CNN's Gary Tuchman: "I've never gone to a city, and a capitol like Port au Prince, and seen no preparations whatsoever."
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Today, I’m writing this blog from a small hotel room not far from the FLDS community of Colorado City, AZ. Gary Tuchman, photojournalist Steve Coppin and I flew into Las Vegas last night and took a 2 -hour drive north to St. George, Utah where we stayed the night before driving another hour to Colorado City, AZ., home to the FLDS, which practices polygamy.
We came here to interview former and current members of the community about the conviction of their prophet, Warren Jeffs last week in Texas. Jeffs was convicted of 2 counts of sexual assault of 2 girls, 12 and 15 and sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. We wanted to find out what the community here thought of the trial and what their reaction was to the news that Jeffs would be in prison for the rest of his life.
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Editor’s note: AC360° Producer Ismael Estrada is traveling in Japan with Anderson Cooper and CNN photojournalist Neil Hallsworth. Tune in to AC360° beginning at 10pm ET to get the latest from Japan.
(CNN) - On our way up to Sendai, Japan, we passed dozens upon dozens of vehicles lining village streets. People were lining up for blocks waiting for fuel from gas stations that were selling what little they had remaining. Hundreds of residents were lining up waiting for grocery stores to open - stores that were sold out of water and many necessary food items.
Once we made our way into the seaside city of Sendai the wreckage left in the wake of the tsunami was overwhelming. Vehicles were tossed all over mud-filled streets. Some cars were inside buildings that only a few days ago were open for business.
As we drove closer to residential areas we couldn’t believe the destruction in front of us. Anderson, photojournalist Neil Hallsworth and I made our way into the wreckage - what once were people’s homes is now just a pile of rubble. We found clothes, dolls, wedding albums and countless cars as far as we could see. Homes were literally ripped apart and tossed aside.
As we were in the middle of all the rubble it was hard to imagine that, at one time, this was a place people here called home.
(CNN) - Brisenia Flores arrived in her rural Arivaca, AZ home with her parents, Raul Flores and Gina Gonzales, the evening of May 29th, 2009. The family had spent the day shopping for Brisenia’s new shoes about 60 miles northeast in Tucson. The 9-year-old girl had just finished the 3rd grade and needed the shoes for summer camp that was about to start.
Brisenia went to bed on a couch in the living room so she could sleep with her dog that wasn’t allowed in her room. She fell asleep watching television as her parents slept in their bedroom. A few hours later, she opened her eyes to the sight of her father, lying on the opposite couch. He had been shot in the chest and was choking on his own blood. Her mother was bleeding on the floor, a gunshot wound to her leg. The little girl was startled and cried out to intruders in her home, “Why did you shoot my mom?”
Gina Gonzales described the scene to jurors in an Arizona courthouse this week in the capital murder trial of Shawna Forde, the accused ringleader of the fatal raid in the early hours of May 30th.
Gonzales testified that four people knocked on the door claiming to be law enforcement and border patrol. They said the house was surrounded as they had information that the family was harboring fugitives. Gonzales said her husband, Raul Flores, opened the door and allowed them inside. She said they knew immediately the people entering were not law enforcement at all. She described a short, heavy-set woman, a “super tall” white male and two other Spanish-speaking men as the people in her home.
Gonzales says that after a short struggle, the tall man shot her husband several times in the stomach and chest before turning the gun on her. She was shot in the leg and fell to the floor when she heard her husband choking on his own blood. She says he could hear the gunman reassure Brisenia, who had woken up by the blasts of the weapon, that she wouldn’t be hurt.
"She was really scared. Her voice was shaking,” Gonzales cried as she testified in the witness stand. “I know she's crying and really scared."
Gonzales says her daughter began to question why her mother and father were shot when the gunman reloaded his weapon. "I can hear her say 'Please don't shoot me,’” said Gonzales, wiping away tears and sobbing.
The gunman paid no attention to her pleas and fired two shots into Brisenia’s head, causing the girl to fly back on the couch, Gonzales recounted. She said she could hear her daughter struggling to breathe as the intruders began to steal items and leave the home. Gonzalez made her way to a weapon her husband kept in the kitchen and called 9-1-1.
The emergency call recorded the moment that the intruders re-entered the home, realizing that Gonzales was still alive. A series of gunshots can be heard as Gonzales fired the weapon in self-defense. One of the intruders was shot before they all left the home.
Raul Flores and his young daughter, who just minutes before was sleeping peacefully on the couch in her own home, were both dead.
Prosecutors say Shawna Forde, a vigilante anti-illegal immigration activist, was not only the woman described in the home, but was also the ringleader of the home invasion and murder.
Forde was once a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps before being removed from the group for what members describe to CNN as unstable behavior. She formed a splinter group, Minutemen American Defense, and patrolled the Arizona-Mexico border armed with weapons. She led protests about the dangers and criminal activity along the porous border.
Prosecutors say Forde planned the raid and murders in an elaborate plan to steal drugs weapons and money to help fund her new anti-illegal immigration group. They allege her accomplices were Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola. Bush, who is alleged to have been the gunman, was the National Director of Operations for the Minutemen American Defense. It’s alleged that Gaxiola was brought into the plan to raid the home by Forde for his inside knowledge that Raul Flores had drugs in the home. Flores had a history of drug-related offenses, but no drugs were found in the home.
During opening statements, the state laid out the case against Forde, who has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege that jewelry taken from the home was found in Forde’s possession, blood from the scene and a van used in the robbery came from Jason Bush and that text messages sent from a phone registered to Forde implicate her in the crime.
All three are charged with first degree murder. If convicted, Forde will face the death penalty. Bush's trial is scheduled for March while Gaxiola is set to go on trial in June.
(CNN) - Ricky Hagerman sits on a bench staring at a tree planted in memory of his big sister Amber who was brutally murdered 15 years ago. The words “Amber” and “Angel” are spray painted on a wall directly below the tree, the very spot where his sister was last seen alive.
“I love her and miss her very much and hope one day justice will be brought to her,” says Hagerman who, at 5-years-old, was the last person with his 9-year-old sister before she was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in January of 1996 in Arlington, Texas. The killer has never been caught.
In Hagerman’s only interview, he stands at the spot where he was last with his big sister, a loading dock of an abandoned grocery store where he and Amber enjoyed riding their bikes up and down the ramps leading to rear entrance of the store. Their grandparents lived only a few blocks away.
Ricky decided to head back, his sister wanted to stay a little longer.
“I went back by myself and my grandfather said, where is your sister?” said Hagerman who rode his bike back to get his sister. “I came back to get her and she was nowhere to be found.”
A neighbor, who could see the ramps where the children were riding their bikes from his backyard, called police. He reported witnessing a man driving away in a pickup truck after grabbing Amber Hagerman off of her bicycle.
Ricky went to get his grandfather and returned to the ramps to look for Amber when they noticed police arriving.
“We see the police and the bike and my grandfather said, where’s my granddaughter?” said Hagerman. “The cop said there’s been a child taken from here.”
Though only 5 years of age at the time, Ricky lives that moment over and over in his mind. He still feels a sense of guilt for leaving his big sister behind.
It was a cold, crisp Texas morning when Gary Tuchman, photojournalist Mike Love and I showed up to the Tom Green County Courthouse today just after dawn. We wanted to make sure we got there early in hopes of getting Warren Jeffs to talk with us as he was scheduled to arrive in court.
The self proclaimed prophet and polygamist sect leader was transferred here last week after being extradited from Utah.
The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) was indicted on bigamy and sexual assault charges stemming from an alleged spiritual marriage to a 12-year-old girl.
Prosecutors filed the charges 2 years ago after authorities raided the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas and removed more than 400 children on suspicion that they were exposed to sexual abuse.
Most of the children were returned to the ranch with their families, but many of the men living on the ranch were charged with sexual abuse.
About 45 minutes after we arrived, an SUV pulled up to the courthouse and Warren Jeffs was taken out of the backseat. He was wearing glasses, orange jail pants and a grey sweatshirt.
Sheriff's deputies escorted Jeffs who was handcuffed and had has ankles shackled. Gary asked him if he still felt that he was the prophet as he was entering the building. Jeffs' ignored the questions, but at the Yearning for Zion ranch, we heard from one FLDS member who says Jeffs is certainly the prophet.
Editor's Note: Watch Anderson Cooper's visit with the Chilean miners in a "CNN: Heroes" exclusive. See more of the interview tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET. "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," airs Thanksgiving night, 8 ET/5 PT.
There were 10 finalists in Los Angeles this past weekend for the CNN Hero of Year. There were also 38 other incredible people at this year's event, the 33 rescued Chilean miners and 5 of the rescuers who brought them to safety.
Early Saturday morning Anderson sat down with 5 of the miners and 2 of the rescuers. I produced that interview.
We took over the 2nd floor lobby at the Shrine Auditorium. The miners showed up in good spirits having enjoyed some of the sights in the Los Angeles area over the past few days, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Universal Studios.
As they sat down, I could tell a couple of the men were a little nervous. While some of the men, particularly Mario Supelveda, the 2nd miner to be rescued out of the mine, enjoy the massive media attention they’ve been getting, the majority of the men would prefer to get back to the life they knew before they were trapped in the San Jose mine for 69 days.
They started to get emotional as the men talked with Anderson, recounting what it was like to be trapped in the mine and how each of them reacted when they knew there was no way out. They talked about the importance of staying together and staying united while facing the reality they may not be found.
For many days they heard nothing but silence. I couldn’t help but think how I would react in that situation. What would I do if I were in such a dire situation, trapped with many of my colleagues in what could be my tomb? How would I get along with everyone? Who would be in charge? Who would listen? Just because a certain person is my boss at work, would I also let them take charge with my very survival at stake?
The miners spoke of wanting to change their lives, wanting to correct their wrongs in life. The men struggled with their emotions, shedding tears as they told us of their darkest moments.
The mood changed dramatically when the conversation turned to once they knew they’d be rescued. The described the moment when they saw Manuel Gonzales, the first rescuer, enter the mine through the capsule. They laughed and smiled as the rescuers spoke of their initial impressions of them men when they came down.
The miners say emphatically their heroes are the brave men who journeyed down the hole in a capsule to make sure the men all reached the top alive. They risked their lives taking on a mission with so many unknowns, anything could have happened, yet all were up for it.
I’ve heard and read many comments about whether the miners are heroes, just for getting trapped in a mine. After meeting all of the men and spending so much time with them, I have to say, they are alive today because of each other. They relied on each other to survive, to live a life that many of us could not. When some would break down, others would be there to pick them up. They rationed food when they felt a hunger many of us have never felt. Through all of this, as a unit, they never lost hope they would live and they all reached the top alive. To me, that is heroic.
(CNN) - It was the chant we heard for days: "Los Mineros de Chile!"
A month ago Gary Tuchman and I were in Copiapo, Chile covering the mine rescue at the San Jose mine. It was rare to cover an event where there was a happy outcome.
We were perched atop the mountainside along with hundreds of other journalists from around the world as the miners were resurfacing one by one. We could hear the cheers coming from around the capsule as each miner reached the outside of the collapsed mine for the first time in 69 days.
“Chi, Chi, Chi, Le, Le, Le, Los Mineros de Chile!”
The chant was everywhere; it was fun to watch the families and friends celebrate with each rescue.
There were celebrations, tears, singing and music blaring inside Camp Hope, the makeshift camp where the families of the miners lived after their loved ones became trapped inside the mine.
Last week, Gary Tuchman and I returned to Chile and met up with many of the miners for the first time. We spent the days getting to know them and learning about their incredible time inside the mine. We heard stories of faith, of an incredible will to survive, of fear and, most importantly, of hope.
Near Copiapo, Chile (CNN) – It’s been an incredible week here at Camp Hope in Chile.
It’s rare that we get an opportunity to report on a story that has such a great, happy ending and the world was here to record every second.
We met reporters from Australia, Japan, Germany, England, Spain, Argentina and all over Chile - all here to capture this great rescue.
In most cases, when we see so many people from around the world, it’s when we cover a major tragedy. Rarely do I see the good moods and good spirits that were in the air here - with all of us on hand for everything from that great moment when the first miner was rescued until the moment when the last rescuer made it back to the surface.
Very quickly, Camp Hope has transformed to Camp Empty, but no one here will forget the time we spent at this mine.
(See more photos after the jump)