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Three Hurt, Gunman Killed in Colorado School Shooting; No Action on Gun Violence in Year Since Newtown Shootings

Aired December 13, 2013 - 18:28   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

Tonight, we're following breaking news, the shooting at a Colorado high school. Hospital officials say three are injured. Authorities say the gunman, a male student, apparently shot and killed himself. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.

Let's get the very latest from CNN's Ana Cabrera in Centennial, Colorado, in suburban Denver. What do we know, Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stephanie, this is still a developing investigation, but the shooting itself is over. Police do not believe there are any other suspects, any other threats that are currently out there. That's the most important information right now.

We also know there is a student undergoing surgery with very serious gunshot wounds. Another student who was hospitalized with what the sheriffs described as fairly minor gunshot injuries.

Right now, students and parents are still reuniting for the first time since this all began at 12:30 in the afternoon local time, when a student at the school, the sheriff says, walked in with the shotgun, looking for a specific teacher. Never did find that teacher, but did open fire, again shooting at least two, possibly three students before taking his own life.

Students immediately went into the lockdown situation at their school as police, the SWAT activated their active shooter protocol, trained to go directly to the threat.

We do understand there was a security guard at the school at the time, who immediately also took action.

CUPP: Ana, it's S.E. here. What -- you described the security at the school a little bit. But what kind of contingency plan, if any, did this school have in place for events like this?

CABRERA: Certainly since Columbine, which was back in 1999, and then Flat Canyon, another school shooting here in Colorado in 2006, there has been extensive training for active shooter situations, both on this police training side of things, as well as school training side of things. And we've talked to several students at the school who said, yes, they have done lockdown drills numerous times to prepare for situations similar to this one, in which they have to close the door, lock the classroom and go into what's considered the most secure area within the classroom, put their heads down and be very, very quiet.

CUTTER: Ana, it's Stephanie again. What do we know -- we know that the shooter took his own life. Do we know anything else about the situation under which this occurred? Any of the background between this student and the teacher?

CABRERA: We've been talking to a lot of students, certainly, and parents, and law-enforcement officials. And while law-enforcement officials are not giving us any specifics as far as confirming the identity of the shooter, only that he was a student at the school.

I just spoke with a student who tells me he is a very good friend of the shooter. He is 100 percent certain he knows the shooter and described this individual as somebody who was well-liked, who had a lot of friends. He said he's kind of a geek but in a very likable way, was part of the speech and debate team and that perhaps had a conflict with the teacher whom he was targeting in this particular incident -- Stephanie, S.E.

CUTTER: Thank you, Ana.

It's been a year since Sandy Hook, or a year tomorrow, a year of inaction on gun violence and mental health. And that's where I'm going to start the conversation tonight.

With us tonight, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. They're both CNN political commentators.

Kevin, let's start with you. This is yet another terrible tragedy. And we've seen some action in Washington on steps to improve gun safety and gun control. And my question to you is the senate has acted. The administration has taken some steps to increase funding for mental health services, to remove the stigma of mental health issues, to put an ATF director in place to keep guns off the streets. Why hasn't the House moved? Tell me about the dynamics of why the House has not been moving on this.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's a good question, Stephanie. And you mentioned it earlier, when you said about gun safety and gun control. I think this has to do with how this debate ultimately gets framed.

And when it's about gun control, it's a pretty partisan debate, and it's one where it elicits a lot of different emotions from different sectors of the ideological spectrum, so to speak.

When it's about gun safety, that's actually an area where there is a tremendous amount of agreement and there is bipartisan agreement. And you have folks that care about mental -- mental-health issues, mental- health funding, school safety, gun safety. And oftentimes, when it veers away and it becomes very partisan, it just becomes very difficult.

CUPP: And Donna, I think that, in the wake of these tragedies, there's often an understandable, but a knee-jerk reaction to want to solve for this tragedy, to pass laws that would have prevented this tragedy, but we know that tragedy to tragedy, they're different. It's a complex, constellation of variables and factor.

So it is really possible to legislatively solve for each of these tragedies, or should we, like Kevin is suggesting, be talking about the mental-health preventative things that we can do beforehand?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think we need to have a broad conversation, a conversation that starts with gun safety laws, a conversation that starts with the accessibility of mental- health services, facilities, counselors. I teach on a college campus. It's very important that you have personnel available to help to talk to individuals.

But the one thing we shouldn't stigmatize is mental-health patients. Look, we know that clearly, 96 of percent of people who receive mental-health treatment in this country, they're not violent. Often, they're the victims of violence.

So it's important that we not stigmatize; we increase the availability of beds, counselors, public safety officials. We have a full conversation.

But remember we can't solves all our problems in Washington, D.C. These problems have to be solved at the state and local level, need to be solved in our churches, in our schools, in our synagogues. And they need to be solved around the kitchen table, so to speak.

CUPP: Great point.


CUTTER: So what can we do -- Kevin, you mentioned that we get into problems here in Washington when we talk about gun safety versus gun control. And Donna just mentioned that this has to be a multi-tiered approach. How do we spur that into action so that we're not reacting tragedy to tragedy; we're actually acting up front to prevent tragedies? How can we change that conversation?

MADDEN: Well, I think the better -- the more likely trajectory for success is focused on when you make incremental reforms on areas where you agree, such as mental health -- for mental-health funding or school safety. Versus, you know, maybe a legislative overreach: that is a big bill where there's a lot -- where it brings in a lot of the partisan disagreement that you have, and then that changes the dynamic of the conversation that we have in public.

And I have to agree with Donna. I think that there's a more appropriate forum for this, outside of the political forum. I think that does -- and that does start at a level outside of Washington. Like you said, kitchen tables, inside mental-health forums, inside -- inside, you know, people in their living rooms. That's a -- that's probably where I expect that there is a public debate here.

CUPP: Yes.

MADDEN: And where it will occur.

CUPP: I completely agree. And it seems as though one of the problems is that, even if we identify the need to sit around and have these conversations about mental health, about resources, about access, the intensity surrounding these events dies down over time. And there really isn't a way to keep the momentum going to solve these problems, whether it's a discussion on gun control or mental health. The intensity dies down.

How do we come up with a way to motivate people around their kitchen tables, and maybe even in Washington, to keep these issues at the forefront?

BRAZILE: I don't think the intensity -- it dies down in Washington. Maybe it dies down in the national conversation. After all, in a few weeks we'll be consumed about the Super Bowl. We're always distracted.

But in places like Newtown; right here in Washington, D.C., with the Navy Yard shooting, the pain and the wounds will not go away. I would hope that we take time out to pause. We're losing a lot of kids, not just you know, on one day in in a particular school or at a -- at a baseball park, in a mall, but we're losing kids all the time.

And this is time for us to embrace our children, to talk to our children, to make sure that they have what they need. I tell -- I tell people I have 18 nieces and nephews. And I'm not just Auntie Donna. I'm Donna. I want to talk to them. I want to know what they -- they want to know. And, you know, I text them. We've got to be in touch with our children. We've got to be in touch with our families, as well.

CUPP: Good point.

CUTTER: The shooting in Colorado once again raised questions about treating people who are dealing with mental-health issues. Next we'll bring in a pair of experts who deal with these issues every single day.


CUTTER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE we're following breaking news. This afternoon's shooting incident at a Colorado high school. The gunman, a student who brought a shotgun to his school, is dead. We're told three people are being treated at local hospitals. At least two of them are students.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is outside the school in suburban Denver.

Ana, what do we know about the investigation of the shooter?

CABRERA: S.E. and Stephanie, we do know this investigation has now turned to the shooter's house, his car, anywhere else he may have been recently in which he could have perhaps stored things, items that might give clues into this investigation and motive and what the plan was leading up to today at 12:33 when he walked in with a shotgun, not even trying to conceal that shotgun, and apparently was targeting a teacher. He asked for a teacher by a specific name, but eventually opened fire, shooting a couple of students.

We're still working to get more information about the shooter. The sheriff's department, which has taken the lead on this investigation up to this point, is not releasing the shooter's identity, but they do confirm that he is a student at the school.

As we've been talking to students at the school who were inside and who are learning more about this situation, as well, we're learning that the shooter is believed to be a student who is a senior here, who is well liked by many, who is part of the speech and debate team, and so as students have been talking to us, they did not see this coming -- Stephanie, S.E.

CUPP: Well, Ana, what has the reaction in the community been like? How -- have parents of other students? And maybe just folks in the town? How have they been reacting?

CABRERA: Everybody is just so shaken. You never think it's going to happen to you, is one of the reactions that we heard from one father as he was able to reunite with his daughter here at the church just behind us, where parents and students are still reuniting after this horrible situation this morning and this afternoon, everything they've gone through.

Of course, this is in Littleton, Colorado. Most people remember Littleton, Colorado, as the place where Columbine happened, the Columbine shooting back in 1999.

And then, of course, just a little over a year ago, there was the Aurora theater shooting in which several people were killed and dozens of people were injured.

So it's all happened in and around this community. Unfortunately, these tragedies, these shootings like this are not unfamiliar, but yet a lot of people have told us today, you prepare for something like this. We've heard of something like this happening, but you just don't expect it to happen to you directly.

CUPP: OK. Thanks, Ana.

Today's shooting once again raises question about the way our nation deals with mental illness.

Joining us now, Jeff Gardere is a clinical psychologist; along with Dr. Daniel Bober, who's a psychiatrist.

Dr. Gardere, let me start with you. How can parents sort of suss out from their own kids whether they need help, whether they're hurting or maybe they're just stressed and need to be left alone? What are the distinguishing sort of -- distinct differences? DR. JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes. And what you're asking about are the early signs. Well, we find that if the kids all of a sudden, things that they like to do, they stop doing it. They stop going to school, or they stop taking their piano lessons, or they stop playing sports. They become introverted and isolated. They stop communicating.

One of the things that I see all the time is they begin to in some ways stop taking care of their hygiene. Parents know when something is wrong their child, but in many ways they're in denial about it. And if you're a parent, it's easy to understand that, because the last thing that you want is for your child to have some mental health issue, knowing that in this country, we're not taking care of the mental health issues of our children very well.

CUTTER: Dr. Bober, a question for you. What was does the stigma of mental health have to do with how these students are treated? Are they asking for help? Are their parents open to looking for these problems and can get them the help? Tell me about the stigma that we're still dealing with, unfortunately, across this country.

DR. DANIEL BOBER, PSYCHIATRIST: Well, like you said, unfortunately, I think the stigma still plays a tremendous role. I mean, if you tell someone you have depression, they don't look at you the same way as if you tell them you have heart disease. And that's still a major issue in this country and until we can overcome that, mental health will not be as accessible to people as we would like it to be because of that stigma, and because the way people are judged in our society.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Well, Dr. Bober, let me stick with you for a minute. Take me into this school. How would you suggest or expect the school to deal with the students here? These are not 5 and 6- year-olds. These are high school kids.

Do you deal with trauma involving high school kids a little differently? What kind of conversations do you think are going to happen over the next few weeks?

BOBER: Well, we know anytime you deal with trauma, you do it in a developmentally appropriate context. That is, obviously, we're dealing with middle schoolers different than high schoolers. But in general, you want to sort of let them dictate the conversation and talk about things on their own terms. We know that in the early stages of trauma, we don't want to retraumatize people by forcing them to speak about it. So, it really helps to let them do it at their own phase.

CUTTER: Dr. Gardere, I have a question for you again. We talked about the things that parents need to be looking for. We talk about the things that teachers need to be looking for.

But, you know, these troubled teenagers deal with their friends and classmates every single day. What's your advice to their classmates? What should they be looking for?

GARDERE: Well, I think classmates should look at some of same things the parents look at, certainly, that isolation that I talked about. But I think more than anything else since we're talking about peer relationships, if you feel that person, something is troubling them, that they're not talking about it, they have some anxiety or nervousness, but the biggest thing that you see is the anger and the rage.

And what we saw in this particular case allegedly, this shooter said I'm looking for this particular teacher. What they do is they find one particular individual, or some individuals who become symbolic for a lot of the conflict that is going on in their lives. These are teachers, most likely who care, and who may call them in certain behaviors, or their academics, and then they take that rage out on that teacher. So, I would say the number one thing to look of your peer is that anger.

CUPP: Good advice, and there's constituent a lot more we need to know about this situation that's still evolving.

We'd like to thank Jeff Gardere and Dr. Daniel Bober for joining u

Our guests Donna Brazile and Kevin Madden are still with us.

Guys, reaction. I mean, you have kids, Kevin.


CUPP: This must be something you think about as a parent all the time.

MADDEN: Well, I think it's most important to look at a tragedy like this, not through the lens of partisanship.

CUPP: Yes.

MADDEN: But, of course, through the lens, like Donna said earlier, she's looking at as an aunt. I have to look at it as a father. You have to look at it as an expectant mother.

I think what's most important is that children need to know they can come to their parents to talk to them when they face problems or they face pressures. I think that's something as a father that I would focus on. I think oftentimes many children, they don't have that outlet or may not feel comfortable that they have that outlet, and neither a guidance counselor or a teacher or parent.

And that's something I think is important to address. You know, encouraging kids to express when they and not stigmatizing. I think that's something I took away that was a really important point that one of the guests made about stigmatizing mental health.


MADDEN: Right.

BRAZILE: So many people who are seeking treatment are often thrown in jail. I mean, we have so many prisoners right now all across America who need mental help, who need assistance, and we are treating them like criminal when they're really, you know, they need medication in some cases. Some of them need counseling.

So, I think we need to have a broader conversation. This is -- tomorrow, we will pause, President Obama, Mrs. Obama will pause to remember and mourn the victims of Sandy Hook.

But this is an opportunity for us once again to have a more deeper conversation where advocates of gun rights and advocates for gun safety should sit down and say, OK, here are some of the common sense thing we should do. And that includes community health services, mental health services. But also have to put guns on the conversation.

MADDEN: I agree person to person is the best way for this. It's person -- friend to friend. You know, mother to daughter, father to son.

CUPP: Stephanie, you had brought up earlier what I thought was an interesting point. We talked about this before, that it always seems like Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Adam Lanza, there are eerie similarities.

CUTTER: They are eerily similar.

CUPP: In terms of the profile.

CUTTER: You men, withdrawn. And we need to -- we need to figure out why that is. And to Donna's point, that sometimes we wait too long to deal with these mental health issues, by the time they're into the prison system. And by then, we still have to deal with that.

But it's almost too late. We need deal with it up front.

And removing the stigma is step number one. But finding a way to talk to each other here in Washington and state capitals across the country and communities and churches is step number two. And as much as we say this is something that needs to be dealt at a local level, it does need to be addressed here in Washington.

And mental health is an area that I hope we can find agreement on but we have to find agreement on other things too. This has to be all hands on deck looking at every option. Putting aside our differences to find these things that we can get done.

CUPP: Well, I think you also, Kevin, made an interesting point about growing communities, maybe outpacing resources being able to come up with those resources.

MADDEN: Yes, that's right. And every community has different strains on their public services. And I think again, that's an area where, you know, promoting mental health is not a partisan issue. Promoting school safety is not a partisan issue. I think it really has to do with just the mechanics of people working together to address some of these issues. CUPP: Agreed.

Stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.


CUPP: We're back with Donna Brazile and Kevin Madden.

And now, it's time for our final question.

Donna, in terms of how we deal with the rhetoric around this, and the conversations we need to have and I think we had a pretty good one at this table, all things considered.

I'm a gun rights activist. What do you tell me to change my mind on this issue?

BRAZILE: You know, I have always respected the Second Amendment. But I also believe we must make sure we have responsible gun laws, gun safety laws, and that we can find common ground, whether it's on background checks or some other way.

But I want to end with this. There's been 27 shootings since Newtown, Sandy Hook. That's one every other week. And the families of Newtown have access to spend tomorrow with acts of kindness. Let's have acts of kindness, not just in Newtown but in Chicago and New Orleans -- all across this country. And let's pray for those suffering only the to ensure those families will recover.

CUPP: Well said.

CUTTER: Well said.

Kevin, one last question to you. You know, building off what S.E. asked Donna, how do you convince somebody on the other side to find agreement? Isn't there -- we do have to change our rhetoric. One side has to stop accusing the other of infringing on the Second Amendment and the other side has to stop accusing their opponents of not wanting to do enough to protect our kids.

MADDEN: Right.

CUTTER: And the bottom line is we have to find a Washington solution.

What is that Washington solution? Don't just say mental health.

MADDEN: I think the Washington solution begins the genesis of the solution begins in places like Donna said before. It's in living rooms, it's in kitchen tables, it's in mental health forms.

I think there's growing agreement on thing like mental health, though, and that the Washington solution will have some sort of bipartisan agreement there. And I just think again, that is, if we want to find consensus right now where we can build upon, that's an area where I think there would be agreement that you can use it. That's a legislative victory that you could probably achieve and everybody could show that there's progress being made in Washington.

CUTTER: I home that happens. And, S.E., maybe you and I should have that conversation too.

CUPP: Maybe we can solve this together.

CUTTER: Thanks to Donna Brazile and Kevin Madden.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.