The Straits Times
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Published on Dec 15, 2012
 

Search for answers begins after US school massacre

 
 

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (REUTERS) - People in the small Connecticut community of Newtown grieved on Saturday over one of the worst mass shootings in United States (US) history and police sought answers about what drove a 20-year-old gunman to slaughter 20 children at an elementary school.

The attacker, identified by law enforcement sources as Adam Lanza, opened fire on Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which teaches children aged 5 to 10.

He is suspected of killing 26 people at the school before turning the gun on himself, as well as killing one other person at another nearby site.

Police said the other adult was found dead at a related crime scene in the town.

Many media outlets reported it may have been the shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza, who legally owned a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns of models commonly used by police, and a military-style Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine.

Law enforcement officials believe Adam Lanza used at least some of those weapons.

Nancy Lanza was an avid gun collector who once showed him a "really nice, high-end rifle" that she had purchased, said Mr Dan Holmes, owner of a landscaping business who recently decorated her yard with Christmas garlands and lights. "She said she would often go target shooting with her kids."

Crime-scene investigators worked through the night, and state police said they hoped to have more information by Saturday morning, including confirmation of the victims'identities.

President Barack Obama urged Americans on Saturday to join in solidarity as they mourned the victims, saying the hearts of parents across the country were "heavy with hurt."

Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, called for"meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this," but stopped short of specifically calling for tighter gun-control laws.

The president wiped away tears in a television address on Friday, telling the nation, "Our hearts are broken."

The holiday season tragedy was the second shooting rampage in the US this week and the latest in a series of mass killings this year.

It revived a debate about gun-control in a country with a flourishing firearms culture and a strong lobby that has discouraged most politicians from any major efforts to address the easy availability of guns and ammunition.

Newtown, an affluent town about 130 km north-east of New York City, was mourning its dead in community vigils.

"We're just praying - just need to pray to God that this does not happen again, no matter where," Mrs Amelia Adams, 76, said on her way into St Rose of Lima Catholic Church with her husband Kenneth, 81.

The church, a couple of miles from the site of the shooting, was packed inside and out on Friday night with a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people, including a large crowd outside.

"It was just, it was brutal. I can't think of a better word.

It was just brutal to have to witness the pain today," Monsignor Robert Weiss said after the service.

"We opened the windows (of the church) so people could just hear and feel they could be part of it," Monsignor Weiss told MSNBC on Saturday, adding, "the worst days are ahead." "I'm sure this morning when they woke up and realised there was an empty bed in their house, it's becoming more and more real to them," Monsignor Weiss said of the parents of the young victims.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy told reporters late on Friday he never expected to relive the kind of grief he and others felt after the Sept 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

"Evil visited this community today," Gov Malloy said.

The chaos struck as children gathered in their classrooms for morning events. The shootings took place in two rooms, police said. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots; some said as many as 100 rounds.

Former classmates of the shooter remembered him as a quiet loner - someone who dressed more formally than other students, often wearing khaki pants, button-down shirts and at times, a pocket protector.

"(His mother) pushed him really hard to be smarter and work harder in school," said Mr Tim Arnone, 20, who first met Lanza at Sandy Hook.

The death toll exceeded that of one of the most notorious US school shootings, the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers murdered 13 students and staff before killing themselves.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of the advocacy group 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."