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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Remembering Newtown Victims; Interview With Congressman Chris Murphy
Aired December 21, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here in the East Coast.
And we're coming to you tonight from Newtown, Connecticut, a town that for a week now, a week that has felt much, much longer than seven days, has been heavy under grief, but also full of love and full of resolve to remember the lives cut far too short.
We wanted to come back to Newtown tonight, not to argue or point fingers, but to honor and to remember the 12 little girls, the eight little boys, six dedicated women who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School one week ago.
Today, here in Newtown, at 9:30 in the morning, bells rang out for each of those lives lost, the mothers and the daughters, the sons and the nieces and the nephews, the brothers and the sisters, and the friends. We remember them.
For the next hour, we will hear from family members because they want a voice, and we want to give it to them, a voice to tell us about their children, how wonderful they were, special they were.
We don't want just focus on how they died, but how they lived and the lives they touched. And they touched so many lives. We are going to hear from the McDonnell family, who graciously invited me into their home to tell us about their bright, talented 7-year-old daughter Grace. Grace's funeral was today.
There were also funerals for Olivia and for Dylan and for Mary and for Rachel. We will remember them.
COOPER (voice-over): Dylan Hockley moved to Newtown from England just two years ago. He was 6 years old. A special needs child, his parents chose this community for the good reputation of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Dylan flourished at Sandy Hook, thanks in large part to his special education teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, who worked with him one-on-one.
The Hockleys kept a photo of Ann Marie on their kitchen fridge, and Dylan would happily point at it every day. On Friday, Dylan died in Ann Marie's arms as she tried to shield him from the gunman with her body. His parents say they take great comfort in knowing Dylan wasn't alone when he died. Dylan loved to cuddle, play tag, and bounce on the trampoline. He idolized his older brother, Jake, who was his best friend, his role model. His parents say they cherish the time they had with Dylan in Newtown. "We do not and shall never regret this choice," they write. "Our boys have flourished here and our family's happiness has been limitless."
Olivia Engel was all set to play an angel in her church's nativity play last Friday night. She, too, was 6 years old. Church was important to Olivia. She was proud to lead her family in saying Grace every evening. Her parents say her zest for life began early, a happy baby who grew into a happy little girl with an infectious giggle and an affinity for anything fun. She loved dancing and tennis, soccer, drawing, and singing.
Olivia also loved school, especially math and reading. She was proud to be a big sister to a little brother, Braden, who has been looking for her ever since the tragedy.
JOHN ENGEL, COUSIN OF OLIVIA ENGEL: He keeps asking, where is Via, where is Via? He's acting like any normal 3-year-old should. He's completely innocent, and she was completely innocent. And he has kept that innocence, even if the nation has lost it.
COOPER: Olivia's pastor said she was an angel in life and now she's an angel in heaven.
Grace McDonnell loved school so much she used to skip on her way to the bus stop. The last time her mom saw Grace, she was smiling, waving, blowing kisses from the bus. She was 7 years old. Grace loved to draw and paint. She also loved the beach, and her dream was to grow up to be a painter and live on Martha's Vineyard, where her family spent their summer vacations.
Her parents say Grace didn't have an ounce of hate in her and especially loved to draw peace signs. She loved music, cooking and the New York Yankees. Her parents write: "A beautiful and artistic soul, Grace was truly a gift from God and represented all that is good in the world."
Mary Sherlach felt she was doing God's work by helping the children who needed her the most. She worked as the psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary for 18 years. On Friday, Mary was with the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, when they heard gunshots. They both ran out to confront the gunman. They both died heroes.
Mary was 56, just one year away from retirement. Friends remember her as intelligent, warm, a caring soul, someone who was always there to lend an ear or a shoulder to a person in need. Her family writes: "There are no words to describe the devastating loss that we feel at this time. Our family has lost a loving mother, dedicated wife, and, above all, a wonderful, caring woman who was beyond dedicated to her students."
Rachel Davino loved working with kids and wanted nothing more than to help children with special needs grow into healthy, happy adults. She was a behavioral therapist who recently started working as a teacher's aide at Sandy Hook Elementary. She was 29 years old. Rachel was on the verge of big life changes. She was working towards a Ph.D. on behavioral studies and autism, and her boyfriend was planning on proposing to her on Christmas Eve.
On Friday, she too died a hero, shielding a student from the gunshots. Her family writes: "Her maternal nature, understanding and sense of patience with the learning disabled were truly gifts she possessed. Ultimately, it is these gifts that would have given Rachel a level of understanding and forgiveness during this time of crisis that many others wouldn't have."
COOPER: It is still so hard to imagine. There have been funerals every day this week here in Newtown, multiple funerals, five today.
On Monday, there was a funeral for 6-year-old Noah Pozner. I spoke with Noah's mother, Veronique Pozner, just a short time ago. She wanted to share a little bit about how full of life her son was. And we now share that with you. We will remember Noah.
COOPER: What do you want people to know about Noah?
VERONIQUE POZNER, MOTHER OF NOAH POZNER: He was a 6-year-old little boy. He loved running and playing with his siblings. And he loved bubble baths and fireflies. And he loved eating the inside of Oreo cookies. And he played the video "Gangnam Style" ad nauseam in the house, especially the annoying orange version of it. He loved it, for some reason.
He was just a bundle of energy, like he was supposed to be.
COOPER: I understand he used to tell his siblings that he managed a taco factory?
POZNER: Yes, he was going to split his time as an adult between managing a taco factory and being an astronaut...
COOPER: Oh, OK.
POZNER: ... which is an interesting juggling act, I'm sure.
COOPER: How are you holding up? I mean...
POZNER: Most of the time, I'm kind of numb, you know. I think about -- and I think every mom out there can relate to the fact of how long it takes to create a baby, those nine months that you watch every ultrasound and every heartbeat, and it takes nine months to create a human being, and it takes seconds for an AR-15 to take that away from the surface of this Earth.
And it wasn't just my son. It was 25 other souls that left this Earth that day, because that weapon fell into the hands of a tormented soul. And that haunts me.
COOPER: Is that something you feel you want to be speaking out about moving forward?
POZNER: I don't think that far.
I'm kind of -- I'm on autopilot right now, day to day.
POZNER: I do think there is obviously a huge issue in society because we go from a cycle of death, grief and mourning. Then there's this numbness that sets in, and then there's sort of this complacency because the next cycle of news comes.
And I understand that. It's human nature. We don't want to remember how bad life can get. We don't want to remember that, because how could we live if we did every day think of that? But it can get that bad. And I didn't think it was going to happen to my family, but it did. And it could happen to others.
And if there's a way for that risk to be minimized, whatever the answer is, I'm not sure yet, I haven't wrapped my head around it yet, and I certainly am no stateswoman. I'm no Golda Meir. I don't have the answers, but maybe one day they will come to somebody. I hope so.
COOPER: Where do you find the strength? You spoke at Noah's funeral. And so many mothers and fathers have spoken at their children's funerals.
POZNER: I don't think that source comes from within us. I think it comes through us from our children.
They wanted to know. They were here, and they mattered. They all had families and they mattered. And so did all the educators who died that day. They all mattered. They all had families. They all had friends. They all had -- you know, if I asked everybody in this world who has ever loved someone, who has ever had a human being in their life who was essential to their well-being to raise their hand, I don't think there would be many hands down in this world.
And every one of those hands is a reason why those weapons should not be out in the general public.
COOPER: Is there anything else you want to say?
POZNER: I don't think so, Anderson. I think I have said everything I want to say. I just -- I'm grieving. That's all, like we all are.
COOPER: I wish you strength...
POZNER: Thank you.
COOPER: ... and peace in the days ahead.
POZNER: Thank you.
COOPER: I know it's hard.
POZNER: Thank you. I'm going to need it. Thank you.
COOPER: There's a lot of people who need strength here right now, but that message that their lives matter, those lives matter, that's something so many parents wants to get across.
We're going to hear from more parents tonight. I will also speak with Monsignor Robert Weiss, who has conducted so many funerals and memorial masses here in Newtown this week, giving comfort to a community tasked with the impossible, finding a way to try to say goodbye to children and beloved teachers, to heroes.
We will be right back.
COOPER: There's the bells that tolled this morning at approximately the time of the shootings as they occurred one week ago today.
The National Rifle Association gave its first statement today since the day that changed everything in Newtown, Connecticut, and perhaps around the country, one of the worst mass shootings in the history of this country.
On Tuesday, when the NRA announced that they would be making today's statement, they said they were prepared to offer -- and I quote -- "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again" -- unquote.
Well, the four million-member-strong NRA is, of course, one of the most powerful and hard-line organizations in America. So, when they say things like meaningful contributions, people take notice. Today, the NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, took to the podium and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The budgets -- and you all know this -- everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained, and their resources are severely limited, but their dedication and courage is second to none and they can be deployed right now.
I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the congressman who represents Newtown had a very strong reaction to the NRA's statement, calling it revolting and tone- deaf.
I spoke to what is now senator-elect Chris Murphy just a short time ago.
COOPER: Senator-elect Murphy, I just wanted to get your response, your reaction to the NRA's -- it wasn't really a press conference, just their statement.
REP. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, I was in Grace McDonnell's funeral. And when I got out, I was shown a copy of the statement. And I nearly became sick.
By the time I had gotten to the next funeral, to little Dylan Hockley's funeral, the horror had already started to spread through the 200, 300 people who were there. Dylan's family talked about the fact that they knew that something good was going to come from Dylan's death, that there was going to be change in this country.
I can't speak for Ian and Nicole, nor for the other parents, but I'm pretty sure that they don't think that change is more guns. And that's essentially what the NRA said today, is that the solution to this mass killing in Newtown is more guns in schools, in homes, more guns throughout the streets of America.
COOPER: Yes, there was a lot the NRA didn't address. Essentially, it seems to me they're also then calling for armed guards in movie theaters, armed guards in any public space, as you say, just basically weapons everywhere.
MURPHY: Yes. Listen, it doesn't make any sense. We're not going to live in a society where every building you go into has a security guard with a semiautomatic weapon.
Ultimately, the solution for this country is not for us to become one big armed camp. The solution is to make sure that these weapons don't exist in the first place. If the assault weapons ban had been in place, Anderson, I fundamentally believe, I know a lot of parents in Newtown believe that there would be kids getting their Christmas presents this Christmas, because, in 10 minutes, with those 30-clip -- those 30-round clips, this guy was able to destroy 27 lives in just under 10 minutes.
That shouldn't be allowed. And I think there are a lot of NRA members who agree. I think Wayne LaPierre today is out of step with America, he's out of step with Newtown, but I think he's out of step with a lot of his members, and I hope that the whole world saw that.
COOPER: He had also talked about sort of a mental health database. Beyond the possible infringement of rights that that might have, that still doesn't get around the loophole that gun show sales have, because they often can do without background checks.
MURPHY: Yes. One of the most absurd parts of his statement today is his insistence that we have a registry of people with mental illness. If you have been treated for depression, all of a sudden you're going to be on a registry.
Of course, at the same time, the NRA has opposed a gun registry so that we can track who has these weapons. So the NRA says we want to know who has a history of mental illness, but we frankly don't want to know whether those individuals or anybody else has a gun. It just doesn't make any sense.
And what this stunt was today was a smokescreen to try to distract people from where this country is moving. This country is moving over the last seven days towards sensible gun legislation that takes assault weapons of the streets, that takes these assault clips out of the hands of these mass murderers.
And I don't think that LaPierre or his organization can stand in the way of that any longer.
COOPER: Do you think -- I have talked to a couple of mothers. And one mother in particular said to me that she now feels fearless, that she has gone through the worst pain imaginable and she now feels fearless. It was Lynn McDonnell, whose funeral you went to today, her daughter, Grace.
Do you think we are going to be hearing from some of these mothers, from some of these families in this, I guess, what will be a battle down in Washington?
MURPHY: Well, Anderson, you and I were at Grace McDonnell's funeral today, and you saw the monsignor say at one point that he couldn't wait until these 40 parents were unleashed on Washington, and he looked our way.
I think every parent is going to take their own time to figure out whether they want to be part of this process of change and what they believe the change should be.
But I have a feeling that the majority of these parents are going to be marching on Washington, are going to be demanding change, whether it be more help for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled or stricter gun control. And they're going to be the best spokesman for this issue because they want to make sure that these 20 kids' memory doesn't just vanish from the scene.
There's something good that can come from this, and once the grieving process is over, I do think we're going to have one of the most powerful lobbying forces that this country has ever seen in the parents and relatives of those that were killed last Friday.
COOPER: Well, Senator-elect Chris Murphy, I appreciate you joining us. Thank you.
MURPHY: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, I should say we did invite the NRA, of course, on the program tonight. Got no response from them. A headline at Forbes online describes what is going on with guns now after the tragedy. It reads: "The political backlash against gun sales is driving them upward."
Whatever you think about guns and gun control, that's the bottom line, a big business dominated by large retailers. According to "The Wall Street Journal," Wal-Mart is the biggest. The company rarely, if ever, grants interviews on the subject, but is talking exclusively tonight to 360's Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, the number one retailer in the world and one of the top, if not the top, sellers of guns, including semiautomatic weapons.
David Tovar is one of Wal-Mart's vice presidents.
DAVID TOVAR, VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, WAL-MART: We have had heavy hearts this week, just like everybody else has. And we had a lot of discussions around Wal-Mart.
TUCHMAN: Wal-Mart officials rarely go on camera and haven't gone on camera since the shootings. None of the guns used in the shootings were purchased at Wal-Mart. But the sheer number of guns the company sells has always been a sensitive topic. Although Wal-Mart doesn't sell any weapons on its Web site, it does list them there and directs customers to stores that carry them.
But after the shootings, Wal-Mart did remove one of the weapons used in Connecticut, the Bushmaster AR-15, from its Web site. It is, however, still available for purchase in stores.
(on camera): Has the decision been made to sell as many guns now as before the incidents in Connecticut?
TOVAR: We think it's important to strike the right balance between being able to serve our customers and also sell firearms in the most responsible manner possible.
TUCHMAN: So, as many today as before the incident, though?
TOVAR: That's correct.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): We went inside a Wal-Mart today where we indeed did see an ample supply of semiautomatic weapons available, although the Bushmaster AR-15 was sold out. I asked what the Wal-Mart vice president what kind of discussions executive have had since the horrifying Connecticut murders.
TOVAR: This week, we had a lot of conversations both internally and externally. We have reached out to Mayor Bloomberg's coalition on responsible firearms. We have been a charter of that organization. We have reached out to sportsmen's groups and others. TUCHMAN: What Wal-Mart executives ultimately decided is that their customers want to be able to buy these guns, so there's no plan to change anything right now.
(on camera): One question. But is there any collective guilt sometimes where you hear of a case where someone bought a weapon at Wal-Mart, a semiautomatic weapon, and committed a crime, because that has happened?
TOVAR: Unfortunately, those things do happen.
We're like other people around the country, where we're mothers, we're fathers, we're parents, and we have heavy hearts when those types of unfortunate incidents do happen. But we do know that we have a very strong program to sell firearms in the most responsible manner as we can.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Wal-Mart sells guns in less than half its stores, but in 2011 did decide to expand their sale of guns to additional stores and increase inventory to some of the ones already selling them.
The reason? Revenue. Guns are a very good business for Wal- Mart.
(on camera): When you decide in 2011 to sell more guns, is there ever any talk in these walls, in this executive headquarters -- and if it's proprietary, you probably won't tell me -- but that maybe we shouldn't sell more, maybe that would be considered irresponsible by the public?
TOVAR: We make a lot of decisions around merchandising based on customer feedback. And so we have a lot of discussion about that.
TUCHMAN: But customer feedback, and not politics, though, you're saying?
TOVAR: Customer feedback. One of our sayings at Wal-Mart is the customer is number one. That's who we focus on, that's who we listen to. They guide our decisions.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But Wal-Mart could and might change its mind abruptly if one particular thing was to happen.
TOVAR: If the law were to change, we would follow the law.
TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Bentonville, Arkansas.
COOPER: Well, a week ago on this night, we talked to Monsignor Weiss about how you comfort moms and dads whose first graders were murdered. What do you say to the boyfriend who is going to propose on Christmas Eve to the woman that he loved or the husband who expected to outlive his wife? It's been an overwhelming week for the spiritual leaders of this town. Monsignor Robert Weiss has conducted six funerals in the last four days alone.
He joins me ahead.
COOPER: One bell rang this morning for each of the victims of the massacre.
We just saw five of the children who lost their lives in the shooting one week ago. We want to show you a picture now from the Oval Office this morning that we just got. It's President Obama pausing during a meeting at 9:30 a.m. for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the shooting.
It somehow seemed appropriate that it was raining this morning as church bells marked the moment when 26 beautiful lives were taken at that school, because, sadly, it was that kind of a day, bleak.
What happened here in Newtown seven days ago has produced heartbreak beyond measure. For the victims' families, The world shifted forever last Friday and it will never be the same. You can feel the sorrow, you can feel the anguish in Newtown, and you can also feel the strength.
As I have said before, it a feel of incredible love and strength in this town. It's never been needed more than now. There have been two or more funerals every day this week. Funerals for six of the children killed were held at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church. There will be another funeral there tomorrow.
Monsignor Robert Weiss conducted the services. He joins me now.
Monsignor, thank you very much for being with us.
MONSIGNOR ROBERT WEISS, LIMA CATHOLIC CHURCH: Thank you.
COOPER: The strength of these families is extraordinary. You were saying this morning at a service that -- well, I was talking to a nun, actually, who said that, out of five of the services she went to, parents of these children spoke at four of them. I mean, the strength is just incredible.
WEISS: Absolutely. And I think that's where we're drawing our strength from, is from the parents. And it was amazing to me when planning these liturgies that the parents said, "We feel we should talk about our children. We knew them the best." And one by one to us, the mothers and fathers come up to the lectern and they just share their joy. And that's what they did there, you know. They put the tragedy aside to share the joy and all the wonderful things about their children.
COOPER: At Grace McDonnell's service this morning, it was pouring with rain at the beginning of the service, and about halfway through your remarks, the sun came out.
WEISS: Absolutely. Before the service I was talking with her parents and I mentioned the whole earth was crying with her this morning. And her dad said to me, "You know, though? She's going to make it sunny tomorrow."
That's when I said, "I think she anticipated, and she made it sunny for us." You're exactly right. During the first scripture, when we were talking about the new heaven and the new earth, the sun broke through the windows of that church. And these families are looking for signs. You know, they need to have a hope to hold on to and to know that their children are safe.
And I must say the families that I have encountered this week have had incredible faith and trust in that. They've also found great consolation that these children were great friends with each other. They were happy children. They loved being together.
COOPER: And that they were together. Grace's mom says that she thinks about Grace holding hands with her friends and holding hands now in heaven with them.
WEISS: You know, as trite or whatever as that might sound, that's really the consolation these families have. That these children have each other. They have their teachers watching over them, their wonderful principal who was taken with them, and that they're OK with the Lord.
And again, people are shocked at the faith of this community. That this is a community where these families are raising their children in faith. And this town is rich in religious denominations and religious organizations. And these families find a great deal of consolation in them.
COOPER: In my own life when I've had losses, I found the hardest time often kind of a week or two after, that often before the funeral, there's a certain adrenaline that keeps you going, and then the world seems to stop along with you. But at a certain point, you know, people go back about their business, and the families are left with their world frozen. It's going to be in the weeks ahead that these families are going to continue to need support and attention.
WEISS: I have been mentioning that at every service. You know, it's a couple weeks, three weeks out that they need a pot of soup or they need you to sit down and have a cup of coffee with them.
And I want to commend you, Anderson. You have been so sensitive to these families and not intrusive at all. And I really want to thank you for that. Because it means a great deal to them that they're being respected, and their privacy is dear to them. And I do want to thank you for that, because it's meant a great deal to them.
COOPER: It's been a privilege to be able to talk with them and just meet with them.
You also said something this morning that really stuck in my mind, and it reminded me of something that Grace's mom, Lynn, also said to me, which is that she feels fearless now. That she has experienced the worst pain imaginable and that -- that she feels fearless, and she's going to kind of go forth unafraid. And you said something about you imagine, you know, 20 moms, 20 families descending on Washington. Do you think change is possible, whatever that means?
WEISS: You know, if -- these children did not die in vain. And I certainly know that these parents are already organizing, and these children are not going to be forgotten.
And if these -- the faces of these children, you've seen the photographs. If they don't change the way people are thinking in this country, we are in really big trouble. I just know that these parents are going to organize. They're going to make things happen.
COOPER: Whether it's guns or mental health or school safety or...
WEISS: Absolutely. It doesn't matter. It's just for the wellbeing of this -- of this world and this country, especially. And they're bright people. And they have a bond that will never be broken because of their child. And I know that things are going to happen for the good.
COOPER: Yes. How are you holding up?
WEISS: You know, I must admit, I'm getting tired. But these parents are really keeping me going. You know, I look at their strength and I figure if I can't keep going, what good am I?
I have a great faith. This hasn't shaken my faith in the Lord; it hasn't shaken my faith in humanity. And I'm just looking at these parents and I'm drawing great, great strength from them.
And this community, as I'm sure you have realized, and you mentioned already, is an incredible place of care. You know, many people move here, they don't have extended family, and so their friends become family for them, and they draw a great deal of strength from that. And that's what we're all about here. And I'm happy not because of the situation. I'm happy that the world gets to know that there's still a community like this.
COOPER: Well, I've heard so many people say to me remarkable things about you. And I really appreciate you talking to us tonight.
WEISS: Thank you. I don't know if you have a green and white?
COOPER: I do, and I have the bracelet, as well.
WEISS: Terrific. Thank you very much, Anderson.
COOPER: Appreciate it.
WEISS: Bless you.
COOPER: Monsignor Robert Weiss. As we just talked about, one of the funerals at his church today was -- was for Grace McDonnell, 7 years old. In the week since this tragedy, I was lucky enough to get to know her family a little bit. They helped us all get to know Grace. They're going to share their memories about their amazing Grace, next.
COOPER: Well, we have tried to be careful and respectful of what the families here are going through. Tried not to intrude on their suffering, but when they have approached us wanting to tell their stories, we've been honored to hear about their loved ones.
Earlier this week, we got a call from the McDonnell family, a call that led to a conversation that I'll never forget. A conversation about 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who as I said, whose funeral was today.
I spoke with Grace's parents, Chris and Lynn, in their home several days ago, and they told me about who Grace was. We were all inspired by the strength that Grace's parents showed. They say it's Grace who is guiding them through these dark and difficult days.
As we talked about with Monsignor Weiss, Grace's memorial was today, and tonight we once again honor her, a bright and beautiful little girl who we never had the pleasure of meeting but we'll never, ever forget.
COOPER: What do you want people to know about Grace?
LYNN MCDONNELL, GRACE'S MOTHER: Well, Grace had such a great spirit. She was a kind and gentle soul. And she was just the light and love of our family. She was just truly a special, special little girl that we loved, and she loved her brother so much. And she loved her school, Sandy Hook.
In fact, this week, I was telling somebody she had a stomach ache one day, and I said to her, "Why don't you stay home with Mom?"
And she said, "No way, I have too much fun there, and I don't want to miss anything." She would skip to get on the bus. It wasn't even -- you know, every morning, it was the backpack was packed the night before and ready to get on the bus in the morning and head off to school. We would blow kisses every morning to each other.
And I remember that morning putting her on the bus. She had a habit of blowing kisses, but then she'd give me a big little liver lips like this. But then she -- I knew she was so happy to go off and get there.
So it -- I'd like to say that she was at a place that she loved, and so we take comfort in that, that we know she was in a place that she really loved.
COOPER: And with friends.
CHRIS MCDONNELL, FATHER OF GRACE: And with friends.
L. MCDONNELL: And with friends.
C. MCDONNELL: People that loved her. And that's, I think, the whole community and the school and the teachers, they all -- they're all raising your child. And it's a special place.
L. MCDONNELL: It is. And I take comfort that she was with all her friends. And I just envision all of them holding hands, and they're -- they're all together up there. And they're up there with their wonderful principal.
COOPER: What did you say to Jack? I mean, how did you -- because there's a lot of parents right now who are trying to figure out what to say to their children all around the world about this.
C. MCDONNELL: Telling him was by far the toughest thing to do. And I think what we did was truthful, honest words that he could understand, and hoping that he'll be able to process this and how we help to guide him to process this over the long journey ahead.
COOPER: You met with President Obama. What was that like?
L. MCDONNELL: We did. We felt his support. And it was really -- it was really special. And we shared some special things about Grace with him and her art.
COOPER: You brought him something?
L. MCDONNELL: We did. Grace's dream was to live on the beach and be a painter. And so we offered him one of her paintings which he said he would treasure. So that gave us great comfort, too.
COOPER: I was talking to you before we began, and one of the things you were saying is you don't want to have hate or anger in your heart.
L. MCDONNELL: No. I told Jack that he could never live with hate. Grace didn't have an ounce of hate in her. And so we have to live through Grace and realize that hate is not -- not how our family is and certainly not how Grace is. And I know all those beautiful little children, they didn't have any hate in them either.
COOPER: It's a hard thing, though, isn't it, sometimes, to feel that?
C. MCDONNELL: We're going to go on, and we're going to use her positive energy to help guide us forward.
L. MCDONNELL: One of Gracie's favorite things to paint or draw was a peace sign. And she just had a birthday in November when she turned 7, and she requested. I said, "What did you -- what would you like your cake to look like, Grace?" And she said, "I want a purple cake with a turquoise peace sign and polka dots." And sure enough, her cake was purple, turquoise, and polka dots. It was totally Grace. It was so colorful.
C. MCDONNELL: It was one of a kind, too.
L. MCDONNELL: And it was all -- she was all about peace. She really was.
And I -- I was looking -- the morning after, I was in the bathroom, and I used to dry her hair next to the window and the window would fog up, and she would write notes in the window to me.
And on Saturday morning, I was standing at that window in the bathroom, and it had fogged up. And I looked, and there was her peace sign in the window. And I was like, that's a sign from my Grace. And the pane above it said, "Grace, mom," and she drew a heart. So she was all about peace. And she was gentleness and kindness.
COOPER: You went to the funeral home, and you were telling me the story of, she had -- she has a white casket.
L. MCDONNELL: She does. And when we walked in the room, it was the first time we had been able to be with her. And when we walked in the room and we saw that white casket, it just -- you felt like the floor was falling out beneath you, and your breath was taken away.
But earlier in the morning, I decided, because Grace loved art so much, we were packing Sharpies in our pockets. And when we got in, after we did our big family hug with Grace, we sat down, and we busted out the Sharpies. And we decided that we were -- at first I envisioned maybe a little heart, but by the time we were done, there wasn't an inch of white. It was so covered with all the things that she loved.
And her brother, we wrote her notes and her nicknames and all the things that she loved.
C. MCDONNELL: Places we had been together.
L. MCDONNELL: Cupcakes, ice-cream cones, lighthouses, seagulls. And we were saying she is laughing at us right now, because our artwork was terrible.
But when we left the room, it was certainly so hard to leave her, because that would be the last time that we would be able to be with her. We had to take great joy in knowing that, when we walked in there, it was so white and our breath was taken away, but when we walked out of there, it was like we had joy again. It had so much color, and it was Grace. It was so Grace.
COOPER: You were able to give her things, as well.
L. MCDONNELL: Yes, we brought her her favorite pocketbook, and we had seashells and flip-flops and sunglasses. And she loved to cook. We had a frying pan. And she loved music. C. MCDONNELL: Notes.
L. MCDONNELL: She has Taylor Swift's Christmas song in there. She has her New York Yankees. She has her dad's New York Yankee hat. So she had all the things that she loved with her. So we took -- we took -- we had peace when we left last night.
COOPER: It's got to be -- I mean, hard not to have been able to actually see her.
L. MCDONNELL: Well, at first I thought that, and I had questioned maybe wanting to see her. But then I thought, she was just so, so beautiful. And she wouldn't want us to remember her looking any different than her perfect hair bow on the side of her beautiful, long, blond hair. And so we'll take comfort in looking. We have so many beautiful pictures of her. We'll take comfort in remembering her beautiful smile and her -- I'll remember her blowing me kisses that day, getting on the bus, going off to school.
COOPER: And I told -- I told Lynn and Chris that every time I hear that song, "Amazing Grace," from now on, I'll think of their amazing Grace.
And she wanted to make sure that, whenever we do hear that song, that we smile, let it not be a sad song, but we smile with the memory of Grace.
There are other stories we're following. We're going to have more here from Newtown coming up, but I do want to check in with some of the other stories we're following. Susan Hendricks joins us right now with the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, President Obama laying out a possible agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff. The president says it would protect middle-class Americans from a tax hike, extend unemployment benefits, and set a framework for future debt reduction steps.
Now, that announcement came after he spoke with congressional leaders. Lawmakers will only have a few days to vote on a deal when they return from Christmas break.
President Obama also announcing Senator John Kerry is his pick to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Senator Kerry currently chairs the foreign relations committee. President Obama credited him with playing a central role in every major foreign policy debate for nearly 30 years and called on the Senate to swiftly confirm his nomination.
And the U.S. Marine veteran jailed in Mexico on weapons charges is back in the U.S. tonight. News of Jon Hammer's release comes from his mother. Hammer was arrested four months ago after declaring an antique shotgun at the border. Mexican authorities said the weapon did not comply with their gun laws -- Anderson. COOPER: Susan, thanks.
There are obviously going to be more funeral here in Newtown this weekend. Another funeral just tomorrow Monsignor Weiss is going to be officiating at; many difficult days ahead.
But the families who lost loved ones, they are not alone. So many people around the world are offering support, sharing their pain, and promising to remember the Sandy Hook victims. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Church bells on what was a raw and rainy December morning this morning. A reminder that life can change in an instant. Horribly and forever. A reminder that little children, 6 and 7 years old, can be taken from their parents at a stranger's whim, that wives, and daughters, and sisters and girlfriends might go off to work and not come home.
The lives stolen last Friday obviously can never be replaced. We'll never know if Noah would have become a taco factory manager or an astronaut like he dreamed of, or it Catherine would become a veterinarian, or if Daniel would have realized his dream to be a firefighter. They'd barely begun their lives.
All of the victims, all of the children and all of the adults had already made an indelible mark on the world. We focused a lot on that -- on that this week. We tried to focus a lot on that this week. But words cannot measure what's been lost. The outpouring of grief and support in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting speaks to the scope of the loss, and we all wake (ph) for this town, for this Newtown. We will remember everyone who was lost.
GRAPHIC: Manila, Philippines
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a tribute to the schools. Because I have two -- two kindergartners in school now. So there's just no words you can say for it.
GRAPHIC: El Paso, Texas
New Braunfels, Texas
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The outpouring of love in the community and throughout the world has been unbelievable.
GRAPHIC: San Jose, California
Southbury, Connecticut Washington
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to find some way to come together around all victims of violence.
GRAPHIC: Sigourney, Iowa
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via phone): There was a group of students that had traveled from Florida. I believe they drove overnight to get up to Sandy Hook. And they appeared at the memorial site and just started playing and singing.
GRAPHIC: Rio de Janeiro, Brazile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel your pain. I understand your grieving. And we are here for you.
GRAPHIC: Tirana, Albania
New York City
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to come together and help, you know, our neighboring town.
GRAPHIC: Dinslaken, Germany
Charlotte, North Carolina
COOPER: All around the world, all around America, people standing with the people here in Newtown. We'll be right back.
COOPER: We want to leave you this hour with a choir and a band from Alabama that traveled here to Newtown, Connecticut, and sang "Amazing Grace" at a makeshift memorial here in town. They spent the week singing at funerals and memorial sites. It's a volunteer relief organization called NAPS, made up of college students and graduates who travel the world to places in need, hoping to bring some love and some comfort to those who are hurting.
The group says they are small in number but bring with them the love of millions. Good night from Newtown.
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(MUSIC: "AMAZING GRACE")
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