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Officials: SPC Ivan Lopez Bought Gun March 1; New Details on Fort Hood Shooter; Fort Hood Hero: Female MP Confronted Shooter; Update on Fort Hood Wounded

Aired April 3, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news. We have new details on the bloody rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. We're learning more, much more about the shooter, his mental health, and the weapon and the moment of heroism when a female MP confronted the gunman.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is due to speak very shortly and is expected to have new information about the shootings. We'll bring you his remarks live.

And we're expecting search officials to make what they describe as a, quote, "big announcement" about the hunt for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Searchers are urgently trying to locate a black box signal before the batteries die.

Plus, look at this. A massive cloud wall approaching Kansas City right now as tornado and flood watches are up for millions of people in the central and southern United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Take a look at this. You're looking at a massive cloud wall closing in on Kansas City, part of a very severe weather system across the Midwest right now. It's one of three major stories that we're following this hour.

There's breaking news in the deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, and a major turn, potentially, at least, in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. As officials say they're about to hold -- and I'm quoting them now -- a big news conference. That's coming up.

Our reporters are standing by with the kind of special coverage that only CNN can deliver. Let's begin in Fort Hood, Texas, where our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, she's on the scene for us with the very latest -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour, we're learning from sources that the FBI and Army investigators are looking at Lopez's computers, his cell phones, interviewing witnesses. And we just heard from this general here at Fort Hood. He said investigators are still trying to figure out the why. Why did Lopez open fire on his fellow soldiers? He talked about the fact that investigators are looking into the possibility of a verbal altercation between Lopez and another soldier, and he also says Lopez's long history of mental instability likely played a role in what happened.


BROWN (voice-over): CNN has learned the .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun Lopez used in Wednesday's shooting was purchased here at Guns Galore, just a few miles from the base on March 1, shortly after he arrived in Texas. But sources tell CNN they do not believe he was planning a shooting at the time.

And tonight, investigators still don't know exactly what set the 34-year-old off but say he was undergoing treatment for depression, anxiety, and a sleep disorder.

What police do know is that at about 4 p.m., Lopez walked into the 1st Medical Brigade building on base and began shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take shelter immediately.

BROWN: Immediately the base goes on lockdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have an active shooter currently on Ford Hood, coming in from the motor pool area.

BROWN: But witnesses say Lopez isn't finished.

LT. GEN. MARK MILLEY, COMMANDER, FORT HOOD: Get into a vehicle, fired from a vehicle, got out of the vehicle, walked into another building and opened fire again.

BROWN: Lopez gets into a vehicle and fires off more shots, then walks into a second administrative building and opens fire on the soldiers there. Fear sweeps across the base.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have multiple gunshot victims. We also have people who are escaping through windows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): It literally looked like, if you were going into a room and turned on the light and there was a bunch of bugs, and they just scattered. Everyone instantly went to their rooms, locked their doors, and you could -- you could just feel the intensity and the sense of fear in the area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have currently two victims with gunshot wounds. There's one walking around conscious and breathing, wound to his left side, upper rib cage. We have some people on the ground.

BROWN: Within 15 minutes, local police arrive on the scene, surrounding the base. Outside in a parking lot, a female military police officer confronts Lopez. He walks toward her, raises his hands in the air, then suddenly reaches into his jacket and pulls out his gun.

MILLEY: She pulled out her weapon, and then she engaged. And then he put the weapon to his head, and he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

BROWN: When it's over, four people are dead, including Lopez. Sixteen more are injured, rushed away on stretchers to the hospital. Tonight, some remain in critical condition.


BROWN: And Wolf, it's clear the death toll could have been even higher if it weren't for several clear acts of heroism that the general talked about today. He talked about the female MP who confronted Lopez in the parking lot. And also a chaplain shielded and saved soldiers' lives by breaking in windows and spring them to safety. The general saying this is a community that is no stranger to hardship, dealing with their second shooting here in 4 1/2 years.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on that female MP coming up. She deserves a lot of gratitude.

All right. Thanks very much, Pamela. We'll get back to you, as well. Let's get more now on the soldier who went from one Fort Hood building to another, as we just saw, firing a handgun. CNN's Miguel Marquez has been looking into the shooter for us. And what are you discovering, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the most extraordinary thing about this guy is that he had a long history of mental illness, according to General Milley today at the press conference, and yet they never picked up on it. They never understood how serious it was and that it could turn into this.

We spoke to neighbors today, one that saw him at noon yesterday, leaving his apartment. Waved, said good-bye, seemed perfectly fine. This is a guy who went to the leasing office just after that, about 12:30 in the afternoon, paid his rent for the month, added his wife to the lease, and then said good-bye and went off.

A few hours later he was shooting people dead. Here's how one neighbor described him as he left the apartment complex.


MARQUEZ: What did he seem like?

IESHA BRADLEY, IVAN LOPEZ'S NEIGHBOR : He seemed pretty fine, happy. He didn't seem like, you know, the type that would do what he did.

MARQUEZ: You saw him at noon yesterday?


MARQUEZ: What was he doing? Where was he going? Was he coming or going?

BRADLEY: He was going back. He was pretty fine. He seemed happy.


MARQUEZ: And shockingly, not only people who knew this guy had this impression of him, everything normal on the surface, but roiling underneath, but even the military did, as well, it seemed, because in hindsight they can see that he was dealing with these issues.

He said that he suffered from PTSD. That was never diagnosed, say officials but that he did have anxiety and other mental illnesses, that he was dealing with and also on a drug regimen at the time. So it is not clear what everything was that was going on there.

In his last press conference, the general also not being able to pinpoint exactly what set him off. They know that there was some discussion about an argument with somebody on base, but it is not clear this is premeditated at all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know we're learning more, and you're going to be getting more for us, as well. Miguel Marquez at Fort Hood for us. Thank you.

As investigators try to learn what led to the Fort Hood shootings, the Army says it's clear that a history of instability and psychiatric issues are certainly at the core of this deadly incident. Let's get some more now from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at that press conference at the gate of Fort Hood, General Milley had some really stunning words about the condition of Lopez, the alleged shooter. I want you to have a listen.


MILLEY: We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological conditions, going through all the records to ensure that is, in fact, correct and we believe that to be the fundamental underlying causal factor.


STARR: The fundamental underlying factor, Wolf. A history of instability, mental instability and psychiatric and psychological conditions. We know he was undergoing psychiatric treatment from the military. He had multiple prescription medications, including Ambien. This will be just the beginning of the medical history that they will look at, because the question on the table will be, did military mental health care potentially, possibly miss some sign that this man was headed for such trouble?

We know he bought a weapon on March 1. We don't know the last time he saw a military mental health-care provider, but that mental health-care provider, if they knew he had a weapon, did they miss some signs? Did they miss any indications that this might be about to happen? This is going to be just one area of the investigation.

BLITZER: We know he did have a four-month tour of duty in Iraq. Four months. Usually for soldiers, it's at least a year. Often it was 15 months when the U.S. deployed tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. That raised some red flags, in my mind. I know you've been looking into this. Why was he there only? Do we know why he's only served four months in Iraq? Were there any signs of mental instability then?

STARR: Well, we don't know if he had signs of mental issues that far back, but he did serve -- you're absolutely right, the last four months of 2011 in Iraq when the military was wrapping up operations there. They were sending people over sort of on wrap-up duty on much shorter tours.

There's no indication in the record, we're told, at this point that Specialist Lopez encountered any combat incident, suffered any traumatic injuries, was in any explosions, such as IEDs. No indication that he was combat injured in any way.

We do know that subsequently he reported he felt he had a traumatic brain injury and that he was being evaluated for posttraumatic stress, but that diagnosis was never made. That was never a complete diagnosis.

So that four-month tour of duty in Iraq, as you point out, Wolf, quite short compared to the 15 months, the year-long tours that tens of thousands of troops endured in very tough combat conditions.

BLITZER: He served in the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, and then when he was around 30 decided to become a full-time U.S. soldier. Is that what happened?

STARR: Yes. That seems to be the indication, that he joined the Puerto Rican National Guard sometime around 1999 and then around 2010 decided that he wanted to join the military full time. There's an awful lot of people that do that. Very typical. So that's one of the reasons, we're told, that you see this person in his mid-30s still at the rank of specialist, which is a much more junior enlisted rank in the Army, not something you would expect from someone in his 30s. The explanation so far, time in the National Guard, additional time on active duty.

But I think at this point that the military is just going to go back and scour through every record, every piece of information they have and see what they can learn that will help them resolve what happened here and why, Wolf.

BLITZER: Then we'll know everything about this specialist very, very soon, including several months he served with the U.S. military in Sinai when he was part of the U.S. and international, multinational peacekeeping force, the observer force, in Sinai, as well.

All right. Thanks very much. Barbara, we're going to have much more on this soldier coming up.

Also, the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, he's due to speak out very shortly, expected to have some new information on the Fort Hood shooting. We'll bring you his remarks live as soon as the defense secretary starts speaking.

And how the bloody rampage ended. The moment of heroism that a female MP confronted the Fort Hood shooter.


BLITZER: We're monitoring several breaking stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can see on your screen right now tornado watches now posted across the Midwest. Big news conference expected soon in the search for Flight 370. We're also waiting a news conference from the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, as far as the Fort Hood massacre is concerned. That's expected momentarily.

Meanwhile, we're learning more today about the moment of heroism when a female MP confronted the Fort Hood gunman and helped put an end to the carnage at that base. Our Brian Todd is looking into this part of the story.

Brian, what's -- what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clearly a very dramatic scene yesterday at that moment, Wolf. The shooter covered a lot of ground before he took his own life. There was one person who stood between him and potentially a lot more casualties, and that person never gave ground.


TODD (voice-over): Ivan Lopez first opened fire in the medical brigade building, then used his weapon again, shooting from a car. He then worked into the transportation battalion building and fired again, then moved into a parking lot.

His destruction, while terrifying, could have been so much worse had it not been for one female MP.

MILLEY: She clearly performed her duty exceptionally well.

TODD: Officials at Fort Hood won't release the MP's name, saying she's germane to the investigation. But former soldiers at Fort Hood tell us she's likely with the 720th MP Battalion, of the 89th MP Brigade. The base commander says she arrived in the parking lot four minutes after the first 911 call. He says Lopez approached her from 20 feet away, put his hands up, then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun.

MILLEY: At which time she saw that, interpreted that as a threat, correctly so, and then engaged him with small arms fire at which time then the shooter did a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

PHILLIP CARTER, FORMER MP CAPTAIN, FORT HOOD: Most police officers probably would have stepped back and waited for backup, but she stepped forward.

MILLEY: Phillip Carter is a former MP captain at Fort Hood, was responsible for patrols on base.

Carter believes she was a junior enlisted person, patrolling by herself. She had gone through 18 weeks of training, Carter says, including a segment on a range called "Shoot, No Shoot."

CARTER; And you have to make a decision on the range as to whether to engage or not. They're designed to create that split- second impulse, because that's all you have in this kind of a situation.


TODD: Now that MP is following in the footsteps of another very brave female police officer who stopped the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood. This officer's name was Kimberly Mummy (ph). There's a picture of her. She was wounded in that rampage by Nidal Hassan in 2009 and got several commendations. Phillip Carter, the MP who talked -- the former MP we talked to, says this MP who acted yesterday so bravely, Wolf, will likely receive an award for valor and may be slated for a promotion. But unlike this MP, Kimberly Mummy, that officer in 2009 ended up losing her job, because she was a civilian, and the Army didn't renew the contract of the company she worked for. So she ended up losing her job.

BLITZER: Really?

There were some other heroes yesterday, as well.

TODD: That's right. The base commander, General Mark Milley, said that there was a chaplain who shielded soldiers from gunfire yesterday at one of the buildings, apparently inside while one of the shootings -- one of the instances of the shootings was going on. Shielded them from gunfire, broke a window, and got some of the soldiers out.

And they are not releasing that chaplain's name either. But another hero on the scene yesterday.

BLITZER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Brian. Good report.

Brian, by the way, is going to have a lot more information to share with all of you. He'll be taking you over the CNNSitRoom Twitter account for the next 15 minutes to answer your questions about this story. Tweet your questions and use the hash tag "sitroom."

The Fort Hood gunman killed three people; 16 others were wounded. We have an update on their condition now from Dr. Steven Sibbitt. He's chief medical officer at the Scott & William Memorial Hospital right there near Fort Hood.

Doctor, first of all, thanks very much for all the good work that the men and women of your hospital are doing. What's the latest as far as those who were injured, wounded are concerned?

DR. STEVEN SIBBITT, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, SCOTT & WILLIAM MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: Thank you, Wolf. Yes, what I can share with you is we received three critically wounded individuals and six seriously wounded soldiers. Currently right now, we have two -- I'm sorry, three that the critical -- critically wounded have been downgraded to serious. And we've discharged four, and two are now proclaimed in good condition. So all are making solid, good recoveries due to the focused efforts of our dedicated care team.

BLITZER: And that's encouraging news. Doctor, what's the nature of their injuries?

SIBBITT: Nature of their injuries, all of the injuries were single gunshot wounds. They ranged from grazing-type injuries all the way through to penetrating injuries to the neck, the chest, the abdomen and the extremities.

BLITZER: Are there any complications as far as treating all of these injured, all these wounded? I assume they're all military personnel, right?

SIBBITT: Yes, sir. There were eight males and one female.

BLITZER: And people have already been released, you're pointing out, some of them?

SIBBITT: Yes. We've actually discharged four today, this afternoon.

BLITZER: But nobody is still in critical condition. Hopefully, that means they will all survive, all of the wounded? There were 16 that were wounded.

SIBBITT: According to our trauma -- lead trauma surgeon at this point, everybody is making recoveries as expected. We're not totally out of the woods until we declare the seriously wounded in a higher or better condition, but everything is pointing in the positive direction.

BLITZER: I know you treated some of those who were wounded in the Fort Hood massacre by Major Nidal Hasan back in 2009. Can you compare the injuries that were sustained then and now?

SIBBITT: Well, we've received more gravely wounded individuals. This time, we had three critically injured individuals. Back in 2009, we received a higher number of critically wounded individuals. So almost the same number of wounded individuals but more critically injured back in 2009. Nonetheless, still incredibly traumatic, no matter the degree of their wounds.

BLITZER: Dr. Steven Sibbitt, the chief medical officer at Scott White Hospital out there near Fort Hood. Doctor, thanks to you and thanks to all of your colleagues for all of the very, very critically important work that you are doing. We appreciate it.

SIBBITT: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, another breaking story we're following. What's being called a big news conference, their words, a big news conference expected soon in the search for Malaysian Flight 370. We're going live to the staging area in Perth, Australia, where that search is expected to resume shortly.

Plus, my live interview with a U.S. commander assisting in the search effort, Commander William Marks. He's standing by.

And another major story we're following: much of the Midwest right now bracing for severe weather. Tornado watches are posted across much of the reason -- region. Our own Chad Myers is standing by with the latest forecast.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The other breaking story we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And what we're told in the words of officials in Australia, is going to be, in their word, a big news conference. We're expecting it soon.

CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us now from the staging area in Perth, Australia, where the search is expected to resume fairly soon. What are the details? What are we -- they're giving us a statement saying this will be a big announcement, but they haven't told us what. Is that right?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What we know is that this is being characterized to us as a big news conference. We don't know what it's about but we do know it will come from the man in charge, in charge of the entire operation, expected to make some sort of news about the operational capacity of this search.


LAH (voice-over): CNN has learned the British royal navy ship HMS Echo will conduct a specific search today. Time is running out on the black box pinger batteries, expected to die in the next few days, if they haven't already.

But today a big operations news conference is expected, but it's unclear how significant it will be.

The Australian ship Ocean Shield, with a pinger locator on board, will be inside the new specific search area. In the meantime, the prime ministers of Malaysia and Australia thank troops from eight stations who have hunted relentlessly in the remote Indian Ocean for more than two weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

LAH: But what neither leader could give with any real direction on the location of the missing plane. TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We cannot be certain of ultimate success in the search for flight MH-370, but we can be certain that we will spare no effort, that we will not rest.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: The search area is vast, and the conditions are not easy. But a new refined area of search has given us new hope.

LAH (on camera): Malaysia's prime minister arriving here at the base in Australia as the families of the passengers continue to blast his country for its poor handling of the investigation.

(voice-over): The most vocal is the Chinese families.

Malaysia botched this from the beginning, said Steven Wang, whose mother was on the flight.

STEVEN WANG, MOTHER ON BOARD FLIGHT MH-370: It was ridiculous that a flight heading to Beijing but it turns west, and flying over the whole Malaysia for more than one hour, but they didn't take any action. It was ridiculous.

LAH: The Malaysian government maintains that it is doing all it can. And after a meeting with families yesterday, the country's civil aviation chief insisted he'd answered all of their questions.

GEOFFREY THOMAS, EDITOR, AIRLINESRATING.COM: I think overall they haven't handled it well. I think they're improving significantly in the last week or so. But early on, definitely not.

LAH: Malaysia's prime minister refused to field any reporter questions the entire time he was in Australia, offering no answers.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Prime Minister Najib, given that so much of the information --

LAH: Or real hope to how long this hunt will go on.


LAH: The good news today is that the area over the search is expected to have very good weather, good visibility. The very first of the planes taking off in just about 30 minutes.

And, Wolf, again, we are expecting soon this big news conference regarding the operations of this search -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will get right back to you as soon as that news conference begins. We want to know what their big announcement is going to be.

Kyung Lah on the scene for us in Perth, Australia.

Let's bring in our panel right now. Joining us our aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes.

Peter, what do you make of this announcement. A big announcement. Not a little announcement. But a big announcement. A lot of us are skeptical but hopefully they've got some important news to release.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Exactly. We are skeptical. But I hope what they've got is some slight indication of a ping that directs their surface vessels with the towed sonar. That's what I'm hoping for. That they've got a real area based on a hard fact, not just supposition.

BLITZER: Well, if they -- if they have a ping from one of those flight data recorders or the cockpit voice -- that would be a big announcement.

GOELZ: Huge. That would be worth saying it's a big announcement.

BLITZER: Because at that point, Tom, you could really direct the search to a specific location and hopefully locate it.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, if they are announcing that they've got a big announcement and they don't have something that significant, what a huge mistake to get everybody all excited yet again.

BLITZER: What do you make, Miles, of all of this? Because as all of us know earlier there have been several points over the past four weeks, we've been pretty upbeat that something was about to break and we've been disappointed when it didn't. What did you make of this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, we've been talking repeatedly about the fact that the Malaysians are not very good at communication. It seems to be one of their big problems. We saw the prime minister there not even willing to take a question from reporters.

Let's hope the Australians haven't caught this virus and are misstepping here by offering up some hype which is not delivered upon. I just think about these poor families, you know, just grasping to any bit of hope they can find and if it isn't really big, shame on the Australians as well.

Now let me just say, if it is in fact the announcement that there is a ping and they've sat on this for hours, I mean, why would they do that? Why wouldn't they announce it right away?

BLITZER: Yes. That's a good point. And look, we'll just wait and see what this, quote, "big announcement" is.

We did hear the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, Peter, say that this was the most difficult search operation, quote, "ever undertaken." You've been involved in several of these when you were at the NTSB. GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: Is that a factually accurate statement?

GOELZ: It certainly is. And we've been discussing that since day one. That this was not going to be an easy search and that if there was any hint that it was going to be anything other than months, if not years was being disingenuous from the beginning.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied with where this investigation is right now?

FUENTES: I have no idea, Wolf. We're relying on the -- you know, the authorities that have looked at satellite handshakes and radar data and all of that and we just hope they're right.

BLITZER: And do you think the Malaysians are right, Miles, when the Malaysian authorities say they are doing everything they possibly can? Are they doing everything they possibly can?

O'BRIEN: You know, it's difficult to say for certain. I look at the search, however, and this is obviously led by the Malaysians but many nations have contributed. And I still see nine or 10 aircraft covering a huge hunk of ocean with limited time. I know I've been harping on this but I still feel like there should be more assets there and I -- I just can't understand why we don't have more aircraft and more ships involved in this at this point.

BLITZER: Do you understand, Miles, why they keep changing the search area?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think, you know, they've begun with guesses and they've been covering a lot of turf. They're lawnmowering as they say over these huge areas. There's a little bit of desperation involved here and so they are moving on quickly and that's probably a good strategy at this point, given the lack of precision that they have on the location.

If they had more precise data, you wouldn't be doing this. So this is a reflection of the -- you know, the uncertainty that is involved here. They're doing kind of a general survey. They're not seeing anything and they're moving on. But you know, if this was a crash that created tiny little pieces, you could be overlooking things.

BLITZER: Yes. There's two ships now really in the search area, Peter, the HMS Echo, the British ship, the Australian Ocean Shield, and now we're also told that they maybe -- they may have something specific they're looking for. They spotted something, we don't know what it is, but you've heard these reports?

GOELZ: Yes. I've heard the reports about an operational breakthrough or an operational enhancement. I hope that's something substantive. I hope it's something that really can be followed up on and not just another wild goose chase.

BLITZER: Because these ships have some pretty sophisticated sonar and we do know there's a British submarine in the area as well?

GOELZ: That's right. They've got the side scanning sonar, plus they've got the towed array which can pick up the ping. We've got a few days left, we hope. Let's really pray that they've got something tonight.

BLITZER: When you've worked, Tom, at the FBI, you were assistant director, you worked on occasion with Malaysian authorities. The Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, he's meeting now with the Malaysian Defense minister who is also the acting Transport minister. They're both at a conference, the Pacific area conference in Hawaii.

Chuck Hagel is about to speak fairly soon. We'll have live coverage of that. But how, in general, is cooperation between the United States and Malaysia?

FUENTES: Well, the cooperation that I'm experienced in is the FBI and the Royal Malaysian Police Force which was outstanding and is still outstanding to this day. And the FBI, with the permanent office in Kuala Lumpur, was invited into this case the night the plane went missing. Now what these reports that the FBI couldn't come and all that were false, they were there, have been there, have had additional personnel there from the neighboring offices to help and so -- but their police force is outstanding.

But this is more than a police force case. You have aviation authorities from Britain, France, China, the U.S. looking at satellite data, radar data, civil aviation data. So that's different than the police, or in addition to the police investigation.

BLITZER: It's a lot more complex. All right, guys, stand by. We'll wait for that news conference. We'll hear what the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has to say.

We'll also await that so-called big announcement coming out of Australia. We're following several breaking stories this hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're about to go inside the search for Flight 370 with the U.S. commander who's assisting in the -- mission. My live interview with Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy. That's coming up.

And much of the Midwest, right now, bracing for severe weather. Tornado watches are posted across much of the region. Our own Chad Myers is standing by with the latest forecast.

And we're standing by, as I said, for the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He's expected to make comments about the shooting massacre at Fort Hood, probably make some comments about the Malaysia Airliner mystery. All of that coming up right here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the breaking developments on the search for Flight 370. We're being told a news conference is expected fairly soon in Australia with what officials there are describing as a, quote, "big announcement." Joining us now on the phone, Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet. He's aboard the USS Blue Ridge, the command ship.

Commander, thanks very much for joining us. Do you know what this, quote, "big announcement" is going to be?

CDR. WILLIAM MARKS, USS BLUE RIDGE SPOKESMAN: No, I do not. So we're giving our morning reports here, Friday morning in the Asia Pacific. So I'm just as interested as you. So I'll be watching CNN.

BLITZER: We'll have coverage of that immediately once we hear what that big announcement is. Apparently it involves some sort of operations detail, whatever that means. We're told it will be released by Angus Houston, who's been in charge -- the Australian in charge of this overall search effort.

We're also told, Commander, that the HMS Echo is conducting what officials in Australia are now describing as a specific search. Do you know, Commander Marks, whether they have some location, a specific location, they're hot on right now that might be wreckage from the plane or the flight data or cockpit voice recorder?

MARKS: The last update I got was from the HMS Echo and was -- it was not conclusive. And so they are still searching. So right now in the search area we have -- there are a number of surface ships. Of course the U.S. P-8 is flying once again today. And also the Ocean Shield has arrived in the general area. So the Ocean Shield along with the towed pinger locator and the side scan sonar, the Bluefin, has arrived there. The question is, where is there? It's kind of just a point in the ocean right now.

BLITZER: So it's not conclusive, whatever they were looking at. It might be something, on the other hand, it might not be something. That's the latest information. I know the British Navy has announced that they have a submarine in the area, the Tireless, as well. Do you know if they have spotted anything that is giving us a good trend, a good indication of what is going on?

MARKS: The last report I had of theirs also they have not had any conclusive hits from their sonar. So if you look across the spectrum of ships, the British aircraft, it's not that we are not seeing stuff. We certainly are. There is debris out there and trash and a lot of other things but no conclusive evidence of wreckage and that's what we really need.

Once again, our oceanographers are on standby. They are waiting with these very complex oceanography models of the wind and currents to work backwards on this reverse plot. And once they did it, that's exactly where we're going to send the towed pinger locator. And we still have a few days so -- and, remember, the battery life on that thing could go a little longer. So we're still hopeful for that.

As I mentioned, the Ocean Shield is in position. We don't know if it's in the right position but it's as close as we can get right now and it's helping out in the search for right now. BLITZER: And you're working under the assumption, Commander, that the batteries for that flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, the pinger batteries, that they are still operating, you say, a few more days. Realistically, what is the longest those batteries could last?

MARKS: I'm not exactly the black box expert. However, I do know that 30 days is considered the minimum. So it certainly could last longer than 30 days and it all depends on where it is. Fresher temperature, the ocean conditions, all have a factor in that. But, you know, we know if we're within a mile, that, you know, we've proven with our pinger locator, if we're within a mile of the signal and it's pinging, we're going to hear it.

So it's just a matter of getting all these Navy assets out there, finding some debris, working backwards and getting into position. And at this point, every second counts because the closer we can get those pinger locator, the more chance we have of hearing it. So that's why we're -- we have a big push going on here in this last week or so to try to get some confirmation of debris.

BLITZER: Commander Marks, will the U.S. Navy, will the U.S. military, the U.S. assets continue to be involved in the search after you believe that battery for the black boxes has died?

MARKS: Yes. I get a lot of questions about that. I could quote the secretary of defense yesterday. He mentioned that. We have fulfilled every request of the Malaysian government and, you know, from day one we sent two destroyers out here, we had helicopters out here almost immediately. When the search expanded into the Indian Ocean, we flew our best planes out here.

So right now, this search has -- there are only six P-8 Poseidons in the whole world flying fleet missions and this search has two of the six flying in the entire world. So it's getting our best assets and as a request comes in, we try to fulfill it the best we can.

BLITZER: Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy, thanks, as usual, for joining us. You've been very helpful over these past several weeks.

MARKS: You're welcome. Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the search for Flight 370 coming up in our next hour.

Plus, two other breaking stories we're monitoring right now in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're awaiting comments from the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. We're going to bring you that live once it happens. Up next much of the Midwest now bracing for dangerous tornadoes in the hours ahead. The latest forecast coming up.


BLITZER: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is now speaking about the Fort Hood massacre. Let's listen in.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: To identify any new lessons learned and implement those as well. In the meantime, we will all stay focused on the victims and their families and the Fort Hood community who, yet again, are experiencing a terrible tragedy and much grief.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got time for some questions. I'm going to give this mike over here, and so please wait until you get the microphone before you ask your question.

DION NISSENBAUM, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Dion Nissenbaum from the "Wall Street Journal." I want to ask you a little bit more about Fort Hood if I could. As you know, in 2010 Secretary Gates called for dozens of changes in defense policy to deal with the insider threat from the first attack. And two weeks ago you issued your own report which found that many of those recommendations hadn't been implemented.

Since that time there have been two shootings on military facilities that have exposed even new gaps in security procedures. And I'm wondering why does it take four years and four reports to address these security problems? And isn't that unacceptable? Why should people believe that what you're saying now means that the Pentagon is going to take this challenge seriously?

HAGEL: Well, first, let me assure our country, the people who serve in our armed forces and their families, we do take this seriously. There's nothing that we take more seriously than the safety of the people who work for our department.

We recognize the imperfections. We recognize the risks, everyday risks in the jobs that these men and women do for our country. But there is no mistaking the fact that the prioritization among our service leaders, our commanders, our leaders is the safety of those men and women.

Now obviously something went wrong. We have made recommendations based on those reviews and we have implemented those recommendations in almost every case going back to 2009. As you noted, 2010. We will continue to make the adjustments and implement those recommendations.

Obviously, we have a gap. Anytime we lose an individual, something has gone wrong. But I also noted, and I think it's important here that we all keep in mind, let the investigators do their work. We don't know what all the facts are. We know a lot of things 24 hours later, but we don't know everything. What happened? What motivated this person to do this? Where was the gap? Why did we have a gap? Why did it happen?

So let me stop there because I think we are going to find out and we will do everything possible to implement the kinds of reforms and fill those gaps and assure the security of the men and women who work for our armed forces, and assure their families. NATHAN KING, CCTV-AMERICA: Thank you for your hospitality this week, by the way, Mr. Secretary. Nathan King from CCTV-America.

Closer ties with ASEAN, rebalancing to Asia -- some have suspicions that this is all a policy to contain China. How would you respond to that? And what will you be saying to the Chinese when you visit them after your trip to Japan?

HAGEL: Well, this visit was not a visit to contain China. I have said that in my --

BLITZER: All right. So there you heard the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying they will get to the bottom of what happened in Fort Hood, Texas. They will make sure lessons are learned, steps are taken, this in the aftermath of what happened some 4 and a half, almost five years ago when there was another massacre in Fort Hood, Texas.

All right. Stand by. We're going to have much more on this. But I want to check in with Chad Myers right now, our severe weather expert.

Chad, there are real fears, serious fears of horrible weather tornadoes erupting in the Midwest. What's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You bet. This is the 40th anniversary, Wolf, of the super outbreak in 1974. There is snow up here. We'd expect that. That's the cold part of the storm. It's rotating through into the very warm part of the storm. And all of those big red boxes there, those are all tornado watch boxes.

We expect tornadoes to pop up and stay with us all night long tonight as we can get drilled right down here to the one near Osage Beach, this is Missouri right now. We'll continue to watch that storm. And there are more along this line. This line is going to fire up again here. We're going to see more storms.

I know we saw storms this morning, but those are gone now. The sun has been out all day. And these storms are going to get much larger again tonight when the energy of the storm system that's now still to the west, about Amarillo, that energy that these storms are waiting for, will punch through tonight. And these storms, these storms will probably go all the way through the evening hours after dark.

Those are the hardest to chase. Those are also the hardest to forecast because you don't get a lot of storm chasers in the middle of the night chasing for you. And there are storms here, I can keep going, this is now back down toward Oklahoma, this is a little bit farther to the south. There is the red river and there are more storms to the north of Dallas, Texas.

A couple of these here were rotating for a while, and now still developing to the south of Dallas that may move into Dallas proper here as we get into the next few hours. You have the storm chasers on the storms, we have been watching all of their video coming out of -- from Benton, Missouri County, also down toward Denton, Texas, those where the most severe weather is, at least right now. But we expect many, many more tornadoes, storms, tornadic potential storms that will be rotating all night long to fire all the way through, probably even toward midnight or later -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chad Myers with the latest on some really bad weather conditions disrupting the Midwest. We'll stay on top, we'll get all the latest information from you, Chad. Tornado warnings, watches in effect right now.