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Federal Government Investigates Ford Vehicle Fires; Interview With Former Suspect in Natalee Holloway Disappearance

Aired June 29, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: There could be one in your garage: millions of vehicles that could burst into flames. Now, a family says a fire that started in their Ford truck turned deadly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There can't be any more deaths.

ZAHN: Tonight, is there danger under the hood.

And, her strange disappearance remains a mystery. But now, as the search intensifies, a former suspect speaks out. Tonight, the Natalee Holloway Case: an insider's story.


ZAHN: We begin tonight with a dramatic new development in an ongoing CNN investigation. When your car or truck is parked, engine off, keys out of the ignition, you certainly don't expect it to burst into flames. But it has happened to some Fords built before the year 2004. With hundreds of cases reported from all over the country, and no possibly the first death, a 74-year-old woman in the town of Westgate in Northeastern Iowa. Her family is speaking out for the first time in an exclusive interview with investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a beautiful house that Earl Mohlis built with his own hands years ago. This year, on May 2, it burnt to the ground. There was nothing he could do to stop it.

EARL MOHLIS: Dolly, woke me up about 5:00 in the morning. She says, Earl -- she says, there's smoke in the basement.

GRIFFIN: His 74-year-old Dolly, weakened by arthritis, called 911.

911 OPERATOR: 911. What is the address of your emergency.

DOLLY MOHLIS: My garage is on fire.

911 OPERATOR: Your garage is on fire?

D. MOHLIS: I've got to get out of the house! 911 OPERATOR: OK. Is the garage attached to the house?



D. MOHLIS: The car is on fire.

911 OPERATOR: The car is fire?


GRIFFIN: Dolly's 1996 Ford F-150 truck was in the garage attached to their home.

(on camera): This is where you saw flames, huh?

E. MOHLIS: Well, it was more like...

GRIFFIN: Right there.

E. MOHLIS: Right -- see, this is what was shot. The glass was in there yet.

She was coming out here, righ there. Right there is where she was coming out.

GRIFFIN: You saw the front of the pick-up truck burning. That's what you saw.

E. MOHLIS: You bet you. She was burning.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Wearing only his shorts, Earl Mohlis ran to get a tractor, trying to save the house.

E. MOHLIS: I wanted to drag that pick-up out of that garage.

GRIFFIN: But the tractor wouldn't start.

Nothing worked that morning for me.

GRIFFIN: Fire quickly enfulfed the house.

E. MOHLIS: It was burning so fast. The wind was blowing 50 miles an hour from the northwest. I says to Dolly, you got to get out of that house.

She come running. And she never made it.

GRIFFIN: Darletta "Dolly" Mohlis, Earl's wife of 34 years was later found just steps inside the door.

E. MOHLIS: It hurts, boy. She ain't here no more.

GRIFFIN: What hurts even more is what Earl Mohlis says he found out after the fire. His wife's 1996 Ford pick-up contained a part that is under investigation by the federal government. A part that may now be linked to at least 660 vehicle fires across the country. A part the critics, lawyers and some automotive experts claim is faulty and can ignite, on its own, even if the car is turned off sitting in a garage. And in this case, according to Earl Mohlis, not even moved in four days.

E. MOHLIS: I don't care what make it is, or model, when you set that sitch off, that truck should be dead, shouldn't it? There was something wrong.

GRIFFIN: The part in question, a speed controlled deactivation switch. This same, or similar switch is found on 16 million Ford vehicles. It is the switch that turns off the cruise control when a driver firmly presses the break pedal. What makes the Ford design unique, is in nearly every case, the switch has electricity flowing through it, whether the vehicle is running or not. A thin film inside can crack, and that electrical current, combined with leaking break fluid has, according to Ford, led some switches to ignite.

The company has recalled more than a million cars and trucks to replace the switch, but not the 1995 Ford F-150 pick-up.

Dolly's three children say they had no idea there was a history of fires in some Fords equipped with cruise control until the day their mother died.

Now, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the family is suing Ford, along with Texas Instruments, the company that assembled the switch, and Dupont, the company the supplied that thin film. Dolly Mohlis may be the first person to die in a fire linked to Ford's cruise control switch

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't want any more deaths. There can't be any more deaths.

GRIFFIN: Texas Instruments insists it followed Ford's instructions. And it's not responsible for overseeing how Ford uses their products. But the company insists its switch is safe.

Dupont says it only supplied raw material to Texas Instruments. And was not involved in the design or use of the switch.

What the family doesn't understand is why Ford didn't recall their mother's truck when the first Ford fires, indluding many F-150's were documented years ago.

The car company has been selective in its recalls, saying it will only recall vehicles where a trend pattern of fires can be detected. According to Ford, there was apparently no trend pattern for the 1996 F-150 truck, even though it contained what Ford acknowledges is the same or similar switch and even though this Ford document shows the company had reports of fire in the same model.

(on camera): Do you think someone at Ford made a business decision?

HOWE: Definitely.

GRIFFIN: And gambled on your mother's life?

HOWE: Exactly. They looked at the dollars. And they said, whatever decision, they probably decided it was cheaper just to pay for burnt vehicles and maybe an occasional death.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): A few weeks ago, investigators from Ford and the federal government were at Earl Mohlis's farm examining the scene. CNN was there, too, watching as they spent hours going through the rubble. Also there, experts hired by the family's lawyers.

Judd Clayton is an electrical engineer and Keith Fowler is a certified vehicle fire investigator from Canada.

(on camera): Right now, you guys believe that that fire started right where or in the general vicinity of the deactivation switch?



GRIFFIN: Further testing will determine that it was?


We recovered parts of the switch from the fire scene and we'll be doing laboratory testing to examine that switch.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): A federal investigation is still ongoing, but Ford has already concluded the truck did not cause the fire. Company officials declined to talk on camera to CNN, but did send on e-mail, saying an inspection of the fire scene demonstrates conclusively that the fire did not originate from the 1996 Ford F-150, and, specifically, says Ford, not from its speed control deactivation switch.

Remnants of the switch were found at the scene and reviewed by Ford investigators during their inspection. These remnants rule out the switch as the cause of the fire. Instead, the company says, the evidence suggests that the fire started elsewhere in the garage, spreading to the F-150 and the Mohlis home.

(on camera): So, how can Ford come out and say that this fire absolutely, conclusively, did not originate from the switch?

FOWLER: I don't know how they made that statement.

The remnants that we collected at the scene were not examined in any detail. We brushed a little bit of the debris off. And they've been collected and the retained, but no testing or examination in detail has been done of those remnants. So, I'm not sure how they're able to make those statements.

GRIFFIN: I'm trying to be a little bit of devil's advocate here, guys, because I've got Ford Motor Company, which is a huge company, telling me this fire did not start in this switch. Am I missing anything? Are you missing anything? Is there anything we could possibly have that caused this fire that was not that switch?

FOWLER: Anything's possible. But we have found no evidence of any other potential fire cause at the scene at this point in time.

CLAYTON: The specific area of origin, as witnessed by Earl, I think it leaves little doubt as to what area of the vehicle was involved first in this fire.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): What's different about this case, they say, is Mohlis' first-hand account of what happened that night.

EARL MOHLIS, HUSBAND OF FIRE VICTIM: I raised up the garage door. Sure enough, that left front end of that pickup was -- she was burning away.

GRIFFIN: Earl Mohlis is now living in a trailer on his farm overlooking what used to be his home. Dolly, he says, is always on his mind.

MOHLIS: Was my true love, too, boy. I miss her. It hurts.


ZAHN: How sad. Heartbreaking to hear that, Drew.

I want to go back to the math, which I think is stunning. So, you say 16 million Ford vehicles actually have the switch on them. One million of them have been recalled so far. So, what are the 15 million other owners of these types of vehicles supposed to do in the meantime?

GRIFFIN: The 15 million, Paula, that have no recall notice and had really no idea from Ford that there was an investigation going on with the switch.

Here's what we're telling people to do. Ford says there's nothing wrong with these vehicles. The federal government, the investigators, say, look, we can't make any recommendations to people until our investigation is over with. We don't want to spoil our investigation. What auto experts are telling CNN is, if you are concerned about this problem, you should take your vehicle to a Ford dealer and have them disconnect the switch. Pay for it yourself. It's not that expensive.

And, at the very least, although this sounds very uncomforting, Paula, you should not park these vehicles inside your garage or near your home.

ZAHN: You know, it's -- I looked at the statement, as we all did. And I'm trying to imagine what any owner of one of these vehicles is thinking tonight. We should also bear in mind this is not the first lawsuit related to fires allegedly caused by these switches, right?

GRIFFIN: That's right.

Hundreds of cases across the country -- there have been 660 fires that we know of. And there have been hundreds of claims, Paula, and several lawsuits. And in hundreds of these cases, Ford has settled out of court, settled with insurance companies, settled with people.

But at no time has Ford admitted any guilt or any complicity in this problem.

ZAHN: Drew Griffin, thank you so much for the update. It's certainly got a lot of attention.

If you think any of you have experienced a fire involving a Ford cruise control switch, you can report it to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That agency's hot line number is 888- 327-4236. That number, again, 888-327-4236.

Still ahead tonight, we change our focus, a man who went to jail in Aruba, but says he has nothing to do with Natalee Holloway's disappearance.

Plus, a searcher who's been through the same pain as Natalee's family.


DARRYL PHILLIPS, VOLUNTEER SEARCHER: Her name is Angela (ph) Phillips. She went missing on September 16, 1986.


ZAHN: He's a man trying to ease his own pain by helping total strangers -- that story next.

And then, a little bit later on, an instant message creates lingering chaos. And it could happen to your children, too.

Stick around. We'll explain.


ZAHN: Tonight, we have an amazing story for you out of Aruba, one man trying to save Natalee Holloway's family from the pain few of us can ever imagine. He has been searching for his own missing sister for decades. It's coming up after the hour's top stories.

And that's why we are turning to Erica Hill at Headline News for, right now, the headlines.



We start off with more now on that U.S. Capitol evacuation earlier tonight. It all happened because a plane entered the no-fly area around Washington. Early this evening, the plane, though, quickly changed course and the Secret Service gave the all-clear in just a matter of minutes.

The U.S. military says it was hostile fire that downed a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan yesterday. The chopper went down over mountains on a mission to fight al Qaeda terrorists along the Pakistan border. The military says there were 17 aboard. Bad weather and high altitude is hampering a recovery effort.

After a four-month slump, the Army thinks it will exceed its recruiting goals for June. The Army is the main source of troops for Iraq. Navy, Marine and Air Force recruitment have not fallen short.

The president's idea for private Social Security accounts will be introduced in the House later this summer. Republican leaders call it a good first step to reform. Democrats call it a risky scheme.

And now CNN's Ali Velshi counts down the top 25 business stories that have changed our lives during CNN's first 25 years.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The top business stories of CNN's first 25 years. We asked the editors at "Money" magazine to come up with a list.

Number 15, tax cuts. This business story hit home starting in 1981 with the biggest tax cut in U.S. history.

Number 14, downsizing and the death of manufacturing. In the late 1980s, major corporations announced job cuts to boost bottom lines. More and more jobs are being outsourced to low wage countries.

Number 13, CEO perks, executives in handcuffs. Investors want someone to pay for the wrongdoings of corporate America.

At number 12, CEO perks. From jack Welsh to Bill Gates, CEOs have become household names, earning hefty compensation with a new extra: accountability.

Number 11, merger mania. Is bigger really better? .

RON ESPOSITO, MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT, PCI: Most of the mergers have resulted in very significant and massive downsizing.

VELSHI: Stay tuned as we count down to number one.


HILL: And, Paula, that's the latest from Headline News at this hour -- back over to you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Erica. See you in about a half-hour or so.

Coming up next, though, the deejay who was once a suspect in Natalee Holloway's disappearance, he says he's innocent. So, how the heck did he end up behind bars? And if your son or daughter got an anonymous death threat and it promised chaos and bloodshed at their school, would you have them ignore it or tell someone about it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was really scared because I didn't know who it was.


ZAHN: Stay with us for the story of a very frightened teenager who tried to do the right thing. You're not going to believe what happened to her as a result of that.


ZAHN: And we're back now with more on the latest in the investigation of Natalee Holloway's disappearance.

Tonight, Aruba's government is asking the Netherlands to free up more Marines to help in the search for her. She is the American teenager missing on that island. That may be a sign of the intense pressure Aruba's government is feeling at this hour, one month since the Alabama honor student vanished on the tiny resort island in the Caribbean.

Joining me now with the very latest from Aruba, Rick Sanchez.

Rick, I know that you spoke with Natalee Holloway's mother today. She has been increasingly critical of the Aruban government's efforts here. What did she tell you?


She's frustrated because she just wants to make sure -- and this is the point that she was most strong about, is that these three young men, including Joran, the man who says that he went with her daughter to the beach, remain behind bars. She thinks that they -- if they continue to press them, eventually, they will get to the truth.

And they just want to make sure that these three young men tell their stories. She's also frustrated because she believes -- and she told me this today -- that the police took too long to actually arrest him and that they took too long to search his house. Respectively, that would be 10 days for the arrest, 16 days to actually go inside the home.

Now, to be fair, we have spoken today with the prosecutor here in Aruba, who says that she has done everything possible and that we just have to understand the process by which Aruban law works. Nonetheless, though, it's extremely frustrating for a lot of people here on the island, but, most of all, of course, for Beth.

ZAHN: So, are the locals as critical of this effort as she is at this hour? SANCHEZ: I think they're critical because they would like to see this come to an end.

They -- they -- they seem to be taking a toll here on the island, they say, with all the media coverage and exposure. They're also frustrated about the way the investigation went. They refer to Joran as, oh, the Dutch guy. And they've told me that on several occasions. And I've talked to a lot of people here on the island who say that they thought that police may have been a little bit lenient with him.

Of course, police deny that. They say they were working the investigation all along. But they say that they were lenient with him because his father is a judge, who, as you know, was arrested as well.

Police, by the way, and prosecutors have said now that they do believe, as Natalee's own mother had suggested today, when I talked to her, Paula, that there was some corroboration, some story sharing on the part of the three young men, including Joran's father, Paul, as well -- Paula.

ZAHN: Which is why she told me yesterday she was so frustrated that he had finally been released from jail, as his son remains in jail tonight.

Rick Sanchez, thank you so much for the update.

Late last week, a team of 27 specialists from Texas joined the search for Natalee Holloway. One member of that team is driven by his own intensely personal loss.

Our Alex Quade has his story.


ALEX QUADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Each day, the search for Natalee Holloway begins with prayers.

PHILLIPS: Father, we are going to -- out there to search Natalee. God, we pray, Father, that you will be with us.

QUADE: Darryl Phillips provides inspiration to the Texas volunteers looking for the missing teen.

TIM MILLER, FOUNDER, TEXAS EQUUSEARCH: He knows what it's likes to have somebody missing, too. And he wishes, at that time, there would have been somebody to help him out. But instead of holding on to that bitterness and that, he's out here helping other people.

QUADE: Darryl Phillips has not shared his story with anyone, except his fellow searchers. Now he shares it with us, while searching for Natalee Holloway.

PHILLIPS: Her name is Angela Phillips. She went missing on September 16, 1986. And I don't know where she is.

QUADE: He's been searching for his sister Angela for 19 years. This worn-out photo is the only one his family has of her, the rest destroyed in a house fire.

PHILLIPS: I think about her every time I'm out in the field. I think about her. I can't get her out of my mind. It's like you took a flower away from the rose garden.

QUADE (on camera): Why would you be doing this if you've got a missing loved one that you still need to find?

PHILLIPS: Well, one of the reasons is, there's always hope. Her disappearance has not been as long as my sister's. Natalee needs to be with her family. She needs to be with her family.

QUADE (voice-over): As he searches for Natalee Holloway, he comes across a lone grave by the sea.

PHILLIPS: It reminds me of my sister, that -- some day that hopefully someone or myself will run across her, so she can have a proper burial, which she deserves.

QUADE: Phillips and the other volunteers focus on finding Natalee, ignoring the minor injuries, the danger of combing through a smoldering garbage dump, and the heat.

LINDA ALLISON, AUNT OF NATALEE HOLLOWAY: In 90-something degree weather, it is difficult.

QUADE: Natalee's aunt, Linda Allison, knows the hardships Darryl Phillips and the others are facing on their behalf.

ALLISON: Cacti, thorns, a lot of rocks, a lot of large boulders, hard to -- hard to maneuver around in some of the areas.

QUADE: She searched in vain for Natalee before the Texas team arrived.

ALLISON: The island is huge when you're looking for a person. It's a needle in a haystack.

QUADE: Just one of the reasons the family asked for the volunteers' help and one of the reasons why Darryl Phillips agreed.

PHILLIPS: They deserve to have some closure. And she deserves -- Natalee deserves to be with her family.

QUADE (on camera): Because you don't want the Holloways to have to experience the not knowing.

PHILLIPS: The not knowing, and go through 19, 20 years of not know where their daughter is. It's not fair to them. It's not fair to any family.

QUADE: And this is something that your family is still dealing with.

PHILLIPS: For almost 19 years this coming September. And it's not easy. But me being out here, it's not about my family. It's about Natalee's family, and that they can at least have some kind of peace of mind.

Father, we pray for strength for Natalee's family, God, that...

QUADE (voice-over): The search day ends with another prayer.

PHILLIPS: We pray, God, that you would be with us tonight, God. Give us all strength.

QUADE: Until this moment, Linda Allison and the rest of Natalee's family had not met Darryl Phillips, knew nothing about his own tragedy.

(on camera): He said to us he's out here because he doesn't want you to all go through the not knowing.

ALLISON: Oh, I think it's awesome. I can't believe that he's here with us looking for Natalee. I know that 19 years, I hope that's not what we have to look forward to.

PHILLIPS: It's very important to me to see other families have a peace of mind and not having to wait so long.


ZAHN: That was Alex Quade reporting for us tonight.

Three men remain in jail, but none has been charged in her disappearance. Earlier this week, two others were released, a judge whose son is one of the three still being held, and Steve Croes, a disk jockey on a party boat that was docked near the hotel where Holloway was staying. Croes was held for 10 days. He joins me now from Aruba.

Thank you so much for joining us.

How did you wind up in jail?

STEVE CROES, FORMER SUSPECT: Well, the first of all, good night, everybody over there.

Yes. I end up in jail just for a stupid mistake that I did. And, yes, that's -- that's about it.

ZAHN: What was the mistake you made?

CROES: Lied to the cops.

ZAHN: And what did you tell them?

CROES: I just told them that I witnessed when they dropped the girl at the hotel. But that wasn't true, because I didn't even know these guys.

ZAHN: Why would you make that up, Steve?

CROES: You know, I -- I don't know. Normally, I'm not, like, that stupid, stupid person. I'm always, like -- in the group of the guys that we go out with and stuff like that, I'm the only one that gives them the good advice, like, please don't do this or don't do that. But this time, I did a stupid mistake. And I got into jail for 10 -- 10 days.

ZAHN: You certainly had to be aware of Natalee Holloway's disappearance, right. So you knew enough that she had been missing.

CROES: I knew until the Thursday after the missing, because I was -- I was working on the boat where I was working. And, yes, I didn't like really follow the news and everything about this case. That's why I make also that mistake, because I didn't follow the news.

ZAHN: But didn't it occur to you if you told police that you could very well wind up in some way being implicated in her disappearance?

CROES: Sorry. I didn't understand the question.

ZAHN: Didn't you think about when you told this so-called lie to police, that you could end up being in a whole lot of trouble and perhaps held responsible for her disappearance?

CROES: You know, I didn't realize it until I was in there. And the cops, they were explaining that I did. You know what you did? And I'm like, no, I didn't know. I was -- I did it unconsciously.

Yes, I'm glad that I proved that I wasn't true, that I wasn't even there. Yes, that's it.

ZAHN: But Steve, the story gets a little more confusing because apparently you were at this Internet cafe where you -- I am told -- overheard a conversation of one of the men who's now currently in jail being held for Natalee Holloway's disappearance. What did you overhear?

CROES: Well, what I heard that night that night or afternoon, sorry, the Internet cafe was like the story that everybody knows here on the island, which is the one that they dropped the girl at the Holiday Inn, in the lobby, that she fell on the floor. And then one of them tried to help her and she refused. And then they still help her and drop her in the lobby and they left. That's the story that I know.

ZAHN: But then you still made up your own story when you talked to police?

CROES: No, it was that story that I told them first.

ZAHN: That was the story you told them first.


ZAHN: But then you told them at the top of this interview that you had actually made a mistake because you told police that you had seen her yourself.

CROES: I'm sorry?

ZAHN: The two stories are very different.


ZAHN: One more time, you claim you overheard this conversation at the Internet cafe, but you also said you made a mistake because you told police that you had seen Natalee Holloway.

CROES: Yes. That was the first time that's why they came arrest me because the story that I told them was matching almost exactly the one from the guy that was still arrested. And they thought that maybe I was inside that problem right now. And I wasn't even there. That was one of the problems why they arrested me.

ZAHN: I know you are a relieved man, but you certainly paid a price. You lost your job as a result of what you did. And we know you got a tough road ahead.

Thank you, Steve, for sharing your story with us tonight. We appreciate it.

CROES: No problem. Have a good night. Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you. You as well.

And we change our focus again. An instant message pops up on your computer saying you and your friends will be murdered. Do you write it off as a prank?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't want to take that risk. Not when you're talking about people's lives.


ZAHN: Well, one teenager and her mother ended up calling the police and the community's reaction shocked them.

Also, her album "Jagged Little Pill" sold 30 million copies. A decade later, has Alanis Morissette learned to lighten up?


ZAHN: What would you do if your child came to you and said she had just received a computer message threatening her and everyone in her school? That's exactly what happened to the teenager you're about to meet and it's changed her life forever. You're going to be really surprised by what she ends up going through. Here's national correspondent Kelly Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was like any other night. 14-year-old Anna instant messaging with her friends in Arlington, Virginia when all of a sudden she received a series of messages that startled her.

ANNA, RECEIVED INSTANT MESSAGE THREAT: I was really scared, because I didn't know who it was. And I've gotten like pranks played on me before.

WALLACE: Her mother showed us a transcript of the messages. The anonymous sender says of Anna's Yorktown High School, quote, "YHS is going to be very different tomorrow, Anna. Tons of chaos, the bodies to be found, the flesh to be seen, the blood to be discovered, the bones to be matched. Well, I'm just telling you this, because I'm saving you for my last murder." Anna says she tried to find out who it was. Not intending to tell her mom, but she overheard her talking with friends.

WALLACE (on camera): This the area?

FELICIA, ANNA'S MOTHER: That's what concerned me.

WALLACE (voice-over): She thought about Columbine and the recent school shooting on an Indian reservation in Minnesota. After spend an hour on the phone with computer companies trying unsuccessfully to learn the identity of the sender, Felicia says she called the police.

Pretty much in my heart, I knew it was probably a prank. But I didn't want to take that risk, not when you're talking about people's lives.

WALLACE: The next day, shortly after classes began, police evacuated Yorktown. And that, Anna said, prompted a confession from a friend of hers who then turned himself in.

ANNA: He was like shaking. He was really scared and in shock.

WALLACE: The 15-year-old, a popular boy at Yorktown, was placed in juvenile detention for two weeks facing a felony charge. That outraged some in the community. More than 300 students signed an online petition calling for leniency, including Anna.

However, some targeted Anna and her mom. Said one, quote, "the parents of that girl had so many options. They could have talked to their daughter. Instead, they acted impulsively and called the police and the FBI."

At school, Anna said she was teased, accused of crying out for attention and making the whole thing up.

ANNA: Everyone's judging you. And, like, it just hurts that, like, people won't believe you.

WALLACE: She thought about not going back to school, but decided to finish the year. Her mom was outraged by the response of so many students and parents. FELICIA: But again, it just made me realize how I guess for rant people are. They don't know the whole story. And they just write harsh judgment.

WALLACE: Richard Trodden, Arlington's chief prosecutor, said the family and his attorneys did not overreact.

RICHARD TRODDEN, PROSECUTOR: When I was a kid I was told you don't pull the fire box. And I think youngsters have to know that about IM, you don't threaten bodily harm or crimes of violence on a school through IMs.

WALLACE: In a statement, the boy's parents, through the family's attorney said, quote, "our son's instant message to his friend was an act of poor judgment, intended as a joke. He never meant to harm anyone. He had no idea that his action would have the consequences it did."

And those consequences include, pleading guilty to a felony, two years of supervised probation and 100 hours of community service, 10 of those hours spent talking to teens about the dangers of playing pranks on the Internet.

Six weeks later, the online prank and the serious controversy it unleashed, remain painful for Felicia and Anna. They've since moved from Arlington.

ANNA: It was really hard. It's just hard knowing that I knew it happened. And I felt like I did the right thing. And I didn't do anything wrong.

WALLACE: Young lives changed in an instant by an online prank that turned out to be no laughing matter.


ZAHN: And certainly a number of unintended consequences. Kelly Wallace reporting. The boy's parents also say you heard what happened to their son, they hope this will be a lesson to other young people that irresponsible use of computers can have very severe consequences indeed.

Still ahead, after selling tens of millions of albums at just the age of 21, what happened to the angry young woman of "Jagged Little Pill?"


ALANIS MORISSETTE, SINGER: There's a part of me that was like, I'm sick of walking on egg shells and being perfect.


ZAHN: How Alanis Morissette finally found happiness.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: No, our security watch is not focused on Alanis Morissette. Ten years ago, Alanis Morissette was only 21 and Had a CD that sold 30 million copies. She earned a reputation of rock's angry young girl with male-bashing rants filling her lyrics. Since then, she's mellowed some and is now engaged to actor Ryan Reynolds. But this summer, it's like old times, she's released an acoustic version of her breakthrough CD "Jagged Little Pill." Here's Krya Phillips with tonight's "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" profile.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 1994, Alanis Morissette began a career-altering collaboration with producer Glenn Ballard. Their coupling marked a raw and rugged birth of one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.

GLENN BALLARD, PRODUCER: We were in the middle of writing another song and for whatever reason I think we got bored or frustrated with a particular passage. And I just went to an E and then resolved it. And she said sometimes. And then I went up to a F sharp miner 9 is never quite enough.

MORISSETTE: There was a part of me that is like I'm sick of walking on egg shells and being perfect.

BALLARD: Perfect. So she jumps the melody up a whole step there, which is really brilliant.

MORISSETTE: So it was this inner conflict of, you know, wanting to be a people-pleasing, perfect girl.

BALLARD: Don't forget to win first place.

Don't forget to win first place. It was like, OK, I don't know what's going on here but this is great because she's coming up with it on the spot.

MORISSETTE: And a part of me that just wanted to be authentic and raw. And, you know, not lie.

BALLARD: And that whole overwhelming sense of childhood, sort of pouring down on you. I think she had encapsulated in four bars. So it was a beautiful moment.

PHILLIPS: In the coming weeks the album seemed to write itself. Locking themselves in the studio, 12 songs emerged. In some case a song a day. And when "Jagged Little Pill" was released in June of 1995, it immediately caused a stir.

KEVIN SMITH, FRIEND: Any time we'll mention oral sex everybody perks up. Who is this? Who the heck is this chick

MORISSETTE: "You Ought To Know" I wrote just for the sake of liberating myself from the repression that I felt. I felt all these really vulnerable, angry explosive feelings. But I had been pushing them down for so long and I think that's why they were explosive when they eventually came out.

PHILLIPS: "You Oughta To Know" was taken directly from Alanis' journal, a scathing ode to an ex=boyfriend.

MORISSETTE: I was worried about some of the subject matter in it. And I remember Glenn turning to me and saying is this how you feel? And I said, yes. He said, well then don't change a damn thing.

PHILLIPS: Four Grammys later, "Jagged Little Pill" was on its way to selling 30 million copies, the biggest female artist debut of all time.

MORISSETTE: And it was so scary and so great. And I was humbled and blown away.

"Head Over Feet" I originally wrote about someone at the time that -- someone whom I wanted to be in a romantic relationship with me, but I was too self abusive to allow him to love me that well. And now when I sing it, I think of Ryan, my fiance.

PHILLIPS: By the winter of 1996, the world it seemed had fallen head over feet to 22-year-old Alanis Morissette. "The Jagged Little Pill" tour had taken her around the world twice. But with new found icon status bearing down upon her, pressure was building.

MORISSETTE: My life during that time was very tumultuous.

PHILLIPS: The wild ride had to stop.

On December 14, 1996, a visibly drained Alanis ended her tour, said good-bye to her fans and set off to find herself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think she started to maybe isolate herself a little bit from some of the people she was very close to. I could sense that something was amiss, something was wrong.

JOHN ALEXANDER, FRIEND: I remember seeing her many times. And it's that brutal.

PHILLIPS: With the help of yoga, and Eastern spirituality, Alanis turned inward.

MORISSETTE: I got off the treadmill and went to India. And it really allowed me to go in in a way I had not done. And I was just filled with gratitude. I think it's a natural by product of stopping and getting present if this gratitude emerges.

PHILLIPS: In January of 1998 she began to write again.

She returned to Glenn Ballard's studio, the angst was behind her and a peaceful Alanis Morissette walked in.

BALLARD: When she walked in the door that day, we went right to it. Within an hour, there it was.

PHILLIPS: The album "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" was released on November 3, 1998. Like "Jagged Little Pill," autobiographical, but something was different, the anger was gone, and fans didn't know what to think. The 17-track album sold ten million copies, just one-third of what "Jagged" had taken in.

PETER CASTRO, PEOPLE: Immediately they talked about the sophomore jinx which was rubbish. I mean, this was -- if any other person had that album out at the time, they would have been deliriously happy.

PHILLIPS: But by the spring of 2002, Alanis, the singer/songwriter, returned. Her third album was written and produced entirely on her own. And actually titled "Under Rug Swept."

Rocketing to No. 1, the first week in release, its debut single "Hands Clean" immediately sparked controversy.

CASTRO: Beginning at age 14, she started dating a much older man who she hadn't named. And it bothered her for years.

MORISSETTE: The song about a relationship that I was not emotionally prepared to kind of deal with at the time. So, I wanted to speak the truth about it, without seeking revenge of any sort, but seeking the liberation that comes from my speaking the truth.


PHILLIPS: And now with the release of her sixth album, 31-year- old Alanis Morissette has moved beyond the restless and explosive lyricists that made her famous, to a cooler, more confident voice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her voice is clearly one of the great instruments for expressing just about anything that she may be thinking about.

MORISSETTE: I'll be writing songs until I die. There's just no question.


ZAHN: Well, she's proven that, hasn't she?

Kyra Phillips reporting.

After touring for the new CD this summer, Morissette says she's looking forward to spending some downtime with her fiance and working on a new album later on in the year. At the rate she's going, a song a day, probably take her a week to finish it.

Still to come though, Jeanne Moos asks the burning question: How does Tom Cruise, the action hero of the "War of the Worlds," opening tonight across the country, measure up to Tom Cruise, the wacky talk show guest?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's coming across a little nuts. What happens when Tom's worlds collide, next.


ZAHN: When it comes to life in the universe, Tom Cruise says we're not alone and he proves it in his brand new $200 million-plus movie that opened today, "War of the Worlds."

And when it comes to wondering about Mr. Cruise and his bizarre behavior recently, we're definitely not alone. It's one of the most popular stories, as you can see here on Which was all the more the excuse Jeanne Moos needed to go to the movies today. And guess what, she wasn't alone, either.

Here's Jeanne.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With "War of the Worlds" finally opening, how about a little quiz? What are these people referring to? Is it, A, the film "War of the Worlds" or, B, Tom Cruise's sofa-jumping antics?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like: Oh, my God.


MOOS (on camera): Riveting?


If you picked the sofa jumping, you're wrong. But understandably, Tom's "Oprah" appearance led to Internet spoofs such as: Tom kills Oprah. Lindsey Lohan spoofed Tom on "Leno" and Tom spoofed himself. Then, went on to manhandle Matt Lauer.

CRUISE: Matt, Matt, you don't -- you're glib. You don't even know what ritalin is.

MOOS: It all got some folks thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's coming across a little nuts.

MOOS: and other folks thinking...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I still love Tom Cruise. So, I don't care what he does.

MOOS: And now that the film's actually out, do the critics love it?


GENE SHALIT, MOVIE CRITIC: My acronym for "War of the Worlds" is: WOW!

MOOS: Well, it definitely has the ultimate line to scare your child into obedience.

CRUISE: Get in Manny, or you're going to die.

MOOS: Newspaper reviews tended to be mixed, the "New York Times" concluded, "It's not much to think about, but it's certainly something to see."

CRUISE: Get down!

MOOS: The special effects are sure a lot more special than the 1953 version.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition.

MOOS: Looks like Matt Lauer after Tom Cruise got through with him. If you really want mean, a "New York Post" columnist called Cruise, "... a dwarfish, fading heartthrob with strangely white teeth."

But some of the first movie-goers to see "War of the Worlds" came out raving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I adored it. It was all I could eat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They show things in reflection, they show things in mirrors, they show things around corners. So, everything is suggested. You have to imagine it. It's wonderful and it's terrifying. If you have an imagination like mine, it makes you want to run for your life.

MOOS: "War of the Worlds" has to do better than "Cinderella Man." Despite great reviews, the box office for the Russell Crowe film has been so bad that AMC theaters are offering a money back refund to movie-goers who don't like the film. An offer we tested.

MOOS: You need to bring the ad? OK.

A German newspaper asked Tom Cruise if he believe in aliens. "Of course," he answered, "are you so arrogant as to believe we're alone in this universe?"

Movie-goers tended to agree...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... if they come to this planet, I hope they tune in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think there are Tom Cruise's on other planets, though.

MOOS: Now, that's cause for panic.


ZAHN: All right, Jeanne, you got me. I'm going, I'm going, no matter what the reviewers said. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: That's it for us. Blowing this pop stand until tomorrow night.

Good night, everyone.


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