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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Relative: Lanza Struggled To Raise Son; New Details On Shooter's Mother; New Details In Newtown Investigation; Mother's Blog Post Goes Viral

Aired December 17, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, honoring the dead. The grieving community of Newtown, Connecticut, began the burying loved ones today. Funerals were held for two 6-year-old boys, Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner.

Just a moment ago, we were approached by a representative for the family of 6-year-old Madeleine Hsu. Her family wanted us all to know that she was -- I'm going to quote the words they wanted to share with all of you, sweet, unique, bright, sparkling, determined little girl.

She was an avid reader who loved running and dancing. She was a born leader. This is the start of what will be a very painful week as friends and family here to prepare to try to say good-bye to the 20 children and six educators who were killed on Friday in the second worst school shooting in American history.

As Newtown mourns, investigators are still trying to figure out what motivated Adam Lanza to go on a shooting spree, to kill children, and also take the life of his own mother. We're going to have more on the investigation in a moment.

But the truth is, we may never know why Adam Lanza chose to go on a mass killing spree. We may never know why he chose to go in a school and kill innocent 6 and 7-year-olds, but we are learning a lot more tonight about his mother, Nancy and the relationship that she had with her troubled son.

According to friends, the 52-year-old divorced mother of two was devoted to her children and was especially close with Adam who friends say was very intelligent but socially awkward.

A retired stock broker from New Hampshire, Nancy Lanza was a lifelong Red Sox fan with season tickets, who lived with her son Adam in a large colonial home not very far from the center of this town.

Friends say she was a little bit of a contradiction, extremely generous and friendly, yet extremely private when it came to her family life. But they said that she did talk about the challenges she faced raising a son with Asperger's Syndrome, which is a disorder on the autism spectrum.

And during an interview with CNN, Nancy's friends said she told her she maybe soon be leaving Newtown after living there for 14 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERGQUIST, FRIEND OF NANCY LANZA: She was talking about Washington State, and she was ready to change her whole life, sell her house and start over just for him, just so he could go to school and I mean, he was -- he was her life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Friends say Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast and had actually taken up target shooting as a hobby, which she introduced to her son, Adam, but they insist she was always responsible with guns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSS HANOMAN, FRIEND OF NANCY LANZA: They painted her as some irresponsible gun freak, but she wasn't. She was -- she was the epitome of responsibility. She was a paragon for gun safety. She taught the boys how to use the guns responsibly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Little did she know that the son she doted on and taught how to use guns would turn those guns on her and children. Authorities believe that Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother as she was lying in bed before taking her guns, two of her handguns and an assault rifle, to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I sat down with some of Nancy's friends at one of her favorite restaurants in Newtown, a place that apparently she went to two to three times a week. It's called "My Place" and I asked them about who was Nancy Lanza.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOUISE TAMBASCIO, RESTAURANT OWNER, KNEW LANZA FAMILY: About 12 years ago, 12, 13 years ago, yes, met her in the bar. She come in here and had take-out food. We got to know each other. With Mark, you know, we used to talk in the bar. You know, just like clicked. That was it. You know, we started talking. We became good friends.

O'BRIEN: Got to know her?

MARK TAMBASCIO, RESTAURANT OWNER, KNEW LANZA FAMILY: Yes. Yes, like I said, she started coming to the take-out area, picking up food. She got to know our family pretty well and she was very friendly, outgoing. She was funny. We took to her. So yes, she became fast friends with us. You know, she did a lot in town, was always on the go.

O'BRIEN: How often did she come in here? Sounds like you know her well. Was this kind of her regular place?

MARK TAMBASCIO: Yes, two to three times a week.

O'BRIEN: Two to three times a week?

MARK TAMBASCIO: For food, especially, the bar, not so often, you know.

LOUISE TAMBASCIO: When she had tickets for us to the ball games. We used to go to the Boston games.

MARK TAMBASCIO: She had tickets to the Red Sox so she would invite us or give us the tickets.

O'BRIEN: When was the last time she came in?

MARK TAMBASCIO: I saw her last week or two weeks ago tops. She came in and I was talking to her for a little bit. As far as this, she came to pick up food more than anything else during the week.

O'BRIEN: You didn't meet the boys, right?

LOUISE TAMBASCIO: Right.

O'BRIEN: You knew one of them?

MARK TAMBASCIO: Both of them. Ryan worked for me for a year and a half when he was in high school. He was a busker. Adam was never a social person. He used to come in and keep his head down. He was never sure of himself.

O'BRIEN: You knew there was something --

MARK TAMBASCIO: She had told us that, you know, he had a -- a condition there, Asperger's where he was, you know, always had an issue in school socially with that. He was a highly intelligent kid, very high IQ, graduated around tenth grade or so.

O'BRIEN: So graduated from high school early?

MARK TAMBASCIO: Yes, I think so like tenth grade. Yes, very, very intelligent kid. And I mentioned earlier, too, a lot of people are mentioning Asperger's and I would like to say something about that. I think that a lot of kids have it, and I don't think it has anything to do with the situation at all because kids with that know the difference between right and wrong.

O'BRIEN: She talked -- Nancy talked over the years about her sons?

LOUISE TAMBASCIO: When she came in here, we socialized and went out. We never talked about the family. It was her -- she just came in to have a great time, to talk.

MARK TAMBASCIO: Get it off her mind, if anything. She did, but she would only say he was -- you know, it's been hard for her, you know. It was really hard for her, bringing him up and she was always --

O'BRIEN: Talked about it.

MARK TAMBASCIO: She was always on it. Yes, just saying, yes, never really -- didn't have to come in and talk about it. She didn't want to talk about it. She would mention it's been difficult. You know, I did so much for him to try to get him help here or there or doing different things.

O'BRIEN: One of the things we heard a lot about her is she was passionate about guns. She collected guns. Is that something that you knew about or were surprised when you hear?

MARK TAMBASCIO: I would say in the last three years or so, she picked up that hobby. I don't know who got her into it, but she really enjoyed it -- target shooting. So I didn't know. I had no idea -- yes.

O'BRIEN: Not collecting guns?

MARK TAMBASCIO: She was a target shooter. She probably had some guns she used to take to the range and practice with. We don't know what she owned or what she said. She said she enjoyed it, and that was it. We don't know if she sons, didn't take her sons. She didn't talk about it much. I took it up. It was fun, that kind of thing.

O'BREIN: Given you knew her as a person, do you think she was a person who would have the guns around the house? Would they have been locked up?

MARK TAMBASCIO: They would have been locked up.

JOHN TAMBASCIO, RESTAURANT OWNER, KNEW LANZA FAMILY: Far too bright for that, very smart. She was really fun. She understood.

O'BRIEN: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions are that you have heard on the news?

MARK TAMBASCIO: I think mostly, you know, well, between the condition that he had, which people get confused for being the reason, and the guns. You know, we don't think that has anything to do with her character.

JOHN TAMBASCIO: She donated her time for all charitable work, helping people who need help, helping AIDS people, donating money for AIDS and charity. That's what she did. She didn't -- she didn't get paid for doing what she did. She did all charitable work on her own.

O'BRIEN: Very generous?

JOHN TAMBASCIO: Very generous, very generous. A person could be sitting here and say, you're talking to her, and they happen to be saying, you know, I don't have money for this or have money for that. She would dig out her checkbook and write a check and give it to the person without knowing them. That's the kind of person she was.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: All right, I want to bring in Susan Candiotti. She has the latest on the investigation. I know we were hearing the friends of Nancy Lanza talking about how she picked up the gun hobby over the past three years.

They were very adamant that she wouldn't have been the kind of person to have let her guns loose. She would have locked them up. But what are you learning about target shooting, Nancy Lanza, and Adam?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's one of the things investigators have to look at. What were both of them doing in the months leading up to this, in particular, her son, the suspected shooter in the case?

They're finding out more about that. They're learning in fact both mother and son had been to target practice, did go to gun ranges several times over the past several years. They don't know exactly how often yet, but most recently for Adam, anyway, in the last six years and over the course of several years.

The reason they don't know the big picture, the full picture is because ATF is still in the process of canvassing all of the gun ranges in the area, and there are a ton of them, in addition to licensed gun dealers to try to get more information about this.

So they're still following a lot of leads, and they're also looking at computers, computer that they have discovered in the home. A couple of them, we learned from our law enforcement officials, is that they were smashed, smashed to smithereens.

BURNETT: He tried to destroy the evidence?

CANDIOTTI: It would appear to be the case, the apparent indication, of course. So now, they have had to pick up the pieces, literally, pull things together, try to examine the hard drive. What would they be looking for?

Obviously, checking to see if he sent e-mails to anyone, what web sites did he visit? Was he in chat rooms, message boards? Give any indication to a possible motive in all this?

You know, who did he communicate with, if anyone? Those are the kinds of things they're looking at. And remember, they are also doing a complete history of all of the weapons that were used in this terrible tragedy.

We've got the one made by Bushmaster, which was that assault-type rifle, and we know he came, according to officials, with a ton of ammunition. He was armed to the hilt when he went to that school, multiple magazines for all three weapons.

BURNETT: Hundreds of bullets that were not used.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. That's right, extra bullets on top of that, 30-round magazines, a lot to go over. So they're going to be looking at all of that. We were also there yesterday when we saw his car being towed away. They're going to be going over that vehicle from top to bottom, inside the trunk, you'll remember, was an extra rifle.

BURNETT: Now I know we don't yet know about motive, and when they get this information, they'll try to get more and more information, but what do we know about him playing violent video games? CANDIOTTI: You know, we don't know much about that yet. That's one thing, of course, they'll be looking for any indication of that. What games might have downloaded to the computer.

However, today I spoke with a friend of his -- I guess you would call a friend of his, who went to high school with him. He said in their tech classes, they would play a couple games called "Star Craft" and "War Craft," which involved shooting up enemies and this kind of thing.

BURNETT: Killing and awful things. All right, thank you very much, Susan. We appreciate it. Susan with the very latest on the investigation and what we know and at this point what we don't know.

OUTFRONT next, the woman who wrote the blog, I am Adam Lanza's mother. That was the title of it calling attention to raising a child with a very serious mental illness. What she got in response though was a firestorm. She responds to the controversy and the criticism next.

And later, the principal hero remembered by the people who knew her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: I am Adam Lanza's mother. That title for a blog posting for a mother in Boise, Idaho went viral about the instant after it was published. Liza Long wrote vividly about her 13-year-old son, Michael. She changed his name, she says, to protect his privacy.

Here's what she wrote. I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son, but he terrifies me. A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books.

Now this blog was -- it was very raw and emotional and it raised questions about parenting a child with mental illness, and there were a lot of critics. People wondering why Liza Long would choose to be so public about her son Michael. I spoke to her earlier today and I asked her why she wrote the blog.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIZA LONG, BLOGGER, "THE ANARCHIST SOCCER MOM": You know, this blog was a really personal and visceral response to this absolutely tragic shooting that occurred in Connecticut on Friday. And when I heard about the shootings, I closed my office door and just started to shake.

And later that evening as I sat down, I confronted a lot of my own fears and thought process that I had been going through just during the course of that week. And that blog post was a result of that really hard look at my own life and my own circumstances.

BURNETT: And Liza, you write about -- I mean, I'm going to use your words. I know this is hard to say. You write about your child threatening you with a knife, which is normal behavior for him?

LONG: That's the scary thing, Erin. The extent to which we had normal life, that behavior, what I try to describe Michael to people, anyone who knows him knows that 97 percent of the time, he's just the sweetest, brightest, kindest, most articulate child.

But sometimes for no apparent reason, he will turn into this absolute raging -- I don't know how to describe it. You would have to see it to believe it. I stopped and said to myself, this isn't normal. I have to face up to the fact that I have a sick son, and we need help.

And Erin, that's really what the blog post was about. It was about -- it was a cry for help in a situation where I was feeling very helpless.

BURNETT: And do you know what he has? What causes him to do this? Has it ever been diagnosed?

LONG: We have had a variety of diagnoses. We have looked at oppositional societal disorder, intermittent disorders. He's been looked at for autism spectrum disorder although there are some disagreement on that and then also finally ADHD.

BURNETT: So you're not even sure. I know to give our viewers some background here, you and your husband, he has actually been into juvenile detention four times and he's now at what you call an acute in-patient facility, a mental health facility, and you took him there after the night of the incident.

Again I want to quote Liza for our viewers who don't know your blog when you write about the moment, I'll read it, Michael was in a full-blown fit, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn't escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows in my rib cage. I'm still stronger than he is, but I won't be for much longer.

How long will he be in that mental health institution and what will you do when he comes home?

LONG: Erin, that's the reason I wrote the blog. People have had a hard time understanding this, but where we live, I don't know how it is where you live, but where we live, mental health treatment is pretty short-term, so this facility for young adults, 10 to 14 days maybe at the most maybe even less.

And after that, there just really aren't a lot of good options for continued residential treatment here. That's the biggest challenge I'm facing, the advice I got was that I needed to press charges so that we could create a paper trail again.

And he did get excellent follow-through care when he had to do juvenile detention as a younger boy. But I just don't feel like jail is the right place for my son. And I'm just really hoping that we can find another solution for him. BURNETT: You have been criticized, of course, for writing this blog. I know you're well aware of that. You wrote it under your own name so people could figure out who your son is. Michael isn't his real name, but anyone who knew you could figure it out.

You have been criticized for doing that, maybe if he does grow up and is able to become a functioning member of society, this would dog him for the rest of his life. Your words would be there. What do you say to that?

LONG: Well, you know, those kinds of criticisms are going to come up any time there's a situation like this. First and foremost, and I realize this sounds hopelessly naive now, I did believe my blog was anonymous.

If you look at it, my name wasn't in there. My link was in the "Blue Review" and that was linked to my blog. You know, honestly, as you probably know, there's a great woman named Sarah out there who has a wonderful blog.

She's very articulate and passionate and concerned about children's privacy issues. Frankly, Erin, I think her concerns are legitimate. Her concerns about children's privacy issues are legitimate.

My son does know about the piece. His take on it was, mom, if we can help people understand, this is a good thing.

BURNETT: Liza, let me ask you because you mentioned Sarah. And that's who you're referring to. She's another mom who was incredibly critical of you. You have talked and you put out a joint statement saying look, America, let's have a conversation about mental health issues.

When she posted online, you wrote things about your son's behavior. I'll quote you again, it makes me want to throttle you, I quit, let the state take care of you. You wrote, my daydreams all involved my own death?

I mean, are those emotions you feel as a mother and people don't say, were you exaggerating? Tell me how that happened?

LONG: Well, first of all, I have to admit that you guys have scrutinized my blog a whole lot more than I thought it would be scrutinized. I don't think anyone in America thinks anyone reads their blogs.

Yes, I think one of the hallmarks of my writing and one of the reasons the last piece connected with so many people is that I do have a tendency to kind of say what's on my mind.

You know, I wrote those words, and those are my words I'm not disowning them, but you're looking at a four-year -- that's a four- year slice of history.

BURNETT: Let me ask you a question. Do you own a gun? LONG: Heavens no. No, no, no. No.

BURNETT: OK, because obviously, you're writing about mental health. Some people have said, look, you have fair points, Liza, but don't let this obscure the national debate we need to have about gun control and what we need to do.

LONG: My goodness, no. I heard that from more than one person. I think the question is it's something about it's easy to talk about gun control, but it's time to talk about mental health.

If I can clarify, what I mean is easy is that we can frame the gun control debate in terms of right and wrong. You know, it's right to have gun control or it's wrong, as some people would say, to have gun control.

That's a simple way to debate a question. I don't think you can say that mental health is right or wrong.

BURNETT: Yes, all right. Thank you very much, Liza. I appreciate you taking the time and coming and talking about this.

LONG: Thank you, Erin. I really appreciate you highlighting this important issue of mental health. I really feel like this is a conversation we need to have as a nation. We need to do something for our children and adults who struggle with behavioral and mental health issues.

BURNETT: We certainly do. Thanks.

LONG: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Now, I asked Liza why she had put a picture up of her son on her blog since she changed his name and wanted to protect his privacy. She was very open about it. She said the picture of him was at age 7. He looks nothing like that now. He's 13 years old.

I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta now, our chief medical correspondent and host of "SANJAY GUPTA M.D." Sanjay, when you hear this story and you see Liza talking about her child and his struggles, she's taken a lot of criticism for that from a lot of people. What do you think?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a really good interview. It's interesting because you got the sense it was a little therapeutic for her, her writing. She writes this stuff.

Seeing her, meeting her through the interview, you can tell she's not the kind of mom who is going to do those things. She's frustrated. I tell you the mental health issue, which you asked her about.

Imagine this, Erin, the threshold to get your child treatment is they have to be imminent harm to themselves or to other people. That's like saying you can only go to the hospital if you're already having a heart attack.

That doesn't make sense. That's the problem when you talk about putting mental health on par with physical health. It's not right now.

BURNETT: It was hard when you have to basically charge your own child with battery or assault to get them into juvenile care, which is so horrible for a parent. You have done the numbers, 1 in 5 children have a mental health issue in this country. That's an amazing number.

GUPTA: That is an amazing number, and the mental health resources aren't there. When you prescribe a medication or take someone off a medication, all the literature says you have to monitor a person for a period of time.

That's a very vulnerable time period. You know as well as I do, they get prescriptions and they don't get the follow-up. That's a real problem. It's something that comes up in a tragedy here.

BURNETT: It also seems that a lot of parents would be understandably in denial. My child doesn't have a problem or they're going to grow out of it. Nobody wants to be that -- be in that position.

GUPTA: Yes, I think denial is a big part of this. You know, Erin, I have been talking to a lot of people. What I'm hearing more than anything else is anguish over what is happening with their children. They would love to get treatment for their children, but it means giving them a criminal record or saying they are going to hurt people. That's a tough choice to make.

BURNETT: You can see the anguish.

GUPTA: Yes, absolutely.

BURNETT: All right, well, Sanjay, thank you very much.

Up next, we'll bring you some of our other top stories from the day. We have more from Newtown, Connecticut, including the story of a man who found children on his front lawn, victims of a horrible crime the world at that moment knew nothing about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back. Tonight, we start the second half of our show with other key stories we're watching tonight. We begun with Democrat Daniel Inouye. The Senate's most senior older member died today.

He represented Hawaii in the Senate for five decades and was the second longest serving senator in the chamber's history. A World War II veteran, he was a Medal of Honor recipient. He was hospitalized last week, but eventually succumbed to respiratory complications. We're told his last words was "aloha". Inouye was 88 years old.

The fiscal cliff talks may be gaining some momentum. President Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner this morning after Boehner indicated he was willing to make new concessions. That was a face-to- face meeting, their third in eight days. That's important and it's good thing. It lasted about 45 minutes. A deal could help the country get our AAA back.

It's been 501 days since the United States lost its top credit rating.

And elsewhere in politics, a big decision in South Carolina. Governor Nikki Haley has appointed Republican Representative Tim Scott to replace outgoing Senator Jim DeMint. Scott will be the Senate's only black member, but will only hold the position until a special election is held in November 2014. Those results will determine who fills the remaining two years of DeMint's term.

You may recall that earlier this month, DeMint said he was resigning from the Senate by January 1st to lead a conservative think tank where he said he could make a bigger difference than he does in the Senate.

An independent review of how the State Department handled the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi has been submitted to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That's for her review. It's then going to be sent to members of Congress before they attend a closed- door briefing Wednesday. They'll be briefed by the Accountability Review Board members who conducted the review.

Well, earlier today, Newtown began the unbearable task of saying goodbye to two of Friday's youngest victims. As we were coming into Newtown from a distance, we saw a graveyard and a funeral. And you choke up and tear up just seeing that. It brings home just the magnitude of what has happened here.

Six-year-olds Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner were both laid to rest. We hear Noah was a very smart little boy. He loved reading and playing with his siblings, calling his twin sister, Arielle, his best friend.

Jack Pinto was a huge football fan who loved the New York Giants. He loved them so much.

CNN's Kyung Lah has been covering Jack's funeral, and she joins me now.

Kyung, I know he loved the Giants. That was a real -- it was a real area of passion for that little boy. It must have been heartbreaking to be there today.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, because it just doesn't make sense. We have been watching what has been happening to this town, but then to see all of these people show up at this little boy's funeral, just a 6-year-old boy in the first grade.

The people you normally see show up at a funeral, they're older. The people who came today, children, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year- old children. They arrived wearing long sleeved shirts, sweatshirts that had Newtown wrestling on it. The family had asked for privacy. So we tried to give them as much privacy as possible. You think about the global spotlight. They tried to have as much alone time as possible, but certainly there is a lot of interest in this little boy who loved sports so much.

One child who showed up to mourn today, he was actually wearing a medal. And the medal is significant because I spoke to a member of a wrestling team in a nearby town, and this team says that Jack had just won his first medal this last week. His very first match, he had won his first medal.

But as you mentioned, his real love was football. He loved the New York Giants. He loved Victor Cruz.

And that message went all the way to Cruz. He tweeted out this picture. He took a picture of his cleats and his gloves. They had the name Jack Pinto on it. He said, this game is for you.

And after last night's game, here's what Cruz told reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICTOR CRUZ, NY GIANTS WIDE RECEIVER: It was emotional, man. You know, I was holding back tears to do it. And it -- you know, it felt good. It felt good to honor a family going through so much.

Just the thought of your little one or your child, your son or daughter going through something like that, it was -- you know, it was just unbelievable to even listen to on the news. So I put that night my daughter into bed with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: And the family reportedly was so moved and knew how much their little boy loved Cruz, that they buried him in a Victor Cruz jersey.

This, Erin, just the very first of what will be many more days of funerals of these little children.

BURNETT: Kyung Lah, thank you.

OUTFRONT next, more heroes from that day. One man saw six small children on his front lawn, refugees of horror. He didn't know why at first.

And Vicki Soto, a teacher who gave everything for her children, including her life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We're back in Newtown with another story of love and heroism tonight.

Gene Rosen lived literally down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, so close that Friday morning, before anyone knew the horror that had happened, he discovered six terrified children on his front lawn. They told them that their teacher had just been killed, and Gene is OUTFRONT with me tonight.

Gene, thank you. I know it's hard, and with all of the media here to come and talk about what happened.

But when you saw the children on your yard, did you have any idea that something was wrong?

GENE ROSEN, SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NEIGHBOR: I had no idea. I thought they were doing a skit or maybe they were cub scouts or girl scouts and they were just practicing because they were sitting so nicely. But then I saw a man in a very agitated way saying it's going to be all right. And he kept raising his voice.

And I thought that was so strange. And I came to the children and they were crying and wailing and mortified. And there was a school bus driver with them, and I invited them into the house. And she said there had been an incident at the school. I had no idea what it was.

BURNETT: And the children, how did they find the words to tell you? They told you, right, the teacher had died?

ROSEN: They told me. They just started talking. The two boys mostly talked. And they said, we can't go back to that school. We can't --

BURNETT: We can't go back.

ROSEN: Our teacher -- our teacher is dead. What are we going to do? We don't have a teacher.

And I was -- I could not take that in. I could not -- I could not accept that. And I just kept listening to them, and then they talked more. And the boy said, oh, no, it was a big gun and a small gun. And then I knew.

Then they said there was blood. There was blood. And then they said her name. And I prayed that it wasn't that teacher, and it was.

BURNETT: Vicki Soto.

ROSEN: That very pretty 27-year-old teacher. I don't know how they fled. I think she must have protected them and saved their lives. I don't know if they ran all the way down the boulevard, the street next to the fire house. I don't know how they got to my house.

They were so brave. And they were so good.

And I brought down some toys from my grandson's toy chest and I gave them some juice. And we called their parents.

They were very brave and very good. And I was amazed. I was astounded at what they were telling me.

BURNETT: They notice everything. I know you're a psychologist by training, but you talk about being a grandfather. That was the grandfather that was you at that moment?

ROSEN: That's what trained me, being a grandfather. I felt like I was with my grandchildren. And I was perfectly happy with them. That's what trained me.

My granddaughter and my grandson, and they were with me. I felt comfortable. They were very sweet, and they calmed down a little. But they were so -- they kept repeating that they can't go back to the school because they don't have a teacher.

BURNETT: And their grieving is going to be hard for adults to understand. It will be different, it may be more intense. It will be different.

What message do you have for those children who came onto your yard?

ROSEN: I was -- I want to be reunited with them. I want to see those children. And I want to tell them how good and brave and strong they are. I want to tell their parents that.

And I want to tell them that I want to be their friend and I want to read to them. I want to give them something special for Christmas. I want to be their friend. I want them to see me in light instead of darkness, as I saw them.

I love their parents. I hope they'll call me because I want to see those children. They were very good children.

BURNETT: Yes.

ROSEN: And then something happened with one of the boys, out of the grief and carnage, and he stopped and he became very composed. And all of a sudden, he stops and he looked at me and he said, "Just saying, your house is very small."

And I thought -- I thought, what a bright, wonderful boy. And he just brought to all of us a respite, a respite from all of this darkness.

You know what? I want to see these kids. I hope their parents will call me. I want to just put my arms around them and tell them that I love them. I want -- I want the children to be the basis for our solution. That's what I want.

BURNETT: I hope that they are, and I hope you'll be that when they remember that day, you'll be the beacon of light for them, too. Thank you so much, Gene.

ROSEN: I so appreciate you letting me tell my story.

BURNETT: We appreciate you telling it.

ROSEN: Thank you very much.

BURNETT: Thank you. And OUTFRONT next, has the world changed, and perhaps in a way for this country for the better? John Avlon looks at how finally there might be a reasonable conversation in this country about guns.

And the hero principal from the point of her friends who knew her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, there's growing demand for tighter control on guns.

An ABC News/"Washington Post" poll conducted this weekend found a big shift, the number of people who say that they strongly support stricter gun control laws went up by five points, while the number who strongly oppose went down five points. And as I recall after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, this summer, you actually they didn't see such a big shift.

After some mass shootings, you do. But this time, it's a bigger move. The question is: will it gain more momentum, and will Washington do anything about it?

John Avlon has been looking into that. He's OUTFRONT tonight.

And, John, I know, you know, lawmakers from both sides of the party, even staunch -- you know, members that are staunchly backed by the NRA are united in their grief and say that they want change to happen. But will it?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Erin, sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us confront reality. You are starting to see politicians on both sides of the aisle say maybe now is not the time to rely on ideology or partisan politics, but to start taking a long look at the laws that exist around guns. Not infringing on the Second Amendment, but taking a look at what reasonable restrictions can be put in place. Most notably, in the last 24 hours, two leading Southern Democratic leaders, with both with NRA ratings of A, Senator Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, have said this event has changed them and they're open to new solutions.

Let's take a look at what Manchin told Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Who would have ever thought in America or anywhere in the world, that children would be slaughtered? You know, that -- it changed me. I don't know of anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know people that need 10, 20, 30-round clips.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I believe every American has a Second Amendment right and the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I had an NRA rating of an "A," but, you know, enough is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) AVLON: So, Erin, that's the beginning of what may be a significant shift in evolution on this issue, just opening up this conversation again. As you know, the nation had an assault weapons ban which expired in 2004. And that's one of the things that senators are talking about looking at.

So the fact that these two senators with A ratings from the NRA are saying they're open to this kind of a conversation is really significant.

BURNETT: All right. John Avlon, thank you very much.

AVLON: Thank you.

BURNETT: Well, as the residents of Newtown mourn the loss of friends and family, one of the things that helps keep them going is celebrating those who are brave amidst the chaos.

Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung was one of them. And our next guest has lived in this community for almost 20 years. All three of her children attended Sandy Hook Elementary, and she became friends with many of the teacher there's, including Dawn Hochsprung.

Miranda Pacchiana is here tonight to remember

And, Miranda, thank you so much.

MIRANDA PACCHIANA, FRIEND OF PRINCIPAL: (INAUDIBLE), Erin.

BURNETT: I know you have -- she's got three children. One of your children has friends who have lost siblings?

PACCHIANA: Yes.

BURNETT: Let me ask you about dawn. You knew her well. You worked with her for a while.

PACCHIANA: I didn't know her well. I worked with her because I was very active as mom in the school. Yes, my youngest daughter, when she was there, Dawn was there at the same time.

Yes, Dawn was an unusual principal. She didn't have that formality that a lot of, you know, administrators might have. She had this radiant smile. She was always about fun and warmth. And, you know, you kind of felt like you could just give her a hug as soon as you met her. She had a rare quality. Yes.

BURNETT: How do you -- how do you feel, and how does this town feel? I mean, just being here -- I mean, it's a picture-perfect little town. And it's small. And it feels like everybody here would know everybody else.

PACCHIANA: Yes, well, we are all connected here. Yes. I felt a little bit conflicted tonight about coming out. I wanted to make sure that it was the right thing to do. But I felt like coy have an opportunity to talk a little bit about the collective grief that we're feeling as a community. You know, we feel -- we feel numb. We're carrying our grief around with us. We have the thoughts of the parents who lost their children in our minds all the time.

And it's hard. Everything has stopped now. It's hard -- it's hard to get on with your routine. It's impossible, actually. I haven't been able to make coffee without forgetting what I'm doing halfway through.

But, you know, I just want to get the message out to my friends and neighbors, especially the ones who are grieving the most, who have lost loved ones that we're in this together and that there is so much good in the world, and that we're going to hold on to it together.

BURNETT: And I know that you were telling a personal story just about how it's hard to sleep.

PACCHIANA: Yes.

BURNETT: But when you dozed off a little bit last night and woke up, you had to wake your husband up just to see if it was real.

PACCHIANA: I woke him up and I said to him is this really happening? And that's a line that has been running through my head. And I mentioned that to friends of mine, and they all could really relate to that.

It's hard to believe it. It's hard to believe when President Obama gave that beautiful speech last night and he listed the massacres that have happened in our country, the tragic events. And at the end of it came the name of our little town that no one else used to, you know -- I used to have to explain where it was. That was shocking.

BURNETT: And you don't want it to be that way. And you don't want it to be Columbine.

PACCHIANA: Exactly. I don't want people to associate the name of our town with this horrible tragedy. Our town is so much more than that. It's a really special place where parents are so committed to their children's education and bringing them up well.

And my kids have such wonderful memories of sandy hook. It's a huge part of their childhood. I have wonderful memories there and I want them to be able to continue to have those memories and not think of it as the crime scene.

BURNETT: This is a tough question to ask given my role, but the media, when I walk around here, I see a lot of people like me.

PACCHIANA: Yes.

BURNETT: We're trying cover this story, but I know that we're making it hard too in some ways for you. PACCHIANA: Yes. Thank you for asking that, Erin.

You know, I came down a couple of days ago. I came down to the center of sandy hook here when the media was here. And I kept bumping into friends, and friends of friends, and we would hold each other and embrace each other and come together. And that feels vital right now.

And when I came here tonight, I didn't see anybody I knew. And we really feel that the nation feels our pain and wants to reach out and wants to be here with us. And that means a great deal.

On the other hand, it's hard to not be able to get -- to drive around your own town, when really what we need is to be together.

BURNETT: Miranda, thank you so much.

PACCHIANA: Thank you.

BURNETT: We appreciate your taking the time to share with us.

PACCHIANA: Thank you.

BURNETT: And up next, a town forever changed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Finally tonight, a new normal in Newtown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): The library, the general store, the diner that fills with kids after high school basketball games. The hallmarks of a picture-perfect New England town, Newtown, Connecticut.

Donna Djonne moved here 15 years ago to raise her three kids.

DONNA DJONNE, NEWTOWN RESIDENT: This is a town where I didn't lock my doors. I didn't lock my car doors. My house was open. My kids ran back and forth to each other's houses. Never felt unsafe.

BURNETT: And it was safe. Just one murder in the past decade. On Friday, that changed. Twenty school children gunned down in their elementary school classrooms. Four of their teachers, their school psychologist, and their principal, all gone.

News of a shooting in this town was met with disbelief.

DJONNE: All I could think is maybe it was a hunting accident because nothing like this would ever happen in Newtown.

BURNETT: John O'Leary coaches youth basketball. One of the young victims played for his team.

JOHN O'LEARY, NEWTOWN RESIDENT: Never expected it. Shocked.

BURNETT: That shock is still evident everywhere you look, 26 Christmas trees line the curb across the street from the firehouse where some of the children fled the gunfire.

This morning, moving vans drove pass, down the road to Sandy Hook Elementary, to start the process of resettling the students at a new school. Twenty little flags dot the curb just outside the Newtown High School. Teddy bears at ram's pasture. Angels keeping watch near the center of town. And the town's flag in the center of Main Street at half-staff.

(on camera): And the once joyful Christmas tree now has a different glow, surrounded by memorial candles and the lights of the world's media.

(voice-over): The residents of Newtown know it will take time for this town to heal. But they're also determined to show the world that Newtown will not just become another word for tragedy.

O'LEARY: The town right now is mourning. We're sad. I think -- I think down the road, we'll definitely be stronger. You know we have to be stronger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)