US mourns victims of Connecticut school massacre
US mourns 20 children killed by gunman, as tearful Obama urges action to prevent further tragedies and the demands for tighter gun laws grow
Residents of the small Connecticut community of Newtown were reeling yesterday from one of the worst mass shootings in US history, as police sought answers as to what drove a 20-year-old gunman to slaughter 20 children, some as young as five.
Attacker Adam Lanza opened fire on Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which teaches children aged five to 10, and killed at least 26 people before taking his own life.
Lanza, clad in combat gear, shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, and drove to the school in her car.
The chaos occurred as children gathered in their classrooms for morning events.
Shortly after 9.30am, police received a call from the school, Lieutenant Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police said, adding that the shootings took place in two rooms. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots.
Vance told a press briefing the gunman forced his way into the school. He said investigators had found valuable information at Lanza's home that could help to reveal his motive for the rampage, but declined to give details.
Only one person who was shot survived. That person, who was shot in the foot, remained in a hospital. "She will be instrumental in this investigation," Vance said.
C.J. Hoekenga, a Sandy Hook fourth-grader, was in music class watching The Nutcracker when he heard bangs, heavy breathing and then shots.
His teacher told them to get into a closet, the youngster said. "At first I thought it was practice," C.J. said. "Then we realised it wasn't." He and classmates said prayers until a police officer arrived. They then exited single-file and ran to a nearby fire station.
The New York Times reported Lanza used a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns, and said police also found a Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine rifle at the scene. His mother was an avid gun collector.
Even as the bodies of the victims were removed from the school overnight on Friday and investigators continued to work the crime scene, the town began to mourn the dead.
People held hands, lit candles and sang Silent Night in Newtown, an affluent community about 130 kilometres northeast of New York.
"These 20 children were just beautiful, beautiful children," Monsignor Robert Weiss said.
"These 20 children lit up this community better than all these Christmas lights we have. There are a lot brighter stars up there tonight because of these kids."
President Barack Obama urged Americans to join in solidarity as they mourned the victims.
He called for "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this", but stopped short of specifically calling for tighter gun control legislation.
The president wiped away tears as he told the nation in a television address on Friday: "Our hearts are broken." He said he and his wife, Michelle, "are doing what I know every parent is doing - holding our children as close as we can and reminding them how much we love them."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said it was "almost impossible to believe a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen.
"We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership - not from the White House and not from Congress," Bloomberg said. "That must end today."
The death toll exceeded that of one of the most notorious US school shootings, the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Two teenagers murdered 13 students and staff before killing themselves.
The deadliest shooting in the US in recent years is the Virginia Tech campus rampage of 2007, in which Seung-Hui Cho took 33 lives, including his own.
Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, The New York Times