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United in Newtown

Aired January 14, 2013 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone, from Newtown, Connecticut.

One month ago, tragedy touched down in this idyllic town, forever changed the lives of so many people here. One month later, the crowds, reporters, and law enforcement personnel are gone, but the pain for many families here remains.

For the first time today in this town hall behind me, family members of 11 victims of the shootings appeared to start with a hope it becomes a national conversation, conversation about mental health, school safety, and what they call gun responsibility. You'll hear from a number of families tonight about how they are coping one month since they lost their son or their daughter, their brother or their sister.

Much of the world may have moved on, but grief does not conform to any time table. Not here especially. And tonight, we wanted to be in Newtown just to remind the world about what happened here and to show the world what has happened since.

So many here who have ample reasons to huddle behind walls of grief and grieving have done something more, something braver than anyone has a right to expect in the best of times, let alone the worst. They have reached out, reached out to one another and in ways large and small, have begun to turn tragedy into transformation. United in grief, united in hope, united in Newtown.


COOPER (voice-over): Twenty-seven wooden angels in Newtown, one for each victim of the massacre. But one month later, that display and most of the other memorials have been taken down. Gifts sent from all over the world now preserved in a warehouse to become part of a future permanent memorial.

Visible reminders of the tragedy mostly gone. The community, however, is still struggling. Just today, dozens of family members gathered to announce a mission to promote a national dialogue on gun violence, mental health, and school safety. For many of the families involved, it's one way to honor the loved ones they lost.

NICOLE HOCKLEY, MOTHER OF DYLAN HOCKLEY: It is a sad honor to be here today. It's been one month since I lost my son Dylan and 25 other families lost their loved ones. At times it feels like only yesterday, and at other times it feels as if many years have passed.

I still find myself reaching for Dylan's hand to walk through a car parking lot or expecting him to crawl into bed beside me for early morning cuddles before we get ready for school. So hard to believe he's gone.

COOPER: It is still all so hard to believe. The Sandy Hook Elementary School is still a crime scene. It remains empty and the future of the building unclear. But the children of Newtown are back in class. Using a middle school building in a nearby town for now, while educators figure out the future of the school district and how to keep the children of Sandy Hook together.

DEBBIE LEIDLEIN, CHAIRWOMAN, NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION: We're very strong. We're a strong community. You know, we're going to have our bumps along the way. But we're working hard together and that's what's important.

COOPER: One month later, with a national debate on gun control under way, some families in Newtown are eager to have a voice in the debate.

PAT LLODRA, NEWTOWN FIRST SELECTWOMAN: The horror of knowing that these are innocent 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds for the most part who were so grievously harmed and killed by a man who was flawed in his judgment and had access to an assault weapon and other weapons as well. We need to have courage as a society to ask those hard questions, do we have the right controls in place? If not, let's take some action.

COOPER: Residents of this community say they refuse to be remembered only for their loss. They hope the name Newtown will be forever known not for this deadly shooting but as a turning point for change.


COOPER: We'll be talking throughout the evening with people at the forefront of that effort here in Newtown across the state and the country. In a moment, astronaut Mark Kelly who saw his wife nearly died in Tucson talks about their new mission to end gun violence and we'll talk to Connecticut's governor, Dan Malloy, about his effort and Vice President Biden's task force which is expected to present its recommendations tomorrow.

But we wanted to begin right here and right now with how the community is coming together spiritually and how people, parents are dealing with so much loss.

Matt and Jennifer Hubbard join me. They lost their daughter Catherine Violet, a beautiful little girl who loved life and especially loved animals.

I appreciate you both being with us. I know it's not easy.

JENNIFER HUBBARD, MOTHER OF CATHERINE HUBBARD: Sure. Sure. COOPER: How -- it's a dumb question, but are you holding up?

J. HUBBARD: It's hard. We're going day by day. First, it's hour by hour. Now day by day.


MATT HUBBARD, FATHER OF CATHERINE HUBBARD: Sometimes even minute by minute.

J. HUBBARD: Sometimes minute by minute. It just -- it changes.


J. HUBBARD: It changes.


COOPER: It comes in waves.

M. HUBBARD: It does, and every day for us, I think, is a new first. You know, we're doing new things, you know, with the three of us. It's a new first.

COOPER: Just getting through the holidays must have been --

J. HUBBARD: Yes --

COOPER: So hard.

J. HUBBARD: And no. At first we thought, how are we going to do Christmas?

COOPER: Right.

J. HUBBARD: Christmas is about hope and it's about peace. And I think through the entire situation, there was a hope that some day we're going to see Catherine again. She's safe. She is safer than we could ever make her. And that's peaceful for us. And so we made Christmas what Christmas was about. And Christmas in our house is not going to be a sad time. It can't because that's not what we're about.

COOPER: You teach a religious class at the church.

J. HUBBARD: I do. First graders.

COOPER: First graders.


COOPER: Catherine was in the class. You -- you've gone back --

J. HUBBARD: I did.

COOPER: To teach her class. J. HUBBARD: I did, because when I was at the fire house and I knew, I knew that she was gone. I knew the minute that I saw one of her friends' mothers, that she was safe. And that was the first word. She is safe, they're safe. And in retrospect, she was. And I knew at that point that if I didn't have my faith, I don't know where I'd be right now. And so teaching those babies and those other first graders that God loves them and that Jesus will take care of them, it may not be the way we think he's going to take care of us, because some days I wonder how am I going to get through this day, and every day I get through the day.

They need to know that. And it's so important. And it wasn't even a question. I'm going back. I said to my co-teacher, I'm coming back.

COOPER: It takes such strength. I mean, it's extraordinary.

J. HUBBARD: It's what we have to do. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to each other to be kind, and we owe it to each other to love each other and not to get wrapped up in the hatred and the debate and everything that can come out of such a tragedy. They were first graders and they were teachers who loved their kids and they were administrators that gave their lives to the kids. We're not going to make it about hate.

COOPER: What do you want people to know about Catherine Violet? Because, I mean, one of the things I was -- know I heard you say is that she loved animals. And you talked about looking out the window and seeing her with butterflies, like the first day of spring.

M. HUBBARD: That's it, she loved animals. She loved every animal, small or large. Not only did she love animals, she loved people. She loved her family, she loved her teachers. There was just so much love with Catherine. And, you know, that's how we remember Catherine, all the love she gave us, our family and the animals.

J. HUBBARD: She just -- she would get the animals, and she would put them all around her. And she -- if they had clothes on -- Build- A-Bear was a debacle because everyone would say get the clothes for the bears, and she wouldn't want them because she loved -- she loved the animals in their truest form.

And I think it was just the innocence of her. So she would surround herself with her animals. We couldn't see her, and I -- we have to, you know. Let's find Catherine. But in spring, I'll never forget it, she'd find a butterfly and she'd stop short and she would run and she'd get her net, and she'd work it all spring, and then in the middle of the summer, the red hair flying. And she would just -- you'd look out and the wind would be blowing and she'd be crouched in the garden.

She would do it every year. She'd catch this little butterfly on her hands. Who knows what she was saying? She'd talk to it, and then she'd send it on its way. It was perfect. She just -- she would always say, so-and-so is so kind. So-and-so is so kind. And I think that the animals knew that she was so kind. She just -- she loved it. She loved every bit. And so when we decided that, you know, we were going to remember Catherine and what we were going to do, do we do a building? What do we do? And we're going to build her her animal sanctuary, and so we're going to bring all of the animals to her.

COOPER: And she used to kiss your hand, I understand?

J. HUBBARD: Yes. Yes.

M. HUBBARD: Yes. Yes.

J. HUBBARD: She would -- she did it the morning that she got on the bus. Every morning, she would -- she did not have a good time going to school, of course. She missed us. And so in the morning, she'd go to the bus and she would say, I love you. I love you. And she'd kiss your hand. And then she'd push it into your heart, and she would say, I love you. Push it in, all the way to my toes, and you knew it. It was all the way to the toes. And I'll never forget it. She's turn around and she waved, and I knew it. All the way to my toes, from now until the butterfly gets to heaven to her.

COOPER: And you still feel it all the way to your toes?

J. HUBBARD: I do, I do.

COOPER: That's good.

J. HUBBARD: It is great. It's good.

COOPER: Yes. Thank you so much for talking to us.

J. HUBBARD: You're welcome.

COOPER: We really appreciate it.

J. HUBBARD: You're welcome.

M. HUBBARD: Thank you.

COOPER: I wish you strength.

J. HUBBARD: Thank you.

M. HUBBARD: Thank you.

COOPER: More now on the effort to reshape public policy in the wake of all this. In his state -- state address last week, governor -- Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy rejected calls to arm teachers saying that more guns are not the answer. Governor Malloy is with us now.

Governor, I appreciate you being with us. First of all, how do you think this community is doing one month on?

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I mean, it's a -- it's a remarkable community. Great strength. I mean, honestly, the father and mother that you just spoke to are emblematic of the community and their strength will persevere, which is another thing I said at the -- during the address. But so we move on and the community is having discussions about what they want to do as a permanent memorial and what they want to do with the school, and we're here to help them make those decisions and make sure those decisions are acted on.

COOPER: You wrote a letter to Vice President Biden, in which you said that while Connecticut may have some of the strongest gun control laws in the country, it's not enough. That gun control has to be addressed nationally. Are there -- what specific points would you like to see included in federal gun legislation?

MALLOY: Well, it's pretty straightforward. Number one, no one should be able to buy a gun in the country without a background check. It's computerized. I can't get on an airplane, you can't get on an airplane without somebody checking to see whether we're on a list that say we shouldn't be on there. Why should somebody be able to buy a destructive -- a potentially destructive instrument such as a gun without a background check.

And that -- and that includes and we have to be very clear, closing all loopholes. This gun show loophole is actually what leads to a lot of the guns coming to Connecticut cities from gun shows in Florida and Virginia and elsewhere where there's no background check. You can't do that in the state of Connecticut. It shouldn't be allowed.


And that of course --

COOPER: The president of the NRA, as you know, yesterday said -- sorry, go ahead. Go ahead, Governor.

MALLOY: So -- the whole thing with these magazines, you know, that carry 30 bullets, is crazy. I mean, first of all, an assault weapon, and that's what we're talking about. Becomes an assault weapon in most cases once you connect it to that magazine. So a lot of these guns are sold as single shotguns, but all you have to do is connect it with that 30-round magazine and all of a sudden you have a very destructive instrument, which, by the way, has really been designed in essence to kill people.

People don't go hunting with 30-magazine clip semiautomatic weapons. They don't protect their homes with those kinds of instruments. These instruments are for killing. That's what they're for. And so we've got to limit that. And then third -- so we talked about the magazines, we talked about permitting, and then thirdly we have to have an assault weapons ban that works, and has a broad definition so manufacturers don't sneak things by them.

COOPER: As you know, the president of the NRA yesterday said a ban won't be able to get through Congress. To that you say what?

MALLOY: Well, yes, I -- if it doesn't, it's because the NRA won't let it happen. And they're unfortunately will be other instances where these weapons are used in the way that they were used in Columbine or Aurora or Newtown. This is a movement and an awakening, I think, in -- that started in Newtown when 20 children could be lost in an instant because we don't have a weapons ban and a magazine ban that we once had in this nation going back to 2004.

This is a wake-up call about who we are and what we are and how we want to be perceived and whether we want our children to be safe. And I think, you know, round one, round two, round three in some senses may go the wrong way, but I don't think the people of Newtown or the people of Aurora or the people of Columbine are ever going to forget what happened in their communities, and quite frankly, I think things are changing now.

So let's get the things that there are common agreement on, almost everybody in their right mind agrees that you should have a background check to buy a firearm. Almost everybody in this country within their right minds agrees that we shouldn't have 30-magazine clips.

Let's get the things done that we know that there's broad agreement on. We can argue about the other things. We can have that fight. But I predict there are going to be other mass murders and each time the NRA is going to have to come forward and defend that position, it's going to get harder and harder and harder to do.

COOPER: Governor Malloy, I appreciate your time tonight.

Let us know what you think online. Follow me on Twitter, @AndersonCooper, tweeting in this hour.

Ahead, astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife Gabby Giffords came here recently. Came away more determined than ever to stop gun violence. You're going to hear from Commander Kelly. I talked to him earlier today.

And also later, country superstar Kenny Chesney as our special report, "United in Newtown," continues.



COOPER: The firehouse where children were taken after the shooting for safety and to be reunited with their parents in the hours after the shooting, now on the roof that firehouse, 26 stars, one for each life taken at Sandy Hook Elementary a month ago today.

Tomorrow, Vice President Biden's gun violence task force is expected to give President Obama recommendations for preventing another tragedy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works. What should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe and that we're reducing the incidence of gun violence?


COOPER: A new polling from Gallup shows that 58 percent of Americans now favor stricter gun laws compared to 43 percent a year before Sandy Hook.

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have formed a political action group to push for new legislation. I spoke with Mark Kelly a bit earlier today.


COOPER: Commander Kelly, first of all, how is your wife doing? How is her recovery going?

MARK KELLY, GABBY GIFFORDS' HUSBAND: Gabby is doing great. You know, she's -- she has a little cold right now. She hasn't -- you know, she doesn't get those frequently, but she's not feeling so well today, but in general, she's doing really, really well. I mean, she continues to improve each month, and she's got a very positive outlook about her recovery and so do I.

COOPER: You both went to Newtown recently. I'm curious what that was like for you and what you said to people there and what families said to you.

KELLY: It was very difficult. We met in one of the neighbors' houses with a bunch of young couples. And it seemed every time we turned around, I was looking at a photo of, you know, some, you know, bright-eyed 6- or 7-year-old who was no longer with us, who was really, really difficult.

I mean it's not really much that you can say. We were just there to offer our support, but it was a -- it was difficult trip.

COOPER: What do you specifically want to see happen in terms of whether it's gun control, background checks? What are you specifically hoping to see happen, to change?

KELLY: Well, our organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, wants to focus on four things. Well, first of all, we want to educate people on the issue. But you know, we believe, Gabby and I believe, that there are four basic things that we need to do to make this country safer. I mean, we're not going to get rid of all the gun violence, but first of all a universal background check will prevent some criminals and some of the mentally ill from obtaining a firearm.

Secondly, a high-capacity magazine was used in Tucson, Aurora, it was used in Newtown. I mean, those are really made for the military to kill a lot of people all at once. The mental health issue, almost in every one of these mass shootings, it involves a young man who has some form, often schizophrenia, that is easily treated if you can identify those people and get them in a system where it says that they need treatment and do not have access to a weapon. And finally, you know, it's very easy to get access to an assault weapon in this country. And from my experience in the military, I spent 25 years in the Navy. I mean, assault weapons are good at killing a lot of people all at once. And that's something that really should be and is designed for the military.

COOPER: I know, as you said, you're gun owner, your wife is a gun owner, but, you know, the NRA is essentially saying that the answer lies in arming people in schools. That there should be an armed person in every school. Do you think that's part of the solution?

KELLY: Personally, I don't think so. You know, I don't think that will work. Gabby and I are both very strong supporters of the Second Amendment. You know, I defended the Constitution. I defended the Second Amendment flying in combat over Iraq and Kuwait. You know, defending our country.

Gabby owns a gun. I own a gun. This really isn't about the Second Amendment. I don't believe it is. You know, this is about gun safety, and it's about safety of the public. So you know, I don't buy the argument from the gun lobby that there's some sort of slippery slope. You know, I applaud the fact that the NRA and the gun lobby realizes that there's a problem. But the solution of putting a security guard with a gun in every school is not something that I feel will work.

I have flown in combat. It gets very chaotic when you're shot at, you know, multiple times. Friends of mine who were members of SEAL Team Six, you know, the same experience that they had. They don't think that this would work, either. And then what do you do? Do you put a -- do you put a security guard on a school bus? How about in a church or a movie theater? When does it end?

But, you know, it really comes down to Congress doing the right thing and coming up with some responsible commonsense changes to gun violence laws, and I think if we do that, we can reduce the number of deaths in this country from mass shootings, but also from this, you know, this daily, you know, 90 to 100 murders that happen each day.

COOPER: You do hear the NRA pushing back and pushing back hard. I mean, all of the ideas of any kind of gun control or measures, they basically just rejected and talked about, you know, mental health databases or putting armed people in schools.

So where do you see common ground?

KELLY: Well, certainly right off the bat, I mean, the mental health issue is a significant issue. So I believe that needs to be addressed. So there's a little bit of common ground there. You know, I have spoken to a lot of members of the NRA. I have a lot of friends who are members of the NRA. Seventy-five percent of NRA members believe that you should have a background check before buying a gun.

So that's certainly something that I would hope that the leadership in the gun lobby in some time, maybe not today or tomorrow, but maybe over the next coming weeks, I mean, this is a very political issue. You know, as you know, you know, money and politics kind of drive the discussion on a lot of these issues. So this is going to take some time.

But you know, I've got friends also in NRA leadership. And those are -- they -- some of them are reasonable people, and I think we can come to some commonsense solutions for this very serious problem.

COOPER: Commander Kelly, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

KELLY: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, just ahead tonight, a show of support that no one expected now fills an entire warehouse here in Newtown. More than 150,000 condolence letters from across the globe. What strangers wrote to the families that they'd never met and why it's made a difference. We'll be right back from Newtown.


COOPER: Well, for the Newtown families, there's been no map to help them through their pain, through their grief and loss, but they haven't been alone as they've tried to find their way. Soon after the shooting, letters began arriving. A flood of letters, literally from around the world. What happened here one month ago was felt across the globe.

Here's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since the shootings one month ago, more than 150,000 condolence letters have been sent to Newtown. And these are the volunteers who open and read them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I am a former public school teacher, a current college professor, an old man, and a grandpa. Who knows none of you but my heart breaks for each of you."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "After hearing stories of one of the teachers being willing to shield her students, I was inspired. If I die for my future students, I will have lived a worthwhile life."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "No one should have to experience extreme amounts of pain that you have. With all of my love, Rachel."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I have a 6-year-old brother. I couldn't live without him. You will be in my prayers. Those kids never got to live their life. When people say Batman is a superhero, they're wrong. The adults who sat in front of the little kids and got shot are the real superheroes."

TUCHMAN: The letters come from all over the world. This is from China. This from the U.K. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "This has saddened the hearts of all around the world. May God watch over you in your time of sorrow." This is from the Davies family and Pullens family in South Wales, Britain.

TUCHMAN (on camera): The letters are heartfelt, meaningful, and emotional. They also often come with money. For example, this one from an Angela Floris (ph) from Cory, Pennsylvania. This letter is very thick because it's full of box tops, and she writes, enclosed, although not much, are some box tops for education. And she also enclosed a check for $15 to the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

There's also this letter from an Autry Noblit (ph) in Cosgrove, Florida. And this contains a $100 check for the PTA. And then there's this letter that comes from Draper, Utah, the Sanderson children. And this is very touching. "Dear people, I'm sorry about your kids. I feel so bad for you. It feels like there's no Christmas. Here's some money for you." And attached from a 7-year- old named Ali, four pennies.

(voice-over): The money will go to whomever it's directed to go to. If it's not clear, it will go to charities. As far as the letters go, many are being given go to the victims' families. And the others --

PATRICIA LLODRA, NEWTOWN FIRST SELECTWOMAN: I think the letters will become part of our permanent memorial. We know that we collected all the items that were in our outside memorial to make them a sacred soil or a product like a brick or block, if they can't be made into soil, that will become part of our permanent memorial.

TUCHMAN: And then there is this, a huge warehouse, full of donations. The majority of which are stuffed animals of every size.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have just about 48,000 stuffed animals.

TUCHMAN: Forty eight thousand, there are also more than 1,800 boxes of school supplies, more than 400 boxes of toys.

(on camera): People from all over the world have sent donations that are meant for the siblings of the children who were killed and also for the children of Newtown. For example, Barbie bicycles and other bicycles, 51 bicycles have arrived here. And here's "Hot Wheel" sets, there's about 20 of them. Also, snow sleds.

(voice-over): Opening all of this is physically and emotionally overwhelming, but it's also therapeutic and so moving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your community has shown great strength during an unspeakable tragedy. It's people like you who inspire humanity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My heart breaks in 1,000 ways for your pain. I am 83 years old. So my time here is short. When I get to heaven, I will hug and hold your little ones until you get there. This is my solemn promise to you.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHRO: I mean, so moving to hear those. For the people who are volunteering, it's got to be so difficult. They're reading every single one.

TUCHMAN: There's no training for this. These are volunteers and they come and sit there for hours opening letter after letter. It's very redundant, physically it gets hard, but then they have a vow to read each one.

And after about a half an hour or an hour depending on who you are, it gets emotionally overwhelming. You just have to take a break. You have to stop and then you resume it again. It's a lot of work, 150,000 letters.

COOPER: It's incredible that they're taking the time to do that though, I mean, it's really --

TUCHMAN: I think it's beautiful and wonderful, but they have made a promise to read each and every letter.

COOPER: And they're forwarding them on to families in many cases. Gary, I appreciate that lovely report. Sandy Hook's students are settling into their new temporary school. We're going to hear how that transition is going and also what the future might hold for their old school.

Also ahead, one of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell's favorite singers, Kenny Chesney, his tribute to his beautiful, young fan and all the teachers and her classmates.


COOPER: Well, Sandy Hook students are settling into their new school, the former Chalk Hill Middle School in nearby Monroe, Connecticut. It's been given a makeover, including familiar furniture and a new paint job in Sandy Hook's colors.

Classes began on January 3rd. You can imagine what an emotional day that was. Our Gary Tuchman talked to Aimee Seaver as her daughter Ella was getting ready to go back. Here's what she said then.


AIMEE SEAVER, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: It's mixed emotions. You know, it's good. She needs to go back. They all need to go back. They say the best thing you can do is get back to your normal routine, while that's being one of the hardest things you can do. I'm sure they'll be safe. I'm sure that school is going to be like Fort Knox today. But at the same point, you're worried. The fear is how are they going to react?


COOPER: Well, the children have been in their new classrooms only eight days. It's a transition that will no doubt take a lot of time. In the meantime, public meetings are being held to discuss what will become their old school.

The first was yesterday, more than 200 people came. Janet Robinson is the superintendent of Newtown public schools. She joins me now along with Debbie Leidlein, chairwoman of the Newtown School Board. Appreciate you both being with us.


COOPER: How are things? I mean, how are the students adjusting?

JANET ROBINSON, SUPERINTENDENT, NEWTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Well, everybody is a little different place, but the day that the children came in off the buses that very first day, I'm telling you, those children didn't just walk off the buses. They hopped, they skipped. When they saw their teachers waiting for them, they hugged them. They were happy to be back. I think getting back in a routine is helping them a great deal.

COOPER: In terms of kinds of questions people have had, what has it been like over the last month?

DEBBIE LEIDLEIN, CHAIRWOMAN, NEWTOWN SCHOOL BOARD: I think people are trying to come to grips with what happened and what the future is going to be. I think that's one of the biggest questions. But also, they want to be insured that going forward, their children are going to be safe and that their needs are going to be met based on what happened.

COOPER: In terms of counseling, I mean, you had counseling available to both adults and kids.

ROBINSON: Right. We've had wonderful support in the way of counseling and that will continue. It's important that we support them. It's not just an educational environment. It's wanting the children to be totally, wholly healthy. So we are continuing our counseling.

COOPER: What do you think will happen to the Sandy Hook Elementary?

ROBINSON: They're having the community conversations, so people have an opportunity to express their opinion. And then ultimately, the town leaders will make a decision as to what will happen with that building.

COOPER: Because right now the kids are being educated away. There's been talk of dividing up the class. You want to try to keep the classes together?

ROBINSON: It's important to teachers, students, and parents, all of us want to keep the students together. You know, that's a wonderful thing about being able to use Chalk Hill, we were able to keep them together during this transition time.

COOPER: What do you want people to know a month later about how things are? LEIDLEIN: Well, I think first of all, I want our community to know that we hear them loud and clear when our Sandy Hook community says that they want to be kept together. I think Monroe gave us a beautiful gift in that they gave us a school where that could happen immediately after the shooting.

And that we were able to move forward and keep those kids and those teachers together and those families together because that's really what their elementary school was all about, it was about family. And so we think that that's critical in helping the healing process progress and the fact that they're together.

COOPER: You must be so proud of how your educators have handled this. I mean, not just on that day but subsequently.

ROBINSON: Very proud. It's exactly what I would expect from these teachers and other staff members, too. Everyone has bonded together. They have gone over and beyond to make everything as safe for the children. And as I said, we are about teaching.

We need our children, so they were anxious to have the kids come back. They have done things that were extra. Some of the teachers actually called the students and had little pizza parties before school started so they could kind of ease them back into the framework of being a classroom again.

COOPER: And you're actually going to Washington on Wednesday to meet on school safety. Is that correct?

ROBINSON: That's correct.

COOPER: What is your message? What do you think needs to be done?

ROBINSON: Well, I think my message is really to represent the staff and the families and children of Sandy Hook. And let them know what happened and tell them that this is a school and a community that is really safe. If this could happen in Sandy Hook, Newtown, Connecticut, it can happen anywhere.

COOPER: Do you feel like you have answers, like you know what needs to change or do you feel like you're just one voice of many and you want to start a discussion?

ROBINSON: Well, I certainly feel the discussion is important. I think that above all, children have a right to be -- to live their lives and grow up healthy. I want to do anything I can to advocate for children growing up healthy and not having their lives shortened too soon.

COOPER: I appreciate both of you taking the time to talk to us. All the best. Wish you the best.

Newtown had to deal with funeral after funeral, the unthinkable task of trying to say goodbye. Coming up, how the town came together and continues to do so and how they're handling their changed lives from a spiritual standpoint. We'll be right back.



NELBA MARQUEZ, MOTHER OF ANA MARQUEZ-GREENE: On Friday, December 14th, I put two children on the bus and only one came home. I pray that no mother, father, grandparent, or caregiver of children ever have to go through this pain. In our home, our faith, our family, and our friends have helped carry us through this unbearable pain.


COOPER: That was the mother of Ana Marquez-Greene, a little girl who loves to sing and dance, a little girl with a beautiful spirit and heart. The title on Ana's memorial fund web site is something Anna would often say, "Love Wins."

The Newtown families have vowed their loved ones are not forgotten. Noah Pozner by all accounts made a big impression on everyone he met. The little boy was funny and smart. He loved animals and tacos and most of all, his family.

Noah's sister Danielle joins me now. So sorry about your loss, how are you, how is the rest of the family holding up?

DANIELLE VABNER, NOAH POZNER'S SISTER: Well, right now, we're just trying to take it day by day, but of course, sometimes that's easier said than done. So I often find myself thinking, you know, about the future and about how Noah will never get to have the life that he was supposed to have.

He'll never get to be a man. But I guess the one thing -- the one positive thing I can say has come out of this is that my family has learned to appreciate each other in ways that we never have before.

And you know, just like the rest of my family has said, Noah adored his family more than anything else in the world, and I think that would make him proud that we have all, you know, grown closer instead of been torn apart by this.

COOPER: He used to joke about -- or actually used to claim that he was a manager at a taco factory, right?


COOPER: Because he loved tacos?

VABNER: Yes, it was his dream to work in a taco factory. He would to tell us all the time, I have my job part-time at a taco factory, and I would say, no, you don't. How do you even get there, you can't drive. He would say, don't worry about it. It's a secret. So he was full of jokes, always.

COOPER: Are you able to -- I think many times when people experience loss, it's hard to sometimes to talk about the person and to keep kind of keep them in conversation. Are you and your family -- are you able to talk about him?

VABNER: Yes. I mean, it's not as great as what he went through and how his life ended was horrible, and it's the least we can do to honor his short life. He didn't get to live the life he was supposed to live. He only got six years and we owe it to him to keep it alive by talking about him to everyone. We want everyone to feel the loss we feel because it's an enormous loss.

COOPER: And you have a younger sister?

VABNER: Yes, I have two younger sisters.

COOPER: And I understand they still speak of him in the first person.

VABNER: They do. They talk about him like he's still here, and whether it's because they haven't fully accepted it or just because that's the way -- or because they want to keep him alive, I'm not sure, but I think that just the fact that they talk about him like he's still around, it helps us imagine him as if he were with us.

I always think about what he would say if he were here. And in that way, he stays alive in my mind because I can imagine exactly what his reaction would be to different situations. For me, that really keeps him here with us.

COOPER: That's nice.


COOPER: You're going back to school for the first time since the shooting.


COOPER: How -- that's going to be hard, I would imagine, being away from your family and being around with other people who haven't been through what you have?

VABNER: Absolutely. It's definitely going to be hard, but I think my mission, I'm not just going to sweep it under the rug like it didn't happen. I want to raise awareness about it and I want everyone to remember Noah, too.

Life won't be like it was before it happened. Of course, I'm going to still have my friends there for me and, but it's not going to be the same. So I'll do whatever I can to, you know, I guess it will be a new normal, as people say.

COOPER: Yes, I want to bring in Rabbi Shaul Praver who officiated at Noah's funeral and the reverend Matt Crebbin at the Newtown Congregational Church. I appreciate both of you being with us. It's nice to see you again. You talk to someone like Danielle, the strength of the families is really just extraordinary. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really is. I'm very proud of them. They have been very resilient, and I'm happy to know them and wish that this never happened, of course.

COOPER: How -- I mean, a month on, what are you hearing from families, what are you hearing from people? How do you think the community is doing?

REVEREND MATT CREBBIN, NEWTOWN CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH: Well, I think the response has been one -- you know, we have choices, and I think most of the people in this community chose compassion, chose love, chose care as powerful forces.

I think the Reverend James Forbes once said that when tragedy strikes, you have to make it dearly, you have to meet destruction and death where grace and love. That's what I think this community has been doing at least in this first four weeks.

We still have a long way to go. You know, we know from our families there's a lot of grief still. There are a lot of choices we have to make. So it will be a challenge for us, but I think so far, that compassion, that grace has been carrying us.

COOPER: It's often, you know, sort of adrenaline takes you through the first week or two, and there's funerals to plan, but then once the crowds die away and you're just left with, you know, your immediate family, it can be particularly hard. Have you seen that? How do you feel people are doing?

RABBI SHAUL PRAVER, TEMPLE ADATH ISRAEL: I feel that there is danger of depression setting in and people despairing, but we have to keep it up. It's just the beginning. We have a lot of work to do, you know, and by the way, you have been doing a fabulous job, you know, I really admire the compassion you have extended to all of these families.

COOPER: It's been an honor to be here.

CREBBIN: I think, Anderson, one of the things that we know from our religious traditions is that we have early on all of these rituals that we do as part of the grieving process, when grief is so raw. That's what sustains so many of us, but what you're highlighting is there comes a time when all those rituals, those things we have drawn strength from, you know, kind of disappear.

And people are left to return to life, you know, kind of supposed to be back to normal, but for so many of our families, there isn't that normal life again. So that's where the challenges come to how do we rebuild lives that honor, as we're hearing here, that honor those that we lost?

But also affirm we're not victims or we're not being lost in the midst of this just grief that kind of spirals away from us. But really affirms those that we have lost and also affirms what we want to be most about. COOPER: One of the things Danielle was saying about going back to school. I lost a brother about a month before I went back to school. It was very strange to be around people who had not experienced loss and people's whose world continued to spin normally, and I felt and I think many people who have experienced loss feel that their world has stopped.

CREBBIN: That's right.

COOPER: What do you -- do you find people's faith strengthened? Do you find it questioned? What have you seen over this last month? It's different for everybody, I'm sure.

PRAVER: I think it's been an increase of faith because this was very tragic, but there was a tremendous light that came out. You were there. You saw the prayer vigil on that Sunday night. There was something very magical that happened that night.

That's what really -- we're not the experts on the guns, we're not the experts on the mental health, but we are in that field of spirituality, and we want, you know, the good example that our clergy group did here in Newtown to spread through the country and just all of these different things that go on.

They all contribute to the general culture of violence like behind us here on this town hall. It used to say just a few days ago, a big banner reading we will birth a culture of peace. And that, you know, is a spontaneous statement we all agreed with.

And we hope that the listeners out there in the house of worship all through the country will get together, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Sikhs, all get together because the by-product of our religion is that love thing. It all starts with love and it's all going to end with love.

COOPER: Thank you for being with us. I really appreciate it. I wish you the best. I wish you the best at school.

We'll be right back with country superstar Kenny Chesney's tribute to the victims especially a young fan, a little girl's "Amazing Grace."


COOPER: In those dark days after the shooting when I was here in Newtown, I spoke with the parents of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, and was incredibly moved by their strength and courage in the face of unimaginable loss.

I told the McDonnells that from now on I will always think of their daughter Grace, a bright and talented artist when I hear the song "Amazing Grace." Grace's parents told me that Kenny Chesney was one of her favorite singers and when she would go on the school bus, she and her mom would sing some of his songs.

We reached out to Kenny Chesney and he said he would sing "Amazing Grace" in Grace's honor and honor of all of the people in Newtown, Connecticut. We leave you with that song as we looked at the beautiful young faces of the children who lost their lives that day. We remember them and we wish their families and friends continued peace and strength.


COOPER: That was beautiful. I want to thank Kenny Chesney for that. We'll see you again one hour from now at 10:00. Another edition of 360. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.