Published — Sunday 16 December 2012
Last update 17 December 2012 4:46 pm
NEWTOWN: The massacre of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in the US state of Connecticut elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised questions about why the gunman, a 20-year-old described as brilliant but remote, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims, some as young as 5. US media reported that a 28th victim, found at a residence in the town, was the shooter’s mother.
Investigators were trying to learn more about the gunman, Adam Lanza, and questioned his older brother, who is not believed to have been involved in the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary. The bodies of victims were still inside the school for some time yesterday morning, and authorities appeared poised to start releasing their names.
Police shed no light on the motive for the mass shooting, one of the deadliest in US history, and among school attacks is second in victims only to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which left 33 people dead.
President Barack Obama’s comments on the tragedy were one of the most outwardly emotional moments of his presidency.
In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama called for Americans to “come together” to prevent tragedies like the school massacre that killed 20 young children and six adults, one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
“This weekend, Michelle and I 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,” said Obama, father of Sasha, 10, and Malia, 14.
“There are families in Connecticut who can’t do that today. And they need all of us now,” he added, in his weekly address.
“While nothing can take the place of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need- to remind them that we are there for them; that we are praying for them; and that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their own memories, but also in their community, and their country,” he continued.
“Every parent in America has a heart heavy with hurt,” Obama said. Friday, he fought tears in an emotional address about the tragic incident. “We grieve for the families of those we lost. And we keep in our prayers the parents of those who survived. Because as blessed as they are to have their children home, they know that their child’s innocence has been torn away far too early,” the president said.
Obama said the tragedy was all too familiar, after similar deadly shootings at a shopping mall in Oregon, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and at a movie theater in Colorado earlier this year.
Obama did not give details, but some US politicians called for a serious look at gun control laws, a subject that Obama, re-elected on November 6, did not tackle strongly in his first term.
Reaction was swift and emotional around the world, any many immediately remembered Dunblane, a 1996 shooting in that small Scottish town which killed 16 children and prompted a campaign that ultimately led to tighter gun controls.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon wrote to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy to give his “deepest condolences at the shocking murders,” a statement said.
“The targeting of children is heinous and unthinkable,” he added.
European Union diplomacy chief Catherine Ashton expressed “shock” at the “tragic shooting” at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke of his “deep shock and horror” upon hearing of the massacre.
In tight-knit Newtown, a picturesque New England community of 27,000 people, hundreds of people packed St. Rose of Lima church Friday night and stood outside in a vigil for the 28 dead — 20 children and six adults at the school, the gunman’s mother at home, and the gunman himself, who killed himself. People held hands, lit candles and sang “Silent Night.”
“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.”
Lanza is believed to have suffered from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation.
Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, drove to the school in her car and shot up two classrooms around 9:30 a.m. Friday, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman, and someone switched on the intercom, perhaps saving many lives by letting them hear the chaos in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.
The well-liked principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was believed to be among the dead. A woman who worked at the school was wounded.
Adam Lanza attended Newtown High School, and several news clippings from recent years mention his name among the honor roll students.
At least one parent said Lanza’s mother was a substitute teacher there. But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school.
Lanza’s older brother, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, of Hoboken, New Jersey, was questioned, but a law enforcement official said he was not believed to have had a role in the rampage. Investigators were searching his computers and phone records, but he told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.
At one point, a law enforcement official mistakenly identified the gunman as Ryan Lanza. Brett Wilshe, a friend of Ryan Lanza’s, said Lanza told him the gunman may have had his identification. Ryan Lanza apparently posted Facebook page updates Friday afternoon that read, “It wasn’t me” and “I was at work.”
A law enforcement official said a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle were found in the school and a fourth weapon was found outside the school, and that investigators were going to shooting ranges and gun stores to see if Lanza had frequented them
The official was not authorized to discuss information with reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Adam Lanza and his mother lived in a well-to-do part of prosperous Newtown, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northeast of New York City, where neighbors are doctors or hold white-collar positions at companies such as General Electric, Pepsi and IBM.
Lanza’s parents filed for divorce in 2008, according to court records. His father, Peter Lanza, lives in Stamford, Connecticut, and works as a tax director for General Electric.
The gunman’s aunt Marsha Lanza said her nephew was raised by kind, nurturing parents who would not have hesitated to seek mental help for him if he needed it.
Meanwhile, a long-simmering national debate on gun control exploded again.
Frank DeAngelis, principal of Colorado’s Columbine High School, where a massacre in 1999 killed 15 people, said that “these sensless deaths” have to stop.
In Washington, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence organized a vigil at the White House, with some protesters chanting, “Today IS the day” to take steps to curb gun violence. In New York’s Times Square, a few dozen people held tea lights in plastic cups, with one woman holding a sign that read: “Take a moment and candle to remember the victims of the Newtown shooting.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the attack as a “senseless and incomprehensible act of evil.”
Panicked parents had raced earlier in the day to Sandy Hook, where police told youngsters to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn’t see the blood and broken glass.
Schoolchildren, some crying, many looking frightened, were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on one another’s shoulders.