WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hundreds solemnly gathered in Washington's National Cathedral on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the Newtown school massacre and demand tougher action to halt gun violence in the United States.
Pop icon Carole King performed her 1977 song In The Name Of Love on the piano at the late-afternoon vigil, which organisers hoped would pull the media spotlight away from the New England town where 20 first-grade pupils and six educators were killed. Poignantly, the event also heard a violin and piano rendition of Imagine by John Lennon, shot and killed in New York 33 years ago this month.
"We gather to say, 'No more'," said Reverend Mel Kawakami of the Newtown United Methodist Church, as the predominantly older gathering lit candles, sang hymns and shared stories of other incidents of gun violence.
Reverend Gary Hall, dean of the Episcopal cathedral, called on the nation's elected leaders "to find the moral courage and the political will" to enact tougher gun laws. In the 12 months since Newtown, he said, some 32,000 people have died in the United States in gun-related incidents.
Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza used a military-style Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle during his Dec 14, 2012 shooting spree in the classrooms and hallways of Sandy Hook school, before putting a bullet in his head as police rushed to the scene.
Lanza earlier shot and killed his mother, who owned the guns he used, in her bed at home as a prelude to the second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in the United States after the Virgina Tech massacre in 2007 in which 33 died, including the lone gunman.
Newtown's civic leaders have urged reporters to stay away from their picturesque and affluent community two hours' drive from New York to enable it to mourn the victims and comfort each other in peace.
In a report last month, Connecticut state attorney Stephen Sedensky said Lanza had "significant mental health issues" and an obsession with the Columbine high school massacre in Colorado in 1999 in which 15 died, including the two young gunmen.
But he concluded there was "no clear indication" of why the young man carried out the carnage. The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States involve suicide.
But one group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says an "escalating epidemic of gun violence" is claiming a child's life every three hours and 15 minutes.
The scale of Newtown triggered calls for tougher gun laws, in a nation where the right "to keep and bear arms" is enshrined in the Constitution and where there are, by some estimates, as many guns as people.
But a high-profile attempt by President Barack Obama to outlaw semi-automatic rifles and expand background checks for gun-buyers failed in the Senate amid stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association and other gun groups.
The White House said earlier this week that Mr Obama, the father of two young daughters, would honour the Newtown anniversary with a moment of silence on Saturday.