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Newtown One Month Later; Interview With Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy

Aired January 14, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here in Newtown, Connecticut.

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

For the first time today in this town hall behind me, family members of 11 victims of the shootings appeared to start what they hope becomes a national conversation, a conversation about health, and school safety, and what they call gun responsibility.

You will hear from a number of families tonight about how they're coping one month since they lost their son or daughter, their brother or their sister. Much of the world may have moved on, but grief does not conform to any timetable. And tonight we wanted to be here in Newtown to remind the world 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 the 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 VICTIM: 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 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, 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, 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 will be talking throughout the evening with people at the forefront of that effort in Newtown, across the state and the country. In a moment, astronaut Mark Kelly, who saw his wife nearly die in Tucson, talks about their new mission to end gun violence and we will 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 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 SHOOTING VICTIM: Sure. COOPER: It's a dumb question, but how are you holding up a month on?

It's hard. We're going day by day. First, it's hour by hour. It's day by day.

COOPER: Yes, sometimes even minute by minute.

J. HUBBARD: Sometimes minute by minute. It changes. It changes.

COOPER: I have always thought of grief as sort of -- it comes in waves.

MATT HUBBARD, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: It does. And every day for us, I think, is a new first. You know, we're doing new things with the three of us. It's a new first.

COOPER: Getting through the holidays must have been so hard.

J. HUBBARD: Yes and no. At first we thought how are we going to do Christmas? But 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: Yes, first graders. Yes.

COOPER: First graders. Catherine was in the class. And yet you have gone back to teach her class.

J. HUBBARD: I did. I did, because when I was at the firehouse 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. That's the first word. She's 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 would be right now. So teaching those babies and those other first graders that God loves them and Jesus will take care of them 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, and 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 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 one of the things I 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. You know, that's how we remember Catherine, is all the love she gave us and our family and the animals.

J. HUBBARD: She just -- she would get the animals, and she would put them all around her. 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 the animals in their truest form.

I think it was just the innocence of her. She would surround herself with her animals. We couldn't see her. And we would have to -- let's find Catherine. But in spring, I will never forget it, she would find a butterfly and she would stop short and she would run and she would get her net. And she would work on it all spring, and then in the middle of the summer, the red hair flying.

And she would just -- you would look out and the wind would be blowing and she would be crouched in the garden. She would do it every year. She would catch this little butterfly on her hands. Who knows what she was saying? She would talk to it, and then she would 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 loved it. She loved every bit. And so when we decided that 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, so we're going to bring all of the animals to her.

COOPER: She used to kiss your hand, I understand?

J. HUBBARD: She would -- she did it the morning she got on the bus. Every morning -- she did not have a good time going to school, of course. She missed us.

So in the morning, she would go to the bus and she would say, I love you. I love you. And she would kiss your hand. Then she would 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 your toes. And I will never forget it. She turned around and she waved. And I knew it, all the way to my toes, from now until the butterfly gets to heaven for her. COOPER: You still feel it all the way to your toes?

J. HUBBARD: I do, I do.

COOPER: It's good.

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

COOPER: Thank you so much for talking to us.

J. HUBBARD: You're welcome. You're welcome.

COOPER: Really appreciate it.

M. HUBBARD: Thank you.

COOPER: I wish you strength.

J. HUBBARD: Thank you.

M. HUBBARD: Thanks.

COOPER: More now on the effort to reshape public policy in the wake of all this.

In the state of the state address last week, 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. DAN MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, it's a remarkable community. Great strength.

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 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 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.

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 says we shouldn't be on there. Why should somebody be able to by such a destructive, a potentially destructive instrument such as a gun without a background check?

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 into 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.

COOPER: The president of the NRA yesterday said -- sorry, go ahead.


MALLOY: The whole thing with the magazines, you know, that carry 30 bullets is crazy.

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-shot guns, 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 we have to limit that. And then third -- 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, if it doesn't, it's because the NRA won't let it happen. And there 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, 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 wakeup 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. 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 the 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. I'm tweeting in this hour.

Astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Gabby Giffords, came here recently, came away more determined than ever to stop gun violence. You will hear from Commander Kelly. I talked to him earlier today, and also, later, 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 of 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: Well, 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, HUSBAND OF GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Gabby is doing great. She has a little cold right now. She doesn't get those frequently, but she's not feeling so well today, but, in general, she's doing really, really well. 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 bright-eyed 6-year-old or 7-year-old who was no longer with us. It was really, really difficult.

There's not really much that you can say. We were just there to offer our support, but it was a 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. 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. 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. Those are really made for the military to kill a lot of people 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 identify those people and get them into a system where it says they need treatment and don't have access to a weapon.

And, finally, it's very easy to get access to an assault weapon in the country. From my experience in the military, I spent 25 years in the Navy, assault weapons are good at killing a lot of people all at once. 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 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. I defended the Constitution. I defended the Second Amendment flying in combat over Iraq and Kuwait 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.

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 multiple times. Friends of mine who were members of SEAL Team Six, the same experience that they had, they don't think this would work either. And then what do you do? Do you put a security guard on a school bus? How about in a church or in a movie theater? When does it end?

But 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 90 to 100 murders that happen each day.

COOPER: You do hear the NRA pushing back and pushing back hard. All of the ideas of any kind of gun control measures, they have 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; 75 percent of NRA members believe you should have a background check before buying a gun. 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.

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 have 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: 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 have never met and why it's made a difference.

We will be right back from Newtown.


COOPER: 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 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 NATIONAL 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 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 lives. 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 all around the world. May God watch over you in your time of sorrow. This is from the Davies (ph) family and Pullens (ph) 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 Flories (ph) in Corry, 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 Noblet (ph) in (INAUDIBLE) Florida. And this contains a $100 check for the PTA.

And then there's this letter. It comes from Draper, Utah, the Sanderson (ph) children. And this is very touching. It says: "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 Ally (ph), 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 to the victims' family. And the others...

PATRICIA LLODRA, NEWTOWN FIRST SELECTWOMAN: I think the letters will become part of our permanent memorial. You know that we collected all of the items that were in our outside memorial to make them into 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. Fifty-one 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.


COOPER: So moving to hear those. What is it -- for the people who are volunteering, I mean, it's got to be so difficult. They're reading every single one.

TUCHMAN: There's no training for this. These are volunteers. They come. They sit there for hours opening letter after letter. It's very redundant. Physically, it's 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. 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 that they have made a promise to read each and every letter.

COOPER: And they're forwarding them on to families, in many cases. Gary, appreciate that. Really loved your 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.


KENNY CHESNEY, COUNTRY SINGER (singing): Was blind but now I see so now I can be in the scene.



COOPER: 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 3. You can imagine what an emotional day that was.

Our Gary Tuchman talked to Amy Seger that morning as her daughter, Ella, was getting back -- getting ready to go back. Here's what she said then.


AMY SEGER, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY STUDENT: It's mixed emotions. You know, it's good. She needs to go back. They all need to go back. They -- you know, they say the best thing you can do is get back to your normal routine, while that's been 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 Ft. Knox today. But at the same point, you're worried. The fear is how are they going to react?


COOPER: 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 of their old school. The first was yesterday. More than 200 people came. Janet Robinson is 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: Is it "leed-line"?


COOPER: Sorry.


COOPER: How are things? How are the students adjusting?

ROBINSON: Well, everybody is in 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. They were -- when they saw their teachers waiting for them, they hugged them. They were happy to be back. I think getting back in the routine is helping them a great deal.

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

LEIDLEIN: 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, that their children are going to be safe and that their needs are going to be met with -- based on what happened.

COOPER: And in terms of counseling, I mean, you had counseling available to both adults and kids. Yes?

ROBINSON: Yes. 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: And what do you think will happen to the Sandy Hook Elementary?

ROBINSON: Well, 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: There's -- because right now the kids are being educated away. There's been talk of dividing up the class. You want to keep the classes together?

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

COOPER: What do you want people to know about -- a month later about how things are?

LEIDLEIN: Well, I think first of all, I want our community to know about we hear them loud and clear when our Sandy Hook community says that they want to be kept together.

And I think Monroe gave us a beautiful gift in that they gave us a school that can 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 a family. And so, you know, 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've 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've -- they've done things that were extra. Some of the teachers actually called the students and had little pizza parties before school started so that 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 do you -- what's 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. And I want to do anything I can to advocate for children growing up healthy and not having their lives shortened so soon. COOPER: I appreciate both of you taking the time to talk with us tonight.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you so much. Thanks for all you've been doing.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

LEIDLEIN: Thank you.

COOPER: All the best. Thank you. Wish you the best.

Newtown had to deal with funeral after funeral. The unthinkable task of trying to say good-bye.

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 14, I put two children on the bus, and only one came home. I pray that no mother, father, grandparent, or care giver 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 loved to sing and to dance. A little girl with a beautiful spirit and heart. The title on Ana's memorial fund Web site is something that Ana would often say, "Love wins."

The Newtown families have vowed to ensure their loved ones are not forgotten.

Noah Pozner, by all accounts, made a big impression on everyone he met. A little boy who was funny and smart. he loved animals and tacos and, most of all, his family. His sister Danielle joins me now.

So sorry about your loss. How are you? How is the rest of the family holding up?

DANIELLE POZNER, SISTER OF NOAH POZNER: 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 that 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 that would make him proud, that we've all 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: Was that just because he loved tacos?

POZNER: Yes, it was his dream to work in a taco factory. And he would tell us all the time, "I have my job part-time at a taco factory."

And I would say, "No, you don't. How can you get there? You can't drive."

And we was like, he was like, "Don't worry about it. It's a secret."

COOPER: That's funny.

POZNER: Yes. So he was full of jokes, always.

COOPER: Are you able to -- I think many times when people have experienced 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?

POZNER: 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 that he was supposed to live. He only got six years. And we owe it to him to keep him alive by talking about him to everyone. And we want everyone to feel the loss that we feel, because it's an enormous loss.

COOPER: And you have a younger sister?

POZNER: Yes, I have two younger sisters.

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

POZNER: 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 you know, in that way, he stays alive in my mind, because I can imagine exactly what his reaction would be to different situations. And for me, that really -- that 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 people who haven't been through what you have?

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

Of course, I'm going to, you know, 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. Also, the Reverend Mark Crebbin of the Newtown Congregational Church. I appreciate both of you being with us. Nice to see you again.

It's -- you know, you talk to someone like Danielle, I mean, the strength of the families is really just extraordinary.

RABBI SHAUL PRAVER, TEMPLE ADATH (PH) ISRAEL: 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 this community is doing?

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

I think the Rev. Dr. James Forbes once said that when tragedy strikes, you have to make it pay dearly, and you have to meet destruction and death with and with love. And that's what I think this community has been doing, at least in these 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's 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, and -- but then once, sort of, 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? PRAVER: Yes. I feel that there is danger of depression setting in. And people despairing, so 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've been doing a fabulous job, you know. I really admire the compassion that you have extended to all these families.

COOPER: It's been an honor to be here. And -- you know.

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. And that's what sustains so many of us.

But what you're highlighting is there comes a time when all those rituals, those things that 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.

COOPER: Right.

CREBBIN: But for so many of our families, there isn't that normal life again.

And so that's where the challenges come to how do we rebuild, you know, lives that honor, as we're hearing here, that honor those that we've lost, but also affirm that we're not victims or we're not, you know, being lost in the midst of this just grief that just kind of spirals away from us. But really affirms those that we have lost and also affirms what we want most to be about.

COOPER: One of the things Danielle was saying about going back to school. I lost a brother right before -- about a month before I went back to school. And it was very strange to be around people who had not experienced loss and people whose worlds continued to spin normally, whereas I felt and I think many people feel who have experienced loss, that their world has stopped.

PRAVER: Yes. That's right.

COOPER: How -- 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, like, a tremendous light that came out. And you were there. You saw the prayer vigil on that Sunday night.

COOPER: Right.

PRAVER: And there was something very magical that happened that night. And that's what really -- we're not, you know, the experts on the guns. We're not the experts on the mental health, but we are, you know, in that field of spirituality. And we want, you know -- the good example, I think, 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 that we all agreed with.

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

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

POZNER: Thank you.

COOPER: And to your family.

POZNER: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you so much.

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


COOPER: During the time that I was in Newtown, in those dark days right after the shootings, I spoke to the parents of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, and was incredibly moved by their strength and their courage in the face of unimaginable loss.

I told the McDonnells that from now on, I will always think of their daughter, a bright light in their family, a talented young artist, whenever I hear the song "Amazing Grace." Grace's parents said that Kenny Chesney was one of her favorite singers. Grace and her mom used to sing his songs as they waited for the school bus every day.

Kenny Chesney agreed to sing "Amazing Grace" in her honor and in honor of all the people of Newtown, Connecticut. And we leave you this hour with that song as we look at the beautiful young faces of the kids who lost their lives that day. We remember them and we wish their families and their friends continued peace and strength.




COOPER: That was beautiful. I want to thank Kenny Chesney for that great rendition of "Amazing Grace." That does it for us. We'll be back in Newtown one hour from now, another edition of 360 at 10 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN" starts right now.