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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Honoring the Children: Newtown One Year Later
Aired December 14, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARK BARDEN, FATHER OF DANIEL BARDEN: Daniel was drawn to music. He always wanted to be a drummer.
JACKIE BARDEN, MOTHER OF DANIEL BARDEN: I still really can't seem to get my head around that this has happened and how final it is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job, Joey.
M. BARDEN The bottom just falls out for you. What's left is faith. I have hope I will see my daughter again.
JENNIFER HENSEL, MOTHER OF AVIELLE RICHMAN: I had to be on the floor because I felt if I stood up the world would spin away. I remember asking, why would somebody walk into the school and kill my child.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In the wake of unfathomable grief:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our hearts are broken. Our spirit is not.
COOPER: Three different quests for change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's going to buy time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
COOPER: For their children, for all children.
JEREMY RICHMAN, FATHER OF AVIELLE RICHMAN: We want to prevent somebody else from suffering the way that we have.
J. BARDEN: It's not only about Sandy Hook.
MICHELE GAY, MOTHER OF JOSEPHINE GAY: We can't go back in time, but we can take what we have learned and honor our daughter by doing something with it.
COOPER: December 14, 2012. Even before the sun was up, something seemed off.
M. BARDEN: Daniel would always sleep in until closer to his bus time. But on the morning of December 14, I hear little footsteps behind me. And here comes little Daniel running down the driveway in his pajamas. He wanted to say goodbye and I love you to his brother and sister. Don't ask me why.
COOPER (on camera): Do you think about that day?
RICHMAN: I don't go to that day very often specifically.
COOPER: How about you?
HENSEL: I can't go to that day.
M. GAY: When we moved to Newtown, I loved our small town. I loved that it was no crime whatsoever. Just, it was almost like we went back in time. We kind of got lulled into a little complacency. I certainly indulged in that fantasy that not here. Couldn't happen here.
KAITLIN ROIG-DEBELLIS, TEACHER, SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY: All units, the individual that I have on the phone is continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire.
The students and I were in morning meeting. We had just finished listening to "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," as we do every morning, when the loud rapid-fire shooting began. I turned to my students and I said, we need to get into the bathroom right now.
The bathroom is barely large enough for an adult. Students were standing on the toilet, three, four, five students. I did not want the horror that they were hearing to be the last thing they heard. So I told them I loved them. I told them that I was so lucky to be their teacher.
I wanted -- I wanted something comforting to be the last thing they heard if that was going to be the case.
J. BARDEN: I'm a teacher, so I was in the second-grade classroom in Pawling, New York. And I kept getting calls on my cell phone. I listened to it the second or third time. And it was an automated call.
So I stepped out of my classroom and I called Mark and said, there's a shooting in the school. And I initially thought it was the high school.
M. GAY: The first-responder vehicles were all just streaming to Sandy Hook, so I followed them. I just had this dialogue going on with God. I need you right now. I don't know what's going on, but I need you to get me through this. And he did.
COOPER: Were you praying out loud?
M. GAY: At one point, yes. At one point, I was standing in front of the school, and the children had pretty much stopped evacuating. And so at that point, I thought, OK, this is real. I don't know where she is. And I said, I need your help. I can't do this by myself.
COOPER (voice-over): Michele Gay eventually walked to the firehouse, where parents were waiting for their kids.
(on camera): I kept thinking, I can't imagine what that was like at that firehouse.
M. BARDEN: Well, if you're a parent, imagine waiting with a bunch of other parents to find out if your child is alive or not.
J. BARDEN: We were told that the kids were in a bathroom. Remember that? You kept on saying, he's OK.
M. GAY: I was sure she was going to walk out. I did not understand the magnitude of the situation until about 2:00 in the afternoon.
BOB GAY, FATHER OF JOSEPHINE GAY: I was at work. And I was driving back. And I'm calling her and asking for information. She's like, I don't have any information. And I'm like, why am I getting better news off A.M. news radio than I am from you? You're standing right there.
I was about a mile from Newtown when they came out and said, 20 children have been killed, six adults. And it struck me, thank God I was only a mile from there, because if I had been driving on 84, I would have run the car off the road, because it was just -- it was such a disturbing, disconcerting moment.
ROIG-DEBELLIS: Eventually a knocking. It was a police officer, and finally unlocked the door. And there was a SWAT team. I grabbed two of my students' hands. The SWAT team members each grabbed a hand or two. And we fled out the back of the school.
COOPER (voice-over): Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis her 15 first graders all survived. Three of the five first grade classrooms escaped unharmed that day, and the other two, a different story.
J. BARDEN: They finally said, if you're in this room and you're waiting, there's -- no.
M. BARDEN: Your loved one's not coming back.
COOPER: Among the 20 children and six educators who died that day...
RICHMAN: I think there's not a minute, not a second of any day that goes by where somewhere in my head I'm thinking, I don't have my daughter Avielle. She's gone. That's always in my head.
HENSEL: It's every second of every day that she's not with me. And that's enough.
RICHMAN: Literally days after we lost her, we said, we have to do something. It's just in our nature.
HENSEL: It may have even been that very day. I remember asking, why would somebody walk into the school and kill my child? I need to know that answer. I have to have that answer.
COOPER (on camera): Do you think there is always a why? HENSEL: Because we don't know the answer doesn't mean there isn't a cause.
COOPER (voice-over): Even before Avielle's funeral, her parents set off on a mission to honor her by searching for answers. They weren't the only ones.
M. GAY: And we can't go back in time, but we can take what we have learned and honor our daughter by doing something with it.
B. GAY: We were kind of faced with, do you want to do something or do you want to do nothing? And there was no question.
ANNETTE SULLIVAN, MENTOR OF AVIELLE RICHMAN: That's Betty. And she was certainly the favorite for Avielle.
COOPER (voice-over): Annette Sullivan taught Avielle Richman horseback riding.
SULLIVAN: Insist. Insist. Out to the rail.
COOPER: Something the 6-year-old loved to do, along with archery, skiing, pretty much anything that promised a challenge.
RICHMAN: She had a real spitfire personality. She was just a fun kid.
COOPER: A fun kid and wise beyond her years.
SULLIVAN: This is where the old house once was.
COOPER: Annette's house burned to the ground in 2010.
SULLIVAN: And I explained to her that there was a fire and that we hadn't decided what we were going to do there. And she basically asked me why I hadn't planted some flowers. I told her that the ground was scorched and that flowers probably wouldn't grow. And she had said to me that I should plant flowers even if they weren't going to last forever.
COOPER: That statement from this little girl had a big impact on Annette.
SULLIVAN: Even if your beauty is only fleeting, isn't there something to be found in acknowledging the beauty that we have today? So, yes, we planted flowers anyway.
COOPER: Avielle's instinct to create beauty in the middle of the ugliest of circumstances was obviously nurtured at home.
At the very lowest point in their lives, Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel began to ask what they could do to prevent future acts of violence.
HENSEL: After Avielle was killed, I couldn't even sit on a couch. I had to be on the floor. I had to be grounded.
COOPER (on camera): So you would just be laying on the floor?
HENSEL: Or sitting or just leaning against the couch. But I had to be on the floor because I felt if I stood up, the world would spin away.
COOPER (voice-over): Jennifer and Jeremy are both research scientists. He has a Ph.D. and has worked extensively in neuroscience. While at the rock bottom, Avielle's parents decided to honor their daughter by trying to answer the question, why do people become violent?
RICHMAN: And we do think that there are physical manifestations in the brain that lead to all our behaviors. And if we can understand those, we can help nudge them one direction or another to make things happier and healthier.
COOPER: In other words, treat the problem and stop violent behavior before it ever happens.
J. BARDEN: It's a star.
COOPER: Mark and Jackie Barden's living room is full of memories of their youngest son, Daniel.
J. BARDEN: That's a pencil drawing.
COOPER: People still send gifts and letters.
J. BARDEN: His kindergarten teacher sent this. "And he was wise beyond his years and truly understood the importance of sharing joy and taking care of others."
COOPER: Everyone who knew Daniel talks about his kindness.
CHRISTINE RISOLI, AUNT OF DANIEL BARDEN: He's the kid who the day after Halloween, you would go over to his house and he'd open up his basket and say, what's your favorite kind of candy, and want to give it to you. And I would say, well, no they're your candy. That's your candy. And he'd like, but I enjoy it by watching you enjoy it. That's how he gets enjoyment. Like, what little kid does that, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Trick or treat.
COOPER: And he was musical like his father.
M. BARDEN: The Christmas before this last year, he got a drum set. For Jackie's father's 90th birthday, the kids and I got together. We played "What a Wonderful World" for Papa. And Daniel played the drums.
J. BARDEN: He was really proud of himself.
M. BARDEN: Yes.
DANIEL BARDEN, STUDENT (singing): What a wonderful world.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
M. BARDEN: On the morning of December 14, he said, can you show me something on the piano? And so I showed him how to play "Jingle Bells." I was looking at his little hands, thinking how cute they were. And he did -- he did it very well.
COOPER: Five days later, the Bardens were burying their son.
A note handed to me while covering the story shows the family was already thinking about how they could make a difference on behalf of Daniel.
LILLIAN BITTMAN, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION: If you could read it, because I can't.
COOPER (on camera): OK.
(voice-over): The letter was written by Daniel's 11-year-old sister.
COOPER: It says: "My name is Natalie Barden. And I wanted to tell president that only police officers and the military should get guns."
How did that focus on guns so quickly come about?
M. BARDEN: James and Natalie had some good, honest questions, like, how did this happen? How does somebody go into a school with a gun and kill children?
COOPER: It really came from your other kids.
J. BARDEN: Yes.
M. BARDEN: We were not political. We were not engaged in any issues.
COOPER (voice-over): That was about to change.
M. GAY: So, Josephine was pretty obsessed with swimming. It was one of her therapies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here she is. This is Joey. Look at you.
COOPER: Josephine Gay, or Joey, as she was called, was autistic and unable to speak because of a condition called apraxia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give us some kicks. Oh, yes. Now you do it all by yourself, huh? Nice job.
M. GAY: She certainly had her share of challenges. But it certainly didn't -- it didn't ever impede her spirit.
ROIG-DEBELLIS: She was a ball of light and love. She always had a smile on her face. She loved giving hugs.
COOPER: Joey Gay also loved all things purple, and anything to do with princesses. Michele Gay was still waiting to go know what happened to her princess when she promised herself she would do all she could to make kids safer in school.
M. GAY: The day that I was standing in a parking lot before I knew that -- what had happened to Joey, I was just really struck by the fact that this was something we need to work on. We had a safety problem.
But immediately after Joey's death, that wasn't her focus.
B. GAY: We were connected with the Doug Flutie Junior Foundation for Autism. And we decided to do a fund called Joey's Fund, where the money is issued grants to families to provide therapy and care for their children that they couldn't otherwise afford.
COOPER: When Joey died, the Gays were in the middle of a move to suburban Boston.
B. GAY: There was a point where I was thinking I might have bitten off a little more than I could chew.
M. GAY: Without a doubt.
B. GAY: But I had to do it. And it was the best thing, because it kept us -- it kept us busy, it kept us occupied and focused us on doing something...
M. GAY: Outside of our pain and in her name. It kept us focused on her.
ALISSA PARKER, MOTHER OF EMILIE PARKER: When this happened, I literally knew no one.
COOPER: Two moms connected in grief now united for change.
M. GAY: It was the Saturday, December 15. So that was the day that we had scheduled Joey's birthday party. COOPER (voice-over): Among the children invited to attend, 6-year-old Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children killed the previous day.
PARKER: When this happened, I literally knew no one. And I felt this immediate desire to speak with someone who was feeling the same way that I did. And I didn't have anyone.
COOPER: Alissa Parker was new to town and didn't know any of the other moms who had lost children.
PARKER: One of the names that I recognized right off the bat was Josephine Gay, which is Joey. And my mind went to the birthday invitation on my fridge and the fact that I had Michele's number.
M. GAY: So we ended up having this, you know, probably two-hour conversation. And it kind of cemented our relationship and our commitment to our daughters.
COOPER: Eventually, the women's shared experience combined with their growing friendship and led them to create what they call Safe and Sound.
M. GAY: And then we got stuck on school security, and can you believe this, and how come nobody's talking about this? How come the conversations are about this and this and this, but nobody's saying, what are we doing about sending our kids to school tomorrow?
Do we have that graphic?
We started out with the idea of creating a Web site where people could come and gather information and take it into their schools.
COOPER: The idea: Use the site to advise parents, principals, school board members how to assess the current state of their school's security and give them free of charge basic security plans they can alter as needed.
M. GAY: We're trying to put together a framework for folks to be able to work with and take into their own communities.
COOPER: As with all good ideas, it's growing.
M. GAY: People need to feel that they are like physically a part of what you're doing.
COOPER: And Michele is already busy with Joey's Fund, which she runs with the help of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Doug Flutie is a former football star.
M. GAY: Always good to see you.
COOPER: His son has autism.
DOUG FLUTIE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Hi, how are you?
That's what this is all about for all of us, helping others out, seeing the smiles on kids' faces that you help, being able to create a legacy in Joey's name now for them.
LISA BORGES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOUG FLUTIE JR. FOUNDATION: From the day that they announced the fund, donations just started pouring in.
COOPER: After her death, Joey Gay was going to change some lives.
As soon as Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel's large network of friends learned their daughter Avielle had been killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, they began heading toward Newtown.
ACE ROBINSON, FRIEND: I was on vacation in Barcelona and I just caught the next flight back to the States.
LIZ LEVI, FRIEND: Within minutes, I found a flight and I made arrangements for child care.
ERIN SANABRIA, FRIEND: That was like, like, I have to get out there.
COOPER: With their friends gathered around them, Jennifer and Jeremy grieved and began to plan.
ROBINSON: It was over the course of a couple of days where we started talking about, how would they want to honor Avie's legacy?
COOPER: Those discussions quickly led to the creation of the Avielle Foundation, the goal of the foundation, prevent violence with science and education. To accomplish that, Avielle's parents want her organization to fund long-term brain research that looks for the biological root of violence.
Professor Adrian Raine is an expert in the field and is now an adviser to the Avielle Foundation.
ADRIAN RAINE, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: So, we have 41 normal controls. We have 41 motors in the group. And this is illustrating the key finding, good frontal lobe functioning in the normal individual. But if you look at the motor here, there's a distinct lack of activation in that prefrontal cortex.
COOPER: The research Jennifer and Jeremy want to fund will examine what might cause that low functioning and how a person with it could be treated early before becoming an adult.
On top of the scientific work, Avielle's parents want to reduce the stigma that keeps people from getting the help necessary to treat what most of us call mental illness.
(on camera): You don't really use that term, mental...
HENSEL: We don't use it.
HENSEL: Because there's an underlying pathology in our brain. There are genes. There are biochemical patterns that we can see.
COOPER: What term do you use?
HENSEL: Brain health.
RICHMAN: Brain health, brain illness. If you can actually identify the cause, something that you can touch, feel, measure, then you can potentially fix it. And that's not as scary.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had three rolls of duct tape.
COOPER (voice-over): They're talking about changing the way society views mental illness.
SANABRIA: Welcome to Avielle's carnival. I'm Erin.
COOPER: Those good friends of Jennifer and Jeremy's have already started to do that education at the grassroots level.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
COOPER (on camera): Did it help in those horrible immediate days afterward to have this already starting?
RICHMAN: Oh, no question.
HENSEL: We had to focus on something.
COOPER (voice-over): Focus on something, like getting a mailing address for the new foundation.
RICHMAN: So I went to the post office, and I'm waiting, and I feel really just awkward.
COOPER: It was December 21, the first time he'd gone out in public, other than for his daughter's funeral.
RICHMAN: And, suddenly, everybody stops and they all start walking towards the exit. And I thought I was in a sci-fi movie or something because everybody just knew to do this. And so I leaned over to one of the women that I was standing next to in line and I said, what's going on?
She said, oh, we lost some kids at an elementary school here. And I was like, yes, I know. But what are we doing right now? And she said, oh, well, we're going to listen to the bells chime in recognition of their loss. It's going to ring 26 times. And I said, I didn't know that. She said, where do you live? And I said, I'm one of those parents that lost their kid. And I didn't know. And she just embraced me and wouldn't let me go.
COOPER: Soon after that, the man who had spent his life in labs was behind podiums.
RICHMAN: My wife, Jennifer, and I lost our only daughter, Avielle, and 19 of her classmates and six of her educators. We want to look at neuroscience research to answer why.
COOPER: And the Avielle Foundation was up and running and beginning to grow.
RICHMAN: What we were shocked by was how this was such an unmet need. Nobody does this yet. Very few people do.
COOPER: There are several reasons for that.
RAINE: There's quite a lot of opposition to biological research on crime.
COOPER (voice-over): Just a few weeks after the death of their kind, energetic son Daniel, Mark and Jackie Barden headed to Washington and right in the middle of the gun control debate.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is our first task as a society. Keeping our children safe.
COOPER: The president was asking Congress to tighten gun control laws. At the top of his list, universal background checks.
JACKIE BARDEN, DANIEL'S MOTHER: Daniel was such an unusually compassionate child. And we feel like he deserves us to do something.
COOPER: One of the first things the Bardens did in Washington was sit down with nine other Sandy Hook family members and gun-control advocate Matt Bennett.
MATT BENNETT, GUN-CONTROL ADVOCATE: The most amazing, wrenching and extraordinary part for me was when they went around the table to introduce themselves. And they said, "My name's Mark. My son's name was Daniel. He's seven." And they kind of mixed up the past and the present, because the loss was so raw.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not want to be someone sharing my experience and consoling another parent next time.
BENNETT: They were very interested in the idea of banning high- capacity magazines that could hold a number of rounds. So they were wondering about could we ban those? Could we ban the kinds of assault weapons used?
COOPER: The 20-year-old shooter used a semiautomatic rifle in his attack on Sandy Hook Elementary, which means the weapon automatically loaded the next round into the chamber. And he used large ammunition magazines that held 30 rounds each. All of that helped the shooter fire nearly 150 rounds in about five minutes, killing 26 people.
BENNETT: What I told them was that it was exceedingly unlikely that Congress was going to pass another ban on the assault rifles of the type that could be used in this attack or of high-capacity magazines. What they said to us was, "Tell us what can be done now. What can we do to make America safer that will honor our kids?"
COOPER: His answer? Require the same background checks at gun shows and online that have been in place at gun dealerships for 15 years. And they agreed, despite the fact that the semiautomatic rifle the gunman used in his attack on Sandy Hook was purchased legally by his mother who passed the background check.
(on camera): Why did you agree to do that? Because that wasn't something that would have necessarily made a difference that day at Sandy Hook.
MARK BARDEN, FATHER OF DANIEL: Right.
J. BARDEN: But it's not only about Sandy Hook. So we thought, let's start somewhere. You know?
M. BARDEN: We did think that would be an easy get because of the simplicity of it. And because it wasn't anything new.
CHIEF JAMES JOHNSON, BALTIMORE COUNTY POLICE: The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VP/CEO, NRA: We're going to make all those law-abiding people go through the system, and then we aren't going to prosecute any of the bad guys if they do catch one. And none of it makes any sense in the real world.
COOPER (voice-over): While the verbal war raged in Washington, back in Connecticut the Bardens got involved in an easier fight.
J. BARDEN: It's our job to make sure it doesn't happen, for our son.
COOPER: Urging state lawmakers to, as they say, honor Daniel's life and stand with their family for change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The emergency certified bill is passed in concurrence with the Senate.
COOPER: They did, by passing the toughest gun control measures in the country.
Buoyed by that victory, the Bardens headed back to Washington, actually hitching a ride with President Obama. He'd been in Connecticut pushing for tougher federal gun laws.
OBAMA: Newtown, we want you to know that we're here with you. We will not walk away from the promises we've made.
COOPER: The Bardens were ready to take on Washington. But they were about to run into a wall of opposition.
Avielle Richman's parents are having a smoother time of it in their quest to honor their daughter. Welcome to Avi Fest 2013, complete with barbecue, blues, and fundraising for the Avielle Foundation.
LIZ LEVI, RAN CHARITY MUSIC FEST: And thank you for supporting us.
COOPER: This event outside Milwaukee was run by Liz Levi and her husband Leon.
LEVI: There we go.
COOPER; Liz is an old friend of Jennifer's.
LEVI: The goal of today, I think, well, obviously there's the fundraising component. But more than that, it's about awareness. I think it takes a community to create a healthy community and a safe community. And we have to work on that as a country.
JENNIFER HENSEL, AVIELLE'S MOTHER: There's only a handful that actually do this research.
COOPER: The way Avielle's parents, Jennifer Hensel...
JEREMY RICHMAN, AVIELLE'S FATHER: ... really want to explore...
COOPER: ... and Jeremy Richman want to do it will require a lot more research into the biological underpinnings of violent behavior. Up until now, that's been limited.
(on camera): Why do you think that is?
RICHMAN: We can only speculate. But one reason is that if your kid has diabetes, you say, "I need some help." And you think of research. But if you're the victim of violence, you demand justice. You're not necessarily thinking of research and preventing the next one.
COOPER: And not everyone agrees with what they're trying to do.
ADRIAN RAINE, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: There's quite a lot of opposition to biological research on crime. So conservatives are worried that it will be used to let violent offenders off the hook. "Oh, don't blame them for the murder. It was their bad brain and bad early environment that really caused that."
On the other hand, the liberals are worried about it, because there's a civil liberties issue. There's a concern that we may use brain imaging and genetics early on to identify those individuals at risk for future violence and what could happen.
COOPER: Could the child diagnosed with a genetic marker connected to violence be deemed dangerous for single out in some way?
(ON CAMERA): Some parents might be concerned about their child being labelled.
HENSEL: And they should be.
RICHMAN: If you went in and they said, "Oh, you know, little Johnny is having problems in school paying attention, and that's because he's callous and unemotional." As opposed to going in and saying, "Oh, you know what? You're doing a great job. His diet's improved. And we checked out this biomarker. It turns out that he's got a little too much dopamine in his right cortex, and that's indicative of impulse control problems. Here's what we're going to do about it. I want you to go through this therapy a couple -- for a couple of weeks. Come back and see me." I don't think that that's as overwhelming.
COOPER (voice-over): For that to happen, people -- all people, doctors, patients and the wider community -- need to begin to think about mental illness differently.
HENSEL: Help us move this awareness wave.
COOPER: That's going to take the type of long-term community education Avielle's parents support, and it's going to take money and a lot of it.
RICHMAN: We think with around $10 million we could exist and fund very impacting and valuable research for the long haul.
COOPER: Ten million dollars. Avielle's carnival in San Diego raised about $13,000. The Avi Fest celebration outside Milwaukee raised about the same.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have bake sale goods over here.
COOPER: Ahead, where are those millions going to come from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We pray that you embrace Joey always. Keep her ever close to your heart where she is safe forever. And we ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
COOPER: It's Michele Gay's faith that's giving her the strength to work tirelessly in her daughter, Joey's, honor. She's now traveling and speaking with Alissa Parker, who lost her daughter, Emilie, at Sandy Hook.
MICHELE GAY, MOTHER OF JOEY: The morning of December 14, I received a phone call from Sandy Hook. It was a recording that told us that there had been a shooting at a Newtown school.
COOPER: They're pushing parents, educators and law enforcement to realize the importance of making school safety a priority.
M. GAY: Throughout this process we have felt very guided by our children.
ALISSA PARKER, MOTHER OF EMILIE: We feel like they are pushing us and helping us. Because the thing we care about most is making sure more innocent lives are not targeted because they are easy targets.
M. GAY: You don't have to be the parent of a child who died at Sandy Hook or Columbine to have the right to make a statement about safety and security in schools. Even a mom like me can come into the school building and notice that there is something that needs to be fixed.
COOPER: They're passionate about the issue, not only because they lost their daughters to school violence, but because they noticed vulnerabilities at Sandy Hook before the shooting but never said anything.
PARKER: Every time I'd come into that school, my mind had thought about the ways that my daughter was vulnerable. And I never said anything. I never did anything. Because like everyone else, I never thought there would be a problem.
COOPER (on camera): Do you think there are things that could have made a difference there?
M. GAY: Definitely, yes.
BOB GAY, FATHER OF JOEY: The door on our daughter's classroom locked from the outside. When you think about it, it doesn't sound like it makes sense. But if you think of most elementary schools, the custodian just walks down the hall and locks the doors.
M. GAY: The lock was designed with a different type of security in mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
M. GAY: You know, locking up at the end of the night kind of a thing. So it's really about changing the way that we're looking at what security is and what security means.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I was trying to get through a piece of glass with a hammer or rock...
COOPER: These moms have become students of school safety, learning new locks can keep children safer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the case of window film, it will actually hold the glass in place.
COOPER: And so can something as simple as laminate on windows.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it makes it a lot harder for you to penetrate and enter access to a building.
M. GAY: The goal is to deter.
The fact that they're going to have to work a little bit harder to get in is a deterrent in and of itself. And then delay. I mean, our first responders arrived very quickly on the scene.
COOPER: They arrived about 3 1/2 minutes after the first 911 call. M. GAY: If you think of each of these little plans or procedures as a layer, they can all add up to be quite a formidable defense. And it will save lives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's got to be -- in my view it's got to be -- it's got to be bottom up, got to be grassroots.
M. GAY: Exactly.
B. GAY: Parents have to drive this. This isn't a new federal agency. This isn't -- this isn't something lawmakers need to pass. It's just common sense.
COOPER: Mark and Jackie Barden chose a different route. Arriving in Washington flush from an easy victory on gun control in Connecticut, they believed momentum was on their side. They ran right into the wall of opposition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I own an AR-50. Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is only one thing that will stop the next copycat killer, and that is lawful armed self-defense in the schools, not only by armed guards but also by teachers.
COOPER: But then an apparent breakthrough.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We have an agreement to prevent criminals and the mentally ill and insane from getting firearms.
COOPER: It was a deal to close the loopholes on background checks, to require checks for online and gun show sales.
MANCHIN: Where I come from we have common sense, we have nonsense, and now we have gun sense.
Thank you so much.
BENNETT: We got the details of the deal. And I went up to the Hill quickly to have a meeting with the families. And the first thing they said was, "Is it good? Is it a good deal? Can we support this?"
And I said, "Yes, this is the deal. Make sure the other senators know that you want them to vote for this thing."
And they said, "Great, let's do it."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
COOPER: It was considered significant, because it was put forward by senators from opposite sides of the aisle, both of whom had "A" ratings from the NRA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would just like to say from the bottom of our hearts thank you so much for your courage.
MANCHIN: You've got it. Let's all share.
If you are committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights, you should vote for this bill.
COOPER: On April 17, with the Bardens sitting in the Senate gallery, the compromise amendment on background checks came up for a vote.
M. BARDEN: I remember we were getting preliminary reports that looked like, you know, there weren't going to be enough votes. I mean, we had been hearing that "You're making a difference here. You're changing minds, and they're voting appropriately." And we are encouraged by that.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The yeas are 54, the nays are 46.
COOPER: They needed 60 votes to prevent a threatened Republican filibuster.
BIDEN: The amendment is not agreed to.
COOPER: They didn't get the votes.
M. BARDEN: I just remember scratching my head and thinking, really? They're not going to do this?
COOPER: All the Bardens' hard work for increased gun control in honor of their son Daniel had gone nowhere. For them, the question was, now what?
BENNETT: All of them, including Mark, said, "OK. This is just the beginning. What's the plan?"
OBAMA: And I see this as just round one.
M. BARDEN: Hello. My name is Mark Barden.
COOPER: Mark and Jackie Barden came to Washington to work for tighter gun control to honor their 7-year-old son, Daniel.
M. BARDEN: We return home with a determination that change will happen. Maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon.
COOPER: Mark and Jackie didn't get what they came for, but they promised to return along with other Sandy Hook families pushing for gun control.
BENNETT: All of them, including Mark, said, "OK. This is just the beginning. We're coming back. Should we come back next week? When do we -- what's the plan?"
COOPER: The plan is to keep fighting. In the meantime...
M. BARDEN: I am the director of advocacy with Sandy Hook Promise. COOPER: Mark is now a paid employee of Sandy Hook Promise, working on gun control, mental-health issues and community engagement.
M. BARDEN: It's probably the proudest title I've ever had outside of being a father. And I do that to honor my three children and to make the world that they're going to live in a better place.
COOPER: Jackie and her extended family are now honoring Daniel with something called "What Would Daniel Do?"
CHRISTINE RISOLI: We post different stories about Daniel, different kind of inspirational quotes. Now in addition to the Facebook page, we're beginning a nonprofit foundation. And our mission is to reduce social isolation and to encourage people to act with kindness, to make a positive cultural change.
COOPER: Cultural change is part of Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman's agenda for the foundation that honors their daughter, Avielle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank y'all for coming tonight.
COOPER: The grassroots fundraisers alone won't get them the $10 million they say they need to make the Avielle Foundation a powerhouse in brain research and community education.
HENSEL: The other dollar amounts come through grants. They come through angel donors. And those will come. And we're working on those.
COOPER: Jennifer is also confident pushing for more research into the biological roots of violence is the right way to build a legacy for Avielle.
HENSEL: How do we get into the brain of that individual? How do we do that? That's a really hard path to follow. But Jeremy and I, we follow those hard paths always.
RICHMAN: That's what you do.
HENSEL: That's what we do for a living. Scientists do that. So we're capable of trying to get those answers. And that's where we knew that our strengths lied.
COOPER: Avielle's parents say they want to embrace hope by finding answers.
That's what Avielle's mentor, Annette Sullivan, is doing, as well. It's the name of her new equine assisted therapy program.
ANNETTE SULLIVAN, AVIELLE'S MENTOR: These are both some of our therapy horses.
COOPER: Annette uses horses to help Newtown children cope with the trauma of December 14, 2012.
Look closely at the image used to publicize the program. It's an artist's rendering of Avielle with a pony named Pumpkin.
SULLIVAN: I wanted her friends to be able to have joy in their hearts again. She would have wanted me to help other kids of Sandy Hook and kids of our farm get happy again.
COOPER: Like Avielle Richman, Joey Gay is still touching lives months after her death.
JIM JEFFREY, JOEY'S FUND GRANT RECIPIENT: Joey helped out enormously. That whole wonderful family.
COOPER: Last spring, Joey's Fund awarded 14 families grants to do something for their autistic children that they couldn't otherwise afford. The Jeffrey family received $6,200 to pay for a summer program to help their son Paul prepare for college.
PAUL JEFFREY, STUDENT: I'd say it went really well actually. I'm feeling like I'm way better off for it.
COOPER: Paul has Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum and makes it difficult for him to interact socially.
J. JEFFREY: I don't think I've ever seen a person in three weeks seem to mature that much.
COOPER: He now feels more prepared for his future.
P. JEFFREY: I am definitely thinking about going to a college.
M. GAY: He's just like this bright, shining beacon for what every parent of an autistic child is hoping and dreaming for.
J. JEFFREY: You wish you could do anything to give back to her, but I think perhaps the success Paul had there is the reward.
B. GAY: We just could have just not done the fund. We could have made the choice not to and it would have been such a shame.
M. GAY: Yes.
B. GAY: Because it's really...
M. GAY: And that's another source of...
B. GAY: Comfort.
M. GAY: ... fuel and comfort for us, is just the amazing work that our daughter is doing.
B. GAY: And they all know it's Joey's Fund. They all know.
M. GAY: Right. It's a grant for Joey.
B. GAY: You see her picture on the Web site.
M. GAY: The way that she loved people and the way that she served people, we get to carry that on for her.
COOPER (on camera): And a piece of Joey goes out with all these people.
M. GAY: Absolutely.
COOPER (voice-over): Long after their deaths, Joey, Daniel and Avielle will still be making a difference in this world, thanks to their parents, who were able to turn tremendous tragedy into hope in honor of their children.
M. GAY: And here she is, a fish in the water.
B. GAY: I think about the horrible way my daughter died. It's really difficult to stomach. And I have really two feelings that emerge. One is I'm angry. And I focus that anger on doing positive things. Because that's the best thing for me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job, Joey!
M. BARDEN: It's all about reaching folks with that conversation at the community level and establishing the bond of a parent's love for their child. Everybody's had parents, right? So everybody can identify with that unconditional love that transcends political affiliation, economic status, religious affiliation. It's just the great unifier. And it's -- and it's that common ground that we can start that conversation from.
J. BARDEN: About making this a safer place for all.
HENSEL: On the 14th of December, not only us but everyone who was so directly impacted just pushed out this wave of grief. And the world pushed back this wave of love to us. Once the research is done and it's giving answers, it pushes back hope.