US church bells toll for Newtown massacre anniversary

The town flag flies at half staff in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec 14, 2013. Church bells tolled 26 times in Newtown for the 20 schoolchildren and six adults massacred exactly a year earlier, as US President Barack Obama urged tougher gun controls. --
The town flag flies at half staff in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec 14, 2013. Church bells tolled 26 times in Newtown for the 20 schoolchildren and six adults massacred exactly a year earlier, as US President Barack Obama urged tougher gun controls. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEWTOWN, United States (AFP) - Church bells tolled 26 times in Newtown, Connecticut, on Saturday, Dec 14, 2013, for the 20 schoolchildren and six adults massacred exactly a year earlier, as US President Barack Obama urged tougher gun controls.

On December 14, 2012, a heavily armed man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and, within 10 minutes, killed 26 people before taking his own life.

The gunman later identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza had also shot his mother dead earlier that morning.

The senseless slaughter of six- and seven-year-olds at the hands of a mentally disturbed individual shocked America like no other mass shooting in years, but public condemnation failed to gather the necessary momentum for new US gun laws.

In Newtown, there was no high-profile memorial, and officials asked news organisations to keep their distance to allow residents to mourn the anniversary in private. Many media groups elected to stay away from the town altogether.

But flags flew at half mast across the state of Connecticut at the request of Governor Dannel Malloy, and in Newtown's St Rose de Lima church, the names of the victims were read aloud at 9.30 am, the time the shooting erupted a year ago.

Several other prayer ceremonies were planned in Newtown churches throughout the day.

At the White House, Mr Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sombrely lit candles for the 26 victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Obamas stood silently for several moments and then walked out without making any remarks.

And two advocacy groups, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action, organised memorials in more than 35 states in honour of the Newtown victims and "the thousands of Americans lost to gun violence every year". The events aimed "to show our resolve to never be silent again about gun violence", the groups said in a statement.

The President also used his weekly radio address to urge Americans to press for gun law changes to prevent similar tragedies.

"One year ago today, a quiet, peaceful town was shattered by unspeakable violence," Mr Obama said.

"We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily. We have to do more to heal troubled minds.

"We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for." The Newtown massacre provoked a push for gun control laws and a handful of states have since tightened rules.

But the nationwide measures the president supported failed in the US Senate in April, due to fierce opposition from gun rights supporters and a lack of support in both houses of Congress.

On Friday, the eve of the Sandy Hook anniversary, a schoolboy in Colorado armed with a shotgun opened fire at his high school and wounded two fellow students - one critically - before killing himself.

The Arapahoe High School shooting took place a few miles from the sites of last year's Aurora cinema shooting, where 12 people were killed and scores wounded during a Batman movie screening, and the 1999 Columbine High School bloodbath, where 13 were killed as well as the two student gunmen.