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Severe Storms Rock South and Midwest; Mobile, Alabama Cleans up After Tornado; Gunman Killed Firefighters; Shoppers Line up for Boxing Day Sales; Back to D.C. for "Fiscal Cliff" Talks; Gun Permit Map Backlash

Aired December 26, 2012 - 09:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Bright and early.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM.

Winter is just five days old but it's already packing a punch with tornadoes in the south and blizzards from Arkansas to Ohio.

Do you have the right to know if your neighbor owns a gun? A newspaper in New York says yes and publishes the names of people who have gun permits. Let the backlash begin.

Christmas is over but shopping is not. If you're heading out to return that gift that wasn't exactly what you wanted, or want to get in on a big post holiday deal, you will not be alone.

"Reacher." The movie. Tom Cruise may not be the ideal action hero but his love life made it into the top 10.

NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning to you. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello.

The day after Christmas usually means relaxing or maybe wracking up deals at the mall. But for people in the Midwest and the south it means cleanup after severe weather ripped through the region. This is what it looked like it Louisiana where a waterspout was located in Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. Strong winds forced bridge closures in the area. Parts of Arkansas saw several inches of snow and sleet blanketing major highways, snapping power lines and of course canceling flights.

In Mississippi the new governor declared a state of emergency after at least eight counties reported damage. Strong winds and heavy rains made the commute along this stretch of I-20 east of Jackson a difficult one to say the least. It all added up to a chaotic Christmas day for a good chunk of the country.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god, look, that's a tornado. Oh, wow.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Skies over Mobile, Alabama, turned ominous as the storms approached. Homes, businesses, and churches were damaged and residents ran for cover as it touched down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We stepped out and you could see the storm doing its thing and then it came behind the church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I prayed to god as loud as I could, and I was just praying for my safety and I knew the truck was shaking. I just prayed that the truck stayed put and god would protect me and the ones in Walgreens.

COSTELLO: Tornado warnings blared as the severe weather moved through the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's right there.

COSTELLO: Many grabbed cameras to catch what appeared to be a funnel cloud forming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to hurry and get past this.

COSTELLO: Alabama power officials say the winds knocked out electricity to more than 20,000 people across the state, damage was widespread. There were more than 30 reports of tornadoes from Texas to Alabama.

The day got off to a rough start in Oklahoma, more than 20 vehicles were involved in an early morning accident that shut down Interstate- 40 joust outside Oklahoma City. Officials say at least 10 people were taken to hospitals.

Texas got a double dose of bad weather, a 25-year-old man was killed near Houston after a tree fell on his pickup. Snow covered the ground in long view and turned Dallas into a winter wonderland and blizzard warnings stretched from Arkansas to Pennsylvania.


COSTELLO: Turning now to Mobile, Alabama, where windows were shattered and cars tossed off streets as this tornado touched down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my god, we need to go. It's right there.


COSTELLO: That's scary. Several buildings damaged while several car accidents were blamed on the storm but there were no reports of serious injuries. Emergency Management officials tell CNN power has been restored to many customers, just over 7,000 now in the dark. That's down from 23,000 last night.

Let's head to Mobile right now. That's where we'll find Christina Leavenworth of CNN affiliate WEAR. Christina is at a local high school where in just about an hour weather officials will meet to start assessing damage.

So, Christina, what are you hearing so far?

CHRISTINA LEAVENWORTH, WEAR TV REPORTER: Good morning, Carol. We are seeing a lot of damage here and it's widespread. The National Weather Service is saying right now that a tornado touched down in five different locations, one of them being here on Murphy High School.

And if you -- we'll take a look real quick, that was the cafeteria and pieces of portable classrooms just smashed into it. We're seeing a lot of roof damage, we have these pieces of that Spanish tile that's flown off, hundreds of windows blown out of classrooms. Right now there are already crews on the scene already cleaning up and they have a lot of cleanup to do.

Right now they really don't know how much this is going to cost them to fix up. Initial reports right now all but one of the portable classrooms completely destroyed, many of these sticks and splinters you're seeing behind me are what they are now.

Also the roof of the band hall literally picked up and moved. You can see the sky now and as far as the athletic facility several windows have blown out at this time. And the school is very historical. It's built back in the 1920s and it's one of the largest state schools in Alabama with more than 2,000 students. So they definitely are in a rush to get everything back open by January 3rd when the students return to school.

As far as the rest of Mobile they saw damage in other areas as far as houses, a church was damaged as well as the Mobile infirmary. But the good news in all of this is right now there are no reports of any injuries or anyone killed.

Reporting live, Christina Leavenworth, back to you.

COSTELLO: All right. Christina, thanks so much.

Now it's the East Coast's turn as the heavy snow seen here in Indiana -- Seymour, Indiana, is expected to make its way to the Ohio Valley and further east. These are -- are these live pictures? These are taped pictures but not taken too long ago. You see the reporter there.

Blizzard warnings in effect for several states. Strong winds and a mix of rain and ice could impact the mid-Atlantic, and that means possible flight delays for those of you heading home from the holiday.

Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is here with that part of the story.

Good morning.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Carol. Flight delays on the day after Christmas. The last thing you want but that's exactly what we're expecting with this huge storm that's been record- breaking for places like Little Rock bringing snow they haven't seen since 86 years on Christmas Day. Going forward today, we are looking at delays potentially throughout Indianapolis, we're getting heavy snow right now.

Cleveland, Ohio, in New York, low clouds, wind and rain, it'd be very windy in New York City and Long Island, where a lot of airports are located. Also Washington, Detroit, Memphis and of course out west we're looking at San Francisco with a different storm system impacting that region.

Right now and moving forward you can see heavy bands of snow throughout Indiana and Illinois, all of this is sliding to the east and in advance of it, we have severe weather breaking out, I've been tracking these thunderstorms all morning long and they are strong and intense across parts of the Carolinas. Notice the red and the green that indicates some higher cloud tops, where we're getting intensity and rain and it's really that part of the country that we're watching out for severe weather today.

We may even see tornadoes break out in that region. Today, through, we're looking at heavy snow across Illinois and Indiana and Ohio, Carol. I could be a foot or more moving forward and two areas of Pennsylvania and New England tomorrow. So this storm is not over yet.

COSTELLO: All right, Bonnie, thanks so much.

Now we turn to the bizarre and tragic shooting in upstate New York on Christmas Eve. Two firefighters were shot and killed after responding to a call that a house was on fire and this morning we're learning more about the shooter, his name is William Spengler.

Police say the 62-year-old set fire to his sister's house and then shot firefighters as they responded to the blaze. Police also think that he killed his sister, her body was found in the burned home.

Spengler left a suicide note which read, in part, 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. But as far as why he did it police say they may never know.


CHIEF GERALD PICKERING, WEBSTER, NEW YORK POLICE: Just to clarify there was no motive in the note. It did not speak to motive. There were some ramblings in there, there's intelligence that we obtained and investigators need to follow up on. He spoke mainly to intent -- he intended to burn his neighborhood down and kill as many people as possible before stopping. But as far as motive all kinds of speculation and truthfully we do not.


COSTELLO: Funerals for Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, the two firefighters killed in the attack, will be held today. The two other firefighters who were injured in that shooting spree, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, they're in stable condition at a hospital after surgery.

NBC's David Gregory was trying to make a point but is now being investigated for it. The moderator of "Meet the Press" was interviewing NRA vice president, Wayne LaPierre, on Sunday when he brought out something that caught the attention of D.C. Police.


DAVID GREGORY, "MEET THE PRESS" MODERATOR: Here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets. Now isn't it possible that if we got rid of these, if we replaced them and said, well, you could only have a magazine that carries five bullets or 10 bullets, isn't it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA VICE PRESIDENT: I don't believe that's going to make one difference.


COSTELLO: OK. So it's not known whether that magazine was an authentic clip or just a prop. Possessing a large capacity magazine is illegal in the District of Columbia where NBC broadcast the show. Police are now investigating. NBC not commenting.

Guess what? It's boxing day in the UK, Canada and several other country, and shoppers are mobbing the stores. Take a look at the pictures. These are the crowds in London this morning.

The 26th of December is like black Friday here in the United States. Analysts expect four million British shoppers will spend nearly $5 billion today. Back here at home, it will be a similar scene today as people head to return those unwanted gifts and jump on big post holiday sales and we do mean big.

Check out this deal from Best Buy, a 32-inch TV for under $200. Those are the kinds of deals we're seeing at major retailers today.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, tell us more.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's like having a flashback to black Friday where you talk about those deals. Everybody killing each other just to get these deals but, you know, if you're a retailer you take a big hit on a day like today because the National Retail Federation says almost 11 percent of holiday day gifts that we got they are returns. So that adds up to more than $60 billion and guess what a lot of that happens today.

So it's a huge busy day for retailers. But if you're somebody returning stuff today that's some good news here, most stores are keeping their return policies the same as last year so the whole process should be a little more familiar.

Even better, 10 percent of retailers say they're loosening their return policies, that compares to about 5 percent who loosen their policies last year so that yes, works in shoppers' favor but remember retailers are still trying to get you in to spend money. They're offering big sales as you said, Carol, and they know if you come in with a return you're likely to look around and, you know, do a little extra shopping on your own so you get rid of the sweater, you buy the dress, you know, they got you in the store, Carol, so they know they have a captive audience -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. So the stores are just opening just right about now at East Coast and the Midwest. So any tip?

KOSIK: Yes, how about waiting. You know, if you're just -- if you're returning something you're not shopping, I'd say avoid the crowd. I'm not into that. If I say avoided, go in a few days. So a worker maybe frazzled if you want a few days. And they're more likely to help you. But if you have to get out there and return today, you really want to check the return policy before you go.

You know, you want to make sure that what you're e getting back is what you're supposed to get back and to be realistic, when, you know, you ask them kind of be a little bit more lenient on you, also remember to bring all the original packaging, from bring your tags, bring your receipt, take the gift receipt, too.

You know the reality with that is you won't get the cash back but you'll get the value that the person paid instead of the sale price and then you can go crazy, go shopping and the way retailers see it, they hope you spend more than let's say the gift cards you walk in with and they help you spend more than what you get back on that gift receipt -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Understand it. I understand in the next hour you're going to give us specific deals with specific stores that we should look for.

KOSIK: Will do.

COSTELLO: Thanks, Alison.

A newspaper in New York thinks you have the right to know who owns a gun in your neighborhood so the newspaper published a map showing the names and addresses of people with gun permits and surprisingly, a backlash has begun.


COSTELLO: Fifteen minutes past the hour. You've heard a lot about the fiscal cliff lately. But how will it actually affect you? What happens to your taxes if we go off the cliff?

According to the Tax Policy Center, if you're single with no children and you make $50,000 a year, you will see your taxes go up by $1,500 if no deal is reached. A married couple with two kids making $100,000 would see their taxes go up a whopping $5,300 per year. Taxes go up the same amount under both the Democratic and Republican plans if no deal is reached. So, just one day after the Christmas holiday, President Obama is packing his bags, heading back to Washington to try to forge a deal on the fiscal cliff. With just six days left to negotiate a deal to avoid the catastrophic cliff, the president will leave Hawaii tonight to try to work on a bargain between Democrats and Republicans.

Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president in Hawaii and she joins us now.

Good morning, Brianna.

So, did the president cut his vacation short or was it planned all along?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did cut his vacation short from what was initially planned which was to go through the New Year.

So, yes, he cut it short. I think we have a sense he might be heading back to D.C., Carol, you'll recall when talks fell apart last week between House Speaker John Boehner and the president, as the president departed for Hawaii, he talked to reporters in the briefing room and he said, "See you next week". So I think we had a sense he would be coming back earlier than initially planned and it was really just a matter of when, not if, and he'll be heading back tonight. That's local time.

So he'll be traveling overnight, it's quite a long flight, about nine or 10 hours, and he'll be back in D.C. by Thursday late morning.

COSTELLO: Any behind the scene talks over the holiday?

KEILAR: Right now, the White House has been in communication with Senate Democrats. But I've checked in with my sources even this morning, Republican sources, and they say they're still not in touch with Senate Democrats or the White House. So that's pretty key, because right -- I guess you can understand it, right now, the White House and Senate Democrats are trying to cobble something together as they work towards putting forth a proposal.

But, ultimately, Carol, it needs Republican support in both the Senate and the House. So, those discussions have to take place at some point if there's going to be some Republican support for any bill that might pass Congress to avert the fiscal cliff.

COSTELLO: Brianna Keilar reporting live from Hawaii this morning.

Checking our top stories now:

Before heading back to D.C. to try to head off the physical -- to try to head off the fiscal cliff -- you know what I'm saying -- the president and First Lady Michelle Obama kept up a Christmas tradition, visiting Marines at their base at Kaneohe Bay, and thanking them for their service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The greatest honor I have as president is being commander in chief and the reason it's an honor is because not only do we have the finest military in the world, but we also have the finest fighting men and women in the world.


COSTELLO: Mrs. Obama and the girls won't cut short their vacation, though. They're staying on in Hawaii.

Former Braves great Andruw Jones free on a $2,400 bond this morning after being arrested outside of Atlanta on a battery charge. The Gwinnett County Detention Center says there was a domestic dispute between he and his wife. The center fielder played with the New York Yankees last year and recently signed with a team in Japan.

The city of Los Angeles is holding its annual gun buyback today, several months ahead of schedule. The buyback program allows anyone to bring in guns and rifles in exchange for gift cards. The event is usually held in May but was changed to today in response to the Connecticut school shootings nearly two weeks ago.

We'll talk about that buyback program with the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. That will happen just about 45 minutes.

Do you have the right to know if your neighbor owns a gun?

A New York newspaper says yes. It's posted a map with the names and addresses of people who have gun permits in two New York counties.

You can see the map here. Each red dot represents a person who has a gun permit in Westchester and Rockland Counties, those counties just outside of New York City.

Police -- people whose names were posted on this site, they're not very happy. We did reach out for a statement from the newspaper. It sent us one. It said, quote, "The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, remains at top-of-mind for many of our readers. Our readers are understandably and keenly interested to know about who owns guns in their neighborhoods."

Joining me to talk about this is Jonathan Lowy. He's the legal director for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Good morning, Jonathan. How are you?


COSTELLO: Thanks for joining us.

And just to be clear, you are for gun control, just so everybody knows.

So this newspaper who decided to publish the names of people who own gun permits, do you think it should have? LOWY: I don't think they should have. I think this shows a lack of judgment by the newspaper, and I think that we should not be stigmatizing every law-abiding gun owner out there. And I think particularly after Newtown, let's engage in a conversation about sensible policies that going owners, including probably many of these people whose names were printed in the paper, and most Americans agree on, like background checks for all gun sales and getting military style assault weapons off the streets and other sensible policies.

COSTELLO: Well, the interesting thing about this, apparently these gun permits are for handguns only because you can't find out who owns let's say a semiautomatic assault rifle. Those things aren't made public.

Why is that?

LOWY: Well, that is a serious problem. The gun lobby has exerted its pressure to keep a lot of very important crime gun data secret.

For example, there are restrictions which now prevent us from finding out which gun dealers supply most criminals, which was a very useful tool and it will help targeting those bad apple gun dealers. Gun lobbyists shut it down with friends in Congress which just protects corrupt gun dealers. And actually, most law-abiding gun dealers would like to expose those bad ones.

COSTELLO: So you don't think it's okay to publish people with permits who own handguns. But is it OK then in your mind to publish the names of people who own more heavy-duty weapons?

LOWY: I just think it's a focus on the wrong thing here. There are a lot of sensible reforms that we can do. I don't think this sort of public exposure is the right path. I mean, I really think we need to look for ways where gun owners and non-gun owners agree, and there are many things that we can do.

I do think that the media needs to be able to get data. For example, "Florida Sun Sentinel" exposed the fact there were over 1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, yet were issued concealed carry permits in Florida. That was very important. The gun lobby's response was to get the flawed legislature to make the names secret so you couldn't do that analysis. I mean, that was wrongheaded by the legislature. This I think was wrong headed by the media.

COSTELLO: Jonathan Lowy from the Brady Center -- thanks for joining us this morning.

LOWY: Thank you.

COSTELLO: We want to know what you think. It's today's talk back question: do you have the right to know who owns a gun in your neighborhood?,, or you can tweet me @carolCNN.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on the big story of the day. The question of the morning and, yes, we'd like to continue the conversation with the question, do you have the right to know who owns a gun in your neighborhood? It's a case of -- if you out me, then I'll out you.

There's a backlash this morning against the newspaper, "The Journal News", in New York's Hudson Valley. The paper published this map showing those with gun permits in two area counties. With a click you can see the name and address of each person licensed to own a handgun.

As the editor of the paper puts it, "In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, people are concerned about who owns guns and how many of them are in their neighborhoods. Hundreds of residents were shock to see their information posted without notification. Gun owners are outraged. Bloggers are firing back, outing "The Journal News", itself, publishing the names and addresses of its staff.

An ex-Marine and gun owner who called in to the paper said, quote, "It's as if gun owners are sex offenders and to own a handgun risks exposure as if one is a sex offender. It's in my mind crazy."

Still, you can find out lots of things about your neighbor, like how much your neighbor paid for their house, or how much in taxes they pay. Often, you can find out how much money your neighbor makes, how old they are, if they filed for bankruptcy, been sued or divorced.

So what's different about finding out if your neighbor owns a gun? So the talk back question for you today: do you have the right to know who owns a gun in your neighborhood?,, or you can tweet me @carolCNN.

I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining us. It's 30 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories.

We're just 30 seconds away from the start of trading at the New York Stock Exchange. Representatives from the New York National Guard are ringing the opening bell today. More than 4,000 soldiers and airmen from the Guard responded to help the victims of superstorm Sandy. As for investors today, they are still concerned about the looming fiscal cliff.

Blizzard warnings up today in parts of six states.