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Stolen Plane Threat; Message to Muslims; 150-plus killed in Italy Quake; Letter from Shooting Suspect; Assassination Threat against Obama Identified

Aired April 6, 2009 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight we begin with breaking news on two fronts: an assassination threat against President Obama overseas and a potential threat in Missouri just about over right now.

A plane stolen from an airfield in Thunder Bay, Ontario penetrated U.S. airspace for the last several hours. There you see the bomb squad moving in to where the plane was stolen from apparently to the car of the pilot. Their fear there, that there was a bomb -- a bomb robot on the scene.

A single reliable source reported a suicide note was discovered nearby allegedly left by this pilot -- a student pilot.

The plane, Cessna-172 much like this one, took off about 3:00 p.m. Eastern time with about seven hours on fuel on board. So basically it just about ran out of fuel. The pilot has apparently landed on a highway in Missouri, is now running on foot, trying to escape.

F-16s were scrambled. They've been following this plane now for several hours. The entire North American Air Defense Command sprang into action.

Erica Hill is following late developments of the flight path -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what we first want to do is get you up to speed on how this all came to be.

As you mentioned, the plane was actually stolen by a student at a flight school in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in Canada. That happened just about 3:00 p.m. today.

Now, we're just getting our maps set here because this is breaking news and we're developing it here. So we're going to try to get the map set for you here. Bus as you can see, at 3:00 the plane takes off. Well, just before 3:30 the plane was flying over Lake Superior.

Now, we're told at 4:43, so just before 5:00, that's when two U.S. F-16 jets intercepted the plane. That happened apparently near the border of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. The state line there, actually. The plane, though, continues on, actually apparently officially came into U.S. airspace near Duluth, Minnesota. This prompted -- get this -- the evacuation of Wisconsin's State Capitol. The Cessna then continued along to cross over, I believe, it's pronounced Mosinee, Wisconsin, then over Madison.

The jet pilots, we're told, repeatedly tried to get the student's attention. At one point, a NORAD spokesman says the pilot actually seemed to look at the military jets, but didn't communicate.

And then as you can see here, we have the map as we can go down, and it ended actually just near Ellsinore, Missouri. One thing that's interesting too Anderson, you mentioned that seven hours of fuel, we're all watching this just before we go to air because we know there was very little fuel left.

The plane had really dropped it had been flying at about 14,000 feet, dropped to under 5,000 feet. That was our most recent update just before -- just about a quarter of 10:00. And then again, as you mentioned, it landed in Missouri on U.S. Highway 60. And we're told that was just near Ellsinore -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Erica thanks.

Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been tracking this, uncovered some details about the pilot, who he is, what he was doing on the Ontario Flight school.

She joins us with that. Jeanne, first of all, have you had any update on exactly his status right now?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We're told that he is on the run, that he put down this plane on route 60 in Missouri near the town of Ellsinore and he fled. And we can assume that law enforcement is after him because he's in a heap of trouble.

This gentleman was described to me by a federal law enforcement source as being in his 20s, a naturalized Canadian citizen. He was described as being -- I was told the Canadian officials had developed some information that he was an unhappy individual. No elaboration on that.

And he was up in the air for all these many hours. You have the F-16s and Customs and Border Protection Citation flying along with him, signaling him, radio him, trying to communicate with him.

He appeared to know that they were there but did not respond to the radio traffic and certainly did not put down as quickly as they wanted him to do so.

But the feeling was all along that he might not pose a serious threat because he kept flying over potential targets and wasn't doing anything destructive.

COOPER: The video you're watching on the right, and we continue to show that, is of a drone, a bomb machine going toward what we believe is the car of this student pilot to check in for any devices.

Jeanne, there was one report from one source that they had found a suicide note. Do you have anything more on that?

MESERVE: No, no more information on that, and we have not been able to get any other sources to comment on that further. But as I say, I did get the information from a federal law enforcement source that he was an unhappy individual.

They wouldn't elaborate, wouldn't talk about a suicide note, but that may be what they were talking about.

COOPER: And Jeanne, who makes the decision whether or not to shoot a plane down? I mean, F-16s were following this plane now for quite some time.

MESERVE: Right. And trust me, they want to do absolutely everything they can to try and reduce the threat here without going to the extremes of a shoot down. And that's why they talked to him on the radio. They do wing signals, they pull alongside, they wait, they try and get the pilot to respond. He was refusing to take any of those commands.

And we're told that at the very highest level of the U.S. government, people were aware of what was going on. And had there been any threat to U.S. citizens or critical infrastructure, then there would have been serious debate about the possibility of a shoot down.

But that would have had to be approved at the very highest levels including by the Secretary of Defense...

COOPER: All right.

MESERVE: ... but they did not get that far.

COOPER: So just to be clear, this pilot put down on his own accord, apparently he's just about out of fuel.


COOPER: He took off at 3:00; we were told he had seven hours of fuel, so right at the top of the hour this thing happened. He's now apparently on the run. He put down on a dirt road off Highway 60 and fled on foot.

Let's have more on now what NORAD did, what it have might have done if it came to it to bring that plane down, had the pilot threatened people or buildings on the ground.

Joining us in the phone is NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek and in Phoenix, retired airline Captain Jim Tilmon.

Mike, who would have made the decision to shoot down this plane?

MIKE KUCHAREK, NORAD SPOKESMAN (via telephone): Well, I think, as Jeanne correctly pointed out, it would be the highest levels of the U.S. government that would be involved.

There are a certain few individuals that are authorized at a certain depth and breadth to authorize that should the President or Secretary of Defense not be available.

COOPER: So it's usually Secretary of Defense, but some people below that level could do it if they're not available?

KUCHAREK: That's correct.

COOPER: And at this point, do you have any more information on who -- on how this person was flying? I mean, at one point, I read a report from your department saying they were flying kind of erratically.

KUCHAREK: And that's correct. He was flying erratically, sometimes going up as high as 14,000 feet, clocked in as low as 3,000 feet. We did get some indication that the pilot did know that, you know, our aircraft were in the area.

Normally that's enough from an aerospace defense perspective to get people to comply with either nonverbal or verbal instructions. There are certain security measures in place under the notice to airmen where pilots know what to do when they encounter military aircraft.

COOPER: And approximately how long after this guy entered U.S. airspace were the F-16s scrambled?

KUCHAREK: We were actually on him on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan right after he came over from Canadian airspace into U.S. airspace. Our Canadian NORAD Region radioed ahead to our Continental United States NORAD region, and we were on him very quickly.

And again, we don't want to suppose the motive of the individual, but it certainly made the day for the professional pilots that were flying these missions and a very serious situation from a NORAD perspective.

COOPER: You were taking this thing very seriously?

KUCHAREK: Absolutely.

Every time one of these things happens, we take the defense of Canada and U.S. under NORAD by national command very seriously. And until -- I mean, we're very pleased this evening that he landed without incident and hadn't endangered anyone else on the ground.

COOPER: All right, best to your pilots who did a great job on this.

Jim, how does someone steal a plane like this and cross over into U.S. airspace?

JIM TILMON, RETIRED PILOT: Well, first of all, the kind of security that we see at a general aviation airport, it's nothing like when you're a passenger going through the terminals for commercial flying.

The security is there, but it's, by comparison, it's absolutely nothing. A person could literally -- because he's a student, he has access to the ramp. He can go out and jump in an airplane that has a key in the ignition. He fires it up, takes off, and he's flying.

COOPER: It sounds, Jim, like he basically got to the point where he had no fuel or very little fuel left.

TILMON: Yes, I guess he took his student training pretty seriously and understood that eventually he was going to have to get down somehow.

But I've got to tell you, I also take this very, very seriously. Even though it's a very small airplane, cannot carry very much of anything in the way of explosives and that sort of thing. There are weapons of destruction that are small enough and light enough to create a real concern for our security.

COOPER: At this point, Jim, from what you've seen of how the F- 16s responded, any concerns or just praise at this point?

TILMON: Nothing but praise. They handled it properly, and they did it without any injury to anybody.

But I've got to tell you, this guy is in a world of trouble because you don't just take this kind of thing lightly. This is not a joyride.

COOPER: All right, if NORAD scrambled, they're certainly not going to be taking it lightly.

Again, at this point, he is apparently on the run. He put the plane down on a road off Highway 60 in Missouri and has taken off. Local authorities clearly are aware of this.

We're going to continue to follow this throughout the hour, and bring you any updates as warranted. It doesn't seem like he could get very far.

We also have more breaking news tonight on several fronts. The search going on right now in central Italy for survivors of this morning's terrible quake; that and vigils for the dead. More than 150 at last count. The death toll though is rising.

Paula Newton now joins us from Ground Zero at the quake in the town L'Aquila just east of Rome. Paula what's going on around you?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you know, a night of agony here is still unfolding. Behind me the rescue effort continues for survivors in the student dormitory. And really we have some new heavy machinery coming in.

There has been a bit of a pause in the rescue efforts; families here really huddled in vehicles looking at what's going on. But unfortunately, Anderson, just a few moments ago, a body being pulled out of this building. They still believe there could be as many as five survivors.

But what's hampering efforts here, Anderson, are the aftershocks. We felt several; one as strong as 4.7, Anderson. Every time the earth shakes, debris starts falling off that building. I have seen the buildings sway and move since I've been here.

Firefighters need to evacuate, and that's why they're just holding steady right now, trying to figure out another way to approach that building and hopefully some survivors.

Anderson, I'll have more coming up later in the show.

COOPER: All right. We'll have more from you, Paula. A very busy night on the air and online.

Join the live chat happening now at and check out also Erica Hill's live web cast the breaks; lots to talk about during the breaks.

Coming up, we also have late details of a plot -- again, breaking news -- apparently broken up to assassinate President Obama. Authorities, they say, are taking it very seriously, their words. We'll have details.

Also ahead, the President's promise to the Muslim world, "We're not at war with Islam," he says, "just the violent radicals in it."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know because I am one of them.


COOPER: We'll check back in with Paula Newton. And also "Up Close" with some of the heroes trying to save lives right now in the quake zone in Italy.

Also, the Obama's search for a church behind the scenes details and how the most famous family in Washington tries to do what every new family in town does tonight on 360.


COOPER: A heavy hour of breaking news tonight.

On a day that President Obama says America is not at war with the Muslim world, we learn that authorities in Turkey have arrested a would-be assassin.

Ed Henry is traveling with the president, and he's on the phone with the late-breaking details. Ed, we hear that this threat is being taken very seriously. What do we know? ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well that's right Anderson. We've been working our sources through the night here in Turkey. And two U.S. officials tell us this threat involves a Syrian man who wanted to stab President Obama here in Turkey.

We're told that Turkish officials arrested this man on Friday. We have to stress the president, of course, was in France on Friday night, not here in Turkey. He didn't arrive here until Sunday.

U.S. officials caution there are very frequent threats of course against U.S. Presidents and all watched very carefully. And this never forced even a change to President Obama's schedule here on this tour. And White House officials are not commenting.

They say they can't talk about security and threats. Secret Service only saying tonight they're working very closely with Turkish officials to get to the bottom and get this fully investigated -- Anderson.

COOPER: There had been a report in a Saudi paper that this person, this Syrian person, had a fake press pass from Al-Jazeera. Has that been confirmed?

HENRY: U.S. officials say that that is still part of the ongoing investigation. But that they have been told that he was trying to use what may have been a forged Al-Jazeera TV press credential to get close to the President here in Istanbul.

But having covered the White House, for years, I can tell you that even with a press credential like that, you're kept a good distance from the President at events. And so it's hard to believe someone posing as a reporter could even get close enough with a knife because we're told this man wanted to stab the President.

And you also have, you know, have to go through metal detectors before these events. That's why U.S. officials keep saying they don't think this man ever got anywhere close to the President. Meanwhile, we should point out Al-Jazeera is saying they know nothing about this Syrian man as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Ed, have you noticed any enhanced security over the last, you know, several days?

HENRY: Yes, I do. And as I piece this together, what's interesting is I recall that on Sunday that journalists covering this trip, we faced much more extensive searches of our bags than usual by the Secret Service as we boarded a flight from Prague to Ankara, Turkey.

And then today as we went within Turkey from Ankara to here in Istanbul, for the second straight day our carry-on bags got a much closer inspection than usual. I've asked officials in the U.S. whether that was because they were afraid that a plotter -- one of the accomplices, perhaps, had infiltrated the U.S. media. These U.S. officials are stressing to me no, it was more about their concerns that maybe Turkey -- Turkish security officials had not been used to such a big media operation coming in around such a high- profile visit. So the U.S. Secret Service wanted to take on a bigger role.

But you do have to wonder why they stepped up security in the last couple days, Anderson.

COOPER: And is it assumed this person was acting alone?

HENRY: It is not. What we're told from U.S. officials is being investigated is a possibility that this Syrian man who was living here in Istanbul was working with up to three accomplices who may have tried to help him get closer to the President so that he could stab him.

But again, U.S. officials are stressing that they're still trying to corroborate pieces of this man's story. They don't know what it true, what is not true. And so all of it is under investigation, and they're stressing that while they took these threats very seriously, they don't think this man ever got very close to President Obama.

COOPER: All right. Ed Henry, I appreciate it, with breaking news on that.

Ed is going to be with the President, wrapping up his visit tomorrow with a town hall meeting.

His aim really to rebuild bridges to the Muslim world, something he promised during the campaign. He's doing it in a country that literally connects east and west, Turkey; a big step today. The big question, how is it going to play there and here at home?

Candy Crowley has the "Raw Politics."


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The advantage of a new face dealing with old problems is that just showing up can help. Today the President of the United States showed up in Turkey.

OBAMA: I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained. And I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced.

So let me say this as clearly as I can. The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.

CROWLEY: It's part of an ongoing effort to change hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It began at inauguration.

OBAMA: To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interests and mutual respect. CROWLEY: Then a week after taking office, the President gave his first interview to a Saudi-backed satellite news channel, Al Arabiya and now Turkey, a key player in helping to mediate Middle East problems, a NATO ally which could put more troops into Afghanistan; a democracy with a Muslim majority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Hussein Obama.

CROWLEY: Before the Turkish parliament, the President emphasized common goals and offered a personal touch.

OBAMA: Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know because I am one of them.

CROWLEY: Turkey is a high-profile closer to the president's trip; a journey designed more to send signals than to get agreements. The White House knew going in that the president would not get the kind of stimulus money he wanted out of the G-20 and that NATO would not send the numbers of combat troops the President wanted in Afghanistan.

CHARLES KUPCHAN, SR. FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think in part the trip was an investment in the future. Rather than go and ask for things that may not be forthcoming, you put a privileged position on forging consensus, on building bonds with leaders from all these different countries around the world.

CROWLEY: But this was not just about talking to the elites. This was about wooing the streets of Europe and the Middle East. There have been two big speeches.

OBAMA: Do we have microphones in the audience?

CROWLEY: A town hall meeting, four press conferences so far and plans for a roundtable with students in Istanbul.

KUPCHAN: I think the whole trip was very much about engaging electorates. The G-20 summit was about calming nerves. At NATO, he was trying to tell Europeans, Afghanistan is the right fight. Stay the course.

CROWLEY: And in Turkey, the message was simple, America is a friend. And to the Muslim world, it is time for a broader relationship.

The president returns to the U.S. with no major agreements in hand. But on this trip, signals are the substance.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Certainly a lot of signals to talk about.

Let's "Dig Deeper" with David Gergen and Fareed Zakaria next about Obama's reach-out to the Muslim world and also the situation in Afghanistan and particularly Pakistan.

Have you seen this video? Taliban thugs beating a woman in Pakistan where they just set up strict Islamic law. Her crime, she went out of her house without a husband.

We'll also continue to follow the stolen plane story as authorities chase down the student pilot now on the run in Missouri.

And even as the people of Binghamton, New York bury the victims of this deranged gunman, a letter surfaces; apparently his sick and twisted good-bye note to the world. Details ahead, when "360" continues.


COOPER: Well, tonight as Candy Crowley reported earlier, President Obama in Turkey assuring Muslim nations America is in fact a friend.

Meanwhile, a new CNN opinion poll finds nearly half of all Americans -- 48 percent -- don't trust Muslim nations as much as our other allies. Given the skepticism here at home, so the question is how did the President's message play among the Muslim world?

Let's "Dig Deeper" with senior political analyst, David Gergen and Fareed Zakaria, host of "Fareed Zakaria: GPS."

David, how important do you think was it for President Obama to make this speech in a Muslim country so earlier in his presidency?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was, I thought, an important speech, Anderson. It was not the speech that we thought he might deliver. And that was he's been promising for some time -- the White House staff has been promising that he would make an appeal to the Muslim world in general or Muslim nations all over the world, really to a billion people.

This was really a speech to the Turkish parliament which had an outreach to the Muslim community but was not that whole speech. Even so, I thought it -- I thought it was important progress, especially in our relationship with Turkey, a nation that is underrated in this country but is a key, critical partner in that part of the world. Has borders with Iran and Iraq and also could be very helpful in forging the peace between Israel and Arabs.

So it was -- I thought he really helped to advance the U.S. relationship with Turkey here toward the end of the trip in important ways.

COOPER: Fareed, the President says we're not at war with Islam. Do ordinary Muslims believe him?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS": Well, I think it's very important to signal to ordinary Muslims that if this is a fight, this is your fight, not ours; in other words, that we are reaching out an olive branch. It's in accord with what he's doing with everyone else. He's reaching out to Iran, he's reaching out to Syria, he's reaching out to Europe. So what's changing here is the dynamic is changing so that all the attention is not on the 800-pound gorilla, the United States, that's refusing to talk to people, sanctioning people, being unilateral.

I think it's a very smart move because it changes the dynamics of the dialogue.

COOPER: And he's saying reaching out not just in anti-terror ways, but in a more full -- in a more full way.

ZAKARIA: In a more full way, and actually in a very sophisticated way. If you look at the trip to Turkey, what was striking to me is how he did exactly what David was saying, which is he talked to the Turks in exactly the language they wanted to hear, which is not entirely and exclusively as Muslims.

He signed the register at Ataturk's grave, the founder of Turkey's saying I want to support Turkey as a modern and prosperous democracy. That's what the Turks think of themselves, they think the fact they're Muslim is incidental.

Of course, the rest of the world looks at Turkey, and they see a Muslim nation. So in the end the signal works both ways. It's a fairly shrewd and sophisticated strategy, I think.

COOPER: And yet, David, you have this poll in which nearly half of Americans don't think that the Muslim countries can be trusted as much as other allies.

GERGEN: Well, we've heard so much anti-Muslim talk for so long since 9/11, that's not unnatural. Polls in the past showed a lot of anti-China sentiment. There was a time when there was a huge amount of anti-Soviet sentiment in this country. I think, actually, the Muslim world is doing better than I would have expected in that poll.

And Anderson, the other thing, though, is I think it's important to remember that George W. Bush said a lot of the same things about Muslims that Barack Obama said today.

But the context has changed. As Fareed points out, what the President Barack Obama is trying to do here is change the context of the dynamics in which decisions are made so that there is much more of a sense of respect and partnership with the United States, easier to make decisions, easier to make deals, easier to perhaps bring the Chinese, the Russians and others like the Turks along on the big issues of the next few years.

COOPER: But I mean, if there's any more evidence that we need of the difficulties that lie ahead, you look at what's happening in Pakistan right now. This video that surfaced in one of these regions, that are essentially Pakistan has ceded to the Taliban, this video, this young girl -- a teenage girl getting flogged by members of the Taliban because she left her home with someone who wasn't her husband. What do you make of this?

ZAKARIA: Well, it's a gruesome video and it reminds us that a lot of these people are really nasty. But I think it's worth remembering that it's only, I think, a month ago that in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi court sentenced a woman who was, I think, 75 years old to 70 lashes for precisely the same offense.

In other words, this is part and a very unpleasant, unfortunate reactionary part of the Muslim world. It does not necessarily mean we are going to go to war with every country which has these abhorrent practices. We're not going to war with Saudi Arabia.

So what we have to focus on in Afghanistan and this is I think the crucial issues, what are the key national security interests of the United States that cause a military strategy to be adopted, and can we execute it? You know, what do we need to do, and can we actually do it?

GERGEN: Anderson, the other thing, though, I was in a forum recently with just a few months ago with Jim Baker and Sam Nunn and asked which one is going to be more dangerous for President Obama, Iran or Iraq, and they both said Pakistan.

And I think this incident underscores the fragility in Pakistan Fareed has been pointing to this for some time now. We can have a very, very dangerous situation on our hands in the next few months in Pakistan.

COOPER: It already seems that way, the number of suicide attacks...


COOPER: ... in places we haven't even seen before.

We're going to leave it there.

Fareed I appreciate it, Fareed Zakaria and David Gergen, thank you.

Very busy night ahead here.

More breaking news out of Italy. We'll take you back to the quake zone. The death toll rising, and the latest on this breaking story ahead.

And the last message from the Binghamton killer. What led him to gun down 13 people before turning the gun on himself? Some possible new clues tonight.

Plus, the Obama's church search and what goes into finding the right place to worship for the first family.

Plus the latest on this plane which violated U.S. airspace. The plane has touched down. We understand the mayor of the town is on his way to the scene. We're trying to make contact with him. The pilot apparently on the run right now. We'll give you the latest ahead.

Stay tuned.


COOPER: I want to update you now on breaking developments from the quake zone in central Italy. The search going on right now for survivors, the death toll is rising. A victim pulled from the rubble just a short time ago tonight; five still missing. Aftershocks hampering the rescue effort. All of it happening right now in the ancient city of L'Aquila.

Once again, Paula Newton is there on the still-shaking ground.


NEWTON: The families of missing students watch and wait, praying search dogs will find their loved ones alive. This medieval city filled with historic stone buildings lasted centuries but was nearly destroyed in minutes by this massive earthquake.

The magnitude 6.3 quake struck in the dead of night. For many of the sleeping victims, there was no escape, no warning. An American missionary in L'Aquila called the noise deafening.

JOSHUA BROTHERS, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR: The best way I could describe it perhaps is exactly like a 747 coming over very loud. You can feel the building swaying back and forth.

NEWTON: Scores perished, many still trapped and an army of rescuers is racing against time to freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We finally reached this girl who was calling us. She said that her name was Francesca, that she was 21 years old. That luckily, she could move her hands. So we spoke to her. And that gave us the enthusiasm we needed to bring about her successful rescue.

NEWTON: This is the deadliest earthquake in Italy since one hit the southern part of the country in 1980, killing an estimated 3,000 people.

On his trip to Turkey, President Obama reacted to the news.

OBAMA: We want to send our condolences to the families there and hope that we are able to get the rescue teams and that we can minimize the damage as much as possible moving forward.

NEWTON: Tonight, thousands are homeless, living in tents, and across a buried city, there is fear, and there is hope, hope that men and women lost in this disaster will be rescued.

Like this survivor pulled from the rubble, he is overcome with emotion. The sobs you hear there, the sounds of what some consider a miracle in L'Aquila.


COOPER: A miracle indeed. Was there any warning for this earthquake?

NEWTON: You know interesting, Anderson. Anger is simmering through these communities. And I'll tell you why.

Weeks before, an acclaimed seismologist was warning the community. He was even here on a loudspeaker telling everyone that this would be a hot spot in the coming weeks. The city here told him, Look, stop it. You're scaring people.

On top of that, Anderson, apparently just a few hours before the big one hit here, many people reported tremors, and quite a few did start to make way for Rome.

I think the anger that you see coming out here is people saying, "Look, if we knew this was going to be such a hot spot and the rooftops would collapse on top of us, why didn't you tell us?" I know it's a debate people at home will watch carefully.

Even Silvio Berlusconi here, the prime minister, saying, Look, we can't predict earthquakes. I don't think we have the technology to do that." It was a controversy you'll hear more about in the coming days, Anderson.

COOPER: So at this point, at this moment, there's a search going on right behind you for those students. How many are still missing and at this point, do we know how many people are homeless tonight?

NEWTON: At least -- at least 70,000 homeless, Anderson, perhaps more. They're in tent cities just a kilometer away from me.

COOPER: Seventy thousand?

NEWTON: Behind -- 70,000, at least, and the number rises. You can imagine right now they don't have a full accurate number on it.

Many buildings here damaged, Anderson. You see it all around you. Behind me, the search effort now just again gathering steam; the families around me huddled to keep warm in ambulances. They are looking for new, bigger equipment that's come up from Rome. And they're assembling it and getting in there.

You can see what's on -- you know, really what the families are feeling. It's cold, Anderson. They've been there now exactly 24 hours, and they feel that really if rescuers don't get in there right now, even with the aftershocks bubbling away here, that really there won't be any hope to get their loved ones out alive -- Anderson.

COOPER: So much sadness right now. Paula Newton, appreciate your reporting. Thank you.

Coming up next on 360, a letter from a killer; the massacre in Binghamton. Tonight, details of the note sent to a local TV station apparently from the gunman sent the day of the shooting. We're going to have h his words and his own warning next.

Also tonight, higher calling; how President Obama and Michelle Obama are quietly searching for a church in Washington and why the White House is trying to keep a low profile about it.

Also tonight's "Shot," the interview with Levi Johnston. Did you watch it? Bristol Palin's former beau and the father of her child, talks about the split-up and a whole lot more.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: We're following another breaking news story. We have new details on the Binghamton massacre in a two-page letter written by the suspect behind Friday's shooting spree. Apparently the gunman mailed a note on Friday just a short time before he murdered 13 people at the immigration center before taking his own life.

In broken English, his words offer a chilling confession and speak of rage and frustration and maybe even madness. More now from Erica Hill.


HILL: The rambling, chilling two-page letter begins, "I am Jiverly Wong, shooting the people."

It was delivered to a Syracuse all-news TV station three days after a man by the same name is suspected of killing 13 people at the American Civic Association before turning the gun on himself. The letter, postmarked that same day, April 3rd.

It doesn't take long for the author to get to the point. "Of course, you need to know why I shooting," he writes. And goes on to detail what he alleges is nearly two decades of abuse from undercover cops, stretching from California to New York.

The claims are specific, including allegations that police would intentionally drive in front of him then stop suddenly, trying to cause an accident. He says it happened 32 times.

DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: Very specific happening in special places, happening in his room at night over a long period of time -- classic for paranoid delusions which smack of paranoid schizophrenia.

HILL: The letter is dated March 18th, but the shootings didn't happen until more than two weeks later, the day it was mailed.

Police have said from the beginning they believe the shootings were premeditated. Wong was wearing body armor and parked his car in front of the center's back door, essentially trapping people inside.

The author makes it clear he will not live much longer. Writing he will, quote, "cut my poor life." And goes on to say, "At least two people with me go to return to the dust of earth." SALTZ: When someone believes that they're being attacked all the time or stalked and threatened, then they feel like they have to respond.

HILL: Along with the letter, the envelope contained Jiverly Wong's driver's license, a gun permit, and several photos. In some, he is proudly displaying guns.

But why take revenge on a community center, if this man was convinced a police officer was responsible for all the ills in his life?

SALTZ: It's possible that at that moment, somehow in this convoluted system, other people will either like him. They're also victims of being immigrants who can't speak well, or they somehow got enveloped into the system of those who are attacking him.

HILL: The author makes no apology for the lives he will take, only for his poor English.

In closing, he writes simply, "You have a nice day."


HILL: A chilling ending to that letter.

Now, in terms of the letter itself, Anderson, they're still trying to authenticate it to make sure that it did, in fact, come from this man. Police are looking at it.

CNN has called the police for comment. They have told -- the police have said to us, "We're not commenting today." They want to be able to look at it a little bit further before they say anything.

COOPER: It's like a sick joke, ending a letter like that, saying, "Have a nice day." It's just bizarre.

HILL: It really is.

COOPER: Erica, we also have some new developments in the story you've been following for us.

The strange saga of that stolen plane, a Cessna just like this one, down on the ground now, a long way from Canada, where it was stolen. We're learning more about the pilot.

In fact, Jeanne Meserve has learned the pilot's identity. She's going to tell us about that, coming up.

And the Obamas are looking for the right church to attend in Washington. The question is how do congregations prove their worthy? And what does the Secret Service have to do with the choice? A lot, probably.

We'll tell you the details ahead.


COOPER: We're getting new breaking details now about the man who stole a small plane in Canada. He is now in custody, apparently. Not before leading U.S. fighter jets on a chase halfway to the Gulf of Mexico, finally settling down on a highway in Missouri.

With us now, on the phone, Superintendent Tim Cogan of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police out of Ottawa.

Superintendent, what can you tell us about this man?

SUPERINTENDENT TIM COGAN, ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE (via telephone): Well, I don't have a lot of details to give you at the moment. We know that he is a Canadian citizen. He did take an aircraft, unlawfully, from a flight school in Thunder Bay.

COOPER: Do you have his name?

COGAN: We do know who he is, but we're not at a point where we can release that probably yet.


COGAN: He flew the aircraft through Canadian airspace and into the States.

And I heard in your preamble, you know what happened thereafter. He put the plane down in Ellsinore, Missouri, and he is now in custody of local officials there.

COOPER: We were just looking at video of a robot searching, I believe, what is this man's car. Were you -- did you find anything? There also has been, earlier reports of a suicide note down on the scene. Can you confirm anything?

COGAN: Well, I don't have specific details at this point in time. We -- there is an ongoing investigation in Thunder Bay at the flight school to collect information there. And, of course, the local authorities in Missouri will be doing a similar thing at their end.

But it's a bit early to be providing any kind of details yet with any degree of certainty.

COOPER: Understand, Superintendent. Appreciate you taking the time. Thank you, sir.

Jeanne Meserve has actually uncovered the pilot's identity. She's been doing great reporting on this over the last couple of hours, talking to a lot of different sources.

Jeanne, who is this person?

MESERVE: Well, the FBI identifies him as Yavuz Berke, formerly known as Adam Leon. He was born in Turkey in 1977, became a Canadian citizen in 2008. We've now heard from two sources that he has been apprehended close to where the aircraft was put down near Highway 60 in Missouri. We don't know any details of his apprehension, whether he put up any sort of resistance or not.

One small detail that came to light earlier from a federal law enforcement source: apparently, when he put this plane down on the dirt road, he then tried to conceal it by putting it under a bridge or a culvert. He did not want to be found, but he has been -- Anderson.

COOPER: So his original name was -- is what?

MESERVE: Well, he was formerly known as Adam Leon. He's currently identified as Yavuz Berke.

COOPER: But he was born in Turkey?

MESERVE: That is our understanding, in 1977. Emigrated to Canada, became a citizen there in 2008.

COOPER: And, obviously, the fact that he was born in Turkey and the president's in Turkey, it raises questions. We don't want to go down the road of speculation. My question is do we know anything about his motivation at this point?

MESERVE: You know, we don't. A federal law enforcement source told me earlier that Canadian authorities that uncovered some indications that he was an unhappy individual.

But I'll tell you, in talking to officials all day long as this unfolded, there didn't seem to be a lot of concern that this was a guy who was intent on doing harm to anybody else, in part because he kept flying past cities, pieces of critical infrastructure, and kept flying; didn't do anything untoward.

But he is in a whole lot of trouble. He apparently stole that airplane, crossed into U.S. airspace and then took the U.S. Air Force on quite a merry ride. He's going to be facing a lot of charges.

COOPER: Yes, the state capitol in Wisconsin was evacuated at one point. So a lot of folks on the ground certainly concerned about this.

Jeanne Meserve, as I said great reporting for the last several hours. Thank you very much.

We're following several stories tonight.

Back again, Erica Hill with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, singer Chris Brown has pleaded not guilty to charges he beat and threatened his girlfriend, fellow music star Rihanna. The 19-year-old appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom today on two felony counts. If convicted, Brown faces punishment ranging from probation up to nearly five years in prison. On Wall Street today, stocks slipping after a record-breaking, four-week run. The losses were slight but still noticeable. The Dow sank 42 points today. The S&P lost 7, and the Nasdaq fell 15.

And an apparently rabid possum taking Capitol Hill by storm. Look out. Animal control officials snatched the critter from a tree, carted it away for testing.

It's been a banner year for Washington wildlife. Let's be honest. Who could forget just two months ago officials in hot pursuit of a pack of raccoons on the White House lawn? Raccoons who went after Ed Henry, I might add.

COOPER: Opossums are creepy.

HILL: Really?


There it is.

HILL: Is that a possum?

COOPER: That's a raccoon. I think that was the White House raccoon.

HILL: I can't see that far. I think I need a new prescription.

COOPER: I don't know why I think possums are creepy. They're cute when they're little and then they just get creepy.

HILL: It happens with a lot of animals. Humans, too.

COOPER: Are you sure? People, too. Exactly.

Why are you looking at me?

The first family is on the hunt. The Obamas are looking for a church in Washington. We'll look at the potential front-runners, coming up.

And the father of Bristol Palin's baby speaks out. Levi Johnston tells his side of the story. The Palin family responds. It's getting ugly, when 360 continues.


COOPER: As we reported earlier, President Obama overseas today, extending a hand to the Muslim world.

Meanwhile back in Washington, literally dozens of churches reaching out to the White House, each hoping to claim the first family as its newest members. With Easter just days away, anticipation over which church the Obamas will choose is at an all-time high.

Randi Kaye is following the story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. DERRICK HARKINS, PASTOR, NINETEENTH ST. BAPTIST CHURCH: You ought to pray. You ought to keep praying.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reverend Derrick Harkins in the pulpit at Washington, D.C.'s, 19th Street Baptist Church where he's been every Sunday for the last 11 years.

But these days it's different. The White House is watching and reporting back to the president, all part of a quiet, calculated effort to find the right church for the first family.

A source inside the administration close to this process tells me White House staff are vetting D.C. churches: interviewing pastors, studying sermons. The source says this has nothing to do with Mr. Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright...


KAYE: ... whose controversial remarks threatened to bring down his campaign.

(on camera) Do you know if you've been vetted?

HARKINS: You can use the term "vetting," I suppose. It's probably helpful to have some people who can at least bring to them some awareness of those churches and their histories, their ministries.

KAYE (voice-over): Reverend Harkins met with the administration's head of faith-based initiatives about his church, which is under consideration. The Obamas came here just 48 hours before the inauguration.

(on camera): It was a full house the day the Obama family attended services here. About 1,300 people showed up for church. Mr. Obama sat right here, then his wife, Michelle, and the girls, and the church deacons right up front.

(voice-over): White House staff prefer a family-oriented church that serves the needy, one where the Obamas won't be a distraction. The church has to be able to handle tight security, maybe even metal detectors.

(on camera): The White House wants a church that's close by. The first Baptist Church is only about six blocks or so from the White House. President Harry Truman used to walk over. Another president, Jimmy Carter, was a member here. In fact, he taught Sunday school.

(voice-over): Church deacon Shirley McBath has fond memories of the Carters and all the excitement they brought.

MS. SHIRLEY MCBATH, DEACON, FIRST STREET BAPTIST CHURCH: Policemen and their rifles, prancing around on top of the buildings, making sure that the church was secure. And then when you entered the door, sometimes you were met by some of the dogs that had just sniffed out the church.

KAYE: While the White House is busy vetting, some churches have begun lobbying. First Baptist is touting its basketball court. It sent this letter inviting the president to visit.

The pastor at Calvary Baptist church used her blog to invite the first lady, and a bishop for Founder United Methodist Church sent this welcome letter.

(on camera): In all 14 presidents worshipped at this church, including President Clinton, who chose the Foundry. But what may really pull President Obama in may be the fact that President Lincoln, who he's especially fond of, helped raise money for this church.

(voice-over): Ultimately, the Obamas will decide, but the White House has been flooded with hundreds of church invitations.

Back at 19th Street Baptist...

(on camera): Have you or are you actively lobbying the first family to join here, as others have?

HARKINS: Absolutely not. I made the point of saying from the pulpit that we were not going to write any letters. We were not going to make any phone calls, and we were not going to strategize for the first family, that we were going to trust God's providential hand.


KAYE (voice over): If it's God's design that the Obamas should worship here, Reverend Derrick Harkins says that will be a blessing.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Up next tonight, Bristol Palin's ex-boyfriend, Levi Johnston. Sure, he may be monosyllabic, but he's speaking out on their breakup and their baby and safe sex, which he is sort of maybe, kind of, familiar with.


COOPER: All right, Erica, time for "The Shot." The bitter public break-up of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston enters a new phase: the talk show circuit.

It began, of course, on the political circuit. Or at least that's when we learned about it. Bristol and Levi, the parents of Tripp, who's now 4 months old; they are no longer together, however, not by a long Shot. And Levi Johnston apparently wants you to know his side of the story, and he's telling it to Tyra Banks.

Now, the interview was not exactly long on answers. Tyra Banks definitely had to work overtime to pull some out. It was kind of memorable, nevertheless. Watch.


TYRA BANKS, HOST, "THE TYRA BANKS SHOW": A personal question. But you're on my Tyra couch, and there are no personal questions. Were you practicing safe sex?


BANKS: Even when the baby was conceived?

JOHNSTON: We were.

BANKS: And so there were just wardrobe malfunctions?

JOHNSTON: I guess.



BANKS: Really?

JOHNSTON: Yes, I guess so.

BANKS: Every time you practiced safe sex?


BANKS: Every time?

JOHNSTON: Every time.

BANKS: Levi?

JOHNSTON: Most of the time.

BANKS: Most of the time. There you go.


HILL: Look at that. Even his sister next to him is going, "Mm- hmm."

COOPER: Was that his sister? I didn't actually watch.

HILL: I think it was his sister.

COOPER: I couldn't bring myself to actually watch the whole thing. I felt for Tyra Banks. I mean, you hate those one-word answers.

HILL: I know. It must have been so tough. I give her a lot of credit for sticking it out, quite frankly.

COOPER: Yes. Let's just say the Palins, of course, are not happy with this latest development, a spokeswoman saying, quote, "We're disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship."

He also went on to say that he thought the governor knew about the fact that they were having sex, because they slept in the same bed, I guess, when they were in the house.

HILL: They shared a room sometimes.


HILL: He also said that, in his view, that he wasn't being allowed to see the baby.

COOPER: There you go. The next chapter still to come.

That does it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.