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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Newtown Remembers; Investigation into Newtown Massacre; Interview With Rep. Mary Bono Mack And Rep. Connie Mack

Aired December 17, 2012 - 06:30   ET

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


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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: That was President Obama from last night. You can hear him offering comfort to a grieving community.

Newtown, I should say, prepares to begin burying the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. That will happen today.

Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien. We're live in Newtown, Connecticut, this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. This is a special edition of EARLY START.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin at the media briefing location. We're in Newtown. Police talk to reporters in about two and a half hours. We'll continue to monitor that for you -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The police have been very good, Zoraida, about doing this consistent press conferences where they've been able to update us, not only on the investigation, but also how the families have been doing.

This is a very close-knit community. It's small community. About 27,000 people live in Newtown. And, of course, they are still reeling. They're still numb. It's been three days since the senseless massacre took place at the elementary school on Friday morning.

BERMAN: And this is the latest of what we know right now:

President Obama, of course, paid a visit last night, comforting family members in private and publicly assuring them you are not alone. He promised to use all of his powers as president to stop these kinds of tragedies. It remains to be seen what that means exactly. Today, Newtown begins burying its dead, starting with two 6-year-old boys. Jack Pinto, he loved New York Giants, and Noah Pozner, the youngest victim, who was shot 11 times.

O'BRIEN: Oh my God. Every time you look at those pictures of beautiful little boys, it just breaks your heart all over again.

BERMAN: And there's the New York Giants on his cheeks. It looks like my boys. It breaks me up.

O'BRIEN: You know, you just can't help but think about your own kids or your nieces or your nephews or your grandchildren whenever you see those pictures.

There are so many questions remain in this investigation. How exactly the shooter made his way once he got into the school, around the school, why would he target an elementary school, did he have a connection at all to this elementary school? And, of course, the family of the principal speaking.

BERMAN: Brokenhearted family of principal Dawn Hochsprung, they spoke last night. And a really just gripping interview with our Gary Tuchman.

O'BRIEN: So we're going to bring that interview to you later this morning. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I feel it's a word we're overusing, because we say it all the time. But I just don't know -- I just don't know what other words to use as you try to describe people's grief.

Even the people who tell the story of their children running out of the classroom surviving and they are so happy because their children are alive, and yet they are so grief stricken, because their children's classmates are not.

BERMAN: This is a community, as we've been talking about all weekend, who has really going through this together.

And Sandra Endo is outside a church here in Newtown, Connecticut. And the process of saying goodbye, with these funeral, Sandra, about to begin today.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. This grief- stricken community now in the process of laying their loved ones to rest. Today, the first of many funerals in the days to come.

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ENDO (voice-over): Comfort and support from President Obama to the residents of Newtown. And without mentioning specifics, he vowed to do more.

OBAMA: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. ENDO: The president attended a vigil, with victims' family members Sunday evening, to offer condolences from an entire nation.

OBAMA: I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you're not alone in your grief.

ENDO: But the grief-stricken community now has the heartbreaking task of laying their loved ones to rest. Today, the first of the many funerals for the young victims from Friday's tragedy. This afternoon 6-year-old Noah Pozner will be laid to rest. He has a twin sister who family members say still doesn't know the exact way her brother died.

Also being buried, 6-year-old Jack Pinto, who was a huge sports fan. His idol was New York Giants star receiver Victor Cruz. During this weekend's game, Cruz paid tribute to Pinto, writing "Jack Pinto, my hero" on his cleat, and on the other, "Rest in peace, Jack Pinto."

All Newtown schools will be closed today for staff to work with experts on how best to care for students in the aftermath of the horrific shooting. Classes are scheduled to resume Tuesday, except for Sandy Hook Elementary. Administrators are working out a plan with a neighboring town to accommodate Sandy Hook students as soon as possible.

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ENDO: The impact on schools extends far beyond this community. Schools across the country will likely be revisiting their own security plans and have to deal with students' questions that may be unanswerable -- John.

BERMAN: So, Sandra, kids in Connecticut are going back to school today. What are the plans here in Newtown, Connecticut? And what are the plans for the Sandy Hook Elementary School?

ENDO: Well, Sandy Hook Elementary students will not be going back to school until they can be accommodated by a neighboring town school. And all schools in Newtown will be closed today so that staff can talk to experts on how to deal with this tragedy and how to talk to students after they do return. But classes are to resume tomorrow.

BERMAN: All right. Sandra Endo here in Newtown, thanks so much.

O'BRIEN: How do you tell your child whose twin brother was killed about their twin? I mean --

BERMAN: Look, I mean, we're both parents of twins. I hear that now twice this morning, and every time I hear it, it's like a punch in the gut. Of course, they were separated in separate classrooms, so this little girl doesn't know how her brother died.

O'BRIEN: Oh, terrible.

Of course, for investigators, they described it as peeling of the layers of an onion -- peeling back the layers of an onion. It's going to be a painstaking process.

And the Connecticut State Police say they don't know, certainly haven't revealed the motive for the shootings, but they say there's lots of evidence and their evidence gathering continues. We are learning many more key details.

The gunman positively identified. We know that he shot his way into the school. He was not buzzed in. He basically used the high-powered assault rifle to blow through.

BERMAN: To shoot through the glass.

O'BRIEN: And walked into the classroom.

And then, of course, there's more to know about the shooter that is not known.

Alison Kosik has the latest for us on the investigation in Newtown -- Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Soledad, we are getting a closer look at where this gunman lived. He lived in a very affluent, quiet neighborhood in Sandy Hook. His house is here to the left of me.

It's a big house that sits on top of a hill. Right now, the lights are on, two police cars are sitting in the driveway.

And, you know, you talked about how he literally blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School. And once he was inside, police say what he did was he concentrated his shooting on two classrooms and in the hallway. Police say he had three weapons on him. Inside the school is what they found, that he had -- he fired dozens of bullets, using a semi-automatic rifle on most of his victims, using a handgun to kill himself.

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LT. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: The weapon that was utilized most of the time during this horrific crime was identified as a Bushmaster AR-15 assault type weapon. It had high capacity magazines. In addition to that, the subject had in his possession a Glock 10 millimeter, a Sig Sauer 9 millimeter. Both weapons, all weapons had multiple magazines and additional ammunition. The fourth weapon recovered was a shotgun that was recovered from the suspect's vehicle that was parked outside of the school.

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KOSIK: What's really devastating, as you think about just how much ammunition this gunman had on him, he had hundreds of bullets with him that weren't even used -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik for us, outside the gunman's home that he shared with his mother, both of them now deceased. Thank you, Alison, for the update. Let's get right back to Zoraida Sambolin who has more information in the wake of the shooting -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I do, Soledad. Actually, I'm at Treadwell Park, and this is where most of the press conferences take place.

I just want to point something out, behind me is a soccer field. And you have to wonder how many kids and their families enjoyed time here. We want to learn a little more about these kids. We find out more about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and victims.

We're also learning of acts of heroism of some of the victims, including Sandy Hook's principal Dawn Hochsprung. Her family spoke exclusively with CNN's Gary Tuchman. They are devastated, but they are proud of how she reacted when the shooting started.

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GEORGE HOCHSPRUNG, DAWN HOCHSPRUNG'S HUSBAND: Dawn put herself in jeopardy and I have been angry about that, angry, until just now today, when I met the two women that she told to go run to shelter, while she actually confronted the gunman and she could not -- she could have avoided that and she didn't. I knew she wouldn't.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The final I want to ask you is -- what would you say to your mom right now?

ERICA LAFFERTY, DAWN HOCHSPRUNG'S DAUGHTER: Come back. Just come back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Just breaks your heart.

Dawn's daughter says her mother was her rock, and now their hero.

The Newtown tragedy was felt all across the NFL on Sunday as well. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz honored one of the victims, little 6-year-old Jack Pinto. Writing, "Jack Pinto, my hero" on his cleat. We're taking a look at it there.

The team wore SHE on their helmet for Sandy Hook Elementary School. As for Cruz, he spoke with the boy's family after learning their son was a big fan. His parents are reportedly considering burying their son in Cruz' jersey.

It's a really emotional moment for Victor Cruz. He wanted to be able to somehow express his condolences, John and Soledad, so he called the family and you know, trying to figure out what he also can do to help. A lot of people are feeling that way across the country.

O'BRIEN: I think that's very true. I think it's very hard for people -- you know, what do you do watching from the distance. It just breaks your heart and look at the pictures of the kids and sit here and feel very powerless about it, I think.

BERMAN: There's places like United Way, other places have set up funds, set up charities where you can send at least money, but I think people want to do a lot more than that.

All right. Thanks, Zoraida.

All right. So it was not a hot topic during the 2012 campaign. You know what? It wasn't a topic at all.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I was going to say.

BERMAN: But now gun control is front and center after the Newtown tragedy. Coming up, we're going to talk to Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack of California and her husband Florida Congressman Connie Mack. We'll have both of them here together when we come back.

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BERMAN: In the aftermath of the tragedy here in Newtown, Connecticut, we are hearing two familiar arguments renewed really throughout the country, over gun control and the state of America's mental health system. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, whose state endured its own massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, told CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION " this. Let's listen.

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GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER, (R) COLORADO: What you can do is expand your capacity, your framework within a state or within the country to have more people paying attention and trying to detect folks that are unstable, on the verge of real trouble, trying to catch them at a sooner level.

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BERMAN: California Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack also has concerns about the mental health system when we spoke with her this weekend. We're also joined now by her husband, Florida Congressman Connie Mack. Both are Republicans both leaving Congress when this term is up.

I do want to talk about mental health in one second. We will get to that. First, I want to talk about the president last night at this vigil. He did speak about measures that sounded like he was talking about gun control. Let's just take a listen to what he said.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.

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BERMAN: So, what can be done to prevent these tragedies?

REP. MARY BONO MACK, (R) CALIFORNIA: I think the president is on the right path here. There has to be an awful lot that is done. I think that to simply throw out one quick answer is not doing justice to any of the victims and their families right now. We have to look at mental health. I think the question of gun control, of course, we should debate that question. There is going to be so much that we have to really delve into and not just look for the quick, quick, quick fix.

BERMAN: No. I do think that everyone is willing, able, and eager to talk about the full range of issues right now. One of the things the president said last night, one of the most interesting questions he asked. He said, I've been asking myself, have we done everything we can to keep our kids safe?

And he said when he searched his own feelings, the answer was no. So, let me ask you this, Congressman Mack, do you think you've been doing everything you can to keep America's kids safe?

REP. CONNIE MACK, (R) FLORIDA: First, let me say this is, obviously, the first time that we've been here, and our hearts and prayers are with the families, with this community, such a tragic event that happened, and it should never happen to any of our children or our citizens, but the question you asked, have we done enough?

There's nothing -- you can't do everything it would take to keep everybody safe, but we need to try to do more. I mean, look, we're hearing now about the challenges that this -- this young man had, the stories that his mother was telling friends. There are warning signs left and right about this young man. And we need to have our communities in a position where they can recognize those warning signs and then act on those warning signs.

BERMAN: You know, the president, himself, seemed to address your statement right there. He said helplessness isn't a reason not to try to do something. So, on the subject of mental health, which I know is such a big concern of yours, Congresswoman Mack, what is the government role then when it comes to mental health? Is there a government role?

BONO MACK: Well, for me, first, I have been focused a lot on the prescription drug abuse epidemic and, you know, moving over to all the mental health issues. I think, first of all, I supported the Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act. I think we have to recognize that mental health is a part of physical health and treat it as such and highlight the importance of it and the need for it in our society.

So -- but it isn't just a government role. It's a family role, it's a societal role, it's a cultural role, it's everywhere. It's in our homes. I mean, every person in America has to ask the question right now simply not just look to the government for the answers, although there will be some there.

You know, just this morning on the drive over here, I researched that the Center for Disease Control actually has an agency or program funded just to look into these types of violence. I had never heard of that before until now, so I'd like know is it funded at the level that it should be funded and what has it been doing and who is it reporting to?

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BERMAN: On the subject of funding, though, one of the greatest sources of government funding for mental health issues comes from Medicaid, of course. I don't want to make this a partisan issue. It's not a partisan issue, at some point, but the Ryan budget, for instance, included very, very big cuts, in some cases, for Medicaid. So, would mental health issues be affected by the kind of government cuts and spending that have been discussed over the last few years?

MACK: You know, with all due respect, I don't know that that question really gets to the heart of this. I think you see that members of Congress understand that there's a lot that's unknown about mental health. Mental health, there's a stigma in our society about mental health, which there shouldn't be. This is an issue that is obviously important to the safety of our communities.

And so, making sure that there is funding available and that we understand what we're -- when we say mental health, when we have -- you know, people don't even really understand what that is. But when we have young men in our communities like the -- the young man that committed this tragedy, these murders, there were warning signs everywhere. And we need to have a society that is looking for those warning signs and know how to act. Right now, no one would know how to act on those issues. That's what we need to do.

BERMAN: Senator Joe Lieberman, who's in his last few weeks as senator, has suggested doing a national commission of some kind to look into all of these issues, I think. The mental health issues, also gun control. Is this something you think would be a good idea and what would you like to see come of that?

BONO MACK: I think it's a great idea. I think we should have a national dialog and put everything on the table. I think, you know, any parent or grandparent should expect that. Everything should be on the table and have a reasoned debate. But you know, back to the question about the Ryan budget, the reason, I think, it's important to say this is because although I support the Ryan budget, you know, it's so hard to always put these things in the terms of budgets.

You know, the country is faced with cuts, but I also support increasing Medicaid and supported something called S-chip which actually increased the funding to Medicaid on the state level. So, you know, I think as we look for political answers, at the same time, we shouldn't jump on something and oversimplify it.

Again, parents deserve better. The victims of this heinous tragedy deserve better, and I think we, as a country, need to quit shouting at each other and trying to find this, you know, -- you know, find the instant problems and exploit them. Everything should be on the table. Senator Lieberman is right.

BERMAN: All right. The Macks, I thank you, both, so much. I know you did both just arrive here. It is -- it's so moving to be here in this town where this tragedy did happen. And as you said, sometimes, words like budgets and funding, this and that, their cold words dealing with all the tragedy that's happening right here. Thank you both so much for being here. I really do appreciate it.

Of course, as we mentioned, President Obama last night, he did play the role as comforter in chief here in Newtown, telling people here in this community, they are not alone and they are not alone. We'll have more from last night's vigil, coming up.

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SAMBOLIN: The first two child victims of a Newtown school shooting will be laid to rest today.

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OBAMA: We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school, in a quiet town full of good and decent people. That could be any town in America. Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison.

God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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O'BRIEN (voice-over): Newtown, Connecticut, small, close-knit community, swallowed by grief this morning after the unimaginable loss of 20 children and six adults, all killed inside an elementary school. Today, they prepare to bury the first of the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will move on. We will never forget. We will, in many ways, be made stronger.

O'BRIEN: President Obama visiting grieving families and showing support during an evening vigil says we must do more.

OBAMA: We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

O'BRIEN: Now, questions around the tragedy as we learn more about the victims from that unforgettable Friday morning, but the ultimate question remains, why did it happen?