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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Obama on Gun Control; Remembering Connecticut Shooting Victims
Aired December 19, 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 we are once again in the old town hall here on Main Street in Newtown, Connecticut. It's become for all the wrong reasons Main Street USA. That may change. It may yet become the road to a new consensus on preventing the next deadly outbreak of gun violence.
There's plenty of news on that subject tonight with President Obama laying out a plan of action today and the National Rifle Association planning to speak on the issue later this week. For now, though, people here in town are focus firmly on the moment.
And for the survivors, not even living day by day, or hour by hour, but in some cases, minute by minute, second by second. They are tending to the heart-wrenching duty they so sadly have to bury the dead. That's the duty that we all have to remember and to honor.
COOPER (voice-over): Daniel Barden was just 7, but was called the spark of his family, always smiling. He had two front teeth missing, which his parents say he earned in his fearless pursuit of fun and happiness.
Daniel's dad is a musician and Daniel followed his lead by playing the drums in a mini-band he formed with his older brother and sister. His family describes Daniel as a thoughtful and affectionate boy. Whenever he noticed kids sitting alone in the lunchroom at school, he'd always join them.
In an interview with Katie Couric, his dad, Mark, remembers teaching Daniel how to play "Jingle Bells" on the piano last Friday morning before he went to school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We held hands on the way to the bus. And that was our last morning together. He did get up early that morning and ran down the driveway so he could kiss his brother goodbye in his pajamas. It was 22 degrees. He was exceptional.
COOPER: In his obituary, his family says that Daniel was a constant source of laughter and joy. He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world.
Charlotte Bacon was 6 years old. She had a big personality. Her family says she was anything but shy. Instead, she was smart, precocious, outgoing. She loved to talk. She could carry on long conversations they say with just about anyone, kids, adults. It didn't matter. She never met an animal she didn't love, and had talked of becoming a veterinarian ever since she was 2 years old.
Charlotte was extraordinarily gifted, her family says, and loved going to school to learn. She also loved her weekly tae kwon do classes with her dad and her brother, where she relished kicking and throwing punches. On Friday morning, Charlotte wanted to wear her new pink dress to school. Pink, that was her favorite color.
Charlotte's grandmother describes that morning.
IRENE HAGEN, GRANDMOTHER OF CHARLOTTE: Charlotte loved dresses and she insisted on wearing this dress. So, my daughter said OK. And she got her dress on. And she had red, natural curly hair. And so my daughter braided it for her and put her hair in pigtails. And she wore white boots and my daughter said she looked just adorable, mom.
She said, now I look back, and she said, I think of Charlotte dressed like that and she was getting ready to go see Jesus in her new dress.
COOPER: Her family writes, "The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life. Charlotte has left a place in her entire extended family's hearts that will never be replaced."
With her big brown eyes, 6-year-old Caroline Previdi was once nicknamed Boo because of her resemblance to the adorable little girl in the movie "Monsters, Inc."
Caroline was all smiles and family also called her silly Caroline because of the way she tired to make people laugh. She had a spunky side, and loved to draw, loved to dance. She was in the first grade and neighbors remember her sitting on the school bus next to a nervous kindergarten boy who was going to school for the first time. She wanted to make sure that he wasn't scared.
Her family says her smile brought happiness to everyone she touched.
For Vicki Soto, teaching was a passion and a lifelong dream. She was 27 years old. Five years ago she began teaching first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary, and she loved every minute of it. Her mom says Vicki loved her students more than life, always referring to them as her kids instead of her students. She wanted to be known not only as a good teacher, but as a fun teacher.
Her students loved her. Many said she was their favorite teacher. On Friday, Vicki died a hero. After hearing gunshots, she herded her kids into the closet and tried to shield them from the gunman.
DONNA SOTO, MOTHER OF VICKI: She just loved her kids. She just talked about them all the time with such fondness and caring and she just adored them. And I have no doubt in my mind she did everything she could to protect every single one of them.
COOPER: Vicki was equally passionate about her family. She was known as Queen Victoria at home, the ringleader who organized Christmas every year. Her family says she loved the beach, loved flamingos and the New York Yankees.
In her obituary, they write: "Vicki was truly an amazing daughter, sister, cousin, teacher and friend, and died protecting her kids. We couldn't be prouder of our hero. Her beloved dog, Roxie, still waits every day for Vicki to come home from school."
COOPER: We will remember them.
Paul Simon performed at Vicki's funeral. He sang the song "The Sound of Silence."
And we wanted to show these pictures. They're from the services for Daniel Barden, who wanted to be a firefighter someday when he grew up. To honor him, to honor his memory and that dream, that wish, more than a hundred of Connecticut's and New York's bravest showed up.
A New York firefighter telling "The Connecticut Post," "People supported us after 9/11. We are here to return the favor."
We another utterly devastating photograph today in Great Britain's "Daily Mail," the class photo of Lauren Rousseau's first graders, all but one of whom were killed on Friday. We're blurring the one survivor's face. This was Grace McDonnell's class. We talked to her parents last night.
She and 14 other beautiful kids and a teacher who was living out of her dream. Even as a little girl, Lauren Rousseau knew she wanted to become a teacher. On Friday, she was exactly where she wanted to be, filling in for a teacher on maternity leave. The shooting ended what her mom said was the best year of her life, a year she shared with her boyfriend, Tony.
Poppy Harlow spoke with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY LUSARDI III, BOYFRIEND OF LAUREN ROUSSEAU: So I guess my face, and it says "Me since I have been with you. Thanks for rubbing off on me."
POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty and in love, Tony Lusardi and Lauren Rousseau.
(on camera): Do you remember the moment you realized you were in love with her?
LUSARDI: Oh, yes, like right off -- the first date I had with her, I knew. HARLOW (voice-over): At a wine bar where they shared their first kiss. Lauren called him Lovey (ph). He called her Busy Bee, one of those people without a mean bone in her body.
LUSARDI: She didn't like to honk her horn at people who cut her off in traffic because she thought it would be mean if she honked at them.
HARLOW: Lauren liked to send Tony cards like this one.
LUSARDI: "Tony, this card made me giggle and think of you. Very appropriate. Just bananas."
HARLOW: These silly photos taken at a friend's wedding exactly two months before Lauren died.
LUSARDI: This is the second try at making funny faces. There was like a first one where she just -- she's like, I don't have a funny face.
HARLOW: They celebrated one year of dating in November.
LUSARDI: I'm glad that I had a really good relationship for a year, instead of a relationship that had fights for years.
HARLOW: The same month, she became a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary.
LUSARDI: She was thrilled and she loved to tell me what she was doing that week. She would send a text, oh, we're doing this, we're doing that, and send tons of pictures of kids wearing what they created that day.
HARLOW: They were planning to see "The Hobbit" on Friday night. But the last text Tony got from Lauren was at 8:58 a.m.
LUSARDI: It doesn't seem real. It doesn't seem permanent and finite.
HARLOW (on camera): You think you might see her again?
LUSARDI: I'm convinced that I will see her again. I have like a little squish pillow. It's like a little pillow for your head that she had that smells like her. It just smells like her perfumes and stuff.
HARLOW: And it still does?
LUSARDI: Yes, when I wake up in the morning, I can smell my girlfriend's perfume, and it makes me cry.
HARLOW (voice-over): The love of her life is how Lauren's obituary describes Tony.
LUSARDI: I only got one year with her. I don't know if it's like bad to say, but I'm jealous of her friends that got more than one year. And all I got was one. But it was a really good year.
HARLOW (on camera): You hugged President Obama when he was here Sunday night.
LUSARDI: Yes, but I want a hug from Lauren, and I'm not going to get that.
HARLOW (voice-over): It's this song they both loved and this song that will always remind Tony of his Lauren.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): I love the way you say good morning.
LUSARDI: I want the world to know that Lauren was a great person. She touched the lives of everyone she ever met. Even if you only met her once, you liked her. She was a great person and she didn't deserve this. No one deserved this.
COOPER: So hard to imagine.
Poppy Harlow joins us now.
And you said that Lauren had already given Tony some Christmas presents?
HARLOW: A prepared teacher, right? She had already wrapped up gifts and given them to him.
And I asked him when we were together, did you open them? And he said, I can't and I won't, because when I open them, then it's over. Then it's finite.
You get the sense from him that he almost feels like she's going to come back. They were that connected.
COOPER: And she worked multiple jobs.
HARLOW: His nickname for her was Busy Bee. I said, why did you call her that?
He said, well, she worked so hard, substitute teacher, worked at a catering company and worked at a local Starbucks for 20 hours a week. And I went to that Starbucks to talk to some of her co-workers and some were wearing buttons that said 12/14/12, heart Lauren. We will never forget.
And they had a whole table up with messages for people to write their thoughts for Lauren to her. I want to tell you, Anderson, that Tony asked us to thank you, because he said, what I appreciate so much is that he's not talking about the shooter, that he's talking about us and the people we loved. And tomorrow the love of his life, Lauren, will be buried here.
COOPER: Poppy, thanks very much. I appreciate that.
HARLOW: You're welcome.
COOPER: About a 20-minute drive from here, in Danbury, people have gathered for a tribute to Newtown.
Gary Tuchman is there. He joins us now -- Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a very emotional evening right now.
This is a very painful story for all of us all over the world. It is very acute here in the state of Connecticut. And right now in Danbury, Connecticut, about 15 miles away from Newtown, a tribute to Newtown to the victims, to the families, to the survivors, music and prayer.
A short time ago, a video tribute of the 20 children who died, the six adults who died, and it was so emotional, so hard to watch, beautiful music playing, beautiful songs playing, while everyone in this room, hundreds of people from the state of Connecticut experiencing it.
And one thing, Anderson, I know it is the same with you, but over the years, we have covered so many tragedies. It's so discouraging, bombings, shootings. And what's amazing, here, we have made so many friends already, just like over the years we have made so many friends. I'm grateful for the friends I have made at these tragedies, but so sorry for how we have made these friends.
That's what's happening right now. People are getting together. There's no such thing as closure. There will be suffering, particularly in these families who lost loved ones. But the more people stay together, get together, become friendly together, the easier that recovery will be for them. But the recovery, of course, is never complete for so many people -- Anderson.
COOPER: Gary, thanks.
We have got a lot more ahead, including a conversation with a Sandy Hook parent about President Obama's call today for new action on gun control. Some new polling as well suggesting public opinion might be shifting. That is next from Newtown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: President Obama this afternoon pledging to make gun control a central issue in the weeks ahead, naming Vice President Biden to lead the effort to propose new legislation by next month.
And new CNN/ORC polling shows growing support, 52 percent now in favor of major gun restrictions on gun ownership or even outright prohibition. That's up five points since August. Breaking it down, 37 percent favor major restrictions; 15 percent want to make all guns illegal; 33 percent support minor restrictions and 13 percent say they'd like no restrictions at all on gun ownership.
Now, change notwithstanding, that's still pretty evenly divided, which may explain why even as conservative Democrats and a number of Republicans are signaling some openness to greater gun regulation, others are advocating measures like arming teachers. So far, the National Rifle Association, the NRA, has been conspicuously absent from the debate.
They are expected to make a statement on Friday.
With me tonight is Andrei Nikitchyuk. His son, a Sandy Hook third grader who goes by the name -- nickname Bear, crossed paths with the killer in a school hallway before a teacher pulled him to safety. Also joining us again is Lillian Bittman, former chairman of Newtown's Board of Education.
Andrei -- I appreciate you being with us.
We talked about this last night a little bit, Lillian, and about something having to come out of this.
Andrei, for you, that means some sort of regulation.
ANDREI NIKITCHYUK, FATHER: Definitely so.
I think the entire country is actually fed up with where we are now. I think majority of the country are silent majority up to now, like I was three days ago. You know how heavy it hit everybody, how shaken up my friends are in other states of this great nation and in other countries of the world.
I'm getting phone calls from Russia, from Portugal, from U.K. You know, people cannot believe what's happening here. And people in, like -- I was in Virginia. I went to D.C. to see our senators on Capitol Hill.
COOPER: You already did that? You already went down?
NIKITCHYUK: Yes, yes, I returned this morning.
COOPER: Do you feel that there is a possibility for change?
NIKITCHYUK: Definitely. We met with senior aide to president of the United States, Valerie Jarrett, and she told us this is a personal priority for our president. He is making a personal commitment to advance this cause to make our schools safe, to make our public safe.
This should not be a partisan issue. This should be an issue for the entire nation. We should join the ranks. We should create policies that are balanced.
COOPER: And, Lillian, for you, you want to have a civil discussion about this.
LILLIAN BITTMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT, NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION: Very much so.
COOPER: But you want something to come out of this?
BITTMAN: Absolutely. And I'm not the only one. All of the funerals and wakes I have attended, people are dying -- they just really have to have it be a civil discussion and change now.
And there is actually a group now that has formed in Newtown that we are -- my husband and I are a part of called Newtown United. I very much tonight would like to ask the nation to join us, because we are not looking -- just like he said, we're not looking to ban guns. What we're looking for is a civil discussion on gun control, mental health and school safety and school facilities, so that we as a nation can work together very, very civilly to come up with a solution.
What Andrei said, that it's not partisan, is exactly how we feel. What I would like is all the people around the country that are contacting me, my friends across the country, Andrei's friends across the country, all my other friends across the country to join us. If they want to do that, we have a Facebook page, Newtown United. They should jump on that and join us in that so that we can create a critical mass to show Washington that we're serious about this. We want them to work together.
COOPER: You were saying today you left your house at, what, 9:00 this morning. You haven't been home. You have been going to wakes and funerals?
BITTMAN: Yes, all day, all day.
COOPER: All day long?
BITTMAN: My husband coined a term which is awful, but it's an assembly line of wakes and funerals.
We can't even figure out which ones to go to. There are so many that we have to divide and conquer. The teachers, the Sandy Hook teachers are really struggling trying to get to as many as possible. And that is true for a lot of the parents, anyone who is associated. We're all struggling with that.
COOPER: You are often waiting two hours to get in to pay your respects.
BITTMAN: Two to five hours. It is freezing cold and yesterday it was raining. And that is a wonderful thing because so many people are coming out to support the families.
And then part of the reason you're waiting too is our town is gridlocked with traffic from people from out of town, from the media, and so we have to plan to leave our houses sometimes an hour before we even want to be there. And then you want to be at the funeral an hour beforehand.
We can think of nothing else but funerals and wakes and maybe taking a meal to somebody.
COOPER: Andrei, how is your son doing? He was there.
NIKITCHYUK: It is difficult to talk about that, because he is a little guy and kind of thing -- he keeps a lot within himself. It's kind of, you see some signs, like something wants to come out, but bits and pieces. It is really too early to tell how it has affected him.
What I can tell you, my older kids, the 13- and 14-year-olds, they and their friends are profoundly affected because they understand the depth, the enormity of the tragedy. You know, it just those kids, those little kids that they actually baby-sat.
NIKITCHYUK: It's just -- you know, they're like little kids, little friends that are not there anymore.
COOPER: Can change really happen? Do you really -- do you believe that?
BITTMAN: I believe this time it can based on what I am seeing across the country. I think this is a tipping point.
And I would really like to say to the nation that -- because I know I said before let's lead it with love, let's lead with love, but also a child shall lead them. And that's what we have here. We have 20 children that are trying to point us the way.
And if we don't follow their lead, we have failed them and their deaths are in vain. And I can't stand that and all the people at all the funerals and wakes I have been to, that's the main message. Their deaths have to have meant something. So a little child will lead us.
COOPER: Lillian, thank you very much.
NIKITCHYUK: And we should join as a nation. We should be better than this.
BITTMAN: Yes, yes.
COOPER: Andrei, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
BITTMAN: Thank you. COOPER: Last night, the uncle of the 6-year-old boy Noah Pozner told us that there were scams set up actually collecting donations or attempting to collect donations in Noah's name profiting off this tragedy. We were stunned by that.
Today, Drew Griffin investigated this, tracked down the person who seems to be the source of one of these scams. We will show you what he found out next.
COOPER: There have been, of course -- you're looking at a picture of the memorial, one of many in this town.
There have been Web sites, memorial funds set up for many of the victims. But last night we learned something that frankly is stomach- churning, that some people, strangers to the victims' families are trying to capitalize on this tragedy. The uncle of Noah Pozner told us last night that someone was asking for donations in Noah's name, someone the family didn't know and they didn't know where the money was going to go.
I'm going to speak with his Noah's uncle again in a moment.
But CNN's Drew Griffin has done a lot of reporting on charity scams over the past years. He looked into an e-mail that was circulating, asking for donations for Noah and managed to track down the person who is allegedly behind it.
Drew Griffin joins me now live.
Drew, what did you find?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, that e- mail we tracked down to a woman in the Bronx. Her name is Noel Alba, also apparently been collecting donations for Hurricane Sandy victims.
That, of course, raised our suspicions, so investigative producer David Fitzpatrick got a camera. We went to the house this afternoon where the donations supposedly are being directed to. At first, there was no answer, but a half-an-hour later a an exchange with a surprised Noel Alba when she answered the door.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FITZPATRICK, CNN PRODUCER: oh, hi. Are you Ms. Alba?
You have set up, you say, donations on behalf of one of the victims of the Newtown tragedy.
NOEL ALBA, NEW YORK: No.
ALBA: It was your name and your address on the e-mail.
FITZPATRICK: Can I come in with my camera crew?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Anderson, she did eventually allow us in to record her voice only and telling us an odd story.
She's in a crafting community. She makes Victorian picture frames and blames that e-mail on enemies within the crafting community. We're giving you this detail so you guys can decide what kind of e-mail was sent out here.
Concerning the e-mail that we're talking about, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, she says she has nothing to do with it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZPATRICK: This says -- this has your e-mail on it right there. This is about Noah Pozner's funeral.
ALBA: I never sent that.
FITZPATRICK: Well, take a look at it, ma'am. It has got your e- mail all over it.
And take a look at the second page. It gives your PayPal account and a bank routing number that you said -- you say you set up.
ALBA: That is not my PayPal account. I mean, I have a PayPal account like that.
GRIFFIN: But that's your -- is that your e-mail? It says it right there.
ALBA: Yes, that is one of my Gmails.
GRIFFIN: It is your Gmail account?
ALBA: Yes, my personal account. But I never set up any funds for anybody.
GRIFFIN: You should know that the Pozner family tells us they're very upset by all this.
ALBA: But I never did anything to them.
GRIFFIN: Who does -- who sent this e-mail out?
ALBA: I never sent this e-mail out. I don't have a reason to send any e-mail out.
(END VIDEOTAPE) GRIFFIN: All very fishy, Anderson. The bottom line we couldn't find out if the woman's claims are true, that this is some sort of set up by her enemies. She claims she did get about $300 in PayPal donations, that she says she immediately returned.
But yet again, a clear example of how just quickly these e-mails, Web sites, pleas for help, they pop up after a tragedy. You know, we did the story after Hurricane Sandy, Anderson. Some of the Web sites were set up before the storm hit.
The bottom line, you have to know where the money's going. Don't believe anything that's in a Web site, an e-mail. If you want to donate, you've got to really do your homework.
Now in this case, we've exposed this, this woman herself now admitting it's not a good charitable avenue to give, so don't.
COOPER: This is so sickening to me, as many of the charity scams that you've exposed the last year is, but I think it's important to name this person again. It's Noelle Alba is her name?
GRIFFIN: That is her name. And her story is that her enemies, quote, "within the crafting community" sent out this...
COOPER: That's the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. That, A, that she has enemies in the crafting community and that they have somehow set up a PayPal account and Web sites about Hurricane Sandy and about this beautiful little boy. I mean, that's just ridiculous.
GRIFFIN: Yes, it is very -- it is very troubling. But as I've said now, I mean, we've exposed this woman. This e-mail is obviously a hoax. Don't do it. But really, be aware. It's sad to say, Anderson, there's 20 kids out there, 20 names of kids. People will take advantage of this in any way they can. I hate to say it, but they will.
COOPER: Well, you know, we should -- we should get from -- from as many of the families as want the information out, legitimate memorial funds and sites and put them on our Web site. And we're going to do that starting tomorrow. Noah's uncle, Noah Pozner's uncle, Alexis Haller, is with me right now. You have set up a site, correct?
ALEXIS HALLER, UNCLE OF NOAH POZNER: That is correct. Well, somebody had set up the domain name, NoahPozner.com in his name right after the tragedy. And we challenged that with Go Daddy.
COOPER: Someone after the tragedy bought the domain name?
HALLER: That's correct.
COOPER: That's sickening.
HALLER: That's correct. And luckily, we have a lot of friends in the online community, and it was caught right away. And so we challenged it, and -- and we have the Web site now, and that's the official Web site now. And the person, I don't know what their intentions were, but I think that's just suspicious by itself.
COOPER: So NoahPozner.com is now a Web site...
HALLER: That's the official Web site. That's the Web site to go to. It's the family's Web site. And we also bought all the other related domain names. Yesterday, I sat there and went through my wife and...
COOPER: It's incredible that you have to do this in this day and age.
HALLER: You know, that's exactly right. I mean, instead of doing things with our family, I'm running around trying to protect the family. I mean, I look at my nieces, and I think of these scammers and I think of they're stealing from them. They're survivors of this tragedy.
COOPER: I mean, it's infuriating.
HALLER: It is infuriating. And so I -- I'm going to do everything I can to protect them and to get the word out. And today as to this Miss Alba, I did contact the FBI, and they're looking into it. They were very interested in the information we provided.
COOPER: That's great. Hopefully, they can look into her finances. We didn't have the capabilities of looking into her actual bank records, but that should be relatively easy to track down.
HALLER: That's correct.
COOPER: Drew, where can people go to help?
GRIFFIN: You know what?
COOPER: We heard NoahPozner.com now is legitimate and NoahPozner.org you also have. That's legitimate. OK. Are there other places, Drew?
GRIFFIN: You know, Anderson, one-stop shop. Go to CNN. Go to CNN.com, go to Impact Your World. We have some of the Web sites set up for these children, for funds for the families, also for the school district. Quite frankly, there's a lot of things people can do for this community that don't involve money. You can get all of that information at Impact Your World at CNN. Those are some of the vetted sites. And like you said, we'll keep adding on as we get the information from the families themselves.
COOPER: All right. OK. We'll want to verify that. And we'll try to reach out, too. And if any families or representatives of families are listening, we definitely would like to get that information out there, so please let us know.
I wish you the best. I mean, I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this kind of stuff. But I hope it helps. HALLER: Me, too. I appreciate it.
COOPER: Thank you. And thanks for alerting us, too, to the issue. And we'll continue to stay on it, and on this woman as well.
HALLER: That's great.
COOPER: Thank you, appreciate it.
Coming up next, the latest on the investigation, including reports about, well, I'll tell you the latest on what we know about the investigation. Deborah Feyerick has that. She'll join us ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PASQUALE FOLINO, PRESIDENT, CONNECTICUT FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION: Every evening when you go home, you deal with it. You talk to your family. You sort of collect your thoughts and try to -- cry. Cry. That's what we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The president of Connecticut's funeral directors association reflecting on the enormity of this tragedy.
For so many in Newtown, Connecticut, today was a day for saying good-bye. The police are busy working, trying to figure out exactly what happened here, maybe even uncover some reasons why.
Authorities have found no notes laying out a motive. So far, police say they've not been able to recover clues from the computer apparently smashed by the shooter before the rampage.
Deborah Feyerick is here with some new developments in the investigation.
Deborah, one of the questions, obviously, that's still unanswered is why this person chose this school. We're learning now of a possible connection. What is that?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the connection, Anderson, is that he actually went there. He went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. CNN has been able to confirm through various people that, in fact, he was in the first, the third, the fourth and also the fifth grade.
He was six years old when his family moved into this house back in 1998. Six years old, the same age as some of those children that he cut down in cold blood.
We have seen a photo of a T-shirt that all the classmates signed. His name right there on that T-shirt. Also, a former classmate who actually lives on this street told CNN that she used to ride the bus with him to Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the school bus, Anderson, today stopped no more than 50 feet from his home. Children, first graders who live in this area, about a quarter of a mile, they were getting onto that bus. And there are other students who will never get on that bus. But that is the connection, Anderson.
We have now confirmed that he, in fact, attended numerous grades in Sandy Hook Elementary School. So even though officials say, well, he had no recent connection, he certainly had a connection to that school, Anderson.
COOPER: And there were reports that the shooter was actually home alone in the days leading up to Friday. What do you know about that?
FEYERICK: Yes, well, that's exactly right, Anderson. The mother actually left the gunman alone in the home for several days prior to the massacre.
Our colleague, Rita Cosby, has confirmed that, in fact, the mother traveled to New Hampshire, staying in a resort in Breton Woods, New Hampshire. She left here early Tuesday. She returned after dark on Thursday.
The next morning, the Friday morning, her son entered her room and shot her four times in the head. She was his first victim before go -- before he drove off to go to that school.
It's unclear whether this 20-year-old who had Asperger's, whether he was alone for the entire three days or whether somebody was coming in and checking in on him. Friends of Nancy and Adam's tell CNN that, in fact, that she would leave him alone while she would make these sort of mini trips. But if there was a problem, she would cancel the plans and she would stay with him.
So what we do know is that there was time when he was alone in the home with those firearms, Anderson.
COOPER: Deborah, appreciate the update on that.
People across the country, around the world are paying tribute to the people and to the victims in Newtown. This video coming in from California. We've got more tributes coming up.
COOPER: We will, of course, be bringing you more moments today here -- from here in Newtown today. But first I want to talk about something that's happened oversees and a reminder again about the brutality of the Syrian regime, and a reminder that's hitting close to home for all of us here at 360 and for anybody who's a regular viewer of this program.
For more than a year now, we've been getting regular updates from inside Syria from an incredibly brave man named Zaidoun al-Zoabi, a man who during one of our conversations told me that, since the beginning of this revolution, since he began demanding freedom for his country with his voice, that he, this 38-year-old man, can hear his voice for the first time.
Well, we're now getting word from his family this week that Syrian secret police have -- have detained Zaidoun and his brother, Zohay (ph), and are holding them in a location called Building 215. It's an infamous facility used for torture and abuse.
Zaidoun, you see him standing on the right side of this photo. He holds a Ph.D. He's a dean at the European College in Syria. Zohay (ph) is a medical student studying at the University of Damascus.
Their relatives say that time is of the essence to free them. They want us to tell this story tonight, in the hopes that someone -- someone inside Syria, someone inside the regime will listen.
The family posted a Facebook page demanding the brothers' release and declaring the Assad regime responsible for their well-being.
As I said, Zaidoun came on this program more than a dozen times, updating us on what is happening inside Syria, what he was seeing with his own eyes. And he knew he was putting his life at risk. I spoke to him repeatedly about this. And I spoke to him less than two weeks ago about intelligence reports suggesting the Syrian military was preparing to launch chemical weapons. It was his last interview before the secret police took him away.
Here's what he said.
COOPER: What are you happening for now? Is there hope?
ZAIDOUN AL-ZOABI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Well, for me, I mean personally, for the majority of the Syrian people, nobody has any hope in anything. We just find that it will continue until the people win, because this is -- this happening for sure. I mean, we will win in the end, and we are sure that the international community will not do anything at home, will not do anything. Nobody cares about us.
We are not scared of him, at least personally. I'm not scared of the chemical weapon. I mean, does it make a difference to die with a bullet or with a chemical weapon? What -- which death is more painful? With chemical weapons or with a bullet.
COOPER: Did you ever think it would get to this point? I mean, how do you get through each day? Because -- because as you say, the world has just watched his happen. And we continue to watch it happen every night.
ZOABI: Well, Anderson, it is simply stated like this. When the Syrian people stop the revolution, they wanted real freedom, equal civilization, justice for all. Democracy.
We expect -- we know this regime is really brutal. We expected brutality but not this much. At least for myself, no, I didn't expect this. Is it worth it? Yes, thank God we had this revolution. I don't know how we lived with this regime for 40 years. Thank God we have the solution. We are paying lives; our lives are just ruined. Just ruined. But thank God we have the solution, and thank God we will win this battle on our own without anybody's help.
Enough. Enough. Even if it takes another 100,000 people. Enough. This is not a regime, this is anything you can, I don't know what you call it. Killing, killing, killing, shelling, shelling, mortars, jet fighters, helicopters, rockets, against what? Civilians? Enough.
COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you very much for talking.
ZOABI: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: "Enough," he said. Zaidoun wasn't fighting with weapons. He was fighting with his voice. And he was aware of the risk that he took speaking with us, every single time, and we knew the risks of him speaking, as well.
It's understandable for anyone who puts themselves in that much danger to ask us to hide their identification. But Zaidoun did not. In fact, he insisted that we use his name. He felt free, because he was speaking out for the first time in his life. Thirty-eight years old, for the first time in his life, he was able to use his name and voice his opinions in a regime that has never allowed that.
We only interviewed him over the phone, even though he offered to come on camera. He wanted to show his face, but we wouldn't do that. Even though he didn't have to, he asked us to use his full name, demanded we use it, in fact.
I asked him about that decision during our first interview all the way back in November of 2011.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You're being extraordinarily brave. You're using your full name. You're asking us to use your full name. You're telling us where you are. I know you've been interrogated by Syrian security forces. Why are you still willing to speak out and use your name?
ZOABI: Because it's enough. People are dying over there for just saying freedom. I'm telling the regime it's enough. Don't think people will go back to their homes.
After eight months, you still believe a lie, that you can control and overcome this uprising -- it's impossible. You can just do one thing now. Save more lives. Please, stop the killing.
When I challenge, I want freedom. I can hear my voice for the first time in my life. Now, how can I give up this even if it costs me my life?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He said he could hear his voice for the first time in his life. Imagine that.
The man is a hero to me and to many of us on this program. Our thoughts and our prayers are with him and his family. According to his relatives, Zaidoun's mother and sister, his two daughters and his wife are all in Syria right now. And we worry about them every moment of every day.
There are other important stories we're following, as well, tonight. Susan Hendricks is here with a "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, three State Department officials resigning today following an independent report on the deadly consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. It found systemic failures and management deficiencies. Two of the resignations came from officials responsible for security decisions at the consulate.
With time running out to strike a deal on the fiscal cliff, President Obama today accused Republicans of focusing on besting him personally. Later, House Speaker John Boehner accused the White House of failing to offer a deal balancing tax hikes and spending cuts.
And President Obama is "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year. "Time" credits him for forging a new majority, turning weakness into opportunity during the election. Runners up included 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an education activist shot by the Taliban; and Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO.
Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: Susan, thanks. We'll be back with some incredibly generous children raising their voices to honor the fallen students of Sandy Hook Elementary.
COOPER: Well, the people of Newtown, Connecticut, are not alone in their grief. All around the country and around the world, frankly, people are coming together, sending their love, sending their support, supporting the families here any way they can.
Here's a tribute from the students at PS-22 Grade School in New York's Staten Island. They've been through a lot this year. The hurricane hit them hard, but they still had room in their hearts to reach out to others. Listen to their rendition of Sandy Hook Elementary School's song.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the families. Somebody suggested on our Facebook page yesterday that we sing their school song. Are you guys OK with that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sure?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody not OK with this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, cool.
(MUSIC: SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SONG)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: They're going to be performing, actually, at President Obama's inauguration as well, the chorus of PS-22.
We want to leave you this hour with more sights and sounds honoring Sandy Hook as we remember the victims forever in our hearts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a tribute to the schools. I have two -- two kindergartners in school now. So there's just no words you can say for it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The outpouring of love in the community and throughout the world has been unbelievable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to find some way to come together around all victims of violence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a group of students that had traveled from Florida. I believe they drove overnight to get up to Sandy Hook. And they appeared at the memorial site and just started playing and singing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel your pain, I understand you're grieving, and we are here for you.
COOPER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT "OUTFRONT" starts now.