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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Two People Dead in Hostage Standoff at Johnson Space Center; Virginia Tech Shooter's Family Speaks Out; Lessons From Columbine
Aired April 20, 2007 - 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. Thank you so much for joining us.
We have something very special for you tonight: brand-new information about the Virginia Tech shootings. It comes directly from one of the students who was shot and survived.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMILY HAAS, VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I heard the gunshots. I heard him reloading once or twice, and a -- a scream and some -- some moans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: For the first time on TV, Emily Haas tells her incredible story of terror, survival, and of a teacher's heroism.
But, before we go to the Virginia Tech story, we have some breaking news to talk about tonight. Incredibly, there has been a hostage standoff at the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Texas. It ended just a short time ago, and it ended in tragedy. Two people are dead tonight.
Kathleen Koch has the very latest details for us.
Kathleen, what have you learned?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it was an apparent murder/suicide -- dead after a more-than-three-hour standoff, a gunman and a hostage dead. Another hostage, a woman whose arms and feet had been taped, was freed.
Police say that this all started just before 2:00 p.m. Central time, when they got a call about shots fired at building 44 on the NASA complex. Officers and the SWAT team arrived quickly, surrounded the building. NASA employees had already been evacuated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPTAIN DWAYNE READY, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, let me explain that.
The report to us was that there were two shots, and that's what caused us to respond to this scene. And we're believing that one of the hostages, the male, who is deceased, was shot during that particular moment, because, from that point forward, we only have the other shot that was heard by our SWAT team members. And we believe that to be the suspect shooting himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOCH: Police say that the hostage was shot in the chest, and the gunman once in the head -- the weapon, a short-barrelled handgun.
Police have not yet identified the gunman, but Jacobs Engineering, a NASA contractor, confirms that the man worked for them. Police couldn't say what relationship, if any, there might be between the gunman and the hostages, and they don't know about his motive -- Paula.
ZAHN: If you get any new important information, we will be coming back to you live.
Kathleen Koch, thanks so much.
KOCH: You bet.
ZAHN: I want to move on now to the very latest from the investigation into the Virginia Tech massacre. Police have now revealed that the gunman fired an incredible number of shots.
Also, tonight, for the very first time, a surprising statement of grief and profound apology from the killer's family.
With more on all of this, plus Virginia Tech's efforts to try to reclaim a sense of normalcy, Ted Rowlands joins us from the campus, where, tonight, believe it or not, they are playing baseball once again -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Paula, this is the first scheduled event that the university has had since Monday's tragedy. And it's a full house here, more people than normal showing up here for this college baseball game, people wanting to come out here and, like you say, try to begin to establish that sense of normalcy.
Meanwhile, we are learning more new, disturbing information about Monday's massacre.
ROWLANDS (voice-over): According to sources close to the investigation, Cho Seung-Hui fired as many as 225 shots inside Norris Hall.
Armed with two semiautomatic handguns, Cho, who chained the exits, methodically went room to room, witnesses say, reloading, most likely more than 15 times. Investigators, meanwhile, continue to search for a link between Cho and Emily Hilscher, one of two students murdered in a dormitory almost two hours before Cho's rampage in Norris Hall.
According to this search warrant filed yesterday, investigators are now examining Hilscher's laptop computer for a possible connection to Cho.
Across the country and at Virginia Tech, bells rang out and a moment of silence was observed for the victims of Monday's tragedy. Hundreds of people continued pouring to the memorial site on campus, many overcome with emotion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) strong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
ROWLANDS: Police allowed engineering faculty into Norris Hall for a few hours to collect materials out of their offices. Many of them were inside during the shootings.
Professors G.V. Loganathan, Liviu Librescu, and Kevin Granata were murdered, and, according to witnesses, died trying to save students. Today, Granata was remembered at a memorial service in Blacksburg.
Many members of the engineering staff broke down once inside Norris Hall.
MUHAMMAD HAJJ, VIRGINIA TECH ENGINEERING SCHOOL: What we heard, what we saw is -- is pretty bad.
ROWLANDS: Muhammad Hajj says he broke down crying when he saw a paper of grad student Juan Ortiz sitting on his desk.
HAJJ: Suddenly, you are looking at the desk, and you that see he is not there -- he is not there to get his grade anymore. I mean, it -- it does hurt a lot, and for -- I -- I don't know -- for no reason.
ROWLANDS: The reason Cho Seung-Hui killed may never be known. Today, we heard for the first time from his family, releasing a statement that said, in part -- quote -- "He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."
On campus, as this horrible week comes to a close, people say they are going to stop wondering why and focus on healing and remembering the victims.
ROWLANDS: And, as they try to resume that sense of normalcy, I tell you, it is more emotional than ever here. Tonight, before the game, there was a very, very emotional ceremony, a 32-seconds moment of silence, one second, of course, for each of the victims. The ballplayers all have the date 4/16/07 on their hats. And you can really feel the emotion here and around campus today -- Paula.
ZAHN: Yes, you can feel it pretty intensely.
So, Ted, when you and I talked with students just yesterday even, a lot of them told us they were going to go home. Do you have any sense of how many will be expected to be in class?
ROWLANDS: Well, the university is really giving students a large breadth here to make their own decision.
But I can tell you, a lot of students that did leave those first few days -- and, when you were here, we saw them leaving -- they came back today, a lot of them, with their families. This is alumni weekend. And a lot of them wanted to come back. And it is expected that more than you might think of these students want to be here on Monday, when classes resume.
But we will have to wait and see. And, like I said, the university and specific professors are giving each student a lot of leeway on what they want to do with the rest of the semester.
ZAHN: Ted Rowlands, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Right after the shootings, a makeshift memorial was set up at the center of the Virginia Tech campus, 32 stones, one for each of the victims, surrounded by flowers and mementos. Look closely. A 33rd stone marker has now been added. It is for the killer, Seung-Hui Cho. People are leaving small tokens and notes around it as well.
We have heard many stories about the Virginia Tech shootings this week. But, tonight, you are going to hear directly from a student who was shot twice and survived.
Emily Haas was in a French class in room 211 of Norris Hall on Monday morning. That was when she was hit. Bullets grazed the back of her head. The gunman eventually killed himself in that very room. This is the first time Emily has agreed to go on television to describe what she heard and what she saw.
She especially wants you to know about the heroic actions of her teacher, who happened to be among the 11 people who died in that classroom that morning.
Emily Haas, along with her mother, Laurie (ph), joined me from their home just a short time ago.
EMILY HAAS, VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING SURVIVOR: About halfway through the class, we heard the gunshots next door in the classroom next door. And we didn't know what they were at first. There had been construction going on a lot. So, we kind of have ignored noises in the past. But we realized that it wasn't construction.
ZAHN: It was 9:45 a.m. A student with a gun was loose in Norris Hall. Emily Haas' intermediate French class, taught by Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, was in session.
HAAS: We heard the gunshots. And she -- she put the door. She put the desks in front of the door. And she said call 911. Get to the back of the room. Get under the desks.
Everybody, as far as I know, tried to move as far back as they could. I was back up at the back against the -- against the wall on the side, and just waiting and hoping that he wouldn't come in.
ZAHN (on camera): After your professor told all of you to get down, were there any other words spoken before Cho burst into the room?
HAAS: Not that I can remember. A lot of everything is a blur. But I don't remember anything else.
We really -- we really were trying to be very quiet. I do remember, I think it was Clay (ph) said, keep quiet. Keep quiet, so he wouldn't think there was anybody in the room.
ZAHN: But how chaotic was it from the point you realized you weren't listening to the sounds of construction, but someone with a gun next door, and then he bursts into the room?
HAAS: I could hear him jiggling the door handle. And I don't remember hearing him come in, but he obviously came in, and just started firing.
And I had my eyes closed, so I didn't see anything. I didn't see him ever. And I wasn't -- I -- I really wasn't sure, you know, who was hurt or who wasn't. And I heard the gunshots. I heard him reloading once or twice, and a scream, and some -- some moans.
ZAHN (voice-over): Cho had already been to two classrooms, systematically shooting at nearly everyone in his path. Room 211 would be the last classroom he would hit.
HAAS: The guy that called 911, he put down the phone. And I picked it up, so they would know we were still there. And the 911 operator wanted me to keep talking. And I said, no, I want to be quiet, so he doesn't know we're here.
And she was in my ear the whole time, saying, just breathe. Just breathe.
And, so, I was just breathing in and out, and just kept my eyes closed the whole time.
ZAHN: Emily says she and four other students were lying on the floor against the wall in the back of the classroom when two bullets grazed her in the head.
(on camera): You are hit twice. You had to be in terrible pain at that point? Or were you in shock?
HAAS: It was painful when it first happened. And then I think I was in a little bit of shock.
ZAHN: One of your fellow survivors describes playing dead. And he thought that was his best hope at staying alive. But he said, in his mind, he almost visualized his own death, thinking, it could be me next. What is it going to feel like? Did you think about that at all?
HAAS: I did somewhat, especially when I got hit. I felt it. And I didn't know if I was hurt, if I was shot, if it was, you know, nothing. I -- I kind of sat there for a minute, and it hurt. And I was -- I sat there for a minute. And I did try to keep really still, and hoping that he would think I was already dead.
And I remember sitting there and thinking, OK, well, I'm alive, so maybe I didn't get shot. Maybe I just got hurt, or maybe it wasn't -- it's not as bad as I think. So, I did remember thinking, OK, I am not dead yet.
ZAHN: How long did the shooting go on?
HAAS: I couldn't tell you if it lasted five minutes or an hour.
ZAHN (voice-over): After a final series of shots, room 211 became very quiet. Emily didn't realize that the gunman had just ended his rampage by taking his own life.
(on camera): And at what point did you realize that Cho had killed himself in your classroom?
HAAS: I think yesterday or the day before.
ZAHN: Did you have the sense that people around you had lost their lives?
HAAS: I wasn't sure. I figured they probably were. And, when I did leave the room, I saw a couple people.
ZAHN (voice-over): When it was all over, as many as 10 students and their teacher, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, were dead.
Emily's mother, Laurie (ph), credits the professor for saving her daughter's life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think her teacher was directly responsible for saving my daughter's life.
I think that Emily is a special person. She's obviously very strong and very brave. I don't know why she was spared. I don't think any of us will ever know why. I think we are very grateful. We thank God every day. We say particular prayers over and over and over again for the people who lost -- lost loved ones, and particularly those parents who lost their children. HAAS: I am really happy that some of us did survive. And I feel really lucky. And I'm really grateful to my teacher, because I know she did a lot. She did all she could to try and save us.
ZAHN: Emily and Laurie (ph) also expressed great gratitude to the rescue workers on the scene, the EMT workers who treated her, who stayed in constant contact with her parents as they were trying to drive to the area some three hours away to check on their daughter.
We now know that plenty of people who knew Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech were concerned about his bizarre behavior. So, how did he get that way? Coming up: from the killer's hometown, new stories of how he was taunted at school and the names they used to call him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be angry. And don't be afraid to be angry. And don't let people condemn you for being angry. They have a right to be angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And, on the eighth anniversary of the Columbine slaughter, how has the father of a victim found an outlet for his anger? What can Virginia Tech survivors learn from him?
We will be right back.
ZAHN: Tonight, we learn more about the life of Seung-Hui Cho before he turned into a mass killer.
Cho's sister, Sun-Kyung Cho, issued a statement today describing her brother as -- quote -- "someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn't know this person." She also said: "We have always been a close, peaceful and loving family. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence."
Cho's classmates and neighbors also are trying to figure out what Cho was about.
And Sean Callebs has talked with some of them.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is how the world will remember him, sullen and snarling, casting a wide net and blaming those who he says pushed him over the edge.
REGAN WILDER, CLASSMATE OF CHO SEUNG-HUI: You have got to wonder what went so wrong in his life that this was ultimately the decision he made to -- to get revenge for whatever it was.
CALLEBS: And now Regan Wilder wonders if anyone really knew Cho Seung-Hui.
They went to the same middle and high schools before moving on to Virginia Tech.
WILDER: If you asked anybody about him that graduated with him or went to school with him, he was just known as that kid that didn't speak. I mean, he just -- he never spoke. And that's how everyone remembered him.
CALLEBS: That is, until now.
Cho was born in South Korea in 1984. His family moved to the U.S. in 1992, eventually settling here in Centreville, Virginia, where his parents worked in a dry cleaners.
EBRAM HAKIM, CLASSMATE OF CHO SEUNG-HUI: Well, you know, he was pretty normal, other than the fact I just thought he didn't know any English; that's why he never talked to anybody.
CALLEBS: Cho was quiet, even though he was often at this local basketball court, refusing to join games. Cho did pick up a nickname walking to the bus stop each day.
JOHN WILLIAMS, CLASSMATE OF CHO SEUNG-HUI: We called him the trombone kid, because he would just walk with his trombone all alone.
CALLEBS: But there were worse names leveled by others. Cho, they say, was often picked on and taunted because he was such a loner.
WILLIAMS: Such a quiet, shy kid like that, it's such an easy target. And he took it and took it and took it, and built up all that anger and whatever he felt inside. And, then, you know, someone like that is going to explode. It's destined to happen.
CALLEBS (on camera): Here outside Westfield High School, where Cho attended school, a makeshift memorial, on these rocks, candles, flowers and two painted names, Erin, for Erin Peterson, and Reema, for Reema Samaha, two girls who graduated from this school, the same one Cho attended last year. Authorities, however, say, at this point, it is unclear whether Cho knew the two or targeted them.
Sean Callebs, CNN, Chantilly, Virginia.
ZAHN: Now I want to bring in tonight's panel, journalist and author Amy Barnett, conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer Mark Smith, and Miguel Perez. He is a syndicated columnist and journalism professor at New York's Lehman College.
Welcome to you all.
AMY BARNETT, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Thank you. ZAHN: Why do you think that Cho was never thrown out of college? We now are learning about all of these red flags that were raised by his behavior.
MARK SMITH, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR & CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Well, it's very simple.
Since the 1970s, there's been this outrageous movement toward protecting criminals and psychopaths, rather than protecting the exact people government is supposed to protect. That's the law-abiding, innocent, ordinary Americans. And this is just the latest example where this bend-over-backwards, ACLU-type protection of outrageous rights, at all turns, essentially led to 32 people dying.
SMITH: So, to me, 32 people have been let down by society, not -- not the psychopath.
ZAHN: Well, what are you suggesting? You blow up all the privacy laws?
SMITH: Of course not. But what I'm saying...
ZAHN: The college can't now reveal any confidential information about his medical records. And we're not about to hear any of that.
SMITH: Paula, this guy had been identified by his English professor and by faculty members that observed him and had read his writings that he was a danger to himself and to others. And, yet, they didn't do anything about it. Do you know why? Because the school was terrified about being sued in some lawsuit alleging some violation of privacy.
The bottom line is, we have screwed the balance up. We should be focused on protecting ordinary Americans who are law-abiding, not psychopaths and criminals, like what we saw on Monday.
ZAHN: I can't speak for Virginia Tech, but I haven't seen any evidence that they didn't follow through on this because they were fearful of a lawsuit.
Is that what you are going to suggest tonight?
MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, not at all.
I do -- I do agree somewhat, though. I mean, we -- universities are not responsible, in my opinion. I mean, this could have happened in a supermarket. This could have happened at a bus stop, at a bus station.
The fact that, all of a sudden, it happened at a university doesn't really mean -- we're dealing with a psychopath here, not a -- we're not dealing with campus security. This is not the problem. It could have happened anywhere.
ZAHN: What could have saved society from this happening? We have seen all of the cracks this kid fell through. We know, when he came from South Korea, his family thought that he was mentally ill.
BARNETT: I think that what's most of concern in this particular case is how disassociated we are from our clearly troubled youth.
I mean, this young man was walking around campus in dark glasses, not saying anything. Nobody noticed. He was identified to campus authorities. Nobody said anything. I think that it's very obvious that we need to do something more to protect our young people.
We need to take a lesson from this. And we need to have every state look at their mental health laws. He was diagnosed as being mentally ill, and then he was released.
ZAHN: Right. But he was on the radar. He had two women accuse him of stalking, and then another student went in and told the administration that he thought he was suicidal.
PEREZ: He was clearly identified as...
SMITH: But, Paula, look, government, whether it be the -- Virginia Tech or any aspect of government, is not there to provide therapy to people with problems.
It's there to protect ordinary Americans from psychopaths and criminals. Where we failed is that Virginia Tech said, no one is allowed to bring a gun on campus. And, of course, like all gun bans, the criminal violated it. The law-abiding didn't. And 32 people were gunned down, because Virginia Tech...
ZAHN: You are going to tell me none of these people would have been killed if students had been allowed to carry weapons or the professors?
SMITH: I'm saying that the way to stop this murder, these murders, was that, if somebody in that classroom, whether it be a faculty member, a secretary, or a student old enough to carry a gun, was able to shoot back and kill the psychopath, before he could kill everybody else.
ZAHN: There are a lot of people that feel that way, Miguel.
PEREZ: If I have to carry a gun in class, I will stop teaching. ZAHN: You would never do that?
PEREZ: No, I would never do that. I mean...
ZAHN: How would you feel about your students being armed?
PEREZ: I mean, absolutely not. I don't think guns should be allowed on campus. In fact, I don't think guns should be allowed in society. So...
BARNETT: Absolutely not. You can't arm students. You cannot arm...
SMITH: Well, that policy was tested out, and Monday is the result.
BARNETT: You don't want maniacs with guns.
BARNETT: This has to -- this has to enable us to look at our gun control legislation. We have to take a look at the restrictions that we are placing on people who apply for gun licenses. If anything else, we have to increase those restrictions, so...
SMITH: And we have to loosen them, so ordinary Americans can actually defend themselves against psychopaths.
BARNETT: We have to do a better job of preventing...
SMITH: The problem is, we have too many gun control laws, not not enough.
BARNETT: Absolutely not.
PEREZ: I think the bottom line is, background checks on gun owners. This was not done properly with this guy. Had we done the adequate background check on him, he would have never had a gun.
ZAHN: Right. They had no idea that he had mental health problems.
ZAHN: Can we debate this more?
ZAHN: A segment away.
We have got a lot more to cover on the issue of gun control and what might have happened if students or teachers had been armed on the campus that day.
Today also happens to mark eight years since the shootings at Columbine High School. But, even after all that time, some of the survivors, as you probably can imagine, are still trying to heal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARJORIE LINDHOLM, COLUMBINE MASSACRE SURVIVOR: I didn't talk about it at all. I just shut down completely and I pretended it didn't happen to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Next: the very deep scars and lingering effects of the atrocity at Columbine. What advice do the survivors have for the students of Virginia Tech? We will hear when we come back.
ZAHN: On Monday, the worst shooting massacre in modern U.S. history, today, the eighth anniversary of the Columbine massacre, and, in between anniversaries of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, and the fiery deaths of members of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993.
It is so chilling to think of all these bloody events spaced so closely on the calendar. And, for those who lived through the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, even now, survivors and relatives are just beginning to put their lives back together.
We sent Ed Lavandera to Littleton, Colorado, to meet with some of them.
And he joins me now -- Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula.
Well, one Columbine survivor told us that they share a special bond with the survivors and the witnesses of the Virginia Tech shooting. And the folks here in Colorado want their friends at Virginia Tech to know that life will get better one day. But, first, they have to live through the nightmares and the anger.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Exactly eight years ago, Marjorie Lindholm walked into Columbine High School as a vivacious, energetic teenager. She was trapped in the school for four hours, while Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher just outside her classroom. After the teenage gunmen's murderous rampage, Marjorie walked out trembling and crying, rattled to the core.
MARJORIE LINDHOLM, COLUMBINE MASSACRE SURVIVOR: I didn't talk about it at all. I just shut down completely and I pretended it didn't happen to me.
LAVANDERA: Marjorie was a sophomore cheerleader. She loved learning, dreamed of becoming a doctor. But she would soon drop out of high school and later flunk her first years of college.
PEGGY LINDHOLM, MOTHER OF MARJORIE: I wanted her to be what she was when she went to school that day. I wanted that life back. That's not coming back.
LAVANDERA: Even eight years later, sitting in a classroom can trigger a panic attack.
M. LINDHOLM: I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. And I just remember the feeling of that day.
LAVANDERA: Columbine survivors say Virginia Tech students can expect to feel depressed and angered after the shock of what's happened wears off. Everyone will heal differently and parents will struggle as well.
RICH PETRONE, STEPFATHER OF COLUMBINE VICTIM: We tried everything we can to get this stuff out.
LAVANDERA: Rich Petrone doesn't hold back his emotions. He cries and screams. His stepson Daniel Rohrbough (ph) was killed in the Columbine shooting. He's no longer ashamed of those feelings.
PETRONE: Be angry and don't be afraid to be angry and don't let people condemn you for being angry. They have a right to be angry.
LAVANDERA: Petrone deals with his anger by trying to find out as much as he can about the Columbine attack in hopes of understanding what drove Harris and Klebold and every year about this time, he experiences the same feelings.
PETRONE: You get really tired and you are irritable and you just don't want to do what you normally do. Gosh, I just feel so drained. Then all of a sudden, well, it's April.
LAVANDERA: This April, Marjorie Lindholme (ph) is back in school but takes most of her classes online, studying from home. The classroom jitters have never gone away. Is the fear the most difficult part?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is because that's the part that controls your daily activities. That's the part that can hold you back from your future and can take away your dreams.
LAVANDERA: The Columbine shootings took a lot from Marjorie Lindholme, but now she's fighting to get some of it back. (END VIDEOTAPE)
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR, PAULA ZAHN NOW: So, Ed, we heard some of the advice that Rich Petrone just gave families perhaps involved with this Virginia Tech tragedy. What other advice did you hear from some of the other parents you spoke with?
LAVANDERA: The one thing we've heard over and over is to get people to talk. Let them talk at their own pace, at their own time, whenever they are ready but that talking is going to be the most important part of all of this. In fact Marjorie Lindholme even suggested and asked the students at Virginia Tech saying, hey, you can reach out to me. We've lived through this and we feel that the survivors and students who were at Columbine have something to share to the students at Virginia Tech to let them know what the next several years will be like.
ZAHN: It's so clear that anger is still so raw today and certainly not surprising. Ed Lavandera, thanks so much.
Right now it is believed Americans own about 200 million guns. Do you have one at home? Then you probably have some pretty strong opinions about gun control. Coming up, will the Virginia Tech massacre reignite the gun debate?
And a little bit later on, we know that violent movies have given other criminals ideas. Did this also happen in the case of Seung-Hui Cho?
ZAHN: Just days after the worst shooting massacre in modern U.S. history, the frightening impact of guns in our lives is pushing the controversial issue of gun control back into the national debate. A new poll out today shows that 47 percent of Americans are in favor of tougher gun laws. Eleven percent want less strict gun laws and 38 percent say the laws should stay the same. But is the gun control issue igniting passions in Congress? Democrats, of course, now in control. But as Dana Bash reports this week, they are keeping awfully quiet about changing gun laws.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the emotion filled days after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, Democrats demanded tougher gun laws.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D) ILLINOIS: How many of our schools have to be desecrated by blood and bullets before the Senate and the House will act?
BASH: Back then, Congress debated waiting three days for background checks for sales at gun shows and mandatory child safety locks on new guns. None of it became law. Now another massacre, more victims, more emotion. This time, Democrats control Congress, but they are shying away from talk of gun control. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope there's not a rush to do anything. We need to take a deep breath.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Console the families and the children who were affected there. That's what we're focusing on. That's all we're focusing on right now.
BASH: Democrats are reluctant to pass new gun restrictions, in part, because public support for tightening gun laws has been steadily dropping. In 1990, 78 percent of Americans backed stricter gun control. Now it's less than half. Democrats dropped gun control as a national issue after Al Gore was tagged as antigun in 2000 and lost big in the south and rural areas. Since then, Democrats won seats from Indiana to North Carolina with pro gun candidates.
REP. HEATH SHULER, (D) NORTH CAROLINA: I am a very strong second amendment guy.
STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: So the Democratic Party has really tried to move to the center on some issues and certainly with a lot of rhetoric. And picking up the gun issue again, I think many Democrats feel would push them further back to the left. They don't want to go there now.
BASH: Democrat Carolyn McCarthy ran for Congress after her husband was killed in 1993 by a Long Island railroad gunman.
CAROLYN McCARTHY (D) NEW YORK: So this isn't just policy. This is personal for me.
BASH: She hopes this week's shootings will help her renew restriction on weapons, limit clips to 10 bullets in 9 millimeter guns like the one used in Virginia. But McCarthy says even that will be tough.
McCARTHY: I have members that come up to me and say, Carolyn, I'd like to be with you, but I can't. I didn't come here to congress to fight gun violence. I'll lose my re-election. You know what? They probably would.
BASH: Democratic sources say the only gun control legislation Congress is likely to consider is bolstering the Federal background check system to ensure states provide critical information like mental health records that could disqualify someone from owning a gun. Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.
ZAHN: Let's hear what tonight's panel has to say about this extremely controversial issue. Amy Barnett, Mark Smith, Miguel Perez. So Amy, we just heard Dana say that you would think that there might be some outrage on the part of the gun control crowd. We haven't heard that. What are they afraid of? Are they afraid to make hay out of this?
AMY BARNETT, JOURNALIST: Honestly, I don't even think this is a constitutional issue at this particular point. It's been in and out of the Supreme Court for years. I think that what we need to figure out is what we can do to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people. I think that this shooter in Virginia was obviously ill. He was diagnosed with a mental illness. There has to be some way of doing a background check before people are issued a gun license so shat if they come in contact with a licensed mental health professional who has diagnosed them as being potentially harmful to society, they are automatically -- their gun license is automatically rejected.
ZAHN: That is what happened in the purchase of the gun on the Internet.
That's right. First of all --
ZAHN: Otherwise that sale would never have gone through if they had known he had a mental health.
MARK SMITH, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Every gun that's purchased from a gun dealer in America has to be run through the national (INAUDIBLE) check system, which is the national system that basically is a criminal background check before you can buy a gun. Let me be clear.
ZAHN: How did this guy get a gun then? The system didn't work.
SMITH: He passed the background check. Exactly, they passed the background check.
ZAHN: What would you do to change that to prevent a psycho from getting his hands on the gun?
SMITH: One thing I would do with a guy with this psychological background, I'd lock him up in a mental institution first and foremost so he's not even on the streets to be able to buy a gun. That's the first thing I would do. Certainly it appears as if the Virginia records could be a little bit better so that when you are adjudicated, incompetent in some way everybody know it. But Paula, let's face facts what's going on here. There will not be any more gun control laws in America. What will happen is a loosening of gun control laws because what this example taught us along with Katrina and 9/11 is that when you really face evil and need to defend yourself and your life, you can't count on government to do it. You've got to do it for yourself. People are going to go out and buy guns and defend themselves because if any one of the 32 people in that room had a gun they could have defended themselves and all their classmates and it would have been a much different result.
ZAHN: If one of those professors had been armed, do you think this bloodbath would have been stopped and do you wish one of those students (INAUDIBLE)?
MIGUEL PEREZ, LEHMAN COLLEGE: It's unacceptable for professors to be armed in my opinion.
ZAHN: What about a student? PEREZ: A student it's unacceptable for students to carry guns into a college or a high school.
ZAHN: And you said you would quit if --
PEREZ: If I was required to carry a gun, absolutely. This is not the old west.
SMITH: But, Miguel, if you don't want to defend yourself, don't defend yourself. But why are you depriving ordinary Americans --
PEREZ: we want a better America, not an America where people have to shoot each other like the old west. We want a better America.
SMITH: The America you are talking about happened on Monday, where there was a gun ban on Virginia Tech's campus. We saw what happened. The criminal psychopath got a gun and killed innocent people who complied with the gun ban.
PEREZ: So anybody on the campus should have carried a gun and maybe more of them --
BARNETT: ...college students. You don't think there would be an increase of violence on college campus?
SMITH: ... kill 32 people. Look what happened with one guy with a gun against 32 people who had no gun. The answer is they were slaughtered. I say give people the chance to fight back when they encounter evil in the form of psychopaths.
ZAHN: But you also conceded there was -- I don't remember what word you said, loosy goosiness (ph) in the way that Virginia law was applied in this case that allowed for this guy to get his hands on two guns.
SMITH: All human institutions have some flaws. As we saw at Katrina, 9/11 and on Monday, government and society can't always be there for you. So you better be there for yourself. When you encounter a bad situation, you at the end of the day have to take care of yourself. If you don't want to do it like Miguel, fine. That's your individual choice.
BARNETT: There's a solution. Mental health professionals are already required to inform the authorities if one of their patients potentially harmful to society. Why not extend that to gun licensing laws so people who come in contact with these professionals and who are potentially harmful will be automatically rejected in terms of applying for their license.
SMITH: That's already the law. If you have been adjudicated as incompetent or --
BARNETT: Not for mental illness. Obviously not. Cho got a gun.
SMITH: IF there's a failure in the record keeping, once again, another example of why you need guns because it shows the government failed in the record keeping. That's why ordinary Americans need guns to defend themselves.
BARNETT: (INAUDIBLE) not carry guns on campus.
SMITH: Faculty members?
BARNETT: Absolutely not. He would quit.
ZAHN: He would quit.
PEREZ: I would quit right now.
ZAHN: I have to move on to a commercial break. Amy Barnett, Mark Smith, Miguel Perez, thank you all.
For years, critics have accused Hollywood of inspiring killers through violent movies. Now some people think a foreign film may have given Seung-Hui Cho some deadly ideas. Coming up, other films that shockingly turn into movies to die for. You can't believe how much money those films made.
A little bit later on, the father of a Virginia Tech victim and the heartbreaking way he found out something had gone terribly wrong.
ZAHN: Every day this week, we've learned a little bit more about Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho from his brush with the mental health system to the video manifesto he mailed the day of the massacre. Tonight we could be closer to knowing where he chose some of his violent imagery. Here's entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson.
BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the 2003 South Korean film "Oldboy," a man seeks revenge on those who kidnapped him and murdered his wife. He goes on a bloody rampage, wielding a hammer against a throng of his former jailers. It's this image that's raising the question. Did Cho Seung-Hui ever see "Oldboy," and if so, was he influenced by it? "Newsweek" pop culture writer Devin Gordon thinks so.
DEVIN GORDON, POP CULTURE WRITER, "NEWSWEEK": It seems clear to me that Cho saw the movie "Oldboy" and admired it and enjoyed it a great deal. But what it did for him was not inspire him to kill 32 people. What "Oldboy" did was maybe provide details and poses, a script to follow as he did it because maybe he didn't have a reference point of his own.
ANDERSON: Forensic psychologist Michael Peck, who specializes in murder/suicide cases, says films like this can influence troubled minds.
MICHAEL L. PECK, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: I don't know exactly if it gives them the idea. I think it helps them implement whatever ideas and urges they may already have. It pushes them in the direction of thinking, for example, I could achieve glory this way. Or I could achieve, as he wanted to do, permanent immortality.
ANDERSON: We will never know for sure if it influenced Cho. But there have been cases in the past where violent films have been linked to violent acts by young people. Oliver Stone's 1994 film "Natural Born Killers" centers on a young couple who become celebrities after a nationwide killing spree. In 1995, 18-year-old Sarah Edmondson and her boyfriend, Benjamin Daris (ph) went on a shooting spree of their own, killing one person and paralyzing another. Edmondson told authorities that before the shootings they had taken LSD and watched "Natural Born Killers." Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris referenced that same film in notes to each other. Eyewitnesses to their 1999 murder spree said it reminded them of "The Matrix." Dressed in black trench coats, they killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.
GORDON: The violence is not attributable to "The Matrix." What is attributable to "The Matrix" is merely the details, the imagery, the way in which they may have gone about it.
ANDERSON: Leonardo DiCaprio's character shot up his school in a dream sequence in the 1995 film "The Basketball Diaries." Two years later, teenager Michael Carneil (ph) killed three classmates and wounded five others in Paducah, Kentucky. He later told police he had been influenced, in part, by the movie. Experts believe that no single factor can be blamed for turning a troubled person into a mass killer. But they say a violent film can provide that same disturbed individual with a script for disaster. Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.
ZAHN: Virginia Tech of course took us all by surprise, especially parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH SAMAHA, FATHER OF VICTIM: How I first got the news was just watching the news in the morning that something was unfolding at the university.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Coming up next, a grieving father breaks his silence.
ZAHN: There are still so many unanswered questions about the Virginia Tech massacre. The members of CNN's special investigations unit have been working this case all week long and putting together a special hour for you. Soledad O'Brien is the host. She joins me now. Soledad, both you and I spent a lot of time talking to students and their parents this week about what had gone so terribly wrong. What is it that struck you the most about what some of these kids told you?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is such a tough, tough time for them. Of course, it's incredibly difficult to move on when really the media is still camped out on the drill field right in the center of the school. Some want to talk. I was surprised by that, how many felt it was cathartic to share their feelings and others really would just like to be left alone. They don't want to be known as the school that's the site of the worst gun violence in U.S. history. This is their home. At this point it's very hard to think about how they are going to recover. It's also brutal of course for the parents who lost their children. We spoke in great length to Joseph Samaha. He was the father of Reema Samaha who was a freshman. He told us how he first realized that something horrible had happened at the school.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH SAMAHA, FATHER OF VICTIM: How I first got the news was just watching the news in the morning that something was unfolding at the university. And I just took the lead myself and started calling Reema and wasn't getting any response. Tracked her down through her friends and enlisted my son to help me. And still no response. Text messages, e-mails. And that's not like her. She would pick up the phone and say, dad, I'm OK. And as the day wore on, I said, this isn't good. And we need to come down here and find out for ourselves what is happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: What was happening that Reema and many of her friends did not survive the massacre. The Samahas and other parents had their grief compounded really when they would not get the bodies released by the coroner's office. Some didn't even want the bodies, but at that moment they said they understood that autopsies had to happen but they just wanted to be able to sit with and visit the bodies of their children who had died. And the coroner said, no, they had to wait until the autopsies were completed. The coroner told the Samahas, we'll send you a photo. Would that be enough? Of course, that was just devastating news. Here's what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMAHA: That's been very difficult because we really want to hug our child, whether she has life in her or not. We want to be with her. We want to see her face again. And it may not happen for a few days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Well, it turns out that after this interview, authorities began releasing the bodies. And as of today, all the bodies have finally been returned to those grieving parents. It has been a brutally tough time for the people there. When you ask them, what are the first steps toward recovery? They look almost baffled and bewildered and say, I don't even know how to begin.
ZAHN: I know because the loss is so fresh and so deep. I guess I was really struck by how parents came at this in different ways. Some parents said, you know what? Give us a break. We're not going to do any finger pointing right now. Let us live with our loss. And other parents were absolutely outraged that their kids weren't protected on this campus. What are you getting today from these parents?
O'BRIEN: I met many more of the former than the latter frankly. I met many more parents who said listen, hindsight is 20/20. The university did all that they could to protect the students in the kind of setup you are talking about. A university is essentially like a town. There would be no way to actually prevent something like that from happening, a madman from attacking students. The parents said they were picking up their kids and without exception, the parents I spoke to said absolutely their children would be coming back to the university. Paula?
ZAHN: Soledad, thank you so much. We'll be watching Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern. "Massacre at Virginia Tech" from CNN's special investigation unit. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And that wraps up for all of us here, we hope you have a really good weekend. See you Monday night.
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