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Recovery Effort for 2 Children; Death of an American Diplomat; Gun Control Push; Louisville Vs. Michigan

Aired April 8, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight, a frantic search for two children buried at a construction site. It is grim news from the scene this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: She died trying to make a difference. Americans mourn a young diplomat killed in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told her, it's pitch black. I told her, if we don't get out of here, then we're going to die.


SAMBOLIN: Two lost teenagers with an incredible will to live. A hiker's firsthand account of surviving a three-day ordeal in the woods.

BERMAN: Two teams on the edge of glory. Louisville/Michigan tonight with the NCAA title on the line.

SAMBOLIN: Go Michigan!

BERMAN: Oh, come on.

SAMBOLIN: Go Louisville!

BERMAN: Now you want both.

SAMBOLIN: I'm conflicted here.

BERMAN: Way to come down on one side here. I'm very impressed. Welcome back, by the way.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Monday, April 8th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: We're going to start with breaking news this morning. A frantic search for two small children buried when a dirt wall collapsed. It's now turned into a recovery effort. It started Sunday afternoon in rural Lincoln County, North Carolina, about 20 miles northwest of Charlotte. Rescuers have been working around the clock, digging by hand, but they now fear the worst.

A 6-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy who are cousins were playing in a hole that was being dugout for the basement of a new home when the dirt wall gave way. After hours of digging, early this morning, the officials said what had been a rescue effort now is a recovery effort. They dug down 20 feet with no sign of the children so far. We're going to bring you the latest on this breaking news as we learn more.

SAMBOLIN: And a developing story this morning for you. A murdered American diplomat coming home from Afghanistan today.

Most of us never heard of Anne Smedinghoff before this weekend. The young Chicago woman was a quiet hero, a devoted State Department worker who was delivering books to school children in southern Afghanistan, when a suspected Taliban suicide bomber slammed into her convoy, killing her and four other Americans.

Barbara Starr is live from the Pentagon with the latest developments for us.

Good morning to you, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Everyone says this is a young woman who was doing exactly what she wanted to do, serving her country.


STARR (voice-over): Twenty-five-year-old foreign service officer Anne Smedinghoff volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Her family said she was doing the work she loved, trying to make a difference in the world.

Her father Tom.

TOM SMEDINGHOFF, ANNE SMEDINGHOFF'S FATHER: We thought she was relatively safe in the embassy compound. She was always, you know, finding projects and assignments that took her outside. And that was -- that was what she wanted to do. That was what really drove her.

STARR: On Saturday she was killed in this attack when a suicide bomber smashed into her convoy. Three soldiers and another civilian were killed. They were trying to deliver school books. Her Chicago neighborhood now decorated with flags and flowers.

Smedinghoff is believed to be the first U.S. diplomat killed since last September's attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling, spoke of the young woman he met on his recent trip to Kabul.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: She was someone who worked hard and put her life on the line so others could live a better life. Our hearts go out to Anne's mother and father, with whom I spoke yesterday and to the two sisters and the brother who survive her.

STARR: Smedinghoff had been in Afghanistan since July, as her Facebook photos show, confidently traveling with troops around the country.

KERRY: Anne and those with her were attacked by Taliban terrorists who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy.


STARR: And, of course, our condolences to the families of the others who lost their lives in this attack. We're still waiting for the Pentagon to release their names.

And, you know, Zoraida, Afghan civilians still paying a huge price, an investigation now underway into a weekend air strike that may have killed several Afghan children -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And, Barbara, we know that the U.S. troops are scheduled to ship out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. What about diplomatic and civilian aid? Could attacks like this actually change our policy moving forward?

STARR: Well, at this point, there's no indication of that. There's a real commitment to try to continue with this type of work. But, you know, it's going to be very difficult because right now the way it looks is security will be in the hands of Afghan security forces, and that may be problematic in many areas where insurgents remain very active -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon for us, thank you very much.

And later on STARTING POINT at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, we will be joined by the parents of Anne Smedinghoff, Thomas and Mary Beth Smedinghoff will be with us.

BERMAN: Some breaking news to report in the Korean crisis, just moments ago, the North announced it is pulling all of its workers out of the Kaesong industrial complex that it shares with the South. They may shut down the plant for good.

Meantime, South Korea's unification minister is clarifying comments that the north may be preparing for a possible nuclear test as early as this week. His office now says there are no unusual signs at this point. Still a South Korean lawmaker cites intelligence that found increased activity at the location when we the last three tests took place.

Meanwhile, Switzerland is offering to host talks between the north and south and it did to keep the peace.

Also developing this morning, authorities in New Hampshire are searching for a man who took hostages six years ago at one of Hillary Clinton's campaign offices. Fifty-two-year-old Leeland Eisenberg was reported missing from a halfway house in New Hampshire.

In 2007, Eisenberg entered Clinton's campaign office in Rochester with road flare strapped to his chest. He claimed it was a bomb and held several hostages for five hours. That was pretty frightening. Hillary Clinton was in Washington at the time.

SAMBOLIN: Six minutes past the hour. Four men trying to row from West Africa to Miami overtaken by a massive wave that actually capsized their boat. They're about 400 miles north of Puerto Rico trying to set a world record for human powered row across the Atlantic when the water overtook them. The two Canadian and two Americans got in a life raft and set off a locator beacon. The Coast Guard found them a few hours later.


GREG SPOONER, ORGANIZER: We had a plan in place for what to do if this happened and it was successful. We are getting the guys home safe. But it's too bad we have to end now.


SAMBOLIN: Well, the rowers were 73 days into the journey that began in Senegal.

BERMAN: Seventy-three days.

SAMBOLIN: Can you believe it?

BERMAN: That's crazy.

President Obama heads to Connecticut later today to continue his push for tougher gun control laws in the state that is still grieving from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

In the meantime, some small signs of movement on a possible deal to expand background checks for gun sales that include gun shows and online sales. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are trying to break the stalemate. They'd like to have a vote as early as this week.

SAMBOLIN: And funeral services will be held this morning in Chicago for legendary film critic Roger Ebert. Movie fans will appreciate this. But church service will be open to the public on a first come first serve basis. Ebert's family says a memorial tribute will be held on Thursday.

Roger Ebert lost his long battle with cancer last week at the age of 70.

BERMAN: Happening right now, Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem trying to kick start Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. Kerry is going to meet with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the latest stop of his 10-day overseas trip. Earlier this morning, sirens sounded across Israel and all activities for a moment of silence as the country marked Holocaust Remembrance Day.

SAMBOLIN: And we're well into spring now, right? And you can finally feel it. New York could be close to 70 degrees today, but a different story somewhere else.

BERMAN: Yes, starting to tell you, out West, guys, it's not the same. Blizzard conditions in the Rockies and Northern Plains. Jennifer Delgado is live at the CNN weather center with this.

Good morning.


It's hard to believe that we are in spring and talking about winter conditions out across parts of the west. Yes. This is going to be happening through the Central Plains. And some of these locations could see more than a foot of snow across the Dakotas, as well as Nebraska, even into Colorado, Denver a possibility of six to 8 inches of snowfall. Now, right now, we're looking at all rain. You move up towards the North, you see that wintry precipitation moving through parts of northern Wisconsin, even that far edge of Michigan.

But what we're going to be dealing with today, once we see more of this activity, severe storms setting up. This is going to affect areas like Oklahoma, Kansas, as well as into Nebraska. Out to the west, here comes the energy to provide our next big winter storm. And you saw the numbers there, we're talking more than a foot.

In addition to the severe weather, we're talking a multiple day event. This is for Wednesday. This goes into Tuesday. This is Monday.

So, it's going to be progressing over towards the East. That means even the possibility of a few isolated tornadoes. Now, on the wider view, here's the set up to give you an idea. Rain to the North, severe storms, the snow. But temperatures are warming up. If you want to pick an area that's going to be winning with the weather, it's going to be the East as well as the South.

For Atlanta, we're going to get very close to 80 degrees by Tuesday. It's going to be our first 80s.

For New York, you are finally getting some spring weather. Seventy degrees today, 79 degrees today.


DELGADO: I know. You're all in stuck here, 79, just a few more clouds around tomorrow, and that's going to stick around through Thursday.

Zoraida, I see that smile.

SAMBOLIN: Girl, I'm seriously happy.

DELGADO: You are loving it.

SAMBOLIN: But I feel bad for the folks on the West Coast.

DELGADO: John is really silent.

BERMAN: Yes, I can tell you feel really bad. You're doing a dance over here about the good weather. They're getting a blizzard out there.


DELGADO: That's right. It's about time.

SAMBOLIN: In due time, they will get some good weather, too. Thank you, Jennifer.

DELGADO: They had it last week.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ten minutes past the hour.

Only two teams are left standing, Louisville and Michigan tangling tonight for college basketball's national championship.

BERMAN: A win by the Cardinals, a four-point favorite would cap off an unbelievable run for Louisville coach Rick Pitino. He just got inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. And he's poised, if they win, to become the first coach ever to win national titles with two different teams.

Joe Carter, live from Atlanta, where they tip off in just 16 hours now.

So, Joe, how do you think these two teams match up?

JOE CARTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Zoraida, good morning to you.

I think they match up great. I think we truly have the two best teams in the country facing off for the national title tonight. The number one offense in the country, the Michigan Wolverines, against the number one defense in the country, in the Louisville Cardinals. Yesterday, both teams just had some practice and pressers.

The sense that we got from Louisville yesterday is that this team has been here before. They've been in the Final Four. They were in there last year. They came up short. They don't want to leave with that empty feeling again.

Rick Pitino said in the presser yesterday that he feels like this team is more united than ever before, given the fact they've been with each other so long and then you also got to throw in the Kevin Ware factor.

Now, as far as Michigan goes, some said Louisville is the team of destiny, I disagree. And that's because they're the number one overall seed. So, I think Michigan is the team of destiny. When you think of how this team is turning it on now, getting through some of the biggest powers in college basketball, beating teams in this tournament like VCU, Kansas, Florida, Syracuse, this team has won, fans coined them, "the fresh five", guys, trying to do what the Fab Five was unable to do 20 years ago -- guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, let's talk about Kevin Ware. He is Louisville player we watched as his leg was broken, which was just horrible. What is the very latest on his recovery?

CARTER: Well, we know that it's going to be about 12 months, doctors say, until he's able to get back on a basketball court, which is absolutely incredible if you'd seen the video or you would like to unsee the video.

But he's with the team. When they flew into Atlanta on Wednesday night, he was with the team, the last couple of days, was there on the sidelines with them when they played Wichita State, excuse me. But there was one point, guys, in the game against Wichita State where Louisville was down by 20 points, and Ware got up on the crutches, hobbled over to the team huddle and sort of gave these guys a pep talk and said let's do this.

The guys said we looked at Ware with these big bright eyes and said, what are you doing standing up? That was enough motivation obviously to get them into the title game. Tonight, we'll see if that extra edge. But from 68 down to two, we'll tip about 9:23 Eastern tonight, guys.

So, we got a little time to talk about the game. Just a little bit more time.

BERMAN: I'm sure you'll use that time well, Joe Carter, the self- professed czar of destiny now. Michigan he says is the team of destiny. Sixteen hours and we will go.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to go with you, Mr. Carter.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Joe.

Let me give you a little recap of the standings in the CNN brackets here. Right now, Ashleigh Banfield in first place. She has Louisville winning. If Louisville wins tonight, Ashleigh cleans up.

Now, if you hone in on there, you see something disturbing. You see that Zoraida is actually ahead of me in the pool right now.

SAMBOLIN: However, explain that.

BERMAN: She's ahead of me in the poll, but she has Ohio state winning.

In case we have not noticed, Ohio State, no longer in the tournament.


BERMAN: So if Louisville wins, I will stage a dramatic comeback and finish ahead of Zoraida. The country will rejoice.

I want to know Jack Tapper is in last place there. Embarrassing?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, really?


SAMBOLIN: I think I'm going to beat you.

BERMAN: So you think Michigan is going to win?


BERMAN: We'll find out tomorrow.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirteen minutes past the hour.

He'd been lost in the woods for so long, when a search party finally found him, he thought he was hallucinating. More from a hiker that was rescued from the wilderness. That's coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. An impulsive decision by two teens to climb a mountain nearly cost them their lives. They spent three harrowing nights lost in the woods, battling injuries, even hallucinating.

Now one is telling his story to CNN's Nick Valencia.


NICHOLAS CENDOYA, RESCUED HIKER: I knew I was going to die.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After five days in the hospital, two days longer than he was lost in the wilderness, rescued hiker Nicholas Cendoya talked about his near-death experience.

CENDOYA: I'm going to be honest with you. It sounds crazy. I was seeing tigers. I thought tigers were stalking me, like raccoons, everything. And I just wasn't scared. I was -- I had a stick sharpened ready for anything.

VALENCIA: Cendoya and his hiking companion kendyl Jack went missing during an Easter afternoon eastern Sunday hike in southern California's Cleveland national forest. They called police for help but their cell phone battery died before authorities could track them.

After making the call, Cendoya says one of the last things he remembers was a spur of a moment decision to climb a mountain. It was a decision that almost cost him his life.

CENDOYA: We were expecting a helicopter that never showed up. So, I told her it's pitch black if we don't get out of here, then we're going to die.

VALENCIA: The doctor who treated him said Cendoya is suffering from amnesia after being knocked out from a nasty fall down the mountain. But he expects him to fully recover. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has evidence of suffering blunt force drama, probably from a fall, which can explain his amnesia from the event. He's been doing well and he is recovering remarkably, probably because of his good, physical makeup and his youth.

VALENCIA: But it may have been youth and inexperience that led to the saga. As for any lesson he learned from the experience --

CENDOYA: Definitely bring a compass, water, tell people where you're going, bring a map. I think the number one thing is tell people where you're going because we didn't tell my parents exactly where I was going.

VALENCIA: Nick Valencia, CNN, Los Angeles.


SAMBOLIN: Tough lessoned learned, huh?

BERMAN: Hallucinating tigers? Sharpened sticks to kill the tigers that were going to get him.

SAMBOLIN: Kind of crazy.

BERMAN: Crazy.

All right.

Nineteen minutes past the hour.

You've got to see this. Dozens of endangered sea turtles released to the ocean at a Florida Beach on Sunday. This one was the last major shipment of the threatened species to arrive in the South. Hundreds of them were rehabilitated after washing up cold and stunned on New England beaches last fall.

BERMAN: Nice to see (ph).

All right. More flights are arriving on time these days. The passengers are still complaining. The best and worst choices when you fly, in a just released report. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning.

Futures pointing to a slightly higher open for U.S. stocks today. Markets around the world are mostly higher. The two big concerns over the weekend, North Korea and avian flu. But so far, it looks like neither will cause much of a strain on the markets today.

SAMBOLIN: And Christine Romans is here with details and the rest of today's business.

Good morning.


Last week was the worst week of the year, the worst week of the year for stocks. That's relative, you still up have stocks up sharply for the year so far. And this morning, a brand new report on how well you think your airline is doing. Profits, of course, are expected to soar this year, but it might be happening at the expense of our comfort, it appears.

BERMAN: Of course it is.

ROMANS: Customer complaints are up a whopping 20 percent. That's according to the latest airline quality ratings from Wichita State University and Purdue University. United Airlines, the worst offender again, taking in more than four complains per 100,000 customers. Southwest has the fewest number of complaints.

Fliers are mostly griping about tight seats, crowded planes, customer service. But you know what? On-time arrivals improved for 8 of the 14 airlines in the ratings.

If you wanted to get somewhere on time, Hawaiian Airlines is tops for time limits, and the mishandled luggage, by the way, is at a 25-year low. Virgin America gets the top marks, less than one in 1,000 baggage --

SAMBOLIN: Because nobody is checking bags anymore, right?

ROMANS: American Eagle came in last, six per 1,000 bags handled. A lot of people are saying, wait a minute, they're making millions of dollars in profit and it comes at the expense of our comfort and, well, maybe.

A couple other things I'm going to look at today, Martha Stewart's pillow fight. That might have to go back to court today continuing today, if Martha Stewart, Macy's and JCPenney didn't work something out. The judge said they had to comeback on April 8th, today is April 8th. We'll watch that today.

And also, I'll be watching to see -- I'll be forecasting later this morning how many people call in sick tomorrow because they watched the game.

BERMAN: Which starts at 9:23 Eastern tonight.

ROMANS: I read a survey this morning that said 89 percent of people are workers have confessed that they have called in sick because of a sporting event.

BERMAN: I haven't tried that, but that's a good idea.


SAMBOLIN: I have no idea what she's talking about.

BERMAN: Twenty-five minutes after the hour right now. Investigators are trying to find two kidnapped boys, keeping their eyes out now for a sail boat. We're going to have more on that developing investigation, coming right up.


SAMBOLIN: Breaking news, tragedy at a North Carolina construction site. Two children gone after a wall of dirt collapses around them.

BERMAN: Remembering a quiet American hero. Right now it's a long journey home for the body of a young diplomat killed in Afghanistan.

SAMBOLIN: And NASA's ambitious new mission, capturing an asteroid in space. Imagine that.

BERMAN: No problem.

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Glad you're with us, everyone. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

It is Monday, April 8th, it is 29 minutes after the hour.

SAMBOLIN: And we start this morning with breaking news, the search for two young cousins in North Carolina trapped when a dirt wall collapsed on top of them. It's now become a recovery effort.

After hours of digging, authorities in rural Lincoln County say there's no way, no way that the children, a 6-year-old girl and a 7- year-old boy could have survived that. They were playing in a hole at a construction site when the dirt wall gave way.

Dion Burleson is the public information officer with Lincoln County Emergency Management. He is on the phone with us this morning.

Thank you, sir, for joining us. We know you're busy.

We understand that the workers have been digging all night. At one point, we heard that they had gone down more than 20 feet with no sign of the children.

Where does this stand right now?