First funerals held for US shooting victims

Last updated 18:20 18/12/2012
Fairfax Australia

Two children killed in the Newtown school massacre have been laid to rest as the town braces itself for 11 days of funerals.

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The victims of the massacre, top row, from left: Ana Marquez-Greene, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Emilie Parker, Noah Pozner. Second row: Jesse Lewis, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Charlotte Bacon, Chase Kowalski. Third row: Daniel Barden, Jack Pinto, Catherine Hubbard, Dylan Hockley, Benjamin Wheeler. Fourth row: Grace McDonnell, James Mattioli, Avielle Richman, Rachel Davino, Anne Marie Murphy. Fifth row: Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Dawn Hochsprung, Nancy Lanza.

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A grief-stricken Newtown began laying to rest the littlest victims of the US school massacre, starting with two six-year-old boys - one of them a big football fan, the other described as a whip-smart youngster whose twin sister survived the rampage.

Family, friends and townspeople streamed to two funeral homes to say goodbye to Jack Pinto, who loved the New York Giants and idolised their star wide receiver, and Noah Pozner, who liked to figure out how things worked mechanically.

In front of the funeral home where relatives mourned Noah, well-wishers placed two teddy bears, a bouquet of white flowers and a single red rose at the base of an old maple tree.

"He was just a really lively, smart kid," said Noah's uncle Alexis Haller, of Woodinville, Wash. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."

Noah's twin sister, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom, survived the killing frenzy by 20-year-old Adam Lanza that left 20 children and six adults dead last week at Sandy Hook Elementary in an attack so horrifying that authorities could not say whether the school would ever reopen.

At Jack's service, hymns rang out from inside the funeral home. A mourner, Gwendolyn Glover, said that Jack was in an open casket and that the service was a message of comfort and protection, particularly for other children.

"The message was: You're secure now. The worst is over," she said.

The funeral program bore a quotation from the Book of Revelation: "God shall wipe away all tears. There shall be no more death. Neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."

A fir tree opposite the funeral home was strung with paper angels carrying the names of everyone who died, including the teachers.

At both funeral homes, people wrestled with the same questions as the rest of the country - what steps could and should be taken to prevent anything like the massacre from happening again.

"If people want to go hunting, a single-shot rifle does the job, and that does the job to protect your home, too. If you need more than that, I don't know what to say," Ray DiStephan said outside Noah's funeral.

He added: "I don't want to see my kids go to schools that become maximum-security fortresses. That's not the world I want to live in, and that's not the world I want to raise them in."

With more funerals planned this week, the road ahead for Newtown, which had already started purging itself of Christmas decorations in a joyful season turned mournful, was clouded.

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"I feel like we have to get back to normal, but I don't know if there is normal anymore," said Kim Camputo, mother of two children, 5 and 10, who attend a different school. "I'll definitely be dropping them off and picking them up myself for a while."

With Sandy Hook Elementary still designated a crime scene, State police Lieutenant Paul Vance said that it could be months before police turn the school back over to the district. The people of Newtown, consumed by loss, were not ready to address its future.

"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."

Classes were cancelled Monday (today, NZ time), and Newtown's other schools were to reopen Tuesday. The district made plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to a former middle school in the neighbouring town of Monroe.

Sandy Hook desks are being taken to the Chalk Hill school in Monroe, empty since town schools consolidated last year, and tradesmen are donating their services to get the school ready within a matter of days.

"These are innocent children that need to be put on the right path again," Monroe police Lieutenant Brian McCauley said.

Yesterday (NZ time), US President Barack Obama pledged to seek change in memory of the 20 children and six adults slain Friday by a gunman packing a high-powered rifle. The president slowly recited the first names of the children.

"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?"

Authorities said yesterday that Lanza was carrying an arsenal of hundreds of rounds of especially deadly ammunition, enough to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time. Lanza decided to kill himself when he heard police closing in about 10 minutes into the attack, Connecticut Governor Dannel P Malloy said on ABC.

Across the country, vigilance was high. In an effort to ensure student safety and calm parents' nerves, school systems asked police departments to increase patrols and sent messages to parents outlining safety plans they said are regularly reviewed and rehearsed.

Teachers girded themselves to be strong for their students and for questions and fears they would face in the classroom.

"It's going to be a tough day," said Richard Cantlupe, an American history teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Florida. "This was like our 9/11 for schoolteachers."

Communities were on edge. In nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut, schools were locked down after a suspicious person was seen near a train station.

Authorities say the gunman shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home and then took her car and several of her guns to the school, where he broke in and shot his victims to death, then himself. A Connecticut official said the mother - a gun enthusiast who practiced at shooting ranges - was found dead in her pyjamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-calibre rifle.

Lanza was wearing all black, with an olive utility vest, during the attack.

Investigators have offered no motive, and police have found no letters or diaries that could shed light on it. A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators were reviewing the contents of Lanza's computer, as well as phone and credit card records. The official was not authorised to discuss details of the case.

Divorce paperwork released today showed that Nancy Lanza had the authority to make all decisions regarding Adam's upbringing. The divorce was finalised in September 2009, when Adam Lanza was 17.

US federal agents have concluded that Lanza visited an area shooting range, but they do not know whether he practiced shooting there.

Lanza took classes at Western Connecticut State University when he was 16, and earned a B average, said Paul Steinmetz, spokesman for the school in Danbury. He said today that Lanza took his last class in the summer of 2009.

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. It's similar to the weapon used in a recent shopping mall shooting in Oregon.

Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in the US under the 1994 assault weapons ban. That law expired in 2004, and Congress, in a nod to the political clout of the gun-rights lobby, did not renew it.

In some of the first regulatory proposals to rise out of the Newtown shooting, Democratic lawmakers and independent Senator Joe Lieberman said Sunday that military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings.

"Assault weapons were developed for the US military, not commercial gun manufacturers," said Lieberman, of Connecticut, who is retiring next month. "This is a moment to start a very serious national conversation about violence in our society, particularly about these acts of mass violence."

Gun rights activists remained largely quiet, all but one declining to appear on the Sunday talk shows. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Republican 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 overpower the shooter, should herself have been armed.

- AP

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