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. Beth McCool

    Such a beautiful interview... I can't imagine the loss they are experiencing and the strength the both are showing is amazing. God Bless the GRACE AUDREY MCDONNELL

    December 19, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  2. Cindy

    Beautiful little girl! Grace's story is amazing for such a little Angel. I'm sure she's drawing wonderful pictures in Heaven. To the McDonnell family, I'm truley sorry and heart broken for your loss, as to all in Newtown. Thanks for sharing Anderson and the McDonnell family. God be with you Mom, Dad, brother, family and friends. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Peace 🙂

    December 19, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  3. Deborah O'Keefe

    Thank you to the McDonnell family for sharing your amazing, sweet and incredible baby girl .....and yourselves with us. It means so much to all of us around the country to hear about her and you all...as we feel and WANT to feel a part of your pain and healing. She is so amazing. I have a 6 year old first grader and we.....it is so hard to say...had looked to move to that area this past August. My Kierney could have been in the same class with your baby....it is so very hard and our hearts ache so much in pain. We hope that somehow we can help affect a positive for you and want you to let us know what you want us all to do to help. I would love to suggest that you find some way to sell your sweet girl's wonderful artwork to help either establish a college fund, charity, or whatever YOU ALL want .....but I guarantee many would very happily purchase a piece of her work to help in any way you see fit. She had a gift.....and again...THANK YOU for sharing....it means so much to the rest of the country. May you find peace in knowing how much the country embraces you in our hearts and will NEVER forget Grace or your family and the incredible courage you have shown to us. " Peace" be with you. (Loving how Grace loved the peace sign!)

    December 19, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  4. Michael J. Fiori

    Anderson, the Owl has long been the symbol for "wisdom" and Grace's beautiful painting reminds us of Proverbs 4:5 "Get wisdom, get understanding." I believe millions of Americans would want and purchase a copy of Grace's painting of the Owl as a symbol of the discussion the country needs to engage in to remedy this illness that has plagued us for too long. We must get "understanding" and a widespread acceptance that we cannot tolerate inaction in the future. I would ask that the McDonnell family give this some consideration as a way to raise monies necessary for this important endeavor. And, Anderson, thank you for helping to hold all of us together during what must be one of the most difficult reporting tasks for you personally in your career.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  5. Mary Lou

    Just warched Mrs. O'Donnell talk about her angel Grace. I am so inspired by her talk.. I saw her strength and kindness as she spoke. Truly remarkable people! She was truly an inspiration and I thank her for sharing her story to me. I feel a tiny bit better knowing that if she and her family can make it, so can I. If their is going to be a memorial to Grace I would love to contribute. Please let me know if their is going to be one.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  6. Bob

    Anderson Cooper is a class reporter who wears his heart on his sleeve. I watched the Grace interview and I as a 49 year old man, the report brought tears to my eyes as was the watering eyes of Anderson. Its a tragedy what happened to all those beautiful children and teachers. The hero's of this world are parents, teachers and first responders.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  7. ron w

    I have a suggestion. The country band The Tractors have a song called Blue Christmas Silent Night. It is a very powerful song. It touched my heart . Perhaps run a selection of the emotionally powerful photos from this terrible event. In memory of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook and dedicated to those who must carry on with out them. Have some tissue handy. I think we'll all be needing it.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  8. Susan

    Anderson, your show showed such sensitivity. Grace's mom is an amazingly strong woman. I reacted like David Wachter. The interview released all of the sadness that I feel and I have been weeping for an hour for these precious children, their families and their community.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  9. teresa moore

    Lynn and her husband are so totally full of love for their Grace. Such love. They have a special light even through the loss of their Amazing Grace. My prayers are with you. God is at their side and is carrying them. I would only hope to have the GRACE they have at this unthinkable time.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  10. Dianne

    Very moving show. These sweet sweet angels. The strength the parents have shown is truly amazing. As per Terry's request, is there a way to share the montage with Judy Collins with the kids photo. That was so touching...

    December 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  11. steven papell

    The parents of Grace showed such courage and dignity in the face of so much pain. The mother did not cry and yet watching her describe her daughter I could not help but be moved to tears. These parents are an inspiration; they refused to become hateful and remain untainted by the ugliness visited on them.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  12. Pompano Ann

    Anderson did a great job interviewing the McDonnell family; what a beautiful story and such strength and love from that family, I have been in tears. I would like to say the pictures they shared that Grace had painted were priceless; perhaps the family should consider producing them and selling them for a great cause; I would buy one and would be a great lasting memorial and sharing with the world. My heart goes to all the families and community, prayers and strength sent to you all!

    December 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  13. Emily

    Anderson, I am so grateful for your wonderful tribute to the victims of this tragedy. I have looked forward to watching your show these past few nights because I know I am going to be able learn more about the lives of the beautiful children and caring educators. I cry but smile as I hear the stories of their lives and of how their families want them to be remembered. As a mother and teacher, this event has affected me greatly and your show is truly helping me to heal. Thank you.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  14. Denise

    I appreciate the sensitivity of CNN in their reporting of this event. It is so nice to be able to truly get to know the children, their families and the spirit of their community. I just saw the story of Grace. I too, Anderson, will never hear the song again in the same way. I would like to think I will imagine a choir of angels in heaven led by Grace singing it. I loved her drawings. I know they are a special treasure for her parents. Perhaps at some time they would consider publishing them so her joy is spread throughout the world. Snuggle in God's arms little one.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  15. Angela

    This story was very moving. Grace's artwork is beautiful. I teach art at an elementary school and would love the opportunity to purchase a reproduction of her artwork to display in my classroom in memory of Grace and all of the victims of Sandy Hook.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  16. Vincent

    Thank you Anderson for introducing us to the McDonnells; what poise and compassion they showed.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  17. cindy

    Thank you to Grace's parents for sharing a beautiful moment of peace, in what must be their most difficult time, with your viewers around the world. Very inspiring.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  18. Jon

    Anderson outstanding story on Grace and the McDonnell family. I want an owl print. The family should offer them for sale, donation to the charity of their choice. Grace's artwork was amazing and it should provide a greater purpose and constant reminder.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  19. Lynn

    Wow....thank you McDonnell's. Your strength and the beauty in which you speak of your beloved Grace is something that will stay with me for quite some time. May you find some measure of comfort during this unimaginably difficult time – knowing that the memories you shared with your beautiful angel are more than some have in an entire lifetime. She was taken far too soon, but her spirit will live on.....Thinking of you

    December 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  20. Marian Newton

    To Grace's Family I say "Whenever you see a rainbow, know that Grace is painting in heaven". God Bless your family for the grace you have shown at this time. I pray for all of God's newest angels, small and big.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  21. Kathleen Fay

    I watched the interview with Grace McDonnell's mom and dad this evening. I know that in time we, as Americans, as well as Grace's parents, will want to find some good that can come from this horrible tragedy. It occurred to me tonight as I watched Anderson Cooper's interview, that I hoped that this tragic event will bring about a change in gun control. Of course any change will cost money. Anderson told us about Grace's love of art and he showed us one of her paintings of an owl. It was absolutely beautiful and I would love to have a copy. In fact, I would love to pay for some of Grace's artwork, as I am sure many other Americans would love to do as well. This, I feel would be an excellent way for Grace's parents to promote the values that Grace stood for. (Grace's favorite thing to paint was the peace sign because this is what she stood for.) This money could be collected to work towards ending gun violence in America. In this way Grace still lives and will be changing our world for the better. Grace's eyes are kind and wise beyond her years. She had so much to offer and I think she still does. Please pass this on to Grace's parents at the proper time. Please, please, America, let's work together to make sure that this never happens to our babies again. I am a teacher. I am with these perfect little children everyday. They must know they are in a safe environment while they are at school. They deserve that. We deserve that. America deserves it! Kathleen Fay, Freedom Intermediate School, Franklin, TN

    December 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  22. kellie fogg

    What a great story about Grace McDonnell. She was such a beautiful girl. Thank you for focusing on the victims in this tragedy. May GOD bless Grace and all those angels in heaven

    December 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  23. Adriana

    I feel so sad for Grace's parents , for their loss...the pain that they feel will never dissapear and I wish we could say something to change everything,but we can't. There are no words that can help..no words. But I want to share with you what happened to me today: I went to the local mall and I surprised myself thinking that a madman might show up with a gun here too...so Grace's family is not alone, we are all feeling the influence of what happened...I just hope that we can find a solution so this can never happen again. And thank you, Anderson, for your wonderful coverage...

    December 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  24. Wanda Lista

    "Amazing" Grace was indeed an artist. Thank you for showing us her drawings. I wish I had a copy of the fish drawing so I could put it on my refrigerator to remind myself just how precious life is and to remember all of these wonderful children who had so much to offer the world. Perhaps her family might want to sell copies of her drawings and use the money for an artist scholarship in Grace's name.

    December 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • steven papell

      I too want one of her paintings to hang in my room to serve as an inspiration for me.

      December 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Melanie Gardner

      Wanda, I am so touched by this child, the interview, the family. My step daughter and I were just talking this morning about Grace's drawings and how much we'd love to have one. I think you have a great idea and would gladly make a worthwhile donation to have a visual reminder of how precious life is and to strive for the sweet spirit this family emulates.

      December 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Sarah Law

      This is such a beautiful idea. I would love to have Grace's art in my home to always remember to keep a graceful spirit in difficult times. A scholarship in her name would be such a loving tribute

      December 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  25. David Wachter

    Anderson, I just finished watching the piece you did with the McDonnell family. I find myself weeping uncontrollably, up until this point I didn't allow myself to get emotional over this senseless act of violence. I don't know if it was from my long military service or what but I had built a wall that couldn't be broken. Your story tonight broke down that wall and my emotions are pouring out. Thank you my friend, for bringing out what needed to be brought out. These beautiful children need to have thier story told and you are doing a great job of that. Thank You Anderson, Dave

    December 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Michael Levine

      amazing interview – the parents sentiments would blow open the most armored heart. not to look at her battered body – always wanting to remember the beauty she was B4 she was slaughtered . painting the casket – wow !!!!!!!!!

      December 19, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • VD

      I too was moved to tears watching the feature. The McDonnel's are amazing including Grace off course. As a parent I cant imagine what they went through.

      December 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  26. Lianne Holman Spratt

    What an amazing interview with Grace McDonnell parents. This is such a horrible tragedy. They made me feel better !

    December 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  27. Marina Berry

    I just witnessed supernatural strength from the parents, especially the mother, of one of the children who died on Friday. The little girl's name is Grace McDonnell, and she is absolutely beautiful and has the most gorgeous smile. As her parents reflected on her life, her mom, Lynn, smiled throughout the interview with Anderson Cooper. It moved me to tears, but I take comfort in seeing the strength exhibited by her parents as they shared a portion of their experience with the viewers. I understand firsthand the debate about gun control and mental health, but I also know that we must let our light shine so that the good in humanity outshines evil. Thank you so much for sharing.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • steven papell

      I felt the same way watching the mother....a remarkable woman.

      December 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  28. Linda Crass

    Thank you Anderson for introducing us to Grace. It was an honor to get to "meet" Grace though her parents and you. God bless the McDonnell Family and all the families affected by this tragedy.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  29. Larry Hansard

    Very moving segment! My heart goes out to the McDonnell family. I too have a blue eyed blonde daughter. R.I.P. Tiny Angel.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  30. Ed and Ellen

    Just watched the piece on Grace, Beautiful. We liked the pictures that she drew. How much poise and compasion that Grace's parents have. You are a insperation to us we all should stop and listen again to this interview

    December 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  31. Kristin Neises

    Thank you for the McConnell interview. Grace came through loudly and clearly through the amazing words of her parents....so impressed with the parents and their true love for Grace. Touched beyond words. I'd be interested in purchasing a picture of a peace sign if there is one...maybe as a way to donate to the family or the school or some type of memorial.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  32. Marie

    Incredible interview.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  33. donna

    THE WORDS -MENTAL ILLNESS....have been used so little in comparison to guns, evil, tragedy. And I also have not heard the word PSYCHIATRIST or Therapist or anyone in the mental health field TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for the care of Adam. Why doesn't the media spend time talking about HOW we care for the mentally ill and what WENT WRONG in Adam's case.
    It's not about Evil- it's about mental illness.....There IS A DIFFERENCE. I imagine it was no easy task for his mother to take care of him. Did his psychiatrist and all the mental health professionals associated with Adam, fail him? Tragic on so many levels.

    December 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  34. Paul Ernest Show

    I guess we don't know right from wrong anymore. The best gift and hobby a mother could give her mentally challenged son is "shooting". How many mothers are listening and reading. When are we going to be parents instead of letting government and some novel writers tell us how to live and raise our children? Just yelled at my 18 years old son and threatened him, after being told he was caught smoking pot, and if does not like me for the rest of my life I won't mind. I will do what my parents did with me that made me strong. Put their feet on the solid ground. No emotions , no sensitivity.

    December 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  35. lori

    Bless you heart Copper , think its great you are so compassionate 🙂 never stop , don't cancel your show either..... what you said about Grace I agree my favorite song also , I also will think of her..... Love always<3 Lori

    December 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  36. d harvey

    Tell me who can look into this beautiful piercing blue eyed angel face and not see joy, happines & the light of GOD....I have a six year old son in the 1st grade this year & everytime I see this beautiful angel face online I look at my son & smile.... Mrs. McDonnell showed courage, love & compassion during her interview with CNN... Let us all walk in the ways of compassion while enduring this immearsurable ordeal and as Mrs. McDonnell stated in her on words "She and her family will live through Grace"... May GOD keep you and sustain you until you see your beautiful angel gracie again in heaven.... GOD BLESS!

    December 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  37. Dianne Hendershot

    Anderson, I just want to thank you for your sensitive and compassionate coverage of this tragic event. In watching the coverage of this tragedy, I can feel your sympathy and sensitivity in your interviews and reporting. I have seen interviews being done of the parents with their grief so raw.. I don't feel this is necessary and appreciate the fact that you are leaving them alone in their grief. Unless, of course, they request to be interviewed because there is something they want to share, I think they should be left alone. Again, thank you. I respect you as a reporter.

    December 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  38. Allison

    Thank you, Anderson, for making the children the focus of your reports. Some may criticize placing them in the spotlight, but that's exactly what needs to be done. Each child needs to be remembered and their name immortalized. When someone loses a loved one you wnat and need to talk about them to truly heal, and if that loved one is taken from you too soon, you are compelled to make sure their name lives on in some way–forever, if possible. So, I truly believe you are helping the parents honor their children. I would encourage everyone to honor those children by creating scholarships in their names, making charitable donations in their names and doing good deeds (both small and large) in their names. That way, they will live forever in a profound and positive way, which if you have ever lost a loved one, then you know how important it is to make sure that happens. Because while hate and evil may have its moment, love, goodness and Amazing Grace will always win the day.

    December 18, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  39. I.N. Botnick

    Prior to this weekend, i have to admit that i had limited respect for new programs and journalists in general because of the amount of violence and negative news for ratings sake.

    But, CNN's respectful reporting on the horrendous events in Newtown has given me new faith in news coverage. I appreciate your coverage and you now have a new CNN fan.

    Again, thank you for your very respectful coverage.

    December 18, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  40. DaRenda

    Thank you for you heartfelt reporting on this tragedy. It's OK to have feelings & I can feel your broken heart. You are among the angels on earth.

    December 18, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  41. Cindy

    I am a mother of two children and I could not even imagine saying that I am NOT ANGRY about my 7 year old child being gunned down! I realize that they are trying to set an example for their son because growing up with anger is not a good thing...so i get that, and i agree that they should instill that in their son....but their son wasnt at this interview.....Without him in my presence, i would certainly have alot more emotion and anger toward this monster that cut my beautiful childs life off at the tender age of 7. I dont know if these parents are so numb and havent processed it yet, but you'd have to put me in a straight jacket if that were my child! BLESSINGS TO ALL FAMILIES INVOLVED <3

    December 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • steven papell

      I think the point they were attempting to make is that to honor their daughter, they would not allow themselves to become hateful and bitter. They would release the anger, and forgive. ...

      December 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • tracy

      i think they want to honor their daughter in this interview not the killer of the act. so many of these parents are coming out to talk about their babies. if you have 3 minutes to share info about your babu with the world i would want to talk about my baby herself and not he act , anger or anything else. all parents love talking about their children right ? im sure they have anger , im sure they are in shcok but at the end of the day they are parents who are proud of their baby

      December 19, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Jessica

      Cindy, I just read your post. I looked here because my reaction was similar to yours. I have a little girl who is 8 and how on earth can those parents be so composed? Everyone deals with grief differently but they are not angry, or crying or showing any type of emotion 4 days after their 7 year old was murdered and on the day she was buried? I think I am a reasonable and compassionate person but this to me was very strange.

      December 19, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Connie

      Having not lost a child, especially violently, you don't know what you would do, so to sit in judgement of how these parents are handling this right now is ignorant, selfish and totally without compassion, to say the very least. You are fortunate to not have to wear the shoes of a bereaved parent and you need to hope that you never have to put them on because you are never allowed to take them off. Ever. What you just wrote is like saying that you love your children more than Grace's parents love her. I promise you that you don't. Ignorance to the loss of a child is no excuse for stupidity.

      December 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  42. Lisa Gorby

    My Dad passed away Oct a year ago and his favorite song was "Amazing Grace"..what a great memory for you to have Anderson to think about this little angel Grace when you think of this song..I will also think about her along with my Dad and always smile knowing they are now our guardian angels.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  43. Maria

    such a beautiful little girl. gone too soon. Watch over your family, grace.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  44. lisa

    the family sounds as lovely as their beautiful little girl. But I would never tell a surviving brother that he has to get through his mourning without hate or anger. These are natural emotions under such terrible loss; they should be helping him through what could be times of terrible and understandable rage, not telling him he can't have them.

    December 18, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  45. Nancy

    I can not believe that some of our talking heads and political figures are using soft language when describing the shooters of these recent violent events. Call them what they are: domestic terrorists. They are not mentally challenged, on the spectrum, older boy, trouble young man, etc. These shooters are terrorists. Do not excuse their behavior.Do not coddle them. They need to learn right from wrong. In any other country we would be calling them terrorists so let's start there and treat any US citizen who behaves with violent intent like this with the strongest arms of our current laws. After that we can work on their 'mental states of mind'.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  46. Denise

    I have been watching the coverage and have to say that looking at this young man's video game collection will be as telling as looking through his computer hard drives and e-mails. This killer acted pre in what he acted out which can only mean that he has practiced many times before he entered the school. I would be interested to know if this young man, who was obviously troubled and introverted was allowed to stay in front of a television set for hours upon end shooting and killing with a video generated gun prior to entering Sandy Hook . He was obviously not emotionally stable. If he was an avid video player of violent games, why would a parent pursue a love for guns that should only be used in combat? If they find on-line activity for games such as "Halo" and other violent games in this investigation of then we know that, just as the 9/11 terrorists practiced flying at altitude with a video game that can be purchased anywhere, this compromised individual practiced this scene many, many times before he entered that building. Assault weapons should NEVER be looked upon as a "hobby". They have one purpose, and it is not recreational. We are our own worst enemy if we believe that shooting ranges could train this man to do what he did. Yes, we have to change as there are many more young people who have spent hours practicing these types of attacks i.n the comfort of their own homes. Our young people are confused as to what is right and what is wrong. Yes, we MUST change.

    December 18, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  47. Francesca

    I am so sorry for ur loss grace didn't deserve this none of those children did i will always remember her as a strong litte girl and brave too. And every time I hear amazing grace I will always think of ur grace and smile she wa such an adorable little girl RIP GRACE AUDREY MCDONNELL

    December 18, 2012 at 2:32 am |
  48. Kathy

    Thank you for shining a light on all the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims. Someone had created a "Adam Lanza" FB site. He doesn't deserve a voice. Please help by getting it removed from FB.

    December 18, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  49. Judy Nagle

    Thank you Mass Media for the focus of these stories being on the Victims for change – this is another piece in solving these unspeakable crimes.

    December 18, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  50. Terry

    Can you please share the montage with Judy Collin's Amazing Grace and the tribute pictures? It was just so simple and perfect.

    December 18, 2012 at 2:04 am |
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