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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Newtown Funerals Continue; A Dream Cut Short; Newtown Seeks Action; Scams Collecting Money in Victims' Names

Aired December 19, 2012 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks very much.

Good evening, everyone. We are once again live 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, may yet become the road to a new consensus of 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 focus firmly on the moment. Not even living day by day, but for the survivors, for the families living, in some cases, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second even.

They are tending to the heart-wrenching duty they so sadly have to bury the dead and to the duty that we all have to remember and to honor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Daniel Barden was just 7, and 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. 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 in school he'd always join him.

In an interview with Katie Couric, his dad Mark remembers teaching Daniel how to play "Jingle Bells" in the piano last Friday morning before he went to school.

MARK BARDEN, FATHER OF DANIEL BARDEN: We held hands on the way to the bus. And that was his -- that was our last morning together. He did get up early that morning and ran down the driveway so he could kiss his brother good-bye 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's wholesome and innocent to 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 talked of becoming a veterinarian ever since she was 2 years old.

Charlotte was extraordinarily gifted, her family says, loved going to school to learn. She also loved her weekly tae kwon do classes with her dad and her brother where she relish 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, CHARLOTTE'S GRANDMOTHER: Charlotte loved dresses and she insisted on wearing the dress. My daughter said OK. And she got her dress. She had red natural curly hair. And so my daughter braided it for her and she wore it on pig tails 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 members also called her Silly Caroline because of the way she tried to make people laugh.

She had this funky side, loved to draw, loved to dance. She was in the first grade. Neighbors remember her sitting on the school bus next to a nervous kindergarten boy who was going to school for the first time. She want 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, VICKI'S MOTHER: 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 said 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 Roxy still waits every day for Vicki to come home from school.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We will remember them.

Paul Simon performed at Vicki's funeral and he sang the song, "The Sound of Silence".

And we wanted to show you 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. One New York firefighter telling the "Connecticut Post," people supported us after 9/11, we're here to return the favor.

We saw an utterly devastating photograph today as well in Great Britain's "Daily Mail." The class photo of Lauren Russeau's first graders, all but one of whom were killed on Friday, 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's living out her dream. Even as a little girl Lauren Russeau she 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 VIDEOTAPE)

TONY LUSARDI III, LAUREN RUSSEAU'S BOYFRIEND: It says, me, since I've been with you. Thanks for rubbing off on me.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty and in love. Tony Lusardi and Lauren Russeau.

(On camera): Do you remember the moment you realized you were in love with her?

LUSARDI: Yes, the -- 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, 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 that 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: The second try making funny faces. There was like a first one where she just, like, I don't have a funny face.

HARLOW: They just 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 that 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, we're doing this, we're doing that. And sent tons of pictures of kids (INAUDIBLE) 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 does -- it doesn't seem real. It doesn't seem permanent and finite.

HARLOW (on camera): Do you think you might see her again?

LUSARDI: I'm convinced that I'll see her again. I have, like, a little squish pillow, that's like a little pillow for, like, your head that she had that smells like her, that smells like her perfumes and stuff.

HARLOW: And it still does?

LUSARDI: When I wake up in the morning, I can smell, you know, 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. It's, like, kind of bad to say, but I'm jealous of her friends that got more than one year. 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 -- I want a hug from Lauren, you know? 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.

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So hard to imagine. Poppy Harlow joins us now.

And you said that Lauren had already given Tony some Christmas presents?

HARLOW: Yes, a prepared teacher, right? She'd 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 know, you get the sense from him that he almost feels like she's going to come back.

COOPER: Yes.

HARLOW: They were -- they were that connected.

COOPER: And she worked multiple jobs.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, his nickname for her was busy bee.

COOPER: Yes.

HARLOW: I said, why did you call her that? He said, 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 set a whole table up with messages for people to write their thoughts for Lauren, to her.

And 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 love.

And tomorrow Lauren will be buried here.

COOPER: Poppy, thanks very much. 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 CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a very emotional evening right now. This is a very painful story for all of us, all over the world. It's 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 and the six adults who died and it was so emotional, it was so hard to watch, beautiful music playing, beautiful songs playing, while everyone in this room, hundreds of people from throughout the state of Connecticut, experiencing it.

You know, one thing, Anderson, I know it's the same with you, but over the years we've covered so many tragedies, it's so discouraging. Bombings and shootings. And what's amazing here, we've made so many friends already, just like over the years we've made so many friends. I'm grateful for the friends I've made, but these tragedies but so sorry for how we have made these friends.

And that's what's happening right now. People are getting together. There's no such thing as closure. There'll be suffering, particularly 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, appreciate that tonight.

We've got a lot more ahead including conversation with the Sandy Creek parent about President Obama's call today for new action on gun control. Some polling as well suggesting public opinion might be shifting. That's next from Newtown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's we'll 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.

Now new CNN/ORC polling shows growing support, 52 percent now in favor of major restrictions on gun ownership or even outright prohibition. It's a five-point since August. Breaking it down, 37 percent -- favor major restrictions, 15 percent want to make all guns illegal, 33 percent support minor restrictions, 13 percent say they'd like no restrictions at all on gun ownership. Now change now withstanding 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 regulations, others 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, cross paths with the killer in the school hallway before a teacher pulled him to safety.

Also joining us again is Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of Newtown's Board of Education.

Appreciate both of you being with us. We talked about this last night a little bit, Lillian.

LILLIAN BITTMAN, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION: Yes.

COOPER: About something having to come out of this.

Andrei, for you, that means some sort of regulation.

ANDREI NIKITCHYUK, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK THIRD-GRADER: Definitely so. I think the entire country is actually fed up with where we are now. I think majority of the country are -- 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 am getting phone calls from Russia, from Portugal, from UK. You know, people cannot believe what's happening here. And people in, like, I was in Virginia, I went to D.C. to see, to see our senators on Capitol Hill.

COOPER: You met -- you did that. You already went there?

NIKITCHYUK: Yes, yes, I returned this morning at --

COOPER: Do you feel that there is a possibility for change?

NIKITCHYUK: Definitely. We met with senior aides to president of the United States. Valerie Jarrett and she told us that 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 be -- 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. That --

COOPER: And, Lillian for you, you want to have a civil discussion about this.

BITTMAN: Very much so.

COOPER: And -- 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've attended people are dying -- they just really have to have the civil discussion and change now. And there's actually a group now that has formed in Newtown that we -- my husband and I are a part of, called Newtown United.

And I very much tonight would like to ask the nation to join us, because we are not looking -- well, just like what he said, we are not looking to ban guns, what we are 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 that it's not partisan is exactly how we feel.

So 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. And if they want to do that, we have a Facebook page, Newtown United. They should jump on that and join us in -- we can create a critical mass to show Washington that we're serious about this. We want them to work together.

COOPER: Did you -- you were saying today, you left your house at, what, 9:00 this morning. You haven't been home.

BITTMAN: Yes.

COOPER: You've been going to wakes and funerals.

BITTMAN: Yes. All day.

COOPER: All day long.

BITTMAN: All day. It's -- 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's true for a lot of the parents, anyone who's associated. We're all struggling with that.

COOPER: And -- you're often waiting two hours to get in to pay your respects.

BITTMAN: Two to five hours, it's freezing cold, yesterday it was raining. And that's 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: Well, Andrei, how is your son doing, he was there?

NIKITCHYUK: You know, it's really difficult to talk about that because he is a little guy and kind of -- he keeps a lot within himself. And it's kind of -- you see some signs, like something wants to come out, but bits and pieces. It's really too early to tell how it's affected him.

What I can tell you that my older kids, the 13 and 14-year-olds, they and their friends are profoundly affected because they understand the death, the enormity of the tragedy. You know? It's just -- those kids, those little kids that they actually babysat.

BITTMAN: Right.

NIKITCHYUK: It's just -- you know, they are 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'd really like to say to the nation, that -- because I know I said before, let's leadeth with love, but leadeth 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've been to, that's the main message. They -- their deaths have to have meant something. So a little child will lead us.

COOPER: Lillian, thank you very much.

BITTMAN: Thank you.

NIKITCHYUK: We should join as a nation. We should be better than this.

BITTMAN: Yes, yes.

COOPER: Andrei, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

BITTMAN: Thank you.

NIKITCHYUK: Thanks.

COOPER: A quick reminder to watch "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." A special town hall meeting on this subject, 9:00 Eastern Time. That's tonight on CNN.

Last night the uncle of the 6-year-old boy Noah Pozner told us that there were scams being set up, actually collecting donations or tempting to collect donations in Noah's name profiting off this tragedy. We were stunned by that.

Today Drew Griffin investigate this, tracked down the person who seems to be the source of one of these scams. We'll show you what he found out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, there have been, of course -- you're looking at all the picture of the memorial, one of the many in this town.

There have been Web sites and memorial funds set out for many of the victims but last night we learned something that, frankly, 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 in the family didn't know and they didn't know where the money was going to go.

We'll speak with Noah's uncle again in a moment but CNN's Drew Griffin has done a lot of reporting on charity scams from 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's allegedly behind it.

Drew Griffin joins me now live.

Drew, what did -- what did you find?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT 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 donation supposedly are being directed to.

At first there was no answer but a half an hour later this exchange with a somewhat surprised Noel Alba when she answered the door.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID FITZPATRICK, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Oh hi, are you Miss Alba? You've set up, you say, donations on behalf of one of the victims of the Newtown tragedy. No? Your name and your address on the e-mail? Can I come in with a camera crew? No?

(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 details --

COOPER: What?

GRIFFIN: -- so you guys can decide, you know, what kind of e- mail was sent out here. Concerning the e-mail, though, 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. Take a --

NOEL ALBA, ALLEGEDLY SOLICITING DONATIONS: I never sent that.

FITZPATRICK: Take a look at it, ma'am. It's got your e-mail all over it. And take a look at the second page. It says -- gives your PayPal account and a bank routing number that you said, you say you set up?

ALBA: That's not my PayPal account. I mean, I have a PayPal account like that.

FITZPATRICK: But that's your -- is that your e-mail?

ALBA: Which one?

FITZPATRICK: It says right there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that is one of my Gmails. But I never set up any funds for anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should know that the Pozner family tells us that they are upset by all this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I never did anything to hurt them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who sent this e-mail?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never sent this e-mail out. I don't have a reason to send any e-mail out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: All very fishy, Anderson. The bottom line we couldn't find out if the woman's claims are true. She claims she did get $300 in donations that she says she immediately returned.

But yet again, a clear example of how quickly these e-mails, web sites, pop up after a tragedy. We did the story after Hurricane Sandy, Anderson. Some of the websites were set up before the storm hit.

The bottom line, you have to know where the money is going. Don't believe anything that's in a web site, an e-mail. If you want to donate, you need to really do your homework.

In this case we have exposed this, this woman herself admitting it is not a good charitable avenue to give, so don't.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, this is so sickening to me as many of the charity scams that you've exposed over the last years. But I think it is 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 are within the crafting community sent out this e-mail --

COOPER: That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. That she has enemies in the crafting community and they have set up a Paypal account about Hurricane Sandy and about this beautiful little boy. I mean, that's just ridiculous.

GRIFFIN: It is very troubling, but as I 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 is sad to say, there are 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 get from as many of the families as want the information out, legitimate memorial funds and sites and we will start doing that tomorrow. Noah's uncle is with me right now. You have set up a site correct?

ALEXIS HALLER, NOAH POZNER'S UNCLE: That is correct. They set up the domain name noahpozner.com. We challenged that with Go Daddy.

COOPER: Someone after the tragedy bought the domain name?

HALLER: We had a lot of friends online and it was caught right away. We challenged it and we have the web site now. I don't know what the person's intentions were.

COOPER: So noahpozner.com is now the official web site.

HALLER: It is the family's website and we bought the other related domain names. I sat there and went through with my wife.

COOPER: It's incredible that you have to do this in this day and age.

HALLER: You know, that is right. 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 they are stealing from them, they are survivors of this tragedy.

COOPER: It is in infuriating.

HALLER: It's infuriating. So, I am going to do everything I can to protect them and get the word out and today I did contact the FBI as to this Ms. Alba. They were very interested in the information that we provided.

COOPER: Hopefully they can look into her finances. That should be easy to track down. Drew, where can people go to help? You know what, we heard noahpozner.com and noahpozner.org.

GRIFFIN: You know, Anderson, one stop shop, go to cnn.com, go to impactyourworld. We have some of the web sites set up for these children, for funds, for the family and also for the school district.

Quite frankly, there are a lot of things that people can do that don't involve money. You can go to impactyourworld@cnn and we'll keep adding on as we get the information from the families themselves.

COOPER: OK, we will try to reach out. If the families are listening please let us know. I wish you the best. I'm sorry that you have to deal with this kind of stuff. I hope it helps. We'll continue to stay on it.

Coming up next, the latest on the investigation including reports on what we know about the investigation. Deborah has that. She'll join us ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASQUALE FOLINO, PRESIDENT, CONNECTICUT FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION: In the evening when you go home, you talk to your family and collect your thoughts and try to cry, that is what we do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The president of Connecticut Funeral Directors Association reflecting the enormity of this tragedy. For so many in Newtown, Connecticut, today was a day for saying goodbye.

But police are busy working and 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 have not been able to recover clues recovered from the computer apparently smashed by the shooter before the rampage.

National correspondent Deborah Feyerick is here with some new developments in the investigation. Deborah, one of the questions that is still unanswered is why this person chose this school we are learning now of a possible connection? What is that?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the connection, Anderson, is that he actually went there. He went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. CNN has been to confirm through various people that in fact he was in the first, the third the 4th and also the 5th grade.

He was six years old when his family moved into this house back in 1998. Six years old, the same age that 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 on the t-shirt.

And 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 on to 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 he had no recent connection, he had a connection to that school, Anderson.

COOPER: There were reports that the shooter was home alone in the days leading up to Friday. What do you know about that?

FEYERICK: 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 has confirmed that the mother traveled to New Hampshire staying in a resort. 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 he drove off to go to that school. It is unclear whether he was alone for the entire three days or whether somebody was coming in and checking in on him.

Friends of Nancy Lanza tell CNN that in fact, you know, she would leave him alone while she would make this sort of mini trips. But if there was a problem she would cancel the plans and stay with him. There was time when he was alone in the home with those firearms -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Deborah. Appreciate the update on that. People across the country and around the world are paying tribute to the people and to the victims in Newtown. This video is coming in from California. We have more tributes coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We will, of course, be bringing you more moments from here in Newtown today, but first, I want to talk about something that's happened overseas, a reminder again about the brutality of the Syrian regime, a reminder that is hitting close to home for all of us here at 360 and for anybody who is a regular viewer of this program.

For more than a year now we have been getting regular updates from inside Syria from an incredibly brave man named Zaidoun Alzawabi, 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.

We are now getting word from his family this week that he has been detained Zaidoun and his brother and are holding them in a location called Building 215 used for torture and abuse. You see him standing on the right side of this photo. He holds a PhD. He is a dean at the European College in Syria.

Zohave is a medical student studying at the University of Damascus. The relatives say that time is of the essence to free them. They want us to tell this story tonight in the hopes that someone inside Syria, 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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: What are you hoping for now? Is there hope?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): Well, for me, I mean, personally, for the majority of the people nobody has any hope in anything. It will continue because this is happening for sure. I mean, we will win in the end and we are sure that the international community will not do anything at all. Nobody cares about it. We are not scared of him at least. I'm not scared of the chemical weapon. Does it make a difference to die with a bullet of a chemical weapon? Which death is more painful?

COOPER: Did you ever think it would get to this point? How do you get through each day because as you say, the world has watched his happen? And we watch it happen every night.

ZAIDOUN: Well, Anderson, it is simply stated like this. When the Syrian people stop the revolution, justice for all, democracy, we expect we know the regime is brutal. We expected brutality but not this much. Is it worth it? Yes, thank God. I don't know how we lived with the regime. Thank God we have the solution and we are lives our lives are ruined.

But thank God we have the solution and thank God we will win the battle on our own without anybody's help 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, helicopters rockets, against what, civilians, enough.

COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you very much for talking.

ZAIDOUN: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Enough he said. He was fighting with his voice and he was aware of the risk that he took speaking with us every time and we knew the risk of speaking as well. It is understandable for anyone to put themselves in that situation to hide their identity.

He felt free because he was speaking out 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 interviewed him over the phone even though he wanted to show his face. He asked us to use his full name. I asked him during his interview in November of 2011.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You are using your full name and asking us to use your full name and telling us where you are. I know you have been interrogated by security forces. In are you willing to speak out and use your full name?

ZAIDOUN: Because it is enough. People are dying because it is enough. After eight months, you still believe a lie, that you can control and overcome. You can do one thing now. Save, more lives please stop the killing. When I chant, I want freedom. I can hear my voice for the first time in my life 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 many of us on this program, our thoughts and prayers or with him and his family. Two daughters and his wife are in Syria right now.

There are other important stories that we are following as well tonight. Susan Hendricks is here with the 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 failures in 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.

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 Yousafzai, an education activist shot by the Taliban and also Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Susan, thanks very much. We'll be right back with some incredibly generous children raising their voices to honor the fallen students of Sandy Hook Elementary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The people at Newtown, Connecticut are not alone in their grief. All around the country and around the world frankly people are coming together sending their love and sending their support, supporting the families here anyway they can.

Here's a tribute from the students of PS-22 Grade School in New York Staten Island. They have 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 song.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody suggested on our Facebook page yesterday that we sing their school song. Are you guys okay with that?

CHILDREN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sure?

CHILDREN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody not OK with this?

CHILDREN: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: They are going to be performing 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A tribute to the schools because I have two kindergartners in school. No words that you can say for it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The outpouring of love in the community and 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 to Sandy Hook and appeared at the memorial site and started playing and singing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel your pain. I understand you are grieving like we are here for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Images and words from all around the world. We will see you again in one hour from now. Thank you very much for watching. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.