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CNN NEWSROOM

Newtown Schools Reopen Today; New Details from Lanza Household; Some Retailers Curb Gun Sales; Fiscal Cliff Deal May Be Near; NBC News and Crew Rescued; Gun Control Back in the Spotlight; The Power of the NRA; GOP Working on "Plan B" to Stop Tax Hikes

Aired December 18, 2012 - 09:00   ET

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM.

This morning, school kids in Newtown go back to school. We'll tell you how teachers are preparing for what's sure to be a trying day.

After the Newtown tragedy, is the country finally ready for stricter gun laws? Many former pro-gun lawmakers say yes, but we still have not heard from the NRA.

And one of the new things the school shooter may have done socially was play video games. So is there a link between these types of games and aggressive behavior? One expert says yes.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. And thank you so much for being with us today. I'm Carol Costello in Atlanta. We'll have all the news of the day, but first a small step toward normalcy in Newtown, Connecticut.

Soledad O'Brien is there. She joins us live.

Good morning, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR, STARTING POINT: Hey, good morning to you, Carol. In fact, as you said, classes resume today for most of the kids in this community, so many wrestling with so much heartbreak.

All the Newtown schools except for Sandy Hook Elementary School will reopen today. Grief and the fears of returning students certainly going to be a huge concern. Additional counselors, police officers, too, will be at every single school, and today the town will lay to rest, another victim, the grandmother of Charlotte Bacon, that's her 6-year-old granddaughter was a bundle of energy who loved dresses and who loved school.

And a second girl, 6-year-old, Jessica Rekos, lived and breathed horses, horse movies, horse books. She even -- wrote her own horse stories. She was excited about a pair of cowgirl boots that she was expecting to get for Christmas. She, too, will be buried today.

Now to get the latest on the school's reopening this morning, CNN's Sara Endo is here right in the heart of Newtown with more on that -- Sandra.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we're starting to see a lot of school buses rolling by here and in about an hour or two classes will be in session. Now students, parents and teachers all may be a little anxious about school returning back to normalcy but this could be the first step to healing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO (voice-over): In the wake of tragedy, a step towards normalcy, for Newton kids that means going back to school.

MICHAEL ZILUCK, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We also are going to be -- a little bit worried because we know what we thought was a secure school had this happen to them.

ENDO: But facing fear may be the first step to overcome this tragedy.

ANN ZILUCK, NEWTOWN RESIDENT: Children have to get back to school. If we let this sort of terror in our lives anywhere in this country, when -- you know, we've lost. We've got to get our kids back to school again.

ENDO: Classes are resuming for 5400 students in the district except for those at Sandy Hook Elementary. Monday all schools were closed as teachers and administrators trained with experts on how to handle the aftermath. Many parents we spoke with agree kids belong back in school.

AARON COX, FATHER OF 5-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER: I think that one of the big things that we have to do is have some sort of normalcy and school is part of that.

JOHN KEAYES, FATHER OF FIVE: Unfortunately, you know, we're living in this world where sometimes evil prevails sometimes, but we're just believing that good will overcome this.

ENDO: Sandy Hook Elementary remains a crime scene. Furniture and supplies were moved to Chalk Hill Middle School in neighboring Monroe where Sandy Hook students will eventually resume classes.

JIM AGOSTINE, SUPERINTENDENT, MONROE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: When the children come in, whenever the school started they'll walk into a classroom that looks as close as possible as their classroom that they left.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO: Grief counselors and police officers will be present at Newtown schools today and throughout the week. Principals have asked parents to make sure they talk to their kids before they go back to schools, and teachers will also address what happened here in an age- appropriate manner -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Sandra Endo, for us this morning. Sandra, thank you. Investigators continue to search the home of Adam Lanza. We're now learning a little bit more about how his mother, Nancy, might have been storing the weapons that he used in the shooting.

CNN's Deb Feyerick is at their house and she joins us with more on that.

Deb, good morning.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Soledad. You know, investigators are really trying to unlock the mysteries inside this guy's mind, they're trying to do it by putting together shards of what we're told is a broken computer and that is what is going to take a relatively long time.

Yesterday at this home a number of investigators were here for the better part of the afternoon, about two -- two and a half hours, four investigators in unmarked patrol cars. They came quietly, left quietly. We could not tell whether they were carrying anything.

But, you know, what's so crazy about Adam Lanza is he appears to have fallen off the grid. There were basically three years that are unaccounted for. The last time there's any record of him was back in 2009 when he was a student at a local university here and he was taking several classes there. But after that, 2009, he just sort of falls away. So nobody really knows or understands what he was doing over the last couple of years.

You know, I want to tell you this area -- what is so incredible, you look at this picture perfect house here on this hill, you don't know what was going inside this house. But you know that the mother was killed here in her home and earlier this morning, Soledad, we have to tell you that some of the families of the children who were killed, they live not too far from this home and we saw several cars leaving a house and the family visibly upset inside.

We could tell you there was a school bus as well but this community still feeling this as investigators try hopefully to get some indication as to what he was thinking and why he chose Sandy Hook Elementary -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It's terrible. All right. The shooting, of course, has reignited -- I think it's fair to say the debate over gun control. And now you have one of the largest sporting good retailers in the world halting its sale of some kinds of those semiautomatic weapons, right?

FEYERICK: Yes, Soledad. As a matter of fact that's exactly right. Dick's Sporting Goods store, they are stopping gun sales in the store that's closest here to Newtown, the store that they had in Danbury, Connecticut.

Then also we're learning that the private equity firm Cerberus, they have decided to sell off the company that makes the Bushmaster, that's one of the rifles used in -- in this horrible attack. In fact, that rifle inflicted maximum damage on a number of the victims so there are changes that are going on right now as sporting goods stores, these gun sellers, as they begin to reevaluate just how much of a stake they want in the firearms sale in the United States.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting. All right, Deb Feyerick, for us this morning. Thank you, Deb, appreciate it.

Let's get right back to Carol Costello -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, because Dick's Sporting Goods isn't the only store curtailing some gun sales. Wal-Mart also pulled certain guns from online sales.

Alison Kosik is in New York with that side of the story.

Good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Yes, you look on Wal-Mart's Web site and they're no longer advertising the Bushmaster AR-15. Yes, that's the one that was used in the Newtown shooting. But the retailer does say, you can still buy it at select locations.

Now Wal-Mart is one of the biggest gun dealers in the world, and high capacity magazines and guns like semiautomatic military-style rifles are the fastest growing part of the market. You know, just looking at Wal-Mart's Website, you know, there are hundreds of weapons advertised there.

Now the Bushmaster AR-15 is no longer listed on Bass Pro Shops site either but you can still view it on Cabela's. It seems that maybe, Carol, retailers really are trying to distance themselves from this tragedy -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, it's interesting. Big stores are distancing themselves, or seemed to be. But smaller gun stores across the country, some of those say people are buying guns like mad.

KOSIK: Yes. I mean, you look at gun sales. They've actually been up over the past few days and in some way it's not such a huge surprise. You know, some people are going out there, they just want to protect themselves, also some gun shop owners say customers are worried about more gun control laws, especially after the president on Sunday signaled the possibility for more action. So that possible crackdown is pressuring -- sort of getting people to go buy guns and buy weapons now before a possible crackdown can happen.

And you could also see pressuring stocks of companies that make these guns like Smith & Wesson, (INAUDIBLE) and Company, both of those companies' shares tumbled on Monday and it look like they're pointing to a lower open again today -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange.

A bright spot on the brink of a fiscal cliff. Never thought you'd hear that, right? But today we are billions of dollars closer to reaching a deal. During a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner President Obama offered to compromise on Boehner's idea to raise taxes on people making $1 million or more a year. As you well know the president has proposed raising taxes on families making more than $250,000 a year.

Dan Lothian is at the White House.

So, Dan, this is good, right?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly significant because as you pointed out the president for quite some time now had been campaigning on this issue saying that taxes had to go up on households making more than $250,000 during these negotiations over the last several weeks, both the president and other aids here at the White House had been insisting that there would be no deal unless taxes went up on those more than -- making more than 250,000 and now the president, according to sources, laying out his proposal to raise it to 400,000.

So it is very significant that -- it's not what, you know, Republicans really want. I mean they certainly don't want taxes to go up on anyone, they want these tax cuts breaks through and continue for all Americans because they believe that this could have an adverse effect on the economy, could really impact the job creators. But nonetheless some big movement here by the president.

In addition the president also made another concession rather offering up $1.2 trillion in new revenue and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. And this was something that Speaker John Boehner had really been insistent on, and that is a balance of spending cuts and new revenue although House GOP aides say that they have some trouble with the map but they believe that this is a move in the right direction -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Interesting. OK, so talk about the frequency of meetings between John Boehner and President Obama. I guess over the last eight days they'd met, what, three times? Are they going to meet more frequently?

LOTHIAN: They have -- that's right, they were met three times. Yesterday's meeting happened here at the White House, lasted for about 45 minutes. What's interesting is that we were not told when that meeting actually started. We got word of that meeting after it had already been under way for 10 or 15 minutes.

So yes, they've had these three face-to-face meetings and indications from the White House here at the White House that this offer that the president put forward is not the final offer, so some indication there that there's additional room for compromise. No word yet of any additional meetings or any phone calls.

COSTELLO: Yes. We may have a Christmas surprise yet, who knows.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

COSTELLO: Dan Lothian, live at the White House this morning.

Five days after their capture an American journalist and his production crew are safely out of Syria.

NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew disappeared Thursday after crossing into northwest Syria from Turkey. This morning he told the "Today" show how they were all finally set free.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, NBC: At the end of this, we were being moved to yet another location in the -- later around 11:00 last night local time and as we were moving along the road the kidnappers came across a rebel checkpoint, something they hadn't expected, and so we were in the back of what you'd think of as a mini van and as we were driving along the road the kidnappers saw this checkpoint, started a gunfight with it. Two of the kidnappers were killed.

We climbed out of the vehicle and the rebels took us. We spent the night with them, we didn't get much sleep.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Ivan Watson joins us from Istanbul, Turkey.

So, Ivan, who were these kidnappers and why did they take these journalists?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to Richard Engel's statement this was a Shabiha pro-government militia made up of Shiite Muslims and it just gives you a sense of how chaotic the situation has gotten inside Syria. We were hearing about clashes between rival rebel groups. We heard from some people involved in trying to locate Richard Engel's team that the guys who grabbed him were claiming to be members of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel movement that is fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

And it just gives you a sense of how chaotic the political landscape is inside with many armed groups now running around Syria. Some of them claiming to be rebels, some of them claiming to be parts of the government, and some of them quite clearly outlaws out for a ransom -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So NBC never came out publicly and said Engel or his crew was missing because this is really the first time many people are hearing about this. Why do you suppose that is?

WATSON: Well, this is a pretty common strategy that is used in these conflict zones when there have been hostage takings or kidnappings. An effort to make a media blackout so that people can try to figure out who was missing, who were the actors. Are there demands from the kidnappers and try to keep kids alive.

This is a method that we've seen in the past, in numerous different conflict zones and that was used in this case, too, while NBC was trying to figure out who to talk to, to try to get their people back. It's likely to be a method this kind of media blackout that will see used in the future as well.

There have been other kidnappings inside Syria and negotiations. And so we've seen a similar pattern in those cases. Also this gives time for companies and colleagues to contract family members and make sure that they do not get the wrong information and try to control the devastating impact of a traumatizing experience like this. Thankfully Richard Engel and four of his colleagues are safe right now and unharmed after what was a terrifying experience involving mock executions -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Took the words right out of my mouth. Ivan Watson reporting live for us this morning.

After the tragedy in Newtown, there's renewed support for changes in America's gun laws. But with massive support behind the National Rifle Association, do stricter gun regulations really stand a chance?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Seventeen minutes past the hour. We'll take you back to Newtown in just a minute.

But, first, a check of the other headlines today:

A California teenager under arrest, accused of threatening to carry out a similar attack to the one in Connecticut. Police say Sergio Cabada posted messages online supporting the actions of the school shooter. The 18-year-old now faces felony charges of criminal threats.

We're learning new details about the man police say shot and killed two people in an Oregon mall before killing himself. Jacob Roberts' roommate told investigators the gunman acted weird and started talking about moving and selling his possessions. And the day before the shooting, Roberts told a friend he needed to get out of town and he needed a gun. The next day, both Roberts and a rifle were missing.

And it appears that a new satellite launched by North Korea is dead and gone. That's according to a U.S. astrophysicist who says the satellite is no longer giving off any kind of signal. The U.S. and other countries believe the satellite launch was the test of a ballistic missile.

And if you're praying for lower gas price this is holiday season, you may get your prayer's answer. According to AAA, gas prices have been falling every day for four weeks now. And the price is 3 cents away from the lowest mark in two years. Right now, prices average $3.24 a gallon.

Gun control, it just may be the right time. Democratic lawmakers who are strongly pro-gun rights have signaled they're willing to deal and Senator Dianne Feinstein is ready with legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: There's no second amendment right to bear every type of weapon that you know of. These are a certain class of weapons. They are designed to kill large numbers of people in close combat. I don't believe the Second Amendment covers them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Advocates like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are hopeful. He, along with victims of gun violence, have created a Web site that features personal testimonials of how violence has affected their lives.

Still no pushback, though, from the powerful gun rights organization, the NRA, the National Rifle Association. But that doesn't mean the organization isn't up for a fight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): It's a familiar ritual for many politicians, showing, telling their love of the gun.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Hey, I'm a Catholic deer hunter. I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion.

COSTELLO: Don't think this sort of thing is limited to gun-loving Republicans. Democrats run on guns, too.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: As your senator, I'll protect our Second Amendment rights, that's why the NRA endorsed me.

COSTELLO: But Sandy Hook and the incomprehensible tragedy touched West Virginia's Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a supporter of gun rights.

MANCHIN: You know, who would have ever thought anywhere in America or in the world children would be slaughtered. You know, that -- it changed me. I don't know of anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know people that need 10, 20, 30-round clips.

CROWD: Shame on the NRA.

COSTELLO: Grassroots organizations have sprung up to marching on the NRA, but it remains to be seen if this will turn into legislative action.

FEINSTEIN: I'm going to introduce in the Senate --

COSTELLO: Senator Dianne Feinstein swears she'll introduce gun legislation in a few weeks.

But don't count out the NRA and its 4 million members just yet. As political analyst Larry Sabato says, "They're lying low. They know they can't win an argument when the emotion of the subject is completely tilted to the opposition." It's why Sabato says, so far, the NRA has not commented on Sandy Point. It's exactly the same strategy the NRA used after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Instead of publicly arguing its side, the NRA mobilized. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the gun rights organization spent more on lobbying in 2011 than it ever had, $2.5 million. And it promoted personal safety through gun ownership, like it did following Bob Costas' passionate plea for gun control after Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then himself.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: He wouldn't have said a thing if this woman had saved her life having a firearm available from Jovan Belcher.

COSTELLO: It wasn't long before talk about Belcher, the NFL and gun control died down.

As for gun control legislation passed after Gabby Giffords was shot? Zero.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Of course, I meant to say Sandy Hook, I apologize.

But keep in mind, the NRA is powerful not just because it's well- funded but because it has 4 million members. That's like 4 million votes in your pocket and, Soledad, it remains to be seen if lawmakers have the political will in the face of all those photos.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the polls are shifting, though. It will be interesting to see if there is political will that comes out of that, Carol. And, in fact, those new polls after the shootings at Sandy Hook show that more Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws.

In fact, take a look at the CBS News poll that says 57 percent of Americans favor stronger gun laws, while 30 percent say they should be left where they are. However, half of those polled, 50 percent of the respondents, say stricter gun laws would not have helped prevent horrible events that happened at Sandy Hook on Friday.

Texas Governor Rick Perry who is a long time supporter of gun rights is speaking out after the tragedy in Newtown at a Tea Party meeting. He said Texans should be allowed to carry guns anywhere, including schools. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: In the state of Texas, with our concealed handgun license, if you go through the process and you have been duly backgrounded and trained, and you are a concealed handgun licensed carrying individual, you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Governor Perry also said some Texas school districts already allow armed school personnel and the audience applauded him loudly.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has always been a strong advocate for gun rights. But when I spoke to him earlier on "STARTING POINT", he said it's time to sit down and look for a new approach. We'll share that interview with you, straight ahead.

We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: All right. This just news just in to CNN.

It was just a couple minutes ago, I told you there were bright spots in the negotiations to avoid that fiscal cliff we've all been talking about for so long, that President Obama was willing to compromise on who was taxed more and how much money they made. But apparently there's been a setback.

Let's go our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

You have the breaking details. What are they?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure if this is a setback or significant change in negotiating tactics.

As we speak, the House speaker is in the room next to me speaking with his Republican rank-and-file. and what he is telling them is that he is now moving to prepare for a second track, what they call "Plan B" to avert the fiscal cliff. And what that "Plan B" is to create a piece of legislation that would prevent tax hikes for anyone making up to $1 million.

So, and those rates that for everybody that they're supposed -- that will go up at the end of the year, because they'll expire, that will not be the case according to this legislation for anybody making under $1 million. What the speaker is stressing both to us, through sources, and to his caucus right now, is that this does not mean the talks are off with the president. He just wants to go on a second track.

So, that's why this is a different tactic. Clearly, this is a way to pressure on the White House because what we have been reporting since last night is that the White House, the president yesterday offered a counteroffer to the speaker that was from their perspective about one- to-one, tax cuts versus spending cuts. But the Republicans don't see it that way. They think the president simply has not gone enough, high enough on spending cuts and low enough on the revenue that he's getting from tax rates.

So, this is certainly a significant move that the Republicans politically do not want to be in a position where they are sitting here on January 1st and the whole country's taxes are going to go up, and clearly they know politically, they're going to get the blame for it. So they're going to move on a separate track to make sure people that at least for people that don't make -- that make up to $1 million, they won't see an increase in tax rates on January 1st.

COSTELLO: Gotcha. All right. What else could we do? We'll see what happens. Dana Bash reporting live -- BASH: And I should say, the speaker is going to come and speak to reporters at 10:00. So we'll definitely have more then.

COSTELLO: Definitely, we'll get back to you.

Dana Bash, thanks so much. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with much more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)