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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Newtown Mourns; Remembering Dawn Hochsprung; Boehner Offers Debt Limit Extension; SC Governor to Announce DeMint's Replacement

Aired December 17, 2012 - 08:00   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, CNN ANCHOR (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.

GOV. DAN MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: 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 forget about that unforgettable Friday morning, but the ultimate question remains: why did it happen?

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, everyone. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live this morning from Newtown, Connecticut, and I'm joined by EARLY START co-anchor John Berman.

There are two 6-year-old boys who will be laid to rest this morning as children across the country will be heading back for class.

Funerals are scheduled for Jack Pinto, little guy who loved the New York Giants. He's on the left there.

And Noah Pozner, he was the youngest of the 26 victims who died inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. He was a twin. His sister survived.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": President Obama was in town last night, first trying to comfort the grieving in private, and then publicly promising to use his powers as president to stop these unspeakable acts.

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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: Swing it around. OK.

KIDS: Come now Almighty King. One, two, three, ready and go. Come now Almighty King --

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BERMAN: We will be remembering the fallen all morning. You're going to get to know more about all the victims, like Ana Marquez-Greene, this adorable little girl who loved to sing and write love letters to her parents.

O'BRIEN: It's brutal to look at these pictures and know what's happened to these children in that school. It's horrible.

BERMAN: Beautiful, beautiful little girl.

And, you know, our focus -- we do want to be on the victims as much as possible, but there is new information about the suspected shooter, how police say he got into the school and why he may have chosen the Sandy Hook Elementary School as his target.

O'BRIEN: As we told you, 20 funerals for 20 children, the first of which will be held today in Newtown. There are two funerals being held.

Sandra Endo is outside the church in the community has more on this for us. Hey, Sandra. Good morning.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. The pain of this community being felt across the country. And, last night, President Obama speaking to residents here at Newtown, offering words of comfort and support and also offering condolences from across the nation.

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OBAMA: As a community, you've inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you've looked out for each other. You've cared for one another. And you've loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time and God's grace, that love will see you through.

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ENDO: The president also met with victims' family members, and last night the daughter, the 30-year-old daughter of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung wrote this tweet. "My mom would be so proud to see President Obama holding her granddaughter, but not as proud as I am of her."

And again, two funerals today, one for 6-year-old Noah Pozner, and another for 6-year-old Jack Pinto. Eighteen more funerals for the children of Friday's tragedy in the days to come.

And the schools here in Newtown will be closed today, as staff talk to experts to figure out how to deal with this tragedy and how to talk to students. The students at Sandy Hook Elementary, they will remain out of school until the neighboring school could accommodate these students, and that will be figured out in the days to come -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Sandra Endo for us this morning -- thank you, Sandra. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: The investigation into this massacre is a painstaking process. It's being conducted around the clock right now by the Connecticut State Police.

As they gathered the evidence, police have now positively identified Adam Lanza as the gunman. They also confirmed that he did, in fact, kill himself.

What we don't know yet is precisely why he targeted the Sandy Hook School and all those 20 innocent children inside.

O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik has the latest on the investigation for us. She's outside the suspect's home this morning with more. Alison, good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. We are getting a closer look at where Adam Lanza lived with his mother Nancy at the house right behind me, up on the hill. It almost looks picture perfect with a wreath over the front door there.

We're also learning new details of how this gunman got into the school, knowing that you had to be buzzed in as of 9:30, that the doors were locked as of 9:30, that he shot his way into the school. We're also learning how many weapons he had with him and how much ammunition he was carrying as well.

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KOSIK (voice-over): The gunman, Adam Lanza, fired dozens of bullets using a semiautomatic rifle on his victims, leaving a pistol to kill himself.

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, and in addition to that, the subject had in his possession a Glock 10 millimeter, Sig Sauer 9 millimeter, both weapons, all weapons had multiple magazines and additional ammunition.

KOSIK: A fourth weapon, a shotgun, was found in his car parked outside the school. And as authorities continue to focus their effort on the school crime scene, we're learning more about the shooter's activities in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the second worst mass shooting in history.

The ATF confirmed to CNN that Lanza visited a gun range. We do not know where or when. An ATF spokeswoman 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 continue chasing lots of leads, trying to figure out what this gunman was up to in those days, weeks, and months before this shooting. They're visiting as many as 30 gun ranges and hundreds of gun dealers in the area -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik for us.

The Lieutenant Vance from the state police described it, Alison, as peeling back the layers of the onion. We can see in your report there's still a lot that they need to dig into, maybe some questions they may be able to answer even ultimately. Thank you for that report.

I want to get to Stephen Barton. Steven was hit by 25 shotgun pellets in his face, his neck, and his chest. It happened during the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting back in July. You might remember that 12 people were killed, 58 people wounded on that day.

Now, Stephen currently works as an outreach and policy associate for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He also lives just about 10 minutes from here. You've had so much interaction with guns in a terrible way from sort of your hometown to what you experienced in Aurora, Colorado.

STEPHEN BARTON, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I want to start by playing a little bit of what the president said in the vigil from last night. Listen.

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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.

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O'BRIEN: He said law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents -- all of them need to come together to do something. Have you been disappointed in what the president has done so far?

BARTON: I mean, certainly. We have basically heard the same message after Aurora, after Tucson, and those words weren't followed by any action. I mean, he spoke more forcefully last night, but, you know, it remains to be seen if anything will actually come of those words. O'BRIEN: What would you like to see? I mean, if you could write legislation and get it passed tomorrow, what would it include?

BARTON: Well, I mean, the easiest way to start reducing the number of deaths by guns in this country is by just requiring a background check for every gun sale. Currently, 40 percent of guns sold in this country under federal law aren't subject to a background check. I mean, there's been a lot of talk about high cap magazines, assault weapons.

But if you want to reduce the 34 Americans murdered with guns every single day, background checks are the easiest way to do that and the simplest way to do that.

BERMAN: "The New York Times" is reporting that after the shooting in Aurora, that was something that was discussed. The Justice Department did put together a list of things that could be done. It was just never brought up or presented as something to enact. Is that frustrating to you?

BARTON: Definitely. Especially when you consider it's a measure that enjoys wide support in the public, even among NRA gun owners.

O'BRIEN: It would not have helped in this case, though. We know that these guns in this particular case, in this tragedy, which is what has really, I think, kind of grabbed people's attention finally, if you will, that would not have made a difference, to be honest.

BARTON: Yes, and that's the unfortunate reality of having guns in a free society is that we can't stop all violent acts. But there are some pretty easy measures that are agreed upon by many people, such as having background checks. And that, I think, is a starting point. And then beyond that, I mean, we can have discussions. That to me is the best way to do this.

O'BRIEN: Steven Barton, thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it. We saw a lot from the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. They've really been leveraging off this issue to make their position known and maybe get some traction for some of their issues.

BARTON: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate your time this morning. I want to get right back to Zoraida Sambolin. She's been covering the details of the victims, as John's been mentioning all morning, we really wanted to focus on those who lost their lives and not on the name of the shooter, the killer.

Let's get right to Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": It's been really great to be able to know these kids a little bit better and some of the adults also who lost their lives. I want to mention where I'm at. I'm at Treadwell Park, and this is where most of the press conferences are taking place. We know that state police, we're expecting to hear from them somewhere around 9:00 or 9:30 Eastern. And if you look behind me, you'll see it's light out now. It's a soccer field. And you can't help but wonder how many of these little victims and their families have spent time playing in this very park where we are now.

So, we are remembering 7-year-old Grace McDonnell. Little Grace McDonnell. She loved wearing pink and playing dress up with jewelry. She also loved art, gymnastics and soccer, Grace McDonnell.

Emilie Parker, age 6. Her father said she could light up a room. She was a mentor to her two younger sisters, ages 3 and 4.

Six-year-old Jack Pinto, an avid wrestler with the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association and a big New York Giants fan. His funeral is being held today.

Noah Pozner, he's also 6 years old. His aunt says he had a huge heart and was so much fun, a bit rambunctious with lots of spirit. He was really the light of a room. He will also be laid to rest today.

Then there is 6-year-old Caroline Previdi. Her efforts to make people laugh earned her the nickname "Silly Caroline".

And then there's 30-year-old Lauren Rousseau, a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary. Her mother said Lauren wanted to be a teacher before she even went to kindergarten.

And later this hour, we'll bring you more profiles of more of the Newtown school shooting victims.

It's so nice to be able to get to know them a bit, John and Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We so appreciate you doing a nice remembrance of the little bit that we know. Some of these victims, 6 and 7-year-olds, it is. It's nice as we get to hear more about the children and less about the shooter in this case.

BERMAN: She said one of the kids earned the rips and the tears in his jeans. I just love that imagery.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we're going to tell you about a CNN exclusive honoring Dawn Hochsprung. We'll hear from the family of the Sandy Hook principal. She gave her life while trying to protect her students. A report on that, straight ahead. And then --

BERMAN: And "Saturday Night Live" did an incredible tribute honoring the lives of those lost in the Newtown massacre. I want to leave you right now with the New York City Children's Chorus. They opened the show with "Silent Night."

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. I want to tell you this morning about the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She was appointed just two years ago, and on Friday, just before she was killed, Dawn Hochsprung tried to subdue the gunman.

BERMAN: CNN's Gary Tuchman spoke exclusively with her family as they now honor her memory.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN 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: She was an assistant principal at our school (INAUDIBLE), 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: You asked her to marry you, but she turned you down.

HOCHSPRUNG: Five times.

TUCHMAN: So, what happened the sixth time?

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

TUCHMAN: Indeed, George had been popping the question on a sailboat they bought together.

HOCHSPRUNG: We got married on a sloop out of 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're a blended but very close family with 11 grandchildren.

HOCHSPRUNG: The one I built a 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'm much older than Dawn. It was going to be dawn's house. Dawn's grandchildren and all these children could use the house on the lake, and it'd be wonderful.

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

TUCHMAN: But 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: Yes. 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.

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

HOCHSPRUNG: The kids came up with a computer and said something is happening at Sandy Hook School, and your wife's 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. 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 at her. I'm not angry. I'm just very sad. And they said, we're 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 killer. I don't know where that comes from. Dawn was, what, 5'2".

TUCHMAN: Everyone here is 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.

Final thing I want to ask you is, what would you say to your mom right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come back. Just come back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (on-camera): They are such a kind, wonderful family. We're so grateful they allowed us into their home to spend the time with them. Of the five daughters, two of them live here in Connecticut. Three of them, one of them lives in Pennsylvania, one in new Hampshire, one in London, but they all stayed together with their father for the time being, strength in numbers.

You know what's really amazing to me, it's almost 18 years ago we had the Oklahoma City bombing. Nineteen children were killed in the Oklahoma City many bombing, a total of 168 people. Bill Clinton came. There was a service like last night. It was such traumatic deja vu for me experiencing that and seeing the same thing all over again. It's so depressing.

BERMAN: You could see the love in that family, but also, the admiration that they had for Dawn Hochsprung.

TUCHMAN: They loved her. They were so proud of her, and they just wanted that story to get out. And I hope we did it justice.

O'BRIEN: You did it great justice, Gary. Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you so much.

Ahead this morning, he spoke with the parents of one of the Columbine shooters. Why do some young men become mass murderers? We're going to have our special coverage live from Newtown, Connecticut. We'll continue in a moment.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: 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.

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ROMANS (voice-over): Late word from Bristol, Connecticut. Only about 30 miles from the scene of the Newtown massacre, police telling us they've arrested a student for allegedly making a threat against Bristol Central High School. Authorities not revealing the nature of the threat, but they said that no one was in any danger.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will announce in just a few hours who she will appoint to replace retiring Senator Jim DeMint. A news conference scheduled for noon. DeMint is leaving the Senate next month to head up a conservative think-tank.

Potential progress in fiscal cliff negotiations. Yesterday, a source familiar with the talks told CNN that House Speaker John Boehner has offered to extend the debt limit for a year as part of a deficit reduction deal. The debt ceiling, the amount the government can borrow, stands at $16.4 trillion, raising it requires an act of Congress, which Republicans strongly oppose.

That news came one day after a source said Boehner had offered to raise tax rates on those Americans with annual incomes over $1 million.

U.S. stock futures slightly higher this morning. Can lawmakers strike a deal to avoid those $7 trillion in tax increases and spending cuts over the next decade? Going over the cliff is something economists, including Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke, say could pull the economy back into recession. Now, markets, so far this year, are behaving as if we won't go over the cliff.

The S&P 500 is up almost 12.5 percent this year. Historically, December has been the strongest month for stocks since 1950 with markets usually experience what's known as a Santa Claus rally. However, this year, of course, markets hinge on those fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington -- Soledad, John.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thanks. Ahead on the special edition of STARTING POINT coming to you from Newtown, Connecticut, what causes a young man to become so violent and kill innocent people? A psychology professor who studied mass shootings interviewed the family of one of the Columbine killers. We'll talk about what he discovered.

BERMAN: And, she died trying to save her room full of first graders. Vicki Soto's family talks about this heroic young woman when we return.

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