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Texas Church Massacre; Armed Resident Helped in Attack; Trump Blames Mental Health for Texas Attack; Texas Governor on Church Massacre; Gunman Denied Permit. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired November 6, 2017 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:30:00] SHERIFF JOE D. TACKITT, JR., WILSON COUNTY, TEXAS: We're going to pull together, help each other and then we're going to do whatever we need to do to also help them.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: This is a job that works on a lot of levels. To a person, people say, you know, the sheriff is a source of strength for us. We know he has his arms around us in this community.

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: And they have a little bit of an idea of what you had to deal with yesterday and into last night.

TACKITT: Yes.

CUOMO: And we were talking -- I know you haven't been able to get any rest yet. How can people understand what it is that you have to -- you all have to deal with what happened in that church?

TACKITT: Well, we took -- we took oaths, you know, and, as part of our oath, it's the -- to help the people and we're going to do whatever we have to at this point.

CUOMO: You've been in the business a long time.

TACKITT: Yes.

CUOMO: Not to date you. But would you have ever imagined that you would have to walk into a church in that situation?

TACKITT: Never. Never in my wildest dreams.

CUOMO: What do you tell yourself? What do you tell your men?

TACKITT: You know, I haven't had a chance to really talk to all of them that were here yesterday because a lot of them were off. But they came out when they heard about it. They got dressed and they came out to help. And, you know, we're a small department. And so we've got to help each other.

CUOMO: What's been the hardest part for you in dealing with this emotionally so far?

TACKITT: The children. The children. You know, that's always the hardest, it's wherever there's children involved.

CUOMO: It's hard to know what somebody finds in their heart to knowingly take out kids.

TACKITT: That's the truth. I mean, you know, the man went through there -- or the creature, whatever you want to call him, went through there firing, you know, an assault rifle and took no mercy on anyone that was there.

CUOMO: I don't know that you even want this kind of evidence, but that church did put services online. We were able to see what the inside of the church looks like --

TACKITT: OK. OK.

CUOMO: And see the passion of the congregation there. Was it put on video? Is that something that would be helpful to you? Is that something that you know of?

TACKITT: There was -- there was very little on video yesterday. Very little. For some reason.

CUOMO: Do you see that as almost a blessing in this situation? I mean there's not going to be a trial. The guy is gone.

TACKITT: Yes. Yes, the guy is gone. There won't be a trial. You know, do you want a trial? Do you want the person -- in a situation like this, I don't think so. I think the people that were in the church, the people who are the citizens here, the people around the world, they don't want to see somebody like that to live. You know, after they, you know, done what they did.

So, you know, it's -- it's just -- it's just a terrible situation all the way around. I mean, you know, there was a lot of -- well, they were all good people that were there in the church. We know that. But a lot of family members that, you know, were lost and, you know, it's tough. I mean, I know there's one family that there's six or seven. And that's -- that's going to be something that's really hard for them to deal with.

CUOMO: I mean --

TACKITT: But they're good Christians.

CUOMO: Well, they're going to be tested now.

TACKITT: They are.

CUOMO: I mean the family that runs this church, they lost their little girl.

TACKITT: That's right.

CUOMO: We've been showing her picture this morning so people can understand what was taken.

TACKITT: Yes. Yes. Right.

CUOMO: They weren't here.

TACKITT: No.

CUOMO: But what -- you know, I mean, tell us about them as a family and what you know of them?

TACKITT: Well, the pastor's been here for several years. I mean he works with this congregation. He plays with this congregation. And he's just a good all-around person. So, you know, why -- you know, you have to deal with a situation like this, we don't know.

CUOMO: The man who came in to sub for him, or, you know, the equivalent --

TACKITT: Yes.

CUOMO: Lost his life there yesterday.

TACKITT: Lost his life You know, could have happened any other day. He wouldn't have been here. But, you know, yesterday was the day that was chosen for it to happen.

CUOMO: And, obviously, this was no random act. This man knows what Sunday means --

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: To a congregation.

TACKITT: Sure. Sure.

CUOMO: He knows where people are going to be --

TACKITT: Yes.

CUOMO: Especially in a small town.

TACKITT: A small town.

CUOMO: If you want to find a concentration of humanity, you go to a church in Texas on Sunday. And he knew that.

TACKITT: Right. Yes.

CUOMO: What do you say to the man who stepped up when he heard the gunshots?

TACKITT: I say he's a hero.

CUOMO: It's --

TACKITT: I think --

CUOMO: I don't -- I don't think there's any question about that. TACKITT: You know, had he not done what he did, we could have lost

more people.

CUOMO: Because it's not known that this was over in the mind of the murder.

TACKITT: Very true.

CUOMO: Just because he exited. Who knows?

TACKITT: Yes.

[08:35:03] CUOMO: There were other weapons in the vehicle, you believe? There --

TACKITT: Yes, there are other weapons, to my understanding. I mean even though he dropped the one, I mean, you know, there's another church a couple of miles down the road. He could have stopped there. Who knows?

CUOMO: You have to deal with the immediate, still processing the scene.

TACKITT: Yes.

CUOMO: You've got to believe able to give families some closure. How important is that? I mean we were talking when the power went out, my heart sunk when you guys were slow with account coming out of it --

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: Because I knew what that meant about processing the scene.

TACKITT: Sure.

CUOMO: How important it is for you to try to help these families. I know what kind of questions they're asking you and I know you can't answer them.

TACKITT: Well, we're going to give them all the support we can. You know, first, with have to deal with what's over here at the scene yet. And then we're going to be here for the families.

CUOMO: How long do you think it will take before people can put people to rest?

TACKITT: It's going to be a good while.

CUOMO: It's just too -- well, listen -- listen -- we're going to --

TACKITT: Too early right now.

CUOMO: All right, we don't know -- we know why that is.

TACKITT: Yes.

CUOMO: That's your job.

One of the jobs to come out of this, and you spoke to this when you were cautioning people to be sensitive here, is, what can we do? What can we do? The president weighed in. He's in Asia.

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: But he weighed in. He understands the significance of this.

TACKITT: Sure.

CUOMO: I think we all do now at this point.

TACKITT: Yes. Right.

CUOMO: Can't believe how much of this we see these days. The president says, I think we're looking at a mental health problem at the highest order. As a lawman, do you think that that's where we go? You know, is mental health and what we do about mental health, or do you think it's just an act of evil and there's nothing you can do?

TACKITT: There's -- well, there's a lot of mental health issues. We know that. And we just wish there was more help for these people.

CUOMO: Is that on us? Do you think that's on -- is that -- is there a lesson that -- I mean you can't make these people come back.

TACKITT: No.

CUOMO: You can't fix what happened here.

TACKITT: You can't fix what's broke like that.

CUOMO: But, in your experience, and now what you're living through, do you think we need to look at it and figure out, there's got to be something so that you don't wind up with the same set of ingredients that leads to evil?

TACKITT: It needs to be looked at more. And we need more places to put these people to try to help them.

CUOMO: There's a sensitivity issue that comes up that I respect and I understand, but not completely, which is, don't talk about it now. Give them -- give them their time. Give them their time.

But, as you know, because you're one of them now, sheriff --

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: Nobody want answers more than you guys do.

TACKITT: Sure. Sure.

CUOMO: Because you don't want anybody else to ever have to look at what you had to look at.

TACKITT: No, we don't.

CUOMO: And these families to feel it. But we'll hear that from lawmakers who don't want to take it on, because it's too hard, sheriff.

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: Because they can't give a nice, quick fix.

TACKITT: True.

CUOMO: But you think that, give the respect to the dead, give the respect to the families and take it on.

TACKITT: Right.

CUOMO: Figure out what you can do, if anything.

TACKITT: We'll do whatever we need to do here, you know.

CUOMO: And the leaders, you want the same out of leadership?

TACKITT: We want that also.

CUOMO: Well, sheriff, look, I wish there was --

TACKITT: OK.

CUOMO: I wish there was something that anybody could do to make your job easier, but --

TACKITT: Well --

CUOMO: I do hope you understand how your community respects and appreciates what you've been doing for them here.

TACKITT: I'm going to continue.

CUOMO: All right, thank you, sheriff.

TACKITT: OK. And thank you.

CUOMO: And thank you for taking the time. God bless.

TACKITT: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: All right, so there's the sheriff. He gave you updates in terms of, you know, this picture of motive. Why would a man come to a church on a Sunday? Now there is this information that his in-laws, this is their church. They weren't there, but this is where they would have been on most Sundays.

Now, coming up, you heard the last part of that conversation with the sheriff. What do you do? Well, what can we do? What should we do? What must we do? Those are questions for the Texas governor, Greg Abbott. And he's going to be with us right after the break. He came here in the immediate aftermath. He put his arms around these people. We're going to talk to him about that experience, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:42:50] CUOMO: So when we're trying to figure out what to tell in situations like this, we often come back to what we call perspective. You can't have any perspective on something like this. We've never seen anything like it before. A church, during service. So many people taken out in such a small population.

You have to remember that and what they're dealing with in Sutherland Springs. You only have 500 or so people living here. And to have 50 people of your community gone, not to mention their families and loved ones in this little Baptist church over our shoulder during services, before noon, on a Sunday, kids gone. You saw the pain in the sheriff's eyes when he was talking about what it's like to go in and process a scene like that. They couldn't even come close to a number for hours of how many people they were dealing with inside that church. And you know what that tells you about how difficult that is.

Last night they had a vigil. The governor, Greg Abbott, was here. A strong move for this community to be able to put his arms around people who are in the worst moments of their lives.

And the Texas governor, Abbott, joins us right now.

I hope you understand, governor, how much it meant to people here, and I'm sure to your entire state, that you were on the scene and had your arms around them in person.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Well, Chris, also before that vigil took place, I had the opportunity to go to the community center, just a couple of blocks away. And in that community center was gathered all of the family members and relatives of those who had been victims of this heinous crime. And I've got to tell you, it was probably the toughest thing that I've had to do as governor, to speak to these victims, to some of the words that would try to touch their hearts.

But I've got to tell you that also that I left there and went to the vigil more inspired because in talking to these family members, and then them coming up and sharing hugs and kisses and holding hands, you could tell from their hearts that they were going to rely upon their faith in God. And that's also exactly what we saw from not just the family members, but also the community members.

[08:45:05] As you point out, this is a community of only about 500 or so people. And I think I probably spoke with most of the members of this entire community who were there. Everybody knew these people who were the victims of this crime. And the one thing that I took away from last night is, this is a strong, faith-based community. And they are relying upon their faith to strengthen them. And that strength remains very strop strong, even today.

CUOMO: You know, if you believe that nothing is a coincidence, the Gospel reading at their service yesterday was Matthew 23, and it was the practice what you preach story from the Gospel where Jesus is commanding leaders to actually go out and do what it is that they are hearing from him, to put that love into action. What do you see as your responsibility in a situation like this going forward?

ABBOTT: Well, to follow up exactly on your comment about what the Gospel teaches, and that is to put love into action. And one of the women that you interviewed this morning spoke just of that, about how she wanted to respond to this challenge. And that is to focus on the love of God, and focus on connecting with faith.

And you may recall that Jesus insisted that we act out on that faith by loving and supporting each other. And what we saw last night was a community coming together with love and support for each other.

Chris, it was the same thing that we saw just two months ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey where Texans are helping Texans, neighbors helping neighbors. And I see this so profoundly in the state of Texas, wherever tragedy occurs, people come together and support each other.

CUOMO: I hear you, governor. The meaningful distinction, obviously, is one's a natural disaster, one is not. This was not inevitable. This is not natural. And the question comes up, and I know there's sensitivity to it, and I know people say it's not the right time and I just don't agree, governor. So what do you think there is out there for you to look at in terms of how to make it less likely that you see a man like this get access to a weapon like this and be able to do what he did here?

ABBOTT: Well, obviously, people want answers. But equally obvious, here we are less than a day after the event happened where there's more unknowns than there are knowns. Like, let me share with you this one fact that I am told by the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and that is that Devin Kelley sought to get a license to carry a gun in the state of Texas, but the state of Texas denied him the ability to get a gun. So how was it that he was able to get a gun? By all of the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun. So how did this happen?

But, Chris, that is just one of the unknowns up there. We are in search of answers to these questions. And the answers will be coming to light here in the coming days. And before we can solve the problem, we need to know the answers to all of these multitude of questions.

CUOMO: Right. But I think that you're putting your finger on something that's certainly worth exploring a minute after the event, let alone a day and a half, which is, the answer to the question that you're asking. If he was denied a permit on one level, but on another level he filled out paperwork and was able to get these weapons, that tells, right, even the simple mind that you've got a legal inconsistency here and that maybe it's not about a new law that would have made a difference, maybe it's about law enforcement and fixing that problem. How dedicated are you to figuring out where the obvious gap was here and remedying it?

ABBOTT: Well, again, it's important that we learn what the information was and what, if anything, happened to allow him to get a gun. But, I mean, Chris, remember this, and that is, at the time this crime occurred, killing was illegal in the state of Texas. It's the same kind of thing that you saw in New York just last week where -- whether -- it wasn't a gun that was used, it was a truck that was used to mow down people in a bike lane. Same thing happened in London where you had people using bombs to blow up a concert area or knives to stab people.

Chris, there's one thing that we need to take away from this, and that is, evil exists in the world. You talked about the Gospel earlier. And you go back to the beginnings of the Bible, to the time of the Gospel and afterwards, and that is, there is evil in this world that we must confront. And the way and the attitude that the people of Sutherland Springs had last night is the best way to confront this evil is by using the forces of God to confront and overcome this evil.

CUOMO: It is true. And you've got to look at it in the terms of, you know, how evil is motivated and what the instruments of evil are. And the man arguably was one, but so was what was in his hand. And I know gun culture is sensitive. I get it. I was raised around it. I know what it means in Texas. I know what it means to you.

[08:50:12] But, you know, I wonder if this situation gives you any different perspective. I know that you've been a huge advocate for gun ownership, legal gun ownership. You know, you were called out for when you were tweeting. I know that you meant it tongue and cheek. I've known you a while, governor, when you were saying, Texas is number two in the nation for new gun purchases behind California. Let's pick up the pace, Texans. I know you mean it and you didn't tweet that now. I know you wouldn't tweet that during a period like right now because of the sensitivity. But does this situation give you any different perspective?

ABBOTT: Well, as you begin your question, you talked about motive. And that's one of the loose ends we need to tie up here. And that is, what was the motive? What was the man's situation? Everything that we seem to know, and it's important that we don't know all the facts of what I'm about to say, but one thing that we seem to know is that Devin Kelley was a person with some mental challenges, even seemingly before he entered into the United States Air Force, as you know, and I think have reported, he was dishonorably discharged. And the things that he did to his family were a sign that there was some level of mental instability.

Obviously, you have to be very mentally unstable to commit a heinous crime like this. So, once again, one of the challenges we have to deal with is not just evil, but also mental health challenges, to address those and --

CUOMO: Right.

ABBOTT: Things like that are avenues that we can pursue to make sure that we lead to a safer society.

CUOMO: Do you think that that will happen, coming out of this, that you'll look at mental health differently, that you'll look at the gaps that allowed the this guy to get these weapons differently?

ABBOTT: You know, those are issues that Texans addressed in this past legislative session, not specifically with regard to shootings like this, but we did expand the platform that we are using to address mental health issues across the state of Texas.

We all know that this is something that we must address as a nation, but also as a state. And that is for all of us to do a better job to address mental health issues.

But as you also know, mental health issues are very complex. Not all of them lead to shootings like this. And so this is a very profound issue that our country must begin to address more profoundly.

CUOMO: There's no question about it. And the time is now.

Governor, thank for taking the opportunity. Let me pass along the thanks of this community for putting your arms around them and hopefully you will stay on these difficult questions. That's what leadership's about.

Governor, thank you, and our condolences.

ABBOTT: Thank you. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, we're going to be right back with some thoughts about what we've learned here and what needs to be dealt with going forward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:56:05] CUOMO: So we've seen two of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history in just the last 35 days. The latest, of course, here at a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas. So the question becomes, what will change? And the likelihood, most often, I've been to 20 of these all over the country, seen all kinds of communities affected, the answer is generally nothing because the solutions are hard, they're complicated, and we do not see the will to address them. Sometimes you see something basic, low-hanging the fruit, like a bump stock in Las Vegas.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

CUOMO: We were told it was too soon to discuss it. Clearly wasn't true.

Here, Alisyn, we see a lapse in the law that allowed a man who wasn't supposed to get a permit to get one. Will they address that? Or is it too soon once again? Which is, of course, a ridiculous notion.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And, of course, if President Trump thinks that this is really just a mental health issue, not a gun issue, than he needs to explain why he signed a bill into law in February allowing better access for mentally unstable people to get guns. So he needs to explain why he would do that.

CUOMO: He removed the Obama regulation about certain people with Social Security checks who can't handle their own finances --

CAMEROTA: That's right.

CUOMO: But are eligible for weapons. He removed that regulation.

CAMEROTA: Why?

CUOMO: It was about politics. It was done quietly. And we'll see what happens now.

All right, Alisyn, thank you for the coverage in New York.

CAMEROTA: You too, Chris.

CUOMO: We are here in Texas.

There is breaking news in this investigation. CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow, John Berman is here, and he'll bring you the news right after this break.