim majority of Americans think the economy is doing well anyway, and that poll was conducted before this news came out.
Obviously, some Democrats will lay the blame for the slowing economy at the door of the White House, and some Republicans will say the economy is still doing awfully well and point to numbers like the unemployment rate.
But what about you, the voters? How are you doing, financially? Amid all our concerns over Iraq, immmigration, and whatever else, do you think the economy could emerge as a dominant issue in this presidential race?
-- By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent
We regret the error....
We made a mistake last night in our piece about Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who infamously drowned her children and who then became the center of a very high-profile trial. Our piece last night was part of a number of pieces we did looking at questions that emerged following the Virginia Tech murder spree. In our story about the Yates case, we erroneously reported that forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz "lied" on the stand, leading to an appeal and a new trial for Yates.
While an Appeals Court later concluded Dr. Dietz gave "false testimony" during the trial, the court also noted that "the record did not show Dr. Dietz intentionally lied."
CNN and "360" regret the error.
-- By David Doss, "360" Executive Producer
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Mom's murder raises troubling questions
More on CNN TV: Bundy, Dahmer, Cho. No one knew they'd snap until it was too late. "360" investigates: "A Killer Among Us." Tonight at 10 p.m. ET and Friday night at 11 p.m. ET.
In 2005, William Bruce, now 25, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He had attempted suicide a couple of times, thrown his little brother down a flight of stairs, threatened to jump off the rooftop of the family's home in Caratunk, Maine, and pulled a gun on his father.
His parents had tried to get him hospital care after each horrible incident. But the treatment facilities could not keep him against his will. In Maine, unless the patient proves to be an imminent danger to himself or others the facility cannot involuntarily commit him.
In 2006, that happened after William attacked his father, who then called police. William was over 18 so he had the legal right to keep his case file private. His parents were completely cut off. The hospital wouldn't answer any of their questions. His father, Robert Bruce, told me "it was like dealing with the iron curtain."
When William was released last April, he left Riverview Psychiatric Hospital without any medication. His father says his son was never even given a prescription or any follow-up care. Riverview's superintendent would not discuss the Bruce case with us, but said, "Any time someone leaves a care environment and doesn't get connected to the next care environment, then we as a system failed to engage them in treatment."
Robert Bruce isn't sure why his son was released, other than the fact he requested to be released and had the legal right to do so as long as he didn't pose an imminent danger. Doctors determined he did not.
Three weeks after William was released, he chased his mother through the family's home with an axe. She tried to escape, but he cornered her and bludgeoned her to death.
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey of the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center believes a key reason William was released was money.
"The pressure is to discharge patients, to get them out of the hospital. And the reason is to save state money. As long as the individual is in the state hospital, the state is paying most of the cost. If you can transfer the patient, get them out of the hospital, if they then go into an outpatient setting, you're effectively shifting a lot of the cost to the federal government," he said.
All Robert Bruce knows is he lost his wife, and now he's lost his son. William Bruce was found "not criminally responsible" and was returned to Riverview Psychiatric for an "indefinite period of time" -- the same hospital that released him weeks before he murdered his mother.
Does the mental health system seem like it's broken to you?
-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Should military restrict religious symbols?
Sgt. Patrick Stewart fought for the United States in Afghanistan and died doing it, yet the U.S. government didn't grant him the same religious freedom he was fighting to uphold.
This member of the Nevada Air National Guard was shot down in his Chinook helicopter September 25, 2005. Ever since, his gravesite has been marked with a plain old rock and a few small American flags. His wife says that's because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs refused to recognize their religion and allow them to express their faith in a military cemetery.
The Stewarts practiced Wicca, a pre-Christian religion wrongly criticized as being associated with devil worship. Wiccans don't pray to God in the traditional sense. Instead, they believe in a "great oneness," and see themselves as part of the circle of nature.
Earlier this week, the VA announced that as part of a settlement of a lawsuit, it will allow 11 families to display the Wicca pentacle, a religious symbol whose five points represent earth, air, fire, water and spirit, at their gravesites. The pentacle will be provided by the military.
So why did it take 10 years to settle this dispute with these families? Sgt. Stewart's widow, Roberta Stewart, believes Wiccans are victims of religious discrimination.
"My husband is a military man. To deny him the rights he fought and died for breaks my heart," she told me.
The Pentagon estimates there are more than 1,800 Wiccans serving in the military. In the Air Force, there are nearly three times as many Wiccans as Muslims.
This case raises some interesting questions: Do you think it took too long for the military and the VA to agree to place the Wiccan pentacle on gravesites? Should service members and their families have complete control over which symbols are displayed on their gravesite? Or is it important for the VA to maintain some restrictions on religious symbols?
-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
'Stop Snitchin' takes hold in cities
If someone you loved was gunned down in front of you, would you tell police everything you saw? If you think the answer is obvious, you may be stunned by our lead story tonight, which looks at the power of two simple words: "Stop Snitchin."
This phrase is a catchy, hip-hop slogan that tells people not to talk with police. It preaches an unbending code of silence in poor communities -- and the message has taken root. In many inner-city neighborhoods, witnesses to crime aren't stepping forward, and murders are going unsolved. The driving force behind this troubling trend: rap and hip-hop music.
It's bizarre to think that a moral code can be so blatantly marketed, but "Stop Snitchin" appears in hip-hop videos and on t-shirts, Web sites and CD covers, and the people selling the message, including major recording labels, are making millions.
My report ran on "60 Minutes" this past weekend. You can see it again tonight on "360." We're building out on the story tonight, and one person we'll talk to is well-respected educator Geoffrey Canada, who makes a forceful case that African-Americans are undermining their own communities by permitting this music and attitude. We'll also talk to hip-hop producer Russell Simmons. It's a provocative subject and we hope you'll join us.
-- By Anderson Cooper
American convicted of murder in Nicaragua
(Click image to play video)
Video by CNN's Rick Sanchez and Brittany Harris
Monday, April 23, 2007
One week ago...
It happened one week ago. At this hour, last Monday, we had just learned how many people actually died in the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. We knew how many, but not their names. At this hour, families who lost loved ones could still cling to hope. It would take time to identify the bodies and reach their next of kin.
Since last Monday, we've learned much about the killer, Seung-Hui Cho, and his victims. But many questions remain, and tonight we'll try to answer some of them.
Classes resumed today at Virginia Tech. Can you imagine what that first class this morning must have been like for teachers and for students? Heading through the classroom door -- similar to the doors some students barricaded trying to prevent Cho from getting back in. Sitting in their chairs -- identical to the chairs students hid behind.
Not all of the students chose to return, of course, but we'll report on what the day was like for those who did. CNN's Gary Tuchman is going to check-in with one of Cho's former suitemates, Andy Koch. Gary interviewed him the day after the shootings and today Andy was back on campus, trying to be a student again. We'll also have the latest on the investigation and what police have learned from the autopsy reports.
Last Monday, I was in Afghanistan. We had planned a week or reports from Kabul, but after the shootings occurred I came back as fast as I could. Peter Bergen and Nic Robertson have filed some remarkable reports from Afghanistan, and we will put those on in the coming days and weeks.
Tonight, our story mix also includes a new report
that shows women earn significantly less than men earlier than anyone thought -- starting in the first year after college. The findings are provocative and CNN's Randi Kaye is working on a fact-check for tonight. We'll also talk to financial guru Suze Orman.
And CNN's Rick Sanchez has been investigating a murder mystery. It's the story of a young American man who was convicted of rape and murder in Nicaragua and sentenced to 30 years in prison, despite evidence that he was two hours away from the scene of the crime when the murder happened. It's a fascinating report. We'll see you at 10 p.m.
-- By Anderson Cooper
A memorial fund for victims
To get more information about the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which was set up by Virginia Tech, please visit the fund's Web site: Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund
Professor finds slain student's test on desk
Professor Mohammed Hajj says he knew going back inside Norris Hall would be emotional. "What we heard, what we saw, was pretty bad," says Hajj as he talks about being in his office when the gun shots started last Monday, and taking cover as the shooting continued a floor below.
Investigators say as many as 225 shots were fired inside Norris Hall. To the world, Norris Hall is the site of the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history -- a stone building with yellow police tape where terrified students jumped out of windows and where the lives of 30 innocent victims came to a tragic end.
For the Virginia Tech engineering science department, Norris Hall has been home for the past 70 years, a building where thousands of young minds have been educated and where professors like Hajj have spent much of their lives teaching and doing research.
"It means a lot to us," says Hajj.
For a few hours on Thursday, the Virginia state police allowed Hajj and other members of the engineering faculty a few minutes to retrieve materials inside Norris Hall. Each person that went in was escorted by both a member of the Virginia state police and a mental health professional. The second floor, where the killings took place, remained sealed off.
Professor Bill Smith has been at Virginia Tech for more than 50 years. He's retired, but still has a desk on the third floor. He came to retrieve some books. "The locks on all the doors are ripped off, but otherwise it looks the same," says Smith.
Three engineering professors were killed during the massacre: G.V. Loganathan, who professor Hajj describes as "every students' favorite professor;" Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who witnesses say died holding a door closed so his class could jump out of a window; and Kevin Granata, a husband and father of two young children who, according to staff, was considered one of the brightest members of the department.
"Some of the faculty members tell me they don't know if they'll ever be able to go back," says Ishwar Puri, who's head of the engineering science and mechanics department. Puri says most of the people that went back to Norris Hall "broke down."
Hajj says when he went back he was able to keep his composure, until he walked into his office and saw a stack of test papers on his desk. The exam on top had been taken by a graduate student by the name of Juan Ortiz, one of eight engineering students killed. Hajj says that's when he started to cry.
"Suddenly you're looking at the test and you see that he's not there to get his grade anymore, and for no reason," says Hajj.
What happens to Norris Hall is up in the air. A few have suggested it be torn down; others think that for the university to move on it should open up as soon as possible.
"I don't know what will happen," says Hajj. "But I would like to stay in Norris Hall. It means a lot."
--By Ted Rowlands, CNN Correspondent
Sunday, April 22, 2007
'Come together, grieve together'
There was not a cloud in the clear blue sky, as Virginia Tech students returned to campus on Sunday. Both parents and students were dressed in maroon and burnt orange as they made their way back to a place filled with heavy emotions.
There's always a fine line we as journalists must walk when covering stories like this. How do you approach a student or a parent who has gone through the unthinkable?
Cautious of their emotions but yet eager to do our job and tell their story, one must tread lightly. We found many of the people we spoke to were happy to discuss their feelings.
One tech student, engineering major Kristen Paterson, spoke to us right after she walked through the student-erected memorial on the drill field.
Paterson said memorials like this are necessary to heal.
"The overall feeling in the school has been great. It's really helpful when we all just come together and have memorials like this and our candlelight vigil. It really does help when we can come together and grieve together."
The sense of unity on this campus is overwhelming. It's hard for someone like myself who's experiencing it for the first time, not to be amazed by the sheer courage and camaraderie of these Virginia Tech students, who seem filled with Hokie pride.
-- By Brian Vitagliano, CNN Producer
Friday, April 20, 2007
CNNer/Tech grad struggles with emotion
More on CNN TV: Experts answer your calls and e-mails on this tragedy tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360," 10 p.m. ET.
I'm a journalist, and a 1996 Virginia Tech graduate. I'm also a native of the Blacksburg area. It's been a tough week for me -- the pang of emotion between being a journalist and a Tech grad. It's almost too hard to put into words.
I work for CNN's assignment desk in Atlanta. My daily assignment for the past year has included working with our affiliate TV stations in Virginia, including Roanoke, which covers Blacksburg.
I never would have dreamed that my work, and my small-town heritage, would come so full circle during the course of a week.
Those affiliate stations gave us our first gripping pictures from campus. Imagine helping bring in pictures to the world of such a tragedy -- video from the same campus I used to walk across.
Today, I'm working to cover the story in every way our network dictates, while I also think about my hometown and the people that I so identify with. Everyone is still grieving four days later.
Journalists are to be objective even in the face of stories that hit particularly close to home. I know colleagues have faced similar situations: New Orleans natives working Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. New York City natives during and after 9/11.
It is a challenge not allowing my emotion over the tragedy to affect my responsibilities here at CNN.
As I sit in our newsroom today and see so many colleagues from all over the world wearing Burnt Orange and Chicago Maroon (or colors kind of similar), I'm made aware that my alma mater's previously unknown fight song, unique mascot name, and large Corps of Cadets contingent aren't so misunderstood or unknown anymore.
We all learn things through life experience that impacts every facet of life. Let's go Hokies!
-- By Hank Bishop, CNN
Podcast: Behind the scenes at Virginia Tech
For an insider's look at how CNN covered the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, check out this behind the scenes podcast: All Access
'How do we go on from here?'
The tone among reporters and Virginia Tech representatives inside the Inn at Skelton Hall was markedly different Thursday afternoon. No longer were reporters attacking the speaker with a barrage of questions, shouting over one another to get answered first. Perhaps it was because they were tired, their tone much softer.
Perhaps it was empathy for the man responsible for our briefings: Larry Hincker, Virginia Tech associate vice president for university relations.
Hincker walked up to the podium. He leaned on his weary right hand as it shook and he spoke. Sometimes it was difficult to hear him even a few rows back. He addressed the media as friends, some now very familiar to him.
"How do we go on from here?" he asked quite literally in terms of how to logistically best go about relaying information to the news media from then on. The room fell into total silence.
It was clear we were taken aback by his sincere frankness and effort to work with us as much as he felt possible -- even despite his tired, beaten demeanor. Maybe 20 seconds passed until someone replied, "You're doing a good job."
The room broke out into applause.
For a few minutes inside the presser, we all reminded ourselves that though we are aggressive, we can and must appreciate one another -- mostly perhaps, because no one knows what might happen to them next.
-- By Michael Sefanov, CNN National Desk Assignment Editor
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Horse lover robbed of her Monday ride
At the far end of the Virginia Tech campus, some horses graze peacefully outside. A half dozen more are in their stalls in the neatly kept stables. A clipboard hangs in a far corner -- a few pages blowing in the breeze -- containing an eerie reminder of how Monday was supposed to play out here.
It is a riding schedule, and for Monday, under 3:30-4:30 p.m., there is the name Emily Hilscher, and a penciled in notation that she is to ride Ed, one of the thoroughbreds with a stall a few feet away.
Hilscher was gunned down at approximately 7:15 a.m. Monday, one of the first two victims, shot and killed near her dorm room across campus.
She was a popular member of the VT Equestrian Club, an animal sciences major who loved horses and loved to ride. The club's Web site now includes a moving tribute.
For me, it is that clipboard in the stables that provides a poignant, sad reminder of Monday's events -- how she must have been looking so forward to riding that day. A ride she was ruthlessly robbed of.
-- By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
Editor's note: Read about all 32 victims: In their honor
Plot hatched behind cinder block walls
A sealed door at the end of a narrow hall is where police believe the gruesome plot was hatched. It is 2121 Harper Hall, and an orange, fish-shaped name plate outside the door notes it was the campus home of Cho Seung-Hui.
CNN visited the suite Thursday afternoon, including a common area Cho shared with his five other suitemates. Its cinder block walls have those suitemates convinced at least part of his angry videotaped statement about the massacre was recorded in their dormitory area, while they were likely off at classes.
"The backdrop of the video looks exactly like our suite's white bricks," Karan Grewal told CNN in an interview outside Harper Hall.
Grewal said Cho could not have recorded the manifesto with anyone around because it is such a small space, but he said his loner suitemate often sat quietly while the others came and left.
"Maybe he just figured out our schedules," he said.
Grewal says he and the others were handcuffed and questioned when police served a search warrant Monday night hours after the shootings. He says they all gave up months ago even trying to make small talk with Cho, and that Cho would look down when walking around the suite or in the hallways to avoid eye contact with others.
"He never spoke," Grewal said. "I never saw him with anybody else. Ever. I just thought he was very lonely."
Grewal says police asked him if Cho had any disturbing posters or clothing, and that he said he did not believe so. The search warrant inventory indicates computers, notes, a digital camera and CDs were among the items seized as police search for clues as to whether Cho knew or contacted any of his victims, or any more information as to why he carried out the massacre.
-- By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
Strangers: We want Hokie gear
I was shopping in Target in Virginia when a nice man came up to me and randomly asked if I knew the colors for Virginia Tech. He and his wife were buying clothes for their daughter to wear to school tomorrow because her class was wearing Tech's colors in honor of those killed.
I helped them out, and the couple proudly bought burnt orange and Chicago maroon clothes for their daughter -- happy to help her mark the day for the fallen students and professors. It was another moving example of how this tragedy has touched so many people.
-- Elise Labott, CNN Producer
Korean-Americans' backlash fears lessen
Given that Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, was Korean, we decided to ask some Korean-Americans if they are worried about a potential anti-Korean backlash here in the United States.
We first tried reaching people in Fairfax County, Virginia, which is a half-hour drive from our bureau from Washington, D.C. This county has a large Korean community, but as we called restaurants and other Korean-owned establishments for interviews, no one wanted us to talk to their patrons. Too sensitive, they said. Our customers won't want to talk about it, they added. Many of them don't speak English, others said.
So through friends we got in touch with 36-year-old Christian Oh, a "budding" (as he puts it) filmmaker, IT contractor and president of an Asian-American film festival. Christian's next video project is on Asian identity. He tells us that when he first saw reports the Virginia Tech shooter was Korean he was worried about what he calls the "Asian-American male stereotype."
"That we're nerds, we're geeks, we're socially not skilled, you know, in terms of the whole social scene. We're also portrayed in movies and film as the kung fu, karate, chop saki guy, so I was, like, thinking 'Oh great! So there's another thing we can add to the Korean or Asian-American image.'"
Oh says Korean-Americans often are considered a "model minority": well-educated, hard-working, raised to be successful but not to stand in the limelight. That sounds positive, but Oh claims the media and the film industry often portray Asians negatively.
We join Oh at an organizing meeting for a film festival. The room was filled with well-dressed 20- and 30-something Asian-American professionals, including an attorney, a financial analyst and a software developer. They, too, initially worried about a backlash, but as more details of the Virginia Tech shooter's twisted psyche emerged, they began to lose some of that fear.
Annabel Park, a 39-year-old who works with a non-profit organization that helps the Korean-American community, said the shooter "really sounds almost like the stereotype of that sociopath who would go on this killing spree. It's almost like he's following this script and it's so non-Korean specific. I think that's one reason why eventually people will not see him as Korean, but just as a psychopath."
"Why should we feel any shame?" Benjamin Lee, a 29-year-old financial analyst, asked. "That's one thing I haven't been able to understand. Why should we as Korean Americans feel some sort of shame or feel that we need to perhaps feel as if he is one of our own? Yes, he was Korean-American, but this is a lone wolf."
"The only people who have been talking about backlash are really the Korean community," Haesung Han, a 28-year-old lawyer, tells us. "The Americans," she said, "From the media, they haven't been reporting anything about racial profiling."
And yet everyone in the room says early fears of a backlash brought back thoughts of the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Korean businesses were targeted. They said that made them and their families feel vulnerable.
Benjamin Lee said many Asian-Americans feel that the acts of the children are a reflection of the parents. "And for that reason, I can't imagine or even fathom the guilt that the parents must feel for this tragedy," he tells me.
Annabel Park said her organization is discussing whether it should set up a national hotline for people to call if they are harassed. She said they also have consulted with Arab-American groups that faced retaliation after the 9-11 attacks.
Their advice, she said: "Don't overreact. This is going to pass. Don't talk about it so much that it actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy."
-- Jill Dougherty, U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International
Student: I'll miss my 'brilliant' mentor
Christine Hermann, one of Granata's former students, shared a video of Granata teaching in Norris Hall in 2003.
I-Reporters continue to enhance and provide context to the Virginia Tech tragedy story. This video
, which was sent in by Christine Herrmann and Scott England, pays tribute to Kevin Granata, one of the top engineering researchers in the United States.
England writes: "That video shows Dr. Granata very true to life, teaching others and loving what he did. Several people have asked how I knew him, so I'll use the same simile I told them.
In graduate school, your advisor is like your father. They fund your education, introduce you to the field, correct you when you make mistakes, and show you how to be an outstanding academian. For the rest of your life your work reflects on their's and their work weighs on you. Dr. Granata was a brilliant and prolific, young researcher who's hard work and ambition enabled dozens of students to pursue graduate degrees, and Monday we all lost a father."
See more I-Report tributes to the victims here
-- By Tyson Wheatley, CNN.com Producer
Cho's former roommates react to manifesto
I've stayed in touch with John and Andy, Cho Seung-Hui's former roommate and suitemate, since CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman interview them on Tuesday. After the images of Cho were released yesterday, I contacted them to see what they thought.
John told me that he was pretty surprised. He told me that hearing his voice and seeing the photos were not the Cho that he knew last school year. He said that the rantings of Cho on the video are what struck him the most. They were eerily similar to what Cho had written on his desk and on the walls of their dorm room.
Andy told me late last night that he couldn't look at the pictures without getting angry. He told me that he was shaking when he saw them for the first time.
During Gary's initial interview on Tuesday, we found out that John and Andy are the ones that informed the university that Cho had suicidal tendencies. As Gary put it on "360" last night, they should be considered heroes.
-- By Kay Jones, CNN Producer
Short walk from post office to Norris Hall
The Main Street post office where Cho is believed to have mailed his package is small and dingy. There are no security cameras; just a small counter where people can fill in envelopes before heading to the window. An older postal clerk sorts letters early each morning, slipping them in rows of post office boxes.
Cho apparently arrived there half an hour after it opened, handing the clerk his envelope. The walk to Norris Hall is less than 15 minutes through the main gates and past the chapel.
-- By Deborah Feyerick, CNN Correspondent
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
'We are family'
People continued to flock to Virginia Tech's Drill Field today to write messages on makeshift memorials -- large boards set up on either side of 32 stones, one for each victim -- arranged in a semi-circle.
Students and visitors walked slowly along the boards, many of them crying as they read the messages.
Some of the messages:
-- "Reema - this is so hard to take in. You choreographed part of our last bellydance. I'm so glad I hugged you at our last practice ....
-- "Dr. Loganathan- I regret not telling you that you were the best teacher I have ever had. You were an inspiration. Your student, Shannon"
-- "Always remember the 4/16 32. -Billy"
-- "Concord University sents (sic) its blessings and prayers to all"
-- "We weren't friends but we were family. I didn't know you but we are family. We love you all because we are a family. We are Virginia Tech. We are family."
-- "Proud to have called you a friend, Stack. Love always, WAJ"
--By Brianna Keilar, CNN Correspondent
What does it mean? "Ismael Ax." Sources close to the investigation say those words were written on Cho's arm as he went on his murderous rampage. "A. Ishmael" also appears to be the name on the return address of that package sent to NBC.
Ishmael is, of course, a major character in Christianity, Judaism, and a founding figure in Islam. In his rambling videotape to NBC, Cho mentions religion and Jesus time and again, seeming to somehow blame his state in life, at least partially on religion.
As an English major he could have picked the name up elsewhere. In Moby Dick, that great tale of obsession, the narrator is Ishmael. A popular series of inspirational books feature a wise gorilla by that name.
What some criminologists say really matters is not what the name means but that Cho appears to have created some sort of alter-ego for himself. Like the fictional Travis Bickle in the movie "Taxi Driver," they say, mass killers often take grand steps to change themselves before they strike.
Roommates say Cho was lifting weights and got a very short haircut in the weeks just before the shootings. It now appears he may have been developing a new name as well. This metamorphosis, psychologists say, can be essential: the killer has to break utterly free of the real world, and his own, natural identity before he can act.
-- By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent
Collective Soul: It's not about the song
The rock band Collective Soul told CNN Wednesday that they were startled to learn that their song "Shine" was a favorite of Cho Sueng-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer.
His roommates said Cho listened to the song over and over, even inscribing the lyrics on the wall of their dormitory room.
"It is an enormous tragedy and we deeply regret the loss of life," the band members said in a statement given to CNN by band manager Jordan Feldstein.
"The issue is not about the song," he said. "It is about the innocent lives that were lost that we regret deeply, as do all Americans."
"Shine" was written by Ed Roland, the band's lead singer.
Some of the lyrics that the taciturn student pored over include:
"Teach me how to speak
Teach me how to share
Teach me where to go
Tell me will love be there (love be there)
Oh, heaven let your light shine down."
-- From CNN's Wynn Westmoreland
Scream that can't be shaken
Producer Kenya Friend and I are booked in rooms at the Inn at Virginia Tech next to several family members of one victim.
At about 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, we were awoken by a scream. It was the sound of a woman crying hysterically in the hallway outside our hotel rooms. This wasn't an ordinary cry. I've heard this type of cry before. She had lost someone, someone she loved. And it was a cry of torment, of a physical and emotional nature. We couldn't go back to sleep.
As I move through this day, that scream rings in my ears. Perhaps it's because I feel some guilt being so close to such tragedy, perhaps my guilt is some inexplicable shame that the shooter is Korean, as I am. But I can't stop hearing it, feeling that scream not just in my head, but also in my heart.
-- By Kyung Lah, CNN Newsource Correspondent
Hokies gear flying off shelves
"Hokies Headquarters," reads a huge, white banner that stretches across a clothing section in the Christiansburg, Virginia, Wal-Mart. Below it, one finds dozens of maroon and orange shirts, sweaters and pins.
A salesperson says Hokies merchandise has been in high demand this week, and another shipment is expected tonight. Even at 7 a.m., there are people thumbing through the racks and purchasing Hokies gear.
Walk down the streets in this area and it seems almost everyone is wearing Hokies apparel. It's somber on campus, without a doubt, but the sense of community is just as undeniable.
-- By Kristi Keck, CNN.com Writer
Victim grew up 2 minutes from Cho
We've come to Centreville in northern Virginia to see what clues we can find that might unlock the mystery of why 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui would turn killer, ruthlessly mowing down his fellow students and teachers in cold blood. I half expect to find something abnormal in his hometown but I am struck by its absolute normality.
At first glance, Centreville looks like a newly minted American suburb, with clusters of brick townhouses nestled in tree-lined cul-de-sacs and small shopping malls designed with faux-early American touches. Look closer and you see signs of the new American melting pot.
We stop at the Grand Mart, an Asian food store where the signs, some of the food and even the music is Korean. The place is huge and spotless. Koreans, Indians, Chinese -- they're all here. A well-dressed engineer, Rosemary Hsu, an immigrant from China, tells me there is pressure here on young people to succeed. It's not just the well-known striving of Asian families to get a good education for their children, she tells me, it's something any family here feels.
We drive to Westfield High School where Cho, a resident alien from South Korea, graduated in 2003. A school official emerges and lets us shoot pictures of the yearbook. On one page she blots out the faces of the other students with yellow "stick-it" notes, leaving the small photo of Cho looking completely unremarkable.
The yearbook is from 2002, she notes, when Cho was a junior. He never appeared in his senior book. No clubs, no activities. A loner.
As we finish shooting video of the yearbook, the police herd us across the highway away from the high school. The students are being let out for the day and they don't want us talking to them on school property. Several police cars are parked near the entrance.
As the kids swarm out the doors, they board a row of yellow school buses. We wave and call to them, hoping some might talk with us, maybe someone knew Cho or his family. A few look our way, but most climb aboard the buses and begin to drive away. From a distance, they look so vulnerable -- young people on their way home to parents who love them and now, perhaps, think more anxiously of whether they will come home safely.
We set off for Cho's home. It is a small but pleasantly bland townhouse painted beige. The FBI, state police and local police searched it Monday night. Cho's parents, Cho Sung-tae, 61, and his mother, Cho Hyang-ai, 51, both employees in a dry cleaning business, have left for an undisclosed location and the street is surrounded by TV live trucks and police cars.
A mail carrier who delivered mail to their house describes the parents as "super nice." Cho had a sister who graduated from Princeton University.
We get word that one of Cho's victims lived in Centreville, and as we drive to her house, we realize she lived just two minutes away by car. Reema Samaha, a student at Virginia Tech, was among those killed at Norris Hall. She was a talented dancer and her parents had watched her perform over the weekend. Now, friends gather outside their house, protectively huddling near the front door.
Another sad twist of fate: Samaha had graduated from the same high school as Cho.
In a Virginia state police photo, Cho stares straight ahead, peering through wire-rimmed glasses with dull, expressionless eyes. He reportedly rarely talked with people, even with his college roommates. His only expression of emotion came in macabre, violent plays he wrote for an English class. "Like something out of a nightmare," a fellow student called them.
Then something happened. Whatever was boiling inside Cho exploded with lethal fury. In the ultimate act of hatred, he destroyed even himself, leaving others to decipher the ultimate question: Why?
-- By Jill Dougherty, U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International
How do I tell my son?
Earlier this morning, my almost five-year-old son and I were waiting at a red light on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., on our way to pre-school and work when my son noticed something.
"Look, mommy," Demetri shouted, "That flag is falling!"
"Actually," I responded, "That man is lowering the flag."
"Why is he doing that?"
"Well, sometimes the president asks everyone to lower their flags to show we care when something very sad happens to someone."
"Oh," Demetri said, "The president must have heard that I fell down and hurt myself at soccer practice yesterday."
"That must be it, my darling," I said, quickly changing the subject.
We live in Virginia and have been consumed by the Virginia Tech tragedy since Monday. But I have managed to keep the TV and radio news off when my son and I are together. We watched "Dancing with the Stars" Monday night and switched channels during the commercials as reporters came on the air with updates on the tragedy.
Last night, we went to soccer practice and watched "The Incredibles." Of course, you can't control everything. And when you least expect it, the truth smacks you in the face. That's what happened this morning.
-- By Virginia Nicolaidis, CNN Producer
Remember our 'fallen Hokies'
State troopers stood outside Burruss Hall around 9 a.m. ET, staring at a wide expanse of grass in the center of Virginia Tech that is typically buzzing with students and professors rushing to class. But the university was quiet Wednesday.
Many students have left. Some others, determined not to let a madman change their life, remained.
Paul Travers, a 21-year-old senior, took his dog Spin out for a walk around campus. He paused to read four 5-feet wide sandwich boards that have been painted white and covered with students' messages to their "fallen Hokies."
"God has a plan & he gladly accepted his Hokie Angels into Heaven," one read.
Another: "This will be remembered as the darkest day of my life. Ryan, Reema, Emily, and the other 29 victims, you will be in my heart forever."
"It's eerie here now," said Travers. "You look at Norris and think about what happened there. It's still uncomprehensible."
-- By Ashley Fantz, CNN.com Producer/Writer
'Unfounded' threat provides scare at Tech campus
Virginia Tech junior Terryn Wingler and her mother and 9-year-old brother were walking across campus Wednesday when suddenly a number of police cars and officers swarmed toward Burruss Hall.
Wingler said that police officers shouted, "'Take cover! Get back!'" She said her brother Nathaniel ran across the street and took cover behind a tree.
"I thought, 'Wow! Something's happening right now,'" she said.
Wingler's parents, Randy and Marta Wingler, came down from Shell Lake, Wisconsin, after the Monday shootings, and she was retracing her steps from Monday as part of her healing process when today's scare happened.
"It's so unreal," she said minutes after Wednesday's scare. She related "how mad I'm getting that someone would trash our school like this."
Authorities said Wednesday's incident turned out to be an "unfounded" threat.
-- By Ashley Fantz, CNN.com Producer/Writer
South Korean: 'I am ashamed'
Here in Seoul, the reaction among South Koreans is shock and shame that the Virginia Tech killer came from this country. Local news programs and papers are filled with news on the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
One shipping company worker told us, "It's a tragic incident. But to find out that he is a Korean, I am ashamed and confused."
This South Korean added, "I keep asking myself what would have made him do such a thing. It's a very bad day."
A bank employee said she was surprised by the news and said it is the only thing people at her bank are talking about.
The story of the shootings is of great interest to South Koreans not just because of Cho
's connection to the country, but also because of the number of Koreans that have ties to the United States, including a large number that are studying in the United States.
The U.S. embassy in Seoul told me that more than 90,000 student visas were issued for South Koreans to go study in the United States, more than any other country in the world.
There's concern among some here that there could be a backlash against Koreans in the United States. We took a call at the bureau here from a parent with a child studying in New York who was very concerned that all the coverage would affect things.
She told us she was home with her friends, who like her have kids studying in the United States, and they are watching the TV coverage. Their children are worried that American students are looking at them differently now and "seems like they are avoiding them." She said she and her friends are also worried the news makes all Koreans look bad.
A newspaper here also reflected that concern.
"Now we find out that the criminal behind the massacre is Korean. It is shocking," said an editorial in Seoul's Hankyoreh
newspaper. "But we are also hoping that this incident does not create a reason to discriminate against Koreans or Asians."
-- By Adam Levine, CNN Producer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
News of death via IM
What happened on campus Monday is starting to sink in with students. It's also starting to sink in with me.
I was scrambling to get my story out this evening when I received an instant message from a student I previously interviewed. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
Student: (5:52:26 PM): hey, kristi
Student: (5:52:34 PM): do you know anything about ross alameddine?
Me: (5:56:08 PM): hey, no what's up?
Student (5:56:54 PM): I just found out he died
Student (5:57:07 PM): and he and I were really good friends
Me (5:58:12 PM): wow, i am so sorry -- how did you find out?
Student (5:58:23 PM): a friend of mine IMed me
Student (5:58:36 PM): and I found out on facebook when a reporter figured it out and asked me to tell him about ross
Student (6:00:43 PM): he was in the french class
Student (6:01:26 PM): we used to hang out all of the time
Student (6:02:03 PM): and I was thinking about seeing if he wanted to hang out this weekend
Online communication is something I do every day. I never imagined a conversation like this one.
-- By Kristi Keck, CNN.com Writer
Friend's message: 'Hokies 4 Life!'
(Click image to play video)
We walked into the heart of campus on college avenue, a place where Virginia Tech students can relax and have fun. But Tuesday, it seemed a place of nothing but sorrow. Inside a Hokie sportswear shop, we met Roya Tavalokian. Her eyes welled with tears as she approached the clerk to buy some Hokie t-shirts. Shortly before talking to us she received a call saying one of her closest girlfriends was killed.
-- By Ashley Fantz and Paul Chase, CNN.com
Killer's gun purchase was 'unremarkable'
The owner of Roanoke Firearms said Cho Seung-Hui bought a Glock pistol just over one month ago.
Cho Seung-Hui bought a Glock 19 9 mm pistol 36 days ago, paying $571 for it with a credit card in an "unremarkable" purchase, the owner of Roanoke Firearms said Tuesday.
John Markell, the store's owner, said Cho was very low-key when he purchased the gun and 50 rounds of ammunition.
Even though Cho is a resident alien, Markell said, it was legal for him to purchase a firearm and he presented three forms of identification: a driver's license, a checkbook with an address matching the driver's license, and an insurance card.
State police conducted an instant background check that probably took about a minute, the store owner said. Cho did not say why he wanted the gun, Markell said.
He said the transaction -- which was with one of his associates, not Markell himself -- was "probably the most unremarkable sale ever" and he was shocked when three ATF agents arrived at his store Monday with the receipt for the weapon.
The Glock 19 is one of his biggest sellers, Markell said. It's used mostly for competition and self-defense. Markell said he is shocked and saddened by the shooting at Virginia Tech.
-- From Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Some dorm residents surprised they heard nothing
As we stood outside Virginia Tech residence hall where two students were killed yesterday, we heard a wide range of stories.
Many of the students related where they were -- some in the shower, others asleep -- when the shooting took place. We didn't talk to anyone who heard the shots. Many were surprised they hadn't. We were told the sounds of laughter from an outside patio and a sand volleyball court often made their way inside. The students couldn't understand why didn't hear something as loud as gunshots in the dorm.
Another student told us she first learned there was a shooting in her building when someone instant messaged her and asked her if she was going to class. "Why not?" she responded, not knowing that two people just had been killed.
Other students told us of their memories of the victims.
Most people we interviewed knew Ryan Clark, one of the victims. Several students talked about his sense of humor and his work as a resident advisor -- an RA -- on the fourth floor. We met one freshman who remembered Clark helping her learn marching band drills. Clark played baritone and was a band officer. After we talked to her, she went to pick up her band uniform so she could wear it to the convocation service this afternoon.
Emily Hilscher was the other victim in the dorm. She was majoring in animal and poultry science. The people who knew her said she and her roommate lived just down the hall from Ryan. He was their RA.
Despite the killings, the dorm appeared far from empty. Many of the students who lived in the residence hall said they spent Monday night in their rooms. One student told us the trip home was too long to make. He wasn't bothered by being in the building. He said the evening was quiet, and most people stayed in.
-- By Aaron Cooper, CNN Producer
Unanswered calls to a slain friend
Phil Viana, a student at Northeastern University in Boston, said when he heard the news of the shooting at Virginia Tech, he and other friends immediately began trying to reach Tech student Ross Alameddine.
They "kept calling and calling Ross to see if he was OK," Viana told CNN, as he took a break from studying for midterms.
They never reached him.
Alameddine, 20, of Saugus, Massachusetts, was among those killed in the shootings that have shocked the nation.
Amy Mastrangelo, a 19-year-old student at Boston University, grew up in Saugus with Alameddine. They even carpooled to school together.
"There's no one else like him. That's what we've all been saying -- there's just no one else like him," she said.
She described him as a very gifted, intelligent individual.
Mastrangelo and Alameddine went to elementary school together at St. Mary of the Assumption and then went on to Austin Preparatory School. "He was a very unique individual," she said. "Very confident, self-assured, friendly with everyone."
Alameddine played multiple instruments, including the piano and was a member of the high school debate team, she said.
However, Mastrangelo said, he was best known for his dance skills.
"He was a gifted dancer ... at school dances, everyone would crowd around and watch him. He was very talkative, was very accommodating, very friendly."
--By Katy Byron, CNN Assignment Editor
Tragedy brings home war zone reality
Jim Gorman, 53, stood outside his modest home on the edge of the Virginia Tech campus Tuesday morning and took a moment to digest what had happened less than 24 hours earlier.
The part-time Virginia Tech security guard was off-duty Monday morning tending to other business at the student center when he saw several security personnel run past him with walkie-talkies.
"I assumed it had something to do with the bomb threats," he said.
Then he overheard students talking to their friends about the shooting.
"In a typical day in Baghdad, there are 30, 40 people killed and it's a blurb on the news," he said. "We had 30 people killed and the whole world is here. It kind of helps you relate to what's going on in a war zone -- if only a little."
-- By Ashley Fantz, CNN.com Producer
Some students anxious to get home
As students and parents waited to file in to Lane Stadium to watch the convocation on the Jumbotron, President Bush's motorcade drove by. Many students took pictures, but the quiet that initially greeted us as we arrived on campus yesterday, was still there.
As we waited together, two Virginia Tech sophomores (they didn't want to give their names) said they were anxious to get home to their families and were leaving as soon as the convocation was over. They both said they chose to come to Virginia Tech in part because it was considered a safe place to live. They said they're now going home to reevaluate that decision.
-- By Kay Jones, CNN Producer
Mourners wear school colors to ceremony
A few students who live in West Ambler Johnston Hall say they will no longer stay at the dorm. The first shooting took place yesterday on the dorm's 4th floor. Students left the dorm trailing suitcases and backpacks. One teenager left with friends, one of them carrying a pillow and a stuffed animal.
The dorm is across from the coliseum, the site of today's ceremony to honor the slain students. Thousands of people are lining up, most wearing school colors -- orange and maroon. Some have orange ribbons pinned over their hearts.
The line stretches all the way around the stadium, we're told. It is so long some students are giving up and leaving.
-- By Deborah Feyerick, CNN Correspondent
Cell phones of dead still rang
It was a tearful, lonely drive for Brian Horne.
The Christiansburg, Virginia, resident was called to the Virginia Tech campus Monday morning as a member of the local volunteer fire and rescue squad. Horne did not see the carnage; he was stationed at a command post on campus.
But as authorities began to comprehend the scope of the disaster, Horne volunteered to take care of a sober task. His family owns a funeral home about 10 miles from the campus, and Horne drove back to collect 36 body bags.
"We knew then there were at least 30 dead and possibly more," Horne told CNN in a brief interview outside the funeral home, where a giant American flag flies at half staff in honor of the victims.
Horne said he has responded to many tragic events in the past, but nothing anywhere comparable to the scope of the campus massacre. "It is difficult to comprehend, but at that moment I knew I could assist with what we needed to do," he said.
Horne would not speak on camera out of respect for the victims. He also said he did not want to overstate his role in the rescue operation, saying many friends had it much worse. He recounted their stories of helping collect and count the bodies, even as the victims' phones and PDAs rang and vibrated.
-- By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
Tech students mute sounds of gunfire on TV
A group of teary-eyed Virginia Tech students gathered in a room near where a news conference was being held on campus. They stared at the television with their arms interlaced. Each time they were approached for an interview about the shootings, they gave a frustrated "No." They told other students in the area to stop talking to reporters.
Another student beside me said they were waiting to hear about a friend, and no one wanted to talk to anybody. It was still Monday, just hours after the nation's deadliest shooting.
CNN started showing I-Report footage of the shooting. You could hear gunshots and a student say, "Whoa." The students I was sitting with didn't want to hear it. They didn't want to see it. They scrambled for the remote saying, "Can anyone mute this? Where's the volume?"
One girl's phone rang. She started crying and left.
The student beside me made a phone call.
"It doesn't look good," he said.
-- By Kristi Keck, CNN.com Writer
'Tremendous sense of shock'
As I talk to students, faculty, staff, and also a lot of alumni, there is a tremendous sense of shock that this could have happened to Virginia Tech.
I am sure that anyone would say that no matter where something like this happened, but it seems even more so here in Blacksburg. I graduated from VT almost a decade ago but still keep in contact with many friends and professors and I admit it, I still keep up with the news on campus as much as someone 10 years out of school and in D.C. can.
Alumni and students take great pride in and are fiercely loyal to their school (we have to spend the rest of our lives explaining what a Hokie is -- which can be done in a separate setting!) But Tech has always been such a relatively calm and quiet place.
There's usually some small controversy or talk of the campus/town, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing is that big of a deal. In recent days, there were of course the bomb threats that were serious stories but in general, the hot topics on campus have been:
- The men's basketball team had a stellar season, (a complete rarity) making it to the second round of March Madness
- The missing Hokie Bird statues throughout campus (artwork in the style of the party animals or pandas in D.C. or the cows in Chicago) which were apparently taken as a prank by students from another university
- "Girls Gone Wild" was scheduled to be in town this week to tape a segment, and there was a growing movement organizing a boycott. University officials were doing everything they could to discourage any student's participation.
Of course, none of that matters anymore, but I just say all that to reiterate that this was the last thing that students expected to happen on campus in this small college town.
From everyone on campus I've been talking to, I don't think the enormity of it all has really sunk in. There is definitely a profound sense of shock in absolutely everyone I've talked to that probably won't go away anytime soon.
-- By Becky Brittain, CNN Producer
Wal-Mart visit reveals the day's stories
It's 1 a.m. in Blacksburg. The farmland surrounding the school is pitch-black, and dozens of restless people, weary of endless hours of news coverage or hospital vigils are at Wal-Mart.
I'm here looking for socks, pj's and food (after living off the hard candy provided by Virginia Tech staff at their impromptu press center). But moving around the 24-hour superstore, I see the stories of the day.
Three workers from the Salvation Army are shopping for breakfast food for displaced students. Richard White of the Roanoke office is smiling in his Salvation Army uniform but his eyes are turning red.
Two young women are buying fruits and veggies for friends waiting at the hospital, which is just a few miles away.
A cashier tells me another young woman came in just 45 minutes earlier from a hospital, looking for a break from her vigil. The cashier says that while the girl was at Wal-Mart she got a call saying her friend had died. The officials from the hospital are asleep and I can't confirm the story. But the cashier and others working agreed the girl they saw was in pain. One has tears in his eyes, too.
A few aisles away, four 20-somethings are looking at racks of Virginia Tech jackets, hats and shirts. Only one is a student at the university but the two men and two women insist they had to do something, had to show some support for the school. They buy burgundy and orange shirts and pledge to wear them to their jobs Tuesday.
Dozens of people are here, but none of them look like they can sleep.
-- By Lisa Goddard, CNN Radio Correspondent
The worst kind of waiting
When I first arrived today at Virginia Tech, I was directed by campus staff through a large hallway off a ballroom at the Alumni Center. It had already become the worst kind of waiting room. This was where many students and parents were gathering -- pockets of people who hadn't heard from their friend or child since the shootings.
A group of engineering students was looking for some friends who might have been in Norris Hall during the second shooting. One was optimistic that he probably couldn't reach some of them because of how people scattered from the campus. Many were on their cell phones. I heard one say, "Yes, I'm trying to locate ..."
When I came back a couple hours later, the change in mood was palpable. I have never seen that look on a person's face before, let alone on so many faces.
Shock. The realization that today and every day after will be so, so different.
-- By Brianna Keilar, CNN Correspondent
Monday, April 16, 2007
Shaken by the shooting half a nation away
It's incidents like the Virginia Tech shooting that remind you how close to home -- and how far from home violence can hit. My son's best friend is a senior at Virginia Tech. My son is a senior at the University of Colorado.
He hadn't heard about the shooting until my wife phoned him at around 11:45 this morning. He dropped off the line almost instantly, frantically dialing his friend. There are 26,000 students at Virginia Tech, but you just never know.
He got through; his friend was alright. Shaken up like every other student on campus, but alive and well. Half a nation away, my son was as shaken as the students at Virginia Tech. In addition to his friend, he told his mother, he knows about 100 other students in Blacksburg. Many of them were friends from high school, flung far and wide across the nation -- now drawn together by fear and grief.
-- By John Roberts, CNN Anchor
Professor concerned about campus security
With my bag in one hand and a ticket in the other, I ran to catch the plane en route to Virginia Tech's campus. CNN Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and I were joining the throngs of reporters converging on Blacksburg, Virginia.
The plane was small and it seemed everyone was talking about the shootings at the university. A mother sitting next to me was talking on the phone to her daughter who has friends at Tech.
"This is so bizarre," she said. "Is everyone OK?"
The mother added: "Good. Honey, you take care. I love you and will talk with you when I land."
She hung up and took a deep breath. This mom teaches at a small women's college in Virginia and many of her students date people at Tech. She says it makes her worry about the security at her school. But she also said: Who would ever think this would happen at a college?
Tragically, we now know it can.
-- By Jen Pifer, CNN Producer
Tragedy caught on camera
This picture was taken from Tech student Jamal Albarghouti's cell phone.
Virginia Tech graduate student Jamal Albarghouti was on his way to see an adviser when police officers ran past him. The police told him to hit the ground. Albarghouti took cover, then took out his cell phone and captured some of the first images from the scene.
"When I saw the policemen taking their guns out, then I knew that this was serious," Albarghouti says. His dramatic video shows police closing in on Norris Hall. Gunfire can be heard in the background. Albarghouti quickly downloaded his video to his computer and sent it to CNN I-Report. (Watch Albarghouti's video of shots fired on campus
Within minutes, his video was aired on CNN.
-- By Tyson Wheatley, CNN Producer
Tech student: How did shooter get across campus?
At LaGuardia Airport, Virginia Tech freshman Megan Pendergast, 19, was on her cell phone trying to speak to friends on campus. She said she was scared and nervous and couldn't understand how someone so heavily armed could have walked from the first building to Norris Hall.
"He would have to walk past a dining area and dorms," she said.
Kidnapping threat grows in Afghanistan
An image from a videotape shows a French aid worker held hostage in Afghanistan wearing a headscarf.
Every time I come to Kabul, Afghanistan, there's an explosion. In September, a suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in downtown Kabul moments after I arrived at the airport. Yesterday, an IED exploded soon after I got to my hotel. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
When a blast occurs, we try to get to the scene as quickly as possible. We have to be careful, of course. In Iraq, there's often more than one attack at a time. A suicide bomber detonates a device, and then minutes later, after a crowd has gathered to help the wounded, another suicide attacker blows himself up. We haven't seen that in Afghanistan yet, but many here fear what is coming next. There's been a steady increase in IED attacks, suicide bombings, and now kidnappings.
Last month, the government of Hamid Karzai released several Taliban prisoners in exchange for a kidnapped Italian reporter. (So much for not negotiating with terrorists...) By all accounts, the Italian government put severe pressure on Karzai to make the deal. The Taliban know there are fractures in the NATO alliance, and kidnappings are a way to put stress on that alliance. In the case of the Italian journalist, the Taliban hoped to turn Italians against their government's involvement in Afghanistan and make the Karzai government look weak for giving in to their demands.
Many Westerners in Afghanistan now feel like they could be targeted by the Taliban. Some French aid workers were kidnapped recently and are still being held, and intelligence briefings we've received seem to indicate the risk of kidnapping is greater than it's ever been before.
When we were here in September, many American soldiers told us they felt forgotten. So much money and manpower has gone into Iraq, and yet in Afghanistan, there have not been enough troops to beat back the Taliban and there are even reports of shortages of equipment. In September, we were embedded with soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division. They have had their tours extended, and most military planners expect an increase in violence in the coming weeks as the weather warms.
Over the last several months, I've received a lot of letters from the parents of soldiers serving here, and I promised many of them we would not forget about what their sons and daughters are doing in Afghanistan. So we've returned here, in part, to bring attention to this often overlooked war.
We've also come to shine a light on the drug trade here. Afghanistan now accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's supply of heroin. Most of the heroin found on America's streets comes through Mexico, but just about everywhere else, Afghan heroin is dominant. Last year, there was a bumper crop, and this year, it is expected to be even bigger.
The poppies that are farmed here and turned into heroin bring billions of dollars to drug traffickers, and all that money leads to corruption. The corruption is corrosive -- its tentacles reach into all echelons of government, experts say, and the democracy of Afghanistan is under real threat from it.
As you can see, there's a lot for us to cover this week, so I'm pleased to be joined here by CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen and CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. I think you'll be surprised by what we've found so far. Peter interviewed a would-be suicide bomber two days ago, and Nic has filed a number of fascinating reports for us. We will focus on Afghanistan all week. I hope you watch.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Highway overpass is home for balloon magician
Organizations like ACORN are trying to address New Orleans' need for affordable housing.
Cafe DuMonde is an institution in New Orleans. Tourists from all over the world come to the outdoor restaurant to savor its famous beignets. And every day, provided it's not raining or extremely cold, you can see 62-year-old Larry Lawler delighting the young and the young at heart with his balloon magic.
Pretty much anything a kid wants from a balloon, Larry can pull off. And if you're happy with his craftwork, he's happy to take a buck or two in tips. And that's how he makes his living.
This money used to be enough to pay his and his wife's rent in an apartment or a residential hotel. But prices have gone up dramatically in post-Katrina New Orleans. At the hotel they were living in when Katrina hit, prices have gone from $35 per night to $75 per night. So Larry and his wife Teresa have taken pretty drastic measures to find shelter.
It would be shocking to many of the parents who watch in delight as their children get their balloons, but Larry and Teresa spend many nights now eating sardines out of a can and sleeping in a box under a highway overpass in downtown New Orleans. We know that because we found them there while interviewing homeless people this week in New Orleans. The Lawlers are part of an expanding newly homeless contingent in this city.
New Orleans has a far smaller population now than it did before Hurricane Katrina. Most estimates have it at less than half of what it was before August 29, 2005. But experts say the number of homeless in New Orleans has gone from around 6,000 before Katrina to 12,000 now. The reason for that, they say, is that housing prices have skyrocketed as a result of an extreme shortage of housing units and shelters.
We find the homeless under bridges. We find them squatting in abandoned flood-devastated homes and churches. One man we talked to says he had never been homeless until three months ago. He says his daughter is in the U.S. Air Force in Germany, and she has no idea her dad is living in the streets. He says he doesn't have the heart to tell her.
Housing advocates in New Orleans are aware that people love their city and don't want to leave. But they advise those who want to come back here to make sure they have a job lined up before they come, because lower income people could find themselves as part of the newly homeless too.
Our balloon man Larry says he still hopes that home prices will come down and his life will go back to the way it used to be. But for now, sleeping outside is the fallback method of choice for a couple you might meet the next time you visit New Orleans.
Newcomers who are changing New Orleans
Editor's note: Susan Roesgen is a CNN correspondent based in New Orleans. She has more than a decade of experience covering New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
I'm tired. This town is tired. Tired of waiting. Tired of the run around from the insurance guy, the FEMA guy, the Small Business Administration guy, pick your guy. We're too worn out to be fed up. It's like, whatever.
The people who keep track of things like worn out New Orleanians did a survey. They found that about half the people who've made it this far after the hurricane are seriously considering throwing in the towel. The big indignities -- like crime -- and the little indignities -- like the hole in the street that won't ever get fixed -- are just too much. We survived the hurricane because we said we'd never leave New Orleans, but honestly, other cities are starting to look pretty darn good.
Lucky for us, reinforcements have arrived. Bright, well-educated, and eager. We could hate them if we had the strength. Instead, we're glad to see their new ideas and new energy, and they say they're here to stay. Here are a few:
- Pastor Ray Cannata from New Jersey. He turned down a cushy job in San Diego to take over a Presbyterian church that was down to just 15 members after the storm. Ray's real world philosophy -- "God is messy; a Christian's job is to go where the pain is" -- and his real world work ethic -- the church has gutted more than two hundred houses -- is winning new converts. The congregation is at a hundred now, and growing.
- John Alford, whiz kid from New York. Harvard MBA grad. Where is he today? Trying to hire teachers to reopen a flooded New Orleans school. He fell in love with the city's jazz and food, but says the schools here are "a horror." His goal is to start with one fifth-grade class to help spur a new wave of smart kids in what's left of one of the shabbiest school districts in the nation.
- Sherrita Bishop. Criminology degree from the University of New Mexico. Did the tourist thing in New Orleans a month before the hurricane, then waited for the water to go down so she could come back and strap on a gun. She's one of the first 30 new police recruits since the storm. Why? "I don't know why," she says. "I just found a niche. I want to do what I can to help people."
Who are these misty-eyed idealists? Locals call them the new "vanguard." Tim Williamson, a New Orleans native, founded a company that matches investors to budding entrepreneurs. He says the newcomers will change the city.
"They believe that New Orleans is one of the greatest challenges in their lifetimes. How could they sit back and go to New York, Boston, Atlanta, when they have this grand opportunity in New Orleans?" he says.
Their "grand opportunity" may be the city's salvation.
Slow going in the Big Easy
It is a beautiful day in New Orleans. We managed to escape the driving rain and miserable weather of New York this morning and make it to a very sunny and warm Crescent City.
I'm not sure how many times I've been back here; I guess more than a dozen since Katrina.
Each time I return, I check-in with old friends, people I've interviewed in the past, our reporters who live here. The questions I ask are always the same: How's your family doing? How's your home? Your business? Is your neighborhood developing? Is your garbage getting picked up?
There is progress, but it's slow. There is determination, but it's sometimes hard to hold onto.
The crime rate continues to rise, especially homicides. Tonight, we're going to talk to the husband of a filmmaker who was gunned down in her home. Her death was one of several at the start of the year that led to massive protests. But the violence has not stopped.
We're also looking at New Orleans' housing crisis. It's hard to believe, but it's now more expensive to rent or own a home here than it was before the hurricane. People who had roofs over their heads are now homeless and struggling to make ends meet.
That's just the beginning. We'll have a lot more from New Orleans on "360."
We'll also explore more angles on the Don Imus story. We continue to get hundreds of e-mails on the controversy and just who should be held accountable. Many viewers say this has all gone too far, that it's time to move on. Others, of course, are still waiting to see what CBS decides to do.
And, in a provocative column in the Kansas City Star, Jason Whitlock said the problem isn't one radio host, it's the gangster culture which has become a dominating social force in some African-American communities. We'll talk to him about the portrayal of women and the glorification of destructive lifestyles in hip hop music.
It's all ahead. And in case you missed last night's show, check out our podcast (click here to get the podcast
). See you later.
Husband recounts wife's murder
Sometimes, if you're lucky, there are certain people you interview who stick with you. They leave such an impression that long after the lights are out and the camera and tripod put away, your thoughts still go back to that conversation. That happened to me this week.
I flew to Canada to interview Paul Gailiunas. His wife, Helen Hill, was murdered in New Orleans back in January in their home. Paul has relocated to Canada with the couple's only son, two-and-a-half year old Francis. I met Paul just a week after Helen died, but he wasn't ready to be interviewed about her death until this week. She's been gone just over two months.
We met at a hotel for the interview, and when he walked in, he hugged me. I think he needed a hug more than I did. He is still visibly shaken by his wife's death. His speech is halting. He's a tad forgetful. And his heart is clearly broken.
Helen and Paul had been married 11 years. They met at Harvard and moved to New Orleans in 1992. They both found it enchanting. Helen wanted to unite the community, so she held regular tea parties at their house and invited the neighbors. She worked as an animated filmmaker. Paul was a doctor who catered to the poor. They fed the homeless together and raised a pot-bellied pig. I've looked at many pictures of Helen and there isn't one where she doesn't have a smile on her face. Life was good.
Then 5:30 a.m., January 4, an intruder slipped into their home, it appears, through a back door. Paul had fallen asleep in his son's room, so Helen was alone in their bedroom.
"I woke to the sound of her voice struggling and screaming, "Don't! Get out! Don't hurt my child! Get away from my child! Get away from my baby!'" Paul told me.
Paul says Helen was struggling with a man by the front door. She yelled to him to call 911. He ran to the back of the house, carrying their young son in his arms, and tried to hide in the bathroom.
"Within a few seconds, a man walked toward me through the house. I saw him walk through the kitchen holding a gun toward me. He stopped about four feet or so away from me and there were about three gunshots," Paul said.
We saw the bullet holes at the house. They are still in the bathroom cabinets. The bullets grazed Paul's cheek and sliced right through his arm and his hand. Helen wasn't so lucky. A single shot to the neck killed her. By the time Paul was ready to try CPR it was too late. He says the attacker, who was never caught, disappeared in minutes without a word. The police investigation appears to be at a standstill.
Helen's death was the 12th murder in New Orleans that week and the sixth in a 24-hour period. That is the kind of violence they are dealing with here. So far this year, there have been at least 58 murders. In all of last year, there were 160. The police force is still down about 300 officers since the storm. Now the mayor is asking Congress for $34 million to help fight crime.
But survivors like Paul wonder what the answer is. He says you can't just pour money into a city and fix it. He says the issues of poverty and injustice and drugs need to be addressed to prevent people from kiling each other. He knows fixing New Orleans won't bring Helen back.
Paul and Helen evacuated from the city a couple days before Katrina hit. They were gone about a year, but returned to New Orleans to save it, to help rebuild it, but now someone else will have to do it. This family isn't going back.
Hot Links: Stories we're watching today
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Don Imus, Duke lacrosse: A common thread
We got a great response last night to our call-in segment on Don Imus. Tons of calls and thousands of emails. I wish we had been able to get to more of them.
We're working on two big stories for "360" tonight that have one thing in common: race.
The stories are the ongoing Don Imus controversy and the Duke University rape case. There were major developments on both fronts today. Tonight, we'll deal with the important issues these stories raise, such as accountability, double standards, free speech and punishment.
Two questions for you: Do you think Imus should be fired? Do you think there was a rush to judgment against the lacrosse players?
On a much lighter note, we have some pretty cool news about our foray into podcasts. We launched the first one yesterday. I know it's early, but according to iTunes, we were the 9th most downloaded podcast and the only news program to make it in the top 10.
If you haven't watched it, please check it out. (click here to get the podcast
) It's definitely still a work in progress. We'll continue to try to build on it, make it better, stronger, smarter. I'm beginning to sound like the opening of the "Six Million Dollar Man" so I'll shut up.
Anyway, thanks and we'll see you tonight.
One man's name cleared; another waits
James Giles spent 10 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. This week, he became the 13th man in Dallas County, Texas, to be exonerated by DNA testing since 2001.
Not too long ago, CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman and I went down to Dallas to meet the 12th man: James Waller.
It took a jury just 46 minutes to convict Waller of raping a 12-year-old boy in 1982. He spent more than a decade in prison. After making parole, Waller was forced to register as a sex offender.
In an effort to clear his name, Waller contacted The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic. The organization used DNA testing to prove Waller could not have committed the crime.
On January 17, James Waller stood in court and heard the Dallas County District Attorney and a judge acknowledge his innocence and apologize for the years the justice system had taken from him.
The next step for Waller was to completely clear his name. That took a pardon by the governor. It finally happened one month ago, after a seven week wait.
During those seven weeks, many observers questioned why Texas Governor Rick Perry didn't act sooner. We'll be watching to see how long it takes the governor to officially clear James Giles' name.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
We're taking calls tonight on Don Imus
Was the two week suspension enough? Should Don Imus have been fired? Or is he getting a raw deal? We're taking your calls tonight at this number -- 877-648-3639 -- after 10 p.m. ET. Let us know what you think.
The Anderson Cooper 360 Daily Podcast has just launched. Subscribe to the podcast for free and get daily downloads. Check out the following page for more info on the podcast:
Monday, April 09, 2007
Was an innocent man executed in Texas?
Cameron Todd Willingham was just 23 when he was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three little girls - 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins, Kameron and Karmon.
Willingham told police he tried to save his girls, who all died in the 1991 fire at the family's Corsicana, Texas home, but fire investigators say clues at the scene told them he'd actually set the fire. He was convicted of arson homicide.
But today, some leading fire investigators around the country say the old method of determining whether or not a fire was arson is outdated and unreliable. Pour patterns on the floor are no longer considered proof an accelerant was used, they say. There is a newly understood phenomenon called "flashover" that can cause such patterns without an accelerant ever being introduced.
These investigators say for years arson determinations have been based more on folklore, than fact. Hunches handed down for generations.
So is it possible fire investigators in the Willingham case, who believe they found pour patterns on the floor and three points of origin for the fire, got it wrong in the Willingham case? That would mean on February 17, 2004, the state of Texas may have executed an innocent man.
Fire investigator and forensic scientist John Lentini studied the Willingham case and determined it was not arson that killed those little girls. He calls the original investigation B.S. - Bad Science.
Lentini told me, ''There's maybe 75,000 suspicious fires a year. That's 75,000 chances to get it wrong.'' We met Lentini at a Maryland lab so he could show us why he believes the relatively new arson science debunks the myths he says have been handed down for years. I was amazed at what I saw. I don't know if you've ever seen the show "Myth Busters" on the Discovery Channel, but I felt like I was in the middle of a "Myth Busters" episode.
One so-called "indicator" for those who originally investigated the Willingham case is something called "crazed glass." For years, crazed glass -- which has webbing or tiny cracks inside it -- was believed to be a sure sign of a very hot fire, one that likely involved an accelerant. But Lentini and the others showed us how "crazed glass" is actually caused by rapid cooling, not rapid heating. We sprayed a piece of hot glass with water, the same way a fireman would spray a window with his hose, and that is when the glass began to crack inside. It didn't crack at all when we heated it up.
The man who prosecuted Willingham calls the new findings "silly" and says he has no doubt Willingham was guilty, based on fire evidence and Willingham's history of drinking and domestic abuse. The original fire investigators also stand by their findings. The Texas Governor's office would not comment for this report.
These new forensics are now used as the gold standard of arson investigation around the world. It may have come too late in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (the governor of Texas reviewed the new findings just 15 minutes before Willingham's execution and chose to go ahead with it) but they could save hundreds of others behind bars for arson who claim they're innocent. Problem is, the International Association of Arson Investigators, doesn't see a need to reopen or revisit all of the arson convictions on the books.
If that was your loved one behind bars, wouldn't you want the new ways of looking at evidence heard?
Friday, April 06, 2007
The Shot: Boy falls through ice as friends watch
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Thursday, April 05, 2007
On the toxic pet food story....
Our correspondent Joe Johns and his team are breaking some news on the pet food scandal:
Most of us had been assuming that somewhere along the supply-chain the wheat gluten that goes into pet food was accidentally contaminated by the chemical melamine. Testing is still underway, but toxicologists suspect that the crystals containing melamine and found in animals' kidneys is making them ill or killing them.
The phrase to focus on here is "accidentally contaminated." The FDA now tells us it's investigating whether or not the contamination was intentional -- and profit-motivated.
The FDA says it's possible that melamine can be used to raise protein levels in wheat gluten. Higher protein levels make the wheat gluten more valuable. So, based on his conversation with the FDA, here's what Joe is looking at tonight: Was this all about money?
All the companies -- including the Chinese company that the FDA says distributed the tainted gluten, the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Development Co. -- have denied adding melamine to the wheat gluten in the pet food.
Here's another thing:
The FDA has now received more than 12,000 complaints about contaminated pet food. That's more than the total number of complaints the FDA had received over the past two years.
When sex and salvation collide
We live in such a sex-saturated culture. Everywhere you look, flesh is on display: on TV, at the movies, in the pages of glossy celebrity magazines, even on your ipod. It leaves each of us with so many tough moral questions: When is the right time in life to have sex? How do I battle lust? What if I'm gay? What if I'm gay and my parents wish I weren't? What, finally, should I teach my kids?
Millions of Christians turn to the Bible to light the way down this thorny path. But the ancient lessons can be interpreted in so many different ways that it's hard to find agreement, even among Christians. The complicated moral issues cut to the heart of who we are as individuals and as a society. So it stands to reason that the deeply personal relationship of sex and religion has become highly political in our country.
Tonight, we explore those challenges in "What is a Christian: Sex and Salvation." Has the church become the sex police? Or is sex a beautiful part of a Christian's walk with the Lord?
We gave correspondent Joe Johns a tough assignment: head down to Florida during spring break. But here's the catch: amid all the horny, drunk college kids, Joe found hundreds of devout young evangelical Christians preaching the gospel of abstinence. Their motto: True Love Waits.
Other stories deal with more painful conflicts within Christianity: Gary Tuchman explores a controversial therapy that claims to turn gay people straight; David Mattingly covers Christian efforts to battle crippling addictions to pornography.
Tonight, at 10 p.m., we'll explore sex and salvation. And we want to know what you think. Do you lean on your faith to resolve sexual dilemmas? Do ancient biblical pronouncements still resonate in our fast-moving modern world?
Videoblog: Spring break abstinence brigades
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Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Faith, science: An 'evolving' relationship
On Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate the greatest miracle in their faith: the Easter morning resurrection of Jesus Christ. For millions, this season is a period of reflection, an opportunity to ponder life's big mysteries and examine today's chaotic culture through a spiritual lens.
Last December, thinking about Christmas and the holy season, we wondered: with so many Christians believing in so many different and often conflicting ways, what, precisely, is a Christian? Tonight, and in specials the rest of this week, we continue to explore this question, shining a spotlight on two of the biggest issues that intersect with faith: science and sex. Tonight's show is called "What is a Christian: God, Faith and Hard Science."
Religion and science have clashed forever, but in America, the biggest showdown came in 1925, when evolution and creationism did battle in the Scopes Monkey Trial, and evolution won. Now, nearly a hundred years later, the scientific community is convinced human beings evolved from a common ancestor over millions of years. But guess what? The rest of the public isn't on board. In fact, polls show nearly half of us believe we were created by God, just as we are.
This battle is hardly over.
Coming in a few weeks, on Memorial Day, a $27 million dollar Creation Museum will open, just outside of Cincinnati. Correspondent Tom Foreman and I were given a tour through the museum's re-creation of the Garden of Eden, where we were suprised to find dinosaurs living right alongside human beings. The museum's founder, Ken Ham, uses theological and scientific evidence to argue that that's the way things really were when time began and God created the earth, the heavens and everything in them.
And I guess that's a big change since the Scopes days. More and more, Christians are using scientific reasoning to bolster their faith, from creationists like Ken Ham to world famous scientists like Dr. Francis Collins, who directs the Human Genome Project, supports evolution and calls himself a born again evangelical Christian.
On the flip side, science is increasingly putting faith under the microscope, seeking out real life explanations for biblical miracles, looking to prove that prayer doesn't actually heal the sick, and that a weird weather event could have parted the Red Sea.
Tonight, at 10 p.m. ET, we'll explore the relationship between faith and science, a relationship that continues to, well, evolve. Where do you stand? Does science ever make you question what you believe? Or does it actually make you stronger in your faith?
Videoblog: New museum supports biblical creationism
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How a scientist can believe in God
Editor's note: Dr. Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. His most recent book is "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief." He will appear on tonight's "360" special: "What is a Christian?"
ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.
As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.
I did not always embrace these perspectives. As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.
(Click here to read the rest of Collins' piece
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
The Shot: Officer shoves skateborder
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Monday, April 02, 2007
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