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The Gunman's First Victim, His Mother; New Clues About Gunman's History; Heartbreaking Task of Laying Dead to Rest; Gun Rights Back on the Agenda

Aired December 17, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The next phase of a wrenching painstaking process begins.


GOV. DANNEL MALLOY, D-CONNECTICUT: You see little coffins and your heart has to ache. So you tell them you grieve for their loss. You know, you give them a hug and you tell them that their community, their state and their nation, dare I say the whole world, stands with them. And you hope that that makes some difference.


BLITZER: The governor of Connecticut, Dan Malloy, talking about attending the first of many funerals for the children in the days ahead. He himself choking back tears today, recounting the process of having to tell the parents of those who died that their children weren't coming back to them.

The governor is calling for a moment of silence this Friday at 9:30 a.m., exactly one week to the day this horror began to unfold. At that time, churches across the state are being asked to chime bells 26 times in honor of those who were killed.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world who are watching what's going on.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Newtown, Connecticut.

We begin this hour with new details. They are beginning to emerge about the first person to be killed in this horrifying tragedy, the mother of the gunman, Nancy Lanza.


BLITZER (voice-over): She was her son's first victim, even though friends say she went to great lengths trying to help him with his difficulties. And the very same guns Nancy Lanza kept for target shooting and for safety were the ones used to murder her.

One relative says she kept the weapons for self-defense.

MARSHA LANZA, SISTER-IN-LAW OF NANCY LANZA: We talked about prepping and, you know, are you ready for what can happen down the line when the economy collapses?

BLITZER: Friends say she taught her sons how to use the weapons, but says her interest in guns was just a safe hobby.

RUSS HANOMAN, FRIEND OF NANCY LANZA: I've seen a lot of things in the media about her being this survivalist wacko, and that was not her at all.

BLITZER: Ironically, young Adam Lanza was so opposed to killing, he would not even eat any meat. He was a vegan, says one family friend.

HANOMAN: She told me repeatedly how -- how obsessed Adam was about holding the gun in the correct way, so that it would be safe, the gun was up and never pointing it at anybody, that safety was paramount, always.

BLITZER: Newly obtained divorce court records show that she was given final authority to make decisions on how their son would be raised. For a while, she taught him at home, says an in-law.

M. LANZA: She eventually wound up home schooling him and she battled with the school district. In what capacity, I'm not 100 percent certain, if it was behavior, if it was learning disabilities. I really don't know. But he was a very, very bright boy. He was smart.

BLITZER: According to a friend, to accommodate his painful shyness, she would tell Adam if anyone was coming to the house so he could stay in his room if he wanted to. She tried hard to get her son help, friends say. She would cancel weekend plans if he was having a tough time. And she was thinking of selling the house if her son found a place he wanted to study, maybe in Washington State.

JOHN BERGQUIST, FRIEND OF NANCY LANZA: She was ready to sell her house and move wherever Adam wanted to go for college.

BLITZER: Back when Adam Lanza was at school, he would shut down and withdraw, staring at the ground and not talking to anyone. His mother would come down to the school and coax him out, according to Richard Novia, who was the adviser for the tech club the boy was in.

RICHARD NOVIA, FORMER NEWTOWN SECURITY DIRECTOR: She was a good mother who pretty much doted over her boys.

BLITZER: Divorce records show she and her sons were well provided for. Her alimony this year was scheduled to be $289,000. Friends say she did not need to work, although she gave to charities and was personally generous herself.

BERGQUIST: She was just, just -- she lived a wonderful life.


BLITZER: Our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, is standing by outside the gunman's house with more on the investigation. What else are you learning -- Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that several unmarked police cars went into the home and have been going into the home since about 3:00 this afternoon, the home just behind me. The only lights that we can see that are on are on the ground floor to the right. All the other rooms, the shades are drawn. It's very difficult to see what is going on inside that home.

At least two homes on this -- in this area, as we were driving here, have unmarked police cars stationed out front. We are told that unmarked police cars are being stationed at all the homes of those who lost children or adults in this massacre.

The Lanza home is still considered a crime scene and police say they have seized some significant evidence.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can only tell you we've seized evidence if -- if there is computer evidence. And I strongly say that, if. We do have a computer crimes team, and then our state forensic laboratory, that are experts in retrieving any type of electronic evidence and data.


FEYERICK: We're learning a couple of things about Adam Lanza. He was in and out of various schools. In 2007, as a freshman, the school security director there was concerned because he was -- he seemed so vulnerable that the director was concerned he would be picked on, so he told the security officers to make sure to keep an eye on him.

A couple of years later, in 2008, he enrolled in classes at a nearby college, just about 15 -- a community college about 15 minutes from his home. He was taking computer science, as well as macroeconomics, American history and German.

We spoke to one girl who was in his German class. And she said, you know, she didn't know him very well, but at one point when she said oh, you know, we're going out, why don't you join us, he told her that he was only 17 and she was very surprised by that. She didn't understand just how young he was.

But he is described as a genius by all account, but very quiet, very private. And investigators right now are trying to put together pieces of the computer he smashed before he went on this rampage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story.

Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much.

Throughout our program here, we've been telling you about the victims of this horrifying tragedy.

KATE BOLDUAN, CO-HOST: Yes. And we want to focus on the victims not -- as much as we can, Wolf, and to tell their stories, special details about each one of them that really help define who they were.

We want to give you a look at some of them. And we'll continue to do that throughout the show.

Allison Wyatt was quiet and a little shy. But if someone did something funny, she'd be the first one to burst out laughing.

And Jesse Lewis had been looking forward to making gingerbread houses at school. He loved math, riding horses and playing at his mom's farm.

Victoria Soto always wanted to be an educator, just like her aunt. The first grade teacher loved the color green and her black lab, Roxie.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was truly selfless. She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself, and especially children. She -- she loved them more than life and she -- she would definitely put herself in front of them any day, any day and for any reason. So it doesn't surprise anybody that knows Vicky that she did this.


BLITZER: The first in what will, sadly, be dozens of young shooting victims laid to rest today. Details from the funerals, those funerals that -- two of them happened today, two little boys.

BOLDUAN: Two little boys.

BLITZER: How sad.

BOLDUAN: It's so sad.

BLITZER: We're watching what's going on and -- as far as the funerals are concerned. But we want to make sure that there's complete privacy, as much as possible, for the grieving families.

Also, lockdowns, cameras -- is any of it enough to keep our children safe at school?

We'll take a closer look at that, as well.


BLITZER: Here in Newton, Connecticut, they are beginning the heartbreaking task of burying the dead today. It's so, so painful.

Six-year-olds Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto were both laid to rest.

Noah was said to be a charming little boy who loved playing with his siblings, particularly his twin sister.

And those who knew Jack Pinto say he loved sports, particularly football.

CNN's Kyung Lah has the difficult assignment of covering Jack's funeral for us.

She's joining us now with some of the details.

And we want to be totally respectful of the privacy of these families, who are going through hell right now -- Kyung.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very, very difficult day. And we did want to respect the family's wishes. The family wanted as private a service as they could have, as private a service as they could have when you consider how many reporters are here, how many cameras are interested in this.

From the distance that we were standing away from the church, we could see that this was a very difficult day for the family, the friends of this little boy, a 6-year-old boy who was in the first grade.

The people arriving not the usual people you see at a funeral -- young families, a lot of young children. The children who arrived were wearing Newtown wrestling shirts, long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts. One little boy, he was wearing a medal.

The significance of that medal -- I've spoken to people in the wrestling community here in Connecticut. One town that's nearby said that Jack had just competed in his first wrestling match, his first official wrestling match, and had won his first medal. This little boy loved sports, but his first love was football. And his idol was New York Giant player, Victor Cruz.

Now that message got to the football player. He decided that he wanted to put the little boy's name on his cleats and his gloves. He Tweeted out a picture of it. He then called Jack's family.

Here's what Cruz told reporters.


VICTOR CRUZ, NEW YORK GIANTS WIDE RECEIVER: It was emotional, man. It was -- you know, I was fighting back tears a little bit to do it. And -- and it felt, you know, it felt good. It felt good to honor a family that was 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 -- on the news. So I put, you know, that night, I put my daughter in the bed with me.


LAH: Now, the family is reportedly going to be burying their son -- or buried their son in a Victor Cruz jersey.

A very difficult day, just the very first of what will be many more funerals -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How sad is this?

Unbelievably sad. Thanks, Kyung Lah, for that.

As these first of what will be many funeral services get underway, makeshift memorials are popping up all around this town.

CNN's Don Lemon is joining us now from one of them, just a little bit down the road from where I am right now -- Don, these memorials really have a way of letting people express their emotions. This is a huge, huge tragedy.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is a huge tragedy. And this one right in the middle of the square in Newtown is the biggest one. And, you know, this is the heart of the community here. You see -- Wolf, look, there's a band that's here that's been coming by every day. And they have been playing and -- and you hear what that they're playing there. And then a sign in front target says, "Remember the Children."

And then these -- they're members of the group, as well.

I want to talk to some of these folks.

Aileen (ph), come over here.

Look at this big Teddy bear that she brought out.

And you, what, is this from your own or did you go out and buy it?

AILEEN: From my children.

LEMON: From your children?

AILEEN: It's something that they've had, yes.

LEMON: Why did you come out?

AILEEN: It's just hard to not think about what's going on here. So we do live in Connecticut, about 20 minutes from here.


AILEEN: And so a couple of friends and myself just wanted to take a ride.

LEMON: And this has been in your family. Obviously, it means a lot. And this tragedy meant a lot to you. And you want to -- you're going to leave it here.

AILEEN: We are. LEMON: Yes.

Thank you, Aileen.

We really appreciate it.

There's a couple here, as well.

You guys are from -- are you from Sandy Hook?

Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my parents live in Sandy Hook.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're originally from here in Newtown.


LEMON: You're originally -- where do you live now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We live in Oxford, Connecticut.

LEMON: And why you all here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here to give our support and our -- mostly our prayers to the families and the community, and just here for the support for everybody.

LEMON: When you look at how big this memorial is, what do you think -- around there and show them just how it's --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's amazing, you know, you forget about -- you have to remember that there are so many good people in the world, and this is a good reminder. It's amazing how much stuff there really is.

LEMON: And now, your heart is broken but this helped?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does. Yes. I've been waiting to come down here, and I'm glad I did. It's beautiful.

LEMON: Thank you, guys. I want to go over here and talk to the lady with the wreath. Are you going to put the wreath here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am going to put the wreath here.

LEMON: Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're from Putnam, Connecticut.

LEMON: Does this help to -- that you have come out to be so close?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it does, because we've watched it all weekend, and it's just so painful to see -- what happened to these angels and to these wonderful teachers, and this is our way of expressing how sorrowful we feel for all of them.

LEMON: You think this community will ever be the same?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it will rebound. It's the state of Connecticut, and the state of Connecticut is a great state in our union and I think the community will rebound and with all our prayers and everyone's prayers, yes. And I also want to thank CNN for the wonderful job you have done in this newscast.

I watched you all weekend, all day today, and you have done an amazing compassionate job. Thank you very much --

LEMON: Well, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- for bringing this to the country.

LEMON: Thank you. We really appreciate it. We can't help but be respectful, and everyone here has just been amazing and so welcoming. And, so, we want to be, you know, cognizant of that and respect you guys and not be intrusive. Thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

LEMON: Appreciate it.


LEMON: Appreciate it. There's so much emotion going on over here. Do you mind if we talk to you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, that's fine. Stay with me, Lisa. My name is Gloria.

LEMON: Yes. And you're here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm here because I have four grandchildren. And I was able to attend my grandson's -- he's in first grade in Long Island. And he had his Christmas concert tonight, and there pretty much wasn't a dry eye there. And I met this wonderful woman here from Alabama. So, people are coming from all over.

LEMON: They are. Thank you so much. And our hearts are with you. Thank you. We really appreciate it.

So, Wolf, not much to say. You can -- you know, the emotion is palpable here. And this -- this memorial now which is the heart of the community is where people come and people are coming and they're sharing their feelings and we're here with them and we're giving them a voice we feel.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So many people are grieving. So many people are mourning. And this, unfortunately, is going to stay for some time to come. Some people will never, ever, ever be able to get over this. That's totally understandable. The tragedy is enormous. Don, we're going to come back to you.

I want to get more of these stories, what people are saying, who are coming to talk about what's going on. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: In the wake of this enormous tragedy here in Newtown, Connecticut, people in communities all across the country are wondering what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Gun control advocates are wondering will this be enough to get Congress to act.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now from Capitol Hill. Dana, what are you sensing their attitudes as far as guns are concerned? Are attitudes shifting?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those who don't want to do anything still to restrict gun rights, they're being very careful not to say anything until the rawness of this tragedy goes away or at least subsides a little bit, but to answer your question, yes, attitudes are shifting in a pretty remarkable way in favor of more gun control.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Read communication of the Senate --

BASH (voice-over): On the floor of the Senate, a tribute to the victims of the unspeakable shooting spree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I now ask that the United States Senate observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

BASH: And in an unusual move, the Senate chaplain prayed for action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make our lawmakers willing to act promptly.

BASH: It's a stark illustration of how mass murder of small children has changed the tone, especially among Democrats, reluctant in recent years to talk about gun control.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: You know, that -- it's changed me.

BASH: Few lawmakers of either party actively support and campaign on gun rights as much as West Virginia democrat, Joe Manchin. This was his campaign ad.

MANCHIN: And I'll take dead aim.

BASH: Now, Manchin, who has an "A" rating from the powerful National Rifle Association wants new gun restrictions.

MANCHIN: 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.

BASH: So, you're committed to change?

MANCHIN: I'm committed to bringing the dialogue that will bring a total change.

BASH: Manchin even called Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, usually on the opposite side of the gun issue, looking to work together, right before we talked to her.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: He and I will sit down. We'll go over this legislation.

BASH: That legislation would reinstate the assault weapons ban, which lapsed in 2004.

Why do you think this moment may be different?

FEINSTEIN: Because I think it's a logical continuum. If there should be a safe place in America, it's an elementary school. And here in this elementary school, look what happened. Six-year-olds with 3 to 11 bullets from this bushmaster in their body, 20 of them. Is this America? I don't think so.

BASH: To be sure, gun control legislation has stalled over the past decade largely because Democrats concluded it was bad politics, especially for vulnerable Democrats in conservative states. Some half a dozen of those moderate Senate Democrats face voters in the next election, and none has embraced new gun restrictions yet.

The NRA, which traditionally has the power to hurt Democrats in red states who support gun control, has been notably silent.


BASH (on-camera): Now, after that shooting spree at a movie theater over the summer in Colorado, several lawmakers from red states told me that they definitely feel the NRA's clout still here on Capitol Hill, and just being, Wolf, in Senator Feinstein's office, in the front office for five minutes, I could see the phones ringing off the hook about her call to revive or reinstate the assault weapons ban.

At least, make that the first piece of legislation in a new Congress, but you know, it is very interesting that it's not just the NRA that is keeping mum right now. Republican senators, most of them who we've talked to, are declining interview requests. They just don't want to talk about it quite yet.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens down the road. Dana, thank you.

This unimaginable tragedy, adults are desperately struggling to comprehend. So, how do you possibly begin to talk about this with your children? Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's getting some new information for us. He'll be joining us shortly.


BLITZER: We're continuing to remember more of the victims of this horrible massacre.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Horrible. And we want to bring you some of their stories. Lives were cut far too short far too early. Daniel Barden played the drums in a family band. He loved the beach and lost his two front teeth in his fearless pursuit of life.

Anne Marie Murphy's mother says the special education teacher died doing what she loved, serving children and serving God. And Jessica Rekos loved everything about horses. She hoped to get one when she turned 10. She asked Santa for cowgirl boots and a hat.


KIRSTA REKOS, MOTHER OF JESSICA REKOS: She was a ball of fire. She ruled the --

RICHARD REKOS, FATHER OF JESSICA REKOS: Our little CEO we called her. She was the boss.


BLITZER: Children all across the country were back at school today with the tragedy here in Connecticut, most likely not far from any parent's mind. Our own Lisa Sylvester is staking a closer look at school security and whether enough is being done to keep our children safe. Lisa, what are you learning?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: wolf and Kate, you know, they say that when you become a parent, that a little bit of your heart lives outside of you. And, for many parents, this tragedy, it has hit their worst fear. How do you keep your kids safe when they are away from you?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You try not to think about it, but it's very difficult.

SYLVESTER: This day, Gina Goodhand (ph) has a hard time holding back the tears.

GINA GOODHAND, MOTHER: It's heartbreaking. It's -- it's very difficult to imagine and I can't imagine being one of those parents.

SYLVESTER: What happened in Newtown, Connecticut could have happened in any town. It's one of those quiet fears parents have that has now reason to the surface. Paige Anderson of Montgomery County, Maryland, has a six-year-old daughter.

PAIGE ANDERSON, MOTHER: My daughter told me they did a drill last week. So, I think they do them on a regular basis, but, I mean, you can't prepare for every eventuality.

SYLVESTER: Schools across the country are reviewing their school safety programs that have been in place since Columbine. High schools in Alexandria, Virginia, have trained police of officers on campus. Middle schools and elementary schools there require all visitors to be buzzed and then signed in.

For Alexandria's school superintendent, Morton Sherman, this is all deeply personal as a father and grandfather. He visited a kindergarten and first grade class to offer any need comfort and reassurance.

MORTON SHERMAN, SUPERINTENDENT, ALEXANDRIA CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: It's really emotional. I didn't think it would be at first, but just going into the classrooms and looking at those babies, looking at those wonderful children, looking at their faces, and realized there, but for the grace of God or somebody else could be our kids here in Alexandria.

SYLVESTER: The shooting in Newtown is opening up a new conversation. How much security at schools is enough? Should there be armed guards at elementary schools, in preschools? Metal detectors? School psychologists say there has to be a balance.

ERIC ROSSEN, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PSYCHOLOGISTS: We do know that having metal detectors and security with guns standing outside the front of the school, not only would most parents not want to drop off their 6-year-old at a school like that, but that typically doesn't decrease violence and it can actually decrease the perceived sense of safety in that school.

SYLVESTER: School psychologists say what kids really need now is a greater sense of security. That when they get on that school bus, they will return home.


SYLVESTER: And some of the things the school can do, while the National Association of School Psychologists says if they don't already have one, schools should establish a crisis response team to deal with any emergency. They should also communicate with parents and explain what kind of steps are being done to keep children safe. They should also review all school safety policies and have adequate psychologists and counselors on hand to deal with any of the emotional needs that children and the teachers might have -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tell you, people are going to be studying how best to deal with security at schools a lot. And they should because this tragedy is enormous.

Lisa, thanks very, very much.


The family of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal we have heard so much about her, Dawn Hochsprung, says she went down in the blaze of glory that truly represent who she was. She was beloved by her students and known for always having a smile on her face.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman had the chance to sit down with Dawn's husband, children and stepchildren, for what was a very emotional, very moving interview.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Principal Dawn Hochsprung was quite a bit younger than her husband George, but when they got married 10 years ago, both for the second time, she with two daughters and he with three, George was marrying his boss.

GEORGE HOCHSPRUNG, DAWN HOCHSPRUNG'S HUSBAND: When Dawn and I met, she was the assistant principal at our school, Rogers Park Middle School, and I was a seventh grade math teacher at that time. And I just fell in love with her.

TUCHMAN: George made the big decision. The time had come to propose.

HOCHSPRUNG: She turned me down five times.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So you asked her to marry you, but she turned you down?

HOCHSPRUNG: Five times.


TUCHMAN: So what happened the sixth time?

HOCHSPRUNG: The sixth time, I waited until it wasn't such rough sailing.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Indeed, George had been popping the question on a sailboat they bought together.

HOCHSPRUNG: We got married on a -- on a sloop of the Mystic.

TUCHMAN: Beth, Amy and Ann are George's daughters from his first marriage. Erica is Dawn's daughter from her first marriage. Her other daughter Tina was out while we were at the house. They were a blended but very close family, with 11 grandchildren.

HOCHSPRUNG: When I built this beautiful house in the Adirondacks, our dream, and the dream was a chronological dream. It was going to be Dawn's house because I was going to die and I was going to be gone. I'm much older than Dawn. It was going to be Dawn's house and Dawn's grandchildren and all these children could use the house on the lake, and it would be wonderful.

We built rooms downstairs for kids. And it was going to be Dawn's house ultimately. With all -- with all the children. All the children. And now it's me. I can't -- I don't think I can do that.

TUCHMAN (on camera): I want to -- I want to reiterate to you, George, you have these beautiful daughters and son-in-laws and grandchildren, and everyone will be here to take care of you. Is that right, ladies?



HOCHSPRUNG: My job has always been to take care of other people.

TUCHMAN: It's all right if some people take care of you for a while.

HOCHSPRUNG: No one has ever taken care of me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, stop being so stubborn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we are now.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): While Dawn was the principal at Sandy Hook, George still taught at the middle school where they met. In the middle of day, Friday, this is how George found out what happened.

HOCHSPRUNG: One of the kids came up with a computer and said something is happening at Sandy Hook School, and your wife has been killed.

TUCHMAN: George raced out of school and into a nightmare. Like all the families of victims, they want to know more. And on this day, they have learned more. Two teachers who survived told George they were having a meeting with Dawn when the shots started ringing out.

HOCHSPRUNG: 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 under 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. So I'm not angry anymore. I'm not angry. I'm not angry anymore. I'm not angry. I'm just very sad. Very sad.

They said we were at the meeting. There were gunshots. Somebody shot the window. Somebody came in, into the -- not into the office, but into the building, the foyer of the building, and Dawn told us to go hide, and she and at least one other teacher ran out and actually tried to subdue the -- the killer. I don't know where that comes from. Dawn was, what, 5'2".

TUCHMAN: Everyone here was so proud, no one more so than Erica, who said her mom was always there for her daughters.

ERICA LAFFERTY, DAWN HOCHSPRUNG'S DAUGHTER: Every game she was there. Every practice she was there. All of my sister's cheerleading stuff, she was there. Every dance competition. She was doing homework on the bleachers, but she was there. And she was my rock. My rock. TUCHMAN: And now she is a hero, too.

(On camera): Final thing I want to ask you is, what would you say to your mom right now?

LAFFERTY: Come back. Just come back.


BOLDUAN: One of Dawn Hochsprung's biggest accomplishments as principal of Sandy Hook Elementary was overseeing the installation of a new security system requiring every visitor to ring the front doorbell after the school doors locked at 9:30 every morning. Her husband, her family, they just seem, understandably, shell-shocked.

BLITZER: Yes. And the shooter in this case fired his way in, through the glass.

BOLDUAN: Fired his way in through the glass.

BLITZER: Forced his entry.

BOLDUAN: Forced his way in and then headed for the first grade classrooms.

BLITZER: A parent's grief five years later. A father of a victim in the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy shares his personal stories and lessons of surviving a tragedy.


BLITZER: Five years ago, families of Virginia Tech University students experienced a similar sense of shock and sadness, as those here in Newtown, Connecticut, are experiencing right now. Some of them now are offering some help to the parents in Connecticut.

CNN's Emily Schmidt spoke with a father who lost his daughter in the shootings at Virginia Tech.


EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after Virginia Tech became home to the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, a father somehow found the words to describe the unthinkable. A daughter, not picking up her cell phone.

JOSEPH SAMAHA, REEMA SAMAHA'S FATHER: I could only assume the worst because she was not responding, nobody knew where she was.

SCHMIDT: Joseph Samaha talked about his 18-year-old daughter, Reema, the star student, the teenager who thought dance could change the world. Who was shot to death in French class. And that day he talked about her mainly in the present tense.

SAMAHA: I keep her in my mind. Her face is in my mental vision. And it keeps me going. SCHMIDT: It's been what's kept him going for more than five years.

(On camera): What is it like talking about her today?

SAMAHA: Oh, it hasn't changed. She's still alive in my heart. She's -- you know, she's wherever she wants to be.

SCHMIDT (voice-over): Reema is remembered in the family pictures in the front hall, on the flag in the front yard. But she has been missed at so much. What would have been her graduation. Her funeral. Her memorials.

Her father says Newtown made the missing worse all over again.

SAMAHA: The trauma is only skin deep. And so every time something like this happens, you open the wound. But I will say that my therapy, is doing something about it.

SCHMIDT: He says when Virginia Tech happened, there was no one to ask how do you get through. And so he and other victim's families started the VTV Family Outreach Foundation. Advocates for campus safety and now trained to offer victim's family support. They reached out to the Newtown families Friday.

SAMAHA: They're going to be angry. They're going to be depressed. They're going to be in shock. Posttraumatic stress is there for a long, long time. But they'll have questions. And they -- and that their experience might be particular to them. We may have some answers. But we are there to be at their service. And that's what we were looking for in our tragedy at Virginia Tech. We were looking for help.

SCHMIDT (on camera): Joseph Samaha says Virginia Tech families will only help in Newtown if they are asked to do so. And his advice, victim's family should take care of themselves first and focus on issues like gun control, school safety and mental health later.

Emily Schmidt, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Certainly remember speaking to Joseph Samaha. He made a deep impression on me at the time, interviewing him in the wake of that Virginia Tech University tragedy. Our hearts go out to him as well as the family members of all of those killed in that tragedy.

Here in the Newtown, Connecticut, tragedy, all the victims of gun violence all across the country.

We're sick and tired of covering these stories. We've covered way too many of them over these years.

Many people are wondering, how easy is it for someone to buy a semiautomatic rifle like the one that the shooter used here in Newtown, Connecticut, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. We're taking a closer look. Much more coming up.

A special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM continues right after this.


BLITZER: Understandably, there's certainly been a lot of talk about the guns used in the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, particularly the semiautomatic assault-type rifle that was reportedly used in most of the killings. So how unusual is this weapon? How easy is it to get one here in the United States?

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has been looking into these questions for us.

Chris, tell us what you can about this extremely deadly weapon.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, they're everywhere. I mean, you can literally buy this rifle at nearly 2,000 Wal-Mart stores all across the country. There are literally millions of these rifles in homes across America. And surprisingly enough, after what happened in Connecticut, that number may be going up. Not down.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): The AR-15 has always been a top seller at this Virginia gun shop. But Chuck Nesby says since Friday's shooting, sales have been surging.

CHUCK NESBY, NOVA FIREARMS: People want to get them before the government imposes any restriction and they're buying them up in record numbers right now.

LAWRENCE: We weren't in the store for five minutes before customers started calling for guns and ammo.

NESBY: Those magazines are selling fast in anticipation of the possible ban on magazines.

LAWRENCE: And Nesby can't keep enough of the AR-15.

NESBY: But we do have in stock, in the store, three other guns that are of the same quality as the Bushmaster.

LAWRENCE (on camera): How many rounds can this fire per second?

NESBY: How fast can you pull the trigger?

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The AR-15 is semiautomatic, meaning one bullet per trigger pull. An average clip carries 30 rounds. It's a variation of the military's M-16. It looks tough, ominous.

Police say Adam Lanza used an AR-15 in Connecticut. It was also used to kill 12 people in a Colorado movie theater this summer.

(On camera): Who buys this weapon?

NESBY: Everybody.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Guns and ammo magazine estimates that 1.5 million have been made in the last five years alone. Dealers say it's the most popular rifle in America. For good reason.

(On camera): How quickly could someone use this rifle --

NESBY: To shoot it? Very little training to shoot it.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): It weighs about eight pounds, takes all kinds of ammo and can be easily customized with various lasers, stocks and gun locks. The AR-15 is accurate and it has very little kick.

NESBY: There's literally no recoil from this because you're just shooting a high-power .22 round. And that's one of the things that make it very, very controllable.


LAWRENCE: Yes, a lot has been talking about the firepower, the heavy firepower of the AR-15, but really a lot of the shotguns and rifles that we saw on the wall there are much more powerful. The normal rounds that are chambered in this rifle are not much more or even less than a lot of handguns out there. But, again, it is extremely popular.

I mean, there are magazines dedicated to this firearm, Wolf, and that shows no signs of slowing down.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much for that report.

And we're sad to report this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii unfortunately has passed away. Senator Inouye, 88 years old, a distinguished member of the United States Senate. The longest serving member in the Senate. Distinguished record as a legislative leader. Also was a World War II combat veteran. He earned the nation's highest award for military valor, the Medal of Honor.

He was a member of the Watergate Committee, served as chairman of the Iran Contra Committee and was just a terrific, terrific guy to all of us who covered him over the years.

Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent, is joining us right now.

Very sad news. He was ill in recent weeks, we knew that. He was in the hospital, Dana. But still very, very sad that Senator Inouye has died.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no question about it. You talked about some of the many, many points on his resume that made him so distinguished. One of them is that he is currently or was currently the longest serving senator here. He has been in the Senate since 1963. In fact, he has represented the state of Hawaii since it became a state in 1959.

And he also was currently serving as the president pro-tem which made him third in line to the presidency, Wolf. But certainly he was a constant presence around here. He currently has the position of the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. But as you said, he really kind of distinguished himself as somebody who is a veteran of war and really fought for veteran's rights. He was one of the few remaining people to serve in the United States Senate who fought in World War II.

And so there's no question this is a big, big loss to the Senate because every single senator here serving has served with Senator Inouye because he was the longest-serving senator.

BLITZER: Yes. He had been chairman of the Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He really worked hard, not only for the people of Hawaii, but for the people of the United States and he will be missed. And -- our deepest condolences to his family.

Senator Inouye, unfortunately, has passed away at the age of 88.

Dana, thanks very much.

Among those most devastated by what has happened here in Connecticut, in Newtown, Connecticut, in this tragedy are the emergency officials who were the first to arrive at that elementary school. We're going to tell you what they're now saying.



BLITZER: This was a very painful moment for a lot of us. We are walking over to the firehouse right now. This is where the families were notified that their kids had been killed Friday morning here in Newtown, and this was sort of a command center. The governor was here and others.

Take a look over here, and you can see what's going on. You can see these little Christmas trees that have been set up, people are bringing little teddy bears, toys, mementos. Twenty of these Christmas trees have been set up here and just walk over and take a look and see what's going on.

Little candles. People are paying their respects to some wonderful, wonderful kids who passed away unfortunate, way too early.


BLITZER: I don't know about you, Kate, but when I walk around and see those little memorials that just sprung up all over the place.

BOLDUAN: And every day there's more people and every day there are more people coming to give -- just support and be part of the community, even from outside of the community. I mean, you went to that firehouse, you saw those memorials, I -- what sat in on a -- on a Sunday church service at Trinity Episcopal Church yesterday, and the pastor there was at the firehouse while parents were waiting to find out news of their children.

And one of their members lost a child, Benjamin Wheeler, in the shooting. And she spoke so powerfully and so emotionally, but with such strength during her service yesterday and that's really what this community was looking for. She ended her service very simply. She said, I'm done. I love you. Go on.

BLITZER: And as I walked toward that firehouse, which I think is hallowed ground because that's where --


BLITZER: -- everyone had gathered. All the families right down the street.

BOLDUAN: I believe they stayed there over night, Wolf.

BLITZER: From the -- they stayed there because the governor, that's where the governor came and gave the bad, awful news.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Of these 20 kids.

BOLDUAN: And it sounds -- it sounds like a cliche, a line that we keep saying, everyone is touched by this, but just another example I learned up today, as I was working on our story and we were driving around in areas outside of -- outside of Newtown.

I met a first responder from another town and he came here, he was here within 20 minutes, he has a grandchild in this school system, at Sandy Hook, and his wife is a school bus driver for the school system. So everyone is impacted outside. Everyone.

BLITZER: It's true. During his very, very powerful speech last night at this memorial, a vigil, the president read the names of the dead one by one saying God has called them all home. We've taken his words out of the pictures of the people he named.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let the little children come to me, Jesus said. And do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, 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.