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Pope to Lead Christmas Eve Ceremonies; Fiscal Cliff Looming

Aired December 24, 2012 - 15:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: I am Hala Gorani in Washington, D.C., in for Brooke Baldwin.

In Vatican City now, Catholics are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Thousands are gathering at St. Peter's Basilica. Next hour, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Christmas Eve mass. The pontiff is preparing to deliver his Christmas Eve homily to mark one of the holiest days of the year for Catholics.

I asked Eternal World TV network news director Raymond Arroyo about what message Catholics should express -- should expect from the pontiff this Christmas.


RAYMOND ARROYO, ETERNAL WORD TELEVISION NETWORK: After reading the pope's new book, which is all about the infancy and the birth of Christ, one imagines he will sound similar themes.

There, he really talked about the freedom that, you know, the Virgin Mary, answering the call of the angels and submitting to that call and that again human freedom is so essential to the church's teaching, central the nativity story, and I think resonates with all of us, that we all have our own obligation to act with God's will and in his will


GORANI: Raymond Arroyo there on what to expect from the homily and the message of -- by the pope to Catholics. This is Bethlehem in the West Bank. Christians are gathering at the Church of the Nativity there. The West Bank town is believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

But Palestinian authorities fear that the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas could deter visitors to the site this year and hurt tourism to Bethlehem.

Now, if you're on the road this holiday, be prepared. It could be a stormy Christmas in some parts of the United States and some areas may be in store for severe weather.


GORANI: We have new details on that horrible story involving a huge fire here on Christmas Eve in Upstate New York. You can see some of the images. Within the past half-hour, the police chief of Webster, New York, announced that seven homes were destroyed. Firefighters haven't gone inside yet. They don't know what they're going to find there. The gunman, the man who shot four first-responders, killing two of them, that gunman has now been identified.

He apparently took his own life. Authorities say he apparently lured the firefighters to the site of the fire and shot them.

Let's go to Poppy Harlow in New York. She's getting more information as well on what we know.

What more can you tell us, Poppy, about this?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have some fresh sound we want to play for everyone. It is pretty disturbing sound coming in from two of the firefighters. Just remind our viewers, four firefighters, the first-responders, to this house fire early this morning were shot at. Two were killed.

Those two were lieutenant Mike Chiapperini and Tom Kaczowka. They were both killed. Two more were injured, Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofsetter. They're both being treated at a local hospital for serious injuries.

But we're going to play you some sound now that is a discussion between the two that were injured and survived and fire dispatchers just minutes after the shooting. So, you heard some of that. You heard one of the firefighters saying that they were trapped, basically finding cover, Hala, and saying, "I need EMS soon. I need EMS soon" -- so, some very disturbing sound there, as you said, seven houses destroyed because once these fires -- were shot, the first-responders couldn't fight the fires. They had to retreat.

They blazed on for hours and hours, catching seven homes on fire. The big question at this hour, were there any people in those homes, are those people OK? We don't know because police say they haven't yet been able to get inside of those homes.

Also, an off-duty police officer, John Ritter, was by the scene, just happened to be there. He was also hit with some shrapnel. He's also being treated, but, you know, the SWAT team had to come in and remove 33 residents in the area in armored personnel carriers to evacuate them from an incredibly dangerous situation.

GORANI: Well, I mean, and it is just a bizarre story.

What we believe happened is that a shooter lured firefighters to the scene of a fire, and then shot two of them dead, injured two others. So what more do we know about this suspected shooter at this point?

HARLOW: We have no idea why these first-responders may have been lured, Hala.

But, yes, police, the police chief there is saying that it appears to be some sort of trap to lure them in, but no motive is known at all, nothing said about that at the press conference. That said, let me tell you what we know about the shooter because that has just come out in last hour, his name, William Spengler. He was born in September 1950. He has a pretty extensive criminal background.

We know that he was arrested in 1980, then convicted in '81 for shooting and killing his grandmother. He served time in New York state prison until 1998, when he was released. He was then on parole until 2006. Police haven't really had any contact with him since 2006. No major issues have come up, but, again, a man over 60 years old, killing his grandmother, serving time for that, eventually being released and now this.

We also know that police are saying he killed himself, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

GORANI: All right, Poppy Harlow, thanks very much. And we will be getting back to Poppy, of course, in the coming hours with more, because details are emerging very regularly in this story that is still unfolding.

To Texas now. Speaking of shootings, two people are dead after a car chase that ended in a shoot-out there. The pursuit started after a Bellaire, Texas, police officer tried to pull over a driver. The driver refused to stop. The chase ended up in an auto parts business parking lot, where police say the driver shot and killed the officer and a bystander. The driver is listed in critical condition at a hospital.

Lawmakers enjoying the Christmas holiday off, and with just eight days until the fiscal cliff, is anyone truly trying to strike a deal?


CAPT. THEA ALLI, U.S. AIR FORCE: Hi. I'm Captain Thea Alli, and I'm deployed to Southwest Asia.

I wanted to say hi and happy holidays to my mom and dad in Greenville, South Carolina, and to all my friends and family. Happy holidays.



GORANI: United States Senator Mike Crapo from Idaho says he's sorry about a DUI that he got over the weekend. Here is the mug shot snapped after Crapo's arrest in a Washington, D.C., suburb, happened early Sunday morn.

Crapo is a Mormon. He supposedly doesn't drink alcohol. Of course, it turns out that he does. Here is part of a statement that he released to the media.

"I made a mistake, for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me. I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter." Police say Crapo was alone when he was arrested and his blood alcohol level was over the limit, .11. When the new Congress convenes, Crapo is expected to be the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

Eight days to go now, from federal tax rates rising, government spending shrinking and depending on details of your own situation, various tax breaks slipping away. This could have a very, very bad impact on the economy as a whole. It is called the fiscal cliff for that reason. A plan to stop it all from happening still eludes Washington.

So Congress has broken camp for the holidays. The president has gone to Hawaii on vacation.

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar tells us no one is really talking, anyone, to get this solved, at least not here at Christmas.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Senate Democrats are not in conversations right now with Senate Republicans or with House Republicans.

And this is problematic obviously because in order to avoid the fiscal cliff, you would need to find some sort of deal that would make it through the Senate and the House and that would mean Democratic and Republican support.

Right now, all eyes on the Senate because they will reconvene on the 27th. That is Thursday. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it is up to him really to cobble together something that can get some of that support. Right now, the White House is still supporting a threshold of $250,000 back to their initial starting point for tax rates going up for those making more than that.

But you can imagine, Hala, that is going to be very hard for some Republicans, maybe even some Democrats, to sign on to.

GORANI: Right.

And, you know, for just about a week ago, it was common to hear, oh, a deal will be hammered out. But over the last several days, we're hearing more and more that potentially this is a reality for Americans in eight days' time. Your sources in the administration, is there a real concern among some of the people you're speaking with that indeed this fiscal cliff will become a reality?

KEILAR: I think there is much more of a concern.

I think a couple of weeks ago when you talked to folks not only in the administration, but on the Hill, there was a thought that this may be averted. Now I do think there is more pessimism. You're hearing that publicly, Hala. That's also what is going on behind the scenes.


GORANI: Brianna Keilar, our White House correspondent, speaking with us from Honolulu, Hawaii.

2012, a year filled with bright moments, significant achievements and, of course, tragedy. There were stories and people that grabbed our attention and kept us talking. Still ahead, what you, our viewers, chose as your top 10 most intriguing people of this year.


GORANI: In Afghanistan, a Navy SEAL commander is dead in what may be a suicide. SEAL Team Four commander Job Price was found dead after he didn't show up for a meeting on Saturday. He had an apparent gunshot wound to the head. Price was a senior officer who was in charge of more than two dozen staff members. SEAL Team Four helps train local police to keep back the Taliban in outlying parts of Afghanistan. Price was based in Virginia Beach. He was married and he had a 9- year-old daughter.

Still in Afghanistan, officials are calling it the first insider attack by a woman. An Afghan policewoman has shot and killed a U.S. NATO contractor in Kabul, or maybe a woman dressed as a policewoman.

Let's go straight to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for new details on this incident.

Hi, Barbara.


Well, you're absolutely right. The woman was dressed in an Afghan police uniform, but was she a member of the police forces? That, of course, still to be determined as this investigation goes on. But now the U.S. contractor has been identified by the company, the U.S. company he worked for. The man's name is, Joseph Griffin, 49 years old, of Mansfield, Georgia.

He was a veteran of U.S. military service. He had also worked in many law enforcement positions, we're told. And he was in Afghanistan, working for the contractor company DynCorp International, a major U.S. contractor in the war zone working to help mentor and train Afghan police forces.

This is the latest of these so-called insider attacked that have plagued the forces over the past year,many active duty forces killed, contractors, about 50 deaths so far this year. They still haven't really been able to get a handle on it -- Hala.

GORANI: And these attacks have been increasing. What is the reason behind the increase in attacks, these insider attacks in Afghanistan against Western soldiers, Western contractors there?

STARR: Well, this is -- they have increased throughout the year, but over the course of the year, ebbed and flowed, thankfully, where there hasn't been one in several weeks.

The military -- the intelligence effort in the military has been to try and figure out the answer to that very question. What is going on? Why is this happening? Some of them are said to be Taliban infiltrations. But there is a sense, we're told, that many of them are due, how to describe it, to cultural differences, Afghans who feel a grudge, perhaps, to how they are treated by forces and Western personnel, crossed signals, conversations that don't go well, and sometimes the Westerners don't have any idea perhaps that they have offended the Afghanis.

There is a lot of training going on now behind the scenes to try and be more culturally aware of what might cause a problem that can turn into one of these fatal attacks -- Hala.

GORANI: Thank you, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

Their job was to make people laugh. That was before the Newtown school shooting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was one of the first-responders to the scene. How are you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never in your life could you imagine you would pull up to a scene so horrific.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not. There are certain things that people just shouldn't see.


GORANI: How a Connecticut morning radio show has become a way for listeners to heal.


GORANI: Well, a lot of people complain about what they hear on talk radio, that it is abrasive, that it is brash, that it is obnoxious. But in the aftermath of the school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, two morning drive time hosts changed up their format to help their community. Take a listen.


CHAZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Chaz, A.J., mornings. We almost felt we'd like to call it a town hall meeting held in a frat house. Friday was strange. We went from in the morning doing one of the most happy, upbeat, fun shows of the year, next year's going to be even better, to in the afternoon doing the saddest show of our careers. And he was one of the first responders to the scene.

CHAZ: How are you?


CHAZ: Never in your life could you imagine you'd pull up to a scene so horrific.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not. There are certain things that people just shouldn't see.

A.J., RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Every moment it was getting worse and worse and you couldn't help but feel, OK, did we reach the bottom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My sister is the behavioral therapist, Sandy Hook Elementary.

CHAZ: Is that right? Is she OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't - we don't know. We haven't heard from her.

CHAZ: How long ago did she start there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just her second week there.

CHAZ: She's probably very busy right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, and absolutely.

CHAZ: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She probably will be very terrified when she gets home, but right now her priority is her children.

CHAZ: And Monday we had her on the show and she was not OK. I'm so sorry for your loss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you very much. We're all surprised and shocked.

A.J.: There's almost like a threshold for a nightmare. This left nightmare in the rearview mirror.

CHAZ: My heart goes out to those parents because they'll never be the same.

A.J.: The fact that folks were able to call in and get it out of their system, to talk about it instead of keeping it bottled in I think it helped them and it helped us.

CHAZ: Jim in Sandy Hook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a father of a third grader attended the school. So you can imagine how our worlds have been turned upside down.

A.J.: Frank in Shelton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how are you doing, guys? A very close family friend of ours lost his son.

A.J.: Gretchen in Seymour. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You bring hope to all of us who remain a little bit hopeless.

A.J.: Barry in (INAUDIBLE) today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how any of these parents are doing what they're doing.

A.J.: A tough day after a tough day, and then another tough day and then a harder day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm choked up as we're speaking. I just can't -- can't get over what has happened.

A.J.: Scott in Roxbury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very close friend of mine, his son was one of the victims.

A.J.: Mary in Shelton.


A.J.: We're hanging in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we all are, really tough.

A.J.: It is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And at the cemetery also there was probably two to three hundred firefighters.

A.J.: They're all lined up along a funeral route.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're having their service for his son today in Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a lovely poem. Can I share it with you?

A.J.: Can you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please don't cry. We're OK. We went on a field trip today. It's really nice so I think I will stay and hold your spot until your field trip day. I know Christmas is here and there's toys to be given, so please tell Santa to send them to heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chaz, A.J., mornings.


GORANI: Well, we asked you to pick the most intriguing people of 2012. So who is number one? We will show you, along with the rest of the top 10. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)