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PAULA ZAHN NOW
56 Confirmed Dead in Jordan Bombings; Teens and Sex Education; Protecting America's Soft Targets
Aired November 10, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us.
Tonight, a frightening question that's probably on your mind tonight: Just how vulnerable are we to suicide bombers?
ZAHN (voice-over): Striking soft targets, suicide terrorists attacking ordinary people in everyday places, can we prevent it from happening here?
Sins of the past -- he's a convicted sex offender.
JAMES AMBLER, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER: I broke the law. I deserved what I got. But what I'm going through now, I -- I don't deserve.
ZAHN: Is he a lifelong predator or just a man who made one mistake? It's a story that might make you question what you always thought.
And cyber-suicide -- a troubled child drawn to a disturbing corner of the web.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They also gave her the tools...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They gave her...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... to take her own life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the knowledge. She was led to her death.
ZAHN: Her darkest secrets in plain sight -- what every parent needs to know.
ZAHN: Tonight, in Jordan, the shock may be wearing off slightly, but the sense of outrage is growing. We are learning more now about the victims of the terror attacks, and about their killers.
At Jordan's request, the U.S. is sending a small contingent of experts from the FBI crime lab. The investigation is making some progress. Officials say all three suicide bombers who attacked U.S.- based hotels wore belts packed with explosives and ball bearings. Two of the bombers carried Iraqi I.D.s.
Most of the 56 people who died were Jordanian, but also among the dead are Palestinians, Chinese and two Americans. One hundred and two people were wounded.
Right now, many residents of Amman are seething. Just a short while ago, we saw this combination candlelight vigil for the victims and a protest against the attacks. It happened at the Radisson Hotel, where one of the bombers targeted a wedding reception. These pictures were taken just moments before the explosion. The bride and groom survived. Both of their fathers are among the dozens of relatives and friends who were killed.
President Bush singled out this attack in voicing his own outrage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bombings should remind all of us that there is an enemy in this world that is willing to kill innocent people, willing to bomb wedding celebrations in order to advance their cause.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq, is now claiming responsibility. U.S. officials say, tonight, that claim is credible.
On its Web site, the group calls the three bombed hotels -- quote -- "retreats that were planted in the land of Muslims by the enemies of faith, the Jews and the crusaders" -- end of quote.
In our control room tonight, we are monitoring the situation in Jordan.
And, here in the U.S. Kelli Arena is getting ready for a "Security Watch" report on our most vulnerable targets in this country.
But we start tonight in Jordan. Brent Sadler is following the investigation and the outrage. He joins us live from Amman.
So, what is the latest from investigators there, Brent?
BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Security officials here in the Jordanian capital have picked a -- up a number of suspects for questioning. They are thought to be Iraqis -- the Iraqi dimension to the three suicide attacks now becoming an enlarged picture, as a result of the claim by al-Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda, in Iraq.
Now, also, the king of Jordan, in a nationally televised address, underlining the severity of what's happened here, said that the perpetrators will be caught, eventually, he said, and no means will be spared to track down the killers.
In addition, we have seen thousands of Jordanians on the streets of the capital, demonstrating outside all three targeted hotels, carrying national flags and pictures of King Abdullah II, supporting the monarchy, and defying the bombers -- no mystery among the demonstrators on these streets today. They believe the hand of Zarqawi, that has -- that has already in the past tried to blow up targets in this country, has again inflicted heavy loss of life and bloodshed as a result of those three suicide blasts -- Paula.
ZAHN: So, Brent, the pictures that we're looking at now, as you speak, would suggest what would appear to be overwhelming support for the king of Jordan. But is that really the case?
SADLER: No, it's not the case. That's one facet of it in the aftermath of the raw emotions of what's been going on here in the hospitals and -- and at the National Forensic Institute here, where there's been the grisly job of trying to identify all those that lost their lives.
Behind the flags of protest today, there are many supporters of the kind of activities, violent activities, that are going on in the insurgency in neighboring Iraq, particularly among some Palestinian factions.
Jordan, Paula, has, for a long time, waged a campaign against the kind of brand of militant extremism which Zarqawi represents, a campaign that continues -- Paula.
ZAHN: Sadly, indeed.
Brent Sadler, thanks so much.
Now, we -- as we have already seen tonight, much of the anger is focused on the bombing at the wedding reception. The newlyweds were among the survivors.
Hala Gorani spoke with the groom.
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It should have been one of the happiest days of Ashraf Akhras' life, his wedding day. Instead:
ASHRAF AL-AKHRAS, BOMBING VICTIM: It's my family, all of them. We lost 16 people. And my wife's family lost 12 people. And we lost, also, almost 10 people, friends and close friends.
GORANI: That's 38 people, including his father and father-in- law, dead in the suicide explosion at Amman's Radisson Hotel.
Today, at a traditional wake, the groom accepted condolences, friends and family whispering words of comfort. At the hospital, several injured friends and relatives are being treated. The groom's brother, still dazed, recounts the shocking story of a bloodbath. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom's first cousins, they are 7, or 8. They died on the table.
GORANI: As they recover from the massacre, other guests recall how the bomb went off, right before the wedding procession reached the hotel's main hall.
One of the guests, Muhammad (ph), says he fell on the floor and people started trampling him. When he finally fought his way to his feet, he tried to help carry the injured and the dead away from the chaos.
The groom's brother, emotional, says Ashraf Akhras was robbed of his happiness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were waiting for this day from so long, and it was their day. Someone took it from them.
GORANI: In front of the Radisson Hotel, where, a day before, ambulances rushed to save lives, tonight, there is a candlelight vigil -- strangers mourning, sharing the pain of a family united in grief.
Hala Gorani, CNN, Amman.
ZAHN: And I wanted to share with you another story that has come to light today. At the Days Inn, the bomber calmly walked up to the bar, ordered an orange juice, then tried to detonate his explosive belt, but it didn't work. He then went outside, then, just about 15 minutes later, came back in and blew himself up. Three members of a delegation from China were also killed in that blast.
And all of us know that, some day, it could potentially happen here. We know you are very concerned about your family's safety, their security.
So, we asked Kelli Arena to take a look at where we're most vulnerable and how we're protecting soft targets, like shopping malls, commuter trains and hotels.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The extra security in New York that followed the suicide bombings in Jordan is almost routine.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: When it's a terrorist event, we always ramp up security and we have done that at the New York City hotels.
ARENA: Counterterrorism experts call the measures effective, but not ideal. STEVE POMERANTZ, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF COUNTERTERRORISM: Physical security, guards, those kinds of -- of barriers in front of establishments, are really your last line of defense. When all else fails, you hope that that -- that -- that that guard will -- will -- will spot that suicide bomber before he walks into your establishment, and deal with it then.
ARENA: Steve Pomerantz, a security expert and former FBI counterterrorism official, says the goal is to never get to that point. He says the U.S. has to continue to improve intelligence gathering to spot signs bombers are getting ready to strike.
POMERANTZ: There is a process involved of -- of -- of recruiting, of identifying vulnerable people, of -- of pumping them up psychologically, of preparing them, of building the bomb, of strapping the bomb on, of transporting them to their targets.
ARENA: FBI officials have consistently warned about suicide attacks here in the United States, especially against so-called soft targets, like shopping malls.
Jonathan Lusher is with the mall security company IPC.
JONATHAN LUSHER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, IPC: We train our people to look for things that are out of the model, out of the ordinary. And that's been very effective all over the world.
ARENA: But shoppers are still free to come and go as they please. So are commuters, even after the deadly attacks witnessed in London and intelligence suggesting terrorists want to hit U.S. transportation systems.
POMERANTZ: People have to be willing to go through much more rigorous security procedures, a lot more inconvenience, some would say infringement of civil liberties. You could -- you could put it in those terms. And I think people in this country are, as yet, unwilling to -- to do that.
ARENA: Pomerantz says that's because, so far, the U.S. has not been a victim of suicide bombings, but believes it's inevitable. He takes teams of U.S. law enforcement officers to Israel, where authorities are veterans in dealing with suicide attacks.
Terry Gainer, who heads the force that guards the U.S. Capitol, says his visit was invaluable. Capitol Police are now able to better recognize suspicious behavior and prepare for threats like secondary explosions.
TERRANCE GAINER, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: We came back and took some of the lessons learned from there and had to apply them to the way we were doing our training and running things on the street.
ARENA: Still, Gainer says, there's only so much his officers can do.
GAINER: This is an area where people are still free to ride a bike, carry a backpack and walk up to our doors. So, we simply have to be prepared that there are some terrorist out there that is going to try it.
ARENA: If the experts are right, it's just a matter of time.
ARENA: And experts warn that an attack doesn't have to be orchestrated by a terrorist group. It could also be pulled off by a lone wolf, someone working entirely on his or her own -- Paula.
ZAHN: Probably the hardest scenario to tackle.
ARENA: That's true.
ZAHN: Kelli Arena, thanks so much for that update.
Coming up, we have a story for you about something that could be a direct threat to your child's life. And it's as close as the nearest computer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you are saying, not only did they push her to the edge, but they also gave her the tools...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They gave her...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... to take her own life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the knowledge, the tools, their psychological encouragement. She was led to her death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: I think a lot of us are shocked by the fact that the Internet is so full of advice for people who want to kill themselves, with very specific instructions -- that story straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Imagine if your school asked your fifth-grader prying questions about sex.
I'm Peter Viles.
That's exactly what happened here in Southern California. And parents are ticked off, because federal judges are now defending the school -- that story coming up.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: And, a little bit later on, Jeanne Moos has a story that will turn your holiday expectations upside down. Is there a hidden meaning here?
ZAHN: If you are a parent, our next story is a story that might trouble you, perhaps even outrage you. It is about a controversy raging right now in California. It is about how much say you should have over what your kids hear in school in particular about sex.
A federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that parents have no constitutional right to control what public schools teach kids about sex.
Here's Peter Viles.
VILES (voice-over): Jim Fields, typical 14-year-old, his bedroom is a mess. When he's not glued to his PlayStation, he's helping his mom figure out her computer, except that he is at the center of a legal battle over sex that started at this elementary school.
JIM FIELDS, NINTH GRADE STUDENT: I think it probably stole my innocence a little bit.
VILES: When Jim was in fifth grade, his parents gave permission for him to take a survey. They were told it would deal with stress from the 9/11 attacks.
TAMMANY FIELDS, MOTHER OF JIM FIELDS: I asked some questions at the school site and was told, well, after 9/11, we would like to see how the children are feeling emotionally. How did seeing those planes go through buildings, how did it affect them?
VILES: But, inside the school, the 11-year-old was asked if he was -- quote -- "touching my private parts too much, thinking about having sex, thinking about touching other people's private parts, can't stop thinking about sex."
J. FIELDS: I'm like, whoa. Wait a minute. That's not right. What are they doing asking me these kind of questions? How is that appropriate? How does that even fall into trauma?
VILES: His mom was furious. How dare the school raise these questions?
T. FIELDS: He was a happy-go-lucky, video-game-playing kid, who now has all these thoughts going through his mind that weren't there before and, you know, questions we would never have asked our child.
VILES: The Palmdale School District soon admitted the survey, conducted by a graduate student, was a mistake.
DENNIS WALSH, ATTORNEY FOR PALMDALE SCHOOL DISTRICT: The district did apologize and has immediately ended the survey. This was a one-time event four years ago, and have -- and has not allowed any surveys like this to go on since then.
VILES: But Tammany Fields wasn't done. She sued in federal court, claiming the school had violated her constitutional rights, specifically, a parent's right to control her child's education.
But two federal courts have since told her, sorry, there is no such constitutional right, that, once a child is in the public school system -- quote -- "Schools cannot be expected to accommodate the personal, moral or religious concerns of every parent."
T. FIELDS: It's quite shocking. I mean, I -- I was floored. I -- I sat back and took a deep breath and said, OK. Now what?
VILES: In California, and many other states, parents do have state rights. They can keep their kids out of sex-ed classes, for example, but they can't stop sex-ed from being taught to other kids.
WALSH: What's happening here is that some special interest groups are using this decision as a lightning rod to try to alarm parents by stating, the decision says, parents have no say in the education of their kids anymore. And -- and that's just dead wrong. That's not what the court said.
VILES: Tammany Fields is asking the appeals court to rehear the issue. And, if she loses again, she says she and her teenage son will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Peter Viles, CNN, Palmdale, California.
ZAHN: And joining me now, Dr. Justin Richardson, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia and Cornell universities and the author of "Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid They'd Ask."
JUSTIN RICHARDSON, AUTHOR, "EVERYTHING YOU NEVER WANTED YOUR KIDS TO KNOW ABOUT SEX, BUT WERE AFRAID THEY'D ASK": Thank you.
ZAHN: ... for a very uncomfortable subject for many of us who have adolescent children.
So, obviously, this issue was very upsetting to this young boy, to his mother. But it -- it certainly raises the larger question of, how many parents across America really know what their kids are being taught...
ZAHN: ... in sex education classes?
RICHARDSON: Yes. When parents are -- are surveyed, the majority of them actually will say that they have a -- a fairly good or somewhat good sense of what's being taught. But probably...
ZAHN: Do they?
RICHARDSON: Probably, they don't. Probably, they don't really know very well what's being taught.
Now, I think the judge's findings raise a lot of anxieties for viewers. I can't control what my kid is being taught. But, you know, there's something else in this story that I think is important, which is that what happened was that parents found out what was going on. They complained, and the school pulled the program.
That is what happens, that parents, actually, while the law may not say so, they do tend to have an influence over what gets taught. That's not actually good news for -- for a lot of parents.
ZAHN: Because, once again, you say the surveys would suggest they are demanding more detailed information, because this is a subject matter that is not terribly comfortable for a lot of parents.
RICHARDSON: When you interview parents, 84 percent say they want their kids to learn not only about the fact of contraception, but they want their kids to get detailed information about how to get it and how to use it.
ZAHN: But they certainly can't control the quality of the information or how uniform that information is.
So, what is the best advice you can give parents to be able to monitor that, particularly when you ask your kid when they come home, "What did you learn?"
RICHARDSON: Right. So, say: "Well, do you have a textbook? Let's see the textbook? Did you have any homework? Let's take a look at it. I want to go over it with you, because I'm curious as to how they talk about this, because I, as a parent, find it so impossible to talk about with you all the time."
You know, it's hard to get these conversations going, but school sex-ed is a great opening to use with your kids, because they are coming back from class. And you can ask them, well, how did the other kids react to that? Or what do you think that teacher thinks? It's a way of talking about sex where you are not interrogating your kid about what he's doing or what he wants to do.
ZAHN: Finally, tonight, it -- this experience, obviously, was scarring for this young man, when he had to ask what -- what he thought and a lot of people think were totally inappropriate and very personal questions. Can you cause long -- long-term damage to a kid's psyche by introducing them too early, maybe not to that specific information, but other sexual information? RICHARDSON: You know, there's no evidence that telling a kid the facts of life or how -- where babies come from is harming for kids -- harmful for kids, at -- at any age.
It's true that exposing a kid to sexual stimulation, like pornography, could be harmful. But a sex-ed class is not at all like that. It's not stimulating. In fact, many kids find it a little bit uncomfortable and boring, but usually not disturbing or harmful.
ZAHN: Of course, their parents might have an entirely different view of that whole process.
RICHARDSON: That may be.
ZAHN: Dr. Justin Richardson, nice of you to join us.
RICHARDSON: Thanks so much.
ZAHN: Appreciate it.
Still to come tonight, a surprising twist in the story of a man who did prison time for having an affair with a teenager. You are not going to believe what she wants to have happen to him now.
And then, a little bit later on, a beautiful actress comes out swinging against some tabloids she says are harming her career by criticizing her weight. No, they aren't saying she's fat. They are saying she's too skinny.
Right now, it's time for Erica Hill at Headline News to update the hour's top stories.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Paula, more brutal suicide bombings in Iraq today, this time aimed at a Baghdad restaurant popular with Iraqi police. At least 34 died in that attack. The car bomb also killed four Iraqi army recruits in Tikrit.
The U.S. Army says recruiting for October exceeded its target -- the National Guard reporting it met its October goal for the first time in more than a year.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito says he had no conflict of interest in hearing a case that involved a mutual fund in which he invested. The matter could surface when his confirmation hearings begin in January.
Federal health officials say spot shortages of flu vaccine should ease soon. So far, the flu season is pretty mild -- no widespread outbreaks at this point.
And, if you are a rock hound, this is one beautiful find, a rare form of iron meteorite found on a farm in Kansas. But it's not small. It weighs 1,400 pounds and just may be the largest of its kind ever found in the U.S.
That is a lot of rock -- Paula, back over to you. ZAHN: It certainly is, Erica. Thanks so much.
Coming up, a story that may change your perspective about the man who has already been punished for his affair with a teenaged lover.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMBLER: She was beautiful. And, then, a day later, she came by again and, you know, made a remark about, oh, you're single, and, you know, would you like to go out some time? And I said, sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Well, he served his time in prison. What does she want to have happen to him now? You might be surprised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sibila Vargas in Hollywood, where it's common to hear stars suing the tabloids. But you would never guess which celebrity is upset over being called too thin -- the details when PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: This is going to be a very interesting and very controversial story, one that has generated heated discussions in our newsroom, one that may test what you think about convicted child molesters.
The first thing that comes to find is usually not sympathy. In fact, many people believe that sex offenders, especially those who prey on children, should be marked for life. And, in most states, they are.
But the sex offender I'm going to introduce you to now may be a little bit different. Is it possible that even his victim could feel sorry for him?
Here's Alina Cho.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In almost every respect, James Ambler is a regular guy. He enjoys the outdoors, has a home on the water and owns a business. He's also the proud father of a teenage girl. But Ambler is not a regular guy.
It all began 12 years ago. Ambler got involved in what he calls a loving relationship, one that lasted for more than a year. He still remembers how they met, how he was washing his boat when she approached him. AMBLER: Introduced herself and kind of, you know, flirtatious, just saying hi. And, you know, she was beautiful. And, then, a day later, she came by again and, you know, made a remark about, oh, you're single, and, you know, would you like to go out some time? And I said, sure. And age was never mentioned, you know, at first.
CHO: At first -- at first, their relationship was picture perfect.
AMBLER: It was just like any one you would have or anybody. I mean, we -- I have pictures of us when we went to the fair, went to the park. She went to my family, ate dinner once with my dad, met my dad, my sisters, my brothers.
CHO (on camera): And what did your family think?
AMBLER: Well, they loved her, same as me. I mean, no one thought anything of any -- you know, oh, she's too young.
CHO (voice-over): She was. After a few months of dating, he asked her how old she was. She told him 15. Ambler was 31.
By then, it was too late. Both admit they were in love.
(on camera): So, then, when she told you she was 15, what did you think? What was your first thought?
AMBLER: I was shocked. I mean, she didn't seem to be 15. And -- and, then, like the -- the old saying, you do stupid things when you're in love.
CHO (voice-over): Even though he knew she was underage, the two continued to see each other for months. But when the girl's father found out what was going on, he turned Ambler in. And, in 1993, he was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts on a minor. He was sentenced and served three years in prison.
AMBLER: I did wrong. You know, I broke the law. I deserved what I got. But what I'm going through now, I -- I don't deserve. You know, I'm -- I'm -- I'm living a nightmare that -- that's not going to go away. It's -- there's no way out of it.
CHO: For one crime, one offense, Ambler feels he's serving a life sentence. More than a decade after his conviction, his mug shot still appears on Florida's Web site for sex offenders, a warning for residents thinking about moving nearby, along with his picture, his name and address and his offense. But no details about the case, except to say his victim is female. Ambler says that's an open invitation for people to think and fear the worst.
AMBLER: I would feel the same way. I would -- my first reaction was he's a horrible person.
CHO: He's also subject to surprise visits from the sheriff's office four times a year and must register his address with the county twice a year. Those are new requirements, provisions of the Jessica Lunsford Act, named for the 9-year-old Florida girl raped and murdered this year by a known sex offender.
AMBLER: I pray. I pray in my bed that no one hurts any kids or anything happens because every time that does happen, my life changes. My life gets worse. There's bad people out there, and I realize that. But I'm not one of them.
CHARLIE CRIST, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is a special kind of crime. When you commit a crime against a child, of a sexual nature, Florida has decided that they are going to treat you differently.
CHO: Florida's attorney general, Charlie Crist, says Ambler could have avoided all of this by not committing the crime and he says there are no gray areas in the law.
CRIST: The law is pretty clear. When something like this occurs, people are treated equally across the board. And this man was convicted.
AMBLER: If any of these senators or any of these people that make these laws could be in my shoes for a month and be me, being the person that I am and what I've accomplished and the heart that I have now, and -- the laws would be changed without a doubt.
CHO: Ambler wants his mugshot taken off the Web site, or at the very least, he wants his file to include a description of his case to differentiate him from the so-called bad guys. The state attorney general's office says Ambler can petition to be taken off, but not until 2018. By then, he'll be 57.
CHO (on camera): What is the best way to characterize how you are feeling and what you are going through? Is it fear?
AMBLER: It's just a pain that's undescribable. I mean, since you are a child, when you are born, you spill the milk on the table. You are scolded for that, and then it goes away. You don't bring it up for the rest of your entire life.
CHO (voice-over): Ambler says he still thinks about the relationship that started all of this and may even still love her.
AMBLER: Oh, yes. I mean, there's days I thought that I wished she was still there and she was going through this with me now. It would have made things better. It would have made things easier.
CHO: The victim, who declined to speak to us on camera, is now married with two children and one on the way. Through her husband, she told us her relationship with Ambler was consensual and that he shouldn't continue to be punished for it. Ambler is thinking about making some changes himself. He's thinking seriously about selling everything and leaving the country.
AMBLER: I could be free. I mean, I could wake up in the morning, and I could be the way I want with kids. I could date a girl, and not worry if somebody is going to show up or she's going to look on the Internet and see my picture. This was my dream property that you are sitting on now. This was my home that I had peace, that I could come home to and enjoy my life, and I can't do that anymore.
CHO: Alina Cho, CNN, Pasco County, Florida.
ZAHN: And there is one more thing to add. The Pasco County sheriff's office tells us that James Ambler hasn't been in any trouble since he was released but they'll still continue to follow the law and check up on him, as they would any other sex offender.
If you do a Google search for suicide advice, you get more than eight million hits. And what might make you sick, is that if you look hard enough, some actually offer advice on exactly how to do it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Asphyxiation. Dangling on the end of a rope for 10 minutes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: What you learn from this family's experience could prevent a tragedy. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: Right now, someone you know may be sitting at a computer getting real tips on how to commit suicide. You heard me right. There are actually places on the Web where people go to talk about killing themselves and to actually share advice on exactly how to do it. And some of those people could be your children. Here's Thelma Gutierrez with the story of one young woman who was full of promise and found her way to one of those sites.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Suzanne.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Susie Gonzalez had everything going for her. She was 19, an honor student with a loving family in California, heading to college on a science scholarship.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you.
GUTIERREZ: Live seemed nearly perfect. But everything changed on March 23rd, 2003.
MIKE GONZALES, FATHER: I got a call from Mary (ph) that Suzanne was missing, and that there was a suicide note and nobody knew where she was at.
GUTIERREZ: That call led Suzy's parents to their computer, where a shocking e-mail revealed unthinkable news.
GONZALES: "Mom, dad and Jennifer, I will make this short, as I know it will be hard to deal with. If you haven't heard by now, I have passed away."
GUTIERREZ: Alone in this Florida hotel room, just miles from her college apartment, Susie had prepared and swallowed a lethal cocktail of potassium cyanide, laid down on the bed and died.
GONZALES: It was a total shock to us that she was suffering from depression. We had no idea.
GUTIERREZ: Why would this bright young woman with a promising future end her own life? The answers would lead Mike and Mary Gonzalez to a disturbing corner of cyberspace they never knew existed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's possible I'll suffer some before I die.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have the perfect place picked to jump, and I am absolutely sure I will be dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today is the day I O.D.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just took step one of my suicide plan. Should be dead in 40 minutes.
GUTIERREZ: These are actual postings to an Internet news group called ASH, short for alt.suicide.holiday, where members trade advice on killing yourself, using words like "transitioning," "exiting" and "catching the bus" as code words for suicide. Susie found this world nine weeks before she died.
GUTIERREZ (on camera): Did you know that such a site existed?
GONZALES: No. I had no idea at all.
GUTIERREZ (voice-over): As Mike kept digging for answers, he discovered nearly 100 messages Suzy had written to total strangers on ASH, detailing her grim plans. News groups like ASH work something like an online bulletin board. Anybody with a computer and some basic Internet knowledge can gain free access to thousands of graphic messages about suicide, unsupervised and unrestricted. Perhaps most disturbing, an archived section of the site called the methods file, with a chilling list of recipes, recommendations and tips on the best and worst ways to kill yourself.
GONZALES: Asphyxiation. Dangling on a rope for 10 minute.
GUTIERREZ: What was your gut reaction when you logged in and you saw this? Decapitation, disembowelment.
GONZALES: It makes me sick and it makes me angry that this type of information is on here.
GUTIERREZ: Mike believes one of those messages gave Suzy the know-how to illegally obtain and use the cyanide. But he was even more horrified to learn that an older member with the alias, River, actually bragged about helping Suzy with her suicide note.
Writing, quote, Suzy had made me proofread her notes and we went over all the details of her exit, just to be safe.
GUTIERREZ: So you're saying, not only did they push her to the edge, but they also gave her the tools to take her own life?
GONZALES: They gave her the knowledge, the tools, the psychological encouragement. She was led to her death.
GUTIERREZ: River declined our request for an interview. But in an e-mail, wrote, no one in ASH encourages anyone else to commit suicide. ASH is pro-choice.
GONZALES: That's not pro-choice. That's brainwashing. And they are not being held responsible. They are not taking responsibility.
GUTIERREZ: Today, Suzy's parents are trying to make sure someone is held responsible, pushing for new Internet laws to prevent their tragedy from happening to other families.
But in the meantime, they are left with just cherished memories and the heartbreaking belief that they could have stopped Suzy's deadly countdown, had it not been for an online suicide club called ASH.
Thelma Gutierrez, CNN.
ZAHN: Absolutely a chilling report and a cautionary tale for all of us.
We are going to change gears in just a minute with a story about a Hollywood star who isn't about to let the constant carping of the tabloids get her down or threaten her career.
Who is going to blink first?
ZAHN: By now I think we're all pretty used to seeing weed-thin celebrities on the cover of magazines. But right now there's a legal battle brewing because a celebrity says some magazines suggested she was too thin.
That celebrity is actress Kate Hudson. She is threatening to take five British tabloids to court because she says they implied she has an eating disorder.
Here's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.
KATE HUDSON, ACTRESS: Ladies and gentleman.
SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: From her Oscar nominated turn in "Almost Famous" to roles in such comedic hits as "How to lose a guy in 10 days" and "Raising Helen," Kate Hudson has quickly become one of America's sweetheart actresses.
But now, the actress is mad as hell. The 26-year-old daughter of actress Goldie Hawn is sticking her legal helms on not one, but five British magazines, for implying she has an eating disorder.
The U.K. edition of "National Enquirer," "Star," "The Daily Mail," "Closer," and "Heat," are all included in the complaint. In a statement from her London law firm, Schillings, Hudson takes aim at quote, published images of her used to accompany and illustrate articles which suggested that she had an eating disorder that was so grave and serious, that she was wasting away to the extreme concern of her mother and family.
And although not stated, of commercial and artistic concern to those who might cast her in movies and choose to use her image to endorse products.
VARGAS (on camera): While Hudson has not endorsed any products to date, attorney and managing editor of the entertainment Web site, tmz.com, Harvey Levin, says future deals could be worth millions. And an unhealthy public image could be a deal breaker.
HARVEY LEVIN, ATTORNEY AND MANAGING EDITOR, TMZ.COM: They absolutely could hurt her career if the word out is that Kate Hudson has a dangerous eating disorder, and if these magazines are wrong, they are in big trouble.
VARGAS (voice-over): Hudson grows a growing list of celebrities making headlines for their thinner images. Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Lara Flynn Boyle all seen here in the September issue of the U.S. "National Enquirer," have long been targeted for their weight loss.
"Star" Magazine calls even more celebs, scary skinny. Hilary Duff, Mary Kate Olsen, Christine Taylor, and again, Kate Hudson make their list.
Ironically, some celebrities now said to be too thin were once scrutinized for the opposite problem.
Just a year ago, U.S. "National Enquirer" focused on Nicole Richie's cellulite, while "Star" now criticizes her for being pin- thin.
Hudson two years ago, while she was pregnant, was drawing tabloid headlines for her weight gain.
Ken Baker, West Coast bureau chief of "US Weekly" says celebrity weight issues are prevalent because they are particularly popular with readers.
KEN BAKER, WEST COAST BUREAU CHIEF, US WEEKLY: As a culture, we're all sort of obsessed with our weight. We are obsessed with celebrities. So, of course, we're going to be obsessed with celebrities' weight.
VARGAS: But apparently this celebrity, like others, has had enough.
LEVIN: There are plenty of stars who are going after the tabloids right now. And this does not have anything, nearly to do with money, as it does making a point to them that, yes, you know what? I may be fair game, but I'm only fair game when it comes to telling the truth. If Kate Hudson wins, the message that will be sent is simple. Don't mess with me or else.
VARGAS: Sibila Vargas, CNN, Los Angeles.
ZAHN: And those magazines we just mentioned have until November 15 to respond to Hudson's complaint before it becomes an actual lawsuit. And if the case isn't settled, it's expected to be heard by a British court next year.
Coming up, a new perspective on the holidays.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, and Santa could get more presents under there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it. It's so non-Christmas.
ZAHN: We know where the point of an upside-down Christmas tree will be. But, what's the point?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Welcome back. Didn't happen to be a very good day for the nation's biggest automaker. Let's turn to Erica Hill who has more on that in our Headline News "Business Break."
ZAHN: Do you ever feel like the holidays pick you up, turn you upside down and shake all the money out of your pockets? Then stay tuned. Jeanne Moos has the perfect Christmas tree for you. Bottom's up, next.
ZAHN: All right. So the calendar says, November 10th. But it's beginning to look a lot like, you know what. And here Rockefeller Center sprouted a big, gorgeous tree today. But sometimes it's OK, or at least interesting, to turn tradition on its head. Jeanne Moos has the proof.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): O, Christmas tree, what happened to your branches? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a sad looking Christmas tree.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's beautiful.
MOOS: It is the upside down Christmas tree, fake, not real. A seven-foot, $600 version is sold out at Hammercurschelmer (ph). But you can still get one for 300 bucks at Target's Web site.
Not since the oh, so annoying singing Christmas tree from a few years back, a tree we tried to silence in vain. Not since the singing tree has a Christmas tree gimmick so captured the limelight.
We asked the company that makes the upside down tree, Roman Incorporated, to send us a few. One version you hang upside down. The other sits in a base.
How many guys does it take to assemble an upside down Christmas tree?
(on camera): The natural way to read the directions would be this way. No, we've got to read them this way.
(voice-over): The manufacturer tells us the tree was intend for stores.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The retailer needed a way to display ornaments in the store without taking up, actual floor space. So what we did is designed a tree that takes up...
MOOS: A tree that takes up more air space than floor space.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, and Santa could get more presents under there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it! It's so non-Christmas.
MOOS: Rumor has it that Liberace used to go both ways with his Christmas trees, displaying both regular and upside down. The question is, where do you put the star?
(on camera): You think we should put it down here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
MOOS (voice-over): OK. So it's not as spectacular as the Rockefeller Center tree...
CROWD: Three, two, one!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Light the tree!
CROWD: Three, two, one, yay!
MOOS: But it all depends on your perspective.
(on camera): So would you want one like that in your house? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never. Yet, maybe. I don't know. Why not. It makes me laugh.
MOOS (voice-over): Ho, ho, ho.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: Bah, humbug.
One more thing, Jeanne says in addition to the ceiling mounted version, there is also a wall mounted one. But the most popular one comes with a floor stand.
That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for being with us. We'll be back same time, same place, tomorrow night. Until then, have a good night.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
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