Tonight on AC360: Remembering 7-year-old Grace McDonnell
December 18th, 2012
09:28 AM ET

Tonight on AC360: Remembering 7-year-old Grace McDonnell

When first-grader Grace McDonnell got on her school bus headed to Sandy Hook Elementary school Friday morning, she looked out the window at her mother and blew kisses to her. That image will always be in the heart of her mother. Sadly, later that morning, Grace was killed at the school, along with 19 other children.

Tonight on 360, Grace’s parents share that beautiful memory of her and so many others. Lynn and Chris McDonnell sat down with Anderson to talk about how Grace touched their lives and the lives of those who knew her.

“Grace had such a great spirit. She had a kind and gentle soul. She was the light and love our family,” Grace’s mom, Lynn, told Anderson. “In so many ways she taught us so much,” she added.

“She taught us you have to live for the future, happiness and peace,” said Grace’s father, Chris. And “not to divert your energy to hate and anger.”

Grace’s parents say the hardest part was having to tell their older son, Jack, what happened to her. They say the entire family will move forward without anger, because that’s what Grace would have wanted.

“I told Jack that he could never live with hate. Grace didn’t have an ounce of hate in her. And so we have to live through Grace and realize that hate is not how our family is,” said Grace’s mom. “She was all about peace.”

In just seven short years, Grace lived life to the fullest. Her parents say she was happy every day. They say she enjoyed everything: Especially school, the beach and drawing. They say her dream was to live on the beach and be a painter.

In honor of her love of drawing, her mom, dad and brother did something special for her Sunday night. They covered her white casket with their own art work, their own precious memories of Grace. They used markers to draw peace signs, along with x’s and o’s and other pictures. “When we walked out of there, there was so much color. It was so Grace,” said her mom.

We’ll have Anderson's interview with Grace’s parents at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

UPDATE Watch tonight's interview:

soundoff (105 Responses)
  1. Mary ann Kelly

    I could not get this interview off my mind God Bless Amazing Grace!!!! My prayers are with her mom, dad and brother. Thank you Anderson........Peace!

    December 22, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  2. Linda

    I to agree that Anderson is a compassonate reporter and did Grace's short life with diginty and Grace

    December 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  3. tracy

    Thanks so much for sharing Grace with us. What a beautiful little girl. My heart is broken for her family along with all the other victims. I too have a Gracie who is eight years old. The parents gave a beautiful tribute to their little girl. May she rest in peace. I cry everyday for these babies.

    December 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  4. Cathy

    Anderson and the McDonnell family, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. I pray that the peace they have in their hearts will last a life time. Their state of mind comforted me, how amazing is that. I admire their strength!

    December 22, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  5. Carolyn Dolan

    Anderson thank you for being such a kind reporter. God bless Grace's family
    and all of the other Sandy Hook parents.

    December 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  6. Carolyn Dolan

    God bless you and your family.

    December 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  7. Jean Walker

    Anderson, you are incredible as an interviewer. Perhaps the tragedies in your own life make you more sensitive than most. I worry about how these parents will cope when everyone goes home. That's when the hard part starts....everyone else's life goes back to normal, but their lives will never be normal again. I hope that we can still be there for them, when they really need us.

    December 21, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  8. Marla J. Linde

    I was so touched by your moving tribute to your beautiful Grace. The depth of your love and beaming sense of pride was depicted with such 'grace', admiration and strength. I pray that peace will come in time knowing that the loving memories of your little angel will live on in your hearts and minds forever. She is safe now and will forever rest in peace, painting and coloring the beauty in God's heaven. God bless you and your family each and every day...

    December 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  9. Dee

    The McDonnell family will always be in my heart. They are amazing parents and I hope their famly can get through this
    terrible loss. I will always remember Grace and keep all of them in my thoughts and prayers. She truly is an angel.
    God bless all of the beautiful children who the entire country will remember and miss.

    December 21, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  10. Rick

    I watched this interview and have spoken with family members about it since. We are all moved by what the family said about their daughter Grace, how they are coping with this tragedy. They present a model for life that we should all hope to be strong enough to follow. Anderson, we are also moved by the way only you can bring us these stories and make us actually feel what is happening. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.

    December 21, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  11. rob

    Thank you so very much to the parents for sharing Grace with us!

    December 21, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  12. rob

    I absolutely love Grace's art and know many others do too!! I know it's to soon in grieving process but I bet the parents could raise 10's of thousands of dollars from selling copy's of her art, all proceeds go to charity or whatever they think Grace would want to do with....She's already affected so many people in such a positive way, the possibility's of change are endless- god bless

    December 21, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  13. Ellen

    Grace must be so proud of her parents and her brother. We appreciate that you told us about Grace's life. Mr. & Mrs. McDonnell are the bravest and strongest people. Grace was an amazing girl and this was because she was raised by such fine people. She is a beautiful angel in heaven with her friends and teachers where there is no more sorrow and only lasting joy. I hope she will watch over all of us.

    December 21, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  14. Laura

    The composure and strength of the McDonnell family is amazing. Grace is one beautiful angel watching
    over all of us now. She was so fortunate to have such wonderful and loving parents. Even though I don't know
    this family and have never met Grace, she will always hold a special place in my heart.
    My thoughts and prayers are with the McDonnell family and all families affected by this terrible tragedy.

    December 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • rob

      Laura you took the words straight from my heart, Grace reminds me so much of my 6 year old daughter. Such a kind, gentle loving soul.... Her parents are truly inspiring with there faith, strength and sense of love!

      December 21, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  15. Vanessa Babbage

    I watched this report and couldnt stop crying but at the same time finding comfort in knowing that Grace's family have found peace in all that has happened. God Bless the Mcdonnel Family each and every single day. You are always in our thoughts and prayers.

    December 20, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  16. eline

    what a beautiful sole this parents have and what a beautiful sole their daughter had.. it rips my hearts. when I saw her paintings I cried..I'm an Illustrator and she was so talented and you can see her paintings are nothing but goodness. I'm very sad that these wonderful children are gone, we need more of their kind, not less. all I can do is try and be the better person,so such goodness didn't go in vain.

    December 20, 2012 at 4:36 am |
  17. Mary

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful little girls life! Today I hug my boys tighter, treat others kinder, and have much more compassion then I ever had! Having experienced my own pain I know how precious and short life can be... Grab hold of the fearlessness!!

    December 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  18. Andrea Macaluso

    This was truly an inspiring interview. In the wake of such horrible tragedy the McDonnels have showed us all how to move forward from the dark depths of grief into a future filled with hope and not hate. Lynn's final words in the letter that Anderson read were empowering and so very impressive: to move forward without fear for she has already endured the worst so she has everything to gain and nothing to lose. I was incredibly moved by this and feel that if, in her unimaginable pain, she is capable of this then I too can move forward from my grief. You are amazing and brave people to share your pain and perspective with us so that we can heal together in and in honor of the angels and heroes that lost their lives. Thank you.

    December 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  19. samar

    This is for the kids who were born angles and died as angles,as they are in a bettre place and looking upon their loved ones with a smile,as for mothers you all should know that Allah(God) loves them more than 70 mothers, so may Allah(God) give you all the patience and strength to carry on with the best to remember that their angles left behind.............i love you all for the sake of Allah(God).may Allah(God) bless you all.(Ameen)

    December 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  20. Sarah

    This family is amazing, the report I watched showed a Mom and Dad with awesome hearts.

    December 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  21. Nikki

    We are all hanging our heads at this horrible tragedy. Our hearts are filled with so much angst, that it's difficult to look at the world we live in and accept that this is it. We are tired of these atrocities and a lot of us are feeling helpless because the battle to overcome them is large. The one thing we have in common in all of this, is that we are not alone in feeling this way. If we are standing together in pain, let us stand together with a promise. Join the growing number of people who are committing to one day of compassion this Friday, December 21st. People from all over the nation and countries around the world are uniting to say that they have had enough, to say that they believe the choice to make change, and the power to see it happen, is our own. Find an open invitation to the public event on Facebook, do a search for "One Good Thing, One Good Day," join, and invite all of your friends

    December 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  22. Sabrina

    The McDonells are truly inspirational! Amazing strength and courage through this horrendous event! May God bless them always!! Like their Grace, my Noah is also an artist! He loves to draw and is also a peaceful soul! I cannot even begin to imagine the incredible pain and loss they are feeling!

    My heart aches for Newtown, the parents & families who lost a loved one on 12/14/12. My prayers to them all! XO

    December 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  23. Margaret Faymon

    Grace McDonnell what a lovely young girl. As her parents described a kind and gentle soul. The angels were there for her and she is a angel now looking out for her friends and loving family.
    Peace Amazing Grace

    December 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  24. Kathy Atherton

    graces parents need to know how much their interveiw helped my heavy heart and my anger. Their courage set a example for me. I

    December 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  25. Jim

    I too have a little beautiful daughter named Grace. My heart goes out to the McDonnell and all the victim's family.

    December 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  26. Missy

    I would love to have a copy of "Amazing" Grace art work. I love the owl painting. Sending thoughts and prayers to her family

    December 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  27. Kristi

    IThe story of Grace as told by her parents last night was an inspiration to me. I certainly understand why Grace was the person she was. I have been keeping track of these children, however, Grace's story struck a chord within me. I am a grown up artist that loves the beach and peace signs. Thank you Chris and Lynn for sharing Grace with us.

    December 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  28. Janet Riben

    let's make a joint appeal for all efforts to protect our children. Let's get this moving. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain – the lives of our children. The health of our nation!

    December 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  29. Diane Michelle

    Thank you Anderson for your respectful, dignified, deeply thoughtful and inspiring interview with the McDonell family. I was moved beyond tears to a state of Grace that I will carry with me from this soul crushing tragedy. Several have stated that CNN's coverage has renewed their faith in what news coverage should be and I agree. Thank you Anderson and thank you CNN. My prayers are with everyone affected in this heartbreaking event and my prayers are with those covering the stories with such care and respect.

    December 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  30. Tracy McGrath

    I am trying to limit the intake of Sandy Hook victim coverage at this point- But this interview is the most inspiring example of courage, and God's healing Grace I have ever seen. We should all be empowered by these parents extreme sense of faith. The 'Grace' of God and their Angel who is clearly with them, was very transparent..

    December 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  31. Aleta

    This interview really touched my heart. I feel like I know Grace after seeing this piece. And, what incredibly lovely parents who are truly filled with "grace." Grace was a fabulous little artist too! As others have already suggested, it would be a wonderful way to honor Grace by starting a fund through selling copies of her artwork. Thank you for sharing and thank you, Anderson, for a beautiful tribute to a beautiful little girl.

    December 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  32. Cathy

    Love Wanda's idea of selling Grace's artwork. I would proudly display one in my home 🙂

    December 19, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  33. Cathy

    Anderson, My husband and I watched your interview with the McDonnell family and were in total awe of their strength and positive nature in the face of this horrible tragedy. I admire them so much for this and seeing their smiling faces and resolve to allow only love in their hearts makes me want to strive to be a better person myself. They truly have such an inner peace about them and it was clear that as blessed as they were by Grace, that beautiful little girl was equally blessed to have such a wonderful example in her life. Please be sure to let them know how remarkable they are. I will continue to pray for them and all the victims.

    December 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  34. Michelle

    I would like to comment on the story on last night with the McDonnell family. As a mother I do not think I would have had the strength that Mrs. McDonnell showed in sharing what has happened to her family. God Bless her and her family as difficult times are still ahead but hope she can hold onto the strength she showed. Grace was a beautiful little girl and I'm sure her star is shining brite.

    December 19, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  35. Alex

    I encourage that family greetings from Spain

    December 19, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  36. Jennifer

    Amazing Grace will forever be in my heart. I too have an Amazing Grace. My Gracie is 8 years old. I watched with a heavy heart and with a renewed spirit when Grace's parents said we will not live in hate. My Gracie also loves to draw and is full of spirit and life. Know that all of us are praying for you, the other victims, and we hurt with you. I will cherish your strength forever, I hug my Gracie tighter and tighter everyday, and I a know we have Gracie angel in heaven. We live near the beach in Florida; we will cherish the sand between our toes and our flips flops and honor your grace everyday....Love The Higgins Family

    December 19, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  37. tracy

    I watched some the of interview just now and the tears fell . so sad yet so beautiful . these parents are speaking out for their children who had short lives but impactful lives. so sad for all the little siblings left behind . so sad that they have to grow up and tell their own children one day how they had a brother or sister. the thought of that is so sad . what a beautiful beautiful little girl Grace .all these children are soo beuatiful . beautiful little babies just sitting in a classroom with their friends trying to learn and have fun. how american and innocent is that picture .

    December 19, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  38. Laurie

    I am interested in purchasing a copy of Grace's fish painting. Can you please let me know how I could make a donation in her name or just pay thru paypal for a copy. I loved their story and think she was a very talented little girl. You can see her sweetness through her eyes. Let me know if this is possible. thanks

    December 19, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  39. Judy

    Your covering of the shooting at Sandy Hook E.S. has been senstive and thorough. I am in Stratford Ontario. We had a shooting of a teen girl the week before which is very unusual here but if anger and access to a gun conincide tradegy results. I love the owl picture that Grace drew. Do you think there is any way that I could get a copy. It might make a good fund raiser if the family wanted to move in that direction. take care. judy

    December 19, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  40. Sheila blair

    I was so moved by this interview. Would love to see an " Amazing Grace Foundation" formed or some way the public could buy art work from the precious children whose lives were taken in the tragedy. The money could go to help the families, help the citizen of this beautiful community , built a memorial or whatever Grace's parents would like to see changed in this world . My life would be enriched to be able to own a piece of her artwork. Please know we are all praying for you and you have shown that strength beyond understanding. Love and prayers from Arkansas

    December 19, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  41. Lavonda

    The first time I saw the pictures of all children who loss their earthly life I was devasted and then Grace's picture came on and it was like a light around her maybe because like alot of us who love the song amazing Grace I felt comfort. Then I watch the interview with The Mr and Mrs McDonnell and they were showing Grace's colorful drawings and I was so amazed at those beautiful drawing. Words will never express Grace as much as the drawing will. I have never done a comment before but this one was inportant to me express how my heart goes out to everyone and most of all to the McDonnell family for sharing their Grace with us. I also thought that if the family ever decided to print any of Grace's drawings I would love to have one to hang in my home as a reminder of all these beautiful children. I loved the fish.

    December 19, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  42. Ted

    One of the most compelling interviews I have ever seen Anderson cooper is an amazing reporter the tears in his eyes put me through so much agony to this heartfelt story

    December 19, 2012 at 4:38 am |
  43. Ajdin Alibegovic

    I watched this program, and I cried my heart out. Such an exceptional girl, as all other victims were. I do not presume to understand the pain and grief the families are feeling, but it must be unbearable since I half a world away feel such pain inside. Just typing this brings tears to my eyes all over again.
    God bless and I will keep them all in my prayers.

    December 19, 2012 at 2:16 am |
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