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Missing Girl; The Price of Bankruptcy; A Special Bond

Aired April 14, 2005 - 05:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, welcome to the second half-hour of DAYBREAK. From the Time Warner Center in New York, I'm Carol Costello, along with Chad Myers.
"Now in the News."

In Florida, police have questioned a convicted sex offender in the disappearance of 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde. She's been missing now since Sunday. The man was jailed on another matter.

An American hostage in Iraq is identified as prominent Indiana businessman Jeffrey Ake. Al Jazeera television showed video of Ache pleading for his life surrounded by armed, masked militants.

Nearly simultaneous suicide car bombs in southern Baghdad today leave 11 people dead and 37 more wounded. Those attacks targeted an Iraqi police convoy.

And at the Kennedy Space Center, just about 30 minutes from now, workers will begin filling up the shuttle Discovery's fuel tanks with half a million gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. NASA is testing the tank's redesign, ordered after the Columbia shuttle disaster two years ago. We'll see if it takes off -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What's that plan? It's planned like somewhere around my birthday, isn't it, like somewhere in the middle of May?

COSTELLO: They've had a few problems with it.


COSTELLO: But they've got those ironed out, we hope.

MYERS: Good enough.

Hey, good morning.


Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: We like the sound of that. Thank you -- Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Less than 100 miles from the spot of the Jessica Lunsford tragedy, another small Florida community is dealing with the disappearance of a young girl. And, once again, a convicted sex offender has drawn the interest of police. But there may be much more to this story.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has more from Ruskin, Florida.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As a small Florida rural community pitches in to help find 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of happy we haven't found anything. Finding nothing is good.

CANDIOTTI: There's a running theme from those who know the 13- year-old.

DORIS FONTANA, FRIEND'S MOTHER: For her to just run away and not call and not show up is totally out of character.

CANDIOTTI: Last summer, Sarah Lunde did run away, but stayed at her minister's house.

SHERRY COOK, MINISTER'S WIFE: She was just teenage turmoil. There was some problems in her home, but hopefully they had gotten beyond that.

CANDIOTTI: Sarah is from a broken home. At age 9, while in foster care, authorities ordered her hospitalized to protect her from possibly hurting herself. Her divorced parents have both had trouble with the law, Sarah's father for domestic violence.

Friends say the young teen was sometimes unhappy at home, but was active at church and had a ball over the weekend at a religious retreat for teens.

LESLIE FONTANA, FRIEND: We played volleyball, we sang, had fun.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): What kind of mood was she in?

L. FONTANA: She's in a really good mood.

CANDIOTTI: And when you left her?

FONTANA: She was in a really good mood. We had fun. She was laughing.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Her best friend's mother says in a way she blames herself for not letting Sarah spend Saturday night with her daughter.

D. FONTANA: If only I had said OK, you know, forget my tiredness, you know, and just OK, you know, we wouldn't be here, you know. So that eats at you. CANDIOTTI: When Sarah Lunde was reported missing Monday, investigators located all but 1 of 24 registered sex offenders in the area, a town of 8,000. The other left town before Sarah disappeared.

One of the ex-cons, David Onstott. Police say he broke off a relationship with Sarah's mother a few months ago. Tuesday night, he was arrested for threatening someone with a screwdriver. Police say Onstott is being held on an outstanding DUI warrant from Michigan.

SHERIFF DAVID GEE, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA: I'm not going to label him at this time. So far we have had cooperation with him, most of the people.

CANDIOTTI: Sarah Lunde's mother pleading for help.

KELLY MAY, SARAH'S MOTHER: If anybody knows anything, has seen or heard anything regarding Sarah's disappearance that they do call the sheriff's department immediately.

CANDIOTTI: Susan Candiotti, CNN, Ruskin, Florida.


COSTELLO: The Hillsborough Sheriff's Department is urging anyone with information to give them a call. If you know anything, their tip line number is 813-247-8200. That number again, 813-247-8200.

As often as we can, we like to take a few extra minutes and share something with you that would normally -- that you wouldn't normally get to hear. Today we have an interview with a former relative of Eric Rudolph. He has confessed to four bomb attacks that killed two people and injured many, many more.

Listen to what this former family member has to say. We think you'll get some insight into the mind of a killer.


DEBORAH RUDOLPH, ERIC RUDOLPH'S FMR. SISTER-IN-LAW: I have always said that he was either going to be famous for something or infamous for something. Eric could have been a great leader of people. He could have been a great leader of men. That's how smart he was.

A lot of people say that he's a racist. I wouldn't classify him as a racist. Knowing him personally, he's more of a separatist. He believes that each race should be true to themselves. He's not one that likes weak people. He does like strong people. He thinks that the strong are having to defend and support the weak.

He believes that the bible is the history of the white race and that the other races in the bible, you know, are just, he would call them mud people. He would become very animated and go off on a tyrant, you know, just a fit about, you know, all these Jews that are in the media and on the news. And they are producers and directors and they run Hollywood and they publish, and so they control the information that we, as a people, are receiving.

I think it goes back to a race thing. Again, back to this idea that the majority of abortions performed in this country are performed on white women, but yet black women, Hispanic women are allowed to have all of these kids and the government is going to support them. So I think that was the issue with that.

The Olympics, I think it is a matter of all of these people coming from all different countries and cultures and colors and races and religions all coming together in one place.


COSTELLO: In his confession, Rudolph released an 11-page statement calling his crimes part of a war against abortion, the homosexual agenda and the U.S. government.

And that brings us again to today's e-mail question, do you think Eric Rudolph's plea deal is justice served or is it a legal copout, because you know he could have faced the death penalty when he made this plea bargain? Now he's going to serve four consecutive life terms.

We want to know what you think this morning. E-mail us at Chad and I will read your responses throughout the morning.

Living in pain and feeling alone, how one young victim of war gave hope to another. See how far they both have come together.

And if you can't pay your credit card bills, time is running out for you to declare your freedom from paying the debt.

But first, here's a look at what else is making news this Thursday morning.


COSTELLO: Your news, money, weather and sports. It's 5:40 Eastern. Here's what's all new this morning.

Federal health advisors say they will recommend allowing silicone breast implants back on the market but only under strict conditions. The day after a FDA panel rejected one company, a second corporation convinced regulators new versions of the implants are safer and more durable.

In his guilty plea Eric Rudolph says it was his hatred of abortion, gay rights and the federal government that motivated his bombing attacks. Rudolph confessed to four bombings that left two people dead in Birmingham and Atlanta.

In money news, federal regulators are looking at why the former chief of insurance giant AIG Corporation gave his wife more than $2 billion in company stock just days before he was forced to resign. Maurice Greenberg's actions are part of an accounting probe by the SEC.

In culture, the rock band Switchfoot was one of the big winners at last night's Gospel Music Association awards. The Christian band won four Dove Awards, including one for best new artist.

And in sports, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox had a short day. He's so mild mannered, but he was ejected in the first inning. Look at him, he was a little crazy -- Chad.

MYERS: Well I didn't see the play, but you know if that guy gets riled up about something, there was something wrong.

COSTELLO: Yes, he should have gotten riled up about watching his team lose.


COSTELLO: They lost big time to the Washington Nationals, 11 to 4.

MYERS: Well there you go.

Some -- big -- new big screen there, Carol, a big high definition screen, like, I don't know, 500 feet across or something. It cost $10 million. I'll have to go see it someday.


COSTELLO: Thank you, Chad.

Those are the latest headlines for you this morning.

Today Congress is poised to pass the biggest overhaul of the bankruptcy laws ever. The bill would make it significantly tougher or even impossible to wipe away personal debt.

CNN's Joe Johns has more for you from Capitol Hill.


MARTINEZ MAJORS, $26,000 IN DEBT: Well, I think I'm overextend.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Martinez Majors never imagined he'd be in this position,...

FAITH ETHERIDGE, CREDIT COUNSELOR: This is your total debt, it's a little over $26,000. Right now the creditors want from you, because you're late and behind,...

JOHNS: ... at a credit counselor's office overwhelmed by debt.

MAJORS: One thing led to another. Before you know it, you're like, oh my God, you owe all this money. What am I going to do?

JOHNS: Majors had been making good money at a computer company, but then the high tech bubble burst and he got laid off. He began using credit cards to keep his family afloat. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

MAJORS: They offer you the low fees, the transfer for, you know, fees for six months, the 5.9 percent interest. It's on the Internet. You know, it's on buses, billboards.

JOHNS: But when Majors fell behind on payments, he was hit with penalty fees and higher interest rates, a one-two punch.

MAJORS: Well, because you're now over the limit on everything, we're going to take it up now to 29 percent.

JOHNS: Majors hopes the credit counselor can help him come up with a payment plan. As a last resort, he's also considering bankruptcy.

MAJORS: Any time you talk about bankruptcy, people look at you, well, you're a deadbeat, you don't want to pay your bills or you're a bad person. It's still taboo. You know I have to do what I need to take care of my family.

JOHNS (on camera): But Congress is about to make it a lot harder to wipe out debt by filing bankruptcy. The tough new rules would force people, even with modest incomes and savings, into three to five-year repayment plans instead of allowing them to eliminate their debts outright and start over.

(voice-over): Credit card companies have been aggressively pushing the bill.

WAYNE ABERNATHY, AMERICAN BANKERS ASSOCIATION: Not that we're making bankruptcy unavailable for folks, but where you have somebody who is wealthy and still has significant income, maybe they ought to pay some of what they owe.

JOHNS: The industry says too many people are spending too much money they don't have, but consumer advocates say the credit card companies are partially to blame.

TRAVIS PLUNKETT, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA: They sent credit card applications to, it seemed like, every man, woman and child in the U.S. at about 5 billion a year. So what happened in the 1990s was the credit card industry started becoming more reckless in their lending, and lo and behold, more people used those cards and ended up in bankruptcy.

JOHNS: Over the last decade, according to industry analysts, credit card company profits rose almost 150 percent. And in the last 15 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the industry has gone on a spending spree of its own, making $40 million in political contributions to federal candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike.

LARRY NOBLE, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: It seems to be all coming together for them right now with the bankruptcy bill. They've wanted this for a long time. Their contributions, their lobbying seems to have worked. JOHNS: For the credit card companies, it's about personal responsibilities.

ABERNATHY: When people are borrowing money so they can live beyond their means, that's when they get into credit difficulty. Credit cards weren't designed for that. People still have the responsibility to manage their finances.

JOHNS: But critics argue the government is being asked to give a break to the industry at the expense of people in desperate financial shape.

ROBERT WEED, BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY: For the average guy, though, instead of a new start, the new rule is if life knocks you down, the government is going to hold you down for five years so the credit cards can keep stomping on you.

JOHNS: Martinez Majors faces a hard decision and a tough deadline. The new rules will kick in six months after the president signs the bill.

Joe Johns, CNN, Capitol Hill.


COSTELLO: They were thousands of miles apart, but as one victim of war lay in pain, another watched and decided he needed to help. Their amazing story of hope. That's straight ahead on DAYBREAK.


COSTELLO: I think the Chrysler Building is my favorite building in New York City. A beautiful morning here.

"Health Headlines" for you this morning.

A Senate panel is holding off on confirming Lester Crawford, President Bush's nominee to direct the Food and Drug Administration. The panel is asking the FDA to conduct an investigation into allegations made by an anonymous agency worker. No details on what those allegations are.

Arizona's governor says no. She vetoed a bill that would have allowed pharmacists for reasons of conscious to refuse to provide emergency contraception to customers. The governor says they have no right to interfere with decisions made by patients and their doctors.

And in Minnesota, Nurse Michelle Torgerson faces charges of fraud and illegally dispensing a drug. Authorities say she set up an unauthorized flu clinic at Augsburg College last fall. She's accused of pocketing money people paid for the flu shot. Authorities allege she diluted some of the vaccine with saline.

For more on this or any other health story, head to our Web site. The address, Two young boys from two very different lands share a tragic and amazing common experience. Both have been changed forever by war and by the generosity of strangers.

From CNN's "NEWSNIGHT," Aaron Brown has their incredible story of learning and courage.


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): They are improbable friends united by war and loss. Two years ago, during the American bombing of Baghdad, Ali Abbas lost his entire world. He lost both arms. He lost both parents. He lost 14 close relatives. All gone.

ALI ABBAS, IRAQI AMPUTEE (through translator): I will never forget the day when I lost my family. I feel the pain of losing them and I miss them terribly. But I can't just cry over them in front of people, because I'm really crying inside my heart for them.

BROWN: Which brings us to Kenan Malkic.

KENAN MALKIC, BOSNIAN AMPUTEE: I saw him, it was late at night, and I saw him. I said, oh my God, how horrible that is, he lost his whole family and he got hurt with some very bad injuries. I was kind of remembering about my accident and how it could happen and I kind of knew what Ali was going through.

BROWN: Kenan does know what Ali was going through, he'd stepped on a land mine near his Bosnian home, losing both arms and a leg.

MALKIC: I remember that time at the hospital and how depressed I was and how dark everything looked. I mean, I really didn't see any way out for me. And actually those thoughts is what drew me to make that tape for Ali. I said, you know, let me make him a tape, a video of what I can do around the house and send it to him, at least to give some brightness in his life.

BROWN: The tape has had its desired effect.

ABBAS (through translator): What I saw was how he was using his arms. And I thought well maybe he can train me to do that.

BROWN: This week he got his wish. The aid group that had sponsored Kenan's treatment arranged for Ali and three other Iraqi children to come to the United States, to come for medical attention, to come and meet a role model.

ELISSA MONTANTI, FOUNDER, GLOBAL RELIEF FUND: Kenan is an inspiration. When the children come, they see Kenan and they see how he manipulates his own limbs and his prosthetics. And they say if he can do it, I can do it.

BROWN: While Elissa Montanti arranges surgeries, artificial limbs, rehabilitation, Kenan works on spirit.

MALKIC: That sense of that you can help yourself, it gives you such freedom. I just feel like, at least if they see me getting myself dressed or eating something, that would get them to do something by themselves.

BROWN: And he has.

ABBAS (through translator): I feel I can do exactly what he does or what he is doing now. And I feel I can depend on myself, exactly, just like he depends on himself.

BROWN: Ali has come a long way. He can run now, play soccer, even Nintendo. More than he ever imagined. For Keenan, it is confirmation that there can be purpose, even in tragedy.

MALKIC: I think every tragedy has a reason behind it. And you just have to see that and know that in order for that tragedy to turn into something good. Because I never thought I'd be doing this. Not even in my wildest dreams would I imagine I'd be in the United States, you know, helping kids all the way from Iraq. There is nothing that a living person can't do. So that's what I always keep in my head.

BROWN: Aaron Brown, CNN, New York.



COSTELLO: We are always interested in what you're interested on, so it's time to check out our "Web Clicks" this morning.

MYERS: Hey -- Carol.

COSTELLO: A couple of the most popular -- yes.

MYERS: I got some swampland in Florida to sell you.

COSTELLO: Do you have 4.95 million bucks to give me for it?

MYERS: No, I wish I did.

COSTELLO: This is an amazing story. Jesse Hardy, the man pictured there, he sat in the Everglades, that's where he owns his farm, for years and years holding out, holding out. He paid $60,000 for his property. Well,...

MYERS: Back in 1976 he bought it.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

MYERS: And the state wanted to do eminent domain so that they could rebuild the Everglades and kind of get some of these roads out of the way so the Everglades could flush like they're supposed to. And they paid him $4.95 million for 160 acres.

COSTELLO: But you know Mr. Hardy says it wasn't the money. He held out for as long as he could and then he decided what to do, what was good for the state of Florida. And he sincerely believes that. MYERS: Well what's good for the environment now, because now the Everglades are going to be able to run through there rather than back up into the canals.

COSTELLO: So good for Mr. Hardy and his...


COSTELLO: ... $5 million.

Let's talk about Alex Trebek, because the answer is...

MYERS: He lost a horse. Well somebody did.

COSTELLO: Yes, where's this broodmare? A $100,000 broodmare simply disappeared from next door, from the big ranch next door to Alex Trebek's property, and this woman is accusing Alex Trebek of doing away with BeBe, the broodmare.

MYERS: Yes, 700 acres on the farm somewhere, the story is, at least from his side, that at some point in time the broodmare was ill and it had to be euthanized. And they didn't tell the owners, and now the owners want $100,000 I think now in damages.

COSTELLO: And people are really into that story.


COSTELLO: Time to read some e-mail now.


COSTELLO: We've been getting pretty many e-mails. We're asking the question about Eric Rudolph's plea deal.


COSTELLO: He could have received the death penalty, but he came to a plea deal with prosecutors. So we're asking you justice served or legal copout?

What do you have -- Chad?

MYERS: I got Sam (ph) in California says I wonder if Richard Jewel thinks it's a fair deal?

Another from Barry (ph), says Eric Rudolph's plea deal is justice served at a bargain. Long-term storage is simply cheaper than an execution -- Carol.

COSTELLO: This is from Terri (ph), you take a life you should give a life. Shame he doesn't have two to give for the two he took. Justice isn't alive in America anymore, from those overpriced CEOs to those homegrown terrorists.

And one more from Robert (ph), the government had its back against the wall. If the rest of the explosives Mr. Rudolph had stashed away were not accounted for, the potential for more harm to others would have been too great to pass up.

Thank you for your comments this morning. We always appreciate them.

The next hour of DAYBREAK starts right now.


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