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First funerals held for US school shooting victims

The first funerals for victims of a Friday shooting at a US school were held on Monday, a day after President Barack Obama told a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, that "We’re not doing enough" as a country to prevent such tragedies.


The Connecticut town shattered by Friday’s shooting at an elementary school held its first two funerals on Monday, including one for the youngest victim, while officials said they weren’t sure whether the school itself would ever reopen.

The first funerals to take place were planned for 6-year-olds Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, who had his birthday two weeks ago. A rabbi presided at Noah’s service and, in keeping with Jewish tradition, the boy was laid to rest in a simple brown wooden casket adorned with a Star of David.

Outside the funeral home, well-wishers placed two teddy bears, a bouquet of white flowers and a red rose at the base of an old maple tree.

Noah’s twin sister, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom, survived the shooting.

Newtown, which has taken down many of its Christmas decorations in an act of mourning, came together on Sunday for a vigil attended by US President Barack Obama, who said that "We’re not doing enough" as a country to prevent such tragedies -- prompting speculation that the president may have renewed political will to take on the divisive issue of gun control.

“What choice do we have?” Obama asked. “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?”

Reporting from Newtown, FRANCE 24’s Nathan King said that “while Obama made no promise of new laws, this was definitely a tone-setting speech for a very strong debate on gun control”.


"Obama really gave the impression of somebody who wanted to go back to Washington and get things done,” FRANCE 24’s Philip Crowther said from Capitol Hill on Monday. “This will be a week of fierce lobbying for those who want stricter guns laws, but we will also probably hear from the National Rifle Association (NRA), the gun owners’ lobby.”

“The pressure now on Obama is pretty big to change gun laws,” Crowther said. “But he also has a big fight on his hands.”

Obama offered no specifics on what action he might take in the wake of the tragedy, and White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that “no single piece of legislation or action will fully address the problem”.

A grim Obama told Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency.

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days,” the president said on Sunday, his voice sombre. “And if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough and we will have to change.”

Motive unknown

Investigators have yet to offer any motive for the shooting and the Connecticut community is struggling to comprehend what drove 20-year-old Adam Lanza to shoot 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 were shot more than once and some of them were shot at close range, chief medical examiner Doctor 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.

Authorities believe that Lanza attended Sandy Hook many years ago but they couldn’t say why he went there on Friday. They said Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job.

No letters or diaries were left behind that could explain Lanza's actions. Police said he 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, bringing the final death toll to 28.

Newtown officials said they were unsure whether Sandy Hook Elementary School 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.

Newtown police Lieutenant 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."

“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.”

'We are together and united'

The shootings have restarted a debate in Washington about what politicians can to do help, whether through stricter gun control or otherwise. Obama has called for "meaningful action" to prevent such 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.

"God has called them all home," Obama said of the girls and boys who died. "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 the 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 Reverend Matt Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church. "We needed to be together to show that we are together and united."

A spokesman for Western Connecticut State University said Lanza took college-level 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.

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 but that law expired in 2004. Congress, in an apparent nod to the political power of the gun-rights lobby, did not renew the ban.

Democratic US Senator Diane Feinstein of California said on Sunday that she plans to introduce a bill banning assault weapons as soon as the country’s new Congress convenes in January. Feinstein said she believed Obama would back the measure.

Gun rights activists have remained largely quiet since the Newtown tragedy, all but one declining to appear on the Sunday talk shows. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican in Congress, defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook, who authorities say died trying to confront the shooter, should herself have been armed.

A US senator and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, Joe Manchin, said on Monday that it was time for the debate to move beyond political rhetoric and for honest discussion about reasonable restrictions on guns to begin. “Anybody that’s a proud gun owner, a proud member of the NRA, they’re also proud parents, they’re proud grandparents," he told the MSNBC news channel. "They understand this has changed where we go from here.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires) 

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