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CNN Saturday Morning News

Connecticut Elementary School Shooting; Parents of Survivors Discuss Children's Experience Inside the School; Interview with Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack; How to Counsel Children About Tragedy?; The Implications of "Meaningful Action"

Aired December 15, 2012 - 09:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, CNN legal contributor Paul Callan joins me now live from New York. He is a criminal defense attorney, a former New York City homicide prosecutor.

Paul, right now this morning, overnight, everyone talking about gun control but if the suspect got these guns from his mother who we believe he did, and they were legally registered, would stronger gun control laws have made any difference?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think stronger gun control laws would make a difference in this case based on what we know. Connecticut has relatively tough gun laws. You need a permit to buy a handgun and in order to get the handgun you have to be fingerprinted, a record check is done. They check your mental history. Obviously we're assuming the mother probably did qualify and she kept the guns in the house.

Now it's harder to get a carry permit in Connecticut. There's no evidence of a carry permit here. And that military-style weapon, frankly, in most states would be legal because it is considered to be a rifle or shotgun. It is not an automatic weapon. People call those automatic weapons but an automatic weapon when you pull the trigger you get machine gun firing of the bullets as opposed to one bullet per pull which makes it a semi-automatic and legal.

So, you know, I think in the end unless you banned all guns completely, you couldn't have any effect on a situation like this. And in most states in Connecticut, hunting weapons are permitted. So I don't know that this will affect the gun control legislation that's out there, at least in Connecticut.

BERMAN: All right. Paul Callan, legal analyst. Just some of the questions being asked this morning and we will ask going forward. Please standby for us for a second.

In the meantime, I want to go to my friend, Soledad O'Brien who is here in Newtown, Connecticut. We are awaiting a news conference here from officials to update us on the situation and the investigation.

Good morning, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And John, good morning to you. Good morning, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien. And it is just after 9:00 in the morning here in Connecticut. You're watching our special continuing coverage of the Connecticut School Shooting.

I want to welcome our audience around the country and of course those viewers who are now turning to us, joining us from around the world. Lots to talk about this morning as we update you on the very latest, first and foremost, we're waiting for a press conference to get underway. We have been told that press conference would most likely start at 8:00 this morning. So we are about an hour after that hour here, but the officials have been very good about consistently and continuously calling these press conferences. So we are waiting for them to come back again and address, I would say, roughly 100 reporters and cameras who have gathered here just about a half mile or so from the school.

Let me tell you where I am right now. Over my shoulder, over this little hill right there, that's exactly where if you would cut through the woods, that is the location of yesterday's terrible tragedy, elementary school where this horrific mass shooting happened. And here in Newtown, Connecticut, everyone is searching for answers. Of course, a big question, may be a question we'll never know the answer to is the question of why. Why would someone attack an elementary school? Why ultimately would they end up killing 26 people?

We know that last night the community gathered to pay their respects to try to console each other the best that they possibly could, say good-bye to the victims of this horrific tragedy, 20 children, six adults who were killed in the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School here. I want to play a little bit of some of the radio traffic that we were able to gather between the first responders as the details of the school shooting started to first come in just after 9:00 in the morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Medics, you are requested to stage - I will need two ambulances at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just received a call. We have one female in room one who has received a gunshot wound to the foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need units in the pool, I've got bodies here. Be advised, we do have multiple weapons including one rifle and shotgun. - require backup, ambulances, and they said call for everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the number of ambulances you will require?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They do not know. They are not giving us a number.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire rescue 444, respond, 12 Dickinson Drive, Sandy Hook School. 2-1-12, respond, 12 Dickinson Drive. Sandy Hook School. Medical emergencies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have multiple ambulance personnel coming inbound. Can we create that staging area and command area within the Sandy Hook School parking area?


O'BRIEN: You can hear the chaos and just how quickly this disaster grew as they realized the scope of the injuries and the numbers of people who had been injured and killed. Now, we are just about 90 minutes north of New York City and Newtown, Connecticut, is considered to be a very safe community. There has only been one homicide reported in the last 10 years in this community, but of course, unfortunately now Newtown's name is now synonymous with places like Columbine and Blacksburg, Virginia, because of the mass shooting here.

Police have identified the shooter in this case. He is 20-year-old Adam Lanza. We are only now starting to get a picture of just who he is. I want to get first to Mary Snow. This morning she is at Lanza's home. It's also where police found the body of his mother. So Mary, why don't you update us about the very latest that we know about the suspected shooter in this case.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, it is believed that he lived here with his mother. You can't see the home behind me where the road blocked off by police. This was an active crime scene yesterday where police found the body of Nancy Lanza in that home and residents were evacuated from their homes. We are told by residents investigators have been asking them for any information that they had to piece together what they can about this suspect.

And what some of the things that we are learning about him, one neighbor described him as troubled. But in his earlier years, former classmates describe him as someone who was very bright, very quiet, kept to himself. And according to what one woman who was here yesterday, a former bus driver saw, nothing that really stood out.


ALEX ISRAEL, FMR. CLASSMATE OF ADAM LANZA: ... I mean he was a little uneasy sometime if you were to just look at him. I think he was just socially not really into going out there and making friends as everyone was really doing in elementary school, in middle school. He was just - he preferred to stay to himself.


SNOW: That was a former classmate who spoke to CNN last night.

And our Susan Candiotti spoke with a law enforcement official who said and pieced together this information, one thing they did learn from a family member told investigators that he had a form of autism. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: We are going to talk more about that, Mary, with Sanjay Gupta. Because as far as I know, there are no studies at all that link any form of autism with violent acts. So that's something we're going to talk to our medical unit about a little bit later this morning. Thank you for the update, Mary Snow, for us this morning. Of course, this is a parent's worst nightmare to send your children off to school and then you have no expectations that just a few hours later you are going to get a robocall message saying that there has been a shooting and the school is in lockdown. It had to be absolutely terrifying for the parents.

I want to talk this morning to Laura Phelps and her husband, Nick. They have two children in the school, a first grader and a third grader. Did you get a robocall. Is that how you were first notified to come back to the school?

LAURA PHELPS, PARENT OF TWO CHILDREN AT SANDY HOOK: I did. The first call we got was that call. And it was, there's been a shooting and the children are in lockdown.

O'BRIEN: What did you do?

LAURA PHELPS: We turned on the news, we called friends and we hadn't heard anything. And it wasn't until n the TV, my son came running and said, it's Sandy Hook Elementary.

O'BRIEN: That's when you realized that it was your elementary school.

LAURA PHELPS: Right. We were hoping that it wasn't one of our schools, but just as a precaution. Maybe it wasn't a real shooting. Kind of just thinking maybe this was a real precaution. And to hear that it was Sandy Hook was certainly devastating.

O'BRIEN: It has to be horrible. So you know you have a first grader and a third grader in that school, did you run to the school right away? I mean, I would have run to the school?

LAURA PHELPS: Right. My husband, his first reaction was let's get to the school. My first reaction was let's let the police do their work, don't get in the way. Let's go to the church. We ran to the church and they were in lockdown. So we tried to get back to the school and that's when we just saw ambulance after ambulance and I thought, at that time we had heard possibly a teacher was shot. And I looked at the ambulances and said to my husband, this isn't one person.

O'BRIEN: Too many ambulances. I thought the same we started seeing that as too many ambulances.


O'BRIEN: So I know your son who is a first grader, which makes him seven years old, roughly? He was in the room very close to where the majority of those shootings happened.

LAURA PHELPS: He was one to two classrooms away.

O'BRIEN: So what has he told you so far?

LAURA PHELPS: He told us that they were looking at the smart board and something went wrong, so the teacher had them all sit in their cubbies. And they read books in their cubbies until policemen came. And he said the policemen said just walk very fast. And he said he saw some people on the floor, someone on the floor, sleeping.

O'BRIEN: So when he recounts the story to you, is he upset? Is he emotional? Or do you think he's so little, six, that he doesn't quite process the sleeping or his classmates?

NICK PHELPS, PARENT OF TWO CHILDREN AT SANDY HOOK SCHOOL: When I first found him in the firehouse where they had brought the children, he was in very good spirits, very talkative. When we brought him away from the firehouse, he was very talkative. Unlike my daughter, who was very quiet. But he was very upbeat. I don't think it really, whatever the teacher did, she relaxed them to the point that they were unaware of what was going on, IT would be my interpretation of his reaction.

O'BRIEN: Or how much danger they were in.

NICK PHELPS: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: She had them hide in their cubbies for as much protection you could possibly have, which is not much in a cubby.

NICK PHELPS: We realized what she probably did was she told them that the magic board had malfunctioned and that was the reason they needed to read books in their cubby. Told them to keep low and they crawled into their cubby and she read to them apparently while this was all going on.

O'BRIEN: There are so many stories of these teachers being so heroic and keeping such a cool head when obviously everything wrong is going on around them. People described being able to hear the shooting, hear some screaming, and their job is to keep a bunch of small children unaware of how bad it really is. They are really true heroes.

LAURA PHELPS: Absolute superheroes. And when we went down to the firehouse to get our children, we were unaware of the real tragedy at hand. I did not think children were involved. I thought this was isolated, a couple of teachers, maybe even just one. So when we got our children and I saw my son's teacher, they were like ghosts, but they were incredibly composed. They had their sheets with them checking off, making sure each child went with their parent. They - they did everything possible to keep our children safe. Everything. And I wish I had known when I looked at their faces just to say, thank you. Because I have my children.

O'BRIEN: A lot of people don't.

LAURA PHELPS: They don't.

NICK PHELPS: It could have gone bad. Again, like my wife said, we had no idea at the level of what had happened in there. The rumor going around was that the principal who was a wonderful, beautiful woman, the rumor was that she had been, that she had been killed. And all the parents hoped this was an isolated incident, even though that was a horrible loss of life. When I saw those teachers, when I found the two children, and we were devastated and heartbroken for the poor families who did not have that moment in the firehouse of finding their children. We can't even imagine and our prayers, just the entire community is heartbroken. But when I saw those teachers and I locked eyes with each of them separately, when I found the two children, if I could go back, I would embrace them. Because I had no idea what they had gone through.

But it was, it was actually handled very well because I can't imagine the pandemonium that would have been going on in the firehouse with the parents searching for their children. If anybody there had any idea the level of what had happened yesterday, people just simply didn't know really what was going on. They just knew that their children has been in a dangerous place and those that made it to the firehouse were, thank god, safe.

O'BRIEN: What will you tell your son who is a first grader? What will you tell your daughter who is a third grader? Do they have any idea of the scope of how bad it is?

LAURA PHELPS: You know, I think they do more than they are letting on. We have not said much. I mean, this is shocking. So this is new to us. And we are definitely going to talk to counselors today over at the Reed School. We are going to live at our church, at St. Rose, and we are just going to learn what to say before we say it. It is really tricky. And for my third grader, little bits and pieces are coming out now.

O'BRIEN: She's handling it a little - it sounds like she's not talking as much about it.

LAURA PHELPS: Little things are coming out now where she heard a lot. They all heard and saw things that our children should not hear or see. And so we just, we know that it was a bad man, and we just said we are coming to talk to people and they want to know what happened over at Sandy Hook. They don't know, they don't know that they have lost their friends and their principal.

O'BRIEN: It's become apparent that our six-year-old has lost close friends. And he's very unaware of that right now. We don't know how to exactly approach it with him at this point. We are just kind of guarding him from the TV. When they fell asleep last night and the experts would come on the TV to discuss how you talk to your children, we were very attentive like, "Oh, let's listen for, let's watch this." And we realized watching it had nothing to do with us. It had everything to do with the rest of the country watching it. But not the people that were involved and the children that were actually in the school. So it's important for us to realize as this goes on to take advantage of the counseling.

O'BRIEN: Yes, many people, I mean, so many people have sent messages to me to tell people like you and the people who have lost their children, just how sorry they feel for them.

LAURA PHELPS: Yes, I mean, your heart, this is a feeling that is unspeakable. It is like reaching into your insides and pulling them out. I mean, when things happen to your children and to other people's children, I can't look at my children's faces now without seeing the faces of every one of their schoolmates and all of their friends and everything they are doing right now and saying and thinking about Christmas, I'm just thinking, their friends should all be here. And it is just such, it is so heavy. So heavy on your heart. And -

O'BRIEN: The nation feels that way, too.

LAURA PHELPS: Yes, the outpouring of love has been tremendous. I mean, people are calling from all over the world. And we are going to need that now. We are going to absolutely need that to be there as a community. We love Sandy Hook. I mean, this is such a great place. And the people are wonderful. And we are just going to have to really embrace each other and open our hearts and open our arms and open those church doors and just get everybody praying and together. Because, I mean, I think this is something we will get through, I don't think this is something we will ever, ever get over.

NICK PHELPS: I would like also to say that we always feel blessed that our children were at Sandy Hook School. It was an absolutely beautiful school, fantastic educators. The principal who, god bless her, lost her life. She was just a very special person. And all the parents knew that. So it's a very, it's a shocking thing beyond belief that this has happened and that it's - we are just heartbroken for those families.

O'BRIEN: And we are, too. Thank you for talking to us. Appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

So you heard there's two children in their family, a third grader and a first grader. The first grader who seems to have lost numerous friends, close friends. I know parents here struggle with the challenge of how to tell their children that their friends are dead and obviously the parents who have lost children struggle as well with how to go on with their lives. A terrible story to have to cover, a terrible story to have to live through as well.

We got to take a short break. As I mentioned before, we are waiting for this press conference to begin. The state police has been really good about updating us on the very latest in their process in this case. They are a little bit delayed on this press conference, and it is unclear why, but maybe we'll have a chance to understand what they are trying to wrap up and doing. We know they were processing the scene inside the school, which was terrible. They weren't going to remove any of the bodies, including the body of the shooter, including and the bodies of any of the children until they finished it. Which meant the medical examiner would be inside, which meant they would continue treating it as a crime scene. And until they were done, which they told me originally maybe until Sunday, nothing would move. They would not be able to return the bodies to their parents.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll update you on the very latest in the investigation, the latest that we know about the shooter, the latest that we know about services that are offered to the people here and also information for people who are struggling how to tell their own children about this terrible tragedy, even if they are miles and miles away from here. We'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. As we continue our special coverage of the Connecticut Elementary School shooting, lots we are trying to figure out this morning. We are waiting for a press conference from the state police. They have been updating us throughout the last 24 hours of this absolute tragedy. We are expecting them, at least 100 journalists and cameras are just to my left here. Be sure that the police are on seen. We are expecting that press conference to happen momentarily.

We know they have locked down the scene of the school and they have left everything inside as it was for 24 hours ago, which means they have not moved any of the bodies. And we are waiting to be updated on the very latest on this crime scene. Obviously, there are many parents and many people who would love to have the bodies of those who have died in this awful tragedy, to have those bodies back today.

So, of course, it brings us to think about what the parents of the victims are going through this morning. Absolutely a horrific situation. Just a few moments ago we talked to a mother and father of a first grader and third grader. What they told us is they are absolutely grappling with what to do at this point. They really don't know what to tell their children. It's the same question that people who are nowhere near the scene today across the country are trying to figure out as well. How do you explain to small children that their school, that they assume is safe, is not necessarily a safe place?

I want to start by playing a little bit of the radio transmissions between the police and the 911 responders. What we know now is that it is believed that, in fact, there was a security system at the school that had been put in place by the principal when she arrived roughly two years ago. A parent told me that yesterday. What we know is that somehow the shooter was able to get past that security system. There was some who described the glass at the front door as shot out and there are some speculations that that was the way he was able to get around the security system. Let's play a little bit for you of the 911 calls first.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six-seven Sandy Hook School. Caller is indicating she thinks there's someone shooting in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The front glass has been broken (INAUDIBLE) are unsure why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All units, the individual that I have on the phone is continuing to hear what she believes to be gunfire. Units responding to Sandy Hook at this time, the shooting appears to have stopped. The school is in lockdown.


O'BRIEN:: According to law enforcement officials, the actual shooting seems to have lasted only about 10 minutes. But in that time, an absolutely terrible toll would take place.

Anderson Cooper walks us through the tragedy and how it unfolded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All units, the individual I have own the phone is continuing to hear what she believes to be gunfire.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first word was chilling. It only got worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are reporting multiple fatalities involved in the shooting at the elementary school.

COOPER: With each new report, the horror deepened.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's important to say the number of dead, closer to 30 than to 20 and sadly most of them are children.

COOPER: Every detail, every fact brought more sadness. Every detail, every fact brought more sadness. Each fresh piece of information a part of the picture, a school, kindergarten through fourth grade. A sanctuary that was supposed to be a place of safety torn apart.

She heard the intercom that came on in the school and she heard a scream and she heard a gunshot, two gunshots. And then the school went into lockdown.

COOPER: A student's teenage big brother describing the sounds of the gunman on the loose at Sandy Hook elementary.

LT. J. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: I don't know if duty troopers responded to the school with Newtown Police immediately upon arrival, entered the school and began a completely active shooter search of the building.

COOPER: They arrived to carnage. The killer says a law enforcement source with detailed knowledge was dressed for battle in black fatigues and armed for mass murder with two pistols and a military- style rifle. In parts of the school students were told to hide in corners. Teachers risked their own lives to pull boys and girls to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just so grateful to the teacher who saved him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the teacher saved his life?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She definitely did. He had bullets going by him and she grabbed him and another child and pulled them into a classroom.

COOPER: Eventually the kids were evacuated to a nearby firehouse where frantic parents descended.

It was terrifying. I'm still terrified. and I think I'm still in shock about it all. I still don't know everything that happened. I know there are some people missing and they have been taken to the hospital.

COOPER: His son was OK. His son's teacher was alive as well. 20 other children and six adults were killed. The dead believed to include Sandy Hook's psychologist and the principal. Police discovered another adult victim, the gunman's mother reportedly at home in Newtown. Police say they fired no shots. A tight-knit community including a nurse who lived nearby to help, shocked and distraught.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see you have been crying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it because of what you saw?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the cops, the worst thing he had ever seen in his entire career, it was when they told the parents, all these parents were waiting for their children to come out. They thought they were still alive. There was 20 parents just told that their children are dead. It was awful.

COOPER: Awful. And late today speaking for the nation but also as a father, an emotional President Obama fought back tears.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This evening Michelle and I will do what every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we'll tell them that we love them and we'll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now.


O'BRIEN: That's very true. They do need all of our support right now. If you would like more information on how you can help those who are affected by the shooting, go to

And you can absolutely reach out and help in any way that you probably can. You heard just a few moments ago the couple with a first grader and third grade daughter as well. They were saying they didn't know exactly what to do or how to talk to their kids. They are going to be meeting with counselors today in the community. So the parents here whose children have died, the parents here whose children have survived can have some kind of a sense of what to tell their children.

There are many parents who are not in this town, outside of this town and around the country, who are also trying to figure out the same thing do. Do you talk about it or do not talk about it? If you let them watch it unfold on TV? Do you not talk about it. You let them watch unfold on TV, do not let them watch unfold.

We'll chat with a psychiatrist about exactly the best way to talk to your children in the wake of this tragedy. We are back in just a moment. Stay with us.



MERGEM BACKU, SISTER WAS INSIDE SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY: When we first arrived there, there was not a lot of security to guard. And there were three children that came out, one of them was, had a very bloody face. It was a very violent scene. And there were two other ones that they were, you know, they were in the arms of a state trooper. They did not move. Their face was very pale. It was very tragic.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching our special coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened about 90 minutes north of New York City.

I want to update you on the very latest we know. A couple things that we're waiting for, we are expecting a press conference from law enforcement. They have been doing them regularly. They are now about 90 minutes delayed or so on that. We are waiting to hear the very latest inside that scene because they have obviously closed down that scene.

And they -- it's being treated as a crime scene. They have been trying to process the crime scene as the last thing they have told us. So, we are waiting on the update of that.

It is 20 children between the ages of five and 10 killed in this terrible tragedy as well as six adults at the school, including the school's principal and school's psychologist. The police identified the suspect as 20-year-old Adam Lanza. Sources say he was armed with three guns, wore fatigues, wore a military vest.

Police say that he got the guns from his mother. That all those guns, five guns were registered to her. And she was found dead in her home not far from where we are right now.

Parents and teachers -- really, I think it's fair to say the entire nation is struggling with how to really understand how a gunman could open fire on a bunch of small children at an elementary school.

So we wanted to have a conversation about how to have that conversation. Dr. Erik Fisher is a licensed clinical psychologist. He's an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder. He's at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

So, Dr. Fisher, I appreciate you talking to us.

Just a minute ago, I was talking to parents who have a first grader and a third grader. And one of the things they said to me was they don't really know what to do. They have been letting the kids dictate how much they talk or how much not to talk, but now that they know some of their first graders' best friends have been massacred, I mean, they just don't know -- they don't know what to do.

What would you advise them to do?

DR. ERIK FISHER, LICENSED PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, I think you do in some ways let your child take the lead and ask them what they know and what they are aware of. And you got to understand that when people experience trauma, it's not often stored in the verbal centers of the brain. It's stored in the non-verbal side of the brain.

So, as kids work this through, they could have a lot of emotion but not have words. And we have to understand that a lot of times, you know, we have emotions before we have words. And we have to see that everybody works through their grief and emotion differently.

I encourage people to draw, to write, to color, to paint, to sing through their healing process. At this time, though, anybody who's been in this experience is going to need some professional help and support. That's just an absolute. So, the sooner they can get to somebody and consult with people who are experts and professionals in the area, the better they're going to be in the long run.

Also as parents, make sure you're taking care of yourselves, too, because if your kids see you worn and having a difficult time, you know, some of that is going to be OK because they're going to see that this is a human experience. However, it's important that you have an outlet as a parent so you can be there to support your kids and make sure you're consulting a professional if you need that, too.

O'BRIEN: I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.

Sanjay, I know that you have done a lot of work in post traumatic stress. Are children's brains capable of overcoming this more easily than adults or do you find the opposite, that it affects them for the rest of their lives?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They both can be affected by post-traumatic stress, children and adults alike, but I think you're right, kids can be more resilient to this. The same sort of episodes can be more short-lived.

So, just as your guest was saying, a lot of times it could be very subtle things. A little bit of regression, for example, in terms of development and temper tantrums. Something that seems unusual, but oftentimes it could be more short-lived.

I saw something else very interesting, Soledad, and we talked about this before. Sleep can oftentimes be one of the first big -- sleep can be a very powerful predictor overall of how someone copes in the long- term. So even last night, tonight, parents watching and making sure their kids are getting sleep.

I know it sounds like a simple thing, but if you look at the study, it's a powerful predictor how they're going to cope in the long run.

O'BRIEN: So, I want to go back to Erik Fisher.

I guess, for people who were not here and whose children did not go through that trauma, and yet I think as any parent who's watching this story unfold from around the country, you know, we are trying to figure out how do I tell my child honestly that they're going to be safe in school but I cannot honestly say that, right? And as you know they know when you're lying and trying not to lie but you also want to give them reassurance.

What do you do?

FISHER: I'm careful to not make promises. When it comes to my daughter, she's 7-year-old, I never tell her I promise because I can't make promises, especially about things that we really don't have control of, you know?

So, I tried to say this is what we are doing and these are the plans that we have. Make sure you know you have an emergency plan if you get separated, what numbers should they call, what's your cell phone number, where's a safe place to go that's a safe place, or that's a meeting place or things like that.

Those are things important to have in place, because the more people feel like they have a plan, the less stress that occurs in a situation often in the long-term stress.

And, I think, you know, Dr. Gupta made a great point about watching sleep because of the stress hormones secreted when sleep deprived but, also, you are not just looking how kids respond for the next month or year, but in the work that I do with people that had traumas as children, we are talking about the next 20 years, because even in these events, I have had to consult with clients to say turn off the TV. Don't watch it as they bring up huge triggers for post-traumatic stress.

O'BRIEN: It's so interesting to hear the descriptions of the teachers who are so clearly heroes. I mean, having the children, you know, hide in cubbies and try to protect them in a way that with a gunman roaming around, they can't really protect them in doing their all and being organized and bringing them to the firehouse. All that's amazing.

Is that -- is that a way to focus? It breaks my heart, it is so upsetting, but at the same time it feels like one positive thing in this horrible thing is people were truly heroic.

GUPTA: Yes. I know it's tough to talk about, Soledad, but I think the whole notion of empowering yourself in some way, in a situation where you seem to have lost complete control, where you no longer have any control to do anything all to empower yourself, to empower the people around you. It may seem like small things, you know, just singing songs to the children, hiding in closets, and not even being sure those are going to have a significant impact in terms of preventing the horror.

But that empowerment goes a long way. They say, you know, controlling your own feelings before trying to control other people's feelings. And this is what I've been hearing and you've been hearing these stories all day.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question, Sanjay, about what a family member of the shooter, Adam Lanza told investigators. He said that Adam had some type of autism. Now, my nephew is autistic and I have never heard of any case where autism was being linked to this kind of violent behavior. We've linked it to other things, these mass shootings certainly, but autism, I had never heard that.

What does your study show?

GUPTA: I looked at this as well. And I had to look, just over the last few hours, I looked this stuff again, when I heard that same thing. And, first of all, there are hardly any studies on this. There was a couple that I found from two years ago and I think you're absolutely, to show the link between this and any kind of mass violent behavior is -- the studies don't bear that out. I mean, violent outbursts like any young person, a child or young person I have are there.

There are some studies looking at empathy. Could there be limited empathy? But even though, studies are limited, you know?

And I'll say as well, even the diagnosis, for example, of Asperger's, which we don't know what they meant here specifically, but that's not even a diagnosis anymore. As of this year, that diagnosis is gone.

So I guess I just wouldn't read too much into that, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And as we've been pointing out, we're waiting for information to come to us from investigators.

Erik Fisher, psychologist -- thank you, Erik. Thank you for joining us this morning with your insight. We appreciate it.

And, Sanjay, also, I appreciate your time.

We are waiting for this press conference. There are now, what would you say, like 100 cameras at least --


O'BRIEN: -- that are lined up here awaiting for the state police and the Newtown police officials to come out and update us on the very latest that they know.

We also know a little bit more detail from the librarian at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She says that the kids and the teen teachers were prepared because of what they were able to overhear over the intercom. She talked just a few moments ago on what she did to keep kids safe during the shooting spree.



MARYANN JACOB, LIBRARY CLERK, SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Everybody does what they have to do when confronted in a situation like that. And everybody that we practiced it, and they knew what to do, and you just -- you think about protecting the kids and just doing the right thing. REPORTER: How long did you practice this?

JACOB: We have lockdown drills. I don't remember how many, but there's rules to have a certain number of fire drills a year and a certain number of evacuation drills and a certain of lockdown drills. So the kids know the routine and the teachers know the routine. And everyone has a spot in the room where they are supposed to go to.

REPORTER: Can you describe that spot for us?

JACOB: Well, in the library, it's between some bookcases against the wall where you can't be seen from any windows. We had to move out of that spot because one of our doors wasn't locked, we discovered. So, we went into a back storage room and locked the kids in there.

REPORTER: How close were you there?

JACOB: We were like this close together.

REPORTER: Have you panicked and you can't show -


JACOB: There was crayons and paper the storage room in the back. And we tore some up and gave them clipboards and had them color and draw pictures.

REPORTER: What did you tell them?

REPORTER: Was this you or do you alone?

JACOB: There were three other adults with me. They were asking what's going on, we said we don't know. Our job is to stay quiet. It maybe a drill or it may not. But we're just going to stay here --

REPORTER: You didn't know at that point?

JACOB: We knew because I called the office and she told me there was a shooter.

My kids, friends of theirs have little sisters or brothers dead. You know, everybody in town knows everybody. There's not going to be anybody affected by this. It's awful.

I'm just glad they were safe and they were worried about me because we were in lockdown and they didn't know. The kids back home in high school were left watching it on TV. So, they're lockdown at the high school watching what's going on and they're friends and family are in this school. It was probably really difficult for them.


JACOB: Can you? Explain it to me.

REPORTER: Did you know the mother of the --

JACOB: No. She wasn't an employee there as far as I know.

REPORTER: What about the principal? Can you talk a little bit about the principal? Everybody has been saying what a great person she is, how much she loved the teachers.

JACOB: She was a personal friend and a wonderful leader.


O'BRIEN: It's devastating for people trying to make sense of what happened here. A lots of people still grateful their children survived and then, of course, all the parents who are mourning today. Twenty children lost their lives in this terrible, terrible horrific shooting.


DENISE CORREIA, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENT: We lost a lot of babies today in this town. And there are a lot of very sad families. And as everyone can think, you never think it is going to happen, but basically it happens all over the world at this point.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we are going to have to come together to take action to prevent more tragedies, regardless of the politics.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. You are watching our special coverage of the Connecticut school shooting.

We are in Newtown, Connecticut, this morning. We are awaiting a press conference to get underway. They are gathered just to my left, but we are waiting for the folks from the state police and also the local police to update us on the very latest.

The crime scene from where I am is just a half mile through that woods. That's Sandy Hook Elementary School. And, of course, it was the sight and scene of so much chaos.

We want to talk a little bit about what the president said. It was very unusual to see him so emotional and so choked up as he gave that brief remark about the shooting.

Brianna Keilar, reporting for us this morning from the White House. I have to say, Brianna, I have never seen a speech that he couldn't almost get through. And I think a lot of people would say the same thing.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a very emotional moment for President Obama, Soledad. Something that was certainly remarkable, but there was something else in his comments that was also remarkable. If you're someone who listens to President Obama and you really parse every word he says, as so many of us do, he talked about having meaningful action.

And this is significant, because White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked yesterday about what might happen in the wake of this tragedy. Every time, unfortunately, that there is a shooting like this, people start asking about what kind of legislation might Congress be able to enable to enact to stop this from happening. A lot of times, that tends to be gun control advocates saying something needs to be done.

Well, this has not been a priority for President Obama in his first time, but he talked about meaningful action yesterday in the briefing room. And then, listen, he said again today in his weekly address.


OBAMA: As a nation we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years. An elementary school in Newtown, a shopping mall in Oregon, the house of worship in Wisconsin, the movie theater in Colorado, countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. Any of these neighborhoods could be our own.

So we have to come together and we're going to have to make meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this from happening, regardless of politics.


KEILAR: So what does that mean, meaningful action? We don't know. Does that mean he may try to pursue some gun control legislation?

Honestly, we don't know at this point. But I will tell you, Soledad, that gun control advocates look at President Obama's record on gun control and they say that it's dismal. He got an "F" from the Brady Campaign.

In 2008, when he was campaigning and made a promise to pursue renewing that semiautomatic weapons ban that expired in 2004. That never came to fruition. In July, I was in New Orleans as he gave a speech before the Urban League where he talked about gun violence and having a conversation about it.

But in an election year, nothing ever happened to it. It is not really an appetite in Congress and traditionally, it's Republicans who are more in favor of gun rights. But I have to tell you, it's very much a regional thing. There are many Democrats who are not in favor of pursuing new gun-control legislation, including the head of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

So, it's really interesting to listen to his language and wonder what might come out of this. It's still an open question at this point, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think an open question on a lot of fronts.

Brianna Keilar for us at the White House this morning -- thank you, Brianna.

So, what exactly does meaningful action mean? It's what the president said is need to stop gun violence. The tragedies, of course, raise the level of the debate about gun control.

I want to read a couple of statements for you this morning. Let's look at those. If you guys can scroll up.

This comes from the National Rifle Association, "Until the facts," they write, "are thoroughly known, the NRA has no comment."

This one comes from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, actually, based here. They say this, can you scroll down again so I can read that?

They say this, "Our hearts go out to the families of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment."

So from both of them, pretty much getting a big resounding no comment at this point.

I want to get to California Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.

Congresswoman Mack, nice to see you again.

We've had an opportunity to talk about a lot of things the last year on my morning program. You're a parent first and foremost. What's your response to what has unfolded here in Newtown, Connecticut?

REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: Hi, Soledad. Thank you for having me here.

And my response is the same response, I think, every American is having now, that is a bone-chilling sadness. I think that we all grieve right now. I think there's a piece of every single parent right now with these parents and these families.

And you know, you've done such a great job already this morning of exploring the what ifs and why not my school and thank God it's not my school. And all of the pain and suffering that we're all feeling right now. As we wait for answers, why this horrific thing happened, why we decided -- how we decided as a down move forward to make sure it doesn't happen again.

O'BRIEN: So, what do you think that means? I'm going to warn you, we're waiting for this press conference. We've been waiting for it all morning. So, I might have to jump in when you're talking and just interrupt for their start. But that hasn't happened yet.

So what does meaningful action mean? What would you like to see? You support gun rights in this country. You're a Republican, and I think that's a position very consistent with most Republicans.

What does meaningful action, that actually stops these kinds of shootings, look like to you?

MACK: Well, Soledad, first of all, I am a Republican who has had questions, too, about a number of the issues that have come before us about gun rights and gun control. For example, cop killer bullets or, you know, large magazines. I've asked those questions.

But where I keep getting to really quickly is the mental health issue. I keep wondering why these people snap, especially in this instance, there -- these children were, as somebody said to me early this morning, they were angels. They were absolutely defenseless. And what would make somebody snap so terribly to do something this heinous?

So the question for me is not just gun rights but mental health. I agree with you, too, I've never heard this about autism. I don't know that there would be a link there. But I really believe that there are links to mental health. And I think if we're going to debate as a country, gun control, we need to debate what we can do better on mental, the mental health system.

O'BRIEN: So, maybe the answer then is both -- I don't know that you're going to get a lot of people who are going to be against giving people more mental health counseling, et cetera, et cetera. So I would agree completely on that front.

But let's go back to gun control. What do you think could be done to make people safe? I mean, there are people who have said, and I think honestly horribly have said that if people were armed inside the school, they would have been able to shoot the shooter. Do you agree with that?

MACK: Well, yes. I mean, that is one portion of it I guess. You know, I think those of us who fly often know that we feel some sort of consolation or safety knowing that there might be air marshals on board. You want to know sometimes if there's somebody there who can defend you in a situation.

But you have to look at these individuals and to recognize they go to great lengths to harm other people. What lengths are they going to go to if guns aren't at their disposal? They're going to go to the next best thing whether it's, you know, explosives or pipe bombs, whatever it's going to be. I mean, I shudder to think. But these people are deranged or have snapped.

O'BRIEN: But isn't part of the issue -- isn't part of the issue that there's easy access? We do know that his mother had five legally obtained guns. She was licensed for five guns. At least one of them is this Bush .223 -- Bushmaster rifle, right? A semiautomatic weapon.

He had easy access to that. So I find it hard when people say, well, you know, if you didn't have a gun, you could do something else.

Is the answer then arming more people? That doesn't make any sense to me honestly.

MACK: No, but, Soledad, it probably doesn't. But we really need to have a robust discussion that includes all of this. The talks about gun control, access to weapons, and mental health. And what it all means.

You know, these victims and these families really deserve a very thorough discussion. You know, it's really -- I think we always want the quick and easy answer. And that may or may not be gun control. I don't know.

Right now, I think -- I'm grieving too much to try to figure it out, you know -- but we need a very thorough --

O'BRIEN: I don't know that people want quick and easy answers.

No, you know, honestly, with all due respect, and you and I have had many conversations over the past year, a lot. So, we talk a lot. I think there's always a tragedy. We all run out and cover it. And people watch at home, and they're brokenhearted.

And then we go on the next day or three weeks later as if, well, that's done. Then we revisit the issue again at the next tragedy. I guarantee the next school shooting we'll be talking about gun control again. I would put money on it that between now and that next shooting, no one's going to do anything.

I feel very comfortable saying that. Nothing will be done. So -- I just would like to know what tangible things outside of mental health issues which I think are a very, very important one, but let's table that and focus on gun control.

What has to change so that people can't get access to semi-automatic weapons and can go into a school and shoot up a bunch of kids?

MACK: Well, Soledad, with all due respect, you know, first of all, we don't even know this shooter. We know his name. We don't know a whole lot more. It's been 24 hours since this tragedy.

We're making a lot of assumptions that we really shouldn't make yet. I would venture to guess this is a very deeply troubled individual. But, yes, I will have that debate with you. You know, I have as I've said --

O'BRIEN: We know the weapons he used. We know the weapons he used. We know that he used -- he had three weapons at least on him, right? So you're right, there's tons to know. We're waiting for a press conference because there's lots more to know about this young man who is 20 years old.

But we do know-- we do know that what he did was he shot and killed people. He didn't stab them. He shot them. He didn't do a pipe bomb.

MACK: We don't know.

O'BRIEN: That he shot them.

And I think this conversation at some point has to go to what is the normal amount of guns that people can own and how they're registered and tracked. We just -- otherwise we'll have this same conversation at the next terrible tragedy. I think you know we will, right?

MACK: I pray not. Of course, we all pray that we -- never again. But, Soledad, yes, we know that he had these weapons, but we haven't seen any toxicology results. We don't know if he was using, we don't know if he was addicted to pills. We have no idea if he's been seeking mental counseling. We don't know those answers yet.

And I think, yes, I will -- we can talk about gun control, you and I as mothers, as Republican and Democrat, and we should talk about mental health and who he was and what contributed. And you know, then let's for formulate those opinions.

I'm happy to have those conversations because I have looked at various issues on gun control where I've basically diverted from my party before. In this case, this guy seriously snapped. And the guns didn't make him snap. He snapped and then sought out the guns.

And whether they were his manager's guns or whether they were somebody else's, he was going snap and do something horrific and heinous, unfortunately.

O'BRIEN: But we know -- but we know he used guns, and that's how he killed 26 people and then took his mother's life and took his own life. It was guns.

Mary Bono Mack, it's always nice to talk to you. I'm going to take you up on that. You and I are going to continue this conversation, because I think people are sick of all the -- you know, the conversation around it. And we never actually do anything.

And I -- you know, maybe in this nation, people are just tired of that at this point. I would like to see that.

Thank you for talking with us this morning. I appreciate it.

MACK: Thank you, Soledad. I think we should be talking about all of these issues. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I appreciated that. That was Mary Bono Mack, congresswoman, joining us this morning.

We've got lots to update you on. We're waiting for a press conference. I've been telling you all morning. It was supposed to happen at 8:00 and it's been delayed a little bit, and unclear why it's been delayed.

But we're expecting to hear from once again Lieutenant Vance, with the state police here in Connecticut. He's been the one who's been updating us on everything that's happening. We'll be listening to what he has to say, hopefully getting more details about the shooter. Hopefully getting some more details about the next steps in their investigation, lots of questions of why this morning.