NEWTOWN, Conn. – The U.S. town shattered by last week’s school shooting prepared Monday for the first two funerals, including the one for the youngest victim, while officials weren’t sure whether the school itself would ever reopen.
The first funerals were planned for 6-year-old Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, who had his birthday two weeks ago. They would be buried a day after the small community of Newtown, already stripping itself of many Christmas decorations, came together for a vigil where President Barack Obama said he will use “whatever power” he has to prevent similar massacres.
“What choice do we have?” he said. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
Investigators have offered no motive for the shooting, and the Connecticut community struggled to comprehend what drove 20-year-old Adam Lanza to shoot to death his mother at home in bed Friday morning, drive her car to the school and unleash gunfire on six adults and 20 children who were 6 and 7 years old.
All the victims at the school apparently were shot more than once, and some of them were shot at close range, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver has said. He said the ammunition was the type designed to break up inside a victim’s body and inflict the maximum amount of damage.
Police said Lanza was carrying an arsenal of ammunition big enough to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time. He shot himself in the head just as he heard police drawing near, authorities said.
Newtown officials couldn’t say whether Sandy Hook Elementary would ever reopen. Monday’s classes were cancelled, and the district was making plans to send surviving students to a former school building in a neighbouring town.
“We’re just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed,” said Robert Licata, the father of a student who escaped harm during the shooting. “He’s not even there yet.”
Newtown police Lt. George Sinko said he “would find it very difficult” for students to return to the same school. But, he added, “We want to keep these kids together. They need to support each other.”
A grim Obama told Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency.
The shootings have restarted a debate in Washington about what politicians can to do help — gun control or otherwise. Obama has called for “meaningful action” to prevent killings.
But the president’s message at Sunday night’s vigil was also one of grief and healing. Children in attendance held stuffed teddy bears and dogs. The smallest children sat on their parents’ laps.
Obama read the names of the adults who died, to some gasps and cries in the audience. He finished his speech by reading the first names of the children, slowly. Cries and sobs filled the room.
“That’s when it really hit home,” said Jose Sabillon, who attended the interfaith memorial with his son, Nick, who survived the shooting unharmed.
Said Obama of the girls and boys who died: “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
The president first met privately with families of the victims and with the emergency personnel who responded to the shootings.
Police and firefighters got hugs and standing ovations when they entered. So did Obama.
“We needed this,” said the Rev. Matt Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church. “We needed to be together to show that we are together and united.”
On Monday, the task swung again to understanding how the shooting could have happened.
Investigators have offered no motive, and police have found no letters or diaries that could explain. They believe Lanza attended Sandy Hook many years ago, but they couldn’t say why he went there Friday. Authorities said Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job.
A spokesman for Western Connecticut State University said Lanza took college classes when he was only 16. Paul Steinmetz confirmed that Lanza dropped out of a German language class and withdrew from a computer science class but earned high grades in a computer class, American history and macroeconomics.
Federal agents have concluded that Lanza visited an area shooting range, but they do not know whether he practiced shooting there. Agents determined Lanza’s mother visited shooting ranges several times, but it’s not clear whether she took her son or whether he fired a weapon there, said Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Lanza is believed to have used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle in the school attack, a civilian version of the military’s M-16 and a model commonly seen at marksmanship competitions. Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in the United States under the 1994 assault weapons ban. That law expired in 2004, and Congress, in a nod to the political power of the gun-rights lobby, did not renew it.
Gun rights activists have remained largely quiet, all but one declining to appear on the Sunday talk shows. In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.
Associated Press writers David Klepper in Newtown and Julie Pace and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.
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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo, Pat Eaton-Robb, John Christoffersen, Ben Feller, Adam Geller, Jim Kuhnhenn and Michael Melia in Newtown; David Collins in Hartford, Conn.; Brian Skoloff in Phoenix; and Anne Flaherty in Washington.