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Apocalypse Averted; National Moment of Silence; Learning More About Asperger's; Four Killed, Three Injured in Penn. Shooting; Investigating Motives Behind Rampage Killings

Aired December 21, 2012 - 12:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: All right, apocalypse averted. According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, 12/21/12 was doomsday. Amazingly, one-in-ten people around the world believed it.

So, for the survivors, all of us celebrating, we want to go live to the Mayan ruin, Chichen Itza, Mexico, our Nick Parker.

So, Nick, I don't know. You're there. You're OK. The hour came and went. How did people celebrate? How did they react to all of this?

NICK PARKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're here and everything seems to be going OK so far.

We had a bit of drizzle earlier and it got a bit windy, but that's sort of been the extent of the apocalyptic visions here.

Basically, it's been a real day of celebration here so far. We were actually at the first light at Chichen Itza when we saw thousands of people turning up to basically gather to try and catch Chichen Itza right at dawn when the first light takes place.

The ticket hall was absolutely packed and they pulled in to this archaeological site to take in, I guess, the full splendor of some of these monuments at dawn and, for the rest of the day, it's really been a day of big celebrations.

I think you can probably divide the people here between tourists who are extremely interested in the idea of December the 21st, the end of the Mayan calendar and perhaps somewhat tantalized by the idea of a doomsday.

And then, on the other hand, there are also a lot of so-called "New Agers," I suppose you could say, who have gathered from all around the world to come here and channel their own belief system and to celebrate how they interpret the Mayan calendar.

So, it's really been a day of celebration rather than doom-watching, I have to say.

MALVEAUX: Yeah. All right. We all get to live another day.

Good to see you. Glad you made it there.

We're going to have more after this.


MALVEAUX: Across the country today, traffic stopped and people paused in a near nationwide moment of silence. It marked a week since the horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Much of the online world also went quiet. I want to bring in Dan Simon to talk about it. Many Web sites did something to honor the victims of the shooting. Tell us what they did.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Suzanne. This is a movement that got organized just yesterday, but it gained steam pretty quickly. You had hundreds of Web sites across the country go dark for just one minute. It basically involved putting a badge on the main page of the Web site, had a green ribbon that said, "We're observing a national moment of silence."

You had a lot of Web sites (AUDIO BREAK) including The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Foursquare, E! Online, Gilt, Autodesk and Adobe.

You also had lots of people tweeting the hash tag, #MomentForSandyHook. So, all in all, a pretty good reaction from the technology community.

MALVEAUX: We also heard from the head of the NRA who, in part, was blaming violent video games for the violence. I want you to listen to what he said.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry, that sells and stows violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games with names like "Bulletstorm," "Grand Theft Auto," "Mortal Kombat" and "Splatterhouse."


MALVEAUX: Dan, is there any reaction from online game producers to these accusations?

SIMON: Well, you know, Suzanne, this is a debate that has been going on for a very long time, of course. It's now front-and-center, but we should point out the reason why you have all of these violent video games is because they sell and they sell very well, generating millions of dollars in profits for these game companies.

But perhaps you're beginning to see a shift in public opinion. For instance at the E3 conference this year, which is the largest gathering of gamers each year, you had some developers openly expressing that the violence is just getting out of control, that it's too gory and it's gratuitous. But until you see some of these game-makers make changes, you're probably not going see any meaningful action. But we should also point out that the makers themselves do post ratings on the game title so parents have a sense of how violent or non-violent a games have to be.

But maybe you're seeing the -- an evolution in public opinion, but kind remains to be seen.

MALVEAUX: All right, Dan Simon, thank you.

Coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to take a look at the mental health angle of the story.


MALVEAUX: The national coverage of the Newtown shooting, several residents have said the shooter Adam Lanza had Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder. Well, CNN has not been able to confirm that.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at the fact and the fiction behind this misunderstood condition.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Asperger's is a type of autism. Now, doctors call autism a neuro-developmental disorder, not a mental illness. That's important.

It's something you're born with and it does tend to run in families.

A little bit of history, the condition was first described by a doctor named Hans Asperger in 1944. He made this key observation. Listen closely. People with Asperger's -- and he was focused primarily on children -- are socially isolated. They have problems with communication. There's something off in their interactions with other people. They can miss social cues.

Take this example. If someone walks over and says hello, most of us naturally say hello right back. A child with Asperger's, that doesn't come as instinctively. They lack what you call social intuition.

Another symptom, people with Asperger's tend to become extremely focused and obsessed with details. One example, Temple Grandin, she has Asperger's and she's written six books. She's a top expert in designing facilities for livestock.

Now, there are some crucial distinctions. One, children with Asperger's do not have language problems. Their speech often develops normally.

Also, by definition, people with Asperger's have average to high intelligence and it seems to be common in the tech world, at least more common, not to mention actress Daryl Hannah and author Tim Page. He won a Pulitzer Prize. There's a common misconception that people with Asperger's lack empathy. Now, if you look closer, you'll see this isn't necessarily true. In fact, people with Asperger's tend to be bad at recognizing emotions in other people, but research and experience show this -- they do relate to those emotions.

In fact, it can be extremely intense, almost like they feel too much for other people, even animals.

Temple Grandin became famous for developing humane livestock pens. She could put herself in the animal's place. She said she could feel their pain.

We also know that Asperger's is not associated with violence like the Connecticut school shootings. People with Asperger's can be easily frustrated and children are prone to tantrums, but there is zero evidence that they're more likely to plan violence or want to hurt others. In fact, they're much more likely to be targeted, to be bullied themselves.

Now come May, Asperger's won't technically even exist anymore. In the new diagnostic manual, it's just part of autism disorder.

We don't really understand what's different in the wiring in the brain of someone with these conditions, but I hope someday we can unlock those secrets and I hope that can help a lot of people out there.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


MALVEAUX: Now as we all try to figure out why that gunman killed 27 people in Newtown, we're continuing to focus on mental health.

Our next guest says the rampage shootings are never spontaneous, usually the shooter's last act in a long search for acceptance.

But, first, the warning signs of depression can be easy to spot; dealing with it, of course, not. In a town some of the people coping with unimaginable sorrow are turning to a trained dog.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a comfort dog. You can pet him. It says right here, "Please pet me."

A comfort dog is one who brings comfort to other people when they're suffering or hurting or bring happiness to people, helps people process their grief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK, (INAUDIBLE). That's a good girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A dog's a month ago when Sandy hit, we were out in New York and New Jersey. Children, they'll come up sad and they'll walk away happy.

Petting a dog relaxes a person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, you sweet thing, you're so cute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Petting a dog helps them to process whatever it is they're going through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're a good dog. Good dog. I love dogs. There's nothing like that connection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dogs are big lovers. And they show unconditional love and they're big, furry counselors, because they're confidential and they don't keep notes.



MALVEAUX: Just in, we are learning about a deadly shooting that took place. This is in Blair County, Pennsylvania.

We are told that four people including the shooter are dead, that there were three state troopers that have also been injured as well.

Now according to a Pennsylvania district attorney, says that one trooper was injured by a bullet that hit his armored vest. Another was injured in a vehicle accident that took place with the shooter. A third trooper was injured by flying glass when the shooter fired through the officer's windshield.

We know a little bit more about the victims, three females, one male. The male, we are told, is the shooter himself. We are trying to get more details, including the circumstances around all of this.

Those have not yet been released, but we do know that that shooting taking place in Blair County, Pennsylvania, leaving four dead including the shooter and several injured, several state troopers injured as well.

As investigators continue to look into what drove the Newtown shooter to kill, Connecticut' medical examiner has asked a geneticist to help him answer that same question.

The "Hartford Courant" reports that Dr. H. Wayne Carver wants to figure out if there's anything in Adam Lanza's biology to actually explain his behavior. And many people are asking whether or not there were warning signs of what was going to happen.

I want to bring in Katherine Newman, she's a sociologist with Johns Hopkins University and also co-author of the book "Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings."

Thanks for joining us. You've been studying this for years. And what's interesting is that you say is that these rampage shootings, they are rarely spontaneous, that people actually telegraph to friends and family what they are planning to do. How do they do that? KATHERINE NEWMAN, AUTHOR: Well, they usually are telling their peers that they have ambitions to shoot up a school or take some other kind of action, but it's usually said in a very veiled way, Suzanne. So it's not that easy to interpret.

They will say things like, "I'm going to be running from the cops next week," and everyone says, "What is Johnny talking about?" But it piques their interest and that is really what Johnny is trying to do.

MALVEAUX: And why would he be trying to do that? Is he trying to warn people? Is he trying to give out some sign that he needs help here, that he doesn't really want to do this?

NEWMAN: He doesn't usually really want to do this, but he -- after many years of trying to get attention in other ways, Johnny, who is usually someone who has trouble making friends and connecting with other people, discovers sadly that this does start to attract attention.

And so it's the last act, not the first act, in a long line of efforts to try and ingratiate himself into peer groups that are usually holding him at arm's length. So it's a kind of a veiled warning, but it has a purpose from the shooter's point of view of trying to attract attention and gain friends. And that's the saddest part of it all.

Often these shooters are people who have spent many years unable to make friends and that's really what they're thinking about, how am I going to get other people to think about me differently. And they find it more satisfying or they think others will find them more attractive if they're defined as notorious and dangerous rather than dweeby and a loser.

MALVEAUX: Is there any difference between kids who just kind of want to be alone, they're loners and they don't necessarily socialize and somebody who you might actually really have to be concerned about, because they feel a sense of rejection? How do you know?

NEWMAN: Well, there are certainly kids who really are loners, but they're not the ones who explode in these rampage shootings.

Rampage shooters are usually people who have made extraordinary efforts to try and gain access to social groups and they fail. And they fail time and time again.

So the fixation on the loner or the notion that this is something that happens spontaneously, because someone has experienced rejection, really isn't the case. It's not spontaneous and it's not a loner. It's someone whose efforts to gain traction with peer groups fails time and time again, until they start talking about shooting people.

And then they start to gain that traction and, very often, sadly, their peers egg them on, not knowing that this is something the shooter really intends to do. But it's just part of the interaction, often, of teenage peer groups to sort of push the boundaries with someone who is very sensitive and whose buttons can be pushed to sad effect. MALVEAUX: Is there something that, like, young people can do, if they're teenagers instead of pushing this person forward, pull them away, pull them back a little bit? What should they do?

NEWMAN: Well, of course, most of us remember those teenage peer groups and not with a lot of fondness. They get a lot of sense of solidarity out of excluding others.

And if we could teach teenagers that those things have potentially catastrophic effects, not only might it help someone who might be inclined to be a shooter, but it would help millions of other kids who suffer from depression and a sense of exclusion, which is a pretty common experience in high schools.

So the shooter is really the tip of a much bigger iceberg of depression and loneliness and rejection. Most people grow out of it, they get past it. They go on past high school.

But those who suffer a particularly extreme form of mental illness take every slight as a magnified catastrophe, and it means something different to them and more serious to them than it does to the ordinary kid who grows out of it and doesn't enjoy it, either.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Final question here, is there a threshold, is there an age in which, you know, if it's not dealt with at that time, that this person is only going to get worse, that it's only going to fester and turn into something like this, a violent rampage?

NEWMAN: Well, we know these mental disturbances that often characterize shooters begin in adolescence. And they're very difficult to identify at that age. But if they manage to make it to their 20s it becomes a full-blown and more florid form that we are able to identify.

And I think that's one of the hardest things about this particular shooting. Once someone gets beyond high school where we see them every day in a social setting, it could be much, much harder.

MALVEAUX: All right. Katherine Newman, thank you so much, appreciate it.

Coming up in the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM, Robert F. Kennedy's daughter, Kerry Kennedy, weighs in on the gun control debate. It was back in 1968 Robert Kennedy was shot to death by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

We expect to hear from House Democrats as well on the issue coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in CNN NEWSROOM.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NRA: The only way, the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection.