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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

School Shooting Kills 20 Children and Six Adults; Latest Press Conference From CT State Police; Pundits Debate Gun Control Legislation

Aired December 15, 2012 - 10:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we're on the scene really, roughly I'd say about a half mile, if you were, to cut through the woods behind me and over that hill, to get to the elementary school where all of this happened. We know that not only was the school an active crime scene as we're being told, but the temporary morgue has been delivered here up from New York City to help out in the processing of the more than two dozen bodies that are the aftermath of this crime.

We also know that there are investigations happening nearby because of the mother of the shooter was killed as well. And we also know that there's investigations into the weaponry that was used. We know three weapons were used, two pistols and one semiautomatic rifle. So we continue to follow this story here. And we will update you on the latest.

We know more, too, about some of the victims. Nick Valencia has been covering that part of the story for us, because police have a new statement about this crime. He is at the center of our news-gathering operations in Atlanta. Nick, can you give me the latest on that?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Soledad. As you mentioned, we're still waiting and standing by for what was scheduled to be an 8:00 a.m. press conference by local police. Meanwhile, they've issued this press release. State police has put out a statement further confirming, in fact, the timeline that we've been reporting all morning. They say the first call from Sandy Hook elementary school came in at about 9:30 this morning. Newtown police department immediately requested the assistance of state police. In fact, they knew right away the tragedy and scope and magnitude of the tragedy that they had on their hands.

Upon arrival, troopers and officers, the statement says, immediately entered the school where they found several students and staff, Soledad, suffering from gunshot wounds at the front of the building. And 18 children, 18 children were pronounced dead at the scene. Two were transported to neighboring Danbury hospital, where they were pronounced dead there. And as we've been reporting this morning, six adults were also killed, 26 souls in all perished yesterday at Sandy Hook elementary school.

Another detail that we're learning from this is that each family, Soledad, each victim's family has been assigned a trooper or officer. The statement reads, to establish and maintain an open line of communication. The press release goes on to state that the families have requested that we not contact them. They're requesting that we not call them, no press interviews from the family, which probably explains a little about the difficulty that we've had all morning trying to get in touch with some of those family members.

But they also say in this press release, Soledad, a second crime scene we know now, that's where the shooter's mother was killed at a second crime scene there in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. But again, this just in, this press release from state police further confirming the timeline of what we know so far about what happened early Friday -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Several bodies have now been moved to the morgue. It was one of the more disturbing details that we got yesterday in the press conference when we were talking to Lieutenant Vance, the one who's been giving us the bulk of the information. He was telling us because it was an active crime scene that all the bodies would remain where they had fallen.

So that is a big step forward I guess in this investigation to at least have those bodies moved to the morgue and have the next of kin notified and have I guess confirmation for people who were still wondering the very worst about their loved ones. Nick Valencia with an update for us this morning.

Thank you, Nick, we appreciate it.

We also know that in that latest release, they confirmed what we're certain to know. Of course we're waiting for the press conference, that they said that they would be doing the press conference sometime after 10:00 eastern time. So obviously as the minutes tick by, they're now waiting to see when they'll do that.

Lots of questions, though, remain. We're hoping they can answer some questions in the upcoming press conference. Why would the shooter come to an elementary school? It makes no sense. It really does boggle the mind. It's hard to imagine why anyone would target some small children.

It is hard to understand what the parents were going through as they got a robocall telling them to come to the school. The school had been locked down. Telling them that there had been a shooting. You cannot put your mind around what parents were thinking as they pulled up to the school. And they would see ambulances streaming in, as well. And they knew that it was here and that it was very, very bad. And I can't even think about what it would mean to tell your children that their principal has been shot and killed, and the school psychologist has been shot and killed. I want to play a little bit of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK PHELPS, PARENT OF TWO CHILDREN AT SANDY HOOK: When I saw those teachers, when I found the two children and -- we're devastated and heartbroken for the poor families who did not have that moment in the fire house of finding their children. I can't even imagine, and our prayers -- just the entire community's heartbroken. When I saw the teachers and locked eyes with each of them separately, I found the two children, if I could go back, I would -- I would embrace them, because I had no idea what they had gone through. But it was -- it was actually handled very well because I can't imagine the pandemonium that would have been gone on in the fire house from the parents searching for their children. If anybody there had any idea of the level of what had happened yesterday, people just simply didn't know really what was going on. They just knew that their children had been in a dangerous place, and that they -- that those that made it to the fire house were, thank god, safe.

O'BRIEN: What will you tell your son, who's a first grader? What will you tell your daughter who's a third grader? Do they have any idea of the scope of how bad it is?

LAURA PHELPS, PARENT OF TWO CHILDREN AT SANDY HOOK: You know, I think they do more than they're letting on. We haven't said much, it's -- this is shocking. So we're -- this is new to us. And we're definitely going to talk to counselors today over at the Reed school. We're going to live at our church at St. Rose and learn what to say before we say it. It's really tricky. And for my third grader, little bits and pieces are coming out now.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like she's not talking as much about it.

LAURA PHELPS: No. Little things are coming out now where she -- she heard a lot. They all heard and saw things that our children should not hear or see. They know that it was a bad man. And we said we're just coming to talk to people. They want to know what happened at Sandy Hook. They don't know -- they don't know that they've lost their friends, their principal.

NICK PHELPS: It's become apparent that our six-year-old has lost close friends. And he's very unaware of that now. We don't know exactly how to approach it with him at this point. We're just kind of guarding him from the TV where they fell asleep last night and the experts would come on the TV to discuss how to talk to your children.

We were very tentative, let's listen or watch this. And we realized watching it, it had nothing to do with us. It had everything to do with the rest of the country watching it, but not the people involved, the children in the school. It's important for us to, we realize as this goes on, that we need to take advantage of the counseling.

O'BRIEN: Yes, many people -- so many people have sent messages to me to tell people like you and the people who have lost their children. Just how sorry they feel for them.

LAURA PHELPS: Yes. I mean, your heart -- this is a feeling, it is unspeakable. It is like reaching into your insides and pulling them out. I mean, when things happen to your children and to other people's children -- I can't look at my children's faces now without seeing the faces of every one of their schoolmates and all of their friends and everything that they're doing right now or saying or talking about Christmas. And I'm thinking, your friends should all be here. And it's just -- it is such -- it is so heavy, so heavy on your heart. O'BRIEN: The nation feels that way, too.

LAURA PHELPS: Yes. The outpouring of love has been tremendous. I mean, people are calling from all over the world. And we're going to need that now. We're going to absolutely need that to be there as a community. We love Sandy Hook. This is such a great place. And the people are wonderful. And we're just going to have to really embrace each other and open our hearts and open our arms and open the church doors and get everybody praying and together, because I think this is something we will get through. I don't think this is something we will ever, ever get over.

NICK PHELPS: I would like -- I would like also to say that we always felt blessed that our children were at Sandy Hook school. It was an absolutely beautiful school, fantastic educators. The principal who, god bless her, lost her life, was just a very special person. And all the parents knew that. So it's a very -- it's shocking beyond belief that this has happened. And we're just grief stricken. We're heartbroken for those families.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: We're going to continue to talk through parents like the Phelps throughout the day. They are obviously struggling with how to deal with this issue and the kind of help and assistance that they need, at the same time being very grateful for the outpouring of support that they have felt here in Newtown from all the people around the country and around the world who have been making their condolences well known.

And of course we're also going to keep talking about the issue of gun control in the country. For the second day in a role we're hearing President Obama call for meaningful action. It's unclear what exactly that would mean.

White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar is at the White House for us.

Lay out there for me, you have pointed out that the president himself has not done much on the issue of gun control. So what are the expectations of what meaningful action could specifically mean?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, gun control advocates, Soledad, think that it should mean further gun legislation. They want to see action taken. The thing, though, is it's unclear exactly what President Obama means by what he said yesterday in the briefing room, and he reiterated today in his weekly address. He wants to see meaningful action.

If you go by his past, in 2008 while he was campaigning, he said he wanted to see a renewal of the semiautomatic weapon ban. The assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. And there were a lot of tries in Congress to renew that to no avail. So he promised that, obviously something he didn't deliver on during his first term.

In fact the Brady campaign a couple of years ago giving him an "F" when it comes to gun control. I was with him in July in New Orleans where he spoke to the national urban league a few days after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. He talked about how to deal with guns. He talked about having a conversation. And so when you read between the lines there, it didn't seem like there was a whole lot going on there concrete. That, of course, was an election year, not a whole lot of appetite to do something in an election year.

Frankly, when it comes to Congress, there often is not an appetite to do something on gun control. And it's not just about Republicans who traditionally are in favor of gun rights, there are Democrats opposed to gun rights opposed to gun control, legislation that may tighten restrictions. And that's even the case you might see in the Senate when you're talking about the Senate majority leader, a Democrat, Harry Reid, who comes from Nevada.

So we don't actually know at this point exactly what meaningful action is going to mean. This is something that we'll be asking questions about, getting answers to in the coming days. Certainly gun-control advocates want to see more legislation.

O'BRIEN: A resounding no comment essentially from the NRA which is a very, very possible lobbyist, probably another powerful lobby located in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Sport Shooting Association, as well, both coming forward today with a no comment basically. Brianna Keilar for us, thank you very much.

Some action to my left here which is giving me a sense that maybe this press conference is a little bit closer to getting started. I'm seeing folks start to run across this parking lot where we are all kind of set up. And it looks to me like they're kneeling down which is making me think that maybe we're going to hear in a moment from Lieutenant Vance. He is with the state police, and he's been the guy who's been doing the bulk of the updating on the specifics of the aftermath of this terrible shooting.

Now, one of the things that we know already from a press release that they sent out sort of in lieu of this 8:00 press conference that never happened, they said that the bodies were now out of the school, thank god, had been moved to a morgue. We know that New York City had set up a mobile morgue unit to come and help out in this tragedy. The next of kin we were told in the press release had already been notified, and that a trooper would be assigned to every family that lost someone in order to navigate I guess over the next days and weeks as they grapple with the aftermath of this terrible tragedy.

But there are many more questions people have, for example, the shooter, 20 years old, Adam Lanza, his mother was also killed at a location not far from here. But beyond that, we actually don't know very much about him. We've had some descriptions from friends and schoolmates, but it is unclear exactly what could possibly motivate him to pull off such a heinous and just horrifying crime.

We want to check in with Mary Snow, outside the shooter's home this morning. Mary, before I go to you, I want to warn you, there's a lot of action where I am. I might break away from you if this press conference starts. What updates can you give us this morning, Mary? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, unlike yesterday where it was a very active scene here, it is much quieter today. We are outside the Lanza home. You can't see it behind me because the road is blocked off, it's a little --

O'BRIEN: OK, Mary, I'm going to interrupt you there. And let's in fact head over to this press conference. Looks like Lieutenant Vance is beginning to speak. Let's listen in.

LT. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: The progress that we've made in this investigation. With me is the chief of police in Newtown, the field operations commander of the state police, and my counterpart here from Newtown police department.

As you know, the victims have been positively identified by the office of the chief state's medical examiner. They're still in the process of doing some of their work, and as soon as that work is completed, we will be prepared to release in writing to you a formal list of names, birthdates, and information.

There is one -- there's a couple major factors. Number one, when we release that list and we would ask you again as we did yesterday at the request of all of the family members, they have asked for you to please respect their privacy. They're going through, as I know you understand, a very difficult and trying time.

We have, in fact, the justice of the chief and the colonel reassign and continue to assign a trooper to these folks to help to maintain that solitude. So again, I would ask you, I'm pleading with you, as you know this is extremely heartbreaking, difficult thing for these folks to endure, to please abide by their request.

In addition to the townspeople in the town of Newtown, a crisis intervention team from Yale New Haven Hospital has been established in the community. And they can be reached via telephone. That telephone number is 203-270-4283. And again, they're open, and they're available to anyone in the community who may have the need to discuss, to talk, to talk about this incident in its entirety.

I have the ability to take some questions. I just simply want you to understand that we still have major crime detectives and Newtown detectives working at the scene in the school. That is not completed, that probably will not be completed for at least another day and a half to two days. I'm putting a time limit on it. It could take longer.

As I've explained to you in previous press conferences, we have done everything we need to do to literally peel back the onion layer by layer and examine every crack and crevice of that facility. And that does not include, or exclude I should say, the outside of the building. The outside of the building is also part of the crime scene, every single vehicle in that lot. So it's going to be a long, painstaking process.

We actually have three teams now, three major crime teams in the community. Our local partners are working with us. And we're going to move that and expedite that along as quickly as possible.

We had a meeting this morning, and that was a delay with the superintendent of schools. She will be hopefully in the not-too- distant future up here to talk briefly about some of the issues that she has encountered. The minute the medical examiner is done, and I mean that certainly, the minute he is done he is coming here, and we will again provide all the detailed information or as much detailed information as we can relative to the work that his office did both overnight and continue to do as we speak.

Again, as far as actual specific questions, I'll take a few. But I have to tell you, there are certain things that are simply cards that we're holding close to our chest in this investigation until -- so nothing's taken out of context and we have continuity of all the information that we provide. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: There were reports that there were other guns other than the ones found in the school. Are those reports accurate?

VANCE: No, that's not accurate. The weaponry that was recovered by our investigators recovered in close proximity of the deceased. And again, we're investigating the history of each and every weapon. And we will know every single thing about those weapons, I know follow up questions, are legally registered, who are the owners, so on, that's being done by the investigators assigned to the task.

We're, again, we're going to allow the medical examiner, wait for the medical examiner to come in and provide the identities of the shooter, of all the deceased in this investigation.

QUESTION: Have you found any writings, emails, any messages that you might view as to what is going --

VANCE: That's a fair, good question. The answer I can give you on that is that our investigators at the crime scene, the school and secondarily at the secondary crime scene that we discussed where the female was located deceased did produce some very good evidence in this investigation, that our investigators will be able to use in hopefully painting the complete picture as to how and more importantly why this occurred.

QUESTION: Can you characterize this type of evidence --

VANCE: We're not going to name the evidence. We're not going to talk about the evidence. Simply stated, it's part and parcel to the investigation. I don't want to take it out of the context of what's being done.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about shattered glass --

VANCE: We have established the point of entry. I can tell you it's believed he was not voluntarily let into the school at all, that he forced his way into the school. That's as far as we can go on that.

QUESTION: Are there broken windows at the school?

VANCE: What?

QUESTION: Broken windows?

VANCE: Yes. Quite, frankly, that's something, again, if you take it out of context, it sounds suspicious. But as the rescue crews arrived, the active shooting teams entered the school, they entered the school from several different points. And it necessitated their way in to gain access to perform the rescue and to save as many students and faculty as they could. Hence, law enforcement broke many windows.

QUESTION: The other crime scene --

VANCE: What's that?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

VANCE: Yes, the secondary crime scene as I told you was a crime scene that was discovered pursuant to the investigation. Once we had the tentative identification on the suspect, we began doing a great deal of work, again, peeling back the onion. Everything we could find out about the suspect including and not limited to relatives, friends, co- workers, former students, location of residents, and all those areas had to be -- people had to be interviewed and the areas had to be examined. Hence, that caused us to discover the secondary crime scene which was a private residence with a sole female deceased.

QUESTION: Was there provided a motive or explanation as to why --

VANCE: To be determined. The detectives will analyze everything and put a complete picture together of the evidence that they did obtain. We're hopeful, we're hopeful that tell paint a complete picture as to how and why this entire incident, unfortunate incident occurred.

QUESTION: At the crime scene, did you find a man or woman? Will.

VANCE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: There was one woman who was shot and survived. How is she?

VANCE: She is doing fine. She's -- she has been treated, and she'll be instrumental in this investigation, as I'm sure you can understand.

(INAUDIBLE)

VANCE: That I don't know.

QUESTION: The shooter in this case appeared to break into the school --

VANCE: Forced his way into the school. That would be accurate, according to investigators. Yes.

QUESTION: And does it appear he used to weapons to break his way --

VANCE: I don't want to be too specific because frankly I don't know. So I would simply -- I've been informed that it was forcibly entered and was not allowed to enter if you will.

What I'd like to do is I'd like to get the next portion if you will today. I don't want to keep you here all day. I'm going to try it and do this as expeditiously as I can and get as much information to you. We'd like to get the superintendent, definitely wants to come up with town leaders to discuss certain areas of her responsibility. And then we certainly want to get the medical examiner up here. Again, we'll do that as quickly as we can so we can get the list of IDs and all information to you.

For any of you who are new, the lieutenant and I put together a written press release. We'll provide those to you at my vehicle. Please don't rush my vehicle. We have -- we should have enough for everyone. And if not we'll bring more the next time we come up. It just lays out the basic details of everything leading up to today, all right. We will try -- I don't want to give you a time, but we'll try to be back I'll say within the hour. I'll make notification some of you that I can that we're on the way, all right? Yes, sir, one question.

QUESTION: The mother of the -- (INAUDIBLE)

VANCE: You have to understand that after the shooting we did a complete and thorough search of the area, the neighborhood, with our local partners. Everything was examined. If we found anyone that was in the woods cutting wood there would be -- they would be detained pending the investigation. So there were no other arrest associated with this investigation that occurred. OK?

(INAUDIBLE)

VANCE: I would have you address that with the superintendent of schools, OK? We can -- she can give you that answer. We will be back. I need to get -- if I don't get here, we'll be here quite some time. I know you have a lot of questions. I think the people that we're bringing to speak to you can answer these questions and put a lot of -- take a lot of the mystery out of what we've been dealing with for the last 24 hours. OK. We will be back. We will be back.

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You've been listening to a press conference held by Lieutenant Vance with the state police. Not a lot to update folks on. They had sent out a written statement as well, it was very consistent.

He said a couple of things. He was joined by the chief of police from the town here in Newton, Connecticut, and also a lieutenant with the police department. He said as soon as the list of deceased is, in fact, completed that he would make that public. The medical examiner would be charged with that. That all the family members who have lost someone have been united in saying they would like everyone to respect their privacy, and to that end, he has assigned a trooper to each of the families. And he called that to help maintain the solitude. Meaning that there will be a barrier to keep people from getting to those families, to give them some time and give them some distance and respect their privacy. And he re-emphasized that. He said, we're asking and I am pleading with you, talking to the large member of press that's been gathered here. Asking and pleading to please respect their privacy, what they have lost is just unimaginable at this point. He said that a crisis intervention team from Yale new haven hospital was on the scene. They'd be available by phone to anybody who had a question or wanted some guidance in the community.

And he said detectives are on the scene of the school. He said it could take a day. It could take as long as two days. They're going to peel back the onion, his quote, to try to investigate every crack and crevice and really figure out what happened and the order in which things had happened in that 10-minute window when the shootings happened. Outside of the building, he said it was also part of that crime scene. There are three crime teams, he said.

And he -- essentially ended by saying investigators would eventually have a very full picture of how and why this occurred. The how and why which, of course, I think are the questions that everybody's really been trying to understand. He said they want to talk to relatives and friends and co-workers and former classmates of the shooter's, that the woman who was, we know was injured and who had been at one point in the room with the school psychologist and the principal, they were having a meeting about a student that morning. She ended up being shot in the foot, I believe, and also the arm. But that she was going to be instrumental in piecing together what had happened in this investigation.

And with that, he ended what was a short press conference. He said the superintendent and town leaders are going want to talk to folks. And also the medical examiner would be someone that we would be hearing from as soon as they finished the identification process. They would be able to update us on some more information. So that's where it stands right now in terms of the investigation.

But I'd go back to the how and the why. I think Sanjay Gupta is joining me now. That is always the question for those of us who cover these things and those of us who watch it on TV and people in town, too, certainly, people who lost people. The why behind it. There has been -- is there a connective thread when it comes to these mass shootings? Are there things that happen in mass shootings that deal with mental stability?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oftentimes there are. But often times I keep hearing, and I've talked to people as you have over the years, a lot of times the answer is unknowable. It's not satisfying. People want to know the answer to these questions. But sometimes we just never can know for sure. Even after the investigation is done, the people that are closest to the person involved here, you still don't have a very satisfying answer.

And I just say that because I think it's something that people may need to be prepared for. Over the next couple of days, it may not come back a definitive reason. All sorts of speculation as you know to what people are saying about this. But I don't know that we know any of that for sure, and we may never. O'BRIEN: We know that a family member told investigators that the shooter had some type of autism I think is the phrase they used. And as I've told you a bunch of times, my nephew's autistic. I know a little about autism. I had never seen any connection between autism and violent behavior. Is there a connection between autism and any violent behavior? Is there a connection between violent behavior and any other mental illness -- I should say of mental illness since autism is not a mental illness.

GUPTA: Right. Autism is not a mental illness. It's not a personality disorder as some people have suggested. There's no evidence to suggest that there's a link between autism or anything on the autism spectrum and planned violence. There can be reactive violence, call them violent outbursts. Some people suggest there can be limited -- since we spoke I looked up some more research on that. There was one study that said out of 132 people who had autism, there were three demonstrated evidence of violence. Again, that was reactive violence, not planned violence as seems to have occurred here.

O'BRIEN: So what will the recovery process be for people? I mean, every parent I talked to and now in the, you know, 18 hours we've been here on the scene, they're traumatized. The parents are traumatized. Some had brought their kids with them, and the children are clearly traumatized. And they don't really know what to do.

GUPTA: You know, I think if there's any good news in this, and that is looking throughout history, and everything is obviously unprecedented here, but typically it is a mourning process that will last. But it is short-lived and maybe even more short-lived for the children as compared to their parents. Children tend to be more resilient here.

So I think obviously talking about this, but also restoring some sort of normalcy to their lives. And you know, we say that all the time, but it makes a huge difference to actually go back to some sort of normal pattern. If you had soccer practice on Saturday, to do that practice, piano lessons tomorrow, the same sort of thing.

O'BRIEN: How possibly do you reopen a school where children were hiding inside their cubbies hoping not to get shot? I know that eventually Columbine was reopened, right? There was a similar horrific experience and people did eventually go back. But I just can't wrap my mind around that.

GUPTA: I don't know if it needs to be commemorated in one way and acknowledged. I think a complete transparency seems to be key here, not trying to hide these things, and making sure that people know that in fact this did happen here, but that people are going to move beyond that.

And also this whole notion of these couple of days being so important, you know, not putting it off, making sure that if it's going to be discussed it's discussed because a longer -- the longer symptoms sort of last in children and adults, the harder it is to treat.

O'BRIEN: Minneapolis New Haven hospital has volunteered a counseling line. I was surprised and wondered is it effective to do counseling on phone, as effective as seeing someone in person?

GUPTA: I think it very much can be. This is a nationally known center. I've dealt with them in the past. They happen to be close by. But they deal with these types of issues all over the country. They serve as a reminder that there are many people going through this. When you're going through this, you tend to think that it's you, your own individual experience that has led you to feeling this way. Everyone in the hunt, as you mentioned, you and me, both parents, so many people are going through this.

O'BRIEN: Sanjay, thank you very much. I appreciate your insight on that.

We know lots about the scene so far, but very little about the victims, very little about the shooter, not so much about the crime scene. We're going to get more details about how this terrible tragedy unfolded, that's straight ahead after this break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VANCE: The victims have been positively identified by the office of the chief state's medical examiner. They're still in the process of doing some work. And as soon as that's completed we will be prepared to release in writing to you a formal list of names, birthdays, and information.

There's one -- there's a couple of factors. Number one, when we release the list, and we ask you again as we did yesterday at the request of all of the family members, they have asked for you to please respect their privacy. They're going through, as I know you understand, a very difficult and trying time. We have assigned, assigned a trooper to folks to help to maintain that solitude. So again, I would ask you, and I'm pleading with you, as you know this is extremely heartbreaking, difficult thing for these folks to endure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, that was Lieutenant Vance wrapping up the press conference, making it very clear that the parents and the family members who lost loved ones absolutely are not to be bothered and to have their privacy violated, and he's going to assign a trooper to each to make sure that that does not happen.

One of the things that he reiterated a couple of times was to get to the how and why this happened. He described it as peeling back the pieces of the onion, to really understand not only the timeline of literally how this tragedy unfolded but the why. People would like to understand the why and maybe it's not something that can be understood.

We're getting more information, as well, from some of the folks who lived through this terrible tragedy, describing what happened around them as they could hear the shooting and sometimes hearing the screaming in the hallways. There's a library clerk we spoke to who said they had been practicing for these kinds of drills. And Victor Hernandez in Atlanta has her story. Victor?

VICTOR HERNANDEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we've been hearing for 24 hours the stories of horror, the heartbreak from the children, families, law enforcement. We're also hearing about heroes. One is the school library clerk, Mary Ann Jacob. We spoke with her moments ago. She talked about what she did to keep kids safe during the shooting. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY ANN JACOB, LIBRARY CLERK: Everybody does what they have to do when they're confronted with a situation like that. And everybody, you know, we practiced it. And they knew what to do. And you just -- you think about protecting the kids and just doing the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How had you practiced this?

JACOB: We have lockdown drills. I don't know how many, but there's rules. You have to have a certain number of fire drills, evacuation drills, and lockdown drills. The kids know the routine and teachers know the routine. Everyone has a spot they're supposed to go to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you describe the spot?

JACOB: In the library it's between some book cases against a wall where you can't be seen from any windows. We had to move out of that spot because one of our doors wasn't locked we discovered so we went to a back storage room and locked the kids in there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you get --

JACOB: We were this close together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you get the children to be quiet?

JACOB: There was crayons and paper in the storage room in the back. We tore some up and gave them clipboards and had their color and draw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you tell them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you alone?

JACOB: There were three other adults. They were asking what was going on, we said we don't know, our job is to stay quiet. It may be a drill, it may not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't know at that point?

JACOB: We knew because I called the office, and she told me there was a shooter.

My kids, friend of theirs, have little brothers or sisters that are dead. Everybody in town knows everybody. I'm just glad they were safe. We were in lockdown and they didn't know. The kids at the high school were in lockdown watching on TV. They have family. This was probably difficult. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain it --

JACOB: Can you explain it to me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know the mother?

JACOB: No. She wasn't in play.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the principal? Everyone's saying what a great person she was, how much do you --

JACOB: She was a personal friend and a wonderful leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HERNANDEZ: Last night a teacher told our Anderson Cooper that she took the kids in her class into another room and just had them read, read together. And just to have the wherewithal to be able to do that, to have the composure to while this is happening keep the children calm and more than one parent said, Soledad, that the teachers saved their children's lives, the ones who were able to take their children home. Of course we're going to hear more about the heroism as we learn about the tragedy as the days go on -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my goodness, Victor. These teachers are true heroes. When you hear what they did to try to -- not just keep them safe but keep them quiet. They were worried if the gunman heard the children talking or anybody made noise or crying that he could target their classroom. So to be able to do that, keep them calm, distract them because they're small children and they need to be able to almost be focused on something else, what they had done is nothing short of heroic. It's an amazing thing. Victor Blackwell reporting, thank you. Appreciate it.

We've got to take a break. As we come back in a moment we'll continue to update you on the latest that we know about this shooting here at a Connecticut elementary school. We're back in a moment. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching our special coverage of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We learned from a conference that the shooter, Adam Lanza, gained entry in fact into the school by forcing his way inside. We had heard reports that in fact there had been a new security system set up for when the new principal came in. Once he got inside, he was able to kill 26 people. All the weapons that he used were purchased legally and purchased in fact by his mother.

We want to bring in the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes. He's also a CNN contributor. Tom, thank you for talking to us. We heard in the press conference that the crime scene is still being processed. Tell me about what they would be doing now. The bodies we know are moved to a morgue. What's happening?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The scene at the inside of the school would be to trace the steps of the shooter, where did he go every step of the way from the time he gained entry, which rooms he was in, where he was when he fired the shots, where the victims were when they got shot, and try to determine every step he took while in there leading up to him taking his own life.

So that part is very difficult. They're trying to trace the direction of bullet and where they may have hit walls and pick up the bullet casings that would have been sprayed out of the gun as he was shooting or the two guns as he was shooting. So that's a very difficult process. It takes a lot of meticulous work on the crime scene investigators.

And of course you have the crime scene outside the building to see if there is any material he may have dropped. Maybe he was walking around beforehand or his vehicle. Then of course at his residence where you have presumably his mother killed before he departs and goes to the school and shoots everybody else. So these crime scenes take a lot of physical work to process.

O'BRIEN: They said that they were going to, Tom, try to find the how and the why. And how often, in fact, I think they figure out the how. They're able to piece together clearly, eventually, what unfolded. But how often in cases like this do we just never really know the why?

And, Tom, before I let you answer, I want to tell whoever's talking in my ear while you're talking, it's hard to hear. So if you in the control room would fix, that I'm getting another feed. Someone else is talking in my ear. Tom, go ahead, how likely that we're going to get the why in this case?

FUENTES: The problem is even if experts say they know why, do they really? As I think the aspect of this, as Dr. Gupta said, is maybe it's unknowable. Even if they get emails, even if they get conversations that he's had with other friends or family members, neighbors, somebody saying that he was going do this or why he was going to do it, you don't know that it was truthful. You don't know if he meant it. You don't know if he meant it, if he was delusional. There's so many aspects that we're not ever going to know.

There will be a lot of speculation by experts, but they're not going to really know positively what was on his mind when he went to commit these acts. And you know, the closest person to him to most people would be their own mother. She's not going to be available to talk to. Whether he was close with his brother or father, we don't know. You know, we also don't know was this a close knit family growing up or were they dysfunctional and he was off on his own mentally or psychologically.

And so I don't put a lot of faith into the speculation. Investigators will do everything they can to profile him and see what was on his mind, but they're never going to know positively.

O'BRIEN: How would you assess the job that the law enforcement here did from listening to those 911 calls and also I think in the context of knowing that this is a community that hasn't had a homicide in a decade, so I don't think it's a place where they are used to shootings, frankly?

FUENTES: Well, fortunately I don't think many communities are used to a mass murder at one of their schools. So the situation the first responders faced was extremely difficult. And it appears they handled it professionally and did a good job. They didn't know if they had multiple shooters. They didn't know if someone had left and was in the woods or had run into a neighboring house and was holding a family hostage. They didn't know where all the children were. We had reports that some children were running through the field and through people's backyards in the immediate aftermath.

So for police to arrive and quickly assess what it occurred and what to do about it, it appears that they did a very professional job.

Now in the aftermath of it, you have the police trying to control the information. And this is a very difficult task. And I think an underrated task for police executives. If the police give out to much information too soon, it could be inaccurate, it could obstruct their own investigation. And, frankly, if they give too little information, enterprising reporters, not from CNN of course, but some enterprising reporters will fill the vacuum with inaccurate data, and that will also cloud the investigation.

So it's a very difficult thing to actually conduct the investigation, and it's also a difficult thing to describe and report on the investigation to the public.

O'BRIEN: It was interesting to hear Lieutenant Vance talk about assigning troopers to each family, that basically wanted to ensure their privacy because, of course, there is -- I'm going to guess like 100 live cameras all wired here in the parking lot from the sort of the half mile from the school where we are. And he is now going to protect them from media, the national and international media. Is that unusual? It seemed to be a smart thing.

FUENTES: It's a very smart thing. And I think Lieutenant Vance has done an exceptional job in the way that he's conducted press conferences from the beginning until and including this morning. The difficulty here and the police are well aware of what's going to happen. As soon as the names of those victims are actually released and become public those families are going to be inundated no matter how much he and others plead for the privacy and solitude of the victims' families. Frankly, it's not going to completely happen. There are going to be people, even well-wishers contacting them that are thinking they're being helpful. And unfortunately, there will be people trying to exploit them and take advantage of the situation and of the poor victims.

So there's a number of issues. The police know what's going happen in terms of the privacy of those families. As soon as the names go out, they know the families are in for a lot of trouble in the days ahead.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I hope those troopers know they'll be working hard to keep the privacy for the family members. Tom Fuentes, thank you, formerly with the FBI. We appreciate your time and insight this morning. We heard from the president earlier calling for meaningful action in the wake of this tragedy. There's also this from the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He said this "Calling for "meaningful action" is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before, what we've not seen is leadership, not from the White House and not from congress. That must end today."

Joining us is CNN contributor Maria Cardona and Amy Holmes of TheBlaze.com. You've got kids I imagine -- Maria, you've got kids I imagine. And Amy, you have reported -- I have to imagine you're horrified.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I know there was not a dry eye yesterday, especially from parents. I saw you this morning choking up. And every second I feel like I'm about to choke up. Yes, this is a national tragedy.

I agree frankly with Mayor Bloomberg. Our leaders need to step up including President Obama. I hope that his call for meaningful action will mean immediate action. There are two things that we can do immediately, that is renew the ban on assault weapons. There's no reason why the shooter had that semiautomatic rifle in his possession. There also should be a way to get rid of the loophole, the gun show loophole where 40 percent of guns are sold without background checks. There is no sane, rational reason in the world why that should be happening in this country today.

O'BRIEN: Right, but the reality is that assault rifles, semiautomatic assault rifle, the Bushmaster 223, that was in the car. So he pulled off this attack using guns but not assault weapons banned in this particular case, probably wouldn't have had an impact.

Amy Holmes, I know it's not just Republicans. There are plenty of Democrats, too, who get antsy when people start talking about gun control and putting limits on the ability to own guns. So what does meaningful action in your mind mean?

AMY HOLMES, THEBLAZE.COM: Well, I think as Lieutenant Vance said, we need to peel back the onion and understand how he did get possession of the guns. As we understand, they were registered to her mother. Why they were available is hard to know. I think one thing we can do in terms of meaningful action is not to glorify these villains and these killers and not to use their names, not to reference them directly. One of the things that we've been learning with these mass shooters is they do sort of revel in their note right and they do seek notoriety. So I would ask all of us never to use the name of the shooter ever.

O'BRIEN: We've been trying to do that. At the same time --

HOLMES: It's a difficult thing, and of course we have a constitution and a First Amendment. But we also have judgment and discernment. We know, for example, that we don't show the bodies of victims. I think that we can treated this with a bit more sensitivity to some of the dynamics that go in to creating these mass shooters who apparently want all of the nation and all of the world's attention on them. O'BRIEN: I'm going to stop you there because I'm having a hard time hearing. I have somebody else's voice in my ear. Before I carry on a conversation about gun control, I actually need to hear what you're saying.

Maria, I'm going to ask you a first question and ask Amy to respond. And in the meanwhile, guys in the control room, you've got to get this voice that's being reported out of my ear. Maria, for you, you laid out something to do -- I don't know that I would agree with you that that's meaningful action. What you have described, the assault weapons ban, it wouldn't do anything in this particular case.

Amy, what you laid out also wouldn't do anything specifically and realistically, right? I mean, not saying the shooter's name, I agree with you 100 percent. But it's not going to change anything about the next shooting that is going to happen at some point.

So go back to the drawing board and tell me what meaningful action that could stop shootings would be and maybe the answer is there is none. Then I'd like to hear that. Maria?

CARDONA: Sure. Maybe, and you could be right. I think where we can stand to -- where we can start is actually things that make sense. And you're right, in this particular instance, Soledad, perhaps the ban on the assault weapon would not have made any difference. But what about the next time? And what if he had had this with him, the carnage would have been much worse than it was. And so we have to be looking at what can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again. We can't do anything about what just happened. We have to continue to look at next time. Again, I say the --

O'BRIEN: I'm going interrupt you there. I'm having a hard time hearing you. While we fix our audio, I'll stop you there. I know this conversation about gun control is going to be one that we are just starting today and is going to continue on. Maria Cardona and Amy Holmes, I'm sorry for the audio problems, ladies. My apologies.

CARDONA: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Thanks. I you'll want to stay with CNN as we continue our coverage of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school. That coverage will continue right after this short break. We're be right back.

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