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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Funerals Commence for Students Killed in School Shooting; President Visits Newtown, Connecticut

Aired December 17, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


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SOLEDAD 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.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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?

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O'BRIEN: And we may never, ever get an answer to that question, why. Good morning, and welcome to a special edition of STARTING POINT live from Newtown, Connecticut. I'm joined by "EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman. Today, Two 6-year-old boys will be buried and children across the country head back to school. Jack pinto, a little guy who loved New York Giants, and also Noah Pozner, the youngest of the 26 victims who died on Friday morning. He was a twin. His sister survived.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: His sister survived, still doesn't know how her twin brother died.

President Obama, of course, was here last night trying to bring comfort to the inconsolable, promised to use his powers, everything he can do as president to end this kind of madness.

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OBAMA: This is our first task, caring for our children. Can we truly say as a nation that we're meeting our obligations?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come down now. One, two, three, ready, and go. (SINGING)

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BERMAN: Today we're remembering the fallen, all of them. A little more about victims like this girl are you seeing right here, Ana Marquez-Greene, this little girl who loved to sing and write love letters to her parents. Of course, as we focus on the victims that will be our main focus, but we talk about the suspected shooter, how police say he got into the school and why he may have been targeting the Sandy Hook elementary school to begin with.

We start off telling you about the first of 20 funerals for children. Sandra Endo, today will be one of the toughest days, Sandra, as they try to put into words, make some kind of sense of these funerals of these little boys.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Soledad, the pain of this community being felt across the country. Last night, President Obama speaking to residents here in Newtown, offered words of comfort and support.

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OBAMA: I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. 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.

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ENDO: And President Obama also met with the victims' family members, and last night a tweet from 30-year-old daughter of the slain principal at Sandy Hook Elementary tweeted this, "My mom would be so proud to see president Obama holding her granddaughter, but not as proud as I am of her."

And today marks the first day of funerals for the days to come. This afternoon, six-year-old Noah Pozner will be laid to rest. Just turned six last month, and he is survived by his twin sister, whose family members say do not know exactly the way her brother died. Also being buried today, six-year-old Jack Pinto. He was a huge sports fan and one of his favorite stars was New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz on the field this weekend, paid tribute to Pinto, writing on his glove, "Today's game is for you, Jack." Soledad and John, back to you.

BERMAN: Such a moving tribute from Victor Cruz and there were trick out tributes all around the country from football teams. Today is the first day of funerals and for kids in Connecticut, the first day back to school, but not yet in Newtown. I want to know what are the plans for the Sandy Hook Elementary School itself?

ENDO: That's right, John. All schools in Newtown will be closed today. That's for staff to be able to talk to experts, to figure out how to deal with students in this aftermath of the tragedy. And tomorrow classes will resume except for at Sandy Hook Elementary. They are going to be accommodated by a neighboring school in a neighboring town. John, and Soledad.

BERMAN: Some of the kids will be getting back to school as soon as tomorrow, really, really quickly.

O'BRIEN: I imagine the routine would be better than keeping them out of school. I understand the idea of parents not wanting to let their children go anywhere near a school, but I think for kids, getting back to routine might be helpful.

BERMAN: That's right, getting kids back together important.

As this is happening, the police investigation into the massacre is in full swing.

O'BRIEN: Connecticut police have confirmed the identity of the gunman, the fact that he used a semiautomatic assault weapon to blast his way through. Alison Kosik has the latest. Alison, good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. We're getting a closer look at where the gunman lived with his mother Nancy, a very quiet, affluent neighborhood here in Sandy Hook. The house is a big house sitting on top of the hill with even a wreath above the front door.

We're also learning new details of how the gunman got into the school, despite the fact that the school had security, that it locked its doors at 9:30, had to be buzzed into the school. We are learning how many weapons he had on him and how much ammunition he was carrying.

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KOSIK: The gunman, Adam Lanza, fired dozens of bullets, using a semiautomatic weapon, using a pistol to kill himself.

LT. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: The weapon that was utilizes must of the time during this horrific crime has been identified as a Bushmaster AR-15 assault style weapon with high- capacity magazines, and, in addition, the subject had a glock .10 millimeter and .9 millimeter Sig Sauer. All weapons had additional magazines.

KOSIK: A fourth weapon was found in a car outside the school. We are learning more about the shooter's activities in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the second worst mass school shooting in U.S. history. The ATF confirmed to CNN Lanza visited a gun range. We do not know where or when. An ATF spokesperson also tells CNN his mother, Nancy Lanza, visited a shooting range multiple times. Her son also killed her. As for motive, authorities are still searching for answers.

VANCE: We're pleased with the work that's been done so far. I'm hoping that helps answer that question. We're pleased with the progress that we're making. This is a very long, tedious process.

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KOSIK: And federal agents are especially focusing on the weapons this gunman has, specifically they are visiting gun ranges and gun dealers in the area.

O'BRIEN: Yes, there is something like 400 gun dealers in a four-state area, four-county area and something like 30 gun ranges as well. Thanks Alison, appreciate the update.

I want to get to Zoraida Sambolin. Zoraida really focused on the victims of this tragedy. She has more to update us on. Zoraida?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I do, Soledad. I am at Treadwell park. Behind us is a soccer field. We're expecting a press conference at 9:00. We'll bring that to you. But you have to wonder, how many of these children, these victims and family members have actually enjoyed this park.

We want to focus on those little victims. Six-year-old charlotte bacon loved school and dresses. We're told, her hair a mass of beautiful red curls. We are remembering her this morning, as well as seven-year-old Daniel Barden, a budding athlete, a member of the swim team and avid soccer player. He really earned his ripped jeans and two missing front teeth.

Olivia Engel, her favorite stuffed animal was a lamb. Favorite colors pink and purple. A girl scout and involved in musical theater. She loved math and loved reading. Seven-year-old Josephine Gay liked to ride her bike in the street and set up her own lemonade stand every summer. She loved the color purple. And the principal of Sandy Hook, Dawn Hochsprung, 47 years old, she lived in Woodbury, Connecticut, with her husband, two daughters and three stepdaughters. These are just some of the victims that we want to introduce you to, their memories being honored in this community and across the country. Later this morning, we'll bring you the profiles of the rest of those who lost their lives on Friday. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Zoraida, I'm so glad you are doing that. It's so nice to learn more about the children and some of the victims. Sometimes we spend so much time on the suspect and all the investigation around the suspect. It's so much nicer to focus on those whose lives should be remembered.

We want to bring in Pastor Rocky Veach. He's with the Connections Church that's here in Newtown. It's great to have you with us.

ROCKY VEACH, PASTOR, CONNECTIONS CHURCH IN NEWTOWN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You were in Denver when Columbine happened, and you are a pastor here, father of five as well. What have you learned from living through the columbine experience that are you now able to apply here and you can help the people that are you pastoring?

VEACH: I think maybe just the general experience of going through it, understanding how it affects people, how it affects the community and trying to be there for people in the midst of that again. Just having gone through it, I think really that's the only thing. I don't think you can be prepared for it, especially to happen a second time. It's very shocking still.

O'BRIEN: I bet. You have been holding vigils. What do you tell people? As a pastor, I'm sure -- as reporters we ask this all the time. Why? This cannot be god's plan. This cannot be. This is just evil over good.

VEACH: It's not god's plan. Evil has a persona behind it. There is a devil. If you are Christian, you have to believe that. We try to approach it as pastors from the unseen realm. There are sometimes things going on in the unseen realm that is seen in the seen realm. That's why we pray.

BERMAN: This community doesn't want to be defined by this tragedy. How do you help them do that?

VEACH: Again, my job is helping them get in touch with the lord, get in touch with god, and then let the lord bring the lives of the people touched here, affected here, whatever to do in this town. My job is simple really. It's to get people to pray. Sometimes people have a hard time believing in god or seeing -- understanding why this happened. So we try to tell our parishioners and other people, why don't we pray? If we don't believe now, let's pretend like we do in prayer until we do. Let the lord have his hand in Newtown.

O'BRIEN: What was the most helpful thing for the people in Columbine, trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy, much as they are trying to figure it out here?

VEACH: I think good leadership in the community was seen there, in all of the same aspects as it's seen there. I think the churches came together, worked together for all of the people. I think they are doing that here. They are certainly trying to do that. If we can work together, think we'll see a good outcome.

O'BRIEN: Pastor Rocky Veach, we appreciate your time this morning.

VEACH: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: The shootings in Newtown have reignited the gun control debate. We'll hear from a children's health expert on the importance of improving safety at schools right after the massacre at Virginia Tech. What has been accomplished between then and now.

BERMAN: Right now we'll leave you with one of the most moving things I have seen on television, certainly late night children in years. The New York children's chorus singing "Silent Night" in tribute to the victims in this community on "Saturday Night Live."

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. As a nation grieves, experts are examining how the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school could have been prevented.

BERMAN: Dr. Irwin Redlener is head of Columbia University's Center for National Preparedness. He joins us to talk about this. Also president and cofounder of the children's health fund. Doctor, we talk to you normally after natural disasters. You talk about preparedness for all types of things. Preparing for natural disaster is one thing. Preparing for a school shooting seems to be a totally different type of thing. How do you prepare?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: It is incredibly difficult, and particularly when we talk about elementary schoolchildren. High schools is difficult enough, but in elementary schools, this is completely unchartered territory. So preparing means several concrete steps that need to be taken.

One is very serious control of entry into the schools. This has to be taken very seriously, and I think in most schools, they are starting to get that picture. Secondly, there has to be a very clear plan about what to do in the event of a situation like we experienced here. And in this situation, actually, the school seemed to be really quite amazingly prepared in terms of people knowing what they needed to do, having a lockdown procedure, and having the teachers be so extraordinarily, really heroic, in following the plan, in following their own judgment about what to do to protect as many kids as possible. And under the circumstances, they did really well.

But we really are in unchartered territory in figuring out exactly how much further we need to do. There has been people are mentioning whether we want school administrators being armed, which I don't agree with, or should there be a police presence? There are all sorts of issues now that will be brought up and a lot of discussion will take place before we come to a conclusion about what needs to be done here.

O'BRIEN: You testified in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings and talked about the loopholes in the gun laws that allowed a gunman that had a mental illness get access to weapons. And you talked about not quite loopholes, but obstacles to getting help for people who have problems with mental illness.

REDLENER: It's actually a terrible challenge. Of all of the issues with access to health care generally, one of the most difficult things to get access to is competent mental health care when you need it. And for a lot of people and a lot of people in America, including in our own families and neighborhoods who have all sorts of issues involving psychological or behavioral problems, and it is difficult, there is a stigma attached that you have a problem enough to see somebody. We have to get over this stigma.

And when we need mental health providers, it's not so easy to get it, particularly true for people who aren't so affluent. Who have financial troubles, not covered by insurance, and so forth. Again, in this situation we have somebody honestly very disturbed for a long period of time most likely -- we don't know all of the details yet -- who had the resources in the family no question the help need. But even when that's the case, you have to talk somebody into, make sure they get the help they need and sometimes that's impossible to do. We have to really figure that out as well.

O'BRIEN: And the two things intercept, it's deadly, someone who becomes unhinged, combined with easy access to weapons.

REDLENER: And a country with 280 million weapons, and a lot of people with all sorts of issues from a mental health point of view. It's a toxic mix. And it's very, very rare, I had say. Rarely we'll see this horrible outcome, like the disaster we saw in Connecticut a few days ago.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Irwin Redleder, we appreciate your insight.

Ahead this morning, we'll meet the family of Victoria Soto. She is a brave teacher that died saving many of her students.

BERMAN: Live from Newtown, back in a moment.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT as we follow the latest on the tragic school shooting, we're also tracking the rest of your top stories this morning. Police in Bristol, Connecticut, arrested a student for allegedly making a threat online against Bristol High School. Authorities did not reveal the nature of the threat but said no one was in any danger. Bristol is about 30 miles from Newtown, Connecticut.

Later today, the State Department is about to get the results of an independent review board on the terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Congress will receive the report Wednesday and will be briefed by board members. Hearings and testimony in the House and Senate start Thursday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was supposed to testify, but she is recovering from a fainting spell and concussion. She'll be working from home.

Football took a back seat on Sunday as the Giants Victor Cruz honored one of the Newtown shooting victims, six-year-old Jack Pinto. Jack Pinto was a big, big fan. Victor Cruz wrote the boy's name on his cleats and gloves. The team wore decals on their helmets for Sandy Hook elementary school. The first grader may be buried in Cruz' number 80 jersey.

Potential progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Yesterday a source family with talks says house speaker John Boehner has offered to extend the debt limit for a year. That is the amount the government can legally borrow. It stands at 16.4 trillion. Raising it requires an act of Congress which Republicans strongly oppose. The news comes one day after Boehner had opposed higher tax rates for those making less than $1 million. President Obama wants to raise taxes for those making more than $250,000.

U.S. stock futures this morning mixed, all eyes remain on whether lawmakers can seal a deal. Many economists, including the Federal chief Ben Bernanke, saying it this could pull the economy back into recession.

O'BRIEN: That would be awful. Christine, thank you very much.

Still ahead on our special edition of STARTING POINT coming to you live from Newtown, Connecticut. There are some who say if a teacher had been armed inside the elementary school, maybe this tragedy could have been prevented, that is what many gun advocates has been suggesting. Ahead we'll talk to John Lott, who think that current gun laws shouldn't be strengthened, they should be tossed out.

BERMAN: Plus, she died trying to protect her first grade students. We'll hear from Victoria Soto's family. That coming up next on STARTING POINT.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You are watching a special edition of STARTING POINT coming to you live this morning from Newtown, Connecticut. This community will bury two six-year-old boys today. It's the first of more than two dozen funerals that this town has to endure after Friday's massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school. The plan for surviving students is to return them to class as soon as possible. They will eventually use the Chalk Hill School in Monroe, Connecticut about seven miles from here.

BERMAN: People nationwide are paying respects with the twitter campaign, urging everyone to wear green and white today. Those were -- those are Sandy Hook school colors. President Obama was here, consoling grief-stricken parents and bringing them a message.

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OBAMA: I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.

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BERMAN: Our main focus is on the victims, but we are also learning more about the gunman today. A relative says he was pulled out of the Newtown school system by his mother, who was unhappy with their plans for her troubled son.