Newtown remembers Sandy Hook victims

LOST LIVES: A heart is emblazoned with crosses to commemorate the 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims on the one-year anniversary.
LOST LIVES: A heart is emblazoned with crosses to commemorate the 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims on the one-year anniversary.

Bells tolled 26 times to honour the children and educators killed one year ago in a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School as local churches held memorial services and President Barack Obama observed a moment of silence.

With snow falling and many homes decorated with Christmas lights, Newtown looked every bit the classic northeastern New England town, with long lines at a coffee shop and general store. But reminders of the private grief were everywhere. "God bless the families," read a sign posted at one house in the green and white colors of the Sandy Hook school, and a church posted that it was "open for prayer."

Andrew Snow, a 49-year-old mechanic who was drinking coffee at the general store with a friend, said it was an especially difficult day.

"You kind of hope the town can put it behind without actually forgetting about the victims," said Snow, who grew up in Newtown and is moving back from nearby Southbury to support the community. "But it's not easy to do. I think about it every day."

The bells rang 26 times at St Rose of Lima church in Newtown beginning at 9.30am - the moment the gunman shot his way into the school on December 14, 2012. Connecticut's governor had asked for houses of worship across the state to do the same, and flags were lowered to half-staff around Connecticut.

In Washington, the president and first lady Michelle Obama lit 26 votive candles set up on a table in the White House Map Room.

In his weekly radio address released hours earlier, Obama said the nation hasn't done enough to make its communities safer by keeping dangerous people from getting guns and healing troubled minds.

"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," Obama said.

A year ago, with the grief of the horrific school shootings still fresh, many predicted it would force Congress to approve long-stalled legislation to tighten US gun laws. Led by Obama, gun control advocates called for background checks for all gun purchasers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But their efforts were thwarted by the gun rights lobby, led by the influential National Rifle Association; opposition from most Republicans and the reluctance of Democrats from Republican-leaning states to anger voters by further restricting firearms.

In the end, a divided Congress did not enact any new gun curbs in response to the Newtown shooting. There were not enough votes in the Senate to pass even a compromise on expanded background checks that was widely supported by voters. A handful of Democratic-led states, including Connecticut, did enact stricter gun control measures, but some Republican-controlled states, including Texas, loosened their gun laws to expand the rights of people to carry guns in public. Surveys suggest that support for new gun laws is slipping as the Newtown memory fades.

Still, some Newtown parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre vowed to press on with the fight to reduce gun violence - no matter how long it takes.

"I know it's not a matter of if it happens. It's a matter of when. This absolutely keeps me going," said Nicole Hockley, who joined a handful of Newtown parents in a private White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden this week. "No matter how much tragedy affects you, you have to find a way forward. You have to invest in life." Hockley's 6-year-old son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook a year ago.

The 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother inside their Newtown home on December 14, 2012, before driving to the school where he carried out his rampage with his parent's weapons. He fatally shot 20 children and six educators before killing himself as police arrived at the school.

Newtown residents asked for quiet and privacy on the anniversary.

Satellite television trucks filled Newtown's streets in the days after the shooting, and media have often returned since to the community of 28,000 people for stories related to the attack.

In an effort to keep the anniversary focused on quiet reflection, First Selectman E Patricia Llodra announced in October that Newtown would not host any formal remembrance events. The news media were asked to keep their distance, and "No Media" signs went up around town as they did in the weeks after the tragedy.

Some news organisations stayed away today from Newtown. A reporter and photographer for The Associated Press, whose reports are available to media worldwide, were present in the community, and some townspeople were willing to share their thoughts.