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Funerals Commence for Children Killed in School Shooting; Psychology Professor Discusses Possible Causes of Mass Shootings; The Conversation on Gun Control

Aired December 17, 2012 - 08:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. And we're coming to you live from Newtown, Connecticut. Two little boys, just 6 years old, they'll be buried today. They're the first of the more than two dozen funerals that folks in this town will have to endure after Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The plan for all the surviving students is to return them to class as soon as possible, but they won't be going back to Sandy Hook, which is at this moment a crime scene school. They're going to use the school in Monroe, Connecticut, which is roughly seven miles away from Newtown.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Young people nationwide are paying their respects this morning with a twitter campaign urging everyone to wear green and white today. Green and white, Sandy Hook's school colors.

Last night President Obama was here. In private he consoled grief- stricken parents, and publicly he offered this message of consolation.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.


BERMAN: Our primary focus, of course, is on the victims today, but we are learning more about the gunman this morning. A relative says that he was pulled out of school, out of the Newtown school system by his mother, who was somehow unhappy with their plans for her troubled son, and she decided to home school him instead, some years ago obviously. Newtown, Connecticut, mourns the loss of 27 of their own. The investigation into the shooter and what drove him to commit such unspeakable acts. It does continue.

O'BRIEN: James Garbarino is a psychology professor at Loyola Law School and also the author of "Lost Boys, How our Sons Turn Violent and How you can Save Them." You look back at who does these kinds of mass murders, usually they're young, they're men, they're suburban. What else can you tell us that's a thread among those who perpetrate these crimes?

JAMES GARBARINO, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY: After the fact, it seems much clearer than before it actually happened. These young men, these boys are building a tower of blocks. Each block contributes to them getting to this point. It's not the result of any one block, but usually temperamentally they're particularly sensitive, a little bit odd. They experience social rejection. They experience isolation.

But also they prepare for this. They play violent video games that get them ready psychologically, even technically. Then they get fixated on this delusion, this idea that somehow this grandiose act of violence will make their lives resolved, that it will deal with their profound sadness, it will give back to the world something that they feel has been done to them.

It doesn't make sense from the outside, but all of these killers inside, all of the killers, inside this makes sense to them. When they actually commit the act, they may come to their senses and become lucid, which is one reason why they often kill themselves.

BERMAN: Can we talk about the video games? You brought this up because in these discussions we invariably get to this notion of violent video games. In your research, in your talks with these kids, what kind of role have you seen that they play?

GARBARINO: Well, they pretty clearly break down impediments to killing. Most people have a sort of barrier, but the video game, and military psychologists have found this, when you have the point and shoot video game, it breaks down that inhibition against killing and provides a practice. And I think for some of these kids it's almost as if they're living out these violent video games when they commit the act.

Of course, that by itself is not sufficient to produce this. Many of these other things have to be present, including access to real weapons. No society that makes semiautomatic rifles available shouldn't be surprised when people act out these delusional scenarios in this violent way because most of the video games, that's exactly the kind of weapon they practice on.

O'BRIEN: The family of Dylan Klebold from Columbine granted you the only interview. And I'm curious to know if what they told you provides any insight into what happened here. And granted, we don't know a lot about the shooter. We know almost less, if you will, about his mother, who he was living with and who also was a victim and also a gun collector. Do you see any kind of thread or information from the other case in Columbine that would provide some insight in this case?

GARBARINO: Well, it's hard to say much to respect their privacy and confidentiality, but I have spoken with other kids who didn't commit this but on the verge of doing it, a boy who brought guns and bombs to school intent upon one of these kinds of actions.

And I think that, if there is a common thread, it's that the parents are not necessarily oblivious to what's going on, but they don't quite understand the full dimensions of it. These are children often who have been a little odd or a little unusual since they were very young, and parents love them. Of course, these are parents who typically have the resources to sort of keep their children afloat through childhood and into adolescence. A boy like this who grew up in an inner city, poor neighborhood would probably sort of break down by the time he was in elementary school. But these kids are kept afloat, and it gives them an opportunity as teenagers to develop these delusional ideas to get fixated on them, to practice with the video games, and then to find access to these weapons.

So the common element is that they're acting out an American scenario that is promoted to them through the movies, through video games, through the culture. I spoke with one boy who had studied the Columbine massacre as a sort of primer on how to go about doing this.

BERMAN: I'm really curious about something you said there. You said you talked to boys who were on the verge of doing this crime. What stops them? How do you get them not to go to that awful place?

GARBARINO: One of these boys actually went to school, and a couple of teenage girls noticed he seemed a little off that day. They called the campus police officer. He intervened. What the boy said was he didn't want to kill these girls so he surrendered rather than go forward.

He also said something very interesting, which was he didn't have the social support of somebody else sort of pushing him forward in this, which, of course, the boys in Columbine had. They had each other. He even said that. He said they had each other, and he didn't have enough to go forward.

Now, this boy who did this, this terrible thing in Connecticut, we don't know, we may never know. The fact that he killed his mother suggests that he had some sort of rage that was part of this fixation and that his mother was somehow tied up in this idea that he had, that he had to pay back against the world in a way that, if he were alive today, even he might see how crazy that seems.

O'BRIEN: James Garbarino, thanks so much for the insight on this. I find the commonality thread and the work you've done really, really fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

I want to get right back to Zoraida Sambolin. She's been looking more at the victims in this case, to give us insight into their lives, their short lives in some cases. Zoraida?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": I'm actually at Treadwell Park. This is where most of the press conferences take place, and we're expecting one by state police somewhere around 9:00 or 9:30 Eastern. And we're monitoring that. Of course, we're going to have it for you.

But yes, Soledad, we are remembering the victims. We'll start here remembering Jessica Rekos this morning. The six-year-old loved everything about horses and asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat. Her family promised that she could get her own horse when she turned 10 yards old.

Avielle Richman, age six -- this little girl loved to read. Her favorite books were the Harry Potter series and her favorite color was red. Her summertime hobby was archery because of the movie "Brave."

Little Benjamin Wheeler, also six years old. His rabbi said, quote, "There's always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved. That was Ben Wheeler."

Six-year-old Allison Wyatt. She's described as a quiet, shy, and loving little girl. Allison loved to garden with her mom and was always outside in the summer. Rachel Davino, 29 years old, one of the six adults, all women, killed by the shooter at Sandy Hook elementary. She loved karate, cooking, animals, photography, and her two younger siblings.

And 56-year-old Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist, she lived in Trumbull, Connecticut, with her husband. She enjoyed gardening, reading, and going to the theater.

And then there's 27-year-old first grade teacher Victoria Soto, the oldest of four children, she loved her dog Roxie. She also wrote she loved flamingos and the New York Yankees. Soto spent her final moments shielding her students from harm, hiding them in a closet before the gunman entered her classroom. And her mother says that does not surprise her one bit.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was truly selfless. She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children. She loved them more than life, and 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 Vicki that she did this.


SAMBOLIN: Soto's mother says that teaching is all Vicki ever wanted to do. Ever since she was 3 years old, she knew that was her calling.

To find out how you can help those affected by the tragedy, go to, a lot of options for you on how you can help these grieving families.

Soledad and John, I know the two of you can relate to this whole concept as parents. We know we would take a bullet for these kids, but all of these educators in that school that day treated these children like they were their own. It's something you would never expect. You certainly would want to know what happened for your child, but it just breaks your heart.

O'BRIEN: It has been amazing, I think, the degree to which teachers were heroes in this and also the law enforcement officials. When you think about the scene that they had to work in and deal with and how they were telling those children as they were leading them out, close your eyes so you won't see anything around you. That's just horrific. That's horrific. Thank you, Zoraida. We appreciate that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to go back to Deepak Chopra and talk about what it takes to get through a tragedy like this and find any inner peace, whether it's for an individual or a community. He'll be with us in just a little bit.

BERMAN: And this question, is it time finally to tighten our gun laws? We're going to talk to the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. We'll be right back.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We're back this morning with Deepak Chopra. We're live in Newtown, Connecticut. I know a lot of the things that we've discussed over the past years has been about sort of finding an inner peace, and I always wonder how people here will ever be able to do that.

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "SUPER BRAIN": Well in a time like this, in the midst of crisis, we will naturally tend to come together to support each other, to listen to each other, to pray with each other, to grieve. They go through a cycle of denial, anger, and then ultimately they do recover. That's the interesting thing. In two years most people will have recovered.

O'BRIEN: When you say recover, what do you mean by that? I mean I think if you've lost a six year old --


CHOPRA: Well, they move on -- they move on to a normal or relatively normal life. Some will never recover. Some will get post-traumatic stress disorder and will need actually very specific treatments for that. The bigger question is, are we going to be doing this show again in three months? You know unless we take action.


O'BRIEN: Another tragedy.

CHOPRA: Another tragedy.

BERMAN: So much of what you talk about -- I'm fascinated by your writing and what we talk about, is how to be present, to not get too worked up about the past or the future. But how can you be truly present in a situation like this when the past -- the immediate past is so horrifying?

CHOPRA: You can't for the most part, but you should try to because, if you do, you will look for creative solutions. Otherwise, you'll get caught up in the emotional drama of it, which is obviously very much needed also. Because unless you have that anger right now, unless you have the rage right now, we might miss the opportunity to do something about it. In fact, you mentioned a Twitter campaign for people to wear green and white. Why not a Twitter campaign for all of those watching us to look at gun laws again, to look at gun control. If the collective voice of the people speaks right now in the midst of this crisis, something will happen.

O'BRIEN: I think for a lot of people who are watching, not here in Newtown, Connecticut, what do they do? I mean do you, do you do you give money? It's a relatively affluent community.

CHOPRA: Well you huddle together. You make people feel safe.


O'BRIEN: So you send messages?

CHOPRA: Their safety -- you send messages. You're there, you congregate together. You go to church together. You pray together. And you help each other.

You know this moment, there's nothing more than the coming together of people and actually also getting in touch with their grief because if you don't want to get in touch with their grief it's only going to fester there into some kind of illness.

O'BRIEN: Do you find that people recover faster when they get involved in a project around an issue? For example, raising money for communities that need money or fighting for gun laws, if that's how they're so moved?

CHOPRA: They do, but there's a timing to it. If you immediately get involved in something like that, you're actually might be even in denial of the pain that you're feeling. So you should feel the pain because, if you don't feel the pain, it festers.

BERMAN: You say pain, you brought rage. You brought up anger. Is it ok to feel all those things?

CHOPRA: Yes, it is. At this moment, it is.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Deepak Chopra, it's nice to have you with us this morning. We appreciate it.

There are many gun advocates who think the Newtown tragedy could have been prevented if someone inside the school like a teacher had been armed. Is that really the case? We're going to talk this morning with the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- that's coming up next.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. In light of this tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, is it time to address our nation's gun laws? Many people say we need to do something. In fact we need to do it now --


BERMAN: One of the people saying it most loudly is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY: This should be his number one agenda. He's the President of the United States, and if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns. That is roughly the number of Americans killed in the whole Vietnam War.


O'BRIEN: Mark Glaze is the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Thank you for joining us this morning.


BERMAN: Mark you heard the Mayor right there. Obviously, this is an issue you are passionate about. So what are your going to do about this right now? What is your next action?

GLAZE: Well it turns out there's a lot you can do to stop not just mass shootings like this that are so terrible and immediate that they make the headlines, but also the 34 Americans who were killed every day in this country with guns. And the top three are we think these -- first of all 40 percent of the people in this country never get a background check when they buy a gun. We think that everybody who buys a gun should get a check. And that's something 74 percent of NRA members agree with.

Secondly, you have to take a hard look at these assault weapons and the high capacity magazines that make it possible to murder a large number of people in a very short amount of time without reloading.

And third there has to be a federal trafficking stature -- right now there is not -- that imposes real penalties for straw purchasing where people who can buy a gun because they have a clean record buy for people who can't and as a result, lots of guns end up in criminal hands.

BERMAN: But these are -- these are many of the things we do hear about frequently as we've covered way too many of these tragedies. I guess my question to you is after Christmas, when it gets back to the New Year, when the legislators come back, will this emotion still be palpable and how do you intend to affect this change to make it happen?

GLAZE: I think this is different. You know there are moments that most of us are old enough to have lived through, and it feels like something changed. I know I felt that way after the Oklahoma City bombing. Everybody felt that way after 9/11. And on the issue of gun violence, with this escalating and rapidly quickening series of mass shootings, I think the country has reached a point where it recognizes the scope of the problem.

And is ready, not just to move against the kind of problems that cause mass shootings like this to dominate the headlines, but to deal with the kinds of problems, once the cameras leave, that murder 34 people every day. And those murders are normally not done with assault rifles. They're done with handguns. And more and more often, the kind of junk handguns that are increasingly popular on city streets.

O'BRIEN: I guess I'm curious to know, if you think that something is likely to happen. I mean, we -- both John and I, and I'm sure you've been through this too, you say you feel like something's different but the NRA is a very powerful lobby. And there is a reason that they give a lot of money to people in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, frankly, who support what they believe which is -- they are very much against any kind of strong ban on weapons. How -- how much of a fight you're going to have with the NRA, which is well- funded.

GLAZE: Well -- two points about that, Soledad, and the Mayor made one of them on television yesterday. One of them is there's a big difference between NRA members and what they want and the NRA lobbyists in Washington and what they want. 74 percent of NRA members think everybody should get a background check. That's something 82 percent of gun owners think. 71 percent of NRA members think that, if you're on a terror watch list and you couldn't board an airplane with me this morning when I flew to New York, you shouldn't be able to have a gun.

So there's a big difference between what the rank and file think and what the NRA leadership thinks. And I think the leadership is going to start hearing from their rank and file that they actually want to be represented.

The second thing is you know the NRA has developed this reputation for being an awesome political force because they give a lot of money to a lot of different candidates, and there hasn't been much political giving on our side of this issue, where we think we should support the Second Amendment, but also do a lot more to keep guns out of the wrong hands. I think that is changing. I think Mayor Bloomberg will help but we need a lot more people to get involved.

But if we look at the electoral history of the NRA, the number of political races, where they have had a real and arguably dispositive influence on the race, it's a handful, you it's -- it's much more than it's cracked up to be, and I think members of Congress are going to have to realize that and start acting in the best interests of the country.

O'BRIEN: There are some people who might dispute your math on that actually. I think there are plenty of people who -- who might say, maybe not demonstrated impact on race, but that's certainly, that the NRA helped -- helped the person win in a closely contested race. I'm not sure everybody would agree with you on that.

Mark Glaze is the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Thank you for talking with us this morning, I would be curious to follow your actions to see exactly what is done and what tangible differences are made.

GLAZE: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: As once again we move from this tragedy to other tragedies.

GLAZE: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, sir. You bet.

Still ahead this morning, a special moment during last night's vigil as the President was honoring the victims of the Newtown shooting. We'll take a look at that.


O'BRIEN: And as we wrap up our coverage here from Newtown, Connecticut, we're going to leave you this morning with a very powerful moment.

BERMAN: Listen as the President honored all of the lives lost on Friday.


OBAMA: 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.