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Tornado Threat for Christmas; Christmas with the First Family; Police: Gunman in New York had "Arsenal"; Top 2012 Scientific Achievements

Aired December 25, 2012 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks for joining us on this Christmas Day. Merry Christmas.

Across the globe, Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of NATO troops stationed in Kabul sang festive songs and lit candles during a Christmas church service.

People in Sri Lanka celebrated the dawn of Christmas during a midnight mass.


"SANTA CLAUS": Merry Christmas! Give me a hug!


MALVEAUX: And in New York, a man dressed up as Santa Claus is bringing a little Christmas cheer to neighborhoods damaged by superstorm Sandy. He is even handing gifts to children who lost toys and homes in that storm.

Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his annual Christmas message. Listen.


POPE BENEDICT XVI, CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): In this world, there is a good soil which God has prepared.


MALVEAUX: The Pontiff in his eighth message as Pope, he spoke before 50,000 followers in St. Peter's Squares. He called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria. He also condemned conflicts in Mali and Nigeria, and urged China to allow Catholics there to freely practice their religion.

And in Bethlehem, Christians gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus with a midnight mass. The celebration was held at the Church of the Holy Nativity on the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was among those in the crowd at the 1,700-year-old church.


QUEEN ELIZABETH II, GREAT BRITAIN: This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son to serve, not to be served. It is my prayer this Christmas Day --


MALVEAUX: In Great Britain, the queen's Christmas message was quite different this year. For the first time, it was actually broadcast in 3D, clearly a sign of times. When her grandfather began the Christmas day practice 80 years ago, there was no TV.

Snow, ice, tornadoes, triple threat, much of the nation this Christmas. Snow already falling across parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is warning drivers to stay off the roads if they can.

In Oregon, rescue crews have safely located a group of hikers who had been lost in snowy conditions since Sunday. Twenty searchers used specialized vehicles and skis to scour parts of Mt. Hood. The three say they are lucky, lucky to be alive.


MARGARITA ESTRADA, RESCUED FROM SNOW CAVE: We spent the night on the floor, on the snow in the snow cave with just the clothes on our backs.


MALVEAUX: Hikers were united with their families yesterday just in time for Christmas.

So, what can we expect for the rest of the holiday, the next few days?

I want to bring in Alexandra Steele, who-s up at CNN weather center.

There's a lot going on this Christmas, yes?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Just in time for Christmas, right? Feet of snow.

Hi, everyone. Good afternoon.

Look at this veritable cornucopia of color. We've got the rain, heavy at times, tornado warnings to boot. We have the pink, which is showing you where the ice is which we've seen a lot of, and the developing snow.

So, this is the big picture. These red boxes delineating where tornado watches are, meaning conditions are ripe for tornadoes to develop. And we have seen tornadoes developing. At Houston and points eastward, we have a tornado watch until 4:00, New Orleans until 1:00. These are Central Times, but we could see those get pushed further out in the day as well.

All right. Here is where the tornado warnings are. I know this is kind of difficult to kind of tell. Here's Texas, eastern Texas, but look at this line. This tornado, this storm that has the potential and has seen rotation moving East at 55 miles per hour. All of these storms moving east-northeast and will continue to push eastward and take their severity with them.

So, big picture for tornadoes, really the propensity for quite a serious tornado outbreak. And damaging winds, 60 to 80 miles per hour with straight-line winds and even some hail.

So, throughout the early afternoon, Houston to New Orleans, later in the day, from New Orleans to Birmingham through Atlanta, Georgia. Tonight in Atlanta, tonight in Birmingham, and then not out of the woods. Tomorrow, this whole system, with all its energy, pushes to the East Coast. Raleigh down towards Charleston and Jacksonville to the 95 corridor to boot. That's tomorrow.

Here is where the snow is falling, three to five inches in Oklahoma City, but that's just the beginning.

Here is where the threat will be. Look at Paducah, blizzard warnings posted tonight. We're going watch all this snow move into the Northeast, Suzanne. So this is just really the tip of the iceberg.

We could see a foot-plus of snow in western New York tomorrow.

MALVEAUX: There is so much to follow there.

STEELE: I could do the whole show.


STEELE: You just sit back and let me keep going for another 30 minutes.

MALVEAUX: We need to hunker down, I think. Hunker down, stay warm.

STEELE: You hunker down and I'll stay on. How is that?

MALVEAUX: We got a little bit more news to cover. Thank you. But we'll bring you back, Alexandra Steele. Thank you.

STEELE: Merry Christmas.

MALVEAUX: Merry Christmas.

First Lady Michelle Obama, of course, taking in the Christmas spirit. The White House just releasing a picture of the first lady answering calls from children who called NORAD's Santa Tracker control center to ask about how Santa was doing around the globe, his trip around the globe. Mrs. Obama watched Santa's progress from Hawaii last night.

I want to bring in our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar who joins us from Hawaii. I guess if anybody has the inside scoop to where Santa is, it is probably the first lady, right, don't you think?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, and it was very cute. She was talking to kids who were tracking Santa as NORAD followed where he was going. We -- it's obviously still very early here, Suzanne, as you know, but we don't have anything on the president's public schedule today. That said, he normally does visit with troops on Christmas Day, so we won't be surprised at all if he does that again.

Sam Kass, the White House chef, has come on this trip out to Hawaii, and he will be preparing the meal for the Obamas at the house that they're renting in Kailua, about 45 minutes drive from where we are in Waikiki.

Also another sort of fun thing, this involving the first lady that I want to mention, the White House releasing a video of her appearance earlier this month at the National Children's Medical Center in Washington, D.C. This is a tradition that dates back to the 1950s and it's pretty cute as you can see, Bo kind of stealing the show, helping her read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: -- to the children's hospital to see all of you, and I want to thank my escorts Jordan and A.J., you guys are awesome. You did a fabulous job escorting me here. I made it.


OBAMA: Well done. And, of course, we have Santa Claus, who is really the star of the show.


KEILAR: I don't know, Suzanne, I just love that little boy on the left, and he got such a kick out of Bo. He was petting him through the whole story.

MALVEAUX: I can't -- Brianna, I just can't believe how big Bo is. The last time -- when Bo was first introduced to us at the White House, he was a little puppy. That dog is really big there. But she's handling it all well.

KEILAR: It was funny, as he clearly still thinks he is a little puppy.

MALVEAUX: He kind of steals the show.

Brianna, I know the family is celebrating Christmas, but surely there is some more work to be, obviously -- trying to avoid the huge tax hikes, the spending cuts that are going to take affect for the New Year. Do we know if the president is engaged at all in talks, negotiations regarding the fiscal cliff?

KEILAR: We know the White House is at this point, Suzanne. It's really the White House and Senate Democrats who are talking at this point. Congressional Democrats and Republicans are not talking, and this is important to note as the Senate is set to reconvene on Thursday. At some point take up some sort of measure that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will have cobbled together hoping to get some Republican support.

But right now, it is -- it is possible, of course, to resolve this. It's also possible according to a lot of sources that we're talking to that we do go over the cliff. But at this point, the White House talking to Senate Democrats about what their proposal is that they'll be putting out here in the next week.

MALVEAUX: And, Brianna, if there was some break through I'm assuming the president would cut his vacation short and go back to Washington? Is that what you understand?

KEILAR: I think -- yes, they haven't made it official, Suzanne, but I think that is the expectation, talking with sources. It's not really a matter of if the president is going back to Washington. It seems to be more a matter of when will he go back.

So that hasn't been announced. I'm sure at some point they will make it official and that will be put in motion. But it's really hard to see a scenario where the Senate is reconvening, all of this is sort of cruising to the fiscal cliff and the president would stay here in Hawaii.

MALVEAUX: All right. Brianna, that means your trip is cut short as well, so you'll be back in Washington and we will see you in Washington soon. Have a great Christmas, Brianna. Good to see you.

Former President George H.W. Bush is spending Christmas in the hospital. Doctors were hoping he'd be home for the holiday but he's had a few setbacks in the last week, including a fever. Now, the former president, who is 88, has been in a Houston hospital for more than a month after initially being diagnosed with bronchitis.

Hollywood has lost a veteran actor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to write something that could mean a lot of money to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Write in your column in the paper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm writing the blast. That's going to lower the alimony.


MALVEAUX: Ninety-year-old Jack Klugman best known as the messy sports writer Oscar Madison in TV's "Odd Couple" died at his home in California yesterday. Klugman won two Emmys for playing Oscar Madison and later portrayed medical examiner Dr. R. Quincy in "Quincy, M.D." Much-need day off for police officers in Newtown. After working nonstop since the school shooting tragedy, find out how they are getting a break from the officers in their neighboring communities.


CAPT. GENIEVE DAVID, U.S. AIR FORCE: Hi. I'm Captain Genieve David from ISAF headquarters in Afghanistan. And I just wanted to say hello to my beautiful baby girls, Marisa and Katie, my husband, Ben, and all my family and friends stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Love you all, happy holidays, and we'll see you son.



MALVEAUX: Police in Webster, New York, say the gunman who torched his lakeside home then skilled two first responders had served time for killing his grandmother. Yes. He was barred from having a gun, but at a news conference just a short time ago, the police chief said that 62-year-old William Spangler had an arsenal with him.

I want to bring in Poppy Harlow with the latest from New York.

This is bizarre. This is a guy who served time for killing his grandmother and was armed essentially.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I mean, he was released from prison in New York in 1998 on parole until 2006. And then sort of out of nowhere set a trap, that's what police are saying, through a fire. First responders yesterday morning responding to a typical house fire. Four of them came, four were shot, two were killed, two were severely injured by that man you just saw, 62-year-old William Spangler setting up this ambush.

And as you said, he wasn't supposed to have a weapon, but he had what police are calling an arsenal, Suzanne. A .38 caliber revolver, a shotgun, and a Bushmaster 223 caliber rifle, shooting at those first responders.

Very disturbing development this morning, the latest press conference that was just held. The police chief in Webster, New York, which is upstate near Rochester, saying that the gunman left a note. Listen.


CHIEF GERALD PICKERING, WEBSTER, N.Y. POLICE: Investigators did locate a typewritten note from Spangler which specified his intent. I can't release the note. It's evidentiary. But I will read to you one of the sentences out of the two-page or three-page typewritten note that really, clearly, goes to his intent while the note does not go to motive. Quote, "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best, killing people," end quote.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Just to reiterate, "do what I like doing best, killing people." Extremely disturbing. The police chief there saying he has no doubt that mental health issues were involved, but interestingly, CNN spoke with a neighbor of Mr. Spangler who described him as a very nice guy, Suzanne, saying he'd come over to their house for picnics.

Now, another weird development in this is that the sister of William Spangler, Cheryl Spangler, is missing. Police are looking for her to question her. Apparently, it was a very tense relationship between Mr. Spangler and his sister.

MALVEAUX: That is such a disturbing story, Poppy. Do we have any sense of the condition of those who were wounded?

HARLOW: We do have an update on two firefighters. Theodore Scardino and also Joseph Hofstetter. They are both in stable condition. That's an improvement from yesterday, but they are both in intensive care.

And if we can, I want to show you a picture of Lieutenant Mike Chiapperini. He was one of the two firefighters gunned down, just an extraordinary man, also a police chief. His friends and colleagues would joke around and say which hat are you wearing today?

He served both in the local police and the fire department. He was actually named firefighter of the year by his department. He was killed on Christmas Eve. Also killed was Thomasz Kaczowka, another fire fighter.

So, a terrible story and latest developments just making it even more stranger , that horrifying letter.

MALVEAUX: Tragic all around. Poppy Harlow, thank you very much.

In Newtown, Connecticut, police have been worked around the clock since the sandy hook elementary school shooting. But thanks to the generosity of fellow officers, the entire force has the day off today. Police from neighboring towns, they are patrolling the city. The volunteers, they are donating their overtime pay to Newtown and to Sandy Hook Elementary School charities.

Meanwhile, near Sandy Hook elementary, a candlelight vigil is now under way. It began at midnight and it's going to continue for 24 hours. Volunteers, they're going to take half hour shifts to make sure that those candles keep burning.

U.S. troops spreading holiday cheer from overseas. Up next, a look at how our military is marking the Christmas holiday. But first, a special message from a soldier serving in Kuwait.


SPC. ASHLEY EADY, U.S. ARMY: Hi. My name is Specialist Ashley Eady from 3rd Heavy Brigade, 3rd ID, a camp here in Kuwait. I want to give a shout out to my brother PFC Christopher Miller (ph) who was stationed at Fort Richardson in Alaska. I love you, merry Christmas, and I miss you. (END VIDEO CLIP)


MALVEAUX: Britain's Margaret Thatcher is spending Christmas Day at a hospital in London. The former prime minister is still recovering from surgery last week to remove a growth in her bladder. Thatcher is 87 and has suffered several strokes.

Venezuela's vice president is quoted today as saying he has spoken by phone with President Hugo Chavez who reportedly suffered severe complications during cancer surgery in Cuba two weeks ago. The official says Chavez is walking around while his lengthy recovery could complicate his scheduled swearing in next month for another term in office.

And South Africa's Nelson Mandela is reported by the current President Jacob Zuma to be in good spirits this Christmas. Now, the former leader has been hospitalized since December 8th, first with a lung infection. We wish them all the best.

Well, away from their families, they're miles away from home, troops stationed in bases around the world, they are finding ways to celebrate Christmas.

I want to bring in our Barbara Starr to talk a little bit about the troops in Afghanistan and how they are spending this day.

Hey, Barbara.


Twelve years now in the war zone for troops in Afghanistan, about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We came across some video that has been posted by the Pentagon on this day, showing how they are celebrating, getting those meals. The military distributes to about 200 locations around the world where troops are located. Some of the stats, 60,000 pounds of beef, 20,000 pounds of ham, 45,000 pounds of turkey, some Christmas prayers, some meals, some good cheer.

They're hoping a lot less troops will be in the war zone come next Christmas, but if you want to see a little untraditional celebrating by military troops, you got to go check out the Brits because nobody but nobody does Christmas better than the Brits.

These are some pictures posted by the ministry of defense. They conducted a sleigh ride. 15 teams of British troops with some unconventional celebrating, pulling their sleighs across the desertscape, the mud, the sand, all that in southern Afghanistan, where they are stationed, dressing up in a little less than regulation, even a little less than Santa's regulation. But everybody just trying to have a bit of cheer on this holiday -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's great.

OK. Barbara, thanks again. Really appreciate it. We hope those guys and the women, of course, are doing well. It must be tough without their families but they look like they have a sense of humor about it all. Thank you, Barbara.

From a leap of faith to one of a kind planet in our solar system, the top scientific and technological breakthroughs of 2012 right after this.


MALVEAUX: 2012 has seen some major breakthroughs in science and technology.

Our John Zarrella taking a look at the year that's going to go down in history.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At number 10: a revolutionary camera called Lytro.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's such a powerful technology breakthrough that this will forever change how we all take and experience pictures.

ZARRELLA: The camera captures the entire light field, allowing the picture's focus and perspective to be changed after it's been taken.

Number nine: NASA's Dawn spacecraft sent back staggering data about an asteroid 325 miles in diameter called Vesta. It appears Vesta went through some stages of planetary evolution. It's one of a kind in the solar system.

CAROL RAYMOND, DAWN SCIENCE TEAM: What's clear to us is that Vesta appears to be the only intact proto-planet that's left.

ZARRELLA: Number eight: you may have heard the term God particle. Scientists call it Higgs boson. The European Nuclear Research Organization called CERN claims to have found it.

Why is it a big deal? Think Big Bang Theory.

DR. MICHIO KAKU: And this particle, we think, was in fact, a particle like this was the fuse that set off the explosion which created the universe.

ZARRELLA: Researchers found it after analyzing data from proton collisions generated by a particle accelerator.

At seven: a leap of faith. Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking jump.

Baumgartner broke the free fall record and the sound barrier, jumping from 128,000 feet in a revolutionary spacesuit.

FELIX BAUMGARTNER: I said I know the whole world is watching right now, and I wish the world could see what I see.

ZARRELLA: Six: young children dying at an alarming rate in Cambodia and with alarming speed. It was a medical mystery. Streptococcus, dengue and a pathogen called EV71 were unusually aggressive.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta was there when the mystery was solved.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They found that those organisms in conjunction with these kids getting steroids, probably led to such an aggressive course.

ZARRELLA: Number five: SpaceX became the first commercial company to rendezvous and dock a space craft to the International Space Station. It marked a new beginning -- private companies taking over for NASA, sending cargo and eventually humans to the station.

Number four: scientists found the Great Barrier Reef, the largest in the world, is in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef has disappeared over the last 27 years. That's a momentous change.

ZARRELLA: Scientists attribute much of the loss to storm damage.

At number three: we go to the Pacific, and the deepest part of any ocean in the world with famous film director and explorer James Cameron. First, test dives.

JAMES CAMERON, FILM DIRECTOR: Got about five system failures that prevented me from going on.

ZARRELLA: Finally, in a submersible called Deep Sea Challenger, Cameron went down 35,000 feet.

Number two: melting ice. Scientists using satellite and aircraft data have found the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing three times as much ice as 20 years ago. Giant rifts appeared in places like Antarctic's Pine Island Glacier. Combined, Antarctica and Greenland have contributed to one fifth of all sea level rise over the past 20 years.

And our number one is called "seven minutes of terror". The rover Curiosity survived a harrowing ride through the Martian atmosphere in a landing method never before attempted, prompting an outpouring of emotion from the NASA team.

Curiosity is now roaming the landing site, hunting for signatures of past life, water, carbon, methane. If it finds any, Curiosity might well be our number one again next year.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


MALVEAUX: And CNN revisits the story that is captures the country's attention. My colleague Don Lemon shares with you the biggest stories of the year in crime, politics, money and even the most scandalous stories. Top ten of 2012 tonight at 7:00 Eastern.

Well, it seems that Santa Claus has learned to have a little fun on the job. He was spotted Christmas Eve making waves on the Potomac. This is the annual water skiing Santa. This is in Maryland. Even saw a jet skiing Grinch.

Of course, it is tough having to work Christmas Eve but somebody has to do it. This is a Santa sighting this Steamboat Springs, Colorado. And a whole squad of Santas, rumbling through a village not far from the North Pole.

This is in Valbo, Sweden. Presumably Santa cooling his heels there after his trek around the globe. Check it out.

Well, we love it. Thank you for joining us on this Christmas. Merry Christmas, happy holidays. Whatever you celebrate, enjoy your family and your friends on this special day.