News Brief: Texas Church Shooting, Trump's Asia Trip
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We begin today with this horrific shooting in Sutherlands Springs, Texas.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Horrific, indeed. A gunman opened fire during services at the First Baptist Church there, killing 26 people, including the pastor's 14-year-old daughter. Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety gave this description of the shooter.
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FREEMAN MARTIN: He was dressed in all black. The suspect crossed the street to the church, exit his vehicle and began firing at the church. The suspect then moved to the right side of the church and continued to fire. That suspect entered the church and continued to fire.
KELLY: And the man then fled the scene and was later found dead in his car.
MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett joins us now on the line from Stockdale, Texas, which is about 15 miles away from Sutherlands Springs, where this all happened. John, what can you tell us this morning about what exactly transpired inside that church?
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. I spoke to the woman who lives about two blocks from the First Baptist Church last night. I mean, the scene was, you know, it was at the center of the community. Usually it's, you know, incredibly calm and quiet in this little town. And now there's just blue and red police lights everywhere from the Department of Public Safety. And her name is Leslie Ward (ph). She was on her front porch with her husband and other family members.
She says that four members of the family and the husband's brother were in the church when the shooting started. She says their 8-year-old niece was killed, the 5-year-old twins and their mother were all injured. They're all in hospitals in San Antonio now. And this is Leslie Ward talking last night.
LESLIE WARD: The scene looked terrible. Everybody was bleeding, crying. There was dead bodies everywhere - I mean, babies. There was bullets everywhere.
MARTIN: This town is going to be grieving, coming to terms with this for a long time.
BURNETT: Yeah, in her description, she says that, you know, they stayed with the casualties until the ambulances started taking them away both in vehicles and helicopters.
MARTIN: What else do we know about the man, the suspect in this?
BURNETT: He was described by the Department of Public Safety as - he's a white male. Sheriff said there's no motive yet. The investigation's just begun. They found more guns in his vehicle. Devin Kelley lived in New Braunfels, less than an hour away. That's just north of San Antonio. He's former Air Force, stationed at a base in New Mexico. And he had a troubled record there. He was court martialed in 2012 and served a year in confinement.
In 2014, he was kicked out of the Air Force with a bad conduct discharge for assault on his wife and their child. There's no information if he had any connection whatsoever to this church, this tiny unincorporated town.
MARTIN: And there was a candlelight vigil last night, I understand, that the community held. What else do we know about the victims?
BURNETT: Well, you know, authorities aren't saying anything about the victims yet. They're careful not to give any names because, you know, some of the families had still been gathering at the community center in this wrenching scene last night waiting to find out, you know, who is alive and who is dead. And we do know, as you said, that that church's pastor, his own 14-year-old daughter is among the deceased. So we're waiting for that news to trickle out, Rachel.
MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett. Thanks, John.
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MARTIN: President Donald Trump weighed in on the Sutherland Springs shooting from across the globe.
KELLY: That's right. The president is in Japan. That's the first stop of a nearly two-week trip to Asia. He appeared alongside the Japanese prime minister for a press conference today. And President Trump said this about the Texas shooting.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn't a guns situation.
KELLY: And, Rachel, the president went on from there to say, quote, "fortunately, somebody else had a gun who was shooting in the opposite direction."
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Elise Hu joins us now from Japan. Elise, what else did the president say about what happened in Texas?
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Well, he said it was a horrific act and offered his condolences to the victims and their family members. He also said he spoke with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and said his administration would provide some support to Texas in the days forward.
MARTIN: So the president is on this big trip - five countries, almost two weeks, he's in Japan first. Do we know what came out of his meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?
HU: Nothing concrete. This is a real alliance-building trip for the president. And that's not only true in Japan but also will be true in South Korea, another alliance partner. But the emphasis for President Trump during this entire trip is the notion of free and reciprocal trade. So he's really hammering this idea of the trade deficit with Japan being, quote, "unfair" and urged Japan to make more manufacturing investments in the U.S. He also groused that Japanese consumers should be buying more American cars.
Trump is also focused on selling more U.S. military equipment to Japan, boasting that if there were another North Korean missile fly over Japan, that Japan would be able to, quote, "shoot missiles out of the sky" if they did buy U.S. military equipment. So there has been a lot of talk about that, trade and defense...
HU: ...But no concrete deals hammered out thus far.
MARTIN: He's going to go to South Korea next. Obviously, the threat from the north is going to be top of mind there. Do the South Koreans have a specific ask that they're going to put to President Trump during his time there?
HU: Well, we've seen the escalation of tensions on the peninsula as North Korea tested its sixth nuclear bomb and then continued to make these missile test provocations throughout the year. Then there's been the fiery rhetoric that's flown back and forth between the U.S. and the North Korean leader. So South Korea's president Moon Jae-in is really pushing for a peaceful resolution. He's pledged to his people numerous times that the U.S. wouldn't take any military action without first consulting Seoul.
So he's really going to be looking for more reassurances on that and keeping the communication lines open with the United States and the alliance strong, especially as tensions have been rising.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's Elise Hu. Thanks, Elise.
HU: You bet.
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MARTIN: A member of President Trump's administration is under scrutiny this morning for business links to Vladimir Putin's family.
KELLY: We are talking about commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who reportedly retained investments in a shipping firm with ties to the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even after Ross assumed a position in Trump's cabinet. This is all according to a trove of leaked documents that are known as the Paradise Papers - intriguing.
MARTIN: Right. So let's talk about the Paradise Papers with Jon Swaine. He's been combing through all these documents for The Guardian and reporting on them. Jon, thanks for being with us.
JON SWAINE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: What are the Paradise Papers? They're related to the Panama Papers that came out a couple years ago, right?
SWAINE: That's right. They, like the Panama Papers, were obtained by our colleagues at Suddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper. They were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington, D.C., which bring onboard outlets like mine, The Guardian, The New York Times and others around the world, to comb through these files, which we've been doing for about a year now. There's 13 million files in total from about 19 tax havens. Most of them come - sorry.
MARTIN: Go ahead - and you were talking about tax havens. I mean, these papers are all about the lengths that millionaires, billionaires go to to shelter their money to get out of paying taxes and specifically, this revelation about Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce here in the U.S. Can you walk us through the connection, because it's not exactly a straight line here, between Wilbur Ross and Vladimir Putin?
SWAINE: That's right. Wilbur Ross has retained, through a series of offshore investment vehicles, holdings in a shipping company named Navigator. And now Navigator operates a partnership, which is worth tens of millions of dollars each year, with a Russian gas company named Sibur. And one of the co-owners of Sibur is Kirill Shamalov, who is Putin's son-in-law. Navigator's ships are used to ship Sibur gas from Russia to Europe.
MARTIN: So this is years ago that Ross started these connections, these investments. This was before he took on his role in the current administration, though, right?
SWAINE: It was before when it started. But strangely, he has retained his interests. So when he joined the government, he divested from most of his business interests. He, as a private equity tycoon, he had interests in dozens and dozens of investments and companies. But for some reason, he kept a handful of them and these were among them, which means that since he's joined the government as commerce secretary, he has retained this ownership interest in a shipping company.
MARTIN: Is there anything illegal about this?
SWAINE: Nothing illegal. But as analysts say to us, potentially improper, potentially, you know, ethically dubious, given that he is overseeing, in Trump's government, industrial policy, commerce policy and obviously, is part of a government imposing sanctions on the Russian people involved in this, some of them.
MARTIN: Exactly, that he would be involved in these investments while at the same time, the U.S. is trying to keep a hard line on the Russia sanctions.
SWAINE: That's right.
MARTIN: Jon Swaine of The Guardian, talking to us on Skype about the revelations revealed in the Paradise Papers. Thanks so much for your time this morning sharing your reporting.
SWAINE: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.