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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Twenty Children Killed in Shooting Spree

Aired December 14, 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 on the East Coast.

And there is only one story tonight. And you know what it is. We have new details to tell you about, but we're not going to pretend that we understand it any better than we did right after it happened. It is a horror beyond words. An elementary school, kids as young as 5 years old, the second deadliest school shooting in this country, 20 little children, seven adults killed. Plus, the shooter apparently took his own life, all in a close-knit quite community about 90 minutes' drive from New York.

We're going to give you all of the latest information tonight. But we won't do is repeat the shooter's name over and over again as has been done throughout the day. We don't want history to remember this murderer. We want history to remember the victims, the teachers, the children, those whose lives have been so unfairly taken.

We have a team of reporters working on this, including our Soledad O'Brien, who is on the scene -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a vigil was held tonight. The people of Newtown trying to come to grips with what has happened here really just behind us this morning.

But right now, right now, this is still an active crime scene and that means many of the bodies are lying where still they fell inside the school, including the body of a killer. We do want to at least tell you his name. It is Adam Lanza. But as Anderson said, we will not be repeating it much tonight at all, 20 years old. His mother taught at the school.

She was found dead at the family home. It's unclear exactly how she died or when she died.

COOPER: Soledad, the idea that those kids are still in the school, I mean, it is such a horrific image to think about tonight, and for the parents not to have been able to see their children yet.

O'BRIEN: Yes, the police say it's an active crime scene and they told us they thought by Sunday, they would be able to have the crime scene part of it and the investigation at least that portion of the wrapped up. But now we're getting told that actually it might be even as soon as tomorrow morning.

But as you can imagine, imagine already knowing your child has perished inside that school and you can't even go and get the body, it would be a horrific thing.

COOPER: Let's hope the children are brought home soon. We do know that the mother of the shooter legally purchased the weapons that were used. HLN's Rita Cosby reports that he broke his way through the front door into the school, two semiautomatic handguns and a military- style M-16 clone called a Bushmaster.

We also know that police today in Hoboken, New Jersey, took the killer's older brother in for questioning, and they did not label him a suspect. No word at this hour whether he's still in custody. There's a lot to tell you about right now this hour. Let's just start at the beginning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

COOPER (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: The reports 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. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She heard -- the intercom come on the school and heard a scream and she heard a gunshot. Two gunshots. Then the school went into lockdown.

COOPER: A student's teenage big brother describing the sounds of a gunmen on the loose at Sandy Hook Elementary.

LT. J. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: On- and off-duty troopers responded to the school and with Newtown police immediately upon arrival entered the school and began a complete active shooter search of the building.

COOPER: They arrived to carnage and 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: Just so grateful to the teacher who saved him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see you have been crying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it because of what you saw?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the cops said it's the worst thing he had ever seen in his entire career, but 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 that were just told 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 I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter, and we will tell them that we love them, and we will 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We are going to play you the complete statement that President Obama made earlier today in the hopes that it may bring some peace to some people.

As one mother said though tonight, too many of our babies died.

With us now on the phone from Newtown is Janet Vollmer, who teaches kindergarten at Sandy Hook Elementary and was there today.

Janet, thank you for talking to us under these awful circumstances. First of all, how are you doing?

JANET VOLLMER, TEACHER: I'm OK. Family is here, so that helps. My sons came and my husband and the dog, so we're together. That's what it's all about. It was awful.

COOPER: You were in your classroom.

VOLLMER: I was in my classroom.

COOPER: Yes. You were in your classroom. What did you hear?

VOLLMER: Well, you know, about 9:30, 9:40, we heard noises and the announcement system was still on, so it didn't go off, so you could hear what sounded like pops, gunshots. Of course, I'm not going to tell that to 5-year-olds, so I said to them we're going over in a safe area and we're going to -- we read a story and we kept them calm. Did a lockdown drill. I closed the doors, locked, covered the windows, and, you know, kept the children with us. I have other adults...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I find that amazing that fearing that you hear gunshots, you were able to have the composure to sit down and read to your students. That's extraordinary.

VOLLMER: That's what you have to do with 5-year-olds, because you can't lose it. So, you know, you just kind of -- I have been doing this for a long time. It's my 18th year of teaching, and my job was to keep them safe. I didn't know. There was no announcement of what was going on. You know, my instinct was it wasn't good.

So we kept them calm, we stayed in the room until there was banging at the door, which was the police, and the troopers, or whoever was there, and they had us exit the building and they told the children to cover their eyes and walk in a line and leave the building and that's when we went down toward the firehouse.

So, you know, we were all safe. I had 19 children in the room with me, and thank goodness, all of their parents were able to come, pick them up, and take them home.

COOPER: As you were reading to them, did the kids realize something was going on, or did they just think it was a drill like you had had before?

VOLLMER: Right, it didn't seem a natural thing, although we do practice drills, and we just said, well, we're not really sure, but we're going to be safe, because we're sitting over here and we're all together.

And that's -- you know, as we got down to the firehouse, later on, as a lot of the events started to unfold throughout the day, I think some of them realized the magnitude of what was going on. They saw other people upset, but, you know, we just held them close until their parents came and we released them, and, you know, my room, my children, were all accounted for, and safe in my kindergarten classroom.

COOPER: For all of us, it's so incomprehensible, and obviously you knew the children who were killed, you knew the families involved. Your colleagues have lost their lives. I am certainly not going to ask you about any of the kids. But what do you want the world to know about your colleagues?

VOLLMER: Yes.

I mean, we heard a lot of things as we were down at the firehouse. You know, people were texting news reports and this one, and that one. I'm sure -- I'm not sure still of the magnitude of who everyone is, because I hear six or seven adults and many children, and, you know, I know those first graders were children I had in my room last year.

So those parents are showing up today, and they couldn't find their children, and, you know, they were all taken to separate rooms and so I don't know who they all are, but I'm sure as the days unfold, it will not be -- it will not be good news for many of those people.

COOPER: And, yes, it's really beyond words, and I appreciate you taking a few moments just to talk to us tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Yes, it really is.

VOLLMER: Well...

COOPER: Janet, thank you for your composure.

VOLLMER: You're welcome.

COOPER: It's extraordinary what you did, and the other colleagues of yours.

(CROSSTALK)

VOLLMER: Some of those teachers were heroes, some of them in the front building. We had one teacher. She was on the news earlier. She locked everybody in the bathroom and wouldn't open the door. You know, I think we do this as teachers, we are trained, we do have drills, we talk to the kids, and in case something were to happen, this is what we do.

And it's kind of what happened today. Everybody just instinctively kept their children safe.

COOPER: There's a lot of teachers around the country who I think of heroes every day and frankly today you showed that and all your colleagues showed that. Thank you. VOLLMER: Thank you.

COOPER: I wish you peace and strength in the difficult days ahead.

Aimee Seaver is also joining us on the phone. Her daughter is a first grader at Sandy Hook. She and other parents got the chilling phone call this morning saying the school was on lockdown.

I appreciate you taking a moment this evening.

How is your daughter doing, your family, how are you holding up?

AIMEE SEAVER, MOTHER: OK. It's a very rough night here. When your first grader goes to bed and says, mommy, is anyone from my class last year, are they all OK? Are they all OK? And you look at them and say I'm not really sure, it's a rough night to tell that to your 7-year-old. It's a very, very sad night for this town and a lot of families here.

COOPER: Has your daughter wanted to talk about what happened or -- first grader, I don't -- do they want to talk?

SEAVER: She asked a lot of questions about the principal. She got wind very quick that will something was wrong with our principal, which we didn't tell her until just now that, yes, she was definitely hurt and it wasn't good.

It took her -- it's taking her a while. I think tomorrow will probably be harder for her. I also have a fifth grader who came off the bus crying, because she, one, had a sister who she was worried about, and just basically left that school a few months ago. And I think for a lot of those kids, they kind of are a little older and can get it a little bit faster, even though they weren't in it.

So it's -- the questions I think are coming. They are not really here yet, especially for the littler ones, but it's started as I put them to bed tonight, the questions.

COOPER: Do you know -- as a mom, do you know how you are going to answer those questions? Because there are a lot of parents around the world, frankly, whose kids are going to be asking them questions in the days ahead about what happened. Do you think you know what you are going to say?

SEAVER: Unfortunately, we have been through a bit of trauma in our own life, so, for me, and I can't speak for moms -- other moms or moms around the world, but for my family, I speak kind of quietly and truthfully and I try to answer the questions they ask and give the information that they ask for without a lot of detail.

I definitely don't lie. I was point-blanked asked tonight is principal Hochsprung OK? And I had to say no. And she asked me, is she dead? And I said yes. I don't lie to my children. I try not to offer too much because I'm sure what they know. So I try to sit back and wait for them to ask. But if they ask me a question, I give them an honest answer. And, unfortunately, for a lot of us in town, the answers are not good.

COOPER: The principal...

(CROSSTALK)

SEAVER: ... and are sad tonight, so I don't think anyone can answer these questions easily or -- they are definitely not fun answers.

COOPER: I have heard so many great things about the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the fact that your child was asking about her, what do you want people to know about Dawn?

SEAVER: A very lovely, compassionate woman. Extremely helpful. As a chair on one of the PTA committees, could not have come out to support me better this year. I needed support this year, and she was the first one on my team, the first one to help, the first one to be there. Never saw her without a smile.

You know, was just in my daughter's classroom this week, reading a book to the kids. Very, very lovely, very lovely woman. And definitely had the children -- I believe had the children's best intentions all the time. She was always looking out for them. This is a very sad thing.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Yes. You must be exhausted, and I'm going to let you go. I appreciate you talking tonight, and thank you. I really -- I just wish you and your family a lot of strength. Thank you.

SEAVER: My family is one of the lucky ones, Anderson. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people, you know, that aren't so lucky tonight in town, but thank you, and I -- we pray for all of the families that are out there tonight.

COOPER: Yes. I think there are a lot of prayers around the world tonight for those families. Aimee, thank you.

SEAVER: Thank you.

COOPER: It is frankly unbelievable. Let's go back to Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It really is. It really is.

And it's almost impossible I think to fathom what the people of Newtown are going through now and what they are going to be going through in the next days and weeks, especially the parents and the siblings and family members of little children who did not survive the massacre today. So many lives were lost, so many other people's lives were just changed forever. Friends and neighbors and even in some cases complete strangers gathered and continue to gather at this hour, to hold each other, and cry, and to remember.

There was a vigil tonight, took place at a local church.

And Jason Carroll has been there all day and through the night and he's got an update on how that went tonight.

Jason, the mood has got to be so sad. Tell me a little bit about tonight's vigil.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I have seen a lot of emotional things throughout my life, but tonight was -- it's really hard to explain the vigil here tonight. So many people came out here, Soledad. There wasn't enough room for everybody inside St. Rose of Lima Church.

So many people came out. They stood outside in the freezing cold. Hundreds of people stood inside and listened. Then when the vigil that let out, all those who were standing outside went inside and then you heard some singing at one point. Groups broke off into separate groups and started singing. People really came here tonight, and I know you just heard Anderson give that very emotional interview. People came here looking for answers, just like that mother was trying to give answers to her daughter.

And it's difficult, it's very tough to try and get those answers at this time. But people came here looking for that. They came here to lean on each other and they turned to their faith. This is such a small community that it's the kind of place where literally so many of the people who came out tonight knew someone. They knew one of the faculty members, they knew one of the children. They told a story about one of the little girls who lost her life who was supposed to be in a Christmas pageant here at the church.

Spoke to another man who knew the principal, talked about her. He wanted to speak out before he went into the vigil and I want you to listen into a little bit of that conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dawn, the principal at Sandy Hook, I had dinner with her last spring. She is an exciting -- she was exuberant, she was just an incredible educator. And to lose somebody like that in our district, it's sad because they lost a leader today at Sandy Hook. But my prayers will be for our community as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: One of the other points that he wanted to make was that this was a woman who loved not only her school and her job, but she loved all of the children at the school as well -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So, Jason, I know you had a chance to talk to the deacon, and I'm sure he will be the focus of many of the questions that people are having. What did he tell you?

CARROLL: It's -- it was difficult for him. He became emotional during our conversation. He said that at least 100 people had come to the church doors throughout the day and they were looking for answers. And when I asked him, I said how do you try and provide answers? He said it's just to soon to come up with some sort of a deep philosophical answer in terms of why this all happened. He also was feeling the emotion of what has happened as well. He knew some of the children that were killed, including some of the faculty members. He spoke about one child in particular, who he remembered receiving her first communion here at the church, and a child who really left an impression upon him, and he explains the reason why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SCINTO, DEACON: I heard one of the victims -- I'm not sure about it. But I heard that one of the victims recently she -- I think it was like birthday money. She got her birthday money, her birthday gifts. She donated it to the parish to give to the Hurricane Sandy victims, 6 years old. So that's -- that makes it very, very personal and very intimate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: His struggle is that he has got to be a rock for the community now. He has got to try to keep it together as more people come to him to lean on him for emotional support.

I asked him, I said, what do you do? He said, I'm going to go home, I'm going to hug my own daughter, and then I'm going to come back here and be the support this community needs -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Jason Carroll for us, thank you, Jason. Appreciate that.

And, Anderson, as Jason points out, it's a question I think that we're all trying to get an answer to, the why behind it. We have talked a little bit about the shooter, but the motivation is always the thing I just don't think anybody is close to understanding at this point.

COOPER: Yes, and may never. I mean, you know, sometimes there isn't any why. But we will continue to investigate, Soledad. I appreciate it. We will come back to you shortly.

Authorities have not yet of course released the name of the victims. The police say the process of identification continues at this hour. Those children's little bodies are still inside that school and will be throughout the evening.

As we learn who they are, when it's appropriate, we will focus on their lives. We will tell you about them when we learn about them and what parents want you to know about them. It's the victims that we want history to remember and to honor.

According to witnesses, the school's principal and the psychologist, as we said, are among the dead. You heard parent Aimee Seaver and others talk tonight about Dawn Hochsprung. Here's what we know about her.

She became the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in 2010. She arrived with 12 years of experience as a school administrator. She's also a mom raising two daughters, three step- daughters according to a local paper. And a lot of the folks who worked with Dawn said she was extremely passionate about her job, an expert on curriculum, fun, but a firm leader, they said.

One friend put it this way. She said she was the kind of person you would want to be educating your kids, and the kids loved her. Even little kids know when someone cares about them, and that was her. She was active on Twitter. She wrote about her love of reading and posted messages and photos about events and developments at the school. Back on August 24, she tweeted this, she said: "Welcoming our kinders this morning, 74 new opportunities to inspire lifelong learning."

She was apparently talking about the new kindergarten class. Dawn Hochsprung had recently installed a new security system at school. And one of the safeguards, all visitors has to ring a doorbell at the front entrance and wait to be buzzed in after the doors automatically locked at 9:30 a.m. Again, two witnesses told our sister network HLN that the glass entrance was either shot out or smashed allowing the gunman to get into the building. We don't yet have any photographs of the other victim, according to witnesses, Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist.

She was 56 years old. She had been at Sandy Hook Elementary School for 18 years, had an undergraduate degree in psychology, as well as a master's and a six-year professional degree. Sherlach was also a wife and a mom. She was mothered to her husband, Bill, for more than 30 years and got two grown daughters, and the oldest works as a high school chorus teacher in New Jersey.

So, Mary Sherlach Dawn Hochsprung, we will remember them.

When we come back, more of President Obama's emotional reaction to the shooting. We want to play his complete comments and more from the parents as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not it's not something you shake off very easily and certainly not for little people and 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's going to happen, but basically it happens all over the world at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't even seem real. It just doesn't seem like it's even possible. It like you read it in the paper or see it in the news, and you're like, oh, my God, that poor family. And then you have something happen so close to home. It's like -- I think I'm still in shock, to be honest with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, no doubt a lot of people feeling the exact same way tonight, in shock.

The massacre inside the school, the deadliest elementary school shooting in American history. All the words that have been spoken today, and all of the words I'm speaking tonight in this hour, they all sound so small in the face of this horror, 20 little children, seven adults. Last night, they were alive, getting ready for another day of school, and tonight they are gone.

President Obama spoke to the nation earlier, and we played some of it before the top of the program. But I think it's worth hearing all of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Governor Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.

We have endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would, as a parent. And that was especially true today.

I know there is not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

They had their entire lives ahead of them, birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well. For, as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children's innocence has been torn away from them too early.

And there are no words that will ease their pain. As a country, we have been through this too many times, whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or 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're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics. This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter, and we will tell them that we love them, and we will 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. In the hard days to come, the community needs us to be at our best as Americans, and I will do everything in my power as president to help.

Because while nothing can fill the space of the lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need, to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories, but also in ours.

May God bless the memory of the victims, and in the words of scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: President Obama speaking earlier today. Not just as president, but as a father of two daughters.

Denise Correia's daughter goes to Sandy Hook. She was in school this morning. We spoke earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Denise, I cannot imagine what this day has been like for you, obviously, for your child. How is your child? And how are you doing?

DENISE CORREIA, DAUGHTER ATTENDS SANDY HOOK: I think everyone is coping as best as they possibly can, and it's shocking when it happens anywhere. So we're all trying to wrap our arms around the situation as best as we can.

COOPER: Did -- does your daughter want to talk about it with you? Or are you encouraging her to? Or how do you handle this? I think there are a lot of parents around the world right now who are trying to figure out what to say to their child.

CORREIA: You know, the hard thing for me is, Anderson, I'm a New Yorker, so I guess I'm very accustomed to Manhattan and accustomed to always telling my kids to be careful. I guess you never expect it to happen in your school.

And at the end of the day, you just -- I'm letting her talk. She's mentioned quite a bit about the principal, who many of us have worked with, and I adored her. I worked with her personally with my business. So that is one person I know that we've lost on a personal level.

I know that they are going to have counselors at the intermediary school tomorrow, and I've already told my children, that they are all welcome to go there. So that's what we're planning on doing tomorrow. That way, if they need to speak to somebody, they will.

COOPER: Do -- has your daughter said much about what she saw or what she heard?

CORREIA: She did mention that she did, of course, hear gunshots. They were on the same floor. She -- her teacher, managed to take two children out of the hallway, pull them into the classroom, lock the door and move everybody to the other side of the room.

When, you know, it was very confusing, as it would be in any of these cases, to go and pick up your child. Once we figured out that everything was dispatched to Sandy Hook Elementary, I was one of the first parents there along with a friend of mine. We both figured out what was going on and ran over there. They were very smart to get them out of the building and move them over to the firehouse.

But you could see that my daughter's teacher was visibly upset as well as many of the children there. And she did a very heroic thing. Pulled two kids out of the hallway, and just shoved them in the class and locked that door up.

You know, the kids are going to suffer from this. I mean, like everything else, a psychological event that's going to take time for healing. And as long as everyone gets the proper help, you know, it's not -- it's not something you shake off very easily and certainly not for little people.

And we lost a lot of babies today in this town, and there are a lot of very sad families. And as everyone can say, you never think it's going to happen, but basically it happens all over the world at this point.

So we have to be very cognizant of mental health. We have to be very cognizant of gun control in my eyes and also about how schools are locked up these days. And it's unfortunate.

You wouldn't think that -- to take your children to school, you have to worry about someone going in and blowing them all up. It's just very, very -- it's an unfortunate state of affairs, but, unfortunately, it's -- it's our reality these days.

COOPER: Well, Denise, I'm sorry that that reality was visited upon your daughter today. And everybody else. And I wish you strength and peace in the difficult days ahead. Thank you for talking tonight.

CORREIA: Oh, thank you so much, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And there will be a lot of difficult days ahead. Let's go back to Soledad -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: There's no question about that.

But Anderson, as word started to spread throughout the state today, certainly so did the shock, so did the horror, and now there is the grieving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. DAN MALLOY, CONNECTICUT: You can never be prepared for this kind of incident. What has happened, what has transpired at that school building, will leave a mark on this community and every family impacted.

I only ask that all of our fellow citizens here in the United States and around the world, who have already offered their assistance, remember all of the victims in their prayers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That was Connecticut's governor, Dan Malloy, speaking a little bit earlier today. He says his main responsibility now is the investigation, along with local and federal authorities. I want to emphasize once again that that is the focus now.

Susan Candiotti has been handling our coverage of the investigation. Let's focus first on what we know about the shooter.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not very much. That he is 20 years old. We understand that he came to the school with three weapons. Two of them were handguns, one described as a Glock, one described as a Sig Sauer, and another one that was not found in the classroom with him, but instead was found in a car outside the school, and that is called a .223 Bushmaster, which is a semi-automatic weapon.

Now, it seems those guns were not registered to him. But we are told, according to our law-enforcement sources, they belong to his mother, which is -- don't have an explanation for that right now.

O'BRIEN: Were all those guns legally purchased in this state?

CANDIOTTI: Yes, we're told that they were legally purchased and they were registered in the state of Connecticut. Exactly. But again, how did he get a hold of them? We don't know.

We believe that he might have been living with his mother. I say that because our sources tell us that his mother's body was found inside a residence, and she does live in this area, so it is possible that he lived with his mother. Still waiting on that detail.

O'BRIEN: There was some confusion, as well, with his brother, who police ended up going to Hoboken to do an investigation there, and took the brother off for questioning, as well.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. The brother is a little bit older, 24 years old. He does live in an apartment in Hoboken, and authorities naturally did go to him to ask him questions about his brother. Everyone is being pretty tightlipped about exactly what he told the authorities.

But also his father has been questioned, as well. His father is divorced from the mother who was killed in this incident, and so we are simply trying to find out more about that, as well. O'BRIEN: Susan Candiotti, the investigation continues. Thank you for the reporting on that.

The suspected shooter's mother, we will obviously get some more information on that.

Let's get right back to Anderson for more.

COOPER: Yes. Soledad, as we mentioned, just in case you joined us. We're intentionally limiting the use of the killer's name. We just don't want to repeat it over and over again. We don't want it to become a household name. We don't want it to give encouragement to some other troubled person out there who might think they can solve something from murder.

Now that being said, we are trying to learn what we can about what led this person to the school. Drew Griffin joins me now live for that.

Drew, what do we know now?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. Having covering so many of these, it's playing out almost in a sickening routine that we've seen before. A shooter with possible mental-health issues, a family trying to deal with those issues. Something snaps. Guns easily accessed and then we have this outburst of violence.

In the case of this 20-year-old shooter, beginning play out in exact that will order. Here's what we do know.

The 20-year-old shooter had an older brother, as Susan Candiotti pointed out. Now, that brother reportedly told ABC News that the shooter had a personality disorder. He also mentioned autism. CNN heard that same information from a man who called himself a friend of the shooter's in Newtown where the shooter lived.

We can now confirm that those guns, the two handguns and semi- automatic rifle, were also, as Susan said, legally owned by the shooter's mother, now deceased. You can see the pictures of the guns there.

And as also somewhat standard in these cases, that we find people that are shocked that the particular shooter could have been involved in anything like this, as is the case with one of the shooter's former classmates and former school bus driver.

Listen to what they said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just a kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a kid?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never antisocial?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I've just got to -- no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trouble maker?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, definitely not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Noticeable? Did he just kind of blend into the background?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Nothing that would warrant any of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say he went after her mom and her class of kids. Can you wrap your head around that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I cannot. I don't know who would do anything like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So your general sense is what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is -- this is unspeakable. When I first heard about it -- I'm still in shock. Excuse me a moment. I want to go.

MARSHA MOSKOWITZ, GUNMAN'S FORMER BUS DRIVER: He was a nice kid. Very polite. She raised very nice boys, to me. That's why I think it's a shock, to even know them and realize who they are, and what he did. You can't understand what happened, that he -- that he snapped, what have you, and he took such innocent lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: So what can we expect? Well, Anderson, as we've learned in the other cases -- Virginia Tech, the shooting of Congressman Giffords, the mass killing at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado -- I think in the coming days, maybe even by tomorrow, we're going to see in hindsight multiple warning signs, dangerous messages, ignored or perhaps even practice sessions or an obsession with the mom's guns, that weren't taken seriously or the family in many cases doesn't know how to handle the situation. They don't have anywhere to turn.

And there will never be an answer or an explanation that could be anywhere near good enough for the victims' families to understand this, because in a lot of cases, it's just senseless, and it's never going to be understood.

COOPER: Yes, and hearing the -- one of the people say autistic, that -- or could be autistic, that -- I mean, that doesn't -- I've never heard of somebody who's autistic doing something like this. It doesn't seem like that jibes.

GRIFFIN: It's two separate things. It's -- the brother said personality disorder and also autistic. So, you know, we're not trying to put those together or say one leads to the other.

COOPER: Right. Got it.

GRIFFIN: But there were some hints, early hints, like we've seen in the other cases, where there's an early hint that there's some kind of mental issue going on, and we learn more and more as things go on that there may have been warning signs. And that's what I expect. That's what I've seen a lot of experts expect, already talking about this.

COOPER: Right. There's also going to be a lot of debate, obviously, over gun issues and gun controls. Connecticut, though, has very strict gun laws, and these guns were legally purchased, as far as we know, by the mother.

GRIFFIN: Yes, that's right. I mean, if you were going to make a gun law that would prevent this, you would have to go and take this woman's legally-owned guns away. That's basically it.

That the reason we found out so soon where these guns came from is because Connecticut has its own registry. Those handguns are registered. You need have to have a certificate to own a handgun, and that also comes with a -- a test -- not a test, but a class. A handgun safety class. Nobody under 21 can own a handgun.

Also, they have an assault weapons ban. This assault rifle -- now I don't have the details, but if it was legally owned, she must have owned it before 1993 and also had a certificate of possession registered with the state. Because some of the older guns were grandfathered in. Right now, you can't have an assault weapon purchased in the state of Connecticut, from what I'm reading from the law.

COOPER: I guess the other issue is how were the gun was stored? Were they in a locked box, which is obviously one of the recommended things -- ways to store guns? A lot we still don't know.

Drew, appreciate it.

For parents, the ordeal began with the word that Sandy Hook Elementary School was on -- was on a lockdown. That was the first word that parents got. When we come back, we'll have a lot more about what happened throughout the day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in New York, and my wife called me in hysterics, so I just rushed home, and she -- she heard some bangs, and she went running into a bathroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was frightening. I mean, it was like my heart stopped beating. It was like I can't even explain it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Jason Carroll gave us a look inside the vigil mass earlier tonight at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown. We're joined now by the church's pastor, Monsignor Robert Weiss.

Monsignor, appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. How do you -- what do you say to a parent? I mean, what do you say to -- to a parent who is going through the worst possible kind of grief imaginable?

MONSIGNOR ROBERT WEISS, PASTOR, ST. ROSE OF LIMA ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH: You know, I had a number of conversations with parents today, a number of whom belong to this parish community. I must say, the words are few. What can you really say? Many of them just said to me, "Thank you for being here with us."

We prayed together, we hugged each other. There were a lot of tears. Certainly a lot of emotion, and I -- I don't really think it's really settled into their lives that their child has been taken from them.

I must say that, for the parents I spoke with today, there was a tremendous amount of love for these children, and I know that the days ahead are going to be very, very difficult. And we as a community, certainly as a church community, will be very present to them.

But the words? What can you say at a time like this?

COOPER: There are probably a lot of parents wrestling, around the country and probably around the world right now, with what are they going to say to their children who ask them questions about this? What would you recommend for people to say to their kids. Not kids from Newtown who were at the school, but just who hear about this and want to know are they safe, about what happened?

WEISS: You know, I think that's the one thing you have to assure them about. Some of these circumstances are beyond any human control. But you know, we have to teach these children that they have to trust.

You know, I know it's a difficult world in which we live, and it's very difficult to trust everyone, but they have to have faith. And they have to have faith in God and faith in each other.

And I hope that these parents will certainly learn from this, once again, the value of family and keep priorities very, very straight. These children need to know that they're loved. They need to know that they're in an environment where they can be safe, an environment where they can grow up to be productive citizens.

I don't know how you take the fear out of a child's heart except by love. And these children today were certainly deeply loved by their parents. I'm sure when they dropped them off at school this morning, the last thing on their mind or on the minds of their children was this would be the way the day would end.

And I hope that parents will take this as an opportunity to talk to their children about the importance of being family and about the importance of trusting and loving each other.

COOPER: One of the things I was thinking about today is, after the Aurora shooting in Aurora, Colorado, they had a sort of memorial service. And -- and I remember the speakers would read the name of each person who was killed, and then the crowd would shout back, "We will remember. We will remember you." And I just found that so powerful.

And I kept thinking about that today and our coverage tonight. We've been trying to emphasize the importance of remembering the victims. And I think we saw that tonight at the vigil, certainly, that you held, where people were literally -- they were outside. It was so -- so many people wanted to go they couldn't fit in. What was your message to them tonight?

WEISS: Our message was, I thought this was a day about hearts. I witnessed this morning, being with the families -- I was with them for almost six hours -- you know, compassionate hearts, broken hearts, caring hearts. It was really about -- about love in so many ways, and love lost but love that will never be forgotten.

I encourage our people tonight to -- we've got to do something about violence in this country, violence in the media, violence in the entertainment industry. It is filling their heads with an awareness that evil does exist in this world, but that good always conquers evil.

And the only way we're going to change is by coming together as a community, and that's exactly what happened tonight. People came together to support each other and to encourage each other. And to let each other know that there is a better way to live, that we don't have to be afraid if we work together as a community.

COOPER: Monsignor, I know it's been a long day for you and a horrific day for you. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Thank you.

WEISS: Thank you. Thank you.

COOPER: And again, Soledad, as we said, as we've been saying all night long and, frankly, all day long, there are going to be many difficult days ahead.

O'BRIEN: No question, for those who have lost children and for those whose children survived. Tough conversations.

Many parents are telling us what happened when they came racing to the elementary school, which is right back over my shoulder. They got word that the school was on lockdown, and they were -- they were very, very panicked. Some literally ran to the school, at least tried to run to the school. They were then sent to go to a nearby fire station. Completely frantic scene, in fact, by all accounts that we've heard, as people basically had to sit there and wait to see if their children were alive or not.

Earlier, I spoke with Christine Wilford about her experience. Her son is a second grader at the school.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: How are you doing now?

CHRISTINE WILFORD, SON ATTENDS SCHOOL: It feels -- still processing. It's -- it's scary, scary. No words.

O'BRIEN: Tell us about how your son is doing. Are you encouraging him to talk and share? Or are you trying to sort of take his mind off the terrible things that he witnessed and experienced?

WILFORD: We've done a little bit of each. Try and very much spoil him and, you know, take his mind off of it, let him play the PS3 and stuff like that, and then trying to talk and process with him, and letting them know when we found out about other children that he knows.

O'BRIEN: You've gotten an electronic alert is really how you got the message, a robocall.

WILFORD: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Describe for me how that came across? What was said? And it must have just been the most terrifying thing.

WILFORD: My husband and I were sitting there, and a neighbor was over. And we got a robocall that all Newtown schools were in lockdown due to a reported shooting. We immediately got online. And my neighbor called her husband, and he said he heard it was Sandy Hook. And we saw that online. And just hopped in the car and headed to the school.

O'BRIEN: The school was on lockdown. What exactly does that mean?

WILFORD: I'm not sure completely what that means. When I got there, all of the children had been evacuated and were in the firehouse. Which is very close by.

O'BRIEN: How is your son doing, and how are the kids who he was with, how are they holding up?

WILFORD: It varies. My son seemed to be OK. He's like, "Mom, I'm OK, I'm safe." You know, he gave me a big hug. There was, though, a lot of children that were crying and scared.

O'BRIEN: How did he describe what happened?

WILFORD: He said that he heard what sounded like large pans falling, just loud noises. He said his teacher had stepped outside the classroom, immediately came back in and locked the door and had them all get into a corner and sit down and just had them start reading quietly.

O'BRIEN: How much time went by between that happened and before he was able to get to you?

WILFORD: I don't know. He -- he isn't able to piece how much time actually passed. He just said that, you know, after a little while, a police officer came and took them out of the building and brought them to the firehouse.

O'BRIEN: We know that the principal had installed a system where you have to be buzzed in.

WILFORD: Yes. And it's been that way, you know, for the two years we've been here. You had to buzz -- you had to ring a doorbell and be let in, and the office is right in front of those doors. And so they can look right out and see who's at the door.

O'BRIEN: Is there any particular reason for that? It's very typical, you know, in big cities, certainly, but in communities that are pretty rural, it's a little bit of a rarity sometimes.

WILFORD: I think it's just they take the safety of our children very serious. It's a fairly large school. There's, you know, between 500 and 600 students there, and they want to keep control, and know, you know, who's in the building with our children.

O'BRIEN: I was talking to the state police, and they said that they're processing the scene still, which means that there are some children still inside. How do you explain to your son what has happened about his classmates?

WILFORD: We -- we're a fairly religious family and we, you know, just had talked about, you know, that they'd gone, you know, to heaven, and to, you know, be with Jesus, and that's about all we can say. You know, and talk about, you know, you're not going to see them anymore and they're not going to be around. And it's -- you really just struggle to find the words, you know, as to what happened.

O'BRIEN: You should know that everyone is sending their well wishes, not just to you, of course, and your family, but to the community as a whole. So many people have asked me to pass that along.

WILFORD: We're a strong community. It's a strong family community with a lot of love. So I think that we'll get through this somehow, some way.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Let's send it right back to Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Soledad, thanks very much. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You heard Monsignor Weiss a moment ago, talking of the hearts of Newtown. The broken hearts, the loving hearts. He spoke in hopes of healing those hearts tonight.

Here's more from the vigil today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

WEISS: I would like to share with you a letter from His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI: "I was promptly informed of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I convey my heartfelt grief and the assurance of my personal prayers to the victims and their families, to all those in the community of Newtown and especially the parish of St. Rose of Lima."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no words that make the pain of what happened today easy to bear. I'm heartbroken, as I know all of you are. There's nothing more hurtful or more tragic than the loss of innocence, but no more so when those that are lost are young children. I'm heartbroken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People's children, brothers and sisters, were taken from them. People's spouses. Those teachers and administrators were taken from us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to commend all of the first responders, both state and local, and certainly the staff of the school. They were there for those children, which is what teachers are all about. And it was most obvious today, most obvious today, what they really are about as teachers. To all of them, I say thanks on behalf of all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And that does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.